Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Springtime In Chicago

  Springtime in Chicago does not happen by force of nature alone. Springtime in Chicago is a collective act, shared by the the millions of souls that call this place home. Nature does her part too. The trees, when you can find them, turn green here, just as they do in the suburbs. The flowers bloom on our windowsills and along the downtown streets, just as they tumble down the hillsides in the rural midwest. And the same sun that thaws the lakes for our neighbors in Wisconsin and Michigan, grows more bold and assertive here day by day. It seeks out the last patches of hardened snow and ice, and it vanquishes them to the far ends of our calendars.

  But Nature does not do these things alone. Nature just provides the cue for the people of the city to stand up and yawn and stretch, and begin the work of creating Spring. You begin to feel the rumble when the mercury climbs above forty, like standing on the tracks as a distant train approaches. Curtains are pulled back. A hand pauses above a heavy coat that has been used every day for months, and then moves on to a light jacket instead. Wool caps and furry hoods are traded in for bare heads and White Sox hats. Bicycles are pulled from storage closets. Car windows roll down and cars stereos are turned up. All across the city, construction sites come alive with hammers and curse words and coffee thermoses. Ground crews pull back the tarps at Comiskey and Wrigley. Buckingham Fountain is turned back on in Grant Park. The drawbridges that cross the Chicago River, are lifted up as the first boats begin the parade to Lake Michigan. Basketballs bounce on the blacktop. Restaurants, bars, and coffee shops bring chairs out onto the sidewalks. In Pilsen, the street vendors wheel their carts out from the shelter of their winter homes, and spread throughout the neighborhood offering tamales and sliced mangoes. Hot dog stands open their doors in Bridgeport. Short skirts hug the curves of young women in Lakeview and Lincoln Park. Joggers march along the lakefront path from Hyde Park to Rogers Park. Chess players settle in behind North Avenue Beach. Ice cream trucks snake through the streets of Ravenswood. Beer cans pop open on the porches of Canaryville. Tourists begin to stream from the hotels in The Loop. Bartenders sweep sidewalks in the Ukrainian Village. And in Wicker Park, the babies in strollers and the tight jeaned hipsters fill their lungs with the fresh spring air.

  And as the creation of Spring nears completion, and the first signs of Summer appear, we may, if we're paying attention, get a moment to pause and take in our handiwork. Its a bit like looking back at the two hour line you waited in just before you finally get on the roller coaster, and realizing that leaning on the railing and eating popcorn with your girlfriend was part of the ride too. It might be the cool May evening that asks you to put on your sweater one last time. It could be a quiet mist on the lake as you take in an early morning jog. Or it may happen while pulling the last packet of hot chocolate from the kitchen cabinet as a midnight thunderstorm washes the streets outside. But the moment is there somewhere, waiting to be found. And for that moment, suspended in between the comings and goings of different worlds, we can see our place in it all. We can see our inseparable place in the infinite movement of everything.

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