Saturday, July 17, 2010

The dog days of summer, 2010 edition

While there were no barbecues in the works for the weekend, J and I did picnic at Ravinia during our annual homage to Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. The primary guest was John Prine; you could tell that Garrison is in awe of him. It was one of the best APHC shows I’ve heard at Ravinia.

Despite the predicted heat and humidity, the next morning, July 4, we set out for Starved Rock. On this trip we even managed to get to the Nodding Onion while it was open for brunch (we had eggs Benedict). We made a brief stop at the visitors center so I could pick up the Chicago edition of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles and to get advice from one of the volunteers. I knew I wanted to see Wildcat Canyon, and the man we spoke to recommended St. Louis Canyon as well. He hinted that the waterfalls would not much to look at because a week had passed since the heavy rains. I noticed a number clipped to his name badge and asked if it represents his hours of volunteer service. It does, since the center opened several years ago. If only Lincoln Park Zoo’s management had shown as much pride in its volunteers.

If you can ascend and descend stairs (lots of them), you can get to Wildcat Canyon. At the bottom of the last set of stairs, there’s a bit of a muddy area to cross, which for a change I walked over confidently while J hesitated and crossed tentatively. It didn’t help that, with the heat and humidity, we were soaked with sweat. I hate being soaked with sweat.

Ever looking for a better angle, J took off his shoes and socks and waded into the pool under the waterfall. He didn’t take a shower like the screaming children (and a handful of adults) already there, but he did get as close as he could to the falling water without getting his camera wet.

At 70 feet high, the waterfall at Wildcat Canyon is the tallest in Starved Rock State Park and is well worth all the steps and sweat. In hindsight, I should have stepped into the pool myself, but I remember wondering if it would be possible to dry off in the damp air.

The rain-forest weather didn’t seem to have deterred many. While most visitors were picnicking in the flat park area near the visitors center, we encountered a goodly number of people on the trail and stairs. On the return trip from Wildcat Canyon, not far from the center, we ran into what in the woods constitutes a throng—20 to 30 people. looking at a spot to our right. Two spotted fawns were on the incline, possibly wondering what they’d gotten themselves into. A few people tried to lure them closer to the trail with hand gestures hinting of food (false promises), but fortunately the fawns’ instincts kept them from getting too comfortable around the humans; they seemed curious but skittish. Meanwhile, you would have thought there were no suburban deer problem, judging from the interest the group showed in these two. Youngsters of most species are invariably appealing, I suppose.

I left J and his camera behind in my haste to return to the climate-controlled building. The outdoors had become too much like a sauna. Little did I know that this weather would last at least another six weeks.

J. appeared, and we took a break at the center, which included refilling our water bottles at the fountains, which might not have occurred to me in my overheated condition if I hadn’t seen some boys doing it.

Next up: St. Louis Canyon. This is a pretty easy walk with some steps. By now, the skies had clouded (with no lessening of heat or humidity), which, we soon found, had brought out hordes of hungry mosquitoes. This time I had remembered the spray, which I used liberally.

At the canyon, someone had thoughtfully placed a board across the mud and water to make it easier to cross. A family was playing in the water, including a girl. They left, and another family appeared, this one with a small boy who wanted to wade into the water and under the waterfall. He started in, but his nervous mother wouldn’t let him go more than a few feet because she seemed unsure of the depth. I told her about the older girl who’d been in it before and had to describe her height and how the water had come on her. Soon she caved, telling me that he had been misbehaving all day anyway. He stood under the waterfall and screamed. And screamed. And screamed. Then he stubbed his toes on some rock underwater, but, like most children, he returned to having fun after a brief cry. I felt pleased that I’d played a small role in his delight.

The time of our dinner reservations drew nears, so we went to the lodge. We were soaked, ripe, and unpresentable, so we bought T shirts at the gift shop and changed in the restrooms. At least that solved the upper half of the problem. The menu had changed, but the menu was just as comforting as usual.

I’d taken July 5 off, so we went shopping for me—to Best Buy for a television and a DVD/VCR combination and to the Apple Store for a backup hard drive. Although running out of time to meet an obligation, J. set up the TV and stand for me. Thus have I caught up to 2003 or so. I don’t recommend such stressful activity (shopping) for a day off, but it has had its rewards. After some tortuous dealings with Comcast, I now have high-definition stations like Science and PBS. And I’ve rediscovered Life on Earth, an abbreviated version of the series I have on VHS. VHS!

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