Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Thanks to Jim Churchill-Dicks for his peony photo on his blog at Beyond Telling, which is listed at the right among my favorite blogs. Click on it to see his photographic skill and how beautifully he writes.

Peonies in my little suburb of Chicago bloomed shortly after Memorial / Mattress Sale Day. In fact, mattress sales were extended for a week or so, and the peonies found their glory during that time. Then the weather turned briefly hot and rain flattened the blossoms on the ground where they became piles of independent pink and white and maroon petals until the lawn people came one Wednesday morning and cleaned them up.

Today, three weeks after the real Memorial Day, a month after the fake one, I’m at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, at the week-long Clockhouse Writers Conference. The peonies here are just beginning to bloom. Last night heavy rain didn’t flatten the peonies. Instead diamonds now cover the peonies, and the waxy leaves of the hostas, and the fuchsias in the morning sun. They glitter like a sale in Tiffany’s window.

As the day progresses, again rain threatens and dark clouds glower at the horizon and pass swiftly overhead, but the sun shines intermittently, and everything is green and lush. Lady bugs swirl on flowers I can’t identify, and gnats try to form nests in my nose and mouth and ears. Little white and yellow butterflies flit around the wildflowers, and except for the slight smell of skunk in the village, the air is filled with the sweetness of the blooming clover, and peonies, and fruit trees.

I love Vermont. And I visit every year – this is the eleventh time I've visited since 2000 when I came for a college visit to see if I could handle a week every semester while I worked on an MFA (Master of Fine Arts, not what you’re thinking) in Creative Writing after I retired from teaching.

My current concern is that it is a good two day drive from home out here. And I hate to drive. Or an increasingly expensive plane ride. (Two years ago I paid $299 round trip, last year I came on frequent flyer miles, but this year the flight costs roughly three times what I last paid – plus a rental car for a week. My wife and I spent less per person when we went to England for a week last year to visit her English mum in Nottingham.)

An obvious solution is to move to Vermont, and it isn’t as if I wouldn’t love to. But I’d miss my two grandsons David and Jonathan who give great and consistent joy to my life. Not to mention my soon-to-be new grandson Greyson and new granddaughter Alexa. I’d miss my daughter Shannon, and our friends, and the energy of the city of Chicago. At this stage in my life, not that I’m swirling the drain by any means, I’d miss my doctor of many years and the great medical care available in the City.

And Vermont has winters that are a month longer on each end than Chicago’s. I like winter, but I’m not sure I like it that much.

In The Secular City Harvey Cox said, “Not to decide is to decide.” And I don’t know whether I’m deciding or not deciding, but I know I’m continuing my own personal status quo. I’ll continue to visit Vermont each early summer as long as I can scrape the shekels together. My little suburb south of Chicago will remain my home. And I'll get to see the peonies bloom twice.

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