ComEd’s Buffalo Grove Prairie doesn’t look like much from a distance. In fact, from most angles, it’s impossible to see from a distance. But this high quality, 10-acre remnant prairie is the last remaining strip of a natural area that was bulldozed decades ago; it stands as a testament to time and human development—a glimpse into the ecological past of Illinois.
“It’s just a really special place.”
Prairies predate people in this state, but are now rare and endangered ecosystems due to years of farming and land use change. Luckily, the presence of the power lines kept development beneath them at bay, and saved this small patch from demolition. Twenty years ago, ComEd recognized the ecological importance of this site and took the opportunity to step in and protect the land themselves. Under the care of the Buffalo Grove Prairie Guardians, a group of volunteer stewards, the prairie has flourished and is home to over a hundred different species, including some that are federally threatened and endangered. “It’s just a really special place”, said Prairie Guardian Jeff Weiss. “There aren’t many quite like it.”
This hidden gem was pulled into the spotlight on Friday, August 25th as it became the muse of the Brushwood Center’s At Ease program. At Ease is an innovative program that collaborates with the James A. Lovell Federal Healthcare Center to connect veterans to the arts and the opportunity to explore and restore in nature. This program builds on research showing that exposure to nature and the arts improves mental health, self-esteem, and other obstacles that veterans may face during their transition to civilian life. The participants are equipped with DSLR cameras, a brief lesson, and then are turned loose into nature to explore their surroundings–and their creativity.
“Light is everything!”
Guided by Weiss, the students got an overview of native plants and the history of the site as they patiently pushed through the trail-less prairie, paying special attention to lighting and symmetry—the focus of the day’s lesson. “Light is everything!”, boomed Michael Kardas, an Air Force vet, professional photographer, and the instructor for the day. One veteran focused on the contrast between the prairie and the Metra trains passing in the background. Another honed in on delicate stalks of goldenrod, pausing as clouds shifted overhead, waiting for the right light to strike. Kardas focused on capturing candids of the students themselves. After an hour or so of full immersion in art and nature, the group adjourned for coffee, and to look over the shots of the day together.
The power of art and nature to showcase, support, and reinforce one another often goes understated. The goal of Brushwood Center is to bring people to this intersection, and demonstrate the importance of nature for nurturing well-being, cultivating creativity, and inspiring learning. Programs like At Ease help to extend this mission to under-served populations in our communities. For more information about At Ease and programs like it, visit brushwoodcenter.org