Box People: Winifred Mumbles

It’s my week to tend to the box people. Don’t know why I signed up for a whole week in January. The Wolf Moon is the hardest time of year. But they were so grateful down in the valley when I did that I didn’t have the heart to change it. So now… forty-six years later I’m still taking what little I don’t have to the box common and bringing home the mending. I suppose the mending was why January sounded like a good idea. By now, I have everything spun and a few yards each of finished worsted, flannel, and challis in the closet.

Also there’s no tending to beans in the Wolf Moon.

Not so much wind either. Or rather, wind is not so constant. There are whole days so calm I don’t have to sweep away the sand hordes that are boarding my porch. Of course, that means there are whole days without the turbine too… always a trade off. But there are also a few scattered days when everything not locked down is taken off to heaven knows where. Somewhere out there in the desert backed up against some implacable mountain is a huge pile of buckets and shoes and spoons and tumbleweeds. Maybe a few bicycles even. Back when I still did foolish things like decorate for Midwinter, I made a thirty foot length of garlanded piñon, juniper, pine mistletoe and ponderosa cones for the whole front arcade of the house. Took me most of a week of candlelit evenings in the barn to make that garland. And one night of canyon breezes removed any trace of it. I never did find even a needle any where near here. Suppose leaving garland up into the Wolf Moon was offensive to some cosmic time keeper somewhere.

The churros are in a slack time in January also. It’s getting on to lambing season for the breeders who are also the elder females in the flock. So they tend to bed down early and not get back up till it’s late… and everyone else just follows. Because sheep. Even churros are followers. Except the elder females. Because we don’t follow anyone.

So the box people. Strange lot. Now, some are down there for good reason. I’ve known more than a few who truly can’t tend to their own needs and have managed to lose any clan or community that might have kept them at home. I don’t mind them. In fact, I spend a bit too long in their boxes gabbing away with them and watching for that smile that lights up the whole world. Go down to visit some all through the year, even. I think maybe that contact with someone who wants to see their smile is what they most need. More than food perhaps.

But the most of the boxers are odd. Have strange ideas. Mostly about the old times. And these are not old timers. These are young folk, younger than me anyway, who choose to forgo a home and any responsibility that comes with tending to the land, the creatures and themselves. They have no garden, no dairy, no loom or spinning wheels. They have no bins and root cellars, no greenhouses nor sheds for tools. They can’t make anything. Don’t even know if they have decent cooking tools, nor what they use to make medicine. Those box rooms are barely large enough for a bedroll and a bathing tub.

Also… it’s hot. Even with turbine-powered climate control. And there’s those stairs. And they seem to think that the top levels are the best. Stupid. Or haven’t learned about knees yet anyway.

Just the thought makes me ache. To live your whole life in a tower of boxes like that. Dozens of hollow-eyed zombie people stacked up on top of each other. It’s not living. Unable to make their own clothes or food or… anything. They haven’t the space. All because tending to your own needs always means tending to others. And they just won’t.

They have these cultist notions about class, fancying themselves masters and kings in an age when all the kings are dead and mastery only comes to those who work. Some think they are free from bonds, down there in their boxes. Don’t need to worry about bad harvests and clogged drains. Someone else carries the worrying load along with the responsibility. And if they get bored with this box, they can just wander on with the tumbleweeds and the misplaced buckets. But what kind of freedom is it if you can’t even make your own tooth powder? Or breakfast? Or shoe laces? Or tomatoes! What kind of freedom is completely dependent upon strangers? What are you free from anyway? You still have to eat and wear clothes and do something about the shit. You have no control over anything in your life when you start worshipping this bootless freedom. What does freedom even mean if you can’t take care of yourself?

That’s the irony about the old days. All that talk about freedom and independence. Complete nonsense. There were boxes that stretched into the skies full of people with nothing but empty symbols of wealth. No real wealth. Because no means of meeting their own bodily needs. Utterly incapable of tending to their own lives. Ergo utterly dependent upon and lashed to those who tended to them. Hanging pictures on their walls and wearing ridiculous shoes and piling up hoards of useless trinkets and gadgetry. Freedom to be stupid is what it was. Freedom from all sense. Or even any kind of happiness. 

Because what joy could be found in plastic and alcohol and their ubiquitous screens? 

Things to be grateful for: intermittent electricity!

Some of the box people today still have these fancies. They have collections. Very odd museums. Old glass bottles and black rocks. Silk neckties and bright poison-hued plastic. One guy has tableware. Spoons, forks, butter knives. Calls himself silver-rich. Can’t even read the imprint that says “stainless steel”. Because none of them collect books. That might be responsible.

So I’m off to take them pottage and bread. Every day this week, down to the valley with my cargo of mostly food. Though soap is also a need. And everything must be prepared because heaven knows they’d be utterly flummoxed by dried beans and flour. Not that they really have the capacity to turn beans into food anyway, but still… I can imagine the expressions were I to hand over few sturdy sacks of black beans and blue corn and bid them good day. 

Some of them are grateful. There are the ones who have fallen into the cracks. That’s why I volunteered after all. Not that any of us are free from these box people, but I didn’t have to sign up for an entire week. Most folks just take a day or two. But then, I count myself rich, and rich only by a quirk of fate. Could have easily ended up in the cracks. But I ended up here. With churros and chickens and gardens and orchard and home. And the ability to tend to all with these hands.

So I am happy to tend to those who haven’t had my good fortune.

But some of these boxers are just insufferable. Think I’m their servant. Which maybe I am, but that’s not a role to deprecate. I can serve. What can they do? They’re useless. Parasites on my charity. Why they’re not embarrassed I’ll never know. 

And the mending they hand over! They don’t seem to be aware of the concept of washing. They may have carefully curated racks of silk handkerchiefs or lambent felt hats, but they wear the same flannel every day until it’s a ragged kaleidoscope of stains. I’ve tossed much of it on the compost heap. At least it’s worth something there.

I shudder to think about the volunteers who tend to the boxes. My skills don’t run to fixing plumbing or maintaining a turbine system for a whole block of boxes. I can do those things. I just am not that good at it. Lucky for me. Because I don’t imagine the maintenance folks get much sleep on their volunteer days. If the box folks can’t even keep their clothes from turning to soil on their backs, I can only imagine what the sand is doing to the turbine. Or the floors. I’ve never seen a broom down there. They must have them, surely. But now I think on it… Never seen one.

And plumbing…

Thing to be falling over myself with gratitude: an insulated pit toilet!

There’s talk of tearing down the boxes here in the desert. Sending the freedom folk on to greener pastures where their parasitism isn’t as onerous. Or just making them grow up and become normal responsible humans. Same result. I suppose those who are actually incapacitated will need to be housed with others. That might be a better system anyway. I worry sometimes. I’ve shown up with soup and muffins some days to find an empty box. I don’t know who tends to the bodies. I guess there are medical people. I suppose that’s within their purview.

I’m very glad not to have those skills…

But nobody’s making much of an effort to fix the box problem. Easier just to maintain it. For now anyway. As long as there are a limited number of boxes and we don’t put much effort into sustaining them. Don’t clean out the box when the boxer dies or wanders on in search of other freedoms. Make room for the truly needy in real homes. Maybe the box problem will just erase itself over time. Let the boxes crumble and be blown away with the tumbleweeds.

The truly needy probably prefer a real home anyway. Home isn’t a box. It’s not even a physical structure. It’s where you find everything you need. Where you make your life. Where you take care and are taken care of. No box could ever be a sustaining home. And no human can truly live without a sustaining home. The boxers just depend on mine and others. But even so… they aren’t living. They don’t even know what living means.


But for now, I’m off in the cold with my bike loaded with nutrition and nominal hygiene. At least the sun is shining down warmth from those bluest skies. And there’s no wind. Yet.

There may even be a smile that lights up the world.

©Elizabeth Anker 2022