Categories
Uncategorized

Sherlock Gnomes

Noam Gnomsky

Little Gnome photo by Marcia Sloane

 “I can never bring you to realize [Watson] the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a bootlace.” Conan Doyle

Marcia came into my office a few days ago and said, “Have you seen the little gnome in Flower Pot Village?”

I thought she might be pulling my leg, since we are not gnome collectors, but lo, clinging with both hands to the edge of a large terra cotta flower pot in the assemblage of flower pots we call Flower Pot Village was a small Caucasian gnome, five-inches-tall, a happy smiling ceramic fellow with a white beard, pointy gold hat, turquoise jacket, brown trousers and black shoes. Cute.

Having determined that neither Marcia nor I placed the little intruder in the village, we were confronted by a mystery: who did? And our suspicions immediately fell on our neighbor Marion.

I must digress slightly to say that every visitor to our house passes close by Flower Pot Village, a dozen large flower pots sitting on an elevated pad of bricks adjacent to the wooden deck one must traverse to reach our front door. Thus anyone with an interest in things growing in pots and gardens will note in passing the mint, cilantro, basil, aloe, and arugula citizenry of the village. Those not attuned to things in the garden will note nothing of interest there.

Which suggests that whoever introduced the little alien to the village is attuned to things in the garden, knew of the village, and is the sort of person who would enjoy giving us a gift without telling us so we might be confronted with a pleasant sort of mystery, assuming we don’t have a gnome phobia, which we don’t. Marcia and I are not gewgaw people, but we do like tasteful statues, large and small, if they harmonize well with the natural surround and are not too plentiful.

Marcia inquired of Marion if she knew anything about the little gnome and Marion said she knew nothing about him. This did not, however, immediately exonerate Marion. Denial is never proof, Watson, no matter how convincing. But denial in this instance did cause us to consider who else might have been responsible for the implantation of the gnome into Flower Pot Village.

“Pray compose yourself, sir,” said Holmes, “and let me have a clear account of who you are and what it is that has befallen you.” Conan Doyle

So we composed a list of visitors or possible visitors to our house over the preceding three days: Marion, Bob, Deb, Kate, Defer, Matt. We eliminated Defer, our across-the-street neighbor, because he only ever brings us piles of newspapers for fire starters and is concerned with large trees not little plants in pots. And we eliminated Matt, because he is not a gewgaw person and hasn’t been around much lately.

That left Marion, Bob, Kate, and Deb.

Marion. Avid gardener, presides over her own flower pot villages, appreciates our garden, visits frequently, has a wry sense of humor, is in the process of moving out of her large house into a smaller abode and is actively getting rid of things. Thus her denial of a connection to the gnome remains questionable.

Bob. I met Bob when he and I were nineteen, I in my second and last year of college, he in his first, and we have been fast friends ever since. Bob is one of the most reflexively generous people I know. He comes to visit us once a year from Sacramento and always brings gifts, insists on treating us to supper, and always wants me to put him to work hauling firewood or pulling weeds. What a guy. However, he is definitely not a gewgaw person, and his gifts are usually edible or drinkable. This time he brought an array of delicious microbrewery beers to share with Marcia, took us out to supper at the Mendocino Café, and bought us superb sandwiches from the Mendocino Market across the street from the post office—a gnome guy he is not.

Kate. Poet, professional caregiver, loving and generous, appreciative of the garden. She came for supper. Upon her arrival, I watched her cross the deck and take no notice of the flower pots. I accompanied her to her car after supper and she made no sudden move toward the pots. Thus we do not suspect her, though we think she would appreciate the gnome.

Deb. Serious gardener. Gifted us with a Daphne last year, which is taking root and slowly getting larger and had her first flowers this spring. Deb likes looking at our garden. Comes every two weeks for a cello lesson with Marcia. Always makes a circuit of the deck, checking things out. Makes quilts. Might be a gewgaw person. I have seen her on multiple occasions lingering in the vicinity of Flower Pot Village. If we believe Marion is not the culprit, Deb becomes the leading suspect.

Marcia emailed Deb, attached three photos of He Who Clings To The Flower Pots, and asked, “Any idea how this feisty little gnome got in our garden?”

To which Deb replied, “I’ve heard they sometimes travel in packs under the cover of darkness at night, and occasionally one will take off on an adventure searching for a friendly garden of his own. Danny [Deb’s husband] says they’ve been really bad this year (meaning lots of them) because of all the rain; we have a few here.  But they are rather cute and don’t seem to eat the plants or bother them. I’d just ask him his name and stay on his friendly side. Don’t be surprised if he moves around from plant to plant, looking for just the right place.”

So to be on the safe side, we inquired of the gnome what his name was. He blushed, smiled brightly, but remained mute until we were walking away, and then we distinctly heard him say, “Noam. My name is Noam Gnomsky.”

Categories
Uncategorized

Ganesha

Ganesha

Ganesha photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2015)

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Arthur Conan Doyle

Ganesha, also known as Ganapati and Vinakaya, is the male Hindu god with a human body and head of an elephant. His Rubensesque androgynous form is most often represented with four arms, each arm with a five-fingered hand, though some drawings and statues of Ganesha have as few as two arms and as many as twenty. Revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom, he is also the patron deity of writers.

I knew nothing about Ganesha until nine years ago when Marcia and I got together, and Marcia revealed she was a devotee of the chubby multi-talented deity. She owns two small statues of Ganapati, one a handsome two-armed drum-playing fellow carved from wood, and the other an alluring six-armed dancing guy made of brass.

A remover of obstacles is my kind of deity, so with Marcia’s permission I placed her wooden Ganesha on top of my upright piano where he shares the lofty plateau with two statues of Buddha, one a happy standing fatso, the other a mellow lotus-positioned fellow with his thumbs and fingers touching each other in an intriguing mudra. The only other idol atop my piano is a tiny glass baseball player currently stationed in the shadow of Ganesha—my last gasp plea for the removal of the Dodgers from the path of our floundering Giants.

The more I learn about Ganesha, the more I like him, and when we recently removed the obstacle of an unsightly outhouse from a cirque of redwoods viewable from the eastside windows of our house, we decided to look for a large statue of Ganesha to stand in the grotto previously occupied by the ugly pooper.

And lo we were directed to Sacred Woods in Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg, an impressive yard containing hundreds of statues imported from Thailand and Indonesia by Rachelle Zachary, the owner of Sacred Woods. After a delightful hour of statue shopping, we settled on an exquisite four-and-a-half-feet-tall white-stone statue of the elephant-headed god, hand-carved by a Balinese master, and a few weeks later the weighty objet d’art was delivered to our south-side deck.

Our plan was to have the redwood trees surrounding the proposed location for the statue limbed up before we engaged a trio of strong men to transport the statue to the grotto. However, after two weeks of gazing out the south-facing dining room windows at the magnificent statue standing on the far edge of our ground-level deck, we decided to move the statue just a few feet off the deck from where he was. We had fallen in love with seeing him from the dining nook, which is also where I do much of my writing.

And so I began clearing away the dense grass and brambles and vines and dead fern fronds clogging the ground where we envisioned Ganesha standing in the embrace of two stately ferns, and after a few minutes of work I uncovered a massive flat-topped granite stone butting up against the deck. We briefly considered placing the statue on top of the granite stone, but the top was too narrow and too close to the deck where rambunctious dogs and exuberant children and clumsy adults might unwittingly topple the statue.

When Marcia came outside to see how my work was progressing, I gestured at the mass of dead branches and fern fronds and chunks of old bricks and rotting abalone shells left by the previous owners and said, “The ideal thing would be a little brick pad right in there.”

Marcia nodded, winked at Ganesha, returned to her studio, and as I filled my wheelbarrow again and again with the brittle remnants of the past, I held in my mind’s eye an image of our magnificent Ganesha standing on a small brick pad surrounded by an expanse of gray gravel populated with large stones.

Then something astonishing happened, something a non-believer would call a fortuitous coincidence, and something a devout follower of Ganesha would call His doing.

As I clipped away the last of several dozen dead fern fronds from the lower reaches of a large fern, I espied the corner of a pink brick lying in the ground. Having previously removed several chunks of old brick from the vicinity I thought this might be another such chunk. However, upon removing more of the detritus, I exposed a perfectly level pad made of eight whole bricks.

And that is where our statue stands today, surrounded by an expanse of gravel populated with large granite stones. We have no idea what stood on the brick pad prior to the coming of Ganesha, nor are we certain the brick pad was there before I suggested to Marcia and Ganesha that such a pad should be there. Judging from several other artifacts left behind by the previous owners, I would guess a statue of John Wayne or possibly Ronald Reagan stood where our Ganesha now lords it over the ferns and stones.

I was inspired to write about Ganesha today, remover of obstacles, after a visit to Main Street in Mendocino to view the sturdy white fence recently erected on what is now the end of the sidewalk just to the west of Gallery Books.

A public servant, or as A.A. Milne might have written, a Person Of Very Little Brain, is no doubt behind this blood clot, so to speak, in a major artery of our little town, and as I stood at the ridiculous fence and gazed out over the headlands and Big River Bay, I thought of Monty Python and Mark Twain and the Marx Brothers, for this travesty of a mockery of a sham is a hilarious commentary on how far we humans, collectively speaking, have not come since we climbed down from the trees millions of years ago and sallied forth to people the earth.

Oh Ganesha, Ganapati, Vinakaya—we implore you to help us remove the Dadaesque obstacle on Main Street.

Categories
Uncategorized

Geese

hawk

Hawk pen and ink by Todd

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2014)

“Bird flying high, you know how I feel.” Anthony Newley

Every day this week, walking to town, working in the garden, sitting on a bench overlooking Big River Bay, the honking of zealous geese caused me to look up and search the sky until I found the lines of honkers, visible to my naked eyes only because there were dozens of the mighty birds in large formations winging southward.

Yesterday I counted one V composed of seventy birds, though there may have been a few more or less—a distant consortium moving swiftly in the sun-drenched sky. Among the largest birds we’ll ever see in California, these geese were flying so high they appeared to be the size of tiny gnats, and their great altitude suggested they intended to travel many miles beyond Mendocino before coming down to earth.

“Remember the music, the food, the dope, the cheap gas and junk cars, friendship, love, moonlight, firelight, cold water, geese, wine, poetry, liberty, happiness, when we were still too far from the end to see it turn to history.” Quinton Duval

In 1969, a few months after dropping out of college and shortly before turning twenty, I drove around America and Canada in a school-bus-yellow 1962 GMC panel truck with my pal Dick Mead. We had no set itinerary and chose our roads because we liked the names of towns those roads went to or because there were mountains and rivers on the map that called to us. We were not seasoned travelers when we embarked, and we were perhaps in too much of a hurry, being young and unaware of the illusory nature of time and space, but all in all it was a good way for me to learn how not to be in school.

One day in August, on the eastern side of the Cascades north of Walla Walla, we found ourselves on a narrow two-lane road so little used that we drove for two hours at forty-miles-per-hour without seeing another car or person—only a few badly battered farm houses standing along our way. In that treeless land, dry and dusty cattle land (though we saw no cattle) the road curved around the bases of round-topped hills we found impossible to gauge the size of, an impossibility that made us feel disoriented and verging on crazy.

Finally I said to Dick, “Let’s hike to the top of one of these hills and see what we can see.”

So we parked at the bottom of a likely hill and stepped out of our truck into a fabulous silence that was only occasionally broken by a gust of wind or a cawing crow. And though the top of the hill seemed quite close—I guessed we would be on top in fifteen minutes—we decided to carry full canteens, chunks of cheese, chocolate bars and bananas, and we were glad we did. The slope of that hill turned out to be incredibly steep and it took us an hour of hard scrambling to reach the top—the views in every direction showing us endless ranks of treeless hills marching away to the horizons.

Had we not been so young and unaware of the illusory nature of time and space, we might have camped there until our water ran out, imbibing the strange otherness of that promontory in a sea of hills—not another human being within a hundred miles of us. Instead, we stayed up there for an hour or so, gobbling our food, drinking our precious water, playing Frisbee in a fickle wind, and gazing down at the wisp of a highway beside which stood our school-bus-yellow panel truck that appeared to be the size of a very small gnat.

“Thank you for the sea, for what the river discovers at its end, what waits for all of us to come calling.” Quinton Duval

There is something deeply reassuring to me about those high-flying wild geese winging swiftly southward at the beginning of another November in Mendocino. They and their predecessors have been heading south to warmer climes for millions of years, and when I hear their honking and see their undulating formations in the sky, the longevity of the life cycle of their species resonates in my bones and I am filled with hope for the continuance of life on our unique and bountiful earth.

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Arthur Conan Doyle

There is a clump of plant life I pass every day on my way down to the village, a tangle of ivy and blackberry brambles engulfing an eight-foot-long fragment of old fence that stands ten feet from the edge of Little Lake Road—a favorite roost for dozens of little birds, seed-eaters most of them. Every time I walk by that green clump on my way to the village, several little birds, often dozens of them, finches and sparrows and chickadees, come flying from near and far to perch on the extremities of the clump and chatter at me—and I chatter back. When I have passed by, the little birds fly away and resume whatever they were doing before I walked by.

Now here is a curious thing. When I pass the clump on the homeward leg of my journey (I walk on the same side of the road going and returning) the little birds do not come to greet me. However, if I ascend fifty yards beyond the clump and then turn around and head back toward the village, the birds will come speeding to the clump and give me what for.

I wonder what I am to those little birds. And why do they only take notice of me when I’m heading west and downhill? A most pleasing puzzlement.