hawk & handsaw The Journal of Creative Sustainability
A publication from Unity College
Hawk & Handsaw
The Journal of Creative Sustainability
Volume 5, 2012
Introduction 2 What is Creative Sustainability? 4 words
ON THE COVER Christine Collins, Kholrabi
Richard Downing Iced
Fallen Cole Caswell
San Juan’s Day: A Blessing of Rainwater Gary Paul Nabhan
Blue + Black, Woodcut #1 Meghan Brady
Lizard on Broken Glass Robert Isenberg
The Buffalo Robe Patrick Burns
Molly Canine Tracking: Centennial Beach #2 Cole Caswell
Naming the Trees Noah’s Wife: A Diary Hannah Fries
From “The Keepers” Christine Collins
Coats Christine Collins
The Great TP Debate Elaina Westegaard
Introduction Wartime Prosperity The Quartermaster Instructions for Foreigners Leading Citizens The Historian’s Wife Describes the Appalachian Plateau Dawn Potter
From Are You Really My Friend? The Facebook Portrait Project: Dinner with Karin & Barry, Auburn, Maine Jona Frank with Shep, Santa Monica, California Colin Dusenbury with Simon the dog, Los Angeles, California June Fitzpatrick, Portland, Maine Tanja Hollander
Once Something Happened Here Jennifer L. Case
Vespers Marc Nieson
44 45 46 47
Specimen 018 Specimen 005 Cole Caswell
Beer Cans (Wasps) Beer Cans (Clover) Rafael Salas
Bones and the Beast on a Leash Hannah Kreitzer
For the Trees Avy Claire
The Evolution of Hunger BK Loren
Drawing for Woodcut # 2 Red Woodcut, # 2 Meghan Brady
Vampire Squid Michelle Menting
Beautiful Girl, I Named Your Throat Gorget Christopher Cokinos
Sticking with the Stick Michael P. Branch
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journal of creative sustainability
Introduction And famine is all about us, but not here For from the very hunger to look, we feed Unawares, as at the beaks of ravens —“The Wilderness,” W.S. Merwin What feeds you? Is it the bagel you grabbed from a vendor on your way from here to there? The sprouts you grew all winter long on your kitchen windowsill? Your daily half-caf-double-shot-soy-caramel-latte (with extra syrup and no foam)? Or is it something different entirely? Is it the way your 2-year-old daughter asks for hugs instead of cereal at the breakfast table? The campaigns you lead to save your neighborhood? The connection between your feet and the land upon which they walk? What feeds you? The answers each of us posit to this question are crucial when it comes to defining—and living—our own sustainability. We are creatures that love to eat, both literally and metaphorically. What we put in our bellies and our minds says a lot about who we are and how we want to live. Want proof? Look no further than Josh Moody, the founder and president of Monroe Surf Company. Josh is a surf board maker who lives and works in a log cabin he and his wife built by hand. That that cabin is in Central Maine—just a few minutes from our offices at Unity College and a good two hours from the closest surfable wave—distinguishes Josh from just about every other surf board shaper. That he also uses only sustainable materials makes him something of a revolutionary. Josh is quick to point out that he is not the first shaper to do as much. In fact, last year the New York Times business section ran a special story on shapers out west who use recycled wood and post-consumer foam for their boards. But that doesn’t make Josh any less noteworthy. He favors bamboo cloth and pine resin for his surf boards, and he makes each one by hand, in view of his vegetable gardens ( Josh and Jackie grow most of their own food), and often with one of his 13 cats standing watch. Most importantly, he makes them with a kind of joie de vivre one can’t help but appreciate. Born and raised in Maine, Josh has spent a lifetime surfing the North Atlantic. He says he feels tied to its craggy landscape and nourished by the harshness of its surf, which is where you can find him when he’s not at the log cabin—even in the dead of winter. Josh Moody knows creative sustainability. And to our minds, he embodies not only this particular issue of Hawk & Handsaw, but also the spirit of the journal’s perennial mission. We asked Josh how he would define “creative sustainability,” and you can read his full answer on page 4. The gist of it, though, is that sustainability requires a leap of faith—not over a brook or a crack in a sidewalk, but off of a cliff from which we cannot see the base. That’s a pretty extreme idea. Audacious, even. And those who believe in it could be accused of recklessness if they aren’t otherwise grounded. Luckily, Josh Moody is. He has his house and his gardens and his cats. And, of course, he has his waves. 4
In many ways, Josh represents the new face of creative sustainability. His, we think, is the direction in which we all ought to be heading. Issues of consumption and longevity are not going to be solved simply by using travel mugs or cloth shopping bags. No, to save ourselves from ourselves, we’re going to need an entirely different paradigm—one that transforms every aspect of our lives. Including the way we play. Recognition of this fact is another thing we love about Josh Moody: he understands the importance of fun—of finding those activities that nourish us. Sustainability shouldn’t have to be about going hungry. To feed the revolution (and make no mistake: creative sustainability requires nothing less), we must first feed ourselves. You can’t change—let alone save—the world on an empty stomach. Even still, many of us insist upon trying. This paradox of deprivation and sustenance is at the heart of our current issue. In it, our contributors consider the ramifications of both feast and famine in every aspect of their lives—from toilet paper to our most cherished relationships. Some of our writers celebrate the communion born out of baking a pie or watching a hummingbird eat. Others find fulfillment licking jelly from their hand on an abandoned alley couch. And then there is the metaphoric nourishment we often need: friends and neighbors coming together over a deck of cards; kids romping for hours with something as deceptively simple as a stick. Good meals, all of these. You will find great hunger in these pages as well: the craving for warmth, for connection, for control. Some of the voices in these pages are not yet aware that they are famished; others have deliberately chosen starvation and the sense of emptiness it provides. All have a great deal to say about what happens to both the lived and natural landscape during times of drought and times of plenty. Our visual artists also have much to say about this subject. The images in this issue reveal the ways in which we all crave stillness, connection, and perhaps most importantly, the strange attention that comes with looking at things twice or longer than usual. A painting of what appears to be empty beer cans reveals, upon closer scrutiny, a morning meal for yellow-jackets. What first appears to be a child’s scribble is, in fact, the daily perambulations of a dog looking for neighborhood booty. You’ll find plenty of other unexpected moments of gleaning here as well: the steady stream of bad and stupid news from the television transcribed by hand and worked into a translucent forest; the slain coyote made beautiful by a camera’s eye. There are dignified portraits of digital acquaintances: pictures taken in person with the solemnity and nuance that a more abiding friendship deserves. Spiders consumed by mold in the basement are magnified and made into constellations. In another case, even kohlrabi is given great gravitas. Looked at this way, hunger becomes curiosity, and food is all about. When it comes right down to it, life is that way. The best meal of your life may be waiting for you at an L.A. taco truck. Or it could be with the stranger gobbling trail mix next to you at the airport terminal. Maybe it’s catching that perfect wave on a snowy February day. Sustenance—not an energy bar or Happy Meal, but real, bone-gratifying nourishment—is rarely where we expect it and often found only when we dare to look. So, what feeds you?
—The Editors 5
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journal of creative sustainability
What is Creative Sustainability? Being willing to jump from the cliff of Mt. Status Quo with only ideas as wings and to land on the path of Renaissance through cottage industry. Josh Moody, Monroe Surf Company.
The Imperative of Creative Sustainability
Pay attention to the residents, past, present, and future. Remember that not every resident is visible or likable. Rocks count as residents. So do stories and sins. Dawn Potter
Creative sustainability is what it takes for each of us to be and stay fully alive. Elizabeth Banwell, Director of Program Development & Strategic Initiatives, Maine Association of Non-Profits
Creative sustainability is what a Turkey Vulture does when it goes to the local dump and fuels its life with our leftovers. Dr. Keith L. Bildstein, Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
I like to think that "creative sustainability" is not only an inevitable need, but a growing cultural desire. Westerners are turning away from McMansions, SUVs and Trump Towers. Take Aruba: It's a desert with no natural resources, yet people love it. When an entire island-nation can operate on desalinized water and wind-power, they prove to the world how sensibly people can live. The creative part makes it sexy. The sustainability part gives it meaning. Robert Isenberg
A definition of creative sustainability? Making something worth saving. Then saving it. Christopher Cokinos
Development of a sustainable relationship with the Earth and its natural resources is an imperative for our survival. There can be little doubt that a child born today faces the prospect of living in a vastly diminished world unless we are able to make significant adjustments in our use of natural resources and bring new sources of energy rapidly on line. We face the ultimate test of our adaptability as a species, and it is likely that we have little more than a decade to vigorously begin the transition towards sustainability lest the consequences be profound and irrevocable over a millennial time scale. Creativity must be embedded in this endeavor if it is to succeed. History shows us that our species will not rise to meet great challenges unless there is a force that speaks to our hearts. Our vision of a sustainable future must inspire, rather than burden, and to this extent it must have characteristics of fine art, great literature, or powerful music. It must build, rather than merely struggle to maintain. It must provide growth where decadence and decay hold sway. It must counter fear with a luminous path forward. It must provide brilliant, pragmatic hope when the future seems hopeless and devoid of options. Through this ineffable, creative component we can experience the true epic grandeur of sustainability. Through this we can reclaim the affective power of identity that connects all of us as obligate social primates to each other and to the Earth. Stephen Mulkey, president of
Throwing caution to the wind with the assurance that a turbine has your back. Betsy Gaines Quammen, president and founder, The Tributary Fund.
Interestingly, my dictionary (©1984) had yet to list the term "sustainability." So then, did that "ability" not yet exist? Or was there not yet the collective need to invoke? To speak it into existence? To nourish its occasion? To imagine it might endure? Marc Nieson
Formula for Creative Sustainability Creative Sustainability = attention + information + imagination (x) passion ÷ humor. Derive hope and round up. Repeat as necessary (which is to say, every day). Michael Branch
To be in a place of creativity is to be in a place of connectedness. We understand how we connect, with each other, the place we inhabit, and time. We understand that it is all here and now, and there is no possibility to pretend any one thing we do can go without consequence. To be in a place of creativity is to be in a place of respect, and then hope.
When the mind says it needs, answer by asking, "And if you can't have it? What then?"
New plastics, new clothes, unsustainably-produced food, the lights on
all night: we will survive; in fact, we will thrive without. Lions and tigers and polar bears: without them, what then? Creative sustainability is
learning to be clear about what we truly need so we don't have to face the horror of surviving without them.
Camille T. Dungy, author of Smith Blue and editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry
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Iced The last polar bear visited our town last night. It was burping up parts of Billy when Big John blew the top part of its head off with one shot from a Browning over and under. Bear landed on top of what was left of Billy. Nice kid. Too bad. Bear went right for the face. That’s what they do. Most of us asked what the bear was doing in town. It’s not like them to just drop in. We figured we hadn’t seen one in a while because we keep the garbage inside. Otherwise the moose have their way with it. Ed slaughtered the dead bear. “No sense letting it go to waste,” he said, and as an afterthought, “Billy would have wanted it that way.” From what I saw of what was left of Billy, he wouldn’t have wanted any part of any of it. Crazy thing about it is he was the one that liked the damned bears. He was always talking about their ice melting, how it was their ice, how they needed it to reach the seals. He’d talk about how we’re all in it together— Interconnected, he’d say. Well he sure was with that bear. Cole Caswell, Fallen
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Lizard on Broken Glass
Gary Paul Nabhan
San Juan’s Day: A Blessing of Rainwater For most of the year, desert rats are blessed By an absolute abundance of aridity A dryness fierce and ferocious enough to fend off Mildew on our walls and athlete’s foot fungi between our toes. But just a few times each year, we choose to take a break To welcome the rain, to show our empathy With those who chronically suffer from a scarcity of aridity And to grieve for all who have fallen into swamplands, cesspools, Kisstanks, seepholes and cienegas against their own will. Where we live and die, we love the highest and driest places Ones where lofty and austere spirits gather in the dust, But now and then we too can stand a little rain If only to remember how other half lives— That poor, soggy, mold-ridden mosquito-stricken other half Which has no desert to turn to even when, like a moisture-swollen sponge A little drying out might do them good.
I fly to Cancún to trick winter. Because my body aches for sunlight. Because I shiver, from the moment I throw my blanket aside to the moment I switch off the bedroom light. Winter seeps into the marrow. I need to surprise my soggy brain with an early spring. Bring me the salty air of a nearby ocean. Let me hear the sizzle of breeze through green leaves. We are a species that can cross a continent in a few hours, betray the world’s tilt. I am so eager for this, so exhausted by winter, that I vomit on the plane. Dawn breaks over the tarmac. I can see the sun burning the horizon. I rejoice – and then I fill two airsickness bags with my effluvium. This is nothing I ate. This is not sleep deprivation. This is purging. My body knows what’s to come, and it spews all its ire and tension, all winter’s regret and claustrophobia and fear, into one sturdy paper bag and then a second. The cabin fills with the stench of my winter. It smells remarkably like Tang.
The sliding doors split, and breeze breathes through me. My body sags through the passageway, my skin prickles with heat and moisture, and my feet scream for freedom from these shoes and socks. Lively scents steam off the green leaves, emanate from the grass. Even the chemical exhaust from cars has a welcome sweetness. Men saunter toward me, extend their arms, shout: “Taxi! Taxi!” Everything moves: defrosted, unslung, unhinged, a great gyroscope of plants and people, machines and mixed air-pressures, odors and moistures, everything on the go. At the bus stop, I perch on my backpack, rip off my heavy wool shirt and fleece vest, dig out a T-shirt. No one notices this, because being shirtless is a normal habit here, and I should know this, but every pore prickles with exhibitionism. My skin has hidden from the sun for four months. Now it reaches into me, burns through my closed eyelids, and I can even feel its gleam on the teeth of my smile.
Before I can switch on the rotating fan, I spot the cockroach. She is the color of dusty amber, and she’s suctioned to the wall. My hotel is not fancy. My room is a concrete box with a TV set. The shower spits only cold water. The toilet is slow to flush. So I’m unmoved by the cockroach. I expected her to loiter by the sink, or even to curl up inside my blanket. Why not? In this heat, she wants the same things I want: a little moisture, a little shade, some food. Even though a cockroach can live for weeks without a thing, this one is ambitious. Given that there is life to see – that insects thrive here, while all those back in Pittsburgh are dead or dormant – I cannot take her life, not in this season. I hike upstairs and find the communal kitchen, and I take a plastic cup from the dish-rack. I come back downstairs and jam the cup against the wall. The cockroach is stuck inside. I use my notebook to close the trap, and when I pull away, my visitor is only a shadow that crawls along the blue plastic. She is confused, but she is calm. And in a moment, she will be free. On the patio, I see Marleta slumped into a wicker chair. She
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waves to me and goes back to her soap opera. But when she sees the plastic cup, she looks up again and points. “Una amiga nueva,” I say. “La Cucaracha Poqueña.” Marleta does not speak English, and I know only little Spanish, so she raises an eyebrow, uncertain what I intend to do. I go to the edge of the patio, remove the notebook, and it only takes a moment for the cockroach to slide down, spreads its wings, and glide back down to the floor. Marleta smiles, shakes her head. She is a housekeeper in this hostel, and it is her business to fold sheets and wipe faucets. In her country, insects do not disappear for months at a time. They buzz and creep and crawl, day in, day out. Marleta may never miss them, because she’ll never feel their absence. They are only pests, always in the way. One dies, a million will replace it. Marleta turns back to her television. The freedom of a bug means nothing to her.
A dog stands on the corner. I watch him cross the street on his own – no collar, no leash, not so much as a stranger’s voice to guide him. He mans the sidewalk, and he doesn’t even flinch when a garbage truck growls past. His tongue rolls out, and he watches me. I’ve heard about dogs down here – where there isn’t much money for dogcatchers or animal shelters, no money for flea collars or special shampoos. Here, a stray dog is dirty and dangerous. They roam the streets in search of rubbish to pick through. When a dog emerges in an alleyway, no kind neighbor whistles and scratches its neck, studies its brass license and calls the emergency number. People don’t always waste the cash on neutering, spaying, regular vet visits, or inoculations either. Dogs roam free in the hot days and warm nights. When they stumble into other dogs, or a rat in the gutter, or something rabid and snarling – sometimes they fight. Sometimes they lose. You never know where they’ve been, but in Mexico you always assume the worst. This one looks healthy and groomed, but I can’t take any chances. A few paces from the dog, I cross the street. He watches me, panting, until I turn a corner and disappear behind a gate. I wonder where he’ll sleep tonight, what he’ll find for supper, what he risks by wandering another day.
journal of creative sustainability
In front of a wood shack, a fish hangs from a string. The fish is a wide medallion, the size and shape of a Frisbee, and it hangs face-up, because the string connects to its mouth. The fins flare out like dark green razors. Men stand around the fish, calling prices into the street. The men are burnished, and their olive shirts are unbuttoned, revealing bulbous bellies and arms like sausages. Cars and pickup trucks roll past, and passengers survey from their rolled-down windows. Nobody who loves the taste of seafood can ignore this particular fish. Its scales are dark and rich and the color of seaweed. As people drive past, the fish sketches their faces with hunger. Everybody wants a taste of its burnt skin. They want to feel that flaky meat melt within their mouths. They want to swallow salt and lemon. I am one of these people. I want to slice it into morsels and chew the wheaty meat. This catch should adorn my plate and no one else’s. And yet. I think about this fish, which is fresh, which means it was recently alive. Alive and swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. Those same fins paddled the fish through webs of sunlight. Those gills absorbed oxygen from the water. And then, sometime this morning, the fish bit the wrong food. There was no way the fish could know. One morsel is as tempting as another. The hook dug into lip, and the fish was dragged into forbidden air. The fish wheezed and flopped, but nothing could free it from the hook. Now the fish is dead, and it dangles from a nylon line, and its flesh tempts every stomach that passes. One moment you’re swimming, the next, you’re punctured by a hook and yanked into the sky.
In some places, they tell me, the sea turns seven colors. I can’t distinguish them – some are dark and some are light, but the men of Cancún tell me that there are seven colors, exactly. The tint changes with the setting sun, until everything merges into blackness, but still the colors are seven. When I ask about the Dark Spots, Mauricio explains that these are the deepest parts of the Gulf. “In some places, you can walk for miles and the water will only
come to here,” Mauricio explains, holding a hand to his sternum. “But if you step to your left or to your right, you will fall forever, because the bottom is so deep.” I don’t believe him, because I’m almost certain the Dark Spots are marine flora – great forests of kelp and seaweed. But I don’t live here, so I pretend to understand. “I had no idea,” I say, because maybe there are trenches that plummet miles into the sea, and the ridges are so dark that they turn the water black. What would Mauricio think of Pittsburgh’s three rivers? Would their colors impress him? Today, thousands of miles from here, they have frozen into millions of crystals. One of the few things I miss right now: standing on a bridge, studying those gray and silver triangles that fade into fog. A young waiter named Juan comes from Guadalajara, and he describes a river that runs past his family’s house. “The river is the color of the ocean,” he says. When I ask how come this turquoise shade, he shrugs his shoulders and says that there are many stories. When I ask him to tell me one, he selects his grandfather’s: there was a Great Battle, and one army built a wall of strange stone. When the walls were pummeled by artillery, they collapsed into the water, and their sediments stained the water bright blue. Juan shrugs again as a breeze flows past us on the dark balcony of a cocktail lounge. Even Juan does not believe Juan’s story, but I don’t bother to disbelieve it. War has done worse than dye a river. It wasn’t long ago that a good myth was worth more than a dull theory.
A creek of garbage riffles through the woods. This was once a shortcut, which was slowly beaten down by footsteps and became a walking path. Now there is only the water line of plastic jugs and glass bottles, tattered T-shirts, and spare socks. Everything is muddy, and the supermarket colors are dulled by sunlight. Visitors never see this: where rich tourists stay, the sidewalks sparkle like tile counters, the roads are dark and freshly paved, and not even a gum-wrapper blemishes the lawns and walkways. But here, far away from the all-inclusive resorts, is a regular barrio, where houses are small and hotels are cheap, and every crack
is stuffed with trash. The brick walls are lined with junk. Trees grow through skins of litter. Whatever can’t be used, patched up, or handed down gets tossed in roadside trenches or hurled into the woods. This is a place where men would chuckle at my suggestion of green recycling bins. Use that Pepsi can again? they puzzle. For what? Cancún is only 40 years old and, not so long ago, was a fishing village that nobody had ever heard of. But then the beaches were corralled and hotels began rising into the sky. Four-star restaurants sprang out of wetlands and brush. Legions of people scrambled here, and when the city emerged, the last thing on their minds was the land itself. Money and beaches. Sex and mojitos. Everything seems disposable. How could I blame those who believe as much? Aren’t I mimicking them, just by walking here, breathing their air, tossing my third water bottle in the trash? What am I going to do? Fly it back to the U.S. for a proper reincarnation? On a lonely road, which outlines the grounds of a not-yet-built hotel, a man staggers toward me. He is old, and his body is lopsided and fat. His yellow-and-blue swimsuit swishes along scarred, prickly legs. When he swallows the last of his beer, he flips the can into a bush, where it lands without a sound. We pass each other without a glance or word, and when I look for the can, I see it’s not the first: a tribe of them lie on the roadside, their gold aluminum too weathered to gleam.
I walk past clusters of strangers. Maybe they’re staying in the tall white hotel that looms over us. Maybe they’re intruders, like me. I zigzag among their tanning chairs, their glass tables and whole kingsize beds made up with sheets. I avoid the shade of their umbrellas and curtains, because I have not paid for them. Here, respite from the sun is rented. On the beach, I spy a mound that was once a sandcastle, but the waves have melted it down. The towers and walls have eroded, leaving only a hump of architecture. The sandcastle is no longer majestic; what remains is just a ruin, its grandeur sucked out with receding waves. “It was amazing,” says the Lawyer from Long Island. “You should’ve seen it. This little girl built it. She took forever. She looked real serious about it, too.”
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“What did it look like?” I ask. “You know, it looked just like one of those Mayan temples. Like, exactly like them.” The Lawyer stands up from his beach-chair, glances in either direction, and sees only gaggles of unfamiliar children in bright swimsuits. “I don’t see her. She was here a minute ago.” And isn’t this the way of things – humans build and sculpt and shape, revise and master and reveal. We roll monoliths over beds of logs, move them miles and miles, stack them into Great Pyramids. We vault our ceilings with divine arches, cut from quarries and set with wetted sand. We trick a river into turning a wheel, and burn black rock to smelt our ore. Biblically, our towers scrape the sky. And yet it all breaks apart at the seams. Everything rusts. Even the knowledge to rebuild is chewed to dust by the ants. No matter how wondrous the temple, the waves will keep coming. The gods can’t hold back the tide. Even the sacred will one day wash out to sea.
“You want sunglasses?” ask the men at the flea market. When I say no, they rub their noses and say, “You want the good stuff? Cocaine?” When I say no, they flash toothy smiles and lean in close and say, “You want a woman?” When I say no, they shrug their shoulders. Or if they’re feeling cheeky, they chuckle and say, “Un chico? Boys?” How long does it take for a man to forget where these offerings come from? When cocaine is no longer a leaf, cultivated in secret, harvested by workers forever glancing over their sweat-stained shoulders, because their crop could get them shot by Federales, or worse, when cocaine is purified in secret, reduced to its most useful alkaloid? Nobody cares how this is done: once cocaine becomes a mere powder – once it emerges in little plastic baggies and gets handed off like a magician’s coin – it has already been severed from the land. We may be able to imagine an orange hanging in its grove, but how many of us can picture a coca leaf? What does a coca leaf even look like? The same machine that flew me here, rescuing me from the cold, accelerates the traffic. We cheat time, leap over land, defy seasons. With jet engines, our vices spread farther and faster than seeds. I move as gingerly as I can, but I send a shockwave. Hustlers scurry to meet me halfway. And the girls? The boys? How casually these hawkers offer the sex of a young stranger, and it doesn’t matter where she comes from,
what brought him here, or the spelling of their real names. Money can trump the rites of attraction. These pesos in my pocket could break the rules of evolution: could color me handsome, could make them willing. These days, our species breeds according to income bracket.
Walking down the sidewalk, I skirt a rough plaster wall. The surface is bone-white and stubbled. I wouldn’t see the wall at all, except my eyes drift up, and there I spy a lizard that causes me to stop. His face is sharp and angled, like an arrowhead; his eyes black. The soft scales of his body inflate behind, and a single claw dangles over the side. Nothing divides us, the lizard and I, only dry air. Our heads adjust, swiveling side to side, as we watch each other. Neither of us is frightened of the other—or of anything else, for that matter. But the lizard astonishes me, for he lies on a bed of broken glass. In Mexico, walls are sometimes crowned with green shards to prevent trespassers from climbing over them. The jagged chunks are inserted and baked into the plaster. This is the poor man’s barbed wire. Only a fool would try to scale the wall, because his palms or knees or feet would press into the edges, the skin would break, and blood would dot the porous white. Yet this lizard lies on top of the glass. His belly balances on a dozen translucent knifepoints. He straddles la frontera – the border between one place and the next. Breathe too hard, and the lizard will gut himself. He risks his life to exist between two worlds, waiting to take a full breath.
I eat a burrito at the food-court as I wait for my flight. The airport is neither hot nor cold, like airports in the U.S., only plainly dry. There is nowhere to go. I don’t want to buy a poncho or postcards. From the windows, there is only the vast stretch of concrete, as colorless as winter. But I will take back a memento: the splotches of sunburn on my face and arms, maroon tattoos of heat and open sky. My baked skin turns white and curls up, flakes away, cascades to the floor. My forehead bubbles and bursts, leaks oily sweat. I will boast about these short-term wounds, these first-degree burns, because they can’t be earned in Pittsburgh in March. My body has cheated winter for a few days and now will return to its stasis, red and peeling in the subfreezing air, a molting lizard balanced on a narrow wall.
Meghan Brady, Blue + Black, Woodcut #1, reduction woodcut on paper 42" x 36
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The Buffalo Robe (an excerpt from a novel by the same name)
nside the ca bin was cold. Marcus noticed the cracks between the logs where the old mud had fallen away. Pelts were hung and spaced like portraits, and mounts jutted out from the walls: the elk whose antlers rose like bone fire; the antelope; the deer whose eyes were not blank, but full of that remarkable alertness for which they are known even in death. There was a moose head above the door, its lips parted, its spoons stretched wide like the wings of some strange and rebuking angel. The single room held a musty smell as if a century of men and dead beasts had marked the air for good. It also smelled of tobacco, which hung thick in the air and seemed strangely familiar to Marcus. Joby was perched on top of two folded blankets, heavy and woolen, and Marcus wished he could wrap one around himself to collect his warmth. The blankets gave her the added height to look across at him—down on him even—as she spoke tirelessly and seemingly without taking a breath. Her long braid, tight and even, reached down past her shoulders, and though he was certain upon entering that her hair was a smoky grey, it now took on a shade of blonde, perhaps from the sideways light that broke through the wall or the glow from the coals at their feet. The more she spoke, the younger she sounded. But maybe the change he perceived in her hair was the product of his own eager mind, always willing to believe that people such as Joby had mastered some craft that allowed them power over their own mortality, an abil-
ity to play with time like a soft piece of gold. Her eyes were marbled with a milky glaze that would have suggested blindness were it not for the trace of anger. It was an anger so potent that she did not seem to be looking at, but rather through, him as if he were some shard of glass that allowed her to witness the man at the center of her scorn. As she spoke, Marcus felt the temperature drop. Goosebumps rose on his skin, and he feared he would soon be frozen solid. Her voice crystallized, and her words—so full of a rising bitterness—brought Fidillar forth, not in flesh and bone, but in memory so thick, so pungent, Marcus believed he himself had known the man: the cut of his jaw, the pitch of his temper, the threatening calm he radiated like an approaching purple storm, the limp that made him walk faster—even stronger— through rooms and meadows. Suddenly Marcus possessed Joby’s memories, jumbled yet vivid: he saw Fidillar, in all his fullness, with his black cowboy, known only as JB, beside him. They rode into town on a wagon piled so high with fur it looked as if it had traveled from Gaul or Babylon. Both of the horses, each a paint and born wild, seemed as if they would break for the horizon if given the chance. Marcus tasted the gun metal on his tongue and smelled the gunpowder, the smoke from which surrounded the entire scene, infused in the men and the wagon, the furs, even the iron around the wheels that creaked as they rolled forward. Fidillar and JB wore great coats of fur, the
same as the load behind them, and by the size alone Marcus knew the hide was buffalo. The recognition was instant, familiar, as if the buffalo and the men who shot them had been a part of his childhood, a time during which he had grown accustomed to blood and warmth and the awful wheezing of an animal’s slow, ungraceful death. Joby interrupted his musings. “I hear you are going to the war in Korea. You might not come back. That is the truth of it, and I suppose the thought has already crossed your mind. Why you are going is your own business. War has a terrible call, and this is what you will find there: one man plucking another man’s eyes before the same can be done to him. There are those of us who could not resist that call—though we would be better for it if we had. But perhaps we were somehow destined to claw and scratch the eyes from one another. You will not be the same, of course, having done what you will have done and seen what you have seen. You cannot know how war will change you until you no longer remember what it was to sit with a quiet mind.
There are those of us who could not resist that call—though we would be better for it if we had. But perhaps we were somehow destined to claw and scratch the eyes from one another. “So let me say this now while you are young and uncorrupted and full of the requisite vigor. Before you go, I want you to do something for me that I have not been able to do myself in the last sixty-two years. Someone stole my buffalo robe all those years ago, an old one that belongs to my family—of which I am the last in line. Find it and bring it back to me. I can assure you that this robe has far greater value to me than to whoever hides it. Find this before you leave; I will not ask anyone else in the meantime, since you are clever and adept and, perhaps, innocent-
looking enough to gain an old man’s trust. I have kept an eye on you, and people have told me stories. Besides, I am not asking. I am presenting an opportunity, a chance to earn some good fortune before you go, and believe me: in war, luck is a valuable currency. What soldiers have returned after refusing an old woman’s errand? They are few, and they are forgotten. Before it is all said and done, you will want to have accomplished something of legitimate significance. War will not give you that. Do you understand?”
efore he could answer, Marcus heard the conversation—not between him and the old woman Joby, but the one occurring inside him, throughout the space of his chest where the words were spoken and circled about like falcons before descent: two voices carrying on like tired rivals come to terms. Two separate Marcuses—the one leaving soon for Korea, and the other, who had not known life without the shadow of his twin, Rory, who, both sick and sober, had slept beside Marcus every night he could remember. Rory: the same brother who refused to enlist, committing instead to the Mission Mountains or to Glacier Park—whichever had harsher weather—choosing land as always over men, and splitting the pair for the very first time. The two separate Marcuses considered Joby’s request, speaking to each other in quiet tones of immediate perception, talking to work the thing out as if the words, spoken or not, were enough to forge a permanent understanding. His name was Fidillar, said one Marcus. Can’t remember the last name. -She didn’t give a last name, said the other. Maybe she doesn’t remember. -She remembers all right: can’t forget him if she tried. And this Fidillar came to the Flathead with a black man and a wagon full of hides. . . -Robes, they’re called buffalo robes. Then he bought up some land. . . -Or swindled it somehow. From the locals . . . -From the Salish, according to Joby. To raise . . .
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-To resurrect, it sounds like. To resurrect the very animal he appears for years to have slaughtered. And he destroyed one family. . . -At least one. And set out to expand his land into its own territory with him as governor . . . -Or king. And his black companion acted as the sheriff who would, as Joby says, hand out his own justice in his own time, killing friends and family along the way . . . -Joby’s friends and family. And maybe our family, which is why she would tell us this now . . . -Because of the war. Because we are leaving and she wants us to find the buffalo skin . . . -The robe. The buffalo robe for her. But why us? -Because there is no one else. There are plenty of others. -But not Rory? Of course Rory! If she’s telling us, then she’s telling Rory. -Then why isn’t he here? She knows we’ll tell him. -Or she trusts we won’t.
arcus struggled to return to the other conversation, the one he alone was having with Joby. His thoughts were still in disagreement: This has nothing to do with war, or me, or the redemption she claims I’ll need. She wants a runner, an errand boy, to snoop and play detective because she’s too old or too afraid to do the searching herself. It was late afternoon still, and Marcus felt in his pocket the handwritten note from his stepfather Gale with the old woman’s address in chicken scratch. Marcus imagined his stepfather answering the call, the deep voice on the other end asking for Marcus as if the old woman had called on him once a week to take out her trash and sweep the porch of leaves. She had called while he and Rory were at the lake, swimming as always toward Wild Horse Island before Marcus turned around mid-way while Rory kept going since courage, unlike everything else, had not been split between them but taken outright
by Rory when he maneuvered to be the first born. Joby’s call was both foreign and familiar such that Marcus, wherever he was in the lake, could somehow hear the ringing of the phone—even as he swam under water, willing himself to open his eyes and look down into the abyss. Now, as he sat before her, Marcus could tell the woman was holding back, obscuring her reasons for calling as if her full disclosure was not possible, as if there were things she just could not say. That strange withholding, thought Marcus, that was a mystery greater than the disappearance of the robe. Over the years Marcus and his mother, and then Marcus and Rory, had spoken of Fidillar many times. The man’s legend still held sway, even from the grave. Marcus knew stories of other men who fought and stole and suffered: the fur trappers, the wayward cowboys, the outcast Indians—Salish and Blackfoot both— the Jesuits, and the timber barons (buying all the land around the lake as if owning everything else were not enough). But Fidillar eclipsed them all. Fidillar: the buffalo hunterturned-rancher who had made his name as a Civil War surgeon, stitching up the wounds of colonels and generals until he had gathered enough favors to have any post he desired. Those favors led him out west to the Indian Wars and eventually to the buffalo that he must have taken by the thousands. Fidillar: the very same man who, when he arrived at the Flathead Valley, not only swindled the Salish out of land, but convinced them somehow to help him build his fence and his house from the pines and mud of their ancestors. He spurred them on, teaching them to build a dwelling that could not be packed up and moved, but one that would stand for generations. Such was Fidillar’s strange power of persuasion. His was a house so like a fortress that after the attempts to take it ended each time in failure, the Salish and the Pend d'Oreille eventually left him alone (or so the story goes). The house, of course, is still standing—faded and vacant, empty as a canyon, and haunted not by the ghost of Fidillar, but by everyone else, including the buffalo whose thunderous stampede can still be heard in the middle of the day
but never under moonlight. Marcus had never heard the ghosts himself, but Rory claimed to, and that was enough for Marcus. As Marcus waited for Joby to continue, it was as if Fidillar himself had ascended there from the dark earth below, sifting through the floorboards in the thinnest of smoke only to reassemble at a dreary corner of the room. His image hunched slightly, bowing under some great insufferable burden—its face gaunt, its neck sharp. This image, with its dull eyes, appeared to have kept aging straight into death. It was as if someone of his stature did not accept the natural law, but fought it well beyond the grave, and the battle had taken
This has nothing to do with war, or me, or the redemption she claims I’ll need. She wants a runner, an errand boy, to snoop and play detective because she’s too old or too afraid to do the searching herself. from the specter both its bite and the venom, leaving it weak and shy, the once-charging bull neutered of all its power. As Joby spoke further, she drew forth Fidillar’s family as well. Eula: the wife and mother, fierce and rough of hand. Eula who did not back down, rising up with whiteknuckled fists as the last breath left her body. Her stubbornness was gone now, and Marcus could see a softness running through her, the laconic peace of a slow-moving stream. He wondered if Joby could see what he now saw: a father and mother, three children who appeared tethered to one another by some invisible rope tied around each of their waists. And if she saw them, what then? Would she change her mind for a moment and lend them her pity? Marcus could see them all, the five of them loosely bound as if at a railroad station, together yet headed for separate destinations. Although pity arrived first in his feelings, it faded quickly, replaced simply by a child’s
curiosity. Would Joby have some change of heart seeing that Fidillar and his family had lost all luster, or would watching them together only increase her anger? Marcus decided such a thing were not possible: black cannot get much blacker. “He was no hero,” the old woman continued. “I was not there, of course, but I have been told many times of his arrival: Fidillar’s strange adherence to courtesy; his clean shaven jaw, which then would have been more alarming than if you—at what, seventeen?—had a beard down past your knees. The quiet righteousness which had nothing to do with the Holy Ghost, but rather some strict moral code whose rules had their own logic, and contradiction was not some problem but rather a welcome course of action. “He grew up in the confines of a Michigan lighthouse. Why would such a man come so far west to raise buffalo, something that few— if any—had done? It is a mistake to call it ambition, for that would imply some desired goal with an end in mind, an ultimate position where an unequaled success had surpassed everyone’s expectations but the man himself. This was not ambition; this was a dangerous meddling with nature, an attempt to doublecross what had been thriving on its own since the very beginning. If to kill off the buffalo only to bring them back is not pure arrogance then what is? Tell me another instance where a man had, for some time at least, success at playing God.” The Bomb, thought Marcus, though he knew she meant something else, something less sinister yet equally troubling. “You are conjuring up those scientists and those far away men who, with a simple gesture, put so many to death.” She seemed to read his mind, and for a moment he worried that she could read everything: his mistrust of Salish women, his desire for a wound, the tension with his brother, and the question of Joby’s real sex. All the thoughts he presumed were his own were not. This should have been threatening—and it was— but there was also some comfort in having his thoughts known without explanation, an understanding that not even his brother could achieve, and it required no more effort than he
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journal of creative sustainability
was prepared to give. Yet he wondered, if she could read minds then how could someone living in the valley hide anything from her? And could he refuse someone who kept his secrets? Even in silence Joby drew him toward her, and once he stopped resisting, Marcus opened up completely to let her in. He still did not trust her, but that was another concern. He knew he could not withstand her, regardless of her intentions.
he continued to speak. “Those men with the bomb had armies at their command; they did not do such things themselves. It is easy to kill. How many have resurrected? You can see the problem with this. And yet that is just what he did. He brought them back. The buffalo. There were hardly ghosts of them when he arrived. Yes, we had skins and stories, even a lost-looking stray to tease us all with hope, but you could have asked anyone—medicine men included—and not one of them would have told you that the buffalo would return. My mother said that one of the reasons people respected and resented Fidillar was that he had done it all without any input from us. No Salish, no Blackfeet. No cattlemen or cowboys. No hunters. Just that black man, a marksman from the East who rarely spoke and shadowed his captain most everywhere: including, some have said, behind the bedroom door. “The day Fidillar arrived, everything changed. My mother said it was like waking up to find a mountain where there had been a prairie. One could not avoid his influence. I am sure there were those who thought he would fail. But then he and JB not only survived the first winter, but came through it with each of their animals healthy and a few calves to boot. It pains me to say this, but Fidillar was no ordinary man, driven and resourceful as the old mountain lion that never goes hungry. What made matters worse was that, the more folks wanted him to fail for all his single-minded defiance, the more the buffalo seemed to rally around him, obeying him in some strange, unnatural way as if he had bewitched them and, unlike Moses, all by his own hand. “Of course it was not enough to move here
and take the land and raise the buffalo in the shadow of the Salish, and especially near the Blackfeet, who do not take kindly to insult. And being an older man and not some buck without care for the future, he had to marry the youngest woman available—a girl, really— even though she had no intention to partner up with a man older than her father, no matter how much that father insisted. “It is no secret why Fidillar came for that daughter and not one of her sisters: the youngest could offer the most children, or in the case of miscarriage, could keep trying. He also needed the first seeds of his herd, which he did not have when he arrived. Eula’s father Taravel, himself with some Indian blood, had a scant few buffalo he had happened upon in the wild: an ignoble and meager group that he had tried in vain to double, a group that failed to captivate the most curious child. “And though he would have no sooner given away both his daughter and his animals, he could not pass up Fidillar’s offer: one quarter of his future herd, plus the bull of his choice after two years had passed. Fidillar guaranteed that Eula would be well cared for as long as she lived, as would her family, since Eula’s kin would be his kin. At the time of the offer, Taravel had an invalid wife, three daughters—two of whom would not marry until the end of their childbearing years—and a heap of debt. He must have loved his youngest more than he loved anything, since he agonized over that decision for a week and (as the story goes) wept when he agreed—wept right there like a woman, losing whatever pride he had left. “I did not see this, but my mother did. She was Taravel’s sister, the only one who had survived along with him through droughts and winters and bears and everything else this land could deal them. My mother scolded her brother, and they allowed her the spectacle: let her scream and shout while Fidillar put out a hand for his bride-to-be—only thirteen at the time, and him with grey in his hair like a man who had already lived a dozen lives more than anyone there—and then hoisted her up into the bed of the wagon sitting behind him and JB. “That’s when my mother stopped her tantrum, when she saw Fidillar’s strength. He lifted Eula with one curl of his arm as if
he were lifting a cat up onto his bed. That strength, though, did not worry her as much as the compassion for which he showed Eula. A man flashing kindness in his eyes could keep a woman, whatever age, for as long as he wanted.
No hunters. Just that black man, a marksman from the East who rarely spoke and shadowed his captain most everywhere: including, some have said, behind the bedroom door. "But he was too old. A man near the end of his life has no business creating a new one; children for such men are the unfortunate product of a slow-burning, long-dying lust that time itself cannot tame: the culmination of his knowledge and his endurance; more a testament to his strength and cunning than to the unyielding pride that love affords young fathers. A man that age had no business fathering children, no business at all. Too old really to be a husband as well, stealing the end of her youth from Eula as if there was no other man she could have had; draping everyone around him in a thick ambition that would have been bold even for a young man, an ambition that would not afford wife or child or friend to conjure separate desires or private hopes. “Seventy-five years already spent pursuing his indomitable goals, hiding his past as if it were too terrible, too incredible to share with those he did not trust (which was practically everyone) and still he pursued the buffalo, of which the most lame had a hundred times his nobility. He pursued them not like a wolf, not in the end, but like a sorcerer, dabbling in the dark for power beyond what man should possess. What happens to a man that makes him chase such things? After all, this was not some hard-scrabbled fur-trapper, not some mountain man brought up in animal skins, weaned on French and venison. Nor was he born out West hunting and farming and fending off the Souix. He was, after all, a soft-footed, light-
keeper’s son. He would have survived terrible storms and the monstrous winters one hears about in the North with its lakes like oceans. “But what made him vicious was his savage heart. Perhaps he watched too many ships run aground. Perhaps he saw so many men fall in the war that he no longer cared about the natural way of things, deciding rather that there was no natural way but the one man created amidst all the toil and nonsense. And yet one must ask why he would have spent nearly a decade hunting the animal he would hope to reclaim, the obvious (yet certainly incorrect) motive being that he meant to make amends. Incorrect because I can tell you for a fact that he never lifted a finger toward reconciliation; and if he did not lift a finger for man, then I am certain he did not for some beast.” She stopped for a moment to stir the fire. She had spoken so long without pause that Marcus realized he had not taken a breath. He felt submerged in a mountain lake so clear, even at its deepest point, that he could see the rocks on the bottom and the fish that grazed on their tops: underwater and looking skyward through the cold translucent shimmer with no fear in his heart for drowning, just a delicate concentration on the sun up above, as if the water made it safe to stare. He took a breath, finally, and filled his lungs with the smoky cabin air. As he did, the place took on an even deeper familiarity. He began to trust the old woman—though he had no reason to—as well as the cabin and the mounts on the walls. “Eula had her first child after a year. A daughter. No one knew about the labor except Fidillar and JB, who, as a pair, delivered each of her three children. My mother said she was always concerned that no woman was there to assist with the births, but Eula never lost a child to difficult labor or a botched delivery—not a single one. After the daughter came the son and then another daughter. She raised those children with little help, since Fidillar did not take kindly to having strangers in his house, and this included Eula’s mother who was only allowed to visit when Fidillar himself was home. But rather than drown in the work and loneliness of it all, Eula (still practically a child herself, remember) seemed to gather speed with each child until, by the time the last
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child was born, she was a force to be reckoned with: a locomotive running downhill with the weight and strength of three childbirths behind her. “No one really knows how Eula died. Some say, of course, that Fidillar killed her, but I find that unlikely. Others point to JB. What was known was that she was bedridden before she died, her body racked with an illness they could not diagnose. A mystery more troubling still occurred three weeks after Eula died, when Fidillar convinced my mother to marry him. She had a child not ten months later who did not survive the winter.”
He had no way with animals. All he felt was a hint of yearning when she mentioned the buffalo, yearning for what he could not say, but it tugged on him enough to notice and to remain. “So Fidillar was your stepfather?” asked Marcus. For all the conversations they had shared, Marcus’s mother had never mentioned Joby when telling stories about Fidillar, not in the same manner she did when they were gossiping about his children and grandchildren. Joby herself had no children, and naturally so, since rumor held that she had been born a boy all those years ago. As if such a thing required no more than a change in the weather and a decision to wear a dress over pants, he became a she—her birth name all but forgotten except to those who could remember and to those who were later told. And yet the very thing that made her strange to everyone else—the stubble on her jaw, the thick and powerful hands—did not bother Marcus in the slightest. He believed (or rather accepted) that a man’s soul does mostly what it pleases, the physical world be damned. If that means it no longer wants the life it was born into, if it wants to swap that life for another, then what was there to stop it? His mother convinced him of this, of the malleability of the soul, of how it could—and did—function unto itself.
“He was with my mother until he died,” continued Joby. “Still hoping, I imagine, to father a child who would take over his buffalo with the same maniacal attention. Why did she do it? Why did my mother take up with a man like that: a man her father’s age, a man rumored to have had a hand in her own niece’s death? I suppose you would think it was duty, and if not a duty, then a pure and simple selfishness, knowing that she and I, then a child of five or six, would be taken care of for years to come—and more if we were smart about it all. Perhaps it was neither duty nor selfishness, but coercion, swindled or seduced by promises she knew he would never keep. “All possible, of course, but it was none of these reasons. No, my mother took up with Fidillar for the simplest of motives: she loved him. In spite of herself she loved him. It pained her and it embarrassed her, yet she did love him. After all these years, I am convinced that it must have had something to do with the kindness she said she saw in his eyes. It is a kindness I did not trust, whether he had it in his eyes or not. And if he loved her in return, well, that is another matter, and one I will never know because the old man never said a kind word to me about her, not one. How she could love such a man is a complete mystery to me, but she did. I am certain. I hated her for it at times, but I knew she was sincere. For the first time since Marcus had been there, Joby stretched out her legs and rubbed her knees as if there were no flesh or tendons, just bone grinding on bone. She reached for the fire, and Marcus noticed her large hands with plump fingers. They reminded him of his stepfather’s: the rough hands of one who worked with cold instruments on metal or rock, the wrinkles around the knuckles stained by a permanent dirt that was years beyond clean. He wondered why the lost robe held such significance. Joby had at least two robes that he could see in her cabin; they were not that difficult to come by if she wanted to spend the money. This missing one had some meaning for her, certainly, but he doubted she would articulate it, saying instead that she wanted the robe because Fidillar had taken it from her, its rightful owner, or perhaps that it had meant something to him once, and Joby
in her anger intended to burn it and bury the ashes. Still there was a chance, a slim one, that she had made the whole story up just to get some company after all these years alone.
he reason didn’t matter to Marcus, and neither did the robe’s significance, not that day in the cabin. Chores were nothing new: he and Rory had done them all their lives, but he had never been so singularly approached as an individual to attempt something important without his brother. And why him and not Rory? Why him at all? He had no reputation for tracking or solving puzzles. He had no way with animals. All he felt was a hint of yearning when she mentioned the buffalo, yearning for what he could not say, but it tugged on him enough to notice and to remain. Then his mind wandered further, seeking the figures that had appeared in the cabin then vanished, the memory still vibrant in his mind: the clean-shaven patriarch and the young wife who could have been his granddaughter, the three children, grouped together as if inseparable. They were to Marcus somehow like family: distant relatives whose faraway lives were quickly imagined in a depth he could not explain, as if in another time he had grown up with them, the children especially, free for once of his twin. For a moment Marcus was filled with an impossible nostalgia and remembered, as adults do, not his youth as it happened, but how his mind had stored it: the days always longer, the sun glowing warmly on his back, protecting and watchful as it stove off the night. And though he had since decided—at least tentatively so—that he would agree to find her robe, if only to give the old woman some peace and to satisfy the hint of yearning, the children convinced him: compelled him in a way he could not articulate, not even with the feelings and visions a man uses to speak to himself. He was inexplicably lonesome for them, and whether they were significant to his finding the robe, he could not yet tell. He longed to spend time with them, to inhabit their youth as his own, watching Fidillar, their mad, old king of a father, try to raise a million buffalo. Marcus felt shame in his desire, embarrassment even. He was more afraid of war than he
would ever admit. And though he was not yet a soldier, he knew that choosing the past over the present was an indication of vulnerability, even cowardice. But he could not resist what he could not explain. He had always been that way—putting his hands on a thing in order to know it, even when it was not his. The idea of his legacy, whether she had used it as a ruse or not, carried some weight, especially since death resided in his thoughts recently: not so much of his deeds and would outlast him, but of his own end, hovering like a storm he could not outlast. What would he leave behind except a brother who always ran on ahead? There was always the possibility of heroic gestures in the coming war: saving a life, saving ten lives, saving the entire platoon. There was a greater chance for legacy in Korea than in Montana seeking out a robe. What could he find in two weeks, he wondered, and why should he spend his remaining time working so hard for a stranger? And yet he knew he would do it, irrational as it sounded: seeking a lost relic that may not exist at all, an artifact that was most likely no different than the robes she already had. It was not only the process of seeking itself—a pursuit for which he had no reputation—but also the motivation for the seeking, which had become an amalgam of temptation and selfishness. He would try to find it for a host of reasons—the least of which was a sense of duty owed to Joby. He would look for the robe and find it, and he would do it all by himself. And though it made no sense, finding the robe would mean something to those children of Fidillar, if only in his own mind. Not the children as adults or ghosts, but the children as children bound to one another whether that was their choice or not. It would mean something to them and possibly to him, Marcus, the one of two who had been summoned when both he and Rory were available. He would accept, and before she started speaking again, he told her. Her response was no different from her proposal: the half smile, the harmless snort, and the slightest nod like a blooming stalk of bear grass swaying in the breeze.
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Naming the Trees
journal of creative sustainability
We are naming the trees as we walk, or trying to name them—it is early spring, no help from leaves, though their shapes are etched on our minds, their branching veins, the space between, like my hand against your chest. Only the texture of bark: smooth or rough, riveted, peeling, or drawn with arching brows (skepticism, perhaps, at our naming), and their crowns: spreading or drooping, branches growing in whorls or alternately, needles in groups of three or five, or soft fronds of hemlock. Oak (white), maple (red), birch (silvery yellow) and the smell of wintergreen scratched open, thumbnail to damp wood. We name them because they tower over us, wave their myriad arms, largest living things we see and don’t see, here on the hills where they were logged, burned, where, we remember, they marched back anyway, across the ashen slopes, saplings cracking the rain-pocked earth, they split themselves in all directions, stretched against sky, breathing our breath. We are naming the trees that have grown the perimeters of the burnt-out factory where sky shouts through the windows on the wall left standing, the rest all ghosted and black, letters rubbed out from caving sides— a wood treatment plant, hidden behind the barbed wire’s curtain of climbing vines, its bittersweet, honeysuckle, nostalgic and invasive: what strangles the forest undoes this too, us, fenced in and overcome with sweet blossoms and berries and doomed as the gasping tree in bittersweet’s coil. We are naming, we are naming the trees before they walk away
because we are unlearning our forgetfulness, because this time we are trying the opposite and taking our time, and right now time loves us because we just made love, late this morning, slowly waking each other up, without speaking, yellow ribbons of light streaming in on our bodies, through branches through slats of the shades, and then we got up and went outside to name the trees: horse chestnuts in front lawns, magnolia, crab apple still budless, thinking pink. On the back of your hand, blue veins branch like trees, like roots seeking water, like the river that roils under the bridge we are walking over, somewhere farther along, where we could fish it, eat, not think toxic silt, PCBs carried downstream. Think: tree swallows in silver maples, water-loving. We press our hands against bark to print its pattern on our palms, across our lifelines, grooved skin and finger pads whorled to the center. I say your name, and you turn like a stalk toward the light. I love you. There is no good reason why any of this should be, which is why we hold it in our mouths, turning it over. Today we are naming the trees, calling them back to us. Shagbark hickory, tamarack, weeping willow and white pine. Sugar maple, we say, and it is on our tongues: Tap it now, in March, the ground a mash of snow and mud, sap rising from the roots, clear drop on the finger: small sweetness we taste because we know it’s there.
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
The giraffes are seasick—knobby legs wobble beneath their bellies. So am I. I pick through feces, finding the pits and seeds of what last fruit they ate.
Noah’s Wife: A Diary So I’ve started to gather seeds, stitch them into the hem of my robe. I choose a dozen flowers to hide in the cuff of my sleeve.
Rain: small craters in the dust like holes to plant the wheat in. Refreshing at first. At first, things will want to grow.
* * My ankles are black with mud. The sheep sink in to their knees, bleating. Cruel, to choose.
The beasts, obedient, file in. Who will save the olive and the barley? I hide a cherry stone beneath my tongue.
When the bears shambled in with burs in their coats, I secretly rejoiced. Last night I groomed them, plucked their coarse fur clean.
The raven sits on my shoulder. I feel his beak in my hair, and his feathers are oil. He follows me, my shadow the shadow of wings. I should have been left out there in the sheeting rain.
The clouds have dried and withered like my hands. Mountain peaks are islands, thrashed and bare. The water is so still: a bowl filled with sky.
Two snakes have bred. Their young slither about the floor. I think of the poppy seeds sewn into my right sleeve, a constellation shifting around my wrist.
The dove is a fool: it returns to this mess of wood and flesh. The raven went out first— seeds tucked in his smoke-black beak. He won’t return. He’ll fly until he’s through.
Cole Caswell, Molly
Cole Caswell, Canine Tracking: Centennial Beach #2
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
T h e G r e at
De bat e When it comes to toilet paper, my husband has a strict square-counting policy. He uses exactly four squares, folds them over after each wipe, and usually that’s enough. I don’t know why or how he manages to complete a thorough cleanup in this way, and I don’t really want to know badly enough to ask him for a demonstration or where I can find Square Counting 101: A How-to Guide. The other day while my husband shaved his face in the sink, I sat upon the pot (we have an open door policy). “When do you get off work today?” he asked. “Probably two-ish, but I also teach ballet tonight. What do you want for dinner?” “Whatever you want to cook for me. I’ll be at the gym until eight,” he said as he blotted his smooth neck with a washcloth, wiping away shaving cream remnants. I reached for the toilet tissue, wound the roll around my hand a couple of times, and tore my section off. He noticed my “wadding” technique. “Huh,” he said. “That’s a lot of toilet paper you’re using there.” It was almost as if, at that moment, he thought I would stop, unwad my TP and return a few squares to the roll. Peculiar, I thought, that anyone would be that concerned with toilet paper consumption, especially my husband, whose elephant trumpet noseblowing requires rolls of toilet paper present in the bathroom, bedroom, and office. The conversation that followed surprised me—
enough so, even, that the exact wording is lost in my mind. But I think that the main points of discussion went something like this: “Okay,” I said. “Are we conserving TP? I didn’t know I needed to ration.” “I just assumed you’d want to me to call you out when you’re being wasteful.” “Hmm. I guess I never thought of it like that.” I retorted as I pulled up my pants and stared for a moment at the mountain of tissue that looked like I had wadded up a white pillow case and dropped it in the potty. And then I began to think: maybe my husband is right. Maybe we should ration our TP. If everyone took toilet paper for granted, could a shortage ensue? And if a shortage arises, would we be forced to follow in our ancestors’ footsteps using leaves, animal pelts, or even stones to take care of our business? Most cultures eat and shake hands with the right hand because they “clean up”—or in the past have cleaned up—with the left. The first form of toilet paper—paper created specifically for derrière wiping— only dates back to fourteenth-century China, when emperors ordered paper in rectangular two-feet by three-feet stacked sheets. Around the same time, the French invented the bidet to clean potty parts without the use of paper. But in many countries things like bidets and toilet paper are still only accessible to rich people; the rest use their hands.
America’s germophobia would surely prevent this from happening—even in a modern world full of anti-bacterial soap and hand sanitizer. I’d even venture to say that some Americans would put TP before food or water in an emergency situation, based on a comparison between the size of a toilet tissue aisle and a bottled water aisle. In 1973, America even reached a peak TP crisis when Tonight Show host Johnny Carson jokingly made a comment about a toilet paper shortage: people panicked and hoarded TP, and thus caused a miniTP deficiency. Our ties to TP are long and deep. In the eighteenth-century, Americans began using the first kind of toilet paper: newspapers and magazines. The most popular choices for posterior paper were the Sears catalog and the Farmer’s Almanac, which even came with a hole specifically designed to hang in an outhouse. In 1857 Scott Paper Products invented rolled toilet paper, and over the years several producers have perfected the toilet paper we now see in our local stores. Today, our TP choices are endless: shelf upon shelf, row after row of white cylinders wrapped in plastic. We can get one roll or six rolls, twelve or twenty-four rolls, single-ply, two-ply, three-ply, four-ply. Quilted, cushioned, soft, ultra soft, aloe infused, regular, big, double, jumbo, ultra strong, scented and unscented rolls line shelves and compete through shiny blue, frosty pink, bright red, and summery yellow packaging to make their way into our carts. However, consumers rarely hang out in the TP aisle like they do in coffee or frozen pizza aisles, discussing the varieties like connoisseurs of fine wine. Can you imagine, though, if they did? “Have you ever tried Bare Bum’s Ultra Absorbent?” one customer might say to another. “No,” the other customer would respond, “but I really appreciate the bold, richness of Nature’s Blanket’s Pine Fresh Flushers.” Despite the hush-hush nature of toilet paper shopping, TP continues to play a fundamental role in the culture of the United States. Americans buy 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper each year, which equates to about 15 million trees that are pulped for our cleaning convince. And while toilet paper is certainly not the least expensive item we purchase at the grocery store, many of us don’t think much of its cost. We associate buying TP with buying gas: we have to have it, so we buy it and try not to get upset over the price. We are all aware of fuel tax. I was surprised, however, to learn toilet tissue is also taxed. In 1991, President Clinton taxed each roll of TP six cents. In more recent events, the “Water Protection and Reinvestment Act of 2009” has proposed a tax on “bottom wipe” at a manufacturer level, but as we know, what starts at the manufacture level will eventually trickle down to the consumer level. After some Internet browsing, I began to feel guilty about my greedy and selfish toilet paper utilization. Everyday 270,000 trees—approximately 1,837 acres or the equivalent of 2.2 Central Parks—are flushed down the toilet or tossed into the trash in the form of bathroom tissue. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC),
many US tissue suppliers, such as Charmin, rely on “virgin pulp,” or freshly cut trees, from North American forests. Kimberly-Clark, a leading supplier of tissue products, such as Kleenex, Viva, Scott, and Cottonelle, uses so few recycled resources for its grocery store brands that buying the “Naturals” line is like befriending a convicted felon because—although present at the crime scene and not willing to stop the crime—he wasn’t the trigger-man. For me, offering recycled content in one line of products doesn’t make up for the mass amount of other products that don’t provide any earth-friendly promises: especially if that tissue company has a policy of clear-cutting forests and destroying half a million acres of Canada’s old-growth boreal forest each year—that’s the equivalent of approximately a quarter of Yellowstone National Park. However, if I replaced one of my soft, fluffy rolls of virgin pulp toilet paper with a toilet paper (500 sheets) made from recycled paper products, I could potentially save 423,900 trees. But toilet paper consumption isn’t just ruining trees, says Richard Kujawski, a columnist for Living Green Magazine. TP, writes Kujawski, “is the greatest industrial cause of deforestation in the world, which causes more global warming pollution than all the combined emissions of cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, and ships.” In fact, bathroom tissue companies are “the third greatest industrial emitter of global warming pollution in industrialized countries (after the chemical and steel industries).” And to make matters worse, their CO2 emissions are projected to double by 2020. Is this enough to make us want to conserve? We all know the feeling that follows an emergency situation: when you reach the last square on the roll and still need more, so you resort to something else, like cotton balls or paper towels. More than once I’ve shuffled down my hallway, pants around my ankles in an awkward penguin waddle, into the kitchen, and back to the bathroom with napkins, finally able to finish what I started. A few times I’ve used the cardboard TP tube—not that I’d recommend it. One alternative might be adopting the French convention of the bidet. In many countries outside of the United States, bidets are common, but in the U.S. we see them only in expensive homes or lavish hotels. One year for my birthday, my husband and I and a group of friends went hiking in Zion National Park. Because of the special occasion, we sprung for a multiple-star hotel. Anyone lucky enough to witness our young group marvel over our luxurious room would surely have died of rapture watching us try and figure out how to use the bidet. We spent at least twenty minutes reading the instruction card and trying out different (what I called bidet-yoga) poses. Eventually we gave up and went with the second list of instructions on the card, “How to Use the Bidet to Wash Your Feet.” However, the bidet can decrease toilet paper use significantly. Dave Praeger, author of Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product, says that a consumer can purchase a home bidet attachment for as little as one-hundred dollars, and by the second year, the bidet pays for itself through the money the consumer saved by using a bidet instead of TP. Still, it seems far from ideal. Any woman
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Most cultures eat and shake hands with the right hand because they “clean up”—or in the past have cleaned up—with the left. who’s had to drip dry will tell you that a dry area is a happy area. A dry area makes the difference between feeling comfortable and feeling like you’ve peed your pants. In Japan, where bidet attachments are routine in many households, manufacturers sought to combat this problem by also equipping the attachment with a seat warming mechanism and a fan, which would dry potty parts without TP or a towel. But I don’t know that that would be enough to convince many American women. Women, in general, may find avoiding toilet paper pollution more difficult than men. After all, women tend to cause more TP waste because we use tissue for both number one and number two. One company in England, however, has come up with a way for women to get around using toilet tissue while at the same time embracing our Freudian penis envy. Called Whiz Freedom, this simple device, shaped very much like a funnel, allows women to pee standing up like a man. Although I doubt its efficiency, I’m nevertheless intrigued by the item as a conversation piece. Or, better yet, I’d like to see the look on my husband’s face when he catches me standing up to pee and I haven’t informed him of my new accessory. “I’m protecting the planet,” I’d say.
any eco-friendly and green-living activists offer up additional planetsaving advice. The simplest alternative is purchasing TP made completely from recycled paper. Sounds easy enough, but before most paper can be processed into toilet tissue it needs to be bleached to rid the paper of ink, which, when combined with paper fibers, creates toxic compounds, like dioxin and organochlorines. Dioxins are known to cause cancer, learning disorders, decreased immune response, and diabetes; moreover, those are only some of the health-related problems associated with dioxins. One way we can cut down on chemical pollutants leaking into the environment is by purchasing unbleached and chlorine-free TP. If we must use toilet paper, chlorine-free 100 percent recycled paper imposes the least amount of damage on our planet. An additional dilemma, however selfish, is comfort. My sensitive posterior doesn’t care that the TP I use is better for the environment, but it will take notice of a less cushiony-tushy tissue. In the end, I decided to strike a compromise. My recycled TP is not as soft as my old friend “Fluffy for Fanny,” but it doesn’t cause me pain either. I like to compare the two toilet tissues to Egyptian cotton sheets: I can’t really tell the difference between 300 thread count and 500 thread count. It took a while, though, for my husband to warm up to it. “Really?” he questioned as I let the package of eco-friendly toilet
paper thud atop the kitchen counter. “Yup. Since you pointed out my wasteful TP consumption, I decided we needed to make a change.” Still unsure, he shifted his eyes from me to the TP and back to me again. I cracked a smile. “Be happy I’m not asking you to wipe with your hand or a fabric wipe fashioned from old t-shirts or sheets.” He rolled his eyes, thinking I was joking. “No really,” I said. “I found a site specifically designed for mothers, and one mother describes her experience with using a ‘family cloth.’ It’s a fabric wipe. She said it changed the whole way her family lives.” “I’m sure it did,” my husband said, grining. “For weeks this lady pondered the benefits of using cloth instead of paper. She explains that her two children wore cloth diapers, so why after cloth should they switch to paper? She said at first she was appalled by the idea, and then, of course, washing all those used cloth wipes. But once again she claims the procedure is not much different than the one she employed to wash her kids’ cloth diapers.” According to this website, cloth users stack the wipes near the toilet and have receptacles nearby to house the used cloths until laundry day. Baking soda or vinegar water repels smells, which is what my mom used in my cloth diaper pail. My husband, who poops more than anyone I know, pretended to speculate about how he might join the movement. “Flannel! Sounds soft. What about terry-cloth? Oh! Better yet, velour! And velvet would be great!” Although I recognized his familiar sarcasm, I knew deep down he was excited about the idea of wiping with something even softer than TP. And so, we have declared the great TP debate open: are you a square counter or wad ’n wiper? I’m not sure I would change my lifetime-long wadding ways, but now I know the environmental harm my rump-refresher causes, from chemical pollutants used to process and bleach toilet paper to the sheer volume of virgin pulp that is used in TP production each year. And because of this, I’m also now willing to conserve. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll put my husband’s old tie-dyed t-shirts to good use.
Christine Collins, from The Keepers
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Introduction The following poems are from a series of what I’ve been calling historical fictions in verse, all of which center on the Chestnut Ridge region of southwestern Pennsylvania. More commonly known as “the Connellsville seam,” the ridge stretches alongside the Allegheny Mountains from Latrobe down to Uniontown, near the West Virginia border. When I was a child visiting there in the 1970s, I thought of it as The Land Where Nothing Has Ever Happened or Ever Will. But in truth, the region has, over a span of 250 years, undergone an extraordinary metamorphosis, shifting from dense wilderness to chaotic industrial hell before collapsing into the exhausted Rust Belt desolation I knew so well. As a gateway to the Mississippi, the Allegheny region was, for early travelers, a primary river and land route south into the Appalachians and north into Canada. Thus, it has long attracted wanderers, pioneers, missionaries, immigrants, and schemers, and its strategic importance made it a major battlefield during the French and Indian War. Young George Washington, who suffered a spectacular defeat there during the first battle of his career, returned to the ridge as an aging ex-president, hoping to recoup what he’d lost in unprofitable land speculation. In the 1840s, writing in his travel journal, Charles Dickens mused over the cabins he saw clinging to the hillsides, wondering who might live in this lovely, remote, alluring, mysterious place. And then Henry Clay Frick arrived. With him, came the business of steel. Humans have had an incalculable influence on every inch of our planet, but their impact on the Chestnut Ridge has been particularly brutal. The impetus behind the region’s rapid shift from frontier to furnace was coal—not the hard, relatively clean-burning anthracite coal of northeastern Pennsylvania and the western states but the smoky, soft, polluting, bituminous coal that was the fundamental ingredient in coke, the fuel of choice for making steel. The coal beneath Chestnut Ridge was key to the wealth not only of Frick, who controlled most of the area’s coking operations, but also of Andrew Carnegie, who built U.S. Steel on the back of Connellsville coke, and bankers such as Andrew Mellon and Charles Schwab who financed the steelguzzling propensities of transportation magnates such as the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Thomas Scott. Meanwhile, the coke ovens burned. The miners carried their lunch buckets down the shafts and into darkness. Children were born, and old men died. In Scottdale—my mother’s hometown, and also Frick’s, I whiled away the summer climbing hay bales and pitching stones into the crick all the while listening to my grandfather try to cough up the coal dust trapped in his lungs. Meanwhile, Frick’s coke ovens, cold and empty, crumbled into the roadside weeds. One might say that the land was reasserting its claim to itself. But I knew even then the scars—in stone, in flesh—would remain.
At night the Wolves and Owls of the Ohio Lands make a Great Noise, and the Forest abounds with Turkeys. To hunt these Curious Fowl, one must travel by Moonlight, approaching with Stealth
1744 Fr the Beaver-pelt The French-man payd 1 Bullit Whch the Shawnee-man Return
the Branchy Trees on which they roost. One commonly detects Four Score or more of these Slumbering Giants in a single Oak. Hitherto soundless, the Hunter now fires a Shot, and five Turkeys tumble from the Boughs. Wakened, their Brethren do not fail to Screech— forthwith, the Hunter stills his Anxious breath till they relapse into their customary Doze. Then again he shoots, and again falls Silent, and shoots again, to the end that all are Killed. At length his men gather the Corpses. Staggering beneath their Unexpected Weight, they bear them to the Canoe and, with weary Dispatch, proceed Down-river to the Fort. All the while, unseen among the shades, Owls consign their vasty Wailings to the Air. Twice or thrice, a Trembled Wing brushes a Paddler’s face, and he Flinches: for there is, in this Boat laden with Relics, a general Consensus of Fear: as if, adrift, a Phantom hath risen from the Slain beneath our Boots and now delivers to us a Message.
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journal of creative sustainability
1918 Mr. Bair was elected principal of the Scottdale schools. In 1881, after two years of work, He resigned and moved to Greensburg. For many years Mr. Fairchild, whose home is at Scottdale, Was a leader in the coal and coke industry. He never sought or accepted political favor
Instructions for Foreigners
1914 Eloquence is not required; we explain every word that you say. There is no charge to enter, merely a charge to stay. A nail in a hoof is worth two in a hand. Thoughts are like men in a boat. If a sentence is trapped on a sandbar, only its bones will float. As melodies flit, you should count them before you prepare to cry. For lack of a nail, your horse was shot. Burn the barn, and your eyes will dry.
For himself. The Honorable Abraham Lincoln Keister, of Scottdale, lived in an atmosphere Of righteousness. His earthly efforts were an inspiration. The remains of the late Mr. Wilson were interred Beside those of his forebears at Scottdale this afternoon. Admirers from every part of western Pa. Attended. When Mr. Kough outgrew the Scottdale gallery Of H. J. Springer, he went elsewhere and under better Artistic conditions developed a rare skill. He had few other hobbies. Mr. Zimmers is one of those all-around men. His tastes are of the wholesome out-of-door variety. He is devoted to motoring. Benjamin Harrison Willard Presides over the Grocers’ Protective Association. A staunch Republican, he supports his party’s principles Ardently. Domestic instincts: such is Mr. Willard, And Scottdale might surely be proud. He is also interested in the Boy Scouts. Mr. Hill removed to Scottdale and established The Model Laundry Co. He is an active Member of the Good Roads Club. Albert Keister Enjoys all of his faculties at their full powers. Frank V. Perry is first cousin of Commander Robert E. Peary, discoverer of the North Pole.
The Historian’s Wife Describes the Appalachian Plateau
1939 Imagine a massive dining-room table spread with a damask cloth whose starched folds are difficult to climb. Once this tableland was ironed smooth. Then up lurched Chestnut Ridge, unruly as a soup stain or a badly darned tear. In those days the sea came and went, and came and went. When the waters left, the table was the property of trees and humid swamps and ferns as grand as modern man though now he rules supreme. Then the sea rushed back, and with it sand; and again the waves fell back, again they streamed, spoiling the ferns, rotting the trees and their fruit. Meanwhile, time applied her bitter tinctures; the careless sea swept in her dustpans of silt. It was a vast tedium that contrived our future.
Scottdale may well congratulate herself Upon the acquisition of so energetic a citizen. Mr. Hardy organized and taught The Scottdale Narcissus Mandolin Band, Though it is doubtful whether his neighbors could give A satisfactory answer to the question here implied. 36
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journal of creative sustainability
Jennifer L. Case
Once Something Happened Here
Christine Collins, Coats
his afternoon I drov e out to the old resort without telling your grandmother. She would not have wanted me to drive, but I did anyway. I parked where the lodge had stood and opened the truck doors, let the air settle onto my legs, let the light slip below the line of the spruce, and did not awake until the mosquitoes began bothering my neck. I knew I had stayed too long, but still I did not rush to turn the ignition. I moved slowly, thought slowly, tried to think of something to tell your grandmother. I needn’t have worried. Now that I’ve returned, you are here. You do not know it, but your grandmother is happy. She peels the apples, and as you roll the dough, her shoulders soften. I have not seen her like this for quite some time. Even in the mornings when she returns from her walks to tell me about the squirrels and birds, something hangs about her. She pours a glass of water and sits at the kitchen table, complaining about her feet. I tell her not to walk so far if it bothers her feet, but she doesn’t listen. Your grandmother won’t tell you this, but we are thinking of moving. The Lutheran society has opened a new home near the lake—near the old mansions there. It’s brick with a rose garden that they bury in the winter. You should see them go on about it—two feet of dirt covering the tops of the plants, all wrapped in burlap. They have a gardener from the university come out and take care of it. Sometimes students. The day we visited we saw them working in their yellow jackets. We watched for a while through the window facing the lake. You can hear the waves from the rooms and the food there isn’t bad. It’s not like the one your uncle went to. Here, the walls are painted nice colors. The staff is cheerful. You lift the rolled dough from the counter and lay
it in the dish. You cut the excess from the edges, pull the scraps into thin pieces and drop them into your mouth like the jellied worms you ate when you were younger. It was beautiful, you say, and even though I’ve just come in, I know you are talking about the trip you took with your boyfriend. How you went up to the old place, showed him the few cabins still up there, the trees growing close to the posts and the leaves rotting the roof from the outside inward. I can imagine you taking him through the old paths, thickened now with bunchberry and beaked hazel, the wind bothering the aspen, that flutter of leaves. It felt so haunted, Grandma, but we loved it. And the wind! The whole world swayed! It was like something passing through. Air masses. Or spirits. I just seemed to belong there, you know? I couldn’t help but wish you’d never moved. You brush at your bangs with the back of your hand, leave flour on your forehead. Your grandmother pours the sugar onto the apples. She slowly measures the cinnamon and puts the spoon on the counter. I can see you revising your history—pretending you grew up there, came to visit us perhaps on weekends or for months at a time over the summer. Your grandmother can see it too. She’s smiling at you, moving the bracelet around her wrist, holding her lips together in tight lines. We sat on a log and watched the water for the longest time. You should have seen all the water spiders flitting across the surface. It was perfect. When you close your eyes your grandmother looks at me. She is thinking about your uncle, your father, and it’s as if you’ve given her a sharp rock—asked her to hold it. She has, because of you, but still it pricks her, leaves lines like scratches from thistle on the palms of her hands. I don’t know why your father showed you the place when he did last summer. After your uncle’s death. Or maybe I do know why. How quiet he was at
Hawk & Handsaw
the funeral, his mouth like your grandmother’s mouth now, his left foot shaking through the service. Your grandmother touched him on the knee but it did not stop. And then he left, taking you with him, to the old resort. The two of you spent three hours out there. Your grandmother was worried, though I think she knew where he went and why he went there. She kept making excuses, though: telling us how upset he had been when she told him. He was in Nebraska then, returning from California, the trailer full of grapes. Your father who always sounds different on the roads—in control—began talking nonsense. Something about the birds there hovering over the just-harvested corn fields. How they didn’t seem to move, but rather seemed suspended, a diorama of sorts or a mobile. How he knew something had happened and maybe that was it.
A bear, you tell us now these many years later. A bear came that night, out of the darkness. We were lying on the roof of the car, watching the stars, when it lumbered onto the paths by the campground. At the funeral, when, three hours later, you and your father finally returned, he looked drunk. For a moment I thought he was your uncle: your uncle after we moved from the resort to the city, after he left and then returned again to go to those meetings and collapse into bed. It scared me for a moment—the resemblance. I never thought the two looked alike: your father sharpboned and tan like your grandmother, your uncle more like me. But there he was, your father and also your uncle, closing the door of the truck and standing in the gravel as if he had completed something. And you, next to him, as if something had been found. Your face glowed and we could all see the way your heart was lifting. You, who’d always asked so many questions, about to ask so many more. And you are. You are asking more. You showed your boyfriend the place and now you won’t stop talking. The two of you camped at one of those state forest sites with just the few pull-in slots and the wooden outhouse. You say the two of you lay on the top of your boyfriend’s car and watched the stars. You say the sky pressed down like a blanket or lifted you up and you were suspended there. And then the trees rustled. Shadows moved in the dark night, and you liked the
journal of creative sustainability
shiftiness of it, the quiet. You’ve always liked those sorts of movies—the ones where animals leave scat in yards and hunters slip after them. Your grandmother was angry when I let you watch the one with the bear. You were young then— wouldn’t go anywhere without your blanket and liked hiding behind the back of the couch. I don’t remember why it was you couldn’t sleep, but I had the television on. You came out of your father’s old bedroom, climbed on my lap, watched the movie where the bear killed the cows. Your grandmother tried to turn it off before the farmers found them—all the cows in the grass, on their sides, stomachs missing as if a crane had taken a scoop from their sides. And then you wouldn’t sleep—not at our house or your own. You kept vigil you said, and who knows how you learned the word. You sat crosslegged on the bed waiting for the bears, not because you were scared but because you had something to say. A bear, you tell us now these many years later. A bear came that night, out of the darkness. We were lying on the roof of the car, watching the stars, when it lumbered onto the paths by the campground. It stood for the longest time by the entrance to the park, right in the middle of the road. Its eyes were so bright in the alder. Like embers. You laugh, recalling it, and tell us you laughed then, too. It just stood there, sniffing the air! And then Sean started pounding the roof of the car, as if that would scare it. But all the bear did was lie down in the road! It lay down in the road? Yes! Can you believe it? You smile wide enough to reveal the small scar by your lip, but still I can’t envision the bear lying down. As if it were a sort of dog, or as if it were watching you. I don’t know why you like to think that—the world always watching you, the birds and the air passing through the aspen intentionally blowing on the back of your neck. Your grandmother cuts in and asks if you had food at the campsite, out on the tables. Did you have bear canisters like they sell now, or did you bear-bag it? Oh, it wasn’t after anything, you say, as if that were obvious. This mysticism you’ve developed since you came back with your father. This sense that something belongs to you—wants to tell you stories. So you are asking, now, for stories. For stories your father won’t share, stories about bears. And it bothers your grandmother. The oven with the apple pies beeps and she opens the door, holding her face in the heat and her hand on her lower back. Syrup and apple bubble through the slits you’ve cut in the dough, and she almost drops the pie as she takes it out. She has put
the wrong oven mitt on her hand, the one with the worn thumb, so that heat from the tin burns through the cotton. Your grandmother, who doesn’t swear, does now. She tosses the pie onto the oven and drops the mitt onto the floor. You are surprised. You’ve stopped talking. You pick up the mitt and ask what’s wrong. How silly of me, she says, her thumb under water. I should have remembered. And now you are staring at me. Your eyes like your father’s when he was younger, when we first bought the resort. Open and expectant and maybe even scared. You hold the mitt, pull a loose thread near the cuff. Grandpa, you say, touching my arm. I don’t know why but I flinch. What can I do? There were always bears at the resort. Every spring they’d move south and east from the forests to the small cities, looking for food. They’d head near the landfill and paw through everyone’s garbage. They’d eat old bread, gnaw on used soup bones. They were shaggy then, hungry, it being spring. Sometimes the snow would have melted by then, but often it stayed in the shadows until June, and we’d find their paw prints on the north slopes of hills. Those on the outskirts of Duluth and Two Harbors hated it. They kept guns on their porches. Listened for barking dogs in the night. Usually the bears wouldn’t bother us, but sometimes there’d be an aggressive one. One that would move through the streets on garbage days, find the canisters lining the curb. It still happens today—we hear about them in the news, sometimes making it all the way down to St. Paul. But it happened more often then. If you were bored, all you’d have to do is go to the dump. Your father did all the time then, he and your uncle. Weekdays when there wasn’t much to do and no one was staying in the cabins, the two of them would take the truck to the dump. They’d park near the back, away from the highway and the lights on the building. They’d sit there silent, the truck off, until their breath came out in fog and they heard the rustling outside. And then they’d flick the headlights, like you would rabbits or deer. And there’d be the bears, climbing the landfill, pawing through garbage. I don’t know…boys that age need something to do. And? you say, the mitt still in your hands, your grandmother at the sink, her thumb under water. You are waiting for more. Where does it come from, this need for more? What makes you think there is more? I almost ask if your father took you there, to the landfill. Perhaps he drove there that day last year, after your uncle’s funeral. Perhaps he said something about bears,
something that makes you curious now, like a mosquito bite you can’t help scratching. You are grown and think the bear in the park had something to say to you, some message to pass on. You think it’s important or mystical, and perhaps it’s natural. You want some tie to this place, to the soil up there and the trees and the old cabins with their rotting roofs. Some bit of proof like the picture you found last summer—my father on the docks with the other ore punchers. His thin mustache, hunched shoulders, and the steam rising from the rail yards. It fascinated you: a history of people who weren’t always moving like your father. Ordinary people who’d come here and stayed.
our gr andmother r efuses to put ice on her thumb. She’s turned on the hot water, pressed the cap to the bottom of the drain, squirted soap into the sink. I’ll take care of the dishes, you say, but she doesn’t let you. She takes the rag and washes the sides of the knives. You grab a hand towel from the handle of the oven and rub the back of your calf with your left foot. You mention wanting to move back up there. You will be through with school soon and want to settle in the woods, in a cabin. I don’t remember what your boyfriend does, what he’s studying—if he could find work up here, or would even want to. All those condos they’re building on the shore, the large windows facing the lake and the blue paint made to look like it’s peeling. When we lived there, there was only one grocery store. Your father and uncle would drive down to get the week’s supplies. Visitors from Chicago hated the drive—35 mph around the bends, two lanes from Duluth to Grand Marais. Now it’s four lanes from St. Paul to Two Harbors. If you want, you get here in two hours, two more to the resort. Parking lots near the waterfalls fill with campers and RVs. Sometimes I think you’re your father, inside out. He, always moving around. You, wanting to stay put. But he loved that place once. He and your uncle. I know they did. Even towards the end, when your uncle started disappearing into the woods, leaving your father to skin the fish for the businessmen. Even then, when your father complained about the lack of windows, the scales cutting his fingers, the blade getting dull. He loved it. You could tell. Did you like the resort, Grandma? you ask. What did you do there? You wipe the last glass from dinner. The damp cloth squeaks as you stuff it inside and twist, so you twist it even harder. When you pull the towel out
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
it is wrinkled. You hold the glass up to the light and squint, peering through it. Which do you like more? The resort or this house here? Oh, I don’t know. She is drying her hands with the embroidered towel. She is staring at the near-empty feeder hanging on the other side of the window. New neighbors moved in next door with their dog and small kids. It annoys her, the yard: all those toys, the dirt dug near the fence. If I were you, I’d have wanted to stay at the resort. Your grandmother pulls out a new knife and cuts the pie. Steam rises from the slices. The knife moves smooth as a wake. Yes. I suppose.
here were more bears than usual that summer. Well, maybe not more bears. Just bigger bears. Or, rather, one bigger bear. Two hundred pounds heavier than all the others, it grew restless at the dump, began bothering people in town. It killed someone’s dog and broke a car window, becoming a big enough nuisance to get itself killed. Well before hunting season, the sheriff said we could destroy it. The bear was a pain. Your grandmother handled most of the visitors, but they all knew about it. So many evenings they asked where to find it—all those men coming up from the cities with their guns, rumbling down the dirt road and asking for cabins. Not the regulars—the men needing to get away—but a different sort. People who asked about sightings before asking about rent. Had we seen it around? Had it been through our dumpsters? Your uncle never wanted to tell them anything. He was seventeen then, your father twelve. Your grandmother had to cuff your uncle on the head when he lied: what bear?, he’d ask as the men stood there with their guns, the hunting jackets they bought in the Duluth on the way up. We didn’t know it then, but he wanted to kill the bear himself. He’d even discussed it with your father. Each day he took the fish carcasses from the fish house after your father had finished, slid them from the table into a bucket, called for the dog. He took the canoe deep into the lakes, portaging here and there, sliding into the muck and silence of it. We didn’t know until later, but he was leaving offerings in three downed trees, the insides of them eaten out by bacteria and fungi. He’d slop the fish carcasses into the empty caverns of the trunks, tell the dog to stay by the canoe. He’d watch the woods and the brush for signs of the bear, for paw prints and scratches on the bark. Two or three times a week he’d go to those three trees, filling
the bowls for the bear. Waiting, I suppose, for it to get accustomed to the free fish. When he led the visitors through the lakes, he never took them to that side, the north side. Instead, he kept them south and west, where the mosquitoes were worse. They’d come back sweaty, red-faced, and scratching. Quite the wilderness out there, they’d say as they swallowed your grandmother’s stew, sopping the broth with bread. I think they liked the chase of it. Your uncle did too. He liked taking them out there, away from his traps. The men saw moose every once in a while, especially near Brule Bay. They’d come back glowing like you, glowing with the story, the sighting, and perhaps they forgot enough about the bear. Seeing a moose satisfied the expense of the guns and orange jackets. Your grandmother doesn’t want to hear anymore. She has left the kitchen—has said she needs to shower before bed. You stare after her and it’s as if you want to apologize, but something stops you. You want to know more. You don’t understand why she’s silent— why we sometimes sit in the evenings on the porch, drinking hot toddies, watching the lights from barges on the lake.
Out on the porch, the stars are small tonight, cold. You have followed me softly, holding the door behind you until it clicks closed. You and your stories. I don’t know what else to give you. Your eyes are dark like your father’s, and in them I see the coat of that bear, glistening from the winter. Not dull like you would expect but that deep brown. You think we are moving somewhere, you and I, heading toward the end of some story. But again I tell you, I don’t know what to give you. Out on the porch, the stars are small tonight, cold. You have followed me softly, holding the door behind you until it clicks closed. You and your stories. Water whines through the pipes—your grandmother in the shower. She is pulling the shower cap over her hair, wetting the hand cloth. She has folded her nightgown on the lid of the toilet. She has opened the canister of cream for her face. She holds a hand beneath the faucet, waits for water to warm. She knows, even from there, what I am saying. And here you are—still young enough for oil to shine on your nose. You lean against the banister,
hold your face to the wind. My eyes water from the sting of it, but you do not squint. You brush leaves off of the plastic chairs. You sit down.
nce I found your father and uncle arguing. Your uncle had the canoe in the lake, the dog already at the bow, staring forwards, tail flapping. Your father wanted to go with, but your uncle wouldn’t let him, and when your uncle kicked off, your father threw stones. They hit the aluminum of the canoe, making tin-like rings. Your uncle didn’t even turn his head—just kept paddling— and when he had passed the bend, your father stopped throwing stones and instead began skipping them. Your father was always quiet. Even more so after your uncle’s troubles, but before as well. He’d skip the stones and skin the fish, play fetch with the dog and stand in doorways. I’d always find him spying. Your uncle would be off with the dog and the canoe, but your father would tramp through the woods and watch the businessmen fish on Sawbill. He’d finger the license plates of their cars, clean the headlights with the bottoms of his t-shirts. Maybe it started then—him always wanting to be going. Maybe not. It’s hard to say with these things. But that summer your father was extra quiet—always following your uncle around until your uncle had enough of it, furrowing his eyebrows as he skinned the fish. Your father would follow the guests, too. He’d watch them from behind trees as they fished, offer to take them to the best bays in the lakes. They put up with it—not like now. Now tourists want kayak tours on Lake Superior. They want dry sweatsuits and twelve-pound walleye. That summer your father befriended a boy from Des Moines. I can’t remember the boy’s name—he hadn’t been there before—but that year he came with his father. The boy was peculiar. Thick glasses. Always looking at the trees. He carried an old canvas backpack everywhere. We never knew what was in it. Your father tried to peek a lot—he’d poke a stick into the flap when the boy wasn’t looking. But the boy would spot him and move the backpack to his other hip. One day I took the two of them fishing at Echo Lake. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was one of your uncle’s spots. Your father wanted to go there, I remember. If I had known, I wouldn’t have gone there, but I didn’t know. We took the canoe, the boy in the middle, your father up front. The boy spent the whole time looking at the leaves in the trees; your father at the shore, the fallen trunks.
Near the north shore your father began to sit straighter. He slowed the canoe with a sweep-stroke, making it turn, and I remember yelling at him—something about the rocks in the lake there and the way the canoe bottom scraped against a boulder. We pulled to the bank near a point, one side shallow and the other deep and cool, and got out. We’d brought poles and a small tin of leeches. The boys were joking, pushing each other near the water. The kid from Des Moines took his backpack off, leaned it against a tree, and we settled into the fishing. But your father never really paid attention. I remember that well—he kept glancing at the brush and jumping at small noises. He’d always been that way. Observant, your grandmother said. Flighty, I always thought. We caught a smallmouth bass and a perch. The lake was calm, only small ripples. And then the boy shrieked—pointed to the bank, fifty yards west, where the bear stood. I remember how large it was, how ugly—its fur mottled looking, off-color, a raw patch on its side as if it had scratched itself too long on a tree. At first it rambled along the shore, slowly coming near us, but then it picked a scent and looked up. They don’t do that usually. I remember how odd it was—how slow— the look up, the shake, the lunge. It ran, though not fast like it could have. More drunk-looking than anything, slapping at the ground and clacking its teeth. A giant, shaggy thing, blustery in its lunging. But of course the boy screamed and ran toward the canoe. He shouldn’t have. You know that. But what did he know? So we followed him—your father and I. We jumped into the canoe, pushed off, paddled to the middle, fifty yards from the shore, and watched the bear make its way to where we’d been fishing. It lumbered to the water, opening its mouth in a throaty moan. It scooped the bass from the net in the water, sniffed at the boy’s backpack. The boy from the city was silent by then, shaking, his hands clamped to the gunwales of the canoe. Stop rocking, I told him, but he didn’t stop. And your father? Your father just watched, his head cocked to the side, as if he was smirking. And maybe he was. Because your uncle appeared then, out of the brush just behind the bear. Appeared with the gun he’d purchased the previous winter. His movements were smooth, soundless, and at first I didn’t recognize him—just saw a faint shadow, a seventeen-year-old in cut-offs, out of the corner of my eye. But when your uncle lifted the gun and aimed at the bear, your father stood and hollered. Not like the boy had screamed—scared and unseemly—but angry. An
Hawk & Handsaw
odd yell—a yell like buckshot in the fall and ducks taking off in torrents. Your uncle missed his shot. The bullet hit a stone, ricocheting into the brush. The bear stood on his haunches, moaned, and then ran to the west, back toward the forest. And this is what I remember most: the way your uncle glared at your father then, his face smooth as the sky with is shallow blues, his bangs slick against his forehead. It chilled me. The boy was still screaming, your father was still yelling, and the canoe rocked from side to side, letting in water. I tried to tell them all to calm down, to shut up, but they didn’t. The canoe rocked, the lake slipped in, and still your uncle and father glared at each other, their eyes like fishing line when you’ve just hooked a northern. Your uncle’s face turning pale and hard. It could have been funny, but only the boy noticed the missing backpack—the strap somehow looped around the bear’s shoulder when it lumbered away. It’s inconceivable, really. And I wish I had seen it. But instead, your father and I watched your uncle. He pointed the gun at the lake, pulled the trigger, let the bullet create a line of ripples nine feet from our canoe. And then he held the gun like a baseball bat, reared back, and swung at a tree.
won’t ask, but I would like to know what your father showed you there, after your uncle’s funeral. Did he take you out on the lakes or just point out the foundation of the old lodge, the few standing cabins? Did the two of you walk around the overgrown paths, pushing through the tamarack and bunchberry? What was your father like, back at the resort? Did he seem at home there? Did you watch him like you are watching me now? As if, any moment, I will open my hands, hand you a knife, a stone, a gun? Your grandmother is hiding. She’s in the kitchen, scrubbing the stove. The television drones from the living room and she keeps peeking out through the blinds, frowning. She opens the door and asks if we’re coming in, if we’re getting cold, but you say no. You should have brought a heavier coat. Your knees knock together and even though you slide your hands beneath your thighs I can see how they tremble. The day after we saw the bear, you tell me, we hiked along the trail. I led and Sean followed. Halfway through the hike, a storm came from the west and the wind picked up. The poplars bent so far that the leaves nearly touched the ground. It was so
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loud. I thought the sky was moaning. And then the rain came. We could hardly keep going with all the mud. We were sinking into the path and the rain kept pouring down our noses and cheeks. You pause and look toward the lake, toward the sky. I can imagine it—you standing there, hands spread, the rain dripping from the straps of your pack, your heart a part of the thunder. And when it stopped, Grandpa, and I saw that we were surrounded by snapped trees and broken twigs, it looked like there were bears everywhere—lurking inside old tree trunks, sleeping beneath the brush. Sean told me to slow down, but something drew me forward on that trail. Something was calling to me. And now you are lost in yourself. Bears, you whisper. Everywhere bears. And I remember how young you are. This is what happened. The boy bragged to his father about the bear taking his backpack and said nothing more. For two hours that evening, I yelled at your uncle. I took away his gun. But still your uncle left for the woods, searching for the bear. And when someone else killed it—some guy from Missouri who had it flown to Duluth to be stuffed—your uncle stayed in his room for a day. The bear is supposedly in some museum now—one of those historical society buildings, probably some old church. Your father mentioned it, at your uncle’s funeral. I’m not sure he’d ever gone, though, and I can’t remember the city. You are disappointed. You are sitting here with me looking out towards the lake. A barge moves to the north, its lights slow on the water. And I don’t know what to make of your disappointment—as if you expected this to be a tragedy. As if you wanted the bear you saw in the woods to be the same bear—to be your uncle, or your father, its black fur glinting in the moon. Maybe, then, it would walk up to your car and stare at you and your boyfriend—not eat your food but paw the fly of the tent, leave footprints on the gravel. Some sense that you are being watched. But it’s not a tragedy. Nothing happened. The bear took the backpack, some other hunter shot the bear, and the boy left, followed six months later by your uncle. Not because of the bear, though. Not because of the bear.
n New Year’s Eve of 2010, I found myself sitting at my kitchen table, simultaneously writing a letter in pencil to a friend deployed in Afghanistan and instant messaging on Facebook with a friend making a film in Jakarta. I woke up in 2011 thinking a lot about friendship and relationships as well as how we communicate with one another in the 21st century. On one hand, the letter has a tangibility that makes it seem more genuine and real; on the other hand, social networks provide an immediate way to be part of people’s lives all over the world. For the next couple of months, I started to analyze my use of Facebook and the “friends” I had accumulated in this online world. What I found were some people I hadn’t met in person, a few people I was no longer speaking to in “real life,” ex-lovers with new partners, ex-partners of friends, art dealers, curators and high school friends who I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. I began to wonder: Am I really friends with all these people? In February of that same year, I set out to find the answer using the only tool I know: photography. I decided to visit every one of my Facebook “friends” in their homes and make their formal portrait. To find the time and money for the project, I quit one of my jobs, started writing grants, and crowd fundraising. Not long after, “Are you really my friend? The Facebook Portrait Project” was born. In the last eight months, I have raised Hollander almost $20,000, completed over 100 portraits, photographed 163 Facebook “friends,” visited eleven states across the country and nearly fifty cities and towns. I have traveled by plane, train, subway, bus, car, bike, and on foot. I continue to be surprised by the number of people—especially (the real life) total strangers—who have opened their homes to me: sharing their lives, their stories, their food, their gardens, and their families while allowing my camera to document it. What started out as a personal documentary on friendship and environmental portraiture has turned into an exploration of American culture, relationships, generosity & compassion, family structure, community building, story telling, meal sharing, technology & travel in the 21st century, social networking, memory, and the history of the portrait. When embarking upon this project, I made a conscious decision to travel lightly and unobtrusively with only two cameras (a digital point & shoot and a film version) and a tripod. I also committed to shooting in each friend’s home with only available light. Once I’ve taken a portrait, I then process the film, scan it, and put it online as quickly as I can. Along the way, I have crawled on kitchen floors, played Legos and read books with children I just met, admired chickens and prize roosters, shared a bowl of gumbo in New Orleans (with a friend I hadn’t met in real life), toured the West Wing, and listened to stories of family tragedy and strength. I have also learned how people live and create home. One could argue that family portraits are cultural artifacts, telling a story about the lives of their subjects. I am taking that one step further by making the portraits in their homes, exploring the intimacy of an environment that also tells a story. The art of portraiture has its roots in aristocracy. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, commissioning an artist to create a portrait was an expensive, time-consuming, and formal process. This luxury therefore became symbolic of power and wealth. However, by the mid-19th century, technological advances made cameras more widely affordable, and with that, family portraits became a part of everyday life for many people. As it did, the formality of the portrait decreased. With the ease of camera phones and the evolution of photography, the portrait has become more widespread and increasingly casual. Social media changes that even further. Its convenience allows us to instantaneously communicate and to share a level of intimacy, both with those we know well and many we don’t know at all. The online environments we’ve created and the resulting reduction of human interaction has an impact on our relationships. We simultaneously live in a virtual social space online while physically inhabiting the space of our home in the real world. My project is an exploration of this duality.
Are You Really My Friend?
The Facebook Portrait Project
Tanja Hollander, Dinner with Karin and Barry, Auburn Maine
Tanja Hollander, Jona Frank with Shep, Santa Monica, California
Tanja Hollander, Colin Dusenbury with Simon the dog, Los Angeles, California
Tanja Hollander, June Fitzpatrick, Portland, Maine
Hawk & Handsaw
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weet Saturday. By noon you could almost feel it echoing off the cobblestones. The workday already done, and then no work all day tomorrow. Just fishmongers hosing down their stalls now, and hoarse voices hawking their last kilo of carrots. The chorus of shutters all creaking on their hinges, and each shopfront boarding up tight. Footsteps turning toward home. I cradled the fresh bread loaf I’d bought under my coat. It was still warm, and I could practically taste it already. Toward the far end of the square stood a handful of neighbors, their backs fanning out before the church wall. As I approached, the wind shifted, carrying their voices. "Nardi. Nardi?" said one. "Yes, Nardi. You know the family. Over near the landing. Furniture, I think." "What a pity. What a damned pity," said a third. "Nardi? Where does he live?" Upon the wall hung two sheets of white paper at an equal height, each edged in black, each with a small photograph at its top. One pictured the shoemaker's wife. Sixty-eight, said the notice. She had been ill for some time now, so no one seemed too surprised or concerned about her sheet of paper, though her mass would surely be well attended. The other sheet, however, bore the photograph of a little boy. His hair cut short and standing up on one side, an awkward thinness to his face made worse by a pair of eyeglasses much too large for that face. In the photograph he was squinting, as if the light were too strong for him. "Nardi. You know the one, don't you," Stefano was saying to me. "Huh?" I said. “The boy’s father. God, what’s his name. You know, he plays cards with us." There were perhaps thirty of us who played cards each Saturday evening. "The quiet one. Always sits at the corner table. Nardi. You'd know him if you saw him," said Stefano. I looked at Stefano—at his round eyes and great mustache, that blue hat of his, rolled up past the ears. Stefano's was an easy face to remember, I saw it most every day on the docks. I looked again at the photograph and the name printed beneath the photograph. A passing breeze pulled at its taped edges, the thin sheet of white trembling. Five years old, the paper read, our little Nico not born for this earth, his home now in the sky. Five years, I thought. My God, not even a first communion. By the time I arrived home, the kitchen table and children were all waiting. I placed the bread beside the bowl of olives, winked at my wife, and then we said grace. It was a good meal, like always, and afterwards I lingered with my cigarette and coffee, my wife already stacking dishes by the sink. The room smelled of garlic
and siesta. "A good meal," I said, brushing together some breadcrumbs. She nodded and gestured toward our daughter, whose cheek was all smeared with cake. I dipped my napkin into a water glass, yet before I could finish wiping her clean, she squirmed away. I watched her disappear into the next room. "Do you know anyone named Nardi," I asked. "Who?" said my wife, over running water. "Nardi." "Oh, yes. They run that store near the landing." "Isn’t that Baldi? Vittorio Baldi?" "I don’t think so," she said. "Why do you ask?" Her back was toward me, the afternoon sun through the window sitting on her shoulders, a halo around her head. I heard our children's voices trickling in from the next room. She doesn’t need to know, I thought. At least not yet. "Oh, just one of the men down at the port told me he owed him some money." "You and all your gambling friends," she said, pointing at me with a dishtowel in hand. "I spend more time talking to the Madonna about your souls than anything else." It's not really all that much, what we bet. In fact you never even see the money, just the scraps of paper we each keep in our pockets with all the numbers crossed out and rewritten, week to week. She knows this, of course. "But I will make you rich with my winnings," I said. She smiled — at first a smile that is hers and only hers, the smile of regrets, but then it turned into our smile. Our special smile. She walked out of the kitchen and I heard her send the children outside to play. I finished my cigarette and followed her into the bedroom, where we made love with the shutters wide open. Without even finishing the dishes.
She first a smile thatthat She smiled smiled——at at first a smile is thethe smile is hers hersand andonly onlyhers, hers, smile of it turned intointo of regrets, regrets,but butthen then it turned our smile.
After, I slept. And I dreamt I was an old man. Old and grey and walking with a stick. I followed some young child up this mountainside. And I was thinking, how nice, a mountain, because I had never seen one before. Still, the way was long and steep, the ground jagged, and everywhere the path choked by branches and thorns. Soon I fell behind, yet somehow the boy always remained within sight. I caught glimpses of his short pants or pale calves, the flickering soles of his shoes. When finally we reached the top, I looked out over the other side of the mountain and could see my village spread out far below. I could see the whole harbor, too: the exact post where I unloaded the boats, the street that led by our church, the roof tiles of my very house. I could even see tiny people inching across the square, some with armfuls of grocery bags, others cradling flowers. When I turned to show all this to the boy, however, he was gone. I awoke shivering, though the bedroom lay warm and quiet. Upon its far wall hung the faded portraits of our parents and grandparents, like always. Our wardrobe door still stood half open. The crack remained in the ceiling. Beside me, my wife stirred then nestled back among the pillows. A few strands of hair had fallen across her face, lifting up and down with each of her sleeping sighs. I brushed them back, noticing little lines at the corner of her eye, trying to remember if they were always there, and if not, remembering them now. I tiptoed over to the window and scanned the courtyard below for our children. I watched the different ways each of them ran, the boy and the girl, the way they held their hands out from their sides, the gentle slopes of their shoulders. "Come back to bed," said my wife. "Huh?" "Come to bed." I remained at the window. "They're really beautiful, you know?" She looked at me, and I saw a question in her eyes because she did not know what I was thinking. She did not know how lucky I felt. Nor how afraid. "Come back to bed.” "I shouldn't. It's time I head down."
Hawk & Handsaw
She stared, and I smiled, and then she smiled. Before I left, she brought me my scarf. At the corner tavern most of the men had already arrived, though none had gone to sit at the card tables. Instead, we milled around the bar — some drinking, some reading the newspaper, others just standing. There was talk about the football match tomorrow, which always made good talk, and talk about the general strike next Wednesday, which was all just talk. Mostly, there was talk about this Nardi boy. No one quite knew the whole story, but there were several versions going around, one just as good as the next. In the end, the exact details didn't much matter. The boy was dead, that’s all anyone really needed to know. Outside, it was already growing dark, the church bells ringing vespers. Finally, though without spoken decision, we all moved into the back room, took seats, and then the cards came out.
decided to stand by the old men's table for a while. They played their own game with five players and changing partners and a whole set of secret signals, which weren't something you asked about, but earned, slowly. Still, I began thinking that if only I could understand this game of theirs, then I would know all that these old men knew. Oh, I understood all the plays. It was a game like all games. You look at your cards, you plan, you remember what the other man throws and then, when the hand is over, you remember nothing. Each hand a new deal, after all. This much any man can understand if he watches and if he plays. But it wasn't just their game that felt beyond my grasp. I knew I’d pick up its rules, eventually. No, there was something else today, something hidden in the shifting pattern of the cards themselves. Something that could explain why one man was given good cards while the man next to him bad. Yet the more I watched the cards going round and round the table, the less sense it all made. I looked around the room at the white walls and all the men's coats on all the hooks and then at all the men themselves, and suddenly felt as if I didn't know any of them. The familiar sounds of shuffling decks and fists on table tops and Stefano dropping his peanut shells somewhere behind me, all drowned in a sea of voices and the distant cry of the espresso machine. I stood in that back room, which for me had always been like a chapel — each card placed directly before each man like the host, wine brought in by the blessed bartender glass by glass, incense of
journal of creative sustainability
Bones and the Beast on a Leash
Then, Then,IIsaw sawhim. him.He Hehad hadentered enteredthe theroom room silently, I guess a moment or two before silently, I guess a moment or two beforethe the sudden quiet lifted my head. sudden quiet lifted my head. cigarettes in the air. I stood in that room, and suddenly, I didn't know whether to pray or scream. Then, I saw him. He had entered the room silently, I guess a moment or two before the sudden quiet lifted my head. He started over toward the corner table, but then seeing there was no place to sit, he stopped, just standing there in the center of the room clutching his coat and hat, looking as if he might turn and leave, looking as if he might suddenly fall. Someone stood then, and offered him a chair. At first he shook his head, but when the offer was repeated he accepted, sitting down quickly. He folded his coat into his lap and slid the chair forward, its legs scraping against the floor. Nothing else moved—only eyes. And in that moment I finally recognized him: not so much remembered him, because he is exactly the kind of man one forgets, but recognized as the kind of man who might have a sickly boy at home but never let on. A quiet man. Since seeing the announcement, I'd imagined the child was sickly, for we all work hard and there is food enough on every man's table. Yes, now I was all the more certain it was a sick child, now that I'd seen his father’s face and its strange lost look of relief. Then, with every eye on him and in a voice I and perhaps everyone in that room was hearing for the first time, but in a voice decidedly clear and steady, the quiet man said, "Let's play." And in the next moment I too was received at another table in that smoke-filled room of ours, where we sat, holding up our palms, scanning the faces of our cards.
By Hannah Kreitzer
I was young when I starved
myself. It is difficult for me to put an age to that time in my life—I have never had a head for numbers, and the blank scars in my memory got wider when I didn’t feed the brain that held them. I’ve lost the numbers on years, but I have images that could build a vibrant timeline if I bothered to string them together. Saddam Hussein was being hanged as I sat in a hospital bed, watching blue-green numbers count my pulse down to 30 beats a minute. That television was my lens to the outside world, though I could rarely get my flickering brain to fix on the screen for long. While I sat in that hospital bed, a president died, and his funeral procession marched over and over the evening news. On a channel that only broadcasted in French, northern people with wide faces and thin eyes rode reindeer over the snow. Under the ripple of French narration, their voices were heavy and rough. Beneath that layer of static and translation, they were more real than the orchestrated funeral parade. In descending order, my reality went: the reindeer people, Hussein on his way to hanging, the crowds shuffling after a dead president, and me, counting down to 89 pounds, aching from days and days of sitting still. Starvation is a word with ugly echoes: third-world masses of potbellied children with flies in their sweat. It’s a hollow gnawing from the inside out, the stretching of skin over raw bones. Starvation is a scavenger, scrounging for the nourishment that anorexia won’t allow into your body. It gnaws down your bones for precious calcium, bores into your teeth and leaves rotting memorials. Starvation is a beast that chews you up on instinct. Anorexia is the girl at the end of the leash.
Anorexia sounds like a clean affliction—a dignified way of driving yourself to the edge with pure intentions and strict discipline. It has noble connotations of holy rites: fasting, selfdenial, service to a higher power. Some people call this being ED (eating disorder), but that is usually when they want to be rid of it (“ED is dead!”). For others it’s called Ana, a symmetrical name with a deified glow. If Ana is a goddess, she can’t be pinned into the neat parameters of a singular power. Ana has shades of Kali-fury and Gaia-love, Hestia-homebody and Hecate-crone. Her smile holds safety in its sharp edges. The name is not what matters to someone with anorexia, anyhow. The word doesn’t count so much as the proof of it claiming your body. It carves you into new terrain—high peaks of hipbones and shoulder-blades, ridged and gullied ribs, parched valleys of dry skin. It binds your brain into a kind of thinking that is dark, close, and narrow. Although the words might not matter to you, they will matter to doctors and families and people who determine diagnostic criteria. They will matter to the hospitals that are made to fix you, and then other words will become involved. For example, what happens in the hospital is not called “healing.” The process that you trudge through in groups and therapy sessions and mealtimes is called “treatment,” and it’s a good word for that kind of medicine—slapping a bandage over every symptom that dares to show its scars. This is surface-level stuff, sealing the deeper hurt underneath, where it has time to rot in on itself. Healing probably has a different definition for every person you could ask. Merriam-Webster asserts that it means “to make sound or whole.” It’s difficult to judge the threshold of healing in
Hawk & Handsaw
Anorexia sounds like a clean affliction— a dignified way of driving yourself to the edge with pure intentions and strict discipline. It has noble connotations of holy rites: fasting, self-denial, service to a higher power. yourself. Where is the point of “whole?” How do you know when a body and brain are sound again? Girls I knew in the hospitals got answers to those questions without wanting to ask them. Insurance companies weighed their healing in numbers—thereby driving deeper the notion that they were nothing but pounds on a scale. If you had reached a stable weight, you must be healed. I watched them go back out into the world with the promise of a relapse prowling at their edges. They were terrified, some of those girls, and I envied them. They were free to sink back into the safety of feeding themselves to starvation, and very few of us believed we had any other choice. You cannot become sound or whole until you crack the rules in your brain wide open. Healing is likely to go against the grain of your understanding, and it needs space to set down roots. Sometimes it is those roots that break your old patterns, finding the cracks in your barriers and growing the gaps apart. There were no easy starts to the cracks in my foundations: the near-failure of my heart brought me to the hospital; an overdose on my prescriptions brought me to the point of swearing off any chemical kind of medicine. But once those fractures had begun, the roots went after, and that is where I found my understanding of healing. I have always said that the hospitals fixed my body, but I did the rest. This is an easy statement to make, but it’s misleading in that it seems that healing was something I did. Healing was not a matter of action in my case. It was just waking up. I had always been aware of natural cycles in my landscape: in the weather, in the wider world. The months that I spent in hospitals were like layers of insulation around this awareness. I spent days
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upon days with tile and carpet and tar under my feet, watching weather through a window and time by the clock. The food that I consumed as part of my treatment was pre-packaged, sometimes pre-measured, and almost always mass-produced. It was administered like medication—my daily dose of peanut butter and Prozac. This food had no history, no part in the larger world. I was the end point of its journey, and though I was not able to read nutrition labels on the Styrofoam cups of milk, I had the pain and reassurance of at least knowing that this was an 8-ounce serving of a foodpyramid-approved nutritional staple. I knew all of the calorie counts anyway, and could torture myself with those sums if I chose—the only math I was ever good at—but there were plenty of other ways to fill days of confinement. It would do no good, I reasoned, to dwell on what was being forced into my body when I could be finding ways to secretly drive it off with exercise. So I snuck rounds of yoga before morning weigh-ins and evening meals, clenched my stomach muscles nonstop, shook my leg like an anxious tic, and curled into sit-ups till the skin wore off my spine and the backs of my t-shirts showed dull blooms of blood. Blood takes on a new light under hospital fluorescents. It’s alive in a way that schedules and walls can’t subdue under medical standards of what is clean and safe. I would stare at the blood on my shirts or the beads that welled up when I scratched my arms out of desperation, and I would be reminded without knowing what I was remembering. Blood is also one of the first things that starvation devours. There is an ugly word for it: amenorrhea, which Merriam-Webster explains as “abnormal absence or suppression of menses.” I would give it a plainer word: drought. The severing of your tie to deeper cycles. Moon-based rhythms burning up into the blatant daily pattern of sun. I did not miss my period. It felt so much cleaner to be bare of that. Bone dry. I also did not miss my breasts, and I never really had hips anyway. The sleek line of my profile was a prideful thing. When the bones added edges, they seemed to fit with the image I’d come to expect—to demand. Anything but a handful of angles and knobs was intolerable. In the dry, clean dust of my new landscape, I could only match in bleached-bare skeleton form.
When the bleeding came back, after my twoyear drought, it brought pain along with it. Sometimes that pain was subtle, almost comforting—a steady reminder of my body reclaiming its gender, biology collecting its tax. Sometimes it crippled me. There was one day when, for a few hours, I wondered if I was dying. Dying as a bleeding, life-giving woman felt much worse than dying as a brittle shell of skin and bones. It felt messy and loud and uncontrollable, which was how life was starting to feel now that I was learning to inhabit it without the definition of numbers and bones. I had lost my anchor of counting and rules: my new means of grounding would have to reflect the fact that I was living now. Surviving anorexia is a choice. It is surrender. It’s the forsaking of the work, the pride, the discipline that you served, and the safety they served you. Surviving means recognizing that the fight you are undertaking is a straight line in the wrong direction. There is a reason the work is so hard. There’s a reason that the pain never eases, but just gets quieter. To starve yourself is to strive against the way the whole world is moving, to pit yourself against the current that keeps life in its larger patterns. My defining of healing was to recognize my place in those patterns. That recognition began in the dirt. All of last summer, I gardened for my neighbors. For the most part, I was pulling weeds, day in and day out. I have always loved the feeling of bare dirt under my feet; now I found that I loved pulling weeds out by the roots, too. It was not a destructive impulse—I took very great care to trace down with my fingers to where the roots took hold, and gently tugged them out into the sunlight. Over all those hours, I became a much less cognizant creature. At the start of the day, my mind would start to kick into its usual chatter, but as time kept moving with the sunlight, I thought less and less, and felt more and more. I felt sun on my back and dirt on my skin and living juice spilling out of the plants in my hands. I didn’t put many words on that feeling, but if pressed I could give it one sentence: This is how I am supposed to be. With my feet in the dirt and those plants in my hand I was re-rooted. When I ate one of the growing things I had tended, I was reminded, and this time I knew what I was remembering: a reason I chose to survive. A sense of purpose and place.
The food I put into my body can still be framed in numbers—the calories and quantities can still be calculated if I so choose, but I choose otherwise. These days I find meaning in believing I’m not the end point of the food that keeps me alive. I am keeping up a deeper cycle, moving the energy of that food along in the wider connections of the world. Surrendering anorexia, I lost my purpose. In relearning roots, I found a new one. This reason for being holds strong because it serves something larger than myself—namely, living. I used to go through the motions of worship, but there was nothing at the center of my self-denial, self-discipline, self-hatred. In that constant struggle against what I was born to do (live), I lost my trust in the depth of my body and mind. Very slowly, I am choosing to reclaim that trust. My understanding of the world and my place in it is still a two-faced kind of contradiction, staring itself in the eye. On one side is the comfort of old patterns of pain. On the other is this new, strange learning of cyclical calm. The first looks forward, dead-ahead—tunnel vision or the predatory set of sight. But this newer, wider kind of seeing is stubborn. It rests steady on the periphery and grounds me. What makes it stronger, I think, is that I can see it in myself and also in the patterns of the wider world. I can see the interweaving of larger rhythms in the people, the landscape, the movement of seasons and plant life and learning. It erodes the isolation. I have not reached a balance yet. I’m not sure if I ever will, but I have come to believe that there are no static points—everything will always move on. So I tell my story of starving, but I can’t keep hold of it. It shows no understanding of larger patterns to keep one foot set in the past. There is no real clarity in any of this, and I don’t have a lasting answer. I am glad to be on speaking terms with starvation and other peripheral demons, because there is no depth without some kind of shadow. And, for now, I believe that healing is a good thing, and I would like to be a part of it. Instead of drawing the warmth of other people’s caring so deep into myself, I would like to reflect that hope. I would like to cast light on this pain, not to betray the people who still find their safety in Ana and her beast on a leash, but to show that something strong can come from loosening your grip. I would like to be part of redefining surrender.
Cole Caswell, Colonization: Specimen Â 018
Cole Caswell, Colonization: Specimen Â 005
Hawk & Handsaw
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As their diets changed. . .their teeth, no longer a primary weapon, changed shape, which ultimately led to the development of human speech. —Reay Tannahill, Food in History * We crossed mountains and plains, rivers and deserts, our knuckles raw for dragging them across so many millennia. It was finally time to settle down, maybe plant a little garden, balance our diet of wild mastodon with a few fruits and grains, some leafy vegetables. It was back then when our mouths changed. Our teeth no longer hung like sharp icicles behind our lips. We learned to grind back and forth on our molars. Our tongues became a different muscle, with a different shape, and when we sat down to dinner, new sounds floated out of our mouths— sounds that, with our newly evolved lips, we could recreate over and over. We called the new sounds syllables, and as they slid across our tongues, we created words. We celebrated our newly found gastrolinguistics as hominids tend to do: with food. Our souls hunger for communication. Our bodies hunger for food. When I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I hungered for sleep. Depression, the clinical kind, and its best buddy,
insomnia, kept me company, and we went walking together, sometimes late at night, or early in the morning: any time, that is, when everyone else was sleeping. Sometimes when we walked, it snowed. It rarely snows in Albuquerque, but when it does, it comes in the night, when you can sip darkness from the sky like wine—a little celebration with confetti. At the first sign of morning, though, the snow sinks back into the earth, soaking the dry desert beneath the city. I lived on Central Avenue, the skanky end of town, across the street from defunct, boarded-up buildings, strip joints, and neon bars (now closed). The skyline behind the low buildings was humped with dead volcanoes, ancient, impotent, caved in at the crater. But on one particular night, those spent volcanoes looked like tufts of meringue, and snow blanketed the street. The city was like a baby—sleeping—and I needed to be quiet so as not to wake it. I walked alone, unless you counted Ragman as another person, which most people did not. His nickname was given to him by the homed-ones because he had a fondness for suit ties, the kind worn by businessmen.
He tied them around his body, his legs, his arms, his waist, his head. Navy blue ties, red ties, Mickey Mouse ties, golf-tee ties, diamond print ties, silk, cotton, polyester ties, all up and down Ragman’s body. His skin was leathered, though he was still young; his hair bleached blonde, though his given name was Carlos; and he was skinny as a rock star in his tight, worn-out jeans. If there could be a rock star of the homeless, Ragman was it. People in town avoided him, to be sure, but it was 1988, before the paranoia of the masses (or more accurately, of the classes), and we spoke of Ragman with more gravity than disdain. We knew where he had grown up, where his parents lived (in the wealthy, hilly section of town), and we knew he had attended the University of New Mexico, the school he had never really left. It was hard to imagine him as the frat boy who stayed in town, his glory days already long behind him. And so we made him invisible, not because he seemed so Other, but because, there but for the grace of angels. So there he was that night, at the far end of the street, walking hand-in-hand with the same depressed insomnia that had
snagged me. He danced under the traffic light that went on changing, green to yellow to red, even though there were no cars, just snow reflecting the spectrum back into the night, the street all-aglow. This stopyield-and-go was his lightshow: he twirled, arms out to the side, face held skyward, neckties like ribbons unfurling around him. He didn’t dance like a homeless man ghosting the streets. He danced like Carlos, a man with a name. I watched all that color unfolding from the black and white end of the street, in the snow and shadowed buildings. After a while, I walked toward Ragman, and he kept twirling, stumbling, twirling. When I was close enough that he felt my eyes on him, he stopped as if he had never been dancing and walked away from me. “Hey,” I called out. He kept on. I followed. “Hey Ragman. Hey! Carlos!” I’d never spoken to him before, and he had no reason to turn and answer me, except that we were two people on an otherwise empty street at a god-awful time of morning. He turned. He came ticking toward me with the strange kicking way he walked. He held out his brown-bagged bottle of Mad Dog whiskey—the drink the town kids called “wimpy puppy,” just to piss Carlos off—and offered some to me. I declined. There was this violent silence between us and a fear that surprised me (mine of him, and his of me). But then, and for some reason I’ve never understood, that fear vanished like leaves falling all at once from a tree: swoosh, the naked branches standing stark. He tilted his head, an invitation for me to follow him. I would never have had the guts to follow him in daylight, but now
we walked together through the dark and the falling snow. Ragman was homeless, but everyone knew the place he called home: the couch behind the bookstore, between the dumpster and the wall. There was a fire pit by his couch, his own little heater, and the police and the bookstore workers ignored the ashes, extinguished the embers if they saw them glowing. We all hunger for warmth. “Got a smoke?” he asked, as we walked. I shook my head. “Tenacity,” he said. “What?” “Takes tenacity, not smoking. The days just pass. You can’t tie your shoes, nothing to look forward to.” “Well, I do, now and then. I smoke. But I never buy a pack.” He looked at me and laughed. “I got that,” he said. I had no idea what time it was, still dark, maybe toward dawn though, because the outline of those volcanoes looked like vellum now, a pinkish, transparent painting pressed against sky. “C’mon, around here,” Carlos said. We walked behind the bookstore to his open-air abode. He sat down on the couch, patted the wretched thing, asking me to have a seat and, homed little snot that I am, I remained standing. Carlos bent over the arm of the couch and brought out a few bulging grocery bags. He pulled out a crinkled up cigarette, lit it, and inhaled, and rummaged through the grocery bags with his other hand. He took out some slices of bread, a jar of Jiffy, a handful of little square packets of raspberry Smuckers, and a knife. He slathered the peanut butter on the bread,
and I couldn’t help staring at his hands— fingernails black, skin like burnt wood, his knuckles swirled like knots on pine. Then he handed me the jar and the loaf. “You make your own,” he said. “Come on, I won’t touch it. Just try it.” How long had it been since this man had dined with anyone? He hovered over me, waited for me to dip my knife into the Jiffy, and he smiled, an unpracticed smile. I slathered the peanut butter on thick, then I sat down on the soggy couch next to him and tore open a packet of Smuckers. I was frightened, and oddly okay with it. When I was done, he screwed the lid onto the Jiffy, then leaned back into the couch. We ate. We smacked our lips. We licked our fingers—you have to when you’re eating peanut butter and jelly. Snow fell on us, around us, and the sky faded to daylight. We sat there eating together. Occasionally, Carlos let out a little laugh, like a kid sharing a new toy. “Heh. Heh, heh.” I laughed along with him. “Heh. Heh heh.” I did my best imitation of Julia Child. Here we have a sandwich à beurre d’arachide. Oooo, delicious! And it was. __________ Their wits became sharper and their brains larger as they competed with the lion, hyena and sabre-toothed cat for food. After our mouths, the next to evolve were the eyes and heart. It was rough going there for a bit. Some among us still tore at raw meat and used our teeth as weapons,
* All section epigraphs, save for the last by Morris Goodman, are also from this work.
Hawk & Handsaw
while others of us sat there grinding away, somehow sure we had become more human than the rest. The more evolved among us often gathered into large groups, shared food, and practiced using teeth and tongue to form agreeable sounds, something we came to call language. On occasions when our newly found ability to communicate with reason failed us, we ended up being torn to bits by those whose tongues could not yet shape a thought into a word, a word into reason. This, too, was Ragman’s fate. By then, the snow had quit falling, and the season had turned to summer. Ragman and I had passed each other on the street several times, but that peanut butter sandwich turned out to be nobody’s savior. Ragman went to sleep one night, his Mad Dog curled next to him on the sofa. In the encroaching summer heat, some of the young male hominids in town discovered fire. They wanted to see if Ragman would burn. He did. The city held a ceremony for Ragman. The same people who had crossed the street to avoid him now brought suit ties from home and wrapped them around a tree on campus. Elementary school teachers brought their students. People, kids and adults alike, read poetry they’d composed about this man who looked, in retrospect, like a Maypole—some posthumous happiness in him that we invented to comfort ourselves after his passing. The community came together and made a little chapbook of Ragman tales. They stapled the binding. They sold it and gave the proceeds to a shelter Ragman loathed to stay in, half wild as he was. Since I’d never settled with a tribe in
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New Mexico, I eventually migrated across the country and ended up back in Colorado. Philopatric in reverse, I had not returned home to birth my own children, but rather, to help those who had birthed me pass on to the next world. My father met me at the bus station and we rode together back to the place where I was born. There were the ritual hugs, the kisses, the assessment of my latest hairstyle, my clothes—the general primate grooming that takes place in families. After that, there was food. Homemade bread, brownies, corn on the cob, potato salad, lemonade, baked beans, deviled eggs. “Eat,” Mom said. “Eat more,” every gesture meant to fill me with all the emotion she felt, but could not say. My father slapped the bloody flanks of a dead animal on the fire, and sweated in the Fourth of July heat. Then, with a floral apron wrapped around his barrel waist, he came smiling to the picnic table and set the meat out for us to devour. What I didn’t know, but now suspect that he understood, was that this would be his last July 4th, his last barbecue with his family, his last night of fireworks and late night conversation with loved ones. In his younger years, my father was not much of a talker, preferring grunts and occasional outbursts for most of his expression. But evolution takes place even in one lifetime. His tongue grew heavy with all the silence gathering in his mouth. Slowly, he began to tell stories. That evening, he told stories I’d never heard. Forty-some years of silence and still words can rise up from the husk of a man and spill into the world like milk: no crying over them, or the lost time they represent. He was a man who had never taken a
vacation that required flying on an airplane (a drive to the nearby mountains satisfied him). His overseas expeditions were mostly by ship, all part of his life in the military, a life he had never planned to live. He’d tried delivering milk, then selling shoes, then door-to-door vacuums (it was during the era when people opened their abodes to strangers carrying huge suitcases with appliances inside). But none of this work offered the steady income of war, and so he donned the Navy blues and went sailing. On the sea for several days and nights, his world changed. There was nothing so beautiful, he said, as navigating waters with no land in sight, the cradle of ocean wrapping around him and rocking him like a lullaby. But then, after so many days at sea, the island of Kwajalein, Japan came into view, and my father remembered his home, his origins. “That island sat there shining green in the grey ocean,” he recalled. As my father described the life there, his voice turned foreign—a poet was living inside this hunk of a man, this angry flesh. “So peaceful there.” He described a crescent strip of land that rose out of the ocean like the back of a dragon, green scales covering it, thick canopy of trees shimmering with night dew, catching the last rays of the sun, turning red, then orange, then saffron, then finally fading to grey. “The shallow sandbar around the atoll turned the water raspberry-popsicle-blue,” he said (did I know he had ever eaten a raspberry popsicle?). He said that on Kwajalein he could see the telltale imprint of human life, the way the palms of the trees cupped in a line, bending to the roads beneath, the wooden roof of a building rising here and there,
some geometry within the sway of natural chaos. “Next morning,” he said, “Nothing.” “What?” I asked. What do you mean?” “We’d razed it overnight. The island was barren. Not a living thing in sight.” He spent the next few months of his life clearing “the debris.” That night at the picnic table, as my father told his stories, the dew of the Kwajalein trees shone in his eyes. But he just kept on talking, never calling attention to the rivulets trickling down the valleys of his cheeks. After dinner, I turned on my computer and looked up Kwajalein. YouTube showed videos of the shelling my father was a part of, the aftermath of it, the cleanup. Soldiers walked among dead bodies. They sat with their backs to the woodpiles that were once buildings, their faces young and uncarved and shiny with sweat. They smoked cigarettes on the black and white screen. I was grateful I was not seeing this in living color. Any one of those soldiers could have been the man who had raised me: my father, first angry and quiet, and now gentle and old. Things evolve. As I fell asleep that night, I remembered a story my father had told me of his growing up. He used to tell it over and over again, each time with a smile. “We lived out on the great plains of Colorado.” “Not the Colorado you see in the picture postcards,” he would say, “but the part that looks like Nebraska because it almost is.” When he spoke, I imagined the flatness of the earth, the dry, windblown land, dustdevils rising up in swirls now and again, then settling back to earth. His family worked as ranch hands,
sleeping in the barn, eating what was given them. The charge for the males among the ranch hands was to break horses. There was no whispering involved. Instead, my grandfather and uncle used two-by-fours to beat them into submission. But my father was not about to beat horses. Not when he was five, not when he was ten, or even twenty. He knew this in his bones, he said, from the day he was born. He knew it was wrong. So his brother and father went out beating horses, and my father, who was not allowed in the house during the day (women’s work), was tethered to the clothesline out there on the plains. In the story he told over and again, he’d say, “Oh it was a good time. So much to discover, the insects, the birds, a whole world right there under that clothesline!” I was young and stupid enough to believe his joy. He said it with a smile, like he said everything else that didn’t make sense to me, as if every hardship was a joke. It made me angry. And I hated him for it.
he next December, my father missed our family Christmas celebration. He’d been hospitalized with complications from diabetes. By then, I’d had a few hardships myself. There was a gentleness between us, an understanding. We talked about my life and my life partner, Lisa. “Your relationship,” he said to me from his hospital bed, “I didn’t used to get it. I thought it was wrong.” He shook his head. “I want you to know I get it now. There’s so much love between you.” When the nurse asked him how many children he had, he held up four fingers to
show her, then took it all back and added one more. “Who did you forget?” the nurse asked. He pointed proudly to Lisa. Somewhere in the years I spent with him as he was dying, our story came full circle. As a child, I knew the man who had been tethered to the clothesline, a man bursting with anger and unable to express an emotion. As an adult, I saw in my father the child who refused to beat horses and who wept for a lost island. The two were one and the same human. Before he died, my father had one request: to go home and have a big meal. A feast, he called it. He gave me one hundred dollars and said, “Go shopping. Buy food for a feast!” When I tucked the money back into his shirt pocket, he looked at me blankly. “What the hell am I going to do with this where I’m going?” he asked. So I took the hundred and I hunted the aisles of the grocery and came home with a turkey, yams, cranberries, potatoes, green beans, pumpkins, wine, nuts, fruit, a feast! The dinner table looked like an autumn landscape—red, orange, burgundy, deep green—with steam rising from the colors like fog. The house smelled of sage and cinnamon. We—my mother, father, Lisa, my brother and sister—gathered around the table. Fire glowed at the center, candles flickering in tribute to the now defunct fire pit. We clinked glasses, and my father made a toast that has always seemed odd to me: “At least we have this dinner,” he said. As if there had been so many things before that had fallen short. As if we had spent most of our lives miscommunicating and fighting about small things. As if somehow our last months together were what mattered, and those months culminated in this single
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night, this feast. A few days later, my father took his last breath. Lisa and I were holding his hands when his gravelly lungs went quiet. Philopatrism: one word evolved from two, “love” and “father.” It had brought me home. __________
What self-preservation and the quest for food did during millions of years of evolution was to transform a particular family of apes into two-legged super-animals. Further evolutions confound us to this day. In the world of primates, both bonobos and chimps are so genetically close to us that many scientists contend we probably share the same genus (homo). But these same scientists are unsure why some homo sapiens seem to be more closely related to bonobos, while others appear to be part of the chimp lineage. When bonobos greet strangers, for instance, they break the ice with a little sexual healing. When conflict arises, they work it out by making love face-to-face, a rarity in the undomesticated animal kingdom. Among bonobos, same-sex love is even more common than in chimp culture, and females are the center of society. Chimps, on the other hand, often greet strangers by making war and defending territory. In a conflict, violence is almost inevitable. Same-clan murders occur regularly. Males dominate the social structure, and chimps rarely, if ever, make love face-to-face. One common denominator found in both bonobo and chimp, however, is the
journal of creative sustainability
love of food: the social nature of eating, the joy of sharing a simple meal. As omnivores, they forage all day long, munching delectables. But they tend to have a proper sit-down after a successful hunt, sharing their meal with everyone in the hunting party, and even with unknown bystanders. They celebrate food together. For whatever reason, breaking bread brings unlike minds and cultures together in a way treaties and settlements can’t. The winter after my father died, I found myself still in Colorado, walking early mornings through the streets of my hometown, vaguely hoping for another peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, a family feast, something, anything to fill me. By then, my mother had joined my father, and both their bodies had turned to dust. As they disintegrated back to earth, my remaining family exploded like an errant firework—sparks flying, confusion, embers of memory suspended, and then, complete darkness. In the midst of it all, my youngest brother (who has a form of autism) became homeless and, although I had the chance to take him in, I opted not to. Instead, I found him an apartment and offered to pay all but fifty dollars of his rent. But this was not his choice. And so, soft and gentle, intelligent and confused as he was, he ended up on the streets. When he did, I began having a recurring dream in which I had murdered someone. The first scene of the dream showed me standing before a bloodied body that had been pummeled beyond recognition. I was the killer. The biggest part of me wanted to confess, but I could not bear the pain my confession would cause my partner and those I loved. And so, selfishly, I took the body into a muddy swamp, dismembered
it, and buried it. As I write this, I can still smell the musty-wet scent of the mud, can feel the fleshy arms and legs as I wept and shivered and covered the man I had killed. Frightening as the dream was, it never woke me from sleep. Instead, it dropped vivid as a memory into my mind midday—so vivid that, in mid conversation with someone, my chest would cave, my heart would race, and I would grope for a place to sit down, literally gasping for air. For a few long minutes, I could not make sense of it. The dream felt as if I had lived it, as if this was some other side of me that had bloomed in the night (the werewolf myth, the dual mind of a serial killer) and somehow I had suppressed it. I thought I should see a psychologist to figure out the meaning of the dream, to make the recurrences stop. But it carried such emotional impact that I worried the psychologist, too, might think I had this shadow side that killed in the night and shrank back into my quiet bed by morning. I pictured myself confessing to some cold case, living the rest of my life incarcerated, convinced I had committed the ultimate crime. Guilt is an adaptation unique to humans, perhaps evolved over time to instill the virtue of uncertainty in the otherwise arrogant two-legged super animals. As the dream recurred, I thought of Carlos, of his family, of what sadnesses and situations had led them to let Carlos go, away from them forever. I imagined them driving by, seeing Ragman on Central Avenue, knowing he slept behind the bookstore where he eventually burned. I began searching regularly on the Internet for my brother. Nothing. No trace. I wondered what I would do if I found him. Take him a peanut butter sandwich? Sit with
him on a musty couch, surrounded by a torn construction-paper skyline of spent volcanoes lit by a saffron sunrise? Knowing that pre-dawn light doesn’t change a thing, even though it is there, every day, in all its beauty? Yes, I think that’s what I’d do. My brother, Tack, and I would sit and eat, and reminisce a little, maybe talk about our earliest shared memory: when my older brother, the one everyone admired, shot and killed a number of birds in the field behind our home. Tack and I collected the feathered corpses, made coffins for each, and the field transformed into a bumpy graveyard where song had once been. We could talk about that. Or the time when I first realized there may have been something off about my shy brother, when a kid down the street threw a football too hard and knocked the wind out of me. Tack, already man-sized in eighth grade, came at the kid, beat him to a pulp, and never showed an emotion. He punched the guy with the same thumpthump-thump that came out of him when he watched Jeopardy! and recited the answers before any contestant tapped the buzzer. When questioned about why he beat the guy, Tack shrugged: no words, no emotion. Here’s another thing I remember about Tack. He almost never joined the family for Thanksgiving dinner. Even as a child, he begged to be left out of the gathering. If he did join, he ate fast, then got up and left. Most times, he claimed to have other things to do (though he didn’t date, and he had only one friend, a guy no one had ever met.) Then one day I found out the truth: that he was ditching the family on Thanksgiving to go down to the homeless shelter and serve food. There but for the grace of the angels, and then the angels took flight.
I don’t know how many years he did this, or when he stopped doing it. I remember seeing, on his dresser, a small stack of letters thanking him for volunteering regularly. __________ The loss of the [wild] chimp and gorilla seems imminent. Moving chimps into the human genus might help us to realize our very great likeness, and therefore treasure more and treat humanely our closest relative. —Morris Goodman, Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, 2003 I strive for the Bonobo side of the animal that I am. Being human, I mostly fail. I think of Ragman, of my father, of the people who lived on the island of Kwajalein before my father and his ship arrived. I think of the horses my father refused to beat. I think of my homeless brother as I eat my warm meal in my brick house and I feel the angels brushing wings with the likes of me, a land animal who wants to believe in flight but is given to fits of gravity. On Thanksgiving, I feel my brother with me, and I know it’s a comfort I’ve devised for my own selfishness. I want to believe that gratefulness can heal me. I want to believe in Thanksgiving, that one day set aside for gratitude can bring people together in our nation. This is what Sarah Josepha Hale believed in 1863, when her 17 years of letter-writing to the White House finally made a difference, and Thanksgiving became a national holiday. It was not the pilgrims bursting the seams of their Puritan penguin suits that gave
us Thanksgiving, after all. No, it was Sarah Hale, who hounded first President Buchanan and then President Lincoln, begging them to set aside a day to celebrate “the power of food, women, and home.” Hale wasn’t the first to suggest such an idea—people had been proposing different versions of the holiday as early as Thomas Jefferson’s presidency—but Ms. Hale’s vision remained clear, even as Civil War scarred our land. In 1863, at the height of the war between states, President Lincoln finally acquiesced. And so on the fourth Thursday of every November, I sit with my family (no bloodrelations here; all choices made with the heart). We pass yams and stuffing and turkey and we celebrate every bite, every dollop, every sip of wine. We laugh and we light candles and we have a feast, because at least we have this dinner, this time together. That evening, I go to bed and feel satiated right down to the pores of my bones. The bed cradles me and I sleep curled next to the one I love, surrounded on the bed by five animals and so much gratitude. In the morning I wake to a world that pulses beauty in its sunrise veins, but whose little cells of people seem doomed to repeat rather than evolve. I am among them, the Déjà vu of centuries, millennia, the wars of eons, of gods, of islands blasted to barrenness. But the sunrise is still saffron, melting above solid mountains, and the beauty drips from the sky onto the human mess of us all. And after centuries, millennia, eons of eating—of stuffing my privileged self to the gills that I no longer have—I wake hungry, achingly starved to become more human: the beautiful animal in the core of me craving the evolution of it all.
Rafael Salas, Beer Cans (Clover), oil on canvas
Rafael Salas, Beer Cans (Wasps), oil on canvas
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Beautiful Girl, I Named Your Throat Gorget
Vampire Squid —vampyroteuthis infernalis or "the vampire squid from hell" To live so deep in water, distant relatives don't dare to find you. What solace. To move so slowly, flap fins, round like ping-pong paddles, no love lost for nickering dolphins high and diving at the surface (those leaping firecrackers: all show and comic with tricks). No.You illuminate the dark, spill light to confuse smooth sharks who invade your personal space. Those pebbled-eyed killers with reputations so sleek, movies and weeks are dedicated just to them. (But how cunning is a fish if it must move to breathe, even in sleep?) When predators approach, you stand your ground, stay still, back off only a ripple of gill.Your blue eyes—round, doll-like, seeming shocked, catatonic—fade in, fade out, mimic movement in time and depth. (You're a movie, the director and star.) Vampyroteuthis, your name sounds like whispered sneers, like playground bullying by schools of fish insecure in their fins, their missing filaments. How convenient to flip your skin inside then out, like a sheet on a line coughing in the wind. Then soft as a minnow's wake, you gather your apron of arms, hug and globe back into yourself, back into your world, your own secure bubble. Nothing can stake you. Round, whole, in this coffin of space. 66
he turned toward me from all the sweetness that she needed. Tiny whirlpools of downstroke and hover kept her up and stirred the flowers below. We looked at each other. I don’t know what she saw. Her throat—“gorget,” I said—flashed its burnished copper in the sun, the sometimes-seen sweet spot, brilliance, orangey verve, a fact. She turned to dip her beak to nectar and when she backed away from the hanging glass, her tongue was slender, silver and wet. She flew away. She would come back but never again just so, as pasty clouds came in to gray the afternoon. I saw her burnt throat only once. Beautiful girl, I named your throat gorget even though only male hummingbirds are said to have them—the more colorful necks, like shields in display, signals for mates, threats to rivals. When I saw you, a female rufous, hovering with that brief flash, gorgeous while you waited to gorge half your weight in sugar that day, I was mistaken. Why not, though? Why not let you have, instead of the clinical “throat patch,” your own gorget too? It sounds like the name for a forgotten kind of poem, and your feathers there look less like havoc, better for being less bold, though you are, no doubt, as fierce as a badger. If our skin had gorgets, they’d be right here (and this is where you touch your throat or someone else’s). So often sexy arcs, parabolas of want or need—want is just some faster need—the curves move when we drink or eat. What we take disappears in the mouth and the belly, but we see its hints in the up-and-down, the little ripples in the neck. If we had gorgets, they’d glimmer with every swallow. What color would they be? Enraptured, I have watched the tiny swallows of hummingbirds. Once, my partner Kathe and I knelt in the grass to nurse a broad-tailed hummingbird we’d freed from our cat’s jaws. Nowhere punctured, the bird was nonetheless limp with fear: like a veil with two eyes. Kathe ran to get a dropper and sugar water while I cupped it in my hands. Poor thing, poor thing, we pushed beads of nectar onto your beak. You opened and swallowed and in minutes your brain (said to be “smaller than a fingertip”) revved your wings and you zipped up from my palms into the storm-building late day, past the junipers and across Hollow Road. We stretched ourselves to look toward your escape, the cottonwoods yards away. Later, we’d see you hover at flower or feeder, that one nuclei in your brain like a gyroscope,
buzzing with its input (the whole seen world!) so you’d stay still in motion, hovering the gusts. Feeder. Flower. Fed. Feeding. Forlorn. Forever or close enough. Flash and dapple. We’re all famished. The moist slide, the next.
n Patagonia, Arizona, where that day I’d never again see the demure gorget of the female rufous hummingbird, I was afloat in a garden hammock. In the room where I dreamt that Kathe and I were flying, I learned that rufous hummers, three inches long and three grams heavy, migrate from the Rockies to Guerrero. Two-thousand miles, your heart beating, say, 50 times per second, your wings beating, say, 60 times per second. How many seconds are there across 2,000 miles? How many ephemeral trills? How many undulations among all the bones and forests? Fairy slabs of meat, everywhere we look—if we even do at all—we are enlaced with urgencies, habitual, ritual, predictable as orbits and paths. If some of us were hummingbirds, we’d flash our gorgets, defend our nectar, scape a continent, make our perfect nests. We’d fly. If we were rufous hummingbirds, we might fly in Dr. Warrick’s1 lab, wind-tunnel oil misting toward our wings, our bodies coated by diaphanous sheets of laser light, because he trains us to hover at the sweet syringe. He takes pictures of currents, caught on video, looking like sgraffito on metal, to see how it is this is done. Every other bird in the world is lifted by downstroke. But a quarter of a hummingbird’s flight derives from upstroke, a bit like bugs. Anyway, that’s all, a lot of trouble for him, that’s what he learns, that we’re lessons in convergent evolution, how circumstance can form different bodies to do the same thing. If you and I were rufous hummingbirds, we wouldn’t puzzle that. I guess we wouldn’t know. We’d just fly, famished, we’d gorge, gorgeous. We’d be dangerous and daunted, selasphorus and wary. We’d hover and turn. Would we see that you looked at us? Would we see that you liked to stare? 1
Douglas Warrick is a biophysicist who studies, among other subjects, the evolution of vertebrate flight. In 2005, he found great acclaim for his work studying the wing movements of a rufus hummingbird and their ability to hover for long stretches of time.
Avy Claire, For the Trees, installation: ink on mylar
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Michael P. Branch
Sticking with the Stick
he photograph of Curator Man that hit all the wire services and accompanied most of the online stories shows a tall, thin, well-groomed, friendly looking fellow (the kind of guy you’d actually call a “fellow”), with short hair, prominent ears, wire-rimmed glasses, and what looks like an expensive tie. In his hands he displays an elegantly framed item that in a few moments will become the most prized and celebrated treasure in his museum’s collections. Curator Man’s proud smile tells us that this is a big day for him. And what is the treasure behind the glass in the mahogany case? The stick. This stick is at once just any old stick and not at all just any old stick. It is the stick that on November 6, 2008 was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. As the second anniversary of the stick’s induction rolled around, I was reminded of this photo of proud Curator Man, who could not have anticipated the media circus his museum’s stick would provoke. When news of the stick’s induction was announced in a ceremony and accompanying press release, the stick story was picked up by hundreds of online news sites and blogs, and even featured prominently in the last sixty seconds of many local TV news programs, right in the slot where the sextuplets usually go— which proves that even sextuplets can have a bad media cycle. Journalists invariably skipped the obvious question, “Is there really a Museum of Play?” and went straight to the kind of penetrating reportage that helps a benighted public understand the complexities of so important an issue. “What can you do with a stick?” they wondered in print. “Who plays with sticks, and just how do they do it?” Since the stick doesn’t come with directions and doesn’t cost anything, they worried: how will Americans figure out how to use or value it? Not to be outdone, the tabloid sites asked what we really know about the panel of nineteen “so-called experts” whose deliberations resulted in its selection? In short, everyone demanded to know what’s so great about a stick. I’m intrigued by this famous stick for a number of reasons, not the least of which
is that I still can’t figure out if it is profound or absurd, or profoundly absurd, or absurdly profound. And there’s a little of the emperor’s clothes phenomenon going on here, I think. When I tell people about the celebrated stick, the reply is nearly always the same. “You’re shitting me. A stick? You mean a real stick? Like one you’d pick up off the ground?” There follows a long, uncertain pause. And then comes the grinning reply: “Hell, yeah, the stick. Greatest toy ever. Totally brilliant!” After proclaiming something “Totally brilliant!” it is difficult for people to turn back. But I do want to turn back, to ask whether the museum’s stick was nature masquerading as culture, or culture masquerading as nature. I want to return to the moment in which we had to decide for ourselves what to make of the idea that a stick, rather than being viewed as an object of play, needed to be displayed in a museum.
f Curator Man thought any of this was funny, he certainly didn’t let on. First, he pointed out that the selection panel of esteemed judges—intellectuals, artists, curators, poobahs of various stripes—had a very difficult decision to make. Not only that, but they adhered to a formally articulated set of explicit criteria when choosing a toy to join the vaunted ranks of already inducted classics like crayons, marbles, the Teddy Bear, and Mr. Potato Head. These rules mandated that a toy must: 1. possess icon status; 2. have longevity; 3. encourage discovery; and, 4. promote innovation. Curator Man went on to extol the many virtues and uses of the stick: “It can be a Wild West horse, a medieval knight’s sword, a boat on a stream or a slingshot,” he pointed out. “No snowman is complete without a couple of stick arms, and every campfire needs a stick for toasting marshmallows.” And I speak the gospel truth when I say that the media’s immoderate love of
Curator Man and his stick spawned a widely syndicated “news” article actually called “Notable Suggestions for How to Play with a Stick.” It is at this point that the stick story jumps the tracks and begins tearing through the weedy field of American popular culture, no longer under anyone’s spin control. In Rochester there was still a stick in a case on a wall, but the story of that stick had gone viral. The first wave of responses to the stick was uniformly positive. What we might call the “Good Old Stick!” crowd rushed to expand Curator Man’s already long list of noble uses for the stick, and they were mighty hard to argue with. I wasn’t so impressed that a javelin and a golf club may be considered sticks—finding one so dangerous and the other so dangerously boring as to have no use for either—but a fishing rod and a baseball bat were sticks of an entirely different sort, and it was painful to imagine life without them. And what about a conductor’s baton or a pair of drumsticks? The fretted neck of my guitar is a kind of stick, and even my harmonicas are little, ten-holed sticks. The more I thought about it, the more impossible life without stickplay seemed, and for a while I teetered on the brink of conversion. But then the intellectuals got involved, and before I could make up my mind about the stick all hell broke loose. First the developmental psychologists more or less said that kids would all be retarded without sticks, and some careless readers concluded by extrapolation that ADD, ADHD, OCD, LH, SLD, SLI, HDTV, THC, PCP, and LSD could Then, predictably, the closet luddites who might best be described as “old all be blamed on the condition of brutal stickwhite guys who recently learned how to use email” got involved in the debate, lessness to which “kids these days” had been so and they were so elated to see the triumph of the good old stick that they felt their unfairly subjected. Evolutionary biologists then lives fully vindicated. The excruciatingly detailed “When I was a boy. . .” stories asserted that it was the use of sticks that caused about sticks proliferated so quickly as to crash several servers, even as young IT humans to develop immense cerebral cortexes, guys scrambled to figure out how a lowly stick could have brought down their which apparently we needed to ensure that the networks. These old guy stick lovers were soon joined by the TV haters, who really sharp sticks would poke the saber-toothed didn’t care about sticks one way or the other but reckoned them better than what tiger and not our brother-in-law—that being they called the “mind numbing cancer” of television, never mind that they were the kind of “accident” that might halt activities sitting in front of glowing computer screens posting their views on blogs with leading to procreation and would surely have names like “Turned Off Moms.” been selected against by evolutionary pressures. At last, the very worst occurred. The environmentalists got hold of the story, The sociobiologists went even further, asserting and that was when the shit that was already hitting the fan started to stick. that the human affinity for sticks was evident in Although we environmentalists are the last to get news of any kind, once we our fort building behaviors, and in our innate get it and bend it to our own uses, we’ll never let go. According to these green desire to have pickets in front of our house when defenders, the stick is important not because it is iconic, or because it promotes somebody came over to kill and eat us. discovery or innovation—indeed, even the detail that sticks might actually be played with by children drops out of the story at this point—but rather because it is “ecofriendly,” “the ultimate disposable, biodegradable, versatile, multipurpose plaything.” These ecobloggers celebrated the stick as “sustainable, recyclable, and upcycleable.” One euphorically exclaimed that “You can even turn it into mulch when you’re done playing with it!” which for some reason made me imagine tearing a stick from my daughter’s little hands and jamming it into my wood chipper. I don’t want to rain on any parade that puts a humble stick in the lead float— after all, if Silly Putty and the Easy-Bake Oven can make the Hall of Fame, who am I to bitch about the stick having its day in the sun—but there’s something creepy about this whole business. As the viral contagion of the stick story spread, I found myself possessed by a desire to shake Curator Man and his army of zombie bloggers and yell, “Hey! Y’all are talking about a fucking stick!” But once the stick’s coronation was hijacked, what had once been a plaything was trans-
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
formed into Captain Ahab’s doubloon, Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter, Citizen Kane’s rosebud: not a window onto childhood play, but rather a mirror in which obsessed grownups saw only the reflection of their own faces. The stick’s induction had been distorted from a celebration of how kids play into an ideological skirmish into which adults brought their own values and anxieties. And at this point something in the stick story was lost forever. After all, isn’t the beauty of a kid playing with a stick precisely that it is never our stick but always already theirs, that their imaginative powers define its shape, name, and use? Somehow, it seemed to me, we pathetic grownups wanted to usurp the magic of the wand: to name and claim it, to wield it as a shield against time and tide. That’s the first thing that’s suspicious about this stick story. Who could be so pretentious as to think that a bunch of grownups—even worse, “expert” grownups— could possibly be capable of selecting toys for a Museum of Play? The real experts, who are obviously the kids, hadn’t been asked about any of this—including whether the idea of a Toy Hall of Fame makes any damned sense in the first place. And what about the fact that all the negative connotations of sticks were being glossed over by these disconcerting stick enthusiasts? The sordid etymology and usage of the word “stick” offer powerful reminders that the stick we might imagine as a medieval knight’s sword in fact has a double edge. What about “stick in the mud,” “stick it to them,” or “beat him with a stick”? What about the wonderfully imaginative denigration of a pretentious person as having “a stick up their ass,” or the fact that soft speaking is enabled only by the carrying of a “big stick”? How about the derogatory slang terms “dip stick,” “dumb stick,” “dick stick,” and “weak stick,” or “to give stick,” which means to disparage or criticize, or the suggestion that one “stick it” (either in their ear or elsewhere)? Or the unfortunate transformation of perfectly decent food like bread and cheese into sticks; or, conversely, the use of the stick to skewer and roast things like squirrels? And what about chopsticks, which Americans would starve if forced to eat with, or stick shift, which we often can’t drive, or the hair band Styx—which isn’t quite the same, I know, but still makes my point that for every two sticks lashed together to make a mast or rubbed together to make fire, two others are used to make nunchucks or a crossbow. For every bouncing pogo stick or stirring swizzle stick, every forked dowsing stick or sacred rain stick, some poor stick figure ends up swinging from the hangman’s gallows. For every burnished walking stick there is a cancerous fire stick, for every joy stick a night stick, for every prayer stick at least one stick of dynamite. Of course the stick lovers don’t tell you any of this. They’d also like you to forget the main thing sticks do, which is to “poke your eye out.” And even if a lot of things in life are “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” one thing that is not in fact better is actually being poked in the eye with a sharp stick. Indeed, the
same people who are now swooning nostalgically over their own stick-blessed childhoods are also yelling at their grandchildren to put down the goddamned stick before they put somebody’s eye out. Let’s face it, sticks are dangerous. And if you look at what kind of imaginative play the old guy stick lovers valorize, it is invariably martial. One blogger unironically opined that what he most missed about his lost youth was the nurturing imaginative play by which he “could pretend that a stick was a big bazooka.” And Bazooka Lover had plenty of company. The most treasured memories of childhood play reported by these bloggers featured the stick as rifle, shotgun, machine gun, sword, knife, spear, bow, arrow, harpoon, spear gun, blow gun, and even pipe bomb (good old pipe bomb!). One respondent enthusiastically described the good fun of attacking his siblings with a stick that he pretended was a “Borg prosthetic arm/gun.” Another waxed sentimental over the character building effects of a spirited round of “Dodge the Stick,” a game that, from what I could discern, basically amounts to throwing sticks as hard as you can at another guy’s head. But in addition to the Good Old Stick crowd valorizing the violent imaginative and literal uses of the stick, they were also smug. Here is a representative posting: “The toys we in the older generation grew up with, like the stick, fostered the imagination. Nowadays, children sit in front of a computer screen playing video games that teach them violence and disrespect. It’s no wonder kids these days are obese and ignorant.” Perhaps the targets of this abuse were already in front of their computer screens, but in any case it didn’t take them long to put down the Big Mac and Wiimote and give Gramps a piece of their mind. To their credit, the folks in this sec-
ond wave of responses to the stick’s ascension were more playful than those in the Good Old Stick faction. Some mocked the stickophilic sentimentalists with sarcastic remarks like this one: “The sticks we had when I was growing up were way better than the ones they have now.” Others used humor to fight back against the characterization of American youth as depraved because they play with computers instead of sticks. My favorite of these technophile backtalkers was the kid who wrote wryly, “I have an old Atari 2600 that I use as a makeshift stick.” Yet others used exaggeration to ridicule the violent pretensions of the Good Old Stick folks. “In a related story,” wrote one mockumentarian, “the National Child Toy Safety Commission has issued a recall on the stick, identifying it as the nation’s most dangerous toy. The Commission is now in negotiations with leading environmentalists, who make access to sticks easier every year.” One especially witty blogger imagined comments that might have been posted to Amazon.com by consumers who had heard of the stick’s new fame and then rushed out to buy one. One of these fake postings, from a Mom and stick purchaser, describes the trauma suffered by her son after he discovered the troubling indeterminacy of the stick’s meaning. She advises that parents “speak to the neighborhood kids in advance to reach a consensus as to what The Stick represents.” Another, posted by the wonderful “Grandpa Dan” (who, of course, writes from Florida), reads as follows: “The Stick will never be beat. And it’s a great bargain, too! The wife and I bought a single Stick, sawed it into five pieces, and now all our young grandchildren are having a grand time talking on their ‘cell phones.’” But the best was yet to come. The debate about the stick soon spawned a number of playful mock campaigns to have various other items inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. Among these nominees were the leaf, bubble wrap, the popsicle stick, the log, the egg carton, shadows, the pillow, the dildo, the shoebox, dirt, the snowball, and Pete Rose (after all, Rochester is only 174 miles from Cooperstown). But the mock campaign that gathered the most momentum was the one agitating for inclusion of the rock in the Toy Hall of Fame. First the rock advocates appropriated the discourse of racial justice to argue that the elevation of the stick over the rock was a clear case of bias, pointing out that sticks had received preferential treatment
for far too long. They also observed that “sticks and stones” had long been associated with one another—in various cultural contexts including the breaking of people’s bones—and it was thus unfair that the stick alone should receive recognition. And, of course, the rock folks gave hundreds of examples of the many wonderful ways in which rocks foster imaginative play. Taking a page from the battle plan of Bazooka Lover and his ilk, for example, they pointed out that a stick’s ability to be a gun is in no way superior to a rock’s ability to be a grenade. I found this hard to argue with. Finally, the rock people emphasized the precedent of the toy Pet Rock, which in the seventies swept the nation and made so much money for its creator that the guy became a millionaire overnight and at last achieved his lifelong dream: to own a bar in Los Gatos, California.
The persuasiveness of the rock campaign caused me to wonder not only about sticks and stones, but about all the toys that have been inducted into and rejected from the National Toy Hall of Fame. As it turns out, debate has surrounded these selections from the very beginning. For example, when the inaugural class of 1998 included Barbie but not Ken, a group of college students complained of sexual discrimination, adding that even if Ken is gay he still deserves equal billing with his female counterpart—who, they also pointed out, is insipid, emaciated, nippleless, and has poor taste in purses and terrible gay-dar. Some Marxist critics declared that the induction of “Radio Flyer wagon,” “Duncan Yo-Yo,” and “Crayola crayon” constituted the baldest form of product placement advertising. Wouldn’t “wagon” or “crayon” have been good enough, or was the Hall of Fame taking kickbacks from these companies? When Monopoly was the only board game included in that first class, the aficionados of everything from Candy Land to Parcheesi to Backgammon went wild—not to mention the evangelical Scrabbleites, who had plenty of choice words for the Hall of Fame after their snubbery (if that’s even a word). Most interesting in this annual debate surrounding the choice of inductees is the adult baggage displaced onto and projected through these bizarre skirmishes over toys. So while the Ken doll faction was clearly in it for the laughs, the Raggedy Ann fans—who actually call themselves “Raggedy Fans,” and who in many ways disturbingly resemble a cult—were in genuine fits from the beginning. It wasn’t so much that Raggedy Ann, whose oftrecited pedigree dates to 1915, was rejected—it was the fact that that mindless whore Barbie had been inducted with the very first class. The Raggedy Fans took to the warpath, and for four long years endured repeated defeats
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
until, at last, in 2002, came the “magical moment” (their words) when Raggedy Ann became the 26th toy to join the ranks. During those four years the Ann cultists collected more than 8,000 petitions, but still had to endure the humiliation of having been outgunned by the Mr. Potato Head lobby, which, after suffering a similar defeat in the inaugural year, had their man in office straightaway in year two. My study of inducted and rejected toys also revealed the precedent that indirectly enabled the stick’s ultimate success: the surprising choice, in November, 2005, of the cardboard box. The box was an influential inductee, because it was the first plaything not produced by a toy manufacturer to have made the Hall of Fame. And once the humble box had cracked the dam of the Hall’s logic, other toys not made to be toys couldn’t be far behind. The affinity between the cardboard box and the stick was in fact remarked upon by many folks who responded to the stick’s induction. One would-be parodist offered the Onionesque headline “Stick Enters Toy Hall of Fame, Cardboard Box Snubbed,” only to be told that, in fact, the box was already in. And many parents liked the choice of the box because it confirmed their observation that no matter how much dough they shelled out for toys, their kids preferred to play with the box in which the toys came. As a parent who has spent too much time repairing over-engineered toys, I too approved of the box and stick, both of which I added to my personal list of “Things That Actually Work,” which until that time had included only WD-40, bourbon, and Moby-Dick. I also found it instructive to consider some of the Toy Hall of Fame’s selections in light of their explicit criteria for inclusion. For example, while I’ll fight the man who claims that the slinky doesn’t “posses icon status,” it is harder to see how the Atari can be said to “have longevity.” The Atari was inducted in 2007, by which time it had been obsolete for decades, and to make matters worse the Atari shared
the class of 2007 with the kite, which is a 3,000year old toy. It is also difficult to see how some of the toys selected “encourage discovery,” unless, as in the case of Play-Doh and Silly Putty, the discovery is simply that it is better if you don’t swallow it. And how can we legitimately claim that the Jack-in-the-box works to “promote innovation,” given that playing with this toy amounts to mindlessly cranking it up, scaring the shit out of yourself, and cranking it up again, over and over? Then there’s the problem of the still-rejected toys. I note that after the embattled first year of the Toy Hall of Fame’s existence, when every nut who could click a mouse raised hell that their favorite toy had been left out in the cold, the panel of wise toy “experts” responded in year two by rejecting both the soccer ball and baseball glove, thus ensuring that they would piss off every person on earth. And, as with the Raggedy Ann standoff, adult obsessions were at the heart of these debates. For example, after being judged unfit for service in the Hall of Fame for several years running, G.I. Joe went commando, and was carried into the Hall in 2004 on a testosterone-driven groundswell of support from advocates whose appeals sounded as if they were excerpted from speeches by General Patton. Gender politics were equally transparent in the induction the following year of the Easy-Bake Oven, which, though reviled by feminists as a symbol of the subjugation of women within a hegemonic, patriarchal system of exploitative domestic servitude, was celebrated by other women as “really cute.” I ultimately decided that to settle the troubling matter of the famous stick I would have to consult a real play expert. Our daughter, Hannah Virginia, who is six years old, seemed the right choice. She’s thoughtful, asks good questions, and doesn’t jump to conclusions about anything other than the need to eat ice cream immediately. She has informed opinions about things she has experience with, and clearly she has experience playing. One day while Hannah and I were driving to her school, I told her all about the Museum of Play, and the Toy Hall of Fame, and about the stick. She listened carefully, raising her eyebrows a few times. “Who are the kids who get to decide which toys are allowed to be in the Hall of Fame?” she asked.
object in a museum and declare it “art,” are we celebrating the meanings of that object, or are we decontextualizing it, impoverishing our understanding and enjoyment of it? Is a stick in a case just another butterfly with a pin through it? Is a stick on display in a museum even a stick at all? Hannah was still thinking hard, and she sat quietly for a while before reaching her conclusion. “Dad, since the stick isn’t made by people, it really is different than a Hula Hoop and stuff like that. And I think all nature things should be together, so if the stick is in there, then it isn’t fair not to put in the whole tree, plus leaves, and rocks, and everything else, with bugs too, but it isn’t nice to keep bugs inside like that. I think they ought to just leave the stick outside. That way it can get wind and rain, which it’s probably used to, and bugs can use it to crawl on, and also kids can play with it.” I’m aware that we’ve been waxing rhapsodic about the wisdom of children since Billy Wordsworth tromped around the Lake District (without children, I might add), but this struck me as a sensible verdict, rendered by a thoughtful judge, and based on a sound interrogation of the facts. We grownups had turned the stick into everything from a three wood to a bazooka, but Hannah had turned it back into a stick. I suppose we could say that adults crave play too, and that playing with the famous stick’s meanings is the grownup way of trying to think up something as cool as using a stick as a cloud scratcher. By eliciting the two “They aren’t kids,” I explained, “They’re all grownups.” most powerful forms of nostalgia, the loss of “That’s weird,” she said. “Kids have a lot more practice playing. Why don’t they nature and the loss of childhood, the celebrated ask kids?” I told her I didn’t know. Hannah said she could understand why somestick had captured our imaginations. But while body might think of a stick as a toy, since kids could use sticks to . . . and then she we were arguing over its meaning, turning its breathlessly listed about fifty uses of the stick that had never occurred to Curator induction into the Toy Hall of Fame into a cause Man: a bridge for an ant to walk across, a hole poker for making secret caves, a key for celebration or protest or the writing of essays, to a magic ice castle, a cloud scratcher. Next, Hannah wanted to know how the we also didn’t go outside and play. And I suspect grownups decide what’s a toy and what isn’t. that it is this failure to play—this atrophying of “If a stick is in there, how about a whole tree, which is better because me and a the ability to imaginatively engage nature and lot of kids love to climb trees. Can that be in there?” I told her I didn’t know. Hanthen also leave it as we found it—that separates us nah has always loved learning the names of flowers and trees, and so she also wanted from our childhoods, and perhaps also from our to know what kind of stick it was. Was it a stick from a Utah Juniper, or a Jeffrey children. We’ve been grasping at the stick because Pine, or maybe a Quaking Aspen? we need to recover something that we dropped “Nobody ever said what kind of stick it was,” I replied. Now she frowned in on the ground a long time ago. earnest. “They put it in a museum without even asking its name?” she said. I was nonplussed by how quickly Hannah’s simple questions were exploding the pretentions of the Toy Hall of Fame, and I was quietly embarrassed that her best questions had never occurred to me. But her next question was especially provocative. “When kids visit this Hall of Fame, can they play with the stick?” I paused. “Nope, the stick is in a display case on a wall in the museum.” “Really?” she said, with genuine surprise. “Why do they call it a ‘Museum of Play’ if you can’t play with the stuff there? Maybe they could make the case with a lid so you could just get the stick out. Or maybe they could have lots of sticks, so if a bunch of kids showed up they could all have a stick to play with. Why don’t they do something like that?” Again, I told her I didn’t know. In effect, Hannah had identified the debate we’ve been having about modern art since about 1915. Does the display of an object—an African mask, a bicycle wheel, an antique milk jug—deprive that object of its life? When we put a vernacular
Meghan Brady, Drawing for Woodcut # 2 charcoal on paper 41" x 34"
Meghan Brady, Red Woodcut, # 2 reduction woodcut on paper " 42" x 36"
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Meghan Brady is an artist living and working in Maine. She received a B.A. from Smith College in 1998 and an M.F.A. in Painting from Boston University in 2002. Through mostly painting, drawing, and printmaking Brady explores the rhythms and conflicts of geometry, color, and space. Her work has been shown throughout New England and New York City.
Michael P. Branch is Professor of Literature and Environment at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is co-founder of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) and series co-editor of the University of Virginia Press book series, Under the Sign of Nature. His creative nonfiction has appeared in magazines including Utne Reader, Orion, Ecotone, Isotope, Places, and Whole Terrain. He has had pieces nominated for the Pushcart Prize and recognized as “Notable Essays” in The Best American Essays,The Best American Science and Nature Writing, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. His monthly blog essay, “Rants from the Hill,” appears in the online edition of High Country News.
Jennifer Case’s poetry and prose have appeared in recent issues of Potomac Review,Water Stone Review, Third Coast, Poetry East, and South Dakota Review, among others. She grew up in Minnesota and is currently a PhD student at Binghamton University, where she specializes in creative writing and place studies.
Cole Caswell investigates landscape, place, environment, and geography, through strata of observation, technology, subjectivity, and his surroundings. He uses traditional, historic and digital photographic mediums: GPS, environmental data sets, augmented sampling procedures, clothing design, and classification to investigate our current present state. Cole received an interdisciplinary M.F.A. from the Maine College of Art, and has been working, living, and observing on Peaks Island three miles off the coast of Portland Maine. Over the last few years Cole has collaborated with the arts collective Spurse and the non-profit art organization the Creative Material Group (CMG). Recently he has lectured at The Maine College of Art, The University of Maine at Orono, and Syracuse University’s School of Architecture. At the present, he is exploring one’s ability to understand place, while furthering his inquirers into emergent and experimental photographic processes, perspectives, and applications.
Avy Claire is an artist who divides her time between studios in New York City and Blue Hill, Maine. She exhibits throughout the country and is represented in many private collections in the U.S. and abroad. Her installation, For The Trees, was included in the 2011 Portland Museum of Art Biennial. Claire is currently a visiting artist to an Environmental Art class at The Pingry School in Martinsville, NJ, and will exhibit in the school’s gallery in April, 2012. In addition to her studio practice, Claire maintains a business in Blue Hill, Maine, designing and implementing garden landscapes. She graduated with a BFA from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1978.
Christopher Cokinos is the author of The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars and Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds, both from Tarcher/Penguin. His work has appeared in Orion,The American Scholar, the New York Times and Hotel Amerika, among many other venues. He contributes fairly regularly to High Country News and the Los Angeles Times opinion pages. After nearly 10 years beside the Blacksmith Fork River in northern Utah, he now lives in Tucson, where he teaches in the University of Arizona's MFA program and is affiliated faculty with the Institute of the Environment.
Christine Collins is a fine art photographer and educator. Her work has been exhibited at Jen Bekman Gallery where she’s represented, The Griffin Museum of Photography and The Tang Museum and published in Adbusters Magazine. Christine holds a BA from Skidmore College and a MFA in Photography from Massachusetts College of Art. She is on the summer faculty of the Maine Media Workshops and a member of the adjunct faculty at the Art Institute of Boston, where she teaches photography and art history. www.christinemcollins.com
Richard Downing has won the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Poetry Contest, the Writecorner Press 2010 Editor’s Award, New Delta Review’s Matt Clark Prize, and New Woman Magazine’s Grand Prize for Fiction. His poetry can be found in his chapbook Four Steps Off the Path, in the anthologies Hunger Enough: Spiritual Living in a Consumer Society; Dire Elegies; and Against Agamemnon:War Poems, in many literary journals, and at OccupyPoetry. org. He is a co-founder of Save Our Naturecoast and holds a PhD in English.
Hannah Fries is associate editor and poetry editor of Orion and a graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, Calyx,Terrain.org, and other journals. She recently took part in an interdisciplinary artists' residency focused on mine reclamation with the Colorado Art Ranch.
Tanja Hollander was born in St. Louis, MO in 1972 and returned to the state after receiving a B.A. in photography, film, and feminist studies in 1994 from Hampshire College. Her work has been exhibited nationally at galleries in New York City and Boston and has twice been selected for the Portland Museum of Art Biennial, winning a purchase prize in 2007. She has also exhibited at the Bernard Toale Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts;Whitney Art Works in Portland, Maine; and Jim Kempner Fine Art in NYC. In 1994 Hollander opened and directed Dead Space Gallery, Portland’s first art venue for local art, music, spoken word, and performance. Hollander founded and became the volunteer director of the Bakery Photographic Collective in 2001, a nonprofit memberbased darkroom facility in Westbrook, Maine. In 2009, she was nominated and chosen for a month long residency at the La Napoule art foundation in La Napoule, France. Hollander is represented by Carroll and Sons in Boston, Massachusetts and Jim Kempner in New York City. She is a resident of Auburn, Maine.
Hawk & Handsaw
journal of creative sustainability
Robert Isenberg is a freelance writer, playwright, photographer and stage performer. He is a past recipient of the Brickenridge Fellowship, McDowell Scholarship, Trespass Residency, and two Golden Quill Awards for journalism. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, where he served as Whitford Fellow, the program’s highest honor. Originally from Vermont, he lives in Pittsburgh. His nonfiction book, The Archipelago, about backpacking the postwar Balkans, was released by Autumn House Press in January 2011. His poetry collection, Wander, was released by Six Gallery in October 2011. See more at robertisenberg.net.
Hannah Kreitzer is from Maine, which in her opinion is a very good place to be from. She likes woodsmoke, honeybees, good tea, constellations, crescent moons (particularly the waning kind), semicolons, crows, and making beautiful things out of bones she finds in the woods. She does not like indifference, conscious ignorance, or cantaloupe.
BK Loren was born premature and claims that that was the end of her precociousness. We’re not sure we agree. She has worked on a ranch and in a candy factory. She’s built furniture, worked as an aide on a locked psych ward, driven a UPS truck, and taught as a tenured college professor.You can read her writing in periodicals and anthologies like Orion Magazine,The Best Spiritual Writing of 2004,The Future of Nature, Berkeley Fiction Review and many others. Her first book was published by Lyons in 2001, and her novel, Theft, will be published by Counterpoint Press in June 2012. She is currently at work on a second novel.
Michelle Menting has poems and nonfiction appearing or forthcoming in Bellingham Review, Quarter After Eight, cellpoems, Ascent, Silk Road Review, Redactions, and other journals. Originally from the north woods of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, she currently lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she is a doctoral student at UNL.
Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationallycelebrated nature writer, seed saver, conservation biologist, and sustainable agriculture activist who has been called “the father of the local food movement” by Utne Reader and He is author or editor of twenty-four books, some of which have been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, Croation, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. For his writing and collaborative conservation work, he has been honored with a MacArthur “genius” award, a Southwest Book Award, the John Burroughs Medal for nature writing, the Vavilov Medal, and lifetime achievement awards from the Quivira Coalition and Society for Ethnobiology. He works as most of the year as a research scientist at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona, and the rest as co-founder and facilitator of several food and farming alliances, including Renewing America’s Food Traditions and Flavors Without Borders.
Marc Nieson is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and NYU Film School. Excerpts from his most recent work, Schoolhouse: A Memoir in 13 Lessons, have appeared in Literary Review, Iowa Review, Green Mountains Review, and Chautauqua. His latest fiction can be found in Conjunctions and the 2011 Wordstock Ten Anthology. His prose has earned two Pushcart Prize nominations. His award-winning featurelength screenplays include Bottomland,The Dream Catcher, and The Speed of Life. He serves on the faculty at Chatham University and is working on a new novel, Houdini’s Heirs.
Dawn Potter is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry Press, 2010). Her memoir, Tracing Paradise:Two Years in Harmony with John Milton (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), won the 2010 Maine Literary Award in Nonfiction. New poems and essays appear in the Sewanee Review, the Threepenny Review, Guernica, and many other journals. Dawn is associate director of the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. She lives with her family in Harmony, Maine.
Rafael Francisco Salas is a Wisconsin based painter. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has described him as “one of the best painters working in Wisconsin today.” Using landscape along with narrative and symbolic elements, Salas creates artworks that investigate the nature of nostalgia, memory, and dreams. His work has been exhibited in New York City, San Diego, Boston, as well as many venues in the Midwest including The Neville Public Museum, The Museum of Wisconsin Art, The John Kohler Arts Center, Dean Jensen Gallery, Circa Gallery, and Portrait Society Gallery. Salas is currently the Chair of the Art Department at Ripon College in Ripon, WI.
Elaina Westegaard lives in southwest Utah with her husband, one-year-old son, and several pets. She strives to combine her love of written language with her obsession over nature. Her particular writing interests include women/motherhood in connection with the natural world and making eco-friendly changes within her suburbia means. Elaina earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University in 2010, and teaches English at Dixie State College of Utah. She contributes monthly blurbs to her blog, www. greenishsuburbia.com, and her work has been seen in The Southern Quill.
Hawk & Handsaw
Hawk & Handsaw Submission Guidelines Hawk and Handsaw publishes thought-provoking written and visual art that interprets and redefines notions of sustainability. The editorial board considers unsolicited materials from 1 July through 1 September each year. Submissions sent outside this cycle may not be considered until the next reading period.
Hawk & Handsaw Editorial Staff Editor-in-chief
Kathryn Miles Professor of Environmental Writing Art Editor
Genre considerations: We accept poetry, creative nonfiction, short stories, and visual art, as well as those works that elide or question traditional genre boundaries. Writers may submit up to 30 double-spaced pages. Excerpts from longer monographs are acceptable, provided they stand alone as an independent work. If applicable, citations should appear in MLA or Chicago Manual of Style format. Visual artists may submit up to 20 images of their work for consideration. Submitting your manuscript: Manuscripts may be sent by post or by email (these must be sent as Microsoft Word or PDF documents). If you are submitting multiple pages, be sure to include a header or footer with your name and page number on every page. We prefer paperclips to staples on paper drafts. You must include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like your material returned. Submitting your art: We accept images that can be clustered as part of a series or that can stand alone as individual images. The editorial staff reserves the right to decide if images will appear in color or black and white, and as cover images or within the journal. Please submit your images as camera-ready JPEG files that are readable in any computer. Images may be sent on a CD or by email. You must include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like your CD returned. Deliberations: The editorial staff of Hawk and Handsaw is dedicated to producing a high-quality, thematically coherent journal. It may take, therefore, up to three months for you to receive a response regarding your submissions. Please do not contact us until that time has elapsed. We will consider simultaneous submissions; however, we ask that you notify us immediately if your work has been accepted elsewhere. Published writers and artists will receive three copies of the issue in which their work appears as remuneration. Hawk and Handsaw does not accept responsibility for loss or damage to any unsolicited manuscript or visual image. Send all correspondences to: Hawk and Handsaw Unity College 90 Quaker Hill Road Unity, ME 04988 Or: email@example.com
Ben Potter Professor of Art
volume 5, 2012
Editorial Board H. Emerson Blake Michael Branch Simmons Buntin Suzanne Caporael Roger Cohn Christopher Cokinos
Chelsea Ardle ‘12
BS Wildlife Ecology
Hannah Kreitzer ‘12
BA Environmental Writing
Camden Design Group
Bob Pyle Janisse Ray Mitchell Thomashow
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 207.948.3131 ext. 238 Full submission guidelines and sample work from previous issues is available at our website: www.unity.edu/HawkandHandsaw. © 2012, 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 Tanja Hollander, Andy Bothwell (aka Astronautalis), Allston, Massachusetts
Featuring Meghan Brady · Michael P. Branch · Jennifer Case · Cole Caswell · Avy Claire · Christopher Cokinos Christine Collins · Richard Downing · Hannah Fries · Tanja Hollander · Robert Isenberg · Hannah Kreitzer BK Loren · Michelle Menting · Gary Paul Nabhan · Marc Nieson · Dawn Potter Rafael Francisco Salas · Elaina Westegaard