Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bike talk

I had a chance to ride some mountain bike trails last weekend. I'm not sure what to make of this experience. One of my first impressions was that visibility was challenging. We rode through the sun-dappled woods of the Northwest Suburbs in the late morning hours, and it was hard to see very far down the trail. Also, I was incredibly gunshy, perhaps because of my knee injury but also for fear of a broken bone. The person I was with leapt big logs with ease. I slowed and walked my bike over them. Careering through the woods on a bike was fun, but I found it to be too fast to actually observe nature in any way. That's what I like about walking through the woods.

Sweet water

Amid all of the unpleasantness out East during the past couple weeks, the House approved a critical piece of legislation. The Great Lakes Compact prohibits diversion of water outside of the lakes' basin. The House passed this essential legislation 390-25. Chicago, in case you're wondering, is still considered part of the Great Lakes Basin even though when I do the dishes the water eventually flows toward the Mississippi River and the Gulf. Historically, before the reversal of the Chicago River, our water drained to the Great Lakes. Thankfully we still have an exemption and can partake in the sweet water of Lake Michigan.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Crisp air

Today was the sort of crisp gray day that is a reminder of the change of the seasons. You could hear call notes from a migratory bird (white-throated sparrow?) here in Uptown today. A downy woodpecker announced its presence. And a brown creeper was seen in the tree outside our front window. It's shaping up to be an autumn-like week with nighttime temperatures perhaps dipping into the 40s.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Crane technique

There are several dozen sandhill cranes somewhere in this photo, I swear. One of the few nature photos I took up in the Sand County/Necedah area. This is from an observation platform at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sand County

Juneau County, Wis., is a land of bizarre glacial formations, towering pines and oaks, big lakes and sandy soils. This is Aldo Leopold country, and one can see why the author of the classic "Sand County Almanac" found it so appealing. In fact, some sections of the pine-and-oak openings actually resemble the high plateaulands of the Southwest that Leopold also celebrated.

There are no shortage of recreation options in this section of central Wisconsin, as more than 75 percent of Juneau County is made up of public land. We came for the Whooping Crane Festival in Necedah and to camp at Buckhorn State Park, which turned out to be a gem. Our site was on the shores of Castle Rock Lake, the fourth-largest inland lake in Wisconsin and a part of the Wisconsin River Flowage.

The festival included a bus tour of nearby Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, home to several dozen reintroduced whoopers. We did in fact see four of the extremely scarce cranes and now can add them to our life lists. we also saw trumpeter swans, a harrier and dozens of sandhill cranes in the refuge. In all, we tallied 41 species for the trip including an osprey and a bald eagle from our campsite.

Just four hours from Chicago, this is definitely an area to return to--wild enough to harbor wolf packs and black bears.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gas avoidance

A constant tension exists in the driftless area between the desire to visit natural areas that are farther afield and the need to protect the environment from unnecessary carbon-orgy trips. My story for a local magazine offers ideas for finding nature without a long car trip.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pictured kayaking

From the driftless area archives, previously unpublished, a 13-second video of our trip to Pictured Rocks this past spring.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Great flood

It has been raining in Chicago for close to 48 hours straight. First, a plume of rain extending from here to Wichita continually spun showers into the Chicago area for most of yesterday. The result was more than 6.6 inches of rain at O'Hare, a new single-day record. The highway to O'Hare, I-190, was closed yesterday and the Edens Expressway was closed. The Water Reclamation District opened the sluice gates along the North Shore Channel, Chicago Harbor and the Calumet River, releasing the waterways into Lake Michigan.

Today, conditions have worsened. Flooding has caused an evacuation in the Northwest Side along the Chicago River. Best I can tell, every waterway around here has flooded--the Fox River, the Des Plaines River, DuPage River, Salt Creek, Calumet River, Thorn Creek. The Flood of 2008 will be one to remember.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Desert defiles

To some, Edward Abbey is the Thoreau of the West. I just completed Abbey's "Desert Solitaire," in which the author spends a summer as a ranger at Arches National Monument in the 1960s. Abbey is a true iconoclast--he's also something of an eco-terrorist if you read "Monkey Wrench Gang." "Desert Solitaire" is full of funny asides and incredible descriptions of the desert. One of Abbey's philosophies that I take away is his view of National Park use. He thinks all parks should be protected from vehicle traffic and lightly managed. Instead, he believes, a vast conspiracy has encouraged the use of gas-guzzling cars all across our parks. Abbey's preference would be to keep the parks vehicle-free and force all motorists to park and then shuttle-bus or bike into the parks. There are a number of great Abbey quotes, but I pulled this one off of Wikipedia, and I think it captures the sentiments of his books:

"The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chain saws."

Monday, September 8, 2008

False fall?

All hail meteorological fall! It is 54.9 degrees right now in Uptown with a steady rain. Just 200 miles north, in Green Bay, it is a crisp 50 degrees for the Packers' contest with the Minnesota Vikings. The forecast through the rest of the week is in the 60s and 70s. Let's hope it stays this way right into October and November, though if history is a guide it won't--we'll have at least one more heat wave, I suspect, in coming weeks. For now, though, it is September and it is feeling like fall.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Weather pattern

Just as meteorological fall began, we saw the hottest temperatures at Midway Airport in 761 days yesterday (95 degrees). Today, though, it was much cooler and it's 68 degrees here right now. Tomorrow, with hurricane remnants moving in, the forecast high is 67. It truly was fall-like here, with a thick overcast over a choppy grayish lake today.