Saturday, May 28, 2016

Pockets of Ghost Towns in a Lively City

  Everywhere seems to be going through constant renovation. Condo constructions creep toward the sky on every corner. So it is strange to find rickety and abandoned buildings left to grow weeds and fade in the sun. I've never been to a ghost town, but sometimes I find little pockets of ghost towns in the middle of this thriving city. When I was little, I thought ghost towns were a more literal thing. I imagined going to the town and seeing hordes of ghosts living there. In my imaginings it was mainly cowboy ghosts doing cowboy things, like making horseshoes and swinging ropes.

Another childhood disappointment regarding ghosts was during my first visit to the Winchester mystery house. The Winchester Mystery House is a giant mansion in San Jose. It is thought to be haunted. The house is very bizarre with no clear architectural design. There are stairs that go to nowhere, a maze like layout and secret passages. When I visited as a child, I thought seeing a ghost was pretty much a given on the Winchester mystery house tour. I also thought, I would get to explore the house on my own, but alas, I was led through the place by a tour guide and I did not even encounter a hint of a ghost. There was nothing scuttling past the corner of my eye, there was no weird feelings and no creaking of a floorboard in an empty hall.

The Winchester Mystery House does have an interesting back story. In our modern time, the Winchester Mystery House is a tourist attraction, but it was built many years ago through the funding of Sarah Winchester. The beginning of Sarah Winchester's life was charmed, indeed! She was a girl of superior intelligence, admired beauty, talents in music and a high place in the social hierarchy. But as an adult, her life had many sad occurrences. In contrast to her idyllic childhood of privilege and joy, her adulthood must have felt bleak and unkind. Many awful things happened to Sarah Winchester, including the death of her little daughter. The death of the beloved child must have rattled her heart into a state of misery that could never be fully healed. Sarah and her husband, William Wirt Winchester, never had another child. 

William Winchester was the owner of a gun company. The couple was able to enjoy the splendor of wealth due to the sales of Winchester Arms. In 1881, William Winchester died of consumption (tuberculosis), leaving Sarah Winchester alone in the world. Sarah Winchester still had the comfort of wealth, but not the comfort of a loving family. She must have felt very lonely. Soon, she convinced herself that her family was cursed. A proclaimed psychic with a flair for the dramatic said that the Winchester family was cursed by all the ghosts shot by Winchester rifles. The psychic claimed that the only way Sarah could stop the vengeful ghosts from staking claim on her own life was to build, build and build. If Sarah Winchester ever ceased construction, the ghosts would get her. So the lonely woman spent the rest of her life ensuring that the construction never stopped. 

I heard somewhere once that Sarah Winchester had felt guilt about the Winchester rifles for years before the psychic with grand claims came into her life. She had thought about the deaths of soldiers and young men. She had thought about the people who had loved those dead. She had already been haunting herself with those thoughts for years. It was the psychic who had validated what she thought she already knew. She thought she deserved to be haunted, but still tried to keep them away, discouraging them with stairs to no where and the constant bang of hammers.  

"Sarah Winchester." - The World Famous Winchester Mystery Houseâ„¢ in San Jose, California, Is an Extravagant Maze of Victorian Craftsmanship â€" Marvelous, Baffling, Eerily Eccentric, and Undeniably, Haunted. The Winchester Mystery House, n.d. Web. 28 May 2016. <>.

"Sarah Winchester." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 May 2016. Web. 28 May 2016. <>.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lost Souls in Little Crabs

I just barely missed the ferry. If I  had been thirty seconds earlier, I would have caught it! But the good thing is that when one misses the ferry, there is the shore and nature to explore. Here a few pictures from around the ferry terminal.

I found a crab shell. Sometimes I will find crab shells so tiny, they are the size of my finger nail. I think crabs are rather cute. Their giant claws make them look enchantingly clumsy. I use to live near the ocean. It was grand to be able to see the ocean on a regular basis. One of the beaches I went to had a river that ran into the sea. Once while looking into the river, I saw a cute little crab inside. It had found a tennis ball that a beach dog must have abandoned. It had the bright yellowish green ball between it's claws and it was shaking it with curiosity. It was such a cute sight. I think of crabs as curious creatures. 

There was another time that I was at a Chinese restaurant for a karaoke birthday party for a person I hardly knew. In the front lobby of the restaurant, there was a rather small open topped tank housing a huge spider crab. The crab was reaching its thin, long legs up onto the sides of the tank and trying to escape. I think it wanted to find its way back to the sea. It was probably bored and scared and uncomfortable in the small tank full of stale water. 

I learned an interesting legend about crabs. In Japan, there is a type of crab called Heikegani Ghost Crabs. Their shells resemble morphed versions of human faces. These crabs were believed to contain the souls of dead samurai warriors. Fishermen respected these samurai so much, they did not want to hurt or kill the crabs. So any crab caught that had a shell that resembled the face was thrown back into the water. There is something mighty about the crab with their hard shelled armor and imposing claws. I can definitely see their connection with a warrior image. Little crabs seem like a perfect vessel for a fallen warrior's soul. After spending a human life of fighting battles, the samurai souls would probably be grateful to spend some time in the peace of the sea, scuttling around kelp forests and past whales and seals. 


Bok, Michael. "Samurai Crabs: Transmogrified Japanese Warriors, the Product of Artificial Selection, or Pareidolia?" Arthropoda. Arthropoda, 26 Jan. 2010. Web. 26 May 2016. <>.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sunshine Songs

A pal and I went to the garden show this year. It is strange to see strategically created celebrations of the natural world in a big indoor space. But it shows the power of these plant artists that I still felt transported by their nature creations. 

The garden show also has booths where you can buy plants and plant related baubles. I got two plants: A strange cactus with yellowish spikes that is shaped like a slug and a flashy air plant with long fronds. I've had a couple of air plants, but both have died. This one is still going strong though!

I can imagine in 1000 years garden shows will be full of genetically created plants such as plants that grow in weird shapes (like stars or letters) and animal-plant hybrids. The animal-hybrids will have petals instead of fur and will eat sunlight instead of food.

 I have heard of a modern human belief in which the person thinks they can live off of sunlight instead of food. The practice is called breatharianism. For some sun-eaters, they consume their sun meals through their eyes instead of their mouth. They stare directly at the sun, hoping to absorb all they need to sustain life through these intense gazing sessions. Something about people who believe in the sun as a way to survive reminds me of The Polyphonic Spree. Just like the breatharianism,  The Polyphonic Spree has a culty yet whimsical (although in the case of breatharianism, it is a dangerous breed of whimsy) vibe. The Polyphonic Spree and breaharianism also both appreciate sun.

Even if I could live off sunlight and water alone like a plant, I wouldn't want to! Food is amazing. However, I am all about singing songs about the sun. Here are a couple of other sun themed songs.

Sources for learning about breaharianism:

OracS. "“Eat the Sun”: Sun-worshiping Fantasy versus Reality." Respectful Insolence. Science Blogs, 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 26 May 2016. <>

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sea Lion Stories

I went to a pier in San Francisco not that long ago and saw some of my favorite friendly mammals: The sea lion. Seals and sea lions are amazing! They are beautiful, blubbery beasts! I didn't get as many close up pictures as I would like, but it was fun watching these spectacular creatures from afar as they bask is the glory of the slowly setting sun. Along with sea lions, I also saw hokey nick-knack stores and attractions built to induce nostalgia. There is always something a bit surreal about tourist wharves and piers, but I like them!

It is a difficult to tell, but those shadowy lumps are actually sea lions! I was enthralled as I watched them. They love to talk to each other. They love to dive into the water, change their mind, and leap back onto the sun drenched wooden planks of the docks.

Carousels are so pretty and sad...twirling around and around...always going in circles and going no where at all. But they are so pretty. I love looking at the different animals and admiring all the little touches included in the creations of the creatures.

This is from a shop window devoted to celebrating people who are left handed. I wonder if the owners of the store conducted a study and discovered that left handed people had a particular fondness for pier life.

Here is a picture of a stoned ice cream cone trying to get you to cream cones, his very own brethren! That stoned pink ice cream cone sure is a Benedict Arnold! Look at him, full of nonchalant glee as he lazily urges people passing by to go and eat members of his very own tribe...the tribe of frozen sweetness all ice cream cones belong to.

The sea lions at this pier didn't start making the shaky wooden docks their home until after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. I was a little kid during this earthquake, but I remember it well. Local Bay Area based Californians old enough to possess even slight memories remember well where they were during this earthquake. I remember I had just finished cleaning my room that very day, which was something I never did because I despised cleaning and cleanliness. But alas, sometimes as a kid you have to give in and clean. With the new found space on the floor of my room, I was having some sort of conference with several of my most trusted stuffed animals. Next thing I know, everything is shaking and I quickly escape my room! After the shaking subsides and I return to my room, the place is an absolute disaster! I learned my lesson. Never clean your room!

I don't know what the earthquake felt like under the sea. Water creatures have a different relationship with gravity and order. Maybe it just felt extra sloshy that day. But it does seem strange that after the earthquake, the sea lions changed their behavior and suddenly thought this pier was the most awesome place to hangout ever! The locals who docked their boats at the pier were not too keen to share the space with these blubbery mammals. But the naturalists fought for the rights of the sea lions, and the sea lions persevered. They had staked claim on the space, and the space was theirs. The local marina tenants may have been bothered, but everyone else seems delighted to have the chance to observe these magnificent animals as they live their lives. 

What I like best about sea lions is their bark. Their barks are sad and jolly at the same time. They are telling stories to each other and stories to us. Maybe they are telling us the secret story of why the earthquake convinced them to seek refuge at the pier. Maybe they are gossiping about what Martin the Sea Lion said to Abigail the Sea Lion. Maybe they are saying "fish, fish, fish!" No matter how complicated or simplistic their sea lion bark story is, I like listening to these chubby fellows telling it like it is.

"Sea Lions at PIER 39 - The Sea Lion Story from PIER 39, San Francisco."PIER 39 San Francisco. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2016. <>