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The Second Half

Sunshine in Florida trumps moonlight in Vermont

The Vermont home was a well-heated three-bedroom colonial on 20 acres, with a pond. And it looked out on a field of contented cows.

Special to the Times

The Vermont home was a well-heated three-bedroom colonial on 20 acres, with a pond. And it looked out on a field of contented cows.

"Just click your heels three times and you'll be home," the Good Witch tells Dorothy about 90 minutes into The Wizard of Oz. I always wondered why she waited so long. A lot of misery could have been avoided.

But sometimes you have to leave home in order to find it. My husband and I moved 1,400 miles away from our home in order to discover our home.

When my son was in high school, I realized he soon would leave home and go to college. I couldn't bear the thought of living without him.

If you're a parent you know what I mean. Kids crank up the decibel level and take up space disproportionate to their smaller size.

They're always bursting into rooms, their emotions are always intense, nothing can wait another minute. Life is either totally incredibly wonderful or earth-shatteringly awful, nothing in between. I lived on my son's adrenaline.

We had been to Vermont a few times and fell in love with the landscape. There are no billboards along the roadsides, and you recycle so much there's hardly any trash.

We almost bought a house there in the 1990s, but at the last minute we got cold feet, literally: We found out the upstairs bedrooms had no heat source.

"Some people like it cool at night," the real estate agent told us. Not 10 below, I thought.

So I got on the Internet, and this time I knew to look for a house that had heat in every room. I found a three-bedroom colonial on 20 acres, with a pond.

Back in Florida, we had the phone disconnected, canceled the newspaper and returned the cable box. A moving van came and took away our stuff.

We bought toasty boots, fluffy down jackets and thick socks. We traded in the convertible for an SUV with heated seats. In late August we boarded a plane with our two cats and our one-way tickets.

In Vermont, we had a breathtaking view of sunsets over the Adirondacks. The living room windows looked out on a field of iconic black-and-white cows.

We had a pond full of frogs that sang by night and swallowed mosquitoes by day. As autumn progressed, we watched the changing landscape, like something on a nature show on TV. By the time the leaves dropped, we discovered a river curving around to the north.

When my son was young and we lived in Florida, he loved the garbage truck with its huge robotic arm that lifted the trash barrels. As soon as we heard it come roaring down the street, we'd rush to the window and watch, my son giggling from the safety of our house.

In Vermont, my son had gone off to college, but I had my cats. One morning a family of deer grazed near our pond — a male with huge antlers, a female and a young male with nubs on his head. I scooped up Brownie and brought her to the window to watch. She flapped her tail, but it wasn't the same as watching the garbage truck with my son.

We called our friends in Florida. "You have to give it time," they assured us.

When we had moved to Florida in 1989, I couldn't wait to get back to New York: I missed the crowded streets and fresh bagels. St. Petersburg was different then. Downtown skidded to a halt on weekends, and you couldn't get a slice of pizza.

Just as I got used to life in Florida, I knew I'd get used to Vermont.

I began cooking, something I rarely did in Florida, where it was too hot to use the stove. But there was a feeling of discontent, and it wasn't about the food.

Look out your window. Even if it's overcast, you have to squint in the brightness. It's a tropical light, the light of bougainvillea and hibiscus. Face it: The sun is sunnier here.

But in Vermont, night fell fast and hard, nothing but blackness outside, as if someone threw a dark shroud over the world, the way you cover a bird cage at night.

Out in the country, there were no street lights, and we needed a car to get to our nearest neighbor.

I stopped unpacking. I looked at all the stuff we brought from Florida. I cried. I cried because I missed my son, I missed my friends, and I missed my husband, out in the rain, photographing leafless trees.

The morning I woke up and counted 18 vultures, with their horrendous featherless faces, marching slowly, as if in a funeral procession, across our lawn, I realized it was time to click my heels.

We packed up our two cats and bought one-way tickets to Florida. We'd been gone for 92 days.

And I understood Dorothy's great relief and joy when she woke up back in Kansas. I was home.

St. Petersburg resident Alice Graves holds an MFA in creative writing and has taught writing in college. Readers may contact her at

Sunshine in Florida trumps moonlight in Vermont 03/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 2:20pm]
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