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Unleash the hounds!

Actually, hopefully not.

Here is the much anticipated Birthday Falcon still in its protective cello wrap with best-seller badge and restrainedly celebratory gift ribbon.  I just retrieved it home after a visit with Kate, who presented it to me.  It has “good feathery detail,” although it’s something of a chimera, with the head of a bald eagle, the large staring eyes of a kite, the breast and feet of a peregrine falcon, and (not pictured) the bricky red tail of a Red-tailed hawk.  The theory, I guess, is to cover all possible bases of scaring: Finches flinch at everything, and doves are too dumb to decoy, but if you’ve got trout, cicadas, swallows, and any good-sized ground dweller like rabbits or snakes plaguing your land, this guy has got all your pest-scaring problems in hand.

So the Birthday Falcon now resides next to a plastic snowy owl (that known ferocious non-scourge of all desert birds) on a low block wall between our herb garden and the patio section of the All-You-Can-Eat Fink Bar, an unruly tangle of sunflowers beloved by Lesser Goldfinch (the authentic locals) and also Rosy-faced Lovebird tourists, purely for asthetic and entertainment value.  At least, that’s the hope.  Kate has reported her version of this winged terror to be actually terrifying to her yard birds which, of course, we agree is totally unacceptable.

So tomorrow we’ll watch: if there’s any disturbance in the furious fressing of finches at the flowerheads, we’ll have to relocate the feathery menace to a less effective location, and enjoy it there.  Possibly the living room.

Posted by Allison on Aug 19th 2012 | Filed in artefaux,birds,natural history,yard list | Comments (3)

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)

What happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah: part 15

This is the fifteenth 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:

Read Part 14 ………………………………………………………………….For new readers: Read Part 1


Having extended her time at Beit Bat Ya’anah to try to learn more about Szeringka’s elusive protégé, Einer Wayfarer also continues to gather info about the site itself. “Beit Bat Ya’anah means House of the Ostrich’s Daughter,” Amit Chayes had told her. “There used to be an ostrich farm on the site. Ask Moshe sometime – he loves to tell that story.” Since the professor now finds herself dreaming about herds of strong-toed ostriches wandering freely among the jumbled rocks of the Upper Wadi, she resolves to ask Moshe about this part of the site’s history.

Moshe’s tale part 1: hai bar and hospitality

“And so you must imagine the greening of the Wilderness!” Moshe declared to his audience of one. The dim light strings edging the dining tarp barely lit the tables, making the dark only slightly brighter than actual starlight. Equipped with rough but expressive English, Moshe struck Wayfarer as an enthusiastic storyteller, and his usual short temper was nowhere in evidence. The professor supposed it was because he was momentarily playing camp host and not manager. She made a scholarly mental note: the guest-host relationship, well-documented from antiquity, was still thriving in this part of the world. She filed the thought, and caught up with his tale.

“Such heroic years back then, when the Negev was tamed by man’s hand, made fruitful for all the people.” Moshe gestured grandly towards the dark, vacant land wrapped all around the camp. Wayfarer assumed it was a symbolic gesture, meaning other parts of the southern desert: the barren stony flats below the ridge at Beit Bat Ya’anah seemed never to have received the benefits of human efforts, or shown results if they had.

“Kibbutzim like the oasis Yotvata at Ein Radian; Sde Boker, Ben Gurion’s last home,” Moshe continued with his bold pioneer theme. “Revivim raised from the sand – these places and more had sprouted with hope and irrigation and hard work, so that there were vines and olives and lemons, fields and schools and houses, where before there were just barren stones, wild beasts, and serpents.”

And fellaheen villages, and Bedouin tents and herds. Wayfarer’s adamantly impartial brain – the one she applied to her student’s papers, colleagues’ talks at meetings, and her own research – supplied this thought silently. She was interested in facts, complexity, cause and effect, and had no patience for a sanitized one-sided story, whatever the historical setting.  Unaware, Moshe went on.

“But some people saw that though the land was filling with men, their farms, and factories, in another way it was empty. Long before the State, and after rifles became common, hunters shot everything that moved and no one cared. Oryx, ostrich, crocodile, wild ass, cheetah, ibex – they all were gone from the wild places. Many of the places were gone, too: not gone, but improved, no longer wild enough for the animals. So began Hai Bar, the “wildlife” project to put back wild creatures of the Bible into the land, and make national parks and nature preserves for them to live in, like Noah’s Ark on land. At this time the government was paying big money for animals to put back in the desert. It was an expensive project.” He paused, then jabbed one finger decisively into the air.  “And that is where the Greenboim brothers come in.”

“Ah, the Greenboim brothers,” said a voice from the dark. At the edge of the circle of light, Wayfarer could see Wilson Rankle heading toward the mess tent. “Just getting a cola,” he explained.

“The Greenboim brothers?” Wayfarer asked Moshe.

From the tent: “They must have been one slick pair of…”

“Businessmen,” Moshe stated, raising his voice over the unsolicited commentary. “The Greenboims: Danny and Avidor, brothers from Jerusalem, looking for a way to help the country and to make money at the same time. All these wild animals had to be bought from other desert countries then brought here at great expense – do you know how much the Shah of Iran wanted for a fallow deer, or the Saudis for an oryx? Danny and Avidor hated the thought of so many Israeli lirot flying out of the country. They asked why couldn’t the money stay here, why couldn’t some of the animals be raised here? Cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, no thank you, Danny didn’t want to get involved with sharp teeth and claws. But an ostrich, that was another story – just a very big chicken, yes? The eggs and young birds could be sold to the government for the nature preserves, yes? And Avidor had experience – he’d worked in a South African ostrich farm as a young man. So, they decided ostriches. The Greenboims would be rich, and the desert full of big birds again: a solid plan. Now all they needed was land, and after a lot of searching, this dry ridge was where they came, holding a lease from the government. They put up fencing to hold in the birds and keep out the leopards and hyenas…”

Wayfarer’s pale blue eyes opened a little, an eaglish, sharpening look that any of her students would have recognized with unease. “Hold on,” she said, “I thought you said there were no wild animals left.”

Well, maybe still a few,” Moshe acceded. “This part of the Negev is far: now, and more far back then, sof ha’olam smola – at the end of the world go left, yes? That was why the land was available.” Having cleared up the point, and received no further interruption, he continued. “There was water at the old spring house back in those days, and they built the lab building to hold incubators for the eggs and a place to make food for the chicks, and the ostriches multiplied…”

“Just a minute,” the professor broke in again, valuing accuracy even above formulaic narration. “You skipped something. Where did their breeding stock come from, if ostriches were extinct in the wild?”

Moshe didn’t have a chance to answer. Wilson Rankle erupted from the mess tent wielding an opened bottle of cold cola, and stepped into the light. Hat-free, the director’s combover was neatly in place. Below it his forehead was pale and his nose was pink. “Where the hell is Dario?” he demanded.  As usual the question went unanswered. Rankle sputtered, “That idiot forgot to padlock the refrigerator!”

“You padlock the refrigerator?” Wayfarer exclaimed. She recalled having that thought about him her first afternoon in camp, without suspecting its literal truth.

“And the pantry,” grumbled the archæologist. “Only at night, for the same reason we padlock the tool shed. Otherwise the Bedouin boys – natural thieves, the little thugs – will sneak over in the dark and help themselves.”

“More likely the Aussies will,” joked Moshe, winking at Wayfarer. “But really, it’s only to make sure the door stays shut to hold in the cold all night when the generator is off. You can’t lock a tent.” He winked again.

The winks surprised her. To Wayfarer’s further surprise Rankle crossed to their table, swigged his cola, and settled as if he meant to socialize. “I can’t believe Chayes entrusted that pain in the ass with a key… he’s flakier than the girl. And I wouldn’t put it past him to help himself to a midnight snack, either.” He seemed to expect support from Moshe on the topic, but only received a shrug.

“That pain in the ass keeps kashrut okay,” Moshe said pragmatically, “which saves time and water. And saves me from more gray hairs.”

And his cooking is a noticeable improvement,” Wayfarer commented. “Go on, Moshe; you were about to explain where the ostriches came from.”

Rankle said, “From what I’ve heard, they stole them.”

“There was no stealing.” Moshe waved a hand. “And who’s telling this story, I ask you?”

Rankle looked at him, then at Wayfarer, then back at Moshe.  “Pardon me for interrupting this… private party.” He stood. “Just make sure the refrigerator is locked up tight before you go to bed, will you?”

Ken betach, sure okay, if I remember so long,” the camp manager replied, knocking his gray head with weather-beaten knuckles as Rankle headed back towards the lab, still clucking about “natural thieves”.  Once he was out of earshot, Moshe said to Wayfarer, “I hate to spoil his big bad mood, so I didn’t say – it’s me who unlocked the refrigerator. I thought a cold drink would be nice for our desert story.”

He disappeared into the mess tent, then came out, the host once more, carrying a plastic pitcher of mits and a bowl of something that looked like a beige version of the horrible puffy snacks Wayfarer had banned from the computer room for depositing an orange residue on terminal keyboards. Moshe placed the bowl near her, and held out his palm in invitation. This soon after dinner, the professor was neither hungry nor thirsty, but she dutifully accepted her role as guest. She took the plastic cup of reconstituted fruit juice Moshe offered – there were ice cubes in it, the first she’d seen since arriving – and tried one of the starchy puffs.

“Is this… peanut butter?”

Ken, yes; Bamba snacks – zeh tov, zeh tov, it’s good for you, all natural. More, please.” He pushed the bowl closer. “They put vitamins in.”

“What an extraordinary flavor.” Wayfarer intended this response to be imprecise enough to pass for approval.

But Moshe didn’t seem to notice her lack of enthusiasm: he was shaking his head again, staring after Rankle. “All season he’s like this with me… How do you steal ostriches?” he demanded. “Feh!” He swiped his palm through the air dismissively. “There was no stealing,” he said.  “They did not steal ostriches,” Moshe raised his shoulders. “Well, at least not exactly…”

To read the next episode, “Smuggling Eggs” click here.

Posted by Allison on Mar 20th 2012 | Filed in archaeology,art/clay,artefaux,Beit Bat Ya'anah,pseudopod waltz | Comments (1)

What happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah: part 14

UPDATE: I’ve just made it easier to navigate between episodes of What Happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah. Now at the beginning of each new episode there are links to previous installments: one to the immediately previous episode, and one to the very first episode.  In addition, there’s a link at the end of each episode to click on so that you can read the very next one in the series, if it’s been posted.  You can always click on the Beit Bat Y a’anah category in the left-hand sidebar, but it’s a little awkward to navigate forwards through time from the bottom up now that the series is stretching into more episodes. (My apologies to those readers whose RSS feeds may have been bombed with updates this morning as a result of the changes, although I hope it’s not many of you!)

This is the fourteenth installment of the series. The following links will take you to the last episode before this one, and the very first episode:

Read Part 13 ………………………………………………………………….For new readers: Read Part 1


Having taken a brief side-trip to observe the volatile and imperious Avsa Szeringka at home in her Institute near London, we rejoin the excavation at Beit Bat Ya’anah (BBY), where Professor Wayfarer, still frustrated in her efforts to observe Szeringka’s graduate student, is once again considering whether or not to extend her stay at the remote, unpromising site in the Negev desert. To her own surprise, every fact she learns about BBY – such as its lack of ancient burials and its brief stint as an ostrich ranch – makes her more curious about the process of excavation, the many unanswered questions about the place, and its residents, both past and present.

Meanwhile back at the ranch: earthmoving

Einer Wayfarer had never been among people who knew or cared so much about dirt.

As a well-established and respected figure in her recondite field, the professor had at her disposal considerable quantities of highly specialized and well-integrated philological, linguistic, and literary knowledge. But after eight days assisting the excavation team at Beit Bat Ya’anah, the professor had acquired a range of experience which she’d never expected to accrue in her lifetime – most of it concerning dirt, the objects people lost or left in it, and the best tools for moving large amounts of it quickly but carefully.

During the past week Wayfarer had helped shift a lot of dirt. Though exempted by seniority from some of the more strenuous tasks, she’d watched the younger folk swing a pick to loosen the hard soil, then use the sturdy hoe called a turiyah to fill a guffah or a dli to pass to someone topside to push to the soil dump in a wheelbarrow.

Wayfarer herself had shake-sieved cubic feet of stony soil for infinitesimal clues to lives from distant times. She learned to use a masterina to work around an object in situ, to level surfaces, and to remove small amounts of dirt. She observed that Marshalltown was the trowel of choice among the Americans, whereas the Israelis and Aussies preferred no-name brands from local building suppliers, with the result that unfortunate young Eric took constant flak from both sides about the British-made WHS 4” pointing trowel his parents had mail-ordered specially from a posh archæological outfitter in London.

Thanks to Rory’s instruction, Wayfarer was becoming handy with a patiche and could use one to polish a balk without undercutting, to reveal a vertical stratigraphic witness to the sharp interpretive eyes of the senior staff. Zvia showed the professor the difference between a packed-dirt floor horizon and an organic-rich kitchen midden or an ashy interior hearth feature, and how it was possible to articulate a wall with acceptable statistical probability from a poor showing of three or four rough-hewn blocks or even sketchier field-cobbles. Wayfarer learned that a pisé wall was different than a mud brick wall, and that both decayed by dissolving from the bottom up between the corners, as opposed to stone walls which dilapidated from the top down. She learned that stone tools weren’t necessarily a sign of great antiquity: handy rocks were used in every era for many reasons, and ancient tools were often kept and used through centuries, their presence in a stratum providing no more than a terminus post quem. Lior had helped her construct a rudimentary but functional pottery typography in her head, and she could sort with some accuracy the local chalcolithic ceramics from Bronze Age. She was surprised to learn that there were shells from both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea found at the land-locked site, and that it was necessary not only to identify and quantify them, but also to field-screen them for signs of secondary usage by looking for signs of edge wear or drill holes. At the end of the day when the sun angled low, the professor had climbed back onto the hill to help anchor the ladder for Mikke who, with her billowing gypsy skirt tucked into her waistband shirwal-style, cantilevered riskily from upper rungs in order to shoot down onto squares with newly uncovered features or strata; and Wayfarer had held the stadium rod for Shams’s precise transit surveys of the growing length of meager, mainly Middle Bronze Age walls visible on the ridge.

The professor had quickly realized that what had at first appeared to her to be a grubby collection of callow, work-worn drones was actually a field-hardened team with specialized skills carrying out a project where success was neither guaranteed nor likely to be spectacular, and failure was irreversible: archaeology was controlled destruction – once a feature, locus, or a soil horizon was removed, it was gone beyond recovery. In an excavation so devoid of significant cultural artifacts, the soil and rocks they were uncovering were everything: even a lowly trowel-wielding novice such as herself had to pay close attention in order to avoid committing irreparable errors of excavation like digging through a foundation trench or clearing rubble that turned out to be a casually paved floor.

The only thing that mitigated this destruction was meticulous record-keeping – written, quantified, measured, sketched, and photographic – since it preserved information for interpretation and, inevitably, later re-interpretation. The schedule was unvarying: digging on the Hill in the morning and recording in the lab in the evening, but the interpretation was constant. The staff spent endless hours on site, in the lab, and around the dinner table in earnest and democratic discussion of minute changes in soil, the relative stratigraphy between areas, and the chronological relationships of excavated features, levels, and loci.

Watching the senior staff at work, Wayfarer began to comprehend the blend of informed observation, technical expertise, bare-knuckled logistics and personnel management skills that a successful dig demanded. She saw that BBY’s directors Chayes and Rankle – whatever she might think of their contrasting personal styles – were each experts in their own ways, both indispensable to a smooth field campaign. Keeping a sharp eye was a question not only of archæological necessity, but sometimes of fundamental safety, as Wilson Rankle reminded them all in a harsh public scolding of young Eric. The director had discovered an undercut 2 meter balk in Area C which he proclaimed to be “an unmitigated catastrophe waiting to happen, Eric, with your damn name writ large upon it.”

In addition to the arcane secrets of managing dirt, the practical skills of desert life were now Wayfarer’s too. She’d learned the importance of drinking water before she was thirsty and of never picking up sun-heated tools by the metal parts. During breaks she learned to value even the smallest scrap of shade, and was known to take refuge in big Rory Zohn’s substantial umbra despite the olfactory risk. In camp, she knew to check her shoes each morning for scorpions and centipedes, to always carry a flashlight after dark, and to keep her distance from the flat rock at the downhill end of the communal sinks because of the yellow-jackets during the day, and at night, too, since a small viper had taken up residence underneath to ambush tiny scurrying mammals attracted by the sink’s moist outflow. Less usefully (although more likely to impress her students back in Lassiter), because of the international nature of the crew and the earthy quality of conversation in the lab in the evenings, the professor now knew how to exhort someone to go screw themselves in four new languages including – thanks to Shams – both Urdu and Strine.

But she hadn’t planned on staying more than a few extra days, and that time was up. Originally, Wayfarer had postponed her departure on Avsa’s behalf, but now, a little more than a week later, there were other reasons the professor was considering extending her stay at “Two-Bit Yod” (as Rory had semi-affectionately subverted the Hebrew letters Beit-Beit-Yod of the site-abbreviation, written on every find tag and locus card). One main reason was purely altruistic: this close to the end of the season, any assistance, even rookie, was helpful. The site was chronically short staffed due to the Lebanese conflict: the Israelis kept having to report for brief stints of discreet military service. Yael the ethnobotanist was the latest to disappear – early one morning Wayfarer saw him sling his kitbeg into the back of the site Landrover where it settled with the somber clank of gunmetal. Chayes drove him out to the highway to hitch a ride to Be’er Sheva – but later at tea, no one said anything about this departure. Wayfarer thought it likely that Aman, Israeli military intelligence, recruited as heavily among archeologists as other governments had during conflicts in Europe and the Middle East – in retrospect, she suspected that Chayes’s earlier absence had had more to do with Aman than with his son’s spider bite.

So, despite the heat, discomfort, and insect life, Wayfarer’s mind was made up. She asked Amit if an extra pair of hands would be welcome; he smiled and clapped her shoulder, saying he’d let Moshe know. Rankle she merely informed that she was staying, and received a pessimistic response doubting whether the water would last. It only remained for her to ask the Aussies, who were headed out to Eilat for weekend leave, to pick up some things for her: a bottle of Hawaii shampoo, a sack of clothes pins (her colorful plastic ones in a clever mesh bag had gone missing off of the line), a bottle of red, and she’d be good for another week, until the end of the season.

Practicalities being satisfactorily settled, the professor spared some attention to the lingering question of Avsa’s uncooperative protégé, who continued to avoid her like a student with a delinquent thesis chapter. But she didn’t give him much thought. When it came to coaxing results out of students she knew more than one way to skin a cat.

No; Wayfarer was definitely not yet ready to leave. By Saturday night, or Sunday morning at the latest, she should have a bottle of wine to look forward to. And ever since Amit had mentioned them, she’d been dreaming about herds of strong-toed ostriches wandering freely among the jumbled rocks of the Upper Wadi, their big liquid eyes peering deep into her resting mind.

To be continued… To read the next episode, “Hai bar and hospitality” click here.

Posted by Allison on Jan 31st 2012 | Filed in archaeology,art/clay,artefaux,Beit Bat Ya'anah | Comments (0)

What happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah: part 13

Note to readers: It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to advance the tale of the archæological site called Beit Bat Ya’anah and its inhabitants. The progress of Professor Einer Wayfarer’s efforts on that remote ridge in the Negev Desert to observe the seemingly out-of-place and elusive protégé of her controversial colleague Avsa Szeringka was temporarily interrupted by non-literary Three Star Owl activities: a busy fall season of pottery-making for shows, sales, and holiday shoppers kept me more in the studio than at the keyboard. Posting on my blog has suffered in general: there simply hasn’t been enough time to assemble both words and art for weeks and weeks. But things have relaxed somewhat now, and I’d like to get back to telling the tale. So far, all the action has occurred at the dig site, and only a few days have elapsed since Professor Wayfarer’s unenthusiastic arrival there.

This is the thirteenth episode in the series.  To read the twelfth episode, click here. If you wish to catch up on the entire story in full detail, click here to start at the very beginning.  At the end of each installment, there’s a link to click to continue on to the next one. If you need a less thorough reminder, or a basic intro to the fiction I post here, there’s also a brief summary of both What Happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah and its prequel The Ganskopf Incident in this post.

Now let’s take up the tale again, first by jogging the memory (caution mild spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the rest of the story yet), and then by a brief change of scene, with a look at Professor Wayfarer’s volatile European colleague Avsa Szeringka, who is the director of “the Institute” and who may be behind much of what has happened in the story so far.

Previously, we learned that Wayfarer was enticed to the remote archæological site “at the behest of her colleague and friend Avsa Szeringka (pronounced “zhə-RING-ka” with a zh like in Zsa-Zsa or French je), who had somehow herself managed to remain comfortably ensconced at the Institute near cool, gray Oxford,” by means of an imperious letter in expressive but convolute and ambiguous English, which is “not Avsa Szeringka’s second language, nor even her third.” This letter obliquely requires Wayfarer to seek out “an artefact” at the site, which she eventually realizes is actually a person: Dario, Avsa’s sleek grad student of uncertain linguistic and ethnic origins. While Wayfarer is making slow progress trying to understand who Dario is, his mentor is monitoring – if not manipulating – events from afar.

[Note: for anyone wondering about the prominence of hand-written correspondence in this story, now is a good time to remind you that the action takes place in the early 1980s, when email and cellular phones were just beginning to be used in universities and businesses. For participants in a remote desert dig, telephone access would be limited to weekend leave and payphones in town. For overseas communication, everyone would have relied on gummed stamps you had to lick, crinkly onion-skin air-mail paper, and postal delivery times measured in days, if not weeks, with letters being driven into town and mail fetched back to the site no more than once or twice a week, along with groceries and other supplies.]

Correspondence: considering two letters

Her silk-robed figure barely discernible from the rare antiques which furnished the damask-curtained, high-ceilinged room that functioned as both boudoir and office in her eponymous Institute near Oxford, Avsa Szeringka didn’t look up as her assistant placed the daily mail on the desk in front of her. It was the usual thick stack, arranged as Avsa required with the journals and manuscripts to be reviewed at the bottom, the routine business correspondence next, and any hand-addressed personal missives sorted to the top to be read immediately if they were from someone of whom she approved, or to be individually snubbed, if not. Bills she never saw; she had people for that.

This morning two envelopes interested her. She took them from the top of the stack and pushed the rest across the desk, disturbing the striped cat bunched at the corner of the Turkish leather writing pad. The tiger opened its mouth to complain, but nothing came out but a staccato fishy click, which Szeringka ignored, except to briefly bare her teeth back at the animal as she placed the two interesting letters in front of herself.

She considered them. They were both postmarked on the same date in Be’er Sheva, Israel, and they were each addressed with familiar but contrasting scripts. Unexpectedly, both packets were flimsy; neither could have more than one sheet of paper sealed inside. This was disappointing: she’d hoped to provoke heftier responses from each of her correspondents.

She reached a long-fingered hand towards one, but picked up the other instead, opened it and read it quickly.

Avsa,” it began bluntly, “your ‘artifact’ is decorative but uncooperative and gives the distinct impression of preferring not to be handled, at least by me. This is an attempt to extend your metaphor accurately, and not prurience. Otherwise, the Negev is hot as hell, the living conditions are primitive, and the insect life is both appallingly forward and unanimously venomous: wish you were here.” Signed briefly, “E.W.

Szeringka sniffed. The gruff humor of the message was hardly worth the postage to transmit it. If Einer didn’t have more to say, then it was clear that her dear friend and colleague wasn’t paying sufficient attention. Avsa made an impatient sound with her tongue. This letter required no answer.

She let it drop and picked up the other. Its external address was tidy and elegant, much more precisely written than Einer’s hasty American scrawl. She passed the unopened envelope briefly under her nose, noting a coniferous odor, faint but still detectable: she’d given him the fountain pen with the amber-scented ink herself, ostensibly a prize for some end of term academic achievement. Unperfumed versions of these showy trophy pens were coveted by their awardees, treasured carefully and displayed prominently on desks all over the Institute, and not, she knew, generally employed to write with. How like him to think so little of the prize, or of the inconvenience, as to bring an old-fashioned reservoir pen with him into the field, and actually operate it in the desert heat and grit. Avsa slid a fingertip under the envelope flap and, unfolding the page, read what he’d inked there.

When she had read his words twice – there were only a few – she stood and moved to the window, parting the heavy draperies a hand’s width. A blade of northern sunlight slid in, not gray at all but a sharp white ray of August, showing the many lines on the pale planes of Szeringka’s face in deep relief.

The lines at the corners of her mouth deepened. Yes, each of these letters was disappointing; the first, perhaps predictably, but the second, shockingly. Uncooperative, Einer had written about her student. Avsa had thought this must be irritable exaggeration, until she had read his letter.

She turned her head from the window and called out to her assistant in heavily accented English. “Wynn, tea! The osmanthus oolong whole leaf, I think, this morning. And a sheet of the official letterhead.”

Einer had said he preferred not to be handled. Yet that was precisely what his letter — that impertinent, rebellious tone in so few words! – required her to do. He had left her no choice but to handle this, and not gently.

Avsa Szeringka abruptly pushed back the floral drape wide, flooding the walls, the carpet, her dressing gown, her slippers, herself, with light. Really, it shouldn’t be necessary to strong-arm the stubborn creature: like it or not, he was going to have to take some responsibility in the effort. She strode back to her desk, pushed the cat off with animus, and while impatiently waiting for Wynn to arrive with both tea and stationary, began to calculate postal turn-around time to that stony armpit of the desiccated south while drafting stern and irrefutable points across the offending letter’s envelope. This time, wishing to be perfectly understood, she didn’t waste time with English.

To be continued…. Click here to read Part 14 “Earthmoving”

Posted by Allison on Dec 20th 2011 | Filed in archaeology,art/clay,artefaux,Beit Bat Ya'anah | Comments (7)

Last chance to see…

“Ossuary: an archæology of resurrection” in the show Death and Rebirth at Maryville University’s Morton May Gallery in St.Louis.  The show will be up until this friday, December 2.  Click here for details about the show and about the Ossuary.

<< Detail (photo and piece, A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Nov 28th 2011 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,effigy vessels,Events,field trips,owls,three star owl | Comments (0)

…more Three Star Owl news…

Deadlines, shows, and orders have been keeping me busy in the studio the past few weeks as the pre-holiday calendar winds up to year’s end.  Not complaining!  But, I have noticed that recently this space has been more full than usual of Three Star Owl news and less full of natural history, birds, and fiction (will Professor Wayfarer ever find out what kind of accent the elusive shirker Dario is sporting?)

In keeping with this trend, here is more Three Star Owl news.  My recently completed piece, The Ossuary: an archæology of resurrection, is part of a show, Death and Rebirth, currently at the May Gallery at Maryville University.  Curated by James Ibur, Death and Rebirth showcases ceramic sculpture by more than 20 artists, including the work of Mark Messenger, Arthur Gonzalez, Adrian Arleo, Susan Bostwick, Kurt Weiser, and more.  Each piece deals with the eternally cyclical nature of mortality and lifeforce, especially resonant during this season of Día de los Muertos, All Soul’s Day, and Halloween.  If you’re in St.Louis, the show will be up until 2 December 2011.

For those of you who are not in St. Louis or are unable to visit the May Gallery, a bit more information about the Ossuary is in order.  It belongs to the same corpus of work as the earlier Owl Hives.  Here are some images (be sure to click to enlarge), and a dose of scholarly commentary thanks to a friend of Three Star Owl, Darius Danneru, PhD, who has generously squandered his ample expertise on — and occasionally even loaned his person to — my creative efforts.

<< Ossuary: an archæology of resurrection (smoke-fired stoneware, 13″, A.Shock 2011)

Notes on “Ossuary: an archæology of resurrection”

… related to these [Owl-hives] is another well-preserved unprovenanced piece from a private collection (fig. 9). With tiny strigids issuing like bees from its interior, this tripod effigy vessel/ossuary is itself owl-like, large-headed and standing on two taloned legs and a tail, shrouded in a torn, priestly cloak of feathers fastened with curiously unknotted twine. Below the cloak the body is textured with bones, above it the form is both lidless vessel and roofless, columbarium-like house with windows.

Owl about to launch (detail, “Ossuary”) >>

This mix of architectural and sepulchral imagery suggests a funerary significance, but the sarcophagal feel is leavened by a swirl of rebirth: the gravid cavity shelters the proto-owls while they await release from the depths of their bone hoard (whether the owls’ conceptual matrix or simply the remains of the last meal hardly matters), and the tomb’s roof and windows are open to allow the owls to launch like souls from the Guf and be restored, winged, to the world.”

– Text excerpted from D. Danneru, “House-Owls and Owl-Houses: do model ‘owl hives’ at Beit Bat Ya’anah offer evidence of ancient strigiculture?” Obscure Histories Quarterly, v. 42:3 (Fall 2010) p. 84.

Darius Danneru, PhD, is the Wayfarer Professor of Crypto-cultural Studies at MacCormack University, a fellow of the Szeringka Institute, a member of ICER, ESSA, and currently a visiting Professor at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.

<< peeking through the windows into the heart of the Ossuary.

Posted by Allison on Nov 4th 2011 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,effigy vessels,Events,three star owl | Comments (6)

Come visit the Ossuary

Next Friday Saturday and Sunday Oct 21, 22, 23,  is the Camelback Studio Tour, and Three Star Owl will have wares available for you to peruse and perhaps purchase. Other artists’ studios nearby in the neighborhood will be open as well, with more than 20 artists offering their art for pre-holiday shopping. Support local artists and artisans and stop by: 10-5, free to enter all the studios.  Click here for details.

<< sneak peak of a piece that’s about to fly across the country

During the event, a new piece called “Ossuary, An Archæology of Resurrection (<< detail left) will be lurking in the corner, awaiting shipping to St.Louis for an upcoming show, “Death and Rebirth” at Maryville University, curated by James Ibur.  St. Louis artists Ruth Reese, Ron Fondaw, Eric Hoefer, Lili Bruer, Renee Deall, Tim Eberhardt, Mary Ann Swaine, Matt Wilt, Susan Bostwick, Jimmy Liu as well as national artists Amanda Jaffe, Chris Berti, Russell Wrankle, Kurt Weiser, Adrian Arleo, Arthur Gonzalez, Ben Ahlvers, Mark Messenger, Pete Halladay, Paula Smith, and Allison Shock will have work displayed from Nov 2, 2011  through  Friday, Dec 2, 2011.

Posted by Allison on Oct 18th 2011 | Filed in archaeology,art/clay,artefaux,close in,effigy vessels,Events,three star owl | Comments (0)

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