Chicago a good place to explore the urban wild

Written By BY DALE BOWMAN For Sun-Times Media Posted: 06/29/2014, 02:33am

The junkyard along the Calumet system is what drove home to me the overwhelming oddity of beauty in the modern urban wilds.

Around the turn of the millennium, I did a lot of running around the Calumet system with John Farmer and Rich Pinkowski in preparation for the BASS Master Classic, that great but failed experiment in big-league competitive urban fishing, in Chicago in 2000.

Finding beauty is a far different thing in urban wilds than in more traditional natural getaways.

I would like to celebrate that different sort of wild beauty in some way.

I thought of that earlier this month while fishing the Eagle River chain in northern Wisconsin with Joe McCartin. We saw bald eagles regularly. McCartin said a black bear ran through the woods the morning I arrived. Loons called and dived often. Deer wandered the shorelines, and once a doe lollygagged a long time with a fawn on the edge of Cranberry Lake.

Those are the usual sort of highlights in the wilds.

That’s quite a different thing from fishing along the North Branch of the Chicago River and the North Shore Channel and trying to decipher whether the graffiti on concrete storm sewer outlets is creative expression or simply gang announcements.

That’s quite different from fishing for largemouth bass in the shadows of the massive concrete silos on Lake Calumet. Quite different than fishing in the main stem of the Chicago River downtown in the shadows of world-famous skyscrapers and buildings, such as Marina City and the Merchandise Mart.

I remember when the Sun-Times was a fixture on the river. Now that monstrosity, Trump Tower, occupies the space and I give it the emphatic finger every time I float past it on an adventure. I have general principles.

Of course, now the Sun-Times is housed in a few floors of a building on the north side of Wolf Point at the confluence of the North Branch and the main stem. That’s its own sort of rugged urban wild beauty.

I try to understand these things, put them in some sort of order in my head.

Take hunting for Canada geese.

The modern mecca is the Chicago suburbs. That experience — setting up blinds and decoy spreads within a few hundred yards of a subdivision — is a far different from the traditional one in the 1980s and ’90s of climbing down into a pit in the clubs off Crab Orchard Lake in southern Illinois.

Here’s an idea I have kicked around for a while, trying to find some way to celebrate those images of wildness that are not simply wildlife or nature, but capture the nature of modern urban wildness, which includes the straight-line imagery of building edges, wires, roads and rail lines.

Graphic artist/Fox River enthusiast Ken Gortowski has already has sent a few good images for such a thing. Chicago artist/photographer Larry Green has long worked such images into or alongside his traditional outdoors imagery.

I would love to do a gallery exhibit of that. In the meantime, I think I will begin doing an urban wild series of images one day a week on Stray Casts (

Go modern wild.


Twitter: @BowmanOutside

Browse More 'Uncategorized'