SOS: Trapped in a Hurricane

Saturday, November 5, 1932

Captain Evans clawed his way up the ladder from the engine room deep in the belly of his ship. There, he had ordered his crew to keep the engine fires lit and to pump water from the No.2 cargo hold where the hatch cover had been ripped away and an avalanche of sea water poured in. At best, they could only slow the rate at which it filled.

The Quartermaster struggled with the ship’s wheel to keep the Phemius’ (Fee mee us) bow pointed directly into the wind. The loaded cargo vessel pitched front to back, climbing, climbing up one side of a mountainous wave, then plummeting down the steep far side into the next valley of water.

Evans forced his way out into the shrieking storm, where wind-driven salty spray stung his eyes. He braced himself and doubled over into the wind, unable to stand to his full five feet seven-inch height. He took a startled breath, choking on dense smoke that stung his nose and throat. Where was it coming from? Like the ferocity of this after-season hurricane, it made no sense.

Opening his eyes to tiny slits, he strained to discover what might be causing the smoke, but the sea and the sky had merged into one solid, gray mass. The wind let up for an instant. Above him was something he could barely believe. The sixty-five foot, bright blue smokestack should tower over the deck. It was gone!

Nature Stinks

Flying Cow Poop

You are hacking your way through dense vegetation along the Amazon or Orinoco River in South America. You hear a noisy racket of croaking, hoarse calls, and wheezing sounds. Suddenly, you are surprised by the smell of a crowded cattle yard? In the rainforest? You must be near the world’s stinkiest bird, the hoatzin (wot-SEEN), which is often described as smelling like…well, cow poop.

This strange bird, the national bird of Guyana, is a strict vegan. It is the only bird known to have notches along the inside edges of its beak, where teeth would be in other animals, that allow it to “chew.” In the world of birds, it is the only folivore (FOE li vor), or leaf-eater.

The hoatzin has a digestive system similar to that of ruminants, mammals that eat plants, such as cows. In both there is a special organ designed to do the hard work of breaking down cellulose found in plants, into sugars for energy. This process known as fermentation, in both hoatzins and ruminants, uses bacteria and takes place before the food enters the animal’s stomach. In cows, the breakdown takes place in the rumen while in hoatzins it happens in the crop. The fermentation process is the source of the bird’s odor, giving it the uncomplimentary nickname “stink bird.” Once the crop has done its job, it takes a little while for the rest of the digestive process to complete–about forty-five hours!

Armor, Boneyard, Chopper: A Motorcycle ABC


Armor isn’t just for protecting knights. Special motorcycle-riding clothes, known as armor, have removable pads up to an inch thick at the elbows, shoulders, backbone, knees, and hips.

Bone Yard

Where do owners of old motorcycles find parts to fix their bikes? They may go to a bone yard, a junkyard for broken or wrecked motorcycles.


The word chopper originally meant a motorcycle that had its fenders and front brakes “chopped” off to make their bikes weigh less and go faster. Today, a chopper is a motorcycle with high-rise handlebars and an extended fork, the part that connects the front wheel to the body.

No Sugar!

Kimmy couldn’t wait to start Kindergarten. She got a new backpack. She learned to tie her shoes. She practiced staying on the lines when cutting out coupons for her mom.

On the very first day of school, something marvelous happened.

When her teacher took attendance she said, “Do you want to go by Kim or Kimberly?”

She sat up straighter. What should she say? She did walk to school now with her friends not her mom. She did make her own peanut butter sandwich. She did know her phone number and address.

“Kimberly,” she answered.

She imagined herself as Princess Kimberly in her glass slippers, or Lady Kimberly belting out rock songs, or Kimberly the Great, the finest magician in the world.

Descending Dragons: A Vietnamese Folk Tale

Once upon a time, Mother Dragon and her hundreds of children lived in Heaven with the Emperor of Jade. Though she loved the Earth, dragon slayers had forced Mother Dragon to seek safety for her family with the Emperor. In return she promised to stay forever and do anything he asked.

The Emperor’s duties included watching over the peaceful, hard-working Vietnamese people. He observed them as they toiled in their rice fields and raised their chickens. He smiled upon them as they tended their farms day in and day out, until one morning a young man came running from the beach.

“Arm yourselves!” he shouted. “Enemy ships with cannons are streaking toward our shores!”

Word spread quickly. Brave souls from every nearby village rushed to the water’s edge with whatever they could find to use for weapons. There they gazed out at an armada, a wall of ships approaching fast, their sails stretched tight with wind.

The Emperor of Jade observed from above as the ships skimmed rapidly toward Vietnam’s coast. He must do something. Fearing for his gentle people on Earth, he summoned Mother Dragon and her many children.