Before I knew any of the history of this place, Cowles Bog attracted my attention as a site for observation and inspiration. The Indiana Dunes are one of the few "wild" places close to Chicago, my home base for many years. The series of paintings that resulted is based on photographs and sketches gathered from many visits over a three year period. The Great Marsh, a recently restored area of the wetland is located just east of the Bog.
Cowles Bog is located in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, about 25 miles southeast of Chicago. It is named for Henry Chandler Cowles, the University of Chicago botanist, who began bringing biology students by train to the dune lands of Lake Michigan in the 1890s. Cowles and his students found a shockingly diverse range of plant life (for instance prickly pear cacti growing alongside swamp grasses) and a radical mutability of the environment, due to the wind and weather of the lake. These observations led Cowles and his students to conclude that living things must exist in relationship to each other as well as to the changes in their physical surroundings. This theory underlies what we now know as the field of ecology.
When the area came under attack from industry, Cowles was one of the leaders in the fight for it's conservation, resulting in its designation as a national park in 1916. He believed that the dunes were one of the "three or four most important American sites worth visiting…..No other dunes than ours show such bewildering displays of dune movement and struggle for existence, such labyrinths of motion, form, and life."
It is interesting to me that the word ecology, which is so connected to this place, is rooted in the greek words logos, for study and ecos or oikos for home. To study this particular "home", one has to look between a sprawling power plant and a towering nuclear generator but luckily, this bit of it is still here, as it has been for 8000 years, struggling, moving, forming and living.