Imprints

I bear the imprints…

I bear the imprints,
deep and broad,
of the strap he wielded
with his words.
Sliced into the dura mater,
dribbles, runnels, rivulets,
channels course and creep
through each thought,
trenching a path for patterns
in actions and deeds,
written and spoken
verbiage like locusts
cutting through wheat,
leaving grain and chaff
alike fluttering in dust.

Like most elders,
he lunged at shadows,
wraiths imagined,
yet real to him,
he fought reflections,
crisp, bright fragments of light,
the blood he drew,
at times thick, dark,
often a spiraling vapor,
figments flecking amber,
in motion and frozen,
always a mystery—
to him and me—
their intent or effect
never known, not to know.

Each time he spoke,
it was a choice
between speaking at all
and regretting the attempt,
carefully selecting each word
from his enormous intellect,
then stumbling forward,
reflexively placing his hands
before his face
so his nose and brow
would go unscarred.
His discussions about
the burdens he shouldered
during an accomplished life
an example to us all
of feet poorly placed
on a gravel fundament
shifting in dry sand
on a dim and windy day.

Gray

Pattern

Featured image by James.mcd.nz

The Old Man and the We

Those who go down to the sea in boats…

My dad retired after over twenty-two years service in the U.S. Navy. He completed his service as a Commander and served in what I now think of as three wars: WWII, Korean, and Cold. As a result of his service, we moved a good bit for the first 12 years of my life and—very importantly for me—spent two and a half years on the island of Malta when he was seconded (to use the cooler-sounding British term) to Headquarters, Allied Forces, Mediterranean (HAFMED in the strange acronymic language of probably all military organizations everywhere), a NATO subsidiary. To date, I have no idea why he got this plum gig but I think the explicit reasons he took the post were that (1) my mother was dual citizen British and U.S. until she was 18 and this was a way of her introducing her kids to an element of British Commonwealth (aka colonial) culture and (2) he had a much more global and progressive perspective than most of his colleagues in the military. As such, when people ask me where I’m from, I never have a simple answer as I do not have any sense of the place I was born. I was raised in all over.

I actually have a poor understanding of what he did in his day job. What I do know is that on retirement, he used his G.I. bill benefit to return to university and complete his education, started with no great skill or enthusiasm (as he admitted) back in Great Depression era in southeastern Washington state. Apparently, day job or not, he had spent so much time reading during his service years that he was able to place out of much undergraduate coursework and obtained his B.A. with top honors in Philosophy in two years. Anyone who has taken a sophomore or above course in philosophy knows that the stuff is usually written with the eloquence of a legal document without the story-telling prowess usually demonstrated therein. He immediately started work on a History Masters degree, one that required a full-length dissertation (or perhaps he wrote one out of pure bloody-mindedness because he just wanted to), and wrapped that up in a year… with top honors again. This led to employment as an assistant professor of history, which eventually resulted in his advancement to a professorship at a regional campus of a state university.

Now, I provide all of that back-story to place the worm on the hook. I will not be talking about the apparently dull life of the retired Navy officer who becomes a professor and spent most days in his study reading astonishing numbers of periodicals and preparing formal lectures for his classes.

I will be revealing what a very dubious experience (to put it mildly) fishing was with this career Navy man. It is pretty easy to dismiss the idea that he was a sailor in any sense, particularly given the semi-piratical clichés that accompany landlubber notions of sailor-dom. He did not, as might have been true in earlier centuries, spend any time at all running up the mizzenmast or belaying a halyard or battening hatches (well, he might have battened some as this just means to close a hatch in bad weather). I do know he stood by the large guns that pointed out at targets over 8 kilometers distant. He was somewhat deafened by that practice.

But when it came to piloting the 20-foot plywood boat with the 35-horsepower motor, when it came to setting it in the water, running around in the tidal waters that ebbed and flowed around the sea islands he chose for a retirement home, when it came to fishing, it was usually ninety-nine problems versus the fish.

To be analytical, these problems came in two varieties: (1) problems associated with poor navigation and planning and (2) problems of the weather. Neither problem was ameliorated by my father’s inability to convince his kids (my brother and me) into thinking this was all part of the wonderfully complex plan he had intended. Or part of a Robert Louis Stevenson/Daniel Defoe/Samuel Taylor Coleridge/Herman Melville/Nordhoff&Hall/Ernest Hemingway-inspired adventure pitting a man and his sons against the forces of fish and sea. His temperament tended to the choleric, which is sort of antithetical to what is required by fish and fishing.

Although we did fish, usually catching sharks and stingrays rather than what we hoped, we sortied for shrimp more often. The mighty shrimp traveled in schools and spawned in the labyrinth of finger-like inlets and creeks that surround the countless islands of the intracoastal waterways of our new home. To call the complexity of these inlets and islands fractal-like would be doing them a disservice; they were so much more irregular and odd-shaped than even the most complicated Mandelbrot set. The islands in their essence are little more than accretions of silt and long-dead oyster beds festooned at their edges with marsh grasses, building towards the center of any isle of size with yaupon holly, wax myrtle, live oak, and palmetto trees. The shrimp come and go with the tides in this brackish water and as they do, they grow into the tasty question marks we boil, behead, defrock, devein, and dip into a purée of tomatoes and horseradish (I can do without the horseradish bit, thank you!). To get them to the boiling pot, the amateur shrimper must thread their way through the shoals of marsh grass, past living oyster beds and sand bars and submarine ridges of the dark silt the region calls “pluff mud” that lie just beneath the surface of the dark water. Then, they use a circular casting net, weighted at the edges, that can be drawn into form a bundle of sorts. The bundle, if a cast has been successful, contains bunches of shrimp, all of which are snapping their bodies in a seizure-like motion that makes a tiny sound like fingers snapping for attention.

a_fisherman_casting_a_net
Featured image

The next step in shrimping is a less graceful one. It involves removing them, all very busy in their contortions, from netting in which they’ve been snared. You see, pointy ends of shrimp faces are adorned with a rostrum, a sharp extension of their carapace.They also have a scaphocerite, short antennae, chela, long antennae, pereiopods, pleopods, and a uropod, not to mention a segmented abdomen, so they are well-made to get hung up on the interwoven strings that primarily compose a net.

shrimp-anatomy

If you pick the shrimp up without gloves or if the shrimp head is not poking out of your hand, you will get punctured, gored much in the same way a rampaging bull might gore you, albeit without the trampling part of that festivity. The fresh hole in your hand will include an injection of whatever microorganisms were living on the sharp shrimpy bit. It will need attention or an infection may set in (note to my adolescent self: bring peroxide and antibiotic cream on the shrimping expedition; you didn’t back then, but now you know). You will be punctured many times and your fingers and hands will feel numb and tingly, not in a good way. The good news is that this puncture wound is much like those delivered by various fish spines or barbs around the mouth of a catfish; the stingray spine actually contains venom, unlike shrimp rostrum and catfish barbs.

Once the shrimp are removed from the net and sitting in a bucket of water contemplating their future in a boiling pot of water and Old Bay®, the net is arranged for the next cast into the murk.

Of course, this glosses over the very important fact that shrimp do not swim around holding dayglo signs above their schools. The intrepid shrimper has a tremendous number of fingerling marshy areas to visit. One drops anchor (it is tidal water and always on the move), casts a few times to determine that the area(s) chosen have no shrimp who are willing to be gathered, weighs anchor, and moves on to the next picturesque cove in search of the elusive decapods.

And this is where the story becomes one of a retired sailor, two kids, and brackish water instead of about tasty crustaceans (I hope the descriptions above have not put you off; they are rather delicious once their rostrum-enhanced carapace has been severed from its abdomen and it has been deprived of its intestinal tract (aka “deveined“)).

For whatever reason, my father was forgetful about bringing along a very important spare part on our waterway adventures. The spare part is known as a shear pin, a short, skinny cylinder of soft metal that ensures that the outboard motor propeller turns when the engine is running and stops turning when the propeller hits a sandbar, mud bar, oyster bed, a patch of submarine grasses, a bit of junk floating just out of sight, et cetera. Basically, anything that exerts more torque on the propeller blades than the shear pin is designed to resist will break the pin so that the propeller stops turning, although the motor continues to purr happily away. The result of the shear pin doing its duty is that your boat will not be going anywhere unless the currents and tides say so. Well, unless you have oars of some description.

shear-pin
The thing marked “11” is the shear pin

But our vessel was a twenty-foot plywood thing with few adornments other than a steering wheel and throttle up in the front bit and some lengths of plywood along the floor that covered its shallow bilge. It may have had a basic windscreen; I can’t remember. Its primary features were that it was blue and white, it floated, and it was very heavy. Wooden boats float when they are not waterlogged, but wood is not as light as fiberglass or aluminum. They need to be hauled around on a boat trailer and the trailer backed ddown a ramp into the water—submerged—before the boat can be coaxed off its resting place. When floating, an oar or two are usually (but not always) included among the necessary ingredients to ensure an error-free day. But these paddles are most often used to push off a dock or a sandbar or a mud bank. They are not persuasive in the “let’s go home” department, particularly against a current or tide that has a mightier master than paddles wielded by an old man and his adolescent sons. This boat did not resemble a canoe, kayak, or rowboat in any conceivable way. I have looked for a picture of a similar vessel and have found none that are as basic in design. The entire catalog of boats posted on the web and available through Googling “twenty-foot boat” are prettier than ours was or simply are very different. Our boat has gone the way of the dodo bird; it has ceased to exist.

Off we go, a heavy blue boat in the arhythmic chop of the river, outboard running, its deep grumble pushing us through the water, going to some set of inlets where shrimp are presumed to be. There are tall creosoted poles in the water here and there, warning the larger boats (no ships in this river—it is wide and deep but not for them) to stay in the center of the passage. We do this, although we will be veering off into the shallower parts as that is the point of the mission.

fed_channel_marking_sys
Waterway Markers

Eventually, we arrive at an inlet, rumored by someone to be a hot place to cast the net, and drop anchor. We cast—and no shrimp come up. We spread our arms in the graceful way a net must be cast again—sort of a prayer to the dark waters and their contents—in another zone nearby, suspecting that another imaginary cylinder of water is the one that contains the delicious question marks with their pointed beaks and snapping tails. None come up. Now it is just a matter of pulling anchor, starting the motor on low, finding another pool between jetties of marsh grass, dropping anchor, casting the net, and seeing what comes up.

Tidal Marsh 2.jpg
The labyrinthine nature of lowcountry salt tidal marshes
(all rights reserved, Christopher Craft, Indiana University)

Now, let me be clear. All of this moving around in the web of water and grass is the fun bit. It’s mostly peaceful, casting is a sort of beautiful zen-ish experience that has a lot of inherent grace to it—it can even be done fairly well by those who have never done it—and whether there are shrimp or not is really secondary to the pursuit (although getting shrimp, barbs and all, is a good outcome too).

oysters-in-creek-si1
What Lies Beneath… (an oyster bed at low tide, just the right height for an outboard propeller)

Problems start when the outboard is on and in gear, meaning that the propeller is turning and pushing water in a spiraling cone behind the boat. When the propeller is turning, it can hit a submerged oyster bed or sand bar or just the thick ooze of the pluff mud. If there is enough resistance, the shear pin will do what its name implies (is there a word “explies,” because that’s really what is needed here—a word that states that something is explicitly indicated in its meaning).

tidal-creek-bank1
Pluff mud at low tide

As a child on into my adolescence, it was sort of fun to go walking in pluff mud. The stuff smells like sewage, but the chemist in me now knows that this is just the result of deterioration of living things—grasses and creatures—their substance turning into amino acids and other fundamental molecules, some of which contain sulfur (cysteine, homocysteine, cystine, methionine, taurine, s-adenosylmethionine, etc., all the way down to hydrogen sulfide). The good thing about hydrogen sulfide is that we can smell it at very low concentrations. The bad news is that at high concentrations it is lethal to human beings. The mud, outgassing hydrogen sulfide and other volatile sulfur-containing compounds, is not telling us it will kill us outright. It is more subtle than that. If you walk into it and lack the strength to extricate yourself from its powerful ooze, you may need help getting back out. In tidal waters, it is important to get out before the water rises above your head. Death by pluff mud is not common. Fear associated with the sense that you are stuck, your shoes have disappeared somewhere in the sticky holes your legs have made, and your next step will place you knee-deep in the dark clutch of that heavy, smelly sump of life, the fear is real and common, particularly among the senselessly brave people we call “the young.” Pluff mud may hide something far more sinister than suction, though. It may hide old oyster beds or shells abandoned to the waters at some time in the past. Those oyster shells all have edges that will lacerate a foot, ankle, calf, or arm (it is common to try pushing yourself out of the mud’s grasp by giving it your arms to sup on while it is busy with your legs) and open cuts that will bleed into the mud as happily as they will bleed anywhere else.

So, here we are, leaving one shrimp-free zone and moving to another zone, hopefully shrimp-enhanced. We are moving slowly but we are moving under power. The propeller hits something and we stop moving. We try turning on and off the motor. We tilt the motor out of the water, reach down and find the propeller is spinning freely, that no connection exists between it and the driveshaft. We are, in the modern sense as surely as in the ancient one, dead in the water. We will go where currents and tides take us. If there is a wind, it will move us as well, but we are no longer capable of moving on our own.

There are various ways in which this scenario plays out from this point on:

  1. Not only have we sheared the pin, we have beached ourselves on the submerged mass of whatever description we will soon learn when the retreating tide reveals it
  2. We have now learned that we do not have a spare shear pin
  3. We reach for the oars which we know we placed in the boat and find that we did not place the oars in the boat as our memory tells us we did, thus giving us no choice about what to do next
  4. One or more of us exits the beached chunk of plywood, temporarily not much of a boat, and tries to prise it off the mud, sand, or oyster bed, thus losing our shoes and sinking in mud, cutting ourselves on oyster shells, or (and this was the best of the outcomes) finding that we could push ourselves off the sandbar and go on our way
  5. We have and oar, we push ourselves off the impediment without issue but find that we are now simply adrift with an oar, maybe two, in our hands and no conceivable way of using them to “row” our way back whence we came
  6. We have had the good luck of freeing ourselves, absent shear pin, but it now starts to rain in some very exhaustive and punishing way, filling the shallow bilge and covering the plywood that keeps the bilge hidden, thus requiring the use of containers meant for shrimp, which were not caught, to be used for bailing
  7. During the bailing, one of us finds that the fish hooks, being at the ends of fishing lines which are spooled out from the fishing poles we brought with us, hoping that if shrimp were not caught we could catch something with fins, those fish hooks are floating about at the ends of the lines and, against all probability (as they are quite small and the boat is much larger), they skewer my brother’s thumb with the deliberateness of an arrow shot at his finger by William Tell himself
  8. We are drenched, we are oarless, we are pin-less, we are skewered, we are beached, we are shrimp-less, our vessel overly full of murky water, and we are at the mercy of others
  9. Who, somehow and against all probability, arrive and tow us back to our landing and our boat trailer, looking much like a set of freshly washed felines would look if they were leashed up and taken for a pleasant walk around the neighborhood.

So, this is why I don’t fish.

And then there is the toadfish. A picture will suffice:

toadfish
The Toadfish, nature’s answer to the angler’s prayer

The problem with all of this is that it is now uncommon to find wild shrimp in these inlets; they have been overfished. The shrimp boats once common to these waterways and the Atlantic just off the southern United States, have to go out for longer journeys. Many shrimpers don’t even try anymore. The haul does not pay for keeping the boat maintained, much less running after the increasingly elusive morsels that used to be so common. It’s a problem that affects much of fishing worldwide. For me, for my brief history of fishing and longer history of doing it very badly indeed, it’s not a personal problem. It is very much a problem for all of the people on earth who have survived for millennia on the seas’ bounty. We could all take a moment to care for their future as they have helped us enjoy the fruits of their labor in the past.

Fishing

Relax

Fortune

Bounty

Featured image: https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkas:Camarones.JPG

The Stable Girl

There once was a young girl who grew up in a stable loft.

There once was a young girl who grew up in a stable loft. This was through no fault of her own. Her parents had slipped away as she slept one night. They had been neglectful parents on the best of days, barely ever speaking to her—or to each other—and doing little to keep her alive. They had all gone to sleep in the loft as the three of them wandered from farm to farm, keeping out of sight and feeding off the labors of others. She did not miss them when she realized she was alone. She stayed hidden during the day, sleeping under the hay piles to hide. She slipped out at night to rummage in the farmer’s fields and the waste pile the farmer kept at the edge of his property. Her rummaging kept her fed with scraps from the farmer’s table but also with grain, vegetables, fruit the farmer grew and sold at market. She clothed herself in an odd assortment of garments the farmer, his wife, and two children discarded. For a week, she would wear his old underwear as a dress (he was a big man) and then switch to a nightgown his wife had worn sheer over the past decade. She wore shoes that were too big for her, trousers that were too short, and hats that were sometimes too big and sometimes too small but she kept warm enough through the winter and shed layers when the summer came.

She managed to eat well enough and grew into an adolescent girl, although one with tangled hair interspersed with hay and without the courtly charms expected of one her age. She was not exceptionally beautiful or terribly plain but she was almost always painted with the colors of her loft and the fields she plied for food so it was difficult to tell where her nest or the fields ended and the girl began.

Her only conversations were with the creatures who lived in the barn beneath her nest in the hay. She spent her nights listening to the cows and horses snort and whinny. She would visit with the bunnies and moles who prowled the fields at night under the varying gaze of the moon. She learned bits of their languages too and found that they knew much about the best vegetables and fruits to choose and when they were best eaten. She spent her days fending off the mice and squirrels who would rummage around her looking for morsels she left unfinished or that she found unappealing. But she also learned their languages of squeaks and chirps.

She liked all the vegetables the farmer grew (well, except for the Brussel sprouts) but she was fondest of the melons he tended. He grew honeydew and cantaloupe and casaba and watermelons, all tucked within their tendrils and leaves, each with their distinct flavor, firm outer skin, tender flesh, and plentiful seeds. She would cut them open with a broken knife she had found in the waste pile and pry the flesh from the rind with impatient gouges, seeds and all. As she chewed through the flesh, she would find the seeds with her tongue and spit them out where she found them, along the rows where the delicious fruits grew. She was sure this would puzzle the farmer—all the new seeds falling among the maturing vines and spawning new fruit—and she snorted and whinnied a bit in delight at his imagined confusion. She did not care, though. She was face-deep in a melon or two and enjoying herself too much to bother.

One night, she was engaged in a conversation with a large green melon with white stripes and dark brown seeds and a weasel wriggled up the row from its forest home.

“Hello,” said the weasel, or so she imagined he said as she had yet to learn the proper tongue of these creatures.

“Hello,” she said back in her best squirrel. Weasels do not speak squirrel but they understand it as well as their mother tongue.

“I am your fairy spirit and have a tip for you,” said the weasel. As he said this, the girl saw a luminescence to his fur she had not noticed before. She had no reason not to accept this announcement so she did.

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“It means I am here to guide you through your young life and make sure you continue to mature.”

“I’ve done well enough, thank you,” said the girl in a kind and courteous way the weasel understood.

“Yes, you have. You have done remarkably well keeping yourself fed and clothed and hidden from sight. There is nothing I would say or do to change any bit of what you have done and you are a fine young person. I do have a tiny tip for you that may help you out a bit.”

“Well, thank you, weasel. As you are so kind, I cannot help but consider your words, whatever they may be.”

“Okay. And thank you. You are as accepting as I hoped you would be. I have noticed you love the melons more than other fruit or vegetables in the field. They hold a key to your future. I have also seen you spit out all the seeds amongst the fruit you leave for the farmer’s family. That is considerate to him and helps keep you hidden in his loft.”

“Thank you,” said the girl, a little proud of herself and amazed that he was continuing to be so nice.

“I want you to remember what I am about to tell you. Some night as you are out among the melons, some night as you are cutting through their skin, enjoying their flesh, and turning the seeds about in your mouth, you will find a seed that is rounder than the others, sweet on your tongue, and smoother than any other seed you have found. When you find that seed, swallow it instead of spitting it out.”

The weasel looked up at the girl sitting cross-legged in the rows of melons. “Had she understood?” he wondered. “Would she remember to do as I’ve said?” he wondered.

“Okay. I will remember your advice and do as you have suggested” said the girl, puzzled but trusting the weasel as he was as pleasant as any friend she had ever met.

“Good, but that’s not all,” said the weasel. “When you swallow the seed, you must move from your loft and from this farm and go north through the forest until you reach a clearing. The clearing will glow in the moonlight and there will be a single squirrel sitting on a large stone, a stone as big as your loft is high, at the edge of the clearing. When you reach this place, lean back against the stone and go to sleep.”

“Abandon my loft and my friends and my melon patch?” said the girl, a little frightened and sad at hearing these words.

“Yes,” said the weasel. “Trust what I have said as I am your fairy spirit and I can only give advice when it is earned by a promising young person who will benefit from my words.”

“Okay,” said the girl. “I am worried and saddened by your words but I will do as you say. Do you know when this will all happen?”

“The night when the full moon starts to wane,” said the weasel, wriggling his nose and whiskers, as he had just smelled a turnip nearby that had just turned ripe.

“I understand,” said the girl.

“Goodbye, young lady. I will visit you when all of this has come to pass” said the weasel. He turned and wriggled off in the direction of the turnip. All of this talking and advising had made him hungry.

“Goodbye weasel,” said the girl.

The days passed as she slept and the nights were occupied by foraging in the waste pile and choosing among the vegetables and melons so that she would continue to prosper. She paid close attention to the melon seeds and found none that had met the weasel’s description. This was as it should be. The full moon was days away and each melon was delicious, so she spat the seeds as she sat amongst them eating their flesh and enjoying the company of the night breezes and roaming creatures just out of sight.

Finally, the full moon came out one night and she knew that her next evening would be as special as any she had known before. After a night of delicious melons and lovely carrots, she retired for the day, burrowing into the hay, and sleeping a deep sleep without dreams.

The next night came and she found a melon that looked particularly delicious. She sliced it open as usual and started consuming the flesh and turning the seeds about in her mouth. Everything was as usual and she spat the seeds out in streams. None of them met the description the weasel had provided.

Then she found the one seed that was rounder, smoother, and sweeter than any other seeds she had ever felt with her tongue. She gave it one last touch and then, closing her eyes, she swallowed it.

When she did, a path lit up amongst the rows of melons and vegetables. The path led directly to the edge of the field and into the forest that surrounded it, her loft, and her farmer’s home. She started briskly down the way that was illuminated by some unknown magic foreseen by her fairy spirit and into the dark woods. She could see the moon, one night off its full beauty, through the branches far above and it helped light her path, although in truth the path stayed lit as the forest around her darkened.

She walked for a long time and the night came closer and closer to ending when she found a clearing at the end of her path, lit with the moonlight from above but also with a strange white light from the ground beneath her feet. At the edge of the clearing sat a large stone—easily as tall as her loft had been and a little bigger than she had imagined. On the top of the stone sat a single squirrel, a nut between its tiny paws, its teeth chipping away at the husk and tunneling into the delicious flesh within.

“Hello young lady,” said the squirrel, for the girl knew his language quite well.

“Hello squirrel,. How are you this pleasant evening?”

“I am well and doing what we squirrels love most. I see you have come as your friend the weasel had advised. That is a wise thing to do as he is the wisest weasel any of us know.”

“I am happy to hear that, squirrel. As you might imagine, it is quite something to follow the advice of a new friend and come so far into a dark forest after swallowing a melon seed, several things I have never done before.”

“I understand but you have done well. Now, I believe he recommended that you sleep” said the squirrel.

“Indeed he did. I shall do as he asked.”

The girl sat down and rested her back against the large stone. Strangely, while most stones are as cold as the earth from which they draw their breath, this one was quite warm, nearly as warm as she was herself. She wriggled a little as she cozied up to it and promptly fell into a deep sleep, dreamless as the previous night had been.

When she woke, it was daytime. This was odd all by itself as she always woke as night came and it was time for her to forage. But this day was quite different from all other days. The light was suffused with a light green tinge and she was surrounded by what felt and seemed like the flesh of a melon.

“How has this come to be?” wondered the girl. She did not really know what had happened but she thought she knew what to do next.

She opened her mouth and took a bite of the flesh that held her firm in its moist grasp. It was delicious, better than any melon had ever been before. She took another, then another, until she had made a large oval room for herself, a room with an arching ceiling brimming with light from the sun outside, just the right temperature for a room to be.

She walked to one end of the large, oval room and knocked on the interior wall of the melon in which she had found herself and which had fed her.

Knock-knock-knock.

The wall of the melon fell open to the outside and presented her with a pleasant ramp on which to descend to the clearing she had found lit by the waning moon. She left the melon and looked around. On the large stone sat the squirrel she had spoken to the previous night.

“Hello young lady,” said the squirrel. “How was your sleep?”

“It was quite peaceful, thank you,” said the girl. “Tell me, how is it that I awoke inside this large melon and had to eat my way clear of it and knock on its wall?”

“You have been asleep for some time, dear lady. Many nights and days. All I can say is that as you slept, this melon appeared from your belly and grew large and full around you until I could no longer see you asleep against the stone. The melon grew and grew and is as you see it before you. And just now, you popped out one end. I do not know what else to tell you.”

“Well, that is helpful, squirrel. Weasel said he would be along to see me and I trust that he will.”

“Yes, I would as well. He is a very wise weasel and we all trust him quite completely.”

“That is good to know but of course you have already said as much. Before I slept, that is” said the girl. “Do you have any ideas about what I should do now?”

“If I were you, I would make myself at home. It looks quite nice from outside and I’m sure it is just as nice within.”

“Good idea!” said the girl and went back inside.

She was surprised to find that the floor of the melon had hardened into a firm, flat surface and that a table with two chairs sat in the middle of the room with two plates and two mugs at each of the two seats. The plates sat on lace mats and had a complement of implements arranged quite properly around them. A plump, light green melon sat in the middle of the table with a spoon nested firmly in its flesh. She walked over, sat down, and scooped out a plateful of this nice young melon. It was delicious and she devoured every bite as if she had never had a melon in her life, not even the one she had burrowed out of a bit earlier that day.

Soon, the weasel came to visit. He sat down in the other chair and gave her a smile.

“I see you have done as I advised, young lady,” said the weasel in his kind, wise voice.

“Yes. I did just as you suggested, although I had no idea what would come of it all. This is a wonderful room and I like my furniture so much. I’ve never had any, you know.”

“I know,” said the weasel. “But you’ve always been a very good girl and we have all noticed that you treat the fields well and all of your animal friends like your family. We all thought you could do with a house of your own instead of a pile of hay. Look over there” said the weasel, pointing into a corner of the large room. A fluffy cotton mattress sat in a bedstead and two fluffy pillows sat against the headboard. A thick comforter lay across the bed and was tucked neatly in at the foot of the bed.

“Oh! Where did that come from?” said the girl.

“From a life of goodness and nights of untroubled dreams,” said the weasel.

“Thank you, weasel! I have no idea why you have been so kind to me but thank you so much!” said the girl.

“You have done this all on your own, dear girl. I was just the messenger who told you about the seed and the clearing. You did all else that was to be done!” said the weasel, smiling in his tender way.

“What do I do now?” said the girl.

“Every day, you can do as you please, of course. There will always be a fresh melon on your table when you want it. There will always be vegetables available in the clearing outdoors. You will always have visits from your friends, the animals. Your life will be full and happy and you will never again worry about how you’re going to eat, whether you will be found, or what will happen next.”

“Thank you, weasel. Will you stay here with me?” asked the girl.

“I will visit and you will have many visitors but this is all for you alone so that you may live a full life without worry or sorrow,” said the weasel. “It is not so different from your previous life but I believe you will enjoy it more.”

“I am sure I will. I will never be able to thank you enough, weasel. I have an extra hat. Would you like this one?” asked the girl.

“Why, yes. That would be very nice. I’ve always liked that hat,” said the weasel as he took it from her outstretched hands and placed it on his pointy little head. “It fits perfectly, too!” said the weasel. “Goodbye for now. I’m sure I will visit so we can have our chats.”

“Goodbye, weasel!” said the girl. “I will look forward to our next visit!”

And with that, the weasel jumped out of the chair onto all fours and scurried away in search of a turnip, for they were as delicious as melons were to the girl.

Transformation

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Come One, Come All!!!

Step right up!

I can’t remember exactly when it was or how old I must have been but my mother took me to (I think) the state fair in (probably) Columbia, South Carolina when I was (let’s say) ten. If I’m wrong on any of these, it was either Columbia or Beaufort, either a state or county fair and I was either ten or somewhere in the twelve to fourteen range. Additionally, if I’m wrong it doesn’t matter much or at all. With all of that out of the way (this is a factual bit rather than a bit of fiction or it really wouldn’t matter), I will describe what might have been a pivotal incident in growing up less gullible than I might otherwise have been.

We wandered around the fair, wherever it was and however old I might have been. We might have gone on some fairly tame rides or into the “Fun House” (also known as “House of Mirrors”), perhaps a haunted house. By the way, and as a courtesy service to those who are unaware, these rides are neither in a house nor haunted (inhabited by the ghostly remnants of the previously living). On the other hand, you do get to ride in an uncomfortable cart that jerks back and forth, side-to-side as it makes its way along an electrified track past tableaux vivant that are meant to horrify but are usually just cheesy.

We arrived at the time-honored sideshow area of the fair, a place where P.T. Barnum and other impresarios before him once displayed genetic anomalies as a source of amusement for paying customers. Well, and social anomalies like naked women. This was a fairly tame sideshow area as both the year (the early-to-mid 1960s) and the location made truly tasteless sideshows a bit much for the population.

For some reason, my young eyes were drawn to a sign that said “The Cardiff Giant” and I was instantly intrigued. I can’t tell you why but the sign triggered something in my reptilian brain and said “ooo – a real-life giant! a huge person! I must see this person!”

Some of you know the tale of the Cardiff giant and know what I saw next but don’t whisper it to your friends and neighbors. Let this play out….

It didn’t take much work to get my mother to shell out for two tickets—I think they were a dollar each—and we went into this particular tent. A large, or rather long, plaster figure of a male human was supine in a wooden box just a little below the level of my eyes. The figure was not particularly well wrought, not entirely evocative of something that might have ever been alive, and not so huge, even by the dubious standards of fakery, to result in much other than disappointment from me. I had been duped and had caused good money to be spent for the duping! A dollar apiece was, to my young mind and to the times in which we lived, a good chunk of money. I think it may have been equal to my weekly allowance and might have been more that my parents allowed—I can’t remember.

I probably sounded a little comical in my petulance and disappointment. My mother undoubtedly knew that it was a hoax—a rather famous hoax originating in the mid-19th century—and played along as an object lesson for the young and credulous version of myself. But I was beyond disappointed, I was also pretty furious (in a well-behaved way, of course) and let the barker who had taken our money know that I felt cheated.

“That was fake!” I might have said. I certainly said something equally appropriate to the occasion and I said it a bit loudly too. I think all the response I got from the barker was a grunt of surprise that I was surprised but that annoyed me even further. In some way, it clouded a perfectly good day and cast a pall over me whenever I thought about it for some time afterward.

I never went in a sideshow again. I became less gullible. Eventually, although not immediately. Perhaps I even became somewhat less cruel. After all, a giant is nothing for anyone to ogle, living or dead, factual or concocted by hucksters. Neither is a hirsute woman or an elephant man, a human being dwarfed by genetics or a naked woman disrobing because economics have not been kind.

In a way, the sideshow was nothing more than a house of mirrors. Staring back from the box that contained this poor representation of a 19th-century hoax was an image of my own perverse, albeit immature, interest in oddities, a reflection of my own gullibility, a mirroring of an inner self to learn from and leave behind.

Many of us may have had similar experiences, although not always at the enticement of a sideshow sign or a barker’s call. Some of us learn from our experience. Some of us don’t. Some of us steer away from a cruel interest in “otherness,” some are always intrigued.

When you looked in a box containing a mirror, what stared back at you? Did you learn or did you laugh?

Featured Image: Rob and Stephanie Levy (Some rights reserved, 2008)

Giant

Twilight

The crowd hadn’t been quiet all morning.

The crowd hadn’t been quiet all morning. Forty or fifty full-grown men shouting like had all just received a lifetime of wages or witnessed the Ascension. Men standing shaking their fists, sweating sweat, raising their voices in praise of the latest demagogue cajoling their time and attention. Promising promises so they could hope for hope. Like all other gods this one would deliver fields of smut-eared corn and paralyzed children, men bitterly drunk and women murmuring the rosary until the could say the stations by touching the intaglio impressed in their palms.

This crowd driven by this demagogue had kept Jascinto awake in his sweltering bed through the day until the two o’clock sun burrowed into his forehead, driving the water out through his skin, out into his sheets and into the heat of his dark room. The heat became as hot as it ever had been.

The crowd quieted.

Jascinto sunk into the torpor of the heat, the moldiness of his wet sheets and feel asleep.



The crowd started in again in the late afternoon when the sunlight streamed across rooftops and in through the Venetian blinds. Jascinto woke slowly as he had when he was young and reluctant to work in the fields. He rubbed his eyes with one old and scrawny hand, more like the foot of a perching bird, and pulled himself up.

The dresser top in this one room he rented was littered with the outdated tools he had once used with complete belief in their truth and necessity. A comb to make him look good was now filled with gray hairs and a paste of scalp cells and hair oil. Coins to pass among the merchants so they would think him prosperous though they all knew he was not. A rosary, that most intricate and repetitious of jokes. A shrine to the Lord Jesus. The tiny painting in a gilt-edged frame had cost one-fourth his weekly wages for four weeks, required a special trip to the votaries’ store. The oil votive candle half that much again. He had once hoped that this was a small sacrifice for eternal grace. He had heard that God came closer to you when your flesh became thin and your veins throbbing blue ribbons standing away from your bones. But God had receded instead and this candle, this picture, which had reduced his meals to beans and rice for almost two months, were no more than a shrine to the naive of the world, all those who hoped for hope but died and rotted like the rest.

Jascinto gently grasped the image of Christ and placed it face down on the candle, watching the flame gutter and die.

The crowd made more noise than ever before. Jascinto pulled on his socks, remembering the dust and rocks his feet had shuffled through, pulled pants over joints that had straightened and bent day after day, threaded one arm and the other through his yellowing church shirt, worn once like a mantle of sanctity and now like a shroud, tied his tie, too tight, and crept into the old suit coat, now as threadbare as himself.

Off the end of the bed were his wing-tipped shoes, bought when purity had ceased to matter as much as comfort. For half his life, sandals had guarded him against the sharp stones and invisible worms of the countryside.  As he had grown old and away from the church, the desire became greater to own a pair of these shiny shoes to hide his knotted and splayed feet. More time was spent polishing them at the end of a day and less time with the rosary until the only rosary voiced was a soft and wordless song as the buffing cloth extracted from the black leather a deep and vitreous glow.

Jascinto closed the door to his room and stood a moment at the top of the stairs. New anger swept through him as the crowd became louder, their one voice no longer deadened by the room’s insulation, slight though it was. Slowly he moved down towards the faint light falling in from the street. At the bottom of the stair, he sat looking into the crowd and across the courtyard at the brightly dressed man smiling and waving at the men, pacing with a pleased expression clipped on his face. The men pumped their clenched fists into the thinning heat of twilight, shouting against the facing courtyard wall, shouting the slogans of the man in the bright clothes.

Jascinto straightened himself up and walked from the rooming house into the crowd, drew the gun he always carried in his left coat pocket, braced, and fired. The politician reeled back against the wall, his arms flailing for balance, his chest showing first a clean hole, then a spreading stain that flecked his coat and the stage upon which he stood. As he fell, he slowly changed shape, first a dog-headed man with wings, then a bull with arms and a lion’s tail, on through a bestiary of awful creatures and hideous men, until Jascinto began to recognize the brutal gods of human history—Borgias, Richelieu, de Medicis, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Cortés, Pizarro—all reared their ugly heads and sunk again into a vortex of other gods from other worlds, some leaders of his own country condemned by history and perspective for their guileful cruelty. Suddenly, the surface of this soup of political faces froze into a many-headed entity, a representation of all that had been inflicted on the poor in their hopes for a better life. As this lost shape, such as it was, a pair of wild and loathsome eyes leered bloodshot and mad out of the fetid stew and became a dark, bloody puddle on the simple stage.

Jascinto dropped his gun to the pavement and walked back to his room.



Jascinto woke in a sweat to the sound of a chanting crowd. Though he didn’t know the figure pictured on his dressed, it burst into flame.



Jascinto awoke in terror. A crowd chanted. the mysterious figure pictured on his dresser stared into him, the wild eyes drawing closer to his barren soul.





Directly inspired by the parable Ragnarok by the Argentinian genius Jorge Luis Borges. No characters in this expansion are intended to represent anything other than an unfortunate dynamic between those who sow hope and those who reap their tears.

©1983, me, all rights reserved
Urgent

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In Trust We Trust

I am a trusting person.

I am a trusting person. The good news is that there is much to trust in our daily lives.

I trust that sometimes around the time I wake the sun will have risen—or will soon rise—in the east. I trust that the weather will vary during the day and although I may be oblivious to it the weather will vary during the night as well. I trust that a year will pass in a series of days and those days will pass in a series of hours, minutes, and seconds. I trust that time will not reverse in this process and I will become older, not younger. I trust that seasons will bring changes to how the world appears, at least in my part of a large planet full of differences.

I trust that I survive each day because the invisible stuff that surrounds me contains oxygen and that some of this oxygen ends up bound to my hemoglobin and myoglobin proteins and will end up servicing core and peripheral functions of my body. I have never seen an oxygen or any other gas molecule per se but I have seen hemoglobin data modeled out using physical probes and understand that hemoglobin is transported in red blood cells (aka erythrocytes), which I have seen through photomicrography recorded by others. I trust that when I drink and eat a whole series of enzymatic processes will turn the foods and beverages into energy, some used immediately, some stored for a nomadic existence that has long ceased to be relevant for many. Some of what was once delicious will cause me to get up when I don’t want to get up and do things which are among the least dignified activities any of us will perform on a regular basis. On the other hand, we have no choice, so why complain?

I trust that most of the people I see on any given day will behave themselves within acceptable parameters… except when some of them are driving, at which time this subset will take actions that they are told by the motor vehicle and people licensing authority are not acceptable… yet they do these things anyway. You’ve probably seen them do these things wherever you are and you may see them do worse things that I shudder to even imagine. I trust that, while most of the people I see are behaving appropriately somewhere, someone is not doing all that well in this regard. Oh, and that the “someone” to whom I refer is accompanied by others who are also not behaving. These behaviors take place in all towns, cities, and countries and by all people, regardless of wealth (presence or absence thereof), country of origin, employment status, religion, ethnicity, gender. Both well-intentioned behavior and its opposite are aspects of human existence. While other creatures on our planet do violence to each other on occasion, we are the only species that participates in violence and its correlates so pervasively and still find a way to live with each other (for the most part).

Sometimes, I look up a word before starting in on it. It seems to have roots back to the early state of languages called Proto-Indo-European (aka PIE (not π)). For a phenomenal map of what languages are derived from which others, please go to the site provided under the following version:

 

indoeuropeantreedielli1-svg

 

I’m just going to drag something over from the Wiktionary page to get into how trust is linked to some very fundamental human values:

From Middle Englishtruste ‎(trust, protection), from Old Norsetraust ‎(confidence, help, protection), from Proto-Germanic*traustą, from Proto-Indo-European*drowzdo-, from Proto-Indo-European*deru- ‎(be firm, hard, solid). – https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/trust

“Protection,” “confidence,” “help,” “be firm, hard, solid.” This is what we associate with the meaning, although we don’t necessarily think through that the word is from Old Norse and Middle English, or that it is related of “confidence” and thus to the Latin fides, which meant trust, faith, and belief and is responsible for fidelity and bona fides. Interestingly, the Wiktionary page also points the reader to derivation of the words “true” and “tree.” “True” seems explicitly related; one wonders if the concept of trust and truth both came from an appreciation for the confidence, help, protection, firm, hard, solid virtues of houses built from the readily available (far more then than now) tree.

It is also interesting that the ideas of faith and belief are concepts that grew simultaneously with the concept of trust. I wonder, though, whether these meant something far more alike to trust when they were conceived than they do now.

While I trust in all of the experiential, reliable events that I cited in the first couple of paragraphs (with some elaboration from the sciences, admittedly), I do not need to have faith in them or believe them to be true. They simply are trustworthy and true. When I listen to politicians tell us to have faith in them or believe in them, I start wondering where I left my wallet and whether my bank has secured the accounts against hacking. I understand why they want my belief but I will give it when their actions measure up to their words. I will believe them when I trust them but I will not trust them until I believe that they have achieved what they promised.

It is also interesting that the word “truss” meaning a structure that supports or stiffens a building is phonetically related to “trust,” as that is the function it is intended to convey to the building. It makes the building, no longer made of trees, one that you can have confidence in entering. Your faith will not be tested, your belief shattered. Well, unless the weather gets really bad. And I trust that it will on some days.

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Origins of the Human Mythos

There are as many origin stories as there are early regions on earth.

There are as many origin stories as there are early regions on earth. They all describe processes that resulted in one version of life or another.

Here’s one from the Bakuba people who flourished in the southeastern part of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

“Darkness was over the earth which was nothing but water. Mbombo ruled over this chaos. One day he felt a terrible pain in his stomach and vomited the sun, the moon and the stars. The sun shone fiercely and the water steamed up in clouds. Gradually, the dry hills appeared. Mbombo vomited again, this time trees came out of his stomach, and animals, and people, and many other things: the first woman, the leopard, the eagle, the falling star, the anvil, the monkey Fumu, the man, the firmament, the razor, medicine, and lightning.” –Knappert, J. (1977). Bantu myths and other tales. Leiden: Brill.

In this version, Mbombo had a dark earth covered in water to work with and it was the rest of the universe that he (it’s a “he”) brought into being. Whether they were all causing a pain in his stomach (why wouldn’t they?) or whether vomiting was just what one did during the process of creation is not clear. This single act of emesis wasn’t sufficient, so the rest of his stomach’s contents populated the now-illuminated mix of dry hills and water that composed the planet. He also had an anvil, a razor, lightning, a meteor/comet, the discipline of medicine, woman (apparently emitted first), a few animals, and man causing his distress. The myth goes on; you can read it, along with some other myths of Africa at the link.

 

brooklyn_museum_22-1582_mwaash_ambooy_mask
Mask of the Bakuba people used in religious rituals to represent their earliest ancestors

 

The Bushmen or San people of southern and southwest Africa have a different view of how it all began. Here’s a nice video that shares one version of the story (virtually any of these differ in some details as they were all told to a western ethnologist by whoever was willing to share):

It is interesting that people and animals were all present but living in a paradise beneath the earth. The creation involved growing a tree, digging a hole to let all of them out, and warning them not to play with fire. Their punishment was that they no longer were able to communicate with their previous under-earth cohabitants. I am certain that if Prometheus heard this story he would beg Zeus for relitigation of his case.

Ethiopians, in the central eastern section of Africa, had a different take on how it all began:

It seems that Wak was a caretaker god for the skies and earth but was not an angry god (a cool feature for a god to have). We get a foreshadowing of the “rib of Adam” bit, although there was no clay involved and animals and demons were all progeny of the first marriage.

The oldest creation myth from the Rg Veda, one of the four scriptures on which Hinduism is based, is complex:

“Thousand-headed Purusha, thousand-eyed, thousand-footed he, having pervaded the earth on all sides, still extends ten fingers beyond it. Purusha alone is all this—whatever has been and whatever is going to be. Further, he is the lord of immortality and also of what grows on account of food. Such is his greatness; greater, indeed, than this is Purusha. All creatures constitute but one quarter of him, his three-quarters are the immortal in the heaven. With his three-quarters did Purusha rise up; one quarter of him again remains here. With it did he variously spread out on all sides over what eats and what eats not. From him was Viraj born, from Viraj evolved Purusha. He, being born, projected himself behind the earth as also before it.
When the gods performed the sacrifice with Purusha as the oblation, then the spring was its clarified butter, the summer the sacrificial fuel, and the autumn the oblation.
The sacrificial victim, namely, Purusha, born at the very beginning, they sprinkled with sacred water upon the sacrificial grass. With him as oblation the gods performed the sacrifice, and also the Sadhyas [a class of semidivine beings] and the rishis [ancient seers]. From that wholly offered sacrificial oblation were born the verses and the sacred chants; from it were born the meters; the sacrificial formula was born from it. From it horses were born and also those animals who have double rows [i.e., upper and lower] of teeth; cows were born from it, from it were born goats and sheep. When they divided Purusha, in how many different portions did they arrange him? What became of his mouth, what of his two arms? What were his two thighs and his two feet called? His mouth became the brahman; his two arms were made into the rajanya; his two thighs the vaishyas; from his two feet the shudra was born. The moon was born from the mind, from the eye the sun was born; from the mouth Indra and Agni, from the breath the wind was born. From the navel was the atmosphere created, from the head the heaven issued forth; from the two feet was born the earth and the quarters [the cardinal directions] from the ear. Thus did they fashion the worlds. Seven were the enclosing sticks in this sacrifice, thrice seven were the fire-sticks made, when the gods, performing the sacrifice, bound down Purusha, the sacrificial victim. With this sacrificial oblation did the gods offer the sacrifice. These were the first norms [dharma] of sacrifice. These greatnesses reached to the sky wherein live the ancient Sadhyas and gods.” – The Rig-Veda, 10.90, in Sources of Indian Tradition by Theodore de Bary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 16-17.

This is an entirely different level of complexity than we see in the above myths or in the one most westerners know. One observation is to notice that Purusha is both the everything and is offered as a sacrifice and is born of Viraj, who was (of course) born of Purusha. To make it even more complicated, another version of this occurs in Manusmriti, another scriptural text of many but this one designating Hindu law. In this version, Purusha creates time and also designates the duties of the various castes.

(n.b. Purusha is the Featured image for this post.)

From southern China, the story went like this:

“In the beginning , the heavens and earth were still one and all was chaos. The universe was like a big black egg, carrying Pan Gu inside itself. After 18 thousand years Pan Gu woke from a long sleep. He felt suffocated, so he took up a broadax and wielded it with all his might to crack open the egg. The light, clear part of it floated up and formed the heavens, the cold, turbid matter stayed below to form earth. Pan Gu stood in the middle, his head touching the sky, his feet planted on the earth. The heavens and the earth began to grow at a rate of ten feet per day, and Pan Gu grew along with them. After another 18 thousand years, the sky was higher, the earth thicker, and Pan Gu stood between them like a pillar 9 million li in height so that they would never join again.

“When Pan Gu died, his breath became the wind and clouds, his voice the rolling thunder. One eye became the sun and on the moon. His body and limbs turned to five big mountains and his blood formed the roaring water. His veins became far-stretching roads and his muscles fertile land. The innumerable stars in the sky came from his hair and beard, and flowers and trees from his skin and the fine hairs on his body. His marrow turned to jade and pearls. His sweat flowed like the good rain and sweet dew that nurtured all things on earth. According to some versions of the Pan Gu legend, his tears flowed to make rivers and radiance of his eyes turned into thunder and lighting. When he was happy the sun shone, but when he was angry black clouds gathered in the sky. One version of the legend has it that the fleas and lice on his body became the ancestors of mankind.

“The Pan Gu story has become firmly fixed in Chinese tradition. There is even an idiom relating to it: “Since Pan Gu created earth and the heavens,” meaning “for a very long time.” Nevertheless, it is rather a latecomer to the catalog of Chinese legends. First mention of it is in a book on Chinese myths written by Xu Zheng in the Three Kingdoms period (C.E. 220-265). Some opinions hold that it originated in south China or southeast Asia.

“There are several versions of the Pan Gu story.

“Among the Miao, Yao, Li and other nationalities of south China, a legend concerns Pan Gu the ancestor of all mankind, with a man’s body and a dog’s head. It runs like this: Up in Heaven the God in charge of the earth, King Gao Xin, owned a beautiful spotted dog. He reared him on a plate (pan in Chinese ) inside a gourd (hu, which is close to the sound gu ), so the dog was known as Pan Gu . Among the Gods there was great enmity between King Gao Xin and his rival King Fang. “Whoever can bring me the head of King Fang may marry my daughter, ” he proclaimed, but nobody was willing to try because they were afraid of King Fang’s strong soldiers and sturdy horses.

“The dog Pan Gu overheard what was said, and when Gao Xin was sleeping, slipped out of the palace and ran to King Fang. The latter was glad to see him standing there wagging his tail. “You see, King Gao Xin is near his end. Even his dog has left him,” Fang said, and held a banquet for the occasion with the dog at his side.

“At midnight when all was quiet and Fang was overcome with drink, Pan Gu jumped onto the king’s bed, bit off his head and ran back to his master with it . King Gao Xin was overjoyed to see the head of his rival, and gave orders to bring Pan Gu some fresh meat. But Pan Gu left the meat untouched and curled himself up in a corner to sleep. For three days he ate nothing and did not stir.

“The king was puzzled and asked, “Why don’t you eat? Is it because I failed to keep my promise of marrying a dog?” To his surprise Pan Gu began to speak. “Don’t worry, my King. Just cover me with your golden bell and in seven days and seven nights I’ll become a man.” The King did as he said, but on the sixth day, fearing he would starve to death, out of solicitude the princess peeped under the bell. Pan Gu’s body had already changed into that of a man, but his head was still that of a dog. However, once the bell was raised, the magic change stopped, and he had to remain a man with a dog’s head.

“He married the princess, but she didn’t want to be seen with such a man so they moved to the earth and settled in the remote mountains of south China. There they lived happily and had four children, three boys and a girl, who became the ancestors of mankind.” – China Creation Myths

We are the descendants of a dog-headed god who was also the source of heavens and earth… well, after he broke open the black egg with a broadax. The dog-headed bit explains a lot but why did the princess marry him? That remains a mystery to this day, dear readers.pangu

 

Pangu (Attribution)

 

Here’s a story from the Lakota Native Americans:

“There was another world before this one. But the people of that world did not behave themselves. Displeased, the Creating Power set out to make a new world. He sang several songs to bring rain, which poured stronger with each song. As he sang the fourth song, the earth split apart and water gushed up through the many cracks, causing a flood. By the time the rain stopped, all of the people and nearly all of the animals had drowned. Only Kangi the crow survived.

“Kangi pleaded with the Creating Power to make him a new place to rest. So the Creating Power decided the time had come to make his new world. From his huge pipe bag, which contained all types of animals and birds, the Creating Power selected four animals known for their ability to remain under water for a long time.

“He sent each in turn to retrieve a lump of mud from beneath the floodwaters. First the loon dove deep into the dark waters, but it was unable to reach the bottom. The otter, even with its strong webbed feet, also failed. Next, the beaver used its large flat tail to propel itself deep under the water, but it too brought nothing back. Finally, the Creating Power took the turtle from his pipe bag and urged it to bring back some mud.

“Turtle stayed under the water for so long that everyone was sure it had drowned. Then, with a splash, the turtle broke the water’s surface! Mud filled its feet and claws and the cracks between its upper and lower shells. Singing, the Creating Power shaped the mud in his hands and spread it on the water, where it was just big enough for himself and the crow. He then shook two long eagle wing feathers over the mud until earth spread wide and varied, overcoming the waters. Feeling sadness for the dry land, the Creating Power cried tears that became oceans, streams, and lakes. He named the new land Turtle Continent in honor of the turtle who provided the mud from which it was formed.

“The Creating Power then took many animals and birds from his great pipe bag and spread them across the earth. From red, white, black, and yellow earth, he made men and women. The Creating Power gave the people his sacred pipe and told them to live by it. He warned them about the fate of the people who came before them. He promised all would be well if all living things learned to live in harmony.

“But the world would be destroyed again if they made it bad and ugly.” – Lakota Creation Myth

In this one, we have a cataclysmic flood that kills the initial people and destroys nearly all animals but is replaced by people made of mud brought to the water’s surface by a turtle.

There’s no need to go into the western version and it is beyond the scope of any decent post to provide every story that I’ve found in doing this research on the web. You can do the same, of course, provided you have the curiosity. It is rewarding to read as many of these stories as you can, particularly if it results in some humility in the face of all the imaginative metaphors for creation that coexist with the western versions, evolving out of the Middle East as they did (hint: there are more than one version of how creation occurred). There are many shared elements in the stories but there are many elements that are unique to their cultures.

Why should we put aside some of these stories and glorify others? I would propose that is nothing more than western cultural chauvinism to do so. We celebrate what we know and denigrate that which we do not.

So let’s not do that so much. If you’re interested in learning about humankind, learn as much as you can about the huge number of disparate cultures that have evolved and don’t marginalize one or another because their source was “primitive” or not in “The Bible.” We were all primitive once. Our antecedents share that. As should we.

I think I’ll stick with more modern versions…

 

ilc_9yr_moll4096
Attribution

 

Original