It’s that time of year again.
The days are mellow but at night, there’s a bit of a nip in the air. OK, really more of a wholehearted bite.
Autumn in Wisconsin — hard cold winds straight off the Canadian prairies sweep summery days away.
Experienced walkers in these parts know how to stay the course during the cold winds. Put on your heaviest boots & take on some ballast – – drop a half-dozen rolls of quarters in your coat pockets, maybe a couple pints of Captain Morgan, the favored antifreeze in these parts.
Wax the ear flaps on your Stormy Kromer hat to cut wind resistance and head into the headwinds.
People are using to weaving, here in the city that leads the country in excessive drinking, so tacking & jibing with the wind comes pretty naturally.
Signs in the park remind dog owners that during High Wind days, any breeds smaller than a St Bernard should be double-leashed and aviation wheel chocks are recommended when they stop by a fire hydrant.
Who knows where the summer’s heat is carried off to – – I seem to recall an old Chippewa legend — when the North Wind blows into town, all the sunshine’s warmth is swallowed & carried to Capistrano.
Or perhaps I’ve got that muddled somehow. But modern science offers an equally crazy story to explain the change in seasons.
This old planet wobbles along on a bent axle or tilted axis, something like that?
“Wobble & Tilt” should be a carnival ride, or cop lingo for an inebriated pedestrian, but it’s scarcely appropriate behavior for a mature planet.
And recently I’ve become hopeful that scientists will buckle down and stabilize this situation.
Last month, apparently lacking adult supervision, those crazy kids at NASA deliberately crashed a spaceship into an asteroid. (Some articles called it a “moonlet” which makes me feel bad, like we’re picking on the little guy.) The idea was to see if they could change the asteroid’s course as a kind of test run for a planetary defense system.
So I’m thinking, once NASA has practiced up a bit, crashing spaceships & changing orbits, etc. perhaps they can correct Earth’s wobble & tilt problem?
Redirect some pointless wandering rock to smack into Earth. Nothing over the top like last time, when they wiped out the dinosaurs, just a smack on the wrist with a ruler, so Earth straightens up and flies right. Haley’s Comet is due for a visit in 2061, they should have it all worked out by then.
These same science types are working on jaunts to Mars, where temperatures during the tourist season average -81 degrees F.
We laypeople may not know much about space travel. But we do know, that those sorts of scientists, interested in the Red Planet, and eighty one degrees below zero, are not from around here.
No one from Wisconsin is much interested in traveling somewhere colder. The Wisconsin science types are mostly in Madison, huddled around a plasma magnetosphere called The Big Red Ball.
Our planet has a magnetosphere of course, so at least we’re protected from solar winds, even if it doesn’t help with the Alberta Clippers or the Arctic Cold Fronts.
The Big Red Ball, at the U of Wisconsin, kinda looks like a Hollywood mad scientist thing – – covered with magnets, wires, gauges, and pretty sure a 48-cup stainless coffee maker. And it cranks out 500,000 degrees F. or 5 million K, something like that, basically “real hot,” a miniature sun. And the scientists really don’t care if they discover a darn thing — as long as the funding holds out, the lab is nice and toasty.
And that reminds me, time for cinnamon raisin bread toast and hot coffee, gotta go.
Well, I don’t really expect I’ve fooled anyone!
Yes, I took a bit of latitude with the title, and need to backpetal – – it’s not a real blossom of course.
I sliced the stem off the top of the last acorn squash from last fall’s harvest, and it just struck me, how much it looked like a daisy.
Around here, it’s still dropping below freezing every night, and probably down into the teens by next weekend.
But we had some warm weather over the past weekend, and we’re getting ready for some flowers and green leaves.
Hope springs eternal, even if it has to jump over the snowdrifts.
I’ve been making a determined and deliberate effort to make Milwaukee feel like home and have pretty much succeeded.
Part of this process, I think, was going to live in Walker’s Point, a neighborhood on the south side of town.
A mostly industrial area, on low-lying ground between two rivers, and in recent years just a footnote in the city’s story, this neighborhood has also long been a hub for people who were “othered.”
For many years, this was a German town, but in the early 1900’s, immigrants from Mexico were brought in to work in the numerous tanneries, which for a time, produced more leather than anywhere else in the world. Polish and Slovenian immigrants had arrived before them, to work in the steel mills, machine shops and factories.
Walker’s Point is now gentrifying and growing, old businesses and warehouses being converted to brewpubs, restaurants and loft apartments, but the residential population is still pretty small, there’s still a great sense of neighborliness and its low-lying houses nicely frame the skyline of the downtown. The skyscrapers for Northwestern Mutual and U.S. Bank are easily visible and not too far, but a world away from this neighborhood.
Also visible is the clock tower at Rockwell Automation, with its 40-foot clock faces (twice as big as Big Ben’s clock), big enough that ships on Lake Michigan use it like a lighthouse.
The area is also home to artists and the gay nightlife scene, and there’s a diverse and tolerant crowd roaming these streets. After being a backwater, now I think now the currents here are a lot of the lifeblood of the city, with true big city hustle & bustle but small town feelings of neighborhood.
Walking around, there are oldtime residential pockets, and you’re struck by the many Victorian homes. Many are stately and charming, with quaint flowerbeds and yards full of statues and art. While a lot of this area is still industrial and not far from the harbor (and the Milorganite factory is sometimes within smelling distance), it’s quiet and safe.
Here’s some cellphone snapshots of random things from from recent walks. There’s no theme today, it’s just an interesting town to walk around.
Here’s some stuff from other parts of the city. Closer to downtown, they’re building a 25-story apartment building. What makes that interesting – – it’s wooden! I don’t mean it will have wood facing or paneling, but the actual structure. It will be the tallest timber frame building in the world.
Near the high school where I worked a few years ago, are some Frank Lloyd Wright houses, currently being restored.
The Basilica of St Josephat, built by Polish immigrants. Maybe it was the spiritual locus, but the sky above it really was that blue the day I walked here.
Hard to believe you’re looking at a former post office (keep reading for the explanation).
By 1900, when this was built, there were 60,000 Poles living here, and they already had seven churches, but wanted something grander, with room for over a thousand worshippers. So this is basically a scaled-down version of St. Peter’s in Rome.
In a clever bit of economy, they bought the old Chicago Post Office, a big 4- or 5-story Second Empire-style building, which was being replaced, and re-used the stone blocks. (The giant 9-story Old Chicago Main Post Office you see today, which goes over the Eisenhower Expressway, was built in the ’20’s and ’30’s)
And that’s the news from Milwaukee. I hope everyone is well and staying dry.
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 friend 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.