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August 2, 2011

It’s hot in Chicago, folks. It’s that time of year where the hum of air conditioners mingles with the throbbing, lazy buzz of cicadas. What I like to call “deep summer,” where walking outside is more like being underwater. As a friend recently commented: “I didn’t know we had a monsoon season.” Complete with pyrotechnic thunderstorms every other night, strangely starting right around 10 p.m.

The humidity was such this past week that I actually skipped the Daley Plaza market because walking or rather, wading, all those blocks through the downtown sauna wasn’t appealing enough when I didn’t really need anything. Yeah man, but it’s a dry heat.

I’ve decided one thing, though: I would much rather have too much hot than too much cold. Heat is something you have to embrace; you just eventually concede to sit/lay there and sweat. Cold, you have to huddle against.

The heat can’t stop our gardens, just like the hailstorm didn’t. (Torn leaves and broken stems later, the plants apparently just decide to keep growing.) Late July into August is when the garden takes on a life of its own, breaks from the moorings and starts to go a little crazy. It takes the heat, humidity, drought, extreme storms, whatever, and just grows bigger. (Except for the peas. My dad’s peas are stone dead, but that’s about par for the course.)

My best friend was in town this past weekend, and when I stopped by her dad and his girlfriend’s place in Bucktown on her last night in the city, I got to see another riotous summer garden. They have a beautiful square deck in back that is lined on all four sides with potted plants. Well into deep summer, the plants are bursting from their containers, covered with colorful blooms, leaning and twining around each other.

This is literally an urban Eden; there’s even a small fountain set in the wall with water quietly trickling. I’m not sure how it works, but it’s very cool.

It was still a very warm day but the sun was sinking, so they set up an oscillating fan and we sat out on the deck to enjoy the open air and greenery. They had been to the Lincoln Park market so we had an impromptu light dinner of roasted summer squash and eggplant, buttered corn on the cob, bread, and a mixed greens salad. We watched as Molly’s dad picked dill, basil, and parsley from an herb container to go in the salad. For dessert, there was homemade, yummy blueberry crostata. Sorry no pictures, Molly and I ate it as soon as it was in front of us. They had bought five pounds of blueberries at the market and froze what was left after the recipe.

Just before Molly had to head for the airport, we took a last look around the deck. I spotted the tiniest cherry tomatoes I’ve ever seen growing behind me, which had been in the salad. “Have some more,” Becky urged. I obediently plucked a few more juicy globes off the plant and into my mouth. You want to talk locally grown? This was produce transported from six feet away to my plate. Clearly doable in a city setting.

I stepped a little closer to the edge of the deck and looked over the wall at the rest of the alley. Plenty of other people had balconies, decks, porches, even small yards. I saw one spider plant at a distance, but otherwise no other gardens or potted plants were in sight. No flowers, certainly no food. A shimmering desert of concrete and metal.

I felt lucky to be standing in the middle of an oasis.

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