Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Great Lakes Views Top Ten List

With only three days to go until the beginning of New Year, lists abound. Everyone seems to be joining David Letterman by composing Top Ten lists, and this year its even worse because not only are the lists for the past year, they are being composed for the entire first decade of the Third Millennium. Although I am not usually a slave to fashion and do not usually feel the need to follow trends, I have been thinking about what would be Great Lakes Views Top 10 for this year.

Should I pick which posting were most important? If I did, Number One would probably be about Asian Carp, which I wrote about at least three times. Running a close second would be posting about the $475M set aside by the EPA for Great Lakes Restoration projects and third might about The Great Lakes Compact.

Should I pick which posting I enjoyed writing most? I would be very hard pressed to do that but up at the top would be the week I was guest writer on Great Lakes Town Hall or my meeting with Loreen Niewenhuis, the 1,00 Mile Lake Trekker. But I also loved writing about my trip to Point Pelee on the Canadian Side of Lake Erie and my excursion to a few spots on Lake Huron. Boy, now that I think about it, I had fun writing all my posts – if I didn’t I wouldn’t have written them, so there is no top ten here.

Maybe I should include a category of which postings got the most hits. I use a meter from Site Meter which gives me some basic statistics about visits (individual hits) and page views. It also tells me if my readers got there via a search engine and if so what they asked for in their search. Using those statistics, it surprised me to learn that one of my most accessed pages was found by asking “Is Water Alive?” Another popular search was “Great Lakes Shipwrecks” and yet another was “Niagara Escarpment”. Anything with Kenosha in the search, like fishing, the harbor, or the Chrysler plant, got a fair number of hits, too. I realize that many of these brought readers who wanted something other than my blog, but still, they got to me, and so they count in my statistics.

My absolute peak day for readers was the day I posted about Governor Doyle closing the all University of Wisconsin campuses early this month because of the blizzard in Central Wisconsin, even though several of the other campuses could have easily operated. That posting was picked up by a Wisconsin newspaper service and that’s why it got so many hits. That made this month, December 2009, my top month for page views, followed closely by February 2009.

Site Meter tells me the location of my readers, too, and it is fun to see where they are located. Most are as close as Milwaukee and Chicago; the furthest have been from New Zealand, Norway, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. A few were from places I had never heard of and had to look up in the atlas.

The more I think about this Top Ten List thing, the more I think I won’t bother to make one. What I really need is a Top 109 List. That’s how many posts I made this year and for me each one was a winner, each one deserving of special mention. But then again, I am not exactly an objective judge, am I?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Few More Pictures

Not much to say today, but here's a few more pictures of winter in my neighborhood. Hope everyone is safe and warm.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful

Actually, the weather is not all that frightful, but it is windy. Gusts are about 25-30 mph and expected to pick up even more later tonight. But with the temperature about 35 degrees F, we have rain, not snow. It’s a lot worse in other places.

I snapped a few pictures of the lakefront this afternoon, but photos don’t tell you what it feels like or sounds like to be out there. It feels – well, wet. And windy. And, it sounds – well, loud. I have to ask myself how it is I could not get up to see the sunrise earlier this week at the winter solstice, but I could stand in the rain and take these pictures today. The answer probably has more to do with the time of day than the weather. I readily admit, I am not a morning person.

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, have a happy and safe holiday. For those of us who don’t, have a dry and snuggly stay-at-home day.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

What do Asian Carp and the Salahis have in common? Well for one thing, they are both gate crashers. In truth, only carp DNA has crossed the barrier erected to keep the fish from invading the Great Lakes, but the carp and the crashing couple had their 15 minutes of fame this month and for a few days both were headline news.

Then there was Copenhagen – another 15 minutes of headlines. Did anything real come of all the talk over there? Maybe, maybe not, but like the Asian carp, climate change is more than a media event. It’s an ongoing problem. It’s not going to be solved with one, or even a series of meetings and neither is the problem of invasive species. It’s easier to deal with the immediacy of the White House party invaders – security will be beefed up and a few people may be fired, or put on administrative leave, but then the problem will be solved. However, we will probably still be arguing about carp and carbon emissions long after the Salahi’s are just another playing card in Trivial Pursuit. (Do people still play that game?)

There is no headline news about the Great Lakes today- unless you want to count the $13M the EPA allocated for fighting those carp late last week. There are no beautiful sunsets to write about either, and even if I had gotten up to the sunrise on this day of the Winter Solstice, I wouldn’t have seen anything. Thick clouds masked the annual event, and so I don’t feel bad that I was still in bed at 7:20 AM. It’s gray, cloudy, and very dull around here, not a great time to be writing about the Great Lakes. However, I have confidence that will change, maybe even tomorrow.

So, what about that Tiger Woods, anyhow?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Me

December has always been a month with significant dates for me. Besides holidays, there are birthdays, including my own, and other life cycle events. This year I add a new milestone to my December calendar. Today marks the first anniversary of Great Lakes Views.

When I began this blog a year ago, I set out to educate myself about the Great Lakes, and I did. Besides learning facts of this region, including geology, ecology, and biology, I learned about all the organizations, institutions, and associations that care deeply about it. I also met some great people, on-line and in person, who share their expertise and passion. However, mostly what I learned, which is so often the case when you start to really study a topic, is that there is so much more to learn. So for now, I plan to continue writing and studying about the Great Lakes.

Some of my readers have been with me from the beginning, when I put my literal toe into the blogging waters with It’s Day One. Others are new readers and may want to check out my explanation of why I write this blog. It was from my second posting and is called Great Lakes Gal. And if you don’t want to see where I was a year ago, that’s okay, too. I tabulated this morning that I recorded 162 pages (not including photos) and over 50,000 words. That’s a lot to go back and read, but if you want to – fine by me.

By the way, today marks another anniversary. 218 years ago, The Bill of Rights, the first Ten Amendments to the US Constitution, went into effect. Among those rights are Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. Our forefathers could not have imagined the Internet and the challenges it would present to those freedoms, but they knew in a free country you should be able to express yourself without censure and suppression. You may or may not like what I write here but I am grateful for the freedom to write it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This and That Again

Temperatures were back up to normal range for mid-December again yesterday. The sun was shining and this flock of geese decided that they didn’t need to fly further south yet, so they held a convention on the harbor yesterday afternoon. I watched them for a while. The reason I think it was a convention is that at first they were all gathered in one spot, as if for the opening address, then they swam around before breaking up into smaller groups. Eventually some of the geese flew off. I wonder if they told their boss that they stayed for the whole meeting.

A few days ago, I wanted to take a good picture of our dog Burlee. I wanted to use it to make some tee shirts for some little girls I know who love our dog. They don’t have a dog of their own at home, but they think of Burlee as their dog so I wanted to give them something with his picture on it. Where does one go to take picture if you live where I live? You go to the water, of course.

Burlee was nice enough to sit still for a few minutes instead of exhibiting his perpetual sniffing behavior. Quite majestic looking for a pug, don’t you think?

Last, about this weather thing. I commented the other day how the snowfall here was so different here than it was in Madison WI. Well, my friend in Buffalo reminded me that that’s what happens there, too. In North Buffalo, where she lives and where I grew up, this past blizzard left two inches of snow, as compared to the two feet south of the city. Someone else reminded me of phenomenon of microclimates in other areas, too.

Perhaps my mention of politics and weather can be taken a step further. I could say that like politics, all weather is local. We all try to look at the bigger picture but when it comes right down to it, it’s what happens in our neighborhood that counts most.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snow Covers Wisconsin- Mostly

“Are you socked in?” That was the question I had from friends and family this week following the snowstorm that hit the Midwest.

“No, we weren’t,” I answered. Here along the lakefront we did not have more than an inch of snow. Winds, yes. Bitter cold, yes. But not much snow.

Why? The answer is the same reason that we are cooler by the lake in the summer. That great big body of water out my window has a major impact on weather. Right now water temperatures are in the high 30’s or lower 40’s, and the heat emanating from the water warms the air. Okay, not too much as it has been in the single digits all day but just a mile or two west of here, its even colder and they had much more snow. For those of you who don’t know Wisconsin geography, Madison is about 75 miles west of Lake Michigan. That’s why they were hit with 18 inches of snow and we got one inch.

Even if you don’t know the geography of our state, you would think our governor would. Yesterday Gov. Doyle closed all state offices, including all branches of the state university, because of the weather. So UWM in Milwaukee and UWP in Kenosha/Racine were closed even though we didn’t have a blizzard. Hmm. Things like this make for political fodder. Elections are won and lost by such decisions. Remember Chicago in the winter of 1978-79? Michael Bilandic lost his position as mayor because of how he handled (actually didn’t handle) the snow and cold that winter. Snow in the Midwest equals politics. But it doesn’t matter for Jim Doyle. He’s not running for governor again anyway.

Back to water temperatures. When I went out about 10 AM – in the car, not walking – the harbor looked like a giant cup of hot tea. It was steaming. I didn’t get a picture a) because I didn’t have my camera with me and b) because even if I did, it was 3 degrees outside. But if I see it again, I’ll try to get a picture. It’s pretty cool.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wisconsin Scientists on Climate Change

With the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) meetings in Copenhagen this week, and "climate-gate," global warming and climate change are in the news all over the world and Wisconsin is no exception. Yesterday a group of 113 Wisconsin scientists delivered a letter to Wisconsin Senators Feingold and Kohl and Wisconsin’s Congressional Delegation urging them to support federal policies to combat climate change. The opening section of letter states “The science now convinces us that calls for immediate action are warranted to avoid the consequences of global warming on Wisconsin’s economy and environment, including the Great Lakes.” The four-page letter goes on to explain ways that global warming will have social, economic, and ecological impact on Wisconsin.

The full text and a list of signatures can be seen on the website of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Both our senators have expressed concern about the so-called “cap and trade” bill, the Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill. Several of our representatives are strongly against it. They are concerned about how it will affect industry and jobs here.

I can understand Senator Feingold’s concerns that the United States cannot reduce carbon emissions without the support of other countries, but other countries can’t do it without the support of the United States. The concern about jobs is valid but a study called Job Opportunities for the Green Economy: A State-by-State Picture of Occupations That will Gain from Green Investments, which says that over 100,000 jobs would be added to Wisconsin payrolls in what are considered green jobs.

Because I usually agree with Senator Feingold, I wanted to understand his position better and so I spent a few hours this morning reading the pros and cons of this bill. I wish I could say I understood it better; it really is a complicated issue.

But I also read the text of the letter by the Wisconsin scientists and when it comes down to a position statement, I have to go with the scientists. Although my two senators still have my vote, so do these informed scientists of my state. Read the letter, do some research of your own, and then decide for yourself. Then, let your representatives in Washington know where you stand.

By the way, here in Wisconsin burning coal is not the only emission that increases carbon dioxide in our air. Those cows add a lot, too. As a lover of cheese, milk, and ice cream, I am not sure where I would vote if it comes down to reducing carbon emissions from dairy cows.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Great Lakes Cyberspace

When I started this blog about a year ago, I knew I wasn’t the only person interested in the Great Lakes, but I had no idea of the vast network and numbers of people who care about it, too. Over the course of this year, I have learned about the politics, ecology, and culture of this wide area. I have learned about the issues, organizations, and people who care about preserving and protecting it.

This morning I learned that one of the best blogs about the Great Lakes would be ending. In today’s posting on Great Lakes Blogger, Dave Dempsey tells us he will be shutting down his blog, probably permanently. This saddens me because I will miss Dave’s posts. He has kept me informed about the issues facing the Great Lakes. He has steered me in the direction of Great Lakes art and culture. Without it, I am not sure I would have read Jerry Dennis’s wonderful book The Living Great Lakes and it is because of a posting of Dave’s that I have a book about (and by) Women of the Great Lakes on my holiday wish list.

Writing a blog is a weird thing. Unless someone posts a comment to what you write, you don’t really know who is reading your work. Is your post just going out in the vast cyberspace never to be seen again? Or is someone looking forward to your every word and just not saying so? Who knows? Yes, I have a meter on my site and yes, I check the statistics, but I am not sure how meaningful they are. When it tells me someone has been on my site for 5 minutes and read 5 pages, have they really read it, just looked at the pictures or did their finger accidentally hit the arrow key to scroll through five pages and then got called away to the telephone for five minutes?

Maybe Dave feels the same. I am not sure why he will not be writing his blog anymore (he doesn’t say) but I hope we will still be reading him on Great Lakes Town Hall. That is another wonderful site that I check frequently. Dave is one of the founders of that group and now one of its moderators. His posts are always worth reading – whether on his own site, the Town Hall forum or in the books he has written. Thanks, Dave for a good run.

By the way, any and all comments are appreciated on this site. It lets me know you are out there. If you want to comment just click on “Comment” at the end of the post. If you want to send me an email through this site, click on my profile, and under my picture (which my husband took last winter at the Florida Keys) you will see a link to send an email.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Fine Kettle of Fish

I don't mean to harp (carp?) on Asian carp, but everyone else is so why not? You can read about it everywhere. Check out Great Lakes Blogger for example. Dave Dempsey is always right on top of Great Lakes issues and has a lot to say on this one.

But I did want to tell you about a statistic I just heard on the radio. You may know that officials are dumping a poison into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to kill the carp while the US Army Corps of Engineers fixes the electric barrier put up to prevent the carp from getting into the Great Lakes. So far the poison, which is theoretically not toxic to humans, has killed only fish other than carp. But it is estimated that up to 200,000 pounds of fish could be killed by the poison. The fish will be removed from the canal and sent to landfills.

What a fine kettle of fish this is. Can you imagine the aroma wafting from the landfill that gets the haul? And why do I think this is just another futile effort to stop the carp from entering the Great Lakes, at the expense of other fish and perhaps people, too. And poisoning any water at any time with any type of lethal agent seems like a bad idea for any reason.

I also wish the Army Corp of Engineers had a better reputation for solving problems instead of creating them. But alas, my wish list for the Great Lakes just continues to get longer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

At 100 and Approaching 32

What does that cryptic title mean? It means that this is my 100th posting for 2009. In a little less than three weeks, I will have been writing this blog for a year.

Approaching 32 means that it is almost winter and lake temperatures are approaching 32 degrees F. Although water temperatures in the Southern Lake Michigan region today average in the mid-40’s, and we still have a long way to go before ice forms, there are reminders that winter is coming. Here in Kenosha we are part of two media markets and get both Chicago and Milwaukee TV and radio stations. Last night in both markets, with all the important news that could have been reported, winter parking restrictions were the lead stories. Prepare for winter, that’s the media message.

Another reminder is that at 4 o’clock in the afternoon it is starting to get dark. The picture above was taken at sunset today, which is 4:19 PM. The one to the right was taken at 4:29 PM.

Sunrise today was at 7:01 AM and I was actually up, but not out, before it got light. Perhaps some morning before December 21 I will manage to get out to take a picture of the sun coming up over the lake, but that will also depend on cloud cover, wind speed and air temperature. Perhaps seeing the sunrise will be my personal challenge for the month of December. Perhaps. If so, that would be a first.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Great Lakes Accent

She was ready for his voice by that time, too: the flat, metallic nasal sound of the Great Lakes with its clear hard r’s and its absence of theatricality. Dull normal. The speech of her people.”

My people, too. That line comes from Hairball, a short story by Canadian author Margret Atwood. I never thought of such a thing as a Great Lakes accent, yet Atwood described what people from Buffalo to Chicago to Green Bay, Wisconsin sound like. I’ve lived a few places other than the Midwest so my accent is not quite that bad, but when I was growing up in Buffalo I had friends who went to the baynk, said thaynk you and ate cayandy. I had a dog but some of my friends had kyats.

I googled “regional accents in the US” and learned indeed there is such as thing as a Great Lakes accent. Phonologists define the accent as Inland North dialect of American English. It is essentially "standard Midwestern" speech. According to Wikipedia, if you speak that way, you are in the company of some notable personalities including Jim Belushi, Dennis Franz, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Suze Orman, Bob Seger and my brother-in-law Jerry.

When I was younger, my Canadian cousins would tease me about my “American” accent. They, like Atwood, are from southeastern Ontario, also in the Great Lakes. But I guess Canadians have their own sub-variety of the accent. It’s usually pretty easy to tell a Canadian by the way they talk, eh?

You can learn a lot more about the accent, including its Northern cities vowel shift if you are interested. For me, I will just say I know a Great Lakes accent when I hear it, thanyk you very much. It’s not exactly music to my ear but it does feel like home.

Happy Thaynksgiving to all. I am thaynkful for friends, family, food, and many other things, including diversity. Life would be boring if we all sounded the same.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Where's Waldo's Boat?

Yesterday was sunny and warm for November and I took this picture in the morning. You can see that all the boats are out of the marina. Today, temperatures were still a little above normal but skies were once again grey and cloudy. I haven’t looked at the statistics but I am going to guess that November in our area has the lowest amount of sunshine of any month except perhaps March. And even though sunset is technically close to 4:30 PM, it is dark before four. No wonder people have started to put up their holiday lights already. We need some brightness.

So where are the boats?

Here’s where they are, wrapped in their finest shrink wrap, waiting for spring. Seems like they’re all dressed up with no where to go.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Everyone is Talking About Asian Carp

As the Asian carp get close to the barrier erected to keep them out of Lake Michigan, the story of their migration has also moved from amusing You Tube videos to serious NPR reports. In the last few weeks, these ugly invaders have been making headlines in newspapers, magazine and on TV. I even found myself having a conversation about them at a social gathering this weekend. Were it only true that increasing the public’s knowledge about these ugly fish could stop them from getting into our precious Great Lakes water and eating all the other fish.

I saw a poll on the blog Great Lakes Echo asking what you think about DNA from Asian Carp being found beyond the electrical barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which is supposed to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes. The fish aren’t there yet, but apparently, their DNA is. I cast my vote for “ Unsurpised. It was inevitable they would get in”. Other responses were angry, saying that the invasion could have been stopped by earlier action. There are a variety of responses to choose from, but so far at least no one has checked the box that say, “What’s an Asian carp?” But then again the readers of this blog are not a random sample of the population.

By the way, on the same blog you will find another quiz that you may find more amusing. The title of that one is: Which Great Lakes Invasive Species Is Your Former Significant Other?

It’s been so long since I have had a Significant Other other than my current significant other (aka my husband of 40 plus years) I won’t bother to take that quiz, but some of the choices might be quagga or zebra mussels, sea lampreys, and alewives. Do you think there is such a thing as an ale husband, too?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fly Me To The Moon

The Sea of Tranquility may be a sea after all. It’s been all over the news this week that contrary to previous reports, there is water on the moon. Indications from LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite), the satellite that was deliberately smashed into the moon a few weeks ago, are that there is a significant amount of water underlying those lunar craters.

In response to the findings, astronaut Buzz Aldrin said, “This is a welcome confirmation of what we have long and confidently suspected, but it does not suggest a commercial Gold Rush, or make that a Water Rush, to the moon." Maybe not, but I can’t help but wonder how long it will take the people of the water-poor Southwest to contact NASA. That may be good news for us in the Great Lakes region as developers can now look toward the moon for water to keep lawns green and swimming pools filled instead of using our Great Lakes water.

That is said a bit tongue in cheek (although it is a tongue that thirsts for water and a cheek in need of continual moisture). More importantly, the presence of water on the moon opens up the possibility of further exploration of the moon and the rest of the solar system. As stated on the NASA website:

Just like on Earth, water will be a crucial resource on the moon. Transporting water and other goods from Earth to the moon’s surface is expensive. Finding natural resources, such as water ice, on the moon could help expedite lunar exploration. The LCROSS mission will search for water, using information learned from the Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions.

In time we will discover about the moon’s water- how much there is, what kinds of impurities it contains, what it tastes like, and more, but it is fascinating to learn this about that big ball that floats above our earth. Will they also discover that the moon is really made of cheese? That would mean one less thing to transport across 93,000 miles, and one can easily live on water and cheese. I wonder what effect that would have on the Wisconsin dairy industry?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Water and Evolution

I look out at the expanse of water in front of me and try to imagine it gone. Seems impossible, doesn’t it, and yet vast bodies of water have disappeared from the earth, or at least have been substantially diminished in size. It can happen.

What makes me think of this today is the PBS Nova Series, Becoming Human. The three part series, two of which have already been aired, reports on recent findings about the evolution of primates to Homo sapiens. They ask the question why did our ancestors start to walk upright and what caused their brains to grow.

Anthropologists concentrate their searches in eastern Africa, in the Great Rift Valley. What I learned is that millions of years ago there used to be a huge freshwater lake in this now arid part of the African continent. The water levels of that body of water fluctuated, due to periods of excess rain and drought. This is proven in the geological layers by the presence of diatoms, unicellular organisms that only exist in water. Scientists think that one of the ways that mammals adapted to this climate instability was by increasing the size of their brain.

The water levels of the lake outside my window fluctuate, too, but not that dramatically. Here’s an excerpt from the November 6 report on Great Lakes Water Levels as posted at Great Lakes Observing System website:

Water Level Conditions: All of the Great Lakes remain higher than their levels of a year ago. Lakes Superior, Michigan-Huron, St. Clair, Erie and Ontario are 3, 12, 8, 6, and 1 inches, respectively, higher than their levels last year at this time. The water levels of Lakes Superior, Michigan-Huron and St. Clair are expected to decline by 2 inches over the next month. Lake Erie and Ontario are expected to decline 1 and 2 inches, respectively, over the next 30 days. Over the next several months, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan-Huron and Lake St. Clair are forecasted to be above their water levels of a year ago. Lakes Erie and Ontario are forecasted to remain near or below last year's levels over the same time period

Still, it makes me wonder what changes will take place in our species as our own climate instability progresses. And yes, I do believe our climate is changing, although I also believe climate has always changed. But the rate of change has increased and been influenced by us Homo sapiens and our larger brains, as well as our cars, our factories, our plastic bottles and myriad other modern inventions.

Evolution is an ongoing process, but how will humans change in response to an unstable climate? How will we adapt? Will we have bigger brains instead of bigger cars? Will be go back to walking on two feet instead of driving on four wheels? Will our feet be bigger? Our arms longer? Our skin thicker? What do you think?

The picture at the right has nothing to do with evolution, but I wanted to share it. It was taken last weekend at the Japanese Garden in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens , which I think is a highly evolved and beautiful place.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sal, The Erie Canal and Me

I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

We’ve hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal and hay
And we know every inch of the way
From Albany to Buffalo*.

Do you know that song – or is it only known by people who grew up in New York State?

I am still reading Jerry Dennis’s book, The Living Great Lakes. For several chapters Dennis wrote about places on the Great Lakes that I do not know much about, but now I am back to reading about familiar territory as he sails the eastern basin of Lake Erie, through the Welland Canal, into Lake Ontario. He is writing about what I used to call home. I have never seen it from the perspective that Dennis and his crewmates were seeing it - sort of from the inside out, that is from the water to the shore. I have seen all these places from the shore to the water. I don’t know “every inch of the way” but I do know a heck of a lot the places he is seeing from the ship. Buffalo, The Niagara Peninsula, Toronto, Rochester, even the Welland Canal all are an integral part of the first 23 years of my life.

But when I got to the part about the Erie Canal, I admit I was stumped and had to look up some information about it on Wikipedia. I learned in grade school that the canal connected Albany at the Hudson River end to Buffalo at Lake Erie, making it possible for ships to go from the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Lakes. Yet Dennis and his crew enter into the canal, which is rarely used anymore by commercial vessels, at Oswego, New York. What I found out was that almost a hundred years ago the Erie Canal became part of what is now called the New York State Canal System, which includes other canals such as the Oswego Canal, which connect to the Erie Canal at Syracuse. The whole thing is now part of the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor – which is part of my favorite government agency, the National Park Service.

The Erie Canal today is probably a lot like the I & M Canal which connected Chicago to the Mississippi River. Both are primarily recreational areas now. I have walked and biked the I & M several times and yes, have the stamp in my Parks Passport. Along the path are historic houses, trading posts and other remnants of a bygone era. When I walk it, I think that a mule named Sal would soon be poking her head out from behind the thick trees that now line the canal. But Sal was a New Yorker, so probably not.

And I am a New Yorker too – no, not the kind that inhabits the pages of the famous magazine by the same name, but rather the kind that had to remind people that there is more to New York State than Manhattan and Brooklyn. And that there are lots of trees in the state. It’s not all sidewalks.

Later this afternoon my husband, also a New Yorker of the same variety as I am, and I are flying to New York – both the city and the state - to spend a few days and to attend a wedding. I will not see the Erie Canal, but I will probably see Canal Street. Does any one remember the old song about walking down Canal Street? Actually, it’s probably best if you don’t, at least not the version I learned in grade school.

By the way, the official name of Erie Canal song is *Low Bridge and it was written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen. Thank you, Wikipedia. I guess I have to send you another donation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No Silver Lining?

I just finished knitting socks for my husband that are made of an Icelandic wool and alpaca blend. These socks are special because I think I may have met the sheep that produced the wool. I bought the yarn at a Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival earlier this fall. The socks are going to be really, really warm this winter, which is good because my husband's feet get really, really cold. However, his feet don’t sweat, so I don’t expect the socks to get smelly, but if they did, I learned this morning in the NYT Science Section that adding silver to fibers like those used in socks can keep them odor free.

I suppose I knew that silver was an antimicrobial – after all, I do have a degree in Microbiology, but I never thought about socks and silver together. It appears that by adding a few nanoparticles of silver to textiles, the bacteria that cause unpleasant odors are eliminated. Nanoparticles, in case you don’t know, are very, very small. Picture a hair’s breadth and divide it into a trillion pieces, and you have a nanoparticle.

However, you might want to think twice about those odor-free socks because silver is not only toxic to bacteria – it’s pretty much toxic to every living thing. And remember that things like socks and clothing have to get clean. What happens to the silver when those items go through the wash? Does it go down our drains, out into our streams and our lakes, into our fish? How will effect our environment?

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, a program developed by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Pew Charitable Trusts has issued a 72-page report called Silver Nanotechnologies and the Environment: Old Problems or New Challenge? The report says there are now over 235 products ranging from toothpaste to towels, cosmetics to clothes, appliances and paint that contain silver. It may be that some silver containing products are environmentally safe but it may also be that we just don’t know enough yet to say. Fortunately, there are people a lot smarter than I am who are thinking about this.

So here we are worried about invasive species like zebra and quaaga mussels, sea lampreys and alewives when sweet smelling socks may present just as much of a problem to our water. It seems that even smart new ideas come with a cloud. And does that cloud have as silver lining – a silver lining that’s safe for our environment? That’s the question.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Shipwrecks and Skies

I couldn’t sleep last night so I picked up my book and began to read. I found it a little spooky that here I was, just after midnight on November 1, beginning a chapter that was subtitled “The Gales of November”. It is part of Chapter 7 of Jerry Dennis’s book, The Living Great Lakes. Dennis is a wonderful writer and in this book, he primarily tells about a trip he took through the Great Lakes on a sailboat, but weaves many other stories about the Lakes into the volume as well. He does indeed bring the lakes alive with his excellent storytelling and vivid descriptions.

This morning when I took our dog out for his morning walk, although the clock said 9 AM, my body felt like it was later. I guess even though I hadn’t gotten to sleep until well after 2 AM, the change to standard time was in my favor and I woke up refreshed. But it was still quiet outside and except for a few other walkers, Burlee and I had the marina pretty much to ourselves.

I snapped a few pictures of the emptying marina. Most of the boats are out of the water and by next week, even more will be gone. The geese are probably happy as they now have the water to themselves. As I was walking, I noticed that the sun, which had been shining earlier in the morning, was already waning and clouds were coming in from the southwest. So much for a sunny beginning to November. But it reminded me of something I had read last night in Dennis’s book that had to do with November, changing weather, and ships. I will quote the beginning of Chapter 7:

November is the deadliest month. Ask any sailor. It’s when the lakes still embrace some of the summer’s heat, but the air above has turned to winter. A meteorologist for the National Weather Service once calculated that on average the greatest difference between the temperature of the lakes and the temperature of the air above them occurs on November 10. That differential causes the remaining warmth in the lakes to be sucked into the air, releasing energy and creating wind.

Dennis goes on the tell of huge number of ships that have sunk in the Great Lakes on or around November 10 – the most famous but by far not the only one being the Edmund Fitzgerald. So it is a good thing that all those boats are coming out of the water. I wouldn’t want there to be a local version of The Tempest (remember that Shakespearean shipwreck tale?).

Fortunately the winds of November did not come a night early and Halloween here in Kenosha was clear and dry. The night before I took this picture of the sky from my balcony. It seemed that the sky was turning orange in preparation of the Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fading October

October is usually one of my favorite months, but this year, October forgot to come. Well, actually it did come, but it brought with it an abnormal amounts of rain and cooler than normal temperatures. More often than not, the jeweled colors of autumn, gold, ruby and jade, were displayed on a backdrop of gray skies and rain.

It was no different in North Central Texas where I spent most of last week. Several evenings during my six-day stay were spent listening to thunder and watching the radar to see if we would get five inches, or five tenths of an inch, of rain.

The day after I came home, I took a walk, hoping to catch the last of the fall color. I walked past the old Southport Lighthouse and snapped a few pictures of bare trees. Closer to the beach, the trees still had some color, but somehow an image kept coming to mind. It was that of an old woman, who in an attempt to keep up appearances, dabs bright red lipstick on a pale face. Somehow, both the image of the old woman, and the half-naked trees, made me a little sad and sorry that October had flown by so quickly.

After my walk, I spent some time catching up on the blogs I follow. I saw that Loreen, the 1,000 Mile Beach Treker, will be spending a week in the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. Cool. The restoration at the Southport Lighthouse is almost complete and I have heard that in the spring will be open for visitors. Maybe they will also have a visitor/volunteer program as the one at Grand Traverse that Loreen is doing, but I won’t apply. Too close too home. Maybe they have one at the Key West Lighthouse. If they do, I’ll apply for February. Why do I think I won’t be the only one?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Changing Seasons; Changing Topics

This morning at the YMCA where I exercise, the gym was unavailable because they were holding the Third Annual Disability Resource Fair. The participants could partake in yoga demonstrations, chair massage, and a variety of physical activities. Those who were able could try the rock-climbing wall. A Championship Wheelchair Basketball Team from UW-Whitewater was scheduled to perform later in the afternoon.

As I watched the attendees, some with their own attendants, from my view on the treadmill I marveled at the good cheer in the building today. The crowd seemed to be mostly teenagers and young adults and their disabilities covered a wide range. But almost to a one they had big smiles on their faces and seemed so happy to partake in this outing. And so did the people who accompanied them. I saw several people with digital cameras taking pictures of the various activities, especially those attempting the rock climbing.

I had thought I would write today about the change of seasons. The leaves are almost at their peak color in this part of Southeastern Wisconsin and yesterday I took some pictures of trees in my neighborhood. I am posting a few but the truth is they are not nearly as inspiring as the people I saw this morning – those with disabilities and those that were there to help them.

Several of the houses I passed on my walk yesterday are decorated for Halloween. Here’s one of my favorites.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Hydrological Highway?

Is Hydrologic Highway too much of a mouthful? Does Water Wonderland sound too much like a water park? How about the Aquatic Escarpment? And why speculate about what to call the Great Lakes Basin other than the Great Lakes Basin anyway?

My brain storming for a clever name was prompted by a report of a presentation yesterday at University of Wisconsin Parkside. The speaker at the Executive in Residence Series of the UW-P School of Business and Technology was Richard Meeusen, CEO of Badger Meter. Meeusen, commenting that Wisconsin is becoming a leader world wide in fresh water science, said that, "Wisconsin has the opportunity to be the Silicon Valley of water technology".

Meuseen is not alone in recognizing the role that Wisconsin has come to play in the water sciences. Last week Gary Wilson wrote an editorial for The Great Lakes Town Hall called “Milwaukee Rising?” Here’s an excerpt of what Wilson said:

The University of Wisconsin's Milwaukee campus is home to the Great Lakes Water Institute which bills itself as "the largest academic freshwater research facility on the Great Lakes." Research and education are its prime focus, both critical disciplines in the water age.

The International Joint Commission, the U.S. and Canadian body that advises the two governments on boundary water issues, just cited Milwaukee (and Toronto) as a "success story" for its wastewater management and acknowledged its "well-designed and long-term plans."

Milwaukee's daily newspaper, the Journal-Sentinel, has dedicated significant resources to Great Lakes coverage. This in a difficult period where most papers are scaling back on environmental reporting.

You can read the entire editorial and the comments it prompted on the Town Hall website. I would have included a note about the exhibits at Milwaukee’s newest museum, Discovery World, which make learning about water fun. I would also have cited Governors Doyle’s proposal to allocate for establishment of a School of Freshwater Science at UW-M. $240M.

Fortune for all, it’s not just in Wisconsin that water issues are finally taking a front seat. It’s happening all over the Great Lakes, and although I would like to see Wisconsin prosper from water technology, the truth is that the more Great Lakes cities and states involved in the effort, the more the effort will succeed. Maybe my old hometown, Buffalo, could reap some benefit. From what I hear, they could really use it.

If you can think of catchy name for our area, which can summarize in a slogan the high-tech efforts in freshwater science, let me know. But whatever that name is, it certainly is better than The Rust Belt, our previous title. How about Aqua Fresh? Oops, I think that is already taken by a toothpaste. Sorry.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saving Treasures on American Samoa

The other day in my posting about the National Parks, I asked the question of how the National Park of American Samoa had fared during the recent tsunami wave that struck the South Pacific. Today, in an article on the National Parks Traveler, I learned that it did fairly well. The headline reads “Restoration Efforts Show National Park of American Samoa Artifacts in Better-Than-Expected Condition” .The article explains that many of the artifacts were rescued from the water that inundated the Visitor Center and removed to safer locations.

As a novice weaver, I was particularly interested to learn that some of what was saved is examples of traditional Samoan weaving. Over the past two years, I have a developed a greater appreciation for the craft of weaving as I slowly learn to weave myself. I would really like to see the restored pieces some day – and add another stamp to my National Parks Passport.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Simmons Island Beach and Art

The only way that Simmons Island Beach and Art are related is that I read articles about them both this morning. I am still a newspaper reader, and although I find lots of good information on the internet, I still like to read the newspaper.

The second topic first. Art. A few days ago, I wrote about ArtPrize, the art competition currently taking place in Grand Rapids, MI. The Arts section of the New York Times had a story about the exhibit and although Mary Gillis, the artist I was featuring was not included in the piece, it is still worth looking at slide show of some of the other installations. In addition, it’s always nice see something in the NYT about art in a Great Lakes State. Art does happen west of the Hudson River.

The other article was one of local interest. The headline in the Kenosha News read, “City Looks to Enhance Lakefront.” The City of Kenosha wants to draw more people to the lakefront, especially because so much of the current commercial development is in the western part of the city. Some suggestions for increasing the number of visitors, which is estimated to be about 20,000 per month now, are to improve the railroad station ( I am not sure that will do anything toward this goal but I agree it should be done), streetscape designs along the main thoroughfares entering the lakefront area, and better marketing.

Mayor Keith Bosman would like to see more traffic on Simmons Island and its beach. As a frequenter of that beach, I know it is under utilized, although in the past few years, the number of beach goers has increased. This year doesn’t count because the weather was cool, but I think there are ways to improve use of the beach.

For one, it could be cleaned more often, and more waste containers provided. The city has fixed up the historic bathhouse a little and there are now restroom facilities and a foot washing station – but I am not sure how many people know about it. The city has also made it difficult for anyone interested in opening a concession stand. The one year that one was open, people purchased snacks there, but this year it wasn’t there.

Why is North Beach in Racine so popular? Could it be that it is clean, has concessions, washrooms, has adequate parking and a great children’s playground? Granted, the sand beach at Simmons Island is smaller, but the park is not. I don’t think it would take much to improve attendance but you have to give people a reason to go there. On a hot summer afternoon, a significant number of cars in the Simmons Island parking lot sport Illinois license plates. What do the people of Illinois know that the people of Kenosha don’t? Or are the people of Kenosha all up at the Racine beach?

By the way, the Simmons Bedding, for whom the island was named, also made the New York Times this week. The company, which has changed hands many times since leaving Kenosha, has declared bankruptcy. The NYT article is a good analysis of how this happened to Simmons as well as many other companies. It’s not a pretty picture.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

After and Before the Rain

Today started out gray and cloudy and it went downhill from there. Midmorning, as I ran errands, it was drizzling – just enough to put the intermittent wipers on (After seeing the movie about the guy who invented them, I don’t take them for granted any more). I came home and felt like the weather – chilly, gray, and dripping in my throat. So when it was getting to be 4 PM and I still hadn’t given Burlee the Pug his afternoon walk, I grumbled but put my fleece and my raincoat on and figured it would be a short walk.

Just as I got outside, the clouds opened up and the sun shone through. The winds were calm. I went back inside and took off the raincoat, but something told me to grab my camera (one of my errands today had been to get the 2G memory card to go with it). I was so glad I did.

As Burlee and I walked toward the harbor, I saw blue sky above me. However, to the west were more storm clouds – and the ones that had been overhead all day were still out on the lake. Of course, there were a few fishermen by the harbor. Even in the rain, there is always someone dangling a pole out there.

I took pictures in both directions, and to the north, too. Great clouds. As I walked back, the reflection of the clouds on the huge windows of the Kenosha Public Museum were worthy of a picture, too.
By the time I got back to my house, which probably wasn’t more than 15 or 20 minutes, the wind had picked up. Strong gusts, which according to the Weather Channel are between 25-35 miles per hour, were blowing those clouds right over my head, so I expect to see more rain today. No cemetery tour for me tonight. We’ll see what the weather is tomorrow and if it’s a good night for visiting graves in the dark. In a way, I almost hope its raining again. I am a little bit of a coward, I admit.

If you want to see some more beautiful pictures of Lake Michigan, check out the blog, http://lakemichiblog.blogspot.com/, which I recently came across. I don’t know who writes this blog except that he or she has an office at Carthage College with a full view of the lake, and has posted some wonderful pictures.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Maritime History in the Cemetery

It’s October, the time of year for pumpkins, falling leaves, and cemetery tours. For the past few years, the Kenosha History Center has sponsored historic tours of Green Ridge Cemetery. The walk this year, which was yesterday afternoon, emphasized Kenosha’s Maritime history. The walk highlighted four historical figures with ties to ships and the shipping industry as well as the gravesites of six Lighthouse Keepers of the Kenosha Lighthouse, dating between 1836 and 1871.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t take the tour this year for reasons I won’t go into, but I did pick up a copy of the guide booklet. This afternoon, a cool, partly cloudy, but still pleasant afternoon, I walked over to the cemetery, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from my house. Using the map provided in the booklet, I tried to find the gravesites of these significant figures from yesterday’s walk. I was able to find only a few of the gravesites, but I did find one that I had been especially interested in seeing.

Stephen A. Jackson was born in England and came to America in 1839. He began his career as a steamer captain in Buffalo N.Y. before coming to Kenosha in 1867. Now you see why I was particularly interested in this man. If you have been a reader, or know me, you know that I too began in Buffalo, N.Y. and then came to Kenosha.

The marker to his grave is one of the more interesting ones in the cemetery – it’s the one up at the top. Jackson was one of the figures with a reenactor and again I was sorry not to see my neighbor, alderman, and knitting friend’s spouse, Don Moldenhauer, portray Captain Jackson. This morning’s Kenosha News had a nice picture of Don as Jackson.

Charles O’Neill, lighthouse keeper in the mid 1800’s, has a large marker. That’s probably because O’Neill was politically connected and did not spend most of his career as a lighthouse keeper. He was a farmer – and probably a pretty prosperous one at that. George Kimball, whose worn marker is shown above at the right, is credited with building the first beacon to light the port in 1836. One of the markers I couldn’t find was that of Lorinda Merrill, who was the first female keeper, when she took over the position after her husband died in 1871. She kept the light for just one year, but the walk’s brochure poses the question of what it was like to walk up and down the narrow spiral staircase, which is about the height of a five-story building, several times a day in the long bulky skirt Mrs. Merrill must have worn in the mid 1800’s.

Two evenings this week, the history center will host a Cemetery Lantern Tour. It will not emphasize maritime figures as did the walk yesterday but my husband and I may go one evening. After all, even though the center says this is not a haunted tour, being in a cemetery on a chilly October evening after dark is spooky and this is October, isn’t it?

On my walk back home, I shot this picture of people enjoying the nice afternoon on their bikes. Not everyone wants to stroll in the cemetery in October. Can you see the four bikes in the background?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Great Lakes National Park?

I have been enjoying Ken Burn’s series on the National Parks and if you haven’t seen it, you are really missing some great TV. As someone who has visited 21 National Parks (out of 58 according to Burns and 60 according to the National Parks Conservation Association) and whose Passport to the National Parks has a total of 102 stamps, I have been waiting to see this program for a long time.

When I started collecting stamps in 1997 there were, if I recall, about 360 units of the parks service and my goal then was to see them all. Besides the national parks, the units include National Monuments, Lakeshores, Historic Sites, Trails, Parkways, Rivers and so forth. You can see a whole list of the types of units and how they are defined on the website of the NPCA. Over the years, the number has changed and now my target is 391, but I fear that this is an elusive goal and I may have to be content to visit just a large percentage of the total number.

Living in the Midwest, achieving my goal has been a challenge. My passport thrived the one year we lived in Northern California when my husband did interim work in Sacramento. Winter and summer vacations have helped, too, but if you look at a map of National Parks in the Great Lakes Basin, you will only see Cuyahoga Valley near Cleveland, Ohio, and yes, I have been there.

In Wisconsin, we have no park but we do have the Apostle Islands and the St Croix River sites (and yes, I have been to both) and some scenic trails. Michigan does better with Isle Royale which is a National Park and, Pictured Rock and Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshores (no, none of these yet) as well as several historic sites. Indiana has the wonderful Indiana Dunes Lakeshore, which I have visited often. Illinois. Ohio and New York’s sites, at least the ones near the Great Lakes, are mostly historical (and yes, I’ve been to several of them).

What has been interesting about Burn’s series, besides the fabulous photos, which make me wish for the very first time I had HDTV, has been the historical perspective on the development of the parks. Often just one determined person was influential in convincing our government to preserve parts of our country for the masses, regions that for other individuals could have been sources of great wealth in mining and forestry rights. Even today, these fights go on and I frequently get email requests from NPCA or the Sierra Club asking me to tell my Senator or Congressman what I want him to do to preserve our natural heritage.

Imagine if someone were to create a Great Lakes National Park. What would it include? It would be bigger than France and the United Kingdom combined, and would be both above ground and underwater. It would include sand dunes, Carolinian and Boreal forest, wetlands, and a variety of geological formations. It would be rich in fresh water, minerals, plants, and animals. I can only imagine what controversy such a proposal would create. Just look how hard it was to pass the Great Lakes Compact. No, I don’t expect that to ever happen. Still, just imagine having that stamp in my passport.

By the way, the National Park of American Samoa is one of the 58 (or 60) national parks. I wonder how it has fared following the earthquake this week. Well, I hope.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Journey's End

I had no doubt that my new friend Loreen would successfully complete her 1,000 mile beach walk. She is now posting about Segment 10, the walk from Milwaukee to Navy Pier in Chicago. I was delighted to see it this morning, and to see that Burlee and I were included in her journal. Calling the report of her trek a blog doesn't seem to be adequate. She took the journey of a lifetime. Her writing, her journal, is the record of her experiences and observations, and that, according to Webster, is the definition of a journal.

Check out Burlee and me as well as the rest of Loreen's trip at http://laketrek.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

940 Miles Down - 60 To Go

This afternoon I met Loreen Niewenhuis who has spent the last six months walking 1,000 miles around Lake Michigan. She didn’t do it all at once, but rather in ten smaller segments. She started in March at Navy Pier in Chicago and plans to end at the same spot this coming Saturday afternoon. Today she walked from Racine through Kenosha on her way to Zion. I had the pleasure of spending some time – and a very small portion of the walk – with her. You can see the route she followed and the segments on her blog Lake Trek.

I met Loreen about a mile north of where I live. She was easy to spot – a lone figure sporting a walking stick that she told me has been with her from the beginning. I asked her why she was doing this hike. She said she has always loved Lake Michigan and that was part of the draw. The other part is that she wanted to do something “big” and something for herself. Loreen is the mother of two almost grown boys; the mother within me understood what she was saying.

As we walked back toward my house, I filled her in on Kenosha. When she learned that I had lived here in the 80's, then left and came back in 2004, she asked if things were different now. I told her a little about the economy here, the loss of auto industry jobs, a story that as a Michigander she was all too familiar with, and how Kenosha has been dealing with that loss. I also told her about the influx of “Illinois folk” and its impact on the city, and that Kenosha’s major employer now is the Illinois-based Abbott Labs.

“But your interest is in Lake Michigan, I said, “So I will tell you one thing that is different. Thirty years ago, no one seemed to even notice that Lake Michigan was here. I would walk our kids or our dog in the parks along the lake and often would be the only one around. It was a greatly undervalued resource. Perhaps that was an indication of the times everywhere – we took our natural resources for granted.”

‘What I see now is an ever-increasing appreciation of the wonderful resource we have. The lake shore has been developed for recreation and people are down here all the time.”

“So now that I have told you about Kenosha,” I said after I felt I was monopolizing the conversation, “tell me more about your trip.”

Loreen has gone though three pair of boots on the trip, often walks alone, although at various points family or friends have joined her, and she travels light. Today she was carrying a backpack which she said weighs about 25 pounds.

Her overnight accommodations have been varied. She has camped (and on those treks carried a heavier backpack), stayed in motels, and with people she knows along the way. The cool summer was to her advantage, but there were times when she walked into strong gale force winds and in the rain. She notifies communities that she will be passing through – some respond, others don’t. The Sheboyan Press wrote a nice article about her – check it out.

We got to my house and Loreen sat for about an hour. When she got up to leave all she wanted was to refill her water bottle – although the bottle she carried has a fancy filtration systems so she can drink right from the lake. I walked her as far Eichelmann Beach, where she continued south and I turned back toward home.

I enjoyed the brief time we had together and hope our paths meet again. As we parted, I started to give her some advice about what she would encounter between here and Zion, her next stop. Then I stopped myself.

“You’ve made it 940 miles without me. I guess you can make the next 60 miles without me, too.” She laughed – and pulled out her GPS – then went on her way.

Loreen isn’t posting on her blog while she is walking, but will when she gets back home. Next week I will check out her blog. She plans to write a book about her trek. Next year, I will watch for it. I will also think about what I might do for myself that’s “big”.

How about a 10,000 mile trek around all the Great Lakes?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fabulous Photos and Art Inspired by the Great Lakes

I bought a new camera but have yet to take any pictures with it, other than a few tests inside my house. After viewing the photos of the winners of The Great Lakes Forever 2009 Photo Contest, I may never take any. Take a look at these fabulous photos. Magnificent. Awe-inspiring. What talent. (Click on the highlighted text to see them.)

Other art worth looking at is the work of Mary Gillis and in particular her Great Lakes Series. The series is currently on display in Grand Rapids, MI and is contending for the coveted ArtPrize. I would vote for Mary to win the prize but you actually have to be in Grand Rapids to vote. So if you are anywhere near there, please check out the exhibit. Maybe you can help Mary – and the Great Lakes – win this award. Even if you don’t get to vote, when you look at her website be sure to read the explanation of the Great Lakes series, especially about how the colors come from various automotive colors- how Michigan!

These are just two examples of art that draws inspiration from the Great Lakes. I know there are many more. And even if my amateur pictures are not art, I am inspired by nature and the Great Lakes and when I take a picture, it is to tell a story that my words cannot. Maybe that does make me an artist. Who knows?

All art is but imitation of nature.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cleanup Day for Shores and Sins

Saturday is International Coastal Cleanup Day sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy. The day is set aside to remove trash and debris from all beaches and waterways, not just those at the ocean. In the past, my husband and I have participated in this annual event at one of our local beaches, but we will not be collecting trash this year because the day coincides with the observance of Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish New Year. I guess I am used to events coinciding with Jewish holidays but I was pleased to see a note on the website of the California Coastal Commission explaining that unlike Jewish holidays, which roam around the calendar, the cleanup day is always the third Saturday in September. Regrettably, many people who would otherwise participate will not be able to do so this year.

However, that doesn’t mean they can’t pick up trash on the beach at another time. There is always trash on the beach – what it means is that it just won’t be counted. On Cleanup Day, trash collectors keep track of what they collect so that officials can see what kinds of garbage gets into the water. I have counted endless numbers of cigarette butts, plastic bottles, soda cans, candy wrappers, and even old socks. Every year I hope I will find something “interesting” – it’s not that I want to see the trash on the beach, but I want to be able to check off the box that says “Other” and insert the description of a noteworthy piece of garbage in it.

The coincidence of Rosh Hashanah and Cleanup Day make me think of one aspect of our holiday observance, the traditional ritual of Tashlich. For Jews, Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the New Year but it is also the start of a ten-day period of reflection and repentance. Tashlich is a powerful ceremony where we symbolically cast our sins unto the water. Our congregation gathers at Eichelmann Beach, which is one of the beaches I have cleaned in the past, to toss pieces of bread into Lake Michigan to represent our sins. Every year, the seagulls hover around us, too, waiting to take those “sins” away from us.

This year we will be cleaning our souls while my fellow beach lovers are cleaning the beach. Both are noble efforts, and both need to be thought about not just on the third Saturday in September but all year long. The consequences of both sins and trash stick around longer than we care to admit.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pictures Without A Camera

Because my camera is broken (and too expensive to repair), I did not have a way to capture the scenes I saw on my morning walk. However, I thought I would test my writing skills and try to describe what I saw.

When I walked out of the house, the sun was shining but the air was hazy. It felt more like August than September and I wondered if the winter months would be a little off schedule too. I don’t mind January’s zero temperatures being delayed, but I would hate to think in April it will feel like mid-February.

Anyway, the air this morning was damp and my skin felt clammy. The flags at the waterfront moved listlessly in the slight breeze off the lake. They seemed tired already, even though it was only 9AM. Perhaps they were conserving their energy for later in the day.

The harbor wall was lined with fisher people – I have to say that because there seemed to be almost as many women as there were men. In fact, as I approached the end of the harbor, I recognized a friend of mine.

“I thought that was you”, I greeted her.

“Yup, it’s me.”

“I didn’t know you fished,” I commented.

“Well, I don’t. At least not often. We did the first year we lived here,” she told me. “We bought all the gear and came down here regularly. But after that, well, we just never did it.” That was five years ago.

I could relate. That’s exactly what happened to us when we moved here, also five years ago. My husband bought the gear and the license, and now the reels and net make nice wall decorations in our garage.

“Not working today?” I asked my friend.

“No. My sister is here from West Virginia, and I took the day off.” She pointed to a woman sprawled out on the harbor wall, soaking up the sun. The woman opened one eye and said, “Hi”.

We chatted for a few more minutes and then I continued. I walked past the small boat harbor, over the bridge, past the Coast Guard station and History Center to the end of the road, then down the pier to the lighthouse.

There were no cars parked at the beach. That’s the spot the teenagers congregate at in the summer, and they are all back at school now. But I did notice, as I have on other occasions, cars driving slowly down the beach road, across Simmons Island, and along the lakefront drive. As before, I noticed that the drivers were almost exclusively men in their sixties and seventies. They drive late model American made cars (remember this town has been an auto manufacturer for years). Chryslers. Buicks. Cadillacs. I wondered how many of them were retired American Motors workers. I also wondered how many of them were told this morning by their wives to stop sitting around the house, and get out while they cleaned or shopped or just talked to a friend on the phone. I wonder what these old guys do in the winter. Drive around Fort Meyers Florida?

When I reached the base of the lighthouse, I saw that some young lovers had left their mark on the base of the lighthouse. Nickie and Debbie 9/09/09. I hate graffiti and I hate what it does to my lighthouse, but somehow that Nickie and Debbie acknowledged a significant date (we won’t see one like it again until 10/10/10) was less troublesome to me than usual.

Looking back at the beach, I realized it was empty, except for a gaggle of seagulls (Do seagulls gather in a gaggle like geese?) who were probably happy to finally have the beach all to themselves.

By this time, I was hot, but my sweat had nowhere to go. I was glad that the water fountain (okay, here in Wisconsin it’s a bubbler) in front of the water treatment plant was still running and I took a long drink. I then went back down the road, along the beach, and across the park toward home.

Across the street from the foot of the harbor is Memorial Fountain. This morning the small maple tree in front of the fountain (no, this is a real fountain, a two story high globe surrounded by spouting water) was wearing a gold and red cap of turning leaves, the first sign I have seen of approaching autumn.

When I realized that it would only be a few more weeks until all the trees would be decked out in their fall finery, and that would be followed by winter, I decided to enjoy my sweaty skin and the warm sun beating on my legs. It won’t be long before I will trade my baseball cap for a woolen hat and my sneakers for boots. By then, I hope to have purchased another camera.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Things I Learned Today

A few days ago, I mentioned that the portion of the Niagara Escarpment running through Hamilton Ontario has always been called “The Mountain”. It’s not really a mountain – it only rises about 300 feet above the city. But you can definitely see the sudden elevation in the landscape and know it is different from the rest of the city. In the past, the culture of the people, that is, the ethnic and economic mix of the population, was also different although that is not true anymore and I am told the area is as diverse as the rest of the city.

Today I learned there is a similar demarcation in Fond du Lac Wisconsin – and for the same reason. Fond du Lac is at the very edge of the Niagara Escarpment (look at on a map if you don’t believe me). In Fond du Lac there is a neighborhood referred to by the locals as the “The Ledge. It’s even less of a mountain than the Hamilton elevation, but the person who told me about it also said that the people who live there are of a different social-economic status than the rest of the city. More elevated, perhaps?

That is one thing I learned today. Another is that the five mile long Mackinac Bridge, across the Straits of Mackinac, is only open to pedestrians one day a year and that day is Labor Day. I read this on a blog I have been following. In addition to this piece of trivia (especially trivial for those of you who live in Texas, California and other places my readers reside) if you check out this blog you will read some interesting stuff about a woman who has made a 1,000 mile trek around Lake Michigan. She didn’t do it all at once but in bits and pieces and she has been writing about her adventures since she started in March 2009. Loreen Niewenhaus is about to complete her walk soon and I am hoping to meet her when she comes through Kenosha on September 23. Check out her blog – she has some great photographs on it.

And the third thing I learned today is that it will cost me $162 to fix my camera, plus the $20 I already paid to get the estimate.(Notice there are no pictures here – that’s because my camera got dropped and the auto focus no longer works.) Over the weekend, I learned what it would cost me to replace it and so I am not paying to have the old one fixed.

I was happy to learn the first two facts – not so much the last one, but such is life. If my budget allows it, I will replace my camera this week and post some pictures soon. After I look at my checkbook, I will know the answer to that, too.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Great Lakes Rescue?

The headline of the editorial in the New York Times today read Great Lakes Rescue. Of course, I read it. It briefly describes recovery programs like the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for which President Obama asked and received from the House $475 to be EPA efforts to help the lakes.

It also acknowledges that invasive species, like zebra and quagga mussels and other invasives like Asian Carp pose an enormous threat to the ecosystem and that there has not yet been a good answer to how to keep these out of the lakes. The article goes on to suggest that overseas freighters, which bring these invasives into the lakes in their ballast water, be required to sterilize that water before enter the Great Lakes. An even more radical proposal would ban the lakes to foreign shipping altogether. The article concludes by saying, “it seems increasingly clear that the economic damage from exotic species outweighs the benefits of allowing polluting ocean ships in the Great Lakes.’’

That’s the line that got me thinking and wondering about its validity. So commercial and sport fishing are more vital to the Great Lakes Basin economy that whatever else it is that shipping brings to the economy? Could be. But I also wonder how effective banning foreign ships could be on invasive species that are already here. Seems like closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out, doesn’t it?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Parks and Peaches

I have been back from my trip to Canada for almost a week and have moved on to other things, but scenes from my trip still keep popping into my head. I glimpsed Lake Michigan through a clump of trees just south of Milwaukee yesterday and remembered the beaches at Lake Huron. When I saw butterflies hovering over tall purple stalks of liatris at the gardens near my house, I was reminded of the butterfly exhibit at Point Pelee National Park at Lake Erie.

I stopped at Point Pelee on my way home. I drove south off Highway 401 about 20 miles through fertile fields, several of which sported signs identifying them with large agricultural conglomerates. In Leamington, Ontario, there is a H.J. Heinz production facility and although it did not specifically say it made ketchup or pickle relish, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did because the fields outside the city grow tomatoes, cucumbers and many other vegetables.

At the entry to Point Pelee Park (I should tell you the fee was much less than that to enter the provincial park at Lake Huron), I learned that the park is at the southern most tip of Canada, and is a major site for migrating birds and butterflies. The park has several beaches, a significant marsh and more of the Carolinian Forest that is unique in Canada to this part of southern Ontario.

I walked a section of the marsh, and then drove to the Visitor Center, where I hopped on the shuttle that takes visitors to the tip of the point. You can’t drive down there on your own, although you can walk or bike. At the tip, you can see the Lake Erie Islands, although I could not identify which one was which. Two summers ago, Michael and I took the ferry from Port Clinton Ohio to South Bass Island and Put-in-Bay. I am not sure if that’s what I was looking at as I stood on the southern most tip of Canada, but it was a pretty picture.

I walked around the tip, then got the shuttle back to my car and proceeded on to Windsor, where I crossed the Ambassador Bridge with hardly any delay. I decided to stop for the night in Jackson MI. The next morning, I drove west and as I got close to the Michigan-Indiana border, I saw a crude handwritten sign advertising a blueberry farm just a mile off the interstate. I followed the directions which took me down a dirt road to an outdoor stand, where workers where sorting freshly picked blueberries. You could pick your own but I didn’t. I bought two pounds of berries and now I wish I had bought more. Those are already gone and they were delicious.

I asked the woman at the stand where I could get peaches and she directed me about ten miles south. It was a little out of my way, but still in the general direction I was going, so I stopped and bought peaches, too. Is there anything that tastes as good as a sun-ripened peach?

As of this morning, the large bag of peaches I bought is almost gone, too. Summer fruit – peaches, plums, grapes, and cherries – is another great thing about the Great Lakes. I may just have to take another road trip to see - and eat – more of both.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Healthcare Reform and the Great Lakes. Are they related?

I was trying to figure out how I could tie in healthcare reform issues with the Great Lakes. I wanted to do this because I attended a Town Hall Meeting put on by Congressman Paul Ryan the other day and I did not have the opportunity to express my opinions at that meeting. Of course, I really do not have to make any tie at all. The wonderful thing about a blog is that I can say what I want to say, but to be true to myself I had to connect these two issues.

One way I can make this connection is to compare healthcare in the two countries that bound the Great Lakes. That’s easy, as healthcare was a frequent topic of conversation with my Canadian relatives last week. This is not the first time we have had these conversations and I always come away from them feeling like the “poor American cousin – she and her family pay so much for healthcare. What kind of a country does she live in, anyway?”

To a one, my Canadian cousins are satisfied with their healthcare system. They are aware of its limitations but still see it as better than the current system in the United States. One of my cousins, who is single and approaching 60 years old, recently lost her job. She is a bit concerned about finances, wondering whether she will be able to stay in her house, or if she will need to downsize. But she is not a bit concerned about her healthcare, and that is a definite load off her shoulders. As someone who pays for private healthcare insurance because I have no employer, and it is a significant expense even for a healthy person, I wish I had that load off my shoulders. In so many ways, Canada is a conservative country but not when it comes to healthcare. I wish my conservative congressman would remember that point.

Congressman Ryan spoke a lot about rationing at that town hall meeting and is concerned, as were so many in the crowd, that government control means that some bureaucrat will decide how their doctors will practice medicine. Who do they think decides it now? Insurance companies may call it cost containment but they have a great deal of influence on how doctors practice medicine and how the rest of us receive it.

Today, I came across a second way to tie in these two issues when I opened my email and found a referral to an article on the website Great Lakes Echo. The headline reads: Federal agency proposes to study urine and blood of residents to evaluate effectiveness of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The article describes a proposal to check on Great Lakes contaminants by measuring the level of these substances in Great Lakes residents. If the Great Lakes are healthier, the residents in the Great Lakes Basin should be healthier, too, right? Stands to reason. As a former medical technologist, I think it’s a great idea – not only would it provide some solid data, it would also employ a few med techs. All in all a good proposal, I think.

The truth is that healthcare ties into everything. It doesn’t take much to make connections. Right now, I like the idea of healthier people living near healthier lakes on both sides of the Great Lakes. Now that would be something, wouldn’t it?