Wednesday, June 27, 2007

strangely, you don't need a passport

The journey from Colorado to Arkansas is always an interesting one. It is a pilgrimage that takes me, mile marker by mile marker, from my beloved mountain home into the border regions of the Deep South. The landscape shifts dramatically, from the majestic peaks of the Rockies, across the flat farmland of the Texas Panhandle, through the prairies of Oklahoma, and into the green, rolling hills of Arkansas. As we passed through Fort Smith this time, my mom and I drove over the Arkansas River, broad and calm, moving sluggishly across the muggy landscape. I could not help but think of the weekend before, when I had stood near the raging headwaters of that same river a thousand miles away, its waters rugged and wild and swarming with thrill-seeking kayakers.

The landscape is not the only thing that changes as one sojourns across this stretch of country. Rising steadily alongside the odometer reading is the calorie count at any given local restaurant. My whole grain roll is replaced by Texas Toast, an infamous slice of white bread cut about an inch thick and slathered in butter. Waitresses in t-shirts and white aprons become plentiful, and both the server and the served are suddenly speaking with a twang. At Old Sutphens Barbeque in Borger, Texas, a young man in the booth behind me was showing off a picture of his sweetheart: “That’s my girl," he said rather proudly, "She’s got 13 tattoos.” At McClard’s Barbeque in Hot Springs, Arkansas, we were served by a woman who has been working at the family owned restaurant for 47 years. Her eighty year-old hands trembled as she carried plates overflowing with down-home goodness, and we silently wondered if she’d get them to us without dropping them. Later, we learned that our fears were silly: she was recently voted waitress of the year.

Passing through towns, one notices a sharp rise in businesses ending with “barn” or “mart”—places like Pizza Barn or Burger Mart—as well as convenience stores with names like Pick n’ Tote. At a gas station in Siloam Springs, my mother looked up from cleaning the windshield to see a man holding the gas hose, preparing to finish off the pumping and replace her gas cap for her. “Around here,” he told her quite plainly, “we try to pump the gas for the ladies.” A New Yorker might have slapped him. I smiled, knowing that he was just showing the manners his mama taught him. My mom just laughed and said, “Well then, I’ll do my best to act like a lady.”

For all its quirks, the region is beautiful. The sun sinks in a special way, all orange and slow, over the contourless horizon of West Texas. In Oklahoma, roadside meadows are literally blanketed in yellow flowers, and windmills form distant silhouettes in far-off fields. Here in Arkansas, as I kayaked across the calm waters of Lake Hamilton, I paused amid the lush surroundings to watch a baby turtle bob its head above the water, and smiled in awe when a Great Blue Heron looked at me with its stately gaze before lifting off and soaring low over the water. The shores are lined with fancy houses, built by rich southerners who want a summer home on the lake. Of course, I was most intrigued by the ramshackle cabin hidden in the trees, long abandoned but looking as if it must have many childhood stories to tell.

I am writing this from perhaps the first little coffee shop I have ever seen here. It is a place to feel at home, a respite when Arkansas begins to feel like a place I need a passport to visit. But then, I will head outdoors and feel at home in a different sort of way—at home in the sense of exploration, at home in the warm, accented greetings I knew in college, and at home in the okra I’ll eat tonight, fried just after it’s been battered in my grandmother's love.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

home sweet Colorado

Here are a few photographic reasons why I am, and will always be, a Colorado mountain girl at heart:

Lake Hartenstein, where we camped on a recent backpacking trip.

The view from inside my tent.

A nearby stream, perfect for washing my face and filtering fresh mountain water.

Olin on the final part of our ascent of an unnamed peak near the lake.

Sunset on the lake.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the world is full of funny things....

I have much to blog about, but until I can gather my thoughts, here are some pictures from the last few weeks (I've been out of town most of them) that have made me laugh.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

small town Sunday: ice cream and other vittles

Trinity Sunday in Green Mountain Falls, as the liturgical calendar would have it. In a courageous move, our pastor broached the topic even with the little ones: "I now invite the children of the congregation to come forward to talk about ice cream." He talked about the Trinity in terms of Neopolitan ice cream: chocolate and vanilla and strawberry are all very different flavors, but they are all ice cream, and together they make up Neopolitan ice cream. Of course, any adult in the room will admit that they understood this sermon for children far more than the one targeted at us adults.

When I walked forward to take communion, I passed by the elderly woman who shaved her head for cancer research. She was wearing a sequined ball cap that said something about New York. The only other cap in the room was on the head of another elderly woman: it was bright pink and said, "Country Girl." I like a church where old women wear fancy ball caps.

During the announcement time, a bunch of kids in cowboy outfits joined their teacher in announcing that VBS ("avalance ranch") was a-comin' up and they were looking for help. Holding up an old campfire coffee pot, they invited us to join them for some vittles in the fellowship hall to raise money. Vittles, of course, consisted of coffee and a cake that said Avalanche Ranch, but the mood was set nonetheless: each person who walked into the fellowship hall was greeted by a 3 foot nothing boy with a bandana, asking if "y'all" wanted some coffee.

As usual, though, I walked away challenged as well as smiling. I was challenged by the fact that the church sent money to a pastor in Greensburg, Kansas, so the he could put it to use as they recover from the devastating tornado that hit weeks ago. I was challenged yet again by the way that the pastor reminds us that speaking the affirmation of faith is telling a part of our story. Most of all, I was challenged by the invocation:

"Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves
When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,
When we have arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity,
and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
to venture wider seas where storms will show your mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes;
and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope and love."
(Francis Drake, 1577)

May those words challenge you as they challeged me, and as our Pastor often says, may the disturbance of Christ be with you.