The drive from Denver was beautiful. I know that people who live elsewhere think of this part of the country as flat, empty, and boring. But here's what I thought:
I moseyed along my way, stopping to visit the church in Brush, Colorado, where my grandfather served as pastor eighty or so years ago. The current pastor and church secretary were warm and welcoming, and shared some of the parish's history with me.
Finally, I made it to North Platte. The road into town was unrecognizable; lots of chain restaurants, a WalMart, a shopping mall. But soon I was driving through the old part of town, and over the viaduct that carries the Main Street across the railroad tracks. Within minutes, I was driving into Cody Park, past the swimming pool and the kiddie rides (closed for the season) and reaching the banks of the North Platte River. The familiar sights and smells, the grasshoppers leaping away from my footsteps, all brought tears to my eyes. A fellow about my age stopped to talk -- the first of many conversations I have had in my few hours here. And therein hangs a tale.
I think of myself as an introvert, someone who is usually reluctant to chat with strangers. But the genial neighborliness I have encountered here has triggered a memory of learning to look away from strangers instead of smiling at them, to nod instead of saying hi. I remember walking down the street in Westwood, New Jersey shortly after we moved there, and saying hello to a woman only to have her look at me with a startled expresssion that clicked quickly to annoyance and then to a mask, averted away from me.
So far today, I have had short conversations with:
I used to joke that I wrote a poem a decade. That should make them easy to remember, right? So it was a bit unsettling to find this poem tucked in an old notebook, dated July 2007. I have no recollection of writing it, and no idea what was on my mind at the time. Apparently I penned it after walking the then-new labyrinth at the University of Maryland.