Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wild ride

Last night, we saw "Into the Wild," Sean Penn's big-screen version of the Jon Krakauer book. This story is something of a contemporary outdoor classic that was first excerpted in Outside magazine. I have mixed feelings about Krakauer, though I've read three of his books. I just saw a special about Krakauer and Penn on the Sundance Channel the other night, and Krakauer said something that bothered me, along the lines of "I'd rather be dead that working a 9-to-5 job." That comment would be OK from an idealistic 20-year-old but I don't need to hear it from a 53-year-old who obviously has been very fortunate in his writing career.

Anyway, a brief review of the movie. (If you don't know the story, there's a synopsis here.) I enjoyed most the vivid characters McCandless meets along the way. A lot of the people and places were very authentic, and in many cases real people rather than actors were included. The aging hippies in California, the South Dakota farmer and the Salton Sea retiree all were realistic--though I struggled most to accept the goateed Vince Vaughn as the farmer. It's a tribute to Krakauer's reporting that he pieced this story together and tracked down all these people. I also appreciated the attention to detail: filming around the same abandoned bus where McCandless stayed in Alaska, using early 1990s fashion and lots of pay phones and letters. This is a maddening and tragic story along the lines of "Grizzly Man." Interesting that both took place in Alaska, and I think there's a line in the book from a resident Alaskan who comments on the random people that the state attracts.

Shifting sands

This morning marked several milestones. I biked to Montrose Point; it was the first time I've biked (for real) since I had surgery. It also was the first time I had been to Montrose Point in many months. Next, I added species No. 300 to my North America (United States and Canada) life list. Finally, the frost today may have been the first of the season at the lakefront (see photo).

Montrose and the Magic Hedge Sanctuary are always changing, in part because of the active restoration efforts but also because of natural shifts in the fluid environment along the lake. Montrose Beach Dunes, a state-protected area, has literally doubled in size in the past year. What started as a neglected pile of sand a decade ago has become a complex dune habitat that continues to grow. Here nature has taken over a disturbed habitat and expanded its reach onto a formerly groomed public beach. Thanks to a few volunteers, more acreage is protected and native plantings are recreating the ancient dune habitat that once existed along the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan.

Snow buntings had avoided my life list until today. They're fairly common in Illinois in the nonbreeding season. The only "all-white songbird" breeds in the high Arctic. Today I saw two snow buntings along the new breakwall at Montrose Point. Their bright white wing patches make them unmistakable. (A note on the life list: I exclude species I've seen in the Bahamas, Central America and Europe.)

The mercury today dipped to 37 degrees. Frosts usually reach the lakefront up to three weeks later than areas 30 miles inland. A nice return to normalcy during a too-hot autumn.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wandering tattlers

I've shared observations on this before, but the Chicago Tribune has now written a story about the birders and naked men at Montrose Point. The story shed more light on the phenomenon than any before. When I told a friend once about the nomadic men of Montrose, he said "I bet there are a lot of minivans there." The Trib story would seem to confirm this (anyone not getting the implication of the 'minivan' reference, let me know).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Autumn idyll

Notes from a week spent mostly indoors. Saw an alley rabbit hop across Clarendon Avenue tonight. Saw a group of dark-eyed juncos feeding outside the WGN studios Monday. A palm warbler was in a tree on the workplace grounds Saturday. The sunset Tuesday night was spectacular. Altocumulus stratiformis clouds were bathed in alpenglow for at least an hour. I love autumn.

Elsewhere, Openlands' future preserve along Illinois' Lake Michigan shore is making headway. This will be one of the few public access points for Illinois' morainal ravines that skirt Lake Michigan.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wilderness starved

When I moved to Chicago, co-workers who knew of my outdoor enthusiasm would ask if I had been to Starved Rock State Park. These queries were well-intended, but for a long time we eschewed the big-name park for places like Mississippi Palisades, Apple River Canyon and White Pines Forest. I have mixed feelings about Starved Rock, but since I just went there I will accentuate the positive.

The great thing about Starved Rock is that it makes the outdoors accessible for people who might not otherwise go for a walk in the woods. Most of the trails are readily passable, and there is no admission fee. The park's magnificent cedar-lined bluffs and sandstone canyons are a short walk from most anywhere in the park. It's an easy day trip from the Chicago area, about 90 minutes one way. The view from the patio at the lodge is stunning. There aren't many places in Illinois where you can sit on a bluff and have a burger and a beer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Minnesota view

I never did share any pictures of Minnesota. This is what Minnesota looks like. At least the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. There are more photos here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mango madness

A hummingbird from the tropics has made its way to Beloit, Wis. A green-breasted mango has been spotted in a yard there. The mango's typical range is Central and South America.

One baseball-related comment: Why does Fox keep saying the Indians are underdogs even though they finished with the same regular-season record as Boston?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Squirrel wars

It's rare that a major newspaper devotes many column inches to squirrels. But the New York Times did last weekend. In a lengthy piece in its Sunday magazine, the Times featured the gray squirrel problem in Britain. American gray squirrels, the very species that resides just outside our front door right here in Uptown, were introduced to England many years ago. The squirrels have begun to overrun the native (and beloved) red squirrels of the British Isles.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Major league

A running diary of Game 4 of the American League Division Series...

6:38 - A late start to the diary, but it's OK as Grady Sizemore has just stepped in...and hits a long home run to center field! It feels like the first part of Game 3. Uh oh.

6:44 - Eric Wedge's new beard isn't looking that good.

6:45 - Play-by-play man Chip Caray uses the phrase "dulcet tones."

6:49 - Jhonny Peralta drives in former Ranger Travis Hafner! 2-0 Tribe.

6:55 - Good. Franklin Gutierrez is in right field again tonight. I don't care what Caray said in Game 3. Starting Trot Nixon was a bad idea.

6:59 - Former Ranger Alex Rodriguez stands in with two runners on. And strikes out.

7:03 - Former Ranger Kenny Lofton makes a nice catch for the third out.

7:09 - The Indians' Kelly Shoppach is a good No. 2 catcher. He's bunting here with two on and nobody out. The umps call a hit by pitch on a bunt attempt! Bases loaded.

7:14 - Yankees starter Chien Ming Wang is removed after just one inning. Before the game, I told anyone who would listen--OK, one person--that Wang was inexperienced in the postseason despite his 19 wins this year.

7:17 - Mike Mussina comes in for the Yankees. His best days may be behind him.

7:19 - Mussina induces a double play but the Tribe adds a run.

7:22 - Poised rookie Asdrubal Cabrera adds an RBI single! 4-0!

7:26 - I appreciate Caray's neutrality. ESPN Radio's Jon Miller gushes all over the Yankees at every opportunity.

7:31 - Who would have thought the Indians would make it this far without Keith Foulke, Andy Marte, Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers. All were key parts of the preseason roster.

7:40 - New York mounts a rally, but crafty veteran Paul Byrd gets Melky Cabrera to pop out.

7:45 - Yankees catch a break when umpire Bruce Froemming misses a checked swing call. Bases loaded, one out.

7:47 - Johnny Damon pops out for out No. 2. Whew.

7:48 - Crap. Infield hit scores a run.

7:52 - Byrd escapes, yielding just one run.

7:55 - I'm eating an apple that was grown at Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center in Hastings, Minn.

8:04 - Mussina looks good in the third inning.

8:07 - Byrd strikes out A-Rod looking. Nice.

8:16 - Shoppach hits a ground-rule double.

8:16 - Yanks coach Ron Guidry leads the American League in best-groomed mustache.

8:23 - The fundamentally sound Asdrubal Cabrera lays down a perfect sacrifice. Hafner is walked to load the bases.

8:27 - Two-run single by Victor Martinez! 6-1!

8:29 - A lot of Yankees fans got the memo tonight to wear light blue shirts.

8:41 - Caray calls Paul Byrd "dazzling." This has been a quiet dazzling.

8:47 - A-Rod records a rare postseason hit.

8:49 - Byrd through five complete!

8:53 - Indians catch a break on a Grady Sizemore infield hit.

8:57 - Caray just called Melky Cabrera "The Melk-man." Meantime, Mussina departs.

9:03 - Arli$$ is in the house.

9:07 - Robinson Cano hits a solo home run. Damn.

9:10 - I didn't need this Jon Bongiovi interview.

9:16 - Darn. Yankees start a rally against Rafael Perez with one down in the sixth.

9:20 - Perez jams Derek Jeter and gets a double play!

9:23 - Kyle Farnsworth comes in for the Yanks, and it appears he's wearing reading glasses.

9:42 - Pace of game stalls even more. Perez starts seventh by striking out Bobby Abreu.

9:45 - A-Rod cuts the lead to three.

9:53 - Perez is looking wild. I'm feeling nervous.

9:54 - Cano grounds out to first to end the seventh.

10:00 - Shoppach hits his second double of the game.

10:02 - Yankees decide to leave Jose Veras in the game. Maybe not. Here comes Mariano Rivera.

10:22 - Rafael Betancourt sets down Yanks 1-2-3 in eighth while I do knee exercises.

10:24 - Doesn't it seem like Joe Torre has been depressed for the past three years or so?

10:24 - Nice. TBS plays the theme from "Major League" while showing Indians highlights.

10:27 - Craig Sager reports that the Indians' wives are keeping away from their husbands.

10:33 - Joe Borowski was considered the big weakness for the Tribe before the series. Here he comes.

10:34 - Jeter pops out.

10:36 - Abreu homer. 6-4. Here comes A-Rod.

10:39 - A-Rod F-9.

10:40 - Posada misses a home run by a few feet.

10:41 - Posada strikes out swinging. The Indians win it, oh my god the Indians win it! They're celebrating tonight from the Appalachian foothills to the Lake Erie islands to the high ground east of Cleveland.

Climate change

First it was a 75-degree January day in New York City (restaurants were serving food outside for lunch and everything). Next a week of 90-degree temperatures in Northern Ontario. Then an 88-degree October day in Minnesota. And a super-hot Chicago Marathon that had to be cancelled. For a long time, I had been in denial that global warming was happening right around us. I'm not anymore. Despite the melting of Arctic ice and Antarctic ice shelves and the disappearance of glaciers in the Alps and snow on Kilimanjaro, I thought it would take a while for global warming to strike the middle latitudes. Now I've seen enough. And it feels horrible, kinda like the apocalypse. It's 84 in Chicago right now.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Gnat attack

Blogging live from Saint Paul, Minn. We're just blocks from the Mississippi River, which winds its way through the Twin Cities. The day began at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, just a short drive from here. This is a land of rich bottomland forest and high bluffs. Highlights from a walk on a hot day included two bald eagles. One was flying with a duck in its talons. There also were hundreds of american coots and a pocket of warblers, some of which appeared to be yellow-rumped warblers. Warblers in fall are drably colored and notoriously difficult to identify.

I've been asked to offer opinions on the Cleveland Indians' baseball games against the New York Yankees. I will give the people what they want. There will be more to come, especially if the Tribe makes it to the American League Championship Series.

Before the series, I thought to myself: the Yankees have an unbelievable lineup, but the Indians have better pitchers. Then I thought of the simple axiom that good pitching beats good hitting. That's when I decided the Tribe would win the series. I also looked at the teams' entire rosters. The Yankees field a fantasy-quality offensive lineup, but their pitchers are either very old or very young and inexperienced. They have big names like Mussina, Clemens and Pettitte, but not much substance.

Typical Midwesterner that I am, I soon became enraged by the East Coast bias I perceived regarding the Yankees. All of the pre-series (and season-long) focus was on the Yankees and their running mates the Boston Red Sox. Young Yankees like Joba Chamberlain and Shelly Duncan had already become ESPN-generated household names. The Indians' phenoms, Fausto Carmona and Asdrubal Cabrera, both of whom had far, far superior seasons, were completely off ESPN's map. So when a swarm of midges caused the Yankees to wilt yesterday I had little sympathy. I think it was a back-breaker. Good bye, Yankees.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hat tip

I could go on and on until the break of dawn writing about the Beastie Boys' show. The all Beastie Boys blog Mic to Mic has posted the video I took at the start of "Egg Raid on Mojo" (scroll to 9/27 post). I really have to recommend the "Butterfish" video posted on that blog.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Egg raid

A leftover from the Beastie Boys' show. The "twirl" Adrock references was done by the woman standing next to me.

Pastoral homecoming

OK, so we weren't just in Central Ohio to watch the squirrels. We also visited our alma mater, Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. We were there for "Homecoming," which is hilarious because literally ones of people came to The Hill for the event. Ohio Wesleyan defeated the Lords 35-27 in the football game. I have posted photos, including several from the idyllic Brown Family Environmental Center, on my flickr site.

Also, Chicago Wilderness Magazine has recently published stories about stargazing and marram grass.

Beautiful Ohio

Yahoo's home page includes a list of top searches. Miraculously, "Squirrels" came in at No. 9 yesterday.

This weekend I verified that red squirrels inhabit central Ohio as well as gray squirrels. We camped at a private campground outside of Mount Vernon, Ohio. This is a land of rolling hills, deciduous forests and cropland that is bisected by the Kokosing River Valley. Camping is becoming expensive. Rustic Knolls Campground charged a total of $84 for a two-night stay for four people. That's $21 per person per night. The owner cited the fact that we had two tents, a reasoning I've never heard before. Thankfully, we had a large grove mostly to ourselves.

There are a few differences between private and public campgrounds. Drinking is usually OK at a private campground. I've witnessed sketchy behavior in both private and public settings. At Rustic Knolls, dozens of semi-permanent trailers are the lifeblood of the business. There is a community there, including a hog roast on Saturday night in the rec hall. Massive pickup trucks line the lanes of the trailer park. It's not a bad spot to spend summers and weekends, but I wouldn't want to stare at RVs all day. That isn't camping.