One of my brothers lives in the country. Not “in the country” on a manicured estate, not on a horse farm with beautifully painted barns and well-maintained pipe fences outlining lush fields of grass. No, he lives in the country where critters live and die away from the prying eyes of people. Most people, anyway. But my brother sees them, alive and dead. And when he finds a creature laying dead in the country, after the vultures and coyotes have finished ripping the flesh off its skull, he tends to add that skull to his odd collection of skeletal remains. Well, he used to. Until he gave me a load of skeletal remains.
See, I once had this idea of adorning my fence with cow skulls and snippets of barbed wire and an old farm implement or two. That was when I had this hair-brained scheme in my head about replicating a “party deck” behind a gas station/hamburger joint tucked away in the middle of an otherwise purely residential neighborhood close by. This hamburger joint, coincidentally, is John’s Backyard Grill. I love their deck, all snuggled up between the white-painted cinder blocks of the gas station and the worn wooden fences on the east side. It’s covered with the skeletal remains of what once must have been a pretty nice arbor that has long since been beaten and scarred by the weather and by the choking encroachment of honeysuckle and now long-dead wisteria. And there’s an old aluminum water “tower,” about eight feet tall, that serves as a source for a decorative mill fountain that spins slowly as the water pours onto its fins from a wooden spout.
Anyway, I had visions of creating such an oasis in my backyard, I would build a deck near the back fence, hang old window frames and cow skulls and farm implements and license plates from the fence, put in an arbor over the deck and plant honeysuckle and wisteria. It would be my own private little oasis, my glorious piece of West Texas desolation right here in the big city.
And my brother bought into that vision, big time. He was only too happy to help. As he searched through his collection of old bones, he found just what my vision needed. He brought me skulls. Lots of skulls. Several cow skulls. One or two raccoon skulls. A few deer skulls, complete with small racks of antlers. At least two wild boar skulls. And miscellaneous other beasts. I put them all in a pile in my backyard, waiting for the energy and the inspiration to strike me. I put one skull up on the back fence. I liked it. But I waited for more inspiration. And I waited. And I waited.
And then I started collecting the “stuff” that I would need to make this vision a reality. I collected bricks for a pad that would be connected to the deck. I collected large rocks that would fit into the picture, as well. I collected old fence boards that would add to the atmosphere. I collected old window frames. And I waited for more inspiration. And I waited. And I waited.
But then my vision started changing. My vision of an oasis inspired by old West Texas artifacts began to morph into an oasis inspired by Buddhist serenity. I still liked the idea of the West Texas oasis, but it belonged someplace else, not in my back yard. Maybe in the side yard. Maybe I should let the idea simmer a bit longer while I shifted my attention someplace else.
And I did. I shifted my attention to the idea of a clean, serene, pristine oasis inspired by minimalism and sharp corners. And I went in search of something that would serve as the cornerstone of my newly-hatched idea of my ideal oasis. I found it in this wooden wall-hanging. I bought it and took it home, with the intent of coating it with something that would protect it from the harsh Texas sun, heavy rain, ice, snow, sandstorms, bird droppings, and other hazards too numerous to name.
It wasn’t long after bringing home the Buddha that we, my wife and I, started thinking about where “home” really is. Is it really Dallas, Texas? Is this the place we want to spend the rest of our lives? In this place, whose miserable heat and oppressive politics we curse six months and twelve months out of the year, respectively? And so we put Buddha aside, in my study, so we could contemplate these questions. Unlike the old bones, which I visit only rarely in their corner of the backyard, Buddha is my constant companion, watching over me now, as he does, while I sit at my desk and think with my fingers.
This question of where “home” is for us has made even the future of a West Texas oasis highly questionable or, more realistically, out of the question. If this isn’t home, if we’re not going to stay here, it wouldn’t make sense to go to the trouble of making that vision a reality. After all, how likely is it that a prospective buyer would share my passion for weather-worn fences, skulls, barbed wire, and experiences long since forgotten? So, what do we do with the skulls? I will ask my brother if he wants them back. If not, I don’t know quite what to do with them. I certainly don’t want to just discard them as trash, because they are not trash; they are treasures, in the right hands. We’ll see. Before any of this happens, though, we have to answer that core question: “What do you want?”
But what about the Buddha? Well, for now, Buddha will stay in my office, under my poster of the Holstee Manifesto. The Buddha figure and the poster will have to stay here, for the time being, serving as constant reminders…of something. In the interim, I’ll slowly work on getting rid of the clutter, in the back yard and in the house, that gets in the way of seeing things more clearly. Last night’s sale of the sofa bed was a start! There’s much more room in the front living area now; the absence of the sofa bed makes the view to the back yard through three floor-to-ceiling windows much more appealing. By beginning to remove the clutter, I think we’ll begin to start finding it a bit easier to answer the core question, too.
I’ve been saying, though not loudly enough, for years that I want to remove the clutter, the “stuff” that fills up the house and my mind. Perhaps, just perhaps, the bones were part of that clutter. Maybe I’ll find that posters and wall hangings are part of the clutter, as well.
As a wise friend often says, “Onward, through the fog!”