I met Riley yesterday up at Joe’s farm. He was elbow deep in soggy, dark soil and mud was splattered across his face, tangled in his beard. He looked at me and wiped sweat from his brow, a curl of bicep sliding up toward his shoulder like a meaty slug.
“Hey,” he said, then looked away, his profile revealing the remnants of a mowhawk hairdo.
“I’m Katey. You the California plates?” He nods yes, explaining the flight, then the rendezvous with the car, then the move up to the farm. “You here for long?”
“’Till August, yup. You here?”
“Live just over that ridge, see,” I say pointing south. “Work up here every Tuesday, and sometimes extra days. I barter with Joe for my teas.” I could smell Riley from where I stood in the driveway, just ten feet from his heavy work of transplanting a large woody shrub. It was startling, attractive almost, the smell of work. (Note to self: Where I am in my cycle? Oh, yeah.) He was wearing dark grey Dickies and a black button down shirt with pearly snaps, stitches along the neck mocking a Western style. The cuffs were rolled up with meticulous perfection, creasing the fabric tightly across his chest and upper arms. He offered to make me Russian Caravan green tea and I obliged.
Half a day later I return to the farm for a morning of work. The skies opened up in feverish rain storms, rain falling from the sky like translucent sheets of butterfly wings.
“You didn’t bring back your mug,” Riley says, greeting me with a smile.
“I know, sorry. I just left it in the Herb Shop where I was making my prescription…Good morning,” I say smiling back and ducking through the sliding glass door to retrieve the mug.
“Looks like we’re working together this morning,” he says taking the mug from my hand and pouring fresh, hot chai brewed on the outdoor kitchen stove. He has showered since yesterday, no small feat at a solar farm on a rainy day after being soaked head to toe in chocolate brown mud the day prior. He bears the marks of a traveling punk rocker gone mountain man, a dangerous combination for me. I sit in the porch chair and bury my nose in the scent of the chai, trying to direct my attention away from his huskiness. But still, there is a pulse of something too loud to ignore.
“Excellent, except, well, the weather. Look, I think I’ll just start cleaning the Herb Shop. It’s a disaster and Joe will want it looking tip-top for his full moon party.”
“Right, I’ve heard about those,” he nods in an exaggerated fashion, the neck hairs of his beard bristling against his clean shirt. His eyes are boyishly round and full, the same rich brown of the soil he was caked in yesterday. His fingers are slightly shorter than expected, not suitable for guitar, nails bitten down to the skin, soil caked along each cuticle like cocoa crescent moons.
We sip tea in silence and I work vehemently at coaching myself away from a repeat scenario. MGL was, after all, an apprentice for Joe as well. No need to go back down that road again.
We work mostly in silence, occasionally commenting to each other about the music. Eye contact is frequent, subtle, quiet. There is an intuitiveness to our cleaning: we begin trash piles simultaneously in the same place, office supplies compiled in consensus on a particular shelf, a cardboard box designated for music, another for miscellaneous fist aid supplies. At one point Riley breaks into an uproariously accurate, loving impersonation of Joe, speaking vaguely and offering nonsensical directions in an otherworldly tone. We crack up together, then brag on Joe’s knowledge of Chinese herbs and organic gardening.
“One of the best in the country,” Riley says. I concur.
Later, Riley exits the Herb Shop to work under one of the canopies across the garden. I sweep tulip poplar blossoms from the porch and surmise the number of minutes until the rain starts pounding down again. I look up and Riley is watching me on the porch from beneath the leaves of a red maple tree. I stare back at him, holding the broom easily between my fingers, pausing between steps to the lower level of the deck.
PS Dear Readers, I will continue the blog through residency. I will continue it until July 28th, marking one year. Then I will take two weeks off for reflection and reconsideration of the intent and purpose of the blog. Then I will return, in what form only time will tell…Thanks, as always, for your faithfulness in reading!