"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Of Motor Graders, Chain Saws, and Jewelry

“Is it true,” someone asked me once, “that your husband gave you a motor grader for a wedding gift?”

She was speaking about those road construction machines that look like a gigantic yellow praying mantis, have a long blade attached to their undersides that grades and smooths a road surface, and front wheels that have a disconcerting way of tilting to one side or the other in order to turn. In operator-ese they’re called “graders,” or simply “blades.”

“Of course not,” I answered. “He gave me a chain saw.”

My husband had one—one of those graders—but it was his. And, the chain saw just happened to be purchased (after much wheedling on my part) at the same time we were getting formally hitched, so the whole thing was rather a joke wedding gift. It was a nice chain saw, too, a Homelite E-Z, with a little trigger that released the cylinder compression and made for easy pull-rope starting, and a sixteen inch bar. He then bought an electric saw chain sharpener in a losing effort to keep up with keeping me in sharp chains.

When I wore out the Homelite, he got me a Stihl Wood Boss 024. I still have it, but it’s more than twenty years old, and getting a bit stubborn about starting. So, I bought a Stihl MS 250c easy start saw which is the one I use today. Why am I giving you the model numbers? Because, in chain saws model numbers are every bit as important as knowing that my husband's motor grader was a Cat 12-E. See?

The arsenal.

But this story isn’t about motor graders or chain saws, but about jewelry. Yes, those trinkets that women hang on themselves to ….. Okay, I never got that part. I’m not a jewelry person. I spent half my childhood climbing trees, and the other half in a dentist’s chair, so I missed out on the jewelry thing.

I quit Girl Scouts because everyone in my troop wanted to learn to dance. I wanted to go camping and learn to tie knots, and that kind of stuff. The closest my troop got to camping was in one girl’s back yard. Remember, this was in Alaska where back yards aren’t like American suburban back yards. We built a little bonfire down by the creek and devil’s club. Then we wrapped raw Bisquick around a stick and “baked” it over the fire.

Naturally we didn’t wait for the dough to get done, so we all spent a miserable night trying to sleep with stomach aches. There was no more talk of camping in my Girl Troop, and I eventually quit.

But, back to jewelry. I’ve never been a jewelry person, as I previously mentioned, much to my husband’s chagrin. It made gift-buying ever so much more difficult for him. Shoot, a couple new chains for my saw would have done it

My ears aren’t pierced. The couple times I tried clip-on earrings, they lasted fewer than five minutes before I yanked them off and stuffed them in a pocket. I did have a couple pieces of jewelry that I wore once in a great while. Wearing jewelry meant a big dress-up occasion to me, and there aren't many dress up occasions in Moose Pass, Alaska.

The simple gold nugget, fossilized mammoth tusk with jade bead, a pendant from New Zealand abalone shell, and the fresh water pearls.

I have a simple gold nugget on a gold chain. It is my favorite piece of jewelry. I have a necklace of fossilized mammoth ivory with a tiny jade bead set in the middle, and a bracelet of fossilized mammoth ivory and

baleen, interspersed with jade beads.

And then something happened a year or so ago. I was in Jerome, Arizona, with my step-daughter and sister-in-law, two women with pierced ears and wearers of jewelry. Jerome is a combination of Old West and artsy-craftsy town that clings to a steep hillside. A tee shirt in a window display caught my eye (I AM a tee shirt person) and I walked into the store.

Right in front of me was an over-sized dressy outer shirt in my favorite shade of turquoise and an incredibly colorful necklace of large multi-colored tiles. I fell in love—with both the shirt and the necklace—and purchased them. Trust me, they were not cheap. I also bought that tee shirt that had led me into this store, along with a necklace to match.

The turquoise linen shirt that needs ANOTHER ironing before I wear it again, and the necklace of many colors.

Oh, and a black over-sized shirt of silk, and the necklace that was displayed with it.

That seems to have done something to me, because I

promptly bought a necklace of fresh water pearls with a matching bracelet from a sidewalk vendor right outside that store. I didn’t even know they were fresh-water pearls. I simply liked the colors.

A writing assignment in an online class a couple years ago was to write about a color in the first person. At the time, it was autumn in Alaska, a season a yellows, golds, oranges, ambers, browns, and burgundies. I chose amber. This is what I wrote:


I Am Amber

I am a chalice of the finest ale, my breath effervescing to my frothy cap, my aroma the yeast of life. I am fermented amber.

I am the penultimate vestige of growth and procreation. I cling tenaciously until Chinook winds snatch me from the limb and transport me on a roller coaster ride to the earth. I am autumnal amber.

In my womb I hold the embryos of species evaporated in time. Searching minds probe the secrets within me. I am older than history. I am primordial amber.

I am flecked with rare saffron and burnt umber. For eons I have been both stalker and prey. The sight of me sires primal foreboding in man. I am lupine amber.

I radiate in amulets and jewelry, pendants and beads. I protect against evil and dark forces, sea serpents, and perils of the deep. I ooze from my host and encapsulate invaders. I am guardian amber.

Through my gel I illuminate Shakespeare and Shaw, Cervantes and Steinbeck. I chase out the darkness and bring dawn to the arena of imagination. I am creative amber.


Surprised me, too.

So, when I got off the tour bus in Auckland, New Zealand, last May and started towards the door of the hotel, it was no surprise when a display of amber caught my eye. I made a sharp left turn and gawked at the collection of large pieces of raw amber, some as large as volleyballs. I imagine I’ve seen amber jewelry before, but I never paid any attention.

Several times a day I walked past that jewelry store, always stopping to look. Then, one night with a few free moments, I entered the store and asked if I could hold a piece of the amber. We talked about amber, that petrified sap that oozes from trees and captures anything that comes in contact with it, including insects. It was this, and some technology developed by my friend Tom Loy, on which Michael Crichton based “Jurassic Park.”

The next morning we were leaving New Zealand for Fiji. The bellhops had picked up our luggage and the coach was waiting curbside. I headed for the bus with one long last glance at the glass shelves with the amber.

Somehow I wound up in the store buying an amber pendant on a silver chain. It spoke to me, called my name, called me kindred.

Then I rushed to catch the coach before it pulled away.

All of which means that now, in addition to books stores and Amazon.com., jewelry counters are off limits to me.

1 comment:

  1. Re motor graders -- Buck still sports a ragged scar on his chest from where a motor grader ran over him when he was about ten -- by all rights, he should have been dead. Luckily for me, he was a tough little customer, even then.

    I don't/can't abide wearing earrings either, although I love the way long dangling silver ones (like thin wind chimes) look on other people.

    Your amber essay is gorgeous -- multi-layered, with a lot of rich stuff to ponder.

    I'm glad you bought the Arizona necklace, silk shirt and linen shirt (even if it does need ironing). The necklace is beautiful, strong and colorful (like a certain someone I know. . .)