Category: inspiration

The Blivet Bag Life

I guess I’m lucky. I’ve never seen the mythical blivet bag. I’ve heard about blivet bags all my life, but never have I encountered one in person. I googled for an image of a blivet bag so I could show you what one looks like, as well as find out for myself. But even Google fails to come up with any convincing likeness.

A blivet bag, as you may know, is ten pounds of shit stuffed into a five pound bag. You’d think Google would have plenty of pictures of that. But nope.

I got to thinking though that blivet bags are actually pretty common. Just not in the form of bags. Rather, they occur in the form of our lives. Imagine we have five pound lives and imagine that we sometimes try to stuff ten pounds of living into our five pound lives. That’s when we turn ourselves into blivet bags.

We sometimes try to live more life than we’re capable of living. We overwhelm ourselves with things to do. And then all kinds of bad things happen.

We get mad and lose our temper. Just like a blivet bag bursting apart. Or we get distracted and screw up. Just like an awkwardly heavy blivet bag, being fumbled and dropped. And we struggle to maintain control of our lives. Just like a blivet bag that constantly spills open, requiring continuous restuffing and packing.

It happened to my wife and me just recently. We discovered that we had termites. And the bugman convinced us that we would have to tent-fumigate our home. After we signed the contract we discovered all the things we had to do to prepare for the big tent.

All food and medicine had to be removed from the premises, or be double-bagged in the refrigerator. And arrangements had to be made to board our menagerie of dogs and cats. Which also meant we had to get them caught up on their shots and licenses.

And we learned that every drawer, cupboard, file cabinet, chest, trunk, safe, and any other enclosed piece of furniture or fixture had to be left unlocked and open.

A crew of strangers would enter our opened up house and do whatever the hell they wanted, while we would be shut out and unable to monitor their actions.

So to counter this security nightmare, we went through the entire house searching for and collecting any and all valuables, embarrassing stuff, and paperwork with social security numbers and other identifying or sensitive information. This was stored in a separate, locked building on our property, that wasn’t being fumigated.

This took a lot of time. Our blivet bag was running over. We were really stressing.

Finally we decided, to hell with it, and left town for a few days on a mini-vacation, while the house was filled with poisonous gas. We took our minds off of what was happening to our home sweet home. We did our best to empty our blivet bag and relax.

This house has turned into a blivet bag.

Thankfully the house was still standing when we returned. And after a few days we put everything back in its place, minus some junk we decided to jettison. The dogs and cats survived. The valuables are once again secured. And, knock on wood, the termites appear to be dead.

But most importantly, we successfully deflated our blivet bag lives.

Sometimes when my blivet bag life runneth over, I try something I call Slow-Down Meditation. In fact I tried it a few days before the tent went up. I forced myself to do everything very slowly. I could only keep this up for about an hour, but it had lasting effects. It relaxed me. It helped me be more reflective. And it inspired me to clear some of the clutter out of my life and simplify.

We don’t have to meditate. There are many other ways to deflate our shit-packed lives. But the first step is to learn how to recognize a blivet bag when we see one. Google won’t help, but honest self-reflection may reveal just how anxious and overwhelmed we feel. That’s our clue that our life may have turned into a blivet bag.

I advise that as soon as you recognize your blivet bag, take immediate steps to unpack it. Unless there’s a true emergency or crisis happening right now, you don’t need to be doing a million things at once. I advise that you unpack, deflate, and relax. Make your life a pleasure to live, rather than a nonstop race to an ever-receding finish.

I wish your life to always be full. But by that I mean, may it only be five pounds full. For that is the most enjoyable way to live a five pound life.

Preparing for the Afterlife

Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize a good trail to the Afterlife.

It’s a question that had bugged him since childhood. “How do I prepare for the afterlife?” There he lay on his deathbed after more than 80 years of entertaining this question and never finding an adequate answer. He felt frustrated. He felt resigned. He felt hopeless. He realized it was too late. He knew the answer would never come to him, and even if it did he would not have time act on it.

The darkling fingers of death snatched his soul away the very next morning. Through labyrinthian tunnels, voids, and lights, this manqué spirit was whisked. Off to the unknown. Off and away to somewhere he had never been. Off without his toothbrush, or any other form of preparation. He felt exhilaration, mixed with dread.

And then the afterlife opened up before him. A magnificent world of glowing colors, teeming with sylphs, wights, and wraiths. Love resonated through the atmosphere like the thrum of a harp. Benisons blessed the air. And a music of harmonious activity excited his soul. He felt warm. He felt welcome. And his heart filled with joy and peace.

Spirits swept by to greet him. Most were strangers, but he recognized some. His mother. His father. Grandparents. Siblings. Old friends. Old pets. He felt thrilled with this reunion, but even so he could not hide a piece of sadness from these greeters. Communication and understanding was instant. And they discovered that he felt sad due to not having properly prepared for arrival to such a beautiful place as this.

“But you did prepare,” they urged. “And you prepared well. You lived the difficult, painful life of a physical being. Yet you never hardened your heart toward others. You spent your challenging physical life loving people, animals, and all other living beings. You were kind when you could, and cruel only when necessary. So you lived your life basically the same way we lived ours. And for that reason you will feel comfortable and at home with us here in this place. Otherwise you would have wanted to go to some other place.

“We are evidence of your preparation. For we would not be greeting you so cheerily, nor would you want anything to do with us, if you had not prepared.”

He had not been a saint. He had never championed a cause or engaged in heroic action. He had never been very religious or civic-minded. He’d just lived an ordinary life, with ordinary character. A basically good citizen with a healthy mix of love and wariness for his neighbor.

So don’t fret over preparing for the afterlife. Just try to be kind to others, and avoid cruelty as much as possible. Follow your natural instincts. Respect all living beings. And do your best to understand and live harmoniously with both friend and foe.

If there is a hereafter, I suspect there is no better way to prepare for it than just this.

Facade

A big attraction of Joshua Tree National Park is its numerous piles of gigantic granite boulders. Who put all these boulders here, and why did they go through all that trouble?

When I was young I was sometimes accused of hiding behind a facade and not revealing my actual, inner self. And it’s true, I really was hiding behind a facade.

Well actually the boulders formed hundreds of millions of years ago when this area was part of the ocean floor. I’ll help you take a nap right now, by telling you the story . . .

I was hiding the ugly pain of an abused childhood. I was hiding suspicions of personal incompetence and the self-doubt of unproven youth. I was hiding my naivete regarding this strange new world that everyone expected me to conquer. And I was hiding my feelings for young ladies who might embarrass me with rejection, should they turn me down.

In fact, I was hiding these and many more things.

250 million years ago the North American tectonic plate slid over the heavier Pacific plate like two quarreling spouses having a dish fight. This forced seawater between the plates, which began boiling like an angry teakettle, due to heat from the friction of the sliding plates.

I built a palisade of rock impossible to penetrate. No one could discover the exotic terrain hiding behind my granite facade. And its imposing escarpment left few even willing to try.

The heat formed magma, and the steam created enormous chambers for the magma to fill.

But assaults from time and the weathering of life have changed all of that. Temblors from the chthonic depths of Earth have fractured my facade’s structural integrity. Eolian winds have hollowed out windows and notches. And downpours from the heavens have eroded gaping barrancas, washing alluvial minerals to the pediplains below.

The magma then cooled into granite. This granite then fractured from tectonic pressure, forming individual boulders.

Here, there, and in many places, my facade has crumbled more and more with the onslaughts of each passing season. Now the curious, the brave, and the careful have many opportunities to explore. Windows have appeared within rock walls, enticing the adventurous to discover more. And slots and passes have cracked apart, affording trails to the kingdom within.

It mostly stands tall and imposing, but my facade no longer serves as a completely solid wall. Rather, it is a screen. It filters out the lazy, while allowing entry to those willing to make a reasonable effort to get inside.

The granite boulders were pushed upward by the Pacific plate below. As they rose and broke the surface of the earth, rainwater percolated down and dissolved the softer granite into soil.

Behind my facade hide delicate vulnerabilities that require protection. But I’m willing to share these vulnerabilities with those who’ve taken the time to discover the decomposed granite, the joints, the splits, and the rounded corners of my stone wall. They already know I’m vulnerable, so there’s no sense in hiding anymore.

As I age I find I have less to lose and more to reveal. And so the facade continues to erode.

The soil then eroded away, revealing the mounds of large boulders that now cover the landscape.

But some of this facade must always remain. And not just my facade, but the barriers of everyone. Facades can be as beautiful as the humanity they conceal. And they serve as a superable challenge for those truly interested in exploring, while deterring the casual passerby who might only spoil or abuse.

There’s nothing wrong with a facade. Let your facade stand fast and majestic. But allow the forces of time to open you up some. At least enough to offer passage to those who will respect what they find.

Who knows, you might enjoy their company.

A bunch of homo sapiens sapiens, who only just recently evolved 30,000 years ago, came along and decided these boulders looked pretty cool. And so they honored what they found by declaring the area to be a National Park.

A Dangerous Pleasure

You’re looking at 85 years of patience. In the 1920s, horticulturist Luther Gage introduced the Ranunculus flower to Southern California. Gage’s flowers were grown next to Frank Frazee’s vegetable farm in Oceanside, California, and it didn’t take Frank long to notice them and appreciate their beauty. In 1933 Frazee also began cultivating this flower.

One of the most pleasurable feelings for me is the emotion of anger. I love being pissed off. I enjoy the rumble of the volcano, vibrating within my gut, and the flashes of lightning that electrify my nerves.

But anger is a dangerous feeling. I can’t think rationally when I’m angry. And this makes me prone to try to solve a problem by doing something that is harmful to others or destructive to myself.

Frank’s son Edwin, soon dropped out of high school to help his dad on the flower farm. Edwin loved the flowers, and began to carefully develop different strains of Ranunculus, by selecting seeds from unusual flower colors and full flower shapes. He eventually developed blossoms of thirteen different hues, and also bred a Ranunculus bulb with a never-before-seen infusion of petals, known as a “double”. By 1965, Edwin had taken over the farm, and he moved the operation to these fields in Carlsbad, California.

Some people say that venting is healthy. But how healthy can that be, when it leads to saying things that alienate others? Or when it leads to doing things that destroy what we hold precious?

It feels damn good to blow off steam. But that good feeling can be addictive. Which leads to more and more blowing off of steam, until we become a regular teapot, frequently howling and whistling and bubbling up.

“Tecolote” means “owl” in Spanish. The Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flower was given this name for owls that nested in the Oceanside/Carlsbad area.

I’ve found that the best way to handle my anger is to avoid the venting method. Instead I wait. When I catch anger in time I stop what I’m doing and just wait. I savor the powerful feeling and allow it to churn and spin and roil inside, all that it wants, while I simply watch it like a spectator at a gladiator event.

Thumbs down, always! But only in my mind.

The Southern California climate is perfect for growing the Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flower. Over half a billion of these blooms can be seen waving their heads in the breeze on these 55 acres of land, during the springtime.

Anger takes a lot of energy, so it can’t last long. After a short while of watching the show it burns out and fades away, leaving a soft, lingering afterglow. That’s when I become capable of rational thought. And then I use the energy from the afterglow to address the problem in a way that is far more likely to resolve the issue, rather than make matters worse.

There are about 500 different species of Ranunculus. It is native to Asia Minor, and is a member of the buttercup family. But some think the Giant Tecolote Ranunculus resembles a rose. A “rose” that has no thorns.

But for me, anger is like a ninja warrior, or Cato stalking Inspector Clouseau. It suddenly strikes from nowhere, and quickly overtakes me. I must always stay on my toes and remain mindful of it. Only then can I recognize it in time, and stop what I’m doing before I fly off the handle and engage in behavior I’ll regret later.

These workers are gathering flowers for floral shops throughout the country. Perhaps you can thank them for helping you get over a spat with your spouse.

I’m not always successful. Sometimes a surprise attack of anger gets the best of me. And that really ticks me off. But I try. And I’ve found that with effort I can usually stop torrential rainstorms of anger from flooding and washing away the things in my life I’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

Edwin Frazee teamed up with another horticulturist, named Paul Ecke, Jr. It was Ecke’s idea to open the flower fields to tourists. Since 1992, the Flower Fields of Carlsbad have been open to the public from March into May, and have attracted thousands of peripatetic petal-gazers from all over the globe.

The result is softer rains, that nourish the soil of my toil. Rains from the hydrosphere that allow for carefully planned irrigation, planting, and growth. Rains that leave in their wake a cornucopia of beauty and color, for anyone to enjoy.

Just like fields of flowers in the springtime.

This American flag is made of petunias. It’s another feature you can view at the Flower Fields of Carlsbad, and is grown to honor our veterans.

Love and Layaway

The long wait was over. A surrender had been signed on the deck of the USS Missouri, and troops were returning home. Bill was one of them. He had survived unscathed from all the hell he discovered in war.

And his purpose in life, his reason for surviving all the blood and guts of combat, and all the separation in time and miles from family and home, was for one person. Hazel.

For Hazel, Bill was like a layaway gift. Back in the days before credit cards, that’s how you purchased things you couldn’t afford right away. The shop put it up in their storeroom while you made layaway payments. After the final payment you could pick it up and take it home.

Each letter Bill and Hazel exchanged while he was away fighting the Japanese was like a layaway payment. The handwritten missives helped preserve their feelings for each other. And when the day finally came where he could step down off that ship onto dry ground forever, she was waiting for him. She picked up her layaway gift and took it home.

They had already been engaged for over four years. Now it was time to plan the wedding. And one of the first orders of business was to shop for wedding rings.

Bill’s strength was his exuberance and unbridled pursuit of all the wonders of life. Hazel loved that wildness about him. But her strength was her self-discipline and circumspect approach to life. Bill recognized and appreciated the fact that he needed someone like her, to keep him from a Gadarene plunge off of some sort of cliff of disaster.

“Pick a nice one!” Bill cajoled. Hazel peered through the glass at all the clinquant shiny circles resting upon their satin beds. She saw many nice ones. But she also saw the price tags. And she knew that Bill didn’t have much money. Military pay was just a little higher than a beggar’s salary in those days, and Bill wasn’t much of a saver, anyway.

“That one, right there,” she pointed. It was a thin little gold band, priced at $11.99.

“Awe, come on Hazel!” he shoved her shoulder kind of hard. “That’s the cheapest one in the shop! Pick a nice one!” He shoved her again. “Pick a diamond, an emerald, a ruby. I want you to wear a gorgeous wedding ring. Come on!” He slapped her on the back goodheartedly.

That ired her. How could she show this damn fool what a stupid spendthrift he was? How could she persuade him to back off with his pushfulness and allow prudence to prevail?

Her temper flared, and she paused and remained silent for a long moment. That was Hazel’s discipline. She refused to act until she calmed down, and could think clearly. Finally a rational idea struck her cooling mind. Hazel stepped over to a spot at the counter that displayed the biggest, brightest, finest, and most expensive ring in the jewelry shop.

“That one, Bill! Buy me that one!”

Bill’s face went instantly grim. “That one? Are you sure?” he murmured.

“Oh yes, Bill, that one! I just love it! Isn’t it gorgeous! I’d just LOVE to have a ring like that!”

Bill shoved his hand in his pocket and fiddled around with a small wad of cash. He gazed hard at the thick, shiny ring with the giant stone. And at the $599.99 price tag. Now was HIS time for a moment of silence. He gulped hard.

“H-Hazel, I-I just don’t know. You know that I love you, and I want you to have anything in the world. But . . . but I just don’t think I can afford this ring.”

The argument was won that day by the self-disciplinarian. Bill swallowed his pride and made the provident choice. He purchased the thin gold band for $11.99.

During the early years of their marriage they had a few more disputes about money. But Hazel’s patience allowed her to gradually rein in her profligate husband, and get the spending under control. And they actually began to grow a little nest egg.

Their love for each other grew also. Who would have thought this odd couple could stay together for so long? But they allowed their disparate qualities to complement each other, rather than clash.

Their tenth anniversary rolled around, and Christmas soon followed. On Christmas morning, Hazel and Bill were pulled out of bed by their excited young son. While the child was tearing open a present, Hazel noticed something in the tree. It was a most unusual looking ornament, small and glittery. She examined it more closely.

What she saw lifted her eyebrows in shock.

It was the ring.

It was the selfsame expensive wedding ring she had picked out at the jewelry store ten years before, to convince Bill to buy the cheap wedding ring.

“Bill! Oh my God! How did you get this?!”

Bill smiled in delight at her. “Honey, you know that I love you, and I want you to have anything in the world that you desire. You wanted that ring, but I couldn’t afford it. So after I bought the cheap ring, I put this ring on layaway. I’ve been making payments on it for the past ten years.”

Fifty years later, Hazel became a customer at my wife’s beauty salon. My wife met Bill and was impressed with the love and warmth of this elderly couple.

Then Bill passed away, leaving Hazel to live alone. After Bill died, Hazel told my wife that her son would call her every evening to tuck her into bed. But one day she lamented that her son was going on vacation, and could not make the ritualistic evening phone call.

My wife offered to stop by her house and do the tucking in. That evening was when my wife spotted the ring. It was pinned to a blouse beneath Hazel’s dress, close to her heart. As Hazel climbed into bed, she explained that her old, withered fingers had shrank too small to retain the ring, but she didn’t want to stop wearing it.

And then Hazel told the story about how she got the ring.

This is how my wife learned about the bigness of a man’s heart. And a story about the power of patience. But most of all, a story about the love of this couple.

Love, with a little help from layaway.

What the Unicorn Is

ca. 1602 — The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino — Image by © Alinari Archives/CORBIS

Have you ever seen an actual live unicorn? What does it look like? How does it behave? How would you feel in the presence of this one-horned beast?

Just what is the unicorn, anyway? you may implore.

I’d love to answer that question, but prose cannot do the unicorn justice. Its essence can only be conveyed with poetry. And so I’ve written the following poem, explaining just what the unicorn is:

WHAT THE UNICORN IS

The unicorn cannot be fathomed by the rich,
Nor grasped by the poor.
No amount of money can buy it.
No vow of poverty can conjure it.
Many paths lead toward it,
But it is never found at the ends of those paths.
It cannot be summoned,
Except by its wordless name.
If you let it go, it will leave,
Unless you let go of the letting go.
A tamed mind cannot find it
Unless that mind goes wild again.
It is neither proud nor humble,
Happy or sad,
Good,
nor bad.
It is nothing.
Yet it is everything.

I hope this poem has dispelled all the mystery.

The Ten Magic Secrets of Life

I recently submitted a DNA sample to ancestry.com, to learn about my ethnic heritage. I was kind of surprised with the results. Turns out I’m half Scandiwhovian. I’m a Nordic. A Viking. A descendant of rapers and pillagers who terrorized the west coasts of Europe for hundreds of years.

I am Tippy the Terrible.

Well not really, but I must admit that discovering I had such strong Norse roots kind of went to my head. I began imagining my ancestors chasing unicorns through the elfin forests of Lapland, and across the wolds and into the wealds of the ancient European landscape.

"The Unicorn Defending Himself". Tapestry, circa 1500.

“The Unicorn Defending Himself”-Tapestry, circa 1500.

One night I drifted off to sleep meditating on images of horn-helmeted men disembarking from longships, with blood-curdling war cries and swords and shields swinging about their heads. And then suddenly I was there with them, on a unicorn hunt. I found myself footslogging with a hunting party for miles upon endless miles, across a windthrown, treefallen forest, before I grew weary and sat down upon a gnarled log to rest.

Without warning, through the dreamy mist, an old wizened Viking appeared. He sat down next to me, placed a bony, wrinkled hand upon my shoulder, and spoke with a deep, crackling voice:

“My name is Olov Ragnarsson. Remember that name, for I am your grandsire from ancient times. And I am one of the foremost unicorn hunters who has ever lived!” he puffed up his chest proudly as foggy breath streamed from his mouth and nostrils. He then touched his finger to his lips and whispered, “Listen to my secrets, for I am wise, having survived many seasons on the sea and in the woods.

“Yea, my skin has shivered through scores of winters, and sizzled beneath thousands of summer suns, while hunting unicorns. And I’ve enjoyed my share of those triumphs one boasts about in the firelight. Many times have I stood proudly before the admiring gazes of my fellow savages, while studying their faces through flickering flames, for any signs of veiled envy.

“But I’ve also suffered my share of humiliations,” Olov lowered his head in shame. “These weak moments have led me to skulk in the shadows, pelted by prideful stories volleyed from the mouths of luckier or more skillful compatriots.”

He straightened his raddled frame as best he could, and held up two fingers next to his face, and continued, “There have been two great Messengers in my life. I call them Success and Failure. These Messengers have taught me valuable lessons. Lessons that I have chopped and macerated and reduced in this charred and boiling stewpot of my mind, to the reasonable number of ten.”

“I’ve named this decalogue The Ten Magic Secrets of Life. They’re magic, because anything touched by unicorns is magic. And they’re secret only because so many fools refuse to learn them.”

He gazed at me with puzzled eyes. “I understand that you, in your modern time, have this thing called a ‘blog’. I want to share my secret decalogue with you, that you may pass it along in your ‘blog’ to the young unicorn hunters of your time.”

I began to protest. I tried to explain that most of my followers weren’t so young. And they probably had no interest in something as dull as a life lecture. And that in fact, I was feeling a little bored myself. I yawned, and asked him if he had any good Viking jokes I could pass along.

“Quiet!” he bellowed. And blue flames shot from his eyes, as he sizzled me with a contemptuous stare. “Honor thy grandsire, and make me not ashamed to be your progenitor!”

I gulped and shut up.

After a long minute of smoldering rumination, Olov commenced to share his secrets.

“I share these secrets now,” he kind of muttered in solemn, barely audible tone, “for the benefit of young hunters, new to the path, tremulous with ambition to score a kill. Learn these lessons, you whippersnappers, and apply them to every pursuit of the one-horned beast. If you shall, I guarantee you a mickle of fine trophies on the trail, a center stage in the lambent glow of the campfire, and a life of magical euphoria, showered in the stardust of all past, present, and future glory.”

Then Olov began enumerating his secrets, while pushing succeeding fingers up from an enclosed fist, one-by-one, as he progressed through the list.

“THE TEN MAGIC SECRETS OF LIFE!!” he announced with stentorian fury. Then he hushed his voice, as if to sacralize his secrets.

I. “No unicorn stays in one place permanently, and nothing is certain about the habits of a unicorn. This favors the adventuresome hunters over those who want every hunt to be the same.

II. “It is impossible to know anything about the magic of unicorns. Their magic can only be felt.

III. “Every unicorn has a price. None can be had for free.

IV. “Unicorns are numerous, and they often come to you on their own. They don’t always have to be hunted.

V. “The need to hunt unicorns never goes away forever. So take your naps when you can get them. (so this is where my love for naps came from!)

VI. “No unicorn ever saved the world with its sacrifice, and none ever will. But many have saved themselves from hunters, when not trying to save the world.

VII. “Unicorns are naturally wild and independent. When you try to change or control them, this will be the beginning of your troubles.

VIII. “When a unicorn gores you, it’s sending a message. It is better to learn from this message, than to imitate the unicorn and pass it along to other hunters.

IX. “The first unicorn hunter to end a tit-for-tat, always wins the high ground.

X. “Gratitude is a rare commodity. Think fondly of the unicorns you’ve slain. This repays their legacy with a treasure more precious than many giant pots of gold.”

After Olov spoke the word “gold” a golden fog enveloped him, and he faded from sight. And then the forest around me dissolved. And then I realized I had just awakened from a dream.

I feared Olov might return in my next dream, and run me through with a sword, if I did not comply with his wishes. So I quickly jumped out of bed and wrote down his ten magic secrets while they were fresh in my memory. Then I got on my computer and dashed off this post.

By the way, ancestry.com also says I have Spanish blood in my veins. I’m done with the Vikings. Those bastards are too scary for me. So tonight I shall go to bed harboring meditations on lances and windmills, and a toilworn old jackass named “Rocinante”.

Pie in the Sky

My wife and I spent a week last month hunting for unicorns. We were pretty successful. We drove all over the south of Utah, and spotted many of these magnificent one-horned beasts.

At the edge of the Valley of the Gods, near Highway 163. This area has served as a backdrop for western movies, commercials, and TV shows.

At the edge of the Valley of the Gods, near Highway 163. This area has served as a backdrop for western movies, commercials, and TV shows, including a few episodes of the BBC TV series, Doctor Who.

Early one morning we were cruising down Highway 163, just outside of Bluff, through prime unicorn territory. Highway hypnosis crept into our car and I got the urge to nod off. My masculine mindset told me to stay in control and handle it like a man. So instead of turning over the wheel to my wife, I got the clever idea to rest one of my eyes. But to forfend tragedy I put all my mental effort into keeping the other eye as wide open as possible.

Problem was, my other eye started to demand equal time. It was begging to rest for “just one second.” It pled so earnestly, and felt so heavy, that I finally acceded to its demand. My groggy brain reassured me that I’d be able to see clearly through both my eyelids.

I was flooded with a feeling of blessed relief, until my wife broke my reverie with a blood-curdling scream.

Mexican Hat, at the north entrance to the Navajo Nation.  This geological formation is named after the sombrero of a giant Mexican, who hung his hat here, then forgot to return and retrieve it.

Mexican Hat, at the north entrance to the Navajo Nation, on Highway 163.

My heart surged, and blasted my eyes open just in time to witness a purple unicorn the size of a Del Mar thoroughbred, standing athwart the roadway. There was no time for brakes or evasive action. Its legs were mowed under, and its back hammered the hood before it bounced over the roof.

I pulled over.

“Holy shit!” we both yelled.

The one-horned equine was thrashing about on the shoulder of the road as I ran up to it. I feared I’d have to shoot the poor thing. But then a miracle happened. The unicorn gathered its legs, struggled to its feet, shook itself, then cleared its throat.

It glared at me with fiery pupils, quivered its lips, and ordered in stentorian English, “Get on my back!”

By now you might think I’m crazy. But you must remember that unicorns are magical, and full of many surprises. Every unicorn is different. This one just happened to possess the power of speech.

And it spoke sublimely, and with gravitas, from the depths of its barrel chest. I couldn’t resist such an authoritative voice. So I helplessly swung my leg over its bare back without argument, and it galloped away, carrying me off while leaving my bewildered wife by the side of the road.

Monument Valley, Utah, in the Navajo Nation.  This small area has been featured in many photos and films that depict the West. Director John Ford often used this backdrop for quite a few of his famous western films.

Monument Valley, Utah, in the Navajo Nation, from Highway 163. Perhaps you recognize it. This small area has been featured in many photos and films that depict the American West. In fact, director John Ford often used this landscape for his famous western films.

It took on the role of a cicerone, and gave me a guided tour of the Navajo Nation. The air all around glowed with sparkling stardust. It seemed we were passing through a fairytale land. The unicorn used its long sharp horn to point out sandstone escarpments and majestic spires.

It solemnly explained to me that this was a country for dreamers. For those who longed for peace, love, equality, and brotherhood and sisterhood, and who actually imagined these things to be possible.

Then the magic horse growled a warning, advising me to respect this land and use it wisely. I was instructed to spend my time here in deep meditation. And I was to relax in the shade of giant obelisks, while reading cool, dulcet philosophies that strike a soothing tone deep within the heart.

My four-legged tour guide adjured me to cultivate lofty ideals. To bake pie in the sky. And it quipped that pie in the sky was the lightest pie of all.

Monument Valley, with the formation known as "Rabbit Ears" in the middle.

Monument Valley, with the pinnacles known as Rabbit Ears in the middle.

I was taught that this was a land for impractical dreamers. For the hippy-dippy, and for those who wear rose-colored glasses.

A lifetime of watching western movies will familiarize anyone with scenes like this. That's Rabbit Ears on the left. I believe the butte on the right is called the Eastern Mitten.

A lifetime of watching western movies will familiarize anyone with scenes like this. Rabbit Ears is to the left. I believe the butte on the right is known as Rain God Mesa.

We loped between inselbergs that appeared more fantasy than reality. The unicorn revealed that in this desert, fantasy and imagination are the water that slakes the thirst of the people. Mossback reactionaries cannot sustain themselves here, and wizen and dry to dust in the eolian breeze. To survive, you must be able to dream.

Silhouette of Monument Valley.

Silhouette of Monument Valley.

We returned to my automobile at an easy hand-gallop. I settled into the driver’s seat, anxious to blurt out to my wife all the wonders I had just witnessed.

But just then she blazed at me with shotgun eyes, and screamed, “Oh my God, wake up! AHHHHHHHHHHH!”

The fantastic cinema screen of my eyelids instantly lifted. I detected peril approaching at 65 miles per hour, and in a trice, guided the car back over the center line, and into the right lane.

I shook my head to make sure I was fully awake. Then I glanced with trepidation at the passenger side, expecting a scolding from that quarter. But my wife was snoring with her head thrown back, and apparently had been oblivious to everything. Phew! What a break!

I decided I would never confess. Hell, I’m no fool. She’d go batshit if she knew I’d fallen asleep at the wheel. Besides, I rationalized, at no time was she in any real danger. It was still early in the morning. Traffic was light. And that approaching truck had been a good hundred yards away when I corrected our lane. So no harm, no foul.

Over the next horizon I spotted a line of mammoth sandstone cliffs, and aiguilles that reached for the sky. Perhaps for pie in the sky. I recognized this scene, and remembered my dream. Amazingly, this was the selfsame dreamscape I rode through on the back of the unicorn!

I shook my head again, to make positively sure I was fully awake. Then it occurred to me that I should get a picture of this landscape, so that I would never forget the beautiful dream I had just experienced.

I pulled the car over and dug out my camera. Right next to some road kill.

It was a dead unicorn.

My wife suddenly screamed, “AHHHHHHH! Wake up!”

Highway 163.

Highway 163 passes through Monument Valley. You probably recognize this roadway from numerous commercials and films. It seems to evoke fantasy, and lures dreaming travellers into pulling over to take aim with their cameras.

Natural Bridges

Our latest mass shooting was in Dallas. Many people offered responses to this tragedy. For example, someone on the news said we need to build bridges. I was left speechless for a while. But now, here’s my response:

I see no need to build any bridges. Natural bridges already exist between us.

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.  "Kachina" is a Hopi word for "spirit being." And just like a spirit, it's very hard to see. Look closely at the middle-left of the photo.

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. “Kachina” is a Hopi word for “spirit being.” And just like a spirit, this bridge is hard to see. Look closely at the middle-left of the photo.

Sometimes it’s hard to see these bridges that naturally connect us. This happens when people insult and accuse and debase each other so that everyone seems less than human.

“Those bastards are criminals.”
“Cops are bullies.”
“Hoodlums!”
“Racists!”
“Terrorists!”
“Murderers!”
“Scum!”

When we demonize each other, we dehumanize each other. And then we can’t see our common humanity.

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. The closer you get to these bridges, the easier they are to see.

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. The closer you get to these bridges, the easier they are to see.

But everyone has the same basic needs. We all need to eat. We all need shelter. We need to be safe, secure, and comfortable. We need equal justice for everyone. We need respect. Anybody in this world, regardless of race, gender, religion, or political beliefs, needs these things.

Our common needs connect us like natural bridges. What disconnects us is our strategies for getting our needs met. That’s where arguments, wars, and mass shootings arise. But only when we dehumanize each other.

The arch of Sipapu Bridge. Sipapu means "hole", or "portal".. Hopi legend has it, that the first people entered this world through a sipapu, and then morphed from lizard-like beings into human form. From there they divided and separated into different tribes.

The arch of Sipapu Bridge. Sipapu means “hole”, or “portal”. Hopi legend has it, that the first people entered this world through a sipapu, and then morphed from lizard-like beings into human form. From there they divided and separated into different tribes. Reminds me of a theory of Darwin.

When we remember our common needs we are able to see each other as we see ourselves. And then it’s easy to find strategies that enable everyone to get their needs met, and that everyone can agree on. It doesn’t require genius or skilled diplomats. Anyone who recognizes our common needs, even a small child, is smart enough to find our natural bridges and figure out how to reconcile our differences.

Owachomo Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.  "Owachomo" is Hopi for "rock mound". The bridge is at the upper middle of the photo. And the eponymous rock mound is at the left abutment of the bridge.

Owachomo Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah. “Owachomo” is Hopi for “rock mound”. The bridge is at the upper middle of the photo. And the eponymous rock mound is at the left abutment of the bridge.

Our natural bridges are solid as rock. They can never be burned or otherwise destroyed. They stand waiting to be found, patiently and eternally.

Owachomo Bridge. A quarter-mile hiking trail leads to the bottom of this bridge.

Owachomo Bridge. A quarter-mile hiking trail leads to the bottom of this bridge.

Always ready to support those who are willing to cross.

Below the Owachomo Bridge.

Below the Owachomo Bridge.

Food to Smile About

Leave canned or boxed food in your mailbox, Saturday, May 14th.

Leave canned or other packaged, non-perishable foods in your mailbox, Saturday, May 14th.


It was my noblesse oblige that brought me to the grocery store, and duty is never fun. The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) is holding its annual Food Drive this Saturday, May 14th.

Sigh. So I went to the supermarket to find some canned goods to leave in my mailbox. That’s when the conservative side of me began to grumble. “These poor people,” my inner voice whined, “have often made bad choices. They’ve gotten mixed up with drugs and alcohol. They’ve committed crimes. They’ve made stupid career decisions. And now, I’m supposed to feed them?”

The liberal side of me began clearing its throat to say something guilt-inducing in response. But I shushed both of these voices. There was something deeper and more distant stirring within. My own childhood.

I grew up poor. And it was mainly because my parents (and stepparents) made piss-poor decisions. I never went hungry, but some of the food I got was barely palatable. In those days, a food commodities program existed for helping the needy. My mother would sometimes take us down to a government food bank, where we would be rationed various packages of low-quality comestibles to haul home and figure out how to cook.

There were mystery meats in cans with white, generic labels. There were bags of sour tasting raisins. There were containers and containers of pinto beans, corn meal, and other assorted staples. All low-quality. Some laced with weevils. But it was mostly edible, and kept the meat on our bones.

It wasn’t my fault that I was poor. That was the doing of my foolish parents. And it’s the same today. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), 22% of all children in the United States today, live in poverty. That’s more than 16 million kids. And none of it is their fault.

No, it’s not their fault that they’re poor. Sometimes it’s not even their parents’ fault, though all too often it is. Regardless, these kids can’t help their circumstances.

When I focused my thoughts on the children who will benefit from the NALC’s Food Drive, my mood brightened. I liked the idea that children would be consuming some of the food I was buying. Now I was on a mission I could truly enjoy. I focused on foods that I liked when I was a kid, during the occasional times when we could afford better fare.

And it wasn’t very expensive. I loved refried beans when I was a kid. They don’t cost much. So I took some off the shelf. I also found some sweet creamed corn, and some sloppy joe sauce. And as I was leaving I spotted some Kraft maccaroni and cheese. One of my favorites, as a kid. So I grabbed a few boxes.

All-in-all, I only spent about 13 bucks. I wish I could do more. I wish I could feed all the poor kids in this world. But we have to be practical about these matters. (That’s my conservative voice coming out again.)

We all have our own charities, so I won’t ask you to do what I did. But if
you’re looking for a way to put a smile on your face, I recommend it. Get down to the grocery store and think about children while shopping for food. Leave it in your mailbox this Saturday.

You’ll be smiling all the way home. 🙂