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.
As we went around Oshkosh this afternoon, I stopped to photograph six buildings that house religious communities.
It was strange to see how deserted most of these buildings looked on Sunday afternoon. The Christian churches presumably had a lot of activity this morning, but by afternoon the building were dark, the parking lots empty. Even the yoga studio was dark and empty. The masjid was the only building with life: a handful of men using leaf blowers; they were clearly volunteers, because they worked at a relaxed pace and weren’t wearing work clothes.
I like the way the shape of Immanuel Lutheran Church echos the flat midwestern landscape.
The masjid of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has the most attractive site of any of the buildings I photographed today, with the lovely trees surrounding it. I’m fond of the white fence on the left hand side, which appears to enclose a playground; it balances the minaret on the other side.
Visually, the most striking aspect of Zion Lutheran Church is the large white cross. It is about as tall as the utility poles along the street. The bright digital sign provides a welcome spot of color on a gray Wisconsin day.
The Algome Boulevard Methodist Church, built in 1870, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is an imposing but friendly building. The siting is lovely: the building sits between two streets that meet at about a 60 degree angle, adding drama to an already dramatic building.
I interpret the word “religious” in a broad sense; from my perspective, yoga studios look and act a lot like religious communities. Embody Yoga & Pilates occupies a storefront in the old downtown section of Oshkosh. The bright and cheerful sign on the window livens up the streetscape.
The imposing mass of the High Ave. location of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish sits on a sloping lot. I like the way the red sign anchors the lot at the lower end (there’s a matching red sign on the upper side of the lot, not visible in the photograph). The somewhat austere building is softened by the trees and bushes planted around it.
Each of these buildings uses a muted color palette consisting mostly of earth colors, with occasional bright accents. Most of these building echo the flatness of the Wisconsin landscape. The two Lutheran churches send up nothing more than delicate crosses into the sky; the masjid has a modest minaret lower than the surrounding trees; the yoga studio maintains its modest presence in the first floor only; the Catholic church, though surprisingly large, still fits into the flat landscape. Only the Algoma Boulevard Methodist church rises up in a large mass, though its gray color keeps it from standing out too much.
After a good visit with Ed and Nancy, it was time to start heading east again. Which meant getting through Chicago. The traffic started getting heavier north of the Illinois border, then was heavy and slow through most of Chicago. Eventually the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago rose up out of the hot, humid summer air.
The traffic got even worse south of Chicago, where Interstate 80, 90, and 94 merge together. This stretch of road always has heavy traffic. Maybe half the vehicles on the road were tractor-trailer rigs. It didn’t matter that we were driving in the middle of the day on a summer weekday, the traffic was still bad.
Eventually we got free of Chicagoland, and got off the interstate to take a walk in Indiana Dunes National Park. It was about a mile and a half walk to the lakeshore. We crossed a wetland area on a boardwalk and continued through some oak savannah. Carol pointed out a Red-headed Woodpecker in an oak tree. We crossed the narrow part of a pond on a foot bridge. I saw some Bluegills swimming in the water below us.
We continued to follow the path over some dunes, and there was Lake Michigan. The clouds had burned away by this time, and it was a bright sunny day. We both began to feel the heat, so we headed back to the car. I noticed some prickly-pear cactus growing on the sand dunes. I was beginning to get a bit of a head ache from the heat. Carol walked quickly ahead, under the theory that the quicker she got back to the car the better. I walked more slowly on the theory that there was no need to overheat myself. I plucked a sassafras twig and chewed on the sweet-tasting slightly narcotic inner bark. I found two or three huckleberries that were ripe, and ate them. I stopped to photograph the small delicate pink flowers of a hedgenettle (Stachys sp.).
When I got back to the trail head, Carol was sitting in the car drinking water. The car thermometer said it was 95 degrees. My shirt was soaked through with sweat. But even with the high temperature and humidity, walking through a bio-diverse landscape was better than driving through Chicagoland traffic.
We’ve been carrying a canoe across the country. Here we are in Wisconsin, right on the Fox River. It was time to put the canoe in the water.
Misty and Darren lent us some life vests. We decided to start with Sawyer Creek, a tributary of the Fox River. We drove to West Algoma Park, where there’s a nice grassy put-in for canoes and kayaks.
We’ve been walking along Sawyer Creek almost every day, and I went fishing in the creek a couple of days ago. But seeing the creek from a canoe is a very different experience.
We saw Black-crowned Night Herons and Great Egrets fishing along the banks of the creek. (We saw some humans fishing along the banks, too.) I turned just in time to see a small Yellow Perch roll up to the surface of the water, then dart away into the thickly-growing aquatic plants: Milfoils (Myriophyllum sp.), Pondweed (Potamogeton sp.), and Raccoontail (Ceratophyllum demersum).
Algae choked the surface in many places; but in the center of the channel, in the deepest part of the creek, the water was clear enough that we could see the sandy bottom among the plants. At least three species of aquatic plants were blooming: American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata), Common Water-Crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis), and Yellow Pond-Lily (Nuphar sp.). Common Water-Crowfoot, to my surprise, turns out to be a close relative of ordinary buttercups. And I have never seen Yellow Pond-Lilies before.
Dad-in-law and Nancy live near Sawyer Creek near where it drains into the Fox River. So that’s a natural destination when we go out for walks. I went out walking around Sawyer Creek this morning, starting along the north side near Eagle Street, crossing the creek at North Westfield, then following along the south bank through Red Arrow Park. Quite a few plants were in bloom, including attractive but invasive flowers Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) and Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides). Purple Crownvetch (Securigera varia), another invasive species, were everywhere, with their feathery leaves and clover-like pink-and-white blossoms. I was interested to see flowers of the invasive species Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus), a plant I’d never seen in bloom before. Actually, most of the flowers I saw were invasive species.
I did see one or two native species blooming. There were some elderberry (Sambucus sp.) in bloom, which were probably native. And some of the small scrubby willows (Salix sp., prob. Salix interior, or Sandbar Willow) growing along the south bank of the creek still had some catkins in bloom.
In the early evening, I went fishing along this stretch of Sawyer Creek. I couldn’t see any evidence that the water was flowing. The turbidity was high, and in some places the acquatic plants were pretty thick. I found a place with few plants, and at my first cast a small Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), a native species, chased the lure right up to the bank. It was so small that it couldn’t actually get its mouth around the lure. I could see I wasn’t going to catch anything, and that was fine with me. I spent a happy half hour trying to read the stream, casting, and changing lures every once in a while. For me, fishing is better than mindfulness meditation: it clears my mind, and I have no concerns about whether I’m engaging in Whitened Buddhism.
Driving just five hours a day means you have two or more hours each day for a visit with a friend or relative, or a hike in a park or wildlife refuge. Much better than driving 8-10 hours a day, as we used to do.
When you go hiking, use insect repellent. Then check carefully for ticks before you get in the car.
The Best Western motel in Chamberlain, S.D., has really fast internet service.
Widespread acceptance of videoconferencing means you can do the following on a road trip: attend a civic meeting; lead a General Assembly workshop; attend a committee meeting; attend a professional conference.
Driving with a canoe tied on top of your car lowers your gas mileage by about 15%.
If you have a soprano ukulele in the car, whoever’s sitting in the passenger seat can play it while you sing together. Much better for staying awake than audio books.
We made only one stop on today’s drive — aside from short stops at rest areas or gas stations — and that was at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. Necedah N.W.R. is best known because Whooping Cranes have been reintroduced there. We did not see any Whooping Cranes, though we did see a dozen Sandhill Cranes. We also saw Trumpeter Swans, which breed here.
What I most enjoyed about Necedah N.W.R. was seeing eastern bird species I haven’t seen since I was in Massachusetts last summer. Seeing a Chipping Sparrow, for example, hopping on the sidewalk outside the refuge visitor center was a thrill for me — though they’re so common in the east they’re almost boring. I suppose after a year or so I too will be bored by Chipping Sparrows.
Also next to the visitor center, I saw a Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus). This is a common eastern lizard, but for someone who’s spent the last dozen years living in the land of Western Fence Lizards, it was a thrill to see a Five-lined Skink.
After leaving Necedah N.W.R., we drove straight through to Oshkosh, Wis. We’ll be staying here for a week, visiting Dad-in-law and his wife Nancy. Seeing them this evening was the highlight of the day!
Update, June 28: Yesterday and today, we’ve found 3 dog ticks on us or our clothing. So that’s yet another species of organism we found in Necedah NWR.
After last night’s snow storm, temperatures rose above forty degrees. This afternoon, Carol and I took a long walk. We wound up in Riverside Cemetery, where we were especially interested in the nineteenth century gravestones.