Hometown, USA

My next book, And So We Dream, takes place in the summer of 1970 in a small Midwestern town, much like the one where I was born and raised — Carlinville, Illinois. So on a recent trip back there, I paid close attention to the sounds, scents, colors, and feel of summertime. The train whistle, the low hum of lawnmowers, the warbling of robins. The scents of freshly-cut grass, strawberries from the local orchard, and flowering bushes that perfume the humid air. The colors of summer — shades of green and blue.

My visit was in June, one of my favorite times of year back there. Everything is green and lush, and flowers grow in abundance — masses of wild honeysuckle, cornflowers alongside country roads, shady green meadows dotted with wildflowers.

Though it is now fifty years later from the action in the story, much of the town and countryside remain the same. Long stretches of country roads —

including a few parts of historical Old Route 66, just outside of town.

Tree-lined streets with beautiful old homes,

and small-town charm woven throughout.

Other places show the passage of time: the old wooden bridges that can still be found out in the country,

an abandoned farm house,

peaceful old cemeteries with tombstones leaning this way and that.

There’s a sense of sky and openness that impresses with its beauty and grandeur. The sky dominates the landscape with every-changing drama

and stunning sunsets that are commonplace.

In my new book, a young boy remembers how they found pictures in the clouds, and I found myself doing the same: A lotus cloud! The profile of a lady? a Roman emperor? a marble bust? it shifts before I can decide.

A low line of clouds and trees that seemed to march on together in the same formation.

Storm clouds and rain over a farm in the distance, an illuminated puff over the grain elevator.

Though I left the Midwest many years ago, those formative years in small-town Illinois form the core of who I am. I am grateful to have been raised in such a specific place, so quintessentially American — though I imagine everyone feels something similar.

Wherever we end up, our hometown forms a part of us that no other place can fill.

(And So We Dream will be available later this summer.)

The Night Sky

NYC aerial night

Flying over Manhattan at night is beautiful to behold. Below lays a glittering, golden metropolis — silent, twinkling, sprawling. An utter transformation from its gray and gritty daytime self. At night, the city enters the realm of the magical, the fairytale, the mystical.

In a way, it’s an odd reversal of star-gazing, as if we have created a facsimile of the stars here on earth, to be viewed from above.

stars 3

I have read that there are tours for stargazing that take you to far away places where the night sky still reigns.  It must feel like taking a step back in time, where we can see the sky as we saw it for hundreds of thousands of years — an upper land that played before our eyes, the shapes and patterns of stars and planets shifting and traveling with the seasons. The firmament must have been held as a mix of prayer, ritual, entertainment, wonder, and peace. An infusion of beauty that the human night soul absorbed in quiet, simple, cosmic connection.

stars 2

I had a taste of that connection growing up in small-town Illinois. The night sky was a source of beauty, anytime you wanted to step outside and look up. Which we often did, inspired by the curiosity of our mom. From the prosaic location of the driveway or the sidewalk out back, she would stand beneath the glittering stars and marvel in wonder. We would crane our necks this way and that trying to locate the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt, and question if some of the brightest stars were actually planets — Venus or Mars.

And years later, visiting my sister’s house out in the country in Oregon, we have stretched out in the deck chairs and gazed at the firmament — growing excited at the shooting stars, feeling that instant connection to a distant past, and to something far far beyond earth worries. It seems almost too wondrous to believe that all you have to do is gaze upwards at night to dip into another world full of mystery and beauty,  inconceivably distant and enormous — yet ever-present, just there for the taking.

blue stars night

 

 

Autumn Orchards

red apples

A trip to the orchard always feels like stepping back in time, especially at this time of year. There is something quaint and old-fashioned about the crates of red, green, and yellow apples, the rows of trees and pumpkin fields under an open sky, the warm colors of autumn’s harvest all around.

Even the things you can buy at an orchard are wholesome and picturesque. Besides bags of apples, there are rows of jams and honey, pumpkins and gourds, and ears of Indian corn in those gorgeous colors that always surprise.

And who can pass up the apple cider, the caramel apples, and the apple cider donuts?

There were several orchards around the small town in Illinois where I grew up. But there was one we went to every fall, making almost weekly trips to buy apples. We’d also buy jars of apple butter, homemade peanut brittle, and containers of popping corn. Once I was visiting home during the Fall Festival and was lucky enough to find beautiful bunches of bittersweet for sale. They were tied in thick clusters, vibrant in color. I bought several bunches and they decorated my NYC apartment for many years.

The old-fashioned, romantic allure of the orchard  found its way into my WWII era Christmastime series. The main character, Lillian, was raised in upstate New York where the seasonal beauty of the orchards and fields influenced her as an artist. She moves to the city, but her sister, Annette, runs an orchard with her husband. Lillian is grateful to have that haven to return to, where she can reconnect with her girlhood and enjoy the pleasures of country living. And her two boys, Tommy and Gabriel, love the freedom of running through the orchard and playing in the cider house. And sometimes, they celebrate Christmas there.

orchard apples on ground

This time of year is all too brief — the harvest season, apples and pumpkins, the colors of fall, sweater weather. Soon the trees will soon lose their leaves, the temperatures will drop, and the orchards will close their doors.

orchard yellow leaved tree

Before that happens, make a trip to an orchard — crunch into a juicy apple, take some cider home with you, treat yourself to a caramel apple. Or just stroll around the earthy charm of the orchard, and savor this beautiful time of year.

orchard path fall