There’s something in the air in Marfa

MARFA —This is a town where the unexpected frequently occurs. It’s where the remarkable takes place. Personally, I believe there’s something in the air.

Marfa Book Co. owner, Tim Johnson, had received a call from Douglas Brinkley. The author said he was coming to town for New Year’s Eve, had heard good things about the book store and would be interested in doing a reading from his most recent book “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.”

Naturally Johnson jumped at the chance. And when he shared this information with me, my plans for Dec. 31, 2009 were rearranged and then chiseled in stone.

Brinkley’s credentials could take up most of this column. He’s a professor of history at Rice University. He organized and edited “The Reagan Diaries.” Six of his books have been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. His book “The Great Deluge” won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

Brinkley’s writing can be found everywhere from The New York Times to Rolling Stone. Obviously there are more than 24 hours in one of his days. That, or I’m just not good at managing time.

Last summer, when I watched Jon Stewart interview Brinkley on “The Daily Show,” I knew I would buy a copy of “Wilderness Warrior.” I admire Teddy Roosevelt and appreciate his impact on America’s natural landscape. I did not know I’d have an opportunity to meet the author and get his autograph ... that’s Marfa, pure and simple.

New Year’s Eve, Brinkley and his wife, Anne, arrived at the bookstore with their young children in tow. They circled the room, introducing themselves and conversing with us one-on-one. This created a relaxed and congenial atmosphere and set the stage for what was to follow.

Instead of standing at the podium, using the microphone and reading from “The Wilderness Warrior,” Brinkley talked about “TR” as if he were remembering an old friend. We followed stories about Roosevelt, from his family background, asthmatic childhood and early studies of natural history to his burial at a cemetery in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York.

Who wouldn’t be intrigued? Roosevelt wrote and published articles and books, ranched in what was then the Dakota Territory, held public office on local, state and federal levels and rose from vice president to president when William McKinley was shot.

Roosevelt never touched a drop of alcohol but drank a gallon of coffee a day. It follows that he had trouble sleeping and would read throughout the night. He faced terrible tragedies. His mother and his wife died in the same house on the same day — Valentine’s Day.

Nature was Roosevelt’s curative, hiking a means of relaxation. On one hand, he was an avid hunter and brought down big game. On the other hand, he was a birder and the top ornithologist of his day. There’s no dichotomy there. Consider how today’s hunters work with environmentalists to protect the land and keep it in its natural state.

Brinkley informed and entertained. He said “Wilderness Warrior” is his first in a planned series of books about the history of the environmental movement in the United States. I can clearly picture the series sitting on my bookshelves. Count me in.

With autographed book in hand, my husband and I headed to The Paisano for our New Year’s Eve dinner. We crossed the tracks that run through town. There was no train in sight.

However, we noticed the tracks lined up perfectly with a full moon rising in the east and the sun setting in the west. If that’s not a Marfa moment, I don’t know what is.

(published: The Daily Sentinel 1-10)