July 5, 2013
At 1:03 p.m. Monday, a colleague and I headed south on Michigan Avenue to seize the summer.
We were going to take a brisk walk. See some art. Be back by 2. Ambitious, but not impossible.
Every year I design a summer challenge intended to make sure that I and others prone to procrastination don't look up from our smartphones and iPads and laptops on Labor Day and say, "Who stole my summer?"
Some summers I've made a to-do list and then checked off pleasures — farmers market, swim, dance outdoors — that without the nudge of a list might have remained undone.
A couple of summers I've bought a stack of index cards, one card for each summer day, and each night written the one summery thing, however small or brief, that I've done that day. I put the inscribed cards in a second pile next to the first. One pile shrinks, the other grows, a visible reminder of the passing days and a visible prod to pass them well. The finished stack makes a good diary.
This summer I settled on a version of my "summer hour" program.
In the summer hour program, you dedicate one hour every day to doing something that feels summery. It doesn't have to be glamorous. Or vigorous. It might be a walk. It might be sitting on the roof at dusk or dawn staring at the sky. It could be a drink after work on a sidewalk patio with a friend.
Whatever it involves, it's an hour removed from duty, worry and Netflix. Ideally, it involves the outdoors. It's an hour that lets you revisit, if just for 60 minutes, those childhood summers when time seemed boundless to the point of boredom.
In the spirit of the summer hour, my colleague and I set off for the Art Institute.
I had just renewed my membership, which allows you to bring a guest for free, and I'd resolved that at least once a week in summer I'd walk to the museum, admire a painting or two, then walk back to work. Getting there would be at least half the pleasure.
It was chilly but the sun was out as we walked over the Michigan Avenue Bridge, past tourists posing for photos above the Chicago River, past assorted hustlers, tour operators and the Tina Turner imitator who was wailing, "What's love got to do with it?"
We walked on toward Millennium Park, past the sun glinting off the Gehry bandshell, past the crowds admiring themselves in the mirrored Bean and up the Nichols Bridgeway to the museum's tall, white Modern Wing.
The bridge, like so much of what we passed, could be a destination in itself. Walking across it, up from the park pavement to the museum's third floor, is like floating between Lake Michigan and Chicago's skyline.
But we had time for indoor art as well, so we went inside. We headed for a room full of Cezannes and Gauguins. We stood still. We looked.
What must it have been like to see those paintings a century ago, before travel was easy and the images — Tahitian women, fruit on a French table — were shrunk into postcards and cliches?
We wondered, briefly. And we left. The rest of the museum was for another day, another summer hour.
Back at the office, I glanced at the clock. 1:58? It seemed later. An hour can take you far.
There are many ways to enjoy summer. The important thing is to find a way before it slips away.
Last week, I heard a radio DJ say, a little too happily, "Summer's here — and that means it's almost football season!"
It is not. It's Fourth of July week, the week that summer sinks in as summer.
Are you really going to squander it indoors catching up on "Justified" and "The Good Wife"?
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