Saturday, August 13, 2022

Northshore Notes: Howl at the Moon

     I don't know why it never occurred to me before. But I was reading today's report by Northshore Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey, and suddenly it struck me. "Here, I always thought Austin, Texas was this quirky, cool place, where EGD's correspondent was bopping around, gathering color. When in reality, it could be as boring an anodyne as a generic shopping mall, with Caren generating her own heat and light, as she does here. Well, aided by the moon.

 By Caren Jeskey

“Humans aren’t entirely rational beings; we’re aesthetic beings, we’re romantic beings and, as Sagan hinted, we are also frightened beings — haunted by our own mortality and the enormity of a universe we only partly comprehend. If a supermoon serves as a comforting night light, we’ll happily take it.”
                            —Jeffrey Kluger
    Thursday night boasted the last supermoon of the year. It pulled me to the lake for the moonrise. For my last client of the day I headed over to Mallinckrodt Park, in all of its midsummer full bloom glory. It’s been a great season for things that grow in the Midwest, as you have noticed if you’re here. The grassy fields and bountiful fragrant roses of the park dance and preen for us.
     I found a soft patch of grass under my favorite local weeping willow tree. When we hopped on Zoom, my client got to see the fronds of this magnificent tree gently swaying in the breeze, with the expanse of a perfectly manicured field and a very blue sky behind me. She smiled broadly. It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do. My client does not live in the safe bosom of Kenilworth Gardens as I do. When we were saying goodbye she cautioned me to be careful in a park alone. “I watch too many crime shows not to worry.” I assured her that I would.
     I took my leave from the willow’s canopy and started the trek. After a quick stop at a coffee shop for a pick-me-up of green matcha, I crossed Sheridan where I’d planned to hop the fence to the beach. Luckily for me, since I really don’t want to be cited, they’ve posted a hundred more signs than usual reading “No Beach Access,” and they also repaired the area of the fence where ne'er-do-wells like me used to pop over to prevent having to walk another quarter mile or so. This led me to walk south like a proper person to a proper beach entrance.
     There’s a little spot secreted between lakefront homes that leads to a mountainous sand dune. When you step off of the street and into this haven, indigenous trees and green and flowering things adorn the well manicured landscape. Sometimes you’ll find a person or two scanning the area for invasive vines, pulling them firmly so the roots come out, and bagging them up to be destroyed. It’s a well appointed area with trash and recycling bins and bike racks. There are stairs built into the sandy cliff, which descend to a winding path that’s peppered with charming wooden benches. There you can take a quick rest, or sit the afternoon away — a view of the lake visible though obscured by old, tall conifer trees.
     Emerging at the lakefront, I headed along the water’s edge to a clump of boulders. It was nearing dusk and the lake was full of movement. A couple of boys were tossing boogie boards into the wet froth, gingerly jumping aboard and riding them back to shore, gracefully skimming the water. Deeper in, gaggles of teens were hopping the five foot waves. Their screams of delight were muffled pleasantly by the thunderous volume of lake sounds.
     I spontaneously sang and howled for fun (no one could hear me) and felt like a carefree child. I stretched, and let the wind give me an invigorating bath. 
     It was 8:03, 13 more minutes to the scheduled moonrise. Gradually I noticed what looked like sun rays radiating out of the horizon to the southeast. Moon rays? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen moon rays before. Not like these. Then the whole sky dimmed to a darker blue cloudless dusk.
     It was windy. I started shivering but it felt good, not like winter shivers. It was a much cooler night than I’d planned for. I left my rocky perch and nestled down on the beach. I tucked my knees close and draped my dress over them, tucking the bottom under my feet. Warmer, and cozy, I rested my back on a sandbag hill at the base of a “lawn” of one of the homes (that would be more appropriate as a public park if you ask me). I hoped no one would shoo me away. Alas, a heretofore unnoticed guard beelined towards me almost immediately. (‘How can a person OWN the beach?’ my mind screamed). I got up and found another place to sit, closer to the laughably tiny public beach area with a good crowd of people drying off, lying around, and creating TikTok clips.
     At the best drive-in ever, I kept my eyes towards the screen of the horizon, and wondered where that moon was. At about 8:20 I finally noticed a flaming orange chord of a circle start to peek up over a retaining wall in the southeast sky. Thar she blows! She rose quickly. I leapt up and walked briskly towards her. I wanted to keep walking to her face, and gaze directly up at her like so many Disney characters have gotten to do. Dozens of people of all ages were on their feet now, from the Plaza del Lago condos all the way to Gillson Beach. Everyone was staring, laughing, talking animatedly, or taking photos and videos.
     I gazed for a good long while until she was much higher in the night sky. I felt complete, and was ready to make the few mile journey home. I walked barefoot down a paved path in the middle of the parking lot, and noticed how tall the flowers, bushes, and prairie grasses had gotten since a few short weeks ago. I popped my Birks back on and as I ascended a pedestrian incline back to the street, I thought I heard a voice calling out to me. I wrote it off to the wind. But then there it was again. A lovely woman, visiting from Phoenix, was calling out to ask me to walk with her. “Buddy system. Safety in numbers,” she said. "Of course," I replied, then I assured her that we were as safe as Norman Rockwell characters. We chatted for a while, found a lot of common ground, and entertained the people passing us who could not help but comment on the spectacle of the moon we had all just witnessed together.
     One of the passers by was a lady named Mary Jane Kale. Somehow it came up that she had gone to Mundelein College, where my mother went, and where I went to preschool. Modern feminist badass women like Mary Jane and my mother call themselves Mundle Bundles. My Phoenix pal, Mary Jane, her husband and I laughed at the cool coincidence. It was one of those nights where all felt right in the world.


  1. Coming down Stoney Island after picking my wife up from work we had a glorious view of the moon. I didn't know it was a special moon. Thanks for that

    1. Happy you two saw it, and that's for reading. An old friend lives across from Mosque Maryam near 73rd. You have me thinking of Stony. I have many memories along it's pavement from Hyde Park South.

  2. I loved Chicago for the 35 years I lived there. I live in St Louis now and frankly, the lifestyle and ease of experiencing cultural activities make me prefer my new home. But - and it's a big but - nothing here can replace the beauty and wonder of Lake Michigan. Your article reminds me of how much I miss interacting with the lake and shoreline. Sigh. A beautiful column.

    1. I promised myself to make it down more often and I have been. It's incredibly soothing, isn't it? Even when it's iced over.

  3. The more one ventures out the greater the chance of more opportunities such as this. It doesn’t mean holing up every once in a while is bad. It just recharges your for your next experience.
    Lake Michigan is very special. It is why we find a place to stay near there when we visit.

    1. Yes! Reminds me to venture out a little bit more often. Hope you get to visit often enough.

  4. During most of my 36 years in Chicago, I lived close to the lake and saw many Lake Michigan moonrises and sunrises. But a couple of months ago, I saw my first-ever moonrise from a high-rise facing the lake and the city skyline.

    At 11:05 PM, I saw the first faint yellow glow in the southeast, and then the moon rose in all its glory, flooding the surface of the lake with a golden path that eventually became a silvery one. There's something unique about lunar light. Why do we love the moon so much? Every person you ask would probably have a different answer.

    For the last thirty years, I've lived a few miles from Lake Erie, but here we don't often see moonrises over our lake, because of its NE-to-SW orientation. Instead, we are treated to spectacular sunsets, mostly during the summer months.

    One of our local parks, Lakewood Park, is edged by a terraced hillside. The concrete terraces are known as the Solstice Steps. These steps overlook the shoreline, wrapping along 480 feet of its loveliest embankments. Facing north, and curving to the northwest, this site offers stunning views of Lake Erie’s sunsets.

    Its name is derived from its placement--the steps face the point on the horizon where the setting sun reaches its northernmost point on the day of the Summer Solstice. There's even a demarcation line, set into the cement, that points northwest, toward the exact spot where the sun drops below the horizon on June 20 or 21. The steps are always crowded in the summertime. Sometimes there are hundreds of sunset-watchers, giving the place a kind of Key West feel.

    But I still prefer seeing the moonrise, and without all the hoo-ha, the crowds, and all those damnable phones being thrust at the darkening sky. Caren might like to experience the communal joy of the Solstice Steps, but I have a feeling the novelty would soon wear off, as it did for me, and she'd once again be seeking solitude for her nocturnal sojourns. As I do.

  5. Thanks for sharing Grizz. The moon is our friend. P.S. I did not hang with others much... perhaps 20 minutes of hours of time. I am still the solo sojourner. :)


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