Dots and dashes – they’re everywhere, man!

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When my daughter was at summer camp one year, she and a friend devised a secret code. It involved different configurations of coughs, sneezes, pencil taps, and throat clearing sounds, and it enabled the two girls to communicate during quiet time.

Slightly evil and remarkably devious, perhaps. Hilarious? I thought so. So did one of the counselors, when I told her about it years later. We shared a good belly laugh over it.

People have been communicating without words for centuries, from drums to smoke signals. One of the best-known methods in our day and age is Morse code, although already it’s becoming something of a lost art. In my book, THE VOLUME OF WATER, one of my main characters, Mary, is a HAM radio nut. Back in the 1960s, when my novel takes place, you had to be proficient in Morse code to get your HAM license (that’s no longer the case).

315px-International_Morse_Code.svgMary, lonely kid that she is, is an extreme audiophile. She hears Morse just about everywhere. A bird, her heartbeat – it’s all translatable for her. In other worse, the world literally speaks to her through Morse.

She’s not the first one to feel that way, I was rather surprised to find. A quick and unscientific Google search proves that Morse is sort of everywhere. Every subject has its nerds, and that goes for birdwatchers and rock-n-rollers as well. Case in point, the Junco hyemalis oreganus, also known as the Morse code bird. Here’s a sampling of their sound, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The Morse Code bird

The Morse Code bird: the original Twitter

There are even secret Morse messages in popular music – and I’m not just talking Abba songs here. Not to suggest that Rush fans are a bunch of giant nerds, but well

Fortunately, learning Morse is relatively easy. There are several sites that will even translate normal type into code for you so you can impress your friends. Can you guess what hopeful bestseller this is? – …. . / …- — .-.. ..- — . / — ..-. / .– .- – . .-.

I typed the title of my book into a Morse code music making page I found, and now I can’t get the rhythm out of my head. I think it’s a rhumba. Either that, or headhunters will be here shortly. Hmmmm, wonder if there’s a way to incorporate subliminal audio messages into a query letter?

51 years ago today…

On March 27, 1964, at 5:35 pm,residents of Alaska were heading home from work, making dinner for their families, getting ready to attend services (it was Good Friday).  At 5:36 pm, a 9.2 megathrust earthquake violently shook the state. All over Southcentral Alaska, buildings collapsed, man-sized fissured appeared in the earth. Some houses literally slid into the sea. Fuel containers caught fire. Trains derailed.

Within an hour, tsunamis struck coastal regions and small islands that were home to dozens of canneries and small fishing towns. Local tsunamis caused by calving ice walls hit almost immediately; tectonic tsunamis from father out in the ocean shortly afterward reached as high as 50 feet when they slammed into the island of Kodiak. One wave completely wiped out the village of Chenega, killing a third of its residents.

My novel-in-progress, THE VOLUME OF WATER, is set in Kodiak and the surrounding islands in 1964, and I’ve done a lot research into the devastation caused by the quake and tsunamis. It’s terrifying to think that something could happen so unexpectedly and literally wipe out your way of life forever, but that’s exactly what happened.Some villages were so badly devastated that the residents chose to move elsewhere rather than try to rebuild. The town of Port Lions, on Kodiak Island, got its name when villagers from the decimated island village of Afognak relocated there – with the help of the Lions Club.

Here’s an old photo of the town of Kodiak before the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis:

11080348_10153199688298588_8128959915429678759_oAnd after.

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11096488_10153199688293588_504800570514641664_oAlaska’s governor Bill Walker has declared a day of remembrance, with state flags lowered to half-staff in honor of the more than 130 Alaskans who lost their lives because of the quake and tsunamis. Today is officially “1964 Alaska Earthquake Remembrance Day.”

For those who lived through it, and those who lost loved ones, every day is remembrance day.

Those were the days

I ran across this ad from a 1964 magazine. My goodness, how times have changed. I love how they proudly proclaimed they could now be found “throughout the Rocky Mountain area.” These days, according to Wikipedia, “The McDonald’s Corporation is the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, serving around 68 million customers daily in 119 countries across 35,000 outlets.”

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Maybe I’m a little crazy, but the proportions of the meal look different. The bag of fries looks almost as big as the burger. I won’t even go into the whole “100% pure beef” claim. That was then and this is now.

I was surprised to learn that McD’s wasn’t the first fast-food restaurant in America. Actually, that title goes to White Castle, of the famous sliders. White Castle was founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas – at the corner of First and Main streets. How all-American can you get?

Far more interesting, I think, is the not-remotely-American versions of the Big Mac that can be found around the world. In Egypt, for example, you can order a McFalafel. In Indonesia, all meals are certified halal, and you can order McRice and McSoup, a chicken flavored soup with bits of croutons and vegetables, to go with your McSatay, a hamburger with satay sauce and Buryam.

In Japan, your Teriyaki McBurger will be made with ground pork patties, mayonnaise, lettuce, and teriyaki sauce, and you can dip your Ume (Chicken) Nuggets in plum sauce. Menu items in the Philippines include McSpaghetti, Chicken McDo, Burger McDo, and the Hamdesal – a Pandesal bun with pineapple glaze syrup, mayonnaise, and Canadian bacon served with scrambled eggs, cheese, or both.

McDonald’s in Cyprus sells the Greek Mac, a Big Mac variant with pita bread and tzatziki sauce, and the Greek Chicken, a Greek Mac with chicken patties instead of beef. A shrimp burger is also sold during the period of Lent when Orthodox Christians (of which I am one) don’t eat meat. Clearly, I am living in the wrong country.

That 47-cent price tag, though! I ran that through an inflation calculator, and it turns out that’s equal to about $3.57 in 2015 dollars. I’m not sure where the data is based on, because here in Alaska the typical regular-sized meal (with a Coke, not a shake) costs double that, easily.

In any case, sorry if you’re craving a burger now. I know I am .Some things never change.