Brown/My Turn: ‘It’s been good to know yuh’
After residing in the Pioneer Valley for most of my adult life, I am both excited and saddened to announce that I will be permanently relocating to Arroyo Seco, N.M. at the end of January.
This decision has been brewing for years ever since my wife, Lisa, and I spent our honeymoon in nearby Taos seven years ago. New Mexico’s state motto is “The Land of Enchantment” but the locals know better. They refer to their homeland as “The Land of Entrapment” and I am not the first Easterner to be smitten with the area. Artists have flocked there for over a century, drawn by the transcendent light, the most prominent being Georgia O’Keeffe. To give some idea of the immaculate air quality there, I can see La Pedernal, the mesa she made famous in her paintings, from the front porch of my rental. It is 75 miles away.
Like here, Taos County is a progressive enclave but unique in that three cultures share the region equally. The Hispanic population traces their ancestry from Old Castilian Spain, some families traveling as far back as the Crusades. The Indians there (the correct local term, not “Native Americans”) have lived at the Taos Pueblo continuously for a thousand years. We Anglos are relative newcomers, a mixture of adventurers, eccentrics, artists and old hippies like myself. Such pedigrees influence the land and the culture. As does the scarcity of water, which no New Mexican takes for granted. Such a reality requires new ways of thinking and adapting.
It is more than the physical beauty, of course. Lisa and I feel “called” to be there, an almost mystic pull to a locale that makes us come alive in ways that are unexplainable. Perhaps, it is not coincidental that I was traveling through Taos in 1970 when I was also “called” to join the Brotherhood of the Spirit commune in Warwick. I heeded that call as well and lived there for 14 years. That commune (later renamed the Renaissance Community) gave me an education I never could have gained elsewhere. Every noble and unsavory attribute of human nature was observed and experienced there. It gave me unimaginable adventures and some lifetime friends. Overall, I am glad I was there and equally glad I departed.
I stayed in the area and then spent a decade teaching fourth and fifth grades at Bernardston Elementary School. Those years were the crux of my life and something I am most proud of. I want to thank the town, the families and especially the kids from my classroom (now adults) for their kindness and generosity of spirit. I learned as much as I taught and came out a far better person because of them.
Franklin County yielded a wealth of other treasures. Greenfield was a dynamic and thriving town in 1970. Everything you needed was found along Main Street. While those days might be gone, there is a new model of self-sufficiency taking place in the valley as a young generation of farmers is dedicated to growing healthy food for the local community. I consider this trend the wave of the future and one which will serve Greenfield well.
Originally, I was going to name all the people, institutions and events that enhanced my sojourn in Franklin County but realized that such a list would take several pages. Plus, I would risk omitting many due to faulty memory. I have been blessed with many friends and nurturing circles of love and celebration and will miss them all.
I will, however, single out one prominent Greenfielder, who I hold in the highest esteem.
I met Bill Forbes when I was still living in the commune. At the time, residents of the Brotherhood weren’t exactly welcome in town but he offered me sincere hospitality. Ever after, I would pop into Forbes Camera Shop just to see Bill and engage in conversations about our mutual interests of photography, airplanes and progressive politics. Sometimes, they would merge in humorous fashion. Attending a peace vigil against the Iraq War one freezing January morning, Bill and I fell into one of our favorite topics: our choice for the best World War II fighter plane. Clutching our hot chocolates, Bill held forth on the virtues of the P-51 Mustang while I countered with the P-40 Tomahawk. On cue, we stopped, looked around and remembered where we were. We then laughed raucously.
That was Bill: a kind, decent family man whose presence enhanced his community.
Lastly, I want to thank all of those who have taken the time to give me feedback on my monthly columns on this page. I write these because, as Bob Dylan observed, “I got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane.” Anyone can pen a My Turn column and I hope many do. It is a true voice of the people.
On that note, I will say goodbye, or more aptly, “adios.”
Daniel A. Brown lived in Franklin County from 1970 to 2014 as an artist, writer, amateur historian, and photographer. He was a frequent contributor to the Recorder and still welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.