Thursday, July 10, 2008

Frogs, Rabbits, and Skunks (Oh, my!)

Well, I'm approaching 16 years here in Peoria. Who'da thunk it!!

As part of my recovery from my radical prostatectomy 3 months ago I've been taking a walk or two most days. Those first walks just going to the end of the block and back was quite a struggle, but now they are generally in the 1-1½ miles, sometimes more.

In addition to the good exercise and occasionally achy knees, I've gotten to know the area around Zion much better. This isn't the first time I've regularly walked around the neighborhood, but I've never been quite so consistently, well, adventurous in walking the immediate local.

I remember one of my first visits back home to Canoga Park opening the window at night and being surprised by something that I'd heard all the time at home, but never heard here: crickets. I'm not quite sure what that means, but I am aware that in some respects this part of Peoria is much more urban than the West Valley. No crickets chirping here, except for the occasional one in the basement. No here it's the sound of cars and trucks negotiating Adams and Western and, especially, the train horns. On the other hand, we're not so "urban" that it isn't all that unusual to run across rabbits running around the area, even sometimes in the Parsonage's yard.

For some reason I'd never actually taken the time to try to walk on the other (river) side of Washington Street to find the nearest railroad crossing(s). Until now. Might as well have been 1000 miles away for all the effort I'd put into finding it, but turns out to be less than 1000 feet to the nearest two crossings. Given the exact location I wouldn't be surprised if more train cars go over those crossing every day than motors cars (and trucks).

Not even a quarter-mile away from an old, decaying -- and, wow, have I noticed the decay of abandoned properties even within the 8 blocks that my neighborhood walks have taken me; though a few homes are very well-kept -- urban neighborhood. It's a pretty busy line, too, and I've seen locomotives from the UP, BNSF, and the TP&W (Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway, or a couple of its Rail America sisters). And, a bit further on that side street is another crossing, this time for the ADM plant's own trains. No wonder the horn's blow so often.

Anyway, last evening as I was walking around that blocks near sunset I thought I was hearing the rumble of a train, so I headed down to the end of Western Avenue, then kept on going south towards the tracks, hoping to cross them so I could get a nice walk in the "industrial" area that is part of the Peoria Barge Terminal facilities.

Well, the train got there too soon for me to cross the track ahead of it -- even though it's rolling at about 5 miles-per-hour, I figured I didn't need to alarm the Rail America engineer by darting across the track ahead of him -- but I gave him a thumbs-up and then walked along side towards the crossing and the train's end.

76 cars. (Of course I counted them! I'm a boy!) As a Californian, I think of that as a long train. For Midwesterners, though, its pretty short. A little bit of everything, flat cars, box cars, tankers, some empty, some pretty beat up, a couple brand new, a couple carrying what looked like brand-new Caterpillar tractors. Cabooses, alas, are no more. And with the end of the train, I could cross over to Monarch Street and see the front of the train already crossing the bridge at the Barge Terminal over the Illinois River to East Peoria -- that's the closest point to reach the Illinois River from here (about 7/8ths of a mile, walking).

So as I moseyed along watching the train -- sunset was turning into dusk and I was walking along Monarch Street where the Finch Companies keep open piles of aggregate -- up ahead a couple hundred yards on the other side of the expanse it looked like a rabbit bounding along towards one of the piles. Well, no, not a rabbit, but maybe a cat. Especially since his eyes were lit up when looking at me. A pretty small cat, though. Black. That doesn't walk like a cat, and that has great big bushy tail that is almost the same size as he is, especially when he sticks it up in the air.

I watched the skunk for a couple minutes as he went back and forth, occasionally eyeing me. But we both kept our distance and I decided it was smarter to head back the other way, towards home. I'd already walked a good 2 miles or more anyway.

Wish I'd brought my camera, though.

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