Not many people know it, but Uncle Murphy invented the game of fetch. It used to be, people simply through sticks at dragons. Though the dragons were deeply offended by this, it made good sense to the people. But, as Uncle Murphy saw the general movement away from dragons and to dogs for the role as Man’s Best Friend, Uncle Murphy thought it would be downright unfortunate to throw sticks at dogs.
Luckily, the dogs were very cooperative and did not mind chasing the sticks. Although it took some convincing initially to get them to pick up the sticks with their mouths, they eventually agreed since it was for the good of mankind and the game of fetch was born. Fortunately, the humans were much easier to train to play this new game than the dogs had been.
The dragons realized they were on the outs; they eventually decamped and, except for the dragonling Spud — who lives with Uncle Murphy not so much as a pet but more of as an accountant — emigrated far away from the humans. As they went, some of them could be heard to mutter, “We invent fire, and do they remember that? No. We tell them that gold is valuable, and do they remember that? No. We tell them the secret of eleven herbs and spices on their fried chicken, and do they remember that? NO! But you eat one virgin….”
I got my Uncle Murphy to stand still long enough for me to sketch him. He complained about it being a “confounded waste of time” through the whole thing.
“The prevailing taste of the public for anecdote has been censured and ridiculed by critics, who aspire to the character of superior wisdom: but if we consider it in a proper point of view, this taste is an incontestible proof of the good sense and profoundly philosophic temper of the present times. Of the numbers who study, or at least who read history, how few derive any advantage from their labours!”
Uncle Murphy was friends with all of the finest Citizens of the Garden. He was a Regular Member of the Ladybugs’ Home Economics Association and an Honorary Fellow of the Fraternal Order of Old Grasshoppers. He was frequently overheard discussing in detail the current events of Europe in all of the most important salons or enjoying Rosebud Tea in the trendiest cafés. He was even known to enjoy the company of the geckos and the skinks, and even the neighborhood field mice, who are known to put on airs.
Upon hearing an impressive speaker, Uncle Murphy would not hesitate to inquire of the distinguished gentleman if his degree — and, in point of fact, his vocation; nay, his avocation — lay in history or in literature, as these were the only worthwhile pursuits of the modern antiquarian; philosophy and mathematics (and least as far as is useful) could simply be presupposed; neither was a worthwhile primary pursuit. But history and literature! These were the primary pursuits of a gentleman gnome. Few things in the world are certain; one absolute: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.
One of the great sources of sadness in my life has always been that I was not born a gnome. I blame my parents for this, for they were not gnomes either.
But, I had an uncle who was a gnome. Murphy was his name. He would sneak into people’s yard at night and secretly plant mushrooms, which is very funny to a gnome. He also made his own “medicine” in a little copper still and grew his own pipe-weed in a secret garden behind the garden. He listened to the stories of the sea shells and carried on conversations with passing butterflies and bumble bees. He knew every ant by name and played chess with an elderly cricket who had travelled the world on a merchant ship, back when that was a respectable way to travel the world.
One spring, Uncle Murphy travelled to Norway to buy some very special mushroom seeds from a fellow gnome. That fall, we had red and golden mushrooms and no one knew why.
Air, Ash, And Paper
2012, by Richard H. Gross
Something not a lot of people know: I use to draw a lot of maps. I got pretty good at it, I guess. I was always inspired by the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. It’s a very relaxing pastime, drawing maps. It’s one of those things there’s just not much real call for, kind of like writing haiku or being an amateur historian; people might from time to time (albeit rarely) act impressed when you announce that you draw maps, and then they make eyes at each other when you’re not looking, never really understanding that the enjoyment of the pursuit is an end in itself. That’s why most people don’t know that I use to draw maps.
Some maps are good to get to a place you’ve never been, but these aren’t the best maps because they are useful one time and then lose their usefulness. These are the basest, most common maps. These are the sort of maps that are downloaded daily, printed in reams, used and immediately discarded. Some maps are good to see a place that you might never go. These maps are more useful, because they take you to places that you could never otherwise see. These are maps of exotic places upon which you can follow distant coastlines and pick out likely towns in which to stay on trips that you will never book. Some of the best maps are of places that never were, but should have been – much like the maps in Mr. Tolkien’s books. These maps are very useful, because they take you to a place to which you most definitely want to go, but cannot. These are the maps that whisper in a language that few bother to hear and even fewer fully understand.
But the greatest maps of all are the maps back to the places that you once knew but that have since become distant. These are the maps of places where once you walked, but in the endless press of years have become only vague, fond memories. These are the maps that are written on air, ash and paper.