Category Archives: The Great Outdoors

Around the Ville: Trains, Bikes and Atom Smashers

I’ve been tooling around the ‘Ville on my bepetalled cruiser, congratulating myself that I had the brains to insist on a bike with no gears to shift, a coaster break, and a saddle and handlebars that allow me to keep my seat on the seat . At last I can check out the landscape instead of the white line on the road, and, anyway,  I’ve never cared for skin-tight spandex on a hot day.

One of my favorite short rides — about five miles round trip — meanders along Batavia Road in the ‘Ville, then onto the Fermilab bike path for a short stretch of its considerable length. Today I remembered my camera, so come with me on my virtual bicycle built for two. I’ll let you squeeze the air horn if you remember to bring a bottle of water.

I want to show you a couple of charming gardens;both of them come right up to the sidewalk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old rattan and petunias.

The next three pictures show you the “public garden” created by garden writer (and my colleague at The Village Chronicles) Shawna Coronado. It extends the length of three houses, along the easement between their back fences and the sidewalk. For tired bicyclists and walkers she provides two full-size park benches. This is about half way down the garden path.

A sweet little detail:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another view — I love the lone ten foot tall sunflower at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And another:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pedaling right along we come to the level crossing for the old EJ&E tracks, now the CN tracks. For thirty years I’ve been hearing trains in the night, and when I’m staying somewhere else I miss that low slow rumble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cross those tracks and you’re breathing the same air and biking the same path as a few hundred of smartest people on earth:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the gates. While the property is still open to runners and bicyclists, it’s been closed to non-authorized cars since 9/11. It’s enormous acreage, most of it pure prairie. It houses its own herd of bison (you can smell it downwind) and provides a sort of federal wilderness preserve and wetlands.

When the superconducting supercollider came to town, the locals redubbed it The Atom Smasher, not as alliterative, but more descriptive. And shorter.

Welcome to the home of the Top Quark.

 

 

 

 

Bring your bait and tackle — this is literally the first time I haven’t seen kids and grandpas fishing here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A path-side sculpture. Or something. Any atomic scientists in the house?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking the pristine spell of the place, but beautiful and powerful in their own way are the miles and miles of enormous power towers. You need mucho megawatts to smash atoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s where I turned around tonight , a big white clapboard building, “Aspen East.” It’s a community center for employees, backed by tennis courts, volleyball courts, and picnic tables. I wonder if they hold keggers in there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was hot and muggy, and I’d forgotten my water bottle so I headed home. What I’ve shown you is a fraction of the Fermilab bike path — I was hoping to bring on the bison, the wild apple trees and Fermilab itself. Now that the collider in CERN is #1 Atom Smasher, Fermilab has lost some funding. It will be around for basic research, they say. Oh God, I hope so.

I biked back after about half an hour, only to wait as one of the longest freight trains in memory chugged by.

My street is unremarkable: lots of flags, driveway basketball hoops and nice people. I’ve shown you a tiny snapshot of Warrenville, close up, from behind my handlebars. When I get a lock and chain for my bike, I’ll take you to the library! Be still your hearts.

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Filed under Body, Free, Growing things, History, Home, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

My New Wheels!

Ain’t she a beauty!

Lou asked me what I wanted my my birthday. You know, that’s getting harder as I get older. When I was fifteen years younger and a little better off, my answer was “Go to the silver room at Tiffany and buy me a bracelet.” He did, and I have a lovely collection. Much older and much poorer, I was stuck, but just for a minute.

“Bring me a bottle of Guerlain’s Jicky, or buy me a bike. A real bike, not like the ones we sold for ten bucks each three years ago. I want something with a seat that doesn’t split my buttocks like some creep in an S&M blog. No gears. No hand breaks.”

I was describing the red CCM I learned to bike on when I was ten. Sure, riding up the steep coteaux in Trois-Rivieres was real work, even for a fit twelve year old. But I wasn’t forcing my weight on aching wrists, staring at the pavement, as I did on my zillion speed racing bike. I could look around me, checking out traffic and the Dairy Queen and Notre Dame des Sept Allegresses. I could signal with my thumb on the handle of a bell, and I could carry my homework home in my bike basket.

You know how you can pull up a supremely happy moment as if it were a (to continue the retro tech thing) slide? Another birthday, long ago, when Honor was, perhaps, three. I was working as the supervisor of the Junior Lingerie department of Carson Pirie Scott on State Street, and because I worked later than he did, Lou would pick me up in the red Ford Fiesta. On that birthday evening, I crossed Wabash to wait for my ride, and looked south. Lou was riding a red bicycle up the sidewalk, with my daughter perched on the handlebars, her blonde curls flying. They were both grinning, she was squealing, the  El  clattering above us. He strapped the bike to the roof of the Fiesta and we drove back to 1208 W. Lexington, where he gave me a martini and his other present, a Mahalia Jackson LP. I stood on the back porch, looking over the unrivalled Chicago skyline, a tiny bit buzzed and feeling the Spirit run up and down my spine while Mahalia sang “Born in Bethlehem.”

I’ve had great birthdays, but that one is my favorite. Young as I was, I knew there was powerful magic happening. And I loved that bike. When we moved to the ‘Ville we were a one car family, so in decent weather I’d ride to work (in a dress and heels) along the Prairie Path. Sometimes I glowed when I arrived at the Unisys Training Center, sometimes I arrived wet from a a shower, sometimes I showed up with a bouquet of wildflowers.  Once I arrived home with the magic pastoral terror of the great outdoor god Pan, because a red fox had fled before my wheels.

The bike got stolen, and I endured twenty years of racing bikes and mountain bikes, eyes downward, wrists aching. ‘Lor love a duck, I’m not an athlete, I just like to pedal about, go to the library, feel the burn in my thighs and see and smell the flowers.

Lou received my rigorous standards for the bicycle of my dreams, and he met and exceeded them. (It was cheaper than a bottle of Jicky.) This bike could have been ridden by Miss Marple or Twiggy.

Daisy detailing, whitewalls with sky blue trim.

Note: No gears, no brakes. I’m going to buy a basket and a bell and I’m going to cruise around, no hands, looking up and looking around.

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Filed under Body, Machines, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors, Worth it anyway

It’s Bloomin’ Wet

I think I’ve mentioned that our back yard is the low water place in the neighborhood. Here’s a pic after yesterday’s storm:

But all that rain after all that heat made my roses bloom like crazy! The tall red boy is Othello, from the great English rosarian David Austin. Austin believes in the form and fragrance of old roses, and when you’re at the nursery and see any of his roses for sale — buy them. The modern tea rose is almost fragrance free, and the new breed of tuff shrub roses traded perfume for hardiness. I sniff at them. Bah.

A different view, showing off  the white Sir Henry Hudson, one of the Canadian Explorer series. Mr. Russian Comfrey, the bane of my gardening existence, takes up most of the left hand side of the picture.

If you’re a writer, writing about roses, there are so many ways you can cliche your title! “Everything’s Coming Up Roses!” “Rose is a rose is a rose.” “They are not long, the days of wine and roses.” (The days of wine extend longer than the days of roses, for sure.) Even, in a bad year, “Oh rose thou art sick.” For Alcott fans, “Rose in Bloom.” Please tell me all the ones I’ve forgotten in the comments section.

There’s a reason writers have written about roses since people pressed characters into a clay tablet with a stick — they are dazzling, sensual, mystical. The rose is the floral emblem of the Virgin Mary, the crests of the families of Lancaster and York during the bitter Wars of the Roses, and the centerpiece of a prom night wrist corsage. I’ll never forget the rose petals strewn on the hall between the bar and the dining room at Christina Simpson’s wedding; it felt luxurious, almost medieval. Christina is a florist and knows about these things.

Back to my garden in the ‘Ville. I’ve forgotten the name of this voracious red climber, so vigorous that its stalks need to be whacked off by a machete because the thorns have been known to stab the thighs of the UPS guy. I cut it back hard last fall, and it blew it off. Lou walked through the front door yesterday and said “Say, do you think you have enough roses?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a close up of David Austin’s “Memorial.” I wish you could smell the deep musky old rose scent.

The heat and the rain have made Hosta Corner very, very happy. They’re at least a yard tall.

All this hot liquid display is, after the initial  fifteen-years-ago financial outlay, free. That’s cheap, friends, and it makes me cheerful.

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Filed under Growing things, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

In the Weeds

For the first time today I recognized, deep down,  what restaurant cooks mean when they say they’re “in the weeds” or “weeded.” I mean, I’ve known for years that it means being so behind on your orders that it feels as if you’ll never get through service alive, let alone getting the right orders to the right customers.

But today, as my back ached and sweat bedewed my bosom, I realized that I’m in the weeds for the rest of my life, or as long as I live in this house. The garden’s too big, laid out in my optimistic thirties, and my tolerance for slaving in the heat has become too small. My weeds are thugs, maybe because of all those years of solemn soil amendment — Man, are they happy!

Many gardeners go on about the meditative aspects of weeding and it’s health-giving properties — all that “light” exercise. Har. I should be as enlightened as St. Teresa of Avila and as supple as Selma Hyack. I’m not.

But today I admitted: I’m going to be in the weeds forever, even if I spend two solid hours a day pulling and whacking from March until November.  The weeds will always win.

But…. the garden’s looking better. Here are a few photos (heavily cropped to hide some of the weeds.)

The lovely spicy- scented rosa Therese Bugnet:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Henry Hudson rose from the Canadian Explorer series:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blooming chives:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my spanking new leather-palmed and fingered gardening gloves, on a bed of geranium sanguineum:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s allowed me to forgive myself, this realization that I’m never going to win, no matter how hard I work. I mean, I’m not going to slough off; I’ll be sweating and groaning tomorrow on a muggy Midwestern day in the 90s. But now I’ll forgive myself for knowing my weeds and flowers will never get a six page spread in Martha Stewart Living.

 

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Filed under Free, Growing things, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

Spring in the ‘Ville. Again.

Spring in northern Illinois is a warmer version of spring in Quebec — three weeks earlier but just as maddening. We hit 84 one day, and a terrifying nighttime prairie thunderstorm later be were back in the thirties. T.S.  knew what he was talking about when he wrote that :

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

 

Well, April is also National Poetry Month.

But a couple of things on this April day made me breathe in the cool sunny air. As in every April, my daffodils are furling, along with some tulips and scilla. Heaven bless my bulbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My thyme and tarragon are back too, and I suspect the oregano will surge as it gets warmer. Tomorrow I’ll move the tax forms and the sewing machine from the dining room table and center a pitcher bulging with daffodils and tulips.

Here’s another eternal sign of spring, from out my back door. This kid was kicking around a soccer ball with his big brother, his uncle, his Dad four years ago when he was two. He’s bigger now, but the grass verge futbol, which will continue until the snow falls, is a sign of spring as indelible as my crabapple tree leafing out, the cats twitching at the fresh birdsong, and the soft thunder of an EJ&E train rumbling through my open window.

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Filed under Free, Growing things, History, Home, Into the Mystic, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

Colors and Flavors

The maple leaf is the graphic emblem of Canada, the centerpiece of its flag, and the glory of its Octobers. (It’s also the name of a certain NHL hockey franchise that’s loathed by people born in Quebec, like me. Boo!) I’m going to wind up my Ottawa tour with some colors, some history and some food.

A canal runs through it. Ottawa was founded by Colonel By, a British military engineer, and it was once called Bytown. His masterpiece, the Rideau Canal, opened in 1832, and connects Ottawa, on the Ottawa River, to Kingston on Lake Ontario through a series of stone locks that work just fine to this day. It’s raison d’etre was to be an alternate shipping and defense route should the Yanks get another itch to invade Canada, and UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage site. Here’s where it begins in Ottawa, near the Parliament Buildings:

It meanders through town, and at the foot of my parents’ street it forms a little inlet, near the Vietnamese Embassy:

 

 

(The Embassy:)

One of the best things about the canal is it’s Hans Brinker-like transformation in wintertime into the world’s longest skating rink — lots of civil servants skate to work.

But I’m pushing the season a bit here. Here are three flashy maple trees down on the corner:

I think the pattern and colors of the leaves on the sidewalk are stunning:

A few snaps of downtown Ottawa: The cathedral seen through an outdoor Louise Bourgeois sculpture across the street at the Nation Gallery of Canada:

The Victorian Gothic Revival Parliament Buildings:

 

Let’s stroll a few blocks from the seat of power to the Byward Market, perhaps the longest running Farmer’s Market in North America — well, over a hundred years. The farmers who have stands must grow their good stuff within thirty miles of Ottawa, and mostly on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. I love being hailed with a “Bonjour, Madame!”

 

OK, I’m going to try to do a writerly summing up: family, nature and food. On our first weekend we crossed the river into Quebec, and drove into the glory of the hills and the fall color on the Gatineau Parkway. Several thousand other people had the same good idea, and I hope they were as blissed out as I was by the golden glory of the leaves and the hills. Here’s the Huron Lookout:

And here are the money shots for frites lovers. I maintain that dollar for dollar a frite stand in Quebec offers the greatest french fries the the world — crisp on the outside, and tasting deeply of potato on the inside. When you see the closeup you’ll figure out who got them with ketchup — Canadians prefer white vinegar and salt only.

Daddy picking them up at the frite stand:

You really should have been there:

 

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Filed under Food, History, Home, The Great Outdoors

A Free Planter: The Big Red Can

I’m going to take advantage of my fatigue and eyestrain today to bring Cheap and Cheerful back to its roots —  a shortish post about a cool cheap thing to make or do.  (A short night’s sleep, the new Laurie R. King, an early doctor’s appointment and a shot are all part of my drowsy mix.) I believe I spotted this idea in Martha Stewart Living a couple of years ago, made it last my own  year and should do it again.

I like to plant seeds in containers except for the price of the containers. Even at the tackiest garden center or hardware store they cost way too much money — heck, I could buy a rosebush for the price of three half- gallon plain ole  clay pots.And because I’m lazy,I often leave my clay containers to overwinter, and I’m punished by retrieving cracked pots in the spring.Here’s a picture of the Big Red Can that I produced in less than five minutes last year. The nasturtium plant is on it’s way out, but you’ll get the idea.

The planter can be a paint can, a coffee can or a Crisco can.  Punch a  few holes in the bottom. Find a can of enamel spray paint from your garage — the red paint is the refresher for the front door. If you wanna get crazy with masking tape and stripes, go for it! You can get as artistic as all get out, but in the end, what you have is a cheap, cheerful lightweight  planter.

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Filed under Free, Growing things, Home, The Great Outdoors