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Yard Man

Two of a Kind - Part One

Sheet Wrestiling

The Light Side of a Heavy Concern


Barely Bear

The Onion at the Center of the Universe

You and They and Lousie

The Tale of the Papagano

The Great Wheel

Finally, the English Edition!
Third Wish

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October 15, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The third week in October, 2014
cool, windy weather – overnight freezing with morning frost.
Cattle are still wandering down from summer pasture.

Note: This is the last posting for a week or so. I’m off on a road trip into New Mexico – Santa Fe, Jemez Hot Springs, and Chaco Canyon –
(see web Images for Chaco Culture National Historic Park –
I’m going when the fall colors are at their peak and the weather is cool.
In the meantime, here’s a story (true) that begins in Asia, moves to downtown Moab, Utah, and finally to my front yard . . .


Vorakit Kantakalung was the Director of the YMCA in northern Thailand for many years.
In addition to the usual YMCA activities, much of the government’s
outreach to the under-privileged and the migrant hill tribes passed through Vorakit’s offices in Chiang Mai – a big operation with many employees and complex responsibilities.

Vorakit was an influential figure in all aspects of social development.
And a truly lovely man – inspiring, thoughtful, perceptive – a man with a serious purpose, and a light heart.
I got to know him well during several trips to Thailand and stayed in his home with his family.
We became good friends.
Alas, he died suddenly of a massive heart attack several years ago.
But he remains alive and vigorous in my mind’s eye.
And one encounter with him permanently altered my thinking.

Vorakit had never been in the United States, so I invited him to visit.
He arrived the same day I returned home after being away for a month.

At the time of his visit I lived in a suburban house, with a huge backyard that went all the way to the edge of a deep, wild ravine, where a creek flowed through a forest of tall trees.
In those days I took great pride in my lawn – kept it watered, fertilized, and free of weeds. It was mowed and trimmed regularly to golf-course standards. Smooth, green, flawless.
The envy of my neighbors.

The day Vorakit and I arrived, we went out to sit on the back porch to have tea, and I was apologetic about the unkempt appearance of my prized lawn, which was ankle deep in un-mowed grass.
I suggested that Vorakit take it easy while I mowed the lawn.
I explained that it wouldn’t take long with my power mower, and the view from the porch would be much improved.

As I mowed, I emptied the mower basket onto a big tarp several times.
When I finished, I dragged the tarp over to the edge of the ravine and
dumped the lawn cuttings down into the ravine, as was my usual habit.

When I walked back toward the porch, Vorakit stood up, walked toward me, and said, “So you keep your animals down there in the ravine. What do you raise?”
“Well, actually . . . I don’t have any animals.”
His eyes were wide in astonishment.
“No animals? Not even chickens? You mean you water your crop, fertilize it, treat it for weeds and pests, and then when it grows tall, you cut it, and throw it away? You do all that work . . . for nothing?
You just want to look at the grass, that’s all?”
“Well, I never thought of it that way, but . . . that’s what I do.”

Vorakit sat down in his chair, sighed, and said, “You must be crazy.
I will never, ever understand America.”

That’s the last time I had a lawn.
Not long afterward, I sold that house and moved into a houseboat on Lake Union, where I lived for thirty years.
No grass.
Now I live part of the year in an apartment in downtown Seattle.
No grass.

And here in Utah, where I also live part of each year, everything in the environment around my house is on its own to take care of itself.
I do not water it, fertilize it, weed it, or cut it, or rake it.
No grass.

When I go into Moab, I pass by three houses whose owners have similar values or are as adverse to lawn care as I.
Just rocks and gravel.
No grass.

How I wish Vorakit could see my Utah house and these Moab yards.
He would smile and think better of me, I hope.
Americans may indeed be crazy, but not all of them mow lawns.

* * *

(see photos on Facebook - three Moab yards and mine.

link to this story

October 10, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The second week in October, 2014
cool, clear weather – with new coat of snow on the high peaks
after a storm two days ago.
Cotton wood trees turning golden yellow all up and down the valle.

TWO OF A KIND – Part One

Here’s a test to engage your mind before reading today’s essay:
Consider this two sets of ten names.
Match the name in the left column with the correct one on the right.
For extra credit, explain what they have in common and where the pairs fit into literature or history.






Pauline Phillips..............Tweedledum



Remus.............................Esther Lederer


* * *

TWO OF A KIND – Part 2

While shopping in City Market last week, I thought I was being followed.
Weird feeling.
This happens in movies and detective novels, but not City Market in Moab, Utah.
But an older man stayed half an aisle back as I shopped, and moved as I moved.
He wasn’t somebody I had ever seen before.
And . . .there wasn’t anything in his cart.
I was tempted to quickly try and circle around behind him, spy on spy . . .
But why freak him out?

When I stopped in the produce department to talk with a friend, I noticed the man staring at me from the other side of a big display of banana. If I had my stuffed orangutan companion, Louise, with me, I would not have been surprised at a stranger’s scrutiny.
But Louise wasn’t along for the ride – she was having a bikini wax that day.
(I made that up.)

When I stared back at the man, he came over and said:
“Forgive me for staring, but, by God, you are the very spitting image of my great uncle Harry O’Connor.
You could be him – walking around in the world.
But you can’t be, because Uncle Harry died and was buried in Dublin last May.
Jesus and Mary, you’ve given me a shock.”
(A very Irish tourist, he was.)

He asked to take my picture – so as to give the willies to his people back home.
And I asked him to tell me about Uncle Harry.
As it turned out, I may have looked enough like Uncle Harry to be him or his twin,
but not at all like him in personality and style of life.
My doppelganger (great word) was a pharmacist by profession, a collector of beetles by avocation, and an eccentric in personal style – “a bit loony.”
Not me, except maybe for the last part.

When I led a more public life – book signings and speaking engagements – it was not uncommon for someone to say I looked just like someone they knew – and on occasion they would bring my look-alike over for comparison.
There was usually some resemblance, but not close.

But when the Irishman man showed me a photo of Uncle Harry from his cell phone album, even I was surprised.
There’s no denying that the image could have been me.
Even more startling was to see a photo taken at the wake – with Uncle Harry laid out in his coffin.
There I was – dead.

That set me thinking.

Statistically, I suppose, the odds are that somewhere in the world most of us have a twin – at least in physical appearance, if not in personality.
The possibility provokes my imagination – what if we could get together? – think of the mischief we could get into . . .

Psychologists say it’s not uncommon for children to believe they have a twin – an imaginary double – from whom they have been separated.
An only child is especially prone to this fantasy.
That was true for me.
Oddly enough, mine was a twin sister – who morphed into an imaginary playmate over time.
She faded away as I grew up.
But I still think of her once in a while.
I miss her . . .

Imaginary twins fill a need to have a larger sense of self.
Or to have a close companion – a trusted ally – a co-conspirator.
And writers of short stories, novels, detective and spy fiction often employ twins to add complexity to plots.

If you want to have an interesting conversation, ask real twins what it’s like.
Or else imagine you have a twin and how that might affect your life.
The stories about twins separated at birth and re-united long after are fascinating.
It’s a rich topic.

Or turn my City Market experience around -
Have you ever got yourself into a situation of mistaken identity?
Or been so certain that you recognized someone you knew - and you were wrong?

I have.
On three memorable occasions.
Once I was standing on a corner waiting to cross a street in downtown Seattle.
A car I recognized slowly turned right in front of me.
A glance told me the driver was a woman I knew.
So I opened the door on the passenger side, hopped in, and took a seat.
The alarmed driver had never seen me before, nor I her.
Ha. Well, you can imagine . . .
It took some fast talking to keep her from screaming out the window for help.

Another time I was walking up a sidewalk in Washington, D.C. and saw a former student of mine coming my way.
I smiled, opened my arms in a welcoming gesture, expecting a hug.
The young woman smiled, and opened her arms in reply.
As we approached, I realized her gaze was beyond me.
As she passed me, I turned to see the young man behind me with his arms outflung
to receive her passionate embrace.
She wasn’t my ex-student after all, and I don’t think she ever saw me – just him.
Glad I didn’t try and grab her as she rushed by.

Another example:
In a supermarket I saw a woman I knew well – a long-time acquaintance.
I crept up behind her, put my hands over her eyes, and said, “Guess who?”
She gently removed my hands, turned to face me, and was cool in her reaction.
“You have an interesting approach to meeting people you don’t know,” she said,
but I know who you are – I’ve read your books.”

Finally, at an outdoor folk concert I saw a man I knew well but had not seen in a long, long time.
He was way over on the other side of the crowd, and the light was getting dim at day’s end – but I was certain he was my man.
I shouted at him and waved.
He waved back.
We worked our way across the crowd.
He, too, thought he recognized me.
As it turned out, we were both mistaken.
No harm done.
And now I look for “The man I don’t know” at the annual folk festival.
I know him now – and he knows me.

And if I ever see the Irish tourist again, I’ll know him, too.
I’d be welcome to visit him in Dublin.
He’d love to use me to freak out his friends and family.
Those who remember Great Uncle Harry O’Connor.
I’d be “Old Harry himself, risen from the dead to torment the living”.
They’re Irish, so there would be an endless round of drinks to look forward to.
Drink up! and tell us about the other side, Harry . . .

* * *

Well, then, about the quiz at the top of the essay . . .
No, I’m not going to give you the answers, but I’ll give you these clues:

Think twins.
Roman mythology.
The constellations in the night sky.
The Bobbsey stories
Ann Landers and Dear Abby
The Bible
Roman history
And Lewis Carroll

link to this story

October 07, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The second week in October, 2014
Warm, clear days – cool nights.
The cottonwood trees have started turning yellow in the valley.


A man I know is not ept at some very mundane tasks.
To say “not ept” is a more decisive notion than just inept.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” seems to apply to him in very specific areas of human endeavor.

For example, the smooth, efficient installation of a fitted bottom sheet on a king size bed seems beyond his ability.
He’s seen it done.
But he can’t do it – at least not quickly and tidily.
The bed always looks slightly awry when he’s finished - or gives up.

Moreover, the ability to gracefully insert a down comforter neatly into a duvet cover eludes him.
He’s seen that done, too.
But he can’t do it – at least not competently.
The duvet always looks like small animals are trapped in it, with the down unevenly distributed in lumps.

His wife can easily handle fitted sheets and duvet covers.
She never talks about it or makes a fuss – just gets done with dispatch.
All by herself.
And his longtime professional housekeeper can install a fitted sheet and put a comforter in a duvet cover one-handed, in the dark in minutes.

For both of these skillful women these tasks seem to require little thought, planning, or effort.
The man I know believes they secretly hold him in amused contempt for his clumsiness and lack of simple domestic skills.
To avoid being humiliated, he tries not to be around when bed making activities take place.

Alas, his housekeeper is not available this month.
And his wife, who has been away, for three weeks, is coming back.
And something must be done about the bed.
It’s been on his things-to-do list for a week.
The time for action has come.

For him, the bed has been a non-issue up until now.
Most guys can sleep on the same sheets for quite a while.
If the sheets are not grey and greasy, they are OK.
Just don’t look at them during the day – and get into bed in the dark.

If the sheets get rancid, a guy knows to spend the night in his sleeping bag on top of the mattress.
Or use the duvet cover as a sheet-sack, sleep inside of that, with the comforter on top.

It’s true that my friend sometimes snacks in bed when alone.
And rolling over on Cheeto crumbs once put orange blotches on his skin.
But he thinks a couple of runs of a DustBuster vacuum cleaner across the bed is enough to clear the obvious debris.

He’s read that dust mites may multiply into the zillions if he doesn’t regularly change sheets and pillow cases, but dust mites don’t mutate into larger life forms, don’t bite, don’t make noise, or move around.
Dust mites are just a mental concept – he can’t actually see them.
If he doesn’t bother then, they won’t bother him – live and let live.

Here’s some random notes from conversations with the man I know:

1. You can put a fitted single bed sheet on a king size bed on one side of the bed – two corners are a piece of cake – and you only sleep on one side of the bed, anyhow - but the sheet won’t be in place in the morning.

2. A guy’s usual go-to tools won’t help make a bed with a fitted sheet.
Duct tape, Super Glue, W-D Forty oil – no way to employ them..

3. Never try folding a fitted sheet. It can’t be done neatly.
Remove sheet, wash, dry, put back on bed – if you can.

4. It’s no good trying to crawl into a duvet cover, pulling the comforter in behind you – there’s no way to get out the other end.

5. Throwing the duvet cover and fitted sheet out on to the porch and jumping up and down on them and shouting obscenities won’t get the bed made or affect the sheets.
But you’ll feel better for a few minutes.
But then you just have to wash the bedding again.
And the agony gets prolonged.

6. You can sleep inside the duvet cover and put the comforter on top of you. But if you have to get up suddenly during the night, the duvet cover is going along with you, which is awkward in the bathroom.

7. One might practice Sheet Yoga – taking deep, rhythmic breaths while approaching the sheets at the speed of a sloth, while bringing your karma and chakras to bear on the bedding. But the sheets don’t care.

8. You can avoid fitted sheets by using only flat sheets, but that’s a coward’s way out.

9. Sheet Wrestling is a solo sport – no opponent or audience required.
It’s a minor form of aerobic exercise, actually.

10. When desperate, consider Assisted Living.
If you’re good at making beds with fitted sheets, and duvets are no problem, you have my admiration and respect.
If you are as inept as the man I know, now you know you are not alone.

link to this story

October 03, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The first week in October, 2014
The temperature has dropped twenty degrees since yesterday
A few leaves on the cottonwoods here in the valley have turned yellow.
Autumn, for sure.


Here’s a lesbian joke:
Q: How many lesbians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Four. One to change it, two to organize the potluck, and one to write a folk song about the empowering experience.

Yes, I know I’m in politically incorrect territory.
It’s tricky ground.
But a lesbian told me that joke when I asked if there was a light side to being a lesbian. I wouldn’t share it except to make a point.

Humor is a life raft in rough seas.
For everyone. Everyone.
We’d drown in a sea of despair without it.
But it is acceptable in this climate of sensitivity to make jokes only if you are telling them from within your identity.
Humor about gender, race, ethnic identity, national origin, and religion is OK only if you live within the framework of the joke.
Jews can joke about being Jewish – but a non-Jew like me had best not.
Same for Blacks, Gays, the Polish, and so on.

I’m not a lesbian.
So why did I begin this essay with a lesbian joke?
Gay Pride was celebrated once again in Moab last week – proclamation by the mayor, festival in the city park, parade down main street, entertainment, parties.
Just like in the big cities around this country and Europe.

The planning committee expanded the celebration from one day to a week, calling it Gay Adventure Week, offering all the opportunities Moab is noted for:
such as biking, river rafting, hot air balloon rides, hiking, climbing, base-jumping.
This was a way of expanding the image of gay activities, and increasing the feeling that gays were good for the local economy as well as for the local social climate.
From all I know, all went well, and a good time was had by all.

And I was there.
For all the serious reasons you might expect.
But also, as you might expect of me, looking for the light side of Pride.
And I found it.

Bumper sticker: “Gay by nature and the grace of God – Fabulous by choice.”

T-Shirt: “Not even my hair is straight.”

Bumper sticker: “Love Is In The Air. Wear A Gas Mask”

T-Shirt: “When Life’s a drag, wear a dress.”

T-Shirt: “I can’t even think straight.”
Bumper sticker: “Divorce—not same-sex marriage—presents the gravest threat to conventional marriage. Outlaw divorce.”
T-Shirt: ‘I’m a bisexual lesbian in a man’s body… but it’s more complicated than that.”
I mentioned my collection of one-liners over coffee with the daughter of a friend – she was visiting Moab for the Pride Festival with her college room-mates.
I figured she had an ironic sense of humor by the message on her T-Shirt.
“I became a lesbian to break my mother’s heart.”
(I know her mother – I understood.)
I thought she might know a gay joke or two. And she did.
Q: Why do gay men like to have lesbian friends? A: Someone has to mow the yard.
A beat up old cowboy went in to a bar and sat down beside a cute chick.
She looked him over and asked if he was a real cowboy.
He said yes, he’d spent his whole life thinking about nothing but cows and horses.
Well, she said, I’m a real lesbian – I don’t think about anything but women.
Another man came in and sat down by the cowboy.
Are you a real cowboy?
I always thought so, but I just found out I’m a lesbian.

My young friend and I talked about how confusing and varied sexual identity is. She wondered what it would be like if there was an annual Straight Pride Festival for heterosexuals. People would be expected to come out of the closet of their sexual activity – and dress according to what they did at home in bed. Because she thinks that heterosexual activity is just as kinky and varied as homosexual activity.
It was hard to get my mind around that – but I can imagine . . .
My young friend also thought the solution to the problem of gays in the military was to get all the straights out of the army. To serve you would have to have an alternative sexual identity. Gay, lesbian, transgender, drag, cross-dresser, bi-sexual, sadist, masochist – anything but straight.
The battle ensigns would be rainbow flags. Tanks and planes would be painted pink and purple. And instead of mess halls, food would be served potluck style.
Enough. It’s a good thing to note the lighter side of a serious issue – the basic human freedom to be exactly who you are and not be deprived of basic rights.
For those who are still second rate citizens because of gender and who they love -those who bear the burdens of disenfranchisement with their companions and children - there is some hope that the darkness in their lives will be lifted in the not-too-far-distant future. May it be so.
But I was appalled today to learn that the Supreme Court has dodged the cases headed their way regarding same-sex marriage – ducked when they should have had the nobility to stand forth and be counted.
But sooner or later, even they must do the right thing. I believe that.
It’s a matter of allegiance.
To a principle of liberty and justice for all.
Every kid in first grade learns that . . . by heart.

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September 29, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The end of September, 2014
Major storm overnight – heavy rain, wind, lightning, thunder – the works.
A brief clearing at dawn, revealing a light dusting of snow on the mountain peaks.
Below the snow line, splashes of yellow and red and orange– aspen and oak.
A few leaves on the cottonwoods here in the valley have turned yellow.
The temperature has dropped twenty degrees since yesterday.

Mr. Bear was last seen wandering away after my monologue from the shower.
I’ve never bored a bear before, but maybe this time I have.
He’s still out there somewhere, just elsewhere . ...

If the bear was not enough to worry about, now there’s a black-widow spider building a web by the outdoor shower – pack rats have a nest under the front porch - mice are running amuck in the kitchen at night - magpies walk into the house if the doors are left open - kamikaze flies buzz me when I’m trying to write - and coyotes hang around close by the house holding choir practice after sundown.

This is where the wild things are – me included.

And that brings me to the subject of elephants . . . .


Once upon a very, very long time ago there was a supernatural Being.
He had a wife, who was also supernatural.
She created a boy out of earth to protect her privacy while she bathed.
One day, her husband came home to find a stranger guarding his wife.
In rage, he struck off the boy’s head with his sword.
His wife was overcome with grief.

To appease her, the supernatural Being sent out his minions to find a wild creature facing north, and bring back its head.
They found a sleeping elephant, cut off its head, and brought it back.
The supernatural Being attached the elephant’s head to the body of the boy.
He brought this new biomorphic creature to life and treated him like a son.
He gave his new son supernatural qualities.
He declared this son to be the Lord of success in new beginnings, with power over
obstacles, and the special source of knowledge, wisdom, and wealth.

In time, human beings began to worship this new Being.
He was portrayed as a man with the head of an elephant.
To emphasize his humanity, he was given a round, fat belly – and is often shown in a dancing pose, smiling benevolently.
He’s also depicted riding on a large mouse – a sign of his humility.

Do you believe that story?

More than a billion people in this world do.
They are adherents of the Hindu religion, rooted in India.
The elephant-headed creature is called Ganesha.
His parents are called Shiva and Parvati.
Most Hindu homes have an image of Ganesha in a place of honor.
He reigns as the most important representation of their conception of the gods.

* * *

(If you want to have a broader view of Ganesha, go to the web, bring up “Images of Ganesha”, or go to Wikipedia and read up on Ganesha.)

* * * *

I talked with a friend who is a native of India and grew up Hindu.
I asked about Ganesha.
He first related the mythical story I told at the beginning of this essay. 
Then he related his experience with religious images.
At a young age, he was sent by his parents to a Catholic school for boys operated by the Jesuits.
They wanted him to get the best Western education possible – and wanted him to be fluent in the most proper English.
He lasted only one day in that school.

Because of what happened when he was taken into a cathedral to be introduced to the religious traditions of the Catholic Church.

He said the children first stood before the high altar.
Above it was a huge cross on which hung the emaciated, tortured form of a man, with blood on his forehead, face, and hands - and with more blood flowing down his side from a wound.
A terrifying sight for a little boy.

When it was explained that this was the Son of God, and that he had been crucified
by his Father to compensate for the sins of human beings, including the little boy’s, the child ran screaming from the church and away from the school.

My Indian friend said he could not imagine that he had ever done anything so bad that it would call for a father to do that to his son on his behalf.
The image gave him nightmares for days.
His parents sent him to a school operated by Quakers,
No crucifixes – no religious images at all.

* * *

It’s instructive to compare images.
After you check out Ganesha, bring up “Images of Crucifixes” from the web.

* * *

I asked my Indian friend if there were any meaningful religious images in his life.
“Oh, sure,” he said – “Ganesha – there’s always been a bronze statue of him
on the family altar in my home. My mother prays to it every morning. And I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t have a statue of Ganesha of my own.”

And I replied, “Now let me get this straight. A crucifix freaks you out.
But at home you have a statue that is the image composed of the body of a young man, who was decapitated by the god, Shiva, and whose head is that of an innocent sleeping elephant, who was also decapitated. Shiva stuck the two parts together, brought it to life, declared it to be his son, and said it should be worshipped.
And all this to placate his angry wife.
And you believe this elephant-headed deity can grant favors expressed in prayer.”

“Well . . . yes.”


(long pause)

“I’m not sure I can explain it. It’s a matter of faith, not rational mind.”

No argument from me - I understand what he means..
Because, if you were to tour the environment in which I live, you would find several images of Ganesha, large and small – traditional bronze figures from India, as well as abstract sculptures created with Ganesha in mind.
Take a look at my Facebook page.

* * *

You might well wonder why.
And, if you want the truth, I also wonder why sometimes.
I’m neither Hindu nor from India.
The Southern Baptist Church I grew up in had no images to worship.
It took literally one of the ten commandments that admonished:
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”
So there were no crucifixes in my church – (and certainly no statues of Ganesha.)

So what’s my fascination with Ganesha about?

My Indian friend thinks my feelings about Ganesha are superficial and childish..
He thinks I confuse Ganesha with Dumbo and Babar and Horton.
Sentimentality left over from childhood.
There’s probably some truth in that.
I see Ganesha through Western eyes.
And I can’t take too seriously a god portrayed as a fat guy with an elephant head.

And that’s the point, isn’t it.
Having an image around of a god I don’t take too seriously.

When I look at images of Ganesha, I’m amused.
I always smile – and rub the belly on the biggest one I own as I pass by.
Ganesha reminds me of the quest to understand infinite things in the context of living a finite life.
Ganesha is a link between The Great Mystery of It All and Robert Fulghum’s ordinary life on a Wednesday afternoon in September.
It’s a joyful quest, not one of agony and suffering.
It’s light-hearted, not fearful.
I do not worship Ganesha – I merely appreciate what he represents.
He is a metaphor pointing at the amazing absurdity of existence.

Ganesha fills that gap between what I think and what I feel about Being.
Between what I can express and that for which I have no words.

Nevertheless, I will try to find the words.

* * *

If I had posted this essay yesterday, you would now be trying to make sense of six paragraphs of intellectual gymnastics explaining Ganesha’s presence in my life, and his theological implications for religious belief.
There was one pretty good paragraph about all the images the creative imagination of the human race has constructed – infinite.
This morning I re-considered what I wrote and thought,
“Blah, blah, blah - I don’t know what the hell all that means, and if don’t understand it, why should anyone else?”
So I’ve just deleted six paragraphs of senseless word salad.
You have been spared.

* * *

I’ll leave it here:
Why is Ganesha a part of my life?
I think I know.
But I really can’t say.
Words don’t apply.
Some very important things are like that.
And that’s OK.

link to this story