Albion Through My Eyes / Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful
Dec 5, 2019
Building steps to the sky and staging supernovas in the kitchen
For those who need to see to believe, I recommend a three-month stay in Albion. You will not have to go very far to see signs of the invisible, and the road will reveal itself as you go on this journey. Call it a pilgrimage, if you wish. Wear comfortable boots, preferably red ones. Vegan. Make sure you have a good pair of mittens made by Diana Wade, a fancy hat and a burlap vest sewn by Susan Heisler, and a map with directions printed with kindness by Jessica Merrild –– or request a beautiful postcard of Superior by Maggie LaNoue. If Susan is too busy baking pies to be sold to raise funds for scholarships, see if Joe De La Paz can lend you a cap from his collection. Depending on your religion or lack of thereof, you may pray before you take off, meditate, read the Bible, check the weather on your cell phone, carry an icon of the Madonna presented to you by Loretta Crespo or find a vintage Holy Infant of Prague in Jim Dean’s and Deb Myers’s shop. For a snack, gather some of Michael Willett’s dried Honeycrisp apples. Muffins from Teri Nelson would taste like heaven as you walk. Bring a few books like Michelle Mueller’s one on Mr. Bonner and Bruce Nelson’s The Mildness of God.
Trips can be unpredictable, but also a good time to reflect on the stages of life, so I suggest you stuff in your bag a copy of Octavia Crawford Turner’s manifesto on one’s last wishes. Time permitting, see if you can take a crash course on local trees with three friends of the Earth: Dan Skean, Ruth Schmitter and Pat Tomasik. A few vocalization tips from Ikpemesi Ogundare will come in handy. Sing with the Catholic choir and then have breakfast with Barbara McAuliffe, Paul Hickey, Tom Hickey, Carl and Jeannie Weiskittel, Cristobal Solís, and Fred Schick. See if you can get a hold of Clifford Harris and Kelly Kidder for music and instrument related purposes. Chad Rocco is an excellent resource if you need a PA system to engage a group. Eric Worley and Chief Scott Kipp are miracle workers when it comes to making positive things happen in downtown Albion. Speak with honesty and admit your shortcomings. Most of us are still working to overcome them; myself included. Gail and Robert Reed can be valuable lifelines as you prepare to trek through town. Erin Donahue’s lavender would make a great infusion for tea. Have several cups of this and a long conversation with Janice Best –– smile together with her. Get hugs from Janice and Catherine Kerley. Contact any friends in the area, including Kalamazoo, and let them know that you will be stepping out into the world for a while. My neighbor there is Kathleen Rabbers. Remember to ask some of the younger people around for advice: Linda LaNoue, Donisha Brewer, Payge Rumler, and Diana Tomko. Consult with some sages as well: Juanita Solís Kidder, Sherry Grice, Sylvia Benavidez, Sue Ott, Carolyn Face Gilg, Hazel Lias, Thomas Hunsdorfer, and Wes Dick. Start on Superior and follow your intuition. The great majority of those you will come across will guide you with good care. They are your teachers along the way. Listen to what they have to say. Travel with an open heart and trust the multiverse within yourself.
Being a pilgrim in Albion entails showing up at different places and goings on, as well as watching some of its residents show up at a level that an art walker like me might not yet be able to attain. I have been lucky enough to be invited to some of the meetings and events in town, where I see my role as listening and honoring everyone else’s commitment to their home. One such occasion is an impetus gathering that Diana Wade convokes as result of a homelessness alert in the community. Four of us convene at Stirling Books and Brew for a conversation on the subject led by Maggie Honaker. The shortage of affordable housing that is affecting major metropolises in our nation is no stranger to smaller cities like Albion. And the solution to it is not necessarily creating more “affordable” housing, but housing that those families and individuals who make the minimum wage can actually afford without having to compromise the food they can bring to their tables, buying clothing appropriate to the weather, and covering medical bills. Maggie Honaker takes Diana, Pastor Loree Grinnell, Kelly Kidder and me step by step into some of the harsh realities of housing in the area, but also gives us light as to what to do to help those in need of a roof. The number of unhoused families in Calhoun County, including single parents and children, is more acute that what we can see on the surface. I listen while those sitting around the table ask questions as to how to approach people in need of a place, how to count how many there are, and how to support homeless teens and give them the tools and resources they require to transition to adequate housing before they turn 18 and are no longer eligible to continue to live where they had as children. I am inspired by this dialogue. I hence transform in my mind the phrase that “When two or more gather…” and adapt it to what I am experiencing at Stirling. “When two or more gather to help those who are struggling…When two or more gather to find solutions to the hardships the community is facing…When two or more gather to work together for the common good as opposed to looking the other way….”
Showing up in Albion can become a full time occupation –– a very fulfilling one. I stop by Tennant Hall at Albion First United Methodist Church. We are there for Aiden Wade’s Eagle Scout ceremony. Aiden’s project consists of the steps he built at Victory Park, and which make access to the hill by the tee-ball park much easier. Steps in this case can bring us a few feet closer to the vast Michigan skies! Having no experience at all in camping or the like, much less as a Scout, when I arrive at Tennant Hall, I am surprised by the complexity of the layers informing the event, which unravels as a civic ritual. There are lit candles in front of the stage, and those there not only congregate but also actively participate, and include residents from all walks of life, from religious leaders to the city’s mayor. I connect with Vivian Davis, who I have seen show up at many occasions and for many of us. There are homemade cakes and cookies afterwards and that is when I get to talk with John Williams about the particular handshakes performed by the Scouts and their meaning: two fingers, three fingers. In addition to this we talk about his signature bread, the one I have seen John bring when he shows up to potlucks, meetings and gatherings in town. I would like to know more about this. I must share that in addition to baking delicious loaves, John is an astronomer. He explains that he has been baking his recipe for 50 years and that it calls for oats, rye, and freshly ground wheat, among other ingredients. John calls it Cornell bread, like the University in upstate New York. “Did you go to school there?” I ask. His response is that he studied on the West Coast. This turn our conversation to his wife Donna Williams, who is not there with us because she attending another event in the same building. If one single person cannot show up in two places at once, a couple can certainly take care of that.
Pilgrims in the religious sense have traditionally traveled to the sacred for all kinds of reasons, such as to express gratitude or to petition on behalf of an ill family member or themselves. However secular my pilgrimage through Albion is, there is a great deal of healing involved in it. I feel this at a personal level, as I experience the love many people here have for their city, and I am hence moved to love Albion too. The morning after Thanksgiving I show up for a session at The Dove. I rest face up on a massage table and my back immediately comes in contact with a warm bag that induces deep relaxation. Tuning forks generate both sounds and vibrations that Melissa Meszaros at the Dove gently introduces my body to. Vibrational medicine. Bergamot oil over where my heart is. Lavender oil on my forehead. Craniosacral Therapy. A sheet and a blanket over me make me think of a safe cocoon. I relate the metaphor of the wounded healer to Melissa after she tells me that she is laboring to unblock my heart chakra. In the spirit of sharing, I invite her to take a walk with me the following afternoon. We stop on the crumbling cement island on the Forks to breathe in through the bottom of our feet all the way up to the top of our heads, and to breathe out from the crown of our heads down through and out the soles of our feet. Being at this spot is as if we were standing on water, letting go of anything no longer needed and at the same time being energized by the living currents. Water has many voices and each one intones a distinct melody.
Citizens to Beautify Albion show up at Stirling on time. I am the one late. Cristobal Solís pulls up a chair next to him and motions me to join the group. I encounter familiar faces together with new ones such as, Marjorie Wilson and Kay Knight. The topic for the morning revolves around the need to purchase a newer truck to oversee and maintain the flowers planted around town. Humor, practical advice and camaraderie mingle with coffee and tea. I take in so much pleasure by simply watching residents in Albion show up for the wellbeing of their town and its peoples. That in itself is rather healing to experience. As I bask in this sensation, I am interrupted by Carol Smith’s excusing herself from the meeting as it comes to an end. But there is no excuse to be made, at least in my eyes. Her departure has to do with her commitment to show up next door at Yesterday’s News to wrap gifts to raise funds for Friends of Albion’s Animals. I get up and push back my chair in amazement –– in joy. The canine, the feline, the bee, the fish, the flower, the bird, the tree, and the “human” in me cannot be happier. I thank Albion for it.
Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is the visiting artist at Albion College. He seeks to meet people in town. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-275-3990