Writing in Angel Fire

{10 min read}

If you’re going to write, you should try writing in Angel Fire. With snowfall in your focus, fire in your peripheral, and a hot cup of coffee in your hand, a certain kind of miraculous, creative provision unfolds. This made attempting one of the most challenging writing projects of my life, a certain kind of special, for which I will forever be deeply grateful.

I drove up to the snowy mountains of New Mexico last week to finally finish something that I’ve been working on, off and on, since 1993 – before I ever moved to Nashville. I tried to run from this writing project for a good ten years but then I moved to downtown Fort Worth and found myself unable to avoid it any longer. I have felt led, I guess you could say, all these years, to write a “story record” – an album of songs that tells the story of my West Texas cattle ranching family.

Just before I moved to Nashville, in 1994, in order to more seriously pursue songwriting, I lived in Irving, Texas – a suburb of Dallas. I purposely spent some time there before making the big leap, to give sincere consideration to a choice between Austin or Nashville. I first knew I belonged in Nashville when, at about seven years of age, I drew a line, in ink, inside my mom’s World Atlas from Gruver, Texas to Nashville, Tennessee. Austin held very justifiable reasons for me to personally stop and consider relocating there. I am a songwriter from Texas which makes me a “Texas Songwriter” – which is a breed all of its own.

This was a crucial moment for a single mother with a nine year old boy in tow. While I was trying to give my attention to this critical decision, a whole other idea kept demanding my time. It would not go away and I humbly gave it the attention it deserved – even though it was an idea that I wasn’t the least bit interested in. It just kept playing out in my head, over and over, beckoning me from out of nowhere. I won’t give it all away just yet but I will tell you it involved me wearing boots and possibly chaps. Now that was laughable to me because I had just decidedly spent my later teenage years impatiently waiting to get as far away from the cowboy culture and farm life as quickly as I could. I was convinced that I was destined to be an artsy-fartsy, semi-hippy songwriter chick. I’d had all the cow town life I would ever need for one lifetime. So I thought.

After a near decade in Nashville, I moved into the downtown of the cow town of Texas – Fort Worth, in 2003. The idea came back with a vengeance. This time it almost haunted me, so to speak. Visuals danced across the screen of my mind almost non-stop. Pictures played out like old movies of my West Texas cattle ranching family boarding the train back in the day, which would take them directly to the Fort Worth Stockyards where they would exchange cattle for Cadillacs. The stories I’d heard and even lived as a child came flooding back to me. I even had a jolting dream about a wagon wheel flying out of the sky – an experience that is now (as of last week) chronicled in the opening song of the album.

Plotting the concept out in my head, I once again ultimately ignored it. That is, until I moved to Los Angeles in 2007. Before I moved to L.A., I was back in the Dallas / Fort Worth area and had decided that it was time to get very focused on songwriting again. I had entered in to a new publishing deal and was obligated to twelve songs per year. Once I got settled in L.A., I sat in my living room with guitar, pen and paper in hand, and along came a song called Adrian Elaine. That’s when I knew this beckoning was never going to leave me alone until I gave in to its urgent plea. Adrian Elaine, tells the story of an amalgamation of characters – namely my first cousin, who is in search of something that outsiders don’t, at first, understand. The song was undoubtedly the centerpiece of the story record. I had written a song about the last days of my grandfather’s life. He was one of the eleven children in the 2nd Texas generation of the family. It seemed to be a possible fit for the story record. I had also written a song about my time growing up on his ranch. It was a definite fit.

In January of 2016, I camped in Joshua Tree National Park for the first time in my life – a pilgrimage for many 70’s west coast songwriters and artists including The Eagles. Three days after returning from this trip, Glenn Frey died. It was one of those bizarre coincidences that makes you stop and wonder. A song called Common Ground immediately came from the peculiar experience. While this song seemed to be a total misfit for the story record, to my surprise, it became a fire starter for a much greater vision than the original thought of a simple story record. It sparked the concept of a public platform and coming movement to be birthed through the record, which pointedly poses the key question:

ARE WE DOING THE RIGHT THING, THE RIGHT WAY, IN FOOD AND WATER?

These are the two life-sustaining factors “we the people” simply can not afford to get wrong. Through much prayer and meditation, I began to see the importance of producing this story record. It quite possibly explains the beckoning that has tapped on my shoulder for so many years. In other words, I have finally fully realized the importance in the retelling of this story. The story is a micro look at a macro situation in our world – which is the dire need to humbly recognize and respect that …

WE ALL HAVE ROOTS IN COMMON GROUND.

I came into Angel Fire with four possible songs for the record. I sat down under the cloudy skies and watched seven songs fall onto the pages of my writing journal like the snow falling onto the ground outside. This week I will write the final song – one that deserves an entire week to itself. I will then have completed the twelve-song story record that has been calling my name for almost a quarter of a century.

I’ve been wondering for months where I would find a quiet place to myself to give the required focus it would take to finally face this project. My husband’s step father, Ted Powell, along with his father, built a chalet-style house in Angel Fire, NM in the 1960’s. Ted was a friend of my grandfather and the two were mutually-respectful farming cohorts – one a staunch republican, the other a died-in-the-wool democrat. Togetherthey “marched” on Washington in the famous Tractorcade of 1979.   The Evergreen trees you see in the picture were planted by Ted’s grandchildren. This is a place of heritage and I can not think of a more honorable place for me to have finished the writing of this record.

Production of the album is slotted for late winter/early spring of this year. Visit www.commongroundalbum.com for more details.

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