Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Fairhope from a Distance

I'm back home in Hoboken now, cogitating on the trip I just made. While in Fairhope, I bought Paul Gaston's autobiographical book, hot off the presses, in which he deals with the phenomenon of returning home--and the home is Fairhope. It's a lovely book, Growing Up in Utopia, and when I've finished I'll review it here. For now, I urge you to make your way to Page and Palette and buy a copy.

I've rented a little furnished house on Pine Crest for the month of February. This was not a clear-cut, easy thing to do. I found myself conflicted about everything in Fairhope still, yet something in me felt the pull to spend at least one more February there. I've had two Februaries in Hoboken, and, wintry as the month might be in Fairhope, the weather will be balmy compared to here. There will be the warmth of friends, the ease of the pace, to say nothing of some unsettled real estate affairs in neighboring Montrose--and the eternal magnet of Fairhope to attract me once again. Just when I decide there is nothing more to do there, a small part of me wants or needs to go home again.

It's not that I want to be part of Mardi Gras. I can't believe that tradition has made its way to Fairhope at all--in fact it is in many ways symbolic of what conflicts me about the direction of the little tourist town. Too many pointless imports, and not enough respect for the tenets of the utopian founders. Well, that's a battle over and lost, no matter how many diehards like me turn up to complain.

There's a new Fairhope now, and I certainly know it. The old one is not quite buried yet, however, with this last trip I for one was able to identify the source of my conflict about the place. When I lived there I carved out as my mission the education of the new people about the place; after over 18 years I realized I was talking to myself. History is not high on the agenda of a town on the move and on the make. New people are not interested in the old ways, even if they were radical and would be avant garde today. The new who have come to Fairhope would be even less interested in the radical and avant garde.

Let me wind up with a positive line from The Fair Hope of Heaven. "No matter where people move, they look for the tribe they can relate to, and there is a sense of inclusiveness in the many tribes of Fairhope. They are pleased to meet and work with new people. And the tribes reflect a myriad of interests which may catch a person off guard and may trigger new enthusiams."

There is still a chance for me, then, in the new Fairhope. I still have a tribe there, and it is not one of those staging or attending Mardi Gras festivities. There are writers and artists I haven't yet met. There are people I know and trust from years past. And there is always the coastline of Mobile Bay with its spectacular sunsets and instant solitude and peace.

Here's what one writer was inspired to say in a book about Fairhope: "And somewhere in a gully on a particular day in a certain season, the fortunate wanderer will actually find a tree covered in butterflies...It should not be a surprise, even if it is not expected, if a shadow dances among the leaves, a face appears (or seems to), even a community of phantoms from the past. Here you will find answers, questions, and a host of stories."

That writer was me. The book is called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. And somewhere in my heart I retain the belief that that magic might happen only in Fairhope.

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