We arrived at around 10:45 a.m. on Saturday at Starved Rock Lodge — just in time to get tickets for the 4 p.m. World Bird Sanctuary program. The great hall was packed, and the tickets for the three earlier programs had already been claimed. My gut feeling that we needed to arrive early proved to be correct for a change.
We spent some time checking out the exhibitors, from Audubon to the Prairie Rivers Network, which J. joined. I spent most of the time speaking with a representative of the Wildlife Prairie State Park near Peoria, which I had visited in the early 1990s as a Lincoln Park Zoo docent. The female black bear, whose claws had been extracted by a private “owner,” is still there, with an offspring and a different male. The male we had seen died from intestinal blockage after ingesting a ball that a thoughtless visitor had thrown into the exhibit. This ignorant person probably never knew the consequences of his or her action. I wonder quite a bit about this kind of thing — how often it happens that we do something seemingly harmless that results in grave consequences, to which we remain forever oblivious.
After some trouble finding the woman selling rides on the trolley, we took “Rita” to the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, where I could almost swear Audubon had stocked the water with fish. More likely, the eagles were especially hungry after a windy, frigid Friday, with a wind chill factor of nearly minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. When we arrived in the early afternoon, more than a dozen were flying over the water, while another two dozen plus looked on from the trees. This frenzy of activity lasted for a long time, until shortly before we left at around 3 p.m. The crowds seemed thrilled, although I didn’t observe any catches and wonder sometimes how those birds survive.
We made it back to the lodge in time to get middle center seats for the World Bird Sanctuary program, which featured a Harris hawk, bateleur eagle, Eurasian eagle owl, eastern screech owl, American kestrel, barn owl, and bald eagle. The handlers flew the Harris hawk and eagle owl, and maybe one other, fist to fist. Even while snapping photos incessantly, J. was among those who ducked every time the birds made a pass above us, as though (1) the bird might not see us and hit us and (2) the bird’s touch with its flight feathers might cause pain and suffering. The eagle owl swooped especially close — and looked especially soft. As long as I didn’t have a toupee to get knocked off, I wasn’t about to duck.
At the end, they brought out a raven to collect to donations. If you handed him $5 or more, he “billed” you a Wild Bird Sanctuary medallion. His large bill and quick, aggressive movements made several people, including the children, withdraw their vulnerable hands quickly as he snatched the money, again more an instinctive reaction than a rational fear. I was amused to note that he’d been trained to show his handler the money before he dropped it into the box so she would know whether to give him a medallion to present to the giver. Teamwork!
This time, we took the canyon road, Illinois 71, to Ottawa. This way winds along the Illinois River and Starved Rock canyons, and we saw only a few cars in the darkness for the next several miles. And so to Bianchi’s again for pizza and pop — an easier meal than fish from cold water.
Even with the previous week’s low bald eagle count and the inactivity of the few birds we saw, J. wanted to try again. On Saturday the 8th we set out for Starved Rock from Homewood after an extended Caribou visit.
On the way we stopped at a rest area, where J. talked to a woman who told him she was driving from Pennsylvania to Alaska. That’s a long haul through northern Canada. I wonder how long the trip will take at a moderately leisurely pace and how she can afford the time and money, although I am beginning to realize these things are possible for those who can both dream and plan.
We detoured at the Ottawa exit to check out Marcia’s Bed and Breakfast, where you can spend the night in a dressed-up grain bin. We overshot the address and ended up by Hank’s Farm Restaurant, another landmark surrounded by fields. Here J. happily snapped photos of a little flock of domesticated turkeys, a couple of black-faced sheep, and a swan in the water. He needs a pet or a farm; I’m not sure which.
We arrived at around 3 p.m. — enough time to freeze in the biting wind. But the cold made this a more productive trip. This time, a dozen bald eagles perched in the favored tree, while at least a dozen others were clustered in a few other trees on the east side of Plum Island. Others appeared, and for most of the afternoon we watched at least one or two soaring around the dam, skimming the water, and making passes at unseen (by us) fish. Once or twice I thought I may have spotted a catch, but I couldn’t be sure. Something excited them enough to ignite a tussle, during which eagles aiming for the same spot (fish) thrust their talons toward each other. They may perch in clusters, but they’re neither social nor collaborative. They’re hungry and competitive, needing to keep their avian engines stoked to stay warm.
Hungry ourselves, after stopping at a spot on Dee Bennett Road for a different perspective of the island in the dimming light, we returned to Ottawa and found Bianchi’s Pizza, where they ring up your payment on an old-fashioned, golden-hued cash register with flat, round mechanical (not mechanical) keys and a crank on the side. Cash only. Those whose memories date back to the 1960s and before can picture these vintage pieces, still shiny and still in working order. Cha-ching!
As there were so many eagles on Saturday, J. wanted to return on Sunday. In Utica, we drove up what in Illinois passes for a hill, which took us along a road with a mix of new and old and large and small houses, some set well back from the road. Tractors were parked in a few of the driveways.
Back at the bottom of the hill in Utica, we found way blocked by a stopped freight train. The closest escape route was marked “NO TRESPASSING.” The train seemed to be short, so we settled in to wait as it started up, advanced a few feet, stopped, started up again, advanced a few more feet, repeat. A worker walked up and down the right of way.
We amused ourselves by discussing the copious amounts of rust and graffiti on the cars in front of us and along the rest of the train that we could see, including a sketch, in just about the right shade of blue, of a half gallon skim milk carton — likely the work of bored teenagers, not gangs. They may even like to imagine their efforts as a traveling art show, passing cars at crossings in big cities and far-off places.
This makes me think that we should try to channel the energy behind what we consider to be acts of vandalism into creating something useful or beautiful. If so many adolescents love to draw, paint, and tag, and to seek attention, then bring arts education back to schools. If retirement communities host art shows, why don’t more schools? Give these kids engaging training in the principles and techniques of art so they can see their own improvement and a space, physical and/or digital, in which to share their creations. They may learn something useful, they would have done something society encourages them to feel good about, and they can get the attention they crave (don’t adults remember those cravings?). Maybe then we could praise these kids for their accomplishments instead of excoriating them for their delinquencies. I”m sure this has been done — why not everywhere? Easy? No. Worthwhile? Yes. Easier than whining and fretting about the future of the world in their hands.
Having escaped Utica, we stopped briefly at the same precarious tilted parking area we’d checked out the day before, this time parking the car at an angle that would have made even a Batman villain dizzy. Two and then four eagles took flight. Even more exciting, we saw a swan take off gracefully from the water. That’s a lot of bird to get airborne. It almost made the eagles look like tiny passerines.
Rumors of the eagle’s increased presence must have gotten out because more people stopped at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, usually with a camera, binoculars, or both. At times two dozen eagles perched in the favored tree, with a few small cluster in satellite trees on the east side. The sun was behind clouds and the air was calm, making it easier to watch the western sky over Starved Rock without being blinded or frozen.
At first they seemed content to stay in the trees, but as the afternoon wore on more and more took flight over the water toward the dam Although most made passes at the river, again I didn’t see any catches. What I found fascinating was the aggressiveness of the juveniles, who were the most persistent in their attempts and the most assertive in their defense of their areas, driving off other juveniles and adults alike. Driven by hunger, they may not be as wise about conserving their energy for the best opportunities as the mature birds. I imagined how difficult it must be to latch onto a fish at the surface of a flowing, ice-cold river.
After an hour and a half or so, and during a break in activity, we crossed to the Starved Rock side to watch the dark eagle shapes against the darkening sky.
We returned to Ottawa, this time following Route 6 instead of I80. This is a dark, quiet country road intersecting flat, treeless fields edged by a sprinkling of lonely houses and outbuildings. It’s hard to conceive how only a couple of miles away arose the cliffs and canyons of Starved Rock along the river and environs. They’re worlds apart.
Our first choice, the Bee Hive diner, was closed, so we settled for Monte’s Riverside Inn on the Fox River, where blocks of ice have jammed the open water. Once again, I thought of the men of the Edmund Fitzgerald, who must have known the ship was sinking and realized with horror that they could not avoid the cold, eternal embrace of the greatest of the Great Lakes.
For New Year’s Eve, J. and I took a quick spin around Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I appreciated that Soldier Field is depicted in its original glory minus the glass bowl addition and the segregation of the hoi polloi from the affluent. While looking over the exhibit, I realized again that I’ve never visited the Newberry Library — a lack to be filled.
The plan was for a vegan dinner at Jacky’s on Prairie, per the emailed invitation, but I didn’t realize that there would be a carnivore version, too. I thought the fishy stuff in J.’s bouillabaisse looked, well, too fishy. Neither of us is a vegan, and the food was good, so we savored each meaty/creamy course with confusion but without complaint. I did, anyway.
On Saturday, we had fun shopping at Petsmart and Whole Foods — at least I did. While I’m not in the market for a cat (I have one, thank you, a biter), I like checking out Petsmart’s adoption area. On this day there were two black and white cats, a male and female. If I had been looking, the female might have gone home with me. Alas, there were no dog classes in session, but a cat was scratching in the window of the hotel and several leashed dogs were getting a tour of the store. I made friends (I think) with a conure, who let no comment of mine go unanswered. I wonder if the store encourages people to buy birds like conures in pairs. If they’re bonded and get along well, is it heart-wrenching to the birds if one leaves for a new home without the other(s)?
On Sunday, I met J. in Homewood for a trip to the Starved Rock area. First stop: the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, where we learned the bald eagles had spread out along the river as they didn’t need to cluster near the dam’s open water. Throughout the day, one or two remained perched in the trees on Plum Island, and one flew directly overhead at one point. I spotted several in flight, always in the opposite direction from that in which J.’s camera was pointed.
Late in the afternoon, we crossed to the Starved Rock side. On the way, an eagle flew in front of us, an unidentified object dangling from its talons. Fish entrails?
It was too close to sunset to ascend to Starved Rock, so we observed the eagles from the area near the Visitor Center. A couple came by, and the man showed us a spectacular close-up he’d taken with what looked like a 50mm lens. He said he’d “snuck up” on the bird. Somewhere a bald eagle with acute senses of sight and hearing is chortling at the human who thinks he “snuck up” on it.
I had spent some time looking at the graphics inside the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center and realized why the dam looks different — the Tainter gates seem to be in a different position. Driving down Dee Bennett Road, we’d noticed that the river had risen to embrace the lower tree trunks. I can only imagine the water flow in the canyons, although those east of Wildcat were closed for hunting.
This time, no barges came through. Later, on the return trip after dinner, we saw a bright light down the river. I began to think of all the hard and dangerous but interesting jobs I might have tried if I had known about them and had not craved security. I can only imagine the tales a tugboat operator on the Illinois and greater Mississippi waterways might pick up and embellish along the way, stories more compelling and exciting than any day-to-day corporate office drama, the concept of which now seems like a 1980s relic.
Change instills in me apprehension and discomfort, but lack of changes creates a more chilling effect — depression. To me, depression is the anxiety and fear not that life is bad, but that it will always be the same, that there will be no more “bends in the road” to anticipate. Some changes lead to a downward spiral, but many, perhaps most, are more positive. It seems easier to avoid the bad than to cause the good.
It’s a little after three o’clock on a sunny, warm, nay, hot afternoon in October, summer’s final curtain call. Change is all around. The chlorophyll is fading, leaving behind mixed palettes of yellow, orange, red, and brown. The trees in front of the Flamingo green two weeks ago, are casting more leaves than shade. The management has put out the annual call for the removal of air conditioners. Dragonflies no longer rule the day, nor fireflies the night, yet the pesky housefly still pesters the people who dine al fresco.
That was J. and I yesterday at Bonjour, where we ate breakfast before going to Morton Arboretum. We had gone there last Sunday, then on to dinner at Bavarian Lodge in Lisle, but we arrived late in the afternoon and spent a little too much time in the gift shop. A pre-sunset walk around Lake Marmo under overcast skies had yielded a few hints of color here and there.
This day promised to be sunny and warm. My knee (suspected torn meniscus), which had been feeling better on flat land, had taken a turn for the worse Friday, keeping me half awake most of the night. When I woke up early, it was all I could do to get to the bathroom on it, so I went back to taking meloxicam and to wearing a knee stabilizer. I envisioned sitting in the car, being unable to walk down any of the arboretum’s trails, and hindering J. from seeing as much as he could.
Praise be to NSAIDs and stabilizers. As I wandered around the annual Columbus Day book sale, it occurred to me that my knee, unstable and painful for the previous 24 hours, was back to functioning at 60 percent. Walking may not be wise, but how could I not walk among the trees and waters on a sunny, 81-degree October Sunday? As I said, praise be to NSAIDs and ACE. Even after a mile or so of walking, the swelling was noticeably less.
My favorite spot for walking at the arboretum is along the DuPage River, and this was the perfect afternoon for it. Having to walk slowly i in such a place on such a day is no bad thing. Although there had been a line of traffic on both sides to get into the arboretum (one woman, far along in pregnancy, got out of an SUV’s back seat with another person while it was in line, presumably to make a dash for the bathroom), and the parking lots were full to overflowing — understandably, Chicagoans can’t get enough of this last burst of fine weather ahead of five to six months of dreary — we encountered only a few groups of people along the river and a few more at Lake Marmo, where our trail led. More splotches of color were evident, especially around the lake, and in places the tall grasses shimmering under the low sun show display their own kind of beauty.
I would love to have gone further, but one difference between my 20-year-old self and my current self is a new awareness that the body can indeed be broken and that I’d rather prevent that than have surgery or risk the ability to walk normally, without limp or pain. There’s still too much of Starved Rock, Buffalo Rock State Park, and Matthiessen I want to see.
We took the main route through the west side, where we found several colorful vistas — but little available parking. In most cases, we had to be content with taking it all in from the road. Fortunately, those behind us didn’t seem to be a great hurry.
We wanted stop at Joyful’s Café, but Yelp has the hours wrong — it was already closed — so we settled for a brief stop at Bello Tea in Downers Grove. They looked like they could use more business at 5 p.m. on a beautiful Saturday.
J. dropped me off at Argo Tea in the theatre district while he went to work. He didn’t think it would take long. My Plan B had been to catch the bus at State and Lake if it looked to be a long wait. As I was sipping pumpkin chai, a breaking news alert popped up on my iPhone: a southbound #6 bus had run off Lake Shore Drive near the Stevenson Expressway ramp and hit a tree. Hmmm. I sent a text message to J., who called me a half hour later to say, “It looks like I’ll have to work late — would you mind taking the bus?” Hahaha. (I found out later the accident had occurred earlier than the alert, at about 6 p.m., at which time we’d been enjoying the scenery from a logjammed Eisenhower Expressway.)
He picked me up at about 9 o’clock. As we headed past Museum Campus, we could see flashing emergency lights and lanes blocked by flares. Farther south, workers were sweeping lanes, which by then seemed clean of debris. I looked for the bus and signs of the unfortunately tree it had hit, but saw neither. We came upon the bus at the 31st street exit, being towed, its right front side caved in. Later I read that at least 35 passengers were injured.
J. got me home in one piece, then, after tea and cookies, he too made it home whole. There may be more visits to the arboretum, but already I can feel that some of the most beautiful of the changes are behind us, as well as the cast of the shadow of a long, cold winter of unvarying gray. Has it already been five months since I was last intoxicated by the scent of lilacs?
While there were no barbecues in the works for the weekend, J and I did picnic at Ravinia during our annual homage to Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. The primary guest was John Prine; you could tell that Garrison is in awe of him. It was one of the best APHC shows I’ve heard at Ravinia.
Despite the predicted heat and humidity, the next morning, July 4, we set out for Starved Rock. On this trip we even managed to get to the Nodding Onion while it was open for brunch (we had eggs Benedict). We made a brief stop at the visitors center so I could pick up the Chicago edition of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles and to get advice from one of the volunteers. I knew I wanted to see Wildcat Canyon, and the man we spoke to recommended St. Louis Canyon as well. He hinted that the waterfalls would not much to look at because a week had passed since the heavy rains. I noticed a number clipped to his name badge and asked if it represents his hours of volunteer service. It does, since the center opened several years ago.
If you can ascend and descend stairs (lots of them), you can get to Wildcat Canyon. At the bottom of the last set of stairs, there’s a bit of a muddy area to cross, which for a change I walked over confidently while J hesitated and crossed tentatively. It didn’t help that, with the heat and humidity, we were soaked with sweat. I hate being soaked with sweat.
Ever looking for a better angle, J took off his shoes and socks and waded into the pool under the waterfall. He didn’t take a shower like the screaming children (and a handful of adults) already there, but he did get as close as he could to the falling water without getting his camera wet.
At 70 feet high, the waterfall at Wildcat Canyon is the tallest in Starved Rock State Park and is well worth all the steps and sweat. In hindsight, I should have stepped into the pool myself, but I remember wondering if it would be possible to dry off in the damp air.
The rain-forest weather didn’t seem to have deterred many. While most visitors were picnicking in the flat park area near the visitors center, we encountered a goodly number of people on the trail and stairs. On the return trip from Wildcat Canyon, not far from the center, we ran into what in the woods constitutes a throng — 20 to 30 people. looking at a spot to our right. Two spotted fawns were on the incline, possibly wondering what they’d gotten themselves into. A few people tried to lure them closer to the trail with hand gestures hinting of food (false promises), but fortunately the fawns’ instincts kept them from getting too comfortable around the humans; they seemed curious but skittish. Meanwhile, you would have thought there were no suburban deer problem, judging from the interest the group showed in these two. Youngsters of most species are invariably appealing, I suppose.
I left J and his camera behind in my haste to return to the climate-controlled building. The outdoors had become too much like a sauna. Little did I know that this weather would last at least another six weeks.
J. appeared, and we took a break at the center, which included refilling our water bottles at the fountains, which might not have occurred to me in my overheated condition if I hadn’t seen some boys doing it.
Next up: St. Louis Canyon. This is a pretty easy walk with some steps. By now, the skies had clouded (with no lessening of heat or humidity), which, we soon found, had brought out hordes of hungry mosquitoes. This time I had remembered the spray, which I used liberally.
At the canyon, someone had thoughtfully placed a board across the mud and water to make it easier to cross. A family was playing in the water, including a girl. They left, and another family appeared, this one with a small boy who wanted to wade into the water and under the waterfall. He started in, but his nervous mother wouldn’t let him go more than a few feet because she seemed unsure of the depth. I told her about the older girl who’d been in it before and had to describe her height and how the water had come on her. Soon she caved, telling me that he had been misbehaving all day anyway. He stood under the waterfall and screamed. And screamed. And screamed. Then he stubbed his toes on some rock underwater, but, like most children, he returned to having fun after a brief cry. I felt pleased that I’d played a small role in his delight.
The time of our dinner reservations drew nears, so we went to the lodge. We were soaked, ripe, and unpresentable, so we bought T shirts at the gift shop and changed in the restrooms. At least that solved the upper half of the problem. The menu had changed, but the menu was just as comforting as usual.
I’d taken July 5 off, so we went shopping for me — to Best Buy for a television and a DVD/VCR combination and to the Apple Store for a backup hard drive. Although running out of time to meet an obligation, J. set up the TV and stand for me. Thus have I caught up to 2003 or so. I don’t recommend such stressful activity (shopping) for a day off, but it has had its rewards. After some tortuous dealings with Comcast, I now have high-definition stations like Science and PBS. And I’ve rediscovered Life on Earth, an abbreviated version of the series I have on VHS. VHS!
As I took Metra to Homewood and walked to Blueberry Hill Pancake House to meet J, I started to get the idea the day might prove to be steamy. It was overcast and looked like rain, but the forecast was for afternoon sun. And a temperature of 89 degrees F.
When he arrived, we ate half a breakfast of champions, boxed the rest, then went to pick up something he thought he’d forgotten but was actually in his trunk. On the way, we stopped at Heritage Health to pick up something for a little picnic. After fueling at Caribou (something iced for me — already steamed), finally we left for Kankakee River State Park.
Past Frankfort on Illinois Rte. 45, the vista opens up onto farmland that in some inexplicable way is more attractive than much of that further downstate. Perhaps it’s the use of tree lines and fences, or the nature of the houses, although the land itself is just as flat and monotonous. We passed a traditional white frame church set close to the road, a small cemetery beside it. It was like seeing something from another era, perhaps that of Laura Ingalls Wilder, tangible yet not quite real.
Further on, a sign led us down a side road, where a building that looked new — dirt was still piled up in front — was divided into a café and an aquarium store. The combination would have seemed odd anywhere, and, in an area where the main retail venues seem to be gas stations (something has to power all those John Deeres), I wouldn’t have thought of a burning need for either a café or an aquarium store. Alas, neither was open yet — perhaps they’re still in the throes of getting started. Too bad; the café looked like a potential gem.
Closer to Kankakee, we made another detour, this time to Office Max to replace the car charger I’d bought for the iPhone. At this plaza, two of the biggest stores, including a Petco, had pulled out, leaving behind only the marks of their old signs. The parking lot was mostly empty, with only a handful of cars in front of Office Max. The three male employees seemed happy to talk to anyone. Noting my Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie shirt, one asked me if I’m a conservationist. We talked a little about the Gulf oil disaster, and I left him with something new to research — dead zones. It was a well-stocked, bright store, but the empty storefronts and parking lot reminded me of South Shore Plaza less than 20 years after it had opened to great fanfare. I wonder if this place has been hit especially hard by the recession, if something bigger and better had come along nearby, or if it had been in trouble already for other reasons. And if it will make a comeback, or if it’s turned the corner on the road to nowhere.
I wonder how the café and aquarium store will fare.
Driving around this area is interesting, especially as you cross the river. Just as Wauconda made me think every small town should have a feature like Bangs Lake, this area made me think how fun it would be to live near a river — a clean, wide river with banks that aren’t shored up by concrete, where the current is fast and free.
The Chicago River does not count.
Kankakee River State Park is long, with many designated hunting and fishing spots. As we crossed a bridge over the river, we spotted stone supports for another bridge in the stream — but no span across them them, only some trees of respectable size atop them, rooted in the rock piles. A world without people indeed. We drove into the fishing area on the other side to get some photos. Walking along the water’s edge, we could see why swimming in the Kankakee is not allowed — the current is swift. Even a great swimmer wouldn’t want to be caught in it, plus there are other hazards, like undertows. Its fast flow fascinated me, so unlike that of most of the small rivers around here, the Chicago, the Des Plaines, the DuPage. I thought I may have overheard someone say that the Kankakee was at or close to flood stage, but I was doubtful. Still, it flowed, carrying a log rapidly, relentlessly in its current. Will that log ever touch land again, or will it spill out into the Gulf, along with millions of gallons of oil?
We drove to the visitor center, where live animals (turtles, fish, snakes) and stuffed (mostly birds) help to educate people. One beautiful heron, a sign explains, met its fate when it became entangled in fishing line. What a horrible way to go. Leave only footprints, take only memories (or photos).
We crossed to the other side, where a bridal party was having photos taken. We walked out onto an observation deck, then over a wooden bridge and partway down a trail. In our wanderings we found Smith Cemetery, full of eroded limestone markers from the mid-1800s, many of them for children. One marked the grave of 10-month-old twins, Gay and Jay, who died 10 days apart. The heartbreak . . . someone had filled around the flat stones in the ground with cement, I suppose to protect them, although they are still at the mercy of the elements. I couldn’t help but cringe when a little girl walked on the stones with their worn and increasingly illegible writing. Soon Gay and Jay will be unnoticed by visitors, although the stone marked only with LOVEABLE remains sharp for now.
As we came close to the picnic area, J. suggested we eat before seeking the trail to the waterfall. By now, it was about 4 o’clock, so this seemed like a good idea. I retrieved the bag from the back of the car only to discover that it was coated with oil. Not long before when I had checked, everything had been find, but while we were walking and the car had been parked in full sun, the plastic container with the salad, humus, and pita had warped open, spilling olive oil into the bag. Nothing was beyond salvaging, but what a mess — not quite the relaxed picnic I had imagined.
We realized Rock Creek was across the street, so we parked and found the self-guided trail — except I didn’t realize the significance of the numbers until we had already passed most of the markers; then it occurred to me they corresponded to the comments in the printed guide. I plead tiredness.
This isn’t a particularly difficult trail, although near the beginning the incline was muddy and slick. It passes through trees, then becomes more open where it parallels the creek. At one point, the guide notes, it was a former landing strip, so here it’s paved.
Not too long after we had come into a more open area, I exclaimed in a whisper without thinking, “BEAVER!” A beaver was waddling in front of us, a little off trail. At the same time a group of perhaps 8 to 12 people was headed toward us, trapping the beaver between our groups. The other group respectfully gave him a wide berth, but he didn’t seem to appreciate their sheer numbers. He stopped, turned toward them, and indicated his displeasure through body language and perhaps sound. They sidled around the side of the trail closer to the creek while we hung back, although he seemed less impressed by the two of us. As the other group passed, I said to a man, “They said to look for animal tracks, but not the real thing!” He said they too had never expected to see such a sight.
He was missing a chunk from the right side of his tail, and for some reason — perhaps I am anthropomorphizing — I had an impression of age and perhaps stress and disorientation. Although I have no idea of how he would have returned to the water, which from what we could see runs between cliffs, presumably he’s more familiar with the area geography. It’s sad to think that the beaver was hunted and trapped to near extinction; this one seemed vulnerable behind its bravado.
Soon after, J spotted a baby snake little bigger than a pencil. Unlike the beaver, it quickly disappeared into the grass.
We could see the creek through the trees and could hear what I thought were the falls. Further on, we saw that the rushing sound came from mini-rapids. There’s no swimming in Rock Creek, either; while it’s no Niagara River, it isn’t the shallow, peaceful creek I’d envisioned, either.
We came upon a couple of paths that branched off toward the creek. J took the first cautiously. They led downward to rocky platforms overlooking the creek. He said the first came to the edge of a cliff, which made me decide not to press my luck, especially as the falls weren’t visible from there. I steeled myself for the other one or two, and ultimately was rewarded with a great view of the waterfall. Don’t expect even the modest height of Starved Rock’s canyon waterfalls; this is a modest creek drop-off. It’s lovely and worth the little climb down, especially if your ability to balance when nervous and tired is better than mine. After taking photos, we relaxed a bit on a bench above and dug out our little bottles of Off! as the mosquitoes made their presence and hunger felt.
On the trail back, we were passed by a boy and two girls, teenagers, on horses; they were from a nearby camp. I’d like to see the world from horseback.
In the parking lot, J set up his monopod and took photos of the waxing moon. Used to my own blurry attempts, I was surprised to see that he’d managed to capture some of its features.
Our next stop was Blue’s Café, a diner that’s probably less throwback and more relic. We managed to get in our meal before the 8 o’clock closing time and to get pie to go. Then we detoured to Dairy Queen, where it was warm enough to sit at the picnic tables outdoors. I can almost picture the Dairy Queen on the road I used to take to Armor, in New York, 35 years ago.
The canyons and waterfalls of Starved Rock have been calling to J., while coincidentally an opportunity for a one-night stay at Starved Rock Lodge presented itself. So off we went after meeting in Homewood and spending most of the day running errands and shopping. The economy must be picking up because traffic was backed up through a half dozen lights, and the malls and stores were packed. Dick’s Sporting Goods, where I wanted to pick up trekking poles, was a little quieter — perhaps it’s not a hot spot for Mother’s Day gifts.
At last we left the southwest suburbs behind in the late afternoon. On the way to the Lodge, J had a hankering to stop at Mix’s Trading Post, a weathered wooden building with a false front situated between Utica’s downtown and the bridge over the Illinois River. From outside, it doesn’t look like more than a small shop, but, like the Tardis, inside it’s enormous. Overstuffed, but big. One room is full of a brand of moccasins and other footwear; Mix’s carries another brand of boots and shoes as well. I was sorely tempted. Biker gear and clothes filled a back room, and in between was a room with a display of carved marble creatures. Here, a ray called to me, but I ignored it. J. bought gifts and a some tinted vintage postcards of Starved Rock and a couple of churches in Ottawa and Streator. I suspect we’ll find our way to Mix’s again.
We arrived at the Lodge in time to go out for a little exploring before dinner. After checking in, we set off to see what we could see. In a field close to the road, we encountered a flock of four turkeys. J. parked in a convenient driveway across the way and got out to dig around in his camera bag in the trunk. Like their predecessors a few months ago, the turkeys weren’t have any of it. Slowly, discreetly, they began to make their way back to the tree line. Just as he was ready to snap a shot, the last one took cover. Later, we found he’d managed to get one shot with his digital camera. At least now he can say he’s seen wild turkeys.
In a quest to find Council Overhang, we parked and walked down a waterlogged trail, at the end of which we found . . . a parking lot. It turns out that the trail head for Council Overhang is at the other end of the first parking lot. We’d gone the wrong way. Taking a trail into the woods toward Illinois Canyon, we found a sign warning us that many deaths had occurred in this area and listed forbidden activities, such as rappelling. Here at the trail head the terrain seemed safe enough. . . .
Not far into the trees we came upon a sheer bluff that must attract climbers. Like the rest of Starved Rock’s features, it’s not high compared to something you’d find out west. But it’s close and enough of a challenge to draw local climbers — and steep and high enough to be dangerous. In the dim, strange light of a cold, gray late afternoon in the thick of the woods, it loomed over us, remind me of how these cliffs and canyons, relatively shallow though they be, seem to contain their own weird, magical little worlds that seem slightly out of time and sync with the world up there or beyond the woods.
Reluctantly, we left to dress for dinner, this time walking along the road to the first parking lot, with J waving to any drivers who passed to thank them for not hitting and killing us on the narrow shoulder. The world outside the cliffs and canyons has its dangers, too.
After dinner at a table by the fire, we found out the pool is open until 11 p.m. on Saturdays. I didn’t have a bathing suit, plus I did have an unexpected, unwelcome visitor, so he swam laps and then soaked in the whirlpool while I observed an obese middle-aged man with his chubby pre-teen son following him, looking just like a shorter, younger version of his dad. I could picture the boy in 35 or 40 years, and the picture wasn’t attractive.
Following the grim, chill Saturday, Sunday dawned sunny and crisp. After breakfast at the same table — no fire because the staff was setting up the Mother’s Day buffet — we walked around the bar’s deck and found a long staircase into the ravine. We went perhaps halfway down and returned; there is no shortage of steps in Starved Rock. As I took them down slowly and cautiously, two young girls with a family behind us bounded past us effortlessly. Count that among the things that make me feel my age and more.
It was time to head out. This time we drove toward Owl Canyon, which was an easy walk from the parking lot, and, ironically, perhaps missed Hidden Canyon in the same area — I didn’t see its sign. We went down a series of steps, at one point drawn by glimpses of water through the trees. At the bottom of this trail, an old bench with a narrow seat overlooks the Illinois River and a rust bucket of an overturned boat. Swallows flitted over the water, then took their ease for few moments at a time in some overhanging snags.
By now it was clear that this was going to be the perfect day to spend in Starved Rock. Spring sunshine, clear skies, comfortable temperature in the low to mid 60s — it couldn’t be any finer for hiking.
We continued along the river, eventually running into a family peering down at something they found fascinating, so we looked, too — and witnessed a pair of snakes in the act of mating. As more people came along, and naturally as J fiddled with his camera to capture them, the pair retreated a little further into the wood, weeds, and rocks by the water until they had mostly disappeared. We left them for good — we thought.
This trail proved to be long and, although not especially difficult, more of a challenge than my mind was prepared for. In a couple of places, narrow bridges without handrails crossed chasms, which disturbed me only after I was over them. They disturbed J not at all, as he set his trekking pole and tripod down and stepped back and forth to take photos. I pictured him taking one step too many and tumbling into the depths, which aren’t that deep but are deep enough. Further along, bridges over shallower areas come equipped with handrails. Someone had a sense of humor.
The trail began to run along a cliff, which bothered me only in the spots where I had to get around rocks or roots, or where it tilted down toward the canyon. If I can work my way around quickly, I’m all right, but if I have even a moment to think, I doubt and panic. Strangely, I went past one area easily enough getting into the canyon, but on the way out had to scoot over it with my butt out of fear, even as I told those behind me to go around if they could.
Once down in the canyon, I stopped short of going into the waterfall’s basin because the downward slant of the rocks perturbed the unthinking part of my brain — or perhaps the part that remembers a fall on a slope or some misstep? Everyone else clambered easily down, and J tried to cajole me, which only upset me, enough to make me cry. If once I’ve hesitated, then I need to talk myself into making the next move in my own time. I was also starting to worry about whether I could make it back, and if I could manage my biological urges ‘til then. I never felt so restrained and anxious when I was young — or did I?
The canyon is gorgeous, worth the sweat, anxiety, and tears. I’ve always wanted to stand behind a waterfall. While this was hardly the torrent of Last of the Mohicans (the waterfall was the only part of the movie I liked), it felt like magic to stand under the overhang and the drips that seep through and to see the water from that unusual, sheltered perspective. Judging from the traffic in the basin, I’m not the only one with that particular fantasy. Meanwhile, kids from 7 to 17 were climbing fearlessly on the narrow tilted ledges in a way I envied. But I was never like that, even as a kid.
Before we’d left for the lodge, J’s digital camera had started to give him a “lens error” — possibly he’d bumped it on the zebra finch cage in the lobby. Now when I tried to take a photo of him at the waterfall, his film camera died abruptly, mid-snap. He’d been remarking about the play of light along the top edge of the water as it fell, and now we wondered if that roll of film were going to be salvageable. After all that walking and putting up with my angst, the photography hobbyist was down to a partly functional digital camera and my iPhone camera.
Unduly worried about the trek back (which included going up all those steps at the end), I nagged him to leave. Partway down the trail, and after my panic, to his horror he noticed that he’d left his camera backpack behind. Yikes. I found a spot to sit and wait while he retrieved it — I hoped.
While I waited, people came and went. After a few minutes, a large dog that didn’t seem to have sensed me came around a bend and spotted me. Startled, he lunged at me and almost pulled the young woman at the other end of the leash over. Even as they passed, he kept leaping toward me. Methinks that puppy could use a lesson in trail manners and safety.
After about 15 or so minutes J returned with his backpack. Back at the river’s edge, we encountered another family fixated the/a pair of mating snakes; I couldn’t remember if they were in the same spot as before, but they were now on top of a wood pile rather than under it. An older boy with the family said that he was going to “get them” when they were done, so I stayed until they left, which gave J the opportunity to take photos with his disabled digital. After we reached the woods, we ran into him again, this time alone, and I mentioned my concerns to J. He thought it was just a pose, something an older teenager says to appear important or tough. Because some boys act on their posturing, I was still afraid for the snakes. I can only hope that if he did try to “get them,” they managed to slither off into the pile or the water. J also pointed out that they were in a place that would be difficult for anyone to reach. I hope he’s right.
That’s me — maternal and protective toward fornicating reptiles.
Our next objective was to try to find a battery for J’s film camera in the hope that that would revive it. First, we tried the Starved Rock Visitor Center. No batteries, but he did buy a book on 60 places to hike within 60 miles of Chicago. That should give us ideas for a while. On the way back to the car, a man told us that we’d just missed a boat ride but could catch the next. “Free today for mothers,” he said helpfully to me. “Well,” I said doubtfully, “I have a cat.” “Ah.” Even if we had had time, I’m guessing I didn’t qualify for the free ride. As for batteries, we had no better luck in Utica, where the grocery store was closed — possibly earlier than usual because of Mother’s Day.
It was about the time I’d wanted to leave for home, but we headed toward Ottawa and Kaskaskia Canyons in the hope we could see something interesting, like more waterfalls. A man returning up the trail told us that the canyons were probably a quarter of a mile or so away and were “well worth the walk.” This sounded promising, as did his reassurance that it was a relatively easy walk. “At Kaskaskia Canyon, if you take the lower trail your feet will get a little wet.” This sounded endurable.
For the most part, he was right. The trail to Ottawa Canyon is uphill, but neither steep nor precarious, and it seemed like a pretty easy walk compared to our previous endeavor.
Unfortunately, getting to Kaskaskia Canyon required a little more effort at the same time I was growing increasingly tired and cranky. I don’t think we found the upper trail the man had mentioned, and we did get our feet wet crossing the stream several times as solid ground ran out or barriers arose. As we scouted for the narrowest or most shallow places to cross, I was ready to give up. Where went my spirit of fun and adventure?
As the man said, Kaskaskia Canyon is worth the wet feet. In the late afternoon light, with fallen trees leaning against the waterfall, it looked especially remote and wild. A few people lingered, including a no-nonsense photographer with a tripod for whom descents, rocks, roots, water, and other obstacles presented no barriers. Something else for me to envy — that confidence and ease with one’s own body and its abilities.
At last we really had to leave. On the shoulder of the road I spotted large birds that, when we stopped, awkwardly took off and flew to the lowest branches of the nearest tree. I had thought “turkeys” — I must have had turkey on the brain — but then we noticed a carcass on the shoulder. We’d interrupted turkey vultures at table. By the time J had dug out his partially disabled digital camera, they had evaporated into the dimness of the tree’s shadows. Of course.
The Nodding Onion was closed, so off we went to Chicago and dinner at Bar Louie — from rural pine lodge to urban chain sports bar in only a couple of hours.
It’s not New York, but I could get used to Illinois.
J’s wanted to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum for years, but in the past few months I’ve put him off with concerns about the weather, not feeling well, and other objections (all genuine). So he came up with Plan B. He lured me with a proposed trip to the Mattoon Herb Festival followed by a visit to Lake Shelbyville, with state parks and wildlife areas. I’m game! Then, almost as an afterthought, he threw in, “Springfield isn’t that much farther. Hey, we could go to the Lincoln Museum!”
Hook, line, and sinker.
We set out on Saturday, April 24, after a 7:30 a.m. breakfast of filled croissants at Bonjour — too early for the full breakfast. It turned out that this would have to carry us 179 miles and until mid-afternoon.
Mattoon is a straight shot from Chicago via I-57, which means poor J, who said he’d never gone to bed Friday, had to backtrack 26 miles — which he would have to do again at the end of the trip.
We stopped at Paxton, where we found Just Hamburgers and Country Thyme Tea Room & Catering closed at 10:30 a.m. A woman from Country Thyme kindly poured coffee into J’s cup to keep him fueled. Down the road in Paxton, I rejected a country restaurant (Country Gardens Restaurant & Pancake House) when a man who looked like Hee-Haw’s Junior Samples came out.
J had overshot a rest stop before this, and the next one, which proved to be many miles off, was closed. Of course, because by now I was starting to feel very uncomfortable. I blame PMS. I didn’t like McDonald’s as an option (although he assured me their restrooms are famously clean), so when we spotted a Tanger Outlet Center in the Amish town of Tuscola, we figured this was as good an opportunity for relief as any. Ahhh. It also gave an opportunity to pick up chocolate at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
By the time we rolled into Mattoon, the weather was starting to look less unpromising and more threatening. At the first stall, J bought plants for 50 percent off because the sellers had heard a storm was moving in from St. Louis. He bought many plants at several stalls, including the bee and lemon balm I suggested and many of the herbs I shoved under his nose that he couldn’t smell. I returned to the car for a brief nap, promptly interrupted by the dry, itchy cough that’s been dogging me for weeks. I emerged so we could check out the Picket Fence, host of the festival. When I passed him on the sidewalk, he was chatting with tourists from a town he’d visited in Germany. Somehow they’d found the Mattoon Herb Festival, which covered perhaps 1.5 square blocks.
After leaving the Germans, J returned to the car and said he had to pick up something, which proved to be wooden planters painted white with green plastic insets. He told me they were made of wood, which I had not failed to notice. Did he mention they’re wood?
Along the way, we’d noticed what appeared to be a regional pizza chain, and in Mattoon there was one across the way from the Picket Fence. Both of us were in the mood for something more adventurous, so, with the help of Yelp for iPhone, we found Common Grounds, a sweet coffee shop whose motto is: A cup of courage, kindness, comfort or just some . . . Common Grounds. Good coffee, sandwiches, and pastries, plus an ambiance like you might find in a college town. And Wi-Fi, which makes J happy. For later, I bought a cinnamon roll and a bag of Death by Chocolate coffee. My gall bladder is not thanking me.
Reluctantly dragging our tired selves from Common Grounds, we set off for Wolf Creek State Park on the shores of Lake Shelbyville, whose shape reminds me of a portion of small intestine. We walked around a campground even as the weather grew darker and windier. As we passed people camped in tents among trees under the lowering skies and then J made his way down a bank to take photos of the water, I could easily imagine the inspiration for many a horror movie in this place.
Near another campground (closed), we spied a large bird that I assumed to be a hawk. We pulled over to get photos of it, and J found a path to a wetlands overlook. There must be something around every bend.
Leaving the campgrounds behind, we came across the Red Fox hiking trail, marked as “moderate” in difficulty. It was still gloomy and damp, and not that far along we found low spots filled with water that were passable, but struggling with mud and getting our feet even wetter didn’t appeal to us, so we turned back.
J’s interest lay in getting to the water’s edge, so the boat launch area seemed promising. In the meantime, we’d seen more of the large birds, sometimes as many as five together. Probably not hawks. Vultures, possibly turkey vultures, ever vigilant for death and decay. They must find a way to survive, but I wonder how much sustenance there is in such a place and how large their range is.
The boat launch fascinated me, because the ramp to it seemed so steep. As someone who doesn’t drive, I couldn’t imagine backing down it. As if to underscore my silliness, a man who’d been out in a boat backed his boat trailer into the water with his pickup, drove the good-sized motorboat onto it and hitched it, then drove off. He must have collected his black dog, which had been careening around the parking lot, although I didn’t see him stop. All of this took fewer than five minutes. He was there, then he wasn’t.
Happy, J took photos of a strangely shaped island across from the launch and of the vultures, which seemed to float lower to ground and closer to us here.
Next stop: Eagle Creek State Park on the opposite shore.
By now, it was getting late in the day, the clouds had gathered into a threatening mass, and the wind had picked up. At Eagle Creek’s boat launch,we flushed a pair of blue herons thew flew inland (thwarting J’s effort to get a photo). Where the sky wasn’t solid dark grey-green with lightning flashes, it was forming interesting funnel-shaped clouds. According to Weather Channel for iPhone, a tornado watch was in effect. J, loathe to leave, took video of the oncoming storm, with a visible sheet of rain advancing as I screeched at him to get into the car. Finally, he did, after the sheet had hit. Common sense is not in his vocabulary.
Now we were off to Springfield on unfamiliar, unlit roads. At one point on a divided highway we spotted a gas station only to pass the entrance in the dark and rain, so we circled back even as the car’s gas gauge was creeping to “E.” Finally, we hit I-55 — and the worst of the downpour. Despite the sheets of hard rain, the spray of water everywhere, the darkness, and the lack of visibility, impatient SUV drivers sped past us at 65+ mph. Places to go, people to see . . .
At last we arrived at Rippon Kinsella House around 9:15 p.m. The proprietors seemed skeptical that we could find a place open that late for dinner and directed us to the Sunset Café. Here, the last employee out was sweeping the floor. She sent J to the Barrel Head, which we aren’t sure we found but which I thought I’d seen out of the corner of my right eye and which looked to be more pub than grill. Down the road we found a shopping center with a restaurant called Osaka — more restaurant than bar, and open until 11 p.m. I ordered from the Thai page, we both ate plenty had a lot left over, and J discovered a Japanese melon drink that comes in a novelty bottle. Opening it without assistance from the server (who would have found a bottle of wine easier to crack) became a point of failed pride. After our server finally opened it for him, the floating ball that had sealed it fascinated J. He ordered two to go. Boys will be boys, even when they are close to 50.
After an excellent breakfast with fellow travelers, including a couple from Minnesota, we set out for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, with a brief detour to Springfield’s visitor center, a grand Union Station complete with baggage room and nurse’s station. Outside at the intersection of beam and wall a pair of mourning doves indiscreetly kept watch over their nest (the male’s behavior made us look up, the silly).
At breakfast our fellows had told us that the museum would require several hours, and that we’d be impressed. It did, and we were. Later, a friend mentioned that she had heard it’s more Disneyfied than dignified, which I suppose is somewhat true — although it could be countered that the serious history is still available in parts of the museum and at the connected presidential library across the street (closed Sundays). The presentation of Lincoln, which ostensibly focused on peeling away the layers of myth, remained more wide than deep. A museum’s probably not the best place to penetrate into the heart’s secrets. A few things I didn’t care for were the re-creations of Willie’s sickbed the night of a White House ball or Lincoln’s casket lying in state; the points could have been made in less space more tastefully, although honestly I found the sickbed re-creation moving, while J liked the casket room (which did not move me). The display of gowns behind the White House facade to the right doesn’t seem the best use of the space, although it does tell the story of how out of place the Lincolns, especially Mary Todd, were.
The highlights, however, compensated for the shortcomings. A few of my favorites:
The “Ask Mr. Lincoln” room, where visitors can choose from various categories of questions, then go into a small theater to hear and read the answer in Lincoln’s words. J. noted how craftily Lincoln evaded the question about atheism, and I pondered how he seemed to have interpreted “all men are created equal” in the way Jefferson had intended — even if the Civil Rights Act wouldn’t come about until 1964. The exhibit pointed out that Lincoln’s response, racist by our standards, was liberal for his day. We can’t judge the past or its people by standards we have learned since then.
An extensive gallery of vitriolic anti-Lincoln political cartoons that make today’s seem tame, even civil. Lincoln is portrayed as an ape, a black man, a black ape, Satan, a black Satan — you get the idea. While you walk through this dark, twisted gallery, you hear voices spew despicable lies about Lincoln. It’s hard to conceive of so much hatred for one man in defense of the indefensible — slavery.
Two theaters, the Union Theater (“Lincoln’s Eyes)” and the Holavision Theater (“Ghosts of the Library”). In the first, an artist who painted Lincoln’s portrait talks about Lincoln’s apparent lazy eye, perhaps the result of a childhood incident in which a horse kicked him in the head, and his expressions, as well as how his face changed as his presidency and the war (illustrated with explosions that rattle you in your seat, flashes, and smoke) progressed. Outside the theater, a portrait from each year shows a man aging at least three years or more for each one that passed. By the last portrait, he looks strikingly corpse-like. I’ve sometimes thought Lincoln may have been suffering from a wasting disease. There’s no mention of this, so it’s only my speculation. Lincoln certainly suffered as a leader and as a parent. “Ghosts of the Library,” the Holavision presentation, “capture[s] the exciting sense of discovery that scholars and curators feel as they approach a great research collection.” I think my eyes watered in both theaters.
Before he died, Tim Russert recorded a news program showcasing the views and TV commercials of the four candidates while you watch from the perspective of a newsroom, a bank of TVs in front of you. The political commercials were brilliant, especially the one for pro-slavery Southerner John C. Breckinridge. While he looks tough, the voice-over intones how they want to take away your rights, your property, your very way of life. Change costumes and a few details, and it could be 2008 all over again. I, along with most attendees, came away with a pretty clear if simplified idea of how each of the candidates had positioned himself in the four-way battle and an understanding that Lincoln was not the popular choice. It was genius to show the campaign in terms and via a medium that we understand today. Once again we discover that the politics of the past was not a gentleman’s sport.
In the War Gallery Scrapbook room hangs scores of framed photos, some of which I recognized. When you touch an image of the photo on one of the touch screens below, you can read the story behind it, whether it’s a photo of a famous officer or an emaciated prisoner of war. So many people, so many stories, so much loss. I still blame the Founding Fathers for not finding a way to prevent or at least mitigate this horror, because in some significant ways the Civil War still haunts us in 2010.
In the first part of the War Gallery with the beginnings of the stories of eight soldiers (the stories are completed in the War Gallery Scrapbook room), an animation shows the Civil War in four minutes, with one second equal to one week. Cannon fire captioned with names represents battles, and the North-South battle lines are shown moving over time, with the most significant changes starting in 1863. In the lower right-hand area, a counter shows northern and southern casualties as they are racked up, which even in raw numbers alone, with no imagery, are appalling. So much death and maiming and destruction in so short a time. This condensation of the war into battle names, the changing battle lines, and casualty tally was powerful and moving in its simplicity.
I didn’t check out the Illinois room as thoroughly as J. did, but I can tell you this — you’ll come away remembering that John Deere originated in Moline.
After we pressed numerous Lincoln pennies (I can attest that hand cranking is more fun) and J had explored the gift shop twice, we headed for Springfield’s nearly empty streets, where he was able to slow the car repeatedly to take photos of the state capitol. He did get out for the governor’s mansion (quickly so as not to look suspect), which we happened upon in the course of travel, and Lincoln’s home, which I skipped — I had no energy left even for a brief excursion.
On Yelp, I was surprised to see virtually no results for restaurants under the “open” filter. I thought this might mean the business hadn’t entered its hours. At the place I’d hoped to go to, the door was open, but the young man cleaning said, “Closed.” And so was the cute coffee shop down the street, and the nearby restaurant with tablecloths. In fact, everything was closed except a lone Jimmy John’s, where we settled in. Not exactly the dining adventure we were hoping for, but this did explain the lack of traffic — nowhere to go. On Yelp, even all the nearby Starbucks were shown as closed. Remarkable.
As insane as former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich seems to me, now I understand his preference for living in Chicago (ostensibly because of his children’s school). He would have driven himself even more nuts imagining Mayor Richard J. Daley at his Red Light power dinners while he, Rod, would be lucky to find a Jimmy John’s open. Now I wonder if other state capitals are nearly as sleepy. J was taken aback, too.
Under dreary skies, we made an uneventful trip down (up?) I-55. Poor J fell asleep in his condo parking lot. And so on to Monday and a full week in the not-so-great indoors.