Levi and Amanda: My Newest Old Friends

I was going to write about the amazing church I went to last Sunday, or how much I love driving into San Cristobal, off the pavement, past two cattle guards and over a narrow bridge and I’m home.

I thought about writing about how much I love making a fire for myself, even when it’s a multi-stage act of prayer, because I feel like after all of my years of longing I’m finally getting a titch of my Little House on the Prairie dream. Or about how I actually love how my phone doesn’t ring at the cabin and I wonder (and worry) about how I’ll ever go back to all the noise and chatter.

I considered about writing about my new writing group and how I can’t believe now—after three weeks—that I ever doubted it would be a good thing for me. They tell me my writing is engaging, snappy, confident and—my favorite—honest. I adore these people for their passion for writing, their compassion for others, and their stories.

But I decided had to write about Levi and Amanda.

There are the people you know forever—they make your heart tick and skip and weep—and then there are the people you know for two days.  My friend Geoff recently embarked on an ambitious project to write tributes for sixty-seven people (in four days!) who meant a lot to him and who’d influenced his life. The second line of mine is, “I thought I knew all the people I wanted to meet.”

I love it. Sometimes I think I hardly don’t  have time to visit and spend quality time with all of the people I already miss and love, how could there possible be room for more? But then I meet Levi and Amanda.

The first morning I was doing my usual—drinking coffee and sitting outside in my favorite early morning spot of sun—when Levi popped out of his cabin. I knew people were coming in to the cabin next door, and quite frankly, I wasn’t excited. Will they be loud? Obnoxious? Irritating? I’ve become protective of this space and my routine in it. I enjoy the quiet.

But I liked Levi out of the gate. He’s a farmer in Maine, and has a CSA. He farms land that his grandfather, who came from Holland to Maine in 1950 to build boats in Bath, left to him. Grandpa’s name meant “beekeeper” in Dutch and he lived up to it. Levi’s business cards for Center Pond Farm boast a honeybee, and though he doesn’t keep bees yet it’s in the farm’s future plans.

I appreciate Levi’s tribute to his grandpa, and his connection to the past; none of us would be here without them. Fact. Levi’s only been farming for three years and this year is the first time he hasn’t had to have a fulltime job off the farm. I barely knew the guy yet I told him I was proud of him.

Levi and I did a lot of chatting before Amanda emerged and then I got to hear her story. She works at a foreign exchange student organization; she didn’t study abroad herself but there was an interesting story why and it came full circle for her. This is a story she’s told before, but it wasn’t tired or worn out: it was authentic, just like her.

We connected immediately on my adventures living in Honduras and my “full cultural immersion” experience which I boil down—because I’ve told the story before too— to bullet points: I started a business, bought a house, and dated a native. She laughs.

I get one laugh and all of a sudden I’m doing standup at open mike night. I take a few risks, it’s going well, then something comes out of my mouth unfiltered, “The ranch supply store in Missoula has a sign that says, “Behind every successful rancher is a woman who works in town’” and as the words come out I felt then leaving but couldn’t stop them. I saw stars and hoped for the best. At least they’re only here for two more days. How much could they hate me for two days?

“Ha! Can you get me one of those?” Amanda asks, Levi laughs, I’m in the clear.

We talk and talk and talk. But they have sights to see and I have writing to do. We part.  I saw Amanda briefly that evening as I was leaving to go meet a friend and they were walking down to the fields to watch the sun set.

The next morning we chatted again, this time like old friends catching up. “What happens if you don’t finish your book,” Amanda asked, just like an old friend who can get away with a question like that. I paused, caught my breath, “It’s just not an option,” I told her. “I plan to finish it here, but if it’s not here it will be somewhere else. But, really, I’m going to finish it here.” Like a friend with a stake in your happiness, Amanda told me she has no doubt I’m going to finish it, especially because it sounds like a story the world needs to hear and I’m obviously compelled to tell it.

Can you say girl crush?

They had a busy day of activities and I had a long list of errands before my massage and writing workshop. I loaned them yak trax and ski poles for their hike, and told them to just leave them next to my woodpile if we didn’t cross paths again. I wondered if it was goodbye, but we just offered “See ya later. Have fun!”

Williams Lake, where Levi and Amanda went before they went back to the hot springs in the gorge of the Rio Grande and  to check out the earthships.


I got home after nine hours in town. I really try to maximize the trip whenever possible and I actually made it through my errand list and to my appointments on time. On time. If you know me then you also now believe in miracles. The only thing I didn’t have time for was taking Lucky for a proper walk, so he crashed the workshop. He was naughty for an almost eleven-year-old boy. He sniffed everyone (one woman had a biscuit in her pocket), snuggled his face into everyone’s lap, and put his chin up on the table between each of us. He drank from the toilet (my fault) and acted like a pup. “Don’t make eye contact with him,” I finally said; he’ll settle down. And he did:


My propane heater was on the blink, and after so many hours away the cabin was freezing. I was hungry and had a screaming headache. And then there was a knock on my door. I wasn’t sure if I should be scared or irritated; I wasn’t expecting anyone at 10:00pm. “Hello?” I said. “It’s Levi,” he responded. Oh. Thank. Goodness.

I opened the door and he had arms full of eggs, butter, half & half and a lighter—all welcome, useful things. “I love butter!” I squealed, “I put it on everything.” {it’s true.} He laughed. He came in and we chatted about their last day in the area. They really sucked the marrow out of this place hard core and I loved hearing about it.

They were getting up at 4:00am to drive to Albuquerque for their flight back to Maine, so it was time to say goodbye. “I’m going to miss you guys,” I said, sort of out of nowhere although the truth is it came from my heart and as hard as it can be to speak from a place of vulnerability it’s usually worth it.

We hugged and Levi said, “We’re going to miss you too!”  This surprised me. I mean, I’m here, often alone, tapping away at this keyboard sometimes for days on end; it makes sense I would miss my friendly, temporary neighbors. But they miss me? Some wacky writer girl who gave them a few tips? But I’ve been on the vacationing end, too, and I get it.

I don’t even have a phone at the cabin and sometimes the only voice I hear is my own telling Lucky how cute he is and how much I love him and within our three hundred square feet it gets old—I can say with certainty—for both of us. Our outside world is big. We walk, we run, we feed chickens, we turn our faces to the sun. But the fact is: I get hungry for conversation.

Levi and Amanda were a distraction, but a very welcome one. I enjoyed the exchanges and hearing something first thing in the morning besides my clicking and myself.

“Come visit us in Maine,” Levi said, “We have a guest room…” And I trust he said this knowing I don’t really have anywhere to be and don’t (physically) have any idea where I’m going. “Awesome! I’d love to get to New England this summer and I’d love to get my hands dirty. I’ll help out on the farm!” {despite the headache and the hunger and the frigid cabin I really did speak with all of those exclamations.}

I didn’t have a chance to tell Levi and Amanda about my inner Wendell Berry, who was my first real writer-crush. Laura Ingalls Wilder was my first, but I was just a child then. Berry is a standup guy. He is a poet, essayist, farmer and human who I admire for his willingness to speak up on controversial issues and I’m grateful I got to shake his hand once at a book event in San Francisco. But anyway…I didn’t tell Levi and Amanda that. Amanda had already friended me on Facebook that morning, and Levi had given me his honeybee business card. This was surely not the end.

These are not friends for two days; these are the friends you know for two days and hope to know forever. As Amanda said, “I’d really like to continue this conversation.”

Oh me too, new friend, me too. We have lots to talk about.

A Day in Questa and a Faux-Fur Coat!

So I’m hanging my hat these days in San Cristobal, New Mexico, which is about halfway between Taos and Questa, with the Taos Ski Valley being another point of the triangle. These are all dramatically different worlds, and I’m the monkey in the middle.

Until yesterday I hadn’t spent much time in Questa. Five weeks ago when I was on my way to the cabin, Questa was the last spot of civilization that I hit. Then I arrived at the Huxley Cabin, which wasn’t what I expected though it turned out to be just what I needed. {love.}

It was a love-hate with Questa upon first sight. It was dark that night–my head ached from whiplash, my eyes throbbed with all the uncertainty–and I couldn’t see much. I saw bars and gas stations with hand-lettered signs. I saw gated up shops, bars on windows, dogs in the street, and a lot of busted up pickups. I felt like I’d departed my country, and because I was deep into writing a memoir largely about living in Honduras it seemed appropriate, but wrong. Not what I wanted, but just what I needed. 

Since then I’d gone up to the Family Dollar and the Questa Supermarket, and another time drove through. I tried to go to church there once, but got the schedule wrong. Yesterday I decided to get a little deeper into Questa, and man I’m glad I did.

I went to the Questa Credit Union to see if they are in the Co-Op network with Missoula Federal Credit Union. They’re not, but the ladies were so nice and gave me a lollipop anyway. It’s a darling place, hand painted sign and all:



I went to the Family Dollar (score!) but after that I wasn’t sure what to do. The town was sort of alive because of Valentine’s Day, and a shop advertised flowers and crafts. They sell ice, art, jewelry, drinks, firewood, snacks, and showers. Sounds like my kind of store! It didn’t look open, but they did say they had roses and had hung a Valentine decoration on the window. “What’s the worst that could happen,” I thought, but before I went in I took a shot (from the car as you can see) of the outside of that shop.


Now, I’ve stumbled upon some awesome music since I’ve been here, but when I walked into Rael’s shop I was stunned—there was a craft fair going on, chili and baked goods for shoppers, and a guy playing guitar. When I opened the door he was playing Bob Seger’s “Still the Same” and a lovely woman named Patsy Archuleta said, “Hi Honey!” And I jumped right in. {what a song, what a welcome.}

Patsy is a painter who has moved into making jewelry. She shows her paintings at a shop on the plaza in Taos, but had a binder with photos of her oil paintings. Patsy’s good! Better than good, really. I wish I could link you to her website but she doesn’t have one.  She paints images of the Southwest, including a lot of the area churches. She wants to get up to twelve so she can do a calendar. She started doing the jewelry because her dad is in an old folks home and hauling paintings back and forth was unreasonable. This is a lady committed to her craft. Most of stuff was too flashy for me, but I bought a pair of earrings she made from an old concha belt. “The turquoise in the middle is real,” she told me, “But not the rest of it. Ten bucks?” Sold, Patsy.


I also fell in love with a turquoise and mother of pearl necklace, but that vendor wasn’t present so I had a chance to meet Cynthia, the owner of the shop. “Twenty bucks,” she said, “No tax.” I told her I’d come from Montana and we don’t have sales tax there, so thanks. She asked me to sit with her and have a complimentary cup of coffee in the living room area of the shop, and I’m no fool.


I told her I loved the rug, but it wasn’t for sale. While I was there two people asked to buy some of her father’s memorabilia in the back corner (cash register, card filing cabinet) and also, “Not for sale.” If you need anything for your Kodak 100—including a flipflash—Cynthia might be able to hook you up.


She asked me where I’m living and how I like it and I said, honestly, “I love it,” which was not a surprise to me but it felt good saying it out loud. She asked when I arrived and when I told her, she said, “Oh! It must have been terrible arriving when it was so cold.” And that made me feel like less of a wimp. Win.

We talked about my book and she showed me her father’s book. She couldn’t give me her last copy, but said she’ll print more. Then she showed me another book—Treasure of My Valley—by Lucia Vallejos Gonzales—a local writer who is apparently a real trip and writes exactly like she speaks. I was sold when I read the back:

“I wanted to write this story for the next generation, about being conservative, about conserving for a needy time, about learning the hard way, about learning by doing. That you can’t get everything or that you get something through hard work and being a little stingy. We didn’t have help. We learned to tackle things ourselves. Success for us was to save. We learned about saving, about not using everything. About recycling. We didn’t throw anything away. I mean anything. I think that’s hard for this generation to understand. We recycled everything, clothes, food. We were self-reliant. We asked for the help of God. We accepted everything. It was a good experience having nothing.”


Then Cynthia husband, Armando, and grandson, Robert, came into the shop. Armando told me the easy way into Cabresto Canyon, but only after he’d already told me the tricky way to get there. I guess he decided he liked me. Robert was the show stealer of the day:


Then Patsy gave me a copy of February’s menu for the senior center.

It was awesome at Rael’s and I felt good contributing to Questa’s local economy. I stopped at the grocery story, which is pretty awesome for a miniature grocery.




Making good use of the space–a car next to produce!


Hooter’s hot sauce doesn’t belong here!

…and then one last stop at a thrift shop. You know, just to see. I guess I’d paid it forward and the good luck was already coming back to me, because I scored a faux-fur coat from Marshall Field’s for $5. And it just so happens I have a dress-up party to go to tonight in the Ski Valley and it’s going to be cold. It doesn’t close, but it wraps around and it has a hood. I love hoods.

Speaking of hoods…I couldn’t pass up these shots on my way home.