August 17, 2013
Had I taken my usual five mile walk yesterday, the following would not have happened. But I walked seven miles instead, adding thirty minutes (and leading to me saving a soft-shelled turtle from certain death on a country road), and thus arrived at and climbed Stroke Hill at a different time. Halfway up the hill, on the east side, a man was shoveling dirt from the bed of his pickup truck and filling in spaces along his newly asphalted driveway. He turned and saw me: “You do this near about every day. You must have the legs and lungs of a mountain climber.” “I didn’t know people were watching me,” I said. We shook hands and he commented on my tattoos. “You hunt artifacts?” Yes.
A voice across the road said, “You’re interested in Indians? Come with me.” I turned and saw a short man, in his early 80s, decked out in a Car Talk tee shirt and blue shorts. His skin was pale as porcelain. He waved me over, turned and walked briskly toward his house, and I followed. “I’m Gene.” “Bob.”
Just like that, we walked into Bob’s house, me a perfect stranger. He stood and raised his arms, indicating the space around him. Every open wall space of every room was decorated with Navaho rugs. There were shelves in all the rooms and they held over a hundred clay pots, both Navaho and Hopi. The pots featured blues and blacks, black etching on black-painted clay, the blues turquoise to much darker hues, with Kokopelli images, serpents and bison and the spirit world, and there were scores of kachina dolls and photos of Indians. In the bedroom was a large collection of colorful glass paperweights. This was his wife’s hobby. I said I’d like to meet her. Bob said, “You will . . . someday, just not in this world.” He clenched his fists and teared up. His wife had died on her birthday, three years ago.
Bob taught at MonticelloCollege in the early 60’s. His wife taught nursing. They spent all their free time in New Mexico and Arizona, working with indigent Indians. The couple became friends with the writer Tony Hillerman, and they had a complete set of signed Hillerman books. “I’m going back to New Mexico for the last time,” Bob said. “My granddaughter is graduating from the university. It’s hard for me to go there without my wife.”
He asked me about Cahokians and Paelo people in Illinois. I invited him to come view my collection of several thousand artifacts. He said his neighbors were doctors and would be very interested in coming along, as they were collectors.
And then he excused himself and went into another room. He emerged with a book of black and white photographs. “Take this home,” Bob said. “I think you’ll be moved. And then bring it back. If I’m not home, just put it on the doormat. And you’re welcome to walk my land anytime. And now . . . git.” He led me to the door, controlling his emotions, thanked me for coming and said, “See you soon.” And off I walked, photo book in hand.
Serendipty, I call it. This chronicle is full of it. My old friend Marmie used to say, “Live without expectations.” And that is what my walk and world reflect—be open to all experience, from jumping-on-hand toads to wolf spiders to egrets to the people who are compelled to approach me.
I looked at the photos in Bob’s book. They were horrifying and beautiful, portraits of Indians living in Southwest border towns, all of the subjects ravaged by alcohol. Three photos depicted the same man: sober, contemplative . . . and frozen dead by the side of a road. His name was Charley.
“We are stardust.” True. “We are golden.” Dream.
s not home, on top of the book will be a Paleolithic knife knapped from bullseye chert, and four shards of fired, impressed pottery, five thousand years old. And my card. So we can see each other again.
“Live without expectations.”