Joshua Calendar: Yard Dogs

Joshua Calendar

Yard Dogs

INDENT
At breakfast Chub coiled a rubber band around his index finger and watched it purple with blood. He asked if there was any more cereal, or any more milk. I said there wasn’t any of either. He glared at me and then at his finger like it was a hostage. “Go look for yourself,” I said. He set his teeth and watched as his finger ballooned. At ten years old, Chub Munro was a soldier of fortune, and used to pain.
INDENT
“What now?” he asked. I shrugged. We were out of money, mostly out of food, and our parents were assholes. That much was clear. But I wasn’t sure how to proceed.
INDENT
“Do you have other family?” I asked. “Anybody we can call?” No one, on my side or his, had come to the wedding between my father and his mother, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. He shook his head.

INDENT
“Nobody?” I asked.
INDENT
“Nobody from you either,” he said. Which was true.
INDENT
In the kitchen, I reviewed the situation. I opened cupboards knowing there was nothing left in them. The fridge was clean and empty but for a tub of miso paste neither of us had touched, and a mesh bag of green apples. “Heads up,” I said, tossing an apple to Chub. It passed through his hands and bounced off his chest, hitting the floor like a fist. Chub eyeballed me with a baleful squint and wandered out of view. The situation in the kitchen was bad, the situation in the house was bad, and the prospects for improvement were dim.
INDENT
Our parents had met two months earlier at a Reiki conference in Chicago. They got engaged after being partnered in a seminar about dancing with the joy and pain of life. “She moves me more fully into my essence, my most authentic self,” said my father. They decided to make a few sacred changes to their lifestyle: buying a new home together in a new town with no memories, taking a Himalayan trekking honeymoon in Bhutan (which they referred to as the Land of the Thunder Dragon), and getting matching tattoos of trees on their backs. When I observed that he was too old for a tramp stamp, my father told me to stuff it. Our family used to be Methodist. My father used to wear golf shirts.
INDENT
They wanted to visit Bhutan because it was the last country on earth without television; a Buddhist Shangri-la. The perfect place to take off their work shoes and step onto the eightfold path of renunciation. Their first night in Paro all their valuables were stolen. My father called, leaving a message near dawn to say that the credit card he left for me to use was cancelled and that a new one should arrive soon, that they were heading out on the sixteen-day trek anyway, since it was prepaid, and that Chub and I would have to tough it out until their return, which could be delayed as a consequence of having to get new passports from the consulate in New Delhi. As I listened to the message I heard canned laughter from a hotel television blaring in the background. Turns out Bhutan has had T.V. since 1999.
INDENT
There was no television in our new house. No internet either. Our parents had closed on it the day before heading off on their honeymoon, leaving everything but a few essentials and blue air mattresses in storage in our old town. They planned to redecorate and move in after their trip. “It will be like brothers camping,” said my father. “Lawrence loves camping,” said Beth. When they finally left for the airport, Lawrence turned to me and said evenly, “My name is Chub and you are not my brother.”

INDENT
Our first four days together we didn’t talk much. It was the summer before my senior year of high school and I planned to work on my college essays. I was applying to six schools, and wanted to impress each of them with my wisdom and insight, at least enough to draw their attention away from my grades. So far, I had only a title “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been.” Which I had stolen from a friend who got into Georgetown. Chub kept to the empty bedroom he had claimed, reading through stacks of old Guns & Ammo and Gun Digest magazines. Occasionally I’d hear the steady grinding of steel against a whetstone as he endlessly sharpened the large hunting knife he wore on his belt. He seemed less like a kid who enjoyed camping and more like someone plotting a murder. I left him alone.
INDENT
It was the fifth morning, after my father’s phone message, that we realized we were out of food and in something of a ditch, survival-wise. I picked up the apple I had tossed to Chub and returned it to the fridge. There are few things as miserable as an empty house when you feel stuck in it. I didn’t have a car, and even if I had somewhere else to go, I couldn’t abandon Chub. However cavalierly our parents had thrown us together, I didn’t want to be responsible for making things worse. I didn’t particularly care for Beth, but she wasn’t as bad as the cologne-wearing married car salesman who inspired my own mother to run away to Toronto and live in a crap apartment he paid for. I didn’t particularly like Chub either, but in this world of abandonment I wanted to hold firm, at least for a while. My thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Chub, dressed in camouflage, a bandana tied around his large head, sliding open the patio door. “Where are you going?” I asked.
INDENT
“Recon,” said Chub, sliding the door shut behind him.
INDENT
I went back to my essay and didn’t worry about Chub until two hours had passed. I wrote the sentence, “I have always liked school,” and got stuck. Then I heard the rumble of water moving through pipes, the sound of an outside hose spigot turned on and then off. I looked out the patio door into the backyard. There was a firepit with a small fire blazing, and Chub squatting next to it, feeding branches. I put on my shoes and stepped out onto the porch. Chub was roasting a misshapen hotdog on a stick over the flames, watching it intently. “Where did you get a hotdog?” I asked.
INDENT
Chub held up the stick so I could see it clearly. The hot dog had four nubs where its legs used to be. “Want one?”
INDENT
“Is that a squirrel?” I asked. Chub nodded and dipped the stick back over the fire.
“You’ve got problems.”
INDENT
“I’ve got lunch.” He spit into the dirt and turned the stick with a practiced hand.

INDENT
Ours was not the sort of neighborhood for grilling squirrels. It was a Midwestern neighborhood of tidy craftsmen homes with small green yards, clotheslines, and tasteful gardens. There were houses close by to the left and right of us, and another across the backyard, separated by a narrow unpaved alley for garage access. If people in our neighborhood wanted to cook outside, it would be hamburger or brats over a gas flame, not lawn squirrel over a firepit. “I’m going inside,” I said. Chub shrugged and wiped his nose on a camo sleeve.
INDENT
I chopped up an apple and considered the tub of miso Beth had bought when she stocked the house with the groceries that were otherwise gone. I opened the lid and sniffed at it. It looked like peanut butter. I dipped a corner of apple slice in and found it wasn’t half bad. Through the window above the sink I watched Chub gnawing on his squirrel, cutting hunks away from the small bones with his knife and waving his fingers from the heat of it. I checked my wallet. Four bucks. I walked to the nearest gas station and bought two packages of peanut butter crackers and a real hot dog and a coke and ate everything in the parking lot before heading home. Chub wasn’t the only one who could take care of himself.
INDENT
When I returned, Chub was nowhere to be seen. Out the kitchen window I noticed that he had elaborated on the firepit, adding a stack of stones that rose up nearly a foot tall, like a beehive. I reached to close the mini-blind, to blot out whatever weird project he was engaged in, but the pull cord was gone. The string had been cut and tied off with a ball-shaped knot so that it wouldn’t drop. I checked two more of the blinds at other windows and found the same. Apparently, Chub had needed twine. I went back to my essay. To the sentence “I have always liked school,” I added “because I believe in personal growth.” Then I changed “liked” to “loved” and sat back. Where was he? The afternoon wore on, and twilight came. My stomach rumbled.
INDENT
His stomp on the porch brought me out. A heavy tread for such a small kid. He grinned and held up two small brown rabbits, gripped by their ears. “Snared,” he said. “Easy as pie.” The rabbits’ eyes were blank and clouded and their bodies flopped at the ends of their broken necks. Limp helpless things.
INDENT
“What’s wrong with you?” I stepped closer to him, using my height. “What kind of hillbilly kills garden bunnies to eat?”
INDENT
Chub’s grin vanished and he stared back hard. “Who listens to a message from his daddy ten times and cries?” Which was me. Chub dropped his hands to his sides and adopted the square-shouldered-chin-raised stance I recognized as the beginning of a fight. Chub was a foot shorter than me; I didn’t back away.

INDENT
“What are you going to do with those?”
INDENT
“Gut ‘em and cook ‘em,” he said defiantly.
INDENT
“Don’t get any mess on the porch,” I said with as much adult tone as I could muster.
INDENT
His shoulders slumped as he walked down onto the lawn. He knelt and made a few quick cuts with his knife and pulled the skin away as clean as peeling a banana. It was impressive, and I felt suddenly lousy for trying to diminish him. “Probably the first rabbits to be killed by mini-blinds,” I said.
INDENT
He looked up at me and his grin returned. “I know, right?”
INDENT
I stifled a comment about Watership Down and instead helped him build a fire in the strange beehive stove. When the rabbits were gutted and rinsed in the gushing spray of the hose faucet, Chub made a grate of branches atop the opening of the stove and placed the meat on it as if on a grill. “You know what would be good?” I asked. “Some salt and pepper or something. Spices.”
INDENT
“Mom doesn’t allow salt.” Chub waved some ashes away from the meat.
INDENT
“I know the thing,” I said. I went inside and got the tub of miso and a spoon. “It smells like dog food, but it’s salty. Not half bad.” I let him smell it and he shrugged so I slathered on some of the paste with a spoon. He turned them over and I slathered them again. “Now all we need is some carrots, or something,” I observed.
INDENT
Chub nodded. “Keep turning ‘em,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
INDENT
Chub returned with pockets bulging. He rinsed off finger-thin carrots and marble-sized radishes and spiny cucumbers the length of pickles. It was only June, and our neighbors’ gardens had not come in yet, but the carrots stick out in my mind as best I’ve ever eaten. “We could get more, you know.” Chub pointed at the small pile of produce. “It’s no moon tonight. Easy.”
INDENT
“How do you know that?”
INDENT
“If there’s no moon, it’s dark,” said Chub patiently. “They can’t see you taking anything.”

INDENT
“But how do you know there’s no moon?”
INDENT
Chub stared at me like I was a moron. “How do you not know that?”
INDENT
I shrugged. “It’s never come up before.”
INDENT
When the rabbits were cooked Chub pushed away the rocks to let the fire spark and shine like a normal campfire. The lights of the surrounding houses cut off as the evening progressed and folks went to bed or focused on the flickering blue strobes of their televisions. We picked at the meat, squatting in the firelight like cavemen, letting the grease drip down our chins.
INDENT
“My dad taught me,” said Chub when we were done, staring into the firelight and wiping our fingers on our jeans. “About paying attention to the moon.”
INDENT
I nodded. “And how to hunt and all that?”
INDENT
Chub nodded. “He’s a Navy Seal. And look.” Chub handed me his hunting knife. “They named a knife after him.”
INDENT
“His name is Buck?”
INDENT
Chub nodded again. “My dad’s name is Buck.”
INDENT
In the firelight, under the stars, I should have realized that Chub was ten years old and entitled to his dreams, however fanciful, but instead I snickered and made a crack. Chub jumped to his feet and pointed a sharpened roasting stick at my eye. “You don’t know shit,” he said. “And your fatass dad doesn’t know shit either.” Which was true.
INDENT
Over the days that followed, we snared rabbit, sling-shotted squirrels, and raided gardens after dark. We drew maps, and Chub taught me the basics of using a compass and how to make rope from the inner bark of trees. I tried to teach him what I knew, which turned out to be not much of anything he was interested in. One night in the backyard I told him that the ancient Greeks thought fire was one of the four fundamental elements of the universe. He countered with the fact that a male mallard duck has a fourteen-inch-long penis. I made no meaningful contribution to his education.

INDENT
I suspect that the neighbors thought poorly of us, but we didn’t think much of them, living off the land as we were. I set my essay aside, and Chub spent less time alone in his room. The rabbits were plentiful, being nearly tame and predictable in their habits, but firewood became scarce and we had to travel further to find it. Neither of us had showered in a week and when the joggers passed us on the sidewalk they kept their distance. One day we abandoned the house altogether and built lean-tos in the park along the creek, to sleep among the sycamore trees that groaned in the night wind. Chub smeared mud on his face against the mosquitoes and I laughed at him until he flared with anger. He kicked over my sorry lean-to and shouted at me: “If you want to survive,” he said, as though quoting a sacred text, “you have to take action and not be a dipshit.” For some reason, I felt the blood of embarrassment rush to my cheeks. I rebuilt my lean-to to look more like his.
INDENT
Later that night I apologized. That made him sheepish and shy, and me somehow even more ashamed. “My mom lives in Canada,” I blurted. “She sends me typewritten letters, on paper she makes look old with vinegar and smoke, like you do when you’re trying to fake a treasure map. Can you believe that shit?”
INDENT
Chub furrowed his brow, which made the dried mud flake. “I’ve never done that,” he said. “Made paper old that way.”
INDENT
“It’s easy,” I said. “I’ll show you.” He nodded and something clear passed between us. Clearer than anything I found in my mother’s letters, which I had read as carefully as any pirate ever read a map. Chub understood, and I was grateful for it. We threw sycamore balls on the fire and watched them spark until we nodded and crawled into the damp and laughable shelters that somehow protected us through the long night.
INDENT
They came home eventually, of course. Their trek had been a disaster. Not only were their belongings stolen, it turns out the summer monsoon season is not ideal for trekking in the Himalayas. Beth hated leeches and they were everywhere – on her legs, in her boots, between her toes. Apparently, she had screamed for hours. The marriage ended after the fourth day. Because the house was empty, the parting was brief. My father and Beth drove home from the airport and then she called a cab for Chub and her luggage. Chub packed his duffle bag with a practiced hand and I could not bear to watch. I stood out by the firepit, kicking the burnt ends of sticks as our parents argued inside. I heard the cab honk, and then felt a light shove. Chub stared up at me, his face as unwashed and grim as my own, a souvenir tee-shirt from Bhutan slung over his shoulder. “Goodbye, brother,” he said. I never saw Chub again.
INDENT
That night, after my father had gotten tight on whiskey and ordered a pizza and we’d had a conversation about how hard it was to remove a tattoo, I went back to my essay. I started on a new page and wrote: “My name is Edward Coogan. I am a soldier of fortune, and used to pain.”

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Josh Calendar is a storyteller, IT consultant, and semi-pro gardener.  He lives in Iowa City, and this is his first published story.

Debra Small: Habitat Lost

Debra Small

 

Habitat Lost:
Negative Effects of Suburban Sprawl on Ecosystems

INDENT
The wild landscape of the western United States is being rapidly converted to a built landscape due to suburban development. The destructive nature of these large-scale developments immediately disrupts the ecosystems. Even after these developments are completed, they continue to destroy the adjacent environment in the wild-land urban interface due to human-caused wildfires, habitat fragmentation, enhancing invasive species migration, surface and groundwater pollution, soil erosion, and pesticide impacts on wildlife. Habitat Lost: Negative Effects of Suburban Sprawl on Ecosystems is a response to this uncontrolled ecological destruction.
INDENT
The work is comprised of large 20” x 30” black and white, digital, high contrast prints of the constructed environment. Furthering the dialogue of environmental loss from suburban development, small kallitype prints on fabric, encased in encaustic wax, of the lost wildlife and habitat, are hung in front of the large black and white images. This body of work relates both to western society’s desire to replace natural land and environments with contemporary construction and developments, as well as photography’s desire to replace the historical with the digital photographic prints.
INDENT
The environmental impacts from suburban developments are pervasive, widespread and not easily resolved. Changes to zoning requirements, community planning, and the use of infill development can provide short-term mitigation to the onslaught of environmental damage from rampant over-development. However, long-term preservation of biodiversity will require us to embrace the moral principles of ecocentric thought, accepting that all living things have intrinsic value and are interconnected. This conversion of ethical thought will not occur overnight, but failure to move in this direction will continue to adversely affect our ecological sustainability, leading to further disruption of habitats and the extinction of species.

Bombus californicus California bumble bee, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Branta canadensis moffitti Great Basin Canada goose, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Buteo swainsoni Swainson’s hawk (2), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

California oak woodland savanna (1), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Cygnus columbianus tundra swan, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Eremocarpus setigerus turkey mullein, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Erodium sp. stork’s bill, 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Sceloporus occidentalis western fence lizard (3), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Trichostema lanceolatum vinegar weed (1), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

Trichostema lanceolatum vinegar weed (2), 2018, Archival pigment ink / kallitype encaustic, ©Debra Small

 

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Debra Small is a fine art documentary photographer, based in Sacramento, California, whose work explores environmental issues. Her current body of work is a response to the wildlife and habitat loss from suburban development. She is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in photography from New Hampshire Institute of Art.

Artists, Scientists & Madmen: Giese & Tagg

Amy Theiss Giese / Nathanael Tagg

Artists, Scientists & Madmen

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 6], 2016, unique silver gelatin photograph, 9×11″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 40], 2017, unique silver gelatin photograph, 11×11″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 4], 2016, unique silver gelatin photograph, 14.25×15.75″

Rewriting John

Scientist, you love the world enough to activate
Johnny, the only begotten nurseryman robot.
Whosoever believeth in you may wonder
not only if Earth will have everlasting life,
not only if a deus ex machina is in order,
but also if the kingdom has already arrived

and how we ought to live accordingly,
even if Johnny will plant stratospheric sunlight-
deflecting particles, his head the hardest of pots,
and transplant machine trees that perfectly
swallow up the glut of atmospheric CO2.
Different gods and priests, similar questions.
Also, a little more artistry and persuasion,
and I could call a story like this the good news.


Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 10], 2016, unique silver gelatin photograph, 20×13.5″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 15], 2017, unique silver gelatin photograph, 24×20″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 24], 2017, unique silver gelatin photograph, 41.75×25.5″

Haldane’s Last Words

I’m called “the man who knows it all,”
but do I know myself? I ought
to have as little reverence
for myself as I’ve had for,
say, the God of theologians,
those who asked me what could be
deduced about the creator

from creation. “An inordinate fondness
for beetles” was my answer,
given nearly half a million species
of them exist. Forget my cleverness;
I won’t recite my verse on rectal cancer,
which is killing me. Da Vinci-esque,

I’ll make a list. 1. To learn, I drank
hydrochloric acid, was locked in rooms
with toxic air and stuck in chambers,
decompressed, then suffered
migraines and perforated eardrums

and shattered vertebrae. 2.
But I gave little thought to animal cruelty
in experiments and agriculture—
not a moment of non-speciesist
consideration to a pig that has a higher
IQ than some unfortunate kids. 3.

I wrote Darwinian books and papers.
Hundreds. 4. And yet I penned
a measly paragraph or two
on the kinship of animals and humans—
less on kinship’s connection to altruism.
5. I was deemed “the cleverest man”
who’d make a mathematical system,

then write a Shakespearean sonnet—
left and right faithfully married in my brain.
6. However, I coaxed a girl to leave
her spouse and marry me.
I almost lost my post at Cambridge
thanks to the scandal. 7. I initiated

modern scientific talk on altruism. 8.
And still, at times, I enjoyed the war—
enjoyed its tanks and bullets,
gas and trenches—so much so
my commander called me “the bravest,

dirtiest” soldier. 9. Pursuing justice,
empathizing with the destitute,
I was a socialist, who had the wit
to say that Britain and the US
adopting communism is as likely as hippos
doing somersaults and jumping hedges.

10. But then I deemed a mass-
murderer, Stalin, a “very great man
who did a very good job.” 11.
In the end, I met myself on my deathbed.
12. My abdomen relaxed, and after weeks
of weight loss and fatigue came
a jolt of strength. 13. Though waste

refused to leave my body, a list
had purged my soul of something worse.


Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 2], 2016, unique silver gelatin photography 7×8″

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 26], 2017, unique silver gelatin photograph, 20×16″ diptych

Untitled Chemical Painting [IC 9], 2016, unique silver gelatin photograph, 6.25×8.5″ diptych

Dragon Sturgeon

Wildfire is not supposed to reach their area,
yet she sees what look like many a solar flare.
To prevent her kids from noticing the fire,
she blindfolds her six-year-old son and four-
year-old daughter. “A game,” says the mother.
She unplugs her hardly charged electric car.
As they approach the interstate, her daughter

says, “What’s that smell? Are we going to Daddy?”
Her mother circumvents the flames by driving
off the road. Her son enjoys the bouncing—
giggles since he doesn’t see the lifeless deer.
Around its neck balloons are tied, beside
a family of trees, ablaze. The kids’ mom and dad
separated recently. A decade ago, he wanted

to live with his wife—but also with friends;
the bunch would share a house. She wanted to live
with just her spouse and (eventually) her kids,
within a couple hours from her whole
tight-knit family. But the couple followed school
and work across the country. Then their separate
wants arose again at a wedding reception,

at an aquarium with a tank of sturgeons, which
anyone with clean hands could touch.
One was black and bright-eyed like a dragon
capable of starting instant wildfires. It swam
alone, evading fingers dipped into the water.
Other sturgeons swam together and tolerated
being touched, and one, the slimiest ham actor,

let itself be touched on every lap around the tank.
She’s since heard of the future possibility
of head transplants. This morning, she dreamed
that every time the slimy sturgeon surfaced, it was
her son’s or husband’s head atop the fish’s body.
Every time the dragon sturgeon surfaced, it was
her daughter’s or her own head on the fish’s body.

Wedding guests had human parts below the neck;
above were various aquatic creature heads.
A game of words on blocks had come alive;
the blocks arranged themselves: “community,
friends as family, village to raise kids, wildfire!”
She woke and saw the flames in which her home
is now engulfed. Her kids remove their blindfolds.

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Amy Theiss Giese is a Boston based artist and educator. Giese received her MFA from Parsons School of Design and her BA from Amherst College. Giese’s work is rooted in materialism, exploring what the fundamental forces are for a given medium focusing on photographic and sound recordings of spaces and places.

Nathanael Tagg is the author of Animal Virtue (WordTech Editions, 2018) and an associate professor of English at Cecil College. He has an MFA from Rutgers. His poems and reviews are published or forthcoming in Colorado Review, Barrow Street, Pleiades, Confrontation, Cimarron Review, and other magazines.

Leopards: Sears

Stephanie V. Sears

Leopards in China: The wild card

Several years ago I embraced the cause of the Asiatic common leopard and as a freelance journalist I headed toward the northeastern region of Jilin in China which is, at present, the leopard’s best hope of survival in China. Unlike Patagonia, the Russian Altai or Costa Rica, China does not spring to mind as an ecologically friendly destination. Nor does one relate a large wide-ranging carnivore like Panthera pardus to the most populated country in the world, unless the animal is to be found cut up in parts for medicinal, decorative or sartorial purposes. Surprisingly, the big cat has survived in this heavily industrialized country, hostage to its vast human population and severe environmental problems. The survival of the leopard in China is a testimony to this cat’s remarkable ability to survive.
        The seven-hour fast-train ride from Beijing to Changchun, capital of Jilin Province, reveals a flat, irresolute landscape, never quite weaned from urban/industrial domination and its spoliation of nature. Agricultural strips alternate with ‘brown field’ zones. Beyond, in every direction, high-rise housing, ever in the process of going up, casts menacing Mordor-like shadows over the ‘countryside’. It reflects China’s on-going real-estate boom bolstered by the improved buying power and desire of the Chinese people to acquire private property.
        In this dismal panorama there are, however, signs of an ongoing change. With noticeable frequency, a number of ‘brown fields’ whizzing by the train rails have been or are in the process of being reforested.
        In Changchun I am greeted by a frosty wind and a toad-colored fog erasing the outlines of the city: a typical sandstorm that might be coming from any of the regions in North China subjected to aeolian desertification. The wind, mixing sand with industrial pollution, fills the air with particulate matter scientifically named PM10 (or if less than 25 micrometers: PM25). The risk of lung damage has become common throughout most of China. The hotel management hands me the type of surgical mask I’ve seen Chinese people wear frequently. Breathing has apparently not become easier since my last visit to the mainland sixteen years ago; during the drive from the airport to Shanghai’s center. I had then found myself gasping for oxygen whether the taxi windows were open or shut.
        Yet environmental concern in China has been brought to the fore. Not far from Changchun, in the best-preserved and most extensive forest in China, the government has recently officialized a 15000 square kilometer national park astride the provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin adjoining Russia and North Korea.  The park will primarily benefit the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) and tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), allowing these big cats to circulate freely between Russia and China as double nationals. Wildlife enthusiasts wants to keep it wild, and an international collaboration such as this appears to be an ideal solution to increase the size of a protected area. Juxtaposition to the Russian ‘Land of the Leopard Park’ greatly improves the chances of survival for the endangered cats. Joint ecological action between countries also suggests something of a shared culture, which may contribute to improved overall cross-boundary relations. The area chosen to be the tiger and leopard park based on ten years of consistent camera–trapping, has confirmed the presence of forty-two leopards, (the gender ratio being seven to eight males for forty females).


A few days earlier, in Beijing, I met Dr. Feng Limin, Associate Professor at the Beijing Normal University, and directing force behind the research and monitoring of leopards in the northeast. With vivacity and driving optimism he seemed to embody what I have come to see as China’s capacity to do a quick turnabout from previous policies when deemed necessary.  I had derived from him a keen sense that conservation of the Sino-Russian Amur leopard was going to be a success.
        Collaboration between Russian and Chinese scientists has become normalized through a yearly workshop during which the more experienced Russians in matters of Amur leopard and Tiger research, act as guides to the Chinese researchers, who willingly acknowledge their beginner’s status regarding big cat conservation. Since the end of the twentieth-century efforts to increase and stabilize a leopard population in the region have led the Chinese government to take steps to preserve primary forest and return some farmland and grassland to woodland. As a result, forest land has increased by some 165,414 hectares, contributing to the region’s Green Great Wall plan against desertification and floods.
       Such radical changes in environmental policy, along with the plan to create 24 additional national parks throughout the country, signify that wildlife conservation has become a priority for the Chinese government, according to Aimin Wang, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society/(WCS) China. Beyond the focus on the northeastern leopard, a population that conservationists hope to see double by 2020, the policy shift will benefit other smaller leopard populations known in China. Though Dr. Wang admits that poaching and the manufacture of illicit medicinal products are not entirely eradicated from China, their slowdown has positioned China favorably compared to other Asian countries such as Thailand.
        The quality of protected areas determines whether conservation will be a success or a failure, specifies Dr. Kong of the Jilin Provincial Academy of Forestry Science. Ungulates in China thrive on Korean pine. Wild boar, Sika, and Red deer need oak. Their prospering ultimately benefits the leopards that prey on them. Other leopard prey such as the wild Gaur, will have to be reintroduced in China, or officially protected, like the oft-hunted Roe deer.  My faith in the new environmental measures taken by China meets with Dr. Kong’s more measured assessment of the future.  He wants things to move faster. The large tiger and leopard park is indeed a great step forward but only if preservation can be sustained. The necessary funds for the project, secured by way of the real-estate boom,  create a yin and yang dilemma where land is preserved thanks to money earned by wrecking nature elsewhere.  Indeed, one can only wonder how in a country of 1.4 billion people, (the statistic inexorably ticking upward), an enduring solution for wildlife can be found.  How, precisely, can building on land to shelter a relentlessly growing population guarantee the permanent conservation of land elsewhere in the country? How long can such a balancing act endure?
        Hunchun is three and a half hours away by train from Changchun and the panorama flashing by shows, this time, many seemingly untouched forest patches. Previously informed that Hunchun was small, I am expecting a village at the fringe of the forest.  In fact, it is a fast-growing town of broad avenues, inhabited by 200,000 people reliant primarily on its natural resources for income.  Still, a feeling of wilderness lingers nearby. Russia and North Korea are, respectively, twenty and forty kilometers away. With the Land of the leopard Park on the Russian side and the unknown of North Korea’s wildlife the leopard may have a real fighting chance here.


Ren Yi, director of WCS/Hunchun, drives me to the Nature Reserve of Hunchun established in 2001. While he and his colleagues verify the camera traps I look around at the type of habitat that leopard and tiger may be roaming through at this moment. It is the same kind of Manchurian forest I have seen on the Russian side: well-watered slim, tight woods, vividly green in this month of May. Sunlight plays a subtle hide and seek where one can easily imagine the spotted coat of the Amur leopard invisibly slipping by. Fourteen leopards in a 1000 square kilometer area have been camera-trapped here recently, against eight to eleven in 2012. The camera traps, typically placed in pairs facing each other, at 45-50 centimeters above ground, every three to four kilometers on average – have captured no leopard this time.  Perhaps this edge of the forest, regularly frequented by Hunchun locals, is not a leopard’s favorite haunt.
        Russian field scientists have taught their Chinese colleagues one of their tricks to get leopards in the camera frame:  a piece of aluminum foil is left on a log placed in front of the camera (leopards like to step on logs) so as to draw the cat’s attention. The cat then typically investigates the shiny object on the log and is photo-trapped. The anecdote encourages me to draw from my pocket a bottle of a famous men’s cologne that is reportedly used by feline specialists to attract big cats into view when in the field.  I spray it on neighboring tree trunks under the doubtful eye of my companions. But previous use on captive tigers and leopards has proved it to be irresistible.
        Is it utopian to hope that such idiosyncratic practices based on close animal observation, foretell a new quality of relationship with wildlife? One closer and more attentive to a wild animal’s individuality?
        Another consideration which, increasingly, must be concomitant with nature conservation, is human population size. How many people and how many wild animals can satisfactorily coexist, and for how long? Despite China’s outlawing of poaching, Ren Yi informs me that people gather pine nuts in the forest (thus competing for food with ungulates)  but also place traps to catch smaller animals, in which leopards occasionally get caught.  The urban limits of the expanding tri-lingual Hunchun are coming ever closer to the park boundaries. Destined to become a trade center for the three neighboring countries, (or four, including South Korea) Hunchun’s growth portends added pressure on the nature reserve.
        The Amur leopard population over-flowing from Russia into China does not constitute the only leopard presence in the country. The north Chinese leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis), or ‘golden coin leopard’, a nickname alluding to darker rosettes, survives as a small group of some fifteen individuals on a small terraced area of the Taihang Mountains west of Beijing. Here, perhaps more so than elsewhere, one wonders how long they will resist the incursion of new roads and a highway linking this formerly isolated region to the rest of China.


Second only to the Amur leopards in terms of conservation priority is a surviving group of leopards in the northern Sichuan region of Ganzi, and possibly also in the south of the province, according to  wildlife cameraman and collaborator of WWF and The Nature Conservancy, Zang Ming. Though the animal’s presence has been known to local rural people for some time, its occurrence in this region comes as a general surprise to a country that, in the last decades, has been concentrated on modernizing and expanding its economy to the detriment of nature.
        Of the four common leopard species traditionally found, and hoped to be still found in China, this particular group, long isolated from other leopard species, would be either PP delacouri or PP fusca, according to Zang. Found living at high altitudes of 2500 to 4000 meters, the leopard has been caught on camera, sharing the same region of Qinghai, in northern Sichuan, with the snow leopard (Panthera uncia). Such an overlap of common leopard with snow leopard has been found in other parts of the world. A plausible assumption, in this case, is that leopards have sought refuge from human encroachment at higher than normal altitudes, taking advantage of warmer temperatures and a higher tree line. Though mating may take place between the two species, the probability of offspring, is very low, in Zang’s opinion. But an increase in their population would make the existing territory insufficient, thereby exposing a characteristic dilemma in today’s wildlife preservation: where to put the added wildlife if conservation succeeds?
        The most effective solution to this problem, for both humans and wildlife, resides in creating a system of nature corridors. In view of the current modest number of leopards in the whole country, Zang thinks that such outlets would allow isolated leopard populations to grow without much risk of miscegenation with other leopard species.  No formal nature corridors exist between China and its fourteen international frontiers according to him, save for the new tiger and leopard Park linking up with the Russian Land of the Leopard Park.
        Elsewhere in the country leopard presence remains a mystery. No statistics are yet available indicating a total leopard number in China.  A map of sightings across China given in the report ‘The Current distribution and Status of leopards Panthera pardus in China’ published in October 2015 in Oryx-The International Journal of Conservation,  shows sporadic, unverified sightings near the south coast and confirmed sightings principally nearer to Nepalese, Bhutanese, Burmese, Laotian, Vietnamese, Russian and North Korean borders, along a northeast to west/southwest arc across China.  The map also shows how the historical leopard distribution,   once comprising some three-quarters of the country, has shrunk over the years.
        The Wakhan corridor between Afghanistan and China, a sparsely populated area, with little road traffic culminating at 4923 meters, and Vietnam’s Golgong mountains near the Chinese border may serve as effective though informal corridors for wildlife. The main obstacle to the creation of nature corridors is widespread and dense urbanization. Even if the solitary and evanescent leopard, unbeknownst to the human eye, manages to cross frontiers, official trans-national corridors would bolster China’s planned park system and on-going efforts to preserve and reconstitute its wildlife. If leopard numbers in China continue to rise, corridors will improve the chances of avoiding human/leopard conflicts as presently witnessed in India due to human density and urban sprawl. 


Zang Ming gave up his work at a large Chinese bank to become a naturalist and cameraman. Both he and his friend and colleague Luo Nei Qian personify a new Chinese passion and concern for national wildlife. This outspoken concern from the country’s people is in part responsible for putting pressure on the State to prioritize nature preservation and take strong measures to improve the environment. Yet the question remains: will those measures be sufficient to allow for the sustainable survival of the big cat?
        With 19% of the world’s population, China is a microcosm of what the whole world is about to face in its efforts to conserve wildlife. Reality compels us to ask a few unsettling questions: Can we honestly speak of saving wildlife while we, as a species continue to multiply in overwhelming numbers that continue to intrude upon remaining wild habitat? Is human expansion and interference with nature a moral right? Before answering such questions, let us first consider some facts. Only two hundred years ago, we, as a species, represented a mere 10-12% of the earth’s total mammal mass.  We now monopolize 96% to 98% of that mass, the rest of living mammals representing therefore a mere 4% to 2% according to an article by Russell McLendon in Mother Nature Network of October 2016: ‘11 startling statistics about earth’s disappearing wildlife’. According to the same article, over 3000 animal species are now considered critically endangered and a 58% decline in wild vertebrates since 1970 may reach 67% by 2020. An estimated 240 acres of wilderness are destroyed every hour according to Kelvin Thompson in his study ‘The impact of population growth on wildlife’ published in 2011 by Population Media Center. The statistical arc of human population growth fits neatly over the statistical arc of animal extinction. The prognosis for the world’s human population by 2030 is 8.5 billion, 9.7 billion by 2050.
        China had a 1.3 billion population in 2008 on the basis of a one child policy begun in 1979 but which encountered some opposition. Since 2015 the one child policy has been abandoned to guard against an aging population, and possibly in reaction to accusations of ethics abuses. Consequently, birthrate increased by 7.9% in 2016, a rate inferior to what the government was hoping for, yet nonetheless leading to an expected population of 1.42 billion by 2020.
        Despite global and heightened environmental awareness, such statistics imply that   wildlife remains secondary to what we consider to be our innate precedence. When human and wildlife conflicts occur, as they do increasingly in buffer areas, communal woods, suburban and urban zones, they are often seen to be caused by the ‘bad behavior’ or illicit presence of the wild animal. For the survivalist leopard this has become frequent in India where they are removed and relocated, or killed, sometimes in cruel circumstances.
        The anthropocentric spirituality of the West and Middle East gives man priority over the animal and though man is instructed to be a compassionate steward of nature he is by the same token encouraged to dominate the rest of creation. It was not always the case in the West. The Greek mathematician and vegetarian Pythagoras believed in the transmigration of souls and in equality between man and animal, and such thinking converged with Eastern philosophy and with more ancient beliefs such as animism, Celtic or East Asian. ‘Chinese Folk religion’, referring to an aggregate of ancient animism and Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, was made official in China at the turn of this century.  After a previous attempt to condemn it as superstition, the syncretic religion was defined as ‘intangible heritage’ and now rallies some 80% of Chinese people across the world.  It could well serve as a foundation for less destructive and more harmonious relations with wildlife in China.


 In fact, Chinese tradition has long established character and status equivalences between animals and men. The leopard was the emblem (hsiang) of fierce bravery in battle, worn as a badge by military officials of third rank. Also, associated with the magpie, the leopard (and the tiger) was a symbol of good luck.
        In the West, in the wake of Pythagoras and later of Saint Francis of Assisi, the seeds of a change of attitude within Christianity were sown, and developed by the eighteenth-nineteenth century philosopher Jeremy Bertham for whom an animal’s evident capacity to suffer was proof of his ethical equality to a human being. In 1824 this type of thinking became formal with Arthur Broome’s creation of the SPCA in England (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and later, in 1980, with PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals). Animal rights have since been further advanced by the likes of Peter Singer, Australian author of ‘Animal liberation’ (1975), the American philosopher Tom Regan, author of ‘The case for animal rights’(2004) and by Andrew Linzey, British theologian and founder of ‘The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics’. Such a philosophical evolution allied to scientific progress in wildlife preservation, seem, gradually, to bring us closer to our ideal of the garden of Eden in which all species live in mutual harmony.
        For their part, some animals like moose, puma, bear, coyote, leopard and many others, seem to have already taken steps in that direction by adapting to suburban and urban areas. But what, one might wonder, can these animals ‘think’ of their new environment, when straying near an airport or into the subway of a big city?  Has adaptation to a human way of life begun to make wild animals less than wild, or ‘semi-wild’ as Monika Fiby notes in ‘The future of wild animals’(2012 Zoolex.org)? The very idea that tigers in some areas are already semi-wild through frequent contact with humans is a repulsive one; not only from a deontological point of view of an animal’s right to his natural surroundings, but also from a deeply aesthetic, and, admittedly, human point of view. Adaptation to human proximity eventually leads to physical changes in a wild animal: a loss of sexual dimorphism, a reduction of tooth and brain size, a slower development from infancy to adulthood….Is it ultimately to our advantage to reduce an elusive predator like the common leopard (or any big cat for that matter) to the status of an alley cat haunting our suburbs? From a climatic and immunological point of view, it is now well established that the greater the biodiversity around us the better humans fare.
        Yet it is perhaps the more intangible cultural attributes we confer on nature and its most beautiful and secretive inhabitants, such as the leopard, that are most crucial to us and capable of filling a human existential void. The leopard has long enchanted our nature with essential notions of freedom, beauty, and mystery. I, myself, have walked in forests where big cats still roam and the unparalleled thrill is akin to walking through a fairytale. Therefore, it is perhaps the stealthy presence and unhampered wandering of the leopard that will contribute to China ’s recovery from an overwrought anthropocentric environment, elevating the feline once more to his status of living symbol in China; but this time he will symbolize China’s capacity for self-reassessment and perseverance in regaining the full splendor of its culture.

 


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Stephanie V. Sears is a French and American ethnologist, free-lance journalist and essayist who has previously been published, on the subject of nature conservation and wildlife, in E, The Environmental Magazine, Insula(UNESCO), CerisePress, The Montreal Review, Wildlifeextra, Zoomorphic.

Image provided by daddyboskeazy is a derivative of leopard_print_background used under CC BY 2.0.

Connections: Gaines and Cohen

Alison Gaines / Brian D. Cohen

Apology Ritual

The evening begins with the rain
clearing its throat: I’m sorry, I waited
as long as I could. Retreating
from every windowsill and bicycle spoke,
the lizards shy under leaves.
The wasps pause their nest
construction, carry it to an unpeopled
place, still sorry for what happened
last week on the porch. The palmettos
have whacked enough faces on the road,
and now lean away from it.
In the house, there’s you,
adding today’s infractions—
bicycle knocked over,
sharp pencil dropped,
thing said too loud
or too soon—to yesterday’s,
another layer under which
you will not sleep.

Nest, Etching 5″ x 5″, 2015 © Brian D. Cohen

Galaxy, Etching 5″ x 5″, 2014 © Brian D. Cohen


Nostalgia Moon, Relief Etching 5″ x 4″, 2010© Brian D. Cohen

Waved Albatross

They fish for weeks at sea, hardly moving
a wing, then stumble on land, risk breaking
a leg in touching down to the cliff. They lay
one pointy egg on the rocky, sinking island.
Coleridge hung on them the idea that they
must hang on us, a yoke, a new way to feel
sorry for ourselves. Eight feet in wingspan
but only a few pounds, one begins helpless,
a bundle of brown shag carpeting, left
for all those weeks of fishing. Then they fledge
and move from one era of solitude
to another, years before returning.
I envy those dark eyes and their long sight.
These birds are terrifying. They mate for life.


Gray Whale

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light …
            W.S. Merwin, “For a Coming Extinction”

To be born at the surface
drinking 53% milkfat

Held up by mother
on her belly or back

in case of orcas
or something else with teeth

To migrate up and down a coast
one’s whole life

close to the surface
where light ripples ancient skin

To sleep there. To give birth
every two years or so

year-long gestations
ending shallow and warm

To abstain from feeding
during migration

To feed by pushing along the floor
on one’s right side

making a cloud of sand
and spitting out the mud

How large, how slow
What to make

of the curve of the mouth
the expressionless eye

Ask their secret
They seem like creatures with secrets

They would probably tell us not to worry
not to feel bad

their medium being water, we think
not the future or last weekend

Whale, Etching 5″ x 5″, 2014© Brian D. Cohen

Ailing Moon, Relief Etching 6″ x 6″, 2011 © Brian D. Cohen

Snail, Etching 5″ x 5″, 2015 © Brian D. Cohen

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Alison Gaines studies poetry at the University of Florida. She is originally from Vancouver, Washington and has a BA from Knox College. She has attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as an MFA scholar, and written several textbooks for young readers. Her poems have appeared in Sweet Tree Review.

Brian D. Cohen is a printmaker, painter, writer, and educator. He founded Bridge Press, publisher of limited edition artist’s books and etchings, in 1989. Brian has exhibited in forty individual exhibitions and in over 200 group shows, and his work is held by private and public collections throughout the country.

 

John Hirsch – “And Again: Photography From The Harvard Forest”

John Hirsch

 

Selections from

And Again: Photography From The Harvard Forest

 

Untitled, ©John Hirsch

Untitled, ©John Hirsch

Station For Measuring Colored Dissolved Organic Matter, Dissolved Oxygen In Stream Water, ©John Hirsch


 

A Harvard Forest Sense of Place (excerpt)

 

It is an extreme sense of place. A feeling that a landscape is right, even as it changes. And comfortable. A comfort that is grounded in an emotional connection and ease with the land and vegetation and with the smells and sounds that fill it. But it goes much further than emotions. The attachment is strengthened through knowledge of the place today and what it has been, and through awareness of the people and events that have shaped it over time. The connection grows with familiarity and experience and with the insights gleaned through an inquisitive eye. It becomes extreme when it is rooted in generations of such experience and is passed from one person to the other and then on again through time. That experience is the Harvard Forest.

~ David R. Foster


Soil Extraction Jars, ©John Hirsch

Shannon Looking For Ants, ©John Hirsch

Measuring Oxygen In A Pitcher Plant, ©John Hirsch

Screening Soils At The Sanderson Tannery Archaeological Site, ©John Hirsch

Soil Respiration Auto Analyzer, ©John Hirsch

Map of Sawmill Sites for 1938 Hurricane Salvage, ©John Hirsch


THE FOREST THROUGH THE TREES

How many trees grow in eighty-six acres—or about sixty football fields—of Massachusetts woods? Field crews at Harvard Forest can tell you: about 116,000. Over the course of four years, several teams of researchers identified, measured, and digitally mapped every woody stem in the study area—painting each one with a yellow stripe when it was counted. The plot will be remeasured every five years until well beyond our lifetimes. The result will be a publicly accessible map recording the growth and death of every tree in the forest, from saplings barely the width of a pinky finger, to massive hemlocks on the edge of extirpation, to towering, colonial-era pines. The Harvard Forest plot is part of an unprecedented global effort—involving hundreds of scientists from five continents—to measure forest dynamics in a time of rapid environmental change. More than forty of these large, intensive research plots dot the globe and are overseen by a partnership between the Center for Tropical Forest Science (CTFS) and the Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory (SIGEO). The first such plot was established in Panama in 1980; the Harvard Forest plot, begun in 2010, expands the network from tropical forests into the temperate zone. The growing international network of sites, which now tracks more than 6 million trees, allows scientists to detect global patterns in forest health that would otherwise be invisible at local scales. Each measurement, over time, gives a better understanding of forest function and the impacts of global environmental change.

~ Clarisse Hart



Monitoring Sap Flow ©John Hirsch

Pollen Under A Microscope, ©John Hirsch

Warm Air Chamber, ©John Hirsch

Growth Rings, ©John Hirsch

Leaf Litter Basket, ©John Hirsch

Untitled, © John Hirsch

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John Hirsch: A photographer and educator, John received a professional certificate in photography from The Maine Media Workshops and College in 2002. He has taught photography workshops in Maine and Boston and is head of the Visual Arts Department at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts. John’s work is rooted in a documentary style, illuminating quiet moments in emergent or changing societies as well as allowing us to probe and reflect on the ideas of community, recreation and land use in the American psyche.

John’s recent book is available now for purchase. This 136 page cloth bound monograph includes 70 images chronicling the research, scientists, and ephemera of the Harvard Forest―a 3,750-acre research forest in Petersham, Massachusetts. Essays by David Foster, Clarisse Hart, and Margot Anne Kelley expand the scope of this photographic exploration at the nexus of science and art.

This body of work is about a desire to understand, describe, and predict the evolution of our surroundings, while showing reverence for the possibility of sublime moments in a place. The forest is here a microcosm for the world in which we live, and this work helps us envision the future we may inhabit, making the book a useful and engaging vantage from which to consider pressing issues of climate change, ecosystem resilience, and land and water use.

For more information or to purchase the book please email johnphirsch(at)gmail.com

Painting Stories: Kauffman & Ellison

Kjerstin Anne Kauffman / Ingrid Ellison

 

Painting Stories

 

 

Yaryan’s

My mother surreptitiously turns over peaches,
hiding the green ones, the bruised ones we ransacked,
I and my children, between the warm leaves,
before we can haul them to the scale.

Our plunder blushing in its cardboard crate
(yes, I crave it even now) does fail
to align. Big peaches jostle the small ones,
off-balance, or oddly oblate.

We have to respect the orchard, she’d said,
and she’d meant—suddenly, I understand—
produce culled, cradled, and basking
in ripe uniformity.

A pity we’ve left her to salvaging
what order she can, then bearing, with relative
grace, old Yaryan, who stoops,
weighs, and condescends

to advise: don’t turn up the stems, now.
Maybe we all of us, knowing best, err.
But who’ll forgive us our clumsy possession
of this fruit, these yielded gems?

Beginning Again, Oil on Linen 46×46″, © Ingrid Ellison

Red Roof, Oil on Panel 12×12″, © Ingrid Ellison

 

 

Blue Roof, Oil on Panel 12×12″, © Ingrid Ellison

Buried Under March Snow, Oil on Linen 48×48″, © Ingrid Ellison

Morning in the Cascades

The suburban smells like teenage boys
and coffee. But I’m in the back,
untouchable, serene—
             I’m the queen

of this expedition, who gets to sprawl
with Ebony, the dog, behind
the back seat, on the sleeping-bag-bed
             spread

over rucksacks and ski gear. I get
this envied seat, because when I read
the boys—everybody—listens.
             The roads glisten

with ice. This drive is dangerous. Yet the whole,
parentless carload’s in thrall to Watership Down
though mostly they’re too old
             for it, not bold

enough to admit they like it. I know
it bothers them—maybe it should
that it’s a story about bunnies.
             But it’s funny,

right now, no one wants to stop. We all
want to hear the world, like we thought,
is our enemy. We have to have cunning,
             running

around in it. We have to have tricks.
Maybe they think, these brothers,
and these brothers’ friends, while I read
             they don’t need—

But look. We have such power then. The sun
stands over the mountains. The snow
is everywhere. And my voice, as we are cresting,
             is full, is arresting.

Turning, in Winter

Come inside, winnowing. Two months
this house has been in and out of a fever.
This room has asked me to bend
and whisk away: mucus, peevishness, sorrow.
Now the snow concentrates, heavy, tossing
on window and door. All day
I’ve been brooding the blue-light dispatches
of my phone—is this odd? some mother
had her children whisked by mistake,
by her benevolent state, by god—

The narrowest of passages, the most
impenetrable door I incline to survive as.
Nevertheless, I invite you,
flurry subsumed in this cavern, this room.

Carrying a Story Through the Night, Oil on Linen 48×48″, © Ingrid Ellison

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Ingrid Ellison is a painter working in oil and mixed media. Born in Boston, Ingrid has made Maine her home since 2007. She has exhibited at the CMCA, AVA Center for the Arts, Cynthia Winings Gallery, and Frank Brockman Gallery. Ingrid has a passion for sharing what she does with students both school aged and adult.

Kjerstin Anne Kauffman has taught creative writing at  Johns Hopkins University and Hillsdale College. Her poems, essays, and reviews appear in many periodicals including Literary Matters, Gulf Coast, 32 Poems, The Cresset, Salamander,  and The American Poetry Review.

 

Climbing: Chin & Gaposchkin


Hon. Dr. Jimmy Chin / Jacob Gaposchkin 

 

Climbing

Well isn’t this a bright-eyed looking group!

Thank you for having me here on such a special day, this special moment.  It is a great privilege to speak to you and I have not taken it lightly.  In fact, you might not think someone that has spent the last 20 years climbing in the Himalayas, hanging from high altitude alpine walls and skiing first descents in no fall zones around the world would lose any sleep over speaking to a few college students.  Well, for the record, I’ve spent quite a few nights over the last few months lying in bed sweating it out wondering what in the hell I was going to say to you all.  Breathe Jimmy Breathe!

But today isn’t about me.  It’s about you.  So yes, take a big deep breath…and take it all in.  You’ve worked hard to get here.  And let’s just take a moment to appreciate all the people who have helped you get here, your teachers, your brothers and sister, your friends, your family, and your parents.

sheep, Igloo Mountain

Dall’s Sheep, Igloo Mountain, 2017 ©Jacob Gaposchkin

“But today isn’t about me.  It’s about you.”

 


 

 

mountain passage

Dalton Highway, 2017 ©Jacob Gaposchkin

This moment, graduation from college, is such a beautiful, liberating, and terrifying rite of passage.  For some of you it is the transition to deeper studies in graduate school, and for many, a transition out of the safety net of academia into the “real world.”  That place with a completely bewildering number of options, seemingly impossible choices, pitfalls, opportunities, lack of opportunities, career paths, expectations, Tinder dates…What am I going to do with my Life?

Well, before you panic, which you will if you haven’t already, I have a few things to say.  And please, take whatever I say with a grain of salt.  Some of this will strike a chord with you, and some of it may not, or you may never remember a word I say…but hopefully, hopefully, some of it will become useful down the road.  I am simply here to share a few observations about things I’ve learned from my own personal journey…

The first thing I want to talk about is taking risks.  I know. I know, some of you must be thinking, this is the last guy on the planet that should be giving advice on taking risks…he spends most of his time ridiculously dangerous situations, he almost died in an avalanche!  He’s insane!


Well when I say take risks I don’t mean you should go climb high altitude alpine walls, although it is quite fun, nor am I asking you to make jumps turns down Everest.  So you know, the biggest risk I ever took was forging my own path.  My parents were Chinese immigrants.  They were very traditional and conservative.  For most of my childhood and adolescence, as far as I knew, there were only 4 career paths – doctor, lawyer, professor and investment banker.  My parents were librarians at Minnesota State University.  They saved their whole lives to put me through a private college.  When I finished college, I was under a lot of pressure to pick a traditional career path.  I don’t blame them.  I knew they only wanted the best life possible for me and I appreciated that.  But that path wasn’t me.  I told them I was going to move west and live out of my car and climb and ski full-time.  They were horrified.  They would say things like, “of course, we’re worried. There is no word in Chinese for what you do.”  I would call my sister and ask, “How are mom and dad?” And she would say, “They are a bit worried. They think you’re a homeless person.”  I struggled with a deep sense of doubt and guilt everyday…particularly when, living as a vagabond climbing bum.  I was dumpster diving for food behind grocery stores.  But I continued to fight for the life I wanted.  I lived out of the back of a 1990 Subaru Loyale station wagon.  It wasn’t very glamorous, but I was committed to making a life out of climbing, skiing and living a life of adventure.  It fed something in me and I lived with passion and was surrounded by people who were passionate about what they were doing.
snow covered mountain, range, water

The Alaska Range, Mile 79 Denali Park Road, 2017 ©Jacob Gaposchkin

 



“Being willing to walk away from the expectations of others and of society was the biggest risk I ever took.” 

figure overlooking mountains

Self-portrait, Cathedral Mountain, 2017 ©Jacob Gaposchkin

People often assume I knew what I was doing…that the path was clear to me.  Hell no!  I had no idea what I was doing.  I just knew I wanted meaning and purpose in my life and I set out to find it by following my heart.

And by the way, people always talk about following your heart as if it is easy.  Oh, follow your heart.  Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not that easy.  It’s not always clear what your heart is telling you.  You have to examine your intentions endlessly.  What are you passionate about?  Who is it you want to be?  What do you want to do?  And most importantly, why?  These are big questions and these are questions I still ask myself every day.  Just know that there is always doubt…that is normal and that is where you have to take the risks to understand yourself and what your heart is telling you…in life and in love.  Being willing to walk away from the expectations of others and of society was the biggest risk I ever took. I cannot overemphasize how important it was for me to have taken that risk.  It was a commitment to that unknown path that eventually led me to one small opportunity and another and another and another that finally brought me to where I am today.  As I was once told, “You have to commit and figure it out.”

The next thing I want to speak about is failure.  Failure is an interesting word.  It has obvious connotations.  However, in my experience, I have learned the most profound lessons in life through failure.


For most of my career, I have been recognized for my successes.  Oh, he skied Everest. He climbed Meru.  Well, what people don’t talk much about are my failures.  And I’ve had many.  When I first looked up at Everest to try and ski it and the first time I gazed up at the icy flanks of Meru, both times, I almost turned around and walked away.  They seemed too big and too outrageous to comprehend.  I was convinced that I would fail.  But I stayed and I tried and I failed spectacularly on both of them.  Through those failures, I learned it was okay to be scared, even good to be scared.  I deconstructed the failures; thought about how I would do things differently; and how I could do them better, move faster and more efficiently.  I learned what I needed to do to come back and eventually ski Everest and to climb Meru.  I not only learned how to better prepare for them, train for them and refine my strategies around climbing them, I also was able to apply what I learned on other mountains.  In essence, those failures gave me the confidence to fail more and in turn to seek bigger goals and objectives in climbing but also in other aspects of my life as well, like in filmmaking.  I learned not to let the big objectives overwhelm me and that just like in climbing big mountains, it’s about the three feet ahead of you, putting one foot in front of the other, keeping the bigger objective in mind, and doing the work right in front of me.  As my mentor, Rick Ridgeway, once said to me while I was starving and feeling hopeless on an expedition where we were attempting an unsupported crossing of the Chang Tang Plateau in Tibet. “You know how you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”

northern hawk owl

Northern Hawk Owl, 2017 ©Jacob Gaposchkin


“I truly believe, without compassion, empathy, and respect, there is no ability to have true discourse.”

Denali “The Great One”, Stony Overlook, 2017 ©Jacob Gaposhckin

But back to failure, the great irony is that failure is often the best way forward, the best way to succeed.  And of course, without failure, there is no such thing as success.  And the more you fail, the sweeter the success.  I often think the greatest failure in life could very well be never having failed.  It means you never dared to dream big, never tried something extraordinary, never stuck it out there and never took the risks.  Learn to embrace failure and be proud of failing, because there is such a thing as failing upwards.  Just don’t let failure debilitate you, learn from them, let them motivate you.  Embrace failure and in some ways, you will never fail.  In my life, I have had many failures and I am thankful for every one of them.

Finally, I want to speak about compassion, empathy, and respect.  We live in a time with more forms of communication than any other time in history yet our country and our politics are more divided than ever.  I truly believe, without compassion, empathy, and respect, there is no ability to have true discourse. You will not be able to hear others and in turn, you will not be heard.  Remember, we are all in this together, regardless of color, race, sexual orientation and religion.  We are all trying to make sense of the world, struggling to find meaning and purpose and to get through our own existential crises.


In particular as a graduating class from Unity College, you know, we all lose if we politicize the protection of our environment.  Yes, there are a lot of perspectives on how to protect our environment and yes, you need to take a stand for what you believe in, but you also need to have compassion, empathy, and respect to take down the barbed wire fences between differing opinions and worldview to have real dialogue.  Intelligent dialogue.  Right now we need dialogue that will actually lead to solutions as opposed to deepening the divides.

You are the future and you hold the keys to the preservation and conservation of our environment.  You have the chance to make the world a better place.  To leave it better than you found it.  That is part of your responsibility.

I just saw this African Proverb carved into the wall at the natural museum in New York.  It said, “The Earth is not a gift from our parents. It is a loan from our children.”

How will you use your voice?  How will you use your education to find solutions to the environmental issue we face today?  Frankly put, if you can’t de-politicize the discussion and facilitate intelligent and meaningful discourse about protecting our environment, we’re screwed.

mountains and clouds

Mt. Pendleton & East Fork, 2017 ©Jacob Gaposchkin

 



“Just as you should treat others with respect and compassion, you need to treat yourself with respect and compassion too.”

trees, green Alaska

Tree Line, 2017, ©Jacob Gaposchkin

People will have their opinions and so will you.  Be informed. Examine your opinions carefully but examine the opinions and perspectives of those around you even more carefully.  It is only through understanding the bigger picture that you will be able to form an intelligent opinion.  Have the humility to recognize you might not always be right.

You are graduating today but learning doesn’t end here.  In fact, graduating only means you have now been given the tools to think critically and to continue to learn better.  Life is about learning, about making mistakes and about shifting your gaze, about growing intellectually and growing as a person.  Without compassion, empathy, and respect, you will not be able to truly see the world through different lenses, or place yourself in someone else’s shoes.  And, you will have missed some biggest opportunities to learn and grow.

On that note, compassion also means being compassionate towards yourself.  There is likely no one that is going to be harder on you than you.  Remind yourself to take it easy on yourself.  Just as you should treat others with respect and compassion, you need to treat yourself with respect and compassion too.  We all make mistakes.  Learn from them.  But don’t spend all your time beating yourself up.  You can use that energy in much more productive ways.


In conclusion, I encourage you to think big when you go forward becoming the person you want to be.  The one great privilege you have is the privilege of creating a meaningful life for yourself.  And when I say a meaningful life, don’t sell yourself short.  Go big!  Never stop reminding yourself that every day that passes is one less day you have to live, so get out there, take risks, fail spectacularly, be compassionate, empathetic, respectful, be patient with yourself, put one foot in front of the other, create the life you dream of and become the person you want to be.  You have no one to do it for you but yourself.

Thank you.

Dr. Jimmy Chin

 “The one great privilege you have is the privilege of creating a meaningful life for yourself.”

northern lights

Aurora, Northern Boreal Forest, 2017 ©Jacob Gaposchkin

 

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Hon, Dr. Jimmy Chin is an image-maker, filmmaker, and athlete specializing in mountain sports. He was Unity College’s 2017 Commencement speaker.

Jacob Gaposchkin is a recent graduate of Unity College’s Wildlife & Fisheries Management program. After graduating in May, Jake hopped in his truck and made a beeline for Alaska for his third consecutive summer in the state. Jake returned to Denali National Park and Preserve for his second summer working as a wildlife technician for the National Park Service. Jake works with all wildlife in the park but his primary focus is grizzly bears; specifically managing their interactions with humans. “It is an incredible opportunity to learn a lot about about the wilderness and a lot about myself”, says Jake. The job is a unique chance to work on both sides of wildlife management issues and learn about the crucial balance between humans and wildlife.

Jake is a dedicated outdoorsman with a passion for photography; making the most of all that Alaska has to offer. To Jake, there is no one specific thing that draws him to Alaska, it is how everything comes together to make it such an extraordinary place. In Alaska, every day is different and every day Jake is set back by the unparalleled and anomalous beauty of the state. He always brings a camera with him to try and capture these moments so they can be enjoyed and experienced by others.

 

 

 

 

Batrachomancy: Wagenaar and Kydd

 

Chelsea Wagenaar / Sal Taylor Kydd

 

chidren holding polywags

Pollywogs, 2016, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

 


Batrachomancy
—divination by frogs

Somewhere they leap on soft wet banks,
crouch in clear waters, their mottled skin
as dew brilliant as the spiderwebs were the spring
my father saved them. They don’t know how
they were spared, of course, the wrist-thin skin
of their throats pale and pulsing to sound out
the hours, each other. Perhaps only a few
still survive that spring twelve years ago,
when their mother trekked up from the wooded stream
that bordered our yard and emptied her belly
in our swimming pool—nebulous cluster
of milky globules suspended there, each an eye
with its black, pinpricked center. There,
to our spellbound disgust, they hatched—
the pool a frantic bevy of heads and tails,
the luck or curse that placed them there.
If I follow them back through their afterlives,
bellowing and skin-darkened to herald
a coming rain, voluble with warning
when storms approached, some lost,
perhaps tweezed apart in junior high labs,
or caught again by my father, cupped too tightly
in the hands of his new daughter—if I follow them
back through their chorused, forested lives,
I can trace them up the garden hose
that poured them in synchronized frenzy
into their rightful waters, the hose
a sinuous lifeline climbing the yard to our pool,
where its other end siphoned the tadpoles
from a water thrilled with their darting chaos.
Look harder, farther: I see my father
by the stream, kneeling in damp clay,
his lungs full, his mouth around the hose
inhaling a deep, slow gasp, then another,
until the summoned water met his mouth.
The bodies pouring out into the life
they had not known to imagine.
And his watching them arrowed away
in the current like undoused green flames.
And the bitter, secret taste on his tongue.
young girl backbend

Backbend, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

plant floating in water

Flotsam, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

 

 

 


child legs under water swimming

Elliot Diving, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

edge of still water with tree line reflection

Linda’s Cove, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

swimming girl head out of water

Lola Rising, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

Lullaby in a Drought

In the drawers, in the cabinets,
we find pecan casings and pellets,

the answer to the question
of what patters in the walls at night.

We are not the only lovers here.
If the lights go out, we used to say,

you pour the wine and I’ll find
the matches. But we dare not tempt them

in this tinder town—where sycamores shed
parched unready leaves, where yards are fringed

with thistle barbs. If the waters rise,
we used to say, you pour the wine

and I’ll tear out the best pages.
But now the baby’s in her seventh week,

pulled from the secret waters
of my body into a rainless topography.

Who is more sorry?
She sleeps the sleep of rivers.

In the nights I sit cradleside when she wakes,
humming Brahms’ famous notes—

a song he wrote to sway an old love.
So we are always singing

what we cannot change.
The walls fill with patter, rain clouds

form somewhere else. The wine
grows older, finer. If the funnel forms,

if the hail falls.


The Gospel According to the Ant

You unbeautiful unwelcome creature,
spring-herald, anti-chef,
I find you

mired in malbec spatter,
freckling the sugar bowl,

a moving pixel among the strawberry’s
seed-pocked flesh.

Little needle threaded
with these traces of my life,
you sew me

to the whirring world underfoot.
In perfect sync with the 5 o’clock train’s
westward heave,

you bear your crumb freight—
a piece of rind nearly twice your tercet body—

with what I have no word for
except maybe grace. Grace

that stays my hand, grace
that doesn’t lessen your load

but lets you carry it
until you reach your pocket of earth

where the others rise, finally,
to help you set it down.

 

dead goldfinch

The Goldfinch, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

girl in old-fashioned farm watering station

Girl Bathing, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

 

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from in a single hand emerging from water

A Frog in the Hand, 2015, ©Sal Taylor Kydd

Sal Taylor Kydd writes of her photographs from OriginsMy work is primarily an exploration of memory, how we preserve memories and how they shape our lives moving forward with sometimes illusory certainty.  It is also a reflection on time, and an examination of the fleeting moments where we behold change within ourselves and the world around us. I see the photographic object is a keepsake of our experience, and as such is a way of recording discoveries that serves as a reminder of what we have lost and what we are attempting to preserve.

In my most recent work I have been looking at how memory shapes and distorts our understanding of what is real.  Specifically it is an exploration of truth through the lens of our relationships – how what we know to be certain about ourselves and the other, changes in the course of that journey. What do we keep for ourselves and what do we share? In a world where everything is shared and exposed, what is left that is sacred. 


Chelsea Wagenaar is the author of Mercy Spurs the Bone, selected by Philip Levine as the winner of the 2013 Philip Levine Prize.  She holds a BA from the University of Virginia and a PhD from University of North Texas. Her work appears recently or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, The Normal School, and Poetry Northwest.  She currently lives in Indiana, where she is a postdoctoral Lilly Fellow at Valparaiso University.

Artist Sal Taylor Kydd has a BA in Modern Languages and an MFA in Photography from Maine Media College.  She has exhibited nationally, with shows at A. Smith Gallery in Texas, Gallery 69 in LA, and Pho Pa Gallery in Portland ME. Sal is also a book-artist represented by Priscilla Juvelis, Inc.  She resides in Rockport, Maine.