Montrose Bird Sanctuary has become a favorite Sunday morning destination for me. Used to waking up early, I have often jumped on my bike and headed toward "the lake" before my family awoke.
Despite being a high traffic area, the bird sanctuary still retains it's wildness. I enjoy it's immediate proximity to Lake Michigan.
The lake serves as a nice reminder that the world is much bigger than so my hectic daily busyness. In this way it helps me to relax.
I like to witness the natural energy that is latent in this wild area. The way the sand has been eroded from the edges of the matted grassy area strikes me.
This early in the morning, there are usually a few birders out and about. Apparently Montrose Bird Sanctuary is nicknamed the "Magic Hedge" because most of Illinois' species of birds have been sited passing through this area. Trolling around the internet, I was also surprised to find out that this area had once been the site of a Cold War missile launching site!?!? Yikes... Regardless, I enjoy the early morning kinship of seeing other people, such as the birders, at the "Magic Hedge."
This is fun, going through my pictures - my stories, my journal. A year's worth of notes and observations.
In Art School, a stellar professor one day outlined the different types of photographers. One type was the ones who used their pictures as "windows". I knew instantly I was this type.
In the worst sense, art is artificial - a sad way of living life by avoiding it. In the best sense, art is a way of communing with the world, life. To love something is to want to know it, explore it, experience it.
This is a picture of my bicycle from February of this year, 2011. I took a picture of the porteur bars before I removed them to try drop bars. Before these, I had used Nitto "Moustache" bars, though it was on a different frame. I never went back to the Moustache bars. Recently I picked up the wider Moustache bars and I felt like I was steering a tractor. The porteur bars are narrower, and more elegant in feel. You cold easily use the wider part of the bar if you were to stand up to pedal hard. Having my hands in the bends felt nice. This allowed my finger tips to rest on the ends of the brake levers, should I need to brake suddenly - as so often happens in this city of ours...
In the end, I found I loved the vertical hand position of the dropped bars so much more. I was also surprised to find that the more forward position of the dropped bars shifted my torso forward and put less weight on the slim Brooks saddle. Not only was this more comfortable, but I also started using the next higher gear, with no added effort!
Here is another Wild Chicago Surprise - a bird of prey.
We joked at my school that it was our mascot - the hawk. Hawk seems to be a general term for birds of prey around here. In reality, I think it is a type of falcon. I saw the "hawk" again a few days later - this time in front of our actual school! Alas, I was on the third floor and did not have my phone/camera handy.
BTW, it's the grey thing in the middle, laying claim to a pigeon...
In one of my past lives I was a tomato farmer, I'm sure of it.
Recently, when I downloaded the pictures from my phone to the computer, I found this tomato plant. I took it on November 23rd, 2010. It was a brisk November day. But there it was - growing up between the sidewalk, blossoms and all.
Tomatoes are in the nightshade family, same as potatoes. Tomatoes can live a long life, because they come from South America. As we know, near the equator it stays summer year round. One tomato plant I had in a large pot lived for two and half years. When I finally unraveled it, it was a good fifteen feet long. The only reason it died was because I let it. Two weeks before the school year started, my teaching job went into hiatus. So it wasn't watered for a week and died. To tell you the truth, I was kind of relieved. I tend to have too many things going on...
On a cold, overcast November Sunday, I found myself with the need to clear my head. Having woken up early, I spent about an hour wandering through alleys north of my Chicago neighborhood. It wasn't quite doing the trick and I felt the need to really get out and ride. So I decided to ride the Chicago River North Branch Trail to the Chicago Botanical Gardens. A good destination, I could eat at the cafe once there, and then make a refreshed return trip.
There were not very many people out on the trail. I appreciated this isolation. As always, there were a lot of deer. Often we were quite close to each other.
What I enjoyed about the trail was that I was enveloped by the forest. The trees weren't just in front of me, they were all around me. It helped to feel that the world was a lot bigger than the problems that had been floating around inside my brain.
Often times I could hear or even see the the highway. Typically, this would have bothered me but it actually didn't. I felt a smugness that for the time being I was an escapee, hiding out in the woods from the "fast paced life".
The Chicago Botanical Gardens is one of my favorite places in Chicagoland. We have a family/teacher membership and go regularly. Usually I want to see the vegetable gardens at the different times of year. However, I didn't want to today. By late November there's not much left except for some kale in cold frames. I am surprised that the Botanical Garden doesn't have a "hoop house" (a type of green house) as part of it's vegetable gardening program. They are an excellent way of extending the growing season.
I did get a chance to see the new rooftop garden on top of the Educational Resource Building. Because of their contribution to the heating/cooling efficiency of the building, it would be good to see more of them. Rooftop gardens with native plantings are also playing a key role in returning biodiversity to urban areas.
If you're the camping type, you've heard about the Emerald Ash Borer over the last few years. Riding along the North Branch River Trail takes you through an extensive part of the Cook County Forest Preserve. Along the way I continued to notice bright orange-red "X's" on trees. Learning that this number of trees was being affected was shocking.
The ride back was nice. The temperature was dropping but my body had warmed up. The Educational Resource Center at the Botanical Gardens had an engaging interactive exhibit about invasive plant species. The work required to restore and maintain native habitats is both detailed and intensive.
I thought of this as I rode along through the forest preserve and then the Miami Woods Prairie.
As a child, I spent much time in nature around our house. We lived along an old railroad track, out in the country. This track was used twice daily and served as a "nature corridor" through a desert of corn and soybeans.
I really love the prairie. At the school where I teach I have been developing a school garden with the kids for the last two years. One of my dreams is to return a section our rubble filled lot to prairie.
This architectural artefact reminded me of something from Popeye the Sailor Man. It was definitely antiquated, but, like many antiquated things in Chicago, still in use. This large tube stuck up out of the ground, the walkway about ten feet off the ground and extended from the road. Clearly it was used for water management, but the thought of going into it struck me as scary. The word "death trap" comes to mind...
Darkness soon fell and I stopped taking pictures. I felt much better when I arrived home and I look forward to riding the trail again. This winter will be a good time to return, perhaps a cold day when the sun is out and there is still now on the ground, contrasting with the dark bare trees...
I see more and more bicycles around Chicago sporting upright handlebars, fenders and bells. This one also sports a more comfortable seat.
This particular bike is an old steel-framed mixte. Mixte is a French word which means "mixed" and refers to this type of unisex frames, with the third pair of rear wheel stays.
Stronger than the standard step-through, mixtes also have the geometry of fast-going road bikes. Their taller, skinnier tires also match the racing bike trend of the '70s, rather than the cushier tires of a more upright city-bike.
Mixtes have reputation with commuting women who want a machine more sophisticated than the standard step-through ten-speed, yet still friendly to skirts, dresses, easy mounting and two feet on the ground.
On my way to the Chicago Botanical Gardens via the
Chicago River North Branch Trail...
One of the reasons I love living in Chicago is for the hidden wilderness. Gliding through the alleys on my bike quickly connects me to renegade weeds growing up between the cracks, or to glimpses of backyard gardens. I'm also enthralled by the archeological remnants of garages, gates, doors and other structures touched by time, but granted grace by the excavators. This blog is a bringing together of my experiences of these places and my affinity for the bicycle that brings me there. Enjoy!