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April 2008 Archives

April 9, 2008

When the Geese Return to Goose Island

Edwin Way Teale writes in his book North With the Spring, "Spring advances up the United States at the average rate of about fifteen miles a day. It ascends mountainsides at the rate of about a hundred feet a day. It sweeps ahead like a flood of water, racing down the long valleys, creeping up hillsides in a rising tide."

In flat Chicago, springtime washes in from the south in small tides of singing birds and early wildflowers, but soon rushes in a green flood of leafy trees and thick grass. At Goose Island, one of the first signs of spring is pairs of geese patrolling the turning basin and cropping the nearby lawns of industrial parks.

Goldeneye & Coot


Defending Territory

P4069671 copy

April 12, 2008

The Birdfoot

The Center for Land Use Interpretation in Los Angeles has a new exhibit and book entitled The Birdfoot which spotlights the geography of the Mississippi Delta where the river meets the sea. Near its mouth, the river splits into several channels, so that when seen from the air the landscape resembles the leg and splayed toes of a bird.

When I was in New Orleans I'd thought about visiting this area, but a rental car agent told me there was little to see there. In a way he was right, because much of the area is inaccessible by road and not easily understood by the casual visitor. But fortunately the CLUI has researched and explored the Birdfoot by car, boat and air, and presents the story in a slide presentation tour.

The end of any river is a mysterious landscape of half-land, half-water. In its natural state the river and the sea and the new land are in flux, a triangular balance of silt and tide and flood creating temporary landscapes without solidity.

Starting at Venice, where the road ends, the photo tour moves downriver with stops at various outposts of industry and marinas set in wide isolated swamps and marshy forests. Though these scattered signs of human activity are are nearly overgrown in the fecundity of tropical greenery, the Mississippi Birdfoot is no Eden.

Instead it is scarred by countless channels cut through the marshes used by industry. It is probed by oil exploration wells and natural gas pipelines. The levee system first built in the 1870s opened the river to modern shipping traffic, but cut off the surrounding marshlands from the flood borne silt that replenished them. This sinking landscape is exposed to storms and hurricanes, eroding it further, leaving only the artificial high ground of the levees. The spindly toes of the Birdfoot only become more distinct with every storm.

One by one the tour passes the lonely settlements of Tidewater, Trappers Canal, and Pass a l'Outre, seasonal hunting camps, tank farms and oil depots. In the stilted dwellings of Pilottown, riverboat pilots await their turn to take ocean vessels up the Mississippi to New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

One by one the signs of humanity are left behind as the tour follows the Southwest Pass navigation corridor. The land falls away on all sides. Now the sky is taking on the deep ocean blue of the Gulf of Mexico just ahead, in anticipation of that mystical reunion of river and sea. Beyond one last industrial structure, a bunking place for riverboat pilots, and there are the jetties that guide the ships and direct the river current to keep the channel scoured clear of silt. Venturing on beyond the land, simple posts mark the passage until it gives way to the endless horizon of the open sea.

The Center for Land Use Interpretation
9331 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, California

April 27, 2008

Up the Yangtze

I've just seen the trailer for a new film about the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

If you are in New York or Toronto you may be able to see a screening of it, otherwise you'll have to wait until October 14 to see it on PBS.

April 28, 2008


The City of Chicago will soon start construction adding to the riverwalk along the main stem of the Chicago River.

Aside from short disconnected segments of sidewalk along the river, the riverwalk is a walking and biking trail connected to the lakefront path which ends abruptly at the Michigan Avenue Bridge. By the end of 2008 the city will construct under-bridge walkways around the bridge bases at Michigan and Wabash Avenues, bringing a continuous path farther west into the loop.

The riverwalk east of Michigan is a pretty path lined with small trees but often seems a bit forlorn and underutilized, a scrap of parkland screened off by iron walls from the netherworld of Lower Wacker Drive. The streets above don't have a lot of foot traffic, just cars and trucks racing past on multiple level roadways. So connecting the riverwalk to more pedestrian-friendly areas west of Michigan should bring more users down toward the lake, as well as allow cycling commuters easier access into downtown.

Chicago Tribune story

The Globalized Scrap Industry

If you haven't read it yet, the January New Yorker article about the worldwide scrap metal industry by John Seabrook is now online at booknoise.net. Its a fascinating look into the booming scrap metal market and its global connections from New York to LA to China.

As mentioned in the article, Metal Management based in Chicago and Sims Group based in Australia recently merged to form the world's largest scrap metal recycling dealer. What had years ago been a highly localized industry has been transformed into a fully globalized commodity.

As also mentioned in the article, a key part of that globalization that has yet to be realized is the use of containers to standardize the transport of scrap metal. One LA scrap dealer, Nathan Frankel, has come up with a method to allow use of standard shipping containers. Two thirds of the shipping containers bringing products from China to the U.S. return empty, so this innovation could change things dramatically. Scrap metal is currently the second highest export from the U.S. to China due to the construction boom there.

About April 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Down Chicago’s Drain in April 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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