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DOG GLIDING

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120 million people suffer from depression all over the world. According to the National Institute of Public Health, 6.7% of U.S. population over 18 experience clinical depression in many forms. What’s worse is the fact depression is contagious and not only people but also animals living in close contact with depressed people, can develop the same symptoms. Unfortunately, while 50% of people receive medical treatment, drugs or social assistance, pets are left to sort out thing on their own. It’s a shame nobody, so far, ever thought to do something about it. After all, dogs are men’s best friends the way diamonds are for girls.  That’s when the Brandpowder Team decided to get in touch with Jeremy T. Lurcher, an ethologist and canine expert from UCLA, to see whether it was possible to help our pets to regain enthusiasm and motivation out of a dog’s life. It has not been an easy task, but in the end we came up with a very simple idea: why not treating dogs like humans? After all they share the same lifestyle of their owners. The next step was to find an exciting activity and, after discarding bungee jumping, scubadiving, group sex and cocaine, we all agreed skydiving was a good point were to start from.

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Above: Stewpot, a veteran with 300 jumps, leaps from a plane at 9,000 ft. The static line opens the small parachute automatically and, after 5 seconds of free fall, the dog quietly glides to the ground. The outfit includes a small radio control and a GPS to monitor the dog’s location in case of distant landings.

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Above: Pasternak, our beloved black Labrador, touches ground near the Brandpowder Airfield in Montana. Below: Juju, a 4 year old Golden Retriever from Ohio, smiles upon landing on the shore of Lake Isabella, in California.

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Above: U.S. paratroopers asked Brandpowder’s advice for man+dog tandem jumps. Below: Skipper, one of the dogs at last year’s Summer Course, always showed a particular interest for the cockpit.

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Above: Babou, a crazy beagle from France, dressed up to celebrate the first year of Dog Gliding’s activity. Below: Jeremy takes border collie Pippo for a ride on his old Land Rover. Jeremy has been unvaluable in helping us with the Dog Gliding’s project. Without his support we were not going to make it.

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Above: John Shermann, one of our pilots at the Brandpowder Airfield, smiles for the camera. He’s a good guy but we are not sure about his pink scarf. Below: our two veterans, Stewpot and Pasternak, waiting for another ride.

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No animals were armed throughout our activity. Skydiving is a pretty safe sport and we didn’t have a single accident in almost two years. Of course tennis table is a much safer bet, but as far as we know, dogs are not much interested in it.

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THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

“White Man, you think to be better than a Red Man, Black Man and Yellow Man. But your skin is the color of worms, and soft like the belly of a blind mole.” Verses written with the Indian technique of smoke signals by the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull in Ohio, 1849.  (from the book “The Burning Soul”)

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People think Sitting Bull didn’t leave anything written because he was an analphabet. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Brandpowder Team was recently invited to South Dakota by Pink Cloud, the grand-grand-grand nephew of Sitting Bull, who wanted to tell us a beautiful and quite incredible story about his beloved ancestor. Everybody knows Sitting Bull as the great Sioux Chief and warrior who kicked Custer and the 7th Cavalry in the ass, leading his tribes to victory at Little Bighorn in 1876. But very few people know Sitting Bull was a writer and a poet who adopted smoke signals as his own vertical grammar. His burning verses, for more than forty years, rose up as columns of smoke into the American skies to whisper an elevated message into the Gods’ ears.

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Above: one of the first rising poems written by Sitting Bull with the vertical grammar of smoke signals: This mighty text says: “You came to this land and you called it America. But we were here before you, and we called it Anowarkowa. Go back to your land, sheepfuckers!” (restored photo: Yukon Territories, 1865)

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(Above) another poem rising in the distance. It says: “You dig for oil, you dig for gold. You dig your own grave!” Nobody better than Sitting Bull can express the unquenchable greed of the white settlers. For this powerful poem Sitting Bull burnt almost six hundred trees, stolen from the Weyerhaeuser sawmill. Pink Cloud told us carbon footprint was not an issue, back then. And Sitting Bull was not much of an environmentalist (restored photo: Coal Valley, Illinois 1877).

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Above: Pink Cloud, helped by his husband Big Cock, keeps the old tradition of smoke signals alive. “We send sacred hymns to our beloved ancestors” – she says.

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“Keep the rifles, keep the whisky, keep the money for yourself. We are poor but free and happy. We laugh at your skinny belongings, fat cowboys.” Also in these verses Sitting Bull demonstrates the force of his fuming, devastating language. (above: restored photo, taken in Montana, 1852)

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“Fuck Peanut Butter! We eat Bear’s Fat.” This is one of the shortest poems by the Sioux Chief. Only a few pictures of his flighty literature survive to this day, and the photo above is the only one taken while Sitting Bull was actually writing. He didn’t have a studio – Pink Cloud explained us with a bright smile – his office was the world. (picture taken in Northern California, about 1877)

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Above: Every now and then Sitting Bull opted for a more cryptic style. In this very large smoke ring (approximately 150 ft. in diameter) we can really appreciate his great handling of syntax. Pink Cloud told us it’s quite difficult to decipher this poem, but its message – most likely – was due to Sitting Bull’s shamanic nihilism.    (restored photo – Arizona, end of 1870).

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Above: Sitting Bull also composed after dusk. The smoke, in the evening’s cooler air, rises thicker and quicker. The text says: “I love my knife, I love my life, I love my wife”. This is one of the last poems the Chief threw to the wind. If it’s true that “Verba Volant”, Sitting Bull made them fly higher than anybody else.

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Above: one of the books the Brandpowder Team published as a tribute to Sitting Bull (his real name, Ta-Tanka I-Yotank, means Sitting Buffalo). The book bears a selection of rare photos of Vertical Poetry by the great Sioux Chief, plus several old documents about smoke signals’ culture among American Indians.

Below: another title by Brandpowder (battered after we left it under the pouring rain for two days). This book, beside the poetry part, will teach the reader how to master the challenging technique of smoke signals through the correct handling and burning of natural resources like wood, peat and unusual organic materials. There’s also a chapter dedicated to winds’ control, defense tips in case of arson, and a quite useful graph to help you keep air pollution under a reasonable level.

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Below:  The central pages are made out of black tar, which is perfect for producing a convincing plume of thick smoke for your first outdoor experiments.

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Sitting Bull never used a pen. His smoky writing always started from a flame. Pink Cloud showed us this match-box (above).  It belonged to his grandfather, Screaming Eagle, who happened to be one of the nephews of the Sioux Chief and also a Medicine Man. He told her many fascinating stories about Sitting Bull, when she was still very young.

Below: Screaming Eagle tried to put on paper some of the burning words of Sitting Bull; it’s thanks to his effort, if today we can appreciate the elevated poetry of the Great Sioux Chief.

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The day we left the Lower 48 to go back to Brandpowder’s headquarters in Alaska, we stopped by Lake Oahe, a few miles north of Fort Pierre National Grassland. It was bloody cold, that morning, and icy northern winds were blowing from Saskatchewan. We saw an incredible formation over the lake and, for a moment, we thought the Spirit of Sitting Bull wanted to write us a farewell. But we were told by a local ranger that was a phenomenon called Morning Glory. It happens when strong winds shape clouds, rolling them into long cigars. It was an outstanding view.

We wish to thank warmly Pink Cloud for her invaluable assistance and hard work in providing us with all the material and countless stories. Without her effort our two books on Sitting Bull’s poetry would haven’t been possible. A special thanks also to her husband Big Cock for showing us around and keeping the fire going ’till the end.

The Brandpowder Team

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