A Moon You Can Hold

Moon PieThe Original Marshmallow Sandwich

My only knowledge of the legendary Moon Pie was vague mentions and a certain song from decades ago that paid homage.

My knowledge advanced like a moonshot recently when I was in a quaint little store in charming Bluemont, Virginia. There on the counter were individually wrapped . . . Moon Pies! I suddenly found myself on a precipice – leap or forever remain amongst the uninitiated. It didn’t take long to leap. I held in my hand a piece of American snack history. Sadly, I looked around for an RC Cola (which I had tasted in my youth) but didn’t see any.

Growing up in New Jersey, I never saw a Moon Pie. We did, however, have Scooter Pies, made by Burry, no doubt a copycat product that appeared in the 1960s.

The Moon Pie first appeared in 1917, made by Chattanooga Bakery in Tennessee and was sold largely in the South. The attractive logo features a golden crescent moon on a blue background. I suppose when you hold your moon pie, you first observe a full moon. After you take a bite, you have a half moon! What a concept!

However, the origin is given that a coal miner in Kentucky asked a traveling salesman for a snack “as big as the moon.” Some time later, the miner got his wish when the first Moon Pie appeared. They were filling and fit in a lunch pail. The snack was a cosmic hit.

It was a simple concoction, made of marshmallow filling sandwiched between two round graham cookies. It was traditionally covered in chocolate. Now, the first ones seem to have had only two cookie layers with thicker filling, but the one I bought was a “double decker,” with three cookies and two thin layers of marshmallow.

You can buy either version today, plus in different flavors like vanilla, banana and even seasonal pumpkin.

I had consumed many a Scooter Pie in my younger years. These chocolate-coated disks were named for New York Yankee Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto. They can be still be bought in some areas.

And then there were Ring Dings, which were entirely different from Scooter Pies, with crème-filled chocolate cake and chocolate icing, but no cookies. They were a New York-regional thing (a college favorite of mine in Connecticut), but are now distributed in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.

Let me stray from my topic briefly once more. I suddenly recalled one of my very favorite cookies of my youth, which seemed to have disappeared from the shelves years ago … Mallomars! A dome-like confection of marshmallow and a cookie layer on the bottom, covered in dark chocolate. Wow. Not a far cry from the then-unknown to me Scooter Pies and Moon Pies. A quick scan of the internet show that these too are available online. Why not in stores? Hmmm . . .

But, on to my Moon Pie taste test. I wasn’t planning to do a blog post about it, so I neglected to photograph mine before I ate it. I opened the wrapper and gently revealed the chocolate-covered Pie. With vague memories of Scooter Pie flavors and textures, I took my first bite. Interesting texture. Lots more cookie than Scooter Pies. Not cloyingly sweet. It wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t amazing. It was a snack that fit the bill for a mid-afternoon sweet lift. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now, no doubt the Moon Pie has its diehard devotees. It was the first such product on the market, and skyrocketed to popularity during the wars and into the baby boom years. It has its logo and its cachet. But, what is it, really? Cookies, sugar, weird marshmallow filling and industrial chocolate coating. If you tried to make them yourself, with premium ingredients, I’m sure they would be amazing. In fact, the internet is loaded with recipes for homemade, mouth-watering Moon Pies.

If you’re a fan, you already know how and where to obtain them. If you are intrigued and want to try one, you can buy Moon Pies online. But it’s always more fun to buy one in an old-timey store.

Now, for some tunes!

I found this on Youtube, “Gimme an RC Cola and Moon Pie,” by Big Bill Lister. Lister was a crooner and rhythm guitarist who toured with Hank Williams in the 1950s. He was born in Texas in 1923, named Weldon E. Lister, and grew to be 6 feet 7 inches. He died in 2009. Here is perhaps the first song about Moon Pies!

But here is the song that stuck in my mind for decades. I accurately attributed it to NRBQ, a band that never achieved quite the recognition it deserved. They formed in Kentucky in the 1960s, which could explain why they knew about Moon Pies! Listen, enjoy and wait for the punch line, which I repeated while eating my Moon Pie.

Shout out to Moonpie.com for helpful stuff for this blog! To learn more about Moon Pies or purchase them and related merch, visit that website.

A Bear You Can Hold in Your Hand

The Isabella Tiger Moth Caterpillar – AKA Woolly Bear

Covered in fuzzy bristles, some are more black or more orange, but all have both colors. The one I found today was a beautifully dressed banded woolly bear, with black at each end and orange in the middle. Better known than its adult form – the Isabella tiger moth, the woolly bear elicits more pleasant reactions from people of all ages than most other caterpillars. They are cute and harmless, and don’t seem to mind being picked up.

There are similar caterpillars that are solid black or brown or other colors, and they can be called woolly bears, but they are different species. Only the larva of Pyrrharctia Isabella, the Isabella tiger moth, is the familiar black and orange banded woolly bear. Their bodies have 13 segments covered in stiff hairs.

First named in 1797, it’s not clear who this moth was named for. I know there was Queen Isabella of Spain. But these moths are found only in North and Central America.

The folklore of the woolly bear is said to stretch back to the American colonial days. The lore suggests that the width of the color bands relate to the upcoming winter. The thought is, if the orange band is shorter than the black, its means a snowy winter.

How could this be? People have tried to prove this notion, to no solid evidence. Researchers have crunched the weather data over periods of time and compared it to the markings of the caterpillars, finding no scientific evidence to support the folk tales.

We typically see the caterpillars in fall simply because that’s when the eggs hatch, though some do hatch in summer. They spend the summer munching on a wide variety of plants, getting ready for winter hibernation. When fall comes, they find a sheltered place, under a stone or log, or even underground. They have a kind of antifreeze that helps them survive very cold temperatures.

Cocoon (not my photo)

As soon as it warms up the next year, they emerge and begin to feed. Soon after, they make their cocoon, and within two weeks, the adult moth emerges, to begin the cycle again.

Like other moths, the Isabella tiger moths don’t live very long. They live simply to mate and lay eggs.

Isabella tiger moth (not my photo)

The moths don’t eat. I have never seen one, but they are attractive, with yellow-orange body and wings, and little black spots. The wingspan is about two inches wide.

If you see one, you’ll know winter is coming. The question is, what kind of winter?

One Million Tulips Can’t Be Wrong

I must have flowers, always, and always.
― Claude Monet

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What is the value of a flower? Can you quantify the visual and psychological impact of a field of neon blossoms? Do you base it on the number of wows, or Holy cows, or assorted verbalizations, or the number of persons standing seemingly dazed and dumbfounded in the presence of such manmade, yet breathtaking beauty?

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Suddenly, each spring like clockwork, thousands of men, women and children who, normally, don’t pay much attention to plants, flock like zombies called to the task, to behold fields of red, yellow, purple, pink and orange flowers, all arranged like soldiers in orderly rows.

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In this particular case, the astonishing sight of more than one million tulips peaking in precisely planted rows is what draws visitors with magical magnetism.

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A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

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This year, the tulips did not disappoint. Right on schedule with the Skagit Tulip Festival, the flowers beamed their enchanting vibes to the crowds. Daffodils led the pack, with colors ranging from deep yellow to white with orange centers.

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Beyond the daffodils, the stars of the show, Tulipa, obediently performed, knit together with the other colors into a vivid but orderly counterpane.

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Renegade

 

Here and there, couples and families and friends posed for photos among the blooms. Children  delighted in the hues. To walk fields saturated with color, under a sunny sky, was like being in a painting.

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Even though the incredible floral display was not planted merely for our pleasure, but for a bulb-growing business, the impact was not lessened. We walked away happy, content to witness the renewal, the continuance of the seasons, the affirmation of life. Perhaps that is the value of a flower.

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Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.
― Luther Burbank

Salt Creek, a Desert Oasis

Salt Creek in Death Valley National Park is one place that has water, and that’s usually only seasonally. I have never been there in summer, so I can’t say how dry it is then, but I imagine it’s pretty much dried up. Surprisingly, it serves as habitat for the critically endangered Salt Creek pupfish, which are about an inch long.

The narrow creek with its muddy banks is only part of the overall marsh area. The upper area holds small pools that remain year round, and where the fish can survive the summers.

On my fifth journey to the park earlier this year, I revisited Salt Creek, with the intention of spending more time, walking well beyond the boardwalk that parallels the creek.

The boardwalk, which is almost a mile long round trip, ends where the creek peters off and the land becomes more open and vegetated, and the path is sandy.

In late afternoon light, the sun highlighted the creek and magnified the textures and shapes in the mud.

With the sun getting lower and most visitors back in the distance, I drank in the gift of Death Valley, pure silence. I looked and listened for birds, but found none.

Nonetheless, the landscape was enough. I loved the way the low sun hit the water, and a variety of textures and shapes revealed themselves.

I knew some of my images would look best in black and white.

Green Always

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day today, I’m reposting this from 2017. Happy Wearin’ o’ the Green!

Natural Views

I’m not Irish, but I’m green to the core.

My favorite color happens to be green.

My birthstone is emerald!

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a celebration of green!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and a GreenPeace to all!

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Real or Imaginary Time? Even Stephen Hawking Wasn’t Sure

I’ve been reading A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking’s bestseller. It’s a bit dated now, having been first published in 1988.  I’m not a scientist, but I imagine there have been many knowledge updates since then.

I found it tough in the beginning to get into the book, but now that I’m near the end, I’m really liking it. Not only do I enjoy building my scientific literacy, but the book started to read like a novel to me. Especially the chapter about black holes. Wow! What suspense! What characters! That poor astronaut who keeps getting sucked in and turned into spaghetti! (Those who have read the book will get my humor.) In fact, I appreciate that such a monumental mind had a sense of humor.

The book takes you on a journey, as the title says, through humans’ observations, theories and understanding of the nature of the universe, time, and space. Hawking walks you through how scientists actually conduct research into such an esoteric and controversial subject. There is so much we know now, and so much we still do not understand about the nature of our universe.

One can read this book in a vacuum, though I am certain Hawking would insist that there is no such thing as a vacuum in space. But I couldn’t shut out the current world political scene while reading parts of it.

One passage in particular jumped out at me for its absurdity. I loved it so much that I have copied it for my own reference. I took philosophy in college and loved it. It challenged my brain, and expanded my ways of thinking and analyzing situations. I have found Hawking’s writing much like philosophy. It puts things in perspective and sometimes makes you throw up your hands and surrender to the cosmos.

The Brain Twister

Following is the passage that so tickles me. It might amuse you, it might intrigue you, or it might simply annoy you. I might just let this guide my view of life from now on.

“This might suggest that the so-called imaginary time is really the real time, and that what we call real time is just a figment of our imaginations. In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries. So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic, and what we call real is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is like. But according to the approach I described in Chapter 1, a scientific theory is just a mathematical model we make to describe our observations: it exists only in our minds.  So it is meaningless to ask: which is real, “real” or “imaginary” time? It is simply a matter of which is the more useful description.”

Got that?

Bonus

While reading A Brief History of Time, I felt my brain being stretched to its limits, much like the astronaut being stretched to death in that black hole. What sprang to mind was one of my favorite and most appropriate Far Side cartoons from decades ago.

I hope I don’t violate any copyright laws by sharing it here. All credits to Gary Larson and The Far Side!

Fossilicious

What happens when art and science collide? It’s not always a trainwreck.  In some cases it’s more like a delicious union, especially when artist Ray Troll and his buddy paleontologist Kirk Johnson get together. Johnson is the head of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, while Troll is a noted artist, fossil fan and conservationist who lives, fishes, and makes art and music in Alaska.

Detail of one of Troll’s illustrations, showing Washington state’s fossil map

I had heard Johnson speak at the University of Washington and seen him on some PBS programs and had become a fan. Last year I became a fan of Troll as well, when I attended a benefit for a conservation organization where he was a speaker. It was then that I first saw his artwork and learned of his enthusiasm for fish, fossils and the earth.

One of the museum’s impressive displays, combining a fossil with its illustration and a projected image

The pair have known each other for more than 20 years, traveling far and wide hunting for fossils. They previously collaborated on a book, Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway, focusing on the west.

The latest is the sequel, Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, chronicling their adventures from coastal California to Alaska in search of mind-blowing fossils.

Gems of artwork and fossils representing their 10-year coastline journey are now on view at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum.

The exhibit of the same name features Troll’s magnificent artwork, Johnson’s expertise and some actual fossils. Troll’s knack for showing creatures both realistically and with a healthy dose of cartoon-like humor is on full view.

The artist and the scientist have come together to create a journey through time that will appeal to all ages.

The Burke recently reopened, with strict protocols. I visited the day after it opened and expected to find a fair number of other visitors as well. What I found was an almost empty museum! I had the exhibit just about to myself and was able to spend all the time I wanted, savoring the artwork, watching videos and ogling fossils.

What I really wanted to do here was share some images from the exhibit and maybe inspire others to check out Troll’s [Trollart.com] and Johnson’s work.

Desmostylians – New to me, these ancient marine mammals are thought to share lineage with horses and rhinos.

This exhibit is on view until May. Troll’s art is enough to lure you in, and the multi-sensory experience will leave you wanting more. The arrangement of paintings, fossils, videos and projections is very impressive. I have to applaud the museum for creating an educational and truly fun experience.

I know I will continue to learn about the captivating creatures I saw. (Here I will put in a plug for Troll’s alt website, Paleonerds.com, which I just visited, and believe you me, it will keep me occupied for millennia of lifetimes.)

The Burke isn’t a large museum, but it’s a treasure, and the research staff does amazing work. Apart from special exhibitions during the year, the Burke is known for its collection of regional Native American items and natural history specimens.

A most lifelike exhibit!

The Nest Box

Nesting season is over. I went out to clean out my chickadee box. I had seen Bewick’s wrens in the spring, bringing nest material to it. I got so excited, I figured wrens had beaten chickadees to prime real estate. I watched and watched. But after a while did not see any wren activity at the box. I assumed they had abandoned it.

I also watched for chickadees, but never saw any going in or out.

But opening the box just now, I got such a surprise! A beautiful little nest. There must have been a clutch! But whose?

Here’s the nest. You can see moss, twigs, feathers and other materials.

My first peek
Next
Note the blue feather! Must be a Stellers Jay
Out of the box
For size

Fort Casey: One Foot in the Past, One Foot in the Present

More than 100 years ago, the U.S. government build military strongholds along many coastal areas. In Washington State, Fort Casey is a formidable example of the nation’s determination not only to defend itself, but also the use of the latest technological advances in military power.

Fort Casey was part of a trio of such forts around Puget Sound, including Fort Worden in Port Townsend and Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island. The Harbor Defenses of Puget Sound, as these forts were known, were created because Admiralty Inlet was considered vital to the defense of Puget Sound. And Puget Sound was important to defend because of its access to Puget Sound Naval Station in Bremerton, and also to the ports in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia.

The ghost fort and adjacent Admiralty Head Lighthouse stand today as a state park on Whidbey Island, and also a historic district in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Fort Casey was operational from 1899 until 1945. It was built for defense, but spent the greater part of its life as a training facility.

What remains are the fortified structures – batteries or emplacements – with their associated functional rooms and towers. There were 10 batteries, each named for an Army officer.

I was curious about who the honorees were, so here they are.

Battery Schenck: Named for Lt. Col. Alexander D. Schenck, U.S. Artillery Corps, who died in 1905.

Battery Seymour: Named for Major Truman Seymour, 5th U.S. Artillery, who gave distinguished service in the Mexican War and Civil War, and died in 1891 in Italy.

Battery Worth: Named for BG William S. Worth, who served with distinction in the Civil War and Spanish-American War, and died in 1904.

Battery Moore: Named for MG James Moore, Continental Army, who served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, and died in 1777.

Battery Parker: Named for Bvt. 1st Lt. Thomas D. Parker, 2nd Lt., 2nd U.S. Infantry, who was killed during the Civil War in Gaines Mill, Virginia, in 1862.

Battery Kingsbury: Named for Col. Henry W. Kingsbury, 11th Connecticut Volunteers, 1st Lt., 5th U.S. Artillery, who died during the Civil War at Antietam in 1862.

Battery Valleau: Named for 1st Lt. John Valleau, 13th U.S. Infantry, who was killed in Queenstown Heights, Upper Canada, during the War of 1812.

Battery Turman: Named for 2nd Lt. Reuben S. Turman, 6th U.S. Infantry, who died in 1898 at the Battle of Santiago during the Spanish-American War.

Battery Trevor: Named for 1st Lt. John Trevor, 5th U.S. Cavalry, who died in 1864 at the Third Battle of Winchester, Virginia, during the Civil War.

Battery Van Horne: Named for Capt. Isaac Van Horne Jr., 19th U.S. Infantry, who was killed in 1814 at Fort Mackinac, Michigan, during the War of 1812.

Personalized Experience

Visiting Fort Casey today, you are free to wander the grounds and emplacements, and the eerie dark empty rooms that once bustled with purpose.

The mazes of rooms are like catacombs and you never know what you might encounter exploring them.

Luckily, I did not find any creepy spiders, monsters or ghosts. I ventured only as far as the light would stretch.

I had wondered whether some were living quarters, but all the rooms were for supplies and operating other equipment within the battery.

Interpretive signs help you understand how the various small rooms were used in each battery.

Living quarters were located away from the emplacements.

Me being me, I am certain that my experience at Fort Casey was quite different from anyone else’s. From the first battery that I explored, my eyes were instantly drawn to the artistic patterns of minerals leaching out of the concrete walls – efflorescence.

Other folks no doubt just passed by this vacant scene. But I found a treasure trove, and spent a lot of time photographing my finds.

Exterior walls brought to mind landscapes, with mountains and rivers undulating across them, while interiors presented galleries of waterfall-like patterns.

At the same time families were moving through and children were delighting in screaming in the tunnels, I was focused on the art of the concrete, shapes, and light and shadows.

As I moved through the batteries, I also tried to imagine the manpower involved in operating and maintaining the fort. This was not today’s Army! The crowning glory in the fort’s heyday was without doubt its two 10-inch “disappearing” guns.

These large cannon-like guns were state of the art in the early 1900s. They could be raised and lowered as necessary, ensuring that they would not be detected when lowered below the battery walls. Note: The two 10-inch “disappearing” guns seen in Trevor and Worth batteries are not the original ones, but similar versions brought back from Fort Wint in the Philippines, where they had been used in defense of Subic Bay.

It’s dizzying to imagine how it would have been under a real attack, with “all hands on deck” at all the batteries. Hundreds of soldiers hurrying, shouting, hauling ammunition, loading the guns, noise and smoke.

The First War

As impressive as these Puget Sound forts were when they were built, technology soon advanced and warships and airplanes made the big guns obsolete. During World War I, Fort Casey was a training facility, readying soldiers for battle in Europe.

When the war ended, the fort was kept under “caretaker” status, and the artillery was removed.

The facility was still used for training for the National Guard and Army Reserve officers. There were officers quarters, enlisted barracks, an administration building, hospital, gym, fire house, commissary, exchange, bakery, and stables.

The Next War

But, as things go, a couple decades later, Fort Casey was called up for service again. As the U.S. was entering World War II, the Army reactivated the fort as an induction center and troop training facility. The old emplacements were outfitted with new anti-aircraft guns.

After this war ended, the fort was vacated and fell into disrepair. The old iron doors looked Medieval to me. The whole place could serve as a great movie set.

Finally, in 1953, it was officially deactivated. Two years later, the state of Washington acquired the property for a state park, and Pacific University acquired the administrative buildings and housing to create Camp Casey Conference Center, which you can see today.

Admiralty Head Light

Just up hill from Fort Casey stands Admiralty Lighthouse. It wasn’t always where it is now. A navigational light at this location predates Fort Casey, but when the fort was on the drawing board, planners realized the light would was going to be in the way, so it was relocated. However, the original structure no longer exists.

The lighthouse you see today was finished in 1903, with an Italianate Revival design. But in time, as happened to Fort Casey years later, the usefulness of Admiralty Head Light was less than desired. In 1922, the lighthouse was deactivated, in favor of the navigational effectiveness lighthouses at Point Wilson and Marrowstone Point. 

Admiralty Light stands 30 feet high. The building was constructed with thick walls to withstand concussions from the fort’s guns and earthquakes. Its fourth order Fresnel lens was removed in 1927 and installed at the New Dungeness Lighthouse.

August Full “Sturgeon” Moon

This month’s full moon has been given many names by native peoples. Among them are sturgeon, salmon, blackberry, and “flying up.” The latter referring to the time of year when young birds fledge.

I agree with Blackberry Moon. It’s ripening and picking time here! At various places in town, you can see people here and there with buckets and bags, cars parked alongside the road. But the invasive shrubs might make up for their brash ways somewhat by giving us bounties of berries to perk up summer meals and snacks.

I suppose if you are an angler, you might find sturgeon and salmon at this time also.

I went out to greet the Blackberry Moon on its fullest night and found an enchanting sight between the trees.