THE WOOD­CARVER AND THE WITCH

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS - [ BY AN­DRES VAR­GAS ]

FROST PER­ME­ATED TAOS VAL­LEY

one late spring morn­ing as Pa­tro­ciño got up from his home­made bed with metal springs and a wool-filled mat­tress. He sipped his cof­fee, scooped up his cal­abac­i­tas with his tor­tilla, and thought about his gar­den. He would have a sup­ply of dried squash, posole, beets, car­rots, turnips and other del­i­ca­cies to en­joy dur­ing the long win­ter months.

Later he no­ticed that the two ripen­ing squash he had seen ear­lier were gone. Some­one was steal­ing his veg­eta­bles! That night he walked to his gar­den and lay down by the ace­quia to keep watch. Soon af­ter he de­tected move­ment. Some­one dressed in black was pick­ing through his car­rots, beets, and turnips. He jumped up and ran to­ward the per­son yelling as loudly as he could, “Oye, cabrón!” Star­tled, the thief im­me­di­ately ran, jump­ing over a barbed-wire fence with ease. As he gave chase he saw it was a woman, his neigh­bor Doña Clara — but fast as he was, he couldn’t catch her. She seemed to fly over the barbed-wire fences in her long black dress.

The next morn­ing, he walked to Doña Clara’s. When she opened her door, he said, “Buenos días. I came to ask why you were steal­ing my veg­eta­bles. I saw you last night, and the ev­i­dence is on your ta­ble — the tops of the car­rots and beets.”

“How dare you. Are you crazy, ac­cus­ing me of be­ing a thief? Get out of my house!”

Pa­tro­ciño’s part­ing words were, “You’ll have to con­vince the jus­tice of the peace. I’m tak­ing you to court!”

From Doña Clara’s he walked to town di­rectly to J.P. Flores, the jus­tice of the peace, and lodged his com­plaint against Doña Clara. Five days later, at trial, J.P. Flores in his heav­ily ac­cented English asked Dona Clara, “Guilte or not guilte?” Doña Clara mim­icked the judge and replied, “Not guilte!” Pa­tro­ciño re­lated the story of the night of the full moon and his chase of a woman he rec­og­nized as

Doña Clara, dressed all in black, who seemed to fly over a barbed­wire fence, and that he went to her house early the next morn­ing and saw the same kind of veg­eta­bles that were miss­ing from his gar­den. J.P. turned to Doña Clara for her de­fense. She said she had pur­chased the car­rots and beets from Pete Sahd at the Ran­chos Trad­ing Post.

The judge called for a brief re­cess, went to his kitchen, and called Pete Sahd. He asked Pete if he knew Doña Clara and if he had sold her beets and car­rots. Pete said he knew Doña Clara — “Doesn’t every­one?” — but he did not have car­rots or beets yet and could truth­fully state that Doña Clara had not been at his store for many months.

J.P. Flores then re­turned to the bench and promptly found Doña Clara guilty of the theft. She de­nounced the find­ing as an out­rage and cursed the judge: “You shall pay for the in­jus­tice you have

per­pe­trated against me.” Un­der her breath, she ut­tered: “Y que te lleve la chin­gada, viejo cabrón!”

Every­one who be­lieved in witch­craft knew Doña Clara was a witch. J.P. Flores did not be­lieve in such non­sense, but that night at midnight, and ev­ery night there­after, he was awak­ened by a hoot­ing owl on top of the pon­derosa pine near his win­dow. Ev­ery night J.P. took care­ful aim and shot at the owl, but it would fly away. It kept com­ing back, night af­ter night. It was his friend Belisan­dro Mares who sug­gested that the judge con­sider putting a cross on the bullet. Witches of­ten as­sumed the form of an owl, and the only way to get rid of such an owl was to carve a cross on the tip of the bullet.

The next night, J.P. Flores was wait­ing with his .22 and two bul­lets with a cross on their tips. He took care­ful aim, squeezed a round off, and im­me­di­ately knew by the “thud” that he had hit the owl. The next night J.P. Flores slept soundly.

Two days af­ter J.P. Flores shot the owl, Juan Joker was walk­ing by Doña Clara’s house and no­ticed a bro­ken kitchen win­dow. He walked up to the win­dow and looked in­side. He saw Doña Clara splayed out on her kitchen floor, cov­ered in blood, and the walls splat­tered, as if a gi­ant bird in its last throes had flapped its blood on all the walls. Af­ter that ex­pe­ri­ence, Juan Joker stopped drink­ing, al­beit for only a week. Doña Clara was re­turned to the earth at the Campo Santo de Cañon, in the com­mu­nity where she had been con­ceived and where she had lived her life. And life went on in the lit­tle com­mu­nity of Cañon.

This Novem­ber morn­ing a hum­ming­bird rests at the very top of the leaf­less sy­camore, a green iri­des­cence that should have flown long ago to lands of scar­let flow­ers and win­ter warmth. Per­haps her tiny sun clock has failed her. One morn­ing soon, her in­fin­i­tes­i­mal feet frozen to a branch, it will be too late.

Hu­mans — one greasy meal, one slide on a slick road, one shov­el­ful of heavy snow, one in­va­sion, one elec­tion too many — are al­ways sur­prised when dis­as­ter over­takes us, but I had thought birds lived steady in the rhythm of the world out­side our hubris.

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