Milwaukee has a plethora of delivery startups.  T’uber delivers baked potatoes to your door.  They partner with ForkLyft, which supplies cutlery.  There’s AirB&B (beer & bratwurst by drone), DroneDrone (drones delivered to you by drone), DroningDroneDrone (CNN transcripts to your doorstep), FroshDirect (essays for first-year college classes), Amazons (heavily armed women) (to intimidate your cat when it’s having a manic episode).

 


Flash News from Milwaukee


Most people in New York, where I grew up, and Maryland, where I went to college, have never been to Wisconsin, and don’t know much about it.

Some confuse it with Minnesota, others believe it’s the capital of Saskatchewan.  One mentioned exile to the steppes, and offered to write the Tsar for a pardon.  Most visualize Life In The Land of Bland – – a monochromatic, mayo-white-bread place, awash in Schlitz, bratwurst, jello salad, Sons of Norway lodges, and endless “Laverne & Shirley” re-runs.  And cheese.  “Processed American Cheese Food,” that yellowish stuff the Dept of Agriculture is always stockpiling in Area 51 warehouses and old missile silos.

Yeah, Milwaukee does have its share of bland –  smiling but reserved Midwesterners, making guarded, ambiguous comments – but the city is also a lively, interesting, multicultural place, and a great place to find good food.  A vibrant, diverse, “minority-majority” town – comprised not just of German/English/Irish stock, but Polish, Hispanic/Latino, African-American, Asian (especially Hmong), Persians, Arabs, Syrians, Serbs, Scandinavians, etc.  They host one of the biggest Native American gatherings every year.

 

Margherita Pomodora, Goddess of Pizza. Knowing a bit about these characters just comes with the territory. I grew up west of Syracuse & Corinth, south of Junius and Tyre, north of Ithaca and Romulus, east of Attica and Corfu.

And I was happy to find there are a least a few people of Greek and Italian descent, and some Mediterranean-style eating places.  You may have seen the Greek flags waving in the stands, since Giannis Antetokounmpo started playing for the Bucks.

So while the city has all the usual delivery and ride-hailing services  – Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, etc. – the ride service I use is staffed entirely by Greek and Italian immigrants.  And it changes its name weekly.

In its first incarnation, it was Quicksilver Messenger Service, but  that was already taken, by a hippie band in the ‘60’s. So the next week, it was Mercruiser, but that’s the outboard motor company in Fond du Lac.  Then MoussakaKar, followed by Quo Vadis, Dude?, Ben Hur’ry, ToGaToGo, and currently, Bona Fide Ride.

Saturday, I was starving for Greek food – gyros, souvlaki, and the local classic, Spam-ikopita – and kept chanting under my breath, “I wanna go to Golden Acropolis,” and somehow summoned this weird old driver, Hermès.  He skidded to the curb in a beat-up old Zephyr, once silver-colored, and he had this whole Mercury theme going, wearing a cap with little wings on it.

He jumped out with an Olympus point-and-shoot, mouth going a-mile-a-minute.

“A quick snapshot of each passenger, my memory is fleeting, c’mon,  jump in, your chariot awaits and all that, you can call me Hermes, Quicksilver, whatever, just don’t call me Freddy Mercury, alright?”

There were little wings on his sandals, too.  I figured he must be from Minneapolis.

He popped a Styx 8-track in the player, put his foot down, and his bucket of bolts peeled out.  I heard Sirens wailing, but we made it to the gyro place faster than was humanly possible.

 

 

He waved off the tip, “Save it for the ferryman, at my age, I don’t need drachmas, I don’t need drama, I don’t need…” and off he went, like a silvery streak of extra-virgin-olive-oil-greased lightning.

Yeah, I’m just gonna take the bus next time.

 

Mercury in his salad days. Some people feel the burn, others feel the breeze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I recognized him, of course.  Hermes/Mercury, The Messenger.  A lot of the old Greco-Roman gods, semi-retired now, live around Brady St, or the Shorewood area of Milwaukee.  Tzatziki sauce and lightning storms all over that neighborhood.

Ceres has a vegan place called “Ancient Grains,” Vulcan has forged a chain of body shops.  Bacchus tried opening a wine bar (dude, in Milwaukee?), went broke, and I think is in rehab somewhere.  Hermes opened a seafood place with another guy, but “Neptune & Mercury Fish” didn’t go over well for some reason.

 

Mercury, working off the clock. Grand Central Terminal (LOC photo). To his left, Hercules is obviously worried about that bird, and seems to be sitting in a machine shop, which is normally Vulcan’s thing.  Minerva is ignoring the other two, while she works on a grocery list, to add to the salad bar she’s got going up there.  This busy little tableau is also called “Progress with Mental and Physical Force” or “The Glory of Commerce,” and both of those are darn catchy titles.

 

I was surprised to see Hermes just driving around, especially with a V8 getting 12 mpg, but he told me, yeah, he’s the Patron of Thieves, Liars, and Tricksters, but his Titanic success in Washington had actually scared him a bit.  “I’m not really a bad guy, just kinda fickle, y’know, mercurial, who needs The Messenger when everyone’s texting, right now I’m focused on Auto-Mobiles and Transporting…”

A real live wire.  But riding shotgun in the cab, was some glum, totally boring type, humming tunelessly, that I didn’t recognize.  At home, I looked for him in my Big Book of Forgotten Deities, riffling through a whole horde of lesser Greek & Roman gods, demi-gods, heroes, satyrs, etc.

After a half-hour, I’d gotten as far as Hypnos, the somnolent god of sleep, and his semi-famous sons, Morpheus & Phantasos, the gods of dreams – – at least a nodding acquaintance for most people.

Hypnos had literally a thousand other offspring – – one thousand kids to keep in sandals, he’d say, and they had to share their birthday parties – – always joint affairs at Chuck-E Cheese,  to save money.  And then, in a photo from one of the parties, skulking in the corner, with no one talking to him, was the guy from the ride:

 

 


Phragmites, The God of Monotony. 


Hypnos can make us sleep, Morpheus & Phantasos can shape our dreams, but Phragmites is so very dull, he can induce a coma.

And I realized, as if waking from a dream, that’s what I wanted to write about today.

 

A plumed phalanx of phragmites invades a marsh.

 

Phragmites australis, a/k/a common reeds, are now everywhere.

You may wonder, along with countless screaming Argonauts, why did I wander

so far into the weeds,

to just talk about reeds

Yeah, it’s a ridiculous segue, but honestly, I cannot hear Phragmites without thinking it’s some sort of Greco-Roman hero.  One that fights Hydras, or at least Hydrilla.

 

 

(So, just to be clear, this is a segue, not a digression, ok?  I’m not digressing anymore.  It would be cool to work a Segway in here, as a modern-day chariot for Mercury, but that would be a digression.)

 

I am seeing phragmites everywhere.  Ponds, marshes, ditches, drainage swales, unused parking lots, etc. – – it’s like hearing Justin Bieber songs on the radio, why is this reedy crap everywhere I go?  Chesapeake Bay, all around upstate NY, and now in Wisconsin.

 

 

You’re probably surprised I didn’t work in the story of Syrinx, the Naiad-nymph who was fleeing Pan, and was metamorphosed into a reed, which was then made into a Pan-flute. But I didn’t want to be panned for a digression, so pipe down.

 

There are several varieties of these reeds, including one native to the eastern U.S., but the ones I’m talking about are aggressive and invasive.  The native plants are not a problem.  They mix, they mingle, they get along well with the other plants.

The invasive strain, which can spread ten feet in a summer, crushes diversity, crowding out cattails and other native marsh plants, and forms dense, pretty much lifeless thickets.

Just like some of the talking heads on TV, you ask yourself, how can anything this monotonous, dull, and boring, be so successful at taking over?

It’s simple.

They poison the neighbors.

This is called allelopathy”  and you probably already  know that.  I’d heard about this tactic, because there’s black walnut trees all over New York, and you’re always told, don’t try growing a garden anywhere near them.  But the walnut trees seem to practice restraint, because often there’s ferns etc. , thriving all around their trunks, and anyways, the nuts are delicious.

 

“Monotony has nothing to do with a place; monotony, either in its sensation or its infliction, is simply the quality of a person. There are no dreary sights; there are only dreary sightseers.” I’m not sure about G. K. Chesterton’s idea.  I can see beauty in a sea of reeds, but, sorry, the omnipresence of common reeds does make them monotonous and dreary, and I like cattails and a healthy, lively ecosystem better.

 

The invasive phragmites seem to be much more zealous – – the plant equivalent of Assad, pursuing total war with chemical attacks.  They poison and disintegrate neighboring plants, and I’ve seen cattails, for example, be eliminated from some small marshes in just a few years.

 

 

 

Here’s a good succinct article:

University of Delaware. “Invasive Plant Secretes Acid To Kill Nearby Plants And Spread.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071012084128.htm>.

And how to tell the native vs invasive reeds:

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/idpmctn11494.pdf

 

Horsetails, I’ve read, have been popular since the Paleozoic, come to think of it, I think they predate horses, so how did folks back then pick that name? Anyway, they seem to be on the decline in the Finger Lakes, perhaps due to competition from phragmites, loosestrife, etc.

 

Monocultures, whether it’s farming, fields, or woodlands, are a problem.  There are marshes overrun with purple loosestrife, and others with nothing but these reeds.  Some woods in the Finger Lakes now have nothing but garlic mustard as the undergrowth.

 

garlic mustard

 

Now, “The Naturian” blog just listed some recipes for garlic mustard pesto, so there’s a positive, and you can certainly find beauty, and a kind of calming music, in a rustling thicket of reeds.

It’s the lack of balance that’s the issue.  A lot of things beginning with “mono” kind of stink, if you think about it.  Monotonous, monopolize, monotone, “Kissing disease,” monocles, etc. Gardeners tell me that monocots are OK, but I prefer a regular size bed.  There’s wonderful monotone of course, B&W photography, but a lot of the time, I’m hungry for color, kind of a Kodachrome guy, makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.

 

Van Gogh’s “It’s not the heat, it’s not the humidity, it’s the monotony”

 

I hope I’m not being too subtle, so >here’s another segue< .  (I heard that Barry Manilow song “Copacabana” and at some point, he yells out “Key change!” so I guess it’s ok to announce a segue.)  It’s a pretty obvious analogy here today.  Monocultures are boring, whether it’s in cities or wetlands, and it’s not good for you, it poisons the land.

I grew up around marshes full of iris, ferns, Joe-Pye weed, arrowhead, cattails, salamanders & sycamores, willows, pussy willows & winterberry, redwing blackbirds, egrets, milkweed & muskrats – – and I don’t enjoy going back to find a  expanse of unbroken, lifeless, dun-colored boredom.  And then moving 500 miles west, and finding the same dreary reeds have spread here, too.

Life should be a variety show.  There’s something wonderful and stimulating about places with a teeming mix of plants and animals, people and cultures.  A complex mosaic, not the dull monotonous prosaic.  I like to hear new music, sample fantastic new foods, maybe learn a few new words, or even new ideas.  Hear the full orchestra, not just the reeds.  I’m happy to live in a town enlivened by immigrants, old-time and new.

But what’s to be done about these pesky plants?  I’m in talks with Mercury about a food delivery “Pesto Presto” and already lined up some guys in Parks & Recreation to start yanking the garlic mustard.  The reeds, I guess if Washington succeeds in returning us to the Dark Ages, we’ll be glad to have materials for thatched huts.

 

 

 

 

food, Great Lakes, milwaukee, Uncategorized, wisconsin

Mercury & Poisoning

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Clean Waters, Great Lakes, Nature, Ontario, United States

At home in the HOMES. Thinking about The Great Lakes

 

As anyone who reads this column knows, I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

There’s eleven of these “fingers,” not ten, which is perfect, because it’s a region know for oddities.

Abolitionists, Suffragettes, Spiritualists, Actors, Chicken Nuggets, Traffic Lights, The Curve Ball, Lacrosse, possibly Rickshaws, all sorts of odd things have flowed out of here.  But it’s the waterways that largely define the area.  Growing up there, I enjoyed exploring this lake district, and learning bits & bobs of history about every little town, creek, and lake.  Obscure historic sites and house museums are common, and every other boulder seems to have a brass plaque stuck on it.  The Erie Canal also comes through our area, with its own history, and was a big deal in school, and even had songs written about it.

 

1848 map of lighthouses, Library of Congress.

 

The five Great Lakes, on the other hand, were mostly terra incognita to me. (I put that in just to bug Steve S., I guess it should be mare incognitum, or “unknown seas.”)

Basically, until very recently, I knew almost nothing about them.  But now I’m living in Wisconsin, close to the western shore of Lake Michigan, and quickly realized there’s a ton of interesting stuff to learn.

My vast experience of sailing on the Great Lakes…is limited to a single ferryboat ride from Toronto to Rochester when I was a kid. That experience, on the fast, massive “Spirit of Ontario” (a 284’ catamaran that could hit 45 knots) was exhilarating, and as a kid, I enjoyed visiting lighthouses, and skipping stones on the shore, but until I moved to Milwaukee, I otherwise thought little about the Great Lakes.

Well, the Lakes are amazing. Collectively, they represent the single biggest body of freshwater on the planet.  And nobody seems to pay much attention to them. Few people realize they’re one key to America’s global economic power. The lakes are under-appreciated and overlooked. Millions of people live on their shores, from Rochester and Buffalo to Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Duluth, and all the smaller towns and villages in between. On the Canadian side sit Toronto, Hamilton, Thunder Bay, plus the many towns and cities like Montreal and Quebec, along the St Lawrence River, that flows out of the lakes.

 

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings / In the rooms of her ice-water mansion /  Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams /  The islands and bays are for sportsmen /  And farther below, Lake Ontario Takes in what Lake Erie can send her…  (Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald“) Superior feeds Michigan and Huron, Huron feeds Erie, which feeds Ontario, via Niagara Falls. Then on to the Atlantic, via the St. Lawrence.

 

The Great Lakes flow and churn, serving millions of people, carrying millions of tons of cargo, and billions in trade dollars.  Despite the “rust belt” image, a fifth of U.S. manufacturing, and half of Canada’s, is still done around the lakes.  So why don’t we ever hear or learn more about them?

 

 

As a kid, when I thought of Great Lakes, I thought of the color gray. Gray, often frigid water, and I thought “boring”.

But how could lakes that hosted pirates, smugglers, Fenian raiders, fur traders, bloody naval battles, and countless shipwrecks possibly seem boring? As an Upstate New Yorker, living an hour’s drive from Ontario, and less than two from Erie, I’m surprised by how little we were taught about them growing up.  Those of us who live near them, take them for granted, even while those in arid places, look on enviously, hoping to share in that liquid gold.  As the world gets hotter, and huge swathes of it, drier and drier, interest in all that water will continue to grow.

Six quadrillion gallons.  One out of every five glasses of fresh water on the planet.  And yet, during the entire year I worked in a Milwaukee public school, I recall Lake Michigan being mentioned…once.

 

I took this picture when I was in grade school. It’s Kingston, the town in Canada where Lake Ontario ends, and the St. Lawrence River begins.

 

But now, after my travels abroad and at home, they suddenly seem… appealing, and fascinating.

They’re all connected, and navigable.  You can sail from Duluth, Minnesota, over a thousand miles to Kingston, Ontario – – and then into the St. Lawrence, and on to the ocean.

 

Another snapshot from grade school: A retired Canadian Coast Guard ice breaker/buoy tender CCGS Alexander Henry.

Not one week goes by without me wishing to walk out of my office, continue to the shores of the lake, to hop aboard a coal barge or iron ore freighter and sail away.  Stop by Chicago for the weekend, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, right on the water in Cleveland, hop off in Buffalo to see Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, then Toronto for a ballgame.  The Rideau Canal will take you inland to Ottawa, but the ship in my fantasy is too big to fit through the locks.  .

If I timed it right, I could board one of the European-flagged ships, cruise through the lakes, then up the St Lawrence Seaway, hang a right at Gaspé, and before you know it, I’d be cruising the Atlantic, bound for Hamburg, Rotterdam, or even the Baltic. Today, as a lot of American grain is going to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, perhaps I could stay onboard ‘til I arrived at Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore or Lagos.  The only limitation on this fantasy, is that, as I discovered on my way to the Galápagos, I’m very inclined to seasickness.

 

Hattie Hutt, 1873 lake schooner. LOC

Ok, so while I’m no sailor, I sure love looking at ships and boats, and thinking about them. One of my odder fascinations is with “container ports.” I guess it’s a bit like train-spotting – it doesn’t really get you anything or anywhere. Nor can I win money during trivia night at a pub; nobody asks questions about those sort of things. But it doesn’t matter. I find that I am transfixed by them. From the giants of global trade like Singapore or Hong Kong, to the lesser ones like Albany, Wilmington, DE, and the Port of Milwaukee, I find that I can stand there watching ships churn past the grey waters for an unusually long time. I have pored over many articles online about them.

 

Leif Eriksson Discovers Milwaukee”   OK, just kidding, but when I arrived here, one of the first things I ran across, was a statue of him.  It’s never been proven, but it’s not 100% impossible that the Vikings explored the lakes.   The painting is actually “Leif Eriksson Sights Land in America” – – the Norwegian artist Christian Krohg painted this for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition. Kind of a dig at Columbus.  A copy hangs in the U.S. Capitol.

 

Recently, in an effort to make Milwaukee my true home, I’ve started joining various groups to meet people. On one occasion, I met a guy who works part-time in the US and part-time in Sweden. He described himself as a “waterways scientist” and didn’t elaborate, but shared a stream of anecdotes and facts about human impact on the lakes. The lakes have always drained into the Atlantic. But the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway, to allow ocean-going ships to sail into the interior of the U.S., allowed salt water to flow into the Great Lakes. Even distant Lake Michigan was impacted, and the local salmon population was harmed. A decade or so later, with the lake system polluted and full of chemicals, a hare-brained scheme was devised to introduce a type of mussel into the lakes, to clean them. The mussels would also serve as a source of food for the salmon.  It was very interesting, but a lot to absorb, and as the scientist continued on, with his tales of unintended consequences, I lost track of what happened to the mussels, but began to appreciate the complexity of the lakes’ ecosystem. We stave off, or invite in, invasive species. The lakes give life (drinking water), and also have spread disease and pollution.  After centuries of reliance on fish as a valuable food, we then hold the sturgeon to be so valueless, they were hauled up en masse,  dried, and used for steamboat fuel, and almost made extinct.  The lakes and their tributaries produce electricity to power industries and cities, then flood and destroy entire neighborhoods.

 

“Grain Elevator” (1955) Joseph Plavcan (Erie Art Museum)

Much as people-watching at an airport allows us to guess at the stories of those rushing by, ship-watching allows us to wonder about what cog of the global trading machinery we’re witnessing. Did that ship sail from some port in Russia? Where did it go, between here and there, and why is it here? What’s its cargo? Where are the sailors from? I read that 1/3 of all sailors are Filipino, so what do they think when they visit the U.S. or Canada? They leave the steaming tropics, for months or years, facing shipwrecks, geo-political logjams, Somali/Nigerian/Malaccan pirates, and typhoons, hurricanes, and potentially ice bergs. Sea-sickness, sketchy port cities, dangerous cargo, tedium, daily bowls of borscht, on the Russian ships, you name it, they have to face all that.

I don’t know why these lakes are unknown to most people, even those of us who live on them.  I’m ready to dive into a new project.  Well, once things melt a bit.  This is a fascinating region, the lakes and their stories are fascinating, and now I’m hooked, and want to learn more. These waterways will never seem gray to me again.

 

Lake Ontario

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Recently I’ve been reading about the Great Lakes, and will be putting up a couple posts about them.

And today, my folks sent these pictures, from the shore of Lake Ontario.

A windstorm in February had gusts of 69 mph, stacking the ice fifteen feet high on the beach, and coating the trees along the shore with ice.

After the beautiful, delicate formations on the streams in the Finger Lakes, this ice has a strange cast to it, and looks decidedly less friendly!

 

 

 

1

 

 

2   Dinosaur boneyard

 

 

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Great Lakes, NY, Ontario, snow, Things to Do When Your Water Crystallizes on You, Uncategorized, United States, Upstate New York, Winter

Lake Ontario. March. Not-so-nice-ice.

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