Man’s Fierce Hand

Leap Day once again. It’s a Monday, so it should be a holiday, but Congress doesn’t have that kind of imagination.

Does anyone really shoot fish in a barrel? Did anyone ever do that? Was that sport somewhere, say in the 19th century, when firearms and barrels were readily available, and many strange things were done in the name of entertainment?

The saying represents something exceptionally easy, of course, but even so I’m not sure it would be. Let’s assume the barrel is full of water as well as fish. Unless we’re talking about really large carp or some such, you might disturb the water and scare the fish, but I’m not sure how many small fish would actually be hit. Also, you’d think that shooting would soon destroy a wooden barrel and cause a dangerous amount of flying debris. Or if it were a metal barrel, such as a steel oil drum, the danger of ricochets might be high.

This is something for the Mythbusters fellows to investigate, but I suspect that shooting fish in a barrel never was anything but a metaphor, and by now a hackneyed one at that. So I’m reluctant to say that making fun of a press release I received recently — especially the first line — is like shooting fish in a barrel. But it cries out to be mocked. Here’s the first line:

“When people picture the Appalachian cultural region of the Eastern United States, they envisage a beacon of wonder and natural beauty left untouched by man’s fierce hand.”

There’s certainly still natural beauty in the Appalachians, but as for the “cultural region,” that’s not the first thing that comes to mind. Then there’s the matter of mountaintop removal mining. Among other feats of mineral extraction. I’m fairly sure that counts as man’s fierce hand.

The Mallard Lake Trail, Near the West Branch of the Du Page River

I noticed a sign today at Mallard Lake Forest Preserve, which we haven’t visited in nearly a year.

Mallard Lake FP, Du Page CountyUh-oh. I don’t think that sign was there last year. But now there’s evidence that the dread zebra mussel has invaded these waters, as it’s hopscotched across the lakes of the world. Wiki tells me that the mussel has come from its native lakes of southern Russia to be a pest in North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

It’s no trifling matter. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries tells us that, “Many water treatment and power facilities must now treat their systems to keep them free of zebra mussels, beaches must be periodically cleaned of decaying masses of dead zebra mussels, and bottom-dwelling organisms and fisheries have been negatively impacted. In the United States, Congressional researchers estimated that zebra mussels cost the power industry alone $3.1 billion in the 1993-1999 period, with their impact on industries, businesses, and communities over $5 billion.”

Fortunately, zebra mussels don’t invade the land to attack casual walkers on forest preserve paths. That’s all we wanted to do today, because once again the weekend was unusually warm for February, nearly 60 degrees F.

Instead of simply circumambulating Mallard Lake, we also walked along a spur called the Mallard Lake Trail, which leads to a municipal park called Heritage Park, which is part of subdivision I know nothing about. For a quarter of a mile or so, Mallard Lake Trail seemed remote, though it was an illusion, helped by the day’s strong winds, which muffled the sound of traffic off in the distance.
Mallard Lake TrailWithin view of part of the trail is the West Branch of the Du Page River.
West Branch Du Page RiverIt might have been a natural-flowing stream at one time, but it has the look of a man-made channelization at this point. By the time we got here, the middle-of-the-woods illusion was punctured by houses in the background, and a school off in the other direction.
West Branch Du Page RiverThe West Branch of the Du Page River flows quite a ways south — including through downtown Naperville — to meet the Du Page River in Bollingbrook, Ill. The Du Page joins the Des Plaines at a place called Moose Island in Channahon, Ill., but very near there the Kankakee River joins the Des Plaines and they all form the mighty Illinois River, a direct tributary of the Mississippi just north of St. Louis.

So you might say we took a stroll in a very small part of the Illinois River watershed, which includes all of the little cricks and rivulets around here.

All My Eye and Betty Martin, Thursday Edition

Sure enough, more snow yesterday. But not much more, and most of it melted today. The snowfall didn’t even mess up the roads very much. Or my driveway. If you don’t have to shovel it, you can’t say it really snowed.

Been reading more by the chattering classes than usual lately, maybe because they’re chattering a lot now. With some reason. There’s also a sizable share of hyperventilating Chicken Little-ism about the political rise the short-fingered vulgarian. He’s going to be the end of Republican party! Of movement conservatism! Of American democracy! Of truth, justice and the American way!

I have to be skeptical on all counts. Of course, I could be wrong, and I’ll be the first to admit it as soon as goons come to take me to one of the detention camps of the new order.

This is some hard candy Yuriko brought back from Japan last month. Or rather, these are images of the Gold Coin of the Meiji Era tin, front and back. We’ve almost finished the candy inside.

Gold Coin of the Meiji EraGold Coin of the Meiji EraThe candy, which is roundish and yellow, is pretty good, but I like the name best of all. The coin pictured on the tin isn’t some fanciful latter-day re-creation, but an image of an actual gold coin of the Meiji era, just like this one, dated 1870 (Meiji 3). Except that the one on the tin is a 20-yen piece, rather than two yen.

Quite a bit of money at the time, and a coin of great beauty, from the looks of the photo. I wouldn’t mind having one, but it isn’t something I want to spend big bucks for. I’ll settle for the Meiji-era copper two-sen coin that I do have, which only cost a few modern dollars.

One more thing along these lines: We cast pearls before swine. The Japanese give gold coins to cats: 猫に小判 (neko ni koban).

And one more coffee cup currently on our shelf.

Oh ShitLilly got that from a friend of hers for Christmas this year. Ha-ha. It reminds me that adults should not use that word. In fact, anyone older than about six or seven should steer clear of it. Certain words should be confined to little children, and that’s one of them. Yet I’ve seen poop used in more-or-less serious writing by people whom I assume are grown. Knock it off.

Coffee Makes Me Crap would be the slogan for short-fingered vulgarians, maybe. Funnier would be Decaf Makes Me Defecate. I don’t drink coffee anyway. Better for me would be Tea Makes Me Pee. True indeed.

“Ecce Hora”

Not far from “Awaking Muse” (see yesterday) on the grounds of the Prairie Center for the Arts and the Village of Schaumburg municipal center is a sculpture doubling as a sundial — or a sundial doubling as a sculpture — called “Ecce Hora.” After visiting the muse, I walked over to the structure.
"Ecce Hora"This vantage shows the south-facing side of the sculpture, which naturally catches more light than the north face, so it has a wide variety of hour lines. You’ll note that it shows the time as a little past 11 am, which was completely accurate. Toward the tip of the gnomon — it’s hard to see in this picture — it advises you to add an hour during most of the year to account for DST, but we’re still on standard time.

The sign near the work — actually there are two signs, duplicates of each other for some reason — says, “this adjustable sundial was designed and built by Chicago artist Christine Rojek. Ecce Hora (which means “Behold the Hour”) is constructed of painted aluminum and includes fanciful hand-painted figures which twist, dive and somersault. They perform as if to say, ‘If life is just a shadow, make a dance.’ ”

That’s what they’re saying? How about, “Time flies, so do we” ?

The north-face, which has the English name, is destined not to catch as much sunlight. It certainly was in the shadow this time of the year.

"Ecce Hora"But at other times of the year, it will be illuminated, so there are hour lines on that side as well, just not as many. All in all, it’s good to take a look at sundials every now and then.

“Awaking Muse”

Rumor has it that the ground will be covered with snow again tomorrow — which will devolve into slush a few days after that — so I spent a few minutes today out on the brown ground near the Prairie Center for the Arts and the Village of Schaumburg municipal center. The grounds are sizable, and include a large pond that’s usually home to a pair of swans.

“The village purchased Louis and Serena, called Mated Mute Swans, in 1994 in response to the growing Canada Goose population on the municipal center pond and grounds,” the Village of Schaumburg web site says. “Breeding age pairs of Mute Swan will not tolerate Canada Geese in their breeding (nesting) area, which can cover several acres of water.”

Not sure whether they migrate, but in any case, the swans weren’t around today. A sign near the pond warns would-be fishermen away when the swans are in residence. The other is probably the only public sign I’ve seen that uses the word cygnet.
Schaumburg Feb 23, 2016Near the pond is a sculpture — a set of sculptures arrayed together — called “Awaking Muse,” by Don Lawler and Meg White."Awaking Muse" Schaumburg"Awaking Muse" SchaumburgA nearby sign tells us that “this sculpture depicts a female figure stirring from her slumber beneath the earth. Carved from Indiana limestone, the sculpture excites imagination and brings inspiration to its viewers. The ‘Awaking Muse’ references the muses of Greek mythology. The Greek muses were goddess sisters who inspired mortals with great thoughts in the arts and sciences.”
"Awaking Muse" SchaumburgI don’t know that it excites my imagination, but I like it. It’s been there since 2006. Some years ago, we attended a few summertime outdoor concerts on the grounds near “Awaking Muse,” and the sculpture was alive with children playing on it. Including ours.

The only thing missing? A nearby Indiana limestone alarm clock. Even muses have a hard time waking up sometimes.

The Birds

Saturday was as un-February-like as a day can be without actually being springlike. Temps were up and the high winds that blew through the area the day before had calmed down. The last vestiges of snow had disappeared from the ground, though a few patches of dirty ice endured here and there, but none on sidewalks.

Walking the dog was a pleasure again that day, except when she spotted a lone squirrel off in someone’s yard. Fortunately, I’m usually able to spot squirrels before she does, using that keen eyesight that seems to be a primate’s only sensory advantage over a canine. So I can anticipate the sudden pull when she does see the squirrel or the rabbit or the other dog.

I even heard a woodpecker as I walked along. An early, early sign of spring. But it isn’t springtime. Cold February was back on Sunday and today, and probably for the rest of the calendar month.

This afternoon a swarm of birds were feasting on something in my front yard. What, I’m not sure. It’s a little early for visible insects. Grubs, maybe.

The BirdsI’m not even sure what kind of birds these are. Natural history isn’t a forte of mine. They aren’t robins. Or cardinals. Or dodos. All birds I’d recognize. Or even crows, who don’t seem any more popular now than ever, despite the We Want to Be Your Only Bird™ campaign that started in the early 2000s.

Arlo Guthrie ’86

Here’s one thing about Arlo Guthrie, at least as he was 30 years ago: his distinctive, sometimes squeaky voice was exactly the same in person as on his recordings, as you might hear on “Alice’s Restaurant.” Other than that, I don’t remember a lot about the concert, not even whether he sang-spoke that particular song. He probably did. It’s also likely he did “City of New Orleans” and some of his father’s songs.

Guthrie86He also went on a short tirade about the metric system after telling a possibly true story about encountering a Canadian who didn’t understand the line in “The Garden Song” that goes, “Inch by inch, row by row, I’m going to make this garden grow.” Remarkably, there’s an ’80s clip of him in Austin singing that song, and sure enough, he tells the story about the Canadian (a border guard). In the show I saw, I remember him proclaiming, “There’s no poetry to the metric system!”

I’ll go along with that, but he needn’t have worried too much; the customary system still abides in the U.S. some 30 years later. Americans aren’t sophisticated about some things, but we are sophisticated enough to use and understand two systems of measurement at the same time.

Bulldogs Grill, Wauconda

If I were writing professionally about Bulldogs Grill, a hamburgery in Wauconda, Ill., I might characterize it as a “diner for Millennials,” even though I’ve heard just as much as I need to about that vague generational grouping (if you chug beer each time you hear “Millennial” during a commercial real estate conference, you’ll get soused fast). Still, the point would be that Bulldogs takes an old form, the diner — with its short-order items and eclectic wall decor and chrome-trimmed stools and that deep-fry smell — and infuses it with elaborations on the basic formula.

Fortunately, the joint also retains the diner tradition of food at fairly modest prices. If it were in Brooklyn or San Francisco or Seattle or Cambridge, Mass., instead of northwest suburban Wauconda, in the heart of Lake County, that might not be the case.
Bulldogs Grill Feb 2016So the place serves not just burgers, but varieties of burgers mostly unknown to diners before the 21st century. Not just fries, but creative variations on the basic model. Not just a blue plate special, but the likes of handheld wraps formed by tortillas, naan or sourdough, and “street food” that includes baja fish tacos, “Chinese chicken quesadillas,” and pulled pork nachos.

None of that would be important if the food were bad. But it isn’t. Bulldogs Grill cooks up some wonderful food, including the best burger and fries that I’ve had in months, probably since Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger in Ann Arbor. The burgers have whimsical names to go along with their various ingredients, such as the Double D, Hangover, Slap Yo’ Mama, Scarlet Johansson, Zombie Apocalypse, Gettin’ Piggy With It, Bob Marley, Bedlam, Bluenoon Rising, and Area 51, among others (a full list and descriptions are here). I had the Slap Yo’ Mama, which featured bacon, grilled onions, cheddar cheese and apple barbecue sauce. That sounded like a winning combo to me, and it was.

We also ordered regular fries and a portion of Pig Fries for all to enjoy. The Pig Fries included pulled pork, cole slaw, bacon, barbecue sauce and ranch dressing, all mixed up with fresh-cut French fried potatoes. Wow. The food nags say this kind of thing is bad for you. Maybe so. I’ll just have to take my chances from time to time.

First Folio Exhibit, Lake County Discovery Museum

ShakesBirthI’ve done a little Shakespeare tourism in my time, such as visiting his birthplace in Stratford. When I scanned the ticket from that visit, I noted that I paid £1 for admission in 1983. The Bank of England has a handy UK inflation calculator that tells me that’s the equivalent of just over £3 now.

I checked the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust web site today and found that a “Birthplace Pass” now costs £16.50 for an adult. For that, you get into “Hall’s Croft, Harvard House, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s Grave,” so that’s not as outrageous as £16.50 for just the birthplace, but it still doesn’t quite sit right. Can you just buy a single ticket for the birthplace, or is the pass the minimum? Also, there are other, more expensive options that include other houses and a garden.

Shakespeare’s grave is at the Church of the Holy Trinity, and I don’t recall being charged admission. These days, the church asks for a £2 or £3 donation if you want to take a look at the playwright’s grave, and spare those stones and not move his bones. A good idea, since moving those bones wouldn’t just get you cursed, it would probably be a fairly serious criminal offense in the UK.

FirstFolioAll this comes to mind because last week we — all of us going the same place, an increasingly rare thing — went to the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Ill., to see a First Folio. It was my idea. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare being laid to rest in that church near the Avon, the Folger Shakespeare Library has sent out some of its First Folios in traveling displays. Each state has one display in one location over the course of 2016, and Illinois’ is this small museum in the far northwest suburbs.

Of all the times I’ve been to DC, I’ve never managed to make it to the Folger. There’s a good chance I’ve seen a First Folio somewhere — maybe at the British Library or the New York Public Library — but I don’t remember. So I wanted to see this one.

I’d been the Discovery Center a few times before, mainly to see excellent exhibits drawn from the museum’s Curt Teich Postcard Archives. That includes over 400,000 postcards of more than 10,000 towns and cities nationwide and elsewhere, plus a lot of other subjects.

The First Folio exhibit was straightforward: a room with tall signs offering various facts about Shakespeare, his plays, the Quartos and the 1623 and later Folios, along with the King’s Men actors who saw fit to have them published: John Heminges and Henry Condell. A smaller, adjoining room includes the First Folio itself, behind glass and opened to the page that includes Hamlet’s soliloquy.

First FolioIt’s a handsome volume, not much worn or yellow. This was no pulp publishing. It’s also one of the 233 copies that are known to exist, and one of the 82 that the Folger owns as the largest collector of them. Remarkably, Meisei University in Tokyo has the second-largest collection, numbering 12. How did that happen?

A cop lurked in the shadows at the exhibit; a wise precaution, no doubt. At a Sotheby’s auction in 2006, a copy fetched £2.5 million, and thieves have been known to target the book, though the fellow in that article sounded like a bumbler.

I thought it was worth the 45-minute drive to Wauconda. My family might not have been persuaded, except we also had an enjoyable dinner in that town first. More about that tomorrow.

At Least I Won a Coffee Cup

By mid-February, looking out at scenes like this is pretty tiresome. But there it is.
Feb 15, 2016Saturday was bitterly cold, even for February, which nixed any notion I had of going to Chinatown to watch the Chinese New Year’s parade. I’ve never been to one of those, so I toyed with the idea. But not when temps are single-digit Fahrenheit.

Sunday, snow. Monday, gloom. But at least we have the option of warm beverages in well-wrought ceramic cups, such as these.

cupsThe black one with the Sam Hurt illustration of a prehistoric creature and his cup — “Early Breakfast” — was a thoughtful Christmas present this year from my nephew Dees and his girlfriend Eden.

The blue one — “Take Time for Fun” — I picked up at a park district facility last week. It was a prize.

A week earlier, two days before the Super Bowl, we’d visited the same facility, and I noticed a contest in progress. Guess the final score of the Big Game and get three months added to your membership. Write your guess down on a slip of paper with your name and address, and put it in a big box (refreshingly low tech, that).

So I guessed Denver 24, Charlotte 17. I was vaguely aware that Charlotte was the favorite, but I still wanted Denver to win. Not because I cared anything about the game, but so I could complete a slide show like this the next week, after having predicted that Denver would win.

As for the numbers themselves, I pulled them out of the air, though I made them football-plausible. 24 = three touchdowns + extra points + one field goal, while 17 = two touchdowns + extra points + one field goal.

I proceeded not to watch the Super Bowl or any of its ridiculously expensive commercials. On Monday, a woman from the park district called to tell me I’d won a coffee cup. Everyone who guessed 24 as the score for Denver got one, it seems — eight or 10 people. Two people, she said, had gotten both scores right and won the membership extension.

One thing people say at this point is that “I’ve never won anything,” but it isn’t so for me. Among other things, in grade school I guessed the number of jelly beans in a jar and won the beans — I picked my house address as the number — and once I was a member of a trivia contest team at a corporate meeting, and won some movie tickets, though that was partly because of my knowledge of obscure facts, not just blind luck.