June 8, 2012

artist date: boat tour

Twice before, I have taken boat rides along the Chicago River, but never alone, as my artist dates are intended. Once was in junior high, on a youth group trip which I hardly remember. The other trip was a few years back on my birthday, when I asked to celebrate with a downtown architecture tour boat ride. Not the most idyllic way to experience the tour, since my birthday is in November. I learned what I could in between sips of hot cocoa and tried to keep at least my eyes uncovered by the scarf wrapped around my head. It is true that it gets much colder on the water, and the winter wind on the lake is wild and fierce.
So I have always wanted to give a boat tour a fair shot. And I have definitely felt very determined this year to take more advantage of our proximity to such an amazing city. So this week's artist date took me on a boat tour with a hundred or so other tourists (including about forty school kids, who added lots of spirit to both the trip and the boarding queue!).  Our tour included portions of the East and South branches of the Chicago River as well as a journey along the skyline on Lake Michigan. Our 90-minute tour took us past incredible architecture and historical city landmarks, and the expert tour guide filled our heads with nonstop facts to feed our brains and connect information to the sights as we took it all in. 
As we passed building after building, towering high above us in fierce competition with the others, I was reminded of how small I am, how minute a part I play in this larger city world of moving parts and people. Usually, on my artist dates, I venture somewhere small, where I might experience something private and personal. But this was a different sort of adventure, an exploration of place on a much larger scale, in which I stand amazed at how much surrounds me. Centuries of art and architecture, many important historical events that have shaped the city and its people, and most of all, SO many people.
I was born here, on the North Side of Chicago, and mostly raised here - it has always felt like 'home' to me, no matter where I have lived since. I am an eager but intermittent student of Chicago history, and my boat trip reminded me of how much I have yet to learn. Most of the time, I feel I can hold my own here, can get from place to place and keep my wits about me. I love the sense of setting out to get somewhere, and the triumph of arriving confidently. I love the endless possibilities of all of Chicago's many neighborhoods, the cities within the city. I love to learn where one neighborhood ends and another begins, and to find out what makes this one different from the last. I love the map of the train lines, like so many arteries spreading to a larger body of people from the city's heart, where it all begins in the Loop. You could never see it all, you really never could. The minute you had seen every street, the shops and homes would have changed, and the people would have come and gone, all sorts of life always changing, ebbing and flowing as it was created to do. I like this about the city- I like to be a small fish in a big pond, so there is always something new ahead.
On my boat trip, as the boat's motor pulled us firmly onto Lake Michigan and away from the shore, my perspective shifted dramatically. I took the city in as one collective whole: a mass of life punctuated with skyscrapers and landmarks instead of faces. When I walk the streets between those buildings, the buildings are the backdrop, not the focus. They are a forest of concrete and steel and granite and glass, and what matters then is the lives teeming in and out and all around them. The camera of my attention focuses in on those lives, and the buildings fall back accordingly in the frame. But my view from the lake was a glimpse of the city's faceless magnitude, as the lens pulled back to take in the whole rather than its parts. 

The slightest shift in perspective can shine so much light and raise questions you never even thought to ask before. I wonder what would happen if I could practice 'zooming out' more in my daily life? 

Have you had experiences that gave you this same sense of awe and wonder? How have you glimpsed the "greater whole"? I would love to hear about it!

1 comment:

  1. The city of Chicago has a lot to say. You know what? I once had an complete Chicago boat tour, and I must say that it's one of my wonderful boat tours, so far. Boat tours should have amazing menus and special events which are both good for both the family and loving couples.