Strange Encounter Along El Rancho Road

By Margaret Rice-Jette

Margaret Rice-Jette, a graduate of the Cranbrook Academy of Art,   was a wonderful writer and a member of the Santa Fe writing workshops in  the early  2000s.   “Stange Encounter” too place in Pojoaque, near Santa Fe.

It was a Disney Technicolor day in early spring—trees leafing out, bees from my neighbor’s hives buzzing, tiny white and yellow butterflies fluttering, puffy clouds drifting in the brilliant turquoise sky. The sun warm on my arm as I drove with all windows open, down the El Rancho road. I was about to put on a tape to suit my mood when by the side of the road I noticed an incredible struggle going on.
          An old woman straight out of the pages of a folk take was attempting to drag a foot thick tree limb as long as half the width of the dirt road. She paid no attention to me or the car as I slowly came to a stop. She was trying to drag this tree-sized limb across the road to the other side.  Under five feet tall, she had a bent humped back and thin legs so bowed she wobbled on the outer edges of her feet. She supported herself leaning on a stout stick used as a cane in one hand while trying to drag the heavy limb with the other. I had stopped the car far back from her and she hadn’t noticed me or the car rattling over the washboard ruts in the road. She was obviously very old and she might be deaf, and I didn’t want to startle her, or kick up dust from the road.
          A dark red shawl was tied around her head and across her shoulders. She wore a black dress and an apron that had been white, both now dusty from the road and her struggles. She had very thin arms and legs, but a thick body and shoulders. She somewhat resembled a spider struggling with a much larger creature in her web. Her face was furrowed and red from her efforts.
          I turned off the engine, got out of the car and walked towards her. She looked to be in her nineties and in danger of a heart attack. I could hear her labored breathing. Speaking a greeting in badly accented Spanish, I approached her.
         “Buenas dias Senora.  “Como esta usted?”
          She finally looked up and saw me.  She directed a rushing stream of angry Spanish at me when I tried to indicate that I’d help her with the giant limb. The only word I was able to recognize in this tirade was spat at me—“Gringa!” while she pointed her cane horizontally at me.  Then she began shaking her cane up and down so close I thought she might strike me!  She glared at me, still spitting out angry words.
          I was so astonished and shaken that I walked back to the car and just sat there, watching her snail’s pace across the road. Every few steps she turned her head toward me, glaring fiercely. I couldn’t go anywhere. She and the great branch were blocking the road and I wasn’t about to go near her again.
“Poco loco en la cabeza”, the Spanish phrase for “a little crazy in the head.”
Came to mind.
         I wondered who she was, why she was so angry—amazed by the force of her anger and of her stubborn spirit as she continued to drag the limb to the other side of the road. The more I watched her, the less I could shake off the eerie feeling of unreality—the feeling that I had slipped from the present back in time when myth and reality blended.
          I told myself she must be someone’s great grandmother, not a bruja who jumped out of the chamisa waving a stick as a wand to cast a spell.