hawk & handsaw
hawk & handsaw The Journal of Creative Sustainability
Hawk & Handsaw
The Journal of Creative Sustainability
Volume 4, 2011
Introduction 2 What is Creative Sustainability? 4
My Road Trip with a Solar Rock Star 7 Bill McKibben
Awake Kenny Cole
On Anger and Activism Jean Altomare
13 Alfalfa Scott Johnson
Folktales of the Amazon Juan Carlos Galeano
X Space Zardo Barbara Takenaga
Days of Wings and Water David Gessner
Surveyor Andy Rosen
Finally, Your Love Poem Elizabeth Bohlke
Saying Goodbye to Kuma Kurt Caswell
Little Coping Skill Emily Lawrence
21 South Sudan 22 Tank 23 Green Revolution 24 When You Stand 25 Tons of Wheat Kenny Cole
On Ancient History: Nebraska James Engelhardt
34 Sack Race Megan Mallory
The Dutiful Car John Stanizzi
Knives and What Not Chris Hayes
An Entangled Bank Laura-Gray Street
A Word in the Wood Steve Himmer
40 41 42
Flowers at the Market June 2006 Vet Appointment Danica Phelps
50 Watershed Susan Metzger 54 Deep Space Erik Hoffner
The Fourth Element 62 Joshua Foster
55 Stumps 56 Lone Tree Scott Johnson 61
Psst Andy Rosen
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Introduction Hawk & Handsaw is based in Unity, Maine: a small inland town in the state’s second-poorest county. This is a region far removed from the iconic lighthouses and rocky coast that have made Maine a much idealized vacation destination and a setting for everything from calendars and postcards to Hollywood romantic dramas. But it is also a region lovely in its own working landscape and, perhaps more important, admirable in its commitment to sustainability. Residents of this area continue to practice what many call Yankee Thrift: a system of personal accounting that occurs in hardscrabble places like this one. It’s an idea based on a New England proverb, made popular on a series of World War II posters, that urges, “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do.” Around here, that proverb is almost a religion. An item hasn’t been really used until duct tape and the liberal application of a soldering iron are all that is holding it together. Our weekly classified newspaper, which offers used-just-about-everything, is most notable for its large “Swap & Trade” section, where people look to exchange old Everude outboards for ice augers, pellet stoves for paintball guns, and Lincoln Town Cars for laying hens (really). Drive down any of our rural roads and you’ll see everything from mismatched tires to toilets to backyard grills draped with a sign that says “Free for the Taking.” Drive down the same roads a day or so later and you’ll see that someone did just that, thereby entering into a silent transaction in which goods are traded for the knowledge that something has continued worth. At its heart, this exchange is about frugality and economy: how can we account for what we have and what we need? Can we justify an expense, either in terms of capital or waste? That’s become an increasingly common line of questioning for many of us as the economic downturn continues to turn, well, down. An explosion of magazines like Real Simple and online sites like Frugal Fun and Frugal Mom work to show how fashionable this kind of thrift can be. But is it enough to buy vintage and look for coupons before purchasing holiday gifts? To insist upon locally produced food? Will driving hybrid or electric cars really save the planet? Or do we need to go much further, beyond free market economies and car cultures and a Western diet? At the heart of these questions are issues of resource. It’s a deceptively tricky term with even thornier cultural resonance. We most commonly use the word to describe the correction of a deficiency and adapting means to ends. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we used it to denote amusement and recreation. But there’s little that is frolicsome or even adaptive about most contemporary conversations regarding resource. Instead, these are often emotional debates about issues ranging from water rights to the deleterious effects of fracking to the price of human dignity in the third world — a place that seems to be deteriorating faster than it can develop, particularly in places like Bangladesh where hunks of landscape are, quite literally, crumbling into the sea. Resource, in this context, is clearly neither the correction of deficiency nor is it amusement and recreation. Maybe, then, we’d be better served by returning to its roots in Old French, where the term means, quite literally, to rise again. But this meaning comes with snags of its own. Most notably is the implication that, Lazarus-like, a source can be raised from the dead. It can be tempting to wish that were true: that the current peak oil crisis will lead somewhere other than the end of a petroleum culture; that something as simple as 2˚ F will not have catastrophic effects on our planet. That, instead, we can reinstate old climates and ecosystems and ways of doing business. 2
We can’t, of course. Instead, what we need to do is reboot. To reconsider. To reenvision. And in so doing, to remember where we have been. Not like Lazarus as he awoke from the dead, but rather, like the Roman god Janus: the keeper of doors, the two-headed figure who looks to both the future and the past. We need a new economy of resource: one that accounts for true costs to landscapes and relationships and anything else that makes us whole. This, our fourth issue of Hawk & Handsaw, is dedicated to such questions and aims. As such, it is a celebration of creative thrift. Not miserliness, mind you, but rather, the ingenuity that sees in an old brass bed frame the start of a new compost bed; the perseverance in a classified ad offering to trade a never-before-worn wedding ring for a wood-fired sauna. Resourcefulness – and the resolve to look both forward and back. We begin this issue with a pair of essays by Bill McKibben and Jean Altomare, both of whom recently took a road-trip to the White House with one of Jimmy Carter’s solar panels. It was a time to reflect on where we were, thirty-some years ago, when an oil crisis led a former farmer from Georgia to install alternative energy at his house on Pennsylvania Avenue; to ask our current administration to bring such technology back to the White House and so signal our future accord with green energy. To reinstate. Recommit. That kind of pact is hard – whether it’s between a government and its people, or an individual and his or her ideology. It’s no easier for a culture and its landscape, a wife and her husband, or a human and his dog. The pages you currently hold in your hands are filled with the kind of challenging accounting implicit in these concords and more. In many ways, they are filled with the archetypal stories we know so well: tales of love and loss, self doubt and discovery. But look deeper and you will see a new kind of social and emotional bookkeeping: stories about one-eyed ogres, kangaroos with boxing gloves, half-blind hermits, Mormon farmers, and everything in between. All partake in a new, more visceral kind of economy. Their stories both whisper and sing; they reave and reconstruct. The same can be said for our visual art. Some images in this issue utter shouts and yelps, while others lie perfectly still, ticking off the days and dollars or spinning patterns into infinity. The fox on stilts appears like a vision from the Grimm's tales; the athlete launches his javelin into tons of wheat; the viewer is exhorted to awake, awake. There is the grid of vegetation stretching back toward the horizon and the complicated, bent space of the blue abstractions. The small stripe abstraction by Danica Phelps is actually a tally of daily struggle: red for money out, and green for money in. Andy Rosen’s whale beached with cargo on its back mixes the majestic and the absurd and reminds us of how we spend our days shuttling between the sublime and the utterly ordinary. There is lake ice and veterinary bills, time alone out on the hill, and that damn poster telling us to stand up straight. And really, that’s the kind of decree we all need right now. To reject the impulse to slouch toward Bethlehem, or hope for a miracle that might stave off an ecological flatline. We need, instead, to recover the kind of dogged — and creative — tenacity that allowed a ragtag assortment of Quakers and scrappy laborers to settle places like Maine three hundred years ago and prompts their descendants to thrive. At its heart, sustainability is both as simple and as profound as this. It’s about squaring first our shoulders and then the global balance sheet. It’s about making do, getting by, and relishing what is sacred and profane in both.
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
What is Creative Sustainability?
To me, creative sustainability is intentional living. It is responsibility with colored wings. It is a quiet call for awareness, a calling down of powers outside ourselves. When we are awake to the collision
Creative sustainability is finding a way to plant a bean vine in a garden bed laid thick with microchips and dead carburetors and the shrapnel from a thousand dirty bombs dropped into our lives with really catchy slogans attached to them. Chris Hayes
Creative Sustainability is the act of illuminating the best of the present and in so doing projecting it into the future. Lewis Gilbert, Associate Director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
I don't know what it means theoretically, but we try to embody it at 350.org—to wit, the global scale art project we did in November 2010, "art so big you need a satellite to really see it." Bill McKibben
Going without just about everything you think you can’t live without.
Not a reflex. Not a heartbeat. Not a breath. You may have oodles of inspiration, images, similes, characters, plot, description, all the clippings, glue, glitter and origami flowers - but it can all clog, roll up in a ball, and hardened if you do not pick up a pen, press it to the paper, and move it like you learned in Kindergarten. Emily Lawrence
The practice of making art in such a way that it may endure for a lifetime, and even beyond, if passed on to a new generation. It is not the art itself that is sustainable and so passed on, but the making of it. By art I mean not only writing, painting, and dance, but also beekeeping, gardening, cooking, "going green," even conversation, anything at all that may be practiced and refined and so, highly performed. By such practice, one's life, rather than one's art, soon becomes the expression of creative sustainability. As the Buddhists are wont to say, the doing matters more than the reward.
Creative sustainability is a capacity to engage laterally and resiliently with balancing ecosystem health with the human need to grow, develop and flourish. Carolyne Whelen, Post-doctoral Fellow, Portland Center for Sustainable Processes & Practices
Creative Sustainability = Trying to strike a balance between satisfying one's heart + soul and satisfying one's grumbling stomach. Evan Kanarakis, author of Sex, Drugs & Mum in the Front Row
of the natural and the synthetic, often times the outpouring of that awakening is art. Elizabeth Bohlke
Creative sustainability, for me, comes down to stories—telling them, receiving them, retelling them. A story is an act of faith, a belief that someone is listening and will tell that story to someone else, in their own way. It’s an optimistic gamble that the recipient—so their planet, too—will be around long enough for the telling to not have been wasted. The sustainability of stories isn’t so different from the sustainability of places or of lifeways: when communities and individuals—and writers— look forward, thinking of an audience beyond themselves, they make generous decisions; when they don’t, they get selfish and die. I can’t think of a better way than stories to keep that in mind, nor a more optimistic act than telling them in an age when we’re often told no one reads, no one cares, and fiction no longer matters.
Living like your grandchildren’s grandchildren. Watch your every move and see EVERY consequence. Dan Bellrichard, Sustainability Coordinator, Luther College
Creative sustainability marries imagination and political thought or action. It's an expression that acknowledges our need of the imagination's muscle to tell the most seductive stories, create the most evocative poems and construct the most winning arguments in support of the earth and all of its denizens Sheryl St Germain, author of Let it Be a Dark Roux
Finding new ways to improve old things: to expand and extend their use. Drew Larson
I think of sustainability as a practice of awareness and engagement.You pay careful attention to where you are, how deeply you and your place are connected to others, and you see how your actions affect those others. Usually, a sense of responsibility follows—responsible to as well as responsible for. We usually apply sustainability to systems in the physical world. Energy, for example, or food and water. Creative sustainability suggests those basic physical connections and argues for paying close attention to those connections, but it also suggests that we practice awareness and engagement in that very human endeavor: the arts. What are you creating? Where? Who has done this work before, and who is doing it now? Let the connections sustain you. Here’s another way to say it: find the place, the people, the work that you love. Make them all vibrant, and your world and your art will be better for you having been here. James Engelhardt
journal of creative sustainability
My Road Trip With a Solar Rock Star Or, Notes on the Enthusiasm Gap
Kenny Cole, Awake, 2010 10 1/2" x 7", Gouache on paper
I recently got to see the now-famous enthusiasm gap up close and personal, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. The backstory: I help run a global warming campaign called 350.org. Last summer, we decided to organize an effort to ask world leaders to put solar panels on the roofs of their residences. It was to be part of the lead-up to a gigantic Global Work Party on 10-10-10, and a way to give prime ministers and politburos something easy to do in the hope of getting the fight against global warming slowly back on track. One of those crucial leaders is, of course, Barack Obama, who stood by with his arms folded while the Senate punted on climate-change legislation. We thought this might be a good way for him to signal that he was still committed to change, even though he hadn’t managed to pass new laws. And so we tracked down the solar panels that once had graced the White House roof, way back in the 1970s under Jimmy Carter. After Ronald Reagan took them down, they’d spent the last few decades on the cafeteria roof at Unity College in rural Maine. That college’s president, Mitch Thomashow, immediately offered us a panel to take back to the White House. Better still, he encouraged three of his students to accompany the panel, not to mention allowing the college’s sustainability coordinators to help manage the trip. On the day after Labor Day, we set off in a biodiesel college van. Solar road trip! Guitars, iPods, excellent snack food, and for company, the rock star of solar panels, all 6 x 3- feet and 140 pounds of her. We pulled into Boston that first night for a rally at Old South Church, where a raucous crowd lined up for the chance to sign the front of the panel, which quickly turned into a giant glass petition. The same thing the next night in New York, and then DC, with an evening at one of the city’s oldest churches headlined by the Reverend Lennox Yearwood, head of the Hip-Hop Caucus. It couldn’t have been more fun. Wherever we could, we’d fire up the panel, pour a gallon of water in the top,
point it toward the sun, and eight or nine minutes later we’d have steaming hot water coming out the bottom. Thirty-one years old and it worked like a charm -- a vexing reminder that we’ve known how to do this stuff for decades. We just haven’t done it. That’s what we kept telling reporters as they turned out along the route: if the Obamas put solar panels back on the White House roof, or on the lawn, or anywhere else where people can see them, it will help get the message across -- the same way that seed sales climbed 30 percent across the country in the year after Michelle planted her garden. There was just one nagging concern as we headed south. We still hadn’t heard anything conclusive from the White House. We’d asked them -- for two months -- if they’d accept the old panel as a historical relic returned home, and if they’d commit to installing new ones soon. We’d even found a company, Sungevity, that was eager to provide them free. Indeed, as word of our trip spread, other solar companies kept making the same offer. Still, the White House never really responded, not until Thursday evening around six p.m., when they suddenly agreed to a meeting at nine the next morning. We were waiting at the “Southwest Appointment Gate” at 8:45, and eventually someone from the Office of Public Engagement emerged to escort us inside the Executive Office Building. He seated us in what he called “the War Room,” an ornate and massive chamber with a polished table in the middle.
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Every window blind was closed. It was a mahogany cave in which we could just make out two environmental bureaucrats sitting at the far end of the table. I won’t mention their names, on the theory that what followed wasn’t their idea but orders they were following from someone else. Because what followed was really… uncool. First, they spent a lot of time bragging about all the things the federal government had accomplished environmentally, with special emphasis on the great work they were doing on other federal buildings. One of them returned on several occasions to the topic of a government building in downtown Portland, Oregon, that would soon be fitted with a “green curtain,” by which I think she meant the “extensive vertical garden” on the eighteen-story Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, with its massive “vegetated fins,” the single largest use of stimulus money in the entire state. And actually, that initiative is kind of great. Still, I doubt many people are going to build their own vegetated fins. I was beginning to despair that nothing could stop the flow of self-praise until one of the three seniors from Unity raised her hand and politely interrupted. Now, let me say that I already knew Jean Altomare, Amanda Nelson, and Jamie Nemecek were special, but my guess is the bureaucrats hadn’t figured that out. Unity is out in the woods, and these kids were majoring in things like wildlife conservation. They’d never had an encounter like this. It stood to reason that they’d be cowed. But they weren’t. One after another, respectfully but firmly, they asked a series of tough questions, and refused to be filibustered by yet another stream of administrationenhancing data. Here’s what they wanted to know: if the administration was serious about spreading the word on renewable energy, why wouldn’t it do the obvious thing and put solar panels on the White House? When the administrators proudly proffered a clipping from some interior page of the Washington Post about their “greening the government initiative,” Amanda calmly pointed out that none of her neighbors read the Post, and that, by contrast, the solar panels had made it onto David Letterman.
journal of creative sustainability
To their queries, the bureaucrats refused to provide any answer. At all. One kept smiling in an odd way and saying, “If reporters call and ask us, we will provide our rationale,” but whatever it was, they wouldn’t provide it to us. It was all a little odd, to say the least. The White House representatives refused to accept the Carter panel as a historic relic, or even to pose for a picture with the students and the petition they’d brought with them. Asked to do something easy and symbolic to rekindle a little of the joy that had turned out so many of us as volunteers for Obama in 2008, they point-blank said no. In a less than overwhelming gesture they did, however, pass out Xeroxed copies of a 2009 memorandum from Vice President Biden about federal energy policy. Those three students were brave and walked out graciously, heads high, and kept their tears back until we got to the sidewalk. And then they didn’t keep them back, because it’s a tough thing to learn for the first time how politics can work. If you want to know about the much-discussed enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican bases, in other words, this was it in action. As Jean Altomare told the New York Times, “We went in without any doubt about the importance of this. They handed us a pamphlet.” And Amanda Nelson added, “I didn’t expect I’d get to shake President Obama’s hand, but it was really shocking to me to find out that they really didn’t seem to care.” Did I say I was impressed with these young women? I was more than impressed. Nobody I went to Harvard with would have handled it as powerfully as they did (maybe because they weren’t looking for a job in the White House someday). A few hot tears were the right response, followed by getting on with the work. Our next question, out there on the sidewalk, was how to handle the situation -- which, indeed, we had to do right away, because in today’s blog-speed world, you’re supposed to Put Out a Statement to reporters, not to mention Tweet. So how to play it? The normal way is to claim some kind of victory: we could have said we had an excellent exchange of views, and that the administration had taken seriously our plea. But that would have been lying, and at 350. org, we long ago decided not to do that. The whole premise of our operation, beginning with the number at its core, is that we had better always tell the truth
about our actual predicament. Alternatively, we could have rounded on the administration, and taken our best shot. In fact, it would have been easy enough right then and there for me to chain myself to the White House fence with the panel next to me. It would have gotten some serious press (though not as much as if I’d burned a Koran). And in fact, some of our supporters were counseling that I head for the fence immediately. We got an e-mail, for instance, from a veteran campaigner I deeply respect who said: “Show Obama you can't be taken for granted, and I predict you will be amazed at the good things that come your way. This is a watershed moment: if they think they can get away with this with you, they'll judge they can get away with more in the future. If you show them they can't get away with it (at the very least without embarrassment), they will come your way more in the future. It's power politics, pure and simple. This is how the game is played. Get their respect!” And I think he was probably right. As he pointed out, Obama was even then on the phone with the mustachioed Florida geezer, the stack of Korans, and the following of fifty or less. But I couldn’t do it, not then and there. Because . . . . well, because at some level I’m a political wuss. I couldn’t stand to make that enthusiasm gap any wider, not seven weeks before an election. True, it’s the moment when you have some leverage, but no less true: the other side was running candidate after candidate who literally couldn’t wait to boast about how they didn’t believe in climate change. And a confession: we’d walked past Obama’s official portrait on the way out and, despite the meeting we’d just had, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that he was president. I could remember my own enthusiasm from two years ago that had me knocking on doors across New Hampshire. I admired his character and his smarts, and if I admire them a little less now, the residue’s still there. And so I couldn’t help thinking -- part of me at least -- like this: the White House political team had decided that if they put solar panels up on the roof, Fox
News will use that as one more line of attack; that they somehow believe the association with Jimmy Carter is the electoral equivalent of cooties, and that, in the junior high school lunchroom that now comprises our political life, they didn’t want to catch any. If that’s their thinking, I doubt they’re on the mark. As far as I can tell, the right has a far better understanding of the power of symbols. Witness the furor they’ve kicked up over “the Mosque at Ground Zero.” My feeling is: we should use the symbols we’ve got, and few are better than a solar panel. Still, with the current craziness in mind, I was willing to give them a pass. So we just put out a press release saying that we’d failed in our mission and walked away. At least for now, but not forever, and really not for much longer.
And so what did we do? 350.org sponsored a great global work party on 10-10-10. With the heads of Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network, I issued a call for ideas about how to mount a campaign of civil disobedience around climate. Not a series of stunts, but a real campaign. At coal plants, and drilling sites -- and at the places where our politicians do their work. And, in the version of this essay first published by Tomdispatch, I predicted that the White House would put up solar panels within a year. Since I'm usually much too optimistic in my predictions, I'm happy to report the denouement of this story: Barack Obama came through even faster than I thought he would. In early October, three days before our big Global Work Party, I got a late night phone call from the Associated Press. The reporter swore me to secrecy till the following morning — she'd gotten a tip that the White House was going to announce that the solar panels were going back up. And she was right: the story came out at 7 the next morning, followed by a press conference with the energy secretary Steven Chu. I got another phone call later that day from one of the people who'd been in that room. We were planning it all along, she said — and maybe so, maybe so. All I told her was thanks — and to make absolutely sure that Amanda, Jamie, and Jean were on the guest list when the dedication day rolled around in the spring. Oh, and three days after that, we coordinated 7,400 work parties in 188 nations, including a big celebration outside the White House gates.
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On Anger and Activism Or, How Not to Save the World
y family thinks that I was super excited to drive down to Washington DC and start trying to save the world. It’s a safe bet that my peers at Unity College, many of whom attend the school because just look at what their students do, think I jumped at the occasion as well. And when college administrators sent me the e-mail asking me to tag along with Bill McKibben in a van, they probably didn't expect me to write out a nice response declining the invitation, and then sit there at my computer and stare at the send button. But that’s exactly what I did. My first thought was, "But what will my boyfriend's parents think?" For someone who should be better at seeing big pictures, I was terrified that Charlie's parents would find me silly and delusional. The idea that the solar panel trip might actually work was nowhere on my radar, because I was too concerned that I would be devalued in the eyes of Charlie’s family, which was/is/always will be a terrifying concept. So I typed out a polite decline and sat there. I wanted to be a naturalist, not an activist. I'm majoring in wildlife at a small environmental school that focuses on quiet walks and skinning small mammals. My summer before the invitation had consisted of hanging out in the Adirondacks, talking to groups about birds and fungi, reducing snake fears and introducing people to the quiet demeanor of porcupines. I was looking forward to graduate school in environmental interpretation, a life in the woods, and teaching names of species today's youth have stopped learning about. It was all very wonderful, very uplifting, and involved minimal risk that Charlie's parents would find me odd. So what was Unity thinking, sending an invite to someone who never actually did anything? I mean, I'm certainly not a political activist. My extent of action was making valentine cards for Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, asking them to remove harmful compounds from my beauty products, and then following up that act by purchasing makeup and shampoo, knowing full well they were both loaded with harmful compounds that will permeate my body. If I'm not even good at passive activism, what made them think I would be a competent active activist? And why on earth would the administration want me to represent Unity College? Besides, I had been at their school only for a year. I was a drop-out transfer case, not a 4 year stellar student. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and a hotbed for student activism on all levels, did little in my two years there to influence me to act. I started writing for a little-read campus newspaper, which I used to shield myself from judgment for the majority of my time there. I was able to go to events like Rutgers Walk Out Against the War, carry my camera and a notepad, and not worry that people would mistake me for an activist. It became a trend; I reported on causes I was too afraid to stand up for. I did eventually discover my own voice. As I watched Israel carry out Operation Cast Lead on Christmas Eve, I changed into one of those people who said things, an important step up from those who only report on things. I let my anger replace my fear; I talked more; I got louder and wrote more editorials than reports. Anger was a powerful force, and there was a lot in the world to be angry about. So even though I dropped out of Rutgers and didn't take my writings with me, I eventually realized, sitting at the computer and staring at my polite decline to the trip invitation, that my voice was what Unity College saw in me. It's a funny-sounding voice, and few people care to listen to it, but I say what I mean and try very hard to speak clearly. Someone at Unity had heard it and thought it was worth sending to Washington, even if the rest of my background said otherwise. I deleted my original message and sent back an acceptance e-mail that sounded a lot more excited than I actually was. In my head I was still one of those people who didn't do things, and the thought of a whirlwind week exhausted me. I finished my job at the natural history museum, drove back to Maine, and a week into school we started our four-day adventure.
journal of creative sustainability
As it turns out, the trip was nothing like I'd predicted. We built up momentum in Boston, New York, and Washington DC before arriving at our meeting at the White House. At each stop the atmosphere was so positive and overwhelming that we honestly believed anything was possible. Solar panels on the roof? A return to 350 parts per million CO2? Clean energy and a resurgence of public awareness and understanding? All of this and more: all we had to do was carry this energy with us to Pennsylvania Avenue. People were clapping, and thanking us, and standing with us the whole way. And I, who had never done any public action, was suddenly holding signs above my head and leading chants like every activist I'd ever been scared of becoming. Perhaps, I thought, the outskirts of society was where I belonged. And then, after a whirlwind of interviews, events, watching Bill McKibben phrase the grim news at the end of each speech (we might act too late; we might already be), and running full speed ahead with hundreds of people behind us, we showed up at the White House, and hit a wall. I'd never done that before. I'd never got so hyped up about something that my entire existence narrowed to a single focus, only to have it shut down by one of the most powerful governments in the world. I had really cared, for the first time, about what happens to my grandchildren. For the first time in my short life I realized that the people in Pakistan were suffering because of what I had done — what we as a nation had done. And for the first time I realized with horrible certainty what, exactly, we were up against. It wasn't about polar bears anymore. It was about elementary schools disappearing under water, rice crops failing, droughts sucking aquifers dry because we, as a species, have not yet realized that we do not live within our means. I didn't get stage fright once, the whole trip, because no matter what I was doing or whom I was talking to, I realized how impossibly small I was next to what we are about to face. But being confident doesn't always make things work out, and I left that meeting crushed. I cried for forty-five minutes on the sidewalk next to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building after the failed White House meeting. I didn't even care that there were men and women in power suits walking by mere feet from me. They were nothing on my radar. The Pakistani women who forever lost their children were on my radar, right along with the children in the Maldives who would soon find themselves in submerged classrooms. And that's how it remained, all the way back to Maine, and for at least a month at school. Our nation wasn't addressing what needed to be done, and 50 percent of the population didn't believe there was even a problem. All of a sudden, everything I had cared about before didn't matter. I had been very picky about my meat consumption for two years, eating meat only if I knew where it had come from. A week after we got back I learned that processed chicken, from a miserable bird and unsanitary processing conditions, was fucking delicious. I left the light on in the kitchen one night, feeling perversely freed by the belief that we, as a species, had gone too far. No number of turned off lights would matter, because new coal plants were being built all throughout China. Turning off the water when I was brushing my teeth was pointless, so long as bottled-water companies and Coca-Cola were draining aquifers from Maine to India. No action I had done in my life had made a difference, because corporate greed and everyday selfishness were the driving force of global destruction. Nothing was going to be affected by me abstaining from foolishness. I entered into a month of anger. Anger at everything, nothing, anything. I would randomly start yelling about things that were so inconsequential that it would have been funny if not for the fact that I was so serious. I was angry at boyfriends who didn't think of what their girlfriends wanted for their birthdays. I was angry at the vegans (even though I used to be one) who believed the whole doomed world could be saved by cutting out meat because obviously concentrated feeding operations are the reason the earth is fucked so bad. More than anything, I was angry at every self-righteous pompous asshole who believes that it's all in the natural cycle of things, because God is in control and therefore evolution, natural selection, adaptation, climate change, extreme floods, and global chaos are obviously not important. I was furious with people who wished to talk about how lovely cardinals are and yet refused to acknowledge that birds are facing a food shortage as peak insect emergence now comes a week or two earlier than peak bird migration, resulting in bird death during massive transcontinental and oceanic migrations. I wanted to tell every single one of my family members who thinks that the HadCRU data sets are not a reliable source because you can't have enough data collection to reliably determine that
I entered into a month of anger. Anger at everything, nothing, anything.
Hawk & Handsaw
the earth is warming to go to hell. For an entire month I existed using furious energy as my fuel, burning off anger to get me through the day. And then I learned that that kind of existence never leads to anything but burning out. I ran out of steam in the middle of class at four in the afternoon and left in tears. Because mixed into the anger now was fear for the future, fear for my children, fear for the now in the parts of the world where climate change has already ruined lives. And to live on full alert, all the time, believing that we'll not do what needs to be done, that we're doomed, and be so angry because everyone else seems to be blissfully unaware . . . . is enough to force anyone to reset. And so I did the only thing I knew to do. I went to the grocery store, bought a bag of heavily processed corn snacks and a six-pack of heavily processed hard cider, and went home. That afternoon I sat on my bed and ignored everything. I watched American television shows that focus on the problems upper-class white people face. I watched a movie about a talking fish. I did not, in any way, acknowledge the threat to our continued existence. It was the best thing I'd done for myself in weeks. It wasn't a complete reset. I kept being angry, and I kept burning out, but it was the first time I acknowledged that perhaps I can't live like that all the time. Another month later, I allowed someone to tell me that it's okay if I don't go work for 350.org; that it's okay if I acknowledge that I, personally, don't have the emotional stamina to fight against corporate greed and mass ignorance all the time. Environmental activists run on the energy of the last victory. The more time between victories, the harder it is to continue. Although the White House did agree to put solar panels on the roof, our fight wasn't about that anymore. Actually, from the first day of the road trip, it wasn't just about that. It was about 350 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, about stopping the flood of carbon into the atmosphere by calling for a moratorium on burning fossil fuels and a switch to carbon-neutral fuels. I know a moratorium won't happen. I understand that people and politics don't work like that, and that we don’t live in some science fiction novel where technology gets sent back to the 1700s because humankind is damning itself. Instead, I know that it will take thousands of brave voices to speak above the jeering and make people care, to convince people to agree to sacrifice, and to convince our leaders that the future of the people is more vital than the future of Big Oil and Big Coal. It will take passion — not money — to stop what's happening, although the promise of money is a powerful tool we should be using. Unfortunately, the people who understand what's going on aren't always the best at communicating this to the masses. So is that where I come in? Is that where my voice will find a home? I don’t know. I do know that I'm not so angry anymore. That anger still lies there, bubbling, a burning simmer beneath all that I do, but it no longer controls me. It can't, or I’ll stop being human and start being driven by madness. Nevertheless it remains a force in my life I plan on using. I don't know that I have the emotional hardiness to be a climate activist 24/7. I think I will always need the option of holding a porcupine in front of a crowd to talk about why they chew on tires. I’ve returned to my original plan. I want to work at a nature center, running amazing, straightforward, science-based programs addressing the threat of climate change and what we need to do. By convincing individuals to care about the natural world around them and to accept that it's imminently threatened by climate change, I will turn communities into hotbeds of aware and active citizens, the type I never was a part of before my trip. So will you find me again on Democracy Now, talking about how I can't see myself as a naturalist anymore? Probably not. Rather, you'll find me talking about river otter eyesight and bear skulls, all impacted by the threat posed to our natural systems by climate change. I will still draw on anger to empower my words when they need a boost, and to raise my voice so that it can be heard against the flood of scientific denial. There will always be anger. I did not, nor do I wish to, rid myself of it. But now it's an anger that I'm in control of, instead of an anger in control of me. It's sustainable anger, helping me fight for a sustainable planet. There is nothing I would rather do.
And so I did the only thing I knew to do. I went to the grocery store, bought a bag of heavily processed corn snacks and a six-pack of heavily processed hard cider, and went home.
Scott Johnson Alfalfa, 2006 Archival Ink Jet Print
Barbara Takenaga, X Space, 2008 Acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 20 inches
Barbara Takenaga, Zardo, 2009 Acrylic on linen, 60 x 45 inches
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Juan Carlos Galeano
Folktales of the Amazon Translated by Rebecca Morgan and Kenneth Watson and reprinted with permission from Greenwood Publishing Group
Andy Rosen Surveyor, 2010 Wood, glue, paint and lichen, 4 x 8 x 8 inches
ore than eight hundred indigenous ethnic groups, speaking languages predominantly of the Arawak, Carib, and Tupian families, once lived in the Amazon region. Since colonial times, these indigenous inhabitants, mestizos (people of mixed European and Amerindians blood), and descendants of African slaves have used their knowledge of the landscape to produce cocoa beans, Brazil nuts, medicinal plants, lumber, animal hides, rubber, and, more recently, petroleum, gold, cocaine, and other products for export. Historically, they had more than enough to feed themselves, thanks to practices that permitted them to produce food or to obtain animals from the forest without causing major changes to the environment. This sustainability stems from cosmological systems within their cultures. Amazonians regarded the rain forest as a world of spirits, animals, souls, and humans whose intermingling of substance or energy binds them together. At night, the natives gathered in huts and around fires to listen to stories told by their elders, who spoke of the world's creation through acts of love, violence, predation, and constant interaction between the natural and supernatural world. Their tales spoke of their adventures and daily negotiations with the fantastic. There, powerful and whimsical creatures, mythical snakes, ogres, defenders of the forests, beautiful females, and handsome males capable of transformation walked the pathways and populated the rivers, creating a sense of awe and also fear. The mythological creatures in their dreams and stories advised adult community members on places for hunting or fishing and warned them about rules of behavior while engaging in these activities, showing them an ecological way to live in the world. At the turn of the twentieth century, however, all of this began to change. The growing need for rubber in the Western world escalated as the bicycle craze began in 1890 in Europe, and later the demand for tires for the first Western cars increased the need for Amazonian rubber. A desire for wealth, embellished by tales about fortunes made by a few entrepreneurs through the extraction of rubber, created a fever for the "white gold" of the Amazon, much like the gold rush in California. This led people from Europe, the United States, and many Amazon regions into the forest to tap rubber trees in the wild. The existence of fine wood for furniture in this rich terrestrial ecosystem also attracted the attention of Westerners and led to the harvesting of cedar, mahogany, and many other species of trees. Sales of heron feathers and alligator, jaguar, and manatee skins for the fabrication of shoes and other goods to be sold in the finest shops initiated new hunting practices and transformed the way of life for many indigenous people. Now, at the turn of the twenty-first century, Amazonian forests and rivers have experienced unprecedented population growth and deforestation as cattle farming and large-scale cultivation increase and encroach. Extraction of timber, drilling for oil in the forest, and the search for minerals such as bauxite and gold have given employment to the local population, but have also had negative effects on the biological richness, as well as a drastic impact on the lives of the indigenous groups and the cultural traditions of Amazonians. The results of systematic destruction of land containing such a vast diversity of life threaten humans who live far from the rain forest and have brought international attention to Amazonia.
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
After spending years abroad, I decided to investigate the stories told by people in different parts of the Amazon and what these stories might have to say about our current relationship with the planet. I traveled to the region to collect stories, or story fragments, and recast them. On all my trips, I met native people who had come to live in small settlements and cities as a result of the displacement caused by the presence and pressures of the modern world thirsty for oil, timber, gold, cocaine, and other Amazonian products. I witnessed them roaming the streets of buzzing frontier towns without any sense of belonging in the new places. Their loss of dignity, caused by the destruction of the trees and animals considered part of their spiritual world, was also evident. Regard for the animals and plants as living, feeling beings is part of the Amazonian conception of the world as a place where humans are kin to animals and trees. This differs drastically from our Western assumption that humans are masters of the world. Their way of experiencing the world, which results from their religious and ethical attitudes toward the land, entails rules and practices necessary for living intimately with nature while coping with illness, evil human nature, and other malaises. If, for us in the Western world, markers of happiness are the amount of wealth and fame a person is able to amass, for indigenous Amazonians and their descendants it is maintaining healthy social relationships with the natural and spiritual world. Supernatural entities are sources of knowledge that inhabit invisible worlds within the physical realm and share their wisdom with humans. Many natives, however, have lost much of their ancestral forests, the necessary and essential dwellings of these spirits who also protect the trees and animals, easing the pressure of human activities. Nevertheless, those who live in this region have not given up hope. As a forest dweller in the Brazilian Amazon near Tefé once pointed out to me: "With all the clearing of the land, the Curupira and all the mothers of the trees and animals have gone to live deeper in the forests, but let me tell you, they are still alive, they just have moved away from the noise of chain saws and people."
he stories of this region are also very much alive. I was lucky to hear live folktales throughout the region and returned from each trip with notes and recordings of many hours of tales and conversations with Amazonians about their lives. I spent a great deal of time with each of the stories, reconstructing them from multiple fragments, and also pondering how to reconstitute each one as a whole. My written versions are simply one more step in the process through which folktales are born, travel, and change with time. A poetic approach involving imagery and an avoidance of flowery descriptive prose leaves space for the reader's imagination. To keep the Amazonian flavor and sense of wonder in each story, I have attempted to incorporate and maintain the tone I heard in the original versions. I made an effort to conserve intriguing twists and unexpected endings. It was a privilege for me to witness the moment when the stories were created, as each performance of the same tale morphed into a new story. My objective in each recasting was to trigger in the reader the same awe conveyed by live storytellers. In gathering and recasting these folktales from the living tradition, I attempt to illustrate the unrecorded history of the natural world of Amazonians and the desires and memories of their ancestors, unveiling for us their continuing assumption that trees, animals, and rivers are sentient beings, and that we humans are simply a single part of the world.
Moniyamena: The Origin of the Amazon River Tales of an immense tree that reaches the sky and provides an abundance of food are common in indigenous cosmologies throughout the Amazon region. This version associates the tree with the origin of the river system and reveals the ecological concerns of the area’s current inhabitants. Once in the forest, food became scarce, and people were hungry. One day, while searching for fruit to take to her family, a girl named Moniyamena ran across a very large earthworm. She was afraid, but when she looked at the earthworm again, he turned into a handsome young man. He said to her, “Moniyamena, I live alone in a place nearby, and if you come to see me every day, I will give you fruits and food for your people.” The girl was very happy with this proposition because she was, in fact, attracted to the boy. From then on, she would come home every day with manioc roots and tasty forest fruit such as pineapples, copoasú, uvillas, and other delicious foods that he gave her. One day, the boy and Moniyamena were in a nest of leaves that they had made, when the girl’s mother appeared. She said, “Traitor, I have been looking for you everywhere, and I knew I would find you this way.” With that, she threw a giant pan of boiling water upon them. The girl covered herself with large leaves from a plantanillo plant, but the boy could not do so, and he died screaming. After the death of the boy, food became even more scarce, and everyone in the forest began to suffer from hunger again. Nevertheless, where the boy died, an enormous tree grew, reaching the sky. It produced a great variety of fruits, so the people called it the tree of abundance. Everyone in the forest took food from the tree, and happiness returned to the village. However, one day, some greedy men came, and they decided to knock down the tree and grab all the fruit for themselves. When they cut down the tree, the entire forest grew dark, and from then on, sadness came to the people. The children of those who cut down the tree walked around desperately and longed for the better days of their parents. Seeing this, the spirits of the forest said, “These people are suffering. Let’s make the tree begin to rot and turn its trunk into the biggest river on earth, with fish and fruit that they can eat.” Ever since the spirits did this, nobody has gone hungry again. The river has been in the forest, feeding the animals, the trees, and also the clouds that drink from its waters. The oceans were formed from all the leaves that fell toward the east. From the trees’ branches, the spirit friends formed the Putumayo River, the Caquetá River, the Madeira River, and the other rivers that carry water to the one they call the Amazon. In the meantime, people say they hope it does not occur to any of those who live in the forest to grab all of the food for themselves.
Hawk & Handsaw
Mapinguari: One-Eyed Ogre The Mapinguari, also known as the Cape-lobo in the Pará and Maranhão regions of Brazil, is a terrifying supernatural creature with physical features similar to the Cyclops of Greek mythology. Stories about this monster, considered to be one of the animal protectors in the Brazilian Amazon, also reveal the influence of Christian beliefs in the observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest. In other varieties of this tale, the Mapinguari is presented as having a foul smell, a giant mouth on its stomach, and feet pointing backward like the Curupira, another forest guardian of the Colombian and Brazilian Amazon. Near Tefé, on the banks of the Amazon River in Brazil, there was a man who loved hunting so much that he went almost every day of the year. One Sunday, he told his wife, “I’m going to a place where the hunting is good.” “It would be better to wait until tomorrow,” his wife said. “It’s not good to hunt on Sunday.” “No domingo também se come. One must also eat on Sundays,” the man said as he grabbed his rifle and left. On his way to the forest, the man stopped by a neighbor’s house to invite him. The neighbor didn’t want to go and also told him, “It’s not good to hunt on Sundays.” The hunter persuaded his neighbor by saying, “No domingo também se come. One must also eat on Sundays.” The two men crossed a small river and walked for some time through the bush without finding anything. It was as if all the animals had disappeared. Toward the end of the afternoon, the men were frightened by some terrifying screams followed by noise and footsteps. At first, they thought it was a big man, but when it came closer, they saw that it was an animal, a black-haired, ape-like creature with a turtle’s shell and one big green eye in the middle of its forehead. The men were terrified. The hunter started to shoot, but the bullets could not penetrate the beast’s shell. He kept shooting, but to no avail. The animal walked toward the hunter, grabbed him, and threw him to the ground with one of its enormous arms. The other man climbed a tree and watched in horror as the animal tore apart his friend. As it gnawed his friend’s arm, the animal said, “No domingo também se come. One must also eat on Sundays.” Then, grawing a leg, it repeated, “No domingo também se come. One must also eat on Sundays.” After the creature devoured the hunter and walked away yawning, the man who survived ran to the town and gave an account of his friend’s death. Some people tried to guess what kind of animal could have eaten the hunter. “If it has only one green eye and its feet are as big as a pestle, the creature must be a Mapinguari,” said the dead hunter’s cousin. “Surely it didn’t eat you, Don Luis, because you didn’t have a rifle,” added the others. One of the men, who knew a great deal about this sort of thing, said the hunter could have saved his life if he had shot the creature in its belly button, “because that is where its heart is.” The people from the town were so outraged about the death of the man that they organized a search party and went hunting for the creature. They didn’t have to look too hard, because the Mapinguari had come back to lick and chew on the bones of the hunter. As soon as it saw the group of men, the beast attacked. It wanted to eat them, too. The men fired, not as their friend had done, but straight into its belly button to hit its heart. Shrieking with rage, the Mapinguari took off running and disappeared into the forest. The men gathered the uneaten bones of the hunter, put them in a sack, and took them back to town. His wife put the bones in a small coffin, and after she and her children mourned him for two nights, she took them to the cemetery. “If only he had heeded my warning,” sobbed the poor widow. They say that later she took her children to Manaus where the rest of her family lived.
Kenny Cole, South Sudan, 2009 Ink and gouache on paper, 36" x 36"
Kenny Cole, Tank, 2008 Ink and watercolor on paper, 8 1/2" x 11"
Kenny Cole, Green Revolution, 2009 Gouache on paper, 36" x 36"
Kenny Cole, When You Stand, 2009 Ink on paper, 11" x 8 1/2"
Kenny Cole, Tons of Wheat, 2009 Ink on paper, 36" x 36"
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Days of Wings and Water
t’s the end of the world, they say, but my response is the usual one. I’m paddling out to the island again. Over the past month, I’ve been kayaking out here at least a couple times a week, leaving from the dock near our new rental house along the coast. If I hit the tide right, low enough so the motorboats can’t get into the creek but high enough so I don’t have to pull the kayak through the thigh-deep muck, à la The African Queen, then I have a world to myself. Myself and the birds. Specifically, egrets and pelicans and ospreys and oystercatchers and skimmers and herons of all stripes and, my new favorite, the ibises. The ibises spend their days literally poking around, that is poking crazy curved orange-red bills into crab holes in the marsh muck, bills that, thanks to millions of years of evolution, fit those holes like scimitars in sheaths of mud.” One of the best parts of this trip is slipping into the sinuous tidal creek that winds into the marsh, getting down low enough below the marsh grasses and oyster beds, and moving quietly — which is easy in a kayak — so the birds barely pay any attention, going about their business as I go about mine. Another of the best parts is landing here on Masonboro Island, which is populated only by birds, beach grass, elder bushes, sea oats, ghost crabs, a few trees that weren’t taken out by Hurricane Hazel, and lately by a fox family that has a den to the north on the wider part of the island. After I pull the kayak up on the backside marsh, I get to walk over the small hump of the
island’s middle toward the ocean’s roar, which is really the best part of the best part: hearing that roar and then, a few seconds later, seeing the heaving waves of the Atlantic. Often enough, through dint of my relatively minor effort of paddling, I have the whole eight mile island to myself, which seems close to miraculous in these crowded times. On some days the water takes on a green-blue Caribbean look, which makes me laugh out loud, and I think, looking down at the crescent of beach curving off miles to the north, that it is like having my very own desert island. When I am feeling dramatic, which is often enough, this seems fitting: it is here that I have found myself thrown upon the beach, Crusoe-like, forced to start a new life in a strange new place. I’m almost ready to plant a flag and claim it as my own.
My wife and I met in graduate school in Colorado in the early 1990s. It was there that I came across a book called Re-collected Essays by a man named Wendell Berry. I was no stranger to reading about nature or to the idea of “finding home,” having been one of those oddballs who devoured Thoreau’s Walden in high school, but Berry’s essays seemed different—new to me—a way of putting Thoreauvian ideas to use in the 20th century. Berry, like Thoreau and John Hay before him, built his life on the notion that, yes, you can go home again. In two essays in particular, “The Long-
Legged House” and “A Native Hill,” he told the story of that homecoming. The bare bones of the story are simple. After an early academic career that included stints as a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, a Fulbright Scholar in Europe, and a teacher at NYU, Berry decided to return to his childhood home in Kentucky. His colleagues told him this was career suicide, that if he really wanted to make it as a writer, if he wanted to become BIG, he would stay in New York. One hardly has to be a writer to understand the allure of BIGness, the attraction of leaving “small” behind. But for Berry it turned out that returning home, and rooting down and committing to that home place, was a stroke of genius. Sitting in the University of Colorado library, I read these words: “I began more seriously than ever to learn the names of things — the wild plants and animals, the natural processes, the local places — and to articulate my observations and memories. My language increased and strengthened, and sent my mind into the place like a live root system.” The word settling is often a negative one in our culture — with its connotations of accepting less and giving up on dreams — but Berry’s life put the lie to this. In his words, the idea of staying in a place was nothing short of exhilarating. My wife and I loved Colorado, but soon after we got married we moved to Cape Cod. I had spent summers on the Cape as a kid, and had lived there, on and off, in my twenties. So it was a homecoming of sorts, though certainly not as dramatic or pure as Berry’s return to Kentucky. For one thing there was the fact that, in the house we rented during part of our stay there, the northeast wind blew so hard in winter we could barely open the front door. The oil heaters sputtered inadequately, and we wore three flannel shirts and sweatpants to bed. But was it worth it? Let me answer this way: during those winters we were awakened one morning when the poodle that lived with us (we cut down rent by dog-sitting) woke us up barking and cowering from the huge coyote that had just scrambled up the stairs from the beach after his evening
prowl. In October, I would take runs up the road behind the cranberry bog: runs that ended with dives into the bracing fall ocean. I got to know when the seals would return from their summer homes in Maine, when the swallows came back (right after the insects, of course) to nest in their clay cliffs above the rocky shore, and when the loggerhead turtles started to strand on those same rocks after the November storms. There were difficulties during that time, but I still look back on our six years there as ones where, at the very least, I lived within the cycles of the natural world as I never have before or since. The time came to an end due to matters of family, chance, and economy. We were wrenched from our old place, uprooted, and plopped down in our new. Suddenly I had a new life, new job, and last but far from least, Hadley: my new daughter, just three months old. And an unspoken question hung in the air: You are far away from home and John Hay and Wendell Berry can’t help you here. What will you make of this new place?
Today is summer solstice, a holiday in which I, for various reasons pagan and otherwise, put a lot of stock. Back on Cape Cod I would often spend solstice night camping on the conservation land beyond the bluff, near the sea glass shrine. Tonight I camp on Masonboro Island, a mile across the water from my new home. After I land on Masonboro, I pull the kayak up on the beach. Then I set up my tent, grab a beer from the cooler, and walk over to the ocean side for a swim. The trip across the island’s spine takes about thirty seconds. It is dead high tide— a moon tide— which reveals what a thin spit of sand this really is: a vulnerable place that, if the more dire predictions of sea level rise are right, will be gone by the time my daughter is my age. I swim for a while and then walk back to my tent on the marsh side to fetch my binoculars. A beautiful ibis with a gray seagull-colored molt struts over the mud in
the manner of a stork. Neighbors warned me about the insects here when I pushed off from the dock, but the insects I do encounter are of the beneficent sort. Clouds of dragonflies circle the elder bushes, unintentionally giving me the gift of a less-itchy night. One of the uses I have for solstice is to take the time to think about the year that has just passed: a kind of emotional annual report, the way some people use New Year’s Eve. Walking toward the south end of the island, it doesn’t take me long to realize that this particular solstice has added resonance. It has been just short of six years since we moved south, which means we have been here almost exactly the same amount of time as we lived on Cape Cod. During those first years on Cape Cod we would always try to get back out to Colorado at some point in the summer, and when we first moved here we would head north to house-sit every summer on the Cape. In both cases, we were keeping a leg in our former place. This is the first summer when we will not be heading north, an admission that our move here is not quite as temporary as we first imagined it to be. Not only are we admitting that this is where we are, but we are saying that, for this summer at least, this is where we choose to stay. We are finally beginning to understand that we have gone down a path we may not return from. Much of the time here I’ve wished I were somewhere else. But I have had glimpses— moments— that crept in where I understood that that what I was experiencing was precisely my life story, not some alternative version of it. For Hadley there is no ambivalence. She knows exactly where her home is. During the last year that we headed north to Cape Cod for the summer, she had made her dissatisfaction quite clear. She missed her friends, but more than that, she missed her place. “I want to go home to North Carolina,” she said. I was the one who felt homesick when we first moved south. The only thing that made it bearable, other than the birds and
Hawk & Handsaw
What Wendell Berry’s life seemed to teach him was the deep value of keeping still.
journal of creative sustainability
Hadley, was having an outdoor shower, which I used exclusively over those first few weeks. The shampoo, left behind by our landlord, emitted a chemical coconut scent that reminded me I lived on the beach. That odor, and the showers, became part of my attempt to prove that I was enjoying myself in my new home, and that attempt extended somewhat desperately into other areas. Strenuously, effortfully, I listened to Jimmy Buffet and the Grateful Dead, went for swims every day, taught class wearing Hawaiian shirts, drank Coronas in the evenings, trying to will myself into a state of relaxation. I succeeded only erratically. Sometimes I felt like Kaf ka in Margaritaville. I had all the trappings of a relaxed man, and I even borrowed my neighbor’s surf board. I was Jimmy Buffet, I really was. But I had a dark secret. I was filled with dread. It might seem an untenable situation: living in a cramped unit, packing everything into storage at the end of the year, moving from place to place all summer long before returning in early fall to unpack our locker and do it all again. But it had its benefits: the chief one being proximity to the ocean. And as it turned out, we kept it up for five and a half years.
My relationship with Wendell Berry changed during those first years in the South. Though we had never met, I actually kept up a running conversation with him. “You may live forever in Kentucky,” I scribbled in my notebook. “But I live in the state of confusion.” It seemed to me that what life had taught Berry was the importance of finding one’s true place, of rooting down, of making one’s life grow outward and upward from those roots. One of Berry’s central metaphors is our human need to marry a place, to stay put and commit to a place “forever.” The title of his essay, “Long-
Legged House,” refers to the structure of a house, which stood above the river, and also to Berry’s deep familial roots on the land where he re-built his own home. In that essay he writes that while most Americans are “displaced persons,” he is a “placed person” and that, as a writer, he was lucky to discover instinctively that his subject was, and remains, his home and his homecoming: “Whereas most of this country’s young writers seem able to relate to no place at all, or to several, I am related absolutely to one.” Taken out of context these lines might seem somewhat pompous, but within the essay itself they are anything but. Though I might have my arguments with Berry, I believe still what I believed when I first read his sentences: they are the work of a masterful writer and, equally important to Berry I suspect, a good man. Still, I eventually began to find something almost bullying about his ideas, especially about the notion that we all have one true home that we must find, love, and defend. Of course Berry didn’t say that exactly. He was really just telling his own story (“Here is what happened to me”), but the idea that it should happen to the rest of us was there by implication. From my own experience, I understood that there are valid and pressing reasons, most of them socioeconomic, that many of us are displaced persons. If we accept that a displaced person leads a lesser life than a placed person, then we must also accept that most of our own lives are, by definition, compromised. In fact, you can take this even further. What Berry proposes is a set of traditional values, replacing the contemporary ones of monetary success, ambition, and mobility with good work, community, and stability. These are the values that I have also held up as ideals throughout my life but, unfortunately, my life itself has not quite kept up with these ideals. For instance, I moved here, to North Carolina, for
money — not much money, and money to support my family, but still money. Which means that by Berry’s standards, and increasingly by my own, I am a failure. That sounds harsh but I use the word to make a point. I, too, believe that we have lost our way and that we are disconnected from our places. And yet I am, by choice and circumstance, one of Berry’s displaced people. The subject of money doesn’t often find its way into nature essays, but it is important to remember that Henry David Thoreau’s experiment at Walden Pond would have been impossible had he not squatted on Emerson’s land. Likewise, Wendell Berry would not have been able to quit his university job if he had not had an economic model in mind — a model of supporting himself as both a writer and, in his own words, a marginal farmer. When my wife and I were living on Cape Cod, we tried to support ourselves as writers and with other part time work, but we kept slipping further into debt. Once our daughter was born, that model was no longer tenable. Our efforts to live in beautiful places, near the water, hinged on economics as well, since the wealthy have treated the country’s beaches like Park Place and Boardwalk in Monopoly, erecting hotels that muscle out the rest of us. I am not sure if Thoreau’s squatting on Emerson’s land consciously inspired me to start living in empty summer homes during the winter, but I’m not sure it didn’t either. The larger point I am trying to make is a fairly obvious one for most of us: living where we choose is in large part dependent, upon economics. What Wendell Berry’s life seemed to teach him was the deep
value of keeping still. What mine has taught me is the necessity of constant movement. Since I was sixteen, I have never lived in a house for two years running, and for the last decade we have been evicted every summer. I try to rationalize the way we live: I read the work of the brilliant thinker, Paul Shepard, who tells me that long before the farming tradition came the foraging one, that for millions of years my kind, or animals close to my kind, were not anchored to a particular place but rather roamed places. This solstice marks our second month in the most permanent abode we have had since we got married. We didn’t do anything as radical as buy a house—since we couldn’t afford to—but with a great sense of settledness we did sign a two year lease here in North Carolina. After a month we were feeling almost smug about our new domesticity. And then the phone rang one night. My wife Nina took the call and afterward came into the bedroom with a drained look that made me think at first that one of our parents had died. “That was the owner,” she said. “The house is going to be foreclosed on next month.” As it turned out, we had been granted a stay of execution we could stay there another nine months. And I found I was not so much shocked by the news as by my lack of reaction to it. The rug had been pulled out, but I am used to living rugless. I barely blinked.
In the two months since we moved into our short-legged house, I have tried to get out here to Masonboro as much as possible,
and I have been well rewarded for my efforts. One day I saw an osprey with a fish in its talons sitting atop an oyster bed like an ancient conqueror atop a hill of skulls. Another day I saw what I am almost certain was the same bird flying with an eel in its talons. It took me a second to get it square in my binoculars and another second to see what it had clearly: a great silver strand hanging down three feet or so. Another day I saw dozens of egrets out on the mud flats like a field of white flowers; they barely budged when I paddled up to them. And I have been watching the strange ibises, and reading about them at night. I have been learning, for instance, how they eat fiddler crabs in the salt marshes all year long, except after their young are born, when they fly inland to gather nonbrackish crayfish to feed their nestlings who are not yet able to digest salt. It is with deep pleasure that I collect these facts about my new home. There have been other pleasures as well. More than once my daughter has paddled out here with me, sitting in the front of the kayak. Back home she has made maps of Mucky-Gucky Land, Oysterville, and Egret Island, all names of her own creation. Not long ago my twelve-year-old nephew Noah joined me to walk the length of Masonboro with some scientists from my school. We were surveying the island for fox dens, and it turned out that Noah had a nose for the dens. He found as many as the scientists, most of them abandoned except for an active one at the north end with many entrances and a bird— a clapper rail— sitting dead for dinner by the den’s front entrance. Just last week I paddled
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There have been other pleasures as well. More than once my daughter has paddled out here with me, sitting in the front of the kayak.
journal of creative sustainability
out here with a friend and his sixteen year old son, perhaps the shyest, most self-conscious human being I have ever met. I judged the tides wrong, and we got caught in the sucking mud, the boy losing his flip-flops and standing there helplessly in mud up to his waist. His father helped him get back in the kayak, and we pulled him through the mud out to the island. When we finally got him there he looked at us both with deep earnestness and spoke the first full sentence I’d heard him utter all day: “I owe you each a great favor.” The tide kept us on the island for the next three hours, but we had brought beer and sandwiches and soon enough were re-living our glorious trek through the mud. When we dove into the Atlantic great black plumes like oil spills trailed behind us. Tonight I have the island all to myself and I decide to walk to the south end before I eat my dinner. This is a special place, and that is not just a human designation. Because of how it sticks out in the ocean, and the fact that no houses clutter its shore, it has become a reliable nesting ground for both sea turtles and shorebirds. I keep as far as I can from the tern colony, actually walking ankle-deep in water. As I walk, I let my mind drift over the years. Much lip service is paid to being in the present moment, and certainly I enjoy the moments of waves crashing and flitting wings and of the sun now setting over the mainland. But I know that one of the best parts of these beaches is letting my mind roam, too. Lately my mind has spent more time in the future. I find myself thinking thoughts that never would have occurred to me a few years ago. I now think that I could work here for twelve or fifteen years, that I could stay in the South at least until Hadley goes to college. I make deals with time in the usual human way. I imagine rooting here, or rooting here until we uproot ourselves to retire on Cape Cod. To
my own credit, I don’t put a lot of stock in these imaginings. I know them as the phantoms they are. As for the real future the only phrase I have any confidence in is a tentative one: we’ll see. If I will not go so far as saying that I feel settled here, I will say I do feel better than I once did. Is it possible to learn a place, to know a place, when one’s time there is fleeting? Is it possible to love an island when both we and it may be gone soon? I have bet my life on the answer being “yes.”
Here is another way of putting what I have been trying to say. This may not be “my place,” but that hasn’t stopped me from learning it. Since moving south I have been trying to use my old tools to place myself. Those tools include walking, writing, and getting to know my neighbors, both avian and human. That these attempts are only sporadically successful doesn’t really matter. When I lived on Cape Cod, under the sway of John Hay and Wendell Berry, I believed that, if I found the right place to live on earth, my life would have a new certainty — a new calm, a new magic. Like John Hay, Berry believes unexpected rewards are won if one truly commits — that is, marries—one’s place. But my life has taught me something different. I have rarely slowed down, let alone settled. I think I know where my home place is, but as it happens, I live a thousand miles away from it. I don’t have much choice but to learn how, in Keats’ words, “to be in uncertainties.” Uncertainty, it seems to me, is the lesson life pounds at you again and again. The landscape never stops shifting. Maybe that is why over the years I have begun to develop a philosophy that is somewhat at odds with my nature-writing brethren. I am full of admiration for those who manage to root downward in this increas-
ingly rootless world. We live in a time of exile and displacement, and rootedness is a radical and exciting response to this modern crisis. However, I can’t help but hear a slightly ministerial tone in much of the literature of “finding home.” It reeks of virtue. Or to put it another way, I admire these writers when they stick to telling their own stories. It is when the element of should slips in that they are on less firm ground. The fact is many of us find ourselves in places that are not home: many of us live in geographical turmoil; many of us have little chance to truly root. And in this case maybe the better question isn’t “How can I get out of this uncertain state?” but “How can I exist in it?” Or put another way: rootedness is one answer, but accepting one’s rootlessness is another.
Over the years hurricanes have had their way with this island. Masonboro has survived the way Ali did against George Foreman: moving with the storms, leaning backward, and absorbing the raw force until it exhausts itself. Sand washes over the island, and the marsh grows landward. The island is changed but not destroyed. But, this elemental rope-a-dope will not work against sea level rise. Soon enough this place will be under water. Tonight, at high tide, you can see the future of Masonboro Island. It feels vulnerable: a sliver of sand in a rising sea. Standing in the surf on the east side, I could easily turn around and lob a rock over to the marsh on the west. It won’t take more than a couple feet of sea level rise, less than what is predicted over the next century,
to submerge this place. Masonboro has, in the words of the Sex Pistols, no future. A couple of years ago I traveled the Outer Banks with the renowned coastal geologist Orrin Pilkey, and he said to me during our first trip: “If the water rises—and all the science says it will — you can kiss our barrier islands goodbye.” That means that if Masonboro is the closest thing I’ve now got to a Walden Pond — a place apart — then it may soon be a Walden submerged.
Here is the quote, from Wendell Berry, that I used as an epigraph for the book I wrote about Cape Cod: Every man is followed by a shadow which is his death—dark, featureless, and mute. And for every man there is a place where his shadow is clarified and is made his reflection, where his face is mirrored in the ground. He sees his source and his destiny, and they are acceptable to him. He becomes the follower of what pursued him. What hounded his track becomes his companion. This is the myth of my search and return. These are beautiful words and obviously they meant a lot to me, since I chose to place them at the front of my book. But they also, it seems to me now, edge toward a place-based mysticism that makes me slightly uncomfortable. It is a mysticism I indulged in quite a bit when I lived on Cape Cod: whether it was by adding a piece of seaglass to the shrine for our unborn child lost to a miscarriage, or visiting my father’s grave where half his ashes were buried, or the spot on the Bay where we
had spread the other half. I do not mean there is anything wrong with honoring the dead, just that I intertwined the dead with the place in a way that I’m not sure was merited. One of the things I put a lot of stock in then was the fact that my family had been in that place more than a single generation—though, admittedly, just barely—and that meant the place was somehow more “ours.” I also convinced myself that this was the place where my “words came from,” the source of my fluency and strength. But, to my surprise, my words kept coming after the move south. Then, after a rocky start, both my words and my self actually began to grow stronger. Through no stretch of the imagination can I make a claim of deep or traditional connection to coastal North Carolina. But as time passed, I learned my place, and my daughter grew, I felt connected nonetheless. I began to know the plants and birds; I taught students who then graduated but were still part of the town; I made close friends; I got to know the particulars of the new, differently-timed seasons, like when the Monarchs came through; and, overall, I tried to make myself at home. Which makes me think now: isn’t the belief that there is one place a little like the belief that there is one person, a metaphor not so much of marriage but of a kind of geographical masochism? And isn’t there a nomadic tradition, older than the agrarian tradition, a tradition not of ownership and “my land” but of roaming and “the lands?” Finally, as for who “knows” the land better, few would assert a farmer’s knowledge over a nomad’s. I say this with no disrespect for
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Uncertainty, it seems to me, is the lesson life pounds at you again and again. The landscape never stops shifting.
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Wendell Berry. He was lucky enough to find a place that reflected his shadow and self, and he committed to it. I was about to say “I have not been so lucky,” but maybe mine is a different sort of luck. As a writer of uncertainty, I’m not sure it would have been healthy to simply repeat the experiments of my literary forefathers. As an artist, one wants one’s space. So maybe this is better. A needed turn, a needed change. To say that I have found a true home, that I have rooted down, that I have found my own forever place here would simply not be true. It would be false to pretend that I can marry this southern place or even that I can have a great sustained love affair with it of the sort I’ve had with a certain beach on Cape Cod. One of the things I left behind when we left Cape Cod was the illusion that I would stay in one place “forever.” It would be going too far to say that I gave up the myth of permanence and embraced the temporary, but, at the very least, I began on a visceral level to understand that the temporary is all I have. Though I suspect I will live here for many years and that my daughter will grow up here, I doubt I will ever be able to say, with a straight face, that I have married this place. If I am married to my new home in any way it is an arranged marriage, a forced marriage. And, if you want to push the metaphor, I am a bigamist, still loving Cape Cod and Colorado along with my new home. No one place is “my” place. As I hike along the shore, beer in hand, sun setting back over town, I think that, although, I am happy enough here in this place of wings and water, I know it would be blasphemy to overreach. Tonight as I walk this vulnerable beach and stare out at the ocean, I am careful not to make any false claims. In fact that is one of the good things about living here: it strips me of romanticism. I can’t pretend my father’s ashes were spread here or that my people have lived here for genera-
tions, or that my weekly returns to this island are part of a larger homecoming. Nor can I make any claims of mystical oneness with this place, a place that was likely inhabited by native people but more recently inhabited, the evidence at my campsite suggests, by beer-swilling southern motorboaters on day trips who left their cans and cigarette butts behind. Maybe I am finally beyond false claims, beyond love songs and paeans. But what I can still offer is the promise, not unlike one you might make in any good, if imperfect, marriage, of attention and ritual. I will come out here and look around, and I will notice and note what I see. Not because my shadow is reflected in this land. But because it is the place where I happen to have found myself. Even though I lack Berry’s confidence in tradition, in the trueness of the place, I still see where I am now, not as the one place, but as a good place. I do not choose to look on my years here as a failure; despite all the complications, I continue to try to make my relationship with my new home work. And I do know that it gives me something to get out here to the island. It lifts my life above what my life might be, and as long as I live here, or until the hurricane hits or the seas rise, I will keep kayaking out here. I will keep trying learn this place—its birds, its plants, its weather-- learning it bit by bit, accretionally, the way all good things are learned. And, just as I will continue to give this place my attention, it will continue to give me back much. What specifically does this island give me? Here, off the top of my head, is a short list: it gives me more of what Thoreau called a “broad margin” in my life. It gives me a place to talk to myself. It gives me a place to watch birds—lots of birds. It gives me a place to learn about the nature of my new home in a concentrated fashion. It gives me a place to go for a swim and sneak a midday beer. It gives me a stage on which to conduct my life
projects, one modeled on Montaigne, an exploration of self, and one modeled on Thoreau, an exploration of the natural world. (Though that is selling Thoreau short since the Montaignian project is contained in Thoreau’s, and that split isn’t a split: here is where I can both get outside myself and get to know myself a little better.) So, you see, my relationship with this place, even if it falls short of ideal and forever and married, is complex and fairly deep. In the end I am left not with certainties but with questions. Prominent among those questions is the same question, the always question: what do any of us make of where we are? More specifically, what do I make of this particular place? That is the question that drives, torments, prods. That is the question I live to answer. I can’t pretend that my time here is anything but temporary. Which fits this doomed place perfectly. I am left short of grand conclusions. All I can state with any certainty is that I am here for the moment. And here, with any luck, I will stay for a while. What to make of this? I will try to make a home — a complicated home — but a home for my family. A home that allows me to interact and interweave my life with animals and plants, a home that allows me to live a wilder life than most, and a home where I also live as part of a community of both humans and animals I have come to care about. That’s about all I have. There are no more cabins in the woods, no more places apart. I know this place is likely to be underwater in a hundred years. This place may have no future. But for now I will give it what I can. Here I will practice the art of the temporary. It is with some reluctance and without full confidence that I make the declaration I now make, but, however tentatively I put it, I know it to be true: This where I am.
journal of creative sustainability
Finally Your Love Poem I’ve read the lines: a bowl of ripe pears on the table, curtains in a morning slant of light, silhouettes of bodies along a wall, aflame. And sure, these things are true. But what is also true — after our fight, I slunk into the next room. I was cold and the ceiling fan whirred like it would rip from the wall & my breathing wouldn’t find the right rhythm for sleep. Finding you was not a sudden rowing of stars. It was inching from shadow to sun. Some older ones warn of being so happy — seasons lose color, it’s just a matter of time. Maybe, but our house is blue, an orange cat stretches on the hood of a green truck outside our window. It’s coming on our first October. We talk above the crickets’ hallelujah drone, pass the night slapping mosquitoes. You laugh at your own joke and everything inside me spills over. And I think, God, I am here and I am full. Go ahead and seal up every garden.
Megan Mallory, Sack Race Digital photograph
If I tried to explain it to you, I would say it like this — Love, I will not come back from the grave for you. What I offer is immediate and earthly as hunger. Keep giving me these ordinary days and I will fall after them, like a widow on a threshing floor.
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journal of creative sustainability
Saying Goodbye to Kuma
found Kuma, a blue heeler, in that desolate land south of Albuquerque — a wee pup, the last male, the runt maybe — and I paid fifty bucks for him. We lived together for most of a year up a long dirt road in northwestern New Mexico, where I taught sixth, seventh, and eighth grade at a remote Navajo school. Even as a pup, Kuma was overly aggressive, pessimistic, and downright ornery. No one could touch him, really, but me, and even I bore a few scars from his fits of disapproval. He sang when I played Mozart for him, and especially he sang when I played the Overture to Figaro. That sounds like a fiction, I know, but I tested it several times, playing other music and other composers. I was never sure if he loved it or hated it, the way he pointed his nose heavenward and howled and wailed and sang. At his best he was fiercely loyal, talented in his body, certain of his right to be in this world. I thought perhaps he wasn’t really a dog, but a coyote: wild and untamable, toothed and clawed. The next year, when I moved on to teach at a private boarding school near Prescott, Arizona, Kuma’s worldview grew increasingly linear, rigid and unbendable. It began to wear on me, and to wear on him. He developed a taste for Arizona skunk. That burst of flavor in his mouth as he took the poor creature up, shook it back and forth to snap it, didn’t deter him the first time, or the second. Not the third time either. And so Kuma persisted skunk after skunk: the sad, wasted shapes of them cast off into the catclaw and mesquite, so that the smell of a road-killed skunk now and forever takes me back to Arizona and to Kuma, and to the grief of giving him away.
I could forgive him all those skunks (even living with the smell of them), but that one morning when I let him out, as I always did, he cornered a little girl, the daughter of the family who founded the school. She stood frozen in terror, her blond hair tied in little pigtails, Kuma barking and growling and baring his teeth like she was some terrible menace, not knowing that he was. When I called him off, he wouldn’t come. I went out to get him, and he moved away from me, snapping and biting and lunging at the girl. I tried to get between them, the dog and the girl, but he moved fast as the wind, his mind fixed on this perceived threat. The scene grew increasingly out of control. He was going to bite her, maybe kill her, and he could do it, I knew. I ran toward him, yelling his name, and yelling “No! No! No!” He saw me then, and I tried to grab him, but he ran, and I chased him off into the cover of the big cottonwoods, where he stood hard and firm and barking. He let me approach him then, softly, and I knelt there and calmed him and took him by the collar to lead him in as the girl turned and ran away home. I had to do something. Who can claim to understand our love for dogs, our dependence on them, our need for their purity and graces, their faults and shamelessness, Who can claim to understand our their unequivocal “yes.” Is it because, in the way that people love each other, we fret and worry, love for dogs, our dependence on hesitate, castigate ourselves with guilt, desire not them, our need for their purity and to desire, all the while desiring with such ferocity to release the impulses of our body’s animal, while graces, their faults and shamelessness, dogs do what they do without misgivings, and so their unequivocal “yes.” help show us the way? Is it because they are of the earth, thrown into the cosmos willy-nilly (like us), and live and die in our hands? Is it because they seem to need us? Is it because we — at least let me say I — need them? The incident with the girl prompted me to think about giving Kuma away, finding a more suitable place for him, a more suitable life. I couldn’t face it, so instead I began working with him every day, beginning with the simple commands he already knew, like “sit” and “stay” and “come.” In her book Adam’s Task, Vicki Hearne contends that “a refusal to give commands or to notice that commands are being given is often a refusal to acknowledge a relationship, just as is a refusal to obey.” Therefore, I would give Kuma an opportunity to notice my commands by giving them, and perhaps we could work this thing out. If it was about our relationship, then we could strengthen it, build it, become inseparable through our ongoing conversation. “The poet’s condition and the dog’s,” writes Hearne, “is that through obedience to what-
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ever condition of language happens to lie at hand, they can move for a while through flame, even the frozen flame of despair at the condition of language.” In time we progressed so that I could order Kuma to stay, and then throw a ball far into the Arizona desert. He held his position until I released him with another command, “OK,” and then he would disappear into the mesquite to fetch it. For some dogs, the desire to play ball is nearly absent, but for a heeler, it is unsurvivable. A heeler cannot resist anything in motion, or rather it can do so only if overwhelmed by a greater desire, the desire to please. The conversation I had with Kuma was about controlling this impulse “at the condition of language.” Perhaps we fell short of moving through “the frozen flame of despair,” but I grew closer to him and he to me, so that love came in through the ball and the task and the word. And yet, when some living excuse appeared, a rabbit, say, or a skunk, or a tenth grader, I could not stop him in the chase. Hearne also writes that “language does not prevent murder. If language does not prevent murder, and if it may in fact cause murder, then I am at a loss.” I was at a loss too, because though we could have a clear conversation about the ball out there in the wild lands sans distraction, Kuma’s wild nature overwhelmed any kind of conversation or training I could offer. Boarding-school life required me to work day and night, and so for Perhaps we fell short of moving through endless hours Kuma rotted inside my little rooms in the big house, “the frozen flame of despair,” but I grew waiting for me — sleeping, pacing, probably — until I returned to take closer to him and he to me, so that love him out to the desert — around the came in through the ball and the task and school, up Ash Creek, between the big mesas into the open country the word. where the cows did not go, where he was free, his mind expanding with his body like a great cosmic nebula cooking up stars. But it was never enough, these romps, these long wanderings, for his great spirit. He needed something meaningful to do. He needed to work cows, I decided, as most Australian cattle dogs do, and if I didn’t find cows for him to work, something bad was going to happen. He was going to hurt someone someday. I called every ranch in the county, until a cowboy near Chino Valley told me that he was looking for a good heeler. He had trained dogs for police K-9 units, and all his life, he said, he had used dogs to work his cows. My timing was just right. His best working dog had recently died at the age of seventeen, and so Kuma might help fill two holes: the one on the ranch, and the one in the cowboy. “She was an aggressive, antisocial sort,” the cowboy explained of his dog, “and she used to hide out in a different place each morning as the ranch hands
came in to work. They never knew from which direction that dog was going to come. One minute they were walkin’ along, and the next that dog had one of ‘em by the heels. She was the best dog I ever had when it came to cows, but she sure ruined a lot of good pairs of boots.” “Sounds a lot like this dog,” I said. See, I had already begun to let him go. “Maybe I could bring him out and you can have a look at him?” I also wanted to meet this man and see his place myself. I wasn’t going to leave Kuma just anywhere, with just anybody. “Sure,” the cowboy said. “Bring ‘im out.” “He needs a lot of room,” I said. “He has to have room to run. That’s why I can’t keep him.” “Oh, I know it,” the cowboy said. “Heelers just gotta cover ground. They can travel twenty miles a day. Travel thirty.” He paused, maybe thinking about his place. “You think ninety-one square miles is enough for that dog?” I am certain Kuma knew what was happening to him when I drove onto the cowboy’s place, through the gate and along a row of houses shaded by big cottonwoods. Out beyond them, I saw a couple of barns — an old one and a new one—some split-rail fencing going every which way, and then the ranch, opening out into forever. Kuma panted at the half-open window of the truck. My truck. His truck. He could smell the cows and the open space. The cowboy and his wife came out of the house on the end of the row. I drove past them, turned around, and came back. When I opened the door, Kuma leaped out, ran up to the cowboy’s wife, and pissed on her leg. “Kuma!” I said. “Oh,” she said, “I must be yours.” “I’m so sorry. He’s never done that before.” I was certain now they wouldn’t want him, and I was hoping they didn’t. I should just turn away now, I thought. I should take Kuma and go home. Figure something else out. But she reached down to Kuma and Kuma pressed into her, into the dry leg, as if he’d known her for years. Her hair hung down over her shoulders, reddish brown, and her hands matched in color, tanned and strong looking. I shook her hand, and then shook hands with the cowboy. He wore a mustache. He wasn’t very tall. His hat he held now in his hands. I mentioned the good weather, the beautiful big cottonwoods. Nothing interesting. “Those, yeah,” the cowboy’s wife said. “Some of those trees were fence posts. Cut and stuck into the ground back in the early nineteen hundreds, and they just took root and grew into trees.” “Really?” “Really,” she said. “Things have a way of going on, you know. Takin’ root wherever they are.” She could see that I didn’t want to let him go. The cowboy handed his hat to the woman. He leashed Kuma and walked him back and forth in front of the house. He pulled up on the leash and sat
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Kuma down. Then he pulled him forward and started him walking again. “What’s his name again?” he asked me. “Kuma,” I said. “It means ‘bear’ in Japanese.” “Japanese, huh,” he said. “Japanese. Kuma. OK, Kuma,” he said. “Sit.” Kuma sat. “Stay,” the cowboy said. He unclasped the leash and walked away, about fifteen yards. He turned around to face Kuma, who sat easily, attentively. “OK, Kuma,” he said. “Come.” And Kuma went right to him. “Well, if you need a home for him,” the cowboy said. It was that easy. I felt good about them. They seemed to understand Kuma right away, to understand the impulses that drove him. And they seemed to understand me, or at least why I had to give Kuma up. “I do need a home for him,” I said. “Good then,” the cowboy said. “He has one here.” “You come back anytime you want to visit,” the woman told me. “Why don’t you come back one day and ride with us when we have Kuma out with the cows.” When she said that, I knew this was final. In a moment, I would drive away from here without my dog. He’d no longer be there in the truck, pressing his nose up under my arm. Not ever. He’d no longer be waiting for me when I opened the door to my house. Not ever. He’d no longer take long walks with me out and around the golden hills, up and over the mesas and back, rambling up and down the creeks and canyons of the Southwest. I felt this in that moment, the words drifting out in front of me like in a dream. And at that distance Kuma became a creature unattached to me, almost a memory, or a spirit just passing through. “Thank you,” I said. “That’s a nice invitation.” “Before you go,” the cowboy said, “I got some kelpies over here. Three of ‘em. Why don’t you take one. Those dogs won’t bite nobody.” “Thank you, but I can’t.” “Well, you think about it. If you change your mind, you know where we are.” I knew I would never take them up on it. I would not come back for a different dog, and I would not return to ride with them and Kuma and the cows. I reached down to touch him, to make him real. I wanted to say a proper goodbye. He whirled away and snapped at my hand. “Well,” I said. I heard the grief in my voice as if it were a thing apart from me. “Goodbye,” I said to Kuma. “Goodbye,” the cowboy and his wife said. I got into my truck and drove away, watching Kuma in my rearview mirror. At first he looked unconcerned, happy. A moment later he realized his truck was pulling away. He lunged and came to the end of the leash. I watched the cowboy’s arm go up with the force of it. Kuma’s ears laid back against his head and I heard his high-pitched yipping, like the voices of coyotes at a distance. I drove as far as I could down the dirt road, a couple of miles maybe, and then pulled over and off into the ditch a little, because I could not see to drive for all my tears. I sat for a minute or two, the engine idling, the line of cottonwoods casting a shaded tunnel out in front of me. I thought about going back. I had to go on. And I did, traveling away into another future where Kuma could not roam.
Danica Phelps, Flowers at the Market, Pencil on paper (detail)
Danica Phelps, June 2006 Watercolor and pencil on paper
Danica Phelps, Vet Appointment, 2004 Watercolor and pencil on paper
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journal of creative sustainability
Emily J. Lawrence
Little Coping Skill
ost kids run away to the circus, but my daddy drove me there, along with Boomer. My daddy raised Boomer from a joey to be a boxer for a circus. He found one: THE Amazing Charlotte Alcott Southern Circus. There, Daddy talked to the ringleader, Ms. Charlotte, while I unloaded Boomer. I got him into the roomsized cage. He fought back hard. I can fight hard, too. I’ve won against him a few times. But he fought back hard that day. Boomer hit me hard in the eye with his right hook. Then in the gut. I flopped around in the air like a rag doll. I tried grounding my feet, but Boomer was too fast that day. He kept punching my cheeks, and I wondered if he likes the way they feel, the way they mash under his paws real soft and cold like dough. I always picture my spit flying out of my mouth in slow motion. It’s my mouth that moves most when Boomer fights back. When my nose clots up, it’s a funny feeling. Like when a straw suddenly sucks down on the bottom of the glass. I threw up my arms around my face. A few more blows and I hit the ground. His long dirty foot kicked me and I slid to a stop on the dirty metal floor. I licked the blood off my teeth before I blacked out. When I woke up, I felt like I was lying on a bloated plastic cloud. It’s a pool float wrapped with warm white sheets. There are eight others like it, all lined up in a row in a dark tent. That’s what we kids sleep on in THE Amazing Charlotte Alcott Southern Circus. A big busty woman, middle-aged and denying it, stood over me. A circle of ringeyed children stared at me. The woman told me her name was Ms. Charlotte. She asked about mine. I told her Beneficence O’Kelly. “What a name for a girl!” She pouted. I guess if I were her daughter I’d be named Ashley or Bethany or Tabitha. I told her I like Benny, though. “What are you good at, Benny?” I say fighting. She says, “Then fight, my little girlie.” That was six months ago, and I haven’t been able to beat Boomer since. 7
Ms. Charlotte’s face is all pinched up. All the lines run back to the cranberry lipstick, always dry on her lips. She has black gunk on her eyelashes; faded, ratty orange hair all rolled up with pink rollers at night; and she’s a big woman with real big boobs. When she dresses as ringmaster, she wears gaudy sequined suits with an American flag for a cape. She gives me hand signals to memorize. When her two hands make scissor motions, I lead out a lion cub or a baby elephant or a pony into the spotlight. The bigger girls lead out the bigger animals. I have to wear this sparkling swimsuit thing and a plastic tiara. Like the kind that come in that Pretty Pretty Princess game. When my friends back home used to play that game, they’d fight over the tiara and I’d just give my plastic jewelry away. I hate wearing this outfit because I look ugly and I can feel my butt cheeks winking at everybody. Ms. Charlotte tries to teach me to twirl and dip, but I can’t do it right. Sometimes, when I’m pulling them by the rope, the animals snap or swipe at me. I won’t take that. Not from anyone or anything. So I punch them back to show them who’s in charge. Sometimes they pounce and we fall in a mess on the ground. I never give in, though. The workers like to watch me. They get real riled up. Send that gator straight to hell! Send that hog straight to hell! Send’m to hell!
fter that, if any of the animals mess with me, I point my finger and declare real loud so the men can hear me: “I’m going to send you straight to hell!” I wrestle a beautiful tiger cub one day. She leaves four stripes on my back. Mr. Guthrie calls me Benny “Stripes” O’Kelly from then on. Mr. Guthrie is the only other adult that travels with us; he calls ahead to the next town we go to and there’s a pack of men waiting to work when we arrive. He wears leather boots with tigers carved on them. His pocked face reminds me of my dad. I watch Mr. Guthrie train the elephants and feel proud that he calls me “Stripes.” The kids joke about him and Ms. Charlotte being “close,” but I’ve never seen that. All they do is drink in her trailer while she cries on his shoulder about showbiz and he laughs in her face and tells her to call him Jack Daniels, not Buford Guthrie. I get real curious about whiskey. I ask him what it tastes like. He says watereddown magma. Ms. Charlotte tells us kids she doesn’t want us around Mr. Guthrie, and he’s not supposed to have his whiskey on the job. I know where he hides it, though. Under the elephants’ stepping stool. One day he’s called away from training the elephants and I sneak over and lift the stepping stool. It’s like swallowing barbed wire. I cough and feel drops of it drip off my bottom lip. When I exhale, the heat hangs in the air like in the desert. I can feel it on my cheeks out to two inches away. I take another, smaller swig, but even then I can’t take it. I stop up my throat by reflex, open my mouth, and the whiskey dribbles down my chin. I hear Ms. Charlotte coming. I wheeze and try to lift up the elephant stool and hide the bottle but I’m too dizzy. Ms. Charlotte finds me and turns me over the elephant stool and whips my naked leg with a flyswatter. None of the other kids are around or it would be real embarrassing. When Ms. Charlotte whips us, she does it hard because she’s angry. But later on she cries and apologizes over and over and hugs you with your face in
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
her big boobs and tells you not to make her do it again. She might even buy you ice cream or a root beer. It’s the same when she catches Jimbo chewing Red Man and finds a cigar hidden in Lee’s shoe, or when she catches Cal feeling up Destiny inside the Mismade Girl cabinet. That last one was the worst time. And she didn’t apologize. To this day you can’t say both their names in the same sentence or Ms. Charlotte’ll get a look on her face. The worst part of it isn’t the whipping; it’s throwing up the whiskey, like lava, into the elephant dung.
got a loose tooth. I like to rock it back and forth and listen to it pop. I spend hours doing that. I want to rip it out, but kind of, I want to keep it. It’s mine, after all. When it does fall out, Ms. Charlotte’ll give me 50 cents. But I figure I can wait and play with it longer. Sarah Lynn gives me an eraser to chew on. I’m surprised, ‘cause she’s already twelve, older than me. I say, “I don’t chew on things. I ain’t a baby.” She says, “Neither am I.” I say, “What’s the point of it?” She says, “It feels good.” So I shut up, because I figured it’s mean to take something away from a person, even if it’s comfort and not a real thing. Now and then we get caught by what Mr. Guthrie calls “suits.” They come in cars with air conditioning, march up to Ms. Charlotte’s trailer, and cause a commotion. Some of them are animal rights people. Others are welfare women. After they come, we have to pack up real fast and hit the road, and everybody says hushy things about Ms. Charlotte and “postpartum depression” and a baby drowning. There’s one woman who is really persistent: a caramel-colored lady in a short blue car. She’s followed us across two states, but never gets the police to do anything. Mr. Guthrie shows her to her cool car while she throws out threats to Ms. Charlotte about saving us from her. One day she catches my eyes and asks me directly, “Don’t you want to leave?” I decide to choke my hand, wringing my wrist, instead of answering. Yeah, I want to leave. I hate getting so sunburned, and the smell of grease makes me sick, and the pool float I sleep on has a hole in it. But I can’t leave. “Not until I beat Boomer,” I say. A promise to me, not to her.
e stay in Ms. Charlotte’s trailer when we don’t have mechanic rides to set up or elephants to hose down. It has AC. One day some tall black guys come in, saying they have an act for her circus. Their sister Nevaeh can play any song from only seeing it once. I wonder how you can see a song and figure they don’t know what they’re talking about. Ms. Charlotte tells Lee and James and me to go on outside. It’s hot like a bear’s breath outside, and James and Lee start fighting as they go down the steps, rolling around in the loose dirt like they got no sense. Lee calls me a chicken-baby and I jump on him because I kind of like him and I don’t want him to think I’m a weak woman. I tie his legs together in two moves and say, “You’re pinned, sir.”
But then I’m tired of stupid stuff like that, and the sweat makes my skin itch and stick under my Band-Aids and I say, “It’s hot as hell today.” “You can’t say that. You can’t say that word.” I look up and there’s a black girl sitting on the roof of a green station wagon dressed in her Sunday best. She must be those black boys’ sister. I tell her to shut her goddamn mouth, showing off my adult vocabulary. She jumps down off the station wagon. She says I can’t say “hell” because hell’s got nothing to do with me. I shut up then. She says “damn” means sending someone to hell and I don’t have the authority to do that, only God does. She says I can’t say it’s hot as hell because I’ve never been, and if I had, I couldn’t come back. The boys are gone. They don’t know anything about God. I say I know about God, too. I say I’ve never been to hell, but I know what it’s like. It’s real hot. Like today. Which is why I said it’s hot as hell today. And the devil tortures people. She says nope, the devil’s being tortured, too. “I go to Sunday school,” she says. “I’m a Baptist.” I say “I’ve been there a couple times,” and we talk for a while about things. Her brothers had brought her to the circus as a piano act. Nevaeh doesn’t want to be in the circus. She wants to play in a concert hall, but she doesn’t say so, because her brothers think they’re doing what’s right for her. She says she wants to play Mozart at a competition for kids who play piano. I’m having fun listening to her. I want to talk to her more, so I ask her what Baptists think about how to get to heaven. Nevaeh says that you say you’re sorry for what you’ve done to Jesus. “And don’t do it again,” I add, proud that I can follow the conversation. My daddy told me all about hell and how to not to go to heaven. “No; you’ll probably do it again, but He forgives once and for all,” she says. “He saves you because you can’t do it yourself.” I want to ask more. Like, shouldn’t you at least try to fight it yourself before you get to God? But her brothers come and say there’s no deal, and shoo me off their car and take her away. I hope she gets to play with Mozart and all, but “saved” makes me think of the welfare woman and her taking me away before I can beat Boomer. That night as I lie in only my underwear ‘cause it’s hot, I have this wish for the circus and Boomer and the heat to sweat out of my body and evaporate, leaving just me, cool, clean, and new. Like a kind of heaven. That would be real nice.
oomer kicks with both legs, catching my shoulders. I land on my tailbone. My breath pops out like a firework. Boomer jumps on me to keep me down. There’s nothing I can do against that but squeak and struggle. The men are laughing. Sometimes I think they’re on his side. After several minutes, trying to get back up or at least wipe the blood out of my eyes, I look to the sidelines. Lee is asking them to rope Boomer back up. I bite my lips and try kicking. I hate him. It doesn’t work. Boomer’s puffy red gloves bump my face side to side. After I have spent a few more minutes on the ground, the men lose interest. Ms. Charlotte
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
comes back from the store. I spend the rest of the day in her trailer while she washes me and cradles me like a baby. But I don’t really want this, either. She touches me too much. Later on I sit in the large tin dishpan we use for washing. It’s Friday, the girls’ day to have the tub. The boys have Saturday; that way we’re all cleaned up for the Sunday shows, when kids can get in for a dollar. That’s our busiest day. I like to take the second-to-last bath because that’s when I can pour out the old water and add new hot water. I wait outside the flap of the smallest tent for Missy to dress. She takes the shortest baths. She comes out and says, “It’s all yours.” Her hair is all knotted up on her head in a towel, real pretty. I can’t do that because my hair’s too short. She’s so tall and pink, sixteen, and says she’s here ‘cause she wants to be a gymnast. After she performs, a lot of guys come talk to her. She never smiles, but when she talks all soft to them, they buy her things or win her stuffed animals from the booths. I don’t really want those things. But I do think it’s too bad we don’t have a cannon, or I could shoot myself out at Boomer, my fist straight out like Superman. I could get him right on the cheek just like he gets me. Only I imagine his cheek would feel hot like a rug in the sun. This is what I think about as I sit in the hot water. My heart beats real fast. I look up through the little hole at the top of the tent at that snowy white sky, thinking how impossible it is for me to reach it. Yet it seems like some mute message is floating down the hole. Should I reach up for it? I look down and see the dark patches all over my body. My cuts burn in the hot water. I’m done with this, I decide. I live in the heat, in the shadow of a cloud. I want to leave, but I can’t. I don’t have the right to say “damn.” Don’t have the right to scream. Don’t have the right to beat that kangaroo. Don’t have the right to beat my way out. Out! Out of here! Oh God. I just want to kill that damn kangaroo! I forget my hands are wet before I press them to my face. Now my face is wet. I hug my knees and wipe my eyes and cheeks on them. Then I’m crying. I cry. I wipe off cold water and hot tears on my knees. After I beat him, I can leave. After that, I will. I’m curled up in the lukewarm water, almost asleep, when I hear yelling and Jim calling my name: “Benny! Benny, get out here now!” Mr. Guthrie is yelling orders at the workers, and Ms. Charlotte is yelling orders at Mr. Guthrie. “What are you doing? Head him off!” I see the shadow of Boomer racing by the tent wall. He’s gotten loose. Water slops into the mud as I jump out of the dishpan. I pull on my jeans shorts without my underwear, trying to hurry. Janey bursts through the flap, crying. I tell her to shut up, stop making that noise, I’ll get him, and then I run out of the tent, forgetting my tank top. Boomer is heading toward the opposite side of the lot. The elephants and lion cubs are going crazy in their pens. “Boomer!” I scream, running on sharp tufts of grass. “I’m going to send you straight to hell!” It doesn’t sound as cool as when the men say it, but that doesn’t matter now. Drunk men don’t matter now. Spotlights don’t matter now. Sequined ringleaders with big boobs don’t matter now. Even angel girls on green station wagons don’t matter now, because I’m going to kill that damn kangaroo!
y little feet climb up his back. I wrap my legs around his neck like a snake. I’ll choke him, like I did my hand. It’s all his fault! Daddy used to say if he’d never met my momma, if I’d never been born, he’d never have turned mean. He’d have taken all his anger out in the ring as a famous boxer. But he had to take a job instead, and so he had nowhere else to dump his anger than at home. When he bought Boomer, that was all supposed to change. Daddy was boxing again. He was going to be a rich boxing kangaroo trainer. So what happened? Boomer’s not going down easy. He bucks and bucks. I grab his ears. He spins. The other kids are calling me. I get head-butted and lose my mind. I’m dizzy. The sun feels heavy, and I wonder how long I can carry him. He’s such a fat man. He’s heavier than clouds. I ask him how much longer I have to carry him. He doesn’t answer. My vision clears a little, and I see Mr. Guthrie swinging a lasso toward my head. What’s he trying to rope me for? I remember Boomer right before he bucks one last time and I’m no longer on him, or on anything. There’s a shadow on me, but I’m still hot. Even under a cloud. My mind suddenly comes back to me, and I know what’s happening. I lost. I hit my head on a tent spike. The ground cradles me in a bed of grass. A blue car pulls up. Don’t you want to leave? Yes, I want to leave. I wake up on sticky vinyl with the air-conditioning pouring over me. I can hear an ambulance coming. I clasp the jean jacket, laid over me like a rug. I hold it close like skin. I notice someone’s put a T-shirt on me. It’s like the archangel’s nightgown in a Christmas play. I’ve never been inside a car with air-conditioning. It’s the welfare woman’s car. It’s hard, but I sit up and look out the window. The welfare woman is yelling at Ms. Charlotte. I can’t hear, because the siren is getting louder. I see adults taking the other kids away in blankets. A man is hauling Boomer by a rope. He looks like a machine-washed stuffed animal. Just as beaten up as me. I see Lee’s scared face, and lie back down and snuggle in the jacket like a cat. I always felt that there was something outside waiting, waiting for me to do something. Maybe it was outside the circus. Maybe it was outside my mind. Maybe it was someone instead of something. Waiting, waiting for me to do something, and I didn’t know what. The world told me to fight, and it nearly tore my guts up. Now, lying with the jean jacket and the air-conditioning kissing my face, all I want to do is sleep. I’m here. I’m sorry I waited so long. I figure it’s okay to enjoy the air-conditioning.
journal of creative sustainability
On Ancient History: Nebraska Imagine, says Chief Blackbird, that the seat on the river bluff is mine that under me sits the horse the Spanish brought and we learned to use on grasses nothing like the grasses of Andalusia Imagine farther, though, he says, stretching either not at all or across the sharp horizon line, imagine that we’re here in water a floor of sand and a forest of floating weeds above us. Transform the warm breeze you feel into streams within this deep expanse. Open your mouth to taste the passing fish, listen to the coos and shrieks from their strange necks. Don’t you feel anxious yet? Stars carving up the bowl of night, the flash of morning after morning blasting out of the east. The land tips, the sea retreats, hot air turns cool but arid. Blackbird stops — stops talking, looking out, reaching — then says: So here I am atop my horse, wrapped in this deadly blanket, watching the strange business of business at the end of the Milky Way.
Susan Metzger, Watershed, Oil on Birch, 9.75" x 9.75"
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
My father makes his way to his grandson’s home, with his navigator, my mother, at his side. It’s not the easiest trip, what with the snow and ice. And these days driving in the dark is more than he can handle even though the Hunger Moon is full, the starlight bright. They arrive at the party to everyone’s delight, but my father wants to know whose house they’re at. It occurs to me as I struggle to find the good, that it’s a bit like seeing everything for the first time every time you look around. He tosses his keys in the basket on the table
Knives and What Not Out of the haze of morning writing its name in pond fog across the road, I drive farther south into the county, past the homespun flea market where a middle-aged couple sells knives and what not
John L. Stanizzi
The Dutiful Car
and begins his quest to find a glass of wine. Out on the street his car is idling quietly, plumes of exhaust wafting in the cold, the parking lights’ illusion of some warmth. I press the button on his automatic starter, and check to be sure that the car is really off. People graze around the kitchen table, talking loudly over the UConn game, but out on the street the car is running again. I surmise that someone bumped the starter in the basket. How else can you explain the fact that my father’s empty car is on, warming quietly in the February night? I press the automatic start again, looking out the window to be sure the car has done what it’s supposed to do, the column of exhaust no longer there. The guests have now begun to fix their plates, the festive rite of cheese and cold-cut platters, tubs of salads, jars of mayonnaise. But Jason says, “The car is on again.” And sure enough there’s that curl of smoke, his car impatient on the icy street, and I create a lie that makes it right: my father’s dutiful car is warming there, defying all the odds of technology so when he walks into the wintry night and makes his way along the icy path, his car is ready, eager to guide his way, having spent the evening poring over maps that show the roads that bring him safely home.
to no one passing by. Even though its blade is flecked with permanent blooms of rust, I carry my father’s Case knife in its rawhide sheath every day. I’m a good southern boy, tracing the patterns of manhood handed down by a clan of other clueless men. The knife I get. Its oiled and sharpened edge which could cut loose a hay bale or a calf caught in a bramble. I imagine the what not splayed out on tables: money clips and thimbles, a loved one’s junk drawer clutter collecting the dust of a body departed.
journal of creative sustainability
Laura Gray Street
An Entangled Bank
Eric Hoffner, Deep Space 4, 1999 35mm black and white film, gelatin silver print
â€” with Darwin and Thoreau
An entangled bank. It is interesting to contemplate the local ideograms. Humid June on the skin like wet feathers in Saran Wrap. I have to pick the sticky fabric (cotton blends, polyester, vinyl) from my sweaty legs. I have to strip myself like a quick jerk of Band-Aid or masking tape from the car seat. Sunblock, lotions, creams, stew into an oil slicking down my arms and chest and forehead. Innumerable little streams overlap and interlace one with another, exhibiting a sort of hybrid, shall we say, product. Few phenomena give me more delight. You and I are clothed with many kinds of trafficking. Early-bird specials twittering amongst the tax cuts; various insect repellents flitting about, and erratic earthworms thrashing like heavy-metal bangers at the street curbs. It is interesting to contemplate the way sand pours off eroded slopes like lava, pulled down over the headwaters like balaclavas. Everyone stays focused on the cash flow, which takes the forms of the laciniated, lobed, and imbricated phalluses of bureaucratic henchmen. Think of brain coral, of lungfish, of bowels and excrements of all kinds. We contrive a system to transport all our runoff to the treatment plant, where it is treated, well, like shit and excreted. Piped through entangled banks and spit back into the watershed. In heavy rains, volume exceeds capacity and, by design, overflows into nearby streams, rivers, lakes, aquifers, wells. Not only stormwater but also untreated human and industrial waste and debris, all running blissfully together as one toxic stream, transformed, converted like some bornagain crank, wholly baptized and foaming at the mouth. The kind that collared me yesterday in the parking lot when afternoon hit its steamiest. Few phenomena give more delight. I tried to stay calm and enjoy the amenities. There is no end to the heaps of liver, lights, and bowels. True, what I say is somewhat excrementitious in character, but isnâ€™t it interesting to contemplate the plain liquid idioms undulating along the ripple marks on the river bottom, age after age, stratum upon stratum. Even accountants must recognize the stubborn beauty of such waves, and how from so simple a beginning such hopelessly entangled forms have been, and are being, brewed. 55
Scott Johnson, Stumps, 2002 Archival Ink Jet Print
Scott Johnson, Lone Tree, 2004 Archival Ink Jet Print
Hawk & Handsaw
A Word in the Wood
ast night’s storm rolled through like it meant something, crackling and snarling and snapping down branches, howling outside the mouth of my cave like the coyotes I sometimes hear far away in these hills (they’ve never come close, and I’ve never known why). It was the loudest storm I’ve heard in the years I’ve lived here, or maybe it was only the first big one to pass since my eyes began failing and forced me to listen more intently than I did before. There’s no way of measuring that sort of thing: I can’t return to when my eyes worked to find out, I can’t compare a storm known with six senses to a storm known only through five. Or five and a half, I suppose: I can still see, just not as well as I could. I can make out the flash of lightning but never the shape of its bolts. Some mornings it’s better and others it’s worse; some days I can see almost as clearly as I ever could, only to wake up the next morning with my eyes poorer than ever. It’s like there’s a loose lens in my head that sometimes, by chance, slides into place for a while. But despite those day-by-day fluctuations, I’ve had to accept that my eyesight is fading from blurry to black and is taking the bright, green world down with it. It’s getting harder and harder to be on my own, and in this line of work -- not that it is really work, though it started that way -- being on your own is more or less the whole job. This morning I stepped out of my cave into a world that still smelled like fresh rain and burnt air. Something was different -- a feeling, an itch at the back of awareness -- and the left-behind lightning scent made me think of those old monster movies in which the scientist waits to see if his creature has been brought to life, and the audience waits along with him. There’s something to those crackling moments of anticipation, the knowledge that something has happened, but what? The same birds were singing as sing any day, the same treetops rustled in a light breeze as their leaves sprayed a shower of rain down onto my body. It was just like any other of my mornings except for that nagging feeling that it wasn’t. I checked on my crops to be sure they were safe and not torn up by wind or flooded too deep to survive, and to my relief the informal fence of blackberry bushes had once again done its job. Berries were scattered all over the ground, slipping and squishing between my bare toes as I circled the potatoes and carrots and beans with the stoop and squint it now takes me to get a good view, but the crops themselves were unharmed. I pulled a squash from its vine, washed it off on the wet grass, and crunched through its crisp skin as I felt my way back to the gap in the bushes and set off to inspect the rest of my world. For once, for some reason, I walked away from the river. I went against my usual route and my longstanding habit of starting each day in its waters. And that’s how I got into trouble, wandering away from routine, relying on an ever
journal of creative sustainability
more obsolete image of what my home acres look like to guide me. As long as everything stays where it was, I can find it: as long as trees don’t walk off and my cave doesn’t move and crops grow where I plant their seeds, I can get by with only this foggy tunnel of vision. But last night’s storm shifted things. It laid branches across my familiar paths and it uprooted bushes I’ve used as landmarks for ages. It knocked over the cairn of stones I stacked up a long time ago to mark the edge of my regular ambling, but I realized it only later, on the way back to my cave, long after traipsing past the downed marker and into the tangled part of the forest where I don’t go very often with these failing eyes. I must have wandered for hours. I felt the sun move from one side of my face to the other, then slide across the top of my balding head as the day dragged on and I dragged myself through the forest. I may have crossed my own hidden trail dozens or even hundreds of times, whipped in the face and legs by the same waiting branches again and again. I may have been on the edge of the woods, on the edge of the glade by my cave, for most of the day. How would I know, when all I could see was the green veil of forest draped over my eyes, hanging always a few inches ahead, with everything blurry behind it?
ometime late in the afternoon, long after the sweet-smelling wild grapes I found for lunch had stopped filling my stomach, I was still out there walking. And that’s when I got an even bigger surprise than getting lost in my own landscape: two hikers, tramping through trees and pushing aside brambles and branches, snapping twigs and crushing pinecones and acorns with heavy boots, and squashing shy mushrooms with a heavy hiss under their soles. Every once in a very, very long while, someone passes this way, proves persistent enough to climb a rock face or hop over a ditch into my secret world. Every so often I hear someone nearby, but I’ve never been so close to any of them and they’ve never come so close to me: they pass through and pass on, out of my forest and out of my life, leaving nothing but a temporary tear that the resettled quiet soon stitches. I heard the hikers coming in time to crawl under some thick, dripping bushes, to slide my nude self off their crackling path. Lying on my belly and balls in wet leaves and cool mud, I watched as the brown blurs of their boots passed within the small sphere of my sight. They weren’t speaking, but they were breathing hard and sniffing and spitting and making all of those sounds humans make when they’re silent -- sounds I must make myself all the time without knowing because there’s no one around me to notice. The legs in the first boots were thick with muscles and hair, but the second pair were smooth and slender. My nose burned and I nearly coughed with the sudden rush of their smells: shampoo and soap, factory-made fabrics and leather and sweat from a body that was human but for the first time in years wasn’t mine, and for a moment I thought I might retch, but I held it down as they passed. The hikers eventually moved far enough away that they were out of my limited sight, though I could still hear the crackle and snap of their steps. And that’s when one of them, the woman -- the more slender, sleek legs, I supposed -spoke a word. “Here,” she said, or maybe she asked it. The sound of a voice was such a surprise that I missed its tone altogether, and though no answer was given and she said nothing else, that syllable boomed in my mind and my garden so much more loudly than the storm did last night. The first word I’ve heard spoken in so many years, long after I made peace with knowing I wouldn’t hear words
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ever again. I was stunned as if lightning had struck me, and the hikers kept walking until they were out of earshot, but their word stayed behind, echoing across the unsettled canyons of my mind. I might have sprung out of my bush before it was too late. Before they had passed, I might have asked them to help me find the way to my cave, to lead a nearly blind man to his home, but how on earth would I do it? If they didn’t run from a nude, filthy mute leaping out of the scrub, it would only be because they’d cracked my skull with one of their walking sticks and knew they had nothing to fear. For the first time in forever I had occasion to wonder how I might look to somebody else: calloused and tanned on parts of my body that no one has any desire to see, a shaggy skeleton or a dirty old mop upside down. I realized that if I saw myself bursting out of the woods, I might not offer help either. And if they knew I was here they might wonder why, they might find my cave and my crops. The less I disturbed them, I thought, the less chance that they’d disturb me.
nd if I asked for help, if I did it by speaking and breaking my vow or simply by signing my needs in some manner of gesture and dance, I would be giving up all that I’ve gained in this garden, all the faith the Old Man has rewarded so well, for a weak moment’s aid from a stranger. Better to be left behind in my blindness, waiting for silence to seep into the rent of that word, so I waited beneath the wet bush until those hikers and their breathing and boots were long gone. I knew the Old Man would get me out of the woods in his own good time, and in the end -- at the end of a very long day -- I was right. He guided me out not long after the hikers had passed, pulling me from the forest right at the downed cairn, so I could stop to rebuild it and avoid getting lost the next time I go walking. It was a task that needed doing before I could head to the river for a slow evening swim and to repent for my lapse in routine. I crouched at the base of the cairn, feeling around in the tall grass and downed twigs for displaced stones to restack, working slowly, with care, because one of the hazards of naked living is that even the most mundane tasks become dangerous to some delicate part of the body, and some of those stones were jagged and all of them weighed enough to cause harm, and who knew what snakes and sharp sticks I might drag myself past in the grass. I was glad for the work: glad to keep my hands busy and settle my fluttering thoughts after spotting those hikers and hearing that word. The adrenaline of surprise still shook in my bones, and my heart beat so hard I could hear rushing blood in my ears. I wondered where they were headed and how long it had been since I’d seen, heard, or smelled other people (the memory of their strong odors made my nose itch again), and that made me wonder how long ago this estate was abandoned to me. How long I’ve been happily here on my own. Given my chance to be spotted, I’d chosen to hide in the scrub. I gave in to the same habit of disappearing that brought me here in the first place, but this time I had something worth keeping to lose.
Andy Rosen, Psst, 2010 Wood, glue and paint, 70 x 65 x 36 inches
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The Fourth Element “If it’ll grow sage brush,” says Parker, “it’ll grow grain.” A staid man with a shadow of a red stubble beard who has farmed for my father for thirteen years, he clears his throat. “That was my grandpa’s rule when he bought land.” Parker’s family land—dryfarm fields in the hilly country forty miles north of our farm—would have been irrigated had the Teton Dam not suffered its catastrophic failure in 1976. The dam collapse killed eleven people, over thirteen thousand cattle, and the dream of irrigating acreage that before had only been watered by rain. My father directs his pickup across the washboard gravel roads and adds, “the taller the sage, the better the drink. That’s the way I learned it.” Outside, the season showcases dry Idaho July, and the three of us drive through country high above the basin that holds many of Idaho’s fertile farms. The prairie grass and thistle paint the horizon in parched amber waves; the blue-gray outline of northern mountains stand like afterthoughts. We roll up and down the hills in search of a clearing where we can spy on the Californians who have been stealing our water. Eventually, my father stops the pickup on a bald knoll. Our lookout rims the southern edge of a horseshoe-shaped valley. A newly cut road switch-backs down the basin around the far hill’s face. It’s drastic, this carving out, a scar tearing through the grass. Down one swale and into the valley’s bottom is a winding stretch of quaking asps and cottonwoods and willows: the trees’ bright green a stark offset to the surrounding toasted flora. The green denotes water, that slippery commodity that controls this land. “That stream must feed the lake,” my father says. He reaches behind the driver’s seat, extracts binoculars, and glasses the streambed as if hunting for elk.
very Monday morning from May until September, my father and Parker calculate how many square inches of water to put across their fields of potatoes and grain. Their pumps pull from Birch Creek and pipe the water over three miles of fields. But for the past two weeks, their irrigation system has been running with insufficient water pressure. Their estimates have been undercut; subsequently, their crops suffer. At first, they were mystified. But then, just last week, my father figured it out. Earlier this year, California investors had purchased a ranch above Birch Creek and subdivided it into twenty-five lots. My father and Parker had watched the investors as they built roads and stretched power lines to their land, not paying them much mind. But one day last week my father was driving up and down Birch Creek Road and discovered an industrial-sized tanker pumping water from the creek. “He was just leaving,” my father says, “so I blocked him with my truck and walked up to his window. Just a worker guy, no say in anything, but I lit into him and got his boss’s phone number. At first, the boss denied that he’d told his crew to take water from the creek, but eventually he admitted to it. They were using the water up on their roads to keep the dust down and to mix their cement. Once he admitted to it, he even had the nerve to tell me the investors had the legitimate water rights.” Water rights—the legal permission to use water from wells, springs, rivers, canals, and aquifers—are paramount in this country. When property is bought and sold in Idaho; mature water rights can often double and triple the land value. Water rights don’t prove
ownership of water, but rather deed a possession of usage. The use of public waters without a water right is illegal, the sole exception being domestic-use water, as a homeowner deserves water for his or her home as well as enough to irrigate up to half an acre. Idaho law provides civil penalties for appropriating water without a valid right. “But that’s a bold-faced lie,” my father says, handing me the binoculars. “They don’t have water rights up here—I own them all.” I know my father means business. When I recall memories of family prayer (a rite my father and mother and sisters and I practiced together every morning) I cannot remember one invocation that didn’t contain a plea concerning water. We prayed for snowpack in the winter, rainfall in the spring, and celestial restraint during planting and harvest. My father watched the Weather Channel like it was prophetic alarm, carrying his muddy boots into the living room and dressing in front of the television. He’d edge out on the couch and strain to hear everything. I’ve been hushed innumerable times during the five-day forecast.
discussion of western water rights—a topic so convoluted and complicated on its own—is difficult to have today without including ecology. Salmon, trout, river otters, and myriad other fauna enter the conversation. But one species that perhaps I never before considered is the beaver. Our vernacular today provides varying connotations that involve the fury dam-builder: the eager office worker, a person with incisors like Chiclets, even an anatomical reference to the polestar of feminine sexuality. But often overlooked is what scientists have dubbed the water-dwelling rodents: Little People. Beavers mate for life, protect their family, build hovels and lodges, congregate amongst cousins and grandparents and aunts, and fight other beavers that don’t share their bloodlines. Studies show that humans and beavers share survival mechanisms. Like
humans, beavers are incredibly adept at altering their habitat to their suit needs, even diverting streams so that the water runs closer to more favorable stands of trees. It would be much easier for the beavers to burrow for shelter in the riparian muck, but instead they stop the water and build dams. One scientist employs that beavers always have to be moving, working. Hence the busyness. Another posits that beavers disdain the sound of running water and construct dams in the narrowest, noisiest point of streams to quell the riffle. In one study, a man placed speakers near mature beaver dams and amplified the sound of running water. He returned to discover them buried under sticks and stones until silenced.
n 1889, a New York Times writer visited the Gem State and published an article entitled “Idaho Has a Great Future.” Tongue in cheek, he wrote: “When this territory was named ‘the Gem of the Mountains’ it could not have been for anything that was seen in Pocatello; or if it was, then it must have been named just for its hardness.” He later noted, “The only crop secured from the soil is one of dust.” I imagine the writer alone in his slat-board hotel room, plunking out his article while the wind whistles through the wall cracks and railroad cars thunder past his window. The man coughs and coughs again, the ever-present dirt clouding his lungs. Technically, most of Idaho is high desert, with an annual rainfall of eight to twelve inches, though I recall years mostly between four and six. Once the mining petered out, all that remained was dry, unusable land. Irrigation had been attempted a number of times. First up north in Spalding, the year 1837, at the Whitman missionary farm. In the 1850s, homesteaders dug crude ditches in the Boise Valley to irrigate small vegetable plots for harvests to be sold to the influx of prospectors. Near modern-day Preston, Mormons migrated
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from Utah and claimed water from Maple Creek. Idaho’s population hardly grew in the 1850s and 60s, and then was restricted to areas close to rivers and streams. Farmers tried water-wheels and other primitive transports but none could be used large-scale. The 1880s brought private-venture canal companies to establish an intricate irrigation diversion that would take water from the Snake and other rivers, but money soon ran out. By 1889—the year the Times writer visited— private investors and farmers had dug nearly forty canals. But none had ever carried water; before that occurred, the banks had sent foreclosure notices. The rub was that the Snake River plain—a broad tectonic depression on top of rhyolitic ash-flow tuff—held immense agricultural potential. With nitrates and residual ash compressed for millions of years (Idaho’s whole southern section is pocked with volcanic remnants), the dirt could grow a wide variety of crops. But by 1890 momentum for growth had waned considerably; without water, life out west proved impossible. A series of government acts saved the land, at least for human habitation. The 1877 Desert Land Act morphed into the 1894 Carey Act, which finalized in 1902 with the Newlands Reclamation Act—all of these plans centering on the sale of public land to private investors. The federal government would sell tracts and with the money, “plan, construct, and manage irrigation projects for the purpose of reclaiming marginal lands.” Farmers and ranchers supported the ongoing costs by paying agreed-upon fees and taxes. Once canals were established, Idaho blossomed, but more problems followed after the surface water ran out too quickly. In the early 1900s, the Snake—the Columbia’s largest tributary and the nation’s twelfth-largest river—ran dry for nearly a month along a
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ten-mile stretch: all the water had been diverted. To catch and manage the massive amounts of runoff that came from snowmelt (and better regulate water volume), nearly twenty-five large-scale dams and reservoirs were built along the Snake and other Idahoan waterways for irrigation storage and delivery. This dam-building era lasted nearly sixty years, totaled 472 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built dams, and ended with the Teton Dam failure. But still, this surface water didn’t suffice. With so much fertile ground, farmers needed more drink. They finally found it beneath them. In the 1940s, locals discovered the Snake River Aquifer. At an estimated 10,800 square miles, the aquifer boasts an area larger than the state of Massachusetts. High-lift pumping that bored four hundred to seven hundred feet below ground level made valley bottoms fecund; in turn, the aquifer limited the amount taken from rivers and canals. Combining surface- and groundwater-pumping makes Idaho’s current water usage staggering. Four western states (California, Idaho, Colorado, and Nebraska) make up half of the U.S.’s surface and groundwater withdrawals. But Idaho and California stand in a category of their own; as is, they are the only two states that pump between 15,000 and 31,000 million gallons per day. Considering that California houses approximately 36 million inhabitants compared to Idaho’s population of just under a million and a half, and the fact that Idaho’s irrigation season lasts only six to seven months, and that mining and commercial and domestic usage of Idaho water accounts for less than three percent total, an outsider can gain a sense of how vital the fourth element is for farmers. Annually, irrigation draws approximately six trillion gallons of water for Idaho’s crops.
he water altercation that brings my father, Parker, and me to the hills is timid compared to most. If water decides a crop’s success or failure, landowners are willing to fight over it. Here’s a true story from the annals of the western ditch bank: Two boys grew up as friends on neighboring farms. It was the 1970s when flood irrigating still prevailed, and farmers used the ditch water according to a schedule put forth by the local watermaster. Sometimes the water came in the day; sometimes at midnight. Regardless, one had to take the liquid as it came. The boys both inherited their family farms. As adults, their friendship waned, as each accused the other of using too much water, or taking water out of turn. One summer, words aggressed to threats, and one July day, threats climaxed to fists. In the brawl, fists wielded shovels. Midscuffle, one man brought his spade down on the other’s face, knocking his right eye to blank blind nothing. Years passed, and the men never apologized. Almost a decade after the melee, in an eerily identical summer, the one-eyed man rode out to the ditch bank with his rifle. He closed his neighbor’s headgate, diverting the stream, and then slipped into the brush, knowing his neighbor would come to find out why his river ran dry. Once the neighbor showed, the man put a slug in his chest, killed him dead, then returned home and called the sheriff. With a life-sentence in prison, the one-eyed man never again needed to water-worry.
cy, youthful memories come from the irrigation canals. I loved opening my eyes in the frigid water, watching green and blue rocks skitter along the river bottom. A number of days, the canal babysat my friends and me—we’d float the six miles into town on inner tubes. When moving pipe as a kid, I’d overheat such that I’d
bury my head in the canal and drink the murky water in great gulps. Not once did I suffer a case of giardia (or Beaver Fever, as my father called it), even after we found a dead pig upriver, bloated and stuck in the cattails. During the slow summer days, Parker and the other workers and I would steal away to the reservoir for a few hours of waterskiing. Like most farms, our land pulled from both surface and groundwater sources. The desert farms out in the flats used deep aquifer wells, the farms near my home used canals, and the hill farms relied mostly on mountain creeks filled with winter run-off. Because I was small and liked to swim, cleaning the canal pumps became my responsibility. For a long while, it was something my father and I did together, but one summer I decided to work on my own. The initial dives went fine; the pumps sat above a concrete intake filled with canal water, the mainline stretching ten feet deep. I had to shut down the pumps, dive, and bring up handfuls of debris. No problem. But at this particular pump, sitting solitary at the edge of a hay field, my trunks caught on a broken edge of the metal screen and held me deep enough to just break the surface with my fingertips. I started to drown. Panicking, I wedged myself upwards, pulling on the concrete and mainline, and tore free, the metal ripping off my shorts and opening up skin from my lower back to butt cheek. I drove home naked and wincing, in search of Neosporin and clothing.
ne summer, the water ran out on the Antelope Creek farm, so a few workers and I climbed into the mountains to find out why. On that farm, an earthen dam had been built to stop the creek and collect the run-off. At an elevation of six thousand feet, most of the neighbors dryfarmed hard grains, but here we’d
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planted seed potatoes. Due to the weak winter and dehydrated summer, we’d run out of water in early August, six weeks before harvest. The crop was thirsty. That day in the pickup, we climbed the road along trickling Antelope Creek. I could see the bottom rocks; there was not even enough water to cover the three-foot bed. We crossed the boundary of the farm and traveled the road until the fields disappeared, replaced by stretches of sage and quakies, then pockets of pine. The road butted against a thick stand of timber. I took two shovels, one worker carried the axe, and another slung the five-foot iron bar over his shoulder. We climbed into dark, unknown territory. Blistering August, even in the shade. By noon we were lost in blotches of tree shadows. We hiked and climbed for a while. In a moment of near bitching, as I plotted my next dry words to encourage a trek back to the pickup and a drive straight to the gas station for cold Mountain Dews purchased on my dime, we came to the first beaver dam. The soupy pool stretched across the clearing, creeping out in the gullies and filling the draws. The creek sounded a sporadic and minimal weeping of water, an underpinning to our heavy breathing. Not large or impressive, the dam stood four feet high and equally as long, a rats’ nest of sticks and pokes and points. We gathered our tools and then went out on the dam and attempted to wreck it. We chopped and pried and hacked with all we had, but were thwarted by an impenetrable criss-crossing of branches and logs. We worked an hour to remove an inch, and even then didn’t free any of the water. We removed one stick only to find ten—damp and solid—in its place. The trick came not in pulverizing, but circumventing, the construction. We dug a canal into the swampy ground next to the dam and watched the water drain out in liquid rush. We left the first dam and continued upstream to find more ponds, a chain of ten escalating
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up the creek like stepping stones. We made quick work and gouged out the trenches in thick shovelfuls. The entire afternoon, we spotted only one beaver, massive and graceful in the water, before it disappeared below the murky surface. At dusk, we shouldered our tools and slogged downhill, exhausted but pleased with our success. With air conditioning full-blast we traveled back to our dam and, to our surprise, saw that the water level had not risen at all. Later, Parker said that all-told we gained less than a foot of water. We talked about going up again, perhaps taking more men and more shovels, but then came a better idea: dynamite. I wasn’t in the hills the day the workers exploded the dams, but a dark part of me admits to having wanted to see how the beaver’s construction measured up against gunpowder and blasting caps. A neighbor turned us in to Idaho Fish and Game, and the agency ordered us to cease beaver dam destruction. We were fined, as that sort of destruction was unsightly and wrong. We knew it, too, but what else could be done? Our crops were dying of thirst. Regardless, our work was all for naught: the potato crop was stunted and worth nothing. Eventually, my father sold the farm for its lack of production. The new owner trenched out the canals and added three feet to the dam, erected irrigation pivots and replaced the pump. But even that seemed meaningless: if I had learned anything, it was that sweat alone could not water a crop.
hrough the binoculars, I follow the green line of creek flora and find the lake. It is tiny, maybe fifty feet by a hundred, relatively a drop in the bucket. The way Parker and my father jawed, I figured the lake would at least be sizeable enough for a motorboat. A man would be hard struck to take out a canoe on that pond.
“Doesn’t look like much of a water feature,” Parker says. “According to the real estate agent, the lake was going to make or break this place.” “Come on,” my father says. “Let’s go down and see what this creek does.” The two tromp into the brush and disappear. I stay near the pickup and ruminate over the jaundiced land. I can’t understand why anyone would want to live up here. All this dust and heat. These California investors must have different eyes than me. When I see dirt, my considerations turn to farming scenarios. Try as I might, it’s impossible for me to envision these hills dotted with mini-mansions and manicured lawns. This proves my mistake. According to a recent Associated Press story, our government is considering a resurgence of western dam building in response to the nearly twenty percent increase in the population of western states during the 1990s, which now totals upwards of sixty-four million people. John Redding, regional spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Boise, says, “The West and the Northwest are increasing in population growth like never before. How do you quench the thirst of the hungry masses?”
nlike the first era of dam building that hinged around irrigation and power production, our next will focus on providing freshwater for western residents. Doing so creates an obvious conundrum: without our first dams, the west would be unlivable; now that it’s inhabitable, what end result will come from too many people? Although other ideas are in the mix—including conservation, storing water in natural underground aquifers,
constructing water pipelines from the mountains, further metering water usage, and desalination plants—dam construction is once again in the forefront. Major water storage talks concern Colorado’s Yampa River, California’s San Joaquin River, Nevada’s Colorado River, and even hint at rebuilding Idaho’s Teton Dam. I think that, like the beavers, the only reason investors are building here is because they have the ability to divert the water. Perhaps they develop from the need to move and shake. Or maybe that echo of empty land — the eminent silence that reigns here — is just too much for them to bear, and they have to cover it completely. Full of wonderment, I sit on the tailgate and wait for the men to return. “Three beaver dams,” my father says when he arrives at the rig, panting from his hike. “Nothing else blocks the creek.” We load into the pickup. “I don’t have a problem with their lake,” my father continues. “They can boat and fish it. They just can’t use it up. I need it.” We look out over the development one last time. My father says, “Guess I’ll call my water lawyer. He’ll know what to do. He’s the best in the state.” Parker says, “Imagine they’d at least file for aesthetic right.” “Well,” my father replies as he shifts the pickup into drive, “I’ll probably fight that too, just out of principle.” We take off on the gravel road and disappear in a cloud of grit, headed down into the valley in search of something cold to drink.
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Jean Altomare is 5’4”, brown-haired, and often angry and excited at the same time. She lives in Unity, ME, and is a senior at Unity College, where she will graduate with a degree in wildlife.
Elizabeth Bohlke earned her MFA in poetry from the University of Mississippi. Since then she has been working on collaborative projects with other artists. Her work recently appeared in Country Dog Review. She lives in Afton,Virginia with her husband, Sanders.
Kurt Caswell is the author or two books of nonfiction: In the Sun’s House: My Year Teaching on the Navajo Reservation and An Inside Passage, for which he won the 2008 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize. He is the lead editor of an anthology of nature writing, To Everything on Earth. His essays and stories have appeared in High Country News, Isotope, Matter, Ninth Letter, Orion, Pilgrimage, River Teeth, Potomac Review, and other publications. He teaches creative writing and literature in the Honors College at Texas Tech University. For more information, please go to: www.kurtcaswell. com.
Kenny Cole was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1958 and was educated at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, New York. He moved to Maine from New York City in 1994, where he has exhibited widely, organized political art actions and received a Maine Arts Commission grant. His work can be seen through the Pierogi Gallery Flat Files in NYC. For more information, visit his website at www. kennycole.com.
James Engelhardt’s poems have appeared in Lilies and Cannonballs Review, Hawk and Handsaw, Isotope, ACM, and Painted Bride Quarterly. His work is also forthcoming in the North American Review and other journals. You can find his ecopoetry manifesto is at octopusmagazine. com. Originally from western North Carolina, Engelhardt lives in Lincoln, NE. He is the Managing Editor of Prairie Schooner.
Joshua Foster's stories and essays have appeared in Fugue, South Loop Review, Barnstorm, and various other publications. He earned an MFA in fiction and nonfiction writing from the University of Arizona. Joshua is a recipient of Stanford University's 2010 Wallace Stegner Fellowship in fiction writing. He lives in Palo Alto, California, and Rigby, Idaho, and serves as the nonfiction editor of Terrain.org: A Journal for the Built & Natural Environments.
Juan Carlos Galeano is the author of Baraja Inicial and Pollen and Rifles (1997). His poetry, which is inspired by Amazonian cosmologies and the modern world, has appeared in publications including The Atlantic Monthly, Field, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, Antioch Review and The Poetry of Men's Lives: An International Anthology. He also has published booklength translations of American poets in Latin America and translated Latin American poets for American journals. He teaches Latin American poetry at Florida State University.
David Gessner is the author of six books; his latest is Soaring with Fidel, in which he follows the osprey migration from Cape Cod to Cuba and Venezuela and back. He has won a Pushcart Prize and the John Burroughs Award for Best Natural History Essay. His work has appeared in many magazines and journals including The New York Times Magazine,The Boston Globe, Outside,The Georgia Review, The Harvard Review, and Orion. He has taught environmental writing at Harvard, and is currently an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he edits the national literary journal, Ecotone.
Chris Hayes, originally from Tennessee, is now pursuing his Ph.D. in poetry at Florida State University. His poems can be found in Beloit Poetry Journal, Fourth River, and Barnwood International, among others. He has been the recipient of Smartish Pace's 2008 Erskine J. Poetry Prize, as well as two Pushcart nominations. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife and daughter.
Steve Himmer is author of the novel, The Bee-Loud Glade, from which “A Word in the Wood” is excerpted. His stories have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies including Hobart, Los Angeles Review, and The Collagist. He edits the webjournal Necessary Fiction, and teaches at Emerson College in Boston. His website is www. stevehimmer.com.
Erik Hoffner is a documentary photographer and writer from Ashfield, MA. He exhibits around the Northeast and publishes his work in The Sun, Earth Island Journal, World Ark, Grist.org, and Orion magazine, for which he also works as Outreach Coordinator. His website is www. erikhoffner.com.
Scott Johnson was born in 1969 and grew up in the Colorado Rockies. He obtained his BFA from the university of Colorado at Boulder and his MFA from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. His work as an artist has been informed by such as experiences as herding cows on the Navajo Reservation, traveling upon the Silk Road and living in Venice, Italy. He presently teaches at the Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
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Emily Lawrence is a young college graduate, eating tears and rejection letters as she waits for a "real job." Between giving cats weird names and holding her fiancé, she spends her time creating sentences nobody has ever muttered, metaphors never thought of, and characters who take over. Her work will appear in A Capella Zoo, Relief: A Journal of Christian Expression, Glossolalia, and Lit Magazine. She is an assistant editor at Literary Laundry.
Born into an extended family of artists, Megan Mallory has practiced creative expression since childhood. While the world continuously unfolds and refolds, Megan can be found with a camera in hand to celebrate it all. You can view Megan’s work at: www. meganmallory.com.
Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen or so books that bear on the environment. Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, he's also the founder of 350.org.
Susan Metzger studied Landscape Architecture and received a diploma in painting as well as a fifth year certificate from the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. She has been a recipient of the Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowship in Taos, NM, and the K2FF Fellowship in Vermont.
Danica Phelps was born in NYC and works in Brooklyn. She has been making work using her life as the data for drawings for about 13 years and has exhibited widely throughout the United States and Europe. She works with Griffin & Brennan in NYC, Rotwand in Zurich, Ritter/Zamet in London, Nolan/Judin in Berlin, Galerie Winter in Vienna and Galeria Nieves Fernandez in Madrid. Please visit www. danicaphelps.com for more information.
Andy Rosen is a visual artist who says, “I've long been inspired by the friendly and peaceful view of rural life as portrayed by the crafts and folk art of New England. My work continues these traditions and this illusion in which nature is concerned for our welfare, shares our goals, thinks the way we think, exists for our benefit." For more information, visit his website: www.andy-rosen.com.
John Stanizzi is a former Wesleyan University Etherington Scholar and was named New England Poet of the Year by The New England Association of Teachers of English. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, has been widely anthologized, and has had work in journals such as Blue Unicorn, The Connecticut River Review, Embers,The MacGuffin, Poet Lore, Poets On,The Red Fox Review, Soundings East, and Stone Country. He is currently an adjunct instructor at Manchester Community College and teaches English at Bacon Academy in Colchester, Connecticut, where he also directs the theater program. He and his wife, Carol, live in Coventry, Connecticut.
Laura-Gray Street is coeditor of Ecopoetry: A Contemporary American Anthology, forthcoming from Trinity University Press. Her work has appeared in Many Mountains Moving, Isotope, Gargoyle, ISLE, Shenandoah, Meridian, Blackbird,The Notre Dame Review,The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere. She teaches in the English and Environmental Studies Departments at Randolph College in Lynchburg,Virginia.
Barbara Takenaga is a painter who lives and works in New York City and teaches at Williams College in Massachusetts. She is represented by DC Moore Gallery in New York and Gregory Lind Gallery in San Francisco. Her website is www. barbaratakenaga.com.
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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 1 July through 1 September 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
ON THE COVER Andy Rosen Loaded, 2010 Wood and epoxy, 8 X 4 X 5 feet
Hawk & Handsaw EDITORIAL STAFF EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Kathryn Miles Associate Professor of Environmental Writing ART EDITOR
Ben Potter Associate Professor of Art
volume 4, 2011
EDITORIAL BOARD H. Emerson Blake Michael Branch Suzanne Caporael Roger Cohn Chris Cokinos Lily Fessenden
Molly McCarthy ‘12
BA Environmental Writing
Camden Design Group
Bob Pyle Janisse Ray Mitchell Thomashow President, Unity College and Founder, Hawk & Handsaw
Hawk and Handsaw is published annually by Unity College. Individual subscriptions are available ($10/year; $25/three years), as well as single copies and institutional subscriptions. The reading period for the journal is August 1 through October 1 annually. Submissions made outside this period may not be considered until the following cycle. Please address all correspondences to: Hawk and Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability Unity College 90 Quaker Hill Road Unity, ME 04988 or to email@example.com, 207.948.3131 ext. 238 Full submission guidelines and sample work from previous issues is available at our website: www.unity.edu/HawkandHandsaw. © 2011, Hawk and Handsaw, Unity College COPYRIGHT STATEMENT Artists and authors reserve all rights to their work and it cannot be reproduced without their permission.
ON THE BACK COVER Kenny Cole Let’s Wait, 2010 Ink and gouache on vintage paper, 12” x 17”
FEATURING Jean Altomare · Elizabeth Bohlke · Kurt Caswell · Kenny Cole · James Engelhardt Joshua Foster · Juan Carlos Galeano · David Gessner · Chris Hayes · Steve Himmer · Erik Hoffner Scott Johnson · Emily Lawrence · Megan Mallory · Bill McKibben · Susan Metzger Danica Phelps · Andy Rosen · Laura-Gray Street · John Stanizzi · Barbara Takenaga
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...