Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The news from St Kilda

From  Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky

St Kilda
Uninhabited; evacuated in 1930.
Last case of neonatal tenatnus in 1891.

"There are sixteen cottages, three houses, and one church in the only village on St Kilda. The island's future is written in its graveyard. Its children are all born in good health, but most stop feeding during their fourth, fifth, or sixth night. On the seventh day, their palates tighten and their throats constrict, so it becomes impossible to get them to swallow anything. Their muscles twitch and their jaws hang loose. Their eyes grow staring and they yawn a great deal; their open mouths stretch in mocking grimaces.

"Between the seventh and the ninth day, two-thirds of the newborn babies die, boys outnumbering girls. Some die sooner; some later; one dies on the fourth day, another not until the twenty-first. Some say it is the diet: the fatty meat of the fulmars and their eggs smelling of musk that make the skin silky smooth but the mothers' milk bitter. Or that it is the result of inbreeding. Yet other say that the babies are suffocated by the smoke from the peat fires in the middle of the rooms, or that it is the zinc in the roofs or the pale pink oil that burns in the lamps. The islanders whisper that it is the will of the Almighty. But these are the words of pious men.The women who endure so many pregnancies and bear so few children who survive the eight-day sickness are silent.

"On 22 June 1896, one woman stands on the deck of a ship that is bringing her home. Like all the women of St Kilda she has soft skin, red cheeks, exceptionally clear eyes, and teeth like young ivory. She has just given birth to a child, but not at home. The wind is blowing from the north-east. Long before she can be seen from the shore, she lifts her newborn high in the air."

This book makes me envious and greedy.--HH

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A place among the arts

Vince gave me a book for Christmas, the "Atlas of Remote Islands," by Judith Schlalansky, subtitled "Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will."

According to the colophon, the books was voted the most beautiful German book for 2010, and I believe it; the author not only wrote it, she set the type, drew the maps, and did the book design.

Under the doctrine of fair use, I quote from the entry for Lonely Island:

"Loneliness lies in the center of the Kara Sea in the northern Arctic Ocean. This island is worthy of its name: it is cold and barren, trapped in pack ice all  winter, with  an average annual temperature of -16 degrees; at the height of summer the temperature sometimes rises to just over freezing.

"No one lives there. A former polar observatory has sunk into the snow and abandoned buildings doze in the belly of the bay, facing the narrow spit of land beyond the frozen marsh.

"A prehistoric dragon's skeleton was found here."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pete the Moose redux

Vermont's governor-elect, Peter Shumlin, has made it clear he intends to right a wrong--the issues described in the longwinded tantrum I engaged in last July are about to be addressed and reversed. This makes me glad I voted for Shumlin, although I admit I did it holding my nose--I wanted Doug Racine, who tied Shumlin in the primary but lost on a recount.

The Burlington Free Press reports, "Key lawmakers and Governor-elect Peter Shumlin are ready to reverse a 2010 law drafted in secret and passed at the 11th hour that gave an Northeast Kingdom farmer ownership of wild deer and moose on his property, an action that provoked an outcry among hunters.

"A bill already in draft form restates the longstanding principle that wild animals belong to all people of Vermont. It requires the wild deer and moose trapped inside Doug Nelson’s elk hunting park to be removed, probably through hunting. It also allows for protection of young Pete the Moose, an orphaned resident of the park."

I object to this "orphaned" designation--it's false--but at least the smarmy, disagreeable behavior of Susan Bartlett has been dragged out into the open. Bartlett engineered a cheesy, behind-the-scenes deal to allow a single wealthy constituent, Doug Nelson, to claim de facto ownership of the native wildlife that were accidentally or deliberately enclosed in his fence--a fence put up so that unfair-chase hunting could bring him a bit more dough. It was junk politics at its very worst, and not how we normally do business in this state.

The real back story on this moose is that some dogs, unrestrained by leashes, injured a moose calf; the owners of these dogs then decided they would rescue the calf by appropriating him and taking him to an unlicensed rehabilitator, who then turned the animal over to Nelson. The moose wasn't orphaned--to be accurate, the cow was scared off by dogs and people, and the dogs did what dogs do when not properly restrained, and  then the people did what people sometimes do when they fail to grasp the difference between a wild animal and a domesticated one. 

I personally don't care one way or the other about "saving" Pete--he's toast no matter what. He has been petted like a dog and fed all manner of junk food, and he's been deprived the the environment he was designed to live in (or die in, as the case may be). He's gone a long way past the point of redemption. But the key doctrine--that wild animals are held in public trust and cannot be domesticated or owned by any individual--has been confirmed and reinstated.

Temper tantrum over.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Deck us all with Boston Charlie


Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash, and Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezing on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower, alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker and too-da-loo!
Hunky Dory's pop is lolly gaggin' on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!

Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloup, 'lope with you!
Chollie's collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!