Monday, October 28, 2013


I started writing my blog on August 25, 2009, which means I have been writing it for more than four years now.  And even when my little toes got tired sometimes after tapping the keyboard for so long, I kept on typing.  In the beginning, I had no followers at all, but now I have 105 of them!  Today's post will be number 923, which is a big, impressive number, at least in my opinion.

During the month of September my blog got looked at 69,384 times.  By 6:15 p.m. CDT on Sunday, October 27, I had 2,491 pageviews for the day and 3,200,560 for all time.  But these numbers are constantly changing, so it's hard to pin them down long enough to write about them.  And just because somebody clicks on my blog page doesn't mean they will stay there and read what it says.

The subjects of my top ten all-time most-viewed posts, as of yesterday, were:  Pugs, Shiba Inus, Cane Corsos, Catahoula Leopard Dogs, Savannah Cats, Leonbergers, English Bulldogs, A Dog Named Snoopy, Chinese Crested Dogs, and Snowy Owls.

A lot of people have written comments about my blog entries, and many of these comments are very nice.  The total number of published comments up until yesterday was 3,259.  Some comments are written by people I know, but others are from strangers.  Sometimes school kids say they are writing a report on a certain topic, and they got some information from my blog.  I hope they didn't have to put footnotes in their report because I am not very good about telling where I got my information.  Mom, my Chief Research Assistant, says she had to do enough of that stuff when she was in college, so she doesn't really want to have to do it in a blog.  But we have gotten better about crediting photo sources because some people wrote and complained that we used their photos without permission.

Maybe you noticed that the number I gave for comments was for the ones that were "published."  There are a couple of kinds of comments that aren't published, or that don't stay published for very long.  Sometimes a person will just write something like "F--- you!" if they don't agree with a comment somebody else wrote.  Or maybe they just write "hi" or something like that as a comment.  I think people who do this are just kids who are are messing around on the internet, trying to see what they can get away with.  So whenever we get a comment like this, Mom goes there and deletes it.

Other times, we get comments that are actually spam.  The blogger site usually catches these, and they don't get published.  When these comments show up in Mom's inbox, she goes to my blog to delete them, but they are not even there.  You can tell the spam comments because they start off by saying what a wonderful blog I have, and then they say I should visit their own website, which has nothing to do with the subject of the blog entry.  And a lot of times these comments sound like they were written by somebody who only just learned a little English yesterday.  But that's one thing that makes them pretty funny, so I am going to share some of them with you.

Unpublished, Spam Comments on My Blog

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Saturday, October 26, 2013


It's pretty easy to tell a Scottish Fold cat if you see one because their ears usually fold over.  Also, the males wear little plaid kilts.  Hahahaha!   Just kidding about the kilts!

But anyway, this breed got started back in 1961, when a man named William Ross, who lived on a farm near Coupar Angus in Perthshire, Scotland, noticed that one of his neighbors had a barn cat with folded-over ears.  This cat was white, and her name was Susie.  When she had kittens, two of them also had folded ears, so Mr. Ross, who was a cat fancier, adopted one of the kittens.  Then he started working with a geneticist named Pat Turner, and they began to breed Scottish Fold cats.
In the first three years of their breeding program, they produced 76 kittens.  Forty-two had folded ears and 34 had straight ears.  They figured out that the folded ears were caused by an incomplete dominant gene that was the result of a spontaneous mutation.  Only Scottish Folds with folded ears can be shown in competition.  The cats with straight ears can't be shown, but they can be used in breeding.

Photo:   Vladimir Chubarov

Fold kittens are all born with straight ears, and it takes about three weeks before their ears start folding over.  The original Scottish Folds just had one fold in their ears, but selective breeding has created folds with double or triple creases.  This causes the ear to lie all the way flat against the head.  And since the cats have round heads and round eyes, they look kind of like owls.  But even though they have flattened ears, Folds can still turn their ears to listen for important sounds such as scampering mice or can openers.

Kostj at en.wikipedia

The coat of a Scottish Fold can be long or short, and it can be any color or combination of colors.  Folds are affectionate, playful, intelligent, soft-spoken, and they adapt easily to new situations.  Sometimes cats will bond especially with one person in the household, but they are not clingy.  They get along well with children, dogs, and other animals in the home.

Unfortunately, the same gene that causes the crease in a Scottish Fold's ears can also do bad things to the cartilage and bone development in the rest of its body.  This condition is called
 osteochondrodysplasia, or OCD for short.  A kitten that inherits the folded-ear gene from both parents is much more likely to develop OCD.  This condition will cause the joints to become painful and the bones to be enlarged.  Some cats end up crippled because of this, but others have few symptoms.

Photo:  en:user:Jwang018

Ethical breeders avoid Fold-to-Fold matings, and mate Folds to Straights instead.  This cuts down on the amount of OCD, but it can still happen.  There is a lot of controversy among breeders, researchers, and cat registry groups.  Some researchers recommend that folded cats not be bred at all.  The Scottish Fold breed is not accepted by either the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy or the Fédération Internationale Féline because of the OCD issue.  But the Cat Fanciers' Association does recognize the breed.

Anyway, a lot of people enjoy having Scottish Fold kitties as pets, even if they are not going to show them.  They have good temperaments, and they look just goofy enough to be really cute.  There is a big demand for Fold kittens, so you might have to pay more for one, if you want it.  Personally, I think you should just rescue a kitten from a shelter, even if it doesn't have those cute little fold-up ears.  But that's just my opinion.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Let's start with the phrase, which is  RULE OF THUMB.

This phrase is used all the time, so if you haven't heard it, you have probably been wearing ear plugs.  What this phrase refers to is a rough estimate that is not made using scientific measurement.  The phrase got started back in the old days before people had rulers and scales and other devices that measured everything in exact ways.

Some people think that rule of thumb refers to an old English law that was made in 1782 by Judge Sir Francis Buller.  He supposedly said it was okay for a man to beat his wife with a stick, but the stick couldn't be thicker than the man's thumb.  I would hate to think what the judge said a person could use to beat a dog!

But anyway, it turns out there is no proof that Judge Buller ever made such a ruling.  Even though it was legal for a man to hit his wife, a rule of thumb had nothing to do with it.  And the phrase had already been around since the 1600s, so it wasn't like something that Judge Buller made up.

So the real rule of thumb had to do with measuring, because like I said, people didn't have rulers, and it was just as handy to use a body part to measure something.  A tailor's rule of thumb might go like this:  twice the circumference of the thumb is the circumference of the wrist, and twice the circumference of the wrist is the circumference of the neck, and twice the circumference of the neck is the circumference of the waist.

A carpenter might use the length from the end of his thumb to the first joint, which was about 1 inch, as a measurement.  Or a farmer might use his thumb to figure out how far into the ground he should put his seeds.

Dogs, of course, don't have thumbs, which is probably why there aren't any dogs who turned out to be carpenters, tailors, or truck drivers.

The next word is  FROE, which is a tool that you don't see a whole lot of people using nowadays, unless they are doing those pioneer village reenactments.  A froe can be used to split shingles off a block of wood or to make barrel staves or clapboards or other skinny stuff like that.  The blade of a froe sits at right angles to the handle, and then you can hit the blade with a mallet to make it go down through the wood.

The word may have come from an obsolete Middle English word, froward, meaning "turned away," which is what the blade is from the handle.

The falx was a 1st Century weapon
used by Thracians and Dacians
Artwork: Petter Bøckman
DEFALCATION  means sort of the same thing as embezzlement.  It particularly describes officers or public agents who do something naughty in handling the money they're supposed to take care of.  Also it can mean officers of a corporation who use company funds for themselves.

In law, defalcation is more serious than just negligence, but it's not as bad as fraud.  A lot of times, it seems to happen in the insurance title business.

Defalcation comes from three Latin words, defalx, and tion.  A falx is a type of sickle used in hand-to-hand fighting.  If you put these words all together, they mean "cutting off with a sickle."  Modern defalcation isn't as bloody as its root words make it sound, but it's still a very bad thing, and I'm pretty sure you can get sent to jail for doing it.

Sometimes people don't hear a word or phrase correctly, especially if it's an old word that isn't used much anymore.  And when this happens, they substitute some other words that sound similar and seem to make sense.  For example, a person might think "toe the line" is "tow the line" or that "Alzheimer's Disease" is "old-timers' disease."  Well, back in 2003, a linquistics professor named Geoffrey Pullum suggested that we should have a name for this kind of thing.  He said maybe it should be called an EGGCORN.  He picked this word because of an article another linguist wrote about a woman who thought that an acorn was an eggcorn.

So the name stuck, and now we have something to call these funny things that people say or write, of which there are quite a few.  Eggcorns are a little like puns, but the reason they are different is because puns are made on purpose, and people who make eggcorns don't know they are doing it.

Here's an example from a TV channel:  "As much as a foot of snow is possible after all is set and done."  (The Denver Channel, Apr. 14, 2009).

And another example is from Aunt LaDene's aunt, who used to think that "isolated showers" were "ice-olated showers" that had ice in them.

KERAUNOSCOPIA  is fortunetelling done using thunder and lightning.  I tried to find out more details about how this is done, but I couldn't.  In my opinion, if you start seeing lightning and hearing thunder, you can foretell that there will be rain.  But maybe there is more to it than that.

Who's your little  KICKIE-WICKIE?  It's your spouse, of course!  Apparently, Shakespeare wrote this phrase in one of his plays, referring to a wife.  Maybe that's because it was a popular endearment back then.  Or maybe he was just making up silly stuff.

Monday, October 21, 2013


When Mom and I and Dorrie were in Austin last June, visiting Aunt Cheryl, Mom bought a bunch of junk at thrift stores and yard sales.  One of the less junky things she bought, at least in my opinion, was a little clay figure of two dogs dancing.  Mom knew she had seen pictures of these types of figures before.  She even thought maybe she had seen them in some museums in Mexico.  Mom was hoping that the figure she bought was really ancient, and it would turn out to be worth thousands of dollars.  But after I did some in-depth research on this subject, I had to tell Mom that anybody who was a tourist in the Mexican state of Colima could buy a dancing dog figure there.  Which meant that hers was probably not very old or very valuable.

Mom's dancing dogs

But anyway, I set out to learn a little more about these dogs, and what I learned was that they represent the Xoloitzcuintle breed, which I already told you about before.  If you have trouble saying Xoloitzcuintle, you can just call these dogs Xolos or Mexican Hairless Dogs.  Except that about one-fourth of them are not hairless.

The little state of Colima

Xolos have been around for more than 3,000 years, and they were very important to their human beings.  The area where all the little clay figures were made is the present-day state of Colima.  This state is located on the west coast of Mexico.  The people who lived there in the beginning did not leave behind any buildings or other records.  We don't even know what they called themselves.  All we know about them comes from the ceramics they buried in shaft tombs they used for their dead.  And since there were lots of dog sculptures, we know that dogs had a big role in their culture.

Mexico, Colima Dog, 300-600 CE
From John J. Brady Jr. Estate BCF 1990.22
Blanden Mueum, Ft. Dodge, IA

One thing the dogs were used for was protection.  They kept both intruders and evil spirits out of the house.  The dogs who were best at doing this were used for breeding.  These were often some of the bigger dogs, which is probably why a Xolo dog today can weigh as much as 60 pounds.

"Colima Dog with Puppies" by Angel Ceron

Sadly, sometimes the dogs got eaten.  A Spanish clergyman named Diego Durán reported that at the time of the Conquest, hundreds of dogs were for sale in the market at the pyramids in central Mexico.  He also said that dog meat was delicious.  One source I read said that dogs were only eaten for special occasions, but Rev. Durán made it sound like more of an everyday thing, especially among the Aztecs and other cultures in the central part of the country.  Anyway, when you see a figure of a really fat dog, especially one that has an ear of corn in its mouth, that is probably a dog that is getting fattened up to make someone a yummy dinner.

Another thing people believed back in those ancient days was that a dog went along on the journey with a person's soul to the underworld.  Dog sculptures and mummified dogs were often placed in tombs, and these dogs seem to be companions for the dead people.  The Xolo dog was named for the god Xolotl, the Lord of the Universe.  This was the god who helped the dead make their journey to the afterlife.

Shaft tomb in Colima

The Colima Dog was also believed to be a healer.  Because of their hairlessness, these dogs put out a lot of heat, and people thought the dogs could keep them from getting rheumatism, asthma, toothache, or insomnia.

Colima Sleeping Dog, Protoclassic, ca. 100 B.C.E.-C.E. 250
Dogs were the only domestic animals that the ancient people of Colima had.  Because of their connection to the god Xolotl, the dogs were his helpers in bringing thunder, lightning, and rain.  The wrinkles in a hairless dog's skin were symbols of lightning.

Anyway, if you want your very own dancing dog figurine, you can get one in Colima.  The capital of the state of Colima is also called Colima.  The state's main cities are Manzanillo and Tecomán.  The biggest tourist attraction is the beaches of Manzanillo.  You can do sport fishing there or just hang out on the beach.  Another popular place to go is the small town of Comala, which has lots of traditional architecture and has been declared a national monument.

These dancing dogs might be too big to fit in your suitcase!

And of course, while you are in Colima, you will want to go to a gift shop because they have clay dogs in every size and shape you could ever want!

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Today I'm going to talk about gallbladders, which are also known as cholecysts or biliary vesicles.  Almost all vertebrates have gallbladders, except for horses, deer, llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, guanacos, rats, lampreys, and several kinds of birds.  If you ever took a biology class in high school or college, you might have learned what gallbladders do (which isn't a whole lot, really).  But in case you forgot the details, like my mom mostly did, I will now refresh your memory.

©2009 WebMD, LLC
Gallbladders are little storage sacs for bile, which is this stuff that the liver makes.  While the bile is sitting around in the gallbladder, waiting to be needed, it gets concentrated and made more potent.  Then when a person or animal eats food with lots of fat in it, the gallbladder springs into action and empties its bile into the digestive tract.  The bile helps break down the fat and digest it.

In an adult human, the gallbladder is about 3.1 inches (8 cm) long and 1.6 inches (4 cm) in diameter.  At one end, the gallbladder has a cystic duct that joins up with a duct from the liver to make a common bile duct.  If something such as a gallstone gets stuck in the gallbladder's duct, then it can cause problems.

Gallstones are made out of cholesterol and other stuff that is found in bile.  Some people have small gallstones that do not cause any symptoms.  Other people might have severe symptoms such as pain that makes them think they are having a heart attack.  If a gallstone moves through the ducts and gets into the pancreas, that can cause pancreatitis, which everyone says is really, really painful.

Mom did not have any horrible pain or anything like that.  She just had nausea that started back in August and made her not want to eat much.  She didn't throw up.  She just went around feeling nauseated a lot of the time.  Also she got constipated, and her abdomen was kind of tender, and she was tired a lot.

At first, Mom thought she might have a stomach virus, but when her symptoms didn't go away, she got worried that maybe she had some sort of horrible cancer.  So she started researching cancer symptoms on the internet.  Then Mom went to see her internist, who said there could be something wrong with Mom's gallbladder.  Mom was really relieved that the doctor did not say right away that Mom probably had cancer and would die soon.

Sonogram of a gallstone in a gallbladder
©Nevit Dilmen

So Mom had a blood test to see if her liver was okay, and she also got a sonogram to look at her gallbladder and everything else inside her abdomen.  When the results of all this came back, Mom's internist said Mom had a gallstone.  Then she referred Mom to a surgeon named Dr. McCrosky.  Mom got an appointment with him and he told Mom she only had one gallstone, but it was a big one -- 2.5 mm (.098 inch).  He also told her that  she was a "good candidate" for laparoscopic surgery to remove her gallbladder.

I thought that finding a gallstone in your gallbladder might be kind of like finding a pearl inside an oyster, and that bigger gallstones would be worth more, just like bigger pearls are.  But Mom said it wasn't the same thing at all because people don't usually string gallstones together and wear them around their necks, like happens with pearls.

Anyway, the date when the surgery was scheduled to happen was Thursday, October 17.  Mom's friend Jeanne, who is also Mom's therapist, said she could take Mom to the hospital for the surgery and also spend the night with Mom afterwards.  So on Thursday morning, Mom made us all get up very early.  She wasn't supposed to eat anything, but she fed all of us cats and dogs.  Then Mom went to the hospital and got her gallbladder taken out.  The fancy, medical term for this is cholecystectomy, which is a really long word that I'm not even sure how to pronounce.  But medical people like to use long words, for some reason.

In the old days, when people had their gallbladders removed, the surgeon made big, long incisions, and then the patients had to stay in the hospital a few days to recover.  Nowadays there is the laparoscopic way of doing this surgery, so the patient often gets to go home the same day.  Also, there are only four small scars instead of one big one.  If you not squeamish and want to see the whole operation, you can watch this video on YouTube, which is about 5 minutes long.

Mom was not awake while her surgery was happening, so she did not get to watch it.  She said she thought it was better just to watch YouTube and see somebody else's gallbladder get taken out.  Mom does not have any stitches because Dr. McCrosky just glued her incisions shut.  And she does not have to wear the Cone of Shame because she can't reach her wounds to lick them.  Mom took a selfie of her incisions and the ugly bruising around them.  She says the wounds hurt, but she has some nice pain pills to take whenever they do.

That big gallstone in the middle
is maybe the size of Mom's gallstone.
Photo:  Jian-Hua Qiao ©Qiao's Pathology

Anyway, Mom took a long nap Thursday after she came home from her surgery.  Then she and Aunt Jeanne ate supper and watched TV all evening.  It was weird having somebody different in the house overnight, but Aunt Jeanne slept downstairs, and the rest of us slept upstairs so we could look after Mom.

Yesterday morning Aunt Jeanne left pretty early, and then our lives got more back to normal.  Mom felt crappy, so she took a 4-hour nap.  She will be staying home with us for several days because she is not supposed to drive while she is taking pain pills.  I like it that Mom gets to stay home.  I'm even starting to wonder if there is some other kind of surgery that she could have that would also keep her here, but Mom doesn't like this idea, for some reason.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


When I started doing my in-depth research for this blog entry, I was shocked to learn that there are 32 species of rattlesnakes, with 65-70 subspecies.  That's a lot of scary snakes out there, and it almost makes me afraid to go out in my own back yard to potty.  But Mom says the chance that there might be a rattlesnake in our yard is very, very slim, and that fear of rattlesnakes is not a good excuse for me to pee on a rug inside the house.

Prairie Rattlesnake
Photo:  Chris Johns, National Geographic

But anyway, all of these many types of rattlesnakes are native to the Americas, and their range goes from southern Alberta and British Columbia to central Argentina.  Rattlesnakes are pit vipers, which means they kill their victims with venom that comes out through their fangs when they bite.  The venom goes into the bloodstream of the victim, and it causes swelling, internal bleeding, really bad pain, and maybe death.  Especially if you are something small, like a mouse.  The venom of the Mojave Rattlesnake and some other species also causes paralysis.

Rattlesnakes can live in lots of different types of habitats.  The biggest number of species live in the American Southwest and Mexico.  Texas and Arizona are the states with the most kinds of rattlesnakes.    There are four species east of the Mississippi River and two species in South America.

Western Massauga Rattlesnake
Photo:  Bates Littlehale, National Geographic

The favorite places for rattlesnakes to live are in open, rocky areas.  This is because the snakes can hide in the rocks and catch prey such as rodents, lizards, and insects.  But some rattlesnakes live in other habitats, like prairies, marshes, deserts, and forests.  What they really like is a temperature range between 80º and 90ºF (26º to 32ºC), but they can survive temperatures below freezing.  Some species hibernate during the colder winter months.  When this happens, a whole bunch of snakes will all get together inside an underground rattlesnake den.  There might be as many as 1,000 snakes there.  Also there may be be other species such as turtles, small mammals, invertebrates, and other types of snakes.

Rattlesnakes have a lot of predators, which is another reason they like to hide under rocks and in places where their coloring makes them hard to see.  Some rattlesnakes predators include eagles, owls, ravens, crows, roadrunners, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, weasels, feral pigs, whipsnakes, kingsnakes, and racers.  Baby rattlesnakes get eaten by all sorts of predators.  Even fire ants and other types of ants might eat a young rattler.

Timber Rattlesnake hiding in a pile of leaves

Of course, the biggest rattlesnake predators are probably human beings.  In many places, people have destroyed the snakes' habitat.  Also, in some areas there are rattlesnake round-ups, where hunters are paid by the pound for the snakes they bring in.  The timber, massasauga, and canebrake rattlers are now listed as threatened or endangered in several U.S. states.  Another thing that happens to rattlesnakes is they get run over by cars.

The way rattlesnakes hunt is they lie in wait until some prey comes by, or else they go out snooping in holes, sniffing out prey.  When they find something, they kill it right away with their poisonous fangs.  Rattlesnakes do not squeeze their prey to death the way constrictor-type snakes do.  The prey is swallowed head-first because everything such as legs and wings go down easier that way.  The snake can digest both bones and flesh.  The best temperature for digestion is between 80º and 85ºF, so when the rattler is full, it will go curl up in the sun someplace and get busy digesting.

Squirrel, yum!

As most people already know, rattlesnakes have rattles at the tip of their tails, and that is how they got their name.  Probably, the reason they have these rattles is to scare away predators that might want to eat them.  The rattle is made up of modified scales that form hollow, interlocking segments.  There are special "shaker" muscles in the tail that make the segments rattle against each other.  These muscles are really fast, and can move 50 times per second, on average.  Not only that, but they can go on moving for up to three hours.  If you want to hear some good recordings of rattlesnakes hissing and rattling, go to this website:

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
This species is responsible for the majority of snake bites in North America.
Photo:  Clinton and Charles Robertson

When a female rattlesnake gets in the mood to mate, she starts leaving a trail of sex pheromones wherever she goes.  Male snakes follow this trail by using their excellent sense of smell.  The way they smell things is both with their nostrils and also by flicking little scent particles into their mouths with their tongues.  In the roof of their mouths, there is something called a Jacobson's organ that carries the scent to the snake's brain.

Two male Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes in a "combat dance"
Photo:  Dawn Endico

Anyway, after the male has caught up with the female, he starts courting her.  If there is some other male snake there who also wants the same female, the males do a "combat dance" until one of them gives up and goes away.  Usually the larger snake wins one of these "dances."  After the snakes have mated, the female can store the sperm for several months.  Which means she can mate in the fall, but wait until spring to fertilize her eggs.  The baby rattlesnakes are born live, and the mother snake often stays in the nest with the young for several weeks.

Timber Rattlesnake

Here in Missouri, one kind of rattlesnake we have is the timber rattlesnake.  Sometimes it is also called a canebrake or banded rattlesnake.  The scientific name for this snake is Crotalus horridus.  This rattlesnake species is the only one that lives in most parts of the northeastern U.S.  Timber rattlesnakes live in the biggest variety of habitats, all the way from upland forests to lowland swamps.  They mostly eat small mammals, but they sometimes also eat birds and eggs.

Timber rattlers can live as long as 30 years.  It can take the females up to 8 years to mature and start having baby snakes.  Then, since they usually only mate once every three years, the snake population doesn't grow very fast.  And that is not even mentioning all the rattlesnakes that people kill.  So the range of the timber rattlesnake is smaller than it used to be, and some states list it as threatened or endangered.

The timber rattlesnake was an important symbol in the days of the Revolutionary War.  Maybe you have seen those flags that say "Don't tread on me!"  The snake that you shouldn't tread on is the timber rattler.  Nowadays, members of the Tea Party are using this symbol again, so it is making people argue about whether it should be displayed at statehouses or on military ships or places like that.

In 2008, the timber rattler became a new sort of symbol when West Virginia adopted it as its official state reptile.


There are lots more things I could tell you about rattlesnakes, but I'm tired of writing, and you are probably tired of reading.  The most important thing I didn't say yet is that if you are in rattlesnake country, you should be very careful to look where you are walking.  Don't be talking on your cell phone or listening to your iPod because you will not hear a snake rattling.  Startling a snake and getting bit is not a good idea because that could really hurt.  Usually, if you get quick medical care, you will not die from a rattlesnake bite, but who wants to take the chance?

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Niña, Pinta, and Santa María

Most school kids can tell you the names of the three ships Christopher Columbus sailed in when he discovered America.  Except that he didn't know he discovered America.  He believed he had landed in India or Japan or some such place.  And the reason he made this mistake was because he thought the Roman numbers he was working with were the same value as Arabic numbers.  Or else it was the other way around.  But anyway, the result was that he calculated the globe to be 70% smaller than it really was.

If your map of the world looked like this, you might discover America, too!
So Columbus set off to boldly go in a whole new direction to get to a place where many merchants and traders had been going for years to buy spices and silk.  He took a fleet of three ships, and he himself commanded the largest one, which was the Santa María.  The complete name for this ship was La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción, which means The Holy Mary of the Immaculate Conception.  But since that is a really long name, it got shortened for everyday use.

Gustav Adolf Closs, Die Schiffe des Columbus, 1892

The Santa María was a type of ship called a nao or carrack.  She had been built for use as a cargo vessel and was not really meant for exploration.  She had a single deck and three masts.  She was the slowest of the three ships in the Columbus fleet, but she sailed well during the voyage.  Still, the Admiral did not like how the Santa María handled, and he called her "a dog."  If you ask me, it's very sad that people who don't like things call them "dogs," but I am trying not to take it too personally.

1892 Replica of the Santa María
Library of Congress

The Santa María came to a bad end on Christmas Day, 1492.  The crew had been celebrating quite a bit, but Columbus ordered them to keep on sailing late into the night towards Cuba.  The sailors fell asleep, one by one, until only a cabin boy was left steering the ship.  He ran her aground off the present-day site of Cap-Haitien, Haiti.  The ship could not be repaired, so only her timbers were saved to use in building another ship later.

The other two ships in the fleet, La Niña and La Pinta, were both caravels.  These were small ships that were originally used as trading ships, warships, patrol boats, and sometimes pirate ships.  They were fast, had a shallow draft, and were easy to maneuver.  At first they were mostly used in the Mediterranean, but later they became favorites of Spanish and Portuguese explorers.  After Columbus had established routes across the Atlantic, caravels served as the models for the larger galleons.

La Pinta was the larger of the two caravels.  In Spanish, Pinta means "Painted."  Many ships had depth markings painted on their hulls, so this is probably how La Pinta got her name.  The Spanish tradition was to give each ship a saint's name and then also a nickname.  We don't know what the saint's name of La Pinta was.  She was the fastest of the three ships in the fleet, and Rodrigo de Triana, who was on that ship, was the first to sight land on October 12, 1492.  La Pinta returned home at the end of Columbus' first voyage, but no one knows that happened to her after that.

La Niña was Christopher Columbus' favorite ship of all.  Her real name was Santa Clara, but she was known by her nickname, which means "The Girl" in Spanish.  Vincente Yáñez Pinzón was the captain of La Niña on Columbus' first voyage.  Later, on an independent voyage, he discovered the Amazon River.

During the 1492 voyage, there were 24 men on La Niña.  The cargo hold was full of provisions, water, guns, and ammunition.  Also below decks were live animals such as horses, cows, pigs, and chickens.  The 4-legged animals were all suspended in slings so that their legs wouldn't get broken by the motion of the ship.  Cooking was done on deck, and the men also slept on deck because there was no space below.  Since waves often washed over the deck, it was not a very fun place sleep.

After the three ships and their crews got to the New World, they found a bunch of new fruits and vegetables to take home with them.  This helped get rid of their scurvy.  Also, they saw the natives sleeping in hammocks, and the Spaniards decided this would be a more comfy way for them to sleep on the ships.
La Niña replica under sail

La Niña made Columbus' entire first voyage and brought him back home safely.  She was part of the fleet that went on the second voyage to Hispaniola, and he chose her out of seventeen ships to be his flagship on an exploratory trip to Cuba.  In 1495, La Niña was the only ship in the West Indies to survive a hurricane, after which she took the Admiral and 120 passengers back to Spain.

In 1498, La Niña returned to Hispaniola as part of the advance guard for Columbus' third voyage.  The last record of her was in 1501, when she made a trip to the Pearl Coast as a trading vessel.  After that, nobody knows what became of her.  In all, La Niña sailed at least 25,000 miles under the command of Christopher Columbus.

La Niña replica, Corpus Christi, TX
Photo:  Rolland.franck

In 1988, a man named John Patrick Sarsfield, who was an American engineer and maritime historian, discovered a group of master shipbuilders in Bahia, Brazil, who were still using tools and techniques that dated back to the 15th century.  So he worked with these people to make the first historically accurate replica of a 15th century caravel. 

La Niña and La Pinta replicas
The builders did the actual work in Valenca, Brazil, and all they used was axes, adzes, hand saws, and chisels. The wood that went into the ship came from the local forest.  Meanwhile, a British maritime historian came up with a plan for the sails.  And when all the work was done, Mr. Sarsfield had a replica of La Niña.

La Niña replica in Chattanooga 

Later on, a replica of La Pinta was also built, and these two ships now sail around to various ports so that people can see what Columbus' ships might have looked like.  The replica of La Pinta is a little larger than its actual size.  This is so that more people at a time can come on board and look around.  There is a Facebook page for The Columbus Ships, and you can go there to see photos, plus a schedule of where the ships will be visiting.  Right now they are in Chattanooga for another week.  I wish they would come to Kansas City, but maybe the Missouri River is not deep enough for them to sail on.  In which case, maybe we had better get busy dredging it out!

Saturday, October 12, 2013


We used to have a locust tree in our front yard, but now we don't have it anymore.  We don't have it because it started being unhappy.  At first when Mom moved into this house, the locust tree seemed like a very nice, happy tree, and every year it put on lots of little green leaves.  Then in the fall, the little leaves turned yellow and fell off.  Which was okay because they weren't hard to rake up, like sweetgum balls are.

Then we noticed that something was happening with the locust tree.  One year, a huge branch that was almost one-third of the tree died.  So Mom had to pay somebody to cut that branch off.  After that, we started to notice that there were more dead branches in the tree, but they were mostly small ones, so they didn't seem too dangerous.  Also, the tree was growing fewer leaves than it used to.

Here's a picture of the locust tree's roots.
Also you can see where the big limb died
and got cut off several years ago.
After a while, the roots looked like they were rotting.  Spaces opened up underneath them.  At first we thought maybe some animals such as rats were digging down there and living under the tree.  But we never saw any animals coming or going, and there were no tracks in the snow, and none of us dogs could smell any animals there.

Mom asked her regular tree trimmer guy if the locust tree was sick, but he said he thought it was fine.  Then she asked a man from a company that comes once a year to feed our little trees, and he said the locust tree seemed okay to him.  But Mom kept worrying about it.  Mom thought about how there could be a big windstorm sometime or maybe an ice storm, and the locust tree would just fall over and land on our house or on the neighbors' car.  Mom didn't like having this picture in her mind, and I didn't like the picture being in my mind either.  So Mom decided to have the tree cut down.

Yesterday a bunch of men showed up at 8:30 in the morning.  They went right to work, and in about 2 hours, they had cut the whole tree down and ground up the stump.  We got to watch them do it, and Mom took a bunch of pictures.

First what happened was that a man climbed up the tree.  He had a rope harness on so that he wouldn't fall.  Also he had spiky things on his shoes to make it easier to climb.

He cut a lot of smaller branches off first, and some of the other guys put them into a big, noisy shredder thing that ground them into mulch.

After that, the man in the tree started cutting bigger limbs off.  He tied a rope around each one before he cut it.  That way a man on the ground could lower it down slowly and not let it hit anything.

Then some short, fat pieces of the tree got cut off.  They didn't have ropes, so each one landed with a big "thud!" on the ground.  We could feel the vibration of every "thud!" all the way inside the house.

Pretty soon, there wasn't much of the tree left.

So the guy started backing down the tree with his rope, and he would cut off pieces of the tree as he went down.

Meanwhile, the men on the ground picked up the pieces and wheeled them to the trailer.  We couldn't believe how strong these guys were, because they could move a whole bunch of heavy tree chunks at once.

The pieces got stacked on end in the trailer.  It was weird to see a whole tree in chunks.  It looked like some sort of puzzle that you were supposed to put together.

Here's what the inside of the tree looked like.  The chainsaw made scratches, but I think if you sanded them out and put some stain on, you could make the wood very pretty.

It was too hard to count tree rings because of all the scratches, but a man who was there with the crew said he thought the tree was 40 or 50 years old.

Mom took a picture of some lichen.  She thinks lichen is interesting, but I don't because you can't eat it.

At last it was time to cut the tree off down to the stump.

The final cut was a V-shape, and then the tree was pulled over toward the V.

After that, it got cut into more chunks and loaded on the trailer.

When the stump was cut off even shorter, guess what we saw!  The tree was all rotten in the middle, so there was a very good reason why it was not a happy tree.  We're not sure what caused all this damage, but there wasn't much strong wood left to hold the tree up if a big wind came along.

The next thing that happened was that a machine came in to chew up the stump.  It had a wheel with teeth on it, so when the wheel went around, the teeth bit into the stump.  Pretty soon there was nothing left except a pile of sawdust and little wood chips.

After that, the men used shovels to fill up the hole where the stump used to be.  They stomped on the wood chips and dirt to make it all level.

And when they were finished, we just had a spot where there used to be a locust tree.  We feel sad because the tree had to go away, but at least we don't have to worry about it falling on our house!