Ah, it's my turn to tell a tale around the fire is it? Ramses & F.W. are bugging me to tell you a horror story that would keep you up for weeks, but I don't I don't think I'm in the mood. Although, I will be happy to tell you about some mysterious beings as old as time. Trees.
You see, trees are the longest living things on the surface of our planet, and, yes, some are even older than I am. They are the largest, too. Sure, there are many things in nature that can kill a tree, things like lightning strikes, bug infestations, and humans, but as it is said “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger,” and these old trees are mighty indeed. They are true survivors and worthy of our respect. I’ll tell you about two of my favorite old friends.
The most famous of the old trees are the sequoias (pronounced sih-KWOY-uhs). These massive trees have been around for millions of years. In fact, when dinosaurs roamed the earth you could find these trees all across North America and Europe. But, about a million years ago, the temperature of the earth changed, and these magnificent trees began to die off. Now, sequoias only grow naturally in just a few small areas of northern California. The oldest ones still around are somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 years old. A mature sequoia tree, and it is only mature after a thousand years, has a trunk that goes straight up for 100 to150 feet (which is like 25 adults standing on each other’s shoulders) without a single branch. Then, high up on the trunk, large twisted branches spread out. As the tree grows bigger, the branches and trunk grow bigger to help keep its balance. The average height of a sequoia from the ground to the top branches is 250 feet! We would have more sequoia trees to marvel at if it weren’t for all the settlers that moved to California. They didn’t appreciate the majesty of these trees and only saw them as timber to build their new houses and ships. They ended up cutting most of these trees down. If you have an opportunity to visit the sequoias, don’t pass it up. I myself like to sit quietly among these mighty trees, imagining a time when the land was covered by these beings so great that they even made the dinosaurs look small.
The oldest tree in the world (and the oldest living inhabitant of our planet) is the bristlecone pine. Many can live 4,000 or more years, and the oldest is thought to be 4,767 years old. To give you an idea of how long ago that is, let me tell you this: some of the bristlecone pine trees that are living today were seedlings when the pyramids were being built. Impressed now? I know I may have given you the impression that the old trees of the world are all very tall, but the bristlecone pines are exceptions. They are actually quite small compared to the sequoias, only sixty feet at most. In fact some of the oldest are quite short and gnarled looking. When a tree lives to be that old, it has many tricky ways to survive. Invasions from bacteria, fungi or insects that prey upon most plants are unknown to the bristlecone due to its dense wood and high quantity of resin (sap). The needles on the tree are also very long living, so the tree doesn’t need to use much energy to produce new ones. Even when one of these trees dies, you might not know it because it can remain standing for hundreds of years.I think it’s important that more humans learn to protect and respect all of these trees, from sequoias to bristlecones, so they have a chance to live hundreds, or even thousands, of years longer. I look out for them because we old folks have to stick together.
Main Illustrations by Drew Weing
Bottom Illustrations and all colors by Ryan Wilson
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We spent our last day in China visiting the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai. I haven't been there in many years, in fact not since before the original temple was destroyed in the 1900's (it was rebuilt in 1928), yet just stepping into the main courtyard was like stepping back in time for me.
This temple is not a tourist attraction, but an actual Zen Buddhist temple. We arrived on the last day of the Spring Festival, which is a traditional time for Buddhists to come and pray for prosperity and to make offerings. Many people stand in the courtyard with large bundles of burning joss sticks praying to the giant golden Buddha statues. Others burn paper replicas of offerings in the fire pits that were constantly going, while many lined up along the sides of the courtyard to pray at different statues and drop a money offering in the box in front of it. All of these people quietly focused on their prayers was beautiful to watch and relaxed me after two weeks on the jostling streets of the cities.
As you might suspect from the name, there is a Jade statue of Buddha in the temple, two in fact. The statues were brought over from Myanmar in the late 1800's. Each one is carved out of a single huge piece of white jade, and are life sized, making them truly unique statues. Although in my opinion they weren't the most impressive statues in the temple. This temple is filled with a number of statues of the Buddha and other deities. In fact there are over 40 statues in the temple in all, some life sized but many that are much much larger.
Well, my time of relaxation didn't last. After a peaceful afternoon in the temple, we had a very crowded evening. The last night of the Spring Festival is called the Lantern Festival and we went to the Old Town and Yuyuan Gardens for the celebration.
The Yuyuan garden is a beautiful green oasis that could soothe any weary traveler. And they might have if we even made it to the gardens themselves. Instead we were stuck in the crowds right outside the gardens, in the old town. We could barely move, much less actually move in the direction we wanted. I would have liked to stay at the hotel, as I don't like crowds, but I went along to make sure that F.W. didn't get separated from the group.
There was still plenty to see in the Old Town (which ironically is actually filled with modern stores) including little parades, various giant inflatable creatures all lit up, and of course, a lot of lanterns. We also found a stand that sold yuanxiao, which are sticky rice flour balls sometimes filled with walnuts, meats or vegetables. They are supposed to bring good luck in the upcoming year. Keby, Kiweenie, F.W. and Moo-Cow enjoyed them, but Ramses said he didn't need any more luck and passed. Instead he ate some dumplings. I waited until he finished before I told him what was in them. (You wouldn't believe someone would think to eat those parts of the crab). I enjoyed his reaction, but I was happy when we were done and putting the crowds behind us.
Overall it was a perfect way for us to end our trip to China because it really gave us the taste for all aspects of this country that is straddling two periods of their history and like me can see the past and the future all at once.Comments9
I've spent the past few entries telling you about various quirks of past presidents and, for the most part, I made being the president sound very fun. There are even perks that I didn't mention, such as private planes, various houses around the U.S., and the fact that you never have to do your own laundry. But still, being president it's not all fun and free stuff. In fact it can be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
There is a reason that the president has his own security force called the secret service. Four presidents have been assassinated while serving and others have been shot but not killed. Most assassinations have been because someone didn't agree with the president's policies, such as with Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, but some presidents have been shot by their own supporters. The twentieth president, James A Garfield, had only been president for four months when a disgruntled supporter shot and killed him. The supporter was angry that Garfield did not give him a good government job.
Of course there have also been deaths in the white house not caused by an assassins bullet. The ninth president, William Henry Harrison delivered a two hour-long inaugural speech the day he was sworn into office. It was the longest inaugural speech in history and, while that might sound harmless, it was also in the pouring rain. Harrison refused a coat or covering for the entire speech. He caught pneumonia and died 31 days later.
The twelfth president, Zachary Taylor, died after spending a warm day out in the sun eating cherries and drinking milk, and let's just say they didn't agreed with him. He died five days later due to severe food poisoning.
And in a strange coincidence, three presidents have died on July 4th, which is the date of the founding of the United States of America and signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The second president, John Adams, and third president Tomas Jefferson both died on July 4th 1826, exactly fifty years after they signed that historic document. Then, five years later, James Monroe died on the fourth as well.
Being president might have its perks but as you see the difficulties are great, and these examples are just the extreme life or death situations. I've haven't even mentioned the politics they have to deal with while in office, some of which might seem like a fate worse than death!
I hope you've enjoyed my series on past presidents. Now if you'll excuse me, all this talk has made Ramses nervous and he's asked me to check to see if his milk and cherries were trying to assassinate him. He said they look "shifty."
Milk: I think he'll find that when it comes to spending a day outside in the sun, we don't agree with him at all!
Cherries: Yeah, it sure upsets us!Comments0
- The Odd Habits of Presidents Pt. 3
If Ramses were to be elected President of the United States, he would definitely be the first ram to ever hold the position, but he would not be the first ram to reside at the White House. Ever since George Washington, who had a pet parrot, presidents have shared the place with their favorite animals.
The third president, Thomas Jefferson, was the first to have sheep and ram graze on the White House's front lawn. Jefferson didn't only have sheep and rams though, he was passionate about animals, especially unusual ones. He once received a gift of a grizzly bear. Back in the early 1800's, America was populated mostly on the East Coast. Since grizzly bears lived in the wild on the west coast seeing one was like seeing an exotic creature.
The sixth president, John Quincy Adams, had an alligator as a pet (almost as bad an idea as a bear). While alligators are not known to be great pets the thirty-first President, Herbert Hoover's children also had two pet alligators. It was said you could see them walking around on the white house front lawn. I made it a habit of staying away from the White House then.
Calvin Coolidge, the thirteenth president, had more than just one strange pet. He had a whole zoo! He and his wife loved animals and along with the standard cats and dogs, he had many different types of birds, donkeys, horses, a lion cub, and even a wallaby from Australia (Sorry F.W., no wombats).
There are many more animals that presidents have kept including elephants, bald eagles, parrots (including one that could whistle "Yankee doodle dandy"), and dozens of cats, dogs and horses.
So you see there have been many strange animals that have resided in the White House, but I think you'll agree that if Ramses were elected, he just might be the strangest animal of all. None of the others wore a cape.
Ramses: "No more eating on the lawn for you! You guys get to eat with me at the president's table, plus you get capes!"Comments0
- The Odd Habits of Presidents Pt. 2
You might think it would be strange to have a president like Ramses who is obsessed with his cape. While it certainly would be strange to have Ramses as president, it would not necessarily be because of his cape fixation. You see there have been past presidents who were also obsessed with their favorite clothing.
One such leader was Chester A. Arthur, the twenty-first President. It wasn't capes he was obsessed with but rather fashion in general, and pants in particular. He had over eighty pairs of pants and would change the ones he was wearing many times a day.
Once he was elected, Chester even focused his fashion sense to the actual White House itself. Before he moved in the White House was a quiet, dull place. He quickly had the whole thing redecorated and it soon became a favorite party spot for sophisticated Washingtonians (actually, as I remember it, some of them were not all that sophisticated).
ABE: "Here Rhetorical, let me hold that for you."
Arguably though, the most famous piece of presidential clothing is Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat. Lincoln used his hat as more than just a fashion accessory. It was so large that he would often put papers in there, using the hat something like a backpack.
Once, on September 21, 1862, the hat played a part in a historic moment. Lincoln called a special meeting with all of his top officials attending. His hat was sitting on the table, and from out of it Lincoln pulled a piece of paper. On that paper was written the Emancipation Proclamation, which was the document that granted freedom to the slaves in the south (Lincoln signed the document in 1863, but it wasn't until after the Civil War ended that it became official).
So, if Ramses wants to run for president with a cape on I don't think it's really that big a deal. But, if he starts walking around in a stovepipe hat, I might begin to worry about what he's hiding underneath it.Comments0
The Odd Habits of Presidents Pt. 1
As you may have heard, it seems that Ramses is determined to run for president. While to some people that may sound like trouble, I assure you there have already been some very odd characters in the White House in the past (and I guarantee there will be more in the future).
Everybody has quirks, and the person who is president is no different. Well, there is one difference. When you're president, your quirks can become very public. Take John Quincy Adams for example.
John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States and son of the second president John Adams. He is remembered most for his dedication to fighting slavery, but did you know that John Quincy Adams was also an early riser?
That's right, he would often leave the White House at the break of dawn, take a brisk walk to the nearby Potomac River, take off his clothes, swim in the nude, dry himself off with napkins, dress, and return to the White House before most people woke up.
Swimming every day is a healthy habit, but some took advantage of the president's exercise routine. Once, he finished his swim only to find that his clothes were missing. He had to ask a young boy to run to the white house to get him some more clothes.
Another time, a female reporter approached him, after he was in the water, and sat on his clothes until he answered her questions. He asked if he could just take a moment and get dressed, but she demanded he answer her while he was still in the water. He's just lucky there were no paparazzi back then.
Oh, by the way, there is no need to warn Ramses about the dangers of presidential skinny-dipping. Even if he, ahem, got elected he never takes his cape off. Not when he's swimming, and not even on those rare occasions that he actually takes a bath.
I'll continue my series about the odd habits of presidents next time with a tale about a president who really, really, loved pants. Check back, you'll like it. Trust me, I know you will.Comments8
If he were still alive today, my friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be 148. If his name isn’t familiar to you the character he created might be. Arthur is the writer of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Sounds familiar now, right? While Arthur is mostly remembered for his tales about the world’s greatest detective, I remember him as a friend. Since today, May 22nd, is his birthday I thought I would tell you more about him.
Arthur was born in Edinburgh Scotland, and despite his future success as a writer, he initially started out as an eye doctor. I guess he wanted to help people see well so they could read books. Despite all of his medical training, Arthur’s true calling was telling stories.
He told me one time that his mother was his inspiration for becoming a writer. When he was a child she would tell him some of the most amazing stories, like an actress giving a performance. Later, in school, Arthur would amuse his friends by telling stories in such a way that would make his mother proud. I wasn’t a student while he was in college, but I would stop by the study area in the evening just to catch one of his tales.
Arthur went on treating patients with eye problems, but the whole time he was doing that he was also writing. He moved around a few times, going to Europe and then coming back to Britain before opening another eye clinic in Portsmouth England. In his autobiography he wrote that not one patient ever entered his clinic. Although, that’s not quite true, because one time I had gotten something in my eye and I went to
him for help.
As he carefully removed it for me, he told me of the new idea he had. Instead of writing about new characters in every story, he would write a series of mystery tales with the same main character. And guess who that character was. Yep, it was Sherlock Holmes.
Eventually, after many mysteries were set to paper, he got tired of always writing about Sherlock Holmes, and began to get very interested in spirituality. While he never stopped writing about Holmes completely, he began to write more about his new spiritual interests, and also about his experiences in war, and his own personal investigations into crimes.
Arthur has influenced many writers over time, but not many have admired him half as much as Moo-Cow does. I’ve read some of Moo-Cow’s mysteries, and I can tell you that, while they are quite different, my old friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be proud. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Moo-Cow
is having a birthday party for his favorite author and I don’t want to miss the cake.
Moo-Cow and Rhetorical at the birthday party enjoying their licorice pipes.Comments2