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31 May, 2012

Healing Plants

Yes, the calendula has medicinal properties, but that's not what this post is about. It's more that all plants (except the gaudy and cursed bougainvillea and lantana) have healing properties. Cultivate them, or tolerate their random sprouting, and you are witnessing the birth of a miracle. Watch them go from seed to flower to fruit to another generation, and you see the miracle replicate; this is eternity. Enjoy their scent and sight, their touch and flavor, and you get better. With Spring hitting its stride here in the Northwest, we get to soak up the beauty of flowers, but every season has its medicine. For that, I am thankful.

29 May, 2012

Deal With It

looks a lot worse than it feels

Yes, shit happens. What do you do about it?

Last week, I was walking on sunshine. Not with that Katrina & the Waves song in my head, but in a field of wildflowers, digging some roots to feed my kids, or maybe a larger feast,…the destination mattered less than the procurement, the act of popping food from the ground.

Then, the root digger broke, and cut me. The handle, made of deer antler, snapped, sending one jagged edge through my hand. At first, it seemed minor, just a scratch. Then it bled. Then I opened my palm and saw bone and tendons, skin separated from meat, a jagged opening.

I clenched my fist. Tried to convince myself that I had not seen it. But knowing I had. The pristine eyeball white of a bone peaking from blood was something I'd seen before (distal ulna, that other time), and set against a crimson background it is unmistakable.

I looked again, lost the courage to let it lay open beneath the sun, bleeding out whatever dirt and dustified cowshed may have entered the wound (as is custom), and clenched again. This is the tiny fact of my accident that made it easier: applying pressure to a wound between the thumb and forefinger is as easy as making a fist.

Bleeding stanched, musculature and skeleton once again hidden from sun, I did not panic. In fact, becalmed myself. Picked up the roots I'd managed to dig, picked up the stick, decided to leave the splintered handle pieces there as an offering to the cold wind that had hit me seconds before the bloodletting, and managed to not to spiral down into paralytic fear of said wind and injury.

Then I walked down the hill to my truck, bound the wound, and drove to town, looking for the blue hospital signs. Ended up in one of the few emergency rooms in the country where "catastrophic digging stick handle failure" is an injury that does not result in bewilderment or a psych evaluation. Got stitched up, and drove across the mountains to show my kids the impressive bandage that had been applied. (They would have to wait till the next day for the dramatic unveiling you have seen above.)

Other than the instant when I realized that this was something I could not repair myself, I was calm. A second of panic, followed by an hour of doing what had to be done to get myself to the body shop. Then, jokes with the doc and nurses, one of whom knew the place I'd been to, and told me about the hunting there (this could count as ethnographic research, but I won't claim workers comp). The whole time thinking: this is what it was like in Dad's death-time, when it felt like I was the only one realizing what was happening, and doing what had to be done. The Peace of Catastrophe.

Since then, the mounting Impatience of Healing. I was able to pull a stitch yesterday, but the rest of the chasm between my thumb-ham and the rest of my palm seems too tender, in need of another day or two to be ready to get rid of the sutures separating me from separating the halves of my hand. Somehow, the calm of the scare was replaced by the fretting of the recovery. Weird.

I know that a couple of .05 plastic threads won't keep my skin from ripping, and the sharp ends afflict my palm as it tries to grown a new print. I'll take them out, probably tomorrow. The sutured interim will become a thing of the past, a scar that folds into my palm, disappearing. A doctor won't do it: I have scissors and new knife, and the courage will appear when I need it.

24 May, 2012

Extinction of the Species

Most species were but are no more. Wiped out by vengeful gods or done in by inescapable facts. Knocked off by the competition, messed up by new world orders human and otherwise.

Most of the gone do not even live on in memory, but a few do. Dodos waddle through our lore trying to wag cautionary tails, but fail. Passenger pigeons do a little better, but their ghosts still topple out of the sky every time the enormity of their genocide occurs to them. 

We build dinosaur shrines in the world's great museums, more comfortable because we cannot be held responsible in their case. It's nice to believe that the forces that brought down these megafauna were maybe just culling the ungodly, that this kind of thing happened way before people walked the earth. Just how long before? Too many people have no clue, and I've met plenty who are unconvinced that humans and live dinosaurs don't overlap.

Such people are among those who remain unconvinced as well that there are any problems with human expansion, our appetites and wastes, and our vast creativity with chemicals and machines (unfortunately paired with a similarly vast disregard for the future of any other species). Much of the worst we apes have done has required that we burn the fossils of many species that if not extinct, have been dead for millions of years. A mass cremation of dead and buried plants and animals. A desecration? I've never heard people put it that way, but if it were my grandparents, I don't want them used for fuel.

Maybe I am not human enough, maybe I lack good old American invincibility. The kind that says we're the best breed, uniquely suited to rule the globe, unlikely to succumb like every other empire before us. When we are sure we cannot ever become extinct, that God chose us or we have a unique brain that will figure a way out of any jam, we're free do whatever we want, regardless of the cost. 

Like extinction of other species. We are now in the midst of a mass extinction so large that it will go down in geological history. People can argue, suddenly turn all scientific and demand to see solid unassailable proof, but really there's no denying that humans are partly to blame for the Holocene's (Anthropocene, if you're not orthodox) wave of extinctions. We may eat an entire species out of existence, or cut down its forest, cut off its river, fill up its swamp, take out its habitat. We may dump poop or dioxin until a place becomes unlivable, or pump the air so full of cow farts and smoke that we alter the ocean, atmosphere and climate. 

Many species become collateral damage in our campaign to cover the earth, but by and large we humans could care less. And we don't think it will ever happen to us. We humans can be cruel gods.


21 May, 2012

Procrassion of the Species Photos


Sharing photos should be instantaneous these days,
but I procrastinate, as usual. Here are a few more from the 2012 Procession.

More people said they liked the dandelions than any other creature. The seedheads and flowers were so beautifully crafted that a wave of smiles passed along the route as they walked by, smiling themselves. 

Lots of participants focus on the Species, but a few do something special with the Procession aspect. I've already given the insects their due in the expressive movement department, but this elken amble-lope stands out, and I applaud it. The curious gait of photographers is also entertaining--dash, pivot, crouch, shoot, turn, repeat. Over the years, I have more photos of Homo nikonensis than any other species.

 Other than belly dancers, I suppose. There are multiple troupes in every Olympia parade. Of course, they are only in the background of this shot, which is mostly about the hippies. One of my favorite species, meandering through jamming and blowing bubbles. Speaking of which, look at that shot again: There's an iridescent bubble centered on her hand, she's making a bubble!! Aligned for the instant it took to shoot the photo, never again to be, but eternalized. Blows your mind, don't it? But brothers and sisters, that's just the kind of magic that happens at the Procession.

 This shot, on the other hand, is an example of the kind of random mischief the camera can do. Now maybe today these guys might be pissed at me on account of my clear bias in favor of trombones, but on Procession day I swear they were not marching through town glaring at people. But I hit the button and shuttered out everything except the expressions they had at that minute, which looks like "I'm gonna drop formation and come beat the crap out of you!" I know these guys wouldn't do that. Not even to the girl who's blocking her ears to avoid hearing them. 

 Of course, there are some angry men in Olympia, or otherwise the Olympian newspaper 
would have nothing in the Comments section of every story, finding fault and flogging scapegoats. Like the guy at the left, clad in black and raising a fist. People wrote in ranting at the glorification of terrorism and the gall of the organizers to let a real terrorist march in the parade. Meanwhile, they seemed blithely unconcerned with the serious threat to our community posed by anonyms clad in cartoonish, polyester-furred animal costumes. I don't see an explosive vest on the man in black, but the animal suit guy or girl could pull it off, no problem. And besides, polyester is tacky, and that costume doesn't look home made.

Oops, there I go getting cranky; it's time to quit before I veer into zealotry. But not before showing you one last photo, of Thunder-drumming Guy. By bringing a fake storm, he kept the real rain at bay. Mahalo, dude.

13 May, 2012

Procession of the Trombones

A loop-de-loop anglerfish trombone.
One of my favorite parts of the procession is the brass. I take vicarious pride in the fact that our little town can marshal several marching bands with horns. It says something about a place that its people have the community spirit to band together and play in a parade without being in high school or even a uniform, necessarily. At least, not the kind of uniform most people think of for marching bands. Olympians walk to many drummers in bands of butterflies and fish. My favorite this year were the anglerfish, a creature who has appeared in many forms in every Procession I've witnessed. 

Besides the benthic headgear, they featured a trombone. The weird and wonderful trombone. Valves, trombonists don't need no stinking valves (although that too can be arranged), they slide right in to everything from classic orchestral maneuvers to burlesque innuendo and of course, the comedic wa-wa-wa-waaaaaah.

My fascination with this instrument goes back to early childhood, discovering the odd case in the attic in which lay my dad's high school horn. I never did learn to play it, but over the years the yellow glow of the bell and the miraculous versatility of the slide captured my imagination. Not enough to get me to follow in his marching band footsteps, but definitely sufficient to fixate on trombones in the sea of brass. For years, my favorite record of his was the one with "76 Trombones;" I'd listen, charged up, imagining rank upon rank of trombone.

There's something in the slide. Not pushing buttons like on those other horns, but exercising exquisite touch to hit the right notes, capable of being a little off if that's what works; like Hawaiians slacking the keys of their guitars the trombonist can expand what the horn can do. The flow from one note to another can roll smoothly, the air keeps flowing if the player keeps blowing, hills instead of steps. Liquid languidity is possible.

Or rollicking. Laughing. Outright craziness. There was this guy who would appear at punk rock shows in Richmond in the early '80s, trombone at the ready, jumping up on stage and unleashing manic solos. Trombone players tend to be the interesting ones even when they are not crazy, or at least that's how I imagine them. The guy willing to learn how to master the slide and take up the instrument for which so few songs are written must have something driving him other than a desire for acclaim and groupies. 

So here's to you, trombone players of the world. I salute you, especially when you ply your trade with an anglerfish on your head.

07 May, 2012

Procession of the...Monkey Butts

In the eternal contest of Man vs Ape, I think we know who wins the Booty Competition

A troupe of baboons wandered into the Procession of the Species. As they approached, I wasn't exactly sure what they were. Butt when they passed, asses aglow, I knew they had to be old world primates (American monkeys lack the sitting pads that some of their Afro-Asian kin have). 

And yeah, I know you're saying, "But Mojourner, couldn't they just be in estrus? Does a red ass always have to be a sitting pad?" To both, I answer, "NO." There may well be New World primates whose backside reddens when in heat (I am told that this is true of Michelle Bachmann, for instance), but most of the ones in the Procession were males. And male monkeys need no special signal to mount other males, that activity having never been stymied by biblical taboos, so red-ass would just be a waste.

[My spouse just walked in and asked if I was being productive. I read the above paragraphs and showed her the photo. She does not seem to think that this qualifies. In answer to which I post this next photo, which features a primate who appears to be farting. Classy.]


03 May, 2012

The Insect Sect: Procession of the Species 2012

This year marked the fourth time I've been to the Procession of the Species (I missed it one year, only because another sacred ritual needed performing elsewhere), one of Olympia's finest moments. Or, as my more conservative townspeople gripe: when the "freaks are out," a "polytheistic" display. They are right, of course, and I glory in it. 

Every year, there is some taxon or other that sticks out in my mind. Like the ferocious Rhinocerocitidae of 2008, or the Mycetozoans of 2011. This year, the Insecta Class graduated to the top. I recognized a few from before, but this year they stood out.

Besides some great, creative costumes on the outside, the mammals inside seemed to have embodied their insect species thoroughly, moving like the species they represented. The giant praying mantis was fluid, stilt-walking with threatening grace. The fly (below), buzzed frenetically from place to place, preening and head-turning just like a fly, hoping for one of the other creatures to drop dead or at least drop dung, I suppose. (Meanwhile, a dung beetle followed the white buffalo, knowing it would pay off eventually.) 

Silly bird, flamboyant feathers are no match for the Lord of the Flies

And the mastery of movement did not end there. A line of leaf-cutter ants marched along, taking time now and then to dance as ants are wont to do when the entomologists look the other way. And although it's not an insect, and it's dance was more that of an extremely mellow Chinese dragon, the centipede did damn well, considering all those legs it has to keep track of.

Ants dance in their pants

And of course, the monarch butterflies. A huge flight of them wrapping up the parade with a dance that was great, even if it did not feature them swarming a mineral-rich downtown puddle for a sip. I'd post a photo, but a bunch of people already have, and most are better than mine.

In 2012, the Procession walked with six legs.