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Looking out my Backdoor: When garbage day becomes an event


Last updated 5/21/2020 at 8:24am

As soon as I heard the smoke-belching diesel truck rumble off the highway into the Rancho, I grabbed pruning shears and artfully poked around in a pot of lavender on the front patio.

Well, I haven’t been off the ranch in two months. I don’t get to see many people. There are generally three men, sometimes four, swinging our garbage cans or lawn bags into the maw of the beast. They are friendly. They are young and strong. They wave. They greet me, “Buenos dias.”

I wave and grin and shout my best good morning. They probably think I’m easy.

The garbage truck dust cloud had hardly dissipated when Benjamin arrived in his little blue pickup delivering 20-liter water jugs. I bought three. Often he brings his 8-year-old grandson to help with the empties. I enjoy Benjamin and his shy helper.

We always chat, inconsequential, good morning, how you doing, fine thanks, that sort of talk. When I went for surgery at Christmas, Benjamin was at the hospital to see his daughter and her new baby girl. Made me feel like I was distant family.

Some days are more eventful than others. My shower has leaked for a few weeks. I had hoped it would heal itself. Such hopeless hope is a failing of mine. Josue fixed it. He is the first person to step inside my door since mid-March when I asked my physical therapist to stop treatment. Josue and I danced an elaborate rigmarole around one another for safety.

Not an hour later, I was on my ancient but lovable, like myself, stationary bike, peddling away when the gear-whichitbit that runs the chain fell apart at the pedal mechanism.

Leo rummaged in my tool box, took a gander, gave up and hauled my bike to the bike shop. The man there said, “This bike is really old. They don’t make them like this today. I’ll have to break the piece, make new parts and weld it back together.” Mexican men never say, “I can’t fix it.”

I hope the repairman can fix it. I like my old bike. We bonded. I also had been broken, given new parts and welded back together.

If you are superstitious instead of scientifically minded like me, you might think these break-downs happen in series of three. So why does my hot tub appear to have a short? Shower, bike, tub? Three?

Michelle and Ana drove in from Oconahua for a “gate visit.” Short and sweet, masked and distanced, we visit on each side of my wrought iron gate, keeping in virtual touch, sharing news and views.

Michelle threw me a bag of veggie seeds for my new bucket garden. I threw her a spare packet of sweet corn seed. Janet from next door heard the commotion and joined us.

We tossed around the idea of a sack-lunch get-together, a visit with each bringing her own lunch, mask and appropriate distancing. On further consideration, we decided to wait-and-see. Jalisco has the second-lowest virus contamination/death rate of Mexican states at present, because of vigilant lockdown measures. Wait and see before we get too chummy.

Night came in a blaze of glory. Out my bedroom window looking just beyond Josue’s house, the sky glowed brightly, unnaturally, no, not a glow, a conflagration. I hurried, in my nighty, out to my gate where I could see the flames and hear the snap, crackle and pop.

Instant fear. Fire in the dry season. In a panic, I phoned Josue. He called whomever and they said it was a cane fire just beyond Samantha’s corn field (which is just beyond our houses), which has been harvested. Samantha plowed a fire guard, so all is well, he said. Still.

The men who fire the fields are highly skilled, I am assured, burning the knife-sharp outer leaves so the cane can be safely harvested by hand. Being a farmer at heart, I understand both pros and cons to this dubious practice. Still.

Just in case the fire got out of hand and we had to flee, I put on my clothes. Suddenly I was not one bit tired. I stood guard until the fire was a smolder, a smudge in the moonlight.

In my self-imposed isolation equal to life in a cloistered nunnery, I still have days full of friends and human interaction. The garbage truck lumbers into our rancho twice a week. Likely I’ll not see another soul until next garbage day.


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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