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The Dog Who Wanted A Person

Part One

Once upon a time there was a dog named Huleekalabulee. His mom called him Hubu or Hubee, his brother Jurgen called him Hube, and his sister called him Bulee. Huleekalabulee’s sister was named Venus.

One morning Huleekalabulee’s mom served Venus and Jurgen and Huleekalabulee their breakfast and said, “Well today you are all one-year-old and you will have to find new homes because I am officially done being your mom. You can come visit me on Dogmas Day and for Dogster and Doggiving, but for the other days you’re on your own.”

“Fine,” said Venus, who was a very beautiful dog and looked more like Mom, who was a Golden Retriever, and less like Dad who was, according to Mom, a big brown mutt. “Jenny Jones who lives next door adores me. I’ll go live with her.”

“Whatever,” said Jurgen, who was quite handsome and looked like a giant Cocker Spaniel. “Mr. Zimbalist who lives across the street already built a house for me in his backyard. I’m outta here.”

“What about you Hubee?” asked Mom. “Where will you go?”

“Well,” said Huleekalabulee, who was an affable big brown mutt, “I guess I’ll do what the dogs in all my favorite dog stories do. Go on a quest to find my person.”

“Good luck with that,” said Jurgen, sneering cynically. “Those are just fantasies, you know. In reality most mutts end up lost and desperate and hungry.”

“Yeah,” said Venus, also sneering cynically. “That’s why Jurgen and I pretended to like Jenny Jones and Mr. Zimbalist. So we wouldn’t end up lost and desperate and hungry.”

“It’s true, dear,” said Mom, who liked Huleekalabulee and found his naiveté charming. “It’s a person-eat-person world out there. You’d better find a person while you’re still kind of cute.”

*

And so after breakfast, Huleekalabulee packed his saddlebags with his favorite squeaky toy and seventy-seven big hunks of turkey jerky and embarked on his quest.

For starters he walked as far as he usually went with Mom’s humans, Alex and Monica Kronkite, which was to the top of Bullwinkle Butte. From there, Huleekalabulee could see the whole town spread out below him, with mountains to the north and south and east, and the ocean to the west.

“Wow,” said Huleekalabulee. “What a great big world it is. I guess if I could live anywhere I’d like to live near the beach. So that’s where I’ll begin my search for a person to call my own.”

He started down a path going west and only went a little way before he came upon two old mutts blocking the path. One of the old mutts was black, the other a dirty blond.

“Slow down,” said the old dirty blond mutt. “Where are you going?”

“The beach,” said Huleekalabulee. “I’m questing for a person to live with.”

This was so funny to the two old mutts, they laughed for five minutes until the old black mutt said, “Hey, what’s your name?”

“Huleekalabulee,” said Huleekalabulee.

Hearing Huleekalabulee’s name made the two old mutts laugh for another five minutes until the old dirty blond mutt said, “What are you… Hawaiian?”

“Not that I know of,” said Huleekalabulee. “My mom is a Golden Retriever and my father was, according to my mom, a big brown mutt.”

“A bit of advice,” said the old black mutt. “Out here in the rough-and-tumble person-eat-person world, you need a rough-and-tumble sort of name.”

“Or at least a shorter name,” said the old dirty blond mutt. “Who can remember Hakableebleenoonoopoopee?”

“But my name isn’t Hakableebleenoonoopoopee,” said Huleekalabulee. “My name is…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said the old black mutt. “Whatever it is, it should be shorter.”

“What are your names?” asked Huleekalabulee, wondering if either or both of them had a person or people.

“I’m Butch,” said the old dirty blond mutt.

“And I’m Garth,” said the old black mutt.

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” said Huleekalabulee. “And now if you’ll excuse me I want to get to the beach before…”

“Not so fast, kiddo,” said Garth, growling to add menace to his speech. “Why should we let you go by without biting you?”

“Why would you want to bite me?” asked Huleekalabulee. “We just had a lovely interlude full of laughter and potentially helpful advice. Why spoil such a happy time with conflict?”

“He makes a good point,” said Butch, nodding. “I haven’t laughed so hard in years. Not since that person, remember? The jogger? Stepped in my fresh pile of poop and slipped and landed on her face in your fresh pile of poop?”

“Now that was funny,” said Garth, remembering the glorious moment of their poop triumphant. “Okay Hukunanazulu. Go on. And good luck. You’ll need it.”

“One more bit of advice,” said Butch, as he and Garth stepped aside to let Huleekalabulee go by. “If you go to the beach, people will call the park rangers, and if they catch you…”

“You don’t want to know,” said Garth, ominously.

“Only dogs belonging to people are allowed on the beach,” said Butch. “Dogs on leash.”

*

The path took Huleekalabulee down from Bullwinkle Butte into a part of town where he’d never been before. The houses here were much bigger than the houses in the neighborhood where Huleekalabulee grew up. And around each yard was a tall fence or wall, and the driveways were gated, and those gates were closed.

“Smells very unfriendly here,” said Huleekalabulee, wrinkling his nose.

And just as he was about to leave the street of giant houses, a very large dog with pointy ears and shiny black fur came rushing through the one gate that wasn’t completely shut, and stood between Huleekalabulee and a neighborhood of small pretty houses where human children were playing happily on little lawns and there were no fences or gates.

“Hold it right there,” said the very large shiny black dog. “Just where do you think you’re going?”

“To the beach,” said Huleekalabulee. “Dog willing and the creek don’t rise.”

“Not likely,” said the big pointy-eared dog, his voice full of growls. “I’m a professional attack dog and it is my job to try to bite you and possibly kill you.”

“Why would you want to do that?” asked Huleekalabulee, aghast. “I’m just a lost one-year-old who will never ever ever never ever never ever come back here. And I will give you ten pieces of delicious turkey jerky.”

“Make it twenty pieces and I’ll put on a convincing snarling and lunging act but not bite you,” said the big galoot.

“Twenty it is,” said Huleekalabulee, shaking out twenty pieces of turkey jerky from his saddlebags.

“Yum,” said the big black dog as he chowed down. “By the way, what’s your name?”

“My name is…” And then Huleekalabulee remembered Butch and Garth’s advice. So instead of saying Hulee etcetera, he said, “Hercules.”

“Bit of advice,” said the big black pointy-eared devourer of jerky. “With a name like Hercules you better be one mighty strong canine or lots of dogs are gonna try to kick your butt.”

“Thanks for the tip,” said Huleekalabulee, hurrying away. “I’ll definitely consider alternative monikers.”

Boody Boody Ba

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Birthday 71

When I was six-years-old, sitting at my desk in Mrs. Bushnell’s First Grade class, I became aware that though I had the brain and body of a child, I was also a conveyance for an ageless, genderless, and fantastically wise consciousness that had been around long before Todd was born.

I remember being unsurprised by the presence of this consciousness in six-year-old Todd, and for several minutes I observed and understood my classmates and teacher and the objects in the classroom with this newly revealed consciousness and not with the consciousness of a child.  

I understood that my body and brain and self would continue to grown and change over time, but this other consciousness, this ageless consciousness, would remain unchanged throughout my life. I also understood that I could access this consciousness and the vast reservoir of knowledge and experience it possessed, but I might not.

And then, before my awareness of this other consciousness became submerged again in the sensations and thoughts and feelings of a six-year-old human child, I was informed that I would become aware of this other consciousness a few more times in the course of my life, and each time this awareness overtook me, I would remember the moment in Mrs. Bushnell’s class when I first encountered this ageless, genderless, fantastically wise consciousness that existed long before Todd was born.

And just a few days ago, this ageless consciousness made itself known to me again, and I had a vivid recollection of that marvelous moment in Mrs. Bushnell’s class sixty-five years ago when this other aspect of being alive was made known to me.

Starting when I was about nine, and for a few years thereafter, I would be sitting quietly, usually outside, and I would see the myriad pieces of the great cosmic puzzle coming together. And I was certain if I could sit very still and give my undivided attention to this coming together of the pieces, the puzzle would complete itself and I would understand how the whole incredible construct of life worked.

And time and again, just as the final pieces of the puzzle were falling into place, something would interrupt my concentration, and the nearly complete construct would collapse.

One time it was my mother calling, “Dinner’s ready!” Another time it was my dog barking at a squirrel.

Eventually those close calls with perfect understanding ceased to occur.

No One Knows

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Gate of Ten Thousand Things

My dream from a few mornings ago.

I am in my office with an old friend and his young son. We are looking out the window at the metal gate in our deer fence and my friend’s son asks wistfully, “Can I go out that gate and go all the way around the house and come in through the gate of ten thousand things?” And I know he means our front gate with the two old bells.

Then the alarm went off and I woke up.

The gate of ten thousand things reminds me of my short story Ten Thousand Things, one of the forty-two stories in Buddha In A Teacup.

Ten Thousand Things

Esme watches herself in the mirror putting on lipstick. She frowns at her myriad wrinkles and snorts at the absurdity of the thought that she has grown old. She is eighty-six.

Esme is standing in front of her house when her son Bill arrives. He is fifty-eight. Before he can get out of his big blue pickup truck, Esme barks at him. “Move the garbage can out to the curb. Sweep up these pine needles. They’re unsightly.”

“Ma,” he says, working hard to stay calm. “How about saying hello?”

She flounces around the nose of his truck to the passenger door as if nothing has been said by either of them.

She climbs in and puts on her seatbelt. “I don’t know why I bother,” she complains bitterly. “They haven’t had a decent fair in twenty years.”

“We don’t have to go,” he says, gripping the steering wheel. “This is supposed to be for fun, Ma.”

“Of course we have to go,” she says, sneering imperiously. “It’s a tradition.”

Inching toward the fairgrounds, traffic snarled, Esme shakes her head and says, “I told you so.”

Bill turns to her. “Ma. How old am I?”

“Horrendous heat,” she says, fanning herself and making a spluttering sound. The day is mild, the truck air-conditioned. “Why do they always have the fair when the weather is so awful?” She sighs. “Worse now, of course. We never had smog like this.”

Bill resists the temptation to point out that she is part of the current We. He closes his eyes, wondering again why he bothers to do anything for his mother.

They come to a dead stop. Esme sighs—an audible moan—exactly as she has sighed ten thousand times before, but this time, this ten thousandth time, something gives way inside of Bill, something in his heart. He touches his sternum with the middle three fingers of his right hand and for one stunning moment he feels such overwhelming pain that his vision abandons him in a flash of light—and the pain is gone.

He turns to look at his mother. She is glaring at the road ahead as she always does, but he sees something in her face he has not been aware of before—nobility and strength.

“What could it possibly be?” she asks, her voice no longer grating but musical—a viola taken to the edge of sharpness. “We aren’t going anywhere.”

“It’s the Grand Coulee Dam, Ma,” he says, feeling a gush of love for her. “They brought it in last night with sixty-five thousand blimps.”

“Don’t be absurd!” she cries, trying to contain her mirth, but the word blimps unglues her and she bursts into laughter.

In line to buy tickets, Esme scowls at the list of admission prices. “This is an outrage,” she hisses. “This is robbery. Why… when I was a girl it was practically free.”

“Free love,” says Bill, stepping up to the ticket window and beaming at the sweaty young woman glued to her stool. “One outraged old woman and her suddenly euphoric son.”

“She your mom?” asks the young woman—two tickets emerging from two slots in the metal counter.

“From her womb I came,” says Bill, feeling downright reverent.

“Then she’s in free. It’s moms in free this afternoon.”

“You here that, Ma? Free.”

“Don’t believe it,” says Esme, her eyes narrowing. “They’re just trying to sell us something.”

In the beer garden, Bill sipping stout, Esme having lemonade, three knobby-kneed men in faded lederhosen play a peppy little polka.

“Shall we dance, Ma?” asks Bill, nodding. “I think we shall.”

“Don’t be absurd,” she says, frowning at him. “With my hip? Are you drunk?”

“I’ve had a conversion,” he says, seeing everything as if for the first time. “I stepped over a line or my heart broke or I forgave you or I forgave myself. I don’t know. But I’m not mad at you anymore. I actually love you.”

She shrugs. “Well la dee da.”

“Shoe bop shoe wah,” he says, bouncing his eyebrows.

She looks at her watch. “It’s late. We haven’t seen the quilts yet.”

Making their way through a flood of humanity, they are momentarily separated—Esme crying, “Bill! Don’t leave me!”

Bill makes his way to her and says, “Here I am, Ma.”

She clutches his arm and stamps her feet. “This is awful. I hate this. They ruined everything. It used to be so nice and now look at it. Garbage everywhere. No place to sit. The restrooms are filthy.”

“Do you want to leave or do you want to see the quilts?”

“I want to see the quilts,” she groans. “But how will we ever get there?”

“We will sing songs,” he says, taking her hand. “From all our favorite musicals.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says, allowing him to lead her along.

“We’re off to see the wizard,” he begins. “The wonderful wizard of Oz.”

“Judy Garland was a drug addict,” says Esme, nodding emphatically. “I could never forgive her for that.”

“Why not?” says Bill, giving his mother’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Let’s forgive her.”

“Oh, look,” says Esme, pointing at the sign above the pavilion. “We’re here.”

“I never gave a hoot about quilts,” says Bill, sitting beside his mother on a cushioned bench to take a long look at the grand prizewinner. “Now I’m in love.”

“These are nothing,” says Esme, dismissing everything in the vast room with a wave of her hand. “When I was a girl, we really knew how to make quilts.”

“This is phantasmagoric,” says Bill, gesturing at the giant blue field dotted with stars and sheep and bubbles and clouds. “I believe in this.”

“It’s big,” says Esme, nodding. “I’ll give it that.”

“You’re just you,” he says, looking at her. “And I’m just me.”

“I’m out of gas,” she says, leaning against him. “Take me home?”

He walks her to her front door. “Shall I come in? Cook you dinner? Rub your feet?”

She turns away and fits her key into the lock. “Not like it used to be,” she sighs, opening the door. “Don’t come in. Place is a mess.”

“Ma?” he says, deftly sending the word into her heart.

“Yes, dear,” she says, turning to gaze at him. “That’s me.”

fin

Bill Evans

Buddha In A Teacup on Apple Books

Listen to Todd read Ten Thousand Things on YouTube

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Mr. Nail

I’m fascinated by how we learn things. I recently read that there seems to be a strong correlation between the elimination of handwriting from the American school curriculum and the steep decline in academic test scores. I have also read that many children with learning disabilities have overcome their learning disabilities by developing  handwriting and memorization skills.

memorize: commit to memory, learn by heart

Mr. Nail was my English teacher for my senior year of high school. If I ever knew Mr. Nail’s first name, such knowledge is lost to the sound and the fury of the intervening fifty-four years. I want to call him Hank Nail, but that’s just a funny guess.

My sister Kathy was one of Mr. Nail’s star students a couple years before me, and she also starred in the Shakespeare plays Mr. Nail directed. However, Mr. Nail’s fondness for my sister did not extend to me. Why? I had a long-established habit (since First Grade) of occasionally making unsolicited comments during class, which comments often got laughs, and sometimes big laughs.

And though for the most part Mr. Nail tolerated my spur-of-the-moment comments, he clearly preferred being the one who got the laughs. Thus my friends and I were under the impression Mr. Nail didn’t like me. However, in retrospect I think there is a chance he secretly did like me, and he appreciated the lift in the collective spirit my occasional verbal intrusions imparted to our academic experience.

Also in retrospect, I think Mr. Nail was a very good teacher, though much of what he taught was lost on me as my mind was frequently elsewhere during those long hours of incarceration. He was little interested in right answers and very interested in the elegance and power of good writing, and he was always keen to discuss the deeper meanings of words and stories and plays.

Once a week (and we all wished he would do this every day) Mr. Nail would open his big dictionary at random and read an entire page out loud to us, a practice I found delightful and instructive and inspiring. I began reading the dictionary on my own, learned many fascinating words and factoids that way, and eventually purchased a fat two-volume version of the Oxford English Dictionary which makes for great random page reading.

When we undertook to study a play by Shakespeare, Mr. Nail’s specialty, he would spontaneously cast class members as the characters in whatever Shakespeare play we were reading and have us read a scene aloud. At scene’s end, to demystify the bewildering passages, he would pontificate on the historical or symbolical meanings of particular words and phrases. He thought Shakespeare was terrific and wanted us to think so, too.

My favorite thing Mr. Nail did was give us weekly updates on his hobby, which was entering contests sponsored by magazines and newspapers and manufacturers and food purveyors and towns and cities and churches and non-profit organizations. I don’t know if these kinds of contests are a big deal nowadays, but in 1967 there were so many such contests that Mr. Nail subscribed to a weekly newsletter to keep up with the thousands of contests happening year-round. And he entered dozens of these contests every week!

In his contest updates he would tell us how many contests he’d entered in the last week, which contests he was most optimistic about winning, and if he’d had any wins. Many of these contests merely required contestants to fill out entry forms and send them in. But some of these contests required little essays, and those were the contests Mr. Nail excelled at. He’d won many prizes over the years including a refrigerator, a washer and dryer, a bicycle, groceries, lawn mowers, gift certificates, and a considerable amount of cash.

The crowning glory of my time with Mr. Nail came shortly before the end of the school year when Mr. Nail told us he’d won an all-expenses-paid two-week trip for two to Europe. Through the fog of time, I seem to recall he won that trip by writing a five-hundred-word essay about unique uses for a small canister propane torch, but maybe not.

Whatever For

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Insect Poems

In a recent exchange with Max about poems and poetry, Max inquired of two poems I wrote in the early 1970s that are the first poems I published, both appearing in the delightful Santa Cruz free weekly newspaper Sundaz. I received no pay for these poems but was thrilled beyond words to be a published poet.

The first of my poems to appear in Sundaz was that clicking sound? A year or so after that clicking sound? debuted, the poem was included in a chapbook anthology of Sundaz poems called the the. I no longer have a copy of the the, but I still have my poem.

that clicking sound?

we have a hundred men downstairs

each employed

in some

part of the process;

breaking

the backs

of crickets

The second poem of mine to appear in Sundaz was pilgrimage. Coincidence or not, pilgrimage also mentions insects. Well, more than mentions. In each poem insects are the denouement.

pilgrimage

went to see the saint,

the martyr,

found him

sitting by a wall

his tears falling on

ants

Reading that clicking sound? fifty years after it appeared in Sundaz, I remember the moment I saw the poem in the paper.

crickets

at a sunlit table,

his mug casting a long shadow,

a young man leafs through a slender newspaper

and finds a poem about crickets by someone

who has the young man’s name.

Told You

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The Destiny of Our Intentions

Dimitri wakes from a dream in which he was speaking to a woman who died a few years ago. The woman was telling him about what goes on between death and rebirth. Dimitri can’t remember anything the woman said except the destiny of our intentions.

He repeats the destiny of our intentions to himself a few times lest he forget, then falls asleep and drifts into a dream in which a young man is speaking about the destiny of our intentions. Dimitri wonders if the young man is talking about karma, the idea that our actions and thoughts shape our future. The young man doesn’t reply to Dimitri’s wondering, but Dimitri senses the young man is not speaking about our behavior in this life determining what we become in our next life. Dimitri senses the young man is speaking about the time after we die and before we are reborn, when each of us decides what we will try to become in our next life.

Picking apples in the orchard with his wife Olga, Dimitri tells Olga his dreams about the destiny of our intentions.

She frowns. “Since when do you believe in reincarnation?”

“I neither believe nor disbelieve,” he replies. “This is what I dreamed.”

“So,” she says, smiling. “If you could be reborn, what would you like to be?”

Dimitri thinks for a moment and says, “I would like to be a maker of balsa wood gliders. What would you like to be?”

“I would like to grow flowers,” says Olga, imagining a sea of blooms, “and make bouquets for weddings.”

What Comes Around

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Morning Visions

Waking heavy-limbed, my first conscious thought is If we were not meeting Sally and Molly at the beach this morning, I would surely sleep for another couple hours.

But we are meeting Sally and Molly, so up I get and Marcia gets up, too.

I splash some water on my face and traipse through the quiet house to my office, and espy a beautiful doe just outside my window, her browsing ground so very dry, and at least another month until the rains come, if they come. As I take her picture, I am keenly aware of how parched the earth.

in the Cotswolds

On my computer I find an email from Marion in England, recently returned from trekking in the Cotswolds. She has sent several pictures of what are called kissing gates, clever designs that allow humans to pass through, but not livestock. I’m glad to see things are not so dry in England.

Vito in Switzerland

In the same email batch is a missive from Clare, Marion’s daughter, with pics of Vito looking happy to be in Switzerland. Though I miss Vito and Clare and Nick, I’m relieved they are living in Switzerland now, away from the fires and smoke and political chaos and rampant pandemic in California and America. The Swiss have been quite successful, so far, in containing the virus and political chaos.

baby lettuce

I visit the orchard before we leave for the beach, and I’m pleased to see our final lettuce planting of the year is coming along nicely, the big tub keeping the babies safe from voracious redwood roots.

nearly ready

The apples look ready to eat, but they are hard as rocks and will need another two weeks to ripen before we pick them.

Molly at river’s edge

Big River Beach is half in shade when we arrive, the air wonderfully free of smoke. Hallelujah. Nine in the morning, the air is already quite warm, and I think ahead a few days to the weekend and the predicted heat wave that will bring thousands of people from inland towns and cities to the coast.

Molly in Big River foam

Molly chases her ball out into a great expanse of foamy surf, and I think of the arctic ice sheet breaking up and melting away as it will now more and more every year.

emerging from the waves

Molly’s exuberance lifts my somber mood. Hurray for life!

Molly in the river

We walk up river to complete our morning sojourn, and Molly has one last swim in the green blue waters of Big River before we head for home.

Morning Prayer

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What To Be

When we were children in the 1950s and 60s, adults would often ask us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I don’t recall any adults asking me what I’d been doing lately or how I was feeling. Nor do I recall believing these inquiring adults really wanted to know what I wanted to become. Their question was a ritual greeting, and my answer was the ritual reply.

When I was four and adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said cowboy, which I pronounced gowboy, according to my mother. Then when I was seven, I was given a small hardback book entitled American Indians, which turned out to be a very pro-Indian, anti-Gowboy tome. I read the book countless times and decided there could be nothing better than being an American Indian.

To become an American Indian, I stopped wearing shoes and shirts and long pants except when I went to school, and I made several wooden spears, which I became adept at throwing far and accurately. And for the next few years, I spent most of my non-school hours roaming the not-yet-built-upon land around our house—oak-studded hills, abandoned grape vineyards, piney woods. Most summer nights, I made a camp in the olive grove adjacent to our house and slept out under the stars. I was accompanied on many of my adventures by my dog Cozy, an unmistakably American Indian dog, and we spent the long summer days exploring our territory, tracking game, and avoiding contact with white people.

When my friends came to play with me, I tried to interest them in being American Indians too, but found no takers. Some of my pals were keen on fighting the Japanese and the Germans, so we did that, and some wanted to war against American Indians, which I refused to do, but none of my friends wanted to be American Indians, even after I shared with them my favorite parts of that foundational treatise American Indians. I was baffled by my friends’ unwillingness to convert, for I saw no downside to being an American Indian.

I know very well that the American Indian I became is not an actual indio, not a Navajo or a Pomo or a Lakota. But I did become my own kind of American Indian and was profoundly shaped by those years in which I roamed the California hills with my dog and my spear, learning the ways of Nature and avoiding the confines of the white man’s suburbia.

Many a day I would settle down in the woods and sit stone still for so long that deer and rabbits and lizards and quail would become unaware of me, or cease to fear me, as I watched them going about their lives in the wilds, their complex and fascinating lives.

Incongroovity

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Course of Life

Buddha’s Buddha

Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can go when things have got about as bad as they can reasonably get. Tom Stoppard

I take comfort in knowing that for all but the last few millennia of our millions of years of evolving into the species we are today, humans lived from day to day, untethered to the past or the future. Our existence was entirely about getting enough food for today, avoiding larger animals who wanted to eat us, and caring for each other. We did not concern ourselves with saving enough money to insure a comfortable old age, for we knew nothing of money or old age. We lived vigorously and alertly in the moment, ever vigilant and curious and open to what Nature was telling us.

Vito composing

To a great mind, nothing is little.  Conan Doyle

Through persistent practice there will come a time when your playing is so clear and rhythmically consistent, and your voice and words merge so seamlessly with your music, you and your song will be one.

honey bee loving lemon blossoms

Whole Love

Every choice is always the wrong choice,

Every vote cast is always cast away—

How can truth hover between alternatives? 

Then love me more than dearly, love me wholly,

Love me with no weighing of circumstance,

As I am pledged in honour to love you:

With no weakness, with no speculation

On what might happen should you and I prove less

Than bringers-to-be of our own certainty.

Neither was born by hazard; each foreknew

The extreme possession we are grown into.

Robert Graves

When I was nineteen, I became a vagabond for some years, and carried everything I owned with me, including three books: a paperback edition of Collected Poems of Robert Graves, and the two-volume The Greek Myths, also by Robert Graves, also in paperback.

During many of the hundreds of hours I spent waiting by roads for good Samaritans to stop for me, and on many a night before going to sleep, I would read Graves and take solace in what I came to think of as his cautionary romanticism.

When I was twenty-eight and had just published my first novel, I was waiting for my editor in the plush anteroom of the Doubleday offices in Manhattan. I had never met my editor in-person. We had spoken on the phone many times, and from her voice and manner of speaking, I imagined Sherry was a young white woman raised in the upper middle class who had, for some reason, fallen in love with my novel about white and black people living together and helping each other travel through this world of woe and joy.

On the walls of the anteroom were displayed the newest books published by Doubleday, each book standing on a small shelf and spot-lit as if a work of art. I blushed when I discovered my newborn book thus displayed, and then gasped in delight at the book displayed on the shelf next to mine: a handsome hardback edition of the newly revised Collected Poems of Robert Graves.

Then Sherry emerged from the labyrinth of offices and I gasped again, for she was black and exceedingly lovely.

In my stammered greeting, I said something about the volume of Robert Graves. Without hesitation, Sherry took the volume of poems from its pedestal, handed the holy relic to me, and I felt blessed, a thousand times blessed. 

The Old Way Home

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Lizard Song and Smoke

rose in smoky light

Max wrote: I had a very productive morning working on my book about lizards only to wake and find it was but a dream.

I wrote back: I’ve always liked lizards. I always feel lucky when I see one.

Max thought my response might make a good start for a story. I suggested the lines might also be good lyrics to a song. I’ve been playing around with a catchy chord progression for the last few weeks, hunting for lyrics, so I tried singing I’ve always liked lizards, always feel lucky when I see one to the music, and the words fit the tune nicely, so I got to work writing the rest of the song.

As I was trying out various combinations of words with the chord progression, the sunny day started to turn ominously gray as the air filled with smoke from the big fires inland. I stepped outside and the sun was orange. I went to get my camera and by the time I got back outside the sun was pink. A moment later, our mighty star disappeared behind the clouds and darkness fell at 4:30 in the afternoon.

pink sun

I found myself quasi-panicking. Should we flee? But to where?

Marcia finished giving an online cello lesson, we shared a couple beers, and I snapped a few pictures in the eerie daytime dusk.

strange smoky late afternoon

Then I performed my new song for Marcia and she approved. Here is the first verse.

I’ve always liked lizards, feel lucky when I see one.

I like pelicans, too. In fact, I’d like to be one.

I like koala bears, and I like kangaroos.

I like walking on the beach.

And I really really like you.

Now I’ve got enough new songs for my next CD, and when the pandemic subsides and and the air clears and studio time becomes available again, this is what I’m gonna do.

Studio Time