𝘕𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳 11, 2021

The trending news over the last week has concerned a pill developed by Pfizer that is reported to slash the risk of being hospitalized or dying from covid-19.  To be effective, the pill needs to be taken within three days of developing symptoms, according to results released Friday by the pharmaceutical company.  In a study of more than 1,200 COVID-19 patients with a higher risk of developing serious illness, people who took the Pfizer pill were far less likely to end up in the hospital compared to people who got a placebo pill and none of the people who received the real pill died.  Ten of the people who got a placebo pill died.  Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in prepared remarks that the data suggest that if authorized the pill-based treatment could “eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalizations.”  Infectious disease specialists stressed the pill was not a replacement for the vaccine

When I looked online, I found Pfizer is the leader when it comes to coronavirus vaccine prevention.  The company recently said it holds 74% of the US vaccine market and 80% of the European market.  With the pill, now Pfizer may be about to claim leadership in coronavirus treatment.  Pfizer reported quarter after quarter of billion-dollar vaccine sales ever since the product launched last December, and recently, lifted its annual revenue forecast for the vaccine to $36 billion, up from $33 billion.  Pfizer shares vaccine profit with partner BioNTech, but that still leaves the company with significant revenue.  According to advance purchase agreements signed so far, Pfizer expects to generate $29 billion in revenue from the vaccine next year.  Those are profits before the pill.

Paxlovid is Pfizer’s investigational coronavirus pill that has been found to cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in the clinical trial.  Paxlovid acts by interfering with viral replication early in infection and that is why it should be prescribed for patients as soon as they are diagnosed with covid.  The pill can then be taken as a treatment at home.  Pfizer is not alone in development of a covid pill.  Merck presented positive data from a study of its investigational coronavirus pill last month and the FDA plans to hold an advisory committee meeting on November 30 to discuss Merck’s submission.  Merck’s investigational pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 50%.   While that is not as effective, it is still better than the odds without the pill.  Paxlovid is estimated to generate over $10 billion annually.

𝗧𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵𝘁𝘀:  I found it interesting the information on both Pfizer and Merck where not on a government, news, or health advisory site, but instead were provided as some of the hottest stock picks for the coming year.  At least 223,944,369 people (68% of US) have received at least one dose of vaccine and 194,001,108 people (59% of US) have been fully vaccinated.  Those figures are for the US, and do not include figures worldwide.  All these vaccinations have been delivered as no cost, but that does not mean they were free.  Each shot costs around $40, not including any cost to deliver the shot.  This is paid for through a combination of government and private insurance plans.  Big Pharma is making huge profits during the pandemic and will do so for years to come.  Even now they are fighting with the government over patent rights the government helped them obtain.  Amid a global pandemic, it seems a tough pill to swallow.  Do the work.  Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.


𝘕𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳 10, 2021

I got news about a big win for endangered birds from the Cornell Lab site this week.  In May 2021 it was discovered that a small barrier island known as Deveaux Bank near Charleston, South Carolina, was a stopover site along the bird’s arduous journey.  Whimbrels congregate on the island for a month or more in spring, pausing in their migration to feed on fiddler crabs in the rich tidal marshes.  Whimbrels are considered by some birders to be the big game of shorebirds.  They are large, powerful, wary, and usually in small and scattered numbers.  Like all the world’s nine remaining species of curlews (a large wading bird of the sandpiper family, with a long down-curved bill and brown streaked plumage), they are in serious decline.  Some 20,000 Whimbrels gather each night on Deveaux Bank during this migratory stopover.  This is the largest such gathering known anywhere on the planet.

When I looked online, I found the Hudsonian whimbrel (Numenius hudsonicus) is a wader in the large family Scolopacidae.  It is one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across much of subarctic North America.  This species and the Eurasian whimbrel have recently been split, although some taxonomic authorities still consider them to be conspecific.  The whimbrel is a migratory bird, wintering on coasts in southern North America and South America.  It is also a coastal bird during migration, as the stopover on Deveaux illustrates.  It is sociable outside the breeding season.  In the mangroves of Colombia, whimbrel roost sites are near feeding territories and away from potential sources of mainland predators.  Sadly, they are not far enough away to escape human disturbance.

There are two main populations of Whimbrels in North America.  The western group breeds from the Northwest Territories along the Mackenzie River delta into western Alaska (Numenius hudsonicus rufiventris), while the eastern group nests south and west of Hudson Bay (Numenius hudsonicus hudsonicus).  Some experts consider these two groups to be separate species.  It is thought the bulk of the Whimbrels passing through Deveaux are the Hudsonian birds.  In autumn, the whimbrels head south through the Great Lakes to the coast of South Carolina or Georgia, staging together in much smaller numbers than in spring, and then follow the arc of the Bahamas and Antilles to the northeastern coast of South America.  That means they fly through the region known as Hurricane Alley, and many of the birds are forced to rest and recover on the islands of the Lesser Antilles.  In French-controlled oversea isles such as Guadeloupe and Martinique, the largely uncontrolled shooting of shorebirds remains legal.  Guadeloupe is advertised internationally for its shorebird “destination hunts.”

𝗧𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵𝘁𝘀:  While the discovery at Deveaux is a marvel, the Whimbrel as a species has declined by more than half since 1994, and this trend shows no signs of reversing.  Like so many threatened species, the whimbrel’s decline is a direct response to human destruction of habitat and predation.  The fact that so many birds gather on this one small island highlights a previously underappreciated aspect of Whimbrel biology that could reveal a key to a conservation strategy to save them.  We need to provide the birds a safe place to spend the night.  Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.


November 09, 2021

When I was driving to work this morning I passed the human-made water fall along the road near my house with the wandering deer statures I have mentioned.  With the recent rain the water was flowing and even standing in the ditch below the fall.  What initially caught my eye was an odd looking black and white duck standing beside the road.  I had first seen this species last April with what appeared to be a breeding pair.  Now there was a flock of seven of the birds in the same area where I had seen the pair.  I wondered if these may have been the original pair and their surviving offspring.  I still find it an odd-looking duck.

The Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) is a large duck native to the Americas.  Small wild and feral breeding populations have established themselves in the US as well as in many other parts of North America.  Feral Muscovy ducks are found in New Zealand, Australia, and in parts of Europe.  The Muscovy is a large duck, with the males about 76 cm (30 in) long and weighing up to 7 kg (15 lbs).  The females are smaller, and only grow to 3 kg (6.6 lbs), or half of the size of the male.  The bird is mostly black and white, and the amount of white on the neck and head is variable.  The bill can vary from yellow, pink, black, or any mixture of these colors.  The ducks may have white patches or bars on the wings, which become more noticeable during flight.  Both sexes have pink or red wattles around the bill, although those of the male a larger and more brightly colored.  The Muscovy is the only domestic duck not descended from the wild Mallard ((Anas platyrhynchos).

Although the Muscovy duck is a tropical bird, it adapts well to cooler climates, thriving in weather as cold as −12C (10F) and able to survive even colder conditions.  The domestic subspecies (Cairina moschata domestica) is commonly known in Spanish as the pato criollo.  They have been bred since pre-Columbian times by Native Americans and are heavier and less able to fly long distances than the wild subspecies.  Their plumage color is also more variable.  The strange, warty-faced Muscovy causes confusion for some bird watchers (including me), as it’s very distinctive and quite commonly seen, yet does not appear in many field guides.  Truly wild individuals are restricted to south Texas and below, but domesticated versions occur in parks and farms across much of North America.

Thoughts:  A group of ducks has many collective nouns, including “a flock”, “a brace of ducks”, “flush of ducks”, “paddling of ducks”, “raft of ducks”, and a “team of ducks.”  Most waterfowl are unsociable during the breeding period but are drawn together for the remainder of the year.  As waterfowl migrate south toward their wintering grounds, the birds become more social, foraging, and roosting in great numbers on traditional staging and wintering habitats.  As a group, waterfowl are more likely to detect predators and other threats than a single bird.  Large numbers of birds may also confuse predators by presenting them a variety of targets, increasing the odds of survival for an individual duck.  Group migration also has the advantage as they fly in a characteristic V formation helping each duck conserve energy.  This allows a young duck to benefit from the experience of more seasoned adults who are familiar with migration routes as well as good places to feed and rest along the flyways.  While humans evolved grouping together for protection and food acquisition, this no longer a necessity.  Adaptation now allows me to go to the market on my own.  Still, we are innately a social animal and need contact.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


November 08, 2021

I ran across a story in my NY Times news feed concerning the immediate impact of climate change in Canada.  Churchill, Manitoba, prides itself as the Polar Bear Capital of the World.  The problem is the polar bears are in decline.  One impact of global warming is the bears are spending more time around Churchill as the sea ice forms later in the year and melts earlier.  Polar bears lose about 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of their weight each day they spend on land.  As the ice season shrinks, the bears face fewer days of hunting and more days fasting.  Between 1980 and 2019, the weight of the average pregnant polar bear in the Churchill region declined by 15 percent and new births are in decline, according to Nick Lunn, a Canadian government scientist.  The number of polar bears in western Hudson Bay fell by 30 percent from 1987 to 2016.  Some experts believe the bears are already in terminal decline.

When I looked online, I found the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is a hypercarnivorous (diet more than 70% meat) bear whose native range lies largely above the Arctic Circle, encompassing the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding land masses.  It is the largest extant bear species and largest extant land carnivore.  A boar (adult male) weighs around 350–700 kg (770–1,540 lbs.), while a sow (adult female) is about half that size.  The polar bear is a sister species of the brown bear but has evolved to occupy a narrower niche.  This evolution includes body characteristics adapted for cold temperatures, for moving across snow, ice, and open water, and for hunting seals, which make up most of its diet.  Although polar bears are born on land, they spend most of their time on the sea ice, and their scientific name means “maritime bear”.  Polar bears hunt their preferred seals from the edge of sea ice and live off fat reserves when no ice is present.  Because they depend on sea ice, polar bears are classified as marine mammals. 

The expected loss of habitat caused by climate change results in the polar bear being classified as a vulnerable species.  The polar bear has been a key figure in the material, spiritual, and cultural life of circumpolar peoples for thousands of years and remain culturally important.  Historically, the polar bear has also been known as the “white bear” and is sometimes referred to as the “nanook”, based on the Inuit term nanuq.  Nanook became the fictional name of the Inuit hunter in the 1922 silent film, Nanook of the North.  This film which combines elements of documentary and docudrama, in the tradition later called salvage ethnography.  The film follows the struggles of the Inuk man and his family in the Arctic, and is written, directed, filmed, and produced by Robert J. Flaherty.  Some criticized Flaherty for staging sequences, but the film is generally viewed as standing “alone in its stark regard for the courage and ingenuity of its heroes.”  It was the first feature-length documentary to achieve commercial success, proving the financial viability of the genre and inspiring many films to come.

Thoughts:  In Churchill, climate change is not a looming danger, it is daily life.  It is also the fear that Americans will not come visit to see the bears.  While climate change is destroying the old way of life, many in town are focused on the opportunities global warming and the opening of the sea ice could bring to this small town.  The polar bear is in trouble, yet the people dream of the possibility of building a maritime city.  As the ice melts the future could be as an outlet for the grain grown on Canada’s western plains and the minerals that will be mined from its thawing northern expanses, representing an economic boom for Churchill.  Not so much for the polar bears.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


November 06, 2021

As Melissa and I drove into town this last week we were surprised to see a chicken standing in the middle of the road on the other side of the four-lane divided highway.  At the time the bird was in the center of the lane and since it was rush hour the cars were whizzing by on either side.  I decided to try and turn around and see if we could get the chicken off the road to keep it from being hit.  As we drove up to the area where we had seen the chicken, we noticed it had attempted to get back off the highway and had been run over.  It was now ranked among the armadillos, possums, and squirrels we often see lying at the side of the road.

When I looked the chicken up online, I found the Barred Plymouth Rock (Gallus gallus domesticus) is an American breed of domestic chicken.  It was first found in Massachusetts in the nineteenth century, and for much of the early twentieth century was the most popular chicken breed in the US.  It is a dual-purpose breed, raised both for its meat and for its large brown eggs.  It is resistant to cold, easy to manage, and a good sitter.  Plymouth Rock chickens come in several varieties, but the most common is the Barred Rock.  Barred Rocks have a unique look, complete with black and white stripes that lets them stand out in a mixed flock.  These large and hardy birds are ideal on small farms because they are gentle yet highly productive.  Barred Rocks can weigh up to 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms).  Cocks have striping of equal width while hens have wider dark bars.  This was a cock who had drifted away from a local flock.

I had a friend who lived in a very affluent community who raised chickens in her back yard.  Her property backed up onto a designated green space and she had made a pathway for her chickens to go through the fence, allowing them to become free range chickens during the day.  She also raised several roosters to escort the flock of around 20 hens.  When I visited, I would often hear the roosters crow.  When I asked how she was able to raise chickens in the city, she told me she had been raising chickens for 40 years, and they had been grandfathered (grandchickend?) in.  Since her neighbors had all moved in after her, she guessed they knew what they were getting into.

Thoughts:  I was able to answer another age-old question when I saw the chicken on the highway.  Why did the chicken cross the road?  It did not.  It only made it halfway then turned back.  You do not need a rooster for your chickens to lay eggs, and the hens will lay just as many eggs whether there is a rooster or not.  There are some benefits to having a rooster, as it offers significant protection for the flock.  The rooster will guard against predators and sound the alert if there is any perceived danger.  Another advantage is allowing your hens to live as normal a life as possible with a rooster in the mix.  Roosters break up hen fights, find and give treats to the hens, encourage egg-laying, and even monitor the nest boxes.  All animals, including humans, succeed best when life is normal.  Normal has been hard to achieve during the pandemic and the resulting stress accounts for much of the craziness we see on the nightly news.  We need to relax, take a deep breath, and get to the other side of the road.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


November 05, 2021

It was mid-October of last year when we first installed the 10-mil plastic on our screened porch to create a makeshift greenhouse for Melissa’s succulents.  We worried about freezing throughout the winter and used a space heater on the porch when it got too cold.  While the outside overnight temps dipped as low as -20F (-28.8C), the temperature on the porch never got below 24F (-4.4C).  Although several of our inground succulents suffered, most that we had covered survived.  I cannot say as much for protecting the inside plants during the summer.  Melissa was unable to care for them for long stretches and we lost about a third of our plants to heat, disease, and on the outside to ants.  I was glad when the weather cooled off, but now it has jumped from too hot to near freezing at night.  We reinstalled the plastic on the porch this week and are beginning the cycle once more, albeit this time with more confidence.

When I looked online, I found that plastic consists of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials that use polymers as a main ingredient.  Their plasticity makes it possible for the plastic to be molded, extruded, or pressed into solid objects of various shapes.  This adaptability, plus the plastic being lightweight, durable, flexible, and inexpensive to produce, has led to widespread use.  Dozens of different types of plastic are produced, such as polyethylene, which is widely used in packaging, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), used in construction and pipes because of its strength and durability.  While most modern plastic is derived from fossil fuel-based chemicals, recent industrial methods use variants made from renewable materials, such as corn or cotton derivatives.  Worldwide, about 22.7 pounds (50 kg) of plastic is produced annually per person, with production doubling every ten years.

Melissa offered to help put up the plastic for our windows again this year.  Last year I had finished most of the labor-intensive parts of the process, like cutting the plastic sheets and designing and placing the Velcro on the windows and plastic.  When I took down the plastic last year, I marked the upper corner so I could tell which sheet belonged where.  Then I had stored the plastic on the porch and hoped it would be usable for one or two more years.  I was surprised by the durability of both the plastic and the Velcro straps that held the greenhouse together.  We only encountered minor repairs and the sheets rehung easily.  With Melissa’s help, the job that took several days last year took less than 30 minutes.

Thoughts:  While the slow decomposition rate in my screens allowed me to reuse the plastic, this same feature has caused widespread environmental problems.  Toward the end of the 20th century, the plastic industry promoted recycling to ease environmental concerns, yet continued to produce virgin plastic.  Since the main plastic producing companies doubted the economic viability of recycling, the viability has never improved.  Plastic collection and recycling are largely ineffective because of the complexity to clean and sort post-consumer plastic for effective reuse.  Most plastic produced ends in landfills or persists as plastic pollution, including much of the “recyclable” plastic.  Plastic pollution can be found in all the world’s major water bodies, creating garbage patches in all the world’s oceans, and contaminating terrestrial ecosystems.  We can no longer afford a throwaway society.  If you make it, you should be required to collect it, or find an alternative.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


November 04, 2021

While driving through west central Arkansas last week Melissa and I passed several long and low sheds that appeared to be chicken houses.  Melissa pointed out that in this part of the state these were used to house turkey.  In many European countries, roast turkey has long been a customary Christmas dish, but in the US the bird is mostly associated with Thanksgiving.  That makes turkey production mostly seasonal, although in the US and some other countries turkey is available in various forms throughout the year.  The most raised commercial variety is the Broad-Breasted White, but other varieties are available.  The different “breeds” of turkey all originate from the North American wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).  While nice to look at, most of these strains do not grow as fast, as efficiently, and have a lower percentage of white meat compared to the commercial strain turkey.  They do not make the cut.

When I looked online, I found that Penn State Extension recommended small-flock turkey production as “a satisfying educational activity as well as a source of economical, high-quality meat for your family and friends.”  Turkey production lends itself to small-scale and part-time farming operations.  A small flock of turkeys can be raised at a scale that fits your available labor and uses existing facilities.  Turkey raising is easily started by hatching eggs or raising young poults.  Producing turkey close to local markets appeals to locally sourced customers.  English colonists introduced European-bred strains of the turkey to eastern North America in the seventeenth century.  Turkeys were bred mainly for their colored plumage until about 1935, after which the breeding emphasis changed to their meat qualities.

The buildings we saw as we drove the rural countryside were eight or nine sheds that housed thousands of turkeys.  Tyson has been working with poultry farmers on a contractual basis since the late 1940’s and there are currently about 6,000 contract farmers who raise poultry for the company.  Tyson supplies the birds, feed, and technical advice, while the poultry producer provides the labor, housing, and utilities. According to the website, “This means the farmer is insulated from the risk of changing market prices for feed . . . and is ensured a consistent price no matter what grocery markets are doing.”  The birds are raised in large houses with thermostatically controlled heaters in winter and automatic fans to keep the birds cool in summer.  Automatic dispensers provide water and feed for the birds.  This was hardly small-flock turkey production.

Thoughts:  Commercial production of turkey and chicken faces the same backlash as feedlots for cattle and pigs.  Animal agriculture accounts for roughly 80% of ammonia emissions in the US from animal waste, 14.5% percent of global greenhouse gas emission, acid rain from the waste collecting lagoons, smell for nearby residents, and health risks from release of hydrogen sulfide for the workers.  In addition, when factory farm waste decomposes it releases airborne particulate matter along with the harmful gases, including dry manure, feathers, bits of feed, and animal dander.  While corporate producers claim to be “stewards of the animals”, they are ultimately raising animals to be killed and eaten.  It is interesting that cattle and pigs are not even sold as animals, but as beef or pork.  I wonder if my fall off the bone ribs are worth the cost.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


November 03, 2021

While Melissa and I drove down to look at furniture we passed a sawmill located just off the road on Hwy 71.  The sawmill had thousands of cut and stripped logs stacked and ready to be cut.   There were others piles of cut lumber that had been processed stacked and ready for shipping.  Other huge piles held the saw dust that was the result of cutting the logs into useable sections, and then into the right size planks for use in construction projects.  You could see the steam rising from the drying kilns and smell the fresh cut logs in the air.  I was surprised by the piles as I did not know Arkansas had a sawmill.  That is a lot of trees.

When I looked online, I found Sawmills are important to the economy throughout the nation.  According to the American Forest and Paper Association, the US forest products industry manufactures almost $300 billion in products a year and employs about 1 million workers.  Privately-owned forests support over 2 million jobs and provide 91% of the wood harvested and sent to a sawmill in the country.  The US is a major exporter of forest products, selling products such as wood pellets, sawn wood, pulp for paper, and paper and paperboard.  The demand for lumber continues to be strong, and industry experts expect it to grow with new housing construction and remodeling projects.  The average (?) 2,400-square-foot home needs over 16,000 feet of lumber for framing.  Each American consumes the equivalent of a 100-foot-tall tree each year in wood and paper products.  That is a lot of paper.

According to IBISWorld market research, there are over 3,000 businesses in the United States in the sawmill and wood production industry.  That includes hardwood and softwood lumber, as well as wood chips and wood product preservation. The US Lumber Coalition states there are 550 lumber sawmills in the country.  In Arkansas, the Ouachita Mountains of southwest Arkansas had six sawmills, the southern Ozark Mountains just north of the Arkansas River had two, another was in the southeast of the state, and there was even one located in Fort Smith.  Arkansas ranks as the sixth largest lumber producing state in the US, and according to Global Wood Markets Info, the Canadian company West Fraser who owns four of the state’s sawmills, is the largest softwood lumber supplier in the world, producing 6.6 billion board feet of lumber products in 2018.  That is a lot of boards.

Thoughts:  Working in the lumber industry is extremely dangerous.  The equipment poses numerous hazards as massive weights and sliding logs can be dangerous.  Operation of a sawmill is also dangerous.  Employees suffer lacerations, amputations, severed fingers, and blindness. The wood dust and chemicals used for finishing products cause respiratory and skin diseases.  Sawmill hazards are more dangerous when environmental conditions like rough terrain, inclement weather, and isolated work cause difficulties to access health care.  According to a recent study, logging is the most dangerous job in America.  The rate of fatal accidents in the logging industry is 98 fatalities per 100,000, or 28 times higher than the all-worker rate of 3.5 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.  That is a lot of people.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


November 02, 2021

Last week Melissa decided it was time for us to break down an buy a new sofa.  The sofa and love seat we have was bought during the 2000’s so they are around 20 years old.  During this time the sofa springs had worn out and it had a plywood strip under the cushions to keep you from sinking.  The fabric was still nice, but it did look dated.  Since I am the one who sits on the sofa every night, Melissa thought it would be nice if I choose the style and researched where to find the best price.  After pouring over several alternatives, I came to the point where I needed to sit in a sofa to make a furniture decision.  We went 40 miles south to “the store we always go to” to get a better idea.

When I looked online, I found the latest trend in furniture is Microsuede, or microfiber.  This is a man-made polyester fabric that gives the look of leather.  Polyester can be made from both natural products, such as plant cuticles, and synthetics.  Microsuede is a knit blend created from fibers that are very fine, sometimes a hundred times finer than human hair.  These delicate fibers are tightly woven together to create a dense fabric that has many of the same qualities as suede leather yet is easier to clean than real suede and is usually much softer.  It is also a good alternative to leather for people who prefer to use non-animal products.  The problem I find with leather is that it retains heat and makes it easier to sweat on the hot days of summer.  Leather and water are never a good combination for looks over time.

After making the trip south I was not prepared for the display they had in front.  Being in a small town, it made sense they carried more than just furniture.  They also carried a line of bar-b-ques and smokers.  There was a large display inside the store offering the accoutrements that could allow you grill to perfection.  While that sort of made sense, I was confused by the lawn mowers that also graced the front of the store.  I could find no reference to them inside.  I guess someone had to sell mowers.  When I spoke with my mom last week, I mentioned that I was being drawn to furniture covered with the microfiber.  Apparently, she had just purchased a chair with the same fabric.  She said it was soft and was told by the salesperson that it would hold up well.  While the prices were appreciably lower, the store did not have what we really wanted.  We are still looking.

Thoughts:  When we moved to Arkansas, we decided to donate our mission style furniture to the camp where I worked.  It was still nice and gave a rustic feel to the house that was going to be rented as an additional small conference center.   We already had a house full of furniture where we were moving in Arkansas.  While I have regretted that since, it would have been more trouble to move it with us.  We all make decisions that seem right at the time, but we begin to question later.  Much of what has happened over the last several years fits this category.  People made decisions that seemed right at the time, but later proved to be wrong, and some of them tragically so.  With other decisions, we still have time to change and make it right.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.


November 01, 2021

I was able to participate in our Fall Festival last Saturday Night.  Due to continuing restrictions from covid this was different than previous Festivals.  We have held the event indoors and focused on a variety of games to provide treats to the children who attend.  While this still served as the basis for the celebration, this year we held the event outside and based most of the games out of the trunks of the decorated cars that lined the parking lot where I work.  We had a good turnout and gave out a lot of treats to the children (and adults?) who attended.  We had a much better turn out than last year when we were forced to cancel due to covid (ha-ha).

Fall Festival has become synonymous for Halloween over the last several decades.  When I looked online, the word “Halloween” comes from All Hallows’ Eve and means “hallowed (or sacred) evening.”  While we generally no longer celebrate November 1st, this day is known as All Saints Day.  The combination of Halloween and All Saints Day was celebrated as a time to remember the saints who have died.  Trick-or-Treating comes from hundreds of years ago when people dressed up as saints and went door-to-door.  This was the beginning of Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating in Europe.  The tradition of knocking on doors for treats did not begin for most of America until the mid-1940’s, or after the end of World War II.  Rather than a focus on the dead, it represented a return to prosperity.

The treats that were originally given were spiced cakes rather than candy.  These little cakes were called “soul cake,” and were a popular treat in Europe during the Middle Ages.  The cakes were made from saffron, currants, and other expensive spices and were given to honor the dead.  They eventually became a treat for poor beggars who would knock on the doors of wealthier folks, offering to pray for their household’s deceased in return for these tasty cakes.  Rather than saying trick-or-treat, the poor would instead say “A soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake!”  Few today remember to say trick-or-treat without parental coaxing, as the tradition continues to evolve. 

Thoughts:  I have fond memories of going door to door for treats in the small town of my childhood.  I especially prized the home-made popcorn balls, cookies, and caramel apples.  We would remember those houses and make sure to get there early before they ran out.  As a child I could make my treats last for months, tiding me over into Christmas.  Home-made treats are now discouraged, and any found in a child’s sack are immediately thrown away to protect them from harm.  Safety is also the reason for Fall Festival and trunk-or-treat events.  They provide a safe place for children to put on costumes, have fun playing games, and still receive the treats they pursue.  During covid we have been forced to make many adaptations to long-held traditions.  This does not mean they are not as fun or enjoyable, it just means they are different.  Even I would be wary if someone put a soul cake in my sack.  Follow the science.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.