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War: Through the Eyes of a Small Town - 2001-10-16


The terrorist actions of September 11 in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania have had a deep impact on people all across the United States, even those who live in small communities far from the disaster sites. An example can be found in the pine-clad mountains of southern New Mexico, in the small town of Cloudcroft, life goes on with a certain sadness and determination.

In the Western bar and cafe on Cloudcroft's main street, locals and visitors mingle and discuss sports events, family, and the war. Here, in this picturesque hamlet nestled into pine and aspen-covered mountain slopes, the violence in Afghanistan and even the terror attacks in New York and Washington seem far away. Yet, the 600 or so permanent residents of Cloudcroft have felt the fear, anxiety, and sorrow felt by people all across the land.

Waitress Heather Blanton says the terrorist attacks and subsequent events have drawn people together in an unusual display of support for their government. "Patriotic. Very patriotic. Small town. Actually it amazes me, the support, because in little towns way up in the mountains, you get a lot of people who are kind of distrustful and come up here to escape a lot of what goes on with our government," she said. "And everyone has rallied around and it is pretty good to see the support, you know."

She says people feel safe here in this small town on a back road, but that they worry about what will happen elsewhere in the nation. "We are kind of anxious, waiting to see what happens next, because everyone thinks that obviously something else is going to happen, but as far as our personal safety here, there is a low level of stress about that," said Ms. Blanton.

Cloudcroft's economy is mainly dependent on tourism. Visitors to the town generally come from nearby areas, except during the summer and during the short winter ski season, when more people from distant places can be seen in the small shops and restaurants.

Bernie Lieberman is a retiree who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about 50 kilometers to the southwest of Cloudcroft. He visits the town every few months to enjoy the mountain air and the relative peace and quiet. But, he says, it has become harder to find real peace anywhere now. "I think we are all affected by it. I think everybody is a little depressed right now," he said. "I talked to my cousin who is a psychiatrist and she says there is a lot going on where people are depressed about what happened. Some people want to get all the news, some people do not want to hear any of the news. It is a whole big thing."

Visitors like Mr. Lieberman have kept Cloudcroft's shops in business for the past month when many merchants feared there would be a complete collapse in tourism, as there has been in some larger venues. But, unlike resorts with huge hotels to fill that rely on people flying in, Cloudcroft does quite well with those who are within a few hours by road.

Julienne Hadfield, who has operated a store selling jewelry of her own design for more than 20 years, says she has been pleasantly surprised by the customer traffic. "Business has been great and I am really surprised because I had expected it to drop," she said. "I think people need a break. I think a lot of people are really sad. Jewelry is a nice, affordable outlet, I think, I do not know. I really expected it to be different than it has been, but I feel nothing short of fortunate right now."

The same roads over which tourists travel to reach Cloudcroft also link the town to nearby areas where the war on terrorism is not such a distant concern. About 30 kilometers down the road is Alamogordo, home of Holloman Air Force Base and its 50 F-117 Stealth fighters. Just west of the base is the White Sands Missile testing site and the original "ground zero"the place where the first atomic bomb test was conducted.

The desert may seem vast and the mountains may seem protective, but people here know all too well that the world has become a much smaller place, and that they are linked closely to far away events - whether they like it or not.

Photos by Greg Flakus, VOA

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