Mini-Comics about Drawbridges

One of the things I love most about the City of Seattle is that it sometimes has the courage to think outside the box. One example of this is that they occasionally have artists in residence at two of our drawbridges. This cycle, the genre was graphic art, and the artists in question were E.T. Russian at the University Bridge and Roger Fernandes at the Fremont Bridge.

Sadly, I never got the opportunity to meet Roger, but I had many a pleasant chat with E.T. Even though this drawing below is actually of E.T. looking down from the south tower, I like to pretend that that’s me depicted in the north tower. It’s a page from their amazing mini-comic. I’m the only bridgetender who works at University regularly who has longish hair, so I am taking the opportunity to place myself in their world, just as they placed themselves in mine. I look at this picture and smile every time.

If you go to this page in the City of Seattle’s Art Beat Blog, you can learn more about the artists, and if you scroll down, you can see their completed work as artists in residence, scanned in page by page. They both did such an amazing job that it brings tears to my eyes.

Bridgetenders are easy to overlook. Many people don’t even realize that there’s a person operating these bridges. For the most part, we prefer it that way. But personally I’m proud that our bridges were included in these two wonderful works of art.

Thanks E.T. and Roger! Keep on adding beauty and perspective to the world!

Artwork by E.T. Russian. Copyright protected.

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Our Most Excellent Book Bombing Adventure

First of all, before you call the FBI, “book bombing” does NOT involve explosives or violence of any kind. If you are disappointed by that fact, then this is definitely not the blog for you. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Book bombing involves gathering up a bunch of boxes of books (preferably in excellent condition), picking an area that you’d like to explore, and then looking up that area on the maps page of littlefreelibrary.org to see where these delightful little libraries are located. Then you plot your route and visit them one by one, leaving books as you go. It’s great fun!

And while I do wish I could come up with a better name for this activity, currently “book bombing” is the phrase of choice. Some people have suggested “book blessing”, but I personally find this a bit too cheesy. I’m open to suggestions.

I can’t take credit for this idea. I first heard about this from Dan and Trina Wiswell, fellow library stewards, who have raised book bombing to an art form. They travel far and wide, spreading literacy as they go. They have become experts at obtaining books at little or no cost, and sharing the wealth with their fellow stewards. They’ve even visited my library. It was a pleasure meeting them and getting some desperately needed children’s books.

Since then, I’ve wound up with a surplus of books of my own, thanks to the local PTA of the nearest elementary school. Aside from my usual backlog, there are currently 8 large boxes of books in my garage. And I would much rather get those books in the hands of readers, instead of having them gather dust and take up space.

On the day in question, the math was rather simple, really:

Surplus books + the first really sunny day off in months = ROAD TRIP!!!!

We decided that we’d book bomb both Snoqualmie and Issaquah, Washington. That’s a beautiful area, but not so far away that we couldn’t do it in an afternoon. That, and it’s rural enough to where a new influx of books would most likely be greatly appreciated. So we enjoyed the scenery, and got onto a few little back country roads that we had never had the chance to enjoy before.

First on the agenda, though, was a lovely little side trip to Snoqualmie Falls. Not only are these falls beautiful, but they’re also extremely close to the parking lot, so it’s hard to resist stopping by whenever we’re in the neighborhood. And they look different from one season to the next, so it’s quite the treat.

After having satisfied our falls craving, we went to five little free libraries in Snoqualmie, and two more in Issaquah, before it became too dark to see what we were doing. And we moved a lot slower than the average book bomber would, because I was not only taking pictures for this blog post, but also nominating the ones in Snoqualmie to be Pokestops in the Pokemon Go application. (It’s every savvy steward’s dream to have their library become a Pokestop, because it draws children to the location. Sadly, I can only nominate so many at a time, so I’ll have to come back later to nominate the ones in Issaquah.)

We really enjoyed seeing the different neighborhoods. And it was fun to see different little free library designs and ideas. They had a lot of really good ones.

First of all, the little free libraries in Snoqualmie had gotten together to do a scavenger hunt in honor of National Day of Unplugging! They even provided little sleeping bags for one’s cell phone to get people into the spirit of things. What fun!

We encountered one that was designed like a little red caboose, and that complimented the actual, life-sized caboose in the people’s side yard. That was amazing. And when you opened this library, it was full of free slap bracelets. I had never thought of that. I’m going to have to look into those, because they can also double as bookmarks. (Many of the libraries included great bookmarks, either home made or purchased, too.)

I was delighted to see one library in front of the local elementary school. It was made by the local girl scout troop out of a repurposed newspaper dispenser. And all along the sides it was covered in children’s book titles. Two thumbs up for that one! The library was empty of books, so we filled it to overflowing!

Another one was made from an antique vegetable cupboard. Only small books could fit in that one, but it was very cute. And it had a yellow food pantry beside it, and a bench where people could sit and read. Another had a milk crate below so the little kids would have an easier time browsing.

My favorite of the day, though, was in the boonies of Issaquah. It had not only two little free libraries, but also a bridge over a ditch that led to a shed where you could get out of the weather, and that shed was full of puzzles! There was also a bench outside for nice weather. It was a wonderful literary world all its own. I longed to spend more time there, but it was getting dark. I’ll definitely be back.

All in all, it was a very satisfying afternoon. The time flew by, we saw some wonderful places and things, and we shared books with the wider world. It felt really good to have fun and do some good at the same time.

I highly recommend book bombing, no matter what you might decide to call it. Below are photos of the amazing places we visited.

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Hip Hop on the Drawbridge!

You see a lot of strange things when you gaze out of a drawbridge tower’s window. Especially late at night. There is no end to late night drawbridge shenanigans.

Some things, like suicides or assaults, are so horrible that you wish you could un-see them. Other things are delightful, such as marriage proposals. But what I saw the other night was unprecedented, and it was a pure joy to experience.

The reason I even bothered to look up is that I heard a shout. It didn’t sound like a shout of anger. It was more like a happy shout. Still, it got my attention.

And right there, in the glow of a street lamp, and (unfortunately) right in the middle of the bike lane, were two young men. And they were dancing.

You could tell that these two were close friends. There was a give and take going on that you only experience with people whom you trust. They were showing each other moves. They were teaching, and learning. They were having fun.

I didn’t have any boats on the horizon, so I doubted I would have to open the drawbridge anytime soon. I let them do their thing. They were out there for about two hours. I have no idea whether they were good or bad. Nor did I care. It was an entertaining way to pass part of my shift.

It did my heart good to see two people being able to let loose and have fun again. It was nice to see that kind of connection. It reminded me that people still need one another, and can do beautiful things, if given the chance. I wish I had had the opportunity to thank them for that gift, but by the end of my shift, they had already left.

I’ll leave you with a few videos of them. I didn’t want to intrude too much, so I kept them short. I wish I could have heard the music, but they were too far away.

Keep dancing, guys.

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Worlds on Walls

During this pandemic, and also due to a recent snowstorm that had me stuck in the house for 36 hours, I’ve been thinking a lot about people who are confined for various reasons, who don’t get to explore the wider world as much. There are inner city children who have never walked in the woods. There are people with limited imaginations who have never dreamed of life on another planet. There are those with health issues who may never get past the borders of their home, town or state.

My heart breaks for these people, because I genuinely believe that humans were born to be nomadic. We were meant to explore the wider world. We were given curiosity for a reason.

I will forever be grateful to artists who create murals. Murals break the boundaries. They reduce our confinement for one brief, shining moment. They spark our imaginations. They tell us of places we have never been, and introduce us to people we haven’t met. They take a flat surface and give it depth. They transform a drab cityscape into a colorful fantasy world. They transport us and transform us. Murals are windows to another world.

Here are some of the amazing murals that have been sent to me via friends in the Pokemon Go app lately. Enjoy!

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Astrology with an Agenda?

I just read an article entitled, “Meet the Woman Bringing Social Justice to Astrology”, and I am torn.

First of all, let me say that I’ve always taken astrology with a grain of salt. It’s fun to read horoscopes, but I don’t think our day’s fate is dependent upon one of twelve possible outcomes. I know I’m a Capricorn, and I feel like a Capricorn, but I’d like to believe I have more control over my life than the stars and planets seem to allow. I feel like more of a product of my life experiences and the choices I have made than anything else.

So, when I read that a very popular astrologer named Chani Nicholas combines social justice messages with her astrology, I thought, well… Yeah, okay. Apparently, she does things like urge action related to net neutrality, the MeToo movement, the border wall, DACA, sexual violence prevention, voting, and things of that nature.

My gut instinct was to think, “How dare you push your agenda as a prediction for my life?” But then I realized I kind of like her agenda. I’m also a firm believer in raising awareness about causes. And let’s face it: everyone who writes has some sort of an agenda, including yours truly.

Of course, her stance does tend to ruffle feathers, and according to the article, her response to that is, “I’m a stranger writing something for a million people. Don’t take it too seriously. If it helps you heal or navigate through our current crises of humanity, great. If it doesn’t fit you, move on.”

From that angle, I say more power to her!

But.

Rightly or wrongly, lot of people really buy into the whole astrology thing. They do take it seriously. If Ms. Nicholas is posing as an expert on that subject, then her agenda has undue influence on true believers. That makes me uncomfortable. Just sayin’.

L0071319 Horoscope of Prince Iskandar. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Horoscope of Prince Iskandar, grandson of Tamerlane, the Turkman Mongol conqueror. This horoscope shows the position of the heavens at the moment of Iskandar’s birth on 25th April 1384. This is a fly leaf from the personal horoscope of Iskandar Sultan (died 1415), grandson of Timur, who ruled the province of Farsin, Iran. He is best known for his early military career and his patronage of the arts and sciences. Apart from being a horoscope, this manuscript is an exquisite work of art and an exemplary production of the royal kitabkhana ‘publishing house’ or ‘workshop’. The manuscript of 1411 is lavishly illustrated and reflects the efforts of a whole range of specialists: astronomers (among them Imad ad-Din Mahmud al- Kashi), illuminators, gilders, calligraphers and craftsmen, and specialists in paper-making. The manuscript was bought in Iran in 1794 by John H. Harrington, who had started his career as a clerk in the East India Company. In 1932, it was auctioned at Sotheby’s and bought for £6/15d by Sir Henry Wellcome who added it to his collection of Oriental books and manuscripts. 813/1411 Wellcome MS Persian 474 Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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It’s Cavernpeople, Thankyouverymuch.

Having just read an article entitled “Sheanderthal” in Aeon, yet another set of scales have fallen from my eyes. (Apparently I have quite a few of those.) I’d like to think that I view the world through a feminist lens, but it never occurred to me that our society has given female Neanderthals rather short shrift. It’s so easy to bow down to the patriarchy without even realizing you’re doing so.

Consider this: in the bulk of artistic depictions of Neanderthals, both in painting and sculpture, the person being depicted is a male. If a female appears at all, she is much smaller and subordinate, and is usually off on the periphery somewhere, doing, you know, housewifey, “less important” things. That is, if she isn’t being dragged into a cave by her hair. It’s quite appalling to have that insight.

The article mentioned above goes into detail about what we have learned, and also what we can infer about Neanderthal women. It’s quite fascinating. Here are some of the salient points.

First of all, most of us have been told that the first Neanderthal skeletons were found in the Neander Valley in Germany in 1856. Hence their name. But in fact, with hindsight, we now know that the first Neanderthal skull ever found came from Gibraltar in 1848, and it turns out that it was a female skull, but without DNA they just assumed it was male. Since her features weren’t as extreme, it was believed for many years that the skull shape was difficult to discern from the stone from which it emerged, so its identification as a whole new (old) type of human was overlooked. Isn’t that always the way? Even in skulls, we require male validation for something to seem true.

But hey, at least the female skull got to meet Charles Darwin, in 1863, which is more than any of us alive today can say. He was apparently quite delighted with the experience. It was only 4 years after his book, On the Origin of Species, had been published.

And we’re learning from the increasing number of skeletons that Neanderthal females were pretty much the same size as the males. Their features were generally softer, their eye ridges didn’t protrude as much, but pound for pound, they could give the guys a run for their money. I suspect not as much cave dragging actually went on as we once assumed. That makes me happy.

But based on muscle attachments of the bones that have been found, it is clear that there was a division of labor along gender lines. Men and women’s upper leg muscles were equally bulky, but men had more developed lower legs, and their upper arms were more developed than their lower arms. Female lower arms were stronger than their upper arms, and they were more symmetrical, suggesting that they did a lot of carrying, pushing and pulling.

This, coupled with the fact that women’s teeth show more wear, indicates that they did more hide-working. This work was labor intensive and time-consuming, and it’s often done around the fire, so it’s probable that women formed friendships with each other.

These friends may have helped each other during their most vulnerable moments: childbirth. (Even bonobos have been seen attending to each other in this way, even to the point of supporting the baby’s head as it comes out.) Neanderthal women had a 9 month gestation period, just like us. They could feel the baby kicking inside them, just like us.

Their babies were just as vulnerable and in need of constant care as our babies are. Their little bones were bulkier, and they had to eat more. Obviously, the women breastfed their children, and a study of tooth development indicates they did so for more than a year, although they started giving babies solid food around 7 months of age.

Neanderthal children lost their baby teeth sooner, and they entered puberty a few years before our children do. As they became more ambulatory, these children would probably hang out with other children, thus freeing the woman up for other sorts of work, just as happens in modern day hunter-gatherer cultures.

By studying hunter-gatherer cultures today, we can infer that Neanderthal girls had shorter menstruation periods, perhaps lasting 3 days. They were also sexually active, but of course it was unclear if they linked that activity with becoming pregnant. They did seem to understand how each person was related to the other, because only in small, isolated populations do we see rampant inbreeding in DNA.

It seems that Neanderthal women did hunt, but they focused on smaller, less dangerous game, probably because they had to take their children along with them, or they only wanted to leave the children with elderly babysitters for short periods of time.

What about higher culture? Art and religion? According to this article, Neanderthals did, indeed, create art. Rudimentary cave paintings, usually using red pigment and consisting of lines, dots and hand stencils, are found across Europe fully 20,000 years before Homo Sapiens arrived. Much of this art is located in deep, dark caves, which implies planning and bringing a light source. They were capable of symbolic behavior.

And according to this article, the Neanderthals held funerals, built complex structures, created tools and decorated themselves with bird feathers. They buried their dead, surrounding their graves with horns and bones, and often leaving artifacts with the bodies. In anticipation of an afterlife? Who knows? They did plan and carefully execute these burials. They must have loved the people they were burying. They must have thought about the circle of life. Does that constitute religion as we know it? Hard to say.

But it’s obvious that the Neanderthals weren’t the brutes that we’ve assumed they were for so long. I even vaguely recall reading somewhere that they made music and flossed their teeth, sort of. Go figure.

Why is all this important? Because, dear reader, it has been found that many of us have Neanderthal DNA within us, so they are us, just as we are them.

So now I have a new pet peeve. We all say cavemen, as if the women were mere afterthoughts, and as if living in a cave is not worthy of respect and automatically implies a primitive life. Sheesh. It’s cavernpeople, thankyouverymuch.

Uh, guys? Where are the women?

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Even More Impressed with Amanda Gorman

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Amanda Gorman is the 22-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate who recited this amazing poem at Biden’s inauguration. The minute she opened her mouth, I was mesmerized. The words, the syntax, and the way she was moving her hands, it all seemed like a well-choreographed, artistic dance of mind, body, and spirit. That’s something you don’t normally see in one so young. That, and more superficially, I adored her coat and hat, and she’s absolutely beautiful.

From less than 6 minutes on stage, she has become America’s Sweetheart, and rightly so. She gives me hope for the future of this nation. We need more poets. (And isn’t it refreshing to have a leader who allows others to shine in his presence?)

The only criticism I’ve come across is that some folks think the poem should have rhymed. What are we? Three years old? Poems do NOT have to rhyme. I actually prefer the ones that don’t.

But what I just learned, from this article, is that Ms. Gorman has speech and auditory processing disorders, most likely from having been born prematurely. She struggles to pronounce and hear certain sounds. She has particular trouble with the letter R and SH. She was entirely incapable of pronouncing Rs until two or three short years ago. She actually took up poetry to help herself overcome these issues.

Now that you know that about her, listen to her recitation again. Knowing what you now know, it’s even more remarkable that she was able to do it so perfectly and while exuding so much self-confidence. I’m sure she is a role model to many. I am so impressed.

National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman reads her work, “An American Lyric,” at the inaugural reading of Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, September 13, 2017. Photo by Shawn Miller.

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Kulning

Starting in the middle ages, and right up until the current era, you could go to the mountainous forests of parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway and hear haunting melodies, each one unique to itself, echoing through the hills and valleys. These were the shepherds, traditionally women in those areas, calling to their cows, sheep, ducks or goats. Any creature with sense would gladly come home to those beautiful voices, as would I.

Now that I’ve heard these gorgeous sounds, like yodels from another realm, I can’t get them out of my head. They are siren songs. They’re primal. They reach the marrow of your bones. For a great example of Kulning, go here. If, after that, you are as hungry for more as I was, and if you’re patient enough to wait through the Swedish narrative, you can hear many more examples in this video.

Sadly, this way of life is dying out, and the valleys are much more quiet and introspective than they once were. Kulning has turned into an art form that one can experience in live performances, but if you’re lucky enough to actually see cows being sung home, it will be a rare treat, indeed.

It’s a very sad moment when the world loses a wondrous sound.

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The Headington Shark

I was cleaning out the bookmarks on my browser (sort of) when I came across an article from April of 2019 entitled, “’It went in beautifully as the postman was passing’: the story of the Headington Shark.

Honestly, I have no idea how I let this one slip through the cracks. I love public art, and I love, even more, people who zig when everyone else is zagging. This was a story that screamed out to be blogged about.

It appears that much of the neighborhood of Headington, in Oxford, U.K. is a place where all the townhouses look alike. I personally couldn’t live in an area like that. It would drive me nuts. And apparently the late Bill Heine, a writer and broadcaster and former student at Oxford, felt the same way.

Heine, the owner of the townhouse, commissioned his friend, John Buckley, a sculptor, to do something to liven the place up. He proceeded to install a 25 foot long shark on the roof, which looks as though it fell from a great height. That seems rather random.

The simple answer is that Heine really liked sharks, but he also wanted to make a statement about war, and about feeling helpless when unexpected things drop from the sky. According to Wikipedia, the work was unveiled on August 9, 1986, which was the 41st anniversary of America dropping a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki.

I think it’s a delight, and apparently I’m not alone. Tourists flock to the shark to this day. But the Oxford City Council was not nearly as amused. They tried to get it removed for reasons of safety, but upon professional inspection, the shark, which weighs about 440 pounds, is structurally sound. The federal government then got involved, and there were some public hearings, in which it was made quite clear that the shark had become a beloved resident of the community, where it still resides to this day.

Heine died in 2019 at the age of 74, and by that point his son had already bought the place to keep the shark safe. He now operates it as an AirBnB. Naturally I had to pop over to the website and check it out. It sleeps 12. It’s a beautiful place, not far from the city center. I was disappointed that the shark’s head doesn’t emerge from the ceiling of one of the rooms, but I suppose it would be rather hard to get a good night’s sleep under those circumstances. The place costs about 220 pounds a night to reserve, with a 3 night minimum, but it would definitely be a fun travel memory.

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Little Free Libraries at Every Turn!

I just read an article that filled me with glee. A little free library has been placed at the South Pole! That alone is amazing, but it’s even more so when you consider that that means there are now little free libraries on all seven continents! Isn’t that wonderful? We are united, it seems, in a love of reading and sharing.

These libraries come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen little free libraries made of hollowed out tree stumps, vending machines, newspaper boxes, refrigerators, phone booths, microwaves, and all sorts of creative wooden designs. Some, like mine, have living roofs. Some are miniatures of the houses they sit in front of. Some come with benches. Others double as food pantries. These libraries are only limited by the imagination.

Interested in having a little free library of your own? Check out this website for more information. Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, here are some pictures of the little free libraries I’ve encountered, along with some from other parts of the world that were sent to me via the Pokemon Go app. Enjoy!

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