Thursday, July 26, 2007

Brazen farmers

Officials on Monday discovered three football fields of pot growing in a single forest preserve--within the limits of Cook County! As incredible as this is, marijuana was grown throughout several forest preserves and the growers were living alongside them. I admit it, I've thought about camping on park district land as a literary experiment. But to live there and cultivate there is absurd.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tour cracks

All hell has broken loose in the Tour today, and it'll be a wonder if the race is actually completed. Another team left, this time Cofidis, and the race leader, Michael Rasmussen, has been removed.

Meantime, as I prepare to head to Canada, Ontario residents are concerned about the perils of backyard wildlife.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Borat's lament

World cycling suffered another blow today when star rider Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion at the Tour de France--this after winning yesterday's stage and Saturday's stage. Meantime, he strangely finished 29 minutes off the pace on Sunday. The positive test took out the rest of the Astana Team as well, including fifth-place rider and former podium finisher Andreas Kloeden.

The Astana Web site bears a startling resemblance to Borat's Web site. Both are from Kazakhstan.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Yahoo sciurus

I was asked offline what I would call my squirrel research vehicle a la Darwin's HMS Beagle (see previous post). I'm thinking it would be the Rodentia. What I don't know is what this vehicle would look like. Perhaps it would involve a crane that brings the passenger into the treetops.

Also, today, another coyote ran wild in Lincoln Park (I suppose all coyotes run wild, actually).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rubber rodent

On Friday, I drive to Cleveland for the start of what promises to be a memorable outdoors adventure. Saturday morning, two of us will depart for the French River region of Ontario, about 10 hours north of Cleveland. (Two more adventurers will join us Monday.) Our destination is a series of glacier-carved lakes that are surrounded by dense woodlands. There really isn't a park here, but this is lightly used public land and access is free. It's easy to find nice camp spots on beds of moss that cover massive, flat slabs of granite.

The main activity will be fishing, with some canoeing as well. Fishing is sort of an ancillary enjoyment for me; I'll enjoy swimming, birding, paddling, stargazing and relaxing just as much. And, from what locals say, the real fishing is about three hours north of here. Mostly we will be fishing for bass and pike. The preferred method is to throw weedless, topwater lures into beds of lily pads. The moss mouse, above, is one of the favored lures. It can be reeled across lily pads without getting snagged and is particularly appealing to largemouth bass. We also will fish off points, jetties, shoals and drop-offs in hopes of landing smallmouth bass, perch and maybe even a pickerel. We do occasionally eat our catch, but mostly throw the fish back.

I'd like to blog live from one of the small towns in the vicinity. It's been five years since I've been to this place so it'll be interesting to see if any public Internet connections have been established. More updates to come!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fashion off-sets

Today, we made another pilgrimage--this one to uber-hip enviro-conscious outfitter Nau. A lot of the clothes at Nau are made from a space-age material that comes from recycled plastic bottles. Some of the fashions are almost too cutting edge (I felt like one of the Griswolds after their Rome shopping binge). The jackets look something like Han Solo's in "Empire Strikes Back."

Still, I admire the sustainability ethos. Nau stocks a limited supply of clothing in-store and encourages customers to try on clothes, order in the store and have garments shipped to their homes (shipping is free and you get 10 percent off on the purchase). Five percent of profits are donated to nonprofit organizations, many of them local. Nau has only four locations, and Chicago's is in Lincoln Park.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bass pilgrimage

Last weekend, we visited Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Bolingbrook. (I'm preparing for a fishing trip to Canada in the next couple weeks. More on this later.) This hunting and fishing emporium is a destination for anyone who's ever thrown a line in a farm pond or anyone seeking a vest with deer on it. Walking through the doors is a bit like walking into an amusement park that has taxidermy everywhere. There were some fierce fox squirrels on display. For fishing equipment, this was well worth the trip.

Also, news came across this week that a kangaroo in a diaper was hopping across Wisconsin.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Disc paean

During certain times of year, Chicago enjoys long stretches of perfect weather. Days where it's comfortable to do most anything outside. Today was one of those days.

We traveled to the West Park disc golf course near Joliet, in the village of Rockdale (village motto: "Harmony & Industry"). One frustrating aspect of Chicago is the lack of disc golf courses. There are a few, mainly on the outskirts of the metropolitan area. There are a lot of nine-hole courses which don't merit the lengthy ride, and, sadly, there is just one course within city limits.

Disc golf has enjoyed a quiet explosion in popularity in recent years; there are far more courses than there used to be. It still is largely an underground sport, though. It gets no television coverage even while ESPN and Versus broadcast much less interesting fodder on a daily basis. There is something about the "underground" nature of it that is appealing. Finding the courses can be challenging (go to for the national directory) and once one has found a course it can be difficult to figure out where the holes are. Many of the courses are in under-utilized parks. It seems a few dedicated individuals maintain them on a voluntary basis.

West Park dates to 1979 and has easy-to-follow holes that are well-marked. There are several elevation changes as it skirts small ravines and a creek. The signature shot is on the 16th hole (pictured). The tee is about 30 feet above the basket, and there's a narrow chute that clears a series of copses on the embankment. The basket is denoted by the white arrow. I threw a laser-beam drive that was heading toward the basket before hitting a tree. Still, it was an easy two-putt for par, and I had a shot at birdie.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rodentine interloper

This black morph gray squirrel has infiltrated the ranks of the typical gray squirrels in our neighborhood. The grays seemed to be approaching it with caution a few days ago. If other career opportunities fail, I plan to study the squirrels of Uptown like Darwin studied finches.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Wisconsin drift

If there's one universal truth it's that Southwestern Wisconsin is not Patagonia. But it is quite a scenic getaway. The above photo was taken at Nelson Dewey State Park on the banks of the Mississippi River. This is, in fact, the driftless area of Wisconsin.

Disc golf is something that hasn't previously been mentioned on this blog, though it's a passion of this blog. The disc golf course at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville incorporates the undulating terrain of the driftless area alongside a college campus. The layout includes several signature shots across broad expanses and down steep hills.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Steady mobbing

An aggressive red-winged blackbird has made it into print locally and on the local airwaves. Male red-wings will attack any creature that comes close to their nests. A classic roadside sight in summer is of red-wings mobbing a red-tailed hawk, a David-versus-Goliath battle that the red-wings always win. I've heard of lakefront red-wings mobbing people, too, including a close relative of mine while jogging. Being pecked on the dome isn't the way to enjoy Chicago's summer!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Urban wildlife

A member of the species Rattus norvegicus is pictured here (click to enlarge). This is in our next-door neighbors' yard. Ugh.

Gull talk

The aforementioned Honda Element ad featuring a great black-backed gull is available here. Found it in Backpacker Magazine. Enjoy.