It’s 3:30 in the morning, it’s dark, there’s no sign of a sunrise. We trudged through a soggy swamp. April is not always kind. It’s cold, it’s wet. What the hell are we doing here near Plover, Wisconsin, in the middle of a freezing night? Finally we come to a low building, a blind. If you stand at your full height, even mine! … you hit your head on the ceiling boards. We sat on low benches, peered through the cracks in the structure. Like a bunker on a battlefield! And then daylight appears like a helium mylar balloon blown away by a child with greasy fingers. I had missed it, dawn; maybe I fell asleep … I look out the narrow window; there they are! Dozens of them. Prairie chickens! Dancing wildly, horny, moaning madly, revealing all the majesty of her beautiful feathery sexual apparatus!
What a great comical performance! They pull bright orange bags down their throats, drum their paws, dance furiously to attract a mate. Territorial males leap into the air to warn other males, intruders. Then the attraction happens! … A successful male bows to a female. She shakes her ruffled feathers. It’s done. They are married or mated in a non-anthropological language! A country breakfast follows, including thick fries served on a huge deep-sided baking sheet. And meaty things!
This was one of several notable trips he conjured and took with precious friends, Rob and Susie. All of them unusually different, and all memorable and full of strange pleasures in each one’s unique way. Near Lansing, Iowa, we floated along the Mississippi witnessing large migrations of birds. There were swans and masses of coots, goat meadows, bald eagles, even a mink foraging for food along a winged dam. Before this trip, I had never seen swans in flight. I’ve never seen so many coots gathered in a single stretch of river … (“Coots” means birds. Not old men playing checkers in cafes and salons!)
That trip down the Mississippi River may have given us the idea of another. The four of us rented a houseboat in Alma, Wisconsin. I spent one night in a cove. Lit a fire, “Old Man River” blood. Wonderful time. On the second night, after a day hanging around the Great River, passing magnificent-looking barge tugs, we stopped on the beach between a couple of side dams. In the middle of the night he woke us up twice, once by a bump, once by a barge slowly being pushed by a brightly lit tugboat, so beautiful in the dark of the quiet river. The blow was, we thought, a tree branch that had lodged under our houseboat. I couldn’t move the “branch” no matter how hard the four of us tried! It turned out to be a whole tree! I had to call Captain Jack from the charter service and his mighty motorboat. He couldn’t believe the size of the tree that anchored us to the shore, either. We saw an eagle’s nest so big the four of us could have moved in with kitchen appliances and couches … maybe a fold out bed too!
In Mexico, we discovered a spider monkey reserve near Akumal. The four of us spent over an hour interacting with the monkeys in a large cage-like enclosure. We fed them snacks and they, in turn, collected “artifacts” from our hair and skin (or whatever they found and ate!). What wonderful hairdressers! Inquisitive but almost always gentle (except for a few small bites, from time to time). The seafood restaurant was superior. The palapa-protected “Tortuga Beach” was beautiful to behold! The ferry ride to and from Cozumel was dangerous, with huge swells in a raging Caribbean. We all thought we’d sink and drown in the cloudy blue soup! But (maybe you read it in Playa del Carmen’s Because-Fish!), We survived to sail one more day … (Thanksgiving requests to San Telmo …).
Most recently, we traveled to Starved Rock State Park in north central Illinois. A place of magnificent rock formations, waterfalls, streams, and wildlife, including fun-looking tourists. Great hiking trails. Before our arrival, not far from the park, we stopped at Lasalle, near Lock 16, to ride a real canal boat powered by a single mule called “Mo”. By the way, we highly recommend Lock 16 Cafe in that lovely community. Wonderful food, great people! Starved Rock (named for a Native American battle site where the vanquished starved to death outside their stronghold) sits on the banks of the Illinois River. The lodge and cabins are beautiful, cozy, and comfortable. What’s that? Oh sure, we would go back there!
We often think of a possible Geezers guide to great travel adventures and fine restaurants catering to a more “seasoned” and therefore discerning traveler (Work title!). As a sample, and to whet your appetite (please forgive the obvious attempt …), you must try Green fire in Rockford, Illinois. It is in our “Big / many stars” good commercial kitchen listing. Here’s another … McGregor Coffee in McGregor, Iowa, across the Big River from Prairie du Chien, WI. I think we liked it The blue heron in Winona, MN, where we stopped for dinner during our driving tour along the Great River Road. And they have an Eagle Museum and (sort of) sanctuary in Winona. Lots of information on the Mississippi River eagle population, their return from near extinction. The site has a pet or pet eagle that was injured and now lives in quiet harmony with staff and visitors, and can have a photo taken with the eagle. He likes people!