Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Art, Stanley Marsh 3 and Oklahoma

The older I get the more I realize how much the world is full of fascinating individuals.  This spring I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico with a group of friends.  On the way back the tour guide amongst us insisted that we stop by the Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo.  I had no idea what she meant but I thought it sounds interesting anyways.

So somewhere in between Santa Fe and Oklahoma I was awakened from a nap and told we were at the Cadillac Ranch.  Much to my surprise I looked out the window to see 10 brightly colored Cadillacs sticking up out of the middle of an old field.  We all gasped in amazement and hurriedly trotted towards this intriguing design.

The dogs that joined us in the car were even more excited perhaps, as they ran forward in anticipation.

Up close each car was its own work of art.  I examined each one, looking at all the different parts of the car and the fabulous colors that made the object "cool."  I soon discovered the bright colors were actually graffiti from different visitors.  I looked around and saw several tourists writing their own names on the cars and taking pictures with them.  A bit later, after the other tourists had left, I noticed a marker they had left behind.  I used it to proudly add my own piece of labeling to the exhibit.  Each of my friends laughed in glee and did the same.

Amongst our group of friends was one guy in particular who works on cars for a living.  While I was fascinated with the human connection and bright colors, he stood back and began telling us of each specific car.  He told about the year make and model and why they changed it and in what way.  The shape of the fins, the tires, the windows, even the seat belt specifics he spouted off.  We each took turns asking the Cadillac guru our own questions, eager for more knowledge of this oddity.

Before we left everyone had to take multiple pictures with multiple types of camera taking technology to ensure we never forgot this mind-opening moment.

Having just taken over the Chamber of Commerce position back home, my mind was reeling with ideas and questions.  I laughed as I pondered asking my Dad to turn one of his fields into a tourist attraction of his hold farm equipment and vehicles.  He would undoubtedly look at me as if I had asked him to put his liver on display.

Our friends discussed later that many people do not enjoy art, or simply do not know how to appreciate and enjoy it.  Specifically in our part of the nation, people are not acclimated to such delicacy.  Our people are raised to work hard and live off of what you have, not asking outside of their means, so the idea of art comes to them as absolutely ridiculous.  Perhaps it started with the territory of Oklahoma.  It was stolen from Indians and returned to them, then opened up for those in need.  Life on the prairie has always been an excruciating task.  Working hard to create food and even harder to get paid doing it is the name of the game.  By the end of the night, all anyone wants to do is sleep before having to do it all again.

Although a lot has changed since the prairie days of Oklahoma, maybe the mindset hasn't.  Our people are here because their ancestors were here, and our ancestors did not teach us to appreciate delicacies.  I think that is why Oklahoma is void of lots of unique culture, and the culture we do possess is not appreciated because of just that--frivolously.  Yet these frivolous expenditures are what keep us sane--or insane, rather, and give us the most joy and open-mindedness.

Currently I struggle with people of this mindset.  They love the idea of kooky and change-oriented, but when it comes to execution fear of ambiguity sits in.  That's why they say artists must be comfortable with the unknown, for that is where creativity lays.

The whole idea of the Cadillac Ranch is obsurd.  And yet it has kept tourists coming for over 30 years and still remains a popular attraction.  The oddity is inspirational and original, something I can't say for many other things on this planet.  The great force behind this creation?  A man named Stanley Marsh 3, who wikipedia deems "an American artist, philanthropist, and prankster from Amarillo, Texas."

What a fun title.  While many adored the man, others criticised him for his pointless art projects.  But hey, if you step out of the boat, your world is sure to get rocked.  Mr. Marsh left the bondage of this world yesterday for natural causes.  His wife of over 40 years survived him, along with lots of children and grandchildren.  Though I never knew him personally, I would like to genuinely salute this man.

I salute him for stepping out of the box, for breaking boundaries, and doing the unexpected.  I salute him for being quirky and weird and passionate and totally and completely himself.  I aim to be there myself one day, but until then I will learn from others.  To find a passionate being is rare, and through a website and a facebook post, I have found one more, so here's to you, Stanley Marsh 3.

May we live in equal pursuit of purpose and passion.


GARDENING IS HARD.  I loathe Barbara Kingsolver (Author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) for making me think otherwise.  I don't think she purposely deceived me, because she plainly describes the backaches and blisters that come from gardening, however her words were so beautiful and inspiring I took that to mean anyone and everyone can be princess Miracle Grow with no problem.

I read this book in January of this year.  I had also watched several food documentaries.  Because this was my interest at the time I became very intrigued by gardening and eating local.   So I bugged my Grandpa (the greenest of them all) and pleaded with him to teach me how to garden.  After months and months of him reminding me how old and unable his body was, he finally caved and we began work on our garden.

The first day of work was fun and interesting--mostly because it was all new to me.  We measured out the rows with bailing wire and metal rods.  Grandpa, my brother and I took turn hoeing, seeding and covering.  Within a couple of hours we had ourselves 4 rows of seeds: 2 okra, 1 squash, and 1 mixture of squash and watermelon.

The second time I went to the garden to work (more than a few days later) I was instructed to hoe the weeds out from around my plants.  While it was too hot for Grandpa to supervise, he sent my Uncle Steven to do so.  We began searching for plants among the weeds, me taking after his lead.  More than once I was diligently pulling weeds from around a plant, careful not to destroy the plant of my main focus, when Steven would laugh hardily and point out that I was nurturing not a plant, but a careless weed.  

When he told my Dad of this common mistake I made I think Dad was a little embarrassed.  Do you not know how to tell a careless weed from an okra plant?  he would ask.

Again and again I worked on getting rid of the weeds, sometimes by myself.  Though I have so desperately been trying to protect the plants and kill the weeds, I can't help but get frustrated at the fact that I'm not confident in being able to tell the difference!  They all just look like plants to me.

I had imagined I would have an inherited green thumb since my Grandpa was the master and my Dad had been farming for as long as he could remember.  But now that I have been working on my own garden I'm starting to realize I don't even begin to have a green thumb, in fact, I feel more like I have an ax-murderer thumb.  Every time I get into the groove of viciously killing weeds, I always stop after a few wacks and nervously wonder if anything I just killed might have been a plant.  

Barbara Kingsolver always talked about how delicately she tended to each plant like a baby.  The reality I have found is that when it's 100-something degrees and your swingin' a hoe around your head while your palms callous and your back aches, the aggression towards weeds overcomes the maternal instinct within you that should be focused on baby plants.  

Yesterday my Dad called me to tell me the garden was a mess and he was disappointed in my work.  I giggled accidentally before he reminded me to come tend to it when I got off work.

When I arrived at the farm Dad and my brother had already put in a back-aching amount of work, uncovering my lost plants and scraping back the weeds.  Together we worked hard to hollow out a circle around each individual plant, then hand water each one.  After about 30 minutes the guys left and I was handed the heavy hoe and instructed on how to properly weed the rest of the garden.

I hoed and I hoed and I hoed and I hoed.  My lower right back would hurt so I would switch my stance until my left lower back hurt.  Back and forth I would go until I covered the 40-or so feet of garden I had claimed.

After an hour had passed my back was covered in sweat and my arms were stiff.  The hair dryer-like Oklahoma wind had kept me covered in dirt and the ground had been brittle and hard to deal with.  As I took off my gloves I noticed two things.  First I noticed the new blisters on top of my old blisters weren't near as big as the previous ones (success!)   Second I noticed that my right hand would not straighten itself.  Both hands ached and so I looked like a baby kangaroo with my limp hands gathered towards my chest in pain.

By the time I reached my mother's dinner table my family looked at my reeking body with disgust and made funny comments about the reddish color of my face.  In return I asked my brother and father if they ever had experiences with their hands cramping up after hoeing.  They looked at me and laughed, accusing me of not working outside enough.

Throughout the entire meal my fork shook the pasta and sausage it held despite my effort to hold it steadily.  In fact, the next morning at breakfast my cereal spoon still had the same effect.

Although it is fun to have an excuse to go to the farm and get dirty, I have had a love-hate relationship with this new adventure I've blindly dove into.  With every complaint I try to equal it with the thoughts of how this will all be worth it when I am enjoying tasty delicious Okra in August.  Unfortunately, I'm not so sure the delight of ingestion is going to be worth the time and effort of care.  I guess we'll have to see.

I have only worked in my garden 4-5 times, but I have already learned three important lessons I wish to share with you.

1. Don't Trust Books. Although I am a writer and avid reader, I feel obligated to put this one out there.  I learn everything I can from books, but I somehow often forget to keep my reading-induced imagination under the reality of things.  Just because you read it, does not mean you are an expert!

2. My generation is lazy.  Although I am a farmer's daughter I have never had to garden or plow and I have always lived within 5 miles of a grocery store.  I've never had to work very hard for my food and I have always had plenty.  Each time I complain about the pain in my back caused from gardening, I imagine how fit and energetic the generations before Wal-Mart must have been.

3. Respect the Growers!  If you are fortunate enough to live near a Farmer's Market I suggest you take great advantage of it.  The amount of work put into local eating and growing is both healthy and beneficial to all involved, and the work load is not something everyone can pull off.  Next time you see that local grower, I suggest falling prostrate in admiration.  
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