TAKING NOTES - OCTOBER 1995
by Lisa Ladd-Wilson
The world's tallest totem pole is not in McKinleyville (158 feet), but in Alert Bay, British Columbia (173 feet). So says L.M. Boyd, author of "The Grab Bag," a collection of odd facts, little-known quotes and an assortment of Q&A that appear in weekend editions of the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Author" is probably too strong a word for Mr. Boyd. Truth be told, he does not write very much. Only little paragraphs, paragraphs of facts.
The tiny krill shrimp has 11 pairs of legs.
That is the sort of thing Mr. Boyd writes. He does not author so much as he lists. He compiles facts that he puts into lists, and he sells the lists to newspapers as "a feature." In the Chronicle this feature is called "The Grab Bag," and although I don't know who L.M. Boyd is or if he even exists, I believe every fact and quote in "The Grab Bag" to be absolutely, indisputably true.
So, the world's tallest totem pole actually is quite a bit farther north of Arcata than some of us may have thought.
But why is this interesting? Does anyone really care which totem pole is higher than any other totem pole?
Yes! Someone cared enough that they claimed the totem pole in the McKinleyville mall was the tallest. Someone else cared enough to say the same for the totem pole in Alert Bay. And someone else cared enough to send in the question to Boyd, who found the answer from someone else who cared enough to write it down.
That is what is most interesting of all.
We want to know -- is it the biggest? The strongest? The widest? Is that the fattest cat? The oldest dog? Does that man have more tattoos on his body than anybody else in the whole wide world ever since the beginning of time?
How does it rank? How does it stack up to the rest? And if it is the
-est of them all, people will want to see it. They might even pay to see it.
The world's tallest tree is in Rockefeller Forest. The Big Hammer in Eureka is the biggest hammer (maybe -- but aren't these the same people who brought us the apparently not tallest totem pole in the world?).
It's a strange phenomenon and possibly an American one. (Yes, British Columbia is in Canada, but Canadians are the first to admit their country is filthy with our influence.) It's also nonsensical, meaningless and totally bizarre.
I don't know why we are so preoccupied with the superlative. But I do know that when my husband and I were traveling in Oregon a few weeks ago, driving on I-5 with a definite destination in mind, my scream of "Giant eagle!" (or something very similar) sent us screeching off our course.
Because there was an extremely large, really huge, probably the largest, hugest ever in the whole world figure of a bald eagle, next to a sign that read "SprayFoam Inc." To the left of the bald eagle was a really big wood duck. There were also giant snakes, an oversized trout, and a gnome that would be objectionable at any size but at 7 feet was positively unconstitutional.
All of these things were crafted by hand out of foam insulation, the sort of substance that is liquid when contained in a drum but becomes solid when sprayed into the air. Foam sculptures supplement SprayFoam Inc.'s insulation business. Its handful of workers have made huge, hollow lemons from which to sell lemonade and a variety of big creatures that live in amusement parks.
It was amazing, and probably highly toxic. We didn't linger long.
We did leave with a few facts, though: The giant eagle was for sale at $15,000. We didn't ask if it was the biggest.
But someone else undoubtedly has, and someone else probably wrote it down. All that's needed now is someone else to write to L.M. Boyd.
Lisa Ladd-Wilson is a Eureka free-lance writer.
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