Category: travel

perception: part one

per·cep·tion
pərˈsepSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: perception; plural noun: perceptions
  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    • the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
    • a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    • intuitive understanding and insight.
    • PSYCHOLOGY/ZOOLOGY
      the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, I am concentrating on the second part of this definition, the mental impressions we have of ourselves and the world around us.)

I have been pondering this term perception for quite some time. It crept into my brain during the elections, most specifically to explain the outcome. I began to realize that it didn’t matter what Hillary Clinton did or did not do, the perception that she did something wrong (or even illegal) was strong enough to stop people from voting for her.

Perception is much different than reality or truth. Perception is based on all sorts of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with our backgrounds, our experiences, our morals, our wishes and our desires. It is not quantifiable, nor is it something that can be predicted on an individual level.

There are many ways that perception has been wandering around my thoughts lately. I had actually planned several other posts about it, but I think they will have to wait. This morning there was an image on facebook that hit me squarely in the gut.

The image was of a lion lying dead among the rocks.

Considering how many images flash before my eyes as I scroll through facebook, it is fair to ask, why did this one catch my eye? I don’t have a pet lion, I don’t go to the zoo often enough to get to know the lions personally. I can’t say I have even seen this lion.

Here’s the thing. Tullamore was a part of a (now) rare group of lions. Most of the time we see lions living in the savannah, moving through the grass, showing up around waterholes and hunting the plentiful game. The lions of the west coast of Namibia are desert lions. They live in some of the harshest conditions, little water, little vegetation and little game. They have lived in this area for a very long time and once were pretty plentiful. Then came man. And cows. And other livestock.

In an area that is short on game, it makes sense that a herd of cows would be seen as a gift to a predator. It would also make sense that the owners of the cows would take great offense at having their livelihood eaten by a big cat. Here is where the perception thing comes in.

I am a rich American. I take a trip to Africa, stay in a lodge in the middle of a dessert for three days. I hear about these animals and I see the beauty of them. That is, after all, why I am there. I am a woman from the east coast of the US where there are no predators and I get to stand in front of a cheetah, or a rhinoceros, or to get close enough to practically touch an elephant and it seems like a dream. In the safety of my vehicle or standing beside the tracker with his gun, I am allowed the luxury of “being with” the animals, seeing them walk, run, play and hunt. I come home to watch countless videos of animals in the wild or Planet Earth or read books about how many species are going extinct. I view, from afar, the devastation of man around the world. And I judge. And I grieve. My perception of the death of a lion is based on my need to pet the fox when I was three (my mother nixed that idea quickly). My heartache comes from knowing that “Tullamore” was the last of a group of five male lions in the area (they were called the Five Musketeers). His four compadres were shot or poisoned over the last few years by farmers. I grieve because I met the guy who has has been studying these proud animals, a man who spends much of his life in isolation, and loves it. Unless someone kills an animal.

So what would be my perception if I were a Namibian farmer who does not see any monetary gain and many deficits with the lion population? What if I wanted to send my children to a good school, or build new fences, or dig a new well and a lion started to eat my profits? What if I am of a generation that grew up killing predators without judgement, in fact was rewarded with a pat on the back from my fellow farmers? How would I perceive lions then?

I don’t know. That is the thing about perception. You can’t always tell how you would react if you were in someone else’s shoes. I can only hope to feel compassion for this person. It is tough, it is a stretch for me, at least until I stop feeling so very angry and sad. Until I stop feeling. But right now, my perception of the person who poisoned this lion is that they are not a good person. I don’t know them, I will never meet them, but at this moment I hate them.

I will end by showing three photos. The first two are of cubs in the sand dunes. The last is of Dr. “Flip” Stander monitoring the lions. Despite the setbacks of the last couple of years, he continues to work with the growing population of lions, as well as finding ways of connecting with the surrounding human population. Looking at these pictures makes me smile. Life includes death, even if it doesn’t feel good. But for now, I want to concentrate on the living…

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Namibias-desert-lion-Flip-Stander

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Namibia

I returned from Namibia less than a month ago and I can honestly say I’ve never had a better trip. The country is trying to grow environmental tourism in such a way that everyone benefits. Their goal is to create a win/win for people AND animals, especially predators. It is a long term goal, one that will take a generation to really grow strong, but already there have been some positive stories. Not to mention the fact that the infrastructure construction is booming.

The good news (for me) is that the experience was amazing. There are still large swathes of the country that are uninhabited, mostly because they are uninhabitable. The sand sea of Namib is an immense section of land that has been evolving (and dying) for millions of years.Water is more than scarce, it is practically nonexistent. And yet some lifeforms do exist. The recent drought (how can you have a drought in such a dry country?) have made it even harder for them to survive.

Because of this, my experience in Namibia was much different than many visitors to Africa. There were no plains, there were no huge herds of anything. There was an enormous amount of sand. Each time I encountered an animal it was magical and exciting. (Except for Oryx, there are lots of them. No wonder they are the national animal.)

Here are some things I learned on the trip.

  1. Elephants do actually listen to humans. I found this out when an adolescent elephant began leaning on our vehicle while we were standing looking out the top of it. Instead of turning the truck on and scaring it away, the driver just said calmly “No, don’t do it”. The elephant stopped leaning, thought about it one more time, then walked away.
  2. Watching seals is not fun when there are newborns around. The newborns are not protected and often die by being squashed, especially if the seals get spooked and exit quickly to the water.
  3. I know exactly how big and heavy the horns are forester kudu. I also know how tall kudus are compared to me.
  4. I am a better photographer than I give myself credit for. That being said, there is still room for improvement. (Auto focus does not always know what it is you are trying to focus on. I will not show you the thousand blurry pictures that I took.) I thought I would be out of my league on a photography tour but it was actually extremely helpful and I learned a lot.
  5. There are few actual “wild” places in Africa. Even in the bush, animals are often collared in order to monitor them. Sometimes I felt like I was in what I call a “natural zoo”. In other words, the predators and other animals run free…until they get to the fence. The fact that there are miles in between fences does not take away from the fact that they can’t go wherever they want. The good news is that they are protected from local farmers who have a desire to kill any predator that might take away their livelihood. The bad news is that it creates an unnatural ecosystem that constantly has to be monitored. One place had so many lions that they were regularly catching giraffes. However, if it weren’t for these places, I would never have had the amazing experiences that I had.
  6. Even seasoned trackers get excited when they actually find the animal they are tracking. I will never forget when I heard our tracker say “I got them!” in an excited tone when he found the rhinos.
  7. White rhinos are less persnickety and mean than black rhinos.
  8. Rhino horns are made from the same materials as our fingernails. If you know of anyone taking Chinese herbs that contain rhino horns, shoot them. No, wait, I mean explain to them that by taking those herbs, they are killing off an entire species.

Of course there is tons more stuff I learned but I see your eyes glazing over. So I will move on to the visual part of today’s lecture. Enjoy looking through this group of photos! (If you are viewing this on the WordPress Reader, visit the actual blog site in order to see the slide show. It’s definitely worth it.)

a walk through the zoo

I was on vacation last week. That feels a little funny to say because my daily life would be considered a vacation by many people. So I will revise it. I spent a week in a totally different location, spending my days with friends by the pool, drinking those kinds of drinks that taste better with umbrellas, going to the zoo, the botanical cactus garden and hiking into the Living Oases that were up in the hills. Then I spent more time at the best zoo in the world, walked along the beach at sunset and had some awesome sushi with my nephew. If you guessed Palm Springs and San Diego, you would be right. I thought I would share some of my pix with you.

I’m pretty sure when you read that you thought that I would be posting beautiful pictures of animals like this:

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But here’s the thing. While I enjoy taking fabulous pictures, I was actually on a mission. I was doing research for future sculptures and as such, I need more information than a pretty picture could give me.

For instance, I needed to know what the butt, the foot, the skin and the side of an Indian rhino looks like. Look at how much the spine is ridged. Believe it or not, the skin is not armor-like, it is soft…rhinos can feel when a fly lands.

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And while I didn’t see the skull of the Indian Rhino, I did see one of a black rhino. Isn’t it fascinating? It doesn’t even really look like a skull. No wonder they are sort of funny looking! ( I picked the brain of this docent for a while, he was very informative.) The opening under the horn is not the mouth, this skull is actually missing its jaw so you can see the top teeth at the bottom of the skull. It makes sense though, the rhino smells and hears way better than it sees. That is some huge sinus cavity.

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For the Greater Kudu, it was great to see what the feet, the back of the neck, the back of the head and the underbelly looks like.There is a hump on top of the animal, but there is also one under its chest.

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But of course the horns are what intrigue me the most so I was thrilled to see them in person.

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It was a special treat to see cheetahs in both locations, for I am going to the cheetah preserve in Namibia next month and will see them close up and personal. They are fascinating creatures, very thin, very muscular. And, as you can see in these pictures, they have very small ears and beautiful feet.

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The orangutans will have to wait for another post, I did not get many good pictures of them for various reasons, the most important one being that I foolishly only took one memory card and filled it up before I got to the exhibit. Quite honestly it was a surprise to see them, and since I have some down in DC that I can go see, I didn’t mind too much.

You can be sure that there will many more animal pictures coming. I will be spending 10 days in Namibia on the Skeleton Coast and at Etosha National Park observing the wildlife and trying not to die of the heat. I am super excited about it (and yes, super nervous as well). It has been on my list of things to do for a long time and I can’t wait!

 

tribe

I walked into the room, and I have to admit I was a bit nervous as to whether I would recognize anyone. Some of these people I had seen recently on Facebook or at the pub the night before. But some of them I hadn’t seen in at least 15 years, if not the full 35 since I graduated from Housatonic Valley Regional High School (Housy, for those in the know.)

Of course the ubiquitous name tags were on the table right inside the door. They had our names and our pictures from the yearbook. Having pictures taken is not my favorite activity and for some reason, this one made me look particularly snooty looking. As if I couldn’t be bothered to smile, it would just be too much work. Oh well.

I had a plan to talk to everyone and anyone, not to just be pulled to the people with whom I had hung out. I even had a line to say that might get the ball rolling. Unfortunately, this plan was quickly discarded the minute I went up to a group of three woman. After saying hello and waiting through an extra long pause, I decided to excuse myself and go say hi to someone I knew much better. I felt guilty for a brief moment but rationalized it with the fact that a reunion is not really the place to make new friends.

So instead, I connected with old friends. And there was a certain relief in finding my “tribe” amidst all the people there. (I think there were about 60 people but I could be wrong). I should explain a bit, Housy is what they call a regional high school. In other words, it serves several towns which have their own grade schools but bus all their students from their towns to the high school. If you ask me where I grew up I am likely to say SalisburyLakevilleLimeRockCanaanSharonKentCornwallFallsVillage. So I went to high school with people from all of those towns.

But I am most comfortable with the people from Salisbury Central School, many of whom I have known since I was five…and maybe even younger. One woman’s father was our mailman and she is now the town clerk. One woman and I took dance classes together all throughout grade school and our fathers live two doors down from each other at the retirement center. One woman works for my father’s attorney. One woman’s father was the English teacher at the high school and went on to become the principal. You get the picture, small town connections are pretty close, even if you no longer live there.

The tribe from Salisbury Central School
The tribe from Salisbury Central School

This weekend has made me think about tribe more carefully. You can find tribes anywhere, school, church, organizations, family, sports stadiums…and you can belong to many different tribes at once. Just look at the back of any car in the parking lot and you are likely to find out what tribe the owner belongs to. But sometimes, just sometimes, a tribe is one that you don’t have to join, because you are already a life-long member.

To be totally honest, I don’t feel the need to connect with many of my high school tribe on a regular basis. But it is always good to know that if I walk into a room full of them, I will be greeted with a big smile and a hug. And that is a good feeling.

home for the soul

It’s been 35 years since I lived in the northwest corner of Connecticut. I have actually lived south of the Mason Dixon Line for more than half my life. Throughout the years I have watched my relationship to this small town of 3,000 people change and go through different stages. At first, I would come back and feel like I had never been away. I was greeted by Anna and Bam Whitbeck in the pharmacy, would see countless people I knew (and who knew me) on the sidewalk or in the ice cream parlor and know exactly who was singing in the choir loft at church. I counted on this consistency to ground me, to remind me that no matter where I went in this world I belonged somewhere.

After a few years I started noticing that some of the people in my parents’ generation would pause a moment before greeting me. I realized that since I was no longer on their radar on a daily or weekly basis, they took longer to come up with my name. This was disconcerting as I always knew who they were. And in the narcissistic way of the 20-something-year-old, I thought everyone would remember me too.It was during this stage that dad would start taking me to town and “introducing me” to people. (“Say hello to my daughter Virginia”). It was a really annoying ritual, but for some reason he enjoyed it so much and I couldn’t bring myself to override his need to do it.

Eventually, my parents entered the “twilight years” and the people who were my connection to “community” started dying or moving away to warmer climes. The landscape stayed the same (thanks to a bunch of particularly strict zoning regulations) but the people started to ebb and flow. The old guard were thinning out and I recognized even fewer people on my visits. About the same time, I reconnected with some of my friends from grade school and high school, the ones who had stayed or returned here. The ones who knew who I was at a glance and greeted me with a smile.

Now, once again, things are changing. My mom died and my dad has moved into the retirement center. I no longer relate to the town as George and Bunny Vincent’s daughter for there are few people around who knew them. The good news was that my small support system of friends and colleagues helped me through the tough times of my mother’s death and dad’s move into dementia. The town, which has always been a haven for New Yorkers, seems to be full of  weekenders who have claimed the town as theirs. In some ways I have become somewhat anonymous in my hometown. To be honest, I am not as sad about this as I thought I would be. Yes, I mourn and grieve for the faces and personalities I knew and loved. But my life is elsewhere, my friendships are strong and I feel planted. It is nothing like living in this small town, but it will do. In the meantime, I can be grateful for the strength that comes from having grown up in the safety of a close community. And I can be grateful that there are still some people who connect me with who I was.

Why has this subject come up now? This is the weekend of my 35th reunion from high school. I will see lots of familiar faces (easy to do when you only had 150 people in your graduating class). And yesterday I went for a hike to the top of the “mountain” and sat on a rock surveying the land that I grew up loving. The people may be mostly gone but the land, well, that hasn’t changed a bit. And that’s where my soul belongs.

Lion's Head panorama
Lion’s Head panorama

parfait

mussels make a great abstract photo
mussels make a great abstract photo

Mussels can be found everywhere in Alaska. I don’t like to eat them (I stay away from all bi-valves) but I like taking pictures of them

In other news:

I strive to have art in my everyday life, whether it is actually working in the studio or making amazingly simple and evocatively delicious foods from things that I have actually grown. I still feel quite amazed that I am capable of growing things that are edible, there is always a moment of pure delight when I bite into a tomato or zucchini or pear or apple and it is not only delicious but I know exactly where it came from and what went into producing it.

Today was no exception. Lunch was and open-faced English muffin with a little mayonnaise (I am American after all…you could also use french bread and some olive oil) then slices of a yellow tomato from the garden sprinkled with salt and a little balsamic vinegar (use the good stuff…you will appreciate it more) and a couple of basil leaves plucked from the plants. Top it off with triple cream Brie cheese (or cheddar, goat cheese, fresh mozzarella depending on what is around) and then run into the oven until the cheese melts. Add a little fresh pepper on top and dig in!

Dinner, eaten on a sultry evening on the back patio to the sounds of the cicadas and the drum corps from the local high school, was an appetizer (ooooh, how cosmopolitan we are!) of the brie and slices of a pear from our Asian pear tree. A chilled, crisp French wine made it all the more delectable. Main course, bow tie pasta, with a traditional tomato sauce (or gravy if you live in Italy) from (you guessed it) garden tomatoes…and more wine…of course. I cannot tell a lie, the tomato sauce had some toms from my friend’s garden as well. (Thanks Melinda.)

Finish with a square (just one) of amazing dark chocolate with orange and almonds and the night is complete…

In studio news:

The kangaroo nose got a bit of a tweak today, and I think she looks marvelous. The joey got a couple of new pieces and I did some prep work of little tiny pieces of steel so that he can continue to grow in the next couple of weeks. In addition, I am working on my first installation piece since I got back from NYC. If you remember, I did a massive cleaning a couple of weeks ago and have taken advantage of the empty walls  to start a new piece. I don’t know what the story/title is yet but I have no doubt that everything will come together the way it’s supposed to. In the meantime, here is a sneak peek!

detail of installation, mixed media including yarn, wire, cardboard, plastic netting and steel chain.
detail of installation, mixed media including yarn, wire, cardboard, plastic netting and steel chain.

power surge

ice abstract
ice abstract

One day we went out in Zodiacs and motored fairly close to the glacier. As we were driving towards it we were able to get really close to the floating icebergs…i.e. the chunks that “calved” from the glacier. Despite the movement of the Zodiac, the wind and the rain I was able to get this really cool abstract of the ice. If you want to see what this picture came from then check this out…

floating iceberg
floating iceberg

Once again I am trying to use these pictures to cool down. It is not really all that hot, we have the windows open and there is a nice breeze. But forgive me for whining for a moment…you see, I am of an age where power surges/hot flashes/inner thermostat malfunctions happen with alarming frequency. Sometimes I can grit my teeth and bear it. But when they happen just as I am getting all my welding gear on (long pants, long shirt, gloves, ear plugs, mask, hat and welding helmet) it is just plain brutal. I am not fond of intense heat as it is so needless to say I kind of wimp out on days like this and find other things to do. Okay, whining is over…back to my regular scheduled perky self. (?)

However, I am happy to report that the kangaroo is coming along nicely. I have been finishing up sections that were a little bare of metal and adding the ears (again). I rally like the way she is looking, and I will be starting the joey some time this weekend. But maybe first thing in the morning when it’s cooler.

manga head and ears
manga head and ears