Author Archives: Jim R

About Jim R

Teacher of Science, Astronomy, Nature, among other things

Mother’s Day Hike | Ryerson’s Woods

by Melanie and Jim

After our early morning breakfast, we drove across town to Ryerson’s Woods. It was acquired by Iowa City in 1985. The park has about 50 acres and includes less than a mile of trails. Last time we visited was in mosquito season. We got a short distance into the trees and ran back to the car with several bites each. This time there were no mosquitoes.

We met two men and their dogs who were on the way out. The men were chatty. One dog reminded us of the Good Dog, Carl. The children’s book series about Carl is wonderful. We saw only two other people from afar.

There is a bit of up and down in the park, but the trail is well maintained with mulch under foot. Clean-up of fallen trees needs to be done in a few places, but the path was only blocked in one spot, and we climbed over easily.

As the park name implies, it is a wooded site. The ground vegetation struggles in many places to capture sunlight. Even so, it is lush and dense with green, as well as with wildflowers.

We saw a lot of Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema triphyllum plants in many different sizes. Most were about a foot tall. There were a few two feet tall and shaded a red color.

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Praying Mantis | Babies Hatch

A spirea bush in front of the house had two praying mantis egg cases attached to twigs. We first noticed them last fall. Each warm day this spring we checked to see if the young were hatching. It finally happened. They were about 1 cm (<1/2 in) long. They sat for a while to dry and firm up their exoskeleton.

Soon after that they scurried along the twigs and leaves for cover. This one stopped long enough to look back at us before it disappeared. More about the mantis in an earlier post when one of last year’s brood looked into our front window.

Easter Hike | Argyle Lake State Park

by Jim and Melanie

Our family gathered for a potluck dinner on Easter at a country church in Illinois. On Saturday, we drove down to the area from our home in Iowa. It took a little more than two hours. In the area is a state park called Argyle Lake. It had been many years since either of us visited the park. We decided to spend part of the nice day hiking. We chose a trailhead near the dam.

The 1700 acre park, with a 93 acre lake, was established in 1948 by the state of Illinois. The site was formerly known as Argyle Hollow. It served as a stage coach stop on the line between Galena and Beardstown, IL. The hollow was also home to many drift coal mines dug into the hillsides. The park today suffers from neglect by the state. Their lack of funds is obvious. The trails we hiked really needed attention. Tick spray with DEET was a necessary precaution, given the brush impeding on the trail.

One trail bordered the lake. We encountered this pair of Canada Geese sitting on a branch.

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Screens For Car Windows

by Jim and Melanie

We have a car that will fit a 3″ thick foam mattress in the back with the passenger seats down. When we drive to Yellowstone National Park this summer, we’ll use that mattress for sleeping if a motel isn’t available. We aren’t campers and won’t likely do that often.

If we do sleep in the back, we will want windows open a few inches for ventilation without letting mosquitoes and other insects into the car. Ready made screens for car windows are available. We thought it would be easy to make our own the way many other people have done. Here is how we did it.

Newsprint paper was placed over the driver side window. With a marker we traced the window outline and marked where the metal of the car body met the glass. Some fiberglass screen mesh placed over the outline let us cut the mesh to size as seen here on our kitchen counter. Two mesh screens were cut. One for the driver side. The other for the passenger side.

We ordered 50 small very strong neodymium magnets to tape every few inches around the perimeter of the mesh. The magnets cost $12 from here and measured 1/4″ by 1/8″ seen here next to a coin. They are very strong. Keep them away from valuables.

  

We used Gaffer tape to attach the magnets to the mesh. Gaffer tape has a cloth backing and good adhesive. The cloth backing will avoid scratching the paint finish on the car.

Pieces of tape about 1.5″ long were cut from the roll then turned over. The magnet was placed one quarter of the way along the adhesive backing. The tape was placed halfway under the mesh and folded over on itself. Firm pressure was applied to assure a very good bond. This short video shows the technique.

Here is a completed screen with all the magnets around the perimeter. It is attached to the metal door to the garage to make it more visible. Notice the firm click of the magnet at the end.

Attachment to the car is quite easy as demonstrated below. Small adjustments of the magnets help to make a tight fit to the car surface so insects can’t get in. Removal is easy.

 

Tips

Arrange the magnet, tape, and mesh layers so the tape is the only layer between the car metal and the magnet. That gets the magnet as close as possible to the metal for a stronger grip.

Don’t roll the window down all the way. The screen is not bear, raccoon, crow, or squirrel proof.

Burls

I noticed two huge burls on this big old oak tree during a recent walk. They are at least 18″ (~0.5m) across. They are on city park land and should be safe. They are valuable wood and can be made into beautiful objects.

As I walked farther, it occurred to me I had a very tenuous connection to another burl. Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives was born in southeast Illinois. I was born in Illinois. He attended Eastern Illinois University not far from his birthplace. I attended EIU. He dropped out. Sixty years later a university building was named after the school’s most famous dropout. I graduated with a master’s degree in physics education. No buildings were named after me.

His brother Clarence Estie Ives farmed only a few miles from our home farm in western Illinois. He is buried in a cemetery I passed many times as a youth.

 

Backyard | Raccoon Vandals

We have a bird feeder hanging in the back several feet from any trees. It weighs several pounds due to batteries and a motor that spins the perch if squirrels get on it. It is hung from a rope about 3 meters above the ground by a sturdy carabiner clip.

This morning the feeder was lying on the ground. This is the second time it has happened. The only way to unhook it is to grip the spring clip on the carabiner and lift the feeder support wire out of it. You need hands with a strong grip to do that. We suspect raccoons are the culprit.

Père Marquette | Missionary & Explorer

by Jim and Melanie

We grew up, and continue to live, in the upper midwest not far from the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. We have seen many references around the region of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa to the travels of Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet. They are well-known as the first white men to explore the upper part of the Mississippi River in 1673. They were commissioned by Louis, comte de Frontenac, governor of New France, to find the direction and the mouth of the Mississippi.

The two set out from St. Ignace with five men and two canoes. They traveled the upper part of Lake Michigan and entered Green Bay, where they paddled up the Fox River nearly to its headwaters. A short portage of only about two miles put them into the Wisconsin River. The city of Portage, WI is now at that site. The Wisconsin River carried them to the Mississippi at what is now the town of Prairie du Chien. We have visited that town a couple of times.

The Mississippi River carried them south just past the mouth of the Arkansas River, where they decided to stop. They were warned of white men with guns farther south. They were Spanish, and the Marquette-Jolliet party feared a conflict. The explorers headed back up the Mississippi. North of St. Louis they took a shorter alternate route along the Illinois River. They portaged over the land in what is now the Chicago region to get back onto Lake Michigan. They split up near Green Bay, where Marquette stayed to rest. Jolliet continued back to Canada to report of their discoveries. This map illustrates their long journey.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. | Click to embiggen

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