Monday, October 31, 2011

sunday small town rough

This is my forth autumn in Portland, and it’s the first time I find myself missing where I was before. Friends back home are driving through the Rocky Mountains and posting snaps of aspen trees that just tie my heart in knots -- mountain autumn begins months before a maritime autumn -- and there were a few weeks when I had ripe tomatoes and basil yet still felt wistful for what wasn’t.

To my great surprise I've specifically found myself missing Greeley. Both the town itself and the features of my life there. The Mexican grocery stores out-numbering gringo stores downtown. The acres of farmland stretching for miles north of the town. I used to drive out there just to lose myself in that big open sky. There were hidden little ponds, old farm houses, surprising gnarls of cottonwoods clustered around flooded creekbeds. This time of year you’d head out to the little garden-farms and pick out a pumpkin. There was no thriving new-wave farmer appreciation there, no crowds of young families with expensive strollers jostling for room between the vines. Just the threadbare scaffolding of the real thing -- the culture that endures. A little wooden bench with a poster board with circles drawn on it -- a pumpkin-size-chart. (is your pumpkin small? Medium? Large? ) Next to this was an old coffee can where you put your money. Somehow that coffee can is pulling at me most of all.

Winter locked us into a narrow world of ice, sore ears and careful steps, but in autumn, feeling as we students did of life restarting, it was kind of a magical place. like something you’d read about in a story book.

I participated in life there as much as one could do. I did but one art show during college -- four large, simple paintings of crocodiles doing simple happy things. I showed them at the public library by signing up on a piece of paper at the information desk, and hung them myself with a ladder I borrowed from the janitor. It was great to see them every week when I'd return my books and explore more offerings, and to see the smiles of the librarians and patrons throughout the month. I was never called upon to explain what I was thinking by paintings them, was never looked at critically, just quietly appreciated. It was by far the most satisfying showing I ever had.

Though I have this fuzzy rear-facing notion of life teeming as though time stood still -- the indisputable charms of a small town America -- it was struggling just like every unfashionable town does. Furthermore it was an agricultural atmosphere of hard-nosed farmers suspicious of change, of migrant families scraping by, of the administration’s sudden and alarming ICE raids. A difficult place to be. There was a hostile energy that chased me all the way to the coast.

But lately I grow weary of the people who pay so much attention to each other, so much attention to clothes and where one shops and what it says about you if you happen to grab a fast food burger. People just pay so much attention in a city. Social consciousness! Heaven knows it’s a blessing to live in a city that has it. But sometimes it feels like too much. During this simple season of leaf-crunching and pumpkin carving I find myself thirsty for country folks’ unconscious authenticity. They aren’t doing something because it means something, they’re doing something because their mothers taught them to. It may not be the best way, but there’s something to be said for it. For starting at square one, for working with what you have and what you are given.