Life on the Frontier: Walmart and the Wood Thing

Taos backyard with slushy snow

Taken through the window. I ain’t stupid.

Yesterday was telling. For some reason I was out of the house with time on my hands, which happens almost never, and there was Walmart right across the road. Since I didn’t have to go to Walmart, I thought it might be fun, so in I went.

First I checked out the cargo pants. I love cheap cargo pants, especially the nice thick soft ones made in countries where the workers are exploited and the factories collapse. But it wasn’t happening yesterday, because the aisle was blocked by a strange-looking woman who’d all but cleaned out the shelves. Her shopping cart was piled so high with pants, I couldn’t get by. It was insane, or she was, or possibly a long shot now, she was buying cheap pants for a work gang camping in the mountains or a band of fundies living in old school buses on the other side of the gorge. Either one would work here, but I didn’t care and headed for the gadget section. Maybe a new USB cable would make my day.

Just then I remembered that my wife had mentioned copying a CD. The nostalgic quaintness of this charmed me, so I decided to see if one could still buy blanks. Could one ever, and now they sold the things bare-naked, not even a paper sleeve. (Those were separate, one hundred to a box.) There were other packages with sleeves or cases, but the quantities were huge. I only needed one and found a little pack of shrink-wrapped discs. That’s when it started to get to me. I stood there for a moment holding the sad little bit of nothing in my hand and felt a wobble in my soul. Suddenly I put it back and walked away.

No matter, there must be something else we need, I thought. Oh yes, a bath mat, that’s the ticket, and one of those little rugs that fits around the toilet. Bath Department, yes, and you can guess how long I lasted there. Our old dirty mats were better made, and they came from the same store not three years ago. Run like thunder, chilluns! (I barely made it out alive but found I’d snagged a bag of Fritos and some cheese dip on the way.)

That afternoon, it began to rain. This went on way longer than a twenty percent chance of precipitation would have one believe, but there it was. And then the temperature dropped. Soon the air was thick with falling snow. Heavy, wet globs they were, not flakes, that landed with a plop-plop-plop… By the time the sun went down, the world was white and slushy and the road was muddy hell. This was of more than passing interest to me, since only the day before, my excellent friend and wood guy had emailed me the remarkable news that if the weather held, i.e. stayed warm and dry, he’d be able to deliver wood this year after all. This would be the magic naturally-cured piñon from high atop his personal mountain, wood that starts with just a match and lasts all night. When you have wood like this, you want it to be twenty below so you can laugh.

This morning we woke up to the scene you see above. The few sticks of firewood I had left were under several inches of frozen slush. I could only imagine what the scene was like a thousand feet higher on that mountain, and the overnight forecast called for a low of nineteen degrees! My first job was pretending not to worry. When my wife and I visted the storage unit around noon, I saw the little Craftsman chain saw I had stored there and brought it home. There were branches from dead plum trees on the property I could cut, if only I could get it started.

To my utter amazement, a little fresh gas and about three pulls was all it took. Moving right along (in case it quit on me), I cut up as much of the plum wood as I could and then discovered a secret stash of ancient cedar fence posts in the mud. An hour later all of this was stacked up near the front door and beside the stove. As I type this after midnight, it’s over seventy degrees in the small room we call the “saloon” where we hang out in the winter. You would too, with the wood stove, sofa, and a bar. Life can be a goddamn struggle in this loony bin, but staying warm is victory unbounded. For the next ten days at least, we’ve got it made.

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John Hamilton Farr lives at 7,000 feet in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore tells it, John is “a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” This JHFARR.COM site is the master writing archive. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page. For a complete list of all John’s writing, photography, NFTs, and social media links, please visit JHFARR.ART  

  • Carmel Glover November 1, 2013, 1:26 AM

    You made me smile … something I need at the moment.

    • JHF November 1, 2013, 1:38 AM

      Carmel! Glad I could help. This everlasting crisis shit has got to go. Whoever figures it out first can let the other know!

      • Joe November 1, 2013, 10:23 AM

        Y’all both picked me up a little. Yesterday, all this week actually, has been kind of tough. I don’t like my routine messed up but it seemed like I spent three-fourths of my time arguing with people who tried to cheat me. From the internet folks to my cat’s vet. Oh, and a sick cat added to my worries. She’s old and my best buddy.
        Times like this your photos and words pick me up and I read posts from people like Carmel and I realize I’m not the only one who has lousy times.
        I need to escape. Get away from this crowded megapolis and breathe some desert air again.
        Blessings to both of you.

        • Leanne November 1, 2013, 1:06 PM

          This one made me chuckle. I hadn’t shopped at a Wal-Mart for nearly 15 years and then we moved to Ozark. For lack of alternatives and out of necessity, I have found myself shopping there more than I care to admit. Always an entertaining experience though.

          • JHF November 1, 2013, 2:02 PM

            That lady was exceptionally weird. And she really had emptied the shelves where my pants were. Damn.

        • JHF November 1, 2013, 2:01 PM

          Hey Joe! Great comment, hope you feel better soon. As far as escaping goes, I’ve found I always bring myself with me. On the other hand, a man’s gotta breathe, right?

          Took my four mile hike this morning, two days after that snow. Wasn’t a long enough interval. 🙁 Very muddy, because the strong sun at 7,000 ft melts frozen mud even at temps well below freezing. Cleaning boots now, ugh. But I did walk four miles!

          • Joe November 1, 2013, 11:47 PM

            Much better, thanks. The old cat’s looking good and the sun came out today. A day of bright sunshine always picks me up.
            Yeah, a man does have to breathe.

  • Marti Fenton November 1, 2013, 3:48 PM

    In Taos, Walmart is it. Walmart replaced the plaza and the place you see people you haven’t seen for a long time. It’s not even a very good Walmart but its managed to do in the Radio Shack and several other businesses just because we Taosenos are too poor to deserve better or are to lazy to visit several stores when we can do it all at one.

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