Seeing the Warblers of Spring Bird Migration

Got out to take some pictures on the trails at Riveredge yesterday morning. Here is a Palm Warbler that stayed still for just long enough.

And here are some of the folks out social distance birding…

Something about this bench was so inviting. Maybe it was the surrounding sun. 😉

ALPHABETLAND: the Unexpected New Record by X: A Very Personal Review

Seated inside of an office within a large hospital and next to a stack of industry-related magazines. I looked over at the side table and on top was NEUROLOGY TODAY or something similar. I don’t remember the specific name. “Why the hell is Exene Cervenka of X the Band on the cover of this magazine?” I recoiled.

I’d driven my brother to an appointment, related to #HuntingtonsDisease, which Ken harbored the gene for and developed, and which I for some reason do not have. We were both born with a 50% chance of catching that which our daddy, Edmund III had. I guess I inherited the name, Kenny the disease.

I read the article about Exene having #MultipleSclerosis and how she orients her medication while on tour to optimize her ability to be onstage for a couple of hours. My perspective read that she would spend her whole day struggling and conserving energy for a couple of optimal hours on behalf of the experience of their fans. A true inveterate performer.

I recall seeing X play during the Sprecher Brewery anniversary party at Juneau Park in downtown Milwaukee. I’d never expected for the opportunity to see this band, that started practicing in 1977, let alone in my own city, for FREE, during in a open air festival.

That show took place during a foggy spook of a night and I recall being confused, while driving past in search of a parking spot, in seeing that the band was onstage even though we were 10 minutes early. I now imagine this might have been a result of Exene’s optimal prescribed window (or, who knows, any other random conditions. Not everything is a result of our damned ailments).

At some point, long after I’d finished reading the magazine article in the hospital, and was enjoying replaying their lyrics in my head, my brother emerged from his appointment with the neurologist. My heart was filled with meaning and metaphor while we drove home. Ken’s always been better at taking things for what they are, and me, the silly poet, I’ve always felt the need to ascribe some existential meaning to every, often unimportant, moment.

When I was a kid I admired Michael J. Fox for having the guts to be in front of a camera and continuing to act despite clearly living with Parkinson’s. I recall reading that he had a similar strategy to Exene in regards to performance and medication timing.

Huntington’s Disease was an ever-present specter throughout my childhood. Like a loud-snoring bunk bed sibling that might spend the next 30 years sliding a plastic bag over your head while you slept. By the time I’d started high school, aside from doctor’s appointments, my dad didn’t leave the house. That always rankled me, no matter how I tried to get him out into the world, if only to push him around the block in the wheelchair because the sun was out…my dad just wanted to close the drapes and be done.

X put out a new record today. I discovered this through Buzz’s Garage on WMSE 91.7FM. I’ve listened to it three times so far now. Maybe four times, I don’t remember. No doubt, ALPHABETLAND is an X the Band record. They’ve got it. They still possess the kernel of what they are and what, together, they have been. They’ve lived and evolved as humans and came together to distill that indescribable amalgam of what they are separate and together.

I’ve cried a few times already while listening to ALPHABETLAND. I’m still impressed with their songwriting, their musicianship, their story as a group of people creating music more encompassing than the sum of their parts. Granted, my tears probably have more to do with what their music means to me in my life than theirs. Regardless, it was their songs that elicited the response and these reflections from my soul.

This picture is of the poster Eric Von Munz made for their spook foggy Sprecher Brewery performance above Lake Michigan that I watched while my 6-year-old swayed with me while seated atop my shoulders.

X and their music and what it means to me touches a chord I can’t quite explain. You just have to listen to their music. And maybe it won’t be there for you. At that point I wouldn’t know what else to say. But it sure reaches a place for me.

Here is where you can hear, and own, X the Band’s new record. Enjoy it. I know I am.

https://xtheband.bandcamp.com/album/alphabetland

First Impression Review of a Fat Bike with the RockShox Bluto Fork

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Riding at River Glen in Milwaukee.

I’m forever trying to find tools that can do the most things, reasonably well, and within a budget I can afford. This past summer I blissfully fell down the rabbit hole of mountain biking on a 15-year-old donor given to my son a decade before it would fit him.

By summer’s end I appeared to have reached the limits of the bike’s geometry, suspension, brakes, and gearing and started researching upgrading to something more modern. Then it dawned on me…did I want to wait 5 months to ride again in Wisconsin? Nope! The answer? A fat bike.

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Wearing a pre-suspended winter outfit.

I picked up this first generation Trek Farley and started shredding once trails were sufficiently snowy or frozen. I was glad to be winding through the woods, but early on I realized that my palms and wrists had zero interest in tagging along for a rigid ride. A cabal of riders owning you’d never need more than those big tires for suspension opinions are well known, but my left wrist in particular was not in agreement.

I started looking into suspension systems and was quickly a little bummed that they were overall about as expensive as the amount I’d paid for this well-maintained secondhand fat bike. So what did I do? The same thing I did to find my fat tire bike. I called Dream Bikes. Ever Heard of Dream Bikes? Dream Bikes is (their words) “a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization that strategically places used bicycle stores in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods to provide hands-on, paid job training to teens.” They also accept and refurbish donated bikes.

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See those rings on the fork stanchions? That could mean a rebuild is in my future. No big deal, still cheaper than new.

Granted, Dream Bikes doesn’t as of yet receive many donations of fat bikes or components, but in a month my once-a-week calls paid off and in March they received a secondhand RockShox Bluto fork. “Hooray,” cried my left wrist.

Being an early fat bike, the first Farley wheel set wasn’t outfitted with accommodations for a suspended fork. The Dream Bikes crew were patient and stayed the course when it became clear a new front wheel would be required to fit this upgraded fork, so I was without my bike for a few weeks of the rainiest, snowiest, melt-browniest time of year in Milwaukee. Perfect timing! Once it was all put back together, I’d paid less than half of the price of a new Bluto (let alone the new quick release re-laced front wheel setup).

So how’s it ride?

I’ve only been out to the trails a few times so far, but already I can tell a big difference. In addition to the fork, this bike also features a 1x shifting system, dropper seatpost, and updated geometry – all upgrades I’m acquainting. So far I don’t really notice the added weight of the fork, and if anything I’m probably learning more to lean my weight toward the back to lift and jump obstacles.

I’m already a lot faster on this bike now than a couple of months ago. Part of that I can sum up to not slowing down to avoid coming down hard on the front end and my palms taking the brunt of that force. I’m more comfortable, so I’m able to ride harder, fast, and go bigger on jumps or obstacles without concern an uncomfortable descent.

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Fat bikes are pretty capable, but I haven’t tried water yet.

I tend to ride with higher pressure tires than some people on fat bikes because I enjoy the fast rolling characteristics of a taut tire. When not in snow, I run tubed tires between 11 – 15 psi depending on the conditions and degree of slickness. These fast, bulbous tires, however, with a rigid fork, can result in the front end easily sliding out in tight curves. With the Bluto, the fork absorbs those forces, allowing me to attack turns aggressively without concern for low siding. It’s a balance between fork air pressure and tire air pressure. For my (presently) ~220 pound frame I’ve been running the fork pumped to about 130 – 140 psi.

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Thank you Dream Bikes! Have a nice day.

The bike isn’t as fast or as quickly cornering as a smaller, more conventional-sized mountain bike tire bike, but I knew that going into this endeavor. With motorcycles, people often say it’s more fun to ride a small bike fast than to ride a big bike slow. In an odd way, I’m finding that’s almost reversed with mountain bikes. I’m finding it fun to surf this big tire bike, whereas a more precise scalpel-esque race bike might feel twitchy and expose my relative lack of skill.

Additionally, feeling fast isn’t necessarily the same as being comparably fast. I’ve never raced bicycles in any competitive sense. Last year I started mountain biking in earnest and I’ll turn 40 this summer. I’m having fun and couldn’t care less if I’m not as fast as someone with a more accessorized lifestyle.

Overall, for me, the Bluto fork has made this bike faster and more fun to ride. In the past the Farley felt overall stuck to the terra (and maybe that’s because I spent the first few months of our life together riding in snow), but now I feel like I can really make this ride fling and sing. And that’s what we’re all looking for, right? A little more harmony.

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Oh and that slick retro wool jersey? Got that years ago at Dream Bikes too.

Voting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The line of people waiting to vote was quite stunning, so I grabbed my camera and took a few pictures.

Chronicling The Brass Rooster for OnMilwaukee

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I ran into John McLaughlin of The Brass Rooster and was stunned by the hat he was wearing. This isn’t surprising, as John and Kate have provided a haven for haberdashery in Milwaukee for a decade now. This hat, however, had some unique artistry going on. So I made plans for later in the week to stop by the store, and came up with this article for OnMilwaukee.

Sunset on the Prairie at Riveredge

I went out at work to take a few sunset pictures the other afternoon. Something everyone takes pictures of can be a challenge to shoot in a unique way.

It wasn’t a particularly stunning sunset (no clouds) and I wanted to reinforce the idea of being outdoors, hence the emphasis on footsteps, not just reinforce scrolling through pretty pictures from one’s phone.

I go back and forth with imagery of nature. Does it motivate people to get outside, or might it satisfy that desire from a standpoint of spectating? A visual candy, lacking experiential sustenance.

Pretty pictures are nice, sure, but I’ll trade all the pretty pictures in the world for going outside and experiencing it myself. I’ll continue venturing outside and will continue to take pictures often when I do. 😘

Chronicling the First Year at The Riveredge School

Creating a new school is a little like designing an iceberg. Once it’s open people might notice it looks like a huge undertaking, but most of that work takes place before it appears. This past fall The Riveredge School opened onsite at Riveredge Nature Center. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to document some of the activities of these students at the first nature-based public charter elementary school in the greater Milwaukee region.

This picture above was the first time I went out to grab some snapshots of students out on the trails. They were participating in an exercise to sit down, and write or draw everything they saw and heard in the forest that surrounded them. They sat down and began to take in their surroundings and went to work, overall quietly and contemplative. I’d never seen a group of first graders work so independently and so calmly.

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How do you start a nature-based elementary school when you don’t yet have a school? You figure it out by using the inquiry-based educational philosophy that you work to instill in students! Thanks so much to everyone who has helped out The Riveredge School throughout this entire process, now culminating in our new (nearly complete!) yurt classrooms. We’re so excited to take this next step, in becoming the first nature-based public elementary charter school in the region with The Riveredge School this fall! . . . . . #education #environmentaleducation #nature #volunteers #milwaukee #wisconsin #elementaryeducation #midwest #yurt #optoutside #natureeducation #science #scienceeducation #outdoors

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Here is the completion of the yurt classrooms last summer, two of which are in use at Riveredge. Volunteers are extremely helpful.

Science lessons can take place on the land in conjunction with Riveredge staff and educators. Above, student learned about habitat restoration and creating ways for a less common plant species to flourish.

A snapshot of the inside of the yurt classrooms. I wonder what it’s like to have your first school experience be one in which the majority of your time is spent outdoors and the remainder of the time is inside a cozy round room looking out onto prairies. That idea kind of makes me wish I could be seven years old again and go to school there.

This was one of the first snows of the season and everyone was outdoors having a great time.

Students learned to cross country ski this past week. I bet they’ll be excited to arrive at school this morning with our six inches of new snow yesterday.

Late last summer, when the yurts were completed and awaiting students to begin classes.