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?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lake Huron; Then the Niagara Escarpment

Some languages have limited vowels. So did my trip. I managed to touch Lakes Huron and Erie, started and ended my trip at Lake Michigan, but I never made it to Lake Ontario, although I caught a glimpse of it near Burlington Ontario from a bridge. I was compensated for not touching the waters of Ontario by touching my family, so in that sense I was home and I am satisfied with only touching HME.

I touched Lake Huron in two places, at Port Huron on the American side and then further east on the Canadian side. Port Huron reminded me a lot of Kenosha, although for a city less than half the size, Port Huron has a bustling downtown. It does not suffer as Kenosha does from being in between two major metropolitan areas and it is the center of industry and commerce for a wide region. However, I did speak to a few residents of Port Huron and it, as so much of the state of Michigan, has high unemployment and is economically depressed. The parts of the city I saw did not show this, but like home, I am sure if I had gone a short distance away from the waterfront I would have seen it. It does look like the city is trying to build up the waterfront as I noticed new buildings, including the YMCA and office parks.

I drove north along St. Clair River to where it enters Lake Huron, making several stops along the way. Like my city, that neighborhood has some beautiful homes, at least south of the bridge to Canada. On the north side, where I drove to see the lighthouse (I go out of my way for a lighthouse), the houses were smaller, older and reminded me very much of the north side of Kenosha and Racine. I stopped at the Huron Lightship Museum and the Thomas Edison Depot Museum, where I learned that Edison spent several years as a child in this border city. The museum also highlights Port Huron’s importance in Great Lakes shipping, as well as a center for immigration and its role in the Underground Railroad. Actually, Port Huron has a lot of history.

I crossed the Blue Water Bridge into Sarnia Ontario and drove along the lake shore to Pinery Provincial Park about 40 km north east of the bridge. At the park entrance, the hefty $15 fee to enter almost deterred me from going, but I was so glad the frugal side of me lost that afternoon, as the Pinery is a beautiful park. As soon as I started the drive down the main road, I felt the outside world disappear. The canopy of dense trees and the smell of pines instantly brought back wonderful memories of camping trips and I wondered why it has been so long since we’ve pitched a tent in the woods.

I drove the 12 km road through the park, stopping at one of the many beaches to touch the lake. I went several kilometers off the main route to get to another area of the shore just because it was called Burley Beach (you may remember my dog’s name is Burlee). When I got there, I was disappointed to learn that dogs are not allowed on Burley Beach – but there is one section of beach in the park where they are allowed. It’s the one shown to the right.

I walked on a small section of a trail called the Carolinian Trail. Although much of the northern part of the United States, especially along the Great Lakes is Carolinian Forest, made up of deciduous trees like maple, beech and oak, this type of forest only exists in Canada in the southern part of Ontario. I was reminded that although Canada is my mother’s birthplace and home to a slew of my relatives, it is a foreign country and a huge one at that. It is different in many ways from the United States and the predominant forest type is only one of those ways.

I left the park, drove to my cousin’s house which is half way between London and Stratford, near the Thames River, and spent the night. The next morning, as I left for Toronto, my cousin gave me a route taking back roads to Highway 401. I drove several kilometers through farm country. As I drove, I wondered if I was in Iowa or southern Illinois. The land was flat and fertile.

As I got on the 401, at Kitchener, I noticed a sign that said, You are now entering the Niagara Escarpment and at that point the terrain changed dramatically, becoming rocky and covered with trees. The escarpment is a huge ridge extending through the United States and Canada, the most famous portion being Niagara Falls. I was amazed. I have driven this route dozens, if not hundreds of times. Had I never noticed this before?

I had the same reaction on my way home, when I left the outskirts of Hamilton on Highway 403. A sign told me I was leaving the escarpment. As a kid, we just called this part of Hamilton, The Mountain. Who knew it was a significant geological formation that defines an entire region? Live and learn.

I spent four days in Toronto visiting family. On the way home, I took the southern route, crossing at Windsor, so that I could make a stop somewhere to touch Lake Erie. I will tell you more about where I did that tomorrow.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Touching HOMES

Earlier in the summer, I had thought I would see more of the Great Lakes this year, but that isn’t happening for several reasons. Mostly it is because my husband and son started a business this summer and almost all our resources – financial and physical – have gone into that effort.

I am now thinking that if I can’t make some kind of circle tour this summer, I can at least try to “touch” of the other four lakes, and I am trying to figure out when and where.

I am leaving tomorrow on a road trip that will take me across Michigan and Ontario to Toronto, making stops in eastern Michigan and near London Ontario. The purpose of the trip is to see family but I am thinking of how I could at least a little time at the other Great Lakes. I plan to cross the border in at least one direction at Sarnia or maybe Windsor. We always used to cross at Windsor, either by bridge or tunnel, but in the past few years crossing anywhere can be an ordeal and its a crap shoot which way is better.

Perhaps on my way to London I can touch Lake Huron. In Toronto, my family live far from Lake Ontario shores, so if I want to “touch” it, I will have to make a little side trip. I can come back home via northern edge of Lake Erie and detour off the 401, or I could drive back via Western New York, touching parts of Lake Erie I knew as a child. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, there are plenty of places I could stop.

At best, this trip will be a HOME trip, starting with Lake Michigan and touching Huron, Erie, and Ontario. That’s okay because these are the lakes that are HOME for me anyway, where I have family and history. Maybe later this summer or fall, I can get up to Lake Superior and truly touch HOMES this year.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Asian Carp Too Close to Home

Last night when we went out for a stroll after dinner, the streets alongside the harbor were lined with cars. I know that on Thursday when the city municipal center at the corner hosts the Peanut Butter and Jam music series, cars line the streets but I knew of nothing happening last night.

“Looks like someone is having a party,” I commented to my husband.

“I think it’s the fish,” he responded as he pointed toward the harbor wall, which was lined with anglers of all ages.

This is an active time of year for fishing. Fishing is a big deal here, both along the harbor and out on the lake. This morning on my bike ride I rode past the Salmon and Trout Rearing Pond sponsored by the Kenosha SportFishing And Conservation Association in conjunction with
Wisconsin DNR which stocks the lake with Chinook salmon, another sign of how important fishing is to this city. You can see it on the sign for Pennoyer Park, which is adjacent to the pond, too.

Yesterday I heard on the radio that Asian carp, those huge jumping fish that are funny in videos but are not so funny in reality, are very close to the Lake Michigan. This invasive species, which have been swimming up the Mississippi River and through the Illinois River for several years, could devastate sport and commercial fishing as well as the entire Great Lakes ecosystem. A few year ago the Army Corp of Engineers built an electric fence at the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal to keep them out of Lake Michigan and now these aggressive fish are close to testing that fence. As with so many other projects of the Corps, this one has its controversies, too, and whether it will really work remains to be seen.

I learned this morning that these fish like cold water better than the warmer waters they have been in and would love to get their fins into our lakes, eat their way into the food chain and destroy all the salmon, trout and other fish at the top of the chain as well as the little stuff at the bottom. I also learned that according to Chinese legend Asian Carp are good luck and so people have intentionally released them into Lake Ontario. Ontario has already outlawed this practice, but one wonders if it is too late.

In an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this week, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said that the EPA and government officials were aware of the Asian Carp problem, but she added that she didn't expect any immediate action from Congress to prod federal authorities because members of the House are on recess. It seems to me that our representatives have a few things on their minds during their recess. Now they can add Asian Carp to the list.

You can see these jumping fish as well as learn more about them on You Tube . On a gentler note, this heron was sitting at the mouth of the Pike River when I rode by on my way home this morning. He (or she) is not an invader to our ecosystem but a part of it and a welcome addition to the scene.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Fog Rolls In - And Out Again

It is cool tonight, only in the mid 60’s, but the sky is clear and crisp. However, these pictures were taken about 4 PM, when the fog rolled in. You could hardly see our landmark lighthouse. It was eerie ( not Erie – I am still here on Lake Michigan). An hour later the fog rolled out. Such is life on the lakeshore.

Should Our Efforts Be Broad or Deep?

I have seen that question raised at least three times in the past week, albeit on different topics.

One place was at a focus group for the City of Kenosha, Department of City Development on Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). I was asked to attend one of these sessions because the original recipient of the invitation could not go. It was an eye-opening session about the city’s efforts to use available money to provide decent housing, a suitable living environment, and economic opportunity in Kenosha. The CDBG national objectives must meet three criteria. The funds are to be used to 1) benefit low and moderate income persons, 2) prevention of slum and blight and 3) respond to an urgent need.

The focus group, one of several being held by the city, was given an overview of past efforts and had the chance to comment on its strengths and weakness. We then were asked to identify future needs, and of course, several were named. Finally, we were asked to rank the future projects and that is where the question of broad or deep came up. Should the city continue to focus in depth on programs that already exist or broaden its efforts into new areas?

I saw the same question, phrased almost the same way, about the $475M set aside for Great Lakes Restoration projects. In clicking around today, I found this question and a poll on the website Great Lakes Echo, which was the first time I saw this website. Great Lakes Echo is a project of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. Org.

Check out the poll. Place your vote. The question is whether the $475M should be spent for many small projects, several big projects, or one huge project. In the tally this morning, the majority of the vote was for deep rather than broad. Almost half the voters said fewer than 10 projects should be funded, and there were two votes for funding only one big project. That, by the way, pretty much parallels the response at the city focus group. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing and not dilute our efforts, most people said.

The third place the question was raised for me this week had to do with personal finances. And there were only two of us voting. And we agreed to do deep rather than broad. So three out of three scenarios agreed that deep is better than broad. What do you say?

Actually, in the ideal world I would say broad with deep pockets.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summer Fun

Maybe it's because it is a Sunday. Maybe it’s because we finally have summer weather. Whatever the reason, the parks along the lakefront here in Kenosha were swarming with people this afternoon. Here’s a look at what some of them were doing. Isn’t that a great fountain?

What they don’t seem to be doing is riding bikes. That’s understandable with the heat index over 90. But I took this picture of Kenosha Bike Rentals anyway because a few weeks ago I posted a picture of Jeff’s bike rental business before he had the logo on his trailer.

When I saw Jeff this morning, he said, “Hey, Susan, anytime you want to update your picture, feel free to do so.” I took the hint and so this afternoon I went back with my camera and shot this. I was glad I had the camera with me so I could get these other shots of people having summer fun, too.

By the way, by the time I wrote this and uploaded the photos, the National Weather Service had issued a severe weather warning for heavy rain and flash floods. So much for a nice summer afternoon. I hope these people enjoyed their time outdoors before the storm.