Jun 26, 2012

Little household tasks

Spring and summer in Northern Illinois come with a whole spectrum of bugs, critters and insects. Some we were used to see in Holland, such as ants, bees, wasps and dragonflies, but here - stereotypically American - they are clearly bigger in size. Big wood bees, huge bumblebees, and lately we have gigantic ants occasionally marching through our kitchen.

Next to the supersize versions of bugs seen in Holland, we are also encountering more exotic critters around here. June bugs came early this year because of the mild winter and pleasant spring. Their little dome-shaped bodies flocked the street lamps in the evening for a short two weeks early May. I've spotted the first fireflies this season further away from the lake, but we are still waiting for these big butted love seekers to start hovering in our front yard. Nothing beats their mystical fluorescent flickering lighten up a balmy summer evening.

What we do have are several wasps nesting on our back deck. And these critters, either small or supersize, make a fascinating subject for macro photography.

Jun 22, 2012

GABROEN's 20th.....

Believe it or not, but this week was GABROEN's 20th birthday. And it has been a great ride. Twenty years ago to this very day: one broken ankle and one eerie green face in the middle of an intersection during morning rush hour, in front of all of GABROEN's coworkers.  Exactly ten years ago: gone down on one knee in front of all of Gabri's coworkers. And 9 years ago on this very day: a joyful but uncomfortable backward bend of one back in front of the lens of an obsessed Sienese photographer and in front of GABROEN's family and friends.

Yes, it has been a great ride indeed, and GABROEN is very much alive and kicking. The stars are aligned, the Big Dipper is watching over us. Looking forward to the next 20........  

Big Dipper over GABROEN

Jun 15, 2012

On the road again - southbound

Guess who's playing in Atlanta's Chastain Park tonight...........? Willie Nelson! He's on the road again, this time southbound. We could have known, because to me the best song of his concert in Waukegan IL was "Georgia on my mind". I'm sure he's playing that tonight as well, and I'm sure the roof will be going off when he does.

And guess who headed there yesterday.........? Gabri! She's spending the long weekend with Jeff, Jo, pineapple margaritas, shopping in Lenox, dinner in Decatur with Sara and Matt, hanging out on the porch at night with a orchestra of cicadas on the background, etc, etc.

Sounds pretty darn good to me. Guess I still have Georgia on my mind. Guess I should be on the road again some time soon. Southbound.

GABROEN on behalf of Jeroen

Jun 14, 2012

On the road again - northbound

In stead of all the concerts in outdoor Ravinia Park or in the beautiful theaters in downtown Chicago over the last year, GABROEN went northbound for a change for the most recent gig. This time to Waukegan IL, four towns north from us along the lakefront, and more or less the last town before the Wisconsin state line. We have seen some gents and dames perform over the last year or so, such as now 80-year old "coal miner's daughter" Loretta Lynn and 85-year (!) old Tony Bennett, but this time the performer was "outlaw country" superstar Willie Nelson. He turned 79 in April, and didn't look one bit older than 30 years ago when he duetted with Julio Iglesias - but then again, he has looked pretty worn for the last 3 decades.

Sign outside Genesee Theater, from Sonya Leigh's blog

Willie performed in Waukegan's Genesee Theater, and he more or less played the roof of the pretty building, certainly one of the few pretty buildings in town. It was pretty much packed, and downtown Waukegan looked like an appealing and lively place. Apparently that is a rarity - 'appealing' or 'lively' are not the typical terms people use to describe this rundown industrial town, which, on all the days that Willie is not town, only has the unblocked views on Lake Michigan going for it. But anyway, we picked the good night to explore our northern neighbors. And we had plenty of time to explore, looking at the Genesee Theater audience during the show. The best way to describe that audience? Well, it all felt a little bizarre, out-of-this-worldly, the hairdo's, the clothing style, the characters. As if GABROEN was caught in a rerun of a 1980s American Funniest Home Video-episode. But at least we had way, way more entertaining hosts than Bob Saget. Opening the evening was Georgia-bred country rocker Sonia Leigh, who got the crowd going with "Porkchop marijuana" and some other instant classics. After that, Willie was rockin' and jammin' as if indeed nothing had changed since Julio, crankin' out song after song. "On the road again", "For all the girls I loved before", "Always on my mind", "Whiskey River", "Shotgun Willie", "Crazy", and of course "Mama (and the crowd yelled/repeated MMAAAMMMMMAA), don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys". In his 1,5 hour gig, he probably paused his guitar play for 5 minutes total. And when he was finally done, he shook hands and handed out autographs for at least another 15 minutes, while his little sis' Bobbie Nelson (she is 80, has played with her baby brother for the last 40 years, and released her debut album at age 76!) and band continued to jam the night away.

I definitely raise my bandana for this guy, and my cowboy hat for Bobbie. Great performance. They show us how to be on the road, again and again.

Jun 5, 2012

The perils of fort living

Living in Fort Sheridan is pretty comfortable and very safe for us humans, as long as you know how to navigate the unwritten rules and habits of the local community. The only danger for us is getting hit by a golf ball if someone is practicing his swing on the parade ground or gettingi nfected with West Nile (which has recently popped up in Illinois) or with Varicella suburbia, a nasty bug that has been around for a while, creating desperate housewives-like symptoms.

How different must this place be for smaller critters, like squirrels, chipmunks, toads and birds. The nearby nature reserve, lake and parade grounds make a nice habitat for them, but hawks are hovering high above during daytime, and and night we regularly hear the coyotes howling nearby. Add to that the occasional sighting of owls, and you quickly realize Fort Sheridan is a perilous place for our little neighbors.

That's why I was alarmed when during one of the evening walks with Ms. Ruba, I clearly discerned a small animal in need, scratching for its dear life. But even though I could clearly hear it, in the pitch dark it took a long time to locate it. It was all the way down on the bottom of a drain pipe, which around here are thick steel tubes poured into concrete in the pavement. So after some well intended attempts, with the darkness obscuring any clue of what my rescue strategy could be and with Ms. Ruba impatiently pulling on her leash, I could only give up and leave the little rodent to its certain fate. The only entrance to this trap is about 30 feet up in the roof gutter, so it must have been quite a trip down for whatever animal is trapped there (judging the sound of the scratching I assume a squirrel). I pondered about ringing the doorbell of the owners of that particular drainpipe, but what were they going to do? Probably call the cops on me as it was past 11 PM.

Next morning, after a somewhat restless night with haunting dreams, Ms. Ruba's routine took us right by the scene again. In daylight I thought to assess the damage, but to my surprise the scratching sound had not yet ceased. It actually stopped when I got close, and only then did I notice that whatever was in there could see the light of day.

This made it even more desperate, but it also helped me devise a rescue plan of brute force dislocating the drain pipe from the steel tube. Trapped in there was one of my favorite birds since childhood because of their amazing vocal repertoire and ability to imitate other species: a beautiful Sturnus unicolor, or black starling. Just like us, the starling is a relatively recent colonist in Illinois, introduced in New York's Central Park from Europe in the 1890s, or right around the time when Fort Sheridan was built.

This individual tilted its tiny head, peered at me distrustingly with a pitch-black eye and waited for at least 10 seconds before taking off to its freedom. Ever since, I'm convinced I hear its chatter during every daylight walk, and enjoy the absence of desperate scratching sounds at night. Delighted with the successful rescue, GABROEN can now focus once more on the treacherous navigation through unwritten rules of its two-legged neighbors.