I left the idylls of Ohio for the ills of the interstate. At least it went by quickly. The moment I got off the interstate, I saw twenty-five vultures (yes, I counted them: twenty-five turkey vultures) gliding in a vague circle above a stand of trees. Of course my mind immediately goes to the macabre—has the highway killer struck again?—but it was more likely a dead or dying animal in that little grove. Twenty-five of them, just soaring and circling. Waiting.
Then the wind starts whipping up. I had forgotten what the prairie winds are like. Even the big rigs seemed to be having trouble staying where they should be. I was being seriously buffeted.
When I drove through Gary, Indiana, I was shocked to see no smokestacks billowing forth. Fifteen years earlier, the sky was a sickly gray-green from all the pollution, and now—nothing. Clear skies. Clean city. Amazing how things had changed so dramatically. It gave me hope.
Coming back into Chicago gave me a definite thrill. For four years I took the train from Lake Forest into Chicago frequently, once or twice a month at the very least. I saw a stunning production of Equus there the first week I was in town, and I dearly loved the Art Institute and the Chicago Symphony and shopping at Water Tower Place. But I admit I went there most often for more prurient pursuits, and I felt a stranger there from first to last. The city always smelled of desperation to me.
As I attempted to navigate the insanity of the Chicago expressway, with its drivers nasty and aggressive and unthinking, I heard a guy on the radio say that he goes to Montana once a year because it’s largely unpopulated. It occurs to me that this is one of the things I’m hoping for in going out West. I’m hoping to find that kind of solitude, and I’m thinking that maybe if there are fewer people there, then the people who are there might treat one another as a precious commodity.
The road into Rockford is typically nasty suburban sprawl, all strip malls and fast food restaurants. Rockford proper, on the other hand, is charming and old-fashioned. The Burpee Museum of Natural History is smack in the center of town, and I pass by the Sinnissippi Park Sunken Gardens on my way to my hosts’ home, which is on the rather lovely Rock River.
Brit and Lyle Handlon Lathrop were in their late 70s, both psychologists, and friends of Wayne and Sue. They were fascinating people, iconoclastic, unpretentious in the extreme, and both quite brilliant. They were also rather intimidating, and I never really connected with either of them. Lyle was devoted to C-Span (he was retired now, so he spent most of the day watching his senators and representatives at work, and they seemed to infuriate him, so he yelled at the little kitchen television a lot), and Brit was devoted to both her clinical practice (she had an office in the basement with an outside entrance for her patients) and to Deepak Chopra. She handed me a large stack of his tapes and sat me down and made me listen to them for several hours.
I found his ideas astounding at the time. His work on mind-body medicine, quantum physics, and their spiritual underpinnings really galvanized me. His ideas still hold a lot of power for me, though I can certainly understand it when a friend calls him “Deep Pockets” Chopra: I sometimes wonder if he’s more interested in being a big name and a bestselling author these days than he is in the ideas themselves.
I went to bed eager get out into the wilds to begin camping. I set aside my questions about the quantum fabric of reality, and dreamed of circling vultures.
Tomorrow’s episode: The Return of Henry VIII.