peaks and valleys

Chicago’s been home now for two months. Every day, I learn something new about this city and its people. There’s never a lack of excitement, intrigue, and activity here. But once in a while, it doesn’t hurt to look back at how I got here and where I was before here. And I’m not talking about Fargo.

A week or so ago, I was home and watching TV. One of my favorite shows, as those who follow our food blog know, is Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” He did a show a season or two ago in Livingston, Montana. I’ve never been there but I felt an instant and deep connection with the place. I welled up and felt a sudden and deep longing for the small foothill town just east of Bozeman. Why?

Because I love wide open spaces and mountains. My time on the road between Michigan, California, and Fargo, as well as some of the Appalachian states, made it impossible not to fear and revere the peaks in the distance. So why, you ask, am I in the third-largest city in the country with the tallest building in North America only a half-mile away (as the crow flies)?

I grew up in a city of about 35,000 people, 80 miles away from Detroit. The big city had always fascinated me. When I first came here with my parents back in college, the thing that most impressed me about it was that there was a Starbucks on every corner. I was a kid; I didn’t know any better, and they didn’t feel much like wandering off the beaten path. The furthest we got off Michigan Avenue was Clark and Ontario’s Sports Authority. I expressed interest in riding the subway (which I now know is the Red Line at Grand Avenue), but they’d have none of it. Now I ride it almost every day.

Sometimes the noise of the city gets to me. I listen to heavy machinery and other noise all day at work and the streets of Chicago aren’t exactly quiet. I remember standing in a field in rural South Dakota on US-85, just south of the North Dakota border at Bowman, surrounded by nothing but wheat on either side. All I could hear was the light breeze blowing through the fields and millions of what I can only assume were crickets. It was the most quiet I’d ever heard in my life, and it was wonderful.

Sometimes, when the noise gets to me, I think about that field, or the mountains on I-70 in rural Utah where my little car could only muster 50 mph, or the morning dew and cool of a very quiet, fall-colored Jackson’s Mill, West Virginia, where General Stonewall Jackson grew up. Or the dead silence and complete darkness of a total-starlit sky outside of Buffalo, Wyoming where I could swear God touched my brain and told me to feel something other than loss, or the quiet sunrise beach at the docks of a predawn Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where the local fishermen were preparing to venture into the Gulf of Mexico for the day’s catch.

And there’s my favorite scene, which was the entrance to a rural wildlife area outside of Sundance, Wyoming, labeled only with a twin-track dirt road and a diamond-shaped sign that said “Open Range.” I never ventured in because I knew the Vibe wouldn’t make it over the ridge, but I knew it would be beautiful.

Right now, however, my mountains are the Sears Tower, the Birthday Cake (331 S. Wacker Drive, next door to Sears), the Hancock Center, Trump International, and the Cluster of high-rise apartments and condos that populate our view from the living room windows.

I do love this city. It’s giving me back my strength, day by day, and it’s challenging me to find new ways to better myself and my life, but it never hurts to look back and remember the times that I didn’t have to work so damn hard for it.

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