On the outskirts of Chicago, I grew up next to a rambling, blocks-long patch of native prairie. Pheasants, chipmunks, songbirds skirted through waist-high grasses and wildflowers. I dug holes, peeled dry stalks to chew "Indian gum," and followed trails through the grasses. Perhaps these were ancient pathways trodden by Native Americans.
I remember the sky. Vast, unhindered by buildings, offering spectacular starry vistas.
Parallel to my prairie-girl existence, ran Highway 294. About 50 feet in front of my doorstep, pulsed this major artery into Chicago. If we stood in our front yard, we could wave to passersby shooting by at 60 miles per hour. Hands fluttered to us out car windows. Truck drivers yanked on their rigs' throaty horns.
On 47th Street Bridge over 294, on a clear day, we could see Chicago's skyline, mysterious and beckoning. Both my parents hailed from the Windy City, so I grew up also rambling through this steel wilderness.
Prairie versus city. One day might bring simple, carefree hours shoveling subterranean warrens to hide in during thunderstorms, a raincoat stretched tarp-like overhead. The next, I might spend exciting, crowd-elbowing hours in the shadow of "Sears Tower" or on the "Magnificent Mile."
Two vastly different locales, symbolizing to me, the best of a simpler era and the opportunity of the bustling 21st Century.
We would be foolish to forget the wisdom found rambling solo through an open landscape -- disconnected from cell phones! Also foolish, would be denying ourselves the opportunities found in our modern, connected lifestyles.
I carry the prairie within me to this day, as I seek to keep a sense of self and balance within our ever-changing techno-happy culture.