Friday, March 30, 2007

A Smart Car?

Today I saw my very first Stateside Smart Car Fortwo, here in my home neighborhood of Hyde Park, Chicago. What a cute little toy. I would not get on that notoriously cut-throat-truck-choked-strip-of-road-rage Dan Ryan Expressway in it for the world. It is nonetheless an interesting sign, perhaps (but not likely) a portend of things to come. In spite of the tough urban parking situation and a reasonably environmentally conscientious neighborhood culture, SUVs are more the rule than the exception (though happily it's been a while since I saw a Hummer cruise through here). I was on a city bus - efficient, if polluting, transportation - so I could see down into the cabin. It's very tiny, and I doubt there's room for a bag of groceries in the back if the front is occupied by a driver and passenger. It's unlikely that it would be a usable only-car, especially given that for the $15,000 price there are many other more capacious, adequately powered, and practical options on the market. However, for those zipping around close to home on flat terrain with no need to schlep stuff, wouldn't it make a great second car?

Thanks to for the image.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What crows do

There's a flat roof immediately below my office window covered with roundish pale-colored rocks that average maybe 1½ or 2 inches in diameter. Here in Chicago we have a plethora of crows. I just watched one alight on the roof and meticulously stuff something it brought in its beak between the rocks, and oh-so-purposefully heap, one by one, three or four more heavy little rocks on top, making a mini-cairn. In the jumble, from the angle of my desk chair, I can’t now distinguish the cairn from the rest of the rocks. It makes me wonder if the crow made the cairn to identify the cache later, or if the little pile was only incidental to its effort to preserve its treasure by the burial method. If the latter is the case, what marker will it use to relocate what it buried?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

For merinz

For you, merinz, in thanks for sharing Rotorua with me. This is Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park. There are a couple of people on the boardwalk for scale!

Photo by KLK because I couldn’t scramble in those bald hikers

Monday, March 19, 2007

Random musical firings

Best Queen of the Night (ever): Sumi Jo
Best Crooner (ever): Nat King Cole
Best Down-n-Dirty Disguised as Youthfully and Eternally Perky: Lily Allen
Who knew?

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Change of season: clearly spring is coming very soon to Chicago and environs. I'm by no means ready to let winter go. 2006-2007 was another unsatisfyingly warm and snow-sparse winter in the American midwest. Without a very cold winter, with prolonged freezing and good snow cover, the rest of the year risks drifting out of kilter. Birds migrate inappropriately soon and late; trees and other plants bud at risk of frost-bite; fruits ripen when they shouldn't,, and the animals that depend on them fatten up too early and never experience the stress needed to metabolize that fat as designed. While short winters translate to lower consumption of heating fuels, we spend the energy on cooling instead. Is it global or cyclical, permanent or transitory? I don't know, so I'll just go take my recycling down to the bins now.

Photo taken at the Chicago Botanic Gardens in mid-summer 2004.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Home Depot at the cutting edge

Yesterday I went to the new Home Depot on Roosevelt Road and noticed, as I got out of my car and walked to the entrance, that right in front of the in-door, where the handicapped parking usually is, were four unoccupied slots painted reserved for alternative fuel vehicles. But that was early in the morning, and I expect they soon would be filled as the shopping heated up. These stunning statements were painted on the concrete, and already - note this particular establishment has been open only for a month or so - are begining to wear off. Unlike spaces set aside for the halt-of-foot, these had no upright signposts to warn off the oblivious. Well, Home Depot, are you sincerely behind this or not?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Happy birthday, Mother

It has been 95 years since Eleanor Lawton-Sebeok was born, and a little over two years since she died, on January 24, 2005. The world is a smaller place without her.

(Photo is by an anonymous employee of Discovery Cove.)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Birds and the City

For the first time in many months I spotted a peregrine falcon on the campus of the University of Chicago yesterday. For five or six years a pair successfully fledged chicks on the ledge of steeple that backed against the base of the spire on the First Unitarian Church of Chicago at 57th Street and Woodlawn. The pair, known as Magnolia and Orion, was one of several captive-bred by Chicago Peregrine Release and Restoration (now under the rubric of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.) That location was fortuitous because it was possible, if not exactly easy, to belay out the steeple window to nab the chicks to winch inside long enough to draw a sample of DNA and to sex (easy with peregrines) and band them. When the church dismantled its unsalvageable steeple several seasons ago, the birds experimented with other locations on the University of Chicago campus, favoring especially the rain gutters on Kelly-Green and Cobb Halls. Peregrines are known for their beauty and brawn, but not for their brains. Each time the hen produced a promising clutch of beautiful rusty-brown eggs, the eggs would die in the next gully-washer. Last year it was discovered (based on the bands on the bird's legs) that Magnolia’s mate was not Orion, but one of their sons Eddie; their attempts at reproducing nonetheless continued to fail.

With no chicks to tie them to the campus, both adults eventually abandoned their regular roosts and since the middle of last summer it has been an increasingly rare treat to spot one. Yesterday I was sitting with a colleague, Hoyt Bleakley, whose office faces west. All of a sudden I saw that familiar fast and strong wing beat speeding directly at the window. Hoyt starts yelling “Pull up! Pull up!!” and of course the bird, a mature peregrine, did so just as we got a really good look at it – something like the last view of anything that some pigeons get. It’s likely it perched at the top of the Graduate School of Business’ Hyde Park Center’s glass tower, as I have occasionally seen one, and/or its sign, there. A few moments later the scene repeated itself except the view of the falcon was from the rear. It swiftly made its way straight west, then veered out of sight behind the outsized steeple of Rockefeller Chapel. Later that afternoon I spotted it on its familiar roost very high on the steeple.

Of course unless there is a mate, there won’t be chicks this year either. But the University of Chicago has made most generous efforts to support these rare birds by constructing first class next boxes mounted on the top of both Pick Hall and the Administration Building. The small clique of peregrine-watchers on campus is eternally optimistic that a pair will soon notice and make use of the commodious digs and start making new falcons again.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Just thinking of Yellowstone

I'm just thinking of Yellowstone instead of RealLife in Chicago. The vision in this image, taken in the Upper Geyser Basin in February of this year, will fade soon. Though there will still be wintery temperatures and impressive snow storms before summer marches irreversibly in, the longer days and ever-more vertical sun will melt the snow and mitigate the steam. In only a couple of months I will be on my way again.

Saturday, March 3, 2007


I didn’t realize how much I liked this little Native American-made turquoise and silver necklace until it disappeared from around my neck on February 28. I bought it on eBay a couple of years ago – in fact the photo is the seller’s, not mine – for not very much money. My efforts to find it, or to let the finder know I’m mourning and pleading for its return, are fruitless so far. So this morning I decided to scour eBay to see if there’s anything that could replace it at a price I’m willing to pay, as is the way of theBay. I searched on “turquoise necklace” minus a few key words, which I think is how I happened on it in the first place. eBay is an interesting market, and for the knowledgeable, patient, and careful buyer, can occasionally provide exceptional items at costs far below value. In 66 pages of hits I found very interesting items and examples of extraordinary creativity and aesthetic. My query did not turn up the perfect substitute. I did, on the other hand, find hundreds of American, Tibetan, Chinese, African and Thai turquoise, faux, and glass, and plastic necklaces variously represented and mis-represented as rare, exotic, huge, charming, museum-quality, vintage, and unique, and a couple, most oxymoronically, as “yellow” or “pink” turquoise. Some are so complicated that I wouldn’t know how to wind them around my neck. Origins are QVC and Chico’s, grandmother’s jewelry box, estates, Indian markets, Taxco, and pawn shops in Gallup. Lots of sellers have naively inflated ideas of the source and worth of their items. I had a good laugh over misspellings, like “gradulated” beads. Some offerings are very appealing and very fine indeed. Buyers recognize that and bidding is hot from the get-go. More are funny, funky, cheesy and tacky, but the most distinct thing about them is that they are saleable at all.

The original had a bright charm and sensibility (not so obvious in the artless photo) with neatly placed silver bead spacers and a few inches of pinshell heishi at the ends that caught in the little hairs on my neck. It had a pleasing rocky heft and old-fashioned, fragile stringing that most likely gave out and dropped it from my neck. I didn’t notice until I got home that evening that it was no longer around me. The maker was anonymous, probably of the Navajo tribe or Santo Domingo pueblo. I would like that maker to know that I loved his or her work and hope that whoever found it, whether they are intentionally or obliviously not returning it, will enjoy and appreciate it. Maybe some day it will turn up on eBay. I would be willing to buy it, again.