An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of February 25, 2008
Written in the community of 28 de Junio and issued from a ciber in
Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas, MÉXICO

THREE PERFECT POLES

This week I bought a metal pot so I could return to preparing breakfast stews like the ones I enjoyed at Yerba Buena. My new pot has a wire handle across the top so it can be suspended above a fire. More than once I've lost breakfast stews when one of three supporting rocks somehow was disturbed.

So, one afternoon I was wandering around outside looking for something to hang my new pot from when Don Bartolomé came over wondering what I needed. He invited me go with him when it cooled off later in the afternoon, and he'd machete me three poles so I could fix a tripod.

The Don arrived when he said he would, his machete blade so sharp that as we walked along the trail wayward weeds and the tips of tree branches leaning too close to us just seemed to fall off with nothing but a hint of intention from the blade. We passed so many potential campfire poles that I decided the Don wanted to show me something beyond good pole territory.

But Don Bartolomé didn't want to show me anything. He was just waiting for perfect poles. He wanted a certain tree species with a straight stem without a flaw. He found what he wanted where several youngish stems stretched toward a hole in the canopy, each stem keeping the others hemmed in, and therefore growing straight.

Once we had three perfect poles back at my place I began wandering around looking for loose wire but the Don said he had wire he'd been saving for a project just like this one. He got his wire and then set about twisting it a certain way to increase its strength. The tripod turned out much larger and more stable than I'd imagined it could be. It'd taken a lot longer than I'd figured, too, but somehow time hadn't mattered once the Don had established our sense of moment by moment, measured purposefulness.

It'd been like attending a Wagnerian opera, each drawn-out movement so rich in detail you didn't mind the hours slipping by. As afternoon slipped into early evening all the flowing changes of place and time merged with the materializing tripod. Melodies and motifs of sundown, emerging stars, upstarting frog croaks and igniting fireflies all got worked into wood and wire by the old Indian's brown hands, his toothless smile and the neat hook at the bottom of the dangling wire becoming one agreeable thing.

The next morning my onion-jalapeño-carrot-snapbean-pumpkin-cabbage-soy protein-cornmeal-oatmeal stew turned out as well as my tripod, and I sat a long time thinking about what it all meant. You can see my thinking spot and the new pot-hanging tripod below:

campfire in Chiapas

I decided that, with regard to the Don, the impressive thing had been that here had been a person who began a project knowing exactly what he wanted and how he intended to see it through. He'd already decided that the project somehow was a worthy one, that of helping a neighbor, so he intended to take his time and do a good job.

One way of summing up the current line of thought is to say that the Don has patterned his behavior on a paradigm expressed throughout Nature, with which the Don is very intimate. That paradigm is "Work slowly but well, and only on meaningful tasks, like lichens breaking down rock, like a corn crop emerging from single germinating corn grains, like evolution blossoming people up from an amino-acid soup."

With regard to my breakfast stew the impressive thing is that maybe anything tastes great if it has a lot of onions and hot pepper in it, and your body is in good shape and you're not tense or upset about things, and it's a pretty day and you're surrounded by nice folks in an interesting place.

So, maybe this week's advice is this: Start with onion and hot pepper, and work step by step toward the rest, like Don Bartolomé would do it. Facebook Icon