Midnight Crossing

Midnight Crossing 


‘Lake Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams’ 

-Gordon Lightfoot 



The Potawatomi Tribe called it ‘The Ocean of Illinois.’  Many years later, European explorers who came upon it confidently concluded that they had reached the Pacific Shore.  In the ensuing centuries, Lake Michigan has taken on meanings as infinite and malleable as the human imagination. 

For me, and many modern Chicagoans, it’s a bit more simple.  It’s where we go to get away.  When we’re tired of the drunken chaos downtown, the incomprehensible smell of the train stations, the Bears’ relentless incompetence - We know the lake is always there, ready to give us a couple hours reprieve.  But for some of us, a couple hours isn’t enough.  We want to see every shore, every harbor, every secret the lake conceals. 

Sunrise Over Lake Michigan


So when offered the opportunity to take part in an overnight lake passage, I didn’t hesitate.  Led by a well seasoned Skipper, a total of twelve sailors (including myself), departed from Monroe Harbor just before midnight.  We set out on a beam reach, on a starboard tack, and kept that heading until about 5 AM.  A lifetime later, we tacked and set a course back to Chicago, where we docked by 9 AM, giving us all the opportunity to rejoin society, coyly pretending to be ordinary people. 

But truthfully, sailors aren’t ordinary people.  Attempting to describe how it felt to watch the city disappear would be futile.  If Robert Frost or W.B. Yeats were aboard, we could have a poetic retelling of the nights event’s, complete with the minute details of the shapeshifting clouds, the forlorn moonlight, and the unceasing, non-negotiable power of the ancient midwestern wind. 

But there weren’t any poets on board.  Nor were there any explorers from historical times.  Just a small band of Chicago sailors - wide eyed and ready for anything. 

A few hours after sunrise, we were back on dry land. We were tired, but grateful.  I’m still tired, but grateful.  There were handshakes and hugs, assurances that we would do it again soon, small talk about coffee.  Then, we disappeared in our respective directions, blending into the city, under the Seer’s Tower’s watchful eye.  We all had work to do. 

And that was that.  As I wearily put on my uniform and prepared for the day’s work, I knew that I had left my heart somewhere in the center of Lake Michigan.  I intend to go out looking for it again as soon as possible.


Chicago At Night

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