Did you know that Santa Claus used to be a violent thug accompanied by a group of little vampires? Old folktales from Germany's Black Forest shed new light on Santa's beginnings.
Life in Missoula, Montana.
"Always do what you are afraid to do." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was thinking about this quote the other day, about how doing things we are afraid to do can make us better. In our modern world, a lot of us have a comfort zone, a place where we are not challenged or tested or uncomfortable in any way. We tend to stay in the comfort zone. It's safe there, and not much is expected of us. We don't get embarrased there, and we don't deal with anything unfamiliar or scary. A lot of modern people stick to their usual routine, treating each day as a series of familiar tasks to check off before we retreat back into the safe laziness of our leisure time. Often we don't do things that scare us or challenge us. Most of us are guilty of this one some level. The problem is that if you never challenge yourself, you never get better. You don't gain skills. You don't broaden your horizons. As time goes on you get slower, weaker, lazier. You decline until you die.
I was thinking about this, and then I came across an excerpt from a book called SEAL Survival Guide: Secrets to Surviving Any Disaster. The book was written by a former Navy SEAL, and covered subjects from how to deal with natural disasters, to how to travel safely abroad, to how to defend yourself against an animal attack. These are things we all could have to deal with. The author's premise was that many people are so used to hiding in their comfort zone that if they had to deal with any sort of emergency or unexpected situation, they would probably not be able to deal with it. His answer is to think more like a Navy SEAL, to embarce challenges and to push yourself in little ways each and every day. In other words push the limits of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. I read this and the quote at the top of the page snapped back into my mind. I had been thinking of challenging myself in terms of generally improving myself and what I could do in life. Now, here was a Navy SEAL applying the same concept to improving how a person could be prepared for, and react to, any sort of common emergency.
In the SEAL book, author Cade Courtley recommends that people start doing very small things to push the limits of their comfort zone and challenge themselves. If you take an elevator up four floors to your office every day, try taking the stairs. Park an extra hundred yards from your office. If dessert is part of your dinner habit, turn it down one day. Each of these are very small things, but each is a small victory over our usual complacency. Each is a tiny push against our comfort zone. Each is a way to challenge yourself physically and mentally every day. As time goes on, your goal will be to continue finding ways to challenge yourself. Eventually, by expanding your comfort zone, you will develop mental and physical toughness which is a key to being able to survive difficult situations. Of course, we can all see that developing mental and physical toughness helps us in all aspects of our lives, not just in the area of survival. Navy SEALS are tough, confident, and believe there is no challenge they cannot overcome. By challenging yourself, you can start to develop this type of attitude, which can benefit you in everything you do.
What's the rest of your life going to be? Are you content to stay in your little comfort zone, getting weaker and lazier, until the clock runs out? Or are you going to live your life, to develop the attitude to face it successfully, and even defend it if necessary?
Challenge yourself. Try new things. Do things that scare you. Step out of your comfort zone. You'll find that achieving these things will give you more satisfaction, more pride, than you ever imagined.
"The function of man is to live, not to exist" - Jack London
Everything you need to know about getting the ideal tomahawk.
One of the earliest tools that humans ever made was the small, stone-headed axe. As humans evolved, axes were found to be great tools and powerful weapons. When the iron age came around, it was natural that people would make axes with metal heads and sturdy wooden handles. These were great farm tools, wood choppers, and weapons. For example, many vikings used axes as their primary weapon in war. This was because a good sword could cost more than the rest of their possessions combined. The axe, on the other hand, was a tool they used on their farms on a daily basis. They could sharpen up their axe, tuck it in their belt, and be ready to fight. In fact, the small axe was popular as a weapon in many parts of Europe for this reason.
In the 1600s and 1700s, elite British grenadier units were issued hatchets in addition to their regular weapons. The hatchets were useful for everything from breaking in enemy doors to chopping wood in camp. Presumably, they were also good in a fight, so they had many uses. Veterans of the wars in Europe emigrated to America and took their fighting tools and styles with them, including the axe/hatchet. In The New World, newly arrived Europeans found nNtive Americans that used clubs and stone axes (tamahakan, or tomahawks) for war. America's frontiersmen used axes for cutting wood, clearing brush, and for self-defense. Each group had different fighting styles, but all agreed that axes were useful as tools and as weapons. Being useful for both made it something well worth carrying.
In modern times, tomahawks have been used by U.S. soldiers in several wars including Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Again, the tomahawk is useful because it is both a useful tool and a deadly weapon, a trait that is all important to a soldier where carried weight is critical. Why carry a weapon and a tool if a tomahwak can do both? U.S. soldiers have found tomahawks useful for prying open crates, breaking into buildings, chopping up pallets, and more.
A few people have said they like the blog posts where I tell real, unknown facts about historical figures. Well, here's one about a person who didn't make such a big splash in history, but they did make a huge impact on pop culture.
James Doohan was famous for playing Scotty on Star Trek. Scotty has always been one of the most iconic characters of the series and one of the most popular. So here are a few things that a lot of people don't know about James Doohan.
James Doohan wasn't even Scottish, he was Canadian. He was born in Vancouver, British Columbia to parents who emigrated from Northern Ireland. He went to technical school where he excelled in science and mathematics.
Here's where the story gets interesting. in 1938 James joined the Royal Canadian Cadet Corps. At the beginning of World War II, he was commissioned a Lieutenant in the 13th Field Artillery regiment. He first saw combat in Normandy at Juno Beach on D-Day. Yes, Scotty was part of the allied invasion. He shot two enemy snipers and led his unit through a mine field to a defensible position where they stopped for the night. Travelling from one allied command post to another that night, James was shot six times by a fellow Canadian. He was shot four times in the leg, once in the finger, and once in the chest. The silver cigarette case he carried in his breast pocket stopped the bullet from entering his chest and saved his life. His right middle finger had to be amputated, and he would keep it hidden from the camera in his later acting roles.
After the war, Doohan decided to get into acting and voice work. he attended the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City along with such famous actors as Leslie Nielson and Tony Randall. He landed several roles on CBC radio, did voice work in New York City, and began to get acting roles. He played a forest ranger in the canadian version of Howdy Doody, and starred in a CBC TV drama. In the U.S. he landed parts on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Fantasy Island, Bewitched, and Bonanza. Most people will be surprised to see him in those old shows without a Scottish accent! When he auditioned for a role as the ship's engineer on Star Trek, Doohan did several different accents. The show's creator, Gene Roddenberry, chose the scottish accent saying "all the world's best engineers have been Scottish." James Doohan chose the character's name 'Montgomery Scott' in honor of his grandfather. If you're a Star Trek fan, you know the rest.
Here in Montana, we have a lot of wild creatures. More than one person has had close calls with Moose this year. We have deer, elk, coyotes. I even saw a lone red fox the other day on one of my hikes, but the one animal everyone wants to know about is bears. Everyone who comes out to visit our great state asks about bears. What precautions should we take? How dangerous are they? If we're going camping, should we get a gun? So many questions.
I've dealt with a lot of bears in my life. I've seen them when I was biking, and when I've been hiking. I've had bears visit my campsite in the middle of the night. I've seen Grizzlies in Glacier NP, and in Yellowstone. I've seen the rare white Spirit Bears in B.C., and the big brown bears in Alaska. I've been in bear dens, and I worked on a grizzly bear DNA study. The end result of all this is that a lot of people ask me what to do about bears.
What do people need to know if they're visiting bear country? Well first you should know a little about bear behavior. Bears aren't malicious beasts just waiting to attack people. In fact, if a bear knows that you're coming, and that you're a human, they often just leave of the area. Usually bears don't want to deal with annoying people. If a mother bear has cubs, all the more reason for them to flee to the safety of the forest. So, the first rule in bear country is to let bears know you're coming. Make noise, and not just any noise, but sounds that identify you as human. That means talking loudly, especially if you're in dense brush where visibility is limited. You'll see people wearing bear bells, or whistling to signal their approach, but the bear biologists I have traveled with don't recommend that. After all, other animals whistle, and bells are just confusing. You want to announce, very clearly, that you are a human, and talking (or even singing) is the clearest way to do that. Talk or sing if you're coming around a blind corner or if you're in heavy brush, or anyplace else where you and a bear could get too close. A surprised bear is a dangerous bear, so make sure they know you're coming.
I realize you can't talk all the time (your hiking companions would kill you), so there's still a chance you could startle a bear. If you find yourself too close to a bear, don't run. Bears are predators. When things run, they are prey. Predators chase prey, that's what they do. Don't run and it won't set off a bear's instinct to chase. Besides, a bear can run faster than you, so it won't do you any good anyway. Also, don't make eye contact, especially with a grizzly. They take it as a challenge to their authority, and you don't want to do that. instead, talk calmly and quietly so the bear knows what he's dealing with. Give a bear every opportunity to get away. I've come across several bears in the wild, including a few mothers with cubs, and I've always had success talking quietly and giving them plenty of space. When they start moving away, take a few slow steps the other direction. Distance is your best friend here, but move slowly. No sudden movements. I came across a mother black bear with a cub last year. I stopped, stayed calm, and talked quietly. The mother maneuvered herself between me and the cub. i took a tentative step back while I talked. She seemed okay with it, since she really only wanted me away from the little one. I took another step. All good, but we were on a curving trail. When I took one more step, the trees that defined the inside of the curve were suddenly between us. To the mother bear, I had disappeared, and suddenly not knowing where I was was a problem. She ran two steps toward me, until she could see me again, then she stopped. She wasn't coming after me, but with a cub nearby she needed to know where I was. If I had run, things could have gone bad.
So my best advice in dealing bears is to avoid getting too close. Watch the area around you. Keep your eyes up, and your head in the present. Look as far ahead as you can while hiking. Look for bears, and if you see one, don't approach it. A human might have a zone of personal space that extends about three feet in every direction. A grizzly might feel have feel that its personal space extends fifty yards, or a hundred. Maybe you see one seventy five yards away and decided to get just a little closer for a photo. Ooops! The bear's comfort zone was seventy four yards, and you just crossed the line. Now a huge bear feels threatened and it's blaming you. You might see a bear and think it wouldn't hurt to get a little bit closer. After a few steps you see a little cub pop up out of the undergrowth. Trouble. Keep your distance and stay out of trouble.
If you're going to a national park, a state forest, or a national forest, the staff there will know where, specifically, there have been bear sightings. They'll have rules for how to deal with food and garbage, and pamphlets about how to act in bear country. Bears in different places have learned different behavior, so local info. is the best info. Talk to the rangers and get all the information you can before setting out.
Lastly, when people ask 'should I get a gun? or something similar I have some strong advice for them. No, no, and no. Don't think you should go out and get a gun if you're traveling in bear country. First off, You should only bring a gun if you are an experienced gun user who has a solid grasp of gun safety and handling. Otherwise you're just compounding your dangers. Second, if you are not an experienced shooter you won't have much success against a huge, aggressive bear. You'll be full of fear, nerves, and adrenaline. You'll have a lot of trouble handling a weapon safely, let alone getting off a shot good enough to stop a bear. Bears are much, much faster than you think. An angry one could be on you before you even think to aim. Last but not least, you could panic and shoot a bear that is really not a threat. You don't want to be responsible for the death of one of these great creatures because you overreacted and happened to be carrying the means to kill it. Instead, bring bear spray. It's a non-lethal deterrent that can send a bear running without having a nasty close encounter.
So here's what's new on the writing front. I had a number of short stories that I thought were pretty decent, and decided to polish up a few and send them out. I sent out three. Since they were my first submissions, and since I've read about how beginning fiction writers get a ton of rejections and very few accepted, I expected the worst. To my surprise, one was rejected and one is being published on a website. Honestly, I thought the one that was rejected was much better than the accepted one. I'll send the rejected one to some other sources where hopefully I'll have better luck. As for the one that was published, it was a work of flash fiction (<1,000 words) that I entered in a contest. The contest is open until the end of July, so I won't know for a while where it placed, but they did think enough of it to publish it on their website (anotherealm.org under 'contest'). I'll polish up a few others and send them out. It's good for me right now to start understanding the specific formatting that different magazines require. Each of the three sources I sent short stories to had different requirements. The magazines/contests/websites don't pay much, but it's good to get some work in front of professional editors. I'm hanging on to some of my better short stories for now. Some day I might put them in a collection of my own and publish them. Who knows?
I have a manuscript that's in the editing phase. i usually edit the entire manuscript 2 or 3 times with a different emphasis each time. In early revisions I'm looking at major errors, things that don't make sense, plot weaknesses and general grammar and syntax. In the next one I might be more focused on voice and point of view and making sure they're consistent, though I'm always looking at selling and syntax. In another edit I'll try to improve the flow and the rhyhtm of the writing, or find a better way to say things. After two or three edits, I send it to a friend who goes over each chapter with a fine-toothed comb and finds a lot more mistakes. She sends them back and I add those changes into the master copy. When all the chapters have been edited by both of us, I'll read through the master copy a few more times to make sure everything is cohesive. Hopefully by the end of the year I'll have my manuscript to a point where I can decide how to publish it. Send it out to traditional companies? Self-publish? e-book? I have a program that can format the manuscript in different ways for these different options. I have some ideas on which way I want to go, but I don't have to decide that just yet.
Besides formatting/sending short stories and editing/sending/receiving chapter re-writes, I've started on another long story. Don't know where that story will go yet, but I think it's going to be a full-length novel. We'll see. Right now I'm just trying to keep an eye on how it runs and where it goes, and I'm trying to keep up with putting some of it down on paper.
A gang of loud, raucous crows wheel and caw over my house. Black shapes flap and soar, calling out, croaking. They land in the trees and sit there glowering, watching. There is a constant squawking, one to another, as they hatch some menacing plan. If anything moves at ground level they gang and swoop, their throaty voices intimidating.
This is how my days begin. Five a.m. This gang of black-winged bullies taking over the skies above my house. If the cat goes into the yard, if a neighbor heads to their car, the crows shout at them until they go back inside. They land on the wires and sit in the trees, black, flapping shapes with ebony eyes. They look down on the green backyards, cackling and cawing, until the yards are clear. A gang of thugs. A mob of bulliies. No, a murder of crows, that's the proper name for a group of them. A murder of crows dominating the early morning sky, turning and soaring in the dim light of dawn. That's how the days start in my neighborhood.
Ten Best Djembe Books and Videos
1. Mamady Keita - A Life for the Djembe (Book and CD) - A comprehensive book containing history, background, and personal info. from Mamady Keita. Dozens of rhythms are transcribed and the accompanying CD has samples of basic djembe and Dunun parts.
2. Rhythms and Songs From Guinea- Famoudou Konate (Book and CD) - Explanation of the djembe and the music tradition of Guinea along with history and a bio. of Famoudou. Many of the elements of Malinke rhythms are explained and several rhythms are transcribed including songs, solos, echauffements and breaks. The rhythms are played on the accompanying CD.
3. Djembe - Percussion From West Africa - Ibro Konate (Book and CD) - Great learning guide for beginner to intermediate players. Contains information on everything from choosing a djembe and basic playing techniques to notes on music structure and vocabulary all explained in a very understandable way. Contains many exercises for helping people play and understand malinke rhythms. 8 rhythms are notated including breaks and solo parts and are played part by part on the CD.
4. Guinee: Les Rythmes Du Mandeng (series) - Mamady Keita (DVD) - Mamady's series of instructional videos each contain 6-8 rhythms with a brief cultural explanation for each. Parts are played traditional style with Dundun, Sangban, and Kenkeni played separately with attached bells. Djembe and dundun parts are played individually and then ensemble (together).
5. Journey Into Rhythm (series) - Karamba Diabate (Video) - Karamba explains the context of each rhythm, then shows each djembe accompaniment and break. Dundun are played ballet style -one person playing all three drums. Each rhythm is shown played live by a full ensemble.
6. Thione Diop Teaches: Djembe and Dunun Rhythms of Senegal (DVD) - Senegalese rhythms introduced and taught by Thione Diop. The video has karaoke style notation so viewers can follow along as it plays. Two djembe accompaniments are shown per song along with separate dunun parts. Each rhythm is shown in slow and fast versions for easy learning.
7. Fara Bakan - Instructional Djembe (DVD) - Fara Tolno teaches six traditional rhythms of the Mande People of Guinea. Each rhythm includes an explanation of its origin and meaning and a breakdown into its specific parts including djembe, dunun, sangban, and kenkeni, each with bell parts. Each rhythm is then performed ensemble style.
8. Made in Guinea, West Africa -Aly Sylla (DVD) - Susu djembefola Aly Sylla, director of Les percussion De Guinea, takes viewers through 6 traditional rhythms including djembe and doundoun parts. The video also provides a glimpse of traditional life and culture in Guinea.
9. Mamady Keita and Sewa Kan Live @Couleur Cafe (DVD) - This performance video showcases Mamady's group Sewa Kan in live performance. Mamady and several guest artists are prominently featured.
10. ? If you think I've missed a book or video that belongs in the top ten, let me know!
Most people have heard of Winchester rifles. Under the ownership of Oliver Winchester, Winchester Rifles, under a variety of business names, made a number of important innovations to the modern rifle, and they sold in the tens of thousands. The famous Winchester Rifle was so popular that it became known as "the gun that won the West'. The first Winchester was the Model 1866, which became popular after the Civil War, and Winchester Rifles are still one of the world's best selling brands today.
Over the past 150 years a lot of people have been killed by Winchester Rifles, but this was never a concern to oliver Winchester. He died in December of 1880 and his son, William Wirt Winchester inherited the company. Unfortunately, William died just four months later. His wife, Sarah Winchester, then inherited over 20 million dollars and a nearly 50 percent stake in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Accounts vary about what happened next, but most sources agree that at some point Sarah consulted a medium. One version says that the medium told Sarah to begin building a house and never to stop construction. If she did, the ghosts of those killed by Winchester guns would take her as they had taken her husband and other family members.
Sarah bought land in San widbye, California and began building the house. Under Sarah's supervision, construction began in 1884 and continued around the clock, without interruption, until her death in 1922. The house was, at one point, seven stories a rambling, strange, twisted place with no master floor plan. It was made mostly of redwood, but since Sarah did not like the look of redwood, the entire house was painted. 76,000 liters of paint were needed to paint it. The house contains stairways that lead nowhere, oddly sized doorsand others that open onto blank walls, and windows that look into other parts of the house. One window is actually installed in the floor of one room. The hallways feature a maze of twists and turns as wel as several dead ends. Reportedly, Sarah Winchester had the house constructed to confuse the spiirts so that they would get lost and never find her.
The house has 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces, 2 ballrooms, 17 finished chimneys, and 3 elevators. Although the mansion is huge there are only two mirrors because Sarah believed that ghosts were afraid of their own reflections. One of the house's famous windows was hand built by Tiffany. It was specifically designed so that outdoor light, when hitting the window, would fill the room with thousands of tiny rainbow prisms. Unfortunately, this window was installed facing a wall, in a room that receives no natural light. Sarah Winchester was preoccupied with warding off the evil spirits that haunted her house. The number thirteen and spider web designs were used throughout the house, since she believed they held great spiritual significance. She had an imported chandelier altered to hold 13 candles instead of 12 and even the drain covers in the sinks had 13 holes. She had a special stained glass window made in a spider web pattern that contained 13 colored panels.
When Sarah Winchester died, it took six trucks working eight hours a day six weeks to remove all the furniture. Today, visitors from all over the world flock to the famous Winchester Mystery House to take the 65 minute tour through 110 of the house's 160 rooms as well as the 45 minute tour of the basements. According to many accounts, the house is still haunted.
I live in 'the middle'. The town where I live is in the middle of nowhere. Well, not really, but it's close. You know the part of the country that the national weathercasters stand in front of when they give the forecast? That's us. Missoula, MT is on the way to Seattle or on the way to Chicago, depending on which way you're going. The nearest major pro sports team is hundreds of miles away. Hockey? The Calgary flames are several hours north. Basketball? The Utah Jazz are just a day's drive south. You get the picture.
In addition to that, I'm in that part of life that people call 'middle aged'. Just a few years ago i thought of myself as being in my mid-thirties. I wasn't, but like a lot of people my self-image just sort of got stuck there. Forty came and went, but in my head I was still thirty-something. But those days are fading. Like most people my age, I'm finding my normally reliable body is starting to betray me. I have the spine of a sixty year old rhesus monkey. Things that used to fix themselves are now long term concerns. This winter I ruptured a tendon shoveling snow. Yes, the middle. It's a big thing to deal with, mentally. It's here, get used to it.
The middle can be a good place. Less stress, less competition. by this time, hopefully you've learned a few things. You're out of the spotlight, which is nice for a change. You've probably achieved some of your goals or at least realized you were chasing the wrong ones. You can relax a little. If you've gotten to a good place in life, you can even coast a little. Enjoy what you've earned. There's a certain freedom in the middle if you just learn to embrace it.
So, here I am in the middle, where things move a little bit slower. If you look too far ahead, or if you spend too much time watching your rearview mirror, you can make yourself crazy. Quit thinking about where the road leads or the places you've been. I guess the answer is to enjoy where you are, wherever it is. Even the middle can be a pretty cool place, if you give it a chance.
From Haitian voodoo to popular movies to recent reports of zombie attacks throughout the world, zombies have a rich history. Originally zombies were created by West African Vodou rituals. Vodou, or Voodoo as we know it now, began in the areas of Benin, Togo, and Ghana (West Africa) and is still practiced by nearly thirty million people there. In Vodou rituals, it was said that a dead person could be revived by a bokor, or sorceror. The person would then be a "zombi" who would be under the control of the bokor, since they no longer had a will of their own.
Eventually, West African beliefs and rituals made their way to the New World, and Voodoo became popular in Haiti. A certain voodoo ritual coud turn a dead person into an undead, mindless thing, a zombie. In the 1980's, a Harvard ethnobotanist, Wade Davis, attempted to track down practitioners of the ritual and study it. What he found was startling. By using a combination of two special powders, a voodoo holy man could turn the dead into zombies. One powder, Coup de Poudre, contained tetrodotoxin, a powerful neurotoxin from the flesh of the pufferfish. The second powder would consist of powerful dissociative drugs. The neurotoxin would cause a person to be paralyzed, heart rate and pulse rates would be so low and weak that they couldn't be detected. By all accounts, a person would appear dead, and they would often be buried. When they were dug up, they appeared mindless, but alive. It was Wade's belief that the trauma of being buried alive, when combined with the powerful drugs, would cause a person to believe thay had come back from the dead. They were zombies, partially, because they believed they were. Of course, the drugs were a big part of it. Watch a serious drug addict on a major high and tell me they're not zombies. Anyway, Wade's research was the first official, scientific investigation that gave some creedence to the concept that zombies could, in fact, be real.
Zombies shambled into popular culture in 1929 in a book named The Magic Island, by William Seabrook. It was about traveling in Haiti, and it introduced the word 'zombi' into the American lexicon. The first zombie film, White Zombie, followed in 1932. It was about a woman in Haiti who is turned into a zombie by a voodoo witch doctor. Haitian zombies were mindless beings, alive but not alive, who were controlled and used as slaves by voodoo witch doctors.
In 1968 George Romero introduced a new kind of zombie to the world. Night of The Living Dead showed mobs of undead creatures intent on attacking people and feasting on their remains. Though the word 'zombie' was never used in the movie, a new kind of zombie was born: clumsy, aggressive, and ravenous. Zombies struck a chord in the American subconscious and the world hasn't been the same since. Romero made several more zombie movies, and so did a lot of other people. Zombies became the slow, stumbling, undead horrors we've all come to know and love, and they wanted brains, human brains. Zombies were in movies, on tv, and even in songs. In 1988, Wes Craven made The Serpent and The Rainbow based on the work of Wade Davis. The zombie craze idled along for decades until it took off in the last few years. More movies were made, as well as bestselling books (World War Z, the Zombie Survival Guide), video games, and hit tv shows (The Walking Dead).
So, where do zombies come from? Well, typically a zombie apocalypse starts with some sort of fast spreading virus. The virus would have to attack a certainarea of people's brains, destroying their higher functions such as reasoning, coordination, and complex thinking. What is left of the brain would be the primitive part: the hunger, the aggression, the lack of impulse control. There are a few known viruses that do this to some extent. Creutzfeldt-Jakobs Disease is one that causes dementia or delirium along with a loss of coordination, stiffness of limbs, and difficulty walking. Sound familiar? If someone were to tweak one of these viruses slightly, we might find all the elements needed to create zombies. Makes you wonder what's going on in those government labs, right?
Another way that zombies could come about is by brain parasites. No really, stick with me here. There's a parasite called toxoplasmosa gondii that lives in the brain of rats, but the parasite can only reproduce in the intestines of a cat. So, this wily parasite overrides the rats natural survival instincts and makes the rat go toward a cat instead of running away from it. But wait there's more! Scientists estimate that possibly up to 50% of all humans are infected by toxoplasmosa. It can cause personality changes and mental problems. All that would be needed to start a full-on Brain Parasite Necropocalypse is a more potent version of toxoplasmosa that would affect humans the way it does rats. Humans running around with no instinct for self-preservation, with compromised brains and no ability for rational thought? Sounds like zombies to me.
Neurogenesis is another possible way zombies could come about. Because of recent research into stem cell research, scientists can now re-grow dead brain tissue. The problem is that the stem, or base of the brain tends to control only basic functions necessary to keep the body alive. Higher functions are in other, more distant portions of the brain, and those portions die off over time. So, a brain that's only capable of low-level, basic functions like survival and feeding? I'm hearing the z word. But one or two patients doesn't make a zombie apocalypse. It would take some ruthless government or corporation trying to build a mass of subservient, unintelligent people to serve their evil purposes to get a real zombie outbreak going.
Last, but not least, we have nanobots. these are tiny, microscopic machines that can be implanted into the human brain (or anywhere else). These little machines can be programmed to repair or destroy anything. They are working now on being able to use nanobots to repair neural connections in the human brain. In addition, they've found that these little nanobots can live long after the host is dead. Bingo. Zombies with nanobots in their heads that go on repairing their brains even after the body dies. Or what if these little bots go haywire in a living person's brain and destroy the wrong parts? Worse yet, if these bots are programmed for survival, how far will they go to keep their host body moving, even after it's dead? Will it re-program the host's brain to attack someone else so it can find a new host? Oh no, zombie apoc. here we come!
Warning: The following is real-life gruesome. You may NOT want to read further if you have a weak stomach.
So, maybe you still think zombies are far fetched, but a lot of people are beginning to believe that zombies are real. Last Memorial Day a homeless man in Miami was attacked in a 'zombie-like' fashion. A naked, growling man rushed up to him and began biting his face off. Officers on the scene shot the attacker, but said the attacking man continued to feed on the other, even after being shot. The growling attacker was killed on the scene after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds. After many rounds of surgery the victim, Ronald Poppo is recovering in a Miami hospital, though he lost both eyes and most of his nose in the attack. See the CNN story on the attack here:
Nanobots? Brain Parasites? Neurogenesis? Neurotoxins? The Rage Virus? Could zombies be real? It doesn't seem too far fetched. We've gone from witch doctors and sorcerers to science labs and clips on CNN. What's next in the evolution of zombies in our culture? I'm not sure I want to know.
Spring is here in Missoula and we can see summer on the horizon.
One of the national outdoor magazines once named Missoula one of the top places to live in the U.S. and their main reason was because of our perfect summers. Word got around locally and we all had a good laugh. Perfect? First of all, winter leaks into spring here, and sometimes into summer. A typical spring day here often includes sunshine, rain, hail, snow and graupel. Yeah, that's all in one day. Night time temperatures sometimes drop below freezing well past the middle of May. We've had snowstorms in June that broke tree branches and downed power lines. Winter, or the memory of it, lingers late here. The high mountain passes and trails nearby often are blocked by snow until July. Our summers may be great, but they often start pretty late.
When summer does arrive, the great weather is often short lived. You see, we have five seasons here, not four: fall, winter, spring, summer, and fire season. Once the snow melts, the hills dry out pretty fast here. Fire season can start any time after that. Most people in Missoula enjoy some kind of outdoor recreation. In fact, that's why a lot of us live in a state with low pay and few jobs, but everyone knows that when summer hits, you'd better enjoy it before the state bursts into flames. Usually July is pretty dependable, but August is generally fire season. Whether fires are in Western Montana or over the border in Idaho, smoke travels east and settles in the Missoula Valley. visibility can be low, and the air smells like a camp fire. We have Stage One air alerts where older people and those with respiratory problems are encouraged to stay inside. Visibility is limited in the valley and the mountains around us disappear in the smoke. We see things through a gray screen, and little flecks of ash collect on the cars. The bad air gets trapped in the valley and the situation can drag on for weeks, or longer. As fires spread in nearby forests, manpower and resources are stretched to the limits. Daytime temperatures approach one hundred degrees and we can go weeks without a drop of rain. Forests get hotter and drier, and fire danger gets to dangerous levels. Many trails and campsites are closed for fear of fires, and we've had summers where all recreation in nearby forests has been banned. Our perfect summer turns into a smoky nightmare as we wait for the snow and cold fall rains to dampen the fires and push the bad air out of the valley. When it finally happens, fire season is over, but so is summer.
So, maybe we have perfect summers. A lot of us enjoy it and wouldn't trade it for anything. In fact, a lot of people in Missoula say that Summer is their very favorite month.
A while ago I posted about five essential tools you need for when the next apocalypse breaks out. Since it was the most popular blog post so far, I decided to do another. So, here are three more essential items you need for the next apocalypse. They're small, easy to carry, easy to get, and could save your life in an emergency.
1. A Bandana. You've seen those cotton bandanas at outdoor stores? Ever wondered exactly what you would need one for? Well these handy items have so many uses i may not be able to list them all. Get one in a bright color and you can use it to signal for help. You can use it as a trail marker so you don't get lost. Wear it as a headband, a hat, or as ear muffs or a neck gaiter when it's cold. If its very hot, soak it in cold water and put it on your neck to stay cooler.
In an emergency situation, it can be used as a bandage, an eye patch, or a sling for an injured arm. If you break a bone and create a makeshift splint, use the bandana to tie it in place. Fold it into a pouch and put in ice for a cold pack for use on major injuries and bruises. For extreme injuries, it could even be a tourniquet.
If there is an apocalyptic situation, you won't have access to all the things you're used to. You'll realize quickly that you need to improvise, and that common items will have to be used in new ways. Your bandana can be worn as a mask to keep out dust and germs. It can also be a potholder, a dishtowel, a napkin, a washcloth, or a handkerchief. There are so many uses that, maybe, you're starting to realize that you should carry a few all the time. Keep one clean and use the others for general camp uses. A bandana can be used as a sleep mask, or a lens cleaner. You can filter water through it to filter out particulates before you purify water. Wrap the bandana around a small stone and then tie some cord around it. Now you can throw the line over a tree branch to make a shelter, hang a tarp, or hang food. Use it as padding between you and your pack, or wrap fragile items in it before you stow them in your bag. If you needed to, you could tear a bandana into thin strips and make a short piece of cordage. That cord can be used to tie items together, tie them to your gear, or make a little snare trap. You can use small pieces as a candle wick or as tinder to start a fire. Finally, a bandana can be folded into a small pouch to carry all the miscellaneous little things that you can't afford to lose. Or, lay out your items on it, gather up the edges, and tie it to a stick. Voila, you have what used to be known as a hobo bag that you can sling over your shoulder. Uses for your bandana are only limited by your imagination. Carry a few of these and that's ten or twenty other things you don't need to pack.
2. Garbage Bags. Everyone knows that a garbage bag can be used to carry things. It keeps your stuff dry and can be expanded or compressed to carry a little or a lot. Unlike a lot of bags, a garbage bag can carry water, which might save your life if the 'stuff' hits the fan. Not only can you carry water, but you can use it to collect water, either from rain or from evaporation. Since we're on the subject of water, leave your garbage bag full of water in a sunny spot until it heats up. Hang it somewhere. Poke a hole in the bottom and you have a warm shower- a wonderful luxury in an apocalypse. You can carry food in it or use it to trap small animals for food. You can use one or more duct taped together to make a tent or other shelter. Put one below you at night as a ground cover to keep out the chill of sleeping on the ground. Or, stuff it with leaves and grass to make a mattress. Wear one during a zombie apocalypse as a barrier against dangerous zombie blood and other fluids. You can make a sling or tourniquet out of one or use a piece of it to make a water proof covering over a bandage. If you find yourself in the rain, cut arm holes in a garbage bag and make a poncho. Stuff leaves or old clothes in your new poncho to keep warm.
Food, water, and warmth are three of your main concerns in any emergency situation, and garbage bags can help with all of these. If you're smart and can improvise they have even more uses. Since they're lightweight and easy to pack, there's no reason not to carry a few.
3. Duct Tape. Is there anyone who doesn't know the wonder of duct tape? It can fix almost anything: Cars, bikes, tents, rain gear, water bottles, and almost anything else. It's strong, pliable, and waterproof which makes it usable in all sorts of situations. A major apocalypse means you'll probably be scavenging for things you can use, and chances are that many of those things will need a little repair. Duct tape. You can use it to hold a bandage in place, to make a first aid sling, or to stabilize a splint. You could even use it to hold a wound together, in a pinch. Use some with a few garbage bags (you already have those, right?) to make a shelter or tarp. Need to make a bowl or a drinking cup? You could do it with duct tape. Make a belt, or a sling for a weapon.
Duct Tape has added benefits in a zombie apocalypse. Don't have the heart to kill a zombie? Duct tape over its mouth and duct tape handcuffs render a
zombie pretty harmless, (though it would be a lot easier just to kill it). Being bitten by a zombie would not only cause you a long, slow death, but would turn you into one. It must be avoided at all costs. Luckily, duct tape can help. Reinforce clothes with duct tape to make them bite proof. Sleeves and shoulders are one priority, though don't forget some zombies are ankle biters. Make duct tape hand and wrist guards or zombie proof neck gaiters. If you can't find a helmet, make one from duct tape. You may look silly, but it'll help you survive.
So, here are three items that will serve you well in any emergency. Thow them in the glove box of your car, put them in with your camping gear, and store all three with your emergency survival gear. They can be useful for first aid, for shelter, for carrying food and water, and for basic comfort. With these three things you can rig up lots of improvised necessities and make your apocalyptic experience a little less miserable. They can be the difference between death and survival or the difference between surviving and thriving.
Missoula is a great place for writers. First off, a lot of great writers have lived here: William kittredge, Richard Hugo, Patricia Goedicke, James Lee Burke, Norman Maclean. The University of Montana has a great Creative Writing Program, and there's also a well-known writing collaborative. We have an event called Festival of the Book each year. Missoula is a great place for anyone who loves books.
I decided to be a writer a few years ago and I'm still transitioning in that direction. I've written ad copy for years, and written articles and other pieces, but now I'm trying to devote my time to fiction. I started to read all the books on writing that I could. I found a lot of online resources by writers for writers. I went to events and conventions where writers spoke and answered questions. As I said, Missoula has a lot of resources for writers. I tried to soak up as much info. as I could, and of course, i started to write.
A lot of books on writing focus on writer's block. On how difficult it is to sit and look at a blank screen and trying to write. Where do you get ideas? How do you get past the block? How do you silence that inner critic who tells you that none of what you do is any good? Luckily for me, writer's block has never been my problem. Stories write themselves in my head when I'm doing other things. Characters evolve. Plot points occur to me when I'm out hiking. When I sit down to write I often have to catch up with myself. More often than not, my problem is having to quit writing and work at one of my other jobs. Anyway for me, putting words on a page hasn't been a problem. Granted, I'm not writing The Great American Novel. I'm not writing timeless literature. I'm writing sci-fi, adventure stories, and a zombie novel, but at least I'm writing. I figure start with genres I can handle and strive for higher literature as I improve.
In any case, I've written some short stories, one 'test' novel, and another that's on its second draft. I've learned a lot about characters, plot, setting, viewpoints. How to construct a sentence, how to edit my work. I've learned about how to think like a writer, and how to come up with a system that works for me. And I learned that I have a lot to learn.
The most important thing I've learned is that writing takes time. Lots of time. First there's the actual writing. I can squeeze in an hour on a busy day, but what really works for me is to sit down for two to three hours, at least, and just write. The more I get into it, the more easily things flow. One scene leads to another. Plot threads are easier to track. Viewpoints and dialogue are consistent. Three hours goes by fast. But the actual writing is only part of it. If you write, you're going to soon have a finished draft: short stories, flash fiction, entire manuscripts. You'll have to edit, and edit, and edit. Then you have to start looking for places to publish your work: web sites, magazines, e-publishing, actual publishers. You need a system for submitting your work to people and you need to send things out in very particular formats. Even writers who work with major publishers have to do a lot of their own PR and marketing. Then there's social networking and maintaining a blog. On top of this, I'm still looking at other people's blogs, still reading books and articles on writing, still trying to learn and refine the process. And don't forget to read a ton of books. The best way to learn about good writing is to read it. If you want to write in a certain genre you need to be reading what's current. And let's not forget that while you're doing all these other things you still need to write, or the whole process grinds to a halt.
I've learned that writing takes a lot of time. Good writers need to have a lot of skills, not just the ability to describe a scene or tell a story. It's a process, like anything, and it has a lot of moving parts. To be good, you have to be a pretty good juggler and keep a lot of balls in the air. So why do people do it? Well, that's the most important thing I've learned. People do it because they love it. People do it because they can't not do it. An awkward sentence, I know, but there's no better way to say it. I write because stories weave themselves in my head whether I'm looking for one or not. They are going to evolve and progress whether I write them down or not, so I'd better sit down and capture them while I can. The stories entertain me, and even if no one else ever reads them I'm glad to set them to paper. To polish them up store them. I love the process of watching a story evolve, and I understand now why writers write. Now, if you'll excuse me I need to go write.
If things hit the fan, certain tools can save your life. You need to get tools that are well made and durable. If you stop and think about it, you can probably list dozens of tools you'd like to have for a long tern survival situation, but I'm going to focus on the five basics that are absolutely necessary. Here's my list of five essential tools for the apocalypse.
1. Pocket Multi-Tool. Okay, imagine that the world as we know it is ending. No lights, no electricity, no cell phones. All the little things you take for granted are gone, or not working. That includes electric can openers, power tools, and so on. You need a good multi-tool like the Swiss Army Huntsman by Victorinox ($35). It has two sizes of knife blades, plus both kinds of screwdrivers, a can opener, bottle opener, wood saw, wire stripper, hole punch, and a few other tools. If you're bugging out and on the move, these handy tools are way easier than carrying all those bulky tools individually. Plus, Swiss Army Knives are guaranteed for life. Another option is the Leatherman Sidekick ($32). It has most of the same tools, plus a built-in set of pliers. It's only guaranteed for 25 years, but both Victorinox and Leatherman are known for quality. Beware of cheap quality multi-tools. Some are poorly designed and frustrating to use. Others may fail you when you need them most. These two tools will serve you well. They're a great option for EDC, for a bug out bag, or to keep in your tool box.
2. Heavy Duty Knife. Okay, your multi-tool has a small blade for normal little cutting tasks, but you'll need a bigger, beefier knife if you're going to survive an apocalypse. When you're looking for a good survival knife, there are a few things you want to look for. Carbon steel holds an edge well and is relatively easy to sharpen. Most important, carbon steel is very durable and very tough. It will stand up to hard tasks much better than stainless steel or lesser materials. When looking for a heavy duty knife, look for carbon steel. Another thing you'll want to be aware of is the thickness of your blade. Get something 1/4" thick or more for strength and durability. A blade of more than 5" is recommended by many, including the Pathfinder Survival School. Smaller knives often don't provide the leverage you need. Lastly, get a knife that is full tang. For those unfamiliar with the term, full tang means that the knife is one solid piece of steel from its tip to the end of the handle. Again this ensures that your knife won't break when chopping or prying. While I don't have the room to list all the great knives that will serve you well in a bad situation, here are a few that I have used and trusted. They have the attributes listed above.
The Grayman Mega Pounder 7.5 ($255) is a beast of a knifel. It's 13.5"( total length) with a 7.5" blade made of 1/4" thick 1095 High Carbon Steel. These are tough knives made to work, and capable of standing up to tough tasks without breaking. For years, Grayman sold exclusively to soldiers and law enforcement officers, people whose lives often depend on their knives. Now they are available to anyone. You can cut, chop, and dig with these knives. Want to make a shelter, pry open a crate, or dig a hole? These knives will face every task, and never let you down. The maker claims you'll never break it, but if you ever do, it's guaranteed for life. Another option is the First Strike by Fehrman Knives ($400). It also has a 7.5" blade, though its overall length is slightly shorter (13"). It is made of CPM-3V Steel. It can chop small trees, split wood, and cut like crazy. As the Company motto says "When your situation turns ferocious, you want tools that are just as fierce. You want tools that you can depend on in trying circumstances. Fehrman makes just such tools, tools that will not fail you when you need them most." In short, Fehrman knives are guaranteed not to fail ... for life. Both these knives are tough, dependable tools that will take a great deal of punishment and come back for more.
Both Grayman and Fehrman make other knives and all are extremely solid. Many custom knife makers, such as Fallen Oak Forge, make a great variety of well-designed, top quality knives in carbon steel. The advantage of working with a custom knife maker is that they can make a knife that conforms to your tastes and needs. For the budget minded, Tops Knives makes a variety of great knives in the $200 range. Most conform to the standards outlined above. Check the specs for each to make sure you're getting what you need.
3. Dead On AN18 Annihilator Utility and Wrecking Bar. As the name says, the Dead On Annihilator($30) is made to be a wrecking tool. At 18" long and 3.6 lbs., the Annihilator is a serious tool, and since it costs around $30 you might just need one. It's a demolition hammer, a tile ripper, a nail puller, and a serious pry bar. It has a hammer at one end and a razor sharp steel spike on the other. It even has a bottle opener. In the apocalypse, you'll likely find lots of uses for a tool like this. Trapped in a building? Take out a wall and escape with the Annihilator. Need to build a shelter from old building materials? Use the Annihilator. Want to smash through a door to loot a building? The Annihilator. Need to bash the occasional zombie on the head? It's good for that, too.
4. A Serious Tomahawk. Tomahawks have been used for centuries as both weapons and tools. U.S. soldiers have used them in every major war since the 1700s. Today's top tactical tomahawks are still made with soldiers in mind. A soldier today can't carry a different tool for every task. They have to carry tools that do a variety of things, and that won't break or fail under stress. When you're in the field, a faulty tool can't be replaced. It's the same during a SHTF situation. You want to carry a tool that is also a weapon. And it has to be tough. The Hardcore Hardware BFT01 Tomahawk ($430) fits the bill on all counts. Made for the soldiers of Australia and New Zealand, the BFT01 is made of one piece of teflon coated D2 tool steel from its head to the end of its handle. At 18.5" and nearly two and a half pounds, the BFT is no toy. The blade and spike can be put to a variety of uses, and the pommel has a chisel point which allows it to be used for prying. According to the company's website "some of the tasks we expect you'll use our BFT for include the following: chopping, hammering, digging, cutting, as a climbing aid, defeating locks, smashing windows and windshields and raking out their frames, puncturing steel radial tires, smashing steel clad doors, and breaking through walls including those made of brick." In short, this tomahawk does it all, and the tough D2 steel holds an edge even after lots of abuse. For combat, the axe blade is useful against zombies and other opponents. It can be used to slash, chop, or hook. The spike on the other end is designed to penetrate kevlar helmets and body armor. Another option would be any of the fine tomahawks made by RMJ Tactical. They are made in America, similarly designed for both tough use and combat, and their price range is similar.
5. A Dependable Blade. In any post apocalyptic scenario, a sword or other big blade is almost a necessity. You'll need it for major chopping tasks, and possibly as a weapon. After all, bullets will be in short supply, and you'll need something to deter other survivors who are eyeing your gear and your food. When it comes to apocalyptic weapons, you should be looking at Missoula's Zombie Tools (www.zombietools.net ). They make everything from Katana style swords to machetes, tomahawks, and everything in between. All are handmade, full tang, from American steel and wrapped with Montana leather for the grips. They are the baddest blades around. I recommend a Vakra (kukri) or Hooligan (machete/sword) if your blade will be doing double duty chopping wood and other items. If you'd prefer a two handed weapon, the Deuce II ($400) can't be beat. Check out the video on their website where they use a Deuce to chop a truck hood in half, destroy a TV, bisect an air hockey game, cut several phone books, and take a few whacks at a concrete highway divider before the blade finally fails. That is one tough blade, the kind you can depend on when you need it. Another fine maker of knives, swords and other blades is Miller Brothers Blades. They make everything from functional katana swords and Jungle choppers to smaller, edc knives. Customers have a choice of steel types though all are of exceeding quality and durability.
So there are your essentials for the apocalypse. Do you need all five? Well, that depends. If you'll be on foot, you may not want to carry all five. If you'll be in the woods you may choose some tools, while if you're in an urban environment you may choose differently. If your budget is an issue, you may decide that having all five is overkill. Just be careful of substituting cheap tools for the ones listed. Cheaper means less durable and breakage could mean your life.
One of the events that make my town of Missoula unique is the WildWalk parade. The WildWalk is part of the International Wildlife Film Festival, the longest-running wildlife film fest in the world. WildWalk is a chance for kids to dress up like their favorite animals, and parade down the main street through town, but this being Missoula, a lot of adults dress up too.
They always have drummers leading the parade. This year my friend Matthew Marsolek led the parade, and he invited me to come and be part of the rhythm. It's fun to lead a bunch of kids dressed like animals down the main street of the city where you live. We had four djembe players, two people playing dunun drums, one guy playing a samba-type drum. We played West African rhythms such as Madan, Sinte, and Sofa as we walked, sloooowly, down the street. Other drummers and their family members played bells and shakers. We were followed by tigers, sharks, butterflies, owls, even trees. Kids who were too little to walk came along in strollers.
We ended at a local park where local group, Drum Brothers, played African rhythms and songs. Kids and their parents watched and danced and the 36th Annual International Wildlife Film Festival was officially underway.
Our little town of Missoula is full of cool history. It's around us all the time, and informs everything we do. In fact, it's tough to move around town without being reminded of some important past event.
It started about twelve thousand years ago. The valley where Missoula now sits was a huge glacial lake two thousand feet deep. An ice dam over in northern Idaho blocked up the Clark Fork River, causing everything to back up, and creating an enormous lake that stretched for miles. When the dam finally let loose, it released a flood that flowed west at an estimated 386 million cubic feet per second. That flow of water was 60 times the size of the Amazon River, the largest in the world today. The flow was ten times greater than all the major rivers of the world today, combined! All that water blasted west, across Montana, Northern Idaho, Washington, and Oregon to the ocean. Thundering waves and house-sized chunks of ice tore across the landscape stripping off topsoil, tearing off mountainsides, and cleaving massive scars in the landscape. The flood of water created the scablands of eastern Washington and carved the Columbia River Gorge. Boulders the size of small houses, still visible in Washington and Oregon today, were carried from Montana as the water raced west at about 65 miles an hour. For those of us who live in Missoula now, all we have to do is look up at the mountainsides around town to see the striations in the rock left by the water levels of Lake Missoula.
in 1805, Lewis and Clark camped several miles southwest of Missoula on their historic trip to discover the Pacific. On the return trip, Merriwether Lewis went through the Missoula Valley on his way east. From downtown Missoula, residents can look east to where the Clark Fork River goes through Hellgate Canyon. The story is that the Nez Perce and Salish tribes used to gather in what is now the Missoula Valley to journey through this narrow canyon together. They were headed for the bison hunting grounds to the east and were counting on strength in numbers since the canyon was a notorius ambush spot by the neighboring Blackfeet tribes. In the 1820's French trappers passing through the canyon were horrified to find the remains of so many Salish who had been killed there. They named the place "Porte de l'Enfer" or "Hell Gate". Today the canyon is still named Hellgate Canyon and one of the local schools is Hellgate High School.
Missoula was also the home to the famous 25th Infantry Regiment in the 1800s. The 25th Regiment was one of the racially segregated black regiments of the US army known as the "Buffalo Soldiers". They participated in the last major campaigns of the Indian Wars on the Great Plains. In 1896, members of the 25th formed a volunteer corps of bicycle troops who made a journey by bicycle from Fort Missoula, MT to Saint Louis, MO, a journey of 1,900 miles which took 41 days.
So, it's easy for Missoulians these days to look up and see the marks on the surrounding hills left by the ancient glacial lake. We walk downtown and complain of the bitter Hellgate winds. History is everywhere, the ghosts of explorers, indians, and miners all around us. To me it's one of the cool things about Missoula, one of the things that makes our place unique.
One of the most interesting figures in history is Vlad III, later known as Vlad Tepes. He is commonly known as Vlad the Impaler. He was known to sign his name as Vlad Draculea which means "son of the dragon". Because of this fact, he is often thought to have been the inspiration of the book Dracula, by Bram Stoker. He was Prince, or Voivode, of Wallachia two different times, fighting against the invading Ottoman Turks. Vlad's cruelty and his habit of impaling enemies is pretty well known. What's not as well known is that Vlad was considerd by many, especially in his native Romania, to be a hero. He was seen as a great leader who reclaimed control of the country from the corrupt aristocrats of the time (the Boyars). Though he had hundreds of Boyars impaled and made others build his castle by hand, his methods were seen as harsh but necessary for the times. When Vlad was crowned as ruler the second time, one chronicle said "Voivode Vlad sat on the throne and all the country came to pay respect, and brought many gifts and they went back to their houses with great joy. And Voievod Vlad with the help of God grew into much good and honor as long as he kept the reign of those just people". Wow. Really?
In 1459 Pope Pius II proposed a new crusade against the Ottomans. He paid Matthias Corvinus, the son of the King of Hungary, to mount an expedition against the Ottomans. Vlad sided with Matthias Corvinus. When the Ottoman ruler sent messengers to Vlad asking him to submit to Ottoman rule, Vlad resisted in no uncertain terms. You see, the Turkish messengers refused to remove their turbans in Prince Vlad's presence. He had their turbans nailed to their heads so they could keep them on always. The Ottoman ruler got the message. Vlad fought the Ottomans for years, achieving many victories along the way, and killing thousands of Ottoman Turks. His victories were celebrated by the Saxon cities of Transylvania, by the Italian States, and by the Pope himself. Depending on which version you follow, Vlad either turned back the Ottomans and was then betrayed by Matthias Corvinus, or the Ottomans eventually overwhelmed his lesser forces and Vlad was forced to flee to Hungary. In either case, Vlad was imprisoned in Hungary for several years. He converted from Orthodoxy to Roman Catholocism after his release in 1475. In 1476, Vlad was trying to reclaim the throne of Wallachia for a third time (with the support of Hungary) when he was killed.
So, accounts of Vlad's life vary depending on who you talk to. The Turks called him "Kaziglu Bey", which meant "The Impaler Prince". Since Germn merchants were often the targets of his punishments, the German sources often portray him as a sadistic, inhuman monster. Russian princes of the time were facing problems from the aristocratic Boyars, and many of Vlad's most cruel punishments had been meted out to the Boyars in Wallachia. Consequently, Russian sources tend to portray Vlad as a cruel prince, but one who acted in the best interests of the people against a troublesome and corrupt Boyar class. Romanian folklore has been kindest to Vlad's memory. Though his cruelties are not overlooked, he is often known as the man who selflessly defended Wallachia against the invading Turks. Were it not for his cruelty and determination, the country would have been lost. In addition, Romanian tales often focus on Vlad's efforts to eliminate crime and dishonesty under his rule while downplaying the inhuman and gruesome punishments he meted out.
Most poeple who know anything of Vlad the Impaler know him as a heartless and sadistic tyrant. He was known to have impaled, hanged and beheaded hundreds, maybe thousands of people. He was also a man who made generous donations to various churches and monasteries, and fought a war on the side of Christianity. He defended his country against an army of foreign invaders, and helped to keep the Ottoman Empire from taking over parts of Serbia and the Italian States. We'll probably never know the full truth about the man and his life, but if you read a little history, you're bound to find out some things you didn't know.