Your wild is tame compared to these reindeer-riders.

05-mongolian-reindeerOne of my many 2016 goals is to get in touch with my wild side. I don’t mean my party-girl-stay-up-all-night self (no, I know that bitch well enough already, thanks) but my moss-sniffing, leaf-eating, earth-worshipping wild side. The side of me that revels in storms and licks the rainwater off my face. The side that dreams of bears and sleeps under the stars.

This part of myself is also loud and a little unruly. She feels everything and she reacts quickly. She knows her place in the world and loves it (she’s joyful, that wild girl). She’s dirty and willful and perhaps even sometimes a little obnoxious. But she doesn’t give a fuck. Because that’s what being wild is… to me, right now.

But as I write this, I am reminded of the actual wild folk on this planet, the people who live off the land for twelve months of the year. Compared to many people in this big world, I’m the tamest little shrew that ever lived, typing away on my laptop, safe in my bed, miles from any the real wilderness. In many ways, I have an easy life, a cushy one that allows me to grow fat on my butt and fingernails too long for manual labor.reindeerriders1

I know “easy” is relative. I know one way of living is not superior to another. I know I am romanticizing the nomadic, of-the-land lifestyle that many people lead by necessity. But I do think there’s something I can learn from listening to my wilder side. I think there’s a lot the earth can teach me; so many things the world has yet to reveal.

Today, I am gazing at pictures by Hamid Sardar-Afkhami, a Harvard-educated photojournalist and scholar with a Phd in Mongolian and Tibetan languages. He spent over a decade living in Tibet and the Himalayas, documenting the lives of nomadic tribes and herders. He captured women riding reindeer and men communing with bears. He documented a girl and her fawn and a boy gazing proudly at his trained eagle. He lived amongst these people, learned their habits, and depicts their wild lives with compassion, honesty, and just a little romance.

Mongolia_Reindeer_PhotographyThere’s nothing wild about looking at pictures on your computer screen, but it is very inspiring. Check out more of his work at MessyNessy or on his official website. 

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Two nice things: witches like saints & harvesting the moon.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 7.00.22 PM1. Isabel Allende is one of my all-time favorite authors. House of Spirits has always felt like a more feminine version of my favorite book, One Hundred Years of Solitude. I know my love for magical realism has always made me seem a little immature—espeically compared with the “serious” literature majors I knew in college, who preferred texts that felt impenetrable to me, walls of text made by dead white men with axes to grind and bones to pick. But goddamn it, I like what I like, and what I like is crazy, New Agey, magical shit. Stories where cats walk on two legs and newts have sexy, sophisticated romances and snowy sculptures come to life.

But enough with my dumb, pretentious, self-critical rambling. Allende is wonderful and everyone should read her. She makes femininity feel like such a powerful thing—witchy and earthy and crude and delightful and free. I love how she writes women. Her female characters are round, and I mean that both in the literary sense and the curvy sense. I’m currently reading her memoir Paula, and it really makes me appreciate the power of female companions, friends, lovers, daughters, etc. Here’s one of the best quotes:

Witches, like saints, are solitary stars that shine with a light of their own; they depend on nothing and no one, which is why they have no fear and plunge blindly into the abyss with the assurance that instead of crashing to earth, they will fly back out. They can change into birds and see the world from above, or worms to see it from within, they can inhabit other dimensions and travel to other galaxies, they are navigators on an infinite ocean of consciousness and cognition.

Damn, girl. That makes me want to be a witch, like, yesterday.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 7.21.42 PM.png2. The second person I’m vibing on today is Bruce Monroe. He is a Pennsylvania-based artist who makes striking installations. The top image is “Moon Harvest,” a visual pun that projects images of the moon onto bales of hay. “Shower of Light” is the second image (directly above). He also uses CDs frequently in his installations, which, when placed together, turn into giant reflective surfaces that look like oversized sequins, glittery and fractured. Check out his other work (and find out where you can see one of his luminous pieces in person!) by clicking here. 

Painted ladies by Jessica Harrison.

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I love tattoos. I know they’re not for everyone, but I like ink on skin. I like the strange burning tingle of the needle. I like the ritualistic aspect of the tattoo parlor. I like the way my skin responds, raised at first, textured as it heals, eventually relaxing into a smooth surface, newly pattered, altered.

Part of the reason I love tattoos is because they afford a certain amount of control. Our bodies are so frequently outside our control. They get sick. They betray us when we’re anxious or scared, running on adrenaline, heart jumping, head spinning. Have you ever fainted? There’s nothing quite like the sense of slow descent, the edges of vision turning black, the unwilling fall into unconsciousness.

But I can control my tattoos. They let me tell the story I want to tell. They also feel like an easy rebellion, a way of saying that my femininity is my own. Traditionally, women weren’t tattooed. Women were delicate flowers. Tattoos were for hard men, criminals, sailors. Now, I can be all three. A woman, a rogue, a wanderer. I can wear it on my skin and broadcast my not-a-freaking-lady status to the world.

1_tattoo_painted_porcelain_sculpture_jessica_harrison8copyI’ve been meaning to blog about Jessica Harrison‘s wild ceramics for a long time, but I couldn’t think of what to say about them, aside from I LOVE IT. She takes a familiar object—those little ceramic figurines—and turns them dark, modern. Some are gruesome, with melted faces and zombie-hands. Others are just tattooed. I love all her work, but I admit my favorite are the painted ladies. Their subversion is more subtle than the Kahlo-like dancer, who holds her bloody heart in her cold, porcelain hands. They’re beautiful, with their big skirts and delicate ink. They’re lovely ladies and bold scoundrels, and I think they’re just great. 

By the light of the moon.

Darren Almond Full Moon PhotographyPhotographer Darren Almond uses the full moon to light his landscapes, and the results are otherworldly, frothy and strange, with muted colors and streaks of brightness as stars move across the sky. “With long exposures, you can never see what you are shooting,” said in an interview with The Guardian. “But you are giving the landscape longer to express itself.”Fullmoon-Quatrain700

Moonlight has always felt rather magical; I think it helps reveal things that are normally concealed. It shows the landscape at its softest, most vulnerable. Like people, who undress at night and slip under the covers, turning toward each other in quiet intimacy, the earth slowly disrobes as the moon rises, shedding layers of shadow and light until only the thing itself is left. You have to strain your eyes and open your apertures to see it. You have to wait. Steady, still.  Continue reading

Shooting the moon: early lunar photography.

First Photograph of the Moon This photograph is believed to be the earliest picture captured of the moon. The mirror-reversed daguerreotype was taken by Josh W. Draper from his rooftop observatory at NYC on March 26, 1840. Early Moon Photography by DraperHere is another one of Draper’s early moon pictures. (Photo by J. W. Draper/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images). According to this article, Draper wasn’t the first photographer to shoot the moon. Several Frenchmen may have beaten him to it, but he was the first photographer to capture it in any detail. He was also definitely the first to shoot a full moon, so he gets credit for that. First image of the far side of the moonThe Soviets beat us to the opposite side of the moon. This picture was captured by Zond-3, the second spaceship to view the far side of the lunar surface. Lots more here.First picture of the earth from th emoonOne of the first pictures of the earth shot from the surface of the moon. Via National Geographic: “This photo reveals the first view of Earth from the moon, taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 on August 23, 1966. Shot from a distance of about 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers), this image shows half of Earth, from Istanbul to Cape Town and areas east, shrouded in night.”

“When I follow the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.”

Friend_A-03Sometimes, I think the stars come out at night because that is when we are tired and worn, when we feel threadbare from the demands of the day. Stars ask for nothing (and most pleasures do ask for something; even flowers beg to be smelled). They are the stalwart companions of the insomniac, steadfast enough to guide a ship. The night sky is the largest, most expansive thing I will ever see with my own eyes. I can look out across an ocean, but as the world curves, it turns and hides itself, coyly holding back a glimpse of my final destination. The night is a gift in that way, a brief time when hidden things become visible, a suitcase turned inside-out and upside-down. Those stars, bone-white and unfathomable, are infinite in a way that nothing in my life will ever be infinite. They are beyond me always; beyond the grasp of my mind, beyond the reach of my arms. And yet, all I need to do is walk outside and I can take part in that silent symphony. Always, I’ll have the stars. And never will I ever have the stars. I find this comforting. I find this to be true.

Image by photographer Amy Friend. More here.

Sylvia Plath draws bulls and bull thistles.

bull sylvia plath“It gives me such a sense of peace to draw; more than prayer, walks, anything. I can close myself completely in the line, lose myself in it,” wrote 24-year-old Sylvia Plath in a letter to her mother. She describes coming upon a bull in a field (at least, she thought they were bulls for “they seemed to have no utters”) and sitting down on a river bank to draw those cows—”my first cows.” sylvia-plath-purple-thistle-drawingHer drawings aren’t perfect or particularly noteworthy. But Sylvia Plath is one of those writers who I admire reflexively. When I was younger, before I knew better, I admired her for her tragedy, for her sadness and her bitter bleak world. Now, I admire her language. She writes with the same sparsity with which she draws: simple, bold, present.

More here. Or buy it here.

Two scary things, in honor of the holiday.

Kate MccGwire Secretions Art Instillation
1. From Shirley Jackson, a true master of horror writing and vastly underrated writer, the best way to begin a book:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

If you don’t have chills after reading that, go ahead and read the whole book. I’ll wait here. (Shirley Jackson is my all-time favorite author. I wrote my college thesis on her—and Poe and Toni Morrison. It was about ghosts in American literature… I was/am/will always be a nerd.) Kate MccGwire art installation of feathers

2. British sculptor Kate MccGwire makes wonderfully nasty and strangely beautiful art installations out of feathers. They’re textural and rich and oh-so-creepy. Plus, they all have fantastically horrifying names, like Secrete (top), Siren (second image) and Slick (below). Some of her other installation names include Purge, Gyre, Corvid and Specter. I love how her pieces feel both organic and naturally occurring, and utterly uncanny in the most Freudian sense. They’re a double gut-punch of pretty and creepy. See more here. Slick,+2010,+Kate+MccGwireHappy Halloween! 

Iceland is magic.

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2015 has been a strange year for me. It’s been a year of very high highs (engagement! book deal!) and very low lows (cancer. surgery.) and all the forward motion has my head whirling. So, I did what I always do in times of stress: I booked it outta there.

I’m writing this from Iceland. I’m staying in a little wilderness pod on a peninsula in western Iceland, about an hour or so north of Reykjavik. I’ve been to Iceland before, but I didn’t get to truly experience it. Now, I’m traveling abroad alone for the first time in my life and I love it. I’ve been here for less than 24 hours, but I’ve already swam in an outdoor public pool, took a sulfur steam bath, climbed to the top of Reykjavik’s highest church, tripped into a waterfall, and hiked over a Viking ruin. It’s a little lonely being here by myself, but in a way I really enjoy. I talk to myself. I eat what I want. I take naps in the car. I ignore all itineraries because the only one I need is in my own damn head.Andre_Iceland_photography
Anyway, for the next five days, I’m going to be bumming around the Icelandic countryside looking for hidden folk and snacking on delicious cheese. (Seriously, the cheese here is like nothing I’ve ever tasted—creamy beyond belief, flavorful yet mild. Mmmm I want more just thinking about it.)

In the meantime, please check out some of my previous Scandinavian-themed blog posts:

1. A post about “Friluftsliv” a rad Norwegian word that means connecting to nature, soaking in the wilderness, and feeling peace from green things.
2. Have you ever heard of the Jolabokaflood? It’s a holiday tradition that I think is absolutely BRILLIANT. (Also, did you know Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country on earth?)
3. A little bit of imagery-inspired fiction (or to use a title I don’t really like, “Old Finnish People With Stuff On Their Heads)
Iceland areal shot
And finally, the pictures above are by the very talented photographer Andre Ermolaev. Seen from above, the Icelandic landscape is even more otherworldly (and trust me, it’s pretty surreal already). His photographs look like beautiful abstract paintings. He captures the natural beauty so wonderfully, with striking compositions and colors that really sing. Check it out.

Two nice things: a poem by Colleen McElroy and the fantastical photography of Cig Harvey.

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Sometimes the Way It Rains Reminds Me of You
Colleen J. McElroy

these days I speak of myself in the past tense
writing about yesterday knowing tomorrow
is no more than mist crawling toward violet mountains
I think of days when this weather meant you
were not so far away   the light changing
so fast I believe I can see you turning a corner
the rain comes in smelling of pine and moss
a kind of brazen intrusion on the careful seeds of spring
I pay more attention to details these days
saving the most trivial until I sort them for trash
or recycle   a luxury I’ve come to know only recently
you have never been too far from my thoughts
despite the newborn birds and their erratic songs
the way they tilt their heads as if dowsing for the sun
the way they repeat their singular songs
over and over as if wishing for a different outcome

Read that poem aloud. It is so beautiful—both in the lyrical language and the subject matter (I would like my life to smell like rain and pine and moss, please and thank you). Then, go look at these stunning images by Maine photographer Cig Harvey. Although we live in the same state, and have contributed to the same publications, I’ve never worked with Harvey. So far, I’ve just admired her work from a distance. Her photographs are rich with surreal, subtle magic. I dig it.