What are you doing? This is the rather direct question my husband was asked by a stubbly-faced fellow riding shotgun in a white Chevy Suburban this past weekend.
We were in the tiny mining town of Hayden, Ariz., – specifically so I could photograph this once-vibrant town nestled at the base of the Mescal Mountains. I was on the other side of the street, caught up in my own reverie as I snapped photos of an abandoned United Methodist Church that I was sure still held a lifetime of memories, sorrowful and joyful, both.
As I walked away from the church toward my husband, I heard the man continue his questioning. “Who are you? Why are you taking pictures?” he asked, rather defensively.
From across the street, I made out a few additional mumbles, as well as my husband’s response, “Well, I don’t know Dr. Wilkes. No, we don’t work for anyone.”
By the time I reached the side of the old truck, circa 1990, I saw the gangly, hollow-cheeked man who clutched a weekly circular in his hands and balanced a 12-pack of Fiesta soda in his lap. The driver next to him eyed us with suspicion before lighting his cigarette with a wooden match.
Apparently “Dr. Wilkes” owns all the abandoned buildings in the area, and our interrogator “works on them.”
Finally satisfied that hubby’s jean shorts, my running shorts and our t-shirts didn’t appear to be the attire of ‘official photographers’ or ‘inspectors’ of some sort, the men drove away. And I have to admit I was a little miffed by the intrusion. I was in an artistic mood and didn’t appreciate being shaken from it. It’s a free country. I can take pictures if I like, flittered through my head as I continued to photograph the desolate street.
With each photo I took, though, I started to think about the interaction with the men. These locals were simply proud of their little town, despite the abandoned buildings and the town’s freefall into economic decline. They felt a sense of ownership, maybe even a sense of kinship with their hard-knocks town.
Their pride – their overprotectiveness of this once-bustling main street that is now ghostly and empty – really hit me. One sweep of the eyes up and down this road illustrates their dedication to keeping it clean, nearly vandalism-free, and presentable. Maybe it’s also testament to their appreciation of the mining town’s tough history, its survival instincts.
And their actions, their reactions to us … well, they spoke the loudest of all. This was still their town.
For Writers: As writers, I think we can learn a lesson or two about pride and protectiveness. We must be equally protective of our writing projects, champions of our own cause. Proud. If we don’t believe in our words – and work at them, polishing them, cleaning them up, making them presentable, preserving their meaning – how do we expect to land an agent? Get a publishing contract … tell our story? In what ways can you honor your own work? Do you think it’s important to do so?
NOTE: MORE PHOTOS AT RIGHT- I couldn’t fit all of the photos from this trip onto this post (without driving you batty). If you’re interested in seeing more, click the Twitpic box at right for additional photos of Hayden and nearby mining town, Winkleman.
P.S. I’m also guest posting at Brava this week, with the wonderfully generous New York Times bestselling author, Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt). Please stop by if you get a chance. My post focuses on using photos to ignite creativity in your writing!