Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Day 14 "In the trenches" (landscape-in-the-sky edition)

It never fails: almost always, on our audition weekends, or the periods when we're bringing in search candidates, or a guest artist, we wind up with the landscape truly in the sky--the great "brown-out" that began The Wizard of Oz and that, for generations, caused West Texans to paint their windows shut. These are the days that you don't wear your contact lenses and you don't chew gum--and, if we're lucky, there'll be moisture behind it, and it winds up raining mud.

On the other hand, at some subliminal level, the ferocity of the weather, the implacability of the terrain, the impenetrability of the small-town mindset, all contribute somehow to the general "neighborliness" of the faculty. The county itself was founded less than 140 years ago and before that it was part of the Indian Territories--in fact, it's specifically the Llano Estacado where both Coronado got lost (and left behind a trail of stakes in the plain so he knew if he was walking in circles) and the Comanches who kidnapped the Coates children in Savage Sam (son of Old Yeller). It must have been a fuckin' brutal place 140 years ago: treeless, featureless, patrolled by Comanche and Apache, with massive and constant wind- and dust-storms--and the first "sodbusters" who lived here--so-named because the Johnson grass sent out such long and tenacious roots, searching for water, that you could barely get a plow through it--lived in dugouts roofed with sod.

In climates like that, it doesn't really matter whether you like your neighbors, or agree about the property lines (though water rights could get pretty deadly)--when the storm kicked up, or the crops failed, or the well ran dry, you damned better be able to count on the people down the road. Because if you couldn't count on your neighbors, you were in real trouble. It's still the case that, if you break down back on one of those county roads, every single car that passes you will stop and find out if you need help. The first winter Dharmonia and I were here, we had a single snowstorm, of maybe 5 inches. We got up the next morning and I said "I'll go out to one of the hardware stores and get a snow shovel" (what the hell? We'd given away our snow shovels when we left Indiana). Inevitably, every single store was sold out, because they only ever stocked 5 in the first place (years later, my buddy Steve said, "you shoulda asked for a grain scoop--it's the same thing, and they woulda had hundreds of those"). Came back, went next door to the elderly neighbors, and said "friends, if you might lend us your snow shovel, we'll be happy to do your walk for you." The elderly Texan looked at Dharmonia, and said "wha?" (e.g., "why?"). "Well, so you can get out to your car"; to which the response was "I ain't goin' out in that! I'll just wait'll it stops." So they did.

Anyway--one of the things we learn out here is that we damned better be nice to each other--because climate, topography, and sociology are not so salubrious as to keep people here who are unhappy with their colleagues. Instead, we offer a situation where people take care of each other, respect each other, and try to help each other however they can.

We play nice because we need to play nice. And we don't really give a shit about the dust.


Kim said...

This: "Instead, we offer a situation where people take care of each other, respect each other, and try to help each other however they can" sounds like a community in the true sense of the word.

Impressive. And I'm a little envious. We barely know our neighbors' last names.

CJS said...

Well, it ain't all beer-and-skittles. I don't particularly relish the level and shade of the political discourse 'round here, groceries are expensive and not fresh, the local politics tend toward intentional small-town know-nothingness, and I'm not black, gay, or female.

But I sure do like and admire my colleagues.