The Song Stuck in my Head: Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

Gordon_LightfootI was born in the early 1980s when the popularity of Canadian born folk-rock/folk-pop singer Gordon Lightfoot was still high. He had many hits in the US (and his native Canada) throughout the 60s and continued to gain recognition as an amazing performer and songwriter. Icons like Bob Dylan, who called Lightfoot ‘one of his favorite songwriters’, and country music legend Marty Robbins covered his songs early in his career. Over the years his songs have been covered by everyone from Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, Hank Williams Jr., Barbara Streisand, and many many more. It was his 1974 hit “Sundown” and his 1976 hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” which would skyrocket Lightfoot to the tops of the Billboard Top 40 with “Sundown” peaking in at #1 on June 29, 1974. It was his hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald“, which peaked in at #2 (and #1 in Canada) on November 20, 1976, that drew the most attention from me.

I’m sure that I heard the song on some adult contemporary rock station back in the 80s while hanging outside in my dad’s building. But it was not until I was in my teens that I truly came to understand that the lyrics of this chart-topping song that meant way more thanWreckEdmundFitzgerald their face value. I knew that it told a story. I just didn’t realize that it was a true story. When we first got the internet at my parent’s house, I happened upon the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald and realized that the song was inspired by the actual sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Gordon Lightfoot, much like the rest of North America, was devastated after learning of the sinking of the bulk carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975, and drew much of the inspiration for the lyrics from the November 1975 Newsweek article “The Cruelest Month”. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald, was named after the chairman of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and civic leader Edmund Fitzgerald who was the head of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee which had started investing in the iron and minerals industries (including the actual construction of the Edmund Fitzgerald), was first launched on June 7th, 1958. At that time, the Great Lakes freighter was the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes. The Edmund Fitzgerald carried taconite iron ore from the mines near Duluth, Minnesota to many ports along the Great Lakes. The freighter (who set records with the number of hauls done in a season) was known by spectators at the docks; because Captain Peter Pulcer was known for piping music day and night over the ship’s intercom while passing through the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers (located between Lakes Superior and Lake Huron) and would entertain the boat watchers with a bullhorn at the Soo Locks (also located between Lake Superior and Lake Huron) by his running commentary about the ship’s details.


On the afternoon of November 9th, 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald was carrying a full capacity cargo of ore pellets en route from Superior, Wisconsin (which is near Duluth) to a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan with Captain Ernest M. McSorley in command of the freighter. After being joined by a second freighter (the SS Arthur M. Anderson), by the next day, the two freighters were caught in a severe storm which recorded hurricane-force winds and waves that were up to 35 feet high. A little after 7:10 PM on November 10th, 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald had sunk about 17 miles from Whitefish Bay in the Canadian waters near the twin cities of Sault Sainte Marie (Michigan in the US and Ontario in Canada). Sadly the entire crew of 29 men perished that day. No bodies were recovered and no one knows exactly what caused the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The disaster is one of the best-known in the history of all shipping throughout the Great Lakes and the sinking led to changes in shipping regulations and practices throughout the Great Lakes area.



Cover Image – Edmund Fitzgerald, 1971 by Greenmars, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald album cover attributed to unknown, Fair use,

Gordon Lightfoot performing in Toronto, 2008, playing his twelve-string guitar by Piedmontstyle at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0,

SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway by Unknown – United States Army Corps of Engineers, Public Domain,

Map showing the location of the wreck, with the red pointer by Oaktree b – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Thank you Bob Kaufman: for making me fall in love

I wrote a poem for my wife about the first time I saw her in person. What was our first date. I wanted to share it on her birthday to show my love for my amazing wife and mother of my children. She deserves a medal for putting up with me and Daniel for sure.


Thank you Bob Kaufman: for making me fall in love

I remember that night.

I called you gorgeous….
damn well meant it too. We had traveled hours to see
one another, and you were in a parking lot…waiting.

We sat in a mediocre chain Italian restaurant.
Your beauty glowed brightly from the dull
incandescent shine that hung over our heads.

We met in an alien town,
so we scurried around to find

We scavenged a bookstore
and I found a poetry anthology. I read
a poem for you and Bob Kaufman
showcased our night.
“We sat at a corner table,
Devouring each other word by word,
Until nothing was left, repulsive skeletons.”

But most of all, I remember the first time I saw you…
waiting behind the wheel of thousands of pounds of steel
and all I could think about was how beautiful you were…touching
up your lipstick.

© Chris Brown

What’s better than bacon? I think the answer is more bacon.

Food Network’s recipe section has over 6,600 recipes utilizing bacon as a key ingredient. Recipes ranging from fancy Bacon-wrapped dates to the soul-warming bacon-tomato linguine to the extra fattening brown sugar candied bacon. I mean they have vegan bacon and vegetarian bacon. Bacon Bits for your salad. Heck, even comedian Jim Gaffigan did a 15 minutes straight comedy bit on how great bacon is. And it would just appear that we love bacon.


According to Google, “Bacon” is searched for more than 6 million times every single month; and more than 200,000 people go online looking for “bacon recipes”. That’s not quite as many times that we Google “funny cats” (which is searched more than 360,000 times monthly) but it is an incredibly large amount. Speaking of incredibly large amounts. There is an average of 908 million pounds of bacon sold in the US per year and taking that average into account, the average American eats nearly 18 pounds of the delicious cured, smoked pork. Despite all this love, we know that bacon is bad for us. But knowing that it is so bad for us, why do we keep frying up bacon for breakfast?

Imagine that last time you woke up to find your spouse, parent or roommate cooking bacon. The mere smell can cause you to zombie walk your way through the corridors and hallways into the kitchen to hopefully nab a piece of bacon before the preparation of breakfast is even completed. The addition of bacon can send something as boring Brussel sprouts or as plain as a salad into the realm of deliciousness. So what makes bacon taste so dang good? The basis for bacon’s delicious flavor begins with the meat. That cured, 479px-Bacon_in_a_pan_(cooked)smoked, and thinly sliced pork belly that evokes a specific taste. Guy Crosby (a food scientist and science editor for America’s Test Kitchen) says that ‘some of the major flavor players are the result of the pork belly’s fat breaking down’. In flavor chemistry, a single molecule envokes a specific taste. For example, you can find the organic compound isoamyl acetate in the banana and therefore is the reason why that specific taste is triggered. But bacon is much more complex than a banana. There is a mixture of compounds that create the bacon flavor that we all love.

As I stated earlier, it all boils down to the pork belly itself which is cured, smoked, and thinly sliced. The breaking down of the fat is one of the major building blocks of the flavor maker. The cell membranes of the belly muscle tissue contain certain fatty acids that break down during the cooking process to break forth a bounty of flavorful compounds. The cooking brings out aldehydes, furans, and ketones — by themselves have 640px-Sus_scrofa_scrofadistinct tastes or smells (ie the aldehydes have a grassy flavor) but when they are together…something beautiful is released. The smoking wood releases acrid-smelling phenols, as well as a sweeter-smelling compound called maple lactone. That is what creates the ‘smoke’ that we taste in foods. When bacon is cured, they take on yet another flavor compound. The fat itself is a result of the food that the pigs eat, and research has shown that by changing the food (reducing the fats that the pigs ingest) literally causes a different chemical reaction in the process of cooking and causes the meat to form differently.


And who doesn’t love bacon fat? We have to love fat period! Scientists have confirmed that fat is the sixth basic taste (called oleogustus: oleo being a Latin root word for fatty while gustus refers to taste). According to a Purdue University study, “most of the fat we eat is in the form of triglycerides, which are molecules comprised of three fatty acids.” Richard D. Mattes, professor of nutrition science at Purdue University says that the “triglycerides impart appealing textures to foods like creaminess. However, triglycerides are not a taste stimulus. Fatty acids that are cleaved off the triglyceride in the food or during chewing in the mouth stimulate the sensation of fat.” Understanding this aspect of taste and how our tastebuds react to sweet, salty, umami, bitter, sour and now fat; we can get a clue as to why bacon is the thing that we add to stuff to make it taste better. Despite all the research, bacon is just delicious; but its nice to know that we have the science to prove that its worthy of its popularity. 🙂 


Fried Bacon by Renee Comet (Photographer) – This image was released by the National Cancer Institute, an agency part of the National Institutes of Health, with the ID 2686 (image) (next)., Public Domain,

Bacon in a pan by Joy – Making a BLT sandwich with avocado and basil mayonnaise, CC BY 2.0,

Domesticated Pig by Joshua Lutz – Own work, Public Domain,

Bacon by J.Dncsn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Proverbs: The Jabo of Liberia

Author of the classic novel Don Quixote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes said that Aagostini_donquixote_01“proverbs are short sentences drawn from long and wise experiences”. Like the quote itself, proverbs are short yet memorable. A proverb is a distillation of the essential wisdom of culture and is a common trend throughout the world. Though many cultures, religions and sometimes even generations of people have different proverbs; they sometimes share a striking resemblance to one another. Sometimes the subject matter, tone, theme, structure, and even the imagery are extremely similar but seem to be a perfect fit for them. Like Benjamin Franklin did in his Poor Richard’s Almanack, proverbs which were primarily part of the oral tradition are at some point written down into a group of anthologies or incorporated into larger works.


Though Africa has had its share of trials and tribulations; it is a huge continent full of vibrant people with beautiful stories and traditions. The vast history of African literature is made up of traditional oral and written works in Afro-Asiatic and African languages teamed together with post-slavery works by Africans in European languages. The smaller geographic and more diverse stories were found in oral traditions. The history of this way of storytelling and the way of sharing information is a beautiful representation of giving context to the explosive emotional images that the storyteller has and would use. One beautiful way that a storyteller could share insight was through the metaphorical, imagery-filled proverb. At the heart of every great epic story was the unfolding of a myth’s structure that fundamentally holds a metaphor which is riddled with a proverb.

One African proverb was told by the self-designated ethic group located in the southeastern part of the Republic of Liberia in West Africa. The Jabo think of themselves as a ‘confederation of tribes’ and even sometimes refer to themselves as a ‘nation’; though  Liberia does not like that term. Despite rumors of ritual murder, cannibalism, and the taboo practice of virilocal exogamy; the Jabo people have introduced many beautiful stories and many beautiful proverbs. One of their proverbs is among my favorite written aphorisms. The Jabo proverb says, “The butterfly that flies among the thorns will tear its wings.” This like many proverbs offers advice to us all to watch the places that we tread; because it can tear our ability to leave from that place. The metaphorical applications of this aphorism are endless and I think that it is beautiful.



Don Quixote #1 by Angelo Agostini – Imagem extraída do site, Public Domain,

Butterfly 58 by LaggedOnUser – Butterfly 58Uploaded by Magnus Manske, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Rubber Tree Plantation in Liberia by Erik Cleves Kristensen –, CC BY 2.0,



A Lost Language: Argh! Pirates


We rewatch the Pirates of the Caribbean movies a lot at my house. And since I am one of those annoying people who walk around using pirate lingo for days after watching one of the PotC films. I also have a sometimes unhealthy lust for the knowledge and the history behind words and phrases, so after I researched wild west language for a previous blog I knew that I had to find out about some of my favorite pirate lingoes.


Pirates tormented the seven seas, journeyed across the five oceans and ravaged the coastal towns where they dropped their anchor as early as 258 AD; it wasn’t until the 1660s to the 1730s that the Jolly Roger flying pirates that we recognize from TV and films 640px-Flag_of_Edward_England.svgwere prevalent. But the actual classic era of piracy in the Caribbean (hence the name Pirates of the Caribbean) lasted from the mid-1650s to the mid-1720s looked very different from the dramatized version that we have seen in movies and on TV. The French, English, and United Provinces (a predecessor to the Netherlands and first Dutch nation state) had begun making their impact in the world market. They were developing their colonial empires which involved a lot of seaborne trade and business was booming. By the mid-1600s, the French were established on the Jamaican island of Hispaniola, the English had captured Jamaica from Spain while the English pirates were looking well beyond the Caribbean for treasure. This spreading out of pirates brought a fusing of languages and influence of words and phrases brought a multifariousness to the ‘pirate language’. But an actual pirate wouldn’t necessarily accentuate every sentence with an ‘argh’.

599px-Blackbeard_the_Pirate_(1952)_1I am pretty sure that we all have done it. We’ve all been watching a pirate movie or as a child pretended to be an old salty sea dog (which is a veteran sailor or old pirate) with an eye patch waving around a pretend saber. The ‘pirate accent’ as we know it today was actually an invention of Robert Newton when he famously portrayed feverish-eyed pirate Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Newton reportedly, in hopes to add a little more flair to his character, spoke with a ‘west country’ accent and REALLY overdid it. Years later he used the same created accent when he was cast in the movie Blackbeard the Pirate. Because of this, the ‘pirate accent’ that we know of today was born.

That pirate accent from that moment on was prevalent in many movies and in a TV showPopeye_and_Betty that was and still is one of my favorites. If you watched as many Popeye the Sailor episodes as I did growing up, then you have probably heard him exclaim ‘well blow me down’ a couple of 100 times. The phrase ‘blow the man down’ or ‘well blow me down’ could and is said to have originated from a variety of possible choices. The most likely origin is that of an 1860s sea shanty entitled “Blow the Man Down”. This song is even literally linked to Popeye because the song was used in the 1930s animated Popeye cartoons done by Fleischer Studios as the background music for the sometimes villainous character Bluto. The ships lyrics ‘blow the man down’ may refer to the act of knocking a man to the ground, but is more than likely linked to the extremely common occurrence of a strong wind catching the topsails of an unbalanced boat and causing it to partially capsize. The capitalized ‘man’ in the song is of course in reference to the Man O’ War British Royal Navy warship that was armed with cannons and was propelled primarily by sails instead of the ships normally propelled by oars.

Another exclamation that you would expect a shocked or surprised to say is “well shiver me timbers”. Right? Well, this term may just be based on a real nautical slang that references a time when a ship after being lifted up from a high wave and thusly pounding back down on the ocean again will cause the timbers (the wooden support Skelton_Knaggs_in_Blackbeard_the_Pirateframes of a large sailing ship) to shake. This shaking and the subsequent slamming into the water would startle the sailors. The phrase is actually a minced oath which is a euphemistic expression that replaced certain profane words to reduce the original phrase’s objectional characteristics (I’ll let you figure out what it translates back to.) The term would have potentially been used by actual pirates but the phrase was popularized by authors who used it as a literary device. The expression first appeared in Fredrick Marryat’s work Jacob Faithful in 1835 where an old sailor says, “Peace? Shiver my timbers! what a noise ye make –ye seem to be fonder of peace than ye be of quiet.” What brought real popularity to the phrase was when it was used by the archetypal pirate Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 classic novel Treasure Island. The book when it was made into a movie in 1950 (as you remember I told you earlier) used the phrase and Robert Newton’s over-the-top portrayal brought the accent and argh or exaggerated rolled ‘r’ sound.

Johnny Depp may not have based his character Captain Jack Sparrow on the quintessential pirate stereotype, but he does make sure that you understand what he is talking about. Which is why he usually ends his statements with the word: 669px-Dale_Clark_poses_as_Johnny_Depp,_in_Pirates_of_the_Caribbean,_24391savvy. What does this word in the form of a question actually mean? The word savvy means that you have practical knowledge of what is being talked about and you can use common sense and good judgment about the subject at hand. The Pirates picked up this word in the late 18th century from the Spanish pirates. The word would have been used in pidgin English. Pidgin languages are grammatically simplified communication that can develop between two or more groups that do not share a common language. The vocabulary of that language is limited and therefore draws words from several languages. The word savvy originated there and is an English imitation of the Spanish phrase sabe usted which is translated as ‘you know‘. So I’m sure that the word was commonly used when communicating with one another to quite literally make sure that they savvied what the other had just said.

I heard my favorite pirate phrase coincidentally in the lyrics (and title) of the Led Zeppelin song “No Quarter”. The term ‘no quarter’ is a wartime phrase that meant that the victor took no prisoners. They quite literally would not allow you to stay in their quarters (which is a term for housing). You may hear or even use your favorite phrase while you’re pretending to be a young lass yelling ‘land ho’ from the pretend crow’s nest of a Galley ship. Maybe you are yelling out ‘fire in the hole’ while playing golf. Whatever you do, remember the buccaneer pirates who we can thank for a lot of the terms and phrases that we use nonchalantly nowadays.

I have included a list of terms and phrases (courtesy of to help inform you further.

  1. Abaft, or aft = toward the back of the boat
  2. Ahoy = Hello
  3. All hands hoay = Everyone on the deck
  4. Avast ye! = Stop you!; pay attention!
  5. Batten down the hatches = A signal to prepare the ship for an upcoming storm
  6. Binnacle = Where the compass is kept on board the ship
  7. Black jack = A pirate flag; a large tankard
  8. Black spot = A death threat (found in Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson)
  9. Blimey! = Something said when one is in a state of surprise
  10. Blow the man down = It possibly means getting knocked to the ground or killed (found in a 19th-century sea shanty)
  11. Booty = Treasure or loot
  12. Buccaneer = Name for a pirate mainly found in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries
  13. Cackle fruit = Hen’s eggs
  14. Coaming = A surface that prevented water on the deck from dripping to lower levels of the ship
  15. Cockswain, or coxswain = The helmsman
  16. Crow’s nest = The place on the ship where the lookout stand is built
  17. Cutlass = Type of sword used by the pirates
  18. Dance the hempen jig = To be hanged
  19. Davy Jones’ Locker = Mythological place at the bottom of the sea where drowned sailors were said to go
  20. Dead men tell no tales = The reason given for leaving no survivors
  21. Duffle = A sailor’s belongings and the bag they were carried in
  22. Dungbie = Rear end of the ship
  23. Feed the fish = If you lose a sea-fight your body will feed the fish
  24. Flibustier = Name for the American pirates found around the West Indies during the Golden Age of Piracy
  25. Freebooter = A pirate or looter, from the same origin as flibustier, someone who took loot or booty
  26. Give no quarter = Show no mercy; pirates raised a red flag to threaten no quarter
  27. Head = Toilet on board the ship
  28. Heave ho = Instruction to put some strength into whatever one is doing
  29. Hempen halter = The noose used to hang people
  30. Hornswaggle = To cheat, swindle
  31. Jacob’s Ladder = Rope ladder that was used to climb aboard ships
  32. Jolly Roger = The famous pirate flag with a skull and crossbones on it
  33. Landlubber = A person who is uncomfortable, or not incredibly skilled, at sea
  34. Man-O-War = The name used for a pirate ship that is heavily armed and ready for battle
  35. No prey, no pay = A pirate law meaning the crew didn’t get paid but took a share of any loot
  36. Old salt = A sailor that has a great deal of experience on the seas
  37. Orlop = Lowest deck in the ship where cables are stored
  38. Pieces of eight = Spanish coins
  39. Poopdeck = Deck that is the highest and farthest back
  40. Privateer = A sailor sponsored by the government, paid by what he could plunder from an enemy, technically a step up from a pirate
  41. Run a rig = Play a trick
  42. Scuttle = To sink a ship
  43. Scuttlebutt = A cask of drinking water; slang for gossip
  44. Seadog = An old sailor or pirate
  45. Shark bait = If you’re made to walk the plank, chances are you’ll be shark bait. Also, a dying sailor whose body will soon be thrown into the sea
  46. Shiver me timbers! = An expression used to show shock or disbelief
  47. Son of a biscuit eater = An insult
  48. Three sheets to the wind = Someone who is quite drunk
  49. Walk the plank = A punishment, probably more myth than truth, which entails making someone walk off the side of the ship along a plank. The person’s hands were often tied so he couldn’t swim and drowned (and then fed the fish).
  50. Yo ho ho = Possibly from yo-heave-ho, a chant when doing strenuous work, but also can be used to call attention to the speaker.



The Traditional Jolly Roger flag of Piracy by WarX, edited by Manuel Strehl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Dale Clark poses as Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean by Carol M. Highsmith – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID highsm.24391, Public Domain,

Pirates of the Caribbean by Eric Ritchey –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

British sailors boarding an Algerine pirate ship and battling the pirates by John Fairburn (1793–1832) – Royal Museums Greenwich, Public Domain,

Featured Image: Blackbeard the Pirate edited screenshot by film screenshot (RKO) –, Public Domain,

Skelton Knaggs in Blackbeard the Pirate – cropped screenshot by film screenshot (RKO) –, Public Domain,

Dale Clark poses as Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean by Carol M. Highsmith – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID highsm.24391, Public Domain,

Proverbs: The Poor Richard’s Almanack

The book of Proverbs is the second book of the third section of the Hebrew Bible (in a section entitled “Writings”) and a book found within the Holy Bible’s Old Testament. The Proverbs found in the Holy Word are described as a ‘collection of collections’. This collection of Biblical wisdom is not the only written proverb in existence. Proverbs themselves are as old as language itself and exist across all religions and societies. The proverb is simply a short pithy saying or expression that states some manner of truth in a clever way. They are normally expressed in a metaphorical manner and normally use formulaic language. These proverbs normally reflect that culture’s view of the world about a topic and convey a certain feeling about some experience.

557px-Poor_Richard's_Almanac_LCCN2002697625One extremely popular example of the proverb is found in the writing of one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. Benjamin Franklin worked as a printer from his early teen years til his retirement at 42 years old; and one of his greatest contributions to American culture was his Poor Richard’s Almanack. In this annual publication; (which ran from 1732 to 1757) Franklin presented information, observations, and gave advice. The publication was very popular and among the pages were aphorisms that Franklin adapted from traditional or folk sayings (which are traditionally called proverbs).

I was thinking about one these proverbs the other day when I was thinking about an ordeal happening to someone close to me. One of his most famous proverbs, “God helps them that help themselves,” and this reminds us (especially Christians) that if we want something then we need to put forth the work required to achieve those goals. Even though God blesses us in many ways, we can’t just ask God for something as if he were a Heavenly Santa Claus. If you want a raise at your job; then go get extra training or put in extra work. If you want someone to love you; then be someone worth loving who does things deserving of love. If you want to write a blog; then turn on your computer and start typing away.


Cover of the 1733 edition of the Poor Richard’s Almanack by Benjamin Franklin, Public Domain,

Poor Richard’s Almanac page attributed to Benjamin Franklin, PPOC, Library of Congress, Public Domain.

Hair turned White from Fright

319px-Freddy_Kruger_(9404808327)In the classic slasher film A Nightmare on Elm Street (and the 8 other related Nightmare movies) Freddy Kruger visits teenagers in their dreams and when he kills them in their dreams this subsequently kills them in real life. In the original 1984 classic, Freddy visits protagonist Nancy many times; but one specific time (while she was being observed at the Katja Institute for the Study of Sleep Disorders) he attacked her and she barely made it ‘out’ alive. The doctor, nurse and her mother woke her to find visible cuts on her arm; and the incident frightened her so much that part of her hair turned gray in real life. So how can something like that happen? Is this just a piece of movie lore and myth? Funny enough, the sudden whitening of hair was actually first documented centuries ago and has been spoken of many times.

Its not something that happens all the time; but this supposedly happened to high profile historical figures such as Sir Thomas Moore and Queen Marie Antoinette of France. Coincidentally, the alleged condition of hair suddenly turning white from fear or an immense amount of stress is now called Marie Antoinette syndrome based on the story that her hair supposedly turned stark white after she was captured after the ill-fated flight to Varennes during the French Revolution. The psychological stress or fear that supposedly causes these cases have shown up way before Marie Antoinette’s death on October 16, 1793. The first documented case is actually found in the collection of Jewish religious law and theology texts called the Talmud. Written in 83 AD, the Talmud has a Jewish historical record of a scholar that was appointed as chief of the Israeli Talmudic academy at only 17 years old. The young man’s wife thought that he looked too young for the job and strangely enough he woke up the next morning with 18 rows of white hair on his head. The medieval Jewish rabbi Maimonides says that this was from studying too hard and stressing over the job.


Much like Marie Antoinette’s hair turning white the night before her execution; Sir Thomas Moore’s hair allegedly turned white the night before his death after he refused to vow supremacy of Henry VIII over the Pope. These historical stories and the portrayal in horror films creates a mythos of an over-the-top scary event. Here lies the problem. As Dr. David Orentreich, associate director of the Orentreich Medical Group in New York and the assistant clinical professor in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine says, “It’s appealing on a literary or poetic level that a person’s experience could be so severe or terrifying that they age overnight. But you can’t lose pigment in your hair. Once it leaves your scalp, its non-living; its dead.” Despite the reports over the years that people’s hair turns white over night just has no scientific basis.

So how do we explain it? Let’s take for instance the story of Marie Antoinette’s auburn locks turning white the night before she lost her head to the guillotine. While much like a horror movie showing some poor soul’s hair turning white while being scared makes you say ‘oh my that must have been really scary because that character’s hair turned white’; a historical figure’s fate is made to seem even more shocking when we introduce these myths. Let’s propose for a moment that her hair was actually white. We can infer that much like the rebel sepoy (an Indian soldier serving under British or some other European order) of the Bengal army taken prisoner in 1861 that was described in The Family Physician; hair dye could be an easy explanation. Wouldn’t the washing out of temporary hair dye explain most of the cases of ‘sudden white hair’? Prior to 1907 and before the use of PPD (paraphenyldiamine); temporary vegetable and mineral dyes were used. It is extremely likely that when incarcerated and before the sentence of death is carried out, these individuals would not be able to keep up with their beauty routine. Or in the case of the rebel sepoy, the vegetable hair dye that could have been used to keep up his appearance was sweated out during his interrogation in the extreme Indian heat. Or was simply the removal of a wig?


Although there have been medical evidence of people’s ‘hair turning white’; but these can be explained by the overnight loss of hair due to medical problems like alopecia areata or a reactions to a certain autoimmune disease. So despite the gallantry or apparent fear of a spy who was stripped naked and surrounded by armed guards or the shock a Queen has the night before her execution; these historical myths are like the Hollywood stories that they inspired: purely fictitious.


Freddy Kruger by Sue Lukenbaugh from Sacramento, USA – Freddy Kruger, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Featured Image: Marie Antoinette’s execution attributed to unknown, Fair Use –

Hair Dye advertisement by Unknown – Library of Congress, Public Domain,



A Funeral for a Friend

Yesterday makes 5 years since one of my dearest friends chose to end his pain. I choose to share the poem I wrote after his funeral as a form of catharsis. It still hurts me to drive by his old house or want to talk wrestling with you. I miss you brother.


Funeral for a Friend

Light dances its way through the windows.
My eyes make their way from panel to panel,
assessing the stories told in the stained glass.

Depictions of Jesus,
Apostles and Saints.
Across the room I see the panel representing the Mother.
The mother who witnessed an immaculate conception.
The mother who watched her child grow into a man.  And then
that mother watched him die.
My friend was no Jesus, no Apostle, no Saint.
Yet still my heart feels for a mother.
A mother who witnessed a conception.
A mother who watched her child grow into a man. And then
a mother who found his cold body lying on the concrete.

My friend chose to alleviate his pain
but it is we, his circle, who are left broken.
It is we who are left crying as we remember a life.
Now I cry.
I cry because my friend is gone.
I cry because I must sit;
I must endure the piercings of sad words.
I am crucified to this pew
as these words are meant to comfort the pain of my loss.
Words that flow from a man standing behind a white pulpit.
These words that fly from his lips pierce my brain,
sending jolts to my heart and water to my eyes.

© Chris Brown, 2017

Images: Trinity Church Stained Glass Windows in Boston, Massachusetts by and accredited to AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, 4.0,


On One Knee with a Ring


Based on a 2016 American Express report, you can estimate that an average of six million couples got engaged last night on Valentine’s Day. And that’s not even taking into account the large number of couples (like my parents) who decided to get married on this special day of love. This holiday which as I said primarily revolves around love, one rock hard fact is that Valentine’s Day is good for business. Businesses in fact. The Society of American Florists estimated that 198 million roses were produced for the Valentines Day holiday in 2010 alone while consumers will purchase more than $448 million dollars Carmen_Diamond_engagement_ring_platinum_by_1791_Diamondworth of candy during Valentine’s week. That equates to nearly 58 million pounds of chocolate sold (which is working its way to the 90 million pounds of chocolate purchased during Halloween season). It is also reported that jewelry stores sell an estimated $2.5 billion dollars in jewelry within the first 14 days of February. That same American Express report that claimed an average six million couples will get engaged on this one night, also stated that the average cost of an engagement ring was well over $2400. So why all the fuss?

We know that Valentine’s Day is on February 14th in remembrance of St. Valentine’s murder (though it is not known whether it was actually the 14th or the 24th). Why was St Valentine linked to love? Well he was executed because he, a temple priest in Rome, wasSt-Valentine-Kneeling-In-Supplication marrying Christian couples in a time when Christians were being persecuted by the anti-Christian Emperor Claudius. So what are some other common things about Valentine’s Day? We buy flowers because they are beautiful (like our women). We buy diamonds because they are a girl’s best friend and the circular nature of a ring represents the love that those people will forever share (though the tradition of ring giving goes back hundreds of years and has historical and religious influences). And it even makes sense to use that ring to ask your beloved to marry you on Valentine’s Day (in fact Pope Nicholas I attempted to make it legally necessary for men to make a large monetary sacrifice and purchase an expensive, gold engagement before you could ask a woman to marry you); but one thing that I have always wondered is: why do men get down on bended knee to propose?


The intention of betrothal and marriage proposal in the Western hemisphere is interesting and has taken on influences and parts of traditions from many places throughout history while the actual act of proposing on bended knee with a diamond ring is definitely not a modern invention. One possible origin story for kneeling to propose is the tradition of courtly love popular during the Middle Ages. The man would present himself before her and kneel as he spiritually and figuratively offered himself in servitude to her love. In the Middle Ages, to kneel meant a ‘feudal surrender and admiration’. Throughout European history, the act of kneeling meant a promise of servitude which is also why kneeling is largely linked to Christian iconography. Prayer, in the Christian faith, largely involved kneeling; but it wasn’t just in the relationship between God and man that men would kneel to someone. Knights would kneel to their Lords and a surrendering army would be told to kneel before their conqueror.


So essentially when a man drops down to his knee, kneels before you and pulls out an expensive engagement ring; know that it means a surrender of themselves to you and a true show of admiration to the woman he loves. Or it may be because he just thinks that that is what he has to do because its the tradition. Honestly, what’s wrong with a little tradition every now and then?


Engaged couple by Paul García Fotografía paulgarciafotografia – at the Wayback Machine (archived on 25 April 2017) Gallery at the Wayback Machine (archived on 29 April 2017), CC0,

St Valentine Kneeling in Supplication by David Teniers III –, Public Domain,

Carmen Diamond Engagement Ring by 1791Rings – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Buy Bonds the GI Way proposal advertisement by Al Capp – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain,

Regency period Proposal, Public Domain,

Featured Image – 1885 Proposal Caricatureby H. Schlittzen – Own work, Public Domain,


The Forbidden Fruit?

532px-Honeycrisp-AppleWhile grocery shopping the other night I had a thought as I filled up a green produce bag with Honey-crisp apples. Well two thoughts actually. One being how much plastic we overuse in this country, while the other was wondering how one of the most delicious things on the planet could have been the fruit used to cause the downfall of man. Just thinking about the juicy flesh that blends with the wax encrusted exterior, and delicious juices with every bite. That perfect blend of tart and sweetness is one of the most delicious things in the world. That is of course my opinion because apples are my favorite fruit and apple juice is one of my favorite things to drink. So knowing this, you can can imagine that I have always thought that the apple got a bad rap in regards to the story of Adam, Eve, and their expulsion from Paradise. As the story goes, in chapter two from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible (story is also told in Judaism, Gnostic, Islam in the Qur’an, in the Baha’i Faith, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost). According to the story of creation, Adam and Eve were the first man and first woman created by God in his image. Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden and is told that he can eat whatever he likes; except for one tree. Genesis 3 says:

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.


After this the Lord God comes back to the garden and Adam and his wife hide themselves from God because realize that they are naked. God realizes that they ate of the tree and God tells them their punishment. They are kicked out of the Garden of Eden and their lives (and subsequently our lives) were harder. I’m not going to get into what ‘knowledge’ they learned from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because sometimes the Bible takes some research and explanation. Since the tree itself is only described as being a fruit-bearing tree that was good for food and pleasant to the eyes; how did so many people link this unknown forbidden fruit to that of a red apple?

The Adam and Eve story may take place in the Garden of Eden but there is no disclosure of a location of this garden; so that gives us no exact clue as to what trees would grow there. There is a theory that the Garden of Eden was located somewhere in the Middle East and therefore the theorists infer that the forbidden fruit was actually a pomegranate. There are many reasons why many theorists lean towards the pomegranate being the fruit; one of which is that the pomegranate is actually mentioned or alluded to multiple times in the Bible. There is even a deep tradition to eat 603px-Punica_granatum_1pomegranates on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) because the numerous seeds of the pomegranate symbolize fruitfulness. While it is also said that the pomegranate has 613 seeds which corresponds to the 613 commandments of the Torah (the five books of the Hebrew Bible also known as the Pentateuch). The pomegranate has also been linked to other belief systems. In Ancient Greek mythology, people believed that the pomegranate sprung from the spilled blood of Adonis and was even known as the “fruit of the dead”. The pomegranate is also tied to the myth of Persephone (daughter of Zeus and Demeter). Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and while in the underworld she refused to eat. Zeus had to work out a deal with Hades because while in the underworld she ate a few pomegranate seeds which required her to live with her husband Hades in the underworld three months out of the year. During that time, her mother (who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth) mourns her and thusly no longer blesses the Earth causing it to not be fertile during that time.

While discussing grains, according to Jewish nutritional recommendations; “a child ‘does not know how to call out ‘mother’ or ‘father’ until he tastes grain” (according to the 40th verse of the Berakhot – the first tractate aka laws relating to plants and farming). This implied that the time a child was old enough to eat cereal and other grains coincided with his/her language development. Rabbi Yehuda proposes that because of this, that the forbidden fruit was actually wheat. In Hebrew, wheat is called ‘khitah’, which is widely considered wordplay for the Hebrew word ‘khet’, meaning ‘sin’. So keeping with the ‘sin’ theme; what other sin could have happened at that same time? Some have alluded to the 318px-Wine_grapes03fruit being a grape; specifically inferring that they had made their own wine. The story alludes to them taking a bite from a fruit (though you don’t really take bites of a single grape); not taking many pieces of the fruit, pressing them to release the juices, and then letting the juices ferment to create wine. Besides all of that, grapes are grown on a vine…not a ‘tree’. I think that the reason why so many want to link grapes to the forbidden fruit is their yearning to link the original sin to the sin of drunkenness.

Do I think that Adam and Eve got drunk and therefore found some great revelation? No. Is the explanation for wheat a bit far fetched? Completely. Is the link of the forbidden fruit to the pomegranate just an amalgamation of many stories from different cultures throughout the years?  Maybe so; but all that Genesis 2:16-17 indicates is that Adam and Eve could freely eat of every tree in the garden except from the tree of the knowledge of 383px-Adam_and_Eve_with_apple_and_serpent_MET_DP820307good and evil. So since there obviously being multiple types of fruit and edibles in the garden; so how do we know what this specific ‘fruit’ was? We don’t know exactly but the chance of it actually being an apple is extremely slim. The fruit began its depiction as an apple in Western Europe based on central Asian art. The use of the apple may have been the artists who depicted Adam and Eve’s eating of the apple with their own artistic license; or maybe it was a confusion of the two Latin words mālum (a Latin noun meaning apple borrowed from Greek) and another Latin noun, malum (meaning evil).  There was even a Latin pun (“by eating the mālum, Even contracted malum) that could have led to much of that confusion. The larynx in the human throat is more visible in males and is even called an Adam’s apple; which is said to be a reference to the forbidden fruit getting stuck in the throat as he swallowed it.

So we know it is probably not an apple. Apples are only mentioned in the Bible itself six times and apples are not common in that part of the world for quite some time. Many theologians (specifically Islamic and Hindu spiritual teachers) have inferred that the ‘fruit’ was not actually something to eat. Many infer that the eating of the fruit was a metaphor for an act that took place. Many have speculated that the act was sexually related. Whether the fruit was the ‘womb’ and that the sexual act itself was the tree of knowledge was the sexual awakening of Adam and Eve. When they realized they were naked after their sexual act they covered themselves with a girdle of fig leaves; but I think that that is where we find our biggest clue. It is intriguing to think about the original sin being sex but if we follow that belief then we must throw out that the Garden of Eden was a real place to begin with. Therefore the whole story is just a metaphor. I do not follow that logic. If we have to think that it was a specific fruit (I along with countless theologians, Christian researchers, Jewish Rabbi Nechemia, etc); then I will infer that the forbidden fruit was actually a fig. Specifically on the fact that it says that after eating the fruit that “the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles.”


I guess that after saying all of that I have to say this. I don’t think it matters what the forbidden fruit looked like. Its probably best that we don’t know what the forbidden fruit actually was because it might be something that we eat every day or it might be something that God allowed to become extinct after the events of the Garden of Eden. Whatever the fruit was or whatever happened, that act of disobedience of God’s instructions was a sin that God tried to keep them from committing. So use the story of Adam and Eve to remember a couple of things:

God intimately formed us for a greater purpose – Remembering that God breathed the breath of life into us; not to just live and die but to live and live for him! God also instructed man to be caretakers of the world he created (and I think that that is something in which we need to do a better job).

We have free will – Adam and Eve proved that God allows us to make mistakes. God did not create slaves or robots to blindly follow the commands that he has laid out. God tells us what is good and bad. He warns us not to do something — but allows us to make our own choices.

God created Eve out of Adam’s rib to be more than a ‘helper’ – Many in the Christian church tend to infer that it was Eve’s fault that they ate the fruit (Adam was actually in my opinion more to blame because he as the ‘head of the family’ should have made a stand against the devil because he knew that the eating of the forbidden fruit was a direct rebellion against the will of God) or that Eve was created to be the ‘helper’ of man. I think that Welsh born author and nonconformist minister said it best when he said “(t)hat the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

God has not forsaken you – Adam and Eve completely disobeyed God. They committed sin and openly rebelled against something God instructed them to do. God could have killed Adam and Eve on the spot but God even killed an animal and made them clothes to wear to hide their nakedness. Like Adam, it seems that our sins and short comings are what receive the most emphasis in the world; but if we turn to God and ask forgiveness, then he will forgive us. I think that Adam and Eve did seek forgiveness (after the birth of their third son, Seth, the people in the land began to worship the Lord again (Genesis 4:26)) and if God can forgive them, then I definitely think that he can forgive you and I for any of our transgressions.


Honeycrisp apple from an organic food farm co-op by Evan-Amos – Own work, CC0,

Depiction of the Original Sin by Peter Paul Rubens – : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain,

Punica granatum BY-SA 2.1 es,

Wine Grapes by Fir0002 – Own work, GFDL 1.2,

Adam and Eve by Marcantonio Raimondi – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0,

Ficus carica at the Picasso-Museum by Hedwig Storch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,