I think Woody Guthrie thought of the world as a beautiful place, even in tragedy. His music and story have influenced my own writing and life over the years. I wasn’t sure how I would feel standing among artifacts of his life, I’ve always sought connections with historic items and places. An early guitar Woody gave to Arlo is on display, with numerous other mandolins, banjos, and artwork. Handwritten copies of This Land is Your Land, I Ain’t Got No Home, and Grand Coulee Dam adorn the walls between Woody’s political doodles. After a couple of hours I understood something new about Woody: he was just a man. The only thing that set him apart was his effort to make the journey a little more bearable for folks.
I spent ten minutes in an Oklahoma dust storm, thanks to the help of virtual reality. I sat on the mock front porch and placed the VR system on. A voice spoke the journal of a first hand account of a typical dust bowl storm. I’m not technologically savvy, and I was certain the jack rabbit I saw was going to jump in my lap.
“Flocks of birds raced ahead of the dust cloud. The smallest ones died first.”
Birds fell all around my Oklahoma porch.
The sun got hazy. Windows rattled. I could taste the dust and almost feel it invading my lungs. More birds.
The storm was close enough now that I could see how quickly it was moving. Just before it shrouded my porch and me, a car swerved down the road toward my home. The driver lost all visibility and careened into a fence post. The poor man struggled against the wind trying to find shelter as if it were a Minnesota blizzard. He wandered helplessly in and out of the barely visible head lights of his vehicle as he finally disappeared in the cloud.
I believe that Woody was a sensitive soul who wanted to help folks get by. Every tragedy, joy, challenge, and victory he felt deeply and carried a collective sorrow with him but proudly and with purpose. The Woody Guthrie Center also promotes community, in the same way it’s namesake did. They organize music on the lawn for the warm months and traveling exhibits that highlight other musicians in the folk world. Of all the pilgrimages I’ve taken, this one may have been the most comforting.