Robert Service, Sam McGee and Hannah McGrew

One of my favorite poets of all time is the incomparable Robert Service. He was always popular but his work was regarded by most of his literary contemporaries as too silly or comical to be taken seriously. Service himself once described his work as “Verse, not poetry,” adding that “I never wrote to please anyone but myself.”

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Service was dubbed ‘The Bard of the Yukon’, as most of his poems were set in the wild, adventurous country of Canada. If you’ve never read his classic The Cremation of Sam McGee, do yourself a favor and read it now.

I find his poems have a magical quality about them. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rhymes as they flow so flawlessly from line to line (they play out almost like old folk songs or campfire tales), but I find there’s something special hidden in each poem that goes a little deeper, that will twist your heart or hit home in wholly unexpected ways.

I’d suggest you read all of Service’s work right now, right this second, but the next poem I would recommend along with Sam McGee would be “It Is Later Than You Think“.  The final stanza is lovely:

“Lastly, you who read; aye, you

Who this very line may scan:

Think of all you planned to do…

Have you done the best you can?

See! the tavern lights are low;

Black’s the night, and how you shrink!

God! and is it time to go?

Ah! the clock is always slow;

It is later than you think;

Sadly later than you think;

Far, far later than you think.”

If that doesn’t get you at least a little bit you’re probably a robot.

Another favorite is ‘Song of the Campfire. The formatting here doesn’t really do the poem justice, but the rhymes and the imagery are just breath-taking.

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“In the vast and vaulted pine-gloom where the pillared forests frown,

By the sullen, bestial rivers running where God only knows,

On the starlit coral beaches when the combers thunder down,

In the death-spell of the barrens, in the shudder of the snows”

It’s so easy to get lost in the imagery, you have to read it at least twice; once, just to experience the the words and the pictures they conjure in your head. And second, to pick out the actual meaning of the poem, and the story it tells of the fire as it grows and burns and dies.

But definitely my favorite of his works is a short poem called Young Mother. It’s about a mother with a new baby, whom she loves dearly. The baby gets tired and the mother is excited for a chance to rest, but upon seeing it still for so long she becomes so nervous and afraid that, despite her exhaustion, she shakes the baby awake in panic to make sure she’s still alive. It’s such a little slice-of-life moment, and it says so many things about motherhood and relationships and regrets and human nature in three short stanzas. I’m sure an actual mother, who’s likely experienced something like this, is able to connect with this little story even more strongly.

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Anyways, I was inspired by Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew to write my own Service-style, campfire tale poem. The setting, a Southern bayou, is also partly inspired by Jim Stafford’s Black Water Hattie and too many marathon viewings of True Blood. Although in the end I think I should’ve gone with longer lines to fit more imagery, I’m still all right with the way it turned out. ^_^

The Song of Miss Hannah McGrew

In the hot bayou,
in the muck and goo,
in the heat of the Southern air,
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slither brown swamp snakes
in the muddy green lakes,
river rats, jungle cats and black bears.
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There lived Hannah McGrew
in the mossy bayou,
far beyond where the others dared roam.
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She was friend to the bats
and birds and the cats
because she called this wretched place home.
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Right lovely was she,
with eyes like the sea,
and the smarts of a keen-tempered shrew.
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Had fair damask skin,
berry cheeks, pointed chin,
did the beautiful Hannah McGrew.
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She walked through the vines
and she knew all the kinds
of the plants that could fix up a hurt.
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Like a ghost in white dress
she traversed the swampness,
ankle-deep in the moss and the dirt.
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Came a man there one day,
smelling of sweat and hay,
strong from toiling for years in the sun.
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With his skin black as night
and a mean-looking bite
in his side for he was on the run.
-
Well face-down in the goo,
when he saw Miss McGrew,
figured her for an angel from God.
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And she dragged the man back
to her little swamp-shack,
and went wading for plants in the bog.
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She brought moss for the wound,
cat’s claw, buckbean she’d pruned,
for each plant and each purpose she knew.
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He spun tales of great feeling
and so as he lay healing
stole the heart of Miss Hannah McGrew.
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Well a romance was churning
and as he had no yearning
to return to his life of old
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he stayed with young Hannah
for he loved her manner
and she loved the stories he told.
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Now it wasn’t long
till the swamp-couple saw
they must find themselves properly wed.
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With a skein of rat stew,
and some water too,
he set out for the nearest homestead.
-
He was traveling in search
of a proper white church
where to proclaim their marriage vows
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so he trekked through the sawgrass,
sinking into the morass,
through the mangroves and low-hanging boughs.
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He at last reached a town
Pal Adekwa, it’s known,
with a church and a priest to preside.
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But the men there deplored,
and to detach they swore,
the man and his porcelain-skinned bride.
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Now it might be the way
that the sun fell that day,
or the sway of the mannagrass,
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But Hannah McGrew
knew before day was through
that her lover was not coming back.
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The tears she might cry
welled up in her blue eyes
but froze ‘fore they could stream down her face.
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Her heart hardened cement
she had one clear intent
as she strode through the sedge and reedmace.
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It was mentioned that Hannah
down in South Louisiana
knew the ways of the weeds and the shrubs.
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‘Twas oft-whispered in panic
that Hannah knew magic,
the black arts of the swamp and the mud.
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Now there’s no one to say
in Pal Adekwa that day
how the fire began, I’ll confide.
-
And the reason there’s none
to explain what was done
is that none in Adekwa survived.
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But I seen and attest,
when I passed what was left
and the chalk-white bones lay in plain view,
-
and the houses were dashed,
who I saw dancing in the ash
was a smiling Miss Hannah McGrew.

Amy’s Ideal Disney Princess Casting

My Perfect Disney Princess Live-Action Casting

(Which Is SO Much Better Than Buzzfeed’s)

 

Aurora – Gabrielle Wilde

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Pocahontas – Tara Gill

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Jasmine – Nazanin Boniadi

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Tiana – Jennifer Hudson (Back-Up: Sophie Okonedo)

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Alice – Elle Fanning

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Mulan – Ziyi Zhang (Back-Up: Brenda Song)

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Elsa – A Blonde Janet Montgomery

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Anna – Anna Kendrick (Back-Up: A Strawberry Blonde Isabelle Fuhrman)

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Rapunzel – AnnaSophia Robb

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Snow White – Emily Browning (Back-Up: Lily Collins)

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Belle – Rooney Mara (Back-Up: Kaya Scodelario)

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Cinderella – Saoirse Ronan

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Ariel – Melissa Benoist

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Megara – Kate Mara

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Jane – Emilia Clarke

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Esmerelda – Sarah Shahi

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Because I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.

 

- Amy

Sunrise

So sometimes when I’m daydreaming I get these weird snatches, just like a sentence or one particular snapshot of a scene, with zero background or context, and I decide to type it up. And sometimes it’s dead and goes no where, but sometimes if I just keep rolling with it I churn out something kind of nice.

Additionally, sometimes during finals I stay up way too late and I don’t do my work and I get one of these ideas in my head and I write instead.

“You’re not,” he told her, sudden, confident.

“What?” she replied.

“You’re not.”

That’s literally all that went through my head as I was taking a break from my American Fiction essay. And so I wrote it down and even though I have no idea what the hell that could possibly add up to, I just kept going. And so this is the 3-page work that came from it.

——————

Sunrise

“You’re not,” he told her, sudden, confident.

“What?” she replied.

“You’re not.” And she didn’t know what he meant. Wasn’t pretty, wasn’t thin, wasn’t downing shots in the bedroom, wasn’t dancing in the living room where they’d pushed all the couches aside so there’d be space to move and gyrate to the rhythms of suffocating bass and electric pulses.

“You’re not real.” She frowned, drew back a bit. Not real? What was he trying to say?

“You’re just drunk,” was her response, shaking her head, honey-brown hair shaking along in affirmation.

He smirked at her. Not smiled, smirked, and he backed away and disappeared, consumed by the darkness and the crowd of bodies with silent laughter on his lips.

She felt nervous. Maybe it was just the buzz of the whiskey in her belly, but she felt sudden little jolts cover the hair on her arms and a persisting internal flurry, like her body contained something foreign and restless and alive.

It was silly, but she wanted to ask someone, to tap them politely on the shoulder and ask, “Do I exist?” But the music hung thick in the air and it seemed to block all her words, and in that mass of human forms and their constant movement and the pressing and the heat, she couldn’t seem to catch anyone’s attention.

And jostled and kept prisoner in that makeshift dance floor she thought at first she’d just give herself to the music, pulse to the beat until that internal fire died and the people dispersed and that high from the alcohol and the music and the people and the smokey air began to recede. She let her hips swing, arms sway, head bob slowly and what might be sensuously but how would she know for sure. The flickering, multi-colored lights played across her skin and she felt like a rainbow squeezed through a prism, light fractured and broken into all its individual pieces and scattered broken and beautiful across the room.

She felt herself melt into that darkness between strobe flashes, nothing separating her from them as they lost themselves in sound wave. The bass pounded and it drilled out all her thought, her body moved of its own accord in some trance-like surrender and she just felt like letting her arms outstretch and falling into this web of light and sound and form, where shapes failed to begin and end.

The dancing grew faster, and the space filled up, and soon there was no room left for air with all the people compacted into that singular space. Desperate for breath, she felt herself torn from that musical half-sleep, and she again was in a room full of whiskey-breathed college kids and a half-assed DJ wannabe. “I need air.” No one heard, no one answered, but she hadn’t really expected them to. She pushed her way out into the kitchen, where her housemates would still be throwing back burning shots of vodka.

“Pour me something?” she asked, eyes blinking fiercely in the florescence. The fridge hummed while the bass from the living room snuck in through the open doorways. None of them answered. One sat woozy at the table, the other was pressed up against a cupboard by a shaggy-haired boy with a frat boy sweater and ripped jeans. She ignored them, picked up the Svedka and poured herself her shot, right to the brim. She knelt down, stared it down at eye-level. The liquid rippled in the wake of her breath, like a little miniature lake existing only in the realm of that one little glass. She pictured sea gulls soaring on the wakes, little fish and deep-sea krakens swimming in the depths. Then she clasped the glass in her hands and drank down the world.

With fire in her insides (funny how a liquid could scorch you like that) she stumbled into the next room. “Hello?” she called to the crowd in general. They stood around, boys and girls, sipping from Solo cups and casting longing or furtive or irritated glances at one another. No one looked to her. “Hello?” She approached the nearest figure, a tall boy, shoved him drunkenly. There was no response; physics didn’t even seem to register her God-given powers of momentum as the flesh of her palms pressed up against the fabric of his sweater.

She swallowed down the liquid in her throat, moved to the center of the room, called out again, weakly this time, “Hello?” No answer.

She shut her eyes tight, and the blackness was swimming like a mirage so she opened them again, but nothing had changed. At a loss, breath unsteady, she ran out into the darkness of the yard, let the bite of cold air rush over her exposed skin. She sank down to the pavement, back up against the panelling of the garage, and there she waited, hours. She watched each member of the party filter out of the house she thought was hers, in groups and in pairs and alone, until the sun had crept over the horizon and it was early dawn and the sky was white and tinged teal and violet.

A door slammed and out appeared a boy, the boy who’d spoken to her earlier. He sidled up to her, sat down next to in silence.

“You were right,” she breathed, her voice cracking with a weight too heavy to be described. “I don’t exist.”

“I know,” he nodded sympathetically. He stared straight ahead at the white-washed fence, faded a little thanks to wind and rain, car exhaust and too many icy winters.

“I thought I did.” She turned her head to look at him. “When did I stop?”

He shrugged. “Who knows. Might have been days, might have been years ago.”

Years. She blinked, concentrating on one singular spot, one lonely blade of grass that seemed to expand and fill her whole vision.

“You laughed at me,” she told him blankly, unmoving.

He smiled with lips parted, his canines sharp and pointed. “Sorry. It’s a little amusing.” He paused, fiddled with his coat buttons. “I’ll admit, I’ve been watching you for weeks. I saw you in class, studying your text book, and I just found it so funny. Here you are, stressing with the rest of us over some test, and you’re not even real.”

Her gaze was still unmoving but the blade of grass was starting to swim a little.

“I’m sorry,” he continued, “that was insensitive of me.”

“You should have told me,” she whispered hoarsely, barely audible over the sounds of early morning suburbia.

Another shrug. “I did eventually.”

“How do I fix it?” she asked. The air was too crisp, it hurt to inhale.

“How do you start being real again?” He laughed. Not cruelly, but not kind either. “I don’t know. Notice the things that are real. Look at what makes them that way.” He pressed against the garage wall and lifted himself up off the ground. That blade of grass was real. It was green. That made it real. It bent to the breeze. That made it real. It was torn at the top from some insect nibbling at the stalk, or some small animal. Those were all real.

As he walked past she called out to him. “Are you real?”

“Me?” He grinned again. Smirked. “I’m as real as they come.” He gripped her tight on the shoulder, pointed out towards the horizon, where the sun began to peek over bare gnarled trees and slate-gray rooftops. “I’d start with the sunrise.”

A veil of color, a gentle rain of sunkissed auburns and tangerine yellows, sweet and citrus on the paleness of the frozen, pre-winter barenness of the landscape. Fragile whisps of cloud that refracted those pale pinks and oranges in a sky that was silver and quartz. A halo of yellow-white ringing and obscuring the sun as it peeked over the tangled bows of the treetops, as it carressed oh-so-lightly the roads and buildings that rambled into the distance. And the darkening figure of the boy as he shuffled down her street, hands in his pockets.

——————–

The End.

——————–

Animal House

I’m not gonna lie to you guys….

I have the best internship ever.

Sure, Boston traffic often turns the otherwise 30-minute commute into an hour and ten minute trek. And yes, the internship’s unpaid and yes, I work a kind of weird schedule that includes all-day Saturdays.

But guys. I work at the zoo.

So I’m officially on my third week as an education program intern at the Franklin Park Zoo of Zoo New England, commuting three days a week from Medford, Mass. I can now tell you a male lion sleeps up to 20 hours a day, giraffes are born already standing 6 feet, female ostriches guard the nest by day and male ostriches by night, and tree kangaroos are the cutest animals to ever exist.

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Meet Snickers. I’m still not entirely convinced he’s not actually a stuffed animal.

My work includes accompanying behind-the-scenes tours, running programs with kids on various topics (habitats, adaptations, etc) and animal encounters (nothing too exotic – ferrets, cockroaches, ball pythons, rosy boas, box turtles, skunks, skinks, geckos – but still tons of fun!), and walking around the zoo ‘interpreting’, which is our word for dispensing our knowledge regarding the animals and trying to get guests more involved.

My favorite exhibit happens to be Tiger, where we have two Siberian/Bengal tiger mixes named Luther and Anala.

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 Anala and Luther are some pretty cool cats (haha, see what I did there?!). First off, Anala’s the one of the left; the orange tiger. For whatever reason most guests tend to be convinced the white tiger must be female, which must bruise poor Luther’s manly ego, but our white tiger is in fact a male. Secondly, most guests are surprised when I tell them Luther and Anala are believed to be brother and sister. Most people are under the impression that the ‘white tiger’ is its own subspecies, while in fact the white coat is simply caused by a recessive gene that blocks the orange coloring.

I’ll throw out some other fun Anala/Luther/Tiger facts for ya: The two of them are both eight years old; tigers generally live to around twenty in captivity. A common misconception is that tigers live on the savannah and share their space with lions, but they actually hale from a wide variety of tropical forests. Also unlike lions, tigers are generally solitary animals (but since both Anala and Luther are not in competition for resources and have been raised together since birth, they get along just fine). A fun fact is that males in the wild keep a very specific territory, often encompassing the territory of a few females, and a new tiger can only move in once the old one has died and a vacancy opens up, kind of like our own housing system (except, you know, death isn’t usually a requirement).

Luther and Anala were rescued by the zoo after a man was caught trying to illegally sell them as pets. Which brings me to another point; debunking the bad rap zoos seem to get in this day and age. Sure, in the past I think zoos often served as more of a circus-like establishment, capturing wild and exotic creatures to show off to a curious public. But as time has passed they have become less about showing off rare creatures and more centered on trying to garner appreciation, interest and hopefully aid from the public regarding the various wildlife that shares our planet. In my brief time working behind the scenes I’ve been blown away by the amount the zoo, which has very little funding to begin with, attempts to educate visitors and raise awareness regarding environmental issues, as well as their various and determined conservation efforts.

I’d like to make one thing clear; few if any of the animals residing in the park have been removed from the wild. They were nearly all born in captivity, many within Franklin Park itself, and couldn’t survive if released into the wild if you tried.

Naive visitors who know very little about the workings of the zoo like to get up on their high horses and berate me, telling me the animals must be sick (no, he’s just a lion, lions sleep a lot…), that they must be bored (well actually the pygmy hippos are nocturnal, so you won’t see her moving much unless you’re here in the morning), that we should be ashamed of the horrible care we give our animals (sorry, he’s actually just naturally shedding, Bactrian camels do that) and so on and so forth.

I’m constantly being asked if the animals miss the wild or if they’re happy. To which I have to respond, “Um, of course they’re happy.” In their natural environments animals are engaged in a constant struggle for survival, a struggle that more often than not ends violently and unhappily. They must combat hunger, severe weather, predators, lack of prey, diminishing habitats, various illness, and countless other obstacles they simply don’t have to worry about in a zoo exhibit. I completely understand the appeal of the image of a wild and ferocious leopard stalking his prey in the wild, but people generally overlook scenarios such as leopard cubs being ripped to pieces by Nile crocodiles, his kills being stolen by lions or hyenas (as often happens) and leaving him hungry, or the leopard itself taking out young gorillas, chimps, zebras, chitals and muntjacs. I get that visualizing the grand predator in his natural habitat is engaging, given we as humans put great stock in personal freedom and choice. But do I actually think the animal is happier fighting to survive versus living in relative comfort and safety in a well-designed zoo habitat? Not really.

I’ve always thought this passage from Life of Pi puts it best (it’s a little lengthy, so bear with me):

 ‘Well-meaning but misinformed people think animals in the wild are “happy” because they are “free.” These people usually have a large, handsome predator in mind, a lion or a cheetah (the life of a gnu or of an aardvark is rarely exalted). They imagine this wild animal roaming about the savannah on digestive walks after eating a prey that accepted its lot piously, or going for callisthenic runs to stay slim after overindulging. They imagine this animal overseeing its offspring proudly and tenderly, the whole family watching the setting of the sun from the limbs of trees with sighs of pleasure. The life of the wild animal is simple, noble and meaningful, they imagine. Then it is captured by wicked men and thrown into tiny jails. Its “happiness” is dashed. It yearns mightily for “freedom” and does all it can to escape. Being denied its “freedom” for too long, the animal becomes a shadow of itself, its spirit broken. So some people imagine.

This is not the way it is.

Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured. What is the meaning of freedom in such a context? Animals in the wild are, in practice, free neither in space nor in time, nor in their personal relations. … An animal inhabits its space, whether in a zoo or in the wild, in the same way chess pieces move about a chessboard—significantly. There is no more happenstance, no more “freedom,” involved in the whereabouts of a lizard or a bear or a deer than in the location of a knight on a chessboard. Both speak of pattern and purpose.

If you went to a home, kicked down the front door, chased the people who lived there out into the street and said, “Go! You are free! Free as a bird! Go! Go!”—do you think they would shout and dance for joy? They wouldn’t. Birds are not free. The people you’ve just evicted would sputter, “With what right do you throw us out? This is our home. We own it. We have lived here for years. We’re calling the police, you scoundrel.”

Don’t we say, “There’s no place like home?” That’s certainly what animals feel. Animals are territorial. That is the key to their minds. Only a familiar territory will allow them to fulfill the two relentless imperatives of the wild: the avoidance of enemies and the getting of food and water. A biologically sound zoo enclosure—whether cage, pit, moated island, corral, terrarium, aviary or aquarium—is just another territory, peculiar only in its size and in its proximity to human territory. That it is so much smaller than what it would be in nature stands to reason. Territories in the wild are large not as a matter of taste but of necessity. In a zoo, we do for animals what we have done for ourselves with houses: we bring together in a small space what in the wild is spread out. Whereas before for us the cave was here, the river over there, the hunting grounds a mile that way, the lookout next to it, the berries somewhere else—all of them infested with lions, snakes, ants, leeches and poison ivy—now the river flows through taps at hand’s reach and we can wash next to where we sleep, we can eat where we have cooked, and we can surround the whole with a protective wall and keep it clean and warm. A house is a compressed territory where our basic needs can be fulfilled close by and safely. A sound zoo enclosure is the equivalent for an animal (with the noteworthy absence of a fireplace or the like, present in every human habitation). Finding within it all the places it needs—a lookout, a place for resting, for eating and drinking, for bathing, for grooming, etc.—and finding that there is no need to go hunting, food appearing six days a week, an animal will take possession of its zoo space in the same way it would lay claim to a new space in the wild, exploring it and marking it out in the normal ways of its species, with sprays of urine perhaps. Once this moving-in ritual is done and the animal has settled, it will not feel like a nervous tenant, and even less like a prisoner, but rather like a landholder, and it will behave in the same way within its enclosure as it would in its territory in the wild, including defending it tooth and nail should it be invaded. Such an enclosure is subjectively neither better nor worse for an animal than its condition in the wild; so long as it fulfills the animal’s needs, a territory, natural or constructed, simply is, without judgment, a given, like the spots on a leopard. One might even argue that if an animal could choose with intelligence, it would opt for living in a zoo, since the major difference between a zoo and the wild is the absence of parasites and enemies and the abundance of food in the first, and their respective abundance and scarcity in the second. Think about it yourself. Would you rather be put up at the Ritz with free room service and unlimited access to a doctor or be homeless without a soul to care for you? But animals are incapable of such discernment. Within the limits of their nature, they make do with what they have.

So yes, I fully support zoos in terms of what they do to protect animals, educate about the environment, and give the public a chance to see first-hand what zoos fight to protect and why they should be fighting, too.

And on that note, here are a few crappy photos I took with my camera-phone over the past week. Enjoy! :)

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Here we’ve got baby Nemo, five months old, a Grant’s (commonly referred to as a plains) zebra born at Franklin Park in February.

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An exemplary specimen of animal photography, this here is Yang, our male red panda, snoozin’ in the AM. Our regular female Stella Luna is visiting Sequoia Park Zoo in California for a breeding program, and in the meantime has been replaced by another female named Carys.

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Another terrible photo but this guy, a twelve-year-old endangered Amur leopard named Ussiri, is one of my favorite zoo residents. He can leap 20 feet horizontally, 10 feet into the air, can reach up to 37 mph and can most frequently be found pacing and lounging near the front of his exhibit, making fearless eye contact with visitors. I like to think we have a connection but it’s more likely he just wants to eat me.

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Here’s our happy giraffe family; mother Jana, father Beau, and eight-month old, ten-foot-tall Henrietta. Beau is commonly referred to as a ‘miracle giraffe’, the only known living giraffe to survive giraffe wasting sickness, which is essentially the giraffe form of celiac disease. No one has been able to explain his continued health, but we’re not complaining.

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Cleo, our 600-lbish pygmy hippo. This is the only time I’ve ever seen her stand; it was the most exciting thing that happened to me all day.

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Sam, a Griffon’s Vulture, who shares Cleo’s exhibit, being a creeper. About once a year he makes a daring exhibit escape but never decides to try and get further than the railing.

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Our baby Kambiri, two and a half, snuggling with her older sister Kimani, eight years old. The two are constantly cuddling, playing or fighting, and I’ll tell you right now she might be cute but Kambiri can be a bit of a punk. Although there was that one time I watched Kimani drop Kambiri down the cliffside… #sisterlylove

Kitombe, or Kit for short, twenty-six years old, our dominant silverback and father of Kambiri and Kimani. Gaze upon him and all his majestic glory. Quite possibly my favorite of our three male gorillas. :)

Kitombe, or Kit for short, twenty-six years old, our dominant silverback and father of Kambiri and Kimani. Gaze upon him and all his majestic glory. Quite possibly my favorite of our three male gorillas. :)

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Kambiri straight chillin’.

I’d like to get back with a few more species-specific exposés, but till then, have a lovely week and, if you’re a resident of the US, a splendid 4th of July! :)

- Amy

The Great Gatsby: A Review

Check it out guys! I finally wrote something!

Review: Baz Luhrmann’s

The Great Gatsby

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I’ve always been a huge supporter and defender for quirktastic film director and father of the ‘Red Curtain Trilogy’ Baz Luhrmann. I haven’t met a soul who wasn’t touched by the music, artistry, creativity and general spectacle of Moulin Rouge, never mind an individual who didn’t watch the credits with tears obscuring their vision. And though it tends to earn mored mixed opinion, I was an avid fan of Romeo + Juliet and its fresh take on the consistently over-done (but still much beloved) Shakespearean classic. Although his symbolism was at times, to understate, heavy-handed, I found the images nonetheless both beautiful and powerful. Maybe its merely because this film was my first introduction into the world of modernized Shakespeare, but I found the little attempts at modernization (the television reporter, the Sword-brand firearms) clever, and the added motif of water which bound the lovers particularly compelling.

Luhrmann’s strength is not in his characters. Nor is it, truly, in his story-telling. I find his hap-hazard (though purposefully so) style of editing generally calls for a few viewings before the material can be fully understood. His strength lies, undeniably, in his imagery. Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio first glimpsing one another through a fish tank and John Leguizamo’s death and fall into the fountain in Romeo + Juliet; Satine’s diamond-studded, cold-lighted, mid-air introduction as the seductive Satine and her dramatic embrace with Ewan McGregor atop the dazzling elephant statue, with a backdrop of dazzling fireworks, a soaring score and an opera-singing moon, mustachioed moon.

The Great Gatsby is no exception, chock full of unusual, elaborate, intensely over-the-top images. It is undeniably a beautiful film, full of color, composition and a certain ostentatiousness; yet unlike Luhrmann’s previous works, in which his outrageous presentation and creativity were the saving graces of his projects, it is in great deal thanks to this excessiveness that Gatsby fails to have the proper impact upon his audience.

As reviewer Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone, “Aside from the staggering beauty of Catherine Martin’s costumes, nothing works. The actors are buried in art direction, along with feeling.” I wouldn’t say that’s completely true; while Catherine Martin’s costumes are indeed breathtaking, so are the sets, the stunning aerials of a computer-rendered 1920’s New York City, the distinctly Luhrmann-esque incorporation of modern hip-hop and other, raunchier touches that attempt to sync 20’s style atmosphere with the current decade’s understanding of culture. But while all these aspects of the film are lovely as separate parts of an equation, piece them together and the math doesn’t add up. The music is well-chosen for the tone of the film but incorrectly used from scene-to-scene; the glitz and glamour of the backdrops, the city, the outfits and the elaborate parties are wonderful as additional touches but end up fighting with the story itself for dominance. In the end, as Travers states, the extravagant art direction is beautiful but buries anything real the film may have to offer in an overwhelming avalanche of champagne and confetti.

Luhrmann takes the immortal words of F. Scott Fitzgerald and sets them to gorgeous, prismatic images, but while the frames are lovely to gaze upon he fails to effectively convey the story and emotion Fitzgerald so artfully crafted. In consequence, rather than appearing as a coherent tale filled with faceted characters, crests of hope and the crushing trenches of betrayal, the film plays as merely a pretty little picture book for the words Fitzgerald penned all those years ago; at multiple points, his words actually appear in print on the screen, floating above Tobey Maguire’s head as he sits at his typewriter.

The worst thing about Luhrmann’s over-abundant bombardment of glitzy imagery is that we’re so adjusted to the extravagance that, when a scene comes along with actual emotional and narrative resonance, they seem to simply sail by. One example of this is a scene involving Myrtle, being when she is slapped by Tom for mentioning Daisy’s name. That she is in a flowing red robe with scarlet feathers, that the scene is sandwiched by dizzying, drunken jump-cut antics, and that the actual act of Tom physically harming her is shown in slow-motion and looks more like a clip out of Wile E. Coyote than a piece of serious drama; all of these detract severely from what should be a moment that causes the audience to sit up and take notice. In contrast to the absurdity that surrounds it, Tom’s act of violence would have carried a great deal more weight had the music been cut, the colors dulled, and shown in real time, grounding the viewer and jolting them out of the dream-like fantasy these ludicrously wealthy characters enjoy and back into the real world, where such atrocities occur.

When it comes to the cast, I think the decisions vary from spot-on to dead-wrong. I’ll be up-front in letting you know I’m a huge fan of one Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio. He can do very little wrong in my eyes, so I saw his depiction of Gatsby as a solid performance, despite the clear struggle to convey any emotion underneath the weight of all that unnecessary glitz and glamor. And while many criticized the choice of Carey Mulligan for the achingly beautiful Daisy Buchanan, I thought she was an excellent choice, absolutely dripping with Southern home-town charm and entirely believable as the object of Gatsby’s affection. Her character, however, is transformed from a shallow and disinterested girl to a confused and overwhelmed young woman worthy of some sympathy. In the case of Nick Carraway, both the casting of Tobey Maguire and the film’s characterization come across entirely wrong. His constant reliance on wide-eyed stares, and precious little other expression, quickly grows tiresome. Maguire’s inability to express strong emotion, often laughable and apparent in many of his other works, are a detriment in the more serious of his scenes, while Nick’s idolization of Gatsby and his hatred of all the other characters is nearly impossible to understand.

In the end, Luhrmann succeeds in creating another visually dazzling cinematic work but fails rather substantially in transposing the characters, themes and emotions of Fitzgerald’s great novel to the big screen. It’s worth a viewing perhaps for the spectacle alone, but its unlikely to evoke any philosophical thought or emotion. Much like Daisy, it is a specimen coated in a sparkling and glossy sheen but remains, on the inside, quite empty.

 

My Life Thus Far

Sorry it’s been a while, after finals week I effectively wrapped myself in a cocoon and dropped off the face of the earth. I haven’t been able to muster the energy to do much of anything besides consume foods of questionable nutritional value and sleep. A lot. But now that it’s been about a week and a half, I think I can safely say my brain has recuperated enough to be capable of some average-level writing.

I haven’t been particuarly inspired to write any real pieces lately. I’ve got some vacation location spotlight ideas and movie reviews on their way (Two words: STAR TREK. Two more: SO GOOD. Two more: INFERIOR ADJECTIVES. One more: SORRY), but I haven’t quite worked up the requisite amount of creative juice to get them typed up yet.

So today I’m just going to give you a brief summary of the life of Amy Butenhof.

1. Still Enrolled in Two Colleges

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That’s right, as of this moment I am a member of Hofstra Honors College graduating class of 2015, and a transfer student at UNH. Hope they’re not the jealous types. I’ve got my official orientation coming up late June so I’m just standing by and hoping this brief Q+A session will magically solve all my problems and lay all doubts to rest.

2. Catching Up on Every Show Ever

The past few weeks have been dedicated to a pretty much constant Netflix, Hulu and otherwise video-streaming marathon involving infinite episodes of Happy Endings, The Mindy Project, New Girl, Game of Thrones, Sherlock, of course the new season of Arrested Development (which I feel like I’ve been waiting my WHOLE LIFE for)and Breaking Bad, just to name a few. I should probably be ashamed, but I confess I hold no regrets.

3. Substitute Teaching

Over the past few weeks while home I’ve been waking up around 6:00 AM roughly every other day to substitute teach for classrooms in my town’s elementary, middle and high schools. And you know what I’ve learned? When I decided to go the teaching route as my official profession I told everyone this; I’ll teach elementary, I’ll teach high school, but there is no way in hell I will ever go back to middle school. Yet for some strange reason the world has been turned on its head and it turns out these middle school kids are really growing on me; I might even be tempted to say 5th through 8th are among my favorite grades. Go figure.

4. Moving to Boston This Week

That’s right, the week has finally arrived!!! On Saturday, June 1st I will pack my car with a ridiculous and unneccessary amount of luggage and drag it all down to Medford, Mass (right outside Boston) and officially move in to my new home (for the summer, anyway). Speaking of which….

5. Currently Jobless

beggar cup1.jpg

I have a little over a week between move-in and the start of my unfortunately unpaid internship to secure a job and earn some actual cash. My plan involves filling out and delivering a resume to literally every business within a ten-mile radius. Wish me luck.

6. Second-Guessing Pretty Much Every Decision I Have Made in My Life Thus Far

Per what is expected of me I’d thought I’d had my career path mostly laid out – Finish college, secure a job in a relatively teacher-friendly state, work towards masters, continue onwards and upwards. But now I’m thinking I want to teach abroad, see the west coast, take a few years off to do something entirely non-teaching related all together; anything and everything! I know it sounds irresonsponsible, and it probably is, but the more I think about it the more I realize I don’t think I’m ready to set myself down in one place and begin doing the same thing I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.  I’ve still got #reckless things I need to get done!!

So that’s all for now, hopefully I’ll get around to writing something productive very soon. :)

‘Til then,

Amy

Snowflake Generation

Beautiful Snowflake

It’s 2:00 AM as I begin to write this and I’m sitting on my bed looking out over a darkened Hempstead wondering why the snowflake philosophy gets such a bad rap. What seemed a fresh, encouraging and generally positive outlook in my youth has somehow become the object of nothing but scorn by my slightly more grown and infinitely more cynical generation.

“You are not special,” memorably grumbles one Tyler Durden. “You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”

Okay. We’re generic and indistinguishable and all tied by our eventual collective and somber, tenebrous fates. Better? Has something somehow been achieved by embracing a thought process that labels yourself as tedious, redundant and expendable?

Even if the above turns out to be true (which as an advocate of human individuality and spirit, as naive and  romantic a notion as it may be, I whole-heartedly reject), what’s wrong with believing the alternative? What is so horrible and frustrating about someone believing that they are in fact unique and in possession of distinguishing qualities and capable of offering something that is different and individual to the rest of the world? Is this brand of optimism really a characteristic that requires extinguishing?

I’ve always found those ideologies that embrace the spark of originality and the inherent worth of each human being (there’s those Unitarian Universalist axioms kicking in) to be incredibly compelling, as there’s something intrinsically beautiful not only in the distinctiveness of every individual but also in the positive acknowledgement of these distinctions by others. That referring to anyone as a ‘snowflake’ has earned such a negative association is somewhat disheartening. And while I can understand in some degree how this attitude came about, the abuse of the colloquialism by those relentlessly and ineffectually attempting to showcase their status outside the material mainstream shouldn’t overshadow the phrase’s more praise-worthy connotations.

My name is Amy Butenhof and I would like to fearlessly and obnoxiously declare my standing as a special and unique snowflake and hope the more sardonic and pessimistic persons of the world won’t preclude you from doing the same.

This has been my 2 AM two cents, I hope you read this at a more reasonable hour than I’m writing it and good night. :)