Sunday, December 26, 2010

That was an Odd Christmas

Odd, but good.
Not sure I ever would have pictured myself a dozen miles back in a fern forest, in the summer, soaking in a hot spring, alone in the fading light, on Christmas... but life seems to work out as it should. Ska music replaced carols. Great and towering fern trees stood in for fir trees, lichen and moss for ornaments. Edam and avocados represented some notion of a holiday feast. Stone's Green Ginger Wine was my champagne. And instead of sleeping on the floor in front to the Christmas tree, I slept under a cloudy sky, next to a raging river, wrapped in a purple sleeping bag, tucked in my new faerie tent. Big Agnes Malone. Fa la la la la...

West coast of the South Island...

Welcome Flat hot spring, all to myself in the fading Christmas light.

A hot river runs through it.
Merry Christmas!

Damn, Gina

A confession: I like to name things. Animals and plants, of course, but also inanimate objects, namely major gear (cars, backpacks, tents, etc...) This proclivity may be genetic; my grandma has always named things. Mostly though I think it is partly because I believe we (said object and me) treat each other better when names are involved, and partly because this way I can at least pretend I am talking to someone else, rather than talking out loud to myself all the time. 

But I digress.
What I mean to say is, everyone, meet Gina.
Gina, meet everyone.

Apparently Honda like to make sure you know who they are...
The story of how Gina got her name.
It's about 5:30 am. I am on the way out of Christchurch, successfully staying on the proper side of the road. I am thinking of what I should name this little Honda. All of a sudden a voice pops into my head... Gina, it says. I ignore it. We can do better than that, I think (no offense to the Ginas for the world). Hmmm. I am thinking. Thinking. Gina, it says again.

Me: Gina? Meh. What about Cleopatra?
Car: That seems a little random.
Me: Well your color looks a bit like a scarab's back...
Car: No.
Me: Okay, what about Vivaldi? Cause you're a concerto.
Car: I get it. No.
Me: Bernadette? Then I could sing to you in manner of The Four Tops?
Car: No. Gina.
Me: Fern?
Car: Hippie.
Me: Absynthia the green faerie?
Car: seriously, quit fucking around.
Me: Alright, damn Gina.

So there you have it. Though she was conceived in Japan and first named after a musical composition, she's tough. Rather than be named after a Norse goddess, Tolkien character, or exotic spice, she picked her own name. Apparently she is actually a small but swarthy Italian chick, possibly a Martin Lawrence fan, probably from Jersey, who isn't going to take any bullshit from anyone. And that is just how I like her. Damn, Gina.

Our motto.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh, Our Best Laid Plans

Bought my sweet little island ride today. She is a dark green Honda Concerto, with a little bump in her boot and shudder in her turn. She has yet to be named, but I am already taking comfort in the fact that she was born in 1992, the same good year my dear Jeep, Samwise Gamgee, came off the assembly line. But oh, if I only knew how to drive her properly. If only these roads were not so opposite! Yeah, so after a long, hot, stressful day running around downtown Christchurch, I was already plenty frazzled when I first took the wheel. Let us just say that while no person or vehicle were harmed in my exploratory forays (sorry to the little car on Wilson Street who I hit with my side mirror! And sorry to the white van I nicked two minutes later, also with the side mirror!), I decided to stay in town another night, to practice on side streets, and leave at dawn to avoid the daunting rush hour traffic around downtown. I have also been visualizing proper left-side driving locomotion. And talking to myself. Usually in a bastardized Irish or English or Kiwi accent. "Driver side, center lane. Driver side, center lane." Tomorrow we will prevail. I know this rig is a country girl.

Photos to follow when the download gods of technology allow it.

Six to Eight Black Men

I have left Birdsong in a blaze of solstice-full-moon-eclipse glory, and after spending the night at a Christchurch hostel, Iam about to hit the open road for some much needed camping and tramping. This is assuming that a) my eminent car purchase goes through; and b) I manage to safely drive said automobile out of the city while remaining on the left side of the road. My stomach is currently contemplating this with a series of spasms.

Anyway, with the approach of Christmas, a holiday I love but am currently trying to put out of my mind, I am of course missing my family. And the sensations of over-indulgence in the food and drink imbiding. And the snow. And fireside naps on the floor. And putting my cold feet on my sister Isa's warm legs. And aggressively snuggling whatever fuzzy animal is around and willing. And the six to eight black men.

Every Christmas my family listens to David Sedaris's essay "Six to Eight Black Men" - which details the finer points of the Dutch St. Nicholas Tradition. It involves blind hunters in Michigan, the former bishop of Turkey, grotesque elves, former slaves, and a Spanish-speaking Santa. If for some horrible reason you are not already familiar, read it or listen to it immediately. Sadly, I cannot work the link from this interwebbing device, so you are on your own.

Be well, and happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Latest Book Review for Orion


Check out my most recent book review for Orion.

Then check out the book, Elisabeth Tova Bailey's
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Good stuff.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

To Do List

Various tasks from the past week: 

- Weed (around baby fruit trees)
View from the front porch
- Plant (companion herbs)
- Sheet mulch (around fruit trees)
- Collect seaweed (for fertilizer)
- Collect wakame seaweed (for eatin')
- Weed (front garden)
- Mend things that need mending
- Help groom the poodle
- Build new raised beds
- Arrange floral bouquets
- Weed (back side-garden)
- Make jam
- Fill in ditch
- Fiddle with compost
- Weed (gully area)
- Prune peach tree
- Cook
- Weed (just keep weeding)

The illustrated version:

Kelp to feed the gardens

Collecting wakame seaweed for salad

The Poodle

Le bebe alfalfa, clover, and meadow foam ready for planting.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Close Encounters

The following photograph is:

a. of jellyfish
b. of a flower
c. a figment of Dr. Seuss's imagination
d. beautiful
e. proof of alien life
f. looking at me?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Introduction to Birdsong

Greetings from Birdsong, my fabulous first (and most appropriately named), home-stay! For your locational reference, they are on Wainui Bay on the Banks Peninsula, about 1.5 hours southeast of Christchurch.

If I currently had access to a computer operating system that was born after 1999, I'd attempt to get all fancy with providing you with a fine, fine map to further illustrate my location. And if my dear, dear camera had not been pulled into the ocean by a cruel wave a couple of days ago, I might have set aside the necessary two or three hours of patience required to attempt uploading photos as which to dazzle you with as well. But luckily said Canon is currently buried in a bowl of dry rice, about as responsive as a rock, trying to dry out, and so I am not tempted to produce an illustrated account just yet.

That is all just the long way of saying... 1) shiiiit, and 2) hopefully at some point I shall have some photographs to share with you in addition to my rambling. But contrary to the start of this post, I am not in fact here to talk smack. Sooo...

I write to you from the happily chaotic home of Bruce and Kathy (and Nina, the young little poodle who looks like a lamb and often jumps into my lap at unexpected moments), ex-pats from San Fransisco. It's also the home away from home for a changing cast of characters and friends and WWOOFers like me. There are seven of us bumbling about this week, working on various renovations and horticultural endeavors. They're not an established farm, per se, but are rather in the process of getting things going. Most the work we've been doing so far this week is planting in the Permaculture Way, and working toward converting big grassland paddocks into sustainable, permanent Food Forests.

What does this mean exactly, you say?
Well, for the body it means sore fingers and cut-up wrists, and the persistent but hugely satisfying ache of backs and arms and legs. It means taking a hit out on the grasslands--rip, pull, pull, rip--around our little fruit-tree islands in an ocean of grass. It means hauling loads of buckets, sloshing with super vitamin water, with rich, composty dirt, with leaves, with grass clippings...

For the land it means converting poor-soil grasslands into lush, self-sufficient, perennially productive, and biologically diverse little eco-topias. It means planting a fruit or nut tree, then in slow, expanding circles planting various companion plants around it... good nitrogen-fixing plants like tree lucerne and lupine...herbs like wormwood, feverfew, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, clover, alfalfa, meadow foam, and bergamot... plants whose names alone invoke a soothing, healing feeling on the tongue that utters them. More on all of this later.

The house itself is surrounded by gardens teeming with flowers on all sides. Oh, the olfactory glories put out by such rosebushes, jasmine vines, lemon, and lavender! The buzz of bumbles, the fantastical whooshing wingbeats of wood pigeons, and the baaahs of neighboring sheep are always on the air. Past the flower beds, and past the veggie gardens and the out-buildings teeming with tools and experiments, are the woods and the creek. About 13 acres to roam here... a giant Monterey Cypress to climb (treehouse in the works!)... another native NZ tree, whose name escapes me at the moment, has been pruned into a giant, cup-shaped nest. I like to sit in there and pretend I am an egg. There are many secret little places here, faerie places. It is the perfect place to spend my first couple of weeks in the country.

I am very happy indeed.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Joyce Kilmer, can I get a witness?

In the cit-ay...

So, I have been wandering around the fine city of Christchurch the last two days, waking around the main square, checking out a couple of museums and galleries and cafes and such. Many of the older stone buildings are surrounded by skeletal scaffolding, and all buildings have inspection papers taped to their front doors. It took me a while to realize that these were a result of the big earthquake that came rumbling through this past September. Apparently they were still getting aftershocks up until just a couple of weeks ago. Miraculously, no one was killed as the quake hit at 4:30 in the morning when few people were out. All of the scaffolding does give the city an odd feel. While I wandered, I did end up spending most of both days in the amazing Botancial Gardens. This brings us to part two of today's program...

Dryad Dork-Out: In which we rhapsodize about our sylvan friends.

What a place is this! Ent-haven, faerie-wood, magic-land... Place of old, old friends. The trees! Oh, what trees! Trees with stories, trees with soul. It is a dendrophile's paradise.

Towering redwoods, eucalyptus to make a koala cry, cork oak (we salute you!), weeping willows, monkey puzzle, king of all horse chestnuts, sweet Monterey cypress...and the atlas cedar...giant of the wood, great many-fingered palm of a tree, poised and reaching, ready to hold the entire world in her cup.

Oh, how I wanted to climb! I felt such a strong and instant love for this place, I sort of walked around feeling high on such happiness. These trees... They make you wish you could just be taken into a drop of water hitting a needle or leaf. To rush through those slick elevators, xylem and lean toward the sun and stretch to the sky, breathing out tremendous puffs of oxygen.

At times it felt like it wasn't quite enough to merely rub a palm over roughed bark or rest my head against a trunk. At times I wanted to become that tree.

Yes, I am a tree-hugger. But you already knew that.

Ode complete.

But seriously, if ever some terrible apocalyptic event were to befall the human race, and I was, you know, like the only survivor and had to stay within the city limits... You know I'd be kicking it in these gardens...scheming, surviving, booby-trappin'. Watching the manicured lawns turn back into jungle. (Yes, this is the kind of stuff I think about, thank you Margret Atwood.)

All that said, not being a very urban person,
I am ready to get out of town.

Tomorrow I head to my first farm-stay.

Bum bum bummmm.

Day One Redux, an exercise in brevity

Long flight. Sore body. V Australia is humorous. Arrive Melbourne. Run. Sweat. Reach gate. Almost immediately sent back to the US due to return-ticket-date mishap. Terrifying twenty minutes. Changes made. Cost unknown. Chat with a friendly Tazzie and Kiwi. Both say "yea" a lot. Arrive Christchurch. No luggage. Apple-sniffing patrol beagle. Stamp. Customs. Wait for shuttle. Kooky van. Quiet driver. Crazy traffic. Tired. Breathe. Arrive at hostel. Realize reservation is for the following two nights, not the current night. Breathe. Begin to seriously question own international traveling skills. Get map. Walk. Find new hostel. Walk. Smell lavender bushes. Walk. Grocery store. Picnic. Local wine. Shower sans soap. Stretch. I'm in freakin' New Zealand. Sleep. Sleeeeep.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Memory as Identity

John Locke said that what gives each person his or her personal identity is that person’s private store of recollections.  If so, then people should be careful curators of the assortment of memories that they collect over the years.  Every time you notice something, every time something strikes you as important enough to store away in you mind, you create another piece of who you are…I am a person who remembers a flock of white pelicans over Thompson Reservoir, pelicans banking in unison into the sunlight, banking into the shadow, flashing on and off like a scoreboard.

--Kathleen Dean Moore, from Riverwalking

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Into the great wide open

So I step out of my domestic terminal in LAX, and after getting some confused looks from various airport staff (I asked how I could walk to the international terminal rather than shuttle, how novel), and all of a sudden there is a big ol' commotion. I think, emergency! Apparently my days of living in LA are too far behind me, because this was really just business as usual: the paparazzi. Yep, about a dozen of them swarming some tiny, glossy-haired starlet in a flurry of flashbulbs.

I stomached a predictably mediocre and heinously over-priced dinner at the terminal. Just me and Gregory. Oh, Gregory, you rascal, you Peck. He is the strong and silent type. He is a good listener. He may be a bit gender confused as I had always thought of him as my girl backpack. But whatever. I reckon backpacks should be able to choose their own gender as much as the next inanimate object (or human). Anyway, I positioned Young Gregory in the chair across from me. He was good company. He did not hold my hand for 30 minutes straight like the couple next to us, thankfully. And he did not flirt with me while discussing child education under a boozy haze like the strangers on our other side. For which I was also grateful. Like I said, strong and silent.

The Aussies are getting restless here at the V Australia desk. Is it bad that I find it hard to take their anger seriously with that accent? Am I already throwing down and talking smack about Oz?

And now I bid you all a temporary adieu, as I ride this airplane over the sea.

Hobbits, prepare the mead.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lost in Translation

The following are some of the more interesting Kiwi slang terms which I hope to use on a daily basis. Whether these terms are actually used by real folks or only nerdy tourists has yet to be determined. But really who wouldn't jump at the chance to shake their head and utter: "what a Wally" under their breath? 
These terms seemed likely to prove the most useful/appropriate:

- Box of birds: feeling very good
- Get off the grass!: no way! I don't believe it!
- Hoon: a rough person, rabble-rouser
- Onya: well done, congratulations as in "good on yer, mate"
- Tramping: hiking
- Wally: a dumbass

Incidentally, I am also looking forward to escaping the critical American Ear (and inevitable eye-rolling) and testing the international waters of self-consciousness by attempting to incorporate various Britisisms into regular conversation. Yeah, you heard me.
Namely I'm looking at: barmy, brilliant, blast!, bloody, bugger, bum, and blimey

And on an unrelated note, peep this cautionary tale of two friends in love with the same sexy lady in this devastating video, Flight of the Conchords style.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Get your Baby! Animals! Here!

So, I'm in Chicago this week, kickin' it with the Swirleys and baby Ellis, the Notorious R.O.Y. (so fat, so jolly), and working on tying up some loose ends on my latest Birdcage Press freelance work before heading over the deep blue sea for the winter.

We are currently in production for Birds of North America and Backyard Birds book/game combinations. Thus, my brain has been spinning with Amazing! Bird! Facts!

What's that you say? You want to hear a few? Okay then...
-Did you know that hummingbirds actively gather spiderweb silk which they use in their nest-building?
-Or that crazy crested kingfishers nest by digging horizontal tunnels into riverbanks? 
-And that one of the loon's closest relatives is the penguin?!
-And that you can tell individual blue jays apart by looking at their unique black face, head, and throat markings?
-Or that herons nest in trees, and if chicks feel threatened, they vomit over the side of the nest giving predators something to think about?

These games won't be available until next spring, but in the meantime, you can get your geeky cuddle on with the just-released...  Baby Animals around the world.

I said baby and animal in the same sentence, so you know it is going to be good.
Check it, check it out:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Barbara Hamby

A much-needed random poem of the day. One of my favorites...

Thus Spake the Mockingbird

The mockingbird says, Hallelujah, coreopsis, I make the day
      bright, I wake the night-blooming jasmine. I am
the duodecimo of desperate love, the hocus-pocus passion
      flower of delirious retribution. You never saw such a bird,
such a triage of blood and feathers, tongue and bone. O the world
      is a sad address, bitterness melting the tongues of babies,
breasts full of accidental milk, but I can teach the flowers to grow,
      take their tight buds, unfurl them like flags in the morning heat,
fat banners of scent, flat platters of riot on the emerald scene.
      I am the green god of pine trees, conducting the music
of rustling needle through a harp of wind. I am the heart of men,
      the wild bird that drives their sex, forges their engines,
jimmies their shattered locks in the dark flare where midnight slinks.
      I am the careless minx in the skirts of women, the bright moon
caressing their hair, the sharp words pouring from their beautiful mouths
      in board rooms, on bar stools, in big city laundrettes. I am
Lester Young's sidewinding sax, sending that Pony Express
      message out west in the Marconi tube hidden in every torso
tied tight in the corset of do and don't, high and low, yes and no. I am
      the radio, first god of the twentieth century, broadcasting
the news, the blues, the death counts, the mothers wailing
      when everyone's gone home. I am sweeping
through the Eustachian tube of the great plains, transmitting
      through every ear of corn, shimmying down the spine
of every Bible-thumping banker and bureaucrat, relaying the anointed
      word of the shimmering world. Every dirty foot that walks
the broken streets moves on my wings. I speak from the golden
      screens. Hear the roar of my discord murdering the trees,
screaming its furious rag, the fuselage of my revival-tent brag. Open
      your windows, slip on your castanets. I am the flamenco
in the heel of desire. I am the dancer. I am the choir. Hear my wild
      throat crowd the exploding sky. O I can make a noise.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Alas, Poor Yorick....

Skulls! Bones! Y'arrghh!

The other day I found a little mouse skull resting at the base of an oak tree. As I cradled the lightweight, delicate curve in my open palm--the white bone nearly transparent, thin enough for light to pass through--I marveled at both the strength and fragility of that most vital of structures. Though as a symbol it was long ago hijacked by pirates and Poe, I have always liked skulls. During my work as a wildlife field biologist, I have often come across skulls and bones in the woods. (Okay, I've also hacked and sawed skulls and bones off of the rest of their respective skeleton bodies for various data collection purposes. You can read about the joys of Bone Boiling elk legs in Yellowstone in my essay featured in the anthology from Solas House/Traveler's Tales Press,  A Mile in Her Boots.) But I digress.

When I worked on the Yellowstone Wolf Project, if we located a dead wolf, we would often collect the animal's skull to add to the project's extensive collection of wolf skulls. 
Among other things, these skulls are studied and measured by Dr. Blair Van Valkenburgh of UCLA. She is a vertebrate paleobiologist who focuses on the evolution of form, function, and ecology in organisms, both living and extinct. Her work is one example of what skulls can teach us about how and why large carnivores have evolved over centuries to better fit into, shape, and adapt to their environments.

Check out this amazing collection of high-res three-dimensional Bird Skulls, like this sweet, sweet shoebill stork skull. These birds look like living dinosaurs. And they love nothing more than to stalk and eat the lungfish. With a name like lungfish, you can assume the beast ain't going to be pretty. If you're really and truly  interested in shoebills, Peep This Nat Geo video. Although their attempt at kid wit falls a bit short, the footage is cool.

Anyway, back to skulls...
Just in time for the holidays, I bring you skull-related gift ideas for your dramatic, scientific, or gothic friends and families. No pirates. No skateboards. No Urban Outfitters.

Stephanie Metz creates incredible felted skulls and other beautiful and creepy oddities.

And Moon Raven Designs makes gorgeous casts and replicas of various skulls, bones, talons, and teeth. Daniel once gave me the life-sized hummingbird skull, which I often happily wear around my neck. Here is their little brown bat:


Friday, November 19, 2010

CocoRosie - Animals

The Real Tuesday Weld - Last Time In Clerkenwell

The Lovely Sparrows - Year of the Dog

A Guide to Recognizing Your Kiwis

The Bird.

The Fruit.


The Warrior Princess. (Yes, even Xena is a Kiwi.)

Five Somewhat Interesting Things You May or May Not Know about New Zealand...

1. The Land of Wool and Mutton.
There are presently around nine sheep to every one human in New Zealand. (The human population  is about four  million.) Now that is my kind of place!

2. Rock the Vote.
New Zealand was the first major nation to have universal suffrage. In 1893 it became legal for all male and female citizens of New Zealand to vote. Letting women and minorities vote?! What a zany idea!

3. You Don't Have to Turn on that Red Light (although legally you sure can!)
Prostitution, soliciting, and brothel-keeping are legal. The driving age is 15, the consensual sex age is 16, and the drinking age is 18. And on a brighter note, the country allows same-sex civil unions, too! (Ahem, are you listening America?)

4. Keepin' it Old School
New Zealand was the last major landmass to be populated--with the exception of the polar regions--and who wants to live there anyway? (No offense to any seals reading.)

5. They Enjoy the Name Game... Chinese Gooseberries Anyone?
Of course a kiwi is not a fruit – its a native flightless bird and a slang term for a New Zealander. Kiwis call the fuzzy testicular fruit “kiwifruit” – they are also known as Chinese Gooseberries, although I cannot tell you why.

Bonus: Its, um, Middle Earth.

Say Hello to My Little Friends...

And check out their maker while you're at it... Berkley Illustration

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

You've got to be kind

--Kurt Vonnegut from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Speaking of things I find to be funny...

I love McSweeney's Lists. Here is just one example...

Rap Lyrics of the (17)90's, by Chloe Filson

- - - -
"To an extreme degree, I have amplified my voice and thus my sentiments—much as a vandal might."
- -
"Would that I were of greater stature, and could participate in the frivolities of the future."
- -
"The music I have created resounds loudly in my ears, causing me to offer a brief prayer of gratitude for the blessings given by my Lord and Saviour."
- -
"At one time, whilst reposing at my leisure—indeed—what, ho! I beheld that which did not accord with reason."
- -
"Before you are the mechanisms of amplification, and the amplification process is underway. Let us not squander our time; I urge you to appreciate the verses, herein amplified, which in their melody and metre naturally provoke jumping. Thus, jump, as you will."
- -
"I admit to a predilection for certain female attributes—to put it precisely, yet with due regard for delicacy, the buttocks. You other fathers shan't deny it."
- -
"Huzzah! There it is."


"There is nothing in which people more betray their character than in what they laugh at."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's a blog, folks.

Well, it feels a bit self-indulgent, but here we are. I'm starting a little site to keep the updates rolling as I begin my imminent travels in New Zealand.

And what better spirit to embrace than that of the little lithe otter, who navigates the world's waters with a cheerful curiosity, joy, and grace.

(The fact that they are all velvety soft and possess a hilarious chuckle-snort has nothing to do with it, I'm sure...)