Sunday, December 28, 2008

Subtle enjoyment

At first glance, the trip from Cleveland to Chicago via I-90 might be considered a boring one. I beg to differ. Here is the trip in six segments.

Cleveland -- It was 36.1 degrees and windy when we departed from the east suburbs of Cleveland today. There was a Wind Advisory in effect, and indeed the wind was blowing. Aberrant 60-degree temperatures from the day before had cleared the last of the snow in the area. Even the little piles in shopping centers and along highway medians were gone. The grass was surprisingly green. I recorded a red-tailed hawk in the woods of Bratenahl, just north of I-90.

Firelands -- The Firelands are a section just west of Cleveland, mostly in places like Erie County. Cleveland's root date to the time of the colony of Connecticut and the Western Reserve of the tiny state, which once extended in a narrow swath all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of Lake Erie. Along the Firelands, we dropped off the Allegheny Plateau to flatter land. We traversed deep ravines along the Vermillion, Huron and Black Rivers.

Black Swamp -- Most of northwestern Ohio was once a vast, post-glacial swamp known as the Black Swamp. Settlers drained the swamps for farmland soon after arriving in the 19th Century. There are still a few remnants of the swamp, and on a post-thaw day like this many of the rivers overflowed their banks. In Williams County, in extreme northwestern Ohio, there was more snow on the ground than at any other point on today's trip. North-facing slopes held snow, as did a few woodlands.

Michiana -- A region that includes the South Bend-Mishawaka-Elkhart trifecta, Michiana is a land of rivers and creeks and farms and lake-effect snow. It also is home to the RV Hall of Fame, a tantalizing roadside attraction in Elkhart. A couple more red-tails were recorded here, and at least one accipter sat on a fencepost. There was some ice on the agricultural ponds, but mostly it had melted in the big thaw of the past few days.

Dune Country -- Gas-a-roo is a formerly independent gas station on Calumet Avenue in Hammond, Ind., that is now owned by Valero. It's a great place to fuel up on the way back from Ohio or the Dune Country. Here we discovered that the massive snow melt had also occurred in the Chicago region.

Chicago -- Our city was icebound when we left on Wednesday. There's nary a trace of snow now, except a few black piles of a snow-like substance along a few highway medians. This now is the wettest year in recorded Chicago history--for the second time this year the Des Plaines River is flooding.

The final tally: seven red-tails, three accipters (sharp-shinned hawks or cooper's hawks), at least four dozen white-tailed deer, acres of flooded farmland and a winter jaunt across a lovely landscape.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cold facts

I've been a little obsessed with the weather lately. Today is no exception: the temperature right now in Uptown is -0.9 degrees (or degree?). It's bright and sunny and absolutely frigid. I decided to hop around Weather Underground a little and discovered that it's a relatively balmy 17.9 degrees in Christmas, Mich. Christmas is on the northern edge of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and we camped there last May. So 300 or so miles north of here it's actually "warmer." I also checked International Falls, Minn., typically a really cold place, and it's actually "warmer" there, too, at 1.2 degrees (really just across the Ontario border in Fort Frances according to Weather Underground). I'm hoping to actually get outside and ski or something one of these days and have a more active driftless area post.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow patrol

More wintertime observations...after the last post, the aborted bike ride, the temperature dropped 45 degrees in under 12 hours and more than 30 degrees in less than six hours. Monday dawned at 5 degrees above zero!

We had a snowfall of about 4 inches on Tuesday that snarled the evening rush hour. Tonight, we're expecting a big winter storm. The forecasts have varied a bit, but at least 6 inches are expected overnight with as many 12 inches at the Wisconsin line. We're under a winter storm warning right now. It's been a snowy December.

I've noticed that the snow sort of insulates sound a little bit and makes everything echo-y on our block. Noise travels farther in extreme cold, and when it's super-cold and clear you can hear the Red Line train all the way from our house (no way you'd hear this in summer). You also can hear cars on Lake Shore Drive more clearly. What really strikes me are the airplanes that fly west over Lawrence Avenue on their way to O'Hare. When it's frigid, they sound like they're just a few foot over the rooftops.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reindeer game

Caribou in Ontario? Yeah, maybe in Moose Factory. Nope, right on the north shore of Lake Superior, a half-day's ride from Michigan. On islands that were formed by extraterrestrial forces, no less.

Backpacker Magazine recently featured the native caribou population on Lake Superior's Slate Islands. The big ungulates crossed over to the islands on icy Lake Superior years ago. The 200 or so reindeer there now have no natural predators and enjoy a peaceful existence in a provincial park.

The Slate Islands were formed by a meteorite likely 450 million years ago. The islands are the central uplift from the collision. Impact may have taken place during the Orodovician period. Favorite Orodovician fauna: the arandaspis, a type of jawless fish.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Windy city

It's mild in Chicago today--temperatures in the mid-40s and overcast. It was a winter opportunity for a bike ride.

I extracted the bike from the basement and hopped on in the alley. The first few pedals came easily, and I felt like I glided onto Clarendon Avenue. Once on the lakefront path, I continued dancing on the pedals. My chain ring ticked over like a metronome as I sailed northward.

I began to recalibrate my winter workout plan. As long as the paths were free of ice and snow, I could bike all season long. No need to spend hours in a claustrophobic gym. I reached the turnaround at the north end of the path.

Here, the metronome stopped, the idyll ended and a ferocious blast of wind sent me careening to one side of the path. I continued to plow forward, for a time riding on a spongy path that only made the thigh-burn more painful. I finally made it to pavement near Foster Avenue. The wind gusts continued furiously. They would abate to about 15 mph on occasion, and I would surge momentarily. Making it to Lawrence Avenue was like climbing Mont Ventoux.

I turned west on Lawrence and an explosion of wind from the south sent me toward the curb. I tacked into the wind all the way to the relative shelter of the Lake Shore Drive viaduct.

I returned home just 30 minutes later, warmer, wiser.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Snow watch

I had a whole post prepared in my head yesterday about how Chicago winters are mostly frigid with just a trace of snow on the ground. Then a low pressure system brought about 2 inches of snow overnight and temperatures rose to 31 degrees. Yesterday, the daytime high struggled to reach 18 and we saw lows in the morning of 10 above. There was just a trace of snow on the ground--grass readily visible in the park along Lake Shore Drive. So often, especially early in the season, we have an expected snowfall on the lakefront that mostly results in rain. This is because of the lake's relatively warm temperature. I will update with a post the next time the ground is bare and the temps are in single digits.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reverse Jubilee

The State of Illinois has moved forward with the closing of seven state parks and 12 state historic sites. Hennepin Canal, Gebhard Woods, Channahon and Kickapoo State Parks will remain open. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn sent an e-mail to constituents summarizing the closings. The cost-cutting is sparing the paltry sum of $2 million from the state budget.

Among the locations shuttered since yesterday are Carl Sandburg's birthplace in Galesburg. Other notables include lovely Lowden State Park and its nearby sibling, Castle Rock State Park. Both offer hiking opportunities in the upland woods of the Rock River Valley. Also closing: Jubilee State Historic Site, which sits within Jubilee College State Park (to my knowledge the state park is remaining open). The significance? Jubilee College was founded by Philander Chase, who also founded Kenyon College. Jubilee College, one of the first in Illinois, has been closed since Abraham Lincoln's presidency.

Arbor day

A few images from the Bird Hills area...