Cordyceps, Nature's Beautiful Killer

You know how some things are better off unknown? That would be the case for cordyceps and me, ever since I found out about it from a nature documentary the first thought of it makes my skin crawl. For the uninitiated, cordyceps is a parasitic fungus that slowly and agonizingly eats away at insects while they're still alive, and replaces their live tissue with long tendrils of fungus...the fungus grows and eventually alters their behavior...making them plant themselves on a leaf or somewhere high that the spores can spread. Then - here's the kicker - a bulbous, fruiting body grows out of the host insect and they slowly die while the spores get distributed among whatever is around the area where they died.

There have been signs of fossilized cordyceps-infected insects from as far back as 48 million years ago. Luckily for humans, the fungus cannot attack our tissues in the way it can for insects and arthropods. Actually, certain strains of cordyceps are known for their medicinal properties and are sold for 10,000 - 60,000 yuan in the Tibetan Plateau. They have also shown anti cancer properties in in vitro and animal studies. In mice, they produced an anti depressant effect. As awesome as all that (and other studies) sounds, I just don't think I have the inclination to ingest something that does THIS to insects. Cordyceps is one of those reminders that insects have to deal with uncomfortable and horrific things too, but I doubt that anyone can refute that it is quite the beautiful killer.


Friday the 13th, Ouija boards, and a haunted night hike to remember.

In Honor of Friday the 13th this post is deliberately creepy. Also, 100% true.

Every Friday the 13th I make it a point to do something that scares me, or has the potential to scare me. Last year it was several haunted hikes. I got a Ouija board, a friend who were equally as crazy as me, and researched the most haunted places in California. After some digging, I found an old Indian burial site (200 years ago a small village was massacred by the Spanish and buried there) called Black Star Canyon that is supposedly one of the most reported paranormal activity sites in the United States, and the scene of many urban legends. We drove a couple hours into the sticks of Orange County and got there around 1am. The last part of the drive was all through isolated mountain roads, pitch black and cavernous, with massive trees on both sides of us. The deeper into the mountains we got, the more unsettled we both got.

Let me tell you a little more about Blackstar Canyon's weird happenings for a moment. People have been found murdered there, this is confirmed from police reports (though that could have more to do with unsavory locals than paranormal). In the 1970's a school bus that was traveling the mountain road lost control and went off a cliff, killing the driver, teacher, and all the students on board. People reported hearing screams and crying coming from the wreckage debris, it was removed in summer of last year (2012). There have been multiple reports of people seeing shadowy, hooded figures on the trail. There is also a homeless man said to live within the canyon and attack hikers for "trespassing". Cults are frequently known to congregate in the canyon at night and perform rituals and animal sacrifices, many reasons people are advised not to go at night.

So, of course we went at night. We wanted to be scared. We pulled up to the parking "lot" (more like parking dirt road) in front of the ominous looking signs at the trail head. There was one other car there, and another pulled up while we were getting the ouija board out of the car and taking shots of liquid courage. The people in the cars acted kind of weird though, as the inside lights were on but no one moved or got out the entire time we were messing around with the board. This was actually my first time playing with a Ouija board, and I had bought a glow-in-the-dark one especially for this haunted Friday the 13th excursion.

We set it on the ground, put our fingertips on the glass and I asked:

"Is there anybody out there?" ..... Nothing.

I tried again.

"Is there anybody out here, that can see us right now?" .

The glass shot over to the "yes".

I thought (from movies, admittedly) that it was supposed to move slowly. I immediately snatched my hand back and accused my friend of moving the glass. He swore that he didn't. I quickly put my hand back on the glass, remembering that if you use the board you are supposed to do a quick ritual of saying goodbye. From the manual: "Failure to close the Ouija board session by saying ‘goodbye’ may result in the contacted entity remaining present long after you have finished playing. Doing could result in the spirit escaping from the board, allowing it to terrorize you and the other players indefinitely."

So yeah, we said goodbye. We kept accusing each other of moving the glass as I packed up the Ouija board and stuck it in my backpack to take with us. We walked up to the entrance and beamed our flashlights toward the signs. I do have to say they are some of the least welcoming entrance signs to a trail I have ever seen. Here they are:

One of the groups got out of their car, went to the signs, stared at them for a long time, and then got back in their car and left. We decided to stick with the plan, and in we went.

The trail was eerie. The remains of burned down trees (or lightning struck trees) left jagged shadows on one side of the trail. We walked silently, alert, listening for anything strange...looking for creepy things. After about an hour of walking the trail uneventfully the trail got a bit more narrow, a sudden gust of wind blew over the canyon, and we decided to try the Ouija board again. We sat on the side of the trail and I dug the board out and set it up on the ground. We put our fingertips on the glass.

"Is anybody out there?" .... nothing.

"Can anyone see us?".... nada.

"Are you still watching us?".....absolutely nothing happened.

Now that we weren't walking we were starting to get cold. We packed up the board and continued to walk the trail. Then we heard something weird. Footsteps, hushed voices. We turned around and were surprised to see....more people. Out of nowhere, behind us on the trail a HUGE group of 20-30 people walked up. We figured they were also there to be spooked on Friday the 13th, cool. We stepped to the side to let them pass, and one of the guys broke off and walked menacingly up to my friend, staring him down.

"What's up?" my friend asked.

No response.

More staring, about an inch away from his face. The guy put his hands in his pockets, then wordlessly turned around and left.

Ohhhkay. I guess that was a signal we weren't welcome there. We shrugged it off and blazed some more as the group continued down the trail. Then started the long walk back to the car in the pitch darkness.

Happy Friday the 13th, people.


Pain and Suffering: You Either Get Over It, or Die Pissed Off

The title and theme of this post makes it sound like it could be somber and depressing, but it wont be. This is just about why pain is an inevitable part of life, no matter who you are, and how it helps us grow. Suffering sucks, but there is always a silver lining to even the deepest of the depths of despair...it makes us stronger and it helps us to grow. A good quote that illustrates that point is this simple one: "A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor." It isn't the easy things in life that make us who we are...if everything went easily for everyone we would all be the same. There would be nothing to thicken our skin, to teach us lessons that words can't, to force us to see what we are really made of.

There is inevitably going to be some type of suffering in your life. No matter how much you avoid it or how lucky you are, you're going to go through pain. The type of person you are is dependent on how you deal with that pain. Your reaction to things is exactly what makes you who you are. When bad things happen we have two option: Get over it or die pissed off. I know which one I'm choosing.

Trying to avoid pain, or attempting to live life like you're immune to it is not only futile, but also doing yourself a disservice by not allowing yourself to grow. Some people go the route of eventually getting cynical and jaded, but I feel like that is a futile route as well. Sure, you would be disappointed a lot less if you just lowered your expectations and assumed the worst out of everyone and every situation...but ugh, what kind of life would that be to live? Sounds like a miserable existence. That is letting pain affect you in a bad way and mold you into a negative person.

Then there are those who take negativity in stride, and learn from it. Learning from something doesn't have to mean always assuming the worst, it's just knowing all the options that are possible and accepting them, while still striving for the best. Some of the wisest people that I know, or know of, are zen in the face of negativity. They treat everyone around them with respect, even when treated unkindly. They keep their cool, don't act out quickly in anger, and genuinely spread positivity wherever they go. One would think off the bat that these types of people are just the lucky ones, who never had to go through any real pain, and that's why they are who they are. What I've found, however, is that it's usually quite the opposite. Look at Eckhart Tolle, one of the greatest thinkers and spiritual teachers alive today...in his book "The Power of Now" he talks about a time when his life completely crumbled and he found himself homeless, spending his days and nights on a park bench. He could have given up then, a lot of us would. Instead, he grew. He learned and gained strength from the crappy hand he got dealt, and most of us know him now as a bestselling author and spiritual mentor. That dark period in his life was a defining moment in shaping his success, it was a huge catalyst to his growth as a person. In a lot of ways, it helped him find his meaning in life.

The easiest thing to do when faced with hurdles and negative events is to give up. Some situations seem to suck the life right out of you. And if you do give up, you'll probably just get swept under the radar, and life will continue to go on. Nothing will get handed to you. That's why it's important to see pain and suffering for what it really is: an unavoidable part of life, a stepping stone. Everyone goes through it, and it will either ruin you or mold you.

Next time you're going through something that just makes you want to throw your hands up and give up, instead ask yourself how you can grow from it. You wont be hit by anything you can't handle, and life will go on, regardless. Might as well make the most of it, make the most of yourself, and come out a stronger and wiser person instead of a feeble and defeated one. The choice is yours.

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.
-Khalil Gibran


The High Sierras .... Like Backpacking on Mars

The High Sierras rock, this is just a little photo montage of my weekend trip up there. I've never been to a landscape where it turns from something so beautifully lush and green to straight rocky desolateness. The beginning of the trail was what you'd expect when you're in the mountains. Trees, lots of trees, animals, pikas (cute squirrel-looking things), gigantic bucks, greenery. 
Then you keep going, up, until you're at 12,000 ft and above the treeline. It turns into a massive rock pile that should be carefully climbed across, glaciers, and beautiful lakes. At the very top it felt like I was on Mars (assuming there was water there at some point), nothing but rocks and water (no trees, no soil). The higher you go, the trails disappear, leaving you to find your way through the crazy terrain with a compass and a topo map.

 Didn't see any bears :( Did see a massive buck and a bunch of pikas though.

 John Muir was a badass.

 Crossing a stream.

 This is where the trees start thinning out, going above the tree-line.

 And this is well above the tree-line, nothing but water, rocks and more rocks.

 And even more rocks.

 Back down in civilization.What better way to reward yourself after a climb than with a brewski? (And it was 110 degrees outside)


10 Statistics You Really Don't Want To Know

I have a habit of collecting weird or interesting facts. There is so much knowledge out there, about so many subjects, it's mind boggling. Here are 10 facts I've come across that are strange, unexpected, and a bit unsettling.

1. The world population has (more than) doubled since 1960.

Population facts are always a little unsettling. I love people, don't get me wrong, but there are just way too many of us. And it's not stopping. In 1960 there were approximately 3 billion people on the planet. That was 50 short years ago, and now it's over 7 billion. That is quite the boom on a planet with finite resources and habitable space, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

2. 1 in 5 women who masturbate don't wash their hands afterwards.
Think of all those hands you shook. I'm not a germaphobe by any means, but that's just nasty.

3. 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.

As an avid reader, this bums me out a little. Books are awesome, and just because school is over for some people doesn't mean the quest for learning should stop. That should never stop. Yes, you can learn an amazing amount from reading online articles, watching documentaries, having intellectual discussions...DOING things. But there is really nothing like the carefully written, edited, and verified information inside of so many books. Hell, even a good fiction story does amazing things for keeping one's vocabulary sharp.

4. CPR only works 5-10% of the time.

In some cities, where immediate help may take a bit longer than usual to get there, or a bystander attempts CPR the success rate drops to a mere 1%. From the wiki on CPR: "Estimates vary, but many organizations stress that CPR does not "bring anyone back," it simply preserves the body for defibrillation and advanced life support." Oh, and it also breaks peoples ribs, when done properly. Yikes.

5. In India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes.

A combination of factors, like the preference for sons and female infanticide (leading to a skewed male to female ratio) and lenient penalties for sex offenders has lead to a huge increase in rape in India. This statistic is from the National Crime Records Bureau.

6. Since the 1950s, around 90% of the large predatory fish in the ocean are gone.
FMAP scientists claim that up to 90% of all large predatory fish such as cod, sharks, halibut, grouper, tuna, swordfish, and marlin have been depleted. Industrialized fisheries, FTL (for the lose).

7. There are 35-50 active serial killers in the United States at any given moment.

What makes my skin crawl the most about this is how normal and nice people always say that they seem. I actually had a first-hand experience with this, back in 2010 I was a bartender at a well known casino in Gardena, Ca. One of our semi-regulars there ended up on the news, tied to the rape and murders of multiple women. It's crazy, you really never know, but there are monsters among us...sometimes a lot closer than we think.

8. 50% of healthcare dollars in the US are spent on the last 6 months of life.
Pretty self explanatory, but food for thought.

9. In the US, there's an average of 217 million white blood cells per liter of cow milk.
Those white blood cells come from the pus of the infected teats of the cows.Not to mention, humans are the only animals that drinks ANOTHER mammals breast (teat?) milk, and also the only mammals to drink milk well into adulthood.

10. 5 to 10 percent of all people who ever walked this earth, are alive right now.
The sheer volume of us is mind boggling. The /Homo/ genus has been around for 2.5 million years...and the earliest remains for homo sapiens are around 150,000 years old. That's a huge span of time, yet 5-10% of people to EVER exsist are alive right now, and you're one of them. Life is crazy.