A Mouthful of Clay

I have only seen one tumbleweed in 500 miles of walking, two if you count me.

You’d better count me.

I supppose I have come across more, but didn’t recognize them as such, as the wind was calm at the moment or – I imagine this is what they do –  they had taken temporary root.

Are tumbleweeds alive? I imagine
them as being similar to sea urchins, tumbling over the sea bottom.

I too am rolling across this vast, oceanic world, at times just pushed along by the current, at other times taking root or lying in weight for unsuspecting plankton to drift by and then feeding.

How do urchins feed? Do they have mouths?

The feeding I am talking about is different: feeding the mind, the soul, the spirit.

Can you overfeed an urchin or a tumbleweed – assuming it is alive in the first place?

I know I can only absorb so much at one time: today my head aches from all that I tried to take in in the last few days. In time I will digest it and, perhaps even in the first few days of winter, produce new shoots, new flowers from this feast.

That is really what this little essay is about: digestion, transformation, transmutation…


You know you are learning when you yourself are surprised at what you remember, what you have retained.

I remember Mitchell, a Yapavai-Apache Nation member who has a fry bread stand at a great location in Camp Verde.

He sets up in an empty dirt lot within sight of the Nation’s “Cliff Castle Casino – it’s  just uphill – and near the road a million tourists a year have to use on their way to Montezuma’s Castle: a wonderfully well preserved cliff dwelling.

Conni DiLego, former director of Plymouth’s Center for Active Living spent many years in Arizona and told me that once I got it’s “red clay between my toes” I’d find it difficult to leave.

Later, speaking of the Navajo people’s natural empathy for strangers in diffficult situations she told me that if I walked through the ‘rez’ I’d likely receive many offers of “soda and fry bread.”

Yavapai-Apache Don Decker, my host at the reservation, stopped at Mitchell’s stand in between escorting me on a tour of their land and, after ordering, I told the proprietor – mashing both of Conni’s comments together – that a friend had told me that “once I get the red clay between my toes and fry bread in my mouth” I wouldn’t be able to leave.

Without looking up from his griddle Mitchell said in a flat, unaffectated tone of voice… “Just be sure you don’t get the two things mixed up.”

I laughed, but really I don’t think it would matter.

I am a tumbleweed: rolling across this vast and to me at least, new world.

I feed on anything I see, on everything I feel, everywhere I go.

And you know what? It all tastes sweet to me.

note: since writing this I have learned that tumbleweeds, though permanently ensconced in the mythology of the American West (in movies, books and cowboy songs) are actually the mature but dead portion of one of America’s first well-known invasive species – Russian thistle. Apologies to urchins.

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