Hill Billy Tales

We took a short trip to the beautiful place in the mountains where the Sierra Nevada mountains meet the Cascade range of mountains. It is also where the grasslands sport a sign that says ‘Welcome to Oregon’ as you keep driving north in California. Studded with lakes, rivers and waterfalls, amidst the towering glory of the tall trees, the place really welcomed us with marvelous, serendipitous finds, wholesome joys and gave us moments of Zen that I know we will look back on with contentment for years.

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We drove smartly past grasslands and hills rolling by and sailed into Oregon in style. Within a few miles, we saw the quintessential American landmark: Signs indicating how many miles to the nearest Visitor Center.

15 miles to the Visitor center.
10 miles to the Visitor center.
The count down was on. The highway signs were creaking with the beckoning of the visitor center. This is one of those times where you can see Marketing mess with your minds: What if we missed the sight of a lifetime because we ignored the signs to the V Center? We succumbed and went in to find a sleepy town that had two main streets and two cross streets connecting the main ones (Lest the folks of the town come at me: I exaggerate, but you get the pic).

Once in there, we tootled along for a walk by the river admiring the swallows and giving them the names in the fancy pamphlet. We spotted a narrow sign that stated ‘River access’, and off we went through the thickening vegetation. Brambles scratched, the sound of the fresh flowing water was soothing to the ear, and the teenage girls (daughter and niece) looked distinctly uncomfortable with the mosquitoes but gallantly kept from complaining. In a titter and a tat, we found ourselves amidst lingerie on a rock, a dog that was wondering whether to rouse itself and check out the strangers, and two people camping by the riverside.

“Oh…sorry to bother you. We did not know this comes to the campground – just admiring the river.”, we said largely for the benefit of the dog, who felt that he must earn his keep and came along to check us out.

An old man clumped out of the trees, and said in his gruff voice that it was alright, and that the river and the river bed did not belong to him, and anyone was welcome. His unshaven face gave him a mane-like countenance, his voice reeked of not being used often, and he looked like he had been living on the rough for sometime. I felt the children draw closer to me and gave him a nervous smile.
He went on to tell us about how he has been camping by the riverside for a while now. “ I am down from the South,” he said.
“Oh really! We are here from California too.”
He threw his mane back and laughed.
No Ma’am. Am from down south!” he said puffing his chest out with pride.
“Oh you mean southern states like Louisiana?”
Yes Ma’am – a true hill-billy I am. You meet a hill-billy before?

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This is where the conv. got a little strained. I mean, I had not met a true hill-billy before, or atleast I did not know the conditions for classifying someone as a hill-billy. I spent my childhood in the remote hills, and still startle at loud motor noises like metal being grated for a salad, does that make me a hill-billy? I gave him a silly, strained, forced laugh to which he looked at me keenly, and said “Why? What is wrong with me being a hill-billy.
“Uh..Nothing. Nothing at all. Do you like being a hill-billy?”
I do! Course I do! There are sum who can’n live off earth-like. Me? I can live off the earth – I can find meself some berries an’ hunt an’ fish like.
“That is very good.” I said.
I have to admit my admiration for the man rose. I have often wondered whether we have the ability to survive anymore. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we are slowly devolving to a point of not knowing how to survive by our wits. We seem to rely on GPS for going to the corner grocery store, the corner grocery store seeing the trend, is telling us, “Please please don’t bother. Just press a button and we’ll send a drone along with milk and such. You just keep pressing ‘Yes’ on that remote when it asks you whether you want to continue watching.”

Conversation languished for sometime after this, and the daughter came to my rescue, by shoving the creature catalogue in his hands, and asked whether he had seen river otters before. He gave her a pleased smile and told her about all the different bird and animal-likes he had seen in the river, and said he had never seen an otter before. His classifications and naming differed somewhat from the pamphlet, and his ‘white birds’ and ‘grey lil ones’ and ‘those brown ones up top’ were definitely easier to look out for.

We were well on our way after bidding him and his dog good-bye. Living on the wits may have suited him, but for us, we needed a good sandwich before we could go on, seemed to be consensus of the group. The husband reached for the phone, and I smartly took it from him saying, ‘It is such a small town, I am sure we can just drive down and find a Subway sandwich place. If he can live without technology, why can’t we?”.
‘It will be much quicker with a phone!’, he groaned, but I heard none of that nonsense: it was drowned in that growl that emanated from the stomach.

Life’s greatest lessons are learned when tempers are short. Everyone argued that the sandwich place was the other way, and after 3 u-turns, 4 no-no-not-that-one false starts, a hungry gloom settled upon the car.

Sniffing out a sandwich place in a car with its A/C on in full blast and closed windows is an art you got to learn. The hill-billy might have done it with the dog’s help, but we had to admit defeat.

I confess that we finally pulled out the phone to locate the place in a 3 mile strip. But after that: Boy! We were bulldogs and nosed on straight for Crater Lake with the GPS on. After all, evolution also means knowing how and when to use the right tools, what?!

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When Humor Jumped In Neptune’s Pool

California has many things to offer: it is home to sprawling deserts, cold beaches, misty forests, rainy fogs, snowy stretches, marvelous lakes, fast flowing rivers, and so much more. It is one of the reasons why we had neglected the Hearst Castle in San Simeon California for this long. Every time some one asked us about Hearst Castle, we’d say, “Oh – yes! Must go” without conviction and move on. This time, however, we took the plunge and buoyed up in Paso Robles, California.

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Once in there, it is imperative that you follow your hosts’ instructions scrupulously, for the tour guides there do not put it past themselves to take a ruler and rap it across your knuckles if you don’t. One time, we found ourselves standing in the game room and the guide went on and on about the parties the rich man used to give there (Their guests used to play scrabble here, and then they would move across the hall, and play the uno cards there. Sometimes, they would think that chess might be a good idea, but thinking was hard….). Then, she stopped mid sentence, found my pinkie toe not on the carpet, and pulled me up in front of the whole tour. “Ma’am. Ma’am. I ask that you stand on the carpet.
To which I looked around to see who the rule-breaker was, and found there was no Ma’am in the general direction she was shouting at except me. I asked her, “Who? Me?”
Yes Ma’am. Please stay on the carpeted area.
“I am on the carpeted area.”
No ma’am. Your pinkie toe is out.
Sticklers for perfection the Hearst Castle folks.

When you go up to the Hearst Castle, you cannot but help noticing that the man, William Hearst, had nothing to do, had wealth with which he knew not what to do, and therefore he thought it a perfectly reasonable thing to build a castle that made Napolean Bonaparte, Julius Caeser and King Henry the VIII all squirm together in a co-ordinated pirouette in the nether world. As though the human built edifice wasn’t enough, he decided to introduce some zebras, llamas and mountain goats into a habitat that boasts natively of some squirrels and lizards.

If the tour guide is any reflection on the hospitality offered up at the home of old William Hearst, I should like to pass on the invite. We were all now made to stand in attention in the dining room where folks, I was enlightened by the tour guide, ate. I did not know this. So, I looked up.
Sometimes, they had potatoes for dinner, sometimes they had eggs, oatmeal…

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I must mention that this punishing tour was happening at an hour where breakfast is a memory and lunch a yearning.

The guide’s voice was one of those voices these sharp nurses who brook no nonsense have. To top that, she seemed to belong to the category of folks who swallow their sense of humor mistaking them for calcium tablets in their youth. Her jaw set, her face impassive, she went on and on like a steady drip into your veins.

I have always felt for these tour guides. I am not sure what draws them to the career in the first place. It must be a beautiful thing to proudly show the legacy of the place the first three hundred and two times. But the three-hundred and third time, must get somewhat repetitive what? And then, you have people who refuse to keep their pinkie toes on the carpet. Hard.

If you were a guest here at the castle, you would be given the place of honor the first night and sit right next to Marion Davies (his mistress), and then as more and more guests joined, you will be moved along the table. When you find yourself at the end, it is time for you to go.”, she went on in that flat dictaphone commanding her troops sort of voice.

I am sure that was a line inserted for humor. I could almost see Humor springing gay and carefree in that line, and then tripping on the carpet that all toes were supposed to be on, and falling nose first and splattering on the floor.

People shuddered at the implication, thankful that their pal William Hearst did not send them a personal invitation.

A giggler throughout, I was quite sure I would have myself thrown out of the hilltop if I did not behave, but I could not help thinking of P.G.Wodehouse’s quote:

“It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.”

P.G. Wodehouse, The Girl in Blue

I laughed and the husband yanked me to the back of the troupe, to save me from myself.

It was in fact, P.G.Wodehouse, who had put up that gag about being shoved off the table if you stayed too long.
Meals are in an enormous room, and are served at a long table, with [William Randolph] Hearst sitting in the middle on one side and [actress-mistress] Marion Davies in the middle on the other. The longer you are there, the further you get from the middle. I sat on Marion’s right the first night, then found myself being edged further and further away till I got to the extreme end, when I thought it time to leave. Another day, and I should have been feeding on the floor.”—Humorist P.G. Wodehouse, in a letter to a friend describing his visit to William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon, Feb. 25, 1931, quoted in The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes.

If only PGW knew how his good pal, Humor, jumped into Neptune’s pool to avoid further torture, he would have had a gag or two about it for sure. (Neptune pool is a monstrosity with *gulp* Roman columns surrounding a humongous pool, that was dry and was up for renovation because it drained some 5000 gallons of water, when the rest of the state was smacking their lips in thirst).

The Butter Battle Course

When you look up the definition for religion, it states among other things that it is “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance”

How many conflicts has the world endured, is enduring, and will continue to endure because of this belief to which one ascribes supreme importance? I had written about it here (religion).

Who was it who said that every good kind of learning  can be obtained from Childrens’ books?  I whole heartedly agree.

The latest book that I am babbling about is the Butter Battle book, by Dr Seuss.

The Yooks and the Zooks live on either side of a long, meandering wall. The Yooks wear blue, the Zooks wear orange.
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The Yooks think the Zooks silly for buttering their bread with the butter side down, while the Zooks think the Yooks are somewhat dim-witted for buttering their bread with the butter side facing up. The flags of the Yooks and Zooks represent the belief in buttering bread, and the animosity builds from this bread-butter-theory to which they attach supreme importance.

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One day, the Yook patrolman is prowling the place with his Tough-Tufted Prickly Snick-Berry Switch, when a Zook pelts him with a slingshot. This sets in motion an escalating conflict, with both sides coming up with more and more exotic and dangerous arms with which to fight each other.

The Triple Sling Jigger, the Jigger Rock Snatchem, the Blue Goo-er, the Kick-a-poo kid operated by a cocker spaniel – Daniel, the Eight-Nozzled Elephant-Toted Boom Blitz.

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The last page has the Yook patrolman sitting atop the wall with a Zook warrior. Both of them have in their hands a Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo – a small bomb that can annihilate life as we know it, signifying the nuclear threat.

I know we ask of no formal training as a politician: there are no politician licenses, no courses one has to complete to take up public office, but I really think there should be a set of children’s books that they all have to read and re-read as refreshers every year in order to stay in office. We could call it the Butter Battle Course.

The Butter Battle Book has of course given rise to great hilarity in the house. “Do you want to be a Yook or a Zook?”, we ask taking out the butter and the bread. We now butter our bread on both sides so we can be Yooky-Zooks, and sometimes Zooky-Yooks.

The next time any two nations start warring, I suggest thrusting bread buttered on both sides to both parties.

Complement with:
Kahlil Gibran on the Absurdity of Self righteousness
The Colander Religion
Bertrand Russell’s Teapot Religion

Historically Speaking …

I looked at the delectable pile of books by my side waiting to be read. The top of the pile was the beautifully annotated ‘Jane Austen’s History of England. –

Just the sort of history book that appeals to me. Written by Jane Austen when she was 16 years old, the book bears the hallmark of her humor.

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I sat smiling at some of the things written about Henry the 8th & Anne Boleyn.

The book certainly sounded like some of the answer papers of my youth.

I have always felt that History was one of those subjects that was calculated to freeze my brain. Good though my teachers in the subject were, bless them, they could not but help say that the Second Battle of Panipat was fought in 1556. Inside my brain, this simple fact would start a whistling train of thought:

1556. Hmm … funny number.

How to remember that number?

55 in the middle and 6-1 = 5. 

Why not 6551? Because that is in the future.

Very clever. But what about the number 6? Why 6 and not 7?

Maybe, History is the sixth period(?)

But only on Wednesdays.

If only it were 1596, 15*6=90  and then add 6

“Can anybody tell me what happened to Akbar after that battle?” These teachers have voices that have a way of cutting through the most interesting meanderings of the mind.

“What battle?”, I’d write on the side margin, and slip it across to my friend. There she would be, sitting by my side at the wooden desk with a vacant expression on her face biting her pencil. But at this urgent message, she’d stoutly pull herself together and write back, “The Battle of Panipuri, I think.”

Then the exams would roll along, and after days spent cramming the dates and emperors, I would come to the conclusion that all emperors who sought to reign should be made to stand in line in shorts and recite the dates of all those who aspired to power before them.  If they still want to reign, may their shorts fall while they lead the charge – that should teach them not to add to that horribly long list.

To make matters worse, the rumor mills during examination time worked overtime:

(a) The teachers likes diagrams, one person would say, stating emphatically that whatever you do, make sure you draw a diagram for it.

Feverishly, we would start drawing Africa maps, and label the Gold Coast, and the Sahara desert, throwing in the Kilimanjaro for luck. Never mind that the question was about Egypt.

(b) The more you write, the better will be your marks.

So, we would write double-spaced and add spice to the Spice Wars.

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One time I remember writing about Alexander’s Horse. Our History teacher had on one occasion told us about the fine breeds of horses that emperors prided themselves on. My brain tick-tocked away with Alexander’s Horse, and I found to my amazement that the brave stallion was heroic beyond what History books knew. I imagined the horse pulling his great emperor across the blizzards of the mountains one day just by trusting its instinct. The marvelous animal found a stream of fresh flowing water for its emperor. I wrote about 16 sentences on the virtues of the horse, borrowing heavily from my recent reading of Black Beauty (also a black horse with a star on its forehead, duh!) I wrote of its aching muscles, its loyalty that was much admired, and how stable managers had a job that was olfactorily unsatisfactory maybe, but really quite a prestigious one, if it meant looking after the emperor’s horse. I also gave him a name, Macedonia, if I remember right – sealing my understanding of the reign once and for all. (Alexander’s Horse, Bucephalus, would have turned in his grave and asked ‘Is she talking about me? Neigh! ‘ )

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By Walter Crane – The story of Greece : told to boys and girls

“15 more minutes.” the examiner said, and I looked to see that while the paper had a brilliant character sketch of the horse, it had very little about Alexander the Great.

I hastily started another paragraph on the the horse’s rider and finished up the paper. I came out into the brilliant sunshine from the exam hall when my friend said looking at me in admiration, “How much you wrote! I saw you taking two extra sheets! I am sure you are going to ace it!”

I shrugged off this undue praise guiltily, feeling a little sorry for the teacher who had to read such drivel.

It was years later that I read “I, Claudius”, the historical fiction book written by Robert Graves,  and came upon Incitatus, Caligula’s horse. Whether it was fiction or not I cannot say, but this was the horse that the Roman ruler, Caligula, sought to make a senator, and invited to State dinners.

http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/did-caligula-really-make-his-horse-a-consul

The truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t. Mark Twain

I smiled at these pleasant memories, and opened the book in my hand.

 

Jane Austen said,

Edward the 4th

This monarch was famous only for his Beauty & his Courage of which the Picture we have here given of him, & his undaunted behavior in marrying one Woman while he was engaged to another are sufficient proofs. His Wife was Elizabeth Woodville, a Widow who, poor Woman! was afterwards confined in a Convent by that Monster of Iniquity & Avarice Henry the 7th. One of Edward’s Mistresses was Jane Shore, who has had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy & therefore not worth reading. Having performed all these noble actions, his Majesty died, & was succeeded by his son.