like a girl

There’s a lot going on in the world right now, isn’t there. We’re only twenty days into the new year and we’ve already had our 16th mass shooting. Australia isn’t as much on fire as it was last week, but it’s still burning and giving the world a preview of the coming climate apocalypse. In Richmond, VA, the home of the traitorous Confederate States of America, a lot of ‘gun enthusiasts’ (seriously, I read a news thing in which all these white, overfed, camo-clad, body-armored, armed-to-the-teeth, MAGA fuckwits who are threatening a new American Civil War if they’re limited to buying only one handgun a month were called ‘enthusiasts’ instead of ‘terrorists’) are gathering in order to express their opposition to terrorize any legislator who might even consider a law to limit their access to firearms. And tomorrow we’ll be starting the Senate hearing in the impeachment of Comrade Trump, the sitting President of the United States, for abusing his power and obstructing the Congress trying to investigate his abuses of power.

That’s a full day, right there. But today is also the birthday — well, okay, not the actual birthday since she’s a fictional character who therefore was never really born, but it’s the fictional birthday of the fictional character — of Buffy Summers. You know, the Vampire Slayer? She’d be 39 years old today.

“Into every generation a Slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.”

BtVS was the reason I bought a VCR. Not just to tape the show if I wasn’t around to watch it, but so that I could watch the episodes again. This was the first television show in my experience that I wanted to watch more than once, that rewarded the viewer for re-watching. It was that good, that clever, that charming, and that meaningful.

I mean, sure, at it’s heart it was just a story about high school as Hell. Literally. And yeah, it was also the first show that turned an entire genre on its head. The silly blonde cheerleader — the traditional victim of choice of demons and monsters — is actually the being that demons and monsters need to fear. It was the first show (in my experience) that was layered and textured with meaning that went beyond slaying the monster. It wasn’t just a show that entertained (although it sure as hell did); it was a show that encouraged you to think. About politics, about sexuality, about religion, about gender, about the uses/misuses of science, about hypocrisy, about the roles of women, about power relationships, about the ways myth and legend shape culture, about music, about alienation, about love, about loss, about death, about suicide, about narrative structure, about…no, really, narrative structure. I’m not just bullshitting here. This show actually encouraged you to think about narrative structure.

Look, BtVS wasn’t the first show to mix comedy and drama. But it was, I believe, the first show to refuse to separate comedy and drama. In most shows, you’d have a dramatic scenes and you’d have comedic scenes; they were always separate and distinct. BtVS destroyed that notion. They’d toss a funny line into a dramatic scene without damaging the drama. They’d drop a dramatic line into a comedic scene, and it would hang there for a bit, then the dialog would return to the comedy because it was the only way NOT to scream. Because actual life is full of comedy and drama and it’s usually all mixed together. Actual life is so often about finding the strength to do what you need to do — what you’re supposed to do — when you would really rather not do anything at all, and still being able to have a laugh now and then.

That was the thing about BtVS — it never shied away from the ugliness of the world. It never promised that everything would turn out just fine. It was always about finding ways — usually through friends and family — of dealing with a world that didn’t turn out just fine. It was about doing what you can do to make things better, even if it was almost certain you’d lose. It was, in the end, a show about taking responsibility for your place in the world, it was about showing up and doing your damned job, it was about being strong when strength was required, it was about getting over yourself and doing what needed to be done, it was about claiming your space and fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

“I’m beyond tired. I’m beyond scared. I’m standing on the mouth of Hell and it is going to swallow me whole. And it’ll choke on me. I’m done waiting. They want an apocalypse? Well, we’ll give ’em one. From now on, we won’t just face our worst fears, we will seek them out. We will find them, and cut out their hearts, one by one.”

It was a show about refusing to accept things being the way they are just because that’s the way they’ve always been. In the final episode, Buffy even casts off her role as ‘The Chosen One’. She says”

“In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our power. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who might have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”

There’s a lot going on in the world right now. There are a lot of metaphoric vampires, demons, and forces of darkness that need metaphoric slaying. Buffy is a singularly apt role model for this world. We’re all living in Sunnydale now. We can all…well, I’ll let Buffy and Angel explain it.

Buffy: My mom said some things to me about being the Slayer. That it’s fruitless. No fruit for Buffy.
Angel: She’s wrong.
Buffy: Is she? Is Sunnydale any better than when I first came here? Okay, so I battle evil. But I don’t really win. The bad just keeps coming back…and getting stronger. Like the kid in the story, the boy that stuck his finger in the duck.
Angel: Dike.
Buffy looks at him.
Angel: It’s another word for dam.
Buffy: Oh. Okay, that story makes a lot more sense now.
Angel: Buffy, you know there’s still things I’m trying to figure out. There’s a lot I don’t understand. But I do know it’s important to keep fighting. I learned that from you.
Buffy: But we never…
Angel: We never win.
Buffy: Not completely.
Angel: Never will. That’s not why we fight. We do it because there’s things worth fighting for.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now. We all need to show up, stand up, speak up, and fight like a girl. So happy birthday Buffy Anne Summers. You saved the world, a lot.

very cool, but very sad

There’s a place called as the Sycamore Trail. It’s a rather grand name for about 130 acres of untended old-growth woodland tucked between the Des Moines River and a soccer pitch. The ‘trail’ is a 6.5 mile loop, a narrow dirt path for mountain biking. It’s linked to the High Trestle Trail — a paved 25 mile stretch of bike path that follows an old Union Pacific railroad line (including the old half-mile-long trestle bridge that crosses about 130 feet above the river)  — which itself is part of a 100 mile loop that connects with an even longer set of trails, which is…never mind. You get the point. Iowa has a metric buttload cycling trails.

This, believe it or not, is a bicycle trail.

The thing is, the Sycamore Trail goes through the woods. On a weekday, it’s generally deserted. On a weekday in December the only folks in the woods were my brother and I. We were out…let’s call it sylvan geocaching. That sounds so much more adventurous. I mean, sure, basically it’s just walking in the woods and using a GPS device to look for some sort of container that somebody stashed for no practical purpose at all except to give other folks a reason to go walk in the woods. But that sounds moderately ridiculous, to let’s call it sylvan geocaching.

This is not a bicycle trail.

So my brother and I, we were out sylvan geocaching, right? In the woods surrounding the Sycamore Trail on a singularly lovely day for early December. Almost 50F, sunny, not much of a breeze. Couldn’t ask for a better day to be noodling around in the woods sylvan geocaching. We didn’t stay on the trail, of course. We wandered through the flood plains, we slumped around the marshy oxbows, we pushed our way through the dry brambles, we clambered over the levee.

A levee, if you’re not familiar with the concept, is a dirt embankment intended to protect the land from flooding. This levee was about 15 feet high and anywhere from 30 to 50 yards from the river.

The levee.

Flooding is pretty common, which accounts for both the levee and the oxbows. It also accounts for all the downed trees and the odd bits of debris we sometimes see stuck up in the trees.

As we were noodling around sylvan geocaching, we noticed the outline of some sort of structure in the woods. It’s not uncommon, when you’re in the woods, to find the remains of sheds or the brick and mortar foundations of abandoned farm buildings. But it’s rare to find something that’s still standing. So of course, we went to investigate.

As we got closer, we realized it was bigger than we’d expected. Bigger and stranger.

Strange structure in the woods.

One of the reasons my brother and I go geocaching is because it takes us to places we wouldn’t ordinarily go, and we see things we wouldn’t ordinarily see. Things that are often completely unexpected. Like a 35-foot houseboat in the middle of the woods.

How did it get there? I mean, it was about a third of a mile from the river. Say 600 yards from the levee. That’s half a dozen football fields. How in the hell did it get there? We found a clue. The boat registration was still visible. It was dated 1993.

It’s called the Great Flood of 1993, but it actually began in the winter of 1992, when the American Midwest experienced heavier than usual snowfalls. The spring melt was followed by what the National Weather Service called an ‘extreme regional hydrological event’. In other words, it rained like a motherfucker — and it did it for a long time. There were persistent, repetitive storms that hovered over the Midwest. Between April 1 and August 31, the region experienced rainfalls that were 400–750% above normal.

Houseboat in the woods. Go figure.

In the end, the flood covered about 400,000 square miles over nine states. In some locations, the floodwaters stayed for nearly 200 days. Almost 55,000 people had to be evacuated; around 50 people lost their lives. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed. Seventy-five towns were completely inundated; some small towns have actually been relocated — some were just abandoned. And at some point, the flood yanked this 35-foot houseboat from its mooring and deposited it at the far western edge of what would eventually become Sycamore Trails.

An oxbow along the Sycamore Trail.

The floodwaters receded, of course. Trees grew up. Twenty-six years went by. We’ve had more floods since then, though not quite as bad. Floods that are called ‘once in a hundred year’ floods, or ‘once in 500 year floods’ take place every couple of years now.

Finding that houseboat in the middle of the woods was incredibly cool. But it’s also incredibly sad. It’s sad because of all the suffering that took place. And it’s sad because the President of the United States, despite all the science and all the evidence, says climate change is a hoax.

The good news? A decade after the Great Flood of 1993, Greta Thunberg was born. So there’s that.

cheese will be provided

— Do you really think Comrade Trump will be impeached?
— I do.
— Really?
— Really. He’s going down.
— No, I mean do you really actually believe they’ll impeach him?
— He’s totally going down. No question.
— Okay. It’s just that…
— He’s going down like the Titanic.
— Yeah, you say that, but…
— Down like Betamax.
— Like what?
— Exactly.
— So you actually believe Trump will be…
— Down like Google+
— Holy crap.
— Down like a nine pound round of Double Gloucester cheese on Cooper’s Hill.
— …
— You know…the annual cheese rolling festival and massacre?
— No idea what you’re talking about.
— C’mon, it’s the most famous cheese rolling event in the world.
— Cheese rolling. Cheese rolling? What the fuck? Cheese rolling?
— Yeah. It’s an…
Cheese? Cheese rolling?
— Every spring for the last, oh, few hundred years the good and semi-sober people of Brockworth in Gloucestershire have held a sort of contest in which they roll a cheese down Cooper’s Hill.
— That’s it?
— Well, no. People chase the cheese down the hill. The first survivor at the bottom wins.
— Wins what?
— The cheese, you idiot.
— When you say ‘survivor’…
— It’s a steep hill. People fall. And tumble and roll and break bones.
— …
— Also spectators might get whacked by the cheese as it rolls and bounces down the hill.
— Hit by a cheese?
— A nine-pound round of Double Gloucester can top out at about seventy miles per hour. Cheese like that could kill a person. These are murderous cheeses.
— You’re making this up, aren’t you.
— How dare you!
— Why would anybody chase a cheese down a hill?
— Probably some sort of ancient primitive pagan fertility thing.
— That’s ridiculous.
— Dude, they’re British.
— Oh, right. Yeah, then it makes some sense. And people really do this? And they really get hurt?
— Watch this.

— Jesus suffering fuck.
— I know, right?
— That’s insane.
— Well, there’s cheese involved. And possibly alcohol.
— …
— …
— I totally want to do this.
— Impeach Trump?
— Fuck Trump. I want to chase the cheese. When does this happen?
— May 27th, five days from today. Around noon. Cooper’s Hill, Brockworth, Gloucestershire. Cheese and medical care are provided.
— This is why England will always be a great nation.

it wasn’t bad

It wasn’t bad, the final episode of Game of Thrones. It was, as always, beautifully filmed; there were some wonderful, genuinely touching emotional moments and it provided a sort of emotional closure for most of the major characters. I can’t say enough about the acting of Peter Dinklage, particularly in the second most critical scene in the episode, and especially because that entire scene made no sense whatsoever.

It wasn’t bad. But let’s remember what Cersei told Eddard Stark in Season One:

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

It wasn’t bad, the final episode. But it tried for the middle ground. It didn’t try to win; it tried not to lose. It tried to be safe. And the result was — not bad. The result was insipid.

It wasn’t bad, but the behavior of the characters lacked internal consistency. They behaved in ways that contradicted seven earlier seasons. Let’s start with the scene I mentioned a moment ago, in which Tyrion, shackled and unkempt, addresses ‘the most powerful people in Westeros’. Remember, he was imprisoned for betraying his queen and was only spared immediate execution because she was assassinated.

Why was Tyrion addressing anybody at all? The context of the scene suggests they ordered Grey Worm to bring both Tyrion and Jon Snow to appear before those powerful people, but why was Grey Worm following their orders at all? Why did Grey Worm even allow those powerful people into what was left of the city, when they were, for all intents and purposes, beseiging the city? It makes no sense. It was clear Daenerys wanted Tyrion executed — why didn’t Grey Worm just execute him? And why, when Tyrion tells those people they should choose a king or queen, did Grey Worm support that decision? The entire scene makes no sense whatsoever.

Condemned Prisoner Decides Future of Westeros.

Tyrion tells the assembly, “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.” He then says, “Who has a better story than Bran the Broken?” It’s a good line, and Dinklage delivers it beautifully. But it makes no sense. It’s not just that Bran’s story isn’t as powerful as Arya’s story, or Sansa’s, or even Sam Tarly’s story. It’s that Bran’s story isn’t even Bran’s story. He was just there for it. Bran’s story is the story of Hodor, and Osha the wildling, and Jojen Reed and his sister Meera. Bran’s story is the story of all the people who helped him escape and kept him alive. It wasn’t his fault, but Bran was just a passive passenger in his story. To say his is the best story makes no sense.

And let’s not forget that when Bran became the Three-Eyed Raven, he apparently became at least semi-omniscient. He knows what has happened and, it seems, what will happen. He doesn’t try to influence events. Or maybe he can’t influence them; we don’t know. But it means he knew thousands would be slaughtered at Winterfell, and tens of thousands would be slaughtered in King’s Landing. He knew all those folks would suffer and die in order to create a situation in which he would be named King of the Seven Kingdoms. He knew all that and said nothing to minimize the slaughter. And despite that, none of those powerful people had a problem with him as king. It makes no sense whatsoever.

In his speech, Tyrion states, “From now on rulers will not be born, they will be chosen on this spot by the lords and ladies of Westeros to serve the realm.” Why is Tyrion, a condemned man, deciding by himself how the future rulers of Westeros will be chosen? He asks Bran, “If we choose you, will you wear the crown?” If WE choose you? Why does Tyrion have a voice in the decision? Yes, he’s presumably the head of what’s left of House Lannister, but he’s also a condemned prisoner. He not only murdered his father (and his lover, but women characters have been pretty expendable in this show), he’s betrayed two queens–his sister and Dany. These are not commendable qualities. It makes no sense whatsoever for ‘the most powerful people in Westeros’ to let him make such important decisions. The entire scene makes no sense.

Survived Joffrey, Survived Cersei, Survived Littlefinger, Survived Ramsey, Got Her Crown.

It’s not just that scene, though. Throughout the episode, several primary characters behave in ways that simply aren’t internally consistent with their character development to that point. Consider Ser Brienne (whose story is more powerful than Bran’s, by the way). The one defining characteristic of Brienne is her rigid adherence to a code of knightly honor and duty. She swore fealty to Sansa (“I will shield your back and keep your counsel, and give my life for yours if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new.”) and Sansa accepted it. But Brienne abandons her duty to Sansa and becomes King’s Guard to Bran. It makes no sense.

Sam Tarly (whose story is also more powerful than Bran’s) only wanted to read books and learn stuff. As a member of the Night Watch he was sent to Oldtown to become a maester, but absconded from the Citadel with some stolen books. Why? To travel (with Gilly and a baby) all the way back north to Castle Black in order to inform Jon Snow that he was actually the true heir to the Iron Throne. Sam also insisted Jon tell Dany who he really was. But despite his friendship with Jon Snow, despite the fact that his insistence that Jon reveal his rightful place on the throne, despite all that, in the last episode Samwell suddenly decides NOT to stand up for Jon as the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms? And, in fact, is the very first to cast his support for Bran as King? It makes no sense.

Bronn (another story more powerful than Bran’s) is a low-born, whore-mongering, duplicitous sell-sword who openly supports whoever will pay him the most. He’s given Highgarden (for betraying Cersei by not assassinating Tyrion and Jaime), the castle once belonging to House Tyrell. Okay, that makes some sense in the context of the show. But in the last episode he’s also made Master of Coin and given a seat on the Small Council? No, that makes no sense whatsoever.

Daenerys. Throughout the show, she’s been a wonderfully complex, multi-faceted character. At times utterly pragmatic, at times compassionate, always driven, always concerned about the less powerful. Until the final episode, when she inexplicably turned into a Harlequin romance character. She’d just spent a few hours riding her dragon, immolating tens of thousands of people — which I suspect is hot, dirty work. But somehow she appears relaxed, clean, her hair perfect (who dresses her and does her hair post-massacre?). The fierce woman who’d always tried to protect ordinary folks is suddenly channeling Cersei Lannister: the ordinary people don’t get to choose what’s good for them. You can make an argument that Dany deliberately chose to slaughter an entire city in order to convince the rest of the realm to stand down. That would be horrible, but internally consistent to the character. We saw her do something like that when she crucified the Masters of Meereen. But in this final episode, she decides the little people of the world shouldn’t have a choice in their lives? It makes no sense whatsoever.

A Girl Has a Ship and Heads West.

Jon Snow, born to brood. Loved two women and a dire wolf; betrayed both women for the sake of his personal notions of duty and honor. He was the most consistently inconsistent character. I was okay with that, because he seemed completely unaware he was being hypocritical. He encouraged Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis, saying the survival of the wildlings was more important than his pride. But he himself refused to bend the knee to Stannis because of his duty to the Night Watch. He also refused to bend the knee to Dany — until Cersei said she’d only support the war against the Dead if Jon Snow, as King of the North, agreed not to choose sides. Then he bent the knee to Daenerys, at the worst possible time, because of his own notions of duty and honor. His inconsistency is annoying, but completely in character.

The same is true of the other remaining Starks — Sansa and Arya. Sansa stands up for the North and demands it be an independent kingdom, and Bran agrees (an immediate display of royal nepotism that doesn’t seem to bother any of the others). Arya sets off to go someplace nobody has gone before. Those were wonderful story arcs, and they remained wonderfully consistent and in character.

Betrays Two Women, Gets Re-united with His Direwolf.

Most folks, I suspect, aren’t going to care if the final episode made sense or not. They’ll mostly either hate the ending because it wasn’t what they wanted, or they’ll love it because it was predictably bittersweet. Sure, Dany gets murdered by the man she loves and trusts, but it’s presented in a way that’s supposed to make us feel sad for poor Jon Snow.

But the Iron Throne got melted, and that was nice. Tyrion is Hand of the King for the third time, which is nice. Sam gets the maester gig at King’s Landing, also nice. Brienne gets to write Jaime’s name in a logbook and fudge his record so it doesn’t reflect how reliably awful he was, and that’s nice. Bronn can afford the best brothels, nice for him. Jon is reunited with his direwolf, very nice. And, of course, Sansa and Arya get to fulfill their dreams, which is exceedingly nice. So it’s not an unhappy ending. And did you notice, as Jon is leading the wildlings back north of the wall — a blade of grass growing through the snow. Winter, it seems, is over.

It wasn’t bad, the final episode. But it could have been much much better. And as insipid as it was, the final episode can’t diminish what was a powerful and compelling television series.

yes, it suits her

I have thoughts about Mr. Justice Kavanaugh, and Mitch McConnell, and the bloated carbuncle currently occupying the Oval Office — but I’m holding them in abeyance for a few more days. I don’t want them to corrupt the joy I feel about Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor.

I’ve written about the Dick-free Doctor Who Debate already, so I won’t repeat any of that, except to say there were people (and by ‘people’ I mean ‘men’ and by ‘men’ I mean ‘astonishingly stupid childish misogynists’) who were upset by the notion that a woman could be the Doctor. We’ve moved on from that now; it’s a reality.

In a very real way, it never mattered to me whether the Doctor was a man or a woman. I mean, I’m glad that the folks who run Doctor Who decided to cast a woman. It needed to be done, if only to demonstrate the reality that gender was never a defining aspect of the character. The Doctor didn’t have to be a ‘daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away.’ The Doctor just had to be a daft old being who stole a magic box and ran away.

Let me repeat the important bit in that last paragraph. Gender was never a defining aspect of the character. When Christopher Eccleston appeared out of nowhere and took Rose Tyler’s hand, telling her “Run!” he wasn’t being a Doctor Who for boys; he was just the Doctor. When Jodie Whittaker fell through the roof of that train, she wasn’t being a Doctor Who for girls; she was just the Doctor.

Here’s something Steven Moffat, the Doctor Who showrunner for a decade, said about the character:

Heroes are important. Heroes tell us who we want to be, but when they made this particular hero, they didn’t give him a gun, they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an X-Wing, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help, and they didn’t give him a superpower or a heat-ray, they gave him an extra heart. And that’s extraordinary.

Let me add this. They didn’t give him a penis, they gave her curiosity.

When the new Doctor Who was introduced on Sunday, the most surprising thing (to me, at any rate) was that Jodie Whittaker was immediately the Doctor. I’ve always been sort of slow to accept a new Doctor. I tend to put them on emotional probation until they’ve earned my trust — because Doctor Who may be a sort of cheesy sci-fi show on the surface, but the character of the Doctor is complex and nuanced.

“Right, this is going to be fun!”

Jodie Whittaker hit the right notes straight from the beginning. In her first scene she’s still coming to terms with the regeneration; she doesn’t know where she is, or what she’s doing there, or who she is, or even what she is, but she knows she’s there to help. That mix of confusion and certainty, peppered with the visible joy she experiences when she learns something new or remembers something from before, was convincing and totally natural. When she learned she was a woman, she treated it like a mildly interesting fact. She asks, “Does it suit me?” but she’s not hanging on the answer, because it’s simply not that important.

And yet, the fact that she’s a woman IS significant and important. Not for the character, but for the viewing audience. A woman Doctor doesn’t change the character of the Doctor, but it changes how the audience experiences the Doctor. It gives women — and more importantly, girls — a protagonist they can better identify with. A girl who wants to dress up as Doctor Who for Halloween no longer has to dress like a man. That’s a big deal.

So here’s the thing: the fact that the 13th Doctor Who is a woman is simultaneously completely unimportant and incredibly important. That’s about the most Doctor Who thing ever.

thanks

Occasionally people send me things. I’ve no idea why they do, but they do. Not often. Maybe three or four times a year. But periodically the postal carrier arrives at the door with an unexpected package.

Well, not always unexpected. I mean, usually somebody has emailed me and said something like “Dude, I have something for you — what’s your address?” And I give them my address. Why the hell not? I spent a chunk of my life as a professional invader of privacy, so I know the notion of personal privacy is pretty much an illusion. So far nobody has mailed me dog shit or anything explodey, so there’s that.

It always pleases me when these packages arrive. Sometimes, I confess, I’m a tad confused by what’s actually in the package — because sometimes the thing in the package is…well, let’s say some of the stuff is eccentric. But still, how could I not be pleased at the generosity and thoughtfulness behind the gift?

A random assortment of stuff folks have sent me.

I get photographs, of course. Lovely, interesting, beautifully printed photographs. And books (usually about photography, or about photographers, or by photographers but I’ve also received stuff like old Conan Doyle novels). I’ve a friend who, like some character out of fiction, sits in European cafes and writes beautifully (occasionally indecipherable) hand-written letters on the most sensuous paper, sometimes including an interesting business card. And occasionally there’s the eccentric stuff — shark teeth, a bent and rusty horseshoe, a bit of shale shaped like a duck’s head, an advert for gas masks, a box of Jane Austen band-aids, a ceramic ashtray. “Saw this,” people write, “thought of you.” I’m not sure quite what it means when somebody sees a key chain modeled after a Medical Examiner’s toe tag and thinks of me, but I like to think it’s somehow a compliment.

Yes, I took a selfie with a Jane Austen band-aid on my nose.

Okay, this is going to seem like a tangent, but it’s not. Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post about encountering a huge murder of crows. A couple of years ago, I was notified about a new comment on that post. It read:

Hi Greg,
I love your photos. I, too, am a huge fan of crows and ravens. We had a pet raven named Cyrano De Bergerac. He was so smart and so funny. I was wondering if I could use/buy one of your crow photos to include in a painting I want to do.
Thanks from heather

I said yes, of course. I usually say yes to this sort of thing. Besides, I’m a huge fan of crows and a huge fan of Cyrano (the Brian Hooker translation) and a huge fan of folks who can paint. So I said yes, then I promptly forgot all about it. I usually promptly forget about this sort of thing. But then in January I got an email.

Dear Greg, I responded to an early blog post about crows. I had a pet raven named Cyrano De Bergerac and I asked if I could use your photos for a painting I wanted to do. I finally got around to working on it. I am almost finished and I was wondering if you would like to have it. If so, may I have your mailing address?  Thanks from Heather

So I gave her my address. And, again, promptly forgot all about it. Then the painting arrived.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Something small, I suppose. Maybe one of those 8×10 cotton duck canvas panels. Actually, I’m not sure I had any expectations at all. I was just pleased that Heather liked a photograph, and pleased that she wanted to use it as a basis for a painting, and enormously pleased that she was generous enough to want me to have the final work. But whatever I was expecting, I can say without any hesitation that it wasn’t this. It wasn’t 34×24 inches of this:

I was gobsmacked. My gob? Totally smacked. It’s crows, of course, but it’s not just crows; it’s Aesop’s crow, the one from the fable in which a thirsty crow drops pebbles into a jug of water until the water level rises so he can drink. It’s Aesop’s clever crow channeled through Heather Vos, with a bit of mysticism tossed in, and a healthy dollop of pure crowness.

There’s a 12th century bestiary that includes an imaginary discussion between a crow and God. God, it seemed, was foolish enough to try to ignore the crow. The crow wasn’t having any of that, even from a god. The crow said,

“I, Crow, a talker, greet thee Lord. with definite speech, and if you fail to see me it is because you refuse to believe I am a bird.”

This what I love about crows, and it’s what I love second-most about this painting. Crows are clever, confident enough to talk to gods as an equal — confident enough to explain things to gods. We see that crow confidence here.

What I love most about the painting, of course, is that it exists. That it’s a physical reminder that people like Heather Vos exist. That a woman from a small town in Ontario, was thoughtful enough, generous enough, talented enough to create this painting and share it with me.

I’m a lucky guy, I recognize that. I live in a safe place, I have a warm bed in which to sleep, I haven’t had to miss a meal in years, I have friends and family. I’m generally a ridiculously happy person. On those rare occasions when I start to feel the world is cold and cruel (and there’s ample reason to feel that way these days) all I have to do is look around my desk and I’m reminded that the world is full of people who are kind and caring and altruistic and warm-hearted — and I’d go on, but I already sound too much like a Pollyanna.

But thanks — thanks to Heather and to everybody who has ever sent me anything, including their thoughts.