For the destination airport, the newly remodeled little terminal is peaceful and clean. I was anxious to alert Host Family about the exact arrival gate, but they didn’t seem worried about finding me. I didn’t know there was only one other gate. All they’d have to do is step in the terminal door and look around.
It’s a relief to step outside into fresh air and take off my mask for the first time in 12 hours, to stretch out and contemplate the free open fields and sky. We’re near the center, the heart, of the country. It feels steadying and balanced to see horizon all around.
Outside the terminal, a man on a bench calls a friendly greeting. “Morning! Ya need any help?” We get to chatting. He is here to pick up his grown son. The two are teaming up to drive all the way to the East coast. It’s their chance to catch up with a long bonding road trip. His enthusiasm is contagious. So is his neighborly sensibility. Look: a human! Let’s strike up a talk!
Here comes our Dear Host in his trusty Toyota Cambry, 318,000 miles young and still sailing right along. We head out through the fields, passing one poignant austere artistically composed scene after another. At one point I have to bite my hand to keep from hollering “Stop the car! Look!” After all, it’s one lane of gravel each way, with a deep culvert running along each side, probably protection against flash floods. There is no shoulder. It would not do to start an accident with some cattle van, or that lumbering truck hauling slabs of flint the size of our car. But oh, the scenery! An abandoned farmhouse with beautifully crafted windows and a torn roof is lit by a single shaft of sterling silver light through a bank of clouds; its tall stately companion tree is charred and split, perhaps by lightning, with four circling turkey vultures. It’s straight from Jane Eyre’s art portfolio! Dear Host (DH) explains that we’ll see many Gabelán, or hawks, and eagles too. He’s right; majestic birds of prey are soaring along, or striding through the fields, the size of turkeys.
In the downtown epicenter of Eagle the side streets are spacious brickwork. Sidewalks are great slabs of uneven stone buckling from the roots of stately old trees. Bulb gardens are everywhere, with daffodils and grape hyacinths and a few tulips. Under the shade trees the houses have ornate wood and glass detailing. Some are fixer-uppers settling gently or blooming open at the roof line. Even at noon (and in fact every day all day long) there are cardinals singing away in the treetops, with songs of robins and flickers and tufted titmice, goldfinches and purple finches and ring-necked doves.
Host Family’s newly purchased house is trim, neat, and inviting. The roof is brand new, put on right before they bought it by a roofing team who reported to the wrong address. (Oops! Sorry, you’ve got a new roof free of charge — we can’t take it with us!) It has cozy little rooms with white walls and lots of tall narrow windows; wafting in the breeze are ruffly curtains hand-sewn by Our Lady of the home (OL). There are wood floors, fine wood molding for the window and doorframes, a pristine new wood veneer for the kitchen floor and new appliances (put in by an Amish-style workbee of relatives and friends), front veranda and back screened-in porch that will be a study for him, and a cute garage with loft that they’ll turn into a study for her. There’s a front yard, and a back yard soon to be fenced off with a corner for a family chapel shrine. The handy tornado cellar doubles as a laundry room. The decor has warm housekeeping touches, like a vintage yellow porcelain cookie jar on the kitchen table; DH keeps it filled with lemon cookies and coconut macaroons for OL, so that when she comes home from work she can always help herself to a cookie. DH shows me to the snug spare bedroom with an actual writing desk, at windows overlooking the shady veranda and the sparkling birdsongs in the trees.
My two boxes are here, delivered right to the front porch. Eagerly I open them up and get my sunglasses and sun hat. Then after a bit of lunch I head out to take in the sights.
The center of town is part of the Santa Fe Trail, one short block away. Off we go. In no time, the wind fwaps the sun hat right off my face no matter how tightly it’s tied on. I just have to pin it down with one hand. This wind is only minor, but it feels like a steady shoulder shove with a soft ocean roar.
2:00. The day is young. Here’s Main Street! And there’s… tornado sirens going off. Yike. The weather looks partly cloudy; nothing’s funneling in. Still, tornadoes move fast. Maybe it’s still a quarter mile off and spinning this way. Where to run? Here’s the Eagle Grocery store. “Should we be hiding somewhere?” I ask the staff. They give me a pleasant smile and friendly greetings. “It’s first Tuesday, 2:00,” one of them calls out. “They test the sirens. Besides, Eagle has never had a tornado in our history. We’re surrounded by hills. Any tornado gets in here has no place to go; it’ll just have to spin around and drill itself right into the ground.”
I stay and browse around the store. It’s a good asset for this community of 3,000 people. Plenty of much larger towns have no food store at all. But Eagle Grocery is a lucky gem, well kept by a staff with good spirit and morale. The produce looks fresh and varied; in the cooler there are even several kinds of sturdy leafy greens. The produce aisle carries fresh jicama and yucca (cassava) with printed leaflets on how to prepare it at home. There are other unexpected discoveries, like pink Himalayan salt and Greek yogurt. (DH says that at the Bakery counter, one staff member has chef experience and a real flair for home cooking; she told him about her ceviche and other interesting recipes. I hope to meet her one day to talk food.) At the exit, the mechanical horse for the kids brings back memories of many 25-cent rides at our own grocery store, and it’s nice to come across a welcoming rack of free brand-new Bibles for customers to help themselves.
On Main Street, a tall hearty gentleman gives me a courteous hello in passing. When I sing out a good afternoon he stops short and comes right over to me with a look of good humor. “You’re not from here,” he laughs. “Visiting?”
I explain about the DH family. He introduces himself, explaining which business is his, where he lives, in which house, that his father came from Germany in 1916, and the meaning of their family name in German. Clearly he’s a key figure in the town. His friendly readiness to strike up a conversation is an ideal introduction to Eagle society. It turns out to be standard courtesy here that in a conversation of any length, people will explain their roles in the town, and the history of their arrival or that of their ancestors and origin.
As a return verbal calling card, I put together my true story; that way people can fit me in to the fabric as well. “Today I live in City N. for the climate, but have always missed the people of this state. I used to live here too, just 84 miles away from Eagle; I got a graduate degree at the University there, and my classmate from 1982 kept in touch. He just bought a house here with his family. He has talked on and on about how wonderful Eagle is. Well, he did a pretty lackluster job, because it’s so much better than I could have imagined. Your town is beautiful. You’ve done a wonderful job of preserving and restoring its historic features and cultural life.” My role as a stranger from a big city is to take the initiative, to greet every person: You have my full attention and respect. So does your town. I am here to admire and be friendly. In every interaction I point out something good about Eagle: the April weather, this view, that set of trees, a historic building. In response, the residents invariably offer to guide me over to some interesting feature, or they tell me how to find some other resident who shares my interests, or they let me know about some worthwhile resource or upcoming event. Not a single resident, all week, communes with a cell phone while walking down the street. They are alert to one another and ready to greet me, with handshakes, shoulder pats, and even “God bless you”s.
There are plenty of sights to explore here. But I already suspect that my favorite sight will be the people.