Good driving surfaces; Bumpy roads to the past

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Good driving surfaces; Bumpy roads to the past

Good driving surfaces; Bumpy roads to the past

Editor’s note: This column originally ran in the Nov. 18, 2010 issue of Flag Live. I confess, the natural disasters Flagstaff has experienced in the last year have honed my survival instincts. With Nov. 2 looming on the horizon I interpreted the low tea-colored clouds as an impending landslide of poor judgment and I headed toward the Mexican border before they closed it. Desperate to breathe air untainted by negative campaign ads I rolled down the blacktop toward Baja California. I fully intended to park myself in a folding chair at the edge...

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Jersey found her calf; Years of corn

Posted by on Feb 9, 2017 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Jersey found her calf; Years of corn

Jersey found her calf; Years of corn

“Jan 4th snowing Today and Cold. 3 days work with team.” I have been reading my grandfather Henry New Year’s pocket calendar. It is about 4 inches by 6 inches and bound in red cloth. The cover reads Physician’s Memorandum for 1906, but grandpa’s entries span the following 20 years. The book is filled with testimonials for Gudes Pepto-Mangan, a patent medicine with miraculous properties and my grandpa’s penciled entries. Most of the entries deal with farm business. His spelling was variable—ears of corn became a drawled “years of corn.” His...

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Merry Christmas from the family; Wrestling with the dark

Posted by on Dec 29, 2016 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Merry Christmas from the family; Wrestling with the dark

Merry Christmas from the family; Wrestling with the dark

Solstice morning breaks clear but for a few thin grey clouds on the eastern rim. They are stippled with a warm rosy light. The crisp air smells of snow to come and frosted sage. The patchwork of honey-colored grama grass, tufts of fuzzy-topped rabbit brush and small continents of wet-black cinders flare brightly in the first Jesus rays streaming across the valley toward me. My body has been dictating its own schedule of late and I’m becoming a connoisseur of sunrises. This has been a dark, long night and the brilliant sun is welcome. When I...

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Peeling peaches; Take me home

Posted by on Nov 17, 2016 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Peeling peaches; Take me home

Peeling peaches; Take me home

I have been a performing musician for almost 50 years. I have enjoyed the variety of events I’ve played for; from river trips through the Grand Canyon to bat mitzvas, to groups of partying investment bankers, to wide-eyed kindergarteners. When I answered the ringing phone I didn’t recognize the name of the caller. “I’ve heard you do programs at the senior center where my mother was a resident. Mom died yesterday—she always enjoyed your performances. I wonder if you would conduct a little celebration service for her and do some specific...

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Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Again, the harvest

Posted by on Oct 6, 2016 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Again, the harvest

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?  Again, the harvest

  “Will the circle be unbroken/By and by, Lord, by and by/There’s a better home awaiting/In the sky Lord, in the sky.” — Lyrics from “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, as performed by Johnny Cash Dark, rain-laden clouds boil up from the southeast horizon and roll overhead. The air is scented with pine and sage. Autumn temperatures have staked their claim on the landscape. The sumac has turned a dark scarlet which is almost black. A few snapdragons and the dahlias burn with color in the midst of browning weeds. The scratchy triangular leaves...

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Posthaste: Waiting for things to stay the same

Posted by on Aug 25, 2016 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Posthaste: Waiting for things to stay the same

Posthaste: Waiting for things to stay the same

My granddaughter came downstairs the other night long after the rest of the household had settled in for the evening. I was communing with my laptop. She works a couple of jobs and attends college. I’m awfully proud of her. “Grandpa, I need your help,” she said. “How do you address a letter?” I was startled. Don’t they teach that in school anymore? What was once a basic living skill was now esoteric knowledge. Mail was a powerful mystery that engaged my imagination as a child. It was a link to the outside world that was at once entertaining...

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Sacred groves; Global warming and pee trees

Posted by on Jul 14, 2016 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Sacred groves; Global warming and pee trees

Sacred groves; Global warming and pee trees

    This week, a legacy essay from Tony Norris. A few yards from my front door stands my favorite tree to pee under. It has ever been so. I imagine a delta rich in potash and nitrogen beneath the pine needles feeding the coyote gourd that twists and spreads downhill in a luxuriant profusion. From this sheltered vantage point I’ve surveyed many a sunrise and moonrise over the ragged edge of the forest a hundred yards away. A trio of ponderosas stands out against the sky. They were on guard when men started using steam power. The...

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Cornbread dreams; Let them eat cake

Posted by on Jun 2, 2016 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Cornbread dreams; Let them eat cake

Cornbread dreams; Let them eat cake

“The North thinks it knows how to make cornbread, but this is gross superstition.” — Mark Twain My editor recently observed that I hadn’t written about corn in a while. He recognizes I’m obsessed with that commonest of vegetables. As the buffalo was to the Sioux prairie dwellers, so corn was to my ancestral culture. My forefathers hacked clearings in the great primeval forests of Tennessee and Kentucky and planted patches of corn and beans and squash. Fresh “roasting ears” were cooked in their husks in the hot ashes of the fireplace. They...

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Angels unaware; A whale of a problem

Posted by on Mar 17, 2016 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Angels unaware; A whale of a problem

Angels unaware; A whale of a problem

Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. Psalm 42:7 (King James Version) The fingernail beach that welcomes the Sea of Cortez into Cantu Cove is about a mile long. During the final days of the old year I stood in the center of its arc and looked seaward. I sometimes get the startling sensation that I’m peeking out through the lens of a great blue eye. I drew a very deep breath and remarked to myself that it’s a big world out there. I didn’t need enhanced vision to see the dead...

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A mother’s bullet; Leaving home

Posted by on Feb 11, 2016 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on A mother’s bullet; Leaving home

A mother’s bullet; Leaving home

Texas 1960 My sister Kathy was trying her wings a little. She was dating a wild boy. Mama was concerned about her so she asked our elder brother Eldon to have a word. I was with Kathy in the park, an oak-shaded area near the well house where we spent summer hours. Eldon pulled up in his two-tone Desoto and took a moment to light a cigarette before he exited the car. My brother was a handsome man, short with dark curly hair and a world-weary cynicism I admired. He looked at Kathy. “You’re a mean motor scooter and a bad go-getter,” he concluded...

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What does the deep sea say? Stars that light other worlds

Posted by on Dec 3, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on What does the deep sea say? Stars that light other worlds

What does the deep sea say?  Stars that light other worlds

Los Indios who live high in the Sierras of Mexico tell a story about a contest between deer and frog. When deer insisted his eyesight was the sharpest, frog suggested a test. The first to see the sun’s rays in the morning would be the winner. “And the wager?” asked the deer. “Twenty heel flies,” said the frog. The proud deer snorted agreement. In the pre-dawn the deer faced the Eastern horizon, but the frog turned toward the distant Western peaks. Long before the deer saw a glimmer of light the frog cried out that he had spied the first rays...

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La Llorona; The Crying Woman of the Rio De Flag

Posted by on Oct 29, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on La Llorona; The Crying Woman of the Rio De Flag

La Llorona; The Crying Woman of the Rio De Flag

Author’s note: “From a live performance, best if read aloud.” Better than 100 years ago Flagstaff, my rough and tumble frontier town, had more saloons than churches. There was a young woman named Maria. Maria was probably the best looking girl in northern Arizona and she knew it. She would talk to her abuelita, her little grandmother: “When I marry, I am going to marry the most handsome cowboy. He will have hair as black as a raven’s wing and moustaches that come down and curve up on the end.” “Maria,” her grandmother would...

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Beans and Rice; Teach a man to give

Posted by on Sep 24, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Beans and Rice; Teach a man to give

Beans and Rice; Teach a man to give

Almost 20 years ago Dr. Henry Poore sat across from me in the studio of KAFF Country 93.5 FM and allowed me to interview him about his early days in Flagstaff for the show Under Western Skies. He talked of waiting for a pack train of burros to cross Highway 89 on its way to restock a sheep camp on the peaks. He spoke of the Navajo families with horse-drawn wagons coming in from the reservation and camping in the town park for the big Pow Wows. Then he told a story about an old man living out his last days just a mile from where my home stood, who looked to the compassion of a dying country doctor to feed him through an old fashioned Flagstaff winter. Time stood still as a master storyteller held forth. Dr. Poore finished talking and I looked at the tape recorder to make sure it was rolling. It was not the first or the last time I had heard him relate an engaging tale, but I sensed there was something about this experience that was a landmark for him. I was hardly the first person to encourage him to write down his experiences to share with a wider audience and in 2006 Goose River Publishing released Lessons Remembered: Memoirs of an Audacious Country Doctor. Dr. Poore was generous enough to share this telling of “Two Men Named Charlie” from his book.

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Monsoon therapy; The rising of the rain

Posted by on Aug 21, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Monsoon therapy; The rising of the rain

Monsoon therapy; The rising of the rain

Stark white cumulonimbus clouds collide over the San Francisco Peaks and pile up like pins in the bowling alley. The crack of the lightning strike turns my head. For a moment the silver wire burns against the sky and then it dances behind my closed eyelids. The thunder rolls from beneath my feet and the black cinder hills toss it back to the towering pines. Like a logjam at spring flood the year’s accumulation of emotional debris vibrates and shudders in my chest in response to the pounding of the thunder and I feel purged; I breathe just a...

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Guitars, glue and memories; Darling companion

Posted by on Jul 16, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Guitars, glue and memories; Darling companion

Guitars, glue and memories; Darling companion

I sat in the dim room with a group of early risers and watched my son’s performance. He had the first slot in the folk festival. On his knee rested a 1976 Gibson Heritage guitar. It had seen better days. Although it wasn’t visible to the audience, I knew there was the scar of a repaired crack where the peg head meets the neck. As my son worked his way through a country blues number, I let the Gibson take me back in time on a ribbon of sweet tone. I was living in Rapid City, S.D., on a hillside in the shadow of a couple of giant concrete...

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Backtrails; Uneasy lies the head

Posted by on Jun 11, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Backtrails; Uneasy lies the head

Backtrails; Uneasy lies the head

Some of my ancestors on my Daddy’s side came out of Tennessee in the 1700s and for more than 50 years worked their way north across Kentucky to Illinois growing bloody butcher corn and Jacob’s beans in patches of rich soil they hacked from the endless forest. They ate game and hunted their own herds of half-wild pigs that ran free and fattened on acorns. Sylvester Norris settled along Crane Crick near where Peoria is today. His wife didn’t long survive giving birth to my grandfather on Jan. 1, 1845. His birthdate dictated his name:...

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Sibchronicity; You know what?

Posted by on May 7, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Sibchronicity; You know what?

Sibchronicity;  You know what?

As a child, I often found myself reading books I heard my sister Kathy talk about. She read aloud poems that moved her or passages that just demanded sharing. She guided me into The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter at about age 10. There I first engaged a consuming romantic love that suffered greatly and played out against the world of medicinal herbs. Heady stuff for a pre-pubescent boy. She recognized a good story and encouraged my efforts in the midst of our chaos. Her last act before escaping the family to work for Gooch Meat Packing was...

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Peeking through a rent in time; You’ve got a friend

Posted by on Apr 2, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Peeking through a rent in time; You’ve got a friend

Peeking through a rent in time; You’ve got a friend

Time folded back upon itself recently and the fabric yielded and tore slightly beneath an unseen pressure. I had received a friend request on Facebook. I didn’t recognize the name so I did my usual private eye routine and began by looking at the profile picture. Thank god it wasn’t a kitten or cartoon avatar. I studied a photo of a bewhiskered grandfatherly man seated comfortably at a microphone with a guitar. He had a bemused expression on his face with his glasses pushed up his nose. He was strangely familiar … then like an image emerging...

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On the Air; Will the circle be unbroken?

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on On the Air; Will the circle be unbroken?

On the Air; Will the circle be unbroken?

The engineer lowered the needle to the record and a momentary scratch and pop was followed by the haunting guitar notes of the Ventures playing “Apache.” I spoke into the mike. “This is 1450 AM RADIO KENA Mena, Arkansas and you’re listening to … the Bearcat Prowl.” The year was 1967 and with several schoolmates I was hosting a weekly radio show of news and events that we judged of interest to students in our little town of 3,000. We announced game schedules, pep rallies, school plays and we played songs that wouldn’t ordinarily be part of the...

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Mariachi static: In the dreams by the sea

Posted by on Jan 22, 2015 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Mariachi static: In the dreams by the sea

Mariachi static:  In the dreams by the sea

We sit around a desert fire; a few hardened sticks of ironwood are yielding a small steady flame and little smoke. The calm waters of the Sea of Cortez a few yards away are murmuring companionably. Orion has just careened from behind the shadow of El Morro and he flashes his Concho belt against the black velvet sky. A young coyote yips “I been to Austin” and the camp dogs are off like a shot to a distant place up the arroyo where their muffled barking breaks against the night like surf. We bask beneath the stars. The conversation turns to...

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Dear Sam and Rose,

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Dear Sam and Rose,

Dear Sam and Rose,

Greetings from the Global Warming Research Zone #10 where we received our first measurable snow since last May this past weekend. It was only a dusting but now the San Francisco Peaks look like the optimistic winter scenes that have been flocked on store windows since early November. Sue turned her chickens loose in the spent garden and they are faithfully turning the mulch and finding weed seeds and insects and treating the whole business like a day in the park. Rose says you’ve built a henhouse closer to the “big house” so you can guard...

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Proverbs woman

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Proverbs woman

Proverbs woman

She considereth a field and buyeth it, with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.  She looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. — Proverbs 31:16, 27, 28 I dream. I’m sitting on wicker furniture with a friend in an apple orchard. We are bathed in moonlight. The boughs hang heavily and fragrant with massed ivory blossoms. I’m uneasy because its autumn and we’ve already had two killing frosts. We talk quietly but in...

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Searching for the White Buffalo; Poetry as medicine

Posted by on Sep 4, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Searching for the White Buffalo; Poetry as medicine

Searching for the White Buffalo; Poetry as medicine

The storm clouds boil up the eastern sky until a wall of gunmetal gray curls over and above me. A westering sun fires up the corn and pole beans and the tall shaggy pines that border the over-achieving garden. They stand like cardboard cutouts against the backdrop of the approaching monsoon storm. Blunt fingers strum the strings of my pensive heart. I get in the car and drive slowly down my cinder road appraising the border of rank sunflowers, amaranth and primrose. Three foot high patches of bee balm lift sturdy stems to airy balls of...

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Waiting for the harvest

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Waiting for the harvest

Waiting for the harvest

It was a hunt to remember. Ken Ralston and I had muzzle loader permits for elk on the North Rim. Ken had been my companion for many adventures through the years and I looked forward to his company and the scenery almost as much as the hunt. I was not familiar with this territory, but Ken assured me he knew the deep canyons and ridges like his own mama’s kitchen and that his scouting had revealed plenty of elk sign. The dusty rutted road was long and our progress was slow. We reached our campsite at setting of sun and paused for a moment to...

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Outlaw etiquette; Muley and life on the train

Posted by on Jul 10, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Outlaw etiquette; Muley and life on the train

Outlaw etiquette;  Muley and life on the train

My mug of coffee steams like a sentient being and hums between my palms. The clerk smiles when I place a dollar tip in the jar. She has a purple streak in her hair. I wait my turn at the fixings table. The woman in front of me adds one Sweet’N Low and a shake of non-dairy chemicals to her cup and selects a wooden stirring stick from the open container. After vigorously swishing her brew she discards the little stick in the trash, its purpose on this earth completed. I step up and add a generous dose of half-and-half to my cup and stream the...

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The way the river flows; Katie Lee

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on The way the river flows; Katie Lee

The way the river flows; Katie Lee

I threaded my way out of Doney Park along dusty roads lined with lush patches of feral rye grass heavy with seed heads. The trim coopers hawk watched from its perch above on the phone wire for the mice gathering for the harvest. Plump prairie dogs stood at alert as I passed. They are too big for the coopers hawk to manage, but red tails and northern goshawks frequent the area and they are certainly up to the task. The corners of fields and the bar ditch are rife with the drought-resistant rye which re-seeds itself 50 years after any serious...

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April is the cruelest month; Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

Posted by on May 1, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on April is the cruelest month; Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

April is the cruelest month; Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers. – From The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot If you were to sit on the small limestone hill in back of my childhood home on an April morn you might see spring unfolding on a small scale across the landscape below. You would pan across green hay meadows and overgrazed cow pastures studded with patches of prickly pear and bull...

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Benediction; Singing for your supper

Posted by on Mar 27, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Benediction; Singing for your supper

Benediction;  Singing for your supper

“There’s a friendly tie of some sort between music and eating.” – Thomas Hardy, Under the Greenwood Tree I’m doing a ride along with Emma Kate, my eldest granddaughter, as we shop for dinner supplies in sleepy San Felipe. She’s very focused on the task at hand. She has had her learner’s permit for about a week and we’ve planned some serious windshield time for our visit in Mexico. San Felipe has only a few traffic lights, but does an admirable job of managing traffic flow with four way stop signs. Emma is getting plenty of braking practice....

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Me & Pete Seeger; Lessons learned along the way

Posted by on Feb 20, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Me & Pete Seeger; Lessons learned along the way

Me & Pete Seeger;  Lessons learned along the way

Follow me down a dirt road bordered by barbed wire fences under a 1950s blue sky. My feet are bare and I’m shirtless and I sing with great feeling, “Where have all the flowers gone long time passing? Where have all the flowers gone long time ago?” A deep ravine cuts across the widow Blanton’s pecan grove and goes under the farm road by our mailbox. In the cool shade of a giant pecan tree, dewberries blossom in a wild tangle. Here I sit and look at the mail and ponder the beautiful symmetry of the song and wonder about the emerging patterns in...

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Gone to Texas; Happy birthday, Grandpa

Posted by on Jan 16, 2014 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Gone to Texas; Happy birthday, Grandpa

There was a time after the Civil War when a person might leave the country on short order with no explanation. Folks would often say they had “Gone to Texas.” When my grandfather left Crane Creek, Ill. he did go to Texas. I feel as though 2013 grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shook me like a terrier shakes a rat. Health problems and issues beyond my control have wrung me out like a dish rag. The new moon has fallen on New Year’s Day. It’s Jan. 1, 2014. I’m ready to take my chances with a new year. The wind is thin and cold. I stand...

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A tale of two tables; The curious origins of furniture

Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on A tale of two tables; The curious origins of furniture

  In my childhood home there were not two matching pieces of furniture. There was a random assortment of straight back wooden chairs and shapeless overstuffed chairs covered with large floral patterns. There was a stout table of dark wood joined to an under shelf with narrow uprights like a picket fence on three sides. It had been made by my grandfather, Henry Newyears Norris. This table stood inside the tiny cloakroom of the old Anetta Schoolhouse in which we lived. We grandly called the table The Library. There were less than ten books...

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Kinaalda; Where are the old ways?

Posted by on Nov 7, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Kinaalda; Where are the old ways?

On the wall of my sunroom hang two portraits. In one a small girl leans forward and raven hair cascades forward in heavy ropes to frame her face. She is about 6 years old. She clutches a circular disk of beadwork to her breast and her eyes are closed as though she were praying. The coarse woven blanket that forms the background is patterned with bold geometric themes that echo her high cheekbones. In her innocence she looks like a young Madonna. Keeping her company is a big canvas of an older native woman standing at a woodstove cooking fry...

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Looking for Tom Joad; Everybody’s going on the road

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Looking for Tom Joad; Everybody’s going on the road

Route 66 has a million stories to tell, some funny some poignant. My first real road trip was hitchhiking from Baltimore to L.A. in 1969. Most of those miles I logged on Route 66, the Mother Road. It was an education of the first order. I just walked out to the highway with an army surplus pack on my back and stuck my thumb in the air. For years after, in the moments between wakefulness and sleep, my mind would retrace the path I took that summer—all the people who gave me rides and shelter and fed me and told me their stories. Before I even...

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Higgamus hoggamus; My kingdom for a scribe

Posted by on Aug 29, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Higgamus hoggamus; My kingdom for a scribe

This may look easy, but it’s not. It’s hard. Coming up with a fresh new subject for the old “Letter from Home” column … I start writing and I get a few paragraphs into it and it’s looking really promising then a small voice says, “You wrote about that in 2008.” Or, I start with a flourish and then fade quickly with nary a point or conclusion in sight. The deadline approaches and I cast about for inspiration and enlightenment. For years the hours I’ve spent driving have been fertile ones. For a decade I worked as a telephone serviceman and at...

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Coming through the rye; Adapting to changing times

Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Coming through the rye; Adapting to changing times

Look! There along the shoulder of Silver Saddle Road, growing in golden abundance between the brome grass and rabbit brush, are feral fingers of rye, reaching from Doney Park’s past into today’s drier reality. It’s been 50 years since rye was planted as a cover crop for dry-farmed corn, bean and potato fields to keep the soil from blowing away in the winter. Harvests of steel dark grain were once milled into nutritious bread flour, fed to livestock or distilled into sweet untaxed whiskey. Commercial agriculture pretty much collapsed in Doney...

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Open Heart; Dream a little pub for me

Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Open Heart; Dream a little pub for me

At the end of my day it’s the little stories that collect and twist into the shawl of sleep. They replay sometimes at a more appreciative pace. Time slows down a little and the focal area widens and suddenly takes into view the cacophony, color, caresses and odors of the day I just dashed through. I catch the significance of a sideward glance or a smile—the peripheral narrative that makes sense of it all. Often I find myself reviewing a jumble of old familiar images—the illuminated last suppers, flopping fish and leave takings from safe...

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Crop cycles; A tale of two gardens

Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Crop cycles; A tale of two gardens

  Dear Sam, I hope this finds you well, tucked away there in West Virginia’s sheltering hollers. I confess, I keep picturing you in your old trailer, although I’ve visited you twice since you’ve been in your new handmade house. I loved the closeness of the trailer to the creek. I’m sure you don’t take the creek for granted, but streams of water out here are precious few and far between. They have a presence on maps but they’re mostly ceremonial on the ground. We’re down about 30 percent for our annual moisture with no serious clouds...

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Local color; Ancestral corn

Posted by on Apr 11, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Local color; Ancestral corn

My older brother Homer told me about our Cherokee grandma walking with her people from Missouri alongside an oxcart that carried a few household goods and precious seeds into Texas about 1900. Our grandpa was a one-armed schoolteacher who saw the raven-haired beauty pass and declared he would “marry that woman.” Homer explored the prairies around Aledo, Texas, where we grew up when he was just 4 or 5. He would pick the petals from the wildflowers and create mosaic pictures on the sand with the pure bits of color. He would admire them and...

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Road songs; Have lyrics will travel

Posted by on Mar 7, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Road songs; Have lyrics will travel

“Why do you bob your hair, girls?/It’s not the thing to do/Just wear it, always wear it/And to the Lord be true/And when before the judgment/You meet the Lord up there/He’ll say, ‘Well done, for one thing/You never bobbed your hair.’” –Blind Alfred Reed, 1927   The pickup truck carves the ranch road like a broken beer bottle through scattered mesquite and mullein. White limestone dust boils up from its rear as it bounces along. A small boy bare to the waist and wearing faded Levis straddles loops of welding cables and bellies up to the...

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Querencia; At rest off the grid

Posted by on Jan 31, 2013 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Querencia; At rest off the grid

I’m headed north to the Grand Canyon to interview Eric Guisse, who began carving a homestead on the parks border more than 40 years ago. Greg Hales, my pardner in crime and videographer extraordinaire pilots his truck north through ponderosa and piñon scrub. As we pass through a clearing in the forest I glimpse a large white owl perched on a branch beside the road. The bird has a round head and its milky feathers are tipped with jet black. A great snowy owl. What situation brought this magnificent owl so far from his safe Arctic home to such...

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The Christmas spirit; Rapid City, South Dakota, December 1974

Posted by on Dec 27, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on The Christmas spirit; Rapid City, South Dakota, December 1974

I think I may have briefly found the Christmas spirit in South Dakota in 1974. I had just talked myself into the first real job of my life. And about time, too: at the age of 24, I had a wife and two boys. We’d spent the previous years living in Appalachia’s backwoods trying our hand at homesteading. My job duties had included ploughing with a team of horses, butchering hogs and building structures of logs. We raised most of our food and hadn’t participated in the mainstream economy. We were making a new start in South Dakota where Sue had...

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Sacred groves; Global warming and pee trees

Posted by on Nov 22, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Sacred groves; Global warming and pee trees

A few yards from my front door stands my favorite tree to pee under. It has ever been so. I imagine a delta rich in potash and nitrogen beneath the pine needles feeding the coyote gourd that twists and spreads downhill in a luxuriant profusion. From this sheltered vantage point I’ve surveyed many a sunrise and moonrise over the ragged edge of the forest a hundred yards away. A trio of ponderosas stands out against the sky. They were on guard when men started using steam power. The tallest was blasted long ago by lightning and a bare branch...

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One man’s treasure; Reaping where you didn’t sow

Posted by on Oct 18, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on One man’s treasure; Reaping where you didn’t sow

“Somebody said, ‘That’s a strange tattoo you have on the side of your head.’ I said, ‘That’s the blueprint left by the coal. A little more and I’d been dead.’” –“Coal Tattoo” by Billy Ed Wheeler   I’m driving north along Highway 89 in the shadow of the San Francisco Peaks. The October sun threads the air with amber. It picks out the new straw color of Gambel oak on Mt. Elden and the surviving groves of aspen that pour out of the inner basin like molten gold. The vivid purple amaranth is tangled in the dead roadside weeds like the gin...

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What I’ll give you since you asked; Is 10,000 hours enough?

Posted by on Sep 13, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on What I’ll give you since you asked; Is 10,000 hours enough?

My father’s legacy to me was complex. It didn’t include land and investments or stocks and vehicles. He was a skilled craftsman with wood and iron but there was almost no material evidence of his life passed on to me. A story his older brother, my Uncle Hattler, told me more than 50 years ago helped me to understand his endowment to me of a love of music and a proclivity for all-consuming embarrassment. In the little Bosque County, Texas, schoolhouse he and my father attended, the new school teacher introduced herself and concluded with the...

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The aesthetics of guns; Reframing the old west outlook

Posted by on Aug 16, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on The aesthetics of guns; Reframing the old west outlook

My father’s double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun hung above the mantle of our fireplace. He told me about the summer he was 12 and worked with a wheat threshing crew and earned 50 cents a day. The two purchases he made with his summer’s wages were a winter coat for his mother and a shotgun. I grew up in the gun culture. My early memories include a single-shot bolt-action .22 and a Winchester pump .22 rifle that stood in the corner of my parent’s bedroom. My older brothers used them to hunt rabbits and squirrels. When I explored my father’s...

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Circles; You can’t go home

Posted by on Jul 5, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Circles; You can’t go home

  “Where the bluebonnets roll/And the white clouds sail slowly by/Where the little grey hawk/Pauses and hangs in the sky/I’m the lone shooting star/The sweet whip-poor-will’s cry/And the summer’s full moon/Where the bluebonnets roll.” –“Where Bluebonnets Roll By,” by Tony Norris   Abilene is close. We glide through the short grass prairie of the Llano Estacado. Down along the Brazos, dark thunderheads work northward into our path. They say you can’t go home, but this sure smells like home—the sour hot engine smell of the pump jacks...

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Mrs. Abernathy’s pies; The art of presentation

Posted by on Apr 26, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Mrs. Abernathy’s pies; The art of presentation

Spring is firmly fixed in the bungee pattern I like to call bipolar. Whiteout conditions on Saturday bring a foot of serious snow to town and Monday sees short-sleeved skateboarders dodging the rosy crab apple trees in the parks. These very conditions make it hard for fruit trees to fulfill their duty in our little mountain town. Just about the time the warm bee-laden zephyrs have coaxed the peach and plums to unleash their glorious blossoms, a harsh freeze dashes all hope of an autumn harvest. Old timers say the apples make about every seven...

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Dry Farming in cinders; Making the wilderness bloom

Posted by on Apr 5, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Dry Farming in cinders; Making the wilderness bloom

  “You betcha grandma, sure as you’re born. I’ll have some more potatoes and a thunderstorm.” –“Canned Goods” by Greg Brown   The Russian olive branches are whipping the hillside to a brisk fandango beat. A delicate pink froth of blossom on the Nanking cherry hedge dips and bobs in the dance celebrating the return of spring to Doney Park. Tender green forbs have pushed through the crumbly cinders and promise early browsing for rabbits, elk and deer. The legendary Doney Park wind hyperventilates by day and roars like a runaway...

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The light that leads; Ashes from old campfires

Posted by on Feb 23, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on The light that leads; Ashes from old campfires

“You’re travelin’ through a world that you can use, though you shall never own. Your little fire makes it seem like home.” –“Little Fires” by K. W. Boyd   A winter storm washed the sandy fields and black oak thickets along the Brazos. I watched the clouds thin and stretch and give way to glorious sweeps of amber colored light. I headed out to the coulees and oat fields. I hoped to be the first to see something that had been hidden for centuries until the morning’s showers had removed a veil of dust. I learned early to follow my brothers...

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Color and economy; Sunlight reflected on water

Posted by on Jan 12, 2012 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Color and economy; Sunlight reflected on water

I’m in Shonto Begay’s studio above the Downtown Diner. The floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the town square and flood the narrow room with bright illumination. Much of the time I’m speaking to a backlit silhouette surrounded by flares of light—a traveler in time. He is seated before a canvas the size of a sports bar flat screen. A series of figures are sketched in with bold brush strokes in earth tones. Two men in boxing gloves square off beneath lofty pines, and a crowd presses in close to the action. “I saw a picture of workers at Camp...

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Friends bearing gifts; Talking turkey

Posted by on Dec 8, 2011 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Friends bearing gifts; Talking turkey

Our Royal Palm turkey tom and his hen were intended for the Thanksgiving table. Each afternoon as they were released with the chickens to free-range and eat bugs and weed seeds, they didn’t miss an opportunity to display their magnificent crisp formal white plumage tipped in fretted inky black. The tom jumped up on chair or bench to be at eye level with me. He pointed out that at best he would only reach 12 pounds at maturity. “If you’re going to feed a houseful you’ll need one of those center-fold bronze broad-breast turkeys!” he gobbled. I...

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Pass the fear; Ever been scared?

Posted by on Nov 3, 2011 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Pass the fear; Ever been scared?

“In Apache Pass, Prince Rupert, Indian Jack puts a pistol to my head says, ‘How do you like your blue-eyed boy Mr. Dead?’” –“Criminology” by Tom Russell   Ever been scared? I mean really scared—not scared that the eighth grade boys are gonna beat the crap out of you after World History. Not scared that your husband caught you checking out the hunky kid loading your chicken scratch at the feed store, but the heart-stopping kind that changes the geography of your organs, and you taste it in the back of your throat like new pennies. Last...

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Bitter truths; Friends in low places

Posted by on Sep 29, 2011 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Bitter truths; Friends in low places

  I came to the Arizona deserts from the generously watered coves and hollers of the Kentucky hills where songbirds flew across dewy, fern-clad hillsides. A single square mile of forest there might yield a 125 varieties of trees. My first job in my new home required me to crisscross the state. I drove over a thousand miles a week from the New Mexico border to the Colorado River. I loved the breathless vistas and clean horizons, but I suffered dramatically from environmental shock. I longed for the softening effect of a hardwood tree line...

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Location location location; Restrooms and feng shui at Bookmans

Posted by on Jul 21, 2011 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Location location location; Restrooms and feng shui at Bookmans

  “The goal of feng shui as practiced today is to situate the human built environment on spots with good qi. The ‘perfect spot’ is a location and an axis in time.” –Wikipedia   The new Bookmans may have lost something in the translation. When five feet of snow claimed its roof, it took a full year for the doors to reopen. I had played in the front of the old store for almost 20 years, sometime several times a month. A funky home away from home with comfortable thrift-store furniture, toilet seats that fell down at inopportune times...

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You’ll blind yourself; The free-range child

Posted by on Jun 16, 2011 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on You’ll blind yourself; The free-range child

“How much for the whetstone and the old pocket knife?” I was indulging in my Saturday morning yard-sale therapy. I was only interested in the worn gray sharpening stone but I could see that the blades of the cheap jackknife had been carefully whetted until they would shave hair from your forearm. “They were my granddad’s. How does 2 dollars for the stone and a dollar for the pocket knife sound?” My 12-step program for junk acquisition went right out the window. I dropped the knife in my pocket and headed out to the Flagstaff Friends of...

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A bird in flight; Pickin’ tunes and hitching rides in a simpler time

Posted by on May 12, 2011 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on A bird in flight; Pickin’ tunes and hitching rides in a simpler time

“In the dead of the night/In the still and the quiet/I slip away like a bird in flight/Back to those hills/A place that I call home.” –“West Virginia,” Hazel Dickens   The battered convertible hurtled between cut rock walls covered with matted honeysuckle vines whose sweetness covered me like a benediction. Barn swallows scissored the sky above me as they dipped in and out of the lowering sunlight. Huntington, W.V., scattered golden along the banks of the Ohio. I’d been hitchhiking through the west for months when a postcard caught up...

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Dream catchers; Dusty dunes in a broken utopia

Posted by on Apr 7, 2011 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Dream catchers; Dusty dunes in a broken utopia

  “Pancho Villa crossed the border in the year of ought 16/The people of Columbus still hear him riding through their dreams/He killed 17 civilians you could hear the women scream/Blackjack Pershing on a dancing horse was waiting in the wings/Tonight we ride, tonight we ride/We’ll skin ol’ Pancho Villa, make chaps out of his hide/Shoot his horse, Siete Leguas, and his 27 brides/Tonight we ride, tonight we ride.” –Tom Russell, “Tonight We Ride”   “Family Ernesto Garcio” reads the hand-painted sign nailed to a 2-by-4 planted solidly...

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Like father like son; Those who don’t remember the past

Posted by on Mar 3, 2011 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Like father like son; Those who don’t remember the past

Daddy was a connoisseur of objects. Some might say junk. Some came from the salvage yard on the old White Settlement Road. He would take a load of rusty iron, copper wire salvaged from electric motors and brass plumbing fittings to sell by the pound, and then spend hours going through wooden boxes filled with dusty tools, screws, bolts and nails. He would climb mountains of oil field debris and sort piles of pipe and drill stem and come home with the red Chevy sitting just as low on the springs as when she’d departed in the morning. If a...

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The Highwayman; Learning in kitchen literature sessions

Posted by on Jan 27, 2011 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on The Highwayman; Learning in kitchen literature sessions

The therapist works her elbow along my breastbone and with an audible pop my rib moves back to its proper place. I had tripped over a space heater’s power cord that morning and wind-milled across the room catching myself on the door jam and painfully tweaking my back and ribs. I hobbled to Nicci, possibly the world’s best massage therapist for healing. Nicci went to school with my kids and has been keeping me in tune for almost 20 years. I drift into the zone as she kneads my body and the stereo floats the sweet voice of Loreena McKennet into...

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Attack poultry Happy to see you

Posted by on Dec 23, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Attack poultry Happy to see you

“I had an old hen she had a wooden foot/She made her nest by a mulberry root/Laid more eggs than any hen around the farm/A whole wooden leg wouldn’t do her any harm.” —“Cluck Ol’ Hen”   The pounding autumn rains that followed this summer’s fires scoured the topsoil of centuries from the sides of the peaks. The bare bedrock gleaming bone white between the trees was a grim forerunner of the hard freezes that have finally claimed the pole beans and Cherokee purple tomatoes in Sue’s garden. We’ve diverted the hens from their run into this...

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Good driving surfaces; Bumpy roads to the past

Posted by on Nov 18, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Good driving surfaces; Bumpy roads to the past

I confess, the natural disasters Flagstaff has experienced in the last year have honed my survival instincts. With Nov. 2 looming on the horizon I interpreted the low tea-colored clouds as an impending landslide of poor judgment and I headed toward the Mexican border before they closed it. Desperate to breathe air untainted by negative campaign adds I rolled down the blacktop toward Baja, Calif. I fully intended to park myself in a folding chair at the edge of the lapping water and spend my time trying to identify shore birds by their shadows...

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Shut up and go to sleep; A conversation about lullabies

Posted by on Oct 21, 2010 in Column, Darcy Falk, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Shut up and go to sleep; A conversation about lullabies

Tony: I’m in the planning stages for a new CD of lullabies, those songs intended to calm the fretful child and persuade him to fall fast asleep. It seems all my younger friends have babies and toddlers. Having raised five of my own and boasting eight grandchildren, I want to record a collection of soothing tunes that might make bedtime a little easier for these young ones. Darcy is consulting with me on the project, and helping keep me to the straight and narrow. In our discussion the other day, I suggested that lullabies grew to fill a need;...

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Plum jam; Making light of the depression

Posted by on Sep 30, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Plum jam; Making light of the depression

The stems of the amaranth in my yard have turned a deep embarrassed purple in just the last week. They were just part of the background of an unusually lush tangle of knee-high greens, but the shortening hours of sunlight and almost freezing temps have triggered a chemical color shout-out that makes them tremble and vibrate. It hasn’t been cold enough to kill yet but “one more magenta shirt will do you.” It’s a busy time for nature—shutting down one whole system and shifting gears into autumn’s flare of color and then winter’s long rest....

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The unintended performance; Broken strings and opportunities

Posted by on Sep 9, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on The unintended performance; Broken strings and opportunities

Sometimes the real show is not the one we showed up for. I’m always delighted when the hidden and serendipitous performance unfolds and I am there—the accidental audience looking on at the unscheduled dance. It was an evening some 20 years ago at the Coconino Center for the Arts. The Bluegrass Cardinals were playing! It was one of the first shows Dick Wodrich and I ever promoted. I was proud to introduce them to my town. The Cardinals represented to me what I valued most about traditional bluegrass—sweet family harmonies learned around a...

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Rainy day chicken; Time traveling in the henhouse

Posted by on Aug 5, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Rainy day chicken; Time traveling in the henhouse

“Like our travels, our workdays burned upon the world/lifting its inwards up in fire. Veiled in that power/our minds gave up the endless cycle of growth and decay/and took the unreturning way, the breathless distance of iron.” –Wendell Berry, “Horses” The lightning has been pitchforking across the eastern sky for 45 minutes. I breathe deeply of the moist, sage-laden air. The edge of the black cloud boils overhead. The chickens have been enjoying their daily furlough from the pen, looping crazily through the tall weeds after grasshoppers and...

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In the shadow of the smoke cloud; The mountain just keeps blowing up

Posted by on Jul 1, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on In the shadow of the smoke cloud; The mountain just keeps blowing up

The plume of smoke is robust. Deep white—like God’s own puffball mushroom—twisting and alive with the effort of rising from behind Mt. Elden. My home lies over there. It’s Father’s Day Sunday and we’re having a BBQ at my daughter’s house on Cherry Hill. Our first fire of the season started at the edge of town just three days ago. The radio confirms that the mountain is ablaze upwind from my Doney Park home and the wind is gusting 40 miles an hour. We swing east from town because the highway that is the most direct route home has been closed...

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Robin Hood in Texas; Mixed heroic metaphors

Posted by on May 27, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Robin Hood in Texas; Mixed heroic metaphors

The morning sun backlit the new leaves of the elm and oak trees along the stream, and they glowed with an emerald fire to rival that of some fat bishop’s jewels. The church’s marble spire stood against the skyline. A skinny boy in ragged overalls belly crawled through a tangle of fox grape and cat briar to the edge of a sandy cut bank and surveyed the scene below him. A score of the king’s deer stood in the shallow water drinking. A massive stag lifted its head and tested the breeze. The water streamed from its mouth back to the streams...

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Bless these seeds; Ghost of birthdays past

Posted by on Apr 22, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Bless these seeds; Ghost of birthdays past

“Inch by inch/Row by row/Gonna make this garden grow/All it takes is a rake and a hoe/And a piece of fertile ground/Inch by inch/Row by row/Someone bless these seeds I sow/Someone keep them safe below/Till the rains come a-tumblin’ down.” –”The Garden Song,” by David Mallett Shanti and Corey Rade Whipstone Farm, Paulden, Ariz. Dear Shanti and Corey, Greetings from the thawing northland. Corey, you haven’t seen a snow pack on the peaks like this since you were a kid. Snow banks still hide in the shade of the forest. I trust you’ve been getting...

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Amaze your friends; A man and his axe

Posted by on Mar 4, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Amaze your friends; A man and his axe

A musician’s life is a shared life, sometimes with an audience but always with his instrument. Performers often develop an intimate love-hate relationship with their guitar—naming them after sweethearts and mythic champions—and sacrificing to be with them. In 1949 BB King was playing a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. Two drunks got in a fight over a women and overturned an open barrel being used to heat the hall. BB fled the ensuing fire with the crowd. When he realized he had left his guitar inside he fought his way back through the flames to...

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Snowbound; In the mountains of lore

Posted by on Jan 28, 2010 in Column, Tony Norris | Comments Off on Snowbound; In the mountains of lore

In my youth I was a humble working cowboy riding for the CO Bar—that’s the Babbit Ranch. One day the Old Man came to me and said, “My prize broodmare has run off. Track her down and bring her back.” He was boss so I saddled up my pony and set out to find that runaway horse. All day I rode through the golden aspens under a bright blue sky and it was a glorious day to be on horseback in the mountains. When the sun started going down I still hadn’t found the runaway but I came upon a little cabin the cowboys used for a linecamp. When I woke up...

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