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This site is a group of individuals sharing thoughts, stories, and passages together on one site. Peruse, join the conversation by comment, and enjoy. 

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Monday
Feb082016

Hobbler No. 5 [Upbringing]


It is Christmas Eve, and instead of finding myself sprawled on a sofa, post-meal coffee in hand, surveying a few shredded remnants of wrapping paper, I am following two of my nephews—nine and seven—out to a freshly painted barn in rural Minnesota for nightly chores. Here, already, I use a word—“chores”—that I previously thought I understood, as any growing child would in any household, but have come to realize is far more nuanced than I expected.

We walk into the barn basement before my nephews turn to an older, worn door along the wall and push it open. Immediately, I hear chicken clunks and turkey gobbles as birds cheerfully (or fearfully) signal our arrival. The boys stroll undaunted through a swirl of feathers and poultry panic to straw-lined nest boxes and reach in, procuring one egg after another to stack in wire baskets. Once they’re satisfied, they start the introductions: “This is Red; he’s the only rooster, the rest are hens. Those little black ones are Silkies. They’re hard to catch, but I’m getting good at catching them!” They name another dozen chickens or so before we move on to the turkeys: “This is Speck, and Flake, and Turk, and Extreme Flight. Mom says we might butcher one soon.“ The biggest tom (Turk) has a budding beard on its chest, and we inspect it briefly before closing the coop behind us and starting back toward the house.

---

Among the fortunes I inherited upon marrying into my wife’s family was the opportunity to be uncle to three more nephews. At this stage of my life I am uncle to one niece and five nephews to be exact (and counting!), and I love each of them, but these three—sons of my wife’s eldest brother and his wife—are unique in that their daily routine involves a number of farm-like duties to accompany their studies, play, and rest.  In warmer months, the boys lead us through their mother’s enormous and well-tended garden. Several square plots near the barn flourish with lettuce, pumpkins, zucchini, cabbage, and peppers; cornstalks tower overhead, tomatoes hang heavy and red from vines, and still more vegetables grow from every patch of soil. Their house’s cellar holds potatoes, onions, and garlic, while cucumbers and more pickle and preserve in canning jars lining the shelves. The boys even build small projects out of wood in their father’s shop.

When I visit my nephews, I often leave thinking about one of two things: amazement and wonder at their fearlessness, knowledge and skills, practicality, and unbridled joy, or I turn inward and reflect on my own youth, at the seeming lack of usefulness I developed while cultivating an interest in video games, films, or fantasy stories. Admittedly (as my good wife reminds me), I am not wholly without practical awareness; necessity has pushed me into experience with a number of practices I wouldn’t have voluntarily chosen, like household projects and repairs, vehicle maintenance, or insurance and certifications, to name a few. As much as each repetition of these adult duties bolsters my familiarity, the fact remains that I am, at heart, cautious, apprehensive, and yes, afraid when it comes to learning new skills or accepting new responsibilities.

When a man’s intellect has been his ally, as by the grace of God it has been mine my entire life, “not knowing” becomes a frost, a cold paralysis that begins at the core and spreads outward, the shame of vulnerability rather than the excitement at a chance to learn. I felt it the first time I had to pump my own gas, the first time I had a flat tire, and the first time I had a car accident. I felt it the first time I mowed the lawn, the first time I started a charcoal grill, and the first time I did my own laundry. I feel it when I have to park my car in downtown Minneapolis. I felt it just last week, before I assembled my daughter’s crib. I watch my nephews, not even a decade old, and they want to learn to shoot guns and to operate machines. They’ll probably be joining the men on family hunting trips by the time they’re teenagers—I didn’t even attempt hunting until twenty-four. They do things that have clear, recognizable value. Something is broken and needs fixing; when it runs, the job is done. In an instant, they can measure their work as good or as bad and move on accordingly.

My pursuits, generally speaking—writing, teaching, playing or listening to music—are often pursuits of second-guessing. I write a poem, a person enjoys it, but did they really understand it or consider it later? I teach a lesson or write an email to a student—they grasp the concept, or seem to, but how well? I play a piece on the piano or tuba and all the right notes are there, but what did I miss?  Almost everything I do, I turn over many times in my mind after it’s finished, and that, I believe, is a result of how I spent my time right at the age I observe in my nephews.

Of course, neither of these personality traits is inherently good or inherently bad. As for all human beings, they will at times present challenges, and at times facilitate a much easier time with certain situations. When I spend time with my nephews, I know that I can learn from them, perhaps how to escape my overly analytical frame of mind or how to attempt new things and set aside a fear of mistakes. Already, my admiration for their parents’ self-sufficiency inspires me to examine the reliance in my own life and to reevaluate my capabilities.

---

My sister-in-law shared the story of how one of those turkeys came to be named “Extreme Flight” by the boys. One day, a turkey—then merely named “Flight”—escaped from the barn and flew to a nearby tree for a mid-afternoon roost. After a ladder placement and careful climb, she retrieved it from a branch—no harm, yes fowl. To the minds of those boys, and wonderful minds they are, “Flight” no longer seemed appropriate, maybe even a disservice to this bird’s epic journey. The only logical conclusion was to rename her with a fitting tribute.

I pray sometimes that I will be drawn back to this pure, unfettered mode of thought as a rest from the tornadic spin of synonyms, word plays, and puns that usually storm in my head. As I prepare to raise my own daughter, I know I’ll attempt to borrow a bit of everything that I’ve observed in the parental models I’ve known or do know. My baby girl will have uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents to teach her a wealth of things, she will teach them things too, and with luck, all will learn with even more acuity how little any of us knows and how numerous the glories are in God’s creation.

Bryn Homuth
Salvaging a day off
February 8, 2016

Painting: Foggy Morning Trio--Wild Turkey
Artist: Larry Zach

Monday
Feb082016

Gambler, No. 10 [The Droubtful Desert]

"Plymouth is very plentifully supplied with water by a river brought into it from a great distance, which is so abundant that it runs to waste in the town. The Dock, or New-town, being totally destitute of water, petitioned Plymouth that a small portion of the conduit might be permitted to go to them, and this was now under consideration. Johnson, affecting to entertain the passions of the place, was violent in opposition; and, half-laughing at himself for his pretended zeal where he had no concern, exclaimed, “'No, no! I am against the dockers; I am a Plymouth man. Rogues! let them die of thirst. They shall not have a drop!'”

(c) Guernsey Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

About three or four weeks ago, I responded to an advertisement from the local university paper and offered the services of “an English Ph.D. Student in desperate need of some extra cash flow.” I never heard back. Whether this was because my plea was too needy, like that of a clingy high school girl searching for a prom date, or because they got their hands on a few of my Gamblers, I will probably never be certain. What is certain is that I have since discovered a brilliant solution to the drought here in Vegas and will undoubtedly consider sending it to the local papers—both school and city—for their review.

As with most brilliant ideas, it came about while I was walking. Notably, I was walking to my car, and the brain, I’m convinced, is trained to think some of its best thoughts before that morbid engagement. Once mind, body, and soul enters an automobile, most productive thought flees, and all one ponders is misery, hate, and death. Thus, before—unless one broods on that forthcoming union—the mind is all joy, love, and life, and mine certainly was on this occasion. I was in this blissful state even despite an event that causes no small consternation among modern pedestrians: the watering of sidewalks. That is, the phenomenon of drenching the sidewalk with water from a lawn-sprinkler. Now, you most certainly have the modern eco-Pharisee who moans and groans and foams at the mouth at such things. “Watering the sidewalk!” he cries. “May as well stick a polar bear on a pike or decapitate a dolphin!” But I perceive most men do not jump to such conclusions. Usually, a man who sees a sprinkled sidewalk either ponders at man’s inability to properly place sprinkler heads like rational creatures, or he has a small conniption about wet feet and obstructed walkways. Some moderns so disdain the foot, that the mere five-foot detour is a cause for tremendous weeping and gnashing of teeth. I confess, I have been in both camps at times, but this was before I lived in Vegas—before I experienced the dry desert heat and felt a small, very small, tinge of guilt for unnecessary faucet drippings or tall glasses of water.

*****

The drought, I suppose, is no doubt an issue for mankind, yet all I ever hear about are the irresponsible Californians and the level-headed Nevadans. Being in Nevada, I think this propaganda makes sense, and I couldn’t agree more. I think most states should have heavily-slanted and biased views of their own worth compared to their neighboring states and no views about the other states. What should Nevadans care about New York? But they ought to look down on Oregon. In any case, the level-headed Nevadans do a fine job, so I’m told, of water conservation, but I think we can do better. At least, those of us in Vegas can certainly step it up.

Now, the way to fix the drought is much the same way to fix other issues in our society. When I was a young boy, I would often approach my father with common boy problems—injuries from sports or climbing trees, etc. I would say something along the lines of, “Father, my elbow hurts when I bend my arm.” To which my father would reply with, “Okay, then don’t bend your arm.” There is profound wisdom in this advice. But our culture is the little boy who would keep flapping his arm like it’s a wing and continue complaining about the pain. It’s not just that we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want every kind of cake and no stomach ache. It is like the silly idea of suburbs. We want the job in the city and the house in the country. But then when we complain about the commute, we never for once consider moving to the city or quitting the job. No. We build free-ways that only get clogged all the more so we can continue our unhappy existence. It is just the same with any other “improvement” or “advance.” A mother is worried she’s losing her poor son to video games. When ridding the house of the television is proposed, she thinks it preposterous. A man, living in Duluth, complains to his friend that it is cold, as if heat is supposed to follow him around wherever he goes, simply because he can get it in his house and car. But, I say, why else would a man move to Duluth but to experience the cold? If a Martian or medievalist heard the way we complain, he would think us mad. We might not be the first group of men to complain about lack of water in the desert; we are undoubtedly the first men to expect water in the desert.

*****

All around me, humans are in great haste to be anything but human. It is the new rage to be anything but a human. Almost everything in society tempts us to zone out like zombies or act contrary to our nature. In the same way, Vegas does not embrace its nature. I don’t imagine the forty-niners made any sort of pit stop in the Mojave for water. I miss grass more than anyone in this town, but I don’t believe I moved here expecting to find any. It seems to me, then, that the drought issue is more fundamentally an identity issue. It seems to me that the most obvious fix to Vegas’ drought issue is for Vegas to stop trying to be Seattle or Portland. That is, if the inhabitants of Vegas are so concerned about having enough water to drink, I find it odd they continue living in a desert. If the eco-Pharisee gives a stump speech on a grassy UNLV lawn, he need not denounce the watering for the wildebeest. No one in Vegas has any real reason to care about a wildebeest. Instead, he should be rallying crowds to live like Tuskens and prophets: to wear garments of camel’s hair and leather girdles, eating locusts and wild honey, predicting the current drought, and fasting for forty days and forty nights.

If we truly want to reverse the trend of the drought, I say we must remake the Mojave into a desert. We must begin by stripping the strip bare—all, perhaps, but the Luxor. A raid capturing Californians will provide us with the manpower to erect a row of pyramids where the old strip used to be. Here will our dead be buried. Then must go all roads and sidewalks, all trees, plants, grasses. Men must be up to their knees in dirt and sand and soot. All the water we save from watering trees and buildings will go to watering men. Moreover, with all the sand in everyone’s shoes and socks, men will desert this land, causing a mass exodus across the quenched Colorado. The few men who stay will then have plenty to drink, even enough for dessert. They will set up a nice, quiet community—a community in the desert with few deserts.

Broom Snow,
The Desert Schooner I,
Las Vegas, Nevada
February 4, 2016

Painting: "View of the Nile with Pyramids"
By N. Chekib,
Oil on canvas, 1897

Wednesday
Feb032016

Bumping Races, Cambridge May Week - An Oil Selection

"Bumping Races, Cambridge May Week"
Oil on Canvas - 1947
Cosmo Clark 

"Blacksmiths and teamsters do not trip in their speech; it is a shower of bullets. It is Cambridge men who correct themselves and begin again at every half-sentence, and, moreover, will pun, and refine too much, and swerve from the matter to the expression.”

--Ralph Waldo Emmerson, from Representative Men: Seven Lectures

For more pieces of this nature, head over to our Oil section by clicking here or here, but not here.

Monday
Jan252016

Gambler, No. 9 [The Wheel]

“‘The age is running mad after innovation; all the business of the world is to be done in a new way; men are to be hanged in a new way; Tyburn itself is not safe from the fury of innovation.’ It having been argued that this was an improvement. ‘No, Sir, (he said eagerly,) it is not an improvement: they object that the old method drew together a number of spectators. Sir, executions are intended to draw spectators.’” — Samuel Johnson

(c) Michael M. Atwood; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

It is no secret that the wheel has made great strides. Some might say it has seen many revolutions. Those mighty Mesopotamians had little idea where their invention would take them. I suppose, if they were alive today, they would be distraught that it has taken them so far. For the wheel is replacing the foot with each passing year. And I suppose they had rather their invention stopped with a wheel of cheese than progress to a rubber tire. I certainly couldn’t agree more. Indeed, if every wheel were of goat or gouda, if every tire brie or beer, there would be many a missing wheel or slashed tire in my neighborhood.* But this is the empire of enterprise, not of eating, and I must languish and live under its rule. That is, I must live with the unfortunate reality that the wheel often does no more than take one to work, when its highest use is to be eaten.

That the wheel does more than transport is obvious. Why, several times in a single day I hear the “clop-clop-clop” of a small child. He—or she—rides his—or her—scooter like a man bites into his stilton. That is, for fun. I fancy the child has a destination in mind. But on a deeper level, I fancy he’s more excited about riding than arriving. I fancy he’s traveled further than most grown-ups too. In any case, like I mentioned, the wheel is certainly replacing the foot, and it is only a matter of time until we are like the angels in Ezekiel, roaming the world with wheels on axes. But I can’t help but think of the foot nostalgically, in a sense, as if I’ve already lost mine.

The foot is truly unique. We are the only beasts that have one, really. My cat has something similar, but not really. Monkey’s, I suppose, have the next best thing. Or better. For their feet are more like hands, allowing them to grasp and dangle. It is the surest proof against the idea of evolution as mere progress. For if we progressed from monkeys, we’d certainly still have tails, and our feet wouldn’t be so clunky and absurd. Truly, the human foot is almost a disaster. It is good for two primary things: walking and kicking. It doesn’t scratch, stretch, grasp, glow, sprout, rotate, or swivel. It has now claws, wings, fins, webbings, or even fur for keeping warm. It doesn’t, at the very least, come to a point, which might help our kicking. We can’t even walk on the thing without help from sandals or shoes. Unlike the head, it doesn’t swivel, allowing us to turn directions on a whim. Take a look out your window at any walker, if you are so privileged to have one in view. Notice how clumsy they move about with their feet! How odd and unique. It is no wonder that most of our machines have wheels and none have feet. For the foot is wholly impractical and, in the age of utility, almost useless.

__________

But the revolution against the foot is the revolution against what makes us unique. One could say it is against our very humanity. We are replacing something odd yet mystical, something powerful yet pointless, with something common and coarse. The wheel is expected. The foot is unexpected. The wheel is of man and earth. The foot is of God and heaven.

Las Vegas, Nevada might be the center of the world when the wheel revolution fully takes place. Why, not too long ago, I heard a story of a mad woman mowing down pedestrians with her wheels. This, thankfully, is rare here. But the drunkard hitting a walker with his wheels is not. And yet we always put the bottle in the dock and not the wheel. I agree that drunkenness is a sin. But so is driving like a maniac, or like a teenager. It is very common to hear of a drunken walker harming himself; it is also very common to hear of a sober driver harming everyone but himself. In any case, Las Vegas will be the very center of the revolution, for it has the perfect blend of wheels and walkers. Everywhere you look, men are walking. Everywhere you look, men are riding. The mere variety of wheels is most astounding—planes, helicopters, buses, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, rascals, bicycles, shopping carts, unicycles, skateboards, long-boards, scooters, hover boards, trikees. While the car is the worst of the lot, I will take a look at some other, purer, wheels I see around town.

__________

The bike has so artfully been discussed by a friend of mine at Cambridge,** and not much more can be said about it by me. It is most practical here in Vegas for many who have nothing else. It’s flexibility is unparalleled. One man sees his bike as his toy, another as his home. One man sees it as transportation, another as exercise. Some even as their vehicle for spreading false teaching. Others, though, see the bike as too much and have instead chosen to ride its younger brother the unicycle. These men, unfortunately, are rare. The bike, apart from the foot, is the holiest means of transportation.

I suppose the next most popular set of wheels is the skateboard. The long-board, so it seems, is not in fashion here. But the skateboard has certainly made a comeback, or maintained its popularity. Not only is the skateboard used properly, as a device for flying into half-pipes and doing tricks, it is used improperly, as a mode of transportation to class. One is very likely to be run over by a skater in his four or so years at UNLV. I nearly was last semester, as I walked with head up looking this way and that but paying no heed. And why should a man pay heed while he walks with his two God-given feet? Those with feet have primal rights. Everyone else must bow in submission. It takes all I have not to walk right up to them with my two blessed-feet and give them a swift kick. But I practice tremendous self-control.

As I mentioned above, the scooter is very popular here. Children of all ages—from elementary to college—are using scooters. They are used by the little children most properly, as instruments of joy. But the college scooter-riders, like the college skaters, misuse them as they do most things these days. They use them only as instruments of torture. I am only less tempted to knock these tyrants off their wheels because the scooter has a handle, and their fall wouldn’t be half so graceful. I gather, with the scooters and skaters, fifteen to twenty percent of campus moves about on wheels. In ten years it will be fifty percent. And when I’m tenured, I will be the last man standing.

I now come to the lowest point in this little exposé on the wheel: the electronic skateboard, or, as some have erroneously called it, the hover board. It, of course, does no such thing, but it does not really matter what you call it—what’s in a name? The fact is that it is essentially just like every other new machine out there these days. The riders on these instruments “hover” or “glide” around, and they truly are a disgrace to humanity. Skateboards and scooters are a nuisance, no doubt, but one is still required to propel the thing with his mighty foot. He may still play with it as well. One can kick and twirl the scooter around until he lands back on it with his glorious feet; one can fly high in the air and flip his skateboard around, until it returns to his fantastic feet and he reenters the half-pipe; one can only stand on a hover board, doing nothing, like a man sits and watches television.

Recently, I was walking on my two feet with a friend who told me a sad story. At his housing complex lives a very fat man who decided to ride his hover board one day, I suppose to take out the trash or get the mail, something, I’m sure, that could have been done just as well with his feet. This man, though, had the unfortunate experience of coming to a speed bump. With a hover board, he could not get over the bump, no matter how hard he tried. He failed, and failed again. We must give him some credit, for he kept trying. He disdained his feet enough to continue moving in the wrong direction even though it defied common sense. This is the happy image of our future: as thousands of men wheel around town and ram into things, I will walk by on my feet, munching on a wheel, which is hopefully a good foot.

Broom Snow,
Written on my balcony,
On a nice winter afternoon,
Las Vegas, Nevada
January 21, 2015

Painting: "Interior of the Coach-Wheelright's shop at 4 1/2 Marshall Street, Soho, London"
By Clare Atwood,
Oil on canvas, 1897

_______________

*Shamelessly stolen but openly confessed. See “Cheese” by Chesterton.

**Click here.

Tuesday
Jan192016

Cargo

CARGO

Behind each train whistle
rumble the railcars;

waves slosh against hull
after hull, crates crack and slide

jet bellies stiffen at altitude.
On a flight, I once heard a dog bark

or what seemed like one
braying from beneath the cabin.

My seatmate and I shared a look—
the kind that wonders, then quickly stows away

any desire to discuss or speculate—
and snugged headphones over our ears.

The sounds we know—whistles, waves,
air over wings—shield the things that move in silence.

If we could listen past engines, past tracks
of steel, water, or cloud, what might we hear

and find inside the vessels
traveling Earth’s remotest routes?

Or, if they were too far, those running within ourselves
which always should remain within reach.

Bryn Homuth
January 19, 2016

Painting: Horse and Train
Alex Colville, 1954