Category Archives: Mysteries




To my texture-obsessed eye — honed by too many years behind a 35mm camera loaded with black-and-white film — Miss Belvedere is quite possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

More importantly, like any public art installation worth displaying, she nudged me to think.


I thought about all that had happened in the world since that old Plymouth went into the ground 50 years ago: the JFK assassination, Vietnam, the moon landing, the first Earth Day, Watergate, my own birth, the decommissioning of Route 66, the space shuttle explosions, the first Gulf War, the rise of the Internet, the Sept. 11 attacks, the second Gulf War, and a thousand changes that haven’t crossed my mind.

I thought about lonely old men and women, forgotten by their families and neglected by society, wasting away in dark places unseen by the world.

I thought about prisoners of conscience, trapped in dank cells and subjected to inhumane conditions for years on end.

I thought about the transient nature of beauty as society sees it, and the fact that the most beautiful people I know are all older than Miss Belvedere, whose graceful lines are unbroken by the rust and debris that coat her body.

I thought about the people who came back to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina to find their homes looking exactly like that car, their interiors rotted by stagnant water and their exteriors corroded by rust, debris, and the strange organisms that grow in soggy, dismal places where most life won’t.

I thought about John’s Modern Cabins and Larry Baggett’s Trail of Tears monument, quietly decaying along the shoulders of the Mother Road in rural Missouri.

I thought.

I thought….


P.S.: Click here to view the slideshow I put together with images I shot today at Tulsarama, and see what comes to your thought when you look at what 50 years in a vault will do to a classy lady … and what time and water can’t touch.

Shades of gray

A bit of a metaphysical lesson came to me last night as I was scanning a picture.

When you scan an image, you have several options. You can scan it as a color photograph, which gives you a near-exact replica of the material you scanned. You can scan it as grayscale, which gives you something that looks like a black-and-white photograph of the material you scanned. Or you can scan it as line art, which gives you nothing but black and white — pure black anywhere the scanner sees a shadow, a dark object, or a bit of color, and pure white on the extremely light areas of the image.

Getting the right setting is very important, as it has a huge impact on how the finished product will look.

I wasn’t paying attention, and I accidentally selected “line art” when I meant to select “grayscale.” I didn’t notice my mistake until the computer put an image on my screen that looked something like this:

black and white

Can you make out what that is supposed to be? (No, it isn’t a Rohrschach test.)

Now, when I scan the image again, using the correct setting …


… it all becomes a little clearer, doesn’t it?

I was thinking about that in the context of morality. A lot of people want to reduce the world to line art — everything is completely black or completely white for them. And that works well for simple situations in which everything really is completely black and white.

The thing is, in the human experience, there are a lot of situations that don’t fit squarely into one category or another, and when you try to make them fit, you end up with something like that first picture: a largely indiscernible mess.

That’s because when you scan a grayscale situation as line art, you lose a lot of important information. You miss out on seeing the whole picture. Sometimes that can lead you to the wrong conclusion.

In the example above, the line-art version of the picture gives you the impression that I am standing in a dark room, holding an eyeless animal. Bring in the shades of gray, and it becomes obvious that I am standing in a well-lit room, in front of a rather large plant, holding a wide-eyed rat terrier.

A friend of mine talks a lot about the importance of balancing justice with affection.

Justice (which includes qualities like honesty, morality, and respect for the law) is kind of the line art version of things: Black or white, good or evil, my way or the highway. Affection — love — is the spiritual quality that allows us to see things in grayscale. It lets us pick up on the nuances, so we can bring an element of humanity and compassion to a situation, even when we find ourselves in the position of demanding justice.

In some situations, it’s easy to be just and affectionate at the same time. But in some situations, the demands of justice and affection seem to conflict. Even Jesus ran across his share of grayscale moments — Matt. 8:3-11 (the “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” story) and Luke 13:10-14 (the ruler of the synagogue getting his knickers in a knot because Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath) come to mind. Those situations caused a lot of stress for the Pharisees, who were really into line art but lacked the necessary affection to see the shades of gray involved.

There’s nothing wrong with justice. It’s absolutely essential to keep order in society and to give people a framework for their affections. But you have to be careful not to get so obsessed with justice that you ignore affection altogether and end up practicing the spiritual equivalent of scanning Ansel Adams prints as line art, y’know?


P.S.: Ron’s friend Ken Seeber shot that portrait of Scout and me several years ago. I just love the inquisitive look on Scout’s face.

Stuff I have learned

I was thinking about all the stuff I have learned in the past year. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I think it hits the highlights pretty well:

1. A fiery temper should be considered a manifestation of error, not a personality trait.
2. Nobody is really an idiot, although a good stunt double can make it look that way sometimes.
3. It is entirely possible for conservatives and hippies to get along, even without the assistance of beer.
4. Chivalry is not dead.
5. Every girl should know how to defend herself against an attacker, change a tire, and perform basic home repairs. It should not, however, be considered antifeminist to allow a man to do any of the above for you if it seems appropriate.
6. Richard Bach was right: “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.”
7. And the real gift is understanding that there is really no such thing as a problem. Period.
8. Bruce Lee was right: Sometimes your opponents are your best teachers.
9. Mortal mind is a terrorist. Don’t negotiate with it.
10. When you believe you’ve been wronged, take the Hitchhiker’s Guide’s advice: DON’T PANIC.
11. In a pinch, it is perfectly reasonable to expect God to supply you with quarters for the parking meter.
12. In heavy traffic, it’s funny to flash a peace sign at the guy who just flipped you a bird.
13. Life is prettier when you pay attention to sunsets.
14. Wintergreen Lifesavers really do make sparks in the dark.
15. One well-placed ladybug can restore your faith in humanity.
16. Feeling competent is not a prerequisite for successful healing work.
17. Helping somebody else will soothe a migraine faster than Excedrin.
18. The Beatles had it right: All you need is Love.

What have you learned this year?


Sweet Baby James

Can’t believe I didn’t think of that title two days ago. Can’t believe I held the child for the better end of an hour without singing “Fire and Rain” to him, either. I ought to be ashamed of myself….

Jamie and the Hippie Chick
Anyway, here I am with my ridiculously adorable new nephew. His mama shot the photo for us.

It was weird attending Grace’s shower last week. But it was way weirder to watch her tending to Jamie this weekend. I remember watching Mom take care of Grace when she was that size. It was hard to reconcile the memory of that little baby with the grown-up mommy I saw worrying over her own baby the last couple of days.

Meanwhile, my dear, sweet, trying-to-be-hard-boiled journalist brother-in-law is just about the proudest daddy you have ever seen. I think we were the two least cynical newspaper editors on earth this weekend. James McCaddon is certainly a respectable name, but I had to give Geoff a little static for failing to name his cub Woodward Bernstein or perhaps Benjamin Bradlee Ritter….

OK, that’s enough fawning. You don’t want to hear me yang about the baby. You want to see pictures. And I have plenty of them for you — click here for all the cuteness you can stand. And don’t even try to tell me that Jamie is not the cutest little guy you have ever seen, because you know he is.

Back in Tulsa for two hours, and I miss him already. Grace and Geoff are just going to have to move to Oklahoma. That’s all there is to it.

Aunt Hippie Chick


Ron harvested honey the other day. The girls were not happy about having an intruder pulling frames out of their hive, but Ron appeased them by putting the spent frames back out so they could recycle what was left of the honey.

Spent honeycomb

We ended up with 10 half-pint jars of sweet, wonderful wildflower honey. I’ve only given away one jar at this point, but judging from the recipient’s response, I think our girls are going to make us very popular. I can’t take much credit for the end product. Ron does most of the maintenance on the hive. All I did was plant zinnias and sunflowers and nicotiana to supply nectar for the bees.

Speaking of flowers, my convolvulus is doing something interesting. It survived the frost and is blooming again, but instead of the usual midnight-blue blossoms, it’s putting out white ones:


Hope your day was full of sweetness and surprises.


Same song, second verse

In the continuing saga of “Orion”: I have now purchased, from eBay, a copy of the sixth-grade Silver Burdett Music book — the teacher’s edition, no less — which contains the elusive “Orion.”

Next up: I’ll try to get hold of James Taylor’s people and see if I can talk him into covering it. (CAUTION: Music plays automatically when you click the link.) Judging from the interest in the song — I’m averaging a couple of hits per day from people searching for the lyrics — it would probably be worth the effort to record it.

If he’s not up for it, maybe Gordon Lightfoot could be persuaded to give it a go. That’d be cool.

No word yet on whether that record I looked at on eBay has the song on it.


Ask the Hippie, Vol. 1, Issue 7: Orion!

This turned up in the comments section of the Hit Me With Your Best Shot page. Lest it fly under the radar, I am putting it up as an Ask the Hippie entry.

Reader Scollay Petry tracked down the song, found out the name of the composer, and came up with this response:

Well I asked my mom about this and she contacted my music teacher at school then the publisher…. She got this response. Turns out James Zimmerman is the writer, living in NYC.


I am writing at the request of Tyson Harper, Editorial Director of the Music Department of Pearson Education, concerning your interest in the song “Orion.”

During her time as a music teacher, Ms. Harper taught this song herself, so she shares my pleasure in knowing that “Orion” has become part of your family’s musical traditions. This song was published in the 1974, 1978, 1981, and 1985 editions of the school music program Silver Burdett Music, Grade 6, published by Silver Burdett Company. “Orion” is Part 1 of a musical composition entitled Orion Suite, which was written by James Zimmerman. This piece had not been published prior to its use in the 1974 edition of Silver Burdett Music, and we negotiated the rights to use this piece through Mr. Zimmerman’s lawyer.

Silver Burdett, now an imprint of Pearson Education, no longer retains the rights to use this piece. Were this not the case, we would gladly send you a copy of the song from the Silver Burdett Music, Grade 6, book. I am happy to help you locate the composer and a copy of the song, however, and I suggest the steps described below.

Contact the composer.

James Zimmerman
210 West 101st Street
Apt. 9D
New York, New York 10025

Contact the lawyer, agent for James Zimmerman.

Mr. Donald Aslan
171 East 83rd Street
New York, New York 10028

Since 1982, when we last heard from Mr. Zimmerman, the piece may have been published in publications other than Silver Burdett Music. The Harry Fox Agency, the licensing agency for the music industry, currently represents more than 27,000 publishers. To locate the composer, or a source of “Orion,” click on

HFA Online,

You might also try the “Search” links of either or both of the performing rights organizations in New York.

BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.),

ASCAP (The American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers), http://www.ascap/ace (for ACE Title Search Database)

Local colleges with music education departments may have copies of Silver Burdett Music. Should you need to, I suggest you contact one of these for help in locating a copy of this now old textbook series.

We appreciate your interest in “Orion” and wish you all the best in locating a copy of the song. Please feel free to contact me with any further questions.

Susan Greene
Senior Editor
Music Publications
Pearson Education

You can bet that I will be writing to that composer — and his lawyer — and doing my best to sweet-talk him into hooking up with iTunes to get this thing out there and available for all us hippy-dippy-Lorax-reading-ecogeeks who sang it in sixth grade and really want to hear it again.

UPDATE: I am pursuing some leads on copies of the textbook (which should have melody line and lyrics) and/or teacher’s book (which will have the entire accompaniment — not just the melody) and/or a record that could possibly have the song on it. Stay tuned. We might be looking at Christmas in October for the Red Fork Hippie Chick….

UPDATE 2: “Orion” has been found. Click here to listen.



In case you missed the comments section of yesterday’s post, my sudden enthusiasm for dementia concretia has inspired a similar flurry of daydreaming by my mom and my sister, who are probably going to end up being next-door neighbors in the near future. They are now plotting all sorts of craziness, from an Indian medicine wheel to a faerie garden (CAUTION: Cutesy, twinkly music begins automatically) to a sort of enchanted bunny forest inspired by Kit Williams’ Masquerade.

To fuel their daydreams (and yours) this winter, I have assembled a little collection of links to various and sundry gardens, restaurants, museums, books, mythological beings, works of art, roadside attractions, and various other ephemera generated by some of the world’s most creative minds. Happy surfing!

The Lost Gardens of Heligan (includes sound effects, so keep that in mind if you’re trying to look busy)
The Venice Cafe
City Museum
Dave Dardis’ Secret Garden
Firefly Lights (CAUTION: Site features obnoxiously loud, automatic music.)
Fake fireflies, butterflies, infinity mirrors, fountains, and more
Faerie houses
Various mythical creatures
Jack O’ the Green
Sheela-Na-Gig (CAUTION: Images are a bit, um, “adult,” albeit in a weird-primitive-looking-stone-carvings-found-on-14th-century-Irish-churches sort of way)
Another Masquerade site
Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book
Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Address Book
Maurice Sendak
Pippi Longstocking
Elmer Long’s famous Bottle Tree Forest
The Watts Towers
Labyrinths (the concept)
Labyrinth (the first reason your favorite Hippie Chick utterly adores and desperately misses Jim Henson)
The Dark Crystal (the second reason your favorite Hippie Chick utterly adores and desperately misses Jim Henson)

Feel free to add your own links in the comments section. These are just the ones I thought of off the top of my head. I’ll probably tack on more as I think of them.

Hippie, artist, gardener, and overgrown 4-year-old

Green Man


I taught mythology for a year and am quite fond of English folklore, so a Green Man seemed like an appropriate addition to my garden. Unfortunately, they tend to fall into two categories: A.) Ugly, and B.) Overpriced.

This evening, I was fortunate enough to wander into a store on 15th Street that had just gotten several Green Man items, including the plaque you see above, which came with a lovely little book about the Green Man and the legends that surround him.

The store was one of these places that likes to cover its bases: Crosses hang on the wall above a shelf of New Age books, and if you need a Tibetan prayer flag or a deck of tarot cards, you can get it here. One-stop shopping for all your religious needs, I suppose. It was just off-the-wall enough that I held out some small measure of hope that I might find the Holy Grail of Weird Crap to Hang on the Garden Gate: a Sheela-Na-Gig.

No such luck.

I’m not really surprised. I’ve never seen a Sheela for sale. I’m not sure there’d be much demand for them. They’re pretty grotesque, and rather risque. Strange figures, but the history behind them is fascinating — and mysterious. They’re often regarded as a sort of female counterpart to the Green Man. I think it would be awfully cool to have a Sheela hiding somewhere in my garden.

Ah, well. I’m just grateful to have a Green Man at last. And I have been inspired by the photograph on the cover of the book that came with my Green Man. The image shows a giant Green Man sculpture — sort of a topiary thing — that appears to be surfacing from the ground. The sculpture is found at the Gardens of Heligan in England. (Note: Heligan Web site contains chirping bird sound effects that start automatically, so turn down your volume if your boss thinks you’re working.)

Click here and scroll down to see a picture of the Green Man sculpture.

I have got to figure out how to build one of these in my garden, because this is the coolest thing ever. It looks like what you’d get if you commissioned Larry Baggett to design you a lawn ornament and then hired Edward Scissorhands as a subcontractor to actually build the thing.

Speaking of cool stuff in the garden, Ron had a little adventure today.

The bees had gotten a bit quiet lately, and Ron was afraid they might have been attacked by varroa mites. Wintergreen oil will get rid of mites, but you aren’t supposed to use it until later in the fall. In the meantime, I suggested that he look into the hive, check the bees’ condition, and sprinkle them with powdered sugar if necessary. (A dusting of powdered sugar will prompt the bees to groom themselves, removing any mites in the process.)

Ron opened the hive to find a colony of healthy, active bees. He went ahead and sifted some sugar over them anyway, just as a precaution. His report on the experience made me laugh out loud:

Note to self: If you ever need to p*ss off honeybees, sift powdered sugar over them.

Didn”t get stung, but my inspection of the beehive reveals that the girls are very much alive. They were behaving fairly well until I sifted powered sugar over the main brooder. Then that created a mess of angry, dusty honeybees buzzing my head. Now they know how Milton Berle felt when his sidekick yelled “Makeup!” and did the deed. Can’t blame them for being irritated, actually.

He went on to say that the super he added this summer is about three-fourths of the way full of honey. That’s pretty impressive, considering the drought and the fact that this is still a relatively young hive — we just got them in the spring of 2005, so this is only their second season.

Lousy year for tomatoes, but a good year for honey. I’m OK with that.