An old couples farm has hit hard times so they do what they must to revive the land.
|An ancient looking man and woman stood outside the board and tarpaper shack that they called home staring, and staring at the out across their small farm. A gust of wind picked at the few strands of snow-white hair on the woman’s head and tried to lift off the tattered straw hat that covered the man’s almost bald head. Their faded, colorless eyes gazed out onto the drought-stricken land before them. With much love and care in his face and in his actions, the man reached out and took the woman’s gnarled, liver-spotted hand in his.
“We have to do it, Tara, darling,” he spoke in a whisper to her. “It has to be. If we don’t get more fertilizer the land will die. We will die. You know that.” He took a deep breath, and his whole body seemed to shudder as did hers. “It has to be. We have to give life back to the earth. We have to give life to the earth and to the water. So that we can continue to live here.”
“I know, Ray,” she let out a long sigh, pulled her hand from his and hugged herself as another shudder shook her whole body. “It’s just that I hate to have to go to the city. I can barely stand to be amongst all those people. But I guess if we have to, we have to.” She scrutinize the land around them. It was desperately dry and parched. The sun seared its rays down onto the small desert homestead with a deadly passion. She remembered the beautiful oasis it had once been. Now there was very little left. The tiny patch of garden vegetables had baked and withered. In the small orchard the leaves on the trees had burned under the relentless sun until they twisted, as if in agony. Even the native plants were having a difficult time surviving. Tumbleweeds were piled against the fences that didn’t protect anything. More mounds of tumbleweeds were in the garden and around the house. The obnoxious weeds drifted here and there at the whims of the wind leaving there horrid, stickery, balls everywhere. Much as she didn’t want to she knew it was time for the arduous trip to the city. “All right, Ray. I give up. We will give a life to the earth for another renewal. You are right. It is time for it.” She straightened as much as her bent frame would allow and held her head high. “I’m ready when ever you are.”
“Rosie, you old broad, you done got your self in a fix this time,” the woman in the car talked to herself as she looked at the paper in her hand. Out loud she read the directions again. “Down the main highway. Take the fifth left hand exit. Go ten miles on the paved road, turn right, and then about another ten miles on the dirt road. Now that’s what I did. So where is this place?”
She looked out the window of the once bright red; now dust covered Lexus that she was so proud of. She hated the thought of driving the almost new car out here in the desert boondocks but that was the way it had to be if she was to make some money so she could make the next payment on the car. Desert boondocks was right, she thought. That old couple had said they were a long way out of town but this was ridicules. Maybe she had made a wrong turn, or maybe she had wrote down the directions wrong. And of course the old man had said they didn’t have a phone. Said there wasn’t any phone lines way out here. And now she believed him. She thought about how they had come into her office the other day and asked her to list their house for sale. Now she wondered if she had been a bit hasty in agreeing. But she sure did need to make a sale so she could pay for the Lexus. Oh, well, maybe some city fool would be stupid enough to want to get away from the fast life and buy a place way out here. In the desert boondocks.
She started the engine of the Lexus again. It caught for a few seconds and then died. “Now what?” she asked of no one.
The wind swirled around the car, wining and crying, flinging large particles of sand and small stones at the vehicle. Fine dust eased though the windows even though they were rolled up tight. Rosie coughed a couple of times, found the plastic bottle hiding under her briefcase and took a swallow of the tepid water. She replaced the lid, then stated the car again. This time it caught, sputtered, caught again, and sputtered some more. “Damn,” muttered Rosie. “Where is this place? It can’t be far. Maybe that old fella can figure out what’s wrong with my car when I get there.” She took another look around the countryside, or tried to as she played with the cars throttle to keep it running.
Dust and more dust. Rosie watched a large swirling column of wind. A dust devil, a whirlwind, a very large whirlwind. It carried numerous tumbleweeds high into the sky, along with some pieces of paper, a long ago discarded plastic milk jug, and several blue plastic bags. The sky was a dingy brown in color instead of the traditional brilliant blue of the desert. There was a haze of clouds that would never squeeze out even one drop of rain. Heat lighting flickered briefly from one side of the sky to the other.
Scattered sage, rabbit brush, three-winged salt brush, chimisa, and one lone pinon tree tried to drive their roots deeper into the sand and caleche clay that the desert soil consisted of. At times the desert flora lay almost parallel to the ground as the wind whipped and pulled at them. For a long moment Rosie watched the scrubby plants as they fought against the devilishly, persistent wind. There seemed to be nothing else to be seen across the monotonously drab, dreary, colorless desert landscape.
Finally she spotted a large clump of boulders in a jumbled mess in the distance. “Yeah,” said Rosie as she jerked the car from park to drive. Hadn’t the old guy said something about their house being near a big, unique bunch of lava rocks? That had to be the ones. She slowly eased the reluctant car in the direction of the rock outcropping. As she got closer she could see that the nest of boulders was bigger than she had first thought. Maybe as long as a football field, and just as wide, while they must reach a good twenty-five or thirty feet into the air. At about the highest place a large juniper tree struggled to retain it’s grip within the rocks. From the size of the trunk Rosie figured the old tree had to be at least two hundred years old. It seemed as if the odd tree was watching her. She chided herself for even thinking such stupid thoughts. She did wonder what freaky occurrence in nature, probably thousands of years before, had created the rocky ledge out here in the middle of nowhere.
She drove the Lexus on down the rutted, rock strewn road and soon saw an old, dilapidated clapboard house. Was that what the old couple wanted her to sale, she wondered. There was no way anyone would buy that piece of junk, even if the land was good. Which it wasn’t. She saw the elderly man and woman standing outside the door waving shyly at her. Well, she could at least take a look at the place now that she was here. She eased to a stop in front of the picket fence that surrounded the house, put the car in park, and gingerly stepped out of it. Shouldn’t have worn a dress and heals, she thought, as she almost turned her ankle on a small pebble. The wind puffed and her skirt flew up, causing her to grab at it and making the old man smile lewdly. She was sure he had caught a glimpse of her panties.
The little, skinny, old woman sidled up to her and took her hand and led her to the house as she rambled on and on about how glad they were that she had come all this way to look at her little, bitty, old house and she if she could sell it. Rosie grimaced as she went in and saw the pitiful condition of the house Paint that had been white when applied many years ago was now gray with age on the walls and the ceiling. The kitchen appliances where at least fifty years old. Wallpaper hung in decayed strips from one wall over an equally old Formica topped table. Tattered curtains hung at the one small window.
On the table was what appeared to be an ancient coffee pot and some chipped mugs along with a dried out piece of what might have once been cake. “Would you like some,” asked the old woman who Rosie remembered was named Tara. Before Rosie could decline the offer the old man, Ray had seated her on a chair with a cracked, plastic covered seat. He must have been stronger than he looked, considering his grip, she thought. Tara had slid the plate with the slice of dried out cake in front of her along with one of the chipped mugs of coffee. Quickly Tara and Ray took seats and sipped at mugs of coffee. Not wanting to offend them Tara took a swallow of the overly sweet coffee and a bite of the cake.
Yuck, she thought. She wondered if she would be able to get even one more bite down. She looked up to see the old couple watching her intently. Tara motioned to her to eat some more. Not wanting to be rude, she did. And swallowed a mouthful of coffee to wash it down with. Amazingly that bite was much better than the first one. She found she was almost craving another bite. In seconds she found that the plate and cup were empty. She was unable to hide a deep sigh of contentment. It had tasted like the most delicious feast she had ever had. The cake had been so satisfying, delightful, and enjoyable.
“Come, Rosie,” commanded Ray in a gentle tone. “You must come. Now.”
Tara nodded her head in agreement with him. “Come with us,” she pleaded. “We want to show you the yard and the land. We know it’s not much to look at now. But it can be.”
“When the spring comes back, when the drought is gone,” said Ray. “When some fertilizer is added to the spring, and the water gushes out in a pure, cool stream and feeds the proper nourishment into the ground.”
“Then you will see. Rosie you just can’t believe how beautiful this place can be once we add the fertilizer to the water. It’s a natural spring, you see. Come’s right out of the ground in those rocks up there.” Tara had continued where Ray left off as she took Rosie’s hand and led her around the yard. They walked slowly down a narrow pathway that led toward the huge, uplift of rock and stone that had the juniper tree out on the point. It looked as if the juniper tree was waving one of its branches. Beckoning them onward toward the base of the rocks, right under where the tree lived.
Yes, thought Rosie, yes she could see it now. It would look so beautiful, so green and lovely. When the fertilizer was added to the spring water. Cool, cold, pure, sweet spring water.
She wondered how she knew that the water would be so delightful, so pleasingly frosty and untainted by any pollutants. But she did know. Maybe Ray and Tara had told her. That was it. Ray and Tara where telling her all about the land, the green grasses and trees. Telling her how she could make a wonderful home out of this desolate piece of land if only she would put the special stimulant into the spring water.
Yes, agreed Rosie. She would do it. She, herself would put the nourishment into the water. It wouldn’t be easy. It would be the hardest thing she had ever done, but she could do it.
Rosie followed Ray and Tara on and on. Gently but urgently they encouraged her to walk down the long dangerous trail, to climb over the burning hot, sharp, jagged-edged rocks, to continue even when she wanted to cry and scream at them and give up. Her once pretty dress was dirty and torn. Her red high-healed shoes were lost somewhere along the trail so that she her bare feet were being cut to ribbons on the rocks leaving streaks of bright red blood. Her long blond hair had come down out of the fancy chignon on her head and hung around her face. Her makeup had melted and run making her look like a bizarre clown. On and on they went until at long last they reached a cave.
She pulled back. “No,” she muttered. “I can’t go in there. It’s – it’s creepy.” She shivered and rubbed her arms. Why did they want her to go in the cave? It smelled dreadfully. It stank of – she couldn’t recognize the odor. It was a putrid, sickly-sweet odor. Did it reek of death? She peered into it, not wanting to go in, but mesmerized by it, just the same. “I – I can’t.”
“Yes, you can, Rosie. You have to,” Tara murmured to her. She spoke softly, gently, whispering the same story of how the land needed the unique water with the extraordinary nourishment in it. She told it over and over to Tara. Telling her it was up to her. Only she, Rosie, could do what needed to be done. Tara cajoled and enticed Rosie with her relentless repetition of the story of how the land would be beautiful once more if only Rosie would give the exceptional, one of a kind fertilizer to the cave and the water. She told her how she had to give life back to the earth.
Ray helped encourage Rosie to go into the cave. He kept a firm, urgent hand on her back and arm. He used persistent, unrelenting pressure while charmingly reassuring her she was the only one who could do what needed to be done. He thrust her toward the mouth of the cave, trying to force her in. Now he was pushing her into the cave. He demanded that she enter it. He grabbed her left arm, pulled it high up and behind her back, making her cry out in pain. It felt as if he had pulled it out of the socket. He gave her a hard shove into the mouth of the cave.
Still Rosie resisted. She couldn’t do it. She wouldn’t. She wasn’t even sure what they wanted her to do. The stream of water came out of a hole in the base of the wall at the back of the cave and was barely a trickle. She couldn’t make it any bigger and she was sure it would take lots and lots and lots more water to make the small valley green and lush again. And what was all this talk about a special fertilizer. She didn’t know anything about fertilizers. She certainly didn’t have any with her.
Ray and Tara become more demanding and insistent that Rosie go into the dark, dreary, damp cave. Now they were yelling, screeching and screaming at her. Now they were pushing and shoving with all their strength. Rosie tried to fight back, but she wasn’t strong enough. In fact she seemed so week, so very, very week and lethargic. How had that happened? She had never been that week before.
Suddenly Ray growled deep in his throat like a wild wounded animal. He struggled with her, pushing and propelling her into the cave where she fell against a razor-sharp rock that cut into her arm. She screamed in pain, flinging out her hands and causing them to also come in contact with the jagged rocks. Rock wall that almost seemed to be reaching out to cut and bite at her. Ray and Tara laughed at her, seemingly enjoying the sight of her pain and the drenching blood that streamed down her face, arms, and legs. She twisted and turned trying to find her way out of the cave. But now there was no way out. The entrance was gone. There was only the rough, stone walls reaching out, grabbing at her and inflicting more and more of the agonizing wounds and injuries.
As Rosie threw herself in a frantic circle looking for the way out she stepped in the tiny stream of water splashing it over herself and the rocks, while at the same time her blood dripped into the water. Gradually the small stream became bigger and bigger, gushing out of the hole from where it came from in the wall. Within minutes it became a rushing torrent of water and Rosie had disappeared.
The elderly couple stood outside the mouth of the cave listening and waiting, watching to see if their sacrifice was going to work. As the stream of water grew larger and poured down the rocks and onto the trail to run into the valley they loved so much they nodded their heads. Yes, they agreed. The spring in the cave had come back to life with the addition of the special fertilizer. Ray and Tara walked into the stream, bent down and splashed the life-giving water over their faces and bodies.
The pretty, young woman stood staring across the small valley she called home. She had her long, blond hair pulled back in a ponytail and a colorful bandanna tired around her head. She wore a long, peasant style dress that showed off her figure in detail. Leather moccasins were on her feet. She had an old-fashioned piece symbol on a chain around her neck. In fact she looked a lot like the hippies from a few decades before.
She looked and looked and a smile took over her face. Her eyes tried to take in the sight of the valley covered with green grass, and bushes blooming with fragrant flowers. Rows of trees fluttered their leaves in the breeze, fruit, ripe for the picking, hanging from their branches. A man in a tee shirt and jeans was walking through a carefully tended garden, surrounded by a white picket fence. He brushed coal-black hair out of his face, and took the time to wave at her before returning to his work. He picked tomatoes, squash, and corn, laying each one gently in a basket, which he took to the woman so she could fix a wonderful meal for them this evening. He wanted it to be just right for the visitors that were coming to see their beautiful home.
From a meadow the sight of two horses, a milk cow and half a dozen goats caused her smile to broaden even farther. She would need to remember to milk the cow and the goats. It had been a long time and she had to remind herself of a lot of the chores that needed to be done. Some warm fresh milk would be the perfect drink with dinner this evening.
But it was good to have chores to do again. It was good that the special fertilizer had worked it’s magic on the valley again. It had taken so long this time. Ever so long to find the perfect unique nourishment. Now everything was as it should be. The stream was flowing with cold, pure water again, and the valley was green with new growth.
A shiny, red Lexus car sat in the driveway. She stared at it a moment then turned away. She didn’t like to think about the car, but knew they would put it to good use. Invariably, after every renewal there was something left that she did not like. It was the price they had to pay for the restoration of their home.
Ray and Tara walked up the path to the little cottage. It was perfect now with a new coat of white paint, and vines growing up the walls and around the windows. When he opened the door the sent of fresh baked bread and cakes wafted out to wonder across the valley. Tara had worked hard to be ready for the visitors coming for super tonight. What was there name, wondered Ray for a moment. Oh, yes, it was Woods. Mr. and Mrs. Woods.
They turned and stared up at the tumbled ridge of boulders that towered over the valley and cottage. At the top of the ridge was an ancient tree. They could almost imagine that it had a face in the trunk that looked down on them and kept them safe. For just a moment it seemed as if the tree waved to them. Then their gaze drifted down to the dark place at the base of the up thrust of rocks. One would think it was just a shadow instead of a cave until you realized the spring was gushing out of it.
There were several rose bushes scattered here and there on the land. Some by the house, others along the driveway. Some rambled along the fence. Tara leaned over and plucked a bright red rose from a bush covered by blooms. She would put it in a bud vase on the table.
“We should give thanks,” murmured Ray to his wife. For a brief moment Tara and Ray dropped to kneel on the soft, green ground and give a prayer of thanks to the magic in the cave. As they did they could hear the piteous moaning of the roses.