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Here's a toast to moving moments

Published July 11, 2005

New Orleans had just wiped its collective brow at dodging the first hurricane of the season, and I, like apparently everyone else in the French Quarter, had decided to celebrate, although I have never really noticed meteorological phenomena being a necessary part of the formula.

A stop in New Orleans is on its way to becoming a traditional part of my annual trek west for a couple of months of living in the beautiful, cool, dry (did I mention cool and dry?) Sangre de Cristo mountains, where I can never quite be sure whether it is the view or the lack of oxygen that leaves me breathless much of each day.

In New Orleans each year (okay, two so far, but I plan on there being far more), I bid a symbolic goodbye to heat and humidity and keep a promise I made to my late colleague, Bryanna Latoof - to go to the Old Absinthe House bar and drink a white Russian in her memory. (An easier task these days, since the bar has added an upscale restaurant upstairs, and I can order her favorite drink without drawing strange stares from local guys with long-neck beers in front of them.)

And I am always on the lookout in New Orleans for what my friends call, sometimes with thinly veiled suspicion, a "poignant moment."

People in my business sometimes acquire a reputation for sitting next to people on airplanes or in bars who seem to have incredibly pithy things to say about whatever subject the writer is covering, but who, for some reason, can't be named.

That never happens to me. The universe declared long ago that I may never, in my life, be allowed to sit next to anyone interesting on a plane or in a bar - unless I have brought them myself, and not always even then.

But I do have the good fortune of either being around those poignant moments that make us take brief pause in our lives or of at least being able to recognize them when they occur.

Last year, it was when a guy my age handed me the Veterans For Kerry Button I had admired on his hat while the sun set behind the San Juan mountains and Peter Rowan sang No Woman No Cry at the close of the Crestone, Colo., music festival.

This year it was when I decided to close out the evening by walking (okay, at that state, limping) by the spot where Jay, Ray and Gee and friends have been entertaining tourists with top-rate a cappella street music for as many years as I can remember.

We were a tired, sweaty group. Some of us were young. A few were kids even. Some of us were old. One guy was in a wheelchair.

As the singers launched in to a spirited, up-tempo version of the Temptations' hit My Girl , a few smiles appeared in the crowd, and a young woman suddenly stepped into the clear area before them.

She was in her mid 20s, I would guess. She had Down's syndrome, and she was beautifully dressed in bold African prints and a matching hat.

She began to dance, gracefully and with the type of sheer abandonment and joy most of us discard as age weighs us down with self-consciousness.

It was her moment. She knew it, and we knew it, and her face said she never wanted it to stop. Smiles matching hers began to appear on the faces circling the singers, one of whom stepped out, took her by the hands and joined in the dance briefly before the song ended, and we all went to our respective beds knowing we had been part of something special.

Yep, one of those moments I just can't avoid noticing.

A few days later, I moved into a cabin owned by a hunting guide in a valley where old and new, traditional and new age, worldly and spiritual types have coexisted peacefully for decades.

I couldn't help telling my landlord that I thought having a glass door with decals of unicorns AND an NRA sticker was neat ... but a little strange.

"Oh, those," he said nonchalantly. "The shaman put them there."

I was already chock full of poignant moments for the month, and - besides - here, you don't ask.

[Last modified July 11, 2005, 01:00:09]

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