Archive | January 2011

Home Again

Fields and bluffs along the Lower Wisconsin River during an exceptionally warm November.

I have not abandoned the idea of completing the story of my journey – you can honestly expect it to be done within the next fewweeks!  However, some folks have been wondering if I’m still on the road and exploring, or what.  The answer is that I’ve been back in Wisconsin since mid-November, but that I have not stopped adventuring and collecting new experiences!

On my first day back in Wisconsin, I got to light a prairie on fire (on purpose, of course), and since then I’ve had my share of earth, air, and water, as well – not least in the form of snow, which we’ve had on the ground since the beginning of

Steam rising off the Wisconsin River during a near-record cold snap a couple weeks later.

December.  I was excited to be reunited with my dog, and she seemed happy to see me – or at least happy to run around in the woods and find dead things to eat.  Despite nearly a week straight of subzero temperatures (unusual so early in the season), she enjoyed being out in the snow as much as possible.  Thanks, Stephanie, for taking such great care of her!

I have enjoyed seeing friends and revisiting old haunts, including exploring some awesome State Natural Areas, having a drink at favorite dining establishments, and just spending quality time catching up.  Special thanks to Matt and Rachel, Marc, and of course Mom and Dad, for allowing me to continue my couch surfing even though the vacation was over!

Of course, after a couple exciting months, I couldn’t stop exploring new places, either.  I took a drive through the lovely bluffs and river valleys of southwestern Wisconsin to have brunch at the Castle Rock Inn with a friend and taste wine at Weggy Winery afterwards.  We are better known for beer, and with good reason, but we do indeed have wine in Wisconsin!  To be honest, I personally don’t like any of the drier reds produced in this state, but there are some dry-ish whites that I can drink.  Wisconsin wineries are better known for their sweet, dessert-like wines, which likely reflects both the types of grapes that grow here as well as the local propensity for Rieslings and White Zinfandels.  While the dining was great, seeing some of the most beautiful country in the world may have been my favorite part of that journey!

In mid-December, I drove up to the southern edge of the northern forests,

White-tailed deer in southern Wisconsin

and, while walking through the floodplain forest along the Wolf River, I got to see my first porcupine in the wild!  It was at least as exciting as the armadillo or the roadrunner – it is easy to forget that there are little-known ecosystems, habitats, and associated wildlife so close to home!  On the way back, I wound through the flat countryside of small, German towns in the central part of the state.  What would normally have been a less-than-inspiring drive for me was cheered by the lights and holiday decorations lining main streets and squares along my journey.  I was even struck by an odd similarity between Baraboo, WI and Arcata, CA!  Who’d’a thunk it?

Lake Michigan at Foster Ave. beach

I spent a few days around Christmas with my family in Chicago, and went on a couple of my favorite “urban hikes” while there.  As a kid in high school and college, I mostly took this sort of hike to save money – I had better things to do with my bus fare!  Today, I can afford the buck fifty, but I still find them a great way to see a city!  I took a few little walks around Oakland,

Chicago skyline seen from the north, beyond Montrose Beach.

Berkeley, and San Francisco, and more of a hike in Austin, but my Chicago adventures were probably the most ambitious.  I took my dog for walks to the lakefront, and watched the waves of Lake Michigan crash on the walls.  If you have never watched ice forming on the surface of a Great Lake, you should try it sometime!  By January or February, there is usually a good, thick shelf extending out from shore a ways (which some idiot every year tries to walk on, falls in, and drowns), but despite our cold December temperatures, the sheet of ice near the shore was not yet solid, and rose and fell gently with the waves, while small “icebergs” floated just out from shore.

The next day, I had lunch with friends at Athena Restaurant in Greektown (mmm – you can’t get Greek food as good as Chicago’s anywhere but Greece, I’m convinced), then decided to walk

Opa! Flaming cheese is a cross-cultural favorite

towards home.  I wound through the Loop, where evening rush hour ran into post-holiday shoppers – and looked in the windows of the Marshall Field’s building.  That famous building is now owned by a former-

Michigan Avenue Bridge, Tribune Tower, and John Hancock Building - Christmas in Chicago

competitor in the department store world (macy’s), and they had the audacity to fill the holiday windows with a portrayal of Miracle on 34th Street, which takes place entirely in New York!!!!  Seeing that was the only downside of my walk, but the affront remains with me to this day.  I continued on from there past the Art Institute and down Michigan Avenue, the Miracle Mile.  I passed the old Water Tower, and continued through the row houses of the Gold Coast and Old Town, past the farm at Lincoln Park Zoo, and on to the intersection of Belmont and Clark, where many an adolescent (and pre-adolescent) weekend was spent.  I trudged on until I passed a darkened mid-winter Wrigley Field, waved at the statue of Ernie Banks, and finally saw a bus coming my way, which I hopped onto for the last mile and a half back to Andersonville.  If you have the time and stamina for it, this is absolutely the best way to see the city!

Upon returning to Wisconsin, I began a whirlwind of activity.  In an unanticipated turn of events, I have since moved to far northern Wisconsin and am just beginning work and life up here.  Once I finish catching up on all my adventures of the fall, you can expect an account of my experiences up here – I guarantee wolves, bears, tall trees, wild rivers, and, if I know my dog at all, plenty more porcupines to come!