There was a time when I wondered why it was called “field work,” but I never asked about it, and after a while, it didn’t matter. It became one of those words that just was, it represented things that were both inside and outside of its clear meaning; it was a job thing that those who did the work knew about and those who didn’t might wonder about for a while and then not, after the conversation or topic was discussed or reviewed, or maybe not…it came to be understood for what it was, we were out of the office looking for people…out in the field, sometimes literally, literally out in or near the fields, maybe sometimes just driving past them, watching brown skinned people bent over in their labors plucking and pulling some vegetable or other from the irrigated desert something, hauling it in sacks, placing it in waxed and sun-warmed boxes that lay in rows between the rows, becoming heavy with their loads of that some thing or other…and sometimes I’d pass other fields and become so transfixed with what grew there that I had to pull over and get out and look at them, at it, at what was growing there, to ponder those things up close and with my flesh and senses in a way that I could never do sitting behind a desk or absorbing intended meanings by reading someone else’s printed words about what they had beheld out there on the side of the road when they were there…watching harvested carrots tumble from a truck into a bin and then carried loudly away on a conveyor belt into a tin-covered shed with blue-jeaned and white-shirted black-haired young men scurrying about…intentional, purposeful in their scurrying as fighter jets from the nearby air base passed, screaming loudly overhead…jet noise, the sound of freedom.
These became my fields, my stretches of irrigated and corrugated earth that smelled like a warm and freshly opened bag of sour-cream and onion potato chips when the onions were being harvested, or expanses of red and pink and yellow and white blossoms lying restless in the breeze atop their green bushes of rose leaf and thorn that stretched to a near horizon of Phoenix’s western desert, or the rows and rows upon more of the same of white cotton bolls rich against their brown and dried plants of late summer, soft and marvelous in my gentle and searching fingers, waiting to be harvested by rolling machines that were loose from chains and whips and had drivers with air-conditioned cabins and cup-holders…rolling, plucking, chopping and raising the desert dust again to fly perpetually away in the breeze and gone…they became my fields that live in my memories and my printed words…and maybe even in my heart, as these things sometimes do.
I was back in the field again the other day in the place where I started doing this county-level work so many years ago…and while I did drive past fields and fields, some sown and most fallow or raw in their desert form, most of my time was spent in the figurative field of city streets and neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and doctors’ offices, visiting and searching, finding some people and taking a small tube of their life’s blood from them, finding another some by going door to door in an apartment complex asking, do you know Tom, do you know Tom, I’m looking for Tom, have you seen Tom today…not finding some other people, but finding people who knew them, people who loved and dreaded their homecomings when they get out of jail this weekend, people whose lived lives are worn in their tired and wrinkled faces and hands, in their faded tattoos that spoke of prior affiliations or devotions…of tears shed for lovers and sons who were sent away, and in the sweaty palms of anxious little sisters and daughters who carried their futures in their swollen bellies and were shyly proud of being the only one who had never been to jail…they wore those lives on their persons and in their slurred and whispered words that echo still in fresh memories that are only a few hours old and are reminders yet of other fields and visits…and other found and unfound people.
the storm from the other night started with only the massing of clouds that covered the stars and then the quiet flashing of lightning in the dark eastern sky
within the passing of ninety minutes or more, or less, the rain was blowing sideways onto the bedroom windows and sliding glass door and there were striking flashes of blue-white light and delayed or immediate crashes of thunder that I could feel rumbling in the bed posts
when I looked outside I could see the rain coming down in a torrent from the street-light-lit sky and hear the thrashing of the wind and rain against the house
I cannot say how long it lasted, as I fell back to sleep while it was still underway
in the morning I found the feeble sun shining weakly through some lower clouds and only a few patches of barely blue sky
moments later, the clouds had lowered and the sky was covered with a pewter thickness
the air was wet and cool and carried the scent of a rain-washed desert in its breezes
it was heavy laden with creosote and wet leaves and grasses that had pooled in delta-like triangles and linear forms of sediment along the raceways of temporary streams that ran in the desert night
on my walk along the desert trail, I found those leaves and seeds and twigs and other desert-floor detritus collected in large swaths of poultice-like gatherings and saw the sand in its colors drawn in lines and slides of black and brown in the shapes of tiny gone rivers from the night’s collected rain
it looked like an ocean’s beach after the tide has gone out or after the ever waves have receded each in their cycle and turn, lines and drawn angles and arrows of black grains pulled over and through the surface of the deeper gray-brown sand of the desert’s bed
the quail were fewer in number that morning, as were the wild rabbits that I usually see…only one was out with his white tail and long pink-tan ears, hastily retreating into the desert there
no lizards raced across the trail and into the scrub beneath the trees and fresh washed bushes along the way, but the ants were out in their multitudes, opening their flooded caverns again, collecting the blown and washed seeds and stems from their surround…after the desert rain