Category Archives: fear

Finding Bigfoot

Bigfoot4_p01

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I don’t know that I’ve ever stayed in one of the WPA era National Park Service Rustic Lodges, but I’ve been there in my dreams. Where guests rock in rocking chairs with wool throws over their laps and steaming mugs in hand before a great stone fireplace, knowing they are safe from bears.

The look and feel of a lodge is what I long for in winter, and I continually ask how can I bring a little of that to my home on the water in an old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest?

Nature provides all the drama here. Wind storms come off the sea in winter and everything keels over but the house and the strongest trees. A forest so dense, it regularly thins itself out. After each storm, the ground is carpeted with cedar needles, softening and quieting the outdoor world.

Our dog’s bed lies at the foot of the fireplace, where she always faces the fire. “It brings out the wolf in her,” we note. In the  summer, we move to sitting around a bonfire in the evenings. We may not have wolves but on full moon nights fox congregate on the beach to yip at the moon.

Back in the house in winter, candles stand in lanterns posed for a power outage that rarely comes–it’s almost disappointing. Soup’s in the slow cooker, one recipe after the other. We all agree the second day is tastier than the first. This far north a mud room is called “the Alaska room,” where a third of the contents are rain gear, boots and waders.

We walk everywhere. Over to the marina to check on things daily. There’s the mail to pick up, and a little market that never disappoints me, no matter what I need. Everything conspires against taking the car, and not to ferry off island–for as long as possible.

Nature is a gentle giant here. Short of a tree falling on one’s head, I can’t think of any real danger. Besides the people who are few and friendly, the island is populated with deer, little foxes, raccoon, rabbits, comfortable cows, horses, goats, sheep, alpaca, and a camel. Plenty of birds overhead, though the eagles think they own the airspace.

You can see where I’m going, there is nothing to fear here. And creating a lodge is not all about weathered or salvaged wood, rock, leather, burlap, Native American blankets, wrought iron, rusted iron, sliding barn doors and antler chandeliers. There ought to be an element of adventure, if not danger, to it.

So I invent something while walking in the woods. I invent Sasquatch, or Big Foot, for myself. Though no one sees her, I am certain she’s here. Big and hairy, perhaps 10ft tall, yet gentle and shy. Maybe.

Assuming they are nocturnal, I look for her sleeping by day. I look between the trunks of giant cedars for an outstretched arm or leg, a 24” foot protruding out. I look over moss covered rocks for her enormous head at rest. I figure she’s gone brown and green with the forest over the years. Lichen probably grows on her. She is hard to spot.

It makes for a more welcoming homecoming. Knowing she’s out there and shutting the door behind me, helps this house become a lodge.

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Irrational Fears in an Irrational Time

Two presidential candidates, attractive, bright, Harvard scholars both, stand before us in a crowd. Spring is warm, much like summer, and the candidates have removed their jackets. Obama rolls up his sleeves as well. Mitt leaves his sleeves long, pressed, and buttoned at the cuff. Obama reaches out to people with both arms. Mitt methodically shakes hands with his right hand, trying to give a formal hand shake, over and over, despite the fact that folks are all around him. I see a world of choice in this election. One man is real. His ears stick out as do ours. While the other man looks computer rendered. “Mannequin man,” I call him.

Beware of mannequin men, women, and children. As a child I believed that mannequins were simply posing by day, but came alive at night. The grandest department store in Hartford, Connecticut at that time was G. Fox & Co., where legend had it, female mannequins were modeled after Katherine Hepburn, also Hartford born and bred. Her father, Thomas Hepburn, a prominent physician, and her mother, Katherine Houghton Hepburn, head of the Connecticut Suffrage Association. Now as fond as I am of Kate, I know her to have been formidable. Twenty years later in La Jolla, California, the seamstress on my wedding dress, a close friend of one of Kate’s nieces, confided that Kate had nothing to do with her niece because she had failed to complete her college education. Aunt Kate held her standards as high as she held her neck, and, like a mannequin, she did not bend.

Anyway, back in Connecticut, back in time, my best friend shared this fear of mannequins with me and together we fed each other’s fantasy. On sleepovers, in that moment just before sleep, one of us would mechanically move an arm, raise a leg, or turn her head, and with all the woodenness and soullessness of an android, come alive at night as a mannequin. Apparently the only way to deal with a mannequin was to become one yourself, and so we terrified both ourselves and each other by never wanting to be the first one to snap out of it.

Whether it’s your best friend acting, plaster, or plastic, now I know what this phenomena is called: The Uncanny Valley Effect. Coined by robotics professor, Masahiro Mori, in 1970, “The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics and 3D computer animation which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The ‘valley’ in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s human likeness.” (Wikipedia).

These are strange times and we stand at a precipice. While “mannequin man” tips us into an uncanny valley, the president, on the other hand, is one of us. I’m just saying….

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