Home­grown sto­ry­telling

Stan­ley Craw­ford’s Vil­lage

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Jen­nifer Levin I The New Mex­i­can

Stan­ley Craw­ford, a writer and farmer from Dixon, New Mex­ico, has a quiet voice in per­son and in print. He spoke in his mea­sured way with Pasatiempo about his new novel, Vil­lage (Leaf Storm Press), which cov­ers a day in the life of the tiny en­clave of San Marcos. The nar­ra­tive wan­ders from one res­i­dent to another, end­ing at a meet­ing at the high school, ar­ranged by out­siders, con­cern­ing wa­ter rights. Vil­lage is more char­ac­ter­driven than plot-ori­ented, and what could be a chaotic ca­coph­ony of in­te­rior mus­ings is, in Craw­ford’s deft hands, a well-tuned cho­rus of di­verse voices. Among them are the gro­cery and gas-sta­tion owner and his busy­body wife; an of­ten be­fud­dled An­glo toy­maker and his un­happy girl­friend; a va­ri­ety of lo­cal teenagers; the old­est man in town; a patho­log­i­cally nosy post­mas­ter; and the may­or­domo of the lo­cal ace­quia. The book is set in the early 1990s, and the in­vented lo­cale of San Marcos is an amal­gam of small North­ern New Mex­ico vil­lages — a more ec­cen­tric place than Dixon, where Craw­ford and his wife, Rose­Mary, have lived since the late 1960s, run­ning El Bosque Gar­lic Farm.

“I con­sider this a gen­tly satir­i­cal novel, so you might say it’s an ex­ag­ger­ated ver­sion of not-ex­act­lyDixon, but some­thing close to it,” Craw­ford said.

After a brief but high-pay­ing ca­reer as a tech­ni­cal writer, Craw­ford left the United States as a young man to write and travel in Europe for five years. He met Rose­Mary, who is from Aus­tralia, in Crete, and the cou­ple even­tu­ally fol­lowed a painter they knew to Cal­i­for­nia in 1968. They came to New Mex­ico a year or so later, when their friend be­came a fol­lower of spir­i­tual teacher Ram Dass and moved to the Lama Foun­da­tion near Taos. “It felt like the world was fall­ing apart at the time, like it feels now,” Craw­ford said. “I wanted to be less de­pen­dent on large sys­tems, and grow­ing a gar­den was part of that. The gar­den got big­ger and big­ger.” At the end of the 1970s, he gave up his part-time teach­ing gig at what is now North­ern New Mex­ico Col­lege, and has been able to, with some fluc­tu­a­tion, make a liv­ing as a grower of gar­lic. In 1988 he re­ceived the Western States Book Award for Creative Non­fic­tion for May­or­domo: Chron­i­cle of an Ace­quia in North­ern New Mex­ico (Univer­sity of New Mex­ico Press); he pub­lished the mem­oir A Gar­lic Tes­ta­ment: Sea­sons on a Small New Mex­ico Farm (HarperCollins) in 1992. His more re­cent nov­els in­clude The Canyon, Seed, and In­ti­macy.

Craw­ford reads from Vil­lage at Col­lected Works Book­store on Thurs­day, April 20. He be­gan writ­ing the book more than 20 years ago. “It was when I was deeply in­volved in the vil­lage, may­or­domo of one ace­quia and on the com­mis­sion of the largest ace­quia in town, and of course, all the ace­quias in town are con­nected when wa­ter’s tight, so you get to know ev­ery­body in dif­fer­ent ways. I was in and out of maybe half the houses in Dixon for var­i­ous rea­sons. So, the novel started out as kind of a love let­ter to the vil­lage.”

But he strug­gled with how to re­solve the plot, which at the time ex­tended over two days in­stead of one. “I’d got­ten through most of day one, and then I thought, ‘What am I go­ing to do for day two, for heaven’s sake?’ ” Frus­trated, he put the draft away and, over time, for­got that he had writ­ten more than a cou­ple of chap­ters. He re­dis­cov­ered it a few years ago, re­al­ized how easy it would be to ad­just the story’s time frame, and de­cided to fin­ish what had now be­come a piece of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. He chose not to move it for­ward in time be­cause he would have had to in­cor­po­rate a quar­ter-cen­tury’s worth of history and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances. “Things have got­ten re­ally very messy since 2001. I think leav­ing it in that time pe­riod was a use­ful sim­pli­fi­ca­tion in terms of the global con­text.”

Viet­nam veter­ans are just hit­ting mid­dle age in Vil­lage, porno­graphic movies must be or­dered through the mail, and the town mar­ket does not

ac­cept credit cards. In­stead, lo­cals run up a tab, forc­ing store-owner Onésimo Moro to con­stantly ha­rangue them to pay their debts, adding to his gen­eral dis­dain for cus­tomers — and to theirs for him. The may­or­domo, Lázaro Quin­tana, is full of aches and pains — bodily sen­sa­tions that he be­lieves di­rectly cor­re­late to the sticks, mud, and trash that block the flow of wa­ter through the ir­ri­ga­tion ditches. The toy maker, Porter Clapp, is a one-time draft dodger who lives off the grid, and de­pends on his girl­friend, Stephanie, to han­dle the ad­min­is­tra­tive as­pects of their life to­gether, which in­cludes her two ado­les­cent chil­dren. He is wor­ried about the wa­ter meet­ing in ways that seem only loosely con­nected to his own life. It can be dif­fi­cult to tell if Porter is para­noid, lazy, or just hav­ing a rough day.

“For Porter Clapp there was a mo­ment in the af­ter­noon be­fore which it seemed al­ways a lit­tle too early to un­der­take ma­jor tasks but after which it was then sud­denly too late for more than mi­nor ones. A change in light or tem­per­a­ture or the first stir­rings of hunger usu­ally an­nounced the di­vid­ing line be­tween too early and too late, a nar­row band of time that on some days seemed to last only sec­onds,” Craw­ford writes. “He won­dered whether he should put on the elec­tric heater. Now that it was too late, that would de­pend on whether he was just vis­it­ing his work­shop, to check in for a few min­utes, or whether he might ac­tu­ally straighten up his tools be­fore call­ing it a day.”

Craw­ford de­scribed Porter as “a more bum­bling ver­sion of my­self,” and Porter’s neigh­bor Len Mott, who owns a land­scap­ing busi­ness with his wife, Car­rie, as “based on my most ef­fi­cient, ra­tio­nal side.”

The women in Vil­lage are as vivid as the men, the His­panic char­ac­ters as com­plex as the An­g­los, and the adults are gen­er­ally as confused as the teenagers, though far more ex­hausted by the daily de­mands of life. The com­mu­nity is con­cerned about wa­ter rights, even as most res­i­dents know that these meetings of­ten amount to noth­ing, but ev­ery­one has his or her own rea­son for want­ing to at­tend or avoid them. Craw­ford ex­poses all of them with the light and wit of his pen. When Craw­ford was first writ­ing Vil­lage, the gen­eral sense in lit­er­ary cir­cles was that white male writers should avoid writ­ing from the point of view of women or peo­ple of color. But to write about North­ern New Mex­ico with­out His­panic char­ac­ters has al­ways seemed im­pos­si­ble to Craw­ford, since to leave them out would be to omit the soul and history of the set­ting.

“The ques­tion used to bother me, but the cul­tural dis­cus­sion has shifted over the years, and it is now seen as our re­spon­si­bil­ity to rep­re­sent peo­ple who haven’t been rep­re­sented enough by white writers. I can’t claim to be born here or be from a His­panic fam­ily, but my house is built from adobe bricks, I took up farm­ing, and I’ve been ac­tive with the ace­quias. I’ve tried to be­come New Mex­i­can. Be­sides,” Craw­ford added — re­fer­ring to The Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguen­tine, a novel he pub­lished in 1971 — “the best thing I ever wrote was from a woman’s point of view.”


Top to bot­tom, Stan­ley Craw­ford with dogs Te­soro and Tip­pie, at home, and with the gar­lic har­vest; all photos Don Us­ner

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