A friend recently asked, “Are you finding community or friendliness? Do you feel that the people who you’ve met are representative of their towns or does their very friendliness indicate that they exist in a tight-knit micro community that exists within a larger, less integrated entity?” These are very good questions and in answer I told him about several of my hosts and the ways in which they are connected to their community. So I thought I should share them with you. Also, I’ve been meaning to catch up you up with all the people who’ve opened their hearts and homes to me.
From Sant Fe to Springer:
Pecos. I strolled into town midday, planning to stop by the catholic church and see if they could help me scrounge up a last minute place to stay. Moments before a dust devil had blown off my hat (webcam and all) and coated my lips with grit. I was just patting my hat in place when a motorcycle rolled up and the man said, “OK, I’ve been by twice. What are you doing?” It turns out he’s a volunteer fireman and his wife is a performance artist… a rare breed anywhere but very unexpected in a town of under 1500 people. He offered to fix a rod that came undone on my gear. So, I stopped by their house and not only did he fix my bag but they let me stay the night. His wife candidly told me that she started to cry when she saw my card. Home is something very meaningful to her right now. She and her husband have moved “back home” after many years, but now her mother is selling the family home… We talked about home and heart and healing, and about letting things go. Home seems to be a thread that runs through all our lives.
Ilfeld. My new friends from Pecos called a family friend that lives in the next town and set me up with my next night’s stay. She is an amazing woman who has travelled all over the world, photographing pop culture icons, as well as sherpas in the Himalayas. She met me in a tough looking jeep and we road out a bumpy road into a canyon and took a dip in great swimming hole. I slept that night under a full moon in a hammock swung beneath two pine trees.
Ribera. I stopped by Alto’s, a little bar outside of Ilfeld, because several people had mentioned that they might be able to help me find a place to stay. As I walked in, a man sitting at the bar said, “You’re the girl walking to Michigan.” My eyebrows shot up in surprise and I said, “How’d you know?” He replied with a big grin, “Word gets around fast here.” It turns out he is the owner of Alto’s and a great community guy, chipping in whenever someone needs help. He was trying to help me figure out where to stay when I reached Bernal, when in walked Bea. He introduced us and told Bea what I was doing, and she instantly said, “You can stay out at the ranch. I’m there all by myself, well, except for all the dogs.” The only problem was that it wasn’t on my route. She looked disappointed, and Alex said, “Can people pick you up and take you to their place?” I nodded and he continued, “Bea can you pick her up and then drop her off the next day?” She said, “Sure, of course.” So I stayed at the beautiful ranch/organic farm where Bea works and cooked a big dinner for her and her friend Louisa, a local activist. Bea was kindness itself, and told me how she came back to this area to take care of her dying mother. Likewise, Louisa had returned to the area to live in a tiny community nearby where 8 generations of her family have lived. She has become an activist for preserving their way of life. For very different reasons, both had come home to be near family.
Las Vegas. The other Las Vegas. My mom called ahead and got me a discount at the El Camino Motel. It is a sweet hotel that harkens back to the old Route 66 days with a big sign out front painted in New Mexico colors, turquoise and russet. The Indian family that runs it was wonderfully hospitable. We talked about pilgrimages in India, and they made me Indian tea for breakfast each morning accompanied by little homemade snacks. They have only lived in the US for a year and their children are finishing high school in Las Vegas. I can only imagine the culture shock. They were so nice to me that my friends Tom and Julie decided to stay there when they arrived a few days later. So all told, I stay there 4 nights!
Watrous. While touring around Las Vegas on my “day off”, I stopped by the natural food store called Semilla’s to see what kind of snacks they had, but instead of snacks, I walked out with a place to stay and a walking partner for the next day. My walking partner decided last minute to walk 20 miles with me, 20 MILES!! It was Father’s Day and his gift to me was to share this walk with me. He was the husband of the woman who’d connected me with their friends in Watrous. Not many people are in shape to walk 20 miles with me, but he’d done the Appalachian Trail the year before so he knew what he was getting into. It was a beautiful day and a glorious walk… plus sore feet. More later about the couple who hosted me. I plan to write a BLOG post called, “Rich People Are Crazy” about our jaunt out to a ranch owned by a rich TX family. Don’t worry, as far as I could tell, my hosts weren’t rich or crazy.
Wagon Mound and Springer. Tom and Julie came up from Tucson to join me and we stayed in the El Camino Hotel in Las Vegas, ate fine cuisine at Plaza Hotel and El Fidel Hotel, Tom took a zillion photos and videos and I tried not to kill them with too much walking. Julie made friends with a woman and her granddaughter in Springer on the day the Tom and I walked 16 miles. The next day while Julie and I walked 12 more miles, she invited us to stay with her when we reached in Springer. So sweet. The next day I got to see the one room school house she attended as a child, she walked a mile with me and even pointed out the girls outhouse! Also, it was nice to spend some time with Tucson pals… probably the last I’ll see until I return to Arizona in the winter. It’s getting to be a really long drive.
I’ve found community every step along the way. Even in places I didn’t expect, like bars, grocery stores and restaurants, but this makes sense. People always love to gather round food and drink. With the backdrop of drought, fire and economic despair, I hear stories of charity, homecoming, and deep connections to place. I guess they are all micro communities and I’m sure it is a self selecting group. After all, my project is called “Walking Home”. No wonder I keep meeting people who never left or have found their way back home.