EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the great filmmaker Werner Herzog explores Chauvet, which contains some of the most absorbing cave paintings yet discovered. They also appear to be some of the oldest, dated to 32,000 years before present. Herzog’s camera pans slowly across Chauvet’s bulbous tan walls while his crew moves handheld lights to make the many bumps and angles do a sort of shadow play. The lions, bison, horses, and rhinos outlined in black seem to flex and shift. They nuzzle, sniff, or maybe battle each other. At one point in a voiceover, Herzog says, “The strongest hint of something spiritual, some religious ceremony in the cave, is this bear skull. It has been placed dead center on the rock resembling an altar. The staging seems deliberate. The skull faces the entrance of the cave, and around it fragments of charcoal were found, potentially used as incense.” Amid the flickering beauty in this scene, that monologue got me wondering: How does he know this was a religious situation?

Well. He doesn’t. Nobody will ever know why that skull sits there. While archaeologists agree some prehistoric person did it, the reason why could be anything from a carefully-planned religious rite to a joke. That’s one of the greatest attractions — and the insidious trouble — with cave art. There is no context. Looking at it turns us loose in a wide-open playpen for the imagination where each of us fills the gaps with wishes for what should be there. More… “Cave Artists”

Paul X. Rutz is an artist and freelance writer. His exhibitions include solo shows at Ford Gallery, the Oregon Military Museum, and a forthcoming residency at Purdue University, as well as group shows at Mark Woolley Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution. A former reporter for the Pentagon’s Press Service, he has contributed to HuffPost, Modern Fiction Studies, and Cincinnati Review, among others, and he is a feature writer for Military History and Vietnam magazines.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Once on the water, we could see the rainforest pushing close to the river. The town of Coca, a depot on Ecuador’s Rio Napo, was already slipping away, disappearing behind a bend. It was early morning. There had been a week of heavy rain and trees had fallen into the river as the bank washed away. With the pressure of the current, branches emerged from the brown water and waved up and down, as if saying goodbye. Older branches, now blackened and leafless, broke the surface and then silently disappeared.

After an hour, we began to see wildlife: toucans and parrots, movements in the trees that suggested monkeys. On one log, I spotted four turtles sitting in a row, each with a butterfly on its head. (I took this as a sign, an offering; it turned out to be the standard post-card image from the Napo valley.) I had been on the lookout for caiman, fresh water alligators, which entertained our guides — sharp-nosed men who grew up along this river. The men were from one of the local tribes, most likely Huaorani, Kichwa, or Shuar. They wore t-shirts and baseball caps.
More… “In Search of Yasuní”

David Bartholomae has taught travel writing to U.S. students in Beijing, Hyderabad, London, Cape Town, Florianopolis, Buenos Aires, and the Napo valley of Ecuador. In May, 2018, he will be teaching in Havana. He is Professor of English and the Charles Crow Chair of Expository Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. His current project is an essay on Spain’s Camino de Santiago.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
The following is an excerpt from Birdmania, the latest book by author Bernd Brunner, translated by Jane Billinghurst.

The science of eggs is called “oology” (from the Greek “oion”) and not, as one might have guessed, “ovology.” Is interest in the outer covering of an egg an expression of the joy the observer feels as they anticipate the new life forming, unseen, inside? That is doubtful, because the act of collecting blown eggshells and storing them in boxes, drawers, and cupboards — taking them out from time to time to dust them off — pretty much shoots that theory down. Is there any connection at all between marveling at the object and appreciating the bird? It hardly seems possible that the urges to collect eggs and to delight in birdwatching could coexist in the mind of one person. Perhaps it is only the egg in all its flawless perfection that fascinates, and what the observer experiences is an appreciation for the object in and of itself?
More… “The Allure of the Egg”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Both Jews and Muslims consider the pink, snout-nosed animals we know as pigs to be unclean. The question of why this is so has not been conclusively resolved. Did the Koran follow a Jewish rule? Or does the ban stem from the fact that eating raw or undercooked pork meat can contain roundworm larvae, which cause trichinosis? People may have made a connection between pigs and disease, resulting in a fear-based taboo. For the anthropologist Marvin Harris, the main reasons for prohibiting the eating of pork were ecological and economical. Pigs require lots of water and shady woods with seeds, conditions that are scarce in the Middle East.

But the full story may be even more complicated. Whether pigs are considered “clean” or “unclean” has differed from culture to culture, and no clear dividing line based on climate conditions is evident. As a result, it’s difficult to determine what exactly people in the distant past thought about meat. Could it be that this taboo was chosen more or less randomly to create a sense of community among believers of the same religion? To the Egyptian pharaohs, pork was unclean, to the ancient Greeks it was not. The hoggish Romans had a great deal of sympathy for the genus sus, and one pig in ancient Rome even had its own tomb. The inscription reads “Porcella hic dormit” — here rests a piglet. This particular pig lived for three years, ten months and 13 days. Its modern descendants “enjoy” much shorter lives, as they are usually slaughtered when they are between six and ten months old. Christianity’s Saint Anthony, a monk who was born in Egypt, serves as the patron saint of farmers, swineherds, and butchers. Legend has it that at some point he worked as a swineherd, and Hieronymus Bosch painted him with a pet pig at his side. In the Middle Ages, pigs, like many other animals, were held culpable for criminal acts and could be taken to court and executed. All in all, the pigs do not exactly have the best reputation in the Christian tradition — but people still eat them. More… “Between Porcophilia and Porcophobia”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

There are three kinds of Gerald Jablonski stories.

The first stars Howdy, a middle-aged, bear-faced (or is it dog-faced? It’s difficult to tell) man and his nephew, Dee Dee, a yellow-skinned lad with tiny dog ears (or are they horns?). Howdy is perennially upset because Dee Dee is playing music by his favorite band, Poopy, too loud and Howdy can’t hear his serial radio program. The pair start to bicker and trade insults. This always, always, always turns into a discussion of Dee Dee’s teacher, who is an ant. As in the insect. There is a third man, “a friend of Howdy’s nephew”, who looks a little bit like Felix Unger, wears a pink apron, and hangs in the back of every panel with a pained expression on his face. He never says anything. More… “Jablonski’s Barnyard”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal … and this site. He is ¼ of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

The other day I was working at the kitchen table. It was a sunny afternoon, the autumn air cool and crisp. As I often do when the weather is so agreeable, I raised a couple of the kitchen windows and delighted in the fresh air, and the sounds of the breeze whistling through the trees in my backyard. More… “Oh, Give Me a Home . . .”

John Gifford is a writer and naturalist from Oklahoma.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

I became a fool for horses rather late in life. In my early 30s I got a job as a counselor in a horseback program for juvenile delinquents. Except for a few pony rides as a kid — one at a circus and another offered by a classmate who had a crush on me — I had no experience with horses and learned along with my charges. The majority of the teenage girls with whom I worked were African-Americans, and the program honored the Buffalo Soldiers. (The Buffalo Soldiers — ninth and tenth Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments — were the first all-black units the U.S. military established and instrumental in campaigns against the Comanches and Apaches.) Together, we went through all the original drills, countless injuries and embarrassments, and about once a month, to a reenactment. Our battlefields were eastern, and the McClellan saddles and tack English-inspired, but our horses had been bred on desert and prairie soils: hardy Texas and Arizona ponies, some of them bearing white freeze brands on their necks that marked them as mustangs captured and auctioned off by the Bureau of Land Management.

My stint at this program still is the only time I ever set foot east of the Rockies. Our camp simmered in subtropical humidity near Florida’s Yeehaw Junction, a wretched crossroads 30 miles north of Lake Okeechobee. It was primitive: wall tents with cots for the kids, a mess tent, fenced pasture, and unfurnished trailers for staff, everything plunked into a clearing hacked from saw palmetto thickets — the unwanted rounded up in an unwanted place. More… “Here’s to the Horses”

Michael Engelhard is the author of the essay collection, American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean, and of Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon. Now living in Fairbanks, Alaska and working as a wilderness guide in the Arctic, he has not been back on a horse since the events here described.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
The polar bear is not only the planet’s biggest land-based carnivore, but it also has a long and colorful, if often violent, history of interaction with humans, which is the topic of an illustrated new book titled Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon (University of Washington Press, November 2016) by Michael Engelhard. Michael Engelhard is both a cultural anthropologist and a wilderness guide. He is the author of two essay collections, Where the Rain Children Sleep and American Wild, and the editor of four anthologies, including Wild Moments: Adventures with Animals of the North. Engelhard lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.

More… “Big as a Calf, White as a Swan”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

The moon was shining on the night in January 1856 when Leopold von Schrenck, a Russian-German zoologist, geographer, and ethnologist, reached Tebach, a village in the barren Amur region in easternmost Siberia. He was traveling in the name of the St. Petersburg Academy of Science, following in the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt, who had made it all the way to the Chinese border. Von Schrenck is among the handful of Westerners who had the opportunity to participate in a bear festival with the Nivkh people (formerly called Gilyak). As he approached the village, the inhabitants were out and about. The women stood in front of the houses carrying babies and watched as the men and the older children held hands and spun rapidly in a circle. Once the dance was over, von Schrenck accompanied the group into a yurt — a kind of oversized tent. Three bears were bound to the two central support poles. Care had been taken to allow the bears room to lie down, stand up, and move from side to side. The visitor also had to take care “not to be struck by a bear’s paw.” More… “Bearing Witness”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

A pig sits in the middle of the hall. But is it just a pig? Millions like it are raised and slaughtered each year in countries around the world. And yet this pig is different. First of all, she has a name: Donata. Photos usually show her from behind, since this angle reveals the flames climbing up her spine. A snake slithers along her flank, winding its way past barbed wire, crucifixes, and red roses. And a “tramp stamp” composed of an eagle and an American flag spreads across her lower back. That’s right — Donata has tattoos. For a few weeks now, she has been on display at the MGK — Hamburg’s museum for fine and applied arts — as part of an exhibition on the cultural history of tattooing. Donata and other pigs like her are the work of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, who achieved his initial breakthrough with Cloaca: an installation mimicking the human digestive process, down to a remarkably lifelike representation of the end product.
More… “Guinea Pig”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+