This time of year in Chicago, the day goes gray around four-thirty. The sun, if there is one, hides behind the buildings, and shadows flow through channeled streets. If it’s cold, you’ll find no one out but grumpy dog-walkers, hands shoved deep in their pockets, heads turtled into their coat collars, minds willing the business necessary to let them back inside.
I’m usually walking home then. I listen to my footsteps on the sidewalk, and the rhythm is some comfort. My necessary business will soon be over too. This commute is time to survey what awaits me—rereading books to prepare for the next day’s classes, grading papers. If I’m lucky, I’ve carved time to work in my sketchbook or write something.
Sometimes my thoughts twist like smoke around some event—I’ve lost my temper, or I’ve quarreled with a colleague, or I’ve forgotten to do something important—then my step takes on the tattoo beat of fixation. I won’t calm myself by walking faster, but the release of energy seems an essential steam valve. A strange pool of sweat forms in the small of my back when, within my many layers, exertion signals my body’s flight instead of fight.
I’m grateful for space between home and work—if anyone is home before me, they don’t know how grateful they should be. I like the sound of the heater whooshing to life. As long as I’m inside, I like the sound of the passing train down the street. These noises remind me of safety and psychological quiet. It isn’t even so bad if then I need to play scholar and work.
I’m a homebody. Sometimes I take my place in a leather chair by the window and watch the evening deepen into dark. Soon, I’ll see the colored lights of neighbors’ Christmas trees. Soon, I’ll see our own.
It’s early winter in Chicago, the start of a long hibernation, a time to thank fate for home and companionship and whatever peace we find in our busy lives.