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Oct. 18, The Observer

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It was the typical Arkansas one-degree-of-separation thing. The gentleman we met at church was explaining to a group of people that his daughter played basketball for West Virginia and the group said didn't so-and-so's daughter play at West Virginia and he said so-and-so is my wife.

It was atypical too, in that the gentleman was black and the group gathered around him was white. Our connection was a beloved elementary school principal. The meeting took place after a service that brought a nearly all-white congregation together with a black congregation to commemorate another service held 50 years ago, one that was a call to reason in the wake of the crisis at Central High.

The principal's husband, it turned out, is also a preacher and invited us to his church, though he laughingly warned that it is “in the hood,” out by the Clinton Center. Still smiling, he told us that they'd recently tried to have pizza delivered to a meeting at the church. Nothing doing, the pizza parlor had said; we don't deliver to the East End. “Praise the Lord,” the gentleman laughed, which was his way of saying, what a world we live in. Still.

The Observer and several other people who keep binoculars at the ready could be seen standing in the middle of Colonial Court on Saturday afternoon, staring at something in monkey grass in front of a house. Every few minutes, one of them would get on a cell phone to call someone else to say, we've got a Virginia rail — no, rail, not reel — here on the street. What do we do? Drive it to a marsh in south Arkansas?

Drive away, unfortunately, was the consensus. Later, another passerby said, someone call Game and Fish! Someone did. No luck.

But what a sighting!

So here's what Charlie Johnson said: I'll see your rail and raise it 10 scissor-tailed flycatchers. “There seems to be an annual gathering of the tribe wherein the birds gather for a sort of pre-migration celebration,” he wrote the Times. “Currently I have seen evidence of their grouping together and viewed a tree behind the New Hebron Baptist Church at Maxwell and 10th Street — there seem to have been 10 to 20 birds in this group, but one must be careful for five of these birds may sound as if 20. ... I have noted larger groups — in one year in the cottonwoods/sycamores to the north of Trinity Street. I have claimed to have heard hundreds.”

From Fayetteville, a note:

“One Saturday night a while back I felt so powerfully that I just HAD to dance, and I mean really dance. (Living with a bad cancer inside will do this to you.) Earl Cate and Jimmy Thackery were headining a blues festival at George's Majestic Lounge. As I dressed, I thought intensely: ‘Lord, let there be some fetching one, one who also really wants to dance, and put her near me, please, this summer Saturday night.'

“Well, prayer is truly powerful. She was most beautifully petite, her face like a '30s model, all blonde curls and softnesses and coy smile, sitting at a table of friends. (Visiting from Denver, I later was told.) I had no seat, leaned on a pillar, and stole glances. After a while she came over and stood near me, moving with the music. She knew.

“I said, ‘Hi ... you wanna dance with a stranger?' She said yes with her eyes, and off we went to dance many times. The softness took my breath away, each sweet time.

“ ‘Lord, thank you,' I thought, from first sight, and with each easy dance.

“It was the best music I'd heard in forever ... they were setting the stage on fire.

“At break, I sat inside at the bar, wrote down this poem, and gave it to her 15 minutes later. We danced some more. A friend pulled me aside at one moment, and said, ‘Who's your new girlfriend?' I only smiled.

“I never saw her again after that sweet summer blues night. I believe she's probably on assignment somewhere else ...

“When dance/is the only way/it might seem/to light this night

“and a beauty blues angel

“blesses a stranger/with her soft grace,

“it might sway/even what seemed


“back to beauty/felt blessed again.”

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