The Promise of the Milky Way

I have some summer goals for 2013. Mostly they include getting outside and exploring areas that I wouldn’t venture in the long, cold winter. I want to get on the lake more (maybe finally getting a stand up paddleboarding session in), get out in the woods more, camp more, hike more, and stay up late looking at the stars which tend to bypass Chicago skies.

I found this great poem by Charles Wright today (one of my former creative writing professors at UVa, and an overall great guy). The poem is “A Short History of the Shadow” and it was published in Poetry Magazine, and these lines are just lovely:

Each word, as someone once wrote, contains the universe.
The visible carries all the invisible on its back.
I encourage you to read the whole poem. It’s really a beautiful study in looking out at the world when it’s at its most dead and desolate — the beginning of winter. The end of winter/ early spring really doesn’t look very different. Things are just as bare and spare in February (at least in Chicago) as they are in November. It’s the hope and promise of more — of spring and renewal and that hint of green, that keep us watching the sky.

Springtime in motion

Sunday I went running. This has been my regular “long run” day for over a year. But after an early February foot injury (what I thought was a stress fracture turned out to be an inflamed metatarsal joint) and a slow ramping back up to weekly mileages around 10 miles, I had once again slacked off from my runs for the last 2 weeks. Part of this was because Dan was out of town, and I was trying to take advantage of early hours during the week to get things done at work. Part of it was sheer laziness because I was on my own over the weekends and I spend my time doing other things like laundry or baking. Part of it was the fact that winter just won’t quit Chicago.

But Sunday I woke up and the sun was shining. Despite the fact that a winter storm was hitting us later in the afternoon, (nearly a week into official “spring”) I headed out for a 4 mile jog.

And it was amazing.

I smiled at dogs out for a Sunday morning romp in the park, I waved hello to other strangers out for their daily run, I even made some unofficial studies of how many abandoned pieces of winter clothing I encountered along the route (3 gloves, 1 hat). I heard Palm Sunday hymns being sung at one neighborhood church, their green stained glass windows humming with light. At another church, I made way for a nun, wrapped in a black scarf, who dashed outside to the parish bake sale table to check on the change box. At yet another, I watched some young entrepreneurs display ornately woven palms to church-goers as they left mass. I had forgotten it was Palm Sunday, and my run reminded me a little of the life going on around us even when we stop paying attention for a few moments.

I was so happy to encounter all of this on just a few miles of sidewalks. I love that I see such a range of people when I head out into my neighborhood, and they see me, or don’t see me, but we interact with each other in varying, often subtle ways. And I even love the fact that the second I walked into my door, it started snowing.

Happy springtime, everybody.

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Flooded fields in March 2012 at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

Last year on St. Patrick’s Day, Dan and I drove out to near Joliet, IL to visit Midewin for the first time. This hidden gem of a reserve used to be the “Joliet Arsenal” during WWII. It’s now 19,000 acres of “tallgrass prairie” mostly set out in a grid system, which means you walk on roads and paths either in a square or diagonal. We were mostly alone during a March heat wave (that ended with us running to the car before a thunderstorm swept over us). We encountered lots of birds, a few small garter snakes, and this flooded part of the road and a field where a beaver had made a rather splendid dam. Dan ended up heaving me over his shoulder, fireman style, and carrying me over this muddy road.

What struck me at Midewin was just how unknown it is. We talked with some folks in Joliet that morning who’d lived there for decades who’d never even heard of the place. Granted, it is definitely an area “under construction” and was only founded in 1996, which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t very long for a national forest. Still it’s the “the largest open space in the Chicago metropolitan area and northeastern Illinois” and only a few miles away from Joliet, and an hour’s drive from Chicago on the weekend.

See my Flickr set from the trip.