Black Bears on the Move: Suburban Shock and Awww

On November 14, 1902 US president, outdoor enthusiast, and big game hunter Theodore Roosevelt experienced a profound moment of awww when he refused to shoot a young black bear. The president was the only member of a hunting party near Onward, Mississippi who had yet to bag a bear when one of his assistants decided, appropriately enough, to assist. The man cornered a young bear and somehow managed to tie it to a tree with a length of rope.

TheodoreRooseveltTeddyBear
I mean, who could shoot that? [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But the president refused to shoot the animal, claiming that to do so just wouldn’t be sporting. Awww. I find that a fairly endearing story, but Roosevelt had to endure a little bit of ribbing from the company of, evidently, less sporting men who asked him to hand over his man card.

Of course, the press also got hold of the story. Then it wasn’t long until political cartoonist Clifford Berryman chronicled President Roosevelt’s mushy side for the Washington Post. And that was fun. Everyone had a nice chuckle at the soft-hearted leader of the free world.

It also gave one man a great idea. Morris Michtom, candy seller and maker of stuffed animals for children, decided it would be a good idea to make a sweet stuffed bear dedicated to the president. People loved the bears, and when Michtom asked President Roosevelt for permission to name the toy in his honor, as he no longer possessed a man card anyway, he agreed. Teddy’s bear was born, and in the years since has become the prolific teddy bear, beloved by children throughout the world, teaching all of them that bears are soft and squishy and should be given lots of hugs.

 

bears
Super huggable.

 

But it turns out that might not be entirely accurate, because as cute as they are, and they are CUTE, hugging black bears isn’t a great idea. At all.

Fortunately, in my corner of the world, we don’t have to think about it too much. Or at least that’s what I thought before a recent story broke in which a representative from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources calmly discussed the wild black bears now rambling their ways through the suburbs of St. Louis.

Much like Mississippi, the great state of Missouri was once home to a large population of black bears, and in the last few years, the dwindled population has been making a comeback. They’re out there. On one hand that’s great. Predators are an important part of ecosystems and their presence or absence is a good gauge of ecological health. But Missouri bears rarely take up residence in the suburbs.

black bear in the suburbs
Look at that cutie being all cute. But from a distance, okay? photo credit: RickyNJ Black Bear via photopin (license)

These haven’t. Allegedly they are just passing through and the experts have asked everyone to please keep calm. They’ve also asked us all not to feed or shoot the bears. And though to the best of my knowledge no one has said this specifically, I don’t think we’re supposed to try to give them squishy hugs, either.

I have seen a few videos of the critters as they make their way west, through suburban yards, and toward bear-appropriate wilderness. As far as I know, no people, pets, or bears have been hurt along the way, but there’ve been plenty of people surprised to see them, and once the shock has passed, a fair bit of awww.

The Greatest Two Hours in Field Day

Yesterday I’m pretty sure I set a world record. I mean it’s not official or anything and it probably doesn’t sound that impressive on this of all days, since today is the 82nd anniversary of “the greatest 45 minutes in sports.” Admittedly, that was pretty impressive, too.

It was in 1935, at the Big Ten Track and Field Championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan that Jesse Owens tied the 100-yard dash world record and then smashed the world records in long jump, 220-yard dash, and 220-yard low hurdles. With a back injury. In just 45 minutes.

Jesse Owens
What truly impressive feats of athleticism look like. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R96374 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5368787

I don’t run if I can help it (unless I have let one of my friends or one of my sons talk me into it, because I’m a sucker) but that sounds like a pretty good day to me. Owens went on to dominate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as well, and had it been a different, more just era, he would have raked in the endorsements. He did become the first African American depicted on a Wheaties box, but the big money sports endorsements he hoped to gain by leaving the realm of amateur sports behind, never materialized, and his career as an athlete was unfortunately short lived. Still, he remains one of the greats in sports history.

I will not go down as such. I doubt anyone will name a stadium after me, or craft a statue in my honor. I’ve not yet discovered the athletic niche that could land me on a Wheaties box, and at nearly forty, I suspect my time for that may be running short.

But I am proud of my accomplishments yesterday, when I served as the parent-in-charge at the lasso golf station at my son’s elementary school Field Day. By now I’m sure you’ve seen this game, played at company picnics and backyard barbecues.

You might choose to believe the entirely unsupported speculation (which more credible lasso golf experts might refer to as a “wild guess”) that cowboys in the Wild West played a similar game using tree branches and live snakes. Or you might believe that it emerged from campgrounds in the early to mid-90s and is new enough it hasn’t quite settled on a name just yet. You may know it as “ladder golf,” “ladder ball,” “horsey golf,” “dangle ball,” or even just “balls on bars.”

ladder
Oh, that game!

I’m sure there are more regional names as well, but the basic idea of the game is that you have a three-rung ladder-like structure and you throw bolas at it to try to get them to wrap around the rungs to score points. And by bolas, I mean two balls attached to one another by a rope, similar to the weapon used regularly by pre-Columbian societies to trip and take down animals. So, obviously, this is a great game to play with third through fifth graders.

Actually, we had remarkably few people get tripped up, or even get clocked in the head, which was something of a miracle given that initially the game was set up to throw toward the playground and that grade school students have a tendency to wander across any old field of play they happen upon. But very early on I did discover one major hurdle to lasso golf success.

Because the darn bolas get tangled. I don’t mean that once in a while they might get twisted around one another and have to be spun out. I mean that every single time an oh-so-helpful child picks up more than one of them at a time and holds them in his or her hand for more than 0.2 seconds the ropes form into a knot that might as well be held together by superglue. Honestly, I might rather play with live snakes.

But Field Day is about fun and parental perseverance. And so despite the fact that the mother I was partnered with disappeared before the first game could even begin (I have to assume she wandered off and got recruited to lead a rousing game of fun noodle javelin throw), and the line for my incredibly popular lasso golf station never dropped below ten or so anxious kids, and the bolas frequently ended up on the other side of the playground or across the kickball field, where I couldn’t always manage to grab them before an oh-so-helpful grade schooler scooped them up, immediately accidentally tying  the knot of all knots, I got pretty good at running a smooth game.

knot
Just a small knot here.

In fact, I got so good, had someone been handy with a stopwatch (and if anyone bothered to keep records of such things), I’m pretty sure I would have easily smashed the world record for the length of time it takes to untie a lasso golf bola. I probably shattered the record several times over the course of my two hour sentence shift.

Now I’m not saying I’m a world class athlete, or that this was the greatest two hours in sports. But it might have been the greatest two hours in Field Day, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get any big endorsement deals out of it.

From Ox-Drawn Wagon to Airplane: Sharing Dysentery for Thanksgiving

In April of 1852, a twenty-one year old husband and new father named Ezra Meeker, set out with his wife and infant son on a trip to the West. The journey began in Eddyville, Iowa and ended more than 2000 miles away in what would become Washington State.

The Meekers certainly weren’t the only ones to make the journey over what had come to be known as the Oregon Trail. In fact, an estimated 400,000 folks loaded up their ox-drawn wagons and made the trip over at least part of the same well-worn trail west during about a thirty year span in the middle of the 19th century.

By all accounts it was a difficult journey, leaving an estimated 80,000 emigrants dead from starvation, exposure, disease, or accident. But the Meekers made it alive and well, establishing a brewing business that made them a fortune they eventually lost.

meeker_in_omaha
76-year-old Ezra Meeker in Omaha, on a mission to preserve history. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

And like I imagine most of the survivors of the Oregon Trail would claim, Ezra Meeker remembered the dangerous move westward as a transformative experience, perhaps even THE transformative experience of his life. So when it came to his attention that much of the old Oregon Trail had been plowed over and forgotten, he set out on another journey to preserve it.

In 1906, at the age of 76, Meeker put together a team of oxen and an authentic wagon to make the journey once again, in reverse, this time for the purpose of establishing monuments along the original trail. Again the trip wasn’t easy, but he made it all the way to Washington DC to meet with President Theodore Roosevelt. Then he wisely took a train back home.

Before the age of 93, Meeker managed to make the journey several more times, once by Pathfinder automobile and once by airplane, making him the only person known to have traveled the Oregon Trail by wagon, train, car, and plane.

Ezra Meeker spent more than twenty-five years of his life advocating for the preservation of the Oregon Trail, afraid that this epic journey undertaken by so many brave pioneers would fall away from the collective memory of the American people.

But what Meeker didn’t realize was that, thanks to the genius of Minnesota educator Don Rawitsch, such a thing could never happen. A student teacher in an 8th grade history class in 1971, Rawitsch was looking for a way to help his students grasp the dangers inherent in the 19th century American westward migration. What he came up with was a simple computer game in which the player leads a wagon party from Independence, Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette (which rhymes with d@#n it!) Valley.

calamity
The trail is fraught with peril.

And most likely dies along the way.

If you were an American elementary school kid in the eighties, nineties, or early 2000s, you most likely played a version of the educational game Oregon Trail. And you most likely got dysentery and died. Or maybe you drowned while attempting to cross a river, or your wagon broke down and you died from exposure, or you caught cholera or typhoid or you ran out of ammunition and you starved to death. Or maybe, like Ezra Meeker, you actually made it to the end of the trail.

If you never played the game, you now have another chance. There are some recent electronic versions available, but none, I’m sure, that are as fun as a card game based on Rawlitsch’s original idea. My sister-in-law brought a copy of it to family Thanksgiving, and let me just tell you, it provided hours of hilarious entertainment, as well as a lot of death.

The card game is filled with nods to its electronic predecessor, complete with bad computer graphics, instructions to “press the space bar,” and frequently doled out calamities, including immediate death by snakebite. Players work together as a team of as many as six pioneers, and if even one person reaches the Willamette Valley alive, everyone wins.

oregontrail
I braved the Black Friday crowds to buy my own copy of the game, because my sister-in-law won’t be here for family Christmas, and dysentery is something to be shared.

But that probably won’t happen.

Even Ezra Meeker finally met his match. In 1928, on the verge of yet another Trail journey, this time in a Model A Ford, specially designed with a top that resembled a covered wagon, the 97-year-old fell ill with dysentery (or possibly pneumonia) and died.

The Pokémon Pandemic is Upon Us…Go Wash your Hands

In February of 1512, a Spanish Conquistador named Juan Ponce de León received a royal commission to pillage, plunder, and claim the rumored islands northwest of Hispaniola. King Ferdinand specifically wanted this honor to go to Ponce de León, a Spanish son of a good Spanish family, because he did not want to cede any more power to Diego Columbus, the uppity son of that silly Italian fellow who’d done all the exploring for them in the first place.

Ponce de León had travelled to the New World initially on the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1493. Though it’s not clear what he did in the meantime, by 1504 he became the right hand man of the appointed governor of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando, by effectively squashing a rebellion by the native Taínos.

Juan_Ponce_de_Leon
Juan Ponce de Léon, pillager, plunderer, and Pokémon Trainer extraordinaire. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Thus began Ponce de León’s widely successful career of murder and exploration. He soon set off for the island eventually known as Puerto Rico in search of riches rumored by the Taínos, in exchange for which he enslaved many of them and gave the rest smallpox because he never washed his hands. He did find a great deal of gold, but by the time he returned to Hispaniola, Ovando had been usurped by the pesky Diego Columbus and a power struggle soon raged.

So when King Ferdinand suggested Ponce de León go exploring, he was probably pretty happy to oblige. He was the kind of guy who would jump at the chance to gather slaves, glory, and eternal youth, even if it meant wandering into a dark alley at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Because, yes, I think it’s safe to assume that if Ponce de León were alive today, he would be pretty obsessed with the game Pokémon Go. Now I don’t know where else in the world this game may be at this point, but here in the US, it made its debut earlier this month, and I’m telling you, wash your hands, because the pandemic is coming. If you are in the US and you don’t know the game yet, it’s what those people wandering aimless through your neighborhood while staring intently at their phones are doing.

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There’s one! Oh wait, no, that’s just a toy. photo credit: 对阵/Versus via photopin (license)

I was just a few years too old to get caught up in the Pokémon craze the first time around and I’m going to sit it out this time around, too, so if you one of those obsessed (and I’m betting you’re not because you wouldn’t be wasting time/cell phone battery on reading this post), then I apologize for the following explanation.

As far as I can figure, Pokémon is a game in which you capture little powerful creatures and make them fight each other for your entertainment. In the late nineties, you did this by buying or trading Pokémon cards that you would play against your friends who would try to counter your attack with whatever cards they bought or traded for.

Now it’s gone mobile and realistic-ish, because through the magic of Internet mapping, Pokémon (the critters) can show up anywhere at any time and in order to capture them, all you have to do is throw Pokéballs (whatever those are) at them or hatch them from an egg by walking around like a crazy person.

pkemon
Ah the good old days, when Pokémon was just a game that everyone was obsessed with. Oh, wait…

 

And if that’s not exciting enough for you, yes, you can make them fight, and you can take over “gyms” from other Poképlayers (a word I think I just made up, but probably not).  The “gyms” are located in real-life public spaces, businesses, and even private properties that were once designated as something else, without any permission whatsoever given by the property-owners, or any recourse for those who don’t want their property to be a part of the game.

Did I get this about right?

And people have become absolutely obsessed with this game. I know because when I first heard about it maybe three or four days ago, it took over my Facebook feed, where so many of my otherwise pretty rational friends began posting screenshots of all the funny little places they’d found Pokémon, like in the bathroom stall at work. I would say an equal number of otherwise rational friends began railing against the posts and the crazy people stumbling about staring at their phones in places they ought not to have been, like the bathroom stalls of someone else’s workplace. Then I turned on the radio and the dj was droning on and on about Pokémon Go and I realized that even though I didn’t understand a single word, she assumed all her listeners knew exactly what she was talking about. And they probably did.

robb's pokemon
Virtual Pokémon in the non-virtual world. I admit, it looks pretty fun. Thanks to my multiple FB friends who, when I put out a call for a pic, obliged quickly and enthusiastically.

 

So why are people so obsessed with the game? All I can think is that they are reliving their childhoods, searching for a little bit of that wonder they felt in their youth, and hoping that by scouring a dark alleyway at 2 o’clock in the morning, and taking over new lands (or “gyms”), perhaps they can find it.

The great rumor mill of history suggests that that’s what Ponce de León was after as well when he stumbled into Florida. In addition to gold and slaves and glory, he was searching for the famed fountain of youth. Of course there are no contemporary sources that suggest this was the case, and even if he was seeking it, he never found it. In 1521, the conquistador was shot by poison tipped arrows fired by native inhabitants of his new land. Sapped of the strength even to throw a Pokéball, he died shortly after. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

But despite the possible private property issues and potentials for abuse, which will need to be worked out, the game seems innocent enough. I wish all the Pokéballers (another word I think I just made up, but probably not) good luck on their quests for youth. But seriously, go wash your hands.

 

Playing Well: Pretty Much the Coolest Job in the World

In 1934, Danish master carpenter and builder Ole Kirk Kristiansen held a contest to find a new name for his burgeoning toy company. Since1916 Kristiansen had been operating his carpentry business in the town of Billund, Denmark,constructing mainly houses and household furniture.

With the start of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, construction became a difficult way to make a living and so Kristiansen turned his attention to toys. With the shift came the need for a new name and while Kristiansen had a couple of good ideas, he also had a homemade bottle of wine, which he offered up to the employee who could come up with the best idea.

The best idea was a clever contraction of two Danish words, leg godt, which translate as “play well.” The company, of course, became LEGO, a worldwide building brick phenomenon that pumps out more than 5 million little plastic blocks per hour, which is coincidentally about the same number that are currently scattered on the floors of my house.

LEGO
Creation Nation. There was a large outline of the US on the floor with attendees invited to build a small sculpture to help fill it in. Some were just silly and fun. Others modeled famous landmarks. Still others were inspired by McDonald’s. Because what’s more American than that?

My kiddos are LEGO fanatics. And so are yours most likely because on average every person on earth owns 86 LEGO bricks. Granted, my dog probably ingested more than that number yesterday alone, but there’s still a good chance you have a few lying around. If you want to find them, just take off your shoes and walk around for a bit. Always works at my house.

So it’s probably no surprise that when the traveling LEGO Kids Fest visited St. Louis this past weekend, my family jumped at the chance to go. I’m glad we did, because it was a seriously cool event. For two days, the Edward Jones Dome at America’s Center, normally the football stadium for the St. Louis Rams, was put to a much better use. It became home to a maze of huge LEGO sculptures and interactive building activities.

Kids and their families participated in build challenges and group art projects, teaming up to design and race cars or construct strength-tested bridges. Attendees could enjoy numerous free-play areas set up with tubs full of individual colors so that if they had a hankering to make a replica of the Taj Mahal using only purple bricks, they totally could.

Or it was the perfect place to fulfill the lifelong dream of climbing on top of a big pile of bricks and making a LEGO angel (because who hasn’t dreamt of doing that?) before sitting down to construct a giant multicolored fish taco.

My favorite experience, though, was when we took a break and went to a presentation given by one of the LEGO Master Builders, of which there are only eight in the entire world, all based out of Enfield, Connecticut.

This elite group is responsible for all of the giant LEGO sculptures you might see at the LEGO Kids Fest, or the Mall of America, or Disney World, or anywhere else you might find a giant LEGO sculpture.

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Yep, even Emmett has been Kra gl ed.

We had the opportunity to meet Master Builder Chris Steininger during a presentation on interlocking build design in which he encouraged all the little Master Buidlers in Training to try different structures, and then strength test them with heavy metal wrecking balls. My sons learned their lessons well, intentionally designing weak structures to achieve more spectacular destruction.

Chris talked a little bit about the design and build process and he patiently answered about a hundred questions from the kids in the audience, most of which were some variation of “Do you have the best job in the world or what?”

LEGO R2D2
Coolest. Job. Ever.

Not surprisingly he answered, “Yes,” explaining that even though sometimes there are frustrating design issues to work out and building a new model, layer by layer, gluing each in place along the way (yes, for all you LEGO Movie fans out there, I’m sorry to tell you master builders do use “Kra gl e”) can be tedious, basically what he does for a living is play well. And what could be better than that?

Which is what Ole Kristiansen decided, too. It would be a few years before the emergence of the patented stud-and-tube interlocking brick system that is still inspiring little builders today, but in 1934, Ole knew what he wanted his company to be about. And deep down, he also knew what he wanted to call it. He decided to stick with his own idea and called the company LEGO. There’s no record of whether or not he shared the bottle of wine.

Bouncing Ideas Around

My oldest son, a bright nine-year-old with big dreams, wants more than anything to be an inventor when he grows up. And having watched him design and build, and redesign and build better since he was old enough to know blocks could be more useful in his hands than in his mouth, I have no doubt he will succeed in doing just that.

Actually I think if he could just wear a lab coat to work, he might be completely happy. photo credit: philentropist via photopin cc
Actually I think if he could just wear a lab coat to work, he might be completely happy. photo credit: philentropist via photopin cc

The trouble is he isn’t quite sure what to invent. He still lives in a nine-year-old’s world and thankfully, from his perspective, life is pretty good. So one of his favorite questions to ask people is whether they have a problem he can solve with an invention.

This approach hasn’t led yet to much inspiration, but I think he’s on the right track because many of the most important inventions in history have occurred specifically because the world had a problem and it needed the inventors to step in and solve it. And, of course, I have to assume that when I say “important”, your mind jumps immediately to silly putty.

In WWII Japan rushed to seize rubber plantations throughout Southeast Asia. This made a lot of sense strategically because rubber is an important resource for armies which need it for tires, rafts, boots, and all kinds of army type things. But this created a big problem for the US that got 90% of its rubber from Southeast Asia.

The call went out to the American public to conserve and to donate any spare rubber they may possess. The public responded, turning in old boots, rain coats, and garden hoses. The Boy Scouts of America chipped in by collecting 54,000 tons of scrap tires in just the first few weeks of the shortage.

It's possible that this boot could be put to better use.    photo credit: runran via photopin cc
It’s possible that this boot could be put to better use. photo credit: runran via photopin cc

But conservation alone couldn’t solve the problem and so the word was sent out to the inventors that we needed a good, cheap, synthetic rubber material and we needed it fast. Industry in the US and around the world had been working on a synthetic rubber for about fifty years with some small scale successes, but nothing that could supply the wartime need. It was Waldo Semon of B.F. Goodrich that produced a substance that could fill the gap. And if this blog were as practical as it claims, this post would probably be about him.

Instead it’s about a General Electric scientist by the name of James Wright who in 1943 made a rubbery putty that bounced even better than natural rubber, that stretched if pulled slowly, broke if twisted quickly, and picked up petroleum-based newspaper ink. And if left on a lab table, it puddled. This last characteristic made it unlikely as a candidate for use in effective tires, but Wright still thought it was pretty cool.

Frustrated that he couldn’t find a good use for it beyond impressing his friends at parties, Wright consulted with fellow inventors throughout the world who all said it also impressed their friends at parties.

Eventually the substance came to the attention of Peter Hodgson, a marketing specialist who had worked with a toy store owner that briefly, and somewhat successfully, included the substance in her catalog.  Hodgson saw potential and bought the production rights from General Electric for $147.

Stringy. Bouncy. Gooey. Not good for making tires.   photo credit: Hometown Beauty via photopin cc
Stringy. Bouncy. Gooey. Not good for making tires. photo credit: Hometown Beauty via photopin cc

With Easter coming up, Hodgson named the stuff “Silly Putty,” packaged it in small plastic eggs and waited for his millions to roll in. Before long silly putty was enjoying worldwide success and it even launched into space with Apollo 8, where it finally proved useful as a means to hold down tools in zero-gravity. By the time of Hodgson’s death in 1976, his estate was worth $140 million in silly putty money (even so, all of his checks bounced—get it?).

So I may not be able to provide a great deal of inspiration for my budding inventor, but it still seems to me that he’s onto something. The world has lots of problems that need solving. And if that doesn’t work out, it also has lots of party-goers that need impressing.

Looming Rainbows

Another year has come and gone. Looking back at my blog post from a year ago, I see that I resolved to learn to teleport. This was because I had recently returned from a trip during which I spent a significant amount of time on an airplane with lots of strangers and their germs. I wrote that I was sick with “the worst cold of my adult life.”

Frankly I have my doubts. I honestly would not have remembered said illness if I hadn’t blogged about it. Besides, I clearly have the worst cold of my adult life right now, just at the start of 2014.

Tissue Box Cozy
Tissue Box Cozy: What I should have requested for Christmas. (Photo credit: María Magnética)

I can’t even blame this one on air travel because that wasn’t a part of our holiday plans this year as we now live so much closer to our families. There was a great deal of togetherness spread over the holidays, on both sides of the family. Food was eaten, games were played, germs were shared, and rainbows were loomed.

If you happen to have an American grade schooler in your life, you no doubt understand what I’m talking about, but in case this phenomenon has not reached your corner of the world, I’ll explain.

The latest craze to hit grade school is these bracelets made by linking together small colorful rubber bands. There’s a special loom you have to buy and then there’s about a gazillion patterns you can make. And like all of these fad kid crafts, the more complicated the pattern, the greater the cool points.

Rainbow Loom Bracelets for Sale
The way to a third grader’s heart, for now. (Photo credit: Shopping Diva)

When my third grader first mentioned it, I didn’t know what he was talking about (By third grade standards, I am apparently not cool.) Then I walked into a craft store and the first thing I saw was a mountainous display of the looms, accompanied by the sign: “No Coupons or other discounts may be applied to Rainbow Loom products. Limit of 20 looms per customer transaction.”

First of all, WHAT?! Just who is trying to buy more than 20 of these things? I bought one, which earned me a few cool points with my son.

It turned out his cousin also received rainbow looming gear for Christmas and so the holiday saw all of us adults sporting a lot of rubber bands as the cousins got to work sharing looming secrets and exchanging highly sought after colors.

Besides being a source of endless entertainment and a continuing supply of stylish jewelry (and possibly a vector for contagion), the rubber bands did also spark controversy. My son has in his toolbox of bands a color that is clearly purple, another that is clearly blue, and one that is somewhere in between. My husband tried to call it indigo, to which my son replied: “Oh, so that’s indigo.”

Because no one knows what color that really is. And I do mean no one.

English: Extract of Indigo plant applied to paper
Extract of Indigo plant applied to paper. I’m not saying it isn’t a color. Even Crayola (the gold standard of all things color) has an indigo. I’m just saying, I don’t see it in the rainbow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rainbows have been formally studied since Aristotle. Likely it was Shen Kuo of 11th century China who first more or less accurately explained how rainbows occur. But it is Isaac Newton we have to thank for this most troublesome of colors indigo. In 1672 he published a study detailing the color spectrum. His initial description included five colors and then, a few years later, he added orange and indigo because he thought it would be “pretty neat-o” to have the same number of colors as there are musical notes, days in the week, and known heavenly bodies.

Newton's color circle, showing the colors corr...
Neat-O! Newton’s color circle, showing the colors correlated with musical notes and symbols for the planets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it would have been, except that we now know that there are nine planets in our solar system (just back off, all you Pluto-haters!) and that, really, Newton has just gotten us into a whole mess of disagreement. It even turns out, when we talk about indigo, we probably aren’t talking about the same color Newton was describing. What we call indigo, he called blue and what he called blue is more what we think of as cyan (or blue green if, like me, you prefer the Crayola color spectrum).

So why is indigo still there? I think we have to blame Mr. Roy G. Biv for that. Of course we owe him a lot. Without Mr. Biv we would have a terribly difficult time remembering the order of the color spectrum and I love a good pneumonic as much as the next gal, but I think I have a solution for that. How about Ronnie Only Yodels Great Big Vocals? It’s a work in progress. I’m certainly open to family-friendly suggestions.

But I think with a little tweaking it could take off, just like the way we all learned the order of the planets in our solar system: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (or as the Pluto-hating scientists would prefer: My Very Evil Mother Just Served Us Nothing).

Pizza
Pizza: way better than nothing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So here are my predictions for this new year:

  1. I will not learn to teleport.
  2. The rainbow loom will go out of fashion and the braided embroidery thread friendship bracelet will make a comeback.
  3. Indigo will at last be expelled from the rainbow.
  4. Pluto will be reinstated as a planet thanks to the hard work of the advocacy group Very Educated Mothers for Pluto.
  5. I will have the worst cold of my adult life on the dawn of 2015.