By Peter Anderson
We are in a library in a small mountain town. Another late spring storm has just arrived, bringing with it rain, hail and several inches of new snow. A traveler who has pitched his tent at the campground outside of town sits in this library looking at the weather through big windows facing the storm. He is grateful to be here in a warm place, reading about a National Geographic expedition to the Arctic. Sometimes armchair travel is so fine, maybe even better than the real deal.
He is new to town so he has yet to discover the fireplace on the other side of the library, where two elderly locals are sitting in easy chairs reading books by the same author, although they haven’t figured that out yet. The man finishes a chapter, puts down his book, and notices she is reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. He has just finished an essay by the same author, a poignant piece about barnyard chickens. “I love E.B. White,” he says.
“Oh you do?” she says, looking up from her book. “He’s my absolute favorite. When I was little, this was the first book I fell in love with. And when I got older, he taught me more about good writing than anyone. Remember The Elements of Style?”
“Freshman composition,” he says. “Omit needless words. I’ve never forgotten that rule.” And so begins a conversation that will spark a new friendship.
On the other side of the nonfiction stacks is a little nook where two high school students have also come in out of the storm. They both told their parents they were going downtown to hang out for a while. Their parents are glad for some time alone but worry a little about their kids hanging out downtown, whatever that means. Then again, their children are fourteen now and need some independence. The boy has just taken a volume of MC Escher drawings off the shelf. “Hey check these out,” he says, as they both lay down on the floor over by a window looking at one of Escher’s illustrations.
“Whoa,” she says. “Which way is that staircase going?”
“Right?” he says. “Pretty trippy, huh?”
On the other side of a wall, just to the west in this new library, there is a room where classes, lectures and other gatherings take place. Today a dozen people are here for an AA meeting. A young man introduces himself to the group and tells the story of his DUI and how his license has been suspended and how he won’t be able to drive to his job in a nearby town. After the meeting, an older man, who has just celebrated his twentieth year of sobriety, says that he is retired now, has some time on his hands, and would be willing to drive the young man to his job. “But you’ll have to get another ride home,” he says. “I may be retired, but I still got things that need getting done.”
Meanwhile, over on the other side of the library at the checkout desk, a single mom is chatting up the librarian as she checks out a second copy of Charlotte’s Web, the illustrated edition, which she found in the children’s section. She will take her young son home, and they will get underneath a heavy quilt, and they will study the lovely illustrations together as she begins to read him the story. He will never again look at a spider in quite the same way.
And now it’s closing time at the library. The last patrons have just left and the two librarians are talking quietly. One of them says, “You know, I remember someone asking me a few years ago if we needed a new library …”
“Yeah? What did you say?” asked the other librarian.
“I said, no we don’t need a new library. I mean, we can keep our books in this old doublewide. And we don’t need a new library the way we need food or shelter. But a new library, with room for people to come and just be? It sure would do this town a lot of good.”
Peter Anderson is one of many volunteers hoping to find funding for a new library in Crestone. Recently, he was awarded the George Bennett Writer-in-Residence Fellowship in Exeter, New Hampshire, where he will spend the 2015-16 school year working on a novel set in a Colorado mountain town, not unlike Crestone, called Mirage. He hopes to resume Dispatch from the Edge in July of 2016.