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Saturday, 24 July 2010

At the Fair (I): Pie Town


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Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Saying grace before the barbecue at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Library of Congress)



Those who hunger shall be fed, and drink shall come to the thirsty, he said. Here no woman or man stands above another woman or man. The head of the lowest child here brushes against the sky.

From the crest the spine of the land runs out from peak to peak as, unflagging, through the passes, under the huge stars, a grey wolf moves, in pursuit of an exhausted isolated sheep.

Past and present run down and away on both sides. Just before sunrise the world seems to wobble slightly on its axis. The declining clauses in the personal stories -- lost trust and belief, home, job, farm -- mercifully escape under cover of darkness, as fugitive parts from a collapsing sentence. Scrambling down the western slope through scrub juniper and pine, dislodged rocks clattering ahead, while behind to the East, over the top of the ridge, there returns the light.

A timepiece on a chain in a city lawyer's coat pocket. The days go by. Things were lost, we were broken apart and separated. The names of the places where we had once lived stopped bringing back memories. Then again it seemed our own names too were past recollection. Still we found one another, or were found. With nothing left to speak of as our own we were welcomed and accepted. There was something to eat and drink for everyone at the fair.



Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Serving pinto beans at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair barbecue: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Library of Congress)



There are men of a valley who are that valley
, he said. Down there below the children shall be taken.

But we did not wish to hark back. Our original homes were not so pleasant as to make us wish to remember them. The names of the places are but vacant sounds to us now. There is not time for remembering, we can but attend to this day.



Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Homesteader and his children eating barbecue at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Library of Congress)


Grey wolves move in the hills above our homesteads at night. We hear their songs. The New World is already old.

The piñon, sage and juniper. The scrub stands of ponderosa pine, the sharp aromatic air of the Divide, so high above the world.

The hours before dawn when time is a sprung clock, stuck on the instant of concluding the execution of an unremitting contract.



Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Jack Whinery, homesteader, and his family, Pie Town, New Mexico : photo by Russell Lee, October 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Library of Congress)


There are men whose words are as natural sounds without location, lost,



Image, Source: digital file from original transparency

Garden adjacent to the dugout home of Jack Whinery, homesteader, Pie Town, New Mexico : photo by Russell Lee, September 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Library of Congress)


but the natural sounds of the women and their children



Image, Source: digital file from original slide

School is held at Farm Bureau Building, Pie Town, New Mexico: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Library of Congress)



are the sounds of the places they have found.

So you found one another, or were found, with nothing left to speak of as your own you were welcomed and accepted, he says. There was something to eat and drink for everyone at the fair.

Those who have been here a while, though, lingering, seem to wear expressions of concern. Perhaps it's that they fear nothing has actually been promised us. We might not be able to stay on here after all.

Still they walk the roads in the evening, bare headed, hands now and then touching, saying little to one another, as the clouds gather, with the sun going down.



Image, Source: digital file from original slide

Main Street, Pie Town, New Mexico: photo by Russell Lee, October 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Library of Congress)

11 comments:

Sandra (if) said...

so well said...!!

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Yes, "over the top of the ridge there returns the light" (thankfully today here, and even into the world made present in these three looks back at life "At the Fair"). What prompted these, I wonder. . . .

7.24

grey whiteness of fog against invisible
top of ridge, sparrow landing on branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

field of force, acceleration
of space-time continuum

equivalence of systems, mass
equal to mass, which is

grey-white of fog reflected in channel,
wingspan of tern flapping across ridge

Marylinn Kelly said...

Hard times, come again no more. Yet they do.

"A timepiece on a chain in a city lawyer's coat pocket..." and then, "with nothing left to speak of as your own..."

Your words, with the photos and the simple place name, Pie Town, tell such a wrenching story; it is our history, it is us.

Curtis Roberts said...

I wonder what prompted these also and marvel at the way all of the photos in the three pieces seem to come not just from the same time (which they do), but from the same place (which they don't). Steve's poem today hits me hard also ("equivalence of systems, mass equal to mass"). When we're in Tuxedo, we see a big lake every morning (there are two other smaller lakes here also). We have some "bird regulars" (geese and ducks), but our occasional, unexpected visitors (an egret today, some occasional blue herons, the beloved cormorant and, for a while an American bald eagle) really shake things up.

Elmo St. Rose said...

Whose words? Tom Clark's?

The past is prologue.

Tom if you wrote those lines
to accompany the story in
the pictures, you're an even
greater poet than I thought
you were.

TC said...

I've always loved those "basic journalism" questions I was taught when working on the high school newspaper, back during or perhaps just before the Wisconsonian Glaciation.

Elmo asks the Who question. The answer is: yours truly.

Steve asks the Why question. That one's also pretty simple. The pictures in this post are the assigned work of photographers hired by the Farm Security Administration, to document the "look" of a common America still very much in the grip of the late stages of the Great Depression.

Are not the historical issues of the Great Depression relevant to our times?

Then there's the Where. Curtis, these photographers were assigned to cover various parts of the country. Marion Post Wolcott covered the South. Russell Lee covered the Southwest. Jack Delano did New England and parts of the Far West, & c.

This comes round to the What: the great photo work done on this project remains a a little known treasure of this failing nation. Some few of the 100,000 or so b+w shots in the FSA archives have been seen, principally the Dust Bowl work of the great Dorothea Lange (which I have featured previously in posts like Problems of Life: Wittgenstein-- see Contents or Favourites list to find that). The color work on the other hand, is pretty much unknown. I love the brilliant look of the Kodachrome and even more I love the genius in the artistic eye of these photographers, who were the very best people of the time working in this medium.

And they had a tremendous, tragic subject.

The FSA was un-funded and folded in 1942, subsumed into the Office of War Administration, an out and out propaganda service (Charles Olson, among others, worked there).

The FSA photo project, like an earlier project that sent writers out to do books on the various parts of the country in the grip of the deepest period of the Depression, remains one of the great legacies of the New Deal.

The cultural achievements of that administration, and its role in saving the soul of America, are curiously undervalued. I say "curiously" because never more than now has something along those lines been needed. But we're not getting it.

But really, rather than go on further about this, let me just repeat Marylinn's comment. Evidently she understands everything I have just said, without my having to say it again... (Thank you Marylinn!).
___


"Hard times, come again no more. Yet they do.

"'A timepiece on a chain in a city lawyer's coat pocket...' and then, 'with nothing left to speak of as your own...'

"Your words, with the photos and the simple place name, Pie Town, tell such a wrenching story; it is our history, it is us."

TC said...

Some more of the FSA colour work can be found on the post "Meant to be..."

As to the historical period, this clip is part of the recovered cultural memory; b+w photos from the FSA project, among other sources.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Thanks for addressing those five questions and yes, as the song says, "hard time, hard times, come again no more" (or so we wish). And yes Curtis, the cormorant "really shake[s] things up" ---

7.25

grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, red-tailed hawk calling in right
foreground, no sound of wave in channel

physical part of the present,
even when it was called

this point, that coincidence,
flattened color support

grey-white of fog reflected in channel,
cormorant flapping across toward point

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

"I say "curiously" because never more than now has something along those lines been needed. But we're not getting it."

I, for one, for a brief little while, thought we might actually get something akin to it, in the limited recent period of true hope ...

We are losing the thread of these memories which is one reason that posts like this are so vital. Dare we hope (that word again) that they will be archived and others, from new generations, will understand them for what they were, what they are, and what they imply?

"The head of the lowest child here brushes against the sky."

Curtis Roberts said...

For a long time, we lived on East 86th Street in Manhattan near the East River and would jog early in the morning on the esplanade that runs down to Sutton Place. Every morning the lone East River cormorant was our companion. Eventually, someone wrote a small story in the Metro section of New York Times about him. He was a remarkable creature and deserved a longer article.

TC said...

"...a period of true hope..."

"We are losing the thread of these memories..."

It is out of a place between this hope and this sense of loss that this post arises.

For it to be noticed would be to honour a great deal of the struggle of an earlier America that has been largely forgotten, and is worth remembering.