Friday, February 22, 2008

Life ∩ The Thin Line

Several nights ago my dog, Django, and I took a walk to a park on the shores of Lake Michigan, just five blocks from where we live. Six inches of fresh snow blanketed every tree, fence and home on our route. We passed stucco four-squares, clapboard-sided Victorians and solid brick bungalows whose mullioned windows cast golden squares of light on the night-blue snow. There is no cozier time for a walk in winter than on such an evening.

But As Django and I reached Sheridan Road, six fire trucks and an ambulance barreled past. A block down, they took the corner and cut their sirens as they pulled up to a row of gracious old apartment buildings. The park is just north of these buildings. While Django happily looked for sticks in the snow, I gazed out over the lake. Where I had seen inky pools of open water a few nights before, the lake was now snow-covered ice. Here and there ghostly piles stood out, perhaps a product of the wind or movement of the icy crust.

When I finally gave in to curiosity to glance toward the flashing lights, I expected to see firemen racing between their trucks and one of the apartment buildings. Instead, I saw them dispersed along the shore, where a line of boulders, several feet high, acts as a barrier that protects the land from Lake Michigan’s surf while it discourages people from entering the water in summer where there are no lifeguards. Many firemen trained flashlights out over the lake, while one man atop a hook-and-ladder swept a spotlight up and down the shore.

This was no fire alarm. Someone from one of the apartment windows had spotted what she thought was a person, partially submerged in open water, his (or her) arms gripping an ice pile to keep from slipping in completely. Reattaching Django’s leash I led him to a few onlookers who had gathered near the rescue operation. Two firemen pulled on bright yellow immersion suits, while others threw coils of rope down to colleagues who had scaled the boulders and made their way out on the ice.

Shuddering, I strained to see a human figure on the frozen lake. Not 100 yards from shore, within shouting distance of where my dog played and dozens of people relaxed or dined in apartments and fine houses, someone could be fighting for his life in a vast and frigid place. Perhaps walking straight out to see the Chicago skyline just south of us – or the allure of ice fishing – had seemed like novelty that afternoon.

I offered the firemen use of a kayak stored in my garage. While inherently unstable, it could provide them with something buoyant to grab onto should the ice give way beneath their feet. “Thanks, but we have the immersion suits,” one fireman told me. I stood there watching until it felt way too self-indulgent.

I worked from home the next day. After lunch, I walked out to the lake and took the picture featured above. You can see the firemen’s footprints like a dappled river over the snow, converging at a spot of thin, gray ice at the base of a snowy pile. The Evanston Review, my city’s newspaper, arrived in my mailbox a day after that. To my relief, the brief article on page seven said the firemen’s search turned up nothing. No one had been found.

Above photo by Ardis Berghoff.

1 comment:

Society of Architectural Historians Chicago said...

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