Monday, January 3, 2011

Bringing in the new year

For New Year’s Eve, J. and I took a quick spin around Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I appreciated that Soldier Field is depicted in its original glory minus the glass bowl addition and the segregation of the hoi polloi from the affluent. While looking over the exhibit, I realized again that I’ve never visited the Newberry Library—a lack to be filled.

The plan was for a vegan dinner at Jacky’s on Prairie, per the emailed invitation, but I didn’t realize that there would be a carnivore version, too. I thought the fishy stuff in J.’s bouillabaisse looked, well, too fishy. Neither of us is a vegan, and the food was good, so we savored each meaty/creamy course with confusion but without complaint. I did, anyway.

On Saturday, we had fun shopping at Petsmart and Whole Foods—at least I did. While I’m not in the market for a cat (I have one, thank you, a biter), I like checking out Petsmart’s adoption area. On this day there were two black and white cats, a male and female. If I had been looking, the female might have gone home with me. Alas, there were no dog classes in session, but a cat was scratching in the window of the hotel and several leashed dogs were getting a tour of the store. I made friends (I think) with a conure, who let no comment of mine go unanswered. I wonder if the store encourages people to buy birds like conures in pairs. If they’re bonded and get along well, is it heart-wrenching to the birds if one leaves for a new home without the other(s)?

On Sunday, I met J. in Homewood for a trip to the Starved Rock area. First stop: the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, where we learned the bald eagles had spread out along the river as they didn’t need to cluster near the dam’s open water. Throughout the day, one or two remained perched in the trees on Plum Island, and one flew directly overhead at one point. I spotted several in flight, always in the opposite direction from that in which J.’s camera was pointed.

Late in the afternoon, we crossed to the Starved Rock side. On the way, an eagle flew in front of us, an unidentified object dangling from its talons. Fish entrails?

It was too close to sunset to ascend to Starved Rock, so we observed the eagles from the area near the Visitor Center. A couple came by, and the man showed us a spectacular close-up he’d taken with what looked like a 50mm lens. He said he’d “snuck up” on the bird. Somewhere a bald eagle with acute senses of sight and hearing is chortling at the human who thinks he “snuck up” on it.

I had spent some time looking at the graphics inside the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center and realized why the dam looks different—the Tainter gates seem to be in a different position. Driving down Dee Bennett Road, we’d noticed that the river had risen to embrace the lower tree trunks. I can only imagine the water flow in the canyons, although those east of Wildcat were closed for hunting.

This time, no barges came through. Later, on the return trip after dinner, we saw a bright light down the river. I began to think of all the hard and dangerous but interesting jobs I might have tried if I had known about them and had not craved security. I can only imagine the tales a tugboat operator on the Illinois and greater Mississippi waterways might pick up and embellish along the way, stories more compelling and exciting than any day-to-day corporate office drama, the concept of which now seems like a 1980s relic.

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