Sunday, August 31, 2008

Quiet Sanctuaries In A Busy City

I took the kids to the Lincoln Park Zoo on Tuesday, and was so startled by the lack of morals that were paraded in front of my innocent children, that I completely forgot to share about the treasure of a sanctuary we stumbled upon as we trekked back to our car after our primate education.

And that, my friends, was a really long sentence.

I can not stand paying for parking, so our spot was a bit far from the zoo, at least for child legs, but I secured it after a well fought circling expedition. And boy did I squeeze into a dandy space. I am a fantastic at parallel parking. A skill I picked up after years of auditions downtown where street parking was the only option I would choose for 5 minute auditions. Fifty cents in a meter was one thing, but no way was I going to pay anything over a buck to run inside, spew my talent in front of a camera for 5 minutes, only to be back in my car before the engine cooled.

So we parked. And between walking to the zoo, walking through the zoo, and walking from the zoo, Zane's little three year old legs were spent. As we left the zoo, I could tell he was dreading the walk back to car. I was trying to distract him from the distance with stories about the zoo, the clean stories, rather than the sordid tales, but my efforts weren't working.

And then, we passed a gate. A gate I've driven past several times over 16 years living in Chicago, but one I've actually never walked by. Driving by, I always assumed it was some sort of service entrance for the zoo or the Conservatory.

This time, on foot, we glanced in.

All of us squealed and ran in. We stopped and looked upon what could only be described as the perfect urban oasis. For located smack dab west of Lake Shore Drive, right behind the Lincoln Park Zoo, and a spit East of the Conservatory, we discovered, for the first time, the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond. The sound of cars? Gone. The tops of buildings? Covered by trees. Sitting on the bank of the pond? A painter. Settled on the rocks? A couple having a picnic. How could we have lived here for so long and never known that this place existed?

Harper, Zane, our neighbor Bradley, and I followed the stone path as it curved around the pond which, yes, as the name suggests, was filled with lily pads. And it was quiet. Quiet. In Chicago. Zane kept commenting about the "journey" we were taking. Harper, my nature lover, expressed surprise at every little bend. Bradley, couldn't believe the Atkins were still walking after hours at the zoo and just wanted to sit by the edge. To reflect, I'm sure. Although secretly, I think our energy was too much for him.

We came upon a rock formation and noticed that there were people above us. So, we too, decided to climb up and see what we would find.

What we found at the top was a the perfect picnic spot, complete with a mini fresh water pond/waterfall. Yes, all man-made, but absolutely refreshing. We removed our shoes and just sat with our feet in the frigid water. It was there and then that we decided we would surprise George by bringing him back to this exact spot this morning for a picnic breakfast. I knew he didn't know this place existed and that he would be just as moved as we were when we first stumbled upon it.

After picking up bagels and coffee this morning we headed downtown and arrived just before 9. Zane was very close to giving away our secret by sharing with George that we were headed to the "water and the rocks". But even so, our secret was pretty safe.

He was floored when he entered. Just as I expected. "Has this always been here?" seemed to be the question of the week with regards to this hidden piece of solitude. Speaking with some neighbors tonight, we learned that they too, had no idea that the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond existed.

We took the path around until we reached our picnic spot. When George went to put our things down we took delight in telling him "no". He would need to actually climb up to find our spot. We climbed and sat.

"Guys, this is the best gift I've been given all year" was George's response.

We ate. We splashed. We guzzled coffee. No, not the kids. I may be an addict, but I'm not a pusher. We took turns grabbing Zane's hands so he wouldn't slip on the rocks. We took a few photo's with our "loaner camera" from Ritz (can't wait for ours to be repaired) and enjoyed our family.

After breakfast, we went to the Conservatory to see more beauty.

Afterwards, Harper and I actually jogged the path back to the car whereupon she announced that we should begin jogging every morning. Hmmm.

George and I actually watched many joggers and marathon training teams running the path this morning and both thought, although we didn't speak it, "That was once us." I could tell by looking at him, and he could tell by looking at me that we both felt we were missing something from the beauty of the day - a healthy run, as we once upon a time knew.

For me, witnessing joggers makes me feel as if I could run again. At least the 5K's. No more half marathons . . . just a thought. I don't know yet. Don't hold me to it.

It was a perfect Chicago morning. Followed by a perfect Evanston afternoon with my daughter.

Bookman's Alley: Evanston

Before having children, I invested (not wasted, mind you) a lot of time and money in used bookstores, and even dabbled in collecting First Editions of my favorites books. One of my favorite quiet spots, was Bookman's Alley in Evanston. Bookman's Alley is the complete opposite of a stuffy antique book seller, in terms of attitude, and yet very stuffy as it pertains to feeling cramped, books piled everywhere, the smell of must, dusty old furniture, and various pieces of military uniforms and other antique treasures strewn about, all creating a general feeling of being launched back in time.

It's glorious.

After Harper was born, and the budget got crunched, I actually sold a few books back to the owner at Bookman's Alley, and because I respected the quiet nook that is this place for so many, I really never returned with baby in tow. Plus, I didn't have the expanded time or money to just browse without care or responsibility once having children.

Today, while on a date with my SECOND GRADER I decided to share with her my long lost friend, and we ventured into Bookman's Alley.

Her response only confirmed that she is indeed my daughter. Yeah, yeah, everyone knows she's physically my kid, but her reaction to Bookman's Alley confirmed that soulfully, she's my girl. For upon entering the bookstore, she immediately exclaimed, "Oh! This is the greatest place!"

I could have cried as she found books on Egypt tucked in a corner.

I cringed as she attempted to touch the rare first editions, and found the owner very gracious and patient as I explained to her that I didn't have $400 on hand, and thus she should probably not be taking them off the shelf.

She saw Zane Grey books, got excited for Zane, and asked where she could find "To Kill a Mockingbird".

"Oh, Harper, First Editions of that book are rare and run something like $2500. I don't think there is one there."

We found the children's books and she chose to purchase, with her own money, a rare riddle book called "Cleo Catra", a book of riddles involving the theme of Ancient Egypt and cats. If you know my daughter, she is an expert on anything ancient Egyptian and loves jokes and riddles. She picked the book off the shelf and then tucked herself away in one of the many little crannies that are all over the store, in order to read her find. She explored drawers of old desks, finding old papers dolls and postcards, and asked repeatedly if I would purchase a $50 copy of Robinson Crusoe because, " . . . it's so old!" She didn't want to leave. Neither did I.

Could it be that after 7 years, I can rekindle my love affair with used bookstores while sharing this passion with my daughter?

And this is how Harper, who was complimented by the owner on her "coiffure", became a first-time collector of books with her first purchase at Bookman's Alley. And although she requested that we return after school so that she could complete her homework there, I fear that it would be too distracting for her. Plus, there's no way we could visit with our little wrecking ball in attendance.

But, I love my son. I named him after an author whose books are all over that shop.

I just can't bring him anywhere near it.

Regardless of whether she is every able to sit there to finish some homework, it most definitely won't be our last mother/daughter visit.

The day ended with a neighborhood movie on the Klamm's block. Families all gathered in front of a makeshift screen to eat popcorn and watch "Monster's Inc."

Today was a day of quiet sanctuaries in two busy cities.


Anonymous said...

I saw you on the balanced MK blog and I just wanted to stop by and say hello.

Cuppa Jo said...

I Colleen, thanks for stopping by. I really enjoy reading the balanced MK blog, as I think I have a pretty balanced view of it. It's nice to get to know people over there and read everyone's experiences and takes on the business.