Sunday, November 06, 2016

Sunday, February 03, 2013


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Robert headed out to read his stories to an English class at Auburn University, 1993

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

And at home, probably later the same day.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

from THANK YOU, an essay by Robert Mount

Laugh at, live and love your life. Try not to be too morose and unequivocal. Do not measure your success by the damage inflicted on others. And do not despair. The unconscionable acts perpetrated daily by the progeny of man are scarcely felt by this beautiful little ecocosmos, looking at it one way.

The sun will burn out, and countless infinite numbers of living planets will spring up at the very instant of a single species' vanquishment, and our struggle will seem so insignificant. The universe spreads out in all directions on all our sides unto endless existences. We are at once in the center of, and at the periphery of the unfathomable chasm of reality.

Realize all that and by damn, you will prevail !

Rob stationed at Whidby Island, Washington

Rob at 23, stationed in Washington State, 1985.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Two newpaper columns.

The first of the following two newspaper columns was published when Robert was 23 years old, just out of the Navy. The second was published, by chance, on the last day of his life, and was passed around in the hospital waiting room by the dozens of people who had gathered there. These articles reveal in his own words Robert's brave and generous spirit.

Accident takes the Bravado from a Man

Does aught befall thee? It is good; it is that fragment of fate which the universe hath ordained for thee since the beginning of time, and comprises part of the Great Web.
-Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations"

The final year I spent in the Navy was one of harsh physical training, abstinence from rich foods and alcohol, and mental conditioning, all for the sake of returning to Auburn to walk on as a football player.

I was brash, cocky, hell-for-leather in relationships, and didn't treat my fellow shipmates as cordially as before. My intimate friends became few in number, and I patronized them shamelessly, I recall.

As a result, when I left the squadron in the spring of '85, I don't believe I was sorely missed. To be certain, in any crucial circumstance I was an able diver and team player, but the magical relationships I had enjoyed in earlier years were gone. Something bad had happened to me along the way, and I feel it may have been a kind of overbearing egotism--foolish pride in things I should have taken for granted.

My plans for the future were large. I intended to try out for the football team here, play a stellar four years, graduate, and return to the Navy as an officer and fly helicopters. The world was my oyster, I thought as I drove eastward, back to Alabama and a most humbling fate.

I was one hell of a physical specimen then. At six-two and 230 pounds, I had a 32-inch waist and 17-inch biceps. In restrooms I would often linger in front of the mirror, flexing my muscles and admiring the fine line of my jaw. God I was vain. I think at that time I would gladly have cloned and married myself.

A few days afterward, on a balmy evening in May, I performed my final dive from a tiny platform in a tree at the Kappa Sigma house. Moments earlier, I had been talking with a fullback named Bo Slaughter, a transfer player from Georgia. We had been discussing practice, and how hard Monday's was going to be. A minute or two later, I lay gasping for breath, paralyzed forever from the chest down.

No more rugby, football, hero-dreams or chopper-flying. At the ripe old age of 22, I was a cripple. Recovery was slow, but thanks to the prime physical condition I'd been in, it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

And it was also time to eat a big ol' chunk of humble pie. And during the course of digestion, I became a kinder, more thoughtful person. My parents, my sister Mary, and friends stood by me through the long recovery, and I re-entered the mainstream of society a more educated man, though college still lay before me.

I embraced Stoicism as my pet philosophy, Raggae as my music, and learned that a kind word goes a hell of a lot farther than bullying and badgering.

Paul Davis at the Lee County Eagle gave me a chance to work in the journalism field and gave me a future; and life resumed normalcy.

And the one thing I learned most forcefully, and now understand as absolute truth, is that physical prowess is a privilege, not a right. I'm not trying to sell you Amway, but with warm weather right around the corner, consider the consequences of your recreational activities. For although Fate may have in mind a single course, She may always be tempted by a brash young fool's shenanigans!
-Rob Mount
Billy Stelpflug
Remembering Billy Stelpflug

Another Oct.23 has passed, and as usual, I took note, recalling the horrific explosion on that day in 1983 which brought down a building at Beirut International Airport housing a large number of U.S. Marines and sailors. The suicide bombing was a particularly successful operation in the small minds of the hate-filled militant terrorists who carried it off, resulting in 241 dead American servicemen.

At the time, I was in the Navy, aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, the carrier on station there. I was just starting my day when news of the bombing reached the ship. The carrier immediately turned out to sea, fearful of other suicide attacks. With the skyline of Beirut visible from our position, we watched the pall of red dust from the explosion grow until it practically covered the entire western horizon. I was shocked, angry, and saddened by the event that day, but was relieved to know that Billy Stelpflug, a childhood pal and a brand new Marine from Auburn, was safely stationed in Spain. This proved to be an erroneous belief.

There was little information about the dead Marines and sailors in the days immediately following the explosion, and it was a full three weeks after the bombing that our battle group received a list of the dead. To my horror, Billy's name was among them. My little pal had earned a Purple Heart the hard way.

In the days following, I volunteered to man one of the many 50-caliber machine guns positioned around the carrier in response to intelligence reports that guerillas using speedboats and ultra-light aircraft might attack the ship. My gun was mounted on the stern of the ship, and night after night I peered into the darkness through night vision goggles, hoping against hope that I might be lucky enough to blow a terrorist out of the water or the air to avenge Billy. These watches were six hours long, exhausting addtions to the 12-hour days one works at sea. By the time the Safety Officer noted my haggardness and ordered me off my gun station six weeks later, I was little more than caffeine and fury.

Billy Stelpflug was a great friend and a great guy. He was, in equal parts, compassion, fast twitch muscle and mischief. He had a lively imagination and was so full of restless energy that it took all my strength to keep up with him on our jaunts out into the woods in his neighborhood. In the most memorable years of our friendship, Mark MacEwen (now a former Marine himself), Peter Patton, Jim Nunn and I
would strike out into the woods behind Willow Creek subdivision, where we drank Budweisers and usually ended up dueling with long tree branches. It was to your advantage to keep Billy, a rangy 150-poundeer, at bay with a stick, because direct hand-to-hand combat with him was an invitation to disaster, he was so sinewy and strong.

In the Marine Corps, Billy was trained to operate the "Dragon," an extremely complex high-tech weapon requiring patience and extremely disciplined, clear, resourceful minds in the Marines who operate it. I was surprised to learn this, because I'd never really thought of Billy as overly "cerebral," but that was not the only surprise I would discover about young Billy.

In the rubble of the bombed out building in Beirut where he died, a dark poem entitled "The War King" he had penned was discovered and sent to his parents. They showed it to me, and this poem afforded me a rare glimpse into an introspective and complex mind of which I had been ignorant.

Here is another, earlier poem by Billy:

Alabama Night
The air is still,
Thick and hot,
Drenched with the fragrance
Of honeysuckle and freshly cut grass.
The dull yellow lights
Of the fireflies
Dance to the constant tune
Of the crickets.
A dog barks, somewhere.
Small, invisible animals noisily
Make their way through the scrub and pine.
We sit back,
And listen to the music
Of an Alabama night.

Billy was the much-loved youngest child of Peggy and William Stelpflug, and in addition to his brother Joe, had three sisters, Laura, Kathy, and Christy. His death caused the family immeasurable sadness.

I would be remiss here if I neglected to address the omission of Billy Stelpflug's name on any war memorial in this area. The only memorial I can think of, actually, is in front of the Lee County Justice Center. And although it was installed years after the Beirut bombing, it lists only the local casualties up to the Vietnam War. I appeal to the powers that be to correct this oversight.
-Rob Mount, guest columnist

(Note: At Robert's memorial service only a few days later, his friend Scott read Alabama Night. And soon afterward, the town of Auburn built its Veterans Memorial, which honors all servicemen and women, including Billy and Robert.)

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Peggy Stelpflug, Billy's mother, is a poet and watercolor artist. She edited the book of poetry for the Beirut Marines entitled They Came In Peace. Here is a poem
by Peggy.

Beach Kingdom

Each day I walk
With my common companions,
Sea gulls, terns, and pelicans,
On a path swept clean by the tides.

The sandpiper, a royal pretender
In this domain, imprints his
Fleur-de-lis in spirited
Strutting steps on the white, wet sand.

Comfortable in this realm,
I am secure until majestic waves
Remind me of my place
And I oblige.

Billy's brother Joe contributed to They Came In Peace with the following poem about Port St. Joe, the family's favorite beach on the Gulf.

Back on beach days
and bay nights
in sand dune pockets
and sailing wind

We caught the crabs
and watched them boil
then pulled the pipe
and puzzling Pearls

While watching rushing rays
and killer whales
with sapphire scallop eyes
and the waves felt just like fish.

Joe Stelpflug
Written for Billy

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

THE STRANGENESS OF LOVE, a newspaper coloumn by Robert.

I am almost certainly not in the minority when it comes to that fickle phenomenon called love. Poets and writers have from the beginning of time tried to explain what it feels like to love, to be in love, or to carry the bones of a destroyed love.

Men have acted peculiarly where women have been concerned since way back. When a man loves a woman with all his heart, reason, rationality and common sense take the back seat.

Consider Marc Anthony's love for Cleopatra. He abdicated the Roman throne to join her in Egypt, and in a subsequent war over the event both died. Then, of course, one must think about the Trojan wars, which commenced after the kidnapping of the beautiful Helen of Troy. More recently, King Edward abdicated his throne to scandalously marry the American divorcee Wallace Simpson.

What force on earth makes a man do these things ? All men involved are reputed to have enjoyed robust mental health. Then why did they cast their lives and/or thrones away for women ? I'll tell you why.

Once a man is stricken, truly stricken with that most nacreous of emotions, love, he is lost. Lost in the sense that the course of his romantic life is forever altered. The finely-balanced needle of his emotional compass is irrevocably shifted. And he will, accordingly, redirect his destiny.

I find myself stricken with love on a horrifyingly regular basis. To be certain, these spells are indeed the love (the love that heedlessly dismisses common sense) that I have detailed above.

And as certainly as the moon will rise, I find myself ground beneath love's high-heeled shoe. Then a brief depression, accompanied by a return to reason and rationality.

"Girls ?" I think during these periods. "Ha ! Who needs 'em." And then, Egad ! Another bronzed babe waltzes into my life, disrupting my career plans and causing me to move to other cities and the like.

This love now. I freely admit that I'll jump through hoops and be compliant and tame and well-behaved during the course of the emotional rollercoaster ride these well-meaning girls take me on. Why not admit it ?

I am not currently in the throes of a relationship right now. If I were, you can bet that if I were a powerful king, and my love was a distant, beautiful princess (or a slave girl--love knows no rules of protocol), I would bend heaven and earth to be with her.

That is not to say I would bring her a man's head on a platter or other such cruel foolishness, only that a trifling thing like abdicating my throne or kidnapping her would be with me the work of a moment.

I'm not really sure where this little essay is going, except to say that I'm acting as an apologist for all of us gents who fall hard for the opposite sex. I personally feel that falling in love is a noble plaudit to the female gender, and the harder one falls, the more sincere the compliment.

A word on love at first sight: it's the real thing, by Jingo. I have fallen in love with girls from one end of the earth to the other in my travels. A well-turned ankle, a husky voice, a skein of silk--damn near anything can trigger these spells of deep, true love, and it can happen after merely a glance at the lucky thing.

If I am rebuffed immediately, then this love will usually wither swiftly. If, however, the object of my adoration gives me even the slightest indication that an enduring relationship is possible, then I react accordingly, not playing the game by the rules at all.

These fellows who "play the game" and the girls who play fast and loose with a good man's love are creatures more to be pitied than censured. Ah, what they are missing ! Romance is where it's at, people. Give your love freely, unabashedly ! Like the man says, Tell 'er you love 'er, dammit ! Abdicate your throne !

This may not be sagacious advice, but I am not a sage. I know, though, that I am at my happiest and most productive when I have a target for my affections. And being happy and productive are the two aims of my life. Actually, just being secure in the knowledge that just around the corner another love awaits is enough to make me happy and productive.

I'm not advocating promiscuity or adultery by this rather exhibitionistic display of journalism. I am, however, advocating personal happiness, and one means of getting that is free of charge and requires only the unbridling of your spirit. It's springtime, by Zeus, so let's all get with the program and fall in love !

--Robert Mount, 1992

Monday, December 25, 2006


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

With Sarah and Emma

With Anna

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Robert Hughes Mount, Jr. Academy of American Poets Prize

Robert Hughes Mount, Jr. Poetry Prize
The Auburn University English Department awards the annual Robert Hughes Mount, Jr. Poetry Prize, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets, and endowed by Mrs. Frances Mayes. It is a $100 prize for the best poem submitted by an Auburn University student.

Perth, a gorgeous, green and inviting city of some 800,000 inhabitants, lies on the southeastern coast (or northwestern, if you regard it from an Australian's point of view) of the vast island continent of Australia. In September 1982, the USS Ranger dropped anchor in the nearby port city of Freemantle and disgorged onto dry land some 5,000-plus sailors and Marines who had been at sea for over three months.

The first night in, we were honored at an enormous soiree held in a vast auditorium by the cities of Freemantle and Perth. The beer and champagne flowed like rivers, and I swear I believe that despite the huge numbers of men there that night, the Aussie girls outnumbered us three to one. Sailors being as they are, however, there were still scattered fist fights as the young men vied for the girls' favors. It was all very grand.

In the morning I awoke in the garage apartment of some young people, with furry teeth and sporting a pumpkin-sized head. I bid a hasty farewell (for the moment) to my new friends and stode out into the clean, chilly air of an early Australian spring morning.

It was perfectly cloudless, and strange birds called out to me as I walked down the road. I was in a suburban area of Perth, where the houses were few and far between. It was Saturday and the people I met as I walked along greeted me cheerfully. I breakfasted in an odd little restaurant, then cabbed to my motel, the Villa Dianne. After showering, I donned my heaviest jeans.

From Alabama, my father had arranged a meeting with Dr. Fairfax, curator of the Perth Zoological Gardens, so that I might get a good look at the flora and fauna of the land in the presence of an expert on the subject.

Dr. Fairfax turned out to be a chap of the most agreeable sort. As we tooled through the outback in his jeep, he pointed out objects of interest and talked animatedly about his native land. I learned from him that Perth is a singularly isolated city, with the nearest town of any size being hundreds of kilometers away.

I also learned that Australians have a healthy respect for their natural environment. He was right, too. Unlike any other place I've ever visited,
the roadways were utterly free of human refuse, and, refreshingly, the skyline of Perth, when viewed from miles away, showed no haze of smog hovering above it.

That afternoon, Dr. Fairfax and I saw dozens of kangaroos, emus, kookaburras, a variety of lizards and spiny enchidnas, egg-laying mammals that look somewhat like porcupines.

But the most exciting finds, and exhilaratingly dangerous captures, were those of the extraordinarily venomous tiger snakes. Tiger snakes are rather common in Western Australia, and possess an exceptionally potent neurotoxin, and are dangerously aggressive as well.

The tiger snakes we caught, including a thick five-footer, were bagged and taken back to the zoo, where their venom was extracted for medical purposes. Afterward they were released back into the wild, a pleasant paradox that didn't surprise me, considering the Australians' love and respect for nature.

In the days that followed, I water-skied on the Swan River, saw a band from my ship play a packed house in a club downtown (they sounded awful), surfed in the dark waters off the shore of Lancelin (a tiny town about 80 miles north of Perth), met and briefly courted a gorgeous Australian lass ("a girl in every port"), played in a rugby match in which we Americans were woefully dispatched 30-6, drank Foster's Lager and arm-wrestled stout, friendly blokes in dark pubs, and traded sea-stories with Australian sailors.

It was with heavy hearts that we weighed anchor at the end of our ten-day port visit and bid Australia farewell. It is a beautiful and friendly land, kept so by its in habitants, and I doubt I shall find much has changed when eventually I return to the land down under.

Playing the Didjeridu in the Australian Bush

With his sister Mary Dansak, giving a
didjeridu demo for Mary's 6th grade class

Rainbow Serpent


This is Robert's handout for a concert by Rainbow Serpent, played at Behind the Glass Cafe in Auburn, Alabama.

The didjeridu (or as it is often spelled, "didgeridoo") is believed to be the world's oldest musical instrument. It has been an important part of Aboriginal cultures for tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, as recent rock paintings discovered in caves in northwest Australia have indicated that the Aborigines have had a viable society for at least 500,000 years.

The instrument is played by most tribes of Aborigines in Australia to this day. There are, at the very least, 57 different Aboriginal linguistic dialects on the continent, giving the didjeridu another superlative--if one considers each tribe to possess a separate "culture," it has doubtlessly crossed more cultural lines than any other instrument.

A didjeridu starts its life as a limb or trunk of a small tree, usually some type of acacia or eucalypt. Termites hollow out the relatively pulpy interior, leaving a hard, hollow tube. Aborigines find these hollowed-out limbs or trunks and soak them in water until the termite-riddled interior is gone. After the ends are shaped, the tubes are thoroughly sun dried, and usually a coat of ochre is added to the exterior. The ends are then shaped and a mouthpiece of beeswax is formed around the smaller end. They are decorated according to the craftsman's whims, usually with animals.

The didjeridu's eerie buzz is achieved by forming a fairly tight seal around the mouthpiece and blowing into it, the lips "fluttering." Convolutions within the tube and length and girth of the instrument determine the pitch. The trick to keeping the buzz going is achieved by "circular breathing." That is, the player takes quick breaths through the nose while valving out the air remaining in the mouth (trapped by the rear of the tongue, which closes over the tracheal opening), thus maintaining the buzz uninterrupted. A decent didjeridu player can maintain the buzz for a half hour or more.

And speaking of "buzz," playing the didjeridu induces a quasi-hypnotic effect through the effects of hypoxia from the player's circular breathing. This is thought to bring him closer in touch with the "Rainbow Serpent," the pan-Aboriginal mystic force which governs everything in the physical world--the hunt, procreation, health, sickness, life and death. The serpent manifests itself in the form of a rainbow.

Didjeridus were for many years highly prized artifacts, their scarcity due to a natural reluctance of the Aborigines to hand them over to the Europeans who came to their world. There are still taboos attached to this venerable instrument. For instance, women are forbidden in Aboriginal society to play the instrument. Today, fine didjeridus are available for sale throughout Australia, though they aren't cheap. A finely carved and decorated, deep-pitched instrument can fetch $1,000 or more.

The members of Rainbow Serpent are Dr. Michael Hartman, Robin Russell and Rob Mount. We hope you enjoy the haunting sounds of these beautifully primitive instruments, and will have a heightened appreciation and curiosity for the enigmatic lives of the Australian Aborigines.

Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Aunt Tippi and Robert 1995