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You are currently browsing the archives of Three Star Owl – Functional and Sculptural Clay Artwork with a Natural History .

New work for your perusal (or, “check ’em out”, if you prefer)

Here is a stack of small bowls with horned lizards (horny toads, if you prefer), sculpted in low relief by pushing out from the inside (repoussé, if you prefer) with texture added. They are charmingly eccentric (not perfectly round, if you prefer), and each one is different. They have cheerfully glazed interiors (really bright colors, if you prefer) and are about 5 inches in diameter and just under 3 inches tall (not very large, if you prefer). I’m told they’re a good size for modest portions of ice cream (or oatmeal, if you prefer), drinking morning coffee with milk in the French way (alla francese, si’il vous plaît), or to use in any way you wish. There are several available in various colors but related to the ones shown. Inquire if any tickles your fancy, like a beetle walking up your leg (or something less icky, if you prefer).

Posted by Allison on Nov 14th 2015 | Filed in art/clay,effigy vessels,three star owl | Comments (0)


Really, they’re not so very different.peaspod

(Composite photo of young Gilded Flicker and a whimsical, biologically unsound Three Star Owl clay pterosaur effigy, by A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on May 24th 2013 | Filed in art/clay,birds,oddities,three star owl,unexpected,unnatural history,yard list | Comments (0)

Pondering escalation

It’s Valentine’s Day week, and I’m feeling a little sentimental. So here’s a farewell to a piece that recently found a new home in Florida. It sold from the co-op gallery I’m involved with — On the Edge Gallery, a fairly new outlet for Three Star Owl — and I was there when the customer bought it. It’s a wall piece, not something I frequently make, an effigy vessel of a very much larger-than-life horned lizard. In the lizard’s scaly back is a window into its hollow innards, where a tiny pink and black gila monster hovers in the darkness: the horny toad’s imagination (why not an imagination in a gizzard? — they used to say stegosaurus had a second brain in its hip), where it’s considering what it would be like to be


armed not with defensive weapons like scales and spikes, excellent camouflage, and the ability to squirt blood from your eye, but to be aggressively, offensively venomous. I’d engraved the title, “Pondering Escalation” on a carved banner across the back of the piece, along with the copper hanging wire and my signature stamp.

As I cautiously swathed it in bubble-wrap to defend the clay details against the rigors of travel as carry-on, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to let the piece go. I wished I’d taken more photos, wondered if I’d gotten a photo of the back (I hadn’t, damn it), and hoped it made it safely to its new destination. Like a real horny toad, the clay piece is sturdy and spiky but a little bit tender, and I worried about a horn breaking off, or the tiny inner gila monster on its invisible pedestal being jarred loose on its journey.


We can’t know what a horned lizard would decide after pondering escalation, but I guess that innate tendencies — biology — will always win out: being resilient is a survivor’s most valuable trait. The glow of a vibrant gila monster may enchant a humble horned lizard for the duration of a dream, but after all, venom is expensive for an organism to produce and deliver, and the venomous find it hard to keep friends. Have a happy Valentine’s week.

Posted by Allison on Feb 11th 2013 | Filed in art/clay,effigy vessels,reptiles and amphibians,three star owl | Comments (0)

Little-known avifauna of the desert southwest

My iPhone4, its OS, and its apps are getting creaky old, but they’ve still got what it takes to manage an image of the rare Three-beaked Raven (Corvus cerberus), turning over stones for whatever reasons ravens do.  Someone alert the Cryptobiologists.  And, Happy Halloween!

Posted by Allison on Nov 1st 2012 | Filed in art/clay,birds,oddities,unnatural history | Comments (0)

Executive “fail”!

No one said all artists are good business people!  Frinstance, I just noticed that I hadn’t updated the Three Star Owl events page in like, all year…


But now it’s current.  So, if you’re wondering where to find Three Star Owl this holiday season, click here (or the Events tab across the top of the page).  And remember, Three Star Owl items can be found all day every day at On The Edge Gallery in Old Town Scottsdale.

Posted by Allison on Oct 22nd 2012 | Filed in art/clay,Events,three star owl,Uncategorized | Comments (3)

Just a pretty

Here’s some eye-candy to bring in the new month: a Photoshop-edited photo of the Cooper’s hawk (who may have eaten Hoover) I posted about a few days ago >>

Sometimes what begins as a technically sub-standard photographic capture — like this image taken in difficult light through grimy double-paned glass, a bug screen, and security bars — can be salvaged with a little (or a lot!) of editing.  Don’t think of it as photography at all, because that’s only the starting point.  You can argue either way whether it’s art or not, but it is good illustration, because it clearly shows the tough-guy attitude these fierce smallish hawks emit: “Just keep stuffing down there below the feeders, you lot!  I will eat you, fat happy doves….  now or later, you are mine… and I will eat you.”

Posted by Allison on Oct 1st 2012 | Filed in art/clay,birds,close in,natural history,yard list | Comments (0)

What Happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah: Part 17

This is the latest installment of the series. The following links will take you to the last episode before this one, and the very first episode of the series.  Also, each post has a link at the bottom to the next episode after it:

Read Part 16 ……………………………….For new readers: Read Part 1


The excavation season at Beit Bat Ya’anah is in its last two weeks, and Zvia BenTor is catching up on her personal letter-writing while she can. Before we look over her shoulder, let’s re-open earlier correspondence. First, the ambiguous letter that set things in motion, sent by Avsa Szeringka, grande dame of Elennui Studies, to her American counterpart Einer Wayfarer, meant to entice her to the unenchanting archeological dig deep in the Negev Desert. Then, three other messages: one from Wayfarer to Szeringka, short and wry like its author, intended to stir the pot; and a pair of letters – one rebellious and insolent, the other imperious and fierce – two sides of a fiery exchange between Dario and his adviser and mentor Szeringka, the contents of which we can only guess.

Correspondence: letters home

It was after lunch in the camp on the ridge below the wadi, the part of the day when it was too hot to work in the lab — too hot even to nap.  Today it was also too noisy: since early morning F-16 Falcons had been shrieking northward up the valley in pairs every few minutes, wingtips slicing the white sky. Kept by heat and noise from holing up in the tents for sleep, various Beit Bat Ya’anah staff lounged in the sharp-edged shade of the dining tarp, trying to minimize contact with the plastic table-cloths and each other: everyone was spaced unsociably, as far apart as the small number of tables and the concentrated shade allowed. The Australians idled in a teasing, loose clump; at the next table Shams was trying to coax his semi-broken Walkman to play an Icehouse cassette.  Moshe, muttering and sweating, was re-attaching something to the tarp frame with heat-molten duct tape. And a few distracted-looking BGU students were either huddled around a transistor radio, or listening to Lior strum Wimoweh on his guitar as IAF Kfir jets — Lioncubs — roared overhead, shaking the rocky ground of the ridge underfoot.

At the edge of the group sat Zvia Ben-Tor ignoring it all, barefoot, with a sun-faded rainbow scarf wound around her head, its knotted fringe tickling her neck in the hot wind. She kept brushing at it unconsciously, as if shooing a bug. On the table lay a stack of letters weighted with a battered, handy cobble so she didn’t have to chase them across the compound a second time while the Aussies twitted her about “Air Mail.” Except for the one to her uncle in Tel Aviv, the letters were in fact air mail, addressed to the States and decorated with blue and white do’ar avir stickers. Zvia always picked up sheets of the gummed stickers at the Be’er Sheva post office before going into the field, since their winged image of a swift deer personalized her correspondence: tsvia was a Hebrew word for doe. Though there were several envelopes under the cobble they made only a thin stack — her lilac airmail paper was so light that she could get several sheets into each envelope without extra postage.  This was useful, because on paper Zvia was more talkative than she was in person.

By the middle of the afternoon, she’d finished writing to her parents, her little brother, her older sister who shared her Princeton apartment, and her aunt Laura. Now she was writing to a pal from undergrad days who was currently a grad student in MacCormack U’s Elennui Studies program. Though Dugan would tease her for gossiping, Zvia knew her news would fall on especially interested ears: Einer Wayfarer was his advisor. She situated the page so that none of the nearby Aussies could snoop, and dished:

“… very disappointing that after coming all this way she wouldn’t allow our mysterious character to be the wehériəl sign – Anyway that was more than a week ago and she’s still here. No one knows why. I overheard her say something to Rankle about staying. There was no asking just telling.  Although it’s not like she’s just hanging around. She’s everywhere – now I get why you call her ‘The Eye’, she doesn’t miss a thing, does she? – helping out on the hill and in the lab, which is actually useful since the IDF is reinforcing its ranks by thinning ours. Now if only we can get young Eric to shut up about Indiana Jones — he sounds like such a jerk going on about that movie, when the sabras are worried about being called into combat…”

Out of the corner of one eye, she was aware of someone approaching.  She stopped writing, but it was just Shams with his natty hat and a question in his eye. “Need some laundry soap, Shams?” she anticipated.  It was a site mystery: since he usually wielded a transit instead of a trowel like the rest of them, Shams’s clothes never got dirty — yet he was always washing shirts with other people’s powder. “There’s a half-empty box of Maxima under the bunk in my tent. Just leave a little for me, okay?” Shams veered away towards the tents with a tip of his stingy-brim and a thumbs-up. Zvia re-read her last words, added some more underlining, and continued:

“Anyway the Eye seems to be eyeing Szeringka’s pride and joy – Dario Some-Last-Name-I-Can’t-Spell from her Institute — no, not eyeing that way, ecch! — I just mean asking questions. It doesn’t seem to be working — he’s made himself pretty scarce since she got here.  He’s supposed to be a hotshot Elennuist, you’d think he’d want to schmooze the eminence grise.  But with all the mummy-bead bracelets, slinky physique, and eurotrash accent he doesn’t exactly ooze academic credibility (although some of my co-workers don’t seem to object to whatever it is he does ooze). So, is the Eye just scouting Szeringka’s bench or what?  Or maybe it’s all in my imagination — she’s always asking everyone about everything…”

Here Zvia looked up in time to witness a small scene unfolding in the hot sun, which illustrated her point perfectly, so she passed it on to Dugan as it happened:

“In fact someone should warn Shams right now because there goes The Eye after him marching across camp towards the Trough toting her laundry bag and sporting a dorky bucket hat and stumpy beige shoes – I don’t suppose you’ve ever seen her in field togs? Although Moshe (He of the Sandals-with-Socks and tembel hat) seems to appreciate the look – in fact now there he goes after her trailing duct tape and concern to see if she needs anything… ever since she asked him about the Greenboim’s ostrich farm he… oh, that’s right – you don’t like to gossip so you won’t want to hear about our social intricacies. Anyway things relaxed around here after Amit got back so we’re not solely under Wee Willie’s thumb and the food’s been soooo much better since they demoted Mikke the “cook” back to photographer (did I tell you about the hyrax skull incident?) because Dario flings falafel way better than he ever did dirt.Oh, hell!”

This last startled exclamation was aloud. With no warning except a slight scent of cedar mixed with frying oil and dish soap, along with something distinctly more volatile, someone had come up behind her. It was Dario, the last person she’d expect to see at this time of day. He sank onto the bench, sidling over until his hip pressed against hers. He laid one hand on the cobble weighing down her letters and asked, “May I have this?”

Folding the page over so he couldn’t see what she’d been writing, Zvia shifted away and opened her mouth.  A desert full of rocks, and he had to have that one?  But before she could say no Dario set three plump apricots on the table in front of her. “Use these instead.” His face was inches from hers, his chin as round and dimpled as the fruit.

The sun-warmed fruit glowed golden against the lilac envelopes, emitting a soft floral scent. “mish-mish! — where did you get them?” Zvia exclaimed. It had been weeks since there had been any fruit in camp but tinned peaches.

“The last of the season, from Kibbutz Shizafon. I pursuaded Lior to bring a box from home. His brother works in the groves.  All three, for that ugly stone.”

Without doubt it was an excellent trade, but she wasn’t going to let him know it. “So why do you want it?”

“Because Moshe won’t lend me another hammer.”

Better not ask, Zvia decided, and instead sealed the deal.  “For three apricots, the rock’s yours,” she gestured towards it with her chin, and picked up her pen.  “But you overpaid. I would have settled for two.”

Dario smiled, but didn’t take the cobble.  Zvia said, “Look, I’m trying to finish a letter, do you mind?”

“I don’t mind.” He eyed the stack of mail, and didn’t budge. “You wrote to all of those people?”

“Just letters home,” she said, “to my family, mostly.”

“And do they write back?”

“Of course, except my butthead brother.”  She tried again. “Aren’t you going to take your rock?  Away?”

Dario leaned across her, reaching for the cobble. Zvia felt his warm ribs press against her briefly before he leaned away again. It occurred to her how few personal details she knew about him, even after working together all season. That was odd, for her – usually everything worth knowing about everyone on site was filed in her head long before this. For instance, where was Dario actually from? Current camp rumor had recently migrated from Yugoslavia to Italy, but Zvia couldn’t think why she’d never asked him directly. “Where do you call home, Dario?”

“Here,” he said, after considering. “I live here…”

“At Two-Bit-Yod?” Zvia laughed. “Well we all do, at the moment – us and the wasps and the centipedes. No, I mean where does your family live, where do you go between terms?”

He took one of her work-roughened hands in his even rougher one and turned it upward. “I know what you mean.” He pulled an ornate fountain pen from his shirt pocket, and began to write. The sticky pen-point dragged across Zvi’s palm, tickling, line after line, its ink giving off an exotic, coniferous odor. “I stay at the Institute,” Dario said, still writing. “Szeringka’s Institute.  Near Oxford.”

“I know where the Institute is,” Zvia said. Everyone in their field knew about the Institute, and the rumors.

He looked at her, lower lids slightly raised, and after a pause said, “Then you know where I live.”

Zvia didn’t pursue it – if he wanted to shelter behind an aura of sultry euro-mystery, fine: it was probably more interesting than whatever the truth was. She took her hand back when he didn’t release it, and offered, “Well, if you ever want to write on actual paper, I’ve got plenty of stationary.” She turned away to finish her own letter.

“Thank you, cara, I already wrote a letter home.” Dario replied, standing. “But I didn’t like the reply.”

After a moment, Zvia looked up. “What?” she asked. But he was already out of earshot, and almost out of sight.  Typical, she thought — he was either too close up, or too far away. “Hey, thanks for the mish-meshim,” she called after him. Only then did she unfold her palm to see what he’d written there in fragrant blue ink.

To be continued…

Posted by Allison on Jun 11th 2012 | Filed in archaeology,art/clay,artefaux,Beit Bat Ya'anah,pseudopod waltz | Comments (0)

What happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah: Part 16

This is the sixteenth installment of the series. The following links will take you to the last episode before this one, and the very first episode of the series.  Also, each post has a link at the bottom to the next episode after it:

Read Part 15 ……………………………….For new readers: Read Part 1


In her continuing attempts to learn about Beit Bat Ya’anah, Professor Wayfarer is offered after dinner refreshments by the camp manager Moshe, while he tells her a glorified tale about a part of the site’s history from the fairly recent past: the story of the Greenboim Brothers and their ostrich farm. An unwelcome (to Moshe) interruption by Wilson Rankle redirects the camp manager to telling a less idealized version of the tale, to which the Professor listens closely, and learns unexpected things.

Moshe’s tale part 2: smuggling eggs

A hot breeze had kicked up while Moshe was talking, swirling grit against Professor Wayfarer’s ankles. The string of little lights swung overhead, making shadows jump on the vinyl tablecloth. A stiff gust scoured one of the Bamba snacks out of the bowl and blew it across the table into the dirt. Wayfarer watched the starchy puff hop rodent-like across the compound. Its unnatural beige coloration caught the moonlight, making it easily visible until it lodged in a cage-like spurge at the far side of the open area. “It’s the sand rat’s lucky day,” she said.

But Moshe was focused on ostriches. “What the Greenboim brothers did wasn’t stealing, exactly,” he said again.

“No?” she asked.

“No.” The camp manager shook his head. “More mits, Professor Einer?”

“No!” barked Wayfarer, putting her hand over her plastic cup. “Thank you,” she added belatedly.

“Not stealing. It was….” Moshe circled a finger in the air, to conjure the word he wanted. “The opposite. Not taking something illegally, bringing something illegally.”

It puzzled the professor, but only for a moment. “Smuggling,” she suggested. She was intrigued by his opposition of stealing and smuggling, antonyms she herself never would have paired. But from a certain perspective – if you ignored the obvious axis of legality – it was logical. It reminded her of debating with Avsa Szeringka: Wayfarer admired the mental agility, while disagreeing with the premise.

“Yes! Smuggling.” Moshe slapped the table. “That’s not like stealing – who did it hurt? And it wasn’t the birds: how could you smuggle a big animal like an ostrich into or out of anywhere? No, remember I told you – the older brother Avidor had once worked in an ostrich farm in South Africa. He still had friends there. They told him there were rules about ostriches leaving the country. The market for meat, feathers, and leather was good – the South Africans didn’t want competition, so no birds could be exported. But eggs were different. No one cared about eggs – how could chicks in the egg survive the flight? you would arrive only with a big souvenir. So Avidor got eighteen eggs, a lucky number – and they flew back to Israel with them.”

“That’s a long flight for viable eggs they hoped to hatch. They chartered a plane?”

Moshe’s thick eyebrows bent upward. “You think they were made of money? No, El Al, tourist class, regular Johannesburg-Addis Ababa-Tel Aviv run. They carried the eggs in kitbegs they took on board.” The camp manager sat back, enjoying the leisurely rhythm of his tale.

The professor repressed a sigh. She wondered if it was the story making her impatient, or the unaccustomed influx of after-dinner sugar in the mits. If only the Aussies had managed to bring her wine from Eilat — a nice red was much more conducive than this sweet juice to long after-dinner tale-spinning.  Shams said they’d bought some, but somehow – unlike the Hawaii brand shampoo – the bottle hadn’t survived the late-night drive back to the site. Clean, tropical-scented hair was hardly compensation; it was understandable if she sounded a bit sharp. “You’re saying that the Greenboims smuggled a dozen and a half ostrich eggs past El Al security in their carry-on bags?”

Moshe shrugged. “No, I told you – that part was all legal, nothing done be’shushu. No one cared about eggs back then. El Al security was looking for hijackers’ bombs, not eggs. Eggs are not a problem; eggs don’t blow up.”

“Then where did the smuggling come in?”

“That’s what I’m telling you! It was a matter of timing. Eggs about to hatch didn’t need extra warmth to survive the flight, but if they hatched, disaster! – the Greenboims had no permit for bringing live animals.” Moshe shrugged. “Avidor did the best he could, but he picked eggs closer to hatching than he thought, and the kitbegs were warm.”

“So the eggs did blow up…”

Moshe nodded. “The first thing the brothers knew of it was over Khartoum – little peep peep noises coming out of the bags at their feet. After a couple of hours there were six, seven, eight small ostriches poking and pecking, then nine, ten, eleven, fifteen baby ostriches by the time they landed. Even the pilot came back to see the sight. That’s what the Greenboims smuggled into Israel – fifteen baby ostriches. Plus three eggs. In bags. Like I said, the eggs were no problem, but with no permit the baby chicks were a different story.”

“So what did they do?”

“They did nothing; it was the pilot who helped. He told the brothers to close their kitbegs tight and walk through customs with him. The pilot was a big important man and everyone knew him, so it worked. With him Danny and Avidor walked right through no problem, they were in!” Moshe made a triumphant sliding gesture with his hand to cap the tale. “Thanks to the Greenboims, there were ostriches in Israel once more!”

The professor took off her glasses, rubbed her eyes, and considered her response. Moshe was looking at her expectantly. She’d heard more than one colleague give a paper like this: a premise so enthusiastically presented you almost wished to overlook its improbability. It made a good story, but… She replaced her glasses, and was about to inquire about an obvious weak point when there was a nearby pop, then a more distant ratcheting grind. The lights dimmed and went out, leaving the whole camp dark except for moonlight. A combined cheering and groan issued from the lab building below.

Nine o’clock already? Moshe’s tale had taken even longer than she thought. Wayfarer held her watch near the flashlight; no — its hands showed 8:17, well short of usual lights-out.

Across the table the camp manager swore. “I’m sorry, Professor Einer, I have to take the flashlight now to look at this ma’afan generator. Please sit and enjoy the mits. Layla tov.” He nodded at her and moved off towards the afflicted equipment muttering irritably, transformed abruptly by malfunction from gracious host into testy camp manager once more.

*          *          *

Without Moshe’s flashlight or the camp lights, the moonlight shone bright enough for Wayfarer to see the escaped Bamba snack jump in the branches of the spurge as the air stirred it. Without the generator noise in the background, she noticed the breeze whistling in the tarp’s guylines, the gentle flap of the canvas, a jackal yipping at a distance. But what passed for desert darkness and quiet were brief. Moshe had barely disappeared when the staff who’d been working in the lab came trickling up the hill in a loose, chatty herd like goats. Lior, young Eric, Rory, and Zvia came first, laughing at something among themselves as Shams and the other Aussies split from the group and headed towards the springhouse. Then came Rankle and Chayes bringing up the rear like the shephards, discussing the day’s stratigraphic crux in low voices, their path lit by Rankle’s flashlight.

Zvia plunked herself down at the end of the table. Wayfarer saw her notice the snack tray and mits, along with Moshe’s retreating back. “Enjoying a chat with Moshe, Professor?” Zvia smiled. She helped herself to a handful of Bamba. “Would it have anything to do with ostriches?”

“Indeed; we talked Greenboim ostriches until the generator gave up the ghost.”

Rankle set his flashlight on the table, aimed at the plastic pitcher of mits, which threw off a dim, lemon-flavored glow, just sufficient to see who was who. “He’s got a fixation on those two scoundrels and their damn birds,” he tutted.

“I would say it differently.” Chayes’s deep voice was kinder. “To Moshe the brothers are heroes: independent problem solvers working on the edge of the system to make things better. He sees himself in them – rules exist to be creatively interpreted, as long as no one’s harmed.”

Rory asked, “Which version of the story did he tell you, professor?”

Wayfarer felt professional satisfaction – any good traditional tale had more than one recension. “Version?” she prompted.

Amit smiled, “Did the eggs hatch on the plane? Did the stewardesses help sneak the eggs through customs?”

“Well, there was pipping and peeping. No stewardesses, though. The ranking pilot came to the rescue.”

“He told me the stewardess version,” grinned Rory. “The girls put the chicks in their… uh… uniforms.”

Zvia snorted. “That wasn’t the version I heard. He told me a smart ‘lady doctor’ who happened to be seated in the same row helped hide them in her medical bag.”

Chayes lifted a shoulder. “It may have happened that way. However they did it, the Greenboims brought ostriches back to Israel. That’s what’s important to Moshe.”

“Too bad the whole thing ended so badly,” Rankle said.

“How so?”

“It was all due to shoddy research.” Rankle sniffed, as if he could smell the odor of sloppy fact-finding. “They hadn’t consulted an expert, and they got the wrong birds: Nature Reserves Authority biologists objected to the South African sub-species, and refused to introduce it into the wild here. Worse, this strain of ostriches turned out to be stupid and vicious – Danny lost an eye to one. No one wanted the birds after that. It was all over.”

“They couldn’t sell the ostriches for meat?” Wayfarer asked.

Chayes shook his head. “Avidor wanted to, but ostrich isn’t kosher, and no exporter was interested in such a small quantity. Anyway Danny refused to kill the birds – despite everything he felt responsibility since they’d brought them here. Besides neither brother wanted to give up. But they needed money to keep on, so they tried to change directions with the farm. They added some pens with a toothless old hyena, an ibex, a leopard cub, some goats and bee-hives – for the land of milk and honey – and the Beit Bat Ya’anah Ostrich Farm became a small zoo of biblical animals.  They even sold postcards and cheap souvenirs to the tourists.”

“That failed as well,” Rankle chuckled, “in a kind of dire ornithological twist: the ostrich as albatross. Sounds like a subtitle for one of your colleagues’ scholarly efforts, Einer.   Is there an equivalent to karma in your abstruse language?”

It was unclear to Wayfarer why the man found the brothers’ failure funny, and she didn’t appreciate the deprecating tone of his question. “Yes, Bill, in fact the Elennui language expresses several related concepts,” she replied blandly, repressing his incivility with academic detail. “The closest might be huwúm. It’s usually translated as ‘inescapable resolution.’ Especially appropriate since it also has an ornithological connection, although it’s ‘owl’ and not ‘albatross,’ so you’ll have to abandon your Coleridge metaphor.”

Chayes interrupted this chilly exchange placidly. “Well, things didn’t go bad for the brothers right away. The bees were very productive at first, and honey sales kept the ‘zoo’ going for a little while. But the leopard was expensive to feed, and the track was too long and rough – you’ve ridden it, it’s the same road we use now. Not enough tourists came. Then the bees left the hives – no one knew why, or where they went. Without the honey income, the brothers ran out of money before their second summer. That spring they abandoned the site just like the bees. Danny opened the animals’ cages wide before they drove away. The Bedouin claim they still see a leopard in the rocks up the wadi from time to time.”

“Hence I ask you, who would go up there in the dark,” said Rankle, “except an idiot?”  After this assertion he found it necessary to smooth his comb-over.

Next to her on the bench, Wayfarer felt Zvia shift uneasily, and glance at Rory.

Rankle picked up his flashlight, leaving the group around the table in darkness. “Well, I don’t think we’ll be achieving illumination any time tonight,” he said. “I’m packing it in.”

Chayes stood too. “I’m going see if Moshe needs any help. Layla tov.

ani ba itkha,” said Lior, following him. As he left, he looked back at Rory and Zvia, and said, “I won’t be long. lehitra’ot.

No one else moved, or switched on a flashlight. Patient and silent in the dark, Wayfarer waited, like a lion at a watering hole. She felt there was more to be learned.

“It’s just a legend, right?” young Eric asked when the directors were out of earshot. “The Greenboim’s leopard?  I mean, it couldn’t still be alive after all these years, could it?”

“I don’t know how long leopards live,” Zvia replied tartly.  “Rankle’s just being…”

“…himself,” Rory summed up. “Talk about having a fixation. He’s worked up about the wrong thing, as usual. He’d pop a vein if he knew what the Aussies and Mikka are up to behind the springhouse right now.”

Eric giggled, and Zvia shushed them both. “I’ll clean this up, professor, and lock up, if you’re through.” She gathered up the remains of Moshe’s hospitality, pouring the loose Bamba snacks from the bowl back into the bag and taking up the tray. “Goodnight. See you in the morning.” Her small hands full, Zvia marched efficiently to the mess tent.

With one big hand Rory snagged the open bag of Bamba snacks as she passed, then together with Eric he headed uphill; toward the springhouse, Wayfarer assumed. Whether Zvia followed them or not, the professor didn’t notice: none of this was a revelation she cared about in the least.  What the staff got up to after hours wasn’t her concern. But did they really think that the distinctive smoke – which frequently reached her tent, wafted downhill on the cooling night air – was a secret?

She doubted it. More likely they were simply willing to risk it: a few minutes of sociable, clandestine relaxation after the grind of wearisome digging and field analysis would be considered well worth whatever unpleasantness Rankle dished out. Wayfarer couldn’t blame them: the man would drive anyone to furtiveness.

Reflecting on everything she’d heard, the professor surprised herself by feeling a pang of sympathy for the Greenboims. Returning Old Testament fauna to Israel must have seemed sufficiently worthwhile to face the risks. But in the attempt the brothers lost their investment, Danny lost an eye, and there still wasn’t a viable wild population of ostriches in the land. To be dismissed as nothing but “scoundrels” by Wilson Rankle on account of shoddy research seemed too harsh. Wayfarer valued solid research highly, but the price the brothers paid for their good intentions had been severe.

Call it what you will: karma, nemesis, manīyah, Schicksal, huwúm, or inevitability, the concept of moral cause and effect had been near the heart of human stories for millennia. Open a newspaper, read a novel or a poem from any people or culture, and you’d see the same story written a thousand ways.  The obscure literature she studied was full of such plots in every permutation, some full of regret and retribution, others subversively rejoicing in the victory of right over law. And, as she told her students, only the finest line lay between the comic triumph of the unrepentant scoundrel and the tragedy of the misguided hero.

Sitting alone in the dark, Wayfarer was no longer thinking especially of the Greenboims, or Moshe’s flexible versions of the truth, or the youthful crew’s indiscretions, but of Szeringka’s elusive protégé Dario and his illicit nocturnal forays into the upper wadi.

She looked up the ridge past the springhouse toward the moon-washed faces of the cliffs, to where they were marred by the dark gash of the wadi’s mouth. It was an entrance, but also an exit: a shadowed cleft that held secrets, but also disgorged them.

The professor decided that she needed to know more about the wadi.

To be continued…  To read the next installment “Letters home” click here.

Posted by Allison on May 31st 2012 | Filed in archaeology,art/clay,artefaux,Beit Bat Ya'anah,pseudopod waltz | Comments (2)

A sketchy bird list

Not keen on enacting the Mad Dogs and Englishmen scenario, E and I lounged for a couple of hours during the heat of the day in the shade of a wild palm grove last weekend.

<< Southwest Palm Grove, Tierra Blanca Mountains, Anza-Borrego State Park (photo A.Shock)

This is a well-known oasis, and not terribly remote — but a destination doesn’t have to require too much hiking before you can expect to have the place primarily to yourself, especially if it’s slightly uphill. With only occasional others wandering through, we ate lunch and waited for the heat of the day to subside so we could march back across the desert to our campsite in the low sun.

E doesn’t sit still very well, but he was amenable under the circumstances: just feet from the moist green calm of the grove, the white desert glared through dark trunks, reminding us of the hot, spiny, and hard path home.  He read, and poked around the substantial grove with his camera.  There was plenty to look at: like windmills, palm trees have a quality which readily vacillates between stateliness and creepiness according to wind, light, and the observer’s mood.  At noon on a calm day, these palms seemed merely sleepy and obliging, providing shade and coolth to travelers, both human and animal.  I sat on a rock, choosing this outlier palm to scratch into a small Moleskine sketchbook with an excessively-finepointed pen, fussing over capturing the complicated but orderly rhythm of shadow and light on the pleated, fringed fans, and considering how to show the blackness of the trunk without losing the way the sun picked out its checkered texture. Slatted shadows wheeled around us as the sun rolled across the afternoon sky.

Sitting still is a wonderful way to see birds, especially at a frondy desert oasis with high perches for cawwing ravens and low cover for furtive Lincoln’s sparrows and simultaneously sneaky and showy Common yellowthroats.  Instead of keeping a list in a notebook, I wrote species’ names as they manifested in the palm’s portrait. It was possible to use a cramped scrap of background for this because bird diversity was low — the list was quite short, even with non-avian species like ants and butterflies included, and the few words provided the perfect coarse-textured, mid-range value for the desert beyond the grove.

<< Look closely, this isn’t just a landscape, or a portrait of a stately middle-aged California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera), it’s a bird list (click, twice, to enlarge).

Normally, previous years’ fronds cloak the trunks of Washingtonia palms to the ground, giving them a mammoth-legged look: sturdy, shaggy and brown.  But this grove had burned sometime in the past few decades, leaving the surviving older palms bare-legged and carbony black, smooth and manicured like well-behaved resort palms.  Little palms grew up around them, a decade or two old themselves, and bearing all their previous fans on their trunks naturally, indicating they’d sprouted after the last fire.

>> glowing spines (photo E.Shock)

We timed the return trip well, and eventually hiked back to camp with the low sun behind us.  It back-lit the cholla with a golden haze, and ignited the early Scott’s orioles perched on red ocotillo tips into melodious yellow flames.  But the orioles wouldn’t hold still for a photo, and there was no time for a sketch; darkness falls abruptly in the desert.

Posted by Allison on Mar 31st 2012 | Filed in art/clay,birding,botany,drawn in,field trips,natural history | Comments (5)

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