Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Music of the Vegetables

Last week while I was writing about goat song, I sent Nathanael a video demonstrating yodeling and told him he should learn take it up. Over the previous few weeks we had been discussing how a banjo would suit his persona nicely, and I always associate the two; banjos and yodeling.

   As you know, on YouTube, one thing leads to another, and by the time I got home the next day he was learning a couple of methods of Mongolian Throat Singing. I had heard bits of throat singing recordings in the past, and even a few that a friend had recorded in Tuva, but I had never recognized the amazing overtones (whistling type sound) that can be created. And even though Nathanael had only had one day of practice, his demonstration for me produced the same reaction I had the first time I had heard yodeling: giggling. (Despite the variety of wonderful videos on the internet, there really is nothing like hearing these things in person...thus the laughter with glee.)

    For some reason I had also assumed that only guys had the ability to throat sing, but woman (in Mongolia and elsewhere) can, and do throat sing. This video is a good example of both a woman throat singing, and a good example of the overtone aspect of throat singing, because the familiar song she chose helps you pick out the melody.

   And just as yodeling leads to throat singing, searching through obscure Asian videos of people making music in their living room leads to a man playing vegetables as a musical instruments (heita3).

 It's the next big thing, I assure you.

I want to meet this guy.

I want to shake his hand.

What other musical bits from around the world have I been missing out on? 
Do share.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Goat Song

I have the opportunity to read a good number of books while I am away doing field work. Each week I bring a tall stack of books with me from the library and blast through them at a pace of one every day or two. So, I figured I would mention some of the ones I have enjoyed the most. The first is Goat Song.

Goat Song, by Brad Kessler, was just what I expected it to be, a romanticized snippet of goat farming.
 I thought it was super.
 A mixture of prose about nature, etymology (that’s right, words, not insects), animal companionship, milking, mating (enough to make you giggle), and cheesemaking. Even if you’re not interested in becoming a goat farmer, it is a pleasurably restful book to read. Bits of knowledge just waft off the page like steam from a warm cup of tea. I read it between batches of paperwork, I read it in a recliner, I read it by the pool, and in all of those places I felt neither a hurry to finish it, nor any boredom, just gladness that there was still more of it to read.
One of my favorite sections of the book was the author’s discussion of the word Pastoral and how it used to refer to the poetry and songs written by herders--songs often sang only for the livestock. I also learned about the different varieties of “singing” used in different cultures to get the attention of goat herds. Yodeling and kulning being two examples of high vocalizations to which all kinds of animals are more attentive. (This is where you go look kulning up on YouTube for a while...I'll be here when you get back).

Another of my favorite of Kessler's discussions is best summed up by this quote he used from the naturalist Henry Beston,
"We need another and a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours they moved finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the sense we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time."  

 I think I appreciated it so much because I have been thinking about all of the things we don't know about the world around us. Just as when we meet a new person we can’t know their story just by looking at them, we really will never know how birds perceive the world, or whether the cows think we’re silly, or whether elephants pass down history. And I can’t help but wondering whenever I hear people looking for intelligent life in outer space (wondering why they are, that is). Not because I don’t think there is any, but because there is so much mystery right here, and just because the goats and raccoons aren’t communicating to us with radio signals doesn’t mean we have figured out what makes them tick. God has breathed life into all that breathe...I just wonder what it is like to be a goat or bird or zebra.

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;  
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,    
or let the fish in the sea inform you. 
Which of all these does not know    
that the hand of the LORD has done this? 
In his hand is the life of every creature    
and the breath of all mankind.

Job 12:7-10

From my field work
(nothing to do with the field work, or with goats, just a fascinating little creature).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Hardest Part of My Job is Remembering All of the Acronyms

The summer that has passed feels like both an entire year and only few days, depending on how I think about it. Of all of the summer adventures, the most significant was starting my job as an environmental scientist.
     It began with two days of training to detail how the company is structured and the different safety standards in place, and has continued with bits and pieces (and large chunks) of training ever since. As it turns out, working for an environmental consulting firm means you have to be familiarized with--and certified in--a lot of areas, and even cleared with homeland security.

Among other courses this summer, I took the 40 HAZWOPER (HAardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) course.

Here I am in HAZWOPER training doning type A protective equipment…minus gloves.

Not only did I learn about different chemical hazards, transportation standards, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), but I also discovered that the best way for me to remain attentive throughout a day long course is to doodle mehndi type designs. 

After the first day I decided I might as well make cards.

So look out, they may be coming to a mailbox near you.

Though some of the training can be monotonous, it is really nice to know our company puts such a priority on our safety. Also, both on site and within the office my coworkers and my supervisor have been simply splendid. I often feel as though I am on a semester abroad or on an internship because everyone puts in such effort to explain the things I have not encountered before, and is so patient with my shortcomings.

Green 360 cones ensure we inspect our vehicles all the way around before driving away.

For the first couple of months I worked mostly in the office, and now I’ve been working about 2/3 of the time on a particular project out in the field. Initially, my primary task was to do paperwork in our temporary little office. (And between the paperwork I have been reading lots of books, some of which I will later recommend for a post-summer reading list.)

I do paperwork with gloves on, yes siree.

During the more than two months we have been working on this site I have also been learning some about project management, making budgets (BIG budgets) and submitting proposals to clients. As you can see our PPE in this area is pretty basic (no type A suits or Nomex gear), which has been nice considering the heat of up to 102°F (real degrees, not just the “feels like”), though it has for the most part been only 96 or 98°F.

As an additional benefit, we get to see cows…

I wave to  them and say hello every morning.
They really are pleasant. 
If I could I would serenade them like these fellows do.

(Lucy gets the credit for finding this video and knowing how much I would enjoy it.)

The site also has alligators and water moccasins, but the cows are more fun.

So what's been keeping you busy?
What new twists and turns has your life been taking lately?

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