Some of you know my hard drive died and I lost everything. A few friends sent back a few “oldies” here is one.
Green Chili and Trains
_____I hide in the high desert foothills of New Mexico. If I climb the stairs to the roof of my small straw bale house, the church steeple in the valley, rises out of the Cottonwoods for me. It is not tall. Adobe mud, is beautiful, sculptural, but does not Cathedral up well… Some of our dogs and most of our buildings are short. We have a wonderful bell. Sundays, we hear the bell, clear but distant, calling two dozen faithful to mass. The train rickety-racks through our village twice a day, wailing to the hills. You feel the vibration.
_____I am besotted with our vale, the mesas, foothills and mountains that define it. My dog and I have walked these hills, and urinated on these boulders for more than a decade. Love is like that.
_____We are rich with history, octogenarians, and poverty. Before the turn of the previous century, this was the heart of a mining district, a “for real” boom town. We had three blocks of boardwalk western front businesses, an opera house where Jenny Lind once sang and a two story wood frame hotel. We had saloons. There was talk, when statehood came, we would be the capitol. The mines played out. The bats moved in. The train stopped stopping.
_____Our venerable story tellers are heartbreakingly silent about the whore houses. So much history is lost.
_____Oral legend has it that in the 1920’s, an unseen desert deluge over the Ortiz Mountains brought a wall of water scouring though the hills and met an even larger flood raging down the dry Galisteo river bed. The land and the village changed forever. The bridge in, and many square blocks of our town vanished. In the early seventies a series of mysterious fires brought badly needed insurance money flowing into our diminished whistle-stop. We now have a population of 250, living in six square blocks peppered with vacant lots and melting adobe.
_____I have only lived here for 30 years. I am not considered a local.
_____Against this theater flat….
_____In front of the boarded up Pacioni general store, the Matriarchs sit, on an old church pew, in the shade of the portal. They sit, in silence broken by the occasional whisper of a tongue depressor church fan. The ladies assemble summer afternoons unless it is Wednesday. It is widely appreciated, that on Wednesdays, Annette Paceoni washes her hair, and this being an all day sacrament, the gathering is respectfully cancelled on that day. Reena, Corrina, Annette, and Ruth sit.
_____When I tire of gardening, watching hummingbirds or teasing rattlesnakes, I drive to the village with my dog.
_____I park down the street to preserve our view. Our hostess, Annette ritually offers a Dr. Pepper. I ritually decline. I know she can no longer afford soda pop. We watch my small black dog wander across the street and lift his leg on the newspaper box. Reena comments on how dry it has been. A fly settles on the back of my hand and raises and lowers it’s wings…. The Vehill’s three legged mongrel hobbles down the street and stops to sniff and re-christen the newspaper box. My sweet old dog raises his head and sighs. In the fullness of time he will need to re-mark that spot. For now he rests his chin again, on my shoe. An SUV with a tourist couple passes and stops in front of the church. They take pictures without dismounting, and pass us again on their way out of town. “A U-turn on Main Street”, Lorraina says. She clicks with her tongue and shakes her index finger at the air. An ant struggles something large across the pavement by my feet.
_____Sarah, three doors down, comes out to ritually sweep her Bar’s stoop for the third time today and gets a wave. Sarah is the oldest crone in the village. She is 96. She opens “Sarah’s Bar” every morning at 10:00 (ish). First, she walks half a mile to the post office, her Shitsu in an ancient black perambulator, wheeling down the middle of the asphalt road to pick up her new catalogs. She maintains the distance is too far for “Bambino” to walk, but seems glad to have something to cling to. She disdains sloth. She nevertheless, waves back to the pew sitters.
As expected, and almost on schedule, the train rumbles through. Someone always says, “There goes the 2:00 O’clock train”. Last year there was an ominous silence after this occurred, and I realized the group was looking at me. I looked at my watch. Twelve years ago, Amtrak rescheduled the “2:00 O’clock train”, and since it passes through, at three…… I looked at the ground. “There goes the 2:00 O’clock train”, I said…….The ladies beamed, quietly. I looked at the ground again, smiling myself.
_____ Change is an odd constant. Yesterday, today, tomorrow….. Change can creep or sudden slam, like a desert flood that erases half a village. This mornings lily is dew flecked and flawless. By noon perfection will peak and turn to decline. The desert sun desiccates. In a few days the spent husk will fall to the earth and consider composting.
_____A gentle shock just reverberated through our valley. Reena Salazar made both red and green chili last week (secret family recipe) and packaged it for distribution, in recycled cottage cheese containers. I received my gift through a neighbor, and like a grass fire, word spread through the hills, that I had achieved “chili status” with the octogenarian clique in the village. Eyebrows were raised…. Life is good.