Devolution by Max Brooks

 
“As the ash and Chaos from Mount Rainer’s eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined…. until now.  The journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the towns bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing – and too earth-shattering in its implications – to be forgotten.  In these pages, Max Brooks brings Kate’s extraordinary account to light for the first time, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the legendary beasts behind it.  Kate’s is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity’s defiance in the face of a terrible predator’s gaze, and inevitably, of savagery and death.
Yet it is also far more than that.
Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible.  We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us – and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.
Part survival narrative, part bloody horror tale, part scientific journey into the boundaries between truth and fiction, this is a Bigfoot story as only Max Brooks could chronicle it – and like none you’ve ever read before.”
-Book Cover “Devolution” by Max Brooks   
 
 
Devolution

Some stories really get under my skin. I think about them long after I have finished reading them. Devolution by Max Brooks is one of those stories. I was very excited to receive my copy of the book last August and finished reading shortly after I received it. I have wanted to write a review of the book; but, needed time to process the story.

I want to put in a reminder that this is a book of fiction. So much of this book is written as if it just happened. Much like Max Brooks other novel World War Z.

Devolution starts with an introduction by the author explaining how he came to write the story of the firsthand account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre. Written primary through the journal of Kate Holland found at what was left of the eco-community, Greenloop when rescuers finally were able to reach it. Also included are interviews of the community founder, Tony Durant taken from NPR. Interviews from Frank McCray, the journal writer’s brother, and Senior Ranger Josephine Schell, who was first on the scene. These interviews add a sense of urgency to the story and validate the experiences Kate writes about in her journal. Quotes from scientific journals, myths, zoological texts and other sources lend credibility and interest to the story. Everything meshes together to tell the story and leave the reader to ponder the ultimate outcome. Like any good disaster story, I was left wondering if things had been handled differently, would the ending have changed?

What I enjoyed the most about this novel was the character development of Kate Holland. How the reader gets to know her through her own words. When she arrives, Kate goes on a walk and writes in journal the wonder she experiences of the natural world. Through her own words I saw her as a very timid. By the end of the novel, Kate has strength, courage and a will to survive that transcends through the horror.

The interactions of Kate with the other citizens of the small community and the development of those relationships is all documented in her journal. Mostar was another favorite character. Maybe because she was an artist, but more likely it was her no bull-shit attitude. Everyone in that community tip toed around the very serious situation that was starring them in the face. Only Mostar had the nerve to call it out.

There are some truly terrifying parts to this novel. The following happened fairly early in the book. Kate felt the urge to go for a walk down the road that had been washed out. At one point she thought she saw a boulder on the road. But then it moved, stood up and walked into the woods. The following exert is what happened next.

“When I looked again, the road was clear. The boulder was definitely gone. Then, as the wind shifted in my direction, I smelled it. Eggs and garbage.

I didn’t consciously consider what to do next. No internal debate. this was reflex. I turned and started walking back. My eyes kept scanning back and forth in a shallow arc, like they teach you on the first day of driver’s school. I tried to keep my pace steady, my breathing constant. I tried not to dwell on what I’d seen. An animal, a deer. Maybe that ‘boulder’ was just a speck in my eye.

But the smell was getting stronger, and I couldn’t keep from speeding up. I thought I saw something move off to my right, a sudden space opening between two trees.

I quickened again.

Silly. Irrational. Tired. Information overload from the news mixed with memory flashes of the bloody, butchered rabbit.

A light trot, at first, long controlled breaths. That feeling. The back of my neck. Being watched. My trot became a jog, my breath thundering in my ears.

I could not have imagined the howl. I definitely heard it, just like the other day. Deep, rising pitch, echoing off the trees. Lightening kicked up my stomach.

I ran.

Sprinting, gasping, the world shaking in front of me.

And fell. Just like in one of those stupid, cheesy horror flicks when the dumb blond eats it just before the knife-wielding psycho gets her. At least I had the presence of mind to close my eyes, hold my breath, but after face-planting in the ash, I couldn’t help but inhale.

Coughing, chocking, eyes blurry and stinging, I tore forward.

Don’t turn! I remember that clearly. Shouting in my brain. Don’t turn! Don’t think! GOGOGO!

Thighs burning, lungs.

I ran until I saw the roofs poking just above the driveway rise. The endorphins hit. Made it. Home. Safe!

Dan!

He was coming toward me, Mostar behind him.

Pages 88-89 Devolution by Max Brooks

This book is a cautionary tale about forgetting that nature can and is dangerous. Just recently there was an accident locally where some downhill skiers went out of bounds. One of them skied into a tree well and died. We hear all the time that visitors to Yellowstone and other national parks are injured because they tried to pet a bison or feed a grizzly bear. I blame Disney for this with the way it anthropomorphizes inanimate objects and wild animals. Wild animals are wild. Even the cute ones.

And just because you can make a call on your satellite phone doesn’t mean that bad things won’t or can’t happen to you when you are in the wilderness. The characters in this book thought technology would save them. They didn’t consider the idea that they wouldn’t be able to depend on it. None of them, with the exception of Mostar, had any idea of what it might take to survive the situation they were in.

I did not feel like this was a horror story. There were horrific events. To me, Devolution, felt like a survival story. Catastrophic natural event caused a series of things to happen. I enjoy a good survival story and this was no exception. Not a book for everyone. But if you like disaster stories or survival stories, this book has all of those components and a mysterious ending.

Enjoying the Possibilities

There is a lot of hype around New Years Eve and the ushering in of a new year.  (Even more so this year.)  I get that for some it is a time to party.  Others see it as a time for reflection and sending well wishes to friends and family.  Many people make new year resolutions.

The word resolution means a firm decision to do or not to do something, or the quality of determination or resolve.  But this is not a post about resolutions.  It is a post about possibilities.  A possibility is a thing that may happen, a state of being likely and/or a thing that may be done out of several possible alternatives.

Where resolutions are determined, a possibility is a maybe.  Resolutions are guidelines to getting things done; possibilities are open ended options.  Resolution is an exclamation point.  Possibilities are question marks.

There is nothing wrong with resolutions.  And to those who accomplish or keep them, I say, “Way to go!”  Making and keeping goals is part of the creative process.

But sometimes one doesn’t need resolution.  Nothing so firm.  A possibility, however, is just right.  Options.  Ideas.  Could be and may be.  Optimistic hoping and wishing.

The idea for this post came about from a conversation with a friend about receiving new art supplies for Christmas.  We are both in the process of organizing the spaces in which we create art and our supplies.  While I was going through a box, I found some paper that I hadn’t looked at in ages.  I went through the box touching each sheet of paper, enjoying the possibilities.

When I purchase paper I don’t always use it right away.  But I don’t want to miss the opportunity to purchase this sheet of paper.  I may not know right now what I am going to use it for, but I will use at some point in my artwork.  I am very aware of the possibility each sheet of paper holds.  A new tube of paint.  The purchase of a printing press.  The blank page or the blank canvas.  A yard of fabric or a skein of yarn.  A new herb or spice.  These all have possibilities!

Good and or bad outcomes may happen.  The paint may become part of a stunning landscape.  The story written on that blank page may fizzle out.  The printing press produces many beautiful prints and some major flops.  The dish made with the new spice is not to your tasting.  The socks you knit from the skein of yarn fit perfectly.  Yes any and all of this could happen.  But right now, in this moment, there is nothing but possibility.

And this brings me back to the beginning and perception of the new year.  One could think of this as a very negative time or could look at it as a opportunity for possibilities.  It would be very easy to get caught up in the negativity of the current state of our world: isolation and masks; lockdowns and travel restrictions; censorship and unrest and much more.  This is enough to cause depression in the most positive people.  If we allow it, these critical and negative thoughts will take control.  That is why enjoying the possibilities is so important.   Yes, the possibilities or outcomes could be a disaster, but they have just as much chance as being something wonderful or amazing.

I would like to leave you with this quote which has been accredited to Eleanor Roosevelt.   “Yesterday is history.  Tomorrow is a mystery.  And today?  Today is a gift.  That’s why we call it the present.”

Take the gift of today.  Be in this moment.  Enjoy the possibilities.

M is for Migraine

This post is for those lucky humans out there that have never had the experience of a migraine headache.

The reason I am writing this post is because of something that was said to me recently by someone who has never had the experience of having a migraine headache.  She said, “You need to go to the doctor.  Wouldn’t it be better if you could find some medicine, or change your diet, or an exercise or something to make these ‘headaches’ go away.”

Having recently read a post about choosing to be offended, I thought long and hard about whether I was offended and whether I should be writing this post.  I am not offended by the speaker’s words.  I realize that they didn’t understand because they haven’t experienced a migraine.  It is easy to be critical of others when you don’t understand what they are experiencing.  I felt the need to write this post to help this person and others understand.

Migraines are NOT the same as headaches, a friend, who also gets migraines, reminded me recently.  Migraines can cause someone to vomit.  Smells and light can make them feel nauseous.  Some people when experiencing a migraine cannot stand any noises.  Others experience an aura.  Migraines can cause someone to be sensitive to hot or cold.  Cluster migraines are a series of migraines that can continue for several days in a row.  A migraine may have certain symptoms, but they are different for everyone who experiences them.

My typical migraine often starts with my eyes feeling weird and the onset of an aura.  Once the aura has finished, the pain and nausea begins.  I am often overly warm and need to keep cool during a migraine.  Sometimes I throw up.  I often cannot stand light, sounds or even smells. I have to lay down in a cold dark room.  This is a typical migraine for me.  However, a migraine can be different each time a person has one.

I have been to the doctor.  My migraines are triggered by excessive stress.  I have tried a couple different medications.  Ibuprofen taken at the onset of the aura often lets me manage my migraine.  But not always.  Certain types of coffee cause me to have what I call an insta-migraine.  I don’t drink them and avoid them.  Too much processed foods with dyes can cause a migraine.  I try to avoid those as well.  Linen scented candles and room sprays cause me to have a migraine.  I don’t purchase those products and try to avoid them if I smell them.

A bad migraine year for me is five to fifteen migraines.  I have been migraine free for years at a time.  I have friends who have three to five migraines a week.  For one of them, Botox injections work.  The other friend gave up dairy and grain.  That was three years ago and she has a lot fewer migraines.

Be kind to someone who is suffering from a migraine.  Depending on their symptoms, even speaking to them could be causing them pain.  Understand that having a migraine is not something they can control and their isn’t a quick fix.  They probably have been to see a doctor or doctors.  The person who is having the migraine knows what they need to help get their migraine under control.

If you do not experience migraines, I hope that you found this article helpful.  If you do and would like to add to this post, please leave a comment.

At the Mountains of Madness

I finished the novel At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft a little over a week ago.  I would love to discuss this book.  No one that I know has read it.  I’ve asked friends, students in my art classes, and family members.  Because I can find no one to talk to about it, I feel compelled to write a post about it hoping that someone will comment or contact me and want to talk about At the Mountains of Madness.

I did not have much to go on when I ordered this book.  I think there was a sentence or two about explorers on the continent of Antarctica unearth an unspeakable evil.  That could mean anything in the horror, science fiction genre.

When reading a review about the movie “Color Out of Space” based on another work by H.P. Lovecraft, the author of the review had stated that the director Guillermo del Toro loves the book At the Mountains of Madness so much that he wants to make it into a movie.  I do not have such strong feelings about the book.  In fact, there are a couple of things that really bother me.

Some of my less than enthusiastic response may have to do with this being my first introduction to the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.  On occasion I found his writing to be archaic, even for the period of time he was writing in.  There were allusions to other books Lovecraft had written.  I think that if I had read the book about the Cthulhu or the Necronomicon, I may have had better appreciation for the horrors that the protagonist experienced.

At the time this novel was published, 1936, we did not have as accurate maps of large parts of the planet.  Antarctica was one of these areas of the world.  So the expedition to explore and track the geology and geography of Antarctica would be a very real expedition for that time.  However, knowing what is known of the geography of the continent today, I was simply unable to suspend my system of disbelief and accept the authors premise of a mountain range higher than the Himalayas on the continent of Antarctica.  This is a small thing but it bothered me.

I have never been a fan of technique of telling a story from the point of view that the protagonist has already survived and is now recounting what he experienced.  To me it is much scarier, if as the reader, I am participating in events as they are happening to the protagonist.  Not as an after the fact recounting.  It takes the edge off knowing that the individual survived.  The horror doesn’t get him because he is telling the story in past tense.

I acknowledge that there is a lot of mystery surrounding the continent of Antarctica.  There is so much about that place of ice and cold that we do not know.  There are theories about tunnels and pockets of life that were trapped and developed independently under the ice.  Scientists are learning new things about our planet all the time, why should the continent of Antarctica be any different.

Although I did not find At the Mountains of Madness to be scary, it was dense with dread.  I imagine a movie version of the book could be very intense and scary.  I would be very excited to see a film version of At the Mountains of Madness directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Ability – Creativity Series

“Everyone is a genius.  But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” -Albert Einstein

The other day I was going through some art papers, notes about classes, ideas on sticky notes and quotes.  I came across a folded up little piece of paper that had this quote from Albert Einstein.  It really spoke to me and I found it to be the perfect inspiration for my second post in the “Creativity Series.”

Some of the lessons that we need to learn about being creative are not learned through doing an activity or by reading a book.  They are learned by changing our perspective.  In this case the perspective we are changing is allowing others to hurt us or judge us with their opinions and harsh words.

Just like the fish in Albert Einstein’s quote, we are not going to be good at everything we attempt to do.   A great pastry chef may not be able to grill the perfect steak.  And then again maybe they can grill a perfect steak but are unable to speak in front of a crowd of people.  What is being said in this quote is not to allow yourself to be judged by the things that you have trouble doing.  The chef is still an amazing chef even if they can’t do public presentations.  If the chef is content with their life, does it matter what others think?

Enough time and practice can help anyone to gain a basic understanding and minimal skill set in any area.  For example, I took an accounting class in college.  For me, it was a tough class.  I did fine, I got a C.  I am perfectly capable to do basic book keeping for my art as a business.  But I will not be remembered for my interest accruing skills on a spread sheet and I am more than okay with that.

Take a moment and think of how you have been compared by others or yourself in doing something that you are not proficient at.  How did it feel?  Did it hinder your ability to try to do the task in the future?  Did it alter how you felt about yourself?

I have shared this story in the past, but it fits so well with the Albert Einstein quote that I have to share it again.  I had a student who was in her seventies when she took my creativity class.  She shared a story about one of her creative blocks.  She had always been very tall for her age.  In her school choir classes she would stand in the back row and sing with her whole heart. When she was 12 or 13 a teacher told her that she shouldn’t sing.  That she should just mouth the words instead.  My student was devastated.  She never sang out loud again.  The words of one person had the power to quite literally silence a voice.

My student shared that she still wished to sing.  We talked about the fact that the teacher who said that had become her internal critic when it came to making a joyful noise.  We talked about ways to silence this critic.  We talked about ways that she could sing and feel comfortable.  Her church choir was recruiting “new songbirds.”  She auditioned and was accepted.  She was finally singing again.  After sixty years of thinking that she couldn’t sing, she had auditioned and was accepted in a choir.

I leave you with these final thoughts.  You are a genius!  You are a creative, imaginative, amazing human being.  Believe these words.  Believe in yourself.

Risk = Growth = Rewards

All of the artwork featured in this blog post was created by students of the Art Sampler class that I taught in the fall of 2019 at Flathead Valley Community College.  The paintings are pallet knife paintings.  Two of the students had previous painting experience but not painting with acrylic paint.  None of the students had painted using a palette knife before.

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Painted by Amy Kanewischer

In college, I took a class on American women’s history.  The class started with the  colonization of the original 13 colonies.  It focused on women who settled in the north (the area of what is now Massachusetts) and women in the southern colonies. 

The women who settled in the north were primarily wives and daughters.  They arrived with their husbands and fathers.  As long as they stayed within the confines of society and family these women had comfortable lives and very little risk.  

The women who settled in the south were wives and daughters also.  But most of the women who settled in the south went as indentured servants (their voyage is paid for by a third party [usually farmer or landowner in the southern colonies] and then they had to work for a certain amount of time to pay off the debt).  Once the debt was released, they were free.  They could buy land, start businesses, etc.  These women faced huge risks but if they survived the rewards were big and they had the opportunity to make choices for themselves.

One could argue that settling in the original thirteen colonies was a huge risk in and of itself.  And they would be right.  Some parts of those colonies were wilder and riskier than others.

The bonus question on the exam for this portion of the class asked where we would live if given a choice?  Would we live in relative safety of the civilized north?  Or would we live in the wild south?  We had to explain our reasons for why we made our choice.  I chose the south because if I could survive, I would earn my freedom and the ability to make decisions for myself.  There were only two of us in a class of 20 who chose settling in the south or greater risk for greater rewards.

“If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.” -Geena Davis

Where is all this talk of risk going?  Creativity is about risk.  I was talking to a friend recently about how the images in the sketchbooks doesn’t always turn out like the finished piece of artwork.  That the artwork is often better than expected.  Creating a piece of artwork, writing a poem or a novel, acting in a play, taking a photo, any and all creative pursuits are about risk.

Think about it like this, if everyone only listened to the music of Mozart it would get pretty boring after awhile.  But there is a lot more than the music of Mozart to listen to.  There is rap, jazz, blues, polkas, chants, rock, pop, etc.  You get the idea.  Here is the important part to remember the next time a song that you like comes on, the artist who wrote that song and the artist who is singing it (it may be the same person) had to take risks to get that music on the radio.  They had to have faith in their creative choices.  They had to be willing to grow creatively to reach the rewards.

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Painted by Judy Territo

Speaking of creative choices.  My friend Samantha was at a point where she needed more business cards.  When she went to reorder ones like she already had, they didn’t have that design any more.  Samantha felt that she was at a crossroads.  She had branded herself with the old design.  Did she want to keep the old images?  Could she still keep her brand and create new and exciting business cards?

Samantha chose to take a risk.  She created new business cards, using new images and her original business name.  And the new business cards turned out beautiful.  So beautiful that Samantha ordered a banner with the same design.

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Painted by Diane Whited

Teaching art classes can be a challenge.  Teaching often forces me to grow as an artist and an individual.  As an art teacher, I take risks in teaching my students.  There is standard techniques that one can teach over and over to each class.  And teachers often do this to make sure that their students learn the basics.  But teachers can take the time to really get to know their students and tailor the class around the skills and abilities of the students.  It is these subtle additions that really makes the difference from an okay class to an amazing one.  I decided to teach the acrylic technique of palette knife painting with this group of students because I knew it would be a positive challenge for them.  My taking a risk, helped my students grow and the reward was to see the amazing artwork they produced. 

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Painted by Arnold Kanewischer

Just because you take a creative risk does not mean that you will not have anxiety and fear.  Part of taking a risk is learning how to manage the fear and anxiety that comes with it.  Not every risk you take will produce a reward.  Some risks will turn into creative disasters.  That is okay.  There is opportunity to learn from failure and that is one of the ways in which we grow.  That growth helps us reach future rewards.

What do you need to do today to take that next creative step?  What risk will help you grow regardless of success or failure?  How can going further with your art and creativity provide you with an opportunity to learn and challenge yourself?  What reward are you seeking? 

Remember risk causes growth.  Growth helps one reach rewards.  Risk = Growth = Rewards