Thursday, January 29, 2009
But is this true? Is everything sacred?
The issue comes up frequently in Yellowstone, where interpretation of Native American experience has gone from, “Those simple people were too scared of the geysers to come to Yellowstone, to “Obviously, they were so simple that everything in Yellowstone must have had some kind of sacred or spiritual significance for them.” Obviously, Native American can’t enjoy nature for its beauty.
Aren’t they both equally as bad when it comes to simplifying indigenous peoples’ thoughts?
The Cairngorms in Scotland are awfully impressive, and I appreciate that about them, but do I find them sacred? I have relatives buried in a cemetery, but is that place really considered sacred ground for me? I respect it as a place we put our dead, but would I sacrifice a goat to the Gods there? In many of the accounts of Native Americans I’ve read, many thought Yellowstone was pretty cool and awfully utilitarian. But sacred? Many never came to the area because of its remoteness, not because they were afraid of the gods getting pissed off. They had very practical views of the geysers and hot springs: they used the waters to bath in or to soften the horns of bighorn sheep in order to bend them into bows. They buried people in the park who died on long journeys, not because they were buried specifically IN the park.
Can’t Native Americans appreciate something for its beauty and resources, without considering it sacred? We don’t require white people to consider something sacred in order to interact with it; why insist on that myth for indigenous minorities? Could they also have looked at the Grand Tetons and have seen it as a mountain to conquer rather than to fear? My guess is that human spirit prevails, and that Native Americans were climbing Devil’s Tower long before white people showed up to do it, no matter what the legends say.
This can extend beyond the North American indigenous population. Throughout the world, art (as created by “primitive” people who existed more than, say, 500 years ago in Europe, Asia and Africa) is reduced to the spiritual. Those rock carvings MUST have religious significance, because those people would have NEVER done that for fun or to create something merely aesthetically pleasing. Those temples MUST have religious significance, because those people would never build something like that for personal satisfaction.
Discussions of Newgrange in Ireland, the pyramids of Egypt, Chichen Itza, Great Zimbabwe, all center around gods and priests and sacrifice. Never do the venture into the realm of art and beauty such as they are. But was The Thinker sculpted to sit in a church? Does George Bumann sculpt in order to express his love of god? Did Van Gogh paint because he was divinely told to? If we civilized white people can create art simply because we feel like it, why can’t anyone else?
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Jonmikel paid me a great compliment not so long ago. We were having a conversation about how old so many people his age seem to be, when really, mid-30s is not even close to old anymore. In fact, in Western Europe, you are considered a "kid" well into your 20s, and 30s is when you should start growing up. Americans tend to mix up "maturity" with "old."
Anyway, the compliment: we were driving along 25, and he looked at me and said, “I’m so much younger now than I was 5 years ago.”
Because really, growing up and getting a job and starting a family is no excuse to get old.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
PS Jonmikel is totally crouching down because I kept cutting his forehead out of these pictures
Monday, January 26, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
It's an exciting place, an all-day, all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink, all-you-can-gamble, all-you-can-stand place, each themed hotel a throwback to something you can kind of remember if you squint.
We booked a hotel right on the strip, Bill's Gambling Hall and Saloon, a $45-a-night place with views of the Bellagio and ribeye-and-eggs for $5 from midnight to 6am. Prime location for pretty much everything, and we begin our jaunt in the Other City that Never Sleeps a, appropriately, New York New York, where I promptly win $618 at a slot machine and quit while I'm ahead. We also make the mandatory stop at Margaritaville, where we sing Jimmy Buffet tunes, sip a Land Shark with tequila in it, and dine on probably the largest plate of nachos I have ever seen.
Should I be jealous?
The view from our window to the right... the Bellagio Fountains
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Really, I am one of those Americans who didn’t think this day would come. Not only have we elected the US’ first black president, but we’ve also elected a guy with a name that is not blatantly boring and American; we picked a Barack Obama, oddly foreign to our neo-European tongues, over a John McCain. As I’ve always been a fan of funky names, I’m all for it. I just never thought it would happen in my lifetime.
I watched the Inauguration diligently, and found myself in a myriad of emotions. On the one hand, Obama’s speech was moving and determined, and he looked noble and presidential and like all the things our political scene has been missing in the last 6 or so years. On the other hand, I was bothered by several things.
First of all, I want to express my deepest disgust at those American who refused to watch the Inauguration or who threw rude and inappropriate comments at our incoming president because, well, they voted for the other guy. I have always been of the opinion that the president is the president, and even if you don’t agree with his takes on the world, and even if you didn’t vote for him, he deserves your respect. Yes, even W deserved the respect that comes with the position. I may not like him, I may think he royally messed up, I may ask him some tough questions, but if I were to ever meet him, I will shake his hand and smile and be as polite as possible, because he deserves that. Obama, too, deserves this, and while we may have the right to our own angry, hurtful and ignorant opinions, we should all be smart enough and well-bred enough to be polite and respectful.
Also, I felt some offense at the term “non-believer” that Obama used at one point to say how this country is meant for everyone. Some people may be okay with the fact that hey, at least we’re getting some acknowledgment, but I’m not. I found it pejorative and incorrect. To imply, first of all, that if you’re not Christian or Muslim or Jew or Hindu that you are, in fact, a non-believer, discounts and undermines the hundreds of religions out there that don’t fall into these neat categories. Secondly, calling us “non-believers” implies that we don’t believe in anything, which is incorrect, as most of us, even atheists, believe in something, whether it is the strength of the human spirit, our own capabilities, nature, whatever. Third, the term “non-believer” is what extremists throw around to create an environment of hate, an environment that pits “us” against “them” and one which causes people to invade countries and blow up buildings. Lastly, by referring to all those who do not fit into the category as “non-believers,” I feel that people are implying that we are inherently wrong and aren’t really capable of believing, but because the Christians/Hindus/Muslims/Jews are such good people, they will allow us to also partake in the “freedoms” of the US. You can be glib all you want, but as someone who has experienced religious discrimination in ways that mainstream religious people or people who live in, for example, the international metropolis of Washington, DC, have never experienced, I feel that it’s about time that all of us “non-believers” be recognized for something other than the fact that we don’t fit into Americans’ over-simplified definitions of what is and is not a religion. Obama may not have meant it in this way, as I’m sure some of you will argue, but it perpetuates religious ignorance nonetheless. I found it to be inappropriate for an international presidential speech, and perhaps instead of singling out all of us non-Christians/Jews/Muslims/Hindus, a more all-encompassing idea should have been presented, one that is powerful regardless of religious, ethnic, economic affiliations. I'm no speech writer or politician, so please do not ask me to come up with anything more specific on the fly.
Finally, I was hoping for some recognition of our indigenous population, for once. Ever year that I’ve watched the Inauguration, or have been at least able to comprehend its significance which, granted, has not been many such events, I have hoped that a hand would be extended to the people that have been here for at least 12,000 years. And every year, I’ve been disappointed. Every new president has made sweeping statements about how this country was built by people who came over on boats, how our goals and dreams and morals were brought over by people who came on boats, how these people who came on boats came searching for freedom and built this country on those beliefs. Nevermind that there were at least 12 million people already here, and that in order to build our country on freedom we had to get rid of those 12 million people first. I don’t want a president to bring up the atrocities, necessarily, but I would, for once, like a new president to recognize the importance of our under-represented and all too often ignored indigenous populations, to note the influence of the Native Americans on our value system and our environment and our country’s politics, to include them when speaking of “Americans” and “equality.” So casually do we speak of our cultural identity as European or African immigrants, and yet how many of us might have American Indian ancestry running through us? I though that perhaps a president with a perspective based on his life as a minority in this country would bring an acknowledgment of our oldest, poorest and most forgotten minority. How many of you even thought of them during this historic transition?
Friday, January 16, 2009
Nature filmmaking is a sham.
Seriously. I watched an episode of Planet Earth once. The one on African wild dogs. They showed a sequence of scenes during a hunt, and declared it to be the first time a complete hunt by these (albeit rockingly cool) animals has EVER been caught on film! Amazing! Inspirational! These guys must be way dedicated for that kinds of thing! You’ve seen it, too! Great!
You hit the end, the section about the Diaries or some such where they let you know about all their hardships while making tons upon tons of money from BBC, and they proceed to explain to you, the naïve viewer, that the “hunt” (you know, the first entire hunt ever caught on camera), was actually filmed over the course of (something surmounting to) two weeks, and was several hunts (perhaps even several packs) put together and edited flawlessly to create the illusion of a single, first-time-caught-on-camera sequence.
So they lie, and then they admit to it? Which is worse?
Also, I find out at Christmas by several people who know him personally that Bob Landis, the Yellowstone-local filmmaker who has won several awards, notably for the grizzly special he did for National Geographic some years ago, is currently working on a project following the life of a black wolf in Yellowstone over the course of a year. Only, to illustrate this year-in-the-life, he’s using footage from several black wolves in Yellowstone over the course of about 8 years.
Isn’t this cheating, all you wildlife filmmakers out there? Isn’t this fraud? This is the breaking down of everything I held dear as a child, watching Nature and Nova with wide eyes, pondering that someday, I, too, could make $16,000 a year as a wildlife biologist.
What else aren’t you telling us, wildlife filmmakers? Did you digitally create the platypus? Did you stick that great white shark, jumping majestically out of the water to feast on a witless gull, on a trampoline? Did you really film just five wildebeests running across the African plains and then draw in the thousands of others (and maybe a bit more dust in the sky) with a sharpie to make it look more impressive? Is the sky even blue, or is that Crayola “sky blue” I see sticking out of your pocket?
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
We decided to kick it down at Avogadro's Number, a funky little hippie eatery here in The Fort that serves overpriced health food but that also has a bar on the other side, separated by a stage and small dance floor. They do mostly bluegrass, and on NYE were having a bluegrass jam session and potluck. And, best of all, it was free! Can't beat that. So we cooked up some beer bread and fancy cheese spread and head out.
The music was pretty typical, and the fact that it was a jam session, meaning if you show up with an instrument you can play, added some funk. Unfortunately, nobody was dancing. I don't know if it is the pseudo Coloradoan thing that dictates the no-dancing-to-danceable-music-because-it-would-be-disrespectful thing or if maybe they were all just really shy, but for a good long while, Jonmikel and I were the only ones dancing! We were getting envious looks, so its not like they didn't WANT to dance... I mean, to really appreciate bluegrass, you have to dance to it! Jonmikel had once swore to me that he would only dance if other people were dancing but... you know, its a whole new year!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
Saturday, January 10, 2009
It was also reminiscent of this story I read while ago about a bowhead whale caught off the coast of Alaska (legally, by Alaskans with traditional use rights), and as they were butchering him (her?), they found a harpoon tip lodged in its shoulder. It had been shot with it some time ago, then escaped and recovered. Turns out, that some time ago was AT LEAST 115 years ago, based on the age and design of the spear, an exploding lance from the late 1800s. Assuming that the whale was an adult at the time, and taking into account the time it takes for a whale to age.... that animal could have been pushing 150 years old. Scientists have long held that the bowhead whale has one of the longest life-spans of any mammal, and this just kinda made me sit in awe. I mean, that's pretty d*&n old.
And all this seems like small potatoes when you consider that bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park could be pushing 6000 years old, and are are still going strong.
Friday, January 9, 2009
They were quite imposing, really, smoke stacks rising up from the high plains, the middle of nowhere, pumping out loads of exhaust and steam. The brisk day was making the smoke seem much more intense and worrying than it would have been normally, accenting the steam in the cold air.
The general Flickr reaction has been extremely positive, and most people think I'm trying to make a statement with it, some protest against coal and pollution. Something about making a power plant into something artistic and eerily beautiful? I never put that much creativity or thought into it. Really, I just thought it would be a cool picture.
Though I am rather proud.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Instead of the agricultural and cow crap smell that usually drifts from the east, freezing above the city, and seeping in through your windows and into your hair, this was different.
It was chilly air and an almost sub-tropical aftertaste. It will reach 60 degrees here today, and that spring wet smell that always precedes that kind of warmth began to trickle in. Because a train had come through just before my walk to work, there was oil and railway grit on the roads, and my shoe slipped a little in a greasy puddle as I crossed the tracks. The roads smelled dirty and sweaty and industrial. Because the sun was out and the weather was turning warm, local Caloradoans decided that this morning was the perfect morning to wash and work on their massive SUVs, and the air smelled thick of organic car soap and the sweet and grimy smell of dirty car parts and the urban essence of exhaust. Because it had been cold and windy last night, some people had forgotten to turn off wood-burning stoves, and the sharp twinge of cedar hung in the trees, and even the smell of cinnamon and ginger from local bakeries was trapped in the low-hanging layer of morning chill. The city smelled thick and dirty and sweaty and industrial and humid and foreign and almost exotic in its spicy urban morning.
You know what it smelled like? Morocco...
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
There is always something eerie about walking along the Oregon Trail. Aside from the sheer emptiness of much of the land that encompasses the trail (Wyoming is an awfully lonely place), you can't help but think about the masses of people that trudged, and died, along the trail. In places, there are graves still visible, victims of adventure or of the movable forces that are poverty and hope. Sometime its just a thin line of parallel ruts that dances in and out amongst the heavy grasses and dust and cows, pathways that whither into the dusty blue of the far-off horizon. Lines that seem to touch the sky and disappear up into it. Outside of Casper, WY , the trails takes a more rugged and tangible form, where the continuous droll of wagons won the war against miles of sheer rock, where history is dredged right into stone. You can help but step into a trail and walk along and wonder about all the other people who have done just that while making their way cross country in a possibly life-ending journey to possibly nowhere.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
On our way back from the infamous Big Sky land, we decided to take a side trip to Fort Laramie. Neither of us had ever been, though NPCA did an assessment a while back that was not well-received, so I knew a little about the National Historic Site’s history. Walking around was akin to Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, so despite the blue skies and ravenous sun, I was chilled through my windbreaker to the bone for most of the fieldtrip.
The historical recreation/preservation of the site is quite interesting and very well done. Some buildings have been well-taken care of, while other are purposefully allowed to remain in a state of ruin. Some have been entirely refurnished and recreated to their appearance in the 1880s, while others are maintained as they are. What I found curious (and not a little upsetting to me, personally) was the lack of interpretation for anything prior to the military occupation of the fort. The area itself had been used for over 50 years as a trading post, home to both American Indians and white traders seeking solace from the busy east, and, while those buildings have largely been replaced by newer, military-style barracks and posts, that history has been glossed over as if it were a mere smudge on the timeline. Fort Laramie played a huge role in trade relationships with oft forgotten indigenous people, as well as during the mass migration of restless whites known as the Oregon Trail. But you could hardly tell by taking the self-guided walking tour. While I don’t doubt that park staff are quite knowledgeable about this history, interpretation is limited to the fort’s military existence, which I think cheats history out of its right, and cheats American who grew up playing Oregon Trail on an Apple IIe out of their desire to see Fort Laramie as they did on their computer screen, however pixilated it might have been.
It’s focusing on trends in the state of cultural resources in the National Park System. We’ve got inadequate storage for museum and archival collections, lack of planning for the management and maintenance of historic structures, entirely insufficient staffing needs (I even read about a park that has to use its writer/editor as a museum technician because they don’t have the money to hire anyone else), missing historical and other resource research (much of which is required by NPS regulation in order to develop management plans, which, funny enough, many parks are missing as well), and (my personal favorite) the fact that basically ethnography is treated like crap. I mean, we’ve been sh*ttin’ on the Native Americans and other minorities for centuries, why stop now? So the report has a lot to say, and I certainly hope that people listen. Or at least pretend to. Smile and nod. Or something.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Creek. Scuffle scuffle scuffle. "What is that? Do you hear that?" Silence. Creek creek creek. Scuffle. A jab in the ribs. "Go check." Groan, sigh, weight shifting. Stumble. Grab clothes and flashlight. Glare. Nothing to report, melting snow.
We had these funky sounds all night, that sounded more to me like a chipmunk trying to borrow into our roof than melting snow crumbling and sliding off. I'm not convinced that it wasn't, though there is no evidence to the contrary. But it did stave off sleep for a while, so when light began to sneak through the worn curtain in our cabin, indicating that it was time for new adventures, we both attempted to roll over and ignore it.
But we eventually found solace in the fact that the floors of the bathrooms were heated, and sometimes that's enough to get you out of bed. We had decided last night, after stuffing ourselves to the brim and rolling out of the bunkhouse back to our cabin, that we should at least go exploring today to work off some of the holiday cheer. The volunteers headed out to Fairies' Fall, across the valley and off-trail, a 32-footer than Jonmikel has seen before in the summer but that is oft forgotten amidst the draws of Tower Falls or any of the other well-known and on-the-beaten-track falls that require little to no commitment. They showed us pictures of the frozen structures, towering over the landscape and threatening to burst, and we were hooked. So we enjoyed the heated floors, zipped up our snow pants, strapped on our snowshoes, and began an early-morning jaunt over the river and through the... fields.
The falls aren't hard to get to, especially when, many decades ago, the old park road was located on that side of the Lamar River, opposite its current location. Old photographs of the creek, Amethyst Creek, abound, even some creative stereophotos, but new images are virtually non-existent. Even people who have worked in and around the park for years have never ventured to it, leaving us with a little private peace.
We managed to startle a herd of bison, who took that opportunity to frolic playfully and kick up mud and snow. We hopped across the frozen Lamar River and the various creeks surrounding it, at first going slowly and cautiously and eventually striding forward with confidence that no frozen river to claim us. When we hit the small crevice with the falls inside, we followed a playful coyote's tracks up and through and over and around to the statues of ice drifting almost 30 above us. You could hear the water inside the natural ice pipes, and when you stepped up close you could see the clear trickles flowing down into the melted river beneath. The ice was thick and glacier blue, frosted with last night's snow and wind, and with the coming daylight the imprisoned water threatened to burst through the clear bars.
We play around the creek, climbing under and around and through, daring the shards of stalagtited icicles in the hallowed out cave behind the falls to come crashing down on our heads. We touch the frozen pillars and are amazed at how warm the ice actually feels. When we feel the air beginning to heat up, and the sun begin to break through the almost-constant cloud cover, we decide to head back to the Ranch, knowing that should the Lamar River melt, it would be a long hike around to get back to our radiantly-heated bathroom floors. As we hit the river and creeks, we can see evidence of melt, see the water flowing underneath the now-thin layers of ice and snow. My foot slips through the ice once, the heavy and long tip of my snowshoe saving my toes from a frigid and wet walk back. The wind has even died down a little, and it feels almost like spring as the sounds of melting show and flowing water grow that much louder. The snowfall is small and the temperatures high for this time of year in the interior, and I hope that winter will come again soon, as much of the wildlife ironically depends on a rough winter to make it through spring and summer.
We also head home today, knowing that we have a cat at home who would probably like some human company soon, and has probably eaten our Christmas tree and puked up its needles on our carpet out of spite.