Up in the Air Junior Birdman

Pagoda Circle

As we pulled into the art museum’s parking lot, Anne spied a Peregrine falcon perched on one of the light poles. We parked, tried to get a picture, but it was already in the air. It overflew us. We took this sighting as an omen. Dan and Britt are planning on using the Peregrine as the logo for their drone company. At the time, we were uncertain if this was a good or bad omen. Let me cut to the chase. On our first outing with the new drone we didn’t crash. I count that as a success.

We spent the afternoon walking around Forest Park, flying the drone and taking pictures. There weren’t very many people in the park. It was cold and overcast with occasional drizzle. Coming down off of Art Hill, we were attracted by all of the police activity around Picnic Island. We had walked this way on Saturday, but since then the news had reported that the authorities would be searching all week for some unnamed something in the waters around Picnic Island. A tent city had sprouted, peopled by dozens of law officers. I wanted to walk across Picnic Island like we did before. There were two barricades on the bridge to the island, but they were off to the side and I remembered that they had been there on Saturday. Anne asked about the yellow police line tape that now draped them. While we discussed this, we were approached by a nice FBI man who voted us off the island. He was wearing a blue windbreaker out of central casting, with FBI stenciled in yellow on it. Also on it was the acronym ERT, standing for Evidence Response Team. He was the agent-in-charge, making this his circus.

“Cellphone!” We had to take the long way around Picnic Island. On the way, we passed a group of men wading and diving in one of the back channels. They all had metal detectors and every once in a while, one of them would find another, “Cellphone!” According to a SLFD observer they had already found dozens.

Leaving this hub-bub behind, we continued on to Pagoda Circle, where I got this post’s photo. The drizzle started to intensify and checking radar, it was time to beat feet. We made it back to the car just as the drizzle turned to rain. Moments after getting home, rolling peels of thunder began. They rumbled on so long that at first I was unconvinced that it was really thunder. Today is trash day and I thought the rumbling was a neighbor rolling out their cans, but it was thunder.

Happy Birthday, Jay!

Don’t Worry—Be Happy

Face of the Earth #3, Vito Acconci, 1988

Flouting Coronavirus quarantine protections we went shopping, because when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Missouri has been sitting quite comfortably for weeks, at number ten on the Covid hit list of most new per capita infections by state. Five of our eight bordering states are all higher on that list, which helps to explain our predicament, but fortunately for me, these five are all on the far sides of this quadrilateral shaped state, but should I tempt fate?

Mask-Up! Our first stop on this medley of errands was Artmart, our go to art supply stop. We could have arranged curbside, but heck, why bother. Anne wanted to get picture frames for some photos that she had taken this summer at Raco. In stark contrast they show various grasses that have managed to grow in the cracks of the tarmac. Their dark branches and shadows are raised to vivid relief against the white concrete. Still, we could have ordered the frames from Amazon, but she wanted to buy local. I went there to get foam board that I plan on using as filler for the painted burlap coffee sacks that we bought a couple of weeks ago at Kaldi’s. I plan on placing this foam board into the sacks turning them into bulletin boards. These boards are also available from Amazon.

The next stop on our hit parade was a small produce market in Webster, where we bought a pumpkin. Anne wants to decorate it by Sharpie and with a mask. That way after Halloween, she can use it to make a pie. The market was open air, but I did go inside to pay. In there were two cashiers and one other customer. I rate it safer than Artmart. Am I just paranoid or is the virus out to get me?

Next up, Kohl’s, a department store that I have never shopped at. A while ago I had bought some car fuses through Amazon that turned out to be the wrong kind. When I decided to return them Amazon directed me to Kohl’s as their return agent. The fuses were less than ten bucks, which after return fees will be less, but the thought of another box of useless junk, at least to me, sitting in the basement was too much to bear.

The store was crowded and of course the Amazon return kiosk was at the back. Manning it was a single clerk, who was standing behind a placebo sized Plexiglas screen. The line was laid out on the floor with dots six-feet apart. I was fortunate, because both the person before and after me observed this protocol. Imelda Marcos was directly ahead of me in line. She was apparently returning the left-hand side of the aisle, not the Kohl’s shoe aisle, but the Amazon warehouse aisle. With each shoebox the clerk would hold open a plastic shopping bag and Imelda would insert one of her returns. He would then tag and bag it. This process was repeated often enough that I had it down pat when it finally became my turn, which went like clockwork. Unfortunately, by then the line had grown and people were bunching up, but I was out of there.

That concluded the shopping for our trip. Afterwards, we went to Laumeier for a walk, but that was all outside, socially distanced and masked. Actually, all of it was masked and only briefly and rarely not properly distanced. I don’t recall seeing any mask-less faces. That’s a good thing. Was the whole trip foolish? Well yeah, but hopefully not disastrously so. Only time will tell. Stay tuned.

River Ratting

Life on the Mississippi

We went to Columbia Bottoms, a conservation area on the Saint Louis County side of the confluence. It has been mostly closed since last year’s flooding, but has partially reopened as of late. When we went there earlier this year, you could only go to the visitor’s center, which was closed for Covid anyway. The center is still closed, but much of the rest of the area is now open. Like the nearby Riverlands, which is also repurposed floodplain, Columbia Bottoms is all about birds. Unlike the Riverlands, which is a refuge, the Bottoms is more about bird hunting. Farming is still done at the Bottoms, not to grow crops to sell, but to grow crops to attract birds to kill. However, everything is so dry here now that I don’t think this going to be a very good year for hunting. Weather forecasts now include wildfire warnings. What is this place, California? We saw few birds there and none of them were ducks for hunting. 

Open Road?

The confluence has always been the highlight of past Bottoms visits. At this point you can look across the Missouri and see Ted Jones state park, where one can put one foot in the Missouri and the other in the Mississippi. Look further and you can also see across the Mississippi to Illinois. The website said that the road to the confluence was closed. You could only drive to within a mile of it and all trails to it were closed, but you were allowed to hike in, at your own risk.

We followed the two-lane blacktop to the confluence from the parking lot. This once wide road was lined with over our head tall grasses that have sprung up since the flood. The road sometimes narrowed considerably, but was easy to walk all the way to the confluence parking lot. There things got considerably more difficult. Even along the road, six-foot tall mounds of silt, lined the pavement. At the parking lot they formed a nearly impenetrable terrain. With our phones we knew where we were and where we wanted to go, but getting there proved more difficult than expected. We only had to go a hundred yards or so. I can’t imagine how people were able to first navigate this country. And think, this transformation of the land has occurred in only a year.

We eventually made it to the river, but some crawling was required. We missed the confluence point by about fifty yards, but so what. It looked like it was in bad shape. When we finally broke through to the river, we also flushed a Bald eagle just a few yards away. We were so surprised that we failed to get any photos. We also made it back to the car. No small feat. Anne was wise enough not to split the party, when I started forging a new path. Otherwise we might still be in those woods calling out, “Marco?”, “Pooh?”

Mississippi Mudcakes

That was an adventure, but we were not done yet. We drove around those roads that were open. We found a wheelchair accessible observation platform whose wire metal railings sang to us in the wind. Our road-closed turnaround point was a boat ramp on the Missouri. This thing was big enough to launch a battleship, but Anne wouldn’t let me drive the RAV4 down it, even a little way. Something about the river’s nine knot current and that look in my eyes scared her.

On our way back we stopped at the canoe put-in. This was on the Mississippi, along a stretch of the river that has no barge traffic, because of the Chain of Rocks. We actually made it down onto the beach here. The picture of the mudcakes shows how dry it is here now and how low the rivers are too. We had a lot of fun and on the way home, realized that we didn’t ever need our masks, because we saw no one there. 

Millennium Park

We attended a gathering this morning, in Millennium Park, Creve Coeur. There we met with Ron and DJ. It was a modest gathering, with just the four of us. We hadn’t seen each other in about a year, last meeting for Don’s memorial services. Dorothy brought some of her latest quilts to showoff and Ron drove his Model A. We talked for over two hours. Anne is now hoarse from speaking so much. It was great seeing them both again and this is something that we should do again.

Millennium Park was founded on the grounds of the old Tappmeyer farm. The farm was first homesteaded when this part of Saint Louis still rural. Back then the city was almost fifteen miles away. Their house, with its Victorian Italianate architecture was built in 1880 and has only recently been moved from nearby onto the park’s grounds. For over a hundred years, four generations of the Tappmeyer family worked this farm. Although little more than oasis from the past, it was still a going concern thirty years ago when I worked in Creve Coeur. Even then the area had been almost completely overtaken by suburban sprawl.

I think that the four of us were reasonably safety conscious. We spread-out along a ten-foot picnic table and wore masks around other people. There were other parties around, some quite large, larger than what is allowed by local ordnance, but we never interacted with them. The morning paper reported that yesterday Missouri reported it largest single day number of new Coronavirus cases. Most of these new cases are coming from outstate, outside the Saint Louis and Kansas City metro areas. There people still act as if the pandemic can’t come into their small towns and observe no safety precautions, even though it is already there.

Ellis Island

Registry Hall Windows Ellis Island, NYC

No, not that Ellis Island. In Missouri, at the Riverland bird sanctuary is another Ellis Island. On one side of the island is the Mississippi River and on the other side is a backwater slough. Just downstream from it is the Mel Price lock and dam, Lock & Dam #26, the last on the Mississippi. It creates the Alton pool that in turn makes Ellis an island. Without it, Ellis would only be an island during flood season. Less than a mile long, it is very flat, as befits the floodplain that it is. The Corps of Engineers manages it now and is about to close it to the public for the annual winter nesting season. We went there yesterday, just days before this closure is put in place. Parking at the foot of the Clark Bridge spanning the Mississippi, we could still hear the highway noise halfway across the island, but eventually the wind rustled leaves were enough to mask and drown out that roar.

The main trail is a gravel road that the Corps has been busy using lately. A digger’s tread marks paralleled the road. A new eagle nesting pole, water flow gates and erosion control rock piles speak to a busy summer. The nesting pole, really a telephone pole was adorned atop with four spikes designed to hold a Bald eagle’s deadwood nest. A few starter branches had been left up there to give the birds the right idea. Several of these nesting poles have been placed around the Riverlands, but I have yet to see any of them actually used. A half-mile south of the southern tip of Elis Island, next to Mel Price, on the Illinois side, is a huge eagle’s nest. It has been there for years. Built in a tree, the mating pair that “owns” it is likely too territorial to allow neighbors as close as Ellis.

It was bright out. The sun was alone in a cloudless sky, except that it wasn’t quite alone, because a waning moon was up there too. On the way out, we saw a raptor, probably an osprey that was eating a fish while perched high in a dead tree. Later, on the way back, a mature Bald eagle had taken its spot. Except for a few fishermen near the parking lot, we had the island to ourselves. It was eerie being alone in the bush. We saw plenty of herons and egrets, flushing a few from the new inland ponds on the island. Like I said the Corps has been busy. The pond by the nesting pole had a new fish habitat structure built in it. I guess that they were going for a bed and breakfast setup, for the new nesting pole. At the southern tip of the island is a bird blind, really just a horizontal slat fence, but there wasn’t much to see. Even the pelicans that we had seen from across the slough had moved on. Still it was a nice change of place for an outing.

Mystery Bird

Mystery Bird

We are enjoying a spate of warm weather this week. Warm enough that I might be tempted to run the air conditioner today, but I’ll try to hold off. It is warm enough now that I’ve switched back to shorts, eschewing big-boy pants for a while. The leaves are turning, so it looks like fall, even if it feels still like summer. It might hit ninety today. We had a frost warning yesterday morning, but the heat island effect easily overcame that. It is also very dry here. Not California dry, but still dry none the less. Because it is so dry there has been a marked absence of insects and with them gone so too are many of the birds.

On Monday, we heard a Bard owl calling, “Who cooks for you?” It was 11 AM on the first Monday of the month and the sirens had just rung out and must of triggered its midday revelry, because once they subsided so did the owl. Later, we saw this other mystery bird. It could just be an immature starling. That would explain the white dots and the gray head could just be a trick of light, but it was much larger than a starling should be, let alone an immature one. It was visibly larger than the flicker that rooster near it. I don’t know, it’s a mystery, but I’m pretty sure now that it is a European Starling in white-speckled winter plumage, with a black bill. Alas, much to do about nothing or at least not much. 

Yesterday, we participated in a two and a half-hour Zoom meeting. Crab was the main feature, but there were tons of other Eeganstreets (or current residents) present too. By way of a warmup, Anne had pawed through David and Maren’s Instagram catalogs and she was especially taken by one of Dave, who was holding an infant, Maren’s newest relative. David was tagged as “Uncle Dave.”

Fall Colors