Cellphone shot of a 1915 station in Sparta, on the Chicago Northwestern.

Originally, this line was called the Baraboo Air-Line Railroad.  (Isn’t that kind of great!?)

“The trains don’t go there anymore.”   Although there’s active stations not too far away (eighteen miles east in Tomah, and 28 miles west in La Crosse), because Amtrak runs more-or-less northwest across the state, on its way to St. Paul.

This little brick building is now the office for the 32-mile Elroy-Sparta biking trail, which the official guide tells us, is “considered the first rail-to-trail in the United States.”  It’s about 120 miles northwest of Madison, and if you continue NW from Sparta, on the La Crosse River Trail, you’ll hit the Mississippi.

The sections I walked were pleasant, if unexciting, but the big attraction is the tunnels.

 

The trail was mostly crushed limestone and well-maintained. I think one section of trail may still be closed after some storm damage, so if you’re planning on biking this, check with the folks in the Sparta office.

 

In the 1870’s, RR workers dug & blasted their way through the hills.  We walked through the longest tunnel, nearly 3/4 of a mile long.

 

The closest access point is reached by driving down a semi-washed-out gravel lane next to the church I posted yesterday.  At the foot of the hill, there’s what looks like a stone-lined canal.

 

 

It was actually just an attempt to divert storm water away from the tunnel and railbed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tunnel is almost entirely unlined, and water drips down steadily from the ceiling, and runs alongside the path in little ditches.

At some point, the burrow is reinforced with massive stone blocks, and water cascades down the wall – – I think the spot where the workers hit an underground spring.  This picture was taken with a flash, there’s no lighting in the tunnel.

 

 

 

This is to give an idea of walking through the tunnel with your flashlight turned off, looking toward the entrance.

 

If you don’t mind getting a bit wet, and perhaps hearing a bat or two overhead, it’s a wonderfully cool place for a walk on a hot summer day.  And a great place to sing, if there’s no one around.  I recommend selections from Bohemian Rhapsody, or Phantom of the Opera.

 

 

 

 

1870's, Railroads, Uncategorized, wisconsin

Walks Around Wisconsin. Chicago Northwestern, Sparta station, 1915. And a Dampish Sort of Tunnel, 1873.

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A cellphone snap of an 1878 church near Norwalk, Wisconsin (pop. 638)

Built by German immigrant farmers, miles from any village, surrounded by hills and cornfields.

Looking well-looked-after, in a nice setting, surrounded by thriving crops.

Apart but without any feeling of isolation, just peacefulness.

The church is called St. John the Baptist, and the corn certainly looked well-watered.

 

 

1870's, wisconsin

Walks Around Wisconsin. The church on Summit Ridge.

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Buttermilk Falls

 

As you head south out of Ithaca, NY, there’s a stretch of highway that’s one of the main commercial drags in that little city.  It combines routes 96, 13, and 34 for a few miles, and it’s fairly hectic – – lots of banks, car dealerships, fast food, grocery stores, motels, etc.

And then you hit the city limits, and all that commercial stuff pretty much stops.  The Green Party – Socialist State of Ithaca is behind you — the Asian and vegan restaurants, peace signs and rainbow flags are gone, and the pro-NRA banners begin.  You’re now in the Southern Tier, and it’s shotgun racks, dollar stores, and Don’t Step On Me flags all the way to the Pennsylvania line.

But there’s a sweet spot, a DMZ between the two worlds, just as you leave Ithaca, and that’s two nice state parks — Buttermilk and Treman.

 

The same falls as the first shot, but much reduced flow of water.

 

Buttermilk is the first, named for the whitewater of a big falls (165′ tall), very close to the highway.

It’s impressive in the spring, or after periods of heavy rain, but I think it’s more interesting than beautiful. Instead of a vertical drop off a rock ledge, it’s a tiered cascade, pouring into a swimming area.

The curved slope of siltstone and shale is shaped a bit like a section of a domed roof, or maybe a big hoop skirt, and the creek just comes down it in a pretty uninventive way.

The water doesn’t really leap from the rock, and go for it, take the big plunge, it just slides over it.  Dutifully following the law of gravity, falling without any particular style, just like the rest of us.

If you or I were on that slope, we’d be sure to slide down it too, and we wouldn’t expect anyone to think that was very clever, would we.

 

 

It’s right off the highway, with picnic tables, a swimming area at the base of the falls, and playing fields close by, so it’s a bit busy.

I mean, it’s perfectly nice and has that pleasant bustle of people picnicking, dogs barking, kids happily hitting each other with sticks and rocks, etc. but combined with the rumble of motorcycles and trucks on the highway, the noise drowns out the water sounds.

 

Did I mention the stairs? There’s a lot of stairs.

 

 

 

 

So, why the heck am I talking about a spot that I’m not entirely keen on?  Because if you cross the creek, on a little iron bridge built in 1881, and follow the steep trail up the south side of the gorge, it’s fantastic.

There’s a whole series of smaller but wonderful falls.

The water is having a wonderful time, whizzing through high-spirited chutes, swirling in circular pools, dividing and rushing back together in playful angles, and you’re right next to it all, you can stick out a hand and feel the spray.

 

 

 

This is the view at the beginning of the glen.

 

 

 

The trail is rough and often slippery, but totally worth it.  Once you’re in the glen, ferns decorate every crack and ledge, overhead are maples, beeches, and hemlocks.   The highway noise disappears, and there’s just the sound of rushing water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get there early in the morning, or early evening, especially on a day when rain is threatening, and you’ll probably have the place pretty much to yourself, and can just soak up the quiet musical reverberations, and watch the acrobatics of the barn swallows, swooping and streaking through tight turns just above the water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One rainy afternoon, I played with this shot on Photoshop, with a watercolor effect, and kind of liked it. What do you think? OK or annoying

 

 

per Steve’s suggestion, here’s a more heavily-edited version

 

 

Finger Lakes, FLX, NY, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. May, Buttermilk Falls.

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Here’s a bit of a contrast to the beautiful spring blossoms.

A pair of sinister mug-shots.

I don’t remember running across these before, but apparently they’re quite common.

“Devil’s Urn” or Urnula craterium.  (Based on extensive research for almost ninety seconds on the internet.)

One article indicates that if you blow into the cup, it may spray out a cloud of spores with an audible hiss.

Any volunteers?

In the original Star Trek, there’s an episode called “This Side of Paradise,” where some alien flowers spray spores onto the colonists from Earth, and establish a symbiotic relationship, giving them all perfect health.  The spores also cause Spock to fall in love & be happy, for the first time in his life.

So, everyone is healthy & happy & in love, and no one sees much point in flitting around space in a giant tin can, bothering the natives.  Luckily, Captain Kirk is there to save everyone from this horrible fate, and evacuates the planet, so everyone can get back to being normal humans, staring at computer screens all day and paying taxes.

If you remember, it was after this episode, that Sulu and Chekov started referring to a “Captain Buzzkill,” and Scotty suddenly couldn’t ever get the transporter to work right, and kept leaving Captain Jerk, sorry, Kirk, stranded on hostile planets.

 

Finger Lakes, FLX, Nature

Devil’s Urn

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food

The real meal deal

 

 

I took a box of microwave popcorn out of the cupboard, and saw this label in the photo.

And thought, only real ingredients??  What other option do they have?

Is this some sort of pretzel logic, or are there actually buckets of purely theoretical popcorn being sold, drenched in pseudo-butter?

If all the ingredients are unreal and imaginary, and the box is sold by weight, not volume, you’re gonna have a problem.

Even “reality shows,” famous for mental lightweights, have some sort of density and concreteness, especially between the ears.  A big box of the the unreal, even if supersized and 33% more volume! (than the smaller box) is just going to irritate people, when it dawns on them that it’s empty.

I’ve got no objection to the imaginary or unreal, heck, whatever gets you through the day, or gets you an Oscar, or elected to office, unreality seems to be trending in the USA.

But how do you get FDA approval?  What are the additives and carb count, and what does it weigh?

Mostly I don’t read food labels, they’re kind of mystifying and scary.  Glycerides sounds mythical, I looked them up, expecting they were related to Greek deities like Gaia or Gymnastika (the goddesses of earth and morning exercises, respectively).  Or maybe it’s Roman, glycerides, a slippery version of the Ides of March?

But they’re apparently something real, and then reading about Glycerides gets you involved in a Wikipedia story about Fatty Acid Ester – – sounds tough, doesn’t she?  like Ma Barker.  Apparently though, according to the article, she’s very hydrophobic (like people with rabies?) and probably sticks to bathtub gin.

 

 

My second thought was, Only Real Ingredients…how very disappointing.”

Isn’t food something we look to, every now and then, for a little bit of imagination or even fantasy?

One of my grandmothers used to make Angel Food Cake, with whipped cream and strawberries.

We knew, I guess, it wasn’t really food by, or for, angels, but that didn’t seem entirely unbelievable, either.  It was pretty delicious, blissful, and gave you a floating sensation.

If it was strawberry season, and the fruit was just perfectly ripe and fragrant, it surely seemed to be pretty darn angelic.

 

 

Another ancestor was famous for her Ambrosia.  The recipe for this food of the gods was passed down, but the old folks say, they cannot duplicate the perfection they remember.  Some even mutter darkly of sabotage and the sin of omission — some ingredient or super-secret wrist action, when the whipped cream is folded in, that wasn’t written down.

A warm, fragrant slice of Pie in the Sky seems like it would be tasty and felicitous right about now.  Not sure what type of pie, I know my favorite, but maybe the angels are sensitive about eating apples, I seem to remember some sort of biblical issue over that.  Or I’d like to pull a Mason jar out of the cupboard – pickles, apple butter, whatever, it doesn’t matter –  maybe find it forgotten on a shelf in the pantry, and find a hand-written label “Legendary Good Stuff.  One Jar of the Fantastical.”

 

I guess that label, “Only Real Ingredients,” could be a hopeful sign, really.  It implies the possibility of “Unreal Ingredients.”

One hallucination per box, and no monosodium glutamate.  

This kind of wishful thinking is easy, when you grew up hearing about pubs in Hogsmeade serving delicious butterbeer and the tasty-looking Krabby Patties they dish up in Bikini Bottom.  When you’re a bit older, say, thirteen, you find most real cocktails are disappointing, compared to a Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster.   Wish I had one right now.

Well, I see that on April 1st, April Fool’s Day, the State of New York has legalized recreational marijuana, we’ll see if that inspires some more interesting dishes.  I hope they don’t make a hash out of the brownie recipes.  Just keep it real, man.

 

 

 

The strawberries & the bread label with the bear & magic yeast are from the Wellcome Library.

 

 

 

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A disintegrating old barn, leaning six ways to Sunday.

I like the hand hewn beams & weathered wood on old barns, and this had the right stuff, but right angles, not so much.  Nothing was entirely straight or plumb.

The light coming through the boards looked like some sort of coded message to me, but the first person I showed this to, saw a cityscape at night.

 

Finger Lakes, FLX, photography, Upstate New York

Old barn at the end of the day

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Finger Lakes, FLX, Upstate New York, Waterloo

Organic advertising ~~ Spreading the word

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19th century, Alternate History, Arrant Nonsense, hiking, statue

Learning All About History by Looking at Statues ~ ~ Chapter IX ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Captain J. S. Bevel-Gearing ~ Friend of Lost Hikers.

Statue IX:  J. S. Bevel-Gearing, a man with a lot of time on his hands

Most of us can all recall a time or two, when we’ve been, if not lost, at least a bit disoriented during a hike in the woods.

Sometimes, I think that’s A-OK.

Like so many situations, you can fret about it, and let it upset you, or just consider it “unstructured playtime” and no worries.  I follow the same strategy in writing these meandering posts.

 

North Point Tower, a Milwaukee landmark since the 1870’s.

 

My workdays are organized to a nicety, and scheduled to a fare-thee-well, so every so often, it feels nice to be wayfaring without much of a plan.

Go roaming, off the clock, off the grid.  If your mind is already wandering, let your feet join in, too.

 

Bevel-Gearing’s granddad, who started the clock business, made stuff like this. They were mostly given as wedding and anniversary presents, or as door prizes for good deportment, but the astronomical timepieces didn’t sell as well in the 19th century, and in Milwaukee, most people didn’t have enough room in their dens, so the company changed gears and made alarm clocks.

 

When that mood strikes, I’ve got no use for  guidebooks, pedometers, compasses, watches, maps, GPS, etc.

More fun to just strike out and follow a deer path or old logging road, or go bushwhacking cross-country.

In the Finger Lakes region, not to worry, you can’t get too lost.  If you just keep on keeping on, you’re sure to hit a lake, they’re really hard to miss.  Just ask one of the guys fishing, which lake it is, and bingo, you’re no longer lost.

 

This was made for the U.S. Capitol, where it now graces the Crypt. Some of the congressmen complained that the figures leaning on it didn’t look too industrious, and just seemed to be slouching around. So, Bevel-Gearing took it back to the shop, added weapons for both figures, stuck an angry bird on top, and everybody went home happy.

 

If you somehow manage to miss the lakes, and are still lost, you’re sure to stumble across a winery or microbrewery.  The kids they hire to pour out Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Imperial IPA’s usually don’t really know jack about wine or beer, or who won the last presidential election, or which way is North.  And mostly cannot give you coherent directions to the parking lot, much less to town, but they’re always friendly, and if you just mention you like their Phish tee-shirt, they’ll lend you a cellphone so you can call somebody for a lift.

Just keep your chin up and keep walking, there’s always locational clues.  Worst case, if you really keep wandering, eventually someone will say politely “Eh, pardon me, are you lost, do you require assistance, eh?” Or “Yo, let’s g’down ta tha WaWa and getta pork roll”  And then you’ll know where you are – southern Canada or northeast Pennsylvania, respectively.  So again, you’re no longer lost.

Anyway, it’s probably time to launch a new series, “Confused Wanderings Around Milwaukee & Wisconsin.  And Possibly eastern Minnesota?”

 

Bevel-Gearing’s “Wayfarer’s Lighthouse”  I went back to that forest with a camera, to take better pictures, but never found it again.

 

So, traipsing through the Wisconsin woods  one day, perhaps slightly unsure of my location, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter the guiding beacon in the photo, a kind of land-locked lighthouse, and find it was a Victorian innovation for lost foot walkers.  I read up a bit about the inventor and philanthropist who built it, although I’m unable to pin down exactly where this tower is located.  Somewhere north of Milwaukee, but shy of Green Bay, most likely.

 

The North Point Tower is great for navigating my way through town toward the lake.

 

Finally home that night after my hike, I looked up this lighthouse off in the woods, a hundred miles from Lake Michigan, and learned a bit about a local hero, “Captain” John Stryker Bevel-Gearing II.  (Called “The Second” by his clock-obsessed family.)  That’s his statue in my first photo, and he’s become kind of a patron saint for lost hikers.

(Travelers, sailors and mountaineers usually look to Saint Christopher, but there’s a technicality – he’s assigned to help people trying to reach a specific destination, not just gallivanting aimlessly.)  (Although I don’t know how the Vatican delegates this stuff, but I’ve always thought Chris seems like the kind of guy who’d help out anyway, even if you’re a wandering heathen.)

Bevel-Gearing was an innovative clockmaker, entrepreneur, and philanthropist – a product of an earlier, more optimistic time.  A 19th century immigrant, originally a liveryman of London’s Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, he’d traveled six time zones west to pursue his passion for bird call clocks and time-regulated poultry feeders.

 

Sometime during 1870 – 1900, when Milwaukee’s population was quadrupling, the Captain opened a small manufactory of clocks and mechanical regulators, in an isolated clearing, deep in a forest, close by the Wisconsin Dells.

This Dells region is nothing like the pleasant dells and dales of England, and really, as I understand it, should’ve been called a dingle – – a forested gorge along the Wisconsin River.  It’s already a confusing area, topographically, and this sort of definitional sloppiness doesn’t help matters.

Bevel-Gearing had selected this unlikely spot for his business, because he valued his privacy, and sought seclusion to perfect his timepieces and mechanized poultry-feeders, far from competitor’s eyes.

Unbeknownst to him, the beautiful Dells region was becoming increasingly popular with Victorian-era artists, naturalists, and excursionists.  Their volumes of Wordsworth or Whitman in hand, the visitors anticipated uplifting walks in beauty, communing with Nature.

But the forests and glacier-carved hills, ravines, and gullies proved disorienting for many, and their outings turned into a devil of a time.

 

At his clockworks, day after day, hungry and distressed walkers emerged from the woods to ask for directions, drawn to his little factory by the smoke from his chimney, and the bells, chimes, and mechanical rooster- and crow-calls being tested for his clocks.   (He loathed cuckoos, as a silly-sounding, frivolous breed with deplorable parenting skills.)

Oftentimes the clothing of these hillwalkers was a disgrace – disheveled, filthy, stockings and bloomers torn by thorns – and they’d beg a meal, having emptied their haversacks of bully beef, prunes, and hard tack.

The visitors would have to be rested, fed, watered, brushed off and made as presentable as might be.  Those who had lost their shoes in the fens and bogs, had to be loaned a pair of clogs or carpet slippers.  The whole heedless mob was then set on the right path toward civilization, or at least, Milwaukee.

Only to have some of them return in a couple days, having gotten lost again.

 

 

The Captain was a patient and not unkindly man, but very conscious of his time, and eventually he tired of the constant interruptions.  As well as the loss of every single pair of his carpet slippers.  Even the goatskin Moroccan ones, with a matching fez.

The confusion and randomness of the visits were disturbing the precise, even-tempered organization of his days, and this also bothered him.  A mainspring was far more to him than springtime.  He spent his life designing regulators, and all this hullabaloo was highly irregular, and time-consuming.

One day, visiting various toolmakers in Milwaukee, he was taking his mid-day constitutional along the shore of Lake Michigan, timing the waves as they lapped the shore like a metronome.

He came upon a wreck –  an iron-hulled ship, driven onto the rocks by a storm.

 

Like the beam from a lighthouse, piercing the fog, an inspired thought lighted the innermost recesses of his brain.  Hitherto unused gears began turning like clockwork.

 

The vessel’s owner was at hand, surveying the damage and cursing the unlucky vessel in exaggerated terms of opprobrium.

Bevel-Gearing had never commanded a ship (the “Captain” was merely an honorific bestowed by the Independent Protective Order of Agricultural Mechanics & Breeders), but he immediately struck a bargain, and purchased the salvage rights on the spot.  The ship’s iron hull and frame were disassembled, and hauled off to his clock factory.  There, the iron was cut, bent, and then reassembled on a nearby hillock, into the metal signal tower you see in the photos.

 

Any lost tourists, watercolorists, butterfly-collectors, and rock-climbers in the area soon learned to head for the tower, which was stocked with soap, towels, ship’s biscuit and mineral water.  A teetotaler himself, he’d initially installed a cabinet with a case of medicinal brandy, but this was exhausted the first weekend of operation, when a photographer happened by, and the Captain never repeated that mistake.

A well-blazed trail led from the tower to a stagecoach landing.

With this forest beacon in place, Bevel-Gearing was able to happily return to his experiments in blessed solitude.  His crow-call clocks were never commercially successful, although a functioning example is worth a good deal to today’s collectors.  But his clockwork poultry feeder was a huge success, enabling him to retire and set out on a ’round the world peregrination.

 

B-G’s poultry-feeders, with an elaborate system of chimes to call the chickens to dinner, pre-dated Pavlov’s experiments by several years. But he was not interested in conditioning, or salivation, and just wanted fatter, less frenetic chickens, leading a more orderly life.

 

Sadly, during the first stop of his Grand Tour, he came to an untimely demise.  While inspecting, and perhaps attempting to adjust, the double three-legged gravity escapement, on the clock associated with  “Big Ben” at Westminster, his cravat became loosened and then entangled, pulling the Captain to a grisly fate amongst the clock’s gearwork.

But perhaps some particle of the Captain still travels through the clock’s mechanism, greasing the grooves, high in the landmark tower.  Which he might regard as a not unpleasing fate.

 

Well, Bevel-Gearing is just imaginary, of course, but I love lighthouses, and wouldn’t it be great to have them in the forests?

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Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Nature, NY, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. March, Fillmore Glen. Hemlock Varnish Shelf Fungus.

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Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Nature, NY, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. March, Fillmore Glen. Hemlock Varnish Shelf Fungus

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