I was parked on a stool at the Harvard Gardens when the kid came in. Evie, the waitress, pointed me out to him. He wandered over, picked up some beer nuts from my bowl, and whispered, “You’re a finder, and I need to find Tulia.” I squinched up, looked away, and said, ” I think there’s a Trulia, but I never heard of Tulia. I focused on the bubbles in the glass. “Look it up on a map. I don’t give directions.”

After ordering beers for us, he mentioned that he knew there wasn’t a Tulia, but he needed to find it. Shit, I let him buy me a beer, and now I’m listening to him spout about some place in NJ that doesn’t exist. Why me? Because I’ve been to Tulia and a dozen other off-the-map shithole towns you’ve never heard of. I usually try not ever to find them again.
Places like Tulia tend to look, act, smell, and work like any other place; just don’t try to find them on the map. Maybe they’d been there at one time, but they slipped off the edge at some point. Kids grew up, married, and died in places like Tulia. They worked in the mill, diner, or carwash. They went to the local schools and had never been to the state capital.

“You don’t want to go there. It’s dull, boring; you can drive through it in five minutes.” He looked at me, ” I’m from Tulia, and I want to go home.”
“Kid, you escape one of the dullest places in the lower forty-eight, and you want to return to work in the diner?” I knew there was more, and he soon said, “It’s about my girl.” Now he had my attention.

So let me tell you a bit about the spots that land off the map. There is always something a bit off about them. Roads run around in loops, so it’s hard to leave. History has slightly different twists. Odd things happen, or people are a bit weird. There are one or two of these places I’d love to revisit but know I’ll never find. Like North American Brigadoons, they are lost along faded-out bits of the Interstate system. One of those was Tulia. I’d spent over a week playing every night in a small coffeehouse, enjoying being lionized by folks who’d never been as far away as Trenton and who imagined New York City as twice as glamorous as it could ever be. Okay, it was the girls. One in particular. So when he said it was about his girl, I knew I’d try to help him. A sentimental sucker I’ve never been, but some things you never forget. I hadn’t meant to leave Tulia forever; I’d just ventured out for a fast run to Philly but found that I couldn’t get back.
” I can’t promise we’ll find it.”

You can’t leave bright in the morning for a place like Tulia. So you go in the evening, a backpack full, guitar in hand, and hat on head. Don’t worry about the route; that won’t matter if you hit it right. It depends on the rides. You won’t accept just any ride. If he’s heading for Philly, turn it down. Take it if he offers to let you off at the Black Horse rotary; take it. That rotary is a departure point for the obscure.

We hit the rotary at midnight, walked to the third exit, and started walking. I figured the kid was from there, and he’d be my compass; I wouldn’t have to decrypt any excess clues or distractions. I’d just let him be my guide back. Finally, around four AM, the right turnout appeared. It even had a sign – Entering Tulia, population 4,682. Perhaps the number was numerologically significant in some ancient Babylonian math, I wouldn’t know, but it struck me that this was strangely precise. Then the number seemed to glow, and I swore it changed, but my eyes were on the lights of a diner that appeared on the right-hand side. Breakfast.

I recalled the waitress and the cook from my last visit. She wobbled on her legs, and it was a wonder she didn’t spill my coffee. The cook hummed loudly along with the radio and chuckled, just as he had the last time. The kid was greeted by friends and hugged by the petite blonde who had missed him. I wandered out into a foggy early morning and sat on the edge of the old concrete planter, amazed that I’d returned. I was tuning my guitar when a battered old Ford pulled up, and out of it stepped Roxanne. I smiled, she smiled, and I said, ” Honey, I’ve missed you so much.” Roxanne hauled back with that big old purse and belted me a good one in the face. “Wes Carson, you lying, no good SOB…”

It was about 8 AM when I woke up in the alley behind the Harvard Gardens. My jaw ached, and my shirt had a bloodstain from where a buckle on the bag had caught my lip. Damn, that woman never forgets and never forgives.


When you think that everything is going well, you get surprised.
In this case, oriental bittersweet popping up in the woodland garden area behind my house. When we moved in, this area was so overgrown with it that the realtors never realized that the woods behind the house were part of a wildlife sanctuary. Only weeks after, as I took to clearing the yard, did the sanctuary signs appear. The following spring, I spent months clearing as many roots and vines as possible. But it still shows up periodically.

Failure to go out and get it rooted out will result in what happened to a neighbor a few years ago. He failed to pull a few errant sprouts because he liked the “pretty vine” in the fall. This conceit proved asinine when two years later, there was more than a surfeit of bittersweet covering the back of his lot. He was flummoxed when chemical controls seemed to be shrugged off by the vines and dismayed when I showed him my yard and suggested that hand pulling was more effective…for several years to get it under control. He left the problem for the next person who brought the property.

So for numerous years, I’ve rarely found any bittersweet shoots. The ones I’ve seen are probably from seeds dropped in bird feces and brought in from my neighbors’ property by chipmunks. In a way, it speaks to the success of my work in the area. A few hours of weeding will set things right, and I can relax, watch the waterfall and enjoy the flowers.

No word from the “happiness” engineers on my issues yet by switching to Firefox as a browser I was able to add a featured image, but I can’t do pingbacks, categories. I had to rebuild tags one by one. WP is too damn big for its own good, and has no clue what it’s own programs are doing.


My mentor Warburton was more than a bit of a magpie. He defined the term as being curious about all arts and crafts. His specialties were ecclesiastical carvings, but he was also proficient as a chaser and engraver, did a bit of Icon painting, and wasn’t afraid of doing the occasional cabinet work when a commission required it.
In art conversations, he was indefatigable, displaying his knowledge and wanting to stimulate your interests. He maintained that great artists saw art as an encompassing realm. Therefore, your attraction was not to just one form but to many.
I didn’t see things as he did and found some of his interests cryptic. For example, an interest in tonal music left me cold, and working to opera playing in the background did nothing for me. But I respected his opinions, and he opined that I would come to appreciate his point of view in the fullness of time.
While I like carving to quiet music in the background, I never warmed to tonal music or opera. But concerning more physical arts and crafts, I, too, became a magpie possessed of fascinations well beyond the scope of my carving. Over the years, these interests have grown rather than subsided, making me a better person because my focus is not on one point.

A focus on one point. Funny how that comes up. So often, we are told to focus on one thing, but in the Japanese art of Iaido ( the art of drawing the sword), we are told to diffuse our attention and gaze broadly at the mountains. Too much attention on one point may cause us to miss important things outside our focus. In Iaido, these may be attacks coming from other sides, not from the enemy facing us. In the arts focusing on one point means missing different approaches.

The great samurai, Mushashi, mastered poetry, drawing, writing, and painting. His maxim was that we could learn one thousand things from one thing. We were not limited except as we limited ourselves.

People interested in arts and crafts should be magpies, read widely, experiment, and play. I’ll never master pottery, but learning to “throw” a pot enriched me as an artist and gave me an appreciation for what people who work in ceramics achieve.
Get out there, cross over to the Wildside, and try something different.

One-Trick Pony

Robert Browning said, ” A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.” That single phrase has been significant to many of us in the arts and crafts. Sometimes it excuses our foolish infatuations with muses that we are unsuited for. But, more likely, it explains the flurry of far-flung projects we get involved in. Critics accuse us of mania, but we call it exploration.

Quietly, some evenings we regret grasping this particular nettle so firmly. It hurts. We imagine what life might be like to be a one-trick pony. All you do is one thing, but you do it so well, make money, and sleep peacefully at night with the satisfaction of a day’s pay earned.

Then you do a show, an exhibit, or someone happens to see your work, and they say., ” I wish I could do such lovely work.”
You smile, thank them, and suggest that it’s all just working hard at it. Then, they walk away with their purchase, and you count the till.

Years ago, my mentor Warburton warned me, “Some days you tread the grapes and others you drink the vintage.” To be trite, it can take a lot of grapes to make a vintage, and sometimes you wonder when the next opportunity to tipple will be. But that’s the critical word; you know you can’t and won’t change. So you really pity the one-trick pony who’d love to create but won’t.

Caloric Demand

OK, so what. Yes, I helped Kitty finish her breakfast, my breakfast, and her lunch. We have a mutual assistance agreement. She gets too much, and I finish it for her. She and I have a deal. I clean up after her. It’s not normal to go away and leave food in a bowl. No one in my family would do that. Puppies eat till there is nothing there. I suspect that cats are so skinny because they have bad eating habits.

But the deal ties Kitty and me together. She needs me to clean up for her, and I need the calories; I’m still a growing pup.

Hey! It makes it easier on you, the housekeeper. What do you mean you’re not? I see you picking up the empty bowls all the time. And who else puts my toys away in the toy box? Not me!

Don’t get so angry. That’s only going to…what’s the work the kitty used on me the other day when she was so mad? That’s only going to “exacerbate” the problem. So now do what Mom tells you to do. Please take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Count to ten? Whatever.

Look, it’s just going to happen. I need the calories. The more I zoom around, chase you over the yard, guard the house against the mailman ( you can’t trust those guys), bark at dogs in the street, and beg for dinner, the more food I need! So I have a high demand for calories.

I have Caloric Demand.

Manual of Arms

I found it after searching in the 1940 Bluejackets Manual in my maritime collection. It’s not something that I refer to very often. However, I have it on hand when I need to look up obscurities, which was one of those times. I had made some stupid comments that upset my wife, and wincing, I mentioned that I should do the 99-count manual of arms 99 times. She had no idea what I was talking about but appreciated that I was apologizing.

Later on, I thought about my comment. The Manual of Arms was something we trained on in Navy Boot Camp. It was also the favorite punishment assignment if you goofed up. Report to the gymnasium and join the other critters in a rather grueling 99s times repetition of the manual of arms; no options for other assignments. Just do it.
You did this with your trusty 1903 Springfield rifle. You had its serial number blazoned into memory because if a petty officer asked you for it and you gave the wrong number, you’d do the entire thing over 99 more times. If you dropped it, you slept with it in your bunk. Ugh.

So, why did this come to mind as a punishment for an intemperate comment? Because I was assigned to this duty so often. Yes, it is true. I was less than an adept sailor. All my superiors concurred that Carreras was a real drifty shit screw-up. He didn’t mean it. He couldn’t keep his mouth from spouting out some unwelcome opinion about why the Navy sucked. It mattered not the least that his assessment could be described as accurate about the chow, how poorly the uniforms fit or other things. But you weren’t allowed to say that with the hearing of “those that matter.” After a while, I could do the manual of arms and think placidly about other things. If they had the music on, it was almost pleasant.

Anyway, I’m standing in the kitchen feeling penitent about my comments; I grab a broom and start the Manual of Arms, “Come to ready first count…come to ready second count…come to the ready third count, and so on. I did about ten reps when I realized I wasn’t in the shape I was in my teens. But I can see some definite advantages to this as an aerobic exercise. So why don’t you try it – “down and forward…forward and up…up and shoulders…side pushes”, and on through side twists. It’s a perfect complete physical workout.

I think I’ll start an exercise class; the uniform is bell-bottom dungarees, a chambray work shirt, a sailor’s gob hat, and an old broom handle (1903 Springfield is optional, except for the Second Amendment enthusiasts).
OK, let’s all try it in order now. If you can’t remember the serial number on your broom, you’ll start over! On the first count!

Let’s see. A Tik Tok video. A longer follow-up Youtube video on how to do it. And, of course, a follow-up Amazon book. I might make something of my Navy experiences after all. What a surprise that’d be to my Recruit Commanding Officer.


I received an inquiry. Would I be interested in heading up a new not-for-profit? Several previous colleagues mentioned me as a skilled field ethnographer and creator of education and cultural programs. So, would I be interested? Fundraising and staff development were big items for the initial years!
Typically polyloquent, garrulous, and talkative to a fault, I found it hard to push the word out from between my teeth: NO. They both sat back into their chairs and seemed stunned that I’d so bluntly refused. The toothsome one on the right smiled at me and said, “But you are uniquely qualified.” Her partner assured me that the Board had many strong corporate members eager to help, and I wouldn’t be alone. It would be a unique challenge to create an entirely new model of a cultural organization that could become a model for others.
I sat back and digested what I’d just heard. I’d been in the trade for a long time before decamping for a job trotting video cameras around and working weekends in a woodcarvers shop. I’d heard all those catchphrases before; the unique challenge, new model, and strong corporate Board. Behind them, I glanced into a mirrored wall and looked at the greying hair on my head. Once again, but more politely, I said, No.

“Well, if no is your answer, why don’t you give us why you feel so strongly about this?” I answered,” I’ve heard all the terms you’ve used before. I’ve seen more than a few with colossal promises fail many times over the years. Models don’t turn out to be repeatable due to unique local circumstances; strong corporate boards don’t raise funds – they raise havoc by interfering with day-to-day operations, and unique challenges are just jive talk for ” there are some real issues, and whoever takes the job is going to have their hands full. Sometimes the organizations wind up defunct, not because of a lack of vision but because day-to-day operations become so challenged that the staff can’t do their jobs. Promised funding dries up, collections are dispersed, and communities feel misserved.”
Quietly absorbing this, they glanced at each other and responded, ” Well, would you be interested in serving in an advisory capacity to the Board?” I diverted the conversation to another topic, How tight the grant market had become. Later I thanked them for lunch and left for home.

The above is a fictional distillation derived from about five conversations I’ve had over the past 15 years. Luckily I’ve now aged out of the market for these jobs. Always significant challenges, limited compensation to start, an incredible opportunity, and so on.
What would be my model for how to make something like this work? Start very small, say in a storefront, build genuine community-wide support, and create programs that grow organically from the community’s needs and desires. Forget about fancy Boards, models, and significant funding from the government or corporations. Grow from the grassroots. Don’t forget where you came from if you develop and grow bigger. but this is not how many organizations see things.

Rail Trail Weekend

This was a rail trail weekend for us. On Saturday, we hiked along a trail linking Ayer, Massachusetts, and Groton, and on Sunday, we walked the Bruce Freeman Rail trail in Concord. Between arthritis and hip replacement, the more strenuous sort of rough trail hiking that we used to do is problematic, but a rail trail offers the perfect compromise. You are out in the countryside hiking, but the surface is regular. All that was needed was a pair of sturdy walking shoes, water, a cane, and the bold guide dog – Max, the trailblazer, to guide you along the way. Max was there to protect against wayward red squirrels and the occasional rabid frog. He insisted that following him was the only way to avoid extinction at the paws of other hiking dogs who needed to be greeted in the prescribed doggy manner of a whoof and a sniff.

On the Bruce Freeman Trail, there is a section of very fragile marsh and swamp habitat. The local Concord Middle School provided informative signage on the types of plants and wildlife that could be seen. The bikers speeding by missed the clever artwork and brief descriptions, and by doing that, I think, reduced their experience. The signs were creative, attractive, and informative, and I found them interesting parts of the rail trail experience.


Some of us are on a safari, sampling life as we move from place to place or experience to experience. Others seem tied to one locale by an invisible byssus that holds them to one environment.
At some time in my wandering, I landed briefly at a coastal community and envied their sense of home location. They, too, wandered away for a while – to work a job, college, or a voyage. But they always returned to the cove, harbor, beach, or bay.
Occasionally, I like to visit, feel connected, and feel home away from home. So last week I called an old friend, Paul. I mentioned I’d love to visit and see the old town. He said come on and visit, but it’s not the old town anymore,” the only thing that looks like it used to is the Town pier, but that’s overrun with riff-raff off the cruise ships. I’ve been thinking about moving further Down East, but I understand they have the same problems.”

Perhaps somewhere off the map, there are still destinations where cruise ships cannot navigate, climate change does not destroy, or the coast is not inundated with the jetsam and flotsam of a world’s rejected plastics. But I’m not going to go on safari looking for it. I’d only be joining the mass exodus of people looking to escape the mess we’ve made of what we have while carrying the problems we’ve created to new places.
Paul’s advice to the people on the cruise ships? “Stay home, clean your messes up, and don’t bring them where I live.”


Age and experience can be confusing to those who’ve lived one path and only one path. 

To them, it’s a question of authenticity; “well, which experience is uniquely you?” while to you, it is a question of authenticity because the variety of experiences is the true nature of life. 

Had enough time to go around the block several times and have lived through numerous events? Your life is more than a film with thirty-second montages. Prominent events loom over shadowed valleys. You tend to focus on the prominences and avoid talking about the valleys. But in quiet moments, the valleys draw forth the muses you sing and write about.

For some, the consumption of others’ life experiences is as close to excitement as they’ll come. So “What’s on Netflicks tonight, Honey?”

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