by Sharon Stevens


I inherited so many cases of books this past week. A friend with a passion for history and heritage was moving and needed to unload instead of transporting to the new home. We packed them up into boxes and I took them to our Buffalo Bookstore until I could sort them out. The actual number of tomes doesn’t matter. My husband says there are too many, and I think there is never enough. But he didn’t see all the treasures I put in the box.

One of the books in the mix was Don Taylor & Jeanne Smalling Archer’s book, “Up Against The Wal-Marts.” This wonderful book was written by a man who was strong in the Canyon Economic Development Corporation in Canyon Texas, and works toward helping small businesses compete with the mega-giants by simple and basic means. I found an interesting quote in the chapter on survival strategies… “Remember that when you misspend one dollar you really wasted two-the dollar you misspent and the dollar you could have spent well.”

Another gem I found was the 75th Commemorative Edition Special Anniversary Issue of the July 1997 New Mexico magazine. One of the stories was written by Sheila Tryk with photography by Ralph Looney. “O’Keeffe’s World” celebrated thoughts of O’Keeffe with interviews and insight into her life. The story briefly mentioned when she taught in Amarillo, but didn’t mention her time at the college, which is now WTAMU or where she found her passion in Palo Duro Canyon. I found it interesting that later on after she married that she left her husband in New York for months at a time while she pursued her passion at Ghost Ranch.

Each year, when O’Keefe went back into her husband’s orbit, she took mementos of the West. Stones, weathered and worn smooth. Artificial flowers, (“They were popular then, and there were some very lovely ones being sold in the country stores here.”) And desert bleached bones. “To me they are as beautiful as anything I know,” she once wrote. “To me they are strangely more living than the animals walking around—-hair, eyes, and all, with their tails twitching. The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the the desert even tho’ it is vast and empty and untouchable—and knows no kindness with all its beauty….I took back a barrel of bones,” she says now, her eyes amused at the recollection. “I remember it cost me 16 dollars by freight.” One wonders at her husband’s reaction to this delivery.”

O’Keefe was able to find her passion within bleached bones. Anyone who has ever seen her paintings of skulls knows what she sees within. Just like my boxes of books, I can find treasures among the words. Whether its a quote, passage, or sentence…all pull me to a story or memory, a sweet reminder of what touches my heart day in and day out. I take nothing for granted, and never overlook a single moment.

I truly believe that to me if I leave a stone unturned, that it represents a misspent dollar that I could have spent well. As a writer, just like O’Keefe as an artist, I can take an object and use my imagination and creativity to weave it into a story with tangible ties.

Even though O’Keefe used bare bones and stones to express her soul, I just happen to cherish anything I find in a box of books.



by Sharon Stevens

I tried to write graffiti today…No, not the kind tagged with gang signs that mar the landscape of public buildings or the bubble letters written on the side of rail cars. I am not even referring to the colors spray painted on the fins of Stanley Marsh’s cars at Cadillac Ranch.

What I attempted to scribble could never be seen, never be shared, never see the glow of my computer screen. I would never let it get that far.

Let me explain. When you think of graffiti you imagine a punk using illegal paint, defacing to their hearts content until they hear the sound of someone approaching. They immediately ditch the evidence and run as fast as their pants dragging legs will carry them. What they leave behind is bits and pieces of what they consider a masterpiece of their soul soon to be destroyed by people employed for just that purpose.

I tried to paint my masterpiece this week, tried to create with simple graphics my homey’s world. (It’s disturbing my computer spell check didn’t highlight homey.) No go. Every thought I attempted would bring the word police and I would run away with fear pounding in my heart. Or even worse, just when I thought my etchings were beautiful, and focused, and strong enough to remain, others would come along and whitewash every thought and every dream, deeming it ugly, stupid, and representative of a culture they wouldn’t tolerate in their fair city.

There were so many joys I wanted to write this week. WTAMU as part of their Distinguished Lecture series hosted former president Bill Clinton as well as Robert Ballard who found the Titanic, The Wounded Warriors would ride with George W. Bush in Palo Duro Canyon and the Palace Coffee House in Canyon would host Shawn Smucker and Jason Boyett on writing and blogging. The list goes on and on.

I even wanted to write about going to the funeral of kinfolk and hearing the memories of the “Hershey burger”, then afterwards visiting the Muleshoe Heritage Center, and being given a personal tour of the John N. Janes Home. To top it all off, at the end of the day I wanted to write about the visitors at the Buffalo Bookstore from England who shared their memories of home, as well as the kindness they had found in the panhandle of Texas. They were the ones who asked me what I thought about graffiti.

Each time I set down at the computer to write that perfect phrase, that glowing intro, I got distracted by another thought, another story, another reminder I couldn’t wait to share, and instantly I would run away and hide.

I think the worst of my fears was that I imagined who would be reading this blog. I wasn’t so afraid that they would critique my writing, as I was petrified they would deem it as a story that shouldn’t be told, thus destroying the essence of my memories and therefore my joys.

And this is my dilemma. Every story I write I feel is a message to future generations. I know that once it is written, and goes into cyberspace it can be retrieved forever. Would the writing police a hundred years from now judge my memories as silly and irrelevant? Would they determine when they read the words of my fellow Wordsmith Six bloggers that mine was the misfit graffiti defacing the beauty of THEIR efforts.

I guess what I am trying to say is that is that I want to write the words and paint the picture that will endure for eternity of all that is good and wonderful in our community. Even though there are others who feel I shouldn’t write such trivia. I envisioned that I was the one who believed, and could see how artistry was on every surface as well as every nook and cranny as far as the heart could see. Joseph A. Hill wrote on coming to the panhandle in, The Panhandle Plains Historical Society and its Museum, “Never before had I seen such cloudless skies, such blue Heavens, nor so many stars. Nor had I witnessed such displays of Heavenly beauty as when, ever and anon, the Master Artist dipped His brush in Nature’s richest colors and gave us a canvas of sun and cloud on the western horizon.”

Graffiti artists will never have a venue without the fear of exposure, and their artwork can never stand. They know it will be destroyed as soon as someone comes along and recognizes it as unacceptable in their minds. This is a given. And no doubt about it, there is nothing glamorous about punks who will deface property that doesn’t belong to them. This is a crime and should be dealt with swiftly and forcefully. The millions of dollars spent each year to wash away gang signs and profanity could be spent in thousands of different ways to help their fellow man.

There is absolutely NO EXCUSE!

But then again, they could go out and paint the cars at Stanley Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch or have a photo shoot like Vogue Magazine. Marsh welcomes that kind of exposure for the world to see and this is why he created his masterpiece in the first place. He would never wash it away!

So maybe this is what I need to do, imagine it is people like Marsh or O’Keefe or Joseph Hill OR the Master Artist that are giving me a canvas that encompasses every avenue in the universe. I can write or paint to my heart’s content and celebrate receiving “postcards from the inner muse.”

And as far as the couple from England asking me what I thought about graffiti…? In their small town she is a secretary at the tiny church and he is the caretaker of the graves. He told us that there are 1,500 inhabitants in the city and 26,000 buried in the churchyard. On the stonework of their church someone had carved a sailing ship as proof they were once there. He shared that it was the Vikings that had left the mark of their “gang” about 800 A.D., still visible to this day. I can only imagine who the “homeys” chose as their artist for this effort. And not only that, how fast did they have to run ahead of the villagers to make it to their ship to sail away to the next destination to find another means of expression.

Next week I promise to not run away after I paint the picture of the “Hershey Burger.” I hope and pray it won’t be graffiti that you want to wash away.

Sharon Stevens