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.

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

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.

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.

One of the major upsides of running late enough that a lyft is the best option for commuting to work is that they almost always take the lakeshore drive, which means I get to see the way the water glows in the morning sunlight. Even on a slightly overcast day like today it’s stunning.

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.