Writings, photography, book reviews, dreams. You’ll find them here, along with some local travel spots (mostly Midwestern). Scroll, explore, ponder, and share if you like.
Crossing the Calumet River on an Amtrak train passing through the former South Works steel region. Chicago Skyway in the background.
25 March 2018
J. and I headed to the Calumet area, specifically Deadstick Pond near Lake Calumet. There’s no public access I can see, and a fence separates the area around Lake Calumet from the frontage road parallel to I-94, Doty Avenue. Collected against the fence is trash—tons of trash. I envision hordes of high school students and adult volunteers spending a few hours a few weekends cleaning up the accumulated trash along the fences at Lake Calumet and Deadstick Pond. The area seems so little traveled that no one may notice, but it’d be a small step toward restoring a semblance of beauty to the area—as long as it isn’t trashed again.
The Calumet area, for many years the center of Chicago’s steel industry, carries an eerie air of a transition zone. Stony Island, a broad, heavily traveled avenue through Hyde Park, South Shore, and other communities, turns into a two-lane, potholed, unmaintained road flanked by tall grasses, nascent parks like Big Marsh, landfills, and the occasional industrial-style building and parking lot. There’s not a house to be seen, nor any sign of a neighborhood.
Eventually, the avenue that further north boasts restaurants, stores, churches, hospitals, and other urban fixtures dwindles down to a cracked, littered pavement that ends abruptly short of a curve of the Calumet River. Traveling down Stony Island can feel like a ride on a time machine toward a future apocalypse, when industry’s mark is visible but faded, and nature is slowly creeping back through the piles of plastic bags and bottles. It’s like the end and beginning of the world.
As J. carefully navigated the potholes, a few cars and trucks sped past at speed—in a hurry to get to who knows where. We stopped on the roadside at Deadstick Pond and peered through the vegetation and fence for a peek at some ducks bobbing along among gray snags. There may have been swans, or plastic bags masquerading as swans.
Next we found Hegewisch Marsh, where he parked by the rail bridge and we wandered down a rough road parallel to the tracks. Many ducks floated on the open water while their passerine counterparts flitted about the bare trees. Along the way I found a lot of scat, most loaded with fur. The open areas connected by the river, rail lines, streets and bridges, along with wildlife-rich marshes, must be coyote havens. I hoped one was following us with its amber eyes as we tread on its territory.
Rail bridge near Hegewisch Marsh
We stopped at Flatfoot Lake in Beaubien Woods, also off I-94, which roars over the otherwise serene setting.
Flatfoot Lake with I-94 beyond the tree line
Flatfoot Lake pier
On a satellite map, Lake Calumet, the largest lake within Chicago, looks artificial. I couldn’t guess its original contours. It’s surrounded by nearly empty, decaying streets, the occasional vast building, the ceaseless noise of a busy interstate, and other trappings of modern dreams. There are other dreams, though. The Lake Calumet Vision Committee has a dream for the Calumet region that includes biking, jogging, paddling, and sailing, along with a trail connecting the Pullman National Monument to the young Big Marsh Park—potentially 500 acres of new habitat. It’s going to take time, and it can’t happen fast enough for me.
Now if we could only do something about the roar of I-94.
Let’s talk about the relic that’s helped to bring us countless words of wisdom—in more than 144 characters at a time. Yes, today’s relic is the typewriter.
I still have the typewriter that got me through the final years of high school, then college—a Royal Sabre portable, complete with manual (it’s around somewhere, although the key to the typewriter case likely has gone missing). When I moved in 2003, I started to put it outdoors for the neighborhood scavengers, but couldn’t bring myself to go through with it. It was one of the most expensive gifts from my reluctant parents.
Why the Royal Sabre? I don’t remember where we bought it. We would have looked at discount stores like K-mart or perhaps Ames, where I’d picked out my Huffy Superstar 10-speed bicycle. We’d have looked at quality and price. My thrifty dad, who’d turned 16 in 1929, didn’t believe in throwing away good money on poor quality (or generic store brands, unless they’d proven themselves). Because of the store’s nature, there wouldn’t have been much of a selection. I don’t recall the price, but I’d guess about $80 to $90. (Incidentally, this is the price I remember for the Huffy Superstar.)
As a portable typewriter, the Royal Sabre was noisy. The keys striking the platen solidly made quite a racket, especially when a poor, erratic like me was in front of the keyboard. My bad habit of typing during the wee hours began in high school, when Mr. Verrault’s papers were due Monday morning. I’m embarrassed now to admit that, in a single-wide, 55-foot-long trailer, on Sunday nights/Monday mornings I was at it until after midnight. Forty years later I can’t tell you how late, but later than suited my early-to-bed, early-to-rise parents. Oddly, I don’t recall much criticism from them for keeping them up. (Of course, my dad could have slept through the Apocalypse.) If he were convinced something was necessary for my education and future independence, my dad would go along as best he could. Of course the procrastination wasn’t necessary—hence my guilty conscience 40 years later!
At college, I found many of my fellow students were more affluent and had electric models, which I considered decadent (I’d told my mother the same thing about electric can openers). I learned I had a fixed number of computer hours per quarter, but playing the text-based Adventure seemed easier than learning to write/type without a program. Although I had a vague idea about computers from Star Trek (for example, oddly computers sound like Nurse Chapel), in practice they were a new and mysterious beast to me.
Then, as now, typing was the last step in the writing process. At 3 a.m., I was writing the paper longhand in pencil on notebook paper in the dorm lounge. At 6 a.m., I was typing the pages slowly on the faithful Royal Sabre. At 9 a.m., I was finishing proofing and marking errors or retyping if needed. At 9:55 I was running madly up several flights of faux-Gothic stairs (or waiting impatiently for an elevator) to meet a 10 a.m. deadline. By then I would have had some wild hallucinations from fatigue and panic. The Royal Sabre would go back into its hard plastic case, and I would go to bed, too tired and wound up to sleep.
One of my college professors—I don’t recall which—sternly forbade the use of erasable typewriter paper. The finish made it easy to erase mistakes, but it was friendly to neither pen nor pencil. He was so adamant that he would threaten to knock your grade down or refuse the paper if you dared to defy his prohibition. For someone like me—with portable typewriter, subpar typing skills, no correction key, and no budget for different kinds of paper, this seemed excessive.
At some point my dad’s sister Marietta acquired a word processor, and several years after college so did I—a Smith-Corona. It had some built-in storage and some kind of external storage. When I first got it, I spent a happy afternoon playing with the different setups and type wheels, and practicing my typing speed. Suddenly it was dark, and I realized hours had passed while I was blissfully unaware. I used the Smith-Corona for resumés (for all the good that did me) and some correspondence. I’m not sure how I used it, just that it mostly supplanted the Royal Sabre. I don’t think I used it much because it was large and heavy, and I was lazy about getting it out and setting it up. It was also hard to write and edit on the three-line(?) screen.
When it was in semi-regular use, the Royal Sabre never needed repair that I recall. Help was hand nearby, however, if required. A-Active (named to appear at or near the top of telephone directory listings—another relic) Business Machines operated in Hyde Park, first on 57th Street, then at 1633 East 55th, where I remember passing it. I never went in, but the ancient Underwood(?) in the window would catch my eye. The last ad I could find in the Hyde Park Herald for A-Active is dated July 6, 1994—which was probably about the time I brought home my first computer, a Macintosh Classic II borrowed from work.
The Classic was followed by a series of Apple laptops, and the Smith-Corona word processor faded from favor as I was sucked into eWorld and America Online. When I moved in 2003, I debated with myself over keeping the Smith Corona. Unlike the Royal Sabre, it ended up in the alley, its fate to be forever unknown to me.
In a previous, early work life, sometimes I used a typewriter, likely an IBM Selectric model. When the proofing business was slow, I might help with filling out forms. If I remember right, one or two typewriters had been dedicated to and set up for this task. I don’t recall details (probably to preserve my emotional health), but I’m sure it was a lot of fun to line up everything and hit the magic correction key when the mind or finger slipped as they often did, or start over if things went way south—as they often did. I’m sure I saw the correction key as a technological marvel. I’m pretty sure computerization and automation of forms became big business as soon as introduced.
Every now and then (more then than now), I play with Hanxwriter, a typewrite simulator for Apple devices inspired by actor Tom Hanks. If you want to spend more money, you can “buy” typewriters from the “Signature Collection,” like Hanx Prime Select, Hanx 707 (the closest to the Royal Sabre’s shower stall green), Hanx Golden Touch, Hanx Del Sol, Hanx Electrix, or Hanx Matterhorn. Despite the “now and then” above, I finally bought all. Hanxwriter can save documents as PDFs only, not text—so, like typewritten pages, Hanxwriter pages are not easily edited. There’s something amusing about that.
The Royal Sabre weighs more than even heavy laptops, and from the start I thought the handle on the case was too flimsy for the weight. It’s stood the test of time, however, and as far as I know the typewriter would still work with a fresh ribbon. Surprisingly, ribbons are available for many typewriters, including the Royal Sabre. I tell myself that someday I’m going to get one and try out my computer-improved typing skills, although I doubt they’re better on a machine where you have to depress each key with an impressive force—hence the beauty of those “decadent” IBM Selectrics. Someday.
I saw BritBox through my Amazon Fire (TV) Stick (doesn’t that sound like something you’d take camping?) and resisted the temptation to subscribe for the one show I knew was on it. For someone who watches little TV, I seem … Continue reading →
I don’t see signs about wildlife very often, although this one at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park, warns unsuspecting visitors about the island’s less famous, thieving canine. What do the red foxes of Isle Royale do with the car keys and hiking boots they purloin?
This sign, at Hidden Lake Forest Preserve near Morton Arboretum, exhorts you not to panic if Wild Fido follows you. He’s simply giving you an escort through his domain. If this task makes him snappish, simply throw clumps of dirt at the ground by his feet. I’m having visions of Monty Python and “Confuse-A-Cat.”
Other signs warn you about smaller wildlife, especially the kind that hops aboard. This one, at Michigan’s Grand Mère State Park, tells what to wear to help stave off the dreaded tick. By the time you’re at the park, however, you may not have clothing alternatives handy. The tick shown is terrifyingly big, but the ticks that can share Lyme disease with you may be little larger than a pinhead.
Pro tip: At Shawnee National Forest, which is tick heaven, I thought wearing a hat would keep them off my head at least. Not so. After a delightful morning at Pomona Natural Bridge, I felt movement in my hair and found a couple strutting under my hat on top of my scalp. This is one of those times when baldness would be an advantage.
Located at a town park near Grand Mère, this sign is not so much a warning as a caution. If you aren’t careful and you spread the emerald ash borer, this will happen to your ash trees. I can attest to the lethal behavior of the well-named emerald ash borer—both tall, mature trees in front of The Flamingo, plus the mature tree that shaded my bedroom at 55th and Dorchester, succumbed to these little green scourges.
At Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, we’re told it’s too late to keep out another horror, the dreaded zebra mussel. You can be a hero, however, by cleaning your boat and equipment properly so you don’t transplant them to a body of water where they haven’t taken hold. The use of “infest” is a great touch. It reinforces the nearby “No swimming” sign nicely. Swimming in infested waters just doesn’t appeal to me, even if I could swim.
If you’re about my age, you recall that “only you can prevent forest fires (that aren’t caused by lightning strikes, volcanoes, and other natural hazards). Many parks post the current risk of wildfire danger based on conditions like drought and wind. At Lyman Run State Park in the Pennsylvania Wilds, Smokey the Bear can’t seem to make up his mind.
This version of Smokey opted for words instead of visuals, which makes his message less ambiguous (no broken pointer). No doubt that snow on the ground helps to keep risk low.
Taking shape on Stony Island Avenue in the remnant heart of Chicago’s steel industry, Big Marsh Park features a bike park (built on slag too expensive to remove), natural areas, and occasional bald eagle sightings. An enticing hill nearby forms a lovely backdrop for a walk at Big Marsh, which is still in its infancy. When you get closer, however, and read the signs, you learn it’s a steaming, seething landfill that’s being “remediated.” There’s no happily running up and down this slope. How I miss the Industrial Revolution.
It’s not every day you’re warned about lurking unexploded bombs, but for me this was no ordinary day. It was my first visit to Old Fort Niagara in nearly 40 years, which coincided with Memorial Day weekend. Most of the time, the fort is manned by soldiers in 1700s military fashions, but in honor of the holiday other conflicts were represented. I kept my distance from the bomb. Just in case.
This is one of the odder warning signs I’ve seen. I left the chef alone—after all, he works with sharp objects.
Slow down. Chicago is under a budget crunch, but do they send out a lone fireman like this? A lone fireman without a steering wheel? Or arms?
Here’s a warning sign you can ignore. It’s outside Riley’s Railhouse, a train car bed and breakfast in Chesterton, Indiana, that’s a treasure trove of signs.
From the exterior of the car I slept in:
At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s West Beach, it looks like the National Park Service is testing which sign or message is most effective at keeping visitors off the dunes. This one shows bare tootsies with the universal “No” slash, helpfully pointing out the dunes are ours.
A less friendly, sterner, more wordy one admonishes you to “KEEP OFF THE DUNES” and appeals to your desire to “Please help protect and preserve our fragile dune systems!”
At the beach, this slash through a barely visible hiker shuns wordiness (or words) for directness and simplicity without justification or explanation.
It’s sandwiched between even more minimalistic signs with a slash, planted where the dunes start ascending. Don’t. Just don’t.
Years ago when a landfill near my cousin’s house became a Superfund site (just what you want in your backyard), it was surrounded by an electrified fence complete with warning signs. Noticing there were no insulators, I dared to touch it. In this case, however, I’m certain the area behind the fence is dangerous, and this is as far as I got.
Normal weathering or resentment over the weapons message?
Waterfall Glen, a DuPage County Forest Preserve, forms a ring around Argonne National Laboratory, “born out of the University of Chicago’s work on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.” Naturally, the immediate area around the lab is secured. While I was baffled by this sign about “lock installation” and “any unauthorized lock,” it was the 10 or so locks on the chain that got my attention. Why do people need to add locks to that chain? Why do they need authorization? From whom do they get authorization? Why are unauthorized locks removed? What does it all mean?
Remember when lead was thought to be safe? I don’t, either. This sign is on an old pump at the remnants of an old general store in the western part of Shawnee National Forest.
Warning: If you leave expensive stuff lying around, even at an exclusive university, it will walk off. You can bank on it.
RATS? There are RATS in Hyde Park?