Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I Have to See a Man about a Flute

I went to an interesting yard sale recently.  There were lots of Native American items that I found fascinating.  Although the teepee in the front yard might have been a give-away, it took me a few minutes to realize that the homeowner himself was Native American . 

Fortunately, my mother taught us not to stare, so I was able to carry on a reasonably dignified conversation without (I hope) looking like a kid at a cowboy and Indian movie.  Besides, he wasn’t wearing a feathered headdress or anything beaded. 

So, we talked a bit about the items he was selling, then he picked up a hand carved wooden flute and began to play.  Let me tell you, I nearly swooned.  

As his fingers moved easily over the 6 holes down the front of the instrument, I could almost hear the winds of time whispering through the canyons where his ancestors once lived.  I could imagine hundreds of years of gatherings at campfires; and sense the sorrows and pain of a people completely in touch with the earth. 

The notes of longing and hope and sorrow coming from that 18” piece of hollow pine swept me away to a place where the wind blew freely and the people understood its whims.   No instruction books or sheet music, just the wistful tones of an ancient instrument in the hands of someone who understood and delighted in its primitive design.

And best of all, it was for sale.

For a mere $20 (cash only) I could be in tune with the universe and feel the sands of time between my own toes.

I completely forgot about the snowshoes and sage awaiting my purchase.  All I wanted was the music, the magic of the flute.  How hard could it be to make those lovely, poignant tones?  All I had to do, he assured me, was keep the fourth hole covered with one finger while my other seven fingers alternated on the remaining openings.   

Done deal.

I couldn’t wait to get home, to find a quiet little spot away from the noise and commotion of my bustling household.  I couldn’t wait to create my own lovely, wistful tones.

Carefully, I positioned my fingers as I had been shown; and, putting the flute to my lips (while trying not to think about the germ colonies hosted there and refusing to let myself to be sidetracked by a Google search of “how to sanitize a wooden Native American flute).

I gave a tentative puff.  

Hmmm.  Perhaps a longer, gentler puff?  A shorter burst of puff?  A prolonged, even puff?

I removed the flute from my face and studied it intently.  Yes, I’m certain it was the same instrument.  Perhaps another try with a different finger configuration?

OK, show of hands, here.  How many of you have ever heard a cat fight?  Because you’ll be the ones who understand what my attempts as a Native American flutist sounded like.

How could it be?  It looked so simple.  I had the instrument, why couldn’t I make the music?

Sadly, I realized that it’s not the instrument; it’s the instrumentalist.  And perhaps  hundreds of hours of practice, but seriously…could practice make THAT much difference? 

Here’s the thing.  A simple piece of pine, in the hands of the master, can be the source of such beauty it brings a tear to the eye.  In the hands of an unpracticed flunky, it will still bring tears; but of a different nature.

Which made me think that I am a lot like that hollow piece of wood.  When I accept the touch of God, I can do wonderful and amazing things.  Without His touch, I am nothing but an empty tube full of holes.  

I put my silly instrument away.  I think I need to go find that guy and negotiate some flute lessons.


  1. Carolyn, I know I'll sound like an echo of my own self as I tell you AGAIN how much I love the way you write. You are a natural, making "us" SEE what you're describing. The combination of humor and spiritual application is wonderful and SO ENJOYABLE. And I know I sound like I'm writing a book review. Which is a great idea... y'think?! Now all I need is for you to write the book!! THANK YOU for sharing this TERRIFIC story and brightening my day.

  2. Nancy, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your comments! The only problem is that you are setting the bar pretty high for me....But if I have brightened your or any one else's day in any way, I'm delighted.

    Blessings to you and yours, Carolyn

  3. My two favorite writers ... Carolyn and Nancy! If I can't find the time to write myself, at least I can zip over to read the writings of my two favorite blog writers! Boy oh boy--how many flutes have I purchased in my life?