Reflections on the end of a fleeting Chicago summer

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Earlier this evening, I was reading Mary Schmich's column in the Tribune, in which she encourages readers to do that "one last summery thing" before September draws to a close.  Even though we usually consider Labor Day to be the season finale, we still have a few more weeks before the mercury dips and the nights are longer than the days.

This year, I've been able to do that "last summery thing."  I'm visiting my family in the south suburbs this week, trying to get my fill of the last of another Chicago summer.  That's probably futile, since I never quite "get my fill" of the city regardless of what time of year I visit, but I'm at least having the opportunity to capture the end of the season before it fades completely.

I landed at the airport Wednesday evening, in time to enjoy the sunset over the city.  The next day, I drove to Evanston with my parents to visit my alma mater.  I had not been to Northwestern since I graduated in 2002.

As we cruised through downtown and along the lake, I was constantly either taking photos or videos of the skyline and the water.  When we arrived at NU, we found one last parking spot on North Campus.  It was as if it had been reserved just for us.  We walked along the "Lakefill," a section of campus where part of Lake Michigan had actually been filled in to make room for the student center and various other structures.

I fondly recalled all the times I had roamed on and off-campus at all hours, sometimes rollerblading to and from class.  (Does anyone even do that anymore?)  I walked through Norris University Center and the School of Education and Social Policy, remembering all the late-night study sessions, watching the sunrise over the lake when I could barely keep my eyes open.

On Saturday my family hosted a party in Indiana, where they have a summer home.  The plan afterward was to go to Beverly Shores, a regular tradition when we make the trek to Indiana, but time passed too quickly and it was almost dark before the festivities ended, so we never made it to the beach.  I guess that gives me another excuse to make a point to come back next year.

I love this time of year in the Midwest, when summer still lingers but fall begins to hint at its arrival.  We've been keeping all the windows open so we can be greeted by fresh breezes and lulled to sleep by the crickets.  Just a couple mornings ago, though, we had to close everything up and dig in the closets for sweatpants and hoodies when we woke up to a chilly 47 degrees.  The day before Labor Day, summer has returned and we get to put off packing away our shorts and tank tops for a while longer.

As I'm writing this, a bit of daylight still lingers, and the cicadas are giving one last raucous chorus before nightfall.  Some one must have asked for an encore.  It seems as though everyone is outside, enjoying this beautiful weather.

There's something almost magical about evenings like this, something that reminds you to enjoy what's left of this season while it lasts.  Maybe you make a little more effort to spend time outside.  Maybe you have everyone over for that last backyard barbecue.  Maybe you make that one last trip to a forest preserve or the beach or a state park.

In almost every business I've been in this week, the "fall stuff" is already out.  Pumpkins and scarecrows, spider webs and costumes, line store shelves.  Clothing retailers are putting all their short sleeves and swimsuits on clearance.  When I went through the drive-through at McDonald's this afternoon to get a $1 cup of sweet tea, pumpkin macchiato was already on the menu.

But it's just not time for that yet.  The first official day of fall, after all, isn't until September 22.  That means we have a little over two and a half weeks to enjoy the smells of burgers and hot dogs on the grill, fresh-cut grass, sunscreen, funnel cakes, and lake breezes that almost make you think of the ocean.

You still have some time to go for long bike rides, harvest those last summer veggies in your garden, and read that New York Times bestseller on the sand with the sun on your face and waves playing at your feet.

Enjoy this time.  Savor it.  At the end of the day, no one ever said, "Wow, I wish I hadn't taken the time to make the most of the end of summer."

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