The Trees have Eyes

The weather was fine, just right for biking along the Katy Trail. The heat spell earlier in the week had broken, just a little, and though sweat was still forming a track down her back, a slight breeze sent cool fingers up her spine.

Unlike the first two days of her trek, when the heat and the humidity actually spurred her to ride faster just so she could get to that evening’s B & B, today was so pleasant that she set a leisurely pace, stopping frequently to enjoy the scenery. Now the sun was starting to set and according to the milestone makers along the way, she was still a long distance away from the night’s lodging. She should push on, but convinced herself that a few minutes of walking wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

On her left a field of new corn waved as far as she could see, when she could see it through the cracks in the trees along the path. The late afternoon light highlighted the bugs flitting about among the wild flowers by the side of the road, and a dragonfly would occasionally hover in front of her face as if to tell her to have a care, fragile things were underfoot. All right little bug, she told it. I’m not going to step on you or your kin. On the right were the typical Missouri limestone cliffs, with a thick, dark picket of trees, bushes, and vines hiding the base of the cliff from view. She tended to avoid that side of the road because of the overhanging branches and the very real threat of ticks, though the shade yesterday would have been welcome.

She came to an old, abandoned dirt road that led to a surprisingly sturdy looking rust and wooden bridge over a stream near the path. She never could resist a bridge and walked onto it a little ways, peeking over the sides into the clear waters. The trees grew thick and wild along the water, and the colors were a dark blue-green mixed with lighter green, tipped ever so slightly with gold, colors common for late summer in Missouri. Returning to the path, she grabbed her water bottle and started to drink, wishing she could stick her face in the stream and open her mouth like a fish, swallowing the cold non-plastic tainted liquid from its tempting depths; but she knew that the water likely contained god knows what contaminants from the nearby farms.

With her mind focused on pesticides and a rare steak at journey’s end, a movement to her right caught her eye and what she saw caused her to choke mid-swallow. For a moment, a hasty half-experienced moment, it looked like one of the trees had eyes.

After she recovered from her coughing, she looked more closely at the tree but there wasn’t anything unusual about it. No eyes looking back, no waving arms or menacing air. Just an ordinary tree. She moved closer to peer through the thick vines next to and surrounding the tree and caught glimpses of hill leading down from the trail; at the bottom of the hill, a glade had formed between it and the limestone cliffs. Just as she reached out to push the vines aside for a better look, a golden brown shape burst through the trees, startling her again, and almost making her fall over backwards. She turned around and just got a glimpse of a large bird, a hawk or an eagle, taking off across the field, sun shining on its feathers. Well, that explains the eyes, she thought. The breeze picked up and she shivered a bit, though the weather was still very warm. Chastising herself for her foolishness, and suddenly aware of how much the sun had gone down, she grabbed her bike and headed off fast, much faster than she normally would ride on the loose crushed limestone that covered the path.

She didn’t get far, though, before a shadow moved out of the forest and directly in front of her bike — a squirrel from the looks of it, but she couldn’t really tell because she was too busy trying to brake and maneuver around the creature. She lost control of the bike and hit the solid green wall next to the path at a fast rate, fast enough to break through the vines, sending her flying out, down the hill and into the glade she’d just looked at a few minutes before. The bottom came quickly, too quickly, as she desperately tried to maintain control; somewhere along the way she hit a branch or a rock or a bush, who knows, and she flew over the handles of the bike and felt pain, too much pain, and then darkness.

When she woke she was in bed at the B &B, curled up under a lavender sprigged down comforter, looking out through the lacy windows at the sun just starting to break through. She could smell bacon cooking and faintly hear others stirring and knew she should get up; but it was pleasant lying in the soft mattress of the antique bed, warm and drowsy, listening to the birds just starting their morning sounds. However, she had to get up if for no other reason her kidneys were telling her she needed to relieve herself, now. Throwing the comforter back she ran to the bathroom, sitting quickly on the surprisingly cold seat and began to pee.

The warm urine pooling underneath her woke her suddenly and she lay there astonished and ashamed that she had wet herself while in bed, something she hadn’t done since she was a child. She made a move to sit up, but her body wouldn’t respond. At first she thought she was still dreaming, having that classic nightmare where you’re running and running but not really moving. Gradually, though, she became aware of the darkness around her and could smell the musty smells of earth and grass, and knew this was real and wasn’t her bed. Where she was, she wasn’t sure, but her head hurt, pounding in time with her heart.

She could feel pain in other parts of her body so she wasn’t paralyzed, or at least, paralyzed completely. However, when she tried to move again, the most she could do was shift her arms about and lift her left shoulder a little off the ground. She was afraid to try much more because if her spine was injured she could paralyze herself permanently from the movements.

As her mind continued to clear, she became aware that night wasn’t completely dark; there was a sliver of a moon in the sky somewhere and faint signs of its light trickled through the dark shapes around her. She could see outlines of trees and bushes and a brighter glint showed her twisted pieces of metal not far from where she lay. She recognized it as her bike and assumed that somehow she must have been in a bike accident, but she couldn’t remember what caused it or even where she was.

Gradually she became aware of sounds in the woods around her, the slight rustle of a breeze through the leaves and what sounded like small night creatures searching for food. She wasn’t that worried about in the woods at night, but she was anxious for morning to come, bringing people with it, and hopefully help.

She drifted in and out of sleep, or perhaps unconsciousness, but eventually the light increased and her surroundings became more green than black. She could see she was in some kind of small glade, with a hill on one side and a cliff on the other. She wondered if she’d fallen off the cliff, but careful searching showed a faint break in the vines that covered the top of the hill and disturbances in the bushes along the hillside to her location. It was the sight of the hill that began to stir the fragments of her memory and she recognized enough of her surroundings to know she was on the Katy Trail, and this led to fuzzy recollections of her deciding to take a week and bike the Trail. She still had no idea of how she got there, but that wasn’t important as long as she could get help. The Trail was widely used. There would be help.

Her head hurt a bit less, but she was thirsty and she kept her eyes on the break in the vine, waiting to see the shadow of someone walking past. The morning came and went and the only movement was in the glade itself, birds and squirrels going about their business as if she didn’t exist. Her thirst became stronger and she looked to see if her water bottle had fallen near her but couldn’t see it in the weeds.

As she waited, she tried moving from time to time to see if the temporary paralysis had let up but she still couldn’t shift more than her arms, and one shoulder. Trying to do more caused pain sharp in her back and shoulders, enough to make her almost black out; it also left her legs feeling numb, which scared her and her fear just made her more thirsty.

In the afternoon she awoke from a half sleep by voices faint, but moving closer. Relieved that she was finally going to be found, she started calling out but her voice was so weak from lying there for so long. Still she kept calling out, pleading with the people to help her but as they got closer she could hear the sound of bicycle wheels and know that there was no way that bike riders would either see her or hear her.

Their shadows passed quickly, too quickly, and still she called out, desperate to be heard. She kept calling long after they were gone. She was still calling as the night drew in and the shadows become longer, stretching to cover her in a blanket of chill darkness.

She was thirsty, so thirsty, and beginning to panic a bit about how long she was going to be lying there before being found. She knew she’d be found. Quite probably the next day, when she didn’t show up wherever it is she was supposed to be for the night. She knew it. She really did. Another night of dark shadows, except this night the normal sounds of the forest seemed more deliberate, as if it had just become aware of her presence. No breeze rustled the leaves of the trees, but they rustled just the same — from tree to tree, moving in a circle around her. There was no menace to the sound, but there was a calculated deliberateness about it that was more frightening then the sound of a slavering bear would have been. She felt around until her hand touched on a rock, which she grabbed and held tightly in her fist. She tried to keep her eyes open, peering into the gloom at every fresh noise, but she dozed sometime before morning and when she woke, it was full light again.

That day the surrounding green seemed thicker, more vibrant. Rather than a single shade of green, she began to pick out subtle differences of color in the bushes and trees, the weeds, and grasses around her. Rays of sunlight filtered to the forest floor, motes of dust floating about in the light. Birds would land on the branches of the trees near her and cock their head from side to side, looking at her with shadowed eyes. It should have been an idyllic scene but there was an otherworldly feel to it that made her uncomfortable. The feeling grew as the morning ran into afternoon and eventually towards evening and no shadows came to darken the break in the vines.

It was just as the light was beginning to fail that she realized that her surroundings weren’t the odd note in that glade. She was. That night she didn’t try to sleep or stay awake and drifted in and out, without being able to tell the difference. She’d long ago dropped the protective rock and her thirst was so great, she’d grab at blades of grass to suck and chew, hoping to get a drop or two of moisture from them. But the grass near her was more brown then green, and the bitter taste just made the thirst worse.

Morning came and she was only dimly aware of her surroundings but it seemed as if the forest was drawing near her, closing her in. She lifted a blurry eye to the top of the hill and noticed that vines had filled in the break she’d made when her bike had crashed through. She knew that somewhere inside she was alarmed, but it was as if another person was experiencing the fear and the desperation, and she, her aware self, was a detached observer. Mid-day, a sound broke through her filtered awareness — a harsh, ringing sound foreign to the glade. At first she thought it might be her imagination or another bike rider going by too fast to see either wrecked bike or rider behind shadows and weeds. As it continued, though, she recognized the sound — Beethoven. Ta-ta-ta-dum. Ta-ta-ta-DUM. Over and over again, the four familiar notes sounded. It was her cell phone, which she’d programmed to play Beethoven when it rang to impress her friends but secretly, she would have preferred Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild.

Born to Be Wild, she laughed to herself, looking around at the tangled and frenzied growth surrounding her trying to catch a glimpse of the phone’s silver color, struggling, weakly, to move, to find the phone. Just like her water bottle it was buried in the bushes far out of reach, too far to help; useless for anything other than providing a break in the forest noises. When it stopped ringing, she sank back, too tired to be frustrated, and only mildly curious about the identity of the caller and if they would leave a message. She mimicked her voicemail recording, faint, hoarse sounds coming through dry and cracked lips, telling the other person, so sorry, but she wasn’t available at the moment. Yes, I’m lying at the bottom of a hill surrounded by trees and wild things that don’t like me much, and I’m hurt, and I want to go home. The call was really important to her, so please, leave a message. And while they were at it, could they also send an ambulance, pizza truck, and beer wagon?

More birds gathered around her that afternoon, as if their weight would force her to get to her feet and leave. This glade was their space, their tiny bit of land carved out from the reach of man, hidden by cliff and thick growth. Her being there was a disruption, an abomination. I’d leave my friends if I could, she whispered, her voice barely more than a wisp of sound soon vanished.

I’d leave if I could. I’d leave if I could. I’d leave if I could. I’d leave if I could. Again and again she repeated the words out loud, and finally in the silence and stillness of her mind.

That night as darkness fell she found her leg twitching, first one and then the other. Slowly, carefully, she found she could move and she pulled herself to her feet, and eventually, haltingly, up the hill until reaching the white path shining in the moonlight. She was tired and sore but could walk and she moved down the path for what seemed like a long time until she saw a farm with lights on. She would have cried with joy but there was no water for tears so all she could do was stumble to the door and knock weakly against it. The farmer opened the door, eyes wide with shock when he saw this disheveled, exhausted woman in front of him, begging weakly for water. Please, water.

He led her into the kitchen, his wife helping, and poured her water from a pitcher on the table. The pitcher was glass, she noticed, and the water so cool that beads formed on the outside from the warm humidity coming through the open kitchen window. She was too weak to hold the cup, so the farmer held the water to her lips and the first sweet wonderful drops fell into her mouth and down her throat. She sucked at the water desperately and when he took the glass away, she almost screamed in frustration.

More, she cried. More, please.

Again, he held the glass to her lips and again she tasted the moisture. Again he would draw away and again she would beg, but at some point her thirst lightened just enough, barely enough, and she began to think that she might live, after all.

She woke with a start, and with the faint hint of moisture on her lips. When she saw by the light of a new day that she was still in the forest, she beat at the ground with her fists and swore at the trees and the birds until she ran out of words strong enough, but neither the forest nor the birds seem moved by her anger.

In the tree just above her, a flash of gold, brown color showed a large hawk perched on a limb, peering down at her intently from cold brown eyes located above a nasty looking beak. She thought about finding the rock again, but what was the use? She was going to be dead by morning. Her injuries and the lack of water and food were going to kill her and the birds might as well have what was left—she wouldn’t need it anymore.

She lay still, completely still, only her eyes moving — from tree to rock, from bird to flower. She could see the veins in the leaves nearest her, and marveled that she hadn’t noticed how delicate a leaf was. How many times had she stepped over leaves or walked on them, or pushed them impatiently out of her way without really seeing their beauty? As she breathed in the scent of the forest no longer seemed so musty or stale. There was a bright freshness to the green around her, a smell of life in the dirt.

As the day wore on, she also looked at the birds that hoped about, flashes of color from gray feather and red, and the brown feathers of the hawk never leaving the perch above her head. She could see the edges of his feathers, tipped with a light white. She could make out each individual hair. The sun fell on her face, and it seemed softer somehow; warm and comforting. She thought about her life and her family and friends and how she’d miss them, and hoped they’d miss her, but any grief or regrets were tempered by a growing weakness that brought a tranquility she seemed to project and which echoed back at her from her surroundings.

I never knew that dying could be so peaceful, she thought. With a sigh, she looked one more time around the glade, the place that had seemed so foreign but now seemed to welcome her as one of its own. As the darkness in her mind grew, she could feel blade of grass and feather on wing move close beside her, as if to provide her comfort on her trip.

She was remembering that moment in the glade two months later, as she was packing her purse with belongings from the table near the hospital bed she’d occupied for so long. Her movements were still stiff, unsure, and the doctors said her recovery would be a long time coming, but everyone agreed that it was a miracle she was alive.

A bike rider out for an early ride had spotted her hand just barely piercing the shadow of the vines that surrounded her. He’d knelt down and touched fingers to her wrist, expecting to feel nothing but cold from the blue-tinged skin. When he’d felt a faint pulse he’d been astonished, but no more than the paramedics and the doctors when they realized that she had somehow crawled up the steep hill where she’d fallen, in spite of her serious injuries. Yes, it was a real miracle she was alive.

She looked one more time around the room and smiled at her mother who was packing a suitcase with the rest of her items. Among them was the dirty, torn shirt she’d worn when she’d been found and which the hospital had stuffed into a bag when she’d been brought into the emergency room.

“Dear, should I throw this away?”

“No. No, I’d like to look at it.”

She held it in her arms and breathed in the faint musty smell of dirt and grass. As she pulled it closer to her face, lost in memory, something scratched at her cheek. Putting her hand into the folds of the collar, she pulled out a feather. A single feather, golden brown, lightly tipped with white.



Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Coming home from the park tonight, I had the windows rolled down to catch the evening breezes, and the music cranked loud, enjoying being out of the house and away from the computer. I was on autopilot, not really paying attention to my surroundings until I pulled up behind a dark green car at the spotlight. The license plate read KRSTOF.

KRSTOF. Kristof. A name that evokes images of dark gypsies with mysterious ways, brilliant red sashes holding hair back from unnerving black eyes. I peered into the back window of the car but the glass was too dark and the sun against it to bright to see anything more than a shadow of a head. A male head. Of course.

When the light changed and as we drove, I thought about this man in the green car, with the name that rolls across your tongue like fine chocolate or the merest wisp of fine cognac.

Kristof is a hiker, like myself, but unlike me, with my walks along the Katy Trail and Powder Valley, he’s traveled all throughout the world, hiking the fjords in Norway and the hills of Scotland. He speaks with a slight accent, the product of his early youth spent in Europe, as the son of a university professor who taught medieval history.

His face is lean and dark from the sun, and wrinkles formed grooves down his cheeks and a single line between his eyes. He’s is in his 50’s, but age sits on Kristof as lushly and caressingly as the dark, sable soft mustache sits over his thin lips.

His hands grab the leather wrapping of the steering wheel, fingers long and slender but strong; gentle hands with calloused fingertips, a legacy of years of playing classical guitar. Around his neck he wears a silver necklace, weighed down by an extraordinarily carved amber leaf, held in place by intertwined silver vines. The pendant was a gift on his 40th birthday from his mother, an artistic and eccentric woman who used to make him soft boiled eggs sprinkled with chives and dotted with caviar for Sunday breakfast.

His parents are separated, and have been for years; though apart, they still remain close. There is love between them and always will be, but it’s not enough to overcome their need to be free — a need that chafes at the bonds of daily cohabitation. As soon as Kristof was old enough, they talked with him about this need to be apart and from that moment he alternated his time between them, content with his odd but satisfying family.

Kristoff’s father is retired, living in Denmark and doing research for a book on Margaret, Queen of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Margaret, a queen in a land dominated by men, was gifted enough to capture the hearts of the people and keep peace in her homeland of Denmark; strong enough to extend that peace through marriage and alliance to include Denmark’s neighbors, a rare moment of unification for an area with strong regional ties.

Kristof’s mother is visiting Russia, searching for fine specimens of Baltic amber, the stone she uses for all of her jewelry. At one time she used other stones, such as onyx and opal and Lorimar, but after her first creation with amber — the very pendant on her son’s necklace — she would work with no other material. In Moscow, she meets with an old friend and over cups of strong tea served in tall glasses held by delicate silver filigree, they talk of rumors that another piece of the famous Amber Room has surfaced. Entirely crafted of fine amber in different hues, the Amber Room was a gift to Peter the Great from the King of Prussia, and they say to walk within it was like bathing in pure sunlight. The room disappeared during the War, stolen by the Nazis and some said destroyed in a fire, others said at the bottom of Baltic Sea when the ship carrying it was sunk.

As much as he loves his parents, though, Kristof’s mind is not on them, Margaret, or amber. He’s thinking of a trip two weeks ago when he was visiting a close friend who lives in Maine. They had spent a fine day out on a boat owned by his friend’s brother, sailing about the bay with the Atlantic breezes cool as they blew through Kristof’s thick, dark hair; the sun warm as it touched upon the glint of silver at his temples and in his mustache.

The boat was trim and sleek and the gathering of friends and family was warm and friendly, made more so by another guest, the cousin of his friend’s brother’s wife. He had noticed her as soon as he stepped on to the boat, a woman with chestnut hair down to her shoulders softly framing a face lovely, but not beautiful. She had a light dusting of freckles across her nose that he only noticed that evening when they walked along the beach and he bent down to meet her face tipped up to meet his. The moonlight and the golden glow of the antique streetlight next to the beach picked out her soft grey/green eyes, a hint of laughter and something else, something more subtle, reflected back at him.

In the morning, they shared strong, rich coffee made smooth by sweet creme, and spread blueberry jam on fresh, still warm muffins. The day promised to be another fine one, with only faint wisps of fog curling around the trees by the shore. They ate on the porch, sitting in rockers worn grey from years in the salt air and smooth by the bodies of past visitors, occasionally tossing crumbs to the seagulls that shamelessly begged at their feet.

Kristof remembered her soft curves and generous mouth and the blue-green tang of the ocean, always the ocean behind and around them; but more, he remembered her laughter and how well their words met and melded into crystaline phrases he could still recall. He told her about autumn in St. Louis, looking at her from the corner of his eye as he spoke about the deep greens of the hills turned into the same brilliant colors of his mother’s collection of fine amber. He also made sure to talk about nights filled with delicately fried catfish accompanied by dark beer, and cool, blue jazz. His words were both a promise and a lure, and he wondered whether he should wait until he got home, or pull over then and there and call her on his cell phone.

At that moment, Kristof turned into the left turn lane, and I pulled up beside him and then passed, eyes forward and on the traffic surrounding my car.


Jade Bookends

There is a great Center of Learning far away in a country whose name cannot be pronounced. It is a simple place made of simple materials, but it provides comfortable shelter for those who study there.

However, not all that the Center holds is plain, for it possesses a beautiful set of bookends made out of the finest jade. They are a light gold in color: made of the finest mutton fat jade, and carved into intricate village scenes. The detail in the carving is so clear that looking at them, you would expect that the people and the sheep and the birds depicted would take breath from one moment to the next. When the lights in the room are on, the jade glows as if it has its own internal illumination.

The bookends were a gift given by a grateful student five hundred years ago, and rumor had it they were carved at least five hundred years before that. They held a place of honor in the Center Library, sitting on a shelf made of crystal and brass. All in all, this shelf and the bookends stood out greatly amidst all the wooden shelves and the books with their slightly dusty and muted but still colorful bindings. Though the elders eschewed emotions such as pride, they did ensure that all important visitors to the Center were shown into the Library at least once, so they could behold the wonder of the jade bookends.

One day, one of the Neophytes was in the Library studying, sitting at a table quite close to the crystal shelf. From the corner of her eye, she spotted the First Master enter the room and with resolute determination, approach the shelf and pull the bookend on the right slightly to the front and then turn it slightly inwards. When finished, the bookend was no longer faced in the same direction as its mate.

Curious, and taught that one should question actions that seem incomprehensible, the Neophyte approached him, asking, “First Master, I noticed that you pulled one of the jade bookends out and around so it’s no longer aligned with its mate. May I ask you the purpose of this action?”

The First Master, still young and robust and somewhat famous throughout the Center for having a charismatic personality and fiery spirt, laughed and clapped the Neophyte on the shoulder.

“I pull the jade bookend out every day at this time, young learner, in order to celebrate the spirit of chaos”.

He opened his arms wide and slowly turned in a circle, as if to encompass all within his grasp, his rich woolen robes making faint sweeping sounds on the stone floor as he moved.

“It is from chaos that we learn, and it is from chaos that we seek new directions and find new paths. When you enter a forest that hasn’t been tamed, do you not see the disarray of the trees and the plants? Doesn’t it make you yearn to explore its depths? Without chaos, we wouldn’t have mystery, and there would be little new to explore because all would be the same as all else.”

“Look you, now, at the bookends”, he said, pointing back at the shelf. “Do they not now stand out by the very nature of their discontinuity? Doesn’t your eye now see that which was lost in its day by day sameness? Doesn’t this act of chaos provide fresh insight, and a new perspective?”

The Neophyte looked and found that First Master was right: the bookends did stand out more; catching and holding eyes long since used to their beauty. And she marveled at how the light, coming from new directions, showed nuances in the carving the Neophyte had not seen before. It was almost like looking at them the first time, and experiencing that first jolt of delight at their beauty.

The Neophyte thanked the First Master most sincerely for his wisdom, and returned to her seat to contemplate the bookends and the lessons they taught.

As she was gazing at them, Second Master entered the room, and she also walked up to the shelf. But where First Master pulled the jade bookends out of alignment, Second Master carefully put the bookends back into their original positions, pushed hard up against the books, and facing rigidly forward. They were as precise as soldiers on a battlefield, or pearls in a finely matched necklace.

As Second Master polished the bookends with the ends of her sleeve, the Neophyte, puzzled anew because this action contradicted First Master’s, hurried over to her side.

“Second Master,” she asked. “Why did you just carefully align the jade bookends? After all, doesn’t the fact that the bookends weren’t in the same position, add a bit of mystery? Doesn’t their previous state of disarray make you curious as to how they got that way? Isn’t some of the bookends’ beauty lost when they are rigidly aligned?”

Second Master gave the Neophyte a gentle smile, and the Neophyte basked in the warmth of her regard.

“Every day at this time, I come to the Library and straighten the bookends to their proper position; to restore harmony to both the shelf and the room. After all, it is from harmony that we grow and enrich ourselves. ”

She gestured to the window that overlooked the kitchen garden. “When you see a carefully tended garden with flowers, or fruit, or the good green vegetables we love, do you not see that the hand of order is necessary if we are survive long enough to achieve true enlightenment?”

“Look you, young daughter, at the shelf. Doesn’t it now reflect the inner calmness we seek in order to better know ourselves? Don’t the bookends now blend with the shelf and the books and become something more by being part of an ordered whole? And aren’t the bookshelves more secure in their proper positions?”

The Neophyte did look and could see the wisdom of Second Master’s philosophy. When the bookends were returned to their original order, they balanced beautifully with the books and the shelf, and it was harmonious. In addition, she could see the benefits of using the bookends properly, because they did now look much more secure.

She thanked Second Master most profoundly, and returned to her seat. But she could not return to her studies because she was sorely confused.

She could agree with First Master about the beauty resulting from the disarray caused by moving the bookends out of alignment. She could see the strengths of chaos, because it made the familiar less so, and made you want to explore, and discover and above all, learn.

However, the Neophyte also agreed with the Second Master, about the need for order. Without that order, she could see now that the jade bookends were precarious in their position and could have–horrors!– fallen off the shelf and been damaged. Without harmony and order, there is a risk of destruction.

But how to reconcile these two philosophies was beyond the Neophytes limited learning, and her confusion increased the more she thought about the paradox. It was with relief that she saw the Grand Master enter the room. If anyone could find the path between these two conflicting views, it was the most ancient and revered of the Center’s scholars.

The Grand Master walked slowly, and used a cane to steady steps grown uneven with extreme age. It was said by some in the Center that the Grand Master had been there as long as the jade bookends, and while the bookends remained, so would the Grand Master.

The Neophyte approached the ancient person with diffidence, bowing low before taking the Master’s side as they moved slowly across the room, matching the speed of her steps in deference to the age of the other.

“Grand Master, I beg your pardon for intruding, but I’m perplexed by conflicting philosophies and need your guidance.”

“Ask on, child”, the Grand Master answered, the sound soft with a hint of humor along with the age in the voice.

“Well, First Master said that it is from chaos that we grow; that we need chaos to see the beauty of that which becomes too familiar. Without chaos, there is no need to explore and without exploration, we do not learn.”

The Grand Master replied, “First Master is very wise for his age, and a credit to this Center. He is right. We do need chaos, for without chaos there would be no need to reach beyond ourselves, to search out new paths, or find new discoveries. All knowledge has at its root, a small kernel of chaos.”

The Neophyte acknowledge the words, but frowned, more confused than ever. “But Grand Master, Second Master said that we must seek order among the chaos; for it is from order that we achieve the harmony with which to enrich ourselves. Without order, we would wonder about acting without purpose, perhaps even destructively so.”

The Grand Master continued walking, occasionally thumping the end of the walking stick on the ground, the sound echoing slightly in the huge room.

“The Second Master is rich with knowledge and her spiritual and mental growth over time has been a delight to behold. Her words to you demonstrate this, because we do need order to discover harmony, and it is from harmony that we become stronger, better people. We cannot reach beyond ourselves, while standing in the midst of shifting sands.”

By this time they, Neophyte was frustrated, as well as confused and, speaking rapidly and even a bit loudly, she exclaimed, “But Grand Master, how can we embrace both chaos and order?”

Thrusting an agitated finger at the bookends on the bookshelf, which they had drawn near, the Neophyte said, “First Master moves the jade bookends out of alignment to introduce chaos, while Second Master moves them back into alignment to introduce order. But the bookends can’t be both chaotic and ordered!”

As the Neophyte was speaking, the Grand Master was pulling a book down from the shelf, replacing it with one pulled from a deep pocket.

“Jade bookends?” the Master asked.


The night before Christmas

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

with first person singular annotation, updated to the new Millennium

T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

    • (Well, there was a mouse once. Name of George, married to a nice little brown field mouse named Alice. Last Christmas, George and Alice went caroling at the neighbor’s. There they were, singing Jingle Bells in these squeaky little voices:


Jingle bells. Jingle bells. Jingle all the way. Oh what fun we’ll have…

    • At that point Zoe, the house cat as well as resident music critic ate George and Alice.)

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there;

    • (Damn right the stockings were hung with care – four Christmases ago, suckers fell into the fireplace, caught on fire, generated a ton of smoke, and set off the fire alarm. The brand new fire system kicked in, spraying the entire living room with fire suppressant foam. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.)

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

    • (I let the kids eat way too much sugar. After they bounced off of every wall in the house, juggled the bulbs on the tree, played Frisbee with Aunty Jane’s fruitcase, and terrified the dog and Zoe the house cat, the kids finally fell into a sugar-induced coma. Whereby I put the little cherubs to bed and went down and had a stiff drink.)

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.

    • (Mamma had a headache. Again.)

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

    • (Grabbing my gun, first.)

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

    • (Shutters? Sash? What the hell kind of English is this?)

The moon of the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave luster of mid-day to objects below.

    • (Street lights helped some, too.)

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

    • (Shit! I knew I shouldn’t have dropped that acid in college!)

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

    • (It was on the news – John St. Nicholas, wanted felon and bank robber. Personally, I would have picked something faster than a sleigh for a getaway. Wonder where he stole the reindeer?

More rapid than eagles his courses they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comment! On Cupid! On Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

    • (Ah oh – I think we just entered into “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest”. Where’s the Chief?)

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the courses they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas, too.

    • (Damn that stuff I took in college must have been good shit!)

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound

    • (Hey, we think something crawled in there and died a few weeks ago. Can you grab it on your way in?)

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

    • (Man, fur is just so yesterday. No one wears fur any more.)

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack

    • (Damn telemarketers will stop at nothing to make a sale.)

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

    • (And he was the scariest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen.)

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

    • (Having a little hashish, eh man? Okay, okay. I can dig it.)

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

    • (One word, bud: treadmill. Big time.)

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

    • (Hysteria will do that to a person.)

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

    • (Because I’m packing. A fully loaded 45 semi-automatic. One wrong move, chubby man, and you’re toast. And your little reindeer, too.)

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

    • (First acid. Then hash. Now the fat man’s snorting blow. Hell, I’d fly too.)

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

    • (And at that point I woke up and realized that I must have been dreaming. Yeah, it was all a dream. Except next morning when I went to get the paper there were these big piles of shit all over the lawn…)

Oh, yeah – Merry Christmas. And Happy New Year.