The Loss of Small Things

She cries at the drop of a hat,
my mother once told a therapist,
as if already knowing the diagnosis:
easily upset by insignificant things.

I remember this while weeping,
knees damp in the mower’s wake
hands cupping the shimmering frenzy
of an owlet moth with shredded wings.

How do we measure the loss
of something so small – a moth wing,
woodland snail, bruised peppermint leaf?
To reconcile, do we spare one moth

or two, continue to look away, wonder
why the world lashes back?

By Mary Katherine Creel

small snail near dead leaf


M K Creel Author PhotoMary Katherine Creel lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she has worked as a journalist, family counselor and copywriter. Her poems have been published in Paper Rabbit, Tar River Poetry, Pittsburgh Poetry Review and Avocet.

Photo by the author

Written in the Land: Rock Art in Australia’s Arnhem Land

“Our story is in the land.
It is written in those sacred places.”
— Bill Neidjie

Hand Stencil Rock Art

I gaze in wonder at the faded handprint on a rock cave wall here at Nourlangie, in Australia’s Arnhem Land. Who was the ancient aboriginal painter who signed his rock art in this unique way?

His right hand has been placed palm down against the rock surface with his fingers spread. A stream of red ochre paint was blown from his mouth onto the back of his hand to produce this stencil image. Part of the image of his index finger has been eroded, as have several of his other paintings on the walls of this rock gallery.

Early aboriginal people had no written language and their laws, cultural beliefs and creation myths were preserved through stories, dances, songs and paintings. Their long history of environmental and social change is found here in more than 5,000 rock art sites. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of over 25,000 years of Aboriginal occupation within this area, and Kakadu’s rock art (gunbim) represents the longest historical record of any group of people in the world.

Kakadu National Park is a vast and timeless place―a landscape of exceptional natural beauty and diversity. I love its stillness and intense colours. There are many regions here: mangrove-fringed coastal areas blend into expansive flood plains; low-lying hills are flanked by tall sandstone escarpments to the east and are interwoven between open bush woodlands and forest habitats. The park is teeming with wildlife in its waters, on the land and in the air. With the daily passing of the sun overhead and the changing of the seasons, the land also assumes constantly shifting forms and colours. In this context a knowledge and appreciation of nature is fundamental to understanding the culture of Kakadu and its people.

Mimih spirits Rock Art

The Mimi spirits are fairy-like beings of Arnhem Land in the folklore of the indigenous people of northern Australia. Westerners would equate them with elementals and nature spirits. They are depicted as having thin and elongated bodies―so thin as to be in danger of breaking in case of a high wind. To avoid this fate, the Mimis spend much of their time living in rock crevices. As creation spirits, they are like humans but exist in a different dimension. It was the Mimis who first taught the people how to hunt, cook and paint.

Ochre was the most valuable painting material used traditionally by the people. Red ochre was available for mining from many sites, from crumbly to hard in texture rock, heavily coloured by iron oxide. The rock was washed, then pounded into a pigment powder and blended with water, saliva, orchid sap or turtle egg yolks to create a sticky fluid paint. When a deeper ceremonial red colour was desired, kangaroo blood was mixed into the pigment. Red ochre was particularly important as its use symbolized the blood of ancestral beings.

Ochre also comes in a variety of hues from yellow to dark reddish-brown and these ores lend a rich, warm colour to the traditional rock paintings. Charcoal provided black pigment, pipe clay―a fine white river clay―was worked and moulded into small blocks to make white pigment. Thus haematite (red), limonite (yellow), charcoal (black), and pipe clay (white), expanded the artist’s palette. Ochre was also traded extensively across Australia, the precious commodity travelling many hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from where it was mined, to where it was used.

The traditional materials were applied in several ways. The oldest included blowing a fine spray of paint from the mouth to produce stencils or silhouettes on the rock’s surface. Paint was also applied directly to the rock by brushing it with a small crushed stick. Bodies were also painted using leaves, fingers and hands to beautify and decorate the participants for important ceremonial dances and songs.

In Arnhem Land bark and wood surfaces were also painted with great care using various brushes and styles for different effects. After covering a background with a coat of red ochre, the main forms of the design were outlined in black, yellow or white by using a brush made from a stick with fine grass or fibres tied to the end. Next a distinctive cross-hatched pattern is produced with a special fine brush made from a stick tipped with human hair tightly bound to it. The final step filled in the cross-hatched areas with white ochre, again using the hair tipped brush. The figure below is of Nabulwinjbulwinj, (nabul-win-bul-win) a dangerous and malevolent ghost spirit who ate women after striking them dead with a yam.

Nabulwinj

Because of its great age rock art can be damaged by natural processes. Rangers do what they can to remove or redirect these events by building boardwalks and handrails to prevent visitors from touching or rubbing the paintings. Silicon drip lines redirect water flow away from the paintings while the boardwalks prevent dust from becoming stirred up and coating valuable art. Occasionally a contemporary aboriginal artist, using traditional brushes and ochres, will repaint early art works to prevent them from fading. Just before his death in 1964, Nayombolmi, also known as ‘Barramundi Charlie,’ repainted the following magnificent group picture.

several rock art images

The large figure at the top is that of Namondjok, (nar-mon-jock). He is a Creation Ancestor who now lives in the sky and can be seen only at night when he appears as a dark spot in the Milky Way.

To the right of Namondjok is Namarrgon, (narm-arr-gon) the Lightning Man. He creates the violent lightning storms that begin in November, during the north Australian monsoon season. The band around him from his left ankle, joining his hands and head, and down to his right ankle represents the lightning he creates.

Below him and to the left is Barrginj, (barr-jeen) Namarrrgon’s wife, painted in white with black outline and decoration. Beneath these three Creation Ancestors is a large group of men and women elaborately dressed and possibly on their way to a ceremony. Several women have dashes painted across their breasts indicating that they are breastfeeding.

Images both sacred and secular adorn the many caves here at Nourlangie Rock, often represented through the artist’s unusual perspective that views the images from above, while looking down on them. Painters from this area show a preference for open spaces with a concentration on the main figures where there is an expression of suddenly arrested motion.

Language, ceremonies, kinship and caring for the land are aspects of cultural responsibility that have been passed from one generation to the next. Aboriginals all believe that they do not own the land―rather the land owns them―thus the land and its people have always been linked. This spiritual connection, spanning tens of thousands of years, has been recognized globally in Kakadu’s World Heritage listing, which honours one of the oldest living societies on earth.

“Our land has a big story.
Sometimes we tell a little bit at a time.
Come and hear our stories and see our land.
A little bit might stay in your hearts and if you want more
You can come back.”

—Jacob Nayinggul
(Manilakarr Clan)


Written and photographed by Mary Mageau
Samford, Queensland, Australia (©2012 Mary Mageau)

Visit Mary’s Website: Nature As Art and Inspiration


Notes:
Quotes sourced from Neidgie, B. (2002) Gagadiu Man, JB Books Pty. Ltd:
Marleston, p32.

Courtesy of Nayinggul, J. (2008) Kakadu National Park, Australian Government:
Canberra ACT, p6.

Lost Illinois Pastoral

Now it is dark.
Glorious worlds of fireflies
lie scattered
on harsh, hungry pavement.
Phosphorescent bulbs burnt out
they crawl blindly
across oily blackness
at the edge of cricket night.

Croaking birds disappear,
dancing down into
the soul of Earth,
descending through the silent pond—
an unwavering monocle,
sentinel of falling dust
and bloody reeds

where a swan floats alone,
tender and sore,
dying in the blue shadows
at the side of an access road
no one uses anymore
except us
and a troupe
of harlequin nightingales
nesting in the throat of the world.

By Richard King Perkins II

Mallards among trash at water's edge


author photoRichard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best of the Web nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.

Photo by Andrew F. Kazmierski

Marmot Country

“Human attention on wildlife naturally falls on the glamour species. Nowadays everyone wants to save the whales, but how many people are campaigning to save the krill on which the whales depend for their survival?” E. Donnall Thomas Jr., Montana Peaks, Streams and Prairie, A Natural History


Marmot on granite bouldersThe climb from the visitor center to the top of Pompey’s Pillar along the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana is not a long or strenuous one. And although the contrast of this rocky sandstone formation to the plains surrounding it can be of great interest and of a certain beauty, that is not why most people visit here. Pompey’s Pillar is of historic importance as an area where Meriweather Lewis and William Clark spent significant time during their journey as leaders of the Corps of Discovery at the dawn of the 19th century. The excellent museum at the visitor center there documents this history with displays of their travels and artifacts from the period. And high up in the rocks themselves, behind a frame of plexiglass, is the signature of Clark himself, etched into the stone. Depending on your point of view, this can be understood as an historic relic, a latter day pictograph, or early graffiti. However, the ghosts of these famous explorers are not the only things one finds inhabiting this geographic incongruity.

As you take in the sweep of the prairie and the curve of the Yellowstone River below, you are probably being watched as well. And if the chatter of birds coming from the large cottonwoods in the floodplain along the Yellowstone contain some odd whistles, don’t be surprised. You are in prime territory of the yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris), and those inquisitive and watchful balls of fur sunning themselves on the rocks probably have just given you a whistle or two. That sound is the reason that the pudgy marmots are sometimes referred to as “whistle pigs”, and their whistling communications are just as appealing to me as coyote howls. The town of Whistler, British Columbia, now a popular resort, conference center and Olympic ski venue, even got it’s name from the call of a member of this vocal mammal family, the hoary marmot (Marmota caligata).

There are fifteen species of this interesting overgrown squirrel worldwide, six of which are found in North America. That would include the most familiar and widespread member of the family, the groundhog, aka woodchuck (Marmota monax), a prime specimen of which lives under my garden shed. But the habitats of the predominantly western marmot species more often consist of rockier terrain and even alpine environments. But not all members of the species are regularly encountered. The Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus), for example, is confined to the Olympic Peninsula there. But it an iconic enough creature to be designated as Washington’s state animal. A few of the marmot species like the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) are endangered over all or some of their range, and that is a problem not only for the herbivorous marmots, but the carnivores and omnivores who consider them prey. Marmots are to varying degrees, food for species including hawks, eagles, wolves, cougars, bobcats and bears. So to the point Don Thomas makes in the introductory quote above, helping the marmots also helps many of the more esteemed western wildlife we so admire.

a yellow bellied marmot in the sierra nevada of california

But beyond that, I think marmots are quite frankly, engaging creatures in their own right. They appeal to me on a visceral level like a Jackson Pollock painting. My first encounter with marmots was at the aforementioned Pompey’s Pillar. Attracted at first by the singular whistling sound, I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of the animals in plain view. The number increased as I began to study the terrain more closely, sometimes noticing some slight movement, but most often just staring long enough to spot a stationary marmot sitting still. And often enough, staring right back at me. I found this behavior quite endearing, even over the span of the thirty or so meters between us. Spotting wildlife is sometimes like spotting a fish while looking down into the water. If you try to see the fish, you probably won’t. But if you look past the fish towards the bottom, you will often find that the fish materializes before your eyes. Once I subconsciously applied this technique to the outcroppings and ledges on the rock formation, I noted even more marmots. Although at the time, I was unsure of exactly what species of animal I was sharing my afternoon with. After spending longer than I had realized watching the creatures, I sought out a park ranger to find out what I had seen. Before I had fully spoken the question, the ranger smiled and said “Yellow-bellied marmot, we’ve got quite a few of them.”

I suppose it was somewhat fitting that my first encounter with a marmot occurred at a site commemorating the journey of Lewis and Clark, since they also encountered the species during their expedition. In various entries in their journals they note the animal as a monax, a name their “boss” Thomas Jefferson previously assigned to the related groundhog in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson based his designation of the groundhog found in his native state, on Carl Linnaeus’ nomenclature, which in turn would have been based on the Eurasian species of monax. Both Lewis and Clark took their lead from Jefferson, and dubbed the animal we now know as the yellow-bellied marmot, simply a monax. Their notes recorded observations of both the marmot in the wild, and it’s fur being utilized by the local Native American tribes such as the Shoshone and Mandan. What their field notes did not mention, was any marmot behavior similar to what I stumbled upon more than two centuries later.

I last encountered the marmot a few short months ago, in the pages of a well imagined book by Dan White entitled Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love With Camping. In a chapter about car-camping, he recounts his experience with marmots in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park in California. At the Cold Spring Campground there, his vehicle and those of other campers were set upon immediately upon arrival by marmots. Folks who have camped in areas with raccoons, might very well be familiar with the aggressive and ingenious assaults upon their foodstuffs that those bandits perpetrate. Hardly endearing, but understandable. However, the marmot behavior White writes about is bizarre to the extreme. The Kings Canyon yellow-bellied marmots have developed a taste for automotive fluids and gnaw through lines and hoses to get at the liquids inside. The website for Kings Canyon corroborates White’s report, and has an extensive marmot warning page, complete with photos and instructions of how to wrap your vehicle in plastic tarps to discourage the wily whistle pigs. Other parks such as Yellowstone scarcely issue more cautionary notices about grizzlies, buffalo or mountain lions.

marmot crossing wildlife caution sign on mountain road.

This remarkable aspect of marmot behavior triggered a bit of research on my part. I followed up with the NPS about why this might have occurred, and their consensus was that it was the combination of people feeding the marmots and “socializing” them with human presence. They think it is likely this allowed them to eventually find that the salts found on vehicle engine areas, were a substitute for salt that they lacked in their diet during drought conditions in the Mineral King area. These conditions continued over a long enough period to inculcate the behavior in this population. The extremely aggressive marmot activity common to Kings Canyon seems to be the outlier, as many locales across the west have no mention of this automotive predation, and some others have noted it to varying degrees. Sue Griffen who conducts marmot research in Olympic National Park in Washington, shared the following when I asked her if she had noted this behavior. “Yes, marmots do chew on car engine parts. I have seen them myself and heard many stories. As we had radio tagged marmots that lived near a parking lot, we were able to determine that an occasional individual would develop the habit. Other animals were never seen under cars. It was enough of a problem that I have seen hikers encase their car in chicken wire.”

On the other hand, when I contacted the Marmot Recovery Foundation on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, neither wildlife veterinarian Malcolm McAdie, who has worked with Vancouver Island marmots for past 20 years, or Executive Director Adam Taylor have ever seen Vancouver Island Marmots show any interest in vehicles. However Adam did add the following. “We’ve had cases where yellow-bellied marmots have stowed away in the underside of vehicles and chew wires, and even accidentally arrive on the Island when the vehicle next gets used. However, we’ve never seen one of our Island marmots do the same.” Interestingly, Dan White also recorded instances in his book of marmots “hitch-hiking” under the hood of vehicles, making it all the way to San Francisco on one occasion. Why were they under the hood? Maybe to warm themselves on a cold night, or more weirdly perhaps, just looking for a midnight snack.

Don Thomas, physician, naturalist, wilderness guide and author of the quote at the beginning of this essay, had a slightly different view. He told me that he has heard of such behavior in both Montana and Alaska where he has resided, but never prevalent enough to require preventative measures. And biologist Rebecca Flynn, who studied marmots on the National Bison Range in Montana asserted she had never observed such behavior there. To be certain, I have by no means conducted a scientific study. But in addition to the people I spoke with or corresponded with, I have utilized some University of Pennsylvania databases in my research. And many of the papers and articles about marmot behavior I reviewed deal with how we effect marmot behavior. This is usually recorded by the researchers and scientists in terms of metrics like population, breeding and distribution. The absence of references to the anomalous behavior I was looking for, suggests to me that in some instances the vehicle feasting marmots are actually influencing our behavior in a most singular fashion. I mean, what would it take for you to wrap your car in a plastic tarp or chicken wire every time you parked it?

Here on the east coast, I have heard reports of groundhogs chewing through underground electrical cables, but as a burrowing animal, that can possibly be dismissed as incidental gnawing. Groundhogs, including the one under my neighbor’s shed, can be destructive of gardens and even crops to some extent. But that is normal foraging, far removed from guzzling transmission fluids. So a creature that I originally found intrinsically engaging, has now become a fascinating mystery. Additionally there are conflicting reports about the effect on the marmots, if any, of the chemical fluids they slurp under the hood. The same goes for their resistance to certain sedatives. Some wildlife biologists have experienced nothing unusual in laboratory settings, while some reported marmots showing immunity to dosages effective on bears. Nature is full of surprises, especially if you look long and often enough. So the next time I see a marmot, I will regard it with new interest, as an animal no less appealing, but far more complex than first impressions indicated.

Balancing Between The Trains

Parallel rails
divide the mining camp,
and the world passes through
on steel.
In dimly lighted passenger cars,
wealthy merchants steal
our poverty from the night.
Our curtains wave
through open windows
as we sleep among the whistles,
our only way to welcome strangers.

In daylight, between afternoon trains,
we learn to balance
on the tracks
and gather spilled coal in buckets
for the night fires.
The new-coal smell
keeps strangers at bay.
The burned-coal clouds
hem guardian hillsides
that frame the sooted shacks.

Our world is lonely,
and we are trapped
in a valley of despair.
At the company store,
we smile without teeth
and pose for disposable cameras.

By Harding Stedler


After graduating valedictorian of his high school graduating class, Harding Stedler went on to earn his B.S. in Ed., M.S in English Education, and his Ph.D. in English Education as well. He taught writing courses under the umbrella of the English Department in universities where he taught. In 1995, he retired from Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, with 34 years of service. He now makes his home in Maumelle, Arkansas, and is an active member of the Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas as well as the River Market Poets in Little Rock.