The Witch of Białowieża Forest

Hans Hoffmann (c.1530, Nuremberg – 1591/92, Prague)

 

By Janusz R. Kowalczyk

Simona Kossak: they called her a witch, because she chatted with animals and owned a crow who stole gold.

She spent more than 30 years in a wooden hut in the Białowieża Forest, without electricity or access to running water.
A lynx slept in her bed, and a tamed boar lived under the same roof.
She was a scientist, an ecologist and the author of award-winning films and radio broadcasts.
She was also an activist who fought for the protection of Europe’s oldest forest.

Simona believed that one ought to live simply, and close to nature. Among animals she found what she could never find with humans.

“Simona first saw Dziedzinka in moonlight,” a relative remembers. “We decided we would go there at night time. The four of us went down the road with torches: my husband, a hired carter, myself, and Simona.
Suddenly, an aurochs stepped out onto the Browska Road. The horse jibbed, we got scared, but we got there.
Simona was enchanted with Dziedzinka straight away.” Years later, she described the expedition and the encounter with the king of the forest:

“It was the first aurochs that I ever saw in my life, I am not counting the ones in the zoo.  And this greeting right at the entry into the forest – this monumental aurochs, the whiteness, the snow, the full moon, white everywhere, pretty, and the little hut hidden in the little clearing all covered with snow, an abandoned house that no one had lived in for two years. In the middle room, there were no floors, it was generally a ruin. And I looked at this house, all silvered by the moon as it was, romantic, and I said ‘it’s finished, it’s here or nowhere else!’”

Before Simona went to live in Dziedzinka, the house had to be renovated. The employees of the Białowieża National Park repaired the roof, changed the joists, got rid of the fungus, and said that that ought to suffice for five years (and indeed it did).
After the renovations, Simona did her part. She papered the walls, washed the windows, added a bench, and upholstered the armchairs that were brought from her family home.
She brought clocks, as well as a Turkish dagger, lace tablecloth and window curtains, books, oil lamps, an antique iron, a collection of weapons, ebony jewellery chests, as well as glassware, porcelain, cupboards and an oak bed.
She hung a shotgun from the Kossaks’ collection right by the door.  A large tile stove in the old style stood in the corner of the room, and a large table in the middle – her workshop and study, where she worked by an oil lamp.

Simona rode a motorbike, sometimes a tractor, and she also swept through the landscape on cross-country skis.
A hunter recalled, “Once I saw this phenomenon advancing on a komar – wind in the hair, a pilot-cap, rabbit pants, and eye goggles. It passed me by and I had to turn around, because I didn’t know what it was”.

Professor Kajetan Perzowski, a colleague of Simona’s from her university years in Kraków says, “We were once going across the Białowieża Forest with a friend in a small truck. We suddenly see someone pushing through the snowdrifts carrying a motorbike on the back. It was Simona. We packed her together with this motorbike onto our truck. She made us a big pot of stew at Dziedzinka.”

The forester of Białowieża National Park, Lech Wilczek, was her housemate, and one day brought home a newborn wild boar piglet. The humans grew close to each other, and the female boar, eventually immense, lived with them for 17 years.
“She stood vigilantly at the door like a dog, she went out on walks, and more and more often she cuddled up to her people and demanded to be caressed.”

The crow. He stole cigarette cases, hair brushes, scissors, and the lumberjacks’ sausages. He tore up bicycle seats and made holes in grocery bags.
Said a forest worker, “He would even steal the workers’ pay. But once I was walking around the reserve without a permit, and the guard saw me and started to fill in a penalty slip. While he was handing it to me, the crow appeared. He took the paper in his beak, flew to the roof of Dziedzinka, and tore it up with his leg. The guard didn’t know what to do, and finally just shrugged his shoulders at the whole thing.”
“He loved to attack people who rode bicycles, especially girls. It was very impressive, he would attack the rider’s head with his beak, the person would fall off, and he then would on the seat triumphantly, looking the at the spinning wheel.”
People thought that Korasek – because that’s what he was called – was some kind of a punishment for their sins.

Simona’s friend: “Once he stole my car keys. And Lech said “Don’t worry, he’ll bring them back.” He  told the bird that if he returned the keys he would get an egg, and if he didin’t he would be punished. And the crow perhaps understood this, because after a moment, he flew up to me, furious, with the keys in his beak and threw them onto a table!”

With time, more animals appeared: a doe who approached the window and ate sugar, a black stork for whom Simona created a nest in a drawer, a dachshund and a female lynx who slept in Simona’s bed, and peacocks. She loved, healed, and observed them all, while Wilczek photographed them. Here, as a mother she raised moose twins, Pepsi and Cola, washed the neck of the black stork, kept the female rat Kanalia in her sleeve (as the animal panicked in open spaces). She would let the befriended doe give birth on the patio, took in lambs with their mother, and sheltered the rats Alfa and Omega. She checked on weather by observing bats in the basement.
The menagerie grew with each year.

Simona raised several deer by bottle-feeding orphaned fawns, and followed them around the woods for many years.
“One day, my pack of deer showed signs of fright, and did not want to go out onto the forest field to graze. And I started to approach the young forest, because this was the direction in which the deer startled, their ears raised, and the hair standing up on their rumps: apparently something very threatening was in the woods.
I crossed about half of this open space, but I stopped, because I heard a choir of terrified barking behind me. When I turned around, what I saw was five of my deer standing stiffly on tense legs, looking at me, and calling with this bark: don’t go there, don’t go there, there’s death over there!
I must admit, I was dumbstruck, and then finally I did go. And what did I find? It turned out that there were fresh traces of a lynx that had crossed the young forest. I went in deeper, and I found lynx droppings, still warm.
What did that mean? It meant that a carnivore had approached the farm, the deer noticed, were frightened and ran, and then what did they see?
They saw their mother going toward death, completely unaware, and knew she had to be warned. And for me, I will honestly admit, this day was a breakthrough. I crossed the border that divides the human world from that of the animals. If there was an impermeable barrier, they would not have taken action–they would probably not have noticed what I was preparing to do. That they noticed, anticipated what might happen to me, and responded, meant one thing and one thing only: you are a member of our pack, we don’t want you to get hurt.
I admit that I relived this event in my mind for many days, and in fact today, when I think about it, my heart warms.”

In the winter of 1993, Simona commenced her war to save the lynxes and wolves of Białowieża.
A group of scientists planned to collar the animals for data-collection, but Simona came across traps in the form of metal jaws, so she took them with her and refused to give them back.
There was a hearing during which she pointed out that there were 12  lowland lynxes left, in danger of being poached—and now in danger of being mortally wounded by the traps.
“It is a disgrace for the world of science to have contributed to this.”

[Now the entire Białowieża Forest, which includes some of Europe’s last primeval woodland, is under threat.

Białowieża was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1979, but Poland’s environment minister, who has allowed large-scale logging for years, has called for the woodland to be stripped of Unesco’s natural heritage status.

The forest is–for now–home to 20,000 animal species, including 250 types of bird and hundreds of European bison, plus firs towering 50 metres (160ft) high and old oaks and ashes.]

http://culture.pl/en/article/the-extraordinary-life-of-simona-kossak
[wonderful photographs of  Simona Kossak and her menagerie at Dziedzinka in the Białowieża Forest,]

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/poland-starts-logging-primeval-bialowieza-forest-despite-protests

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/22/primeval-forest-bialowieza-must-lose-unesco-protection-says-poland

http://www.poranny.pl/magazyn/art/5423022,simona-kossak-puszcza-bialowieska-i-lech-wilczek-dziedzinka-stala-sie-ich-domem,id,t.html

 

 

‘Twas Pterodactyl, Sauropod

twas-gryphonOriginal pencil drawing of the sleeping Gryphon,
John Tenniel (1820 – 1914) 

 

 

Jabberwocky

“Jabberwocky” is a poem of nonsense verse written by Lewis Carroll, and was a part of his novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872). The book tells of Alice’s travels within the back-to-front world through a looking glass.

While talking with the White King and White Queen (chess pieces), she finds a book written in a strange language that she can’t read. Understanding that she is travelling in an inverted world, she sees it is mirror-writing, finds a mirror, and holds it up to a poem on one of the pages, to read out the reflection of “Jabberwocky”. She finds it as puzzling as the odd land she has walked into, which we later discover is a dreamscape.

It is considered to be one of the greatest nonsense poems written in the English language, and became a source of nonsense words and neologisms such as “galumphing”, “chortle”, and “Jabberwocky” itself.

In 1855, when Carroll was 23, he printed the first stanza of the poem in Mischmasch, a periodical that Carroll wrote and illustrated himself for the amusement of his family. It was entitled “Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry” and originally read:
“Twas bryllyg and ye slythy toves, Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe: All mimsy were ye borogoves; And ye mome raths outgrabe. ”
The spelling was altered when it was published as part of the later book.
The first stanza was written in Croft on Tees, close to nearby Darlington, where Carroll lived as a boy. The rest of the poem was written during Lewis Carroll’s stay with relatives at Whitburn, near Sunderland.
The story may have been partly inspired by the local Sunderland area legend of the Lambton Worm.

Roger Lancelyn Green suggests that “Jabberwocky” is a parody of the old German ballad “The Shepherd of the Giant Mountains” in which a shepherd kills a griffin that is attacking his sheep.
The ballad had been translated into English in blank verse by Lewis Carroll’s cousin Menella Bute Smedley in 1846, many years before the appearance of the Alice books.
Historian Sean B. Palmer suggests that Carroll was inspired by a section from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, citing the lines: “The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead/Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets” from Act I, Scene i.

John Tenniel reluctantly agreed to illustrate the book in 1871, and his illustrations are still the defining images of the poem.
The illustration of the Jabberwock may reflect the contemporary Victorian obsession with natural history and the fast-evolving sciences of palaeontology and geology.
Stephen Prickett notes that in the context of Darwin and Mantell’s publications and vast exhibitions of dinosaurs, such as those at the Crystal Palace from 1845, it is unsurprising that Tenniel gave the Jabberwock “the leathery wings of a pterodactyl and the long scaly neck and tail of a sauropod.”

Many of the words in the poem are playful nonce words of Carroll’s own invention, without intended explicit meaning.
Although the poem contains many nonsensical words, it holds to English syntax, and poetic forms are observed, such as the quatrain verses, the general abab rhyme scheme, and the iambic meter.
The linguist Lucas notes that the term “nonsense poem” is inaccurate. The poem relies on a distortion of sense rather than “non-sense”.

When Alice has finished reading the poem she gives her impressions:
‘It seems very pretty,’ she said when she had finished it, ‘but it’s rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) ‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate’
This may reflect Carroll’s intention for his readership; the poem is, after all, part of a dream.

In later writings, he discussed some of his own created lexicon, commenting that he didn’t know his source for some of the words; the linguistic ambiguity and uncertainty throughout both the book and the poem may largely be the point.
In Through the Looking-Glass, the character of Humpty Dumpty gives comments on the non-sense words from the first stanza of the poem; however, Carroll’s personal commentary on several of the words differ from Humpty’s.
For example, following the poem, a “rath” is described by Humpty as “a sort of green pig”, whereas Carroll’s notes for the original in Mischmasch suggest a “rath” is “a species of Badger” that “lived chiefly on cheese” and had smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag.
The appendices to certain Looking Glass editions, however, state that the creature is “a species of land turtle” that lived on swallows and oysters.
Later commentators have added their own interpretations of the lexicon, often without reference to Carroll’s own contextual commentary.

In January 1868, Carroll wrote to his publisher Macmillan, asking, “Have you any means, or can you find any, for printing a page or two of the next volume of Alice in reverse?” This may suggest that Carroll was wanting to print the whole poem in mirror writing. Macmillian responded that it would cost a great deal more to do, and this may have dissuaded him

Multiple translations into Latin were made within the first weeks of Carroll’s original publication.

http://www.essaydocs.org/jabberwocky.html


Legend of the Lambton Worm:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambton_Worm

 

Like An Injured Fan

crab-grJohann Friedrich Wilhelm Herbst (1743 – 1807)
Versuch einer Naturgeschichte der Krabben und Krebse

 

The Fish

wade
through black jade.
       Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
       adjusting the ash-heaps;
              opening and shutting itself like

an
injured fan.
       The barnacles which encrust the side
       of the wave, cannot hide
              there for the submerged shafts of the

sun,
split like spun
       glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
       into the crevices—
              in and out, illuminating

the
turquoise sea
       of bodies. The water drives a wedge
       of iron through the iron edge
              of the cliff; whereupon the stars,

pink
rice-grains, ink-
       bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
       lilies, and submarine
              toadstools, slide each on the other.

All
external
       marks of abuse are present on this
       defiant edifice—
              all the physical features of
              
ac-
cident—lack
       of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
       hatchet strokes, these things stand
              out on it; the chasm-side is

dead.
Repeated
       evidence has proved that it can live
       on what can not revive
              its youth. The sea grows old in it.

 

Marianne Moore (1887 – 1972)

All the Strange Hours

deer-mori-sosenMori Sosen  (1747 – 1821)

 

I am treading deeper and deeper into leaves and silence. I see more faces watching, non-human faces.
Ironically, I who profess no religion find the whole of my life a religious pilgrimage.

Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

 

Ours Blanc

polar ours bJacques de Sève (fl. 1742 – 1788)
from quadruped illustrations for Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière avec la description du Cabinet du Roi
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707 – 1788) French naturalistmathematiciancosmologist, and encyclopédiste

 

Chat Roux Assis

cat fLéonard Tsuguharu Foujita — 藤田 嗣治 — (1886 – 1968)

Sic Transit

goat tosini this
Michele Tosini (1503–1577)

 

 

Ginger

 

Am I the only one

                           watching
my neighbour’s
                      frolicksome goat,
Ginger,
            tied to a pecan tree?
All morning
                  it has been examining
an empty bushel basket
                                  and has lifted
one leg delicately
                            like a circus horse
as if to roll it,
                           but whether to do that
or to butt it
                     with its small horns,
that is the question.
                                 Not of great moment,
no signing of the Charter,
                                        but like air music,
quickest of the elements.
                                       Towards which I leaped!

In form
            its own grace,
appearing,
                as it passed
in retrospect, classical.
The real goat stayed,
                                 imperturbable,
the body solid
                      as a four-square loom
and delivered me
                         from abstraction.
His coloring,
                     greyish-soft shades,
their dark and light
                        passing into each other
as in an antique rubbing.

I now found myself
                            sitting so near,
my shade,
               as in the Inferno,
sensed his,
                  but he gave no sign
of my presence,
                        even when I stroked him
and my heart leaped
                              at the gentle fleece,
too fine for a hard life.
He continued nibbling
                                 on a dry bush.

I would not have believed
                                       unconcern
could bolster the man in me
                                          and be so enduring.
Sic transit, not caring
                                    whether it is recognized,
The Divine
                (from another age).
He was poking
                     into the underbush now
and reached across my head
                                        for the small spiny twigs.

At that the phase
                           changed
and a sensuous trembling
                                     hung in the air,
as when a bee is about
                                  to descend
on blossoming clover,
                                 and I
felt myself being pulled
                                     as by a line
from the invisible
                            other side
to enter goathood,

                            deeper than sight.

 

Carl Rakosi (November 6, 1903 – June 25, 2004)

 

A Beautiful Law of Nature

camouflage caterpillarAbbott Handerson Thayer (August 12, 1849 – May 29, 1921)

 

“Less Thing-Like”

Abbott Thayer was a lifelong wildlife advocate whose artistic focus never strayed far from his personal fascination with the natural world.

On 11 November 1896 he made an appearance at the Annual Meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union in Cambridge, Massachusetts arriving at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology on Oxford Street bearing a sack of sweet potatoes, oil paints, paintbrushes, a roll of wire, and two new principles of invisibility in nature that together formed his “Law Which Underlies Protective Coloration.”
In his afternoon open-air lecture, Thayer argued that every non-human animal is cloaked in an outfit that has evolved to obliterate visual signs of that animal’s presence in its typical habitat at the “crucial moment” of its utmost vulnerability.

Thayer arrived at camouflage inadvertently, in the process of pursuing art.
As a student, he had learned that any shape drawn on a flat surface can be given volume and dimension by a venerable process called shading. This is reliably achieved by rendering the shape lighter on the top and gradually darker toward the bottom.
As we know from current brain research, this takes advantage of an inborn visual tendency called the top-down lighting bias: when we look at anything, we default to the assumption that its light source is coming from overhead.

Observation then enabled him to realize why so many animals have light colored bellies with darker coloring toward the tops of their bodies. The effect is the inverse of shading.
Appropriately, it became known as countershading, because the effect counteracts the shadows resulting from cast sunlight, making an animal look less dimensional, less solid, less “thing-like.”
Though some of Thayer’s other proposals have been disregarded, countershading is a widely accepted biological principle today, and stands as the artist’s most significant contribution to the natural sciences.

By 1896, Thayer was increasingly inserting himself into what was a longstanding debate over the origins, effectiveness, and pervasiveness of protective concealment in the natural world.
After the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, animal coloration—both its origins and its role in animal behavior—had become a key locus of debate among natural historians, artists, and the lay public.
Prior to this period, naturalists had noted instances of animals’ blending in with their backgrounds. It seemed remarkable that God had “dropped” them into place just so—“nature by design.”

By contrast, in an evolutionary model, there was a gradual “fitting together” over time. Evolutionary theories, both Darwin’s and that of his colleague Alfred Russel Wallace, presented a range of explanations for animal colors. Darwin emphasized interrelations between the sexes as the cause of the showy coloration found in the male of many species; females chose the more colorful males for mating.
Wallace, studying the colors of many insects, interpreted bright hues and complex patterns alike as either warning signals to potential predators, modes for assimilation in the environment, or mimicry of other, more dangerous, species.

Meanwhile,  philosopher-psychologist William James, a friend of Thayer’s and a fellow birder, discussed the experience of bird watching in his 1890 Principles of Psychology, describing the study of illusions, or so-called “false perceptions,” as critical in efforts to understand human apprehension of depth, color, and movement.

Thayer’s New Hampshire summer home, to which he and his family relocated around 1900, was transformed into a year-round laboratory for studying protective coloration.
His communion with nature permeated the entire household. Wild animals—owls, rabbits, woodchucks, weasels—roamed the house at will. There were pet prairie dogs named Napoleon and Josephine, a red, blue and yellow macaw, and spider monkeys

Soon, his wife Emma, son Gerald, and daughters Mary and Gladys joined him as fellow investigators, technicians, and artisans.
Between 1901 and 1909, their generative theories were built up into a universe of paintings, photography (a new technology), collages, stencils, and essays. Each format addressed the enigmas of coloration and invisibility in different ways.

Thayer was simultaneously producing, witnessing, and documenting the processes of a living being’s assimilation into its habitat.

 

Richard Meryman
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-painter-of-angels-became-the-father-of-camouflage-67218866/?no-ist=&page=1
Roy R. Behrens
Hanna Rose Shell


 

A Modest Love

dragon fly blue kJan van Kessel I (1626 – 1679)
A Cockchafer, Woodlice and other Insects, with a Sprig of Auricula
Detail


A Modest Love

The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall,
The fly her spleen, the little sparks their heat;
The slender hairs cast shadows, though but small,
And bees have stings, although they be not great;
Seas have their source, and so have shallow springs;
And love is love, in beggars as in kings.

Where rivers smoothest run, deep are the fords;
The dial stirs, yet none perceives it move;
The firmest faith is in the fewest words;
The turtles cannot sing, and yet they love:
True hearts have eyes and ears, no tongues to speak;
They hear and see, and sigh, and then they break.

Sir Edward Dyer (1543 – 1607)

 

Lady with Unicorn

lady unicorn paleGiorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco (1477/8–1510)