The cradle is quite magic. In these two chapters we learn how the cradle was constructed and what it is able to do.
The Cradle is Planned
The baby could probably have played with the intriguing Elsie for the rest of the day but Juanita decided it was time to get on with the reason for her visit. Juanita placed the baby’s wrapper on the picnic blanket and Elsie was instructed to put Consuelo on the wrapper.
Juanita bound the babe who found the swaddling to her liking. She immediately became the docile sweet child she would ever be.
Elsie meanwhile organized her things around herself again, and made some notes. She rolled another cigarette. HK laughed out loud and wove another line or two of yellow. All the sheep moved slowly toward the north and then sauntered around and nearer the house. They took turns gazing with their large, mild, sheep eyes in the direction of the child, pulling grass with their big, blunt teeth, and murmuring things among themselves. The dog who watched the sheep, momentarily startled by the chaos on the picnic blanket, had now relaxed and was watching the sheep again while she whistled through her nose at gnats. She snapped at bees and butterflies that came too near. She trusted that order had been restored and all was back in balance.
Juanita told HK that the babe needed a cradle and the conversation began. HK knew immediately which wood would be best. Very quickly, HK’s mind went to work. HK designed a wonderful one made of scrub oak and black walnut. He saw it clearly. He always saw a finished thing in his head before he commenced a project. When he planned blankets, every stitch was there inside his head. He only had to follow his own complete and careful plan. This day, he saw the carved rockers. He knew their shape and size. He knew the angles of each cut he must make. He saw the curves he’d plane. He saw the grain of the wood and how it would enhance the look of the cradle. He saw how delicate the finials must be to frame the cradle and how Consuelo would be there embraced by the whole. He saw himself carving and fitting and pegging and gluing. He saw each joint fitting tightly. He saw the wood sanded to a perfect sheen. He knew Consuelo would not suffer one splinter in her delicate skin. He saw himself finishing the wood of the cradle with goose grease. This grease he knew would cause the cradle to move silently back and forth on its rockers and give Consuelo dreams of flight. He saw that the rockers would be removable and that the cradle could become a bed and grow as Consuelo grew. He saw the bed resting sturdily as if on mountain lion legs. He saw the bed standing on strong feet with a firm backboard.
He saw all this then stood up and walked toward the ramada. “All right. Let’s go,” he said. “I know what I need.” He found a large basket hanging from the shelter’s roof by a leather thong. He strapped it over one shoulder. He picked up a belt that lay near one of the saddles on the corral fence. He cinched it around his waist. It had a knife holster threaded onto it and in the holster was a bone-handled knife. “Come along, then,” he called to the others. “Quietly.” Juanita carried Consuelo who was sucking a perfect peach that Juanita pressed gently to her lips. Elsie followed. The heat of the sun was good upon their shoulders and their heads. They walked a mile, perhaps two, toward a stream and a grove of dense chaparral forest populated by oak and walnut.
The dogs stayed behind sleeping in the cool ramada. Tumbleweeds rolled all around them, propelled by the gentle afternoon breeze. They did not notice.
HK cut bits from the pygmy walnut and oak. He cut just a limb here and there from this tree or that. He never cut enough to kill or harm the tree. He tied the wood into a bundle, and then placed it deep into his basket. What wouldn’t fit into the basket, he strapped over his back. It was nothing to him for his shoulders were broad and his back was exceptionally strong. He was a big person, a big man, though his manners and gestures were gentle like a woman’s.
HK characteristically moved without speaking and without wasting motion. He was in character on this day. His gestures were perfect to the task. At the base of each tree from which he cut a limb, he placed a hand rolled cigarette. Elsie watched him closely and wrote in her notebook.
They walked for several hours together, HK studying the trees, the others watching him. Eventually the dogs, fresh from sleep, found them and walked silently with them all. They moved along the dry stream beds and watched cloud shadows on the earth. They saw the rain high in the mountains to the east and to the west. It was late in the afternoon now and this was the time of year when the rain comes in the mountains and the sheep look up longing for a journey there to where the grass is green. The watchers slept for once. They were happy with HK and did not interfere ever with his work.
The Cradle is Installed
Weeks later, a small boy ran to Juanita’s house with a message. “The cradle had been completed,” he panted. “You can come now with me. You will see.” Juanita stopped shelling peas and saddled up Paulette. Consuelo, of course, was secured against her breast by a scarf woven of brilliant scarlets and magentas. They rode off again to see HK. The dogs were told to stay behind this time. They pouted but obeyed.
HK was standing outside his door with a broad smile. The cradle was exquisite. “It is very special,” he said as he strapped the cradle to Paulette’s lavish hind end. “It is something that will last the baby all of her life.” Juanita pulled a worn leather wallet from deep within Paulette’s saddle bag. “No money, sister,” he said. “We are family. May the family grow and blossom. May the cradle sustain and nourish this wonderful child.” He bent to the baby and kissed her chubby, cheeks now tawny from the summer sun and her adventures in flower gardens and on the occasional horseback sojourns into the desert.
Juanita wondered at HK’s choice of words. A cradle, she reckoned, might give peaceful sleep. But how would it nourish?
There was great excitement when Juanita and the baby and Paulette and the dogs returned to the village. Everyone knew where they had been and why. As Paulette high stepped into the plaza, crowds of their women neighbors dressed in fine, white cotton dresses embroidered with red and indigo thread and with purple and yellow ribbons streaming from their hair, cheered for horse, cradle, baby and their happy friend, Juanita. The Pyrenees leaped from the place where they had been sleeping and streaked, like pale, furred, whirlwinds, in great circles around the perimeter of the village. The men who sat on the plaza took off their dark hats, scratched their necks and rubbed their scalps, buttoned their vests, tucked in their shirttails and stood saluting the arrival. Someone brought out a guitar and began to play a quick little tune so that everyone could dance around the grave of the village founder. Sophia and her children, Ramona and her baby, and Hermes, brought a bouquet of flowers and presented it with great flourish to mother and child. Someone brought out a plate of sliced apples; another produced a basket of warm tamales.
Everyone knew what a superb craftsman HK was. Still, this cradle, they thought, far surpassed his earlier work. First, people remarked on how the dark wood was all finely grained and polished until each surface was as reflective as a mirror. Then they examined the structure of the cradle itself. It was only about four feet in length, but it had tall posts on each corner and was pegged and notched and fitted with clips and joints so that the posts could be fitted under the cradle in place of the lengthwise rockers when the child grew and thus extend the whole into a stable bed. The finials were removable so they could be fitted to the rockers that would become the posts when the child was older. They were carved with delicate images of deer and bear and wolf and eagle. The carving was so fine that each hoof and talon was completely realistic and even the pupil of each eye and the lashes that shaded them could be seen. The posts themselves were carved in bas-relief with images of stars and moons and howling coyotes and frantic summer geese in flight.
After allowing villagers to examine and celebrate the cradle, Juanita placed it in her house. And she placed Consuelo in the cradle. She knew that the cradle could be made to grow as the baby grew, and that was well and good. But something strange happened. The cradle grew in other ways.
Juanita noticed something odd within a week of the time that the cradle was installed in her house. She was leaning over to kiss the baby’s cheek and caress one of the baby’s hands. “Good morning, little heartbeat,” she said. “Good morning sweet pea blossom,” she said.” She kissed each finger on each hand. “Good morning tiny lunch grabbers,” she cooed. The fingers of the baby intrigued her more than any other part. She held one little hand in hers and traced each fine line in the palm with her fingertip. As she leaned a little higher to kiss the baby’s head, something tickled her forehead. It was a fresh, succulent tickle. “Ooohhhh,” she half laughed. “What can that be touching me so sweetly?” She rolled her eyes up as her lips touched Consuelo’s soft hair. She saw something dark dangling just above her forehead, though she was too close to whatever it was to focus properly. She backed off a bit. It was a tendril of a plant, something living and leafing. She stood up then and looked from another angle. “Oh my love, something is growing here!” “Yes, yes, this is some kind of sprout or vine,” she thought. It was about five inches long. She followed the stem of it with her fingers and found that it had come right out of a carved post to the left of the baby’s head. It was a lovely little vine, but what was it doing here, she wondered. This sprout, as it turned out, was an oracular sprout and its vegetable self announced a deep green promise of things to come.
What happened, and it was, of course, considered miraculous, was that the lovely smooth walnut wood that made up the head and footboard of the cradle began to turn green with stubbles of growth. Day by day the cradle produced a flurry of healthy shoots. They started as small things and grew slowly. Juanita tied them to the cradle posts so that they would not grow over the baby. After they were supported in this way, the sprouts grew tall. They covered the top edges of the foot and headboard then grew all up and along the posts. They grew and grew, beautiful, luscious, lean sprouts. Sprouts with just the hint of juicy leaf buds. Sprouts that seemed to seduce each other and engage in complex dances. Sprouts that did not care if they seemed frivolous or altogether unnecessary.
Juanita took to watering the head and footboard and all around each post every morning when she sprinkled and swept the packed earth floors and fed the baby. She found the baby and the cradle and these mysterious plants so amusing that she dressed in increasingly more colorful aprons over red and magenta as well as yellow smocks. She made and wore lacey collars now and spoke to the sprouts and the baby as she moved around the house doing her chores. “Good morning sproutlets. Be well today. Thrive. Good morning sweet baby. Rest well in your lovely verdant bed.”
The sprouts seemed to enjoy the attention almost as much as did the baby. And so the sprouts grew into limbs or small trunks. Consuelo enjoyed the feel of the leaves against her face and the smell of the occasional blossom. She touched them gently with her petite hands. Soon, in only a few weeks, she was surrounded by waving leaves that quivered in the breezes of her own rocking. Before long, birds found the limbs and trunks, saw them through the window, and flew through the open shutters near where Consuelo slept. First it was just one or two young warblers. Then an oriole found the party. Then two. Then a few sparrows. Soon whole flocks came through the doors and windows. Juanita was pleased but had to dodge and duck as the birds flew about the house. She had also, of course, to cover all her things because the birds could no longer distinguish inside from outside for the plants had thrived and become a quartet of trees.
The Pyrenees, always looking for diversions and amusements in their day, entered the house as well. They loved the singing of the birds and of Juanita and pressed up against the cradle from the bottom and the top. They pressed with enough strength and springiness to make the cradle rock more vigorously than Consuelo could do all by herself. The dogs even took to singing with the birds. They all, each living creature, loved Consuelo mightily.
The sprouts and limbs became imposing trees and grew right up to the ceiling of Juanita’s house. They made great right and left angles when necessary and pushed their way through windows to the light outdoors.
In a few months, around June, Juanita, from across the room, saw something new on one of the trees. “Eh? What’s this,” she said. She put down her watering can and took off the brilliant indigo apron she was wearing that day. She hung it carefully on a hook near the kitchen stove. She tidied her hair before her mirror and cleared her throat. She wondered to herself, “What more can be happening here?” Her heart began to race and even to skip a beat. She could feel a kind of pressure in her throat. Quietly, carefully, with all her feelings clinging close to her breast, she crept over to the left front tree. She put a hand out and touched a small green fruit. It was firm and cool. Each subsequent day she crept toward it and looked at it carefully. Yes, it was growing. And there were more of these diminutive fruits. Many more. One day, perhaps it was in the month of September, the green skin of the first fruit cracked and then the next day, split, creating a deep, great fissure. The pale flesh beneath the green and inside the crevasse turned a rich brown. Then, within another day, the outer flesh dropped away altogether and, “plop,” a perfect walnut fell at her feet.
The fruit had formed and grown all over the branches of the now mighty trees, and one by one each cracked and split and dropped walnuts onto Juanita’s floor. There were walnuts everywhere to eat. Juanita made walnut tortillas and walnut soup and walnut gruel and walnut paste for Christmas cakes. There were so many walnuts that all the villagers came to the house to help harvest them. They put walnuts in their salads and ate them for snacks. Weavers came out of the mountains and took the green husks away for dye.
The baby grew and grew and never needed any thing more than that wondrous cradle HK had made for her. Life was so delightful then and filled with happiness and hope. At night the Great Pyrenees slept between and under branches and Consuelo cooed and Juanita no longer wanted for anything in her life.