I have always believed in the possibility of angels. I remember all the times solutions to problems I might not even realize I had. Finding my perfect house in Clarkdale. Meeting my precious mini-doxie Baruch at the pound. There had t be some sort of divinity to pull those off. Friends. People who step in just when I need them, maybe stay around, maybe move on.
This weekend I met an angel who blew in off the desert. I was talking to my friend Ashe in the Jerome High School studios. A man came to the door. “Do you know anyone who would like to buy my wood?”
Ashe pointed to me. “Has to be her.”
I trailed after this man, six feet tall, scraggy beard, long stringy gray hair, stained jeans, a few teeth broken, missing. His rusty pickup truck was parked outside, a nondescript large white dog sat in the cab. A cherry-red ATV, tarps, a shovel, and a camp stove were strewn across the bed, and tied over these were three huge red-barked manzanita trees.
“I need money for my sick girlfriend to get to the hospital. My dog needs to go to the vet. Gotta sell that.”
“The wood is gorgeous. Wish I could use it, but it’s too large. I couldn’t even get it into my studio, and have no way to process it.”
He looked at me for a moment, a sparkle crossing his gray eyes. “What do you do with wood?” he queried.
“I use small pieces. Make assemblages, wall-hangings, wands. It’s easier to take you over to my studio, show you, than to explain.” He fell into step with me as I headed across the parking lot.
“Don’t normally do this, ask for money,” he explained. “But doctors don’t see you without it. Went to high school here. Should have graduated in 71, but I tried to kill my father so he’d stop abusing me. They threw me out, and I went off to Nam. Never needed a diploma anyway.”
We passed a montage of student graduation photos from the early 70’s. “I knew all those folk!” he nodded at them.
We entered my wood-strewn studio. I gestured to my completed pieces. “See. This is what I do.”
He picked up a branch of paloverde I had mounted into a base of papier mache. “Mmmmm, not bad.”
“See, I use little pieces of wood.”
“I see. I see this all the time out where I live. Like what you do.”
I showed him several incompleted projects. He held the wood gently, turned it around in his large, calloused hands. “Maybe we could work something out? If I brought you wood like this, could you use it? Maybe buy it. Not too much money, we could work that out. Name’s Don. I camp out in the desert. Cherry. Thousand Trails. Campsites that’ve been destroyed. I go in, clean ‘em up a bit. Stay for awhile. Lived all up and down this mountain.”
“Sure,” I replied. “Let me give you my card. Bring me what you find. I can use it.”
I accompanied him back to his truck. “Hey. I have a couple of pieces in here you might use.” He fished through all his stuff, pulled two small pieces out from under everything. Exquisite grain, complicated bumps and turns.. I took one into my hand.
“See here?” I commented. “This could be a chick with the right base on it. Thanks.”
Don took off. I trotted back to my studio with my two new pieces. Within an hour both were attached to other pieces of wood with papier mache.
My phone buzzed this morning. “This is Don. I gotta whole load of wood you might like. Mind if I bring it over?”
An hour later he arrived, smaller pieces of wood tied to his truck. “Here. I can take this out, see what you like. I am so excited to share this with you.”
He arranged about 50 smaller pieces of wood on the pavement around his truck. Some were too big. Most were the same quality as the pieces he brought the day before. Rusty wire stood over to one side.
“See. This looks like a monster, doesn’t it?. And look at this alligator. This one is a bit long, but loo, if I break it you’ll have four pieces.”
I began to pick up the wood. Don told me of how he found it in a pile. “I burned the stuff that wasn’t good enough. Plenty more where that comes from.” He showed me how some pieces could be fashioned into wood planters. Others were good for candles. His scabbed fingers traced th indentations where he saw melted wax being poured in.
“Take jes' what you want. I’ll burn the rest. No problem.”
“I love going through people’s garbage,” he told me several times. My favorite trick is to go up to someone unsuspecting, ask ‘em if I can look in there. I come back with a necklace, something real nice. They ask where I found the stuff and i tell ‘em in their garbage. I believe in recycling!”
It took us three trips to carry the new wood up to my studio. My wood-pile room filled up with his lacy contributions. I showed him the now-mounted pieces he had given me on Saturday. He approved.
“These need stands.”
He pulled out the wire he had brought. “See this?” He twisted it a bit and placed the chick into it. It stood three inches above the table. “There.” I showed him a piece I intended to hand with chain to make a mobile.”
“Where’d you get that chain? Looks shiny. No good. I will make you chain out of rusty fork tines.”
As we walked past the bulletin board Don noticed a flyer advertising an art show, Made in Jerome, to be held in May. “You ’n me. We can go there.”
We talked about his coming back. “I can pay you something by the hour,” I offered.
“Like a penny or two, that’s all I need. I jes' need to keep busy. Don’t need to get rich. You got my number on your phone now. You call me.”
“What about Friday?” I asked. “I insist on at least paying your gas to come up here.”
“How early?” he replied. “I get up ‘bout four. Gotta see the sun rise. Can’t miss it.”
“Let’s make it ten. I need to walk my dogs first.”
“See ya’ then.”
As he left I fumbled for my phone. I wanted to save his number. I accidentally erased it as I pushed buttons. I looked out my window at the street below. His dented white pick-up truck passed as he descended the mountain.
I look forward to Friday. He promised to help me dowel my Degas dancer whose arm broke. He said he’ll show me how to fashion bases for my pieces from old bedsprings, make chains from rusty silverware, design stands for mobiles from manzanita branches. “All I want to do is keep busy,” he assured me.
And if he doesn’t return. If I cannot reach him because I accidentally erased his number, I still met an angel. A desert-dwelling angel!
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"