Like the roads across the West, sometimes winter will seem to go on forever. Now I realize we are just getting started on this year’s version, but not too far in and it will seem the same.
For those of us living here in the usually balmy Southwest, we are like spoiled children who quickly whine over any extended length of time that involves chopping ice on livestock drinkers and digging out the tire chains.
The roads become rutted in the mud created during the few warmer days between storms. Everything that could conceivably break seems to do so, be it a pipeline, a vehicle, a storm door or the drain on the washing machine. Cold inevitably brings on streaks of “breaking” luck.
In spite of the discomfort and inconvenience, ancient code for the rancher is that he won’t ever turn down moisture or a live baby calf. The horses get haired up like bears and the cattle are eyeballing the portable hand warmers that a few well-outfitted cowboys got for Christmas last year and thought they’d never use.
Utility bills and feed bills. The meters spin and the check book balance plunges. The wood pile dwindles. The little woman looks for every opportunity to not have to gear up for ice breaking and outdoor chores. Cabin fever, while only a temporary inconvenience, is sometimes preferable to freezing one’s back pockets off.
In her solitude she is bombarded with thoughts that she jots on paper in some hope of making sense of her fleeting flashes of philosophy. Deep thoughts along the lines of: Is there a resemblance between our lives and the creation of tater tots?
Most everyone generally loves tater tots. They are dependable, easy to cook and a familiar source of sustenance. Like our friends, they are crusty on the outside, tender on the inside and seasoned to preference.
And while I’m always happy to find them in cafes, stored in my freezer and in dishes cooked up for the cattle working crews, I’ve never devoted much deep thought to wondering how they became the perfect that little cylindrical shape that makes them uniquely identifiable.
Hang with me here.
Potatoes are pulled from their earthen womb looking dirty and misshapen. They are handled down an assembly line where they are pressure washed, sorted for size and then peeled, sliced and diced according to the plans for their end use.
The scraps from this process—the bits and shreds that are left from the slices and cuts—are made into tater tots. They are cleaned, seasoned and pressure-shaped along yet another assembly line. We accept them in that form without question. They are what they are.
The tater tots depend on me to bring them from the freezer to the table in a cooking plan of some sort. However, I appreciate them more now that I know how they came to be. The same philosophy is surely applicable with people.
As with tater tots, I have accepted the people in my life at face value. I have found those that endured to be dependable, encouraging, nurturing and great a comfort to me because their substance never changes.
In taking the time to look beneath the shredded crust—perhaps a bit freezer burned and toasted by life’s heat—I believe that inside, their substance will be as presented and their imperfections will mirror mine. After all, we all started in the same place.
Maybe they too will have buried deep the bruises of being cast off from the prime of the crop only to be pressured washed by society and recreated into a unique version of the same thing.
And maybe, just maybe, if they should happen to recognize that in me, our friendships will be enriched with a new level of appreciation. After all, a lot happened along life’s assembly line to bring us to where we are today.
Julie can be reached for comment at [email protected]
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]