Friday, August 24, 2012

Carl, Drought, Rain and Farming

Much has happened since I posted last. My friend Carl has been diagnosed with colon cancer and given six months. He lives in his old blue van, enjoying the hills and his freedom, and has no intention of giving that up to linger somewhere in a hospital bed. 

"Nobody has to understand why I'm doing this," he says. "But this way I am living free until the Creator takes me. That I enjoy."  

There is no sorrow or remorse in Carl. His has been, he says, "a life well lived—if not by your standards at least by mine." At Walmart he saw a man confined to a wheelchair. "It made me realize how lucky I still am," he says.


Carl -- grateful for his life
While the rest of the nation burns under drought New Mexicco isgetting the summer rains known as monsoons. Two inches fell on El Paso yesterday, I'm told. And in Truth or Consequences dark billowing clouds by day often produce downpours, especially at night, flooding the streets and turning brown patches of the desert bright green.


There's a small town about 20 or so miles to the northwest of TorC named Monticello.  They, too, last week had two inches of rain, washing out arroyos and making roads impassable. The rains that thunder down the canyons bring soil. The land is fertile.

Ed is in his 80s now. On his own he farms seven acres, pulling weeds by hand and inspecting produce with an eye for detail and learning.

Torres -- married at 16
Last week I visited Ed on his farm, right after the rain. The roads were so impassable he enlisted the help of a neighbor, Torres, with a big four-wheel-drive blue pickup to get up out to the fields.

"It would have been better if you had come out a few days from now," Ed says. "Then you could have driven.  Torres is a true New Mexican old-timer who greets us in a torrent of Spanish before switching to English. On the way I learn he has lived all his life in this green valley. He married his sweetheart, Sally, 62 ago when she was 15 and he was 16.  
Baggy pants and a cantaloupe

Now she is an invalid. Torres has stopped farming and takes care of her, doing the cooking and giving her the insulin she needs.

"She helped me all those years farming," he says. "It's only right I should take care of her now."

Ed has no wife to take care of and loves the fields. He grows everything—melons and cantaloupes of all stripes, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, chiles, turnips, rutabagas, peas, pumpkins, watermelons, gourds — If it grows  Ed grows it. And does it all himself beginning in early in spring and working late into the fall.

His pants are baggy and hanging loose on him  "I've lost 20 pounds."  he grins. "I'll fatten up again some in winter."

A Joe Parker chile
We walk the fields.  They are neat and manicured. No weeds. He doesn't use fertilizer or herbicides. 

"I've been farming all my life," he says. "Work? Sure, it's work. Too much work. No man would do it. But it you love doing it, well, it's not work. Not to me, anyway."

Work begins at daylight.  "Know how to tell if a melon is ripe?" he asks. "Pick it up an twist it a little. If it comes right off the you know it's ready."

I say good-bye to Ed and climb back into Torres's truck to go back to town. We pass an abandoned school, windows long gone. Torres points to it. "That's where I met Sally, " he says.

Minutes later we pass a small adobe church. A sign on the door says, no mass in August.  

"I'll be here as long as I live. I'm part of this land."
He points again. "And that's where we got married. We were young, had to get permission. They said it wouldn't last. It did." 

Again he looks out of his pickup.

"I guess I'll be here as long as I live. I'm part of this land."