I was standing by the stock-tank garden on my side deck, wet to the elbows, trying to corral tomato branches with one hand while I hauled a half-full wall-o-water (one of the red tomato cozies in the photo above) off the plant with the other, when I heard my neighbor Bev's voice from behind me.
"Need some help?"
I started to say I was okay, but I clearly wasn't, and she was already tying her Corgi, Evan, and Otis, a neighbor's big yellow lab to the deck railings.
"That would be great."
Bev took the top of the water-filled teepee and carefully pulled up while I gathered the branches, already heavy with green fruits, so they could slip through.
As the teepee slid up and out of the way, I took it and Bev grabbed the plant, which wobbled without support.
I dumped the water on the crabapple tree and hefted one of the tomato towers. Bev tipped the plant and I stuck the legs of the tower into the soil. We worked together to untangle the branches and weave them into their new support.
One tomato plant done. We moved to the next, practiced now and chatting easily as we gathered the branches, pulled the wall-o-water off, pushed the tower in the soil, and wove the branches in. And then the next.
Tomato plants liberated, Bev finished telling me about her upcoming trip. I ruffled Evan's damp ears and petted wet Otis (they had been playing in the river). She untied their leashes, we hugged, and she walked home.
When people ask me why I stayed in Salida after Richard's death, I say it's home. By which I mean not just that I have lived on this block for 17 years, or that I'm used to the place, or that I know a lot of people. All of which are true.
I mean it's home in the sense of a community where when a neighbor walks by on the way home from taking the dogs to the river and sees that I need some help, she stops. Because that's what we do here.
Like when a group of friends pitched in to install the ceiling membrane in Richard's studio to get it ready for Terraphilia residents (that would be you, Grant, Ed, John, Bob, Bill, Sue, Roberta and Bev!). Or when another friend helped me install interior doors in the big house (thanks, Bob) and still other friends spent weeks--no months--teaching me how to make and put up all the trim and other finish work (that's you, Tony and Maggie) so I could sell the place when I needed to.
Or the many other friends who helped out before and after Richard's death, in ways too numerous to mention here, but which are, like those tomato branches, woven into the fabric that supports my life.
That's home: a place where the community weaves you in. Where you give what you can and others give what they can, and together, we make it work—well, with love, respect and creativity.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's a beautiful place too, even drought-burned and dusty here. The peaks on the horizon rise to 14,000 feet, so there are still spots of snow in my view; the Arkansas River rushes by three blocks away, and just out my window Ditch Creek babbles.
Or that everything I need is within walking distance, whether that's coffee or wine, the bank or a hike, art or music or theater, and of course, Ploughboy, the best local-food grocery store/deli around.
The view of the Fourth of July fireworks off my deck is pretty grand too.
It's the community that supports me, like those towers now support my tomato plants. That's why I stayed. And that's what makes it home.