Doug Elliott tells stories the way kites catch wind. He soars and flips and is highly entertaining.
Elliott spoke to the Rutherfordton Garden Club last week and brought peels of laughter, gasps of recognition and thunderous applause.
He lives near Painter's Gap with his wife, Yanna Fishman, and any number of natural critters who vie for his garden crops and each other. They have a son who is studying ecology in Australia.
He has traveled the world telling stories, talking about herbs and the natural world, and learning from indigenous people.
Smith's Drugs cheerleader and garden club president, Judy Russell, introduced him using a quote from his website attributed to his dad, "That boy knows what's under every rock between here and town."
He began his show by praising crows.
"Most birds hunker down in a windstorm. Not crows. They flip and soar right there in the middle of all that turbulence. Would that we could all face life's challenges with such agility," Elliott said.
He never stops smiling. His eyes stay bright. Watching him, all feel they are on the inside of his inside jokes.
He is comedian, philosopher and prophet rolled into one.
The crowd was spellbound by the ancient Taoist story of the man being chased by a tiger.
"He had a choice between being eaten by the tiger or jumping off the cliff. He chose the cliff. He grabbed a vine and was hanging there when he noticed another tiger pacing at the bottom of the ravine and looking up at him. Then a little white mouse came out, symbolizing the light, and started gnawing on the vine. Then a little black mouse, symbolizing the dark, came out and started gnawing on the vine. He looked over beside him and saw a ripe strawberry. He picked that strawberry and it was delicious; and that's the end of the story," he said with his wide eyes getting even wider.
He followed that with a song called "We're All Hanging By A Thread."
The lesson was not lost on the crowd.
He also got a great reaction when he showed the crowd how to make a berry picking basket out of poplar bark. The clincher came when he made a football shaped partial cut at the bottom of the basket so the two sides could be folded up to finish the basket. The bottom is where the football shape is so important.
He laughed to tell how a boy in one of his classes said, "Mr. Elliott, I've seen that a hundred times." When Elliott asked where, the boy said, "It's the shape of an order of McDonald's fries."
Sure enough, Elliott showed the crowd a red and yellow holder for a large fry from Mickey D's and there it was, the same football shaped bottom allowing the two sides to come up and close the basket.
"Now on the fry basket here it says this is a registered trademark of the McDonald's corporation and cannot be duplicated. I'd say they're about 200,000 years too late," he said to a room full of laughter.
He had an extended praise for the dandelion including how it got its name from a French word that is close.
"We can't really pronounced the French word, so we just call them dandelions," Elliott said. He also praised the common weed as a good green for salads, teas, and medicines. He said it makes for a healthy liver and has other medicinal values.
More about dandelions and other natural medicines is on his website, dougelliott.com.
He melted many hearts in the room when he told an ancient Cherokee story of how first man and first woman got in a fight and ultimately resolved their differences.
"They'd fought many times before, but this time the hurt was bad enough that she left. She's never left before. She had a pain in her throat and an ache in her heart. He figured she'd come back, but when she didn't, he went after her. He was a real good tracker; and he could soon see that she was traveling so fast, he could never overtake her. So he got to praying. He prayed to the trees that they would slow her down, and the trees began to call out to her to slow down, but she ignored the trees. The birds answered her prayers and sang out to her to slow down, but she ignored the birds. Even the flowers came into full bloom all around her begging her to slow down, but she ignored them, too.
"Then she noticed one little red berry on the ground. All of a sudden she could hear the trees and the birds and the flowers. She noticed everything that was begging her to slow down. She ate that berry and it loosened the pain in her throat and soothed the ache in her heart. She wandered off the path and found a whole field of those berries.
"And that's where he found her; and they ate those berries together and stayed in that field a long time. They noticed the berries were in the shape of a human heart; and today we mulch them with straw and call 'em strawberries."
Then he led the group in a song about picking strawberries.
In recent years he has received a variety of honors. The National Storytelling Network (the largest storytelling membership organization in the world) inducted him into their Circle of Excellence for "exceptional commitment and exemplary contribution to the art of storytelling." The International Herb Association presented him with the Otto Richter Award honoring his work with herbs and useful wild plants. The National Association for Interpretation (the professional organization of park rangers, naturalists, museum curators, and such) gave him the Master Front Line Interpreter Award for his "mastery of interpretive techniques, program development, and design of creative projects" celebrating the natural world and our human connection to nature.
He ain't no small potatoes.