Chicago’s Secret Wilderness

A PBS program examining various forms of wildlife, and the ever-diminishing wild lands just outside of Chicago in each of the four seasons. The film features Studs Terkel reading Carl Sandberg's poetry about the region—a tranquil accompaniment to the impressive Illinois nature.

00:14Copy video clip URL The film opens on various clips of nature and wildlife. Flowers blow in the wind, birds flutter in trees, and raccoons scuttle about inside of a tree.

00:34Copy video clip URL The narrator, Roslyn Alexander, says that the images shown are not from from the marshes of the American southeast, nor the mountains of the southwest. Instead, these images have all been filmed “within 45 minutes of downtown Chicago.” Alexander continues, saying that this “retreat is available year-round.” They term it “Chicago’s secret wilderness.”

01:47Copy video clip URL The film cuts to scenes of downtown Chicago, showing skyscrapers and city streets from above. Alexander explains that, contrary to what many say, Lake Michigan is not the only natural resource available to Chicago residents.

02:20Copy video clip URL “Come along with me,” Alexander says, inviting the viewer to explore Chicago’s “secret wilderness.” Alexander explains that nature can be had in small doses throughout Chicago, so long as you put a bit of nature between yourself and the urban environment.

02:55Copy video clip URL The film shows a tree that has been eaten by beavers, explaining that such a sight is not so surprising to those who spend much time in Chicago’s wilderness. Alexander explains that there are several hundred beavers clustered along streams and marshes throughout Cook County.

03:45Copy video clip URL In shifting to a focus on fall in DuPage County’s Waterfall Glen, Alexander introduces Studs Terkel. He reads a poem by Carl Sandburg; it describes the scenes shown.

04:23Copy video clip URL Alexander compares the crowds of birds in autumnal Chicago woodlands to crowds of holiday travelers at the O’Hare airport. They say that tens to hundreds of migrating birds travel through these woods every year. The grackles shown in the film fly up to challenge a nearby hawk, a stunning sight.

05:25Copy video clip URL Alexander explains that fall is the best time to see Chicago’s wildlife, given that some leaves have fallen, yet it is still not too cold. Alexander also explains that the white-tipped deer is indigenous to this area, with their populations increasing.

06:40Copy video clip URL From the river, Alexander points out how easy it is to see the many wonderful sights from this vantage point.

07:40Copy video clip URL “You get a completely different perspective on wildlife when you meet on their terms,” Alexander says. The focus now turns to Canadian Geese, which Alexander says are very comfortable with human presence.

08:13Copy video clip URL Alexander again changes the focus, this time to the prairie. Over 70% of Illinois’ used to be prairie; now it’s less than 0.4%. Alexander explains that most of this change is attributable to agriculture, with the prairie now being known as “America’s Corn Belt.” Terkel reads another poem, as the film shows scenes from the prairie.

09:23Copy video clip URL When the Little Ice Age ended less than a million years ago, Alexander explains, the bedrock around Chicago was buried under hundreds of feet of dirt and sediment. There were exceptions to that, though, and Alexander tells of the few ‘mini-canyons’ around Chicago. These environments are exceptionally unique, Alexander notes, before Terkel continues reading.

11:00Copy video clip URL As Terkel reads, the scenes transition to that of wintertime.

11:19Copy video clip URL As winter scenes continue, Alexander explains that there are still things to be seen in the Chicago wilderness. They point out unique wildlife and the intricacies of the winter prairie.

12:27Copy video clip URL The most common things, Alexander explains, become exciting in the starkness of winter.

13:15Copy video clip URL Terkel begins reading again, this time a new poem which focuses on birds.

14:30Copy video clip URL Alexander explores the populations of birds which stay around for the winter and their various adaptive features which allow them to survive the harsh winters.

15:54Copy video clip URL Terkel reads again, as stark images of snowy winter are shown.

17:01Copy video clip URL A roaring, swollen river shatters the stillness of winter, and scenes of its power continue to be shown. Alexander explains that this is the Desplaines River; the heavy snowmelt has “forced it from its banks.” As the floodwaters ebb, signs of spring begin to show on the prairie.

18:25Copy video clip URL Danger was a reality on the prairies, Alexander explains. A fire suddenly sparks up, and Alexander explains how such a thing can be useful for new growth in more ways than one.

20:02Copy video clip URL “Two weeks later,” Alexander notes, the land is transformed. The same charred earth is now covered in flowers and green growth. Terkel reads a poem about spring as scenes of rabbits, flowers, and grass continue.

21:20Copy video clip URL “Had there been no fire,” Alexander notes, the prairie would not be so vibrant. Alexander then discusses Queen Anne’s lace, which they note some would prefer would not continue to grow on the Prairie. Images of flowers continue.

23:13Copy video clip URL Alexander reads from Ecclesiastes 3:1, and uses the lines to explain the system which exists to allow wildflowers to bloom. Alexander then examines several different kinds of wildflowers and wild plants.

26:47Copy video clip URL The red-bellied snake, Alexander explains, is not a dangerous one at all. The screech owl, they then note, could become a threat to that snake. Of the ten or so snakes seen around Chicago, only one is dangerous to humans.

28:06Copy video clip URL There are six kinds of turtles native to the Chicago area, and they lay eggs in the spring—which hatch in the summer.

29:00Copy video clip URL “A quick lesson in bird identification,” Alexander jokes as they explain the antithetical name of the red-winged black bird; females look nothing like that description, while males fit it perfectly.

29:45Copy video clip URL Using a disused muskrat lodge, Canada Geese have already begun breeding by springtime. Alexander explains their unique mating habits. They also explore a seemingly impossible case: that of the snow goose and Canada goose who have little goslings.

31:15Copy video clip URL Terkel reads again, this time about the transition from spring to summer. As he does, scenes of the ripening landscapes continue.

32:28Copy video clip URL Alexander returns, explaining the exceptional vibrancy of these green summer scenes.

33:16Copy video clip URL Cattails are edible, Alexander explains, and explores the various ways in which the plant can be eaten. Scenes from around the marsh follow.

34:20Copy video clip URL Fading from black, Terkel reads again—this time about sunrise. As he does, an exceptional time-lapse of a sunrise plays.

35:30Copy video clip URL Alexander explores the habits of water birds, and contrasts their movement with the location of their movements—right beside a busy motorway. Alexander continues that the great blue heron has nested in their protected area here in Chicago for more than 50 years. They explore other sorts of water birds.

38:30Copy video clip URL Terkel reads again, this time about birds. Scenes of the large water birds continue.

38:53Copy video clip URL “This is the summer prairie,” Alexander says of a wide grassy field. They then explore the many types of plants and wildlife present in this prairie, and the things that make those things special.

40:10Copy video clip URL Terkel reads a poem about the prairie, as the flora of that prairie continues to be shown.

41:25Copy video clip URL In concluding the film, a title card lists some of the organizations which assisted in the making of the film, and can help introduce people to Chicago’s wilderness.

41:57Copy video clip URL A title card again reads “Chicago’s Secret Wilderness,” and credits Studs Terkel for reading the poetry of Carl Sandburg. Scrolling credits show the rest of the people behind the film as Terkel continues reading poetry and scenes of Chicago’s nature continuing to be shown.

42:56Copy video clip URL Film fades to black.


1 Comment

  1. balfour knight says:

    I love the sounds of Sylvia Woods playing her beautiful Celtic harp–thanks!

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