Has the world always been in overfire? Like my wood stove after I stoke it with well-seasoned cedar and pine, hefty logs on top of crisp sheaths of aspen kindling. I pile those atop a foundation of twigs that I obsessively collect from my yard throughout the year.

The girls hated when I shouted ‘pine cone, twig patrol’ and required them to join me, or go out on their own, and collect the seemingly tons of debris fallen from our couple dozen Ponderosa pine trees. Always spitting at us, those trees.


And whoosh. One match to my pyre in the wood stove and big hot flames. The thermometer on the chimney goes beyond the red line in minutes. Seven hundred. Eight. Nine hundred degrees. Damper down. Heat for hours.

This comes to mind, yesterday, listening as I did to four Flagstaff community members who sat on a panel at a cultural diversity event. Three of them in their seventies, and they told their stories about this town. I thought about my woodstove and overfire. Stoke it right and there’s heat for hours. Overdo it and there’s trouble. In Flagstaff, we apparently stoked the ethnic diversity fire just right, as these folks would tell it. A black woman. A gay woman. A Mexican man. A Chinese man. Positive. Encouraging. Warm.

Flagstaff. This comfy little (but growing swiftly) mountain town of 64,000. Populated originally, as most of our country was, by Native Americans. Navajo, Hopi, Anasazi. All who honor and love the little mountain range.  “The Peaks.” A small mountain grouping that gives this town its fame, its beauty. It was one big volcano at one point in time. Its explosion afforded us the lava tubes, the cinder pits, wondrous boulders, and, needless to say, the mountain outline used in logos across the region. Even tattoos. Like my daughter’s. (Photo coming soon, in the mean time, from http://mollyawoods.com/flagstaff1/ for the City of Flagstaff).

This town that drew the lumber business, and then the railroad,  was ‘pioneered’ by white folks who have made up the majority of the population for generations.

But these representatives of the minority population spoke of cultural strength. How that strength is built from within families, from hard work, from giving back. They all remember issues. “But everyone has issues,” Steve Wong said easily. None of them came to this community event – attended by mostly white people – with resentment or fear or hatred or bitterness. They love Flagstaff, they love the lives they have had here. Community is what makes life better.

While the rest of the world seems to stay in overfire, unable to put the damper down or control the heat just to get the warmth, this little town acts like my woodstove. Warming the house just right. Can this idyllic situation be real?

Surely there are troubles, have been, and most certainly not all stories have a chorus of peaceful race and gender relations. This town, like others, has seen its share of bigotry and prejudice. Maybe not riots, but certainly brawls and violence and crime. But now we have a black female mayor. Maybe we can be a guiding light, a model, for the rest of the globe. Love your community, give back to it, be kind.

And pray, Shirley Sim, the older black woman of the panel, told us. Going forward with the new president elect, she was asked what she’ll do. “I will pray,” she said, as easily as she would say ‘I will breathe.’

When I listen to this, I wonder why my hair itches.

“My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”
Anais Nin

It is not the issues or lack of peace and beauty of this town, that is for sure. I duly love this place.

But it is growing. rapidly. Granted it can’t go wider, land locked by forest, actually, and the mountain. But it can go up. And it is. Six thousand units of housing going up in one fell swoop. Ten percent growth in a summer. I moved into a small town. I want a small town again.

Overfire. Tamper it down. Pull back the flammables when you leave the house. Detroit was too big for me. Las Cruces too hot. And now, this place seems like it should belong to someone else.

Not me and my itchy hair.

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