Monday, June 25, 2012


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/17/2012)

One of our many recent presidential candidates has been described as “a narrow parenthesis of a man.” In contrast, Russ Wiedman is a polymorphous man, a man of many sides, a man of various roads traveled, a man of incomplete sentences and dangling participles. Perhaps, Robert Frost said it best, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I ― / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

The key to his character is something he loves, the drums of west Africa and their polyrhythms. It’s not just one beat, but several all playing off one another in a tympanic harmony. The result is an auditory feast of many courses.

His brain may be too quick for his tongue with words tumbling off his tongue. Whatever he is, Russ is a polymorphic man, and one of his morphemes is gardening. As a matter of fact, one might say that Russ is an extreme gardener in that with few exceptions he eats only what he grows or catches, such as the fish he catches in Lake Powell.

He tried gardening out-of-doors and was reasonably successful at it, selling much of his produce to local markets and restaurants, but he found that it was inefficient, requiring too much water and time. So, using one of his other morphemes, he built a green house attached to the house he had already built for himself, and such a spectacular house it is. For the most part using material that others had cast off, he built a beautiful home with massive, polished pine logs the centerpiece.

A truly western house, it is furnished with hand wrought rugs and paintings and glass-encased chiffoniers filled with fine china. Some would say eclectic, but it’s more polymorphous with a theme holding it all together. Save for the fine china, the glue holding it together is that everything is made by hand. Russ is a hands-on kind of guy.

Obviously intelligent with bright, crystalline blue eyes, always on the lookout, he is quick to point out that he tried college and grew bored and dropped out. The reason is simple, he learns through his hands. Conventional education is eyes only. Out of the five senses, his primary sense is tactile. First, he feels things, and then he sees them, but it is almost as though he feels with his eyes, caressing the world around him with his optic nerves.

But back to his greenhouse. It takes up almost one side of his house, and it’s so efficient that it heats up the whole of his house in the cold days of winter. Always taking a road “less traveled by,” his garden has a difference, encompassing vegetables from around the world, such as perilla, a mainstay herb in Japanese cuisine and used throughout Asia. Rather than neat little rows of plants, his plots are set amidst wandering footpaths, bordered with rocks, something likes trails in the wilderness.

That dreary phrase, carbon footprint, was never spoken in our conversation, but Russ’ house and greenhouse are embodiments of living well while leaving few traces, much like moccasins on the forest’s floor. And that living well is part and parcel of a life “less traveled by.” Using his wits he has traveled to nearly all of the world’s outposts. He did not learn by reading about something or some place, he learned hands-on always leaving few traces of his presence.

After listening to Russ, I wondered what held it all together, other than his hands by which he also earns his bread. He made it very clear that he was not religious in the conventional sense of the word. I asked him if he had a sense of the Other, a Presence abiding. “Oh, yes,” he replied, “kind of spiritual.” Rather than being a scattered eclectic, his life is held together by a Presence abiding in all the polymorphs of life, a Presence best appreciated through hands and eyes with no clear distinctions between the physical and spiritual. For him life is, to use Rudolph Otto’s phrase, “A tremendously enchanting mystery.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012

Dana Prom Smith edits Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun and emails at
Photographs of house are courtsey of Jim DeBusk and Russ Wiedman.

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