Thursday, 5 November 2015

Various Aurorae

An Aurora Borealis
by Dinah Craik (1826-1887)

Strange soft gleam, O ghostly dawn
That never brightens unto day;
Ere earth's mirk pale once more be drawn
Let us look out beyond the gray.

It is just midnight by the clock--
There is no sound on glen or hill,
The moaning linn adown its rock
Leaps, but the woods lie dark and still.

Austere against the kindling sky
Yon broken turret blacker grows;
Harsh light, to show remorselessly
Ruins night hid in kind repose!

Nay, beauteous light, nay, light that fills
The whole heaven like a dream of morn,
As waking upon northern hills
She smiles to find herself newborn--

Strange light, I know thou wilt not stay,
That many an hour must come and go
Before the pale November day
Break in the east, forlorn and slow.

Yet blest one gleam--one gleam like this,
When all heaven brightens in our sight,
And the long night that was and is
And shall be, vanishes in light;

O blest one hour like this! to rise
And see grief's shadows backward roll;
While bursts on unaccustomed eyes
The glad Aurora of the soul.

North Utsire

Momiji Tempura

The Japanese celebration of the first cherry blossom of spring, Hanami, is of course legendary. But the Japanese are well known for their celebration of all aspects of nature, Sun & Moon festivals, water, fire and the seasons. This goes back to their home grown, atavistic Shinto belief system. In autumn and particularly in Osaka, Japanese Maple leaves are traditionally a seasonal snack. People collect fallen maple leaves, then preserve them in salt barrels for more than a year. Cooks then fry them in a sweet batter for about 20 minutes to produce a pretty and tasty treat. Some people say the salting stage is unnecessary but it serves several valuable functions: salting softens and breaks down tannins in the leaves, sterilizes the leaves of pathogenic bacteria, provides a benign primary fermentation, and draws excess water out of the leaves by osmosis. Keep it traditional!

The Japanese maple is called "momiji" (もみじ), and Minoo City is famous for its momiji tempura. Minoo is also known for its Japanese maples. And there's a long history of momiji tempura in Osaka with accounts saying the food was first prepared over a thousand years ago. The red leaves are said to make the tempura an interesting color.

The Japanese word "momiji" is said to have two meanings, both of them appropriate for the description of this wonderful tree: "baby's hands" and "becomes crimson leaves." Depending upon the cultivated variety, the maple leaves can either be broad, flat and palm-shaped, or lacy, but whichever type it is, it does resemble baby’s hands. Well, polydactyloid baby's hands but you get the picture. 

Although the relationship goes back thousands of years, the Japanese Red Maple has been cultured intensively for ‘only’ 300 years. This maple is native to China and Japan.  It is also a popular bonsai subject in Japan. At maturity, these amazing trees can reach heights varying from two to over thirty feet. Waiting for the leaves to fall before harvesting is therefore a jolly good idea. 

Tempura Japanese Maple Leaves Recipe

1. Clean Japanese red maple leaves with a wet towel
2. Make tempura batter (see recipe)
3. Heat vegetable oil in a deep pan to 350 F degree
4. Lightly dip one side of a Japanese maple leaf in the batter
5. Immediately fry them until brown
6. Drain tempura on a rack
7. Enjoy
Tempura Recipe

1. Beat 1 egg in a bowl
2. Add 1 cup ice water
3. Add 1 cup sifted all purpose flour
4. Mix Lightly (Be careful not to overmix)

North Utsire

Autumn Colours

Autumn came in a choked fog of smothering grey
Retinas froze & fractured in patinas of old clay teapots
The trees came out in sympathy, 
Their lifeblood withdrawing from roots of cold Earth
Leaving only valiant crimson, browns and golds
As sepia reminders of glory breeze days and innocent glades
Not even the late Sun could persuade them to stay.
Bleached, hungry and withering now, their blades fell like wistful tears
Parchments of love letters to the humans remaining
Saying "We will meet again, one spring. Have faith"

North Utsire

Sunday, 1 November 2015

LSD Blotter Art

First synthesized by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938, the hallucinogen LSD emerged as a recreational drug in American cities in the early 1960s. Widely available until criminalized by the US government in the autumn of 1966, the drug – which typically left the laboratory in liquid form – was initially distributed in a number of ways, from large pills (nicknamed “barrels” for their shape) to acid-infused sugar cubes.

Alice goes through the looking glass

The development of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, in which penalties were linked to the weight of the confiscated substance, changed the way LSD was disseminated. An average active dose is in the range of .05 to .1 mg – since the laws considered the legal substance in which the drug was infused part of the total weight of the illegal substance, a single sugar cube might increase the overall weight by a factor of 100,000. New lightweight “carriers” that added less extraneous volume to the small doses of the drug they held were developed, ranging from colored gelatin chips to sheets of perforated paper known as blotter. First seen on the streets of San Francisco in the early 1970s, blotter acid soon began to be decorated with printed designs and images – ranging from smiley faces to Hindu Gods to cartoon characters – identifying it by dealer or potency, while at the same time vastly reducing the legal liability of those who possessed it.

Mad Hatter design by Mark McCloud

Mark McCloud, who, with the possible exception of the FBI, owns the world’s largest collection of (now LSD-free) blotter was recently acquitted by a jury on charges of conspiracy to distribute the drug. He is notorious in the annals of psychedelic art for his 25 year quest to compile a complete collection of LSD blotter art. US Federal authorities spent millions on conducting wire-taps, monitoring mail and surveillance of McCloud. During a SWAT style raid by an FBI/DEA task force, police seized 400 framed LSD blotters and 33,000 sheets of McCloud’s own blotter art. Designs ranged from a print of Peter Rabbit from the early 70′s to a recent example from Europe showing two lesbian aliens. None of the material had any traces of the drug. McCloud’s attorney argued that McCloud wasn’t resposible for the use of his prints by others as a vehicle for illegal drugs. Among McCloud’s defence witnesses was New York art critic Carlo McCormick, who told the court that McCloud’s work is an important part of an American folk-art tradition.

Blotter Designed and Signed by H.R. Geiger

Mark calls his collection the “institute of illegal art”. There are designs ranging from psychedelic fractals and religious imagery to portraits of counter-cultural icons such as Timothy Leary and the inventor of LSD himself – Albert Hoffman. And Albert Hoffman’s story…? Let’s leave that to another day. There are the famous ones: Felix the Cats, red and orange sunshines, Mad Hatters, Beavis and Buttheads, and McCloud’s most famous personal design: Alice Through the Looking Glass, a double-sided sheet with Alice climbing through the window into the psychedelic realm. His collection also contains rarer blotter art like the ones signed by Tim Leary and Albert Hoffman, ones with images of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and the inflammatory series with the FBI seal stamped on it. Some of these sheets even came with elaborate envelopes designed to match their contents.

Father of LSD: Albert Hoffman

Originally the paper used to distribute LSD was chromatic paper used for litmus tests in laboratories. The acid would turn the pink paper blue giving it the nickname – blue dot acid. That was the first commercial enterprise of LSD on paper. Then in the early 70s someone had the thought of not just putting dots on paper, but dipping whole sheets. The scientists calibrated the absorption rate of a sheet of paper and how much of a gram of acid could be absorbed by it. They surmised that blotter paper would be best because it had a high absorbency rate as it was used to absorb ink after signing a document. But acid could technically go on anything – some of the first commercial enterprises even put it on string. The anthropologist Claudio Naranjo took some LSD on paper to a shaman in Central America around 1965, the story goes that he drew some stars and a crescent moon on the paper – this was perhaps the first imagery on blotter paper.


What happened to Mark McCloud was a “death-rebirth” experience on LSD in 1971 which took him around ten years to integrate. He saw collecting blotter paper as a way of “paying back the debt”. He thinks that by keeping examples of acid sheets, they can be part of a history that children can see, so the radical change in the 1960s can be understood as a renaissance. He believes LSD to be a “renaissance pill” – a substance that has affected consciousness, and the arts in an incredible way. It can be seen as an alchemical artform, which, once consumed affects consciousness by taking the image into themselves. McCloud says he could have easily gone from parish to parish, collecting hosts from a Catholic mass, where blank sheets of bread are stamped with an image of what appears to be the Holy Ghost, a dove flying and on the other side the name of the parish – “but since they don’t work anymore, I thought I’d collect an active host – the one that is bringing mysticism back to the people.”



North Utsire

Hindu Tree Huggers: The Chipko Movement

The Chipko movement, primarily a forest conservation movement, went on to become a rallying point for many future, environmental protests and movements all over the world and created a precedent for non-violent protest. It occurred at a time when there was hardly any environmental movement in the developing world, and its success meant that the world immediately took notice of this non-violent movement, which was to inspire in time many such eco-groups by helping to slow down the rapid deforestation, expose vested interests, increase ecological awareness, and demonstrate the viability of people power. Above all, it stirred up the existing civil society in India, which began to address the issues of tribal and marginalized people. Today, beyond the eco-socialism hue, it is being seen increasingly as an ecofeminism movement. Although many of its leaders were men, women were not only its backbone, but also its mainstay, because they were the ones most affected by the rampant deforestation, which led to a lack of firewood and fodder as well as water for drinking and irrigation. Over the years they also became primary stakeholders in a majority of the afforestation work that happened under the Chipko movement. 

The chipko movement started almost 260 years ago in the early 18th century in Rajasthan. Amrita Devi with 84 Bishois villagers risked their lives to protect the forest trees from being felled on the order of the maharaja (king). The Chipko andolan is a movement that practisced the Gandhian methods of Satyagraha by both female and male activists who played pivotal roles including Gauri Devi Sudesha Devi Bachni Devi Chandiu Prasad Bhatt where some among the others. In India the forest cover started deteriorating at an alarming rate, resulting in hardships for those involved in labour-intensive fodder and firewood collection. This also led to a deterioration in the soil conditions, and erosion in the area. As water sources dried up in the hills, water shortages became widespread. Subsequently, communities gave up raising livestock, which added to the problems of malnutrition in the region. This crisis was heightened by the fact that forest conservation policies, like the Indian Forest Act, 1927, traditionally restricted the access of local communities to the forests, resulting in scarce farmlands in an over- populated and extremely poor area, despite all of its natural wealth.

Women’s participation in the movement can be traced to a remote hill town where a contractor in 1973 had been given the right by the state to fell 3000 of trees for a sporting goods store. The area already was dangerously denuded. When the woodcutters were scheduled to appear, the men were enticed away from the village leaving the women at home busy with household chores. As soon as the woodcutters appeared, the alarm was sounded and the village’s female leader, a widow in her 50s, collected twenty-seven women and rushed into the forest. The women pleaded with the woodcutter calling the forest their “maternal home,” and explaining the consequences of felling the trees. The woodcutters, shouting and abusing the women, threatened them with guns. The women in turn threatened to hug the earmarked trees and die with them And it worked! The unnerved laborers left, the contractor backed off. In 1974, women in a nearby area used the same tree hugging technique in order to protest the clearing of their forest lands. And in 1977, in another area, women tied a sacred threads around trees fated for death.....a symbolic gesture in Hindu custom confirming the bond of brother-sister relationships. They declared that their trees would be saved even if it cost them their lives.

As an organized effort, the Chipko movement has had some success. Sometimes it won moratoriums through government bans or court battles; sometimes it managed to replant trees in areas close to village homes. In 1987 Chipko was chosen for a “Right to Livelihood Award,” known as the “alternate Nobel” prize honour. The honour was rightly deserved for this small movement dominated by women which had became a national call to save forests.

North Utsire

Sar sāntey rūkh rahe to bhī sasto jān

The first tree huggers were 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, who, in 1730, died while trying to protect the trees in their village from being turned into the raw material for building a palace. They literally clung to the trees, while being slaughtered by the foresters. But their action led to a royal decree prohibiting the cutting of trees in any Bishnoi village. And now those villages are virtual wooded oases amidst an otherwise desert landscape.

Not only that, the Bishnois inspired the Chipko movement (chipko means “to cling” in Hindi) that started in the 1970s, when a group of peasant women in the Himalayan hills of northern India threw their arms around trees designated to be cut down. Within a few years, this tactic, also known as tree satyagraha, had spread across India, ultimately forcing reforms in forestry and a moratorium on tree felling in Himalayan regions.

Khejarli or Khejadli is a village in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan, India, 26 km south-east of the city of Jodhpur. The name of the town is derived from Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) trees, which were in abundance in the village.

It was a Tuesday, a black Tuesday in Khejadli. 10th day of the bright fortnight of the month Bhaadra according to Indian lunar Calendar, (September) in 1730 A.D. Amrita Devi a mother of three daughters viz. Asu, Ratni and Bhagu bai was at home with her daughters. Suddenly, she came to know that many people had descended in their otherwise sleepy village. It was a party of Giridhar Bhandari, a minister with Maharaja Abhay Singh, Ruler of Marwar (Jodhpur) state who wanted to fell the sacred green Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) trees to burn lime for the construction of his new palace. Since there was a lot of greenery in the Bishnoi villages even in the middle of Thar Desert, the king ordered his men to get the woods from Khejri trees.

Amrita Devi protested against King’s men attempting to cut green trees as it was prohibited in Bishnoi religion. The malevolent feudal party told her that if she wanted the trees to be spared, she should give them money as bribe. She refused to acknowledge this demand and told them that she would consider it as an act of ignominy and insult to her religious faith. She said that she would rather give away her life to save the green trees. It is at that stage she spoke these words:

“Sar sāntey rūkh rahe to bhī sasto jān” 
If a tree is saved even at the cost of one’s head, it’s worth it

Saying these, she offered her head. The axes, which were brought to cut the trees, severed her head from her trunk. The three young girls Asu, Ratni and Bhagu were not daunted, and offered their heads too.

The news spread like wildfire. Bishnois gathered and sent summons to 83 Bishnoi villages to come and decide on the next course of action. Since the supreme sacrifice by those four had not satisfied the royal party, and the felling of green trees was continued, it was decided that for every green tree to be cut, one Bishnoi volunteer would sacrifice his/ her life. In the beginning, old people voluntarily started holding the trees to be cut in an embrace as in the Chipko movement of 20th century in Uttar Pradesh (India).

In this way many valiant old persons gave away their lives, but it failed to have the desired impact. Moreover, the Hakim (Royal party’s leader) taunted the Bishnois that in this manner they were offering unwanted old persons. Soon, young men, women, including recently married ones and children were sacrificing themselves instead.

There was intense pandemonium. It completely shook the tree-felling party, headed by their leader Girdhar Das Bhandari (Hakim), they left for Jodhpur with their mission unfulfilled and told the Maharaja about what had happened. As soon as he learnt it, he ordered stoppage of the felling of trees.

By that time, Three Hundred and Sixty Three (363) Bishnois, young and old, men and women, married and unmarried, rich and poor had already become martyrs.

Honouring the courage of the Bishnoi community, the ruler of Jodhpur, Maharaja Abhay Singh, apologized for the mistake committed by his officials and issued a royal decree, engraved on a copper plate ordering the following:

–All cutting of green trees and hunting of animals within the revenue boundaries of Bishnoi villages was strictly prohibited.
–It was also ordered that if by mistake any individual violated this order, he would be prosecuted by state and a severe penalty imposed.
–Even the members of ruling family did not shoot animals in or even near the Bishnoi’s Village.

North Utsire