Tag Archives: Seasons

Embracing the Seasons

It’s easy to wax eloquent on the marvels of summer or to proclaim that I wish [insert season here] never had to end.

But in reality, time marches on. After only a week away, I returned from Italy to a thoroughly autumnal Elgin (several blog posts are coming soon). The day I left, it was over 80 degrees, sunny, and definitely summer. Exactly one week later, nearly to the hour, it felt like fall as I stepped off the plane into 50 degree weather, with a certain bite in the air. The next day, while driving around, I saw leaves on the ground and others beginning to succumb to fall colors. The nights have grown colder, and I’ve re-embraced my jeans and cords and pulled my scarves from the back of the closet. It feels good to  curl up under a down throw on the couch and to pull the comforter up at night. The heat came on yesterday morning for the first time.

And then I saw exactly the right words to describe this, on my friend Emily’s Facebook timeline:

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit and resign yourself to the influences of each.” — Henry David Thoreau

Precisely. I’m starting to cook my fall favorites again and have noticed the light changing from full and strong to softer and more fleetingly precious. I spent a big part of Saturday outside, walking through Tekakwitha Woods and Jon Duerr Forest Preserve in St. Charles, noticing the leaves and the crisp air, the bright blue skies and the herons and egrets, gracefully soaking up the last rays before a trip south.

Rather than fighting the change, I’m embracing fall and all that comes with it, just as I’ll (likely more reluctantly) embrace winter when it arrives all too soon.

What’s your favorite part of fall? Any must-do Elgin-area autumn activities? I plan to soak up as much outdoor time as possible.

Floating on a Sunday Afternoon

Sunday morning, I left the house at 5:30 and drove west, through the cornfields where the land begins to roll gently towards the Mississippi. The sun was growing brighter and stronger, and water vapor rose from the corn tassels, setting up for another humid day as the sky turned from rose to blue. It reminded me of a Van Gogh painting, with ready-to-harvest crops on one side of the country highway and freshly harvested grain on the other, the landscape dotted by the occasional farmhouse. I cruised along with the sunroof open, feeling the breeze, smelling the manure, slowing when approaching small-town speed traps.

I arrived in Oregon, IL, not quite 70 miles west of Elgin, and found my way to Castle Rock State Park, where other runners began to appear as I slathered on sunscreen.

Soon my friends arrived for the Oregon Trail Days Run-A-Muck 8k. They had done it last year and were eager for the “muck” part of the event. We all looked at the 8k portion – a run along open country roads that reflected the sun – as a necessary evil to get to the downriver floating afterwards.

It was hot and sticky, with full sunshine and high humidity. We all carried water – last year there wasn’t enough – and set off.

The run itself did indeed suck. It was so very hot, and there was no shelter along the majority of the route. It was relatively flat, except for one big “hill” as we ran up and over a railroad bridge. My allergies and the humidity made breathing difficult, so Danielle, Shelley and I took it relatively easy, with short walk breaks every mile. We may have slowed a bit when we hit a couple of blissfully shaded residential blocks, where one homeowner had his sprinkler aimed out at the street. Near the end, firefighters had a hose spraying a gorgeous arc of cool water.

Like last year, the course was shorter than its advertised 8k (4.97 mi). Everyone with Garmins clocked it at 7.24k or 4.47 mi, but given the heat, we didn’t really care. We were glistening with sweat and grossness when we arrived at the finish, where we sucked down Gatorade and water before our Lions Club pancake breakfast. (This is one of the cheapest races I’ve done – $25 – and you get a shirt, breakfast, and innertube rental.)

Our merry band, before we hopped in the tubes. Not pictured: Iggy the dog.

After we ate, we started preparing for the main attraction: an innertube float down the tranquil Rock River, back to our cars. We reapplied all the sweated-off sunscreen because last year, my friends discovered that such a float takes 3+ hours. We strung our tubes into a flotilla for nine adults, two kids, a dog, and coolers full of snacks. We waded into the river, settled into our tubes, and slowly – so slowly – began our float.

It was magical. Divine. Blissful. Exactly what I needed after spending all day Saturday chained to my desk after a long hard week. I had no concept of time. There was no wind, and the dry summer means the river is low, so the current was lazier than a lazy river – we (literally) bottomed out in several places. We intermittently kicked and paddled a bit, and when we hit the shallower sections, we would walk forward a bit, but for the most part, it was just idle relaxation. We had nothing to do but lounge and sunbathe and chat. I alternated between sprawling on top of the tube and dangling my legs in the perfectly cool water. We passed around granola bars, chips and water and enjoyed the peace and quiet, watching hawks swoop overhead.

I would have been okay if the float portion was a bit shorter – there was no shade whatsoever, and I was worried about sunburn – but overall, it was exactly right. When we arrived back at Castle Rock, we rinsed off our legs and feet, changed into dry clothes, and set off for the east.

When I finally got back to my car, it was 3:30 PM and 94 degrees – but I didn’t care. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to spend a summer day than outside with friends, floating lazily down a river.

And I didn’t even really get sunburned, just a nice golden tan and a couple mildly burned spots in a place I didn’t even consider putting sunscreen: my armpits.

I need to find out if you can do similar tubing down the Fox River anywhere, without the pesky 8k first.

Spring-ization

We have winterization in our lexicon, but not the springtime equivalent. Regardless, that’s how I spent part of my Saturday.

I had four more windows replaced a couple weeks ago (both bathrooms, guest room and upstairs hallway – the latter used to funnel cold air directly into my bedroom), so I had no storm windows to put away this year. Now, I’ve replaced all the windows in the living areas of the house. All that remain are the back hallway, basement and front porch, none of which are a huge priority.

Tulips! And daffodils!

I also cleaned out a winter’s worth of detritus from my flower beds and backyard. I filled an entire yard bag with dead leaves and other junk, and was thrilled to find stuff already sprouting underneath. In the front beds, I had seen tulips beginning to grow, but after removing the leaves, I found daffodil sprouts, too. Along the back fence, I found the early shoots that will become June’s tiger lilies.

Inside, I drained and cleaned the humidifiers, and now they’re air drying until I store them for the summer. I dusted and organized.

Still to do:

The missing piece was finally found in the backyard once the snow melted.

Fix the soffit that the blizzard tore off the side of the garage. Though it’s not very high, it requires a ladder, and thus I won’t tackle this quick fix unless I have someone spot me. Especially at the back of the house, I’m wary of doing anything where I could fall and no one would notice.

Close, but not quite latchable

Fix the frost heave/front gate situation. A couple years ago, a frost heave appeared in the middle of my driveway. As soon as the weather warmed, it collapsed back into itself, enabling me to seal it and move on. A couple weeks ago, when I first tried to close the gates, I couldn’t get the gate over the heave. Now, it’s collapsed, so I can close the gates, but they’re misaligned so they don’t meet in the middle and latch. I’m weighing my options: raise up the gates (oh-so-heavy and cumbersome; would require a second and potentially third set of hands) and install new hinges, sand off the bottom of the gate that currently rests on the ground, or just leave hope that the warm weather adjusts the driveway a bit more.

Put away the boots and clean, clean, clean. I’m afraid that putting away my winter boots right now might tempt fate, so I’ll hold off at least another week on this one. I also need to pull out the hose, turn on the water and get ready to plant.

And I can’t wait to drag the patio furniture out for the year.

What do you have to do for spring?

A Softer Light: Summer’s Not Over Yet

It’s happening: we’re rapidly losing our long hours of languid summer sunshine. The last few mornings, when the alarm goes off at 6, it’s still sunrise rather than nearly-full daylight. This morning, the sun loomed as a big red ball to the east.

And at day’s end, the light is coming to an abrupt halt much quicker. A month ago, I could wait until 7:30, even 8 PM before heading out for my run, assured of plenty of daylight. Last night, I got home from my run at 7:45 and the front porchlight was already on. (It’s on a timer that automatically adjusts for sunset.)

The other night, leaving work at 5, a coworker commented on the light. “It’s different,” he said, looking at the way the sunlight ducked between the skyscrapers. “Has it always been like this at 5?”

“It’s nearly fall,” I replied. “Not long and it will be dark when we leave.”

I hate the darkness of the winter. I hate leaving the house in the dark and returning home in the dark, when entire workweeks can go by without ever feeling the sun on my face. But in some ways, I’m more focused in winter. When it’s light out, I want to be outside, running or biking or just lounging in the yard with a book. As long as it’s light outside, the day seems full of possibility and promise. There’s no rush to get things done. In winter, I don’t feel as if I’m missing out on the gorgeous, fleeting weather. Another gray, slushy day? I’d rather be inside working, thank you.

But now, as the sunlight softens and falls farther to the horizon earlier in the evening, fall is coming. The free evening concerts at Wing Park are over, the last one rained out. Kids are already back to school, and I just learned I’ll be joining them in a few weeks. We’ve had a few cooler nights when I’ve had to wake in the middle of the night to close the bedroom windows.

Several years ago, the Tribune’s Mary Schmich quoted Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” in a column.  I clipped it and stuck it on my fridge, and notice it many mornings as I’m waiting for the coffee to brew. (Schmich quoted it again in a recent column, but I’ll stick with my yellowed, brittle copy.)

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

This summer’s nearly over, but there’s still time for a stroll through the fields or a trip to the farmer’s market. It’s already been a great summer, but let’s go out on a high note.

What’s left on your must-do list for summer? I still have to break 30 minutes in a 5k, and I want to spend more time in the backyard, with wine, after dinner. I may need to invest in some anti-mosquito tiki torches to make that one happen.