Have you ever heard of middens? They are basically really old landfills.
The word comes from an old Scandinavian word, moedding, which means an old dump for human domestic waste.
People have always produced waste. That is why we know most of what we know about ancient cultures that did not have a written language.
Change is hard. And, every change is for better or worse, depending upon your perspective. Change is particularly hard when it happens quickly. I’m sorry, but telling me “it’s easier if you just rip the bandage off real quick” doesn’t lessen the pain.
I have no doubt the 400 acres of trees and shrubs bulldozed and left burning in giant brush piles looked “worse” to the hundreds of neighbors on the north side of Woodstock a couple of weeks ago.
Yes, I am the one driving my car 25-40 mph on Route 14 between Bunker Hill Road and Hughes Road from Harvard to Woodstock and back again most days of the week. If you have not yet experienced this stretch of road this winter, well, I suggest you plan to avoid it for the foreseeable future.
The road became particularly rough shortly after the first major cold spell broke in early January. Road heave, also called frost heave, occurs when moisture underneath pavement freezes and expands, forcing the asphalt up. It gets worse as the ice melts and then refreezes – again and again. Eventually the pavement starts to break apart. The more traffic, the faster the road breaks up.
The section between Deep Cut and Dunham Roads is particularly awful. Like driving over a series of unmarked speed bumps for half a mile. If you ever accidentally hit an actual speed bump at full speed, you probably thought: “Ouch, I hope I never do that again!” (At least that’s what I thought, only “ouch” was replaced with a different 4-letter word.) Now, imagine doing that every 20-30 feet for half a mile at 55 miles per hour.
This morning, two cars decided to pass me in this stretch of Route 14. I just shook my head as I watched them bounce down the road ahead of me. Apparently they didn’t care about the neck and back injuries they are likely to sustain (maybe hoping for a Worker’s Comp claim), nor did they mind the extra wear and tear on their cars’ suspensions (must have been leased vehicles).
The driver of a semi-truck that was right behind me – much too close for comfort or safety – was so annoyed by my turtle-esque pace that he passed me in a no-passing zone shortly after Dunham Road. (Note, I could still see him about one-quarter mile ahead of me when I reached Dean Street a few miles later.)
I’m telling this story because it occurred to me that maybe some people drive full speed down bumpy roads because they don’t understand the effects such behavior has on their bodies or cars? Specifically, the jarring movement of driving quickly across a bumpy road results in:
$1- Neck and back injuries. The result is higher medical costs, more time off work due to pain and injury and an increased likelihood of chronic neck and back problems as one ages.
$1- More accidents. Drivers are more likely to lose control of a vehicle when driving at high speed on a rough surface.
$1- Increased vehicle maintenance costs. In fact, driving on rough roads adds an average of $400 each year to the cost of maintaining a car as the suspension, tires, and many other parts wear down more quickly. The increased costs are higher in areas that are more heavily developed.
$1- Increased fuel costs. Plain and simple, a car uses more fuel when driving on bumpy roads – and driving fast on a rough road uses more fuel than driving slowly on the same road.
It also crossed my mind that some folks may not understand the extra costs society bears as the roads breakdown more quickly and require more maintenance. The costs of maintaining and repairing public roads are paid by tax-payers, whether the roads are maintained by the township, Village, county, state, or federal government.
Personally, I would rather see my taxes spent on something other than the constant repair of roads that are prematurely disintegrating because so many people refuse to slow down a little when driving on a bumpy road.
It's Squirrel Week at the Washington Post! Kind of like "Shark Week," but featuring furry, bridseed-eating rodents rather than cold-blooded predators. Columnist John Kelly started Squirrel Week to highlight this beloved - and loathed - suburban resident.
Personally, I am fond of squirrels, and I actually feel bad that my squirrel-proof feeder works so well that I only need to add seed every third day now that the squirrels have given up. (I now put seed on the ground for the squirrels.)
The wide-eyed critter shown here is a flying squirrel that was spotted in a Woodstock backyard over by TLC's Yonder Prairie. He (or she) has been raiding birdfeeders at night for some time now, and the patient homeowner eventually was able to catch the culprit on film! The flying squirrel is mainly nocturnal, so it is uncommon for people to see them.
This little guy's cousin, the well-known grey squirrel, doesn't sneak around - he's right in the open, shamelssly cleaning out birdfeeders in plain sight.
In defense of squirrels, and in support of Squirrel Week, I thought I'd share some facts about squirrels. If you alreaady love them, you'll have some tid-bits to impress your friends. And, if you are not fond of them, maybe some fact on the list will get you to reconsider your dislike - or at least help you to dislike them less...
- The grey squirrel is a member of the family Sciuridae, which includes marmots (hedgehogs), prairie dogs, chipmunks, ground squirrels and flying squirrels.
- The oldest known member of the Sciuridae family dates back nearly 40 million years based on fossil records.
- There are 285 known species of Sciuridae on the planet, and they are native to North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe.
- Squirrels (and their kin) are found in habitats that range from bitterly cold regions to dry, hot deserts.
- Squirrels become fertile at about age 1, and will produce 1-2 litters a year. The young are born after 3-6 weeks gestation, and are mature enough to leave "home" after 6-10 weeks depending upon the species. Newborn squirrels are said to look like unshelled circus peanuts with little legs. And just in case you are having a hard time visualizing them, here's a picture for you.
One of the reasons squirrels inspire so much resentment and anger is that they are not content to just stop by one's birdfeeder for a snack when they are hungry. No, the typical squirrel will stay at a feeder and eat until all the seed is gone.
Further, they are agile and persistent, which means they will stick at the problem of getting to the desired seed no matter what obstacles are placed in their way. Here is a cute video of an obstacle course that someone set up for a squirrel that gives you an idea of what they will do for a dish of nuts.
My final thought in defense of the humble grey squirrel and his kin is this: if more people approached the obstacles and challenges in their lives with the tenacity and creativity of a squirrel, there would be no problem we could not overcome!
While driving late one night between Woodstock and Harvard, it struck me how dark it seemed. Most house lights were out, so the landscape visible along Route 14 was dark. It was a new moon, so there was no moonlight from the sky to illuminate the ground. I thought to myself: the world must have looked like this for the early settlers.
Not even close.
When early settlers arrived in this area, they would have found actual darkness. The kind of darkness where the Milky Way was not only clearly visible, but where the Milky Way actually cast a shadow on white surfaces!
There are still a few places in the United States where true darkness can be found, but these dark spots are increasingly rare. According to information found at www.cleardarksky.com, there are no places in the entire state of Illinois that have no light pollution. In fact, east of the Mississippi River, a person would have to travel some distance into the Atlantic Ocean to reach a place with zero light pollution.
Woodstock is right on the fringe of a light bubble that surrounds the City of Chicago and most of the suburbs. This light bubble stretches from University Park in the south to Deer Park in the north, and from Lake Michigan in the east to the Fox River in the west. In this area (a place where it never actually gets dark), the sky is perpetually grey or brighter, and only the brightest stars are visible to the naked eye. In technical terms, this bright zone is considered Class 9, Inner-city sky.
Woodstock is in an area considered Class 6 or 7, Urban/Suburban sky. The Milky Way may be visible if directly overhead, and the horizon glows with a faint light that obscures all but the brightest stars.
Heading northwest from Woodstock, the sky is rated a Class 5, Suburban Sky. In this area, the milkway is visible when overhead, but is washed out. Clouds appear brighter than the sky behind them.
In a truly dark, Class 1 or 2 sky, clouds will appear as “black holes” that appear deeper than the starlit sky around them. This is because there is not ground light pollution to illuminate them from below.
Now, there are those who will ask: “so what?”
The sky is part of humanity's cultural inheritance: a door to the Universe, part of the rural environment, and a social amenity. Light pollution reduces the celestial spectacle to a pale imitation - a few pin-pricks of light from the planets and brightest stars - and robs us of a source of inspiration which until recently could be taken for granted.
There is a bur oak at Woodstock’s Hennen Conservation Area that has come to be called “Granny” oak, in recognition of multiple generations of her progeny that are found all around her. At 49 inches in diameter, she is over 300 years old (born circa 1700).
Take a short ride to visit the Hennen Park on Dean Street, nearly three miles south of Route 14, hike back past the pond, through the woods, across the Eagle Scout-constructed bridge, take a left, and follow the trail until you reach Granny.
She sits on the fence line between the park and a tree nursery to the north. This accident of birth location proved to be quite lucky for Granny, as she was spared the ax when most of the trees around her were cleared for farming in the 1800s.
The word infrastructure brings to mind roads, power lines, sewers and other built systems that support the human population. But there is also a natural, living infrastructure that is often overlooked: “green infrastructure.”
One definition of green infrastructure is “strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes and other open spaces that conserve ecosystem values and functions and provide associated benefits to human populations.” (The Conservation Fund, www.greeninfrastructure.net).
While a growing number of city planners view the trees, prairies, forests, rivers, creeks and wetlands as vital parts of a community’s infrastructure, there is still some discrimination in our society when it comes to infrastructure. Specifically, those things that cost a lot to build and maintain (e.g. roads, sewers, electric grids) are often given preference over the living systems that have been here for centuries.
How often have I heard someone say: “If we want reliable electricity, then the power company needs to cut the trees”? Or how about this one: “That tree creates a hazard for drivers on the road, so needs to be removed”? Why does the conversation always seem to pit the built systems against the living ones? It’s concrete versus trees, and tile lines versus wetlands.
Fortunately, financial realities of these times are causing communities to give the living parts of infrastructure greater consideration. The City of Crystal Lake has a green infrastructure plan, the City of Woodstock is developing a plan and the McHenry County Board will soon consider a countywide vision of green infrastructure.
One reason for the growing interest in green infrastructure is that a healthy natural system makes important contributions to society while requiring minimal maintenance. Rake up some leaves, keep pollution out of the creeks, allow sufficient buffers around wetlands, and generally the living infrastructure will work just fine. And, the living infrastructure provides a multitude of services to people for generations without having to be torn up and replaced like a road.
Consider that in the course of each day, a tree helps reduce the rate of storm water run-off, cleans the air by filtering particulate matter, provides shade, adds market value to our homes, provides habitat for many birds, insects and mammals, absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.
Won’t it be wonderful one day when all infrastructure is treated equally?
There are several efforts nearing completion to define Green Infrastructure in McHenry County as well as the region.
The McHenry County Department of Planning is creating a Green Infrastructure Plan for the County. The plan’s main goal is to describe a desired network of interconnected natural lands along with appropriate buffers to help reduce future land use conflicts between people and the essential natural connections. The plan also will offer policy recommendations to support the network. After several months of working with many conservation professionals, municipal park managers, and trail planners from throughout the area, the plan is nearing completion. Please check the Department’s website for the latest information. http://www.co.mchenry.il.us/departments/planninganddevelopment/Pages/GreenInfrastructure.aspx
Chicago Wilderness is set to release a Green Infrastructure Vision for northeastern Illinois as a guide to “creating a region where healthy ecosystems contribute to economic vitality and a high quality of life for all residents” (www.chicagowilderness.org). Additionally, the vision will provide a blueprint for preservation of the region’s biodiversity by focusing conservation efforts on preservation and restoration of the lands and waters necessary for the full diversity of native plants and animals found in the region to thrive.