Tag Archives: SmallTowns

She

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She walked through the finger-smudged glass door on a sunny day. A day strangely warm for February.

The air was gritty and the sun rusted-out by the relentless strength of the prairie wind lifting the broken land skyward.

She paused for a moment on the threshold, absently gazing forward as her eyes adjusted to the new light.

Her skin was fair. Her hair was wildflower-honey colored .  .  . falling below her shoulders in ripples like waves on a summer lake.

She was slender. Dressed in kickback casual, yet, styled to be her.

It was her eyes that captivated me, though. 

She wore no makeup. She was perfectly gorgeous in her raw skin. She seemed completely comfortable with the purple spoons beneath her eyes.

They gave her a Pre-Raphaelite, waif-look that mesmerized and melted me in one glance.

I saw a piece of myself in her, but, I didn’t know which one until she sat down next to me.

I was drying from a pedicure; she was preparing for a set of nail to adhere and be embellished.

A moment of silence passed.

Two women assessing their instincts of trust.

We somehow concluded, simultaneously, to begin talking. Not just chatter, but, depth of speak.

She told me her life story – all 30+ years in an hour.

I told only snippets from a life lived much longer.

She was born and raised in the wasteland of a fading Route 66 town, a town that has become a hub of crack cocaine.

She avoided drug addiction. She married after high school – pregnant as she walked down the aisle.

She stayed with him for ten years; bore two children; divorced; lived 4 years single in that desolate town. Then, escaped one night to Missouri. A year there and she was chased back to New Mexico by a failed job and a homesick son.

She returned to realize that she’d fallen in love with her best friend. A cop in the crack town. A truant officer at her high school.

It was a small-town tale, but, I was continually drawn back to the noir beneath her eyes.

She spoke from such a deep well of wisdom.

I wanted to be her.

I wanted to re-live my life in smaller steps. In a smaller space. Simpler. More direct. All-the-while, gaining sage wisdom.

I wanted to invest in her economy of movement.

I saw myself eschewing academia; not exploring the world; nor meandering along the Champs-Elysees while she was nursing an infant.

I began to see more of why I’m seduced by tiny, parched towns and their ghostly people. Why I feel like a stranger on my own home turf – that strange land of the metropolitan East Coast.

She unknowingly gave me another clue to my personal puzzle.

Somewhere deep in the velvet of those vague, noir eyes, she held secrets and answers to my mysteries.

Somewhere in those eyes, at times, so tender I hurt to look into them. They drew blood in a way that’s curative. 

I projected myself into her mind. And, perhaps, had I the skill of Rossetti, I’d paint her eyes from every fractured angle in the galaxy and expose the guilelessness of her atomic truth.

But I have only words as raw material.

And they are so damn ephemeral. I need a  solid mooring. Brushes and oils and stretched canvas to capture this picture. To hold it still for contemplation – this too brief meeting of companionable souls. This momentary paralleling of two beings wanting to exchange lanes.

In my fantasy, we’ll reach the same destination of grown-up Truth.

Her path: right-lane Interstate.

My path:  crooked rural roads.

Destiny fulfilled. But, for a fleeting hour, it was scintillating to imagine trading paths with a stranger.

 

Little White Churches

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My heart can’t resist them.

A couple years of living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, circa 1970s, I realized that I wanted to live in a church.

I found a little white clapboard Baptist church near Panther Falls, Virginia.   Abandoned, because the people lost faith in the midst of poverty.   But it was still structurally solid and safely nestled inside a grove of poplar trees and scrub oak.

The steeple looked like the base of an old windmill. Above the door was a round stained glass window, with red and blue hues, that reminded me of Jupiter.

Inside, the pews were lined in rows of horizontal soldiers. A grid work of dark wood and red velvet seat cushions. The room was small but it felt spacious because of the ascending ceiling and the choir loft that touched the clouds when fog descended.

The sunlight that crept through the trees was misty by the time it met the colored windows lining the building’s side walls. The interior was a mixture of light and dark and every color of the rainbow in-between. It was peaceful and solemn.

I love churches when they are empty.

Always have.

Those beautiful little handcrafted edifices without rituals, but with the accessories necessary to conduct one as décor.

A place to be still.

A place to call home.

I was too poor to buy that church and unable to convince the owners to rent it, but I still harbor a yearning to live in that Appalachian church-home.

I have thought lovingly of it for three+ decades. Every time I drive by a little white church of any denomination, my heart rejoices.

After I moved to the village of Estancia, New Mexico, several years back, I quickly discovered that around the corner from my tiny house was one of the sweetest white churches of all times.

Methodist.

Not acquainted with the religion, but I fell in love with the building. And when I learned that the back door was kept unlocked, on weekday afternoons after work, I’d slip in, sit on the red velvet cushion, and gaze through the painted glass windows. Noting that the southern exposures were singed – the edges of Jesus’ garments and the corners of the Last Supper’s tablecloth all charred and curling.

The wooden pews were arranged in arcs, with two aisles, like a huddle around the pulpit. Behind the lectern were tables draped in white fabrics that support forests of white taper candles.

I’d sit silently at different degrees of the arcs. Each radial angle reflective in a different color or shadow. I’d bow my head in some form of prism prayer.

Sitting in this church – alone – always washed me clean. Something about the simplicity of white that calms and renews.

I don’t yet understand my passion for little white wooden churches, but they invite my heart in.

They inspire confession.

When I feel filthy, a white church is my soap and washcloth.

And often I have some crazy sense of unclean.

I am always housecleaning; I am always heart-cleaning.

What am I obsessed with washing away?

Vacuuming some sin from the floor boards of my heart?

Scouring the toilet bowl of my soul?

Dusting the mantle of my mind?

Why is life – so messy – that I devote a lifetime to cleaning my space-of-being?

That I sit in empty churches to inhale purity?

That I focus my meditation upon the white fabrics draping from altars?

Sometimes I find my inner being crawling through the tunnels and webs of woven fibers, searching for the secret of the shroud.

I have never understood this passion for textiles either.

Maybe because fabric is tangible. Because I can see it constructed from its source – from the flax plants and silkworms and cotton pods.

I can track its progression. I can touch and smell its existence. I can also get lost in the fantasy of its lavish embroidery and festive beadwork.

I’m no fan of the new gospel churches that believe in bare warehouses as places of undistracted worship.

I need the distraction of beauty.

Especially the pageantry of ecclesiastical textiles.

I like sparse, but I need highlights of fabric embellishment. Lightly speaking: Holy dust clothes move me.

Sometimes I think that my deepest faith lies in empty churches and fabric. Somewhere in the honeycombs of stitchery, a wing of truth waits.

In a dust mote. In a spider’s dew-damp leg. In a tendril from a tightly-plied linen thread.

It’s absurdly simple. And mind-twistingly complex: sitting in empty white churches, contemplating sacred textiles, I find some sort of rogue religion.

And how happy was I, after remarrying, to find a tiny, tattered, white church about a mile away from my new home on the prairie.

A safe haven.

It offers peace of presence: Just knowing it’s sitting there .  .  . wind-beaten and bare .  .  . on a lonely dirt road.

A bit like someone’s stained and gritty coffee cup left behind.

Diagonal Parking and Thoughts on Angled Life in General

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Small-town America

One of my greatest fascinations in life is: Diagonal Parking.

On first read, this may sound strange, perhaps silly.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it prompted the question: Why? Why would someone even notice this trivial tidbit of life that’s fading in glory?

Well, I’m exploring this idiosyncrasy of mine.

My fascination with diagonal parking is related to my general fascination with things askew

awry

oblique.

Diagonal parking is like arrows.

A slanted entrance. Taut but angled. Straight, but not directly head-on straight, placing one face-to-face with arrivals.

Diagonal is just a softer approach to life.

Emily Dickenson’s “certain slant of light,” is afternoon light: quiet, meditative, less egotistical, gentle, buttery, relaxing, soothing, melancholic in a seductive way. The antithesis of bright, harsh, direct, fluorescent, noontime, peak-of-your-life light.

Slanted is reflective, past the prime-of-life, the achievement/accolade piston-driven ego phase. It’s an easy slip into the slot, and, an easy exit.

Gliding back into the pocket of traffic/life. A gentle, smooth shuttle. Like weaving cloth in rhythmic, repetitive patterns. Steady, non-confrontational, active yet peaceful enough to be simultaneously contemplative.

It’s an evaporation of ego and its cold, hard drive shaft.

No fancy performance artistry of blocking traffic and creating an audience, while one navigates a vehicle into a parallel parking spot as competently and quickly as possible.

No embarrassment if the parking dance has ragged edges…diagonal is not a test of agility. It’s designed to be efficient

sleek

unnoticed

un-noteworthy.

Parallel is a test of skill and it earns commentary from the minds in the waiting vehicles. Main street in american town

I don’t recall diagonal parking in my childhood home towns. Or during college years in New York City. Or post-college in southern France or Los Angeles.

I think that I encountered it on road trips – family summer vacations and my own journeys – but I can’t name the original source.

Somewhere along the path of life it became a symbol of small towns. Of little towns with coffee shops for casual gathering. Of life itself: living without a spotlight, without performance anxiety or ego competition.

A place in which to exhale. To sigh and live slower. A place energetic, productive, dynamic, creative, but, minus the pressures of fame and fortune.

To me, diagonal movement is as slinky as fabric. Like banners shifting in the breeze. Natural. Fluid.

A place in which to slip in and out of as sleekly as a cat.

No fancy underground parking or vertically, spiraling parking garages.

No parallel performances.

No caged lots with meter men and punch button tickets to be placed on the dashboard.

No skinny alleys to maneuver with a line of other cars fighting, as in musical chairs, for the remaining few resting spots.

Parallel means side-by-side. In the race next to the rival, ready to bolt ahead and win the prize.

Whereas in diagonal parking, the curb is the competition. Along with the sidewalk hosting passersby and store fronts.

Your vehicle is aligned with other slanted runners. All, somehow, battling a race against pedestrians and consumers. A race of stillness; of frozen desire.

Parallel is confining – being trapped in a boxcar queue waiting to be hitched.

While diagonal has freedom and independence and spaciousness. It’s aerodynamic and less claustrophobic – a primary fear of mine.

Diagonal feels like coming in for a landing. The sidewalk a tarmac; the stores the terminal.

Parallel feels like passing by; stuck-in-front-of; shady peripheral vision.

In culinary terms, diagonal is the finest slice of meat.

In daily life, it’s the angle I love to live through.

Something like 45 degrees with low density makes me feel crazily comfortable in my skin.

 

Small Towns, Ghost Towns and Abandonment

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Main street in american townI have long loved small towns, even though, or, perhaps because, I grew up in cities and metropolitan regions.

There is something very nurturing to me about life in a small town. It’s gentler and calmer. And even when small towns lose their people, I love their remnants. A ghost town or a partially-abandoned village coaxes out my maternal instincts. I find myself wanting to adopt them, love them, color them with many shades of grace. Nelson Ghost town

So after my divorce nine years ago, it was perfectly appropriate that I move to a tiny village in the middle of miles and miles of New Mexican prairie. And since the town was abandoned in sections, I felt at-one with it because I’d also been abandoned by love.

For three+ years I lived in The Resting Place, as translated from Spanish, and rebuilt a house, my soul, and my creativity.

In honor of this sacred time of my life, and, primarily in homage to the very special and solitary barn owl who adopted me, I’ve written a short story.

Barn Owl

    A FEATHERED MIRACLE

I’ve been conflicted about barn owls for quite a while.

Why barn owls? Well, they’re beautiful, stealthy, mysterious creatures that allure me. But, one killed my newborn kitten, China Blue, years ago in the backwoods of Virginia. And that left me queasy.

I’ve since changed my heart dramatically.

Let’s fast forward three decades. The year is 2007. I’m suddenly and traumatically divorced. I’m living out on the high plains of New Mexico in a tiny village. I’m hiding out for a spell; for recovery. I’m hiding primarily from men. Because I’m wounded, I want the warmth of women around me. I swear I’ll never date or marry another man. I want only friendship with men – and that’s friendship with no benefits.

During the first year of cloistering, I spent much time rebuilding a house and remodeling my soul. Prayer and meditation and journaling were daily ablutions. I was living in self-imposed isolation and beginning to feel like a saint in a shanty, or, perhaps, a monk minus a monastery. Whenever reclusiveness transformed into desolation, I’d go out for a walk. Commune with nature. Breathe deeply that sacred air of open space.

On one of my wanderings, I walked down the gravel driveway, following the scalloped edges of decorative bricks that outlined a row of Siberian elm trees. When I wasn’t staring at air, I often gazed at the ground. The dirt, as fine as talcum powder, fascinated me. The botanical beauty that survived despite such lean resources awed me. So, in this frame of mind, I was watching my feet crunch grey gravel, when, abruptly, I almost stepped on a large, oval-shaped, tobacco-colored ball. At quick glance, it could have been dog dung; on second inspection, I noticed the smooth, dry coating. Cigar-like in texture.

With a stick, I poked and prodded until the shell fractured and revealed a huddle of tiny bones – even a skull – all the size and shape of a mouse. That’s when I thought: Raptor. So, I looked directly upward, through the elevator shaft of leafy branches, right in the top “V,” and met a pair of eyes staring at me from the soft beauty of an apple-shaped face.

Oscar, Well Camouflaged in His V, with Eyes Shining a Transcendent White Gaze.

Oscar, Well Camouflaged in His V, with Eyes Shining a Transcendent White Gaze.

Oh my goodness, it was a barn owl, perched just ten feet from my house.

Was it a temporary visitation or a permanent resident, I wondered. Having raised a variety of birds in my life, I knew instinctively it was a male, and it felt strangely protective. Almost as though he’d arrived by divine decree.

I inspected the ground each morning for a week, found a daily cluster of “bone-balls,” as I called them, and made contact with staring eyes from above. By this time, I knew he was a permanent installation. I also knew he had a name. We locked eyes and I uttered “Oscar.” He telescoped his head slightly farther forward, in approval or recognition it seemed. We connected.

I had wanted no male interruption, but, Oscar was stunningly gorgeous and calm and faithful. He hunted every night and I inspected his catch every morning. By the quality and quantity of his bounty, I knew he was a great hunter. And he was also solitary. So many other owls around town were coupled, but Oscar wanted to be alone in the “V” of this one particular tree, so he could triangulate me.

Potentially eerie, but, his steadfast presence brought such nobility and peace to my life that I relaxed. I accepted him as a holy gift and a mentor. When my heart was especially troubled, I’d stand at the base of the tree and talk with him. I’d ask him to share his wisdom and guidance. He did so faithfully. After every “conversation,” I’d feel an inner tingling; a quiet little voice that whispered an answer.

This amazing relationship continued to grow. Some of my neighbors noticed me talking to a tree and stopped by to inquire. I’d then introduce Oscar, and, invariably, they’d smile and a new conversation would begin. I actually came to meet humans and develop friendships. Gradually, I loosened my grasp on reclusion. I even had men come and work on my property. Oscar scrutinized each one with grave caution. It was a silent battle of testosterone, and I was intrigued by his perceptiveness. The more macho the man, the more distressed Oscar became.

I knew I could trust Oscar’s instincts, so, when I dared myself to enter the dating game, I carefully watched for his assessments.

One man, who parked his truck and camper in my driveway, received a hailstorm of bone-balls on his vehicles. After two dates, Lee and I decided that friendship was our best option for connection. Oscar ceased pelting.

In 2009, I began dating a man who was brawny and manly, yet very sensitive. A strong balance of male and female energy. Oscar nearly lost his balance trying to stretch out far enough to examine Ron. I could tell Oscar was more interested in this man than any male who’d set foot on my property for any purpose. I asked Ron to step over to the tree and meet my feathered friend. He did so with delight, and Oscar was so serene and sweet toward him. He reacted with gentleness every time Ron came by, and they developed a little bromance.

By October 2009, Ron and I had decided to marry. I had to sell my darling cottage, and I was heartbroken to say goodbye to Oscar. I explained the whole situation, gave him directions to our new home, and asked him to join us after the honeymoon. He listened with deep compassion every day, until I finally had to pack my trousseau, and head to Las Vegas for the wedding.

By this time, I felt my bond with Oscar to be unwavering. I was convinced he’d wait for my return and travel the 30 miles to the new house. I picked out a tall aspen tree in the front courtyard that I thought he’d love. It was right next to the house, and surrounded by fifteen acres of hunting ground. He listened intently, seeming to memorize the flight pattern.

Ron and I returned ten days later from our honeymoon, and my heart sank when I scanned the baring tree and was met only with Oscar’s absence. No fresh bone-balls were at the tree’s base. I watched and searched for weeks, but, he never reappeared. Once settled in the new place, I called him from my heart. But our aspen grove remained owl-less.

Trying to Summon Oscar by Practicing Yoga in the V of a Tree

Trying to Summon Oscar by Practicing Yoga in the V of a Tree

To this day, the mystery of Oscar haunts me with a sweet sadness. I miss his perpetual presence, but, I accept that he fulfilled his divine mission. He coaxed me forth from solitude, and back into the world of dynamic interactions, happiness, and spiritual growth.

He will always be my coach, my confidante, my wisdom-guide, and my messianic miracle.