Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cooling lakes and hot spots

After the customary detour to Caribou Coffee in Homewood, where I picked up Bodum Pavina glasses, a boardroom mug, and a sweet little caribou, J. and I headed out to Goose Lake Prairie State Park.

Or so we thought.

I don't think I can call the drive "scenic." The area is mostly flat and bereft of interesting features, at least to my uninformed eye. We passed through the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor but didn't have a chance to look around and appreciate the history, which I suppose is based on industry and transportation.

We did see lots of industry. The area around Joliet and to the southwest reminded me of Buffalo and Lackawanna, New York, during the heyday of the steel mills and brought back my faint memories of northern New Jersey, which in turn evoked visions of a post-apocalyptic world.

I felt almost like I had come home to 1960s Buffalo when we crossed a huge steel bridge over the Des Plaines River, which at that point is flanked by steel and concrete. Further along the highway the Kankakee River, edged by trees, retains some of the its original natural beauty—that is, it looks like a river, not an industrial cesspool.

Interspersed along the way were small farms, houses, red barns, and rotting barns and outbuildings.

Off the expressway in Morris, we drove along fenced-off water set against a backdrop of power and industrial towers. We found an entrance to the lake shore on Jugtown Road, although the fields were closed to everyone except hunters shotgunning for deer. As we got out of the car, we heard guns popping off in the distance.

"I see," I said. "You brought me here knowing that it was closed for deer hunting, hoping a stray shot would get me."

J. laughed but didn't deny it.

Our first sight was of a live bait machine. The idea of keeping live animals, yes, even fish bait, in a machine disturbed me, so I distracted myself by looking at the names of the selections. "Fathead" was the clear winner.

We walked out onto one of the floating piers. I stayed well behind J., amused by the pier's side-to-side sway as he stepped heavily down it. Flat chunks of ice dotted the water's surface, which made the prospect of losing footing on the unsteady pier even less appealing. J. thought it best that we continue to leave space between us on the jaunt back to solid ground. After getting directions from the concessionaire (human food and fish bait), we returned to the car, where we took photos of the tall grasses bent away from the wind and of a camouflaged blind draped in hunter orange.

Later, I would learn that Heidecke Lake is the cooling lake for the Collins (fossil fuel) power plant. Dresden and Braidwood (nuclear) are also nearby, and J. remarked on the number of plants so close together and the availability of land.

I'm not sure that the Goose Lake Prairie Visitor Center was open because we didn't find an open road to get to it, although we eventually came to a spot that may have been the bank fishing point the concessionaire tried to steer us toward. It was confusing, and I'm not sure where we ended up, only that it was closed for the season and that a sign instructed visitors what to do if a warning siren went off for three to five minutes. Warning of what? Tornadoes? Or meltdown?

Before we got to that point, however, we'd driven past a small herd of cows and down a road with fenced fields and signs proclaiming that there's no trespassing allowed on this government property. At the end, we reached an open gate with clear indications that something to do with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers lay beyond (we’d seen signs but hadn’t thought much about them). I suggested that we not proceed, and J. said that now would be a good time to backtrack. I told J. that, between Dresden and this Army Corps of Engineers area, we'd probably been tracked by satellite and his license plate information captured as he'd driven slowly and stopped periodically to take photos of part of Dresden. We're probably in an FBI database now. And all we wanted to walk some nature trails. Honest.

On the return, we found a rocky trail down to the water's edge, a little too steep and unstable for me, constrained as I was by winter clothes. I couldn't quite trust myself to make it to the bottom gracefully without falling. J. found what he thought were black mushrooms, which he said were disgusting to touch. In the photos he took, they look almost like rusted metal caps. A friend tells me they're dried water lotus seed pods. They look alien. Or mutant . . .

We passed the cows again. I told J., "They started out as pigs . . ."

After some final tallgrass photos, we took off. On the highway in the distance I spotted a black silhouette broken up by bright squares of golden light. It looked like a 1940s stage set depicting a city skyline at night. J., who'd noticed it on the way, said it's an oil refinery and speculated that the proliferation of lights is meant to prevent any confusion on the part of pilots.

We stopped at a Mobil station because J., whose gas tank was nearly full, couldn't resist topping it off with premium, given that the price of regular was $1.829. While he took care of business, I took care of my own in the store's ladies' room, then explored a bit. The store was surprisingly large and was stocked with everything from convenience food and lures to winter jackets. I couldn't resist buying the only wolf t-shirt, which happened to be my size.

In Frankfort, Cactus Carol’s was closed, so we went to Chef Klaus’s Bier Stube for heavy German food. If you don’t have enough meat, organ meat, or fat in your diet, this is the place to dine. After I’d said earlier how much I wanted to become a vegetarian for humane reasons, I ordered chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese. I’m a woman of principle, if not of practice.

And so to the Flamingo for holiday chai, pumpkin cheesecake from Bonjour, and BBC America. In my mailbox was a pleasant surprise—a refund check from Northwestern Memorial Hospital for $195.43. I have no idea what it's for, but I'm not one to look gift cash in the mouth at such troubled times as these.

I also received Medieval Lives by Terry Jones, obtained with Borders Bucks.

Life is good.

For now.

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