Honoring a Native Son

Charles M. Schulz was born in Minneapolis and grew up in St. Paul.

During a recent visit to Minneapolis/St. Paul, I kept seeing statues of various characters from the comic strip Peanuts everywhere. You know. Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the gang. And Snoopy. Especially Snoopy.

When I think of Charles M. Schulz, the comic strip’s creator, I have always thought of California. I knew he had lived in Needles, California (home to Snoopy’s cousin Spike in the comic strip) for about 2 years as a child. I drove through there in 2007, during an epic Route 66 road trip. It struck me as a bleak, dreary, depressing place to live. It’s in the Mojave Desert, and still has a population of less than 5,000 people to this day. I can imagine that Needles contributed to the lonely, melancholy tone of Schulz’ comic strip. I also know there is a Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, and I hope to visit it one day.

But it turns out that, aside from that brief Needles residency of his youth, he didn’t move to California until he was 36. He lived there until his death at age 77. Even though he spent more years in that state than any other, I learned on this recent trip that he was born in Minneapolis and grew up in St. Paul. That’s a very good reason for those cities to be proud.

So I’ll leave you with the many iconic Peanuts statues that I encountered during my visit. Enjoy!

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The Minneapolis Institute of Art

It would practically be a crime to pass up an opportunity to visit this museum.

Recently, Dear Husband and I attended a wedding in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had never been to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Frankly, it had never occurred to me. I was pleasantly surprised by it, though. Granted, we arrived during that sweet spot after the horrific winter, yet before the horrific mosquito season, so we saw these cities at their best.

Since the area was new to me, we decided to stay several extra days to explore. We saw a lot of really amazing things that will result in more than a few blog posts, I’m sure. But today, I’ve decided to write about one of the many highlights of this trip: The Minneapolis Institute of Art.

While doing research for this trip, I came upon several lists. You know the kind. “The 27 things you really should see while visiting xyz.” And on every one of these lists, at the very tippy top, was the MIA. This gallery has over 90,000 pieces of art, covering a span of 5,000 years, from various cultures throughout the world. These lists suggested that you allow anywhere from 90 minutes to half a day for your visit, but if you can walk away after just 90 minutes, you have no soul.

This is one of the largest art museums in the United States, and it’s spectacular. There’s an entire section dedicated to contemporary art, which is a favorite category of mine, and it also houses some very well-known artists of the past, such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, El Greco, Miro, Matisse, Monet, Kandinsky, O’Keefe, Cezanne, Rembrandt and Titian. And the best part? Admission is free. It would practically be a crime to pass up an opportunity to visit this museum if you’re anywhere near Minneapolis.

But enough of my gushing adjectives. I’ll leave you with a few of the hundreds of photos that we took in the various exhibits, in no particular order. And if you’d like to explore some of the art from home, check out this page on the museum’s website.

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Street Art in Seattle

The most livable cities have an abundance of public art.

I have often maintained that the most livable cities have an abundance of public art. And by that I mean planned, community-sponsored art with the purpose of beautifying city spaces, not random, destructive tagging that crops up overnight and adds to the visual chaos. There’s enough chaos in the world without adding to it.

My city has some amazing art, and that’s probably due in part to being in Washington State, which actually has legislation that requires the acquisition of works of art for all public buildings and lands. Any time a public building is built, one half of one percent of the cost goes toward this art. Some say this is too much. Others say it’s not enough. Check out the ArtsWA website for more information and decide for yourself.

I think this art makes a huge difference. As I drive around Seattle, I’m often treated to unexpected artistic delights, and they never fail to brighten my day. I was having a slow shift, so I started poking around on my department’s shared computer drive, and I came across these great photos of some of the area street art in three locations.

Since the organization that I work for is a public entity, these photos are available via public records request, but you’d have to know they were there to ask for them, and I only stumbled upon them by accident myself. These photos were taken in the mid 1990’s, so I’m not even sure this particular art is still there, but I thought I’d share some of it with you so you could share the smile it has put on my face.

Have a colorful and creative day, dear reader!

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Petroglyphs in the Valley of Fire

That park is a petroglyph mecca.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love a good petroglyph. Because of this, during a recent visit to Las Vegas, I made a point of visiting the Valley of Fire State Park, which is about an hour’s drive northeast of the city. I wrote about the park in general last week, but today I’m going to focus on the rock art specifically. That park is a petroglyph mecca. I saw hundreds during my visit, and I have no doubt that I overlooked many more.

Two of the oldest rock art-stewn locations in the park are Atlatl Rock and the aptly named Petroglyph Canyon. The first is a short walk from a parking lot, and a climb up some steel stairs. The second involves a moderate 0.75 mile hike. I’ve never reached petroglyphs so easily in my life.

Some of these petroglyphs are up to 4000 years old, from a time when the Gypsum People camped in the valley and hunted for bighorn sheep. Younger petroglyphs may have been created by the Basketmakers or the Ancestral Puebloans, both of whom also came here to hunt and hold ceremonies. The Southern Paiutes have farmed this area since 1100 AD, and some of this art could be theirs as well.

Humans do love to make their mark. We can’t be certain of the exact meaning of these symbols, which were scratched into the desert varnish that coats many of the rocks. Were they messages? Records of significant events? Myths and legends? Spiritual visions? They weren’t graffiti, as it’s clear they were powerful cultural symbols. The mystery of it all has always intrigued me.

One thing I wish I had read about the petroglyphs in the Valley of Fire before I saw them is this brief article in Atlas Obscura, which would have greatly improved my understanding of what I was looking at. The article states, “Visitors with a keen eye will find a hierarchy in the petroglyphs, with those closest to the ground representing everyday activities and symbols like water. Those above are mostly dedicated to hunting and the highest layer seems to hold ritualistic petroglyphs with shamans and religious symbolism.”

Even without that information, though, I still found myself gazing at the work in awe. The first petroglyphs we came upon were on Atlatl Rock, which is so close to the park’s entrance that you get there before arriving at the park’s visitor center. It’s a great introduction to the park that makes you anticipate the wonders to come. The rock is so named because one of the topmost symbols seems to be that of a man holding an atlatl, which is a device that allowed people to throw spears farther, faster, and more accurately. It was a groundbreaking innovation at the time.

These petroglyphs are high on the rock, so the State of Nevada was kind enough to provide a stairway. I’ve always wondered how these artists reached such heights. It’s not like wood was readily available in the desert for ladders or scaffolds.

But once you’ve climbed the stairs, there’s the art. It’s almost close enough to touch, although you shouldn’t. Some fool scratched some modern day graffiti into it, which goes to show that many people aren’t born with respect or common sense. But once you’ve absorbed that cultural insult, the original art leaves you speechless.

Having said that, I’ll let the art on Atlatl Rock speak for itself.

From there we went to the visitor center, and I am grateful, in retrospect, that I took a picture of one of their interpretive displays about a particular petroglyph, because when we went a mile further up the road and hiked into Petroglyph Canyon, that very ‘glyph was one of the first that we came upon. It was kind of fun to have the ranger’s interpretation close at hand.

But this Canyon had much more art in store for us. I found myself grateful that this particular hike was not a loop. You go out to a place called Mouse’s Tank and then come back the same way. In looking at the canyon from the opposite direction, you discover a lot more art on the back side of rocks that you had previously walked right past, oblivious to their wonders.

During that hike, some tourists apparently took my intense interest in these petroglyphs as some sort of expertise, so one of them said to me, “What’s the difference between a petroglyph and a hieroglyph?”

I love questions. They give me the opportunity to overshare. So I smiled and said something like, “Well, for starters you are much more likely to find hieroglyphs in Egypt.”

I then went on to tell them that petroglyphs are scratched or pecked into rock, pictographs are painted on rocks and are often found in caves, and hieroglyphs are carved in rock as well, but they usually represent a word, syllable or sound. And Egypt isn’t the only culture that used heiroglyphs. We know that hieroglyphs are writing systems. Petroglyphs seem to be more abstract and symbolic.

Here are but a few of the many petroglyphs we were treated to in Petroglyph Canyon.

Even though we’ll never know exactly what these ancient people were trying to tell us, when I view their work, I can imagine the artists standing right where I am at that very moment. We are in the same space, separated only by time. I can almost feel them. Their shadows flit at the corners of my eyes. If time could be overcome, perhaps we could communicate in some way.

If only that were possible. What a gift that would be! I have no doubt that they’d have much more to teach us than we would have to teach them.

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Creativity in Blue

The most popular color on earth.

At the time I wrote this, I was very, very sick. (Not to worry, though. This was quite a few weeks ago. I’m feeling much better now.) I was feeling so miserable at the time, though, that I was finding it hard to think on all but the most fundamental levels. This was not the time to work on my calculus.

I missed 7 days of work, and when I wasn’t feeling deeply sorry for myself, I was bored out of my mind. I hadn’t left the house in over a week. I couldn’t even catch up on my reading, because every time I read, I fell asleep. I slept a lot. And yet I had to come up with a blog post.

So here it is.


The most popular color on earth. It’s calming, relaxing, and symbolizes trust and loyalty. You can learn a whole lot more about it on this fascinating website that discusses the meaning of various colors.

When I’m sick or sad or at my wit’s end, I find that art comforts me. Unfortunately, sickness is not conducive to going to galleries. If I was to have any artistic comfort at all, in this case the mountain would have to come to Muhammad.

I’m so grateful to the internet for bringing the world to me when I can’t be out in the world. Even when sick as a dog, I still managed to get my art on. Without that I would have lost my mind.

Here is some of the art that was presented to me via friends on Pokemon Go during my illness. The common denominator is blue. It might not be the most important color in each piece. It may not even be working in the foreground. But it’s there. None of these images would be the same without blue.

So enjoy. Meanwhile, the me who wrote this weeks ago is going back to bed. I hope I dream in color.

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The Fate of the Art from Guantanamo Bay

We are unwilling to loosen our grip on these men for even a second.

I was casting about for some good news, because, you know, one can only take so much. One of my most reliable sources thereof is the Good News Network. I find it interesting that much of the good news that they share gets very little press elsewhere. It’s as if mainstream media finds that good things aren’t noteworthy.

While browsing through the stories on that site, I came across one that intrigued me quite a bit. I love art, and I’m a firm believer in freedom of expression, and this story ticks both boxes. It was entitled, “Pentagon Reverses Ruling on the Release of Art Made by Guantanamo Bay detainees.”

As proof positive that humans are complex, I was astounded to discover that there are quite a few talented artists amongst the Guantanamo Bay detainees. That someone can be an alleged terrorist and still create beauty in the world is a little hard to comprehend. Our government would prefer that we view these men as evil personified, completely devoid of any shades of grey. It’s less messy that way.

Naturally, we all now understand that a lot of these men, who have been detained in Guantanamo for decades without even being formally charged, may not even be criminals. But even those who are innocent must be awfully bitter by now. And yet their creativity never dies, even though art supplies are awfully thin on the ground.

Apparently, released prisoners had always been allowed to take their art with them, and even have their work displayed in art exhibitions. Then along came Trump. I’m sure he couldn’t stand the idea that something might be improving the morale in Guantanamo. He couldn’t have that. And it must have been annoying to him to discover that, unlike him, most adults know how to color within the lines

So in 2017 it was declared that all art made by the detainees was actually property of the US Government, and couldn’t be displayed at all. This flies in the face of copyright laws, but Guantanamo is where laws and human rights go to die. It is also a blatant disregard of freedom of expression. And it’s rather ironic that these detainees, who haven’t even been formally charged with anything, can be so restricted when even American Death Row inmates can share their art with the wider world.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that any art that depicted the layout of the prison should be released to the public. I’d also be hesitant to allow art that releases the names of other prisoners or the names of prison guards. Security should be foremost.

But as you can see from the images included in this article, most of the art isn’t even political, let alone a threat to national security. All you see in these works is quite a bit of talent. I want to see what else these men have created.

So it’s good news that much of the foolishness regarding the Trump era restrictions have been reversed. But according to this article, the pentagon kept their wording vague enough to where they can still exert as much control as they want, at any time. For example, prisoners can now take their work with them, but it must be a “practicable quantity”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. And that quantity will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

And even though the art (or some quantity thereof) will now get to remain with the artists, the Department of Defense still considers it all to be the property of the US government. So it’s hard to tell if these artists will be able to profit from their work or not. Even on the issues that would have minimal impact on our country, but would mean everything to the artists in queston, we are unwilling to loosen our grip on these men for even a second. Absolutely not.

So is this still good news? Yes. Kind of. In theory. Let’s see how it goes in practice.

But I have to say that any glimmer of hope that our humanity is starting to creep back in is welcome news to me.

Untitled work by Ammar Al-Baluchi (currently detained at Guantánamo) 

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Far from the Cutting Edge

I had never heard of The 1975. That’s in keeping with my tendency toward cultural cluelessness.

Twice a week I work swing shift, and that means that I’m driving home at 11pm. I actually enjoy these 40 minute commutes, because on those days, my local NPR station, KUOW, plays a CBC show called Q with Tom Power. I never know what to expect from this show, because it focuses on pop culture, and that’s a subject that would never make me win Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit. I think this comes from a combination of being 58 and being autistic. I will never be accused of having my finger on the cultural pulse.

Having said that, I have to admit that Tom Power is the best interviewer that I’ve ever heard. He never fails to ask unique and intriguing questions that no other interviewer would even contemplate. Even if I’m not particularly interested in the artist, writer, actor or musician that he’s speaking to, I am always charmed by Power’s avenue of inquiry. I love the way his mind works.

It’s also quite obvious that Power always does his homework prior to interviewing someone. (There’s nothing more irritating than listening to lazy interviewer speak to an author, for example, when it’s blatantly obvious that he hasn’t even bothered to read the book. Power will never be accused of that.) He is so professional and confident in his research that he never seems rattled if the interview ends up heading in a fascinating yet unexpected direction. I get the impression that he doesn’t operate from a preplanned list of questions. He just thoroughly schools himself, and then allows his subjects to take him wherever they want to go. His research means he can hang with them regardless.

Quite often he’ll allow us to eavesdrop on what feels like intimate, personal chats with people so famous that even I know who they are. Michael J. Fox. Neil Young. Hugh Jackman. Bono. Rosie Perez. Bruce Springsteen. Laura Dern. Bonnie Raitt. Neil Gaiman. Dionne Warwick. Margaret Atwood. Ralph Macchio.

Since Power is based in Toronto and his show comes from CBC, many of his subjects are Canadian. Because of this, he sometimes introduces me to very talented people who are quite popular in Canada, but not as well known in America. One such artist is Buffy Sainte-Marie. I love her music, and have heard a few of her songs, but I wasn’t familiar with her extensive body of work. Now I’m a huge fan. I love being introduced to a whole new (to me) playlist. A fun fact about her is that she helped Joni Mitchell break into stardom back in the day.

But when I tuned into Q the other night, I felt as though I had accidentally stuck my head into a different universe entirely. They say that fish don’t realize they’re in water until the first time they jump out of it. That was the kind of disconcerting sensation I was having.

Tom Power was interviewing Matty Healy, a member of an English pop rock band called The 1975. You can listen to the interview here. (Americans, don’t even bother trying to access the interviews and videos from the CBC website. Apparently only Canadians are allowed access. But this site allows you to at least hear the audio of hundreds of his interviews, and is well worth exploring.)

The 1975 have done 1,030 concerts worldwide in the last 20 years. Power called them one of the biggest rock bands in the world today, and declared them a cultural touchstone. Healy talked about performing in front of 90,000 people. I wasn’t able to confirm that, but I do know (now) that they’ve had concerts in venues that seat at least 20,000 people. This band has won a lot of awards, including British Album of the Year in 2019, and they have been nominated yet again for 2023.

I must be waaaay out of touch with this touchstone, because until I heard this interview, I had never heard of The 1975 in my entire life. You’d think they were the modern-day Beatles or something. (They are, after all, a group of 4 chart-topping Brits.) But this is news to me. Could my head really be buried that deeply in the sand?

Their most successful single, Chocolate, sold 1.5 million chart units (which includes a combination of streaming and downloads). You can listen to their top three singles here. They’re catchy. I can see why they’re popular. They’ve got a good beat and you can dance to them, as the saying goes. But the music is a little too electronic for my taste, and the lyrics are all but impossible for me to discern without a cheat sheet that allows me to read along.

Wow, but I’m feeling old. In fairness, I am about 40 years older than the typical fans of The 1975. But from reading the gushing comments about them on various forums, they also resonate with people my age. So maybe it’s less about my age and more about my general tendency toward cultural cluelessness.

Either way, it must be a strange feeling to be that famous and then run into someone like me who doesn’t know or care about your notoriety. I can attest to the fact that it’s s a very strange feeling to learn for the first time about a band that at least 1.5 million people have known about for years. It makes me wonder (yet again) what else I’m missing.

Nice to meet you.

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Two Very Special Books

These books contain messages that every child needs to hear.

Every once in a while, a package will arrive at my door that I wasn’t anticipating. After a brief bit of head scratching, I realize that it must be from a friend, relative, reader, or patron who supports Clark Lake Park Little Free Library.

It is always very exciting to open these packages. It feels like it’s my birthday, even though I know that the gift is not really for me as much as it is for a child in my community. The satisfaction I receive from providing books to people who might not otherwise get to read them is gift enough on my end.

Once I’ve placed these books in the little free library, I have to trust that they will ultimately reach the hands of someone who really needs them. Perhaps these books will be returned to me later, for yet another child to enjoy, or these books will be so loved that they will be kept and read over and over again. Perhaps they will get passed down to a younger sibling in time, or they will be placed in some other little free library somewhere else in the world, to be enjoyed by yet another child. It’s like sending out a message in a bottle that says, “Sail on a sea of books!” without knowing for sure who will read it.

Oh, and true confession: I tend to read these books before sending them on their magical and mysterious journeys. I love children’s books. I love their positive messages and their amazing artwork.

My most recent package contained two very special books indeed. I couldn’t be more grateful to the friend who sent them to me. I can’t wait to put them out in the library! And these two books really resonated with me. I highly recommend them.

The first is Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o. This author is a wonderful Kenyan actress that you may have seen in 12 Years a Slave. She received the Academy Award for best supporting actress for that one. She was also in Black Panther, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Us.

As talented as she is as an actress, she also writes an amazing story. It’s about a young girl named Sulwe who feels like she doesn’t fit in. In her case, this is because her skin is so much darker than that of her family or schoolmates. But this delightful story, which is beautifully illustrated by Vashti Harrison, goes on to take Sulwe on a wonderful journey that reveals just how beautiful she truly is, inside and out.

This book brought tears to my eyes. As an autistic person, I know what it is like to feel like you don’t fit in. I know how lonely and painful it is to feel that way. This book was a balm to my soul. So if you know a child who is struggling with her, his, or their differences, whatever they may be, please get this book and read it to them, over and over again.

The second book is The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. It’s a true story that will restore your faith in humanity while also being valuable resource for preparing children for the real world. It’s a book that will help you discuss some harsh realities with your children in age-appropriate ways.

It’s the story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, a man who loves his country, and watches in despair as it is all but destroyed by war. But he refuses to leave Aleppo, even though so many have been forced to do so, because it is his home. Although he may feel helpless about what is happening to Syria, he decides to do what he can.

As the city is increasingly deserted, he notices the hundreds of cats that people have had to leave behind, and he decides to care for them. He creates a sanctuary, and people all over the world send money to help feed them. After that, he starts rescuing even more animals. Next he builds a playground for the children of Aleppo. Then he digs a well to provide people with water.

Alaa is a man who sees overwhelming tragedy and injustice and violence all around him, and he can’t do anything about much of it, but he still does what he can. And by doing what he can, he discovers that he can do even more than he imagined. That is a message that every child needs to hear.

I highly recommend this book. And if you choose not to purchase it, you can still be a force for good by supporting Alaa in all his good works. Go to his website and contribute what you can. It will help more than you imagine.

This unexpected package containing these two wonderful books, like so many packages that have arrived before it, has reinforced my belief in the power of books to educate, inform, comfort and inspire. Every book broadens your horizons. Every story allows you to view the world in a new way. The more information you have, the more you can think critically and draw your own conclusions about what you should value. There is no downside to reading.

 If you would like to put a smile on the face of a child in my community, please visit my Children’s Books for Clark Lake Park Little Free Library wish list on Amazon.com, and do what you can. I love to know who sends me such packages, but you can remain anonymous if you prefer. Either way, on behalf of children learning to love books, I thank you for your support.

Looting in Plain Sight

For the current possessors of plunder, repatriation does not appear to be a topic of discussion.

If you’ve ever been to any museum or art gallery anywhere on the planet, odds are quite good that you’ve looked at something that has been stolen from its rightful owners. Colonialists the world over have looted, pillaged, and plundered with impunity, because they believe the world is theirs to exploit and profit from. For the current possessors of such booty, repatriation is quite often a dirty word. (And I find it ironic that these organizations often charge the general public a good bit of their hard-earned money to gaze upon these stolen goods.)

I firmly believe that things should be returned to their rightful owners. Unfortunately, that gets rather complicated in practice. I’ll give you one such dilemma that I stumbled upon quite by accident, and afterwards I’ll hit you with some questions about how these situations should be handled in general.

I must confess that even at my ripe old age, I still play Pokemon Go. One aspect of that game is the ability to exchange “gifts” with other players around the globe. These are in the form of digital postcards. They’re often photographs of points of interest, and if you’re lucky, someone has taken the time to write a description thereof. This is my absolute favorite part of the game. It’s like traveling without leaving your own home. Every day, I get “postcards” from Japan, Hong Kong, India, Brazil, and Spain.

Last week I was getting my Pokemon Go on, so to speak, when I received the following postcard from a Pokemon friend who is from Louisiana. My first thought was, “What the heck is a Buddha statue doing in Louisiana?” Many more thoughts would follow.

The person who created this postcard was kind enough to type out, verbatim, the inscription placard that is below the statue. It says, “This Buddha was built for the Shonfa Temple located northeast of Peking by the order of Emperor Hui-Tsung (1101-1125). Its builder was Chon-Ha-Chin, most noted of ancient Buddha makers. The temple was looted by a rebel general who took the statue as part of his loot and sent it to New York to be sold … The statue came to the notice of two friends of E.A. McIlhenny who purchased it and sent it to him as a gift in 1936.”

Seriously? This statue was knowingly taken from its intended place, passed through several hands, and now it’s proudly displayed in Louisiana, and the owners/accessories-after-the-fact don’t even bother to hide this information? It’s right out there for the whole world to see. “Look what we got!”

Naturally, I had to learn more. The postcard didn’t say exactly where in Louisiana this Buddha patiently sits. But since those who run the venue are blatant and proud of having this loot, they weren’t hard to track down. I simply dragged the image into Google images, and voila! The kidnapper’s lair was uncovered!

This statue has pride of place on Avery Island, which is located on the Louisiana coast southwest of Baton Rouge. If you look on a map, it would be quite understandable if you didn’t realize the place was an island. It’s a salt dome that is surrounded by bayous, marshes, and swampland, so technically, yeah, it’s an island. But much of its boundary is comprised of what looks like a drainage ditch that you could easily jump over, if you don’t have the good sense to be mindful of alligators and poisonous snakes.

Having never stepped foot in Louisiana, I had never heard of this island, so of course I did some homework. The place does have a fascinating history. Currently, about 124 people live there, but a lot of tourists come to visit the island, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

First, the island was a sugar plantation that was operated by about 100 slaves. Then, strangely enough, a nutria farm was established there. The culprit was Edward McIlhenny. While this family is known for its environmentalism, the nutria is one of the most ecologically harmful invasive species on the planet, and this guy released “a large number” of these nutrias into the wild, and their descendants plague the south to this day.

During the Civil War, Avery Island was home to a salt mine that supplied the confederacy with 22 million pounds of salt. Right after the war, in 1868, Edmund McIlhenny invented Tabasco Sauce, and you can still tour the factory, which continues to crank out the hot stuff for a spice-loving public.

Even more interesting for tourists, in my nature-loving opinion, is Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre venue on what used to be the McIlhenny estate. It looks like a beautiful place, well worth a visit, although I wouldn’t do it in the middle of summer. Way too hot.

The site is also used for events and weddings. Much of the garden was built to highlight the stolen Buddha. Buddhists sometimes come here to worship.

I don’t mean to imply that the McIlhennys did the actual stealing of this statue. But if they knew enough about it to be able to compose the placard that tells its history, then they were most definitely complicit. If someone steals the key to a house, and then gives you the key as a gift, that doesn’t mean you have the right to go in there and make yourself at home.

That placard gives us many clues about the statue’s provenance, so I decided to do a little sleuthing to figure out where it came from. First, the Shonfa Temple is mentioned, and it is said to be northeast of Peking. I Googled the temple and came up empty. However, there is a Chongfa Temple that was ransacked during the late 1800’s, but it is southwest of Beijing (Peking), not northeast. But the description might have gotten that backward. Further, the Emperor Huizong (anglicized as Hui -tsung) figures prominently in this temple’s history.

I could not find a thing about Chon-Ha-Chin, but given the other slight errors, and the fact that at the time the English spellings of Chinese names left much to be desired, it’s not surprising that I couldn’t find him.

The rebel general who did the looting was not named, but there was quite a bit of plundering going on during the Taiping Rebellion. I find it interesting, though, that said general would send the statue to New York to be sold, and yet no one knew his name. I’d think it would be much more likely that he sold it to some rich white guy who then brought it to New York. It is said that the statue languished in some warehouse for many years until two friends of the McIlhennys found it and thought it would make a great gift for them. It came to Avery Island in 1936.

And there the statue sits to this day. If it could talk, I wonder what it would have to say about the slavery and the nutrias and the Tabasco sauce and the tourists. Its surroundings are lush and beautiful, and it’s obvious that it is much loved. It’s the Jungle Garden’s most prized possession, but I still believe that they have no right to keep it.

But here’s where it gets sticky. History changes much. Even if Chongfa Temple is Shongfa Temple, most of that temple is no longer standing, and what remains is now a tea house. Should it go there?

In addition, while Buddhism is still popular in China, its history with the communists is fraught with violence, destruction, and suppression. Currently, Buddhism is tolerated, but it’s hardly official. And who knows when that tide will turn, and in which direction? Lest we forget, a fair amount of the ransacking of that nation was done by the Chinese themselves. Wherever this statue goes, it should be kept safe, and there’s no guarantee that that will be the case in today’s China. Just ask the people of Tibet.

But who gets to decide what is appropriate for this statue? It hasn’t exactly been safe in Louisiana either. Some fool tourist decided that it would be fun to break off its right earlobe. It’s a strange world we live in.

I don’t think Jungle Gardens or the Chinese Bureaucracy has the moral authority to make a decision about any of this. But then, who does, and based on what criteria? The ghosts of the past seem to be keeping their own counsel, and I keep going back and forth on the subject.

This seems to be a dilemma that matters to nobody but me. I’m sure Jungle Gardens doesn’t want to broach the subject for fear of losing this lovely statue. I suspect the current Chinese Government doesn’t particularly care, because they don’t want to focus on Buddhism. And while the Dalai Lama may be the most famous Buddhist, that religion doesn’t have an official leader.

Meanwhile, the Buddha sits in whatever the Buddhist equivalent of limbo might be. He sees everything, patiently waits, and judges not. But there’s plenty of judgment to go around.

Additional Sources:

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My Exploration of Mystery Flesh Pit National Park

If only it had not chosen to engage in a premature geobiological consumption event which resulted in such a catastrophic loss of human life.

Longtime readers already know how much I love our national parks. I wish I had the time, money, and stamina to visit every single one of them. I’ve learned a lot about our country with each new park encounter.

While researching parks that I have yet to visit, I happened to stumble upon one called Mystery Flesh Pit National Park. Naturally, discovering that there’s a park I’d never even heard of intrigued me quite a bit. I had to learn more.

This park, sadly, can no longer be visited. Its history is rather tragic. In the early 1970’s, we are told, James Jackson, an oilman, stumbled upon what turned out to be a large geobiological orifice just outside of Gumption, Texas. He decided to explore said orifice, and the subterranean superorganism turned out to be so large that it couldn’t be accurately measured. As is often the case, man’s first instinct is to profit off all discoveries, and the Mystery Flesh Pit was no exception.

Enter the Anodyne Corporation, which, post-catastrophe, was renamed the Permian Basin Recovery & Superorganism Containment Corporation. They saw the opportunity for great riches by mining the site’s organic resources, and while conducting their extraction operations, they enlarged and reinforced the organism, and opened it to tourists in 1976. It became part of our national park system in the early ‘80’s and was a very popular destination, but it had to close because of a horrific tragedy that occurred in 2007.

You can read the very detailed and extremely technical government disaster report here, but if I’m reading it correctly, a freak combination of a great deal of rain which caused an overflow of water inside critical sections of the superorganism, combined with a power failure and the inability of some very poorly maintained pumping equipment to keep up with the water volume, caused a choking action and subsequent vomit response within the superorganism at a time when there were an increased number of visitors within it due to holiday celebrations.

That tragedy resulted in the death of 750 visitors, and an additional 1,800 people were seriously injured. (I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your last conscious moments on earth be consumed with the fact that you’re essentially being digested and/or masticated.) To make matters worse, 18,000 residents of Gumption County were left with some horrific side effects due to the gastric ejecta which flew, well, just about everywhere.

But even worse than the loss of human life is the loss of such a precious natural resource for the American people. While it’s understandable that the federal government wants to avoid future gastric disasters, especially since it’s unknown if this superorganism, when sufficiently agitated, might become ambulatory, the end result is that park lovers like you and me will never again be able to visit this unique location.

If you approach the site of the former park now, you are presented with a tall electric fence and a warning sign that says, among other things, “Stop! This area has been quarantined for YOUR safety!” “Over 582 people have died attempting to commune with the superorganism.” (Which proves this sign is woefully out of date.) And, perhaps most startling, “There is nothing beyond this fence worth dying for.”

But there is a silver lining to this cloud. Mystery Flesh Pit National Park’s legacy is an extremely comprehensive internet archive that is not only educational, but also allows you to delve almost as deep into the ecosystem as you would have if you had been able to enter its big, fleshy maw to go exploring like so many others have done.

If you visit this archive, click on everything you see, because things that don’t necessarily look like links often lead you to yet another page, with yet more links that yield troves of fascinating information. I have, on more than one occasion, lost 3 or 4 hours wandering through this internet maze, learning something new every time. I highly recommend it.

There is entirely too much information to distill in this humble blog post, so, to whet your appetite, I’ll just introduce you to this one topic: The Fauna of the Permian Basin Superorganism. I hope these few fun facts will encourage you to delve into this archive in greater detail. You won’t regret it.

In my opinion, one of the most intriguing creatures that resides within the deeper portions of the superorganism is called a Gasp Owl. They are very elusive, so little is known about them. They congregate in broods and are easily frightened. They are called Gasp Owls because their breathing is quite labored, even in those specimens which seem otherwise healthy. I wonder if they used to keep the campers up at night? I suspect I wouldn’t get much sleep, knowing they were nearby.

Gasp Owls have often been mistaken for the fabled “Marrow Folk” on the rare occasion that they’ve been spotted by tourists.

Campers who overnighted within the deepest regions of the superorganism (surrounded by a mandatory electrical fence, of course) often surfaced with stories of hearing ritual chanting deep below. Sometimes they saw the shadows of creatures that could not be mistaken for any of the park’s many parasitic organisms. Scientists have found no conclusive evidence that Marrow Folk exist, but the chanting voices leave many unanswered questions. I wonder if any recordings of these chants are extant?

This historic national park flyer, which shows many of the parasitic organisms that tourists would often encounter in this unique ecosystem, gives you a small taste of how much we all can learn from this now defunct site. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate the numerous scientific inquiries that will now never reach credible conclusions.

Our nation, and in fact, the world, is diminished by our inability to enter the deepest bowels of this creature and conduct further study. If only it had not chosen to engage in a premature geobiological consumption event which resulted in such a catastrophic loss of human life. Contemplating the discoveries we will now never make is enough to make one weep.

For those of you who are gullible enough not to realize that this park is an extremely detailed and very hilarious work of fiction, here are a few sources that will explain how the whole Mystery Flesh Pit story has taken on a life of its own:

Please support Trevor Roberts, the creator of this amazing world, so that he can continue to entertain us with his wild imagination. Either buy some Mystery Flesh Pit merchandise here, or contribute to his patreon account. Thank you!

Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5