Homeward bound

The next morning, I put the pedal to the metal and headed east.  My desire was to be home in the periwinkle palace, in the garden, with my paints and cat Rhoadie….and near/with Christopher.  We have a trip to Cape Cod planned for next week and I wanted time to reconnect with this world before then.

So two days of driving were aided greatly by an audio book recommendation by Karen.  The book is CIRCE by Madeline Miller.  I LOVED it.

I gave myself a break at the Cleveland Art Museum.


Once again, I stumbled across Matisse:




And check out this Monet…..new to me….I think of him as only water lillies…there’s a little story that he painted two figures flanking the inside of the window only to replace them with a woman walking by and glancing in, while wearing a bright red kerchief.  Such a different moment caught and a different painting.


And Ken told me about John Sloan of the Ashcan School, an artistic movement in the early twentieth century by American painters who wanted to truthfully portray life in urban society rather than genteel society.


Finally, I got to see the drawings of Kerry James Marshall in a special exhibit.  Beautiful.


I slept near Grove City, PA that night.  The next morning, I took Route 80 across Pennsylvania.  The mountains caught the low lying clouds.


45 minutes from Elkins Park, my final destination, traffic stopped on the turnpike. A multi-car accident ahead.   For two hours, I was parked.   I got out and chatted with the newspaper journalist one car over.  I saw a guy practicing his golf stroke in the adjacent field.


Finally, we got moving again and I made it back to the Periwinkle Palace:


To my feline, Rhoadie Grace:


Thank you all for traveling with me these 5,123 miles.  What a joy this has been.  What art I have witnessed.  What space and light and conversations and love I have rolled around in.

I wonder what will come of it all.  I guess that will be revealed.




Chicago and its western burbs, specifically Wheaton, are complicated landscapes for me.  As previously mentioned, I was born out East but ever since that significant event, I’ve been swaddled up and taken back to this homeland.  I grew up visiting relatives in the summer.  I attended my brothers graduation here.  Then I went to college here.  I came back to live in Chicago for a few years in my late twenties, starting a theater company that ran summer camps on Wheaton’s campus for two summers before it and I moved onward.  But that’s not all.  My interest in ancestry over the past decade has made me return and traipse through cemeteries, historical societies and old houses.  With friend Karen, I’ve tracked down the location of the farmhouse my Mom grew up in in Aurora, which now is an odd development surrounding an airfield.  With Dad, I’ve visited all the houses in Elmhurst he grew up in.  And don’t get me started on the mystery of my grandmother Olga’s grave in Niles.  I’ve traversed these landscapes many times in my life.

On my drive out to Wheaton, I visited my grandmother’s house in Naperville. The gardens have flourished under the new owner’s green thumb.


I drove around to the back alley for another view.  Nothing of note there except that my love for back alleys, I believe, started here by playing here?  Perhaps?

Then on to Wheaton College.  My Dad proposed to my Mom there outside of Pierce Chapel.  My enduring friendship with Ruth happened beneath the trees on this front lawn.


My journey in theater and acting began in the basement of a dorm with the radical Jim Young.  My work as a beginning playwright/director began with MUSE in the late 80’s here in this building.  I went in and spoke with Andy, a current teacher and production/technical director at the theater.


Onward, I went.  Not too many people on campus in high summer.  These students caught my eye, building a stacked hammock home.


I went into downtown Wheaton.  Sidewalks were being ripped up.  The old being ripped out and paved over.  The day was burning hot.  Tons of restaurants have sprung up since I wandered these streets, a freshman on a first eager date with a potential suitor.  I can still see myself walking and talking, nervous and outside my own skin.  All of life was before me and Wheaton was the incubator for that journey.

I had dinner with Karen.  Afterwards, we walked and talked in Wheaton’s parks, as the skies dimmed and the fountain lights glowed.  I could say so much about this conversation, about deep and dear beautiful Karen, but I won’t.  I will say that I am grateful for the many chaptered long stories I get to have with her and others over time.

So my day in Wheaton over, I drove back to Oak Park to rest before an early morning departure.  A few lingering thoughts:

  1. My homeland.  This truth is complicated.  So much happened on this terrain in the lives of my ancestors, family, friends.  My roots are here.
  2. So much of my growth as a theater artist and human being happened at Wheaton College because of a few professors and a group of like-minded seeking students/artists. My creative life, my incarnated spiritual life began here.  The seeds for my future path as a professional theater artist and a professor of theater were planted here.
  3. Current dear friends are faculty here.
  4. While I am a Christian and a person of faith, I am no longer an evangelical.  I shed that skin a long time ago.  I am an alumnus of this college but I don’t support it (apart from its’ theater and arts programs).  I am disturbed by recent actions of Evangelicals at the university and in the country at large.   I know gay Christian peers who did not find the nurture I did while here.  Their experience was scarring.

I wonder how I would paint the landscape of this homeland now.  Would it be simple and pure like an O’Keefe? Or writhing like a Hartley? Both of these painters painted a New Mexican landscape and interpreted it so differently.

Place.  How we see it changes with the light.  With our experience of light.




I spent two and a half days in the Chicago area. I am having a little difficulty describing the fullness of my time there for I had plenty of time to catch up on this blog, drink coffee from Leah’s swedish press, and even do a load of laundry.  In other words, I had plenty of time to not rush off to the next state.

I have three dear friends and who they each are, where they’ve been, the currents of their lives linger with me now.  Those visits were dearly important and full.

In Chicago proper, I went to two museums: the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art.


(above photo by Elena) At MCA, there was an entire floor dedicated to art and the internet.  I had my first experience with virtual reality—WOW.  Immersive.  So much to look at all around me.  I had to remind myself that it was all virtual, the creatures coming at me couldn’t hurt me.


And of course, contemporary art makes you think:

On the left it says–I am only describing language, not explaining anything.  Helpful statement for me as a playwright.

At the Art Institute, I viewed a lot of paintings by Matisse, who I am partial to.  I love his use of pattern.  There is also a joyful playfulness in much of his work.  I have seen many images on-line or in books of his work, but to stumble on it in person is so satisfying.  Paintings aren’t photographs.  There is a power and energy in the pigment that comes off in the room.  I experience this with Rothko’s work especially.  Anyway, here are some Matisse.

Some work by Kandinsky surprised me.  I think of his work as much more abstract than this. I love his looseness with color and the undulating shape of the landscape.


And of course, I had to see Nighthawks by Hopper.  The horizontal lines, the light, the color choices, the austereness…..a few people together in a lonely world.


So my second day in Chicago land consisted of SEVEN AND A HALF MILES OF FOOTFALLS through two museums, lunch with Elena, Chicago’s loop and golden mile, a visit with Alex at his workplace, a street fair in Oak Park and finally Leah’s apartment there.  An abundant day.



Cousin Marcia and I suffer the same fate.  We are the youngest of our siblings.  When the Petersens would trek from the East Coast to visit the grandparents in Illinois, the older folk would talk and eat and Marcia and I would flee and play outside.  She grew up to have a family and a farm and eventually grandchildren and a condo in Fort Myers, Florida with her husband and friend Darryl.  I grew up to have a perch on a creek less than five miles from the city; many creative obsessions, a passion for travel, a dear love with Christopher, and no children.  I think about all I’ve been graced with but also what I’ve missed because my family left the midwest. How life-changing it was for my parents to move away from all they knew out to the Philadelphia area in the 1950’s!  I grew up with an East Coast edge and midwestern sensitivity.  Community has become something I work at and choose rather than what is geographically around me.

I love reconnecting with Marcia at her lovely home in Pekin as well as down in Fort Meyers.  It feels as easy as it did when we were kids playing in the backyard of Nana’s house on Brainard in Naperville.  I chatted with her and her husband Darryl.

When I visit her house, I look at the art of Elmer Ekdahl (my great Uncle) and Florence Olander (my great aunt) that hangs on the walls.  He was a commercial artist and she dabbled in everything in the early 1900’s–art, photography, finally ending up in business.  I believe my mom got her artistic itch and her subsequent painting practices from growing up around these two.  I believe I got my late blooming interest in painting from growing up around my Mom’s oil paints and playing the board game Masterpiece.

After my visit with Marcia, I got to visit briefly with my Aunt Marguerite, who is amazing at 94 years old.



After Pekin, I drove 3 hours northeast to Oak Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.  My friend, Leah, and her roommates graciously allowed me to stay for a few days while I visit with the near & dear in the Chicago area.  Leah has become a very important soul to me in the past few years.  I am reinvigorated after every encounter I have with this unique science/artist/social strategist human being.  Her space is filled with patterns.  (I love Matisse and Vuillard and Bonnard, who as painters fill their canvases with patterns.) Dinner and conversation with Leah was awesome.


Omaha, Iowa City, and the Super 8 Peoria debacle

This morning, I spent an hour or two in the Jocelyn Art Museum in Omaha.  I encountered new faces….

I met a saint ….


And this painter–Marsden Hartley–I have been seeing his work everywhere.  He wasn’t on my radar before this road trip.  Who is this guy?  I’m drawn to his work which ranges from landscapes —

IMG_0779to more abstract and symbolic work.


I have some research to do on him.

Back in the car, I knew I wanted to drive across the state of Iowa and get as close to Peoria, Illinois for the night.  I gave myself the Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City as a halfway stopping point–about 2.5 or 3 hours away.  Once again, the rural scenery did not disappoint.

I kept singing the phrase–“the corn is as high as the elephant’s eye…” from the musical Oklahoma.


Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa.  Many good playwrights come out of their MFA program.  I have friends in the Philly theater community who learned and loved on this soil.  Go Huskers!


At the Prairie Lights bookstore, I bought over a hundred dollars worth of plays, predominantly contemporary British plays that I have been eyeing lately.  I will use these for classes in the fall.  (Apparently, my head is beginning to turn back to work matters…hmmm.) At Molly’s Cupcakes, I purchased two award winning cupcakes (from the TV show Cupcake Wars.)  The Peach Cobbler cupcake with real whipped cream was gone before I turned on the ignition. Incredible.

I continued on my drive.  I had at least two more hours to go.  I crossed the Mississippi and was welcomed into Illinois by this illustrious landmark.

As I drove through endless cornfields, I came upon an intersection and low and behold, I couldn’t believe my eyes.


I hope you can hear the angels singing as you gaze on this photo.  Art stores are my dealer; they feed my addiction of buying paint supplies.  I go to the Blick store in Philadelphia whenever I’m in town and come away with a tube of titanium buff or naples yellow and yet another brush.  I’m seriously addicted.  So imagine my confusion, here, in the middle of cornfields, to see this sign.  Is it a hallucination?  My oasis in the middle of a desert of corn?  No. Apparently, the main offices AND an outlet store were located at this rural intersection.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  I seriously considered getting the closest motel nearby so I could shop at the outlet store in the morning but I pressed on.  I had miles to go before I slept.  Farewell Blick.

The last story of this day.  I got to the Super 8 Peoria East hotel and stood at the reception desk.  I was quoted a price.  I said that Hotels.com offered me a cheaper rate at that hotel.  The kind clerk, Meagan, said I would have to purchase it on Hotels.com.  I did right there and showed my receipt to Meagan and she told me that I had purchased a night at Super 8 Peoria, not Super 8 Peoria East.  I would have to go 7 miles back–back where I had come from for my booking to count.  No way.  7 miles felt like a hundred. After driving ALL DAY, I was not about to step into that car again.  What ensued was 45 minutes calling Expedia, Hotels.com, the other hotel, and chatting with very helpful and kind Meagan.  Around 9pm, I gave up for the night and Meagan gave me a discounted rate for the hotel I was standing in.  The next day, after a few more phone calls, my booking for the other hotel was cancelled.

I can dig my heels in when I want to.


There have been times on this trip where the interstate is, of course, the shortest way to travel between two points.  For those drives, podcasts and playlists have been my company.  However, the back roads are where it’s at, even in the cornfield-laden midwest.


I am the ONLY Petersen who was born out East.  The rest of my family was born in the Chicago area.  My parents’ parents had farms.  Summers meant visiting Gramma and Grampa on their small truck farm in Lombard Illinois, running through their gardens, watching them sell vegetables by the road. My Grampa Pete lived in overalls.  I have photos of him surrounded by pumpkins he grew.  My mother told a story of watching her mother chop off a chicken’s head, drain the blood, and prepare it for dinner.

The horizontal lines of Midwestern farmlands hold a sentimental AND aesthetic beauty for me.  So the long drive across Nebraska on this day was lovely.

Outside of Ogallala, I found beautiful rolling hills.


I’m a sucker for a good windmill.


The modern irrigation systems look prehistoric.


And as I develop my painter’s eye, I am drawn to textures and unusual lines.



I arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska a few hours later.  I parked in the historic Haymarket district.  In the 1860’s, it started as a square true to its name-wagons and hay were sold here.  Now it’s a trendy area surrounding an arena, filled with shops and restaurants.  I had a fun time roaming.  I’d ask a clerk in a shop for a recommendation of where I should go.  The Ice Cream Shop!  So I’d go to the ice cream shop, buy a treat and ask those clerks where I should go–The Train Mural!  So I’d go to the Train Mural….etc.  It was a wonderful way to stretch my legs and explore the area on a very hot afternoon.

I ended up in Council Bluffs Iowa for the night.  It’s just over the state line from Omaha.  I had been intending to visit the Omaha Art Museum but I learned it was closed, so I had to wait until the morning.  A fabulous basic hotel near the highway provided me with a good bed, a great shower, and no windstorm.


Colorado Springs Part two & Ogallala, NE

Ken and I returned from Santa Fe and found that Dad’s cold had morphed into pink eye.  Even though I have a terrific photo of this that looks like a mug shot, I will spare the general populace from seeing it.  A visit to Urgent Care ensued accompanied by Rita and I.  Dad told the nurse that I punched him in the eye which tends to make an outside health professional skeptical of me as a care provider.  Dad was prescribed an antibiotic and a medication to put inside the eye four times a day, which is challenging.  I mean, think about squirting gel directly into each of your eyes.  Anything coming near my eye is not to be trusted.  And then, how do you know when you’ve put in enough? Now add the challenge of having parkinsons.  Ah, you can see how a simple task isn’t so simple anymore.  We learned that gravity helps.

The next morning, Sunday, Ken flew off to Grand Rapids for work and I visited my father before taking off on my return route East.  Goodbye for now Colorado; time to hit the highway.


The drive northeast beyond the Denver airport yielded wide open spaces with small towns hosting their own fields of dreams.  IMG_0732My goal for the first night was just over the border in Nebraska.  Ogallala to be exact.


So ….a little research from the web:  the name Ogallala comes from the OGALA (pronounced Oklada) Sioux Indian tribe. The translation is “to scatter one’s own. In the 2010 census, less than 5,000 people resided in Ogallala so perhaps they take the meaning to heart.  In the past, this town was a stop for the pony express and the transcontinental railway.  The Ogallala aquifer is one of the world’s largest and helped to form Lake McConaughy and then with the help of a dam, Lake Ogallala….which is where I camped for the night.

I grew up camping with my family.  Back in the sixties, we loaded a big family tent on top of the station wagon, secured it with rope and headed off to campsites all over the U.S.  However, it has been awhile.  And I have gotten older.  Putting up the tent was easy compared to what I remember from days of yore.  What I didn’t know was there would be a wind storm.  No rain, just wind.  For most of the night.  The tarp that keeps out potential rain kept slapping the skin of the tent-violently-and the tent walls  kept expanding like inhaling and exhaling lungs. I was getting NO sleep with this membrane around me so active.  So at about 1 AM, I moved what was in the car to the tent for more anchorage and curled up in the back.  It wasn’t exactly comfy but it worked. I slept.

The other thing I learned in this experiment with semi-primitive camping was that dirt is involved.  Did you know that a toothbrush can drop in the dirt?  So can utensils. That  Smoke and ash can saturate your clothing? That when you pee in the pitch dark in a field, it doesn’t always go where you intend it to?  I will spare you the details.  Believe me, I’m not opposed to all of this; maybe I’m out of practice?  I can’t bring myself to say I’ve moved beyond primitive camping….it’s just a different reality….one that embraces dirty, messy, smelly life.  The benefits, well, take a look at this:


Now this cup of coffee made from a fire I started myself, was worth it all.  This is a way to start a new day.

Santa Fe

Ken and I spent three days in Santa Fe.  We ate great Mexican and Salvadoran food.  We perused the main art museum near the plaza and saw some O’Keefe and Marsden to name a few.

We visited the Encaustic Museum which blew our minds.  Just think painting with a blow torch.  We walked Canyon Row and browsed gallery after gallery to view the commercial contemporary art scene.  We visited bookstores.  Mostly we talked about life and art-painting,photography and theater-and spent our time watching the skies.  Ken had chosen to rent an apartment in a home in the hills outside of Santa Fe.


The view was unbelievable and when storms came through, even better.





I documented a 24 hour cycle through a bouquet of flowers I picked on a morning walk.

And speaking of those morning walks….I got to explore a few miles of that scrub bush and cactus terrain each morning.



I’d walk dry river beds and be amazed at the few flowers that tenaciously took root.  I love this kind of vegetation.  It’s such austere beauty.





Santa Fe, thank you.  Until next time.


THREE DAYS in Colorado Springs part one…

Colorado Springs means family, my dear friend Ruth and glorious walks.  One walk I always take is in Cheyenne Canyon to “THE ROCK THAT IS HIGHER THAN I.”  I have come to this mighty outcrop to pray many times over the years, especially when those I love were ill and dying.  I literally lay my hands on the stone in the cave here and take a few moments to breathe, listen, and lay out my supplications. There is a natural occurring face in this rock which can’t be seen well at this angle.


I also usually hike in the Stratton Open Space.  I got to do this at sunrise one morning.  I saw deer and dog walkers.  And of course, the sun.

Another hike in the open space had me under dramatic and moody skies.  I love love love this area for its vistas of sky and mountains.

I had some glorious time with friends and family in the Springs. My cousin Judy lives in Minnesota and coincidentally, just happened to be on a vacation in Colorado with her husband Art.   It’s been years since I’ve seen her.  Here she is with my brother Ken, my Dad and myself.


There are upcoming  life shifts occurring in the lives of those I love out here.  I was grateful to learn and discuss how these may play out.  These conversations happened in a kitchen, on a back deck, a front porch and often over a delicious meal.  It’s very different than in a phone call.  I loved the opportunity of being in real time and space at this particular time on their journeys.

I also got to paint.  I’ve never used gouache before and so I tried it out usually with my morning coffee.


Brother Ken and I got to spend the fourth of July with my Dad at a barbecue.  Then we headed out of town to Santa Fe.



Goodbye Hays.  Hello open road.  Hello small towns punctuating the endless fields.  Hello Oakley.

IMG_0612I  found Annie  packing a weapon….


….and a girl out for a sunday morning ride.


I crossed over into Colorado and drove and drove.

I finally arrived at the end of this part of the journey.  I pulled up to my brother Ken’s house. In glorious Colorado.



First leg: 2125 miles.