Florida is my cradle, my birth, my innocence. My memories boil in its heat, my voice reflects its neutrality, its relaxed, retired population. My parents live there, my brother lives there, my grandparents live there, and my cousins, and my aunts, and my sweet sweet cat. And I love all those things, because they are me. And so, I love Florida.
02 December 2009
Florida is my cradle, my birth, my innocence. My memories boil in its heat, my voice reflects its neutrality, its relaxed, retired population. My parents live there, my brother lives there, my grandparents live there, and my cousins, and my aunts, and my sweet sweet cat. And I love all those things, because they are me. And so, I love Florida.
27 November 2009
11 November 2009
22 October 2009
Cherice and I drove over five thousand miles together and it all began in San Francisco.
02 October 2009
Everything is different. It's refreshing and stressful, and at times I feel everything and it fills me with beauty and the roots of my soul penetrate the soil of existence and other times everything overflows and my hands get pruned with pain as they try to grasp the liquid meaning like a solid thing. But there's no way to lose some of it. And overflow only saturates the already beautiful experience with superficiality, and the beauty isn't there anymore, and I'm not there, and I can only see life with blockers on. Panorama is the real thing, panorama on a roof in New York City with the past, present and future upon me; with friends, strangers, and the starless human sky.
08 September 2009
I'm done with my job in Northern California with the spotted owl, and now I'm on the road with a good friend for the next month. I don't know how much time I will have to post pictures on the way, but they will all make it up here sooner or later.
Cherice and I started in San Francisco and drove east to Yosemite where the sky was hazed with wildfire, and the people's voices were all heavy with European accents. We glided through the redwoods with our hands out the windows, and up the Oregon coast where the land dramatically met the moody Pacific ocean. The final destination is Washington, DC, where I'm doing an internship with The American Scholar.
We're currently in Portland hanging out with two good friends, drinking spirited but bad beer (Hamm's and Dale's), and eating good food. The currently itinerary is Portland, Olympic NP, Seattle, Glacier NP, Yelllowstone NP, Fort Collins/Rockies, Omaha, Chicago, NYC, DC. We have three weeks ahead of us filled with lots of good laughs and new experiences.
26 August 2009
The girl tapped her manicured maraschino cherry fingernails on the shopping cart handle as she scrutinized the bagged lettuces. She had a dainty structure: short legs, railroad track hips, childlike hands, and a lipless mouth. Her hair was tied up in a chaotic ponytail, the sixth in series that failed to suit her definition of the “grocery-store level” of hair disarray.
A tall, sinewy man stood in front of the tomatoes, his eyes concealed in the shadows of a sand-colored fedora. The hat was garnished with a paltry red feather, so as to hint it was not passed down from grandfather to father to son, but bought at a trendy Haight street boutique, and made in China. The grin on his face broadcasted a poised demeanor and his long-sleeve, rolled up, thrift store purchased dress shirt hung off his shoulders in a relaxed fashion. She drove her cart past him like a mosquito hovering over human flesh. Her eyes buzzed over him; her hips swayed coarsely from side to side. First it was a pepper that so fittingly danced away from her memory, then a cucumber, then an artichoke.
Standing on the other side of the produce section she schemed her own reality. She would stroll over to the tomatoes, grab one and feign its accidental plummet to the linoleum grocery store floor. The man would scurry after the tomato to retrieve it. While he held the red fruit in the palm of his masculine hand, their eyes would awkwardly flutter across each other’s, and thus, give birth to a lingering sexual silence. And then he would say, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” And a life full of love and companionship would ensue.
The girl reached out in front of the man, her fingernails ghosts hovering over the tomatoes. She selected a tomato below another in a precarious position, and down it went tumbling like tumble weed across the desert of a floor. It stopped at the feet of a knurled old woman who was in the process of searching for an immaculate head of white cabbage; a head of cabbage she would boil in her lonely 1950’s style kitchen with carrots, celery and onions; cabbage soup she would eat sitting at her boundless mahogany dinning room table, while thinking of youth, love, and exquisite pain (the three often originating from the same events).
The old woman bent over holding her arthritis-ridden back, picked up the tomato resting on the tip of her white orthopedic shoes, and handed it to the girl as she thought to herself, “Oh the joy of still being able to bend over.”
“Oh her yah go sweetie. You betcha those nails can make pickin’ up a tomato a bit of a pickle!” The old woman continued cackling at her vegetable pun through her worn smoker’s throat as the girl turned around and watched her fantasy cross the produce section.
The girl left the store without tomatoes. She didn’t even like tomatoes, with their furry and slimy seeds that resembled a thousand tiny babies growing in unison within her food. But, the girl did like fantasies. They defined her.
The girl was employed as a secretary by a Christian doctor in Berkeley that believed abstinence was obligatory behavior until marriage, and even then, sex was only a manner in which to procreate. He often openly preached his old-fashioned beliefs to the fledgling college students that entered his office for STD testing and free condoms, and to his employees, many of them who were not, in fact, getting laid. Thus, the incessant Godly advice to his staff came only as a reminder that they were not worthy of condoms or sexually transmitted diseases, however much both of those things were not coveted.
The girl wore pencil skirts to work that clung to her waist, and accentuated her shapeless body. Her hair was a dull brown color but she always found some colorful headband or earrings to draw one’s attention away from her underlying drabness.
At work, she fantasized about being discovered. Among the youthful students, there were thirty-something businessmen that occasioned the doctor’s office. In her whimsical mind, a businessman would open the bell-laden office door, walk up to the counter, sign in, and before retiring to the row of linked waiting room chairs to sit tediously for over an hour, he would look up at her, circle her face with his eyes, and tell her she was model material. He would complement her on her high cheekbones, hand her his card, and tell her if she ever wanted to walk the runway instead of the doctor’s office hallways, she should contact him. The card would read something along the lines of “Trent Bobby, professional photographer, Vogue magazine.”
Today was her day. Everyday was her day, but today was her day. She felt it vibrating in the air, glistening on the shiny pastel waiting room wallpaper, and loitering outside on the sidewalk with the cool winter air. But time passed and only furrowed relics of decades past, and markedly rotund pregnant women paraded the office hallways that day.
It was five o’clock and her faith was beginning to drift away with the salmon-colored winter sun. The office closed at six o’clock. Rainer Summers was the last appointment. He was coming in for a check-up on his fractured shoulder blade of six months prior (but really to get a refill for his Oxycodon addiction). And then the door jingled.
A man in a business suit sauntered through the door and to the front desk. Her heart started fluttering as he signed the sheet with a bulbous pen that had etched on the side of it, “Ambien CR-Experience the Difference.” He opened his wallet and pulled out a business card. Her heart began boomeranging off the walls of her chest as if it were a depraved inhabitant of a mental institution bouncing off the padded walls his cell. He looked up at her, paused, tilted his head, smiled disparagingly and asked, “Mosco’s is the sandwich shop next door, right?” Confused, she answered, “Yes,” her scrunched eyes causing hills to form on her brow. The man dropped his business card in the fish bowl next to the office window that read, “Leave Your Card, and Win a Free Lunch for Two at Mosco’s, Home of World’s Biggest and Best Sandwiches!”
The man sat down in the row of connected waiting room chairs and picked up a copy of Sport Fishing magazine. The girl wondered how there could be a magazine entirely devoted to fishing, while the man wondered if he should buy a SeaSucker vacuum-mount rod holder for his new yacht. Shortly after, the nurse opened the waiting room door, “Mr. Summers, Dr. Franklin can see you now.”
The girl waited for the nurse to close the door. She listened, as the small talk grew softer and more distant. When she heard the door of the examination room click-closed, she stuck her hand in the bowl and took out the man’s card, “Rainer Summers, Attorney, Smith and McKinley Associates.” She held the card between her pointer and middle fingers like a cigarette, and smiled as a devious thought inserted itself into her presently bitter mind. She took the card in both hands, ripped it in half, ripped it in half again, and threw it vehemently into the garbage. “Now,” she thought, “he doesn’t have a chance either.”
The next morning was a Saturday. On Saturdays the girl always ran in Golden Gate Park, from the steps of the California Academy of Sciences to the rose garden and back again. Afterwards, she met her friend Katy for lunch in the Haight district. They sat at the window of a fluorescently painted burrito shop, and talked about nothing and everything as she ate a burrito and Katy drank a diet coke. The girl carped of a lack of excitement, how her life had begun to feel like piece of stale gram cracker, bland and without the anticipated crunch. Disregarding her friend’s misery like women disregard the hoots and hisses of construction workers, Katy complained of too much of excitement in her life, “I mean, I can’t continue eating nothing and doing everything. I mean, like I know being a model is super prestigious, and everything, but I can’t like keep taking all this Adderall to suppress my hunger. I mean, like sure, I get to meet all the best people in the world. You know, I met Brad Pitt the other day. He’s not that hot up close.” Katy talked but never listened, as did the girl, so the conversation was as good as two whiny pop songs playing simultaneously.
The girl sat on a bar stool with her back slouching against the burrito shop window. Katy sat erect with her feet coiled around the legs of the stool. Katy was one of the girl’s old college friends. They met at freshman orientation the summer before classes started. Their friendship was convenient, but in no way was it intimate. They were the oil and vinegar of camaraderie; they had similar interests but lacked the ability to thoroughly mix.
The girl had just relocated to San Francisco the previous summer for the job in the doctor’s office. She had attended a small liberal arts college in Ohio and barely obtained a general liberal arts degree. All the girl could really do with her degree was be a secretary, or a schoolteacher in some states. She loathed children, so her only option was to be a secretary. Children were too pure to her, like some vague dream of a real person. They hadn’t materialized yet as individuals, so she didn’t see the point in interacting with them. The funny thing about the girl was that she hadn’t become a real person either. She was still a child, with a basic understanding of existence. Thus, her abhorrence of children was, indirectly, an abhorrence of herself.
Her mother, an acclaimed psychologist who plushly resided in a penthouse apartment on the island of Manhattan, had bore a hole, a boundless cave of a hole, deep into her daughter’s sense of self. She felt that her daughter had an inability to decide, which, thus, she reasoned, lead to ineptness to succeed. What her mother didn’t realize was that her daughter simply lacked heartfelt interests, passions, and driving desires. Except, that is, an interest in envisioning a world where she was the nucleus of humanity, with an idealized man at her side and a train of admirers who regarded her as the picturesque beauty.
Katy continued ranting about the hardship of being a someone, while the girl glided into another fantasy. Katy would bring her to the next gathering of famous people where she would meet directors, actors, actresses, models and photographers. They would all listen with reverence as she spoke about the meaning of life and all existence. She would become their guru and all their best friends. No longer would she be at their feet, begging for approval, or, better yet, in line waiting to beg at their feet, but high above them on a pedestal of popularity. She would be their leader, and the newspapers would call her “the new religion among rich and famous.”
“Katy, when are you going to another one of those parties, like the one where you met Brad Pitt?” asked the girl.
“Oh, I go to them like almost every weekend. There’s always some famous person having some party somewhere. The company I work for always sends me to them for publicity. And I always get to wear some avant-garde dress that some stupid designer made. Next weekend, I think there’s some big thing in LA I’m flying out to go to. I don’t even, like, know what it’s for.”
“Do you think I could go with you? I don’t have any plans this weekend, and I’ve been saving up money, so a flight to LA wouldn’t be a big deal.”
Katy paused awkwardly and rearranged herself on the diner-esque glittery red stool, “Um… I don’t know, I mean it’s not really like anybody can go, you have to know people, you know?”
“Well, I know you, don’t I?” The girl’s eyes were frozen seeds of desperation as she waited for her friend to respond. The world wasn’t working with her. It never had. It never gave her what she felt she deserved. Time and time again it disappointed her. She couldn’t quite understand how life never worked in her favor, which was the root of naivety of existence. “Wasn’t it bound to work out at some point or another, just by chance?” she thought. If she was patient enough, one fantasy will come true. It just has to, by chance.
“Look, I’m really sorry, but it doesn’t really work that way. I wish you could go, but it just wouldn’t make sense for you to go, you know? Your presence wouldn’t do anything for the group, no one would know what to say to you, and you wouldn’t know what to say to them, and that’s why you would get to go in the first place. You have to be able to contribute something, or represent something.”
The girl melted into a puddle of her own sorrows, but her face remained a statue of fake happiness. Her slightly yellowed teeth peeked out from behind her thin, flat lips to force a smile. She tensely clasped her hands together, her tiny fingers nesting in each other, “Oh that’s cool, I just thought I would ask, you know. I thought it couldn’t hurt.” She cleared her throat for the quandary that clung to the oxygen molecules in the air, and looked out the window at pairs upon pairs of young people with dancing feet of happiness, and strands of fluttering weightless hair.
“Well that being said, I think I should go. I have to meet my agent to go over some shoots I have this week. Check ya later girl.” Katy walked out of the burrito shop, and the girl watched her friend’s glossy red leather purse glisten in the sun as she walked down Haight street, through the throngs of stylish San Franciscans that flooded the sidewalk.
The girl woke up Sunday morning with a gallon jug of gloom pressing her into the earth. With the exodus of slumber, her habituated mind commenced its churning of fantastical possibilities. But this Sunday morning proved unlike the others: the thought of some unclaimed reality twisted her stomach into a greasy county fair funnel cake.
She lied in bed, only her eyes peaking out from under a deep crimson down blanket that spanned her queen-sized bed. She listened as the pigeon mother outside her apartment window dutifully shoved insects into the mouths of her defenseless, whimpering chicks. She listened to the click-clacks on the sidewalk and the wide mouths laughs of the liberal San Franciscans, the jovial, water-drought Californians. She listened to the tires of visitor vehicles screaming up and down the precipitous city streets.
“Every new place is a strange place”, she thought, “But my whole life has been strange; from childhood, where shyness overtook me like the plague, to now, where I’m throwing business cards into the garbage resentfully, as if that will change the fate of my own life. Is it just some inevitable truth, that being alive is inherently strange, inherently inadequate, or am I just inadequate? Probably both.
Is this the truth of our existence: to feel as if our lives are not within the grasp of our own hands? Why do we feel this? Because our lives are not in our hands? Because we are nervous little apes, with too much mind and too little instinct to just jump up and catch the currents of existence, and see what happens? Why have I been given this fate of nothingness, and Katy, a fate of popularity and excitement? Who the fuck gets to decide these kinds of things?”
She felt uncomfortable in her own bed; the thought of a lack of control both frightened and infuriated her. She tossed and turned, rearranged her legs and arms, but no matter the endless positions in which she could mold her body, her mind was lost in the alleys of human strangeness, and thus, she felt strange. What used to feel like an infinite well of possibilities, now felt like a black box of seclusion. A series of prospects had become a series of discontents.
She always thought about life like this: that, in the world, there were an infinite number of ways things could turn out, and that becoming aware of this infiniteness allowed her to be driven in the right direction, the happy direction; as if acknowledging the possibility that she could be discovered, or wooed would somehow initiate a chain of events that led to it actually happening.
She was only adept at putting herself in a position where others could act on her thoughts. But only she knew her thoughts. Silly girl. Her life was a fantasy of a fake life; a life she didn’t hold in her hands but one that flew above her in the abyss of idealism. And desire is no substitute for action.
It was six pm. A week had skipped by her like a little girl in pick tails. “Ha ha ha,” laughed Time, “I’m still passing, and you’re still in the same place”. She continued to go to work, but no longer did she think of confident businessmen walking in the door. Work was a monotonous bundle of actions, almost a dance of between her hands and the swivel chair in which she sat; from one end of the counter to the other, filing this, signing that. She didn’t think; she didn’t feel; she didn’t fantasize. She didn’t call Katy, and when she went to grocery store, she made a list and was in and out in under twenty minutes.
On Thursday night, she laid sprawled out on her thrift store corduroy couch watching TV, and becoming more like a zucchini as time passed. While flipping through the flashy consumerism images, she came upon a wildlife show about birds, narrated by none other than David Attenborough. She fell asleep to the soothing English intonation of Mr. Attenborough’s voice and gently from reality to reverie.
In her dreams, she was walking through a field of yellow flowers on the coast of California. She heard the ocean synchronously crashing against the cliffs, like the metronome of the earth. Her footsteps made no sounds. The tall grasses growing where she walked failed to whisper in the wind. All she could hear was the sounds of the waves. The sound of the crashing waves then began to morph into the deep oboe of Mozart’s Serenade for Winds. And all of a sudden, as if they were creating the music, as if the earth was singing to her, a thousand red birds flew up and speckled the sky. As the birds flew higher, she felt herself lifting up slowly, following them. As she flew higher and higher, she could feel the curves of her mouth turning up, and she smiled. In her dreams, she smiled.
She woke up the next morning with a thought. “This is it,” she thought, “I’m going to fly. If nothing else is going to go my way, this will. I’m going to fly.”
Now, it was Sunday. She stood at the top of Mt. Tamalpais, ten miles from San Francisco. Ants of people were crawling around on the ground below her. Her toes hung over the edge of the mountain. She could see San Francisco in the distance and the fog that frequently kept the city company.
Her feet hesitated on the edge, but she knew if she just jumped, she would fly. And then without a thought she jumped.
“How do you like the view?” asked the instructor who attached her to the bright red paraglider that hung above them. “It’s beautiful,” she said.
23 August 2009
Scientists like playing games. It's the organization of it, I think. It's the end of the season, so we had party. We played wiffle ball (I did too), drank many many home brews, and ate too much good food. I have one week left, and then the world is open to me. I've discovered a few things while living in the middle of nowhere with people that are very different from me. At first, being here was strange, new, and exciting, and now it's normal, and hence a little mundane. To parallel my friend Stephanie's blog, it's really amazing how seeing owls everyday (or living in a foreign country for her) can become normal. It's an inevitable spiral towards normalness. We become used to things so quickly. All I can hope is that one day, I will be in place, around people I love, doing something I feel is fulfilling and exciting, the normalcy of my life will be a blessing, rather than a curse, that I had realized I had found what I was looking for, rather than just getting used a life that didn't satisfy me. Onward. First stop, San Francisco.
15 August 2009
07 August 2009
04 August 2009
31 July 2009
Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Like Yellowstone, Lassen is a bubbling center of volcanic activity. My dad and I climbed to the top of Lassen Peak, a volcano that last erupted in 1915. The highest point was around 10,500 feet. Surprisingly, I could breathe up there. In September, I'd like to hike up farther in Rocky Mountain National Park, in search of serenity, awe and challenge. Hopefully, a good friend will accompany me.
22 July 2009
11 July 2009
I went through the photos I've taken while I've been in California and found some I liked.
This is the road to where I live. Mountains, mountains everywhere.
06 July 2009
These peaceful looking streams are actually treacherous mud flats that sucked me into the ground knee deep.
05 July 2009
02 July 2009
Society told me I was meant to form a growing interest in sex at the same rate as my breasts enlarged, or the hair under my arms grew. In Sex Education, where we were given dry explanations of the purity of our existence, I never completely understood the hilarity of the penis. Most of the students were giggling out of nervousness, because looking at a picture of a penis made the boys think about using theirs, and the girls think about touching one. The giggling was a clear sign of interest.
The penis fascinated me as a child. It had such a funny shape, like a banana, but I soon realized how cliché it was to make that connection. My mother never really talked to me about sex, it just came naturally to understand those kinds of things. I do remember her asking me if there was anything I wanted to know, and I said, “It’s simple, right? A boy puts his penis in a vagina, and a baby grows in your belly?” “That’s about it, you’ll figure out the details as time goes on, but that’s really the basic idea,” she responded. By the details, she meant love.
My solitude during childhood enhanced an ability to learn about myself faster than the average student in middle school. Others hadn’t purged my beliefs or preferences quite as extensively as the average child. I had a lot of time to think about things.
My eyes often wandered to the subtle things: the spider eating a moth in the ceiling corner of our school cafeteria, the jester of a boy placing his hand briefly on a girl’s shoulder, her eyes gazing at his hand, while her head remains facing forward. I wanted to see everything in that place, that pool of chaotic bodies, from the minor details to the rationalized generalizations.
In middle school I spent most of my time painting trees with acrylic paints. I would paint the leaves brown and the truck green, just to see what it would look like. What if life were opposite, I would wonder? What if I was boy? What if the sky was white and the clouds blue? What if taught my teachers how to be child, instead them teaching me how to be adult? The infinite possibilities consumed my barely developed mind. Why were things the way the were? Why was I always separated from everyone else by some invisible force? Why didn’t I understand how to be a child? Why didn’t I look at boys and dream and dream?
No doubt, I was fascinated by sex. It was an expanse I had only begun to think about, an essence I couldn’t quite grasp or imagine. I couldn’t imagine sex however much I tried. In middle school I met Rainer. He was 12. I was 13. He had light brown hair that hung low around his ears and toes that stuck out of his feet like a yard rake. He would often stare at me from across the room. I could feel his adolescent eyes on my neck.
It wasn’t until near the end of my last year of middle school that we met formally. I rode my bike to school early to get breakfast before anyone else. The cafeteria ladies would save me the sweetest fruit because I would get there the earliest and listen to them talk about their woeful lives. That morning, when I arrived to school, the smell of vanilla lingered in the hallways. I stood before the closed cafeteria doors and inhaled deeply sucking the vanilla into my lungs. I opened the doors and vanilla surrounded me like music, like the rocky shore music of my childhood. The vanilla smell lingered through the school all day, leaving the corners of my mouth turned up, and my spirit unusually high. Everything looked beautiful from then on, even my worn tired math teacher, Mrs. Bacallao. I noticed the sweetness behind the wrinkles in her eyes; how, one day long ago, she must have beautiful.
That morning when I was walking out of the cafeteria with a perfectly ripe Bartlett pear in my hand, shortly before all the other children would arrive, Rainer walked in while I was reaching for the door handle. For a second we stopped, time stopped and we stared at each other.
And then he said, “Anna.”
And I said, “Yes that’s me.”
“You were in my art class last year. I remember you. You would always twirl your hair around your finger and you sat in the front of the class.”
“Well it’s nice to meet you. What was your name?”
“Well it’s nice to met you Rainer. I really enjoyed that art class last year. I learned how to draw trees really well.”
“You like to draw trees? I really like drawing animals. I sometimes go to this area inland that has a lot of birds to draw and a lot of big trees.”
“Oh that sounds wonderful. Where is it?”
“I can show you this weekend if you want. I was planning on going there anyway. Do you want to go?”
“I’d like to, yes, that sounds nice.”
“Well, then…how about after school on Friday?”
“Oh sure, can we can ride our bikes there?”
“Yes, yes we can.”
He paused awkwardly for a moment. “Well I should be going, I have to help Mrs. Bacallao cut pictures for the hallway bulletin board,” I said.
“It was nice meeting you Anna…finally.”
“It was nice meeting you too Rainer see you Friday,” and I turned and walked away. I could feel the warmth vibrating on my neck and I knew he was watching as I walked away.
25 June 2009
There are an infinite number of species alive on Earth at this very moment. Evolution is an interwoven quilt of life, no part more or less significant to the large scheme of things, to the beauty and essence of life as a whole. We all possess unique ways of adapting to this unpredictable planet, ways of keeping the quilt of life still functional and flourishing. Some dominate; some linger in the shadows, avoiding attention as much as they can. Taking into consideration the changes that are now occurring on the planet, it is vital to remember that the subtle red threading in the quilt of life is just as important as the brightly colored patches of material that make up the quilt’s pattern. We all strive find to others of our own species to connect with, but there are organisms that live outside our everyday reality, organisms that go for years or even their whole life without seeing a human.
If humans are the bright patches of material that are used to make the quilt of life, then olms are the subtle red thread. Lurking in the caves of southern Europe, the olm is (Proteus anguinus) a blind amphibian that shares its genus with no one. It is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), but it is considered endangered under the Slovenian Red List. It dwells in the underground streams of the limestone caves of the Dinaric karst that extends through Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Herzegovina. The natives gave the olm the nickname the “human fish”, because it’s skin color resembles that of Caucasian people.
The olm lives a life of darkness, thus it has undeveloped eyes. For the majority of humans, eyes shape our actions, reactions and beliefs. But living a life in complete darkness, it’s a waste of valuable energy to have eyes you never use, so the olm has evolved a heightened sense of smell and hearing instead. The larvae have fully developed eyes, but soon after the larval stage, development seizes and the eyes begin to degenerate. Another adaptation to life in dark caves possessed by the olm is skin that is completely deficient of pigmentation. The thin translucent skin that covers their underside gives a glimpse of their internal organs.
The olm sleeps, eats, and mates underwater. An adult olm preserves qualities from its life as a larva, such as external gills, which facilitates its entirely aquatic lifestyle. The gills stick out of the back of the olm’s head like little red branches. Oxygen-rich blood surging underneath its skin causes this red coloration. When an organism retains attributes from younger stages of its life it’s called neoteny. Olms also have very elementary lungs, but the gills are the main players in respiration.
The olm’s walk is reminiscent of a belly dancer. They sway their hips as if giving homage to their ancestors, the fish-like organisms of generations past. Their short, horizontally-flatten tail follows their hips in that ancient S-motion. Their limbs are petite for their body and they have a reduced number of digits on each leg: three instead of four on the front legs, and two instead of five on the back legs.
Compared to other amphibians, the olm’s sense of smell is exquisite. The lining of the nasal cavity is thicker than that of most amphibians. They have an apt ability to discern incredibly low levels of organic compounds in the water, which helps in sensing both the condition and number of prey in the waters nearby. Not much is confirmed about the hearing of the olm, but it is thought that they are well adapted to hearing under water because the tissue of the inner ear is distinct compared to the semi-aquatic amphibians. Recent research suggests that the olm can also sense electrical fields, potentially the Earth’s magnetic field. Many organisms use the Earth’s magnetic field to orient themselves. It’s different world underground in caves, no light leads to a wide array of inventive adaptations that enable an organism to “see” its surroundings.
Along with it’s human-like skin, the olm’s life history is also reminiscent of humans: they reach sexual maturity at around fourteen years old and individuals raised in captivity have lived for up to seventy years. In the wild, individuals as old as fifty-eight years have been found.
Although, through unofficial observations, olms were once thought to give birth to live young at lower temperatures and lay eggs at higher temperatures, it is now believed that olms are strictly egg-laying amphibians, which researchers refer to as oviparous. The female will lay up to seventy eggs which can take up to four and a half months to develop into larvae.
The olm is a predator of small crabs and snails of the underground streams in which it dwells. Like many birds and reptiles, it swallows its food whole. It can consume large quantities of food in one sitting and store the energy as fats in its body. If the olm eats enough, and if it decreases it activity level and metabolism, it can live up to a decade without eating at all.
The olm is very sensitive to changes in the environment because of its adaptation to the historically stable conditions in these caves. Small quantities of contaminants can easily seep through the olm’s permeable skin, which may lead to its death. Most contaminants enter the cave’s water system through the leaching of rainwater. Chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers that are used in farming are among some of the most detrimental to the olm.
Nearly a quarter of all known amphibians are classified as threatened in Europe. It was in 1962 that Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, which discussed the damaging effects of pesticides on the environment and wildlife. Pesticides are still inflicting wildlife to this day, and amphibians, with their highly permeable skin, are especially at risk. If we are to preserve the quilt of life, the beauty that lies in its variety of colors, in its subtle details that make it all the more extraordinary, we must preserve the olm. When loose threads are left unacknowledged the quilt just isn’t as beautiful as it used to be.
*photo from www.euroherp.com/species/proteus_anguinus
*information also from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/the-dragon-chronicles/the-olm-and-other-troglobites/4533/
24 June 2009
When I was two years old I walked to the edge of the cliff near our house on the Pacific coast and sat for hours staring at the ocean. My mother found me there in the late morning sitting on my knees with my dainty baby fingers resting on my lap. She didn’t panic as she searched the house, as she crouched on her knees to look under the bed, or when she pulled the refrigerator out from the wall. I had crawled out of bed in the morning, before she woke, out the screen door, and down to the edge of the rocks. My thin-skinned baby knees were bruised and dirty when she found me. My hands had made hand marks with orange dirt on my thighs.
My mother delivered me atop a hill so that I could see the vastness of the world when I was born, so she wasn’t surprised when she found me sitting at the edge of the cliff that overcast April morning, looking out at the infinite Pacific Ocean. The clouds were rolling in from the north and rain could be seen in the distance, an ominous mass tumbling over the rocky shore. She often told me that she knew she should have looked there first, but it might have just been one of those ‘after the fact’ kinds of things.
I was a house cat of a child when I was young. Through out the day, I would come in search of food and attention, and after acquiring these things, I would return again to the mythical land of the outdoors. I knew she liked when I would silently come in the side door, grasp the meaty part of her arm from behind and lean on the tips of my toes to kiss her cheek. I had freedom only because I followed her rules. I let her know I was still alive through out the day, and thus I had the freedom to play without her parental eyes limiting my imagination.
I often played down by the rocks, near the shore. The waves would smash into the cliffs and a symphony would compose itself in my head. The crashing waves were my metronome. The rocks were my orchestra. I would direct them with my eyes closed, my hands waving violently. Sometimes when I opened my eyes, anxiety flooded my spine. I could forget my place in the world or who I was when my eyes were closed. Reality was often too intense for my fragile child mind. There was all this beauty around me, real beauty, but I choose to live in my head. It wasn’t a defense mechanism. I wasn’t running from anything. It was side affect of an overwhelming imagination.
I started school when I was seven years old instead of five. My mother seemed to think there was no rush. I attended a small K-12 school about two miles away from our house. I rode my bike five days a week, for eleven years, up the dusty dirt road to the town that lied directly east of our house. The town was modest: oak trees lined its streets and pale earthy colors covered its buildings. The school building itself was new. It had replaced the old school house that was originally built in the 1920s, and, according to the town’s people, was too dated to house its future generation. So the new school was built, but our books remained old. Rumors were spread that they had accidentally spent too much on the school gymnasium to afford new books.
The first day of school my mother came with me to show me the way and to make sure I was placed in a class that didn’t plague me with boredom. I can remember sitting on a blue metal bench, watching her wave her hands with the same drastic swings as I did when I conducted the geological orchestras in my younger years. I couldn’t hear what she was saying because of the cloud of children that stood between us. My mother motioned to me. I got up and walked like a quail to her on the other side of the school patio, small steps, head forward. My tiny seven-year-old body cradled her arm as I peered up at my schoolteacher’s venomous eyebrows.
“Anna, what’s seven times seven?” my mother asked.
“How do you spell elephant?”
She smiled at me and I could tell I had done something right.
“Mrs. Rabinowitz, I understand your hesitancy with placing my daughter in second grade because she’s starting school late, but I can guarantee that she will do fine. She’s actually ahead. She’s been doing math and reading lessons since she was four,” said my mother with only her eyes smiling.
“Mrs. Hendrail— ” started Mrs. Rabinowitz.
“It’s Ms. Hendrail,” snapped my mother.
“Oh…I apologize. Ms. Hendrail, I understand your concern but we simply can’t put Anna in second grade without testing her, and the testing sessions have already passed, she will have to wait until January for the next sessions.”
I was placed in first grade amongst the six-year-olds. When one’s years are so limited to begin with, age is an insignificant factor in choosing playmates. For the first time in my life I played with other children. Sharing came naturally, as did taking turns. It made sense to share, and even as a seven year old, I felt the desire to give to those that I found interesting.
One day during lunch a girl with blond ringlet curls and a pudgy face was crying. My wonderment of her sadness drove me to sit next her; her tears a vast ocean waiting to be explored.
“Why are you crying?” I asked. Speaking slowly, I attempted to sooth her with my voice.
“My mother forgot to pack me a lunch today, and she forgot to give me money. She said she would when we were leaving in the morning but then she forgot. And now I’m hungry and I don’t have anything to eat and water is so boring,” she complained with her voice reaching the higher octaves and her lower lip protruded. She must have been mimicking a little girl she saw on television.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I know that it doesn’t feel good to be hungry, but you know it isn’t going to last forever and your mother might make a really good dinner because she forgot. But here you can have half my sandwich, then we’ll both be sort of hungry, instead of you being really hungry and me being full.”
The girl’s face lost its tightness, as if my words had exorcised a demon from her frail child body. I felt a bubble of contentment expanding inside my chest when she took that peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When her face relaxed, a flood of joy drenched my mind, and I felt a connection between another human being. Even at seven, there was an air of meaning I sensed in human connection. A happiness and relief transferred from her to me. It was beautiful.
18 June 2009
(I'm not really sure where this is going. It's a first draft.)
I grew up in the rolling hills of northwestern California, near the border of Oregon. I often played by myself as a child, partaking in only-child activities, like reading books, and envisioning grand adventures. I remember reading The Chronicles of Narnia when I was eight years old and believing I lived there. The swelling hills and massive redwood tree forests were the stage for the whimsical inventions of my childhood. As far as I knew, I lived in the land of enchanted animals, those that hid the secret of grasping the beauty and rawness of existence in their black orbs of eyes and primal movements.
The imagination of only-children is often more exquisite than that of children with siblings. I had to weed though the masses of people to find my friends. I wasn’t born with them waiting outside the hospital room door, their baby carrot fingers fretfully grabbing hold of their mouths. There was no one waiting for me except my mother, no one wondering if they’ll like me, or how my emergence from the womb will alter their everyday lives. There wasn’t even a door to wait outside. I was born atop a hill overlooking the ocean. My mother was alone, as I often was alone as a child.
I still wonder today how she gave birth to me without the help of doctors, or family or friends. There was no one to scream to push, no one to hold her hand, no one to cut the umbilical cord when her body began to tremble from exhaustion. She said she chose for it to be that way. She said she wanted to be satiated with the pain and struggle of giving birth, that birth wasn’t an experience that should be dulled, or eased. But my mother was no masochist. She lived for feeling things deeply, for reaching her arms down the dark well of existence into the obscurity of life, and pulling out with her bare hands, the meaning of it all, that beauty, that rawness.
After giving birth to me, she walked down a narrow dirt road with the umbilical cord still attached to home nestled between two coves, right above the Pacific Ocean. Upon arriving home, she promptly cut the cord that attached mother to daughter, cleaned me, fed me, and fell asleep with me in her arms. She tells me her valiant story of my beginning often, as a reminder of how extraordinary I am. “There is strength in our genes,” she would whisper in my ear as a baby, “and flowing through our Hendrail veins.”
My name is Anna Hendrail. I live in Paris and I’m eighty-seven years old. I’m average height, or at least I was, and I couldn’t tell you if I am beautiful or not because I don’t know how to gauge things like that. Even if I did say, you would probably think I of me as modest or pretentious, so there is really no point anyway.
I haven’t many friends, but it’s possible my definition of “friend” is different than yours. I have one friend. Many others have come and gone over the eighty-seven years of my existence, but she has firmly cemented herself into my life and I have let her remain. I’m sure she would say the same about me.
I would say I’ve lived an ordinary life but only because I wish everyone could have lived a life like mine. In my eighty-seven years and counting, exquisite pain has made me human, loneliness has made me an individual, overwhelming beauty has flooded my brain with moments of bliss, and passion has tied a rope around my body and mind and pulled me firmly to it. There’s one thing you should know though, I’ve never been in love.
17 June 2009
Shortest it's ever been in my life.