One more postcard: 99-cent mammoth

Postcard collage of mammoth, aurora borealis, sea stacks, and a 99-cent price tag

Hello Johan! Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project and for sending along your address. I made this postcard between South Dakota and California in July. Now it’s November, and I’m heading north to Seattle tomorrow to visit my friends Megan and Reid for Thanksgiving. My family is scattered around the country in Colorado and Iowa and Massachusetts, so it’s nice to have friends in my neck of the woods. I’m glad I’m finally able to send this postcard; I like mammoths and this postcard is one of my favorites. Sorry for not reminding you to send your address; I should have sent an email! Hope you have a great holiday season.

Subscription postcards: Heavy-handedness, Pacific Northwest camping, and things that smell like eggs

Heavy-handed postcard about how man differs from animals.

Hello Kathleen! A couple weeks ago I went to an art event in Portland, where I was complaining about the heavy-handedness of all the political paintings. But this here collage is pretty heavy-handed. I’m hoping that heavy-handed collages are good like heavy-handed political punk rock, and not bad like heavy-handed political paintings.

Postcard about camping, rain, smoothness, a starfish, and the visible spectrum.

Hello Sharon! Last weekend I went camping and it rained. In the autobiography of my life, I’m going to title that chapter “A River Runs Through It, Where ‘It’ Refers to My Tent”. But it was still fun — I’ve never regretted going camping, even when it rains. Which is probably a good thing, since it rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest.

Postcard about hot springs and a classless society.

Hi Kevin — Last weekend I went camping at Cougar Hot Springs, which is east of Eugene, Oregon. Hot springs usually attract a lot of weird people, and this one was no exception. But they also attract non-weird people. Everyone is there, and the rich and the poor and the sane and the crazy are all the same, enjoying a peaceable naked soak in a place that smells faintly of rotten eggs. It is scary to think that hot springs might be our most realistic model of a classless society.

Subscription postcards: Scrimshaw, chakras, and hyenas

Postcard about knives, scrimshaw, and declining American pre-eminence.

Hi Andrew — There is much debate these days about the signs and causes of America’s declining pre-eminence, but the popular discourse has completely overlooked a very important factor: The lack of consumer interest in scrimshaw, especially in knife handles. I am doing my part by owning a scrimshaw-handled knife and also using the word “scrimshaw” at every opportunity. It is a fun word to say. Scrimshaw.

Postcard about thoracic chakras and the Upper Sacramento River.

Hi Erin — How is Alberta? I hope it’s great. What you see here is a typical scene along California’s Upper Sacramento River. For years and years scientists searched far and wide for the elusive thoracic rainbow chakra. Then they got a hot tip from a grizzled old yogi to check the Sacramento River. And do you know what the crazy thing is? Once they got there, they found it — but only because it was inside them the whole time.

Postcard about extra smooth hyenas, and also owls.

Evgeniya — When I think of smooth animals, I don’t actually think of hyenas. In fact, they are probably some of the least smooth animals out there. They are constantly yelling and pigging out on dead carcasses. The wise old owl, now that’s a smooth animal. You look at an owl, you’re like, “What’s he thinking?” But you look at a hyena, you’re like, “Oh, gross, he’s binging on entrails.”

Subscription postcards: Geologically based soda names, lenticular clouds, and alpine fronting

Postcard about geology and soda.

Hi Beth — Before I glued a bunch of stuff to it, this was a postcard of Mount Shasta. Off the top of my head I can think of Shasta, Mountain Dew, and Sierra Mist when I try to identify mountain-related beverage names. As far as I know, mountains are the only geological feature to have sodas named for them. I am going to write the relevant authorities to petition for a High Plains Fresca and an Arroyo Twist Pepsi.

Postcard about math, lenticular cloud formations, and Mount Shasta.

Hey Jeff — If there are three things in life that make me happy, it’s basic math, lenticular clouds, and Mount Shasta. This postcard reflects my love of all three. The “serious” artists I know say that I need to stop being so literal in my work. I don’t know, maybe they’re right.

Postcard about Mount Lassen, gang signs, and street cred.

Hello Mollie! This is Mount Lassen. As you can see, it’s a perfect triangle. No, not really — don’t be fooled by the photorealism; it’s just a lifelike collage. When I hiked to the top of Mount Lassen in college, a kid was up at the summit with his grandfather, flashing gang signs in the pictures his granddad took. Nothing connotes street cred like flashing gang signs on a camping trip with elderly people.

Subscription postcards: Rock formations, primary functions, and life questions

Postcard with skeptical interpretation of "The Poodle" rock formation at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Jennifer and Anthony — This is a postcard I picked up back in April on my first trip through Utah. All the rock formations there have imaginative names that supposedly describe their appearance. This one is supposed to be a poodle. I don’t see it, but it’s probably good that someone with more imagination named these things. If it had been left up to me, every single formation would be named “Yet Another Rock Thing”.

Postcard with a bridge, a ship, the mightiest wind, and finding your primary function.

Hello Sacha! Right now my dog Skillet is chewing on a bone. He’s really getting into it, and it’s not even a real bone, it’s one of the fake ones from the store. But he still has this intense “I am fulfilling my primary function” thing going on. He seems really content. I should write a self-help book for the hyper-analytical called Finding Your Primary Function.

Postcard of pondering man: Man has a greater brain capacity, and can reason.

Hey Steve — Do you ever wonder this? I wonder this all the time. “What am I doing with my life?” I ask myself. And if only I was better at lying to myself, this question could get me really psyched up. In fact, I think that is probably how Dog the Bounty Hunter got so successful. Every morning he woke up believing he was a bounty hunter, and then he was one.

I am a bounty hunter. I am a bounty hunter. I am a bounty hunter.

Subscription postcards: Extraordinary giraffes, spherical ice, and the South Dakotan Buddha

Postcard about giraffes and Africa.

Hello Elizabeth! This is a postcard with a giraffe on it. Giraffes have long necks and long legs and live in Africa. Below is the flag from an African country called Niger. Most flags are rectangles, but Niger’s flag is a differently shaped rectangle from most other flags … it’s a little more square-shaped. Pretty neat, huh?

Flag of Niger, and a giraffe.

The above-mentioned flag, and a little giraffe doodle.

Postcard about spherical ice and the decline of Western civilization.

Hello Carmel! The beverage in this collage has a spherical ice cube in it. The fact that there is consumer demand for spherical ice has me a little concerned about the overall well-being of humankind. “Give me spherical ice!” sounds like the fever-dream demand of a crazy person.

Postcard of Buddha meditating on stuff while bison graze in the background.

Bridget and Jory — The best part of my trip through South Dakota was meeting with the Buddha. I found him meditating under a banyan tree in the Black Hills. Banyan trees don’t survive the winters there, so every spring he has to special order a banyan sapling from a Rapid City nursery. Then he drives it to the hills and sets it atop a wooden ladder so he can meditate beneath it. I asked him the secret of happiness and he told me to buy a special meditation mat and a gong and a kimono and a “Sounds of Waterfalls” album from iTunes and that’s all it takes. So far it hasn’t worked; I think I bought the wrong kind of kimono.

Art by mail: Retrospective

Message on postcard:
Alissa, Michael, and family — Greetings from the end of my road trip! I drove all the way across Oregon, spending a couple weeks east of the Cascades, and then I drove across Nevada and Utah in one straight shot. Now I’m in Colorado, packing up some stuff I left here last winter … after this I’m returning to Portland, Oregon, where I’ll be living in a house with an architect, a journalist, a liquor store manager, and a former touring heavy metal vocalist turned serologist. Since you’re family, you get a list of mini-stories that never made it into other postcards. Remember these! They will be important for future generations of our clan.

  • Cell phone reception is better in Utah than it is at Iowa’s Yellow River State Forest.
  • There are places in Wisconsin where you can stand on a rock outcropping and look down at soaring birds.
  • Indigenous mound-building cultures are greatly under appreciated.
  • Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness has some of the prettiest shoreline along Lake Michigan.
  • Bison will make monster noises at sunrise.
  • I lack the expertise to distinguish between a tortoise fossil and shell-shaped rock.
  • Before camping on a bridge that dead ends into a fence, make sure something hasn’t died beneath it.
  • You can buy figs on your way to Muir Woods, but you can’t park there on a weekend.
  • Most Vanagon owners are pretty friendly; some are too friendly.
  • I found an antique bottle in the desert. It’s for a flimflam hair tonic that contained arsenic.
  • I almost crashed my van trying not to hit a giant rattlesnake.
  • While lying on my back falling asleep, I saw a meteor through the tiny little window on the roof of my van — on multiple occasions. It felt like being in space.

Reviewing this postcard, I see that this is more like a collection of facts and opinions than stories. I’ll round things out with some sage advice. If you spill transmission fluid on your shoe, it will smell funky forever. Don’t try to cook with anything you scrape off the ground at a salt flat. And be careful of the asphalt at Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern Unit. It can crack the glass in your phone.

Art by mail: The thing in the desert

Message on postcard:

  1. This is the story of the thing in the desert. It begins as the sun rises on the Alvord playa. It’s hot and dry. I’m saving water.
  2. I’m in the van, working on my sketchbook. The dogs are hanging out outside, full of energy after eating breakfast. Then there’s a series of yips, and Skillet runs in with a bone.
  3. “Great Scott!” I exclaim. Thanks to years of active participation in online paleoanthropology forums, I recognize the bone as soon as I see it. It’s a hominid femur, twenty to forty thousand years old.
  4. I step out of the van and the dogs eagerly lead me to the site of their find. There in the sun-baked surface of the ancient, dry lakebed is the rest of a nearly complete skeleton.
  5. But something is wrong. The skull has horns. My dogs have unearthed the unthinkable — a prehistoric race of demon people.
  6. What’s more, the skeleton belonged to a demon-person who clearly had been laid to rest in some kind of ceremonial burial. He was surrounded by ritual artifacts. In his hand was a bouquet of paleobotanical fossil flowers. And on his finger, a ring.
  7. I ignore my instincts. I remove the ring.
  8. The skeleton’s head swivels, and a dusty voice creaks out . “DOOOOOOOD,” he said, “NOOOOOOOOO.” Behind me, Steens Mountain split in two.
  9. At this point the dogs are seriously freaking out. Eagles are flying out of the mountain. Everything is rumbling. The skeleton is wiggling, big time.
  10. And that’s when the smooth jazz kicks out, announcing Noam Chomsky’s arrival. He strides forth from the mountain.
  11. “Noam,” I say, “This smooth jazz? I didn’t realize you were a David Sanborn fan. Also, I thought you lived in Boston, not an underground magma chamber.”
  12. “Mike,” he says, “that demon skeleton was the linchpin of America’s two-party political system. Thanks to your discovery we can welcome in a new era of tolerance, fairness, and plurality.”
  13. “Okay,” I said.

Art by mail: Overboard protocol

Message on postcard:
Hey dudes! What’s up! This is a postcard from my trip across eastern Oregon. The art here is inspired by a robot prostitute I met in an Old-West-style cowboy town. Whoring opportunities out here are not what they used to be, and rootin’-tootin’ saloons have trouble attracting and retaining lady talent. But robotics experts stepped up in a big way to hap satiate cowboy lust.

So I had saddled up for a drink in the small town of Murder Creek. I heard a clang as a lady sat beside me. She beeped and whistled. “Oh, hello,” I said.

“Howdy, stud,” she said. “Want to have a good … a good … SYSTEM ERROR!!!”

She wept oil tears. It was a hard life out here, I knew.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. The lady machine, whose name was Sexual Lotus Alpha Prime, explained her predicament. Her best hooker buddy, Sugar Hookup, had been dismantled by an angry cattle roper in a fit of rage.

“He had a Sawzall … when I got there, she was nothing more than component parts … there were transistors everywhere. The girls and I raised a ten thousand dollar bounty. Will you … will you find and kill Roper Dan?”

“Holy heck,” I said. “This shit is freaking bonkers. Hell no!”

I finished my drink and hit her power switch. “You might want to replace this unit, barkeep,” I advised. “Its simulation protocol is a bit heavy for us tourists.”

Art by mail: The story of my badass knife

Message on postcard:
Hey Chris! Eastern Oregon is great. But you know what makes it better than great? A badass knife. I have been wanting a badass knife ever since the pig attack, when I was left high and dry without one. And then I found just such a knife on the ground at my friend Tom’s wedding. It was like a reverse wedding present from him to me. Every time I cut something up with my new knife, it will be a celebration of his marital bliss.

I have described this knife elsewhere, so I will skip over its official specs, except I do want to say that it has a neat etching of bighorn sheep, and the handle is made out of ivory that I choose to believe came from a dead pig’s tusks. Its major features are a blade, a handle, and its usefulness for cutting.

And cutting is what I have done with this knife. (Well, mostly I have used it for slicing if you want to get pedantic.) Apples taste better when eaten off its blade. And using it to cut tofu has allowed engineers to harness the energy of the knife’s designer spinning in his grave.

These days I carry my knife everywhere. You never know where pigs might be hiding.