PUMPKINS: THE MEATIEST FRUIT

Pumpkin patch

Having consumed all the pawpaws, I’ve turned to pumpkins. Pumpkins, too, are a native fruit. (Yes, botanically, pumpkins are fruits, a type of berry known as a pepo, to be precise. But cooks and diners commonly class pumpkins with vegetables—along with squash, tomatoes, eggplant and other “vegetables” that have their seeds on the inside—allowing pawpaw to be the largest native food that is considered and eaten as fruit.)

Pumpkin History

Three sisters: pumpkins, corn, and beans
Three Sisters by Garlan Miles

Pumpkins and winter squash are native to the Americas, from the southwestern part of what is now the United States through much of central and South America.  People have cultivated pumpkins at least since 3500 B.C.E. Corn and pumpkins are the oldest known crops in the western hemisphere. 

And who hasn’t heard about the Cahokian, Muscogee, and Iroquois “three sisters” system of companion planting: corn, beans, and squash/pumpkins grown together to the benefit of all.

Native peoples baked pumpkins whole in wood ashes, stewed them, and sometimes made a sort of succotash with beans and corn. Pumpkin was a popular ingredient in meat stews. They roasted long strips of pumpkin on an open fire until edible 

Dried pumpkin
Dried pumpkin

Roasted seeds were (and are) eaten as a delicacy.  In fall, people cut pumpkins into rings and hung up the strips to dry, later to grind the strips into flour to add to bread. 

Perhaps more unexpectedly, Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin flesh and wove them into mats.  And, they made a fermented drink from pumpkins. (Researchers have recently found that fermenting pumpkin reduces insulin-dependent sugars, making it a particularly suitable beverage for diabetics.)

Native Americans introduced colonists to pumpkins and they, too, relied heavily on pumpkin for food as evidenced by this poem (circa 1630):

For pottage and puddings and custard and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies:
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon.

Anonymous Plymouth Plantation colonist

Early colonists used pumpkins as the Native Americans taught them, also making pumpkin butter (similar to apple butter) and pumpkin syrup (as a substitute for molasses). 

During the Revolutionary War, they made pumpkin sugar! (Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Anne Copeland) FYI: at one time, the Port of Boston was called Pumpkinshire.

Pumpkin pie

Now, eating pumpkin is more seasonal. Come October, one can easily find pumpkin muffins, bread, meatloaf, soup, ice cream, and drinks. Thoughts of pumpkin pie stir. (FYI, the canned product sold for making pumpkin pies actually is Cucurbita moschata, a species of winter squash. The FDA does not distinguish among varieties of squash when labeling canned foods.) 

Pumpkin Folklore

The Pumpkin Effigy 1867
The Pumpkin Effigy“, from Harper’s Weekly, November 23, 1867

Although once an important food source, pumpkins are now more prominent in Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. 

Jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland. According to legend, Stingy Jack fooled the devil so many times that when Jack arrived at the gates of hell, the devil wouldn’t let him in. Instead he sent him off into the night with a burning lump of coal, which Jack put into a hollowed out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since. 

“If you knew the sufferings of that forsaken craythur, since the time the poor sowl was doomed to wandher, with a lanthern in his hand, on this cowld earth, without rest for his foot, or shelter for his head, until the day of judgment… oh, it ‘ud soften the heart of stone to see him as I once did, the poor old dunawn, his feet blistered and bleeding, his poneens (rags) all flying about him, and the rains of heaven beating on his ould white head.”

Dublin Penny Journal 1836
Does this count as cannibalism? Jack-ibalism?

Immigrants to America continued the tradition of making jack-o-lanterns but switched to easier to carve pumpkins.  The influx of Irish immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries greatly increased the popularity of Halloween celebrations. They adapted the customs and traditions of Samhain to their new homes in North America, including dressing in costumes, trick-or-treating, pranking houses, and carving jack-o-lanterns.

Pumpkin Varieties

Imagine a pumpkin. Chances are, what came to mind first was a “typical” pumpkin, 12-18 pounds, oblong and orange, as commonly seen around and about in October, suitable for painting and carving. But consider the variety!

Jack Be Little Pumpkins
Jack Be Little

One of the most popular miniature pumpkin varieties is Jack Be Little, orange, about 3” in diameter and 2” high. Typically used for fall decorations, they’re also edible and grow well on trellises, making them ideal for small growing spaces.

Baby Boo Pumpkins
Baby Boo

Baby Boo are small white pumpkins, also suitable for decorating and eating. Each plant produces about 10 pumpkins. Extreme sun and frost don’t affect growth adversely. 

At the other end of the continuum, you’ll find giant pumpkins: in 2022, a pumpkin set a new North American record, weighing 2,560 pounds. This was at the 49th Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, California, though Travis Gienger grew the pumpkin in Minnesota. 

Half Moon Bay considers itself the pumpkin capital of the world because local growers produce more than 3,000 tons of pumpkins each year. But in 2021, Stefano Crutupi, an Italian grower, set the world record for giant pumpkins with a 2,703 pound pumpkin.

Pumpkin Celebrations

Legoland features jack-o-lanterns made of Legos at their annual Brick or Treat Halloween Festival.

To truly appreciate pumpkins, go to a pumpkin festival. My home state of Ohio hosts the Circleville Pumpkin Show—“The Greatest Pumpkin Show on Earth”—always held the 3rd Wednesday through Saturday in October. There is, of course, every pumpkin food and beverage you might want available for purchase. Plus you can enjoy a giant pumpkin weigh-in, pumpkin carving demonstrations, and the crowning of Little Miss Pumpkin Show. And concerts for music lovers (this year featuring DJ Tune Stoned and The Poverty String Band).

The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival boasts the largest display of lit jack-o-lanterns every year. At the Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, NY, visitors can “hunt zombies” in paintball tournaments. Stone Mountain, GA has an annual Play By Day / Glow By Night Pumpkin Festival at the end of October. Milton, WV hosts an annual Pumpkin Park at the beginning of October.

Truth be told, once upon a time, I used canned pumpkin for cooking and fresh pumpkins only for jack-o-lanterns . But when I had three daughters, and thus three pumpkins, I couldn’t bear the waste, and started collecting pumpkin recipes. I once thought of writing The Great Pumpkin Cookbook, but never got beyond a notebook full of clippings. I lost momentum when I found the following:


But I will share one pumpkin soup recipe, I made up based on a side dish my son-in-law made.

Savory Pumpkin Soup
1-2 cloves chopped garlic 
Chopped onion
Vegetable or olive oil to sauté
Equal amounts of pumpkin puree and diced canned tomatoes
Vegetable or chicken broth
Optional: your favorite herb or spice, such as basil, curry, etc.
Blue cheese or feta cheese

Gauge the garlic and onion on the basis of your taste and the amount of soup you are making. (For 15 oz. cans of tomatoes and puree, I use 1 clove of garlic and half a medium onion.) Sauté garlic and onion till soft. Add the pumpkin and tomatoes, and enough broth to make a soup of the consistency you like. If using additional seasonings, add now. Simmer to blend.  When hot, add cheese to taste and stir to melt.

BOTTOM LINE: there’s a lot more to pumpkins than decorations and pie!

Pumpkin patch
You never know what you might find in a pumpkin patch!

HOW SWEET IT IS!

Periodically, a friend of a friend gifts me with a few pawpaws. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a little known and (IMHO) not a pretty fruit. They are especially not pretty when left in the fridge during a week at the beach.

Pawpaws

These are what remain of my most recent gift, received two days before I left town. Surprisingly, five of them are not just edible after a week in the fridge; they’re delicious. Which brings me to wax poetic—or at least, try to—about this fruit native to Virginia and most of the eastern United States and southern Canada.

Pawpaw seeds

For one thing, it’s the only fruit native anywhere in North America that resembles tropical fruits. It is also the largest edible fruit native to North America. Open a pawpaw and you’ll find a sunshine-yellow pulp dotted with dark brown/black seeds. The flesh is the consistency of pudding and tastes like some combination of banana, mango, and pineapple. What’s not to love?

In 1541, a Portuguese explorer who accompanied explorer Hernando de Santo wrote, “The fruit is like unto Peares Riall [pears royal]; it has a very good smell and an excellent taste.”

Pawpaws are high in vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. They are a good source of potassium and several essential amino acids, and they also contain significant amounts of riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc.

I eat it “as is” but people who have enough to save for later can freeze the flesh for baking, or make it into preserves. Pawpaws will not ripen if plucked from the tree too early, but unripe pawpaws can ferment into a sweet wine that pawpaw connoisseurs highly prize.

Pawpaw seeds

And about those seeds: as the largest edible fruit native to North America (5-16 oz., 3-6 inches long), there is plenty of room for seeds. The seeds are reminiscent of lima beans in shape, and adorn the flesh in two rows, 10-14 seeds per fruit. Each seed is 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches. Reputedly, pawpaws grow easily from seeds, but I’ve never tried. In the wild, pawpaws send out suckers, creating the “pawpaw patch” of song. Pawpaw cultivators frequently grow new trees from grafts and can produce fruit up to a pound and a half in size.

When sucked clean, the seeds feel satin smooth. One might be tempted to carry one as a lucky charm or worry “stone.”  I can imagine these seeds used in children’s games: money, tokens… But if one chooses to play with dry pawpaw seeds, be aware that dry seeds won’t germinate.

Unlike most fruit trees, pawpaws do not attract bees for pollination. The flowers attract carrion flies and beetles. Pawpaw leaves are the only host for zebra swallowtail butterfly larva.

Pawpaw History

If you aren’t familiar with pawpaws, you aren’t alone. You might know them as a poor man’s banana, Indiana banana, prairie banana, frost banana, custard apple, fetid-bush, or bandango. They aren’t easy to store or ship and so haven’t been developed as a commercial food until recently.  Food scientist Neal Peterson is one of many pawpaw enthusiasts who has spent decades breeding and cultivating pawpaws to make them commercially viable, greatly widening their availability.

Pawpaw cross-section

But they were a key component of American Indian diets; indeed, the Shawnee even had a “pawpaw month” (ha’siminikiisfwa) when they harvested and preserved pawpaws. It was a cultivated food for many tribes along the Eastern Seaboard.  Archaeologists have found huge quantities of pawpaw seeds and remnants at the sites of the earliest Native American settlements all along the east coast of North America.

A wise move, because pawpaws are incredibly nutritious. 

At least two U.S. presidents favored pawpaws: reportedly, they were George Washington’s favorite dessert. Thomas Jefferson grew pawpaws at Monticello and had the seeds shipped to friends in Paris when he was the American ambassador to France.

Journal entries document that pawpaws fed the Lewis & Clark expedition on their return trip in the fall of 1810.  In fact, pawpaw fruits and nuts saved the expedition from starvation and death when in western Missouri their rations ran low and no game was to be found. 

Our party entirely out of provisions. Subsisting on poppaws. We divide the buiskit [sic] (biscuits) which amount to nearly one buisket [sic] per man, this in addition to the poppaws is to last us down to the Settlement’s which is 150 miles.

William Clark (Lewis & CLark Expedition)

For a time, many European settlers viewed the pawpaw as a marker of racial difference, according to food historian Rebecca Earle. As ideas about racial and societal divides developed and codified, white settlers often dismissed pawpaws. Rejecting “different” foods, including pawpaws, as fit only for “different” races, became part of the colonial identity.

Their hardiness and tendency to grow wild made pawpaws a common food source along several areas of the Underground Railroad.

During the Great Depression, people often ate pawpaws as a substitute for other fruits, hence their nickname “poor man’s bananas.” Though the pawpaw continued to be an important fruit in the North American diet, interest waned after World War II with the introduction of other fruits. Racist views of the pawpaw’s place in the American diet contributed to its marginalization. As Dr. Devon Mihesuah, a scholar of Indigenous foodways, says, pawpaws haven’t been forgotten so much as “ignored, disliked, and unavailable.”

Pawpaw cultivars in Michigan
Pawpaw orchard in Michigan
Joe Grant Pawpaw
by Cbarlow

Nowadays, most pawpaws are very difficult to find outside of a few local farm markets, though some breeders are working to change that. The Cattawba Nation has started a food sovereignty program, including planting a pawpaw orchard. Every year, the Ohio Pawpaw Festival celebrates all the possibilities of this uniquely American fruit.

Although not a place name in Virginia, many states have named towns and villages after pawpaws, including Paw Paw, WV; Paw Paw, KY; Paw Paw, OK; and numerous others towns in Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. In Michigan, the Paw Paw River drains into the Paw Paw Lake and Little Pawpaw Lake, skirting by the town of Paw Paw. Natchitoches, LA, translates to “pawpaw eaters,” a name given by the Caddo.

Folklore 

In the fall, Buck Run bananas [pawpaws] are ripe – in the frost fall, a wise man takes a wife.

Tennessee wisdom
Pawpaw cluster

Rural populations relied heavily on pawpaw fruit as a food source, so naturally other parts of the tree figured heavily in medicine and folklore traditions. In some communities, people wore pawpaw seeds as an amulet to prevent disease. Shawnee and Catawba artisans used pawpaw bark fiber to make fishing nets and lines, weaving designs for luck and good fish catches into the nets.

Pawpaws offered powerful protection against Ozark Witches. Ozarkers used many means to thwart witches, especially to protect the home. One method was driving several tiny pegs of pawpaw wood into the doorsill.

The (supposedly) powerful Pawpaw Conjure used wood from the pawpaw tree:

This charm could be employed if the witch master could obtain the witch’s nail parings, a lock of hair, a tooth, or a cloth with her blood on it. The hair, nail parings, or other personal effects were stuck to the end of a wooden peg with beeswax. The witch master took this peg out into the woods at midnight, bored a hole in the fork of a pawpaw tree, and drove the peg into the hole. The witch, and her powers, were expected to dwindle.

owennativefoods.com

BOTTOM LINE: Get thee to the pawpaw patch. I recently learned that Richmond has a pawpaw walk along the river, free for the taking!

Pawpaw Patch song

THE WONDER OF WATER

I’m in Corolla, NC now, reveling in the wonder that is water. I grew up more-or-less in the middle of Ohio—not exactly water country. I first saw the ocean at age twenty, during spring break on the east coast of Florida near Tequesta/Jupiter. It was love at first sight: soft, white sand; clear, warm water; and the sounds of moving water… 

Since then I’ve been near—or better yet, sailing on—water at every opportunity. Life is just better on water.

And this isn’t a placebo effect, specific to me! 

The Wonder of Water Outside the Body

There are psychological benefits to water, especially oceans.  Research indicates that, being by the sea has a positive impact on mental health.  (Psych Central)

  • Minerals in the sea air reduce stress
  • Negatively charged ions in the sea air combat free radicals, improving alertness and concentration
  • Salt in the water preserves tryptamine, serotonin and melatonin levels in the brain, which aid in diminishing depression or increasing your overall sense of wellness
  • The sounds of waves alter the brain’s wave patterns, producing a state of relaxation

So, even the sound of water is powerful, soothing. Water sounds have long been used in meditation.  The benefits of “blue space” – the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains – are less well publicized, yet the science has been consistent for at least a decade: being by water is good for body and mind.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa (神奈川沖浪裏)
from Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai

Whenever I’m near the ocean, a bay, a river, I’m awed by the vastness and the interconnectedness of water. Water makes up 71% of the Earth’s surface. I often think about cells sanded off my feet and ending up oceans away. 

And I’ve experienced nothing more awesome than being on the water in a small boat during a storm. Watching lighting go from the earth up. Furling the sails and trying to hold the tiller steady. And knowing that the water is primal, and ultimately has all the power. I’m inconsequential.

Listening to ocean sounds is a popular sleep aid:  people are able to let go of thoughts and allow sleep in.

And then there is the beneficial environmental factors, such as less polluted air and more sunlight. Also, people who live by water tend to be more physically active – not just with water sports, but walking and cycling. (The Guardian)

The Wonder of Water Inside the Body

In addition there are physiological benefits of water: reducing muscle tension and joint stress, and keeping skin moisturized, hair shiny, etc. (Fix)

When was the last time you thought about—really thought about—water? (Not counting hurricane Ian, of course.) How many times a day do you unthinkingly turn on a faucet? Water is so prevalent it’s easy to forget that life depends on it. People deprived of food and water will die of dehydration first. 

Water makes up 75% of the human brain. People who consume too much alcohol often wake so parched that their tongues stick to the roof of their mouths and their lips stick together. Imagine what has happened to your watery brain. (For the handful of you out there who have never had such an experience, think cotton balls and glue.)

The Wonder of Water and the History of the Body

The Nile, as seen from space
Even in modern times, human settlements cluster around rivers and seashores.

Much of our nutrition comes from seafood. Waterways have long been a means of transportation and an avenue of trade. But the wonder of water goes way beyond its utility.

Once upon a time, our ancestors slithered out of the sea. People still want to live and stay by water. Water property values are consistently higher than others. Of course, which water, and whether there is access to it, etc., count for a lot, but still… 

For suggestions about how to bring more water benefits into your life, see Blue Mind: The Health Benefits of Being by the Water.

BOTTOM LINE: There’s nothing more wondrous than water.

A SACRED STONE

Stone lingam and yoni pedestal found in Cát Tiên, Vietnam, circa 8th century

I recently bought a smooth, elliptical stone in shades of mahogany and taupe.  Since I was in pre-school, I’ve been picking up stones, and I have several plates and bowls of them around the house. Larger stones decorate my garden. I could not resist such an interesting looking and fabulous feeling stone.

This is the second stone I purchased at Crafts Without Borders in Connecticut. This time, I was moved to learn more about it.

Zarwani Waterfall on the River Narmada

Shiva Lingam Stones

These are Shiva Lingam stones, natural stones from the bed of the Narmada River, one of the seven sacred rivers of India. These stones are river-tumbled to a smooth surface. No two stones are alike. 

Also known as Namadeshwar Lingam, these stones are said to have sprung from the body of Lord Shiva. According to Britannica, “lingam, लिङ्ग (Sanskrit: “sign” or “distinguishing symbol”) also spelled linga, in Hinduism, a votary object that symbolizes the god Shiva and is revered as an emblem of generative power. The lingam appears in Shaivite temples and in private shrines throughout India.”  People bring offerings of milk, water, fresh flowers, young sprouts of grass, fruit, leaves, and sun-dried rice.  

My Shiva Lingam

My stones are shaped like elongated eggs. The egg represents the female and the male principle.

Lingam from Angkor period on display at the National Museum of Cambodia. Discovered in Battambang Province (Cambodia), made of bronze, quartz, and silver

This stone is jasper, which consists of chalcedony, opal, and quartz.  It provides protection, grounding the body and boosting overall energy. 

Meaning of Shiva Lingam

These stones first caught my attention because of the way they look and feel, but they have a much deeper meaning and history than that.

According to mystonemeaning.com, “People involved in finding water and springs can carry this stone. Shiva Lingam Stone brings courage to resolve conflicts and problems with determination. It helps us think faster, organize better, and turn ideas into action. In this way, we manage to fulfil our obligations.

A 5th-century Mukha-linga (with face)

“When in a relationship, this stone can enhance a sense of intimacy and closeness. Shiva Lingam Stone provides support if you are suffering from a chronic illness or are hospitalized. This stone is great for all those who have problems with blood circulation, digestive tract and reproductive organs. It can balance the mineral content of our body.

Eight faced Shivlingam in Pashupatinath Temple at MandsaurMadhya Pradesh

Shiva Lingam Stone is associated with Earth. It helps us connect with our environment and raise awareness about ecology. Thanks to this stone, we can meditate deeply and discover the karmic causes of all the problems in our lives. Shiva Lingam strengthens the immune system and cleanses toxins from the body.

“Unlike other stones that act on individual chakras, Shiva Lingam acts on all chakras equally. This stone can awaken kundalini energy. We can find kundalini energy in the root chakra, at the base of the spine. The kundalini is wrapped seven times and runs upward. When we stimulate kundalini energy, the chakras gradually open and release through the crown chakra.”

Sphatika (quartz) lingams in the Shri Parkasheshwar Mahadev Temple, Dehradun

Incorporating Shiva Linga in the home is auspicious and virtuous to the family. I’ll keep you posted!

Bottom Line: If you believe in the power of stones, Shiva Lingam’s got you covered.

THE BIRDS

I’m fascinated by birds both as fauna outside my window and as elements of tattoos. They are just interesting!  And because birds are ubiquitous, and noticeable, it’s no wonder people attach meaning to birds, in general and specifically. 

Composite photo of great horned owl flight phases
Art Siegel

Birds in General

Birds are widely regarded as symbols of freedom and eternity due to their ability to soar into the skies. Bird symbolism exists all over the world as part of different cultures, religions, and traditions. Birds symbolize aspects of our lives, nature, and the unknown world.  According to The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, the flight of birds leads them naturally to be seen as links—intermediaries—between heaven and earth. 

Gouro (Nuna) Hornbill Mask from Burkina Faso
photo by Roman Bonnefoy
  • In a generalized sense, birds symbolize spiritual states, angels and higher forms of being.
  • Sometimes the lightness of birds—their volatility, flitting hither and thither without aim or purpose—cause them to be seen as distractions and diversions.
  • The earliest Vedic texts show that birds, in general, were considered symbols of the friendship of the gods for mankind.
  • In the Celtic world, birds were considered to be assistants or the messengers of the gods or of the underworld.
  • Nocturnal birds are often thought to be the souls of the dead, come to wail in the dark around their old homes.
  • Ancient Egyptian tomb art depicted the soul of the dead as a bird with the head of either a man or a woman.
  • Blue and green birds served as messengers of the gods in several east Asian folk tales.
Early fifth-century BC statue of Aphrodite from Cyprus, showing her wearing a cylinder crown and holding a dove
  • In the Koran, the word “bird” is often synonymous with “fate.”
    • In Muslim tradition “green bird” is an epithet applied to a number of saints.
    • Islamic poets often use birds as symbols of the immortality of the soul.
  • It is commonly believed—and science has confirmed—birds have a language, complete with vocabulary and syntax.
  • In sub-Saharan African art, birds are frequent symbols, especially on masks. Birds symbolize strength and life, and often fertility.
  • The Yakut believe that after death, the souls of both good and evil fly to heaven in the shape of birds. 
  • Blue birds symbolize hope in Russian folk tales.

“The earliest evidence of the belief in the soul-bird is undoubtedly provided by the myth of the phoenix.”
(The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols)

Specific Birds 

From Ask Legit, here is a sample of common birds.

Sparrows 

In Greek mythology, the sparrow was one of the birds associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Interestingly, scientists consider sparrows to be one of the most lustful birds. 

In Kent, England, a person who caught a sparrow had to kill it to prevent their parents’ death. 

In native European folklore, if a sparrow flies into someone’s house it is a sign of impending death.

Victorian Christmas cards often depicted dead sparrows, possibly for luck, possibly as a call for empathy.
See Hyperallergic

In Indonesian folklore, a sparrow flying into someone’s home symbolized good luck. If the bird built a nest in the home, it meant that a wedding would happen in the home soon. 

Ancient Egyptians considered sparrows to be soul catchers, carrying the souls of the dead to heaven.

It was a common practice for sailors to tattoo themselves with sparrow images to ensure their safe passage to heaven in case they died at sea. 

For more details, check out Owlcation’s The Meaning of Sparrows.

Eagles

Eagles are among the most commonly used animals in ancient and modern symbolism. The eagle generally represents strength, freedom, and wisdom. 

Many Native American communities considered eagles (especially the bald eagle) to be sacred animals relating to wisdom, bravery, and a connection to the spiritual realm.  Eagles’ feathers were widely used in certain religious rituals. Today, there are numerous sculptures, statues, and carvings of eagles throughout the Americas.

Harpy eagle on the Coat of Arms of Panama

In native Celtic culture, where trees were considered sacred, any animal that lived in or on trees was equally considered sacred. Thus, eagles were closely associated with three gods. 

In Mayan culture, the eagle is one of the Zodiac signs. It represents human beings who value freedom and can never be tied to a single place or person. 

In ancient Egypt, the eagle was a symbol of wisdom because it flew higher than people and was, therefore, able to see the world from a far wider perspective than humans did. 

Blue Jays

The blue jay is native to North America. It is renowned for its tenacity and determination. It is especially relentless when dealing with its enemies. 

Blue jays are known for their patience and intelligence. It has been claimed that the bird often uses strips of materials like newspaper strips as tools to get food.

The blue jay is seen to be in pairs. When they fly, the pairs keep a great distance from each other, decreasing the probability of being targeted by the enemy. 

Blue Jay, a DC Comic character

Spiritually, the bird is thought to give knowledge and memories of long-forgotten things and provides intelligence on how to use them to seize opportunities.  The blue jay symbolizes the ability to use any situation to one’s benefit. This comes from the bird’s ability to build nests in any tree or environment that suits it.

A blue jay is very aggressive and makes different varieties of loud sounds that travel over a long distances. In some cultures, having a blue jay as your totem implies that you are aggressive and, therefore, there is nothing that can stop you from defending what you consider right. 

 In certain cultures, those who have the blue jay as their spirit totem are said to be excellent in communication-related jobs such as law, public speaking, and politics. 

Variations of the Bluebird of Happiness appear in Chinese, Russian, and European folklore, but they generally do not refer to the North America blue jay.

Robins

Robins are a common sight in North America, often seen pulling earthworms off the ground. The robin is known for its end-of-winter appearance, cheery songs, and orange-colored breast. While the birds are a common sight in cities and towns, they are also at home in forests and mountains. 

Robins are famous as the quintessential early birds. 

Ancient Europeans considered the robin to be a symbol of divine sacrifice and rebirth. The robin brought happiness, change, wisdom, and happy songs. 

Several ancient Christian paintings depict the robin as Christ’s helper. It is said that the robin tried to pull off the thorns from Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. 

Robin, of Batman fame, wears a costume inspired by the bird.

The robin is a symbol of nurturing young ones into adulthood. Robins are widely considered to be some of the best parents among all bird species. Seeing a robin is therefore associated with new growth in some cultures. 

In Hinduism, the red color on a robin’s chest is said to symbolize a person’s kundalini (a serpent-like force at the base of a human’s spine). When one experiences inner spiritual growth, the kundalini uncoils and moves upwards as the person’s enlightenment and awareness increase. 

Cardinal

The northern cardinal, usually just called the cardinal, is a fairly large, long-tailed songbird with a short, very thick bill and a prominent crest. People usually think first of the adult male, bright red with black markings. The female is taupe and less-intensely colored.

In Ancient Rome, the cardinal was regarded as a spiritual messenger sent by those who died and went to heaven. The word cardinal comes from the Latin word cardo meaning “hinge.” The birds are therefore seen as hinges on the doorway between heaven and earth. 

Among Native Americans, the cardinal has strong ties to other realms and, as such, acts as a messenger from the ancestors. Several southeastern tribes associated cardinals with the sun as well as with good fortune. 

In China and Japan, the cardinal is closely associated with the mythical phoenix (the bird of transformation, fire, and rebirth). The cardinal was associated with honorable rulers coming to power as well as the end of wars.  

In China, the cardinal (Red Bird) is said to stand over the southern quarter of creation and defend it from evil influences. 

Magpies
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self

-Traditional English Nursery Rhyme

Other Birds

I found the anqu (or anqa) intriguing, not only because it would be an awesome Scrabble word, but also because I never heard of it. 

Research led by the American Museum of Natural History suggests that there are about 18,000 bird species in the world. I’d venture to say that there is symbolism associated with most if not all of them!

The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols includes entries for anqa, bustard, cock, crane, crow, cuckoo, dove, duck, eagle, falcon, grouse, homa, hoopoe, kingfisher, kite, lark, macaw, magpie, nightingale, nightjar, oriole, owl, partridge, peacock, pelican, pheasant, phoenix, pigeon, quail, roc, simurg, sparrowhawk, stork, swallow, swan, vulture, wagtail.

The supernatural Thunderbird flaps its wings to create thunder and flashes its eyes to create lightning. Ojibwe thunderbirds punish humans for lack of morals. Menominee thunderbirds protect the earth from being overrun by great horned snakes and act as messengers for the sun. The seal of the Menominee Nation features a thunderbird. A Ho-Chunk who sees a thunderbird while fasting will become a great leader.

A three-legged crow, according to several East Asian folk traditions, lives in the sun or is the messenger of a deity living in the sun. The Chinese sanzuwu was one of twelve ornaments used to decorate Imperial clothing in ancient China. A golden or red jinwu represents the Sun in ancient Han temple art. The Japanese yatagarasu acts as a messenger of divine will and represents rebirth. The Japan Football Association features the yatagarasu on its badge. The Korean samjok-o is alternately a symbol, messenger, and resident of the Sun, more powerful than dragons.

Bottom line: whatever bird suits you, your character, your life, or your plot, check it out!

EASY FIXES FOR FLABBY PROSE

(It’s not flabby; it’s fluffy!)

By flabby prose, I mean prose that includes unnecessary words. Besides improving the quality of one’s prose, cutting out excess words can help keep the word count down when there are page or word limits.

Stop Mentioning the POV Character’s Senses 

“The flavors of carrots and mulch mingled on his tongue.”

Yes, sensory images are rich and desirable. What’s unnecessary is citing the character’s senses. 

~She heard squirrels scampering up her tree.
~He smelled the tantalizing scent of acorns.
~They saw flying squirrels swooping overhead.

~Squirrels scampered up the tree outside.
~The scent of acorns filled the breeze.
~Flying squirrels swooped among branches overhead.

“The banana thief twitched his tail to remain steady for his heist, upside-down and backwards.”
(Proprioception or equilibrioception)

If the character describes a squirrel stealing a banana, the reader knows that character sees it and needn’t be told that he sees it. Ditto for other sensory systems. If they are mentioned, make it a conscious decision for a writerly reason.

Don’t forget the other senses! In addition to the five we all learned about in school, scientists classify up to 21 neurological senses. The body’s awareness of its place in relation to surroundings (proprioception) is invaluable to any character in tight spaces or moving quickly. Feelings of hunger or lack of air are classified as chemical senses, very useful to characters undergoing any kind of physical deprivation.

Consider also balance, gravity, pain, temperature, air pressure, the passage of time, itching, muscle tension, or even the perception of magnetic fields. There is an entirely separate set of nerves to detect stretching in the lungs, stomach, bladder, and blood vessels. Just think what a character could do when paying attention to that!

Stop Telling What a Character Notices, Remembers, Etc.

“The seed-stealer gyrated and spun, his prize always just out of reach.”

If a character recounts something from the past, it’s clear s/he remembers it. When a squirrel was a hairless kit, his mother taught him how to steal from bird feeders. He doesn’t have to tell his friends that he remembers being a kit.

Your reader doesn’t have to be told that the POV character noticed the squirrel hanging off the bird feeder again. It’s probably an event that happens every time the bird feeder is filled.

This is similar to how one handles what a character sees, hears, feels, smells, or tastes: it’s typically obvious in the rest of the sentence.

Beware Is, Are, Was, and Were

“Gravity worked overtime, and her limbs refused to work at all.”

By and large, these verbs should be replaced by something stronger and less passive.  “Fatigue weighs her down” is much stronger than “She is fatigued.”

Reconsider -ing Verbs

Is, are, was, and were often precede an -ing verb. For example, ”is walking” or “was walking” might better be replaced with “walks” or “walked.”

Question Every Adverb and Adjective

“The graceful, red-furred, majestic, enormous, flying squirrel soars gracefully and majestically, proudly displaying its enormous, red-furred wing flaps in its graceful, majestic flight.”

Some writing teacher or other once told me that an adverb modifying a verb is often hiding a stronger verb. For example, consider replacing “walked fast” with “rushed” or “hurried” or “scurried” or whatever fits the context. 

“This pale, white, albino squirrel displays the very odd and unique trait of striking, brilliantly blue, nearly cobalt eyes.”

Saying something is very tall or very beautiful is vague, triggering different images for different readers. Specify “over seven feet tall,” for example, or say what is beautiful about the person, object, scenery, etc.

And for goodness sake, don’t modify things that shouldn’t be modified, that are already specific. There is no such thing as ”very unique.” Unique means one-of-a-kind. If it isn’t truly unique, switch to “very rare”—and then consider whether the “very” is really needed! A second and a glance are, by definition fast/brief. Enough said.

Examine Attributions 

“You’re eating too fast,” he said.
“I’m hungry!” he said.
“You’re hogging all the jackfruit,” he said.
“This fruit outweighs both of us combined. Calm down,” he said.
“You’ll make yourself sick,” he said.
“Stop worrying,” he said.
“My stomach hurts just watching you,” he said.
“Krjxqkkkk…. Ahem….. Choked on a seed,” he said.
“Told you so!” he said.

Probably everyone knows that the most frequent, useful, and unobtrusive attribution is “s/he said.” True, when multiple people interact in a scene, the writer needs to identify whether it’s Joan, John, Susan, or Sam speaking.  But when there are only two people in a scene, identifying/attributing every change of speaker gets clunky. Use sparingly.

If you’re unsure about whether it sounds clunky, try reading it aloud.

Bottom line: Go forth and tighten your prose!

WHEN WIND MEETS WATER

Wind interacts with water much the way it interacts with land. Local breezes are of most significance to athletes such as golfers, tennis players, sailors, and football players—anyone whose goal requires a precise interaction between object and wind, even a light one.

Unpredictable Winds

Waterspout
Tornadic Waterspouts in Budva

Waterspouts are largely comparable to dust devils on land. They fall into two categories: fair weather waterspouts and tornadic waterspouts.

Fair weather waterspouts are generally not associated with thunderstorms. A waterspout develops on the surface of the water and works its way upward. Fair weather waterspouts form in light wind conditions, so they normally move very little. Typically, fair weather waterspouts dissipate rapidly when they make landfall, and rarely penetrate far inland.

Tornadic waterspouts develop downward in a thunderstorm, and form over water—or (less often) move from land to water. Except for their development, they have the same characteristics as land tornados. They are associated with severe thunderstorms, and are often accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning.

Steam Devils
Steam Devils in Yellowstone Park

steam devil is a small, weak whirlwind over water (or sometimes wet land) that has drawn fog into the vortex, which makes it visible.

Steam devils form over large lakes and oceans during cold air outbreaks while the water is still relatively warm, and can be an important mechanism in vertically transporting moisture. They are a component of sea smoke.

Castle Geyser in Yellowstone Park

Smaller steam devils and steam whirls can form over geyser basins even in warm weather because of the very high water temperatures. Hot springs in Yellowstone Park produce them on a daily basis, though they tend to be rare in nature.

Steam devils and steam whirls look very ethereal and frequently give rise to stories of ghosts and spirits. Because some of these geysers and temperature changes are regular and some are not, characters living by or traveling through areas “haunted” by steam devils could be seen as cursed, magical, outcast, guarded, etc. by nearby communities.

Tornadoes and Invisible Tornadoes
Invisible Tornado (Mostly)

A tornado is a narrow, violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. We’ve all seen tornados, at least on the news or in movies. As if they weren’t dangerous enough, tornadoes can sometimes be invisible if they don’t pick up any water or debris while spinning around.

Tornadoes can be among the most violent phenomena of all atmospheric storms we experience.  The National Weather Service categorizes tornadoes by a number rating, from zero to five, based on the twister’s inflicted damage according to the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

As a narrative tool, tornadoes offer immediate, often unforeseen danger. Even with modern meteorology tools, there is very little warning before a tornado touches down. The destruction caused by tornadoes is often very narrow, arbitrarily destroying one house while leaving its neighbor untouched.

Hurricane, Cyclone, Typhoon
Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose as Seen from Space

A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms. Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 miles per hour (mph) are called tropical depressions. Those with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are called tropical storms

When a storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is called a hurricane.  The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating, or category, based on a hurricane’s maximum sustained winds.

Aftermath of Cyclone Pam in 2015 (photograph by Graham Crumb)

Generally, hurricanes originate in the Atlantic Basin; storms of the same force in the Pacific Basin are called typhoons.  “Hurricane” is thought to have originated in Taino, meaning “Wind God.” “Typhoon” may have come from ancient Greek “tuphon” meaning “whirlwind” or “big/ heavenly wind.” According to language, our ancestors thought these enormous storms had a supernatural origin.

Predictable Winds

Although much about the weather is unpredictable—or at least most predictable short term, other weather patters are almost like clockwork. These generally predictable winds are called Periodic or Trade Winds.

Sea Breezes and Land Breezes
Illustration by Bharat Choudhary

These develop due to differences in the temperatures between water and dry land.  A sea breeze or onshore breeze is any wind that blows from a large body of water toward or onto a landmass, carrying some moisture; land/offshore breezes blow to sea and are dry.

These breezes are periodic because they are generally predictable, morning and evening. Also, they are relatively localized, and much beloved by beachgoers. 

Monsoons 
Incoming Monsoon Clouds in Goa, India

A monsoon is a months-long, seasonal, prevailing wind in the region of South and Southeast Asia. Between May and September, the wind blows from the southwest and brings rain (the wet monsoon). Between October and April, the wind blows from the northeast (the dry monsoon). 

These rains blow in from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea in the southwest bringing heavy rainfall to the area. The temperature difference created by the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Himalayan wall forms the basis of monsoons in the Indian subcontinent.

The regularity of monsoon seasons governs the agricultural patterns in these areas. Changes to the monsoon—if it comes late, brings more or less water than expected, or moves its path—can cause enormous hardship to communities that rely on the crops grown according to expected patterns.

Mountain and Valley Breezes 
Illustration by Yue Gan

Valley breeze is the hot air blowing from the valley up to the slopes of mountain slopes.  In contrast, mountain breeze is the valley breeze that is the cold air from the mountain flow towards the valley.

Trade Winds and Westerlies
Prevailing Westerlies near Duloch, photographed by Peter Standing

These are permanent, prevailing winds.  Indeed, the trade winds and westerlies are the most regular winds on earth. They blow with great force and in constant direction, which is why they are preferred by sailors. The trade winds bring heavy rain falls and sometimes contain intense depressions.

Trade winds blow from North east towards the equator in Northern hemisphere and South East Towards equator in southern hemisphere.

The directions of the Westerlies are opposite to trade winds and that is why they are also called antitrade winds. Trade winds are closer to the equator, in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Westerlies are closer to the poles

Characters might rely on regular trade winds to deliver supplies, escape a coming danger, relay news, or make a profit. Because of their regularity, meetings and departures can be worked into plots as scheduled, expected events.

Bottom Line: When wind meets water, it can be friend or foe.

The most unpredictable wind of all is the dreaded Sharknado, which begins as a massive waterspout and sucks up sharks into its vortex. As the Sharknado moves over land, it flings these sharks into the flooded streets to chase down newly available human prey, much to the amusement of movie audiences.

KNOW WHICH WAY THE WIND BLOWS

According to the wind sock above, the wind when the photo was taken was blowing at about 6 knots (7mph). The sky is clear, the sun is bright, and there are no flying sharks. Unless you live in England or Seattle, this is nothing to write home about.

Even though you can’t actually see it, wind can create some pretty incredible things to write home about. Our ancestors definitely thought the wind was worth writing about, especially when it picked up everything around and sent it flying through the air.

Like snow, there are seemingly endless names for specific types of winds. If you really want to know about the difference between piteraq and bora winds, check out the World Meteorological Organization or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration websites. I’ve included some of the most spectacular and most mythological wind events here.

Dust Devils

Arizona

Suppose you experienced a Dust Devil? A small dust devil, say 18 inches wide and a few yards tall is a sight to behold. A BIG dust devil—say 33 feet wide and 1000 feet tall—can be terrifying!

An extreme dust devil can reach 60 mph and last up to 20 minutes. In the process, it could lift more than 12 tons of dirt, and the friction between wind and surface can create sparks often mistaken for lightning. In fact, dust devils are not associated with storms.

Krakow

Dust devils have been known to lift roofs and collapse buildings, sometimes killing people. They’ve been reported to fling animals and 10-year-old children about. Inflatable bounce houses are especially vulnerable.

Where do they come from? When hot air at ground level rises quickly and hits a pocket of cool/cold air, it can start to spin, forming a column of air. The spinning, along with friction from the surface, allows the column to move, picking up dust along the way. Dust devils are especially likely in deserts. Usually they cause little damage.

Other Names for Dust Devils
Coal devil in Mongolia
  • Dancing devil
  • Dirt devil
  • Dust whirl
  • Sand auger
  • Sand pillar
  • Redemoinho in Brazil
  • Remoinho in Portugal 
  • Willy willy or whirly whirly in Australia 
Beliefs About Dust Devils
Saci-Pererê by J. Marconi
  • Chindi is the Navajo term for spirit or ghost
    • Good spirits whirl clockwise; bad spirits spin counterclockwise
  • Ngoma cia aka is the word for women’s spirit/ demon or women’s evil among the Kikuyu in Kenya
  • Fasset el ‘afreet from Egypt, meaning ghost wind
  • In Brazil, Saci-Pererê is said to live inside the dust devil and grant wishes to anyone who can steal his magic cap

Other Weird Winds

Everything is more awesome on Mars, even dust devils.

Martian dust devils form the same way as on Earth, but bigger: up to 10 times as high and 50 times as wide, with mini-lightning flashes. Dust devil trails on earth’s deserts usually disappear in a couple of days; on Mars, they remain visible (so I’m told) for weeks.

Gustnado in Colorado

Gustnadoes are closely related to dust devils, short-lived and ground based, but they have stronger winds (maybe as strong as weak tornadoes) and develop over open plains areas of the U.S. They don’t form funnels and may go unnoticed. Though a gustnado can cause serious damage, it’s not tall enough to register as a tornado.

Composite photo showing the development of a tornado

The actual definition of a tornado is a bit fuzzy, even among the experts. They can’t seem to agree on when one tornado stops and another starts. The swirling wind tunnel has to touch the ground and the clouds at the same time before it counts (that’s why gustnadoes aren’t really tornadoes). Tornado strength is judged by size, wind speed, and distance over the rainbow it can throw a farmhouse.

Snow devil

Snow devils develop when a strong wind hits a solid object (like a mountain), spins downward and lifts up snow, creating a vortex. They usually last only a few minutes, and they are small (seldom more than 30 feet across). Still not something one would want to be out in.

Fire whirls, aka fire devils or fire tornadoes, develop a vortex inside a wildfire. They are whirling columns of fire rising up into the air. They carry ash, debris, and smoke and feed the fire and spread it. Fire whirls have also been reported at volcanos and during earthquakes.

California Rim Fire, 2013

A firestorm develops when a fire becomes so big and intense that it creates its own storm-force wind systems. Firestorms are most often associated with wildfires and brush fires, but they can also be created when large sections of densely built cities catch fire.

Haboob in Texas

Haboob (هَبوب‎) is a kind of huge dirt devil found in deserts around the world, including the U.S., associated with thunderstorms. When the rain is released, it causes sand to blow up, making a wall of sand that precedes the storm. Haboobs can be several miles high and 60 miles wide.

Sandstorm in Al-Assad, Iraq

Sandstorms (aka dust storms) don’t whirl or spin. It’s essentially a wall of wind that pushes sand in a more-or-less straight line. Entire dunes can be picked up and moved great distances. Sandstorms occur worldwide, wherever deserts are found.

Khamsin over Libya, seen from space

Each spring, areas along the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Arabian peninsula are hit by a khamsin (خمسين from Arabic word for 50).  The khamsin is a 50-day wind that coats everything in sand and dirt. In 2009, remains were found that appear to be those of a Persian army of more than 50,000 that vanished in 525 BCE. A strong wind that blew up from the south is suspected of covering them in suffocating mounds of sand.

Illustration of a downburst

A downburst occurs when the downdraft of a thunderstorm hits the ground and forces the air to gust outward and curl backward. As it moves horizontally, the wind can cause extensive damage to everything it passes over. The wind curling backward can cause further damage, creating tornadoes, waterspouts, snow devils, sharknadoes, and fire whirls.

Downburst (micro) caught on film
  • macroburst happens when an extremely strong downdraft hits the ground. Horizontal gusts cover an area more than 4 km in diameter. These gusts can be as destructive as a tornado.
  • Microbursts are smaller in size and shorter in duration. A microburst is less than 4 km across and short-lived, lasting only five to 10 minutes, with maximum windspeeds sometimes exceeding 100 mph.

derecho is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. A typical derecho consists of numerous microbursts, downbursts, and downburst clusters. By definition, if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho.

Ground blizzard with blue skies

Ground blizzards don’t involve any snow falling from the sky, but they are still deadly. Instead, snow that is already on the ground is whipped into whiteout conditions by an extreme cold front. Temperatures plummet, and snow on the ground is picked up by wind gusts up to 60mph. The Arctic cold fronts that cause ground blizzards also cause extreme low temperatures.

A Sand Wind on the Desert by George Francis Lyon

Every one of these wind events have been known to kill people! In addition, extremely hot or cold winds can do the same. Though we usually can’t see the air itself, the effects are pretty amazing!

Godly Winds

Riders of the Sidhe, by John Duncan 1911
In Irish folklore, the Sidhe or Aos Si are the supernatural pantheon. Sidhe is used to mean fairies, but the Old Irish translation is “wind” or “gust.”

Deities connected to the wind are often closely related to those of the air. In many traditions, the air and the wind are governed by the same deity. Cultures heavily reliant on changes in the wind, such as seafaring communities or nomadic groups on open plains, tend to have more detailed and powerful wind and air gods.

One of the most famous wind gods in mythology is Aeolus, the Greek god governing all winds, who was closely involved in Odysseus’s voyage home. He is certainly not the only supernatural being in charge of the wind and air.

If that’s not enough to convince you that wind and air hold a prominent position in our collective subconscious, just look at how many modern superheroes (and villains) have the names and powers of wind phenomena.

Bottom line: We tend to think in terms of breezes or stiff winds, but there’s so much more to wind than that!

Stay tuned, coming on Friday: When wind meets water, they create some of the most extreme weather.

BETTER KNOW YOUR SNOW

Short legs make moving in snow extra difficult.

By itself, “snow” is a weasel word, like beautiful or bird, that could mean almost anything. And it can be used for almost anything! Eating, recreation, insulation, magic…

Recreation

Beijing is scheduled to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The sports in the Winter Olympics are almost entirely based around snow. Next year (COVID permitting), we’ll be able to watch the very best athletes in the world slide around on crystalized or frozen water. Some of them will jump off a cliff with a bit of plastic strapped to their feet. Some will climb into little tubes and slide down slightly bigger tubes. Some will slide around on two bits of plastic and shoot things.

Kidnapping small children while sledding is extra fun!

For those of us who don’t train 50 weeks out of the year, having fun in the snow generally means not sliding quite so fast.

  • Sledding 
    • One of the cheapest and easiest options, sledding only requires a slope/hill and something to sit on.
    • If you “borrow” the cafeteria’s trays to go sledding, make sure you return them.
  • Snowshoeing
    • To get an idea of how to walk in snowshoes, try wearing the flip-flops of someone with huge feet the next time you shovel the sidewalk.
Indoor ski slope in Dubai
  • Snowmobiling 
    • This is the preferred method of chase for James Bond villains.
    • Descending a mountain via snowmobile may be the only method of travel faster than Olympic athletes.
  • Skiing
    • There are indoor ski slopes in China, Dubai, and the US, so you can ski in the desert in the summer!
  • Dog Sledding
    • Unless you are a very small child, do not attempt this by attaching a sled to your dog’s leash. No one will be happy with the outcome.
  • Child Labor
    • For the fullest enjoyment of this spectacle, do the following
      • Hold a mug of hot chocolate or coffee, perhaps with a splash of brandy
      • Sit in comfort, inside by the window
      • Look out at the neighbors’ kids who have been duped into shoving your walk, steps, etc.,
      • Listen to their grunts as they strain to lift snow shovels far too big for their tiny hands
      • Cackle
    • This is surely the most entertaining part of snow!

Building Material

Dining hall of the Snow Castle in Kemi, Finland

Depending on the region, snow can be used to build very temporary structures or nearly permanent. Even in areas where snow remains year-round, snow used as a building material is at risk of shifting or compacting.

  • Snow Maze
  • Fort
    • Can use a sand or brick mold to make bricks
  • Furniture, most often made by backpackers. 
    • Want lawn chairs on a break?
    • A dinner table in your cook tent?
    • With a good avalanche shovel, your dream home is just a little digging away.
  • Igloo
    • Entire villages can be built of snow domes, which are surprisingly warm inside.
    • Temporary shelters can be erected quickly while travelling.
Inuit building an igloo, circa 1950

Snow Art

Snow sculpture in Harbin

Because of its malleability and lack of color, snow makes an excellent creative medium for a patient artist with steady hands.

  • Painting
    • Use watercolors or food coloring mixed in water
    • The trick is find the balance between freezing the paint and melting the snow
  • Sculpting
    • Snow sculpture festivals and competitions are held around the world every year
    • Some artists can sculpt snow several stories high
    • Architecture and sculpture blend together in snow just as in any other building medium
  • Snow Angels
    • Flop backwards onto fresh snow
      • Hope there are no hidden rocks or other nasty surprises under the surface
    • Wave arms and legs to create wings and a skirt shape
    • Look ridiculous as you attempt to stand without stepping on and ruining your creation

Eating Snow

Make sure it’s clean and uncontaminated. Best is fresh and away from traffic and animals. (You heard it here first: don’t eat yellow snow.)

  • Basic Hydration
    • Consumed as is or melted in whatever quantity
  • Snow Cones/Slushies
    • The most obvious culinary choice.
    • Although most often made with shaved ice, they can be made with actual snow.
    • Adults might want a beer version; see recipes online.
  • Snow Cream
    • Much like ice cream: 
      • Heavy cream or milk,  real sugar or Splenda, with or without eggs
      • The basic version includes vanilla
      • Best made in an ice cream maker
    • Get precise directions from Granny or online
Russians always eat ice cream in the snow
  • Candy
    • Boil honey or maple syrup in a pot and pour it onto fresh, packed snow
    • It will freeze into a chewy, toffee-like treat  
  • Lighten Pancakes
    • Fold a cup of snow into pancake batter directly before adding it to the pan
    • The water and air content will give your flapjacks a lighter texture
  • Margaritas or Daiquiris
    • Recipes online
  • Anything you would use shaved or crushed ice for
  • In extreme circumstances, eating snow can temporarily ease hunger pain

Snow for Survival

Russian ski medic evacuation during the Sino-Japanese War

Consult backpacker sites or magazines for a plethora of uses specific to campers, but here are a few more general examples.

Quinzhee, a temporary snow cave
  • Insulation
    • Snow has high air content (up to 95 percent by volume) making it an excellent insulator.
    • To survive outdoors, dig a trench to escape high winds or carve a snow cave into a deep drift by tunneling parallel to the ground. You’ll need to insulate your body from the frozen tunnel floor.
    • People have been known to survive an avalanche this way.
  • Personal hygiene  
    • Unlike a dead leaf or smooth stone, snow is moldable, and the white color makes it easy to monitor a thorough cleaning.
    • There is also no danger of grabbing poison ivy snow by mistake!
Ski Patrol
  • Medical
    • Reduce swelling 
    • Compress snow and apply it to injuries to calm inflammation
    • Wrap the snow in a towel or bandana to prevent damage to tissues
    • Cleaning wounds when nothing else is available
    • Lowering core body temperature in case of fever
  • Keep food or drink cold
  • Refill aquifers for summer water reserves
Yeti tracks
  • Tracking
    • Human
    • Dog
    • Cat
    • Rabbit
    • Squirrel
    • Deer
    • Sasquatch or Yeti
    • Any animal that frequents the area

Military

Skiing Birkebeiners Crossing the Mountain with the Royal Child (Knud Larsen Bergslien, 1869)

Snowballs are said to have been the first missiles at the Boston Massacre in the Revolutionary War. Impromptu weapons are not the only military use of snow. Armies in countries with lots of snow tend to learn how to use it to their advantage.

Northern Shaolin Temple Kung Fu Masters
  • Northern Shaolin Temple
    • Northern Style Shaolin Kung Fu differs from Southern Style in many ways, including the adaptations for terrain.
    • In northern China, Shaolin temples tend to be in areas with cold, snowy, rocky mountains.
    • Kung Fu learned under these conditions requires stronger legs and compensating for thick, warm clothing.
Finnish soldiers with the terrifying trifecta of machine guns, skis, and reindeer
  • Winter War (1939-1940)
    • Finnish skiiers with submachine guns repelled invading Soviet troops in the Winter War.
    • According to legend, Soviet soldiers carried a how-to manual for skiing in their packs.
    • The Finns found these manuals highly amusing.

Killer Snow

Mulan holds the dubious honor of being the Disney Princess with the highest body count (the avalanche she caused wiped out an entire army – eat your heart out, Cinderella).

Believe it or not, snow is generally accompanied by rather cold weather. It can also make travel a bit inconvenient. These conditions, along with unstable surfaces, mountain terrain, decreased visibility, and changing landmarks make snow potentially deadly, even for experienced snow-dwellers.

Patrick Breen wrote in his diary, “Mrs Murphy said here yesterday that thought she would Commence on Milt & eat him. I dont that she has done so yet, it is distressing.”
  • Donner Party
    • American migrants in a wagon train from Missouri to California in 1846-1847
    • Only 47 of the original 84 migrants survived the winter
    • The wagon train was snowbound near Truckee Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
    • Many migrants died of sickness, hypothermia, and starvation in the snow-bound camp
    • Some survivors claimed that they had resorted to cannibalism during the winter
    • After rescue, some survivors changed their stories repeatedly, sometimes admitting to cannibalism and sometimes denying it ever occurred
    • Archaeologists and historians have not been able to state definitively whether members of the Donner Party actually resorted to cannibalism
  • Dyatlov Pass Incident
    • A group of nine hikers died mysteriously in the Ural Mountains in 1959.
    • The hike was meant to be the final step in earning the highest certification for hiking instruction, so all participants were very skilled and able.
    • Their tent was found ripped open from the side and flattened.
    • All of the bodies were found wearing inadequate clothing, some without shoes or coats.
    • The bodies were discovered in several places on the mountain, some very far from the camp.
    • Several of the bodies had no sign of injury; others had very strange, unexplained injuries.
    • Soviet authorities called a halt to the investigation and sealed all records.
It’s never a good idea to tangle with the mob.
  • Snowdrops
    • Alcoholism often goes along with extreme winter weather
    • A drunk person who falls down or falls asleep outside in the snow is likely to die of hypothermia quickly
    • Heavy snowfall would soon cover the body, not melting all winter
    • In spring, when snow begins to melt, corpses are uncovered
    • This is so common in some communities that these corpses are called snowdrops
    • This is also a good method to get rid of a body, destroying murder evidence

Language of Snow

Ski Snow

Asahikawa Winter Festival Snow Sculpture

As with so many things, the more important something is in our own lives, the more precise our language and the finer the distinctions we make. For example, skiers and snowboarders: for these people, snow and its condition are so important that they have a vocabulary all their own.

  • Powder
    • Freshly fallen snow, the preferred kind
  • Champagne powder
    • Extremely light, fluffy powder
    • The best 
    • Usually found in Utah, Colorado, and British Columbia.
  • Hero snow
    • A lot of powder, ideal for doing tricks because it gives a soft landing
  • Freshies/untouched
    • Untracked powder
  • Packed powder
    • They had powder the day before that is now compacted
  • Bumpy, choppy, or tracked out
    • Usually occurs later on a powder day when hoards of people have gone through
    • Makes the athlete bounce around and gives knees a workout
Mt. Rainier (July 2004)
  • Concrete
    • Heavy, deep snow that feels like riding through concrete
  • Corduroy or cord
    • Ridges in the snow left by groomers
    • They create sound and sensation under your feet
  • Crust
    • After the snow has softened a little, when it gets cold again, leaving an icy layer on top
  • Dust on crust
    • A bit of fresh snow on top of hard, icy snow
  • Dusting
    • A tiny bit of new snow that probably won’t last more than an hour or so
  • Groomers
    • A run that has been groomed, giving a smooth, easy ride
  • Hard pack
    • Snow compressed so much it doesn’t move when stood on; requires good edges
  • Sticky
    • Feels like sticky tape on skis or board, making runs slow
  • Ice
    • Frozen snow, makes for hard landings
  • Slush or spring snow
    • Wet, soft, very forgiving
  • Man made
    • Actually machine made

Inuit Snow

No doubt you have heard/read that Eskimos have a huge number of words for snow. This is more or less true. In fact there are several languages in a family of Eskimo-Aleut languages. For this group of languages, “snow” is an example of polysynthesis: a  base word attached to suffixes that clarify the meaning.

So, what in English might take a phrase or a whole sentence to communicate can be accomplished in fusional languages with one (sometimes quite long) complex word.  Readable.com gives these not-so-long examples:

  • Qanuk: ‘snowflake’
  • Kaneq: ‘frost’
  • Kanevvluk: ‘fine snow
  • Qanikcaq: ‘snow on ground’
  • Muruaneq: ‘soft deep snow
  • Nutaryuk: ‘fresh snow
  • Pirta: ‘blizzard’
  • Qengaruk: ‘snow bank’

Weather Snow

The type of snow is often important, for reasons I’ll go into below. 

  • Powder snow
  • Crud: the next phase from powder
  • Graupel: also called snow pellets or soft hail 
  • Crust 
  • Slush: snow that has started to melt and therefore becomes more wet 
  • Ice

Often, the most salient feature of snow is how it comes down, because this determines how we function in it. Business and school closures, road safety, transportation delays, power outages, physical injuries (with accompanying ambulance and hospital activity), and structural damage all depend heavily on the type of snow.

Avalanche in Couloir

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) recognizes these types of snowfall:

  • blizzard is a violent winter storm, lasting at least three hours, which combines subfreezing temperatures and very strong wind laden with blowing snow that reduces visibility to less than 0.40 kilometers (0.25 miles).
  • snowstorm features large amounts of snowfall.
  • snow flurry is snow that falls for short durations and with varying intensity; flurries usually produce little accumulation.
  • snow squall is a brief, but intense snowfall that greatly reduces visibility and which is often accompanied by strong winds.
  • snowburst is a very intense shower of snow, often of short duration, that greatly restricts visibility and produces periods of rapid snow accumulation.
  • Blowing snow describes airborne snow particles raised by the wind to moderate or great heights above the ground; the horizontal visibility at eye level is generally very poor.
  • Drifting snow is snow on the ground that is blown by the wind to a height of less than 1.5 to 2 meters (5 to 6.5 feet) above the surface.

In extreme cases, rural or mountainous communities may be cut off from their neighbors for weeks or months at a time by heavy snow.

Magic Snow

Tilda Swinton as the White Queen of Narnia
  • Wet, sticky snow gathered during a raging blizzard might be used in workings related to high energy and power 
  • A jar full of light fluffy snow collected during a soft, quiet snowfall could be incorporated into a ritual for peacefulness and tranquility
  • Snow in divination 
    • In love spells
    • In beauty spells and infusions of lemon balm, rosemary, and basil and add to bath when moon is waxing or full
      • Can be frozen in ice cube trays for later use
    • To make ice candles
The Snow Queen – Rudolf Koivu
  • Make  a snowman or snowman to use as a magical poppet to guard the entrance
  • Make bad habits into snowballs and throw them away
  • Use actual snow as you would quartz crystals in work related to wishes and goals
  • Write the name of a nuisance on a slip of paper, pack it in snow in a jar or bowl, place in a bag in the freezer to “chill out.”
  • Freeze some snow in a bag or jar for use later on in the year, when fresh snow isn’t available

Go for a walk in the woods to enjoy the silence, and the magic of the snowfall, and perhaps receive messages from the Divine.

Bottom line: Consider the multitude of ways snow is and/or can be part of your life.

DANDELION

On Wednesday I saw my first dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) of the season—and my thoughts have been returning to it since! Is that weird our what? It turns out that in being struck by the first dandelion I’m not alone.

Poetic Dandelions

The First Dandelion” by Walt Whitman

Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass—innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face.

Indeed, if you look up poetry about dandelions on discoverpoetry.com, you will find the following:

Most Famous Dandelion Poems
  1. The First Dandelion by Walt Whitman
  2. To the Dandelion by James Russell Lowell
  3. The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay
Short Dandelion Poems
  1. Dandelion by Hilda Conkling
  2. The First Dandelion by Walt Whitman
  3. I’m a Pirate by Annette Wynne
  4. The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay
  5. The Dandelions by Helen Gray Cone
  6. The Hawkbit by Charles G. D. Roberts
  7. Dandelions in the Sun by Annette Wynne
Dandelion Poems for Kids
  1. Dandelion by Nellie M. Garabrant
  2. Dandy Dandelion by Christopher Morley
  3. I’m a Pirate by Annette Wynne
  4. Little Dandelion by Helen Barron Bostwick
  5. Dandelions in the Sun by Annette Wynne
Imaginative and Fun Dandelion Poems
  1. The Dandelion by Vachel Lindsay
  2. Dandy Dandelion by Christopher Morley
  3. Dandelion by Nellie M. Garabrant
  4. The Dandelions by Helen Gray Cone
  5. I’m a Pirate by Annette Wynne
  6. Little Dandelion by Helen Barron Bostwick
  7. The Dandelion by Ida Celia Whittier
  8. Dandelions in the Sun by Annette Wynne
  9. Dandelions by Florence May Alt

But dandelions are more than just pretty faces! More than harbingers of spring. More than cheerful chips of sunshine come to yards and roadsides.

Delicious Dandelions

Sautéed Dandelions with Wehani Rice

Have you eaten a dandelion recently?  When I was a child, a “mess of greens” meant dandelions.  But that fell by the wayside before I even reached adulthood. Something to reconsider?

Botanists consider dandelions to be herbs. People use the leaves, stem, flower, and root—raw or cooked—for various purposes. It’s one of the earliest edible plants to emerge in the spring. Native Americans and early European colonists eagerly awaited this addition to their diets.

The bitterness of raw dandelion leaves is similar to arugula—thus not for everyone.  If raw dandelion leaves don’t appeal to you, they can also be steamed or added to a stir-fry or soup, which can make them taste less bitter. The flowers are sweet and crunchy, and can be eaten raw, or breaded and fried, or even used to make dandelion syrup or wine.

And dandelions are safe! There are no poisonous lookalikes for the common dandelion.  Dandelions are found on 6 continents and have been gathered for food since prehistory, but the varieties commercially cultivated for consumption are mainly native to Eurasia and North America. A perennial plant, its leaves grow back if the taproot is left intact (to many gardeners’ frustration). You can forage your yard!

So, people can consume dandelions in many ways and forms.  But why would you?

Health Benefits of Dandelions 

In terms of nutritional content, from root to flower, dandelion are highly nutritious plants, loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber.  Dandelion greens can be eaten cooked or raw and serve as an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K. They also contain vitamin E, folate, and small amounts of other B vitamins.  What’s more, dandelion greens provide a substantial amount of several minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. 

  • Antioxidants 
    • Dandelions contain beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.  Research shows that carotenoids such as beta-carotene play a vital role in reducing cell damage.
    • The flower of the dandelion is also full of polyphenols, which are another type of antioxidant.
  • Blood pressure
    • Dandelions are a good source of potassium. There is clinical evidence that shows that potassium can help reduce blood pressure.  For example, research has found that people taking a potassium supplement saw a reduction in their blood pressure, especially if they already had high blood pressure.
  • Blood sugar 
    • There is some evidence to suggest that dandelions contain compounds that may help with regulating blood sugar.
  • Bones 
    • Very little research has been conducted on dandelion’s effect on bone health, though some of its individual nutritional components contribute to the maintenance of strong, healthy bones.  Dandelion greens are a good source of calcium and vitamin K — both of which are associated with the prevention of bone loss. Inulin, a fiber found in dandelion root, may also support healthy bones through improved digestion and the promotion of healthy gut bacteria.
  • Cancer risk 
    • So far, studies have looked at dandelion’s impact on cancer growth in test tubes and found that it may help with slowing the growth of colon cancerpancreatic cancer, and liver cancer. As with other potential benefits, more research is required to show how effective dandelions can be as part of cancer treatment.
  • Cholesterol 
    • Dandelions contain bioactive compounds that may help lower a person’s cholesterol.
    • So far research has been with animals.  However, testing on humans is still needed.
  • Digestion 
    • Some people use dandelion as a traditional remedy for constipation and other digestion issues.  The root of the dandelion is rich in the carbohydrate inulin, which is a type of soluble fiber found in plants that supports the growth and maintenance of a healthy bacterial flora in your intestinal tract.
  • Immune system 
    • Researchers have found that dandelions show both antiviral and antibacterial properties. For example, one 2014 study found that dandelions help limit the growth of hepatitis B in both human and animal cells in test tubes.
  • Inflammation 
    • Some studies indicate that dandelion extracts and compounds may help reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Skin 
    • Some research indicates that dandelion may help protect the skin from sun damage.
  • Weight control 
    • Dandelion could help people achieve their weight loss goals, based on the plant’s ability to improve carbohydrate metabolism and reduce fat absorption.
    • Strong evidence to support this claim is lacking, however.

Dandelion root is often dried and consumed as a tea but can also be eaten in its whole form. The root can also be dried and roasted to be made into a substitute for coffee. Dandelion wine is considered quite a delicacy among those who know these things.

Dandelion root coffee from Lionstooth Coffee

But Beyond Food

Because dandelions can endure almost any living condition, they represent overcoming every hardship by standing strong and proud. The word “dandelion” comes from the French name for the flower: ‘dent de lion’ or ‘teeth of the lion.’

  • Dandelion Symbolism
    • Healing from emotional pain and physical injury alike
    • Intelligence, especially in an emotional and spiritual sense
    • The warmth and power of the rising sun.

When dandelions start popping up on your front lawn, consider it to be an omen of good luck. That is because Dandelion belongs to the planet Jupiter which is the planet of wealth.

Throughout the ages, dandelions have been used for divination, as a way to tell fortunes or make wishes.

If you rub a dandelion under your chin and your skin turns yellow, you like butter — at least according to an old wives tale found in cultures worldwide. Dandelions are the favorite flower of children

In The Hunger Games, the dandelion becomes a symbol of hope for Katniss, and evidence of her resourcefulness and expert foraging. When she sees the field of dandelions, she gains confidence in her ability to feed her family.

Whole essays have been written on dandelions as our favorite weeds. Indeed, there are whole worlds of dandelion info out there. Seek and ye shall find.

BOTTOM LINE: Dandelions are ubiquitous. Surely there is a place for them in your life and/or writing!