The soil in my backyard was a sandy mix of gravel and dirt barely capable of supporting so-called civilized life. Sure, it was great for growing weeds and poison ivy and random baby oak trees that sprouted from the neglected acorns the squirrels had forgotten in their winter fervor to stash food wherever they could bury it. But I was trying to grow carrots.
It was an annual tradition.
Miraculously, I always managed to get the seeds to sprout, fan out leaves, and form into long winding gnarled up tendrils that fingered through the ground. But they would grow together at odd angles as if they were offering poorly plotted directions on how to navigate the New York City subway system to a foreign tourist who spoke only intermittent English at best. By the end of the season, no matter how much I tried to thin them, they were a muddy tangled mess of roots.
Nonetheless, I would harvest these so-called carrots and make a point of cleaning, peeling, and cutting them up into small misshapen discs to add to some soup, stew or shepherd’s pie where they could hopefully blur into the background without vying for the center spotlight of the dish. These weren’t the sorts of carrots any cook with any sense would want to draw that much attention to, and regardless of what I did to try to improve upon their lackluster flavor or hard-yet-still-spongy texture, the resulting food was always barely palatable, proving that the labor of love does not make all things better.
Even the wildlife avoided them.
Despite the abundance of rabbits and squirrels that frequented my devoid-of-dogs backyard, everything that passed through and even many of the returning critters that lingered awhile left the carrot patch alone. In fact, nothing touched them all season long every year, and my husband cringed at the eventual harvest that meant more cleaning, peeling, cutting and dicing than the impending outcome warranted. Perhaps even more distasteful was the eventual outcome itself of having to sit together and politely smile while trying to choke down the unpalatable bitter pale orange tubers as they disgraced yet another bowl of curried lentils or lamb stew.
So, imagine my surprise to discover that my carrot patch had been raided just as it was reaching its peak stage of undergrowth, right before the harvest. The thief or thieves had come during the dark cover of the new moon, as the mantle of night was as black as it could possibly be. The carrot patch was a muddled up mess of upturned roots, crushed and gnawed upon pale orange tendrils, and scattered gravel and sandy soil flung about. Trampled broken leaves littered the ground in disarray and muddy prints snaked through the surrounding soil.
The carrots were ransacked.
My husband surveyed the scene and placed a hand on my shoulder to console me, squeezing gently to show his support. His relief at his improved situation could be felt through his touch, palpable just below his calm and collected exterior. He had been spared from the impending harvest and he could scarcely contain his excitement for all that he tried to appear outwardly supportive. But I could see right through it. I burrowed into his shoulder anyway, furious and hurt.
What dared come in the middle of the night to ravage my carrot patch? It had left some areas a little more intact, and something told me it would be back. So I staged a sentry. Poised and staring out my back window from the kitchen, I fixated on the scene and waited. Surely the motion sensor light would come on as the thief approached. I was ready shovel in hand, to make a complete fool of myself dashing out the back door to surprise the unsuspecting carrot thief.
I was unprepared for what I found.
I was nodding off dozing when the flash of the motion sensor light caught my eye and I jolted upright. I stared out the window, straining to make out a shadowy form in the carrot patch. At first glance, it appeared to be a rabbit. But it was strangely bulky and moved in a haphazard manner, jerking from side to side. It was also somewhat larger than a normal rabbit, and there was something… unsettling… about it. Whatever it was, I couldn’t place it. I leapt to my feet and darted out the back door anyway, arms flailing in the conditioned response I’d been working up all evening.
“Shoo… Go AWAY!” I shouted as I approached the creature. It just stood there, motionless. As I got closer, I became more aware of how it glistened in the light of the motion sensor, it had an almost ethereal or otherworldly presence and seemed to be bathed in an aura of hollow bluish light. But otherwise, it was as black as the night itself and I couldn’t make out any characteristics of real significance. The form seemed to both emanate and absorb light simultaneously. It continued to just stand there, surrounded by a scattering of soil, gravel, grit and what remained of the would-be carrots.
As I neared six feet of the creature, it turned to face me.
I was filled with an unexpected sense of unease as I approached. Something was unnervingly not right. It still more or less resembled the outward shape of a rabbit, but I couldn’t get a good read on it. Every time I tried to focus on the creature, I felt woozy as if I were looking into a deep abyss leading into the depths of the universe. Within the silhouette, there was nothing, no sense of where an eye or nose or whisker might be. It was just a void. It almost seemed as if it were not wholly there at all, like it was both there and someplace else at the same time or as if it were a spot on a mirror, one of those blemishes to the surface that you cannot seem to wipe away from either side of the glass.
Suddenly the creature emitted the most soul-curdling sound I’ve ever heard. Rabbits can make the most terrifying shrill screams when they feel threatened, but this was no ordinary rabbit screech. It was deep and throaty and bellowed forth with the resonance of something unholy unleashed. My mind reeled as it resonated within my bones and filled me with dread. As the sound washed over me, the creature flickered from within, more pale blue light electrifying deep darkness, and then vanished right before my eyes. My mind stopped racing and went completely silent as I lost my footing and fell to my knees, quivering.
I must have blacked out momentarily.
When I regained my composure enough to glance up, there was no sign of the rabbit-creature. The motion sensor light had gone off and it was completely dark except for some glowing orange forms that I hadn’t noticed before. The carrots! What was left of the pale, unappetizing tendrils also had an otherworldly quality about them, emitting a subdued pale orange glow like several nearly faded glow sticks found discarded the morning after a rave.
I never saw the rabbit-creature or its kin again, and I have since stopped trying to grow carrots. Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s the soil, but the idea of gardening just hasn’t had the same appeal, and I was never all that good at it anyways.
Into the Deep Woods 1, an October AI journey with Jennifer Weigel
I am embarking on an AI journey using NightCafe to illustrate this graphic story based on a dream I had awhile back. I am also using Canva, so here’s to learning more online systems of image dissemination and propagandizing…
I will include some of the original AI generated images with each piece along with a bit of the dream that inspired it. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Artwork description: Overall layout: Lightning strike through the corner into obscure clouds and map-like graphic in gray tones sets the mood for Into the Deep Woods.
Part 1, Art: AI generated image of a girl with reddish hair dressed in a robe of some sort and holding a staff. A similar girl in soldier garb fades behind her. Edited in PhotoShop.
Part 1, Text: 1.) Two sisters entered the woods, one a soldier and the other a witch. Only one lived. 2.) The young witch had picked up a bit of magic as she and her sister fled into the deep woods to seek the old witch… They were tired and alone, this was their one and only chance… 3.) The war raged on all around as the Nazis drew closer…
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of soldier girl sister
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of witch girl sister (Evolved from soldier girl)
Prompt (Horror): Soldier girl sister hit by lightning (Evolved from soldier girl)
As mentioned this series is based on a dream that I had awhile back. The two girls first enter the woods to escape the Nazis. In my dream there were initially more soldiers with them who perish due to the war or hazards in the woods. It wasn’t unlike Pan’s Labyrinth but on a much smaller and more intimate scale.
It had been awhile between having the dream and creating this story to share with you. And I quickly learned that the term “Nazi” is prohibited by the AI art generator interface. So there are some changes that have been made, but hopefully you can still follow along. The time and place are not as relevant to the overall anyway.
Nightmarish Nature: Cannibalism
Let’s return to explore more Nightmarish Nature, shall we? This segment focuses on cannibalism, as we generally find it icky / taboo and because it’s more common than you might think. There are many different reasons that different creatures engage in cannibalistic practices. Energy waste doesn’t last long in nature; gaps are filled as things evolve to utilize whatever resources are available to meet their own needs. C’est la vie (light up another cigarette). In any case, the challenge to the cannibal lies in determining kinship and not accidentally erasing their own line or progeny, thus decreasing their likelihood for survival over generations. Oh, and in avoiding those pesky prion diseases…
Resource Driven Cannibalism
Resource driven cannibalism can occur when competition for resources is high. This may be due to scarcity, with individuals taking to eating each other to avoid themselves starving to death (with those consumed either still alive and killed to this end, or eaten after death of other causes). Or it may be outside of the cannibal’s control, considering the spread of Mad Cow Disease from feeding beef meal harboring the prion disease (and parts from other mammals like sheep) to growing cattle to save money, ’cause it’s not like the cows were allowed to order whatever they wanted. Or it may be due to direct conflicts with other groups of the same species, either due to competition for resources, mating rights and/or territory. These behaviors have been noted in mostly male chimpanzees raiding other groups, which have even been documented as all out wars against other males in neighboring bands, campaigning to eradicate all outside of their ranks.
Thinking about chimpanzees, males are also documented to gang up on alpha males seen as too controlling or sadistic, with groups of younger males attacking and rendering the alpha male to pieces, often consuming his flesh and blood in the process. This can upend established hierarchies to replace them with new structures, for example with a new male taking on the role of leader. But cannibalism can also be used to reinforce existing hierarchies, as seen in African Wild Dogs wherein the dominant pair will kill off any offspring that other dogs may have birthed so that the pack will focus on raising only the alpha pair’s pups, thusly reestablishing and enforcing social structure while ensuring the best survival chances for the pups raised by channeling all resources to the one brood.
Infanticide & Filial Cannibalism
Like African Wild Dogs, other parents may also eat their offspring, or better yet their rivals’ offspring. Stillborn or unhealthy offspring may be consumed, or just any that they can get their hands on at birth. (Again with the young male chimpanzees…) Some creatures enter into cycles wherein smaller individuals are more vulnerable to predation by larger ones both within and outside of ones own species, as is seen among many fishes with eggs and smaller fishes playing an important role as prey to larger ones. Other creatures may engage in these practices to reduce competition (for themselves and/or their offspring) and/or increase opportunities to mate. Male cats are notorious for killing kittens that are not their own in order to bring females into heat again sooner, potentially increasing the likelihood of mating with said females themselves while decreasing future competition. Win-win! Female cats must take great care to hide their kittens in order to protect them from males as much as other predators, and can have kittens by different fathers within the same litter in order to increase their kittens’ overall survival as a group with father cats more willing to accept kittens when their own kin are present.
Mantids and spiders are especially known for sexual cannibalism, with larger females consuming males during copulation, but this is not always linked to vast size differences and does not appear in every species. Females who engage in this practice may have healthier eggs in larger clutches, thus increasing the survival likelihood of more of their offspring. Sometimes the risk to the male suitor of being mistaken for another species by an aggressive would-be mate is high, and various rituals have developed within certain species to help avoid such mistakes and entice the female to mate. Male spiders are known engage in elaborate dances, movements, tapping and silk spinning rituals to avoid being eaten pre-copulation or at all. It’s a hell of a lot more involved than a good pick up line and a well-timed drink, as you can see here.
If the above video doesn’t load, you can find it on PBS YouTube here.
Thank you for joining us for another exciting episode of Nightmarish Nature. If you enjoyed this, please feel free to check out these previous segments:
Revisitations: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
So I’ve been working on more painting into found art (as seen here before) and I thought I’d share a newer one, based on the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels. But first let’s make like my She Wolf post enjoy a couple variations of the song, shall we?
First we have Charlie Daniels, the writer of the song which was inspired by the beautiful poem by Stephen Vincent Benet titled The Mountain Whipporwill. You can read the poem on Your Daily Poem here.
Then we have to watch my favorite version, the animated music video by Primus. I know there are claymation-haters out there who find the effect bit too “uncanny valley” but how can you not just love those chickens?
Anyway, without further ado, here is my painting, incorporated into a found still life, original signed L. Harady.
Here The Devil is defeated, crushed along the lower edge of the artwork beneath the fiddle and lamenting his loss. The bow jabs into his sneering nose as if to add insult to injury, but his eyes still glow, alight with the prospect of coming back for another round. (They actually do glow, I have acquired some blacklight reactive nail polish to use in these pieces now.) I suppose I may go to Hell for this portrayal (or for defiling yet another painting) but alas, such is the price of art sometimes. I guess I’ll add it to the list…