lakeshore drive

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A “Roll cloud” captured marching over the Chicago Lakeshore, in timelapse view

On August 12, 1833, the Town of Chicago was organized with a population of about 200. Within seven years it grew to more than 4,000 people. On June 15, 1835, the first public land sales commenced with Edmund Dick Taylor as U.S. receiver of public moneys. The City of Chicago was incorporated on Saturday, March 4, 1837 and for several decades was the fastest growing city in the world.

chicago gothic

chicago remembers. you go to a sox night game with an out-of-town friend, and offer to buy the tickets to comiskey. they laugh, thinking you mean the cell, but when the players drift through the stadium out into a glowing field where time meshes together and space phases out, they will know how wrong they are.

the lake is clean now, some will say. it is safe. people swim in it all the time! you stare out at the beach, smothered in sunblock and litter and shining human flesh, and mutter that you never said what contaminant you were avoiding.

if you go out to the end of navy pier, they say you might see phantoms in the old ballroom or out in the water. there are no legends about the sky above the lighthouses on the other side, or the sharp chill in the air that licks through your spine if you stand too near the edge no matter what temperature it is.

drive down lakeshore drive as the sun rises and you can see the sun sparkling off the skyline. drive down lakeshore drive as the sun sets and you see the city come alive, glamour and grime and raw, beautiful energy. drive down lakeshore in midday in a thick fog and no one knows quite what anyone else sees, but no one wants to talk about it.

people make jokes about the spaceship that landed on soldier field, but never joke about the ones that take off from it.

More Chicago Gothic

Lakeshore Drive is closed according to the announcements. Of course you only found out about this after your cab driver already turned onto Lakeshore. News outlets claim the cause is flooding. You shiver and sink deeper into the seat in the back of the cab. You ignore the ghostly fingers tapping against the glass.

Only tourists really hang out in Millenium Park. Most locals are smart enough to know that the distorted reflections in the Bean are more than just a gimmick.

It’s always frightening when the L transitions from its underground tunnels to the elevated tracks. We recommend you don’t look too closely at the shadows.

Every year, the ivy on Wrigley Field seems more dense. It snakes across the stadium in a Sleeping Beauty choke hold. Some say Nike is trapped in those tangles and that’s why the Cubs haven’t won a World Series in so long. The groundskeepers know better. Stragglers shouldn’t get too close to the overgrowth.

You’re in line at the hottest new club in River North with your friends. It feels so slow, but maybe that’s just because you pregamed hard before going out. You don’t remember when you got in line or how long you’ve been standing there. You don’t think it’s ever moved, but surely it’s your imagination as snow falls and melts, the spring thaw hits, mosquitoes swarm for the summer, autumn winds chill you and winter comes again. The Red Eye said this club was good.

You’re at the bar surrounded by friends. The waitress comes to take your order. “I’ll have a three-hundred-and-twelve,” you say, barely taking your eyes off the draft beer list. Silence falls. All you can hear is the sharpening of a knife.

“25 Things Only Real Chicagoans Will Understand.” You click on the link, snorting your disdain for clickbait even as you submerge yourself in it. You laugh and call your colleague over to read it. More laughter, more exclamations. Soon the whole office stands around your desk. They can never know you moved here from Naperville.

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Autumn drive through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Upper Peninsula Michigan.

10 Incredible Hikes Under 5 Miles Everyone In Michigan Should Take

10 Incredible Hikes Under 5 Miles Everyone In Michigan Should Take

Nothing gets the juices going like a restorative hike. Thing is, sometimes you don’t have all day to travel to that epic hiking trail. Or maybe you’ve got kids or your elderly parents in tow and aren’t necessarily up for a super technical, long journey by foot.

That doesn’t mean you can’t find a shorter trip to occupy yourself – both body and mind. Here are some great hikes at 5 miles or less apiece that will be sure to be fun for the whole family.

1. Detroit RiverWalk

The transformation of Detroit’s Riverfront is unbelievable. Spanning some 3.5 miles, you can enjoy a leisurely walk or bike ride from Hart Plaza to Gabriel Richard Park across from Belle Isle (about 2.5 miles). The trail combines urban and natural settings in the heart of downtown.

2. Escarpment Trail, Porcupine Mountains

This four-mile trail curves right around the ridge of the picturesque Lake of the Clouds, which you could just gaze upon for hours.

3. Grand Haven Waterfront Trail

This route takes you from the shores of Lake Michigan to the Grand River. Along the way, you’ll encounter a mix of small town life, boats, and scenic areas - all on a 2.5 mile paved hike between the lakeshore and Coho Drive.

4. Lake Erie Metropark, Brownstown

Here, you’ll have a couple of easy, no-muss trail options. There’s the Cherry Island Marsh Trail that’ll take you alongside the Detroit River, with views of Lake Erie, Sugar Island, Grosse Ile, and more. There’s also a half-mile, shorter stroll - the Big Turtle Shortcut trail - and the one-mile Trapper’s Run trail. All are suitable for hikers of all levels.

5. McCormick Wilderness

Come here for some peace and quiet. This remote hiking area will provide you with a prime, unspoiled piece of nature. Featuring a three-mile trail from a parking lot to White Deer Lake, you’ll encounter (like these little guys) pristine rock formations.

6. Rolling Hills County Park, Ypsilanti

Bring Fido with you on this dog-friendly, 1.5 mile walking path. Or for the little tykes in your life, there’s a quarter-mile long Woodland Trail that will introduce the kiddos to wildlife.

7. Rosy Mound, Grand Haven

It’s just over a half a mile each way on this hiking trail, but it includes some 1,000 feet of steps that lead you up and down the sandy dunes. It’s a nice little workout with gorgeous views.

8. Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Here you get four hiking trails to choose from and about 2.5 miles of shoreline to explore.

9. Sleeping Bear Dunes

At only 4.5 miles round trip, this may seem like an easy jaunt by the beach, but it’s actually quite a challenging journey, with steep dunes to traverse on your way to Lake Michigan. Whether you complete the trip or not, it’s still a worthwhile test in physical endurance.

10. Tahquamenon Falls, Paradise

This rolling, 4.5 mile trail takes you along one of Michigan’s most worthwhile waterside hikes. You’ll have a front row view of the falls and be taken in by their stunning beauty.

Not half bad, huh? Tell us – where are your favorite short hikes in Michigan?

Any-thing that we can think of—a person, a city, a piece of furniture, a body of water, a tree, an animal, a rock, a mountain range, a feeling, a thought—is an ungraspable, changing event—a verb rather than a noun. It has no actual, solid boundaries—only apparent, provisional, conceptual ones. In reality, every apparent “thing” is fluid, porous, impermanent and ever-changing. Every “thing” is interdependent with—and made up of—everything it is not. Our experience of any-thing is an event in consciousness made up of changing sensations, perceptions, thoughts, memories and mental images.

When any of these apparent “things” ceases to exist, what is it that has disappeared? How real, how solid was the now-absent form? And in what way is it still present as whatever is appearing right here, right now? When we die, what dies? What remains?

I would say that when a person dies, a certain pattern of energy dissipates and dissolves, as when a whirlpool or a wave collapses back into the body of water out of which it emerged, or when a river returns to the sea. The shape of that wave or that whirlpool or that river was consistent enough in some way to be a recognizable form that we could name, but that form was actually nothing but continuous change inseparable from its environment. There was never any clear or solid boundary where the wave or the whirlpool began or ended. The water itself was undivided, seamless, whole. And when the river merges into the sea, no separate river remains, and yet nothing has been lost.

After death, the body decomposes, nourishing and being eaten by other life forms, and gradually it disappears altogether. If cremated, it turns to ash and that ash is gradually absorbed back into the earth. Even if a body is embalmed and put into a casket, eventually it will all disintegrate, as will the mountain ranges that seem so solid and enduring. Eventually the sun will explode or flare out. No-thing is permanent, not even our planet or our solar system or this universe. When a person dies, the pattern of energy that we call the body disintegrates and dissolves, and likewise, the pattern of energy that we call the mind (the particular habit-patterns of thinking and perceiving created by the unique causes and conditions of each particular life—the individual stories, memories, ideas and beliefs) also dissolves. In fact, the conditioned mind dissolves many times in an ordinary day in the sometimes unnoticed gaps between thoughts. Everything we think of as “Joan Tollifson” or “John Doe” or “Sue Smith” is actually insubstantial and eventually evaporates completely like a mist. No-thing remains.

So is there nothing that survives death? Is death the end? The end of what exactly? What exactly is it that dies? What is it that was born? Can we actually find this form that is supposedly vanishing? In Buddhism, it is said that the true understanding of impermanence is that there is no impermanence, because the flux is so thorough-going and complete that no separate and enduring “thing” ever actually forms to even BE impermanent. The unbroken wholeness, the seamless unicity, the boundless flow is never born and never dies. This groundlessness or emptiness (empty of enduring or separate existence) is our True Nature. It includes everything and is bound by no-thing. It is the unborn, unconditioned, undying, living reality that we are and that everything is. And when we are awake to this, the fear of death is gone.

Death is actually moment by moment. No-thing ever really persists or exists (stands apart from the whole) except conceptually as an idea (and to some degree as an unexamined, conditioned perception colored by thought). But because we identify the unbound awaring presence that we actually are with a particular bodymind, and because we think this bodymind is a separate fragment in a fragmented world, we fear the loss of “me” (the separate self) — or, if we’ve bought into some religious idea of the afterlife, perhaps we fear the continuation of “me” in hell or in some less fortunate reincarnation. Or maybe we fear that “me” will be dead but somehow still alive—buried alive, as it were—unable to get back to the soap opera of “my life” to find out what happens next! But can we find this “me” even now? Is it anything other than an ever-changing flow of thoughts, mental images, memories, perceptions, sensations?

What is aware of all this? Is that awaring presence bound in any way? Is it limited? Does it have an age or a gender or a shape or a size? Does this unfindable Ultimate Subject ever die? Is it ever born? Isn’t this our deepest reality, most intimate and utterly impossible to doubt?

This awaring presence includes and transcends the wave-like activities we call “Joan Tollifson” or “John Doe” or “Sue Smith” or “planet earth” or “the city of Chicago”.

When we look closely, we can’t really find a beginning or an ending to this event we call “Joan Tollifson.” The beginning seems to go back to the Big Bang and the ending of any form seems to expand outward forever like the ripples in a pond.

We can’t deny that there is something we call “Joan Tollifson” or “my kitchen table” or “planet earth” or “the city of Chicago.” It would be absurd to deny that any of these things exist in any way whatsoever. But when we look closely, we discover that no-thing is as solid or as enduring as we thought. What seems to persist is actually the IDEA of “Joan Tollifson” or “my kitchen table” or “planet earth” or “the city of Chicago.” But when we turn our attention from the abstract concept to the living reality itself (the bare actuality of sensing, perceiving, experiencing), we find that all of these apparently persisting forms are actually ever-changing, always new, and inseparable from the consciousness in which they appear. They are made up of consciousness. Everything turns out to be an impermanent, fluid, changing, momentary, dream-like event that cannot be grasped or pinned down.

This “body” is actually porous, permeable and inseparable from everything it supposedly is not—inhaling, exhaling, feeding, excreting, talking, listening, acting, being acted upon—a ceaseless dance of microscopic, macroscopic and subatomic events. The “mind” is a similarly impermanent, fluid, changing process that is actually porous, permeable and inseparable from all the other minds that it supposedly is not (see my post from Dec 2 for more on that). So where exactly in all of this interdependent, porous, changing fluidity is this solid-sounding, apparently-persisting entity called Joan Tollifson? And what is aware of all this? What is beholding Joan and the entire universe? Is that awareness encapsulated or limited or bound in any way? Is it dependent on this form?

What exactly is the city of Chicago? Is it the people? The land? The buildings? The culture? The weather? The more closely we look, the less we seem able to pin down. Planes take off and land, people come and go from the city—some are born, others die, visitors come and go, residents move away and others arrive, buildings come and go, city laws and ordinances change over the years, trees sprout up and others die or are chopped down, bird migrations pass through. On one side, Chicago is bordered by Lake Michigan—but where exactly does the city end and the lake begin? The tide comes in and goes out, the land dissolves into water. In stormy weather, the waves have been known to crash in over Lakeshore Drive—where exactly is the boundary-line? And where exactly is the boundary between Chicago and neighboring Evanston? There is a legal line marked by a sign, but in the earth itself, in the soil, or in the air, there is no discernable boundary at all. And if you don’t see the sign, you won’t notice any immediate difference as you cross over that conceptual boundary-line. In reality, Chicago and Evanston are one, seamless, undivided event. Only on the map does Chicago look like a clearly defined entity with solid boundaries. In actuality, it is something much more fluid and porous and mutable—undeniable, but impossible to grasp.

And just as each person has a unique personality, each city on earth has a unique personality as well. Chicago has a flavor that is quite distinct from the flavor of San Francisco or New Orleans or Cairo or Stockholm or Bombay or Islamabad. And yet, what exactly is that flavor, that personality? Again, we can’t ever pin it down.

Every resident of the city and every visitor has a completely unique experience of what they call “Chicago.” One neighborhood of Chicago can be quite different from another. When I last lived in Chicago, the neighborhood where I lived was Hispanic in one direction, Pakistani and Indian in another, Orthodox Jewish in yet another. Walking around in my neighborhood, you’d see men and women in Orthodox Jewish attire, you’d see women in full burqas and saris, you’d hear different languages being spoken. In my apartment building, we had people from all over the world—we had Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Catholic nuns, people from Africa, Mexico, Cuba, Eastern Europe, Pakistan, India. Many decades earlier, when my mother spent part of her childhood in this “same” neighborhood, it was very different. Different ethnic groups lived there, different buildings were there, different cars, different music was playing. Where in all of this diversity and change is “the same neighborhood” or “the city of Chicago”? Will the real Chicago please stand up!

Likewise, everyone who meets “Joan Tollifson,” meets a completely unique person. Everyone sees Joan differently. And the Joan you encounter in the morning may be someone else entirely later in the afternoon. And Joan’s Joan is yet another version, also very mutable from one moment to the next. Which is the real Joan or the real Chicago?

I’ve always been amazed by the fact that we can see the back of someone’s head, someone we haven’t seen in twenty or thirty years, and yet instantly we can recognize them. There is a certain pattern of energy, like a wave or a whirlpool, that we recognize, something that seems to persist from childhood into old age. And yet, on close inspection, the shape of that wave or that whirlpool is continually changing and there is no clear boundary where it begins or ends. The water that makes it up is circulating and moving freely beyond the boundaries. The old person is clearly not the child, and yet, some pattern continues, even though in reality, even that pattern is not solid or unchanging. But because of this patterning and our ability to think and conceptualize and draw abstract mental maps, “the person” seems very real and solid and persisting and clearly delineated—and in a certain sense, they are. When someone dies, we can’t deny the loss. And yet, what exactly has died?

We identify with the idea of being some-thing or some-one in particular. And while that thought-sense of being a particular person is part of this whole happening and part of how life is functioning, if we look more closely, we find out that we are much more (and much less) than this imaginary person living in some imaginary city going through some dream-like drama that we call “my life” or “current events.” On close inspection, all of that loses its solidity. We can’t ignore this apparent relative reality, but we can wake up from the trance of mistaking our mental maps for the living reality itself, the trance of believing we are a separate fragment in a fragmented world that exists “out there” in some objective way, the trance of separation and encapsulation.

There is something here right now that includes all of this but that isn’t bound by it. Something that is at peace even if the whole world blows up. Something that is unborn, undying, unconditioned. Something that doesn’t depend on any particular events or outcomes in order to be okay and complete. Something that is subtler than space and yet more real than anything that appears. Something that is actually not some-thing at all. I’m not talking about anything mysterious or foreign. I’m talking about the very heart of this timeless presence that is Here / Now, the awareness of this presence, and the Unnamable that remains when even this first sense of being present and aware disappears, as it does every night in deep sleep. What remains? This is the essential nature of Here / Now, what is at the core of every sensation and every experience—this is what we might call unconditional love, uncaused joy, real beauty, true peace, primordial awareness, God.

To be awake to this is to be free from the fear of death. Being this, abiding as this, is perhaps the best gift we can offer, the best way to bring peace and love and compassion into this dream-like troubled world. The words are never quite right, but they point to what is beyond words and at the heart of every word. May we all find that peace, that joy, that love that is right here at no distance at all. May we be what we truly are.

—  Joan Tollifson
Tonight I learned about coyotes.

At tonight’s zoo meeting, we had a guest speaker who is an expert in urban coyote behavior.  

If you are not American, you may not be aware that over the last 100 years, coyotes have spread far past their Plains native range and now cover the entire North American continent.  They live in cities, rural areas, urban areas, everywhere.  My best friend has seen them in her backyard.  

Usually we hear about human encroachment into animal territory posing a threat to animal populations, but the coyotes have turned that right on its damn head by encroaching right back at us.  How are they so successful?

It turns out that for carnivorous mammals, there’s a magic tipping point around the 40 lb mark.  If you are a mammalian carnivore over 40 lbs, you cannot survive without sometimes killing and eating something your size or larger.  You can’t live on smaller prey.  If you’re under 40 lbs, you can live quite well on prey that’s smaller than you.  So a 20 lb fox can get by just eating voles and mice just fine, but a 140 lb wolf can’t - it can make do with raccoons for a bit, but eventually it has to kill and eat a deer or an elk or something.

Average weight for a coyote?  It’s about 40 lbs.  That means that they can go either way.  They can survive eating prey smaller or larger than themselves.  Versatile.  This also means that they have experienced selection pressure from above (trying to avoid becoming the prey of a wolf or a bear) and from below (trying to effectively hunt smaller prey).  This produces a very intelligent, resourceful animal.  Coyotes have proportionately much larger brains than any other canid.

Our efforts to keep coyotes out of places?  They laugh and think we’re just adorable.  There is video of a coyote scaling a 12 foot chain link fence and going over the triple layer of razor wire on top to get onto the Portland airport.  

Coyotes are also both monogamous and territorial.  They will keep the same mate until one of them dies.  They have one litter per year and they will both expend a tremendous amount of effort caring for and protecting the pups.  They use both natural and man-made markers (roads, streams, ditches) as boundaries of their territory.  One territory will contain one alpha pair and sometimes from one to five subordinate coyotes, sometimes but not always the alpha pair’s offspring.

Coyotes have learned to live in our world.  In cities, they cross roads hundreds of times and are rarely injured.  I saw a video of a coyote using the damn traffic lights to cross Lakeshore Drive in Chicago.  In Portland, they’ve been known to ride the subway.

One of the reasons we had this speaker is that we have coyotes on zoo grounds.  They’re not exhibits, they’re locals.  The keepers have seen prints.  So far they have not made off with any of our animals, although they may have taken some of the eggs from the Canada geese who live on grounds (good, those geese are evil).  There aren’t that many animals on exhibit who’d be vulnerable - mostly birds.  Like to see a coyote go after one of our Amur tigers.

So basically…the zoo is in no hurry to remove the coyotes.  They’re nice coyotes, sorta.  And as long as they are here, no other coyotes will try to come on grounds, because “our” coyotes own this territory, and if we got rid of “our” coyotes, other coyotes would move in, and they might not be so nice.  There is plentiful food for the coyotes on zoo grounds that is much easier pickings than the zoo animals.  We are chock-a-block with rodents, rabbits, foxes, raccoons and squirrels because there is so much food around.  The coyotes can gorge themselves on small prey without having to resort to braving electric fences to get to the gazelles or the prairie dogs.

I do sometimes wonder if they ever cruise by the wolf habitats (we have both timber wolves and Mexican gray wolves on exhibit), animals who would be their natural predators, and laugh at them.

I also learned a tidbit - in the canid family, by far the most recent species to emerge is canis familiaris, the domestic dog.  Our speaker said that the big debate among researchers now is that the domestic dog really belongs back in canis lupus (wolf) because there’s virtually no genetic difference.

So congrats - your pug, Chihauhua or Shih-tzu is a wolf.

2015. a year of change.

one year ago i was sitting in this same house, visiting massachusetts for the first time. seeing the east coast for the first time. seeing my girlfriend’s home for the first time. thought processes were just beginning to be dedicated to thinking of ways that we could shorten the five thousand kilometers between us. 

in the short span of a year, this house is now my home, that girlfriend is now my wife, and as of yesterday i now have permission from the united states citizenship and immigration services to work and travel while waiting for results on my green card application. 

i have flown across the country three times. seen saskatchewan for the first time. been denied entry and detained/questioned at the border. i fought forest fires and saw parts of british columbia i didn’t realize were hours from my home (will forever believe it is the most beautiful place on earth). I got to slide my home track one last time, getting in good tandems with one of the people who truly got me into drifting. 

 i’ve driven across the united states in a drift car with a motor i wasn’t even sure could be driven on stock engine managment. i saw mount rushmore and the badlands of south dakota, drove lakeshore drive in chicago at sunset, got pulled over in ohio for speeding, almost lost an ssr mesh on the freeway in indiana, and did a burnout for a random guy in a rest stop in minnesota or wisconsin… or maybe it was new york? i can’t remember. all of that on a diff with broken welds and an axle that was knocking before we left.

i’ve gained a bunch of new friendships. strengthened some distance ones with the move and unfortunately put some (physical) distance between my older ones (but now they just have an excuse to come visit). i got to drive a couple east coast tracks, both being first events for the tracks. it was cool to be a part of the beginning of something that will undoubtedly grow to be bigger. i met some drivers that i’ve only seen their cars online and never expected to meet in real life. it was good to stretch the 240′s legs a bit before putting it away for winter. 

i got married. we filled out all the paperwork and did it all with no errors (quite a task to move to the states from another country). i built an arch, i somehow succeeded in looking pretty handsome, i barely stuttered during my vows, and i got married. we got married. the paperwork was a long and confusing process (at least for me, sorel is much smarter than i am), but we did it and now i am here in a beautiful home with my gorgeous and loving wife, and i honestly couldn’t ask for more, and to think that 2015 was just the beginning of this! 

this entire post i’ve been saying “i” but i should be saying “we” because sorel has been with me every step of the way. whether there holding my hand or as the glowing screen in my hand she has always been with me. through the whole of 2015 i have never been alone and that is because of her. this whole year pretty much revolved around bringing each other closer together and now that we have that i am excited for what we will accomplish in 2016 together. 

a lot of people think of each new year as their fresh start. a clean slate. i see 2015 as my fresh start. i left a lot of things behind me, physically and mentally, as i progressed through this year. it’s all moving forward now, no need to stop and start over. i know i’ve always said never settle, but i think now that it is okay to find a spot to build. still though, never settle for less, gotta keep on building.