The Great-Greats

Naming things is an endlessly fascinating and complicated way of creating and better understanding our relationships with them. Different cultures have even devised quite distinct ways of classifying and identifying the kinships within them, to the extent that families and relations in the different cultures affect the very ways people interact and consider themselves connected, responsible for each other, and much more.Photo: Great Great Grandparents

One of the appealing (or appalling) quirks, depending upon one’s view, of the American traditions of familial identification and the names given them in English is the way we use the word Great to specify layers of distance from ourselves. This photo, for example, is of one of my sets of great- and/or great-great grandparents (my maternal grandfather’s forebears), if I am not mistaken, and there is much to pique my curiosity in this image.

First, of course, is the question of whether I have identified them correctly at all. But then, in what ways—besides the nominal—were they great? Clearly, being among my ancestors is an easy in to that category. [Ba-dum-tsssssssshhhhhh!]*

Seriously, though, what distinguished these people? Safe to assume, from what little I do know of my relatives in Norway, these two lived on a small farm, and they worked hard. I mean, incredibly hard, by my standards. I’m inclined, actually, to think that the gent is my great grandpa and the lady next to him is his mummified mum, but having seen many a portrait from that era whose subject I was shocked to discover was eons younger than I’d have imagined, I can’t be sure. If this is a couple, I am extra, extra glad I have such a lazy and comfortable life. I may be no spring chicken, but I like to think that people will be able to tell whether or not I’ve already died, and when it does occur, won’t be able to make work boots out of my hide without tanning it further.

This could be the great-grandfather who was a tinsmith. A pretty skilled one, at that. The hands I see here could easily be tough enough to have put metal in its place. As for the farming, what little I’ve gleaned [enough with the shtick! I’ll try to behave myself]* from the various family stories and photos indicates that my family were subsistence farmers, growing what produce would feed their own households or be swapped with neighbors for  further goods, and raising enough sheep and goats, chickens and cattle to keep them in meat, eggs, hides and bones as needed. Agrarian life, until more recent decades, was generally a far more solitary and jack of all trades kind of existence. My grandmothers, great and otherwise (and I can only assume all of the neighbor women of this ancestress’ approximate vintage) did such work as probably made them all look equally leathery.

I would like to think that the sober, if not condemnatory, expressions in the photo sprang from the typical problem of holding still for the interminable exposure time a photograph required in those days, not to mention doing so while squinting in the sunlight. But I also suspect that a combination of that hardscrabble life of theirs and the grimly perdition-obsessed brand of religion to which many of my relatives have subscribed means that these two generally took life mighty seriously as well. They probably didn’t see so much to joke about or room for fun and games in their daily lives.

What I can safely assume about my relatives still gives me some hope. Obviously, they knew enough about how to survive and yes, thankfully, to procreate, that I am here generations later to tell the tale. I consider my existence a fine thing. Although they weren’t either wealthy or showy, they are dressed in well made, tidily kept clothing and lo, my mustachioed male relative even sports a watch chain, so theirs was not, even from the perspective of my privileged and cushy life, a torturous life of pure privation. So I don’t feel enormous existential guilt for their suffering. But I’m not inclined that way like they might have been, anyhow.

My late Norwegian relatives lived and labored in a landscape and climate rather like where I grew up in the American northwest, so I know that even if their daily work was hard they did it surrounded by beauty and nurtured in a mostly benevolent natural environment. They raised children who were able to go out in turn into the wider world and make their ways, eventually finding own their paths, making their own livings, and raising their own families, and eventually crossing many mountains, borders, and seas. I think all of this a fine, if modest, sampler of human existence with [dang it, I just can’t help it!]* relatively little grand tragedy or overblown drama. Most of all, I am glad that the long-gone beings who posed for this rather inscrutable image contributed to the production of a line of pretty good folk, culminating in my immediate family. That’s greatness enough for me, and makes me very thankful indeed. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Natural Antipathies

digital imageFrenemies

When cat and dog and sheep and goat, yea, fox and hen and hog and stoat

Befriend each other, work and play like boon companions, night and day,

It’s time to question if the world as we have known it is unfurled,

Unraveled, undefined, undone–if we should pack our bags and run–

For such behavior’s a disgrace and flies in Mother Nature’s face.

So, be alert! The fox and hen, sheep and the goats, like gods and men,

Belong apart; the stoat and hog must not be friends, nor cat and dog.graphite drawing

Not All My Animal Companions Live Indoors

While I’m channeling the warmth and fuzziness of friendly fauna from last week’s travels, I will clarify for you that I’m attracted to all sorts of critters, not just household dogs and cats. Like you’re surprised by that. Anyway, seems like a good time to share some of the other photos I took on the trip so you can all enjoy them too. Because I know, of course, that if you’re spending time hanging around here it just proves you also have excellent taste, so you’re bound to like my little borrowed menagerie of friends too. Just remember not to feed the wildlife.photophoto

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photoAnother small point to clarify: the title of today’s post was not a reference to my spouse. Though he is my favorite companion and my pet.

Birds of a Brilliant Feather Flock Together

I do love peacocks and admire their showy plumage and all of the other attributes that I anthropomorphize to my great delight. Birds, in general, are a subject of my fondness for their wonderful and weird and wildly showy beauties, and peacocks merely one of the more obvious kings of my affections. Another variety of bird of which I’m quite enamored is the chicken, with the many distinctive shapes, colors, and personalities in its species.

Roosters, of course, are often (though not always) the showiest and most individualistic of their kind. Men. Whatever anyone says about women being the self-absorbed sex when it comes to appearances clearly hasn’t looked around at all of the coiffed, tattooed, jeweled, made-up, well-heeled males wandering around humankind throughout history let alone at the range of male beauty in the beastly realms. The other kinds of beasts, I mean.

But enough scorning of sexist talk. I’m here to admire birds, roosters in particular, and Celi’s handsome cockerel specifically. She never fails to show her animal menagerie in a glorious light, even when they’re cutting quite the junior-miscreant capers, and I’m quite certain that it’s her great affection for them that makes them look their best in her every shot. Well, that and a whole barge-full of skill and art on her part. In any event, I have fallen in love with all of the residents of her ‘farmy’ right along with Celi herself, and while I should most like to have paid tribute to her gorgeous rooster in person or at least with an exquisitely embroidered silk panel in the Chinese style to give him his full due, I can’t fly, and my own skills in embroidery are more of the oops-I-stitched-it-to-my-own-leg and what-is-that-weird-spiderweb varieties, so here I made a pretense of embroidering by using my digital stitchery. I do mean well.digital artwork from a photo by Cecilia G

What, were You Born in a Barn?!

ink drawingWhy, yes I was, thank you. Well, not literally, but hey, we’re all animals, so if I revert to form occasionally, I can hardly be faulted for it. If I step in something nasty from time to time, chances are pretty good that something is of my own manufacture, I’ll grant you, but there is some comfort in knowing we all do the same, that others are as fallible and foible-filled as I am. Mostly if it appears that anyone gives the appearance of perfection, it’s got more to do with one of two things: either they’re more skilled than average at a quick cover-up, recovery or diversion, or they simply don’t do that much–act, change, live–so they’re just playing the odds for an easier win.graphite drawing

I’ve come to terms, I think, with being my own brand of nature-girl when it comes to just being an ordinary, contented chick-sheep-or-bovine and letting the, ahem, chips fall as they may. Being the human beast means I must tend to mucking out my own stall, and I’m at least responsible enough to attempt that, I hope, but it also means that I don’t have to worry too much about trying to be someone or something excessively sophisticated let alone idealized. Every creature does what comes naturally, and we don’t tend to blame the non-human ones for that, other than the occasional bird targeting our shiny cars with their natural output and such. And I promise never to strafe your precious automobile, if that makes you feel any better.digitally enhanced graphite drawingSo please pardon my tendency towards inadvertently impolite outbursts, my untimely bodily noises, my awkward kinesis and all of that other too-human beastliness, and I’ll overlook yours as best I can, too. Because we are all in this barnyard together, my friends! PS: my computer just reminded me that the word “kinesis” contains the word “kine,” so the very least you can do is not be too critical if in when motion I resemble a cow. Thank you, and farewell for now. If you should need me, I’ll be over here lounging with my hooves in the trough.pastel on black paper