urban tundra.

 
        Every year I eagerly await the arrival of our local urban tundra.  Chicagoland may not exactly be the Arctic circle, but sometimes it resembles such vast, flat, frozen land.  At the height of winter one can sometimes find twenty foot tall ice walls, temporary caves and icebergs along our lakefront.  This is my eighth winter here and each year is different.  Last year there was little sign of the beloved temporary glaciers as our winter temperatures never stayed below freezing for long.  Given that we are steadily warming our planet, to devastating effect on a large scale, I feared our scenes of winter might never return.  But this year, while the warmest winter on record for so many areas of the world, was full-fledge, old-school winter here in the mid-western United States.  We had four days where the temperatures plummeted to fifteen degrees below zero and almost three months where we never broke freezing.  That said, this was an epic year for our urban tundra.

    

 Every year I eagerly await the arrival of our local urban tundra.  Chicagoland may not exactly be the Arctic circle, but sometimes it resembles such vast, flat, frozen land.  At the height of winter one can sometimes find twenty foot tall ice walls, temporary caves and icebergs along our lakefront.  This is my eighth winter here and each year is different.  Last year there was little sign of the beloved temporary glaciers as our winter temperatures never stayed below freezing for long.  Given that we are steadily warming our planet, to devastating effect on a large scale, I feared our scenes of winter might never return.  But this year, while the warmest winter on record for so many areas of the world, was full-fledge, old-school winter here in the mid-western United States.  We had four days where the temperatures plummeted to fifteen degrees below zero and almost three months where we never broke freezing.  That said, this was an epic year for our urban tundra.

        I had grand plans to closely chronicle the ebb and flow of said tundra, it's beauty and detail in different lights, the mounding shattered ice piles as they stretched ever further out into the lake.  Alas, there were many occasions when I failed to have my camera in hand at the right moment, and other days when the cold was anything but persuasive at enticing me toward the lake.

     

I had grand plans to closely chronicle the ebb and flow of said tundra, it's beauty and detail in different lights, the mounding shattered ice piles as they stretched ever further out into the lake.  Alas, there were many occasions when I failed to have my camera in hand at the right moment, and other days when the cold was anything but persuasive at enticing me toward the lake.

        I did make many pilgrimages to our fair frozen land.  It's massive size, colors ever changing to reflect temperature and weather, are a source of grounding, solace and context for me.  We don't have great mountains here or epic canyons or briny seas, but this body of fresh water serves as a primary connection to nature here in the Midwest.  In late August there is no greater freedom than swimming out towards the endless horizon at sunset.  But, winter's waters offer a different form of meditation.  Some mornings the lake appears almost haunted, a subtle sheet of fog hovering over the icy sheets and other times stark and bright, fully revealed.  

     

I did make many pilgrimages to our fair frozen land.  It's massive size, colors ever changing to reflect temperature and weather, are a source of grounding, solace and context for me.  We don't have great mountains here or epic canyons or briny seas, but this body of fresh water serves as a primary connection to nature here in the Midwest.  In late August there is no greater freedom than swimming out towards the endless horizon at sunset.  But, winter's waters offer a different form of meditation.  Some mornings the lake appears almost haunted, a subtle sheet of fog hovering over the icy sheets and other times stark and bright, fully revealed.  

        And so we watch it grow, waves slapping against the shore forming sculptures that join hands with themselves climbing higher.  We strap on crampons and scale sheer faces, look for our reflections in the bluey cold, and slide joyfully down frosty mounds.  Until one day it begins to slowly fade.

     

And so we watch it grow, waves slapping against the shore forming sculptures that join hands with themselves climbing higher.  We strap on crampons and scale sheer faces, look for our reflections in the bluey cold, and slide joyfully down frosty mounds.  Until one day it begins to slowly fade.

        Ice chunks break apart and drift off into warming waters.  Mountain faces slip back into the blue abyss and we watch it go.

     

Ice chunks break apart and drift off into warming waters.  Mountain faces slip back into the blue abyss and we watch it go.

        Then one day rising temperatures ease the last jagged edges back into rolling waters and we are left with wind and waves.  I know that I am eager for the warmth that Spring brings, the joys of new growth and the possibility of casting off coats and substituting winter boots, for rain boots, for clogs, for flip-flops, but in this loss I feel a little bit of heartbreak, a little fear that this may be the last year of the giant glacier.  So, as I dream of planting seeds and growing sunflowers and tomatoes, I will squirrel away my hopes for urban tundra, pack it tightly in the nest of my heart like so many nuts, ready and hoping for next winter.

     

Then one day rising temperatures ease the last jagged edges back into rolling waters and we are left with wind and waves.  I know that I am eager for the warmth that Spring brings, the joys of new growth and the possibility of casting off coats and substituting winter boots, for rain boots, for clogs, for flip-flops, but in this loss I feel a little bit of heartbreak, a little fear that this may be the last year of the giant glacier.  So, as I dream of planting seeds and growing sunflowers and tomatoes, I will squirrel away my hopes for urban tundra, pack it tightly in the nest of my heart like so many nuts, ready and hoping for next winter.