Category: history

Pasquala

I’ve taken a few jabs, in the past, at the Catholic missionaries who settled California. That’s because we all know they held natives prisoner in their missions. And they treated them like slaves and made them work the fields, weave baskets, and shine their shoes. And they forced them under penalty of torture to adopt Christianity.

Right?

Ahhhnnnkkk! Wrong answer, according to Catholics.

Catholics have a way of painting halos over the heads of the old missionaries. They point the finger at the conquistadors. It was the fault of the Spanish soldiers, they say. They’re supposedly the ones who exploited the natives and so badly mistreated them.

The priests were actually saints and heros, according to the Catholic Church. They were always intervening, pressuring the soldiers to back off and leave the innocent natives alone.

And there’s some truth to this. It was hard to recruit soldiers for mission-protecting work. As a result, many of the recruits had tainted pasts, and some were even recruited straight out of prisons. The Spanish government often had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find volunteers for such remote frontier work.

These low-life soldiers resented the priests and all their rules, while the priests kept a wary eye on the soldiers. The tension between these two groups could have been sliced with a sword.

And yet the two depended on each other. Four or five soldiers were stationed at every mission. Their job was to drink, wassail, gamble, fornicate, and occasionally defend the mission whenever the natives became hostile. They were scorned by the priests for their debauchery. And in return the soldiers despised the goody two shoes priests, whom they were entrusted to defend.

This dysfunctional relationship existed at every mission, including Mission Santa Ines.

Mission Santa Ines was established in 1804, in the middle of Chumash country, about 10 miles northwest of Mission Santa Barbara. The Chumash tribe was every priest’s dream come true. They were friendly, industrious, and welcoming to the missionaries. And they were always eager to help out these strangers from a foreign land, whom they thought they were hosting.

Danish immigrants settled next to Mission Santa Ines in the early 1900s. They named the town Solvang (meaning “sunny field” in Danish), and they constructed their buildings using authentic Danish architecture. This Danish windmill stands just a few hundred feet from the mission walls. Today Solvang is a major tourist trap destination, attracting a million visitors a year, who enjoy the photogenic buildings and Danish bakeries.

The Chumash were like Li’l Abner’s shmoos. They happily went to work building the mission, an aqueduct system, and agricultural enterprise. Their sacrifices made the mission a rocking success. And so the mission thrived, raising bumper crops, and growing vast herds of livestock.

And that attracted other tribes. Soon the Tulare tribe joined the mission activities. These folks were tough hombres, always making war and causing trouble. But at Mission Santa Ines everyone lived together in peace. It was kum ba yah time.

Mission Santa Ines was named for Saint Agnes. She was a 13-year-old Christian martyr of ancient Rome, who struck men blind when they tried to rape her. I wonder if this is how groping got started.

The priests felt righteous and satisfied. The soldiers were spoiled with abundance, belching, farting, and wallowing about like fat hogs. And the natives learned new ways to support themselves, living off the land.

Perhaps the good harmony continued because the natives were unable to decipher and translate a book one of the priests had sitting around, entitled, “How to Serve Man.” That’s what I suspect, anyway.

But in 1821 the good times went off the rails and tumbled down a rocky arroyo. Mexico won its independence from Spain. And the new Mexican government wasn’t as much into religion as the Spanish Royal Court. They said, “screw the goddamned Catholics,” and cut off support to the California missions.

The front portico of Mission Santa Ines. This mission was one of several that were destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. It was rebuilt in 1817 with thicker walls, in order to pass stricter building codes for earthquake protection.

Now the soldiers were left unchecked by the priests, and unpaychecked by the new government. They had to make a living somehow, so at Mission Santa Ines they began forcing the natives to work long, hard hours without pay, against the wishes of the missionaries. And no one came to their rescue. Not even Zorro.

One day in 1824, a soldier beat a Chumash woman. Or rather, he tried to “encourage” her to work harder. This cowardly act was the last straw. It felt revolting to the natives. And so the Chumash and Tulare tribes did just that. They revolted, and confirmed the soldiers’ beliefs that the natives were, indeed, revolting.

These indigenes were soon joined by Chumash and Tulare natives at nearby Mission Santa Barbara and Mission La Purisima Concepcion. And it became the largest organized uprising during the Spanish and Mexican periods in California. The day of reconciliation had arrived.

The mission fell into ruins after 1824, then restored more than a century later. Except for this column, which shows off the original adobe bricks.

Buildings were burned to the ground, and those that weren’t, were occupied by angry tribe members. They evicted the soldiers, priests, and their family members, forcing them to flee.

But surprisingly, few lives were lost during this revolt. This may be due, in part, to a little native girl named Pasquala.

Pasquala belonged to the Tulare tribe. This young girl got sick one day, from food poisoning. That’s right, even Native Americans occasionally eat the wrong berry or mushroom. She was brought by her loving parents to Mission Santa Ines, and the missionaries kindly helped her recover.

The entrance to the church.

The Tulare tribe didn’t like this. Not one bit. They were already getting tired of the padres, and they wanted to break off the tribe’s friendship. And maybe they were missing all the great fun that comes from making war and causing problems. So they decided to force Pasquala’s parents to return to the tribe.

One day they attacked the mission and killed Pasquala’s father while he was working in the vineyards. Then they kidnapped Pasquala and her mother and hauled them back to the Tulare village some miles away. They must have been rough on the little girl’s mother during all this action, because soon after, she died.

This was at the same time, in 1824, that the great revolt against the missions was fomenting. Pasquala was a nosy little girl, and she overheard her people discussing plans for a much larger attack on Mission Santa Ines.

She’d had enough. They’d killed her parents. And now they were going to kill the very people who saved her life. So as soon as she could, she slipped away from the village and ran back to the mission to warn the padres.

This is what you see after you enter the church. Especially when mass is not being held.

The Padres happened to be playing against the Dodgers at the time, but when Pasquala arrived, looking frantic and disheveled, they dropped their bats and balls and gave her their complete attention.

She cried out, “Padre! Padre! War! War!” She breathlessly warned them about the imminent attack, then collapsed and died from exhaustion.

This was too bad for Pasquala, but just peachy for everyone at the mission. Her warning came just in the nick of time. The padres and soldiers quickly prepared for battle and were able to repel the attack. Had it not been for Pasquala’s warning, the whole mission would have been completely destroyed and everyone inside massacred.

The church altar. Saint Agnes is the large figure at the top. Don’t touch her, guys, or she’ll be the last thing you’ll ever see.

Mission Santa Ines declined rapidly after the revolt of 1824. Most of the natives said, “ah, to hell with it.” They lost their enthusiasm for helping the mission, and few remained to keep it maintained. It soon fell into ruins and became a fixer-upper for the real estate market.

But let’s be fair. And I’ll even eat part of my hat. This was not due to the Catholic priests. It was the fault of the soldiers who mistreated the natives and who sparked the revolt.

Madonna, with baby Jesus, adorns this nook in the church wall.

Okay, I’ll admit it. Perhaps the Catholic Church has been unfairly maligned in the portrayal of their treatment of Native Americans. Perhaps even by me, although it’s not my fault. I must have been drinking at the time I wrote all those mean posts.

It’s a controversial issue, and maybe there’s been hyperbole on both sides. But one thing is certain. At least some of the natives were very impressed with the padres, and treated them with a love and hospitality that was reciprocated. There’s evidence of this. And some of the evidence can be found in the life of a young girl.

A little Tulare child who ran her heart out, named Pasquala.

Pasquala was buried with honors at Mission Santa Ines.

Saint Barbara

My first sort-of girlfriend was named Barbara. She and I were in the third-grade, and she also lived just down the street from me. We laughed and played together, and had plenty of fun, until the day I called her a whore. I didn’t know what that word meant, but I thought it was funny because I’d heard other people laughing when they said that word.

Barbara didn’t think it was funny.

It would have been better had I called her a saint. Just like Mission Santa Barbara, which my wife and I visited a few weeks ago. By the way, I’ve never called my wife a whore, and we’ve had a long, happy marriage.

Mission Santa Barbara is unique in a number of distinct ways. For instance, it was the first of the old California missions to be founded by Father Fermin Lasuen, who was the successor to Father Junipero Serra.

It’s located in Santa Barbara, California, which is arguably the most beautiful coastal town in the entire Golden State.

It’s the only mission with two bell towers. Smart. It’s always wise to have a backup. Legend has it that Saint Barbara was locked up in a tower by her pagan-worshiping father, from which she miraculously escaped. So perhaps this is why two bell towers were built at this particular mission.

The twin bell towers of Mission Santa Barbara. Seems the Catholics invented the world’s first stereo.

It’s been destroyed or severely damaged by earthquakes, twice, in 1812 and 1925.

The mission architecture is beautiful, but no place to stand near during an earthquake.

The Mexican government secularized the California missions in 1834, threatening the total loss of the mission system. But Father Presidente Narciso Duran came to the rescue. He transferred his headquarters to Mission Santa Barbara, and brought with him over 3,000 original documents that pertained to all the missions. This is the oldest archive in California, and remains a priceless treasure for historic research. And these documents have been used for the accurate restoration of the other missions, after they fell into ruins.

An old, out-of-use gateway to the Mission cemetery.

Mission Santa Barbara is the only one of the 21 California missions to remain under perpetual control of the Franciscan Order, from its founding in 1786, to the present day. The rest were sold off by the Mexican government after 1834, to Californios.

This side entrance, from the cemetery to the church, was reserved for pirates only.

Californios were the original Mexican landowners in California. They were unfortunate in several ways. First, their land was coveted by white settlers after the United States stole California from Mexico, during the Mexican War. The treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo guaranteed they could keep their land. However, the Californios violated this treaty when they sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War.

A basin of holy water at the main entrance to the church. Or maybe it’s God’s eyeball. I’m not sure.

Therefore, on March 18, 1865, Abraham Lincoln decided to grant a petition by a Catholic bishop, to return all the California missions back to the Catholic Church. The Californios lost out, but historical preservationists won a big victory.

Jesus asking a woman at Jacob’s Well for a drink of water. She was a Samaritan, considered one of the lesser races of people. And she’d had five husbands already, and was shacking up with her sixth lover. I mean, for Christ’s sake, what the hell was he talking to a woman like that for?

I can’t speak for my first girlfriend, because I lost track of her after grade school. So I don’t know what line of work she eventually pursued. But history speaks favorably to Barbara, the mission. It has always been run by a religious order. And it has been very instrumental in the restoration of all the other California missions.

This little niche is so colorful and inviting, I hardly feel sorry for the “poor” box.

Mission Santa Barbara has lived up to its first name. It truly is a Saint.

The church altar, in all its refulgent splendor.

A Rock to be Thankful For

A developer planned to build a wharf. But town residents protested. Why, this was a historic landmark! Sacred ground, they claimed. And so the planned development became mired in public debate. Sound familiar? Sure, this sort of thing happens to developers all the time in our country. And some of us feel glad about that.

But this particular town was Plymouth, Massachusetts. And the year was 1741.

The foremost protester against the wharf development was a 94-year-old elder of the Puritan Church, named Thomas Faunce. He had been born in Plymouth in 1647, and remembered many of the original pilgrims who had arrived on the Mayflower.

Elder Faunce claimed that the pilgrims landed on the very spot where the wharf was planned. And he pointed out a rock, which he claimed had been stepped upon by these pilgrims as they came to shore. He wept during his public protest, his tears splashing upon the hard surface of the rock, as he contemplated aloud the thought of the wharf covering it up.

The Landing of the Pilgrims, Henry Bacon, 1877.

Many who witnessed this protest felt moved. And who could doubt him? He claimed that this is what he’d been told by the very people who landed there. And nobody else alive had lived long enough to know any better. Plus, Faunce was a revered, respected elder of the church.

Just the same, Faunce’s protest failed. He was shoved aside, and the wharf was built in spite of his story. And in spite of the fact that everyone believed the story. Progress is progress, you know. We mustn’t stop our holy quest for progress.

But as a show of good faith the developers compromised, and preserved the rock uncovered, that Faunce had championed. From then on, this boulder became known as Plymouth Rock. It gained fame, and began attracting curious visitors.

In 1774, the good citizens of Plymouth split the famous rock in half. They then moved the top portion to their meeting house, to stand upon and deliver fiery speeches advocating independence from Britain. Over the years it was moved around some more, until 1867, when it was returned and rejoined to its lower portion. That’s when “1620” was chiseled upon it, commemorating the year the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth.

Plymouth Rock reunited with it’s other half, and properly date-stamped.

Souvenir hunters have, over the centuries, chipped away at this rock that Thomas Faunce made famous, so that now it’s only about one-third of its original size. Today it only measures about six feet long and three feet wide.

Now it sits on public display on the Plymouth beach, ensconced within a memorial at the spot where Faunce said the pilgrims had landed. And the wharf was finally torn down, so Faunce finally won out in the end. Today, Plymouth Rock continues to attract tourists from far and wide, to this unwharfed location.

Plymouth Rock at the shoreline where the Pilgrims landed, according to Thomas Faunce. Notice there’s no wharf in the background?

I don’t know if this is where the movement actually began in America, to conserve public lands and curtail development. But I like the story. It seems that deep within the heart of many Americans, both young and old, we treasure that which is pure and pristine.

Thomas Faunce was 94 years old. So his protest could not have been for himself. It was for future generations. I’m thankful for people like him. Because of such magnanimous activists of our past, today we can enjoy National Parks and historic landmarks.

If most tourists are anything like my wife and me, they leave Plymouth Rock with amused disappointment. We imagined this fixture to be some sort of majestic, Gibraltar-style edifice, jutting into the sea, with waves lapping upon its rugged, granite face. We had no idea it was just a puny stone, barely larger than a welcome mat.

My legs offer a little scale as to the size of Plymouth Rock. As you can see, it ain’t no Gibraltar.

But I’m thankful for Plymouth Rock, anyway. It reminds me of Thomas Faunce, one of the first American protesters against development. And it reminds me of the pristine seashore he sought to protect.

Faunce was a Puritan. And his religion was marred with many flaws that made it anything but pure. But I believe Faunce was an exception. He was one Puritan who understood the true nature of purity.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 4 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday, or rather in the year 1776, the British drove the Americans out of Quebec. They wanted to attack Fort Ticonderoga, but then winter set in. Rather than continue fighting, it was time for a cup of hot chocolate and stories around the campfire. The war could wait until next year . . .

On July 5, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surprised American General Arthur St. Clair. St. Clair had been put in charge of Fort Ticonderoga after most of the Continental Army moved south to join George Washington’s forces. He was expecting a British attack, so when it came, that wasn’t any surprise. The surprise occurred when General St. Clair looked up. He saw a sight that must have made him shit his pants.

The British had secretly and silently deployed artillery at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain (now called Mount Defiance).

This was Fort Ticonderoga’s Achilles’ Heal. We all have one. Even fortresses. This fort was surrounded by high ground and mountains. Sugar Loaf Mountain stood just a mile away from the fort, and was easily within artillery range. The presence of British cannon on that high ground left the Americans sitting ducks.

A cannon pointing in the general direction of Sugar Loaf Mountain (Mt. Defiance) and the outfall of the La Chute River.

That night General St. Clair made a very wise move. He gathered his troops and slunk away, abandoning the fort. And so, the British took back the “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga without firing a single cannon shot.

This was the beginning of General Burgoyne’s Saratoga Campaign. This campaign was named after the General’s favorite brand of cigarettes, which he chain-smoked every waking hour.

Burgoyne hoped to reunify Canada with the American colonies, while dividing the Colonies by isolating New England. It was thought by the British that the main revolutionary fervor came from New England. So by isolating New England, it was theorized that the remainder of the colonies could be quickly and easily subjugated.

And perhaps that’s true, for Southerners don’t know how to think without the help of New England politicians.

General St. Clair’s retreating forces were pursued by General Burgoyne. Some escaped, but others were taken prisoner. Those who escaped, along with other men, were led by Colonel John Brown right back to Fort Ticonderoga. He wasn’t about to let them get away with running from the Brits.

Cannon at the upper ramparts of Fort Ticonderoga.

On September 18th, 1777, they surprised the British defenders of the fort. Brown and company captured artillery pieces and hundreds of enemy prisoners. They destroyed shipping and the outer works of the fort. They freed 100 American POW’s. And they nearly recaptured the fort itself.

The British held the fort, but were shaken. Or, they were shaken, but not stirred. No one knew it at the time, but this would be the last major assault on Fort Ticonderoga.

Meanwhile, General Burgoyne had led his invading troops south to the Hudson River valley. He was running out of Saratogas and needed to replenish his supply quickly. There they engaged in a series of battles against American defenders under Generals Horatio Gates and, once again, Benedict Arnold. His troops got shot all to hell up by the Americans. It was frustrating, and he was having a nicotine fit.

Finally, Burgoyne made it to the town of Saratoga itself. There at last, he found his favorite brand of cigarettes. And he sat back to enjoy them, while watching thoroughbred racing at the local track. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by American troops. The gig was up. He was forced to surrender at Saratoga, New York, on October 17, 1777.

General Burgoyne, very unhappily surrendering his Saratogas.

This was a monumental victory for the Americans. It surprised the entire world. Nobody expected anything like this. What a bunch of smarty-pants the Americans were. Now the world took the American Revolution seriously. And this victory convinced France to join the American side, and provide crucial help in the war. Who knows, maybe they thought they could get Canada back.

The British abandoned Fort Ticonderoga in November, 1777, but not before destroying as much of it as possible. Did I mention that it’s great fun to demolish things? The Revolutionary War then shifted southward, and Fort Ticonderoga became forever irrelevant to all but historians. And tourists. And purveyors of souvenir shops, selling cheapjack crap.

This beautiful greensward is part of a dry moat that surrounded Fort Ticonderoga. During lulls in the war, this is where the officers engaged in sporting games of golf, croquet, and other gentlemanly pursuits.

After the war, it was plundered by local settlers for wood and stone, and fell into labefaction. And within a hundred years it was nothing but a pile of ruins. No one cared about Fort Ticonderoga. All they wanted was houses to live in. Ungrateful sots.

Daguerreotype of the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga.

Restoration efforts began in 1900, and now Fort Ticonderoga is back to its old 18th century glory. Today it’s a popular tourist attraction. And who knows, maybe it’s part of a secret CIA plot to once again invade Canada.

But Fort Ticonderoga helps to explain why Canada and the United States are separate nations. It was used for invasions both north and south, in attempts to unify. But that thin connecting thread between the St. Lawrence valley and Hudson River valley was not enough to overcome geographical isolation.

Culture, mindsets, and political attitudes developed independently north and south. Even if an invasion had been successful, it would have been very challenging to bring the two peoples together in heart and mind. Canadians are way too polite. And we Americans are way too rude. It just wouldn’t have worked out.

And after the revolution, Loyalists in the new United States were persecuted. Many fled north to Canada. Understandably, they had kind of a sour attitude toward the idea of unification.

“Halt, who goes there?” this cannon seems to say.

We tried once more during the War of 1812, to swallow up the lands to the north. Doncha’ just love good ol’ American Greed? But we were roundly defeated in this effort, while at the same time Canadian identity cemented in strength. They said, “Fuck-all this! We are Canadians! Go the hell home, Yankees!”

This ensured we will always have a Canada, separate and independent from us.

And isn’t it handy to have this foreign jurisdiction? In the 19th century, Canada gave runaway slaves a place of refuge. During the idiotic, insane Vietnam War, runaway conscientious objectors also found a place of refuge in Canada. These days, when prescription drug prices get out of hand, we can smuggle something cheaper across the border to save our lives.

And when we have a president who behaves like a bully, it feels refreshing to see a prime minister up north stand up and politely thumb his nose at the rantipole.

Canada has been our strong friend and ally for many years. I hope it stays that way, and that it always remains independent. We need this ally and counterpoise as much as we, and they, once needed Fort Ticonderoga.

War is an ugly hell. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be prettied up a touch with artistic cannon designs.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 3 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday’s time machine took us all the way back to an improbable 16-year era, when the Canadian colony and the 13 American colonies were unified in a sense. Of course every colony had their own government, overseen by the British, and kept morally divided through constant bickering. But a thin thread existed along the waterways of Lake Champlain and Lake George, that connected the Canadian colony to the American colonies. And Fort Ticonderoga was at the heart of that connection . . .

The barracks where the soldiers lived, worked, and probably played poker, at Fort Ticonderoga.

The British loved Fort Ticonderoga. They found it to be extremely useful as a supply and communication link between Canada and New York. And it was such a safe and secure place. It was just the spot to relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy the magnificent splendor of the Adirondack and Green Mountains, mirrored in the placid waters of Lake Champlain.

And it would have remained this way if only the damned Yankees had not been so revolting.

But on April 19, 1775, the shot heard round the world began the American Revolution. On that date, the British were defeated by the Yankees in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. How dare those Yankees! They had to be punished. So the British laid siege on Boston. They figured if they could starve all the Bostonians to death, it would teach them a lesson.

Ethan Allen giving the commander of Fort Ticonderoga, Captain William Delaplace, a wake-up call.

The Yankees felt concerned, because they enjoyed eating. And they knew that success for the new revolution they had just fomented depended on breaking the siege. So they quickly came up with a plan.

On May 10, 1775, just three weeks after the Revolutionary War began, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, and Benedict Arnold with his volunteers, led a surprise attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Those poor damned British soldiers. There they napped, without a care in the world, living the life of Riley. And then someone shit all over their paradise.

The unprepared British had only 48 soldiers, and they were caught sleeping. Mighty, “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga fell without a shot being fired.

This is where some of the British soldiers slept, on cozy, Sleep Number beds, while Ethan Allan and his Green Mountain Boys were sneaking up on them.

And boy, what a haul the Americans stole. Er, confiscated. The fort was stocked chock full of cannons, guns, and other instruments of death. General Henry Knox, who must have been very rich because he later had a valuable fort named after him, transported these cannons to Boston. There, they were used to end the siege.

And now Fort Ticonderoga was occupied by a newly formed Continental Army, all proud of themselves and intent on driving their British oppressors from North America.

When Ethan Allan died, his body was frozen and put on permanent display at Fort Ticonderoga. Here’s a photo of the ol’ block of ice himself.

That’s when somebody got the bright idea of using this fort as a staging ground to sail up Lake Champlain and attack Canada. They thought they could easily defeat the British army and then convince French Canadiens to join the revolution. What could possibly go wrong?

Why shouldn’t the French Canadiens want to go along with this plan? After all, they spoke French, while their British occupiers spoke English. But the American Yankees, they spoke, uh . . . well . . . never mind.

In late-August, 1775, American General Richard Montgomery confidently left Fort Ticonderoga with 1,200 troops, to invade the weak, quivering colony of Quebec. He sailed north and he met with quick success, the lucky bastard. By November he captured Montreal, and then laid siege on Quebec City.

He met up with General Benedict Arnold at Quebec City. Arnold, by the way, had drawn the unlucky straw. To reach Quebec City, he had to lead a disastrous expedition through the wilderness of Maine, losing nearly half of his men to the treacherous terrain. Meanwhile, all Montgomery had to do was sail up Lake Champlain as if he were on a Carnival Cruise. It’s no wonder Arnold later turned his coat and sided with the Brits.

In December, 1775, a new battle was fought for Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham (again, not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln). The Canadians, under General Guy Carleton, soundly defeated the Americans, killing General Montgomery and wounding General Arnold. Ouch!

But General Arnold did not leave immediately. There was no way in hell he was going back through the Maine wilderness. Instead he laid a weak, token siege upon the city, while American occupying forces in Montreal attempted to convince Canadians to join in the revolution.

Problem was, the Americans didn’t have any money except worthless paper printed by the Continental Congress. The Canadians were unimpressed. They said, “Show me the money!” And we didn’t have anything to show.

By May of 1776, it became apparent that the military and propaganda mission to conquer Quebec had failed. Meanwhile British reinforcements and supplies arrived after the ice on the St. Lawrence River thawed out. Uh-oh. In the face of certain annihilation, the Continental Army broke off its siege of Quebec City and fled back to the Colonies. But this time, Benedict Arnold made sure to travel by way of Lake Champlain. No more coach for him. He was going first class.

He led his Yankee troops lickety-split to Fort Ticonderoga.

Sigh, it seemed unification with Canada would have to wait for another day.

But maybe not too much longer, as far as the British were concerned. They were all full of themselves, putting the Yankees on the run like that, and so they pursued the retreating Continental Army, sailing down Lake Champlain toward their fortress at Ticonderoga.

The flagstone pavement and inner structures of mighty Fort Ticonderoga.

But the Americans were not to be underestimated. They had a navy of their own, and they too liked to play in the water. General Arnold took command of this navy and fought the British at the Battle of Valcour Island, in Lake Champlain, on October 11, 1776. It was no contest. Poor Arnold was defeated by General Carleton, who captured or destroyed most of the American ships. And who knows, maybe this is where Benedict first got the idea of jumping ship.

Just the same, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the British. Arnold’s efforts managed to stall the Brits long enough for winter to start sneaking her cold, icy hands up the breeches of the British army. Yep, they were freezing their balls off. So they decided to put away their ambitions to take back Fort Ticonderoga until the next year.

It’s time for bed. Don’t worry, Part 4 will be waiting right here for you tomorrow when you wake up. And smile! It’s the final part! 🙂

I believe this building was the officer’s quarters, at Fort Ticonderoga. Here is where big staff meetings were no doubt held, where some poor bastard always got the big staff.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 2 of 4

RECAP: If you can remember as far back as yesterday, or maybe the year 1758, British General James Abercromby has just decided to attack the newly constructed Fort Carillon, at Ticonderoga, and take it from the French. His long-term plan is to sail north from the fort, and drive the French out of Canada . . .

Cannon protruding through the battlement of an outer rampart of Fort Ticonderoga. It points southwest, toward the area where the La Chute River empties into Lake Champlain.

He came with an army of 16,000 soldiers. But Fort Carillon was a tough bell to ring. French General Louis Montcalm had only 4,000 troops to defend the fort, but he soundly defeated the British. Yep, he rang their bell instead.

This defeat was very embarrassing for the British. The whole world wondered how they could lose this battle against such an inferior force. The Brits looked like a bunch of wimps. But the British had a face-saving answer. They let it be known that this damned fort was impregnable.

That year the British were losing World War Zero. But then they got to praying. They prayed real hard for a miracle. And in 1759, a year that is known as the Annus Mirabilis (or, miraculous year), their prayers were answered. God switched sides.

In 1759, Great Britain and it’s allies began winning WW0, especially with some victories at sea against the French. Yessir, they hoisted the French by their own petard. Aye mateys, they keel-hauled them buggers. Yup, made them walk the plank into shark-infested waters.

Mortar and cannon aimed at Lake Champlain and the La Chute River.

France got desperate. Their prayers weren’t working, so they concentrated their resources in Europe and left General Montcalm with a skeleton fighting force to protect their Canadian colony. Well, maybe they weren’t skeletons just yet.

Montcalm muttered “oi vey” to himself. Or was it, “oh merde”? Whatever it was, he knew he was in trouble. He pondered his priorities. Should he choose Ticonderoga, or his own ass? He made the smart decision and chose his own ass. He withdrew to Quebec City, and left Fort Carillon with just a small garrison of 400 dupes. I mean troops.

That’s when the British said, “Hmm, maybe that damned fort isn’t so impregnable after all.” And in July, 1759, British General Jeffrey Amherst led an overwhelming force of 11,000 soldiers against Carillon. These 400 Frenchers weren’t idiots. They ran like hell, but not before trying to blow the fort up. After all, what could be more fun than blowing something up?

But perhaps they were drunk, or maybe their matches were wet, or maybe it’s because dynamite hadn’t been invented yet. But they were largely unsuccessful at their demolition efforts, and this “impregnable” fort fell into the hands of the Limeys, nearly intact.

The British renamed it after the Iroquois word. They hated anything French, including a French name. And so from then on it’s been known as Fort Ticonderoga.

Close-up of the business end of a mortar at Fort Ticonderoga. If I was facing this I’d feel mortarfied.

The next step would be to proceed north, and finish the French off at Quebec City. But the fickle British changed their minds. Instead of attacking from the south, they decided to attack Quebec City from the east, by sea. And why not? The British loved the sea. That’s where they had most of their successes.

British General James Wolfe sailed up the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic, and laid siege to Quebec City. A few months later he drew the French army out of the city and defeated General Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln).

Both generals died in this battle, so I’m not sure what they got out of it. But the French were finally defeated and were driven out of Canada. The French government, that is. The French settlers remained in place, and from then on have tried to do their best getting along speaking French in an English speaking country. It’s led to more than one awkward moment.

For the next 16 years, Canada and the 13 American colonies were unified. Yay! At last we were one! Well, sort of. We were connected by the thin thread of the Lake Champlain and Lake George waterways, with Fort Ticonderoga at the nexus.

Perhaps it would be nice for some, if the story ended here. That would mean Canada and America remained unified. And it might mean we eventually became one nation, after Great Britain slowly released its grip on us. But we know that’s not what happened. Camelot can only last for one brief shining moment. Come back tomorrow for Part 3, and find out how everything went all wrong.

A Yankee and Limey soldier fighting over a box of cannonballs. Can’t we all just get along?

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 1 of 4

Introduction

Today is the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I. Since 1938 this anniversary has been an official federal holiday. It was originally called Armistice Day, but that name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954, to honor all of our military veterans, from all of our wars.

In Canada, today is called Remembrance Day.

I’ve decided to honor our veterans, as well as Canadian veterans, with a four-part post. And I’m going back, way back, to our very first wars.

We partly fought these wars against Canada, and they help to explain why Canada and the United States are two separate nations, rather than one unified country.

Today is part one. Tomorrow is part two. Whatever the hell day comes after that is part three. And if my math is right, I think I’ll have part 4 come after part 3.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US

Part 1 of 4

Ever wonder why Canada never joined the United States? I mean, what’s wrong with us? Bad breath? Impolite manners? All of the above? We’re good guys, so it just doesn’t make sense.

One way to make sense of it is to understand the little hamlet of Ticonderoga, in upstate New York, just 80 miles from the Canadian border. I lived for a year in that little hamlet, having come from California to stay with my Dad for a while. I even graduated high school there. And to tell you the truth, I never quite understood the town myself. But I’m going to give it my best shot, with these posts.

Ti High, the brain factory where I graduated several score and many years ago. Whenever I did or said things out of the ordinary, I’d get brained by a teacher or student. So this is where I got all my brains.

Ticonderoga straddles the land between Lake George and Lake Champlain, and was once a very strategic spot for raiding, robbing, and killing people. Native Americans slaughtered each other on this spot for thousands of years, before we came along. Now the town’s natives just assassinate each others’ characters and run off black people. But that’s a whole different story. Perhaps one to tell after sundown.

An Indian battle near Ticonderoga, in 1609. Drawing by the explorer and cartographer, Samuel de Champlain.

There’s a waterway highway of sorts that travels from the mouth of the Hudson River, at Manhattan Island, all the way north to the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. And before the invention of the airplane it was the easiest, quickest way to get from south to north, or vice-versa, in this neck of the woods. Otherwise, you had to climb a bunch of mountains, or take a long sea voyage.

Native Americans used the route for trade and travel. They’d paddle up Lake George in their canoes, and then portage four miles from Lake George to Lake Champlain. Portage means, getting out of the water and carrying your frickin’ canoe on your frickin’ back, while you slog from one body of water to another. It’s a pain in the back, ass, and feet.

Naturally they wanted to take the shortest route possible on this portage. And so naturally that’s where rival tribes would hide out and ambush them, stealing all the goods they carried with them, that they had brought to trade. As they say in the mafia, “It’s business. Just business.”

Ticonderoga is an Iroquois word that means, “the place between two waterways.” Or maybe it means, “the place where you have to carry your frickin’ canoe, while wild savages chase you around with a hatchet.”

The entrance to the inner workings of Fort Ticonderoga. Many famous people passed this way, including Ethan Allen, Henry Knox, and Benjamin Franklin. And a man named George Sleppington often bathed himself at the nearby lake. So it is said that George Sleppington washed here.

Anyway, the French came along and colonized the St. Lawrence River valley. They were the ones who started the whole Canada thing. Meanwhile, the British stole New Netherlands from the Dutch, and renamed it New York. Then they both proceeded to try to murder each other.

That’s when World War Zero broke out. WW0 refers to any world war that occurred before World War One. Apparently there’s been a bunch of them. But the WW0 I’m referring to is the Seven Years’ War. Which lasted nine years, by the way.

We Americans call it the French-Indian War, but that just refers to the North American front of a greater war fought all over the world by France and all her allies, against Great Britain and all of her allies.

WW0 started right here in America, in 1754, when 22-year-old Major George Washington led Colonial troops against a French fort in present-day Pittsburgh. French General Teré Bradshau kicked Washington’s ass, leaving him so embarrassed his skin turned red. So he returned home and chopped down a cherry tree just to take out his frustrations. Later, he started a football team.

14 of the cannons at the restored Fort Ticonderoga, were provided by the British government. These cannons had been cast in England during the American Revolution, but the war ended before they could be deployed.

In 1755 the British got it up their butts that they could sail up Lake George and Lake Champlain, and drive the French out of their Canadian colony. They fought a great battle for Lake George, and eventually ended up victorious.

This scared the hell out of the French, so they decided they needed to build a fort at Ticonderoga, to stop any future British advances.

Some of the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga have been artistically designed and cast. It gives soldiers some beauty to enjoy, while going through the horror of being shot at.

They constructed a star-shaped fort, at first made of wood, and then stone, and named it Fort Carillon. It got this name from the nearby La Chute River, which connects Lake George to Lake Champlain. La Chute means, “The Shit” in French. It seems the tinkling sounds of the rapids on The Shit sounds just like carillon bells.

And speaking of shitting, as sure as a moose shits in the woods, the French were right. In 1758, British General James Abercromby had all the gall and stupidity to attack Fort Carillon. He really wanted to ring the French’s bell.

Will he succeed? Or will he get his ass kicked? You’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow, same bat blog, new bat post, and find out in Part 2. (And no cheating. Stay off Wikipedia.)

An inner rampart of Fort Ticonderoga, with cannons protruding through battlements. Rather intimidating, wouldn’t you say?

Memorable Providences

Cotton Mather enjoyed his cachet and influence as a religious leader of the Puritan Church. And he was a very prolific writer. He published more than 450 books and pamphlets over the course of his life, most of which are now forgotten.

But history will never forget his book, Memorable Providences, published in 1689. It’s a true story about children in Boston who fell under the spell of a wicked witch named Ann Glover.

Ann Glover and her daughter, Mary, worked as housekeepers for the Goodwin family. One day, the Goodwin’s 13-year-old daughter, Martha, accused Mary of stealing laundry. Ann felt outraged and got into a hellacious argument with the Goodwin children. Then she cast a spell upon them.

The Goodwin children soon became ill and began falling into mysterious fits and seizures.

A doctor determined they had been bewitched by Ann Glover. She was arrested, tried, and hanged. But at the gallows she cackled a sinister warning. According to Memorable Providences, she prophesied that the children would never recover from their spell, and claimed that she wasn’t the only witch in the colony. There were many others.

Memorable Providences exposed the devil’s dirty deeds, forcing Lucifer to leave Boston and seek more fertile ground elsewhere. And so Ann Glover was the last witch to be hanged in Boston.

The Prince of Darkness’ search brought him to the little village of Salem. The citizens there hated each other. A feud had broken out a few years before. People took sides. They quarreled. They brawled. Things got personal, and more and more controversies erupted. These Puritans were pious, but piety alone could not stop them from fighting amongst each other.

Satan arrived, surveyed this situation, and felt very pleased his evil influence had taken such a hold. Everyone was at each other’s throats. Everyone that is, except the children. Children are too innocent to fall under the devil’s influence. They don’t know how to hate, the way adults do.

The devil pondered, while playing with his pitchfork and twitching his tail. Something had to be done about those dratted children.

The children of Salem were a happy, playful lot, before the devil and his diablerie descended upon this unsuspecting town. Note: The dioramas in the photos of this post can be found at the Salem Witch Museum, in Salem, Massachusetts.

Sarah Good was deeply in debt, impoverished, and kind of annoying to her neighbors, from whom she frequently begged. And she had all the audacity to question Puritan values. Satan saw an opportunity for bad in Good. He transformed himself into a man dressed in black and approached her in the night. He offered to help her with her financial situation if she would become a witch and cast spells on children. She agreed, and she also agreed to help Satan recruit other women who had been reduced to beggary.

Soon young girls all over Salem were falling into fits and seizures. They became tormented by unseen forces that pinched and stabbed them, causing them to shriek in pain. These fits were caused by spells the new witches had cast upon the poor kids.

These erstwhile happy little kiddies fell under the spell of hexes, and became possessed by the spirits of demons. Which is the only reason why kids would ever behave crazy, weird and stupid.

But the men of Salem were wise, in spite of their bickering ways. They, with their families, had read Memorable Providences, and thus were very familiar with the workings of witchcraft. Yep, they knew a thing or two. It was all right there in that book by the esteemed Cotton Mather, that they had read to their wives and kids. So it didn’t take long for them to conclude that all these fits and seizures were the results of bewitchings.

And the afflicted girls knew who their tormentors were. Cotton Mather’s book taught that the witches who hexed them would appear to them in the night, in the form of specters, or apparitions. And indeed they did, just like the book said.

In no time, Sarah Good and several other women were identified by the young girls. They were arrested, tried and convicted. And this bad Good witch was hanged with four others on July 29, 1692.

These condemned witches are being carted off to the gallows. Their distress is evident, but they should have thought about these consequences before they made their deals with the devil.

The devil was undaunted by these hangings. He kept busy, continually recruiting more servants of evil to replace those who had been uncovered.

He found Martha Corey. Unlike Sarah Good, she was a devout churchgoer. But she was vulnerable to the devil’s wiles due to her way of thinking freely, and being blunt and abrasive with others. He convinced her to go about claiming that the children were lying, and that there was no such thing as witches, and to denounce the witch trials.

A couple of children overheard Martha Corey calling them liars. They discussed this with each other and it occurred to them that she must be a witch. So they identified her to the authorities, and she was arrested, tried, convicted and hanged.

Rebecca Nurse was one of the most pious, well-respected members of her community. But she was old and nearly deaf, and her difficulty hearing often led to misunderstandings. The devil took advantage of her hearing disability. He appeared to her one evening, in the form of a doctor. Then he convinced her to sign away her soul, letting her believe she was actually getting rid of a mole.

Shortly after this she got into a dispute with a neighbor concerning some pigs. Or were they wigs? Whatever, the exchange was awkward and left her neighbor feeling bewildered and pissed off. Very quickly it became apparent that Rebecca Nurse was no pious saint. She was really a witch.

She was arrested, tried and found not guilty. So she was tried again. This time she failed to hear a critical question accurately, and gave the wrong answer. It resulted in a conviction, and Satan was defeated. She was sentenced to death and hanged.

A couple of good and pious citizens of Salem, giving some condemned witches a piece of their mind. Little did they suspect, until the Rebecca Nurse case, that they too could be fooled into following Satan.

Most of the witches of Salem were female, which at the time was the more vulnerable of the genders. But the devil did manage to snag a few weak males with his recruiting efforts.

The most notorious male witch was George Burroughs. He had been a minister in Salem nine years earlier. Then he made a pact with the devil. Lucifer gave him superhuman physical strength in return for stirring up just a little bit of trouble.

He induced Burroughs to get into a dispute with his parishioners over his pay, and to borrow money, and finally to skip town ahead of his creditors. The devil promised that no one would pursue him, due to their fear of his strength and fighting skills.

The minister resigned his position in 1683 and moved to the Eastland (now the state of Maine). As promised, no one gave chase. But his former parishioners and creditors never forgot him. When the witch trials began in 1692, they realized he had been a witch all along, and it occurred to them that this was why he was so strong.

So they sent a very large posse to arrest him.

His incredible physical strength made him difficult to subdue, but the posse finally managed to put this herculean witch into chains and dragged him back to Salem.

George Burroughs fought hard, using his demonic strength to knock one member of the posse out cold, before the others could restrain him with chains.

He was tried, convicted, and brought to the gallows with four other witches. But then this very gifted former minister made a spectacular bid to enlist the entire town into the league of the devil.

He stood at the gallows and gave an impassioned sermon proclaiming his innocence. It was such a fine speech that the crowd was stirred. Little did they know that Satan the devil was standing there with him, whispering the words of this persuasive talk directly into his ear.

At the end of the sermon he recited the Lord’s Prayer with elegant perfection. This astonished the crowd because everyone knew it was impossible for a witch to recite the Lord’s Prayer in such a beautiful, flawless manner.

The crowd was moved to tears, became agitated, and cries issued forth to release him and the four other witches. But the hangman saw the danger and acted quickly, sending Burroughs kicking and writhing to the bowels of Hell.

Upon witnessing this, many in the crowd murmured that an innocent man had been executed. This marked a crucial moment for Salem. The devil was gaining control.

But much to Lucifer’s chagrin, Cotton Mather happened to be one of the crowd.

Mather bravely sat on his horse before the mob and gave his own grandiloquent speech, all the while prepared to gallop away in case the speech failed. He reminded them that the devil can appear in many forms, including an Angel of Light. And he was able to correct the picture of the evil George Burroughs so well, that soon the masses were placated. The sight of Burroughs’ dangling body, twisting in the wind, left them satisfied. And they allowed the hangings of the four other witches to continue without further interruption.

The proper way to bury a witch is in a shallow, unmarked grave. Executed witches in Salem were inhumed two feet deep, sometimes with hands, feet, or other body parts protruding from the earth.

The devil felt furious about this, and began putting all the energy of Hell into his campaign. He converted dozens and dozens more into witchcraft, until soon the witches of Salem numbered in the hundreds.

But the pure souls of Salem responded in kind. The jail overflowed with newly accused, and the witch-trial court clogged. But still it plodded along as best it could, and craftsmen worked sedulously at meeting skyrocketing demand for fresh rope at the gallows.

Then the devil got a diabolical idea. He managed to convert the governor’s wife. And soon she, too, fell under the finger of accusation.

That changed everything. Governor Phips loved his wife, for she was particularly bewitching. And because he had fallen under the spell of her love potion.

He took immediate action. He dissolved the court. He then pardoned all those who were awaiting execution. And he established a new court with a new, much more merciful judge.

Soon accused witches were released in droves from the jails. As quickly as they began, the witch trials ended. And the hapless citizens of New England were left to the mercy of an army of Lucifer’s minions. Including Governor Phips’ wife.

The devil had finally defeated Cotton Mather. Memorable Providences dropped off the bestseller list.

Witches have continued to haunt America from that time forth. But they are no longer called witches. Satan, in his craftiness, has given them new forms and new behaviors. They are just as wicked as their predecessors, but they morph like a deadly virus.

In the 1940’s they took on the form of Japanese spies. We responded by interring them into concentration camps.

In the 1950’s they morphed into communists. But thanks to the heroic efforts of Joseph McCarthy (a modern-day Cotton Mather), these witches were imprisoned and blacklisted.

In the 1980’s they became deviant parents and sexually abusive daycare workers, with a large coven concentrated in Kern County, California. They molested young children and subjected them to Satanic rituals, until District Attorney Ed Jagels saved the day. 36 witches were convicted, with many spending years in prison before the devil got 34 of the convictions overturned. The other two witches died in prison before Beelzebub could help them.

Nowadays we see a large variety of witches. For instance, they manifest as illegal immigrants, raping and murdering our citizens. They’re misogynists, accused of sexual harassment without due process. And they’re members of the media, who act as enemies of the people.

Our failure to contain the devil, back in 1692, has haunted us into the 21st century. Today there are witches everywhere we turn. Who knows which of us is a witch? Maybe your neighbor. Or maybe your husband or wife. Or maybe you, yourself. Or perhaps me.

Oh no, not me. I emphatically deny it. I am innocent. I am not a witch.

Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee!

Happy Halloween!

Swallowing Capistrano

Votive offerings before the goddess Mary, at Serra’s Chapel, Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? President Ulysses S. Grant, of course. Where is Mission San Juan Capistrano located? Why, in San Juan Capistrano, California, of course.

Which is where my wife and I headed a few months ago, on our mission to visit all of California’s historic Catholic missions. This was our eighth, of 21 missions visited. We began this quest back in the 1990’s, so please be patient with our progress.

The gilded altar of Serra’s Chapel.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was established in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. That year he built Serra’s Chapel, a small church that is still in use today, and is the oldest church in California.

Ahem, let me correct that factoid. Father Serra did not build the chapel. The Native Americans he enslaved did the actual labor. He just supervised and made sure they did a good job, while edifying themselves with good old fashioned godly hard work.

Serra’s Chapel is very long and narrow. That’s my wife standing near the back. Ain’t she purty?

And they did do a good job. So good that this autochthonous tribe was conscripted into the construction of a far larger, Great Stone Church. Their backbreaking, salvation-earning moil and toil began in 1797. Nine long years of sweat, struggle, and hernias later, the magnificent cathedral was completed.

A wall of the Great Stone Church.

Finally the exhausted slaves christians could rest. No more hoicking heavy stones. No more long, agonizing hours beneath the burning sun. And no more beatings and whippings for the slow slackers.

This mighty monument to the mercy of the Lord stood 180 feet long and 40 feet wide, and came equipped with a 120 foot bell tower that could be seen for many miles. It was something to be proud of for the Spanish, and even for the natives who built it.

Worship within the walls of this wonder began in 1806. But just six years later, on December 8th, 1812, the San Andreas fault erupted with 7.2 magnitudes of jolting, destructive power. The cathedral’s stone arch roof had been constructed poorly and could not withstand the shaking of a major earthquake. This grand structure that took nine hard years to build, was wiped out in a matter of seconds.

Ruins of the Great Stone Church. The altar seems to have been the only safe spot during the shaking.

If the purpose of this cathedral was to bring Native Americans close to God, it succeeded wildly. When the earth began to move, Mass was being held. Forty native worshipers perished beneath the falling stones of the collapsing roof. And two boys in the toppled bell tower were also killed. I suppose they got as close to God as anyone can possibly get.

Ancient mission bells, with ruins of the Great Stone Church in the background.

The Great Stone Church was never rebuilt, but worship continued in Serra’s Chapel, eventually converting more than 4,000 native souls to christianity.

A campanario (bell wall) was built a year after the 1812 earthquake, that connected the ruins of the Great Stone Church to Serra’s Chapel.

After Mexico’s independence, and the United States’ thievery of California from Mexico, Mission San Juan Capistrano fell into labefaction. Then, in 1910, Father John O’Sullivan took over the mission and began its restoration.

These brick ovens were employed for feeding the multitude of christian slaves immured at the mission.

Father O’Sullivan is credited (or rather, he credits himself) for a singular miracle that has made this site world famous. He claims to have brought the swallows to Mission San Juan Capistrano.

During his tutelage of this mission, people began to notice that thousands of swallows were building their nests on the mission walls. Every Spring, these birds would migrate 6,000 miles, from Goya, Argentina, just to make the mission their home.

And then in 1940, the Ink Spots put San Juan Capistrano on the map with their hit recording of the song, When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.

Why did the swallows start coming to Mission San Juan Capistrano? According to Father O’Sullivan, it all began one day when he was walking about the town outside the mission.

He noticed a shopkeeper flailing about with a broomstick, knocking down mud nests from under the eaves of his shop, while panicked birds zoomed all around him, shrieking madly.

“What in the hell is going on?!” shouted Father O’Sullivan. Well maybe he didn’t quite use those particular words. Here’s the actual dialogue, according to the good Father, from his book Capistrano Nights:

“What in the world are you doing?” O’Sullivan asked.

“Why, these dirty birds are a nuisance and I am getting rid of them!” the shopkeeper responded.

“But where can they go?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” he replied, slashing away with his pole. “But they’ve no business here, destroying my property.”

O’Sullivan then said, “Come on swallows, I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There’s room enough there for all.”

The very next morning, Father O’Sullivan discovered the swallows busy building their nests outside Father Junipero Serra’s Church.

In the early 1920s Father O’Sullivan began a tradition of celebrating the return of the swallows to the mission every March 19th (Saint Joseph’s Day). This tradition now draws thousands of tourists every year to join the celebration.

However in the 1990s the mission underwent remodeling. The nests of these dirty birds got in the way and were a nuisance. So the construction workers knocked them down. And after that the swallows stopped returning to Capistrano.

Many attempts have been made to lure the swallows back, but to little avail.

It seems that even for birds, hypocrisy is a hard thing to swallow.

These artificial nests were placed in this archway to entice the swallows to return. They’ve only been modestly effective. Very few birds have swallowed the bait.

The Way of the Mayans

The High Temple “pyramid” at Lamanai, Belize. Lamanai was once a major city of the Maya civilization, and was occupied for an amazing time span of over 3,500 years, from about 1600 BC to the 20th century AD. This rivals that of the Nile River Valley and northern China. It was immune from the general collapse of Mayan civilization that occurred in the 9th Century AD. And disinterest by Spanish and British colonists spared the Mayans in this city, though their culture had changed significantly from the ways of their ancient ancestors. Today many Belizeans, and in fact many others who live in southern Mexico and Central America, identify themselves as Mayan. In that sense it can be said that the Mayan civilization has never completely died out.

Much is known about the Mayans, and much is not known. What we do know is that the Mayan civilization began more than 4,000 years ago, in areas we now call southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. After 2,000 BC, they became advanced enough to build cities, and small city-states began to dominate the geopolitical landscape.

The view from the top of the High Temple at Lamanai, Belize. Our tour guide told us that Belize is the only country that continues to allow tourists to climb Mayan “pyramids”. Most of the climb is made by ascending wooden stairs behind the temple. Tourists are only allowed to ascend the top flight of the stone steps. These steps are so high and steep, they require you to climb bent over, using both your hands and feet. They force you, I guess, to humble yourself before the Mayan gods. As you can see from the viewshed, the topography is very flat. The New River flows in the background. We reached these ruins by traveling by boat over the New River.

The Mayans were pretty smart. They became the only native Americans to develop a full writing system before the arrival of Columbus. They also got good at math, and were the first in the world to use the number zero. The Mayan calendar was complex and accurate. And their architecture lives on today in famous ruins at archaeological digs such as Chichen Itza, Yaxchilan, Lamanai, and Tulum.

The ancient walled city of Tulum, in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It’s located on the Yucatan peninsula, about 80 miles south of Cancun. Occupied around 1200 AD, this was one of the last cities to be established by the Maya. It was conquered by the Spanish in the late 1500s.

These fuckers built great stone temples that are misleadingly called “pyramids”, and used them to sacrifice human beings. Sacrifices involved decapitation, heart excision, being shot with arrows, and other brutal methods for appeasing the gods and conveniently ridding rulers of potential rivals.

The temple of El Castillo, “The Castle”, Tulum, Mexico. Many a rival ruler, and a few supposed virgins, were sacrificed on this spot.

The Mayans attained the height of their glory in the 9th Century AD. And that’s when everything somehow fell all to hell. A widespread political collapse occurred at this time, with internecine warfare, and refugees spilling out of cities. Nobody knows exactly why this happened but there are many theories.

The Great Palace, Tulum, Mexico. Here is where the royal family lived. Sort of an ancient Buckingham Palace.

One theory is ecocide. At that time, the population was up to ten times the current modern-day population, in areas where the soil was poor and very difficult to cultivate. Mayan agricultural science was highly advanced. To this day, nobody knows how the Mayans figured out how to support such a large populace with such infertile soil. But somehow they managed. At least for a while.

The ecocide school of thought holds that in spite of their agricultural genius, they overused their natural resources, and mother nature finally gave out under the strain. This led to widespread famine and political destabilization.

Temple of the God of the Wind, Tulum, Mexico. This temple is situated near a high cliff that overlooks the Caribbean Sea. Tulum was a major trading hub, and archeologists speculate that a signal light was burned atop the cliff to mark the location of a break in the coral reef offshore. This guided trading canoes safely to shore.

Other theories include extended droughts, epidemic diseases, and foreign invasion. But none of these theories have been proven, and the rapid decline of Mayan civilization in the 9th century AD remains one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries.

Danze de los Voladores, or Dance of the Flyers. I just call it the Mayan Pole Dance. This is an ancient Mesoamerican ceremony for the purpose of ending droughts. In this version of the dance, the participants hanging upside down spin around the pole as they gradually descend to earth. Each dancer represents the four directions, and are depicting the recreation of the world, and the regeneration of life. This dance version is so dangerous, it has been banned by many villages in Mexico. Yep, sometimes they fall and die. And then we get no rain.

But the Mayan civilization rebounded, in a sense. Archaeological evidence indicates that after the 9th century AD, many Mayans emigrated from the lowlands of Central America to areas of southern Mexico. They expanded and built more city-states, such as Chichen Itza and Tulum. But although their great civilization perdured, they never returned to their prior peak of glory.

The Cenote House, Tulum, Mexico. Below this structure lies a cenote. A cenote is an underground river. Most of the rivers in this part of Mexico flow underground, and can only be accessed through caves and sinkholes. The Mayan inhabitants of Tulum entered this cave, then descended a long rope ladder to the river below, to obtain their water. Something to remember the next time you open your tap, if you want to appreciate modern plumbing.

The arrival of the Spanish did them in for good. Their city-states were conquered one-by-one, mainly through the weapon of smallpox. The last Mayan city-state taken by force by the conquistadors was Nojpeten, in present-day Flores, Guatemala, in the year 1697. This occurred 800 years after the initial collapse that began the Mayan decline. This “officially” ended Mayan civilization, though some argue that it continues in a different form, to this day.

Temple of the Frescoes, Tulum, Mexico. This served as a solar observatory for Mayan priests. They tracked the movement of the sun, and used this information to determine the start of seasons for growing crops. A stuccoed figure of the Mayan “Diving God” can be found on this structure. And inside is a mural, though visitors are no longer allowed in to view this work of art.

A new theory is starting to emerge concerning that initial collapse. Archaeologist Rob Muller discovered thousands of small rocks containing Mayan hieroglyphics, which he calls “bleats”. These bleats apparently contain short messages inscribed by a Mayan king named Trumpamuckus, who appears to have tossed them out to the populace at random.

Muller continues to study the writing on the bleats, and has yet to issue a final report of his conclusions. But for now he claims that King Trumpamuckus rose to power around the year 816 AD. He also says that this king was highly controversial, and was accused by other Mayan leaders as having attained power with the help of the rival Aztec civilization, to the north.

The Jaguar Temple, Lamanai, Belize. Jaguars were revered by the Maya, and symbolized power and authority. Mayan rulers were often depicted wearing jaguar style attire. They also limited their travel exclusively to the use of a sports car purchased from a certain British auto manufacturer.

According to Muller, Trumpamuckus often denied some sort of alliance with the Aztecs, in his bleats. He also often proclaimed himself as the greatest king to have ever ruled anywhere on earth. And there were many stony missives that belittled warnings from Mayan scientists about impending ecological disaster.

Muller is trying to make sense of it all. It will be interesting to read his final report, and many are waiting with bated breath for the results. Perhaps it will contain lessons we can all learn.

And that would be good. So that we don’t go the way of the Mayans.

Temple of the Mask, Lamanai, Belize. Could this be a depiction of the greatest king to have ever ruled on earth? If so, it appears he is leering at a sexy Mayan celebrity lady. Because when you are that powerful, you can do anything you want.