Saturday, May 3, 2008

Oklahoma: Ever Renewed

Spring is flowing, rippling, embracing Oklahoma, and sweet it is. Spring brings the heaviest tornado season, but springtime in Oklahoma is a memory-forever-green and promises ahead season.

There's an energy here, buoyant, unafraid, a simple sincerity and a great rush of good will. We survive here in Oklahoma, the Dust Bowl, the Oklahoma City bombings, the storms, the floods, and we rise up again, waving "good morning" to our neighbors and strangers.

Cruising through the sunshine, the wind weaving patterns in the sky and in the dancing trees, I click on the radio and hear the sweet, sweet sounds of "Miss Reba"--Reba McEntire-ribboning into the day.

There's a wealth of talent here in Oklahoma, Miss Reba, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, astronauts, business leaders, symphonies, artists, writers, and just plain folks. The CEO of the Peanut crew, once a NASA high-tech worker, routinely endures questions, and guffaws about living in "Okie-ville."

Oh, no, it's not "Okie-ville," it's Okie universe, a place that doesn't have much faux sophistication, just red dirt, get-down-to-it simple honesty and directness. Roots sink deep here, over decades, or, in just a few short years, if you've the heart for it.

We have exuberance. We have an unrepentant, deep-dish belief that no matter how bad today is, well, on some tomorrow, it'll get better. We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other.

The earth sprouts dangerous, daring, colors, a painter's palette that goes beyond simple primary colors. In the strangest places, suddenly the sun will glint across a leaning field stone in a field, diamond shards of light glittering, posed by nature and by God against a verdant green field, phlox of red, pink, violet, and white, and a horizon that sweeps to forever.

The music swirls, bringing laughter at the thought of all those who turn their noses up at country-western music, so above it all. What they're missing! Country songs tell a story, and story-telling is part of the deepest oral traditions for older European cultures and the still-vibrant Native American cultures.

Listen, listen to the tonalities of country-western, and you'll hear the infusions of generations of settlers and migrations: Scottish, Irish, Scots-Irish, English, spilling down out of the eastern mountains and ranging over this land. Here and there you'll hear a rhythm, a beat, that sings of Native Americans. In late spring and summer, you can pow wow every weekend, if you've a mind to, swirls of color and the heartbeat of Mother Earth leading old, old songs in many languages.

There's music here, in the wind, the hills, the streams and rivers, and just about everywhere you go. Bluegrass, blues, rockabilly, swing, and oh yes, classical music. Here's just one program for one small town's symphony on one night: Holst: "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" from The Planets; Elgar: Salut d'Amour;Chopin: Fantasie Impromptu in C-sharp minor(piano solo);Chopin: Finale from Piano Concerto No. 2; Lehar: Gold and Silver Waltz;Sibelius: Finlandia;Wagner: Introduction to Act III of Lohengrin;;Elgar: "Nimrod" from Enigma Variations;Beethoven: Finale from Symphony No. 9>

There is an endless "gathering in" here, of peoples, traditions, and cultures, with the resulting song, dance, art, text, and performances bedazzling our everyday landscape. While others talk about inclusiveness of differing cultures, and upgrading artistic appreciation, we simply go about our daily business and live it.

To be an Okie is to fall in love, with the land, the people, the beauty of light and landscape, the bravery of cowboys and Indians, the steadfastness of pioneers and the true grit of entrepreneurs. Once upon a time, a barber who had courage and vision came to Oklahoma, almost went bust, and then became a historic icon: Frank Phillips, who founded Phillips 66.

Here in Oklahoma, those who succeed live among the rest of us, often cruising into town in well-used jeans and boots that don't smell real good--well, the ones who count, anyway. People who are into pretentious living and are true nouveau (semi) riche don't touch the real Oklahoma and therefore, can't wait to escape.

We are, as the saying goes, "real" in Oklahoma. We try to tolerate our neighbor with good will, as best we can. We wave and nod at strangers walking or driving by. We stop to help each other, and we come together to celebrate our richest treasure of all: freedom.

Oklahoma is, above all else, red, white, and blue. We are a patriotic state, one that honors their war veterans, honors the mothers and wives who make our homes flourish, the husbands and fathers who do their jobs, the growing kids in soccer fields and on farms. We're a state that respects people, and we're continuing to grow a healthy mixed crop of people who cherish America and the joys of freedom.

Those who are negative, who can't stand this glorious country, who can see only a few weeds when hundreds of acres of wildflowers and growing food roll out before us, simply don't do well here. We're down home and up town, all at once. We salute the flag, say the Pledge of Allegiance, love parades, and more than one of us gets goose bumps at the simple sounding of "America", the National Anthem.

Just as more than one of us gets teary-eyed at parades, seeing the bright young faces marching by making music in bands, singing from flatbed trucks, seeing the veterans go by, seeing our neighbors and friends just plain march down the street to celebrate whatever it is we're celebrating that day.

We're sentimental. We're nostalgic. We're progressive--Oklahoma has always had a history of progressive politics--and we're forward-looking. We're hard-core when it comes to business and telling the truth. We'll weep for you or with you when hard times come, and mean it, but do not, do not ever try to con, manipulate or lie to us.

We're granite and lace, hard-hewn mountains and blue satin rivers, old leather and new silk. We're hard times, and good times, and a smile in all times.

We're Oklahoma, ever renewed. Spring carries our spirit across the lands.

If you haven't yet experienced the real Oklahoma, better get cracking. You've missed one of the living wonders of the world. But pack a big suitcase, because Oklahoma just might surprise you, recognize the best in your spirit, reach out and magically grab you.

If you're lucky, you might wind up an Okie in Oklahoma. And that, friends, is to be very very lucky indeed.

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