Unreal Nature

May 24, 2009

The Urge to Preserve, Weathercasting, the Anthropology of Mud, and Mapping Nipple Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:44 am

All of the below are excerpts from books published by the University of Chicago Press. You will be relieved, even excited to know that none of them have anything to do with either art or photography. I just like them.

The first excerpt is from Collections of Nothing by William Davies King:

Then it began, the first real collection of my adult life. One day I started to save the labels of all the food products I consumed — cereal, soup, candy, beer. I did not keep the cans or jars, only the paper or cellophane or plastic labels. Boxes and cartons I cut or dismantled. Everything had to lie flat, like a leaf in a book. Initially I glued each item to a sheet of paper, most of it reclaimed from some other use. Eventually, I decided to keep the boxes unbound, flattened but not cut or glued, so that they could be reassembled if the need ever arose. (“This is a national emergency. We require a Triscuits box from 1986, a complete box! Citizens who can fulfill this demand should report to…”) I did not keep duplicates, but the smallest variations — new graphics, a new incentive deal or coupon, even a change in the quality or color of the printing — seemed interesting enough for me to preserve. Initially I kept the labels in my file cabinet, but soon began to punch holes and place the leaves in a binder. That way I was creating a “book,” and eventually I would have a lot of these books. (“Of making many books there is no end,” Ecclesiastes 12:12) Eventually, though I could not have said it at the time, I would have this book.

… I got carried away by this new project and began riffling through trash bins for nice labels (by then I was living in a flat above one of those mom-and-pop stores), but I soon stopped that and more or less restricted myself to the record of my life and my consumerism.

… A Web search also turns up collectors of candy wrappers, full sugar packets, and beef jerky wrappers depicting NASCAR drivers, but I have not yet located a collector of Philadelphia Cream Cheese boxes or Doritos bags. Honeycombs does not figure prominently on the Big Board, ditto Frosted Mini-Wheats and Maypo. Few have attended as closely as I have to the labeling of mushrooms (I have a whole binder for mushrooms, with more than fifty varieties) or the tagging of asparagus. Some corners of my collection are peculiar to my travels, like the tamarind candy labels from Oaxaca (Mexico also merits its own binder). McVittie’s biscuits, from London, are represented among all the other horse-feed cookies from Britain and the United States, but of them all are the most delicious.

The second excerpt is from Air Apparent: How Meteorologists Learned to Map, Predict, and Dramatize Weather by Mark Monmonier:

Gary England, who broke into weathercasting in the early 1970s, described his first live broadcast at an Oklahoma station that mounted maps on miniature Ferris wheels:

The metal weather maps on the large four-sided drums somehow looked larger that night. Each drum weighed 180 pounds but felt much heavier. Every time I turned a drum, some the letters and numbers would fall off or would assume a crazy tilt and have to be rearranged. It was frustrating those days, the norm.

Some presenters drew in their map symbols on camera: an impressive act to a home audience unable to see the thin red lines penciled in as guides. Skill as an illustrator was a marketable asset for the weathercaster who could quickly sketch clouds, lightning bolts, or a radiant “Mr. Sun.”

Next we have stories from an anthropologist working in Botswana, Journeys with Flies, by Edwin N. Wilmsen:

The way to extricate a vehicle from such a mess is to find a place near a wheel next to which a jack set on a plank carried against such a contingency can be forced under the axle, ratchet the submerged jack as high as it will go — the plank will be pressed into the mud farther than the truck is raised — stuff branches into the space created under the wheel, release the jack, watch everything sink into the mud (maybe two or three centimeters will have been gained), dig out the plank and fill its hole with sticks; repeat until you become convinced that more progress can be made at another wheel and begin on it; do not think of the fact that this one will have to be returned to. In practice, it doesn’t matter which wheel is attempted first; each must be attended — again and again and again and again — working underwater, stripped to underwear. The idea is to build a column of logs beneath each wheel so that the truck sits above mud level and then to pave a path with branches through the remaining muck . . .

And, finally an excerpt from Squaw Tit to Whorehose Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim and Inflame, also by Mark Monmonier:

… Names scholars can marvel at the commemorative meaning of nipple names, a third of which begin with a personal possessive like Elsies, Marys, Mollys, or Sadies. (The genitive or possessive apostrophe is not normally allowed because the Board on Geographic Names prefers not to show possession.) For whatever reason, Molly outranks all other honorees, with Utah alone accounting for eleven Mollies Nipple, Mollys Nipple, or Molleys Nipple toponyms. Whether a nipple feature tagged with a personal name celebrates the namee as a person or the namee’s anatomy is difficult to discern — an anatomical reference seems unlikely for Dans Nipple (in Wyoming) and Peters Nipple (in Utah). Equally intriguing is nipple’s geometrically baffling application to lakes (in Colorado and Utah), a spring (in Utah), and a valley (in Colorado). With more time on my hands, I’d enjoy delving into the history of Nipple Church, the variant name of a Mississippi house of worship now officially known as Tabernacle Church. Although the name might memorialize a steeple, it seems strangely irreverent.

I have pondered whether dildoes and swastikas may be too much for some of my readers. I will compromise by giving just two sentences on those topics from Monmonier’s book:

… What’s more, some Dildodians no doubt felt the same sense of priority as residents of Swastika, Ontario, who resisted the provincial government’s renaming their community in 1940 to honor Winston Churchill. Defiantly they ripped down the official sign and put up a replacement proclaiming, “To Hell with Hitler. We had the swastika first.”

There you go. A posting that’s not about art, photography, chickens, or free will. You thought I couldn’t do it.




  1. JH> A posting that’s not about art, photography,
    JH> chickens, or free will.
    JH> You thought I couldn’t do it.

    Nor boogers. Let’s not forget boogers.

    Comment by Felix Grant — June 4, 2009 @ 2:12 am

  2. OMG! I forgot boogers … and the wildebeests! *smacking myself on the head*

    Thank you Felix!

    Comment by unrealnature — June 4, 2009 @ 7:57 am

  3. I wish more people would think a smack on the head a good reason to thank me…

    Comment by Felix Grant — June 5, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

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