Watching The Paint Dry

There’s that saying: “it’s like watching the paint dry,” which means something is very boring and tedious. I repainted our deck several weeks ago. So, when I stepped out onto it early this morning, the paint had already been dry for quite some time. Therefore, I looked for something else to watch—with a whole day ahead of me and nothing to do—with no responsibilities looming over my head to cloud my perception, or to limit my vision. What that saying doesn’t tell us, is that whole worlds can open up before us, when we take time to “watch the paint dry”.

First thing I notice is the even rhythm of my breathing—the inflow and exhale—the cool air filling my nostrils and then warming, as it fills my lungs. And next: there is the beating of my heart—barely perceptible—but inside there, deep inside, keeping time with my breath—together providing the cadence for the symphony that is to come. Fog enfolds the conifers—cedars, firs and pines rising through the mist—dark forms hidden, and then appearing, before disappearing once more. The flight of a hawk overhead, the faint motion of the air stirred up by its wings—leaving audible traces in its wake—as it glides into the canopy of big-leaf maples to my right. The glow of morning light arises. Smaller birds awaken and call to one another, to me, to our creator. I empty my mind of useless thoughts, and joy arises to fill the vacuum therein. A quiet mind is a happy mind.

With gentle force I allow the joy of living to fill the hidden recesses of my quieted mind, and love for God accumulates—abounding and increasing in density within me—so that the usual disturbed, and disturbing actions of my unruly thoughts have no place to land—so that they fall away, and drift off to who knows where. There is sunlight in the uppermost tree tops now. It is light golden, and dreamy, as the mists soften its luster. Patches of pale blue emerge momentarily, far above me, and are then wiped away again by the flowing whites and grays of the dewy sky. I allow my being to be a house of worship now, I close my doors to the world, open the door to my heart, and open my windows to heaven. I am as the trees now reaching upward, a candle-stick and a flame of love for God. Thoughts are knocking at my doors, desperate to come in, but love will not allow them; and they drain away like refuse, melting in the heat of devotion, consumed by a greater and more urgent desire.

The sky to my left has turned a vivid pink, like spun cotton-candy, soft and billowing, swirling around and through the trees. The moment is beautiful, each moment is beautiful—full and rich. I see tree branches—illumined, glorious and golden in the gathering morning light—with green feathery foliage uplifting to the sky. Small black birds scatter—sharp dots against the white cloud-cover, and pigeons far in the distance arise in flocks of medium-gray, suddenly turning white as they shift in the sunlight. Every moment is an ecstasy of experience, pregnant with a superabundance too full to be comprehended in its entirety.

Imagine! Watch even a single blade of grass—so small and lowly—drawing in the vibrant energy of the sun and pulling nutrients up through its roots—converting these to life, and adding to the blade’s girth and stature. There is no shortage of intrigue in the moments of life all around us, and in us. Yes, even watching the grass grow is a joyful event beyond our comprehension, to which we can devote our entire attention.


The Real God, Hanging

When I gaze upon your cross, your body hanging there, I understand—how could it be another way? For, to this world of pain and sorrow, how could you come to us in any other way?  Pain speaks to pain, sorrow to sorrow, and we understand one another, in our suffering. Were this simply a world of mirth, and of parties only—well—your cross would be unfathomable. For, the healthy do not need your healing touch. But, our world is cancer-ridden, a cemetery in space, for the dead and almost-dead, and the dying. Only our illusions hide this tragic truth. Through tears I see you on your cross, and you make perfect sense to me there. What help would you be, if you came to us in aloof, indifferent victory? As victorious God, far above us in the heavens, distant from our lives here in the dirt? How could we then relate? I’m grateful that you came here, to relate! Now, your blood and sweat I do imbibe, and you speak to me so clearly; I see you and I hear you on your cross, as I am hanging from my own. It cannot be another way—not here, not now—therefore, I wouldn’t want it any other way—but only what is true, and only what is real.


You’ll Never Know

I tried to call you yesterday,

a prayer or two,

just like today;

but you’re not home.

I forgot you moved away,

you left no number,

and no address,

to find you.

I have your memory,

I do remember,

your face, your smile;

its not enough.

If only I could call you,

I wouldn’t cry,

and my soul,

would be okay.

Instead, I write to tell you,

I prayed, that I could find you,

but you will never know;

I only write for others now.


Happy Trails To Us (part 3):

The afternoon heat intensified, with the rays of the sun pummeling our bodies and eroding our resolve, and sapping our energy, so that each additional step, taking us moment-by-moment deeper into that desert wilderness, also seemed to stultify our minds, rendering us all temporarily dim-witted. Heather worked hard from the front of the line to keep us all engaged with our surroundings, calling our attention to particular details of interest: the adaptive strategies of the desert milkweed, the wide and strange markings found on the wide variety of lizards indigenous to the desert here, and the amazing sense of smell which leads turkey vultures, like the ones up ahead, to dead animals. About a half hour later we passed by the carcass of a dead mammal—probably a coyote, though maybe a fox, Heather said—with several vultures gathered around, sharing the meal.

As the afternoon wore on, the sun began its descent, which brought relief from the focused intensity of its light, but the air remained infernal. We entered a labyrinthine landscape of narrow gorges, with trails leading helter-skelter in all directions. Heather stopped to examine her trail-map more closely. As Barbara looked on from several paces away—taking small comfort in the thin shade of a scrappy looking little desert tree, which to my eye appeared already dead—she commented to her new friend, Thadia, and to the Subaru kids how lucky we all are to have someone like Heather to lead the way. She’d hate to be out here all alone without someone like Heather to follow, she’d be sure to end up like that coyote we passed earlier. After a few moments Heather took a look around, seemingly perplexed, but recognizing that all eyes were upon her, she smiled confidently and raised her head defiantly, to set our minds at ease. Barbara and Thadia smiled at one another and watched Heather expectantly. I found it all unsettling however; the look of bewilderment in her eyes, coupled with the determined set of her jaw, together left me feeling apprehensive. Was it decisive confusion that I saw on her face; or was it confused certainty? Either way, it didn’t feel comforting. For the first time Heather looked to me like the type of leader that could confidently make a colossal blunder. Glancing at the others in our group, I caught the eye of one or two who seemed to express my same concern, but most everyone else didn’t seem perturbed one bit, and they were ready to follow wherever Heather might lead us.

After one or two more quick glances at her map, Heather resolutely pointed the way up one of the trails leading off to our right, and then strode off in that direction. “Come along! Compadres! We’re almost there, just an hour more and we’ll make camp for the night. There’s a beautiful little grove of Emory Oak trees that we can camp under, you’ll love it!”

“Sounds delightful!” exclaimed Thadia. “I’m all in!” added Barbara. And the rest of us fell in line, and we snaked our way up the trail, reinvigorated by hopes of a nice evening under the trees.

But two hours later, we still hadn’t arrived at the promised oak grove, and we were getting impatient. Our feet were hot and tired and our legs ached. What’s worse, several of us began complaining of upset stomachs and intestinal pain. Heather and Tom encouraged us to keep going—the oak grove was a little farther than they had remembered it—but we’d be there soon and then we could rest, have a nice meal, and get some sleep. But even after another half-hour of hiking—there were no oak trees in sight; and when Barbara’s daughter doubled over and threw up on her shoes, Heather decided it would be better to stop where we were for the night, and abandon the oak grove. We pitched our tents in a cluster, surrounded by several Saguaro Cactus and numerous little scrubby shrubs, which Tom identified as Foothill Palo Verde.

Heather spent a lot of time with Barbara’s daughter, Maggie, getting her first to lie down and put her feet up, and then to drink more water. But slowly—just sips—because she most likely was suffering from a bit of heat-stroke and probably dehydration. Barbara, very concerned, watched on gratefully from just behind Heather’s shoulder, as Heather tended to her sick daughter—placing a cool towel on her forehead and also behind her neck. After dinner, several more in our group complained of nausea, which alarmed Tom. He wondered aloud if we all had eaten something that had gone bad, but nobody could think what it might be, since we had only eaten trail-mix, power bars, and dried meat, none of which really seemed likely to have caused our symptoms. He concluded, as Heather had, that it must be slight dehydration and some heat-stroke; with the course of treatment being more water—taken slowly—and rest. We all tried to sleep that night, with varying degrees of success. I, for one, didn’t have a great night, but counted myself fortunate because I neither had to get up to puke, nor to relieve my bowels repeatedly, like some of the others did.

By morning, the mysterious malady had affected almost everyone, though some had begun to recover, while others looked to be getting worse. Conspicuously, a small contingent were unaffected—Steve, old-man Mitch, Trina and Randy all were as healthy as ever. Again, nobody else seemed interested in this fact, though it piqued my curiosity and led me to theorize upon the potential benefits of the much-maligned iodine tablet as an effective water treatment. And this caused me to question the preferred, modern and superior water-filter which Heather had advocated. But not wanting to cause any friction I kept my thoughts to myself. However, I did quietly ask Tom if I could take a look at the filter, just out of curiosity, wondering how the remarkable thing worked. He handed it to me cautiously, reminding me to be very careful with it, and then he returned to his horizontal position, moaning a little as he lay there. Upon close inspection, it did appear that the filter casing had been damaged, with the screw-on cover slightly pulled-apart on one side. With a little effort I was able to unscrew the top and take a look at the insides. “Tom.” I whispered. “I’m no expert about these things, but this doesn’t look right to me. Here, inside this filter—take a look.” I said, and reached out to hand the opened filter back to him. He wasn’t pleased that I had disturbed him, and was upset that I had taken the top of the filter off, but when he peered inside, he gave a low whistle and shook his head. “Not good. This thing is definitely busted. See that tear in that membrane, water is going straight through it without getting filtered. This thing is toast!” He said out loud, and then more quietly, as he covered it under his sleeping bag, and looked around to make sure nobody had heard him. He called Heather over and showed her the filter. After her initial alarm, and after the two of them realized the source of our collective illness, she knew what had to be done. We needed good water after all.

Heather walked over to talk privately with Steve and old-man Mitch. I saw her gesturing and then Steve reached into his bag and procured two large bottles while nodding to Heather. Next, she turned to face the group of tents and called out for everyone to gather around. Once we had dragged ourselves from our bags and were all within earshot she began: “Okay everyone, it seems we have some problems with our water. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but we need to refrain from using the filter. Now, don’t worry. It’s going to be just fine. It’s okay. Steve has iodine tablets and we’re going to treat everyone’s water using that. It’s going to be just fine. We’re going to get through this!”

“But wait,” Samantha spoke up. “You said iodine is dangerous and we shouldn’t use it.”

“Iodine is completely safe,” Heather reassured everyone. “No, you must have misunderstood me. It is safe when taken for short periods of time, and in limited quantities. There is nothing at all to fear about using iodine to disinfect our water.” After some confusion and perplexed looks on the part of many of us, we gathered up our water-bottles and let Steve drop the tablets in, one by one, as prescribed.

“Thank goodness Heather and Tom figured that out!” Commented Barbara. Thadia nodded her head in agreement.

“I guess we were a little confused about using iodine, but I’m glad she clarified that, and told us we can use it. That will really help out now.” Thadia added, with obvious relief spreading across her face.

(to be continued)


Happy Trails To Us (Part 2):

Our group regained a semblance of order several hundred yards further on; Heather retook the lead and Tom brought up the rear once again. We walked in single-file to avoid any accidents, as the trail became very narrow, with a precipitous drop on our left-hand side. From the general conversation it was clear that the snake episode had done little to foster a sense of unity among us, but had rather acted more like a wedge in the midst of our fledgling community. Several members whispered amongst themselves that they had some doubts about leader Tom’s authority; others were appalled by old-man Mitch’s heartless cruelty. Barbara’s teenage son however, for the first time all day, was animated as he recounted the viper’s death scene in all its gory detail to his reluctant sister, who covered both ears with her hands, and sang at the top of her lungs to drown out his oration.

By evening, as we set up camp and ate our dinner, it seemed that folks had come around to the recognition that we are all in this together—for the next two weeks anyway—so we should make the best of it, and try to get along. Expert Tom never brought up his mistake about Rattlesnake Ridge, so we let the incident go without further reflection. After a good meal followed up by smores, we retired to our tents under a moonless night, as the dysphonic cackle of coyotes rose in the distance.

The next morning Heather called us together to give us the upcoming itinerary, with an important caveat that we’d be leaving the river late in the day, and cutting across open territory for the next twenty-four hours or so; with little opportunity for fresh water; so, when we get down to the river—which we’d be doing soon, in a few hours—we all should be sure to fill our water bottles to the brim, and plan on conserving. By morning of the day after tomorrow, we’d be back to the river’s edge, with all the water we can drink. One final thing, the water in this area isn’t safe to drink without treatment—it is filled with bacteria—so everyone should use the water-filters that either she or Tom had brought along with them, when filling their water-bottles—unless they want a bad case of the runs; which she wouldn’t recommend…since there’s no laundry service out here, and she doubts anyone packed enough underwear with them. We all laughed.

The second day was hotter than the first. The cool air from the nighttime lingered briefly but soon burned off entirely, and by lunchtime we all were baking; and any exposed skin was beginning to turn as red as the surrounding rocks. Thankfully we had finally reached the river, and most of us took a dip to cool off. Heather and Tom pulled out their water-filters. Old-man Mitch, along with his newly formed cohort—Steve, another old-timer, and a couple in their fifties, Trina & Randy—sat together at the river’s edge watching the rest of us floating and splashing. They weren’t interested in getting wet, or disrobing, and were happy just watching for now. Beckett and Samantha, or Sam as she preferred to be called—the young, nervous couple from the back of the Subaru—were hovering not far from Heather in hopes of being first in line to use one of the water-filters. They looked a bit haggard from the heat, but the anxiety which showed in their eyes also enlivened them, giving them both the appearance of insomniacs.

As folks were drying off, a shriek and then an ensuing argument broke the relative quiet: Heather looked incredulously at Tom and asked him, “Why on earth would you just drop your pack there, on the other side of that rock, without looking first?! You dropped it right on the water-filter…you probably broke it!” To which Tom retorted, “Well, why the heck would you put the filter back there, hiding, where nobody can see it?!”

“To keep it safe, you moron!” She answered, rolling her eyes and throwing both arms up in the air, whipping her hands with a short flick and spreading her fingers for emphasis. She leaned over the rock and pushed the pack to the side, and pulled out the filter from underneath. Examining it closely, she shook her head quickly from side to side, as she tried to pull the handle up to release the plunger from the filter-body. She grimaced as she pulled harder on the handle, and the shaft came partly out before stopping again. She pushed and pulled several times, shaking it between attempts, before finally throwing it down, in disgust, against the rock—inadvertently, in her anger, making absolutely certain that it was broken. Tom, looked on coolly, with feigned nonchalance and drooping eyes, and asked her slowly, “Was that the best idea?” Beckett and Sam took several steps backward and looked at one another anxiously, and Beckett let out a nervous laugh. Heather closed her eyes and sighed deeply, letting her shoulders sag before answering, “No…no, that probably wasn’t.”

All eyes were on our guides and a hush had overtaken us, as we waited to see what would happen next. Tom stated the obvious, “Well, that filter is toast…but at least we still have mine.” He walked forward to his backpack and rummaged through it for a moment before pulling the other water-filter out. “Well folks!” He called out loudly, holding the filter up in the air and turning about in a circle. “We need to be very careful with this one, it’s all we’ve got!” Nobody laughed. But there were quite a few nervous glances between hikers, before Heather gave us an impromptu pep-talk:

“It’s okay, we’re going to be alright, better than alright…we’re gonna be great! These are the best filters on the market, and one can easily handle the demands of our entire group, and then some! It will only take a little longer with one, but we’ve got time, so let’s line up and get going! Sooner we get our bottles filled up the sooner we can get back on the trail!” No further mention was made about her unfortunate outburst, or Tom’s unfortunate carelessness. We all supposed it was just water under the bridge; if our leaders didn’t feel any further need to address it, then why should we?

As the members of our group were taking turns using the filter, old-man Mitch and his friends stayed seated were they were. Tom called out to them, saying they should bring their bottles over, to which Mitch answered that no, they were good, they didn’t need the filter, they were using Steve’s iodine tablets to disinfect their water.

“Woah! Wait a minute!” Heather exclaimed, and took a few steps towards the iodine contingent. “No! That’s not alright.” She emphasized the words as she looked around at the other members of our hiking community. “Folks, I want you all to know, iodine is not safe. That might have been something we used in the past, but you really should never resort to that means of disinfecting water anymore. Especially now that we have modern filtration which is far superior. At the very least, if you don’t have a filter, you should only use chlorine-dioxide tablets, they are safe, but never use iodine. It is extremely damaging to the thyroid.” She turned back towards Mitch & Steve, “I would really prefer it if you’d use the filter, I’m responsible for everyone here, and I just don’t want anyone to get hurt.” Steve looked as if he’d been caught with his hand in a cookie jar, but he quietly answered Heather, “I can understand that, I really do. But you know, I’ve been using iodine tablets to disinfect water since I was a kid, my dad always did it this way. And I’m fine, even after sixty years of it. Well, maybe I’m not fine, I’ll leave that up to others, but I feel fine!” Trina and Randy chuckled at this, and Trina added, “My grandfather used to take my brothers and I out on camping trips and he always used iodine too, and I turned out okay.”  

Heather looked at Tom, and he shrugged. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and negotiated, “Since you’ve already used the tabs in your bottles, go ahead and use it this time, but after this let’s all just use the filter, okay? It is much safer. Science has come a long way since you were kids you know. And I mean no disrespect by that. We just should follow the best practices, so that everyone will be okay out here. You don’t want us to have to carry you out of here, do you? That wouldn’t be fair to anyone.”

Mitch nodded approval, and the others followed. “We can play along. We’ll be model citizens from now on! Water-filters it is!” Heather smiled, and the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief, somehow feeling that we had dodged a potentially lethal bullet, aimed at the heart of our community.

(To Be Continued)


Happy Trails To Us

It was a late summer morning, the air was crisp—it was early in the day—but with a strong hint of warmth blowing in from the south. A faint cool breeze also rose from the gorge below us, as a fading counterpoint and last gasp of opposition to the overpowering heat we all expected would be our companion for the days ahead. Our small group had gathered at the trailhead and we chatted amongst ourselves as we waited for stragglers to arrive. We were novice hikers at best, about to enter a difficult and dangerous wilderness for a two-week excursion, hoping to get through the adventure alive, and also to make a few good memories along the way.

Everyone was cordial, none of us knew the others in the group very well, most meeting the others here at the trailhead for the first time. A nervous anticipation made several members of our entourage extra talkative; a young couple sitting inside the open hatch of their Subaru were speaking loudly and rapidly to the mother of a mother-son-daughter trio, telling them all about their recent trip whitewater rafting. The mother listened attentively while sipping her coffee, nodding affirmation and approval as they told their tale, while her teens stared vacantly at our surroundings—bored already.

Before embarking on our journey, the two leaders of our excursion called us all together, to gather around in a circle for formal introductions, as a first step towards building the all-important community that we would need in order to make the trip a success—for fun and for safety, and for survival. They introduced themselves—Heather, and Tom—and confirmed our hopes and expectations; that they both had many years of experience in guiding tours throughout the backcountry. They were both very amiable and exuded confidence, and set the proper tone of fun measured with wisdom. The group fed on their charisma and folks were pumped-up, and ready to rock!

Everyone gathered up their things: donning backpacks, adjusting straps, tightening down tents and sleeping bags which had been packed atop or below their bags—we checked our water-bottles and re-tied our shoelaces. One or two of us ran back quickly to our cars to get something they had forgotten, or to make sure they had locked their doors. Heather led the group down the trail, and Tom brought up the rear; we started off at a brisk pace. “The wilderness won’t wait for us forever.” he said, “It’s time to make our mark and conquer our fears!” We cheered at his brief but inspiring exhortation, as we marched along, and the cool dust filled our nostrils, and the sun rose higher over our heads, up into the blue and open sky.   

We stopped several hours later, mid-morning, for a little rest and to drink some water, before continuing on. As we sat scattered within a small area, some of us in little groups with backs leaning up against the cliff-face which we had been following for most of the morning, Heather gave us a foretaste of our itinerary for the day. We’d be continuing up the gorge for the rest of the morning, and then stopping for lunch at a beautiful overlook, which provided vast panoramic views of the surrounding mesas, the crawling river down below, and the dark mountains far-off in the distance. Tom interjected as some of us expressed surprise and concern at the name of the overlook—Rattlesnake Ridge. “Ha! That’s just an old name, nothing to worry about. There haven’t been snakes there for years,” he comforted us. He went on to explain how the climate in the area had been changing and there was just no longer enough water—or moisture even—on that ridge to sustain life; so, without water, there’s no prey, and without prey there’s no snakes. One in our group raised a small objection, noting that it had been an unusually wet summer so far, and wondered, could they have come back? No, he then assured us compassionately, it doesn’t work like that, these kinds of changes happen over long periods of time, and a few simple rains wouldn’t change anything. He chuckled, to set us all at ease, and said we’d be about as likely to see a snake up there as we would to see Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman. And we all laughed.

The morning hike was beautiful, but getting hot. Between the hot reds of the surrounding rock, the deep blues of the sky overhead, and the pure whites of the passing clouds it felt as though we had been dropped in the midst of a great, undulating American flag. The river, far below us—sparkling—reflected the bright summer sunlight so that, those of us without sunglasses, had to turn our heads, or squint and blink to keep our eyes from shedding tears. Everything was light, everything was bright, and by the time the sun passed directly overhead, there were no shadows. Not long after that, we reached Rattlesnake Ridge.

With sighs of relief we pulled our heavy backpacks from our shoulders and dropped them onto the ground. Again, we all found a spot to sit, some of us on boulders, some simply on the dirt. Our guides were absolutely right, the views from this spot were breathtaking. Cameras and cell-phones emerged and photos abounded; one young lady getting a bit too close to the edge as she snapped the perfect selfie, but caught and pulled back onto solid ground by our guide, Heather, before anything terrible happened. We ate our lunch, enjoying the scenery, and it was about the same time, when Tom had announced we’d be moving along soon, when one of the older men in the group, Mitch, made a commotion from his spot on a low ledge just off from the main group.

He leapt into the air, cursing, and jumped down from the ledge. To his right and to his left several small creatures slithered off the ledge rapidly and quickly disappeared into the dark crags which abounded in the vicinity; and one large rattlesnake followed directly in his wake. It came right for him, and looked to be attacking. Before he could catch his balance completely, or could find his legs beneath him, the darned thing struck. It hit his left boot and bounced off; and looked to have gotten its nose smushed against the hard leather. Stunned for a brief moment, but long enough for Mitch to gather his wits, Mitch then struck back—as the snake tried to gather its own wits—and, raising his very same boot in the air, Mitch brought it down decisively upon the creature’s slithery head. That was the final act in their battle; the long muscular body writhing and twirling for several moments before going limp.

The onlookers had mixed feelings. Several gasped, one turned away unable to watch, and two smiled surreptitiously and winked at one another, while shaking their heads in disbelief. After a moment, a collective sigh let out, apparently nobody had been breathing throughout this altercation. And then the reactions came: Man! I can’t believe it came after you like that!…How dare you, how could you kill it?!…It was coming right at me, it was him or me!…It didn’t have any choice, poor thing, its just living by instinct but you had a choice, you should be ashamed!…Boy, those are some good boots you’ve got!…I think I’m going to be sick!…I can’t believe he crushed its head, that was disgusting, hee-hee!…What choice did he have?!…Well, I guess we’d better be looking out for Bigfoot now!

Then somebody offered the suggestion that maybe we should pack up and get out of there as fast as we can, because there are an awful lot of creepy holes everywhere, and maybe there are more snakes where these came from. Another person reminded everyone of the other snakes that they had all seen just moments ago, slithering off into the holes just over there; what if they come back? This caused a general commotion and a flurry of activity as folks hoisted their bags onto their backs, with some hikers starting off quickly down the trail without even strapping their bags in place.

(To Be Continued)


The Frog With a Frog in His Throat

And now, a brief break—much needed—a little-known tale about an ordinary tree-frog with an extraordinary moniker, and a highly unusual, and somewhat ironic, malady. His name is Theodore, well, when time permits: Theodore Ribbitz Kronprinz und Kaiser Burggraf von Waldschloss.

Teddy, as his lazy friends like to call him, moved unexpectedly to North America from his native Germany, packed into a wooden crate filled with strudels, stollen and marzipan just last year, arriving on our shores barely in time for the holidays. Upon disembarking from his cross-sea voyage, he hid amongst the marzipan critters and made it safely, as the young delivery driver who picked him up, delivered them all to a nearby bakery and pastry shop, which also sold a bit of candies and other confections on the side.

Attempting to converse with his marzipan companions proved fruitless, and Teddy pursed his lips in his characteristic way, as his eyes bulged slightly in disapproval; and he then hopped away and out of that store, searching for more stimulating fraternity—others more suitable and appropriate to his station in life. His involuntary journey thus far had not disturbed him greatly, he was a tolerant and imperturbable amphibian after all, and of high breeding, though not ignorant or unresponsive to the plight of the common frog. In general, frogs of all stations have this equanimity, as they are, in their own words, “alike on land and in water”, meaning, they can be comfortable in a variety of locations and situations, not to mention in widely diverse company.

So Teddy, or ‘Ribbs’ as he liked to be called—but only close family tended to call him that—wandered a bit through the streets of Baltimore, all the while noticing, what most people might call a small ‘lump’, caught in his throat, which seemed to be growing. He first noticed it while traveling in the crate, but hadn’t paid it much attention at the time. He gagged and choked, and then coughed, trying to dislodge it, but with no luck. A raven on a nearby telephone line, overhead, was watching Theodore throughout all of this, thinking he looked mighty tasty, though unsure what the darn frog’s problem was, and then she thought better of eating him, considering her own delicate digestion, nothing to be toyed with, and certainly not worth risking on this paltry, little green meal. Hardly a meal even, more of an appetizer really, but she flew down even so, out of curiosity, and landed next to the unaware and pardoned appetizer, still gagging and hacking away on the side of the street.

“What seems to be the problem, little man? Cat got your tongue!?” Upon which, she cackled with laughter, and flapped her wings up and down in approval of her clever witticism.

Theodore Ribbitz Kronprinz und Kaiser Burggraf von Waldschloss looked up at her, with bulging eyes, made even more bulging-er than usual from his coughing, and spoke thusly: “I pray, dear raptor, or what ‘ere you be.” He began, using his finest old and middle English, of which his grandfather, Baron Kronprinz und Kaiser Burgraf von Waldshloss, had taught him, being the only member in their family to have studied any foreign languages whatsoever, and having a predilection for classical studies. “No, it be not a cat that hav’est my tongue, silly goose, or what ‘ere fowl you be, but a…squeak-ichth-eek-gaachh.” His speech having suddenly been taken over, most embarrassingly, by that little glitch in his throat, and making him to sound a bit like a stepped-upon mouse, or a frog going through puberty.

Upon which the raven crowed with laughter, wings a-flapping wildly, and she retorted, “Ah, I see. It be a frog in thee throat!!” She mocked him.

Upon this comment, he turned bright red, but unfortunately for him, he really just turned a strange shade of brown, being the color a green frog actually turns, when he blushes. He opened his wide mouth to make reply, hoping something witty might come to him, but to his chagrin, he could think of nothing in time, and instead he just stood there silently, with gaping wide mouth and bulging eyes. The raven leaned forward expectantly, waiting for his answer, her beak parting slightly as mirth rose up from her bosom, her gleaming eyes gleefully sparkling in the sunlight, but before her good humor erupted again from her belly, at his expense, Teddy turned and hopped away in a flash, too stunned with embarrassment to withstand another moment of it—and certainly, were he a tadpole still, he would have retreated with tail between his legs.

There are many other things that can be said about Theodore’s journey, but for now, I will only tell the next important event, about how he found his way to ‘a people’ most like him in every way, among whom he settled and lived happily. Immediately after his embarrassing debacle, as he made his retreat away from that boisterous raven, he discovered a local branch of the Baltimore public library and so, being a fairly erudite and scholarly frog, he high-footed his way into the archives, where he discovered that a large community of Germanic tree frogs had emigrated many years earlier, and had settled in the low-country of southern Pennsylvania, in a wooded copse not far from Littlestown. With glee, he exclaimed joyfully at this discovery, from his perch behind the micro-fiche machine, which had been unplugged and tucked on a small table behind the periodicals from the 1950’s, all which were waiting there to be discarded, if the custodian could ever get around to actually doing his job.

The librarian heard what she thought was a mouse squeaking, but which was truly just our poor tiny Teddy, with his unfortunate ailment, and so she called maintenance, asking them to set traps again, for the umpteenth time, and why don’t they ever do what she asks them the first time?! As they prepared to send someone over to set the traps, Teddy made his way out the back door, and began his trip to Littlestown to find ‘his people’. In fact, he even made it most of the way there, before the custodian did finally make it over to the archive room to set the traps. First, he couldn’t find them, then he got hungry and had to have a snack, and after that he got tired, and so he took a nap. Well, by the time he woke up again, it was time to go home for the day. The next morning, when he got to the library, he forgot. And it wasn’t until sometime the middle of the following week, when the librarian heard the mouse again, and this time it really was a mouse and not ‘Ribbs’, when she called the custodian again, and asked why he never can do what she asks the first time, he got the message and finally set the traps.

By the time the librarian checked on the traps, and realized the custodian had forgotten to set them with any kind of food, or bait in them, the mice had long-since left the archive room and had resettled in the basement, where the custodian had left a garbage-bag filled with leftovers from the break-room refrigerator. He had honestly intended to take it out to the dumpster and throw it away, but as he was making his way to the back doors, he got the worst Charlie-horse in his leg and he had to return to the supply room where he went to get something to put on it. After that, it was about time to go home for the day.

Meanwhile, in a small wooded area, not far from the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, a small community of immigrant German tree-frogs just added a member to their numbers. And what a member indeed, one with aristocratic pedigree and noble heritage, and a fine young bachelor with prospects, we might add. Yes, of course, you know who: Theodore Ribbitz Kronprinz und Kaiser Burggraf von Waldschloss. And, you’ll be happy to know, well, the little glitch in his throat eventually took care of itself. No, the cat hadn’t gotten his tongue, and it certainly wasn’t a frog in his throat. It turns out that Teddy is allergic to marzipan, who knew!? He had eaten some on the trip over from Europe and was just suffering a little anaphylactic episode, but nothing too serious. He’s a frog after all, and as they all like to say about themselves, “we’re alike on land and in water”, which is to say, that they can be comfortable in all situations, and nothing much really bothers them, not for very long.

*  *  *


Turning, Not Thinking

I see now that arguments to persuade, accomplish nothing. I was a fool. Thoughts, however well expressed, fall on deaf ears. Unless our soul desires to understand, it will learn nothing; unless it is filled with Godliness, it will swirl endlessly in emptiness—thoughts, like tattered paper in the wind. Unless we turn away from ourselves, towards the God of all; we will always be estranged from one another. There is no other hope that can bridge these gulfs, or which can heal these wounds. Madness runs amok in this world, but healing abides in the stillness. Jesus Christ, the healer of us all, awaits our turning back, into a relationship with him. 


I work because I live; I write because I die.

I work to fill my belly; I write to fill my soul.


Still The Heart

Be still my heart, and see—

what is it if they take my home,

the loss of wood and glass.

Be still my heart, and see—

what is it if they take my wealth,

my false securities.

Be still my heart, and see—

what is it if they take my voice,

the loss of empty pride.

Be still my heart, and see—

what is it if they take my hope,

I’ll place my hope in Thee.

Be still my heart, and see—

what is it if they take my faith,

I’ll call Your Faith to me.

Be still my heart, and see—

what is it if they take my love,

I’ll let Your Love fill me.

Be still my heart, and see—

what is it if they take my life,

I’ll give my life to Thee.

Be still my heart, and see!


Proverbs For A Modern World

It is better to speak quietly from the heart sincerely, and face the wrath of others, than it is to speak a lie to please, and be loudly applauded. 

Better that unpleasantness assault us from without, than self-deception erode us from within. 

Better to be accused by others for one’s convictions, than to be convicted by one’s own conscience. 

Better to be silent against rage, than to rage against silence; and to hold one’s tongue before they cut it out.

Better to defend truth and face discomfort, than promote deception and enjoy comfort.

Better to listen, than to speak; and to speak after you’ve heard.

Better to bow humbly in obedience before God, than to stand proudly on parade before men.