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Wendy Lewis
  Wendy Lewis

Rūs + Literary Series
How to Chase Your Tail in the Dead of Winter

March-April, 2008

It’s been a hard winter this year in Minnesota. Everyone around here says so and we offer these statements to each other as gifts— validation for the days behind us, and the many still to come. There have been weeks of sub-zero temperatures and inhumane wind chills, steady snowfalls, some blizzards and endless weeks of low, grey cover. I looked into the Rus archives to see what I’d been doing over the last six Februarys and other than two funerals I recounted in consecutive years, I’ve consistently written, in aptly torpid prose, the hallucinogenic state of being awake during this time of year when the most feral inclination of a midwestern beast would be hibernation.

I imagine hibernation being a state of existence somewhere between sleeping and death. It’s sort of where Snow White was suspended until love found her. In the same way, even if you are a person who enjoys winter sports or depends on winter to make your living, all Midwesterners are held in this semi-comatose state until spring finds us. While variety local mammals, birds and reptiles eat a huge meal in the fall and blissfully crash on their equivalent of a sofa, we humanoid bipeds are, essentially, sleepwalking all winter long. We don’t know who we are, what we are doing and should not be held accountable for any of it, state and federal crimes included.

But, this February I had high hopes for delivering a mind-blowing, philosophically flourishing treatise on the human/dog vs. human/human relationship through the dark eye of a nihilistic lens I’d been employing since the New Year. “Something” had pricked my consciousness around the holidays and then I did some substantive reading on “it” and then I had a dream or two and a number of tangential conversations and a rare, symbolic or synchronistic occurrence on a walk to the river one morning and knew I had to try to put “it” into words. I had spent weeks laying out the groundwork when Lars von Trier’s film Dogville found its way into my DVD player at 10 AM on a weekday (note to readers: refrain from ever watching any of von Trier’s work in the morning on any day). I stumbled, dumbstruck, from the bedroom almost three hours later and truly had no idea what I was going to do with my ignited and quickly conflagrant thoughts, since his film had given credence (his version, of course) to everything I was attempting to convey in my essay. All I wanted to do was get drunk with my pal Lars.

There was no way I could write in this over-enlightened state, so my next move was to sit down and calmly type Dogville into the Google search engine on my lap top, a cold compress that slowly warmed to body temperature delivering me into hours and then days of contiguous research: unearthed thesis papers written on the philosophical implications of “host and guest”, works by Derrida, Heidegger, Spivak, including a partial refresh on Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and entire rereading of “To Build a Fire” by Jack London, which had made a powerful impact on me as a child. I was sure I was onto a whole new way to talk about the flawed, romantically idealized notions of “love” and “loyalty” and that the nature of humans is as self-preserving as dogs. If we’re not getting what we need, we simply go in search of another food bowl. Nothing wrong with that—essentially—other than, for example, how we humans are far more dangerous than any animal due in part to the fact that we have written language, which serves to nullify, glorify and/or justify our actions, no matter how depraved.

I didn’t want to appear too literal in my grand expose on human nature, having no official plaques on my wall, so in the “clever”, artsy rewrite, too many loaded boxcars were added and, as often occurs with over-generalized, irrationally fueled trains of thought, a fiery derailment on an weakly engineered bridge soon followed. Boom. Looking back towards the wreckage below, it was a far better ride than any cryptic story could ever have recounted. The residuals were enough for me; it was liberating to have spent almost two months contemplating the impracticalities of “hope”, the self-serving nature of “love” and simply embracing the fact that the human race is not worth counting on. The next morning I woke with a terrible case of the stomach flu, that unwelcome humbler who has not dropped in for about twenty years, bringing its perfunctory purge.

But it’s always about what happens next. My inbox delivered this news: Biodiversity 'doomsday vault' comes to life in Arctic by Pierre-Henry Deshayes, Sun Feb 24, 1:25 PM ET

February 26, 2008 would mark the inauguration day of Noah’s Ark, the biodiversity vault which has been under construction since June of 2006 on the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, a mere 620 miles from the North Pole. The vault, under construction since June of 2006, has “the capacity to hold up to 4.5 million batches of seeds from all known varieties of the planet's main food crops, making it possible to re-establish plants if they disappear from their natural environment or are obliterated by major disasters”. The location was chosen due to its lack of tectonic activity, its permafrost (which will aid preservation) and its distance from human strife. The Norwegian government funded the entire 8.9 million dollar project.

Mankind’s awareness of its own destructive capacities causes it to put safeguards in place; global dispossession of weaponry, controlling nature or behavior modification all being out of the question, some have the forethought to quietly stockpile humanity’s most basic necessity to survive an unimaginable future. I sat in the dark, fumbling with the awkward truth of it all.

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