Rachel Davis has found many ways to connect to nature. She’s an independent artist who works in paint, print and textile processes; she teaches classes in natural dye at Morton Arboretum in Lisle and Lillstreet Art in Chicago. And she teaches preschool at Prairie School of DuPage in Wheaton, an outdoor nature-based program for children ages 3 to 5.
Davis has collaborated with her husband, Andrew Hipp, by illustrating several natural history essays and a field guide to Wisconsin sedges. She will contribute illustrations to a book on oaks Hipp is writing for the University of Chicago Press. Davis and Hipp have two sons and live in Downers Grove. Davis spends her free time swimming, hiking and gardening.
Here’s her story.
Catching the Nature Bug
I always loved being outside and building forts and playing in creek beds. I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York in a rural area and we raised goats and chickens. I have always been an outdoor kid. Our family fun was hiking, camping and picking berries.
Discovering DuPage Forest Preserves
My husband and our two teenage sons moved to Downers Grove in 2009 and we were delighted to find the ring of forest preserves that surrounds our community. We spent lots of time at Lyman Woods and Maple Grove Forest Preserve when our kids were little.
A painting of an acorn by Davis.
Favorite Preserve and Time to Visit
What Brings Her Back Time and Time Again
I enjoy wandering in the woods because it makes me relax. There is no checklist, no to-do’s, just being outside and noticing what’s around me is enough. I might see a herd of deer a few feet off the trail at Waterfall Glen or spot an owl at Maple Grove, but regardless of a wildlife sighting, I feel engaged in the world.
Favorite Thing to Do in the Preserves
I am grateful to have a place to wander in nature – a refuge – I can return again and again to take pictures of plants and fungus on the trail. The photographs become material that I refer to for illustrations and paintings.
I have a little magnifying lens I can attach to the lens of the camera on my phone. I enjoy taking photos of textures in the forest: bark, the undersides of leaves, lichens and insects and seeing these patterns magnified.
A macro photo Davis took of a snowflake.
I have learned that there is so much more going on in the woods if I slow down and look. During the height of the pandemic my husband and I spent many mornings in the woods and noticed slime mold we hadn’t paid much attention to before. The colors and shapes of slime mold are impressive. I’ve learned that the “show” is ephemeral. Witch hazel blossoms are unfurling and a short time later they are gone. The mayapples are poking up, leafing out, full-open umbrellas, then bearing golf-ball sized apples and finally withering from too much heat.
How Nature Inspires
So much in the forest preserves inspires me — to be in the woods is to have a full sensory experience. I enjoy being surrounded by the sounds of birds, and frogs, along with the smell of the earth. I study the shapes of things — leaves, insects, fungus — and enjoy how they fit together physically and the color spectrum of the forest floor.
Favorite Nature Quote
“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility."
– Rachel Carson
This quote by Rachel Carson speaks to me because it reminds me to keep everything in perspective. Visits to the woods do that for me. I’m grateful to live so close to many of the forest preserves of DuPage County.
Advice to Others
I would encourage everyone to visit the forest preserves, especially in the early hours of the day or as the sun is going down. There is no nicer way to start or finish the day than a walk in the woods.
A photo of snow on pine needles by Davis.