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: 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.

True Tales from the First Grade

This week I have had the pleasure of learning a great deal about one of the most beloved figures in the history of American pioneering days. I refer to Johnny Appleseed, who, frankly, I didn’t know for sure even existed. I thought I would pass some of this wealth of knowledge to you, dear reader, because I’m guessing that like me, you may have a somewhat muddled image of this legend.

First of all, he did exist. His real name was John Chapman and (not surprisingly) he had a thing for apple seeds. In the first part of the 18th century, just as settlers were headed out to tame the wilderness of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, John Chapman set out ahead of them. He travelled most often on bare foot, scattering apple seeds willy-nilly as he went, pausing only to participate in the occasional flash mob.

Polski: Salsa flash mob w Złotych Tarasach, 29...
If you look closely you can just see the top of Appleseed’s head in the very back. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Johnny Appleseed was a loving man, whose compassion for the poor was as famous as was his dancing. He delighted in defending the helpless from bears with his trusty rifle. And he travelled extensively through Europe and into the volcanoes of Hawaii to scatter apple seeds.

Okay, so it turns out, my source may not be all that reliable (imagine!). It is, in fact, my six-year-old son who came home from his first grade class full of lore and a new found love for everything apple.

So it seemed like a good idea to take the boys to a nearby U-pick orchard, and to check a few facts. It turns out it is true that the legend of Johnny Appleseed developed from a real man named John Chapman and he was famous for his compassion. He really did travel almost exclusively on foot (and rarely wore shoes) from Pennsylvania, most likely as far as Illinois for the purpose of planting apple seeds.

Where the legend gets a little fuzzy is with his motivation for all this extreme farming. Some historians have suggested that he was one of the most successful businessmen and landowners in the early days of the settled Midwestern US. I can see their point. Apples were an extremely important crop in the early pioneering days, and not only because apple crisp is super delicious.

With water sources so often contaminated, apple cider was a safe way to get water (and, if allowed to ferment, a buzz). Apples themselves are a long-lasting, easily stored food source. And perhaps most importantly, vinegar can be made from apples, which allowed pioneers to preserve food. That is, if they didn’t use all of their harvest to make apple crisp.

This was AWESOME
Who needs clean drinking water when you could have this? Yum!(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether or not he was a strong tenor or a graceful dancer, Chapman was certainly a sound businessman. He didn’t scatter his seeds willy-nilly. Instead, he planted them very deliberately near water ways where settlers were likely to end up and where the trees were likely to thrive. He fenced them in, enlisted help at times to care for them, and visited his far-flung orchards whenever he could to make sure they were doing well and to distribute trees to new settlers.

Like any good capitalist, Chapman found a market demand and supplied it. But even though he was highly successful, that’s not what made him a legend.

Business boomed, and Chapman could have been a very wealthy man. Possibly he even was at times. He didn’t exactly hesitate to sell his trees for a profit, but he also didn’t deny trees to any of the pioneers who couldn’t afford to pay for them. For payment, he often accepted the scraps of cast-off clothing that were all he ever wore, or sometimes even just an IOU that he never bothered to collect on.

You see, Johnny Appleseed was never in the business of making money, but rather the business of evangelism. He was a devout follower of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg whose accounts of his prophetic visions revised and to some extent replaced Christian teachings in the minds of his followers. Chapman shared his apples, and Swedenborg’s writings until his dying day.

“Prophets” were more common than apples in the back woods of the United States in those early days, and Swedenborg’s teaching never gained much momentum there. But Chapman’s apples certainly took root and his compassionate nature and simplistic lifestyle became the stuff of legend.

As for my son’s other claims, Chapman was a strict vegetarian who once extinguished his campfire in order to spare the mosquitoes that might accidentally fly too close to the flames. According to most accounts, he travelled with little more than a book, a cooking pot hat, and his apple seeds, so I think it unlikely that he shot very many bears. And though there are stories that probably originated in the few years following Chapman’s death that he planted apple trees as far away as California, there’s absolutely no evidence he ever travelled to Europe or Hawaii. There are also rumors that he and Elvis have been running a successful used car dealership in Boise. I hear they sell excellent apple crisp on the side.

And, sure, I somehow doubt that I’m getting a perfect account of first grade curriculum. My son (and I have no idea where he gets this trait) has the tendency to fill in the occasional imaginative detail. But I think that might be in keeping with the Johnny Appleseed legend anyway. From the painfully simple life of this one devout, apple-obsessed little man has emerged a great spirit of ecology, adventure, and love.

Of the real man behind the legend, we may only know two things for certain: flash mobs are awesome and apple crisp is delicious.

English: Drawing of Jonathan Chapman, aka John...
I’d probably buy a car from this man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

French Fashion Accessories: They’re not just for English Nannies Anymore

Jonas with his brolly
Jonas with his brolly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In October of 1750, Englishman Jonas Hanway had the nerve to walk through the streets of London carrying an umbrella. To be clear this was well before the umbrella became the preferred mode of transportation for magical English nannies. Though the umbrella had been introduced through much of Europe at the time, it’s most notable use was as a favorite accessory of the more fashionable ladies of France.

Anything that can be referred to as a bumbershoot is probably a little funny anyway. And it certainly doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that an otherwise well-respected Englishman walking down the street sporting the latest in 18th century French ladies’ fashion might draw some attention and (possibly deserved) ridicule.

But why would someone carrying an umbrella in 21st century Oregon deserve a similar reaction? When we relocated to Salem, Oregon a few years ago, we knew that with a 2000 plus mile relocation would come a few small cultural differences. We expected that we might pick up a few new bits of slang in our vocabulary, learn some variations on well-known songs, and maybe stumble on the recipes of some local specialties.

One thing that did surprise me, though, was when I was warned that in this region in which it rains pretty much from November to July, I could expect to be mocked if I used an umbrella. It made a sort of sense, I suppose. Salem rain most often consists of tiny little droplets that swirl around in the air and are more likely to coat than douse and so are difficult to stop with a traditional umbrella.

Still, even when the rain came down harder, more similar to the sheets that fall in the Midwestern springtime, the Oregonians merely pulled their rain jackets tighter, and ran a little faster. Few were willing to take a cue from 18th century French ladies’ fashion. Or common sense.

So now I’m back in St. Louis and it’s April, which means it is storming. The rain comes down in sheets (like rain is supposed to) and when I venture out (and I’m not cowering in my basement under a tornado warning) I carry an umbrella. Because it’s the sensible thing to do. It would have been the sensible thing to do in Oregon as well, but I am sad to say I wasn’t bold enough. When the rain came down in sheets, I pretended to be a native Oregonian and simply pulled my rain jacket a little tighter and ran a little faster.

As for Jonas Hanway, he stayed the course, determined that the umbrella (used by many ancient civilizations) was a sensible and worthwhile idea. Come rain or come shine, he stubbornly carried his favorite and slightly silly-looking accessory through the city streets for nearly thirty years. Eventually the idea caught on and soon enough the men and women of London began carrying umbrellas (for a long time referred to as “hanways”), though it would still be a few years before the bumbershoot would catch on with practically perfect nannies.

Mary Poppins: Umbrella
Mary Poppins: Umbrella (Photo credit: jpellgen)

Avast Ye Wedding Lubbers

Multnomah Falls

On a recent family excursion to Multnomah Falls, a place I’ve been too few times, I noticed a sign along the trail that I hadn’t read before, probably because I assumed it had something to do with rock formations and/or water volume as most of the signs do.

But this one was different. It described an event from September of 1995 when a boulder weighing 400 tons (according to the sign that is approximately the same weight as a school bus filled with concrete, and go ahead and disprove that) fell from the rock face next to upper Multnomah Falls, plunging 225 feet into the pool at the bottom. Upon entering the water the school bus boulder produced a 70-foot splash that washed over the observation bridge, completely dousing a wedding party that had been posing for pictures. Now, I may not care much about geology, but I am a big fan of wedding photos.

In case you haven’t been to the falls, though, let me just provide a little background. Located on Interstate 84, just outside of Portland, Multnomah Falls drops a total of 620 feet, making it the highest waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge and the second highest year-round waterfall in the United States. Between the upper and lower portion of the falls spans Benson Bridge, constructed in 1914.

And if geology is your thing, Multnomah Falls is allegedly a fascinating place to visit because rumor has it you can see something like six different lava flows, evidence of flooding that occurred thousands of years ago, and probably even some really interesting differences in rates of erosion that have led to the tiered formation of the falls and the occasional plunging school-bus-sized rock. Personally, I just care that it’s pretty.

In fact, all those impressive geological goings-on coupled with the well-placed bridge in the middle make the easily accessible Multnomah Falls an ideal spot for all your magical wedding photo needs. Then there’s the tragic and super romantic mythological accompaniment that I didn’t even mention yet.

According to one Native American legend, the chief of the Multnomah people had a beautiful and beloved daughter. He arranged for her to marry a strong young chief from the neighboring Clatsop people and planned many days of feasting and celebration during which tragedy struck. A terrible sickness descended on the wedding festivities. The only solution, as determined by an honored medicine man, was for an innocent maiden to sacrifice herself. The idea was that her sacrificial love would impress the Great Spirit and the sick would recover. When her betrothed fell ill, the young maiden took it upon herself to save her people. She climbed up to the high cliff and leapt to her death. As a token of her loving sacrifice, a spring welled up on the cliff top, the water descending as a lasting bridal gown testimony to the young maiden.

I don’t know about you, but had I gotten married in Oregon, I think we would have made the effort to get that picture. But even though the myth lends a certain wild sentimentality to the photo op, I have to wonder if it ultimately makes a lot of sense to get fancied up in tuxedoes and ball gowns and go for a hike. Assuming here that your daily wear is somewhat less formal, don’t the memories painted by such pictures just ring a little false?

Yet as anyone who has ever tried to make small talk with relative strangers for hours at a wedding reception while waiting for the bridal party to arrive knows, couples do this kind of thing all the time. In fact, my husband was a groomsman at the beginning of this summer and while I’ve not yet seen the photographic evidence, it sounds like things may have gotten a little out of hand. Let’s just say there are some modern art sculptures on an undisclosed Midwestern college campus that are probably feeling a little violated. What that has to do with the celebration of marriage, well, you’d have to ask the couple. No one else seems willing to talk about it.

So the sign at the falls got me thinking about wedding photos and it happens that a few days ago some good friends of mine celebrated their wedding anniversary. It’s one of those that I always remember not only because I was a bridesmaid (and I actually liked the dress, and yes, I have even worn it since), but also because they had the foresight to get married on International Talk like a Pirate Day.

They’re a great couple and I am honored to be featured in their wedding photos, in which I never once posed with any modern art sculptures. But as I was looking back through the pictures, I realized that along with the lined up bridal party, the first kiss as husband and wife, and the gathered family, were some of the other kinds of photos as well: the ones in which excessively well-dressed people are deliberately posed in unnaturally casual ways.

Clearly these men are pirates. You can tell by the way they are standing.

Ultimately, though, I think these are the ones I like best because it says a lot about a photographer (and how well they know the couple whose wedding they are trying to capture) and even more about the couple themselves, because if the photo didn’t somehow resonate with who they are, then it never would have made the wedding album. For my friends, their memories will forever include a nod to the internationally celebrated holiday with which they share their special day. And because of their willingness to embrace it, their friends will never forget to leave a heartfelt message on their Facebook pages: “Arr. Ye be havin a jolly anniversary ye old scurvy dogs.”

I am happy to report, too, that the Multnomah Falls wedding deluge resulted in no major injuries. In an interview after the wedding, the bride said of the event, “We got the tragedy out of the way and now we’re home free.” That’s a great attitude that I assume has led to many years of happily ever after. I just hope someone managed to snap a picture of the splash.

Just a bunch of well-dressed people casually hanging out in a courtyard, cuz that’s how we roll.

Wedding photos by Layne Aumann Photography. www.aumannphotography.com/

These wedding pictures are used by permission and may not appear elswhere without consent, lest ye be wantin to walk the plank.

Something Kind of Awesome

Gulf Shores, Alabama. Beach.
Gulf Shores, Alabama. Beach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Hurricane Isaac slammed into the Gulf Coast causing evacuations, flooding, property damage, fear, and all the terrible things a hurricane can bring with it, something kind of awesome happened, too. On a thin little stretch of Alabama beach that reaches between Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan on the east side of Mobile Bay, Isaac’s fury revealed a shipwreck, about 136 feet long and previously burned, from days gone by.

English: Map of Bon Secour National Wildlife R...

If you’re unfamiliar with the location, glance at a map of Alabama, concentrating on that little southern piece that meets the Gulf of Mexico. And then look more closely because you probably missed it the first time. It’s not much more than a single main road lined by bits of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and beach front vacation homes.

Every couple of years for as long as I can remember a portion of my family vacations there. It’s always the laid back family reunion sort of vacation where folks may come and go as they can and you’re always sure to see some cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends you haven’t seen for a while along with a few new faces, too. There’s never much of an agenda beyond a little beach wiffle ball (in the water is probably a homerun; if you cause someone to plunge into the surf chasing your ball, you’re a hero) and inside someone is always cooking something wonderful.

And at the risk of sounding like a court mandated BP commercial, it’s really beautiful. If you’re a beach vacation kind of a person, it’s worth giving a try. I don’t always make it for the big family gathering, but I have been there several times over the years and I have managed to take both of my sons as well. Sometime in the coming  years, I’m sure we’ll return because we love it.

So when my cousin (via my aunt) brought the story of this discovery to my attention, I immediately pulled out vacation photos and explained to my 5-year old son that an old ship had been found upon the very beach where he played in the sand as a small babe. His eyes as big as saucers, he whispered, “You mean a shipwreck?”

I can only imagine what was going through his head: images of sharks chasing frightened little fish through portholes, peg-legged pirates running wildly to save their damaged ship, a prince floating adrift in the open sea awaiting rescue by a pretty singing mermaid. And why not? Don’t we all love a good historical mystery?

But even though this was the first time I’d ever heard of the ship, it’s not the first time it has ever been seen. Hurricanes in 1969, 1979, and even 2004 all revealed parts of the wreck in the sand, but Isaac has shown us more of it than has been seen in a long time. In 2004, when Hurricane Ivan uncovered a smaller portion, there was enough of the wreck visible to get historians really going, trying to figure out just what ship they were looking at.

The list pretty quickly got whittled down to just three good possibilities:

  1. The 136 foot Monticello was a Confederate blockade runner that failed to outrun a Union navy gunboat and burned to the keel.
  2. At close to 150 feet, the schooner Rachel was run aground with a load of lumber (and rumor has it, illegal booze) in 1923 by a tropical storm. The ship was later burned, for unclear reasons, though local legend chalks it up to insurance fraud.
  3. A captured rum runner, Aurora, carrying around 1400 cases of liquor (toward the end of prohibition) was being towed toward Mobile by the US Coast Guard when it caught fire and sank somewhere near Fort Morgan.

Kanawha "cutting out a blockade runner fr...

Though these wrecks each bear some resemblance to the mystery boat, there are a few clues that have pointed historians to their final conclusion. First, the wreckage contains woven steel cables, not used in shipbuilding during the Civil War era. The beam construction of the ship, too, points to a design that was more useful for stability than for speed, so it’s not likely that this was the blockade runner Monticello or any of the other many sunken Confederate Blockade runners that might have been contenders for consideration.

There’s also some evidence that suggests that the wrecked ship was a steam-powered vessel, and though little is known about the Aurora, its 8 crew members were safely aboard the Coast Guard vessel when it burned and 8 seems to historians a pretty small crew to be operating a steam vessel of that size.

This leaves us then with the Rachel (not just a popular 90’s hairstyle). I confess I am a little disappointed. Historians have pretty much all agreed that this was just a working lumber ship that fell under some trouble. Thankfully, her crew made it to safety. But they never were very forthcoming about her cargo so if she was smuggling booze, well, we’ll never know for sure. And whether she was burned intentionally in order to cash in on insurance we can only guess. So maybe there is still a little mystery.

And who knows?  Maybe the crew was rescued by a singing mermaid. They never said they weren’t.

The Trouble with Wallabies

A week or two ago, a suspiciously happy circle cropped up on a hillside near my home. This constitutes my only first-hand experience with a crop circle so I was delighted to discover that in the great state of Oregon where I live, this is not a terribly uncommon occurrence.

Though the vast majority of crop circles in the 20th century have been located in southern England there are examples from 26 nations throughout the world. Circles have been reported in forty-seven out of the fifty US states. And yes in 1991, Puerto Rico even got into the action when a group of concentric rings turned up on a rocky plateau near the city of Ajuntas.

Oregon ranks 11th among the fifty states with 19 reported circles by 2008 (Not quite as impressive as the 23 boasted by my native home state of Illinois, but not too shabby). Ohio claims the title for most reported crop circles in a single US state with a whopping 42, confirming what researchers have long suspected: there really is very little to do in Ohio.

This data comes from the Independent Crop Circle Researchers’ Association (ICCRA) which describes itself as a cooperative of researchers with a wide variety of interests in crop circles dedicated to objective data collection, independent of individual theories about crop circle formation. And it’s a good thing it exists because it’s a heated debate, contributed to (according to Wikipedia) by paranormal enthusiasts, ufologists (I can’t help but wonder if this field of study requires post graduate work), and anomalistic investigators. For some reason practical historians didn’t make the list.

Many of these enthusiasts, investigators, and ‘ologists have come to different conclusions as to the cause of crop circles. Which makes me wonder how exactly the large happy face appeared because there are a number of possibilities to consider.

The first good picture we have of crop circles comes from a 17th-century English woodcut pamphlet entitled Mowing-Devil on which appears the story of a farmer who said he’d rather have the devil himself mow his field than to pay the high price demanded by a laborer. Apparently no one ever told him to be careful what he wished for because that night, his field appeared to catch fire and the next day it was perfectly cut (at a rather higher price I assume). The accompanying picture includes the image of the devil cutting a circle into the field with a scythe. Of course, since he went on to cut the entire field, and because I don’t usually think of the devil as a particularly happy chap, I don’t think this explains my mystery circle.

1678 pamphlet on the "Mowing-Devil".

The more modern crop circle phenomenon took off a few years after a curious event near the city of Tully in Queensland, Australia. In 1966, a farmer by the name of George Pedley reported hearing a strange hissing noise. Looking toward the sound, he saw a saucer ascend from the nearby swamp. When he investigated the area, he found a circular depression in the vegetation, about 30 feet in diameter. Officials determined the cause to be vaguely related to a dust devil. The saucer sighting was “officially” overlooked.

Then in the 1970’s, circles began popping up all over the English countryside. Most of these would turn out to be the handiwork of pranksters Doug Bower and Dave Chorley who patterned their initial circles on the Tully “saucer nest.” The two later claimed over 200 circles, many of which sparked at least a little bit of serious scientific study.

In 1980, a meteorologist and physicist by the name of Terence Meaden weighed in with a complicated theory that the circles were caused whirlwinds bouncing around the unique topography of the southern English countryside. The theory gained some momentum, even garnering a tentative endorsement from Physicist Stephen Hawking who said that it was a plausible explanation if  the circles weren’t just part of some elaborate hoax. When Bower and Chorley finally came clean, I imagine Meaden’s response was something like: “Or it could all just be part of some elaborate hoax.” It is, however, worth noting that a lot of cereologists (one who has a post graduate degree in the study of crop circles, or maybe Cheerios) claim that crop circles which can be attributed to hoaxes are in fact promoted by governments as a way to discredit the true origin of others.

My favorite explanation for the appearance of crop circles, though, comes from Lara Giddings, then Deputy Premier of Tasmania, whose theory appears in a June 2009 article from the BBC. To give a little background here, Australia produces about 50% of the world’s legally grown poppies for use in the pharmaceutical industry. Australia also has wallabies. Giddings apparently said the following: “We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting high as a kite and going around in circles. Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high.”

So I guess that explains it.

Except as far as I know, there are no wild (high as a kite) wallabies in Oregon. And while I can’t completely discount alien visitation, this particular hill is highly visible from a pretty busy road and I haven’t heard any reports of UFO sightings in the area. So maybe, just maybe, there’s a mystery artist or two out there having a little fun and spreading a little joy. But I should probably report it to the ICCRA just to be safe.

Red necked wallaby (picture taken in Australia)

Note: I know that some of you are probably still thinking about the Mowing-Devil and just can’t let it go because technically a crop circle is created by bending crops and not mowing them. I understand your concern, but the way I see it, if visitors from another planet decide to use lawn mowing equipment to communicate with us then who are we to cry foul? Just to be clear, though, I don’t think it’s a good idea for gorked wallabies to be operating heavy machinery.

One big puddle

About 7,700 years ago Mt. Mazama blew its top. While I am no expert volcanologist, I’m reasonably sure that this was not your average eruption. Actual volcanologists tell us that the eruption was around 42 times greater than that of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, and since 42 isn’t a round number, I have to assume they aren’t just randomly guessing.

But the exciting thing (if an explosion of molten rock out of the top of a mountain isn’t enough for you) is that this volcano just kept going until the entire thing had collapsed in on itself forming an impressively large caldera where a mountain top once stood. Over the years the steam vents sealed themselves off and the deep caldera became a giant bowl for catching precipitation and snow melt. Since the area receives an average of 44 FEET of snow per year (along with a measly 66 inches of rain), well, let’s just say that’s one big puddle!

Today, nestled in 286 square miles of national park in the middle of Oregon, this former mountain peak is known as Crater Lake. At somewhere around 2000 feet deep, it is the deepest lake in the United States and ranks seventh in the world. Of course since geologists can tend to be a quarrelsome bunch, it should come as no surprise that some have argued for naming it the ninth deepest in the world. I’m sure there’s a strong case for that, but, frankly, I lost interest.

What really matters to me, is that with an approximate volume of 4.49 cubic miles of water, there’s more than enough room to comfortably support the Crater Lake Monster. It’s true that Crater Lake’s elusive pleisiosaur doesn’t have the vast following or pizzazz of its more publicity crazed Scottish cousin Nessie, but then given that the volume of Loch Ness is a mere 1.8 cubic miles, it makes sense that Nessie would be observed more frequently.

Actually there have been shockingly few sightings of the monster in Crater Lake. To some skeptics out there, that might seem like good evidence that there is no such thing as the Crater Lake Monster. From where would it come after all? With no way in or out of the lake and no naturally occurring fish, it doesn’t at first seem like the ideal habitat for a sea monster.

But at least one witness has come forward in the recent past with a compelling monster story. Mattie Fletcher of Albany, Georgia, recounted her terrifying tale in a May 2002 issue of her local newspaper. When the now adult Ms. Fletcher was a young child boating on Crater Lake, she recalls, she observed a shadowy something swimming beneath her rowboat. She says it resembled a dragon, which, if you’ve ever seen the 1977 B movie The Crater Lake Monster (and who hasn’t?) you recognize as a pretty accurate description, though she forgot to mention that it was slow moving and made of paper mache.

And Ms. Fletcher is not the only person ever to claim that Crater Lake is home to a monster. Though numerous Native American legends surround the unusual body of water, the most consistent version tells of a battle between Llao (the god of the underworld) and Skell (the god of the sky). The story explains the massive eruptions of Mt. Mazama and how a demon soldier of Llao may have come to dwell in the depths of the lake.

Regardless which version of the legend though, Native American tribes consistently viewed Crater Lake as ominous and guides generally led exploration parties around the area, avoiding the lake altogether. As a result it wasn’t discovered by pioneers until 1853 when a group of miners looking for gold stumbled upon it.

I can kind of see why the lake might be a little unsettling. I recently visited the national park for the first time and the impossibly blue, incredibly deep waters that are difficult to access even in the height of summer do inspire awe. It’s the kind of place one expects to find a monster and to snap a picture of a long slender neck peaking up to say hello. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time until this monster has a cult following and a catchy nickname of its own.