Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

12 July, 2019

The Starkweather (But No Moore) Park Expedition

The Eastmorland neighborhood here on Madison's east side is where I call home. It's got a split personality, of sorts, as the section south of Milwaukee Street is mostly single-family homes with a few apartments and the usual stuff you find in neighborhoods like churches, restaurants, taverns, stores, and whatnot. Having already perambulated through much of the southern part of Eastmorland (see here, here, and here), I decided to take a stroll north.

The northern third or so of Eastmorland features a disused concrete factory, an abandoned farm, and a smattering of commercial/industrial business. Oh, and Madison's main post office which apparently no longer sorts mail, those duties having been concentrated in Milwaukee. This means that, when I send cards to my in-laws on the other side of town, it first goes east for sorting and then sent back to Madison for delivery. I'm glad to see the Post Office is doing its part to combat climate change.

Also to be found is Starkweather Park and that was my destination on a recent walk. Well, truth be told, it was that and Voit Pond, a former gravel pit turned lake north of the farm's field.

I crossed Milwaukee Street and wandered onto what used to be the Durren farm. The property is now mostly a gravel lot used by construction crews as a staging area. Ergo you've got piles of gravel while sewage pipes/water mains make the lot a temporary home. At the north end where the gravel end and nature begins, I spied some pretty flowers.

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From here it was off into the narrow wooded strip that runs between the Durren property and the farm fields which, to the best of my knowledge, is part of Starkweather Park. It was rough going with everything overgrown and fallen trees littered about. Every once in a while there was a clearing that allowed a peek out onto the field.

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There was a also a fair amount of litter strewn about – mainly bottles and beer cans – but also a rather large pile of garbage.

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At some point the woods ended and a small field of short grass began. There was a patch of flowers I'd never seen before and they smelled delightful.

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On the far side the grass was quite tall but I spotted trail leading in. I thought that perhaps this is was how other folks looking to get to the pond went.

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The grass ended and but the trail continued into the woods and it became well-worn.

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The trail wound this way and that and, at one point, I looked up only to find a trio of tents.

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The camp was quiet and no one seemed to be around but I did my best to walk around it rather than walk through what passed for their living room. However, this detour took me only about 7-8 feet away from the camp. It was sadly ironic to find the shelters of some homeless folks after having stumbled upon a homeless person inside that oddball fireplace with the Shrek-like antennae on Stoughton Road earlier in the day. I wasn't totally surprised, though, as other homeless people who lived out of their cars often park in the Swiss Colony lot. Though perhaps not as often as they used to these days.

The trail continued a short way past the camp before ending. Rather than struggle through more branches and brush, I decided to go west and see if I could get to Voit property. This involved climbing over an old barbed wire fence and so I tried to recall if I'd had a tetanus shot lately.

When I got over the fence, I found myself at the bottom of a small hill. Once I got to the top I looked out and saw the pond.

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Descending the hill I saw that there was better access to the water a bit to the south so I began walking down the dirt road. It was littered with prints from cloven hooves. Did Satan hang out here? More likely deer, I reassured myself.

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I reached the shore and found that the water was quite clear as a fish swam close in. The water was quite warm.

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While shallow by the shore, I figure that it must get quite deep having been a gravel pit in a former life. Aside from the faint din of Highway 30 to the north, it was actually rather quiet and certainly quite peaceful. The bucolic scene was disturbed by the tops of a couple buildings in the distance, but, otherwise, you wouldn't think that you were actually in a city. If the Voit property ever gets developed, I hope they preserve this area.

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After a time, I headed back north up the hill. I went down the far side and found piles of concrete chunks and broken slabs of black top which I found rather odd. Regardless of the detritus, there was a beautiful view of Starkweather Park.

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Starkweather is a conservation park with most of it being wetlands. There is a path that runs along the east and north sides before going over Starkweather Creek and under Highway 30 and eventually running into Commercial Avenue. I was on the west side so I decided to hug the tree line on my way back.

It was again rough going with lots of downed trees and brush so I figured I'd head out in the wetland grass for a stretch. The grass was taller than me so I got a good aerobic workout trudging through it. I stumbled upon a couple small clearing where deer must go for naps.

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Well, I pressed my luck and ended up in water – they are wetlands, after all – and turned back. Of course I couldn't actually find the dry patches that I traversed earlier and so my shoes got soaked. But I eventually made my way back to the woods where I took a breather. Being an office drone, I wasn't used to all that exertion. Hugging the tree line was again difficult so I went further in and found myself at the homeless camp once again. It was just as still and eerily quiet as before.

But this also meant I could easily find the path out. Instead of going south I took a detour to the shuttered Swiss Colony warehouse to check out some urban ruins, so to speak. The gate at the rear was open.

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Where the property line ended, the park began and so I was treated to some fine vistas.

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There were three piles of garbage more or less equally spaced – TVs, mattresses, etc. – but, oddly enough only one patch of graffiti.

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Over on the east side of the building was a fire hydrant and next to it was this:

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I would later discover that this is an indicator post, a thingy which allows one to open and close a valve that is buried.

My legs were pretty sore so I figured I'd grab a bus home since I was within spitting distance of the East Transfer Point. Unsurprisingly, the 31 bus left while I was still a short distance away and the 16 wouldn't depart for half an hour so I just hoofed it back home.

A few days after my walk I learned that the hill I had stood atop that overlooked the pond had, in fact, been another pond. It was filled in with road debris in 2005 for reasons unknown. This at least explained what all those chunks of concrete and blacktop were doing at the bottom of its north side.

While Starkweather Park is surely safe, much of the rest of that area looks like it will be developed in the near future. This coupled with all of the new construction on Cottage Grove Road will transform Eastmorland. I would not scoff at a coffeeshop at Milwaukee and Harding.

I look forward to returning to Starkweather Park. Next time, though, I will be using the trail. If I remember to bring my binoculars, I can do a little birdwatching. And my feet will stay dry.

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11 July, 2019

A Few More Laps Around Tenney-Lapham

The first few laps

Picking up where I left off from my last post, I was ambling down East Dayton to try and find the house I lived in back in the late 1990s. I had lived in the Tenny-Lapham neighborhood for 5 years and 4 of them were in a house on Dayton Street. For reasons unknown, I've always thought of Tenney-Lapham as being more working class than Marquette, its sister neighborhood on the other side of the isthmus. I'm not actually sure if this was ever the case, however.

Both neighborhoods have plenty of wonderful old houses and several on East Johnson in T-L have setbacks that are rarely seen in Marquette. Here's a beauty at Baldwin and Dayton.

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But I have always perceived T-L as having more renters and more apartments. Like much of Madison, both neighborhoods have seen their share of multi-family dwelling erected so that observation may be outdated, if it was ever true.

Regardless of which neighborhood has more residents of lesser means, the two areas are quite similar yet also have different vibes. T-L had and has less remnants of the isthmus' industrial past. Each has been able to claim some traces on East Washington but moving towards either lake, Marquette has more warehouses, former factories, and whatnot.

Another difference between the two is that T-L has two arterial streets running through it – Gorham and Johnson – whereas Marquette only has one, Willy Street. Gorham has no shops, restaurants, etc. while Johnson has some. But Willy Street has quite a bit of commercial activity.

Anyway, there I was on Dayton trying to find the house I lived in when my new roommate (and old friend) Pete was moving in as endless news coverage of Princess Diana's death blared from the television. I have no doubt that some of the folks were wondering just what the hell that guy was doing pacing back and forth looking at houses. The problem was that I couldn't remember the address but knew a range it had to be in. Throwing me off the scent was the fact that I lived in a house that had maroon wooden shingles yet all of the ones in the address range had grey siding. I looked at the structures a bit more and scoured my memories. Finally, I found it.

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I suspect the air conditioners threw me off as well because we didn't have any. Thusly summer evenings were often spent at The Caribou, which did have A/C, drinking beer and playing cribbage until we were sufficiently inebriated to go home and pass out. Once I had determined this was it, many more memories came flooding back, some good, some bad. The bad ones were, I suppose, ultimately due to a woman, like many a tale. The last time I saw this particular ex-girlfriend was in front of the house next door so it felt odd to walk by it in the same direction as I did that day a long time ago. I even looked off towards the street as if I were expecting her red Volkswagon to be there.

With my brief trip down memory lane concluded, I continued down Dayton Street and ran into a friendly cat.

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The neighborhood looked much the same here as it did when I lived there but the area had been spruced up a little as evidenced by the old-timey lights.

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This was about the spot where I had crashed my bicycle into the front fender of a minivan back in the day. The vehicle was parked. Thankfully I was quite unsober because I flew over the hood and crashed onto the pavement real good. It was at this point in my life that I discovered the magic powers of naproxen sodium.

For the most part the houses were well-kept but some folks went beyond keeping time at bay and put their own touches on their abodes. Like this garage.

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Eventually I arrived at Reynolds Park which I adore.

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It's a wonderful open space. Marquette never had any such park when I lived in T-L although it now has McPike Park. But Reynolds feels more cozy, less like an expanse. Plus, the city well at the south end had and continues to have tennis courts where I played with my boss, usually with a beer in one hand.

Of course those giant apartment buildings are new. I've read more than one lament for these behemoths (for Madison) and I can sympathize, to a point. To be sure, there are many areas in Madison that have lost buildings of a more human scale. But these are on East Washington, a.k.a. – state highway 151, which is six lanes. These structures seem appropriate. My biggest gripe is how ugly they are. Considering our lovely Capitol and a smattering of Frank Lloyd Wright and FLW-inspired buildings, it's a real shame that most new construction seems to have taken inspiration from a Lego phone app. But young single folks with lots of cash burning a hole in their pockets have to live somewhere, I suppose.

Some newer though smaller apartments.

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While residents of both Marquette and T-L are no doubt proud of where they call home, it seems to me that the former veer into hubris territory with their willingness to declare their patch of turf "quirky". Furthermore, they love to declare Marquette to be "diverse" as if in an attempt to disguise the fact that it's mostly white faces you will see walking down the street. T-L, on the other hands seems to be unassuming, less ostentatious and content to let the neighborhood speak for itself, for better or worse.

Does this count as Spanish Revival?

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I think this mural adorns a daycare facility.

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I spent a fair amount of time going up and down Dayton and Mifflin Streets just looking at the scenery and taking in all the changes since I had lived there. Several young couples pushing strollers and clutching coffee cups from Stone Creek Coffee passed by me. Despite all of the new residents, it was rather quiet and peaceful.

It was getting close to time to head back and reclaim my car so I thought I'd stroll down East Washington.

I remember when Pasqual's was actually some of the better Mexican food you could find in Madison. Thankfully this is no longer the case.

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More apartments, though in a less imposing package at the Factory District.

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Sadly, the Jan's (Un)Friendly sign is now gone.

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The former Smart Studios where a plethora of stars of pop music recorded and mixed their tunes. Perhaps the most famous was Nirvana though I recall Son Volt being in town as a friend's friend cooked the band dinner at Little Village Café.

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I had noticed earlier in my walk that Scooter Therapy was no longer on Ingersoll Street but I found it a block away on Few. Now with more metal sculptures.

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I walked down Curtis Court and felt sad that the Avenue Bar, once a reliable source of salutary grease to treat hangovers, was now an ugly reminder of the less desirable effects of gentrification. And I mean ugly. That place has all the atmosphere of a modern office. I just don't find grey an appealing or uplifting color to dominate a room. Gone are the wood panels, shelves of rusty farm paraphernalia, and the supper club vibe. But young single folks with lots of cash burning a hole in their pockets have to eat and drink somewhere, I suppose.

In addition to having lived on Dayton Street, I also lived in T-L closer to the lake. I did not traverse Johnson or Gorham and parts west of Mifflin Strasse to explore those other old stomping grounds. I guess I have the route of another walk already laid out for me.

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09 July, 2019

A Few Laps Around Tenney-Lapham

On one summer's day I found myself with a couple hours to blow as my car was being deep cleaned in preparation for a lengthy trip. While a cup o' Joe from the shiny new coffeehouse down the street sounded good, I was by this time already fully caffeinated. And so I hit the pavement.

The first thing that came to mind was to take a couple snaps for a pair of then and now scenarios. A reader had directed me to the Madison Railroads Instagram page and I thought it'd be fun to take a look at what the streetscapes looked like now in a couple of the old photographs.

This first picture shows a train crossing Dickinson Street in 1965.

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I believe I managed to take my snap from more or less the same spot.

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A few blocks east at Dickinson and Wilson Street was this scene back in the late 1960s.

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And here's the intersection sans railroad tracks today.

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It is weird to contemplate trains traveling right down the center of Wilson Street but so it was. For more about trains – passenger rail – in Madison, checkout my blathering and other people's really neat photographs here.

Just up the street I ducked down Northern Court and found Stateline Distillery. I hadn't sampled their spirits at the time but have since come to appreciate their gin.

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Across the street was this anthropomorphized glass block.

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Back up Dickinson I went where I detoured to check out the seemingly abandoned warehouse on the 1400 block of East Washington. I think it's owned by the Mullins Group. Quite recently I learned that this building used to be the Red Dot potato chip factory. There is a room on the south side of the building that you can peer into. When I did so, I saw a few artistic ditties leaning against the wall.

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Crossing East Washington I found myself in the Tenny-Lapham neighborhood. The Tenney half of the name is for Daniel Tenney who was a member of the Madison Common Council and an important early figure in the formation of Madison parks. Increase Lapham was a naturalist who resided in Milwaukee. He mapped the Wisconsin Territory, charted Native American effigy mounds, and studied the flora and fauna of the state. In addition to having half a neighborhood named after him, there's also an elementary school and a beer.

I zipped over to the Yahara River Parkway and down to the shore.

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Being in a train mood, I decided to check out the rails that traverse the Yahara River.

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I'm not sure when the second set of tracks was removed. There was a pile of disused timbers (a.k.a. – sleepers) slowly decaying away off to the side as well as a cement base for what I presumed was a signal. Tucked away in the trees was a utility pole which presumably powered the signal at some point.

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Down by the river were more remnants of railroading past. A section of conduit came to an abrupt end while what I figured was the base of a pile(?) stood empty.

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Back down to East Wash I moseyed around the building that is home to the Parched Eagle Taproom and the Art In.

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The building is home to perhaps the most positive, self-image boosting sign in the city.

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Back to Dickinson and northwards where I poked around all of the sheds around Dayton and Mifflin. I recalled an article in Isthmus about the Trachte Bros. Company who made metal buildings in Madison from 1919 until 1986.

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Were any of these sheds Trachte Sheds? Indeed some were.

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I felt a bit sad that, despite having lived just down the street for a few years, I couldn't recall ever having checked out this part of the neighborhood during that time. Better late than never, I suppose.

Next stop: trying to find the house I used to live in.

A few more laps

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07 July, 2019

Summertime Perambulations: Homeward Bound

Previous perambulation

The final leg of my journey saw me back in Eastmorland ambling down Atwood Avenue. The owners of one home apparently got tired of mowing and so their front yard was full of flowers and other non-grass plants. I did a double take when I saw cacti amongst the flora.

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It had been a while since I'd seen cacti outside in Wisconsin – since my visit to the Wisconsin Desert, in fact.

Somehow the southeast corner of the intersection of Atwood Avenue and Cottage Grove Road became mural central without me noticing. One day the art treatment on one building caught my attention and then on my next visit to Walgreens it appeared as if the murals had multiplied like rabbits because they were all over the place. The Rockwell Tattoo parlor, Java Cat, Exhaust Pros, Jade Monkey, and the mall all have all been muraled up. So here are a few of them beginning with the Exhaust Pros building which looks like it was conceived by the same person who did the Karben4 logo while they were playing QBert.

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Of course the utility box on the corner has been artified and of course I forgot to take a picture of it.

The area around the intersection was designated as one of two "activity centers" a few years back by the city and thusly city planners developed a, um, plan (PDF) for it. It makes various recommendations to increase population density, promote economic development, make use of vacant space, and whatnot. And now an apartment complex called The Grove is under construction on the north side of Cottage Grove Road. It will be mostly low income apartments with retail at ground level.

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The mall across the street seems to be on life support. The Ace Hardware store which used to occupy most of it is sadly missed. By me, anyway. The space formerly occupied by Ace is now the temporary Pinney Library whose new home is under construction down the street. Closing signs cluttered the windows of the Bethesda Thrift Store. That leaves an art supply store and Diane's Draperies. My understanding is that the owner of the mall is looking to sell, figuring that they could fetch a good price with all of the development happening in the area. Hence the short-term lease offered to Ace and that its closure.

Farther east on Cottage Grove Road is Chief's Tavern.

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I still think of it as the Packer Inn, the joint where Madison-area music legends The Goose Island Ramblers played regularly after the campus bar Glen and Ann's became The Nitty Gritty.



The former Surco Peruvian restaurant building looks to have some renovation going on but I don't know if a business is actually going to move in.

Even bigger than The Grove development is Royster Corners, the foremost project in this 70 acre plot that was formerly home to a fertilizer factory.

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It's a sprawling mixed-use thing to be anchored by the new Pinney Library. If Eric Klinenberg is right, the area's civic life should improve. I can certainly see it as a spot where low- and middle-income residents will meet and socialize. In addition to the library, the complex will have market rate apartments and retail.

Just across Royster Oaks Drive are the Pinney Lane Apartments, another complex with low-income housing. I hadn't noticed the artwork/plaything in the courtyard previously It's like a Möbius strip that has been cut.

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In the same area there are a few dozen plots for single-family houses. There are 7 or 8 homes now either occupied or to be soon.

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What really surprised me was that there was an alley, a rarity in Madison.

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I look forward to seeing what comes of it all – the shiny new library which has the potential to be a meeting ground for residents old and new, middle-class and of lesser means; all of the new commercial space too. I don't expect a brewpub or any other such marker of "gentrification" but some restaurants would be nice. Plus a hardware store, pet supply store, bookstore, and a record store, please.

Oh, and better bus service would be nice. Madison Metro has changed the route of the 38 bus to accommodate the Royster Commons development but it only runs on weekdays and only during rush hours. The future residents of The Grove will be better served by transit but all-day routes that run on Atwood Avenue only appear once an hour. While The Grove and Royster Commons gets all the press, an apartment building went up on Claire Street just south of Cottage Grove Road not too long ago. Considering the arterial status of Cottage Grove Road, it's a shame that buses mostly serve it via north-south routes instead of one that runs the length of the street. This really exaggerates the division caused by Highway 51.

It was time to circle back and head home so I made my way to the bike path, a.k.a. – the Capital City Trail. I had to cross a couple sets of railroad tracks including one that was abandoned. I'm guessing that happened back in c.2006 when the fertilizer factory closed as this spur turns to the south where the factory was and joins the main line a few blocks to the west.

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There's a retention pond here that is home to a native Wisconsin plant farm as well as geese aplenty.

I hoofed it down the trail until Ring Street where another retention pond starts and I walked along it.

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While it took some stooping, I made my way under Dennett Drive and saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

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I also pissed off a lot of spiders as most of their webs ended up in my hair. Besides seeing a lot of minnows in the water, I saw a couple of turtles.

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Not being a herpetologist, I am not sure what varieties they are but my hypothesis is that the top one is a painted turtle while the bottom is a juvenile snapping turtle.

I emerged at Walter Street, where this trek began, with sore feet.

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