Sunday, March 24, 2013

I Survived Bigfoot

A very good friend of mine runs a podcast over at Less Than Credulous. In the premier episode of 2013, he went over an interesting article that brought to light the possibility of more branches on our evolutionary tree than we previously thought existed.

Because of that episode (and persistent insomnia combine with a dash of poor taste), I decided to overindulge my curiosity and watch various "documentaries" and television series on ancient civilizations (the ones that weren't influenced by aliens, anyway), ghosts, legendary monsters, and the eternal hunt for Bigfoot.

Most of these shows were created with a simple formula:

Outlandish presumption + bad science + cheap camera equipment/terrible reenactments = ratings!

If it's a ghost, then it very well could be the dead trying to contact the living. If it's a possession, then it has to be demonic forces trying to control a young child. If it's one (or more than one) UFO sighting, then it must be of extraterrestrial origin. (As an aside, the aforementioned shows are all on a network that also has a series dedicated to the joys of bacon - and eating as much of it as possible - so take from that what you will and extrapolate what the viewer demographics are like.)

Then I turned to Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot. I'm not even sure why I watch this, other than to see the mental gymnastics the cast jumps through to get from Instance A to "IT MUST BE A SASQUATCH!" (Or 'squatch, as is the preferred lingo of the show.) My problems with this show are twofold. The first is that we're not even given the premise of if Bigfoot exists. The premise the show runs with is that Bigfoot exists, an we can't believe how crafty it is at remaining hidden when there's obviously evidence all over the place (except when people are actively looking for it - because Bigfoot obviously travels along some kind of scalar telemetry). The second issue I have is that there is one biologist (as in a person who possibly once knew a real scientific field at one point) to offer a balanced point of view - which is done in such a way as to show the lack of 'Squatch presence is the exception that proves the rule that they are everywhere.

This is not to say that Finding Bigfoot isn't an educational show for the Sasquatch enthusiast. In fact, I've put together a short list of things I've learned about Bigfoot since overdosing on the series:

  • If you hear noises in the woods at night, it's probably a Sasquatch
  • If you hear animals that aren't Bigfoot, they're probably alerting one another about the presence of a Sasquatch
  • Bigfoot is omnivorous, but we've never figure out how many calories it needs to sustain its weight/height/active lifestyle
  • There are often forest fires in northern California that drive animals out from the wild. Those left behind typically die. Why have we never seen a Sasquatch trying to escape these wildfires? On the other side of things, why haven't we found any remains (not just where fires have taken place - but anywhere)?
  • Given the last point, Bigfoot is probably a pyro. Also, Bigfoot's a bit of a jerk. (See how I applied good science there?)
  • If you can't find something you swear you might have seen, it's most likely Bigfoot. My keys (and one of my socks, when I did laundry the other day) exhibited some pretty classic 'Squatch behavior.
  • From re-enactment footage, Bigfoot has not evolved much past mid-90s computer renderings.
Now, apart from ripping on Sasquatch - an if he existed, he damn well would show up to defend himself - I want to bring this back to proper skepticism (something that the cast of Finding Bigfoot does not employ). We hear something along the lines of "I saw Bigfoot" and we tend to scoff. People everywhere experience things they cannot immediately explain. I don't know military and commercial flight patterns - much less satellite orbits - so if I see something in the sky that doesn't immediately fall into the aircraft/balloon/bird/Frisbee category, then it is unidentified (to me). Does it make it extraterrestrial in origin because of my lack of facts? No. (Everyone knows most UFOs come from inside our hollow earth, anyway.) But with a little research - much like carving an elephant from a block of stone - I can tell you what I didn't see, without using "aliens must be visiting our planet" as my starting point.

What I'm saying is people everywhere see things they can't explain, an applied skepticism can help narrow down the probable subjects. This is not to be confused with cynicism, which will lead us to scoff at any outlandish claim of "I saw a thing!" (no matter how much fun it is to take that route). 

Let me draw it back to the opening of this post. Sasquatch, the Orang Pendek, the Yeti, or any of these other Bigfoot-esque creatures that seem to be very prevalent - but whose existence is never (as yet) verified - probably don't exist. We cannot stack anecdotal evidence against scientific proof and say that because the former outweighs the latter, then science is wrong. That's a scary road to travel down when we apply it to things that aren't Bigfoot (such as when human life begins, if people have souls, etc.). 

However, the evidence that there might be more branches on our evolutionary tree does open up the possibility that there are more things on Earth than are dreamed of in our philosophies (a bad paraphrase). There is a chance that Sasquatch-esque beings existed at one point - and possibly never died out. Does that mean they definitely exist? No. Nothing definitely exists unless there's actual proof - and a broken tree or a few howls in the night do not make for scientific evidence. 

Besides, I'm pretty sure Bigfoot owns a bunch of burrow owls. They're in it with the aliens! And we have definitive proof of what the queers are doing to the soil!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rilke And Other Poets

I've been on a bit of a poetry kick, lately - revisiting old friends in their residence on my bookshelves and becoming acquainted with new ones. With exception, I've never really had a mind for poetry. No matter how wonderful, or what it meant to me a poet's work is (at its core) personal expression that is rarely meant for public consumption on the same level as when it was penned. I enjoy good songs, and apart from certain works, that's pretty much where rhyming should end. I've tried my hand at poetry, and my years spent writing lyrics to songs tells me that the two are not interchangeable.*

When I lived in New Hampshire (the first time - because I can't get enough of any climate that my body dislikes), I lived a few minutes away from Robert Frost's farm. In the United States, Frost is held up as a great American poet (usually without an apology to American poets). I drove out to the Frost Farm a few times to see if it had anything that would allow me to peer inside the poet's soul - and to get a glimpse of the inspiration he used in his poetry.

There were stone walls and fences. (I'm not sure if it was a commentary of the passing years or the initial craftsmanship, but neither were really holding up to the test of time.) There was indeed a yellow wood (though yellow woods with roads diverging in them can be found all over New Hampshire). There was not, however, any inspiration - which reaffirmed my opinion of Frost's poetry: He was the equivalent of someone who who calls himself an artist simply because he picks up a book on impressionism  and starts drawing still life portraits of the things in his refrigerator.

Of all the poets I've met (which is quite a few - I used to spend more time in bars than in my home), the decent ones never decided to become poets and then write poetry. More times than not, these people were writing poetry well before they ever thought of themselves as poets.

Poets have subject matter. They have something to say - no matter how outlandish it may appear, at first blush. Frost wasn't a poet - he was an Almanac reporter who felt the need to put everything into stanzas so people wouldn't realize how boring contemplating a birch tree really is.

Then one picks up a copy of The Duino Elegies (Rilke was a contemporary of Frost's) and the difference is like comparing apples to plutonium. There is passion and madness in Rilke's work - the likes of which very few, even in their most fevered moments, achieve when setting pen to paper (says the person who writes advertising content for a living).

Where Frost drones on describing some mundane memory like the elderly relative you are hoping will just drift off to sleep so you can go out and have some fun, Rilke writes the following while observing a torso of Apollo on a museum:

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze now turned so low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Wait. What? Whether that last statement is Rilke's self-reflection, or if he is chiding Apollo - or something completely different - the description is deep and the last words are almost a punchline that comes out of nowhere to stun the reader.

At this point, one cannot tell if many "good" poets off themselves because they cannot get over that wall that impedes full expression through words, and the ensuing madness is too much to bear; or because they pick up a poetry anthology and see their works included with some guy who has promises to keep and miles to go before his NyQuil kicks in.

At best, Frost is a pale imitation of Emily Dickinson (and her rhyming and subject matter actually worked). I often question whether I hate nature, and not Frost. No. I love trees, and rocks, and lilacs, and birds - but they do themselves more justice by existing, without me attempting to turn an Audubon entry into rhyming stanzas.

I have nowhere else to go with this post that doesn't contain differently worded jabs already stated in the above paragraphs. Go now. Read Rilke (preferably the Stephen Mitchell translations, because the others just fall flat - which leads me to question whether I like the poet at all, instead of the one who's doing the translating). Hell, read everything you can get your hands on - poetry, prose, the financial section of the newspaper, ingredient lists on cereal boxes - everything!

I'll just leave with the poem that got me back into reading poetry. This one does resonate with me on a number of levels - though I can almost guarantee it in no way comes close to what the author meant or felt at the time it was written:

[You who never arrived]

You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don't even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of the next
moment. All the immense
images in me -- the far-off, deeply-felt landscape,
cities, towers and bridges and un-
suspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods --
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house --, and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me. Streets that I chanced upon, --
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and, startled, gave back
my too-sudden image. Who knows? perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening...

*This is not to say I eschew poems where the author plays with words as a cat plays with prey - and the perfectly chosen rhyme or pun to drive home a point or to succinctly express what would otherwise take volumes are always appreciated.

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