Monday, October 18, 2010

Guajira Guantanamera

Tonight Charles dared me to eat a jabanero pepper. I agreed, thinking it couldn't possibly be too bad. Right? RIGHT?!

Oh Holy #@$%! GOD #@$& IT!

It was possibly the most painful experience of my life. Apparently Mexican's used to use spicy peppers to actually de-worm themselves (parasites being what they are where hot weather prevails). Folks, let me tell you, as of tonight I am worm-free.  But as a direct side effect of the pepper I have been listening to Spanish music on YouTube for some time now. Hence the title of this blog. Interestingly enough Guajira is slang for "Woman" and Guantanamera is an area of Mexico.

Now, logically, more has been going on in my life than pepper related agony. Really it's been more of the same, except for an encounter that Charles and I had on Saturday that I think you'll all enjoy. I shall relate it as I did the story of Squeaky and the Trailer.

The Ozark Floats

     The day had dawned pale and wintry, the heavy, fresh water fog of the mountains rolling through the river valley like sea during a full moon tide. Ordinarily I would be up by this time, having awoken when only the light of the full moon would have revealed the clinging mist. But today was as Saturday, and so instead I missed the quicksilver change of winter, to early fall, to Indian summer, and by the time I got up the light was heavy and golden, redolent with motes of dust and dying leaves. It was my favorite kind of day.

    Charles and I decided to go on a walk before the day got too warm and lost all of its autumn texture, and so we walked over to the library and back. As we neared our house we happened to look at the front lawn of the next door school-turned-museum and see an old man bent over the weathered hull of a dark green boat, chattering animatedly to a man holding a camera. In the manner of all true North-easterners I was ready to keep walking and glancing furtively at this stranger out of the corner of my eye. He had downy white hair with a weathered canvas cap perched on top,  and he wore a button down red gingham shirt, and paint-spattered and thread bare overalls. But this man was looking for a crowd, and so he called us over.
     "Come on over," he said. "I'm building boats and telling tales."

     Well, we couldn't walk away from an invitation like that.  We headed over and this man continued his story as if he had never been interrupted.
      "My grandaddy used to float these boats here in the Ozarks, huntin fish."
He jabbed a long and menacingly pointed trident into the grass to demonstrate.
     "You'd have to be real careful too, on account of the light would bend in the water and fish would be in front of where it looked like it was. Yeah, took a good eye to fish here." He said, clearly proud of his Grandfather.
     He went to a basket of glossy wood planks, hanging midway down the boat. He took one from it's bobbing nest and held it out.
     "Smell this," he said. "And tell me what it is."
I took what I intended to be a serious naturalist sniff. "Cedar?"
     "Jack pine, taken right after the forests were burned. They all turned the forests, the settlers did, and all the way back to the Indians. We got good stands of Jack pine here'n the mountains. This'll burn real hot and bright. But puts out a lot a' black smoke."
     He walked to the front of the boat, a long narrow trip about the length of two grown men lying on the ground, but barely the length of my leg in width. He held up an oar, polished to a high shine with a beautiful wood grain with a ridged metal end. He held it out to me.
     "Feel it." He said.
I took it in my hand, expecting to feel the heavy weight of a boat oar, the kind kept of the Chesapeake Bay Dead Rise boats. But it was light, almost unnoticeable, even with the metal tip.
     "Guess this wood," he said, and shaved off a few tendrils from another, unfinished oar.
This one was unmistakable. Even without taking the wood I could smell root beer.
     "Sassafras!" I yelped, proudly reclaiming my naturalist training.
     "Right!" He replied. "Sassafras wood is real good and light, easy to work. Pretty too. And that metal tip on the end, well that's real good too. Gives you something to dig into the bottom, because otherwise you hit a slick rock and your oar slides off. Well, then you slide off too, and into the water."
     We all laughed accordingly, camera man included.
     "My Granddaddy, he used to work the oar on these boats. They'd sign songs to get into the rhythm, then they could pole for hours.  Long as they didn't hit any rocks."
     He showed us more of the boat, and eventually the camera man had to busy himself with something else and walked away. But the man kept working. He wasn't doing this for the publicity, evidently he really was just building a boat and telling stories.
     "It takes me about two, three days to make a boat in the shop, with electric saws and all. Reckon it takes about a month to make it like this, maybe more depending on how many stories I tell while doing it. But I like it better this way."
     I liked it better this way too, so I thanked him for his stories. And he pulled on the brim of his hat a little and nodded.
     "Thank you all for stopping by." And he went back to work.

Anywho, that's my story. I miss you all terribly, and I now have tickets to come home for Christmas, arriving on the 17th!  So I'll see you all in like two months!


  1. What a great story of a story. I'm gonna share it on FB. I loved the old guy and actually felt like I was right there with you!

  2. That was a lovely story. It makes me regret for half a second living in a city where you bypass so many people a day and never get to hear their stories. Connection with strangers is a rare and precious gift.