It’s coming. The clouds are low and I can smell the rain. For me, a Midwesterner, the smell of rain reminds me of earthworms. After a good rain, the sidewalk would be littered with dozens upon dozens of worms, their long brownish grey bodies weary from the trek to escape their flooded homes. The air was full of the scent of worm sweat, a musky earthy odor that announced their presence long before you saw them. I have yet to see an earthworm here, although I know they must be around somewhere. Back home they would stretch out to dry on the concrete. There are no sidewalks here but worms are smart, they likely have figured out another place to go to dry out.
As kids, after a summer storm we would race outside to stomp through the mud puddles and chase rainbows. The air was freshly cool, the trees and grass were glistening with wet, and the worms were out. The boys, of course, couldn’t resist. They went for the worms scooping them up by the handful and chasing the girls. We would run screaming and threatening to tell Mom but the boys called our bluff. They were fast, those boys in their red PF Flyers. There was no getting away from them and they would dump those worms in our hair and down our backs. As much as I hated the feel of wet earthworm down my back I couldn’t help but think how much worse for the worms.
Circumstances forced them from their homes. They had to take their chances out on the concrete. But did they have any inkling of what was in store for them? Do worms have eyes? Could they see the giant hand coming down from the sky to grab them? Do worms have ears? Could they hear the menacing laugh of a boy as he plucked them from the earth? They have no tiny hands. They couldn’t grab on to a blade of grass and hold on for dear life. They have no tiny feet. They couldn’t scurry away to safety. They have no defenses against being ripped from the only world they have ever known and being tossed high in the air without a tiny parachute. How frightening!
How like me. Certainly I did not have to leave Chicago. I had free will. But when circumstances came up, like those worms, I took my chances. My senses have been on high alert in this new place yet I am continually surprised. No matter how much I plan, no matter how much I organize I can never predict, or imagine, all the possibilities. We may think we are on guard but life always comes at us from the blind side. It catches us with our pants down and without a parachute.
I like to think that the worms eventually ended up in new earth, settled in and started doing their worm thing, burrowing a new life. I like to think they found that the new earth was meatier than the old, warm and dry and full of good stuff to ingest. I like to think that they welcomed the rain because it gave them the opportunity to once again try something new. I like to think that they love those new experiences. For that is how Arizona has been for me. David remarked recently that I lead a minimalist existence. From society’s perspective he is right. I have few material goods and I spend next to nothing. And yet, I have never felt more alive. Each time I conquer a new challenge my confidence soars. Every new experience is a rebirth. Every day feels new. Unlike the worms I can look to the sky for that giant hand, I can listen for that universal laugh. I haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t heard it yet. But like the rain, I can smell it. I know it is coming. I can’t wait.
The tip was cut, the gun loaded, my finger light on the trigger. Sweat trickled from my temple along my cheek. I brushed a stray hair out of my eye the better to stare down my target. Taking a deep breath, I sat down on the edge of the tub, aimed for the far corner and squeezed the trigger. Hooray! I was caulking.
This may seem like a minor task but I had never caulked before. I had never refinished a bathtub before either but the epoxy came in spray cans. How hard can that be? I practiced my spray technique on an old piece of cardboard before tackling the old porcelain. I managed to do a decent job of refinishing the tub over the weekend. Refinishing a tub is tedious work and preparation is everything. I taped any metal I could not remove and painstakingly stripped the old caulk seal around the tub. It came away in bits and pieces, cracking and crumbling from years of hard wear and tear. Wash and sand, wash and sand, then wash and sand again. I allowed the tub to dry for several hours then moved in with painter’s tape and plastic trash bags I had ripped open, covering the tile walls and floor. I mixed the epoxy and sprayed the first thin coat that afternoon. The second coat went on the next morning. Then I walked away from the job for a day to allow it to cure before removing all the plastic and tape. It’s been three days now. The new finish looks good; it looks cured to my untrained eye. It was time for the final step, the one I was most nervous about. The task that required the most skill, the task I found intimidating: caulking.
My dad passed away a few years ago. He was a blue collar man, the kind who could do anything with his hands. He built furniture, added a room on the back of the old house, repaired cars, he could fix anything. I would not call him a master craftsman. His woodwork was not ornate but rather followed straight lines with slightly routered edges. But those lines were level and true, those edges were perfect. His seams were flawless. And so was his caulking.
Helping Dad with his projects was a challenge, his high standards impossible for a child to reach when it came to do-it-yourself home projects. Whenever he would call for one of his children to come hold a board he was cutting, we all cringed. Holding those heavy boards level was required but the whine of the circular saw would always pierce the edges of my sensitive nerves and without fail I would always flinch. And Dad would yell “Hold it straight!” I always tried my best but secretly avoided being anywhere near the woodshop whenever he was in the middle of a project. But I knew how to caulk from watching him. Snapping the tube of caulk into the caulk gun, he would press that trigger and lay a fine, thin bead of a line the entire length of the seam. It didn’t matter if he came to a corner or a turn, he never stopped. The caulk line never broke, his hand never wavered, and his pressure was smooth, steady and sure. After laying the bead of caulk, he would take his thumb and run it along the line, smoothing it into place. No touch up required. It was always perfect.
I tried to remember Dad’s technique but realized I only knew the basics. The thought crossed my mind to leave the task for David to do on one of his trips to the ranch, but pride would not allow that. I refinished that tub, damn if I couldn’t caulk it too! Sitting on the edge of the tub, I pressed the trigger. The caulk blobbed out, something it never did for Dad, but I took it as a sign to continue. Squeeze, blob, squeeze, blob….I managed a herky-jerky line along the back of the tub, bits of caulk on the tile and tub. I ran my thumb along the line which made it worse so I resorted to the wet sponge technique, finally managing to accomplish a neat line of caulk between clean tiles and tub. It took me close to an hour to finish the job, one that Dad could have knocked out in 15 minutes. My hands were sticky with caulk but as I stood back I thought “Damn Dad! That looks pretty good! What do you think?”
My eyes watered a little. In my mind I heard him say “Good job.”
I am shaking. I slipped on the boulders lining the creek bank and landed on my back. Since it was a good 45 degree angle down to the creek and I was stooped over as I navigated down, I didn’t have far to fall. In fact I fell in slow motion, so slow I thought wait! I need to stop this! But I was enough off balance so that there wasn’t any point at which I could regain my equilibrium. My left ankle and right arm took the brunt of it which is lucky. Worst case, I could have rolled all the way down the bank breaking a bone or two along the way before landing face down in the water ultimately drowning. But that low center of gravity also known as my behind kept me from that fate and lodged itself squarely between two big red boulders which I felt certain harbored a rattlesnake den. I tensed waiting for the two fangs to puncture my skin but he must have been out for the day and I was spared that additional humiliation. The worst that happened other than the damage to my ankle was a ripped and dirty page out of my journal which I happened to be clutching in my right hand.
On a recent hike with Pat the Ranger I envied his long legs. Pat stands at least four or five inches over six feet and 75% of it is legs. He climbed up rock walls with ease, taking three or four long-legged steps whereas I had to climb using both arms and legs to push and pull myself up. Oh to have long legs like Pat! But then I suppose I would have had farther to fall. Oro, my dog, watched the whole thing. She didn’t bark or lift a paw to help me most likely thinking that this was simply another one of the strange things her owner does on a regular basis, like climbing up and down the stairs to the deck a hundred times a day for exercise. As such she took it as her cue to find something more interesting to do and left me to my own devices.
I lay for a few minutes like an upended turtle. I was at a strange angle on my back, arms and legs splayed, not sure what to move first to resolve my situation. It’s good when you hit a low point like this. To sit in it, let the enormity of it envelop you and make you think before making a move, like standing on a street curb in the rain. A car comes by and slams through a puddle drenching muddy water onto your good dress, staining your legs and shoes. You stand in disbelief and take stock of the mess you are in. And you learn. Stand back from the curb. Jump. Or in my current situation wear hiking boots instead of sandals and climb the rocks using all four appendages like Oro does.
It’s a beautiful spot I was working my way to, large red boulders under a shady cottonwood tree where butterflies dance to the music of the flowing creek below. I managed to finally make my way to it, propping up my scraped and bruised ankle and calming my shaking nerves. From my vantage point I could see the second story deck of the ranch house with its comfy wicker chairs and swaying hammock laughing at me, calling me. Hey! Old lady! What do you think you are doing down there? Get up here where you belong!
And I considered it. I considered crawling up the bank and parking myself in one of those safe wicker chairs. It is lovely to sit on the deck, feel the breeze and hear the birds sing. It’s a great place to sit and visit with friends over a glass of wine. You can hear the creek but you have to get up from your chair and look over the rail to see it. The butterflies never hang out there. You can’t smell the flowers. For me it’s the difference between playing and spectating. Do I want to sit and observe, haul out the binoculars and cheer nature on from a point of safety? Or do I want to take my chances and get in the game? Lean back against a tree, climb those rocks, plunge through the creek, admire a bark lizard up close, watch the mosquito fish swirl in the water around my feet and see all the wondrous secrets nature has to offer? The secrets that are hidden from view up on the deck? For me it’s not a matter of choice. I’ll take my chances. I have to be in it.