Tag: Legend

Squirrel camp and the Sun

You may be wondering why squirrel camp is primarily powered by solar. Perhaps you didn’t know that; well, now you do, and you can begin wondering. Or maybe you are reading this without even knowing what squirrel camp is. In that case, all you need to know is that it is a happy place filled with hard working people and their dirty socks. Or maybe even you don’t know where you are or how you are reading this, in which case, find the nearest adult human, and ask them to sing you a lullaby. And now we can begin this story.

Squirrel camp is powered by solar, with a slightly manic array of rectangular panels basking in the near-arctic sun. But of course, it could be powered by a great diesel generator, clonking majestically through the day. Or maybe a bulbous tank of propane, filled with gas eeked from the ground and ferried here to light the merry fires. Or why not chunky, dusky coal? Provides quite the heat. Oh yes, solar might be plentiful, and produces no smog at point of collection, and gleam most handsomely, but is that really any good reason to excuse the convenience of gas and oil? Well us squirrelers have our reasons.
It began in the sky. The sun was lonely. Sure, it has the stars, but they are far away and aren’t very good at texting back. And as for the moon, well when it comes around its hardly much of a conversation partner, always moaning about how it was treated like a common doormat by some guy named Neil. Tiresome. So the sun cast its eyes to earth for company. It scanned the plains, but found the people too simple and dull. It scanned the seas, but found the people too salty and superstitious. It scanned the jungles, but could not see anyone for the steam and leaves. And then it turned its gaze on the mountains. In a mountainous land, following a twisting highway towards a lake, the sun spied a solitary figure. Maybe it was the wild, unwashed hair. Perhaps it was the artful arrangement of patches and knitwork that held their clothes together. Or it might have been their purposeful stride (it was near lunch time). Whatever the reason, the sun’s search paused. 

Interest piqued, heartbeat (yes suns have hearts, as well as eyes) quickened, the sun followed our raggedy individual, who turned out to be an inhabitant of squirrel camp. After a few days of watching, the sun plucked up the courage to say hello. The squirrels was startled at first, as you would be if the sun shyly sidled up to you and said hello. But in any case, despite all the odds, they hit it off. Turns out they had several likes in common, like sunrises, snowy mountainsides, and the films of Nicholas Cage.
After a short courtship, the two were quite fast in like. Love was perhaps around the corner, but like was enough for now. Keen to show the squirreler more of the world, the sun asked them to come to stay with it in the sky. Needless to say, the squirreler was over the moon with this proposition, and hurried to pack their things. However, there was one small problem, the squirreler had a boss, and they did not care to lose one of their workforce without something in return. Speak nothing of the once in an eternity opportunity this represented, a budget is a budget, and it can only stretch so far. After some fairly intense negotiations, an agreement was struck. The squirreler was free to travel with the sun, and in return the sun would power squirrel camp with its bright warm rays. And so that was how squirrel camp came to be powered by solar. 
To this day, the relationship holds, and squirrel camp receives its power from the sun. Of course, there are occasional arguments, where the sun goes off in a huff. Without its rays the clouds descend and squirrel camp is plunged into a grey dimness. But much to the relief of camp, the sun and the squirreler usually make up quickly, and the sun returns to make the solar panels hum once more.

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The legend of the lynx, and the long length of Lloyd

There was once a time when the ground of the forest was clear, and trappers and other users of the forest could cover miles in a day without breaking a sweat. There were no snaking, snagging branches catching your boots or tripping your step. Through this marvellous woodscape strode a great hero by the name of Lloyd. Lloyd was a mighty warrior, an intrepid explorer, and an above average bridge player, but above all else he was long. His length was said to be equal to the tallest spruce, and his stride covered tens of metres with ease. Great horned owls nested in his eyebrows and wisps of cloud were strewn over his shoulders like a great grey cloak.

Lloyd heard there was a great beast terrorising the Shakwak trench in the Yukon, and being the great hero he was, he set out to subdue this foe. Lloyd’s long length carried him there quickly, and he discovered it was a giant lynx stalking the people. This lynx (not so much large as huge, less lumbering and more thundering, not even loud but cacophonic) had paws the size of ponds, and teeth like shards of glacier. Pure white fur bristled along its body and in its throat rumbled a terrific yowl. It had been trashing villages, chewing up winter stores, a belittling peoples’ dreams all year, and it was time for this to stop. Lloyd found the beast not far from Kluane lake, and they did battle.

Lloyd and the beast raged at each other for months. Up and down the trench they duelled, Lloyd’s longsword clashing with frenzied tooth and claw. The lynx was  vicious and quicksilver, while Lloyd was strong and agile, and so when one would land a blow, the other would counter and return the favour. Eventually, each weakened by a thousand cuts, they came to at the brow of a hill a final time. Lloyd’s longsword dealt a savage blow, lacerating the lynx’s liver and lancing its lung. However, the lynx’s claws found Lloyd’s throat and tore it open. His long length came crashing down, stretching along the side of the hill where, in aeons to come, a highway would be built. The lynx, crippled by the final blow, slunk away under the hills cursing the world of men from the bowls of the earth.

The world is different now, and many of these great deeds are forgotten. But the long length of Lloyd can still be found where he fell, down a hillside in the Shakwak trench. The lynx lives, but it resides in the depths of the earth nursing its wounds. Although it does not terrorise the land anymore, its whiskers have penetrated to the surface. There, in the form of small shrubs with yellow leaves, they tangle the feet of trappers and other forest users, reminding us of the lynx that lurks below and the great evil that used to stalk the realm. And this is how it will remain, until a hero of long length returns, to clear the land for good.

Coyote and Squirrel Camp

 

Time was, before social media, global warming or Donald Trump, that there were a lot more dangerous animals around squirrel camp.  10-foot beavers would chomp off campers’s heads, giant mosquitos would drink their blood with a single slurp, great ostrich-sized predatory grouse would ambush campers with a loud thud and peck out their large intestines, and terrifying whuzmucks would prowl the highways at night, waylaying trucks and dragging the drivers into the ditch. Bears were the least of ones’ worries. This was altogether too much for the three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short), as students were expensive and their parents were beginning to ask questions, so they decided to do something. They resolved to send up one of their students to deal with these problem animals. This student was known as Coyote.

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Coyote was smart as a fox, swift as a hare, as playful as a bear cub and as loving of practical jokes as a frat boy. Coyote loved the forest and all its wonders, and they loved Coyote back, even if the animals were sometimes the victim of one of Coyote’s practical jokes. Coyote once stuck some fallen gray jay feathers into the rump of a chickadee, giving the small bird a hilariously long tail. Oh how Coyote laughed as the chickajay tried to fly, and how Coyote roared when it becme stuck amongst the twigs of its nest. Puzzlingly the female birds seemed to like the stupidly long tail, but Coyote decided enough was enough and removed the handicap from the poor bird. Coyote even created a study grid all to itself, choosing the best location with the finest view of the whole valley. From here Coyote would frolic and plan the next set of practical jokes. Around the grid Coyote scampered playing tricks on the squirrels by swapping babies between nests and crying with silent laughter as mother squirrels raised young from another mother squirrel entirely!

Eventually however, the three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short) rang Coyote to remind it its duties, and so Coyote set to work. Alongside its other qualities Coyote possessed magic in a small amount. The typically proved useful when playing jokes on the animals or convincing people to fund more research. This time however Coyote used its magic to make the forest safer. Coyote first cast a great spell to make the fearsome whuzmucks disappear. It worked, but a little too well, wiping out every whuzmuck around the world and even removing all mentions of them from textbooks or scientific articles. Hence to this day, you can find no whuzmucks anywhere, nor read about them any place. This great spell drained Coyote’s magic, meaning spells to get rid of the other animals were less potent. Rather than wait to be magicked away, beaver, mosquito and grouse tried to trap Coyote and stop the spells. Because of this, Coyote had to be very wary when moving around the forest, avoiding anything that looked or smelt like a trap, a trait Coyote’s descendants still possess to this day. While sniffing out and avoiding traps, Coyote cast spells to shrink each of beaver, mosquito and grouse. This made them far less dangerous to anyone in the woods. Mosquito was still incredibly annoying however, so Coyote shrank it further, and made mosquito susceptible to the cold, ensuring it would only be in the forest for the few short summer months. This second spell diminished Coyote’s magic even further, leaving enough for only one final piece of magic. For this final spell Coyote made beaver and grouse vegetarian, so that they would not take even teeny-tiny bites out of the campers. And so the forest was made safe.

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artist’s impression

With all of Coyote’s magic gone, it decided to stay up in the woods it loved so much, and start a family. Coyote’s descendants live there still, and on cold clear mornings you can hear them talking and yammering in high tones as they try and remember the words to re-cast some of Coyote’s original spells. Beaver, mosquito and grouse are now amiable members of the forest, although Mosquito still nips a bit of blood now and again from campers, for old times sake. And whenever grouse has been reminiscing most strongly, it sneaks into the long grass, wait for a camper to walk past, and then springs an ambush, flying between their legs with a great thud and terrifying the poor soul, leaving the grouse to chuckle and smile and remember when they were great predatory beasts long ago, before social media, climate change, Donald Trump, and the one called Coyote.

The Charismatic Megafauna

The journey continues in Hungary, and I’m doing my best to get to know the people and what makes them tick. That involves talking to as many as possible, seeimg what they like to do and looking into their history. Seems that Hungary has something of a heroes culture. Go to Budapest and you find Heroes Square, in Szeged there is the Bridge of Heroes. But it goes deeper than that. My friend Janos explained to me how Hungarians are known for being a bit individualistic, that the pinnacle of success is to be that lone start shining brightest in the night. I imagine that this could be a bit problematic in some contexts, but now is not the time to be diagnosing a country’s psyche. Instead I will combine this idea with my favourite topic: sport. So let’s talk about individuals in sport.


A quick bit of back ground first. Hungarians are especially fond of a couple of sports. One is football (of course) but I will not dwell on that here. The other is water polo. Two teams attempt to drown each other while manoeuvring a ball into a net. Classic invasion game, just in water. Despite being a landlocked country Hungary is actual quite strong for water sports due to their extensive network of rivers. Water polo holds a special place in particular, thanks to some history. In 1956 at the Melbourne Olympics the Hungarian water polo team were putting in a strong showing as usual, and made the semi-final. Here they faced the mighty USSR team. More than a classic underdog story, Hungary had recently had an uprising crushed by the soviets, and so feelings were not positive. The match therefore was a momentous, nation-personality defining occasion. The game itself proved titanic, known afterwards as the Blood in the Water match or the Bloodbath of Melbourne.

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Perhaps you can see why

To a nation’s external joy, they won 4-0. They then went on to clinch gold, and so seal their position in the history books as Hungarian heroes. This game even inspired two films: “Freedom’s Fury” and “Children of Glory”. Thus, given the sport’s importance here, while in Budapest I resolved to go watch some water polo for myself. Down at the Alfred Hajos swimming complex I watched two teams do battle. It was enjoyable, end-to-end stuff, with goals less common than scores in handball or basketball, hence each generating quite a lot of excitement. Much of each player is hidden below the water, so aside from their numbers you only really get to know players by their play and when they are rotated out of the pool and clamber onto the side. But still some stand out. The visiting team (Kerteszeti Egyeten Atletikai Club)’s number 12 was prominent in this regard. Sturdy defence, implacable offence, the team surged into a 4-2 lead around him. When taking a breather poolside he still commanded a presence. Barrel chest, thick arms, a powerful form that said “You shall not get past or move me, no matter how you try”. He strutted without walking, bellowed without speaking, glared without looking.

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A menacing presence

You get these individuals in every team sport. Not so much the star player, although they are certainly good. But they command respect; things happen around them. They may look the part or sound the part but often you simply fucking know it when they walk onto the pitch or dive into the pool. They are the Charismatic Megafauna* of their sporting arena: visible, impressive, heroic even.
It happened at the basketball in Valencia. Valencia Basket’s number 41: Hamilton. Young, American, and at the centre of everything good the team did. You were alerted to his presence when the player’s names were being read out; a little extra whoop, the added flavour of anticipation and belief. In the handball too, this time there was Morrell for BM Canyamelar Valencia. She was a leader, calm in defence, precise in attack, a veritable heartbeat. And we loved her for it. We love them for it.

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Morrell attacks in a blur of dynamism and bad camera work

Every culture has its myths and epics, everyone their heroes. Achilles, Beowulf, Mulan. We love to weave fact and myth, the real and fiction, creating part dream part genuine figures to tell our friends and our children about. Sport’s great for this. Generating legends constantly. Every weekend there are new heroes to celebrate, new epic deeds to reveal in, new stories to tell. That star performance, that comeback, that last minute penalty save. I don’t think we would like sport as much if it did not create this situation. It must appeal to some part of our psyche that loves stories, that was weaned around campfires in the dark swapping tales of triumph through storm and strife.

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Can anyone think of any recently?

Back at the water polo, and there was a momentum shift. The home side (UVSE Continental) came roaring back. 3-4, 4-4, suddenly 5 and 6 goals without reply. And a change came over the Charismatic Megafauna, the no. 12 of KEAC. No longer glaring but gazing wistfully. No long immovable in defence but lumbering after shadows. No longer powerfully built but heavy, possibly even a little tubby. His leading light extinguished, his charisma depleted. He was still the same man, same number, same terribly continental European little green swimming trunks. But he was also so much less.
What was the cause? How had the home team brought an end to his spell? There was no rival sent out to duel, no nemesis unleashed to bring about his downfall. Instead the home side all reached that little bit higher. They all put their hands up to be counted, and together they overcame the deficit to win. What magic. What a story for the next day. What a set of heroes.

 

* this term is borrowed from conservation biology, and refers to the often big and impressive animals like lions, elephants and even pandas that attract most peoples interest. This leads to their use as flagships by conservation organisations to draw interest to their cause, and so often helping other animals as well.