To celebrate the solstice, a couple of confections, combined, dating all the way back to 1999:

Here in our “urban forest,” visually cut off from the horizon (unless you live in one of several high-rises), the best ground-level vantage point to watch sunsets is along the Eisenhower Expressway, aka “the canyon,” the widest swath that cuts through town. As a contemplative teen, I watched many a sunset from the East Avenue bridge.

Sunsets have always stirred something in me, but when I was 18, it was more than the sunset. I also watched the traffic coming from the big city, flowing west, heading toward what I imagined to be my future’s more tantalizing possibilities. The sun seemed to be leading all those travelsome, restless souls somewhere, suggesting a destiny worth shooting for.

Decades later, I know more about the narrowing (or the focusing) of life’s possibilities.

The thing about “watching” a sunset is that you don’t actually look at the sun (not good for the eyes). You look around it, and what you frequently end up seeing is life as it goes about its business — commuters returning from work, swimmers crossing the bridge heading home from Rehm Pool, strolling couples and singles out for their evening constitutional.

Most of us are content to put our heads down and be part of that parade, but sunset romantics stop and look around.

On this summer solstice, I wander out on the bridge and find a rose-colored orb burning through a bank of horizon haze.

Sunset is a slow-motion event. You have to be willing to wait. It’s not dramatic — unless the sun exploits openings in the intermediate clouds to create a light show. I still call them “God rays.”

The setting sun angles down toward its furthest reach along the northwest horizon on this, the day of maximum light — a day you’d think would be celebrated more than it is in our society. But we have grown indifferent to the cycles of our celestial surroundings.

Sunset is also more than the moment it disappears. The afterglow follows, and the best place to view it all is probably in front of the Rehm Park fire station. There’s a bench, but it faces the wrong direction, and the tree in front of the conservatory blocks the view. So here is where I set up, leaning against the metal railing, overlooking the railroad tracks and the detritus in the canyon below, which on this day includes a shopping cart from Pan’s grocery store on Oak Park Avenue.

Down on the CTA platform, a young couple waiting for the train stands close, wrapped up in each other, paying no attention whatsoever to the setting sun, though they have the required spirit for appreciating it.

There is romance in a sunset. You can’t watch one without feeling the longing — a deeper yearning, Robert Browning’s grasp that always eludes reach. When I was young, my reach was entirely forward. I still reach in that direction, but on this, the shortest night, I also find myself reaching back, toward that boy on this bridge who was, once upon a time without knowing it, reaching toward me.

We still don’t quite touch.

Which is why we keep reaching.


As the afterglow fades, I make my way over to Hole in the Wall, 901½ S. Oak Park Ave., a grand summer tradition among south-side Oak Parkers. The name refers to the narrow, half-storefront that houses this cramped, seasonal ice cream shop, which once specialized in what was called “frozen custard,” then “soft-serve ice cream,” and now “frozen yogurt.” Or maybe it’s all of the above.

There’s almost always a line snaking south down the sidewalk outside the shop, which creates its own mini-theater. This evening, three pre-adolescent girls in front of me are lost in animated discussion until one realizes, “We don’t have any money!” They spy an adult from the neighborhood and wave cheerily, perhaps sensing a loan in the offing.

Parents and kids hang out on the corner, flush with the pleasure of sweet slush on the tongue, until the whole group aggregates and moves off toward home, imprinting sweet memories no doubt, available for future withdrawal, with interest, when needed in some low-ebb stretch in their future — rising to the rescue when least expected.

I return home by a different route. When the cicadas finally take a breather, the void is filled with the more refined and seductive call of crickets. Where corner parkway gardens tower with Queen Anne’s lace and purple coneflowers, the prairie’s testament to high summer.

Dusk congeals under a canopy of old survivor elms.

The yogurt is mere memory.

The evening’s treat, however, lingers.

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