Day Three Hundred Two

I’m almost finished with the audio book, The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, so I listened again today as I walked around my neighborhood.

In today’s reading, the Great Plains Drought Area Committee issued a report to the president in August, 1936. The findings were bad. Although the area suffered a severe drought in the 1930s, this area simply does not receive enough average rainfall to raise crops on a regular basis. It was not just a single act of nature that caused the dust storms. Instead, the storms were caused by:

  • homesteading
  • World War I demands for wheat
  • over farming
  • over grazing
  • encouraging inappropriate, sustained agriculture
  • tearing out the buffalo grass which held down the soil

Based on these findings, Hugh Bennett, the head of the Soil Erosion Service, had different types of grasses planted, hoping to find something that would take root. His plan to cover the plains again in grass would take time. Not wanting to wait and in spite of the warnings, President Franklin Roosevelt had another idea–to plant trees up and down the plains.

I don’t think this will end well.

Day Three Hundred One

The Plow that Broke the Plains

I had the car in for repairs today and walked home after dropping it off and again to pick it up. I love being close enough to the mechanic that I’m able to walk.

I listened to some more of my audio book, The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. Today’s passage was about the making of the documentary, The Plow that Broke the Plains. After walking, I watched the movie.

The 25 minute movie, made in 1936 by Pare Lorentz, is worth a watch. The movie features real people from the region, and they were payed much-needed wages for their efforts. Some of the scenes feel staged, and it’s a little clunky in parts, but it did draw national attention to the struggles of the people living through the Dust Bowl.

It was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1999.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

The Horizon, Vastness, and Memories

The Daily Post, in this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon, asks the question, “Is there a particular horizon that speaks to you?” I would have to answer that question, “not really”, but as someone who grew up spending many a summer day in western Michigan along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, I first thought of that horizon. The lake seems more like an ocean than a lake, especially to a child, and the sharp line where water meets sky has always intrigued me.

Back then, the water always seemed so infinite, until the day a brisk east wind took my new beach ball “to Milwaukee” (as my Dad said), and I realized that the lake, although great, was finite. Later, when my dad gave me an old camera of his, it was the lake and the horizon that were my favorite subjects, and I took plenty of overly dark and blurry sunset pictures. My dad took better pictures of us too with that horizon as a backdrop, and those pictures bring back great memories. As an adult, I realize that it’s the people and the memories that I cherish, not just the scenery behind us.

When I thought about taking this challenge, I set some parameters for myself. My gallery of pictures includes only pictures from my walks in 2013. As an ode to the horizon of my childhood, the first group includes pictures taken along the shores of Lake Michigan, from three of the four states that border it: Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.

It’s the “things” in these pictures that makes them interesting: the things in front of the horizon, the things that break up the horizon, and the natural wonders like clouds and waves. I’ve enjoyed looking again at these pictures with a new eye and remember those walks well. It brought to mind other, different walks that I also remembered and enjoyed.

One of the things that surprised me most through these past ten months of walking is just how beautiful the flat grasslands of Illinois are. The interaction between prairie and sky is different than the sharp horizon line between water and sky, but has an infinite beauty of its own.

As I look back at the pictures from these walks, I remember the beauty of creation: the colorful fields of flowers, the waves of the grasses, and the vastness of the sky. But, I also remember who was with me on each walk and that we had a nice time, and that’s what speaks to me.

Those memories are as important as the scenery.


My son, enjoying the vast quietness of a closed road, at the Midewin National Prairie.

Day Three Hundred

I-57 Through the Seasons

My husband, youngest son, and I visited the Old Plank Road Trail again today and walked between Cicero Avenue and Central Avenue, in Matteson, Illinois. We also left the trail to take a quick look at Miller Gardens and the adjacent lake, always full of birds.

It’s definitely peak fall, with the grasses and milkweed gone to seed and the trees deep with color.

Old Plank Trail Fall

While I was nearby, I couldn’t help but take a few more pictures of my favorite trail passing under I-57. Since I’ve now taken pictures in each season, I’ve added a collage, “I-57 Through the Seasons” to my Along the Trail page. Check it out!

IMG_1638Good walking!

Day Two Hundred Ninety-nine

IMG_1619Great Hike–after those Stairs

We’ve driven by Swallow Cliff before but have never walked here–until today. It’s one of the more popular spots in the Cook County Forest Preserve, and it’s easy to see why.

The area, near Palos Park, Illinois, is heavily forested with a varied terrain of bluffs, ravines, savannas, creeks, and wetlands. In a our mostly flat area, it’s unusual to have such a big bluff. The bluff, formed by glaciers, brings sledders to the preserve in the winter, but the 125 limestone stairs and the surrounding trails attract the athletes year-round.

Feeling rather athletic ourselves, my husband, oldest and youngest sons, my daughter, and I eagerly headed from the parking lot towards the stairs, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Not wanting to slow up any of the athletes behind me, I bounded up those stairs at a faster pace than I would have liked. At about stair 90, I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it to the top without a rest (or perhaps some muscular athlete throwing me on his back). After gasping up the last 35 stairs, I joined my family near a stair-counting abacus that a boy scout troupe erected at the top of the stairs, and we started our hike.

Swallow Cliff2

It was lovely.Swallow CliffBy mile two, I felt like I finally recovered from climbing those stairs.

Great place!

Day Two Hundred Ninety-eight

Old Plank Trail: Worth Another Trip


The Old Plank Road Trail was chosen as the national October Trail of the Month by the Rails to Trails Conservancy. It’s well-deserved.

Old Plank Trail Environs

I went back to my favorite section, between Central Avenue and Ridgeland Avenue, for a walk today. This section has a marshy area on one side of the trail and a lake on the other. I saw geese, snowy egrets, cormorants, and a great blue heron who actually seemed willing to let me take several pictures on land and in flight.

Old Plank Trail HeronI don’t think I could have found a better place or a better way to spend some time between errands.

Day Two Hundred Ninety-seven

Stay? Go? Shock!

I listened to some more my audio book, The Worst Home Time by Timothy Egan, as I walked through my neighborhood today. This National Book Award winner recounts the personal stories of the folks that lived through the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

In today’s passage, the residents of “No Man’s Land” struggled whether to stay or go. Many had lived in the area as homesteaders for decades but had good reasons to leave: their families were getting sick, they were broke, and the dust storms were wearing them down. On the other hand, many were not ready to walk away from everything they knew and all of their work. Besides, “Okies” weren’t always welcome in other places. Some left, but many stayed.

I also read about amazing stories of the static electricity that these dust storms caused: blue sparks on fences and repeated shocks with every touch. I don’t understand all of the science behind it, but it’s interesting stuff.

Good listen, good walk!