The cold, clear December night was in its infancy, early enough that Orion was still low on the eastern horizon, having just risen over the distant Henry Mountains. My car was parked at the far end of a maze of dirt roads out on Miner’s Mountain. In front of me the Capitol Reef desert stretched out into shadow blackened mountains. I was young then and more idealistic in life than I am now. The world was my oyster; it felt like I could do anything I wanted.
Like that pried open oyster, the back hatch of my Jeep was propped up, its contents, most of my world. Sitting on a green, five-gallon bucket with a small, crackling campfire at my feet and a cast iron pan of beans and rice on the fire, I felt content and happy. Living the dream, living my dream anyway. Around me the encroaching pinyons and junipers reached hungrily out of the darkness and into the firelight, as if eager for the long night to be over. The beans and rice were mostly gone and I was alone. Earlier that week I had been out in the desert, the one that now lay in front of me, beyond Capitol Reef and before the Henry Mountains. At a place known as “Blind Trail” I had searched out a desert holly tree and cut off a branch. I had heard from Chad, someone who had carved a spoon or two, that desert holly was good for making spoons.
On Miners Mountain that night, I sat satiated and smug. I had a barely dead piece of desert holly in my left hand, my Victornox locking blade knife in my right and visions of fine cutlery dancing in my head. Freshly cut hardwood is difficult to carve. Carving the bowl of a spoon out of it notches up the difficulty even more. With poor technique and a quick twist of the blade the knife plunged into my left wrist, opening a large gash. I muttered an expletive and cursed my luck as my hands dropped the knife and wood simultaneously. Direct pressure and elevation was my first coherent thought and action. My second was that “whoa, first aid training came through for me.” Grabbing my left wrist with my right hand and applying said pressure, I ran to the back of my car and grabbed the first piece of cotton available, a wash cloth. I removed the ski pole that propped the back hatch and dropped it closed, which with only one usable hand, was no easy task. I jumped into the driver’s seat; I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew that most places would be better than here. My right hand could feel the moisture creeping into and through the washcloth. I had never felt woozy around blood before, but I had also never sliced my wrist open either; I decided not to chance it. I elevated my hand above my head and said a silent thanks that I did not have a stick shift. Instead, with my wounded hand, I reached across the steering wheel, turned the ignition and shifted into drive. Driving with my left elbow (thus elevating my left wrist) on the wheel down that four wheel drive two track that night, I hoped it wasn’t as bad as it felt.
I was homeless, living out of my car, and relatively new in the area. Who would I go to, what would I do? Richfield, for stitches? I turned right when I hit the pavement, pointing my headlights toward the nearest town. As I reached Torrey, my mind settled on stopping in at my supervisor’s house on the west edge of town. It was late, but I figured she could help drive me to Richfield or least ways have an idea of where to go for help. I knocked on the door. I think I woke her up. I showed her my wound, which I saw for the first time myself, under the kitchen light. Pulling the washcloth away pealed away a bit of the clotted blood and it began to ooze again, dark and rich under the now bright light. It wasn’t as bad as I feared, though it’s flapping, gaping nature was something I have never forgotten. It would still require stitches however, at least that is what Beth told me. She suggested calling the Bicknell clinic and called to get the PA to come in, then drove me there. The PA stitched me up. Twelve on the outer layer, eight inside. The PA told me that I was lucky; I should have been gambling everything I owned in Vegas, that night. I exposed two inches of tendon and didn’t nick the sheath. Not a hair. If I had I would be visiting a hand surgeon. Beth took me back to her house and I slept on her floor.
The memory of that night is still as vivid as the scar on my wrist. Now there are other scars too. The wounds have healed, but scars remain and remind. I think of the irony. The things in which I have found the most pleasure and peace have left me with the most scars, the most wear. On the palm from the early, innocent, naïve days of spoon carving and on the back from the continued abuse of crack climbing. The dark, wrinkled skin speaks to too much time in the sun and the callused finger tips to years of gripping stone tell tales of limestone, granite and sandstone.
Today, over 15 years later, my hands are no longer subjected to the continuous exposure of the knife. When I do feel the urge carve a spoon though, the risk is low as my competence and experience are much higher. A lot has changed since that time on Miner’s Mountain. I no longer carve spoons with the zeal that I once did although I still enjoy the process of envisioning, crafting and giving away things I create. It is this blog that helps fill that niche now and, thankfully, it seems to be leaving me with less scars.