A Travellerspoint blog

A Day In Chicago

The Pleasures of Sleeping In, The Chicago Institute of Art, Reflecting at Millennium Park, Miller's Pub, Business, and a Long Walk Home

rain 64 °F


It’s funny how most of my adventures begin by sleeping well past my alarm. A rare January thunderstorm rolled through last night, and I took time to appreciate it from the comfort of my bed. When my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m, I didn’t want to get up. I decided to catch the 8:40 am train to Chicago instead of an earlier one. I reset my alarm, and happily dozed off.

Moments later, my nieces started up their daily morning ruckus-not happy at all about having to go to school. Sleeping in is that much sweeter when your housemates have to get up while you lie in about in warm drowsy comfort.

An hour and a half later, my sister came into the room to inform me that, “It’s probably going to rain all day in Chicago, tomorrow is another day.”

She woke me out off a sound sleep. I grunted, and then sleepily told her, “I’ll think about it.” She left, and I wondered why I said that. I’ve learned that if I respond politely to people waking me up, they will go away. I looked at my clock and saw that I had failed to turn my alarm on after I had reset it. I was going to have to get up and get moving if I wanted to catch my train.

I ate a quick breakfast. My sister dropped me off at the train station, and I stepped aboard the Metra north line bound for Chicago.

I took a relaxed approach to Chicago. I walked east to the Chicago Institute of Art. I paid my admission and started wandering through paintings, photographs, statues, armor, antique furniture and the like.
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I enjoy a good piece of art.

I started to get weary and drowsy. This always happens when I visit a museum. Museums strictly regulate the air as not to disturb the paint. I’m a guy who thrives on fresh air, and museum air saps my will to remain upright. I decided to get some fresh air before I became an exhibit called, “Comatose Man on the Floor.”
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The cool air of Chicago revived me. I walked a short block north to Millennium Park. I sat down on a strategically placed bench near the buildings of changing faces.
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I walked across the park to “The Bean,” less commonly known as the “Cloud Gate.” I love the bean. Everyone loves the bean. It’s a great piece of art that brings a smile to the face. I doubt anyone ever walked up to the bean, and said, “I hate this thing.“ Instead, people walk up to it, grab their camera, strike a pose, and snap a picture. I’m no different.
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It was time to eat. I walked a block and a half to Miller’s Pub. I did my research the night before. I found this pub not only convenient and decently rated, but it had a great name. I kept it simple. I ate a great burger with two Dead Guy Ales.

Satiated, I went in search of a cup of coffee. On Jackson St. I stopped at Intelligencia Coffee Brewers. I ordered a medium roast and sat down at a table. I pulled my book out of my pack and began to read. I overheard the other patrons talking about business. I hate business. Business is designed to keep you busy for the wrong reasons. I peeked over my pages and saw that I was the only one reading a book. I try to lead by quiet example. Coffee tastes better with a book in hand.
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I finished my time in Chicago by walking through Union Station. It was a reconnaissance mission. I wanted to see the layout of the Amtrak station before I arrived there two days later to catch the train to New York City. It was a straightforward layout and I passed through to the west entrance. I walked outside and found these giant columns. I love symmetry.

I was satisfied with my day. Chicago is a great day trip. I boarded my train and listened to music until I arrived in Kenosha. “It was a dark and stormy night,” (to steal Snoopy’s line). I decided to walk home. It was a long walk in the rainy gloom. I passed by a cemetery, and I was struck by the darkness of the scene. It became my closing photograph.
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That’s all from the Midwest for now. I’m off to New York City.

Posted by Rhombus 07:17 Archived in USA Tagged art parks cities walking restaurants chicago museum sleep coffee Comments (1)

Wrestling With January

The Harrowing Tale of How I Broke Its Dreary Hold

overcast 6 °F

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It has been a long time since I have faced a true Midwestern January. I’ve forgotten how long January can drag on. If you aren’t careful, the days can blend into an endless parade of gray skies, chilly temperatures, and too much time indoors. I wasn’t careful this year, and I lost my mojo. My mind seemed to turn as gray and cloudy as the sky. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t feel like writing. I put down my camera. I lost inspiration. I became a fleshy lump on the couch. Jim Harrison wrote it best, “It takes a lot of strength to keep January out of the soul, and this year I’ve failed. “
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Well, January won the first four rounds, but I’ve rallied this week and I’m happy to say I have my appetite for life once again. This is how I did it.

Some Good Advice

For starters, I have listened to a lot of good advice this week:

“It is winter, so get in the flow of nature resting and rest a bit. Gather inspiration for the spring... I think people grow with the four seasons, at least I do.” ~ R. H.

“To go out of your mind at least once a day is tremendously important. Because when you go out of your mind you come to your senses.” ~ Alan Watts talking about meditation. In particular, how to use sound to still your mind, such as the sound of a gong or chanting.

“…There are times when I don’t know what I’m doing with my life or I don’t know what I WANT to do with my life. But, that’s ok. I remind myself not to worry - something will come along. I’m taking care of myself, I have a job and my health. It may not be the perfect job, but I’m happy enough…” ~Roughly paraphrased from L.S. This is Zen if I have ever heard it.

To Chicago

My nephew Rex and I decided to take a quick road trip down to Chicago to visit his sister (who is therefore my niece). We rolled south across the orderly flatness of the fields and farms of eastern Wisconsin. Wisconsin has interesting names for their towns, such as St. Nazianz, Sheboygan, Osh Kosh, Oostburg (why not add one more o?), and Random Lake.

Cloud Factory
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The steam from the stacks billows out in thick clouds in the freezing atmosphere. Rex and I muse about how cool it would be to work as a cloud maker at a cloud factory.

“In the Conservatory with a Niece and a Nephew…”
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In Chicago, we gathered at my niece’s pad for a couple of days. The three of us had one thing in common - the fact that none of us has jobs right now. Bound by our thriftiness, and angling for a place to get out of the frigid temperatures, we decided to visit the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Zoo.
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As I step through the doors of the building, a tidal wave of warm humidity rolls over me. I feel hot moist air on my skin and breathe in the muggy air. I smell plants, wet soil, loam and decay. I can see a jungle of greenery as countless trees and plants fill the cavernous room. I hear the tinkling trickle of water running over stones. It is quiet. The few visitors hold their voices low in deference to the plants as if we were in a library. It is wonderful.
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When the poisonous dreariness of January takes hold, the warmth of colorful flowers can be the perfect antidote.

The Zoo

Most of the animals at the zoo were spending the day inside. There were a few notable exceptions. A leopard paced around in the cold forming a long figure eight between two trees. A brilliant white snow owl perched high on a branch. There were a couple of eagles, two vultures and my posse.
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The zoo was almost deserted. I enjoyed the walk. It’s not everyday I get to see a giraffe, monkeys, a hiphopopotomus, snakes, vibrant birds, otters, a polar bear, a leopard, a lynx, and gibbons in less than a mile of walking.
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After the zoo, we returned to the flat. Shivering from the cold, we happily tucked in to watch “The Life of Pi” while sipping hot Irish coffee. It felt great to stretch out on a comfortable couch underneath a homemade blanket. I felt a nap tempting me, but the movie held my attention. My amazing niece then supplied some homemade lasagna for dinner and life became just a bit tastier than it had been.

Walking in the Moonlight

I could not tell you the exact moment I broke free from the powerful grip of January. I believe a variety of factors helped me escape. I was tired of the vacuum. I wanted to get mojo back, and I took several steps to help make this happen.

I had good conversations with no less than ten of my friends. Thank you all.

I made travel plans. February looks to be like a lot of fun. I’m heading to New York City for the first time. I might go skiing in Vermont, before heading to Florida. In Florida I hope to swim with manatees, take in long conversations with my friends, and talk travels with a seasoned vagabond. I’m excited!

I hung out with my family, which is good for the soul.
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I started stretching my body. I noticed my breathing. I went for a long walk in the bright sunshine of the afternoon, and later in cloud veiled moonlight. I spent some time watching ducks forage in the lake. I listened to unseen geese pass over Lake Michigan at night. Their distant calls seem to me a welcome back to my senses.
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It’s about damn time.

Posted by Rhombus 14:40 Archived in USA Tagged animals parks winter zoo plants chicago family photography january wisconsin Comments (0)

The First Adventure of the New Year

A Mid-Winter Midnight Bus Ride, "The Road Home", Heading to Chicago

semi-overcast 10 °F

This adventure begins at midnight on a wintry night in the small city of Hancock, Michigan. I stepped out of the warm comfort of my brother’s car (and life) and crossed the empty street carrying my mystifyingly heavy bags. It was frigid outside. The snow crunched loudly underfoot - an indication of very cold temperatures. I greeted the bus driver, and I loaded my bags under the bus before stepping aboard.

I found a seat near the back on the right side of the aisle. I prefer the right side because I can read road signs out of my window. That way, I know where I am. I was one of only two passengers that boarded in Hancock. The driver closed the door and we sped off into the night.

I smiled as a current of tingles flowed up and down my spine. I love setting out on the next adventure! I can’t help but think of the line from the Shawshank Redemption, “I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”

It was late, but I wasn’t tired. I called one of my other brothers (I have five), and we carried a good conversation until I lost phone service.
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The bus wasn’t very comfortable. I couldn’t get the seat in the right position. The heaters were blasting and I became too hot in my wool sweater. At the back of the bus, there was a weird blue night light left on for those who wanted to use the head. The light was annoying. I was bathed in a bright blue light for the whole ride. I should’ve moved out its glare, but I didn’t think of that at the time. I caught a catnap here and there, but really didn’t get any solid sleep.

What the bus lacked in comfort, it made up for in speed. The hours flew by, in a bluish blur of wintry scenes and bizarre dreams. I woke up after one small catnap in Escanaba. I gathered my stuff, and stepped off into the cold. The stars were twinkling above, and I admired them for a few minutes before stepping inside the station. I realized it had been too long since I stopped to admire any starry nights. A fool I am.
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The lobby of the bus station had an odd shape, yet warm and bright. The first thing I noticed was a small stack of books sitting on the bench. I sat next to them, and picked one up. It was “The Road Home,” by Jim Harrison.

Harrison is one of my favorite authors- a master artist with words. I thumbed through the chapters trying to decide if I had read this book, and I was pleased to realize that I had not. The title gave me pause, “The Road Home.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what “home” means to me. I haven’t come up with any revelations. I’m not sure. I’d love to have a home again one day, a base camp to recuperate and relax between adventures. I’m also keen to turn it into an amazing place to host other travelers, a kind of unofficial couch surfing hostel. I’m not sure what form this takes, or where it is…yet. I do know that I want to share this project with someone, but haven’t met them…that I know of. It’s very unclear. However, finding this book in such a random place and time has made me think. Is this book a sign? Am I on the road home? It’s far too early to tell, but it is fun to think about.

After a brief layover, I boarded the bus, one book heavier.

I stayed awake for this leg of the trip. It isn’t far from Escanaba to Menominee. I listened to tunes and watched the road ahead. When we reached Menominee, the bus pulled over and I got off. The driver handed me my bag and wished me a good morning. It was 5 a.m. and I had been up for a very long time.

I shivered. My breath swirled around my face and started to freeze to my beard. I called my nephew, and we worked out a place to meet. I walked a couple of blocks back northward and met him at a gas station. The station was bustling with early commuters stopping in for coffee and cigarettes.

It was a pleasant walk through the quiet neighborhoods of north Menominee. The houses stood still and quiet. We chatted, we reconnected, and we reached his house after a ten-minute walk.

At Rex’s house, we sat in his dark living room while sipping hot coffee pressed in the French style. We made a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs with toast covered in homemade blackberry jam. We drank more coffee. I think I had four cups.

Rex put on a movie, “Tucker and Dale VS. Evil” which was stupid enough to be hilarious. I passed out into a beautiful slumber even after drinking four cups of coffee. I was exhausted. When I awoke, there was a gigantic cat nestled next to me, happily purring away. This cat was huge, it couldn’t started at left tackle for a division two college football team. It was unexpected, but not the worst way to wake up. It was noon, and the adventure was off to a fine start.

On Tuesday, Rex and I are going to Chicago to visit his sister. I’ve never been to the windy city in winter. I’m sure it’s going to be cold. I’m also sure it’s going to be fun.

Posted by Rhombus 15:53 Archived in USA Tagged snow winter home bus ice road trip michigan philosophy Comments (2)

Post-Adventure Vacuum

A Quiet Week, Adventures on Ice, What's Next?

overcast 25 °F

I think I’m in a post adventure vacuum. I’m content to while away the hours with a book, a ukulele, a big pile of bread dough or my computer. This seems natural after five months of travel. This is my time to decompress and reflect on where I’m at and what happens next.
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I haven’t come up with anything.

I’m not about to force another trip. I’ve made that mistake before. I’m happy to wait this one out. In the past ten days, I haven’t written one word in my journal. This is rare. I don’t have anything to say right now. I’m enjoying the stillness - the quiet days of torpor.

I came “home” to get my knee looked at by a doctor. I have something called osteochondritis dessicans, which means I have some bad bone in my knee. While this explains my long-term issues I’ve had with that knee, it doesn’t explain my recent pain. After bending it all around, the doctor wasn’t able to reproduce the pain I had. Go figure. Two days later, it was aching again. I’m not sure if I should bring it in or not.

Eagle River

I went to my family’s vacation home yesterday to get some fresh air and get out of the house. The sun doesn’t rise very high in the sky in January; the low light cast long blue shadows across the white snow. It’s been a weird year here in Michigan. It hasn’t snowed much at all. There have been times when I’ve had to strap on snowshoes to get to where I was standing in shallow boots.

The property runs along a small section of the Eagle River. I walked across the snowy lot, eventually making my way to the river. I always find myself by the river. The river is cold, smothered in ice and shadow. The ice was clear in places and I was able to see that it was about four inches thick. In other areas, the ice was frosty or covered with snow. I gingerly tested its strength, and found it held my weight just fine.

I love the chuckling sounds of a healthy river. In winter, the melody of the river changes as the ice muffles the pitch. It’s a beautiful sound. I hunkered down next to set of rapids to watch air bubbles slip along the underside of the ice before surfacing at the next air pocket. This was a treat for the senses, and soon I was lost in the moment.

Ice
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There were little air vents in the ice. The ice that formed around the vent was like a ring of polished white diamonds.
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Investigating further, I found old coyote prints frozen into the surface of the river and filled with snow. I tried several angles, but I couldn’t find a composition that worked for them. I once attended a lecture by National Geographic Photographer Jay Dickman. He said to us, "Sometimes our goal as a photographer is to make the best photograph we can given the conditions." I like that. There are times when there isn't much to shoot. Do the best you can with what you have available.
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When I arose from the prints, I took a step backward. I heard the unmistakable “CRACK” of ice. A small shot of adrenaline coursed through me. I’ll never forget that sound. The first time I heard that sound, I fell through a crack in the ice shelf on Lake Superior. I was able to catch myself with my arms, but my feet were dangling just above the water. I moved fast, hauling myself out of the crack before I fell in the water.

This episode wasn’t nearly so interesting, but I moved slowly back towards shallow water all the same.

I ended my afternoon by sitting in the warm sun and having lunch. I ate a Cornish pasty, sipped a good beer, and read my book for an hour. This was time well spent.

The camp (as we call it) has always carried this good vibe. While I still don’t have any ambitions with my life right now, I know I’m in a good place. As Watts would say, “Murky water becomes clear, only when left alone.”

For now, I’ll continue working on my baking skills, jamming on my new ukulele, and hanging with my people. It might be a good time to finally look into my own photographic website. Let me know if you have any ideas...

The Ghost
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One morning I walked down the stairs and saw this beautiful light coming through the stained glass window. I liked the scene, and decided to see what I could do with it. It turned out to be perfect light for ghost images.

Have no fear. I only haunt good hamburger joints, friendly pubs, libraries, hostels, and of course, my brothers staircase.

Have a good week!

Posted by Rhombus 17:50 Archived in USA Tagged snow winter rivers reflections ice photography michigan philosophy Comments (2)

The Dusty Vagabond's Photographic Review of 2012

It's Been An Amazing Year. I Love My Life.

This is my 2012 Photographic Review. I originally started this project with intentions of explaining where I was and how the photographs came about. When I started going through my files, I realized there were too many photos that I wanted to share. The entry would’ve been the size of a telephone book for elephants.

I will let the photographs speak for themselves. Many of these photos I’ve used in my entries during the past year, but there are a couple in there that I have not shared, until now. If you have any questions or comments concerning any of the locations or technique involved, please let me know and I’ll be happy to tell you everything I know.

With that, I offer you 2012 in review.

January - Baja, Mexico
I was in Mexico in January. I was finishing my last month as a full time employee for the cruise ship I work on.
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February - Idaho
In the beginning of February I headed west from Michigan to Idaho where I planned to become a ski bum for a couple of months. In Idaho, my life revolved around two of my favorite pastimes: skiing and long boarding. I skied when the snow as good on the mountain, and long boarded when the mountain was closed, or without fresh snow.

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March - Baja Mexico
After a year and a half of living and working on a ship, I became a social creature. In Idaho, I fell into a bit of a funk. I was lonely and I missed my ship friends. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to rejoin the ship for a month down in Mexico. I got out of my funk and let those bad thoughts float away on the tides. March is one damn fine month to be in Baja.

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April - Baja, Mexico, American Road Trip
My last week in Baja was about as good as you can get.

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April Road Trip - 2000 miles
After Baja, I travelled across America in my van on a rambling 2000 mile trip that turned into a 4000 mile trip.
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Chicago
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May - To West Virginia, Birthday in Seattle, Alaska
In May, I went down to West Virginia for some rock climbing and white water rafting. I celebrated my birthday in Seattle with my birthday twin, before heading north to Alaska to explore Denali National Park.

West Virginia
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Seattle
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Alaska
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Haines and Homer
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June - Isle Royale, Colorado
In June, I hiked I trekked on Isle Royale National Park before heading south to Colorado. In Colorado, I found incredible heat, forest fires, and amazing sand dunes.
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Colorado
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July - Michigan
In July, I returned to Lake Superior to embrace summer.
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August - Southeast Alaska

In August, I returned to work on my beloved SeaBird for another three and a half months. The wild landscapes and incredible beauty continue to draw me back.
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September - Southeast Alaska, British Columbia, Columbia River
In September, I saw some of the best that Southeast Alaska has to offer.

Alaska
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British Columbia
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Columbia River
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October - Columbia River
In October, I watched the summer turn to autumn along the famed Columbia River.

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November - Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica
In November, I took a three week epic cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia and The Antarctic Peninsula. The two years of blood sweat and tears I shed for my ship was completely repaid with this wonderful excursion to the Antarctic.

The Falklands
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South Georgia
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Antarctica
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December - Patagonia, Argentina
In December, I took my first steps on land in four months. I started in Ushuaia, and began travelling north into Patagonia.
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When I look back at everything I have experienced, I laugh. I can't believe it. How the hell do I get so lucky? I want to thank all of you
who have given this project any time at all. It's my sincerest hope you find some joy in whatever it is you do for fun. At heart, I'm a writer, a rambler and a photographer, and I'm happiest when I'm walking through an unknown landscape with beautiful light. Thank you, Happy New Year, and I'll see you in 2013.

Posted by Rhombus 12:08 Tagged landscape travel seascapes love photography philosophy Comments (9)

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