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Players

Vintage Brew

Talking Turkey

Storytime

Playing With Fire

Dropping. . .And. . .Letting Go. . .

FRAGMENTS…KINDLING…PIECES…

Moooving On. . .

Sunday On Random

MYSTERY at 107 degrees 57 minutes 30 seconds MERIDIAN



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Third Wish
A NOVEL IN FIVE PARTS

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Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff -- complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?
December 21, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
Winter solstice – December 21, 2014

PLAYERS

“What would you like to eat for dinner, dear?”
“How about lamb stew and pecan pie for dessert?”
“Pecan pie? Since when do you like pecan pie?”

A conversation last Thursday in the canned-soup section of a natural foods grocery store in Durango, Colorado.

The lady asking is a trim, well-dressed, grey-haired woman in her sixties.
She’s busy focusing on the infinite assortment of soup on the shelf.
The lady glances over her shoulder at me.
She turns and laughs.
“Oops, you’re not my husband – please excuse me.”

“I’ll come if you’ll make the pie,” say I.

She looks me up and down.
Laughs again.
“Well, for you, I just might.”
“I’ll have to ask my wife,” say I.

Just then her husband walks up.
A trim, well-dressed, bald-headed man in his early sixties.

“Your wife is hitting on me,” say I.
“She wants to make pecan pie for me tonight.”
He laughs.
“She’s good at that – that’s how she caught me. And I always tell her that if she finds a better deal than me, take it – good pie is good bait.”
We laugh.

These two people are what I call Players.
People with light hearts and quick wits.
People who will jump into a social game and play it out – just for fun.
Even though they are usually strangers to one another, Players have the ability to sense other Players somehow.
It’s the slight grin - and the twinkly mischief in their eyes that gives them away.

If I am ever in a position like Noah – building an ark to float out the flood,
Players will be chosen as passengers – this married couple, for example.

“Excuse me,” say I – “I’ll be right back.”
When I find the couple again I tell the lady, “My wife says I can come.”
“Where’s your wife?” asks the man.
“She’s the tall, pretty young blond at the cheese counter.
The man looks over at Willow.
Laughs.
“You can come if you’ll bring her.” he says.
“We’re not into mate-swapping, Charley,” says the lady.
“Not yet,” he says.
They laugh and head off to the checkout counter, arm in arm.
Players.
Wish I could have gone home with them.
I bet she makes a hell of a pecan pie.

Here’s another example of a Player.
I’m standing out in the cold dark of last Friday evening at the main door of Moab’s
City Market – ringing the bell at the Salvation Army kettle.
One of the assistant managers is taking a break and he comes out to stand by me and make small talk.
He’s young, with high good energy – always friendly toward me.

“How’s it going?” he asks.
“Well, the kettle is getting full – the Moabites are always generous – but I think I’m beginning to hallucinate.”
“Why’s that?” he asks.
“Well – it’s strange - there’s only one door to City Market, and I’m standing right in front of it. I’m pretty observant and like watching people.
But I swear that some people go into the store and never come out again.
How can that be?”

The assistant manager laughs.
“You’re not losing your mind – you just don’t know the truth about City Market.”
“What’s that . . .?”
“You know those big swinging doors back of the fruit and vegetable section?”
“Yes.”
“Well that’s the secret entrance to our lower floor – the basement – there’s a full casino down there – slot machines, blackjack, roulette – dancing girls - the works. People in the know go down there, and they use the back door when they leave.”
“Really?”
“Yes, indeed – City Market makes more money from the casino than from groceries. Next time you shop, go through those doors and ask a clerk to show you the stairs to the casino and the bar.
The password is: Fun and Games – tell them Eddie sent you.”
He gives me the twinkly mischief look, laughs, and goes back inside to work.
A Player.
Next time I’ll put the kettle out by the back door.

______________________________________________________________

One more example:
That same night, while ringing the bell, a man comes up to stand beside me.
Big man. Big belly. Long white beard, long white hair topped with a leather cowboy hat. Down jacket, jeans, work boots. Sack of groceries in one hand.
He’s eating a fried chicken drumstick held in his other hand.
He looks vaguely familiar – where have I seen him before?

“Ah, Christmas,” he sighs – “Does me good to stand here and see people put money in the pot.”
“You must like Christmas,” say I.
“Yes and no,” he says – “sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it.”
“Why’s that?” I ask.
“Look at me,” he says – “Every year I play Santa Claus around town – I’m born and built for the part – hair and beard, belly, sense of humor – a natural. So several years ago I got a Santa outfit and now I go to schools and parties and do my thing.”

I look him over – now I remember - I saw him at the library earlier in the week in his Santa suit– with little kids crawling onto his lap to get their pictures taken.
And now Santa Claus has come to visit me!
I just didn’t recognize him in his off-duty work clothes.

“Being Santa must be fun,” say I.
“Well, sometimes – but little kids are mostly a pain in the ass.
I scare hell out of half of them.
Their parents plop them into my lap, and the kids shriek and scream and cry while the parents laugh and take pictures to send to relatives – it’s weird.

The kids have runny-nose colds – they wet their pants - one even threw up on me last week. I get so much slobber and snot and crap on me I have to have my suit cleaned almost every week.
On top of that, the little bastards are the essence of greed.
All they can say is ‘I wanta and I wanta and I wanta.”

“Why do you do it, then?”
“Well, once in a while something happens that makes it worth the effort.
Yesterday, at a small school, this little kid climbs onto my lap – all quiet – with his hands folded into fists. He just sat there, dumbstruck. So I asked him if he wanted to say anything to Santa. He nodded.
Then he opened his fists – a dime in one hand, and a nickel in the other – 15 cents – a lot of money to a little bitty kid, I guess.

And he tells me that he wants to give me his money to give to some little kid who doesn’t have any. He wanted to give me money to give away – imagine that!
His mother said it was all the kid’s idea.

Santa Claus is supposed to be jolly and laugh, not cry.
But this little kid made me cry.
That made my Christmas.”

“What makes Santa laugh?” I asked.
“Well, yesterday this kid about ten gets up on my lap – too big to visit Santa, I think – but he has something on his mind.
What do you want to tell Santa?
He’s grinning from ear to ear – hardly able to speak – but he says – get this - he wants a Dodge Ram pickup truck for Christmas – a real one – and he wants volume 4, 5 and 6 of the porn videos ‘Girls Gone Wild.’
I ask him why he wants only volume 4, 5, and 6?
He says his father already has volumes 1,2, and 3 in his closet.
I damn near fell off my throne laughing.
Then I noticed a man standing in the back laughing, too.
The boys’ father – he put him up to it.”

“You’re pulling my leg,” I said.
Santa grinned.
“Maybe,” he said, “but if you don’t have a wild imagination, you can’t be Santa Claus, now can you?”
He laughed and walked off into the parking lot – where he left his sleigh, I guess.
Another Player.
He’s on my passenger list for the Ark – the kind of Santa we’ll need.

_________________________

Well, enough for now – you get my point.

I go around at Christmas time looking for Players.
People who carry foolish joy in their hearts.
People who make the weight of the sorrows of this world bearable.
Their laughter gives off light in the darkness of winter.

You may know one – encourage them – get in the game.
You may even be one – please carry on the good work.

Bless the Players, say I – may their tribe increase.
Merry Christmas to them all.
http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum

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December 14, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The middle of December, 2014

VINTAGE BREW

Finally snow!
It’s not the usual dry and fluffy kind.
This batch was the heavy, thick, stuff that sticks on trees and bushes
and people standing outside in their bathrobes.
It started falling just at dawn.
Gently laying a blanket of white on all the world outside.
Promising a white Christmas, after all.
Yes!

This snow is not a local product – it’s imported - made of molecules of water lifted up and delivered by an atmospheric super cell from out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – blown thousands of miles to fall here.

A storm like this is called a Pineapple Express Special.
I won’t need to go to Hawaii for Christmas.
Hawaii has come to me.

And I will put a little of it to good use – to renew a Christmas gift.
To explain:
A couple of years ago I gave my wife a small bottle.
A small, deep blue glass container that once held perfume.
The note that accompanied the gift said this:

This bottle contains moonlight tea from Pack Creek Valley:
A fine wine maker would call it a meritage – a blend.
From several sources:
Water from the first fine snowfall of the winter of 2012 – collected on the Solstice – December 21.
Water from the end of a huge melting ice sickle hanging from the edge of the roof just outside the door of our home.
Water from Pack Creek as it passes under the bridge near our house.
The mix was aged by moonlight during the night of December 21.

I wondered what became of that bottle.
I asked her.
From out of the secret corner of her closet where she stores keepsakes,
she produced a little red satin bag.
Alas, the bag was slightly damp – its contents were leaking.
Oh, no . . .
Was it broken?
No, the wax I had sealed the bottle with was deteriorating.
The bottle was now only half full.

So I took out the cork, topped off the bottle with the fresh snow from this morning, and resealed it with a heavier coating of wax.

I added to the note I once wrote to accompany the gift:

I’m returning your bottle – refilled and resealed.
It’s not worth much, in a way – you can’t buy it in a store.
It’s just water – as we are, mostly.
Without water, there’s no us, no life at all.
I don’t need to explain this gift to you.
You know what it’s for and why and how it came to be.
Like a fine brandy, it’s aging well.

It’s also a renewal of a promise to you to keep you in my mind and close to my heart, even in the small and ordinary events of a day.
You may open it and dab a little behind each ear.
It’s the perfume of abiding love.
And now it smells slightly of pineapples.

Merry Christmas.

I gave it to her this morning.
I’m not good at waiting for small joys to happen.

(for larger joy, link to my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum

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December 07, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The end of the first week of December
Full moon last night
Clear, mild, no snow nor even frost.

TALKING TURKEY

Let’s talk turkey.
The bird is front and center for a few weeks at the end of each year.
But we don’t usually talk about it – we just eat it.

In fact, despite much etymological speculation, nobody really knows where the notion of “talking turkey” originated, though now we use the phrase to mean “let’s get serious.”
So I propose to talk turkey about turkey.

Why?
In the spirit of being useful to you in a time of small crisis.
Sometime during the festive holidays you will likely sit down to a turkey dinner with family or friends.
Sooner or later the conversation will drift into the fog of small talk - when engorgement stifles intelligence and there’s not much left to say and not many alert enough to hear.
Silence falls around the table in chunks.
There is a pause before pie.

It’s like the end of the second act of a play that’s been adrift since the first act – you’re ready to leave – but maybe something will happen in the third and final act that will save the evening – so you stay – for pie.

Now is the moment for your memorable performance.
A contribution of value way beyond the creamed onions.
I shall arm you with information that will render the gathering speechless - in awe of your knowledge – and grateful that somebody had something interesting to say with which to end the feast – like a winning score in overtime.

Imagine: the ball is in your court and you announce:
“I know some fascinating things about wild turkeys.”

Those at the table look up, intrigued in a numb sort of way.
And you plunge on . . .

1. Turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo - the scientific name for the wild turkey - have been around for about 10 million years. Longer than homo sapiens.

2. There are fossils records of the ancestors of turkeys that go back 23 million years or more.

3. Turkeys are native to Mesoamerica – raised by the Aztecs and Mayas – even worshipped as part of their divine pantheon.

4. Turkeys were imported by the Spanish to Europe, where a process of breed improvement soon produced the domestic bird we eat today.

5. Domestic turkeys were imported to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608, which is to say turkeys were already here when the Pilgrims showed up in 1620. And the wild turkey had arrived long, long before that.

(You will notice that your audience is dumfounded by now. Fear not – they are putty in your hands – Onward!)

7. Once almost extinct, it is estimated that there are 7 million wild turkeys now. Turkeys abound!

8. Accurate terminology is important – take note:
A mature male is called a Tom – a mature female is a Hen
the chick is called a Poult – an adolescent male is a Jake – an adolescent female is a Jennie – and the official word for a flock is a Rafter.

9. Only a Tom turkey makes the gobbling sound – hens cluck and click.

10. The skin of the head of a Tom turkey turns blue when he has sex on his mind – red when he wants to fight – and pale white when he is maximally excited.
(Imagine if that was true for men . . .) The loose skin hanging off the end of its nose is called a snood.

(Notice that nobody has interrupted you – they are awed into profound thought or else have gone brain dead. Keep going!)

11. Turkeys can run up to 25 miles per hours and fly up to 55 mph.

12. Turkeys roost together in trees – preferably oak.

13. Turkeys nest on the ground and the chicks are born feathered, ready to rumble within 24 hours.

(Your audience is stupified in disbelief at the extent of your erudition. They are welded to their chairs. No stopping you now – go for it!)

14. A mature wild turkey weighs @ 24 pounds.

15. Turkeys are omnivorous – but the wild ones are not all that good to eat – dark, somewhat stringy, strong-flavored meat.

16. Research indicates that they are quite intelligent and have good eyesight, hearing and sense of smell.

(By now your audience will have approached the zombie staget – they’re barely awake or functional – with at least one person slumped face down in their pumpkin pie. At this moment you play your ace with this factsmile

17. Finally, get this: Japanese geneticists have developed a breed of turkeys with four legs – that’s four drumsticks for the big meal.

That last statement is not true.
But if you say it loud and clear, you will get a rise out of those whose minds have experienced mental tectonic plate drift during your lecture.

“WHAT? No way!”

And now is the time to break out a bottle of Wild Turkey Bourbon.

In Kentucky they call this meal-ending ritual “Giving them the bird.”

You will be remembered at this time next year.

Maybe not invited – but remembered.

http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum

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November 30, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The beginning of December
the 335th day of 2014
Clear and cold – but snowless.

December first.
For me, it’s the lowest-key holiday season in many years.
My closest friends, children, grandchildren, and the new great-grandchild are all far away.
I write from my home in Pack Creek Valley, 25 miles from the nearest town and all the busyness of Christmas.
There’s no snow except on the highest peaks.
So far no decorations – no tree – and no plans to do much in particular.
Not that I’m in a Grinchy mood – just Christmas-neutral.
The only sign this is not some other time of year is the half of a pecan pie in the kitchen left over from an a semi-Thanksgiving dinner.
(Now somewhat less than half a pie as of an hour ago . . .)

The holiday season comes like a major weather event – unbidden, uncontrollable – it is what it is and what it will be – never identical to the one last year, but with the same elements.
The dark side of the human experience continues, of course.
There’s never been a December when evil was turned off for a month –
war, disease, racism, all the rest . . .
But slowly and surely, one gets sentimental and hopeful and nostalgic – as unpredictably as the weather.
One begins to look for small joy.
Caught unawares, one begins to hum carols.

Surprisingly, there is a poinsettia on my office desk – bearing colors of deep red and rich green.
It was not on my things-to-get-in-town list last Friday, but here it is.
And a couple of wreaths of mixed fir and cedar boughs came with it. One is now inside adding the smell of green to the living room.
One is outside – on a door - welcoming my wife to her painting studio.
And as I write, classical music of the season plays – thanks to Pandora.
“Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” rings out and I sing along, off key.

Finally, when I woke up from my afternoon nap I was remembering Decembers past – and the stories I have lived and written over the years.
It wasn’t long before I was re-reading, re-thinking, and revising
one of those stories – the one I’m about to share with you.

The substance of the tale has not changed – its root is a thousand years old – it has only been reframed from the mindset I had when I first wrote it to the state of mind I find myself in now, as December comes around once again . . .  .

STORYTIME

For twenty years I was the minister of a small suburban Unitarian Church (1966-1986). It was our custom to hold a midnight family service on Christmas Eve.
One year I planned to read an old story from medieval France about a wandering juggler who happened into a monastery in deep winter and asked for refuge. You may know this tale called “Our Lady’s Juggler.”

The story says that the monks were busy making gifts to lay before the high altar of the monastery chapel in honor of the Virgin Mary.
They believed that if she was pleased, her statue would shed a tear of compassion for humanity. But when the gifts were presented at the Feast of the Nativity, the statue did not respond.

In the middle of the night, the juggler, who had thought he had no gift worthy to offer to the Virgin Mary, went into the chapel alone and juggled before the statue – to the very limit of his skills.
To make a long story short, angels sang, the statue did indeed shed a tear – and the baby Jesus in her arms smiled – because the juggler had given everything he had, withholding nothing in his generosity.

So goes the story, and you can see how its spirit could be applied to a 20th century Christmas Eve celebration.
Generosity is never wasted – that’s the point.
All I had to do was read it.
But why stop there? Why not get a real juggler to perform for the congregation to illustrate the story? Why not a little show-business pizzazz for the midnight service.
Why not?
Never one to leave well enough alone, I engaged a juggler.

Alas, when time for the service came, the juggler had not arrived.
Not until the singing of the second carol did I see him working his way up the side aisle of the church sanctuary.
I barely recognized him because I had specifically asked him to wear his jester outfit - and he was not in costume.
He wasn’t carrying any juggling paraphernalia, either.
What a disappointment.
No magic-at-midnight this year.

While the congregation and choir turned the corner into the last verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the juggler and I held a whispered conference off to one side of the chancel.
His car had been stolen. His costume and equipment were all gone.
But I was not to worry – he had an idea about what to do.
“Trust me,” he said. “You read the story, and I’ll take it from there.”

No time to argue. The carol was finished. The show must go on.
I assumed that when it came time for his act, the juggler would explain his circumstances, and use some odds and ends he found in the church kitchen for a short performance.
A reasonable assumption.
However, Christmas Eve is not noted for reasonableness.
I ought to have remembered that then, as I do now.

So I read the story.
And the juggler stepped into the light from out of the congregation.
A slim young man - wiry, athletic type – longish brown hair.
Black tennis shoes, jeans, green turtleneck shirt.
Solemn expression on his face, and only his own freckles in place of the expected makeup.
So ordinary in appearance and demeanor.
And no tools of his trade.

He smiled - an inner light animated his face.
And he began his routine - just as if he actually had balls and clubs and knives and scarves with him.
We had all seen enough juggling to recognize what he was doing.
So we could imagine what we could not actually see.

But in each part of his routine he went one step further than he had ever juggled before or we had ever witnessed.
Seven balls is supposed to be the limit for a good juggler – but our man did eight, and we knew it when he did it, and applauded his triumph.

On through twelve silk scarves in the air at once.
And seven knives.
We even knew when he set his torches on fire and got eight in the air all at once and caught them without burning himself.
We laughed and shouted encouragement and applauded his audacious performance.
We couldn’t really see all of it, but we believed it.
We gave him a standing ovation – on Christmas Eve – in church!

But he wasn’t done.
He held up his hand for silence, and motioned the congregation to sit.
He was going to do an encore.

He started juggling things we couldn’t quite recognize.
What’s this? Chickens? Birds? Some kind of tree?
Rings – one off each finger. Five? Five gold rings?
Yes! We got it!
He was going to juggle everything in the “Twelve Days of Christmas!”
The partridge, the pear tree, and all the rest.
Impossible - but he was going to give it a try.

He continued.
A swan swimming, a goose, an egg. Yes!
I was thinking that he would never get the maid milking the cow off the ground, but he did it.
You could imagine the look on the face of the maid as, with a great heave from the juggler, she sailed up into the air.
After that the leaping lady and the dancing lord and the drum with drummer were a piece of cake.

Finally, every gift was in the air going around and around – way, way up in the air because this was a lot of stuff to juggle.
As each piece came around we knew what it was and shouted its name as he caught it and tossed it back into the air again.
Fantastic!
Nobody had ever done or even attempted to do this before.
The juggler was laughing, and the congregation cheered like a crowd at a championship game when a last-minute score won it all for the home
team. Yes!
Here comes the maid milking the cow again – wait for it . . .
YES!

The juggler suddenly stopped, clapped his hands loudly, and stood still.
Nothing fell down.
All the parts of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” somehow disappeared into thin air.
With one finger in front of his lips he asked for silence.
And silence came.
We stood looking at him in awe – and he at us – in awe - at what we had accomplished together.
It was the most powerful and meaningful moment of quiet I ever experienced on Christmas Eve.

A brief sermon was supposed to follow the juggler’s performance.
And it did. But it was not I who spoke.
Rarely, but once in a while I have the sense to keep my mouth shut.

We were all addressed by a sermon of eloquent instructive silence.
The silence in which we absorbed the power of the vision we had of the impossible event we had wished into being.
The silence in which we thought about our capacity to realize things we can only imagine.

Some of the most wonderful things have to first be believed to be seen.
Like flying reindeer and angels, and a baby in a manger.
Like peace on earth, good will, hope, and joy.
Real only because they must be imagined into being.

Someone – I don’t know who – began to sing “Silent Night.”
As was our tradition, people on the first row lit their small candles from the big candle on the altar, and then passed the flame on to the candles in the rows behind them.
The church filled with soft, moving light.
We filed out of the church singing, into the Christmas Eve night.
And went home, taking our light within us.

And so, you may ask, is this story true?
Did it really happen just as I have told it?
Well, yes and no - it took place, after all, a long time ago – and good memories must be polished up if they are to last.

It could be true.
It should be true, don’t you think?
As you read the story, were you not present as a witness?

And anybody who was there will have their own version of what happened that night, but all would agree that what they still hold fast in their hearts from that Christmas Eve contains lasting truth.
Anything and everything is possible for those who yearn for joy.

And as for you . . .
Well, you, too, can imagine . . .

http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum

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November 23, 2014

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
Third week in November, 2014
Clear and cold – old snow melting – new snow coming.

PLAYING WITH FIRE

1. It’s not easy to start fire with water.
2. It’s not easy to put out water with fire.
3. But it can be done.
4. Using metaphors.
5. Sometimes you have to do it.
6. And you can.
7. What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.
8. And how high you walk on the water.

(I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it’s what fell out of my mind onto paper one afternoon after I walked along Pack Creek, and then went home and built a fire in the fireplace.
Listening to water and staring into a fire can be a combustible mix.
The outcome can leave one wondering, “Where did that come from?”

* * *

Long ago, when I was a teacher of art in a high school, I collected a handy a bag of tricks available for those times when the creative energy of a class was at low ebb – when a provocative change was in order.
“Bag of tricks” is a euphemism.
For me it meant “desperate acts arising out of a class crisis.”
Every teacher knows about the pedagogical doldrums.
When the instructor, the students, and the curriculum are all shriveling up like raisins for lack of the joy-juice of enthusiasm for the course.

That’s how my Playing With Fire Unit came into being.

Each student was given a full box of old-fashioned wooden kitchen matches and a hot glue gun.
Each was asked to construct something out of the matches.
Whatever came to mind.
Complete the task in an hour.
That was the total instruction.

There was always a puzzled pause . . .

“What are we going to do with what we make?” the students asked.
“Take them outside and set them on fire,” I replied.
“Really?”
“Yes – go for it.”

And the students did – with explosive enthusiasm.
They never asked why.
All their lives they had been told not to play with matches.
And never, ever to fool around with fire.
And now they had permission - from an adult authority figure.
Invited to go beyond a No Trespassing sign into forbidden territory.
Yes!

What did they construct?
A wide range of things:
- abstract concentrations of matches designed to burn fast and hot
- buildings
- houses
- people
- towers
- snakes and insects and imaginary animals.
Just to name a few.

And then what happened next?
We carried the constructions out behind the gym to a concrete pad.
The teacher sprinkled a little magic juice on each match-thing.
(kerosene, actually)
And, with a small torch, lit them – one at a time.
Whoom!

The students were always quieted by the actual event of burning.
They stared at their little matchstick creations being consumed by fire.
The foolish joy of setting something on fire on purpose was always followed by a reflective mood of solemn semi-sadness.

I wondered . . .
Were they thinking that daylight came from the burning Sun?
Did they consider that the Earth itself was fire-born and still had fire in its molten core?
Did it occur to them that creation and destruction were stages in the turning of the Great Wheel of Life?
Did they remember the myth of the Phoenix bird?
Probably not.
But they were thinking something deep – their silence said that.

Ok, so then what next?
We collected the ashes in a pail, and went back to the classroom.
We added boiling water, some powdered gum arabic, oak gall, and alum.
Stirred the mixture well, let it sit overnight, and voila! – Ink.

At the next class meeting the students were given bamboo dip-pens, a portion of the ink, and fresh paper – they were set to draw.
Using me as a model - (clothed, of course – don’t let your mind wander.)
“Draw me,” I said.
And they did.

The Playing With Fire Unit was not really a trick.
It was field trip excursion into the philosophy of art.
It was an act of theater – about transformation – about the stages of creativity – the combustion of imagination mixed with a radical change of view and substance – into another possibility of creation.
In essence, the whole universe and all life is a form of combustion.

I never told them all that – words about the process could not compete with the actual experience they had, and sometimes I was wise enough to shut my mouth and leave the thinking to the students.
The fire was now inside them – and they would go with that.

As an aside I should tell you that the most successful burn was when, on a too-windy day, we accidentally set a field of dry weeds on fire - rousing out the maintenance staff and the Headmaster of the school.
Now we needed water and explanations.
The water worked – too well – because, as you would have expected, we ended up playing with water.

The explanations were another matter.

“What the hell is going on?” asked the Headmaster.
“It’s an art project,” said I.
“Really?”
“I can explain.”
“Good – stop by my office – I’d like to hear your explanation.”

So I did that.
And to his everlasting credit, the Headmaster, one of the most open-minded educators I ever met, had this response to my explanation:

“Promise me that you’ll never do that inside or outside on a windy day.”
“Of course. I promise.”

“And promise me that the next time you play with fire, you’ll invite me to come and make a match-thing of my own with the class.”
“Sure.”

“And invite me to come along to the class later to see what they have to say about playing with fire.”

Alas, an opportunity to include the Headmaster never arose.
But if he had been in class the next day, he would have seen the students plunging back into art with new enthusiasm.
And though I waited for them to talk about playing with fire, they never had much to say.
Fire had somehow moved back inside them somewhere, ignited their creative energy, and burned brightly in the form of ongoing art.

Only years later did a student recall playing with fire.
He said he never forgot it – and still did not quite have the words to say why it was memorably meaningful.

We all play with fire from time to time.
It’s a metaphor – and metaphors are the wagon in which we haul around meanings that defy logic and articulation.
No rational explanations are really necessary sometimes.
Or even possible.

* * *

After writing about this, I realized that I had never done it myself.
I had led the students through the exercise of construction and burning and making ink and producing a drawing.
But I only supervised without participating.

So today I played with fire.
(Explaining what I was doing to my wife was interesting.)
But I did it.

Enough.
I’ll end on a light note:

“One afternoon, when I was four years old, my father came home, and he found me in the living room in front of a roaring fire, which made him very angry. Because we didn’t have a fireplace.”
― Victor Borge

(You can see the photos of my playing with fire on my Facebook page.
Note that if it just looks like a pile of burning matches, it’s because I tried to build a large rhinoceros and it fell over. Eager to get on with the burning part of the exercise, I set it on fire anyway. But I assure you that there was most of a rhino there at one time. You can imagine . . .
(http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum)

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