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.
29 April 2018: While on the way to the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, I noticed people were looking down and skirting something on the sidewalk. From a distance it looked like it might have been a pigeon, which could account for the apparent distaste.
When I got closer, this is what I found—a beautiful belted kingfisher, killed when it hit building glass during spring migration. It’s fall migration already—a time to see more beautiful avian visitors passing through. May most of them survive Chicago . . .
Last year I saw what seemed like dozens of Hemaris diffinis and thysbe moths around one of the butterfly bushes at the public garden down the way, but this summer I’m seeing very few—only one at a time, mostly. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen only one giant swallowtail, the first butterfly I noticed there when I was on my way home from the farmers’ market. I haven’t seen one since.
At least I’m seeing monarchs, tiger and black swallowtails, red-spotted purples, several kinds of skipper, and a few hackberry emperors. I’m terrible at identifying trees, but several of the trees here look like hackberry trees. The hackberry is to the hackberry emperor what milkweed is to the monarch—sole food for the caterpillar.
On August 11, a very pale hackberry emperor landed on my shirt and stayed until finally I had to start walking and gently shooed it off.
I say “pale” because hackberry emperors are usually darker.
Last week I was about to walk my bike through the grass from one bush to another when a hackberry emperor landed on my arm and proceeded to probe about with its proboscis. It went at it for several minutes, even after I started walking again, arm raised in an awkward position. After a few moments it flew off.
Assuming it was partaking of sweat, I looked up the behavior, called “puddling.”
By sipping moisture from mud puddles, butterflies take in salts and minerals from the soil. This behavior is called puddling, and is mostly seen in male butterflies. That’s because males incorporate those extra salts and minerals into their sperm.
When butterflies mate, the nutrients are transferred to the female through the spermatophore. These extra salts and minerals improve the viability of the female’s eggs, increasing the couple’s chances of passing on their genes to another generation.
What could be more charming than knowing the sweat from your body will go toward the production of more hackberry emperors? I may not have children and grandchildren, but I will have butterflies!
15 July 2018
On the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore events calendar, the National Park Service refers to “spectacular Miller Woods.” I’ve never gone on the ranger-led hike—it’s probably more than I can handle—but J and I decided to try out “World Listening Day Program and Sound Hike” with the Chicago-based Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology.
First we had to get there, which isn’t easy with temptations on the way. At a corner close to our destination, we spotted the Miller Beach Farmer’s Market, where we spent time and money. I love open air markets, even when they’re in a small, dusty parking area.
I had no idea where Miller Woods was, but it’s down the street from Miller Bakery Cafe, where we’d gone for dinner a couple of times. It’s a hidden gem. After parking, you walk over a shaded enclosed pedestrian bridge to the Paul H. Douglas1 Nature Center, which has interesting exhibits and helpful young rangers, and, on this day, leftover cookies. I learned a different way to tell frogs and toads apart (frogs have a prominent tympanum).
After checking out the animals (and the cookies), we met Monica from the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology at the back exit. Behind us was the Miller Beach neighborhood of Gary, Indiana, with stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc. In front of us was a dunes woodland with ponds and two beaver dams, leading to a beach (we didn’t go that far). I had one of my fleeting moments of feeling like I was stepping out of reality into a magical place, separated by time and space.
We arrived an hour or so before the hike was to end, but Monica and her photographer husband told us only one person had shown up earlier. The idea behind this walk was to be as quiet as possible—a struggle for an extreme extrovert like J—and to listen to the sounds around you, how they change as you move, and so forth. I decided I’d better warn her that both he and I have faulty hearing, partly so she’d know our ears might not pick up every nuance hers did, and partly so she’d know that we might not hear her if she spoke quietly.
Off we went, with her husband well in front of us. Miller Woods is fairly quiet for being in an urban area, and I soon became aware of how much noise I can make walking on stony ground if I barge forward—and, interestingly, that my left leg drags more often than my right. A train, I think Amtrak, rumbled through to our left, which was my first indication of train tracks at Miller Woods. One or two birds called repetitively, although at times and in places the birds were quiet.
At the point where we looped back, we could hear a low rumbling (“groaning,” as Monica described it) to our left. She told us there’s a plant of some kind in that direction.
At another place further on, I imagined I heard a skittering on the ground and spotted this insect. I say “imagined” because there’s no way my damaged hearing could pick up an insect’s exoskeleton or wings on stone.
When we were at a low point, she noted how muted and absorbed sound seemed to be (like sound in snow). At a high point after a steep climb up sand, sounds carried—tree leaves rustling, birds calling, sounds in the distance. I told her about aspens, which to my surprise she didn’t know about.
All this time I was tempted to take photos, but kept them to a minimum—even the sounds of the shutter in the relative quiet seemed too disruptive.
Just as we were reaching the end near the nature center, J and I heard a deep strum from the nearby pond vegetation that our guide hadn’t—most likely an American bullfrog. He strummed a few times before we left.
Inside we talked with Monica, her husband, and an older man with a microphone about their organization, iPhone add-on, aspens, and other topics. We learned Monica and spouse live on the north side of Chicago and had taken the train and a shuttle to Miller Woods; they would have to wait until after 6 p.m. for the next train on a Sunday. Dedication! I felt bad they’d had an audience of only three for all that effort.
I found the young rangers eager to answer questions and chat. When I wandered back to the desk from the restroom, I found the two young men pulling the fronts of their shirts down and looking/pointing. I may have looked at them strangely. “We’re comparing our shirt tans,” one explained.
When he’d heard dinner was next on our agenda, the older man with the microphone suggested we try Captain’s House. The proved to be a charming restaurant in a house with a nautical theme and a seafood focus (and alternatives for the seafood averse like me). Next time we’ll have to choose a bigger table.
Is Miller Woods “spectacular”? I can’t say. It’s not the Grand Canyon, Arches, Yosemite, or Yellowstone. We didn’t see all of Miller Woods—the trail goes out to Lake Michigan. All I can say is it was spectacular to me. Now, if I could spot a Karner blue butterfly there . . .
1 Paul Douglas was the Illinois senator who had worked to establish Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
14 July 2018
When I woke up, all I could think of was the name Robert Brown. It had been threaded throughout a long dream mostly unrelated to Robert Brown.1
I was at a performance of a long play.2 During a break I ate with two handsome men my age who looked and sounded interesting. Did they notice me?
I went to the cash register and found it in the dark underground. I overheard the cashier berating someone.
Somehow my aunt had a large student loan that she hadn’t needed, and I was to pay it on her behalf. Before I could tell the cashier my business, she started belittling my aunt and accusing her of fraud and theft (maybe I had already told her my business since she knew what it was?) When she took a break, I told her who I am. She didn’t react, but she stopped ranting.
I kept thinking I had left my dishes in boxes on the back steps, but I didn’t recommend this for others because of animals. Mine would be safe for unknown reasons. I went outside for dishes and saw that the steps led to the lake, which lapped at the bottom, and overlooked a great city on the other side. I marveled as I realized I lived in this place and could go down these steps any time, although now they were icy, wet, and treacherous. I went back up them carefully, afraid to step into the lake water and feeling like what I’d seen was an illusion, a mirage.
All the while “Robert Brown” kept running through my head.
1 Robert Brown, born under the far more interesting name Robin Adair MacKenzie Brown, played “Lazarus” on the Star Trek episode, “The Alternative Factor.” Famously, he was a last-minute choice after John Barrymore, Jr., failed to appear.
2 This may come from my attendance a few years ago at All Our Tragic, an adaptation of all the Greek tragedies into one 12-hour play. Hypocrites’ effort won six Jeff Awards.
2 July 2018
The adventure began with an email from Openlands about “Paddle the Lake Michigan Water Trail” events in the far north suburbs (Ray Bradbury country). JB and I had gone to one of these a couple of years ago in Jackson Park. Wilderness Inquiry owns the canoes, and they bring paddling to people who wouldn’t have much opportunity, like city kids and the disabled (which I am when it comes to getting into and out of a canoe). They had a life preserver large enough for me (impressive!) and were patient with my difficulties.
We paddled around the lagoon, seeing a great blue heron take off from shore at canoe level. It’s a different world from a canoe, where you’re less of an outsider/intruder and more one with the water—even if you can’t swim. You’re almost like a bird yourself, maybe a loon bobbing on the water.
The Jackson Park paddle was cut a little short by choppiness coming into the lagoon from Lake Michigan, but we were out for a while, probably at least 45 minutes, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if some of the kids (and maybe an adult or two) were paddled out. We’re not hardy voyageurs, after all.
On Sunday it took about 30 to 40 minutes longer than it should have to get to Illinois Beach State Park thanks to a 4th of July parade in Waukegan that had closed down an extensive stretch of Rte. 137, which is the only practical way into the park. By then of course I had to find a restroom.
After those preliminaries, a conservation office pointed us toward Openlands’ tent by the lake, but we discovered we should have followed the “free canoe rides” sign pointing mysteriously inland, as it turned out the lake was too choppy for beginner paddling. We hightailed it west across the parking lot and down a service road and found the canoes at a pond by the campground.
We were just in time for the last paddle of the day. Wilderness Inquiry’s largest life jacket still fits me. Yippee! Enough people arrived after us to fill a canoe. I even managed to get in without too much struggle, thanks to the setup. So far, so good.
Just as we were scootching around to balance weight side to side and settling in, it started to rain, slowly at first, but soon with bigger drops coming down faster. That’s okay, they told us. We can go out in the rain as long as there’s not lightning. They asked if anyone wanted out. To all our credit, no one moved (not that I could!) or spoke up. Soon the cloud either moved on or emptied out because the brief downpour ended as abruptly as it had begun.
This pond, which I had not known about, is big enough to paddle but not too big for beginners or small children. We went around it perhaps three times, giving us a chance to practice turning and stopping (JB and I are pretty good at this by now). As we started out, a fish leaped out of the water and fell back before I could get a good look. Our trip leader told us the pond is full of bass. It was also surrounded by male red-winged blackbirds on slightly better behavior than they’d shown earlier in the spring. I mentioned that in Chicago frustrated residents have been known to call the police on the territorial birds. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “wing cuffs.”
Meanwhile, I was keeping an eye on the darkening western sky, even as the east remained bright. We returned to shore, and I got out with some extra time and a helping shoulder to lean on. (I feel pressured because anyone forward of me has to wait for me, although they were patient, too.) We chatted with one of the Wilderness Inquiry guys, who is hoping to go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, then finally left.
As we walked down the service road, we stopped to take a few photos of the flowers and a monarch who was landing selectively on a couple of butterfly weed plants. I still watched the “gathering gloom” and suddenly decided an expedited march to the car might be warranted just as thunder boomed. Moments later the temperature plummeted dramatically from the low to mid 90s. We made it just as the skies opened up with a thicker, more sustained downpour accented by sporadic thunder and lightning. We joined a lot of beachgoers in fleeing the park. What perfect timing all around, despite the late start, the parade detour, the pit stop, and the mini-hike to the pond.
We rewarded ourselves with coffee and a brownie at It’s All Good, but the restaurant we wanted to go to had no power. Plan B was a family Mexican restaurant and so home. My kind of day.
In any conversation about memorable TV theme musics and openings, Hawaii Five-O has to make the cut. It starts with a drum set up, followed by dramatic racing brass backed by winds as a wave curls, then various images speed … Continue reading →