From this elevated perspective on the west side of the Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve, were it not for the restoration of Thompson Lake to its historic lakebed it would have been much harder for me to picture how the Illinois River Valley might have looked in past centuries. In this imagined view, perhaps several hundred years ago, Thompson Lake stretches northeastward toward a summer sunrise, surrounded by marshland and a vast bottomland hardwood forest (mostly converted to agriculture in the 20th century). Sunlight reflects from the distant surface of Grass Lake (no longer in existence) and the Illinois River is just visible through a break in the forest separating it from Thompson Lake. In the foreground an open savanna adorns an undulating bluff top that was on the outskirts of an Oneota-Mississippian village in the 1300s. A similar openness is visible further along the bluff through a gap in the bur oaks. Out of view to the right Thompson Lake and adjoining Flag Lake stretch for miles down the river valley.
The morning sky and the elevated prospect were compelling enough reasons to paint the bluff top scene as it is today, but I found Thompson Lake’s ecological history, the dynamic aspects of the historical landscape, and the rebirth of the lake itself, to make looking back into history irresistible.
More about Emiquon: https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/emiquon/