A deliciously warm spring afternoon, the Saturday before Easter. I had advertised a Tea Party in my studio as a way to attract visitors. The morning had been successful. Seven new people, including the mailman, came into my studio. Now the echoes of their praise praise buoyed me.
“This art is amazing. I love wood, pick it up myself, but you see these animals, these birds alive within it. Your sculptures bring me into an imaginative space. I will remember you when I am looking for gifts. We are about ready to redecorate our home. We will return then to buy that abstract kachina. It will bring life to our mantle!”
Sue arrived, my website person, and, I sometimes joke, the daughter I always wanted.
Sue enjoyed a cup of herbal tea, nibbled on a strawberry, and we chatted. My phone rang.
“It’s Don.” Last year Don had rolled in off the desert, a man who had filled his life with desert lore and hard knocks. For six months he had fed me a diet of creative suggestions for my art, technical knowhow for putting some of it together, and a deep love and understanding of the desert. Then, suddenly, he got angry and disappeared, much the same way he had come in. Yesterday, six months after his stormy departure, he had called saying he had more wood for me, then did not show up to deliver it. Was he on his way now?
Don mumbled into the phone. “Lost my fuckin’ phone, then found it again. I ain’t bringin’ ya’ no more wood. That business fucks up my mind.” And he hung up.
I turned to Sue. “No more Don. It’s a good thing I found the Woodman.” I had been getting wood for my art from another guy since the fall, when Don marched out. I found Woodman out on 89A, in a vacant lot where a haybarn used to stand. He hung out there for a weekend now and then, hawking gorgeous wood and other found treasures. I’d driven by and stopped once. His wood was spectacular, creased and creviced in ways only the arid desert could imagine. And he looked like the desert had bestowed a bit of arid trickery on him, as well. His pants hung loosely. Behind his shirt his chest caved in some, his long skinny arms festooned with an array of fading tattoos. His hair, an indistinct gray, pushed around by restless fingers, gave no indication of his age. His face, burnished brown by years of exposure to the sun, appeared too tough to yield to wrinkles.
I selected a pile of curved, unusual shaped twigs, roots and bark, the smallest pieces he had. It was enough to fit into four or five plastic shopping bags. After trying to peddle a few unusual crystals, a dinosaur fossil and a branch of desert holly, Woodman looked at my selection. “Give me ten bucks.”
I stopped by, then, every time I saw him there, next to a trailer or a broken down pick-up, his piles of wood surrounded by the cat trees, oriental rugs, car parts and navel oranges other peddlers spread across the vacant lot. Sometimes he was sprawled across the entry of his camper, almost comatose. His wife roused him. He always had several pieces of wood he had begun to carve, although he never had one completed. And he had other treasures, more dinosaur poop, dried bones, a piece or two of once-spectacular antique furniture, its patina now rubbed off. He roused when he heard I was there. I picked out my treasures, paid his reasonable prices, and drove on.
Then in December I stopped by his spot. “Hey,” he greeted me. We are goin’ down to Texas. Maybe for good. Would you buy all this wood? And he gestured to some larger pieces I had never considered—too big for what I did. “Gotta get it all outta here.”
“I can’t fit that in my car.”
“Oh. Here take these pieces now.” He gestured toward some small and medium chunks of mesquite and ironwood. “I will put them in your trunk. Then I can deliver the rest to your place.”
We agreed. I gave him my address, loaded some of the pieces into my car and drove off. He didn’t show up that evening. I hadn’t paid him, so I didn’t worry.
He called three days later. He spun out a detailed story of sick daughters, friends in jail, and broken down vehicles. “You gonna be around in an hour?”
“I could be.”
“OK. See you then.”
When he did not come, I went over to Juanita’s for a taco. I drove back to my studio. I saw him and his wife. They were hauling the larger chunks of wood across a parking lot on the other side of the street.
“Blew the transmission. Gotta wait for my friend to come tow me back to Camp Verde.”
He and his wife took four trips across the parking lot, then across 6th Street to my studio, dragging the wood behind them. When they got it all inside, they dragged it through my studio to my back yard storage area. Then, in the dark, they arranged the new wood in amongst all the stuff I had already accumulated.
It must have been several months before I heard from them again. One afternoon I went outside to survey my collection of wood. I noticed I had used most of my beautiful pieces, and was sort of digging in the pile of droppings to find appropriate wood for my art. My phone rang. It was Woodman.
“I got some wood. Unfortunately it’s in Flagstaff. Don’t know quite when I can get it down to you. You interested?”
A day or two later he called again. He rambled through another story of someone in the hospital, a house being repossessed, another friend in jail and some broken down vehicles. “Think you can come down to Camp Verde to get it?”
“Where in Camp Verde? Can I fit it in my car?”
“Naw. What if I bring it by when my friend brings his truck by?” gave me no specifics as to when to expect him.
The next night, well after dark I was visiting nearby. My phone rang.
“Hey I am driving by Walmart, on my way to your place. Can you meet me there?”
He pulled up, the extended bed of a pick-up truck stuffed with wood.
“Most of this is for you. I got a couple of big pieces separate. Think you can take them, pay me for ‘em if someone wants ‘em as yard art?”
I panicked slightly at the cost of this load of wood. It took him and his wife Maureen almost an hour to unload it and carefully stash it in my storage area. He stopped now and then to show me a particularly spectacular piece of wood.
He had a number of Saguaro spines. “You can make fountains outta these. I’ll come back, show you how.” He never showed me what he had in mind, but he got me to thinking of the possibilities of fountains!
I felt a bit of panic over how much he would ask for this load. It was far bigger than the $40 load I had taken in before. When all was unpacked I ventured, “How much?”
“Aw. Gimme 75.”
Several months passed. As I pulled out a piece of wood I stopped to think about Woodman, and how he had brought me that particular piece.
I developed a painful corn on my toe. I could no longer take my jaunts into the desert to pick up wood. My podiatrist announced the only solution for my foot was surgery. “Maybe in two or three months you can go back into the desert to get your wood.”
But what would I do now? I surveyed my shrinking cache of the Mormon tea I used for my mezuzahs. “Well, God,” I spoke. “I think it is time for a visit from Woodman.
The next afternoon Woodman wandered into my studio.
“Ya know. I have run outta gas. Can’t get back to Camp Verde. I have this wood here. Think ya’ can give me $10 for it so I can get home?”
He handed he eight or nine pieces of mesquite burls and Saguaro spines.
“I need more wood,” I commented. “Got a bum foot. I can’t go get it myself.”
He gestured toward the pick-up he had emerged from. Three other men were there.
“She needs help’”
They all followed him into my studio.
“Let me show you what I need the most.” I pointed to my Mindfulness Vessels and then to my mezuzahs. “I need small wood for these vessels, and I use Mormon tea for the ones hanging up here.”
He turned to one of the other guys. “Think you can help her out? Where do you get this?”
I described the dog trail I frequented and that guy replied. “I know where you mean. I’ll get it.”
Woodman nodded. “I have some nice, small pieces at home. I’ll pull them out. And I have some other stuff I think you will like. I will be back tomorrow.”
That was a week ago. I hung up the phone after speaking with Don, and turned to Sue.
“Well, Don had said he was going to bring me some wood, but now he says the business fucks up his mind. I wish Woodman were here!”
And with that there was a clatter of aging truck outside my studio. A long yellow truck drove in pulling a decrepit trailer brimming with wood.
“You gotta write a story about him,” Sue remarked, gesturing to Woodman and his wife, Maureen, as they dropped a blue tote overflowing with wood. Mesquite and ironwood roots curled into lacy patterns, belying their solid interiors. Soft Cottonwood, smoothed by the river, was washed into a small slab of etched watery waves. One curved branch came to a point, resembled a crane in flight. Another spiraled around itself, traced a fancy cursive P. I picked up the smooth, small sycamore branch that curled like a fancy handle for a Victorian teapot. So many possibilities for the wood assemblages they would join!
As he and his wife left, Woodman spoke. “My friend has that other wood you need, but he wasn’t up when I went by his house. I’ll get that stuff tomorrow.”
I looked at the pile dumped in the middle of my studio. I smiled. there in the middle was another half-carved piece of wood, an eagle sketched in on one face, a bear on another.
I will stop by his space on 89A tomorrow on my way out to do my ceramics. Perhaps he will have that Mormon tea he promised. I can offer to display completed wood carvings in my studio. Or, maybe it being Easter and all…..
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"