BY JOHN SIMONDS
Shortly after we arrived home from Akumal on the Mayan Rivera, I woke up to a blanket of snow on my balcony above the Chicago River. Although it was almost one month since the vernal equinox announced the official arrival of spring, Chicago did not get the memo.
About at the same time, the elders of a large colony of merganser diving ducks, close to the North Pole, had intelligence suggesting that the Chicago River, between Grand and Ohio was enjoying arctic conditions and so they came en masse and took up residence, like Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Perhaps fifty of the yellow beaked creatures bobbed along in the wake of the ghostly tour boats without passengers. The wind chill registered 16 on the Fahrenheit scale. I slid into my L.L. Bean parka, covered my ears with a dark blue cap with a Bear’s logo in orange on one side, and a pair of leather gloves I bought in San Miguel for $16.00 that would sell for $65.00 at the Polo store on Michigan Avenue. I was ready for the twice-daily ritual of taking Carlotta for a walk. It was not a happy occasion for either of us. I was still acclimated to Cancun. I needed neat scotch not another icy margarita.
The playground at Montgomery Park was empty. The jungle gym and swing sets sat idle, like ice statues at winter carnival in Hanover, New Hampshire, where outdoor hockey is played on open rinks of manmade ice. It reminded me of scenes from Doctor Zhivago with the wolves howling at the moon—and they have the audacity of calling it spring.
One of my favorite rituals from my youth in Vermont was watching the crocus emerge through the crust of snow. It was a harbinger that tulip season was not far off and trout season on the fabled Battenkill would commence the first weekend of April.
But this is Chicago, and the colony of mergansers are squatting on the water that the ever-aggressive seagulls believe to belong to them and their friends, the well-mannered Canada Geese, that have begun the annual birthing ritual. We know because we watch the male standing sentry to protect the eggs from the marauding seagulls who hope to enjoy eggs benedict some morning soon.
We watch the aerial combat when a gull gets too close. It is like a scene from Top Gun without Tom Cruise. In the meantime, the gulls are also busy trying to drive the mergansers back to the arctic, but the diving ducks simply play a game like whack-a-mole and disappear into the depths. We should be charging admission: ducks – 10, sea gulls – 0.
Carlotta is sporting a fashionable tartan plaid coat to protect her from the unforgiving winds of this April. Even so, she still wants to climb in the hot shower with me after her morning walk. I am sure she has memories of romping on the beach in Akumal with the noontime temperatures reaching into the 80s—we all do.
My friends are trying to convince me that we never experienced this kind of unpredictable, volatile, mean-spirited April weather until Donald J. Trump was elected president. But I think they are a wee bit biased, so I will just go back to reading the biography of Ulysses S. Grant and wait for the April showers to bring me May flowers.