Friday, August 29, 2008

Park farewells

In stunning news, Illinois' governor has announced that nearly two dozen state parks and historic sites will close this fall. One Republican, though, said the announcement may be an effort to reach accord on a new state budget. Still, surprising news. Among the potential casualties are several that have been featured on If only the state had listened to one of my first posts on the old journal two years ago. Fewer staff and amenities would actually improve the visitor experience as the parks are allowed to return to nature.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Feeling August

August. A fine month, but something of a barren time when it comes to the outdoors and wildlife watching at this latitude. Breeding season is largely over, so many birds are less active. I was in the North Woods a few days ago and barely heard a song or a call at all. A few are starting to migrate--shorebirds have been reported at Montrose Beach, for example. Except for this mild year, the weather is typically very warm and humid and not comfortable for spending much time outside. I'm mostly looking forward to fall trips--crisp days with puffy white clouds.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Interdunal agriculture

Marijuana plants have been discovered in teetotaling Indiana Dunes, and I am enjoying the irony. In fact, I wish I had sown a few seeds there myself. Regulars may recall that we were at the Dunes earlier this year only to discover an overzealous alcohol ban. The campground's rating went from four campfires to a lowly two campfires. Now, "wild" marijuana plants have been found in the park. Officials are asking for help finding the plants and have set up a hotline for anyone who sees one. I'm guessing a lot of people would be happy to help track down the pot plants just in time for harvest.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Legendary laker

Somewhere in all of us, we wish we were plying the Great Lakes on a freighter (OK, maybe just me). Imagine a lot of days on frigid open waters, evenings in rough-and-tumble port towns. Romantic moments along rocky coastlines and rugged landings along rusty breakwalls. Distant lighthouses the only sign of society whilst navigating November storms.

This brings me to the Gordon Lightfoot classic "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Where has this song been hiding all these years? Yesterday, the 6-minute epic came on a classic rock station here in town. There are so many great lyrics in the song, but here are some favorites:

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered.

I didn't know that the Dandy Warhols, a brilliant American rock band, covered the Lightfoot epic.

Additionally, the Chicago Tribune featured an editorial on the importance of the lakes today.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Summer splendor

What a lovely summer this has been in Chicago! Our cold winter and cool spring have transitioned into a mild summer. We have only a couple 90s and lots of 70s. Right now, it's 69.8 degrees in Uptown. WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling had a nice note in the paper about the mild summer the other day, but I can't seem to find it. I know he pointed out that the North Woods locations like Antigo, Wis., had dipped into the lower 40s recently. Ah, the North Woods. Here is a link to Skilling's blog anyway. It's a pretty typical item about a not-so-true weather belief.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Constant flashes

One week ago tonight, a vicious line of thunderstorms hit the Chicago area. Straight-line winds took off roofs from Elmhurst to Elgin. A tornado struck Griffith, Ind. Here in Uptown, lightning flashed in the sky near constantly for most of the night. In fact, we had half our year's allotment of lightning during this single episode, according to this story.

Elsewhere, the Detroit Free Press reports that "Michigan has it all." Indeed, what a state, and still so much to explore.

Finally, a man and his son set out to trace Marquette and Jolliet's route from St. Ignace, Mich., down the Mississippi River watershed. Sounds like quite a trip. Canoeing the open water of the Great Lakes, though, wouldn't be for me.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Parsimonious approach

The Chicago Tribune reported recently that Illinois' state parks are falling into disrepair. Sadly, Illinois' Department of Natural Resources already lagged behind many other states in my opinion. Three-foot-high, unmown grass doesn't bother me that much. I'm more fixated on the alcohol ban and the lack of privacy at most of the campgrounds. But it's unfortunate that Illinois' natural wonders won't have the accompanying camps they deserve any time soon.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Storm surge

During the past three years, we have seen tornadic weather in Chicago during the months of August and September. Back in September 2006, reports indicated a tornado was seen in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and that it was headed toward Uptown. The warning siren went off--some say for the only time in Chicago history--and we waited out the storm in the basement with neighbors. A tornado really never hit ground in Chicago, but still a scary experience. Ironically, we camped later that night at Blue Mounds State Park in Dane County, Wis.

Last year, a huge thunderstorm hit Chicago on an August afternoon. There was more than 12 inches of water on Lake Shore Drive in sections. Several of the willows that line Lincoln Park were taken out by straight line winds. There was severe tree and structural damage in Lakeview. I rode up on a sidewalk to clear the flooded Wilson Avenue viaduct.

Last night, the tornado siren by the neighborhood gas station sounded for the second time in three years. We scurried to the basement with a radio and Blackberry (love the radar on the Blackberry). There was a tornado warning for central Cook County, and a tornado was seen near Elmhurst. It was projected to sweep through Chicago, and ultimately Montrose Harbor. A sheet of wind blew through somewhere near 8:15, and we lost power for about an hour. At 8:30, the tornado warning expired. Reading reports today, I don't think a tornado ever touched ground. I do know that thousands were still without power today. Another wild August storm in Chicago.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bird bonanza

Birds seen on Day 2 of Lollapalooza: barn swallow, american crow, rock dove, chimney swift (one lonely soul flying over the maelstrom of Rage Against the Machine), ring-billed gull. More Lolla views here.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Virginia splendor

Bear Creek Lake State Park is nestled in the rolling terrain of Cumberland County, Va. Just over one hour from Richmond, the park is a treasure amid a dense forest near the foothills of the Appalachians. This also is near the site of a memorable canoe capsize in the Willis' River. I lost a cellphone and a camera in that one.

Thanks to one of the correspondents for the tip on this nice story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Full disclosure: the author used to be in a fantasy league with me.

Bear crawl

A black bear wandered out of the Rockies and onto the course at the U.S. Senior Open on Friday. News reports state that the bear departed the course through a drainpipe. I'm still trying to figure out how a beast of this size could squeeze into a drainpipe. Also, the reports use the verb "crawled" in describing its exit. Do four-legged mammals really crawl? Maybe like when Templeton slinked around the fairgrounds in "Charlotte's Web?"

Friday, August 1, 2008

Water table

The driftless area has been a dark place lately. In recent years, weird stuff seems to happen in northern Wisconsin (within several dozen miles of some great campsites). This time a man began shooting at a group of kids swimming in the Menominee River.

At Lollapalooza in Grant Park today, birds included one rock dove, four american crows and one ring-billed gull. People far outnumbered Aves.

Last, in what really is more important news than anything today, the Phoenix Spacecraft confirmed water on Mars.