Inferences from Cave Paintings

I just read a fascinating article entitled, “World’s oldest known cave painting found in Indonesia”. It’s a life-sized depiction of a pig, and I have to say it’s really well done. I couldn’t do that well, even with the benefit of art classes. You can see the hair on it’s neck, the ears, and the warty horns. It’s really impressive.

Also impressive is the audacity of the scientists who claimed to have discovered it, when it was known to the locals all along. It’s funny how something doesn’t become authentic until a Westerner has planted his or her figurative flag on it.

So, the pig painting is in a cave on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. You can see that there were two other pigs depicted nearby, but sadly those paintings did not survive intact to the present day. A calcite deposit over the top of the intact one has been dated to 45,500 years ago. The painting itself might be much older. So one can infer that (surprise!!!!) humans are more than 4,000 years old after all. (I always kind of feel sorry for those who stubbornly hold on to that belief, because they are forced to discount so many amazing discoveries, and their world is much smaller as a result.)

The thing that interests me most about this work of art is the two human hand prints above the pig’s flank. As long as there has been art, people have been “signing” their work, it seems. We’ve always had pride. We’ve always liked to say, “I did this.” And even more exciting, since the artist would have had to have spat pigment over his hand to get this imprint, scientists are trying to obtain DNA from the sample.

I hope they succeed, and that we’re all linked as possible relatives on ancestry.com. I’m always pleased to have an artist in the family. Welcome!

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Even More Impressed with Amanda Gorman

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Amanda Gorman is the 22-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate who recited this amazing poem at Biden’s inauguration. The minute she opened her mouth, I was mesmerized. The words, the syntax, and the way she was moving her hands, it all seemed like a well-choreographed, artistic dance of mind, body, and spirit. That’s something you don’t normally see in one so young. That, and more superficially, I adored her coat and hat, and she’s absolutely beautiful.

From less than 6 minutes on stage, she has become America’s Sweetheart, and rightly so. She gives me hope for the future of this nation. We need more poets. (And isn’t it refreshing to have a leader who allows others to shine in his presence?)

The only criticism I’ve come across is that some folks think the poem should have rhymed. What are we? Three years old? Poems do NOT have to rhyme. I actually prefer the ones that don’t.

But what I just learned, from this article, is that Ms. Gorman has speech and auditory processing disorders, most likely from having been born prematurely. She struggles to pronounce and hear certain sounds. She has particular trouble with the letter R and SH. She was entirely incapable of pronouncing Rs until two or three short years ago. She actually took up poetry to help herself overcome these issues.

Now that you know that about her, listen to her recitation again. Knowing what you now know, it’s even more remarkable that she was able to do it so perfectly and while exuding so much self-confidence. I’m sure she is a role model to many. I am so impressed.

National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman reads her work, “An American Lyric,” at the inaugural reading of Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, September 13, 2017. Photo by Shawn Miller.

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Human Composting

I really love living in Washington State. Very often, we are on the cutting age of change for the better. It makes me proud.

This state was the second to legalize medical aid in dying, which means we now give our humans as much dignity as we do our pets, and yet star chambers haven’t been formed to kill off all our senior citizens against their will. Washington was also the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and yet we haven’t been overwhelmed with drug addicts at every turn. And now, we are the first state to legalize human composting. I know this is weird, but I’m so excited.

The conundrum of how to deal with dead bodies has been fraught with emotion for as long as humans have walked the earth. I’ve long known that I didn’t want to be pumped full of formaldehyde and sealed in a big box somewhere. The formaldehyde would turn me in to hazardous material, contaminating the ground water. That’s not how I want to end up. That, and those boxes take up space that could be better used by the living.

For a long time I thought I’d be cremated, but burning the average body releases about 350 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere. Again, that’s not the legacy I want to leave behind me. I mean, jeez, hug a tree, people. But at least I’d take up less space.

I also thought for a time that I’d donate my body to the The Boneyard at the University of Tennessee for anthropological/forensic research, but the carbon footprint of transporting my body across the country, plus the emotional distress it might cause my family, wondering if my corpse was participating in a simulated hanging or stabbing or heaven knows what else, made me change my mind.

Now, I’m torn between aquamation, where your body is pretty much dissolved and your bones are crushed to powder, and human composting. So imagine my joy to discover that my body wouldn’t have to be lugged across a state line to be disposed of in a green way. Washingtonians are the first Americans to be able to say that.

According to this article, with human composting, your remains are put into a body length barrel, along with wood chips, protozoa, bacteria and fungi. It’s heated with solar panels. It’s occasionally rolled, just like normal compost bins are. There are a few other gross but green processes, and then after a few weeks, you become enough usable compost to fit into four 55 gallon drums.

This is the only way you can be legally buried in your own backyard in Washington, by the way. But if your family doesn’t want the remains, the company will gladly scatter them in the forest for you. Either way, you’re returning to the earth, renewing life, and not taking up space.

I love that idea. I really, really do. Not ashes to ashes or dust to dust. Instead you become living, breathing soil which nurtures plants, trees and wildlife. Yes, please. I’ll see you in the wildflowers as I commune with the bees.

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Doubt Tempers Truth

I am always surprised when someone gets upset when people ask questions. Doubt seems to make people very uncomfortable. They greatly prefer people who act purely on blind faith. Those people hear the rhetoric and swallow it whole, without an ounce of critical thinking. While that may make life easier for some, it’s why disinformation is on the rise.

Personally, I like it when people employ a bit of scrutiny. I enjoy those who fact check. If you take information seriously enough to determine that it’s accurate, that information increases in value.

As with steel, truth is tempered when it’s pounded on, and plunged into fire and water and then hammered yet again. Doubt tempers truth. That applies to religion, politics, current events, and everything else under the sun. We are all made stronger by this tempering process.

Never hesitate to do your homework. Question. Investigate. Learn. Then share what you’ve learned. We have brains for a reason. Let’s use them.

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Kulning

Starting in the middle ages, and right up until the current era, you could go to the mountainous forests of parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway and hear haunting melodies, each one unique to itself, echoing through the hills and valleys. These were the shepherds, traditionally women in those areas, calling to their cows, sheep, ducks or goats. Any creature with sense would gladly come home to those beautiful voices, as would I.

Now that I’ve heard these gorgeous sounds, like yodels from another realm, I can’t get them out of my head. They are siren songs. They’re primal. They reach the marrow of your bones. For a great example of Kulning, go here. If, after that, you are as hungry for more as I was, and if you’re patient enough to wait through the Swedish narrative, you can hear many more examples in this video.

Sadly, this way of life is dying out, and the valleys are much more quiet and introspective than they once were. Kulning has turned into an art form that one can experience in live performances, but if you’re lucky enough to actually see cows being sung home, it will be a rare treat, indeed.

It’s a very sad moment when the world loses a wondrous sound.

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A Simple Tip for Apartment Dwellers

If you live in an apartment complex, there’s something you can count on as much as death and taxes: your rent will increase when you renew your lease. I spent many years in such circumstances, and my rent only increased the first time around. After that, I learned.

What I did was mark my calendar for about 2 ½ months prior to the end of my lease. Then I’d send my landlord a letter. “I have enjoyed living here, and I hope you’ve enjoyed having me. My lease ends on ________. I’d love to stay. Please let me know if you intend to raise my rent at that time, so that I have ample opportunity to find a new address. Thanks in advance.”

It works like a charm, but only if you have been a good tenant. Have you always paid your rent on time? Have you avoided visits from the police? Are you quiet, non-destructive, and abide by the rules? Then you, my friend, are a landlord’s ultimate fantasy.

That gives you a certain amount of power, because that landlord is going to want to keep you around. Trust me. As a landlord myself, I know what a monumental hassle it would be if my wonderful tenants were to move and I had to scramble to find someone else, with its attendant anxiety that the new person, an unknown quantity, would be your basic nightmare. That, and I’d probably go at least a month without rent until I found that new tenant. That’s no fun at all. Even if I could likely find someone who would gladly pay more in rent, it’s just not worth it.

Be advised, though, that you have to be prepared to have your bluff called. If the landlord doesn’t like you for whatever reason, she might go, “Yay! See ya!” And of course, it’s only fair that your rent increases a little every 5 to 10 years. Maintenance and operating costs get expensive. Fair’s fair.

I think this trick is worth a try, but your results may vary. Good luck!

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Why the Need for Gender-Specific Pronouns?

I have a few friends that prefer that I use the “they” pronouns when referring to them. I respect that completely. I have no problem with doing so. But I admit that after a lifetime of not knowing the value of that act of respect, I sometimes forget.

I hope they don’t take my missteps as a sign of disapproval. I’m sure they get it a lot, too. Not that that’s any excuse. All I can say is that I’m forgetful even on a good day, but I sincerely promise to always do my best.

I was thinking about that on the commute to work this morning, and it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why we have gender specific pronouns in the first place. For example, in the sentence, “She is very intelligent,” why is it important for us to know that the person in question is a female? Why does it matter that his shoes are stylish, or her team won the nationals, or that he has a reputation for always being late? Is the quality of intelligence, style, sportsmanship or promptness somehow different based on one’s orientation or perceived genitalia? The concept seems rather absurd when you look at it that way.

Since only extremely misinformed people think that the English language is rigid and does not evolve over time, I suggest that maybe it’s time that we get rid of gender specific pronouns. I believe that only those who are heavily invested in the patriarchy would object, and while it might feel strange to the rest of us at first, I think that within a generation it would become second nature. Meanwhile, it could be seen as some form of cool slang until it became routine.

Personally, I think it would be refreshing to be talked about as an individual rather than as an entity that can or should be prejudged based on some weird form of team membership. I’m sure that if there are any rational flaws in this concept, someone will point them out in the comments section. But as I sit here on the quiet, sunny day, I can’t help thinking that this is an idea whose time has come, and that some day the way we speak now will seem very quaint, indeed.

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Mid-Month Marvels: PeaceTrees Vietnam

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’m calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

I first learned of PeaceTrees Vietnam because my Unitarian Universalist church donates the proceeds from its collection plate once a month to various charities, and this was the charity in question for January. It’s a Seattle based nonprofit, and it just so happens that an article about it had come out in The Seattle Times that very day as well.

This organization was born out of grief, as many profound things often are. Jerilyn Brusseau, the founder, lost her brother, Dan Cheney, when his helicopter was shot down during the Vietnam War. She knew that her grief was also the grief of countless other families, both in America and Vietnam. Healing was needed. She imagined both groups coming together to turn battlefields into places where new trees would be planted.

Fast forward to 1995, when the United States resumed full diplomatic relationships with Vietnam. That’s when this organization was finally able to take flight, both literally and figuratively. Much traveling ensued to make the necessary connections. The plan had expanded by then, because there is so much unexploded ordinance from the war that nothing could be peacefully planted on these former battlefields, let alone trees.

According to The Seattle Times article mentioned above, the US has dropped three times more bombs on Vietnam than they had on both fighting theaters in World War II. The heaviest bombing occurred in Quang Tri province, which is PeaceTrees Vietnam’s focal point. Only 11 of the 3,500 villages in this province escaped the bombing. The failure rate for these cluster bombs, shells, landmines and grenades was so significant that it’s estimated that 800,000 tons of unexploded bombs were left behind in the country, and to this day they still take out innocent children and farmers who are simply trying to survive to a shocking degree. There is much work to be done.

For the past 25 years, PeaceTrees Vietnam has been doing that work. They sponsored munitions experts to train landmine clearing teams. They educated children and families about avoiding bombs. They opened a landmine education center for children.

As the land began to become habitable again, PeaceTrees began building homes, kindergartens, libraries and community centers. They also have a scholarship program, and in addition they teach farmers how to grow black pepper in the now farmable fields.

I am very intrigued by the citizen diplomacy trips they hold each year. They allow you to travel to Vietnam and meet the people, visit the schools, watch the demining in action, and plant trees. There’s also time for tourism in the large cities. I’d love to take that trip someday. I think it would allow me to see the country in more depth than a simple tourist jaunt would.

The work must continue. Just recently, after some major flooding and the accompanying landslides, seven 500-pound bombs were exposed and had to be dealt with. Only 20% of the land has been cleared.

To learn how you can help support this organization in its noble efforts, please visit their website here. And since you’ve taken the time to read this far, perhaps take a moment to look about you and appreciate the fact that you can most likely walk anywhere in your area without worry about being blown to pieces. It must be terrifying not to have that sense of confidence. People in Vietnam are sometimes blown up while working in their backyard gardens. Next time I’m harvesting my garlic I vow to remember just how lucky I am.

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Men Always Make Passes at Cute Girls with Glasses

I’ve been wearing glasses since I was 3 years old. I feel naked and vulnerable without them. They’re the first thing that I put on when I wake up, or I’d have difficulty finding the bathroom.

I’ve only lost my glasses twice in my life, and both times were when I was little. The first time, I was around 5 years old, and for some inexplicable reason my mother allowed me to hang out with a gang of older neighborhood kids, completely unsupervised. We decided to explore a house that was under construction. What could possibly go wrong? I don’t know why I took my glasses off. And I couldn’t remember where the house was when I was confronted by my furious mother.

The second time, I was around 7, and we went fishing on this lake that was so crystal clear that when I looked over the side, I could see my glasses drop down, down, down, into the sea grass about 40 feet below. It’s a wonder I survived to adulthood.

I suppose there was a time when I was self-conscious about my glasses. Kids hate to stand out. Now I don’t even think about it. I can’t be bothered.

But I do remember that my mother gave me a ceramic stand for my glasses when I was about 7. It was white, and it had a little white ceramic kitten that was wearing glasses, off to one side. Across the front, the stand said, “Men always make passes at cute girls with glasses.”

What a strange thing to give to your seven-year-old child. I’m sure she meant well, but what a mixed message. “Yes, it is basically a complete disaster that you have to wear glasses, but, cheer up, you’ll still be able to get a man, and in the end, that’s all that matters, innit?”

I know it was a different era, but jeez, that’s appalling.

Despite messages like this, and the ones found in movies like the old classic, “How to Marry a Millionaire”, in which Marilyn Monroe is so ashamed of her glasses that she prefers to bump into things, I knew exactly how I was supposed to feel about my glasses. There’s even this scene on the plane with David Wayne, in which she says, “Men aren’t attentive to girls who wear glasses.” In response to that, Wayne reassures her that she’s still a strudel, and you can see her fall instantly in love.

Cough.

To this day, you see leading ladies wearing glasses in the movies at a much lower rate than you do in the general population. I’d stake my life on it. I’m sure it’s a lighting thing, but it would be nice to see my reality reflected on the silver screen every once in a while.

Fortunately, despite all messages to the contrary, I managed to get through life without pinning all my self-worth on getting snapped up by some man. As a matter of fact, I was pretty convinced that I had better learn how to survive on my own because I was never shown any male role models who where reliable in any way. A sad lesson that has served me well.

Self-reliant I became, but I’ve never seen myself as attractive, and I’m sure the stigma with glasses back then didn’t help. I’ve known several people who can accept compliments about their looks with nary a flinch or an equivocation. I’m not one of those people. I stand in awe of them.

We all need to pay careful attention to what we teach children. The consequences can be long lasting. Nobody should need glasses to see that.

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A New N-N-1 is announced

I have always enjoyed participating in these writing/photography collaborations. I strongly urge you to participate, too! It’ll be fun! One photo and 50-100 words on the theme gets you there! Mark your calendars!

Wild Rivers Run South

A new N-N-1 for the New Year will happen this month. N-N-1 is a group project where people take a picture during a common time, around a common theme, and display the results in one place. This month it will be on this blog, Wild Rivers Run South. Each participant cant then re-blog the project results on their own blog. But you need not have a blog to participate.

The theme this January is The Colors of The New Year. If you wish to participate, take your picture between January 18th and 20th. Add your commentary on the picture and theme and send it to me at ngarvois@gmail.com no later than January 25th. Be sure to include your email address and blog name, if you have one. I will then put together the submissions and publish the blog post. I will notify you when the post has published.

N-N-1…

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