Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tuesday Morning's Run

Darkness reigns. At least he is still king at 7:00 a.m. around these parts. The horizon is waking from slumber, coated in just the slightest bit of silver sheen, borders between frost and freeze define ambiguity. Not enough to show breath on air.

Six miles out there to be had this morning.

Mile One on pavement, the Jap maple in front of my house has finally turned rustic red, cock crows late on the path down the steep hill next to the organic farm.

MileTwo and the creek is low, pooled up in still pockets of water, alluvial sediment where she usually runs steadily toward the Mackinaw. Pods from honey locusts litter the trail.

Mile Three in the woods and out. Sugar maples explode everywhere, sunsplashed yellows almost strobe-like in their intesity. Man with dog. Restored grassland, bluestem up four feet housing shy deer. Out onto the road, I take the hill with relative ease today. Breathing just slightly elevated.

Mile Four through the subdivision. My favorite part is looking out over the bean field toward our farm, only two miles by crow flight to the south, but not visible because, even on the prairies the land undulates where glacial waters once ran.

Mile Five back into the woods, stumble slightly on a covered root, hedge apples scattered.

Mile Six across the floodplain. Surely there used to be trees here, now just trusty ol' Kentucky bluegrass.

This plain floods easily most years in the spring rains. I like when that happens. On high years the water hugs the ridgeline, threatening incursion, but never quite making good on its saber rattles. Today all is dry.

I turn off my watch at the corner post, two hounds behind the fence to bark my finish line signal.

Friday, October 26, 2007

This Morning's Run

Seven blazing fast trail miles today at forest park, along the bluffs of the
Illinois River. So blazing fast that i caught Meltzer with a mile to go and
nipped Jurek at the line. Started the run with a slight headache, probably
courtesy of last night's boxing match with my seven y.o. he's got this
perplexing Harry Greb-like windmill style that i haven't figured out yet.

Cool stuff I saw:

-lots of purty yellow maples, most of which probably need to be cut down, or
that's all we'll have in a few years.
-nice, new foot bridge, courtesy of some enterprising eagle scout.
-awesome big red rock that's probably been in the same spot for the last
125,000 years, but hell if i've ever noticed it before today.
-yuppie lady gabbing on her hell phone in the middle of the trail.
-two grey squirrels, fairly rare in these parts.
-the astonished look on meltzer and jurek's faces as i flew by them into the
parking lot and back to reality.

Oh, and the headache was gone by then.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A World Without Us

It has long been a fantasy of mine to hop back in time, say 200 years or so, to take a long look around at the place I live before permanent settlement arrived. Or maybe time warp back 15,000 years to a time when mile thick ice sheets had their violent way with the land. The mind, it wanders even further, to ice ages previous, to pine forests, back to precambrian swamps even, so foreign that we can scarcely conceive of their reality.

To get to flashback even a mere blip in time to 1800 would be a stark shock to a system used to row crops and small slivers of woodlands around our waterways. European ancestors, founding fathers immortalized in our county histories, had yet to bring large scale ag to the prairies.

"Native" Americans, long since crossed over the Bering land bridge had lived in the area for centuries, undoubtedly altering the land, but their exploits cannot equal what came with the plow.

There were no Indian dwellings along Walnut Creek when Joseph Dillon showed up in 1823 and broke up the thick sod two miles south of where the county courthouse still stands.

And we know what the land was like when he arrived.

Uplands were tallgrass prairie of a number of sturdy grasses and forbs. Lowlands in areas sculpted by thousands of years of water runoff through the till had at this particular point in the heating/cooling cycle been home to oak/hickory forest that fanned out miles over bisected ridges: snaking stands of various oaks, hickories, cherry, elm, willow, plum, mulberry, and others intermingled with the bluestem and switchgrass in irregular patterns of sweeping jigsaw fashion.

Creatures were here then. The deer, yes, buffalo, wolves, badgers, panthers, wild hen, turkey, avian species too numerous to list, all roaming through a maze of grassland and forest.

This seemingly idyllic picture changed, as it has at all points along the chain of human history, with the settlement of humans. We move in and rearrange the furniture to suit our needs. This story of Walnut Creek is indeed the story of everywhere humanity has stumbled upon since leaving the wild plains of Africa and populating most reaches of our planet.

Six billion of us here now. Things altered, certainly. But what of the alteration? Are we so arrogant as think ourselves the alpha and omega of creation, of life in all its forms? Questions perhaps we all entertain.

For me personally, my fantasy of seeing the past, what exactly these acres were like, how they looked, smelled, what life flowed out of and around them at points in time, is grounded in a deep sense of longing--of connection to this earth. A connection that is very human. This fantasy is, I think, a common one, an indulgence perhaps allowed of us as the top of the food chain.

A fantasy of the past may also be a fantasy of the future. Consider for a moment that all of us simply vanish tomorrow. Human life erased in an instant for whatever reason. What happens to the rest of life on Earth, to our creations, our marks upon the land, our civilizations? What might happen to other species, our cities, our countryside, all of our vain technologies?

In college I had a bumper sticker on the old Nova that stated, "visualize industrial collapse," not so much to be a contrarian or radical as to hypothesize what was to me a fundamental question. Is this planet so inextricably linked to humanity in its present form that we have forever altered the picture of life on her surface? These are the questions that Alan Weisman tackles in his book, The World Without Us.

In order to conjecture what will actually happen when we are finally gone, Weisman takes us journeying to some fascinating places: the forests of colonial (and modern day) New England, the DMZ between North and South Korea, the Panama Canal, Cyprus, all of them offering intriguing clues as to what the future may look like.

Not entirely a cautionary tale, Weisman doesn't condemn human endeavor as the fatal blow to the ecosystem that many enviros do, but rather views us through the lens of being part of the mega-cycle of life on the planet. He does so from the perspective of geologic time, the imperceptible scale that all ultimately must conform to.

Rather than the notion of humans standing apart from and impacting "nature," fanning out from Africa to pillage, plunder and destroy, we are collectively just organisms living within a system, and yet while the vast powers of time will erase our efforts, much of what our species has wrought (see: plastic polymers, enriched uranium, and the underground cities of Derinkuyu, Turkey) are simply elements of the cycle, ultimately broken down, altered into another form, or obfuscated altogether.

Still, in the short term, while humanity is yet the king of speciation, issues are here to be dealt with. Sustainability, ways that don't worsen our plight, possible answers to the path of our existence are discussed, but maybe not in ways you would predict. Weisman is a visionary with the refreshing perspective of the cool observer, taking solace in the notion of constant change as the catalyst for all.

But beyond the answers, the governmental policies, the despair of rusting modernity: When we go--and we will go--what happens?

Oak, hickory, grasses may yet return to subsume what has been built on my Walnut Creek ridges atop till of glaciers long melted, more ice may yet come and raze them, reworking, molding landform into something new, perhaps something beyond even my fantasies, beyond our science or even our collective imagination. Maybe the mega-mammals roam again, having found new life where ours has waned.

The cycle continuing, awaiting the sun's expansion to a red giant some five billion years hence, absorbing whatever has become of the world without us.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Morning Run/Farmdale

Frickin' work conference in Springfield last Friday. I did manage to get a nice seven mile run in on Friday morning on the Springfield Interurban Trail. When we lived here a decade ago I wasn't a runner, although I did bike all over the area. At the time the "trail" was an old railbed gone to seed.

I used to ride out to Chatham then over to the rt. 72 bridge to check out this old round barn just south of Panther Creek. You don't see too many round barns around that area, most are up north. I have no idea if it's still there, but I'd like to think so.

That old railbed is now the Interurban Trail. I started at Woodside Rd., the edge of suburban development hell these days, and headed south on what is now a nicely paved bike trail. At the western edge of Lake Springfield, what used to be Lick Creek before it was damned (and dammed) to make the lake, are some entrances to single track on the both sides of the lake finger. I ran all the way into town, diverting off on the south section of trail, an area I'd never checked out. The trail went a couple miles back into the timber and didn't look all that used.

Interestingly, that old railbed used to be an interurban. Interurbans were constructed at the turn of the 20th century to offer rail service into the city. Go here:


for more. So, it was a nice, chilly 7 miler on a historic route.

Saturday was working the Devil's Cliff aid station at the Farmdale Trail Runs www.farmdaletrailrun.com, tremendous fun, and only a little work.

We took off Sunday morning for Missouri to unwind. Drove down 54, then south from Bowling Green, stopping at the Stone Hill Winery in New Florence, MO. Last night we walked the Katy Trail, really a very nice footpath through Columbia, MO., then dined at the Pasta House. Went out to our farm near Hatton, MO. (see Oct. 06 blog for more), then home on rt. 24 along the river road. I was hoping for fall color, but with not much cold weather yet, there isn't much in the way of reds, oranges, and yellows. Still a great few days.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Green River Swamp

Slough grass, cattail, indian rice wave in the afternoon air. Geese literally brown out the sky as pheasant, grouse, sand hill cranes, and wild turkey lurk in the murky swamp waters. It is said that in the 1850's local hunters could bag as many as 100 geese in a day's time.

By the 1880's there were vast swamps still untouched in northern Illinois in what is now Lee, Henry and Bureau counties. Most of the prairie land had long been settled and was in row agriculture by the 1850's. Yet, in the Green River Swamp of Henry County bandits took cover in the tall grass, there are tales told of these cattle rustlers and bandits finding solace in milieu of surrounding wood and wet grasslands.

The mid 1880's saw drainage district formed to dry out the swamps and open up the land for crops and grazing. It would take over 10 years to accomplish this.

In the 1930's my grandfather bought a farm in precisely the spot where the Green River Swamp once was. The Green River has since been channeled arrow straight, large ditches crisscross the landscape, yet the land is still interesting.

Timber comprised largely of cottonwood, walnut, and maple, some bur and black oak, numerous mulberry and hackberry grows on sand hills where glaciers stacked up their till in large, sweeping dunes, in the lowlands the soil is loamy, doesn't drain well, and sinkhole-like water holes pop up with rain.

On our particular farm a former homestead stood next to a fruit orchard of apple and pear. The fruit trees still exist next to towering cottonwoods and walnuts that age out at well over a century. While the land may be somewhat marginal in terms of prime Illinois farm ground, it is still a sparsely populated and somewhat enchanting place.

While most is now gone to fields, some wild areas do exist. Check out the Green River Conservation Area near Ohio, IL. for a glimpse at what the wetlands once were, and what we have lost.

1. Example of large walnut trees
2. Windmill water pump on site of old farmstead
3. Open area on dunes, area of uplift is 30-40 feet above the floodplain.

Soundtrack: 16 Horsepower, "Folklore"