broken walls and narratives

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Archive for the tag “tattoo”

My Raven Tattoo

My Raven Tattoo

H. Bradford

10/27/17

This year, I decided that I should mark my bird listing by getting a bird tattoo for every 100 species of birds that I identify.  I like the idea of earning rewards.  The life of an adult lacks enough little rewards.  When I was young, I could get girl scout badges, letters on my letter jacket, or certificates of participation.  Now…well, not a lot!  Aside from rewarding myself, this plot to earn bird tattoos seemed like a good idea, since I already have an archaeopteryx tattoo, which historically was believed to be the first bird.  The name Archaeopteryx means “first wing.”  There are other fossils that have since been found, but archaeopteryx remains an iconic bird/dinosaur because it helped scientists of the 1800s connect birds and non-avian dinosaurs.  Plus, the Berlin specimen really is an elegant fossil.  It is like a prehistoric dancer, passionately arching backwards and shrugging its arms.  Thus, although it was not my intention when I got the tattoo, archaeopteryx can be my first “bird” and a marker for the first 100 species on my list.


I have identified about 230 species now.  Therefore, I have “earned” another tattoo.  To mark this milestone, I decided to get a raven tattoo.   Now, there are 229 other birds that I could have chosen from.  The very first bird that I added to my list was a stray Ivory gull that found its way to Duluth a few days after I began birding.  The pretty white gull from the arctic might have made a nice tattoo or could find its way in one in the future (perhaps with Lake Superior).  However, I wanted something that matches my aesthetic a little better.  I tend to wear dark colors and dye my hair blue and black.  Perhaps if I wrote jaunty sailor costumes all the time, a gull would be a good tattoo.  But, that isn’t me…at the moment.   A nautical themed version of myself is probably not going to happen any time soon as I hate water and am prone to seasickness.  Ultimately, I decided to pick a raven because they are attractive, interesting birds.

 


That is a shallow reason to choose that bird, I know.  They just look cool.  But, ravens and other corvids ARE cool.  They are incredibly intelligent birds- and some of them have the ability to problem solve, make tools, identify themselves in the mirror, remember where food is stored and try to trick competition with fake caches, and learn new behaviors-like safely crossing the street.   Many cultures have stories about ravens, often connecting them to death- since they eat carrion.  (Though Native American cultures seem to connect them to creation and trickery).  I suppose that I like this connection to death over say….the bluebird of happiness or a patriotic bald eagle.  I think about death too much.  Not in a dark, suicidal sort of way- but in an existential, everything is meaningless, how to do I live a good life sort of way.   Finally, I saw two ravens last spring when I was camping at Wild River State Park.  For most of my life, I was not able to differentiate ravens and crows.  I think that I am finally able to tell the two apart by the way they fly (crows flap quite a bit and ravens soar), their faces (ravens have a thicker, more square looking bill), and their sound (ravens have deep, almost barking  voices).   So, in a way it is a milestone bird since it represents the sorts of things that I have been trying to train myself to pay attention to when I see a bird.


As for the tattoo itself, I think it turned out beautifully.  I had it done at Ink Tattoo in Superior, which is where I went for my archaeopteryx tattoo.   I will say that I don’t particularly like getting tattoos since the buzzing noise and stinging pain can be a bit much.  It starts off alright, but after a while, it is hard to sit still and distract my mind.  Still, I feel very comfortable there and it helps that two of their artists are female (I am not sure if they have other artists at the moment).   Jill did both of my tattoos and was able to really capture what I had imagined.  I also like that the shop is full of LGBTQ themed art.  It creates a welcoming, positive, progressive atmosphere.  I think that tattoo shops can be a little intimidating since they may seem dark, aggressive (sometimes with skulls, dragons, flames, or other motifs in the signage.).  Overall, it was a great experience and I can’t wait until I get to 300 birds.  (Admittedly, it is harder to add more to the list as the list starts to grow).

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What will my 300th bird be?      There are many wonderful birds!   A chickadee would be nice, as it is symbolic of winter and our ecosystem.  A blue jay is another corvid- and would also be a nice symbol of winter and our region.  Or, perhaps I could choose birds that are symbolic of my travels as well.  A rosy starling could be symbolic of my trip last summer to the ‘stans.   The Asian magpie is the national bird of South Korea (a trip that I remember fondly).   The whooper swan is the national bird of Finland and steeped in cultural meaning,  as The Swan of Tounela is a song by Sibelius about the mythical swan floating on a river in the land of the dead.   Hmm….  well, who knows!

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My Little Archaeopteryx

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The first time I learned about archaeopteryx, it was when I was a child.  I loved dinosaurs. In odd continuity to my adulthood, I had a childhood passion for nonfiction.  One of my favorite books was a dinosaur book with a green glossy cover.  The book contained archaeopteryx towards the beginning.  The fossil was fascinating and beautiful.  Its body arched backwards with the elegance of a ballerina.  The fossil was unique because it had impressions of feathers.  It was a link between birds and dinosaurs.  Although it didn’t feature prominently in my dinosaur book, I committed the name and a few facts to my memory.  In my dinosaur book, archaeopteryx was considered the first bird.

 


Years later, I reconnected with archaeopteryx while I was in London.  In my early 20s, I spent a semester in Ireland.  Afterwards, I explored the UK a little, which involved a few days in London.  I ended up at the Museum of Natural History, which, unknown to me, happened to be hosting an Archaeopteryx exhibit.  I happened upon the special exhibition room with astonishment and delight.  This was it!  The museum had obtained a German specimen of archaeopteryx in 1862, though it usually is not on display.  This fossil was accompanied by a small collection of other German archaeopteryx fossils, along with the Chinese “fuzzy raptor.”  I wandered through the room, awestruck by my good fortune, as the exhibit was scheduled to end later that month.  It is still one of my favorite travel memories and one of the top things I have seen in my lifetime.


Another opportunity to see feathered dinosaurs arose when I was in China, staying with my friend Rose.  Beijing’s Geological Museum of China hosts a collection of feathered dinosaurs from Liaoning province.  Just as archaeopteryx was a groundbreaking fossil discovery of the 1800s, the Liaoning fossils were groundbreaking in the late 1900s (late 1990s to 2000s).  The less easy to remember sinosauropteryx was discovered there in the mid 1990s.  It was the first non-avian dinosaur with filament like feathers.  It was a downy dinosaur.  This discovery implied that all dinosaurs may have had feathers.  Volcanic activity in the area preserved the fossils very well, leaving ashy impressions of feathers.  This has allowed scientists to learn more about the evolution of feathers.  Feathers evolved much earlier than thought and were much more common.  My own impression was that the fossils were not as pretty as my original archaeopteryx.  They were dark and sooty.  Still, the fossils were fascinating and plentiful.  They were also more horrific.  The fossils looked more like mummies or freeze dried birds than bony impressions from a time long ago.  I would still say that this was another one of my top travel highlights.  The Great Wall might be impressive, but what is more impressive than the vastness of Earth’s history and the mysteries of all the life that existed millions of years before our own lives?

 

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I’ve been thinking about getting an archaeopteryx tattoo for a long time.  It has a lot of meaning to me.  It represents my childhood curiosities and hopes for the future.  Like many children I wanted to be a paleontologist.  However, I didn’t know the word for paleontologist, so I mistakenly called it “archeologist.”  I even dressed up in a khaki outfit and brought cow bones to my kindergarten class, for a career themed show-and-tell as an “archeologist.”  No one corrected the error.  Not that being an archeologist wouldn’t be cool.  It also represents some of the neat things I have seen while traveling.  Finally, as an atheist, it has meaning to me as the original archaeopteryx was seen as important evidence of evolution.  In a time when evolution was a new concept, archaeopteryx offered this very clear link between dinosaurs and birds.  All of the feathered dinosaurs have offered important insights about evolution.  And though the new discoveries have made archaeopteryx less important (or just one of many feathered dinosaurs, and certainly not the first), it is still the most recognizable and memorable.

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The main thing that has held me back from getting the tattoo is actually dissatisfaction with my body.  I wanted to get the tattoo on the underside of my arm, but fear that my arms look a little too flabby.  The tattoo was going to be a reward for developing awesome arms.  After about two years of waiting, I decided that I am not going to magically become more toned.  Perhaps I should embrace it.  Like the archaeopteryx, I too have wings.  I have tiny little flabs of chicken wings.  We are one.  Alas, I am flightless… and you, archaeopteryx, may have taken flight.

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