An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of July 13, 2007
issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve Headquarters in
Jalpan, Querétaro MÉXICO

A HANDMADE BURRO SADDLE

Handmade Burrow Saddle

While we sat at the tables sipping agua de melon and recuperating from the cave hike, Pancho's father made a cigarette by sprinkling a line of brown, shredded tobacco onto a square sheet of white corn-shuck and rolling it into a cylinder. He'd taken his tobacco from a spherical, hollow, brown, gourd-like fruit produced by a tree growing in the neighboring state of Guanajuato, the introduced Cannonball Tree, Couroupita guianensis.

Noting our interest in his old-time ways the father went inside and returned with a handmade wooden saddle-like creation made to be placed atop a burro's back, to enable it to carry large loads, particularly firewood. It's shown in the above picture and I invite you to look not only at the artfully made saddle-like object but also what's in the background -- a girl sitting idly in a homemade chair as woodsmoke from the kitchen drifts by, the three-legged dog called Pinto wandering around joyfully sniffing and wagging his tail, the crooked calendar in the background bearing an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, light passing between the poles constituting the walls of the shed behind the sitting girl, the miscellany of things hanging on the wall beneath the corrugated tin roof...

Try to conjure up the feeling of sitting in this congenial, sleepy ambiance smelling woodsmoke, baked tortillas, the odor of our melon drinks and flowers, moist earth and crushed grass, feeling cool breezes flowing around us, hearing birds singing, and with enough garden plants flowering all around us for there to be gorgeous color everywhere, everywhere...

When I was a kid in Kentucky I knew this kind of generous, peaceful, disorganized, colorful, enriched environment, and the people in my community and family back then knew how to sit around enjoying a summer breeze, white clouds in the sky, not feeling a compulsion to keep the conversation rolling, and not really feeling compelled to do anything other than what we were already doing. I remember it as a deliciously satisfying manner of living. Often in later years I wondered why we'd all worked so hard to single-mindedly create a world that increasingly felt like something I needed to escape from.

The point of these words is this: I invite you to think of the ten thousand ways you struggle to "clean things up," to organize, to sterilize, to standardize, to modernize. And then I ask you further:

Are you sure you're not creating a living environment so sterile and methodical that no healthy human spirit can long endure in it?

For my part, after years of circumspection, I say that I'm on the side of having a little stinkiness, a little rust, a few holes here and there, a little backwardness and occasionally even a mouse or two gnawing through the night, since, in the end, that's where the color is, that's where the enduring fragrances are, the hominess, the peace and definitely the humanity.

And I just wonder what the "carbon footprint" of Pancho's family looks like compared to that of the typical consumption-focused North American family?

Down with Lysol, down with neatness and complicated accounting. Long live vagrant summer breezes and the three-legged dog joyfully wagging his stump of a tail! Facebook Icon