Today is Ernest Hemingway’s birthday. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois July 21, 1899, but his travels took him from the heartland of America to half way around the world several times.
He served as a medic in Italy during World War I, and while recuperating from a wound, met his first wife, Hadley Richardson, his nurse. Later, while covering the Spanish Civil War, he fell in love with the Spanish culture. His experiences became the foundation of A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls as well as countless other stories.
Hemingway has been called a lot of things in his life. Journalist, author, fisherman, big game hunter, and lady’s man. Crackpot is also one of them. Some people say he was nuts because of his eccentricities and wild choices. For example, how many people do you know would keep dumping one perfectly good woman for another? Okay, I get it. A couple thousand. But how many people do you know who get high on covering war up front and personal?
I’ve always admired Ernest Hemingway, probably for the same reasons Hemingway loved Mark Twain. His writing was impeccable. By that I mean you would be hard-pressed to delete one word from The Old Man and the Sea without affecting the impact of the story. That was his signature style.
The story is about an old man who triumphs after battling a marlin, only to lose it to sharks before anyone can see what a splendid fish he has caught. But the story is also about you and me and the struggles we face. Like the old man losing his great fish to the sharks, we sometimes lose to forces beyond our control.
But Hemingway shows us there is dignity in loss. The old man does not whine. Nor does he pity himself. He accepts his fate, knowing defeat is part of life, and life is good.
Probably what few people don’t realize about The Old Man and the Sea is that the story is a metaphor for Hemingway’s life. He published it in 1952, 12 years after publishing For Whom the Bells Toll. At this point in his writing career, critics were calling him washed up and an impotent writer.
What kind of a man can reach deep into his soul and dredge up a marlin of incredible power and beauty, and along with it, ravenous sharks who will mercilessly devour his prized possession? Hemingway worked on The Old Man and the Sea after moving out of his home in Key West and settling in Cuba. When he finally polished the last paragraph, he must have sensed he had written something that was timeless.
His life ended in tragedy when he took his life July 2, 1961 after an agonizing bout with depression that included inhumane shock treatments at the Mayo Clinic. Ernest Hemingway’s life should not be judged by the way it ended, but rather by the legacy he left us.
He was a character of epic proportions, much like Odysseus and Hercules who, despite their flaws, proved powerful and almost magical in the way they challenged life.
What about you? What is the marlin in your life that you are willing to sacrifice everything for? Get acquainted with that power deep in your soul, because one day you may have to dredge it up to
fight the sharks that inevitably come everyone’s way.
Happy Birthday, Ernest. And I hope you hook a big one wherever you are!
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June 25, 1997 began as a normal day in the Caribbean, and the people in the villages on the southern part of Montserrat went about their routine activities, aware of the smoking Soufriere Hills but not overly concerned. It had been smoking and fussing for months and this Wednesday was no exception. Then shortly after noon, the earth that held it back collapsed, and hot lava and gas flowed into the unsuspecting valleys below. Before the ash and lava settled, 19 people lay dead, and ten villages were either obliterated or rendered uninhabitable. Subsequent volcanic activity wiped Montserrat’s capital, Plymouth, off the map.
Three years later, less than 1,200 people remained on the island. Over 7,000 were evacuated, more than half of them fleeing to Britain where they received citizenship in 2002.
More than 20 years later, the southern part of the island lies in an exclusion zone, deemed uninhabitable and severely restricted to both the island’s inhabitants and tourists. The northern half of the island remains postcard perfect. Lush hills and valleys with the blue-green Caribbean as a scenic backdrop continues to be home to natives and expatriates alike.
A lot of Irish are surprised to find that this British-controlled isle, that lies about 300 miles from Puerto Rico, is nicknamed the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean. Settlers arrived there in 1642 from Ireland. Over the years, European nations shuffled it back and forth amongst themselves, but even with a slave rebellion, the settlers of Montserrat adapted. Blacks and whites intermarried, and harmonious relationships punctuated island life, though with an Irish twist. A testament to that is the National Holiday celebrated March 17 commemorating not Saint Patrick’s Day as much as a slave revolt.
Volcanoes aren’t unique to the Caribbean. Hundreds of Islands throughout the world were sired by volcanoes. Hawaii is, perhaps, the most famous. James Michener’s Hawaii provides an absorbing account of the islands. He not only traces the history of its people but the formation of the island itself.
It’s interesting to note that volcanoes are equal opportunity purveyors of death and misery. You can find them in Italy, Iceland, Japan, and the United States. Think Mauna Loa, Hawaii and Mount St. Helens in Washington. Mount Pelee in Martinique, Mexico, and Columbia are also home to the volcano gods as is Indonesia which is blessed with at least three. These volcanoes are worrisome at best and should be feared when they awaken. Most will bring a terrifying and deadly side effect: tsunamis capable of wiping out civilization on hundreds of islands and killing hundreds of thousands of people.
Jimmy Buffett recorded a song called Volcano on an album by the same name in November 1979. It recounts the dangers of living on a Caribbean island where volcanoes, like hurricanes, are nothing to be trifled with. Ironically, he recorded it in a studio on Montserrat which was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Volcano is so popular with his parrothead followers that he wouldn’t dare not play it at a concert. I suspect fans would blow their tops.
The lyrics capture the uncertainty of living on an island with a volcano that is misbehaving. Implied is the overriding question, “When is it going to blow?” And he seeks answers to questions such as where do you go to get away from the damn thing? Though volcanoes are destructive, Buffett captures the resilient spirit of the islanders who eventually must overcome the tragedy and put their lives back together.
I hope the natives caught up in the next volcanic event find a safe place to go, and I hope they are able to rebuild their lives stronger and better than ever. The people of Montserrat are a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.
Whether you live in the Caribbean or on the far side of the world, tragedy comes to visit us all. It may not take the shape of a volcano, but it can be just as devastating. When the next volcano blows in your life, I pray you find the strength and resources not only to overcome it but, like the phoenix, rise from the ashes stronger than ever.
If you see me out there on the High Seas of Life, don’t forget to wave that pirate sword of yours in my direction and yell, “Aarrrgh!” I’ll be looking for you and those volcanoes.
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In a few months, I’ll be headed to Bermuda to accompany my son on his honeymoon. Don’t even ask. His kids are going too. While I anticipate having a good time, I am filled with a little consternation because of the reputation the area has. I know you’ve heard of the Bermuda Triangle, sometimes referred to as the Devil’s Triangle.
Depending on whom you talk to, the area covers an area approximately 500,000 to a million and a half square miles. Facing south from Bermuda, the right side of the triangle runs roughly to Miami, Florida. The left side of the triangle runs to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
A lot of strange things have happened in the area, everything from small pleasure boats to military ships and planes disappearing, and nobody really seems to know why
Oh, there’s lots of speculation. Scientists are at no loss to offer countless hypotheses about what happened to these boats, ships, and planes, but in the end, they are just that. Hypotheses.
I’m not an anti-science nut like Donald Trump and many of the morons in the Congress and Senate of the United States who vehemently deny climate change. Its effects are palpable, measurable, worldwide.
It’s just that in the case of the Bermuda Triangle, science just doesn’t have a definitive answer. Let’s take a look at a few of the mysterious disappearances. On March 4, 1918, the USS Cyclops vanished after departing Barbados and heading for Baltimore, MD. Neither the ship nor the 309-member crew were heard from again.
In fact, there wasn’t so much as a piece of wreckage. You can be sure the United States government launched an incredibly detailed search of the area and found nothing. Not even a hint of sabotage by a foreign government. I’m sure if Donald Trump had been president then, he would have found someone to blame and pay for the missing ship. Continue reading →
It’s late winter in North America, and most people are suffering from winter doldrums, and summer seems far, far away. I thought I’d brighten your week by sharing some thoughts about oysters, even though we don’t celebrate National Oyster Day till August. Personally, I think six months is too long to wait; oysters are so good, we should celebrate them every day of the year.
The English satirist, Jonathan Swift, once said, “It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.” There may be some truth to that. Oysters are slimy and shaped funny with little folds in them that promise a world of delight. They can be white or gray, and their bodies sometimes fringed with a little black. But that’s part of the fun of eating them. If oysters had the consistency of an apple, the color of a carrot, or the appearance of broccoli, they would lose a lot of their mystery.
Oysters do a great service to mankind. They keep the waters around the mouth of our bays and estuaries clean. Did you know each oyster filters about a half of a gallon of water, and it’s for that reason some people are repulsed by them? That’s good! That means there’s that many more for me and other oyster lovers.
This may come as a shock to you, but did you also know that our beloved Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants were processed, was once called Oyster Island? That was before the very first European settlers felt it was their duty to rape the land and pollute the waters when they came to the New World. It may be hard to conceive this, but this area once teemed with huge, juicy oysters.
Oysters are not only delicious, but are good for you. Not only are they filled with zinc, iron, and vitamin B-12, but they contain amino acids that promote sexual performance, earning them the reputation of being an aphrodisiac. The womanizer, Casanova, known for his wild affairs, was reputed to have eaten fifty oysters for breakfast. I don’t think I could eat that many at one time and then frolic with my wife, but it’s something I think I’ll put on my bucket list. Continue reading →
Every year we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States by acknowledging our blessings big and small. I wonder, however, how many of us are cognizant of the sacrifices the very first pilgrims made before they even set foot on this land.
We think of Pilgrims as religious refugees fleeing from such horrendous oppression that the dangers of an unknown country were welcome. The fact is the first puritans to New England were by virtue of their journey- mariners though they didn’t actually sail the ship. They hired professional sailors for that job; however, with the problems they faced at sea, they may as well have been.
Many aren’t aware that the pilgrims started out not on one but two ships. The Speedwell and the Mayflower. Twice they set out on their voyage, and twice they were forced to turn back when the Speedwell produced more leaks than Wiki-leaks. In fact, the Pilgrims had wracked up over 300 nautical miles at sea when the it leaked so badly it would have sunk had they continued.
When the Mayflower resumed its journey on September 06, 1620, it was under chaotic conditions. A hundred and two passengers were forced to crowd together in such close quarters that whole families stayed behind while others were separated and members left in port.
Once at sea, the Pilgrims found the voyage went fairly smoothly. Then the storms of the North Atlantic struck and the passengers must have thought they entered hell. Seasickness was rampant on a ship that pitched wildly in the ocean. One man was swept overboard. William Bradford, the leader of the group, noted that it was God’s way of punishing a proud and haughty man. God must have been having a bad day if that was true.
When the storms continued to batter the ship mercilessly, the captain ordered the ship to heave to, furling the sails lest the ferocious winds snap the mast in half. Surely the Pilgrims must have thought they would never see land again as they rode the pitching sea for days at a time making no head way.
At one point, the main beam of the ship threatened to split apart from the violent beating of the sea. One of the passengers volunteered what is described as a giant screw to hold it together. With no Coast Guard to intercede, it’s a good thing he was there.
Sixty-six days later, passengers and crew set sight on New England. It was a cold November 11th, but their journey was far from over. Their original plan called for landing somewhere between the Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson River. Realizing their predicament, they headed south with hopes of settling near a fertile valley in what is now a tiny hamlet called New York City.
Following the coastline was no easy task, and the rocky shores and shoals of Cape Cod raised more than a few hairs on those stern faces. Because of the approaching winter, they settled on Plymouth Harbor December 16.
Most of the Puritans survived the voyage, but New England winters are harsh, and cold, sickness, and lack of preparedness claimed almost half the passengers and crew. By spring only fifty-two Pilgrims were alive and every one of those owed their life to local Indians who gave them food and supplies.
Things no doubt must have seemed bleak that winter, but time has a way of ameliorating our troubles and sorrows. Instead of despairing, those battered pilgrims sunk their roots deep into that New England soil till at last they not only survived but eventually passed on a heritage borne of hard work, courage, and gratitude.
I hope we spend a few moments considering what our ancestors have endured no matter what our backgrounds. Each group that came here knew intimately the suffering and uncertainty a life in a strange land offers. But they taught us that when life is hard, you do it hard. No wimps allowed. For that I’m grateful.
What about you and your ancestors? What do you cherish most about them?
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The election is over and Donald Trump is the president elect of the United States. Hopefully, he will lead this country wisely and bravely for the next four years.
I have my doubts considering his remarks and behavior during the primaries and this past election bid. The man gushed unashamedly about how he likes to ogle naked women as they change for a beauty contest. It’s one thing to have your private sexual fantasies and another to act on them.
He also bubbled with joy about grabbing women’s genitals without fear of repercussion because he was a celebrity. I wonder how many women he’ll actually attempt to fondle now that he’s even more of a celebrity. I suspect if he tries it with Angela Merkel, chancellor of West Germany, he’ll be in for a surprise.
Of course, all of this is not exactly the stuff role models and leaders are made of. So how do you explain him to your teenage son or daughter?
His opponent put up a fantastic fight, actually winning more votes than he did. She no doubt would have made a fine president, but a quirk in our electoral college circumvented that. So forty-eight percent of Americans decided they liked a borderline pervert instead. And to think that many of those who selected him were Evangelical Christians who believe in the straight and narrow path. I can only guess their value system aligns with Donald Trump’s, so it leaves me more than a little confused how groping and humiliating women, Hispanics, and special needs persons fits into organized religion.
Now that the dust has cleared, I’m wondering why someone like Jimmy Buffett didn’t run for office. He’s smart just like Donald Trump. He’s funny, unlike Donald Trump. He’s engaging unlike Donald Trump. And he’s a good businessman just like Donald Trump. Look at how he’s packed his concerts city after city over the years. Margaritaville restaurants and stores which grew systemically from his songs are thriving. Even though the music poohbahs who give out awards have largely neglected his achievements, his loyal parrothead fans now include their children and their children’s children.
Because Jimmy’s trademark is pirates and parrots, I have no trouble seeing the White House filled with these colorful creatures. Jimmy has always been a pirate. There’s a story about how in his earlier years, he stole peanut butter and sardines from a local supermarket to keep from starving. I believe he made restitution a long time ago. His story is recounted in his song The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.
I bet Donald Trump was never hungry a day in his life. Judging from his physical appearance, he sure doesn’t appear to have been. In fact, he received a nice little nest egg from his dad to get him started. Jimmy, on the other hand, had to endure a lot of hard times before he finally made it big. No nest eggs from his family. Just good family values and a pirate heart that told him he could do anything he set his mind to. Arrrgggh! Continue reading →
World Maritime Day was celebrated this year on September 29. Personally, mariners do so much for the billions of peoples on this planet, I think one day is not enough to thank them for all the sacrifices they make. Even if you’ve never seen an ocean, you owe them a huge debt.
Here are a few facts about mariners and the industry that you may not be aware of. It’s a tough business to be in whether you’re just starting out or the VP of a huge shipping company.
World Maritime Day was first established as an arm of the United Nations in 1978.
There are over a hundred thousand merchant marines in the United States alone. There are over a million worldwide.
The International Maritime Organization is an agency of the United Nations responsible for the safety, security, and pollution of ships globally.
Living and working on a ship is a dangerous job. Every year hundreds of mariners die in mishaps aboard the ship.
Last year this time twenty-eight crew members of the Faro sailed straight into hurricane Joaquin and perished.
Over 75% of casualties at sea are due to human error. Some sources put the figure closer to 95%.
One of the greatest challenges to the shipping industry is a shortage of engineering officers. These are needed to run ships far more sophisticated than they were just a few years ago.
Close to ninety percent of goods used around the world are delivered by ships.
Over 50,000 ships are out there on the high seas right now, or have just arrived in port, or are now getting under way.
The Maritime Labour Convention protects 1.5 million mariners globally by setting the gold standard for regulations for living and working on a ship.
According to Maritime Insight, the busiest ports in the world in descending order are: Singapore; Shanghai; Hong Kong; Busan, South Korea; Ningbo, China; Guangzhou, China; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Qingdao, China; and finally Rotterdam. This is based on total tonnage shipped through their ports.
Based on the most recent statistics of the United States government, the top five busiest ports in the United States are in descending order: Port of South Louisiana; Houston, Texas; NY and New Jersey; Beaumont, Texas; and Long Beach, California.
Nature, the International Weekly Journal of Science revealed that 1.12 billion tons of CO2 comes from ships. That’s four percent of the world’s output, double of what everyone previously thought.
A huge trend toward using LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas) is underway in an effort to help clean the oceans.
The average container ship has a crew of around nineteen.
According to the website of Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association, WISTA is an “international organization for women in management positions… in the maritime transportation business.” Unlike the days of pirates, the maritime industry doesn’t exclude women from any facet of its business. If you have something to offer, don’t hesitate to check them out.
At this very moment on thousands of ships out there on the seas and in ports around the world men and women far from their families are making very real sacrifices so the goods you take for granted on the store shelves are delivered safely and timely. Say a little prayer for them tonight. Moreover, if you know a mariner personally, email or text him or her. And when they complete their journey, hold them just a little tighter before they go back out to sea.
The Uncommon Mariner
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Those two words are perhaps the most terrifying any passenger on the high seas can hear. On Wednesday, August 17, a ferry with 511 passengers and crew caught fire while en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Santo Domingo. Miraculously, no one was killed as the Puerto Rico Coast Guard and local officials rushed to the scene.
It’s a voyage the ferry makes several times a week. This time a fire in the engine room changed routine into a near disaster when a fuel hose burst and spewed dangerous fuel everywhere. The fire spread to other parts of the Caribbean Fantasy, and when the ship lost power, it drifted finally grounding off Punta Salinas. While the hull sustained no damage from the fire, pictures reveal a different story for other parts of the ship.
More than a hundred people suffered smoke inhalation, dehydration, and shock. Though passengers were evacuated into life rafts by slide, several passengers suffered broken bones in the process.
The story has a happy ending because everyone did what they were supposed to do. Owners and authorities made sure proper equipment was on board. This included enough life vests for both passengers and crew, proper functioning slides, and enough life boats to accommodate everyone on board.
The story also has a happy ending because the captain, instead of trying to play hero and guide the ship into port, properly ordered the dreaded “Abandon Ship” command. Most importantly, everyone survived because the passengers kept their composure and did not panic in the face of a terrifying ordeal.
I shudder to think what would have happened in other parts of the world where ferry disasters are far too common and the loss of life seemingly routine. You don’t have to go too far back in the news to discover how bad it could have been for travelers on the Caribbean Fantasy.
On April 16, 2014, the South Korean ferry Sewol went down claiming 304 souls, most of them school children. When its sister ship was seized and inspected, authorities discovered the lifeboats would not release, and when one finally did by hard kicking, it barely inflated in the water. Continue reading →
Brutal. It’s one of the first words people utter when they read a true account of pirates, and they’re right. As a group, pirates were among the hardest, toughest, and most dangerous men a person could encounter on the high seas.
You’ll notice that qualification: “Among the hardest, toughest, and most dangerous men….” It must be understood a wide range of brutality existed not only on pirate ships, but on merchant and Royal Navy vessels as well. Running into a pirate ship was not exactly like running into the Red Cross, but then neither was running into a ship from the Royal Navy.
The Royal Navy was notorious for its institutionalized cruelty and violence. Some captains were despotic, sadistic leaders encouraged by the top brass to keep discipline at all costs. Like hardened sailors on pirate ships, these captains found a home in the British Navy. Life on one of their ships was no less than a chamber of horrors.
On a scale of violence from one to ten, most pirates were somewhere around a five. Several pirates, however, like some captains in the Royal Navy, were off the charts. Their cruelty and sadistic tortures knew no bounds. If we are to be accurate about this, we should call them for what they were. Psychopaths. Piracy just happened to be the profession they chose like captains of the Royal Navy who relished the pain and misery they inflicted on their crew with little provocation.
If I had to select the top five cruelest pirates in history, I’d have to include Rock Barziliano, Francois L’Olonnais, Edward Low, Benito de Soto, and Don Pedro Gilbert. I won’t go into specifics here, but I will tell you their horrific attacks are chronicled in Uncommon Mariners and a number of other riveting books by expert authors such as David Cordingly, Benerson Little, Peter Earle, and Colin Woodard.
The mutilations and murders by these men were so brutal that I have no doubt that it would make Blackbeard and Kidd flinch. In fact, I’ll go even further than that. I believe in my pirate soul that most of the pirates of the Golden Age would be embarrassed to have their names associated with the likes of them.
“That’s not what we were about, mate. Damn ye, scalawag, for even suggesting such a thing!” Blackbeard would no doubt thunder. Continue reading →
When I was a kid, I remember a small tin chest not more than four inches wide and a couple inches high. It was shaped like a pirate’s chest with a sturdy metal handle on the top and a hole underneath large enough to slip coins into. The metallic blacks, blues, and browns beckoned this six-year old to a fascinating world of pirates with Captain Kidd’s own name inscribed on the front of the chest.
Looking back, a pirate bank seems counterintuitive. Pirates were the last ones you’d expect to save money though Henry Morgan did and purchased several estates in Jamaica. Not bad for a pirate, mon!
I guess there was more pirate in that six-year old than I realized. I never managed to save more than a few coins at a time, and while rum and wenches didn’t call my name, packages of baseball cards with bubblegum inside did. I can think of a whole lot of pirates that would be proud of me because of my spendthrift ways.
Our piggy banks have changed over the years. There’s still the common pig- mostly see-through glass or plaster of Paris. I have two myself; one large and one small, both are painted blue.
I don’t know if kids still use piggy banks these days. From the looks of the shelves in the dollar stores, there seems to be one for every kid in America with plenty to spare.
But somehow I think most kids and their parents have grown too sophisticated for them. Now there are gift cards in denominations of twenty to a hundred dollars, and it’s not much fun to stare at a gift card lying indolently at the bottom of a piggy bank. It is fun, however, to see a few single coins grow from a tiny miniscule lump to an impressive mountain of change.
I never took a poll, but had I asked the hundreds of buccaneers and pirates that sailed the Seven Seas, I bet my best tricorn hat that ninety-nine percent of them would laugh at me if I asked if they ever buried treasure. “You think wenches and rum come free, you bloat?” they’d likely sneer.
Still I can’t help but think of Henry Morgan who actually buried the treasure he stole at Nombre de Dios. Spanish ships chased his ships away while he was off plundering in the jungles of Central America. When he discovered his predicament, he hastily buried the booty then rowed several hours till he caught up with his ships.
My wife never had that problem, but she does keep her treasure in a chest of sorts. I’d use the word booty, but some you with lurid minds would get the wrong idea. Her booty is in a tall glass jar, not something you could bury very easily. She often wonders why it doesn’t fill up faster till I remind her that if she didn’t plunder it as fast as Henry Morgan raided the Spanish Main, it might be brimming over.
While few pirates ever buried their treasure, I can assure you there were some. Even today part of William Kidd’s treasure is still the target of many a treasure hunt. And that’s a good thing because my grandchildren Luke and Nora buried treasure in my garden last year. We drew a pirate map up to make sure it was official.
I’m taking an informal poll, and I’d like to ask you two questions. Have you ever buried treasure? Hiding money under a rug or in a book counts! At the very least, do you have a piggy bank or chest where you store extra booty.
You’ll have to excuse me, but I hear someone digging out back. It might be a neighbor or it might be a professional treasure hunter. Word gets around. I’ve got to grab my tricorn hat and sword and check it out. I’ll be back next week.
In the meantime, if you want to read a little more about treasure, you might enjoy reading “What’s in Your Treasure Chest?” Find it at https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/whats-in-your-treasure-chest/ .
If you’d like to respond, please click on https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/buried-treasure/