Poke Sallet

Here’s another ear worm for you (sorry Lyn): Polk Salad Annie, by Tony Joe White. (You might prefer the Elvis version, but I rarely prefer the Elvis version of anything.) I loved this song before I even understood what it was about.

But living in the South all those years ago, I finally stumbled across someone who knew about Poke Sallet. It’s also called Poke Salad by some, but I think Poke Sallet is the more common name, given that there are Poke Sallet festivals in various Southern towns even to this day. (I have no idea why they changed it to Polk Salad in the song, but there you go.)

It comes from Pokeweed, which grows throughout the South, and apparently in some parts of the North, too. If it’s prepared correctly, I’m told it tastes pretty good, like asparagus. But you’re not going to find it in the produce section at your grocery store, because if it’s prepared incorrectly, it can kill you.

That’s why I’m so shocked that there are still festivals out there in this litigious country. You can also find recipes on line, with no warnings. If the stuff doesn’t kill you when improperly harvested and/or cooked, it will make you vomit or get diarrhea or convulse for days, to the extent that you’ll wish you were dead. The berries can make your hands burn, too. One berry can kill a child, despite the fact that many types of birds can eat it with no problem. And the older the plant is, the more toxic it becomes.

But back in the day, for example, during the depression, many people survived on the stuff and knew how to make it (using only very young leaves way before the stem turns red, and boiling it three times, to name a few careful steps). People will eat anything when they’re hungry enough, and pokeweed was very easy to find. It still is, if you know where to look.

According to Wikipedia, it was once used to cure skin diseases and rheumatism, and was recommended for weight loss. (I’ll just bet it does make you lose weight, but at what cost?) And this article would have you believe it’s good for anything from mumps to AIDS to leukemia, but there’s really no medical evidence to support any of this.

Anyway, there you have it, for your next trivia contest.

Pokeweed

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Crazy Like a Fox

According to this article, Scientists recently put a tracking device on a female arctic fox that was less than a year old, and discovered that she traveled 2,176 miles in 76 days. That’s an average of 28 miles a day, but apparently on some days she covered more than three times that distance.

Many creatures migrate even farther than that, and with global warming, some creatures are being forced to migrate farther than ever before. But I’m impressed with this little vixen. For me, she’s a symbol of adaptation, survival, determination, strength, and abilities beyond my comprehension.

We have so much more to learn about the natural world. Maybe we might want to try not to destroy something that we know so little about. There’s a thought.

arctic fox.jpg

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Whale Wonders

Whales seem to be in the forefront of my mind today. Dear husband sent me a link to this amazing 7 minute video of orca’s cavorting in Dyes Inlet in my adopted state of Washington just last month. It’s delightful to watch. They slap their tails on the surface, they breach, they pop their heads up to spy on those of us who are unfortunate enough to be land-based mammals. There’s even a baby amongst them. It’s just a joyous group of orcas, doing their orca thing.

And then I read this fascinating article entitled, The ‘narluga’ is a strange hybrid. But it’s far from alone. It’s about a cross between a narwhal and a beluga. Scientists were able to confirm this because the Inuit hunter still had the skull, and they were able to get DNA from its strange teeth. Whereas a narwhal usually has the one tooth that grows out like a unicorn horn and a few teeth-like protrusions growing behind that, and belugas have 40 teeth, this skull had 18 teeth up front, some as twisty as a narwhal tusk. There were a few other strange findings about this skull, but I’ll let you read more about that in the article itself.

The article did go on to say that marine mammals seem to create hybrids a lot more often than we land dwellers do. It seems it’s a very sexually experimental world down there beneath the waves. And the exciting thing is not all of them are rendered sterile like hybrids usually are on land. (When donkeys and horses produce mules, for example, they can’t reproduce.) So it’s a mad, mad watery world.

Speaking of mad, though, I was very angry to hear that the Japanese are back to commercial whaling. But then I read this article, and this one, and was slightly comforted. It seems that they used to hunt whales for “research” and then they’d sell the meat. Now the government doesn’t want to subsidize the practice, so they’re allowing commercial fishermen to take it over on a much smaller scale, and that will get smaller each year, and will have to take into account that the average Japanese person doesn’t really have a taste for whale meat, and with the declining young population, they will be hard pressed to find the 300 fishermen they’ll need to keep it up, especially when other fishing industries pay a lot more.

Let’s hope this obscene industry dies a natural death. It’s only currently active on an industrial scale in Japan, Iceland, and Norway. But there is more money to be made from eco-tourism, there’s a better international reputation, and there are much more delicious things to eat for those who eschew whaling these days.

Also, I once mentioned in a blog post that belugas have been known to mimic the human voice. How can you hunt something that joyfully plays and is smart enough to mimic? How do you eat something that likes to sexually experiment? I ask you.

Non-smoking Narluga

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Stuckie

True confession: I’m equally drawn to, and repulsed by, the macabre. It has always been thus. I think it’s because when the disgusting exists in the world, I want to find out why and how.

Because of this, if I ever find myself in the vicinity of Waycross, Georgia again (please, God, no…) I will have to stop in to see the Southern Forest World Museum. I do love a good Environmental Center, and from the looks of it, this is a good one, indeed. It seems to get universally fantastic reviews, and the images on the website are intriguing.

But I’d go there mainly to see Stuckie. Poor, poor Stuckie. What a story.

Back in 1980, a chestnut oak was chopped down and sawed into logs, and then placed on a lumber truck. That’s when Stuckie was first discovered. He was a hound dog, and he was mummified in the hollow of the tree.

It’s estimated he had been trapped in that tree for at least 20 years when he was found. And he’s still in that tree to this day. He’s on display in the museum. (I first learned of him by reading the amazing book Lab Girl, which I highly recommend.)

We’ll probably never know how Stuckie got in that tree. The most plausible theory is that he chased a racoon and got stuck. I hope he didn’t suffer much. After that, it was perfect conditions, wind that blew away the smell of his dying body, which meant that destructive bugs weren’t attracted to the site, and dry conditions within the stump, that caused Stuckie to arrive at his present state. It sure makes me wonder what is inside the trees that I pass by every day.

I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the 50’s, some poor family lost a beloved member, and never knew why. They probably searched and searched, and maybe even came heartbreakingly close to finding him. That makes me very sad, indeed.

RIP Stuckie, if you can, with so many people staring at you.

Stuckie

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4th of July, 1054

We Americans can get awfully full of ourselves, especially on this, the most patriotic day of our year. Yes, three cheers for independence and freedom, and for fireworks and hot dogs on the bar-b-que. I do love all these things.

(Skip this paragraph if you’re as tired of righteous indignation as I am, but…) I won’t get into the fact that this country was occupied long before we came along, and that it’s been feeling a lot less free of late. I won’t rant about how the entire system is rigged for the 1 percent, and how we fight amongst ourselves rather than show that small percentage that by dint of sheer numbers, they shouldn’t be the powerful ones. And… blah, blah, blah.

Happy 4th of July.

But I did think that perhaps we might gain a little perspective by seeing that something else really amazing happened once upon a 4th of July. It’s something that most of us don’t even know about, but it was ever so much more spectacular than any fireworks display that we can put on.

I’m talking about SN1054.

Yeah, I know. That’s not a very gripping name. It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. But it certainly kicked some cosmic butt when it exploded.

According to Chinese astronomical records, July 4, 1054 was the first day that this supernova was observed from this planet. It was also recorded by the Japanese, and is found in a document from the Arab world as well. It may even be recorded in a pictograph by the Ancestral Puebloan people that is located in current day New Mexico. At a time when global communication didn’t exist, it seems that all eyes were focused skyward.

There was good reason for this. This supernova seems to have remained visible in the daytime sky for two weeks, and was still visible by the naked eye at night for two solid years before it finally faded. Can you imagine? Man, I’d have loved to have seen that!

And the best part about it is that even amateur astronomers can see the gorgeous remnants of this supernova today. It’s called the Crab Nebula. It’s in the constellation Taurus, and you can find a detailed description of how to spot it here, if you have access to a telescope. (Or you can cheat and use a star gazing app on your phone.)

The Crab Nebula is the first astronomical object that was ever identified with a historical supernova explosion, according to Wikipedia. That’s pretty impressive.

This gorgeous nebula is about 6,500 light years from us, and it’s estimated that the main star must have blown up about 7,500 years ago. But for me, at least, it will forever be associated with the 4th of July.

The Crab Nebula in Taurus

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The Crooked Story of the Crooked River Bridge

On the way home from our travels in Central Oregon, we were driving up highway 97, admiring the views of the many snow-capped dormant volcanoes visible in the distance. The area we were in was relatively flat, and had been for some time, but then, about 9 miles north of Redmond, Oregon, the scenery changed in a startling way. This deep, deep canyon opened up, just like that. This merited further investigation.

Fortunately, the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint is right by the highway, on the south rim of the canyon. And from there, you can also walk out on the Crooked River Bridge, which is 295 feet above the canyon floor. It’s a beautiful area. I was really glad we stopped. Check out this video about it.

Despite the beautiful surroundings, I got this odd vibe from the place from the very start. Perhaps it had something to do with this weird little sign in the parking lot.

Crooked Sign

I mean, yes, it’s a deep, deep canyon, and one should be careful. But this sign seems to indicate that a) dogs are more valuable than children, b) there isn’t a waist-high wall protecting you from the drop off, when in fact there is one, and c) an awful lot of Oregonians must be “helping” their valuable dogs over that wall to plunge to their deaths.

And then, to add to the strange atmosphere, there seemed to be more cars in the parking lot than people in the park. Where had all these folks gone? I shuddered to think.

But we did encounter two people. Along the path that leads to the cliff, there were a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses, armed with their ubiquitous pamphlets. This struck me as a rather odd place to stand if your goal is to increase your flock. We probably were the first people they had encountered in hours, and they could tell just by looking at us that they would be wasting their time even trying to talk to us, so they didn’t.

I don’t know. Maybe a lot of people go there who are in despair. It kind of bugged me to think that this duo was attempting to proselytize to people who are vulnerable. But I suppose any help is better than none. Perhaps their intentions were good. (I do tend to forget that, when crossing paths with people who are trying to convert me, because I would never presume to do that to someone else. I believe everyone should choose their own spiritual path.)

Anyway, then we approached the cliff. I was almost afraid to look down. I half expected to see a bunch of dogs along with the owners of the parked cars, all in a grisly, twisted heap. But no. Nothing but the beautiful river below.

After enjoying this view, we then walked out onto the Crooked River Bridge. This two lane bridge used to be highway 97’s bridge across the canyon, but traffic has since increased, and Oregon’s Department of Transportation began constructing the current highway bridge in 1990. I could imagine Model A Fords puttering across this old one, and it made me smile.

After we left, I still couldn’t shake the eerie feeling about the place, though. And then I started doing research for this post, and here’s what I discovered.

According to this article, in 1961, Jeannance Freeman and Gertrude Jackson decided that Jackson’s children were interfering with their love affair. So they took the children to this park. Jackson left the vehicle, and came back to discover that Freeman had stripped her son of all of his clothing and then beat him unconscious with a tire iron. Jackson then took off her daughter’s shirt. The couple then threw both children, still alive, off the bridge. (Fair warning about that article, though. There’s a rather disgusting image of what one assumes is the son, now inexplicably clothed, dead on the floor of the canyon.)

Jackson later turned state’s evidence and was sentenced to life in prison, while Freeman was sentenced to death. She was the first woman ever sentenced to death in Oregon. The sentence was later commuted to life. Jackson only served time for seven years, and Freeman was released on parole after 20 years, but violated that parole by threatening a new lover with a knife because she refused to go to the store to buy cigarettes. She died in prison in 2003.

So, yeah, that’s the crooked story of the Crooked River Bridge. Needless to say, none of that information was put on a cheerful little information placard in the park. It’s a place well worth visiting, but don’t be surprised if it feels a little bit off to you, for a variety of reasons.

Crooked River and its Bridge

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Flygskam

A friend of mine loves to travel, but vows never to fly anywhere ever again. This is not because of a fear of flying or a desire to avoid the dreaded TSA indignities, but because of the carbon footprint it leaves on the planet. According to this article in the Seattle Times, one roundtrip flight from Seattle to Rome emits the same amount of carbon per person as 9 months of driving in the average American car.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a horrifying statistic. I struggle with this concept every day. In Sweden the term for this type of flight shame is “flygskam”.

While I admire my friend’s commitment to the planet, I have mixed emotions about how small her world has become. In this era when nationalism is on the rise, bringing with it an increase in hate crimes, we need to broaden our horizons, not shrink them.

Perhaps if Trump had studied abroad in Mexico as I did, he wouldn’t have said, that “they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

I genuinely believe that it’s a great deal harder to demonize people when you’ve broken bread with them. I have no desire to wall a child off from safety when I’ve held one just like her in my arms. And I can’t close my mind and pretend that my way of living is the only right way since I’ve witnessed so many other people living differently and thriving in their own ways. I also truly believe that when I travel to other countries, I am helping those economies, and I am also acting as an ambassador to demonstrate that some Americans are good people, too. I think travel is essential.

So what to do to mitigate this flygskam?

In that same Seattle Times article, it mentions that Rick Steves is donating a million dollars a year to groups that help people who are negatively impacted by drought and famine. This will sort of offset the carbon footprint of the large number of people who fly with his tour groups to Europe each year. It’s a start.

But Should You Buy Carbon Offsets? That link suggests that this type of financial salve on your environmental guilt is akin to paying people to do the right thing so you don’t have to. Well, as with all things regarding this issue, it’s not quite that black and white. If you find a legitimate carbon offset, then you’re actually paying someone to do the right thing who couldn’t or wouldn’t have done so in the first place. That, to me, is a good thing. Because of this, I vow to pay 50 dollars in carbon offsets for every roundtrip international flight I take, and 25 dollars for every domestic one. But I can’t stop there.

The best way to reduce your carbon footprint in this world is to do it yourself. I’m committed to recycling, composting, threadcycling, getting energy efficient appliances, turning off lights, reducing my heating and cooling, buying locally, and eating less meat. I’m building a bug house. I’ve got a bat house. I’m also looking into wind turbines. The state of Washington is on the forefront of green burials, so I will have one when the time comes.

I also think that corporate travel needs to be drastically reduced. In this age of video conferencing and virtual reality, there’s no reason for the vast majority of it. And telecommuting needs to be considered for more jobs.

I think carbon neutral perfection is unobtainable. I have feet. I’m going to leave a footprint. But if I can do something, I will, and I must.

Takeoff

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