September 1, 2016
Life On The Water In America, Seen From A Shantyboat
By Dennis Pillion
Florence, AL (AP) - Smack dab in the middle of the Tennessee River, between the O’Neal Bridge stretching from Muscle Shoals into Florence and TVA’s Wilson Dam, a recreated relic of river history is stuck like a catfish on a line, its anchor snagged on God only knows what at the bottom of the river.
The shantyboat Dotty, a floating art project crafted by California-based artist Wes Modes, is late for an open house at the Florence Harbor Marina, and after 20 minutes of trying to navigate the anchor free, Modes and ship’s mate Adrian Nankivell are starting to wonder if they’ll have to cut the line and figure out where to buy a new anchor.
Modes is working the 8-horsepower Mercury motor for all it’s worth, chugging against the current to get the boat upstream of the anchor in hopes that it might detach from whatever lies in the depths. Nankivell stands at the bow mirroring the direction of the anchor line with his outstretched arm as a guide for Modes as he maneuvers the boxy craft.
Wes Modes' Dotty
Finally, Nankivell tugs the anchor line up and it pulls free, releasing the boat from its hold.
Because it’s a shantyboat, Modes and Nakivell have to celebrate immediately with shots of homemade moonshine that someone gave them along the way. It just seems right.
Modes built Dotty from found materials about three years for his ongoing project ``A Secret History of American River People,’’ in which he cruises along major rivers seeking out local people who’ve lived large parts of their lives on the river and recording lengthy interviews with them about the river lifestyle.
The interviews are sometimes shown at exhibitions along the way, like one earlier this month at Florence’s Kennedy-Douglas Center for the Arts, and he maintains an active web site chronicling the journey (http://bit.ly/2bJ8idJ ).
Sometimes the people he interviews even leave him gifts like the moonshine, a six-pack of beer or an official framed certificate from the non-existent National Association of Shantyboaters.
``People have been amazingly generous with their stories,’’ Modes said. ``Sometimes they thank me as if I’m the one bringing them a gift by listening.
``People bring us fruit and vegetables, bread, books, their family photos and old newspaper articles. The outpouring of generosity we get when we travel through these towns is just so amazing.’’
Before this year’s jaunt down the Tennessee, Modes and his shantyboat spent two summers on the Mississippi, starting in Minnesota and working his way down through St. Louis. This year, Modes started in Knoxville, Tenn., spent about three weeks in Alabama and worked his way to Paducah, Kentucky, where he just started a two-week exhibition.
When you’re out on the water in a shantyboat in northern Alabama, the summer days are hot, the nights are short and sleep can be elusive.
Modes said that when he’s on the water in between marinas, he usually waits to start cooking dinner until well after dark, 10 p.m. or so, when it finally starts to cool off a little. Firing up the shantyboat’s two-burner gas stove or small, foldable oven heats up the entire cabin. This year, the shantyboat features screens over the windows to allow for ventilation without inundation by mosquitoes.
With dinner at 10, it’s hard to get to bed early and the morning sun brings light and heat that makes it hard to sleep in.
Even though his kitchen is the size of many people’s pantry, Modes makes a point of serving up quality meals for himself and his crew, which consists of a ship’s mate and a ship’s hound, Hazel.
Modes at the wheel of Dotty
``This stove works better than my stove at home,’’ Modes said. ``When we’re underway we have plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, meat if we want it.
``We end up making glorious meals, like a breakfast of dirty grits and bacon and scrambled eggs, omelettes, biscuits or whatever.’’
The shantyboat’s ceilings are surprisingly high, probably nine feet at the apex, but the interior is pretty sparse. There is a loft with a mattress, above the kitchen and command console, but that’s for the captain.
``There’s kind of a crampy, uncomfortable, hot bed up here,’’ Modes said, pointing over his head. ``But it’s very cushy. On colder nights, it’s delightful.’’
Nankivell, or whoever the ship’s mate is at the time, can choose from a very worn leather loveseat or the deck itself when it’s time to bed down.
Modes has been through several ship’s mates over the three years of the project, though Nankivell traveled the farthest to participate of anyone. He lives in Queenstown, New Zealand and spent a large chunk of his stateside vacation on board the shantyboat. He said he’s been to the States a few times before, mostly on the west coast, so this trip offered him a different view of the country.
``It’s pretty awesome,’’ Nankivell said. ``It’s a side of America that not many tourists or people from overseas would get to see and I’m right up amongst it.’’
On the boat, every wall boasts either bookshelves or enclosed cabinets. There is extra storage under the floor, and when no one’s sleeping in the loft, things are likely to get tossed up there as well. Bags of oranges, onions and garlic hang under the loft area.
When Modes stops for mid-afternoon refreshments on the river outside the Florence marina, he pulls out liquor bottles and club soda from seemingly hidden compartments and makes vodka tonics with fresh cut lime wedges for himself and Nankivell.
Casey Edmonds, of Sheffield, Alabama, who toured the boat when it got back to the marina, said it was like a floating tiny house.
``I really like tiny houses and this is like the boat version of a tiny house,’’ she said. ``I knew I had to come out and see it for myself.’’
Modes and crew spent almost three weeks in Alabama before moving back into Tennessee on the way to Paducah. He said he saw many differences and some similarities between those he met in other states.
Among the Alabamians he met and interviewed for the project are the archaeologist at Redstone Arsenal, an openly transgender woman from Florence, the chief of the Guntersville Police Department, and Tori Bailey, who runs WZZA radio, a locally-owned station started by her parents that’s been broadcasting soul to the Shoals for 44 years.
Modes said some towns have been more excited than others about his project, but overall the reception he’s gotten has been positive.
``What I found was people were generous and sweet and there were smart people and not-so-smart people, but uniformly everybody’s been super decent to us,’’ he said. ``We haven’t met anybody we didn’t like yet.’’
The interior of the shantyboat Dotty
When he’s not floating down a river somewhere, Modes is a professor in the art department at the University of California Santa Cruz. After his exhibition in Paducah, Modes will tow his boat back there and teach classes this fall, all while planning next year’s journey.
Modes said there will undoubtedly be at least one book that comes from his project, as well as documentary film footage, but that the goal isn’t to produce some kind of commercial project.
``It’s interesting to be talking to people and introduce the concept of social practice art,’’ Modes said. ``Art that doesn’t have necessarily a tangible component and telling them that `Hey, me floating down the river and listening to your stories is itself the art.’
``It’s a lot harder than saying `this is a painting you can touch, or this is a book that’s written.’ But there are other layers. There’s an ongoing web site (http://bit.ly/2bJ8idJ ), there’s short and feature documentaries that I’m working on, and yes, there are going to be a couple of books that come out.’’
He has some ideas for next year, but hasn’t announced where he and the boat will be headed. But after three years on the river, he has no plans to stop.
``People ask me all the time when I’m going to be done,’’ Modes said. ``I just tell them that I’ll be done when I float the last river on the continent, which I don’t think will happen any time soon.’’
Remember The Weather Goats Of Mt. Nebo? You Will Now!
By Dan Bain
The News Review
Roseburg, Ore. (AP) - It’s been more than 35 years since the world famous Mount Nebo weather goats found new homes after spending many years unknowingly forecasting the weather by their location on the mountain across the river from downtown Roseburg.
The herd consisted of only a small group of Angora goats originally. They were the true weather goats, reported The News Review (http://bit.ly/2bLV1yp). But over the years, other goats joined the herd and followed the Angoras around the mountain.
From 1965 to 1979, the goats roamed Mount Nebo, and eventually, people who watched the herd, figured out they could get a good idea what the weather was going to be like the next day from the goats’ movements. Those who kept track said the goats were about 90 percent right.
If the goats were at the top of the mountain, it was likely going to be dry and sunny the next day. And if they were down low, rain was likely on the way.
Ed Eaton was a teacher at Rose Elementary School in Roseburg and his classes had a good view of Nebo and its four-legged inhabitants. He used the weather-predicting goats as a science project to see how accurate they were. He said they were pretty accurate.
``Yeah they were, it was funnier than heck, and the kids got a kick out of it,’’ said Eaton. ``I don’t know the percentage, but it was pretty dang high.’’
During their days of glory, and after KRSB-FM Radio began doing a goat forecast, the goats became internationally known for their forecasting skills.
The forecast might be ``scattered goats,’’ which was mostly sunny, or a ``low goat system,’’ which meant wet weather was approaching.
The story was picked up by NBC-TV News, and then other media from around the world picked it up.
But when Interstate 5 was redone around the base of Mount Nebo, the face of the mountain was altered and it made it tougher for the goats to navigate the hillside. They became attracted to the tasty, green grass by the freeway intersection, which led to traffic problems. After a few goats were hit by traffic, officials decided they needed to do something.
They tried to fence the goats in, but the goats easily figured out how to get through or around that obstacle. So officials conducted a goat round-up and adopted out about half of the herd. The others went to a ranch north of Roseburg.
Roseburg attorney Charles Lee got involved in a goat controversy in 1978 when he was a prosecutor with the District Attorney’s office. He got the case involving two Lane County teens who were arrested for shooting a couple of goats with a bow and arrow. He said the public outcry was sympathetic toward the goats and called for the D.A.’s office to prosecute. But it wasn’t that easy.
``Animal protection laws were different, and I had a hard time finding a crime,’’ said Lee. ``The owner of the property didn’t want to claim the goats belonged to him, which would have made it a theft or livestock offense, because he didn’t want to be responsible if they caused damage.’’
A 19-year-old from Springfield was eventually charged with ``taking up an estray without first notifying the Department of Agriculture.’’ But that charge was dismissed and he was charged instead with leaving an animal carcass in a field, a Class A Misdemeanor. He was fined $505.
The juvenile in the case was not charged in adult court.
In February of 1978, two goats were killed by a car on Interstate 5 and that prompted the highway department to put up a goat crossing sign, thought to be the only one in the country at that time.
Retired Roseburg veterinarian Dr. Don Bailey has a vivid memory of the goats.
``I’ve been accused of causing the whole thing down there,’’ he said with a laugh.
He said a school in the Eugene area had a mascot goat they wanted to get rid of and wanted to leave it at Wildlife Safari, but Bailey told the school that would not be good to have a domestic goat with the exotic animals there.
The actual Weather Goats at work
``I said as you go by Mount Nebo, just stop and turn it loose, and they did,’’ he said. The offspring turned into a herd of gentle goats that ended up eating grass along the freeway, and occasionally flowers and shrubs in gardens, instead of predicting weather on the mountain.
Bailey also remembers climbing the face of the mountain to catch the goat that had been shot by an arrow. He found it and took the arrow out, then gave it a shot of penicillin and he said it was fine.
He also remembered two Roseburg boys that decided to have some fun with the weatherman and put a plywood mannequin of a goat on the mountain.
``The weatherman kept saying, the weather hasn’t changed a bit according to the goats,’’ Bailey said. ``He eventually figured out the mannequin wasn’t moving at all.’’
The goats are now just part of the colorful history of the Umpqua Valley, but many local residents still remember them well, and all the attention they brought to the area back in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Science Finds Some Evidence That Dogs Know What We Say
BERLIN (AP) — Scientists have found evidence to support what many dog owners have long believed: Man’s best friend really does understand some of what we’re saying.
Researchers in Hungary scanned the brains of dogs as they were listening to their trainer speaking to determine which parts of the brain they were using.
They found that dogs processed words with the left hemisphere and used the right hemisphere to process pitch — just like people.
What’s more, the dogs only registered that they were being praised if the words and pitch were positive. Meaningless words spoken in an encouraging voice, or meaningful words in a neutral tone, didn’t have the same effect.
“Dog brains care about both what we say and how we say it,” said lead researcher Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said in an email. “Praise can work as a reward only if both word meaning and intonation match.”
Andics said the findings suggest that the mental ability to process language evolved earlier than previously believed and that what sets humans apart from other species is the invention of words.
While other species probably also have the mental ability to understand language like dogs do, their lack of interest in human speech makes it difficult to test, said Andics.
Dogs, on the other hand, have socialized with humans for thousands of years, meaning they are more attentive to what people say to them and how.
Researchers imaged the brains of 13 dogs using a technique called functional MRI, or fMRI, which records brain activity.
The dogs— six border collies, five golden retrievers, a German shepherd and a Chinese crested — were trained to lie motionless in the scanner for seven minutes during the tests. The dogs were awake and unrestrained as they listened to their trainer’s voice through headphones.
“The most difficult aspect of this training is for dogs to understand that being motionless means really motionless,” said Andics, who published the findings in the journal Science.
While dog owners may find the results unsurprising, from a scientific perspective, it’s a “shocker” that word meaning seems to be processed in the left hemisphere of the brain, said Brian Hare, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, who had no role in the research.
Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns cautioned that the study involved a small number of dogs. Before concluding it’s a smoking gun for word processing, “they should have looked for other evidence in the brain,” he said in an email.