The Pandemic Gets Real

The Russian River Brewing Company has canceled its 2021 Pliny the Younger release event. Their super-hopped India Pale Ale is brewed only once a year and is available for only a couple weeks. (Pliny the Elder IPA is on the brewpub’s menu year round.)

Last year’s release attracted beer aficionados from forty-seven states and fourteen countries. Every February, intrepid beer drinkers wait for hours in blocks-long lines outside the brewery in downtown Santa Rosa for a ration of the celebrated brew. (Russian River Brewing opened a second, larger brewpub in nearby Windsor in late 2019.)

The Sonoma County Economic Development Board estimates the two-week Pliny the Younger event brought $5.1 million into the local economy last year.
The two Russian River brewpubs have been closed for indoor drinking and eating since March. Husband-and-wife owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo think it very unlikely that they will be able to host even outdoor dining by February 2021. Even if COVID-19 is under control by then, February weather in Sonoma County is typically not welcoming to outdoor seating.

Pliny the Younger will still be brewed. Most will be bottled this time. A few kegs will be set aside for local brewpubs who have been loyal customers in past years. The bottled beer can be purchased online beginning late January, but will be shipped only within California. The Cilurzos are working on a web site robust enough to handle the expected traffic. They also want to block Internet bots from buying cases and reselling them through online beer-trading forums. Last year, 510-milliliter Pliny the Younger bottles that sold for $10 turned up online for as much as $120 a bottle.

How One Town Handled Pandemic

George Vicars, a tailor in the village of Eyam, opened a package of fabric he had ordered from London. A week later he was dead. The cloth carried the bubonic plague. The year was 1665.

Soon other Eyam inhabitants were dying. At the behest of Reverend William Mompesson, the town’s vicar, Eyam locked down. No one was allowed in or out. Food and medicine were left for residents at designated places a safe distance from the town.

Villagers were required to bury their own dead. The quarantine lasted fourteen months. Estimates are that more than two-hundred-and-fifty villagers succumbed to the plague, three-fourths of the population, a fatality rate twice that of London. Catherine Mompesson, the vicar’s wife, was an early victim. The quarantine did prevent the disease from spreading beyond Eyam, though.

The next time you’re in Derbyshire—when you can travel again—Eyam would welcome your visit. In the village center sits a row of “plague cottages” with tablets commemorating those who died. A short distance outside the town, are the Riley Graves. Named for the nearby Riley House Farm, a low stone wall surrounds the remains of Elizabeth Hancock’s husband and six of her seven children. They all died during one week in 1666.

The Eyam Plague Museum tells the story of the plague, with words and artifacts. The museum is currently shuttered, but can still take your order for plague souvenirs.

The Incredible Exploding Whale

With all that has happened/is happening in 2020, most of us are looking forward to moving into a new year. But not every event was bad. The city of Florence on the Oregon coast dedicated a new park.

To generate enthusiasm for the park’s opening, the city solicited suggestions from the public for its name. A hundred and twenty submissions were winnowed to nine that were submitted to the public for a vote. The winner: “Exploding Whale Memorial Park.

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Turkey Tales

The COVID pandemic has affected everything else, so of course it will have an impact on Thanksgiving dinner. Family gatherings will be small, intimate affairs. Smaller gatherings mean less demand for twenty-four-pound turkeys. Supermarkets are ordering more small turkeys, more hens and fewer toms. Growers are slaughtering their birds earlier.

Does this mean distributors’ freezers will be filled with unsold twenty-pound birds? Taking the Wayback Machine to 1953, we see ten railroad cars filled with 260 tons of frozen turkeys the Swanson Company had not been able to sell by Thanksgiving. Refrigeration only worked when the cars were moving. The train rumbled back and forth between Swanson’s headquarters in Nebraska and the East Coast while executives figured out what to do.

The solution was to put slices of turkey on partitioned aluminum trays along with sweet potatoes and cornbread stuffing. Thus was born the TV Dinner. In the first full year of production, Swanson sold ten million frozen dinners, turkey, beef, chicken and others. The company’s timing was good; by 1954, sixty-four percent of American homes had television. (A decade later, it was ninety percent, in time for the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.)

If a frozen holiday dinner is not appealing, Williams-Sonoma is taking orders for Willie Bird free-range turkeys. Prices start at $139.95 plus shipping.

During my twenty years in Santa Rosa, planning a turkey feast usually included a short drive to the Willie Bird store. Willie Bird’s farm was in the hills behind the store. Family-owned for four generations, Willie Bird was woven into Sonoma County life. The county fair or farmer’s markets or most other outdoor events typically included Willie Bird’s barbecue, grilling drumsticks. Willie Bird’s restaurant was a mainstay in Santa Rosa for years.

Diestel Family Ranch, also in California, purchased Willie Bird this past summer. The new owner says the Willie Bird name will continue. The restaurant was sold last year and now operates as “The Bird.”

A Baseball Centennial

Andrew “Rube” Foster was a premier pitcher during the first two decades of the twentieth century. He gained fame with the (Philadelphia) Cuban X Giants. Foster pitched four of the five X Giants wins in the 1903 “colored championship of the world,” beating the Philadelphia Giants. The next year, Foster joined the Philadelphia Giants. He won twenty games, including two no-hitters, and led the team to the championship, beating his former team, the X Giants.

(The Cuban Giants formed in 1885 as being dark-skinned Latin American players to evade the ban on Negro players. The X Giants split off from the Cuban Giants.)

Foster posted a 25-3 won-lost record win in 1905 and the Philadelphia Giants repeated as champions. In 1907, he became player/manager for the Chicago Leland Giants. The team won 110 games, including a 48 consecutive, and lost only ten.

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The Most Recent 66 Million Years, Abridged

Dinosaurs’ reign on earth ended sixty-six-million years ago. That’s when an asteroid crashed into our planet at twelve miles per second—typical meteor speed—burying itself nineteen miles deep. The impact created a crater fifty miles wide. Scientists estimate the asteroid’s diameter at seven-and-a-half miles.

The crater is not visible today. It now is buried two-thirds of a mile under the Yucatan Peninsula. When the asteroid hit, the area was seawater. The impact generated a tsunami and sent gases and debris into the upper atmosphere blocking the sun. Lack of sunlight and the resultant cooling exterminated much of life on earth. Goodbye dinosaurs.

After sixty-five-million-and-some years with no dinosaurs, humans appeared on the world’s stage. All humans trace their origins to Africa. The main Homo sapiens diaspora was about fifty-to-seventy-thousand years ago.
Anthropologists have lately been studying a human skull found in Eurasia dating back 210,000 years, the oldest human bone found outside Africa. It appeared that Homo sapiens first left Africa much earlier than previously thought.

But also found in the very same cave, in southern Greece, was another skull, probably Neanderthal. This one was 40,000 years younger. This discovery becomes more interesting, as researchers have been unable to find any living descendants of the older human. Scientists concluded that the first dispersal from Africa failed and this branch of humankind died out and was eventually replaced by Neanderthals. Neanderthal success was temporary, though. Over a few tens-of-thousand years, they lost the contest for world domination to Homo sapiens, who are considered to be modern humans.

Scientific research goes on. So far, fossils unearthed in Africa still predate any discovered in Eurasia by 100,000 years. None of the recent evidence contradicts the general conclusion that Homo sapiens left Africa generally on a 100,000-year cycle, as the Saharan and Arabian deserts expanded and ebbed.