fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Six. {fiction}

 

“Oh Burl! That was a close one!”  

Burl huffed in agreement. Glad for the cover of the fast-darkening sky, we stuck to the road for a couple of hours until we came to the remains of Diaz Farms. The once-spacious, open-ended processing building had long since succumbed to weather and scavenging. The roof had caved in and the wall boards collapsed down upon one another in a slow-motion journey to join the level ground.

The adjacent fields sat overgrown with now wild chile intermingled with tenacious weeds and native wildflowers. The ghostly red imprint of the business name on what had been the front overhang of the store entryway, now set on edge against the ground by gravity, was all that indicated we had arrived at our intended location.

After tying Burl to a still steady post, I shooed some rats from beneath an impromptu lean-to formed from the boards of the decrepit overhang and unfolded my bedroll for the night. My empty stomach growled and I still felt the echo of the cool metal gun snout against the side of my head.

Morning find Crooked nipple, sighted right at first

Beware and keep it there, leave twin peaks behind

The cottonwoods will tell you, where to quench your thirst

The next day I crawled out of bed at the first hint of dawn, anxious to head out, and get as far away from Deming as we could. Even Burl seemed a little more alert than usual, large brown, soulful eyes reflecting the glittering sunrise as he chomped contentedly on some spring grama grass.

A fine layer of fresh-smelling dew covered everything, including my hair, making it fluffier and wavy. I pulled it back and tied it knot to keep it out of my eyes. Jays and finches squawked and chirped in the fields, but I heard no sounds of the human kind come from the direction of the road. I relaxed a little even as I still kept a sharp eye out. The last thing I needed was another surprise encounter.

The rising sun warmed the stiffness out of my legs, and the sound of Burl’s solid steady footfalls provided soft percussive accompaniment to my own, quicker, steps. Trekking north of the highway and parallel to it, the low sparse forest shielded us from easy viewing from the road.

It would have been easy enough to follow the roads roughly along most of the song’s route, but after the Deming encounter I didn’t want to take any unnecessary chances.

The twin peaks loomed companionably together against the southwest sky to the left of the road, dropping behind us by mid-morning, sooner than I expected. As promised by the song, a cluster of cottonwoods appeared slightly to the north of our path.

Burl and I came upon a small boggy area, fed by a spring that trickled steadily from a crack in a rocky hillock. I filled my water bags and sipped the crystal-clean fluid from my cupped hands until I was full. Soon after we resumed our trek, a staggered row of smaller peaks emerged ahead and to our left.

Ready for the next day’s song verse, I felt relieved at this evidence of distance between ourselves, Deming and the compound.

Spot itty-bitty mountains, to the left all day

Crooked Peaks are on your right, one more night you see

End the day white pond in view, right turn just before

I took a break to collect early purslane and lamb’s quarters nestled in small clusters on the north side of large rocks for a nutritious, if not exactly filling, meal. Once I had eaten a few mouthfuls, I tied more onto a length of cordage to hang onto Burl’s sunbathed southern side to dehydrate as we continued.

As disappointed as I was to lose my food to the Deming group, I felt grateful for the wet winter and spring and for the food that we would find along the way as a result. More water meant more plants, and more plants meant more game. I’d probably lose some weight along the way, but I doubted we would starve. I scanned for signs of rabbits and birds as we walked, rabbit stick clasped lightly in my hand.

The sun shone bright and strong, but there was a steady, cool breeze coming from the west, creating the perfect temperature for a day’s walk. Tiny chickadees, too small to eat, chirped excitedly in the branches of the thorny mesquite bushes as small spiky lizards skittered about the sun-warmed rocks. If I got hungry enough, I would eat them.

Burl stopped suddenly, staring wide-eyed at the ground in front of us, then pedaling awkwardly backward. A large bullsnake slid, smooth and quick, across our path. I considered killing it to eat, but thought better of it. Bullsnakes kept the rattlesnake population in check. The whole world seemed to be busy and full of purpose, right along with us.

I patted Burl on the back and scratched behind his ears as we walked. I felt grateful for his sturdy company.

Around midday, I spotted a female Gambel’s quail. Springtime for quail meant eggs. I wrapped Burl’s rope around a handy piñon branch and crept low through the brush after her. Sure enough, she disappeared into a stand of young mesquite. I sidled up and spotted my prize. A clutch of small eggs, each one containing a bit of much-needed protein.

I felt bad stealing the mama quail’s eggs, so I left a couple for her. I set the handful of eggs carefully inside my big jacket pocket before retrieving Burl.

Burl’s rope in one hand, I ate each egg one at a time, much in the way I had eaten M&Ms from a bag as a small girl. Crack it open across my knife’s edge, drop the egg into the back of my throat, swallow, toss the shells, and pull out another one. Not the most flavorsome fair — they would have tasted better scrambled — but they relieved my hunger well, and I felt the boost from the energy they provided.

Mentally I thanked the mama quail.

And I thanked my now-dead Daddy for all he had taught me, which at the time just seemed like play.

During the summer, when Mama was teaching long classes at the university, Daddy would take me and Seth camping in the Gila wilderness. Daddy had been teaching wilderness-living skills when he met Mama. She had attended one of his classes so she could write a paper about it for a class she was taking.

He didn’t teach much by the time I came along, being so busy with his carpentry business, but on these trips he would tutor us. We learned to track animals, catch fish with hooks made from plant thorns, and how to skin any game we caught. He showed us how to make fire by friction using a bow drill, solo hand drill or a team hand drill.

He showed us where the wild strawberries and raspberries ripened, which kinds of greens were edible. He demonstrated how to prepare prickly pear cactus leaves and make syrup from the fruit. Every night we had at least one kind of wild food to add to our dinner while on these expeditions. If there was any leftover booty, we brought it home to Mama, preparing it for her to show off our newest cooking skills.

One day, when I was 8, I walked proudly into camp carrying a small dead rabbit by its long ears. Daddy stared at me in shock.

“Where did you get that rabbit?” he asked in a rush, “Did you find it dead, because if you did, then you’ve got to get rid of it…”

Before he could continue, I declared happily, “No, Daddy! I got it with a rabbit stick, just like you showed us! I saw the rabbit, picked up a stick, and threw it hard at its head!”

Daddy’s eyes opened wide for a long second, then crinkled up as he burst into laughter. He laughed so long and hard, loud guffaws erupting from his lungs and tears collecting in the corners of his eyes, that I felt irritated and hurt.

Seth and I had practiced throwing any short thick stick we could find at nearby targets — a tree trunk, a large rock or whatever — and I had gotten to be a good shot. What was so funny about the fact that I had finally hit a rabbit with a rabbit stick? Isn’t that exactly what a rabbit stick was for?

“Oh, Lakshmi, honey, you are the best daughter a man could ever have!” he declared between paroxysms, “I taught many people how to use a rabbit stick to bring down small animals, but I never, ever, saw anyone actually get a rabbit with a rabbit stick!” He sat for a moment on a stump wiping his eyes. It still seemed to me that he thought I had done something wrong and I started to cry.

“No, sweetheart, I’m laughing because you did better than anyone I ever taught. Even me!” He pulled me up into his arms, rabbit ears still clasped in my hand and rabbit body bumping against his leg. “From now on, I’m going to call you Rabbit Girl because I’m so proud of you!”

And he did. I became known for my skill at using a rabbit stick. Since then, I made it my mission to maintain my right to that name, and by the time Burl and I headed off into the desert in search of our new home, I had lost count of the rabbits and other small game that I had brought home for supper.

My chest hurt, thinking of those days with Daddy, Mama and Seth, when life seemed safe, comfortable and predictable, when, if I didn’t bring home a rabbit for dinner, we would still eat well.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.

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Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.

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