Saturday, July 31, 2010

Credulous Critters

A terrific windstorm came up suddenly last summer, turning a calm blue day into a raging dark in a matter of seconds. We love storms like that, and hurried up to the tower to get a little closer to the action. "This is great," I told Dave, "and what makes it even better is I'm no longer a mail carrier. I used to hate having to walk up there at Main Street and King in a wind like this; I always thought I'd get flattened by an elm tree." Fifteen seconds later the phone rang.

It was Carl. He was calling from my old route. "You should see it, Murr," he said excitedly. "One of the big elms on Main and King just came down." We laughed and chatted and he continued to give me a blow-down by blow-down description. Now, was this an extraordinary and meaningful coincidence? Evidence of my powers of prophecy? Hardly. Those elms were destined to come down in a big wind. We were having a big wind. Down they came.

People are wired to maneuver through a sea of happenstance, trolling for connections, snagging events almost at random and examining them for significance. We draw lines in the stars and yank them towards us, until the universe becomes more cozy, more hospitable--anything but indifferent.

Some famous person dies and a few days later another one dies, because that's what we all do, and invariably someone will point out that "they always come in threes." Eventually someone else dies, the ghostly trio is wrapped up all tidy, and everyone quits counting until the next one, when it starts over.

A woman of our acquaintance with way more than the usual smarts surprised us one day by relating her visit to a roadside attraction. "It's called the Oregon Vortex," she said. "It's this weird place on the earth where the rules of gravity don't apply, water runs uphill, and you actually grow or shrink depending on where you're standing. Brooms stand on end. Pendulums hang crooked. It's amazing." We grinned in unison, and then, after a few beats, we realized she was serious.

"Jeez, honey, that's not real. They use optical illusions."

Our friend was undeterred. "No, really, it's a spherical force field of magnetic disturbances. The Native Americans won't go near it. Birds won't even nest there." Well, poo. Our nearest Native Americans, who live only a block away, have never dropped by, and birds won't nest in our yard, but you don't see me charging eight bucks a pop to get in. I kept going. "I saw the same thing back when I was growing up back east--Mystery Hole," I said. "I remember making Daddy pull over."

"Well, it is real," she insisted. "There may be more than one place like that on earth. They might have some sort of connection," she went on.

Dave piped up. "Yeah--Route 66," he said. (It has already been pointed out that Dave and I are no fun.)

The fact is, humans are naturally credulous critters. That's why so many people see the Virgin Mary in a bowl of oatmeal. If you're looking for the Virgin Mary, you could probably find her in one out of every ten bowls of oatmeal, given the right light source. There she'll be, but it doesn't seem like much to build a shrine around.

Dave and I run up to the roof whenever there is a thunderstorm. We love a good thunderstorm, and we go to the highest point in the neighborhood, just under our metal pig weathervane, to love it more thoroughly. It's not recommended. So if we get sliced out of the gene pool, don't read anything into it. It don't mean a thing. It's just natch'l.


  1. Have you ever heard the song "Jesus at Tim's"? It's the tale of when some Canadians thought they saw the face of Jesus on the side of a Tim Horton's (famous goalie and coffee shop entrepreneur).

    Jesus said, "I can walk on water!"
    Tim said, "Buddy, so can I!"

    This Hour Has 22 Minutes, a sort of Canadian Weekend Update (SNL) did a great spoof on the occurence as well..."We was all lookin' at Jesus, but then the protestants come by and turned the lights off, an' he was gone."

  2. Thanks for the great laugh this morning!!! In my area of Alabama, this lady claimed to see the Virgin Mary in a Field. Only she seen it.. She has visited several times to this field and when she does... Boy traffic jams, cars on the side of the road, and people from all over the world come to see if they can see what she is seeing. The area new covers it...Now they have put big gaint statues of the Virgin Mary in this field. It is a Circus! I just sit and shake my head!!!

  3. The Virgin Mary most recently appeared in the window glass of a church in Clearwater Florida. However, she only shows up after the church irrigation has been turned on and the windows are wet.

    The explanation for the Oregon Vortex can be found Here if interested. These sorts of phenomena are categorized by scientists under the heading "Tourist Traps".

  4. Oh my God -- you actually found the Virgin Mary! Quick -- sell it on Ebay. You have provided the most cogent explanation of our desire for connections that I have ever read.

  5. Hey now, I was just thinking about serendipitous happenings, and I stop by here, and voila, you're yakking about serendipity! What do you make of that? Huh?

    I think I've proved my point. It happens on Saturdays. (Serendipity happens on Saturdays, that is, not my foray into that special aperture of the universe wherein I am magically intellectually competent enough to make a point . . .)

  6. I just finished reading Carl Hiaasen's "Lucky You", find it and read it, you'll laugh out loud over the Apostelic Turtles and other such.

  7. Hey!! Talk about Coinkydinks! Man! This is incredible! We just visited a place not far from Sandusky where water flows uphill! And for just a moment, I was taller than Phoebe! We took a video of a ball rolling uphill! And everything was all crooked, and pendulums hung crooked, and it was called Mystery Hill! But it got better...because there were dinosaurs in the forest, and miniature golf, and a water balloon launcher. So places where gravity goes all coo-coo can be lots of fun, too. Oh, by the's for sale. Anybody want a dinosaur park/mystery hole/minigolf combo?

  8. Murr, I notice that you take your oatmeal plain. Tsk, tsk. If you would *put* something in that oatmeal, like brown sugar or almonds or vanilla extract or wild blueberries (just a serving suggestion from Zick's Kitchen), well, the Holy Trinity might show up.

  9. Now, you see, right there, I think I can still take the Virgin Mary. If the whole blessed Trinity shows up, I'm going straight to hell. The word is out on me. You've got protective juju in your kitchen so I'll just have decorated oatmeal there. Hey Jules! Did you notice MikeWJ is going to put us in a novel? How cool is that? Mikey?

    I would buy a field with dinosaurs and a putt-putt course if the Virgin Mary was there too. Even in Alabama.

  10. What you and Julie both need is, to take a hint from "unmitigated me," TimBits in your oatmeal. We eat interesting stuff up here. God knows what you'll see.

    Plus, we have a magnetic hill in our fine province of New Brunswick. It's called ... Magnetic Hill.

    This comment courtesy of Tourism Canada.

  11. Well, let's face it: many trains of thought go "woo-woo". When I visited the Oregon Vortex a couple years ago, I kept asking myself "WWJRD?" ("What would James Randi do?")

    Question: If the Virgin Mary appears on a piece of bread, would she suffer from a yeast infection? I'll stop typing now...

  12. We have Jesus on the garden window in the turtle lab, so watch out, Murr. We're not many miles away, and that's two-thirds of a trinity. Jesus has been hanging around there for a couple of months, right by the bird feeder that's stuck to the window, and ya know, Jesus is whiter than a Scandinavian, including his hair. Does that prove he was really stressed out that last week or that the location of the Holy Land was misreported? Now if I were like my mom, I'd promptly scrub Him off, but He's/he's kind of nice to have around--a little family god, you know.
    (BTW, the places I've visited mystery-like exhibits have been in science museums.)Rosemary

  13. I once saw Jesus in a place of spaghetti. I was gonna take a photo but I was so hungry that I ate Jesus right up in one big gulp and have been racked with guilt every since.

    There's another one of those bizarre vortex houses in the top half of California, just off I-5 somewhere also. I once drove into it and never was seen again.

    I also have a couple vortexes in my house. One routinely causes plumbing problems in my bathroom, and another in my living room allows me to quickly escape Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and creditors whenever they show up at my front door.

    And I hate it whenever a new vortex opens up to an entirely different universe when I'm doing the laundry, cuz then I have to start a whole new life all over again with a while new wardrobe.

    I used to live in an alternate universe where Republicans were nice rational people, and Mama Cass was still alive as an anorexic, Karen Carpenter weighed over 300 LBS, and President Jeb Bush freed the slaves in 1864.

    Dan Fiebiger
    Semi-Fashionable North Portland

  14. That's it. I'm switching to Wheaties.

    St. Mikey, I believe the only bread she would appear on would be Pieta Bread.

  15. Oh for pita's sake! I hope youse guys all have yer plastic virgin marys strapped upon the dashboards of yer cars, cuz fer sure yer treadin' on thin ice and likely vortex creatin' with all yer crazy talk.

  16. You'd be an excellent character in a novel! It's hard to write real people in though - I was working on a book once and friend told me of her crazy aunt Sarah who is quite heavy and given to psychic pronouncements from dead relatives at family reunions. I knew I had to work her in somehow - Sarah, the extra-large medium! Never could though. :)

  17. You really did do a great job of explaining our need for mystery. But doesn't being so pragmatic get a touch boring? I think a little unexplained phenomena livens the world up a bit. =]


  18. "We draw lines in the stars and yank them towards us, until the universe becomes more cozy, more hospitable--anything but indifferent." Beautiful...

    And there was a "Mystery Spot" in San Jose when I was growing up near there, too. Same kind of thing. Either there are truly such spots, or someone's got a franchise.

  19. Hey Spot! Glad you brought it up. I'm fully aware how cranky and dull skeptics sound. But I'm one of the least bored people I know. There's no shortage of unexplained phenomena in this universe to delight me, and there's even more joy in the explanations a lot of the time. In many ways, the supernatural "explanations" just serve to quell the curiosity and joy. Understanding the way things really work can blow you away. Making stuff up just clamps the lid on our glorious explorations. Thus saith the Bored!

  20. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Murr! I suppose you think it's mere coincidence that trinities always come in threes. Oh, ye of little faith...

  21. This human tendency and insistence even on seeing faces (or whole bodies) where they are not has a jazzy name: pareidolia.
    I confess to having blogged about it but not NEARLY so humorously as you.
    You da WOMAN!

  22. "People are wired to maneuver through a sea of happenstance, trolling for connections, snagging events almost at random and examining them for significance. We draw lines in the stars and yank them towards us, until the universe becomes more cozy, more hospitable--anything but indifferent."

    Seriously, did you write this, or steal it from someplace?


    Anyway, I once sat on a third-floor rooftop in downtown Denver with a bunch of friends watching not one, not two, but seven tornadoes tear through our neighborhood. Why I'm still alive, I have no idea. But it was fun. And, in a strange way, meaningful. I think I even saw the Virgin Mary in a funnel cloud. She looked pissed.

  23. I'll bet she was. Her hair was a fright.

    I'm not energetic enough to steal, but...thanks? If you missed it, my Thanksgiving post from 2009 also veered away from comedy.

  24. There's a Magnetic Hill in New Brunswick that works in much the same way. You put your car in neutral and are swept uphill. but I'm pretty sure natives will go near the place and that birds will nest.