Three Micro Essays

Nicole Walker

mi·cro·ti·a  n.  Abnormal smallness of the auricle of the ear.

The Dulaneys didn't name their daughter Delores after the river that ran next to the house where she was born because they wanted to keep her differentiated from the water. The water ran toward the Colorado between steep walls of made of Navajo sandstone and Utah lime. They named her Rosa because in the desert the roses were small and she was small and smelled good and she reminded them of a time when they lived on 4th Street and not in the bottoms of a canyon. Rosa liked to eat fruit, especially strawberries, which they could grow close to the edge of the river, and apples, which they had to grow far away. Rosa also liked to walk every day all around the property, up toward the old ruins, around the bend toward the meadow, through the sand toward the Cottonwoods, even when she was only two. They approved of her pioneering spirit.

They hung a bell around her neck to hear where she was playing. The property was large. They owned only fourteen acres of it—all the flat land down by the Delores River that was covered in sagebrush and prickly pear, sunflowers and cheat grass. This is before the tamarisk came and hogged all the banks of the river. They owned the cottonwood trees that grew where the river bent and the wild turkeys that had found a home next to them. They could hear her when she hiked up to the old cabin site, red as the cliffs that hung over it, shading it from the Southern Utah saw. Who would build way up there instead of down here, near the river, a house made out of wood hauled in from Moab? The Dulaneys wondered. The river came with fish.  Clapboard came with a side of washing machine. They built the house with steel nails and two-by-fours, covered it in sawmilled wood. They hooked up the washing machine to the pipe they laid on top of the ground. It never got that cold in the winter and even if it did pipes that live above ground are easy to fix.

No matter what they were washing or how far they washed away from the river, they could still hear the bell. Over the sound of the bell, they pumped water out of the well, so easy to dig because the water table was so high. When the washing machine broke, they went to town to get another one. Moab was an all-day drive in their 1942 GMC pickup, but they had to go in often. Although they could grow corn and tomatoes, hunt turkeys and raise their own chickens, things like wheat and sugar didn't grow in the valley but you could still hear the bell. Neither did shirts and dungarees. Might as well pick up an extra washing machine. They had to be careful not to leave the old machines too close to the Dalton's property. Although no one lived there year-round, they didn't appreciate the Dulaneys' trash on their land although the Daltons didn't mind the sound of Rosa's bell, ringing off the red rock walls. Mr. Dulaney swore he'd get around to fixing it. He just needed to pick up some parts from Moab when he went into town. Next time.

They couldn't grow whisky either but they could make drinkable gin. Juniper berriesare the one gift God gave Utah. Might as well make use of them. It doesn't take much to make them sweet and liquid. Take the sugar you bought from Moab which in 1953 was a hard place to buy liquor. Liquor would have been cheaper to buy than it was to make your own in most places but not in Utah where it was considered against the word of God and unwise to boot. Cook down the potatoes. Add the berries. Add a heating element beneath the tub, of a broken down washing machine. Pour in the mash. Listen for the bell. Let the hose that once drained water collect the vapor. The vapor recollects at the bottom of the hose in a bucket. If you're nitpicky about flavor, distill again. Strain through a charcoal filter. Listen for the bell.Olives. Again. Buy from Moab, if you're flush. 

Washing machines accumulated in the flood plain of the Delores. Perhaps it made sense to leave the washing machines piled next to the banks of a river. What god grants, he takes away, usually with big water. The Dolores has been known to flood. You might mistake the different strata on the walls of the canyon, lighter pink toward the bottom, white line, darker pink, white line, next layer almost orange, white line, back to light pink again, a whole tier of white sandstone, then a slab of hard red as lines of flood. A bathtub ring. You can imagine an ocean liner, pulled up on dry docks, the rust its metal rusted into timelines. You can imagine coral, parts touched white by curious snorkelers who regret they wanted to look behind the shell, more for the stitch in their fingers than the way they deadened it. Water abounds even though the Delores is the only real wet here, on its way to the Colorado, where these two will find others to gather together to through a country that seems like it should be more green than red but is as dry as the county that won't sell you liquor, even on Saturdays. This desert place—all the sticky, desperate brush, all the sinking pink sand, always reminds you of water.  And bells, of course. Bells of your daughter.

He hadn't heard the bell for awhile. Not since the turn he took around the property in the GMC looking for deer. He had hoped to find deer instead of bear. Something had been eating the apples in the orchard. Deer were easier to dissuade than bears. He found neither bear nor deer. He heard nothing but the river. He'd gotten used to the sound of the river, just as he'd gotten used to the sound of the bell. It was odd not to hear one without the other. Did she lose the bell? Had she figured out how to take it off? Did she learn how to stay still?

He started running toward the house. When he saw his wife sitting, he turned toward the river. His wife understood. She stood up. She ran toward the river. The wife ran and the husband ran and the river ran and everything was ringing with quiet as it ever been before they'd moved down there with their washing machine and their gin and their water-loving daughter.


mi·cro·he·mat·o·crit  n.  A procedure for determining the ratio of the volume of packed red blood cellsto the volume of whole blood by centrifuging a minute quantity of blood in a capillary tube coated with heparin.

It is possible that there is not one word that cannot host a micro in front of it. The only things I can think of are real nouns-things you can eat. I cannot eat a hematocrit so I can micro it. Micro is the domain of the elusive, the abstract, the plausible but not the palpable. When does the micro ever really matter? Perhaps only when its meaning is displaced. Microbrew. It's not that the beer is tiny. The Micro is not Budweiser. Not Coors. Sometimes micro is merely a correction. I do not eat microberries, micropotatoes, microtoast, microsteak.

On a Tuesday in the fall—any fall, it doesn't matter, fall is always dying, dying is worse than dead, and therefore, as beautiful as fall is, winter is still not as terrifying—I thought I was dying. There was a lump, there was a test, an x-ray, an electrocardiogram. There was the move, the leaving, the new air, the lack of red only yellow aspens, brown Gambeloaks, there was only railroad and freeway. There was only doctor after doctor and then, only then, smaller copays and larger appointments, the kind that filled hours and required out-patient. How could I die so many ways in just one year? I held my cat close to me because he, I knew, would die before me and I could gauge my fear in the thinness of his skin, the rosary of his bones. His teeth were covered in tiny dots of red. It was not the red I had been missing. I missed his large orange fur. The markings that made him look like an ocelot. I missed the things I could see.


mi·cro·hab·i·tat n.  An extremely localized, small-scale environment , as a tree stump or a dead animal.

A tree, fallen in the forest, turns to hair. What is the purpose of hair? To keep germs out of the nose. To keep grains of sand out of the eyes. To keep the head warm when the snow piles on, when the winter begins to think everything is dead and ready to be reinvested, recycled, reincarnated in the dirt. But not everything is dead on the hair. Dust mites, even on the dead, still clean the eyelashes. The nasal cilia cling to the inside of nose. The roots of cold hair turn colder under snow.

The tree, though fallen, isn't dead. I have seen, on the hairs of the decomposing tree, a banana slug the length of my arm, scratching its underbelly against grain. In its slimy path, a microbe nestles. It is fed by the slime. It respires the hairs of the fallen the tree, turning the hair to hummus, opening the chemical strand to let new carbon in. Deep inside the fallen tree, under the hair, the carbon cycles. It looks for its rhizome partner. The rhizome has been waiting for this little death for two-hundred and twenty-three years. Tickled by the carbon, the rhizome swells, breaks through stiff hair. The mushroom rises up, engorged. Its spores search for wind. The wind, carrying spores and oxygen to vie for space with all this decomposing carbon, brings its own reformation. It streams through the hairs, parting them, open space for the seed from the pinecone to lodge. Inside its old tree, under the warmth of a tropical slug, beside a lascivious rhizome, surrounded by the microbe-pulsing hummus, the seed of the Douglas-fir stretches out its cilia in the skeleton of forest. Its sprout clings to a tendril of hair. The hair hoists the sprout. The sprout. The first hair. The next tree.