Monday, September 25, 2006

All The Pretty Horses

I recently finished re-reading "All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy. It may appear hyperbolic but right this minute I would place McCarthy well within the pantheon of top 20th century American writers. At times the seeming long-windedness of his sentence structure is slightly Faulknerian, but make no mistake, Cormac is no Billy knock-off, but rather to analogize another giant, is more akin to the rough hewn, yet scultped prose of Hemingway. Lofty comparisons, yes, yet not undeserved.

McCarthy's ability to evoke the feel of landscape and dig into the belly of the American soul is uncanny. The book, the entire trilogy really, demand your full sensory engagement with the prose, as any great writing should. When I read this book for the first time years ago, I didn't get it. Older, maybe slightly wiser, certainly more patient and much more appreciative of subtlety, the flow of the narrative held much great meaning for me at 32 than it did at 20. Sharing McCarthy's glimpse into the southwest, his version of coming of age in an unkind era, is well worth the sweat and bloodletting that was required to fully appreciate the tapestry of this work.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Dave held a potluck last night for runner Paul Stoso, who is currently running across the US ( without any aid other than a jogging stroller he is pushing. It was interesting hearing a few of his stories; what an inspirational guy. Check out the website for more info and his journals of the run.

Our descent into autumn continues. Was in Springfield yesterday and managed to make it out to the Gardens and to Petersburg. Wildflowers abound. To continue the theme of last post, I found a nice cache of false sunflower and some scattered purple ironweed along the creek last night.

For anyone reading (anyone?) within shouting distance of Peoria, there is still time to sign up for the Farmdale Trail Runs. Check out Dave's remarkable website for info:

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Monarchs are Coming! The Monarchs are Coming!

They're here. Fall breeding season perhaps? While walking the ridgeline trails, just into the grasses, there were 100s of monarchs this morning. I seem to recall August being the time when I've seen the most in the past, maybe climatic conditions this season have made a difference.

What a year for wildflowers too. Wow. All that rain has given us more compass plants than I've ever seen. Any semi low area with some moisture is just crawling with these, most 3-4 feet tall. We had a patch of 20 pop up almost literally overnight down by the creek after a big rain.

Garlic mustard and Queen Anne's Lace, two invasive but somewhat pretty species, are everywhere. Encouragingly, I've also witness quite a bit of Blue and Heath Aster, Leadplant, and what I think is Blazing Star.

These plants give one last gasp and try and seed before the cold nights kill them off. The angle of the sun is changing daily, last night was 45 for a low, but oh these days, the wildflowers are fleetingly here to mark their passing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Missouri Uplands

The memories are there of visits to our 320 acre farm in north-central Missouri. A mule farm in the 20's and 30's it is now strictly cash crops and deer draws. In summer I loved driving through the thick, muggy air of a July morning, past the greening fields of exotic milo and through the tiny burgs on route 54, crawling through sleepy Pittsfield, sometimes stopping at the Red Hen Cafe for breakfast, but always stopping at the little crossroad village of Atlas Junction, getting a photo in front of the monument rock spelling out the white history of Pike county.

From there back on 54 across the Mississippi River and through Louisiana, Curryville, Vandalia, Farber, Laddonia, Mexico, and finally to the farm, seemingly a million miles from anything on the Audrain/Callaway county line north of Hatton, MO. I have a heartfelt affinity for the countryside bisected by 54. The golden hue of the wheat and soybeans in the later afternoon October sun give the flat land a slightly different feel from central IL. The beauty of the sparse Missouri uplands is there if you look for it.

A few years back Kim and I stopped in Louisiana on a sunny Saturday afternoon. There a was one of those rickety plastic signs in front a black Baptist church advertising a BBQ lunch. I, of course, made us stop; we were the only white folk in the low-ceilinged, chipped paint walled basement, dining on maybe the best pulled pork I've ever had and watching the old women dance. Come to think of it, I just might have to take a couple days off and wander back down to those parts before the harvest is over.

Soundtrack: The Court and Spark, "Bless You"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Central Illinois isn't exactly known for its wildlife. Ok, I see many deer, a few fox, lots of coyotes, coons, and possum. But armadillo? The folks out west can appreciate this creature, but this is corn country, after all. And yet there is hope. I humbly submit this column from the Journal-Star:

"Move over, Asian carp: Peoria, beware the march of the armadillo.
That sounds more ominous than reality. Armadillos could arrive here permanently within a decade, but they're less a danger than a nuisance.
And, like the Asian carp, there's no stopping them. The armadillo's insurgence into Illinois is part of long-range movement that started long ago near the bottom of the globe.
"They've been moving north naturally," says Lynn Robbins, a biology professor and armadillo expert at Missouri State University.
An armadillo is the size of a large house cat, weighing up to 17 pounds. The mammals have sharp claws, long snouts and hard-shelled backs of bone.
Long native to South America, armadillos eventually pushed through central America and Mexico before stopping just north of the Rio Grande by the early 19th century. One reason for the lull might have been the abundance of natural prey in Texas, such as cougars, that scared off armadillos - the smart ones, at least.
Also, American Indians used armadillos for food and their shells. But by the mid-1800s, white settlers had pushed most Indians out of Texas, thus allowing armadillos to progress northward again, Robbins says.
Ever since, the critters have crept north and east. They've long had a foothold in Gulf Coast states, but they've even pushed into Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
Southern Illinois has hosted the creatures for several years. They've maneuvered as far north as Pike County, near Quincy.
Their survival in cold-winter states is remarkable. Armadillos don't hibernate, so in harsh weather they seek warmth and food (grubs and insects) under dense leaf cover in wooded areas, Robbins says.
Within a decade, armadillos could be in central Illinois, Robbins says. They might even be able to spread as far north as New York City. Over time, natural selection might favor hardier armadillos that can better withstand cold-winter states.
Don't worry about armadillo attacks: Even with their claws, they prefer to flee rather than fight. But as they forage for insects, they tunnel and terrorize lawns.
"They dig like mad," Robbins says.
It's hard to keep them away. Some folks try to ward them off with moth balls, while others sink wire fences a foot into the ground.
You can try to catch them, but they're quick, as Robbins and his students have learned.
"They're good open-field runners," Robbins says.
On the rare times Robbins has been able to snatch up an armadillo, he's never been hurt.
"If you pick them up, they'll poop on you," Robbins says.
That's a lackluster defense mechanism. So is their habit of leaping three feet straight up when scared. That tactic works well to startle predators, but it turns them into roadkill when spooked by approaching cars.
"It's hard to survive when they hit the bottom of an undercarriage," Robbins says.
And though armadillos are a food source in South America, that idea hasn't seemed to have caught on in the States.
"I've had some students (cook armadillos) for something different to do, but they report it's not very good," Robbins says. "(Armadillos) haven't developed a cult following, like possum belly."
Possum belly?

Monday, September 04, 2006


Well, I've signed up for the McNaughton 50 miler in April. The earlybird fee saved me 25 bucks, so what the heck. I don't have any races planned between now and then, so I'll take it easy for a bit in the hopes of tamping back this current minor flare up of P.F., then ramp up again for the 50.

Fall is the absolute best time of year to be out running around here, so I'll door shorter stuff and enjoy the season, with some long ones mixed in. Went out to Farmdale this morning and did 2:15. We had a nice spell of rain last night about 3 a.m. and much of the low ground was mucky, and the hills on Schroll's were fairly mud slicked--so much so that I had to bushwhack around a few just to make it up. Saw a bunch of huge puffball mushrooms (

Nice to be out, although the right foot was a bit painful at times. Cooler temps this week, 70s during the day with cool nights.

Soundtrack: Iron and Wine with Calexico, "In the Reins"