The Mire

The ruddy mire impressed itself upon the mind of the man as a great and reeking carcass. He stood over the bracken and the quitch, smoking languidly, the fetid smell of the swamp ranging over his senses like a titanic and pestilential wave. The sun was robed in thick and swirling clouds above which girded the infernal moor from whence it’s dazzling light was shrouded and all about below the buzzing of insects, their wings whipping through the air like needles on the brain. The man walked aways up what little land was afforded to him, the rest of the reach lost to sunken and muddy clay, covered over with pools of roiling sludge wherein the larvae of mosquitoes squirmed in hideous pirouettes. Massive snakes coiled about the reedy marsh here and there, moving with a soundless slithering and the wind was scarce and whence it came the stench of carrion followed with it. The man took a long drag of the cigarette and turned his keen green eyes to the south of the fen where the mountains obscured the passage to the hillocks of the outerlands and then east, to the misty forests, ranging up over the mire like the bristles of some great and feral boar, and then to the west, to the high-champaign, dotted over with rune-stones and mist and a curious scattering of skulls, man and animal alike, and then at the last to the north, to the long and winding and narrow pass which let out some miles up unto an elevated thoroughfare, scare-worn by the soles of those brave or mad enough to make passage to the town what lay beyond.

Somewhere off in the distance a howl broke the chthonic din, cascading off the sloping moorish hills and raising up the hairs of the traveler’s spine. His fear of the place was matched only by his loathing. It was all so very ugly. It were as it some humongous being beyond all reckoning had fallen victim to calamity arcane and the multitudinous swarms of all the earth had there found succor in the intestines and the blood of it’s gutted and expiring frame. Peering through the fern arrayed about his tattered chassis the traveler spied a dim light not far off; curiosity primed, he trammeled across the bog towards it, taking care in the placement of his mud-stained boots. The wind swept up with great agitation, throwing his cloak all to spasm. Half a mile he struggled against the peat and the savage increase of the gale and found a hollowed cairn in the middle of the mire in which lay a crackling fire and beside it, a strange and shriveled man, all wreathed in cloth; his visage, where not obscured by dressing, was riddled with pock-marks of the ague. The cachexic man waxed rale in address.

“What apparition is this that deigns to greet me upon this blessed demense?”

“No apparition, sir. I swan, but a traveler. By Miras am I known. A mechanist of Tor to the barton of Morrow come; but err’d in jaunt some ways aback and here find right castigation by this sloughy heath. Thy face, withered and wrapped withal, is most heartening, for I’ve crossbeamed this accursed fen for nearly a fortnight and passed neither man nor beast, save for insect, snake and the occasional, hapless ram.”

The traveler gestured behind him at the marshen expanse with great agitation as the cachexic man took in his measure with eyes that danced with the reflection of the open flame.

“Thy fortunes are most unhappy; Marta frowns upon you surely! To recompense, I greet thee warmly, Miras the Wayward. I am Glaedwine of Kwizling. But enough – seat thyself and rub thy weary joints about the fire. I’ve little to spare but some rain-catch, if it should please thee.”

Miras looked to a small, overturned tortoise shell which sat beside the sickly man and held up his hand in dismissal and then did as he was bade, seating himself upon a squarish stone adjacent the firekeeper who sat upon a similarly irregular rock, hands upon his knees and a smile upon his wild-bearded face. After a pace, Miras looked over the man keenly, then inquiring, “Wherefore the bandages?”

The bandaged man paused and fell into a fit. He coughed and covered his mouth with a sleeve and coughed and blood trickled red unto the fabric and coughed and spit blood and bile into the fire.

“Egad man, what malady chafes thee?”

“No illness,” the man replied upon recovering from his spasm, “but a gift. A gift from Our Dear Lady.”

“What sir? You speak in riddles.”

“Our Lady Marta. Bright-Mother. The Reaper of Woe. The Balancer of the Scales. Keep ye not the faith, wayfarer?”

Miras regarded the strange and tatterdemalion man with a visage deeply affected by both puzzlement and grave concern.

“You’re not well. To my ears there is water about the lungs. Pneumonia, perchance. It were best thee enjoin this place and make passage with me to Morrow. Before our leave-taking I could gift thee with a vial that should put the humors aright.”

“Eck! I’ll none of that sorcery. It were Marta’s will that I am as I am and so I shall be. All else is blasphemy.”

“How is it you have come to knowledge of the ineffable?”

The cachexic man turned a page in his little book and spoke with reverence.

“’Thee shall know ME by prayer in the wastes beyond the machinations of MAN. Get ye hence to solitude and study, to silence and mindfulness in the realms beyond the horse and hammer, in the demesne beyond the quill and hall, in the warrens and the lion dens, in the marsh and the mire, in the desert and the sightless wood; there shall you find ME.’ Corpus Callosum, Book I, Verse V. Her words are scrawled by mortal hands, by Callosum the Wise and Athelwyn the Stoic; so great was her love that she deigned to reveal herself to miserable creatures such as us. Her voice a soothing balm upon our listless suffering. Even her disease is a blessing, for the suffering of the flesh is nothing to the bliss of her eternal embrace; I meditated long upon the end, knowing soon that erelong I should die of this affliction, seeking to rectify my pitiful state with the love of Our Dearest Lady. But then it dawned upon my foggy brain, that all is a part of her plan; she seeks the peaceful emancipation of all, yet, long as one lives, long as one is bound to the mortal coil there can be no peace, there can be no true reprieve from suffering; not of just the flesh, but of the soul; this, in her infinite wisdom, Our Lady well knows. To correct the error of our lives she must first end them, only then can we be truly free.”

The wayfarer stroked his smooth and stubbly chin and spoke with his eyes fixed upon the wretched specimen before him.

“I mean no offense but that strikes me a philosophy most cowardly. To flee the buffets of the world into some other, why what upright man should hold himself to such lowly standards of valor? Thy philosophy is one of incontinence! A valorious man should stand proudly, proclaiming his defiance to the yawning chasm that seeks his end from the very beginning. He should defy the limitations of all the world surrounding, the better to bend it to his will. Such a desire would be, for the valorious man, born, not out of selfishness alone, but out of his grave concern for his people, his clan, his lover, the fruit of their loins and all their line stretching out and beyond the horizon of conception.”

The ralic man’s eyes widened and he rose quick as his affliction would allow, the whole of his form tense with agitation.

“You profane this sacred cairn. Get thee gone.”

Shortly after he had finished speaking the sickly man began coughing once more and doubled over, falling to a knee and bracing himself upon the squarish stone upon which he had previously sat. Miras started, his face filled with grim concern.

“Calm yourself, stress will do nothing but further exacerbate the illness.”

“Silence thy wretched tongue, heretic! Begone! Begone!”

“Thy fever worsens; erelong to fall. Thy disease is familiar to me and easy would it be to concoct a potion to cure it, if thee would but see it done.”

“I’ll none of thy magicks, sorcerer!”

With great abruptness the man, snarling, lunged fiercely at Miras who sidestepped the crazed hermit and backed out of the cairn, prescient of the infection’s contamination. Miras, after having escaped into the mire, turned full about, furrowing his brow, and issued forth a dire condemnation, his voice cold as the chill air surrounding.

“Fool. May thy accursed cairn collapse upon thee!”

Without another word the wayfarer spun upon his heel and left the mad zealot and the noisome sludge of the mire.

He paused upon a low hillock that let out to the grasslands and then looked back and down upon the cursed place from which he had left and vowed that one day he would return and drain the damnable bog, raze the forests and shutter the stars from the very sky with the smoke-stacks of a dozen factories or more.

“This place, so malformed that it distorts and poisons the body as much as the mind! Think you to take my mind like as to the abstemious, o’ heinous mire? Tis not yours for the taking! Only mine for the giving-away! But your tangled branches, your reeds and sludge, your insect-laden wastes and bone filigreed bracken; I shall snatch all away! No further minds shall you terrorize whence you’re trammeled over by a hundred-thousand cobblestones! Hear me, you rotted skein? I, Miras Vlotho, shall unmake you in my image!”

The Photographer’s Dilemma (I)

Ariadne Campbell scoffed.

“It’s… really quite dreadful. He’s talented, clearly, but it’s just so… grotesque.”

The woman’s companion, a bulky man with golden hair, dressed in a blazer that was far less expensive than it looked, folded his arms took a step away from the painting. He scanned the composition for a few moments and then returned his gaze to Campbell.

“I have to disagree with you. I think it’s lovely. No, that isn’t the right word. Striking.”

“You’re far too accommodating, Calvin; you never like to say a negative word. No spine beneath all those muscles.”

“It’s not that I am afraid to critique, it’s just in this I find nothing to critique at all. It’s magnificent, really.”

“It’s shock-drivel. I mean, rape… really?”

“Are you sure all that faulty ire isn’t just a result of Lynder Partridge getting top-slot and you getting… well, nothing.”

Some art reviewers from the local papers walked by, sizing up the massive canvas and it’s disconcerting contents. They stroked their stubbly chins and scratched out some notes and chattered amongst themselves about the latest cinematic releases and celebrity scandals.

“You seen the latest Captain Omega film?” A pudgy, balding man with a windbreaker inquired to a young, starry eyed Asain woman who stood beside him. She shook her head mane, “No. Haven’t seen them, superhero movies are rather… I don’t know I just don’t find them interesting. They’re all… it’s like the same film over and over again. There is no dramatic tension because you know the good guy will always win. You know one thing I was thinking about was how morality is handled in these films, superhero films, action films generally,” the fat man nodded blankly, he wasn’t really listening, didn’t really care, his eyes scanned the room, seeking out the all-stars from the world of the arts; there was always a scoop, if one was keen enough to but find it. The woman droned on, “So like, they’re always just like good and noble and whatever which is fine and all except that, ya know, they’re actually vigilantes. I mean, think about it, that’s what superheroes are, really. If someone dressed up in a mask and a cape and went around beating up criminals we’d all think they were crazy.”

The fat man turned to his companion with a knowing glint in his eye, “Lady, we pay good money to watch the mistresses of inner-city thugs throw tampons at each other; I think we’re all crazy.”

The woman gasped and turned to her friends to relay the horror she had just witnessed as the fat man cracked a grin and moved up stand between Campbell and Calvin, examining the elaborate drawing in between darting glances to the aloof duo.

“You’re the famous Ms. Campbell, aren’t you? The photographer, right?”

Campbell was surprised and flattered to be recognized; she tried in vain not to let it show through.

“Yes. Do we know each other?”

“Nope. But I know you know. I’m Ashton Derby,” he flashed a well-filled notepad in front of her face, “Been following your work. Pretty stuff, very pretty stuff, you’ve got a keen eye.”

“Apparently you do as well,” she smiled smugly, luxuriating in her burgeoning fame, “Are you an artist yourself?”

“No, not me. Ha, can barely draw a stick figure. I just like writing about it. I fancy that’s what the shrinks would call ‘cathartic release.’ Or voyeurism… or something like that.”

“What do you make of Partridge’s work; his drawings?”

“They’re… different. They’re kinda… I dunno… disturbing.”

Campbell turned to Calvin with triumph shinning in her eyes, “See, I told you he wasn’t all that.”

“Oh no, it isn’t that I think they’re bad, I mean, it’s like a car crash, it’s horrible but I can’t look away, that’s kind of a testament to the artist, don’t you think? Whole reason I came to this gala event was to snag an interview with the elusive Lynder Partridge, guy never answers my emails, phone calls, nothing. He’s a hermit. Ya know, I tried looking him up… weirdest thing, there are no photographs of the guy anywhere, online, in papers. Must be camera shy.”

Campbell’s heart shrunk. She was so sick and tired of hearing that name. So sick and tired of everyone praising such a rank amateur. This should have been her event. HER gala. If only… if only…

Now it was Calvin who looked victorious, he arched a brow in his friend’s direction as if to say, “Still so haughty?” Campbell crossed her arms about her breasts and bite her lip and then scoffed at the fat man.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe our collective tastes have reached such lows. Decades ago this city used to be the art capital of the world and now… THIS? This is what passes as art? This ghastly aberration?! Lynder Partridge is nothing more than an over-hyped elitist.”

Darby was taken aback and for a moment he stood in stunned silence; he’d not expected such a sudden deluge of passion. Calvin only sighed, it was not the first time he’d witnessed such an outburst. Before either of the men could respond, a new voice fluttered over the air, low and scratchy and strangely sonorous.

“I’ve been called many things, Ms. Campbell, but never ‘over-hyped’.”

All heads turned to behold a man of middling height and pale flesh standing before them. The intruder wore an off-white suit, expertly tailored, a red tie and a jet black overcoat, tipped at the collar with expensive furs and leather loafers that clattered musically upon the gala’s marbled floor as the cane that followed with them. His features were sharp and angular and his opaque blue eyes reflected the light in prismatic sparks that were diluted from the thick and serpentine whorls of smoke that roiled up from a daintily clutched cigarette – half smoked – which he held in his left and leather gloved hand.

Darby’s face lit up as he saw the man, his long-sought quarry as Campbell’s own fell in dismay. She’d not actually expected to meet the man when she’d accepted invitation as Partridge was notoriously aloof. Some who knew him reported that he was partial to month long vanishing acts; where he went was anyone’s guess.

“M-Mr. Partridge! Hello, I’m-”

“Ashton Darby. Newspaper man. Culture reporter for The New Daily Standard. I read your column,” the fat man waited in vain for the artist to comment on the quality of his writing; when he did not, the light faded from his eyes and he twirled the notepad with agitation, “And you are Ariadne Campbell, and this must be your friend,” Lynder turned to Calvin with the faintest trace of a smile and extended one of his thin, leather-gloved hands.

“Calvin Mercer, pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Partridge.”

“Likewise.”

“Do forgive my friend here, she sometimes gets a little carried away, I’m sure she didn’t mean-”

“I meant absolutely everything I said,” Ariadne snapped hotly, her gaze narrowing and her mouth going taunt. It occurred to her suddenly that this chance encounter opened up a whole world of new possibilities for her career. Perhaps, she thought, Darby would even write her up in one of his columns! If there were to be a public spat, surely someone would pick it up. One of the tabloids. One of the screamsheets. Tantalized, she steeled her resolve.

“Your art is dreadful.”

Darby nearly gasped while Calvin simply shook his head in resigned vexation; why, he thought, could she never behave herself? There always had to be a show…

Lynder’s face registered nothing. His facade as placid and impenetrable as a Venetian mask.

“You’re a photographer, are you not, Ms. Campbell?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“What I should fancy is truly cause for dread is the photographers’ dilemma; the photographer is a documentarian through and through. He does not create, he captures creation.”

“All art is documentation.”

“This is true. Art is documentation of one’s own creation, not of anothers. The photographer who does not arrange his or her own scenes, why,” Lynder finally turned towards her, it was the first time he had looked directly at Campbell since he’d entered the scene; his head level, piercing blue eyes unblinking, “She wouldn’t really even be an artist at all, but merely a voyeur, a vessel for the real actors to communicate. A medium.”

Campbell froze having noticed the gender switch – he to she – she’d heard the words but they did not instantly register in her mind. When they had sunk in she groped for a retort but there was nothing other than the rattling of the crowd like a great and baying pack of hounds echoing all throughout the hall surrounding and her own rapid cluttering thoughts which slithered up from the viscous recesses of her frantic mind. She had never considered such a position before; she knew he was wrong, of course, indeed, had to be, but she could not articulate why and in due course began to question her own conviction. I’m not… I’m not just some documentarian. I’m an artist. Just like you. Only better. Far better. You think you can talk down to me because you’re on the rise? Because you’ve got a little bit of local fame? Because you got the gala slot and not me?! I’ll show you, you arrogant bastard. I’ll show you!

Campbell made a showing of carelessness, sighing and turning from Lynder as if he bored her, though, in truth, it was to escape his gaze. Most people looked off at regular intervals when they were talking with someone but Lynder’s eyes never wavered, he was focused wholly upon her, expectant, she assumed, of a reply. She didn’t like it. Didn’t like him or his weird eyes or his fancy coat or his preened dress clothes beneath it. Didn’t like the gala and the insect clattering of the crowd.

She wanted to get out. Needed to get out.

“This conversation bores me, I’m leaving,” she thought that might do it, that that would stir some hint of passion from him, rouse some semblance of anger. But there was nothing. His cold, blue eyes and his sharp pale face remained wholly immobile, unfazed.

Momentarily, Lynder inclined his head respectfully, sincerely, “Good’day, Ms. Campbell.”

It took considerable willpower for Campbell to keep herself from running from the gala. The bastard had won, she thought to herself, and what was more infuriating was that she was fairly certain the battle was entirely constrained within the confines of her own mind. He had won today, but she vowed she’d never allow him the upper hand again.

*

 

She scanned Darby’s column as soon as it was released. There was no mention of “Ariadne Campbell.” Ariadne cursed herself; I should have made a better impression on Darby and a worser impression on HIM. I should have… I should have…

“Something on your mind, Ms. Campbell? You look worried.”

She turned to her model where he stood in the albescent loft, naked and holding a fig. Putting down the paper upon her worktable she looked up at the man and shook her head.

“It’s nothing. Hold the fig a little higher.”

“Like this?”

“Yes, good. Good.”

Only it wasn’t good. It was a stiff and cliche sub-par Renaissance-era facsimileism. It was deplorable. She looked at the digital camera reel, picture after picture of the lithe, muscular young man in various poses of heroic splendor as hackneyed and messageless as the splicing on-to of Roman columns upon a Brutalist facade. She had attempted Homeric Joe McNally and ended up as just another amateur floundering at the fathomless edges of the new. She sighed and leaned back, setting the camera down with a dull clack upon the worktable and sipped some lukewarm bourbon from a small, squat wineglass. She hadn’t been able to find any of the damned shot glasses, she wondered idly if Calvin had thieved one for his upcoming flat-party. He’d better not have…

“Ms. Campbell, I could really use a stretch, like I said before, I don’t mind posing a little over-time, and we’re,” he looked towards his mobile phone’s clock, “ten minutes over, “But I’ve been doing this pose for almost twenty minutes straight, neck is killin’ me.”

“Yeah. Sure. Fine.”

She was only half listening. Frustration’s savage increase consumed the whole of her mind. She couldn’t find her shot glasses. She couldn’t get a gala slot. She couldn’t get featured in any of the big name art columns even if she was being recognized by their writers. She still couldn’t think of rebuttal to Lynder’s rebuke and as a consequence had decided to forego her typical photographic methodology of streetcrawling for real-life scenes in favor of a elaborate and meticulously crafted designer-fantasy shot. What bothered her most was that the draftsman had not spoken out of anger, but out of concern and curiosity. His low and sonorous voice echoed still.

Art is documentation of one’s own creation, not of anothers. The photographer who does not arrange his or her own scenes, why, she wouldn’t really even be an artist at all, but merely a voyeur, a vessel for the real actor’s to communicate. A medium.

A medium… is that all I really am? A vessel? She wondered with horror, her hands closing tensely upon her sunless knees, her lips and brows trembling with emotion. The week had begun so promisingly and now everything felt wrong. Fate was taking the piss.

“What’s the matter?”

“I don’t pay you to psychoanalyze.”

The model threw up his hands in entreaty, his mouth going taunt, eye mired in confusion and a mild but growing sense of irritation.

“Yeesh. Sorry. Don’t know why you’re in such a foul mood today. I was just worried about you-”

“I don’t pay you to worry. I pay you to do good poses for my work. A task at which you have miserably failed. Look at this. It’s cartoonish,” she held up the camera reel screen for him to observe, “See. Look at this.”

“Those were poses you asked me to do.”

“Well, you didn’t do them very well, did you?” The question was rhetorical. She knew they were bad and she knew he knew they were bad. She just wanted him to suffer for it. He wasn’t an artist but he’d been around enough artists to know what was aesthetically pleasing and what was schlock. It was his fault, she thought, anger rising with her body from the couch. HIS, not mine!

“I don’t know what else you want from me.”

“I want you to leave. You’re fired.”

His eyes went wide, “What? Why?”

“Just get out.”

“An explanation for my CV would be appreciated.”

“I said get out.”

He turned to leave, hurriedly dressing and snatching his phone up from off the counter of the exposed kitchen island. He paused at the door and turned to look at his former boss with equal measures of disappointment and disdain.

“You ever wonder if you can’t get into the big galas because you aren’t talented or if its just because you’re a unbearable bitch? Food for thought. Have fun with the rest of your life.”

She was expecting an infuriated slam but he closed the door gently behind him. As his feet clattered down the old tenement hallway Ariadne moved to where he’d stood before the counter, as if to envelope his afterimage. Some indeterminable amount of time clocked away into nothing before she inhaled deeply and poured herself another shot of brew, sipping the golden drops in quick, nervous gulps, cursing her former employee in her mind. You never really cared about my work. You probably only cared about me because of money. Maybe you wanted to fuck me. Well, now I’ve fucked you. Bastard. 

Outside the cars tore at the concrete and a flock of birds she’d never seen before squealed by, as if in protest of gravity’s suzerainty. The city screamed and she screamed with it.

 

 

The Farm and the Forest (Part VII)

~7~

Spring Is Coming

Do you know of the Forest, dog?”

The battered orange tabby lay pooled in a furry puddle atop the kennel where the despondent matronly German Shepherd lay. It was still cold and snow stood heaped in mounds, cast to the side by the older worker bays who dutifully plowed the paths of the Farm, but the air had a tinge of freshness, just the tiniest hint of nascent spring. The matronly German Shepherd did not respond past an annoyed wuffle from nostrils covered by her bushy tail. Dogs hate cats, and this is well known, but the recent events had created a sort of leveling of loathing in her heart. She could no more stand the mindless bleating of sheep than she could bear the capricious honking of the derisive geese who made a point of shuffling by the kennels each day, though always at a healthy distance, to jeer at the shamed pack of dogs responsible for their past mistreatment. In truth, the animals of the Farm avoided the kennels so as not to have any of the low social status of the dogs splash onto their own coats. Short of inspection pigs and spying rats, the only visitors the dogs received of late where angry geese… and the orange tabby.

Hrm, how could you? Wed so long to this heap of buildings containing silly food with feelings. You’ve never torn through the brush at night, snapping with wild abandon at the small, fearful creatures who pray to you for mercy even as you devour their bodies. You do know you were once wolves and proud, right cur?”

Again, the matronly German Shepherd made no response.

T’chask, wolves once and proud, Lords of Death, now relegated to pens that even a Farm goose would disdain, and those foods live in the Piles and call it a kingdom.”

The orange tabby rose and stretched languidly, yawned, blinked a few times, then circled in place and returned to exactly the same position as before. The matronly German Shepherd rolled her eyes and groaned low.

I heard that pooch. I hear much. In fact, I have heard some things that may interest you, things concerning your dear old clapboard Farm… you know, the one that seeks to be rid of you and your kind?”

He was baiting her, this she knew, but she could not help herself. The confinement of the dogs had only added to the problems of the Farm. New bodies were turned out of every section of the sprawling aviary Piles each day. The goats, though swollen with pride at their upjumped station as Keepers of the Peace, were not ones for investigation, so they would play cadaver ungulaball with the bodies until they fell apart from the battery of hooves. The pigs moved about in groups with no less than three security beasts at all times. In fact, every group of animals had taken to moving in gangs for protection; a display of power. This of course led to more skirmishes which in turn meant more bodies. The dying was confined largely to the faster breeding races so overpopulation continued to be a problem. The few groups of animals that endeavored to weather these bad times with more than gang tactics had taken to remaining in their collective pens, creating insular communities that kept unwelcome beasts out under threat of force. The pigs decried this segregation as unlawful and divisive, even as they contracted with the sheep to build a wall around their pens as well as a secured thoroughfare to the big Barn for the sake of sound governance.

“Mmrrrm, Yes, I hear much. I’ll spare you the act of asking as it seems the will to speak has fled you. The horses have walled in their stable as well as a nice paddock nearby. Come spring, they plan to extend their writ to the border fence. Once the other hoofed foods realize this they will follow suit, as the pork-charlatans have already begun to do, and the land grab will begin in earnest. The geese have completed their takeover of the Piles. I have seen neither duck nor chicken in days, which is a pity. The pigs and rats are firmly ensconced in the Barn, and just last evening I happened to overhear a few rats quietly discussing what they would use the nice, white drapes from the Farmhouse windows for…”

The matronly German Shepherd, standing on two legs with her snout within chomp of the cat, spoke quietly.

If you lie I will end you.”

The cat flew at least a foot in the air and landed hissing his wrath and fear. In barely more than a mouthful of seconds he was sitting sphinx-like, his impassive demeanor barely concealing a body wound tighter than a mashed spring.

“KkssssHrm, It is good to see you have not lost all of your prowess.”

The orange tabby was more than a bit unsettled by the speed and silence of the old bitch, but it is an age old truth that to gain a cats respect, you must prove you can destroy it, and this she had done. He continued:

“Mmmrrowmr, I tell you no lies, mommy dearest; the rats have designs on the very Farmhouse you once swore to protect. I wonder if their incursion will bring the Farmer out of hiding, yes? Maybe this flagrant violation will finally make Him manifest? Or, failing that, maybe His few remaining supporters will admit that the ancient dream of the Farm is ended and take their leave, seeking the welcoming arms of instinct awoken, and return to the Forest from whence they sprung…”

And with that, he rose and stretched yet again, fanning out his claws to scrape irritatingly across the roof of the kennel, then sprung over the head of the matronly German Shepherd, caroming off the top of the kennel fence and down into the snow. The grace of the bound and bounce was completely deflated by the explosion of snow and hysterical scramble of fur and paws as the tabby tumbled headlong through the drifted snow, but the dog’s mind was elsewhere. Plans, small and simple, began to form in her head. High overhead, a hawk was soaring over the farm, waiting for its moment to strike.

When evening came, the matronly German Shepherd detailed her kin on their patrols as usual, but they detected something in the set of her spine that they had not seen of late; a resolute firmness, a sense of purpose. She sent them in doubles, as was the usual protocol, but she also dispatched all of the younger puppies as observers. She held back a daughter and son, saying in brief explanation she had need of their paws, and the nightly border walks commenced. Waiting until they were gone, she had a brief conversation with her pups, then all three set out in different directions. The matronly German Shepherd headed towards the horse stables in a roundabout way. Her daughter went towards the barn. Her son headed directly for the Porch of the Farmhouse. Upon arriving, he took up station directly in front of the door and sat at attention, his ears erect and eyes gleaming. Before too long though, the cold seemed to get to him so he curled up and was soon snoring loudly. His sister had gone to the barn and yipped politely over the new and growing wall, though she could have quite easily taken it in a single leap or even shimmied through one of the many gaping holes. She instead elected to wait patiently until a young pig with a rat astride its shoulders grudgingly made its way out.

What do you require dog? I am busy, so very busy at this moment. Some of us actually care about this Farm, you know…”

Indeed, Master Pig, and I appreciate your courtesy and forbearance. Mother humbly requests an audience, of course at your convenience and leisure. Might I inquire as to when would be a good time, rather, when she should expect to be called upon in her confinement?”

Both pig and rat were not prepared for either the request or its stately dressing, particularly from a young guard dog, and neither made any response. The young dog waited patiently, her tongue lolling as she panted vapor into the cold night air. Collecting his limited wits, the pig finally spoke.

Erm… yes… I, uh… yes, of course, a clerk pig will call on Mother, that is to say, the lead dog come noon tomorrow, assuming of course that no matter of real import arises.”

But of course, Master Pig, and thank you for your audience to this humble request.”

The young pup turned to go, but before the pig could do the same, she swung her head over her shoulder and growled low in a voice completely devoid of the previous unctuosity.

Sleep safe rat. For now.”

She loped away as the pig sputtered and the rat sat deathly still.

The matronly German Shepherd approached the horse stables, but they could now be better described as a single fortress. The wall they had constructed was high and solid, offering no holes and built with attention paid to every detail. The gate they had built could only open inward, meaning even a dead horse could hold it indefinitely against anything less than a well trained team of oxen. Behind said gate there was a soft stamping of hooves and a challenging snort.

Who goes there?”

It is I, Lord of Dogs. I wish to speak to the old workhorse.”

The Lord of Hoof is not entertaining guests, dog. Come again some other time, or not at all. In truth, the Lord is all but through entertaining anyone.”

There was a bristling militancy that the matronly German Shepherd had never experienced from a horse, and though it unsettled her to a small degree, it buttressed the purpose behind her visit in the first place. She did not turn and leave.

I hear and understand, young Master Horse, but I shall not, indeed cannot, relent. I humbly request you ask the Lord if he will see an old friend, if only for the sake of a Farm we once knew…”

This jogged something within the guard horse, and after a judicious pause he cantered off to deliver her request. When he returned, the matronly German Shepherd heard the scrape of a lifted crossbeam moments before the door swung inward, just enough for her to squeeze through. Inside the walls, she now saw that there were three horses there, all poised to stomp the life out of her. She lowered herself to her belly in deference to them, patiently waiting for their cue. One of them snorted softly, then swung her bulk towards the main stable. The dog followed close at her hocks. Inside the largest stable, the old workhorse stood flanked by two of his mares. He stared down balefully at the matronly German Shepherd, his large eyes inscrutable in the darkness.

So… it would appear… that your legs… do still work, Lady Dog.”

Indeed they do, Lord of Work, as do my ears. I apologize for intruding upon your relaxation, but a… an assertion, let’s say, has been delivered to me by a… somewhat dubious source, and I have need of… clarification.”

The matronly German Shepherd felt herself falling into the speech pattern of the old workhorse, and it reminded her of days now past wherein she and he were true Lords of a prosperous and safe farm. This stirred a deep melancholia within her, but she suppressed her emotions. She was here to get answers, not reminisce.

What is it… that you heard… my good Lady Dog?”

The matronly German Shepherd shook a few droplets of melted snow from her coat and circle sat at the hooves of the old horse.

The cat stopped by the kennel-”

The two mares whickered softly at the mention of the orange tabby. His reputation was checkered at best, being an animal that moved freely between Farm and Forest.

-and told me he had heard… things. Things too damning to ignore. Can you tell me, Lord of Work… can you tell me, is it true that the rats have invested the Farmhouse?”

The matronly German Shepherd waited for his answer. She actually held her breath to prevent an anxious whine from escaping her snout, and after a time he responded:

Who can know… the dealings of rats… though I am… certain… it does fall… well within the… bounds of the likely.”

All at once the matronly German Shepherd let out her held breath and with it a low growl so menacing that the two mares crow hopped in fright and a guard horse stuck his long nose through the entryway, laying a single eye on the scene. The old workhorse was unperturbed. The matronly German Shepherd got to her paws and shook out her shaggy fur.

Indeed. It is as I feared then. Tell me, Lord of Work, what do you plan to do? Surely we cannot let this injustice stand…”

The old workhorse stood silent for a long while be for snorting through his large nostrils.

Injustice not only stands… it scampers to and fro… with complete… abandon… on this Farm. We, the horses… have elected to… erect a wall… between what we hold… and what we loathe.”

But, but… you cannot just-”

Cannot… you say..? Pray tell me… Lady Dog… what I cannot…”

It was rare for the old workhorse to interrupt anything, and this caused fear to creep into the heart of the matronly German Shepherd. She dropped down to her belly and whined her remorse. She had not come to the horses to make more enemies.

Rise, Lady Dog… but remember your… place.”

I shall, Lord of Work, and I do apologize. It is only that much has changed, so much more than I realized. I respect your decision, and I hope you will respect mine, for it is beyond my capacity to give up. I have spent too long tucking my tail, and in so doing I have let the pigs be poisoned by the chittering of those vile rats. I beg your leave, oh Lord of Work, and may the Farmer look after you and yours.”

The old workhorse lowered his head to her level and gently lipped her ear. If she were capable of tears, a single drop for all that had passed between the two would have stained the hay beneath her paws. She turned and left the main stable and, with a burst of surprising speed, bounded off a bale of hay and vaulted the wall before the gate could be opened then disappeared into the dark and frigid night.

It is so very easy to fall asleep and so very difficult to wake again.

The Farm and the Forest (Part VI)

~6~

A New Day Dawns

The winter had been long and grueling. More than a few animals on the Farm had succumbed to the cold or shortages in rations. Others had been dragged off in the twilight hours by the ravenous animals of the Forest who always struggled in the cold months and became frantic in their search for sustenance. As if this were not bad enough, internecine violence had exploded within certain groups of animals. The geese, their ranks bolstered by the growing numbers of wild geese crowding in from the Forest, had become particularly self destructive. Most of the Forest geese fled south for the winter, but the change in the Rules inspired the craftiest, and laziest, of their number to move onto the Farm instead. Even with all of the troubles plaguing the Farm, it was still a far and away better life to live in pens, receive any kind of ration, and sleep somewhat soundly under the watchful eyes of the dogs. This influx pushed the accommodations to the breaking point, which in turn caused unrest among the geese who unleashed their angst on the neighboring chickens and ducks. Birds are quick to anger, and it never took much for violence to break out, particularly at feeding times.

One bright and bitter morning, as a service sheep was filling the feeding troughs of the birds under the less than watchful eye of a shivering, young pig, a perturbed Forest goose bullied his way to the front of the line. He was larger than any of the ducks or chickens and with hisses and honks he forced a gap that a gaggle of other geese quickly sought to exploit. The service sheep, who had never felt like he was accommodated adequately for the job with which he was tasked, elected to just dump the entire bag of morning ration in a pile and skeedaddle on to safer pastures. This caused a feathered frenzy as every bird lunged towards the fast shrinking lump of feed. The pig tasked with overseeing the fair distribution of rations squealed in dismay and remonstration, but the three flocks ignored his protestations so he beat a hasty retreat to a less violent corner of the farm for propriety’s sake. The battle began in earnest when the mound had been dispersed and trampled. The geese formed a ring around what was left of the scattered seed and used their size and ferocity to great effect, beating back the uncoordinated assaults of the chickens and ducks. Having been rebuffed, they turned on each other in an effort to capture what few morsels the geese were not defending. It was a terrifying many minutes before a brace of dogs and a horse finally quelled the riot.

The tally of casualties stood at four dead ducks, a dozen dead chickens, and more than a few hovels completely destroyed. Even after the fighting had stopped, the triumphant geese refused to give up any seed. The guard dogs were incapable of reasoning with the geese on one side and were equally unsuited to calming the wrath of the aggrieved chickens and ducks. The horse who had helped stop the violence hoofed off to find a pig, leaving the two dogs as the only level heads in the bunch. Unseen in the corner, a youngish rat crept quietly in amongst the geese. She bode her time, waiting until she found the legs of the original boisterous goose that had started the whole fracas, then bit him viciously on the webs and belly. The boisterous goose trumpeted wildly in pain and anger and proceeded to strike out at any bird within range. This caused the conflict to boil up once more, only now it was in the presence of two dogs who were already at the limit of their natural tolerance. They were trained to keep order through barks and nips, but they were evolved to rip and rend. As the battle was joined anew by the chickens and ducks, who were still ravenous from their slumber and seeking to break their fast at almost any cost, the dogs saw no recourse but to wade in and put down the riot by any means necessary.

Their work was quick and brutal. They snapped the necks of the three biggest geese and mangled a handful of both chickens and ducks. The carnage served to quell any baser motivations of greed or hunger and the three separate flocks segregated themselves in abject fear and horror, their lamentations rising louder than their battle cries. When a handful of pigs and a coterie of rats finally made it to the scene, the sight was grim. It looked as if blood mad wolves had tore into the flock of innocent and starving birds. More than a few of the pigs wretched in disgust as the rats made a show of investigating each and every corpse repeatedly, lapping at the weeping wounds and poking into the rent carcasses. No one noticed the addition of an extra rat to their number as they were all coated in the syrupy blood of the unwitting sacrifices. The death toll now stood at three geese, thirteen ducks and almost a score of chickens. The two guard pups, their muzzles covered in blood, feathers, and down, sat at attention as they were trained. The pigs could not bear to look them in the eye, being cowed by their potential violence, and were given over to frantic whispers with their rat compatriots. The matronly German Shepherd was sent for, as well as more horses. The hullabaloo had caused a crowd of Farm animals to gather and, having no background information to go on, they began to speculate wildly as to what in fact had occurred. By the time the matronly German Shepherd had arrived, the rumors of near rabid dogs going on a murderous rampage had spread to every corner of the Farm, causing hue and cry to be raised against this grave injustice perpetrated by the violent dogs against the poor, starving flocks of geese, chickens, and ducks. A council was quickly convened in front of the Big Barn.

This is bad, very bad. These two pups have violated every code and custom we hold dear on this blessed Farm. Their carnivorous evil cannot be tolerated. The pigs have decided that an example must be made. They must be executed forthwith if any semblance of law and order is to be maintained. Of course you understand that we the pigs, as peaceful and just leaders, cannot carry out this sentence, so it falls to you and your ilk to do what it appears you relish in… that being murder most foul.”

The rats did not even attempt to hide their amusement at the less than clever wordplay. The other pigs all murmured their agreement. In the distance, the geese were still trumpeting their despair. The matronly German Shepherd slumped to her belly in complete disbelief.

This… this is not the way of things. We have Rules here, and these pups deserve a fair chance to-”

A fair chance‽ As fair a chance as the poor, starving geese had when they were attacked by the greedy ducks‽ As fair a chance as all the birds had against two blood mad, wolfish mongrels hellbent on murder most foul‽”

The youngish rat, now clean from the blood that had coated her snout to tail, stood on two paws with her tail keeping her propped up as she excoriated the matronly German Shepherd with her shrill rhetorical inquiries. The pigs murmured their assent to this sentiment, and the matronly German Shepherd could do nothing more than pant and whine in frustration and confusion. She had been overwhelmed by events and her iron allegiance to tradition and hierarchy left her ill equipped to handle the overwhelming sorrow that had overtaken her simple mind. She was left to act on her instincts, and chief among them was her instinct to obey. So she rose to her paws and lowered her head in supplication.

I… I will do as I am commanded. If the Rules say that murder is required, then murder I shall provide.”

She bowed her head again, and with a yip she loped away to the kennel where the two guard pups were being detained by their kin. As they matronly German Shepherd approached, the rest of the dogs rose at the ready.

What shall it be mother? Who shall be held responsible for those damnable geese and their wanton ways?”

We… we are… we are ordered to execute the Farmer’s justice, and we shall do as we are commanded to…”

They assembled dogs barked and bounded in elation, for it is always a dog’s greatest pleasure to follow a command for the good of the pack.

What then, dearest mother? How best can we obey?”

The matronly German Shepherd could only gaze into the unfeeling depths of the cold and distant Forest as she issued her command:

Fall upon your brothers and wring their necks until they are dead. Do it now and make no delay.”

And in the way of their kind, the pack did as they were ordered. The two guard pups keened in despair and rolled belly up in submission which only served to hasten their demise. When the grim deed was done, the matronly German Shepherd and one of her sons grabbed the corpses by the scruff and dragged them to the front of the Big Barn. The pigs and rats were waiting there, as well as a large crowd of other animals, both Farm and Forest. When the bodies were cast down before them, a cry of joy and righteous indignation rose up from the assembled. In unison, the pigs and rats intoned:

Justice has been done.”

The two dogs began to slink away, but they were halted by a command from one of the younger pigs.

Halt! Stand fast and accept the wise and just judgment of the leaders of this Farm.”

The matronly German Shepherd turned and sat, and her son rolled onto his back, belly exposed and tongue lolling.

Forthwith, the dogs of this Farm will no longer be the keepers of the peace. In their stead, the horses and goats shall keep the peace. The dogs are to stay in their kennels for the safety of the Farm. The dogs are to sit in quiet contemplation of their murderous inclinations. Perhaps in time they will seek to progress to a higher level of peaceful coexistence. Begone, curs, and see that you obey or there will be greater and more grievous sanction rendered. Of course, it is still the responsibility of the dogs to defend the borders of our great and good Farm, but they must do so in accordance with the reformed Rules. As such, they may only patrol at night. And they must avoid, at all costs, any temptation to bring harm to peace loving animals, whither they hail from Farm or Forest. Go now, and do not disobey. Flee!”

As ordered, the two dogs fled, their tails between their legs. After their exit, the pigs waited for the hubbub to die down, then ordered the rest of the animals back to their quarters. When only the pigs and rats remained, a secret council was instated. The pigs discussed the particulars of how the running of the Farm would continue with the dogs absent from the bulk of their traditional duties. The rats listened in silence, twitching their whiskers.

This is terrible, simply terrible. Slavish brutes though they be, the dogs did serve an important purpose in the running of this Farm. Who now will protect the peace should honest and understandable disagreements arise?”

Why, the horses will have to finally pull their weight around here. Yes, and the goats too. Why, a goat can be a fearsome beast. I mean, they do have horns after all.”

Indeed. The goats and horses, then, shall be tasked with keeping our great and good Farm safe and civil. Of course, if we have need of them, it is certain the dogs will come when called. They always do.”

The pigs continued back and forth like this for quite some time. The rats listened intently but made no statements, least ways not to any of the pigs. In quiet whispers to each other, they made note of the proceedings. Occasionally, one or two would slink off on some task even as others appeared with whispered news of this or that. In the midst of it all, the big fat rat sat stone still, the youngish rat at his side, slowly preening her whiskers in silence. After much bombastic discourse, the pigs found their way to a conclusion and declared the secret council adjourned. They went on about their day, each to his own little fiefdom, leaving the rats to their own council. They gathered in a close circle around the big fat rat, awaiting his guidance. The youngish rat held her station it his side.

My sibling-children, the great work set before us would be daunting to a humbler and less canny race than we. Our deep history of wandering and injustice at the hands of mongrel mutts is coming to an end. A brave, new world awaits all animals of the Farm. Though we have accomplished so much, this is only the beginning. Evil forces hide within the midst of this Farm, biding their time, waiting to strike a blow against peace and equality. We must remain steadfast and resilient, for change does not come naturally to the simple races. It is our solemn duty to carry these poor, ignorant creatures into the light of a new day. You know what must be done. Go now, and continue the good work that has been started.”

To a rat they scattered to the four corners of the Farm, but the big fat rat remained, stock still like the statue of a rodent from ages past. He slowly cast his glance about him, taking in all he could see. A dark greed welled up inside him, making his beady eyes flash red. He bared his sizable teeth and spoke quietly to the youngish rat, still loyally at his side.

The farm is ours to lose, daughter. See that we do not.”

It has been said that for evil to triumph, the good need only remain idle. In truth, all the evil need are a few of the good to blindly obey.

 

The Farm and the Forest (Part V)

~5~

Things Begin to Unravel

In the days following the meeting, an air of hopefulness and possibility pervaded the Farm. All of the animals took to their chores with gusto, even the Farm birds. Harvest was approaching and all of the best crops were ripening. The silo would soon be filled and the reserve stores thereafter. The horses had not been pleased with the outcome, but their loyalty was to the Farm, so they lowered their heads and worked harder than ever to make good on the promise of more rations for all. Everything did seem to be getting better. But the misgivings in the heart of the matronly German Shepherd did not dissipate. She pushed the youngest pups even harder to learn the Rules and maintain constant vigilance in protecting the boundaries and upholding the laws.

So when the elation wore off, the problems that began to crop up centered around the actions of the dogs. The geese were the first to shirk their duties. With the predicted surplus came a general lazy attitude which was exacerbated by the new Forrest geese who were never fond of any kind of work that did not seem to directly benefit themselves, and even that grudgingly. Things were made worse when two of the new Forest geese were mauled by a zealous young pup. They were not a part of the first wave of new members, and were caught breaking into one of the surplus sheds. One died immediately, and the other a day or so later. The geese and chickens raised a clamor, calling for the young pup’s hide, or at least a shredding of his ears so that he would carry with him the rest of his days the punishment of his reckless and bigoted violence. In the end, the pigs could not risk offending the dogs, but the pup was publicly shamed and new restrictions were placed on all of the dogs. The pigs put it to a vote and henceforth all dogs were under strict instructions to capture any offending animals, be they Farm or Forest, with as little violence as possible, under pain of public humiliation and a revocation of status as defenders of the farm.

And this is when the problems began to pile up in earnest. The geese now felt entitled to wander whenever and wherever they wanted. The dogs, afraid of earning the displeasure of the pigs, did little to stop them. This in turn signaled to the other Farm animals that they too could decide their own hours of work and play. As the numbers of animals milling about at all hours increased, so to did the incidences of brave foxes and brazen coyotes snatching away the young and slow of wit. Again, hue and cry was raised against the dogs for falling down in their responsibilities. The Farm animals demanded better strategies for combating these gruesome raids but would not hear of any limitation on their freedoms. The dogs redoubled their efforts, increasing patrols at night which began to take a toll on their stamina and morale.

The next major incident was when a group of geese comprised of both Farm and Forest birds stomped a number of ducklings to death for encroaching on their space. The matronly German Shepherd demanded blood for this crime, but the pigs were afraid of instigating more violence towards the ducks, so the whole thing was covered up with a story about a dreadful mistake and a light remonstration of the ducks for the lackadaisical management of their young. The geese grew ever more rebellious and haughty and demanded a new pen be set up specifically for them as just recompense for their historic suffering. This required a great amount of effort and supplies so the other animals rejected the proposition. Not to be deterred, the geese went on strike, trumpeting about housing injustice day and night. They even went as far as smashing their own eggs in protest. To quell the rebellion, the pigs ordered the pens be built. As they were quite obviously the victims, the geese were excused from the labor and the work fell largely to the ducks and chickens. Neither of these two cohorts were very capable at craftsmanship, so a mishmash of poorly thought out structures blossomed like toadstools in the avian section of the Farm. This was bemoaned by the geese, but they refused to participate in the construction in any meaningful way, and so the new pens were built, though in truth they would be more accurately described as Piles.

Late one day in autumn, a violent thunderstorm blew in and wrecked one of the reserve sheds. The morning after found precious food scattered hither and yon with geese, chickens, sheep, and cows gorging themselves sick until they were run off by the dogs. This of course caused more protests, and what should have been a few days work stretched over weeks with much time and food lost. Skirmishes between the geese and other Farm animals became a regular occurrence. The sheep began to break into sheds for more food. Even with the increased rations, they complained that they were not given enough, at least not as much as the goats and cows were getting, so the pigs decided to bolster the rations for everyone yet again. This did little to tamp down the ever increasing theft of food and the dogs could do little to stop it. It also began to eat into the reserves so laboriously gathered for the coming lifeless cold months.

When the Fall Due was posted, the geese flat out refused to render their portion. Led by the ever increasing numbers of Forest birds, they demanded the right to abstain, saying that it was cruel and unfair to give up a portion of their eggs and old to a Farmer that did nothing for them. Urged on by the whispering of the rats, they began to openly question the existence of a Farmer at all. A rumor propagated that the dogs had made up the legend of the Farmer in a plot to get extra, undeserved vittles. The other animals were of the opinion that if the geese did not have to pay their Due, then why should they? The dogs and horses refused to budge on the matter, and in the end the geese were forced to render, but they did not do so readily. In the night, many eggs were crushed and pails of milk overturned. A few of the older birds even drowned themselves in the Pond rather than wait on the porch for the Farmer to come in the night.

The weather began to turn and the nights grew colder. What should have been a winter of plenty was fast becoming a season of want. Raids on the grain stocks increased as did the skirmishes between the different groups of animals. Night time wandering ceased but only because of the cold and the chances of being dragged off by a predator was higher than even the stolid work horse could remember. The dogs did their best, but there were not enough of them and the new rules hampered their ability to enact common sense safety measures so long taken for granted. When the snow began to fall, it was on a desperate and sullen Farm. Young animals died in their pens and sheds, their carcasses left preserved where they were dragged until starving foxes and coyotes spirited them away under the cover of night. Even on the brightest days of winter, a darkness had settled on the Farm and with it, a deeply seeded foreboding of that which may be yet to come.

It takes no more than a few well pushed pebbles to cause a landslide on any mountain.

The Farm and The Forest (Part IV)

~4~

The Momentous Meeting

The day of the Meeting was heralded by clouds on the horizon with hazy sunlight filtering through. The young farm goose was nervous but confident. He may be asked questions, and he wanted to do his best. He was desperate to be noticed and respected. The geese were assembled in front of the big barn before any of the other Farm animals, rowdily honking and flapping with the chickens round their periphery, squawking and pecking in support. The ducks were there as well, but a sullen silence pervaded their little flock. They were uneasy with the thought of more waterfowl using the pond; the geese were bad enough as things were and if the geese’s motion carried the day, they saw no good coming of it.

On their way to the Meeting, the leaders of the dogs and the horses gathered for a moment behind one of the many sheds on the Farm. It was clear that the horses were nervous, and the dogs’ hackles were on the edge of floofed. The matronly German Shepherd and the stolid Workhorse conferred with each other while their respective lieutenants kept watch.

I see… nothing good… coming of this Meeting, Lady Dog. These geese… have forgotten their… station. I know not the… laws, nor is it a horse’s place to… but I do know that… for the Farm to work… as it should… the order of the animals must be… unquestioned. Do you… agree?”

His plodding conversational style was aggravating to most dogs, but the matronly German Shepherd was well aware of the wisdom trapped within those pauses.

I agree, Lord of Work. We all have a purpose, and our place is defined by that purpose. We dogs guard the Farm, the horses grow the Farm, and the geese are supposed to support the Farm. This new goose… he brings dissension and discord to the fowl. Maybe it is time for the dogs to stand up and be heard.”

The stolid workhorse considered her words, and after a long silence nodded slowly, twitching his ears in discomfiture.

You may be right… but I… shudder at the… thought… of such a… breach of precedent…”

The dog felt uncertain, for she too was nervous about breaking protocol.

Yes, I feel the same, but we are living in strange times. Let us be wise and measured, Master Horse, as is our way since time immemorial. Let us go before there is gossip, of which I am sure the rats would have nothing to do with.”

The stolid workhorse whickered his amusement, though he did cast his long and slow glance about him as he walked off with his mares. The matronly German Shepherd whined to her two pups and began trotting to the meeting. Underneath the shed, the youngish rat sat cleaning her whiskers.

Gossip indeed. Clever girl.”

All the animals of the Farm were arrayed in the clearing in front of the big barn. The cows, sheep, and goats milled about together on the fringes, bored and disinterested with the humdrum of these meetings. The horses stood together in stoic silence. The dogs held station on the edges of the crowd, with a line of their most formidable in front of the speaking spot. Up front and dead center were the flocks of geese, chickens and the contingent of reluctant ducks. The rabbits and mice were absent, but they almost never showed up for anything, enjoying instead the pleasure of the company of their kin in shadowy corners. With a firm nudge to the door and an officious grunt, the oldest of the pigs led his kin out of the big barn and into the clearing in front of the assembled animals, with the rats scurrying around their hooves. Once the pigs and rats were settled, the oldest pig perfunctorily invoked the goodwill of the Farmer before giving the floor to the younger pig that had convened the council. He snuffled briefly, hoofed at the dirt, and then raised his snout and addressed the animals, quoting the speech of the young farm goose nearly word for word, though he injected heaps of purple prose and grandiose description. He made reference to heroes of old and notable catastrophes overcome. Then he spoke of the happy days grazing just beyond the next pasture. But after the glowing terms about their shared bright future, he led them down a mental path of slow decay and sadness. He warned them of clinging to outdated traditions and blind faith in a Farmer no one ever really saw. This definitely unsettled many of the animals, and the pig sped up his pace. He finally reached the climax of his speech by imploring the animals to save the future for all of their progeny by ushering in a new era of openness, a spirit of welcoming, and of course, bigger food rations for all. When he finished, the geese nearly did themselves in with cheering. The chickens ran around mad with elation and, sensing a real danger in not agreeing, the ducks pretended to be equally happy, indeed, they strove to be the loudest and most elated. The sheep and goats bleated with excitement, as they were very easy to inspire if promised more rations. The cows lowed their approval just to get in on the fun. The pigs raised cheers of adulation and cries for promotion, causing the young pig to blush and puff out his chest, strutting back and forth with pride. The rats feigned polite indifference, but could not keep themselves from twitching their whiskers and playfully nipping each other’s shoulders with glee. Only the dogs and horses were silent.

The votes were cast and collected by the pigs, overseen as always by the rats. It was a scant few minutes before the verdict was announced. Even with the unprecedented dog vote, the decision to begin introducing animals from the Forest carried the day. Almost as if by magic, five new Forest geese were in the midst of the flock of birds, bugling their delight and strutting about with brazen braggadocio. By the time the sun set that day, the total of new arrivals stood at a score of various types of wild geese, a dozen or so rats, two wild hogs, and an indeterminate number of field mice. The ominous hooting of the requisite owls was lost in the din, and not even the dogs spotted the legion of glowing eyes silently surveying the boisterous festivities. The diverse array of creatures on the Farm stayed up late into the night, celebrating their victory over the forces of old and praising the inevitable greatness just around the corner. The horses elected to sleep as a herd in the field tonight, forgoing their usual haunt of the safe and dry stable. A congress was held, but what was decided was unknown, for the only rat that dared get close was smashed into bits, his carcass ground to nothingness in the dirt. The dogs maintained their vigil, but neither partook in nor interrupted the revelry. The matronly German Shepherd walked to the edge of the pond and listened to the cacophony echoing across the pasture. Her heart was broken. She could not help but feel that under her watch, a great evil had been given shelter on the Farm

In the dark, down by the gate, and far from the eyes and ears of any animal, a lone figure on two legs leaned over the fence and took the whole affair in. The Farmer was watching.

Well placed words can lead a crowd in any direction.

 

The Farm and the Forest (Part III)

~3~

All Seems Calm Before a Storm

And so it was that the crotchety wild goose came to be a member of the Farm. The biggest of the farm geese fell all over themselves to earn the favor of the exotic foreigner, retrieving his grain for him and expanding his place in the pen to accommodate his size. Wherever the new goose went, he was followed by a honking crowd of admirers. At the tail of this feathery train, the young farm goose plodded along sadly. It appeared he had been forgotten by his new friend. Whenever he tried to approach the new goose, his bigger brothers would hiss and flap their wings, eager to protect the peace of their new leader as well as their accorded place, and he would retreat to his small spot in the rear of the pen, sinking ever further into angst and self pity. It was not long after his acceptance onto the Farm the crotchety goose began to circulate the notion that his gaggle should be allowed in as well.

Like me, they are big and smart. Like me, they have much to give to the farm geese community, a community long deprived of well deserved consideration. What is more, they are my family. It is cruel and unusual to separate families from each other for any reason. Why, just the other day, one of my dear cousins was dragged off and slain by a fox! A fox, I tell you, which is practically an evil dog! It is more than fair, it is owed my kin! And so I say we should let them in!”

Very soon, all of the geese and chickens were in agreement, though the ducks were quiet on the matter, and tended to stay clumped at the back of the crowd during these meetings. Ducks fear conflict and loud noises. But they were concerned about their place in the pecking order; farm geese were bad enough, but wild geese were even bigger and decidedly louder. The other farm birds paid them no mind. They blustered and bawked and made a fuss. They hemmed and hawed about convening a council and making themselves heard. But bird folk are long on words and short on deeds. As flock creatures they are wary of leaving the pack and standing alone. No one goose or chicken was willing to approach the dogs and demand a meeting with the pigs. Sensing a dissipation of emotion, the crotchety goose became agitated and insolent, hissing and snapping at the farm geese who followed him, which in turn caused them to snip and snap at each other.

One late afternoon, just before bed time, the crotchety goose was down by the pond, pecking at water bugs and feeling sorry for himself.

There is a solution, Mr. Goose, and it is right under your beak…”

The crotchety goose flapped and trumpeted in alarm.

Who said that‽ Who is there‽ Leave me be or I will call the dogs! I’m a member of this Farm, you know!”

A youngish rat crept out of the long grass, surveyed the sky for prey birds and twitched her ears, listening for the plodding pant of a dog. Convinced of her safety, at least for the moment, the rat continued on.

You need a spokesbird, a messenger, to approach the dogs and pigs. We rats are your best friends on the farm. Indeed, it is we that secured your place here.”

The goose lowered his head to eye level with the crafty rodent.

Then why don’t you approach the pigs and dogs, friend rat, and make the cries of the often ignored geese heard?”

The rat, now standing on two legs to seem taller, gathered her scaly tail betwixt her claws and laughed nervously.

Would that I could! And if I could I certainly would! And though I should it’s understood that dogs hate rats because rats are good. So even though a good rat would, a good rat knows she never should!”

The goose was thoroughly confused by this torrent of word and rhyme. The rat, comfortably back in control of the conversation, continued:

Which is to say, this message must come from a goose. And I think, if you’ll think back, that there is, in fact, a perfect goose to carry this message to the pigs. Why, it is none other than the young goose who first helped you in…”

Who‽ Which goose‽ I am here because I am big and smart! I made a place for myself here! I owe no little farm goose any respect or, or, or anything! I owe no animal a thing! I deserve to be here!”

The rat smiled kindly, though her whiskers made a derisive twitch.

But of course, of course, magnificent Mr. Goose. Pay it no mind. I shall find a spokesgoose to carry the message of your kind.”

And with a twitch and flash, the rat was gone. Twilight was fast approaching, and the crotchety goose loathed the admonitions of the guard dogs, so he waddled his way back to his little throne in the goose pen.

Later that night, the rat crept into the goose pen, down the rows of snoozing birds, to the corner where the nearly forgotten young farm goose was trying to fall asleep. He was sad and sore, as no one paid him any mind and he could not find enough fresh straw for his bed. The rat watched him for a bit, then whispered softly into his ear hole.

Eloquent, courageous, young master goose. The time has come to carry the truth. The time is here for you to share the worries and concerns of your people fair. Approach the good king master goose, and offer your support to his just truth. Volunteer to speak to the pigs on behalf of him and all of the geese. Do this and you shall be elevated above all the other farm geese. This. I. swear.”

And with his message sown in the brain of the half drowsed goose, she crept away soft and silent, back to the haunt of her kind.

Morning came clear and bright. The young farm goose awoke, more refreshed than he had felt in days. He had dreamed dreams of grandeur and acclaim, with his very own train of adoring geese following him with love in their hearts and respect in their eyes. The young farm goose roosted a plan in his little bird brain. He knew that the crotchety goose was always late to rise and slow to get his own chores done. He tended to wait for a farm goose to offer to do them for him, and the young goose eschewed his own tasks to be the first in that line. The crotchety goose grunted in half-hearted appreciation at the offer of the young farm goose and promptly went back to sleep. As soon as the young farm goose was done with the extra chores, he went back to the crotchety goose who was circling around a coterie of young lady farm geese, complimenting their feathers. The young farm goose waited until his cousins scuttled off with fits of embarrassed giggles, then approached the prospective king of his kind.

Great and wise goose, I wish to volunteer my beak for our cause! I will carry your wise message to the pigs so that our people may take our rightful place on the Farm!”

The crotchety goose looked down with barely concealed bemusement upon the young farm goose for a moment, then dismissively assented to his request.

I don’t see why not. My ideas are so brilliant that it does not matter if some ignorant farm goose babbles them out to the pigs. The deeper wisdom will shine through. I therefore choose you, no, I command you to bring my message!”

The young farm goose was overjoyed at this fresh opportunity to impress the crotchety goose and raise his stature in the flock. After hastily finishing his own chores, he nervously approached a patrolling dog and requested an audience with the pigs. It was granted to him, and the following day he came before one of the council pigs. As the young farm goose stumbled his way through his memorized speech, the youngish rat whispered deviously into the pigs ear. The pig nodded slowly then interrupted the young farm goose.

Yes, yes, well said young master goose. I have heard enough to become intimately acquainted with the plight of the Forest geese. Indeed, it is a story I know well, and it breaks my heart. I shall convene a council and carry your message to the animals of the Farm. You are a credit to your kind.”

With that, the young pig turned away, followed by the youngish rat who continued to drip honeyed words into his ear.

And so it was that the most momentous meeting of the animals of the Farm was set into motion by a crafty rat, a naive goose, and a misguided pig.

An opportunity for good is an opportunity for evil, and intentions rarely matter.

The Citta Nuova and the Architecture of War

“Let us overturn monuments, pavements, arcades and flights of steps; let us sink the streets and squares; let us raise the level of the city.”

-Antonio Sant’Elia,  Futurist Manifesto of Architecture.


“I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms.”

-Lebbeus Woods, War and Architecture.


Whilst the name of Antonio Sant’Elia is not widely known, anyone who has ever seen Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), or Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (1982) has beheld the striking power of his legacy as his imposing and gargantuan, yet highly plausible, architectural drawings inspired the architecturally dense worlds of both films. Elia’s most well known works all come from his Citta Nuova (New City) series which the American experimental architect Lebbeus Woods described as, “perhaps, the most famous and influential [drawings] of the early 20th century.”

se-2b
Antonio Sant’Elia, Air and train station with funicular cableways on three road levels from La Città Nuova, 1914.

Lebbeus Woods is well positioned to critique and build upon the works of Sant’Elia, as he, more than nearly any other contemporary artist, embraced and carried forth the brilliant flame of Futurism which Marinetti first kindled in Italy in 1909 with his incendiary manifesto and which Sant’Elia further crystallized with his astounding architectural drawings and conceptual writings which brim to overflowing with the steel of mind and the light of purpose. Whilst, like most modern men, Woods certainly was not nearly so sanguine about the prospects of war as the Futurists (who glorified it as the hygiene of the world), he certainly understood its nature well, having dedicated many works to the torturous Siege of Sarajevo – the single longest concentrated attack on a capital city in modern history – which Woods witnessed first-hand. In 2011, Woods wrote of the conflict:

For anyone who saw the burning twin towers in Sarajevo, in the summer of 1992, which were attacked by terrorists bent on undermining the morale of the people of that cosmopolitan city, the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, nine years later, with the same goals in mind, came as no great surprise. The fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War had produced a new type of global struggle based not on vast armies clashing in the field, but on small-scale insurgencies attacking the centers of their enemies’ power, disrupting them, and thereby undermining their self-confidence and ability to dominate others. This new type of warfare was called terrorism. Its main weapon is creating fear in the enemy, both government and ordinary citizens, leading not to armistices, treaties, and other official instruments of reconciliation between legally recognized states, but to de facto victories, in which the insurgents hope to win economic or political concessions that strengthen them in their own domain or globally, in the sense that they are ever more feared and hence ever more powerful and influential.

One significant new feature of this new type of conflict is that opposing sides are not drawn along socio-political lines—one communist and one capitalist—as in the Cold War rivalry between two superpowers, but rather along religious ones. This is a throwback to the Middle Ages, and not Modern at all, except in terms of weaponry and techniques of command and control. The conflict now is primarily between Christians and Muslims. The attack on Sarajevo was carried out by a Christian insurgency against a Muslim majority. The attack on the World Trade Center in New York was carried out by a Muslim insurgency against a Christian majority. Both had the goal of degrading a way of life. Both attacks were attacks on the idea of the city itself.”

Woods’ sensitivity to the times, the city and to the cultural zeitgeists which shape it, is a attribution which he closely shared with Sant’Elia who in his Futurist Manifesto of Architecture, wrote:

“No architecture has existed since 1700. A moronic mixture of the most various stylistic elements used to mask the skeletons of modern houses is called modern architecture. The new beauty of cement and iron are profaned by the superimposition of motley decorative incrustations that cannot be justified either by constructive necessity or by our (modern) taste, and whose origins are in Egyptian, Indian or Byzantine antiquity and in that idiotic flowering of stupidity and impotence that took the name of neoclassicism.

These architectonic prostitutions are welcomed in Italy, and rapacious alien ineptitude is passed off as talented invention and as extremely up-to-date architecture. Young Italian architects (those who borrow originality from clandestine and compulsive devouring of art journals) flaunt their talents in the new quarters of our towns, where a hilarious salad of little ogival columns, seventeenth-century foliation, Gothic pointed arches, Egyptian pilasters, rococo scrolls, fifteenth-century cherubs, swollen caryatids, take the place of style in all seriousness, and presumptuously put on monumental airs. The kaleidoscopic appearance and reappearance of forms, the multiplying of machinery, the daily increasing needs imposed by the speed of communications, by the concentration of population, by hygiene, and by a hundred other phenomena of modern life, never cause these self-styled renovators of architecture a moment’s perplexity or hesitation. They persevere obstinately with the rules of Vitruvius, Vignola and Sansovino plus gleanings from any published scrap of information on German architecture that happens to be at hand. Using these, they continue to stamp the image of imbecility on our cities, our cities which should be the immediate and faithful projection of ourselves.”

How sharp and true do his words ring today! And, likely, well shall they ring unto the future. Both Sant’Elia and Woods share in their ruminations on architecture a delicate sensitivity to time and place, to the nature of the city and its shaping by the forces of a hundred thousand different traditions all vying for dominion (and nearly all ignorant or uncaring about meeting the needs of the evolution of human civilization). Sant’Elia, like all of his Futurist brethern, rejected these traditions as a supreme giving-in to decrepitude and decay, and instead opts to turn The City into a majestic symbolic representation of a “projection of ourselves as we are.” Reification of the present without delay! Woods doesn’t entirely agree (nor entirely disagree) as he writes in his piece War and Architecture,

“In going over what I wrote about this work [on Sarajevo] at the time—in 1993—I find it inadequate in its explanation of what inspired the designs, drawings, and models and what I hoped to achieve by making them. No wonder, I say in hindsight, that they were accused of “aestheticizing violence,” and merely being exploitative of a tragic human condition. I failed to put the work in the broader human context that it needed to be understood as proposals for architecture serving rational and needed purposes. I hope to correct—to the extent I can here—this failure.”

Woods is here throwing up a, “I would never aestheticize violence!” as if that were somehow criminal. We should hastily remark that aestheticizing violence is just as laudable (and potentially deplorable) as aestheticizing any other domain of significant human activity. Nevertheless, Woods, in a slightly less politicized context, writes of war:

Architecture and war are not incompatible. Architecture is war. War is architecture. I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms. I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home, no family, no doctrine, no firm place to call my own, no known beginning or end, no “sacred and primordial site.” I declare war on all icons and finalities, on all histories that would chain me with my own falseness, my own pitiful fears. I know only moments, and lifetimes that are as moments, and forms that appear with infinite strength, then “melt into air.” I am an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody, a silhouette against the darkening sky. I cannot know your name. Nor you can know mine. Tomorrow, we begin together the construction of a city.”

Such vivacity, why Marinetti or Sant’Elia could well have written those words themselves and should surely laud them were they able! One sees here the convergence most starkley between Sant’Elia and Woods, the city is new because the city, to be a proper and well fitted city must always be new. Perfection is anathema for perfection is stagnation and stagnation is death. Thus they war with time and space itself, eternally, in, as Aaron Traywick once said, “The Endless Game.”

THE FARM AND THE FOREST (PART II)

~2~

Discussing the Way Forward

Now see here, dog. I know very well the Rules of the Farm. What is more, I know why we have these rules. But this is the modern age, and in these times we must consider carefully this issue before us, no matter how strange it may seem.”

After the officious pig finished, the young hound lowered his head and went back to his station with the other dogs standing guard in front of the animals assembled in the clearing before the big barn.

Now, young master goose, tell me again why you believe this foreigner should be welcomed into our midst…”

A rat crouched quietly next to the pig, idly preening her wiry whiskers.

Mr. P-p-pig, I just think that if maybe we had an exotic goose of his stature and smarts it would only improve the lot of the Farm geese. We are smart and strong, but he is smarter and stronger!”

The assembled animals talked with their kin in low murmurs. At these meetings there was a natural segregation of the farm animals; like stood with like. The geese raised a clatter of support with much honking and flapping. Cries of “Bigger!”, “Exotic!”, and, “More smarterer!” rang out from their assembled flock.

Calm and silence will be had! Settle yourselves, animals of the Farm.”

The matronly German Shepherd slowly swung her snout back and forth after speaking, surveying the assembled animals, her low and steady growl paring the susurrus to silence. She had deep misgivings about this whole affair, and her heart of hearts urged her to quell this silliness immediately, maybe even going as far as wringing the neck of the big foreigner until he was dead, if she could catch him. But she knew her station and respected the law. When order was restored, show bowed her head in respect to the pig, who continued:

Young master goose, have you any more to say?”

The pig was stern, but there was no malice in his grunt. The young goose lowered his head, signaling that he had said his portion.

Very well. Go about your day, animals of this great and good Farm. We of the leadership shall deliberate for a time, then we will reconvene later. Go on then. Young pups, escort everyone back to their rightful places, please.”

The younger dogs sprang into action, yipping as they nudged the animals away from the clearing in front of the big barn. Soon, the only farm animals left were the chief three of the pigs, the dogs, the horses, and the rats.

I think… we should move to… The Porch.”

The workhorse was by far the largest creature on the Farm. His word carried immense weight, not only because of his labor, but because he was a wizened old hoof and had seen many years on the land. Nonetheless, this suggestion caused a small stir.

Would that be… acceptable to you… dog of the Farm?”

The matronly German Shepherd had a primal fear of a creature so large, but she was smart enough to bury that emotion.

Yes, oh lord of labor. I think the Porch is exactly where we should go. This is a matter of the greatest import. The all seeing eyes of the Farmer will be a blessing on this process.”

The rats rolled their eyes at the invocation of the Farmer, and one of the pigs went as far as to make a ill suppressed snort, but they all trooped over to the L shaped plank board porch and took their places. The horses stood nearby, idly cropping the tender shoots of shadow grass growing around the Porch. The rats made to creep up to the windowsill, but after a low growl from one of the dogs, they changed their course and gathered together on an old end table and preened each other’s fur, casting quick, malevolent glances at the three dogs now splayed and panting on the rug in front of the door. Once the pigs had clattered into place and knelt down on their hocks, the discussion began anew. The youngest of the three pigs started:

Well, I for one think this is an opportunity to bring the Farm even further into the future. It is no secret that the farm geese are… well… well they aren’t the sweetest slop in the trough. It seems to me that introducing some wild down into the flock would only add good things to the Farm.”

The rats squeaked their agreement, whispering to each other quickly. Another of the pigs nodded slowly and spoke.

That may be so, but it is still an unprecedented idea. In fact, one could even say it is a bit of a violation…”

It is a direct contravention of the Rules of the Farm,” snorted the female horse that had lifted her head as the first pig was speaking. After swinging her gaze from each of the assembled farm animals, she continued.

I do not say it is a definite bad thing, for I know very little of the idle labors of thinking, and I do not understand many of the Rules, but I do know that obeying the Rules has brought the Farm to where it is, and if the Rules say no outsiders, well, I am for the Rules. This I say for me, and all the other horses. We are agreed.”

By the time she had finished speaking, the other horses had raised their heads and ceased their cud chewing. Their large eyes were cold and certain. The matronly German Shepherd spoke next.

It is customary for we, the dogs, to not vote. It is for us to protect and to serve and to slay as the Rules and the animals of the Farm require. But I feel the need to say that this is not just a contravention of the Rules. It is a perversion of the ways of our beloved Farm. We should not, we cannot, allow outsiders such as these foreign geese into our midst. They do not know the Rules. They have no sense of our customs, and I feel it in my paws that they will cause disruption amongst the flocks. This is what my heart tells me. Regardless, we dogs abstain, as is customary and proper.”

The chief dog laid her head on her paws and waited to hear what the others would say in response to her admonition. Her two grown pups whined softly and nibbled at her scruff, a sign of adoration and respect in the manner of their kind. The second pig to speak nodded graciously at the matronly German Shepherd.

Well said, well said, sister dog. And much of what I feel is in agreement. To take this step would be a drastic change in precedent and custom. But I must say that we pigs feel, and the rats tend to agree, that it is time to bring the Farm into a more modern age. There is so much potential lurking in the Forest by the Farm, totally wasted on wandering and scrabbling for pitiful scraps. Imagine, friends, just imagine what we could accomplish once the wilds have been tamed and cultivated! Yes, the geese are rowdy and, dare I say what we all feel, a rather lazy bunch, but their down is priceless and their eggs are fat. We all know the Farmer looks favorably upon their Due. How could it be a bad thing to have fatter eggs and, er, downier geese? So we of the pigs say that this bold endeavor should be our course. This makes it three for yes, three for no, and three abstentions. Now, we will hear from the rats.”

An arrow of misgiving pierced the heart of the matronly German Shepherd. Had her deep respect for traditions opened the door to calamity? She had no pretensions of wisdom or forethought, but anxiety crept in, and quickly on its heels, doubt. Maybe the old traditions were failing them, if such obvious evil was so easily accepted. The rats looked at each other quickly, then to the young pig who had put forth the motion who snorted ponderously. They each stood on their hind legs with their noses thrust in the air.

Abstain.”

Abstain.”

…yes.”

Then it is settled. Dogs of the Farm, gather our friends and siblings.”

Generations of obedience overwhelmed the sorrow in their hearts, and the three leaders amongst the dogs bolted away to do as they were commanded. The Horses looked down their long noses at the rats, whickered softly, and turned as one to march back to the clearing in front of the barn. Once they had turned the corner, the pigs swiveled their eyes toward the three rats.

Well rats, you had better be right about this. The dogs and horses are not happy. Are you certain that you can control these… outsiders?”

The largest of the rats, big and fat and darker than the rest, twitched his nose, nibbled an itch on his flank, and responded in the curtness of their kind.

Certain.”

It is a hard thing to see a threat disguised as a blessing, and harder still to convince others of it.

The Farm and the Forest (Part I)

~1~

How It All Began To End

It all started when a crotchety goose and his gaggle of ruffians, hailing from parts unknown, landed in the Pond on the edge of the Farm. The Pond was divided by the fence, leaving a small portion just outside the bounds of the Farm, its bank up against the edge of the Forest. The small flock did not stay long, as a young German Shepherd saw them land. He hollered out to his sister and they both ran pell-mell to the pond, barking loudly and scaring off the foreigners, who flapped wildly up over the fence and into the edge of the Forest. As his gaggle spread out warily looking for seeds and bugs, the crotchety goose surveyed the Farm with malice and jealousy in his heart. He wanted to swim in the pond, gorge on the grain, and find some nice lady farm geese with which to cavort.

A young goose, all white and rather small for his age, watched this kerfuffle unfold with awe and curiosity. He always had to wait in line behind his bigger brothers and sisters for his share of grain. He stayed up late and listened to the whispering of the rats. He hated the dogs and their scary teeth. But most of all, he hated the rules of the Farm. Why should he have to wait his turn for grain? Who were the pigs to tell him where to sleep and when to eat? Why should the horses and sheep tell him where he could waddle? So this young goose was angry, sullen, and lonely, and when the big goose and his wild gaggle landed in the pond, his heart soared. He was too slow to get there before those meddling dogs ruined the fun, so he moved along the fence, hoping to catch another glimpse of the big, tough foreigners.

Just as the crotchety goose was about to turn away, he heard a rather squeaky honk. There was a young farm goose waddling along the fence, bobbing his head up and down excitedly. He made his way slowly over to the fence, wary of any dogs seeing him. The young farm goose hopped from one foot to the other. Unable to contain his excitement, he honked once, then cowered in fear when the big foreigner hissed and flapped his wings in anger.

Quiet, you silly fool! Do you want the wolf dogs to return and chase me away again?”

The farm goose was embarrassed.

I-I-I am sorry, foreigner. Why have you come to the Farm? From where did you come? Oh, I have so many questions!”

The crotchety goose looked down on the Farm animal and sensed an opportunity.

And I may have many answers for you, young one. But to get, you must give and…”

The farm goose was taken aback.

You know of the Rules of the Farm, foreigner?”

Without missing a beat, the crotchety goose continued on haughtily:

I know many things, youngster. I am a wild goose, and we are the smartest of all creatures. If you would like answers, you must bring me gifts of grain and seed. Go now. I will be waiting here after the sun goes to sleep.”

The farm goose shifted nervously from foot to foot.

Um, ah, see… the Rules say no wandering at night…”, the foreign goose looked disappointedly away, wuffling from his nostrils in derision, “But! But, I am the freest of the Farm geese, and I do not follow the Rules, if I do not want. I will bring the grain!”

And with that, the young goose waddle-flopped merrily on his way. Later that night, he snuck out of the goose pen, gathered up some fresh grain and barleycorns, and quietly made his way back to the pond. It took him some time to see the big fellow staring intently at him through the slats of the fence.

Did you bring me what I deserve?”

Yes!”, the farm goose’s loud, squeaky honk caused the foreigner to hiss angrily. Quieter:

Yes. I brought you fresh grains and barleycorns. The best the Farm has to offer.”

As soon as the young farm goose laid down his gift, the foreign goose snapped them up greedily, leaving none for him.

Mmm, delicious. Exactly what I deserve. Now, tell me youngster, are there things you would like to know?”

So many things! So very many things! What is it that-”

The foreigner cut him short.

Then you must find a way to get me a spot in that dreary little hutch you call home.”

The farm goose was nonplussed. Not only was he crestfallen at this unexpected turn of events, he had no idea how he could get a foreign goose a place on the Farm. The crotchety goose stared at the farm goose hard, swinging each eye to look at him in turn, then turned and waddled over to the unfenced part of the pond where his gaggle slept comfortably with their beaks tucked under their wings at the edge of the dark and wild Forest. The farm goose watched him go, then made his way back to the hutch. Narrowly avoiding a young pup on patrol, he snaffled a few more barleycorns and settled down to contemplate as he fell asleep.

Interesting… very interesting…”, a dark, fat rat said quietly to himself before scurrying off quickly to the haunt of his kind.

Sometimes, to get what we want we have to give more than we have.


[Part two coming soon…]

Rothfuss, Writer’s Block & The Myth of the Author

The well known and impressively bearded fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss (best known for his Kingkiller series) once said, “-people talk about writer’s block all the time, as if it were real. And it’s simply not, the truth is, it is simply hard to write sometimes. The same as any other professional or creative endeavor. But if a plumber called in and said ‘Oh, Gregory! My muse does not speak to me today. I fear I cannot plumb,’ you’d be like ‘Well, we’ve got a contract.’”

He further elaborates, “You say ‘writer’s block’ and people are like ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ It’s like you’ve just said ‘I have meningitis.’ It’s like, ‘Oh fuck, writer’s block, did you get some amoxycilin for that?’ It’s not a thing. It’s not a thing. But here’s the thing. Here IS the thing,” Rothfuss said. “You write with your head. You could break your leg and then still write. But if, say, your dog has fucking died, that’s in your head. If your relationship is a mess. If you have a mood disorder (which, statistically, you’re six to ten times more likely to have if you’re a writer). If you have either diagnosed or undiagnosed depression, or any of the myriad host of things that can legit go chemically wrong in your brain. Or if it’s just your life is shitty or your dad is sick, or like, maybe the Republic is crumbling and there’s an autocrat in power.”

“-the reason I push back against the myth of the author, is if we keep going ‘Oh, you’re a magical unicorn and you have a magical unicorn disease called writer’s block,’ it keeps people from correctly identifying what might really be going in their lives, in their minds or, honestly, in the world, that’s affecting their ability to produce art,” Rothfuss concluded, “I don’t think writers’ block exists. I think undiagnosed mood disorder exists.” (This note rings with the personal, as Rothfuss himself has struggled with mental illness).

We would concur with Mr. Rothfuss’ general position (and his extremely eloquent novel, The Name of the Wind, well attests to his considerable prowess in fiction). We have found that, regardless of whether or not we hear the glorious silken voices of the muses, in so far as we persist, in so far as we are steeled of purpose and mind, the words come all the same. We give them no quarter, allow them no shade, no harbourage whatsoever; we force them out and imperiously direct them to the page. We would, however, note one important exception taken with Rothfuss’ excellent analysis, namely, his contention with the myth of the author. Now when he says, the myth of the author, Rothfuss does not mean that authors do not literally exist, that they are merely myths, but rather that the author is no more elevated than the ironmonger or the electrician, the fishwife or the bag-handler. This rings of falsity, for it is not the baggage handler or the chimney sweep who echoes throughout time and who can, if sufficient in their powers, change the entire fabric of a town, nation or empire. Which is not, of course, to denigrate the laudable, indeed indispensable, work of those previously mentioned professions, but rather to say that when fiction is bad it is near worthless, but when grand, it is something which can scarcely be matched, much less surpassed, by any other field of endeavor; for it is fiction, myth, that has guided and girded the whole ambit of the world and without it purpose-as-such itself should like as not melt into the air.

The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (VI)

(a.3) If We Do Nothing | Invariable Extinction (continued from part V)

Whilst it is obvious that the “the world” is not ending in any meaningful, immediate way, despite the doomsaying of catastrophists such as Al Gore and Stephanie Wakefield, the world will, eventually, come to disintegration given sufficient time. Nothing extant is without an end. Even stars perish at the last. Our own sun, no exception to this rule. By aggregate estimate, the average age of a star is predicted to be around several billion years; the precise number of these years is difficult to determine given that celestial burn-out is predicated upon the amount of hydrogen contained within the core of any given celestial body. Our own star – the sun – is classed as a “main sequence” body which describes the fact that it is currently in it’s most stable period wherein it continuously converts it’s hydrogen core into helium. After around 8 billion years of this process the hydrogen will have been exhausted and as a consequence, the helium still in the core will cause the sun to utilize hydrogen outside of the core as a heat source, as this occurs, gravitational forces take over from the burning process thus causing the shell to expand and the surface to cool from white to red; when a star enters this stage it is referred to as a red giant due to it’s sanguine hue and significantly increased size. Given sufficient time this process will bring the red giant into contact with the earth which will swiftly be disintegrated. Before that occurs, however, the heat from the rapidly expanding sun will boil the oceans, causing all water on earth to become trapped in the atmosphere where it will be molecularly splinted by the sun’s energy, causing it to bleed out into the void of space as hydrogen and oxygen, thus leaving a barren, desiccated husk1. Amun-Ra’s wrath. Given that our galaxy is 4.5 billion years old, our sun has exhausted around about half of its total, estimated lifetime, this is to say humans have around 5 to 6.5 billion years left to inhabit the earth before the sun reaches it’s red giant phase2.

Yet even abandoning any concerns about sun-death, humanity, whether collectively or in some portion, will still need to contend with what many environmentalists and scientists have begun referring to as the sixth great extinction event. A research paper published in Science Advances in 2015 by the well known American biologist, Paul R. Ehrlich, and others, comparing past extinction rates to modern extinction rates states that animals are vanishing at a rate unprecedented since the fifth mass extinction period3 which occurred over 66 million years ago4 and brought about an end to the dinosaurs (save for that which became avians). The problem with these studies (and assertions which echo the sentiments contained within such studies) is that it is incredibly difficult to determine, with any accuracy, the rate of extinction of species that no longer exist. Ehrlich notes as much within his study when he writes, “-biologists cannot say precisely how many species there are, or exactly how many have gone extinct in any time interval-5.” He further states what should be obvious to everyone in the proceeding page, “Population extinction cannot be reliably assessed from the fossil record-6” the study also abstains from making any statement on organisms other than vertabrates; “-we have not considered animals other than vertebrates because of data deficiencies-7.” The latter point should also be rather obvious, there are simply too many different species on the planet to plug them all into a extrapolatiing extinction matrix in a 6 page paper. It would be astounding if, say, tardigrades were on the verge of extinction (they aren’t). However, we should not wax whistful about the prospect of extinction as there are decidedly certain types of organisms which we would be better of without. Whilst it is still dubious to classify viruses as a form of life, there are numerous types of viruses, such as HIV8. HIV is but one of many of the genus lentivirus which are, across the board, harmful – and often deadly – to mammalians such as humans, apes, cows and goats. More terrifyingly, viruses of the genus lentivirus can become endogenous to the host, meaning that they can incorporate their genome into the occupied organism’s genome such that the virus will henceforth be inherited by the host’s descendants. Pathogenic bacteria (those types of bacteria which cause disease and death) also occupy a similar position in relation to humans.

A common rebuttal to such a position as that which we have sketched out above is to take aim at centering either one’s personal or societies collective concern on humans-as-such and attempt to deconstruct so-called anthropocentric thinking. But what would it mean to center one’s concerns on anything other than one’s species? At a certain point one would be forced to make the decision between expanding a settlement and displacing some wildlife and simply not expanding and settling at all. If this queer notion had been taken up from the first it is highly unlikely that humanity would share the masterful command over the world that it does to this day. If we had refused to slay a charging beast upon the plains, if we had refused to eat the feral herds, if we had refused to burn the forests and there kindle them a’fire, if we had refused to dam the rivers and drain the swamps and level the land how sleek our chances would have been! How like as not we’d have passed away into the dustbin of history like the Neanderthal and homo erectus before us!

1Nearly all animal species will die once the oceans boil with the possible exception of the tardigrade. Fascinatingly resilient organisms!

2See the work of Enjar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russel, specifically as pertains to the Hertzsprung-Russel diagram.

3K-Pg extinction event which occurred between the Cretaceous and Paleogene epochs and ended 75% of all life on earth.

4Time interval calculated from Time Scales of Critical Events Around the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary, Paul R. Renne et al, Science 339, 684, (2013).

5Ceballos et al., Sci. Adv. 2015, p. 3

6Ceballos et al., Sci. Adv. 2015, p. 4

7Ceballos et al., Sci. Adv. 2015, p. 4

8HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus.