Sunday, June 25, 2017

the phone call


A lawyer attempting to call his clients had the following conversation with their little boy who answered the phone:

The phone rang and the little boy, in a whisper, says, "Hello."
 

Lawyer: "Is your mommy there?"
Boy: (whisper) "Yes."
 

Lawyer: "Can I speak with her?"
Boy: (whisper) "She's busy."
 

Lawyer: "Is your daddy there?"
Boy: (whisper) "Yes."
 

Lawyer: "Can I speak with him?"
Boy: (whisper) "He's busy."
 

Lawyer: "Is there anyone else there?"
Boy: (whisper) "The fire department."
 

Lawyer: "Can I talk to one of them?"
Boy: (whisper) "They're busy."
 

Lawyer: "Is there anybody ELSE there?"
Boy: (whisper) "The police department."
 

Lawyer: "Well, can I talk to one of THEM?"
Boy: (whisper) "They're busy."
 

Lawyer: "Let me get this straight, your mother,
father, the fire department AND the police department
are ALL in your house, and they're ALL busy. WHAT
are they doing?"
Boy: (whisper) "They're looking for me."


***

In between times of no painting a story can still suggest a picture - as this one did.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will 
make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours”
~ Eric Idle




Monday, June 19, 2017

the passenger


John Bradford, an Irish university student, was on the side of the road hitchhiking on a very dark night and in the midst of a torrential storm.

The night was rolling on and no car went by. The rain and wind were so overwhelming he could barely see. At long last he observed a car that slowly came towards him and stopped just a few feet away.

John, desperate for shelter and without thinking about it, got into the car and closed the door... Only then did he realize there was nobody behind the wheel and the engine wasn’t running. The car started moving slowly. John looked at the road ahead and saw a curve approaching. Scared, he started to pray, begging for his life. Then, just before the car hit the curve, a hand appeared out of nowhere through the window, and turned the wheel. John, paralyzed with terror, watched as the hand came through the window, but never touched or harmed him.

Shortly thereafter, John saw the lights of a pub appear down the road, so, gathering all his courage, he jumped out of the car and ran to that comforting beacon of normality. Wet and out of breath, he rushed inside and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he had just had.

A silence enveloped the pub when everybody realized he was crying... and that he wasn’t drunk.

Suddenly, the door opened, and two other people walked in from the dark and stormy night. They, like John, were also soaked and out of breath. Looking around, and seeing John Bradford sobbing at the bar, one said to the other...

Look, Paddy... there’s that idiot that got in the car while we were pushing it!



I imagine you may have heard this one before, but just in case you haven't..

Monday, June 12, 2017

fear of flying with Crow


Recently Crow attended the nuptials of his cousin Cornelius and his lovely bride Hortensia. Aren't they a sweet couple?* and, yes, it was a lovely wedding.

When he returned he told me the guests at the reception had been quite disturbed about the news that humans are planning to annoy and irritate the flocks (more than they already are) by attempting to transport themselves to and from their various destinations by flying car. According to reports these vehicles are designed to fly 10 metres off the ground at a maximum speed of 100kph. Hmmm..

Anyway, here are some of Crow's thoughts on the matter:

I can understand a great deal of excitement has been generated among humans about being able to fly to the shop for a bottle of milk, but humans have certain handicaps in this regard that aren't shared by those of us born with wings. Ahem.

1. Birds, not having hands with opposable thumbs, do not text - ever.

2. When a bird decides to land most of us are small enough to find safety on a branch or on a roof. People in flying cars will not have this option.

3. Birds can glide. If anything goes wrong with your flying car it will become a flying brick. 

4. The number of new things a flying car could crash into are too numerous to list.

5. There aren’t too many scenarios where a crash could be trivial. At 10 metres high and 100kph you'll be ensured of serious injuries - and not necessarily just to yourself.

6. There aren’t even the beginnings of any sort of 'road rules' for flying cars.

7. We teach our young to fly. Who will teach yours?

8. What about traffic lights?

9. Unlike birds having the occasional 'accident' as we fly over your grounded cars, or selves, what happens to those below when you notoriously messy humans throw things out of your flying cars?

10. We can fly anywhere we like, but what of flying cars? Where will they fly? and will they sing and make happy chirping sounds outside your window? 


I fear there will be no peace anywhere.


After we talked about these unconsidered scenarios Crow and I watched a movie I remembered enjoying years ago. Called 'The Fifth Element', it does feature some flying cars:



Is this a modern development you're looking forward to enjoying?

* Family Wedding by Rudi Hurzlmeier



Article of the week: False flags

Sunday, June 4, 2017

other people's work #296 - Anthony Howe


Anthony Howe lives with his wife on an island off the coast of Washington surrounded by little more than trees, wind, and other natural elements that inspire his incredible kinetic sculptures. He works primarily with stainless steel which he welds to create carefully engineered objects powered by the slightest breeze. His wind-powered, carefully designed kinetic contraptions are so well thought out it’s hard to believe they’re sturdy, welded metal constructions. When a gentle breeze begins to blow, the sculpture’s wind-catching spoons and paddles begin to turn, and the entire piece begins to undulate in fascinating patterns.

But better you see for yourself:



They are mesmerizing.
I have no backyard.
Even if I did...

Sunday, May 28, 2017

new friends


Some years ago a science fiction novel I read described two different groups of humans as part of the overall story. The first group, ur-humans, were descendants of people who had been brought from Earth long ago who had been mentored by a civilization of inter-galactic beings. The second group, r-humans were more like us. They had struggled their way to a technologic society that had eventually bootstrapped its way into space. I no longer remember the name of the book, and that aspect was just a small part of a larger overall tale, but I rather liked the idea that there were humans who felt they were an organic part of a greater civilization.

Science fiction done well allows us to see our behaviour in perspective. I found a blog whose author wrote 365 very short science fiction stories over the course of 365 days. Here's one of them:

Holy Place

The priest’s words echoed through St. Peter’s soaring arches, resounding off acres of inlaid marble and porphyry. The murmur of tourists gawking and taking pictures stopped. Heads turned.

The priest stood before Michelangelo’s Pièta, hair the colour of clouds, cassock dark as a storm. A trio of Shivers had just entered the basilica and stood, clicking, their many limbs shifting nervously.

This was in the early days, when seeing an alien walking around was still rare. One of them inclined its glossy head. “We have come to admire the treasures of this place,” it said.

The priest’s eyes flashed with a dark light. “The house of God is not open to demons,” he said. “This place is for the baptized.”

The aliens clicked animatedly to each other. At length they turned to the priest together and bowed, forelegs splaying across the marble floor. “Then baptize us, father,” said the leader.

The priest blinked. “You … You wish to be baptized?” he said.

The lead Shiver nodded.

The priest’s gaze wandered over the aliens: many-legged, restlessly moving under their glossy black carapaces. He remembered the vast ships they had shown on TV, cloud-streaked, shadowing cities.

He breathed out, slowly.

“So you wish to be baptized,” he said. “His Holiness will want to hear of this … Follow me, children.”

The Shivers scurried after him. “Praise be to Allah!” they shouted.

The priest spun on them. “What!?” he said.

“Sorry,” said the lead Shiver. “Is there a difference?”




Article of the week: Manchester, or Innocence Long Lost 
by Raul Ilargi Meijer

Sunday, May 21, 2017

diving Crow blues *


Now if the river was brandy
And I was out diving with Crow
Now if the river was Remy
And I was out diving with Crow
I would dive in that bottle
And I'd never let go.

If the world treats you badly
You could go diving with us
If you got only hard times
We'll take you diving with us
Just grab your suit and flippers
There is nothing to discuss.

The river flows to the ocean
As you can surely see
Those oil guys were brazen
With their lies and treachery
Why these rich folk are so greedy
Is a mystery to me

Now they tell us Fukushima
Is just as calm as the sea
There is nothing left to see there
Things are good as they can be
But we know that they are lying
Though there's no news on tv

It's just money that matters
And they know they won't get caught
Cause they paid the politicians
Who said they never could be bought
There's no truth in what they tell you
Is what my dear mother taught

If the river was brandy
We wouldn't need a cup
If the river was Remy
We'd have a fine roundup
We can swim to the bottom
And we'll drink our way up.

So if the world treats you badly
You could go diving with us
If you got only hard times
We'll take you diving with us
Just grab your suit and flippers
There is nothing to discuss.


^ With apologies to Sleepy John Estes
* reprise from 2011 because it's all still true

Sunday, May 14, 2017

we need a miracle



Okay, I give up. It's a Sunday in the middle of May and we're still experiencing decent spring weather only once in every other week. The news I read keeps getting worse and Crow has locked himself in his library where he's working on a book he's titled 'Apathetic Agnostic: We Don't Know and We Don't Care'. So in the absence of anything else to do I've found a few church signs and bulletins that made me laugh. Sometimes that's all we can do.


Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

The beautiful flowers on the altar this morning are to celebrate the birth of David Alan Belzer, the sin of Rev. and Mrs. Julius Belzer.

At the Ladies Liturgy Society this Thursday, Mrs. Smith will sing “Put Me In My Little Bed” accompanied by the pastor.


At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be “What is Hell?” Come early and listen to our bell choir practice.

The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind. They maybe seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

The Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 P.M. Please use the back door.

On Sunday a special collection will be taken to defray the expense of a new carpet. All those wishing to do something on the new carpet will please come forward to get a piece of paper.


There is a sign-up sheet for anyone wishing to be baptized on the table in the foyer.

Janet Smith has volunteered to strip and refinish the communion table in the sanctuary.

The Pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday morning.

The preacher will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing, "Break Forth With Joy".

The concert held in Fellowship Hall was a great success. Special thanks are due to the minister's daughter, who labored the whole evening at the piano, which as usual fell upon her.


The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new tithing campaign slogan last Sunday: "I upped My Pledge----Up Yours."

Visiting Missionary: Bertha Belch.
Announcement: "Come tonight and hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa".

Thursday at 5:00PM there will be a meeting of the Little Mothers Club. All wishing to become Little Mothers, please see the minister in his study.

This evening at 7 PM there will be a group practice in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

Twenty-two members were present at the church meeting held at the home of Mrs. Marsha Crutchfield last evening. Mrs. Crutchfield and Mrs. Rankin sang a duet, The Lord Knows Why.

The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the church basement on Friday at 7 p.m. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

The Sunday Night Men's Glee Club will meet on Saturday at the park, unless it rains. In that case they will meet at their regular Tuesday evening time.


The class on prophecy has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.

The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.

This afternoon there will be a meeting in the South and North ends of the Church. Children will be Baptized at both ends.

The 'Over 60s Choir' will be disbanded for the summer with the thanks of the entire church.

Over the massive front doors of a church, these words were inscribed: "The Gates of Heaven". Below that was a small cardboard sign which read: "Please use other entrance."


and my favorite recent video is this one.. not linked because I found out youtube doesn't pay creators for movies shown on other sites. This man (and his friends) could probably use a little money.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

magic island


The phrase, "I'm going to Yemen," doesn't come up very often in my experience - less so nowadays. It's a place I first read about a few years ago that looked like one of those amazing landscapes we'd only encounter in a science fiction novel - Ray Bradbury's 'Mars' perhaps. Hidden away in the heart of the Indian Ocean, Socotra is a small collection of four islands that are part of Yemen in the Middle East. The largest among them is known as Socotra. While officially a part of Yemen, the island is 340 km (210 miles) away from Yemen while it is a mere 240 km (150 miles) away from Somalia. On all sides, the island is surrounded by a vast expanse of water.


Some 250 million years or more ago, when all the planet’s major landmasses were joined and most major life-forms roamed freely from one region to another, Socotra already stood as an island apart. Ever since Socotra has been a breeding ground of birds, plants and animals. The isolation from other land masses meant whatever evolutionary process the flora and fauna underwent never spread to the mainland.


While small in size, measuring 132 km (82 miles) long and 49.7 km (31 miles) wide this little, isolated island is a treasure trove of unusual things. Completely isolated, separated from land for millions of years, the flora and fauna have remained largely untouched by man and are found nowhere else in the world. The island's harsh environment includes wide sandy beaches, limestone caves and towering mountains, but is for the most part very hot and dry leading to the distinctive appearance of its plants.


If you want to read more and see more pictures you can find them here, but please don't mention the place to the Saudis or Elon Musk. We'll just let them think these really are pictures of Mars and they really should get out there right away.

* Lindsay found this beautiful video of the Socotran landscape. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

“Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.” ― Groucho Marx


I have no idea where this picture came from, just that it showed up on my screen one day and I couldn't help but save it for my own viewing pleasure. How on earth did the photographer get 23 (your count may be different) dogs to all pose in such a cheerful group? Although most dogs get along with one another quite well it's exceedingly odd to see them arranged in neat rows like a football team or an old fashioned school class. Looking at it makes me happy.

“Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal... In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.

Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away for two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh--not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.”

― Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings 



If there's a saving grace for humanity it's that our dogs love us.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

orphans


It's pretty much common knowledge that many of London's children were sent away to the safety of the English countryside during the WWII Blitz. What's less commonly known is that a number of those children who went to charity institutions never returned to their families but instead were sent overseas to the Commonwealth countries in a child migrant program that relocated thousands of them. Most were told their parents were dead. In general, that wasn't true but the parents who went looking for them later were told they'd been adopted by loving families who were taking good care of the children. That turned out not to be true in many cases either.

In all, approximately 130,000 British children between the ages of three and fourteen  were deported to Australia, Canada, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and New Zealand between the 1920s and the 1970s. Rather than finding new homes and loving families, never mind the oranges, sunshine, and ponies they'd been promised, many of them suffered servitude, hard labour and abuse in remote orphanages and farms. You can read more about it here if you're unfamiliar with the story. I'd write more about it myself but having spent several days reading about the tragedies that befell so many youngsters it's easier for me to direct you to some of the sources I found. Many of the individual stories are shocking and very disturbing.

Even more distressing, if anything more were needed, was learning that the British government began the policy of sending away it's 'surplus children' as far back as the 17th century when 150 'waifs' were shipped to Virginia to work on farms. Between 1869 and 1935, it's estimated 100,000 unaccompanied children were sent as indentured workers to countries that needed the laborers and also to enlarge their population of white people.

It was not until the early 1980s that Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys found out that there were former migrants in Australia who were just realizing they might have living relatives in the UK. One day an Australian woman contacted her, to say she was trying to find her mother. The woman said she had been taken from a children's home in Nottingham and sent to Australia by boat, aged four, during the 1950s. Could Humphreys help? Her plea lead to a quest that would take Humphreys across the world and uncover a scandalous policy used to forcibly ship thousands of British children away from their homes.

While a number of those now grown children were able to be reunited with their families (and apologies made by the governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand - but not Canada), it's not possible to undo the damage or to take back the years. I wept while I watched the video of the 65 year old woman meeting her 86 year old mother for the first time in more than six decades.

I understand childhood was always hard for the poor but I imagine there were compensations in being poor among your own. Thank goodness Margaret Humphreys was there to help before it was too late for any reunions.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

crow in gotham


In the past couple of years I've preferred not going anywhere near Halifax's downtown for the simple reason it's undergoing what appears to be an unrestrained building boom. In a fairly small city such as this one erecting huge buildings that cover the entirety of square blocks, buildings made of concrete and steel with glass curtain walls, has a brutalizing effect both physically on the local environment and psychologically on the populace. That Halifax is a major destination for tourists wanting a glimpse of the historic maritimes lifestyle is another factor making these projects appear counterintuitive.

Since we couldn't find a spot downtown not covered by construction equipment we decided instead Crow would pose in  Anton Furst's conception of Batman's Gotham City. It seemed appropriate. 

"Modernism is damaging to all cultures, yet those that are wealthy can and do periodically escape its suffocating effects. They possess other sources of emotional nourishment. But it is the economically impoverished cultures dependent upon the industrialized West, and those that are subjected to “soft oppression” by the dominance of the global media, that suffer most deeply. They have no way out. Their own elites are forcing the modernist dogma down their throats."
~ Nikos Salingaros

“The type of work which modern technology is most successful in reducing or even eliminating is skilful, productive work of human hands, in touch with real materials of one kind or another. In an advanced industrial society, such work has become exceedingly rare, and to make a decent living by doing such work has become virtually impossible. A great part of modern neurosis may be due to this very fact; for the human being, defined by Thomas Aquinas as a being with brains and hands, enjoys nothing more than to be creatively, usefully, productively engaged with both his hands and his brains.”
~ E.F. Schumacher

So you want us all to go back to the Stone Age?
The word “back” is a trick. It implies a magical absolute direction of change. Suppose you go to your job, and when you get ready to leave, your boss says, “So you want to go back to your house? Don’t you know you can never go back? You can only go forward, to working for me even more, ha ha ha!” Really, all motion is forward, and forward motion can go in any direction we choose, including to places we’ve been before.
~ Ran Prieur 



Long before it was an area of study, dictators took advantage of the impact architecture can have on the mind. By creating architecture at a monumental scale, rather than a human one, they inspired fear and awe in their citizens. By destroying the individual scale of a city, the tyrant believed he could usher in a new age. While fascism went out of fashion after World War II, the style of architecture did not, and now you can see that type of monumental building in cities around the world.

If the human scale of any given environment is defined by its community, then the outcome will be a human scale city. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

other people's work #77 - Ronald Searle



 One afternoon last week I went looking for a copy of a picture by Ronald Searle that I'd once sent an old friend. I didn't find what I was looking for but instead found that despite the fact I'd always loved his drawings I didn't know anything about him at all. Over the course of his long life Ronald Searle drew thousands of pictures, most of them satirical - albeit, gently so.


You never got the feeling of outright cruelty in his images - except, perhaps, for the St. Trinian's girls and their penchant for torture, assault, and the carrying of deadly weapons.


The first, and major, thing I hadn't been aware of was the fact that as a young enlistee in the Royal Engineers who had just arrived in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese in 1942, 22 year old Ronald Searle became a prisoner of war * and would remain one until 1945. His collection of 300 eyewitness drawings of life in Changi Prison in Singapore and the work camps of the notorious Thai-Burma railway is an amazing achievement. He secretly documented his experiences and, with the help of friends, hid the drawings from the guards by placing them under the mattresses of soldiers who were dying from cholera. Luckily for him, Searle never contracted cholera, but he did suffer from dengue fever, beri beri, malaria, multiple skin diseases and starvation. Most of his friends and co-prisoners died.


The brutality and disregard for human life which he experienced first hand led him to ask himself the question - "could this happen to people in my home country, or is this something peculiar to the Japanese people and their culture?" His answer seems to be that it is a universal phenomenon.



The second thing I learned about Ronald Searle is how he reacted when his wife, Monica, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in the late 1960s - shortly after they'd purchased an old home in Provence they were looking forward to renovating. Feeling helpless in the face of Monica's medical disaster, the only thing he could think of to do for them both while she was undergoing chemotherapy and experimental radiation was to draw.


The delightful images of a Mrs Mole pottering about a dream house in a Provencal village were full of optimism meant to help them both through the long, painful process they could only hope would be successful. Monica had 47 treatments and after each session he gave her another drawing.





I drew them originally for no one’s eyes except Mo’s, so she would look at them propped up against her bedside lamp and think: “When I’m better, everything will be beautiful.”

The treatments did work and her cancer went into a remission that lasted forty years. Most of those years were spent in their Provencal home: four interconnected houses, the oldest one medieval, threaded by staircases and stuffed with accumulated treasures. A courtyard is shaded by a vast, ancient fig tree, and from the tiny roof terrace unfurls a glorious 100-mile view over mountains to the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. It's a wonderful sight to imagine.

Early in 2011, shortly before she died, Monica shared her treasured drawings in a book titled Les Tres Riches Heures de Mrs Mole (‘The Richest Hours of Mrs Mole’) to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She died that July and six months later Ronald Searle followed her - he was 91.

It's certainly not true that artists don't have much to say; what is true is that the best really can convey stories of a thousand words in an image. Ronald Searle was one of them.




* a link you might be particularly interested in, Lindsay.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

april on low fuel


I thought I'd have this one finished by now, instead this version might be as finished as it's going to get. This is how it looked a few days ago before I added what feels like too much colour to the original illustration which is still sitting on my table (probably not for much longer). That's the trouble with watercolour - you don't get to start afresh once something has gone wrong.. never mind when you get part way through a painting and begin to wonder just what you were thinking about when you drew it in the first place.

I'm going to blame it on a winter that's gone on too long and leave it at that. Meanwhile, captions are always fun if any come to mind.

April now and the temperature's supposed to rise above freezing presently.



btw:

Did you know William Morris invented modern fantasy fiction in the late 19th century as a way of challenging the robot-mentality of his own time? That’s the core reason that his fantasy novels have been completely and systematically erased from our collective memory.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

as winter wanes (slowly)


The beauty of our life is that, despite the danger and fragility and outright darkness that lie all around us, we are free. We are free to be something.

Anything can be chosen today; we can take ourselves down any path tomorrow. The day after we can choose another detour. We are free to live, free to die; free to be miserable, free to dance; free to fast, free to gorge.

We haul around an oasis of blood, bone, proteins, enzymes inside these carapaces we call our bodies. They aren't really even ours. They're like pets we wash, feed, exercise or let go. It's not even a luxury ride but a crude beast that happens to be required in order for us to happen.

We're each alone on this road, this place of moon and stars. We become. That's all. Exposed to novelty and chance and circumstance, not to mention our own sense of self and mindedness, we are our own perfect celebration. Unless subjugated or imprisoned we can do anything we want, but even under the most dire conditions we still have a choice.

We never know who will live or how long or whether it is ourself. We're born by lot and die when the time comes and that's a good thing. We don't have an expiration date or a guaranteed lifespan either and who would want that?

At the end we report back to the universe what we've seen.. a lake, a flower, rain, a shawl a mother made. There was a child, a lover, a friend. This is all we have or ever will have. We're free to hold on tight or free to let go. The moment belongs to us.

***

The painting, one of my favourites, is by Michael Sowa, a contemporary German artist whose work is always amazing.

This is a reprise of a post written in early 2009. 
Still works for me..

Sunday, March 19, 2017

unearthing history




In the northwest part of India that borders Pakistan there is a huge area where the Indus River flows to the Arabian Sea. In that river valley on the frontier of two modern countries are the remains of another river that was once fed by annual monsoons and the Himalayan glaciers, the Sarasvati, on whose banks the very ancient Indus Valley civilization once thrived. Also known as the Harappa (named after a nearby village) the culture remains an enigma. The Sarasvati, a miles wide river that ran south of the Indus whose course is still visible from space, has been a dry river bed for the better part of three thousand years. Once the Indus Valley civilization itself collapsed circa 1900BC its cities eroded and their remains covered by (that old standby) the sands of time.


It was in 1826, that a British Army deserter, posing as an American engineer named Charles Masson, recorded the existence of mounded ruins at a small town in the Punjab, Pakistan. The Punjab came under British control after 1849, and with the building of canals, roads and bridges, it became one of the most prosperous agricultural provinces of the empire. Archeological surveys undertaken in the mid-1800s led to the assumption that as the mounds were remnants of a recent culture it would be okay for the engineers constructing the Lahore-Multan railroad used brick from the Harappa ruins for track ballast. The bricks taken from the site were more than enough to furnish 100 miles of railway track, testifying to the scale of the buildings that existed there.


In 1919, the site of what turned out to be another important city, Mohenjo-daro, was visited by an Indian archeologist who found items indicating the place was very old and likely very large. Major excavations were carried out at separate periods from the 20s to the 60s when they were banned due to weathering damage to the newly exposed structures. In recent years less invasive methods have been used to gather further information.


Thousands of years ago (as of last year determined by geologic survey and modern dating methods to be at least eight thousand years) the Indus Valley civilization was larger than the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia combined. Many of its sprawling cities were located on the banks of rivers that still flow through Pakistan and India today. This culture once extended over more than 386,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, and at its peak may have accounted for 10 percent of the world population. The cities were so sophisticated and well-planned, that many archaeologists believe they were conceived as a whole before construction on them begun. Lothar, a port city found in the 1950s,  has the earliest known shipping docks.


The Indus script is made up of partially pictographic signs and various human and animal motifs that have been found inscribed on miniature steatite seals, terracotta tablets and occasionally on metal. As none found have been longer than 26 characters decoding them has proven impossible so far.



Well-planned street grids and elaborate drainage systems hint that the occupants of the ancient Indus civilization cities were skilled urban planners who gave importance to the management of water. Wells have also been found throughout the cities, and nearly every house contained a clearly marked bathing area and a covered drainage system. The houses were thick walled with tall ceilings to help keep them cool; flat roofs, latticed windows, and gardens were part of every home. Archeologists found a large pool surrounded by the remains of small bathing chambers on the upper level of Mohenjo-daro that may have held religious significance. It was so well sealed that it could be filled with water even today.



The civilization's prosperity and stature are evident in the artefacts, like beads, jewelry, and pottery recovered from almost every house, as well as the baked-brick city structures themselves. It appears not everyone was rich but even the poor probably got enough to eat. The cities lack ostentatious buildings like palaces and temples, and there is no obvious central seat of government or evidence of a ruler. Also, the lack of many weapons shows that the Indus people had few enemies and that they preferred to live in peace.

Farmers, traders, and craftspeople, the most commonly found artefact in the Indus Valley civilization is jewelry. Both men and women adorned themselves with a large variety of ornaments produced from every conceivable material ranging from precious metals and gemstones to bone and baked clay. Excavated dyeing facilities indicate that cotton was probably dyed in a variety of colours (although there is only one surviving fragment of coloured cloth).

Archaeologists have long wondered about the sudden decline of the Indus Valley civilization. There is no convincing evidence that any  city was ever burned, severely flooded, besieged by an army, or taken over by force from within. It’s more likely that the cities collapsed after natural disasters or after rivers like Indus and Ghaghra-Hakkar changed their course and the Sarasvati dried out.

***

I've been fascinated by history for most of my life and deep history has enthralled me these past years as more discoveries have been made and disseminated. The subject of the Indus Valley civilization is very big and much more complex than a small blog post allows. I've even had trouble choosing just a few photos and imagined illustrations of the period to show here for the simple reason there are so many. I hope you'll be interested in looking at some of the links or checking out the subject for yourself. If you do you'll find that it's also a contentious issue because of continuing political, religious, and caste-class issues.


There is one last thing I'd like to mention before I finish and that's the fact that at the Last Global Maximum (21 thousand years ago) of the most recent Ice Age coastal sea levels around the world were 400 feet lower than they are today. 10 thousand years ago, when the enormous glaciers began to melt, it's very likely that a number of places where people lived may have been inundated by sudden overwhelming floods. Considering the areas in red on this map were once dry land it's easy to see the Indus Valley was much larger then than now, a fact that opens many possibilities about origins.

When it's hard to think about the future there's some comfort in imagining the past - at least for me..




Saturday, March 11, 2017

unseasonal beauty



Quite a few years ago, on her return from a visit to England, my mother brought with her some leaf cuttings from a plant belonging to one of her brothers. Called a streptocarpus or 'cape primrose' the tiny cutting eventually grew into a flower producing factory with fifteen inch long soft furred leaves that was quite wonderful to behold. Related to african violets, but more magnificent in bloom, streps are even easier to grow. I know that because, naturally enough, I got to carry another cutting home to Portland. The flowers on that first plant were a soft blue-purple colour with a yellow throat. When we moved here from the west coast it was without my plant collection except for a few bracts taken from a very old and hardy christmas cactus.

Although I grew a whole new collection of house plants I missed my  streptocarpus plant enough that I regretted not having made an effort to nurse a new plantling through our relocation; but trying to find one turned out to be more of a chore than I'd ever expected. Easy as they are to grow (and at least as beautiful as orchids, I think) they are very rare in Canada. I found the web site of a nursery in upstate NY that specializes in african violets, streps, and other moderately exotic plants whose products I hungered to own. Most were far more fabulous than the originals that my uncle, my mother and I had nurtured. The problem was, that although the young plants were inexpensive, the charges for international shipping and handling were outrageous. I couldn't bring myself to finalize an order.

Early last autumn I came across an ad on Kikiji placed by a lady in NS who had a few varieties for sale. I bought three (this one and two smaller varieties) and set up a small lamp with a daylight grow bulb to light them safely through the dark months. It all worked out quite well.. even on those days when I put my own head under the lamp.. They didn't seem to mind sharing the light and I got a very close-up view.



"Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge."
~Teilhard de Chardin

Sunday, March 5, 2017

whether the weather



After spending a nice visit with Crow and some of his old friends he and I shared some Remy and fruitcake while we talked long into the night. Here's the gist of our conversation:

Global warming had us all worried for a while. Luckily, conservatives aren’t fooled by the 97% of scientists who insist that global warming is indeed a provable fact, and we should be comforted by the U.S. Republican Party’s assurances that it doesn’t exist since it isn’t mentioned in the Bible.

Because global warming is such a controversial (of course not generally among those with two neurons to rub together) issue these days, it has allowed for the emergence of a more accurate, and far more fascinating term in our humble opinion  - climate chaos.

The climate chaos theory explains that although the climate will get hotter due to carbon emissions, that isn't the end of the story. I don't know what kind of weather patterns you've witnessed lately, but around here we've had many warmer days than seems typical for the Atlantic provinces in winter as well as a few heavy rainfalls that would have seen the place under deep blankets of snow had it been colder at the time. Not that we haven't had snow, but it was washed away every time.

While it's true we haven't been here long enough to know about what factors define a normal winter in these parts other people have said it's been weird. Crow says that basically, it's not just the heat that is cause for concern, rather the strong divergence in the intensity of various forms of nasty weather on a regional basis (and he should know because he flies everywhere). Those who choose to live in the fantasy world where humans have no obvious negative impact on our natural environment rightly point out that climate change is simply an inevitable environmental  fact, and the Earth regularly goes through cycles of warming and cooling - therefore it is simply human pride to assume we have anything to do with it.

Maybe so, yet the biosphere of Earth has also undergone cycles of mass extinctions based on environmental factors. Call us crazy, but I think that’s probably what the scientists are worried about. It’s hard to argue this with people who believe the world is only 6000 years old and that dinosaur bones were put there to trick us. 

The concept of climate chaos is an attempt to explain climate change in terms that anyone can understand (since nothing else seems to be getting through). As Mark Twain once said, “Climate is what we expect.  Weather is what we get”.

Let's hope we still have good reason to have high hopes for the in-between seasons. Spring will soon be here and autumn is on its way to our friends in the southern hemisphere.



ps: I found an international weather page app you might like to check out.

wonderful artwork by Peter deSeve
known for New Yorker covers

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Crow hosts the daffodils


When there's mud between the snowbanks, spring can't be far behind. This is most definitely a picture from somewhere else at some other time, but it's one Crow and I have a great fondness for. Perhaps it's about some future when things are a little less crazy in the world. Did you know that recent statistics in England showed more children had been hospitalized for falling out of bed than from falling out of trees?

Meanwhile, some thoughts about fairy tales and fantasy, when the need has grown large:

"In an age that seems to be increasingly dehumanized, when people can be transformed into non-persons, and where a great deal of our adult art seems to diminish our lives rather than add to them, children's literature insists on the values of humanity and humaneness." 
- Lloyd Alexander

"The great subversive works of children's literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten."
- Alison Lurie

"The fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of children because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on in the story. The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales. Whenever good counsel was at a premium, the fairy tale had it, and where the need was greatest, its aid was nearest."
- Walter Benjamin

"People who’ve never read fairy tales have a harder time coping in life than the people who have. They don’t have access to all the lessons that can be learned from the journeys through the dark woods and the kindness of strangers treated decently, the knowledge that can be gained from the company and example of Donkeyskins and cats wearing boots and steadfast tin soldiers. I’m not talking about in-your-face lessons, but more subtle ones. The kind that seep up from your sub-conscious and give you moral and humane structures for your life. That teach you how to prevail, and trust. And maybe even love."
- Charles de Lint

The thing about fairy tales is you have to live through them, before you get to the happily ever after. That ever after has to be earned, and not everyone makes it that far.



article of the week

Saturday, February 18, 2017

lizard girl



When I received a photograph of the very pretty granddaughter of a friend I thought I'd try to capture her in a drawing. Of course my rendition does her actual looks almost no justice at all; in reality, her vivacity and confidence in the love that surrounds her defeats my small ability at portraiture. You may have noticed this little girl isn't standing in a doorway or a garden and neither is she accompanied by a typical household pet. Instead, she stands at ease with an iguana in equally sanguine posture. Do you wonder why?

Well, just a few days before I found her photograph in my inbox, I'd been reading about The Galapagos Islands, the remote archipelago where Darwin first conceived of his theory of natural selection after examining the unique fauna who lived there. Some 30 percent of the plants, 80 percent of the land birds and 97 percent of the reptiles are found nowhere else on Earth. Besides the famous giant tortoises, there were several varieties of oversize iguana - the land ones feed on cacti and shrubs while the marine iguana graze on seaweed near the shore.

Over the past 300 years, hunting and invasive species reduced both the giant tortoise populations and the lizards by an estimated 90 percent, destroying several species and pushing others to the brink of extinction, although a few populations on remote volcanoes remained abundant. Along with the pirates and eventual settlers, came goats, pigs, donkeys, dogs, cats, and rats. They trampled the delicate native plants, gobbled up turtle eggs, staged inexplicable attacks on land iguana colonies, snacked on baby chicks, and tore through cactus tree trunks. After the Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, park guards halted killing of tortoises for food, but those animals introduced to the islands continued to destroy the habitat and kill the native species.


 How researchers got rid of more than 200,000 goats is interesting (if somewhat gory):

In a project called Isabella helicopter aerial attacks eradicated 90 percent of the goats on that island. Although it's relatively easy to remove 90 percent of a goat population from an island as they become more rare, they are harder to find. Once they'd been educated and learned to hide, the hunters flying around in an expensive helicopter found no goats.

So they decided on a technique called Judas goats. Since goats are gregarious and like being in groups they captured individual animals, put radio collars on them and released them back into the wild where the goats would go and find more goats. A week or two later it was easy enough to find the hidden herds.


It's hard to write about the Galápagos without talking much about the tortoises, but since their story is far more famous than the efforts to protect the lizards, I just thought I'd let you know that overall the situation for all of the rare and beautiful species that Darwin described is far better now. Extraordinary measures that have been taken to protect these animals have been largely successful. At the same time the future remains mired in debates over how to protect the islands from the 150,000 tourists who visit each year, many of whom unintentionally bring invaders by depositing tiny seeds on trails, and occasionally fungi or insects that can cripple the fragile ecosystem. (Personally, I agree with Crow that tourists should stay at home, but that's a whole other subject.)


Land iguanas are large - more than 3 feet long - with males weighing up to 30 pounds. They live in the drier areas of the Islands, and in the mornings can be found sprawled beneath the hot equatorial sun. To escape the heat of the midday sun, they seek the shade of cacti, rocks, trees or other vegetation. At night they sleep in burrows dug in the ground, to conserve their body heat. They feed mainly on low-growing plants and shrubs, as well as fallen fruits and cactus pads. These succulent plants provide them with the moisture they require during long, dry periods. Land iguanas show a fascinating symbiotic interaction with Darwin’s finches, as do giant tortoises, raising themselves off the ground and allowing the little birds to remove ticks.

It's enough for me to know they're out there in hope that Earth will continue as the beautiful and diverse surrounding that gave us birth. My further hope is that little Lizard Girl and her friends will grow up to add to our knowledge and compassion for all God's creatures. We need more nature photographers and naturalists.



ps: My picture didn't do justice to the iguana either..

pps: Harper's
Game On - East vs. West, Again
by Andrew Cockburn

Saturday, February 11, 2017

secret gardens or unknown?


When I was a child one of my favourite books was 'The Secret Garden', but while I was told about walled kitchen gardens enclosed to keep foraging animals out I never knew walled gardens had been commonplace up until the relative recent past. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, European urban farmers grew Mediterranean fruits and vegetables as far north as England and the Netherlands, using only renewable energy.


These crops were grown surrounded by massive 'fruit walls', which stored the heat from the sun and released it at night, creating a microclimate that could increase the temperature significantly. The 2.5 to 3 metre (9 to 10 feet) high walls were more than half a metre (20 inches) thick and coated in limestone plaster. Mats could be pulled down to insulate the fruits on very cold nights. In the central part of the gardens, crops were grown that tolerated lower temperatures, such as apples, pears, raspberries, vegetables and flowers.

The fruit wall appeared around the start of what's known as the Little Ice Age, a period of exceptional cold in Europe that lasted from about 1550 to 1850. Initially, fruit walls appeared in the gardens of the rich and powerful, such as in the palace of Versailles. However, some French regions later developed an urban farming industry based on fruit walls.



The most spectacular example was Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, where peaches were grown on a massive scale. The French quickly started to refine the technology by pruning the branches of fruit trees in such ways that they could be attached to a wooden frame on the wall.

Established during the seventeenth century, Montreuil had more than 600 km (375 miles) of fruit walls by the 1870s, when the industry reached its peak. The 300 hectare (750 acres) maze of jumbled up walls was so confusing for outsiders that the Prussian army went around Montreuil during the siege of Paris in 1870. Now there's a secret garden for you.

Peaches are native to France's Mediterranean regions, but Montreuil produced up to 17 million fruits per year, renowned for their quality. Building many fruit walls close to each other further boosted the effectiveness of the technology, because more heat was trapped and wind was kept out almost completely. Within the walled orchards, temperatures were typically 8 to 12°C (14-22°F) higher than outside.

*
As the 20th century grew closer, the production of Parisian peaches went into decline. The extension of the railways and the arrival of cheaper produce on the market saw the orchards deteriorate and disappear into the urban fabric. Here we are 150 years later completely dependent upon container shipped fruit and vegetables from all over the world.

While fruit wall gardening was certainly labour intensive I can't help but remember Mary Lennox, the sickly, foul-tempered, unsightly little orphan girl who loved no one and whom no one loved. Her discovery and care of the secret garden on her uncle's estate led not only to her transformation but to the healing of a sad family's tragedy. If all the factory work is to be done by robots, perhaps the gardens will still have need of us and treasures to share.

Near the end of the book a character says: "There must be lots of Magic in the world. But people don't know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen, until you make them happen."



ps: * The design is achieved by wrapping the fruit in a paper bag while it's growing.  Once it's full size a stencil is attached to the ripening peach using egg white. The Japanese do the same with apples. :)

The illustrations of The Secret Garden were painted by Inga Moore.