A Thinking Man

What Men May Want to Know


“The Devil’s Tail”

By Don Wright

October, 2012. Arizona.

The high dusty bluff we’re on overlooks parched brown valleys. The north side holds discards of business ventures long defunct; stripped and rusting vehicles, an overturned shell of an old school bus, unidentifiable machinery. The makeshift junkyard looks as if the wind is in charge of its inventory. On the far side, two old grey dogs are slowly padding along a familiar path.

At the end of the valley, running north and south, a ribbon of two lane road winds and disappears between hills on either end.

The ground under my hiking boots is stony, rust colored and dry. Clumps of struggling pale green vegetation scrunch underfoot like broken Christmas ornaments. A slight breeze through the surrounding barbed wire and a few bushes is the only natural sound. I’m from Florida, so this soundless vista is an unusual experience; at home there’s ceaseless chatter from animals, birds, insects, all demanding attention.

Gravemarkers sprout  from the ground at different angles, a clue to decades of silent vigil.

Phil is fifty yards away, hands in pockets, careful of each step. We’ve strayed from each other in quiet reflection. Reading grave markers; doing the math – how long did this person live? Many graves were from the mid 1800’s. More were unknown, their markers disintegrated from countless days of wind and sand. It would have been very hard to dig a hole in this ground.

The grave I’m standing over is different than the rest. It’s recent. Only three years old. A carefully stacked mound of grey, pink and rust colored rocks.  A wooden head marker stands behind a low granite headstone. Freehand inscriptions are routed deeply into the hard blonde wood. The granite is a professional piece showing a porcelain cameo of a smiling young man wearing a cowboy hat – good looking, a black mustache and a bolo tie around his white collar.

 Harley Ray Paul

Apr. 2, 1939 – Nov. 24, 2009.

 Makes him seventy.  The last inscription read;

 . . . . . and I did tie a knot in the devil’s tail . . . .

 Placed on the mound is a crucifix made from welded horseshoes and gold spray paint. A couple of empty brown glass beer bottles rest gently  between the rocks and scrabble.

I imagin a lifelong friend arriving in a squeaking pickup one dusky evening – the funeral long since out of the community’s mind; then sitting and having a beer with his old buddy.  He’d recount stories and lies they both had known; maybe laugh.

Phil walks up, “This one is new”, I said.

Phil folds his arms and cups his jaw while he reads the inscriptions. He backs up a couple steps and looks out over the valleys below.

“I know this guy,” he says.

“No shit?”

“Yeah, I . . . . . I met this guy several years ago in the Blue Front Café. After talking for a while the guy said he was heading into the wilderness the next morning to round up his horses. He invited me to go along. I rode with him for three days . . . . ”

Phil talks for twenty minutes about the ride and how Harley Paul had made a impression on him.

We both stand in silence over the grave. Phil is visibly shaken, his eyes glassy.

Here rests a man who lived a life outside of what we consider a modern world. A man who had no timetable other than what changing seasons might suggest, a man we come to embrace as down to earth and living a simple existence, something we all admire secretly desire. It’s one of those qualities that you might not realize actually exists until you’re exposed to it for the first time. A person with the bravery, courage and fortitude to make his way in the world in a manner of his own choosing. We want to think that – but it might have been that he simply didn’t know any other way; or that he just didn’t care enough to find out.

Doesn’t matter now.

We see a bit of Harley in ourselves. So many of us dream of living by our own hand, and even though it’s been said that most men live out their lives in quiet desperation – what if it doesn’t have to be so? Recognizing there’s a wonderful world out there is a good first step. Taking responsibility for your self is a second.

This is a personal journey we’re on. Each of us is the director and actor on a stage we ourselves have constructed. We decide whether it’s a comedy, tragedy or drama. The beautiful thing about it is that we’ve allowed ourselves to taste it all if desired. We wouldn’t appreciate sweet tastes as much if we never tasted sour. It can be about reference points for some of us. I believe that as our spirit grows, we become more introspective, become more content, more peaceful, more appreciative – most importantly, we become the observer. We find that we don’t have to “do” anything.  We don’t have to judge. We don’t have to take a stand on any situation or any issue.

Of course there are the arguments of participating in the trials and tribulations of mankind to make the world a better place. Good luck with that. If you feel compelled to do that for a time, have at it. There is no right or wrong, only what feels right and rings true for you. If your actions are not harming, infringing or taking away from the sovereignty of others, then make your own music. As long as you’re not stealing another’s peace, you’re free to pursue your own. Fear and self imposed restrictions hold us back from finding our heart’s desires.

There are no forces “out there” that are conspiring against you . . . they don’t exist

We can be very destructive to ourselves and others. Part of the learning curve. We claim to be civilized, but I put forth that we’re just beginning to walk and we have a long way to go yet. But, there can be wisdom, insight and enlightenment to be had from those higher spirits who are walking (or have walked) among us. Souls that didn’t lose themselves in the fray, but quietly made their own way while savoring all the richness the experience can offer. We’re drawn to them.

Those who have dared to grab the devil’s tail just to see what it was like.

I encourage Phil to place a rock. He chooses a piece of red river rock and places it next to two others.

I think the gravestone maker either made a mistake or missed an opportunity when he carved the text on Harley Ray Paul’s headstone. After thinking about it, I now understand how it should have read;

 . . . . and I DID tie a knot in the devil’s tail . . . .

 

Harley Ray Paul’s FB and song

Harley Ray Paul’s FB Memorial

Harley Paul Grave

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2 Responses to ““The Devil’s Tail””

  1. Bob / Phil says:

    Excellent story about Harley….I like the way you talk!

    • Don says:

      Reminds me of one of Carl’s (Billy Bob Thornton) lines from the movie, “Sling Blade.”

      “I like the way you talk too.”

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