Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Once there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

the end
or maybe the beginning..


Wishing you all a very Happy New Year or at the very least, equanimity in the face of whatever changes may come.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

santa Crow visits the rich

Crow here. It's been nearly a year since the night I agreed to help the old fellow from the north with some deliveries on Christmas Eve. Quite frankly the dear gentleman was at his wits end, knowing as he did that so many poor children needed gifts and food that night and much more besides. He did what he could as he always does. My task was the much less arduous one (or so I thought) of taking presents to the children of the rich. As you well know there are far fewer of them, such a tiny number of good rich children, in fact, that I was quite confident of being home well before midnight.

At twilight several of his more experienced reindeer arrived pulling a spare Santa sled and off we tootled into winter's darkening sky. Our first stop at a gated community provided my first inkling that this job might not be quite the doddle I'd imagined it would be. As I slipped down the chimney I'd been happy to see the glint of festive lights in the the hall and the living room, but when I stepped across the grate I discovered they weren't holiday decorations at all but motion detectors. Suddenly sirens sounded, steel barriers dropped down to cover the windows and three snarling dogs rushed into the room where I'd just begun to open my sack. I barely made it back up the chimney with my trousers intact.

Having never been one to renege on an obligation I set off with a will to the next mansion on my list. The living room there was a grand space filled with art and fine furniture but once again, just as I set foot on the floor, before I could begin opening my bag, alarms sounded, a spotlight lit my person and a nasty smelling fog filled the room with blue smoke. Coughing and choking I scrambled back up that chimney too.

As I'd had no success at the gated community I decided instead that we'd try for a country house on the list. Knowing nothing about private security systems that employ infrared cameras that read thermal heat signatures, nor about radar detectors - both of which can detect anything larger than a mouse up to five miles away - the reindeer and I were surprised when portals in the roof opened and out popped a brace of cannons. Although we attempted to signal our good intentions by ringing sleigh bells and singing carols, we were forced to turn away when the heavy artillery opened fire.

We made our sad way back to Santa's workshop in dread of his disappointment. How surprised we were by his merry laughter as he commended us for our attempts and said, 'Don't worry boys, next year I'll let them fight it out with the Amazon drones'.

Happy Christmas everyone!

(If you're interested in reading further about security arrangements of the rich - as opposed to The Rich - you can find more here and here. They're actually far stranger and more paranoid than Crow described. Sad but true.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

right and wrong

A weeks long meditation retreat that was being held in the mountains of Japan was attended by many students of the great master. During the gathering one student was caught stealing. The matter was reported to the master with the request that the culprit be dismissed. The master ignored the case.

Later the student was caught in a similar act, and again the master disregarded the matter. This angered the other students, who busied themselves drawing up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would leave in a body.

When the master had read the petition he called everyone before him. “You are wise brothers,” he told them. “You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave.”

A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who had stolen. All desire to steal had vanished.

the end


I never know which of these stories will get me to draw a picture next - they must be lessons I need to hear myself. Anger may be a righteous reaction, but it never seems to solve anything.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

the princess and Crow

Once there was a princess who awoke one day to find a small spot under her eye. It was a little nothing to begin with but, as a king's daughter, she was a bit spoiled and refused to leave her bed. When royal doctors came to treat the problem she sent them away and instead kept touching the sore spot until it got worse and worse. Finally the king proclaimed a large reward for whoever could cure his daughter. After some time, Crow arrived claiming to be a famous physician.

Saying that he could definitely cure the princess he was admitted to her chamber. After he had examined her, he exclaimed, "Oh, I'm so sorry!"
"What is it?" the princess inquired.
Crow said, "There is nothing much wrong with your eye, dear child, but there is something else that is really serious."
The princess was alarmed and asked, "What could be so serious?"
He hesitated and said, "It is most unfortunate. I simply can't tell you about it." No matter how much she insisted, Crow refused to tell her, saying that he could not speak without the king's permission.

When the king arrived, Crow was still reluctant to reveal his findings. Finally the king commanded, "Tell us what is wrong. Whatever it is, you must tell us!"
At last Crow said, "Well, the princess's eye will get better within a few days - that is no problem. What is a problem is that the princess will develop a tail, a very long tail, that may start growing very soon. If only she can detect the first moment it appears, I might be able to prevent it from growing." At this news everyone was deeply concerned.

And the princess, what did she do? She stayed in bed, day and night, directing all her attention to detecting when the tail might appear. After a few days, her eye got well.

..and she never saw even a hint of a tail.

the end

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

why meditate

An elder monk who finds a young monk sitting in a meditation pose inquires, 'Why are you sitting in meditation?'

The younger replies, 'By sitting in meditation I hope eventually to become a buddha'.

The elder monk picks up a brick, walks across the carefully tended Zen rock garden and begins rubbing the brick against one of the ancient stones.

The younger one laughs and asks, 'What are you doing?'

To which the elder says, 'I am polishing this brick in hopes that eventually it will become a mirror'.

the end

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

making a difference

 Zen master Ryokan was walking on the beach not long after a storm had blown over. Hundreds of starfish that had been washed up by the waves were beginning to die in the sharp sunlight. Ryokan picked up the starfish one by one and threw them back into the sea.

A fisherman who had been observing Ryokan came up to him. “Why do you do this? Every time there’s a storm, this happens on every beach for hundreds of miles. You can’t save them all, so what difference does your attempt make?”

“It will make a difference – to this one,” replied Ryokan, as he flung yet another starfish into the water.

the end

This is definitely a lazy (and recovering) person's post but it's another one I like a lot.
Thanks to you all for the good wishes.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

lying low

I hate not feeling well but I guess it's best to admit it and hope for a better day tomorrow. In the past three weeks I've had two surgeries to fix the tissue around a couple of dental implants. The first one became infected making it necessary to have a second surgery once the antibiotics had done their job. It may have been too soon because now I'm swollen worse than the first time and I'm getting bored  lying on the couch wrapped up in a shawl.

Maybe Crow will come by this evening and tell me another story.

At least he's been good about sharing the brandy.

I'll be back making visits soon.

Monday, November 18, 2013

three monks

Three monks sat by a river, deep in meditation. One stood up and said, “I’ve forgotten my mat.” Stepping on to the waters before him, he walked across to the other side, where their small hut stood in the forest. When he returned, the second monk said, “I just remembered I haven’t dried my washed clothes.” He too, strode calmly across the water to the other bank and returned in a few minutes the same way.

The third monk watched them intently. Figuring that this was a test of his own skills, he loudly declared, “So you think your abilities are superior to mine! Watch me!” and scurried to the edge of the river bank. No sooner did he put his foot in than he fell into deep water. Unfazed, he waded out and tried again. And again and again, to no avail. 

After watching this performance in silence, one of his fellow monks asked the other, “Do you suppose we should tell him where the stepping stones are?”

I'm very fond of Zen stories. If you've heard this one before I hope you'll excuse me for telling it again.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

couldn't resist

As the days grow colder and the nights grow long, I couldn't resist posting this great picture of a dog surfing the waves at Huntington Beach, California. For the past few years there's been an annual Doggie Surf weekend at the end of September that provides much fun for the dogs and their human companions as well as money for animal rescue charities. Enough from me, though, enjoy the movie and remember warm, sunny days.

My favorite is the one surfing backwards, or is it the sitting poodle, or perhaps the little white dog hanging ten. Silliness is good.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

two monks

Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the strong current, she asked if they could help her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.

As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. "Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!"

"Brother," the second monk replied, "I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thripdipple: Anthony's Story

Once, a while ago, so long ago that my Grampa recalls it vaguely, everything was pretty much the same as it is now. Except for a few things.

Some of these things that were different were the turtles. They weren't so different. They still had noses and ate bugs and moved slowly just like now. The only difference really was that they didn't have shells. So they looked something like this, I guess.

And this turtle here, his name is Anthony. He's the turtle this story is about. All the other turtles have stories about themselves, of course, but it would take me five years to tell you even half of them, and thirteen years more to tell you all the endings. Besides that, you should probably go to sleep soon. So I will tell you just about Anthony tonight.

Anthony lived with his brothers and sisters in a place called Turtletown, which is about 27 miles east of Schenectedy. But you won't find Turtletown on any map. Many maps don't even have Schenectedy on them.

Turtletown was a pleasant and beautiful place with many colorful flowers and cool clear ponds. Just as now the turtles passed their moments quite happily.

Well, not all their moments. Sometimes a hungry fox or two would come by. And sometimes it would rain and become cold. Worst of all, sometimes a hungry fox or two would come by and it would rain and become cold, all at once!

But there seemed to be nothing that could change these things. And not being the type that dwells upon misfortune, Anthony, and all his brothers and sisters, lived in their happy moments - even though they had sore throats and so on sometimes.

Well now, Anthony was out walking one day, searching up some munchies and humming, and what do you think? Well, it almost goes without saying that suddenly a long, pointed rocket swooped out of the sky and landed very near by. Anthony's little red eyes blinked a few times. He was surprised and said, "Holy Smokes!" He forgot all about hunting for munchies, but did keep on humming. And he walked over to the rocket.

When he got there a big purple man with three eyes, three ears, three noses, three mouths, three arms, and three legs came out from the rocket. He bent down and picked Anthony up. Anthony said, "What's happenin', man?"

The purple man laughed heartily. He laughed so much that Anthony laughed too. When they stopped laughing, the purple man said, "Thripdipple!" They started to laugh again. Then Anthony's new friend took Anthony into the rocket.

Anthony's friend went to a chair and sat down. He put Anthony on one of his shoulders. There were many buttons on the walls. Anthony's friend pushed a button. Then he said, "Thripdipple!" Then he pushed another button and said, "Thripdipple!" He pushed seventeen more buttons. Anthony helped his friend. They said "Thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple thripdipple!" Then the rocket shook and roared up through the cosmos.

And in no time at all it seemed (and in actuality was) the rocket became still. Anthony knew they had landed. His friend stood up. Anthony was still on his shoulder. They went to the door.

What a sight! Anthony's friend put his hands out and said, Thripdipple!" Anthony began to hum. They walked to the corner. There were other men and women at the corner, and they were standing in a queue. Anthony guessed that it was a bus stop. And as sure as your Aunt Matilda wears tennis shoes in the bathtub, he was right.

Anthony and his friend got on a bus. His friend said 'Thripdipple!" to the bus driver and they both chuckled. Then Anthony stuck out his tongue and everyone on the bus laughed at that. Anthony and his friend went to a seat.

Now they traveled on the bus for some time. Anthony stopped humming and listened to two women who were sitting in front of him. This is what they were saying:

"Well, anyway, thripdipple, thripdipple thripdipples over thripdipple. They thripdippled last thripdipple."

"Oh, I didn't thripdipple that. I thripdippled thripdipple thripdipple, and she didn't thripdipple me."

"Well, you thripdipple, thripdipple is so busy thripdippling thripdipple, she doesn't have a thripdipple to thripdipple."

"Oh, how thripdippling!"

Soon enough, however, Anthony's friend got up. The bus stopped and they got out. They were in front of a glorious house. They went to the door and Anthony's friend knocked. A voice from inside called, "Thripdipple!" Then Anthony's friend opened the door and they went in.

Such a splendid room! A wise looking old man with three fluffy pink beards was sitting on a pillow in a corner. Anthony's friend bowed to the man and said, "Thripdippleness!"

Anthony said, "Hey, hey, hey!" They all laughed.

"I am Thripdippleness', said the old man, 'and this place you have come to is called Thripdipple. It is a planet far in the skies in the cluster of stars named Alpha Schenectedy. We folk are called thripdipples, and we all speak the language called thripdipple. But I can also speak turtle."

'When's lunch?" said Anthony.

"We thripdipples have a favorite thing we like to do", said Thripdippleness. "More than anything, we like to thripdipple. I can't explain to you what it means because only thripdipples can understand. Anyway, I decided today to thripdipple you turtle folk. Now listen to my story:

"Many years ago when I was your age, thripdipples didn't have the kind of rockets we have now. We used to have round ones. And children, you know, like to have toys and smaller things to play with. So we thripdipples gave our children small, round rockets, like this one." Thripdippleness reached in one of his ears and pulled something out.

It was green, It was round on the top, and flat on the bottom. It had one window in the front and one window in the back. And two on one side and two on the other. How many is that?

"But you see," said Thripdippleness, "after about five thousand billion years, the thripdipples decided to have long pointed rockets for a change. Then the children wanted small, long pointed rockets. So now we have a big pile of small round rockets that the thripdipple children don't play with anymore. So I would like to thripdipple you turtles with them."

"Righteous! said Anthony.

Anthony's friend took Anthony in his hand. He gave him to Thripdippleness. The Thripdippleness put Anthony inside the small round rocket. "All dressed up and nowhere to go," said Anthony.

Well, the rest of the story is plain to see. Thripdippleness and Anthony's friend filled up 46 big bags with all the small round rockets the thripdipple children didn't play with any more. They put the bags in the long pointed rocket then Anthony and his friend went in. Anthony's friend sat in his chair. This time he only pushed one-half of one button. They both said, "Thrip!" Then the rocket shook and roared through the cosmos.

When they arrived back in Turtletown, Anthony called all his brothers and sisters. Then Anthony's friend put each and every one inside a small round rocket.

And now, even if a hungry fox or two comes by, and even if it rains and becomes cold all at once, the turtle folk don't mind. They are safe and sound inside their thripdipples.

the end


This story was written by he who is locally known as numb about thirty-five years ago for two dear children who (rightfully so) loved nothing more than any excuse to laugh. Here is a picture of them:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

out of the blue

A couple of days ago I was surprised by an email asking if the painting Selkie Sea was available to purchase. It was surprising because I don't have much of an internet profile other than the blog and you friends who are kind enough to visit here.

The only places some pieces of my work can be seen are the generally abandoned shop I opened on Etsy in 2009 and the site on Fine Art America where I've posted a few paintings that can be bought as greeting cards or prints. I've never sold much at either place (FAA is where I go when I want to print some cards to send), the chief reason being that I don't use social media platforms. The idea of trying to sell my work makes me very uncomfortable.

However, when I post a picture on the FAA website there's a little box I can check that will say that the original is for sale. A couple who live in Maine saw that I'd checked 'yes' in that box and sent me a message. The painting was here safely packed away in one of my portfolios but today it's on its way across the border to its new home in a seaside cottage across the border.

Sometimes we learn that something we've done has made someone happy.

They sent me the lyrics to a story/song I'd never heard.

Monday, October 28, 2013

when the time comes

When The Time Comes from Charles Gay on Vimeo.

The semi-nomadic Samburu tribe of Kenya still practices female circumcision, despite the fact that it was made illegal in 2003 by the Maputo Protocol (which was ratified by 37 African countries).  However, slowly but surely brave women (with the support of a number of men) are speaking up for their rights and demanding that their daughters are not put through this coming of age ritual any longer.

This may sound like something of a depressing way to spend ten minutes of your time, but I guarantee that you will be uplifted by this very human story.  The debate among the tribespeople is intergenerational with one of the male village elders (inadvertently, I think) giving the game away when he says that a circumcised woman is easier to control – and that is, ultimately what this ritual is all about.  One woman cleverly counters this with an argument with which few red-blooded men would be inclined to disagree.

Beautifully directed by Charles Gay, this short documentary shows a usually hidden side of a secluded culture – it is very brave of these women simply to talk about the subject let alone commit their opinion to film.  It also reveals a colorful and vibrant culture in the throes of change. The amazing traditional clothing worn by the often very beautiful Samburu women is a feast for the eyes, while the subject gives us much food for thought.

This has been cross posted from Kuriositas.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

ready or not - some humo(u)r

I hope whoever drew this cartoon originally will forgive me for scribbling a version as I remembered it.

A typical 5 yr. old child laughs 400 times a day.
The average adult laughs 15 times a day - or less.

 A magician worked on a cruise ship. The audience was different each week so the magician did the same tricks over and over again. There was only one problem: the captain's parrot saw the shows each week and began to understand how the magician did every trick.

Once he understood, he started shouting in the middle of the show. "Look, it's not the same hat!" or "Look, he's hiding the flowers under the table!" or "Hey, why are all the cards the ace of spades?"

The magician was furious but couldn't do anything. It was, after all, the captain's parrot. Then one stormy night on the Pacific, the ship unfortunately sank, drowning almost all who were on board.

The magician found himself on a piece of wood floating in the middle of the sea with, as fate would have it, the parrot. They stared at each other with hatred but did not utter a word. This went on for a day... and then 2 days...and then 3 days.

Finally on the 4th day, the parrot could hold back no longer and said......
"OK, I give up. Where's the ship?"

Thursday, October 17, 2013

simple things

I'm almost embarrassed to post a picture as simple as this one done on a recent  afternoon but I'm going to do so anyway. This is no brothers Detmold, nor Edmund Dulac, nor any of the other watercolorists of the early twentieth century whose work I admire so much. It's not even as complicated as work I did years ago when I had a full time job and a busy schedule that accounted for most of my waking hours. The fact I painted a number of fairly large and complicated pictures, some of which took weeks to complete, seems strange to me now. Now I have less patience - or perhaps it's that I feel I have less time (no, I'm not ill) but every so often some little image appears and I just want to see it done. I don't want to wait. So here's this one that reminds me of words I once heard in a dream or brief vision just before sleep came - the color of Heaven is green. I don't know what that meant, if anything, but I do know that there's no happier time for me than walking along a sunlit beach with a good friend.

It's the simple things in life that bring us our best and most satisfying experiences.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

covert classics

Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland - Through the Looking Glass
Mark Twain:  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Robert Louis Stevenson - Treasure Island
Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's Travels
Charles Dickens : Oliver Twist - A Tale of Two Cities
Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo
Jules Verne: A Journey to the Center of the Earth
Washington Irving: Rip van Winkle

Although all of these authors wrote books that became famous as stories for children I don't think any of them wrote the books strictly for children. Like most great children's classics, the authors used the unintimidating forum of children's literature to speak to people of all ages with the hope that somehow we'd understand the deeper messages they conveyed.

For the sake of space I've left a number of wonderful books off the list but the one I want to mention now is Rudyard Kipling. When we say "The Jungle Book" most of us invariably think of Disney's films, both animated and live action, that have become the norm for Rudyard Kipling's immortal children's stories. While the Disney interpretation is fun and enchanting, it makes a dramatic departure from the actual stories and takes considerable creative license in telling just a part of the Kipling stories. Even what we get from Disney falls far short of the applicable parts of Kipling's original that Disney used. What? Kaa, the snake, as Mowgli's friend and powerful ally? What? A deeper story of Mowgli's experience as a wolf and his relationships with Mother wolf and Father wolf? Oh yes, much, much more.

Kipling's original masterpiece also includes several other wonderful chapters about the continuing adventures of Mowgli and also adds the marvelous tale of "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," the heroic mongoose whose battles with wicked cobras in an Indian garden easily matches Mowgli's showdowns with Shere Khan.

The book also includes the tale of "The White Seal." This short chapter of "The Jungle Book(s)" provides a wonderful commentary, in the form of animal parable, on human society, competition, male ego and human pride. Our hero, Kotick, the white seal, through his fearless explorations and his willingness to fight for a dream, changes the minds of his parents, his peers and his society for the better. The invitation to each of us is very clear to find and free the white seal that exists in all of us.

If you haven't seen the Disney film in a while I thought I'd share what was probably everyone's favorite scene when Baloo (Phil Harris) and King Louis the orangutan (Louis Prima) sing a scat duet (never mind Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera the worried black panther):

The pictures here are copies of the Jungle Book illustrations done by the brilliant 19th century watercolorists, Maurice and Edward Detmold.

The other cool thing about all of these books is that they're cheap and easily available.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Crow and Holmes

When the world refuses to provide the rationality I would prefer it's good to know I can always count on Sherlock Holmes. For the past week my reading time away from the internet has been spent enjoying Arthur Conan Doyle's magnum opus, 'Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Stories'. The four novels came first and now that I've reached page 1051 of this 1400 page book, I'm already feeling sad it will end all too soon.

My friend Crow once spent some time assisting Holmes and Watson in the Mysterious Case of the Four Feathers on Her Majesty's Pillow, a story that never did become part of the published series since even now its shocking revelations could disrupt our confidence in the powers that still rule. Crow has decided that might not be such a bad thing and is busy at this moment going over his notes about the case. Perhaps we'll all know the essentials of that tale soon enough.

One of the most enjoyable parts of reading these stories is in reading about the stories Watson left out of the series. This passage is typical:

'In this memorable year of 1895 a curious and incongruous succession of cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca - an enquiry which was carried out by Holmes at the expess desire of His Holiness the Pope - down to his arrest of Wilson, the notorious canary trainer, which removed a plague-spot from the East End of London.'

What? A notorious canary trainer? Who wouldn't be interested in learning more about that story? Even though that one will never be told (unless Crow participated in that case too), the ones that remain are sufficient to prove the genius of Sherlock Holmes:

“What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is what can you make people believe you have done.”

“Don't talk, Anderson. You lower the IQ of the entire street every time you open your mouth.”

“Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last.”

'Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?'
'To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.'
'The dog did nothing in the night-time.'
'That was the curious incident,' remarked Sherlock Holmes.

“I'm not a psychopath, I'm a fully functioning sociopath. Do your research.”

Now it's time to sharpen Crow's quill pens and warm the brandy. I'm looking forward to another evening in his library sitting in the comfort of my favorite fireside chair reading while he writes.

ps: modified illustration from the Strand Magazine

Sunday, September 29, 2013

misfortune of Fukushima

 Of all the pictures I've seen since the disaster at Fukushima commenced in March of 2011 it was one of a small child being scanned with a Geiger counter that affected me most. This is my version with a photograph of the Number 4 reactor building in the background.

I'm not going to rant about the dangers of nuclear power but to say we never did 'harness the atom'; what we did instead was to catch the biggest tiger we ever met by its slashing tail.

I'll also mention, just in case you haven't heard, that Tepco is planning to try to remove the spent fuel rods from the damaged reactor Number 4 building beginning in November.

It's true that something needs to be done but I'm not confident Tepco can be counted on to get this right. Neither is Crow. 

I promise to return to my usual light-hearted topics next month.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Crow salutes David Suzuki

Just a few days ago our friend David Suzuki gave a speech in Australia at the University of New South Wales in which he charged the new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, other climate change denying politicians and the ultra rich with 'criminal negligence' for their willful blindness.

"Environmentalism is a way of seeing our place within the biosphere. That’s what the battles were fought over. The barbarians – that is, many of the politicians and corporate executives that environmentalists have been fighting all these years – are driven by a totally different set of values, by the drive for profit, for growth and for power."

Later in an interview he was asked, "David, you've urged, at least twice, that legal ways should be found to jail politicians for denying what you call the science of climate change. David, do you still hold that view?"

Suzuki responded:

"You bet. I think there is a category called willful blindness. Our problem is we have no means of holding our so-called leaders - people we elect to political office to lead us into the future - we have no way to keep them accountable, except booting them out of office. But the reverberations of what they do or do not do today are rippling far beyond the coming years. There will be generational impacts. Now, if you have people who stand up to take positions of leadership and they deliberately suppress or ignore information vital to making an informed decision, I think that's willful blindness, and willful blindness, I understand, is a legal entity that you can sue people for."

Suzuki added, "I think it’s a crazy, dangerous situation if we’re going to marginalize science in favor of political priorities. I think that’s very, very dangerous."

Crow and I agree on behalf of all of those who will inherit this fine planet.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Crow and the Druid

September being a changeable month in these parts, Crow and I were spending an afternoon reviewing his archives while a drenching rain spattered the tall arched windows that overlook his terrace. Just as I was about to pour the tea he thrust an old picture between me and the Royal Albert saying, 'Aha! I've been meaning to show you a picture of Gaith, my old Druid friend, and here is one of both of us scratched upon this piece of bark. Amazing how well this stuff keeps, isn't it?'

I've long stopped being surprised at the immensity of Crow's historical social circle, but he'd never mentioned Druids before. I made myself comfortable in my favorite of his wing back chairs, took a sip of Oolong and sat back to listen:

'It probably won't surprise you to hear that even in the dim, dark past there were crazy, power hungry male persons who made a general nuisance of themselves by making up excuses to kill their neighbors and take their land. The first thing they always did was to demand that the young men in their kingdoms supply themselves with pointed sticks or whatever, swords being both rare and expensive, and join in the battles. Some young men who weren't pleased with this mad idea ran away to the forest.

'The forests of Europe and old England were very large indeed. Still, it wasn't easy to get by on your own and certainly there were no modern conveniences like waterproof shoes and tents - never mind nicely packaged emergency food supplies.

'On this particular fine morning, Gaith and I had been strolling along a path overhung by the branches of sacred oak trees when we came upon a weary looking but handsome youth sitting by a brook. After mutual greetings we sat and shared some food and listened to his reasons for preferring a life of peace. Rather than going to war he had run away to a place where he hoped to enjoy life and creation, learn its wonders and strive for answers to the big questions. My friend Gaith, being a Druid, one of those rumored to have strange powers, invited him to join his band as a junior member. 

'Whether they were called Yogis, Magi, Lamas, Monks or Druids, all of them strove to learn. They developed techniques and applications; they dreamed dreams and studied nature intensively. As it took a very long time to become a Master Druid, perhaps twenty years or more, they arranged their membership into sections (like colleges) that depended upon knowledge and individual attainments. They also developed a brilliant plan designed to lessen the violence of the crazy men. What was it? First, you have to understand they already had much to offer by their abilities with Astrology and calendars; they knew much about plants and the healing arts. They also knew how to manipulate materials and some, like my friend Gaith, were experts in speaking the Language of the Birds. That's how we first became friends (he told some excellent people jokes). What the Druids offered freely to the crazy men who ruled at that time were the members of their lowest college, the Bards.

'Our new young friend who was called Oisin would be trained as one of them, a singer of history. From what I heard later he did well and even stopped a war or two by singing Sagas of previous encounters between the combatants. Of course, the other king also had a Bard and the two likely collaborated to mold a peace. This was the foundation of Diplomacy vs mindless War.'

Rocking back on his perch, Crow snagged a piece of fruitcake, arched his brow and remarked, 'Aren't you glad to know there are still Druids in the world today?'

Yes, yes I am, but we could always use a few more. The rain having stopped by then, we went for a walk by the sea.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

doing what becomes us

A formerly thriving monastery is down to its last three monks, and the place has lost all of its spiritual influence. The Abbot walks down the long stairs to consult with a passing well-known wise man who tells him, “I don’t know how to solve the problems of your monastery, but I do know that one of the three of you that remain there is actually the Messiah.”

The Abbot returns and repeats this to the other two monks. Each of them considers inwardly, “Well I know it’s not me, so it must be one of these other two.” Thus they all start treating each other with the greatest of reverence, kindness, respect and love, thinking they might be in the presence of the Messiah. The positive energy that this generates begins to infuse and radiate out from the monastery, and as new visitors pass through, they are infected by it and choose to stay on as monks, and within a short time, the monastery is once again a vibrant and thriving institution.

It's a pretty cool story and one whose premise is inarguable (if you don't believe me, ask Jesus or the Buddha), but I'll have to agree with whomever first mentions that things don't often work out that way among most of us humans. There are so many potential tragedies in process right now that I almost have to wonder how we've lasted as long as we have. Perhaps it's because Progress as we know it now wasn't invented until about 300 years ago. Before that people mostly did what they'd always done, even if that did involve grabbing grandfather's sword or pike and heading off to battle every so often. At least then the battles were generally right on one's doorstep and there was no question of punishing strangers who lived thousands of miles away. Okay, there were the Crusades that were motivated by religious mania and greedy land grabbing in the Americas etc., but my point is that things didn't start getting really crazy until fossil fueled industrialization became endemic.

There's a very old legend among the mystical teachings of several religions that there's always a small group of hidden saints who are 'holding up the world' but who live out their lives as ordinary people. We can never know for sure that the clerk at the market or the bus driver who greets us with a smile isn't one of them. Since we can't know who is or who isn't an Enlightened human being, why not treat everyone as though they are? I rather like the concept that there's no such thing as Enlightenment as that term indicates a changeless state (and there's no such thing in Reality), but what's possible for all of us is Enlightening as a verb, or Becoming if you prefer.

The book the monk story is from (and now own as my very first digital copy) is called 'Why I Am Not Enlightened' and was written by a very wise and funny Western spiritual teacher called Elias Sobel. I recommend it to you.

As Crow says, 'Even if you people can't be perfect, you can at least be nice to one another'. 

ps: I didn't get a Kindle but have downloaded a free Adobe E-reader.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

constructive Crow

Greetings from distant places, dear susan,

As usual, travel has broadened my perspective but, more and more often lately, I must shake my head in amazement at the vagaries of humankind. Weary-winged after my flight across the Mediterranean, I'd  barely alit on the bow of a passing sloop when what should I see but yet another monstrous edifice blighting this enchanting shore. What you see in this picture quickly snapped by one of the fishermen is the 47 stories tall Intempo Tower that rises head, shoulders, torso and thighs above its neighbors in what formerly was the tiny fishing village of Benidorn, Spain. What makes it eye-rollingly outlandish is that in their haste to construct dwellings more lavish than others nearby, the builders neglected to emplace elevators suitable for carrying people and their furnishings to floors above the twentieth. Yes, the developers decided to add twenty-seven floors to the original design without considering this seemingly essential issue for those born without wings.  Their response is a plan to add exterior lifts, but I can't help but wonder how the tenants will react to strangers passing through their bedrooms on their way to their own apartments.

This egregiously bizarre architectural anomaly only goes to prove my long held opinion that people are better off living closer to the ground. High-rises have become endemic in modern cities mostly as a result of the cheap and unimaginative mass production logic of big business. Just as there are famous brand name food purveyors on the corners most everywhere in the western world and beyond, so too are high-rise apartment and office buildings making your cities indistinguishable from one another. True, some of the buildings are entertaining to look at (mostly at night), but they are invariably inhuman in size and scope. Furthermore, there are problems inherent in skyscraping habitations that may not be apparent on first glance but, as energy prices continue to rise, we may yet see the renaissance of human scale architecture - the kind that still exists mostly in old Europe whose central cities are themselves untouchable monuments, but whose outskirts too have often been redeveloped - up.

Here's a charming view of Venice painted by my old friend Canaletto in the days when nothing was taller than a church steeple.

Anyway, let me make a couple of points about why modern high-rises might not be the entirely correct solution to the way people live:

1. Wind speed increases with height. This isn't a problem for birds who may wish to migrate, but you might want to consider that if you open windows for some cross ventilation on the forty-second floor you may want to place bricks on any loose paper.

2. If your windows don't open, especially in a building with glass curtain walls, then on a hot day without power provided by cheap fossil fuels the temperature inside will rise to baking levels.

3. Water pressure to all but the lowest floors of a building will disappear during a power outage.

4. In a period of unaffordable energy costs, people would only be able to occupy floors as high as they could physically climb. For most people, that limit is four or five flights of stairs and may be less if you're carrying buckets of water.

In the long run I imagine skyscrapers might make excellent aviaries. Goodness knows, we birds could do with a break.

Salutations to you and all your compatriots. Please remember to keep the brandy warm and the fruitcake old and dry. I shall return soon.

Devotedly yours,

Friday, August 2, 2013

my first hurricane

In October of 1954, a hurricane called Hazel hit Southern Ontario pretty hard. By that time my mother and father both had jobs in Toronto, 25 miles away from our tiny lakeside cottage and, as a determinedly solitary child (one who hadn't taken well to being babysat), I was a latchkey kid. Every morning at 6:30 they'd get in the car for the long drive to the city and would return at 6:30 in the evening. That was the routine.

As I recall it was late afternoon on a Friday that the storm began. Truth to tell I didn't pay much attention when the rain first started pelting the windows, nor did I notice the winds doing anything unusual. I'd done my few chores - dish washing, making my bed and peeling potatoes for dinner -  before looking at the clock to see it was almost 6:30. It was already too late in the year for seeing much outside the windows by that time of the evening but I squinted into the darkness anyway hoping to see the lights of the little Ford Prefect coming up the road. Nothing. Well, not quite nothing since wet leaves had already glued themselves to the glass at the front of the house.

An hour or more went by with me alternately looking at the clock and going back to the windows, more and more nervous with each passing minute. So I did what any normal almost eight year old would do and turned on the television to watch Topper - a family favorite show. If you remember that program it was about an elderly gentleman (Leo G. Carroll) who was visited by the amusing and sophisticated ghosts of the couple who had originally owned his house. Since they'd died in an avalanche, an alcoholic St. Bernard who'd expired trying to rescue the Kirby's also provided some fun by lapping up any martinis he found. As it was only Topper who could see these characters he was always left to explain the strange happenings. Maybe you had to be there.

Anyway, five minutes into the show the lights went out in the house. Not only had the storm not blown over as they usually did, but it had got worse. While I was still waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark I heard very loud banging at the kitchen door followed by the entrance of Patricia, a twelve year old neighbor who said I had to come to her house. I really didn't want to leave but she said she'd drag me if I refused. The back door that slammed into the outside wall when we went outside took both of us to close. Then it turned out I couldn't stand up in the wind so had to crawl the hundred feet or so to her house while branches and everything else that wasn't nailed down blasted past us. After Pat tripped over a rolling log she stayed down and crawled the rest of the way with me.

At least there were candles lit at the neighbor's house but I couldn't eat what was offered. A pair of clean pyjamas exchanged for my wet clothes made me more comfortable, but I refused a shared spot in bed with the girls and instead, went to sit by the kitchen window to watch for car lights. By then I was badly frightened that I'd never see my parents again and wondered what would become of me. England and the aunts, uncles and grandparents who lived there were very far away and not well remembered. A few miles away was the Loyal True Blue and Orange Home, an orphanage for children whose parents had been killed in the war, or so I'd been told. I didn't think I'd like it there.

So passed a long and lonely night. Although I didn't cry because I didn't want anyone to hug me, I did feel sick and bereft. I must have fallen asleep on the chair because when I looked outside again it was a clear, calm morning. Before anyone else awoke I was out the door running home. Even now remembering the joy and relief I felt seeing that little black car parked next to my house brings a lump to my throat.

It had been a terrible storm that saw bridges washed out, trees falling to block roads and rivers overflowing their banks, but my father drove the high riding Ford Prefect through farmer's fields and along graveled back roads to make it home by dawn. We had breakfast together, Mam, Dad and me, and then I went out to play with my friends in the lake that had crested at the bottom of our road. I think my parents went to sleep.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

round and round

Having had to keep the curtains and windows closed on weekdays for the first  two months of summer has pretty much stopped me doing much drawing (the paints and brushes remain packed away).

Not to be one to do nothing when I'm kept from the drawing table, I've been spending some of the downtime making little beaded bits again. Whether I'll apply for a small space at the local Christmas craft fair in December is still to be decided, but having nothing at all to show would make the idea a moot one.

Up to now I've made fifteen beaded pendants and a couple of new bracelets. What's been trickier, though, has been trying to take three or four decent pictures of each one - yes, it's a juried show. Once I have access to my workspace and daylight again on a regular basis I guess I'll figure it out.

Nevertheless, making things is much more fun for me than photographing them. Out of more than a hundred images taken one late afternoon a few days ago, these are the best ones so far. Thank goodness for digital cameras, eh?

The good news is that our windows and the balcony door will be replaced on Tuesday - the last place on this side of the building. Besides having to move the furniture away from the front of the apartment (!) we've already noticed it takes the crew the better part of twelve hours to complete a switchover so I guess we'll be taking a trip that day. Know of any good movies showing this summer?

ps: I wouldn't have cared about this work if anything had been noticeably wrong with the old windows, but there wasn't. I wonder why is everything always about appearances these days.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

picturebook problems

"Why are there no other drawings in this book as impressive as the drawing of baobabs? The answer is quite simple: I have tried but with the others have not had the slightest success. When I drew the baobabs, I was driven by a feeling of urgency."

This passage from The Little Prince caught my attention for the simple reason that I've been working on (intermittently, depending on this, that and Crow's portrait schedule) illustrations for a story for more months than I expected the whole project to take. The as yet unfinished one above is the second in a series of what I expect will be either 8, 9 or possibly, 10 pictures altogether - in other words, however few I can get away with drawing, inking and painting. As of now I have 7 drawings underway in various stages and the problem I've run into is some of them are much better than others. This series will eventually get done but it's no surprise I've never become a storybook illustrator. I too only rarely feel that sense of urgency.

Speaking of which, you may like this:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

the little prince

It's been a long time since I last read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry but our old copy was close at hand this afternoon so I read it again. A little blond boy leaves his home on Asteroid B-612 and lands in the middle of the Sahara desert, where he meets a stranded pilot desperate to fix his plane. Over the course of eight days, the prince reawakens the aviator's appreciation of the simple treasures in life, while the prince learns that grown-ups aren't always "odd." Saint Exupery's pilot remembers his parents discouraging him from taking up art when he himself was six:

“I showed the grown ups my masterpiece, and I asked them if my drawing scared them. They answered why be scared of a hat? My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.”

The Little Prince proceeds to tell of his travels from planet to planet until he arrived on Earth and of what he has learned along the way.  The most important thing he reveals is a secret that was taught him by a fox that he tamed:

                         And he went back to meet the fox.
                         "Goodbye" he said.

                         "Goodbye," said the fox.
                         "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:
                         It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
                         what is essential is invisible to the eye."

                         "What is essential is invisible to the eye,"
                         the little prince repeated,
                         so that he would be sure to remember.

                         "It is the time you have wasted for your rose
                         that makes your rose so important.

                         "It is the time I have wasted for my rose--
                         "said the little prince
                         so he would be sure to remember.

                         "Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox.
                         "But you must not forget it.
                         You become responsible, forever,
                         for what you have tamed.
                         You are responsible for your rose. . ."

                         "I am responsible for my rose,"
                         the little prince repeated,
                        so that he would be sure to remember.
“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

note: When I looked for a copy of this book to link to I discovered that a new version of it published by Harcourt and translated into 'simpler' English by Richard Howard should be avoided. Katherine Woods translated the original that most of us remember.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

kilted Crow

"Thaur waur nae roads in th' highlands tae spick ay until th' industrial revolution. th' few roads 'at existed afair 'en waur th' few military roads constructed by general george wade in th' early 1700s tae connect th' british army’s garrisons. onie travel therefair was by pony ur oan fit. wadin' ben th' damp bracken quickly soaks yer breeks an' withit a regular means ay dryin' yer clase yer health quickly suffers. in th' worst-case scenario, a braw leids tae pneumonia leids tae death. if thes happens afair ye breed th' next generation, it’s called ‘eugenics’ an' academic puff-buttocks write papers abit ye.

"Th' kilt offers a practical alternatife, as th' baur lower leg an' fit quickly dries. th' kilt was therefair a pragmatic solution tae a common problem. th' kilt, however, wisnae worn oan aw occasions. if breeks waur considered mair practical fur a particular activity 'en they waur worn withit hesitation. th' highlanders waur quite content tae “go abit bare-arsed in their shirt-tails” when an' if th' situation permitted!"

All this and much more did I learn about kilts and Scottish history as Crow sipped a wee dram of an old single malt whisky from the Isles of Islay on a rainy Canada Day. We see a lot of kilts here in Nova Scotia at this time of the year but he was reminiscing about older times than ours. In centuries past he spent a long time in the Highlands with the Glengarry MacDonnell Clan, who still remember him in their crest and motto - The Rock of the Raven. As you well know, Crow still rocks.

It was fascinating to learn that there were no clan tartans as we know them now until the middle and late 1800s. Prior to that they were woven on standing looms of yarns plucked from goats and dyed with whatever natural colors could be found in an area. Only worn by people from the far north of Scotland, who recognized one another by the particulars of weave and color in their tartans, they became popular around the same time that Queen Victoria bought her castle in Balmoral. While her new holiday home was being rebuilt she gifted already rich landowners the crofts and small-holdings of many Highlanders. That's how it happened that so many Scots came to live in North America and the reason why this province has its name.

Anyway, it was too wet the other day to watch a parade so in between fits of laughter at Crow's perfect brogue I started a new picture of him with some friends. With any luck it will eventually become a half decent colored picture. We'll see what develops.

Meanwhile, if I hear this guy is planning a visit to Halifax for next year's parade I will definitely go whether it's raining or not. I think all the pipe bands should have instruments like his:

Happy celebrations wherever you are.

* Thanks to Robert MacDonald, Kiltmaker, Vancouver BC

Monday, June 24, 2013

other people's work - part 92 - rudi hurzlmeier

I've been an admirer ever since I first ran across the work of German artist Rudi Hurzlmeier at least ten years ago when I found his Krahe (Crow) picture on a greeting card at Powell's in Portland and immediately went in search of more images. Even though he's both extremely prolific and very well known in Europe there's almost no information about him in English. The wiki page (after translation) says this:

After the demolition of his school career, he worked as a gas station attendant, among other things, male model, parachute Artist, autopsy assistant, Hotelbuskoch, tilers, gigolo, set designers and antique dealers.

Not much to go on but mostly enough. He maintains a fine balance between an almost classical western painting style and a somewhat twisted but mostly sweet sense of humor. Here are a few favorites - including the original Krahe, who you probably recognized.

If you don't mind I'll grumble a bit in between examples of his wonderfully wry artwork.

It's finally summer after a long winter and almost non-existent spring but we have to keep the windows and curtains closed all day because the workmen still arrive early every morning.

We knew they were going to replace the windows but didn't know they'd be removing and replacing all the bricks first.

The sound of multiple mortar saws is not conducive to my own artistic endeavors, but I can try to imagine being half as funny as Rudi Hurzlmeier when I look at his pictures instead.

Even though the windows are closed, dust clouds the rooms. No matter how much I vacuum, dust, sweep and wash, I'm sure this cave is much tidier. I've pretty much given up til they've gone for good.

I had to seal up my paints because brick dust gets into everything.

Just when we think they must be almost done, that there couldn't possibly be more bricks to remove and replace, they fool us by coming back down to grind out even more mortar.

I wouldn't mind so much but for the fact it's been going on for a month already and so far there's been no sign of any new windows. Goodness knows how long that will take. If I'm not going to howl, I may as well enjoy the dance.

If anyone wants to come and visit I tell them to look for us inside the densest cloud of dust in the city.

There's not much more I can say about Rudi Hurzlmeier's work that it doesn't say for itself. I hope you've liked it too. At least we can always walk along the beach and one of these fine days I may be able to return to those drawings that are currently under wraps.