Category Archives: animals

10:45 washing dishes at the sink. I look out the window and see a doe walking slowly across the lawn with her fawn. The fawn runs a few feet, while the mother waits, then the fawn stops and the mother takes a step, In this way they are proceeding across the lawn. I see the dog at the edge of the porch looking at them, but looking in the way she has of not seeing, of seeing over or through what is directly in her vision. So neither of us wants to startle the doe. It is a lovely sight, this obviously bonded family taking a morning stroll across my lawn. Robins are hopping through the grass, a red tailed squirrel suddenly lept off a fence and disappears behind the greenhouse. I’m know the iphone shot through the window will be awful, but I don’t dare go outside, so I shoot anyway. The image is poor but sweet, the washed out colors convey a certain  lack of authority, as if it is a photograph of a photograph.

Thursday morning 10:30 out my kitchen window

At 4:45 I take the recyclables to the Grand Island Dump. The huge room is immaculate. All the bins are empty, tons of plastics have been squashed and packed on palettes waiting to be shipped. Two attendants, one who’s a volunteer fireman and the other a selectman, greet me and ask if I want help. I’ve been coming here  for 10 years now, but I don’t know his name.  I don’t need help. I can’t stop staring at the compacted structures and I walk around, shooting on my phone. The selectman looks amused.

Many years ago, I lived on Canal street in New York City. On Wednesdays, the few small sweatshops left in the neighborhood would bundle up their unused fabrics, drag them out on pallets for the night time garbage pick-up. By the time the trucks arrived, neighborhood artists trolling for found materials would have picked the pallets clean.

It’s interesting, this impulse to reclaim garbage as art, as if by turning our trash into “art” we are doing something for the environment, while in truth we’re only postponing its suffocating release into our environment.  It’s a kind of recycling, only not as a useful object, but as a cultural comment, as art. For about a year, I collected every bit of plastic that circulated in my house and studio, and after a year, I had a big closet stacked with tubs filled with bottle caps sorted by color,  can tabs, plastic bags, medicine bottles, ties, garden containers, dried contact lenses, packaging sorted by shape, packing peanuts – everything unsuitable for the recycle bins. I had no idea what to make with this stuff. My mind was filled with images of  birds and marine life dead on beaches, their bellies slit open, revealing batteries, caps, netting, fuel canisters, milk cartons – suffocated by the litter humans discard in daily life. Reworking those images seemed exploitive rather than helpful, and I wonder what it takes for humans to turn their grief into constructive action. Chris Jordan  has already broken our hearts with his images of dead albatross in the Midway Islands, where the birds fly out over the oceans, collecting plastics as food for their young, who fill up with batteries, bottle caps, syringes. What image is more powerful than that of a mother unknowingly poisoning her child.

Another option was to use the garbage, like this Nigerian sculptor to create new art. But his work takes a village and is conguent with the life of that village, and conveys a condition that I have no business appropriating, the bottle caps are the relics of a dark story where liquor was     an agent of exchange in the slavery market. I could imagine building reliefs and sculpture, but that would entail additional toxic material, like resins or glues,  which would negate anything constructive, so finally, in a grand purge, I throw it all out, with full understanding of my failure and announce, when I get home, that we are never going to buy anything that comes in a plastic bottle. To no avail.

I find this article tracking the Journey of a Plastic Bottle in the Atlantic Magazine.

The refuse associate at the town dump told me that a truck would arrive soon to pick up the pallets. He doesn’t know where they’re going, only that the name on the truck begins with CAN.  Canada then? The same Canada that begins 12 miles north of my house on Border Road?  It doesn’t seem right that Canada is eating my trash, but then this is the day that my country screws the G7.

So what am I left with? A healthy doe moves across my landscape with her infant at the beginning of the day and at the end, a vision of garbage laden barges plying the oceans. 

 

Grand Isle Dump Thursday 4:37

The new songbirds of North America

Today I read there are people who net pigeons in New York City and drive them away in minivans. Where do they take them? Here, in the country, the dawn is empty of sound. Now and then, a pair of flycatchers darts across the lake. A robin rests on the lawn studying my next-door neighbor who is riding around on his lawnmower masticating worms, slugs, grubs, grass, frogs, all their eggs and the footprints of his tiny little granddaughter who runs before the machine trailing a balloon. Four Senatorial black crows shoot across the blades, scream off to the beach where thousands more convene. In the evening, the bunnies show up and my next-door neighbor shoots them from his porch. He also shoots the cormorants nesting on the island off his boat dock because they slime the teak on his 1924 Chris Craft Cruiser that he drives across the bay twice a year for dinner. Also, the raccoon families residing close to his garbage, these he catches in have-a-heart traps and carries them off to shoot in the woods. We still have racoons, but my sky fills with bird song.  Sixty-eight percent of the songbirds have vanished. I have been wondering about their replacements. I mention this to my neighbor, who has invited me over for a cocktail. My neighbor doesn’t understand why I am pessimistic. No birds were missing at his place, he tells me. Ditto for the bats and mosquitoes. I ask him, how then does he explain the muteness of the dawn? The lack of Birds on the Wires? The lonely morning dove mourning on my roof?  Hasn’t he read Ferlinghetti, I ask, smirking, because I know he believes all poets, like annoying animals, should be shot.

They were putting up the statue of St. Francis in front of the church of St.Francis
in the City of San Francisco In a little side street just off the avenue
where no birds sing
and a lot of old Italians were standing all around on the little side street

just off the Avenue watching the wily workers who were hoisting up the statue
with a chain and a crane
and other implements

and a lot of young reporters in button-down clothes were taking down the words of one young priest who was propping up the statue
with all his arguments

and all the while, while no birds sang any St. Francis Passion
and while the lookers kept looking up at Saint Francis 
with his arms outstretched
to the birds who weren’t there

a very tall and very purely naked young virgin
with very long and very straight straw hair
wearing only a very small bird’s nest
in a very existential place

kept passing through the crowd all the while
and up and down the steps in front of St. Francis
her eyes downcast all the while
and singing to herself

 My neighbor’s daughter came to my garden to help me pick off the red beetles eating my lilies. She’s hiding from her father because he is teaching her child to step on newborn baby voles. They went for a walk in the woods where he demonstated how to do this. I imagine a giant vole with a mouthful of poisoned teeth scurries up the path to the porch where her father sits drinking gin and tonic. The rodent will climb up his legs, hoist itself on his shoulders and squirt a stream of baby voles up his nostrils.

Then all the songbirds that used to be will open their beaks to sing their hallelujah for everyone in the world but my neighbor to hear.

 

The latest in dog evolution

Dog evolution, a dream:

I brought home a dog from the pound. He was large and dreary, with a matted coat the color of slush. We lived in a border town, on a long dirt road.

The dog’s name was  Oscar. The town was at the edge of the ocean. A Dollar Store, some second hand clothing shops across the street from the rocky, littered beach. A desultory craft fair had set up under a tent. Oscar trotted along with me, ignoring what few people or other dogs we encounter. When we arrived at the craft fair, he stopped, composed himself  in the grass and fell asleep on his back with his feet in the air.

So I thought, better get him some exercise. We went down to the beach to swim. He seemed to like swimming underwater, rising up now and then to look around. One time, he came up, paddled over and started talking to me.  For awhile, we’d bob along discussing Kierkegaard or Samuel Becket, cooking shows or dress making, When the conversations lulled, we would swim, and when we ran out of things to say, he would disappear under water, staying there for longer and longer periods of time.

The last time he came up, he had turned into a turtle, also named Oscar.

As a turtle, Oscar had little of interest to talk about. Mainly eggs. I found it hard to follow and soon lost interest. Then he started shrinking. I grew worried, and brought him ashore. On the beach, an Israeli couple were setting up a concession with some jewelry and parts of computers. They called me over, quite agitated; they knew my turtle and were concerned for his well-being. By this time, Oscar had shrunk to the size of my palm. The woman said she could fix him, so I handed him over. He kept shrinking. First his flippers fell off, then his body fell out of his carapace and he was gone.