Friday, January 30, 2009

A Better Turn

I feel better. Today the My Turn column in the Kenosha News was great. Maggie Heller wrote it, but I could have, too. She said just what I would have said. When it comes to how we feel about Lake Michigan and living on its shores, I think we are kindred souls. Rather than rehash what she wrote, I will refer you to her column. Kudos, Maggie.

I would like to meet Maggie, but perhaps we already have met. She says she walks her dog along the lake, even on frigid, windy days. Me, too. What kind of a dog do you have, Maggie? I have a pug.

By the way, so far the newspaper did not print my response to last week’s column on global warming. But that’s okay. They printed someone else’s letter. It was well-written and made sense. I am just glad the message got out there.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Journey by Book

Back to the cold. This is a picture taken from the second floor of the Kenosha Public Museum, which across the street from our house. It’s one of my favorite lake views, even on a gray day.

Now back to books, which provide much comfort and entertainment on these cold winter days.

The idea of being from the Great Lakes and not just the Midwest came to me when I was reading a book called Great Lakes Journey: A New Look at America’s Freshwater Coast by William Ashworth. I am only half way through Ashworth’s book, but it has given me much to think about. The idea of being a Great Laker was only one idea.

The book jacket says that Ashworth is a reference librarian in Ashland Oregon, but when I checked his website he is much more than that. He is a musician and writer as well as a fine photographer. I do not know Ashworth personally but he seems to be a real Renaissance person.

In 1983, Ashworth toured the Great Lakes Basin and wrote about his trip. I have not read that book but in Ashworth’s own words, “it told of the Great Lake’s past and present and some of its uncertain future.” Ashworth made the same trip again in 1998 and the book I am now reading is an account of that follow up journey.

Ashworth and his wife Melody drove from Oregon to Wisconsin, through Shawano to Green Bay. He describes entering the Great Lakes basin at Embarrass, Wisconsin. Believe it or not, Embarrass is the name of a town, and believe it or not, I have been there. So have all the people who have visited our dear friends who summer on Clover Lake.

All the way from Door County, through Milwaukee, Waukegan, Chicago, Naperville, the Indiana Dunes, and the western shore of Lake Michigan, I have been to the same places the Ashworths visited. It’s only when they get to Traverse City, Michigan that they loose me. We meet up again when they are back in Detroit and Windsor Ontario, which is where I am in the book as of today.

Ashworth writes about many things. To name just a few
– The protection of natural sand dunes
– The zebra mussel invasion
– The effect of PCB’s and other toxins on the water
– The effect of increasing recreational use of the lakes
– The decline of local business in newly populated areas
– Out-of-basin water diversions
– Efforts to maintain water quality

One thing that has really struck me is when he writes about how the population along the lakeshores has increased since his last trip. So many people want lake views. I know that is true because Michael and I are among them. What I hadn’t stopped to consider was how increasing numbers put stress on resources and change the culture of communities along the lakes.

That increase in population is a mixed bag because in this economy more people, whether full time residents or summer folk, can mean more money for the local economy. Here in Kenosha we would be delighted if more of those folk who park their big boats in local harbors spent more money in our stores and restaurants, and there are many here who are working hard to make that happen.

However, more boaters also mean more pollutants, more noise, and more traffic. How to balance these and still give each person some space is an issue experts debate. Preserving the environment is important; maintaining and growing the economy is, too.

I am looking forward to the next leg of my reading journey as we move from Saginaw to Detroit, Toledo, and Cleveland, all places I have been. Last summer we spent time in the Erie Islands, and along the southwestern coast of Lake Erie, where the algae plume was horrific and the mushy shores of once beautiful beaches were strewn with zebra mussel shells. I wonder if Ashworth’s observations are the same as ours.

I also wonder how the town of Embarrass got its name. If you know, please let us all know.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Identity Crisis

This picture was taken in Hawaii, a few years ago. It makes me feel better to look at this instead of ice and snow. It’s a pleasant change for my eyes, although my head is still thinking about the Great Lakes.

Growing up in Buffalo, New York I never thought of myself as a Midwesterner, but I wasn’t an Easterner either. When I was a student at the University of Buffalo, the school was filled with New Yorkers who had chosen UB because it was the furthest university away from their homes in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx where they still qualified for in-state tuition. It was always clear to those of us who were commuter students that we were not New Yorkers in the same way they were. After college, when Michael and I traveled outside the United States, when we were asked where we were from, we would always say Buffalo, NY as opposed to from “New York”.

When I came to Wisconsin in 1973, I realized that in many ways Buffalo is a Midwestern city. Buffalonians have much in common with people from Chicago and the Midwest, including those flat nasal a’s. It is not so much geography as culture and attitude that connect us.

Yet, identifying as a Midwesterners doesn’t seem right either. To many, the Midwest means Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, cornfields and farms. Yes, Wisconsin is farm country, but not right here on the shores of Lake Michigan. However, yesterday I read something that made me think I might have finally have found my identity.

There are those who think that we, who live in this area bounded by HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior), should think of ourselves at being from the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes region is a combination of water, coastline, prairie, forest, and lots of rocks, sand, and grass. Farms, too. There is much diversity in this unique region.

I like the idea of being from the Great Lakes, but what would I call myself – a Great Laker? The title seem to indicate an outstanding member of a basketball team, a team I might add that is nowhere near a lake. I asked Michael where the Los Angles Lakers got their name and he said it was from the time before LA, when they were in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I checked and before Minnesota the team was from Detroit, so they were Great Lakers, even before they were great Lakers.

I don’t play basketball but I am a Great Laker by birth, residency, and certainly by what I care about. I suppose I could shift the playing field from the basketball court to the baseball field and call myself a HOMESperson, but somehow that doesn't have the same ring to it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Naysayer

I know my blog is not read by many people (alas, their loss) but the naysayer of global warming who wrote the My Turn column in this morning's Kenosha News must have read it. How else can you explain it?

However, I once wrote a My Turn column too and I know the lead time is at least a week or two. The column could not have been in response to my blog, but it does give me the opportunity to present another point of view. I do not happen to agree with the columnist. I think he is illogical and inflammatory and just plain wrong, but if you want to read what he has to say, here's the link.

And here's the letter I wrote in response. I hope it gets printed soon.

I realize that the cold weather this winter and record snows last year make it look like global warming is a myth. But don’t be mislead but a few bad days. Look at the big picture. Look at earlier springs, melting glaciers, changes in rainfall, fewer cold nights, and more warm days a year. Look at more extreme weather events and changing lake and ocean levels. Look at in the migratory patterns of birds and total ice cover on the Great Lakes. Look at the data.

Global warming is real and not just another scam, but I do agree with Mr. Logan that there is still need for healthy scientific debate about manmade warming. The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established in 1988 and is the best source of information and probably the best way to channel that debate, as well as through universities, government, and other institutions. It would be worth reading IPCC reports (if you can get through the thousands of page of data and documentation). They may not be as exciting a read as the fiction of Michael Crichton’s 2004 popular book
State of Fear, but they do present scientific evidence.

It's a good thing the letters to the editor have a word limit. I could have gone on about this topic for a lot longer. But that's what this blog is for.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Yesterday, within minutes of President Obama’s Inauguration speech the analysts were dissecting it. Not me. I am not an analyst. I just know that as the President spoke, there were many places where I was silently shouting Yes!

These days my ears and my head are tuned into water words, so one of those yeses came when I heard the phrase clean water for people of poor countries. Yes! In addition, that part of the new agenda is to be mindful of our environment, to protect and defend it, as well as to restore scientific integrity deserves another hearty shout out.

Continuing my thoughts about climate change this morning, I checked out a few more details. There is no lack of reports, charts, graphs, and slide presentations supporting global warming.

I have seen An Inconvenient Truth and read about Al Gore. I know that Gore should have won the 2000 election, but that he was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. What I didn’t know, or had forgotten, was that Gore shared the prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The IPCC is a scientific intergovernmental body set up to observe and provide objective information about the causes of climate change, potential consequences to society and the environment and explore ways to respond to it.

An Executive Summary of a recent report by the IPCC on Climate Change and Water begins: Observational records and climate projections provide abundant evidence that freshwater resources are vulnerable and have potential to be strongly impacted by climate change, with wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems.

I downloaded the entire report (all 214 pages of it), but will probably only read the summary and skim the rest. However, I am confident that people who make and execute environmental policy in our government will read the entire document. Coupling the clean water in President Obama's speech with the fresh air that has swept into our nation, I have many more reasons to shout yes, yes, yes!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Historic Day

It is an historic day. Regardless of your politics, your race, your geographical origins, you cannot help but feel the awe of being a witness to history. I spent the day glued to the TV, in the morning with friends and in the afternoon at home. Reflecting on the day, I feel like a closed door has been opened. Fresh air has come pouring through. New light shines on our country and the world. There is an excitement and optimism that have not been felt for a very long time.

I am hopeful that President Obama will be good for so many of the things I care about, from the economy to the environment, education, healthcare, and our country’s standing in the world as a force for peace and justice.

I recognize that it will be a huge task, that the President cannot do it alone, and that only time will tell. Still, I am optimistic. I have confidence that President Obama can meet the challenge. He is calm, eloquent, and smart and that he and his family are so easy to look at is a definite plus.

It was a great day. It is a new world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

But Warmer in General

It may be cooler by the lake, but it’s still cold. It warmed up to the mid-twenties today, and the deep-water channel in the harbor is no longer frozen solid. The marinas are still covered with ice and snow but the water in them does not mix with the open water enough to change the temperature that quickly. This is a picture of one of the marinas near our house.

With all this super cold weather, below normal temperature and above normal snowfall, one would have to ask if global warming is real. I am a firm believer that it is and that we must do something about it, but how would I answer a naysayer? What would I say to support the theory of global warming? I have never been to Alaska. I have only seen pictures of the melting glaciers and diminishing surface ice on Greenland. I have only read reports of increasing ocean temperatures, loss of boreal forests and changing migratory patterns of birds. What in my own world tells me global warming is real?

A few years ago, I might have said I see it in the lower snowfalls and warmer winter temperatures. I would have been one to say, “Winters weren’t like this when I was a kid. Why, when I was a kid, we had to walk to school in three feet of snow." I would have also said that we went sledding every weekend and ice skating, too. Outside. In more recent years, there were many winters when the snowfall was so small, if there was enough snow to go sledding it was a holiday. This year it is back to being more like my childhood.

I am enough of a scientist to know that if you want to proof of global warming you have to look at the data, and the data supports the theory. There are many sources of that data. We may be skeptical, especially in recent years, of what information comes from the government on this issue, but you can find extensive information from both the EPA and NOAA websites. If you prefer non-government sources, there are many, many resources from universities, professional organizations, and concerned citizens groups such as Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Although I haven’t seen glaciers, I have been to Lake Mead near Las Vegas and seen the “bathtub ring” caused by dropping water levels in the lake. I know that there is more rain in some areas of the country and droughts in others, that hurricane season is longer and harsher than it used to be. I have seen data showing that there were fewer below average temperature cold days and nights on average in 2000 than in 1950 and conversely more warm days and nights. This is data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

I also know that this is an overwhelming topic and well beyond the few words I can give it every once in a while. I already have a very thick file of information, and my bookmarks of websites are becoming extremely long. I would be happy to share what I have learned with anyone who wants it – and my husband would probably be glad to get all the books off the desk.

However, if you don’t want data, just take time to observe the world around you. I think you’ll see the changes, just like if you look carefully at this closer up view of the above picture, you will see that there is open water in the marina. Way in the back near the break wall.

Global warming? Maybe. I will wait to see the bigger picture. Will the snow melt soon and temperatures rise? Will there be floods? Will spring arrive early? When will the birds come back? Or did they ever leave?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cooler by the Lake?

There’s a popular watering hole a few blocks from us called Cooler near the Lake. I was wondering today if they shouldn’t change their name in winter to Warmer near the Lake.

We had another night of subzero temperatures. Out in the county it reached minus 15, and that’s not counting wind chill factors. When I woke up this morning (granted it wasn’t very early), our thermometer read minus seven. Right now, it is actually above zero at plus eight.

There is almost always a difference between the temperature here at the lake and even a short distance inland. In the summer we are cooled by breezes off the lake. Last summer I tracked the change from a mile west of here. As I got closer to home, the rate of change was almost one degree per tenth of a mile.

I can remember when my children were small. In the spring, I would dress them in sweaters and hats to go grocery shopping a mile inland. Other shoppers were dressed in tee shirts and shorts, and my children’s warmer clothes quickly came off. It is not an uncommon sight down here in the summer to see people, out for a walk at the harbor in those tee shirts and shorts, shivering. But this time of year, it means we are a tad warmer. I realize that is relative and minus seven is still brutal, but it is a fact of life at the lake worth noting.

I took this picture this morning of the Christopher Columbus statue that stands in the park at the end of our block. Yes, I was out. I stayed in yesterday, except for a three-minute Burlee walk. That was enough. I needed to get out today. I drove the long way on my errand, so that my car could warm up a bit and I snapped this picture as I went by the statue.

Poor Chris. Doesn’t he know you should cover your ears in this weather? And wear gloves? I guess it wasn’t like this in sunny Spain when he set off to discover new lands. It’s a good thing he didn’t land in Maine. He might not have gotten off the boat.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back Home

I am back home. What awaited me here were subzero temperatures, gusting winds, and a significant amount of snow. Still, it is home, and I am glad to be back here.

What also awaited me was a book I had ordered. I buy fewer books these days, as both an economic move and a move to conserve the limited amount of space on our bookshelves. When I do buy one, I try to make it a book I will read often or share with others. The book that awaited me is both.

The book is The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region by Wayne Grady. Grady is a Canadian science writer and like me, grew up around the Great Lakes. His love for them comes through in his introductory chapter, but later chapters are mostly factual. The 320 page volume has beautiful pictures, although I wish there more of them, informative graphs, and poetic descriptions of the history, geology and ecology of the region. I had borrowed the book from the library last month but four weeks was not nearly enough for me. Anyone who is interested in this topic or just wants to see some great photographs should check out this book.

Today, I am going to take advantage of the cold and hibernate. I am doing laundry -consolidating loads and using cold water. Later this afternoon, I intend to make soup. And in between the laundry, I am going to read this book.

When life gives you frozen temperatures, make frozen lemonade. Or maybe a frozen daiquiri?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Virtual Water

My husband reduced my water consumption by just opening up the toilet tanks in our bathrooms. He let me know that our toilets do not use 3 gallons of water per flush, the number used when I calculated my water usage a few days ago. Ours use 1.5 gallon. However, my satisfaction with that fact was short lived.

I have a lot of free time while I am here in Texas and in addition to reading, I am also snooping around on more websites. One of the things I learned was that number of 70 gallon per capita use of water was only the number extracted from one calculator. Some put the number much higher.

Then, I remembered an article I read a few months ago about virtual water and so took my research on water usage a little further by googling that term. I got over two millions hits, from wikipedia to Forbes Magazine. My research made me realize that just calculating how much water I see I use each day is not enough. It’s my virtual water footprint that matters.

Virtual water, or hidden water, includes all the water used to grow food, in the production of a product, or the execution of a service. It can be calculated for nations as well as individuals. The global average footprint is 1240 cubic meters per capita per year. I am sure it will not surprise you that the United States uses almost twice that amount and China about 60% of it.

Virtual water includes the water that it takes to grow vegetables, raise cattle, or produce a microchip. So not only does food count in it, it encompasses leather goods, cotton or wool items as well as tomatoes and wheat. A cup of coffee takes 140 liters of water; a glass of milk, 200 and a hamburger 2,400. A pair of leather shoes? A whopping 8,000.

There are many websites where you can calculate your water footprint, for an individual as well as for industry. One is at but I have to admit that one was hard for me because I don’t know how many kilograms of meat, dairy or fruits and vegetable I consume a week. Cubic meters of water don’t mean much to me either. However, that site does provide other good information on the topic and if you put virtual water into your search engine, you’ll get to more. There is much more to learn – and so much more to feel guilty about.

I am not suggesting that we give up tomatoes or tee shirts. I certainly can’t do either. But like everything, it is about conscious consumerism, a term I like. It’s about making choices, and being mindful of them.

On that note, I think I will go get a cup of coffee – and drink it all, not toss half down the sink as I sometimes do. That’s being more mindful, isn’t it?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Deep in the Heart

There’s a song from the musical Finian’s Rainbow that says “When I’m not near the girl I love, I love the girl I’m near”. Well, I am not that kind of fickle, but I could paraphrase the song and say that “When I am not near the water I love, I love the water I’m near.” Or at least I write about the water I am near.

I’m in suburban Dallas right now, visiting family. There is no body of water nearby unless you count the aqueduct a few blocks away which connects to others to form a system throughout this area. I have been here several times. If I did not know the channel running through the neighborhood park was an aqueduct, I would think it was just a depression in the ground. Actually, it may just be a water retention area. Right now, it is a stream of tall grasses and trash, with a small trickle of water through the middle. In the spring and fall this ditch flows like a river. When I was here in October I even saw turtles swimming in it.

I don’t know much about Texas water except what I see, which isn’t much, so I got on a few websites to see what the water issues are here. Not surprisingly, they are like everywhere else. Increasing demands and diminishing supplies. Pollution. Conservation.

I know they say everything is big in Texas, and after some research I could add it is also extremely diverse here. I have never been in far eastern or western Texas but looking at a climate map, I learned that the west is arid and the east is subtropical. Here in North Central Texas, it is subtropical climate, on the border between humid and subhumid. The average rainfall here is about 35 inches per year, not much different from Southeastern Wisconsin.

Rainfall across the state ranges from less than 5 inches per year west of El Paso to over 55 inches in the east, so you can’t generalize about Texas water. But even in those areas where water is more plentiful, there are still issues and environmentalists are pushing the same measures for conservation that we see everywhere. One statistic I read was that of 31 natural large springs, only 17 are still flowing.

Yet as I walk around this suburban neighborhood, I see green grass and flowers. Some of that is because of the climate. Many people have the kind of grass here that is dormant in winter and requires little water, but not everyone. It is a little jolting to see green in winter although I remember winter the year we lived in Sacramento. Winter is green there. Summer is brown. In Wisconsin, winter either white or gray.

I do have to wonder about water usage. Are the grasses planted drought resistant? This area is in the midst of a moderate drought according to the United States Geological Survey. Do people in these relatively new houses have low flush toliets? How often do they wash their cars?

In reality, their water habits are no different than those of the rest of us. Water conservation and water concerns are not just a Midwest or a Texas or even an American concern. It is a global problem. And the irony of it all, is that as I write people in the Pacific Northwest are flooding. Water issues. They sure are complicated, aren't they?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Beautiful Sky

Last night I flew from Milwaukee to Dallas. I left the frigid Midwest and arrived here to temperatures in the low sixties. Today it is expected to be in the mid seventies, and tomorrow even higher. It is a pleasant change indeed.

I did not take a picture of Lake Michigan as we ascended, but from my windows at home earlier in the day, I saw that near shore there is a lot of ice. It had what I call the Titanic look. If you recall the movie, near the end after the ship goes down there is the scene where Kate Winslet's character is bobbing in water among chunks of ice. That's the look I mean. Ice chunks floating in water. Fortunately, I did not see people.

I did take a picture of what water I saw from the window as we landed at DFW Airport. It was sunset and although the water below was nothing special, the sky was spectacular.

Water is not foremost on my mind today, and so I will just share these pictures of a beautiful Texas sky.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Just Two H's and an O

This time of year, my skin starts to feel like sandpaper. I use body wash and lotions, which profess to be hydrating, to keep me from feeling as if I am in the Sahara in summer rather than the Midwest in winter. I think the desert is beautiful, but my skin prefers moisture. Dry is not my natural habitat. It’s really not anybody’s.

Water is critical to life, yet is seems like such a simple thing. Hydrogen atoms – two of them and one of oxygen. That’s it. H2O. Even if you never studied chemistry, you know that formula. Water is the universal solvent. If you want to learn more about its physical properties, check out this site designed for teaching science. There’s a quiz you can take, too.

Everyone knows you can live longer without food than water. Chemicals reactions in our body rely on water. Everyone knows that dehydration is bad for you. Drink lots of water, they tell us. Plain old good, clean water. On the other hand, they tell us to conserve water. I guess it’s our job to figure out how to do both.

I try to be careful about how I use water, but I am not always successful. I love a good hot shower and could stand under one for a long time, but I try to restrain myself and turn it off after I have rinsed the conditioner out of my hair. While I am brushing my teeth I try to remember not to let the water run down the drain. I turn off the faucet – most of the time. I only run the dishwasher when it is full and I try to consolidate loads of laundry. I am not yet to the point where I water my plants with bathtub water, but I am thinking about doing it for my container tomato plants this summer.

I took a survey where I learned that on an average day I use 72 gallons of water. I read somewhere else that the average person uses 70 gallons a day, so I am about average. For me that number included two loads of wash, but not things like car washes (I leave mine dirty) and watering the lawn. We live in a condo, and that water usage is assigned to the condo management company. But seventy gallons seems like an awful lot of water. Picture seventy gallons of milk sitting on your kitchen counter, and that amount is just per capita for domestic use. It doesn’t take into account industry, agriculture, hydroelectricity generation, and other uses.

The average toilet flush takes three gallons of water. Yikes, three gallons of water! A load of laundry takes 10 gallons. I am going to have to find a way to cut back on my water usage, but I don’t think the bathroom is where I want to do it. I will have to find other ways, or maybe I can leave the conditioner in my hair. Now wouldn’t that be attractive?

I’d be curious to know how much water other people use on average. Take the survey at

The pictures here were taken today. The top one is behind Kemper Center. The other is along the beach near Pennoyer Park.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Yes, It Was A Car

Today’s Kenosha News confirmed that the activity at the pier yesterday was indeed about pulling a car from the water. No one was found inside. I don’t know the specifics of this situation, and if you want to read more, you can check it out at newspaper’s website.

Cameras on the roof of the water treatment plant report that the car went into the water about 3 AM. No one was exactly going out for a leisurely ride at that time of day.

Young people frequent the parking lot by the pier at all times of night and all times of year. The road leading to it has become a drag strip and the screech of tires is a common sound on summer nights and surprisingly in the winter, too. Those of us who live on the other side of the harbor hear it, frequently call the police to report it, and fear that someday it will be more than the sound of tires we hear. It is a dangerous situation.

Although I had intended to write today about why human beings need water from a technical point of view, I am still thinking about this incident. Three specifics aspects of it are in the forefront of my thoughts.

First, I am reminded of something my mother used to say. She would tell us that when you wake up in the morning you never know what will happen by the end of the day. Sometimes it was something good; sometimes something bad, and sometimes nothing happened, but you never know. That’s kind of the way things are around here. Yesterday started out blah and I had nothing specific to write about, but by the end of the day that had changed. That’s what keeps life interesting.

My second thought is about rescue workers. At the lakefront, the emergency responders include EMT’s, firefighters, and the Coast Guard. Dedicated service people of all kinds keep people safe, from themselves as much as from other kinds of danger.

Third, this event is another example of the powerful draw bodies of water have on human bodies. Water has the ability to cleanse, soothe, cool, and warm us. The sounds of waves can be the lullaby we need for rest. Water can provide peace and tranquility. It can inspire and transform us. It can also be destructive, both by its own nature and by its abuse.

I will not be surprised if we learn that yesterday’s event involved some kind of substance abuse, like drugs, alcohol, or the like. But it also involves the abuse of the lake. To use the water and beach as a dumping ground or for a prank is outrageous. That so many people, including divers who had to go into those icy waters and all the emergency personnel who were on hand to help, spent almost a full day trying to recover the vehicle is outrageous, too.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Later in the Day

Never a dull moment. The sun came out for a while this afternoon and blah turned to bright. However, that’s not the exciting thing for the day around here. When Burlee and I went out for our afternoon walk, this is what I saw on the other side of the harbor. Emergency vehicles were lined up on the approach to the pier and two tow trucks were out on the pier. Several firemen and other emergency people were mulling around. On my side of the harbor, dozens of people were lined up at the harbor wall watching, and several cars were parked on the adjacent street.

“What happened?” I asked a neighbor.

“A car went in the water on the other side,” she told me.

“What!” If you don’t know what the beach has looked like these few days, look back at some of my pictures. How could a car go into the water?

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“Well, they’ve been over there for a few hours now,” she said. “But I heard it happened earlier.”

That’s about all the detail I could get. No one knew much more. After I stood around for about 20 minutes, nothing seemed to be happening and I was really cold. Temperatures are dropping and the wind is picking up. It was starting to get dark. Part of me wanted to stay. The other part of me was freezing. The cold part won and Burlee and I came inside. I will report tomorrow if I learn anything. I am sure there will be plenty in the morning newspaper to keep me from writing about the natural history of the Great Lakes or the politics of water. Cars going into icy water are much more exciting. I just hope no one was hurt. That wouldn’t be amusing. That would be a tragedy.

Meet Burlee

If days have personalities, today’s is blah. It’s grey and cloudy. It’s not cold, but not warm either. It rained overnight so more snow is gone, but there are still ugly patches of at the curbs. The ice cover in the harbor is solid; the open water has ice near the shore. The ice is not moving; it’s just sitting there being blah.

So this is a good day to tell you about my buddy, Burlee. I have talked about Burlee, the pug, and even shown a picture of him. Now it is time to introduce this important member of our family and the reason for my afternoon walks.

Burlee is a great little dog, and the smallest dog Michael and I have ever owned. We had two other dogs since we have been married, one a purebred over-grown Golden Retriever and the other a Golden-Irish Setter mix. Three years ago when we were considering getting another dog, we had already downsized our home and decided to downsize our dog as well. Michael did a good bit of research and after much discussion, we decided to look at a pug. We contacted the Great Lakes Pug Rescue group and the rest is history.

The day we went to look at Burlee (we could meet him but the rules were that was just an introduction – it was easier to adopt our children than this dog), I was still not sure I even wanted another dog. Dogs mean work. Dogs need attention. This dog would need frequent walking, as we do not have a yard. Did I want to do this?

But as soon as I saw Burlee (he came with the name and its spelling) I was hooked. I fell in love with him the same way (well, almost the same way) I fell in love with my children the first time I laid eyes on them. When we finally brought Burlee home two weeks after our initial meeting, he walked into our house, jumped up on the couch, and settled himself in. He was home.

Burlee had not been mistreated. We rescued him from a life of boredom. The family who had him before was never home and he was alone much of the time. Pugs are very social, affectionate dogs. They need people. And people need them. They make wonderful pets.

Burlee seems to enjoy our afternoon walks a lot, but these pictures show him doing something else he enjoys very much – curling up on the couch, surrounded by pillows. I thought this thing about burying himself in pillows was unique to Burlee, but I recently read a book where the author described a dog, also a pug, as one who loved to nestle under things. Further research showed that it is a pug thing.

I don’t think Burlee had ever been near water before we got him.
The first time we took him to the beach, he ran away from the waves. He wouldn’t get his feet wet at all. However, eventually he got thirsty and inched up to the edge of the water to take a drink. Gradually he became less timid. He still doesn’t swim but he will follow us into the water – to a point, that point being his tummy. We have tried to coax him in deeper but so far, he has not done it. Eventually, he might go in all the way. After all, you do expect a dog named Burlee not to be blah, but to be brave and… well, burley.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Different Point of View

The pictures I took yesterday at the beach did not seem dramatic enough, so I went back this morning and took a few more. This time I walked out on the pier and shot from a different perspective. I think you can see better why the polar plunge was cancelled. Those ice mounds are steep and in order to get into
the water, the polar bears would have to jump directly into frigid water, which probably is over their heads. And how would they
get out?

Today’s newspaper reported the non-event and suggested that the plunge might be rescheduled. At the rate we are going it may be July before the ice is gone. That would be a good time for a polar plunge. After all, as far as I am concerned the water is still too cold then for swimming. Who knows? If they postpone it until summer, I might even participate.

By the way, if you want to enlarge these pictures, just click on them. Michael would suggest not clicking on the one of him and Burlee from yesterday. He thinks a closer view of him wrapped in his green down parka would be just a little too close for comfort. I disagree. Today the person in the picture is no one I know, but it does prove that there is almost always someone on the beach, even in the winter.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Day at the Beach

If you don’t think it’s been cold this winter, here’s proof that it has been an exceptional December. This morning the annual Polar Plunge, which has taken place for at least 30 years at Simmons Island, was canceled. According to its organizer Diver Dan (not my son-in-law, who is also a diver named Dan), it has only been canceled twice in all those years. The water temperature today is about 32 degrees F, and you can see chunks of ice in it, but that’s not the reason for the cancellation. It is because of the ice buildup on the beach. Waves pound the shore; the wind blows the water on top of already existing mounds of sand and ice, making it impossible to get into the water.

The Polar Plunge, for those who may not know, is an annual New Year’s Day ritual. It consists of a bunch of brave people, dressed in bathing suits and sandals, plunging their bodies into the icy waters of Lake Michigan. These events take place in many northern cities and in many cold bodies of water. I think in order to qualify as a “plunger” you have to completely immerse yourself in the water. It’s not enough to just stick your toe in, or even go in up to your knees, the way I do in July. The event here in Kenosha has had as few as six people and as many as 400 participating. For the past five years Michael and I have been – no, not participants –faithful observers.

This morning, with temperatures about 25 o F and winds about 15 mph, we bundled up and walked over to the Island to once again watch the event. Although we can see the site from our side of the harbor, you have to walk all the way around the harbor to get to the beach. It’s about a 20-minute walk. We arrived at 11 AM, the scheduled time for the big splash, only to hear about the cancellation. We decided to walk on the beach anyway.

We were not alone. There we quite a few people, several like us with their dogs, walking on the sand and ice. And taking pictures, like the ones I have shown here. On the walk back, we passed the small boat harbor and I took a picture of the ice fishermen there. There were also fishermen at the edge of the harbor. Michael commented that the people who fish at this time of year must really need the fish for food. “Or they are just crazy.” I said.

Yet we were out this morning, walking with the wind in our faces, and by the time we got back home almost an hour later, we had frozen hands and red checks. It wasn’t exactly a plunge, but it was a bit crazy. But what do you expect from two people who grew up in Buffalo? We won’t jump in the lake, but we will walk in the winter.

However, yesterday I booked us for a trip to Florida in February. I want to wear beach attire, not fleece, for a week and put my toes into some warm water. I may even go in further than my knees, too.

Best wishes to all for a happy – and warm – new year.