Lately I’ve felt like the Energizer bunny — I keep going and going and going. The difference is that I have neither its energy nor its resources. I don’t know what I’m running on, but it should be part of any national energy plan.
On Saturday, September 8, I went to my first physical therapy session. Objectives: Reduce lower back pain and increase walking endurance. I walked the half mile to AthletiCo, where the therapist explained my problem using a model spine that had lost its stiffening rod. I know how it feels. Its nerves protruded between its disks, and I don’t have to imagine what it would feel like if they were pressed due to lack of space — I feel it every moment from my hip to my foot.
The therapist tested the strength and flexibility of some key joints and then I was allowed to relax on a heating pad for 10 minutes of near bliss negated by the next step of a hard knuckle massage that I swear left invisible bruises. At this point, I’m sure I was thinking that gorillas and chimps have the right idea — walking upright is overrated.
Next came some easy exercises designed to open the spaces in my spine and strengthen my core. Everything hurt, but the time I left to walk the half mile home, I did feel better. Real? Or psychological? I do know the compressed nerves are real, that’s for certain.
After another half-mile walk (to the Metra station) and a half hour of my train neighbor’s cranked-up music, I landed at the Homewood Starbucks to wait for J. We made another false start, this time west instead of north, before he aimed his new car toward the Indiana Dunes, that traditional recreation favorite of University of Chicago students and many others. As is typical of me, I never made it there while I was a student — too busy wallowing in my inability to keep up with classes and too afraid to let go of whatever soil I was then rooted in. But on this Saturday in 2012, 30 years later, I arrived at the Indiana Dunes visitor center. Here I managed to take the ranger in the gift shop aback with three digits’ worth of purchases (all I can say in my defense is that more than half was for a birthday gift).
The next stop was the Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, which up until recently was a working farm of sorts, or at least it had animals. Alas, all life is gone, and all that remains is a vintage farmhouse and outbuildings, the former equipped with not-so-vintage cameras to keep an eye on the tourists. The woods behind the house are lovely, dark, and deep, lush with growth with the darkness mottled by sunlight — a great place for a walk.
We headed toward Cowles Bog, which is actually a fen. A densely tree-lined road continued past the parking lot, guarded by a gatehouse and a gentleman in uniform. Down this dark lane lies Dune Acres, population 183, which seems to be open only to residents and their guests — a truly gated community. As pretty as that narrow passage is, that’s not how I would choose to live.
We walked only about three quarters of a mile into the woods before I had to give up. This isn’t like me, but it’s the new reality — little to no endurance.
Next on the itinerary was the state park, where we saw the dunes for the first time. A tiny Chicago lay across the water, slightly hazy but illuminated by the setting sun. With the version of summer that ends on Labor Day over, the beach was sparsely populated, and signs warned of a dangerous rip tide.
A couple of young Mennonite families picnicked near the parking lot, although the adults spent most of their time chasing down a couple of energetic toddlers. Oh, to be two with toes in the sand and not a care! And to be able to remember it, too.
Before seeking dinner we detoured to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Homes of Tomorrow, which we could see dimly in the deepening dusk. They were under renovation, but they reminded me of something I’d picture from The Great Gatsby. In the meantime, the lake and the lake grasses were beautiful against the dying light.
We found a restaurant in nearby Chesterton, Octave Grill, and waited out the wait for a table at the Dog Days Ice Cream Parlor. This last was the kind of place that I wish I had nearby here in Hyde Park, but it wasn’t busy. J. had plenty of time to chat up the owner.
And so home after an exhausting, exhilarating day.