Sunday, September 03, 2006

Your place in the novel of life

I changed the names in this story, some of my friends are private people. If you recognize the people, just subsitute names as you read. The rest is true.


I meet a dear friend in the produce section at Walmart yesterday. A dear enough friend that we happily hugged each other next to the lettuce. She was buying strawberries for a birthday party for a mutual friend.

"You've got to come," she said, begging me to join the party that was starting in 15 minutes.

I had no good excuse, I was done with my errands and obviously in town already.

"Ok," I replied and got directions.

"This is great," Morgan gushed, and then in a low tone, she added, "Besides, it's probably the last time we'll see Mary Lou. She's lost her place. They're moving."

Lost her place. Three simple words. Like a page in a book. Lost her place. Like being in the middle of a novel and suddenly not knowing where you are. Frantically searching for the right page, the right place in the story. The right place in your life.

Mary Lou is almost 70. She and her husband have (had) a small farm, made smaller over the years as they sold off bits to help their seven children and countless grandchildren and great-grandkids make their way in the world. Now it is down to the old crooked barn, the even older farm house and a little field out back. A farm house covered with pictures of family and filled to the brim with memories. Lost her place.

At the party, everyone making nice with plastic cheeriness, someone asked Morgan what she was going to do. Her place, her beautiful farm in Higby canyon is in Phase One of the Army's Pinon Canyon expansion. Over the next year the Army will acquire the entire canyon. The Army spokespeople swear they won't condemn any of it, or use Eminent Domain. Everybody in the
area is a "willing seller" according to the Army. No one will lose their place.

Willing sellers? Eighty acres of the most gorgeous canyon land in the country, running streams, sweet meadows and dramatic rock walls are where Morgan and her husband built their home. Built it - by hand. The older part of the house is adobe. They made each brick when their children were little. Tiny footprints stamped into the structure of a home that breathes love.

Now that Morgan and Don are close to retirement age, the house is a rambling affair, with a second story bedroom and a front room where the falcons roost on their perches. Don is a falconer. Each day his birds fly the canyon walls and then come back to the glove of the man they see as their mate.

The house and the farm grew organically, using found material and what was on the land, but now it is fairly modern. They even have indoor plumbing. Morgan insisted on that necessity after they got sheep. "I'm not going to wash off shearing grease in the creek!"

Morgan is a sculptor. You've probably seen some of her work. She has done Pony Express riders, one stands in Julesburg; sheep dogs on the lawn of the Meeker courthouse; a pioneer woman for a hospital in Kansas City and countless others. Her work is real, lively and very noisy. She is a loving, bright, shiny person who needs her space. She once described my daughter Lena as a coyote puppy - whole, happy and competent when playing near her burrow, but strangers never see her. Morgan is that way, too.

"So where are you going?" asked another concerned friend.

"I don't know," replied Morgan. "The noise I make with my work, the space I need, the birds....." she trailed off, loosing her place.

"Who wants strawberry shortcake?" she asked, finding a focus and turning her smile back on.

In this epic novel that is life in the United States at the turn of our century, how many people have lost their place?