Butterfly hunter

In a small fishing village on the coast of Baja California, there lived a young man. The young man’s name was Gordon, and he was a musician. He played the piccolo, the piano and the flute. He also played the harmonium, pipe organ, and the xylophone. He was incomparable on the guitar, the violin, and the cello. In fact, every instrument he touched he played as if he’d known it all his life.


Gordon was a talented young man. Coincidentally, he was also the most beautiful person who ever lived, with curly chestnut hair, eyes of sea green and skin the color of honey. Although he was a brilliant musician, when he played, the young women of his village hardly heard him at all. They were too busy staring at his honey-gold skin and dreaming of wrapping his chestnut hair around their fingers.


Gordon never noticed them at all, so intent was he on making and playing music. Gordon wanted to write a symphony composed of every instrument ever played since the beginning of all time. He collected exotic instruments – the didgeridoo, the kazoo, the shakade, the lute – and learned each one of them just as quick as that.


One day in the marketplace, an old woman in a faded blue caftan with a shawl on her head told him of an instrument that he did not yet have.


“It makes a sound,” she said, “somewhere between a whistle and a hum. With it you can render the sound of bees buzzing, and horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and then again the bees buzzing.”


“What is the name of this instrument?” asked Gordon, in quite a tizzy.

“I can’t tell you that,” said the old woman, and she winked at him a little wickedly or maybe a little crazily, it was hard to tell which.


“I will only tell you where you may find it. The rest is up to you.”  She leaned over and whispered into his ear. “It is in Yakutz.”


Then she kissed him on his beautiful smooth lips, said “If only I was young . . .” and disappeared down an alley before he could say, “But where is Yakutz?”


Gordon decided then and there to go to Yakutz for this miraculous instrument that could the render the sound of bees buzzing, and horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and again the bees buzzing. He packed his bag (a striped Guatemalan bag that was deep and sturdy) and strapped it to his back.  As he left the town just at sunset, a wailing could be heard in the streets behind him as the women of the village realized that their handsome young man had left them without even as much as a glance from his gorgeous green eyes.


Young Gordon went to India and Peru and Paris and Beijing. He went to the Bahamas, Australia, the Yukon and the Sandwich Islands. Everywhere he went he asked “Where is Yakutz?” (which he could not find on any map anywhere). 


But everywhere he went the people he met were so stunned by his beauty that they would say anything to get him to stay with them. In Italy they called him “bellisimo.” In Guadalajara he was called “el guapo.”  In San Francisco they called him “honey,” and they called him all the time.


He worked his way around the world in a jiggery pattern (Gordon had a horrible sense of direction). Everywhere he stopped, he made his living playing exquisite music on exotic instruments. No one ever listened, though, because although he was a brilliant musician, his beauty eclipsed everything else. And everywhere he went, he asked every stranger about an instrument that could make the sound of bees buzzing, and then horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and then again the bees buzzing.


Gradually, Gordon became aware that he had a problem (he was beautiful and talented, but he was not quick). People were lying to him left and right, promising to take him to Yakutz (which more than once turned out to be a time share on one tropical beach or another) and then trying to seduce him instead. He became discouraged, and took himself to a small dude ranch in northern Utah, where he arranged to play the fiddle and teach clog dancing to pay for his room and board.


One evening he sat on a fencepost in an empty corral and played his fiddle with a sad heart. The corral was on a broad mesa with a view that went all the way to Wyoming (he assumed), and the moon was high and full. He heard coyotes howling not far away, and he thought they were crying with him. He wondered if the instrument he was seeking could make a sound like howling coyotes or belching frogs. He played even more sadly as he though of Yakutz.


Walking back along the moonlit trail to the dude ranch, young Gordon came upon an old woman walking slowly with a cane. She wore a babushka, and as he drew closer, Gordon saw that she was blind.


“You play the fiddle more brilliantly than anyone I’ve ever known,” said the old woman. “Except perhaps one, an old man I knew as a child who could play any musical instrument as if he’d done it all his life.”


Gordon thanked her, and they walked together in silence for a moment.


“You are a young man,” the old woman said at last. “What can possibly make you play so sadly?”


Gordon told her of his search for the one musical instrument he had yet to find, the one that could render the sound of bees buzzing, and horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and again the bees buzzing. He told her of his travels around the world, and of how sad he was that no one who saw his face would listen to him play or help him in his search.


The old woman listened without interrupting and then asked “Where did the old woman say you could find this wonderful instrument?”


Gordon told her, and the old woman said, in great excitement, “Why, I am from Yakutz! Let me take you there. What a fine time we will have!”


Gordon hesitated for a minute, thinking of past offers and hoping that the old woman’s Yakutz would not be another Club Med experience. Looking at her, though, he saw again that she was blind, and so they went to Yakutz together.


Yakutz is in Siberia, you know, and it is cold cold cold. The Yakuvitz keep warm with potatoes and vodka, with red-cheeked women and with music and dance.


How they danced in Yakutz! How they drank! Gordon was spun from dancer to dancer and his glass was filled again and again until he was as blind as the old woman, who sat in the corner with a potato in one hand and a glass of vodka in the other.


Late that night, Gordon lay on the floor with the room spinning wildly in a vodka dance around him. As the room settled and the Yakuvitz sank to the floor, where they slept, Gordon heard a sound. First he heard the sound of bees buzzing, and then horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and then at last again the bees buzzing, more faintly this time, as if they were buzzing away.


“What is that I hear?” said Gordon and he tried to get up on his knees, but he fell down again (because he was terribly drunk, to tell the truth).


“It is a Jew’s harp,” said a voice, and Gordon turned his head to see lying next to him a beautiful Russian girl, with red cheeks, flashing black eyes, big strong arms and the barest trace of a mustache on her upper lip. She smiled at him, and he stared back, entranced by the gap between her front teeth and the dimple on the left side of her face. She tried to sit up, but was just as drunk as he, and so they went to sleep, with their heads touching, on the floor underneath the table.


In the morning, the old woman introduced her granddaughter to Gordon, and was very pleased that they’d gotten to know each other on the floor underneath the table the night before. Her name was Valenka, and she hugged him with both her strong arms and gave him the Jew’s harp from a pocket under her apron.


Gordon put the Jew’s harp in his mouth and played. The cold morning air was filled with the sound of bees buzzing and horses’ hooves, and Gordon took the harp from his mouth and smiled bigger than he’d ever smiled before. Valenka smiled back, and Gordon realized that she was smiling at him and his Jew’s harp and his music, not at his most beautiful face, and he felt himself blush all the way to his toes.


That evening at sunset they were married. They played many an exotic instrument at the wedding feast and danced ’til the sun came up the next day. Afterwards they left Yakutz and traveled to Kyoto, where they’d heard a Zen master made a Jew’s harp of bamboo, and that with it one could make a sound like the beating of hummingbird wings. They didn’t know the name of the Zen master, but they were sure they could find him, if only they looked long enough.



©1995 Teresa Phillips. May not be used without permission.


6 Responses to “Gordon”

  1. 1 Tek May 29, 2007 at 7:46 am

    your stories are so good.
    “In San Francisco they called him “honey,” and they called him all the time.” and filled with little surprises along the way.

    and this… “Gordon realized that she was smiling at him and his Jew’s harp and his music, not at his most beautiful face, and he felt himself blush all the way to his toes.” …the joy of being seen!

    I love coming here.

  2. 2 Teresa May 29, 2007 at 7:48 am

    Thank you Tek! I’m playing with images right now and making myself late for work — how nice to get a response while I’m still in the thick of it.
    I have a real love for traditional storytelling, myth, quirky use of familiar symbols.

  3. 3 ybonesy May 30, 2007 at 7:56 am

    So glad that Gordon found what he was looking for. I worried he wouldn’t, but then again, how could he not?

  4. 4 Joshua June 23, 2007 at 8:46 am

    I have a question: how did you come up with Yakutz of all places? Did you spin the globe and stop it with your finger? I only ask because I am passing through Siberia this year and I want to go there…but like Gordon, I can’t find out much about it save that in the winter, people carve corridors through the fog in the streets as they walk…

    … and in summer the mud oozes from the tundra into people’s homes!

  5. 5 Teresa June 23, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Hi Joshua – how odd is that? I hadn’t realized that Yakutz really is that far off the map.

    Well, sit down and have a cup of hot cocoa and I’ll tell you about Yakutz. And Gordon. The backstory, I guess it’s called.

    Many years ago, I worked with a man who played the jew’s harp. His name was Gordon, and at that time he was a typesetter. One year, he went to a Jew’s Harp convention in Yakutz (!! yes, really), and when he came back he gave a presentation at the local library, a slide show with audio. What a great presentation, so quirky.

    So absolutely everything I know about Yakutz came from the original Gordon and my memory of the tape he played in the library one grey day long ago in Seattle.

    Send us some pictures! There’s practically nothing about Yakutz on the internet — that is absolutely fascinating to me. Love the comment about people carving corridors through the fog in the streets — wow, come write here anytime you want . . .

    You can find out more about the jew’s harp and the real-life Gordon by searching online. I won’t tell you exactly where; that search is up to you.

  6. 6 Joshua June 24, 2007 at 8:24 am

    (After the search)

    So THAT’S a Jews harp? You won’t believe this, but I actually owned one in Nepal – they’re like musical toothpicks, aren’t they?

    Magical, too. They disappear so easily in your backpack. Mine hasn’t reappeared in three years, though, so maybe I’ll have to track one down in Yakutz. Maybe at a convention!

    Thank you for the invitation to write, and I will one day, but your wonderful stories have set a standard my busy fingers have yet to reach!

    And I can’t take credit for the corridors in the fog comment: it came from one of my tutors, who quoted it from Ryszard Kapuscunski, who himself was quoting an eight year old girl.

    Who lives in Yakutz.

    That said, if I see one of these corridors, I’ll do one better.

    I’ll take a photo and send it to you.

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