James JosephWriting can be difficult and it can be fun. Here, I can write about anything that comes to mind, modern or ancient. I hope you'll join in with your comments.

July 14, 2009

Possible Reasons Why North America Was Not Heavily Populated When Europeans Arrived

It does seem strange that one of the most fertile areas on Earth, particularly the prairies and bottomlands surrounding the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and many other large rivers would not have been thickly settled long ago. But, there are many hints. Accumulating prehistoric evidence, combined with written accounts, provide an unusual history to this entire area.

While the Mississipi would provide a superb means of transportation for trade and migration, it was also much more unstable than appearances would suggest. Building along its banks would require the use of temporary structures or very high foundations. Even with all of the planning and work done by the Army Corps of Engineers to try and control the Mississippi with dikes and levees built on a massive scale, the power of the river can be unpredictable and overwhelming. In 1993 more than 1,000 of the river’s 1,300 dikes and levees were breached.

Even back during the initial European discovery, accounts by early Spanish explorers record the river flooding so extensively, it overflowed its banks for 20 leagues (60 miles) on each side of the river in 1643. Only the tops of the tallest trees remained visible. Since most people tended to live either near the ocean or a large river for purposes of travel, trade and food, this would make for a difficult place to survive. It is said that many of the great mounds built by the Native people contained large flat areas for housing to protect the villages from such dangerous floods.

Natives also said the Mississippi flooded about every 14 years. In the 1900’s there were 8 major floods, which would be very close to what the natives in De Soto’s time predicted.

But there were other problems as well. Droughts. Some of them were called mega-droughts. In the 1930’s, right at the time of the Great Depression, the dust bowl days began. A 10-year drought devastated most of the midwest. Crops were nearly impossible to grow. And odd occurrences created a nightmarish environment. Dust storms were extremely common and relentless. Those caught in these storms were often blinded and sometimes buried alive. The quickly moving dust caused strong jolts of static electricity when in contact with metal objects.

It wasn’t taken all that seriously by much of the US until the huge, billowing clouds of dust were blown all the way to Washington DC, and the east coast. Earlier droughts, however, were much more severe. One recently discovered mega-drought lasted 38 years.

This type of flood and drought pattern is extremely erratic, and while most of the time, the middle part of the country provides an excellent environment, it can suddenly turn dangerous, or perhaps deadly for early civilizations. But there’s yet another danger that can produce catastrophes on a regular basis. Earthquakes.

The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812 were the worst earthquakes recorded in the lower 48 states. The fault runs through 7 states and crosses both the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. So powerful were these earthquakes that churchbells were ringing in steeples more than 1,500 miles away in Washington DC as well as Boston, MA, and this occurred more than 18 times during this series of earthquakes. The Mississippi river flowed backwards (or appeared to) at times. Whole lakes disappeared and turned up miles away. The Mississippi changed it’s course several times. Eyewitness accounts reported the ground rolling like an ocean in 30 foot waves. Water spouts of sand and water shot up to 200 feet in the air for days at a time. The smell of burning sulphur was in the air during the most severe of these massive earthquakes.

During the 1811-1812 earthquakes, there were 3-5 earthquakes estimated to be as high as 8.0 on the Richter scale, with thousands of aftershocks that lasted until 1817. Due to the geological makeup, earthquakes in the New Madrid fault zone can damage 20 times more area than earthquakes of similar magnitudes in California, where the underlying mass is younger and more pliable. It’s estimated that a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on the New Madrid fault could cause widespread damage in as much as 20 states, whereas a similar earthquake in California could be limited to that state.

While many of these disasters occured in the middle of the country, the west coast has also had its share of catastrophic earthquakes, droughts and tsunamis. The east coast is often pummeled by major hurricanes and blizzards. However, we only have a history of this continent that goes back for a little more than 500 years. Unlike Asia, Europe and Africa, we don’t have access to a long history. We really don’t know what other events occur here on a one or two thousand year average.  There could be other regular events that we simply don’t understand or have any preparation to withstand.

The North American continent could also have been protected by extremely aggressive tribes. In many places along the east coast it’s estimated that a family or village lived on the coastline every quarter to half mile. That would create a very effective communication system. If, for example, it was known that foreign vessels often contained hostile peoples, or carried deadly disease, they could have been prevented from surviving landfall. It’s known that when the pilgrims landed in what’s now Plymouth, MA back in 1620, their first encounter was with a native called Squanto. Squanto’s village had been decimated by pestilence. And, he spoke English. Our history books are quite incomplete and very selective.

However, it is becoming clearer as to why the North American continent was so undeveloped at the time of the first European arrivals (in relatively modern times). We know some of the difficulties and challenges this continent can produce, but perhaps only a minor understanding.  As time goes on, we’ll learn more and more.

June 9, 2009

Philosophy Behind the Parables

Shadow of the Serpent/A Coyote Moon Story has many parables laced throughout the story. For the first half of the novel, most of these are related to daily living and dealing with conflict between tribes. The parables in the second half of the book relate to spirituality and differing views about our lives and the universe around us that are found in many ancient and modern religions, cultures and civilizations.

One of these parables involves the notion of a “Creator”. Many religions revolve around a single, all-powerful God that created all things  (monotheism).  Other religions are polytheistic, with many Gods, but there was generally one particular god that was most powerful among them and was generally regarded as the source, or creator of all things.

Creation stories differ wildly from one religion or culture to another, although they may be similar if they originated from a common source. The one commonality, a god that created all things, is behind many of the themes in nearly all religions. And that basis is used in Shadow of the Serpent.

Taken to its root level, one must go back to a time prior to this “God’s creation of anything. Nothing existed except “God“. If this is true, then what did “God” create everything from if nothing existed other than “God“? The answer is simple. Everything would have had to be created from God, and therefore is God. Creation is actually a constant, ongoing process. Destruction, in reality, ends up in transformation, which is actually another form of creation. The alpha and the omega, the sacred circle, seasons for all things, cycles… it’s neverending.

Many religions focus on “good” and “evil”. In Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, Adam and Eve were created “innocent”. Cristians believe in an original “sin” or “evil” that occured when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of a tree in order to become “Godlike”. Jewish worshipers do not believe in original sin because they don’t believe that one person would be punished for another’s sins. 

But, exactly what did it mean to become “Godlike”. Is it immortality? The ability to create? The ability to control the world around them beyond the natural ability of all other creatures? Agriculture and the manipulation of plants? Domesticating animals from nature? Weapons? It seems no coincidence that this story is dated to approximately the time of the first villages and cities. But, is this necessarily evil? Or is it natural evolution?

Humans had changed. They had knowledge. There was no going back. Eden was not just a place. It was a time. It was a transformation. And, this same story was also similar to an even more ancient Babylonian version in the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. The main differences were in name and number of “Gods”.

Ancient Hindus, Buddists, and Native American cultures also had creation stories from a single, god-like source. Hindus believed that the all-powerful “God” could be envisioned through many gods. Buddists believed that God is within each of us. Native Americans had many different religions, however, a great deal of them, across a very wide geographical area mention both “Wakan” which is sometimes interpreted as “the great mystery”, and the sacred circle, which is often interpreted as infinity, or immortality.

If “God” created all things, then all of these things would be true. We are all “God” and everything around us is “God”. This notion is somewhat hidden or openly displayed in nearly all religions. But that would make everything sacred. Good and evil would tend more to be that which is good for people, and that which is bad, or evil. Gravity, space, day and night, and everything on Earth seems to be ruled by certain rules of nature. All of those rules would be the power of “God” because nature is “God”.

And then there’s the search for miracles. Just about every religion involves miracles, or unnatural occurences that are beyond human knowledge, power and comprehension. The real truth is that everything is a miracle. We each live in an infinitely intricate world both internally and externally.

Just the fact that we exist, can think and live in a world so complex that a million lifetimes would not be long enough to understand even a minute portion of the world around us is a miracle. We don’t understand even the tiniest grain in a mountain of potential knowledge, yet, in our religion, we look for miracles. We can walk, talk, think, eat, love, laugh, and enjoy things… when we could have been nonexistent… and we look for miracles.

That is one of the facets behind the parables in Shadow of the Serpent/A Coyote Moon Story. Everything around and within us is a miracle… and we reside within the Creator of all things.

May 22, 2009

Addicted to Fire

It’s often said that the difference between humans and all other creatures on earth is the ability to reason. But there’s another unique trait of human beings that’s common to no other creature. Humans are constantly burning something.

It’s not new. This has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. Even our distant cousins, the Neanderthals, constantly kept the homefires burning. We use it to cook, because raw meat and stored food can make us very ill, or even become poisonous. We use it for heat because we don’t have enough hair to protect ourselves from extreme temperature changes. Later, we used fire for hardening wooden spearpoints, funerals, punishment, pottery, metallurgy, warfare, agriculture, and an endless stream of useful or defensive/offensive purposes. We’ve been using fire for so long, that we can no longer live without it, or some end result of burning.

You may or may not have read the introduction to Shadow of the Serpent. The main idea is that while progress can strengthen the whole, it also weakens the individual. There is no way back to our natural roots to which humans would willfully submit. The only thing that would turn humans back to living naturally would be a catastrophic global event. But that would most likely exterminate the human race. So, there really is no going back. We can no longer survive without the progressive evolution of our technology.

To make it clear, we would not survive without any tools, clothing, fire or energy sources and medicines. But let’s just focus on the need to burn. Could we even imagine another species constantly burning both organic and inorganic materials? And could we imagine another species that’s so dependent upon burning that they’d disappear if they stopped? I think it would be pretty scary to have another species on this planet that burns and transforms vast areas on both land and sea, puts itself above every other life form, and irradicates competitors without question. Of course, we do have competing subspecies (cultures) that accomplish a similar effect. 

But, we are changing. We’re now looking at new ways to create energy and replace the need for burning with alternatives. Is this a natural evolution? Taken from that perspective, humans are really quite odd compared to the rest of the creatures on our planet. We are an extreme on the planet called Earth. But, no matter how you look at it, we are in fact completely natural. We evolved through many different landscapes, and even waterscapes. There is nothing we use, invent or consume that does not originate or has not been derived from our natural environment. Humans are a very unique example of diversity within the natural realm.

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