Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day of the Bison

Yesterday morning I drove over to Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky in order to work at the South Bison Range for a few hours. The herd there needed their inoculations and anthelmintics, and some of the members needed new ear tags. Originally, we were told that we would be assisting with blood collection, so I was somewhat disappointed to find out that we would only be there in order to observe (for five hours), but overall, it was an amazing experience for which I am grateful.

Myself and others from my lab classes arrived at 7:00am and had a brief safety lecture before heading out to the field (which was in Tennessee). The air was warm and muggy, but the wind kept it crisp and cooler, though I rather would have wanted it cold and dry than warmish and wet. The sky was a bright, formless grey which made it difficult to get decent photographs -- I've never been very adept at shooting in the shade; I've always preferred harsher sunlight.

 If any readers are familiar with cattle farm operations, it was a similar, though larger, setup. The bison were kept in small groups in different paddocks. There were a series of numbered gates leading to these paddocks, and also one that lead into the surrounding field. The small groups were herded into an area that became progressively more narrow, until they were moving single file. As a bison approached the section holding the scale, a gate was closed behind them and in front of them to keep them contained. Their weight was then recorded, and afterwards they were lead into the head chute. Once there, a nose twitch was applied to calm them down, ear tags were replaced as needed, and the appropriate medication given. They were then released into the open field, where most of them ran off into the distance immediately.

I was quite struck by their capacity for facial expression. This was the closest by far that I have ever been to bison, close enough to some that I could have touched their faces. Their eyes were bright, rich browns, and goat-like. Their brows conveyed emotion that I could only interpret as surprise, worry, anxiety, anger, boredom, and relief. It was easy to tell the older members who had been through the process many times before, from the younger ones who had still not accepted the situation. 

 I was extremely overjoyed to see the young bison, especially this smallest one:

He was most likely terrified, and I felt so sympathetic toward him, but I couldn't help but appreciate how limber he was. In fact, I could not believe how limber they all were, even the largest adults. They could jump straight up in the air, change direction running so quickly. They were moving in ways more flexible than any horse I've ever seen, and had a deer-like quality to their movements that I had not expected. When they were released from the paddocks, they loped with a smooth gracefulness that reminded me of bears or giraffes.

I also fell in love with their coats. They had a texture to them that I wanted to feel so badly. I imagined it almost as rough as quills on the outside, but a softer layer underneath, like down. They displayed so many colors in their coats, with the most attractive being a black-faced individual of whom I was not able to get a photograph. But nothing was as impressive to me as those goat-like eyes, especially the largest bull in the herd:

When he was brought into the paddock, he showed no fear or apprehension to us onlookers. He walked right to the edge of the fence and watched all of us, with a very serious calm that I immediately respected. He was like the Great Prince of the Forest in Bambi, a wise elder who had made a certain peace with Life. I think I'm personifying this animal far beyond what I should, but locking eyes with such an enormous creature (I estimate his shoulder height was 6.5-7 feet, and he weighed over 1600 lbs, if I remember correctly) was sublime in its own small way. It was one of my favorite moments of the day, and I can understand completely now why such animals have been considered sacred for centuries. And I believe they understand it as well: it can be seen in their elders' eyes, in the ways they carry themselves. I feel completely fortunate to have witnessed it.

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam,
where the Deer and the Antelope play,
where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
and the sky is not cloudy all day.

I never really appreciated those words before, but I do now.

Young bison, animated .gif made by myself.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Black Window that Birthed Me

Here is another collage I made of five of my old photos. I wrote this story to go with it.

Somewhere in an empty country, there is an empty church and within it, a furnace. The few people who live there know the furnace is the heart of their God. He eats skulls and cats and traveling birds. And he spits out little humans, motley children formed in the dust.

The ritual started taking shape approximately 400 years ago. Those few people knew how to read and write then, but they also wanted to keep their secrets: the reasons why their relatives had such unusual coloring, why they were so good at climbing or swimming or hunting squirrels. They did not want the rest of the world to know about their apprehension toward a bipedal lifestyle -- they could walk on two legs, but it was uncomfortable. The only way we know about this history today is because some of those few people did keep their stories, stories their children kept as well.

On the last new moon of each cold year, the last and darkest night, those young adults, looking to conceive their first child, line up outside the church door. Each of them brings a large basket, containing a sacrificial animal, a libation of beer or milk, a lock of their hair. Alone, they climb the stairs and enter the church. What they see, they are forbidden to tell. God will test each of them individually, give them a personalized horror, extract from them an oath of silence, discover their true will within parenthood. With their offerings, they feed the heart of God, and hear his laughter. The milk and beer are burned away, those waiting outside inhale the scent of scorched hair. The floor inside the church is piled ever higher with the bones of the animals. Everyone can hear the screaming of a new baby.

Babies with dark skin and light hair and light eyes. Babies with yellow eyes and long fingernails. Babies with slitted pupils and full, black curls. They develop quickly, learn language easily. They don't remember where they came from, and they never ask. 

The population of this country gets smaller each passing year. Less prospective parents line up outside the church on the last and darkest night. They are beginning to forget everything about their past, and God is beginning to forget them. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Problem-Solving in Dreamland

I love when I catch an answer in my dreams. I don't think it's very rare at all to find solutions in Dreamworld, but it is, at least for me, very uncommon to have a clear, memorable, make-sense-in-both-worlds type of revelation. I might be placing too much importance on my dreams last night, but upon waking, one of my major problems of the semester has seemingly been solved (now, it's just up to me to be disciplined enough to apply it).

In my veterinary microbiology class, we have a term paper that must discuss a disease afflicting animals that is either bacterial or viral in origin. And for the last two weeks, I've been completely stuck in all ideas nutritional, fungal, parasitic, even chemical poisoning. Some of ideas have been scurvy in bats, ethylene glycol poisoning, mange... Yesterday, I even tried opening up my Merck Veterinary Manual (it looks like a hybrid Bible/Dictionary) to a random page, closing my eyes and pointing -- and still, nothing bacterial or viral. I did that four times before giving up. I've been getting more and more worried about choosing this topic, afraid that I procrastinated so much about writing papers when I was younger that my body and brain now do it for me unconsciously.

But I now think, thanks to some good time spent with my subconscious self, that a topic is in sight:

Last night, I dreamt of spirochetes. Beautiful, spiraling bacteria (the ones above are Leptospira). Ones that I've regrettably never seen in person. In my dream, they were huge and they were everywhere, different shades of yellow and gold, colors often associated with mental processes. I stood in the center as they spiraled around me, and the wind and the light moved. 

It's significant to me that I remembered this, because I so often forget my dreams almost immediately. What's also significant is that Lyme Disease is caused by spirochetes...and one of my earlier thoughts was to write this paper about that. When I was around thirteen years old, my late Standard Poodle, Zoë, contracted Lyme, and she struggled with it for a long time. It definitely left an impression on me, and I always hope that my current boy Sól will never have to go through it. 

Since I began this blog post, I've already received confirmation from my professor, and I do feel some relief. However, I now need to begin figuring out my angle...(and I have another term paper for a different class as well). I'm very out of practice. I haven't had to write an essay since 2009. Fingers crossed that I'll find my voice. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Over the summer, I moved into a new house by myself, and it's hopelessly empty. I feel it barely looks like the person who lives here is me -- so, I've started a certain project, that will take a lot of saving and time to finish. One of the rooms in my house looks very different than the others. It has dark wooden walls, and a lighter wood floor. It also has a separate door to the outside, an enormous closet, and four windows. Up until now, it's just been my dog's room, really. My TV is in there, but barely anything else.

Two of my favorite TV shows are Twin Peaks (1990-1991) and The X-Files (1993-2002). They've both influenced a lot of my art and they are the kinds of shows that I can watch over and over, always finding something new to appreciate. Since this lonely room of mine is begging for use, I've decided to dedicate it to my favorite shows and films, with the theme in mind being Red:Mulder. I just  got two windows worth of curtains hanging today ~ here is the beginning of its rebirth (with a great cameo from my lovely dog):

To give a sort of preview of the complete idea, each window will be dressed with floor-length red curtains, the furniture I hope to acquire in the future will be re-painted in black and white zigzags. And the walls will showcase my love of the X-files (I have unopened Mulder and Scully dolls, an I Want To Believe poster, etc). The goal is to basically create Agent Mulder's basement office as if it existed on the same plane as David Lynch's Red Room. 

Stay tuned for updates as I continue the hopefully-quicker-than-I-imagine upgrade of this forgotten space at the end of my house. The truth is out there, but sometimes my arms bend back. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Little Experimentation

I'm already feeling the effects of class and work in my huge lack of time! Even now, this is just a fast post before I have to go to work in a half hour (update: I didn't actually get this finished before I had to leave). But I wanted to share something I'm working on that I think could be a little of a new direction for me artistically.

I don't have a title for it; this was literally just an exercise ~ put on some music, grab some of my old photos and make something new out of them. It was truly therapeutic. Just an hour to myself in the morning with some tea and sunshine at the dining room table. 

I want to become a better narrator and go beyond the past year and a half of work I've been doing. I don't want my characters to become limited by my own world. I want to make them homes that are theirs. I'm really enjoying using my old work to practice on and shifting my work habits toward a more organic and less rigid flow, both in terms of my thought process and how I actually put a piece's component parts together. I like the experience of evolution, even as little as it may be. 

I think I'm beginning to feel more positive, truly and at last. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

No Surrender

It is the last weekend before the new semester starts, before the new spring, and I am desperate for change and for the ability to handle what's coming. Stress is the worst thing in my life, and though I feel completely adept at hiding my stress, it seems impossible to shut myself off from its experience, or to even diminish the experience. It is the reason for all my discomfort.

I do not place blame on stress, however, but rather on my own lack of self discipline in the face of stress. I have great plans for how to cope, but instead decide to buy a six-pack and watch TV, late at night when I get off work. And repeat, repeat. The cycle makes me so depressed that even the most basic meditation exhausts me, and each day I give up more easily. And repeat, repeat.

So of course, one of the bigger themes of my New Year's Resolutions is Find Ways to Better Deal with Stress. And I know what these art: more art, more exercise, improved diet, develop a more disciplined spiritual practice, more play, reading, imagination, meditation. Less booze, less smoking, (stop both...), less time non-productively spent on a computer, the end of procrastination. The end of feeding the strength of my stress by obsessing over it, worrying so much about how to handle it that I never actually do.

I believe there is a level of force required to defeat stress, and perhaps one of the simplest things is to force yourself to be positive. Punch through the mirror and declare, I am changing, I am making progress, there is evidence of these things. And I hope that this evidence will come to make up a portion of the meaningful content in this blog: how my puppy is growing into one of the sweetest dogs I've ever known (and how I'm starting to teach him some agility!), how I'm changing my diet and eating Mediterranean, low glycemic index meals, how I'm getting out more to photograph what I might begin calling "speed portraits":

I'm trying to spend more time with a variety of people, I'm cooking more at home again, on the weekends when I don't have work until the evening, I take some time to go to the gym. I snuggle more with my cat, I took Tuesdays off my work availability in order to attend more discussions with a local philoso-religious group I've known for a long time. I'm trying to laugh more without holding back. 

Anne Rice said, "The truth is, laughter always sounds more perfect than weeping. Laughter flows in a violent riff and is effortlessly melodic. Weeping is often fought, choked, half-strangled, or surrendered to with humiliation." I feel as though for some time, my laughter has sounded more like the latter, and I refuse for that to continue to be so. There are no more excuses nor justifications for surrendering to stress. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Death Collections

Even at the height of summer, the trees are dead in Winterland. It's a ghost continent, lost somewhere at the North Pole, erased from maps and memory, where the cold preserves almost everything, where people rarely die.

Death likes to vacation there, get away from the rest of the world where his services are constantly needed. The people of Winterland treat him differently: they invite him in for coffee and black jack, include him in their home movies. The children carry around his little effigies and play with them in the snow.

The people of Winterland give alms to Death, tithes paid in blades and black silk, polar bear hides if it's been a prosperous season. All their exports go to him, and before his return to the daily grind of taking souls, he makes his way through the towns of Winterland, stopping at gates and doors to receive his appreciation. "We'll see you next year, Mister," she said, bowing her head in quiet respect.

Death gently took her gift and turned away, the fog curling around the edges of his cloak, and shadows settling where he once laid his feet.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Early Winter

The ghosts come out in winter, or more truly, they come inside. Other spirits as well: I see the little bright shapes darting around the rooms; they come inside in the morning. A friend told me that this town was a tuberculosis town, it's even still illegal to spit on the sidewalks. She said so many died during the winters and now the winter time is their time. I wonder if my animals watch them. They don't appear to be bothered often by anything in this house. I've never been very bothered either.

I like the way winter feels in this house. There is a slight change in here, kind of indescribable, like how the light outside changes at this time of year as well, even though it is the same sun. Things are a little bit more yellow, and a little bit more dull. I'm comforted by that, and winter always comforts me, and I wish it were more severe in the south. I love to drive with my windows down; when I exhale, my breath is rushed out of the car into the world. My own hands feel like bones and they feel clean. Winter has always felt clean to me and I'm addicted to the snow and the smell of the harsh air that freezes when I breathe it in. I love how silently one can move in truly deep, powdery snow, a frozen layer underneath always keeping you a few inches above Earth, and the powder that claims and then swallows every footstep. 

I keep waiting for the snow, praying into the air that hardly carries a chill now. Everyone keeps saying the snow will come, there are always two snows each year, but each one is small enough that the memory of it melts faster than it probably did when it was here. I wish I could make it: "Huge, dizzying, clumps and clusters of snow falling through the air, patches of white against an iron-gray sky, snow that touches your tongue with cold and winter, that kisses your face with its hesitant touch before freezing you to death. Twelve cotton-candy inches of snow, creating a fairy-tale world, making everything unrecognizably beautiful..."

Waiting for the snow, holding vigil for the cold, with the spirits and the animals and the red birds outside. Winter time is my time, too.