August 26 – to Chicago, and beyond!

Tuesday I went into one of our labs and a light fixture started arcing and sparking.  By the time I retrieved the plant press I had gone in there for, the light was smoking pretty badly.  I switched it off and called maintenance.  Turns out it’s the second time that’s happened recently.

I took my FYE class on a bug walk.  They caught several species of butterflies, found a couple of cicadas that had been paralyzed by cicada killers, and saw some cicadas in the process of emerging.  My ecology class caught and marked 134 grasshoppers during one hour of the sunny, hot afternoon.  When I got home I caught 20 cicada killers and sequestered them in special chambers with a supply of sugar water.

Thursday morning I caught 6 more and took them to work with me.  I showed them to some of my classes.  They were fairly fascinated, and asked what I was going to do with them.  I said, “I’m going to take them up to Chicago and break their legs.”  This was exactly my plan.  After my classes I got in the car and headed for Aurora.  It was about 6 hours before I got to Vince’s.  Friday morning I got on the Metra train to downtown Chicago (Union Station).  I had planned to catch an express bus to the University of Chicago, but I missed the last one by 5 minutes.  Luckily, I spotted another going to nearby Hyde Park.  It was a bit weird carrying live wasps on the train and bus, but I wanted to avoid driving this route, as I had last year.   I walked several blocks to the lab of Michael LaBarbera.  He’s the same guy I worked with last year.  He had the apparatus all set up, just like we did with the females previously.  My job was to kill the males and mount their legs in wooden blocks.  Michael placed them in the apparatus and measured the amount of force required to break them (and a lot of other stuff).  It took about 50 grams to break the leg of a male, or about 100 times its body mass.  We made pretty good time.  We caught up on things.  Turns out he’s a dragonfly photographer too.  We walked to his flat and I met his wife and one daughter.  He drove me to Union Station and I took the train back to Aurora.  Vince and I went to a Mexican restaurant that had been recommended to him.  It was really good food.  They made fresh guacamole right at the table.  To top it off, there was a live Mariachi band.  They played an up-tempo tune for us, “Guadalajara.”  It was great catching up with Vince, as we haven’t communicated much over the past year. 

Saturday morning I hit the road again, heading north.  Southern Wisconsin is somewhat surreal.  You see an old farm house with a barn and a silo next to a corn field and it looks like something straight from a postcard.  Then a mile later there’s another.  And another.  I kept on to Spooner, Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, half of Chicago was heading up to the Wisconsin Dells for Labor Day.  The traffic was heavy but fast.  I arrived at Ron’s River Estate in the early afternoon.  We went to a cafe across the street and had really good hamburgers.  We had to make a run to the sporting goods store to get a new battery and trolling motor before getting to the fishing.  The fish weren’t terribly cooperative, but we had fun.  Ron took the boat downriver (or was it upriver?) to see some sights.  I should mention that Ron’s River is crystal clear, has little current, and at the moment is a bit overgrown with submergent vegetation. 

Lotus plants were in bloom. 

I’ll let you guess what this is.

Sunset over Ron’s River (note that on all published maps it is denoted as the Yellow River).

Sunday we got a great breakfast at another local diner.  We could not let the fish rest.  I tried every lure I could think of and worked it hard.  I finally got a hard bite on a small, neon red, little, lipless crankbait.  I fought it for a few seconds before the lure broke off.  That was as close as I would get to any fish.  It’s been three years or so since I fished with Ron, and it was good enough just to be there.  Northern Wisconsin is beautiful–heavily forested, full of lakes and scenic views.  And then there’s the wildlife.  I never saw a bear or a moose or a purple-browed mot-mot, but did photograph some species I had never gotten before.

Apparently, an army of chipmunks live under Ron’s deck.

The most common dragonfly there is this skimmer.

There’s a fish hatchery (world’s largest for muskie) across the river.  Birds like this osprey take advantage of it, as do bald eagles and sea gulls.

Orioles come to Ron’s feeder, which I need to copy.

Ron let me take out the Black Yak.  It’s shorter and much lighter than the Coyak, so I was able to make it really move.  I flipped it just for fun.  Unlike mine, it doesn’t drain when you flip it back over.  I dragged it in and we pulled the plug.  It was a blast. 

The colorful post-sunset Sunday night.  No retouching on this one.

Interesting cloud formation.  This one I tweaked a bit.

We spent most of the evening sitting on the back deck talking.  It was quite pleasant, with a steady breeze.  I was relishing the blessedly dry air after a summer of oppressive humidity. 

The reunion!

Monday I left at 8 a.m.  Traffic was relatively light all the way home.  I stopped once for lunch, twice for gas, and once for Cabela’s.  I got home at about 5:30 p.m., having put 1250 miles on the Lil Egg over the course of the entire trip. 

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