Monday, February 11, 2013

Tales of the Weird

Kevin Coolidge

Nothing ever happens? Things seem pretty ordinary? Take a closer look and things might start to look a little bizarre. Think about it. Your brain is the only organ aware of its own existence, and right now might be taking a power nap, without your permission. Your nose has the ability to sniff out the opposite sex. Your hair can tell scientists if you are a morning person or a night owl. Aren’t you glad your liver isn’t capable of remembering what you did last weekend? Scientists are discovering strange new things every day. Yeah, life is weird. I mean really weird.

Life always has been a little weird. Do sea monsters and saber-toothed squirrels seem weird to you? Two German paleontologists found a skull the size of a small car in Mexico. The skull belonged to a pliosaur, a type of pleisaur that had a short neck, a huge crocodile-like head, and razor-sharp teeth. This specimen would have longer than a humpback whale and had teeth the size of cucumbers. Gee, aren’t you glad the largest dinosaurs were vegetarians?

Fossils of ancient mammals are very rare because they are so small. Mammals didn’t grow to be the size of cats and dogs until the larger dinosaurs became extinct. The fossilized skull and teeth of a small fanged mammal was found in Argentina. It took a technician three years to remove the rock from around the fossil—finally revealing a saber-toothed, squirrel-like creature much like the squirrel character from the movie Ice Age.

It’s not just animals that are weird. A moss spreading throughout the Hawaiian Islands appears to be an ancient clone that has copied itself for some 50,000 years, and discovered in 2004 is a lone Norway spruce in Sweden was deemed to be the world’s oldest living plant. Although the visible portion of the 13-foot tree isn’t ancient, its root system has been growing for 9,550 years.

Discovered on an island off the coast of Madagascar in 2006 was a new species of Amorphallus*--the genus that includes the “corpse flower”. The newfound plant blooms once a year with a “really foul” stench**, according to Greg Wahlert. The flower is dormant for much of the year. If he had been visiting the islands at a different time, “I could have very easily missed it.”

Think that’s weird? You better keep on the lookout, because things just keep weirder. Tales of the Weird! Editor David Braun has chosen his favorite freaky favorites from the files of National Geographic Daily New—from “zombie ants” to one-eyed albino sharks to ancient death rituals. You can’t make this stuff up! Each story is backed by science and fueled by wonder. Read it and be surprised and delighted on just how weird the world can really be…

*Means “misshapen penis” in Greek after the phallic shape of the plants flowers. You probably didn’t need to know that, but it will really impress your teacher. Trust me.

**The smell has been described as a combination of “rotting roadkill” and a “Port-a- Potty”.

A life less ordinary? Or the straight and narrow path? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? You can visit the past at and explore. Looking for a little Tioga County history? Read “Hobo Finds a Home”, a children’s book about how a stray cat from Wellsboro found a home, a friend, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull…

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Significance of Stories

Kevin Coolidge

Family stories—those tales told at gatherings that amuse, embarrass, and help hold a family together. I remember the story my uncle told me the war? There he was stuck in a foxhole with his back teeth floating. Nowhere to empty his bladder except for his helmet. It would have been fine, except the shelling started. Was that Korea or Vietnam? Or maybe that was Grandpa and the Battle for the Bulge?

I forget. I’ve heard those stories so many times I never thought I could, but now I can’t remember them quite as well as I’d like. I wish that our family had somehow preserved more of those stories we know we heard but cannot quite recall now.

I love a good story and I bet you do too. We tend to forget that we have our own stories to tell as well. We are the ones who must be the storytellers if there is to be a tradition of family stories in years to come.

If your response is, “I have no stories to tell. Nothing ever happens to me!” then take a look at Telling Your Own Stories written by Donald Davis. Donald wrote this book for those who long for family storytelling, but live with the misconception that they have no stories to tell.

Stories are about people, places, or events. There are stories to be found. The center of every story plot is a crisis. A crisis is any event which takes a part of our life that is familiar and comfortable and makes us adjust to a world that is different than before. It can be a heart attack, a fire, a new baby, or a marriage. A simple event may have more than a simple significance.

Telling Your Own Stories is set up as a workbook. The author has included prompts to help pull stories from memory. You can read the prompts in a family setting and see who comes up with a story first. You can use the blank space to make brief notes so that you can come back and work on the story more fully later.

Be sure that when a person begins to tell their story, that others let them tell it. You may have memories about the same event, and your memories will make a different story. The human mind stores all the impressions of our lives and experiences. We just have to access them.

Scary, funny, entertaining—stories are all around us. Stories give shape to our fears and our dreams. Stories hold our history and guide our actions. Stories can define us, teach us, and give us hope. Stories are powerful. The stories we create can help us understand the deeper meaning of our lives, and impart that wisdom to others…

Short on stories? Or the never-ending taleteller? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? I could tell you all about it, or you could just visit and find out for yourself. Looking for the story of how Hobo the cat came to live with me? Read “Hobo Finds a Home” a kitten’s story of how he found a home, and a friend…