Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dead Birds

It has been a few weeks now since I last posted.  I've been working on a new project.  Because of the nature of it I've given it it's own home.    

Not long ago I was walking my kayak out to the waters edge near the old Saltair palace on the Great Salt Lake's southern shore. It is a popular location to pull off from interstate 80 and venture out to the water. I-80 is one of the major East-West highways in the USA so people stop there on their way to many places. Commuters stop there to contemplate some great moment that driving does not give them pause to reflect upon properly. Groups of Asian tourists pose in shifting masses for pictures. Couples walk hand in hand in this semblance of a beach. Families of screaming children trudge blankets and coolers closer to a tepid salty splashing zone.

Between the gravel parking lot of Saltair and the water's edge there is a long packed sandy flat. It is not a tidal flat so much as a evaporation flat, and the summer's drought has made it huge this year. I knew as soon as I parked that there must be better places almost anywhere to lug my kayak out for a quick paddle, but something -perhaps the crowds?- enticed me out.

The flat is hard-packed for the most part, and easy walking. There are depressions in it that held onto the Salt Lake's water longer than others, and they are filled with crystals. Strange mixtures of natural and artificial debris is washed into swirls; some hardened with salt. Most of the expanse is ripled sand cemented with salt. It is an interesting place to walk.

The washed up debris sometimes takes on forms that mimic impossible items. I was about two-thirds of the way out when I noticed something that looked like a great big fish. No fish live in the great salt lake so it couldn't be a fish.

I looked closer, and it was a fish.

After my paddle I got my camera, and decided to snap a photo of the partially mummified fish. As I looked around I saw another,

and then another.

 I began walking around snapping photos of impossible fish washed up on the shore of the Great Salt Lake.

People walked past me in droves as I searched this expanse of land between the parking lot and where everyone wanted to go. Deaf as I am I began noticing a regular crunching sound in the migration of folks to and from the water. When I investigated I realized that the walkers were trampling on the carcases of dead birds; thousands of dead birds.

I began snapping pictures of the birds. There was something both repugnant and fascinating about them. They were all preserved by the evaporating salt water in mid decay. Some were only pieces, others almost whole. The people barely noticed them even as they crunched under their feet.

How many things do we barely notice in life? What semi-preserved efforts do we walk through? How much history do we ignore even when we are stepping right on it?

It was a crunchy macabre metaphor. I could not just let it go.

I took about 400 photos of the partially mummified bird corpses. I decided they should be their own blog. I've put together an entry for each day with a picture followed by the death date of an influential person. I've tried to include links to some biographic or related info for each person. I've also tried to pick dates that are a bit older so it is the sort of history that is decaying; where there are few or no living individuals who knew the people.

I start with Caesar Augustus on August 19th (the month named for him).

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