Monthly Archives: February 2014

In wilderness, we find ourselves…

An excerpt from Corvus RisingCorvusRisingCover2

Alfredo picked up his mic, leaving his partially eaten lunch on the table. “Why do we need wilderness at all?” he said to the crowd. “I would like to answer that with a quote from Edward Abbey, noted author and outspoken defender of wilderness.”

He pulled a small notebook out of his shirt pocket and read: “‘The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the Earth, the Earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.’”

A few people clapped. Alfredo smiled as he closed the notebook and put it back in his pocket.

“Too bad most of us will never see it!” a man in the back shouted.

“Somewhere along the way,” Alfredo said, ignoring the heckler, “we gave ourselves dominion over the Earth, which has all but severed our connection to the web of life. We built great cities, where we concentrated power and wealth, while we impoverished our spirits and our wild lands…”

The crowd had grown. A few crows collected in the trees surrounding the bandstand, staring down at Alfredo. Or was it his lunch?

“Cities weigh heavily on the hearts of men and women,” he continued, “and we must be able to escape them, even if it is just in our imaginations. In wilderness, we find ourselves. As we cherish one of our last wild places, let us become aware of our connection to it and impose surrender upon ourselves.”

“Surrender?” the man at the back of the crowd shouted. “Never!”

”Yes,” Alfredo said, “Surrender. The old hermit, Brother Wilder, surrendered to the wilderness we are now trying to preserve. He chose this wild island as a refuge from the world of cities and men, and spent his life in solitary contemplation of the glory of creation.”

“Who has time for that?” the man in the back shouted.

“Some of us have to actually work for a living!” someone yelled.

Anger surged in Alfredo’s chest. “While most people do not desire such lengthy solitude, it is through these pristine and unaltered wild lands that our spirits connect us to the Earth. As we gaze upon our island from across the river, its wilderness lives within us all; let us not now throw it away for a few pieces of silver.”

The crowd cheered and many clapped. A small crow dropped from the sky onto the table, and beaked a noodle from Alfredo’s plate.

Alfredo turned off his mic and said, “Well, hello little fella!”

“Don’t you know me, Jayzu?” the crow said, looking up.

“Of course I know you!” Alfredo said in a very low voice. “Grawky, JoEd!” He smiled and put out his hand. JoEd brushed it with his wingtip.

“Grawky, Jayzu!”

Nine more crows dropped down to the table, all talking at once.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Featured Articles, Mother Nature

Advertisements

Excerpt from Corvus Rising: The Great Corvid Council

angels-among-us-gothic-and-crows-art-photography

Imagine we perch in the trees above a group of crows and ravens engaged in a heated discussion. ‘It’s the Great Corvid Council!” I might say to you. “Look!” you might say, “there’s a human, too!”

A Patua’, in fact—a human who speaks the language of the crows. Known to the corvids as Jayzu, he’s a Jesuit priest named Alfredo Manzi, and he is meeting the Council for the first time.

There are sanctuaries, and then there are Sanctuaries

Alfredo stepped out from behind the trees and walked into the very surprised group of corvids. “I am honored to be among you,” he said quietly to the hushed councilors.

Many of them nodded to one another, mumbling their approval. A few waved a wing at him, and others called out their greetings and comments. “Yo! Jayzu!” “That’s a Patua’?” “He looks just like a regular human!”

Hookbeak, the Aviar of the Council spoke, “And we are honored you came to us, Jayzu. Greetings!”

Alfredo held his hands out as a few of the councilors stepped forward to greet him.

“We were gladdened by the news of a Patua’ on Cadeña-l’jadia,” a raven said cordially. “I am Longshanks. Welcome.” He brushed his wing across Alfredo’s hand.

“Is it true, Jayzu,” a crow spoke out above the muttering, “you are building a birdsanctuary on Cadeña-l’jadia?”

“Not yet,” Alfredo replied, “but someday I—”

“Sanctuary? What kind of sanctuary?” one of the ravens interrupted in mild alarm. He wandered through the councilors on the grass as he spoke. “There are sanctuaries and then there are Sanctuaries, so we wonder exactly what you intend to do in this sanctuary. Some oddball sanctification ritual perhaps? Will you require feathers? Entrails?”

“No,” Alfredo said, “I—”

“Sanctuary?” a few of the councilors said as they looked at one another in apparent confusion.

“What’s a sanctuary?” asked a crow.

“It just means—” Alfredo started to say.

“Sanctuary—the word comes from the root, to sanctify,” another crow replied sanctimoniously. “To mortify and cleanse the flesh.”

Alfredo felt exasperated with some of the councilors, but there was little he could do other than wait politely and grab what chance he could to speak. He glanced at Hookbeak, standing silently next to him on the grass. Will he not intervene and let me talk?

“Ah,” the raven who had asked the original question said. “It is a bathing place then. In this case, for birds. That does not sound so bad.”

“Unless the cleansing of the flesh is done with blood, Restarea,” a raven said. Hoots of denial circulated through the Council. “It has happened,” he continued. “Human use of animals as sacrificial offerings for ritual ceremonies to appease their gods is well known.”

“Will this Patua’, this Jayzu, be experimenting on birds in his sanctuary?” another raven asked. “Perhaps feather plucking for his rituals? Dissection?”

There will be no sacri—” Alfredo said and glanced at Hookbeak standing silently next to him on the grass. Will he not intervene and let me talk?

“A sanctuary is a refuge, Walldrug,” Starfire said, impatiently waving a wing. “Safe haven. Rest stop. Now please, let us remember that Jayzu is Patua’. I daresay he reveres the corvid as much as Bruthamax did.”

“Charlie of the great Hozey Clan,” a crow said, “well, his wife told my wife that he told her that Jayzu knew nothing of Bruthamax.”

Gasps of incredulous dismay pulsed through the councilors, and they looked at one another and Alfredo in disbelief. “Never heard of Bruthamax? How can that be?” someone hissed. “He knows not his own kin!” whispered another. “How can we trust him?”

Bedlam broke out as factions lined up against other factions. “Interventionist!” one side cried out, while the other shouted “Isolationist!”

“Are you all daft?” Starfire shouted, striding to the middle of the two groups. “Or just deaf? Did you not all just find it remarkable that there was a Patua’ among us? Remember thinking the Patua’ had completely vanished? Shocking as it is, Bruthamax is not known among humans outside of the city surrounding us.”

The councilors quieted down as Starfire spoke. By the time he finished, dignity had been restored. A few seconds of silence reigned, and Alfredo seized the moment.

“That is true.” He paused, momentarily shocked that no one interrupted. “Human knowledge of the Patua’ is significantly less than yours. I am Patua’ yet knew not there were others of my kind.”

Thirteen pairs of eyes, some black, some blue, stared back in silence. “I did not know of Bruthamax until I came to Cadeña-l’jadia,” Alfredo continued, grateful for the opportunity to continue speaking. “Since then, I have learned much, thanks to the corvids for keeping his stories and sharing them with me. I am proud to be counted among Bruthamax’s kin.”

Most of the councilors softened and some even had a few sympathetic words of comfort: “Any kin of Bruthamax is a friend of ours!” “Long live the Patua’!” “Long live Jayzu!”

An explosive sound nearby scattered the councilors, and someone shouted, “Meeting adjourned!”

Alfredo was suddenly alone with Hookbeak and Starfire in the small clearing. He waited for a few minutes for the Aviar to speak, but the old raven kept silent and still as stone, listening. Not a creature stirred. Even the insects had been silenced.

“Thank the Great Orb for that explosion,” Starfire said at last. “Nothing scatters the corvids like the sound of gunfire. Otherwise we would be beaking this to death till sunset.”

“I thought it was just a car backfire,” Alfredo said.

“It was,” Hookbeak said. “But no matter, we accomplished what we wanted today.”

“We did?” Alfredo said.

“Yes,” the Aviar replied and leaped into the sky.

“Indeed, Jayzu,” Starfire said. “Thank you.” He flapped his wings and took off after Hookbeak.

“For what?” Alfredo called out after the ravens as they flew away. “What did we accomplish?”

But the ravens were gone and he was alone, but for several black feathers that lay on the grass, twitching in the breeze.

∞∞∞

Insofar as corvids are very much like us, I imagine their Council might resemble our Congress—a group of bickering factions that peck irrelevant minutiae to death without accomplishing much. Perhaps I corvopomorphise

Perhaps not, given the history of our relationship with these birds…in any case, Corvus Rising is a fantasy….an Ecofantasy of mine that we could all be Patua’…

Hand

 About Corvus Rising, and where to get it

….click here.CorvusRisingCover2

The Judas Crow

The newspaper article below inspired my new short story, The Judas Crow. It’s a rather ghastly account of humans using an animal for sport killing of its own kind.

JudasCrow_copyI imagined what might be like to be inside the mind of the Judas Crow—having no idea about Judas or Jesus or betrayal on a scale it seems only our species is capable.

In The Judas Crow, a ‘small human’—do crows recognize our small ones as our children? do they recognize gender?—nurses an injured crow back to health, brings him food and water, and encourages him to fly again.

The Judas Crow spends many days in a cage, longing for the freedom of the skies and to be re-united with what is left of his family. He wills his broken wing to fly again, never imagining for a moment the act of betrayal he is being tricked and enticed into.

The scoundrel!

Judas was Not a Crow

What exactly would the title “Judas Crow” mean to the crow? Guilt at delivering one’s own kin to their deaths? —a human invention that ought to apply to crows as well as to humans?

It wasn’t easy, this mind-meld with a species not my own. But we know from scientific research that crows perceive, feel, form bonds with one another, and grieve at the death of a loved one, so we have at least this kinship with them.

I wonder what do we look like to them? Do they think we are intelligent? Or sentient? Care about our fellow humans? Do they see the carnage we humans enact upon other humans and yet do not eat them? Moments after death, all animals are meat. Are they astonished at this waste?—what other reason would one kill another animal, if not for its meat?

Who is the scoundrel here? The Judas Crow, or the humans who created him?

It’s in the eye of the beholder, I reckon. But perhaps we should take another lesson from the animal world.  You kill to eat, to go on living.

Not just for the hell of it.

JudasCrowCover2

Zentangle!

Zentangle1Zentangle, a technique of doodling that requires a steady hand more than anything. And concentration— which somehow makes it relaxing. Really.

That’s why it’s called Zen-tangle. Almost meditative, Zentangle shuts out the world and flatlines the nagging cortisol-producing thoughts that our brains seem to be addicted to like candy. All the while you’re making a piece of art.

Zentangle3

Pick up a pen. Just do it.

Zentangle7

Haunted from the Inside

QueenNightAn excerpt from Corvus Rising

Jade’s face broke into a smile. “It’s Queen of the Night, Willow B!” she cried. She set the painting on the arms of the chair above the cat and stood back, savoring the memory of painting it in those early days of her romance with Russ. “I fell in love with him under this flower. God, who wouldn’t have? A gorgeous flower that blooms but once, at night, under a full moon in the desert …”

Pale and luminous, the white flower took the entire canvas. Spear-shaped petals of opalescent white enclosed dozens of delicate, pale yellow stamens swayed that undulated around the solitary pistil. Layer upon layer of sinuous shapes of translucent hues awakened memories of love lost and found.

“I love this painting,” she murmured.

A sudden clap of thunder ended her reverie and she frowned out the window. “Where did that come from?” she said. In reply, big fat raindrops pelted the window and streaked down the slippery glass. Lightning flashed as she reached for another painting.

Frowning at her own handwriting, “12:01” scrawled across the paper wrapper, she tore it open and propped the painting across the arms of Willow B’s chair.

Black birds clung to the brittle branches of bare winter trees against a cold, gray sky. A distant clock tower haunted the scene, its hands frozen at 12:01. “Remember that clock, Mr. B?” Jade said to the cat sleeping on the cushion underneath the painting. “It haunted me for weeks. Always stuck on the same time. One minute after twelve. Pretty well says it all.”

Time runs through your life like water to the sea.

The memory of her apartment when she was in college enveloped her, with the clock centered in the window where she couldn’t miss its reproachful face. Day after day, it had rebuked her, “You’re late! You’re late!” mocking her every moment. She had tried closing the blinds to shut it out, but it haunted her dreams every night, taunting her with the eternally missed deadline. Always running, forever late, never arriving.

Night after the night, the same dream had played over and over again: millions of clocks in many colors, all showing the same time—12:01. The clocks started out randomly and then each slowed or quickened their minute hands until they all ticked and tocked in unison. Tick, the clocks scolded her. Tock, they upbraided her. But the time never changed. 12:01. She buried her head in pillows, but the relentless tick-tock only grew louder.

“You did hear it, didn’t you?” Jade whispered. “It drove me insane, the tick-tock-tick-tock.” Willow B turned an ear sideways. “Remember how I opened the blinds, and the ticking and tocking stopped? And when I closed them, it began again?” She glanced nervously at the window as the tempo and rhythm of the rain changed. Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock…

“Damn you!” she had screamed as the clock smirked coldly at her across the treetops, its face split in two by the hands stuck at 12:01.

She dragged her easel across the room and positioned it in front of the window. She attached a canvas to it, just large enough to block out that hateful face. “Ha!” she had said and stuck her tongue out at the clock she could no longer see.

But the white canvass tortured her with its blankness and commanded her to pick up a brush. She painted feverishly all day and all night. Exhausted, she flung herself on the couch and slept. When she awoke, the sun had gone down, and she flicked on a light. Winged shadows swirled around the room until one by one, they dove into the painting in front of the window, flying around the clock tower until at last they found places to roost in the gray branches of the winter trees. The clock condemned her with lidless eyes, its hands pointing to her doom. 12:01.

Thunder rumbled across the sky and the rain picked up its tempo as it beat upon the window. She dropped to the floor on her knees and stroked Willow B, asleep in the armchair. “That clock started it all. Like a big eye that never blinked and never stopped staring at me.” She felt a distant purr deep within his sleeping bulk. “I’m sorry I neglected you.”

In a frenzy, she had painted every waking moment and dreamed about painting when she slept. The imaginary boundary frayed between physical reality and the realm from which her paintings sprang. The completed canvasses morphed to life around her, and painted images became companions and critics that paced the room with her, argued with her, cried with her, laughed at her, comforted her.

The entire population of her psyche clamored for immediate voice and she gave in to the irresistible siren song. For days she had done nothing but paint, stopping only to stuff her mouth with crackers and wash them down with honeyed tea. When she slept, the beings that populated her paintings lived again in her dreams. There was no escaping them. Waking or sleeping, the voices owned her life.

 “And then I crashed,” Jade murmured. Willow B woke up and yawned. She scratched him under his chin. “You were there, Willow B. You saw it all. I lost track of everything—when to eat, when to sleep, when to go to class, my friends, time. I was alone in another world until the real one finally banged its way in.”

God, it was loud.

When they found her in her apartment, she was thin, malnourished and speaking to no one but Willow B and the voices in her paintings. Her foster mother, Chloe, took her home and nursed her back to health. “It’s as important to eat as it is to paint,” Chloe had said as she poked another spoonful of food into Jade’s mouth.

She wanted to paint sometimes but couldn’t bring herself to actually pick up a brush. Fear stopped her; painting had opened the door to a terrifying descent. Just after Thanksgiving had passed that year, she took a brush in her hand and stared at a blank canvas. Nothing. Deader than a doornail, that place inside her that once demanded her to paint. Half dismayed, half relieved, she worried. What if it never comes back … what if it does?

She shook the memory out of her head. “But it did come back, didn’t it, Willow B?”  She stood up and stuffed 12:01 into its quilted pocket.

The late afternoon sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the cat, sleeping in the chair.

CorvusRisingCover2

Corvus Rising is now available at the Amazon Kindle Store…click here…

eBOOK GIVEAWAY!!!

-for a limited time (thru February 9), download a FREE Kindle version. Click <here>

Don’t have a Kindle? Click <here> for free app for your computer, iPad, tablet, smartphone…

Bread of Life, Bread of Art

DSCN6431

Tis the Season!

…for bread baking.
And time for another short course on Sourdough Bread Baking at the Creamery Arts Center in Hotchkiss, Colorado. Each of will us feed a cup of hungry microbes—a.k.a. Sourdough Starter, while I ply you all with buttered slices of this freshly baked at the Creamery, slathered with a local jam, all the while regaling you with True Microbe Stories.

And, how to make and bake it.

Artisan Bread

That’s what they call it now, the bread of our ancestors. It’s a very simple recipe: flour, starter, water and a little salt. This is bread you can live on. A form of lactic acid fermentation (think: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee…) sourdough starters ferment the grain in the dough, usually wheat, into more digestible food for us, and *BONUS* food for the good microbes that inhabit our guts and keep us healthy.

And, sourdough starters generate their own yeast, so you don’t have to add any. None. Zip. Nada. But you do need to let the dough rise for a much longer time than is needed for breads that use store-bought yeast. Eighteen hours is good. But sometimes the dough rises faster than that, so you just gotta bake it.

The granulated yeast in the packets and brown jars at the grocery store makes a passable bread–totally tastier than the mass-produced breads from commercial bakeries. But it is not as fabulous, nor is it evidently as nutritious to the human body as the wild yeast breads, aka those produced with sourdough starters.

As it turns out, sourdough starters are a microbial mixture of lactic-acid and alcoholic fermentation. Yeast microbes are alcohol fermentaters, and we need them to make the bread rise. Yeasty breads smell heavenly in the baking, but without the lactic acid fermentaters, the bread falls short in flavor. I’ll never go back to commercial yeast.

For the DIYers:

You can easily grow a starter yourself, comprising yeast microbes, which cause the bread to rise, along with three or so others that make the aforementioned very tasty bread. For more info on how to start and feed a starter (it’s easy, really!), go here: http://www.scientificpsychic.com/alpha/food/sourdough-bread.html.

Check out the link at the end about lactic acid fermentation, and Who’s Who in your starter, and what they eat, how they eat it. The beasties: yeast and lactobacillus…remember the fad some years ago, where Sweet Acidophilus Milk was readily available at major grocery stores? It was a good idea. A great idea.

Wonder why they stopped.

Lacotbacilli are not just good, not just great, they are essential to our health.

 

figure-1“Life without Lactobacilli is unimaginable”

Lactobacillus is a large family of rod-shaped microbes; several varieties reside in common foods we regularly eat, such as beer, wine, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and of course, CHOCOLATE! It’s the Lactobacillus sanfransiscus, the First Citizen of sourdough starters, that makes the bread fantastic. Yep, named after the famed Sourdough Bread of San Fransisco.

Mmmmm….microbes….how lucky we are to have them in our midst.

I love the microbes in my starter. I can’t see them, but I see evidence of them. The starter almost doubles in volume soon after feeding, as the microbes discharge CO2 while mawing down on the grain and sugars. I hear the CO2 bubbles snap and crackle as they pop. It makes me smile.

My little pretties.

BreadBowl3
Sourdough Bread Bowl with Winter Squash Soup