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Stories by Mike Humfreville

The Box    ( Posted December 26, 2002 )

We were living in the hut at the south end of the bay, just the two of us. Except for Rocinante and Dulcinea, a loose-limbed setter-Afghan mix, and a shorter Spaniel half-breed, the runt of the litter that we had chosen for that reason.

Often in the evenings as the heat and sun's intensity dropped, Mary Ann and I walked down the shore toward Rincon. The breeze off the water was cooler and Rochie and Ducie would run forward, looking back, wanting us to watch them, so we did. There is really very little to distract you in that peaceful environment. This was what we wanted. Sand crabs are scurrying toward the water as our feet fall, making shallow indentions in the sand, marking our way to the hut when we turned back, whenever we chose. There were no neighbors in those days, between the village and the Diaz cattle ranch.

A fish carcass was there along the shore. I picked it up and tossed in into the water where its nutrients would serve again. We stooped over the water in the evening reflections, staring at the submerged carcass, a foot out from the shoreline. Rochie joins us. Soon small minnows are attacking the flesh of the dead Trigger. Rochie see them and is fascinated. He sees his own reflection in the surface. He's confused. Now he's pawing the surface. I'm not sure if he's chasing the fish beneath or attracted by the beautiful dog above. His paw hits the water and the twin images are gone. So is Rochie's interest. In a flash the thought-provoking moment of fish and dog that he was so intensely into has disappeared. He's off now, down the beach catching up with Dulcie.

We continue our walk and encounter a metal box washed up on the shore. How could it float? I wonder. I have no answer, but there it is. Even at this remote place we often encounter items that have been swept by the winds and tides to these shores. We have learned that we have greater value for castoffs here than we do in other places. We stop and the dogs idle in racing circles around us at a distance. The box is about 30 inches deep. Its mouth measures perhaps 14 inches wide by 5 inches high. What could we do with this I'm wondering? We continue our walk. On the way back to the hut I pick up the box and carry it with us.

After so many months there we were missing many things. Several of them were food groups. We had before traveled across the peninsula to Black Warrior to buy vegetable seeds that we had planted in the impotent sands by the hut. I had driven old Tortuga to the lagoon and carried back saline mud that had also proven dysfunctional for fostering life. At least the kind we wanted. All we were eating was fish and canned foods. There was little offered in the village in those days.

One morning I'm up early and have caught the dogfoodfish for the day and I almost trip on the metal box I had carried home another day. I realize how we can use it. I clean and cook up the dog's favorite garlic Trigger and Cabrilla, serve them and set to my task. I measure the door to the elongated box with twigs broken off at lengths and carve a piece of a washed-up orange crate cut to those dimensions. I attach it to the metal box with two small pieces of chain, holding the new door in place but allowing it to open upward. Then I take old Tortuga back to the lagoon with a large tarp in the cargo area and fill the tarp with the oozing goo of the lagoonbed. I return to the hut and dig a small firepit in the sand, lining it with slop from the lagoon. Then I construct a mud structure about twelve inches above the firepit and place the box on top. We covered the sides and top of the box with a thick layer of mud. Then we waited.

After two days the mud had fully set and cracked in numerous places. We decided to try it out. Mary Ann whipped up some concoction that included flour, water, leavening and a few other simple ingredients. I built a fire in the new firepit and closed the door to the box sitting atop.

"What temperature do we want?" I called.

"I don't know. Maybe 350."

She stirred the flour. I stirred the coals. Our souls were stirred at the thought, 30 minutes into our future, of what we would be eating. Mary Ann put dollops of her mixture into a muffin pan we had been fortunate to bring with us on this adventure. We popped the tray into the box and closed the lid. The sides of the wooden lid smoked as they came into contact with the metal box. Every few minutes I opened the door just a little to see how the muffins were rising. Just a little, just so, now pillowing, now turning a perfect golden. And then we were consumers once again, of tasty baked paste on this remote place we loved so fully.

We walked from time to time, us four beasts along the beach, and more. We scanned the shoreline for other flotsam and jetsam. Whenever we spotted an object that might prove useful we adopted it. You just never know when something you stumbled upon might turn up to be useful. In utility, did we fulfill the box or did it fulfill us? Together we made each productive and useful.

Mary Ann and I had learned a lot about each other with our quiet time there, after a summer in our hut of thatch and on our beach, alone. We had learned about ourselves and our environment. We learned about life and death in the natural world. We learned about relationships. We learned the limits of love and animosity, about richness and poverty, aloneness and togetherness. We learned to take to each other and our selves. We learned how to face into the chubasco and flood and just say I Will Deal With This And WIN!

But poor old Rocinante. He never did figure out how things worked. Whenever he reached out to touch his magic fish or his own image, his paw would touch the calm surface there and his whole big picture, whatever that was, would begin to fade.

Copyright 2002-2006 Mike Humfreville

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