Check this out:

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(Niles, Michigan) What better way to celebrate a victorious visit to the dentist than to take a long walk along an even longer river on a sunny day in March in Michigan?  None, really. And here is the proof:

Might be a mute, but it be mighty cute. This Mute Swan was ready for a swim in the Saint Joseph River in Niles, Michigan on Tuesday.

The mighty Saint Joe; it doth flow; this I know.

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Might be a mute, but it be mighty cute. This Mute Swan was ready for a swim in the Saint Joseph River in Niles, Michigan on Tuesday.

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A Sunday Sojourn in the City

The assignment, which I gladly accepted, was to drive from 31st and Halsted in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, to Milwaukee and Montrose in the city’s Portage Park neighborhood, on a Sunday afternoon.

I was in town for my monthly visit to my monastery in Bridgeport, and I had reached out to family about a get-together with them in Portage Park; they suggested I forgo the expressways for a trip north by northwest on the memorable lanes of Halsted and then Milwaukee.

Those are certainly two of the most storied streets in Chicago, and I was the subject of many a story on both thoroughfares back in the day, and so, on Saint Patrick’s Day itself, I set out in our finely tuned Honda Civic from 31st Street and Halsted in search of adventure, or whatever came my way.

After amazing myself that I remembered how to turn left in heavy Chicago traffic, I headed across Archer Avenue and then the South Branch of the Chicago River and presently found myself in the Pilsen neighborhood, where I had once worked at the funeral home at 18th and Halsted. The building was still there, but, alas, it was being renovated into something other than a funeral home. Oh well. But I could see that artists were continuing to settle into Pilsen and had all sorts of interesting galleries to show for it. (Worth a return visit for a story, don’t you think?)

Crossing under the viaduct from Pilsen to what we used to call “No Man’s Land,” I was amazed to see the street lined with smart townhouses and hip, urban businesses, complete with hip, urban types out for Sunday strolls.

Urban renewal had been busy since we moved away from Chicago in 1987.

Then it was on to what we used to call Circle, and is now known as UIC, or University of Illinois Chicago. We actually swam in both their 50-meter and 25-yard pools, so we have a claim on UIC. I didn’t have time for a swim, so I paused at the historic Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at 800 S. Halsted Street for a photo, and then continued on into Greektown where I had misspent more than a few hours of my youth. If I had a penny for every “opa” that I hollered out at those lively restaurants on Halsted, I would be able to treat you all to a Greek feast.

I then followed Halsted under the Lake Street elevated tracks and presently found myself at that confusing intersection with Grand and Milwaukee. I knew better than to take a hard left on Grand, so I “hung a Louie” (South Side for “took a left turn”) on Milwaukee and began a long creep and crawl up the avenue of dreams for many a recent arrival to America. Natalie, who is predominantly Polish, always reminds me that Milwaukee Avenue was the Polish highway out of Chicago. You start down near Grand Avenue, and then move farther northwest until you’re out in the suburbs.

Today, the Polish Roman Catholic Union is still there, but so are Cuban restaurants and vegan dairy-bars and fusion-this and fusion-that and you-name-it and I probably saw it on Saint Patrick’s Day on Milwaukee Avenue.

The cyclists were moving faster than I was, but I didn’t mind, because I had me some mellow tunes on the box, and I was just groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon in the city of my birth on an avenue where Natalie and I had done some serious eating, movie-going, and window shopping.

And, of course, I got stopped right in front of a so-called Irish pub that was in full sway for the holiday. But I was the designated driver, so I just smiled at all those happy Irish-for-a-day revelers.

I found the Bucktown section of Milwaukee to be the liveliest, and not so much in Logan Square and beyond. And once past Belmont, old Milwaukee Avenue took on an almost suburban look.

I had no trouble finding Montrose, because I knew it was just north of Carl Schurz High School, which I remembered competing against when I was a student at Morgan Park High School on the South Side.

I hung another Louie when I got to Montrose, and I was soon in the bosom of my family, regaling them with tales of my Sunday sojourn up Halsted and Milwaukee. They thought it was funky and cool, and so did I, and I would do it again, in a heartbeat.

In fact, I will do it again, next time I get an invitation to visit the family in Portage Park.

May all your Sunday sojourns be as pleasant and interesting as mine.

Happy trails, ‘til we meet again.



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Our beach in Harbert, Michigan during the Polar Vortex.

(Editor’s note: Yes, spring begins today, but there is snow in the forecast for southwest, lower Michigan where we live, so I thought I would celebrate the day with my first column for the Beacher for 2019.  Enjoy and stay warm.)

It’s spring and you’re all looking forward to summer, but I am definitely looking fondly at this past winter because we went to Merry Olde England and Siberia. All, I might add, without leaving Berrien County, Mich.

I know you folks who skied the Alps and Rockies this past winter are jealous, as well as you Sunbirds who wintered in Florida and/or Arizona.

We had ourselves one satisfying winter vacation thanks to the Three Oaks Township Public Library and Tubbs Snowshoes.

The former supplied us with a steady stream of videos about the British Isles, and the latter got me down to our beach during the Polar Vortex in fine form, despite knee-deep drifts in the dunes. We had so much fun that we’re already looking past summer and fall to next winter, when we would actually welcome another Polar Vortex or two.

So let’s start with our trip to Merry Olde England, compliments of the Three Oaks Township Public Library at 3 N. Elm Street in the home of the Apple Cider Century. Speaking of which, allow me to digress briefly to note that I began the winter on my bike. Yes, it was mild enough for most of January for some serious bike rides around Chikaming Township, and I even encountered Sexton Kirk Schrader filling in a grave at Riverside Cemetery in his shirtsleeves. At that point, I thought I would spend my winter vacation from my duties at The Beacher on the seat of my Trek bicycle.

Then WGN’s Tom Skilling started warning about record-setting chills churning our way from the Arctic Circle, and I cracked out the library card and my Tubbs Wilderness Snowshoes.

Oh, I should mention that we keep our full-house generator in good working order, plus a huge pile of wood I split last fall, so we are always ready to be snowed- and frozen-in.

Noting that our tastes ran to historical dramas set in the British Isles such as Vikings and The Tudors and The Last Kingdom, our friendly librarian in Three Oaks directed us to the sale table, where sat a video series by The Teaching Company titled A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts.

“It’s yours for a dollar,” she said.

Such a deal, and it was with such pleasure that we hunkered down on those bitterly cold days of the last week of January 2019 and curled up with the erudite Professor Robert Bucholz of Loyola University, as he convincingly argued that England became the first modern country in the years 1485 with Henry VII on the throne to the death of the seriously underrated Queen Anne in 1714. Natalie majored in History, and I wish I had, and history is such fun when taught by an enthusiast like Robert Bucholz. So, yes, it was cold and snowy outside, but we were warmed by our fire and by Professor Bucholz’s vivid accounts of Bloody Mary’s purges and the bloody Civil Wars and the dignified manner in which Charles I faced his execution in the bitter cold at Whitehall Palace on 30 January 1649. Charles asked for an extra shirt that morning so he wouldn’t been seen to shiver as he marched solemnly to the block.

Who needs to schuss down the Alps when you can watch Charles II restore the monarchy for only a buck?

And then, as if that wasn’t enough winter-vacation fun, I strapped on Tubbs Wilderness Snowshoes on the very day Tom Skilling and his colleagues were saying it was colder in the Upper Midwest than Siberia. That would have been Wednesday, January 30, 2019, right?

I know I’m right because the trusty Tubbs and I snowshoed down the so-called “dog path” to our beach in Harbert where—and I kid you not—they were shooting a remake of Doctor Zhivago. All right, I do kid you, but not by much, because the scene before me was one of true Arctic bliss, and one that could only warm the heart of a native Midwesterner. I was snug as a bug in my thermal layers, but I could not have eaten baklava with my balaclava over my mouth. Nonetheless, I was caparisoned for battle with the extreme elements, and I was utterly transformed.

The only sound was silence as the great mounds of frozen lake sat snow-dusted in the remorseless winter sun. Not a creature was stirring, not even the lake, as far out as the eye could see.

I could have been the only soul left on the planet, for all it mattered. And all that mattered to me was that I was having a blast on my winter vacation. I regretted that my dear wife Natalie couldn’t join me, but then she has back and hip issues that prevent her from snowshoeing. But I was happy to know that she would be joining me in the spring for bike rides.

And then, when I thought it was way too cold for beast or bird to be about, a murder of crows appeared and flapped happily about our stand of pines on the bluff. We have, in Michigan, the robin as our state bird, but at that precise moment I wanted to text the governor and tell her to amend that at once to the noble crow. Our official state bird was down in Florida with the other snowbirds, but the noble crow was flapping in the Polar Vortex.

Such were my thoughts as I snowshoed back up the dog path to a home filled with jolly tales of Merry Olde England, the love of a good wife, and the devotion of our confirmed indoor cat, Tiger.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to polish the snowshoes in case another Polar Vortex interrupts the normal broadcast of spring and summer.



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This vision greeted me this morning on Kaiser Road as I was heading east to Niles, Michigan for a dental appointment.

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I’ll be down by the Saint Joseph River in Niles, Michigan this morning for a spot of dental work. A walk along the river will be in order after I get to shut my big mouth.

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