Time Enough: A guest post by Jean Ryan

By Midge Raymond,

Today’s post is courtesy of Survival Skills author Jean Ryan, whose blog you can find on her website. Enjoy!

Time Enough

How we view time can be a source of comfort or pain. Many people, particularly Eastern cultures, adhere to the belief that we live any number of lives: time is seen as cyclical and forgiving. Westerners tend to see time as linear, something we use up, something we never have enough of.

Whatever our beliefs, we all know that the lives we are living now will one day end. This knowledge is the ultimate spoiler, the price we pay for having a neocortex. Other animals are not saddled with this awareness—at least I assume, I hope, they are not. In 1777 the British explorer Captain Cook gave a newly hatched tortoise to a royal family in Polynesia, who kept the creature as a pet until it died of natural causes 188 years later. That turtle pulled its heavy self across the ground, presumably the same well-worn ground, for 68,620 days. Was it weary by then? Bored? Might it have opted for a life half as long?

On the other end of the spectrum is the mayfly, a creature whose adult life amounts to less than a day; in some species, just a few minutes. The larval versions, naiads, can live up to a year, during which they hide in aquatic debris and progress through several stages—instars—before growing a pair of wings and becoming immature adults. The winged juveniles last no longer than the final version and are not sexually viable until a few hours later, when they emerge from their last molt with features unique in the insect world, paired genitals: two penises for the males and two gonopores for the females. They do not feed: their mouths are useless and their digestive tracts are filled with air. This day, their first and last on earth, all they do is mate—little wonder our creator doubled up on their genitalia.

Like locusts, mayflies “hatch” in stupendous numbers, trillions at a time. The males begin swarming over a river, and the females fly into this mass. With specialized legs, the male grabs a female, and copulation takes place in mid-air, after which the female falls to the water’s surface and lays her eggs before dying. The spent females cover the water, providing a feast for the fish below. The males fly off to die on land, a boon to local birds.
Even the waiting wildlife cannot keep pace with these mayfly windfalls, and in some municipalities snow plows are deployed to clear away the mountains of corpses. While Americans consider mayflies a nuisance, tribes in Africa make nutritious patties out of them.

It would seem that a mayfly’s fleeting life amounts to nothing more than sustenance for larger creatures. Mayflies, all 2,500 species of them, are designed as sacrifices, put here for the greater good. Twenty-four hours is all the time they are given and all the time they need.

The ancient Greeks had a saying:

 

There is not a short life or a long life.

There is only the life that you have, and the life you have

is the life you are given, the life you work with.

It has its own shape, describes its own arc, and is perfect.

 

A whole life in one day. It must be glorious.

A vegan Tesla marks a redefining of luxury

By John Yunker,

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 7.07.57 PM

It was very happy to see today that Tesla is now offering a vegan-friendly model of its cars, primarily meaning no leather.

Not that I’m about to rush out and buy one anytime soon (you can get a leather-free Subaru for quite a bit less). But it’s gratifying to see people with means pressuring luxury automakers to rethink “luxury” automobiles. Kudos to Leilani Münter (pictured above) for using her sway as professional racecar driver to ask Elon Musk to offer this option. Before her, Mark and Elizabeth Peters, shareholders of Tesla, presented their request for a vegan model at a shareholders meeting. These voices made a difference. Not that leather-free Teslas are going to singlehandedly put an end to the horrific leather industry, but this positive action might get people thinking about how they view leather — something we don’t usually think about.

Leather has long been synonymous with luxury — whereas in reality, it is synonymous with cruelty. And the leather industry is notoriously rough on the environment. So while I’d love to see Tesla, as an environmentally friendly company, remove the leather option entirely, these things take time — and this is an important first step.

What will the world look like when leather is no longer viewed as a luxury material but as something tragic and sad? When environmentalists realize that wearing leather (or getting this option in your electric car) is anything but helpful to the environment?

That day will come. For more and more of us, it has already arrived — and the more we see positive actions like this, the more awareness will spread.

 

The Lascaux Cave Paintings: A guest post by Jean Ryan

By Midge Raymond,

Today’s post is courtesy of Survival Skills author Jean Ryan, whose blog you can find on her website. Enjoy!

The Lascaux Cave Paintings

The hands. That’s what I keep thinking about. Not the exquisite horses and oxen and stags, but the hands, offered singly or in groups, some with truncated fingers—frostbite, scientists say.

Lascaux

Photo credit: Matt Northam, Foter.com

Were they signatures, the manner in which cave artists took credit for their work? It does not appear so. The prints were made by everyone—men, women, children, even babies. Some are positive, meaning the hand had been covered with paint and pressed onto the wall, and some are negative, the hand laid on the wall and paint blown around it. Perhaps the prints functioned as a sort of calling card, a way for humble ancients to introduce themselves to their deity. Self-portraits and full body renderings are nonexistent. The only human image in the Lascaux caves is a bizarre stick figure—a presumably dead hunter beside a speared bison, its intestines spilling out, and just beneath them a bird on the end of a pole. The hunter has an avian head and an erect phallus. I’ve tried to interpret this painting, to fathom the significance of the beaked head, the tiny bird, but the show-stealing phallus throws me off.

 

The Stone Age. I see people clothed in pungent, matted pelts, hunched inside cold caves, their lanterns sputtering with animal fat, their wide foreheads glistening with effort. I see shaggy black hair, large brown teeth, bruised arms bunched with muscle, dirty feet with toughened soles and horned toenails. Some of the tribe, balanced on crude scaffolds, are painting the upper walls; others are crouched on the floor, mixing pigments, hollowing out bones. They have a language of sorts and their strange words echo through the caverns. They did not live in the caves; they used them only for artistic and, possibly, ceremonial purposes. Maybe they considered the caves too hallowed, too potent, for basic use. Maybe they preferred the changing skies to constant clammy darkness.

 

The caves were discovered twelve months after the start of World War II, the year Germany invaded Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and France. Bombs fell, tanks rolled, grenades exploded, and below this mayhem, a prehistoric silence, beauty on hold for 17,000 years.

 

On September 12, 1940, four teenage boys were walking in the woods near Dordogne, France. One of them carried an oil lantern, having heard legends of a secret tunnel that ran under the Vezere River. They had a dog with them, Robot, who darted ahead toward a depression in the ground caused by an uprooted tree. The boys cleared away the overgrowth and discovered a hole into which they tossed rocks to determine the depth before deciding to explore it. One by one they slid through the hole and down a long shaft that led them into a dark cavern. They raised their lantern and shone it on the walls and white ceiling, discovering a panoply of animals, larger than life, which appeared to be in motion. Stunned, the boys ventured to the end of the cave, peering at more and more creatures: lines of horses and aurochs, stags, bulls, a headless stallion, a unicorn, a bear. The colors—mauve, reds, yellows, browns, black—were vibrant, as if they’d been painted the day before.

 

The boys swore themselves to secrecy, but their thrilling news did not stay bottled long. They invited a few of their friends to see the splendors, charging them a small admission price, and soon the whole village was lining up at the cave’s entrance, which the boys widened for easier access. Aware that this was a rare find indeed, the boys finally asked their schoolmaster, Leon Laval, to have a look. Initially dubious, as soon as he saw the paintings, Laval knew they were thousands of years old, created long before the written word. No one, he advised, should touch the artwork, and the cave should be guarded at all times from vandals. From then on, Jacques Marsal, one of the four discoverers, set up a tent at the cave’s entrance and committed himself to protecting it, work that would last his lifetime.

 

The Lascaux caves contain over 2,000 images comprised of two main categories: animals (equines predominate) and symbols. The entrance leads directly to The Hall of the Bulls, which is 62 feet long and varies in width from 18 to 25 feet. The first image encountered is a horse’s head with a fuzzy mane; the second is the “mysterious Unicorn,” followed by many other pictures and friezes. The next cavern, the Axial Gallery, is even longer than the first, and contains a magnificent swirl of animals, along with the largest work in the cave: the 17-foot long Great Black Bull. Many of the paintings in this gallery have been created using the contours of the wall to boost depth and perspective. The Passageway is a narrower portion of the cave and includes hundreds of figures—animals, indeterminate images, and signs. The Apse, a semi-spherical cavern, is considered to be the most sacred part of the cave, owing to the ceremonial artifacts found there and the abundance of petroglyphs. Nearly every square inch of its limestone walls and ceiling are covered with overlapping designs, some 500 animals and 600 abstract markings. In the floor of the Apse is a hole that leads to The Shaft of the Dead Man, a small area in an underlying cavern. This room contains the aforementioned painting of the dead hunter and bison along with just a handful of other images. It is the deepest and most cramped part of the cave. The two other illustrated caverns are The Nave, which is filled with engravings as opposed to paintings on account of the soft rock walls, and The Chamber of the Felines, which is long and narrow with a steep gradient. Viewers, who must crouch to see the artwork in this chamber, are reminded of the difficulty involved in creating it.

 

Aside from a small area near the entrance, there is no light in the caves. Artists used stone lanterns or flaming torches to illuminate the walls as they worked. They needed to determine what preparatory work was required—cleaning, scraping, preliminary sketching—how best to apply their colors to the various surfaces, and what combination of pigments were needed. The pigments were obtained from local minerals—powdered metallic oxides of iron and manganese. Drawings were done with edged chunks of minerals, while swabs of hair or moss were used as brushes. Hollowed bones functioned as paint sprayers through which artists blew their colors onto the walls. Engravings, the most common technique used in the Lascaux caves, entailed scratching the surface rock to reveal a different color beneath; the gouged lines mimic drawings.

 

The signs and symbols include straight lines, parallel lines, branching lines, convergent lines, four-sided images, club shapes, V-shapes and dots. Some of these signs occur in repeated groupings and thus may indicate communication between the artists, though we have no idea what any of the symbols mean.

 

The animal images are equally inscrutable. It does not seem likely that the paintings were created strictly for art’s sake. There are no trees or mountains or rivers, no suns or moons, no shrubs or flowers. Some suggest that the paintings were used as “hunting magic,” a means of either invoking more prey or dominating the animals by putting a spell over them. Paintings of wounded animals might have been a form of visualization, the artists hoping that the imaginary scenes would actually take place. If this theory is true, then why did the artists depict dangerous animals—wolves, lions, bears—as well as herd animals? Bone piles indicate that the mainstay of the Upper Paleolithic diet was reindeer: why is there just one image of a reindeer in the entire collection? Another argument to the explanation that the paintings were employed for hunting purposes is the presence of animals that have no link to hunting, like the swimming horses. And how do all the signs fit in?

 

A more plausible theory centers on the spiritual element. Studies reveal that most of the footprints found in the caves were left by adolescents. As this is the typical age for initiates, some scientists believe that the caves were used for initiation ceremonies and religious rituals. What function the signs and paintings played in these rituals is anyone’s guess.

 

A distinguishing feature of the Lascaux cave animals is the sense of movement they convey. Artists achieved this using various methods: sketching bold lines around the figure; superimposing one image on another to add depth and intrigue; and painting the animal in successive images, as in early comic strips. Stone Age humans would have walked through the caves carrying torches or primitive lanterns, the light from which would have traversed the walls in such a way that a stag with multiple heads would have resembled a single animated creature. As the light moved, a story developed.

 

These illusions were lost entirely when the caves were exploited by the family of the Count of LaRochefoucault, who owned the property. Artificial light was installed in the caverns, and by 1948 daily tours brought up to 1,000 people a day, an enterprise with disastrous results. Carbon dioxide, exhaled in copious amounts, built up in the caves, causing toxicity and condensation. A green growth attacked the paintings, followed by “The White Sickness,” a build-up of calcite that steadily spread over the cave walls. In 1963 the Lascaux caves were closed to the public. To appease would-be spectators, a precise replica of two of the caves was created in 1983; “Lascaux II” is situated not far from its namesake and it is this version that visitors see today. Other problems, like the appearance of black mold in 2006, continue to plague the original site.

 

In attempting to understand their drawings, I try to envision how the Stone Agers lived. The average lifespan was 30 years. Europe was exceptionally cold during the Upper Paleolithic Period, and food was becoming scarce. People lived a nomadic existence, following their prey and sheltering in temporary structures built of wood, thatch and stone. The first Homo Sapiens, they were stronger than us and had bigger heads, though their brains were not as specialized. They knew how to make fire and so were able to cook meat and keep warm. They fashioned a wide variety of stone tools and were adept at using them. They also made jewelry—necklaces, bracelets, amulets—out of shells, stone, bone and mammoth’s tusk. In addition to these personal items, people of this era carved what are known as “Venus figurines,” faceless statuettes of mature, full-figured women with exaggerated breasts and hips. Obesity and longevity would have been a rarity back then, so the statues may have been created not to depict beauty but to represent fertility, nourishment and survival.

 

There must have been chosen leaders, customs, certain rules of behavior and punishment if these rules were not adhered to. I can easily imagine fear, desperation, conflict and confrontation. But what did love look like? Not the love of a mother for her child, which is timeless, but romantic love. Stripped of convention and artifice, of deodorant and toothpaste, love between adults must have been, beyond all else, forgiving. Love in its most primal, urgent version.

 

In this time before roads and settlements, before agriculture and industry, before thunder and lightning could be explained, early man must have felt very small. There he somehow was, a naked biped in a vast frigid land ruled by beasts.

 

I think there are no self-portraits in the Lascaux caves because man did not consider himself worthy of them. The world belonged to the animals, who were perfectly equipped for the seasons and weather, who moved over their land with grace and purpose. The challenges faced by the cave artists were the measure of their respect. In painting these animals, man hoped to emulate them, to imbue himself with their power and beauty. To become, as he walked alongside the paintings with his stone lantern, as fine a creature.

  Category: On animals, On nature
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Announcing the Siskiyou Prize winner and finalists

By Midge Raymond,

We are delighted to announce Jennifer Boyden has won the 2015 Siskiyou Prize for her novel THE CHIEF OF RALLY TREE.

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Of THE CHIEF OF RALLY TREE, judge Ann Pancake writes: “Inventive, smart, and often hilariously funny, The Chief of Rally Tree delivers a social critique both searing and sly.”

Jennifer Boyden is the author of two books of poetry, The Declarable Future (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), winner of The Four Lakes Prize in Poetry; and The Mouths of Grazing Things (University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), winner of The Brittingham Prize in Poetry. She is a recipient of the PEN Northwest Wilderness Writing Residency and has taught writing and literature courses at a variety of places, including Suzhou University in China, The Sitka Center for Arts and Ecology, Whitman College, and at various workshops. On the faculty of Eastern Oregon University’s low-residency MFA program, Jennifer also works for an environmental nonprofit in the San Juan Islands. She lives in Friday Harbor, Washington.

The two prize finalists are the novel THE PLACE WITH NO NAME, by José María Merino, translated from the Spanish by Elizabeth Polli, and the essay collection THE SHAPE OF MERCY: ESSAYING THE GEOGRAPHY OF HOME by Alison Townsend.

The semifinalists are NOT TILL WE ARE LOST: REFLECTIONS ON EDUCATION, COMMUNICATION, AND SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION by William Homestead and THE PTEROPOD GANG by Nancy Lord.

The Siskiyou Prize is named for the Klamath-Siskiyou region of northern California and southern Oregon, one of the most diverse eco-regions in the world. The annual award is open to unpublished, full-length prose manuscripts, including novels, memoirs, short story collections, and essay collections. The winner receives a cash award of $1,000, a residency at PLAYA, and an offer of publication by Ashland Creek Press.

Thanks to all who submitted to the prize for your support of environmental literature. For more information, and to learn about next year’s prize, visit SiskiyouPrize.com.

Finding Joy in a Bowl: A guest post by Jacki Skole

By Midge Raymond,

Today’s post and photos are courtesy of Dogland author Jacki Skole, whose blog you can find on her website. Enjoy!

Finding Joy in a Bowl

My ten-year-old stood in the school library cradling a green plastic bowl in her right hand. That morning I’d filled the bowl with cut-up strawberries, but despite being covered, I could tell that strawberries were not what filled it now.

“What’s in there?” I asked.

“A fish, a snail, and duckweed,” she answered, as we weaved through fifth and sixth graders rushing toward the buses that snaked around the school.

About a week or two had passed since I’d been in the kitchen slicing tomatoes, and Dhani had asked if she could bring home a fish or a snail. She was learning about ecosystems in science, and her class had created several of their own in plastic soda bottles. Now they were going to see what happens when you pollute an ecosystem, so her teacher sought caretakers for the class “pets.” When my older daughter had asked that same question two years earlier, I’d said no. This time, I passed the buck and told Dhani to ask her father when he came home from work.

I figured she’d forget.

I have a vague recollection of having a goldfish or two when I was young—I think I won them at local fairs—but I don’t recall them living very long. What I do remember is begging for a “real” pet, a dog. Finally, at thirteen, to cushion the blow of my parents’ divorce, Sammie, a high-spirited West Highland white terrier, moved into our house after my father moved out.

My daughters have never known life without a dog. They spent their early years growing up with Gryffin, a Retriever/Chow mix, who Kevin and I adopted before we married. When Gryffin passed, we adopted Galen, a quirky Lab/Aussie mix, who jumps on the girls’ beds each morning to wake them and who brings us all a joy I assumed could not possibly come from creatures whose living space is limited to a bowl.

“What do they eat?” I asked, slightly annoyed that before heading home I would have to squeeze in a stop at the pet store.

“They don’t need anything,” Dhani said, with a tinge of exasperation at my ignorance of ecosystems. “The fish eats the duckweed, and the snail eats the fish poop.” Once home, we poured Fred (the fish), Martin (the snail) and the duckweed into a glass vase that had previously held flowers my husband gave me for my birthday. Then I placed the vase on the corner of our kitchen island where, for a few hours each day, its new inhabitants would be bathed by the sun.

Over the next few days, Fred and especially Martin mesmerized us. We would peer into the vase to see what they were doing (and if they were still alive). Martin, who resembled a tiny black pebble, was in constant (slow) motion, trudging up and down the side of the vase, under and above the water line, sometimes ascending so high we wondered if he would climb out.

A little more than a week after Fred and Martin joined our family, I came home to find an empty vase sitting on the kitchen counter. Our cleaning lady, thinking the vase contained the detritus of my birthday bouquet, rather than a budding ecosystem, had dumped its contents down the sink.

Dhani took the news better than I expected. What upset her most was the possibility that Fred and Martin might have endured painful deaths. What surprised me most was that we actually felt their loss. It was by no means the same as when Gryffin passed, though that, too, came suddenly and unexpectedly. One day he was playing fetch, the next day a tumor we didn’t know he had burst, filling his belly with blood.
Gryffin’s absence echoed throughout the house; Fred’s and Martin’s echoed throughout the kitchen. It had become routine to walk into the kitchen and before doing anything else, to check on the duo, to marvel at these hearty little creatures, who survived life in a soda bottle, a plastic Tupperware-like bowl and now, a glass vase.

Two days later, our cleaning lady stopped by with gifts for Dhani: a vibrant blue betta fish, a snail with a lemon yellow shell, and a plastic “Pet Keeper” fish tank. I got the sense she saw the tank as a more appropriate aquatic home.

“What will you name them?” I asked Dhani.

“Fred Jr. and Martin Jr.” she answered.

I have to confess that Fred Jr. and Martin Jr. are even more fascinating to observe than their predecessors. For example, Martin Jr. traverses the tank as actively as Martin scaled the vase, but Martin Jr. is larger, and he comes out of his shell more often and more fully, so we can view his extraordinary little body from foot to tentacles. And because we feed Fred Jr. tiny food pellets, we watch him swim to the surface as soon as the pellets fall from our fingers. His tiny mouth surrounds one at a time, and he seems to chew it as tiny air bubbles float from his mouth.

I had been quick to dismiss the idea that a fish or a snail could bring value to our lives, but my ten-year-old daughter knew better. For Dhani, adopting a fish and a snail from school was no different than rescuing Gryffin or Galen from a shelter. To her, all were creatures who needed homes and who would, in their unique ways, bring us joy.

I like to think that as a parent, I am the wise one—and most of the time, I am—except when my children are wiser than me.

Fred, Martin