Saturday, April 30, 2022

May Day Is Upon Us




No, not in its international distress call sense--though these days it seems all the world should be shouting it 24/7…assuming one can find a safe place from which to shout. 


Rather, I’m referring to other connotations of the phrase.  Do you remember childhood days dancing around the maypole and crowning the Queen of the May?  You probably do if you’re British, probably not if you were raised in the U.S.


Tomorrow is the first of May, a national holiday in Greece.  It’s a day filled with traditions, some brought on by thoughts of rejoicing at the end of winter, others by memories of a day sacred to organized labor, one that most Americans know little about—but we’ll get to that later. 


Did you know that May 1st celebrations go back to ancient pagan days and that virtually all northern hemisphere cultures had some sort of “spring rite” festivities?


Why of course you did.


The earliest festivals were linked to the Roman goddess of flowers (Flora), Germanic celebrations of what is now called Walpurgis Night (named after the patron saint of those suffering from rabies, it’s also known as “the witches sabbath” coming precisely six months after All Hallows Eve—interesting combination), and the Celtic Beltane (a springtime festival of optimism).


May 1st ends the hunker down winter mindset, and harbingers the coming joyful days of summer. 


On Mykonos locals take great pride in fashioning circular wreaths out of grape vines tied off with bunches of wildflowers (aloe, statice, geraniums, daises, lavender, and the like), angelica, olive, rosemary, wheat, bay leaf, and for some, whole cloves of garlic.  They’re quite beautiful and for those wreaths proudly hung on front doors which survive another Mykonian tradition—wreath heisting by neighborhood children—they’re burned on the day of the Summer Solstice (June 22nd) as the adventuresome jump over the flames three times making a wish as they do…probably not to burn off their you-know-whats in the process.   


Did you also know that May Day is International Worker’s Day?  If you live virtually anywhere outside of the U.S. you probably do.  Inside, likely not.  The U.S. has stuck to the first Monday in September as its Labor Day and Americans generally associate May 1st with a communist or socialist workers holiday, complete with grandiose military parades in such places as Russia, North Korea, and Cuba…at least until this year.


I’d venture to say most Americans have no idea that International Worker’s Day is officially celebrated in most countries around the world not to glorify any foreign ideal or event, but to mark what occurred in Chicago, Illinois on May 4, 1888.


Permit me to lift the following description of what happened from Wikipedia’s entry, “The Haymarket Affair.”


“The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) refers to the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians, and the wounding of scores of others.


“In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy, although the prosecution conceded none of the defendants had thrown the bomb. Seven were sentenced to death and one to a term of 15 years in prison. The death sentences of two of the defendants were commuted by Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby to terms of life in prison, and another committed suicide in jail rather than face the gallows. The other four were hanged on November 11, 1887. In 1893, Illinois’ new governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the remaining defendants and criticized the trial.


“The Haymarket affair is generally considered significant as the origin of international May Day observances for workers.  The site of the incident was designated a Chicago Landmark on March 25, 1992, and a public sculpture was dedicated at the site in 2004. The Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument in nearby Forest Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark on February 18, 1997.”


That ends today’s history lesson. Now go outside and enjoy the sunshine—which is precisely what I’m trying to do by re-running this post from a decade ago.:)


Happy unofficial start of Summer.


— Jeff


Jeff’s Upcoming Events


Saturday, May 14, 11:00 a.m. ET

Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books


5900 Penn Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA

In person event, register here

Friday, April 29, 2022

fish n chips


                                                              Mushy peas not guacamole!

The big pond between the UK and the US keeps us apart in many ways – spelling, naughty words, gun culture, football, mayonnaise ( I had to have the joke in Airplane explained to me ),  curry sauce, pancakes, width of roads, drop scones (don’t go there!) and spam fritters. Amongst many others.

Such things are of huge importance.

So I was rather entertained by an article somewhere where American type people gave their views on something as British as the stiff upper lip and being rubbish at the Winter Olympics ( apart from Scottish people curling but that’s a meteorological issue)  and that is…..The Great British Fish and Chips.

Before we get to that, two things-

In Scotland, if you go to a chippy ( an outlet doing a takeaway of chips and an array of deep fried anything including bars of chocolate and pizza – yes we deep fry pizza - we are made of strong stuff and there's no food we won't destroy by sticking it in a fryer!) there’s no need to order X with chips. Just ask for a supper.

So a 'fish supper' is fish and chips, a 'haggis supper' is deep fried haggis and chips. It can be messy if the haggis isn’t quite dead but you need to take your chances in life.

I was interviewing Liam  McIllvanney, son of William, and we were talking about Greggs and how he exists without Greggs in New Zealand. He said that when he came home he was in Greggs with his four sons, every day for six months. They couldn't get enough of the steak bake.  And he was asking why they don't have a branch in Dunedin – Little Scotland in NZ. Then Liam became rather lyrical and winsome,  he said - quote ‘when I come back to Scotland it’s a case of lock up  yer haddock.’


                                                  Deep fried pizza from trip advisor

                                                       they  did not advise it

Which was the quote of the entire event.

Traditionally fish and chips was served in greaseproof paper, wrapped in old newspaper. If you were going a long way, or had no gloves, it would be double wrapped to stop you burning your fingers. The taste of the chips was enhanced by malt vinegar, salt and newsprint.

That’s the version from the chippy. The greatest fish and chip shop is in Pittenween on the east coast, it always has a huge queue. The fish there really jump out the sea and into the fryer.

When eaten while sitting inside the chip shop – chippy -  the dish becomes a  ‘Fish Tea’ which  is a bit Miss Marple.  A typical church outing for somebody my mother's age is a drive down the coast in  a comfy coach- lots of stops for toilets, then a fish tea at a hotel on the way back.  It becomes a ‘do’,  fish, chips and mushy peas, served with two slices of white bread and a cup of tea. Eaten with a knife and fork.

 The ones bought at the chippy are eaten with the fingers, and never with a daft wee plastic forky thing. There’s much licking of salt and vinegar from the finger tips. Minus the newsprint.

Scots kids, for some reason associate this with the smell of chlorine as  going ‘fur chips’ was typically done after going swimming after school and before Star Trek in the William Shatner days. Monday nights.


                                                           The Deep Fried Mars Bars

                                              From Wikipeadia- looks less that appetising

So what do these US types think of the bold fish supper?

Somebody from Pittsburgh thought it was amazing that the fish didn’t fit on the plate. He was a bit nervy of the tartar sauce but in the end he was glad he gave it a go. Do you not have tartar sauce over there? I could surprise  and delight you with some  at Bouchercon and that's surprise in an 'Yrsa and shark meat' kind of a way.

Mr Pittsburgh scoffed the lot. A man of taste. I was concerned that they didn’t have any men with taste from Pittsburgh ( insert smiley face here!) He was so enthralled with the chips he thought he had gone to heaven. But then, he was from Pittsburgh so it's all relative.

Another commented on how good the UK version was compared to the US version and then she ventured, bravely, near the subject of mushy peas.

This taste test was somewhat divisive for the American cousins. One  described mushy peas as  the British kids' nightmare. He's wrong there, that’s sprouts! Needless to say, he regretted his choice.

But another summed it up. He was very impressed, lots of salt and vinegar  on the mushy peas and said, 'it looks like baby food but it's really good!'


                                                         Waga whatsit and their vegan fish and chips

                                                           I  like the nod to the newspaper wrapping of olden times,



Thursday, April 28, 2022

Snare in the forest

Michael - Thursday

Knysna turaco
The wings are bright scarlet when it flies

One of the attractions about where I live at Brenton near Knysna is that there's an area of natural forest here that's home to diverse wildlife. The star of the birds is the gorgeous Knysna turaco. They are fruit lovers and so we put out bits of fruit for them (and other birds), but we're a bit back from the forest so we’ve only had one success with them so far. On the mammal front we have multiple groups of bushbuck (they hang around in family parties rather than herds), bush pig, and even the elusive caracal which preys on rabbits and other small animals.

Caracal near Knysna
Photo Knysna-Plett Herald

Bushback ram
Photo Knysna-Plett Herald

Not too long ago a buck was spotted with a wire noose around its neck. The noose wasn’t tight, but it was important to remove it. However, although we all kept a lookout for it, it wasn’t seen again so hopefully it managed to shake the noose off. But it was warning. There are snares in the forest.

Female bushbuck grazes among the houses at Brenton

So last Saturday my neighbour, who is in charge of wildlife issues for the local residents association and an honorary ranger for the National Park, arranged a group of volunteers to work through the forest looking for snares. A morning stroll through the forest keeping one’s eyes open sounded quite fun and potentially useful, so I volunteered.

Puff adder
Photo Knysna Plett Herald
We started with a lecture about snares and safety. That was the point where it occurred to us that the forest was rich in snakes. The worst of these is the puff adder – not because it's the most poisonous, but because they're quite sluggish and tend to freeze when they feel threatened. That’s fine as long as you don’t then step on them. They are common even among the houses. I’ve had a large one removed from my garden by – of all things – the Fire Department. We were also about to learn that the forest was much thicker inside than it appears from the outside. And among the glorious yellowwoods towering overhead, there is every conceivable type of thorny shrub. Hmmm. Radios were distributed in case one of us needed to call for help, and waiver of liability forms were distributed. Double hmmm.

The snares are very simple. These are not the brutal spring bear traps with vicious teeth. They are merely loose nooses of wire or possibly stiff rope hanging across narrow pathways where the buck are forced to move through a constrained area.

Example of a set snare

The idea is that if a buck is unfortunate enough to put its neck through one of these nooses, as it walks forward the noose closes and suddenly it feel constrained. Its natural reaction is to flee, and that tightens the noose further. Because it's wire, it doesn’t release, and the animal is caught, possibly throttled. Its only real hope is to jerk the noose off the tree to which it's fixed. Unlikely, but the one spotted wandering about must have done just that.

Almost immediately, I thought I'd found a rope snare on the ground hanging from a branch. But, no, it was just a money rope vine that had grown back onto itself.

The closed snare loop is visible in front of the knee.
Below is a variety of bones including a jaw bone.

My neighbour found the first real snare himself. A thin wire noose fixed to a thick branch with barbed wire. Below it was a spread of bones that obviously belonged to a buck. Had the trappers come, killed it, and dismembered it there, or had it died a horrible death in the forest? Whatever had happened had happened long ago. The snare was clearly old, and closed as you see, so we removed it. Our instructions were to close any new snares but leave them. The people whose homes were nearby would keep an eye out and see if they could spot the poachers checking.

Heavy wire snare under an overhanging branch

I did find a snare – open, but also old and overgrown so I removed that one too. That was the entire haul for the morning. We returned to the rendezvous point with the couple of snares and a variety of scratches and bruises to prove that the forest had put up a spirited fight.

Difficult to get through...
The green stems from the ground are covered in heavy thorns

Of course, we're on the side of the buck and they are protected in this area. Yes, we need to try to protect our buck, but the reality is that far more are killed by motor vehicles than poachers. And maybe it’s worth remembering that these poachers are not after cash (bushbuck meat doesn’t sell for much), or some special organ for black magic for local witch doctors or sale overseas. These people are after food. Particularly during the lockdowns, people were starving. There were long queues at soup kitchens. No government support to speak of here.

 That's not to minimize the problem. In game reserve areas surrounded by indigent populations, it can be a huge issue.

Snare collection

These snares were collected at Hlane and Mlilwane in Swaziland over ten years. There are more snares here than buck in the entire area...

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

How To Tell Brazen Lies


Brazen lies

For the past few weeks, Vladimir Putin’s ability to lie so brazenly and with such apparent ease had me thinking about the psychology of lying, and why some people can lie so well and with such facility while others can't. High on this list of skillful liars are politicians, who are able to stand in front of television cameras and millions of viewers and deliver a lie without flinching. In the photo below are two current autocratic heads of state and one ex-POTUS who admires the autocrats. If the ex-POTUS were to be reelected, he could well establish an anocracy: a regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features. 

Three of the world’s most brazen liars

According to The Washington Post, the prior POTUS told 30,573 false or misleading claims over his four years up to January, 2021. That’s about twenty-one falsehoods a day. Imagine cramming that many lies into your day. Until now, the same man continues to perpetuate the brazen lie that the 2020 election had been stolen from him. 

How well do you lie?

I remember one morning in New York City when I was a kid, my grandmother, who doted on me, hatched a naughty plan for me to ditch summer school for the day and accompany her to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes. Granny lived by a maxim that you could break a rule here and there as long as no harm was done. The world wasn’t going to end because I missed one day of summer school. I, of course, found this to be a delicious little act of delinquency implemented by my very cool Granny. Just as we were going down the stairs to the subway, who should be walking up the stairs but my summer school teacher, a delightful and sweet woman called Barbara. Granny and I were now in the hot seat.

I don’t remember exactly the lie Granny created and spun in a split second, but I believe there was something about a favorite aunt in Brooklyn who was very ill and wanted to see little Kwei. Not only was Granny nimble on her feet, she code-switched beautifully and put on her best posh accent for Barbara. I was struck by my grandmother's flawless delivery of the untruth. (I wasn’t quite as impressed by the Rockettes, however, but that’s a different matter). The twist in the story is that the next day at school, one of the other teachers asked where I’d been the day before and I told her I’d gone to visit my sick aunt. Where? "In Radio City," I replied. I wondered why she gave me such a bemused look, and so I related the story to Granny when I got back home. She almost fell over laughing. I had to wait for her to catch her breath to explain that Radio City isn’t a city.

The moral of the story? Actually, I’m not quite sure, but it demonstrated a curious effect: My brain had conflated a lie with the truth: going to see my aunt, and going to Radio City Music Hall. Yes, there she is enjoying the show.

 The social role of lying

What is lying? It’s the dual act of suppressing the truth and substituting it with something else. In fact, we all lie. It’s part of our social interactions. If we told the blunt truth all the time, we would hurt a lot of feelings and cause a number of awkward moments. So, we often lie about other people’s appearances, whether you woke me up with your phone call, how good your cooking is, and so on. Our usual response to, “How are you?” is, “I’m fine/great/good/well,” not, “I have an awful case of diarrhea,” or “My menstrual cramps are killing me right now,” or “I’m deeply depressed at the moment." Incidentally, not to be too hung up on race, but I think we need to disband the phrase, white lie, i.e. indicating a “harmless lie." 

“Conscience” and social standing

Many of us choose not to lie about important things because (a) we might be found out and “look bad;” (b) it may cause harm to another party; (c) we may simply feel awful that we have lied., i.e., guilt. Much of this is determined by the way we’ve been brought up and the environment in which we lived. If a child knows that their father is going to make them a target of physical or emotional abuse if they own up to the truth, they may choose a lie for the sake of survival and self-protection.

One of the questions that has baffled most of us is why pathological liars like the gang of three above tell brazen lies even if they know, surely, that we know they’re lying. For normal people, to be discovered having told a whopper of a lie is such an excruciating embarrassment, they’d rather not take a risk, whereas a Trump or Putin (or Kevin McCarthy or Marjorie Taylor-Greene, for that matter) appear to be completely unfazed by the discovery that they have lied. There is neither guilt nor shame.

Physiology of lying

For most, telling the truth is much easier than lying, which appears to create a fight-or-flight response in many of us. I know that if I get caught in a lie, my face goes red-hot and I feel my heart pounding. These physical manifestations are important to detectives in real life and fiction, because looking for signs of deception can shape a murder case. Our detectives, real and imagined, look for possible giveaway signs in the suspect, such as vocal changes, fidgeting, sweating, smiles, eye movements, body positioning, increased breathing rate, and so on. These are the basis of lie detector tests, which measure certain physiological changes such was breathing rate that would indicate the subject could be lying. They are not admissible in most courts in much of the world because of their unreliability. For example, psychopaths pass lie detector tests with lying colors--pun intended.

Neuroscience of lying

The prefrontal cortex in humans is the part of the brain most responsible for impulse control, distinguishing between good and bad, and acceptable social behavior. Oddly, the frontal lobe seems also to decide whether to lie or not and give us the ability to tell a lie, e.g. some people with frontal lobe damage may not be able to lie, and stimulation of the prefrontal cortex appears to improve our ability to lie. The PFC is the last area to fully develop in late adolescence. high-order cognitive processes such as decision-making, reasoning, personality expression, and social cognition.

You can now see why the PFC of an abused child may not develop as fully or correctly as it should, because the brain at birth has a long way to go in several possible directions. Trauma and abuse shape the future of that brain. In a previous post, I described how psychopathy has three components: 
 genetic vulnerability, functional brain loss, and abuse. In the famous 1848 case of Phineas Gage, a metal rod accidentally shot through his head while he was compacting explosives and took away much of his frontal lobe. His personality dramatically changed from a decent, mild-mannered man to one with aggressive tendencies and the inability to work peacefully with others. He could not remain on the job he had done so well in for so many years.

Phineas Gage (1823–1860) shown holding the tamping iron which injured him.
                                        ( Image: Wikipedia via Jack and Beverly Wilgus)

The tie-in

We can now see how psychopathy and lying go together: they appear to be intimately connected to the activities of the frontal lobe. See the list of the characteristics of traitors and notice how lack of empathy is joined at the hip with pathological lying. If these features are a function of the structure and performance of the PFC, it would explain why Putin, for instance, can’t see his war in the same way that you and I do. Our frontal lobes are accurately informing us that this is wrong, wrong, wrong on every possible level, but Putin cannot because he likely has an abnormally structured, or damaged frontal lobe. It explains why he’s immoveable too, because his PFC is certainly not going to change at this late stage. It might also explain the apparent deterioration of his judgement and strategy. His PFC may be further deteriorating with age, worsening the structural abnormalities and in turn, his behavior.

Understanding this is vital in our approach to Putin. We have to get into his brain. I have maintained from the beginning that it’s a huge mistake not to. Why in the world would you think sanctions would resonate with Putin? Because it would resonate with you? Why on earth would oligarchs pressure Putin to stop the war when Putin is the one with the power to have their riches stripped away, or have them poisoned to death?

The best detectives are those who get into the mind of the offender or killer; and they are also those most likely to have a nervous breakdown, because, as we all know, when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Happy 61st Birthday to Me (in Celsius I’m 16!)

 Ovidia--every other Tuesday

I’m sorry this isn’t going to be a very erudite post—I’m turning 61 today and I’ve got a whole lot of notes and edits to go through because our live theatres are re-opening and suddenly I'm have the luxury of 5 people onstage instead of one poor soul carrying a monologue!!!

I don’t think it was intended as a Birthday present but I’m taking it as one anyway. This best ‘present’ I’m getting is that today—26 April—Singapore goes from Dorscon orange to Dorscon Yellow!

(Dorscon = Disease Outbreak Response System Condition level, which currently indicates our Covid situation)

We’ve been at Dorscon orange since Feb 7, 2020--which is a long long time! Weddings, funerals, live shows and classes can resume, but since I’m not planning any of these events at the moment, what is particularly Great for me because I can go for yoga and tap dancing classes without a mask! 
Yes—I’ve found a yoga shala where I’ll be attending mysore classes and I’ve signed up for a beginners tap dancing class. It’s part of deciding to dedicate my 60’s to learning and exploring stuff I’m interested in, as far as I’m able to.

Back in my actual teenage years I had the idea that doing badly would shame the teachers/ coaches/ parents being paid or paying to make me learn. It didn’t feel right to ‘waste’ time on things like drawing, dancing, bugs etc. 
But now no one’s telling me to ‘grow up’ and I’m really enjoying allowing myself to be a beginner again. 
I really love that I’ve found teachers who aren’t afraid to let me learn at my own pace, surrounded by more advanced students who are inspirational just by existing and doing what they do. 

The other great present is I learned a couple of days back that my latest book got on the longlist for the CWA historical dagger. Oh frabjous day and all that!

I'm torn between saying just getting on the list is great and hoping hoping hoping I'll make it onto the shortlist!
(Yes, I know it's not why we write. But this would be such a cherry on top of such a cake!)

But I'll have to wait and see. Patience is one of the things I still haven't mastered.

I used to think it funny I don’t feel much older inside than I ever did. I always assumed that one day I would feel adult/mature/old and put away childish things… but it hasn’t happened yet.
Talking to a friend—

(the great thing about old friends is they grow old along with you if you're lucky--and I've been very very lucky. Even better that I'm realising is when they evolve alongside you from string cheese to raclette and from prawn crackers to oysters!) 

—we came to the conclusion that growing up/ growing older is all about adding layers of experience on the outside of our lives, but the selves at the heart of all those ageing rings are the same inside. And as long as we still have the people and things we connected to as children, our child self that remains inside us comes out whenever we connect with them.
So maybe it has less to do with age than with losing our grandparents and parents and others from their generation. Because maybe once they are gone and there’s no one left who remembers you as a toddler, as a child, that’s when that toddler and child start to fade and vanish.

But it isn’t all as hopeless as that. That’s why we write, isn’t it? Our own stories as well as the stories shared with us by people we love or loathe or can’t quite figure out. Because as long their stories live, the part of us that connects with them does too.

Thank you for being here and being part of my story and my life.

Monday, April 25, 2022

On Human Flaws Redux

Annamaria on Monday

I want to offer an excuse for reposting a blog from three or four years ago. How about one of these:
  • I received a letter on April 7 from the IRS. They are auditing my 2020 return. The letter is dated April 1, and my answer, including copies of all my receipts for all of my claimed deductions, is due by April 30.
  • I promised agent the revised version of my current submission by this past Friday. I’m still working on it.
  • The only one of the five marvelous devices available to me on which I can blog is this #&$@(*)$/ out-of-date iPad.
  • If I spend more  than 10 minutes staring at a screen, sitting or standing, I get a terrible pain in my spine.
  • I have a headache.
Choose whichever of the above excuses you like best. They are all true.

The way this topic relates to crime writing is this: Every budding crime writer has been warned that the main character in a mystery or thriller must have “a flaw” to make him (usually it’s a him) seem truly human.  As far as I am concerned, far too many writers—even super famous ones—do this in a mechanical way.  They reach for the nearest flaw and the easiest ones on the nearby shelf are labeled “Make Him a Drunk” or “Give Him a Dysfunctional Family.”  This bothers me for a couple of reasons.  First, these issues seem to me to be symptoms of character flaws, not flaws in and of themselves.

The easy way out

But this question goes deeper than that.  I have trouble of thinking of a human’s “flaws” as separate from her virtues.  I do not think we are endowed by our creator with traits that make us less than perfect.   As my mother once said to me, “Everybody is born a baby.”

I learned from that statement and an experience I had long, long ago in a galaxy faraway.

It was the 1970s—the Age of Aquarius.

Not David's car, but very like it.

David and I had met the previous fall.  It was this time of year—verging on summer—and we had a date to take my just-turned-four-year-old daughter to the beach.  He showed up at my apartment in his rusty, trusty VW Beetle.  As he got out of the car, his face, and his body language told me something was wrong.  I asked what it was.  I got the typical male reply.  “Nothing.”

He took the picnic basket, the towels, and the satchel of beach toys and stowed them in the car.   I buckled the kid in the back seat, and we headed for the Midtown Tunnel and Jones Beach. He was grim.

By the time we entered the tunnel, my little girl was asleep.  I then pointed out to him that we were supposed to be having fun, and we could never succeed at it until we cleared the air.  This discussion went quietly on with no result until we were past the Flushing exit on the LIE.  At which point I announced that I was going to start taking off pieces of clothing until he gave in and told me what was troubling him.  What followed was silence from David and:

Me:  “Okay.”  I took off a shoe.  David: “Don’t be stupid”.  I took off the other shoe.  David: “You are crazy.”  I unbuckled my belt and stripped it out of my bell-bottom jeans.    David: “Oh, Christ.”  I slowly unbuttoned my shirt.  David, indicating the crowded highway.  “Somebody will see you.”  Me: “It won’t do me any harm, and it might do him a lot of good.”  I had reached the last button and was taking off my shirt. David: “Stop it.  I’ll talk.”

Me at that time, but not at the beach

He did.  I cannot remember what the trouble was.  Nothing earth shattering, or I would remember.  When he had relaxed, and I was again fully dressed, he said, “You are one persistent woman.” 

Persistent!  Not what my family had always called me—Stubborn. I am persistent.


That was how I learned that human beings are not “flawed.”  Human beings have characteristics that sometimes exhibit themselves as positive behaviors and sometimes come across as negative.  But the characteristic is not, in and of itself, a bad thing.

I consider this ridiculous 

 Our language gives us terms on both sides of the character trait coin.  Curious vs. Nosy.  Industrious vs. Workaholic.  Feisty vs. Argumentative.  Determined vs. Unrelenting.  Fexible vs. Flighty.  You get the idea.

So.  I refuse to think of real people as “flawed.”  You (and I) are bundles of characteristics that exhibit positively under some circumstances and negatively under others.  All of you are the perfect you.  

When we writers seek to create characters who come across as real human beings, we need to give them the flaws of their virtues.  Then the readers will see both sides of a three-dimensional person.  In other words, we need to show the character in situations where her persistence comes across as a virtue, and then put her in a frustrating spot where it comes out as stubbornness.  Then she will be real. 

Let’s take Hercule Poirot as an example.  He is fastidious.  We often see him as comically attentive to ridiculous niceties of his food or his own grooming. That over-tended moustache!  These are the behaviors of a person who pays attention to every little detail.  Sometimes that may make him seem vain and silly.  But that attention to detail…  That is exactly the trait that allows him to pick up on the clues everyone else misses. We believe it when he sees what no one else saw.  It isn’t a superpower.  It is the other side of his “flaw.”

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Mist and Magic at Hokkaido's Garo Falls

 --Susan, every other Sunday

Last September, I spent a week on Hokkaido (Japan's northernmost major island), hiking volcanoes and visiting waterfalls with my friend Ido Gabay (who owns a fantastic outdoor adventure and travel tour company called Hokkaido Nature Tours).

One of the high points on our list was Garō Falls, a 70-meter, two-tiered, bridal veil-style waterfall that's ranked among the top 100 waterfalls in Japan (the official list was created by the Japanese government in 1990).  Unfortunately, the forecast called for rain on the day we planned to go, and since the approach to the falls involves a little over half an hour's descent down a forested trail that can get slippery when wet, we headed out with no assurance that the hike was going to happen--and since you can't see the falls from the top of the trail, no hike meant no waterfall either.

By the time we arrived at the parking lot, the rain had stopped, so we started down the trail.

Descending to Garo Falls 

Parts of the trail were overgrown, suggesting not many hikers had been this way in at least a year, and possibly not since the start of the pandemic. Even the "clear" parts of the trail had overhanging branches laden with water from the recent rain, which showered us with drops as we descended.

Much wetter than it looks...

Mist had settled in the valley, and clouds hovered around the peaks, creating a primeval atmosphere. 

The view from the trail.

The trail descends into a valley filled with lush green foliage. Birch trees cover the slopes, while ferns and other low-lying bushes fill the space beneath the trees.

Believe it or not, this is the trail - it follows the hillside to the right of that tree trunk center frame.

Although it (mostly) didn't rain, the foliage was so wet, and so close to the trail, that we were absolutely soaked before we made it to the bottom of the trail. Fortunately, the day wasn't cold,  so it was just a matter of accepting that my clothes were going to be wet for the next few hours--which really isn't that hard to do, if the hike is fun and you know there's a warm hotel and a change of clothes available at the end.

Another view from the misty trail

On the date we made the hike, Hokkaido's mountains already had begun to show their autumn colors, but near Garō Falls, the colors were mostly summer greens, with only a hint of gold beginning to peep through here and there. 

A rare splash of gold among the greens

Eventually the trail flattened out, and we were rewarded with our first view of the falls. Unlike many waterfalls, Garō Falls isn't visible until you've reached the base--and at least on the day we visited, it wasn't possible to get any closer than this viewing point.

One of Hokkaido's largest and loveliest falls

As a waterfall fan, I'll go to great lengths to see water falling over rock, though this was the most extensive dedicated waterfall hike I've made to date. Garō is the ninth of the 100 falls I've visited to date, and I hope to see all 100--and as many of the other "named" waterfalls in Japan as possible (there are over 500, so it would take a bit of doing to see them all).

Another view of Garō Falls

The rain held off until we returned to the top of the trail, although between the mist and the foliage, I'm not sure we'd have been any wetter if it had been raining. Even so, the spectacular views from the trail, the waterfalls themselves, and the unique experience of having the entire place to ourselves made the journey more than worth the extra laundry.

Would you hike through a rainy forest to see more water falling? And are you a fan of waterfalls like I am?