Week 32. Ancestry

I recently got over an ear infection I’ve had for six months. Ever since I had meningitis, I’ve had weird and capricious ears, but I’m happy (and a little consistently startled) to be able now to hear.

I’ve been thinking about acoustics, and ghosts, because everything turns into a ghost story for me lately. I’ve been clutching at ancestry even though there’s nothing there. Once you lose the people who gave you your long and bumpy nose, you begin to love your nose excessively.

This past winter, I walked so much, up and down St. Paul’s hills. I thought of my grandma, who I missed, how she was so small when she died, how my legs were strong and butter-thighed. I started to compile my library of snow sounds, all the conversations between frozen earth and feet.

Because my ear was so inflamed, I could hear my pulse – vessel against eardrum – like a dog’s panting. It only became less maddening to hear it described as “snowshoes through deep snow,” and I remembered how I felt closest to my ancestors, how I would talk to them, when walking through the woods in winter.

Snow, like anything porous, absorbs sound, and when it’s falling, and the earth is warmer than air, diverts sound into the atmosphere where it becomes ghost sound. And then there’s the styrofoam sound as your boots grind apart ice matrix in very cold, dense snow.

Ghosts and snow have something in common: they create a silence that’s somehow perceptible, a held breath or the sense of a question.

Materials: Faber Castell Pitt artist pen in sanguine, sizes fine and super fine. The image is of a deconstructed snowshoe.

My grandpa was a traveling salesman in Canada, going as far north as Inuvik by the Beaufort Sea. On the Queen Charlotte Islands he made friends with a Haida carver, and though he died before I was born I saw the stacks of storage bags filling my Grandma’s second bathroom shower stall. It was a hiding place no thief would ever think to go and the argillite carvings safely made it to a museum where I eventually saw them in 2000.

Sicily is littered with ancient bones. The Greeks found cyclops’ skulls with big holes in the middle of the forehead. Cyclops crafted Zeus’ thunderbolts, they ate Odysseus’ men. Bones to story, from one generation to another. This is our wealth. 

I’m mapping letters of my grandfather’s. The letterhead is the best part:

Vanderhoof Hotel

Hot and Cold Water Bath, Inside Toilet

Sample Room

I want to follow this map. The handwriting is the most intimate contact I will ever have with him.  This is my wealth, a collection of thin letters from which I can build the skeleton of any mythological creature. A series of towns where I can put flesh onto bone by seeing the way the mountains cut the sky.

The cyclops’ skulls were dwarf elephants, the giant hole where the trunk comes out of the bone.

Materials: Pigma Micron 05, Sharpie, pencil

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