Welcome

Featured

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.

Follow The Twaronite Zone on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TwaroniteZone?ref=hl

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/

 

 

The Well-Equipped Naturalist

The Absurd NaturalistAbsurd-Naturalist-EDIT-300x221

I have commented elsewhere on the need for naturalists to be well dressed whenever setting out into the field. It is no less important, however, to be properly equipped with the essential paraphernalia that will identify you as a working naturalist. Otherwise, you may run the risk of being picked up as a vagrant or worse.

A lot depends on whether you plan to specialize in a certain area of natural history or prefer to be simply known as a GN—generalized naturalist. A herpetology (reptile and amphibian) buff, for example, should always have a couple of cloth bags hanging from the belt in which to transport captured snakes or lizards, a snake hook or tongs, along with an assortment of plastic containers to hold frogs and salamanders as well as potato salad. Entomology (bug) enthusiasts, on the other hand, should always carry a butterfly net. Even if you’re not into bugs, there’s just something about a butterfly net which makes others take notice and lends just the right je ne sais quoi quality to your outfit. Bug people should also carry plenty of small bottles and some sort of killing jar, at the bottom of which is placed an absorbent material soaked with a chemical to asphyxiate insects. I am told that used foot pads work very nicely.

All naturalists worth their salt carry binoculars. It’s a safe bet to say that anyone observed carrying binoculars in the field has to be one of two things—a naturalist or a peeping Tom. Come to think of it, all naturalists are peepers in a sense, forever peeping through an open window at Mother Nature’s enchantments. The most important thing to look for in binoculars is not image quality or durability, but how much they cost, the more the better. Nothing can so ruin a naturalist’s good reputation as a pair of binoculars that look like they came free out of a cereal box. Always make sure the brand label stands out clearly for all to see. Size is a matter of individual preference. Many naturalists consider 7×35 a good, all around size, though some go for the additional power and light-gathering ability of a jumbo 20×80. I have found, however, that such instruments tend to leave scars on the chest when carried too long.

Various field guides are always useful, especially in showing others that you are not some illiterate boob running around trying to look like a naturalist. It is particularly important that you open the book every now and again to make it appear as if you’re scanning the contents. It also helps if you mutter something in Latin. More affluent naturalists may go in for real field guides—those who, for $500 a day and all expenses, will lead their clients to all the natural hot spots and maybe even prepare a nice champagne brunch.

A few additional items are worth mentioning. A small notebook or journal is handy for recording field observations as well as the philosophical prose inspired by the sight of a rare Orinoco crocodile as it chews on your leg. Some naturalists, like Henry David Thoreau, have been known to get carried away with this to the point of spending their entire lives keeping journals. I end up mostly doodling in mine.

A camera is also nice to have, especially if you have just spotted an ivory-billed woodpecker or a sasquatch. Various telephoto lenses will help you take otherwise unobtainable close-ups of certain kinds of wildlife. For grizzlies, a 1000 millimeter lens is just about right.

A magnifying glass will help you examine natural objects more closely, or burn ants when you’re bored. It can also help start a forest fire in the event you become lost.

Those not overly fond of handling slime molds or scat might also wish to carry forceps. They are also handy in plucking leeches or nasty eyebrow hairs.

And the most important equipment of all, especially for those naturalists seeking out some of the more interesting and less primitive natural areas—Tahiti or the French Riviera, for instance—is a little piece of plastic to pay for it all. A naturalist does not live by birds and bugs alone.
©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses September 2014   http://www.5ensesmag.com/the-well-equipped-naturalist/

 

 

 

Favorite Humorous Stories – Mark Twain

No survey of humorous stories is complete without including those of Mark Twain. Having assigned myself the recent task of choosing three of my favorites, I have spent many happy hours immersed in the pages of his funny tales. My chief resource has been Mark Twain. Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852-1890, published by The Library of America, (1992), from which all quotes are taken. My choices are completely personal, based not so much on a story’s literary merit but on its capacity to make me laugh. Some people will immediately take issue with me for not including Twain’s famous story “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” (first published November, 1865), which was later reprinted as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” True, it’s a great funny story, but for me it lacks the sheer absurdity and audaciousness that characterize Twain’s best stories. So here are my three favorites. You’ll just have to read his stories and make your own list.

When I read “How I Edited an Agricultural Paper (first published July, 1870), my first impression was how well it applied to our current fact-challenged times. Twain did write for a variety of small newspapers and magazines, so I suspect there is a seed of truth upon which the story is based. It begins as the narrator temporarily fills in for the editor of an agricultural newspaper, who goes on vacation. Upon his return, the editor reacts indignantly to what his temp has written in his absence: about turnips growing on trees, the “moulting season for cows,” that “the pumpkin, as a shade tree, is a failure,” and discussing oyster beds under the heading of landscape gardening. Twain comes right back at the editor in equally indignant terms, claiming that he his articles have greatly increased the newspaper’s circulation (as fascinated readers clamored to find out what the new guy would write next). Twain’s final rebuttal to the editor makes this story as fresh as the day it was written: “… I tell you that the less a man knows the bigger noise he makes and the higher salary he commands.” Remind you of any “news” commentator or talking head you know?

“The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” (first published May, 1870) tells the story of a boy named Jacob who “always obeyed his parents, no matter how absurd and unreasonable their demands were…” So right off the bat, with the title and opening line, we are given ample clues of the writer’s own attitudes toward childhood and the prevailing popular sentiments surrounding it. We learn in the story that Jacob read his Sunday-school books with great passion, and admired the little boys portrayed there. In fact, his greatest ambition was to be put in such a book himself. But no matter how hard he tried, nothing ever went right with him. He tried so hard to be good but, unlike the good little boys in the Sunday-school books, never got his reward. In his life, it was always the bad boys who came out on top. Finally, he encounters one such group of bad boys, as they tethered together a pack of dogs and were about to attach some empty cans of nitro-glycerine to their tails. Jacob happens to sit down on one of these cans and, well, you can see where this is going. I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens to poor Jacob. Let’s just say, it was not a pretty sight. Twain concludes, “His case is truly remarkable. It will probably never be accounted for.”

Last but not least of my favorite Twain stories is “Cannibalism in the Cars (first published November, 1868). On a train to St. Louis, the narrator tells of meeting a stranger, a “mild, benevolent-looking gentleman,” who sits down beside him and relates a “strange adventure, speaking sometimes with animation, sometimes with melancholy, but always with feeling and earnestness.” (I love that introduction. Not only does it set the mood for the story, but it’s an apt description of the way the author himself wrote and spoke.) The stranger relates the events of an evening train ride from St. Louis to Chicago. Aboard were twenty-four passengers, all male. Later that evening, it begins to snow hard, and eventually the train comes to a complete halt, trapped in the middle of nowhere by a huge snow-drift. Days go by, and the men get hungrier and hungrier. They have plenty of wood aboard with which to keep warm, but not a lick of food. On the seventh day, one of the men makes a grim announcement: “Gentlemen,—It cannot be delayed any longer! The time is at hand! We must determine which of us shall die to furnish food for the rest!” The methodical manner by which one of them is elected, with the passengers voting on the issue as if they were members of Congress, is hysterical. It also demonstrates my long held opinion that no topic, no matter how repugnant or unthinkable, is taboo for a humorist. Remember this story was written when the tragic fate of the Donner Party (1847) was still fresh in people’s minds. At last, the train survivors sit down to their gruesome feast, “with hearts full of gratitude to the finest supper that had blessed our vision for seven torturing days.” In delicious detail the stranger recounts the culinary qualities of the man they had just consumed as well as the others to follow (yes, they went on to elect and eat others). I will leave it to you, dear reader, to see how the writer could possibly end such a tale. Bon appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Police and the “Infernal Stranger”

The recent abuses of police power in Ferguson, Phoenix, and other cities are nothing new. Police officers, in spite of their extensive training, are all too human, reflecting the values of the communities they serve.

In his brilliant satire “What Have the Police Been Doing?” (1866), Mark Twain starts out praising the San Francisco police force of his time: “Ain’t they virtuous? Don’t they take good care of the city?” But then he goes on to say, “… isn’t it shown in the fact that although many offenders of importance go unpunished, they infallibly snaffle every Chinese chicken-thief that attempts to drive his trade.”

Twain gets to the heart of the matter in recounting the case of a man accused of stealing some flour sacks who, after being bashed in the skull, was locked up in a jail cell and allowed to die overnight unattended by a doctor. “Why shouldn’t the jailor do so? Why certainly—why shouldn’t he—the man was an infernal stranger. He had no vote. Besides, had not a gentleman just said he stole some flour sacks? Ah, and if he stole some flour sacks, did he not deliberately put himself outside the pale of humanity and Christian sympathy by that hellish act? I think so.”

Written almost 150 years ago, Twain’s words are still eerily relevant. When police react to a suspect as some infernal other, someone less than human, we lose something of ourselves.

All Twain quotes are from Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852-1890, published by Library of America in 1992.

 

 

 

Note to Amazon: Holding books hostage not a good business plan

I joined over 900 authors in signing Douglas Preston’s excellent letter protesting Amazon’s recent strong arm tactics with book publisher Hachette and its authors. It was published as a two-page ad in last Sunday’s edition of the New York Times. (For the first time in my literary career, my name appears on the same page as Stephen King, Avi, Paul Auster, Scott Turow, and Barbara Kingsolver!). I have been a long time supporter of Amazon and, like the other authors, do not take sides on the Hachette-Amazon dispute. But what Amazon is doing is wrong. As Preston notes in his letter, “None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage.”  You can read the entire letter here  http://www.authorsunited.net/

 

“On Getting Rid of Nature” by the Absurd Naturalist

Absurd Naturalist3As a naturalist, I’m supposed to study nature, though it’s hard to know where to start. It’s all so nebulous and confusing. So I propose that we get rid of nature completely. I am referring here, of course, to the word, not the thing itself. Despite the plethora of books published with smug titles such as The End of Nature and despite the efforts of dedicated despoilers around the globe, the complete termination of nature is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

We all know what nature is. Or do we? Does your definition of nature include slime molds? Bat ticks? Lizard scat? How about that disgusting sound Uncle Ralph makes after dinner? Or Uncle Ralph himself?

Does it include time and the curvature of space? Quantum energy, quasars, and quesadillas? Does it include Big Bang, Big Bird, and bigamy?

Suffice it to say, it is all these things and more—anything and everything in the entire known universe, not to mention all the unknown universes.

One nice thing about being a naturalist is that you never need to worry about running out of material. Indeed, nature is material, and all the energy wrapped up in it.

By now you have probably noted that I don’t capitalize the word nature. Those who do so are beyond hope.

When we try to put a spin on nature, things get even more befuddled. There are almost as many quotations for the n word as there are for life, truth, and God. Thus, we find writers down through the ages referring to nature as a kind parent, but a merciless stepmother; a diseased thing from the grave, but also the art of God; too noble for the world, but equaling the stupidity of man. And we are told that nature does nothing uselessly, never deceives us, never makes blunders, and that all of its models are beautiful.

Oh, please. Have you ever taken a good hard look at a platypus? Or an aardvark? Or even your own belly button? Can such a nature be trusted? And when I hear about quarks, muons, and hadrons, pulsars, hyperspace, and imaginary time, killer asteroids and mass extinctions and the vagaries of continental drift, I cannot help but think that here lies a nature out of control.

Though I might excuse an 18th century poet like William Wordsworth for writing something so fatuous as: “Come forth into the light of things/Let Nature be your teacher,” naturalists should know better. Yet there are some today who, while poking about in ant hills or contemplating bear dung, still insist that by studying nature closely we might learn more about its inner workings and come to understand its overall scheme of things.

Poppycock! What can we possibly learn from a nature that spends over 135 million years developing dinosaurs in every shape and color and then, for no apparent reason, makes them all go extinct so that today children have nothing but plastic models to play with? Is this the sort of role model you want teaching your kids?

And what kind of order is it that gives us brains big enough to invent H-bombs, CD’s, and silly putty, but denies us what we really want—which is wings—and instead gives them to houseflies, flying fish, and even fruit bats?

In fact, the more scientists discover about this supposed nature teacher of ours, the stranger it becomes. We are told that nothing is as it seems, that everything is relative, and that someday the universe may get all squished together again, unless it keeps expanding forever, which is fine by me. Indeed, nature is not only strange, it’s more ridiculous than the human mind can ever comprehend.

We need a more realistic term, elegant but concise—a word that says exactly what we mean and won’t be put up on a pedestal. I propose the word “stuff.” Say it softly and let your lips linger on that final “fffff” sound. What better way to capture all the bounce and fluff of our weird wild universe? Now say it loudly and let it echo through your head with primordial force. STUFF! Now go back and say “nature.” See the difference?

Thus, nature study would become simply stuff study. Cereal companies would label their products 100% all stuffy. Mother Nature—whoever she is—would become Mother Stuff. And naturalists would become stuffalists.

On second thought, maybe we should stick with the old word for now.
                                                     ©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses August 2014  http://www.5ensesmag.com/on-getting-rid-of-nature/