Bit o’ Honey ~ the little things that please

The little things that please . . .

In Praise of Inconvenience

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Who’s posing?

The first home I ever owned was a 1964 Airstream Overlander that I kept at the Coral Sands Trailer Park in Bluff, Utah.  A twenty-four footer, it came with a green striped EZ-Glide awning that unfurled to create an instant veranda. Inside, teak veneer cabinets opened into drawers that opened into cubbyholes, requiring a level organization I wasn’t prepared for.  There was even a miniature Magic Chef oven.  Everything inside the trailer was miniature, making me feel as if I lived on little boat stranded in an empty sea bed.  It took some getting used to.  The ceiling was low and convex.  The kitchen, if you could call it that, was cramped, and getting to the bathroom meant side-walking past the bed.  I called the tub “the birdbath”, so tiny I had to squat and splash like a pigeon in a fountain.  When I had water, that is.  It took almost three weeks for a man from the county seat in Monticello to drive down in his battered pick-up and tap me to the main line.  But those weeks with no running water or telephone, sleeping alone in a small desert town, were some of the best of my life. 

On the far side of the trailer park, a spigot stood unceremoniously out of the sand.  For the next three weeks, this would be my water source.  Mornings, bucket in hand, I’d cross a stretch of lots between trailers to fetch water, my bare feet leaving faint prints in the hard-packed earth.  At the spigot, I crouched low and waited for the bucket to fill.  The sound of it always seemed to settle my thoughts and made me feel safe in such a parched, unwelcoming country.  South lay the mesa that separated Navajo territory from town.  At this time of day the sun blazed upon it, but in minutes the light softened to a buffed gold.  Below ran the San Juan River, swift and murky, hidden by a thicket of tamarisk and Russian olive trees.  Nearby, horses grazed in an open field. Behind me stood the bluffs for which the town was named, rising thirty stories high, earth the color of paprika.  For the first time in months, years, I was unhurried in my task.  There were wedding plans to be made, bread recipes to create, worries about money and the outcome of my choices, but these concerns were quieted at the spigot.  I stood to carry the bucket back across the sand, nodding to my Navajo neighbor as he climbed into his dusty truck to leave for work.  Navajo could be wary of strangers, I was told.  Be friendly, but not too friendly.  I practiced this art of friendly-but-not-too-friendly greeting, a nuance not easily mastered by Southerners. 

I’d moved to Bluff ahead of my fiance, Roy to prepare for my new business, living off my meager savings and getting to know this new place I meant to call home.  It took some doing.   The old linoleum in the trailer was stained and cracked.  I attacked them with various cutlery, the only tools on hand, and replaced them with new blue and white tiles.  I sewed red checked curtains to hang in the windows.  I lined shelves and cleaned the papery remains of dead spiders from windowsills.  The high altitude played tricks on my bread recipes and I struggled to convert them in time for the bakery’s opening.  I made meals of canned beans and toast and ate outside on a wicker chair in the diaphanous blue light of evening.  After supper, I took up my bucket and walked to the spigot, sometimes letting the water rush over my hands in wasteful indulgence.  I found comfort crouched so close to the ground.  Darkness shrunk the space between earth and sky, and I felt suspended in both: small, unafraid, full of wonder.  Somewhere in the distance a dog barked.  From the highway came the low growl of a 16-wheeler downshifting as it entered the town limits. Lights glowed from my trailer through the cheerful curtains.  Despite its size, the trailer seemed a significant source of shelter now in such a vast desert.  Why had I thought I needed anything more? 

Twice a week I visited Ida, to use her shower.  I didn’t like having to ask to use someone’s shower, but she was understanding and we both enjoyed the visit.  Ida lived alone in a large sun-bleached trailer behind me.  Inside, at every window seedlings sprouted in egg cartons.  Her coffee table was covered with mounds fabric she meant to turn into clothes for her grandkids.  After my shower we drank tea while she told me told stories of her travels around the country when she was younger.  Over seventy and long retired, she showed me photographs of her children, her ‘babies’, who looked older than me.  Ida offered to let me fill my bucket with her garden hose, but I said no.  I didn’t mind waiting a little while longer for the man to come from Monticello.  Actually, I’d grown accustomed to my routine and wasn’t ready to give it up.  When my hair had dried I thanked her, said good-bye and walked the short distance home. 

One evening at the spigot, I realized that I’d unwittingly fallen into a ritual as ancient as the sandstone bluffs — that of retrieving water.  Even the position I took near the ground seemed primal. Balanced in a low squat, I was closer to the origins of water and the stuff of death. In the Utah desert, water was a precious, tantalizing thing.  The fact was made clear as I watched how instantly the earth reclaimed drops that escaped my bucket.  Going to get water, rather than it coming to me, meant I couldn’t take it for granted.  A simple idea lost in the ordinary world.  I thought of monks who practiced asceticism and marked their day with vespers and bells.  I thought of the Amish, who believed automobiles and other technology served only to undermine community, self-reliance and connection to the land.  I wondered, did they feel burdened by inconvenience?  This simple act of going for water had become my spiritual nourishment, a walking prayer.  How might I replace it when the ordinary world came to my trailer?  Turning on the tap meant I could wash the underside of dinner plates.  I wouldn’t need to visit Ida twice a week.  I wouldn’t greet my neighbor as he climbed into his truck.  A bath would be a luxury, but I would miss the inconvenience of going for water. 

There were moments when I considered calling the man from Monticello to tell him don’t bother.   I considered calling my fiance to tell him we really shouldn’t get married.  I could put off opening the bakery until my money ran out. I wished to stay suspended in life as it was, the way darkness held me between land and sky, without want or need, my days marked by walks to the spigot.  When the man from the county seat finally arrived, I knew my life would change.  The bakery opened.  I got married.  I’ve never had to fetch water since. 

Despite the heartache that followed my time in Bluff — the business soon failed and my marriage ended — I’ve kept the memory of my quiet walks for water.  There’s no sand where I live now, no endless vistas.  Life has changed since then.  Winter snowfall keeps me outside shoveling for hours at a time, working my way along the brick sidewalk that stretches around the building where I live.  Friends have suggested the benefits of a snowblower, but I won’t have any of its noise or fumes.  Besides, I like shoveling. It’s slow, arduous work, but the effort warms my body and frees my mind of worries.  I pause to greet neighbors in a friendly but not too friendly way, cautioning them to watch their step as they pass.  I lean on the shovel’s handle to rest and take in my progress. In quiet of new-fallen snow, I become aware of my labored breathing.  For a little while the world seems held in a prayerful calm.  Then, with shovel in hand, I return to the task of clearing snow.

Winter 2008





Written by Janie

January 19, 2008 at 12:19 am

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