Archives For Guam

Chocolate Mushrooms

December 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

mushroomThat’s right, chocolate mushrooms. And it gets worse.

Some flavors are not intended to ever be combined. Years ago, some friends who knew I loved chocolate and despised mushrooms found the perfect gift for me. Chocolates shaped like mushrooms.

There was only one small problem. The chocolates were actually mushroom-flavored. Imagine a chocolate bar melted into a can of cream of mushroom soup, and you get the idea.

Even people like my wife who love both distinct tastes, couldn’t stomach the blend.

Well, a new product has entered the market and it immediately reminded me of that unsavory fiasco.

A company in Hawaii has capitalized on merging two very flavors that are popular in many locales but just sound a wee bit incompatible. They have taken the delectable taste and gentle crunch of macadamia nuts and accented them with the aromatic zest of spam.

That’s right. Spam-flavored macadamia nuts. They sound irresistible, don’t they?

Probably not. But then, most readers of Mere Inkling aren’t in the target audience of Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company. The fact is—and those of us who’ve experienced the joy of living in the Pacific and Micronesia know this well—there are vast numbers of people who absolutely love spam.

I actually don’t have an objection to either of these products . . . individually. Spam casserole was a staple in the home of my youth, and I can eat it with pleasure today. Macadamias still seem a bit exotic and shipping costs make them a bit pricier than most of their competition, but they taste great.

Two wonderful flavors. Logic tells us that if they are both good alone, they’ll be even better together!

But some things were never meant to be combined.

Then again, some different qualities are magnificent when they are brought together. This is especially true when it comes to the art of writing.

Evelyn Underhill, a gifted author in her own right, composed a letter to C.S. Lewis in 1938 praising him for his recently released Out of the Silent Planet.

It is so seldom that one comes across a writer of sufficient imaginative power to give one a new slant on reality: & this is just what you seem to me to have achieved. And what is more, you have not done it in a solemn & oppressive way but with a delightful combination of beauty, humour & deep seriousness. I enjoyed every bit of it, in spite of starting with a decided prejudice against “voyages to Mars.”

“Beauty, humor, and deep seriousness . . .” Traits those of us who love Lewis’ work have come to expect. In great quantity. And we are not disappointed.

Good writing can excel in a single dimension. Great writing, it seems to me, earns that appellation by weaving together a variety of strong “flavors.”

It’s like comparing a superb violin solo to a flawless symphony. Part of the wonder of the latter is the skill with which each disparate element combines into a glorious whole.

Or, returning to the culinary realm with which we began, powerful writing properly combines distinct flavors that complement one another . . . such as chocolate and peanut butter, or spam and . . . Well, I trust I’ve made my point.

Nature’s Hazards

June 24, 2013 — 12 Comments

tumbleweedsNo matter where in the world you live, you are vulnerable to dangers uniquely associated with that locale. Some of us have moved around and weathered a variety of these threats.

My own family has survived earthquakes in our home state of Washington, ice storms in Oklahoma, nearby tornadoes in Texas, record-setting freezes in Minnesota, both droughts and failed levees in two different California cities along with a Super Typhoon in Guam. (Sometimes we’ve even been assailed by disasters that had no place occurring where they did, like a hurricane that knocked out our power for a full month in England, of all places!)

It’s quite possible that you too have experienced near misses when it comes to suffering Nature’s wrath. (I’d much rather attribute these things to fallen Nature than refer to them as “acts of God.”)

C.S. Lewis offers a wonderful description of Nature in Miracles.

You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see . . . this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought that this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself.

Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall still be able to recognise our old enemy, friend, play-fellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.

But, until that glorious day when Nature has been reborn in the culmination of the event that took place on Calvary . . . until that day, Nature remains a capricious neighbor. It’s best to know what she is likely to throw at you based on where you reside—and be prepared. Disaster preparedness is something that the wise will concern themselves before catastrophe strikes.

There are some dangers, however, for which one cannot adequately prepare. The prospects of mega-tsunamis terrify me (and I don’t even live by the sea). Then there are zombie outbreaks, which are apparently taking place on a frequent basis, if the plethora of media on that ghoulish subject is any indication.

The photograph at the top of this page reveals a grim threat to life on the American plains. There may be a few other places where these merciless creatures wreak havoc (the arid portions of Australia, perhaps), but I hope most of those reading this have been spared the visage of plagues of tumbleweeds racing across the horizon in search of victims to overrun, scar, and bury. As the picture shows, sometimes it is not even safe to shelter in a home during a particularly virulent attack.

I’ve seen many a wayward tumbleweed, while I’ve driven across barren desert terrains. Occasionally you’ll see them alone, scouting ahead of the mass for weak prey. If you see an entire horde, well . . . it’s probably already to late to flee.

This picture makes me shiver. It’s one reason I’m so happy to have moved home to Puget Sound, where the incessant rain* keeps everything green. I can put up with an occasional tectonic jiggle, if it means I don’t have to worry about being buried alive beneath a mountain of desiccated thorns.

_____

* The rainfall in western Washington is highly exaggerated. It’s true that for half of the year it receives more rain than the national average, but the other six months it receives less than average of the rest of the nation.

Also, I don’t believe it is an accident that one of the most commonly encountered tumbleweeds in the United States is Salsola tragus, an utterly humorless thistle that invaded from Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. Despite occasional eruptions, it seems to be lying in wait, for the most part, growing in strength for the final conflagration between humanity and noxious weeds and their allies, the triffids.

International Blogging

February 13, 2013 — 23 Comments

countries

Who reads blogs? Well, initially, we find just two sources of readers.

  1. Family & Close Friends who we can coerce into reading it, and put on the spot by publicly asking questions related to our recent columns to tighten the screws just a smidge.
  2. Fellow bloggers who search for interesting reads with the ulterior hope that the writers of posts they “like” will make a reciprocal journey to their site.

Expanding beyond those two categories is the challenge. I suspect that most bloggers are resigned to only reaching a relatively small audience. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, junk mail reaches the boxes of millions, but it is tossed into recycling without a second thought. On the other hand, a blog may only be read by a handful of people, but one or two of them may be wonderfully touched or encouraged through that brief encounter. Junk mail is deleted with a groan. Our posts, in sharp contrast, may elicit a smile, a laugh, or perhaps even an appropriate tear.

I can settle for that.

One of the nice things about being part of the WordPress community is the way writers can monitor their site statistics. One fascinating feature is “Views by Country,” which tracks the national origin of visitors to a blog. (Well, not necessarily their ethnic origin, but the country from which they established their online connection with the website.)

Checking out this resource is fantastic for several reasons. First, it’s pleasant as we note visits from locales with which we have a special bond. Republic of Korea, spent a busy year there ministering to those guarding democracy, but still managed to visit many beautiful sites and established many friendships. United Kingdom, got to live there with my family, and visited amazing historic locations too numerous to list. (But, shouldn’t the UK count as three or four countries?) Guam, we got to live there too and enjoy the scenic ocean vistas. (Of course, it’s not a separate country either, being a Territory of the United States.) So what if the word “country” is applied a bit loosely, the sheer breadth of the program’s coverage is impressive.

A second value of the list is that it is educational. You can learn about the existence and/or location of many exotic lands. I’ve had visitors from the Mongolian steppes of the Khans, WWI catalyst Montenegro, freedom-seeking Syria, and the Viking-haunted Faroe Islands.

The third major benefit of visiting the statistics tool is that it can actually reinforce a writer’s sense that someone out there in the vast global unknown is actually interested in their words. I’m amazed, and a mite humbled, to have had visitors to MereInkling from 129 “countries.” Pretty amazing. When I revisit the list every two or three months I see one or two newly reached populations. Yet, as I look at the map, I see many nations remain to be reached. For example, most of the “-stans” and many countries in Africa have yet to feel the warm and liberating glimmer of light MereInkling attempts to deliver.

The Remaining Mystery

I am still plagued by one unanswered question though.

I readily understand why the People’s [misnamed] “Republic” of China has barred MereInkling from internet availability for their billions of prisoners residents.

What perplexes me is why the Kingdom of Denmark has barred access to MereInkling for the subjugated country of Greenland?!? One would think that, in light of their 5 day summer and 360 winter that they would be eager to read something as entertaining as MereInkling. Why has an internet wall been erected to prevent them from doing so? What, we must wonder, is going on behind that impenetrable Ice Curtain?

Yes, for those who think they’ve noted a flaw in my conspiracy theory, I am fully aware that the Faroe Islands are also technically part of the Danish empire. So, why would citizens of Denmark proper and the occupied Faroes be allowed to visit MereInkling while the Greenlanders are left to find enjoyment in measuring the advance and retreat of massive glaciers? The mystery deepens.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Efficacy of Prayer,” in a passage I’ve wrenched completely out of context: “There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore.”

Replacing Exonyms

January 24, 2012 — 1 Comment

Scott Stantis has illustrated once again how educational some current comic strips can be. His current story arc takes place in Guam. (Guam’s a lovely United States Territory where my family and I lived for two wonderful years in the nineties.)

The story line involves a presidential candidate who has taken refuge there and was asked his opinion about formally changing the island’s name. (There is a movement seeking to replace “Guam” with “Guahon,” the island’s name in the Chamorro language.) You can follow the entire series at Prickly City.

As the panel shows, the (rabbit) senator is unaware that “Guam” is actually an exonym. As such, there is a valid reason to consider its replacement.

Kids today are growing up knowing prominent international cities by names that still seem “foreign” to many of us adults. Beijing has been around just long enough to sound right. But it will always be remembered as Peking to some. Mumbai, as a more recent adjustment, rings alien in the ears of those who still think of the most populous city in India as Bombay.

Still, it makes sense to attempt to refer to cities and nations as the residents of those locales do. For one thing, it is a sign of respect.

And this kind of transition is not an example of thoughtless or random “verbicide” which C.S. Lewis described in “Studies in Words.” There he wrote:

Verbicide, the murder of a word, happens in many ways. Inflation is one of the commonest; those who taught us to say awfully for “very,” tremendous for “great,” sadism for “cruelty,” and unthinkable for “undesirable,” were verbicides.

Replacing exonyms is meaningful to those it directly affects. And it is little more than an inconvenience to the rest of us. So, I’m in favor of it.

Just as I’m always in favor of comic strips that educate as well as entertain!