Moray and Maras

I have always wanted to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru. But I’m hesitant because it would kind of suck to be kidnapped by Sendero Luminoso and forced to live in a jungle for months on end while they attempt to get a ransom that wouldn’t be forthcoming. This is one of the few sacrifices I’m just not willing to make for travel.

Having said that, though, if I did get to go, it would be a dream come true. Of course I’d love to go to Machu Picchu. Those ruins perched up so high that it’s hard to breathe have always captured my imagination. But I would also like to visit some of the lesser known sites that also highlight the Inca’s supreme intelligence and innovation. Case in point: the Moray Inca Ruins and the Maras Salt Ponds.

The Moray Inca Ruins are terraced fields high in the mountains that show that the Incas took agriculture very seriously, to the point of conducting scientific experiments. The terraces go so deep that the temperature from top to bottom can be as much as 59 degrees different. And they’re in a circular bowl, so the terraces get differing amounts of sun depending upon if they’re facing North, South, East, or West.

What this means is that the Incas could simulate just about any climate to be found in Peru, and they could move crops from one “climate” to another to see which plants preferred various conditions. I think that’s absolutely brilliant. I’d love to spend an hour or two there, just marinating in the Nerddom of it all. Check out this blog post by the Exploration Junkie for more details, including a stunning panoramic virtual tour.

From there, I’d go to check out the Maras Salt Ponds. This is yet another example of the Inca’s amazing ability to exploit all the natural resources that they encountered. It seems that even the people who once lived here before the Incas came along knew about the amazing spring that flows here. The truly amazing thing about this spring is that even though it’s 3380 meters above sea level, what comes out of it is salt water. Imagine.

When the Incas came along, they decided to really exploit this resource by making terraced ponds. Each pond flows into the next, and when they evaporate, they leave behind salt, which is vital for life. Rows upon rows of these ponds are still maintained and harvested by the locals to this day. And it’s a gorgeous sight to see. Exploration Junkie has not only a panoramic virtual tour, but also a short video of this stunning place.

Perhaps someday I’ll be able to visit and share with you some photos of my very own. Until then, I’ll content myself with traveling vicariously.

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Our Most Excellent Book Bombing Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Devil’s Hole Desert Pupfish

I wish I had known, on a recent visit to Death Valley, that there’s a tiny little chunk of the park that’s 60 miles away that sends my nerd radar off the charts. It’s a 40 acre plot that surrounds Devil’s Hole, a hole filled with water that’s so deep that no one is sure how deep it goes. Divers have gone down as far as 436 feet, and still have not been able to see the bottom.

But this hole in the ground, which is only 10 feet wide by 60 feet long, is special for another reason, too. The top 20 feet of this water is the only known habitat for the Devil’s Hole Desert Pupfish, one of the rarest fish on earth. At last count, in 2019, there were 136 of these fish observed in Devil’s Hole.

These fish are so rare, in fact, that the facility is surrounded by fencing and cameras. That didn’t stop a few local idiots from breaking in to skinny dip, leaving beer and vomit in the water behind them. Fortunately only one fish was killed in that fiasco, but that’s one fish too many.

To make sure this species survives, the government actually built a 4.5 million dollar facility about a mile away from Devil’s Hole, where they are raising some of these pupfish in captivity, just in case. That’s a lot of money, but somehow it makes me feel better about the world. To see this place with your own eyes, check out this 5 minute CBS Sunday Morning video.

I never thought I’d be saying this, but rock on, you pretty little pupfish!

The beautiful fish in question.

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The Invasion of the Ghost Forests

You’ve most likely been haunted by a ghost forest without even realizing it. According to an article entitled, “More Ghost Forests Are Rising Up, and That’s Not Good News”, due to sea level rise, and in some cases, land sinking or erosion, ghost forests are on the increase. Thanks, climate change.

When healthy forests are flooded with saltwater, the trees no longer have access to the fresh water they need to survive. These trees often remain standing, in whole or in part, long after they’re dead. They can occur along any coastline, but they’re particularly multiplying along the American Atlantic coast. It’s almost like a slow moving zombie invasion.

There was an earthquake on the West coast in the year 1700 that was 9.0 on the Richter scale, and it dropped an Oregon spruce forest into the flood plain. The saltwater rushed in and destroyed this forest, which had trees 150-200 feet high. You can still see their stumps, many of which are 2000 years old, during low tide near the town of Neskowin. Can’t get there yourself? Check out this gorgeous, haunting video. That same earthquake dropped the land down 6 feet near the Copalis River in Washington, causing another ghost forest.

When I traveled through Alaska, I saw groves of ghost forests, especially along the Seward Highway. That ground sank as much as 9 feet, after an earthquake in 1965, and the sea rushed in. Dams can cause ghost forests, too. But mostly it’s rising sea levels and eroding coastline that’s causing this destruction. Check out the video of this ghost forest on Boneyard Beach, Bulls Island, South Carolina.

I’ve seen several ghost forests. They are eerie places. I always feel overwhelmed by the feeling of death. Once there were thriving forests, teeming with wildlife, and now, only bleached out, twisted trunks remain. It’s really sad. It brings you face to face with your own impermanence.

Boneyard Beach is the perfect name for this place.

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Bigfoot Hunting Licenses? Seriously?

Yep. Seriously. According to an article entitled, “Oklahoma May Soon Have an Official Bigfoot Hunting Season – and a $25K Prize for Catching It”, there is actually an Oklahoma Representative named Justin Humphrey who has authored a bill in the state legislature to make this happen.

He’s a Republican. ‘Nuff said.

His motives appear to be pure, albeit misguided. He claims he simply wants to attract more tourism to Oklahoma. It would also create revenue for the state. He claims that people are already calling him for these licenses so they can frame them on their wall.

The bill specifies that these licenses would only allow hunters to trap Bigfoot, not kill him, but it would come with a $25,000 bounty for anyone who succeeds. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, where to begin.

Picture this. You get a bunch of overexcited hunters wandering about in the Oklahoma woods, setting up traps to catch large man-shaped creatures. They’re foolish enough to believe Bigfoot actually exists, so it’s not a big stretch of the imagination that they might get trigger happy and accidentally shoot a large man-shaped creature. This bill could backfire on Rep. Humphrey, because any large man would be well advised to avoid the Oklahoma woods if the bill passes.

And, just playing devil’s advocate here, let’s say Bigfoot exists. (Bigfoot DOES NOT exist, you muppet!!!!) If he does, clearly he’s an endangered species, or we’d be seeing him everywhere. Do you really think it is cool to trap the hairy guy and take him away from his mate, only to have him wind up in a circus sideshow or a zoo or lying on an autopsy table somewhere?

Poor Bigfoot. He just wants to be left alone.

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Dagen H

I’m always a little bit startled when I only just learn something that was a major deal for millions of people at the time. It makes me wonder what else I’ve been blissfully ignorant of. A lot, I’m sure. That’s unsettling.

And so it was that a friend told me that Sweden switched from left hand traffic to right hand traffic on September 3, 1967. It was called Högertrafikomläggningen, which translates as “the right-hand traffic diversion” and is fortunately referred to as Dagen H (Day H) for short.

The reason Swedish Parliament chose to make that change, despite the public not being too keen on it, is that all the neighboring countries were driving on the right, and oddly enough, the vast majority of Swedish cars had the steering wheel on the left already, so right hand driving would give them a great deal more visibility.

It cost a lot to make the change. 350,000 signs had to be faced in a different direction. Stop lights had to be moved. Intersections had to be changed, and road paint had to be altered. Even bus doors had to be put on the opposite side of those vehicles.

It took even more prep work than I’m describing, but ultimately they made the change in very orderly fashion. If yours was one of the few essential cars on the road at 4:50 am on Sunday, September 3, 1967, you had to come to a halt. You then moved your car from the left side of the road to the right, and you waited until 5:00 am, to give everybody time to do the same. And then off you went, driving on the right. Ta-da!

Discovering this made me wonder how many other countries have changed their driving sides. It seems that 165 countries drive on the right side, and 75 countries drive on the left. (I wasn’t expecting so many lefties, but there you have it. They account for about 1/6th of the land area, and 1/4th of the roads.)

But of all of those, most have stayed with the side they started with. Who can blame them. But there have been 52 countries which switched from driving on the left to driving on the right. On the other hand, there have been, believe it or not, five countries that have switched to driving on the left. The change seems to have been made either due to a change in their colonial status, or a desire to be able to buy cheaper cars from their left side driving neighboring countries. The five that made the switch, because I know you’re wondering, are East Timor, Namibia, Nauru, Samoa, and Suriname.

An interesting little tidbit that I came across is that here in the US there was no fixed rule until a keep-right law was passed in 1792, and then it only applied to the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike. New York didn’t hop on the bandwagon, so to speak, until 1804. New Jersey did it in 1813, and Massachusetts in 1821. And even though the US Virgin Islands are a US territory, they drive on the left. That’s unusual, because most colonial entities follow the way of their occupiers. Go figure.

I have never driven on the left, and would be afraid to try. My mild dyslexia confuses me enough without making that change. I’ve only visited a left hand driving country once, and that was to change planes in England. I had to take a shuttle to my next plane, and as I had just gotten off a transatlantic flight, I was pretty exhausted. So when I looked up to see another shuttle coming at us on the “wrong” side of the road (from my perspective), I nearly screamed.

I bet they get that a lot.

Sources for this post:

http://realscandinavia.com/this-day-in-history-swedish-traffic-switches-sides-september-3-1967/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dagen_H

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-_and_right-hand_traffic

Dagen H.

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Kulning

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

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

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

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

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Out of Eden Postponed

I was practicing my daily self-torture by reviewing the numbers out of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. I realized that as of the time of this writing, there have been more than 1,900,000 reported deaths worldwide. That’s an horrific number, made even worse by the fact that it’s probably on the low side.

Suddenly I sat up straight in my chair, thinking, “My god. Where is Paul Salopek?”

I’ve blogged about Mr. Salopek a few times before. He’s the guy being sponsored by National Geographic to do the Out of Eden walk, and write dispatches along the way for our reading pleasure. His path follows the migratory route of humanity, and started in January, 2013.

He began his walk in Ethiopia, where humans first evolved. From there he went to Djibouti and crossed the Red Sea. That took 5 months. From there he spent 14 months walking through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel. It took him a further 20 months to make his way through Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. From there he crossed the Caspian Sea and traveled along the Silk Road, through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That took him 22 months. From Pakistan he went to India, and into Myanmar. That was a further 23 months, and then (insert sound of record scratch) he was stopped cold by the pandemic in March, 2020.

He’s been in Myanmar ever since. I was glad to see that he’s alive and well. At the time I wrote this, his latest dispatch was only a few days old. He’s passing the time by writing a book.

Salopek must be the world’s most patient man. Personally, as much as I adore travel, after about 12 days, I want to go home. For him, it’s been nearly 8 years, and he still has a long way to go. The entire journey was only supposed to have taken him 7 years.

His plan, from here, is to go up through Asia, across to Alaska, down the west coast of the United States, into Mexico and Central America, and then all along the West coast of South America, ending in Tierra del Fuego. But first he has to wait out this pandemic.

What must it be like, being away from loved ones that long, and only having the friends you meet along the road as you’re passing through? What must it be like to live with only what you can carry on your back? What happens to your concept of stability and permanence and home?

That, and his feet must be killing him.

Just as with the rest of us, I’m sure this pandemic took Salopek by surprise. But he seems to be coping with it. In the meantime, he has a lot of fascinating stories to share. I highly recommend that you check out the Out of Eden website and enjoy his journey vicariously just as I have done.

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The Headington Shark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Hess Triangle

I love stories about noconformists. They make life interesting. Unlike anarchists, they do obey the law, often to their detriment, but they are usually still able to get their point across.

Such a man was David Hess, who owned a 5-story apartment building in the West Village in Lower Manhattan. From 1913 to 1916, New York City was exercising imminent domain to extend Seventh Avenue for eleven more blocks. Even though Hess fought the demolition of his building, it was eventually razed.

But the Hess family learned that the surveyors had screwed up and left a tiny triangle of land that by rights still belonged to them. They took it to court and won. The city actually had the nerve to ask them to donate the triangle to them as it was encroaching on the public sidewalk.

The family not only refused, but they installed the tilework pictured below. It says “property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes”. It’s a little nose thumbing at the municipality, and that mosaic is still to be found in the sidewalk to this very day.

The Hess family eventually sold the triangle to a cigar shop to the tune of $1,000. It has been sold several times since then, but it still is private property, and taxes are dutifully paid. If you would like to see the Hess Triangle, go to the corner of Christopher and Seventh Avenue, and the triangle is right in front of the cigar shop’s door. It’s nearly impossible not to trespass on this property when you enter or exit the store.

Sources for this post:

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-tiny-spite-triangle-that-marks-a-century-old-grudge-against-new-york-city?utm_source=pocket-newtab

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/hess-triangle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hess_triangle

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