Coyote follow-up: five questions with Dan Kelly
07/29/2009 4:28 PM
Dan Kelly is a busy guy.
He blogs. He Tweets. He's a Gapers Block contributor. Dan has reported and written great journalism for a variety of publications (This editor is particularly partial to some of Kelly's work for the estimable and soon-to-be resurrected Baffler Magazine. Though Kelly's church reviews for Chicago Journal - secreted away, as they are, in our archives - are certainly nothing to sneeze at, and we hope to have them back online soon.)
Thus is was our pleasure to charge him with combing through the South Loop's largest and most mysterious property for coyotes. You know the place: it spreads over 62 acres from Roosevelt and Clark. Nearby residents say them hear the coyotes howling at trains and scampering about. I felt the Journal had to take a look.
Part I and Part II of Dan's series can be read here and here.
A couple weeks have passed since the stories were published, and Dan was gracious enough to answer five questions I sent him via e-mail. Here's our interview:
I'm curious to hear what, if anything, you learned about nature in Chicago while reporting and writing this assignment.
In high school, my biology teacher asked me what I thought was the most powerful force in the universe. I think I said black holes. Nope, he said, it's entropy, and the history of the human race is a battle against it. We're always trying to instill order on the elements before they overrun us.
Visiting the property, that came back to me. I used to think of the city as this fixed, immovable thing, but without regular upkeep, I realized we'd be literally swamped. The coyotes and foliage at 16th and Clark show that nature always finds a way to infiltrate civilization—sometimes with our unwitting assistance. Puts a new perspective on "urbs in horto."
The Riverside Park parcel isn't Yellowstone. But it's not Grant Park - with its formally designed gardens and flower beds - either. Any new thoughts on "wilder" urban space vs. planned out and controlled park land?
Within the confines of the city, the tract is a unexpected and pleasant break from the steel and glass of the Loop. On the other hand, I don't know how happy I'd be with other undeveloped "parks" scattered throughout the city. We really don't need the coyotes and bunnies spreading any further, growing more comfortable with our presence, both for their sake and ours.
I do like the plot's anomalous, unplanned wildness, but I like the cultivated look of Grant Park, the Morton Arboretum, and Chicago Botanic Gardens too. I don't have enough space here to enter into a discussion about natural beauty versus using plants in aesthetic or artistic statements. I was raised around (practically inside) the southwest suburban forest preserves, however, so I'll always have a soft spot for letting the seeds and critters fall where they may.
What was the most interesting or weirdest thing you found during your hike through the property?
Wildness in the animals and plants living on the tract was echoed by the human denizens who find their way there. Left alone and given time to do more than scrawl their tags, graffiti artists can create some wild, colorful, goony stuff.
Learning the story of the B&OCT and St. Charles Air Line bridges was an eye-opener as well. I'd driven up and down the Dan Ryan for years, always wondering what they were all about. Also, I discovered that Batman's temporary Batcave is located on Lumber Street, just across the bridge. I should have stopped by to ask the Dark Knight if he'd seen any coyotes.
Do you have any advice for would-be hikers in the the Riverside parcel?
Wear heavy shoes. There's a lot of metal and glass shards out there, and I can see an unwitting, semi-barefoot visitor developing a nice case of tetanus.
As they say at the national parks: take only photographs, leave only footprints. And get there soon. You never know when it'll turn into a big box store.
Are you watching for coyotes in your neighborhood more?
Whenever I pass through a forest preserve or drive by a meadow, sure, but in my own neighborhood? Not really. We live far away from any real greenery, though there are a few big parks nearby. Regardless, I wouldn't doubt coyotes have strolled through the area late at night. Mostly, I have semi-regular battles with raccoons and possums, who hang out on my front porch strictly to befoul my lawn furniture. Spiteful beasts.