Friday, August 30, 2013



Everyone comes to consciousness somewhere----somewhen---and in the company of somewho---and like fish we barely notice the water we swim in.  I grew up in Sondheimer, La---and its waters permeated my being.  I've gone back after all these years to remember--- and see with an outsider's eyes the "pond" where I was spawned.

Three hundred years ago only scattered Indian bands occupied small clearings in a vast primeval forest stretching a hundred miles in every direction from my birth ground. Settlers came and drove them away---slashed a highway  through---then a railroad.  A sawmill was established to harvest the "inexhaustible" timber supply.  Four stores, several bars, a hotel and a hundred houses made up my social cradle. 

I awoke from infancy to find myself in company with Blacks, whites, farmers, merchants and lumbermen.  Youngest of four children---all born in a five year span---nannied by black women----loved well--as I recall---Neighbors would "borrow" me for days at a time for the joy of my company.  I was given awesome freedom and autonomy--I never had to go home for dinner as did my playmates----because I cooked for myself from age six. (I remember the moment.  Said: "mother, I'm hungry".  She replied:  "well eat")  She did cook on Sundays.

My freedom and autonomy were nearly absolute.  At age 12 my cousin and I hoboed a train to Dallas Texas for  2 weeks.  When I returned, announcing my adventure----I was stunned to learn that they (my family) had not noticed my absence.  All of us lead separate lives.  (Indeed, as a teenager I once tried to entangle my father in one of my problems.  He said to me: "look son---I have a life----get one for yourself".

When my mother got religion--she indoctrinated us all in Baptist theology.  I was 27 when I laid it aside and tapered into agnosticism/atheism/humanism---my current understanding.   (I think that if there is a God, he wants us to act as if there were not--to take full responsibility for our lives, our world and each other--that there never has been any divine intervention, or messages---of any kind--ever.)

1. I come away with a fresh appreciation of my region's place in History:
    a. Home of an ancient Indian culture that built Americas largest mound pyramid.
         (70 ft high---Poverty Point Natl monument)
    b. Staging area for the Union Army---site of an historic effort to divert the   
         Mississippi river as a war strategy. Lake Providence, La.
    c. First use of Black soldier units in combat. (battle of Milligans bend) near Tallulah
    d. First shopping mall in America. Tallulah, La.
    e. Birthplace of Delta Airlines. Tallulah, La
    f. Birthplace of the mechanized Cotton picker.

 2. I come away grateful for the richness of my childhood--for being loved but allowed
to be free.  Grateful for my genes, my decent and interesting parents---for siblings  that did not burden me with dormant hostilities.

3. I come away pondering how that town and those people produced me---the character that I am.  I think it's likely that being youngest and most vulnerable---activated an inquiring mind---anxious to discover a WINNING WAY. ( a way to deal with larger, stronger. smarter siblings.)  Every child adopts a "winning way---a  strategy to make their way in the world.  Some broad examples: Be Strong(hide vulnerability) --be perfect---be pleasing--be smart) 
   My strategy seemed to have been to be strong and smart and pleasing---it worked--for a time---long enough to establish a sense of self and move me forward into adulthood.  Each of these qualities has a crippling downside: Be strong---hide your needs and they don't get met.  Be pleasing and you too often "give yourself away"--not doing what you want to do.
   Happily, a "winning way" strategy can morph into a better winning way---I still project strength but have learned to embrace vulnerability---lay aside defensiveness. My disposition to please others has moderated to a healthy medium. 

4. I come away believing that every place has a history worth knowing---that every
 town and every person and thing in it is interesting---and relevant to the greater whole.  

5. I come away convinced that the proper aim of child rearing---is to ACTIVATE INTEREST--- to set a mind a-thirst and a-flame.

6. I come away persuaded that character grows like a snowball rolling downhill--in FEEDBACK LOOPS where a tiny success encourages a greater venture---and perhaps greater success and an even more daring venture and so on.

And I think that encouraging character growth is ridiculously easy to do. As easy as humoring a child's vision.   My mind flashes to Mary Franklin agreeing to go with me to help catch a sleeping bird under the iron bridge with a bent wire hook.  A ridiculous quest as it turned out but by going with me she made me believe that my vision mattered.  And here I am--this day---daring to share my vision with you.  (thank you Mary--I will never forget you)

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  Sondheimer is now almost a ghost town---a handful of interesting characters remain.   I have chronicled its rise and demise---and hopefully its place in the scheme of things.  The trees for a hundred miles are largely gone--their useful  lumber scattered across the nation.  Now rich delta farmland produces soy, rice, cotton and corn which also blesses the nation.

UPDATE:  Laurie and I ---situated here at the Grand Canyon---Waiting for the film crew to arrive on the third--got zapped by lightening Wednesday---as close to death as I've ever been. 

See that big tree about 20 feet to the left of my rig?

A huge bolt of lightening struck it ---making a slash from top to bottom. The noise nearly gave me a heart attack.
It slashed down to the ground--right next to my rig---burning out two chargers and my refrigerator.  The ranger said that if I were outside my trailer I would have been killed.
My feeling---it's an ok way to go.





Friday, August 23, 2013


WINDING UP my report on a sentimental journey to my boyhood home---stimulating memories that shaped my character.

      A giant vulture paused to rest-- high in the town's biggest cottonwood tree---a terribly tempting target.  I did not ask myself why I wanted to shoot it.  People in my town rarely asked that question.  A living, moving thing makes a far more interesting target than a can or bottle.  Mary Franklin lent me her 22 rifle and I walked back to the tree.  It was still there---resting---an easy shot.  I took aim and fired.  It came crashing through the limbs to the ground with a feathery flop. 
I watched its dying--in agonizing pain---lolling its head from side to side---blood spurting from its neck where the bullet struck.  Suddenly I was overwhelmed with shame----feeling dirty---I asked God to let me take it back.  FOR A SPASM OF SATISFACTION I HAD COMMITTED MURDER.  Thus--- I know---better than most---how the "ancient mariner" felt when he shot the albatross with his crossbow.

Stunned by remorse---I watched it die----returned the rifle---got a shovel---dragged it by a wing to a hidden spot and buried it.  I could pinpoint the spot to this day. And  While I was there, I found it---- remembered---- asked again for forgiveness.

      Blackie was my dog----I built her a cozy doghouse---she was so much fun to play with.  Then one day she came into heat---attracting a lot of attention from the neighbor dogs.  I tied her up inside a fence for the night. (to prevent her digging her way out)
Next morning I found her dead---in straining posture---at the end of her rope.  She had choked herself to death.  You see---I had tied her with a slip knot instead of a more proper one----a terrible price she paid for my ignorance.

      Uncle George gave me a 4 ft gator "for a pet".  I was 12-----seemed cool at first---people dropping by to see my gator----kept it in a pen about 6x6.  It wouldn't eat.  I swung meat chunks into its mouth via a string----it ignored them. .  One day, I looked in horror as Big Jack---my (Catahoula cur dog) jumped into the pen to get the meat.  THE GATOR DID NOTHING---When I got there Big Jack had one foot on the gator's head---gobbling down all the meat pieces I had offered it.  I could only watch the drama---afraid I would stir the gator to action by intervening.  Big Jack finished and jumped out---unharmed.   Summer turned to winter and still it did not eat.  When I  approached, it would open it's mouth and hiss threateningly.  One day I found it dead----dragged it to my personal "cemetery" and buried it.  Gators make terrible pets.
(oddly---the BIBLE says so! (Job 41:1-5----"Can you make a pet of him?" Leviathan=Crocodile )

      One of my strangest responsibilities in Sondheimer was notifying folks when their relatives had died.  This fell to me because we had about the only telephone in town.  We would receive the notice and Mother would tell me to take word to the family.  I would knock on the door and say:  I'm sorry to tell you we were notified that so and so
has died.  I remember taking some pride in the gentle way I could break the news.

#55 Mother takes us 'cross the nation
       One day she decided to takes us kids---and a neighbor lady and her kid---across the entire nation.  We had a Pontiac----7 of us loaded up and drove clear to San Francisco, stopping at all the scenic spots---Carlsbad Caverns---Painted Desert etc---staying in Motor hotels.  I was 8 years old.  We had a flat on the Oakland bay bridge---I remember sleepily getting out and looking over the edge.  It took weeks---was wonderful.  Could my vagabonding ways have started there?  Don't know!

       Uncle Gip was considered the brains of my fathers family----graduated from college at age 19----taught school for one semester---AND NEVER WORKED AGAIN.  Somehow he acquired title to a thousand acres of good farmland and thereafter rented it out to sharecroppers.  His wife taught school and they slowly accumulated a minor fortune---till at their death---they gave all us kids $10,000 each and arranged a scholarship fund with the rest.  They had no kids---so they enjoyed us.
Uncle Gip amused himself fishing sometimes.  One day when I was about 13 he took me in his fishing boat across the Mississippi river.  It was springtime and the river was very high---spreading perhaps 2 miles bank to bank.  On the far side was a vast area of young willows inundated by the water.  We reached the edge, stopped the motor.  He said he wanted me to meet someone.  Together we pulled ourselves deeper and deeper into the willows.  Then I began to hear singing----operatic style as I remember.  I was intrigued.  Finally a fuzzy brown shape lay ahead of us.  Uncle Gip yelled out and we were invited closer. 
There it was:  A tiny homemade houseboat perhaps 20 feet long with a cheerful, bald headed, little man of 60 or so---sitting on a chair at the rear porch---fishing line in hand.  He was alone.  He was happy.  He was hidden from the world. 
      Ahh yes---sweet people---I was charmed---dazzled---imprinted perhaps, because I have become that man---thousands of times over--- in my 38 years of travel--I have hidden myself and sang my song. (this blog)

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  OK----I'm done with Sondheimer Stories---with one exception to come later.  There are many left untold---but this is enough. You get the drift. What remains is to share with you what I think it all means.  I'm working on that. 

UPDATE:  We are still at Grand Canyon---happily ensconced in the forest just outside the entrance.  TV crews are on their way---should be exciting--will explain later.

A recent shot of our camp----only a mile from the Canyon entrance

Out of the blue yesterday a fierce hailstorm hit us---it was over in an hour--melted 
This afternoon we were walking along the canyon when Laurie had an incredible surge of courage----here's proof.
Folks, that's a thousand foot drop---can you see her out there?  AND JUST YESTERDAY A GERMAN FELL 600 ft TO HIS DEATH. 
On average 5 to 7 people a year die in a fall here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013



        The pictures are still vivid in my mind---I was 13 yrs old---Sondheimer was buzzing with activity on a Saturday afternoon.  The Blacks were crowded around and inside Bud Richard's Juke Joint.  The white folks in a separate cluster only a few feet away at my father's bar.  Lots of farmers and shoppers around our store across the street. 
      Suddenly the Black crowd parted with a collective yell.  I watched from our store porch as a big black man stood alone in the center of a human vee.  He had a pistol in his right hand and began firing at another deeper in the vee.  Pow, Pow, Pow, Pow.---Four shots at the chest of the other.  He fell---people rushed to him.
      And then there was dead silence.  I recognized the shooter----it was Snowball---a well known millworker.  He just stood there a few seconds---perplexed---looking left and right.  Nobody approached him.  Clearly he had not thought of what to do after the act.  He held the pistol at his side and then started walking home.
      My father standing beside me, stepped from our cluster of folks and walked toward the street to intercept Snowball.  Everyone watched as the two approached.  (my hear was in my throat--would he shoot my daddy?)   He stopped a few feet away---gestured and said "COME WITH ME SNOWBALL" ----AND SNOWBALL CAME!  "GIVE ME THE PISTOL"---AND SNOWBALL GAVE IT OVER!  "SIT OVER THERE"----AND SNOWBALL SAT---leaning forward--head down.  "You're going to have to talk to the sheriff" daddy said as he phoned for him.
The Sheriff came---took Snowball away---he served 3 years in the prison farm.  The victim---amazingly--was not seriously injured--a bullet in each arm and a flesh wound on both sides of his chest.  The argument was about money owed.
     I had a hero for a father and the whole town knew it.  I reminded the three hundred folks at  his funeral of this incident.  Heads nodded in remembrance.
       Two local brothers robbed our store and were quickly caught and taken to jail.  Two days later my father went to Lake Providence and dropped the charges.
       I was incredulous:  "Why did you do that" I said.  He replied:  "Because they live here and if they serve time will return as bitter enemies---that can do us lots of harm.
By releasing them, Their whole family will be grateful and perhaps friends some day".
      Exactly that--proved to be true---nothing was ever said about it again and the two boys eventually worked for my dad.

       Yes, I did---when I was about 12 ----It was a warm summer day---a team and a wagon were plodding down the road outside Sondheimer----WITHOUT A DRIVER!
I clamored aboard the rear of the wagon---got in the drivers seat---seized the reins---turned the team around and drove them back to town---parking  at the colored juke joint.  Quickly the owner came out and thanked me profusely and gave me a dime.

       Three men in my father's cafĂ© grouped around a countertop---considering a matchstick puzzle:  Ten matchsticks aligned like this:

The rule is to pick up a match---jump over two and cross a third match as shown here
And without violating the rule--continue till you have 5 crosses like this.
I won't insult your intelligence by showing the next 4 moves----unless you insist.
Anyway to continue the story-----they puzzled for quite a while without solving it. I watched and cogitated----THEN BINGO----I SAW THE SOLUTION----I reached my hand into their midst and made 5 quick moves----the puzzle was solved.  They all turned and looked at me---WITH NEW RESPECT----one smiled and said "POPPY"S DONE IT!
I hope every kid in the world has a moment like this.
       My father set up a portable sawmill out in the countryside near some timber.  Then something happened that changed my life.  I've rhymed the incident for you.

The Belt Punch

Daddy sent me to town for a belt punch

When our sawmill stopped dead cold.

The drive belt broke and needed re-lacing

But first it needed new holes.

I asked at the store, and of several folks;

I checked with sawyer Bill.

No one had a belt punch and so

I returned straightway to the mill.

Daddy seemed dumbstruck with my tale.

In clearest oratory,

Said, “I sent you to town for a belt punch;

What you brought back was a story.

Now son, I really need that tool.

You can see we’re in a crunch.

Go back to town and this time, please

Bring me back a belt punch.”

It was as though God spoke to me,

And I’ve made it a lifelong rule

To Bring results and not excuses.

(I quickly returned with the tool.)

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  I hope to persuade you that  your hometown is not that different from Sondheimer----IN THAT---it possesses the full human drama---when looked at closely.  AND  that in your memory are your tales of childhood---the character shaping events that made you you. 

UPDATE: My friends and I are still camped in the National Forest just outside the park entrance---only minutes from the Canyon's edge.  The weather has been near perfect and we go often to park events.  Entrance is free with our passes.

Seated left to right is CB---Laurie and Mr Simplify himself: Glenn Morrissette---World famous builder/blogger:  Check him out:

And yours truly posturing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


BIRTHDAYS ARE A BIG DEAL TO LAURIE----and she carries everyone along with her enthusiasm  regardless of whose it is.  This day it was mine.

Monsoon rains are upon us nearly every afternoon.  I love it!

Laurie begins my special day with a delicious breakfast. 
 Eggs, potatoes, sausage, OJ
 Then three of us are off adventuring to the foothills of those mountains--the highest in Arizona.
 7 miles into the forest to visit this cave.
 We've decided to go a mile underground without a guide.  That's the entrance.
Tricky--but do-able--nearly straight down.
 CB about half way to the bottom
 Laurie's found something that glitters
 Mostly one can walk upright
 occasionally a little bending and crawling
 To the very end---about a mile from the entrance
 Laurie finally emerges---she sat alone in the dark --- played flute music--- meditated
Evening Back at home---they surprise me with gifts, cake and Ice cream

And for a super special treat she sings the song she wrote for me:
Here's the first verse:
Between the highway and the wind
I'm taking to the road to reclaim my life again.
Though you may not understand
Why I'm leaving my friend
My heart lies between the highway and the wind.
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  Isolation is a dead end--The self is fulfilled in community.  (Teilard de Chardin) 
A community committed to CHAMPION you is an incredible delight.
With the turning of this page I'm beginning to think of my END GAME----I hope to envision a new project for my final days, months, years.  I'm open to suggestion. 


Wednesday, August 07, 2013



Laurie, of course, is my next door neighbor---here on her way to give a concert in Flagstaff as part of her WHAT WOULD LOVE DO TOUR.  She's in the forest because it allows her to fulfill her passion, purpose and mission.

Left to right ---Bob--a writer/philosopher---Laurie--Gloria, a home school teacher who does her work online from here in the forest and  CB a retired engineer--he's here for the cool and cool company of us.

This lady is in the forest escaping the tyranny of rent and the cacophony of civilization.
Here, CB tries to engage her---without success. She lives alone in the forest in this old and needy rig---twice we rendered assistance but she never warmed up.  Perhaps she is unstable. 

Dan lives in the forest because he loves it---and it supports  his several hobbies---fitness and tennis.  (He rigs a "net" to practice his serve---marks off a "court" for accuracy)  I found him delightful, thoughtful and social.  He waits alone is this obscure spot for his girlfriend of many years to join him. Of course he too is here to escape the heat---enjoy the cool 7000 ft elevation. 

This was the best hidden of all the rigs I happened upon.  As I approached, its owner said "hello Randy".  Turns out we've met hundreds of miles away.  Let's call him "Ron"---the most self contained personality I've ever met---says he prefers living alone ---spends his time reading----only changes locations twice a year--from hot to cool---and from cold to warm in the winter.  He found this happy glade 6 years ago and returns every summer.  Necessary travels to town for supplies and more books is done by motorcycle.  He's in the forest for privacy and quiet solitude.
This guy is in the forest because it's free and cool and lovely.
Meet Chris---a flamboyant---charismatic--tattooed forest dweller who somehow draws people around him.  Four of his friends joined him in a lively camp.  That small tent on the right is occupied by a strange young lady they found wandering around at a truck stop.  CB was worried about her---maneuvered a private chat with her and was assured they are treating her well.

Chris shows off his tattoos---even has them on his face----without the slightest self consciousness about them. 

Laurie and I visit their camp and satisfy ourselves that all is well.  They are in the forest because it's a cool and free place to while away the summer.
One of the all-time great guys--Dave.  Here completing a  transmission job for a friend and refusing pay. (even so the guy bought him a metal detector) Dave replaced my shocks and told me to "pay it forward"----and I will Dave.  Have a look at his well engineered van here:
Meet Cheri (rt) showing off her brand new flute skills---having just gotten a lesson from Laurie.  She lives in her van---teaches jewelry making to several classes each year---enjoys her freedom and mobility.
What's inside this trailer would surprise you.  It is headquarters for an influential, world wide inspirational campaign for sensible, sustainable living. Bob Wells creates and operates from this hidden spot in the forest. Often, several people will live in his vicinity to be near him. He's the originator of and  

Here he is with his beloved dog Homer.

An unhappy couple from Wyoming lives here---he fell ill and was hospitalized--she soldiered on in the forest.  We helped her locate near us for comfort.  They rely on social programs for food.  They are in the forest because they cannot afford rent--even at a trailer park.

That is yours truly's rig---precisely located to get whatever sunlight is available to re charge my batteries. I'm in the forest because I love the cool --the clean--the free and splendid company of my fellow travelers.

Just to the South of me is CB's rig---stuck in the mud and the local guys conferring about the best way out. I do not know why CB is in the forest---he has the resources to live anywhere on earth. I will pause and go ask him.-----He said that he enjoys it here and that it points a way toward his overarching value of a low consumption lifestyle.
He believes that he and the world can have a good quality lifestyle consuming much less.
And as I'm writing this---who should arrive but Mr Simplify himself----a living embodiment of CB's philosophy. His thousands of fans will immediately recognize Glenn Morrissette author of the blog Hopefully he will stay a few days with us. 

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  SO THERE YOU HAVE IT: A FAIR SAMPLING OF FOLKS CURRENTLY IN THE FOREST---some tortured souls running away from something----some courageous souls polishing their spirit in the greenery. Everyone needs a place to BE-----We are lucky in the West to have such abundance of lovely places to be