The Great Wheel in the City

Fall                               Waning Back to School Moon

How can city dwellers, big city dwellers, stay in touch with the natural cycles, with the rhythms of the Great Wheel?  This was on my mind yesterday as I walked around the loop.  There are, of course, the occasional plantings decorating outdoor cafes, the greenery of Grant Park and Millennium Park, even a lushly planted median on the boulevard of Michigan Avenue, yet these seem like captive specimens, botanical exhibits in a zoo for denizens of concrete, stone, metal and glass.

When I went out for a walk this morning, wandering down Jewelers Row, out to Michigan Avenue and down to State Street, building facades began to show themselves.  Here there were floral inspired Prairie School designs.  There were viny elements in tile and plaster ascending the column of a building.

At 30 Michigan Avenue an idea began to form.  There on a frieze perched above a  soulless slab of polished marble that defined a Walgreens were small medallions punctuated by a familiar face, the Greenman.  He looked like this one.  There were four, separated by the flowery medallions.  After that, the plant inspired architectural design appeared, as if by magic.  For those who have eyes to see, let them see.

In a flash I realized what I dislike so much about Modernist architecture.  It does not acknowledge the real context in which it exists.  This Bauhaus influence attempted to rid the world of the Greenmen, the vines, the flowers, the sinuous riverine shapes that the late 19th and early 20th century architects considered essential.

And they were essential.  Why?  In our cities we put on a brave front, raising  our forests of buildings that shade out the sun, paving over the earth so trucks and cars can move about with ease.  Tunneling electricity so even the night cannot dominate us.

We still need to eat. Our lives depend on the vast unbuilt land where the primary things that spring from the earth are corn stalks and wheat fronds.  Where animals may outnumber humans and the humans work with and for the plants.

We still need to breathe.  The lungs of mother earth, the circulatory system that cleans our air consists in large part of trees.  The forests lie outside our urban boundaries, though they do join their city cousins in their work.

We still need to drink.  Fresh water comes from rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers either far away from city centers or buried deep beneath them.  Care for the source of our drinking water means  caring for those ends of the earth from which it comes.

Thus, it is not an idle question to wonder how we connect with the Great Wheel, with the changes of season and the growing of food, the cleansing of water and air.

The design motifs inspired by green leafy beings recognized that dependence and writ its continuing message on the walls of the buildings which we use and which we see each day.  They inspire us and help us recall mother nature in  her beyond the city state.

There was. too, another reminder.  I looked down Washington from Wabash and my gaze carried up the  building led me to a patch of blue sky.  There was the moon, a half moon, the Back to School moon, framed by buildings with leaves and greenmen and flowers.  These are enough.

One thing more.  Remember Ozymandias, King of Kings.  Recall the ruins of Babylon, Xi’ang, Epheseus, Athens.  Cities do not last.  Nature reclaims them all at some point.  What seems so permanent, so imposing, so there only awaits its end.  Which will come, sooner or later.

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