“Clean lines, compelling color palettes, refined sense of balance, and the greatest subject matter on earth.” Thoughts like these run through my mind as I work my way through Audrey Dodgen’s portfolio.
An editorial and commercial photographer who calls Oklahoma her home, Dodgen describes a gravitational pull that seems to draw her back to our state, regardless of where she goes walkabout for a period of time.
“I was born and raised here, and while I’ve lived other places, I keep coming back here. It’s not perfect, but it’s my home, and I love it like no other place,” she wrote during a social media discussion.
A sense of place, the air of familiarity, the peace that recaptures your soul when return home…emotions paralleling these phrases are interlaced within Dodgen’s images. Perhaps most especially a collection entitled “HOME” she has been recently compiling.
If you’ve ever longed to stop your vehicle, breach a barbed wire boundary, and walk among sweet, freshly cut hay bales, her shots have captured that experience for you.
If you’ve ever driven I-40 across downtown Oklahoma City and wished you had time, or the right equipment, to photograph the Scissortail of Skydance Bridge, no need. She’s done that for you with a degree of perfection I could certainly not reach.
And, if you, like Dodgen, ever leave Oklahoma and need a piece of “home” to take with you, her website can most likely fix you right up.
Nice work, Audrey Dodgen. Thanks for standing under our big sky and taking it all in.
The blades on Lee Blackketter’s road grader scrape, groom and maintain sixty miles of dirt and gravel across eastern Roger Mills County. We traveled along ten or twelve of those miles just to find him, following his wife who was driving their truck across the sage-covered tundra of mid-north central Oklahoma.
I resort to hyphenated approximates when describing our whereabouts because, truly, that’s the best I can do. If it weren’t for our guide to lead us there, and then lead us out, our team might still be driving in circles on Lee’s smoothly finished roads.
Donita Blackketter, a childhood classmate of mine, had cooked us breakfast early that morning after we had spent the night in a converted nursing home-turned-hotel. A master of her home kitchen, we sat around the island and watched her work at hyper-speed, juggling orange juice smoothies and eggs like an acrobat. Our team agreed that her home-prepared breakfast was equal to or better than anything we’d had on the road since we began the project.
The ambassadorship of Western Oklahomans is immense, just like the vistas of sky, farmland and red-tinged gravel roads within the sparsely populated areas of Roger Mills and Dewey Counties. Donita didn’t have to lead us along the rural byway twists and turns to her husband’s location, but she did. And talking with him made me realize one theme I’ve heard over and over: farmers — men like Lee Blackketter, and women like Donita — are people of multiple trades.
They’re also full of meek unobtrusiveness. Lee shared one story the “old timers” had shared with him, that stuck with him, and that stuck with me. He said that the Oklahomans who left that area for California during the Great Depression “left in the middle of the night because they were ashamed to show their faces.”
“Because they owed, you know, it probably wasn’t five-hundred dollars, a lot of ’em, but they were ashamed to show their face, and they’d leave in the middle of the night.”
Our 2016 world is so different.
Lee has welded his way through approximately 20 workshops or buildings and miles of iron fence rows, a trade he kept fresh from his high school ag classes years ago. He purchased a tire machine to fix flats produced by the hazards of their context. He farms. He is trained in vegetation management, an additional component of his county road maintenance position. He’s a father and a husband.
He does what he needs to “to get by.”
And for sixty years, the geographical niche wherein we found he and his road equipment, is where he has called home.
We were standing at the counter of 116 Farmstead Market & Table on soft open day. Nestled between several historical downtown Luther, Okla. structures, the new business was populated with the owners, their children, the store manager, and several walk-ins who had come with well-wishes to “see what they’ve done with the place.”
Q: When you stand in 116 Farmstead Market & Table, sun shining, breezes blowing through the new store, what goes through your mind?
It’s difficult to quantify what it means to see my wife, kids, Angela, friends and family gathered together at 116. Sometimes it diminishes things to define them. I’ll try [to quantify]:
I saw people serving one another literally and figuratively. I saw neighbors treating others as they want to be treated – kindness, sharing, love. I heard the stories of people who had lived in Luther all their lives trying their best in 15 minutes to sum up what it meant for them to grow up in that place.
For us, it isn’t so much a philosophical proposition as it is a spiritual one. The purpose of 116 is to nourish soul through body. You likely experience this as an educator with your students, although your experience is nourishment of soul through mind. It’s the same thing in my thinking. I experience it in my law practice, parents experience it in parenting their children, and on. This may be getting too esoteric, but it really is the purpose behind 116. We seek to [meet] a community need, which is a place to eat and buy groceries, but the purpose is simply to create a space for people to intersect and share their stories. If we are ambassadors, then 116 is our embassy.
Q: I understand you’re open Tuesday through Saturday, and your grand opening is coming up soon. What information would you like others to know about your store or what to expect?
The full open for 116 will be Saturday, June 4. Store hours will be: Tues-Fri, 7-3 and Sat., 8-5. We will modify these as we learn the needs of the community. Angela Hilliard is the manager (there is a great story behind how our paths crossed and other cool intricacies to how she joined us, but I’ll save that for the first Luther Speaks event).
The goal is to provide locally grown or produced meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. Of course, there are a number of items not produced locally, such as coffee and tea, so we use local roasters and wholesalers for these items. We want to tell the story of the farms and farmers/ranchers who produce these items.
As producers of all natural beef, we never get tired of sharing what is a daily work with those for whom we produce food. We believe we were created from dirt, are tasked with caring for the dirt, and want to share that story with others. The 116 is our attempt to provide a beautiful space for that story to be told.
Wendell Berry once said that ‘eating is an agricultural act;’ he called it an ‘annual drama.’ The 116 Farmstead Market and Table is a stage for that drama to be shown and told, from the Market where producers’ products and stories are shared, to “Luther Speaks” nights, which are opportunities (think: Moth Radio Hour but Luther style) to tell stories about the land, the people, and what they produce together.
The Table is a chance to enjoy a seasonal menu of breakfast and lunch items made from what is sold in the Market.
It seems culture tells us we can have everything all the time, which we know can’t be true. It is true, though, that we are all tied by place. Today was a great experience of that truth – from the Luther High Class of 1960 to those who had never been to Luther before…everyone has a story to tell and the 116 is a place to slow down and share those stories.
Social media is great for information, but connection really happens over a cup of coffee or sharing a meal face to face, spilling drinks, seeing people’s kids run around without pants on, looking at beautiful works of art, slowing down for a moment. This isn’t pretending life is all okay; it is reconnecting if but for a moment to place, and toil, and dirt.
Please plan a trip down highway 66 to visit the 116 Farmstead Market & Table. Please take the time to sit, connect and enjoy your time with the good folks who are creating this shared community story with their new business; spend time looking through all the elements on the mural hanging over their door. Make sure to ask about their 2nd floor space, and event areas. Read much more information than I can share by visiting their website. And by all means, find out when the first “Luther Speaks” event will take place so we can all attend and listen.
But more than anything, take moments to “nourish your soul and your body,” when visiting 116, and every day. I’m pretty sure we all want that for you.
Faith Phillips is an author who resides in Proctor, Oklahoma. An attorney by profession, she left her job and metropolitan life to return home and craft her first novel: Ezekiel’s Wheels (2012).
Faith occasionally pens her thoughts on Facebook and I felt they should be shared with more than her social network.
So there we were, see, one night in a cabin deep in the woods somewhere between Miami and Wyandotte, OK, sitting in the living room recording her anecdotes while the rest of our Every Point team was enjoying the cool night air on the porch. In the middle of our recording session, a whippoorwill got so close we captured its call and added those haunting sounds to her introduction.
All told, there are about thirty recorded musings and we look forward to hearing them on public radio very soon…or perhaps here too.
April 10, 2015 marked the day of my last “Every Point on the Map” feature compiled by our original two-person team. Reaching this small milestone felt good. To celebrate, I sent a text message to Rachel and April with several exclamation marks.
We have changed since our pilot run, as much by the lives we have encountered as by the information gathering and relationship building process.
Reflecting on my own personal change, I’ve noticed something different about myself compared to last year: I’m not afraid to ask people for conversations any longer. I used to feel sheepish. I even wrote once, “I don’t want to step on their daisies.” Continue reading Every Point, Part Two, Team of Three→
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.