Researchers discovered hnefatafl game pieces made of whale bone in upper- and middle-class Vendel graves. (Rudolf Gustavsson in Smithsonian)
The ancient Norse loved the game of hnefatafl, in which a king’s faithful followers try to protect him against raiding forces, which pretty well describes so much of early medieval politics.
An article in Smithsonian, however, suggests that these game pieces “were the product of early industrial whaling. If so, the pieces would be evidence of the earliest-known cases of whaling in what is today Scandinavia, and a sign of the growing trade routes and coastal resource use that paved the way for future Viking expansion.”
For more than a decade, Denver artist and printmaker Emi Brady toyed with the idea of her own tarot card deck. She “wasn’t ready” until more recently.
“Technically, I wasn’t ready and I think emotionally I wasn’t ready,” Brady said. “I was definitely still learning a lot of things about myself and I think the Tarot is about having a depth of knowledge and compassion for yourself and for others. And I just wasn’t there” . . . . .
Her own deck, The Brady Tarot, is a set of hand-colored, linocut cards that she released in 2018. The imagery features nature, particularly fauna and flora native to North America. One of the most important things she wants is for people to realize that animals also “have rich inner lives and we’re not alone on this planet.”
The area was thickly forested in ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and Gambel oak — too thickly, to my eye. (This is what comes of being a forester’s son.) The pines were thick — in some places they lay like jackstraws, toppled by the chinook winds of winter.
When this slope burns, I thought, it will burn like a volcano. And it did, on October 23, 2012, a date seared into my memory.
October 23, 2012: The spring would be just left of the brightest area. My home is on the other side of the ridge.
I took this photo at dusk, bracing my pocket camera against a corral post (one of the ones that was not burning like a candle) while waiting for the the fire engine I was working on to be re-filled with water at the landowner’s well. It was too windy for air tankers, too close to darkness for hand crews to hike up there, so it just burned, while I implored the west wind to keep pushing the fire away from my home.
Fisher the dog did what he does best, finding animal parts in the woods (including a bear cub’s paw) but even that activity seemed sadder.
We returned again in May 2013 to make an offering at the spring. During the previous month, the Bureau of Land Management had hired a contractor to re-seed the area with a grass mix by helicopter. The purpose was to get something growing and stabilize the slopes against the summer thunderstorms. It worked. We had adequate summer rains (not like the storms and flooding in northern Colorado), and by late summer the slopes were almost lush, as the photo below will show.
October 2013: A bear cub drinks at the spring.
I put my most expendable scout camera up there from late September until a couple of days ago — although the batteries died some time in November — which is how I got the photo. The best part is to see the spring running—you can see water flowing down the right-hand edge of the photo.
December 2013: Winter scene, with the spring off in the middle distance.
All this is prelude to thinking about how an animistic/polytheistic outlook copes with such changes to the land. No, it is not like someone paved it over and put up a Family Dollar store. Something will come back—the scrubby Gambel oak has re-sprouted, and there were wildflowers last summer, but the ponderosa pine and Douglas fir will be much slower to return. I probably won’t see this valley forested again.
I will never forget walking around a week or two after the fire, when the slopes just felt nuked. Crows overhead were the only life—the rattlesnake guardian almost certainly died, if tree roots were being burned underground.
The little seasonal spring, however, remains as sort of natural shrine, a focus for hope and continuity, bear cubs and wild turkeys.
Once in a while, I like to note that Hardscrabble Creek is a real place. The beaver pair had kits this year, and they also expanded their dams from two to five. A couple of years ago, they left because they had eaten all the available deciduous forage, mostly narrowleaf cottonwood and willows. Will the rising water table encourage more beaver-edible trees to grow? (They don’t eat pines.) Can they keep expanding their string of dams upstream?
I have two volunteer gigs, and they both involve unexpected telephone calls.
For the rural volunteer fire department, it will be a recorded voice saying something like, “We have a smoke report east of Highway 165 and north of Highway 78.”
That is followed by a sudden switch into Nomex clothing, either the yellow shirt/green trousers wildland-firefighting outfit or the slightly heavier all-yellow “interface gear,” a fine product of California’s prison industries. Then comes urgent radio chatter as I try to figure out who is able to respond and if someone can pick me up with the engine on the way or the fire, or if I have to drive down to the station — or if I should just slap the magnetic flashing light on the Jeep and head for the incident directly.
The other unexpected type of call might be from the director of the raptor center down in Pueblo saying, “Someone in [some town] has an injured hawk in their back yard. Can you go pick it up?”
Or perhaps it is it’s the area wildlife-volunteer coordinator: “A rancher in [the valley] found some abandoned fox kits in a hay stack. They’re at a veterinarian’s office up there. Can you go get them and take them to the rehabilitation center?”
And M. and I get gloves, pet carrier, capture net, goggles, flea powder — whatever we need — load the truck and go. Maybe I pin on my official Colorado Parks & Wildlife name tag (she never bothers), so I don’t appear to be some random animal-snatcher.
Last Monday, the 21st, was the second kind of call. This time, an injured sharp-shinned hawk was in a garage—the homeowner had found it outside, unable to fly, and shooed it into the building for its own safety.
I was able to catch it pretty quickly — always good when there are people watching, and there usually are people watching, because they made the original phone call, and they want to see what happens next. And I gave the usual reassuring speech that it would be at the raptor center that evening and evaluated by a veterinarian the next day.
I knew its prospects did not look good. A day later, we learned what had happened: broken humerus, dislocated elbow, possibly the result of being hit by a car. Result: euthanasia. The expert opinion was that this bird would never be healed well enough to live on its own. More than not, that is what happens.
But there was better news. A great horned owl chick that had been found in a certain hardware store in our county last spring had spent all summer learning to fly and hunt at the raptor center, and now it was ready to be released. Could we pick it up and take it back to the same general area?
Such calls — all too rare — are the pay-off for the rest. We picked up the owl in her carrier, and before many miles, M. had named her “Owlivia.”
“Willow Creek Road,” I suggested, thinking of a small canyon in the national forest where I had heard great horned owls before, one that offers a mix of habitats: deep forest, brush, and pasture. After supper, as night was falling, we drove up there and let her go. She did not hesitate.
This summer has been a tough one, trying to keep the garden alive, always watching for forest fires — fighting a couple of small ones with the local volunteer fire department.
The hummingbirds have been working the feeder hard for weeks — broad-tails and black-chinned, and for the last three weeks, the rufous hummers on their slow way south. I had to rinse and fill it twice a day.
Suddenly, on August 1st, there were noticeably fewer buzzing skirmishers around it. Oh, we still have hummingbirds, but some have left.
After a sort of poor mushroom hunt last week, M. and I went up on our favorite mountain today and had a real wild harvest.
After an early supper, we worked on the veranda until the light was gone, filling the dehydrator and covering two large screens with sliced mushrooms. Dried until they are crispy, they will go into jars for storage. The process actually concentrates the flavor.
The dark closed in faster, and the cool of the evening came more quickly too. The air outside smells of mushrooms from the dehydrator sitting on the outdoor dining table.
I couldn’t stop the thought: And this is what award-winning education looks like. It was education that had gotten the climate wrong, the animals wrong, and the children wrong as well. By feeding the students a pablum of anachronisms about the natural world instead of teaching them to sink their hands in mud, to feast their eyes on the colors of tree foliage, to recognize poison oak and name the first wildflower in spring, this brand of education disrespected the students. It inculcated a story from another time and place instead of encouraging the students to observe grasses or flowers or woodland using their own eyes, their fingers and toes, their ears, their skin. It treated the children as if they didn’t have the capacity to appreciate or synthesize the results of their own observations.
• I like animal skulls—I have a wall of them. At Crooked & Hidden Bones, read about the revival of a technique for “reddening the bones.” Talk about going back to very old ways of treating special or sacred bones. This is what the family did with your great x 150 grandfather.
Christianity wiped the old faith of the Finnish culture quite well off, so it would be time for work such as digging for some holy book. The Kalevala, it can not be, because it is one man’s collection of poems, and even clean up such Muukka says.
When I want to do magic to influence the airy business of laws, I have a number of high places from which to scatter birdseed. When I want to get deep into the roots of the power structure, I can choose between the rotunda of the Capitol or the tidal basin off of the Potomac.