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A COLLECTION OF MAGNIFICENT
These cute things enchant me. Mushrooms come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and are almost as diverse as the animal kingdom. It’s easy to ignore them since many are tiny, and often grow in dark, hidden places, which has made classifying them into groups quite difficult. This collection will show you five species of mushrooms, yet all of the members of the species differ from each other so much that it is difficult to believe they’re from the same family.
Clancy's comment: Extraordinary, eh? All of their shapes are so different, but I wonder if that relates to the type of wood they have grown on.
EXTRAORDINARY PISMO BEACH
Thousands of migrating monarchs wait out the winter clustered in the eucalyptus trees at Pismo Beach.
If you find yourself heading to the Santa Maria Valley on the central California coast to escape the chilly northern winter, make sure you stop by the Monarch Butterfly Grove at Pismo Beach. There, you can gaze upon thousands of delicate winged beauties who have had the same idea.
Each year, as many as 25,000 wintering monarchs come to roost in the eucalyptus grove at Pismo Beach, about 20 minutes north of the city of Santa Maria. The butterflies cluster densely together in the trees, lining the branches with curtains of brilliant orange that can stretch for several feet.
At first glance, these butterfly congregations look like clumps of leaves that blend in with the landscape and can be easy to miss. But a closer look reveals an overwhelming number of monarchs huddled together for warmth and protection. The butterflies hang upside down from the branches, each with a wing down over the one below it to create a shingle effect that helps protect the delicate creatures from wind, rain, and predators. When the sun comes out, the insects start to break off from the group and spread their wings and bathe in the warmth. On a sunny afternoon, they can be seen fluttering through the air looking for nectar and water to drink.
These beauties are part of the western monarch population in North America, which migrates down from the northern states west of the Rocky Mountains to forested areas along the Pacific coast in central and southern California. Pismo Beach is one of just five monarch roosts in the Golden State that host more than 10,000 butterflies each year, many of which have braved a dangerous journey of over 1,000 miles by the time they reach their winter home.
At the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, there are telescopes placed around the grounds pointed at the largest clusters of butterflies so visitors can get a closer look at the vibrant hues and recognizable orange, black, and white pattern of the monarchs’ wings. For the best viewing experience, visit the park during the high season between November and February, before the weather starts to warm and the butterflies begin their long journey back north.
Clancy's comment: How can these delicate things fly 1,000 miles? Extraordinary, eh?
The crypt of the imposing Stephensdom holds royal intestines and thousands of skeletons.
In the middle of Vienna, the dark and imposing St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) draws thousands of tourists to gaze at the grand architecture. But there is something to be seen below as well: just beneath the stone floors lie the skeletal remains of over 11,000 people.
Surprisingly few visitors opt to enter the crypt. The entrance to the underground tomb is hidden in plain sight, as an innocuous staircase on the left side of the main floor. The vast Stephansdom crypt is divided into a number of smaller crypts and catacombs, and is still an active burial spot. The last tenant to move in was Franz Cardinal König, the archbishop of Vienna, who was laid to rest there in 2004. Most of the bodies of the Habsburg royalty are interred nearby in the Imperial Crypt on Neuer Markt square.
In another section, known as the ducal crypt, the organs of princes, queens, and emperors are kept. Along with some bodies and hearts, over 60 jars of imperial intestines rest in the ducal crypt, including one containing Empress Maria Theresia’s sovereign stomach.
Not long ago, the seals on one jar broke, leaking 200-year-old visceral fluid onto the floor. The stink was apparently so awful that it took a day or two before someone was willing to go down and address the situation.
In 1735, Vienna experienced an outbreak of the bubonic plague. In an effort to keep the Black Death at bay, the numerous cemeteries surrounding the Stephansdom and the charnel house (a building for storing stacked bones) were emptied, and thousands of bones and rotting corpses were thrown down into the pits dug in the floor of the crypt. The downside to this arrangement was that the smell of the catacombs would occasionally waft up into the church and make religious services impossible.
To combat the unfortunate smell, as well as make room for more bodies, a few unlucky prisoners were lowered into the pits where they were forced to scrub the rotting flesh off the plague-ridden and disordered bodies, snapping and breaking the skeletons down to individual bones, and stacking them into neatly ordered rows, skulls on top. It seems that they never finished the job–to this day, one can still find sections of the crypt scattered with piles of disorganized bones and deteriorating coffins.
Guided tours only. On special occasions like “die lange Nacht der Kirche” (“the long night of churches,” a yearly event), the crypt is open to the public.
Clancy's comment: Interesting how traditions have changed.