Winter in Chicago is harsh. There’s the cold and ice and, well, that wind you hear so much about. Our alleys and side streets are unplowed, the main arteries often poorly plowed, and the public schools in the city never close due to weather. I mean, never; as in, it’s been decades. We live a 20 minute drive from school in good weather, so I have many driving adventures every winter, particularly as our car (which is parked outdoors at all times) is positioned in such a way that the below-zero winds freeze the doors closed fairly often. I have become a de-icing expert.
It’s no wonder people have a hard time believing that I don’t miss beautiful, temperate San Francisco, but it’s true. There’s the abundance of warm, friendly people here, our wonderful local extended family, and the sense of a tight-knit community; those are the greatest assets of our new life, for sure. But there’s also Lake Michigan. If there’s one gift the winter gives us, it’s an appreciation for spring and summer when they arrive. For our family, what that really means is that we are back to our beloved lakefront every day.
I started a new habit this past winter, having learned my lesson our first winter in this house when I nearly allowed myself to forget about the lake during those long dark months: I now drive by the lake all winter long, every day. Rather than turning into our alley in the evening, I drive to the cul-de-sac at the end of our block and just pause for a few moments to take a look, to remember that it’s there and notice its incremental seasonal changes. Sure, we go down there and play sometimes in the winter, climbing the snow dunes with snowshoes, but it’s often too windy. So the rest of the time the kids and I look out our frosty car windows and observe the changes – it’s completely frozen! look at how the waves froze in mid-crest! now it’s partially thawed! hey, the seagulls are back! I point out how it’s a different shade of blue, green, or gray every day and we gaze in wonder. I talk to them about summer memories and remind them that on Memorial Day the lifeguards will return with their tall white chairs and little dinghies, the sand will be cleaned and raked by huge farm machines, and before too long we’ll be swimming again.
And so here we are in May, riding our bikes along our beach path to the playground again, and I notice how short the distance is this year – the boys are such good riders. Baxter can ride all the way ahead down the path with confidence and I find him waiting at the playground for us. This morning I woke up early and headed out to the path for a sunrise walk and was mesmerized all over again by the sight of our urban neighborhood meeting the natural beauty of the lake here in my own backyard.
I am grateful for winter, for without it there would be no spring.
Now, then. Who’s coming to visit us this summer?