Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Buddha and a Phone Call

Avery Island is a huge dome of rock salt, three miles long and two and a half miles wide. During the Civil War, it was the site of several conflicts between the Union and Confederate troops to gain access and control of the salt. Edmund McIlhenny returned to his home on the Island after the War to find that not much had survived. The salt works on this Gulf Coast Island were inoperable. The sugarcane fields had been destroyed. But the special red peppers he had planted in his garden before the war had miraculously survived.

He began to experiment with making pepper sauce and eventually hit upon a formula for "Tabasco." He shipped the first batch of 350 bottles in 1868. The hot sauce took off like wildfire, and orders came in faster than they could be filled.

A tour of the bottling plant begins with the presentation of le petit baton rouge (the little red stick) that indicates the color of the peppers that are ready for picking. After the reddest peppers are selected and crushed, they are mixed with Avery Island salt and vinegar and aged for a little over three years in white oak barrels.

This draft for an ad hangs in the entrance to the bottling plant. The message: "Men love Cottage Cheese Pepped up with Tabasco" seems a bit difficult to accept.

A brief lull in the bottling plant caught these bottles waiting in line to be shipped to Belgium, one of the 160 countries purchasing the pepper sauce.

A reminder of the flooding associated with two recent hurricanes appears on the tollgate to the grounds of the factory and The Jungle Gardens of Avery Island. The upper line on the left of the window marks the height of the waters following Rita in 2005, the lower mark is from the effects of Ike in 2008. Given the distance from the Gulf, the surge must have been horrendous.

The Jungle Gardens include E.A. McIlhenny's former home on Avery Island and 250 acres of live oak trees, a lagoon, papayas, soap trees, some 64 varieties of exotic bamboos, 750-1,000 varieties of camelias, and many varieties of other plants.

Among his many accomplishments, Mr. McIlhenny saved the snowy egret from extinction at the hands of the plume hunters and established the great bird sanctuary, Bird City, in which thousands of herons live.

In one of the lagoons, this alligator kept a watchful eye on us as we drove by.

The Chinese Garden includes Buddha and is surrounded by seven hills. The Buddha was a gift to E.A. McIlhenny from two friends in 1936.

The Buddha was built by noted builder Chon-Ha-Chin for the Shonfa Temple northeast of Peking by the order of Emperor Hui-Tsung (1101-1125).

While standing in front of Buddha, my cell phone rang. The caller, my friend Chris Lucca, is a pretty amazing person and the only one from whom I would expect to hear from while reading about the Buddha. Chris can talk intelligently about topics from Buddhist philosophy to Groucho Marx, can announce little league baseball games, and laugh at himself. He is blessed with his wife Karen and two fine sons, who, in turn, are blessed with two wonderful parents.

I no longer question how or in what setting I connect with Chris, but this setting seem to be perfect for spiritual and unexplainable happenings.

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