hawk & handsaw
hawk & handsaw The Journal of Creative Sustainability
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Hawk & Handsaw
The Journal of Creative Sustainability
Volume 3, 2010
Introduction: No Direction home? 2 What is Creative Sustainability? 4 words
What’s Fucked Up About Abundance Lilace Mellin Guignard
Photosynthesis Robot Amy Franceschini
Having It All Jeffrey Thomson
The Silver Lining in Forced Frugality David E. Shi
19 20 21
Repeater Purgatory (arrivals) Four Families Freddy LaFage
Of the Fittest Janine DeBaise
High Dive Ryan Hediger
Sol Duc Scott Elliott
42 Untitled Xander Kennedy
Crossing the Atchafalaya Sheryl St. Germain
Trying to Remember a Hermit Thrush Jacob Boyd
48 49 50
A Lake in the North Paul Bogard
In Line with Another and the Next Travis Baker
On Ice Camille Dungy
The Finback Alison Hawthorne Deming
Reading the Science Section to 51 Escape the News Robin Chapman Dispatch from the No-Kill Zone: Mice John T. Price
29 No Title 30 No Title Daniel Gordon Precious Little Freddy LaFage
Childress House Study—Dark Islands Mount Hope Study—Fixtures and Clouds Mount Hope Study—Seat Ethan Jackson
Introduction No Direction Home? Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight? (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.) Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely. Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage? Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe? So asked Allen Ginsberg in 1956. Writing to commemorate the centenary of Leaves of Grass, Ginsberg was right to wonder what had become of Whitman’s America. It was a year marked by labor riots, a bloated market, gas rationing, the suppression of civil liberties, and the launch of the world’s first fast food restaurant; it was the dawn of an era that promised—and would deliver—a social milieu driven by consumerism and fear. Where does one go when confronted with this reality? As we say goodbye to the Aughts – a decade the BBC presciently nicknamed “the Naughties” in 2000 – the editorial staff of Hawk & Handsaw finds ourselves asking this same question. It can be easy to answer with fatalism and doomsday scenarios. After all, as the century enters its tween years, we find a world acting very much like an adolescent. To Ginsberg’s social unrest we have added capricious economies, petulant governments, and rebellious weather. We begin this new decade with the promise of greater military action in the Middle East, print media megaextinctions, and continued human rights atrocities across the globe. Meanwhile, the failures of the Copenhagen climate summit still reverberate as pundits and politicians play the age-old game of reassigning blame and dodging responsibility. For many people, then, 2010 is already remembered as the year that began without meaningful change— particularly where sustainability is concerned. For some, it represents the tipping point of our planet’s demise. It’s hard to blame anyone for believing as much. After all, scientific prognostication about the decade is grim. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has set 2016 as the year we enter a “new, more perilous phase of risk of climate change.” Commensurate with this phase is the health of every other planetary system. Ecologists tell us that, by 2020, the crises of biodiversity, accessibility to fresh water, ocean acidification, and biogeochemical levels in our landscapes will have become catastrophic. Every choice we make will bring us one step closer either to recovery or Armageddon. And, with an estimated 7.5 billion humans occupying the planet by the start of the next decade, the propulsive force of those choices will be colossal. Dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, where are we heading? Are we going to travel alone, looking to repeat an unsustainable history, or are we ready for a new path? Whitman may not have the answers, but the contributors to Hawk & Handsaw posit quite a few. 2
We think you’re going to be both heartened and challenged by what they have to say—and what they’re prepared to relinquish in the name of new beginnings. In this, the third issue of the journal, we’re holding a wake for old America. Make no mistake: this is not one of those somber, hidebound affairs. We’re hosting a hoolie filled with tall tales, spirited songs, and even some bawdy humor as we say farewell to an outmoded way of life. So here’s to all that’s wrong with the American dream: to corporatism beginning with 19th century whaling, to anonymous suburbs and interactions, to unbridled appetites. This America was a culture that wanted it all. In a lot of ways, that’s what we got – along with billions of tons of carbon released into the atmosphere and countless habitats lost. And as this corpulent creature slouched through its life, spewing its spew, we all lost a sense of proportion and value in the process. It’s time to put this monster out of its misery. To poke fun at it. To say to hell with it. To let loose with nothing short of pure ebullience when confronted with the fact we don’t really know what’s next. And, in the interim, it’s time to start paying better attention. The writers in this issue of H&H offer inspired ways to do all of that and more. Their work gives a jaunty wink to what is absurd in our world: reality T.V., artifice in the name of getting close to nature, the inconvenience of bounty. They have seen the power implicit in the currents of rivers, the future of the cosmos, the sound of a wood thrush. Read in concert, they show the opportunities begotten by ambiguity and multiplicity. Our visual artists do the same. There are suggestions of joy and prowess in the photographs of an artist airborne over the landscape, along with the head-scratcher of how such pictures were made. Interiors lit with the images of inverted landscapes obscure and illuminate. An underwater photograph picks out a found gesture. Paintings in this issue can be read as annunciations and habitations, places of action and rest. And then there are the ambulatory plants, robotically rigged to seek out CO2, goofy and dignified in their dogged pursuit. These pieces evoke the partial reveal, the question asked and only sort of answered. They compel us to become a part of the multifarious notes and pauses that sustain the long work of staying awake and interested. That’s a good thing, because being awake and interested is what this new decade—this new America— will demand of us all. So pour yourself a stiff drink and come join us. We don’t have a moment to lose. Later this year, leaders from across the globe will meet in Mexico to again think through issues of climate change and sustainability. We can spend the time between now and then strategizing about unilateral talks and international treaties, thereby all but ensuring a conclusion similar to the one in Copenhagen. Or, we can embrace the new decade in all its metaphoric potential and try something different. We here at Hawk & Handsaw choose the latter. We plan to spend the coming years in a crazy love affair with creativity and collaboration. And we’re pretty confident it’s going to be a great relationship. We’ve already seen glimmers of what can happen when a planet flirts with its own potential. Now it’s time to get serious. To find a new direction home. —The Editors 3
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
What is Creative Sustainability?
It begins like this: We begin to imagine how our emotional and physical lives might defy every law of diminishing returns. Then we yearn: We grow ravenous with the desire not to consume, but to be consumed, by the human and biotic communities that support us. And finally grace: We stand in the sweetness of selfexpenditure so that every other thing bursts with ecological possibility. Amy Irvine, author of Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land
Remembering your heart on the way to work. Jacob Boyd, contributor
It begins with laughter, or some similarly spasmodic expression of hope. Children can help with this, but also pets, friends, insects, bodily fluids, and yard work. Anything that makes one feel small and ridiculous. And dependent. Then, and only then, come the thoughts, the research, the words—the more careful, creative and informed environmentalist gestures, on the page and in the world. Where these gestures go from there, what or who they are able to sustain and how, is not always easy to determine. Like everything else, they become part of a circle, an ecology, that can be long in coming around. We have our hopes, however. Sometimes that’s enough to sustain me, at the very least. John T. Price, author of Man Killed by Pheasant
Now here and everywhere Green-leafed summer splash: Plunging kingfisher showers fierce blessings on us all. Peter Bardaglio, Second Nature
Rubbernecking. To achieve creative sustainability, you have to look backwards to understand where we are coming from, and simultaneously look forward to chart an inspired course, all the while looking everywhere around us for the useful ideas that will get us there. Freddy LaFage, co-founder of Perimeter Gallery
Creative sustainability is resonance with the myriad forms of life on a living, breathing planet – the brilliance of autumn leaves with the red tailed hawk crying overhead. It is resilience in the face of the diminishment of many of our companions who share this planet – who will we be without our closest relatives, the great apes in the wild? It is, nonetheless, the ever deepening responsiveness to the call of life’s continuity. It is taking up the “great work” of building a planetary civilization – in place and across nations for the first time in human history Mary Evelyn Tucker, Forum on Religion and
Creative sustainability is rooted in the willingness to start again—in the ability to tether oneself uncompromisingly to the deep beginning. Andrea Read, Newforest Institute
Wendell Berry. A Fibonacci Wed earth to heart with your art, he says. Hear me: then quicken passion for field and hearth. Ann Fisher Wirth, author of Slide Shows
Mining society’s excess for the material needs of daily living. Martha Mitchell, Clackamas Community College
Earthworms are currently my model for creative sustainability. First of all, they’re cool—as any grade-schooler will tell you. Second, they derive their energy from sources that are practically omnipresent, and convert that matter into products benefiting both themselves and the soil in which they live. Third, they make their piece of the planet airier and richer by dint of their active presence. Fourth, they’ve figured out how to time the arrival of their progeny until conditions are auspicious, so their own desirousness doesn’t deplete limited resources. Granted, all of that sounds sustainable but not terribly creative—until you add in that, fifth, earthworms have five hearts. Small ones, fairly unprepossessing, but still—five of them. And it’s hearts that tip the scale: creative sustainability involves humans being as vigilant with resources as earthworms are, all the while bringing to our efforts the verve of human-sized, wildly powerful hearts. Margot Anne Kelly, photographer and author of Local Treasures: Geocaching Across America
Ecology, Yale University
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
What’s Fucked Up About Abundance
Lilace Mellin Guignard
How in the midst of all those tomatoes glowing red and orange in my backyard, ripe and rotting in the raised 3x3 squares I bowed my back filling, tilling, and weeding, how in the bosom of late August when their armies swarm my counters and they roll off my sill—splat—into the sink,
Having It All Jeffrey Thomson The rain on the tin roof in the night made the sound of crabs on the stones
how with the flavor of the hordes numbing my tongue’s memory of winter when, like mail order brides, I embrace cans of diced and stewed from who-knows-where, I lose each fruit’s singular beauty in the glare of all there is to do—slicing, roasting, freezing, boiling, canning—always pulling at me
by the Madrigal River where lizards named for astonishment walk across the water, where the collared aracari tears apart guavas and the scarlet claws of heliconia hang outside the window, where a toucan in the almond woke us early. Dios-te-dé, my wife calls out quietly in my ear as I move inside her. Our son,
like a million small children, or, let’s say, two holding onto my legs, two perfect children I’ve waited my whole life for clutching my legs and the amazing—really—beefsteak of a man I waited 30 years for (and would again) reading Climbing magazine at the table where he’s cleared a space for his beer
in the bed next to us, sleeps through the light leaking through the screens, our small cabin by the shore, the long tarnish of dawn scrolled above the trees. We are trying to have a baby and the world brings us into each other as the sun strips the last of the rain from the trees and daylight lifts us up in its rags of green.
while I shuffle to the sink to lay the knife down so I can pick the baby up, how so much goodness doesn’t make me thankful so much as frantic knowing the rest of my life I must work to deserve it.
journal of creative sustainability
David E. Shi
The Silver Lining in Forced Frugality
Amy Franceschini, Photosynthesis Robot, 2003 Mixed Media
Small is beautiful again—or at least it is becoming more necessary. Thrift is suddenly in vogue, like it or not. The deepening global recession and the mushrooming layoffs, bankruptcies, and foreclosures have generated a wave of austerity and frugality. A recent government report revealed that Americans had steadily reduced their spending since the fall of 2008. Such data suggest a dramatic shift in consumer behavior. Business groups are worried that the austerity phenomenon may very well tip the nation into a depression. As the editors of Business Week ask, “Will frugality become the ‘new normal’ among Americans, as some people fear?” Probably not. Historically, such periods of pinched frugality don’t last very long. Once the economy recovers, most people revert to traditional patterns of carefree consumption. The spendthrift pattern of the past decade will probably rebound. An old cycle is at work here. Throughout American history, the tension between accumulating goods and cultivating goodness has shaped our collective character. Americans over the years have assumed that nothing succeeds like excess, only to experience a calamitous fall from grace. Two former U. S. presidents acknowledged this cyclical pattern in their letters to each other. As John Adams asked Thomas Jefferson in 1819, “Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from becoming effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice and folly?” Adams’s question shimmers with relevance. Even before last fall’s market meltdown, there were growing indications that consumers were living on borrowed time. The elixir of easy money—heedless borrowing by homeowners and investment bankers alike—was a losing prescription long before 2008. Life in the fast lane had become a dead end for many people. After all, the three best-selling drugs in America are an ulcer medication, a hypertension reliever, and a tranquilizer. It is in this context, then, that the forced frugality of recent months may harbor a silver lining. Some people will decide that simpler, more sustainable modes of living are preferable to their old habits of conspicuous consumption. They will come to relish the joy of having enough—and not needing more. A simpler life may not appeal to the majority of Americans, but it has always been one of the nation’s most renewable moral resources.
In times of economic distress, global war, or energy crisis, people have tapped the rich reservoir of plain living and high thinking in the American experience. In this sense the resilient ideal of simpler living has repeatedly served the moral health of the nation and the spiritual health of its practitioners. Why? Simpler living can often mean more abundant living. The balm of simplicity soothes frazzled lives. Pressures are reduced and the frenetic pace of life is slowed. Simpler living also creates a greater sense of self-reliance and more opportunities for activities of intrinsic worth—family, faith, civic and social service, self-culture. To have all we want is said to be rich; but to be able to do without all that we desire is to enjoy true freedom. A simpler life is anything but simple, however. It is difficult to achieve and even harder to maintain. “‘Tis a gift to be simple,” sing the Shakers. It requires both fortitude and imagination to sustain a commitment to enlightened self-restraint amid our ever-tempting consumer culture. Yet simple living, for all its complexities and difficulties, remains an enticing path to a good life. In the twenty-first century it can be more than an anachronism, fad, or eccentricity. Living a simpler life does not mean living a destitute life. Its basic requirement is not a rural homestead or a faddish preference for L.L. Bean boots, trail mix, and alfalfa sprouts. Rather it entails a daily ordering of priorities so as to distinguish between the necessary and superfluous, the useful and wasteful, the beautiful and vulgar. Knowing the difference between personal trappings and personal traps is the key to mastering the art of simpler living. In this sense simplicity is essentially a state of mind rather than a particular standard of living. Money or possessions or activities don’t corrupt our serenity, but the love of money, the craving of possessions, and the prison of activities do. So perhaps the painful recession will provoke at least some of us to reassess our priorities. As Henry David Thoreau emphasized, “Do not devote your life to nonessentials or the acquisition of unnecessary possessions. Simplify.” Life is fundamentally a series of choices. Although often buffeted by forces beyond our control, most of us have choices: we can keep yearning for more or we can resolve to be content with less. Choose well.
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journal of creative sustainability
My brother-in-law Larry, who grew up in a wealthy family on Long Island, read the posted rules and gave the rest of the family an incredulous look. He summed up his stance in one simple sentence: “Starving myself is not my idea of a vacation.” He and my sister Laurie volunteered to take the three youngest grandchildren to town for the day. I felt a bit relieved that I wouldn’t have to watch my six-year-old go hungry. Everyone else would remain. Twelve people in all, pitting themselves against the fierce nature of the north country in July.
Of the Fittest It began with my seventeen-year-old niece, Erin, and her love of reality television. She’d been watching Survivor, the show that plunks carefully selected strangers into the wilderness and then follows them with camera crews as they scrounge for food and make snarky comments about one another while practically starving to death. This show had captured the imaginations of the American public that summer, which I suspect says more about the average person’s love of snark than our culture’s grasp of what it means to live within the limits of place. We would play our own Survivor game, Erin decided. By we, she meant my extended family, who gather at my parents’ camp in upstate New York for a full week every Fourth of July. How did she know we’d all be willing to play? Well, there was some precedent. In the early 1970s, long before Erin or any of the grandchildren were born, my parents went on a Euell Gibbons kick. Armed only with the book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, they talked about how we were going to “live off the land” for the whole week. We didn’t end up going whole hog (or whole asparagus, you might say), and some meals still included hamburgers cooked over the fire. But mostly, we spent a lot of time scrounging for food that summer. A lot of it tasted pretty good too — milkweed pods cooked in hot water, the white parts of cattails marinated in salad dressing, and watercress plucked out of the lawn. My parents’ camp on the Saint Lawrence River isn’t exactly wilderness. To get there, you drive just a few miles from town and take a turn off the highway. Their land is a peninsula set amidst acres and acres of cattails, all protected by the 1972 wetlands legislation. I still remember the first time my father saw the property. Most people who buy land on the river want big rocks and deep clear water. But my father loved the shallow muddy water, where little kids could chase after frogs and snakes, the acres of waving cattails that
made the land completely private, and the oak trees that have stood there since native people camped underneath. He came home and said to my mother, “It’s a paradise.” My parents are the kind of people who have read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden one too many times, and their camp bears a remarkable resemblance to the cabin where Thoreau lived. It’s sixteen by sixteen feet, with a handmade wooden table, a propane stove, and a single lightbulb for playing cards at night. The only luxury is the big refrigerator, which comes in very handy when you’re feeding five kids, four in-laws, and ten grandchildren. Each year, during the week of July Fourth, we bring tents and set them up under the pine trees or out in the meadow. It was here Erin set our version of Survivor 2001: The Thousand Islands. She was sure it would be just like the television show. Well, minus the camera crews and the auditions and the insane publicity. Erin designated July 6 as Survivor Day. The evening before, she put up signs on the door to my parents’ cabin, the door to the outhouse, and several big trees near the fire pit. There were rules. From 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., the tents, cars, and my parents’ cabin, and all of their contents, would be offlimits. No store-bought food. Erin posted a sign on the refrigerator that said Don’t even think it. She banned electronic devices of any kind. She announced that she would split us into two tribes, and each tribe would be given one metal cooking pot, one spoon, six matches, and one small bag of rice. To protect the local environment, Erin allowed us to use the outhouse. Each tribe would be given one canoe. Each person was allowed one personal item, which had to be chosen the night before and approved by Erin. She announced that there would be four challenges — or contests — during the twelve hours of the game. She hinted that there would be prizes.
Thursday, 7 p.m. — The game begins Erin’s tribal division is ruthless. She separates all the usual camp pairs: Devin and Emily, the inseparable ten-year-old cousins, co-owners of an imaginary bakery up on the big rock ledge; Shannon and Jaime, the teenage cousins who spend hours talking, canoeing, and brushing each other’s blond hair; and the old folks, my parents, who still like to hike together after forty-three years of marriage. Members of both teams express relief that my father and I are on separate teams. Everyone thinks we argue too much.
Here is my tribe: My mother (age 69). Perhaps the most valuable member. She knows which plants to eat, she knows the kind of naturalist trivia you pick up from reading books, and she has decades of experience cooking over a fire. She will emerge as the leader. Her only weakness is a tendency to faint if she goes more than two hours without food. She chooses a raft as her personal item, in case we want to go swimming. My husband, Bill (age 40). Not the camping type. He grew up in the suburbs and gets restless at camp. His most important talent is that he can do spot-on voice impressions of just about anyone — from Henry Kissinger to Elvis Presley to Robin Leach. We’re not exactly sure how that talent is going to help us survive in the wilderness, but he’s entertaining. For his personal item, he plans to drive into town early the next morning to buy the newspaper, a choice he defends by saying we can use it later to start a fire. Me (age 40). Like most well-read people, I know
lots of interesting but useless facts. My role is expected to be minor, unless we use the canoe and raft. Like my mother, I need to eat every couple of hours, so the whole tribe is nervous about me getting a migraine. I choose my journal as my personal item because I can’t imagine going a whole day without writing. The rest of the tribe accuses me (kiddingly, I think) of not being a team player. My sister Colleen defends my choice by saying she wants the pen to do the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. My sister, Colleen (age 30). Urban, sophisticated, high-strung, she dresses like a fashion model. Some of us suspect that years of living in Manhattan have not sharpened her wilderness survival skills, but she’s so much fun that we are happy to have her on our team. Besides, she is training for the Chicago marathon in October, which means she is in great shape for the physical challenges. Survivor Day conveniently coincides with a rest day on her training schedule. After being nudged by my mother, Colleen chooses a sharp knife as her personal item. My daughter, Shannon (age 15). Her most valuable skill is her ability to manipulate her younger brothers. And unlike her brothers, she will eat vegetables. She rolls her eyes when she finds out that she’s in the same tribe as her parents. She chooses a red sleeping bag as her personal item. My niece, Emily (age 10). When she pulls her blond hair back into a ponytail, she’s ready to tackle anything. She’s so cute that she’ll come in handy if we have to beg food from strangers. She chooses a red water bottle. Our team color, we decide, is red. I even have the foresight to demand the red canoe rather than the green one, a strategically important triumph for team morale. Our first task as a tribe is to choose a name. My mother tosses out a suggestion right away. “How about the Gananoques?” “I think it means something in the native language,” I volunteer. “Something about a river,” my mother says. “Or hunters, maybe.” Shannon shrugs. “That’s cool.” My mother invents a cheer to go with the name. The cheer sounds suspiciously like the chant she and
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Shannon use when they play on a team during our evening card games. Meanwhile, Colleen announces that she doesn’t know how to drink out of a water bottle and demonstrates her inability to do so. She leans back at a peculiar angle and squirts water into her eye. We use up all of our strategy-planning time trying to teach Colleen how to drink out of the bottle.
The other tribe: My father (age 70). He has lived in upstate New York his whole life. He’s camped, hunted, fished, and sailed in this area since boyhood. Tough competition. He wants to choose his sailboat for his personal item, but Erin says no. Instead, he goes down to the sailboat and comes back with a cleverly designed device that folds flat and has four cups nestled inside. My sister, Carroll (age 42). The oldest of my siblings, she is likely to emerge as the leader. Anyone who has played Monopoly with her knows that below her easygoing surface lies a fierce competitor who goes berserk if she doesn’t get all the light blue properties. She pulls out the book Stalking the Wild Asparagus — which she just happens to have — as her personal item. She is accused of having insider information. My brother-in-law, Jimmy (age 41). A laid-back guy with a soft Maryland accent who also runs marathons and likes to cook. He’s uninhibited and will egg on his nephews when they make inappropriate jokes. He chooses his fishing pole. Colleen and I decide we are not intimidated by the other team’s potential to catch fish. I’m a vegetarian, and she thinks eating fish is gross. My niece, Jaime (age 19). Blonde and beautiful. The television cameras, if they actually existed, would love her. One year of college has not turned her into a cynic. She proudly produces a cigarette lighter as her personal item. Since no one in the family smokes, we are suspicious of this choice. Clearly, Erin leaked information about Survivor Day to the rest of her family. My son, Sean (age 13). Good-natured, strong, not likely to get tired. He would wear the same black Tshirt and shorts all summer long if his mother allowed it, and the lack of plumbing at camp has never bothered him in the slightest. He’s a kid who is growing fast, though, so feeding him from the wild could pose a problem. His favorite pocketknife is his personal item. My son, Devin (age 10). A face full of freckles, lots of enthusiasm, and a high-pitched voice shriller than a smoke alarm when he loses his temper. He’ll take the game very seriously, and he’ll do anything his Aunt Carroll tells him to do. He chooses a deck of cards.
They call themselves the Ospreys and devise a clever bird call that is supposed to sound like an osprey. While swimming at an island the day before, we’d watched an osprey circling around, gliding and then dropping rapidly to pull a fish from the water, a fish so heavy he could barely lift to the sky again. This name choice strikes us as terribly clever, and we feel that the other tribe already has the upper hand.
Friday morning: 7 a.m. Both teams nervously prepare for the 8 a.m. start to Survivor Day. At the two picnic tables near the fire pit, the kids madly gulp bananas and cereal. I drink about a quart of orange juice that came all the way from Florida. Potassium, I say to myself. Colleen, the marathoner, keeps chanting, “Carbo-load! Carbo-load!” The other tribe begins to make us nervous. They gather in little groups, chuckling, whispering, and looking very smug. Colleen and I call a hasty tribe meeting. “What about food? Shouldn’t we have a plan?” Ten-year-old Emily looks around furtively to make sure the other tribe isn’t listening and whispers, “I know where there are some berries.” “Perfect,” my mother says. “And the field by the dirt road is filled with milkweeds.” We need to move quickly after the 8 a.m. start to beat the other tribe to the obvious food sources. Cattails can wait; we are standing at the edge of a marsh that stretches half a mile to meet the river, so we have an endless supply. Once we come up with a food gathering plan, we turn our thoughts to more important concerns. Clothing. It’s an unusually cold and windy day, but we hope it might warm up. The men keep snickering about how uncomfortable it is to wear a bathing suit under their clothes. My brother-in-law Jimmy
announces, “I’ll just swim naked. I’ve got no problem with that.” The kids keep disappearing into tents and emerging with yet another layer of clothes on. The true Survivor look, according to fashion expert Colleen, consists of a colorful sports bra and short shorts. However, it is way too cold for that. The teenage girls brought sarongs to wear over their bathing suits, but in this cold wind, they soon wrap them around their heads like turbans. Colleen, having abandoned her sleek urban black in favor of jeans, sets the fashion tone for the non-existent cameras. She braids her hair, streaks charcoal on her face, ties on a purple bandana, and tops this off with sunglasses.
7:50 a.m. Colleen opens the door of her rental car, parked near the picnic table. She yells: “Time to get pumped!” She cranks the music as loud as it can go: “Cowboy” by Kid Rock. We don’t usually allow radios at camp, so the loud music startles us. Family members young and old start dancing wildly and brandishing their personal items in a scene that looks like something out of a Maurice Sendak book.
8:00 a.m. Colleen shuts the car door. Erin gives the signal. The game begins. My tribe disperses quickly, according to plan. Colleen and Emily disappear into the woods, heading toward the big rock where Emily spotted berries. Mom, Shannon, and I sneak quietly to the field to pick milkweeds. Bill, who was somehow left out of the planning session, sits on the red sleeping bag reading the newspaper. The other tribe suspects he’s a spy and moves cautiously away from him. Once in the sheltered field, we find a rhythm of picking milkweed buds and talking. I take off my red sweatshirt and tie the arms so we can use it as a bag. Shannon looks nervously at the buds. “These things? We’re going to eat them?” My mother shows her how to avoid the ones that have already begun to flower. Then the Osprey tribe — all six of them — come strolling by on the dirt road, looking smug. My father
is in the lead, walking briskly, wearing his winter ski cap, a ragged flannel shirt, and a down vest patched with duct tape. Carroll carries their cooking pot. Sean swings his pocketknife. Jimmy makes osprey noises. Jaime has added gull feathers to her turban. Ten-yearold Devin is so excited his freckles are moving. They march past without saying a word, looking at our milkweed buds with disdain. I can tell from my father’s pace and expression that he has forgotten about the Survivor game and is just excited to be taking them on a long hike. Back at our tribal meeting spot — the red sleeping bag spread on the ground under the young white pines — we find the rest of our tribe. Colleen and Emily return with six berries and a handful of bright orange daylilies. “A nice little spread,” Colleen says brightly, and strips off her fleece to sun herself. A reporter who usually has to work during sunlight hours, she has her priorities, and getting a tan is the top one. Bill looks curiously at the milkweed buds: “What are those?” “Lunch,” I explain. He looks again. “You’ve got to be kidding.” His plan is simply to go the whole day without eating. My mother and I cover the milkweed buds with cold water. An hour into the game, we are already getting hungry.
10:00 a.m. We decide to conserve our energy. That wind is still cold. The women cram onto the red sleeping bag. “You know, lying down on the ground on a cold day means putting your body into the boundary layer of the Earth’s surface,” I say. “It’s warmer here than the climate just six feet higher.” Shannon kicks me and says, “Mom! I’m trying to sleep.” I write in my journal and watch the clouds overhead while family members use my body as a pillow so they can take naps. As the scent of the pine trees wafts across the sleeping bag, I offer to make the group pine needle tea. “We made it once when I was a kid.” “Did it taste good?” “No, it was awful. But it’s full of vitamin C.” No one feels that scurvy is an imminent danger.
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Emily and I munch on the bright orange petals of the daylilies. “I eat these all the time at home,” Emily says cheerfully. It’s true. Often, I have watched her and Devin, sitting on the grass outside her city home, pulling petals off the lilies in the front garden. We are getting bored, and so we goad Bill into reading the newspaper aloud. He starts picking obscure little articles and reading them in different accents. An item about the royal family, read in a snobby British accent, gets Colleen and my mother rolling about the sleeping bag in hysterical laughter. Bill warms up to this appreciative audience and starts ad-libbing like crazy, scanning the paper for the most ridiculous stories: “Woman shoots self in foot in trailer park.” He reads a letter to Dear Abby from a pathetic woman who cannot decide between loyal Monroe or hot-looking Lance. Mom shrugs: “She needs to look elsewhere.” Shannon thinks Lance deserves a chance. “Maybe he’s smarter than he looks.” My sister Colleen and I scream, “Forget them both! Go to grad school!” Eventually, the Ospreys return, looking smug and carrying all manner of strange things. Raspberries and blackberries fill their cooking pot. We stare enviously. My father, who is muddy up to his knees and has unbuttoned his plaid shirt, swings a rusty leghold trap and brags that he could hunt wild game. Jaime, who has stripped down to a tank top and added sprigs of pine to her turban, carries some kind of old wooden box she found in the woods. Jimmy holds up a neat pile of green cattail punks. “I can get some fish to go with that.” I can tell that my sons are bursting to tell me about the walk — but they won’t cross tribal lines. Devin bounces up and down, hanging on to his Aunt Carroll and whispering into her ear, a new shade of pink across his freckles. “They’re having fun,” Shannon says, giving me an accusing look. “And they have berries.” “Don’t worry,” Colleen says. “We’ll win the challenge.” “Yeah, ” I say, “I think there’s some kind of food prize.” Our team is getting pretty hungry. Daylily petals are not that filling.
11:00 a.m.: The mental challenge Erin instructs us to gather under the pine trees, in the grassy area where we set up tents, for the first challenge — trivia questions about camp. Mom, Colleen, and I look at one another confidently. We are the three who read the camp journal the most often. We remember details. We can carry the whole team. But Erin decrees that we can’t help team members, which means we lose our advantage. The questions come fast, like bullets. How many times have we rebuilt the outhouse? Who is the only person to swim all the way around Third Brother Island? How many times has cousin George fallen off the dock? Suddenly the Ospreys are in the lead. They win it. All six jump to their feet, cheering and dancing, celebrating in the most obnoxious way. Carroll and Sean high-five each other, and I hear Jimmy say to Devin, “Want me to moon the other tribe?” Erin hands them the prize, which turns out to be random items she scavenged from the camp: one cold beer, one sleeve of graham crackers, six marshmallows, and six squares of chocolate. Six squares of chocolate. Colleen and I look at each other, sharing the pain of the moment. Six squares of chocolate. The agony of defeat. “That was the mental challenge,” my daughter says. “Our only chance.” She gives me an accusing look, as if I am responsible for the loss. Colleen and I throw ourselves on the ground and talk about our favorite ways to eat chocolate. “I would have heated up water,” I say, “then put the square of chocolate on my tongue, and then sipped the hot water slowly and let the chocolate melt gradually.” “I would have dug up chickory roots, roasted them and made chickory coffee, and then melted a square of chocolate into the coffee.” While Colleen and I grieve the loss of chocolate, my mother calls over my sulky daughter. “Help me make a fire. It’s important we use only one match.” Shannon rises to the challenge, and soon the pot of milkweed buds is boiling nicely. My mother shows Shannon how to change the water to get rid of any bitterness. We start hunting for twigs to use as chopsticks, even though my mother — who grew up in the
New York City area, with access to Chinatown — is the only one who can use chopsticks in any kind of meaningful way. My father, still in his tall rubber boots and ragged flannel shirt, comes dancing past the red sleeping bag, dangerously close to crossing the tribal line. He’s humming a Glen Miller tune. Smiling smugly, he waves his square of chocolate near me. I am sorely tempted to punch him. The milkweed buds are quite tasty. Or maybe it’s that we’re starving. I give up on the chopsticks and start grabbing buds with my fingers. We all eat out of the one pot — no one has the energy to fashion bowls from leaves or bark. Colleen attempts to drink out of the water bottle and drenches us all. “You’re a runner,” I say for the tenth time. “Don’t all runners use water bottles? How can you not know how to drink from a water bottle?” She shrugs. The milkweed buds hold us over for a while, and then we cook our rice — about a cup of it, split among the six of us. When my mother spills some onto the picnic table, we rush to pick up every grain with our fingers. We brainstorm for other food sources. Too late for strawberries. Too early for apples. The dandelions and watercress would be bitter this time of year — we weren’t that hungry. We find a few young and green cattail punks. Cooked over the fire, they taste — well, they taste like cattail punks, with fluff that sticks in my teeth. Clouds move across the sun. We huddle on the sleeping bag, sheltered by the pine trees. Colleen and Bill work on the New York Times crossword puzzle. My mother is the only one who knows any of the answers. Emily and I find more daylilies and drink water to fill our stomachs. The other tribe gathers over near the fire pit, under the oak trees. Sneaking a peek, I am startled to see both my sons happily devouring milkweed buds cooked by Aunt Carroll. “Hey, these are good,” Sean says. I imagine his reaction if I had served milkweed buds for dinner at home.
Jimmy walks past us deliberately, fishing pole in hand. “I’m not that hungry,” he says smugly. “We’ll probably just throw the fish back in.”
1:30 p.m. Erin announces the culinary challenge. Each team has ninety minutes to prepare a meal from the wild. “They’ve got berries,” Shannon whispers in a tragic tone. “Erin is the judge,” Emily says mournfully, “and she likes anything sweet.” The morale of our tribe is at an all-time low. My mother suggests we take a walk to see what we can find to jazz up our meager food offerings. “Presentation is everything,” Colleen points out. We tramp along an old dirt road that leads to some small camps built on Goose Bay. To our right, trees hang over rock outcroppings. On our left, small clearings for docks occasionally break the long stretches of cattails. The sun comes out as we walk along, and I look across the bay to islands with gray cliffs and pine trees. Then I turn to Emily. “We can win this challenge.” As we meander down a grassy road, Mom and I point out family history to Emily and Shannon. Old Mr. Clark, dead before Shannon was born, told us this spot here was an Indian burial ground. The summer I turned thirteen, my sister Laurie and I met two boys in that camp over there — two boys from Rochester who fell madly in love with us. Passing a camp with a small vegetable garden causes an ethical dilemma. Should we steal a zucchini? Certainly, the neighbors wouldn’t care. Squash grows so fast in upstate New York that people give the stuff away. (How do you know if someone in upstate New York has no friends? You see him buying zucchini in the supermarket in August.) But our high moral standards prevent us from becoming vegetable thieves. Colleen gathers wildflowers — big armfuls of purple vetch, yellow buttercups, white daisies, orange daylilies — and gives them to Bill to carry. He keeps saying, “Shouldn’t we have some kind of food as part of the meal?” We ignore him. Next to the water’s edge stand small trees with gracefully curving branches and long leaves.
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
“Mmmm,” I say. “What about sumac lemonade to go with the meal?” My mother points out the obvious: “The sumac isn’t even close to being ripe enough.” “Let’s do it anyhow,” says Colleen. “We will get points for creativity.” I take off the red sweatshirt, and we fill it with sumac berries. Meanwhile, Emily discovers an old stump with curved bark. The bark will make a lovely bowl. Oh, things are coming together nicely. There is just no end to our brilliance. When we get back to camp, I rip a page from my journal to write a formal menu: Fresh milkweed buds fire-roasted, drenched in butter, garnished with bright daylily petals. Native marsh cattail hearts. Moulin Rouge lemonade made with organic sumac. Raspberry jubilee. Colleen, Shannon, and I luxuriate in the fun of choosing words. We are good with words. Bill says, “But you know, she has to actually eat this. Shouldn’t we have some real food?” We ignore him. Near the fire pit under the oak trees, the other tribe works furiously. Carroll has boiled small green apples into sour applesauce. “I need some sugar to work with,” she moans, but the concoction still looks impressive and practically edible. Colleen and Shannon hide behind the pine trees, arranging wildflowers into a lavish display that hopefully makes up for the fact that we have little real food to offer Erin. My mother takes Bill and Emily down to the dock to pick cattails, trying to find the tender white parts inside the green stalks. As Bill has never eaten these before — and never plans to — he has no idea what to look for but helpfully yanks cattails out anyhow. “Presentation is everything,” Colleen repeats. She stops to admire her work. “I could be a caterer. I’d be good at it.” “I want to get a summer job at a flower store,” says Shannon. “I’d be good at it.” We are confident. Impressed with ourselves. My mother goes back to the fire pit to cook the choicest milkweed buds. At this point, I am so hungry that I start to resent the amount of time we’ve spent
cooking this meal for Erin — who has had access to food all day. I tell myself the victory will be worth it.
3:00 p.m. We gather at the picnic tables to unveil our entries. I suddenly remember, with gut-wrenching clarity, that Carroll and Dad are both artists. Carroll has worked in restaurants for years, and Jimmy is the son of a chef. We don’t stand a chance. Their tribe used big lily pads for plates on a birch bark placemat. Wildflowers rest in a decorative glass bottle, which they claim they found on their hike. The food — which actually looks tasty — is arranged nicely. Young green cattail punks, cooked until tender. Milkweed buds. A mound of green apple jam, surrounded by lots of big ripe berries, both purple and red. I salivate, staring at those berries. Our entry, on the other hand, looks like a floral arrangement— something you admire while standing in line at a funeral home, not something you want to put in your mouth. It takes some work to find the edible parts. And the sumac lemonade, which turned a strange greenish color instead of a lovely shade of pink, tastes so horrible that Erin spits it out. We lose. Again. Oh, the humiliation of defeat. We take solace in the fact that the prize is pathetic. They get forks, spoons, and one granola bar to split among six people. I realize that Erin is coming up with prizes by scavenging through the cabin and cars. If we do this again, I’ll make sure to supply chocolate chip cookies. “The next challenge is in an hour,” Erin announces. “At four o’clock.” Another challenge? But we are starving. My mother and I fan the coals. “We can get the fire going again without matches,” I brag to Shannon. She is not impressed. But she helps her grandmother cook a pot of milkweed buds. Bill doesn’t even pretend to eat any. “I’ll let you have my share — so you don’t get a migraine,” he says generously. The rest of us crowd onto the red sleeping bag, eating the buds with our fingers. As I raise a clump to my mouth, I notice a dead green and black
caterpillar tucked under the bud. A monarch caterpillar, I realize. They eat milkweed. We’re competing with local caterpillars for food. The wind rises again. I sit between Emily and Shannon for warmth. Bill and Colleen sift through the newspaper, talking about some story she is working on. The other tribe, also huddled together for warmth, plays pitch, a card game my father learned as a kid. Rumors spread that some members of their tribe are suffering the effects of the green crabapple sauce. We hope it’s true.
4:00 p.m. Erin announces the physical challenge: a relay race. We have one minute to pick our four strongest runners. My mother hurt her knee three weeks ago, so she’s out. Colleen and Shannon are definites. And Bill has the longest legs at camp. I look at ten-year-old Emily, who is listening to the discussion and not saying a word. “My left leg’s been hurting,” I say. “I’m out.” Emily leaps up: “I can run fast.” Over at the Osprey camp, Carroll and my father back out quickly to give Devin a chance to run. I think we are all losing our competitive edge. Perhaps the hunger is wearing us down. Erin wants to start the race, but Colleen demands time to train her fellow tribe members on her technique for passing off the pinecone. She turns to us and whispers dramatically, “this could win us the race.” Hidden safely behind a pine tree, where the other tribe cannot see us, she demonstrates the proper way to pass the cone, using such exaggerated gestures that Emily and Shannon spit out their water. Erin leads the eight runners along the dirt road, assigning them their positions. The rest of us gather near the green bench, the place where we sit on nice evenings to watch the sun set over the Saint Lawrence River. My mother and I look through the oak trees to try and spot the runners; my father wanders down to the dock, casting longing looks at his sailboat. I talk to Carroll for the first time that day, checking in with her about my sons. “They’re loving it,” she says, “You wouldn’t believe how seriously Devin is taking this.”
Erin appears, and we separate guiltily. When the camp dogs start barking, we know runners are approaching. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, they appear — Jaime and Shannon, hurtling down the narrow path. And my tribe member is in the lead! We win! Finally we win! The Gananoques leap around ecstatically. The runners gather to tell their stories, to relive the whole race again and again. Emily and Devin, the ten-year-olds, emerge as the true heroes, running bravely against experienced runners many inches taller. Erin hands us the prize: two stale donuts (to be split in six pieces), six empty cups, and four packets of cocoa. “We need better prizes next year,” Colleen says. Jaime looks over at our winnings and laughs. “Yeah, that sucks.” My mother cuts up the donuts. Bill lets Emily have his piece, but I am incapable of that sort of sacrifice. I savor my bit of donut, chewing it slowly to make it last. But the best part comes a few minutes later. My mother heats the pot of water on the fire. I carefully scoop cocoa powder into six cups. Then, sitting by the fire, with the wind still keeping things cool, we huddle and sip the chocolate liquid. My mother and I go on and on about how great the cocoa tastes, until our own tribe members tell us to shut up.
6:00 p.m. We drift closer to the fire, tribal lines blurring. Devin leans against his sister Shannon, and my father tells Emily a story about the first car he ever owned, a ’36 Ford. The sun moves toward the edge of the cattails. Before we can get too complacent, Erin steps briskly up to the fire pit. “One more challenge,” she says. Jimmy rolls his eyes. “I’m not even hungry,” he says. “And the prizes suck,” says Jaime. She sticks out her tongue at her sister. “A scavenger hunt,” Erin says firmly. “In one minute, I’ll give each tribe the list of items. Whoever gets them first wins.” Quickly, my tribe moves away from the fire and into a huddle. “We’ll divide up the items,” whispers Shannon. Despite the wind, Colleen dramatically pulls off her warm clothes to display her running outfit —
Hawk & Handsaw
navy blue halter and shorts. “I’m ready,” she says, poised like a superhero about to do battle. Erin hands Shannon the list. Looking over her shoulder, I scan it quickly. A maple leaf. A blue stone. A branch with two berries. A branch with a pinecone attached. A cattail punk. A pink flower — wait, there are no pink flowers around here. Colleen looks around furtively and whispers, “Remember that geranium we saw on our walk? In a planter near the island camp? It’s probably a mile away, but I’m fast.” She slips quietly through the pine trees and runs down the grassy road. “Mom, you get the maple leaf,” Shannon orders. “Emily, you get the blue rock.” There’s a single maple tree hidden among the oaks on the path that leads to the dock area. I find my dad already there, reaching up to take a maple leaf for his team. He pauses to glance over the bay, and then looks at me. “Here, you need one too?” We cross tribal lines to walk up the path together, moving close to avoid the lush poison ivy that lines the narrow strip of hard-packed dirt. “Devin is so serious about this,” my father says. “You should have seen him at the race. He put his whole heart into that run.” He stops near the cabin to upright a fallen water jug and ambles over to his tribe. Everyone waits at the fire pit — except for Colleen who is nowhere in sight. “We’ve got everything already,” says Jaime. “We’ve won.” I look at the items the Osprey tribe spread out on the bench. Their pink flower is not pink; it’s a white and purple morning glory! Not even close. Erin, in a blatant act of favoritism, declares the Osprey tribe the winners. “It’s not pink!” we scream. She shrugs. My father holds up the flower and says in a philosophical tone of voice, “Well, you know, there is a whole range of pink. Some are closer to red, some near to purple.” Moments later, Colleen bursts through the pines, panting, clutching a pink geranium. “Here it is!” she exclaims, “I risked public embarrassment, I risked arrest, I risked messing up my training with a two-mile sprint, but I have the pink flower. We will win this.” No one wants to tell her. We stare at her in silence, and then, as if triggered by an invisible switch, everyone starts arguing. Erin shrugs. “My decision is final.” Colleen stares at the white and purple morning glory in disbelief and horror. “This is not pink,” she says. “How could anyone think this was pink? This geranium, this geranium is pink, a true pink, the only pink for miles around.” We move closer to the fire to listen to Colleen’s story — her keen observation of wildflowers earlier in the day,
her quick decision to make the run (sacrificing all for her team) for the only pink flower around, and then an unfortunate incident with the old man watering said flower when she arrived wildly out of the blue to pick it. There is more — a formal tribal council, secret meetings, dramatic monologues by both my father and Bill in attempts to sway the vote, an argument about whether or not a certain tribe rigged their vote — but mainly we sit around the fire, rehashing the day, telling our favorite parts, giving each other compliments on our survival skills. The Osprey tribe continues to brag about their incredible hike. “We turned the corner,” Carroll says, “and it was like walking into a painting. The light was just perfect.” “I’m not even hungry,” Devin says. “We could live off the land if we had to,” Jaime says. “We’d need to hunt and trap for the winter,” says my father. I think the kids and teenagers are amazed that we could do it; they got a glimpse of what it’s like to forage for food, to live within the boundaries of place. Emily and Devin, the youngest members of each tribe, underdogs from the start, find themselves tied as winners, awarded bonus points for energy and effort. Erin produces the grand prize, something she bought with her own money — a green folding chair, perfect for sitting by the fire. It seems quite grand after the previous lame prizes. Emily and Devin set up the chair up by the fire and squeeze onto it together.
8:00 p.m. We survived the day. We hug each other and cheer. Colleen opens her car door and cranks up the music. Everyone dances wildly. We dance to Kid Rock, to the Beatles, to the Beach Boys. Jimmy calls in a pizza order as soon as Erin lifts the ban on electronic devices. Bill and Jimmy drive to town and return with steaming cardboard boxes of pizza, french fries, and wings. “We don’t really need that food,” everyone keeps saying. “We could survive without it.” And then we sit under the oak trees and eat.
Freddy LaFage, Repeater, 2009 Silver and egg tempera on panel, 6”x8”
Freddy LaFage, Purgatory (arrivals), 2004-2009 Oil and vinyl on canvas
Freddy LaFage, Four Families, 2002 Oil on canvas
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Sol Duc Ryan Hediger
High Dive Sometimes I hope to make my whole life a refined organ, an instrument of reality, a shovel— every aggravation, every inclination worked in the most compact way, the desire for easy comfort traveled so far that it’s a hexagonal wrench fitting to a nut and tightening the brace for the ladder you climb to the high dive, where you look way off at the trees and the lake, and jump.
Say the names of the rivers that drain the western slope of the Olympic Mountains on Washington State’s peninsula as if you’re reciting an incantation for recovering their cold, impassive urgency. Let your tongue bring them to life: Elwha, Calawah, Bogachiel, Quillyute, Sol Duc. Try to remember the depths of the Sol Duc that day, pellucid as blurred air. The city where you live is humid and hot. A haze hangs over its sprawled perimeter. The bayous trickle brown. Some of the people you meet here could use the knowledge of a clear, cold river. Be careful who you tell that leaping salmonids at the end of a fly line delight you, or else you may encounter an I’ll fix your red wagon look, may be forced to endure a “yeah right,” as if clear cold streams and leaping trout are dead legends. No one speaks of them anymore. Decide sometime the previous summer, under the influence of Maclean and Stegner and McGuane, that fly-fishing in wild streams is your religion. The man, of whom you’re jealous, not much older than you, with braided black hair down to his waist in the Fly Shop tucked into the tiny loft space above the bric-a-brac store, next to the hemp shop in Port Townsend, is your guru, even though you suspect your ardor for the metaphysics of the sport may be stronger than his, less weighed down by concerns about gear. On a hot July day, when the self-imposed work begins to flag, go to him. The information he offers about techniques and places in and around the wild, snowcapped Olympic Mountains, is thrilling, exciting as religious relics to a zealot, pornography to a sex addict. It is information that could be deadly to the tasks you’re supposed to be completing. He draws you maps of access points, tells you the names of pools. He appreciates your wide-eyed disciplehood, admires your willingness to bushwhack. So many lazy fisherman, unwilling to work for their catch, wander into his shop. He tells you about the more obvious spots for now, keeping his truly secret places locked behind a cryptic smile that seems to say maybe later. Standing at the counter, cash in hand, think this thought: the fly catches the fisherman before it catches the fish, as he sells you bushy feathers and fur affixed to hooks—elk hair stimulators, egg-sucking leeches in black feather and pink yarn, green butt skunks with their chartreuse specks, bug-eyed pink clouser minnows for salmon in the ocean. Walk out with seven new flies, seeming almost to wiggle with potential, in the brown paper bag. When you ask, your guru tells you he’d go to the Sol Duc for summer runsteelhead, so one afternoon you drive around Discovery Bay and through Sequim and Port Angeles, and around the hypnotic, seven-hundred-foot-deep water of Lake Crescent, where the body of a drowned woman is supposed to have turned to soap
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
in the depths. Logging trucks filled with stripped timber rumble and rattle in the opposite direction at frightening speeds, as if they can’t wait to get back to cart away more and more. You spend the night in a campground under a cathedral of trees near the river so as to be up and fishing by dawn. In the Native American language from which it derives, Sol Duc is supposed to mean “very clear,” or “people who live by the clear water.” When you first see the river, its clarity dazzles you. Think this thought: so many natural places have been robbed of the qualities that led to their name, creating a gap like a wound between place and name. Not so for this place. Roots of great old-growth trees in the Olympic National Park filter the snowmelt river to a dizzying clarity, reminiscent of the shimmer on flat, hot summer highways. Alder leaves, gold and lime green, tumble dreamily along the gravel bottom as you wade and cast.
Anadromous (or oceangoing) fish—steelhead, several species of salmon, and sea-run cutthroat trout—swim up the Sol Duc’s undammed length, over tumbling rapids and through long, unbroken stretches of deep riffle, resting as they go in swirling green pools on their way deep into the Olympic Mountains to spawn. The salmon will die after doing this; many of the steelhead and cutthroat trout will return to the ocean and come back to spawn again. Your guru has confirmed other knowledge you already had about steelhead, their many mysteries. For one, they have a capacity for invisibility. On a sunny day, in perfectly clear water no more than five feet deep, a school of bright chrome steelhead, fresh from the Pacific, some as large as twenty pounds, can brazenly remain unseen before your eyes. If you do happen to see one, it is usually glimpsed synecdochically. After several hours of fishing a pool you’ve convinced yourself must be empty, you come to an awareness of a wavering seal-bite scar, a few black spots on a finning tail, a blur seeming to hover in the clear water, as if unconnected to a fish. With a pounding heart you attempt to extrapolate the shadowy rest of the fish, to figure out where its head is so that, with shaky hands, you can make the best cast. But even if your fly drifts at the end of its leader, in an arc so tantalizing you can’t imagine a fish resisting it, an arc so tantalizing, in fact, that you yourself feel an impulse to dive in and bite the fly, and even if the pool is filled with fish, there’s no guarantee that a steelhead will be willing to eat. Fishermen wiser than you worry this question like a controversial section of scripture: some maintaining that steelhead eat when they’re spawning; others that they don’t, that their impulse to attack a fly is territorial, or triggered by simple annoyance or something more mysterious. There is much that is mysterious about this place. Warnings on the back of maps and in the guidebooks tell hikers that if they’re lost in the Olympics, they should never attempt to follow streambeds. These are the most dangerous routes in the park, they say. After slipping on a mossy log spanning the river and having your watch ripped from your wrist by a splintered section of wood and landing on gravel in shallow water on your arm and shoulder, think this thought: the introduction of the possibility of death gives the experience of being in the river a tension and depth. A religion needs to treat with death. Late in the day, you grow tired. Dusk is a few hours away, and the current has tested your muscles since dawn. Like a fasting pilgrim, a seeker of visions, you’ve eaten and drunk little. The lightness in your head infuses the scrubbed blue sky with its white clouds; the shimmering river with its tumbling debris; and the wind in the leaves, with the out-of-time quality of a dream, every sound and movement filled with a lifting, airy significance.
You’ve pulled from the river and gently released several resident cutthroat trout with bright orange slashes under their gills, and some salmon smolt with eyes they have yet to grow into, but you haven’t seen any sign of a steelhead. They’re probably lower on the river, waiting for the first good rain before they move farther up. Some people fish for a lifetime before they catch their first steelhead on a fly. Tell yourself it’s better this way. If you ever caught a steelhead in this river, no one you know would ever see you again. That gift might overwhelm you. You’d build a streamside shanty and give your life to the river, follow it through all its seasons. As you reflect on this, you’re progressing down a two-hundred-yard section of deep riffles, wading up to your belly button, a cold pleasant pressure urging at the Gore-Tex, your steps light as a moonwalker’s. Then, as if all at once, you’re stranded midstream in a small, elevated eddy behind a large rock. Swift current that would be up to your armpits rambles over submerged rocks in front of you and to your left and right. To go back the way you’ve come, you would have to fight a powerful current with tired legs. The section of stream immediately below your elevated island is swift and would be over your head. You fish for a time to avoid making a decision. Think this thought: the river is dangerous. It could kill you, easily, quietly, even beautifully, with no malice. Remember your Stephen Crane: “A man says to the universe, ‘Sir, I exist.’ The universe answers, ‘That may be so, yet that creates no sense of obligation in me.’” Step to one side—almost over your waders—to test the current. Fifteen feet to a bank of rocks. Wedge one boot behind a rock; carefully step with the other. The river pushes at you as with a thousand silent hands, insists you down. It begins to lift you, easily as an alder leaf. Push back, quickly, with the tingly foot in the boot about to be lifted from behind the rock, your heart heavy and fluttering in your chest. Just make it back to the safety of the shallower eddy. What would your guru say if he could see you now? Safe in the eddy again, think this thought: I have enjoyed this wonderful river today because this is the day I’m going to die. Feel adrenaline, a nearly paralyzing fear, follow the thought. Think: to allow the possibility of death to seep in, to think that thought, is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. To think that way is to create panic, and to panic is to fumble, and to fumble may be to die. Ask: did I get myself in this situation out of a subconscious wish to give myself to the river? Because I want to die? Answer: no.
Banish all panic-inducing thinking. Try again. Again, on the second step, the river’s thousand hands insist you leave your feet. For a few moments the current has you. Icy, breath-stealing water overruns and fills your waders. Hold on to the rod. Hear yourself expel breath and water. Swim for the rocks. Cling to crevices with your fingers as your body and feet wash down against other rocks. Hold on tight as it tries to insist you go farther down toward swifter, deeper current and bigger, meaner-looking rocks. Pull yourself up awkwardly, scuffing your waders, raking your rod against rock, like some clumsy creature stumbling between life phases. Climb higher up and sit down. Stay there for a time, breathing, shivering, watching the current dip and rise and swirl, gladder of your life than you have been in a long time. On the way back to the car and in the darkness of the drive home, give thanks to the river, again and again, for things you’d rather not define too well. Say its name to summon back to the humid sprawl of the place where you live now the river’s coldness and clarity, the beautiful danger that reminded you how much you want to live and why. Sol Duc. Very clear.
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
our boat cuts through muddy water to black, water with oxygen to water without and back again, winding around giant stumps of old growth cypress, all that’s left from when this swamp was logged to almost nothing a hundred years ago
Sheryl St. Germain
Crossing the Atchafalaya —for Greg Guirard, spirit of the Basin
if you close your eyes you can imagine them: thousands upon thousands of living trees thousands of years old, mute shades that ghost this almost empty stretch of water the air would have smelled like cypress then and the other gone ones—ivory billed woodpeckers— would have thrived in those thick trunks that would have risen twenty-five times taller than us into the heavens their lime green leaves would have ceilinged the sky
bald cypress lives long but grows slowly the small trees that dot the Basin now might be a hundred years old, not yet mature, though big enough, some say, for garden mulch
many have disappeared to mulch, but still there’s life here: crawfish burrow in water around cypress knees, ospreys build nests on top of dead trees, woodpeckers drum, barred owls nest in tree cavities, herons, egrets and Cajuns fish the tea-brown water, bear and deer, possum and bobcat fox, coyote and armadillo hunt the edges, beavers and otter, snakes slither everywhere there’s a giant alligator nearby, Greg says, but we only look half heartedly for it we’ve seen many over the years and some things are better left alone
the swamp is hemmed in with levees, bayous are damned and the river can’t move like it once did, so some days the water goes black and kills everything caught in it Greg’s crawfish traps are almost empty with the dead today we boat from trap to trap, black water he says as he pulls up another trap of dead ones no air in the water they drowned
we know what else lies under these waters: massive trunks of ancient cypress honey-yellow and auburn, thick as three alligator bodies, trees felled from a time when loggers took everything, and if one fell into the water, well there was enough to waste
it’s the old story of changing too much so that what once grew can no longer, the human story of taking too much because we can
just a few of the great giants still stand in a secret place you can find if you ask we visit them at sundown after the day of dead crawfish, the waters bloody from the sinking sun, Spanish moss glinting silver and hopeful on the limbs of the trees— the trees that are left: silent and dark guardians of this rich graveyard, mothers of the disappeared
Daniel Gordon, No Title, 2003 Type C color print, 18”x23” Credit: Flying Pictures by Daniel Gordon, published by powerHouse Books
journal of creative sustainability
Trying to Remember a Hermit Thrush Jacob Boyd
Not wren, not warble, nor woman, nor ghost, not a foul smell in the frog of a horse’s foot, but three or four notes unspooling at once from one throat, a flute in the undergrowth, lucid as statues of jackrabbits risen, ears torqued in alarm. Trying not to remember the bird itself, but the song and surrounding pines. These hares stuck between three skyscrapers, transfixed by a fountain, they are a screen I press my face against, the scent of wire mesh, cut grass, and rhubarb. They are my first backyard and every other longing. Not only the song or pines, but the movement within me.
Daniel Gordon, No Title, 2003 Type C color print, 18”x23” Credit: Flying Pictures by Daniel Gordon, published by powerHouse Books
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
A Lake in the North We need to discover a common middle ground in which all of these things, from the city to the wilderness, can somehow be encompassed in the word “home.” —William Cronon, Uncommon Ground
he day after Christmas, my parents and I disappear north for a few days at the lake where they and my grandparents built a cabin the year I was born. All my life, every winter the week after Christmas and every summer for weeks at a time, we have come to the lake. On our neighbor’s property a fox den hides in the side of the bluff that slopes toward the water. Two openings, each cleared out recently—dirt and dead oak leaves and salmon-colored pine needles pawed across the snow. This den has been here for years, undisturbed, wildness in our midst. Now the land is for sale, fluorescent pink ribbons tied to bare branches, the woods divided into lots. Who knows who will buy the land, or what they will build? What I do know is that long before the den is torn open or filled in, the foxes will be gone. I have been reading David Abram’s book, The Spell of the Sensuous, in which he writes of “a perceptional problem” in our culture; namely, that our so-called civilized society does not perceive surrounding nature in a clear manner. Abram asks, “How had Western civilization come to be so exempt from this sensory reciprocity? How, that is, have we become so deaf and so blind to the vital existence of other species, and to the animate landscapes they inhabit, that we now so casually bring about their destruction?” In our living, we kill; we don’t have a choice. But we do have a choice in terms of the degree to which we participate in a culture that “so casually” causes the destruction of so much life. We write laws that support the dividing and
subdividing of land rather than those that support conservation; build houses far larger than we need that demand huge consumption of resources; spray our lights into the night sky, robbing from ourselves and our neighbors a view of the heavens; destroy habitat—trees, burrows—other creatures call home, and we do all this casually, seemingly without thought, without consciousness. Consider if our culture pursued its economy not with a casual attitude toward the natural world but with a deep sensitivity to what Abram calls “the animate landscape”? I love Abram’s phrase. He calls for us to renew our senses in terms of the earth. How often do we realize the life going on all around us, so much of which we do not see or hear? Far too often, we justify our destruction of the world by declaring it empty. I walk the woods here and hardly see a thing—a squirrel, a crow—I mean, it’s kind of the animals’ fault, isn’t it? They hide from us. Maybe if they would hang around we would think of them more. They used to—if you read early accounts, animals were as curious about us as we about them. In 1805, in an entry later compiled as part of The Journals of Lewis and Clark, Meriwether Lewis wrote, “the buffaloe Elk and Antelope are so gentle that we pass near them while feeding, without appearing to excite any alarm among them; and when we attract their attention, they frequently approach us more nearly to discover what we are.” A few bullets took care of that. Now animals hide when they sense our approach. I’d hide too, if I were an animal. If I were an animal, I would seek a secret place where I could safely sleep, make love, and eat. But that’s only if I were an animal.
“Home,” writes historian William Cronon, “is the place where finally we make our living. It is the place for which we take responsibility, the place we try to sustain so we can pass on what is best in it (and in ourselves) to our children.” This definition of home causes me to think of my father’s work on behalf of the lake. Until a few years ago, my father had voted for one party his whole life. He had worked thirty years for a large multinational corporation. He had lived in a suburb and vacationed at a lake house. But then our neighbors sold their fifty acres to a developer, and my father’s life changed. Or maybe it had been changing for years already, ever since he first came here. Maybe the lake water and tall pines, the sunsets and spreads of clear stars from the dock had been slowly working their magic—it’s not magic the way we usually think of magic, as something out of the ordinary, maybe even tricking us some, but rather the way the wild world often works, slowly, like rivers carving canyons or glaciers retreating. And then the neighbors sold, and something broke, like a rock face from a canyon wall. The neighbor had every right to sell, of course, and because we did not have the $1.8 million to purchase the land, there was nothing we could do. Other neighbors did try to buy the land to leave it as it was, fifty acres of woods—black bears and woodpeckers, timber wolves and hawks and otters, nine
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hundred feet of shoreline unbroken—but the owner sold it to a developer, who soon came scouting in his little yellow helicopter, chopping up summer mornings. We had been living in a kind of dream world, not paying attention to changes in the water quality, to the rules, laws, and ordinances that would define the way our lake would be developed. It’s a stupid word, “development,” a tasteless, colorless word that no one notices until too late. Then we say, Oh well, I guess that’s progress. And progress, like development, is tasteless and colorless. It clouds the lake and diminishes the night sky. We had seen the creep northward, lakes closer to the city already overrun, houses placed side by side on narrow lots ringing the water, noise pollution, light pollution, the loss of solitude, the loss of habitat for fellow creatures—but it was easy enough to ignore, to think it might somehow avoid our lake, as we imagine loss or old age or sickness or even death might somehow avoid us. By August we saw the developer’s plans. They looked nothing like the lake I’d known all my life: the salmon-tinged bark of Norway pines, the blue-green of water, the blue-black of sky, the red-yellow-white of stars. The map of the fifty acres divided the land with ruler-straight lines and shades of pink, with thinner lines dividing the lots and a thicker line dividing the development from neighboring lands like ours. The plans called for a PUD (Planned Unit Development) of thirty new lots in the woods, with a marina on the shoreline and slips for thirty boats. I remember disbelief, and a sadness that had nowhere to go. I remember a helplessness at the way the world changes and how we have no choice but to accept, the way we shrug and turn away as one man sells his land knowing it will be destroyed. Then, another man—I wish I could say he found the money to buy the land, but that was as likely as his donning tights and cape and mask before sweeping in to rescue the day—interceded. I wish I could say my father’s heroism was so apparent, so obvious. It wasn’t. He simply objected to the plan and began to organize the other neighbors. And I wish I could say that his objection and his organizing—this man whose only previous organizing work was to raise money to build a new Lutheran church sanctuary—stopped the development cold, that the county realized that the woods, our state, our nation, didn’t need another thirty lots cut and another thirty boats on the lake, that the developer crumpled his pink map and sank a fifteen-foot jump shot into the corner basket, high-fived his secretary, and yelped, “What the hell was I thinking?”
tax-raising elitist and a son of a bitch. My father’s work helped me to see, again, that care for the natural world, love for a place, and work on its behalf isn’t only a job for those who are proud to be called “environmentalist,” but that of course even a man who has lived conservatively all his life can come alive in the land’s defense, can make the connections that we often do not make these days, can come to see that the world we love and want to pass on to our children will not last unless we take responsibility in our work and action, in the way we vote—that our lives must match the values we profess. This isn’t some kind of left-wing enviro-voodoo malarkey, or whatever the latest blowhard might say. This is something anyone must realize when he or she truly feels at home in a place. Anyone. Like my father.
Be ethov en pi a no conce rto on th e r a dio. The clink of spoons to glass bowls as we eat breakfast fruit. The steady ticktock horse clops of my grandfather’s old clock. Windows in every room framing the snowy day, with red Christmas lights around those in the living room and the kitchen’s glass-faced cabinets. Walls of pine, doors heavy and smooth in their locking, the fireplace made of stones. I remember sitting in front of father-built fires on childhood winter days until my back nearly burned, after playing hockey alone for hours on a shoveled-off rink, skating back and forth, scoring goals on great shots, cracks in the ice sending me sprawling across the bubbled surface of the frozen lake. On the walls, reminders of those who have come before me. The photo of Papa and Mama here, the now towering front-yard trees waist-high behind them, my grandparents just a few years older in the photo than my parents are today. A map of the USA from 1970, interstate highways arrested in mid-construction. The slab of Norway pine for our fireplace mantel. Every winter, every summer, we have come to the lake. This is what I think about as my parents and I step into the day on snowshoes, climbing the hill behind our house and stomping through the woods. Here we find another fox den, bouquets of small paw prints in the snow. This den is on our land, and I wish I could tell the fox that she is welcome here forever. And so I do, quietly, after my parents have marched on. It feels good to discover this den after finding the one our former neighbor abandoned to the developer. Snow continues to fall. I take off my glove and open my hand, the tiny flakes melting the instant they meet my skin. All the tree limbs are lined with white inches of poofy crystals, the pine needles weighted. The pinpoint-sized snowflakes fall through the night and into the next day (steady accumulation, not all at once) to make this tracing and quiet and beauty, to cover the land, frozen lake, and trees with white. I turn to look for my parents, hoping to follow their lead.
hat didn’t happen; the sale was approved. But what did happen is that my father’s work on behalf of the lake—calling, letter writing, committee building, elected-official-talking-to—got the county to deny the thirty-boat marina and the PUD. The land could still be divided but only six lots could have a dock and boat. My father’s work got people all over the lake to wake up some, and at least a few to begin working on its behalf. And his work made the developer so mad—so angry that someone would dare stand in his way—that he refused my father’s offer of a handshake, calling him a
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journal of creative sustainability
In Line with Another and the Next On e hou r a n d ten min utes a fter leaving his office, Andrew Schaffer left the freeway and, turning left along the strip malls that served as totems to the subdivision that served as village to the family that served as family to the self that served as self to the him, turned into the driveway that was not his. Each third home on each single block was identical to the third preceding it and all homes had two stories (in the structural sense), two-car garages (in the practical sense), green lawns, mailboxes, and a well-mulched maple tree to the right of the front door. Every fourth home was Spanish Blue, each fifth Sage Green, each second Sunglow Yellow, and so on, into Prussian Magenta and Magnesium Ochre. All the roofs were gray and all the pools blue. The grills were black and chrome, the fireplaces red, and the fences a pale beige. The occupants were shades of pink and shades of yellow and shades of brown. Mr. Schaffer stepped down from his car as the garage door slid with cranks and churns shut, leaving his world dimmer by degrees but not unfamiliar. Tools very much like those he had bought that seemed so necessary to have when moving into a home—screwguns, wrenches, pliers, hammers, nails and saws—were arranged in well-ordered negligence on a long worktable that came with the home and suggested so much possibility of home building rendered moot by the already wellaccomplished task of the home having already been built. What minor differences there were, a set of socket wrenches being 3.25 inches due southeast of their actual placement in his actual home, for example, went unnoticed. Clutter piled itself in the corner, cardboard boxes leaned against the wall, and there was that fresh concrete and timber smell to the place. He took his jacket and briefcase from the car, leaving the laptop to gather more dust. His wife who was not really his wife was already home—her slightly smaller SUV, an Asperigo EX parked on the other side of the garage attested to this—and certainly it was the diminished light provided by the closing garage door that gave Andy to believe he noticed from the corner of his eye a Hyacinth Blue when in actuality it was a Lithium Green. And so he proceeded the five steps and a shuffle to the hollow-sounding white door that led into the house. This door he pushed open without difficulty, as it was never locked. He dropped his briefcase in the hall, slung his jacket over the back of the barstool that sat in
front of the small framed bar area in front of the large tiled kitchen. “Honey, I’m home,” he said, putting his hands on his hips and letting his head roll round on his neck. “I’m on the computer!” came a shrill reply muffled by three layers of drywall and a covering of plush carpeting. From the opposite direction came the dull thumps and occasional bleats of something the boy called music, which was not at all the type of thing Andy had listened to as a youth but very much and indeed the exact same thing his own son of a similar age did listen to; therefore, he was not surprised but merely disappointed and annoyed to hear it filtering down through the pebbled ceiling. Andy sighed, stretched his back, and went to the fridge for a beer. He pulled a handful of mixed nuts out of a bowl on the island, shook them into his right hand, and pressed two or three into his mouth. His eyes did pass over the artwork and photographs magneted to the face of the fridge but focused on little. Artwork he had never seen before but very similar to the sort he had, and photographs of a family he did not know but taken in such places as his own family had visited on several occasions, reassured him all was well and right and fully in line with his expectations, which were low to midlevel with occasional spikes into the upper midrange when talking to colleagues at a conference in Buffalo. Andy fully expected to see six or seven beers of a popular brand lining the right wall of the third shelf from the bottom, and indeed there were seven beers of a popular brand along that very same wall. He pulled one out, pausing briefly to survey the contents of the refrigerator. There was leftover ham and leftover turkey and leftover salad and sliced sandwich fixings. There were low-carb drinks and bottled sodas as well as milk, orange juice, and a half-finished bottle of white wine. There were some veggies in the drawers, plastic bags filled with carrots and celery and a long-forgotten jar of salsa. There were many things Andy didn’t have a name for and several more he had forgotten. He called out. “What are we having for dinner tonight?” “Enchiladas,” came back the shrill muffled cry. Andy turned from the fridge, allowing the door to swing back of its own volition and went to the living room, wherein awaited his entertainment center. A large, flat screen occupied the far wall while beneath it were shelves filled with DVDs, videotapes, computer games, and an array of remote-control devices. Before it squatted a wide, glass-topped coffee table, and surrounding this, a deep leather couch flanked by end tables, lamps, and two recliners. Andy picked up the sleek silver universal remote, dropped into the luxurious leather recliner, and began to navigate the knowable universe with his dexterous right thumb. Had Andy made a thorough inspection of the recliner, he might have found half-bitten fingernails hidden in the crevices that would never match his DNA and a litany of crumbs from crackers he’d never eaten. Instead he watched replays of sports highlights and let them enter into an iconography in his mind. He remembered the images and admired the men who made them. Andy heard the telltale stomps of an awkward teen trundling down the stairs. He heard the light trudge to the kitchen and the sucking pull of the fridge being opened up. He turned his head from the highlights, not enough to see but enough to be seen making the middling effort. “How was school today, son?” Nothing in response save the back of a brown T-shirt and ruddy elbows sticking out while their owner rummaged through the leftovers, searching for something sweet. Andy assumed the boy had his headphones on and rolled his head back
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toward the screen. He watched a tiny white ball sail into the night. He forgot about his son in those moments, his wife, his job, his house, his car, even his life; three of which were where they ought to be and three of which were not. He watched the ball sail into the night on the screen and forgot things. The ball landed in the upper decks. He wanted to play catch with his son, but the boy would be gone, up the stairs, back to his chat rooms and computer games. He heard the woman he thought was his wife moving in the kitchen. He heard pans sliding from cupboards in that annoying way she had and items being removed from the pantry with that stern series of clicks and shuffles that he always felt somehow condemned him as insufficient to her needs. Again he reminded himself that he needed to ask his doctor about that new pill to see if it would help, not so much in performance but interest, and not so much in interest but sustained interest, and not too much sustain as it will take too long and he might miss the second half of the game. He decided on another beer, to unwind before dinner. He went to the kitchen that wasn’t his kitchen and passed the woman who was not his wife. He absently touched her on the hip and she responded with her accustomed murmur of acknowledgment, bending over the onions while he approached the fridge. He slid his empty beer along the counter in the general direction of the recycling bin. The woman who was not his wife pinched her green eyes together, mentally noting she would have to pick up the beer and put it in the bin and hating him for it but excusing him for it and feeling sad about the state of the world and wondering where all the recycling went and what it came back as and who ended up with it and what the odds were that you might get the same bottle back again and what the odds where that you might get it back again and again and again, until she heard another man say, “Who are you?” and then she looked up and looked at the man standing at the entrance of the kitchen, the man who was plainly her husband looking at another man at the fridge with a beer at his lips looking back at them who was clearly not her husband but looked very much like him. “I’m Andy Schaffer.” “What are you doing in my house? Barbara? What’s going on?” The man who was her husband looked at her, as did the man who wasn’t. “I don’t know.” Andy let his arm, the one with the hand holding the beer, hang down to his side while the other closed the fridge. “I’m. . .” He paused. “This isn’t my house?” That man who wasn’t him, the man whose house this was (as it was his face in the pictures on the fridge and his beer that Andy was drinking) looked very confused and possibly hurt. “I thought he was you,” the woman said. “What? When?” the man said. “I just got here, just ten minutes ago,” Andy said. “That’s your car in my garage?” “I guess so.”
“That’s your briefcase on my floor?” “Yes.” “That’s my beer in your hand?” Andy put the beer down. The man held a briefcase in one hand, not unlike the briefcase just six inches from his leg, leaning against the wall, and a jacket slung over his arm, not unlike the jacket slung over the back of the bar stool. He wore a white shirt and a striped tie, dark blue slacks and dark brown shoes. He was balding and paunchy. His wife looked like one of Andy’s wife’s friends who looked like Andy’s wife. “I’m sorry. I seem to have. . .” Andy’s eyes darted around, he saw brown tiles now where there had been beige, he saw sage carpet where there had been basil, he smelt something strange in the air and felt hollow in his shoes. “I’m sorry,” he said again and wanted very much to go. The man who wasn’t him, whose house this was, gripped at his jacket and tugged at the handle of his briefcase, causing it to tilt back and forth in semiparabolic arcs. The woman held a knife from cutting the onions but quickly set it down and picked up a towel to wipe her hands and turn and breathe. She looked to her husband and again to the man standing at her fridge clearly wanting to go and then back to her husband. “I was in the computer room.” Her husband turned to her. “The two of you were standing here.” Andy wanted to blink and blink it away, but the scene stayed and he couldn’t get out without running. The woman was rubbing her hands, her mouth moved up and down. They look alike, she thought, though they didn’t, except in shape and size and texture. Their noses were different, their eyes were different, their mouths opened in different directions, and their feet were different sizes. The two men knew this. “I need to go home.” Andy looked over at the beer. “I’m sorry about the beer. I’ll pay for it.” Andy had a five in his pocket along with some quarters and pennies and a pen. The man and the woman watched him; he could feel them watching him. The five was too much, of course, for one beer; maybe for two but he’d only had the one. He held the five in his left hand and his wallet in his right. He looked up at them. “I live on Hawthorne.” “This is Walton,” the man said. “Oh. Hawthorne is just. . . I guess it’s over,” Andy returned his wallet back to the back pocket. The woman put her hand on her husband’s sleeve. “It’s up.” “Up and over,” said the man. “Bill and Laurie live on Hawthorne.” The woman looked at Andy. “Do you know Bill and Laurie Dunning?” “No,” Andy’s eyes swiveled up and to the right, as he tried to remember. “No, I don’t think so. Does your boy go to Harper?”
Hawk & Handsaw
“Yes,” said the couple standing at the entrance to the kitchen. “Ours too. Kevin Schaffer. I’m Andy Schaffer. My wife is Patty Schaffer. We’re the Schaffers. We live over on Hawthorne, 1602. You should come by sometime,” he trailed off, “have coffee.” Andy placed the five on the counter. “For the beer.” The woman moved toward him first. “Oh, please, no. You don’t have to.” “I don’t know what I was thinking walking into the wrong house like this and drinking your beer.” The man dropped his briefcase against the wall and slung his jacket over the counter. “These things happen.” “I appreciate it.” “Please.” The woman motioned for him to take the money back, and the man assented with a nod of his head, so Andy pushed the five back in his pocket. A space had opened up between them and so he made his way out, pushing past the woman, glancing for a moment at the hip he had touched with such familiarity. They let a smile draw between them, and then both looked to the man standing there trying to make sure of things. Andy thought of shaking his hand. Behind him he heard the opening credits of the evening highlight and pregame show that he could probably still catch most of if he got going. He made his way around the bar and pulled up his jacket up. He picked up his briefcase and headed for the garage door. “I’m really very sorry about this.” “I have to let you out. My car is behind yours.” “Oh, thank you.” There passed a moment between the two men, Andy and the man who wasn’t him whose house he had occupied. The man stood in his hallway, surrounded by his pictures and prized possessions. Andy had his hand on the door. He shoved and it opened inward. The man looked to his wife, then dropped his head and made his way down the hall and out the front door. He got into his SUV and backed out into the street. He watched this Andy Schaffer back out of his garage. He had to back up a bit more to let Andy get clear, and so he did. He saw Andy wave and—despite himself—he waved back. He pulled into the driveway and into the garage. He sat there—letting the engine run, letting the door close, looking at the pile of clutter and the tools and the workbench and the door. Inside, the woman heard the garage door open and then the man backing out and then her husband’s SUV rolling in. She had been standing on her sage-tiled kitchen floor holding a towel in her left hand and absently touching the place on her hip that the man, Andy, had touched, the same spot her husband always touched, and she wondered how could it be? A thousand fantasies dropped away and smashed on the kitchen floor. They shattered and dissipated. She heard the car in the garage still running. He could just begin to taste the fumes when the door opened and his wife stood in the light, holding a towel in her hand and her mouth open. She was wanting to say something but the words wouldn’t form. What she wanted to say was, “Wait for me,” but the words wouldn’t form. He misunderstood, turned off the car, and went inside. They kissed at the door before closing it. He went to the kitchen and finished the beer. She resumed chopping onions. Freddy LaFage, Precious Little, 2008 Vinyl on brass 9”x9”
journal of creative sustainability
As if the ice rose from the sea unborn, and ice begat ice which bore ice which begat ice and on through the ages, near absolute south there were islands glaciered so thickly there was no discerning the land of the island beneath. Ice smooth as an egg. Ice smooth as an egg with a hole like the bird’s just hatching. Ice smooth as an egg with cracks like the bird’s furious hatching. Bits of ice scattering the channel as if the bird hatched and was gone. Ice—I remember ice— like a mucous membrane— something monstrous, gelatinous, just up from the lab— ice like a liver spotted lung. Five, four, three, none: Scott’s tardy polar party sledged far too slowly north over 800 miles of ice. Evans felled by a glacier, Oates martyred in a blizzard, later, a cairn for the last three, of snow and of ice. Plateaus. Rivers of ice. Ice fields. Cliffs of ice, their sheer faces far taller than ships. Millennia of ice on millennia of ice. Snow, frozen in time, carbuncling cliff faces. Ice fastened in crags of iced-over mountains. Ice heaped forty feet at the top —and just the top— of volcanic peaks, decadent. Insane, but not unbalanced, when Oates went— I’m just going outside and I may be some time—after the limping on ice and the dying, he went into ice. Great caverns of ice, great crevasses. Ice bridges: some are fast, some fail.
Xander Kennedy, Untitled, 2009 Digital photograph
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journal of creative sustainability
Alison Hawthorne Deming
The Finback T
he finback whale washed ashore on the blond sand at Herring Cove. The research team used knives and hammers to cut him apart. A perfect black dorsal fin lay here on the beach. A slab of black skin lined with fat lay there. A pile of dim intestines rested atop a segment of severed spine. The flesh was meat-red, a red so deep it seemed black-red. Long slices of the flesh revealed three inches of white blubber like a thick quilt between the skin and the muscle. The animal’s decomposition had stained the air all along the beach. Some of us who had come to witness the spectacle covered our mouths and noses with sweater sleeves or lifted sweatshirts to turn them into masks. The park rangers quietly kept the crowd of twenty or thirty people at a distance while the team climbed on the carcass, their polyvinyl rain suits smeared with blood from feet to shoulders. One man kneeled on a bloody bench of meat to saw loose the dense white organ of the whale’s inner ear, which keeps the animal’s balance. One woman labored to pull her hacksaw through a vertebral gap. They were assisted by a backhoe, ropes, and chains, so that the tonnage they pulled apart piece by piece seemed light as papier-mâché. A meat hook hung from one man’s hand as he stood watching. Another man leaned toward the closed eye, an eyeball bigger than the man’s fist, though difficult to see between the dull, soft folds of gray flesh. The man inserted a small disposable syringe to draw a sample of the vitreous humor.
The whale had been spotted offshore two days earlier, already dead, floating, beginning to break apart from decay. Its tongue protruded grotesquely like a gigantic balloon wider in circumference than the whale’s body. It looked unnatural, that billow of flesh puffed up with gas from the whale’s decaying. It was horrible and everyone wanted to see it. The whale’s blood was too far gone to further the science of its death, but perhaps evidence could still be drawn from the fluid in the eyeball. The syringe man shook his head, discouraged after pulling out the needle. He did not bother to sheath the needle, and it seemed that even here in the sealed globe of the leviathan’s eye the process of disintegration had progressed too far for much to be learned about how the animal had died. The surrounding stink was horrible. It coated a person’s nostrils and throat: the smell of life and death mingled all at once, acrid, rank, and iron rich. Undeniable. The research team, four hours into their labor of necropsy, were habituated to the stench. Not one covered mouth or nose, not one gasped for breath or turned away, though they bent to their work inches away from the putrefaction. 9 8 7 The spectacle made me think of the old whaling days, the hard labor of men at sea harvesting whales and rendering blubber, the whaling industry’s “liquid gold” sold to make soap, shampoo, lipstick, paint, and lamp oil. Whale oil made some men wealthy. Banknotes from the 1850s were drawn on the Whaling Bank or the Merchants’ Bank, the bills bearing the engraved image of a sperm whale.
Whaling made some men free. An escaped slave could not be arrested on a whale ship. Whaling made some men citizens. The industry brought immigrants from the Azores who knew the sea and boats. They landed in New Bedford and never went home. After a maniacal century or two for the Dutch, English, and French, the Americans took dominance in the trade. Whale ships dotted the Pacific like whitecaps as men hunted the diminishing stock, then moved north for bowheads and their baleen, harvested as a plastic material before plastics, for corset and collar stays, for umbrella ribs. Thinking about this made me feel the comfort that the animals brought to people through those products, comforts welcome in their dark homes at a time when no one could have known that such abundance would cease. Endangerment was a threat no one had seen. Am I too kind? Had people not already seen the slaughter of the bison herds, pelts piled up like raked autumn leaves? Still the hardship and heroism can make one blind to victims, can make one think of those difficult years at sea, three or four years at a stretch searching the oceans for the twenty or so whales a ship would capture and render into oil before sailing home, work done by hand and oar and blade, the reek and blood and grease coating everything, the brutality taken on with courage and prayer. 9 8 7
filtering into the finback’s great belly every day. Other details whispered up from this ranger or that looker-on. The whale was a juvenile, maybe five or six years old, about forty feet long. No visible signs of injury. For an animal that might live ninety to one hundred years, such an early death raised questions. Its endangered status makes every loss a cause for concern and investigation. The quietness of the scene—the intensity of the team’s focus while handling the dead whale—was a form of devotion, an iteration of the archaic human wish to let no death go unmarked. The animal was sanctified by human touch and caring, though those words were not likely to be noted in the research protocol. Science has its own method for feeling through the world’s wounds and trauma. And why had we come, all of us in town that day who had been planning to take a walk or have a picnic, the gardeners who planned to till the dirt, and the writers who planned to face their desks? Why had we come, those of us who heard the news on the radio or from a neighbor and wanted to see the horrible whale? Why did parents bring their children? Or the old man, wearing his veteran’s colors, who could not walk the distance from parking lot to stranding site, why did he stand at a distance and ask passersby for details?
The finback’s upper jaw was released from the body. The backhoe hoisted it and swung it to a clean, dry stretch of sand. The baleen shone like a halo, a partial halo at least, rimming the upper jaw. Dark cuticle grew from the gums and splintered into golden bristles that took the place of teeth. Once, monstrous gulps of seawater had been squeezed through the bristles, at least a ton of minuscule krill and copepods
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journal of creative sustainability
Surely we all wanted to see the thing up close, to see it whole, an animal like that we’re lucky to ever glimpse, as it passes a whale-watch boat and turns its massive contemplative eye upon our vessel, then steaming forward and down, flukes flicking up as it dives. The finback is sleek as a greyhound, elegant as a little black dress, and swift as a cormorant. 9 8 7 For two weeks I have been writing about animals in my Provincetown studio. Why have I been writing so many dark stories, I asked myself, when I wanted to write about love? I’ve written about murdering a rat and harvesting a pig, about anthropogenic Pleistocene extinctions and the surplus killing behavior of spotted hyenas. Hardly the stuff of the Friends of Heart animal gift store I’ve walked past on Commercial Street with its doggie pillows and kitty throws, bellies-up ceramic Chihuahuas wearing rhinestone collars, and tabbies sprouting angelic wings, each bit of cloying kitsch celebrating the sweetness that animals provide in people’s homes. I have avoided all of the saltwater taffy, heading without clear purpose into the sorrowful and bitter—and now down into rank putrefaction. Perhaps I am like the drunk who needs to hit bottom before turning the trajectory from free fall to recovery. Perhaps I am like the moviegoer who likes to watch the apocalypse happen again and again, car after car, city after city, overturned and destroyed, preparing the ground for the happy ending of symphonic love. Perhaps I want to pay respect to the dead, to attend the viewing of the corpse, a practice that my pragmatic and agnostic relatives have long abandoned for the sake of tidy and practical cremation. Perhaps something in me knows that if I can’t stand the sight of what disgusts me, I haven’t the strength to love any-
thing in this difficult world. Perhaps I have an appetite for suffering, something in me that likes to be tested by empathy. “It is impossible to know war,” writes Chris Hedges in a New York Times book review, “if you do not stand with the mass of the powerless caught in its maw.” This finback is no victim of war, unless I call the undeclared and unremitting assault on Earth’s bounty a form of war. By this logic it’s fair to claim that for centuries our ancestors waged war against cetaceans in order to gain their oil. And that war, as the current one fought in Iraq, renders certain merchants wealthy while the mass of citizens living in war zones suffer nothing but destruction and chaos. Imagine a whale that has lived one hundred years. It carries a body of experience that includes assault by spears, carnage of its clan members, the terror of battle, the bloody silt of death drifting slowly down from the water’s surface, as sunlight will do underwater, making a ghostly light that dissipates as it reaches deeper into the ocean’s enormity. Sometimes a survivor carries the assault weapon like a combat veteran with shrapnel lodged in his neck. Late in the 1800s, innovators in the trade developed an explosive device they fitted to the tip of a harpoon. One hundred years later a bowhead whale carcass was found with this device absorbed in its flesh, like a tree that swallows a bullet as it grows.
recently dreamed of a woman who was holding a cougar kitten in her arms, its head resting beside her cheek, as a mother would carry and comfort a human baby with unbridled tenderness. She was a nononsense woman with close-cropped hair and khaki clothes, the kind of woman who might show up on TV to introduce zoo animals to a population starving for animal beauty. In the dream a group of friends or colleagues were in the room. Some were surprised to see a cougar in their midst. One said, Oh, yes, they walk through this yard all the time. Another replied, Well, sure, but you know they’re endangered. The woman cuddling the cougar said, I don’t think I will miss them when they are gone. The dissonance between her actions and her words woke me from the dream. I wasn’t angry at her, and I did not judge her for the statement. I knew her life was full of many concerns that took precedence over imagining such a loss and holding it close. The cheetahs are gone from North America; the jaguars are gone; the American lions are gone; and the cougars are going. The whales still have the seas and the pleasure of their graceful rising and diving in the continual embrace of water. But their numbers are diminished; their habitat is defiled; their prey dwindling; and some of their own species are going and will not return. Those that remain glide through an impoverished homeland, animals with brains inclined—as with elephants and human beings—for community.
How quiet the deep ocean must have grown for the whales since the time of their greatest abundance, animals that send sonic messages hundreds of miles through the deep to connect with their kind. How those cetacean messages meet one another, how they register in the bodies of whales, as music registers in our bodies, is a mystery and a marvel. Do they feel a sense of intangible nostalgia for a past they intuit was somehow richer than the present they know? What does desire feel like in a cetacean body, arousal quickening out of nowhere as their flesh glides down through cathedrals of light and shadow into the solemn depths?
Ethan Jackson, Childress House Studyâ€”Dark Islands, 2007 Installation detail
Ethan Jackson, Mount Hope Studyâ€”Fixtures and Clouds, 2009 Installation detail
journal of creative sustainability
Reading the Science Section to Escape the News Robin Chapman
I learn we’re scheduled to collide two billion years from now with neighboring Andromeda—halving the time I was hoping we could help preserve some form of life on Earth that would enjoy its privileges of sense—sight’s nightly auroras at the poles, the slowly dimming starry skies, the colors of day painting the clouds; and the sounds of life—insect hum, the singing of something in the descendants of trees, the underwater low-frequency calls of what once were whales; and smells, some perfumes still general gifts to the air as they signaled nectar and pollen to the inheritors of bees and wasps; and touch, water still there to cool the skin, swell the cells; and taste, sweet tart bite of citrus, bitter of almond, sour green leaf, salt of the earth, the ferment of grapes; wanting there still to persist those creatures who take joy in their young, and nuzzle and comfort each other, and even those animals who want to think there will still be someone or what to love all this, and care when each of us vanishes into the whole. So it was a blow to have half our remaining time erased by the smash-up, until my science friends explained that colliding galaxies are mostly empty space, so though the shock wave would make the hydrogen molecules glow in the infrared spectrograph-fitted space telescope of some extraterrestrial astronomer, there’s still all four more billion years to worry about, and, on this Earth, nearer worries that you can name. Ethan Jackson, Mount Hope Study—Seat, 2009 Installation detail
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journal of creative sustainability
John T. Price
Dispatch from the No-Kill Zone: Mice
ere’s something I can tell you: there comes a time in a man’s life when he doesn’t want to open the door to his car and find a pile of mouse turds in the driver’s seat. That’s exactly what happened as I was getting ready to drive to the office. I was on sabbatical that March, and it had been a couple of weeks since I’d visited campus, which was in Omaha, Nebraska, just across the Missouri River from our Iowa town. I was actually looking forward to it. I’d even dressed up a bit—oxford shirt, chinos, shiny brown shoes, and (of course) the old tweed jacket my father had given me. I thought I might just breeze into the English Department, chat with some colleagues, file a few things stacked on my office floor, change the postcards on the door. Some real work. Given how the writing was progressing, I could have used a sense of accomplishment, cheaply purchased. I could have used a distraction from the growing sense of my own mortality, as well. The week prior, I had been sitting at my desk, trying to write, when my left side went numb and it felt like someone punched me in the chest. I was thirty-nine years old, and assumed it was merely the Kum-N-Go burritos I’d scarfed that evening. My wife thought otherwise and forced me to go to the hospital. During the cardiac stress test at the hospital, a few days later, they’d run me hard on an inclined treadmill—like a laboratory mouse, actually—until my heart rate reached a certain level, just this side of vomiting. Then they’d pumped my heart full of radioactive dye, put me under a large machine in a dark room, and took some photographs. At some point, I’d peeked over the shoulder of the technician, and saw my heart lit up in fluorescent greens, yellows, reds, and blues, like a psychedelic Rorschach test or one of my sons’ finger paintings.
No one at the hospital had given me a hint of what it all meant, and I was still waiting, trying to be optimistic. Going to the office was part of that effort. But that’s how it goes, doesn’t it? You dress up a little, you’re headed into the office, you’re feeling temporarily healthy and accomplished and professional . . . and then a goddamned mouse craps all over your car. Funny how the small things matter. I called the whole trip off and stormed back into the house to get something to clean up the mess. What’s the best thing for cleaning mouse turds off car seats? I had no idea, and there was no one around to ask—Stephanie was out running errands with our two preschoolers, Benjamin and Spencer. I figured paper towels would just smear the stuff deeper into the fabric, and getting it wet would be even worse. I would have tried lifting our ancient, smoke-spewing vacuum down to the car, but that machine was too busy preparing to star in the next Terminator movie. Perhaps an old-fashioned brush and dustpan? If I kept the car door open while sweeping, I might avoid inhaling fecal dust and contracting Hanta virus—or was that just a danger with aged fecal dust? How aged? Days, months, years? That might be the kind of information I could find on the Internet, but first I needed to locate the dustpan, which was no small task. I’d just started digging through the junk pile in our kitchen closet, discovering yet more evidence of mouse activity, when Steph walked in. “What are you doing in there?” “A goddamned mouse got in my car and crapped all over my seat. Now I have to clean it up.” “Oh.” I sensed a story coming on. “About that.” She hesitated, then stammered. “You see, the boys and I were transferring a couple of mice we found in the live trap last week, and, well, um, they accidentally got loose in your car.” “What?” “We searched all over, but we couldn’t find them. We left one of the car doors open a crack last night, hoping they’d escape. I guess it rained a little.”
“What?” “Calm down or you’ll have another heart attack.” “Is that your diagnosis, doctor? A heart attack?” “Until I hear different, yes. And in case you’re wondering, the names of the mice are Mike and Marsha. I’m sure they’ll leave on their own, sooner or later.” Mike and Marsha were just the latest in a long line of mice we’d caught in our live trap that winter. Because of unusual legal circumstances, we couldn’t use snap-traps or poison, like normal people. Somewhere in the mist-enshrouded past a law had been decreed proclaiming our house and yard to be part of a no-kill zone. Within those borders, none were allowed to knowingly harm or kill any living creature. I suspected the boys and their mother had created this law, but according to them it had no official beginning. It had always been and always would be, like God. This was admirable thinking, and easy to enforce with dewy-eyed creatures such as the woodchuck babies and speckled fawns that appeared in our backyard, but it presented major challenges (at least for me) when applied to other species. Flies, for instance. Do we simply let them buzz around the house, and our heads, spreading germs and frustration? The same puzzle presented itself when confronting a number of other household pests: carpenter ants, brown recluse spiders, and the occasional wasp floating in our open kitchen doorway. And mice. There was also the problem of the boys traveling outside the boundaries of our yard, among savages not under our legal jurisdiction: the previous summer, for instance, when the boys were invited to go fishing with some friends of ours in their boat. Spencer was three years old at the time, and at first, he’d been excited to catch and release a few fish, as he’d done many times with his mother. Steph, however, had always used fake lures or balls of stink bait. These people had a Styrofoam container full of live earthworms that they preceded to skewer on the ends of hooks. According to Ben, who witnessed the incident, Spencer started screaming and crying and jumping up and down in the boat. He had to be taken back to shore like one of those airline passengers who go berserk, forcing the plane to land so he can be safely removed in handcuffs. Police weren’t necessary this time, but Steph had to be called to pick up Spencer on the dock. “They kill worms!” he sobbed on the way to the car, jabbing his pointer finger at our friends. “They kill worms!” I had a little difficulty appreciating Spencer’s moral outrage and its potential impact on our social life, and said so, but there was a time when I might have acted the
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same way. Even on behalf of mice. Mice had starred in a number of my favorite books as a kid—Stuart Little, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH—not to mention Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry cartoons. I’d even had a pet mouse in college, Ernest T. Bass, named for the lovesick hillbilly on the Andy Griffith Show. Pets had been strictly forbidden at the rental house where I lived at the time, but I didn’t care. I’d trained Ernest to run up and down my arms, then perch on my shoulder while I read a book or was working on a term paper. In turn, he had further nurtured in me an appreciation for the affectionate, intelligent nature of the common rodent.
hen I bought a house of my own, the same drafty old thing we currently occupied. During our first winter here, in 1998, we didn’t use any traps at all. We had other things to worry about. Despite our new teaching jobs, the down payment and some unexpected house repairs had left us completely broke—I mean, not one penny in the bank—and wondering how or if we could ever recover. This first round with pauperdom hardened us in some ways, but when it came to small and similarly impoverished creatures, we remained sympathetic. Like poor professor Herzog in the Bellows novel, eating the other half of a rodentnibbled loaf of bread, we believed we “could share with rats, too.” But did the rodents reciprocate? Far from it. Smelling weakness, they proceeded to invade. Our cats, Dorothy and Tigger, tried to hold the front lines, but they were no good at killing anything either. They soon returned, fulltime, to eating, napping, and filling the litter box. The mice quickly had the run of the place, nibbling their way through everything from toothpaste tubes to Steph’s scrapbooks to my unpublished book manuscripts (no loss there) to any baked goods not locked in a steel safe. They scattered their
journal of creative sustainability
foul nuggets everywhere—inside my shoes, under the couch, in the bookshelves, and especially the interiors of our kitchen drawers. I can’t remember how many times we had to clean and disinfect our silverware, plates, and glasses. One time, Steph opened a kitchen drawer to pull out a tablecloth and a nest of squirming pink mouselings fell onto the floor. Her shrieks still haunt my nightmares. The next winter, having recovered a little financially, Steph and I went to a hardware store and purchased a live trap. It had a wind-up metal flap that would swing down and spank the mice into a secure, fully ventilated chamber to await relocation. It worked OK, but sometimes—too often, really—the mice would get their tiny heads stuck in the flap and, well, the results weren’t pretty. Around the time Spencer was born, we finally found a spankless model that met our practical and ethical needs. We’d since caught dozens and dozens of mice without any casualties, transferring them safely to a small plastic cage where the boys were free to observe and, of course, name them. Then, usually the same day, we’d pile into the car, drive to a nearby grassy field, and have a Born Free ceremony, during which we’d all sing that awful song. We rationalized that out there in the wintry fields—as free as the wind blows (and blows and blows)—the mice had at least a fighting chance for survival. That may have been overly optimistic, but to be frank, I was beginning not to care. The mouse rescue ritual was getting a little old—especially during extended arctic freezes when the boys would loudly protest kicking Mickey or Jerry or Mrs. Frisby out into the cold, and we’d end up housing and feeding them for weeks. Now two of them had escaped and soiled my beloved Toyota Tercel. “It’s just a few droppings,” Steph said, as I continued to search for the dustpan. “Aren’t you being a bit overprotective of that old car?” She was right; when it came to the Tercel I was more than a little sentimental. It was the first car Steph and I had purchased together as newlyweds, in 1992, while still in our twenties. When we saw it on the used car lot, we remarked on its compact size, great gas mileage, and low price. When we took it for a test spin, we were blown away by its modern amenities, never before enjoyed in the hand-me-down clunkers we’d always driven—a radio/cassette player, a working air conditioner, a steering wheel that didn’t automatically set off the horn when turning to the left. And it was white! My grandparents had always proclaimed white cars to be the best—the best at reflecting the sun, the best at hiding dings, the best at impressing the neighbors. I would eventually regret that whiteness, which, along with the ice-blue interior, made it feel sometimes as if I were driving around inside a Breath Saver or a spider’s egg sac or my grandmother’s hair. Plus, when parked alongside a snowbank, it tended to blend into the background. More than one snowplow driver had accidentally buried it alive.
Even so, some of the most profound experiences of my life had taken place in that car. Nothing sexual, which would have caused serious injury, though I had nearly died in it once. In 1993, when I was driving down a four-lane highway, a stray pheasant flew in the open drivers side window, flapped around in my face, and nearly caused me to dump the car in a ditch. That absurd, terrifying experience made me look at the seemingly ordinary Iowa landscape with new eyes—and not for the last time that summer. Steph had landed her first teaching job near the small town of Belle Plaine, and I was commuting an hour from our apartment there to the University of Iowa, where I was still pursuing my doctorate. During those drives along the Iowa River, with its trembling cottonwood groves and fire-colored stretches of native grasses and flowers, I observed a wild beauty I hadn’t really appreciated while growing up in the state. I had, in fact, always intended to leave the Midwest for someplace prettier, by which I meant anyplace with a mountain or a forest or an ocean. Not much later, again in the Tercel— another name for a male falcon—I traveled to some of the largest remaining prairies in the Great Plains, camping and experiencing, for the first time, their grandeur and beauty. That journey inspired a desire to write about and help restore the endangered prairies of Iowa, of which only one-tenth of one percent remain. A desire to stay home and make a difference.
would look back on that summer as a kind of death of an old self and rebirth. And the Tercel as one of the midwives. Now, a dozen years and 200,000 miles later, it still served as a daily reminder of that journey, that profound change, that youthful freedom. That commitment to the prairies was one of the main reasons I accepted the Omaha job over another at a larger university near the Rocky Mountains, settling into a life that, although close to home, seemed to be carrying me farther away every year. Instead of prairie restoration, I’d become preoccupied with home repairs and full-time teaching and earning tenure and, appar-
ently, working my way toward a heart attack. Inside that car, I enjoyed a temporary reprieve from all that. It remained my taxi of hope. My way back. But how do you explain this to others? To your children, for example, whom you love beyond measure, but who have also dinged the white paint with fistfuls of gravel and side-scraped it with bicycle handlebars and colored the armrests with permanent markers and left cookie crumbs on the floor and accidentally released mice who crapped all over the driver’s seat? Children who are prepared to show more mercy to a worm or a mouse than to your aging dreams? Of course, I hadn’t been very easy on them myself. When it came to the car, I’d long engaged in what my mechanic friend called “delayed maintenance”—similar to the approach I took with my body—and now the expense of keeping it was quickly surpassing my ability to justify it. Nonetheless, I’d vowed never to get rid of that vehicle. So after finally locating the dustpan and brush, I carefully cleaned out the mouse turds—as I had the pheasant feathers and prairie dirt and cookie crumbs—and parked it in the garage. The next day, I had to run some errands. Before getting behind the wheel of the Tercel, I carefully examined the seats and floors for any sign of Mike and Marsha. I didn’t see any, but then, a mile or so down the road, the engine started to act strange, coughing a little, like it was having trouble breathing. Like it had Hanta virus. After nearly stalling at a traffic light, it coughed and stuttered its way to the nearest mechanic. “Take a look at this,” he said to me from behind the raised hood. I saw that he had removed the top from a circular, plastic something in the engine. Within the exposed cavity, there was a thick nest made of shredded cloth and patterned fragments I recognized as belonging to an old blanket in our garage. “You had yourself a mouse living inside the filter. I’ve seen it before, especially during the cold months. Do you want me to clean it out?” “Absolutely.” I paid him for the trouble and drove off. My falcon was once again on the wing. I was thankful the situation hadn’t been worse—for the car or the mice. Imagine if he’d discovered the bodies of Mike and Marsha in there, hearts stopped from fear or regret. Even worse, a squirming pink pile of mouselings. Imagine having to make that kind of life-or-death decision alone, so far from the borders of the no-kill zone. I’d like to think it would have given me pause.
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journal of creative sustainability
Travis Baker moved to Maine a few years ago with his wife, Holly, to breathe some fresh air and plant a few seeds. He lives in Orono, teaches writing at the University of Maine and Unity College, is learning to play hockey, and wrestles with his boys, Zane, 4, and August, 1. He is currently working on his first novel, The Trapeze Artist. His short story, “Clara-an Elsewhere” appeared in Pennsylvania English; other works have been featured in Stolen Island Review and Puckerbrush Review. Baker is also a playwright. His Dream of the Burning Boy appeared as part of the Prime Time Reading Series at Primary Stages; God and Mr. Smith at Kaleidoscope Theatre; The Weatherbox at Theatre Off Park; peeps: a modern tragedy with delicious biscuit; and Cold, at the inaugural NYFringe fest. Travis is the recipient of a Berilla Kerr Award for American Playwrights, spent time in Montauk at the Edward F. Albee Foundation, and was a participant in the Albee Workshop at the University of Houston. He was a playwrighting intern at Signature Theatre Co. and former author of “TWIT: This Week in Theatre.”
Paul Bogard teaches at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. He is the editor of and contributor to Let There Be Night:Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, which was published by the University of Nevada Press in 2008. His two memoirs: The Path and Pull of the Moon, and Blessings from a Small House, both swear they’ll be ready to find homes in 2010.
Born in Lansing, Michigan, Jacob Boyd studied Environmental Sciences at Western Michigan University and Poetry at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. His poems have appeared recently in Bombblog, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Measure, New South, and North American Review. He currently teaches in and around Milwaukee.
Robin Chapman is the author of eleven books and chapbooks of poetry, including The Way In (Tebot Bach) and Images of a Complex World:The Art and Poetry of Chaos (with J.C. Sprott’s fractals, World Scientific), both winners of the Posner Poetry Award; The Only Everglades in the World (Parallel Press), The Dreamer Who Counted the Dead, a WLA Outstanding Poetry Book of the Year, Smoke and Strong Whiskey (WordTech Editions), and Abundance, winner of the Cider Press Review Editors’ Award. She co-edited the anthologies On Retirement: 75 Poems (University of Iowa Press) and Love Over 60: an anthology of women’s poetry (Mayapple Press). Her poems have appeared in The American Scholar, The Hudson Review, Poetry, and OnEarth, The First Yes, and Poetry Comes Up Where It Can. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Janine DeBaise has lived her whole life in a small town in upstate New York. Her poetry and creative non-fiction has been published in journals such as minnesota review, Phoebe, 13th Moon, Frontiers, Kalliope, and the Seattle Review. Her collection of poetry, Of a Feather, was published in 2003 by Finishing Line Press as part of their New Women’s Voice Series. She teaches writing and literature at SUNYCollege of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York.
Alison Hawthorne Deming is a poet, essayist, and professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. Her most recent book is the poetry collection Rope, published by Penguin. She is poet-in-residence at the Jacksonville Zoo and Botanical Gardens, where she is working under the auspices of Poets House and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to integrate poetry into the zoo’s exhibits. She spends summers staring at the Bay of Fundy and picking wild berries there, when she can find them.
Camille T. Dungy is author of Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press, January 2010) and What to Eat,What to Drink,What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006). She is also editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (University of Georgia, 2009), and co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great (Persea, 2009). Dungy has received fellowships from organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cave Canem, the Dana Award, and Bread Loaf. She is associate professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.
Scott Elliott is the author of the novel Coiled in the Heart (Bluehen/Putnam 2003). His stories and essays have appeared in the Antioch Review, Forklift Ohio, Juked, the Writers Chronicle, the New York Times, and elsewhere. He currently teaches at Whitman College and the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington.
Amy Franceschini creates formats for exchange and production that question and challenge the social, cultural and environmental systems that surround her. In 1995, she founded Futurefarmers, an international collective of artists; in 2004, she co-founded Free Soil, an international collective of artists, activists, researchers, and gardeners. Free Soil has exhibited internationally and received funding from the Danish Arts Council, and Zero One, San Jose to create temporary public art projects. Amy’s solo and collaborative work has been exhibited internationally at ZKM, Whitney Museum, the New York Museum of Modern Art and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. She received her BFA from San Francisco State University and her MFA from Stanford University. Amy is a professor of Art + Architecture at the University of San Francisco and a visiting artist at California College of the Arts Fine Arts Graduate program.
Freddy LaFage has lived in Belfast, Maine with his family since 1999. He is a co-founder of Perimeter Gallery and Chase’s Daily, both in Belfast. In addition to art making and cooking, he designs and builds furniture and lighting. His work can be seen in Mid-coast Maine, Portland, and beyond.
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journal of creative sustainability
Daniel Gordon (b. 1980) gained a Bachelor of Arts from Bard College in 2004 and an MFA from Yale School of Art in 2006. He has exhibited his photographs in solo exhibitions at Zach Feuer Gallery and Leo Koenig Inc. in New York City and Claudia Groeflin Gallery in Zurich. He has been included in exhibitions at the CCS Museum at Bard College, Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois; this year his work was featured in the New Photography Series at the Museum of Modern Art. Gordon is the author of Portrait Studio (onestar press, 2009) and Flying Pictures (powerHouse Books, 2009). Gordon was recently a visiting lecturer in Photography at Sarah Lawrence College. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
Lilace Mellin Guignard was a 20032004 recipient of a Nevada Artist Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Ecotone, Calyx, Rivendell, and ISLE, as well as anthologies; her nonfiction has been published in Quarterly West, Santa Monica Review, and Orion Afield. Guignard’s research and academic articles focus on gender and outdoor spaces. She currently writes from her home in rural Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband, six-year-old son, and three-year-old daughter.
Ryan Hediger is a bicycle commuter, a walker in the dark, a companion to a dog and cats and humans. His writing—poetry, scholarship, fiction—often takes for topics animals, landscapes, and living in a live body. He teaches literature and writing at La Salle University in Philadelphia and has recently co-edited a scholarly book for Brill Press, Animals and Agency (2009). His most recent human-powered adventure was a 400mile bicycle trip in the Colorado mountains.
Ethan Jackson is a visual artist working in optical installation, lens-based imagery, and photographic media. His current projects are camera obscura based transformations of architectural space into illuminated, contemplative environments. Other works deal with aspects of landscape representation and the notion of place; the illusion of space from painting to lens-based representation; themes of violence, mortality and morality in vernacular imagery. He attended the University of Colorado at Boulder and Williams College. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Xander Kennedy is a senior at Unity College graduating with a degree in Adventure Education Leadership. He has an ever growing passion for photography which, paired with his lifelong love of the outdoors, has led to images such as the one seen in this issue.
John T. Price is the author of two memoirs, Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey into the American Grasslands and Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships, which earned Orion Magazine’s 2009 Readers’ Choice Award. His nonfiction has appeared in Orion, Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing, The Christian Science Monitor, and Best Spiritual Writing, among other places. A recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, he teaches at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and lives with his family in the Loess Hills of western Iowa.
David E. Shi was named president of Furman University in 1994. A charter signatory to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, Dr. Shi is a member of the group’s Leadership Circle and a member of the board of directors of Second Nature, the nonprofit organization that administers the President’s Climate Commitment. He is the author of several books, including The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture and Facing Facts: Realism in American Thought and Culture. He is also the co-author of the bestselling textbook, America: A Narrative History, now in its eighth edition. His essays have appeared in Trusteeship Magazine. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Philadelphia Inquirer, and his columns and essays are aired regularly on South Carolina Educational Radio. A native of Atlanta, Dr. Shi is a 1973 graduate of Furman and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history at the University of Virginia.
A native of New Orleans, Sheryl St. Germain currently directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at Chatham University, where she also teaches poetry and creative nonfiction. Her work has received several awards, including two NEA Fellowships, an NEH Fellowship, the DobiePaisano Fellowship, the Ki Davis Award from the Aspen Writers Foundation, and most recently the William Faulkner Award for the personal essay. Her books include Going Home, The Mask of Medusa, Making Bread at Midnight, How Heavy the Breath of God, and The Journals of Scheherazade. She has also published a book of translations of the Cajun poet Jean Arceneaux, Je Suis Cadien. A book of lyric essays, Swamp Songs: the Making of an Unruly Woman, was published in 2003 by The University of Utah Press. Her most recent book is Let it Be a Dark Roux: New and Selected Poems, published by Autumn House Press in 2007.
Jeffrey Thomson is the author of four books of poems, including Birdwatching in Wartime (Carnegie Mellon 2009) and Renovation (Carnegie Mellon 2005). He also coedited From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great with Camille Dungy and Matt O’Donnell (Persea Books, 2009). He has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Arts Commission; most recently, he was named the 2008 Individual Arts Fellow in the Literary Arts by the Maine Arts Commission. Thomson is an associate professor of Creative Writing at the University of Maine Farmington. His website is www.jeffreythomson.com.
Hawk & Handsaw
Hawk & Handsaw Submission Guidelines Hawk and Handsaw publishes thought-provoking written and visual art that interprets and redefines notions of sustainability. The editorial board considers unsolicited materials from August 1 through 1 October each year. Submissions sent outside this cycle may not be considered until the next reading period. Genre considerations: We accept poetry, creative nonfiction, short stories, and visual art, as well as those works that elide or question traditional genre boundaries. Writers may submit up to 30 double-spaced pages. Excerpts from longer monographs are acceptable, provided they stand alone as an independent work. If applicable, citations should appear in MLA or Chicago Manual of Style format. Visual artists may submit up to 20 images of their work for consideration. Submitting your manuscript: Manuscripts may be sent by post or by email (these must be sent as Microsoft Word or PDF documents). If you are submitting multiple pages, be sure to include a header or footer with your name and page number on every page. We prefer paperclips to staples on paper drafts. You must include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like your material returned. Submitting your art: We accept images that can be clustered as part of a series or that can stand alone as individual images. The editorial staff reserves the right to decide if images will appear in color or black and white, and as cover images or within the journal. Please submit your images as camera-ready JPEG files that are readable in any computer. Images may be sent on a CD or by email. You must include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like your CD returned. Deliberations: The editorial staff of Hawk and Handsaw is dedicated to producing a high-quality, thematically coherent journal. It may take, therefore, up to three months for you to receive a response regarding your submissions. Please do not contact us until that time has elapsed. We will consider simultaneous submissions; however, we ask that you notify us immediately if your work has been accepted elsewhere. Published writers and artists will receive three copies of the issue in which their work appears as remuneration. Hawk and Handsaw does not accept responsibility for loss or damage to any unsolicited manuscript or visual image. Send all correspondences to: Hawk and Handsaw Unity College 90 Quaker Hill Road Unity, ME 04988 Or: email@example.com
Hawk & Handsaw publishes thought-provoking written and visual art that interprets and redefines notions of sustainability. The Journal of Cr...
Published on Apr 16, 2015
Hawk & Handsaw publishes thought-provoking written and visual art that interprets and redefines notions of sustainability. The Journal of Cr...