Sometimes something completely unexpected and magical in its own way happens. Like the sudden awareness of a small, easily overlooked detail that, if looked at closely, can reveal itself as a very important element of a story that begins to unfold around you, connecting the web of wonderings and imaginations that are forming in your mind.
I experienced some of this magic recently on a trip to northeastern New Mexico, where hot temperatures, no rain and high winds were creating conditions much like the Dust Bowl of the 30’s. While following a dirt road, the kind that goes on and on until it disappears over the horizon, a crumbling homestead caught my attention and seemed to beckon: Come, I have a story to tell you.
The old clothespins were still there, side-by-side, having changed through time into the same exact shape, two X’s, the protective sign of the cross and the symbol of a shared kiss. Side-by-side, the expression of an eternal vow, waiting and watching over the old homestead through time.
The wire clothesline itself was rotted and frayed, and the small house, roof sagging, plaster falling from the adobe bricks, doors and windows blank and empty, was melting back into the earth from which it came. Nearby lay a broken and rusted tricycle, telling its own part of the story.
Like ghosts in my mind, I saw a young couple with a child hoping to make a life for themselves on this tough land. But the hot, dry winds and isolation were too much, and they moved on to newer dreams.
An old pickup stopped on the dirt road where I stood, and a friendly old rancher got out. We discussed the oppressive heat and dryness, and he talked about the difficulty of life here. I asked what he knew about the homestead. Nothing, he said. Except that it was abandoned over 70 years ago and nobody knows anything about the family who had lived there. They just gave up and left, like so many others. Over 70 years ago. A time when the Dust Bowl was decimating this area and many families were giving up and heading west in hopes of a better life. Looking again at the weathered old clothespins, amazed that they had remained so long in their defiance, not yet willing to give up, I felt a strong sense of connection to the then and now, a vivid awareness of the passage of time. Yesterday a young mother lovingly took her family’s freshly washed clothes from the line for the last time, and today the once strong clothespins she left behind are withered with age, too fragile to touch. I came here looking for evidence of a new Dust Bowl but left with a deep sense of connection to the earlier one. Time. How slowly and how quickly it passes.