Friday, February 20, 2009

View from the Second City (Lake Ice)

(This is my second column published in the paper. It was published on Tuesday.)

The beach close to my apartment turns white in the winter. Snow replaces the sand and cold pidgins and seagulls replace the crowds of summer swimmers. The fresh water of the lake freezes and extends the beach about 30 feet farther out. Walking along the edge of the water it soon becomes apparent that if it was summer and not cold and you were standing in this exact spot, the water would be over your head. The first few feet of lake is sallow enough to freeze on its own, but after 10 feet or so, the water will only freeze when the waves splash up onto the ice. The rest turns into mountains of ice formed little by little with each wave.

I braved the below freezing temperatures the other day, to see the beach. I prefer it in the winter. I think it is much more beautiful. And the waves seem much more savage. I walked through the knee-high snow to the stone edge over looking the lake. The pier, where I sat last year to watch the 4th of July fireworks, was covered in an inch of ice. Carefully, I walked to the edge of the ice embankment overlooking the water. It was slippery and I walked carefully out onto it. To my left was thinner ice and to my right was a 10-foot drop to the water, which probably was about another 10 feet to the lake bottom. If I slipped I would have been in the cold, cold water with no way out. So I stood perfectly still and watched the waves crash on to the ice. Normally in the winter, the water is rough and would be shooting up past my head. But that day was especially calm.

The lake in the wintertime makes me think of my childhood on the farm. I would play in the snow in our back yard with my older brother. Or we would walk to the family woods. Our farm, between White Heath and Monticello, was wonderfully alone. In the wintertime I could see my breath in the crisp clear air and the only sound I could hear were my boots crunching in the snow.

It is all but impossible to be alone in the city, even on the coldest day of the year. I get as close to alone as I can at the beach in the winter. My childhood self would think I was crazy for wanting to regain that feeling, Chicago was a place of excitement in my young mind, which it still is. But sometimes the excitement can become too much and all I need in the world is the natural silence of my boots crunching the snow.

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