Friday, August 27, 2010

Night owl

Well, never did get to live blog from our trip to the north, but here’s a recap.

Taking a five-month-old camping is counter to my outdoor philosophy while being exactly what I wanted to do more than anything else. It’s a strange situation, a little bit heart-wrenching, but not unlike many of the paradoxical experiences of these first five months. Quiet and privacy are the central tenets of my camping beliefs, and a hatchling threatened both while ratcheting up the potential for embarrassment-- and worse ruining the experience of fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Further, camping was something more for the parents than the tyke, who would be taken out of her routine while not yet truly enjoying the wonders of nature.

So summarizing this one-night camping trip is all very complicated.

One thing that I can aver is that where we camped was beautiful. We staked our tent in the Hemlock Loop of the Lake Michigan Recreation Area in the Manistee National Forest. The setting is standard car camping, but in a mixed deciduous-conifer woodland in the shadow of a tall forested dune on Lake Michigan. The beach (above) is a short walk from camp and leads to the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, the only wilderness in Lower Michigan. We were about 10 miles north of Ludington, Mich., and four hours from Chicago.

We also can state that the weather was beautiful. It was sunny with puffy clouds with a high of about 70. We needed long-sleeved shirts in the evening, and overnight and morning were downright cold.

Mostly, the camping was as expected—we tended to our owlet just as we would at home. We built a fire, laid out a blanket, had a couple beers and did all the things that one would do while camping. The hatchling made a few noises, but nothing ear-splitting and likely barely audible from even the nearest campsite. But nightfall soon came along with the harrowing prospect of getting the little one to sleep.

We had to act quickly for fear of over-tiring so we all went to bed at about 9. I was hoping we could build a feeble bridge to morning by getting a few hours of sleep at a time. If it meant getting up for good in the gray light of 6 a.m. so be it. I was also prepared to spend the overnight hours pacing and rocking outside the tent.

All in all, sleeping went well. There were more feedings than usual, lots of careful tossing and turning and one of the sleeping pads deflated. I woke at about 7:30, removed the nestling from the nest, made some coffee and restarted the fire. The girl was talking quite a bit in the morning, but hopefully not so much as to disrupt any people who were sleeping in.

The camping ethos has certainly changed a bit, but it can be done. Hopefully it gets easier from here. Er, I think.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Northern clime

Headed to a more hospitable climate in coming days. And it may include a first camping trip with our minnow. Stay tuned for live blogs!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bucket contents

The Tribune featured a story on the perils of dumping bait in yesterday's paper. This ties in to the previous post about the carp found in Lake Calumet. I was confused when it was reported that the 34-inch carp arrived in a bait bucket. It would have arrived when it was a minnow, as minnow buckets can include many varieties of fish, and someone could have dumped it in Lake Calumet. The story also notes there are ritual carp releases ("buy a carp, free a carp") that may account for the fish in urban park lagoons. So I'll be sure when I go to Michigan this weekend that I won't bring bait buckets full of Illinois minnows. It's kind of like moving firewood around the Midwest that may have emerald ash-borer. Purchase your bait locally and then use it locally.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fish hoax

I'm a little tardy in reporting that the asian carp found in Lake Calumet in June may have been placed there. This report says it may have been a part of a bait-bucket transfer or a ritual release. I don't know about you, but my bait buckets don't usually include 34-inch fish. I would have noticed the 3-footer among all the minnows. Anyway, maybe it's just me. I'm tempted to believe this was a hoax perpetrated by people who despise the reversal of the Chicago (and Calumet) River and along with it the influx of asian carp. But to date, that has not been determined to be the case.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Great swim

Yesterday I went for my annual swim in Lake Michigan. It was a clear, sunny day, and the temperature was 82 degrees when I entered the water. Humidity was a comfortable 52 percent, and the winds were light. The water temperature was only 71 degrees so it was quite a shock as I waded in at Foster Beach. Because of consistent southwest winds this summer, upwelling has brought cold water from the deep of Lake Michigan to Chicago's beaches.

As the icy water lapped at my thighs, I began to think there was no way I could submerge myself. Then I reminded myself that this was still August in Chicago and perhaps the only chance to enjoy our Great Lake. And that at certain points in my life I cracked ice to go swimming.

I decided to go for a dolphin dive rather than a Nestea plunge. It was wonderful. I did a few breaststroke circles in the shallows before returning to the beach.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yellow river

Many of you have read about my observations of squirrels. We've seen squirrels slurping from plastic cheese cups. Squirrels getting zapped by power lines. And squirrels eating dead flickers. But perhaps nothing tops what happened today.

A squirrel nearly, ahem, peed on me.

I was standing in front of our building, under one of the two norway maples out front. I heard something dripping on the curb, about five feet in front of me and the nestling strapped to my chest. It was not a rainy day so it wasn't wind blowing raindrops off the trees. I wasn't close enough to a building for it to be an air conditioner. No one was watering in the vicinity. So it could only be one thing--the only arboreal mammals in the neighborhood. Indeed, there was a gray squirrel draped over a branch about 20 feet up. And then it was all over within about 10 seconds.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Camping tips

I've always been a fan of Campmor, the New Jersey purveyor of camping gear. I like how its gear is affordably priced, presented without any frills in its small-format, two-color catalogs. All of the catalog items are depicted as sketches, which seems like an amazing feat. Even the Wall Street Journal doesn't draw all its pictures any more.

But I've been following Campmor on Twitter, and I am thoroughly confused. The past few days they have been posting camping tips. These are either the worst camping tips in the world or someone with a very dry sense of humor is tweeting for them.

Here's an example from today:

Hiking Tip # 9. Think before you step. A mesmerized hiker may be staring at local wildlife, & trip over a tree root causing serious injury.

And another from today:

Hiking Tip # 14. Avoid sunburn. Wear head and arm coverings in sunny or high altitude areas, and use sunblock.

There are a few legitimate ones, like this one from July 26:

Camping Tip # 9. Bring a piece of outdoor carpet to place in front of your tent to reduce the amount of dirt tracked in.

But for every one like that there's something like this:

Camping Tip # 1. Arrive at your campsite in the daylight. This will give you a chance to get your tent & camp site set up.

Next thing you know, Campmor will tell us that the sun is hot, the sky is blue and water is wet. Oh wait they actually revealed that the sun is hot in tip #14. The only thing I can figure is that these are intended for beginning campers or children. And that some are meant to be a little funny.