Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting lost in the moment

On any given weekend, the plaza in Santa Fe is bustling. Local artists come in from the pueblos, spreading blankets and setting up tables to display what they've crafted during the previous week.

Once a year, the Santa Fe Indian Festival overshadows this ritual. Artists from around the country work all year in hopes of being selected to display and to sell. They fill 600 booths in the plaza, as well as in blocks and blocks surrounding.

Their names are storybook sweet, as tantalizing as their talent: Daniel Sunshine, America Meredith, Aaron Brokeshoulder, Charlene Laughing. You whisper them to yourself, just to hear how the names sound aloud, how they feel on your tongue.

Wending through the streets and between booths, you find trios of women -- friends since forever, you can just tell, and wager they still refer to each other as "girls" -- wearing flowing skirts and broad-rimmed straw hats. 

You watch as couples call each other over to inspect potential purchases. You stand shoulder-to-shoulder with turquoise-and silver- bedecked women whose hair is the color of tow-headed toddlers, their skin the hue of a Coppertone bottle, their faces textured like the un-ironed blouses that hang in my closet.

Men with tanned legs and brown sandals, their white hair pulled into ponytails, inspect black pottery vases or stand in line for Navaho fried bread. Females in the crowd try on silver bracelets, gently waving their wrists to make sure they've chosen the right size.

Others ask artists for a mirror to see how the shape of the swirly silver earrings looks against their faces. Couples photograph each other standing by the smiling jewelry maker or weaver or potter who sold them the piece of art they'll always remember this trip by. 

The artists have come from Alaska, Utah, upstate New York. Some of the estimated 100,000 visitors walked a few blocks to get here; others flew from California or Florida or London as they do every year. Some, like us, happened into today because a few days earlier, a gallery owner mentioned in passing the spectacular nature of this weekend.

We began our wanderings together, the three of us moving from booth to booth. Then as one of us stopped to look at a piece that caught our eye, the others moseyed on. We'd catch up, reconvene, and the rotation would change.

At one point, though, I missed my turn. I was admiring a strand of serpentine, its discs the colors of the candy necklaces I'd wear around my neck and nibble when I was a little girl. I set it back on its velvet tray, and when I turned around, all I saw were strangers.

Getting lost can be a good thing. You can get lost in your passion, or lost in a person -- which sometimes (at least in that early, sharp-intake-of-breath stage) is one and the same. You can get lost in your thoughts, lost in your work. You can get lost in your pursuit of a goal attainable, or one forever beyond your grasp.  

Yet my thoughts weren't so dreamy when I looked around and felt swept up in this sea of strangers. Quite honestly, I felt a little bit -- oh, not frightened exactly, just uncomfortable, akin in a way to finding yourself alone on a mountain trail when you thought for certain your sisters were right behind (or in front of) you. Or being the last person waiting for your suitcase long after the plane has landed. 

I walked around the booths for a few minutes, pretending to be perfectly at ease. I struck up a conversation with two women who were amused at my funny-looking barefoot-running shoes. I called my best friend in Washington, D.C., and my sister Susan in Dallas, leaving voice-mail messages when they didn't answer.

I sent text messages to the friends I'd been with only moments before. Finally (though probably hardly any time had passed) I saw them. I felt a little stupid, but mostly I felt relieved. We walked around some more, picking up business cards from the artists whose work we liked.

The next day, we went back to the festival. We bought a few things we'd seen the morning before, and a few we hadn't. We shared a dish of chocolate ice cream as we walked around. I had a delightful time. When I thought about the previous day, I wondered (as you do in broad daylight after a terrifying dream in the dark of night) how I possibly could have felt so disjointed, so lost.

But I had felt that way. Though I'd prefer to think otherwise, I probably will again. Maybe next time, though, I'll take a deep breath and gather my gumption. I'll shake my wrist gently, getting a bit lost in how the silver bracelet catches the sun, and how cool and sweet it feels on my skin.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Being reminded

You don't really notice the able-bodied people at the park. They walk quickly or they jog; they play baseball or kick soccer balls or careen down the slide.

Like summer heat and wayward tennis balls, they're just kind of a given. A nice one yes; seeing others outside conjures up a bit of camaraderie, of unification, a we're-all-in-this-together feeling.

It's the other people, those for whom moving is a bit of a struggle, that you find yourself noticing, and you find yourself rooting for. I crossed paths with two this morning.

The first was a man I first noticed almost a year ago. Though he still uses metal polio-type crutches, he's now alone. He no longer relies on his wife by his side, nor on his teen-age son or daughter behind him, each ready to stop his fall if he stumbles, or if a rubber-tip crutch gets caught on the sidewalk.

When I saw him today, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved button-down shirt, I said hello, then left the park for my run. By the time I returned 20 minutes later, he'd progressed almost two-thirds of the way around, one boldly cautious step at a time.

A block closer to home, I saw another man making his way with a walker, his back so bent he had to raise his head to smile at me and say hello. But he did smile, and he did say hello, and he did keep going.

Yes, it is skin-searing hot today. Yes, I started my run too late, when the coveted early-morning shade was barely mottled shadows on the sidewalk. Yes, I ran a mile less than what I had planned.

But these men reminded me of what I forget all too often: I have two legs that work, and a stalwart heart that keeps a steady beat. I have a cap to ward the sun from my face, and sunscreen to keep my bare shoulders from burning. I have cold water in a bottle, and a towel to wipe the sweat from my face. I have energy to go, and (mostly) good sense to stop.

As I walked that last block, I glanced at the sidewalk and saw it dotted with green pecans. Tiny and inedible, maybe on another day I wouldn't have given them much thought. But today I saw them as something affirming: Hopeful precursors of autumn.