“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me,
‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
~ Fred Rogers
Seems I see scary things in the news every day. I contribute to organizations (women, environment, children, human rights) that assure me helpers are out there. What I constantly tell myself is Look for the stories. Stories make my world bigger, and more fun. They help me make sense of things. We are made of stories. It’s what we humans have in common. Perhaps it’s because at the heart, stories are connection. And our choice whether they’re destructive or empowering.
Before the sun clears the Sangre de Cristo mountains I see from my living room window, I’m out for a walk most mornings. 7 blocks up, 6 down. A quiet experience, as a rule. This week I got stories.
Walking up, I saw a skinny coyote with big ears ambling down the street, coming my way. It looked flea-bitten, and raggedy. We both stopped, scoped each other out for minutes. It looked more tired than threatening. I wondered if it thought me a threat. I decided to keep walking. S/he moved, then, too. We passed on our own sides of the street, both of us eyeing the other as we did, then both of us checking over our shoulders a few times ’til I rounded the corner. I wondered what the story was with that scraggly coyote walking toward more civilization, seeming to have a destination, which was strange.
Walking down, at the long grassy park by the rose garden, I saw a guy munching crabapples. Aren’t they bitter, I said. Best apples, have one, he replied. I had to jump to pluck one from the tree. I learned his name is Max. He used to be a marine biologist, and had worked up & down the coasts of Central and South America. Now he lives in his truck, works on farms. What do you do in the winter, I asked. Go to beaches where it’s warm, he said. As we walked toward his shoes, he did a little singsong chant walking in the grass is a gas, gas, gas. Immediately I could feel the grass between my toes. I wanted to take off my shoes, but I didn’t. I shared it on Facebook. And the spin from that feel good 60s song sparked folks. Who knew so many remembered! Connection.
Two days later he told me the big tree I visit each morning, the one I say hello to, and look up her trunk as I touch her ‘face,’ that’s bigger than any other tree in the park by a long shot, is a giant sequoia. It’s a baby in sequoia-years, he said when I wondered about its canopy so low. He told me the story.
A man who still lives in Santa Fe planted both it and a redwood. The seeds wouldn’t germinate here, so the man went where they would and brought the saplings back. How do they get water, the ones in CA take it from fog, I said. The spray from the sprinklers in the park. I’m checking out the redwood in another neighborhood this week. Imagine. A giant sequoia in the desert. I’m just wowed. And oh, gosh, what’s the story of the man who went to such lengths to plant trees he’d have to live 500 yrs. to see as adults?!
Indian Market’s a huge event in Santa Fe. If you’re not a collector, Sunday’s a great time to go. No crush of crowds. Space & time to talk with artists. I love seeing work from other parts of the country. I always look at the placard for their tribe, always ask where they live now. When I saw an artist from Standing Rock, a sob caught in my throat. ‘Oh! I’m so sorry,’ I said. ‘I just get choked up.’ I’m glad, she said. That story we both know in our own way, sharing the feeling.
An artist from an Alaskan tribe caught me with her stunning sculpture of a whale, one of my spirit animals. She got it so gracefully. The eye perfect, with Soul. A woman emerging from its back. Subtle, and yet not. I saw stars in the perfectly placed sprinkling of shiny ‘barnacles’ she included. I marveled at how the bronze looked like stone. She said she knew the stone she wanted, and sent a piece to the person who cast & finished it to match. I looked her up online. She does a lot about women transforming into animals. Stories from her tribe, her site says. I wonder why those particular stories in the far north.
I saw Ledger Art for the first time, something new to me. It emerged in the early days on the Indian reservations when the buffalo hides they typically painted their symbols & visual stories on weren’t available. They gathered paper from discarded ledgers. Preserved their culture in images over the records of their white captors. These stories socked me to the heart, and captured my imagination.
There were lots of stories about turquoise. How rare stones from closed mines came into their hands. The father who worked building roads for the state carrying stones home in his lunch pail. His daughter having trash bags full in her basement. The artist who worked on the rigs, no one believing he was a professional artist like he said. Except for one guy who gave him a small bag of the precious rock.
I shared a rock story of my own. A day I spent in Bisbee, AZ in the early 90s, before it ‘boomed.’ Bisbee turquoise being prized. Few people were there then. A few dusty rock shops, a sweet gift & clothing shop, and a jeweler mainly what I remember. How the jeweler told me to hold my hand straight, palm down, fingers together. And from trays he kept locked away, he lifted precious & valuable gems with tweezers, placed them in the cracks between my fingers where they met my hand. For two hours I felt the energy and light of those stones. It was magical. ‘I could’ve bought Bisbee turquoise for so little,’ I said, ‘and I didn’t.’ But you have a great story, the artist at the market replied. Sharing that story, I saw & felt that day in Bisbee all over again.
Stories are everywhere. They take us down roads we don’t imagine. Help us relive memories. Broaden our thoughts about places, people, and things. They get us to ask the what if, why, and how come of curiosity that feeds our writing. They shift our perspectives & connect us.
Like the guy behind a deli counter this week. His wide open face. His hand shaking, almost imperceptibly. His presence with his task, so earnest. And that brilliance of a smile each time he looked at me. I told him ’Thank you’ when he gave me the small container. Then added, ‘and thank you for your smile. You made my day.’ It was impossible to match his beaming face when I said that. It’s impossible to know his story. I will tell you, tho, a part of my heart healed in that moment, and the story I head in my head about the day changed.
Every July author & artist Mary Anne Radmacher gets a Christmas card from two friends. Because it’s halfway between Christmases, and their story says Christmas is a season that lasts 365 days a year, and 366 every four years. The Story is the Spirit. not the day. Whatever you celebrate. I just love that. Look for the stories.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because
the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.
Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
~ Roald Dahl
Getting to Wise. A Writer’s Life.
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