Illinois Winter, Rocket Summer


One day it was Illinois winter.  Kids bundled up like deep sea divers, waiting for the bus on the corner snow piled high.  Cars windows decorated in frozen lace.  Houses exhaled deep purple smoke from their chimneys like sleeping dragons resting still on the frozen Feburary plains.

After lunch, there was a subtle change to the sunlight.  The actinic glare softened and people found themselves stopping at their windows to look outside.  The frost shrank away from the warm light.  Snow dropped from the roofs, the hoods and steps where it had lain for more than a month.  Some melted away from underneath.  Long rivulets rushed down driveways and collected in large puddles in the street as blue as volcano lakes.  Some just evaporated away into the air like magic.

“Rocket Summer”, Ray Bradbury called it in The Martian Chronicles.  He was born in northern Illinois and knows the power of a mid winter thaw.  They don’t come every winter and they only stay for a day or two.  But they are a salve on a spirit trapped indoors by the weather for weeks at a time and suddenly free to rush outside without a coat.

The children coming home from school actually dawdled on their way, pushing and laughing, their winter things wadded up in their backpacks.  Here and there, tufts of gray grass poked out of the snow like a Polaroid photo of the neighborhood coming to life.  Adults stood on their porches, squinting up towards the sun as if they’d never seen it before.  Some quick thinking souls rolled hoses out of their garages to wash cars and – in the distance – someone decided to go fly a kite.

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