This book, Morris 7.0, is the story of Morris Uebelacker’s life as told to Jim Huckabay. It is the story of his rise to become one of America’s finest teachers and storytellers. It is the story of his near-complete brain and physical collapse, and the loss of his entire life as he had known it. It is the story of his years-long struggle to find a new, functional, wholeness. In this excerpt, he recalls one small episode in his efforts to create – to become – Morris 7.0.
So anyway, after Camas move me to his farm, I was having to learn new things.
This one example that I remember, of what it was like then, was early in the spring. We had planted the corn in a 100-acre field, in a field that my son leased. We had put ditches down between the cornrows. You have to use siphon tubes—you suck water through the siphon tubes—from the big ditch into the little cornrow ditch. Turns out that sounds pretty easy, but it’s not very easy—especially when you don’t count too good. So, the way you do this is you put a tube into the first ditch and in the seventh ditch. Then you put a tube in the seventh ditch again, and on down, until you count your way down the field. The reason you do this is so that the next day, when you move the water, you move every pipe one ditch. Then you pick the one up at the end and bring it back to the first, and you keep your spacing even across this whole field. In a week every corn gets watered. Well, this field is like a quarter of a mile long, maybe longer, and there are literally hundreds and hundreds of ditches.
So my son take me out there with all the pipe tubes and tell me to put a tube in the first ditch and the seven ditch all the way down this field. And I not so sure, but he said, “Well Roy’s here to help you.” Well, his name was Roy Hernandes (it’s still his name—Roy Hernandes) and he kept telling me he was from a place called Red Dog, Arizona. I don’t think Red Dog Arizona really existed at all, I just think Roy funny. So anyway here I am with a PhD in geography and almost PhD in anthropology and a Masters in anthropology and a Bachelor of Science degree from highly trained individuals—the best in the system—and Roy said “Well let’s put the pipes out.” So he take some pipes and go down the field, and count down there to where he knows he can start and he start laying pipes up. So I countdown one to eight for pipes and put a pipe in and I do it again and again and again. At some point, Roy comes back and he looks at the pipes and he goes, “You put one of these in every seventh?” I said, “Yeah, look…” And he said, “The first one is a pipe in the first ditch, then in the second ditch is a pipe and in the third ditch. How did you count to seven between there?” So I showed him. “It was quite easy: 1, 2, 3, 4, X, 6, 7 and put piping.” So he sorta scratched his head and said, “How many colleges have you been to?” And I said, “A lot of them Roy. I can do calculus well once, but now I don’t even know what it is, really.” “Well,” he said, “I show you…” So he picked them up and he counted to seven and put the thing in. “That’s how you do it; you have to count a ditch for each number.” So I learned this, that the number is assigned to the ditch. At that time I didn’t know, so I think that will be easy. So Roy stood there like he was the teacher or something and was speaking in Spanish under his breath—something about “comprende.” I don’t know, I think he calling me that dumb fucking white guy. But anyhow so I count to seven, put the pipe in, and he said it wrong. I look at him and ask how that can be right ‘cause I counted seven oh so well that my count perfect. It turned out it was in the fifth ditch, and I got them all wrong for about two hours. At that point Roy Hernandez said, “Well I’m going do something else. You keep working at this.” So I did, and I said “Well, I can do it.” So I start putting pipes in. I go all the way down to where Roy is and I count his. I find out he can’t count to seven either, so I fixed the whole field. About that time it was lunchtime. Something that should’ve taken about a half hour had taken me six hours. Camas show up—my son—and asked me how you doin’ boss?” “Is perfect,” I said, “look I got it all done!” And he glance at it and he said, “Yeah none of them are in the right holes all the way down the field. I was watching as I drove up.” And I said, “Well I did about the best I could.” He said, “About the best is not good enough. You have to keep doing it over until you can do it right.” So I had to pick all the pipes up and then I got to spend the whole afternoon after lunch counting them again. At the end of the day I got what you have to call a “C-.“ Some of them were right and some weren’t, but Camas said “It’s your problem. You’re in charge of irrigating the field, so you screw it up you have to fix it, you realize.” So the next day the water came, and it start going down there. After about a week I realized how screwed up it was, because some of the pipe sets had all the lines watered in seven days and some only had half of them. So some turned out to be fourteens and some turned out to be sevens and there were a couple of threes and sixes in there. But by the end of summer I had realized how to count these things and I had been able to drive a tractor that baled hay and I was working every day out in the sunshine and the corn grew really big and I love the corn growing. So it was a good thing to do every morning and every night go count to seven. So you do that for three months. It turns out you can count to seven again fairly accurately.
Things beyond seven were a problem, though, because the whole other world out there beyond seven.