Stanley Crawford’s Village
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.”
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. STANLEY CRAWFORD
Top to bottom, Stanley Crawford with dogs Tesoro and Tippie, at home, and with the garlic harvest; all photos Don Usner