In September 2018 I took a leap by quitting my job without another one lined up. It was definitely a risk, but I knew whatever I did next would be better than what I had been doing. I didn’t really have a plan other than vague notions toward consulting on some projects.
There’s a New Deal era mural by Henry Varnum Poor in the Uptown Station post office that came to mind as I started this post. It states: “From the sun and the fruits of the black soil poetry and song sprang.” I love that mural on so many levels. It was a lens into the rest of this largely agrarian state. It was an homage to Carl Sandburg and Louis Sullivan. And it tapped into something meaningful linking industry, the arts and our natural landscape.
After leaving that job, I needed to get back to something as earthy and grounding as that black soil. So I started birding again. I also made a point to drive my daughters to and from school every day.
I went birding almost 150 times during the winter of 2018-2019. I was starting to generate some ideas while out in the field. And I came to some conclusions. Clearly the environment was under attack in the Trump years. Once-sacred laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act were being rolled back. My other conclusion was that the wider public had a lot on its hands, whether the antagonistic and repugnant policies coming from the White House or simply all the mean tweets and vitriol. Climate, the environment and certainly birds had taken a back seat as they maybe always had.
Then I was sent to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan on assignment for a project.
“Just be careful by the Piping Plovers, you’ll see the nest cages there.”
Those were the words of a Sleeping Bear Dunes official who was pointing me to a few beaches for the assignment. Wait, Piping Plovers, I thought? This is pretty cool. They’re so rare and I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen where they nest. I snapped a few photos and went on my way.
Two weeks later I was back in Chicago birding at Montrose Beach as I am wont to do. There’d been a couple of Piping Plovers hanging around, a male (banding code: Of,VO:X,G) and a female (Of,RV:X,B). It was uncanny how they appeared just after I’d been to Sleeping Bear. Now Piping Plovers were right in my proverbial backyard.
It’d gotten cumbersome calling them by their long string of letters so Tamima Itani named them Monty and Rose after Montrose. The rest of the story, well, you’ll have to see the film this weekend (tickets are still available here). But as the Chicago Reader mentioned in a piece this week, it was fate.
One documentary may not solve all the world’s problems, but Monty and Rose themselves have made an impact as a super-rare species in a metropolis. And that’s really all this project has been, a reflection of what the birds have done and amplifying their story and that of their protectors. The hope is that somehow this might actually help inform the public about birds and expand the population of Great Lakes Piping Plovers. Nothing more and nothing less.
And that’s what brings us to tomorrow and the release of “Monty and Rose 2.” I hope to see you there.