City, Wind


I think I mentioned wind yesterday. And all night and today, more of the same. I took Dad out for our customary trip down to the Dairy Queen at Irving Park Road and Central Avenue. Our mission: two chocolate malteds. On the way, we saw a couple of places where treetops had snapped off or large boughs had fallen into the street. It really was windy.

Searching for visual evidence, and trying to move my legs a little, I walked out to Loyola Park, on the lake about a mile and a half east of my sister Ann’s place. On the MIchigan and Indiana shores, the lake might have been putting on a show. Here, with the wind blowing straight out across the shoreline, the water was flat.

But on the walk over there, gusts ripped through the trees, thrashing them. The maples especially–the undersides of their leaves are nearly white–looked like they’ve been turned inside out. Still, it was a warm wind, a summer wind, and everything’s green as midsummer. In a matter of weeks, though, many of those leaves will scatter.

Labor Day


Late the night of Labor Day, and one of those southerly winds is blowing in Chicago: gusty, warm, the kind of wind that even when it’s blowing hard seems to have a welcoming edge to it; the kind of wind that can stir up in these parts almost any time of the year–that can lead to a rapid thaw in January, force the first spring day while the calendar still says February, retrieve an evening or two of summer well after the first frost.

I drove with my dad on a round-about route out to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery this afternoon to visit my mom’s and brother’s grave and to see if I could find her parents’ and brother’s graves (I did, and did a little excavating in spite of myself to keep their markers visible). Then we went out to the area where I grew up late in the afternoon just to look around, to see what’s changed (a lot), what’s the same (a lot again) and what’s still recognizable (virtually everything, with allowance for surprises like the old par 3 course where we used to go to play miniature golf having been allowed to go back to nature).

Wandering some of the backroads, we found ourselves in Monee Township, where I tried to find the corner that I had determined, in my 15-year-old’s consultation with U.S. Geological Survey maps, was the high point in our area (something a little higher than 800 feet above sea level. In fact, the Stuenkel Road crossing on the Illinois Central, less than a mile west of us, appeared to be the highest point on the I.C. in the whole state). I had to noodle around a little to get to the place I was aiming for, winding up driving through Monee. On the way out of town, we crossed the Pauling Road overpass above Illinois 50 (Governors Highway, former U.S. 54) and the old Illinois Central mainline. As my brother Chris told me the other night, that I.C. line is now down to one track from the two to four that ran there when we were kids.

The sky was gorgeous as the evening came on. Just two weeks until the equinox.

(Here’s the Google Maps link for the locale where the picture was taken.)


longbeach090310.jpg (Above: Looking south down the Los Angeles River, center, and across the junction of Interstate 405, the San Diego Freeway (running right and left) and Interstate 710, the Long Beach Freeway (which runs down the river’s western bank). Long Beach Harbor is in the distance. Taken just after takeoff from Long Beach Airport, September 3, 2010. Google map link.)

I took a long bike ride once from near Boulder, at the foot of the Colorado Rockies, to east central Kansas, then turned around and came most of the way back. The route was given not in a map but in a sort of schematic of the roads on the route. That was a simple matter because a good 80 percent of the route seemed to be on a single highway, U.S. 36. There was a point marked on the diagram about 80 miles or so southeast of Boulder–the point where the Rockies vanished as you headed east across the Plains and reappeared on the westbound route.

That mark on the map made an impression: I loved the idea of a point on the landscape where such a dramatic change is made visible. Most long-distance travel, especially between the Rockies and the Appalachians, I think, is a tale of subtle changes, watching landscapes shift slowly as you gain or lose elevation or encounter wetter or dryer climatic zones. It’s much different from traveling north or south, east or west across California, where the next amazing transformation seems always to be around the next bend.

And then there’s flying across country–by which I mean commercial airline flight–which compresses experience and landforms into an extended narrative of geographic changes. I’ve often fantasized about coming up with some manual or device that would serve as a guide to what the airline passenger sees as he or she soars overhead. At first I envisioned it as a fold-out book in which each page would show landmarks, landforms and highways all the way along the air route, and now I imagine that GPS and map software can hand you a continuous unfolding picture with as much detail as you desire.

The strip of landscape that rolls out beneath the main air routes between the Bay Area and Chicago has become familiar, but it’s still exciting to see from the air: the cityscape, the bay, the bridges, the islands, the towns, the freeways, the hills and mountains that slide beneath you as you head out into the Central Valley. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with its knot of waterways, the farm geometry of the valley floor, the big valley cities. Then the foothills and big reservoirs and forests as the hills turn into mountains and the checkerboard of raw-looking clearcuts. Then granite and almost before you know it you’ve vaulted the crest of the Sierra Nevada, maybe within view of Yosemite or Lake Tahoe–so much of what you see depends on what side of the fuselage you gaze from.

Then Nevada: basin and range and uncountable debris fans at the foot of mountains and dried-up courses of old floods. You might be able to place yourself by the appearance of a road–Interstate 80, maybe, or the thin ribbon of U.S. 50, or one of the north-south routes. Then maybe you get a look across one of the mountain ranges at the Great Salt Desert, signaling Utah. Maybe you see that lake, or the Wasatch Mountains rearing up from the middle of the city. The Rockies may appear, or coral-painted canyonlands, or the course of the Green River or the Colorado.

By this time you might be an hour and a half into the flight, maybe more. If you’re connecting at Denver, you might sweep down to the plains across Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re on a non-stop, you might or might not ever see a square inch of Colorado, but you’ll see some part of the mountain chain. When that’s over, you’ll see the dry, sparsely roaded High Plains. You might meet up with Interstate 80 again near the course of the North Platte River, a rough guide to the old pioneer routes. In western Nebraska the country looks hilly and potholed. Anywhere in these dry plains you might see broad circles of wheat or alfalfa irrigated straight out of the Ogalalla Aquifer. Slowly, the roads increase and the green becomes more intense. You might see Omaha; even if you don’t, you’ll see the Missouri River below, running across a floodplain marked by tall bluffs.

After that, you’re almost home. Iowa, farmed and fertile looking and looking anything but flat, a rolling landscape broken by hundreds of small and big streams. The Mississippi is ahead, impossibly wide and complex looking as it braids among heavily wooded islands. And then it’s southwest Wisconsin or northwest Illinois, with county roads knocked askew from the preferred township grid as they straggle across thousands of square miles of glacial debris dumped in the last ice age. And then towns: Madison in the distance, Janesville, Beloit, Rockford. The Rock River. The Fox River, the suburbs, the city, the airport. Touchdown.

(Flying out here Friday, my routine was interrupted. I flew down to Long Beach, then from there to Chicago. Terra incognita, mostly, especially sitting over the plane’s port wing. But I did get glimpses. I puzzled over our route after leaving Long Beach; we took off to the northwest, then turned and flew south out over the ocean before turning to head east, and I just don’t know the landscape down there. The first good reference point I spotted was crossing the Colorado River. And after that, just a lot of guesswork. (The actual flight path appears to be here.)



When the wind at O’Hare’s from a western quarter–a common occurrence–flights often overfly the North Side or northern suburbs, then loop out over Lake Michigan and circle back to land into the wind. I’ve experienced that approach many times, and typically, it seems the maneuver occurs well up the lakeshore, well north of downtown. Today I was sitting on the north side of the plane as we crossed the city, and I could clearly see the Edgewater neighborhood and other landmarks of the North Side shoreline. But it felt like we must be well north of downtown. Then we flew out over the lake, turning north. Looking back, I could see we were actually south of the Hancock Building (it’s the tall black building toward the right edge of the forest of towers here), meaning that we must have flown right over downtown, maybe even over the southern half of the Loop, before reaching the lake. I took the picture as we completed our turn back west, and we were already well north of downtown. It was one of the best views of the city center I’ve ever gotten.

Pop: 89


Flew to Chicago today. The proximate cause: my dad’s 89th birthday today. Also, I haven’t checked in here since April. Too long, though I very skillfully missed the heat. It had been around 90 all week. Today when I arrived it was a blustery 65 or so–very similar to the conditions that have obtained much of the summer in Berkeley. I feel right at home.

One surprise upon greeting Dad when I arrived: He’s decided after all this time to let his hair grow. Me, I sport his former buzzed style. He actually has a nice head of hair going there–much more appealing than anything I’ve been able to grow in a while.

Anyway, I’m here. Dad: Happy birthday.