Four Sandhill Cranes have been frequenting Arcadia Audubon Sanctuary in Holyoke. We don’t see Sandhill Cranes in Massachusetts all that often. But I had a long talk with a woman staffing the visitor center at the sanctuary, and she said these four seem to have been around all summer, and there’s some who think they might be getting ready to breed in the area next summer.
I’m on a brief road trip to the Connecticut River Valley. After driving through heavy and slow traffic along the Mass Pike — there must have been a lot of people going away for the weekend today — I arrived at Mount Tom State Reservation with just three hours before the park closed. I got up to Whiting Peak, then walked along the New England Trail with dramatic views over Easthampton west to the the Berkshire Hills.
I’m spending the night in a motel in Ludlow, and tomorrow I’ll be on a Mass Audubon botany field trip. I would have liked to have more time to explore Mount Tom today. But it’s good to get away for even this brief time, just to recharge my spirit.
Walking back to our campsite, I came across this beautiful garter snake. It was willing to sit still while I took a portrait photograph.
Alex, Patricia, Carol, and I took a walk toady across Saco Heath, a peat bog that’s owned by the Nature Conservancy. We walked most of the way across the boardwalk, stopping frequently to look at unusual wildflowers — wild cranberries, pogonias, bog orchids — and other plants.
The fog, low clouds, and light drizzle made it feel like an alien landscape. We wanted to spend more time there, but we only had an hour. Sometime I want to come back and spend half a day enjoying this unusual ecosystem.
This Twitter thread tells about one of my favorite bookstores anywhere: Renaissance Books in the Milwaukee International Airport (MKE). It’s unbelievable to find a used bookstore in an airport. On top of which, they stock a deeply eccentric collection of books, as noted by the author of the Twitter thread.
I particularly appreciate their wide selection of mid-twentieth century pulp novels. I was just in MKE a week and a half ago, and bought a 1960s paperback reprint of Ian Fleming’s thriller Casino Royale from 1953. Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel, is a wonderful example of mid-twentieth century pulp fiction: you simply can’t believe the amount of sexism and implicit racism, the plot creaks, and there are weird dominance and submission games going on throughout the novel. It reveals the strange paranoiac Zeitgeist of the 1950s better than any history book. But I digress.
Basically, it’s a bookstore that should not exist. So it kind of feels like Spider Robinson’s fictional Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, except that it’s not a fictional place. Here are some key excerpts from the Twitter thread to explain:
“On my way home from Milwaukee yesterday I did a triple take when I saw an ancient used book store, IN THE AIRPORT!!! I felt like I walked through a portal to a world where everything was a little bit cooler. I was so enthralled I went up to the register and was like ‘hey, I’m fascinated by this place, can we chat?’ A man with an orange hat, orange glasses, and an orange shirt pushed aside his laptop and said ‘oh, heavens yes.’ His name is Orange Mike, and he’s worked here since 1979. Every employee of the shop, including Orange Mike, makes exactly ‘8.125 dollars’ an hour to keep this place going. They are also all in their 60s. Orange Mike himself comes from the local pen & paper community, and used to review games for Dragon magazine. The stock here is eclectic and weird and not remotely curated. Half of it is giant history books that have probably been here since the 80s….
“The store’s existence comes down to the airport taking bids from local bookstores to occupy the space, and accidentally including used bookstores in the list. The owner shrugged and submitted the high bid. The airport tried to stop it but after six months of legal spats failed…. This store just shouldn’t exist. The airport doesn’t want them there, it makes no revenue, they have a hard time moving product, and all of its underpaid employees are at retirement age. And yet it persists. AT A MAJOR AIRPORT. I am blown away by this place existing. If you’re ever at MKE, go check it out while you can. It seems like something way too good for this world, which means it may not be there next time if you skip it.”
I spent four hours at Renaissance Books one day last year, due to travel plan complications. That bookstore turned what was an otherwise unbearable trip into something almost enjoyable. I was so grateful that now every time I’m in MKE (which is not very often), I spend as much money there as I can (the limitation always being: How many books can I fit in my carry-on luggage?).
Some people here at the retirement community in Wisconsin measured up to 15 inches. But the temperatures are above freezing now, and the snow on Ed’s balcony is already starting to slump. People who live here are saying, “This is the last storm of winter. I hope.”
I woke up around seven o’clock. We were still in Pennsylvania. The sky was a dull gray. My roomette was on the north side of the train, and I kept hoping for a sight of Lake Erie. I finally thought I saw the lake in the distance.
It started snowing. The blowing snow made verything I saw out the window look faded. It was hard to tell the difference between the sky and the ground — both looked white.
We had a quarter of an hour layover at the Buffalo-Depew station, so I got out to stretch my legs. A few smokers got out and miserably puffed their cigarettes while the snow swirled around. The people getting on the train bent their heads down to keep snow out of their eyes.
The train passes quite near the lower end of Onondaga Lake. Through the falling snow, I saw a Bald Eagle sitting in tree near the water, and half a dozen Canada Geese swimming out in the lake.
The Lake Shore Limited seems to carry quite a few people in plain dress. Maybe they were Amish, but the Amish aren’t the only group that wears plain dress; there are Mennonite groups who wear plain dress, Hutterites, and still others. I asked one of the train crew about them. He said lots of Amish (as he called them) took the train, and sometimes they took over a whole car. I said I had heard at least one couple speking what sounded like Pennsylvania Dutch of Low German to me, but that wasn’t something he had noticed.
When we got to Albany, I had to move to a different car. There’s a one hour layover in Albany. After I stowed my luggage in my new roomette, I stood outside the train, just to be outdoors. A young man was taking photographs with what looked like a film camera, and I asked him about it. He was shooting outdated Kodak Gold color film, which he processes and prints himself to get certain specific artistic effects. I was suitably impressed. He wandered off to take more photographs. I talked for a bit with the sleeping car attendant, who grew up in Dedham.
Then I fell into conversation with a man from Australia. He and his wife had taken the train from San Francisco, with a stop in Denver, and a two day layover in Chicago. He loved both cities, and was looking forward to seeing Boston, and then New York. It turned out that he was a retired air traffic controller, and so I asked him about the recent FAA shutdown of air traffic in the United States. He said that of course once you have a glitch like the FAA had, you have to shut down all air traffic. But he also said that problems like that do arise when you outsource certain functions.
We got back on the train a minute before it started up again. By now, it was starting to get dark. But the light lasted long enough for me to see the Berkshires off in the distance.
The train arrived on time in Framingham. I got my car out of long-term parking just as it started pouring rain. I was thankful that it wasn’t cold enough to turn the rain to snow.
Now I’m home, and I still feel like there’s a train moving under me….
I wound up with a 7 hour layover in Chicago. The nice thing about train travel is that when you have a layover, you can leave the terminal. And when you have a layover in Chicago, you’re downtown, right in the Loop.
The Art Institute is closed on Tuesdays, so I went to Exile in Bookville, a bookstore on the second floor of the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Ave. The Fine Arts Building still retains much of its 1898 decor, and it even still has elevators that need to be operated by human beings. Exile in Bookville turned out to be an excellent small bookstore. I passed over William Cronon’s environmental history of Chicago and the midwest (too bulky to carry on the train) and instead bought The Future Is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. I also stopped at the DePaul University bookstore, which is run by Barnes and Noble.
By then it was half past four. Time to start walking slowly back to Union Station. I stopped to take a photo of part of a public art work on Quincy St. at South State St.
As I continued walking, I looked for more public art….
It turned out to be a very pleasant layover in Chicago.
We went out for a walk along the river that runs through Oshkosh, Wisconsin, today. A Bald Eagle soared overhead, landed in a tree, and soared off again when we got too close. Then a couple of minutes later, there was another Bald Eagle ahead of us, sitting in a tree.
It was breathtaking to see Bald Eagles that close. But we shouldn’t be seeing any eagles over the river in Oshkosh in January. Instead, the river and the lakes should be fully frozen over, driving the eagles to Lake Michigan to find open water for hunting. It has been such a warm winter, the river is almost completely ice-free. So while I love seeing the eagles, we’re seeing them because of global climate change, which is not a cheerful thought.
I awakened in the middle of the night and looked out the window of the upper berth. Rain blurred the view. The GPS on my phone said we were in Buffalo, but I saw nothing distinctive.
I had gone to bed before nine o’clock, so it was no surprise when I awakened at half past six. I tried to doze, but I was awake. I washed my face and shaved, got dressed, and tried to read for a while. At last it started to grow light outside. I opened the curtains of the roomette to watch the world go by. We passed a brightly-painted, brightly-lit water tower in Bryan, Ohio.
We mostly pass through farm fields, with a few patches of woodland, a few small towns, and a few areas of light industry.
I saw no snow anywhere. I’ve taken the Lake Shore Limited several times before in January, and there is always snow on the ground at this time of year. But not this year. Global climate change is taking hold.
Before I knew it, we were in Chicago, arriving at Union Station just before ten o’clock, ahead of schedule. I went up to the Great Hall, to see if it was as spectacular as I remembered it being. It was, and is. The sight was spoiled somewhat by the fact that Amtrak plays bad Muzak which sounds echo-y and terrible in that high space. I did my best to ignore the bad Muzak, and just enjoyed the light and space. It was a very peaceful place to spend a couple of hours while waiting for the connecting train to Milwaukee.
Hiawatha Service, the service to Milwaukee, was delayed half and hour due to a computer glitch. At last we were on our way. I enjoyed looking down the streets of Chicago and trying to imagine who lived there.
I dozed off, and awakened again when we were in Wisconsin. It was a short ride, just under 90 minutes. The downtown Milwaukee train station was nothing special — it looked like a bus terminal, and actually it was a bus terminal as well as a train station.
Carol and her dad were waiting to pick me up outside the station. Supposedly there’s a move to extend train service all the way up the coast of Lake Michigan to Green Bay. That would have saved Carol an hour and a half drive down to pick me up.
While my trip took much longer than the two hour flight from Boston to Milwaukee, my carbon footprint was much, much smaller. And I enjoyed it more, because instead of being treated like animated cargo (that’s how TSA and the airlines treat you), I was treated like an actual human being.