Tag Archives: in memory

Casualities of the Road

Last week my mom and I drove from Kansas City to Glacier over a couple of days. The Midwest-Montana connection is a journey I have made more times than I can remember, but the last time Moms did it with me we (well, I should say I, because she found it morbid and perhaps a little unnerving) started a tradition.

Perhaps you have a road trip tradition. Maybe it involves playing I Spy, eating condiment sandwiches, looking for different states’ licence plates, or singing songs about washing your neck, like I used to do as a kid with my grandparents. Those are all great, but that’s not what we do.

Nope, we count animal casualties on the road. But in a non-creepy way. Yeah, I mean road kill, though I don’t like that term. Yes, it is depressing, but it does pass the time, and it does make you bear witness a little, and it does provide some vague ecological commentary about our country — heavy on the raccoon the first day, none by the last day, and so on.

road casualities

The drive is nearly 1500 miles and 22 hours, not including bi-hourly pee breaks. During our three-day journey we encountered at least 181 fallen fuzzies. The mile/kill ratio was by far the highest the first day between Kansas City and Mitchell, SD.

181 animals. It’s a number worth thinking about.

111 unidentifiable small furry creatures
23 raccoon (17 on the first day, none on the last)
15 deer
11 skunks
8 birds
4 coyote
4 squirrels
2 bunnies
2 pronghorn
1 porcupine
1 dog
and 2 black shoes

 

On Bearing Witness

Last week I spent a mad hour rummaging through desk, closet, and box, looking for a particular notebook. Understand, that I possess many tattered notebooks, and do not often recall their content based on their covers. 

Still, at last, after much rifling, a green patterned book in hand, I found what I was seeking. Notes. Minutes, really, from a series of meetings long ago. A thread to the past, that I needed to see.

Tomorrow will mark the first of Matt Power’s formal memorials. The snow in his native Vermont will keep melting, and loved ones will gather to honor his life. I hope the crocuses will show. And the daffodils. Too early for sunflowers though, the bright flower he once dressed as to protest the auctioning of New York community gardens. A sunflower perched in a tree, pulled down by police. That, was Matt. 

It has been several weeks since Matt  died. I have thought of him every day since I heard the terrible news of his passing. On a recent visit to the city, I saw glimpses of his face many times in the crowd. I haven’t known what to write. Or even if I’ve had the right.

I won’t pretend I knew Matt very well. I know he is gravely missed by hundreds, probably thousands of people across the globe–his friends and family, his acquaintances, his admirers, personal and professional. Many of them have written tender and eloquent remembrances. Roger Hodge, former editor of Harper’s and a good friend to Matt recently gave a particularly sad and beautiful interview  with Vermont Public Radio that you can listen to here.

Though we did not know each other well, Matt left a big impression on me. I think he left and big impression on everyone. It might have been his broad, impish grin, but really, I think it was his spirit. He was so genuinely interested in everyone, everything. He enthusiasm for life was infectious.

I first met Matt in the fall of 2009. I was working at Orion Magazine, and we hosted a weekend-long “young” writer’s conference at a big lodge in the Adirondacks. We invited Matt. That notebook I was so desperately seeking contained all my many notes from our group discussions on art and action, darkness and light, the future of nature, nature writing, and the world. 

I remember these discussions, their quality, their depth, and poetry. But perhaps more than that, I remember the down time. Sitting around the table at meals. Ten conversations at once. I know Matt was a fearless, compassionate writer. A free-spirit. When you read the tributes, they all mention his thoughtfulness, his curiosity, and his generosity with his time and advice. That was easy to see, even in a single weekend.

But how I will always picture Matt, is running around a ping-pong table. Is dancing to a Bruce Springsteen record, and shouting, with a room full of writers, the line I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book! I imagine him sprinting with us, through the dark, naked, into the frigid fall lake water. I picture him quoting Camus, and lines from “Asphodel”–probably, It is difficult/ to get the news from poems /yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there– though honestly, I cannot say for sure.

And too, I think of him speaking on the need to bear witness. Whether sitting with the poorest Sioux in Pine Ridge, rafting down the Mississippi with a bunch of anarchists, talking to drone-operator veterans, or rummaging with dump scavengers in the Philippines, Matt created a space to let people tell their own stories. Stories the rest of us need to hear.

The world needs so many more people like Matt. And the truth is, I wish I were more like him. He will was an inspiration, and will be missed by many– a testament in itself, to a life well-lived. We can honor him by reading his wonderful work, by continuing to bear witness to all the disenfranchised people to whom he gave such insight and voice. We can choose to not look away.

My thoughts are with his wife and family.

Credit: GQ Magazine

 

 

The Heart of a Tree Lobster

If you want to see another stellar, gorgeous and entrancing junction of art, science, conservation, and history, please, please take a minute to watch this breathtaking trailer for the forthcoming animated film Sticky, about the critically endangered Lord Howe stick insect, a gentle giant nicknamed the tree lobster. It is remarkable and utterly haunting.

Watch the trailer here.

Then check out the Wired article about the film, and Bespoke Animation’s website, too.

STICKY_life_leaves

What To Do With a Dead Body

Everything dies (baby, that’s a fact).

It’s inevitable. We humans have whole philosophies and religions dedicated to the contemplation of what happens to our souls once our bodies give up the ghost. But unless you’re a mortician, how much thought do you give to what can happen to your actual flesh-and-blood body after you die?

Me, I like the idea of a badass Viking funeral. Lay my body in a hand-carved boat laden with my life’s bounty, launch it at sunset, then set that B on fire with a rain of flaming arrows. [Side Note: From nearly ill-fated personal experience I have learned getting a flaming arrow to stay lit when released is very difficult. Even with gasoline soaked rags…]

Although I love walking through old cemeteries, I’m not so into the idea of my body moving into one. A Tibetan sky burial sounds pretty good, though logistically tough. Maybe a Jazz Funeral parade rolling right into a raucous Irish wake. Then just find a tree, name it Katie, and call it good.

Other people might picture their remains being buried underground, launched into space, strung in trees, sunk in seas, probed by queasy medical students, or displayed in museums. These days, dead bodies have a lot of options, with more on the way.  No wonder the U.S. funeral services business is a $21 billion industry. Once the ceremonies are over, there are some choices to make.

Check out my latest SciShow script to hear about new and greener alternatives to traditional burial. And Happy Halloween!