How the anthropologist learned to tell stories

The natives are getting restless at the poor quality of the anthropologist’s stories. In all his years of schooling, he never stopped to consider how difficult the informant’s job might be: anthropologist and informant were two very different things, he’d thought. But in Imbonggu society, one listens in order to learn how to embroider. And if he wants to hear their stories, he has to tell some of his own. That’s how it works.

So the anthropologist, an American, tells them about Paul Bunyan, about George Washington. Well, they can see how a big blue ox would make giant footprints, but so what? What’s the upshot? And they can certainly understand how a young man might want to test parental authority by chopping down a valuable tree — so far, so good. But the punch line completely eludes them. He told the truth? Why? Perhaps these white people simply lack the imagination to tell a good story!

Then the anthropologist happens upon a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. What the hell, he says to himself, I’ve tried everything else — why not the author of “The White Man’s Burden”? So the next time his neighbors drop in to share the warmth of his hearth, he regales them with Just So Stories. They’re delighted. “The white man can tell stories after all!” they whisper.

When he first headed off to the New Guinea highlands, his parents were distraught. They and everyone else back home were afraid he would get eaten by cannibals, just like Michael Rockefeller. Well, who doesn’t want to eat the rich? But the anthropologist was just a poor graduate student then. Not much to him. He had that lean and hungry look.

After he settled in among his hosts, he was shocked to find that they quite agreed with his parents: the countryside swarmed with cannibals and sorcerers! They infested all the surrounding clans, not to mention people farther away who spoke incomprehensible gibberish — topsy-turvy places where people laughed when someone died and wept inconsolably at the purchase of a new truck. Once, when he returned from a prolonged trip to the coast, his neighbors shrieked and hid, thinking that they must be seeing his ghost.

No, the Imbonggu were unanimous: the anthropologist was only really safe among the Imbonggu. He had nothing to fear but his own untutored cravings. Because white men are themselves notorious eaters of flesh — or so he heard one mother tell her child when the child would not behave. She was making noise when she should have been listening to the grown-ups’ stories, and now it was time to frighten her into submission. Be quiet, child, said the mother, or the white man will eat you!

Her daughter looked skeptical, so the mother elaborated. Hadn’t she seen how their airplanes swallowed human beings through gaping holes in their sides? Every year, young men from the villages get on airplanes and fly away to Port Moresby, never to return. Or, if on rare occasions they did return, they wore the white man’s clothes and wristwatch and carried machines that played the white man’s music: clearly ensorcelled. Their souls had been stolen to flavor some rich white man’s stew.

The child backed away from the anthropologist, her eyes big as platters. Did he not arrive on an airplane? her mother hissed.
__________

Based on the stories anthropologist William E. Wormsley tells on himself in his marvellous book,THE WHITE MAN WILL EAT YOU! An anthropologist among the Imbonggu of New Guinea, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993.

For more tales about the learning process, be sure to visit qarrtsiluni at its brand-new home.

Off color

xylophoneCompany policy dictated the wearing of bright colors for all male employees. One senior manager wore a sky-blue suit with a scarlet tie; another wore orange slacks and a green sport coat. Maracas were issued to everyone in management, with instructions on how to use them and when. I’m not sure what I was doing there. Probably I had been hired through a temp agency and kept on indefinitely, despite my failure to observe the rules about fun. But now they were trying to make me part of the team.

Along with one other guy, I was taken downstairs to the plush offices of the Chief Financial Officer, who always wore mirrored sunglasses, he said, to protect his eyes from the glare of the suits — including his own, which was a vibrant purple. He spoke in a low, conspiratorial whisper. “What they want us to do now,” he said, “is watch some silly training video. But I don’t think you two really need any more training. I got some other ideas — come on, have a seat.”

I sank into the plush leather armchair and directed my gaze toward the screen while the CFO fiddled with the projector. “I know, I know. We can build the most sophisticated weapons delivery systems known to man, but can any of us operate a simple projector? No, we cannot,” he said with a self-deprecating chuckle. C’mon — how dumb do you think we are? I remember thinking just before the first of the lurid images appeared on the screen.

The CFO maintained the avuncular tone throughout, supplying the only soundtrack to the silent movies of rape and incest and torture. “Good stuff, eh guys?” I found myself nodding in agreement — I wanted the job. When the lights came back on, I forced myself to smile. Our new friend handed us each a pair of sunglasses identical to his own. “Welcome to the firm,” he said.

That was my last dream this morning before I woke. Don’t ever let anyone tell you we dream in black and white — a silly notion — though sometimes maybe I wish I could. Outside it was overcast and threatening rain.

springhouse in the rain

The other day around 3:00 in the afternoon, the sun broke through in the middle of a downpour. In the little marsh across the road, the roof of the springhouse shone brightly through the curtain of rain. It was beautiful. Fog began to form almost immediately, the rain turning back into clouds as soon as it hit the ground. When it slackened off, I rushed up into the field to watch the last of the mist rising off the goldenrod.

path to the clouds

By the following morning, off-and-on showers had given way to a steady rain. My brother brought his year-and-a-half-old daughter up for a visit and they horsed around for a while in my parents’ library. She has been drawn to books ever since she could sit upright — even large books without words. She loves sitting and turning the pages of her daddy’s scholarly tomes, or visiting the public library with her mother. If her grandpa doesn’t sit down and read one of her favorite children’s books to her as soon as they arrive, she gets very out-of-sorts. And I have to say, whenever she comes to visit, the books up on the shelves suddenly seem considerably less solemn and reserved, as if they know it won’t be too many more years before a new reader takes them down, one by one, and translates their black-and-white pages into joyful sound.

playing in the library

(As usual, click on the photos to see the full-size versions, which may take a little while to load at slower modem speeds.)

Coats

By the end of the night, a dozen foxes, several hundred ermines, and well over three thousand minks have passed through the arms of the coat-check man. His hands glow like a swimmer’s, fresh from navigating a cold river of furs. All over his body, the small hairs stand up from the static charge.

*

It’s the same old story: the bear comes into the cave and takes off his pelt. His wife smiles wanly at the familiar sight. Once the epitome of a brave, he has grown quite full of himself, both literally and figuratively. Soon he will pass out on the bed and sleep for four months straight. She’s sick of it. But her mother had warned her: He’s a bear! He’d eat his own children if they got too close.

*

He finds his car — one of the last three in the garage — and pulls out slowly, wary of drunks. The sky is just beginning to brighten ahead of him as he crosses the East River. He thinks of stopping at the club, but it’s too late. He thinks about dark, well-tailored suits, and how sad and vulnerable most men appear when they take them off. He thinks of everything but the home ahead and the boneless wife who nearly vanishes in his embrace.

*

She eyes the empty pelt lying beside him in the bed. No good. It doesn’t fit. He begins to snore, and she wrinkles her nose. Once the fecal plug forms, at least the air at the back of the cave won’t get too bad. But this time, she won’t be here to find out. Let’s fast-forward through the tender scene in which she takes her tearful yet resolute leave of his unconscious form. I’m going back to the riverbank, she whispers. She goes to the closet and pulls out her favorite coat: sleek and brown, with a delicious, musky scent.

*

He travels north, flying through the endless night of winter. There are no more trees. Land and water turn hard beneath him. Artificial mountains appear: the dwellings of the Stone Coats like longhouses on end, separated by paths that always meet at right angles, like the strands of a net. There’s a small circle in the middle of an intersection where someone has made off with a manhole cover. He dives through a hole in the ice and enters the great ocean.

End of the rifle

The plane banked and swung low over the treetops — so low, we all dove for cover, thinking the pilot must be suicidal. (Has Al Qaeda begun hijacking Piper Cubs?) Its engine roared and sputtered like a teenager’s badly tuned GTO, and we held our breaths as it banked again and went into a steep climb. Maybe this is some kind of mating flight, I thought, peering at the cockpit through the scope of my .338 Winchester.

The plane leveled off at about five hundred feet above the forest canopy and began to circle. I think we were all getting a little peeved — we’d paid $8,000 a head for a quality, wilderness hunting experience, and goddamn it, we wanted some peace and quiet! But the next thing we knew, four parachutes were opening in the sky above us.

“You’re not going to believe this, guys,” I said, still looking through the Trijicon AccuPoint. Jim grabbed his .30-06 and followed suit. Four chairs were floating down toward us. “What the hell?”

As the engine’s roar died away into the distance, three of the parachutes lodged in the treetops around the camp, dangling their strange cargo just out of reach. I headed for where I thought the fourth had come down, forgetting about grizzlies for the moment as I smashed through the alder.

There it was, sitting slightly askew in the middle of the thicket. It was a camp chair, all right, with a light wood frame supporting long strips of some kind of leaf. Additional items were tied across its arms: a rolled-up hammock, a long, bamboo tube and a bundle of dart-like things. A blowgun?

When I unrolled the hammock — cunningly constructed of vines and plant fibers — a piece of paper fell out. The message looked as if it had been typed on an actual typewriter.

“Dear Friends,” it read, “We send you these gifts as tokens of our goodwill. We bring good news about the grace of God and his victory over the giant anaconda, which will bring peace and love to your war-torn lands at last. Welcome to civilization!” It was signed simply, “The Waorani.”

Someone had added a postscript in pen at the bottom of the page. “P.S. Awfully sorry to inform you that the subsurface rights to the forest in which you have been hunting belong to Shell Oil, who will begin bulldozing for an oil sands mine on Monday. Peace.”
__________

Based on a real dream, after seeing the movie End of the Spear (official website with trailers and merchandiseRotten Tomatoes). For a series of articles exploding the myth of the pacified Waorani, see here.

Tags: End of the Spear, Waorani, Waodani, Huaorani

Running the dogs

You don’t want to write. You want to have written, I admonished the overgrown puppy straining against the leash.

Every other day, we took the two mutts on chew-proof chains to the dead end of the street, then cut across the yard of an unoccupied house, went through a hole in a grown-up hedge and came out onto the concrete lot of an abandoned warehouse, where we let them loose. It was November in Mississippi. The right-angled insurgency was yellowing in the cracks. Seeds sprang from pods at the slightest provocation.

The lot was bordered by a watery ditch (they called it a bayou, rhymes with “hey you”) across which someone had thrown a narrow board bridge. The trick to keeping the dogs out of the mud was to lead by example, dashing eagerly over the bridge and up onto the old railroad bed beyond. It usually worked.

The railroad bed was a wide no-man’s-land dividing what used to be the exclusively white side of town from the black side of town; the yards and houses on the far side of the former tracks remained noticeably poorer and more brightly colored. The right-of-way — if you could still call it that — bore signs of an on-going struggle over its fate: here, some ambitious speculator had planted survey stakes. There, someone from the far side had planted and half-harvested a small plot of okra. Two private visions of paradise. But what about the public?

The dogs raced back and forth, got into everything. The white one was dumb as a bucket of rocks. Sometimes her front legs couldn’t go fast enough to keep up with her strong hind legs, and she went rolling, ass over teacup. But the brown one — an adopted stray — was plenty smart, and had learned a basic version of hide-and-seek. Eva would duck down in the tall grass and have me yell, “Where’s Eva?” in a panicked voice, and the brown dog would come barreling like a runaway locomotive back from wherever her nose had taken her. Sleuthing consisted of running in circles until the quarry made some exasperated noise.

Work on your listening. School yourself in surprise. That’s all there is to it! The white dog squatted and assumed a thoughtful look.

Missing tree

gone beech 1Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.

The first flip-flops of the fall semester are coming up the sidewalk across the lawn in front of Old Main.

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.

They stop short. There’s a brief rummaging sound, then the snapping open of a cellphone, followed by seven beeps.

Hey Brad, it’s me. I’m here on Old Main lawn, on that sidewalk above the Wall?

You’re where? Oh, sorry! But listen, you gotta come down here RIGHT NOW. I want you to tell me I’m not crazy!

beech with three-part trunkWell, you know that tree with like the smooth gray bark and the great big limbs that reached all the way to the ground? The one we used to party under, and you carved our initials on it way up high where no one would see it unless they climbed?

Yeah, O.K., a weeping beech — whatever. I called it the Umbrella Tree.

Listen, it’s NOT HERE.

I’m DEAD serious. I’m standing here looking at a great big patch of smooth DIRT. It’s like, no stump or anything!

They’ve got the area all roped off, with ribbons and stuff. Oh wait, I guess I can walk around…

beech with fungusNo, the one behind it is still there. But there’s a big orange fungus thing on the back of it, like, I don’t know… Like maybe that’s what happened to the other one, you know?

Yeah, I know it looked healthy last time we saw it, but that was like last MAY.

I don’t know, I’m just saying, maybe they HAD to cut it down.

No, I don’t see how our carving could’ve hurt it. People have been carving these trees like FOREVER. You remember that one on the other side of the sidewalk? “1970 – the year PSU burned”! It’s like a YEARBOOK or something.

Oh wait! Hold on! I was wrong! The tree’s STILL HERE!!!

gone beech 2No, I am NOT. I’m SERIOUS. You know that one big branch that bent down into the ground and came back up again? The one that we — uh, you know. They LEFT it, the part that comes back up! It must’ve put down its own roots! They just cut off a couple of its side branches or whatever. And there’s fresh barky stuff all around it.

WhatEVER. The point is, they’re keeping it! Like, they didn’t WANT to cut down the rest of the tree, but they HAD to.

beech with graffitiWell, maybe, but why would they? They go to all that trouble with those elm trees, when they could just cut THEM all down and put in some other kind of tree. Penn State LIKES trees!

Well, I don’t care if it IS just because of the alumni. Pretty soon we’ll be alumni too, ya know! Well, I will, anyway. You can go back to sleep now. I gotta get to class.

__________

For all you procrastinators: today is the deadline to send in tree-related links for the third Festival of the Trees, which will be hosted on September 1 at Burning Silo. Send them to Bev at burning-silo (at) magickcanoe (dot) com, with “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line.

A sailor’s life

mermaid

First of all, you must know this: they can’t sing. At all. That much is pure folklore.

*

I remember how we met; it was my first day on the job. The ocean started halfway down a dark flight of stairs. We were equipped with wet suits, oxygen tanks, and flippers, which made it a little difficult to navigate the steps. The water came up to my knees, then up to my chest, then it was over my head and I couldn’t get over the strangeness of breathing underwater. I snapped on my flashlight and was startled by the number of bright, swimming things all around me, garish as a toddler’s plastic toys – spillover from the nearby artificial reef. I snapped my light back off, a little frightened. To think the whole world was once that way!

A complicated set of airlocks took us out into a subterranean parking garage, with pumps roaring to keep it dry. Sooner or later, I’m sure, the U.N. will eliminate the loophole that still permits automobiles as long as they aren’t on land. We squished up several flights of stairs, past a shopping mall mezzanine and the kitchen of a fancy restaurant. The cooks waved us over and pointed to a half-sized door. “There’s more ocean down that way,” they said, “but be sure to knock first.”

Well, guess who we found on the other side. And she wasn’t alone, either.

*

She had a dark and roving eye, and her hair hung down in ringalets. So went the old sea shanty.

Actually, I don’t mind her roving eye, as long as it stops roving long enough to take me in. It’s when she looks through you or past you that you want to die. Picture Odysseus straining at the mast, the surf roaring in his ears, in his throat, mad to fling his body against the rocks…

*

Sailors have always been fairly unreliable types, I guess. Still, it’s surprising that it took the scientists so long to verify what sailors had sung about for centuries, whenever their bodies stopped swaying long enough for them make contact with a barstool. Manatees, the skeptics said at first. Then, porpoises. But no: these were true descendents of the hominid line, gone the only direction they could go to escape the genocidal tendencies of their Cro-Magnon cousins. They saw what had happened to the Neanderthals.

It’s hard to imagine the long-term vision and cold-heartedness required to subject your own tribe to a program of selective breeding and strict natal screening, generation after generation killing the infants who didn’t take to the water, then for extra measure killing all who weren’t beautiful. But somehow they must’ve done it — or so my shipmates tell me. It stands to reason. Why else would they still be here, when so many other things are gone forever?

*

Time passes differently at sea: more slowly, yes, but in a good way. Landside, you’d pay a lot for this much free time. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours down below, watching the light show of luminescent plankton being sucked in through the baleeners. It’s kind of hypnotic. We can catch 20,000 pounds of krill and plankton on a good day — that’s a lot of fireworks. Sometimes I like to imagine I’m inside one of those great sea creatures, the whales, that died out back in the 21st century. Sitting in the darkness, surrounded by flickering curtains of blue and green and red, I straddle my cello and broadcast slow improvisations on longing out into the farthest reaches of the interstellar net.
__________

Edited 8/24/06 in response to reader comments.

After forever

record

I’m awoken at 2:30 by something crawling on my back. I turn on the light, and there beside me in the bed is a big, black cricket. I scoop it up and pad downstairs, open the front door and toss it out into the darkness.

Five and a half hours later, my dad and I are rummaging around in the basement of my parents’ house, looking for the big can of miscellaneous nuts and bolts. I’ve just been given an old stereo — my first in fifteen years — but one of the speakers is missing a nut where the wires attach. The nut can isn’t in its usual place on the shelf. We look high and low without success, and we’re on our way back up the cellar stairs when I spot a can on top of the shelf where the nails are kept. Eureka!

The stereo only came with one, thin speaker wire, but I find a couple coils of thicker stuff in one of my dad’s boxes of electrical supplies. Now let’s see if I can put it all together. It’s an overcast morning, with rain in the forecast — perfect weather for puttering around indoors.

The stereo components appear to date from the late 60s or early 70s. There’s a Sherwood receiver, AR speakers, a Pioneer tape deck and a Benjamin Miracord turntable. It would be cool if the tape deck works — I have a lot of cassettes — but I already have a boom box if it doesn’t. I’m mainly hoping that the record player works, so I can bring down some of my classical records from my parents’ house and listen to music in the evenings, which is generally when I would prefer to listen to music, I think.

The previous owner had kept all the manuals, which is good, because unlike more modern equipment that I’ve owned in the past, the connections aren’t color-coded; everything is explained in terms of ohms. After a great deal of fussing and muttering, I get it all hooked up and plugged in, but now I can’t find the “on” button. I turn up the “Loudness” knob and get a rain of static — the radio works! In a burst of inspiration, I connect the old, thin speaker wire to the screws where an FM antenna is supposed to attach and run it up to the ceiling, and suddenly I’m listening to NPR’s Scott Simon oozing fake empathy. Huzzah!

One of the speakers has a distinct, rattling buzz. I get a screwdriver and pry off the cover, and as I suspected, only a small piece of foam still connects the woofer’s black paper cone to its frame; the rest has disintegrated. I gather from the web that speakers in this condition can be repaired, though I’m not sure I’m up to the task. What’s surprising is that the other speaker still sounds fine. If the turntable works, I’ll count myself lucky.

First, though, I test the tape deck. It makes a faint grinding noise when I turn it on — that’s all. I recall that my dad’s brother gave us an old tape deck a few years back thinking we might be able to use it, though we never did. I go fetch it from my parents’ attic, and it sort of half works: sound comes out of the left channel loud and clear, but nothing from the right. That’s O.K., I guess, since I only have one good speaker. Fortunately, the receiver has a monaural setting.

My classical records are up in my parents’ collection, as I mentioned, and years ago I sold off my blues records in a fit of madness, so all I have down here right now are a couple dozen old metal and punk records. For testing purposes, Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality should do. Besides, I don’t have it on cassette — I haven’t heard these songs in a very long time.

The needle looks O.K. I drop it in the groove between the first and second tracks and “After Forever” comes on. Damn — it sounds good, even with the one fuzzy speaker! The great, stoned, bass-heavy riffs instantly take me back twenty years, but the lyrics sound relevant as ever:

I think it is true it was people like you who crucified Christ
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced

I listen to the rest of the record with one ear while I type. Then it’s over, and the phonograph arm returns to its cradle with a quiet whir and click — a sound that provokes a nostalgia all its own.

In the aftermath, I find myself focusing on the crickets. There’s a loud one calling right outside the front door.

record player

UPDATE: I replaced the buzzy speaker with the one that still sounded good from an old pair of Polk speakers in my parents’ attic. So I now have a working stereo.

Fishers of men & other improbabilities

Small dark animals with long tails & pointed snouts: fishers, four of them. They walk into our camp from each of the four directions. Amazed, we drop to our hands & knees. Human & weasel circle each other warily, looking not for an advantage but some point of contact.

*

I feel something moving under my skin right below my shoulder — the same place where my mother once had a botfly larva hatch out after a trip to Peru. I pull up my sleeve & look. My arm is transparent, & the approximate color of amber. Various winged insects are suspended in it. A few have died, but most still struggle to escape.

*

I’m working as a freelance journalist for some highbrow publication on popular culture, in which capacity I have to do a phone interview with Metallica frontman James Hetfield. We talk about his flirtation with Christian Science, & he jokes that this was his substitute for a more fashionable heroin addiction. I pretend to know something about religion, about addiction, about making music, but I’m glad when the interview’s over. You don’t want a guy like James Hetfield finding out that you are a total fraud.

*

I decide that all nouns are clichés. I discover a way to display my poems electronically so that every time the page is renewed, all the nouns change. I program in a bank of nouns to draw from, like numbers in a lottery. Conspicuously absent are such poetic-sounding lies as light & stone & salt.

*

I usually leave my computer on all night in order to avoid messing up the wireless connection, but I feel guilty about the waste of energy, & I don’t like the way its hum permeates the house. Always in my dreams I am waking up, I am going downstairs & beginning to type. I am blogging my dreams in my dreams.
__________

Don’t forget to keep checking qarrtsiluni for more very short stories and poems. The special summer reading edition continues through the end of August.

Old farm photos

The Children’s Picnic

Seven girls sit on the lawn around a picnic blanket. The year is 1919 or 1920, so of course they are all wearing dresses. They range in age from three to about fifteen. One girl wears a bow in her hair; she is six years old, and her name is Margaret. We don’t know the names of any of the others, because 81 years later, Margaret can no longer remember who they were. The teenager might have been her cousin Phyllis, she thinks.

The photographer takes three pictures of the children’s picnic, which will make it possible to pinpoint its location — on the lawn above the kitchen — even after eight decades have elapsed and almost everything has changed. In the background of one photo, a martin house and a large bell stand loom above the unfamiliar foliage. In the first two photos, the girls look stiff and serious — all except for Margaret, who grins impishly, at home here on her Great Uncle George’s farm. Then they go back to their picnic, raising spoons to their lips. The pet collie, whose name is Snap, appears as a blur of movement off to the left. Margaret’s eyes follow the dog; you can almost hear her calling for him to come. But he isn’t interested in joining this strange feast, which seems to include nothing but a small pile of oak leaves in the center of the blanket.

*

Charles in the Garden

Two-year-old Charles stands in a large patch of turnips, or perhaps rutabagas. Behind him, the barn is brand-new, painted a shade of darkness that must be red. Above the corncrib, rows of fruit trees where we have only ever known a field stretch all the way up to Sapsucker Ridge, which is dimly visible in the distance. In dreams, I sometimes visit another version of the hollow that lies right over a ridge we’d somehow overlooked, where the orchard was never bulldozed out in the 1950s and the old farmhouse was spared its extreme makeover into a faux plantation home. Everything is twice as big and twice as far — the way things looked when I was small.

Margaret’s little brother still has uncut, blonde curls and wears a long-sleeved white dress. He stands with his feet planted firmly in the garden path and grins at something off to the photographer’s left. With one arm raised he points high above his head, as if leading the ranks of turnips on to glory.

*

Light and Shadows

In the middle of the road below and to the right of my front porch, Jacob Plummer stands in his Sunday best with one hand on his hips and the other resting on the rear wheel of an open carriage. His wife Mollie sits up in the carriage holding the reins. They’re hauling what look like steel gates, or perhaps the springs for a child’s crib. The horse has his head up, clearly intent on getting back to the barn. At the top of the photo, a limb from the balm-of-Gilead polar tree that used to stand at the corner of the wall until its death in the early 1970s blocks much of the background. The bottom third of the photo is a double exposure. On the near side of the road, the sky starts over with much less balm-of-Gilead in it — a sky which, judging from the sharpness of the shadows cast by man and horse and carriage, must be a clear blue and not this barren field of white that we see.

*

Harrowing

The hired man and his son have paused in their harrowing of the freshly plowed field. It’s spring; the trees at the edge of the field still look skeletal, and there are splashes of white that could be shadbush. The newly emancipated stones have dried in the sun, making them clearly visible against the darker soil. The man is bearded under a floppy felt hat, and wears a long-sleeved white shirt and dark pants held up by suspenders. In the first photo, the camera is tilted, making him appear to stand at an angle to the ground, like the gromon on a sundial. In the second photo, they’ve turned away from the photographer and gone back to work, the boy astride the left horse holding a switch, the man behind with one foot on the harrow and his hands on his hips as the iron teeth sink once more into the mountain’s thin red clay.

*

The Siblings

Richard is twelve, and doesn’t know what to do with his hands. In one photo, we see him in profile against a tree with his hands held stiffly behind his back. In another photo, he stands in the road halfway up the hill toward the barn with his hands thrust into the bib pockets of his overalls, frowning at the camera. In a third photo, taken at the same spot, his little sister has joined him. His hands have now disappeared behind the front of his overalls, elbows a little less awkward at his sides as he stares at the ground to his right. A straw hat nearly hides his new haircut. Margaret appears to imitate his posture, resting her weight on one leg and thrusting a hand into the pleats of her dress. The dog is nowhere to be seen. Stifling the vivacity that will carry her through nearly ninety years of life, she looks as grownup as she can, and gives her best impression of utter boredom.