This European community celebrates their love of flower growing with an annual parade comprised of flower floats. Where in the world is it?
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Stalin's "Road of Bones"
Note: I planned to write about travel to Oymyakon, the coldest inhabited place on earth, when I discovered the cruel history of the road one must take to reach the village. That horrific story is dramatized below, but feel free to move to my first idea of showing the beautiful slideshow of the determined people who eek out a living in Siberia.
I bend my fingers. At least I think it. They do not curl, or even feel. The truck hits another chunk of hard ice, throwing me and the rest of my comrades to the floor. An old man does not get up when the rest of us resettle ourselves.
“He is dead,” says a young doctor, after examining him. The physician earned his imprisonment for helping those who Stalin left to die. He turns to me. "Do you know where they are taking us?"
Poor man. Poor us. Should I tell him we will most likely die building this road linking the eighty or so gulags--the prisons for peasants and political dissenters like myself? That we have been rounded up to work the gold and platinum-rich mountains of Siberia for Stalin's economic plans?
I keep quiet. Already this frozen Kolyma Highway is called the Road of Bones for the dead bodies bulldozed into the road's surface. I close my eyes and pray for my people.
The character riding in the truck represents those who became a statistic from the 1930's until 1946. One will die for every meter of the 1900 kilometer road. Hundreds of thousands of victims will be frozen to death, worked to death, or murdered. The prison camps closed in 1954, and in 1956 many of the prisoners received a general amnesty by Nikita Khruschev. Read the history here.
Today there is a brighter note, but no less frozen. This beautiful slide show portrays the enduring power of the human spirit and exemplifies the lives of this determined people who make their home in Oymyakon, the coldest inhabited place on earth.
“The men are restless to spend their spoils, El Capitan. We should go ashore soon.”
The Spanish captain stood on deck, scanning the horizon. His first mate spoke truly. They had been at sea too long. Stilling his spyglass, he focused. And smiled. A ship lay in easy reach. They could come upon her before she made Boston harbor. He gave the order and his men swung into furious activity.
Bearing down on the passenger ship, the captain’s heart pounded. He could see the men scurrying around the ship, helpless. The women disappeared below deck. “Leave no one alive,” he ordered. He wanted no witnesses at his hanging, if he were ever caught for pirating.
Shouting, screaming, crying—all chaos broke loose when they boarded. Overrun, and facing certain death, the captives fell quiet. The captain raised his sword above the vanquished ship’s leader, but stopped his downward thrust when a baby’s loud wail broke the silence.
“Bring me the child,” he ordered the hostage captain, who returned from down below with a newborn baby girl. Distracted from his destructive intent, the captain ordered. “Who is the mother?”
The woman, still trembling from childbirth had climbed her way above board to save her child. “Don’t harm her, she’s mine,” she pleaded.
The captain’s hard eyes softened when the child quieted in his arms. “Si, she is. And I will not harm her--if you obey my orders.”
Fearful, the woman nodded. “What sir?”
“Name the child Mary, after my mother who died this year, and I will let her, and everyone else live.”
The mother fell to her knees and reached for the child. “Yes, sir. As you say.”
Whispering to his first mate, the captain handed the child back to her mother. “There is one more thing.” The hostages waited, holding their breath. Soon, the first mate returned with a large parcel and handed it to the captain, who removed the wrapping and exposed a roll of glorious sea green silk brocade. “When she marries, she will wear a dress made from this fabric.” The mother nodded, vigorously this time.
Tense looks of disbelief stared at him from both crews. “Back to the ship,” he ordered his men. Once they pushed off, he watched a crowd surround the woman. Now he would have to deal with his own men, lest they think he had grown a soft heart.
The baby was named Mary, wore the silk on her wedding day, and bore five children. Though this much of the story is true, the legend expanded, and now includes the pirate returning to wed the widow Mary, and Mary haunting their house.
Read more about Ocean Born Mary.
Clues to the next story: The road to the coldest town on the planet is paved with the bones of a million men.
Where in the world did this occur?
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Violent waves pounded the feeble boat in the blustery sea off the English coast. Ol' Mick struggled to grab the fishing net with his gnarled hands and helped hoist the heavy catch onto the deck. “Look at this, mates,” he shouted.
"Mother of…” one of the others exclaimed, “it be a merman!”
Sure enough, when Ol' Mick opened the net and pushed away the fish, there be a man, naked as the day he come into the world, ‘cept for hair coverin’ his entire body, and wi’ a beard down to his chest.
The wild man fought the net. He scowled and squirmed whilst they tried to speak to him.
“He must be a foreigner,” Ol' Mick guessed.
“Maybe he’s a spy,” said the captain. “Tie ‘im up.”
Once on shore, Ol' Mick could see the wild man’s prospects were not good. Bartholomew de Gladville, the rough-handed castle custodian, questioned who he was, but only got savage grunts. He drug the man away and imprisoned him in the Orford castle jail.
“They got the wild man hangin’ upside down in the cell,” Ol' Mick’s son said as the old seaman trudged home from the port months later. Ol' Mick shook his head at the jailer’s “hospitality.”
Next week, Bartholomew de Gladville come down to the port. He ordered nets be strung across the mouth of the inlet, then threw the merman into the water to see what he would do. Ol' Mick watched the merman bob up and down with the waves, then dive under the water.
“He’s makin’ for the nets,” Mick pointed. The merman escaped under the nets into the open sea, then threw his body through the air like a marlin. As mysteriously as he had come to Orford, the merman disappeared and was never seen again.
One might think this a purely fictional story, however the event was documented in the "Chronicon Anglicanum," a history of England written by the meticulous medieval chronicler, Ralph of Coggeshall.
Travel around Orford, England, and you are bound to run into references to the Merman of Orford, especially in the Orford Castle, where inside you will find a statue of this Man of the Sea, covered in hair with his long shaggy beard.
Read more about Orford, the castle, and the merman.
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“NO,” she screamed, as the car skidded and plowed into a snow bank.
She moved each limb. They all worked, but her car was another story. She turned the key, but only a sick groan sounded from under the crumpled hood. “Now what?” she said into the frozen night air.
The heater had not kept up with the cold.
The last radio update indicated it was 25 degrees below zero in her hometown of Lengby, Minnesota.
She checked the empty road. “This isn’t good.” Getting home was impossible, but perhaps she could make it to her neighbor’s house.
Cracking open the door, the chill hit her cheeks like a million razors. She stepped out and pulled her wool scarf up. Wanting to cry, but afraid the tears would freeze her eyes, she heaved a shuddering sign and climbed up to the road.
It was so dark. She shut her eyes and opened them again. The minor contrast between the road and fields kept her on course, but how far to his house? Incredible pain bit at her laboring body. Looking ahead at nothing, panic swelled in her tightening chest. I won’t make it. She wanted to run, but with each step, her legs seemed to solidify.
Her arms, wrapped around her body in a protective hold, were nearly frozen in place.
Every step brought sheer agony, but she kept pushing. At last, she could make out a farm light in the distance, but fear screamed it was too far. Even her heart seemed locked in the process of succumbing to the extreme temperature gripping her body.
Her neighbor’s mailbox. Moving only inches with each step, she shuffled down his driveway. Her mind strained against the numbing cold, and only the tiniest bit of recognition pierced through her frosted eyelids. Where’s the house? Fear caught her throat. She squinted harder. A dark shape loomed close. The door should be here. She groped for it, feeling like her arm cracked at the movement. The doorknob. But she could not reach it.
Vertigo tumbled through her confused mind and she crashed sideways. She could not move to get up. No, her mind whispered, too numb to scream.
On the morning of December 20, 1980, Jean Hilliard was found just outside her neighbor’s door. Frozen solid.
Though this is not the actual experience that Jean encountered, the story is true. She was rushed to the hospital, where Dorothy Killian commented, “She was so cold, it was like reaching into a freezer, like picking out a frozen stick of wood. Her face was absolutely white. Just this ashen, death look. We did hook her up to the monitor, and we got this agonal rhythm—like one beat. It was just like one and nothing. Then two. We knew that we had something, but that's a death rhythm.”
The medical team worked with her, but a staff worker, Rosie Erickson, knew a miracle was needed. She says, “I called the pastor of our church and I stated simply that Jean Hilliard from the Lengby area was brought into the hospital in a frozen condition, very critical, and that she needed prayer.”
A prayer chain started at 9:00 a.m., reaching over 30 people who began to pray. By noon, the impossible happened: Jean awoke with full mental capacity, but her legs were black with frostbite. Yet, as her family watched, the black disappeared inch by inch, turning to white. After 49 days in the hospital, Jean left, completely recovered.
Jean credits the doctors and nurses, and also the friends and neighbors who prayed for her. “There are other people across the nation that same night that were found in the same condition I was in. And they died. I just think without all those people that I might not have survived.”
Read more of this miraculous story.
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