If you’ve ever read, seen, or observed your children watch “Horton Hears a Who,” then you’ve experienced some level of empathy with the “tiniest of the smallest” doing their best to be noticed. Horton’s stressful and heroic search for a single, flowery puff upon which rested all of Whoville is the perfect metaphor for the power of small things, and just how important they can be. And while JoJo’s last-ditch effort of a well-placed “YOPP” led to the rescue of that tiny population, Horton no-doubt lost some life through the process of his gut-wrenching rescue.
Or, did he? Elephants are known to live longer than other large animals on our planet. And if elephant DNA construction is similar to human linear chromosomes, then…maybe he was RESILIENT. Maybe he lived just as long, or even longer than his peers.
I moved to Ada, Oklahoma almost three years ago. Since that time my life has been in a constant state of unpacking and attempting to shape something that looks like a new life here.
The energy it takes to uproot to a new location far surpassed any prediction I could have made.
But something pushed through my attempts to settle this week…and moved past my daily routine into the work I began with my Every Point on the Map (EPTOM) project.
Yesterday, I ruled out all my files that “weren’t” EPTOM work. Today, I began sorting through what was.
Somewhere in the midst of grappling with the back-to-back mass shootings I began listening to an audio file that was running while we were getting to know those who showed up to play together on March 15, 2016. I started listening and I didn’t stop until I got to our interview segments.
What I realized when I stopped the file was this: for thirty-eight minutes I felt peaceful. I smiled a few times; warmth encompassed me when really all I was listening to was a room full of people who had convened to play music.
For thirty-eight minutes I closed my eyes, reflected back to that night Rachel and I visited Cushing, and felt at peace.
This audio file is background…it was simply meant to be used to capture a minute or two of clips to put into a montage covering our visit.
Instead, I converted it to a file and am giving it to you. So you can know that tonight, in a world where national headlines shake our core, there are places where people walk up the steps of historical home, hug each other, bring food, and play and play and play until they are done.
In case you’d like to skip through to a few numbers that the group was playing, that starts about the 15:00 minute mark. Peace.
The twilight air of December 19, 2015, was cold, clear, and tightened every square inch of my exposed skin. Cyndi Hardesty and I had spoken for a good ten minutes before realizing I had gone to high school with her. My daughter Rachel, who had been wandering down the sidewalk earlier that evening, had chatted with her even longer than I.
Ten minutes prior to this point in time, Rachel had run to our hotel and said, “Mom. There is a really nice lady — she’s cool — down here. She could be our Medicine Park interviewee.”
My daughter stumbled across a high school classmate and had deemed her “cool.”
I thought THAT was cool.
My cold cheeks smiled as I listened to Cydi’s stories while simultaneously managing flash back memories from the late 70s and early 80s. I had been a drum major; she, an energetic twirler. And, thirty years later, we stood together wrapped in the narrative she so generously shared, the blankets and jackets we were wearing, and a sense of familiarity — both of place, and of person.
To those who read this post, the audio quality is unfiltered, and unsupported with the high-density audio file I recorded. After our move, I’m missing data. I panic thinking about it, so I ignore these facts.
Rather, I close my eyes, and send the fragments of our time together your way — so you can know a semblance of the night, the topics, the street side campfires, the spontaneous singing of Elvis, and spontaneous Christmas carols.
And of two girls, now women, who reconnected for a moment in Medicine Park.
Sam Chesnut’s tender demeanor around his horse Traveler never hints at his former life as a police force sniper. Though bald and supported by a cane from various rounds of cancer treatments, Sam’s gentle voice shares story after story about his favorite horse…each one ending with a kiss on Traveler’s large, dark cheek.
It’s as if Sam is energized when in the pasture telling horse tales.
I had asked to visit with Sam and Traveler because I had been touched by their story: a formerly abused horse adopted by a Deputy Sheriff in the Oklahoma County mounted patrol, and their life as they learned to work together.
The relationship of a horse and his owner is time-tested and true, and these two were no different. Their love is deep; and perhaps deeper still these past months and years as Sam’s cancer has posed increasingly complex challenges over what course of treatment or options to try next.
See, here’s the thing. Every Point on the Map is a deeply personal and important project for me, and after “sitting on the bench” for almost a year as I transitioned to our new home in Ada, I needed my own “horse.” I waited and waited for inspiration, but never could settle on the vehicle I needed to carry me the next 8 years to the remaining 80% of Oklahoma’s 594 towns not yet visited.
The waiting ended, however, when I learned that VW was putting out their new three-row SUV and naming it…get this…the Atlas. Get it? Atlas? Every Point on the MAP? As soon as I heard “Atlas,” and learned that it was a quality, roomy, safe vehicle…I knew I had to buy one. But not only did I need to buy the right Atlas, I needed to give it the right name.
That is where Sam’s horse, Traveler, comes into the picture. I come from a long line of family members who named inanimate objects. My grandmother’s family named their tractor Elmer and their car Rupert. My uncle Gail named his truck Henry.
I named my former VW Jetta Luitgaard, German for “guarder of the light.” So, you get it that names are a big deal, yes?
But my new Atlas name had to be perfect. I knew that if I’m going to finish the last 80% of Every Point on the Map, I would be bonding deeply with my vehicle, and we would be “traveling together” for miles upon miles.
So, I went to a noble place, and spoke with a noble man, who’s noble horse gave me the blessing and permission to share his name with my own “horse.”
Knowing my own Traveler is carrying the story of Sam and his horse makes me feel more comfortable. They’ve touched my heart.
And, I hope the stories I find in all our Oklahoma towns touch yours.
When I returned to the U.S. after that trip, “Red Dirt Kelly” officially became “The Red Dirt Chronicles (RDC), a group project of thoughtful Oklahomans who wished to document and share Red Dirt culture, both literally and metaphorically.”
From spiritual reflections to sports to women’s issues to financial information and more, our team cranked out posts for two years. Then suddenly, our entire group all got tired at the same time. Sometimes doing things for free makes it easier to get tired, but that wasn’t the case. We genuinely all reached certain professional pinnacles and pivotal moments in sync.
So we stepped back, took a breather, and rather than let the RDC be put to rest, Oklahoma Horizon TV — or rather, Alisa Hines — utilized this platform to post their video news about Oklahoma, Career Tech stories, and other state-related topics.
Then, I got rested. And Alisa turned the RDC stewardship back to me and a new project I had been thinking about christened Every Point on the Map. Our team of Rachel, April and I completed almost 15% of our goal — what an incredibly incredible journey!
Then, April moved to Texas.
Then, Rachel moved to Boston.
And, sometime in-between, I had moved to Texas for two years but came back to Oklahoma and now live in Ada.
“Wild Ride” doesn’t quite capture the feeling of whiplash I’ve been through this past year.
But I’m still here. And so is the Red Dirt Chronicles. And so is Every Point on the Map. And I’m almost ready to kick off Chapter Two of that project. I’m just waiting on the right vehicle which should be here in a couple of weeks.
Until then, I want to thank all the dear friends we have made along this seven year journey. I feel like the RDC is a big magnet, and everyone who gets close gets collected…and sticks. I don’t feel dragged down by the sticking–it’s as if every time we pick someone up (a reader, a contributor, a story, a supporter), the journey is just that much sweeter.
Within the next week I’ll be sharing some content we haven’t yet published in order to ramp up for our next Every Point Run. The first out of the gate will be our conversation that took place in Cushing at the Tuesday Night Music Club.
Until we start that process, I thought I would give you a little sneak peak of an abbreviated working draft. At the time we visited this group of adorable, deeply devoted musicians, they were in their seventh year as well.
Here’s to the next seven ~ Love, Red Dirt Kelly
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.