American Bear, Day 33: Clayton, NM

We are still sitting on the porch with our hosts for the evening. Telling stories, seeking advice.

Judith and Robert were the first people we met in Clayton. They sort of found us, not pandering to the camera, but casting a curious eye in our direction.

I think you can see when someone is going to invite you over before they actually do. Their eyes change when they hear the premise. Sometimes, we get shock, sometimes fear, sometimes surprise, but the people who take us in I think express one of two things (usually the first) 1- excitement or 2- concern.

Judith and Robert were most definitely excited, or intrigued.  I can't wait to string our usual reactions together and end with Judith, gasping with excitement.

Judy and Robert live in a beautiful prairie style house - with bright colored glass in the lighting panels upstairs and beautiful almost-period furniture in some rooms. It's symmetrical and filled with character.

At dinner later they would tell the story of me bending over the camera in the store - they were watching and thought I was maybe a classmate of one of their children with a newly born baby. Their curious glances weren't even about the camera, but sort of an interest in the community. A curiousity rooted in care.

Today has been an incredibly relaxing night. The conversation continuous and varied - we learned so much about the area, had a chance to lightly talk politics and ate a delicious meal (including dessert!).

Robbie and I chatted briefly about the physics of fate and we all got excited talking about the journey. As our first night after our one-day break, we couldn't have asked for anything better. But as a town, Clayton seems to have a lot to offer: we only spent an hour talking to people in the grocery store before we headed over to the house for dinner, but everyone we met was very friendly, even when they declined to do an interview. And we had fun seeing the manager, Janet, between interviews, to get the scoop on who we just spoke to, to fill in our experience. For most people, faith is a huge part of the town, but as in Grangeville, Idaho, the people who took us in were political and religious outliers in their town: in this case, Democrats and cultural Christians rather than by-the-book believers.

Robbie told us several times that the main reason he felt comfortable with us is that we looked like his kids. White, well-spoken, and clean-cut? It made me think about how few people we've stayed with have looked like my parents, or acted like them, or felt like them. By doing this project, we're purposefully not looking for people who attract us because they seem familiar, and therefore trustworthy. We're looking for anyone. Many people cite our clean-cut and friendly appearance as helping them trust us, but no one has said it in such a personal way: you look like my kids. I thought about Milton, the Navajo Indian in Arizona, who told his wife he was bringing home two white kids. I thought about the two African-American women we spoke to in Chicago: they were all about their openness, their community, their generosity, but when it came down to sharing that with us, they told us we wouldn't be comfortable in their community; we weren't like them. Familiar appearances have become a theme in our experiences, but they're both positive and negative, inspiring more trust with some and less trust with others. When our appearance as outsiders (due to geographic location or race) has made people resistant to us, it's not only about trust, but about their preconceptions about who we are, as in, outsiders don't understand ____. In some small towns, it feels like we're slowly cracking our way in. In others, it feels like we're welcomed immediately.

Tonight, we have our own bedroom, bathroom, and we're even going to bed earlier than usual. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? But we've never had a day that wasn't interesting. Driving away from Alamosa, we were longing for a week of vacation. But we found the perfect night to get us re-energized about our adventure. Trust and kindness is in every town in the country, we have no doubt about that. The why, the how, and the people who make it happen: that's the exciting part.