Alaska and Bhutan Phone Home

I’ll begin with  one of my many memories of Poopdeck, my Alaskan pioneer and commercial fisherman friend who died some years back at the age of 97.

Poopdeck had  just turned 70.  Along with other friends we were drinking bug juice and swapping yarns in his log cabin in Homer Alaska.  Bug Juice you wonder?  Poopdeck would love to explain- “Just think of the billions of those little yeast bugs that committed suicide to make  this alcohol!”

We got to thinking that at 70 year old a man living on his own ought to have a telephone in case of an emergency. Poopdeck scoffed at the idea, but we were resolute.We offered to pay for the installation of the phone and all monthlyexpenses, except for long distance. Our relentless badgering paid off and Poopdeck agreed to the terms..  Phone service commenced.

Several weeks later, we were all back at the cabin and back at the bug juice  and back at the storytelling, when the phone rang… and rang and rang and rang. Poopdeck made no move to pick it up.  This was ‘back in the day’ before answering machines.  Now it’s well known that a phone ringing is about the only thing in the world that can even interrupt sex,  so we’re somewhat curious about the lack of response, and more than a little irritated considering we’d paid for the service.  On about the 6th ring, someone blurted out… “Poopdeck! The phone’s ringing,  aren’t you going to answer it?”  Completely unruffled and unmoved, Poopdeck replied, “Hell NO! I put that phone in there forMY convenience!”

More recently, Liz and I spent an idyllic day at the Bodhi Zen Center in Jemez Springs New Mexico, about an hour from home.  We go there when we can to soak in the incredible hot springs that sit just a few feet from the river.  We love it there best when we are the only ones in the water, without conversation to distract us from the river, the mountain, the birds, and of course our wandering thoughts.  But on this day, we were treated to a wonderful encounter with two Bhutanese men who had spent the night and came down to the pools not long after we arrived.
These fellows affirmed everything we had ever heard or imagined about a country that measures Gross National Happiness rather than gross national product.  They exuded calm, equanimity, and happiness. Their smiles were warm and open.

Soon they were telling us how not that long ago in their village,  the news was broadcast from hilltop to hilltop with no other technology than a strong human voice.  Our conversation was wide-ranging.  I was particularly interested to know how the oral tradition was faring in Bhutan.  I was assured that it was alive and well.  The question sparked a memory that brought an even wider smile to the older man’s face.  He told us about the long walk he had to make to the village well with his older sister when he was a child.  If he agreed to carry the water most of the way, she would tell him a story at night.  He carried the water, eager for stories!

As I listened with appreciation and wonder, I remembered and told the tale of The Cracked Pot.
There were two water jars, one cracked, the other ‘perfect.’  At the end of years of service carrying water from the well, the cracked pot felt himself to be a failure since much of his water did not make it to his villager’s home.  But perfect pot consoled him,  pointing to the beautiful flowers that had been watered by his partners passage each day.

“What a wonderful story! I must tell it to my sister.” replied my listener.  “She’s still in Bhutan. I’m going to call her on my cell phone  and tell her the story tonight!”

And so the stories travel!

There is a coda to this encounter.  After about an hour another visitor eased into the water.  It turned out that she’d spent quite some time in Bhutan twenty years ago.  She shared this.
She’d arranged for a visitor to come to where she was staying in a remote village.  It was about a two hour walk in one direction.  She was surprised to see the man arrive a day earlier.  The purpose of her visit?  To let her know that he would not be able to keep the appointment the next day!

We should all be treated with such respect!



  1. Very pleased to see this site and to hear writing so relaxed that it could have been spoken. Lovely to be on the inside p*ssing out with you.

  2. I vote for your good friend rejecting the intrusion! Now guys can’t help but to stop what they are doing to answer the mail in inbox.

    Thanks for sharing Bhutan anecdotes.

  3. I do SO enjoy your posts, Bob. Thanks for this one. I’ve been in those hot springs in Jemez Springs and it’s lovely to remember the softness of the air and the quiet that surrounds the Zen Center.

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