Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Before the Internet, birders called their local Rare Bird Alert telephone number and a taped message would play with a list of that week's interesting birds. Locations were spread by word of mouth or maybe a printed newsletter. The article suggests advanced birders kindly question outlandish reports. From my experience with the local message board, these sorts of questions don't go over well with the novices. It also suggests you don't have to post every single one of your intriguing sightings, and that alone may prevent a lot of the vitriol.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
The Chicago Tribune reported that a puma was seen in southern Wisconsin, about 150 miles from here. (I prefer "puma" to cougar or mountain lion for no real good reason.) Seems that the big cats are moving eastward from the Black Hills and elsewhere. It makes sense considering deer are as common as passenger pigeons used to be.
Finally, NPR featured a mildly funny but interesting piece about honey locusts. Seems the common yard tree developed its thorns to protect against Ice Age beasts such as mastodons. Chicago has thousands of honey locusts, by the way, so it's fun to pretend we're residing in a Pleistocene landscape with megafauna roaming around.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The update to this story is that I've enjoyed MooseJaw more lately, especially online. Uncle Dan's is now in Lakeview, and Acronym is coming to Lincoln Park.
November 22, 2006 -- City dwellers in Chicago face a scarcity of outdoors-y retailers and outfitters. Flagstaff, Boulder, Asheville this is not. Chicago outposts include a Patagonia store, Erehwon Mountain Outfitters, Uncle Dan's and MooseJaw. That may seem like a lot, but the market has turned over in the past five years. Patagonia is new, and Erehwon has moved around and shuttered other stores. Perhaps Erehwon comes closest to fulfilling all of my expectations of an outfitter. Uncle Dan's and MooseJaw are nice but small. Patagonia is really a clothing shop for middle-aged men more than an outfitter.
There's a national chain, let's call it Acronym, that does have a location near the city but disappoints every time I visit. I like Acronym in general and prefer to spend there because it offers cash back on every purchase (I signed up for this program in late 2005). But this location is so abysmal that I can't stomach making the 30-minute ride again. The store is housed in an aging shopping center that also includes Jewel, Books-A-Million, Jo-Ann Fabrics and a Secretary of State's Office. Acronym is in a low-slung space without much character. This location doesn't carry a complete line of Acronym equipment as I discovered when I asked about cross country skis. Sadly, Acronym is going to push me even farther away soon--the inner-ring location is closing in a few months and moving to Northbrook, on the Cook County-Lake County border.
More to come in future months on the results of a full year of purchasing at Acronym.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Below is the first of the "Best Of" series. This was a difficult choice. Some of my favorite posts were about the Beastie Boys, the Cleveland Indians, the Tour de France and "Nimrod Nation." I've decided to exclude those, but I have to say that writing about those topics did come easily. Still, not central to the driftless area's focus.
July 26, 2006 -- I hiked up a 12,600' peak last weekend, but I'm struggling to decide how to write about it. Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona, was the location. The views were amazing (pictures here), but I suppose the tundra during the final few hundred feet may have been the most memorable part of it. The only plants I saw were lichens, the rare San Francisco groundsel, a perennial alpine plant with yellow and purple flowers, and another striking yellow-flowered plant. It was chilly (~50s), but there wasn't snow on the ground. There were a few birds around, even at the highest part of the peak. Dark-eyed juncos (gray-headed form) and american pipits (only breeding location in Arizona) were about. There were a few chipmunks, fatter than our eastern variety, but I don't think they were marmot or pika species. At the Agassiz Saddle, a broad-tailed hummingbird, perhaps attracted by a bright yellow stuff sack, stopped and hovered for a moment just inches from me. The mountain really is part of a volcano. It is crowned with rock fields resembling the Hollywood take on Mars.
I went from 550' in Chicago to 12,600' in Arizona in 14 hours (with of course, a near 40,000' plane ride in
between). The altitude caused quite a headache that lasted hours later. Advil finally proved to be the solution. It was difficult to focus on anything but getting up and down the mountain. We had a pre-dawn start that ensured we were off the mountain before the threat of afternoon thunderstorms, but we did take many breaks. It seemed like hundreds of people still were going up the mountain as we returned to the trailhead. From Flagstaff below we later saw the peak engulfed by a storm. For some, the journey didn't require the specialized gear we lugged to the top. One gentleman walked up in brand-new white sneakers, shorts, and a Polo shirt, clutching a plastic bottle of spring water. I wonder how they coped with the storm on those exposed rocks. We met several Flagstaffers on the mountain, and they were all very affable, urging us to go to the microbrew fest later that day.
Next stop was West Clear Creek Wilderness and an evening camped next to two swimming holes. We were now at about 4,500' and it was perhaps 100 degrees when we arrived. The spot was a little partied out, but the swimming was ideal. In one spot, there is a 25' bluff to plummet off of. Pancho Doll's swimming hole Web guide includes information on Fat Bradley and Bullpen, which has the big jump. I slept in a hammock strung between a sycamore and a small but sturdy cedar that night. Hammock sleeping, when possible, can be ideal. No doubt it's more comfortable than the ground.
The journey culminated with a ride on the Mogollon Rim Road, which skirts the edge of the 5,000' high escarpment that bisects Arizona. This is ponderosa pine forest country with vistas of canyons and valleys below. Among fauna was abert's squirrel, the tufted-ear creature pictured at right.
The final stop was Tempe and the Valley of the Sun, 115 degrees and I still can't understand why they put a city there.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
There was some coverage today in the local media about the ongoing flood recovery efforts in Pontiac and Watseka. The freeze-thaw cycle has limited access to damaged buildings.
Thank you to everyone who voted in the first anniversary poll. There should be some greatest hits posted here soon.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
I found that I'm not the only one dwelling on the weather. Chicagoist also has been talking a lot of cold and explained the city's 2-inch snow parking ban.
Sometimes the cold and gloom seem hopeless. It's hard to imagine that it well ever be hot again, but by July it will be hard to imagine that it will ever be frigid again. Today was a balmy 32 degrees, and it felt like it spring should be nearing. Then I checked the date and it was still mid-February.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Sunday, February 10, 2008
If nothing else, blogging is an exercise in navel gazing and these self-centered questions reflect that. So thanks for indulging me!
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Gore's attention to detail and enthusiasm for science is inspiring. I'm borrowing this from something I read recently, but when you think about what he's done since 2000 (Nobel Peace prize, Academy Award) versus what our actual president has done there's no question who has had the more positive impact on the world and left a prouder legacy.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Finally, Chicagoist, out of character, gushed about this horrible behemoth-gas-guzzler at the Chicago auto show. It's not even the 4 mpg that bothers me most, but the congestion-causing, accident-inducing insanity of this waste of space. And, yes, I like Alton Brown about 1 million times more.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Second, a story about the little-known Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. I haven't had a chance to explore this area, but it seems enticing. I have seen a bald eagle perched off I-75.
Last, a story about five things about squirrels. Most interesting here is that there is a Squirrel Defamation League, sort of an anti-driftless area. The SDL is currently in an uproar about a squirrel that attacked a 3-year-old in Florida.
I haven't mentioned my knee lately, but I've moved on to the Ivan Drago phase of my rehabilitation--lots of treadmill running--no steroids though. Almost every day that I've walked to the gym in the past month has been snowy, rainy or frigid.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Yesterday, an inpenetrable fog hovered over the city and cancelled almost every flight out of Midway Airport. Today's rain has eroded the 10 inches of snow that fell in the city on Friday. The Tribune's Weather page, always interesting, includes some interesting information today. Here are some of the wacky weather highlights:
-Yesterday's fog included visibilities of 1/16 of a mile and ceilings of 100 feet.
-February's opening days in Chicago have seen a total of 11 minutes of sunlight.
-We have seen just 21 percent of possible sunlight this winter (normal is 43 percent).
-The forecast high in Indianapolis today, 150 miles south, was 60.
-Only five seasons historically have been snowier than this one to date.
-Many communities are running low on road salt, and salt barges on the Illinois River are stuck in pack ice near Peoria.
The forecast in Nassau, The Bahamas, today was 80 and partly cloudy.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Perhaps what we will most remember from the trip happened at the very end. There were a few nondescript buildings near the parking lot. We did notice three large wire enclosures that hosted what appeared to be injured raptors. As we approached them (harris' hawk, red-tailed hawk, great horned owl), a woman feeding the birds invited us inside to the lightly advertised Wildlife Center. It just so happened those buildings hosted one of the country's largest collections of venomous snakes. We suddenly were given a personal tour of the center. We saw dozens of reptiles-everything from toads, salamanders and frogs to iguanas, geckos and turtles. Who knew Lake Forest was home to such a place. Some areas of Lake County are home to the endangered blanding's turtle and massassauga rattlesnake, FYI, and the center included a baby blanding's.