Life at the Ephrata Cloister

They slept on wooden benches that were 15 inches wide.

In my last post, The Ephrata Codex and the First Known Female Composers in America, I discussed an interesting compendium of music from 1746 that is currently housed in the Library of Congress. This music was originally created at the Ephrata Cloister in what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. These Germanic hymns are remarkable in their simplicity, and are very haunting and beautiful if you have a chance to hear them performed. (More details on how to do so can be found in that post.)

Deep within the pages of this beautifully illuminated codex, a scholar named Chris Herbert discovered that several of the compositions were attributed to three of the sisters who led celibate lives as part of the religious commune. These are now considered to be the first known written compositions by women in what is now America.

I wish we knew more about Sisters Hannah, Föben, and Katura. Currently it seems that all we know was that they lived to be about 79, 67 and 79 respectively, at a time when most women would consider themselves lucky to make it into their 40’s. Life in 18th century America tended to be unhygienic, brutish and short.

Think about it. According to this article, today, about 15 American women die in pregnancy or childbirth per 100,000 live births. That’s outrageous and says much about our broken health care system in this country. But in the 1700’s, when it wasn’t uncommon for women to have 8 children, the death rate was more like 1200 women per 100,000 live births. And by the last half of that century, long before reliable birth control, about one in three girls were already pregnant when they walked down the aisle.

Those are some scary statistics. Women must have felt like they had little choice but to play Russian Roulette with their ovaries. Most of them could expect to stare mortality in the eye several times throght the course of their lives. Under those circumstances, joining a celibate commune would be (sorry) a Godsend.

Joining the Ephrata community afforded a woman the opportunity to not have to focus on mere survival as most people did. Not only was the average woman raising a large family, she was preparing meals from scratch, making her own clothing, soap and candles, and fetching water for the laundry she had to do by hand. And if she found herself, by some misfortune, to be left as the only surviving parent, there were scant opportunities for her to make money. The only occupations that were common for white women back then were domestic service, childcare, gardening, and household production in the forms that I described above. (I specify white women because slavery was still very much in effect at the time and that’s another subject entirely. Suffice it to say that the lives of most black women were, at the very least, a thousand times more brutal.)

To make matters worse, that era was also plagued with smallpox, typhoid fever, dysentery, malaria, yellow fever, and measles. Often these maladies were brought on by unsanitary living conditions and made even more deadly by a dearth of formally educated medical professionals, especially outside of the larger cities.        

Clearly, most colonial women didn’t have time to consider composing music or producing art of any kind. It wouldn’t even have been on their radar. But the sisters who lived at Ephrata Cloister led different lives, indeed. Celibacy alone afforded those women a longevity that other women merely dreamed of. A longer lifespan meant more years to be musically and artistically creative. It makes me wonder whether all the sisters in this community were genuinely pious. This life sounds like a logical choice if you’re a woman living in that era and you want more out of life.

But that’s not to say that the sister’s lives were easy. They slept on wooden benches that were 15 inches wide, and they used wooden pillows. They slept in two 3 hour shifts per night, and usually ate one small vegetarian meal per day, often consisting of roots, greens, fresh baked bread and water. Witness reports say that the celibate sisters and brothers all looked thin and pale, but they appeared healthy.

The sanitation at the cloister was poor at best, and they were not able to bathe often. The white robes that they wore must have glowed in stark contrast to their dirty state. And yet I imagine those robes were a nightmare to keep clean as well.

When Sisters Hannah, Föben, and Katura and their fellow celibates were not composing, creating art, or praying, the sisters would spin thread, often to be woven into linen by the men at the fulling mill, in order to produce the cloth needed for the robes. They would also copy music and tend gardens. Brothers would run the water-powered saw mill, the grain mill, the paper mill, and the oil mill that extracted natural oils from seeds or oil rich vegetables. The brothers also, of course, built all the structures in the commune.

Their religious philosophies seem to have been rather unique. They believed that God had a male, wrathful side, embodied by Christ, but also a female side that was pure love and wisdom, and was embodied by someone called Sophia. The brothers and sisters were married to one side or the other, and therefore were expected to remain faithful to that spouse. Hence the celibacy.

The community’s collection of books subscribed to a wide range of ideas, including alchemy and astrology.  It seems that members of the community were not strictly bound to a rigidly defined creed. Some in the community believed in sacred visions, and that all parts of nature are intimately interconnected. One book on alchemy describes how to generate life from the lifeless. They also read about Gnosticism, Rosicrucianism, the Harmony Society, Hermeticism and Kabbalah.

You can peek inside some of their books on the Historic Ephrata Cloister’s website. One book, called The Golden Chain of Homer, includes a page in an unknown language.

The community also highly prized a book that opined that although the earth was round, its basic nature was cubic, and at its center lies the holy point of rest, also known as New Jerusalem. They also had a well-illustrated book that described the process of spiritual transformation on the body. Clearly these people were dedicated to seeking out the proper spiritual path for themselves, by any means necessary.

It appears that some members also practiced powwowing, which originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. It’s a folk magic tradition that includes aspects of folk religion and healing charms. (I was fascinated to learn that the term abracadabra is associated with powwowing.)

In this article about Chris Herbert’s discovery of the female composers in the cloister, he states that “Rules about worship changed frequently at Ephrata. At times devotees shaved their heads, at other times they slept only three hours a night. Treatises were written about what to eat in order to sing properly, and what to eat in general — no meat, no honey.”

The founder and spiritual leader of this community, Johann Conrad Beissel, seems to have been philosophically influenced by Radical Pietists and Mystics. He came to America from Germany in 1720 and was still forming his belief system when he was baptized by the Brethren-Anabaptists in 1724, but he eventually rejected the brethren when he decided that the Sabbath should fall on Saturday rather than Sunday. (Scandalous!)

By 1732 Beissel decided to move deeper into the Pennsylvania forest and become a hermit, stating that he had a distrust of organized churches. He wanted to lead a quiet life of contemplation, but friends who believed in his philosophies followed him and built homes near his. They called this place the Camp of the Solitary. Yet, oddly, many of them lived in shared dwellings.

Then came other followers who chose not to be celibate. They were called householders. They were couples who were farmers and craftsmen. They lived nearby, supported what became the cloister, and worshiped with the brothers and sisters, allowing them to have more time to compose and draw, and hold ceremonies that included the washing of feet.

When Beissel died in 1768, membership really started to decline. The last celibate member died in 1813. At its height, the community consisted of about 80 celibate men and women, and 200 non-celibate householders living on farms nearby. After 1813, the buildings that used to house celibate members were divided into apartments and rented to church members. The last surviving (non-celibate) resident of the cloister, Marie Elizabeth Kachel Bucher, died in 2008 at the age of 98. She apparently moved from the Ephrata area in 1927, but before that she had given tours of the now empty cloister.

Today, the historic Ephrata Cloister is maintained by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and from the looks of it, they are doing a wonderful job. They certainly have a well-designed website that makes me long to visit the actual place someday. The information on this website has taught me much about Ephrata Cloister despite my distance. I lingered on its pages for hours. It includes a virtual tour, a well-made introductory video that is also played in the visitor center, and some interesting slide presentations (I particularly recommend the one called Hidden Knowledge at Ephrata) and if that ignites your interest, you can even attend a Virtual Ephrata Academy, which includes a dozen very fascinating lecture-length videos on a whole host of subjects related to the cloister in its heyday.

I am grateful that this cloister existed, especially for the sisters. It allowed them to lead fuller, healthier lives, and demonstrates that women of that era were just as creative as women are today. They simply needed the time and space to express themselves. That time and space, given to them in the form of that community, was a precious gift. We are all beneficiaries of that gift, because we can still hear their music, view their art, and walk around their community.

Other Sources:

Travel vicariously through this blog. And while you’re at it, check out my book!

Burj Al Babas: The Love Child of Cinderella’s Castle and Kudzu

The castle-like homes are interesting. I’ll give them that.

So, I was fiddle-farting around on YouTube, as one does, with no particular destination in mind, when I stumbled across a music video entitled, MEDUZA, Becky Hill, Goodboys – Lose Control (Official Video). I’d never heard of them. (Her?) So I figured, what the heck. Give it a listen. If I didn’t like what I heard, I could always move on to something else.

That, that right there, is how one winds up spending a half day on YouTube. Just sayin’. But I digress…

Anyway, the song isn’t in my preferred genre, but it was a catchy tune. It would make a great ring tone, or something to be danced to at some club when you’re 20. (Do people go to clubs anymore?)

But what really left me glued to my monitor was the video itself. It was filmed in this strange place that looked, in my opinion, like the love child of Cinderella’s Castle and kudzu.

This place is so ugly that it’s beautiful. And it didn’t look computer generated. I had to find out where it was, if it actually exists.

With hardly any sleuthing whatsoever, I discovered that the video had been filmed in a housing development called Burj Al Babas, which is located in Turkey, half way between Istanbul and Ankara, the nation’s capital. That wouldn’t have been my first guess. But wait, it gets even better.

The castle-like homes are interesting. I’ll give them that. They do have turrets, and I’ve always wanted a turret. If I saw one such home, I’d find it delightful albeit quirky. It’s kind of an ill-advised mishmash of styles. Gothic meets Disney meets French Chateau, with a little Turkish, British and American architectural influence thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately, the builders decided to erect 587 of these, er, unique villas, and they are all lined up like little soldiers on a hillside in the middle of nowhere. Burj Al Babas is now a ghost town, with nothing but stray dogs and cats and curious tourists roaming the streets. I bet it’s creepy at night.

It could have been worse, though. The original plan was to build 732 of them. The desperately hopeful catalog for this development explains that there was to be a central complex full of pools, Turkish baths, saunas, steam rooms, a shopping mall, health and beauty centers, cinemas, restaurants, sports facilities, gardens, a mosque, conference halls, and meeting rooms, as well as a car wash and nursery services free of charge for all residents. There would also be free internet.

I have to say that the images (unfortunately just mock-ups for the catalog) make the interiors look luxurious. A dwelling fit for a sheik. And indeed, the target audience for these homes was to be rich investors from the Middle East who wanted a vacation home in a Mediterranean climate.

And you could have one of these homes for $370,000 to $530,000 depending on location. Not bad. For a time, it looked like the developers would actually pull it off. They did sell 350 of them.

The developer broke ground on the site in 2014. Then, in 2016, there was a failed coup attempt in Turkey, which resulted in a great deal of unrest in that country. But the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was able to quash the coup.

Unfortunately, Erdoğan’s Turkey is rife with corruption, inflation, and military overreach. He himself now has the power to intervene in the country’s legal system. After the coup attempt, there have been purges of state institutions, and there is no tolerance of dissent. More than 50,000 people have been detained, including soldiers, journalists, lawyers, police officers, academics and politicians.

Recently, Erdoğan has attempted to criminalize adultery and introduce “alcohol-free zones.” He stands firm against equal rights for women, and disapproves of birth control and family planning.

Such was the atmosphere in which Burj Al Babas was being built. Needless to say, this was making investors nervous. And when oil prices plunged in 2018, many buyers backed out or stopped making payments.

The developers, who had spent 200 million dollars on the project to date, filed bankruptcy in 2018, and all construction came to an abrupt halt. The company was 27 million dollars in debt. They had tentatively resumed construction of the contracted houses in 2019, and then COVID-19 rushed across the planet in March of that year, leaving economic destruction, among many other things, in its wake.

The developer made one last desperate effort to keep their heads above water. In 2020 they stated that if they could just sell 100 chateaus, they would be out of debt and could start working on the projects currently non-existent infrastructure. Alas, it was not to be.

Burj Al Babas has since been snapped up by an American corporation, and they have yet to say if they’ll turn it into a tourist trap ghost town, complete the construction as originally designed, or soften the design so it looks less kitschy, and demolish the excess, unsold units.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of Burj Al Babas. If the political climate were more like it was when I visited Turkey in 2000, I think I’d make a beeline to this place, if only for the creepy photographs it would yield. Instead, I can only imagine it.

If you’d like to see some drone footage of the entire (un)development, check it out here, on YouTube.

The scene I can’t seem to get out of my head is an endless row of turrets, lit up by a full moon, with a stray dog wandering down the unpaved road out front. The only sound would be the wind kicking up dust in the un-landscaped yards. That would be something to see.

Additional Sources:

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

The Strange History of L’Inconnue de la Seine

She has been kissed more than any woman in history, yet no one knows who she is.

No one knows her name. Where her body rests now, and where she came from also remain a mystery. Her beauty has inspired artists, poets, musicians, writers, dancers, and even doctors. She has been known to inspire an international, cult-like following. She has been kissed by more people than anyone else in the history of mankind, and yet no one knows anything about her life. All these unknowns simply add to her intrigue.

She has come to be known as L’Inconnue de la Seine, or the unknown woman of the Seine. The oft repeated story about her goes something like this: A girl’s body was found floating on the river Seine in Paris, sometime around the 1880’s, and it was taken to the morgue. Because there was no evidence of foul play, it was assumed she committed suicide. The mortician was so taken with the girl’s beauty that he had a death mask made of her face, as was often the custom at the time. And her visage has been haunting and/or intriguing us ever since.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that any part of that story is true. Some say that her name was Valerie, and she was a Russian of noble stock who somehow became a prostitute in Paris, and committed suicide, either due to the shame or because someone broke her heart. Again, no evidence of this can be found. Some say she was the daughter of the owner of the factory that first produced and sold these masks, and that the cast was made while she was still alive.

I subscribe to the theory that she was indeed alive when the cast was made, because her features are too perfect. Apparently it was the custom to “improve” death masks back then, but if you look at death mask images, the majority of them are of people who were unquestionably dead. And a drowned woman would not have such fine features. In addition, some people say that you can almost make out the dents that would be caused at the corners of the mouth if someone needed breathing tubes while the plaster set.

The fact is, we don’t even know where or when she was buried, let alone her age or year of death. But one way or another, the mask became a thing. People would purchase replicas to hang on their walls. Art schools would use her face so their students could practice painting and sculpture. Apparently her face was even used at beautician training schools for a time.

And her face is, indeed, beautiful, although her features have become blurry and indistinct throughout the years, as people have taken casts of casts of casts of it, making it but a mere shadow of its former self. But she looks serene. She looks content.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, she was the center of a cult-like following of people who romanticized female suicide, saying that to die without pain while still beautiful and full of promise was somehow something one should aspire to. I wonder how many people have themselves committed suicide because of this supposed serene expression?

When a woman is rendered anonymous, it’s easy to overlook the fact that she had emotions and aspirations and a history all her own. She had a tragic life if she really did commit suicide, and an even more tragic one if she was murdered. Yet L’Inconnue has become this mythical creature, someone to be idolized and revered.

I think the myths surrounding this girl who died too soon do her a great disservice. I suspect no one ever asked her if it was okay to turn her image into a thing that is widely profited from and used as a teaching tool. I wish we knew something, anything about her that was verifiable. Instead, she becomes whatever we want her to be.

And one of the things we want her to be, apparently, is the face of a resuscitation doll named Annie. The inventor of this CPR dummy was looking for a female face, because he believed most men would be hesitant to “kiss” a male face. He came across a bust of L’Inconnue and was intrigued by it, just as we all seem to be. He decided she would be the perfect face for his teaching tool. If you have ever gotten a CPR certification, chances are that you, too, have kissed this unknown woman. In retrospect I kind of feel guilty about it. She deserved better.

To add to the tragedy, the survival rate from CPR is not as high as Hollywood would have you believe. It’s actually about 16 percent. That’s got to be heartbreaking for all first responders. And it is said that only 3-5 percent of Americans have CPR certification, and even if they do, it’s estimated that most people forget their training within 3 months.

It is also estimated that if you have a heart attack in public, you are much more likely to be helped if you are a white male. If you’re female or a minority, you have a better chance of having people standing by and looking at their shoes. I suspect L’Inconnue would be disgusted by that prospect.

If you’re interested in learning more about L’Inconnue de la Seine, I recommend that you read The drowned muse : casting the unknown woman of the Seine across the tides of modernity, by Anne-Gaëlle Saliot. You can get an intriguing taste of this book here. And Radio Lab did a fascinating podcast about her.

If you are ever in Paris, there is a shop that sells death masks, called Atelier LORENZI, that has been in business since 1871, and has a 19th century plaster cast of her which they have been using ever since. You must make an appointment to visit this establishment. But if you do, you could “own”  L’Inconnue de la Seine, and if you hang her on your wall, she could, for the rest of your life, gaze down at you serenely, still keeping her secrets.

Women are rarely consulted in these matters. That’s nothing new. L’Inconnue de la Seine, whether she likes it or not, has become a woman you can take home with you. For the right price, of course.

If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please call 988, or visit the website for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Additional sources:

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

The Teleportation of Gil Pérez

That had to have been startling.

On this very day in 1593, it was widely reported that a soldier of the Spanish Empire, in the Guardia Civil, was guarding the governor’s palace in Manila, Philippines when he suddenly felt exhausted and dizzy. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, and when he opened them again, he found himself 8,845 miles away, in the Plaza Mayor in Mexico City. His name only popped up in a retelling of the story in 1908 (who knows how they figured it out), but supposedly he was a man named Gil Pérez.

I know. But suspend your disbelief for a minute and imagine what it would be like for someone wearing the wrong uniform to suddenly find himself smack dab in the middle of the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. That had to have been startling. Lucky for him, no one has ever reported that they witnessed him arrive (or disappear for that matter), or he would probably have been attacked on the spot.

Instead, he was taken (supposedly) to the Viceroy, Luis de Velasco, to explain himself. By way of proof, Pérez gave him a bit of news. It seems that the governor-general of the Philippines, Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, had been assassinated the day before. No one in Mexico City could have known that yet, as news traveled by Spanish Galleon at the time, and was usually many months old upon arrival.

Think of it as the 16th century equivalent of, “If you’re not a catfish, then send me a picture of you holding two fingers up, and also holding today’s newspaper in your other hand.” Unfortunately, that “picture”, in this case, would take about 3 months to arrive. Oddly enough, the Viceroy was satisfied with this explanation.

But then the religious authorities got involved. Unfortunately, this “miracle” occurred right in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition, so these officials were already in a foul mood. They promptly threw him in jail for being a deserter (as if he would have had a choice under these weird circumstances), and for good measure they also declared him a servant of the devil.

Pérez, it is said, preferred being in jail to fighting (I’m quoting this article, so don’t blame me) “the jungle men of the Philippines”, so he was on his best behavior. Over time, the guards found him to be a good Christian, so charges were dropped, and yet he remained in prison, because what can you do with someone who has such magical powers?

Months later, the news of the assassination finally got to Acapulco, and Pérez was ordered back to Mexico City. In an amazing coincidence, some of the people on the boat with him recognized him as a palace guard from Manila, so with all that “evidence” he was set free and went back to his post in the Philippines.

This story has been repeated through the centuries by many writers. The one most recognizable to Americans will be Washington Irving, of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame. The tale has even found a home on YouTube. Check out this cute animation:

And this longer, more serious treatment of the subject from Mexico Unexplained:

I couldn’t let you down, dear reader, so I actually did “research” for this post. And I was immediately able to blow a hole in this myth. It all has to do with Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, who is a legitimate historical figure who was, in fact, assassinated. The problem is that he was assassinated at sea, and no one in Manila would have known this by the next day. And according to Wikipedia, the assassination took place on 10/25, not 10/23.

But I don’t know where anyone got either of these dates. I’m fairly certain the assassination took place on 10/19. The most reliable source I could find is a very legitimate looking report entitled, GOMEZ PEREZ DAS MARINAS, CAPTAIN GENERAL OF MURCIA IN THE LAST THIRD OF THE XVI CENTURY, by José Raimundo Núñez-Varela and Lendoiro, Official Chronicler of the city of Betanzos and the City Council of Miño. (It’s in Spanish, but Google can translate it for you, if need be.)

The point is, if you’re going to tell a true story, then you should at least get your dates straight. But if our hero can teleport, maybe he can time travel as well. But with such powers, why cool your heels in jail, man?

Regardless, interpretation of this tale has changed with the course of time. These days, rather than speculating about Pérez’ congress with Satan, those who care to theorize seem to rest firmly in the teleportation camp. Pérez would not be the first person to show up in Mexico City with a strange story to tell. (I can attest to that. It’s a long story for another day.)

But a few decades ago, people were less apt to theorize about teleportation and much more likely to believe that he had been abducted by aliens and returned to the wrong location. Pardon me while I scoff.

First of all, have you noticed that claims of alien abduction are all but nonexistent these days, now that we all have cameras on our phones? Second, if aliens have the technology to travel through space, why on earth would they need sadistic probes to see our inner workings? And more importantly for the sake of this story, why would they forget where to dump Pérez once they were done with him?

I mean, come on… let’s be realistic, shall we? Hmph.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

A No Fly List for Unruly Passengers?

We all should be able to fly without fear of idiotic violence.

As I write this, I’m awaiting an upcoming continental flight with a certain amount of dread. People are just too cra-cra these days to risk sealing yourself up in a tube with them for hours on end. And all the airlines seem to give less and less of a sh*t about customer service.

I miss flying in the ‘80’s. You had leg room, decent food, and people were polite and civilized and secretly felt rather privileged to be flying. It was like you were in a debate club that was accidentally invited to the United Nations. What luck!

Even better: You didn’t have to bear the insult of encountering TSA. You could count on having empty seats beside you if you wanted to stretch out and take a nap. And you could bring your 12-inch Bowie Knife aboard and nobody would bat an eyelash.

Those were the days. Now, you consider yourself lucky if no one on your flight gets into a fist fight and causes your plane to be diverted to another airport. It’s like the wild wild West once your plane takes off.

The COVID Federal Mask Mandate brought out the worst in people who don’t believe in science. And conspiracy theorists and hyper-conservatives used that mandate as an excuse to act the fool. Violence on airlines skyrocketed.

So when the mask mandate was overturned in April, 2022, I’m sure a lot of flight staff were relieved. At least at first. Because violence did go down. But it didn’t go away. And now they get to be sealed in a tube with a bunch of triumphant anti-vaxxers who are breathing all over them for hours on end. I have to say that Flight Attendants have a dirty job, and deserve our gratitude in the face of so much public douche-baggery.

As long as alcohol is served in airports and on airplanes, there will be a$$holes making the friendly skies a lot less friendly for all of us. And there’s absolutely no excuse for abusive behavior, especially when you’re in a small space with a bunch of other people and there’s no way out.

Imagine just trying to get home to visit grandma, and suddenly you’re thrust into the airline equivalent of a prison riot. YouTube is lousy with videos of such bad behavior. I even saw one where the captain got on the intercom and asked that all strong healthy males come forward to help restrain an out-of-control passenger. So, not only are you involuntarily thrust into a prison riot, but then they throw a prison guard uniform at you for good measure. What fun.

This is why many of the unions that represent airline employees are encouraging the passage of H.R. 7433: Protection from Abusive Passengers Act. According to Govtrack, this act “would add people convicted of assaulting an airline’s crew or staff on a no-fly list. The penalty would only apply on conviction, so it wouldn’t apply to a passenger who was merely reported or investigated alone. Such convicted passengers would also be banned from using either the TSA’s Precheck or U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry programs.”

Of course, some people are opposed to this, because they say it would equate passengers with terrorists. Well, according to Oxford Languages, the definition of a terrorist is “a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”

If the shoe fits, wear it, I say. We all should be able to fly without fear of idiotic violence. No one should have a right to thrust us into a terrifying situation with no way out. And bad behavior is a choice one makes, and therefore consequences should be as expected as they are deserved.

Sadly, this act seems to have stalled in committee, most likely because politicians were hoping this would all go away along with the mask mandate. But here’s something totally unacceptable that happened just last month: Passenger who allegedly punched a flight attendant charged.

This has got to stop. Even though the politicians, as usual, are useless, it did find one source of comfort by reading that article. “While the number of reported incidents has declined, the number of cases where enforcement action was initiated has gone up. So far in 2022, there have been 468 enforcement cases initiated. In 2021, there were 350.”

And some chickens are starting to come home to roost with regard to violent anti-mask passengers. I was thrilled to read this article, entitled, “New York woman sentenced to prison over altercation aboard plane”.

Yes! Serves her right! But that doesn’t mean I won’t be saying a Unitarian Universalist prayer in the hopes that I make it through my upcoming airline experience unscathed. And that shouldn’t be necessary. Not for anybody. But humans are not nearly as civilized as we are purported to be.

Please call your congressmember and encourage them to support HR 7433.

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving!

Day Trip to Alpine Land

The next best thing to Switzerland.

One of the things I love most about living in Washington State is that it has such a wide variety of ecosystems. Just a few hours travel from your home in any direction will most certainly take you to a different world entirely. The state boasts prairies, wetlands, estuaries, rainforests, shrubsteppe, marine waters, scablands and grasslands.

On any given day trip you can go from sea level to glaciers, from canyons to mountains, from lowlands to foothills to plateaus. To me it feels like foreign travel without the need for a passport or a frustrating TSA encounter. Sign me up.

This year, on our 4th wedding anniversary, Dear Husband and I decided to go to Switzerland. Unfortunately, we only had a day. So we hopped in the car and headed for Mt. Rainier National Park. You can’t get any more alpine than that without leaving the Pacific Northwest.

En route, we passed through the charming towns of Black Diamond and Enumclaw.

As the name suggests, Black Diamond used to be coal mine central. A real mining and railroad type town. Now it’s becoming the fastest growing bedroom community for the Seattle Metropolitan Area, but it’s still charming. You know you’ve arrived when you see the old coal car on the side of the road.

Enumclaw still hosts lots of farms and lots of cows. (Sadly, the cows weren’t wearing those delightful bells around their necks, but you can’t have everything.) It’s on a flat plateau due to a mudflow from Mt. Rainier that happened about 5,700 years ago. The rest of the area is mountainous. So Enumclaw is a perfect place for farming. Their main crop used to be hops, but now it’s dairy. And a trip down Enumclaw’s main street will transport you back in time.

Dear Husband was kind enough to take us on a little side trip to the Enumclaw Public Library, where my book used to be housed. I went there with the anticipation of visiting that old friend (and perhaps sneaking an autograph in while no one was looking), but sadly, the shelf it would have occupied did not produce results. That’s a pity, because it would have been in good company. A second look at the King County Library System’s online catalog revealed that my book is now only in Renton and Burien. I’ve visited the one in Renton multiple times (to pull it slightly out on the shelf to make it more noticeable), but I have yet to visit the one in Burien.

I know. I’m easily entertained.

Right by the library, Enumclaw also has a gigantic statue of two oxen being led by a man, and the oxen are dragging a gigantic log about the size of a trailer.

The caption in front of it says:


Tough Courageous and Larger Than Life. This monument is dedicated to the people whose courage and hard work built the foundation for our community, creating economic opportunity for our State and region. With this memorial, we seek to honor the over 8000 dead and the 65000 injured logging this plateau and these mountains. Though rarely glorified in their work, these men embodied the physical toughness and mental resolve that has become synonymous with the pioneers of the West. This is our Logging Legacy.

It’s one of the most impressive statues I’ve seen in many a day.

From there, we went to Greenwater, Washington, and stopped at a store called Wapiti Woolies, and had some ice cream. Two thumbs up. And the building itself really reminds you that you are in an alpine region.

Next Stop was the Mt. Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain. This is a skiing mecca in the wintertime, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves. And the gondola is so much fun! It takes you up 2,400 feet to the summit, where you have a stunning view of Mt. Rainier, and, when the weather’s right, you can also see another Washington Volcano in the distance: that of Mt. Adams. If you do decide to brave the gondola, bring layers of clothing. It was a good 30 degrees colder up there, and I’m sure it is even worse in the winter. And the wind will try to blow you back down into the valley. The gondola’s steep ascent didn’t bother me, oddly enough. But the descent had me digging my fingernails into Dear Husband’s arm. It was still worth it for the views. What an adventure!

Next we went to Paradise. That’s one of the primary gathering places in Mt. Rainier National Park. Sadly, we got there after the visitor center was closed, but we enjoyed walking around outside, soaking up all things alpine, including some amazing wildflowers. And then we went to Sunrise, on (of course) the eastern side of the mountain. We were almost there for sunset, ironically enough, but we decided that we didn’t want to go down that narrow switchback road at night.

We made it out of the switchbacks before dark, and were treated to this awesome sunset.

When we drove back through Enumclaw, we pulled over in a place with no city lights, opened the sun roof, and gazed at the stars. We even saw two satellites speeding by. Then we went home to our dogs. It was the perfect way to end the day, and an amazing anniversary, indeed. I have no idea how I got so lucky, but I assure you that I’ll never take it for granted.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!

That’s a Wrap!

Free public art galleries on many street corners!

More and more cities around the world are wrapping their unsightly utility boxes in public art, and I’m thrilled with this trend. Being able to print the art on a flat surface and then wrap the often far-from-flat box with it has greatly increased the quality of these artworks. Previously, people would hand paint the boxes, with or without municipal permission. That paint would then fade and flake and look shabby in no time. Instead of beautifying the box, those well-intentioned efforts just added to the overall shabbiness of the neighborhood.

But now we have crisp, clean images that withstand the wind and weather and, unless vandalized or crashed into, continue to look good for years. And if the images do start to fade, the wrap can be removed and replaced by another one. Don’t you just love an ideal that’s so brilliant that even bureaucracies can get on board with it?

What follows are some images that have been shared with me by friends around the globe who play Pokemon Go. These boxes go to show that there’s no end to the artistic creativity that can be unleashed upon them. Whenever you go someplace new, don’t forget to look for the utility boxes! Think of them as free public art galleries. Enjoy!

Travel vicariously through this blog. And while you’re at it, check out my book!

Hawaii: The End of the Road

I can’t believe I’m only just now writing my last post about a vacation that ended in early May of this year, but Hawaii is amazing and fascinating and intriguing, and there was much to tell. I think, more than any other trip, these islands have transformed me. It’s hard to let go. Saying goodbye is bittersweet. It’s like dropping someone off at the airport whom you love very much, and not knowing when, if ever, you’ll see them again.

Okay, keep it together, Barb. Sniffle.

I’ve mentioned before that Hawaii itself almost feels like a living organism to me. It breathes fire, it grows, it shrinks, it’s alive with creatures that are not found anywhere else. I’ve never felt like that about any other place. I firmly believe that these islands would thrive if only we humans would get out of their way. And yet we can’t resist them.

A recurring theme for us on this trip was arrivals and departures, and beginnings and endings. That experience, too, is unlike any other I’ve had. It was almost as if the islands were trying to speak to me.

One of the things I’ve yet to blog about was the first day of our vacation. That’s because it was not the note I wanted to begin on. It was too surreal and upsetting. I needed time to digest it.

I had been wanting to go to Hawaii my whole life long, so I was really excited about the day we were to fly there. It was a dream come true. I had been anticipating this flight for many months. When I woke up that morning, it felt as though a million Hawaiian butterflies were fluttering inside a me.

We were, of course, late leaving the house. (That, too, is a theme.) But we weren’t so late that it was giving me cause for concern. We live very close to the airport.

We got there and checked our carry on luggage without incident. But the line for TSA screening was obscenely long. We were told to go to the other security gate for faster service, but when we got there, if anything, that line was longer and the staff there were redirecting people to the security gate we had just left. Now I was getting nervous.

At one point, Dear Husband and I clearly heard the customer service agent tell us that we’d be departing from gate 15. DH knows this airport well, so I kind of checked out due to my anxiety, and let him take the lead. This is the first time in my entire life when traveling by plane that I didn’t confirm the gate several times on the flight information screen or at least check out the airport map.

Knowing how late we were, we kind of speed walked to gate A15. I’m sure DH could have moved a lot faster without me in tow. No one has ever accused me of being a cheetah.  Of course, it was to be the furthest gate away on Concourse A. Naturally.

By the time we got to the tail end of that concourse, I was drenched in sweat and could not catch my breath. It felt like my heart was going to explode. And that feeling only got worse when we discovered that there is no gate A15. The last gate is A14.

Another customer service agent looked things up and told us that we were flying out of gate N15, and that they were just about to board. Now, let me explain the full ramifications of this. We were standing at the southernmost gate of the SEATAC airport, and we were told that we needed to be at the northernmost gate of the SEATAC airport. Like… 15 minutes ago. According to Google maps, it was 1.8 miles away. And toward the end, you have to wait for an automated train, because the N terminal isn’t even in the same building.

I tried to run. I really did. I wanted to go to Hawaii so badly. But I was already out of breath.

At this point I pretty much abandoned all hope. And then Cris, who to his credit is never out of breath, had a brilliant idea. He grabbed an abandoned luggage cart, piled all our carry on stuff on it, then said, “Hop on.”

And then he ran like the wind. We were flying through that airport. I was really proud of him. At first I was standing on the cart, but I was blocking his view, so instead I sat down as if I were another piece of luggage. We got several dirty looks from airport staff, but we were moving too fast, and I think they just couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.  On the other hand, fellow travelers where cheering and laughing and waving and taking pictures. I felt like I was Santa Claus in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This was the first adventure on a vacation full of adventures, and every time I think of it, it makes me smile.

But despite all our (his) efforts, we got to the gate 2 minutes late, and watched our plane (and our checked baggage) fly off without us. It’s funny now, but at the time I sat there at gate N15 and had a good cry while DH rebooked our flight for the next day. I’ve had flights delayed, and I’ve missed a connection or two, but this was the first time in my life that I had missed a nonstop flight. I don’t recommend it.

The dogs were sure confused to see us back home. They know what suitcases usually mean, and the dogsitter, a dear friend of ours, was already there. And yet here we were.

So, yeah, late the next day we arrived, both triumphant and chastened, in Hawaii. We checked into our hotel and had a look around and got all settled in. We were headed out to explore Kauai when we met Tony.

Tony was a bit worried, because he had tried to get a taxi to the airport for his flight home to Toronto, and there seemed to be no taxis to be had. After what we’d gone through the day before, we wanted to help. But we’re not the type of people who are prone to giving total strangers a ride.

What we did was go back to the concierge desk and verify that all of us where guests at this establishment. And then the concierge took photos of all our drivers licenses, and we checked back in with her when we got back to the hotel so that she knew that everything had gone smoothly.

We had a pleasant chat with Tony on the drive to the airport about our various travels, and about Toronto and Seattle. He gave us some tips on what to do in Kauai, and we heard about his enviable extended stay in Hawaii. He called his mother from the road and reassured her that he wasn’t going to miss his flight after all.

Just like that, we made our first friend in Hawaii, even though we didn’t get his last name or contact info. We asked if we could take his picture as we waved goodbye. He said that was fine. So Tony, wherever you are, I hope you made it home safe.

My experience on isolated islands had been rather limited up to this point, but I soon discovered that it’s quite easy to run out of island. In fact, on this trip we arrived at the end of the road on multiple occasions. It alters your mindset.

I wanted to see every inch of Kauai. You can circumnavigate much of the island on highway roads, with the glaring exception of the Napali Coast that stretches about 16 miles along its Northwest edge. There, what you encounter are impassible, yet stunningly beautiful jagged blue and emerald cliffs that defiantly face off with the sea.

On day 4, we reached the end of the road on the western shore of Kauai. We stopped next to the charmingly named Barking Sands Airport and saw our first Nenes, which are beautiful Hawaiian geese. They didn’t seem to care that they had reached a dead end. They just went about their goosey business. That was also the day we went to the end of the island’s other major highway, which wends its way through Waimea Canyon.

Day 6 found us on the opposite end of the semicircular road.  On the North shore we visited Maniniholo Dry Cave, had a picnic lunch on the beach, and then drove as far as we could, taking turns with the cars heading the opposite direction, in order to cross the charming one lane bridges. This is a more laid back, isolated part of the island, and it’s where I’d want to live if I could put my home on high enough stilts to cope with the frequent flooding. I weep at the thought that climate change will wipe this area off the map one day.

On the Big Island, we went to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and drove to the end of the road twice on our first full day there, from the Hōlei Sea Arch on the Chain of Craters Road to the end of Crater Rim Drive with its stunning views of Kīlauea’s  Caldera. 

Five days later we went to the Southern tip of the United States, to Ka Lae, or South Point, Hawaii, and gazed out at the vast Pacific Ocean. I find it interesting that we took no pictures from the clifftops that were aimed directly south toward that blue expanse. We took photos of the cliff line, as if we needed a reference point. I think that never-ending blue reminded us how far away we were from any other part of civilization, and how life clings precariously to every possible foothold as this fragile planet spirals through the vacuum of space, chasing the sun. Who could bear to photograph that flimsy feeling?

We woke up the next day knowing we had to head to the airport to catch the plane that would take us home. (Why couldn’t we have missed that one?)  I felt as though I was beginning a mourning process, as I always do at the end of a trip. Perhaps the challenges we faced in getting to this place added to our appreciation of it. I felt as though I were saying goodbye to a loved one.

Then I saw a hand painted sign nailed high up on a tree. We didn’t have time to stop and take a picture, but it will remain forever in my mind. It said, “Lord Jesus, what a rush!” 

If things have to end, as all things do, then that is the way I want to look back on them. Life is full of beginnings and endings, but it’s the middle part that makes all the difference.

I leave you (and Hawaii) now, with the bittersweet yet iconic song, Aloha ‘Oe. It was written by Liliʻuokalani, the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. She wrote many songs in her time, but this one is particularly haunting. It was originally written about a lover’s goodbye.

Twenty years later, she transcribed this song while she was under house arrest. America was in the process of stealing these islands from the Hawaiian people, simply because we had superior firepower. Originally, we sentenced this dignified woman to five years of hard labor for her defiance, but we at least had the good grace to commute that sentence, and later set her free to live another 21 years, fighting our indifferent government in court for lands that they never had any intention of returning.

When you think of Aloha ‘Oe as a lament for the loss of Liliʻuokalani’s beloved country, it takes on a bittersweet flavor, indeed. Flying away from Hawaii forces the traveler to internalize just a tiny shard of her broken heart. Aloha, Hawai’i. Until we meet again.

If this little blog has broadened your horizons, check out my book!

Bits and Bobs about Hawaii

Interesting things that didn’t fit into my other Hawaiian posts.

There’s so much that intrigued me about Hawaii that I had to take copious notes during my visit. Not that I’m complaining. These notes will enrich my memories. But some of the tidbits of information didn’t fit naturally into my other posts about the Aloha State, so today I’m going to just throw a bunch of thought noodles at you and see which ones actually stick. There won’t be any particular order or story arc. This will sort of look like Hawaii after it has been in a blender. Here’s hoping it’s still pretty. Thank you for your indulgence.

My first impression of the island of Kauai is… chickens. Chickens everywhere. Here a chicken, there a chicken… Based on some lazy research and even lazier math, I estimate that there are about 6 chickens per capita on this island. That’s a lot of poultry. Most of them looked really healthy, and many of the roosters are absolutely gorgeous, so more power to them, I say. I just wish they had a stricter concept of when dawn is. You could hear them crow at 2 in the morning. Even so, I found it pleasant to share the island with them for a time.

A tour guide demonstrated something to me that I had never contemplated. Most of us know that chickens bob their heads when they walk. But I never noticed that hey don’t bob their heads when they run. It was fun watching the guide chase a chicken across a field to prove his point. I’ll always remember that.

Chickens notwithstanding, I believe that the most destructive invasive species in all of Hawaii are the feral pigs. They cause major damage to property and property values, agriculture, and ecosystems. There are so many pigs on the islands that you won’t find an estimate of how many pigs there are anywhere on the internet. (Believe me, I tried.) In fairness, it would be hard to keep track. A pair of pigs and their offspring can produce 15,000 more pigs over the course of 5 years. Imagine that level of expansion when you’re on an island. (I did find an estimate of the number of feral pigs in the entire US, and it’s over 6 million, and growing. At this rate we won’t be around long enough to see the full impact of global warming.)

In Hawaiian, the word for fire is ahi. So Ahi tuna got its name because of its bright red meat. That means that the fish did not get a name until some Hawaiian first sliced it open. (I’m glad I didn’t get my name that way.) But I’m a little surprised that they didn’t come up with something that describes the creature itself, because it’s beautiful to behold. That says a lot about priorities.

I find waves so hypnotic that I actually slept soundly in Hawaii, which is something that eludes me in most other places. And the unrelenting wind means there’s no need for AC while you sleep, and somehow that makes me happy. There’s nothing quite like fresh air and ocean waves.

There are no lions or tigers or bears in Hawaii, and you could go your whole life without encountering a poisonous snake. You’d think that would mean that hiking in this state is relatively carefree, but no. The island still has plenty of surprises for you.

It’s not a good idea to stray from the established path. For instance, that field of soft, welcoming ferns covering the ground to your left may actually be a dense mat that is more than 20 feet deep. You step into that, you may very well plunge to your death. These mats can also conceal lava tubes and jagged lava rock, so your death won’t be a pretty one.

But falling off hiking trails is fairly common in Hawaii. The terrain is steep, and gets slippery and muddy, and yet the things you would land on if you slip can be as sharp as glass. Never hike alone in Hawaii. Unless you’re really experienced, you might want to avoid hiking on all but the simplest trails.

Another danger that you might not expect is the Guinea Grass. It was first brought to Hawaii to feed the cows, which had also been brought in. Guinea Grass makes great feed as long as it’s kept relatively short as it apparently is in Africa. But, unchecked, this grass can get up to 15 feet high, and when it gets that tall, the cows won’t touch it. The taller it gets, the more tiny razor-like spikes it gets on the edges of its blades, and this can cause a cow’s tongue to bleed. So the Guinea Grass has pretty much taken over, with very little to stop it. And if you walk into this stuff, you’ll leave it feeling as though you’ve rolled naked in fiberglass. That, and it’s a fantastic contributor to wildfires. When not burning, it chokes out native plants.

We went to black sand beaches and “normal” beaches during our trip. But Hawaii also has one of only four green sand beaches in the world. Sadly the hike to get there is 4 miles, round trip and is often strenuous. My hikes are getting shorter and easier these days. You can’t do everything.

There are very few little free libraries found in Hawaii. (Believe me, I looked. And the map of registered ones at bears me out.) I did try to track down a registered one on a busy tourist street in Hanalei, but it wasn’t where it was said to be, and when we asked around, people looked at us as if we had two heads. I have no idea why, but these wonderful community resources just haven’t seemed to take off in this state yet. I hope they do eventually, because I can think of nothing more delightful and relaxing than reading a good book on a Hawaiian beach. But then, the locals are probably working three jobs just to be able to afford to live there, so they may not have time for reading.

Here are some pictures of a couple of the little libraries we did see. There is a nice big one in front of the Kapa’a Public Library. (Isn’t a little free library in front of a library kind of like gilding the lily?)

I tried something new on this trip. I call it “planned spontaneity.” It worked really well. Yes, we made reservations for the things we really wanted to do if they were required. But we also left some time in there to follow the suggestions we got along the way, check out the things we stumbled upon, and also to just chill out. Many of those times, to be honest, were the best ones for me. I used to plan every trip within an inch of its life, and then I married Dear Husband and saw how much he liked to do that stuff, so I took a back seat for a while. But that’s not really fair. I know I hated it when I had to do all the trip planning and reservations alone. So now I’m trying to make it so we both take part, but that we also leave some things up to fate and happenstance. It’s a delicate dance, but it’s worth it.

It’s “shave” ice, not “shaved”. And it is wonderful. Many places will put shaved ice over a scoop of ice cream for you. We tried that first, and I thought I’d be sick from the sugar. I don’t eat much sugar anymore, so this was quite the shock to the system. But shave ice is nice on a hot day.

If you want to make your kids giggle and your waitress roll her eyes for about the thousandth time this year, order a “pipi pupu”. That’s a beef appetizer in Hawaiian. But please give your waitress a generous tip for forcing her to hear the joke yet again.

In Kauai, two nice little side stops are Kilauea Lighthouse and Christ Memorial Episcopal Church. Both are beautiful in different ways. I highly recommend them.

Flying from one island to another is extremely convenient. We flew from Kauai to the Honolulu Airport, changed planes, and then flew over beautiful Molokai to land in Kona, Hawaii. But on our approach to Honolulu we took a sharp left turn to head landward, and we were hit with the worst turbulence I’ve ever felt my life. It seemed like we dropped 60 feet in less than a second. It’s the first time I’ve ever thought was going to die in an airplane. I even remember thinking, “This is it.” Getting to our destination was worth it, I suppose, but I think I might have a cocktail next time.

The Honolulu Airport is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s wide open to the elements. It feels like a Disney attraction, but with planes. And it is predicted that the Kona Airport will be covered in lava sometime in the next 100 years. They actually had to carve the runways out of lava beds there. Hawaii caused me to view real estate as something that is highly transient for the first time in my life. If Kauai is chickens, then the Big Island is lava. Lots and lots of lava.   

We also stopped at a farmer’s market in Hilo, and saw produce that looked like it came from another planet. We bought an avocado the size of my head. But it wasn’t a Hass, so it actually tasted like nothing. That was a bit disappointing. We also bought white pineapple, which is something I’d never heard of. It was extremely expensive, because they don’t produce many, and that’s probably why I’d never heard of it. There  aren’t really enough to send to the mainland. Think pineapple without the acid. Sweet as spun sugar. Everyone should try it! We also tried an organic mountain apple, which was kind of thick skinned and slightly mushy and therefore meh. And nothing in this farmer’s market had an actual price on it. I’m sure they see the tourists coming a mile away.

We ate at a restaurant called Harbor House in Kona. It had no walls. That gave us a great view of the marina. And it was fun to have the birds flying all around us. Until they pooped. Everywhere. But poop notwithstanding, the food is pretty good (and poop-less), and hey, it’s an experience!

The older I get, the more I look at experiences in terms of the memories they create. Hawaii added so many wonderful memories to my collection. The older you get, the more you accumulate. I’m sitting on a dragonpile (I should copyright that word) of precious memories, brought to me by travel. And I’m not alone in this.

By rights, the well-traveled elderly should be considered the most fascinating people in the world. You just have to ask the right questions and take the time to experience the answers. If you listen closely, you might hear the waves crashing in their words, and maybe the sound of Don Ho singing Tiny Bubbles will drift gently toward you as if on an island breeze.

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library!

My Love/Hate Relationship with the Blue Angels

The cons are starting to outweigh the pros for me.

The iconic Seattle Seafair was cancelled/reduced for two years running due to the pandemic. Personally, I didn’t miss it, because I’m always working on my drawbridge for the three main days, and they are some of the most hectic days on my bridge. In an 8 hour stretch this past Saturday, I opened for 26 vessels, and each time, street traffic was backed up for miles. The shift definitely went by quickly, but I had to get rude just to eat my lunch, and I got no blogging done. I’m home now, but jittery from the adrenaline dump.

I think that most Seattleites would agree that the crown jewels of Seafair are the performances by the Blue Angels and the Hydro Races. I’ve never seen the races, but I hear they’re pretty spectacular. Of that I have no doubt, but the pollution and the carbon footprint would be forever on my mind while watching them.

I have seen the Blue Angels multiple times. When I was around 19 and could rock a bikini, I used to drive out to the beach every chance I got, and the five jets would often blast past, hugging the Florida coastline. We girls would wave, but I have no idea why. I’m sure for them we were just a blur. So now, more than anything, the Blue Angels make me nostalgic for my 19 year old butt.

In Seattle, the flight path they used to take always had them buzzing the South Park Bridge, where I used to work on Sundays. The first time they did that on my watch, it scared me half to death. I was out on the balcony, washing windows, and my back was turned to them. By the time I heard the roar of the engines and turned around, they were right over the top of me, flying in formation, quite low, making my tower shake and the windows rattle. That’ll wake you up.

And at University Bridge, where I work now, I used to be able to see a little bit of their performance on the horizon. But not this day. Their flight plan has been altered. I could hear their engines, but not see them.

Seattle used to close the 520 Bridge for this event, because back in the day drivers would get distracted by the jets and get into accidents, causing a city-wide traffic snarl. (520 is one of the primary east-west arteries for the county.) So they decided to close the bridge instead, which also causes a city-wide traffic snarl. This year, they planned their flight path to avoid having to close that bridge or cause a distraction, which I suppose makes sense, but the Blue Angels still caused a city-wide traffic snarl.

My commute home falls right at the beginning of their scheduled afternoon performance, so, although I would have pulled into my driveway 38 minutes later on a typical Saturday, on this day it took 1 hour and 25 minutes. Not only were there several accidents on the interstate as people tried to take pictures of the jets as they blasted past (heck, I almost rear-ended someone while taking this not-so-good picture below for your viewing pleasure), but then the Department of Transportation, in its chronic shortsightedness, chose to continue their weekend construction work despite the festival, narrowing the highway from five lanes to two, right at the same spot where the jets were flying overhead. This caused the slowed down drivers to slow down even more to take in the spectacle. Can you say clusterf**k?

So, yeah, exciting performance, but the cons are starting to outweigh the pros for me. I’ve written about some of those cons before, in a blog post called What Price Patriotism? In it, I disclose how much it costs the taxpayers to keep these 5 jets in the air, the amount of jet fuel they burn in the average show, causing the carbon footprint from hell, and the noise pollution that terrifies every dog in the city.

That post was written in 2018, so the numbers, if anything, have only grown. But frankly, after a Seafair day on the drawbridge, I’m really too tired to do the research to bring the figures up to date. But if you read that blog post, the 2018 numbers will curl your toes.

The Angels are basically a big PR push to recruit cannon fodder for our military industrial complex. They make the military look fun and exciting, even though their target audience for recruiting is young people from backgrounds that are so impoverished that they see the military as their only ticket out of their situation. Most of those will never get within a mile of these fancy jets, let alone fly them. And these poor kids will quickly discover that much of the time the military is not fun and exciting. In fact, it’s usually pretty darned boring unless you’re being shot at, and then, if you’re injured, you get to spend your life being neglected by the very government you joined up to protect, even as you beg to be cared for by their understaffed and incompetent VA hospitals for illnesses you got on duty which they will refuse to acknowledge.

It can be argued that the Blue Angels allow Americans to feel patriotic. And I’m sure I would have eaten that up with a big ol’ spoon when I was a kid, but the more I learn about the fraud, waste and abuse in the military, the more I see how they have devastated other countries, overthrown democratically elected foreign leaders, caused some of the worst pollution in the world’s history, and have disproportionately placed our nation’s minorities and poor on the front lines, all while holding back the children of most politicians (along with the politicians themselves), it doesn’t feel like patriotism to me. It kind of makes me sick.

Those taxpayer dollars would be put to better use by recruiting teachers for our public schools. They could allow us to have guaranteed health care like every other industrialized nation on the planet. They could fund much needed social services. All these things would make me feel a heck of a lot more patriotic than acrobatic machines that glorify war will ever do.

Since many Seattleites view their performance as a tradition that they’ve enjoyed since 1972, I’m sure this blog post won’t be popular with many of them. But there’s an increasing number of complaints about the noise, and the fact that they fly so low over residential districts. If and when one of them falls out of the sky, as has happened before in other places, it is sure to take out entire neighborhoods.

I have enjoyed their performances more than once, mainly because they couldn’t be avoided. But the environmental impact, the taxpayer expense, the glorification of war, and the potential for major disaster makes me think that my desire to wax nostalgic over my 19 year old butt is not worth the price that we all pay. And, you know, two years without them did not seem to cause the end of the world as we know it. (The pandemic is doing that all on its own.)

Maybe it’s time to move on. Maybe it’s time to get patriotic about doing good, peaceful things that benefit mankind and the planet. Maybe it’s time to appreciate education and compassion for our fellow man. Maybe true patriotism is about not doing stuff like causing an insurrection in the nation’s capital that was ginned up by a president who was a poor looser, a liar, and a power-hungry fascist, whose destruction will be with us for decades.

Stay safe. Get vaccinated. You can enjoy my book while you wait in line.