Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I wouldn't make a good vampire...

by Michael Dymmoch

I love the sun. It lightens my mood when I'm depressed. Its light makes colors brighter and keeps plants healthy. It turns cholesterol into vitamin D.

Last Saturday afternoon was very sunny—at least in Wisconsin, where many of us writers were invited to hawk our wares at various venues around the state capitol during a program titled Legends of the Fall. Jerry Peterson set me up at a Borders signing with fellow writers Laura Caldwell and David Walker. Attendance was average as signings go, but the signing was above average. The folks who showed up (including author and publisher Ben LeRoy) seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say. Abby Ryan, the Borders rep who hosted us, was enthusiastic and prepared.

I navigate by the sun. I'm lost in strange places on cloudy days. That is, I get lost more on cloudy days, especially in towns like Muncie, IN; Evanston, IL; and Madison, WI, which all have one-way streets in inconvenient places.

I drive a lot but since Gov. Blackguard doubled tolls for those who won't buy into the electronic toll way trackers, I've been avoiding toll roads. [Okay, I'm paranoid. That doesn't mean they aren't out to get me. I also don't like crowded roads or being stuck in traffic, and I've noticed that—according to the traffic reports—I spend no more time taking side roads than people who take the toll way and end up sitting in back-ups at construction zones or accident sites. (At least they don't get lost.) But I don't mind getting lost. You can always backtrack and start over.]

Anyway, last Saturday, coming back from Madison, I decided to take I-90 as far as I freely could. Traffic was light and speeds were ten mph over the limit. It looked like a faster way home than the 3.5 hours I spent (including pit stops) on the way up.

Eventually you get to the end of the freeway; I got off at the last exit before the tolls, A Rock-something Road. It looked okay—pavement, traffic signals, signs. It was heading in the right directions (east and west), so I took it east.

I quickly got the feeling that maybe I was in Kansas—lots of cornfields, few houses, no traffic. But it was a bright afternoon. The shadows were pointing me in the right direction. I pressed on. On the accelerator—Kansas is kind of flat.

Of course the road didn’t keep going east. And it didn’t stay paved. And the signposts got farther apart and more ambiguous. But the turnings were in the right direction—east and south, so I continued.

And I noticed what I always do on road trips—things I cannot find at home. Like a small unmarked cemetery

with stones so old the names have weathered away.

As soon as the road turned it seemed to change names, from whatever is was to something else. But the cross streets were interesting: White School Road and North Boon School Road,

Free Church Road

and Grade School Road. I was sensing a theme.

My faith that if I kept going in the right directions—south and east—I would get back to Chicago was not misplaced. I ended up on IL-72 and followed it through Genoa and Hampshire and West, then East Dundee (where it splits off from IL-68).

In the Village of Hampshire, I spotted this:

IL-72 intersected, in time, with IL-58—Golf Road, terra cognita for those who’ve grown up in the north suburbs. I never did get lost.

My mother taught me to tell directions by the sun about the same time she taught me to read. Faith in my ability to find my way geographically is a gift, like reading, that’s kept me from getting lost most of my life.

A writer needs his own sun (or muse or God or Garmin, Ruby Slippers, or a self-confidence bordering on arrogance) to light his journey, illuminate his view, give definition to the topography of his mental landscape, and lighten his affect. Once you’ve found yours, you’ll never ever get lost.


Barbara D'Amato said...

Very, very nice, Michael!

Libby Hellmann said...

Lovely thoughts, Michael. Thanks!

Diane said...

I grew up in Rockford and believe that north-central Illinois is one of the best kept secrets in the country. I've been through a lot of rural farm country but none is as homey as here. We visited an orchard in Poplar Grove this weekend, where the cider donuts are so good you'll weep, then wound our way back to the city via roads like 173 and 176. It takes a lot longer than 90, but so worth it once in a while.