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The Day’s Delight: Narwhal

The world’s a bigger place than I believe it is, sometimes, even right here in our little village on the shore.

I went to a BBQ– in and of itself miraculous and new and hopefully no longer rare. It was at a snug little timberframe cabin tucked back in the trees. Half the people I knew, and half I didn’t: what a delight that was, the reminder that I haven’t met every one of My People yet.

We sat and talked. A man with the most Scandinavian name ever wound up the literal victrola he’d brought with him, paged through the album of records (that put me very much in mind of those CD collections we all kept in our cars in high school and college), and played Ole i Skratthult and other Swedish songs. Someone asked, “How do you dance to this?” and because it was obvious to me, I waltzed. Because it wasn’t obvious to them, they were impressed.

I suppose it could have been the same for our host and the Arctic mementos he passed around for us to hold: a narwhal tusk! A carving of mammoth ivory! A narrative etching on a walrus tusk, an Inuit game to tell you if your mushing dog would have a large or small litter of puppies, a charm for good luck or bad (depending on if it was given to you or hidden in your things), a harpoon head made from the scraps of a crashed airplane… And the key to Knud Rasmussen’s Greenland hut.

What a thing to hold in your hand– any and all of it! We all agreed that, yes, one of the items was called a key, but really, every one of them unlocks something.

They say a narwhal uses its tusk to communicate, (whoever they are who study and ponder and observe narwhals): it acts as a sort of antenna. It grows on the left side of the mouth, and a dormant tusk grows on the right, not quite as long as a pencil. The ivory grows in a spiral and, like a particular type of greenwood construction used in traditional Norwegian homes in which the wood grain is spiraled, it is almost impossible to break.

I spoke (very) little of a language I once studied. I told some (very much abbreviated) stories of how I came to the present When and Where. I tried out how to refer to the person to whom I am not yet divorced, and how to answer the question, “What do you do?” now that I deeply appreciate but don’t identify by my day job.

What I did was this: I carved a little of my own ivory. Shaped the bones that hold all the life I’ve lived so far. I plucked them from my body like an extra rib, marked them with code and symbol, made them what they’ve always been becoming: Art.

And because art is meant to (must?) be shared, I passed them around, no longer part of the secret, intimate inside of my Self, but talismans, tools, touchstones for this very specific and deeply universal story called Life.


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