Orange and Blue Evening, or a Perfect Mistake

It was the wrong Tuesday for the event in Hillsboro I meant to attend. Not realizing I was a full week early, I drove through rolling desert hills to the historic town and arrived at the community center to find no cars in the parking lot. Only a man out for a walk who told me it was ping-pong night at six-thirty, and that the off-leash dog with him was not his. I decided not to stay for ping-pong, but moved my car down to the main street and took my own walk in light rain. After all, I couldn’t come all the way there and not enjoy the place.

The old buildings are solid and well-kept, the houses as well as the art galleries, antique stores, and the museum. The former county seat and former mining boom town is now small, serene and beautiful, with a population of a little over a hundred.

I spied a large, handsome cat on a stone wall around a yard and went to greet him. He was one of those extremely friendly cats who not only allows petting but demands more. He had blue eyes and brilliant orange markings in the Siamese pattern which made his eyes look even bluer, but he didn’t otherwise resemble a Siamese cat. More like a very attractive knock-off, a variation on the theme. He jumped down to follow me a short way but decided to stay home.

As I was about to get in my car, I turned back to look at the view just in time to see a mule deer and her spotted fawn crossing the street and ducking into a ruined building near the park, where a few fragments of wall stand around weeds and a table full of objects that may have survived a fire. The doe and fawn ambled through the underbrush, taking occasional glances over their shoulders to observe me while I observed them.

I read the historic marker commemorating the colorful life of Sadie Orchard, then the rain grew heavier, and I started driving home. When I was about half-way there, the sunset appeared, not in the west at first but in the north, a glowing pink aura with a flame-like sword of rainbow in it.  Then a double rainbow arched across the gray sky, so the road east seemed to drive under it, and the root of the rainbow in the south grew as vibrant and intense as the end in the north. I pulled over to get out and admire it. It’s not safe to drive under the influence of too much beauty. In the west, the rainstorm had broken up enough to let in orange light that coated the bottoms of the clouds. On the horizon, streaks of rain caught the color against a blue backdrop, while brushstrokes of gray floated across the orange overhead.

In the middle of empty land, nothing but sky and earth and colors. I actually went to Hillsboro on the right night.

 

 

The Sunset Was Free

I just sent a book to my beta readers, the third or fourth or maybe fifth revision of Shadow Family, the seventh Mae Martin Mystery.  There are a couple of characters in it who feel good about themselves as thieves. They smile a lot, acting the role of good guys. The theme in the book is self- justification. How we dig in and commit more and more deeply to our mistakes and bad judgments to justify our behavior to ourselves, and how people who are doing something ethically wrong convince themselves it’s actually right.

After a yoga workshop in Albuquerque Sunday, I stopped by Whole Foods to pick up some organic groceries. While I was in the bulk foods section filling a bag with pecans, a fit, cheerful-looking bearded man of about thirty, carrying a plastic bag of produce, pulled the lever on the bulk bin of chocolate covered peanuts, dumping a large serving into his hand. He flashed me a bright smile and ate from his handful as I stared at him, giving him the “WTF?” look, too startled to speak. We made eye contact. He smiled again and swaggered on up the aisle toward frozen foods, munching away. I put my bag of pecans in my cart and proceeded to get walnuts. A skinny teenaged boy with stylishly eccentric glasses walked up and grabbed a yogurt-coated pretzel from a bin and began to eat. This time I found my voice.

“Does everyone do this? You’re the second person in five minutes to just take stuff and eat it.”

He smiled and walked away. I once saw a little girl furtively sneak one raisin from a bulk bin at the same store. She realized I saw her, and she ducked her head, apparently feeling guilty.

The guys’ smiles bothered me more than the petty theft. I told myself it must have been a study with actors playing the role of thieves, and someone was watching, observing how others reacted. I didn’t want this to be normal. They looked right at me and assumed my complicity and approval. It reminded me of the way colleagues at a job I had way back in the early eighties would look around, see that all the employees in the break room were white—you can tell the look—and then make a racist joke. I would get up and walk out, telling them it was not okay with me. Racism is a huge wrong. Stealing a pretzel, pretty small. Assuming everyone agrees with you is troubling in both cases, because you think you’re not violating moral norms.

While I was on my way home Sunday, I stopped for gas in Socorro at exactly the moment the sunset was at its most spectacular. Orange and purple in the west, pink in the east, and pink and orange in the north layered with thin, swirly, magenta wisps. Above was a ceiling of pink clouds. A woman in the parking lot of the gas station was taking pictures. I walked all over the lot and into the space next to the adjoining business, seeking the best view of the clouds and the mountains. When I finally went in to pay for gas,  it was hard to let go of the beauty for even a few minutes. The picture-taker urged the young woman minding the store to come out and look at the miracle. She did, but she couldn’t linger. After all, sad to say, someone might go in and steal something.