Today I thought I’d show you a painting I did several years ago. So long ago the scene has changed, and so has technology. This image was taken with my old film camera. The middle of the image is pretty washed out, even after tinkering with it in my photo software. Still, I like this painting and always relish this spot on the trail at Illinois Beach State Park. Just past the distant line of greenery is Lake Michigan. We’re standing on the trail that runs along the ridge of an old dune, looking out over younger dunes closer to the Lake. I think it is so cool how you can see succession taking place, right there.
On the foredunes, things are still pretty dynamic. Lots of bare sand shifts easily, whether in the wind or underfoot. Creeping juniper and bearberry have tenuous holds on these relatively young dunes, and their root systems are easily damaged by foot traffic. Moving back from the front line of dunes, little bluestem joins the first two. Organic material begins to build up, and gradually the older dunes, the ones farther from the Lake, can begin to support a wider selection of plants, until finally they will support black oaks, Quercus velutina. I only know these oaks from here, where they don’t tend to get very large. It is a harsh environment, with very little nutrients in the soil, sharply drained, and faced with strong winds. A few years ago we had a micro burst whip through, and it took out several trees. Walking through the area afterward it was fascinating to see nothing but pure clean sand under the exposed root balls that got yanked right out by the wind.
As I mentioned, things have changed over the past 20 years there, so maybe I’ll paint this scene again.