Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Most Famous Deer of All

Rudolph, letting you know it is cool to be different
'Tis the holiday season, and whether or not you celebrate Christmas specifically, no doubt you have been bombarded with Christmas music since Thanksgiving. I dabble in said holiday fare, but don't indulge so much as to ban any non-seasonal tunes, like some folks I know. And by know I mean am related to. Anyway, I was listening to the radio the other day and of course Rudolph came on, because it had been 45 minutes, and I was struck, once again, by how mean the other reindeer were. Total bitches! Even his own parents try to hide who he really is! And when Rudy finally rises to red-beaked glory and saves the day, there is never really any just recompense from those haters.

Typical. My (indirect) point is, I've been thinking about reindeer, and not just the bitchy kind. I figure you good people think about reindeer too, sometimes. But how much do you know about them? In the spirit of giving, I give you . . .

Ten! Facts! About Reindeer!:

1. Semantics
Reindeer = Caribou = Rangifer tarandus

2. Nice Rack
Caribou have the second biggest (but definitely most crazy) antlers of any Cervid, behind the moose. They are the only Cervid species that practices equal growth rights: both males and females grow antlers. Interestingly enough, older males drop their antlers in the early winter, young males lose theirs in early spring, and  females keep theirs until the summer. So all of Santa's reindeer must be ladies then, no? Not at all surprisingly, their ground up antler powder is a big hit in the aphrodisiac-centered, horned up Asian market.

3. Glow-in-the-Dark Pee?
Okay, not exactly, but it is thought that caribou are the only mammalian species that can see ultraviolet light. This megavision helps the animals to pick out useful things that might otherwise blend in with the monochrome tundra landscape. Things like urine.

4. Big Nose, Fancy Toes
Their huge, smoochable schnozes are equipped with cavernous nostrils that help to warm inhaled air before it enters their lungs. In the winter their normally spongy foot pads harden and shrivel up, exposing the sharp edges of their hooves. This helps with traction on ice, and provides a handy shovel for digging out snow in hopes of grazing. I also tend to shrivel up in the winter, although I have yet to notice a positive correlation on my traction or eating habits.

5. Walkathon
Some North American herds migrate the furthest distances of any terrestrial mammal. They can travel over 3000 miles in a season. Total badasses.

6. Good Eatin'
Reindeer eat a lot of lichen. Reindeer lichen, specifically. They'll also tear into some mushrooms, and rumor has it, the occasional lemming. But I don't know about that. Northerly humans love to nom on reindeer, and the animal (both wild and semi-domesticated) has been a seminal human food source for centuries. Most recently in canned meatball form. I am sure Sarah Palin loves them.

7. Where in the World?
Caribou range pretty much all over the Holarctic zone, across tundra and boreal forest habitats. Once abundant, their numbers are in decline due to habitat degradation and the biggest bummer-trump of all, climate change. Read more about hard times in reindeer land in Gretel Erhlich's fine National Geographic piece on Russia's reindeer herders.

8. I Vant Your Blood
Apparently colonial Frenchies used to mix the blood of caribou with a little hard booze and drink it down to fight off the cold. And perhaps anemia. The modern incarnation of this Caribooze substitutes red wine for blood and adds a bit of sugar or maple syrup to the existing whiskey. Naturally the Quebecois love this sort of abomination.

9. The Elite Eight
Fact: The names "Donner" and "Blitzen" are derived from Germanic words meaning Thunder and Lightening, which makes a strange kind of sense, but leaves Vixen and Cupid as the most questionably-named dudes on the crew, and possibly in reindeer history.

10. Born Free
There are lots of free-ranging, wild herds of reindeer in the world. So too are there semi-domesticated herds. Arctic and Semi-Arctic peoples have been shuffling these fuzzies around for centuries, using their hides, meat, antlers, and even milk, though such animals weren't really considered to be domesticated, and they weren't bred in captivity. Its more like they were partially tamed. Today some nomadic herders track their herds using satellite telemetry. Maybe that is how Santa keeps tabs on his during the off-season...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November Rain

Oh, November, how often you torment me. Aside from Thanksgiving, you can be a pretty harsh month. No sun for days, rain instead of snow, very little daylight. A quick search reveals November is the declared Awareness Month for Epilepsy, American Diabetes, Lung, Pancreatic, Prostate, and Stomach Cancer, Alzheimer's, Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis, Homeless Youth, and Souls in Purgatory. Is this a coincidence? I am not so sure. It is also National Novel Writing Month, which, when added to this roster of delights makes a sick sort of sense. I'd like to petition the additions of The Benefits of Ingesting Vitamin D Awareness Month, and perhaps Scotch Appreciation Month, too, as long as we're continuing with the health-awareness theme.

Witness: The Forecast. Hit Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.

But I'm not trying to get too morose or poetic here. No, no, why bother when someone else has said all there is to say about the melancholy of this dark month and its ubiquitous, monkey-wrenching rain? You know what I am talking about. That's right. Guns N' Roses and one of the most expensive and most glorious music videos/songs of all time. I can not recall a single time when this pathos-inducing song did not cheer me up. Maybe this is because it is a good reminder that it could be always be worse. Or maybe its because it is simply an undeniable invitation to wail on the air guitar, which, in my experience, tends to lift spirits.

If those things weren't enough, there is a lot of big hair. The video is broken into two, intercut parts--one, the band on stage, and two, the little dramatic enactment of a love story gone wrong. The concert footage features backup singers with big hair, and adulating hips, and prom-gloved arms sweeping upward in joy and agony. Then there is the biggest-haired orchestra you've ever seen, lead by the biggest-haired, mustachioed, head-banging conductor in the world. There are stadium lights, a blood-weeping crucifix, and a flute. A flute!
Slash wails atop a piano (with his own signature big hair), while Axl channels Elton. This is before the fall, and he still looks nearly wholesome, already addicted and violent, but mercifully free of botox and creepy ginger cornrows, almost normal on the cusp of his steep slide into the abyss of full-fledged assholery.

Then there is the wedding! A priest named Gianantonio! Stephanie Seymour (Axl's then on-again, off-again girlfriend) in her designer dress, all business on top, party down below! And those Sergeant Pepper Pirate jackets! And Axl's weirdo talon pinky coke ring! And that scandalous tongue kiss! And the moment where Slash nearly loses the rings before peacing out mid-ceremony into the highlight of the video...

Poor guy is feeling a little emotional. He needs a little time on his own. Time to execute a most epic shred in the perpetually windy deserted desert churchyard, with his enormous hair seductively billowing while invisible helicopters circle and swoop and zoom in on his shirtless, leather-jacket clad abs, excruciatingly tight pants, heel stomps, crotch thrusts, and incredible mega power stance in one of the greatest, most motherfucking badass melodramatic guitar solos in the history of the universe. Seriously, find me a person on this Earth who can watch that clip and not want to be Slash for even one hot minute. You can't. There is no such person. Everyone wants to be Slash in that moment.

Cut to the strange Godfather-inspired reception, featuring rustically capped Mediterranean boys, 10,000 cigarettes, and the bride's ultra-90's black velvet dress with ribbon choker. Then comes the titular, panic-inducing November Rain, which drives the guests to lose their minds, upturning tables and knocking down the enormous wedding cake that was so recently and tenderly cut, telling us that the party is seriously over. For real. By now the orchestra's conductor is headbanging as if he's being righteously electrocuted, in a way perhaps only another big-haired human (say, me) can truly fully appreciate. Dude is stone-cold rocking it. Then, Boom. Funeral. Bride is dead for reasons unknown, suicide is implied. That blasted rain even interrupts the graveside attendance. Water-phobic mourners run, again, leaving poor booze and pill-addled Axl to toss and turn in his eerily-lit sheets while that same damn relentless rain slides down his enormous windows, the very picture of his poor, broken heart, failure, and sadly, future (Chinese Democracy, anyone?) And, scene.

This is what November is all about, man!

Watch the entire original music video in all of its glory here, and the comic summary here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Ice Queen Cometh

How sweet is Ice? It cools our gin in the summer. It gives us endless recreational opportunities in the winter. It graciously provides us with synonyms for Smirnoff's malted beverages, righteous bling, meth, murder, in case of emergency, and Ned Stark's justice-dealing greatsword, (which, when you think about it, fit together a bit too perfectly)... You just take water, cool it down, and boom! You've got yourself something to interpret. All summer long the hike to Glacier's Avalanche Lake is unbearably busy, but come late fall, it is your own private glittering little diamond trail of wonders...

Avalanche Creek: Curator of Icy Delights

Your Typical Icicle Action (See: Textbook, Jingle Bells)

The Labyrinth (See: David Bowie)

The Dust Ruffle (See: Car Wash, Classy Mud Flap Alternative to Naked Lady Silhouette )

The Trumpet Bell (See: Angels We Have Heard On High)

The Hand-Dipped Candle (See: Renaissance Festival, Rembrandt)

The Blorb (See: Cauliflower. Do Not See: Growths)

The Eruption (See: Death Spikes, Sea Urchin)

The Forest Ninja (See: Death Widow, Nakamura and Slavin)
The Vanilla (See: Flattop, Collaborate and Listen, Terrible Mistake)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Time To Be Koi, Roy

It is the eve of Election Day. Like so many others, I am anxious. I'd like to give my heart and brain a respite from their own constant buzzing. Brain, I say, chill out. Heart, stop thumpering so. Remember that you are full of hope, actually. Think about the least buzzy-est thing you can think of, and meditate on that. And stop rolling your eyes, and tightening your fists for a second, would you? Think of... hmmm... fish...?

Yes, think of those bright koi you saw last week at the St. Louis botanical gardens. Think of those fish, wimpling silently, brocading dark water. Whisper their names: Kumonryu, Nine Tattooed Dragons. Asagi, Spring Onion Color. Kikokuryu, Sparkle. Remember how their scales shimmered, how they glowed, mimicking the falling sycamore leaves. Think how brief the time is that a fish could hide among leaves; how brief any time is in the end. Remember how they came to you, a string of beacons, across the pond, to your very fingertips. And breathe again.

In Japanese, koi is a homophone--a word that is pronounced the same as another word, but has a different meaning--for love. Which I suppose is what I was talking about all along.


"Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."
                                                                       --Cormac McCarthy, final paragraph from The Road

And also...
Koi to the world. All the boys and girls. Koi to the fishes in the deep blue sea. 
Koi to you and me...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Farewell to Arms

Where giants have walked, apparently
Well, my field season is finally over. This was the last year of this incarnation of the Bear DNA project round these parts, and we had a good run, but the end was bittersweet. Taking down all of the barbed wire and nails and such from trees in which they've been embedded in for four years necessitated semi-Herculean efforts.

And also sound effects. A whole lot of sound effects. And talking to those trees. And yourself. And cursing all things metal. And cursing the very tall people who put the tags in too high. And cursing the trees themselves, but then feeling really guilty and taking back those particular curses, and putting a bare palm against the sticky, hairy truck and apologizing.

A person walking down the trail blindfolded may have thought one of many things:

(1) that an Olympic dead-weight lifter had moved to the area to train;

(2) that James Brown was back from the dead and enjoying more rustic huh-hahs;

(3) that George Carlin was back from the dead and testing new cussing combinations;

(4) that a sadistic dentist was administering a root canal (just relax, help me, help you...):

or (5), that a deeply conflicted Smeagol was waging a schizophrenic war of morality...
(f*#k you!...I'm sorry...dammit!'s okay...arrghgh!...sorry, sorry, sorry)...

In short, the whole process turned each of us into a bit of a weirdo.

Cleaning up the forest
Meanwhile, such efforts worked their physical magic on our bodies... making us that much more tired at the end of the day. Our arms, so accustomed to hanging uselessly at our sides all summer, were finally called to... um, arms... as it were. They got all strong. They developed lines and bulges we'd never seen before. They lead us to delusions of grandeur--mainly day dreams of careers in arm-wrestling or can-crushing or ripping off doorknobs for fun. But we asked too much of the poor lazy things. They got tired, weak. They began to rebel... went numb while we slept, hands curling into clawed shapes. They started to seriously complain when lifted above chest-level. They did not want to help remove so much sap from our hair. They started talking to our knees, who got all cranky again, and began to imitate crumpled cellophane and creaky stairs and Rice Krispies freshly doused in milk.

Then the weather got in on the torment. Snow then rain then slush then rain then snow. 60 mile and hour wind gusts pushing us backward, tearing maps from our hands, and slamming car doors with authority. Cold air freezing our shoes and toes and fingers and noses. All of it briskly escorting us out of the woods. Call it a night, folks. And then we were done.

And while a week later I am still enjoying the fact that the decision to venture out into the wintry mix is now optional, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it already. I guess I'll be seeing you around, bears. Enjoy your long nap. I think I'll have one too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hiking the Nyack Loop

Reasons for and advantages of getting up early
Paperback writer
Chilled frills
Beargrass resembles a bear not at all
Charcoal scales do shimmer still
Pearly everlasting
Ring around and around and around the mountain
And when I shall die, take him and cut him up into little stars
Running through it
Castaways and cutouts
You've got to take water to make water
Not all bread crumbs are made of bread
Some fine faerie riding glove
You can find me at da club
One side will make you grow taller
Soldiers in their caps of red
Cipher, decipher
At a attention
One thousand silent sparklers
Traditionally, berserkers do mean business

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Winter Is Coming

The Starks were right.

And I heard from the trees a great parade

All things go, all things go

Be still and know your sign

I'll put you right in it, I'll show you the sky

Dreamlike, on account of that frosting

The sweet delights of a wild funnel cake

If you've got the patience, celebrate the ancients

And we laughed at the beatitudes of a thousand lines

Figure an hour in for thawing out frozen shoes