Befuddled—–Board Games and Life

By Matt Geiger


My favorite activity is gathering with friends to talk, for hours on end, about whatever we please.

The conversations can be about anything – hopefully Peter the Great, competitive axe throwing, or my daughter – but they all have one thing in common: they are freestyle. There are no written cues, no cards, no dice and no board determining what we can and cannot do or say. And, aside from the general kind of social scorekeeping we all do in our heads whenever we’re in social situations, there is no one allocating points.

Nothing brings these enjoyable evenings to a screeching halt as quickly as party games. They always makes me feel like someone who, on the verge of a spontaneous romantic encounter, sees his partner head to the hallway closet and return with a vast assortment of gear, complete with special chairs, whips, handcuffs, Viagra and other aides.

“Shouldn’t we at least try to do it ourselves, first?” a reasonable person would respond. “I mean, shouldn’t all these things be a last resort if we find out we can’t get the job done on our own?”

These games come in many forms, but they tend to have names like “Befuddle…” or “Incoherence!”

They have subtitles that only serve to further confuse me: “The card game where you learn the mating calls of each state bird!” or “The board game where nouns are verbs, and adjectives are golden tamarin marmosets in estrus!”

I try avoid them the way most people avoid contracting malaria, and I often check the closets at friends’ houses to see what awful nonsense lurks within. Many parents, I’ve been told, ask other parents if they have any firearms in the house, and if so if they are adequately secured, before bringing small children over for playdates. I do the same, but with these dreadful, colorful affronts to the fact that we all have a limited amount of time on this planet.

My wife, Greta, says I dislike them because I always lose, and therefore am not acquainted with the sweet nectar of party game victory. She is only partially right.



The Poet From Ireland


Mr. William Yeats in Ireland


Travelling to other lands is always a lesson of sorts, not just to see the scenery but to experience the lives, history and way of life of others outside of our own personal space. While some of these characteristics may be known to us, being up close and personal with the very land from which sprang their culture and their view of the world, is not so easily perceived until one is almost standing in their shoes, if only momentary.

In those lands totally outside our western world, it is, of course, almost impossible to grasp much of anything in depth.  But in a place like Ireland, a land from which many of us have ancestors, and a land that has a common language, the task has more prospect.

Being in Ireland presents many new opportunities to experience, however briefly, the outcomes of their life patterns. Here is a land that has faced multiple starvations, internal revolutionary struggles, and the confrontations of living in a tired land, one overrun by swarming people trying to gain sustenance from a thin soil. There is a certain sadness in that.

Still, from all the struggles came a culture rich in so many ways, maybe not as obviously material as our own, but still an endowment rich and enlightening.

So, it was during a recent visit, that I ran into Mr. William Yeats. Like many of us, I had known him before, but not while standing on his home ground, among his people, looking over the “terrible beauty” of Ireland.  William Yeats is celebrated as a hero, as an intellectual giant, and currently, an economic attraction. As a result of the latter most interesting aspect, his work is ever present as we explored Ireland.

While Mr. Yeats has not been around sicse 1939, his words have endured.  While jumping from pub to pub, from Cork to Sligo, it was almost impossible not to be confronted by his musings. The delightful quotes were even on pub walls, the marquees of banks and written on sidewalks.  I could not help reading the words, some scattered and out of true context, others complete, many causing me to pause and maybe reconsider my own worldview—which I suspect is the intention of poetry.

On one page, I found the following line taken from a poem titled The Cloths of Heaven, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”  I found myself wanting to make a change to that because at the age of 73, my dreams for just myself are waning as I am facing limitations. But then, I would suppose my dreams are now very much including those that will follow me, my children’s children. Tread softly. Does that mean the activities of humanity, the relentless hammering of the earth for financial gain? Is it a warning, an insight by a gifted mind? Damn poets.

Alternatively, does it imply a request to a lover—but is that not the same? I suspect that in the poem “The Cloths of Heaven” it can mean many things – maybe moderation, sensitivity, almost the Golden Rule. It is but a simple request.

So “afoot and light hearted I took to the open road” and had a few conversations with Mr. Yeats, wanting to discover the land on which I was now standing. I bought a book of poems to learn of the Emerald Isle through his eyes. I found a poem the following day after listening to the sound of the Uilleann pipes at Crane’s Pub in Galway. It was a musing on the sighting of swans right in Galway County just a few miles from last evening’s frolic.

He wrote:

But now they drift on still water,

Mysterious, beautiful;

Among what rushes will they build,

By what lake’s edge or pool

Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day

To find they have flown away?


Like many great poems, this required me to think and wonder why the question mark after the last statement. He marveled the sight of swans but implied one day they might be gone. Was he discouraged by what he saw, thinking the presence of swans was fleeting? I had seen a swan during the time we were there, so his concern may have been unfounded even though Ireland has long ago lost its natural environment to sheep and cattle, there are still swans. Was the statement an insight? Was the swan a symbol of a lover?

For the days we were there, Yeats was always about, and I’d like to think offering me a glimpse into a great mind from a distant land.  Along with the visual delights of emerald green fields enclosed in ancient stone walls and music trickling through the evening streets, the words of Mr. Yeats accentuated the place called Ireland. While the tendency may, in these times, be to only see those things pleasant, the history has other stories and as Yeats said in a poem called Host of the Air, “Never was piping so sad and never was piping so gay”—-insightful words assembled to prod the brain into reflection and introspection.

Travelling is that way it would seem, a chance to live outside our own shoes. To see the world through another’s eyes. For that, I am grateful.



Rituals of the Hearth

by Eleonore Hebal

Several weeks ago, a very loved and very worn cookbook, entitled Ritual of the Hearth, was generously bestowed upon me by a dear friend. As my fingers slowly wrapped around the tattered binding, a wave of tingles washed through my hand and opened up my heart. . . what a treasure. As I flipped through the pages, recipes for some of my favorite dishes passed by: Whole Wheat Challah, Lavender Eggplant, Pumpernickel Bagels, Falafel. Completely enchanted, I laughed as I read the colorful back cover, “Suitable for a picnic by moonlight, a seaside supper, a banquet of colors, an “Oriental Dream,” and Aquarian feast. . .”

I am a most fortunate woman to be receiving such magical gifts as the autumn winds slowly transform the lush, green forests of the heartland into a shimmering mosaic of crimson and gold. Below is a favorite passage and two traditional recipes by Roberta Sickler, sure to enrich the long, spooky October evenings awaiting us.

While we drift in sleep an autumn chill penetrates the night.
Ripe fruits fade and shrink from clinging night shadows.
Apples drop from mother trees, and take their seed to the earth.
I wake at dawn to cool cinnamon smells of mud and overripened fruits.
New morning of an aging year, green forests transformed so soon to scarlet orange.

Pumpkin Soup
1 small pumpkin (4 cups cubed fresh cut into 1 inch cubes)
1.5 cups boiling water, salted
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk, beaten
3 cups milk, scalded
Black pepper to taste
1 pinch cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a heavy covered pot, the pumpkin is cooked gently in boiling, salted water, until tender, about 1 hour; it is then pressed through a sieve. The beaten egg yolk is added and the mixture is stirred into hot scalded milk, and seasoned lightly with fresh ground black pepper, cloves, and nutmeg.

Croutons are prepared by browning little squares of rye or wheat bread in a skillet with plenty of butter. Hot Pumpkin Soup is poured into a large tureen, and garnished with whipped cream and croutons.

Ginseng Clove Tea
1 tablespoon minced or powdered ginseng root
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 thick slice of orange
1 quart boiling water
4 small pieces of orange rind

The ginseng root, cloves, cinnamon, and orange slice are steeped in boiling water for 15 minutes. The tea is poured into 4 cups, each garnished with a piece of orange rind, and served hot.

The Dragonfly, The Common Green Darner, Brings Beauty and Service.

Monday was partially overcast, seventy-three, and clearly a typical day here in the heartland. Maybe it was a lazy day, in that I found myself dozing off, but I am supposed to be retired and this, only a few years ago, would be great day to work outdoors. Still in a walk-about-the-grounds, early-morning state of mind, a ruckus broke out among the party about to go shopping. There on the handle of the car was a giant dragonfly in repose, motionless, wrapped in a brief bit of morning sunlight.

Its wings were spread-out sheets of gossamer so thin the shining door handle shown through as if the wings were made of the clearest piece of thin glass. The wings like all wings, man-made or otherwise, had veins running through them in an organized fashion obviously put there for strength by the head engineer.

The thorax was a color of green so profound that Prada, my clothes maker, would have died to put that into a Paris garment fit only for the beautiful people, the ones so hung on self-aggrandizement that they almost fall over themselves. We had that color, right here latched firmly to our door handle. The shopping adventure had to wait as all individuals who could be summoned, gathered around and marveled at the insect so intricate, so delicate that there seemed no reason for the accumulation of such beauty.

For a brief moment I worried, it had attached itself there and then exhausted, died for there was no visible motion. At the same time, the insect was completely void of any signs of wear. It was pristine.

Having been a beekeeper it didn’t take long to learn back then, insects are no different than we humans, and worker bees wear out. I remember seeing  bees In their age, struggle back to the hive for that one last flight and then die on the entrance. Some worker bees could be found in the field, clinging to the flowers, motionless and dead, worn out from a life of toil. Had this beauty done the same after weeks of eating mosquitos? Not likely as there was not a single indication of doing a day’s work. It was new to this world.

Inquisitively, I placed my figure in front of the dragonfly and it slowly but deliberately, walked on to my finger to take a new position, still almost motionless and not seeming intent on flying away. It posed for the camera moving slightly from side to side much like the skinny Paris models but not arrogantly lifting its head in an ever-so-glamourous posture.

Then in a moment as we all pushed forward for a closer examination, the bedazzled bug took wing as if a jump jet and flew to a distant bush. Everyone looked at each other as if to say, “What was that? “

With little research, our visitor proved to be a Common Green Darner and was a juvenile,  meaning it was fresh out the pupal stage and probably just hanging out waiting to be an adult thereby avoiding all that immaturity and hormonal changes that go along with our species. The plan of attaching to an automobile door latch as a way of going through its entire juvenile period seems pure genius from my point of view—- and probably some educators in the junior-high system. Even when slightly prodded, the dragonfly was cool, calm and collected. A little reading also made mention of the fact this dragonfly will now change colors much like a modern day youth going from a tightly cut hair style to a purple Mohawk.

In my perusal, it turned out there is also a Dragon Fly Society, meaning there are organizations that do little other than exploring the beauty, behavior and life of Damselflies and Dragonflies. This species has a wondrous variety and diversity. It seems, each one of these jewels has its own glory and a long history of eating other insects—and yes, many of the prey have the ability to drain my blood.

So, while we cheered the grace and beauty of the Darner, and were even willing to compare it to any of the posing models in Vanity Fair, none of the human “beauties” consumed mosquitoes like the delicate, gorgeous but very predatory Dragonfly. Such a service they provide.

Ghost Pipe – An Extraordinary Botanical Curiosity

By Eleonore Hebal

“All good things are wild and free.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Early this morning, as the first bird songs warbled through August’s lush canopies, I stumbled across the most curious and ethereal of creatures peeking up from beneath the towering firs on the southern edge of my property – Ghost Pipe! To my amazement, dozens of thriving colonies were slowly emerging from the dark, rich earth, tangled between layers of decaying leaves, fermenting mulberries, and crimson capped toadstools. Three tiny bees were pollinating each of the fragile, down-turned bell flowers, carefully entering upside down. Spellbound, I silently observed the surreal scene for at least five minutes before continuing on with my hike. Before long I spotted more ghostly colonies arising in rings around my favorite oak tree, coiling underneath a large patch of poison ivy, and surfacing between the dead wood and viridescent moss along the path. An eerie, otherworldly light seemed to pulse through the stunning, bright white florets that gracefully bowed down to the decay of the fertile forest floor, instead of the mighty sun above. A wide smile spread across my face, what a delightful little ally to have around, an unexpected gift of the wet summer.

The unusual life cycle and strange beauty of Ghost Pipe has intrigued me for years. This delicate and mysterious plant, also known as Monotropa Uniflora, Corpse Plant, Ghost Flower, and Indian Pipe, is a translucent non-photosynthetic flowering epiparasite. They do not require chlorophyll. Instead, they parasitize mushrooms, commonly forming relationships with at least a dozen different tree fungi, many of which are edible. Upon researching the plant a bit more today, I learned that Ghost Pipe is completely dependent on its hosts for nutrients, requiring no sunlight. Renowned botanist Ryan Drum noted, after much observation, that nothing seems to eat this plant and after consuming more than an ounce himself, he felt nauseous and very weird.

Resembling a spine and a brain-stem, Ghost Pipe is a powerful nervine, used by traditional herbalists for hundreds of years to stop seizures, convulsions, insomnia, migraines, mental disorders, and chronic muscle spasms. In 1898, Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd wrote in King’s American Dispensatory that the powdered root can be used “as a substitute for opium, without any deleterious influences.” Many herbalists have observed that Ghost Pipe often makes people feel more grounded and present in the moment when overwhelming pain has been dominating their physical and social experiences. It appears to heighten one’s pain threshold. Several of my friends have successfully eased chronic physical pain and anxiety with small doses of its deep purple tincture. Ryan Drum does give caution that the consumption of 15 ml or more of Monotropa tincture “can bring deep sleep and ultra vivid dreams, often bizarre, frequently erotic.” The hazards and/or benefits of long-term regular usage of its tincture are still undocumented.

As twilight approached, I decided to visit the magical little ghosts again. A soft, shimmering light enveloped the entire Tomorrow River Valley, as the heavy summer sun sank below the horizon. As soon as I entered the forest, a serene feeling washed over me. I began to notice many new, or at least previously unnoticed, fungi. On my way to the fir grove I spotted at least a dozen more pipes and large colonies of turkey tail and coral mushrooms. As I came upon the ethereal little creatures that had enchanted my mind all day, I realized they looked more alive than ever in this in-between hour. Eerily quivering in the twilight breeze, they invited me to learn their secrets. Smiling, I accepted the generous invitation, mesmerized by their ghostly petals. As an herbalist, I like to believe that the plants choose you sometimes, especially when they emerge on the outskirts of your home. Perhaps these beautifully weird little parasites have something important to teach me. I will be a patient student and sit with them this year, always holding in mind my favorites quote by Thoreau, “All good things are wild and free.”

Ode to Joy

Ode to Joy                                                                By David Wright     Aug. Community Spirit

After a couple days of cross-country travel, we arrived at our grandson’s family home. To our amazement what do we hear filtering through the air, but the opening passage of Beethoven’s, “Ode to Joy”. First, it was just a prevalent hum, but within minutes, out comes the recorder, the green one he uses at music class. He rips through the “Ode” to let us know he had it down. Then, in the next pass, the melodic tune is more emotional. Moved, Grandma excitedly grabbed her flute case and out came the penny whistle. We now had The Ode in harmony and they were both wide-eyed full of themselves.  The kid had taken to classical music.

The repetitious recital lasted about an hour and we remained impressed but, in time, it seemed appropriate to move on. Yes, the kid did know Amazing Grace and Part of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Fortunately, unlike my own father, when he hums  any musical ditty, everything is in pitch.

Ultimately, as the arrival din settled, the grandkid headed outside, to peruse his garden,   start fires, and climb trees—maybe to relive his ancestor’s Neanderthal past. Anyway, he was outside and away from the disheveled clutter of our arrival at their Colorado home.

As I later wandered outside to learn what the kid had going, it was impossible not to notice his still incessant humming of that same tune as if he were the composer himself trying to bring together the entire piece. Was it possible grandma’s harmony had fertilized this young mind? Going about his day, this tune reverberated quietly throughout the yard.

For the first three days in the house, and even at the local fishing hole, there was this wafting of the German composer’s tune, mostly the “Ode” but sometimes the “Fur Elise.” At times, Grandma was capable of enticing him off to “Amazing Grace” by playing the tune on the flute. In a diversionary tactic, she tried a few Irish laments, but while he had interest, the “Ode to Joy” was ever-present.

We did notice that the tune was mostly hummed while he was in a state of contentment, or at least not at a time when he was frazzled. In a patient way, his parents occasionally reminded him the humming was repetitious and for a few minutes, maybe he could tone it down.  It appeared possible the only thing that would silence the orchestration was his

desire to jabber incessantly on every topic of interest, which mostly included nesting hornets and exploring wasps. Given an idle moment, or the brief tract of silence, he would drift into the incantation.

A few days later, we headed for the mountains where we planned a number of days hiking and fishing—not necessarily in that order. One of the other loves of Jake’s life is fishing and once near the vicinity of some miserable mud hole or great clear lakes, he was rod-in-hand hell bent pursuing the silver darlings. On this day with blonde hair flowing and ratty pole firmly gripped, he was off to water’s edge to rip some fish lips.

On the first lakeside day and after a few minutes of Glen’s instructions, he was on to a leaping trout. In Jake’s chattering fashion, he a

nnounced the action much like a radio announcer so every human and the one moose we saw, could hear the diatribe on how he caught and released the fourteen-inch fish. In time the moment of fishing joy settled and there in the background was the “Ode to Joy” coming through the heavens in his eleven-year-old soprano voice. It was then I realized that maybe Beethoven had hit REAL joy in those music.

I drifted off around the glassy pond seeking my own joy, maybe even singing the “Ode” myself, when I swore I could still hear him humming away across the pond. What an imprint. His mother had told me that during his entire stay in Paris, a few weeks past, he hummed that tune as if Ludwig had channeled him.

The next day was the test in many ways as we headed out to fish the North Platte River close to the Wyoming border. The word was out that there was a mosquito issue on the local rivers. Still, Jake lusted to fish, particularly, he noted, in streams. But, was he going to be able to deal with the difficulty of the river, catch fish, tolerate the ferocious attack bugs and still have joy in his heart enough to hum the “Ode”?

The stream was glorious, kissed by clear water over gravel, the smell of sage whispering through the few cottonwoods and a population of mosquitos never seen in the Amazon, or Alaska combined. Only a population of Blow Flies and Guinea worms could have been worse. We slapped on some repellent and headed out into the water. In the first ten minutes, he never seemed to swat a single bug but fished with intent. To the best of my knowledge, he never had a single strike (he said he did but suspicion was out there). We fished for an intense hour. At one juncture, Glen pointed out that visibly on my back there were over 100 mosquitoes. Jake rambled about, threw his flies, marveled at the presence of hornets and water bugs, quicksand, and the fact there were no fish bitting.

As we stood above the river facing the Never-Summer Range, and surrounded by swarms of blood lusting bugs, I heard it, “The Ode to Joy”.


Returning to the Home Garden

by David Wright

The garden took a beating during our two-week absence making our arrival much like a return to a hurricane-devastated coastland. The corn, which for reasons still not understood, had grown some eight feet in height making it a standing target for the deluge of rain that managed to fall at a three inch per hour blast only a week earlier. Half was laid out on the ground, or headed for the ground only to be tangled among other stalks all looking ready to be woven into a huge Amish Basket. Enough time had passed that some of the still-living stalks had decided to make a run for the sun anyway and now were L shaped and still giving reproductive life a run for its money.

The potatoes had been victimized by the infamous potato bugs to the point where almost all we had were lines of naked stems. Some appeared moderately resistant to the invaders, but oddly had taken to being sympathetic to the ravaged and laid prostrate on the ground possibly trying to hide form the larva. They were a sad sight. One plant was dug to determine if there was even a glimmer of hope if the remaining shit-for-worth insects were removed and drowned in gasoline. There was one large red potato. War was declared on the bugs and hope sprang anew, just maybe.

The oat hay used for mulch proved to be festooned with seeds and the entire garden, while free of all the other invasive scoundrels, was covered like a giant Chia object—but with oat grass. Just work was needed to rip the opportunist from the alleyways—all the while cursing the farmer for harvesting the oats after it had set seeds.

To the south of the house, the grape vines had taken wing and the tendrils of new growth reached out like the legs of the hydra. But, hidden in the thick foliage were welcomed clusters of real grapes yet to be found by any of the normal predators, no aphids, no tent worms, no leaf miners. All was well and if the luck of time and the wheel of good fortune should prevail, there will be a bountiful harvest—-maybe enough to generate a few substantial evening buzzes.

It was then I noticed, there behind the withering rhubarb, the one, normally struggling Blue Berry bush was righteously covered with fat fruit. I had seen them earlier, not great bunches but the most ever, and now after a two-week daily rain and blustery wind they had become mature and succulent. It was a welcome home.