My walks lately feel more like treasure hunts.
On a recent Saturday morning in the corner of the parking lot in front of Bright Cleaners, Kenilworth and South Boulevard, a white-haired Asian American woman — 80 would be my youngest guess on her age — crouched catcher-style as she weeded the bed of brown and white stones, surrounded by cement pavers, that serves as an aesthetic adornment to an otherwise non-descript property. A sculpted shrub has been planted there, but crabgrass keeps pushing through the rocks, so she decided to do something about it.
The scene elicited several astonishments: That this very elderly woman with the well-wrinkled, leathery face was supple enough to get into — and more to the point, out of — a catcher’s crouch; that any effort at all, however small and easily overlooked, was made to add visual appeal to this corner, and to maintain it; and the undeniable insistence on the part of plants to work their way upward toward sunlight.
It is easy to overlook such small treasures placed along our path because we tend to be passers-by. We don’t pay close attention.
Passing through Scoville Park on a recent cool, cloudy, Sunday afternoon, I notice a gray-haired African American man sitting on a bench by the tennis courts, fingering, as unobtrusively as one can play a pocket trumpet with a mute, the song “Windy,” from the 1960s’ group known as The Association (“Who’s tripping down the streets of the city, smiling at everybody she sees? Who’s reachin’ out to capture a moment? Everyone knows it’s Windy”). What is his story? I didn’t see any indication that he might be a street musician looking for donations. Just playing for his amusement — and, as it turns out, mine.
Midday, mid-week, park district camp counselors guide a passel of kids across Oak Park Avenue at Pleasant Street, towels dangling, goggles on foreheads, backpacks drooping from shoulders, high-pitched voices rising and falling, no doubt on their way to Ridgeland Common Pool.
As the late afternoon turns into evening, a mom stops to chat with a dad whose kids are playing in front of a house on North East Avenue. “Maybe retirement will be easier,” she sighs, moving on. He laughs and tells the kids he’s going inside to make dinner.
Parked on the 700 block of Linden is a 1960 black Ford Falcon with a “Nixon-Lodge” sticker on the rear bumper. Not many people anymore know who Henry Cabot Lodge was, but he’s worth a Google. Lodge was picked to raise the respectability of a ticket that had Richard Nixon at the head of it. No small feat. According to a small sign in the rear window, the car is for sale. Who knows what its ownership history is. Bet that’s a fascinating odyssey — half a century plus seven.
The sweet cinnamon scent of the tall prairie garden at the northwest corner of the Cheney Mansion property is always worth a pass-by. Inside the fence, adults and kids tend the adjacent vegetable garden. One little guy toddles around holding a newly plucked zucchini.
In the Magic Tree Bookstore window is a title I find strangely consoling in this time of great chaos: The Garden of Small Beginnings. Books come and go here throughout the year, blossoming in this word garden greenhouse.
Euclid Avenue Methodist, the church at the corner of Euclid and Washington Boulevard with the giant sign, “Jesus Was Radically Inclusive,” also has a small lawn sign that reads, “This congregation is powered by solar, geothermal and God’s love!” The old-fashioned glass display case promises “Cool Summer Worship” on Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
In white sidewalk chalk on the Pleasant Street side of Pleasant Home is written, “Don’t give up the fight.” A few blocks east, a large heart is filled diagonally with confident strokes of robin’s egg pastel blue.
On the 600 block of Euclid, a stone dog on the front lawn wears a Cubs cap, pulled down over his eyes, and a jersey.
The best, or at least biggest, hydrangea patch (pronounced, I learned recently, high-DRAIN-ja) can be found surrounding the flag pole on the E.E. Roberts mountain of a house at 417 N. Kenilworth.
A rocking horse, perched atop an SUV, heads northbound on Euclid Avenue, toward a happy rendezvous with its young rider, no doubt.
A young woman tells her companions, as they watch combat rehearsal on stage in Austin Gardens: “It’s totally copying Central Park in New York City.”
A man walks along Monroe Harbor in Chicago wearing a T-shirt that reads, “We Didn’t Suck.” Below it is the skyline of the city and below that a relatively inconspicuous logo for the “World Champion Chicago Cubs.” Tourists must be puzzled.
On the Blue Max Café menu in Forest Park, under the heading “House Benedicts,” three versions in a row promise different kinds of muffins. The Classic Eggs Benedict offers an “eglish muffin,” Huevos Benedictos an “elgish muffin,” and, ironically, Eggs Florentine features the more traditional “english muffin” (un-capitalized). As my breakfast companion and I laugh about this, a mock orange blossom from the bush overhanging our table on the back deck, drops into my coffee mug.
“Mock orange” is one of the ugliest names for one of the prettiest, best-smelling blossoms that bless us each spring.
In the alley, of all places, on the 300 block of South Marion, someone has gone to the trouble of putting up wooden trellises, now covered in brilliant red roses, on either side of a three-car garage. Who will see them?
You never know what you’re going to find on a treasure hunt.
All that’s required is paying attention.