Summer's summary, 2017

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Summers are precious. You never hear people say, "Who knows how many winters I have left?" But you do hear that about summer. As I get older, the question feels more and more pertinent. 

Summers are precious, this one more than most. I can't remember when the weather has been so consistently pleasant. And with more space and time and a reduction in stress to think and breathe, each day felt richer, deeper, more meaningful, a treasury of moments observed and noted.

 Summers are precious, and we may never have another like this. With climate change, you never know. I say that thinking about the suffering of so many in Texas and Louisiana — for whom summer ended abruptly and savagely, with superstorm Harvey, the third to hit this country in the last 12 years (following Katrina and Sandy) and surely not the last.

"Doing" fills a summer, which advances at an accelerating pace. Fortified by 50 SPF sunscreen, I ventured forth into the UV, hiking Chicago's riverwalk and lakefront and the Arboretum in Lisle, where the sky opens wide, and massive, monumental clouds pass overhead giving dimension to the vast prairie that is our geographical home. 

I read Beauty by John O'Donohue and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Walls Kimmerer in Mills Park and Austin Gardens and in my own bed in the wee hours of the night, poetic books in poetic settings; rode my 43-year-old Schwinn Le Tour along the Salt Creek bike trail several times a week; listened to Broadway standards and Beethoven's Ninth on separate Millennium Park outings; saw Wonder Woman, Baby Driver, The Big Sick, Dunkirk, Detroit, Wind River, and Tulip Fever at The Lake and Paris Can Wait, Beatriz at Dinner, and The Trip to Spain at the Glen Art in Glen Ellyn, armchair travel being as far as I got from home; watched the White Sox beat the Yankees at 1 a.m. in a game whose start was delayed three hours by rain, and saw the Cubs lose entertainingly to the Reds, 13-10, on a sunny afternoon with the wind blowing out; enjoyed Festival Theatre's Bard then bawdy productions of "Macbeth" and "Fair Maid of the West" in Austin Gardens; strolled our villages, happily interrupted by an array of remarkable people whose paths crossed mine; and sat in the backyard till midnight at a family get-together, the hum of conversation and the electric buzz of cicadas gradually giving way to moonbeam bombardment, accompanied by cricket surround-sound.

Watching the eclipse with hundreds of curious uplookers in Scoville Park was a highlight — and a lowlight, thanks to the 87 percent coverage of the sun by the moon, two celestial lovers locked momentarily in mutual embrace, the clouds parting just in time to permit peak viewing with our funny glasses. 

There were Thursday Nights Out on Marion Street, silent films (except for the laughing) on the porch at Pleasant Home, stocking up at Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, Sunday concerts at Scoville Park, grazing through the buffet of books at the library's bibliophile fair, watching my son belt softballs in Forest Park, and viewing sunset afterglows from a sixth-floor condo building sundeck. I also attended a couple of weddings and even danced.

My son and I took the grandtwins on trips to Brookfield Zoo, and I arranged special visits to Rehm Park so the boys could work the hand-crank trains they'd been lusting to try. After the latter, a friend and I took them to Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor in Forest Park for a scoop each of vanilla in a dish. We were in summer heaven, listening to Louie Armstrong's rendition of "Moon River" over the speakers and agreeing that no matter what else summer offered, it couldn't get any better than this. My Huckleberry friends and I had found the rainbow's end, waiting 'round the bend.

"Doing," of course, is never the measure of a season. A good summer is also good for the soul — for deepening an understanding of who I am and who I share the world with, the extra sunlight allowing me to tarry longer in the present, the day and dusk lasting deep into evening, and the soft night taking on a special magic when it finally descended, for a while illuminated by fireflies. It was a time to be "out" as much as possible — outside my home, outside my head, outside "the box," tracking the progression of the season, marking its flowering and fading as it moved inexorably toward autumn.

I've been dreaming of having a summer "off" for decades, longing for it. And while it wasn't entirely free, time tipped the balance. At the moment, I feel blessed. It hasn't always been like this and won't always be so. Challenges and struggles continue, but somehow this summer, circumstances aligned like planets.

Summer 2017 is virtually over. The Festival Theatre stage was dismantled and dispatched with the usual cooperative camaraderie and artful aplomb this past Sunday, leaving a barren empty patch of meadow that only memories and next spring's new growth can fill. 

This then is my summer summary: The season attended, noted, enjoyed, and savored.

Not the end of anything. Just the beginning. 

And, I trust, long to be remembered.


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