Concrete giants soar above us as my father and I untie the kayak from the roof of the car. Railroad tracks from the Canadian Pacific line mark our entrance to this secret spot. A few struggling trees are growing out of gravel in this abandoned stretch of land. There’s a good view of the Lake Street El. Every time a train passes it drowns out the noise of the cars rushing by the river through Lower Wacker Drive. I peer down into the river; its rough surface gives the dark blue water strength. I help my father with the kayak built for the sea. It’s got only one seat so I sit in the food compartment, which is big enough for my 8 yr old legs to stretch out. My father lets me get in first and we sit back to back. I help rowing by turning my ore around and working backwards. We take off into the large stretch of Chicago River that runs through downtown. Birds float at the banks, diving down every now and then for fish. Trees grow straight out of the concrete banks that restrain the river. We paddle down into the south fork and under bridges amplifying the cars which carry them across. I start to see little patches of green dotting the banks. I spot a blue heron on the bank, clinging to a bush watching intently for fish. We continue for miles and wave to the tourists enjoying the view from their large scenic boats. My father talks about the architecture. He names the famous buildings that can be found along the river. We work our way back to our “dock,” strap the kayak to the roof of the car, and head towards home. I creep under the blankets in the backseat. My dad turns the classical music up and I drift soothingly off to sleep.
The land where our “dock” once was is now occupied by a large apartment building. But I remember the secret spot. I can find them everywhere now, in every city I’ve ever visited. As I say to my students, “The more you look, the more you see.”