Letter from Birdland: A wonderful stroll through the Windy City

Letter from Birdland: A wonderful stroll through the Windy City

Another day in Chi-town and I find myself back in Millennium Park. Later, Emily and I will take a cab up to have dinner at a pie shop.

My friend is still having meetings at her conference. I wander past the faces and through the Dangos all lined up. Some are rounded like eggs (they remind me of the eggs my sister and I would stand on end with each equinox). Most are tall and splendid like something else, all larger than life. They are giant ceramic sculptures by Jun Kaneko, standing in rows on the sidewalk.

I find myself wondering about the kiln they were fired in. Since clay shrinks as it dries, and even more when fired, they must have been monstrous.

I wander on and find the Lurie Garden: abundant prairie plants in downtown Chicago. The juxtaposition of the natural plants and the urban skyline fascinates me. I wander through a diverse culture of grasses, sunflowers, purple coneflower, milkweed and various spiking purple flowers from the mint family.

I find a stream, really more of a channel built in stone. Pennies sparkle on the bottom. People everywhere enjoy the day. I come upon a scattered group; they are all drawing and making careful notes in notebooks. I wonder if it's a naturalist class attached to the outdoor school. I steal a glance and then a photo of a girl drawing an echinacea flower. It is quite good.

I round the corner and scare up a red-winged blackbird. It flies up into a nearby tree. Its flash of red seems even more vivid in the city.

Back outside, I catch sight of a couple that I saw earlier: he in his camouflage army fatigues, she in a long-knit dress, a casual tank top and straight skirt, but fancied up with a wide leather belt. It is striped in the same color palate as his sand-colored uniform, and I wonder if she planned that. They look happy together, and they make a striking couple.

The park is full of birds. Pigeons, of course, and the more aggressive gulls. The pigeons are dressed in various shades of gray and white, with luminous necks. They all seem to have red feet. The gulls are larger and run on webbed feet that range from bright yellow to the color of the yolk of a hard-boiled egg when it's been cooked too long.

A gull suddenly tackles a pigeon just a few feet from me. The pigeon rolls and drops a bit of sandwich that someone had thrown. The greedy gull snaps it up before the pigeon can recover.

Everywhere children interact with the birds, most in the very same way: by failing to catch them. A child spots a pigeon pecking at something on the ground and begins to follow the bird. The pigeon, sensing danger, stops pecking and quickens its pace, beginning a zigzag path. The child follows faster, giggling, and suddenly pounces just as the bird takes flight.

I observed this over and over, and never yet saw a child catch a bird. I wanted to give them my grandfather's advice. He always said if I put salt on the bird's tail, I'd be able to catch it, and I believed him, but I never had a saltshaker with me when I wanted a bird.

I watched one particular little girl of 2 or 3 try and fail, but she didn't lose hope. "There's another one!" she squealed, running toward it.

Her father and I shared a smile as he followed the girl who followed the bird.

Emily joins me in the park, and we wander a bit before jumping in a cab. The plan is to meet Dylan at the Hoosier Mama's Pie Shop, where his girlfriend works.

My son has recently transplanted to Chicago. He has just finished his shift at a fancy restaurant and is ready for some pie. Emily and I have decided that pie for dinner is just right. The cabbie has never heard of the place, but we give him an address and he gets us there. He is friendly and tells us that now he will send his customers to this shop when they want pie.

We hop out of the cab, but — disaster! The pie shop is closed. The bakers are busy inside. Erica sees us and comes out to explain; they are baking for tomorrow's market. Dylan swings around the corner, and we tell him.

"Oh, yeah. It's Monday," he says.

We settle on a Cuban restaurant up the block. A simple pork sandwich, conversation with two of my favorite people, a walk around Dylan's new neighborhood. It all makes up for no pie for dinner. Almost.

Stalk beauty; capture peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in birds and other living things wherever she goes. Art is nice too. And pie. You can read more of her writings at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com.

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