Ben Joravsky’s article on prairie restoration in your November 8 issue [Neighborhood News] baffled me on a number of counts. He calls the restorationists “abysmal at dealing with the public,” appearing to pick up on the charge made by the Edgebrook homeowners that restoration has been “sneaky.” But over the 20-odd years that volunteers have been working to restore biological diversity in the forest preserves, the Reader has carried many, many articles on those activities, as has the Tribune. The North Branch Prairie Restoration project and the Nature Conservancy have reached out to neighbors all over Cook County and have brought countless schoolchildren to the forests, under the Mighty Acorns program. If these volunteers aren’t also door-to-door canvassers, it is hardly their fault that citizens don’t read the newspapers.
Joravsky goes on to say that the “untrained…can’t tell one plant from another.” Three years ago when I first became involved in the restoration work, I was “untrained,” but I could easily tell overgrown buckthorn from native oaks, and I could also see immediately the beauty, health, and diversity of the restored areas, especially compared to the degraded and barren floor of the unrestored woods. I think the implication that the “untrained” are ignorant or apathetic is simply not true. For five years I have brought my students to the restored areas of Somme Nature Preserve and Harms Woods, and they are thrilled to see such complex ecosystems so near Chicago.
The point here is that the forest preserves belong to all the residents of Cook County, not just to those neighbors fortunate or affluent enough to have property adjoining the woods. If those homeowners are crying “sneak,” I have to wonder where they’ve been for 20 years.
However, the most puzzling part of Joravsky’s article was the portrayal of John Balaban. John has worked with my students at Oakton Community College on several occasions; he is a superb teacher, thoughtful and knowledgeable. I can easily imagine John’s responding to a question with “I don’t know,” but he would follow that with an invitation to dialogue, a meditation on how one might find an answer, an exploration of resources for considering the question. Joravsky represents three short dialogues between Balaban and Petra Blix that make both of them seem wooden, hostile, and ignorant. I cannot imagine what would provoke Joravsky to such a device, and I certainly can’t reconcile it with what I know of John Balaban. It seems like a journalistic trick, but to what end? John himself reported that the afternoon he spent with Blix and Joravsky was amicable, and that he and Blix achieved a significant degree of understanding. What’s the value in Joravsky’s representing them as implacable opponents?