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Gene's photos 10-3-13 008Welcome to my writing blog. Please note that all material is  © Gene Twaronite and The Twaronite Zone. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gene Twaronite and The Twaronite Zone with specific direction to the original content.

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A Nice Cave with a View

The Absurd NaturalistAN Transparent

Recently I signed up for a DNA test at one of those ancestry sites. It was a little pricey, but the idea intrigued me. Since my family originated in Lithuania, I fancied there might be some kings or brave knights of old, or at least a wizard (vedlys) or two in my background.

After sending in the usual saliva swab, I waited anxiously for the results. Months went by without a reply. Finally, I decided to call the company.

I had to go through three different people before I was transferred to the head honcho. “Yes, Mr. Twaronite, we have your lab results here. You may want to sit down for this.” I did not like the sound of this. The last time someone used those words was when the police called to tell me that my stolen car had been located at the bottom of the La Brea tar pits.

“Your ancestry is most unusual, Mr. Twaronite. In fact, we would like to perform some additional tests on you. If you give permission, you might even appear in a research paper. Would you be willing to come down to our office?”

“Not until you tell me what’s going on. What do you mean unusual? Are my genes abnormal? Is there some kind of disease I should know about? Am I gonna die?”

“No, you’re not going to die, at least not yet.”

“What is it then? Is it something about my ancestors? OK, so maybe I’ve got some bad dudes in my background. I can live with that. Whatever it is, please tell me!”

“When we started comparing your DNA matches to look for common ancestors, there was nothing at all surprising in your recent background. You have a few matches in old Vilnius—a seventeenth-century tavern keeper on your maternal side, and an undertaker and gypsy on your paternal side—and some more recent relatives in Kaunas. But as we plotted farther back, your genes simply went off the charts. You’ve heard of Neanderthals, Mr. Twaronite?”

“Of course I’ve heard of them. An early human that ran around Europe and Asia during the last Ice Ages, right? Muscle-bound guys with big brows, lived in caves. I’ll bet some of them even lived in Lithuania. So what are you saying—that I’ve got a few Neanderthal genes in my background? I guess it’s possible that some of my ancestors might have messed around a bit—hey, we’re all human. Now that I think about it, I remember reading somewhere that all modern humans have a few of their genes kicking around in us. So what’s the big deal?”

“Yes, it is true that most humans of European or Asian ancestry possess a small percentage of Neanderthal genes, somewhere around 1 to 4%. Indeed, as much as 20% of the Neanderthal genome may exist in human populations today. But yours is a special case, Mr. Twaronite. Let us just say that in your genetic makeup Neanderthals are exceptionally well-represented.”

“Are you saying that I’m some kind of Alley Oop? I can assure you, I don’t look like that at all. What kind of percentage are we talking about?”

“Near as we can figure, it’s close to 63%. So far as we know, no other human on earth possesses such a high percentage of Neanderthal genetic material. That’s why we’d like to study you as soon as possible.”

“So what you’re telling me is that my ancestors not only hooked up occasionally with Neanderthals—they had the hots for them. Does that make me some kind of freak or something?”

“Not at all, Mr. Twaronite. Neanderthal genes possess many fine qualities advantageous to human survival, such as resistance to certain diseases and the ability to adapt to cold climates. You should be proud of your lineage. Indeed, your genetic signature matches up closely with a small group of Neanderthals living along the Baltic Sea in Lithuania approximately 35,000 years ago. They were probably some of the last living members of their species before they became extinct.”

“I guess that makes me a bit of a caveman.”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite that way. While some Neanderthals constructed elaborate huts, many did make use of the limestone caves common to much of Eurasia. These were not simple caves, mind you, but highly organized homes, with separate spaces devoted to sleeping, eating, and socializing. Despite the popular stereotypes, these early humans shared much in common with our own species. Their brain size was similar to our own. They fashioned complex tools, and even buried their dead. Let’s just say you’re more Neanderthal than anyone alive today.”

“You know I have been feeling some strange urges lately. It seems to be getting warmer and warmer around here. Sometimes I feel like heading north to a colder climate. Meet some new people. Find a nice cave with a view.”
                                                    ©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses December 2014 http://www.5ensesmag.com/a-nice-cave-with-a-view/

Read this and other essays in Gene’s new book The Absurd Naturalist. Available now from Amazon  http://www.amazon.com/Absurd-Naturalist-Irreverent-Musings-Nature/dp/1502977281/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417381754&sr=1-1&keywords=the+absurd+naturalist

 

Gene Twaronite reads The Right to Bear Arms

I have always believed in the right to bear arms, though legs, brains, and hearts are no less important. #TheAbsurdNaturalist

The Absurd Naturalist is Here!

Print cover frontAt long last, after more than thirty years, my book is finally here. A complete guide to everything you need to know about toad throwing, tofu hunters, same-species marriage, the right to bear arms, the origin of toaster ovens, why gardening is bad for you, and MORE. Available now from Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Absurd-Naturalist-Irreverent-Musings-Nature/dp/1502977281/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417381754&sr=1-1&keywords=the+absurd+naturalist

As always, your reviews and comments are most welcome. Cheers!

The Case for Animal Gun Rights

The Absurd NaturalistAN Transparent

Photos from two different observers—the first recorded case in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho—clearly show an adult female wolf, armed with a .444 Marlin, shoot and kill an elk hunter with one clean shot to the head. Witnesses report that the hunter did not appear to suffer and that the wolf then nonchalantly slung the rifle over its shoulder and trotted off into the woods without a trace.

In the days following the incident, social media was abuzz with questions and theories as to how the wolf came into possession of a weapon, not to mention how it learned to shoot. Yet, despite an all-out publicity campaign and statewide wolf hunt, the killer was never found.

Meanwhile, other reports began streaming in from all over the country. In New York’s Adirondack Park, a group of hikers observed a deer using an AK-47 to fend off a pack of stray dogs. The most surprising thing about the incident, aside from the military precision with which the weapon was used, was the way the deer appeared to aim just below the feet of the dogs as if to frighten them, and that no dogs were injured. In another case, in Kentucky, a bobcat was photographed employing a .22 Winchester to dispatch a rabbit. The photographer, a zoologist from the local university, then observed the bobcat skillfully cleaning the carcass with his claws, after which he consumed the rabbit in the usual manner. According to the zoologist, this was the first time that a bobcat, or any animal, had ever been observed using a firearm to kill its prey.

Unlike the first case, widely viewed as a coldblooded execution, most of the new incidents seemed to involve a more responsible and less lethal use of firearms. In the months to come, a gradual public consensus emerged that most animals were not out to get humans after all, and, what’s more, appeared to be following sensible gun safety precautions. Though some animals continued to use their guns for hunting and protection, others were observed clearly using their weapons for target shooting and training their young. Humans observed one five-foot gopher snake in Texas plinking cans out in the desert with a subcompact Glock 26 pistol. Behavioral scientists are still at a loss to explain exactly how the creature managed this.

While some of the anti-gun people predictably complained that guns in the “hands” of animals was just another example of the country’s out-of-control gun lobby, others argued for the rights of animals, claiming that they had demonstrated a good faith effort to use their guns responsibly. The lone wolf episode, as it came to be called, was a case of one bad apple, an obvious nut job that never should have gotten its paws on a gun in the first place.

The NRA finally suggested that the Second Amendment be rewritten to include the rights of all animals to own and carry firearms. In a wildly popular TV ad, a happy family appears in their living room, doting on their two children, Labrador retriever, and Siamese cat. “We love our kids,” proclaims the proud couple, while a scene shows the two tykes blasting away with their Uzis at a human-shaped target, under the careful supervision of a trained instructor. “And we love our pets. So why shouldn’t they be allowed to have guns, too?” Scene flashes to same shooting range, only this time it’s Fido and Tabby blasting away, as patriotic music plays in the background. Then the words “Save the Animals. Support Animal Gun Rights” flashes on the screen. This ad paid for by NRA members like you.

Firearm dealers, as expected, salivated at the prospect of a huge new pool of customers, despite thorny issues of currency exchange, licensing, and delivery. There were also philosophical questions. Should guns be sold to grizzly bears, tigers, great white sharks, and other potentially dangerous animals? How old must an animal be to own a gun? And just how do officials run a background check?

No matter. Such issues will surely be resolved in due time, as they always have. Already two similar bills are making their way through the House and Senate. The time is now to extend gun rights to all God’s creatures.
©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses November 2014 http://www.5ensesmag.com/the-case-for-animal-gun-rights/

Life as Plague: Thoughts on Camus and Ebola

the plagueAbout six weeks ago, I was looking around for some books to take with me on a long flight to Boston, and chose as one of them The Plague by Albert Camus. Though Camus has long been one of my favorite authors, undoubtedly the Ebola crisis had more than a little to do with my choice. (Later I learned that NPR book critic Michael Schwab had previously recommended the book  as “this week’s must read,” describing it as a way to find “meaning in the midst of Ebola.”)

The novel was written in 1947, and tells the story of how the city of Oran, Algeria, was overtaken by a severe outbreak of Bubonic Plague, with thousands of people dying miserably, much like what is happening today in West Africa. Admittedly, it is a difficult read, especially since you find yourself rereading the author’s brilliantly crafted sentences, pregnant with multiple meanings. The city of Oran was actually devastated by the plague during the 16th and 17th centuries, and later by an outbreak of cholera in 1849, which wiped out much of the population. The book can also be viewed as an allegory of the French Resistance to Nazi occupation, since Camus was very much a part of that resistance. Relentlessly, the plague rages on, month by month, as a team of doctors and medical volunteers fight to stop the spread of the deadly disease. All seems hopeless, but rather than despair, the medical team plugs on valiantly. I was touched by how Camus lovingly illuminates the inner life and humanity of each character, investing each one with an essential dignity. I think this is what I found most moving about the novel. In the words of the narrator and main character, Dr. Bernard Rieux: “It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.”

Camus reminds us that life itself can be seen as a kind of plague. No matter how well we plan or predict, there is always an irrational side to the universe—be it an epidemic, war, or killer asteroid—that may strike without warning, bringing us suffering and exile from homes and loved ones. Like death, such upsets will eventually find each one of us, no matter how secure we think we are in our gated communities, bomb shelters, and fenced-in countries. Our task as human beings is to carry on and help each other survive, and not give in to fear and despair.

As we watch and listen to the endless news reports of the Ebola scourge, we must resist both the numbness of media overdose and our all too human tendency toward irrational fear. Lately I find myself becoming increasingly disgusted by the calls of some of my fellow humans calling for drastic and counterproductive measures such as cancelling all airline flights to and from West Africa or closing our borders even further. In such times, rather than dwelling on the negative qualities of our species, I try to focus instead on the many brave men and women who this very moment are working to stop this horrible disease, and to commiserate with the many unfortunate victims of my human family. And I remember a line from the last page of The Plague: “…to state quite simply what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.”

Approaching Wilderness Now Available in Print Format

For those who prefer reading print over digital books, I’ve now issued a print edition of my little book “Approaching Wilderness.” https://www.createspace/5031223                                                                                                             Approaching Wilderness (print cover)                                                                                                                                                           

The War on Packrats

The Absurd NaturalistAN Transparent

How did it come to this? I never intended for it go  this far. And now, with the war turning badly, I fear  the worst.

When we first moved into our little cabin in the hills, there was no hint of the troubles ahead. Yes, there were a few skirmishes with the local javelina and rabbit tribes, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. Then we started noticing stuff: mysterious droppings and urine spots on the patio; piles of twigs and cones under every shrub and boulder; and inexplicable chew marks on the siding of our cabin.

As I recall, it was when I discovered that one of our car’s front headlamps was out that things turned ominous. When I brought the car in for repair, I was in for a double shock. The mechanic informed me that the wires to the headlamp had been neatly severed, most likely by a packrat, which was apparently in the process of building a nest there. Then he handed me a bill for $200.

I tried my best to take this philosophically, but when it happened again I knew the tiny gauntlet had been thrown down. When later I discovered a ziggurat-sized packrat nest behind our cabin, I knew there was no turning back. I must stand and fight.

You wouldn’t think a creature with such a cute name—we even apply it to certain humans who can’t throw anything away—could be so much trouble. OK, so technically they’re rats—wood rats, to be exact—but unlike those nasty Norway rats which live in sewers, subways, and other dark places, these guys just live out in the woods and deserts. They have long hairy tails and big ears, and the way they look at you with those dark liquid eyes you’d swear they belong in a Disney movie. Hard working little critters, they build huge nests that can be occupied for a thousand years or more by generations of rats. Scientists just love these nests, by the way, because in addition to their tasteful furnishings of cans, glass, cartridge cases, jewelry and assorted objets d’art, they also contain gobs of plant debris and pollen that can provide clues of past changes in plant communities. Nature writers wax eloquently about how packrats have adapted to survival in the harsh desert environment, investing them with a certain charm and cachet.

But don’t be fooled. They are ruthless and will stop at nothing. They will invade your castle. They will construct nests within your car and rip out your wiring and upholstery. They will chew up your siding and steal anything not nailed down. And they will leave behind them a trail of urine, feces, kissing bugs, and even Bubonic Plague.

Normally I’m a peaceful guy, but this was war. It was either them or me.

Over the next few years, as I experimented with various lethal devices, I became expert at trapping them. Considering the number of hours I now devote to this task, it has grown from a mere hobby to a sacred mission. I am fully convinced that, if not for my efforts, this seething rodent swarm would quickly overrun my neighborhood and the world.

I have lost track of the number of rats I have killed. I started notching them on the wall in the kitchen until my wife put a stop to it. Having destroyed every hint of a nest on our five acres, I diligently patrol our property each week on search and destroy missions. At the first hint of telltale droppings or nest building, I set out new traps. Like fur trappers of old, every morning I go out and inspect my trap lines. I must be ever vigilant, for I know they are out there planning their next attack.

Lately there have been some new developments. Despite my best efforts, I have been discovering nests such as I have never seen before. Unlike the previous ones, these are more sturdy structures, complete with tile or asphalt roofs, little wooden doors, and reinforced walls. Whenever I manage to demolish one, I find paneling, insulation, and other undeniable signs of remodeling, as well as scraps of diagrams, metal and plastic scattered about, as if they were constructing some device.

Then, one day, as I performed my usual patrol, I saw it. It was right next to my favorite rock outcrop—a place where I often go to sit. About five feet long, it seems to be made of some sort of hard black plastic, with a little tray in the middle. Call me mad, but I swear it looks just like a huge trap…baited with brie cheese and a bottle of chardonnay.
©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses October 2014   http://www.5ensesmag.com/tag/gene-twaronite/

 

Selfies

The word burst upon our lexicon with
all the subtlety of a Playboy centerfold.
In a snap our clever devices provide
puerile portraits of our daily antics.
Yet only the technology has changed.

Ever since we first scrawled images
on the social walls of caves—
here I am stalking my prey
have we thrust our portraits
into the popular ether.

Whether it be the self-mocking
image of a Van Gogh or Picasso
looking back at us from the canvas or a
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man,
it is all of the same mold.

We don’t need a new word.
It is the same game of fame.
But now all that will remain
of us as we pose triumphantly
in front of the Eiffel Tower
while cuddling our crotches are
shifting images lost in the cloud.

First published in BLACK HEART MAGAZINE,                                                                September 2014, Quarterly Issue #1.14    http://blackheartmagazine.com/2014/09/30/september-2014-digital-issue-1-14-now-available/