Yes. It’s time for another post on animals for your reading amusement: installment #13 from my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.
Open-air museums are inappropriately named. For many people, Museum + History = Death by Excessive Yawning. Not me! A good open-air museum can transport me into other cultures and the past. I think a better name for such a site is ‘living museum’.
In southern Laos, we spent an afternoon at a spot with traditional tribes’ homes. My favorite was the thatched home on stilts. In the middle of the night, a courting youth has to climb a ladder and wait for a signal through a strategically located hole in the wall. The young woman has to approve his advances. Only then can he climb in the window…
Olde Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts was a hands’ down childhood favorite. The site still knocks me out. Paid artisans and trained volunteers dress in period clothing and demonstrate everything from making horse shoes to ginning cotton. Olde Sturbridge contains “the best collection of early 19th-century rural New England artifacts in the world”. 
Another favorite open-air museum is Neuhausen ob Eck (amusingly named ‘New Home on the Eck’), located not far from Tuttlingen and Konstanz in southern Germany. In the bee keeper’s house, I learned all about the world of bees. The German language holds bees in special regard. In German, the word for animals is Bestie or Tiere, beasts. But Germans speak of the Bienenvolk, a hive or literally ‘the bee people’, granting them a status with humans. In the Middle Ages, if the bee keeper died in the night someone was sent to the hives to whisper the news to the bees.
The bee keeper enjoyed a special status. Thanks to his bee family he produced wax candles for light, honey for food, and pollen products for medicine. 
Outdoor museums can teach with their simplicity. On our recent trip to Estonia and Latvia, we spent a day at Latvia’s Ethnographic Open-Air Museum on the shore of Lake Jugla.  The spot is incredibly atmospheric.
It’s an easy bus ride from the capitol Riga to the museum. (Go to my recent post Food as Art and salivate over the delicious foods you can order in Baltic restaurants.)
What I learned is that as recently as 100 years ago life here was a different story.
Existence was harsh and hard, like the overcast skies much of the day we visited.  Along with simple huts, the site includes windmills.
A store building is filled with dowry chests and traces of Latvia’s long history serving in the Hanseatic League.
My takeaway: How truly thin the veneer of prosperity is. Our sense of progress and the advance of civilization is so recent, and so young. I left grateful for the things I take for granted in my everyday life. In too many places in the world people still live without electricity, running water, or centralized heat.
NOTES:  https://www.osv.org/ Go to my earlier posts Old Sturbridge Village Part 1 and 2 for photos and the story of our visit.  Honey-based products never rot. I purchased a propolis salve at Neuhausen a decade ago; it’s still good. The bee keeper told me the salve can be used on everything from wounds and burns to arthritis and herpes. Neuhausen-ob-Eck  Latvia Ethnographic Museum  For Game of Thrones fans, I kept thinking of the Iron Islands and how craggy-rocks bitter life is there. These Latvian houses would fit the scenes perfectly, except for the fact that Game of Thrones is a fantasy world. Real people lived in the huts as recently as the start of the 20th Century.
One of the exotic foods I have (NOT!) eaten is a Cambodian treat of crispy fried big black hairy spiders. Sold at a roadside stop when the bus from Phnom Penh thoughtfully stopped for a bathroom break.
Actually, this post belongs to my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals. Here I give you: a cluster of spiders. Realize that these are (were) each about the size of my closed fist, and you will understand why I lost my appetite.
The spider in the next photo was as large as the span of my whole hand….
I can’t imagine eating these spiders. Or the scorpions, or larvae, or bugs fried up at various markets we’ve visited…. But they are a source of protein. “Over 1,000 species of insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the world’s nations. The total number of ethnic groups recorded to practice entomophagy is around 3,000. …Today insect eating is rare in the developed world, but insects remain a popular food in many regions of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. …FAO has registered some 1900 edible insect species and estimates there were in 2005 some 2 billion insect consumers worldwide.” 
I’m a little slow sometimes. I recently realized that my new-and-improved wordpress website jadicampbell.com had a birthday in January and is now a year old. (Yes, I’m aware it’s already March!) So, what did I do with a year of blogging?
Last summer I lost my mother-in-law, an old friend, and my dad Bobbo, all within a shocking three-month period. Those were by far the hardest posts to write. But I discovered something: the most personal blog essays are the ones my readers (i.e., all of you) respond to most.
What you can look forward to in the Year of the Rooster: a huge blog thread for my father Bobbo that I’m calling The Animal Kingdom. Occasional notes about my volunteer work with refugees. Lots more quirky posts about places Uwe and I visit. And on-going musings about life, the Universe and everything in-between as I deepen the process of saying goodbye to those who have left.
May you find something here that makes you laugh, creates a spark of connection, and moves you enough so that you reenter your own life with a sense of touching upon mine. That would make the new year of blogging – and all the years to come – worthwhile. As Mae West says, “Come on up, I’ll tell your fortune.” 
I had an encounter with magic in southern Laos. I mean this literally. We flew to Pakse, in order to make our way down to an area called 4,000 Islands. Laos’s border to Cambodia is a stretch of the Mekong River with wild waterfalls and rushing waters.  The French ambitiously (and quixotically) tried to build a train through the jungle at Don Det-Don Khon. The rapids defeated them. We hired a driver and sweet young man named Ley to guide us around. We made an outing to Paksong on the Bolaven Plateau, home of small, superb Laotian coffee plantations. On our drive back we stopped at a market hall. Taxis were filling with local workers who stopped to buy groceries. Rows of vendors sold grades of rice, eggs, fresh fruit, coffee (natch), bolts of cloth, dried fishes, vegetables and herbs, freshly cooked food and plastic bags of marinades and sauces.
The variety of fresh produce is tremendous: alone in these photos I can identify three different sizes and shapes of eggplant, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, Thai basil, oranges, peppers in every size and grade of hotness, cucumber, bitter melon, carrots, zuccini, onions, garlic, bok choy, green and Napa (Chinese) cabbages, ginger, limes, long beans, shallots, spring onions, chives, squash, rose apples.
Women from the hill tribes had wares for sale. An older woman had set up a stand away from most of the others. Curious, I walked over.She had images of the Buddha, and items for religious and medical purposes. Talons, hooves, deer skulls, bundles of herbs and animal horns.
Bottles of herb tinctures. Bark. Dried leaves.
I was pulled like a magnet to her strange pairs of roots. I couldn’t tear my eyes from them. I felt fascinated, and somehow frightened, too. She’d tied male and female roots together. They’d been carved to accentuate their human forms.
The pairs called to me on some strange level…. “What are they for?” I asked. Ley explained to me that they are placed in a home to protect it and the family that lives there.
“Would you ask her how much they cost?” I asked. She gave me a sharp look and hesitated. “Ten dollars,” she said finally.
“Ten dollars?” I was beyond surprised. $10 is a paltry sum in most parts of the world. Here, in one of the poorest countries on the planet, the price she wanted was outrageous. 
Ley looked confused as well, and talked to her for a while. Her voice rose. The two discussed the transaction so long that I became uncomfortable. At last he turned to me. “She says, these are their gods, and it would be wrong to sell them to outsiders.”
In an instant, desire to be near the figures left me. “I’m so sorry. Please apologize to her and tell her I meant no disrespect. They are very, very powerful.” Ley translated and she gave me a grudging looking-over.
I’ve thought a lot about that strange encounter with foreign magic. Even my husband says he wondered about me that afternoon; he watched with growing concern as I was drawn to something I didn’t understand. All these years later I recall the power that emanated from those male and female roots, and I tremble.
NOTES:  For a little while longer, anyway. Hydroelectric dams are being built by northern neighbor China, with breathtakingly little regard or concern for how this impacts the ecosystems further downstream.  She purposely asked for a ridiculously large amount of money.
On one of our return trips to Laos we finally explored the waterfalls outside of Luang Prabang. I hadn’t wanted to go earlier, afraid it would be an over-run tourist spot. How wrong I was, because we visited a truly beautiful natural area. We used a simple open taxi to get there and then headed up past lovely pools.
The trail became misty with spray from the waterfalls the higher we hiked.
Uwe vanished with his camera, and I made my way on increasingly slippery wooden steps to the top.
My glasses kept fogging over with the permanent veils of falling water. At the summit I savored the peaks and the impossibly dense jungle all around. I had the views to myself.
I took my time on my way back down, not wanting to rush. To the side of the trail I discovered a salamander whose brown, green, and rusty tan colors exactly matched the layers of fallen leaves, twigs and wet rocks. I crouched slowly and held my breath, and the two of us were companionably still. No chance to reach for my camera; the lens would have been useless anyway. Instead, it’s one of those moments that stays fixed in memory. I’d never seen a newt in those colors, and I’m sure I never will again.
Back down at the pools I found Uwe, ecstatic as he photographed a spider as large as the span of my hand.
A water wheel bore witness to the fact that the quiet area is used.
On our trip back to town we stopped to give another taxi a tow.
I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.
This is my 99th blog post.
I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….
My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!
…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.
It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!
When we talk about salt, we talk most often of sodium chloride. This is NaCl, consisting of the elements sodium and chlorine.
There is a charming tradition in Germany of bringing a loaf of bread and salt to friends when they move into a new home. The saying is that if you have those two items in your house you’ll always survive. Bread and salt are still ceremoniously served to guests in parts of northern and eastern Europe.
Mark Kurlansky writes, “Loyalty and friendship are sealed with salt because its essence does not change. In both Islam and Judaism, salt seals a bargain because it is immutable… In Christianity, salt is associated not only with longevity and permanence but, by extension, wth truth and wisdom. The Catholic Church dispenses not only holy water but holy salt, Sal Sapientia, the salt of wisdom.” 
Seeing the hard way salt is won from pits changed forever the way I think about this simple condiment.
We were staying for only a few days in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, and spent a day with a guide and a driver to see a bit of the area. One of the spots we toured was a traditional salt harvesting town. A little settlement lives at and from the pits (and has burned down numerous times). Each time, they rebuild right next to the pits.
Salty waters are brought up from deep underground
and then boiled in open metal pans. Their burning fires glowed and sent off intense heat. The briny steam that rose felt like being in some strange circle of Dante’s Purgatory.
Once the water has boiled away the salt is gathered in baskets, weighed, and stored in a barn.
Workers then bag and tag the salt, preparing it for market.
Salt is a serious business. The salt from this mine is sent to the north where people still suffer endemic goiters.
I thought of the pits of hell, of work so demanding and hot that it left scars. Just being tied to a spot like this must bake you and make you hard. Or so I thought. Instead, I met workers doing their jobs in neatly ironed clothing. The women all had on jewelry. A group of little children trailed us everywhere, laughing and mugging as children do.
Since that day salt has tasted both sweeter and bitterer, or herber as the Germans say. And in that small word I hear the echo of the coming season, Herbst, Autumn. The summer is burning away and fall is coming. May your harvest tables everywhere include bread and salt.
NOTES:  Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (Vintage Books, 2002), p. 7.
(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)