Sunday, April 21, 2013

Springtime in Chicago

A Matter of Semantics

Springtime is the season of blossoms and light green leaves bursting out of the branches of the hearty trees that stood tall during the winter.  Brightly-colored sprouts push out of the soil and offer yellow daffodils and white tulips and the world awakes from its cold slumber.  Yet, “spring” is a relative term.  In Florida, Spring Break implies adult refreshment on a sunny, sandy beach, but when Son #2 and I headed to the Windy City for his Spring Break, Mother Nature clearly had forgotten to advise Northern Illinois of the change in season.  Admittedly, compared to late January, the version of winter we experienced more accurately may be described as a Midwestern Spring, but again, it’s all relative.

Winter coats felt like a must, and it wasn’t just us thin-blooded southerners.  The subways were awash in dark peacoats and hunched-over passengers trying to keep the wind away when the El’s car doors opened and whisked in more passengers and more chill.  The rain felt frigidly cold on our skin, even if it didn’t accumulate along the sidewalks as a sloshy, snowy mix.  Despite the scarves and hats and boots and layers in which we wrapped ourselves, the wind found our weather-wear weaknesses and exposed us to its twisting, blustering madness.  This gloomy drizzle defined Chicago’s version of spring, but it just wasn’t the version of spring I excitedly anticipate.

Hope for the Season

So off we set into the city where we discover our own springtime in the paintings and sculptures of the art museum, and as we force our extended family to hold hands playfully through the galleries recreating a Ferris Bueller field trip.  We submerge ourselves in the U-Boat exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry and laugh at the crowd of tourists waiting for an elevator, yet failing to press the call button.  We take an express elevator to the top of the Willis Tower (even though everyone on the planet knows it as the Sears Tower), and witness for ourselves a view across Lake Michigan, northward into Wisconsin, and south into the farming heartland.  From this vantage, it seems perfectly obvious that despite Old Man Winter’s best attempt to disguise the city, spring has crept into the City of the Big Shoulders.

And then we find the proof in a green lawn with the hint of fresh growth sprouting on the ivy of the far brick wall.  Despite the thermometer’s reading, the spirit of awakening and rebirth arrives in the hopes of Cubs fans gathering at Wrigley Field for the first game of the season.  The joyous exuberance of being back in the cozy field, ball hawks chasing the fly balls from batting practice, t-shirts, pennants, and players faces on a myriad of trading cards for sale from dozens of make-shift
stores line the pathway from the red line to the gates.  And there the famous sign proclaims, “Welcome to Opening Day!”  Robert Redford himself takes the mound and hurls his Roy Hobbs pitch towards home plate.  The crowd removes their well-worn, beloved Cubbie caps for the singing of the national anthem, and suddenly it is springtime in Chicago.  Maybe this is the year that the notorious streak without a Series win fades away and this first day, this beginning of a new season, this sign of springtime arriving after the brutal winter brings a fresh lightness of spirit and hope for the beloved boys of summer.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Counting The Cars

Play It Loud

When driving on the open road, my soundtrack carries me over each hill and along the lengthy straightaways (sees “The Soundtrack” from December 2012) as my constant companion and closest emotional guidepost.  And on the ideal occasions, when the tepid temperature cannot be kept from me by a single pane of glass, and the sporadic cars cannot be considered traffic, and the music seemingly leads the car forward, I roll down the windows, turn up the volume and sing terribly relishing in these most perfect moments of life.  When a song touches me this way and the world around me urges me to envelope myself in its melody and lyrics, I know not to resist.  Traveling solo happily lends to such behavior.

And as I entered New Jersey, number forty-eight in the quest of Project Fifty, through its northernmost tip, my intentions never included seeing the bulk of the state.  I would just graze the mountainous regions along the Pennsylvania/New York tri-state border, skipping the cities, the seashores, and the famed Garden State Parkway.  And one line from one song echoed in my head, and within moments, blasted from the windows of my rented car, “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all gone to look for America.”

More Than A Number

With only a few Jersey miles behind me, an obelisk in the rolling hills distracts me, darting in and out from behind the trees.  As the road twists and turns, I crane to see the structure and attempt to devise a route closer to its base despite the intentions of the pavement.  A monument here seems odd and out of place, but even more unusual that I failed to notice it on my atlas.  Even with my short slice through the state, how did I miss the focal point of High Point State Park on my map?  I continue to approach, and it appears to grow in stature as I wind my way to its ground floor.
The monument to New Jersey’s veterans reaches more than two hundred feet into the brilliantly azure autumn sky, and I decide to conquer its two hundred ninety-one steps.  With a number of stops along the climb, I ascend to its peak and observe the distant mountains, the neighboring states, and the brushes of autumn painting brilliant colors on the forest of trees beneath me.  When I finally decide to return from my perch, I stop and strike a triumphant pose, and resume the blaring levels of Simon and Garfunkel.  But rather than count the cars, or the steps, or the states, I bask in my random discovery tucked in the corner of New Jersey.  And then off I go.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Drink The Wine

With this 100th blog post, a brief word of thanks to anyone who has traveled with me virtually through my adventures.

Siegerrebe Farewell

To the boredom and apathy of my sons, when we took our epic vacation throughout New Mexico, I made a few stops along the way at some tasty wineries.  From the days of the Spanish monks, wine making in the Land of Enchantment developed into my favorite flowing nectars from Deming to Velarde to Embudo to Tularosa.  And along the way on our family expedition, I sampled many varieties, purchased a few bottles, and delighted in all the mildly delightful intoxication of the experience.  For me, more than one sense comes alive when I open myself to the experience of traveling.  The sights are worth seeing, but the tastes, the fragrances, and the sounds combine to make my adventures extraordinary.

Half a decade later, while skirting another grape-heavy region, I visited several Washington State wineries, and even dabbled in the wines of Western Montana.  On the southern end of the Flathead Lake in Montana a family-owned winery served a wonderful history of its vineyards, while the Glacier Peak Winery packed up Siegerrebe as a parting pleasure from the Skagit River Valley in Washington.  When I finally poured the last glass from the last bottle of the wonderful white wine, I set the tall, thin, green-glass decanter on the corner of my writing table, and there it continues to sit today reminding me of the voyage and the vintage, both of which I cherish.

A Parable

I recall a story, but it’s really more of a parable, about a man and his wife and how they traveled and bought wines from all over the world.  When they would return home, they would shelf these precious souvenirs and save every delectable drop for the most special occasions.  In time, the wife became ill and as her condition deteriorated, so did the collection of wines.  When she finally passed away, the husband found himself alone with a myriad of vintages most of which had lost their flavor, and their joyful sentiments.  His lesson to others: drink the wine.  From then forward, he never gave a bottle of wine as a gift without glasses so that it would be consumed upon receipt.

What did I learn from this lesson?  Drink the wine!  Savor its flavor and watch its color glisten in the glass.  Do not hide it away in a cellar, bring it forth, uncork its fragrance and share it with friends.  When the wine bottle has been emptied and the lulling buzz of its potency has long since faded, memories remain.  I remember the unpaved pathways to the vineyards of Black Mesa, and to the Mission Mountain wineries.  I can still savor the chocolate infused flavors and the deep, rich reds and the soft delicate whites.  I sipped and satisfied my palette with the southwestern delicacies and the northwestern liquid gems.  Not a drop remains to keep as a souvenir.  Besides, that’s why I own wine glasses.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Combing Through My Memories

My First Adventure

Just after my third birthday, my father switched jobs and our family moved to Arizona from Colorado.  Growing up in the desert climate of the Grand Canyon state (see “One Hundred Years” from March 2012) clearly shaped my passion for warmth and my distaste for snow.  Our family traveled separately to arrive at our new home with my father and me driving from Denver to Phoenix by way of Albuquerque, while my mother flew with a four-year-old and six-week-old.  While not my first road trip, I recall select pieces of this drive, but nothing of the scenery.  I wonder if maybe I was too little to see out the window.

South from the Mile High City, across the state line into New Mexico, through Santa Fe, and down to Albuquerque we drove, making a right turn towards the mountainous areas of Flagstaff during the month of December, and then a left turn towards Arizona’s capital.  I passed through three of my now favorite states, and all without a single recollection of the mountains, the sunsets, the rocks, the rivers, or the route that brought me to my childhood home.  I sometimes think it would be worth retracing my steps and driving this route again, but without the initial recollection of the voyage, it might be just another gloriously scenic drive, but not a memory inducer.

The Moments We Remember

I recall only a few memories of my time living in Colorado – watching out the picture window waiting for my Dad to come home from work,  his painting the deck a color the paint can referred to as “peanut butter,” and singing “Sugar, Sugar,” a number one hit from 1969 by the Archies.  It always strikes me as odd, what things we remember.  A paint color (which I also remember getting on my beach ball) and a cartoon pop song (which I remember hearing while riding in a car with someone who was not my family, but I don’t know who) are two distinct memories I have as a two-year-old.  When I went back to visit the house in Denver as an adult, the current resident asked if my parents had picked out the awful rust-colored carpet.  If I had to guess, I thought I remembered the carpet being green.

But on the drive from my toddler home to my childhood home, I recall only two specific moments from the trip.  The first, when I had an upset stomach and got sick all over one of the two beds in the hotel room (sorry, Dad), so he nervously let me sleep next to him, no doubt paranoid that this little person would get sick again.  And then the following morning, Dad tried to get me ready to go by combing my hair with his narrow comb rather than a gentle little girl’s hair brush.  Ouch!  I know that I cried the entire time.  (Again, sorry Dad.)  But I wonder how well I behaved in the car, what I maybe said to my Dad while we rode, what scenery we witnessed, and how I passed my time for two solid days.  I wish I remembered those moments instead.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Charm of Fort Clatsop

Fists Raised In Euphoria

I am an auditory learner and the literature I recall best from high school are the ones Miss Bockius read to us.  Even today, I recall the written word far better if someone reads it to me than if I read it myself.  Case and point: Undaunted Courage.  For years I had wanted to read this historical account of one of the greatest expeditions in American history, but thanks to the magic of audio books, someone else read it to me and I savored every word.  I relished in the long monotonous drives that allowed me more than a full hour uninterrupted hanging on nearly every word.  We all have a favorite story – the adventures of Lewis and Clark may be mine.

Once evening, as I cruised southward on Interstate 95, I listened intently as the Corps of Discovery crossed to the south bank of the Columbia River and arrived at Fort Clotsop, the western terminus of their voyage of discovery.  I recklessly removed my hands from the steering wheel and raised my fists in triumph and blurted out, “I’ve been there!”  Suddenly I realized I was shouting at a ridiculously loud volume given there were no other passengers in my car, and I decided I should perhaps take a break from the excitement of the expedition and return my attention to my own travels.

Hidden In My Suitcase

Half a year has passed since the vacation I dubbed “The Lewis and Clark Expedition,” when I followed a similar, while not exact, journey from St. Louis to Oregon.  But on many occasions in my various travels I have crossed paths with Meriwether and William, including the scenic drive over Lolo Pass, and along the Missouri River through eastern Nebraska.  Were it possible to travel through time, I would want to walk alongside Sacajawea, guiding the two captains and their band of explorers through the American wilderness.  Sure, I realize the going would be much tougher than in an automobile, but the prospect still makes my toes curl.

While packing for a simple weekend overnight, I reach into one of the smaller pieces of luggage and find, to my absolute splendor and delight, a silver charm that reads “Clatsop” on one side and features my two favorite travelers on the reverse.  I gasp at the amulet still attached to its small display plastic backing.  I immediately stop my packing, despite the late hour, and dig into my tool box for the needle-nosed pliers to assist me in gently attaching this silver souvenir to my charm bracelet that features shiny reminders from Savannah, Georgia, Glacier Bay, Alaska, and Hershey, Pennsylvania among others.  I secure the triangular charm, and immediately place the bracelet in my suitcase so it will accompany me on my most current outing.  In my mind, I had not lost this treasure, as I had forgotten about it entirely, and discovering it anew, tucked away in my pink travel bag, reminds me of my journey to Oregon more than half a year ago and Captains Lewis and Clark’s voyage more than two hundred years ago.  I wonder if they were as excited to see the site of Fort Clatsop as I was to find it in my luggage.