I can't complain about winter in Chicago this year, I have been pretty happy about the lack of snow and freezing temperatures – and I am fairly certain it’s safe to vocalize that now. I realize that the only real winter weather I have had to contend with was at Ox-Bow this past January where I had the great pleasure of co-teaching a class with Rebecca Ringquist called Manic Drawings and Wayward Surfaces at the same time that Elijah Burger and Rebecca Walz were teaching their class The Dead of Winter. Being in the cold and snow at Ox-Bow is perfectly fine with me - moving from one charming building to another in the woods is no great struggle added to the physical charm of the place I am always aware that I can walk over to the dining hall for endless cups of tea with honey. Next to the tea there is of course the infamous toast bar – which, if you haven't been to Ox-Bow yet, is exactly what it sounds like - homemade bread with an assortment of toppings that include honey, peanut butter, cinnamon and other treats, carbs may not perk you up for your afternoon class but they do provide that extra layer around your middle to keep you warm. Somehow toast at home never tastes as good.
The snow and cold is entirely manageable at Ox-Bow as is the heat in the summer. Its strange as both of these weather options are absolutely intolerable in most cities but at Ox-Bow most anything can happen and I am fine with it – such as sand in your bed, mosquitoes bites, wet socks in the winter, nothing drying in the humidity of the summer etc… I have come to the conclusion that my ability to overlook things that might otherwise make me cranky or uncomfortable at Ox-Bow is because it is my idea of heaven. I love it so much I am even willing and happy (well almost happy) to eat salad while there.
Being forced to spend all your time with artists and culture makers, listening to amazing artist talks, eating local perfectly prepared food, living on a campus that is beyond pretty,hiking up to the crows nest and the canoeing over to lake Michigan to swim in the waves – really, what more could I ask for?
But my favorite thing to do at Ox-Bow is getting up really, really early, the same time that the kitchen staff are hitting snooze on their alarms clocks, and head out for a run. I make my way up the lane and head to either Saugatuck or Douglas. Whether its winter or summer I am greeted by groups of deer having their morning snack along the road. In the winter I am usually the first person making tracks on the snow. The run is not the easiest, there are some good size hills; my body has forgotten about hills after living in Chicago for a few years. In the winter it’s cold and there is a strong wind but its white and fluffy as I run/skate along the road. In the summer it’s so hot, I often end up at Douglas beach jumping in the water before I run back to Ox-Bow.
This past winter I met an older man who was walking up and down the stairs at Bald Head Mountain - my weekly torture routine. He was quiet and focused on the task of navigating the icy steps, I noticed after awhile that he was placing a twig near the steps each time he completed a set – a reminder of how many sets he had accomplished.
The best part of these runs is easily the return. Heading back up the road is always hard, that hill is much steeper than I remember it being at the beginning of my run, but once I am at the top its an easy jaunt down into the campus and that’s the best part – The campus has woken up in my absence and is alive with students and faculty (well, not Elijah). Ox-Bow at this point is bustling with activity people are getting breakfast, organizing work for critiques or discussions, looking at projects that were drying over night, checking outside installations finding out what the plan is for the day, cleaning sorting and talking, making things. Ox-Bow is full of life and ready for another day. This new day that will end with great food or a hike in the winter or a swim in the summer and maybe another artist will talk about their work before the late night conversations and debates begin again.