Monthly Archives: February 2014

In the Event of a Loss of Summer. . .

Epimedium is one of my garden’s early risers. It will be sleeping late this year.

My mind has been drifting towards spring, as there is little left to say about this winter (snowy, freezing, and pot-hole making about sums it up); we need more words like we need more snow. Even the meteorologists agree, as the 7 day forecast blurbs are shrinking. How many different ways can you say “Cold and below normal”? They should start writing: “Ditto, see above.”

CT potholes03.jpg
Michael calls this “Pothole Porn”

I had been looking forward to March 15th, which, according to file photos, is about when my garden starts to stir. I eagerly pull back the blankets of last year’s wet, musty leaves, and scratch around to find the early risers. This inevitably leads to collateral damage—sort of like opening the oven before the cake is done. Still, it’s worth it to be assured that, in the words of Frog to Toad, “spring is around the corner.”


According to recent (terse) prognostications, the ground might still be frozen by mid-March,  but I have been keeping my chin up. Perhaps the long, undisturbed beauty sleep will yield a spectacular spring show . I have more time to knock off in-door projects. The steady temps and persistent snowpack intensify awareness of seasonal changes:  more chattering birds, swelling lilac buds, earlier sunrises, shorter shadows. This Narnian winter can’t last forever.

Hurry up, Aslan!

Hurry up, Aslan!

But recently a friend got me shivering in my salt encrusted boots with an article about how the prodigious ice cover on the Great Lakes might produce a cold summer. No!!!!!! I grew up with “cooler by the lake.” I know too well the strong east winds that rake waves of bitter chill over the city.

Credit: NASA (and Canada)
Credit: NASA (and Canada)

Some folks relish the idea of “pleasant, spring-like conditions” in July. F*ck that. My tolerance of winter rests on the promise of mid-summer swelter. Sure, I could move, but my roots here are deep, I do love the seasons, and Chicago seems—so far—decently situated for global weirding. A mild summer is nothing compared to wild fires, sinking shorelines, and dwindling water supplies.

So I am turning my frown upside down and calling on the power of positive thinking. Here is my 4-pronged strategy for embracing (or just bracing) for a “lost summer.”* Please add your ideas!

Lower expectations:

  • As a lifelong Cubs fan, this should not be a problem. Enough said.

Gather provisions:

  • Half of my closet is devoted to winter. The rest is devoted to the 5 hottest, most glorious days of the year. It’s time to accept and prepare for the vast in between, perhaps with guidance from friends in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Stock up on firewood for backyard entertaining. When the temp dips below 75, it’s time to get out the blankets and huddle around the fire.
So many vintage sleeveless dresses, so few days to wear them.
So many vintage sleeveless dresses, so few days to wear them.

Adjust plans:

  • Spend more time at parks and less time at beaches? (Added benefit of keeping sand out of the house.)
  • Plant more lettuce and fewer tomatoes? I stink at growing tomatoes anyway, though I am partial to “This is the year!” optimism. See Cubs, above.

Look on the bright side:

  • Prolonged baking season.
  • Better sleep and running conditions. Even I don’t like sweaty sheets and bras.
  • Michael spared from installing our 3 window AC units.
  • Long blooming season?
  • More cheerfulness? I am in the tropical climate loving minority. Steamy weather makes many Chicagoans as, if not more, cranky than polar vortexes.
  • More to write about!
Karen gave us this fragrant long blooming rambling rose. I bet it would enjoy a cool summer.
Karen gave us this fragrant long blooming rambling rose. I bet it would enjoy a cool summer.

Lately, I have been disclaiming weather related commentary with “This is not a complaint.” The last few months have not been so bad, in large part to years of small investments in winter armor, and that Michael put plastic on the rattling north facing windows. There has been much sun, sledding, and snuggling. But the Polar Vortex-y Winter of 2013-14 has been notable, which makes for easier writing. It has been a muse to many, and at the rate we are going, I suspect the words will keep piling up—except perhaps on the 7 day forecasts.

Snowboarding at Mt. Humboldt.
Snowboarding at Mt. Humboldt.

For a real lost summer, look back to 1816. Yikes!

Taking Back the Track

This lane is your lane, this lane is my lane
From Sacramento to the Kedzie Island
From both sides of Palmer, to the slushy wa-ah-ters
This lane was made for you and me.
Speedwork is all the rage in the magazines, websites, and books I have been perusing about running and exercise in general. The other day, I finally took a break from words, and headed to the local track at Palmer Square for a “High Intensity Interval Training” session and the hope that the calories would keep burning once I returned to the computer.
Miguel follows the trail that lurks below.
Miguel follows the trail that lurks below.

Palmer Square, spanning seven acres, is one of the smaller gems on Daniel Burnham’s emerald necklace, aka Chicago’s Boulevard System. About 6 years ago, in response to Logan Square’s relative lack of park facilities, the Chicago Park District added a .5 mile crushed limestone trail around Palmer’s edge and a subtle playground in the middle.* My running buddies and I often meet there for a few laps before heading south to Humboldt Park, one of the necklace’s grander gems.

Because of this winter’s persistent snowpack, we have not seen the track in months.  After researching indoor options, which all require fees and travel, I realized we do still have a neighborhood facility: the excessive pavement that surrounds Palmer Square!** In the past, I have advocated for taking back a lane (or two) of asphalt to enlarge the park. That has not happened (yet), which is a bummer from a green, permeable surface, traffic calming perspective.*** But the good news is that it provides a back up winter running track.
For 30 minutes, I circled (or parallelogrammed) the streets around Palmer, speeding up between light poles and street signs and imagining kicking my friends’ butts at our next half marathon. There was plenty of room for the few early morning cars to pass me. The “less time/more work” got me home in time for Miguel’s 2nd wake up call, and my brain buzzed happily all day.
The mantra, “streets are for people, not cars” has felt particularly germane to this winter. When the sidewalks are impassible, we walk in the streets. Drivers usually slow down and exchange a friendly wave as I scooch over to let them pass. During heavy snowfalls,  Miguel and I carefully nose the tandem along the soft, tan tire tracks left by bigger wheeled vehicles. Rarely do drivers behind us honk. At the next intersection, we stop to let them pass and usually share smiles of “we are all in this together.” Of course, we also get angry (and/or disapproving) looks about the two minute delay we might have caused, but what should I do? Our mobility needs are as important as theirs.

Roads evolved to move and connect people and goods. They are public spaces that can and should serve many needs. And when snow and lack of shoveling (grumble, grumble!) erase the sidewalks, you’ll find me in the streets, politely taking my lane.
Lots of room for an early morning dash. Talk about excess capacity.
Lots of room for an early morning dash. Talk about excess capacity!
*I intended to dive into the back stories of Palmer Square’s renovation, but will save that  for another day. In the meantime, here is a big thanks to the folks at the Chicago Park District who patiently and creatively worked with community members to improve recreation opportunities while honoring the historic significance of the area.  Below are some related links.
**Not that I mind running  around the neighborhood. But sometime’s it’s nice to take a break from intersections and stay close to home.
***A buffered bike lane has been added, which helps. And since there is so little traffic,  and the stretch is short, the traffic situation already feels pretty calm. Kedzie and Sacramento on the other hand. . .
From Daniel Burnham’s Plan of the City