Thursday, July 23, 2009

This and That

I knew that there were people who live on their boats in the summer in the marina near our house. I figured that most of them were on vacation or retired. But yesterday when I was out walking the dog about 8:30 AM, I saw a middle aged man, dressed in business casual attire, get off his boat, and head toward the marina gates. As he left the boat, he turned around and waved at someone inside the boat, and called out, “Have a nice day, hon.” I guess I am wrong about the work status of some marina residents.

On the other side of our peninsula, the dredging a continues although reports are that they are almost finished. It looks that way this morning because the backhoe has been moved from the barge to land. See the pile of sand on the shore? That’s about a day’s worth of dredging. The dump trucks come and take the sand away to fill in a sink hole a little ways from here. This has been going on since the middle of June, over a month. That’s a lot of sand to move – and yet when I look at the sink hole site that’s being filled it looks like nothing. I guess a lot of sand goes only a little way.

I wrote the other day that I hadn’t read much about the $475 earmarked in the 2010 Budget for the Great Lakes, but I learned that there have been some TV news programs highlighting the Great Lakes. NBC Nightly News did one on July 17, one of the few evenings that I didn’t watch the program. I am pleased to have been wrong about the lack of publicity on the issue.

Monday, July 20, 2009

How to Spend $475M

I noticed today that more than half of a year has gone by since I started posting and I have not run out of “musings”. More often, I just run out of time.

When I began to write this blog, I wasn’t sure exactly where it would take me. My initial intention was to reflect on the small part of the world around me but I quickly realized I had to do more. It’s that interconnected thing – one thing leads to another leads to another. I found myself clicking around on websites I never knew existed; my list of bookmarks is extensive and I have learned so much. My favorite sites are those of other bloggers. From them I learn not only what the issues are, I also can see that I am not alone in my feeling for these five Great Lakes and the area they encompass.

And that brings me to what I want to tell you today. If I didn’t read these blogs, I would not know about the $475M earmarked for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that is part of the President Obama’s 2010 Budget. If it did appear in my local newspaper, it was buried between the local events and recipes or the obituaries. If it was in The New York Times, I missed it. Somehow, having lived in New York City and New York State for many years, I think that even if the Great Lakes money had gotten some coverage, it would have been miniscule at best. There is the New York perspective on the rest of this country and it does not often include the Great Lakes. It is only because of my fellow bloggers that I know of the $475M and have read discussions of what should be done with it.

The EPA is holding public hearings starting this week in all the Great Lakes States. The one in Wisconsin is tomorrow in Milwaukee. The one in Chicago will be webcast live from 6- 8 PM Wednesday evening, July 22. Check out some of the sites on My Blog List (to the left) if you want to read more about what my fellow bloggers are saying about the initiative.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Climate Change and the Rhythms of Our Life

The Second Annual Paddle the Pike was canceled because of low water levels in the river this year. As this was only the second time for the event, we shouldn’t read too much into it and blame climate change. However, when I hear that the sun melted the ice blocks in February during an ice sculpting contest in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin or that a winter carnival in Minnesota was cancelled due to warm temperatures and insufficient snow, I do have to think, “Ah, global warming.”

Amy Seidl in her book Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World, would agree. In beautiful prose, Seidl describes changes in her world that confirm that climate change is real. With careful observation and intelligent reflection, she describes and explains some of these changes. Hers is the first book I have read that talks about the effect of climate change on the rhythms of our life and culture.

What does this mean? In Seidl’s own words, “… our memory of what the weather once was is our strongest indication of change. And not only the weather but the events in our lives that lined up with it: strawberries, once ripe in early July are now picked before the school year ends; a child’s birthday no longer coincides with the batches of Amish peaches in the store; sledding is no longer assured at Christmas.”

Plants are particularly sensitive to even slight temperature change. Seidl explains that this has to do with the narrow range for optimal operation of their enzymes, but I can see it myself. When we moved into our first house here in Wisconsin, we inherited about 40 rose bushes, irises ranging in color from white to salmon to deep purple and many other horticultural delights. The eighty-some year old man who had tended the garden for 40 years gave me a few lessons on how to take care of my purchase- not the house, the garden. Among other things he told me when each plant bloomed.

“The peonies always bloom the third week in June,” he said.

I noticed this year that by that time the peonies in our neighborhood had bloomed and gone. Seidl gives several other examples such as maple trees and lilac bushes. I am sure those who grew up going to Rochester New York’s Lilac Festival around Mother’s Day appreciate what climate change might mean for that event, which has been held for over 100 years.

You probably have examples of your own. If you do, I would like to hear them. Perhaps we can share them with Ms. Seidl – not that she needs more to prove her point. Unfortunately, she has plenty of her own.

You can find a review of this book at the website of Orion Magazine, where you can read more thoughtful and thought provoking writing on nature and the environment.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kenosha's Pike River

This past weekend, the weather was perfect – warm sunshine, clear skies and cooling lake breezes. In recent days, I finally have managed to get in a few bike rides along some of our local bike paths. One of my favorite routes takes me north from my house along the harbor, across Simmons Island, along the lake to Carthage College. One day last week, I stopped at the bridge at the mouth of the Pike River and took a few pictures. It was about 9 AM and there were only a few people on the beach but several seagulls were relaxing in the sun. One gull did not pay attention to the sign that said Danger. No Swimming. No Wading. Swift Currents.

The Pike River is only one of many rivers in the Great Lakes Watershed, and a small one at that. It winds its way through Kenosha Country before spilling into Lake Michigan at this scenic spot. I am told it is not a good river for paddling but there are trails along its bank that are good for hiking.

As I ride by the place where the Pike empties into Lake Michigan, I am aware of its role and the role of the other water components in this ecosystem – wetlands, creeks, streams, and rivers. I know many of the larger rivers, like the Cuyahoga, Detroit, and the Niagara Rivers, have been defined for many by their pollution. I hear Cuyahoga River and I remember that the river that was so polluted it actually caught fire. Fortunately, many of these rivers have been cleaned up and although not perfect, they are much better than they were a generation ago.

I wanted to learn a little more about the Pike River so I clicked and scrolled my way through some of my bookmarked websites. What I learned is that the US Geological Survey lets me monitor daily streamflow conditions. On the Lake Michigan Angler site, I could find out what kind of fishing is allowed there as well as what kind of fish at different times of the year and even recipes for cooking those fish.

I also found a report on Healthy Harbors, Restored Rivers: A Community Guide to Cleaning Up Our Waterways. This document, put out by the Sierra Club in 2001, is not for the faint of heart. It is a 70 page in-depth look at cleaning up our water waterways and explores everything from causes of pollution to methods of cleanup. Remember the harbor dredging pictures I posted a week or so ago? The same type of dredging is done to clean up rivers. The report not only tells me what kind of equipment can be used for dredging (mechanical, hydraulic or hybrid), it provides diagrams and pictures and tells me what to do with the sediment that is dredged up. All this is way more than this casual observer wants to know!

The River Alliance of Wisconsin site told me that everyone deserves healthy rivers, and what we can do to preserve and restore them. When I did a search on their website for the Pike River, I also learned there is more than one Pike River in Wisconsin – according to them the Pike River is in Marinette County. Apparently, that Pike River is better for paddling than Kenosha’s Pike River –usually, anyway, but not this year. In June, the Second Annual Paddle the Pike was cancelled due to low water levels. Maybe participants should have come down and hiked the banks of our Pike River, or at least taken a bike ride over a few of its bridges. I am sure they would have enjoyed the views from this part of the watershed.

By the way, if you click to enlarge the middle picture looking back at the bridge, notice the tall white structure protruding out above the trees. I suppose if you have to make a phone call, you might be glad it's there, but it otherwise you have to admit, it does nothing for the scenery.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wind Point Lighthouse

Friends of ours have a house on a small lake in central Wisconsin that you can ride your bike around in about 40 minutes. I have taken the ride, or walked it, several times and am always struck by the number of lighthouse decorations outside of the houses on this inland lake, where this isn’t much need for a real lighthouse.

But people think that bodies of water of any kind go together with lighthouses. I understand the attraction and the romance associated with these interesting and varied structures. I have been known to go out of my way to see lighthouses and have visited them in such places as Maine, Nova Scotia and Florida as well as the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior and several along the shores of Lake Erie.

Although there are two lighthouses within a short walk of my house – the Kenosha North Pier Lighthouse (the red one) and the Old Southport Lighthouse across the harbor, I decided today to go check out the one on north side of Racine. The Wind Point Lighthouse is no longer a working lighthouse but it is one of the tallest and oldest on Lake Michigan. Unlike the Kenosha North Pier lighthouse, this one sits on a sandy point that juts out into the lake. Today the area around it is a quiet residential neighborhood, with a golf course directly to the south. Visitors can tour the grounds, which include a museum, the old and new fog horn buildings and other remnants of a bygone era. On designated days during the summer, you can climb to the top of the 108-foot tower. A small garden overlooking the lake provides a pleasant place to sit and imagine what this place was like in 1880 when the lighthouse was first built.

There is a website that rates lighthouses based on historic significance, majesty, preservation, water view, accessibility and a few other factors and Wind Point rates a 27, which places it in the Gold Category. The top lighthouses in the country are in the Platinum Category (30-35). 27’s not bad for a local landmark.
This past winter when Michael and I were in the Florida Keys, we struck up a conversation with a couple at the Key West Light. We both collect National Parks Passport Stamps, but they told us that the United States Lighthouse Society has a similar passport for lighthouses. I don’t remember how many lighthouses they had visited but I do remember that we were ahead of them on National Park visits. Michael and I decided not to get the lighthouse passport, which now includes over 300 stamps. Today, I checked the list and Wind Point is one of them but Kenosha isn’t. Maybe when Kenosha’s lighthouses make the list I will get one. Then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sunset Worth Sharing

Sunrise over Lake Michigan can be beautiful but I rarely see it. I am not an early riser and the sun comes up quite early in the summer. In the winter, when it rises late, it is often hidden behind the clouds. The only picture I have of sunrise over the lighthouse is one I bought from someone else.

Sunsets from the eastern side of lake are spectacular. I have watched the daily event several times from the top of Mt Baldy at the edge of Indiana Dunes National Park. Crowds gather there every summer night for the show and the finale is always met with applause. It's worth the climb up the steep dune.

Living on the western edge of the lake means the sun sets over the land, behind buildings. However, when the clouds are just right, as they were last night, the display is still a beautiful sight. No one watching at the Kenosha harbor clapped, but I snapped a few pictures, and I think they are worth of sharing.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Great Fireworks Views

On July 4th Great Lakes Views means great fireworks views. The lakefront is where everything is happening today. Although it is only noon, people are already setting up their spots and then enjoying the scenery and activities in the area before tonight’s big fireworks show at 9:30 PM. Tonight there will be two concerts, vendors selling everything from ice cream to fluorescent hats, necklaces and other celebratory paraphernalia and a blanket to blanket crowd of people.

We live right in the middle of it all, and except for the fact that the fireworks and people passing by drive our dog Burlee crazy, we really enjoy it. Kenosha’s lakefront provides real hometown entertainment, although in walking in the neighborhood this morning I noticed as many Illinois license plates as Wisconsin.

These folks must have set up their chairs quite early this morning as they were already there on my morning walk. They have the best seat in the house for the fireworks, which are shot off at the end of the channel. (The view from the front of our house is good, too, and I have a private bathroom for my guests!).

I love the fact that whoever set the chairs up is confident that they will still be there when they come back hours later. Somehow, there is a different feeling in the air on July 4th as we all celebrate our nation’s independence. Today we are all in agreement that freedom is something to really celebrate.