The Hedgehog Dispensary
Dreamed 2004/10/2, watercolors 2004-5, by Chris Wayan
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Deep winter. Snowdrifts. A village of thatched huts. A stranger hikes into town. On seeing her striped cat pelt, I know I'm in the far future: the era of the Democratic Union of Species. I've roamed this far before, but it's a long, long way from home: the village is full of rabbits as big as wolves.
The mega-rabs welcome the cat traveler warmly--she's an itinerant storyteller. To repay their kindness, she tells them a fable about free speech--"the axis our Pact turns on." She stretches out, cat-comfortable, on a straw mat, with the rabbits in a circle round her, as if she's the axis herself, this free speaker.
Beyond her general theme, I can't tell you her fable. Sorry, but this isn't fiction. It's MEMORY--and as she spoke of the axis, she raised one long, lone upraised claw to represent it. That distracted me. Because no one flinched!
And they should. The "Horse Whisperer", Monty Roberts, writes that horses flinch from mere humans clawing the air--though they know we're not mountain lions. It runs that deep in herbivores--the fear of predators, especially of the purest predators of all: cats.
Yet the rabbits around this cat don't even tense! And that unnatural calm tells me how far futureward I've roamed. Not only racism, but specism, predation itself, is dead--dead and forgotten. Peace won. These children of the Pact are fearless.
In the next hut over, there's a living tale unfolding that says otherwise. Follow me.
A village girl named Pinna is learning magic from the local shaman. She's been studying growing- and healing-spells; can make a seedling sprout (and survive) even in winter!
I instantly like Pinna--a sweetheart, even among mega-rabs.
Her mentor, Jako is the real thing, a rab-shaman so powerful he's crowned with living antlers, like the Green Man! He seems powerful, but... harsh. The way Pinna hops to it, following his orders, suggests more than respect. Fear.
He orders her to try a test-blessing on their Presidential Debates, to guarantee "fair and balanced coverage." There's a TV in the hut, showing the two leading candidates at podiums, squawking away. Some things never change.
The two candidates seem to have been chosen less for their personal competence than for their iconic value, as symbols of their parties, the two dominating the D.U.S.: an Amazonian parrot for the Greens, versus a Black Cat for the Anarchists.
But Pinna gets nervous, and botches the blessing.
Well--not seriously. Her spell fails, but no harm is done. She'd chosen a gentle spell, just in case. The two candidates just argue on, unblessed, unharmed.
Unlike poor Pinna. Her teacher scolds her in a red rage!
He rears up, fully four feet high--a giant buck, even in a mega-rab village.
She crouches before Jako, tail raised, quivering nose at his feet.
It's embarrassingly submissive--as primal, in its way, as the cat-fabulist's claw. She's presenting herself for mounting, and crouching as if ready to lick an alpha male's penis...
While this may sound crude to certain human readers, megarab bucks and does have both used these gestures to appease alpha rabbits since before rabbits had speech!
But it's grotesque to see this accomplished modern girl fawn and cower like some archaic doe, to a mere... horny bunny.
To punish Pinna, he orders her to wear two dead hedgehogs draped around her neck! He coolly orders two villagers to help, and they do it, reluctantly, but without hestitation. No, fear isn't dead. It's not just respect they feel for Jako!
The sharp spines of the hedghogs--huge ones, more the size of porcupines in our day--jab right through even Pinna's thick winter fur. The pure white blushes with trickles of blood.
The blood-scent alone has to be sickening to a bunny...
The unicorn gulps and asks Jako "How... how long must she suffer this torture?"
"UNTIL I SAY SO!" roars the shaman.
Later, in a bunny cafe, I get to talking with the fabulist cat. "That sure looked extreme to me" I grumble. "I'd dump him if I were her."
"But he's her master" the cat points out, "and for mega-rabs, that matters." True. Rabbit warrens always had a kicking order--and patriarchy. What can I do? I'm just a time-tourist here myself. But us primates like to meddle...
On impulse, I head over to the Hedgehog Dispensary. Rabbits are communists, of course--you requisition whatever you need from the storehouse. I'm only semi-literate in Rabbit glyphs, but a cartoon of a dead hedgehog is pretty easy to recognize... The fact that they have a whole hut for them suggests this village is a troubled one. What else but punishment are they good for?
I make the clerk a modest proposal.
"It's a shame about Pinna, huh? She'll NEVER disobey Jako! But she'd obey... you."
"Mmm" he says, as the light starts to dawn. Rabbit goods are free, of course. But in severe shortages, clerks can recall or ration vital items...
Dead hedgehogs! Don't leave home without one.
"If you declare a 'hog shortage, you could repo all the hogs in town! That'd free Pinna, and even your wizard couldn't blame her..."
It's clear that Jako the wizard is beyond reason--he'll never relent. To heal her, someone must go round him. And that someone looks like me and the clerk. Most mega-rabs are highly moral beings; though I woke before the clerk decided if he'd order all the hedgehogs in town repossesed, I wasn't worried any more about Pinna--in the short term. But it's not just this immediate punishment she has to free herself from! Abuse. Abuse in the land of the free.
Does the dream sound mysterious and unworldly? Not to me. You see, I'm an artist, and two days ago, I was building this planet out of a light fixture I found in the gutter. I modeled my imaginary globe on Anarres, the anarchist world in Ursula Le Guin's book "The Dispossessed." Anarres is a Marslike world of thin air and vast deserts dotted with shallow little seas... a thinly settled but culturally rich anarchist utopia. And for me... a compelling eco-puzzle! How would life evolve differently there? Let's see!
Sorry, where was I? I do get carried away by these art ideas... Oh.
Well, I sculpted all day, building mountains, pouring seas, playing God... using acrylic, I'm afraid. I went to bed with a headache from the fumes. Pains in my neck and shoulders... just like a certain shaman's apprentice!
In the morning, I woke still sore. Not a good sign!
But I forced myself out anyway. It was Open Studio, an annual San Francisco event in which hundreds of artists simultaneously open up their homes and studios to the public--and other artists.
It's a rare opportunity to meet a lot of artists and study their tools, techniques, materials and workspaces (unless you have the money for a good art school).
All of which sounds very professional, but the truth is I went mostly to meet girls.
Kindred spirits! I'm usually too shy to flirt, so this was a deliberate exercise in courage, among people less likely to find me unacceptably weird...
... that is, kooks like me.
I did it--talked and flirted madly. Fun! And a real stretch for me.
But... the headache and neck-ache persisted all day.
So that night I asked my dreams "Is the pain really a reaction to the acrylic goo I used on my planet, or... anti-flirting SABOTAGE?"
Hedgehog Dispensary was the answer.
So what's it telling me?
An inner spiritual authority's punishing me.
Why? It hardly matters! He's just a grumpy guy.
What matters is: time alone won't heal an ongoing assault. And this is.
Negotiation? He's not listening.
The only solution: tear off the hogs!
And what are they? HEDGING, of course! I've been timid... rabbity.
Hmmm. What would NON-hedging be?
Shaping small, intricate fantasy worlds from junk
Changing this world!
Or at least... building my imaginary worlds on a public scale.
Sculpture with social impact!
Pouring all my love, time and energy into art alone, bleeding myself dry...
The time and effort and respect a quest for love requires.
NEARLY A MONTH LATER
It's been weeks since the dream, and I'm STILL hedging! It's a struggle. Hard to defy rabbits, oops I mean habits. But if I want those hogs off me...
I've been sketching out the dream on watercolor paper, then using a sharp mechanical pencil to draw it in lines that won't wash away, then slowly building up color washes. And rewriting, and painstakingly lettering. So slow! Even conventional cartooning is an art for tortoises, not hares. And this isn't conventional. I need this to look as lush as Pinna's fur, to convey that other world. Our deep future.
But I live in the USA, not the DUS. Not for another few lifetimes! And here in our dark age, voting machines just declared Bush president again, though exit polls say he lost (again). The discrepancy is largest where Diebold voting machines were used--a rabidly pro-Republican company. Suddenly my dream of a failed prayer for a fair election seems more literal... and relevant.
And that jackrabbit with antlers! Such hybrids have a name, of course: jackalopes. These Frankenbunnies can be found in tourist shops from Texas to Montana. Bush country! They look real except for the glassy eyes--just like Dubya.
So tell me again--is the image of a civilized spirit bullied by a male-supremacist jackalope just my private dream, or our shared, national nightmare?
Today I told my sister the dream. She said "OK, 'hedge' makes sense. But why 'hogs'?"
It was a good question. Tear off the hogs. Off the hogs... "OFF THE PIGS!" My heart's ready to bring back the sixties! And they weren't just declaring war on cops--mere enforcers of the system. It was open war on the capitalist pigs rigging it..
I can't, we can't go on like Pinna--bending over for right-wing cowboys.
My headache finally faded on Election Eve. Was I really sickened by anticipation of the (re-)rape of democracy? Who needs symbolic warnings any more? We know who has horns. Who we have to defy.
Well, I thought that was the bitter end! But some nights later, I dreamed again last night of a gentle, furry, sane future.
Oh, George Dubya Bush is a self-righteous, vindictive, cheating alphamale--a real jackalope! But housecleaning starts at home, doesn't it? And I'm clearly due for a cleaning myself.
Look at all my bitter rhetoric! A Dubya gnaws me inside--the urge to lash out. Spirit of the age! And if I indulge him, fight fire with fire, I get sick.
What an American dilemma! Do we tolerate intolerance?
Hmm. Can't we dream of roles beyond victim and bully?
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