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Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

Illinois Outdoors


A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Illinois hunting and fishing

Wet weather a boon for ditches

July 15, 2009 at 03:04 PM

In addition to keeping grass green and ponds full, all this wet weather we’ve been having has been wonderful for plants along roadsides.

Ditch mowers have been sidelined by the rainy weather, leaving nice stands of grass and plants in area that normally by now have a scorched-to-the-earth look.

I passed a prime example Tuesday while driving to see some of the champion trees of Illinois located in the Peoria area.

While driving I saw big bluestem with seed heads standing like turkey tracks.

I saw wild asparagus in plenty of places that I vow to visit next spring when the shoots will be tender and tasty.

I saw gray-headed coneflower, still my favorite yellow prairie flower.

I saw various sunflowers.

Day lillies.

And best of all, on the Kentville Blacktop between Kewanee and Hennepin I saw more compass plant blooming than I have ever seen along one roadside. It was enough to make me smile all afternoon—and to wish for more rainy summers that will keep the mowers at bay.

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Hard to come home

July 07, 2009 at 11:00 AM

Sometimes it really is hard to come home.

In case anybody has noticed, I have been taking a lot of vacation this summer. Here at work we are undergoing a change in vacation policy. In the past we could bankroll days. Starting this year we’ve got a use-it-or-lose-it policy. So all those saved-up vacation days have to be used. And fast.

That’s why there have been a lot less columns and posts out of me this summer.

And that’s why I found myself reluctantly returning to Illinois last night after spending a week in the scenic sand country of west-central Wisconsin. We had gathered for a family vacation near River Falls, Wisc. The trip was fun, even though I never wet a line once (much to the chagrin of Chef Todd). About all we did was sit around, take care of kids, play in the sand, sip on beverages, start fires, play bags and eat cheese curds. And relax.

That part was hard enough to leave.

Harder still for me was leaving the scenery of southeast Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin for the flatlands of Illinois. We gawked at Lake Pepin. We gawked at all the pretty valleys and hills as we drove home. Then part way through Iowa it hit me: There would be no more wooded bluffs stretching as far as you can see. No more clear-running, rock-filled trout streams.

Understand, I enjoy Illinois. I can name plenty of scenic places in this state, plenty of places that I love to visit.

But for some reason it was particularly hard to come home this time to a town stripped of trees and a flatland dominated by corn and beans.

Actually, this is nothing new. Every year I feel the pull to head north or west. And the urge is growing stronger. I spend time pondering moving somewhere with fewer people and more trees. The reality is that day is probably a long way off. There are bills to pay and deep roots here in Illinois.

But there is also vacation to take. Thank goodness for that.


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So much for the nice trees

June 18, 2009 at 03:26 PM

So much for all the statuesque, mature trees in Elmwood. Twenty minutes of 80 mph winds took care of far too many of the trees in my town last night.

The winds started at 4:15 a.m. and were done by 4:45 or so. Chainsaws have been running ever since. Even I got in the action this morning, hauling several loads of limbs to the dump and hauling frozen goods up to my buddy The Farmer. I am sick of losing deer meat, so that was a priority. In the past three years I’ve lost two freezers filled with wild game. Not this time.

Aside from the destruction and damage to cars, roofs, fences and trees, it appears nobody was hurt. That’s great news.

What sticks in my mind right now are two scenes.

1. A male cardinal flitted from branch to branch on the downed maple in my front yard, tending to a nestling that was out of the nest a little too early. I do not think that young cardinal survived.

2. Everybody in town worked hard to clear trees. By late today most of the limbs will be gone. Sadly, the trees will bear the scars long after the brush is cleared.

Here are some pictures from around town snapped by young photographer Henry Lampe, who opted for photography over brush clearing.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois hunting and fishing

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Why I hate winter

December 29, 2008 at 10:27 PM

It’s not the snow. The snow I enjoy. The cold, too. Actually, I miss all the white stuff. Who wants to walk around in mud and slush and be greeted by dog droppings nobody has cleaned up for weeks.

No, hat I hate about winter is that once the ground freezes and landowners get bored, the bulldozers, backhoes and excavators get busy. Already within a few minutes of my home in Elmwood I’ve watched two pieces of tree/shrub/grass cover torn out. The one pictured below is not great wildlife habitat, certainly. But big bluestem and Indian grass grow on the hillside each summer. And most summers, they develop seed heads. I doubt that will be allowed next summer. Maybe beans or corn will grow there now.

I understand, there’s money to be made in this tiny little hill. But every winter I wonder, “Where will it stop?”

Illinois hunting and fishing

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Ash tree worrying me

June 27, 2008 at 10:54 AM

As a kid growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., I can still remember seeing city streets that seemed more like tunnels. Huge elm trees lined some streets, creating a wonderful canopy. But in my short lifetime, nearly all those elms succumbed to disease. What’s left in Buffalo is a misguided morass of stunted ornamental cherry trees, a few maples and far too streets without towering trees.

That’s what has me fretting about the purple ash that’s growing so nicely in front of my home here in Elmwood, where I’m told disease also did a number on plenty of old elms.

Two years ago, the city planted this ash to replace a worthless hybrid poplar. And the tree has done very well, growing nicely and promising to provide shade for years to come. That is, if no emerald ash borers arrive. And I have no faith in that happening. Particularly not after talking with gunsmith Dave Prater for a story this Sunday.

Prater lives outside Lewistown (near Dickson Mounds Museum) in Fulton County and has an affinity for trees. He transplants oaks and maples all over his property and keeps a close watch on the other trees in his forest. So when he notices several ash trees dying, I worry. Prater said he’s seen three or four big ashes dying in his woods. He plans to go back and look for signs of the ash borer, that nasty little invasive bug.

Illinois Outdoors

That makes me wonder: how many other folks out there are seeing ash trees dying? Supposedly there have been no reports south of LaSalle County in Illinois. But I wonder if that’s not accurate. I wonder how far the ash borer has spread already. And I worry about that vibrant tree in front of my house. In the evenings when I tote the baby around inside, hoping he’ll fall asleep, I spend a lot of time looking out the windows at that tree. I imagine how big it will be when little Walter is 10, 20 and even my age. Those are enjoyable thoughts.

Planting a tree is always an investment in future generations (except for those worthless hybrid poplars, which grow fast and then create problems for future generations). But maybe it’s time for me to get another tree started out by the street.

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