And now for something Completely Different

This evening, I find myself sitting in a dorm room at Indiana State University at a three-day workshop with my Lilly Fellows. I had planned on being social tonight, but there is something I feel I need to do, and this is the perfect time. So instead of joining in the drum circle which I can hear through my window, or going to the pub with my new friends, I’m going to tell you a story. I wasn’t going to tell this story on my blog because it has nothing to do with geology, or paleontology, or science at all. But last night, it occurred to me that this story is as much about Traveling Through Space and Time as any story I’ve ever heard. This story is not about my personal travels, but about an object that went on a very long journey.

It all started in the spring of 1945. A young American man named Arthur Evans had left his wife and three children in Nappanee, Indiana to go off to war. He joined the Navy and had been sent to the Pacific. During the Battle of Okinawa, his ship supplied the US troops on the Island. When the battle was over, he was given a few hours of leave time to go on shore. As he walked along the beach, he found a variety of small, interesting items with Okinawan and Japanese writing on them scattered around. He did not read the language, but thought his friends and family back home would enjoy seeing such exotic things from a far away place. So he took them back to his ship, and eventually back home after the war ended.

Over the years, he stored the items away. His little family grew to include four more children, then many grandchildren. I am one of those grandchildren. As a young girl, I remember discovering these items in a box in the upstairs bedroom with my cousins. He had a large artillery shell, a box of pencils with Japanese writing, some photos of Okinawan people, a book with maps that I couldn’t read, and a few other things. I was fascinated by them, but forgot all about them over the years as I grew up.

When I was a Junior in high school, my US History teacher gave us an assignment. We were to interview people who lived through World War II and write a paper about their lives. I was lucky enough to have all four grandparents living at the time, so I chose to interview them. I still have a copy of the paper, and I was able to refer back to it to fill in some of the details about this story, although my grandfather died about ten years ago. (I am still in contact with this teacher and recently wrote to tell him this story and thank him for assigning this. I hope that someday I will assign something that has such a big impact on one of my students!)

When my grandmother died in 2011, my father inherited some of his father’s things, including the items from Okinawa. My mother showed them to me one day, and I began to wonder what the letter said. It seemed unlikely that anyone in Nappanee in 1945 would have been able to translate these items, but I thought maybe someone in Indianapolis in 2014 might be able to. I knew several people who spoke Japanese and/or were from Okinawa, so I reached out to them and sent pictures of a few items, including the letter.

In 1945, Okinawa was not a part of Japan, so their languages were not the same. My friends who were raised there were young enough that they learned Japanese, not the Okinawan dialect the letter was written in. They could understand it a little, but not well. Months passed and I had almost forgotten about the mysterious letter and pictures. And then…

I received a message on Facebook. It was from the mother of two of my former students. She immigrated from Japan years ago, but still had many contacts there. Her daughter had passed the photos on to her to see if she could make any sense of them. She had done some research on Japanese websites and contacted someone in Japan who had contacted a reporter from Okinawa. She forwarded my information to the reporter and a few days later, I found myself on the phone with a woman in Okinawa! To make a long story short(ish), the reporter had found the sister of the man who wrote the letter, my mother shipped the letter to her, the reporter brought her the letter, and the story aired on Okinawan TV. I never would have thought my TV debut would be in another language and halfway around the globe, but it was.

The reporter said that she thought it was fate that this letter was returned to its home nearly 70 years after the end of the war. I think it is a great story of a letter that traveled through space (from Okinawa, to Nappanee, to Indianapolis, and back home) and time (from 1945 to 2014), and united people from halfway around the world. Even though this blog is supposed to be about science, I think the story belongs here. I wanted to put these videos and information on a website that I own, so I don’t lose access to them, in case the Japanese TV station ever takes the story down. I hope younger generations of our family will see this story and appreciate the bonds that can grow after war. I love that several very curious women cracked the case of a seventy year old mystery and helped another woman regain part of her past.

Below are links to my uploads of two videos that go with the story. I will also include links to the original websites and also a translation.
My Youtube video of the story that was on TV in Okinawa
Translation (with my comments in parentheses):
“Hello” said Manabu Uehara. He visited Chiyo Kokuba in Kin village, Okinawa, on the 1st of Oct.
“I don’t have any detail of these letters yet. It’s still in the U.S.” he said. He was showing her some pictures sent from the U.S. last month. In the pictures, there were some old letters.
Uehara works for a website to share information about funeral ceremonies in Okinawa. Last month, a Japanese lady contacted him: “My American acquaintance has letters that her grandfather brought from Okinawa during the war. She wants to give them back to the owner.” She said she googled “Sobun Yamakawa”, the name of the sender, and found exactly the same name on the Uehara’s website.
Uehara started to look for the owner. And a few weeks later, he found Kokuba who is a younger sister of Yamakawa.
Seeing the pictures of letter, Ms. Kokuba said “What a fond memory. If the TV crew was not here, I would have burst into tears. I’m trying to control myself now.”
For a long time, she has believed that the letters were “lost” because of an unforgettable incident happened 69 years ago during the battle of Okinawa.
“One day during the battle, some US soldiers came to my house with a Japanese translator. They said they are going to burn my house, because Japanese soldiers are hidden inside of the house. They burnt my entire house. Entire village. Maybe they brought the letters from my house, believing something secret written in them.”
The place where Ms. Kokuba’s house used to be during the war, was taken and became Camp Hansen, One of the biggest US military bases in Okinawa.
“That takes me back…” said Ms. Kokuba, in front of the gate that she is never allowed to go in.
I called Ms. Lisa Evans Kern living in the US. I asked why she has the letters. She told me that the letters were originally from her grandfather. He was in Okinawa during the war as a member of Navy, and he laid up the letters in lavender (put them in storage) after the war back in the U.S.
“During that time, he was walking on the beach, and found several things. He thought it’s interesting and pick them up” said Ms. Kern.
And finally, yesterday….
“Father, please be assured that my family members and I are all doing well in Tokyo.” Ms. Kokuba was reading the letter at home. She saw her brother’s handwriting eventually after 69 years.
“When I saw his handwriting, I felt like I met my brother face to face. I felt like he is still alive and doing well. I feel happy and sweet, cannot describe well. In Okinawan dialect, I would say KIBURU DACCHA, meaning `feel a thrill go through`.”
In the envelop, there was a letter from Ms. Lisa Kern. She wrote she was sad to hear about Kokuba’s story during the war. Also, she was surprised it was the internet that helped her finding Kokuba.
“We can communicate with each other like this, because the world is peaceful now. I would like to tell Ms. Kern `Thank you very much for returning the letters with your kindness`” said Ms. Kokuba with smiles.”
Another video letter to our family, in which Ms. Kokuba says thank you and my heart is warmed tremendously.

This is the link to the news station’s original story.

On the road (corn corn corn)

Corn in Iowa

Cell phone snapshot of Iowa

The following is Lisa’s bored ramblings on blogging, Iowa, and the start of the trip.

Yesterday we got packed up in our rental truck (2014 Ford Expedition – which started with 10 miles on it) and headed out. I don’t really have much to report at this point, but David’s driving and I’m getting bored. Thanks to a little wifi hotspot thingy that I got to take with me, I have great internet access while we drive (thank you, Ron)! Last night we stayed in Coralville, Iowa, and now we’re back on the road. Today we stopped for a lunch/snack at Exile Brewing in Des Moines and got some great food (“American” fries with truffle oil and garlic aioli plus lamb sliders) and a couple of good beers. Now we are headed to Nebraska and our first point of interest: Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historic Park.

Here is what Heywood Banks has to say about Iowa on I-80 (thanks, Jen):  I think that pretty much sums it up, although it is more hilly than Indiana. We’re not used to seeing terracing where we live, so that’s kinda cool. Here is a picture I took after Kieran and I found a geocache. I thought it represented the area nicely.

While I’m sharing other people’s work with you, I thought I’d share a blog post by one of my favorite writers. Neil Peart is best known for being the drummer for the band Rush, but he also writes most of their lyrics and has a blog where he writes about his travels. I loved reading what he had to say about one of the places we’re going on this trip: Death Valley. He was probably smarter than us, because he visited in April. We decided to go to the hottest place on earth in June… brilliant, I’m sure! Well, with the year-round school calendar and the kids’ band and sports schedules, we didn’t have too much of a choice. Anyway, Neil wrote about Death Valley in his usual humorous and poetic way, so enjoy! By way, this is the standard by which I have been judging my blog. I am still struggling a bit with posting my ramblings when I know there are better writers out there, but it is what it is.

We are not superstitious, but it is a full moon Friday the 13th, so here’s to getting a few more miles behind us before we stop for the night. Maybe we’ll get some good night sky photos tonight, since we should be well away from light pollution (although new moon is really best for seeing the Milky Way). Evan insisted on bringing the telescope (as well as two drum pads, several sets of sticks, bongos, a darbuka, a tambourine, a guiro block, and a triangle – in case a spontaneous drum circle breaks out), so that should make for a fun evening. I’m thinking the scope and drums will be our only entertainment for the next few nights, since we’ll be staying in some pretty secluded locations.  Oh, hey look!  We’re in Nebraska!

Introducing my Flickr photostream

I generally share my personal photos with friends and family using Facebook and videos on youtube.  I love Facebook for lots of reasons, but I’m starting to generate some photos and video that could look better if they weren’t compressed.  I’m giving Flickr a shot for full resolution photos.  I’ll see what I can work out on a solution for the videos eventually, but here’s a link to my very small (for now) photostream on Flickr:

Anyone have suggestions for me on the video issue?  It seems like there must be a way to do HD video on youtube, but maybe it requires a paid subscription or something.  One of these days I’ll have time to research it.

Learning the ropes of video blogging

My original plan was to make a blog, but then I decided I’d try to do a vlog, or video log.  My plan is to interview scientists and park rangers along the way on our trip out west.  After this “little” trip, I see the one thing that is going to limit my vlogging is internet access!  I’ve had wireless internet everywhere I’ve gone, but it has often been S  L  O  W !  So today, when we arrived at the Park Vista hotel in Gatlinburg, TN and found really fast internet, it was all-hands-on-deck for uploading.  The Park Vista is our one big splurge on this trip.  We’ve cooked most of our own meals, stayed in budget-friendly hotels, and paid for fewer tours and museums than we would have liked.  Tonight we have a suite on the top floor of the 15-story round hotel building with a balcony that overlooks Smokey Mountain National Park.  We rolled in, checked out the room, started our uploads and then headed to the pool (with two waterslides – Yeehaaa!).  After swimming, we came up and ate left overs.  And now my uploads are done and I have a few more videos for you.  I uploaded three videos in a couple of hours today, when yesterday’s video took all night.  I guess you get what you pay for in hotel internet.  Unfortunately, we’re going super cheap on the big trip, so upload time may be a problem.  I guess it will be OK if I have lots to upload when I get home.  It will still be summer vacation then!

Today’s youtube selections include more GoPro videos from the City Museum.  All video, no time-lapse this time.  There are a couple you won’t want to watch if you’re prone to dizziness.

FIrst off, we have Evan at the Skateless Park.  This is a skate park, but no wheels are allowed.  The younger kids were really impressed with his skills.

Next is Kieran going down the Monster slide.  It’s triangular and has rollers down the sides.  Fun!

This one will make anyone dizzy.  There was a room full of these huge plastic spindle-things.  Evan shows us the best use of them.

Last, but not least, here is me trying to show off the drum stairs.  The sound really didn’t come out the way I had hoped.

Should I dig around for more pictures or video that I haven’t posted yet?  I’m sure there are tons!  I think I’ll leave that for another day and enjoy the last night of vacation on my balcony.

Testing our equipment on the road

Before I received the Lilly grant, we had a family vacation planned for Spring Break 2014.  Our plan was to head to St. Louis to visit the City Museum, then to find geocaches (see below) in Arkansas and Texas to add to our list of states in which we’ve found caches.  Then we were going to spend a few days in and around New Orleans, LA, then Mobile, AL.  At the end of the trip, we planned to head to Gatlinburg, TN for a night before heading home.  We already had reservations for all the hotels and the rental home in Algiers Point, LA and most were paid for.  So when we got the news about the grant, we made a slight adjustment to the itinerary (dropped TX, since we’ll get caches there this summer), but decided to continue pretty much as planned.  We decided this would be a good chance to see how a really big trip with lots of camera equipment would work out.  Below are some links to things we’ve seen on this “little” trip.

First, if you aren’t familiar with geocaching, you should check out the short video at this link:

Also, if you are interested in the City Museum, here is our oldest son, Evan in the outdoor section of it.  This was taken with our new GoPro.  The City Museum is an amazing place that is really hard to explain.  If you can imagine what Dr. Seuss would do if he were a welder and had access to tons of discarded structural materials, you might get a sense of what this place is.  It is the most creative, imaginative place on earth!  The outdoor area is not my favorite part, but we learned a few hard lessons in my favorite part.  First of all, time lapse is not good in dark places.  Second, video is better than time lapse with a little guy Kieran, age 6) as the camera man.  Third, with time lapse, there’s a lot of editing required to throw out the pictures that are blurry or looking the wrong way.  Fourth, these things take forever to upload!  Bottom line, I have tons of pictures that are going to require some time to get through.  I’ll post more of them one day.  Here’s one timelapse:  My favorite part of the museum is indoors and is just a variety of places to climb, slither, crawl, and slide.  The City Museum’s motto should be something like this: May I climb through this?  YES.  Can I climb through this? MAYBE.  Should I climb through this?  MAYBE NOT.  There are no rules at the City Museum.  You have free reign to climb in, on, through just about everything.  Some spaces are too small for normal-sized adults, but most of them can be accessed by most people willing to try it out.  I would advise anyone to go there, wear knee pads and sturdy shoes, and have fun.  Don’t sit on the benches with the boring parents.  Get in there and have fun with the kids!

I’ll post about our experiences in NOLA and Mobile soon.  It has been amazing and we have learned much about using our cameras well.  Besides the new GoPro, we bought a regular video camera, (a Sony HDR-PJ540) and brought along our older cameras: an Olympus E-Volt 300 DSLR and a Sony Cybershot DSC-WX9.  Travel is always an educational experience for us, so throwing the video equipment into the mix has just added to the adventure.