The last time

On my penultimate day at work I was asked about the best bike route to work from my side of town – University Avenue vs Lakeshore Path – I said Lakeshore Path, hands down.

As I walked out my back door on my ultimate day, I was greeted by the lightening sky.

Pre-sunrise over the neighbor’s garage

As the sun rose over the lake, a Great Blue Heron, backlit, was wading in the shallows. As the sun disappeared behind the clouds, a pair of Sandhill Cranes grazed in the marsh. By 5:30 AM the sky was completely overcast. If you were still in bed, you missed it. If you slept in much later, it was a rainy day. If you were riding on University Avenue you missed sunrise over the water, heron, and cranes.

I’ve said before that retirement, like voting, should be done early and often. Having just retired (for the last time?) from the longest I’ve ever been at a job, I can say this is different. As one of my blog friends said after Saturday’s post:

This picture has nothing to do with the video

I aim to find it.

The coots are back

(Sat) I saw a flock of about 100 on the water on the way home from work. I watched a car stop to let two Sandhill Cranes stroll across the street. Despite that fact that it is 34 degrees (1 C) and sleeting (after snowing all morning), I think that means spring is on the way. The loons should be here soon.

The big lake is the only one with ice left. It is shrouded in fog, which means that, when the fog clears, we should see liquid from shore to shore. Right now I can see only to that flock of coots, with the occasional mallard interloper.

(Mon) As I rode across the tracks (living on the “wrong side of the tracks” I was crossing over) I saw a rabbit dash across the road in front of me, in much more of a hurry than I usually see. I followed it (with my eyes) into the park to my right, then looked back left. A fox was loping along in its path, either having given up, or hoping to lull the rabbit into inattention. Ten blocks from the center of town, at 3:30 PM, a fox was acting like this was no big deal.

Urban wildlife here usually means birds; raccoons and opossums at night; foxes furtively making their way along the lakeshore at dawn – but not in broad daylight in the middle of town.

(Sun) I have ruined the last 9 liters of maple sap (what would have been about 225 ml of syrup) by taking my eye off it at the crucial endpoint. A foaming black mass on the stove said “Oops – have fun cleaning that pan.”

(Tues) I heard, then saw, a loon flying overhead on the ride in to work. The lake is now fully liquid. Crews were busy yesterday. The piers and hoists for the university crew coaches’ boats are in the water. The floating docks for the crew’s shells are in the water and this morning, as daylight broke, the water was filled with every 4 and 8 (person boat) the university owns. The rafts of coots were on the move, as they like the same area near shore the crew likes to row on.

I think I saw crocus shoots poking out through the ground. (9)

Cranes

The State of Wisconsin is contemplating opening a Sandhill Crane season. Cranes are said to be tasty – they have been dubbed the “ribeye of the sky” and “quite the prize for the savvy hunter”. Since I have been within 5 feet of them, I don’t think it takes a lot of savvy.

Sandhill Cranes outside a hospital in Madison WI

I live near the International Crane Foundation, where they have been working for years to bring the Whooping Crane back from the brink of extinction. The work has included humans in crane costumes raising chicks to avoid imprinting on humans, and acting like cranes to teach them crane behaviors. Ultralight aircraft have led new flocks to teach them their ancestral migratory route.

Image from US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Whooping Crane population has dipped as low as 16 birds and was up to 826 in February, 2020, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. While Sandhill Cranes are not currently endangered, will hunting them endanger the rare Whooper?

Whooping Crane image from International Crane Foundation

In the news today, hunters in Oklahoma killed four Whooping Cranes. Speculation is that they misidentified them as Sandhill Cranes, for which Oklahoma has a season. We don’t really know how many have been shot. We just know that these four were shot, abandoned, and found by Game Wardens. At least a dozen have been killed in Louisiana, according to the Times-Picayune. The International Crane Foundation identified 15 shootings from 2010-2014.

Are poachers shooting Whooping Cranes deliberately? Are they shooting them by mistake, thinking they are Sandhills while hunting legitimately? Do they think they are poaching Sandhills and getting Whoopers accidentally? If legal hunting of Sandhills further endangers the nearly-extinct Whooping Crane, is it worth it? I just want to see and hear Sandhills on bike rides in the country. I hope to live long enough to see a Whooping Crane in the wild. If you really want a ribeye, I’ll buy it for you.

Ain’t that peculiar?

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I’ve ridden past this corner many times. Tonight I finally stopped for a picture.

I startled a pair of deer on a recent ride. Rather than run uphill away from me, they ran along the shoulder of the road for about 100 feet, then dashed across my path and headed down to the wooded creek bank. Trying to think like a deer, I imagined that they figured that if they were going to be pinned down somewhere, they wanted water and shelter. Either that or they’re just stupid, running across the highway in my path, instead of away from it.

I came around a bend quickly and encountered a pair of sandhill cranes. I braked and swerved to give them space. One paid me no mind. The other, with a few graceful wing beats, rose a few feet off the ground and soared 20 feet down the road, coming to rest in the road again. I was enthralled by how such a big bird could get airborne so quickly and gracefully, and come to rest so smoothly. Apparently it had realized I wasn’t a threat. Its partner was still strolling. Thinking anthropomorphically, I imagined the flyer was trying to be cool and pretend it hadn’t been startled. “I just decided to fly a few feet. It’s cool…”

Another red tailed hawk flew over head. I managed to keep both wheels on the road this time as I watched it soar by 15 feet off the ground. It helped that it crossed just ahead of me, rather than directly over head.

In my continuing Wednesday Night‘s Greatest Hits tour, last week I rode from Lodi to the Baraboo Bluffs, crossing on the Merrimac Ferry and climbing Devil’s Delight Road – short but steep enough to require switchbacks anyway. If any of you remember biorhythms (a popular schema in the ’70s), the theory posits that we have three rhythms that follow sine waves at different periods. If all three line up at the top of the wave, you have a great day. If they all line up at the bottom of the wave, it will be a bad day. Last Wednesday was one of those days. I had no energy. Every climb was a chore. Even going down was hard. There seemed to be headwinds in all directions. After climbing Devil’s Delight, I turned around and headed back down, short of the ridge and cutting at least ten miles off the loop I had planned. At least I got two ferry crossings in.

Luckily I saved the ride that is usually that week and did it tonight. The ride starts at Black Earth; if you see the ground being turned in the spring the reason for the name becomes obvious. The Black Earth Creek watershed contains incredibly rich, black soil – even after 150 years of farming. The route crosses the ridges multiple times, with five steep climbs. The person who wrote the cue sheet for this ride illustrated the climbs with evil grinning jack o’lantern demon faces. I felt much better tonight and the five climbs were great fun, as was the 5 miles along Blue Ridge Road, staying on the ridge until the 40 mph downhill. One of the ridges is occupied by the Camp That Must Not Be Named, where my daughter spent many summers and some winter weeks – and I was a counselor-in-training there 51 years ago. The route includes the “easy” side of Sutcliffe Road, meaning that the downhill side is the one where I have hit 50 mph on my steel bike. Tonight as I approached 50 mph I felt a little oscillation in the frame. Rather than just squeeze the top tube with my knees, I feathered the brakes. Either this bike feels less stable at that speed, or I’m just getting old.

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One couldn’t ask for a better late July day for a ride…85 degrees (30 Celsius), dew point 59 (15 degrees Celsius), winds less than 5 mph, just enough clouds to give the place atmosphere, and the smell of corn ripening in the fields.

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My post-ride beer was a timely one. I’d seen it in stores but hadn’t tried it. Since I forgot my church key tonight I needed something in cans, and voila!

While my guitar gently weeps

The song could have been written (but wasn’t) while listening to Peter Green. One more round from his guitar gently weeping. First is this BB King song, with an opening that sounds like Mose Allison could have written it – “I’ve got a mind to give up living/And go shopping instead”:

There is also a great 1968 live recording of BB himself available on YouTube; BB being the other great guitarist who knows it’s not the number of notes you play, but the soul you put into those notes. That recording also contains a great organ part and a horn funeral dirge. I’ve been listening to Peter Green all week. Slow blues may not be your cup of tea, but he and his guitar continue to weep with his own song:

It almost hurts to listen to Peter Green. He doesn’t play notes, he draws beauty and suffering from the instrument. His voice aches. But when the song is over, I feel at peace.