Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Pitch for The Illinois Steward

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If you are curious about the natural world of Illinois, or maybe thinking about a gift for someone who fits that description, I’ve got a magazine recommendation for you: The Illinois Steward. The Steward is published quarterly, and it’s an education and outreach effort of the U of I and affiliates that promote natural resources stewardship.

The slogan of The Illinois Steward—“discovering our place in nature”—quietly asserts that people are part of the natural world. By extension, it implies that our well-being is bound up in the well-being of the land community that we inhabit, wherever we live.

Should you pick up a copy of The Illinois Steward the thing you are likely to notice first is the photography. In any given issue it seems there is at least one photograph that you’ll think can’t have been taken in Illinois. Sometimes that’s a picture of a thing you don’t usually associate with our state, like an ancient bald cypress tree. Other times it’s the perspective that makes the photo stand out, like a close-up of an insect you step over every day. Photographs of more easily recognized subjects in the Steward—prairiescapes, woodland wildflowers, birds and mammals—are equally striking, the kind I look at and wonder, “Could I frame that?”

Many of the stories The Illinois Steward covers focus on humans as participants in the natural world.

Features in the past year have included an article on the small but growing number of farmers around the state who are rediscovering the potential for growing crops other than corn and soybeans—to their own benefit, and the benefit of the land community. Another article described the mud-to-parks project, which is taking sediment from Illinois River backwaters near Peoria, and using it to reclaim former industrial sites near Chicago. Still other articles describe the pleasures of various outdoor activities from hunting for morel mushrooms to working to restore prairie and other natural areas.

In addition to articles that highlight human activity, The Illinois Steward also promotes understanding and appreciation for the nonhuman residents of Illinois—spiny soft-shelled turtles, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and the rest.

The look of The Illinois Steward is distinctive. It employs striking photos and drawings as components of the stories it tells, but it’s not so visually busy that the design becomes a distraction. The people who work on The Steward are passionate about their subjects, and passionate about communicating what they know and what they discover about Illinois.

If you have not picked up a copy of The Illinois Steward before, you should know that the current, Fall 2005, issue is something of a departure. It is produced entirely with essays, photos, and drawings by students from a U of I course on communicating nature, that was taught by members of the Steward staff and contributors last spring.

You can order The Illinois Steward by phone through their subscription office at (217) 333-3650. Or follow this link to learn more at their website: