Ash, track, apple, and pigskin. This is how I know it is fall in Chicago.


Though fall is by far the most pleasant season in Chicago, by late September there’s a bite in the wind at times that reminds you that winter is lurking close, ready to slice through your jacket with the meteorological equivalent of spite. And this is why I associate fall with placing my annual order for a cord of wood. That’s a lot of wood, actually, but we’ll use it all by winter’s end. One-half birch, one-half mixed. I look forward to the first fire of the season with something approaching primitive desire. The delivery of the wood also marks the annual conversation with my wife about saving on gas bills this year by heating the homestead from the hearth only. Having a newborn in the house doesn’t really bolster my argument, but we’ll see.


This is also the time of year that we order some new track for our Christmas train set. The train only comes out once a year — to the infinite delight of my boys (and, well, me too) — and each year Santa brings something new for the set. You probably see the problem with track though. It is tough to recall from the previous Christmas what new track we could use. And of course you want to get the order in early enough so that it will come in time for us to build something before Dec. 25. (See, Santa’s worked out this elaborate scheme whereby he enlists Kris Kringle to bring the track on St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6. And we’re not even Dutch.) So, anyway, to get it ordered I’m forced to take it all out in the fall and do a mock-configuration only to put it all away again — to the infinite dismay of my boys (and, well, me too). This year we decided we were going to break out of our two-loop rut (one around the family room, one around the tree, switched together). Yes, this is the year we pound the spike into the Trans-Dining Room Railway. Problem is that the track is ridiculously expensive. Like the Electric Double-Slip Switch pictured here. That single piece of track will set you back over $100. I tell my wife the track is indestructible, veritable heirlooms for our kids and their kids. Not sure she buys that. (But I bought the switch.)


Fall is also for apples. Picking them from trees, that is. I suppose doing it for five years now makes it a mini-tradition. The kids love it because they get to wield ultra-dangerous picking implements that are crosses between rakes, jai-alai cestas, and Hannibal Lecter’s mask. Plus it is fun to eat stuff right off a tree. It must be especially unique for my city-boy children who think the rocky underside of an overturned piece of asphalt is “nature.” My wife always does wonders with the bushel or so of apples we bring home. Usually the apples end up in cake and pie, but this year we’re going to try something different. I recently dusted off my winemaking equipment last used about a decade ago. So we’re going to make hard cider or, if we can’t figure that out, at least apple wine. And with the cold winter a-comin’ we’ll probably be able to ice-distill applejack. This method of distillation without a still is reminiscent of jailhouse fermentation for alcoholics and it occupies an area of questionable legality. Which is of course why I’m interested. Updates on progress to come.


Lastly, fall is for football. Of course that’s not unique to Chicago in any way. Except that in the city the density of homes makes a Bears game a totally communal event. Sitting on my porch during a game I get 5.1 surround sound commentary issuing from homes up and down my street and the bar at the corner. You can actually follow the progress of the game just by listening to the shouts, claps, and “fucks!” reverberating up and down the street. It is a wonderful thing. Doesn’t hurt that the Bears are looking phenomenal this year. Grab a brat and say yeah!