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Ladies of the Lake by Eileen Quinlan

Mary gave us the name which helped confirm our identity.  Somehow having an official name seemed to give our daily adventure more character.  It already had the characters.

We are a group of retired women who walk on Chicago's lakefront every morning.  We don't all make it every morning, but we try.  Some of us walked sporadically for several years; but our jobs got in the way.  Mary is our junior member.  She is job searching and getting as addicted to our 7:30 a.m. jaunt as the rest of us are.  Those of us who are retired are gloriously free now and can't believe we're actually up and out at our appointed meeting place at the crack of dawn.

The wonder, beauty and pure joy of our walks fill us with awe.  We celebrate the newly risen sun.  Sometimes we feel we are witnessing the way the beginning of the world must have looked.  The sun momentarily breaks through the clouds, and rays of light fan out over the lake.  Did Adam and Eve have a view like this from that garden?  We think it wasn't quite this good.  Other days the whole horizon is golden, pinkish-orange.  The sun bounces off the windows of the high-rise buildings we can see way off to our right and left, and they are shinning.  This is like church and we thank God.

We started being serious about walking when three of us boldly signed up to do a walking tour of Provence in southern France.  The tour was rated "easy to moderate,"  and we grew in confidence as we walked 4-5 miles a day with ease.  We even tackled a few small hills in preparation.  We congratulated each other on how fit and ready we were.  We saw ourselves strolling through picturesque, Van Gough towns and being picked up by a bus stocked with brie and French wines to sip if we grew weary.  After 5 months of practice we felt that we were really ready to tackle our French adventure.  

The trip was wonderful and the scenery beyond description; but instead of leisurely strolling as we had imagined, we were climbing the French Alps!  Every step was a new challenge.  Despite huffing and puffing and a few tumbles we did survive.   It was so rugged that at one point Dorothy turned to me and said, "Tell your kids they can stop worrying about your heart condition."    I thought to myself that I should have done this 20 years ago and I might not have spent ANY time worrying about that heart condition.

We have developed a repertoire of descriptive phrases for the ever-changing lake.  Some days it's heaving and crashing and we are compelled to walk on the upper rocks or get soaked.  We feel like we are a part of John Masefield's Sea Fever because what comes to mind is, " the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife."   Other times it is undulating; then it's rippled like corduroy.  Then, there are those times when it is as still as glass.  Each day this sea and sky surprises and thrills us.  We are sorry that our lives for so many years were too busy to fully appreciate these sights.  We think of all the people in our city who live so close to
Lake Michigan and never come here to appreciate this treasure. 

The other gift we have received as a tremendous benefit of our walking has been getting to know people.  Our friendship with each other has unfolded more fully as we share our happiness and concerns, solve the problems of the world and generally get closer.  The bonds of friendship become more deep-rooted and we are there for each other.  We have decided to greet everyone who passes us and have experienced the earnest faces of the joggers and serious walkers gradually melt and greet us in return.  The close-knit small groups of people from other countries were surprised at first and now seem to look forward to our "good morning," and words are traded about our beautiful surroundings.  We have a favorite older Russian woman with a jaunty walk, whose enthusiasm is like a dose of the best medicine in town.  She smiles and gives us hugs and this warm blanket descends on us all.  Jean had a little bag of cookies and trick-or-treat candy for her on Halloween.  You would have thought she had received diamonds.  We worried when we didn't see her for a month or so .... was she sick and now unable to walk?   Then one day there she was...full of smiles.  "Not to worry," she had been to India!  Of course we heard all about it and walks were serene again.

As Summer became Fall, and Fall turned into winter we began to make plans for the time when it would be too cold at the lake.  We would walk through our neighborhoods then.  We could even sign up to go mall walking, but we had to admit the idea was not too appealing compared to our scenic treks.  We could see other sights; but would they compare with our sunrises, the sea gulls,  the surprise bird watching patch of prairie behind Montrose harbor, the cityscape we see from the breakwater and other vantage points of our Lakefront route?

Christmas time came and we chose a special tree to decorate.  Every day we brought little bows and ornaments for our tree.  We warned our many grown children that they may have to visit us in jail if we were arrested for what could appear as defacing city property.  However a truck full of Park District workers assured us they like our tree and were sure it gave all passers-by a lift.

It is now January and we're still walking along the lake.  We wear down coats with hoods, scarfs, warm mittens; some of us have even taken to wearing long underwear.  We're still going strong.  We've decided that it will take more than cold and snow to stop the Ladies of the Lake

 Originally Posted by: Josephine on Thursday, December 08, 2005 - 09:23 PM (226 Reads)


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