Why Fantasy?

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I grew up in the land of Eden, I swear, which I could not possibly appreciate until it was too late grazing-dairy-cattleto come back. I grew up on what was for its time, a large dairy farm, with a big pond, a huge woods and the third best creamchickens-in-apricot-orchards-permaculture producing dairy herd in the state. We also had sheep and occasional hogs. We had milk, home-made butter and cottage cheese out the ears. We butchered. We dressed chickens

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and made cider. We had a five acre apple orchard in its prime, put up every bit of our own produce from our garden and had irises and peonies, gladiolas

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and snapdragons growing everywhere. We had no pesticides yet. Barn swallows swooped after flies, herons nested by the pond and every species of bird imaginable filled the air with their calls on a June day.

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Mom and Dad were positively crazy about each other. They got giddy and sang as they worked herbGardentogether. The neighbors were like extended family and everyone, I mean everyone got along. We went to the church down the road and we would go to each other’s houses and have square July-6-8-040dances and big sings. Both sets of my grandparents were alive and well in their eighties, and the neighborhood was brimming with people born well before rosegardenthe twentieth century. I got taken to a lot of funerals, but I spent a lot of afternoons after Sunday dinner, rolling around on the floor, listening to old folksimages (3) tell about their parents breaking the first prairie sod with oxen or about what happened to them during the Civil War.

mckenzie_jersey_cowsSuddenly I found myself in college. I was going to come back home and farm, but Dad got Alzheimer’s and sold most of the farm before anyone was awake enough to stop him.

Carol and I went west and taught on the reservations. Some of Leaping Lamb Farm gardensthat was pretty rough, but I always reckoned we could manage to get through it, since I knew 1340897947_a76bcd560e5dthat sooner or later we were coming home to what was left of the farm.

The day came. I knew that the family were all gone before we ever started home. I knew that nobody waved anymore. I wasn’t surprised that everyone I knew had moved away, either. After all, we had to go west, ourselves. Due to the massive pesticide use with no-till farming, I didn’t Farm_Pond_With_Egret_fsimages (2)expect many birds. There has not been a single whip-poor-will call since we returned. And a thief took every last one of the tools which I grew up watching my family use to work the land.

My grandma said: “Time is a river. You can’t stick your foot into the same water twice.”images

medieval-fighterI don’t care. There still has to be an Eden to go back to. One’s mind has to be able to escape to some place enchanted. There has to be one good place. Carol opened a door. She invented the land of Niarg. And we’ve been visiting there ever since.

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 Tom Phipps

Your Butt’s too Big

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Years ago, when I taught at Ch’ooshgai Community School on the Navajo Nation, the students there had a reputation for playing rough, but when it came to it, they had big hearts. Like students at all schools, they resented the Special Ed students for being given lighter work for the same grades. However when a little Down’s syndrome girl showed up at school, she became a celebrity.

Yvonne was one of the handful of students who stayed in the Special Ed room instead of attending at least some regular classes. In spite if this, like every other student in school, she was supposed to take her seat and stay there when she came to class, and that meant that she was supposed to be in her seat when the door was open and kids were in the hall.

That was an utter impossibility for Yvonne. She was endlessly in the doorway with her hopelessly smeared glasses, swinging her leg like a ballerina at the bar, waving and calling out cheerfully to the passing students. I would hear time and again from across the hall: “Yvonne! Where are you supposed to be?” and, “Yvonne, take your seat!” Kids liked her, even if they did call her names.

One day, she grandly sang out a little rhyme:
“Your butt’s too big, your butt’s too big,
No matter what you do, your butt’s too big…”

“Yvonne! Get to your seat, now!”

But before everyone was in class, I heard:

“Your butt’s too big, your butt’s too big,
No matter what you do, your butt’s too big…”

Soon, passing students were taking up the chant each time they saw her in the doorway. “Whose butt is too big?” became the burning student question. The Special Ed teacher’s? She’s got a big enough butt, they said. No. It had to be the old witch from the Office. Or was it a particular student? They would ask Yvonne.

And her reply was:
“Whose butt’s too big? Whose butt’s too big?
If you don’t know, your butt’s too big.
Your butt’s too big, your butt’s too big,
No matter what you do, your butt’s too big…”

One noon, Yvonne came marching down the hallway with all of the verve and poise of a first string cheerleader, followed by the entire student body, chanting at the top of their lungs, the kids near the walls pounding the locker doors in time:
“Your butt’s too big! your butt’s too big!
No matter what you do, your butt’s too big…!”

The following noon, the Special Ed door stayed closed. There was a brief interlude of students chanting: “Y-vonne! Y-vonne! Y-vonne! Y-vonne!” but every noon thereafter, the Special Ed door remained shut. Even so, I seldom heard a day go by without at least someone chanting a verse of Your Butt’s too Big, all the way to the end of the school year.

So in spite of the best efforts of Special Ed, Yvonne may well have become the most specially remembered of all the students in her class.

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Tom Phipps

Really Big Egg Causes Flashback

           

             Carol decided to make one of her fabulous omelets from the freshly laid ostrich egg that was given to us by someone who just didn’t know what sort of treasure she had. One egg fills our big iron skillet. We always save the shell, which leaves me with the task of putting a hole in each end without getting shell fragments into the egg white. I found the right bit for my Dremmel tool. As I rolled the egg about in my lap, thinking about Olloo and the strike falcons, I had a flashback.

           Not so very long ago, Carol and I taught at Peach Springs on the Hualapai Reservation. We lived in a trailer with our son Will in the rocks beyond where the buzzards gathered in the morning to sun, far above the mailboxes in front of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and the half dozen other houses called Valentine, Arizona. To avoid going crazy from teaching, we’d spend our weekends having adventures, wandering in the vacant lands round about.
            One morning, we started out at sunrise with Will in order to find a way up to “Car Top,” the tallest peak in the Peacock Mountains, some miles away across the valley. Gamble’s quail called from the scrub oaks in the wash as the first breezes came up the slope. We put our backpacks into our weathered Ford Festiva and set out along the roads, graded out of the sand of the valley floor, its wheels hammering along the endless washboard as we swerved here and there to avoid the worst of it.  
            Eventually we came to a cattle guard on the far side, swamped with sand and piled up on one end with tumbleweed. We could just make out the white of a house up in the feet of the mountains, beyond the mesquite and scrub oak as we began to climb, speeding through patches of deep sand and straddling gullies in the lane. Presently the lane reached  the house, windowless and forlorn, across from a grey barn and its fences, still able to hold cattle, but never to be part of a ranch again. On we went, lurching and climbing into the piñon pine, over a series of ridges, eventually finding ourselves churning our way up the sand of a dry wash for a very long time, until the thought of getting stuck made us turn about and park. We stepped out into the silence and mounted our backpacks. A canyon wren called. We sat on a glistening schist outcrop, tied our tennis shoes and set out, trudging through the sand of the wash.
            When the sun was overhead, a narrow lane left the wash to climb through the piñons and agave to a gravelly clearing with a squeaking windmill, still pumping water, and a stunning view of nearby Car Top. We spread out a picnic and studied the vista. It would be another day yet to reach its peak, if we were to go this way. It was past time to start back. Supper would probably be late.
            When we reached the car, I strained out from under the straps of my pack and set it in the sand. Undoubtedly was a waste of time, locking the car, I thought. We’re at least a good six or seven miles from the nearest human being. Still… I reached into my pocket. “Oh no!” I cried, as I frantically grabbed at every sort of pocket I had. “Keys! I’ve lost the car keys!”
            Will started back up the wash, retracing our steps. He was gone a long time. We were sitting by the car in despair when he reappeared, shaking his head. What would we do, just walk home? It would take all night, at the very least. We were already nearly out of water, and there were a lot more hours of afternoon sun. This was the Mohave Desert, after all. Could we make it? Suddenly he stopped short. cover.jpg EK“Here!” he hollered, snatching up the keys out of the sand. “I found ’em!”
            Just like Olloo, I thought as I turned up one end of the egg and switched on the Dremmel, ‘way out in the middle of the Great Strah in Elf Killers, finding the impossible one thing that saves everything.
Tom Phipps