“If I had to do this all day every day, I would be bald and have no teeth left!”
Sena’s shoulders are high and rigid. She runs a hand through her nappy hair for the umpteenth time and clenches and unclenches her jaw, but her eyes sparkle and her voice is full of mirth. I laugh with her.
“How do Noah and the rest of the librarians stand being cooped up in this airless room?” she asks?
“They don’t even notice. They’re so engrossed in these tales that they forget everything but the stories. They love it like we like hiking in the far hills alone all day.”
We are closeted in a long, narrow, windowless vault in the heart of the library, cataloging tapes for the oral history project. The tedium and confinement are near torture for my rugged friend, more at home in the wilderness than these walls. Powerful and graceful, tawny in clothing, complexion, and hair color, muscles flexing impatiently, Sena reminds me of a caged wildcat. If the space permitted, she would pace.
“Do you think they’re as miserable planting tomato and pepper seedlings in the gardens as we are sitting here?”
“Actually, I don’t. It’s a perfect spring morning. The air is crispy fresh, the sun is shining, the soil is fresh and fragrant. And who doesn’t feel a huge sense of satisfaction looking down a straight row of seedlings they set in the ground themselves?”
“We do give them the best gardening chores,” Sena says, but she is smiling and bears no rancor. No one loves sharing the wonders of nature with the “wild-challenged,” as she calls them, like Sena.
Farming is heavy work this time of year. Even the hardiest of us ache with the labor. For weeks now we have culled the deadwood from the orchards and village trees, cleared flower beds and vegetable plots, turned and raked the soil to ready it for seeds and seedlings, and set saplings–some twelve or more feet tall with root balls bigger than a bushel basket.
During these weeks of pruning, plowing, and planting, we take our hour or two of daily community chores mostly indoors, a welcome respite for our aching muscles.
While we rest with more sedentary tasks, other villagers–such as the librarians, the communications squad, elders and the children–get a chance to make a lasting contribution to the vegetable gardens, planting the seeds and sprouts that will become much of our food for the next year.
Unlike Sena, I love hearing the old-timers’ stories in their own voices. And the children! What a delight to see the village from their perspective. Still, the air in the library is stifling, more so in this small room with its flickering computer screens and whirring electronics, despite the little fan circulating the air. Pushing a stack of tapes away, Sena camouflages a yawn with a stretch so wide her arms span one wall to the other. I have to smile. I bet she thinks I can’t see her roll her eyes from this vantage point.
Yawning unabashedly now, she stretches her long fingers wider and touches the wall at her work station with the flat of one hand and the shelves on the opposite wall with the flat of the other. Sena’s hands: Knobby with calluses, broken here and there with cuts and scars, nearly a foot from little finger to thumb. Her strong hands are as adept at healing as they are providing food and fibers for the village kitchens and mills.
Lowering my head to my work, I hide my smile. I have a surprise for her. “What are you grinning at,” she says, flashing a perfect set of teeth in a lopsided grin of her own. Caught! Before I can reply, Cheyenne peeks her head round the door. “Did someone call for music?” she asks.
“A concert? Here?” Sena says. She jumps up to peek around the corner, let’s out a low “Mmmph!” as she bangs her shin on the low table.
“Yup. We’re setting up right outside your door. Rose thought y’all could use some distraction while you work.”
“And how!” Sena rubs the back of her neck, ignoring her shin. “Thought I might have to run a couple of laps around the park if I didn’t get some breathing room soon.”
“It is stuffy in here,” Cheyenne says, sniffing. Strains of a violin and viola tuning filter through the door, with another more melodic river of sound. “Is that a harp? Did you bring Tracey?”
Cheyenne, smiling at her own little surprise for me, says only, “Get back to work you two.”
Sena flashes another grin, bright white against her butterscotch skin, and her umber eyes sparkle. I blow Cheyenne a kiss and hunker back to task. The moment the melody begins, Sena’s shoulders drop, and she reaches for a tape. She hums softly, in tune. Her face so agitated moments ago is serene now, as if in meditation.
The power of music. Pure magic. Bless you Cheyenne and your merry little band.