I got my first eyeful of Lake Michigan for the first time after completing an arduous twenty-nine hour journey. I dragged myself up to my new apartment, too tired to appreciate anything. I was crumpled in both appearance and mind. But having collapsed onto my roommate’s super comfortable armchair, looking out of the living room window, I fell in love and I was convinced that everything would be okay.
Given that Ikea was taking their own sweet time delivering my bed, I spent my first week in Chicago on a futon in the living room. The very first morning, I was rewarded for my troubles with a spectacular sunrise. I still remember feeling a little off-kilter. Surely this was too much of a privilege? Surely there was something not quite right with having access to something so beautiful every single day? But you know what they say, never look a gift-horse in the mouth! And indeed, this view of the lake was a gift that would keep on giving. Within the first four days I’d already seen many faces of the lake. The same lake, yet profoundly different.
I promised myself that I would not turn into an imbecile who took something so wonderful for granted. My arrogance was of course the only thing that was profound because Lake Michigan would astound me every single day. On some days the lake would be perfectly clear, crystalline, and sparkly. On others, it would turn moody. The lake would take turns being tempestuous, angelic, or perfectly (and unnaturally) still.
The lush and dense greenery of the Promontory Point slowly changed as autumn arrived. Golds, browns, and reds took over and made the lake look a little more blue, a little more enchanting.
Autumn quickly gave way to winter. The trees were bare and the ground was frozen solid. The first day that it snowed I watched a gentle flurry escalate to a heavy curtain of snow, obliterating all but a suggestion of the lake from view. In the following weeks a film of ice began to form over the lake. I had googled Chicago’s weather enough to know this would happen, but watching the surface of one of the great lakes freeze into a sheet of ice was as terrifying as it was thrilling. Not a day went by that I did not marvel at the fact that I could watch the progress of the harsh Midwest winter from my warm and comfortable perch.
I was not always seeing the lake when I was looking at it though. Sometimes I would stare outside hoping that the words for an infernal essay would come. I paced up and down, keeping the lake within my peripheral vision hoping that the onrush of words would halt because I was overwhelmed and exhausted. Sometimes, it was the only pleasant thing to look at, helping me deal with a shitty, shitty day. I would make a cup of tea and I would take pictures just because it reminded me there was beauty in the world. And on most days I would stare in gleeful stupefaction that this view was mine. And this is where the problem lies. Given the lake’s centrality in my everyday life, I became possessive of it. I scoffed in derision every time I used a personal pronoun indicating a virtual ownership over the lake, but secretly cherished doing it. Fortunately, I grew up listening to Dido. So I knew the consequences of living on rent. I was merely renting this privilege.
I had an eleven month lease on prime seats to the ultimate show that is Lake Michigan. And I watched everyday. I got weirdly attached. It had after all been the one constant, the one dependable presence in my life in Chicago. This watery mass was my anchor in a strange land. My view of Lake Michigan, through all its moods became a friend (“Just because it’s happening in your head doesn’t mean it’s not real”).
And now my lease is up. My bags are packed, moving boxes are neatly labelled and stacked, and I cannot bear to look out of my window. I have to admit, my heart is a little bit broken.