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Stories by Mike Humfreville

The Tempests of Summer - Bahía de Los Angeles 1985, Part 18: Barsam's Corner    ( Posted June 30, 2004 )

I was usually the first one awake in the mornings. I read for a half hour or so and then tried to find something to occupy myself that didn't bother Mary Ann or the boys, still asleep. I often had to look for something to do that wouldn't make too much noise.

We knew we would have visitors later in the summer and sometimes I would busy myself making simple improvements to little alleuvial fan. The road from the plateau to our hut followed erosion that cut into the earth's surface, growing deeper as it neared the beach, to a depth of about ten feet. Over the final fifty meters the walls were nearly vertical, with several sharp turns. The cliffs were so close that there was little room to negotiate curves. It was a slow drive even in our truck. When Barsam and his family had helped us find this remote site, in the spring, we had worried that one place in this gnarly path would keep his 30-foot motorhome from getting to the beach. One morning, looking for some activity, I walked out to the road. The problematic corner was about a hundred meters from the hut, far enough away that I could use a pick and shovel without waking everyone up. This was going to be hard, hot work, even before the sun rose. I'd have to do small amounts of digging early each day.

On this first morning, I examined the job: the corner was sharp but was negotiable, even with the overhang at the rear of the motorhome. The real difficulty was a large chunk of volcanic rock that blocked the road bed on the right side and prevented a gradual right turn to enter the S-shaped twist at a reasonable angle. The lava could not be avoided on either side because the gully's walls were so close. If I removed this single impediment, Barsam's motorhome could make it through.

I started this small excavation of some two yards of rock at about six the next morning. I cleared the loose dirt and rock from the lava outcropping. I swung the pick a few times to break away rock in small pieces. After the first few swings I was drenched in sweat. I removed the debris I had broken loose only to see no change in the seemingly growing obstacle. I continued this sweaty effort for another hour when Michael came running out with a gallon plastic bottle of kool-aid fresh from the ice chest. We sat on a nearby rock and I polished off about half the bottle. There is something about drinking from a large container that I enjoy. It must be that I was really dehydrated; a small can or soda might not fill the bill and it was limited by its size. With the large bottle I was able to consume as much as I wanted with no concern of shortage.

"I want some too. Don't drink it all." Michael yelled. I handed him the jug and he took a couple of swallows. Kevin came running up from the hut, wearing only trunks and boots.

"I want some. I want some too."

"Here Kev." Michael handed him the bottle. Kevin threw the heavy bottle against his mouth, upended it, blew a bubble into the liquid, swallowed a mouthful and handed the bottle back to Michael. Red sticky juice was running down his chest onto the dust of the roadway.

"Why are you digging?" They asked.

"I'm making a corner for Barsam's motorhome. See," I pointed to the corners of the S curve and showed them it was too sharp for the motorhome. "So I'm going to get rid of this giant rock in the road."

"OK." they chimed. "That's gonna be a lot of work."

They had had enough of the heat and sun and went running bask to the hut, yelling.

"Mom! Mom! Dad's building Barsam's corner. Forevermore for us that twisted piece of ravine in the desert will be called just that.

Over the weeks I worked on the ravine from time to time and whenever I did, the boys brought me an icy drink and we would sit in the skimpy shadows of the early morning in the steep ravine and talk for a minute before I would go back to work and they to swim or play in the earth behind our hut. These simple pleasures continued until I had reduced the lava to a pile of rubble lying along the sides of the ravine. There was, I thought, just enough room for the motorhome to pass and make that sharp turn. We wouldn't know the results of this effort until our friends arrived, later that summer.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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