Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sinister Part Deux


After availing myself to the charms of the original Sinister the other evening, I went right into its sequel — titled Sinister 2, believe it or not — so I figured why not give it a little critique as well? Clearly, from the reviews and ratings out there, this one didn't earn much love, but I avoided reading any plot details so I could experience it with a reasonably open mind. I did presume it would go the way of most sequels — inferior to its predecessor — and on that count, my expectations were not wrong. However, somewhat to my surprise, I found it anything but deserving of all the hate heaped upon it. I suppose it goes without saying that people who didn't like the first film would likely not care for this one, and many of the reviews I saw came from that point of view, though I wonder, if someone detested the original, why they would bother to watch its follow-up, not to mention devote the time and energy to review it. While a few too-familiar, gimmicky plot devices rear their ugly heads, for the most part, Sinister 2 doesn't merely stomp along on a worn-out path; happily, it takes a bit of a detour and spends less time on Bughuul, the boogeyman from the first movie, than on the mental and emotional decline of a couple of young boys who are subjected to Mr. Boogie's influence.

Spoilers: Yes.

Whereas in the first movie Bughuul remained a creepy, shadowy figure with an intriguing origin, in this one, Bughuul is, unfortunately, the weakest link. From time to time, he pops up to remind us that he is actually the motivating force behind the dark events on the screen, but the scenes in which he appears leave little to the imagination. He's no longer a half-hidden background figure but a clearly seen, big-as-life cinematic bad guy, the ultimate effect being that he no longer has any power to disturb.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of disturbing moments in the movie. The on-screen murders actually are pretty unsettling, all the more so because, as in the first movie, they're committed by children. That fact having been established, Sinister 2 opens right up with some graphic violence perpetrated by minors. Evil children may have been done to death, and among reviewers there have been some apt comparisons to Children of the Corn, but in this movie, we're presented with some decent characterizations, featuring very good juvenile actors. In fact, all the actors, young and old, do a fine job with the material at hand, elevating this movie several notches above what it might have been in less capable hands.

Young Dylan Collins (Robert Daniel Sloan), his twin brother Zach (Dartanian Sloan), and their mother Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) have moved into an old farmhouse, apparently to escape the attention of her abusive ex-husband. Dylan has ongoing dreams of murders at an abandoned church on the property, and he begins seeing the ghosts of dead children, led by a boy named Milo (Lucas Jade Zumann), who show him movies of various grisly murders, telling him that the only way to make them stop is to watch all the movies to the end. These experiences horrify him, but he soon learns that Zach has also seen the ghosts, and unlike Dylan, Zach revels in the supernatural attention.

Ex-Deputy "So-and-So" (James Ransone), from the original film, knowing the truth about Bughuul, has gone about burning down houses where murders have occurred to prevent further killings at those sites. Unaware that the house is occupied, he comes to Courtney's place to destroy it. Surprised by her presence, he claims to be a private investigator, which prompts her to believe he is working for her ex-husband. However, he convinces her he is looking into old murders at the neighboring church.

Shortly afterward, Courtney's ex-husband, Clint (Lea Coco), does show up, intending to take the boys away from her, but Ex-Deputy intervenes and forces him to leave. Next, Ex-Deputy meets a young professor named Stomberg (Tate Ellington), who has been investigating the disappearance of Professor Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio, from the first movie). Stomberg possesses Jonas's old ham radio set, from which he has heard the voices of children and what he assumes to be Bughuul. Ex-Deputy urges Stomberg to destroy the set.

Clint once again comes around to Courtney's and this time successfully regains custody of the two boys. However, Zach, now under the influence of the ghostly children, drugs Clint, Courtney, and Dylan. Next thing we know, the three have been strung up on crosses, and Zach burns Clint to death while he films it on an 8mm camera. Before Zach can kill his brother and mother, Ex-Deputy arrives on the scene and destroys the camera, preventing Zach from completing the task his ghostly masters have demanded. Ex-Deputy frees Courtney and Dylan, but Zach is forced to flee from the ghosts as well as Bughuul, who appears to him in the flesh....

At the end of the film, Ex-Deputy is surprised to find Professor Jonas's ham radio set in his motel room, and even more surprised by what comes out of it.
Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) and Ex-Deputy So-and-So (James Ransone)
One of the home movies depicts a little fishing trip, complete with hungry, man-eating alligators....
The youthful subjects of Bughuul, on the prowl for souls to steal
Rather than Bughuul, the focus of the story is on the tension between the characters, particularly between Dylan and Zach and Courtney and Clint. While the ghosts make their awful demands on Dylan, he is less afraid of them than disgusted by what they want him to do. Zach, on the other hand, clearly having inherited his father's antisocial tendencies, actually desires to be part of that circle, though he is initially rebuffed. Both young actors play their parts to convincing effect, one sensitive and sympathetic, the other as cold and depraved as a hardened murderer — at one point deriding his mother and calling her a "cunt" with almost too-convincing viciousness.

James Ransone, returning from the first film as (now Ex-) Deputy "So-and-So," takes on leading duties, and the insecure, stuttering, and physically diminutive character comes across as a refreshing change from Ethan Hawke's crustier, cynical main character in the original Sinister. But every now and then, our deputy finds a burst of inner strength, such as when he stands up to Courtney's bullying ex-husband, Clint. The meeting between Deputy and Professor Stomberg plays like a nerd convention almost worthy of The Big Bang Theory, except for it being pretty scary. The scene in which Stomberg tells of having heard children's voices on the ham radio set is one of the creepier moments in the film.

Here, I find it sad that one of the neatest scenes in the movie is relegated to the "deleted" section of the Blu-ray. In the first film, the main title track by composer Christopher Young — reprised in this film — features a distorted child's voice calling out numbers,  which turn out to be the geographic coordinates of the various murder sites. As an avid geocacher, I am filled with all kinds of dark ideas for a new set of caches based on this very premise. (Cachers, beware!)

While distinctly inferior to its predecessor, Sinister 2 at the very least presents itself as much more than a mere retread of concepts introduced in the first film. It's a shame that the character of Bughuul is treated as sort of a throw-away Freddy Krueger, a mere prop to occasionally provide a jump scare or fill a few moments when the narrative has focused too long on actual characterization. Still, director Cirian Foy and the cast — especially the most youthful members — work hard to make you believe they're in this for real, and the 8mm "snuff films" really do depict cruel and unusual torture. Many of the harsher criticisms of the movie may have some justification (the current incarnation of Roger Ebert wrote that "Sinister 2 is so close to being a good movie that everything bad about it seems ten times worse.") but there's far more right about the film than it's generally given credit for.

Three out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
"I'm burnin', I'm burnin', I'm burnin' for you."
Nerd, meet the ex-deputy. Professor Stomberg (Tate Ellington) and Ex-Deputy So-and-So (James Ransone)
The ghostly Milo (Lucas Jade Zumann), a not-at-all nice boy
"Don't turn around, oh-oh-oh. Der Kommissar's in town, oh-oh-oh!"

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Sinister Menace


Sinister (2012) could easily join the ranks of movies I consider required viewing for the Halloween season, as it has all the proper elements: an obsessed, driven author attempting to connect a string of gruesome murders for a proposed true-crime novel; an abundance of unsettling imagery; an eerie soundtrack; and a creepy, memorable supernatural menace.

Ethan Hawke plays best-selling crime author Ellison Oswalt, who moves his family into a house where the previous occupants had been hanged from a tree in the backyard — a crime still unsolved — in hopes of using the murders as the subject of a new book. Shortly after moving in, he finds in the house's attic a box of 8mm film reels, which initially appear to be only a collection of old home movies. However, upon viewing them, he discovers that the films depict a numbers of families being killed in various horrifying ways, by party or parties unknown. With the assistance of an enthusiastic young sheriff's deputy, whom he calls "Deputy So-and-So" (James Ransone), he discovers that these murders took place over a number of years — dating back to the 1960s — and that one child from each murdered family had gone missing. Furthermore, each family had at some point lived in the same house as the previous victims.

On the inside lid of the box containing the film reels, Oswalt finds drawings rendered in a childish hand that clearly illustrate the murders, all appearing to be overseen by a figure labeled "Mr. Boogie." And once he re-examines the films, he discovers that there is indeed a sinister, pale-faced character lurking at the scene of each murder. Also left behind at the murder scenes is an odd, stylized symbol, painted in blood. Hoping to determine the meaning of the symbol, he contacts occult expert Professor Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio), who concludes the murders are ritualistic, the ubiquitous symbol implicating an obscure, ancient Sumerian deity named Bughuul, who was known for "eating the souls" of children.

As he delves deeper into this mystery, Oswalt's wife Tracy (Juliette Rylance), son Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario), and daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) become increasingly distraught by his obsession and beg him to take them back to their previous home. He stubbornly refuses — until the entity Bughuul physically manifests itself to him. Realizing now that he may have drawn his own family into an unimaginable, supernatural horror, he relents, burns all the film reels, and retreats with his wife and children to their old home.

However, just when it seems life might return to normal, Oswalt discovers in his attic a new box of film reels and an envelope labeled "extended cut endings." It is only now that the horror truly begins....
# # #

Sinister succeeds largely due to its dark atmosphere, relatively slow reveal of the supernatural menace (Vincent D'Onofrio's character does not appear until about midway through the picture), and genuinely chilling imagery. While the various murders might be brutal, some shown in graphic detail, there is yet a sense of suggested rather than gratuitous violence. Best of all, the entity Bughuul — a.k.a. "Mr. Boogie" — remains ever mysterious, usually glimpsed quickly or, in the case of lingering close-ups, with features half-hidden by shadows. The fictional backstory of Bughuul being a Sumerian deity, who lured children to his domain so he could eat their souls, brings a distinctly supernatural presence to a narrative structured, at least in the beginning, more like a true-crime drama.

Screenwriters Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson fabricated an appealing origin for Bughuul, only partially revealed in the film, portraying him as the brother of the Canaanite god Moloch, to whom children were also sacrificed. Bughuul uses drawn symbols or images — in this case the children's artwork — as gateways from its dimension to ours, always leaving behind its rune-like symbol at the scene of its predations.

As is the tendency for most contemporary horror movies, a few unnecessary jump scares mar the suspense, but overall, the film employs nighttime settings, suggestive shadows, and the eerie musical score by prolific composer Christopher Young to unsettling effect. One of the best uses of music is a repetitive, synthesized grinding sound, simulating the sound of movie projector spindles turning after the film has run out, overlaid with distorted children's voices.

The character story is reasonably engaging, with Ethan Hawke convincing as a skeptical but dedicated investigator who slowly becomes aware that his research subject is anything but prosaic. Some critics have argued that his actions aren't logical, that a real human being wouldn't continue to delve more deeply into the realm he's discovered once its actual dangers become clear. I would disagree, particularly being a sometimes obsessive-compulsive writer-type individual. Author Oswalt, shown early on as pragmatic but driven to recapture the success of his earlier novel, becomes ensnared by images and sensations he experiences but doesn't dare believe. He clings stubbornly to reason, to the little voice that says, "no matter what you think you see, it simply can't be that, the world doesn't work that way." I think many of us are wired the same way, particularly those of us who are agnostic or atheistic, and might likely react perhaps just as "recklessly."

Oswalt's wife Tracy serves mostly as a prop, neither her personality nor her actions doing much to propel the story, though she does come across as "real," reacting to and influencing her husband's decisions based on her all-too-accurate intuition about the events overtaking them. Their son Trevor suffers chronic night horrors (an affliction I also suffered to some limited extent in my younger days), but he, too, is a two-dimensional character, and unfortunately more annoying than sympathetic. However, their daughter Ashley, a budding young artist with an engaging personality, well-portrayed by Clare Foley, plays a more critical role than is initially evident, bringing both pathos and chilling horror to the climax.

Actor/Senator Fred Dalton Thompson has a small, entertaining role as the local sheriff, but his deputy plays a much bigger part in the story, becoming both assistant and confidant to Oswalt during his investigation, though the author amusingly refers to him only as "Deputy So-and-So."

Despite its occasional shortcomings, Sinister's grim atmosphere, slow but deliberate pacing, and chilling imagery make it one of those rare movies involving the supernatural that actually has the power to disturb. The climax possesses a certain dark beauty, directed like a dance, with music playing a crucial part of its composition, leaving me with a genuine haunted feeling. As I mentioned early on, the film makes for excellent Halloween fare, and I suspect it will be appear frequently on my regular autumn film menu.

Four out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.

The brutal murder that begins the chain of events for writer Ellison Oswalt
Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is horrified by the images revealed in what he took to be old home movies.
A frame blow-up from one of the film reels reveals the face of "Mr. Boogie."
The sign of Bughuul, painted in blood, left behind at the site of each of the murders

Friday, February 24, 2017

Bloody Mayhem

In the early 1970s, from ages 10 to 15 or so — I, along with most of my young friends, was a bike-riding maniac, and by maniac I mean a fearless, death-defying, ever-aspiring stuntman with all the good sense of that redneck friend of yours who laughs and says "Hey, watch this!" If you've followed this blog, you've probably read about all kinds of juvenile tomfoolery that I was lucky enough to survive. But this is less about me than about my young friend Robert, a.k.a. "Rufert" (how that moniker came about I can't quite recall) who was far crazier than I when it came to daredevil bicycling.
The approach to the bridge: the ride began at the road,
seen in the upper right of the photo

You see that little bridge in the photo above? In my junior high school years, that was actually a different, even more rickety bridge, and after a long, if not terribly steep hill leading down to the bridge (see the photo on the left), there was a short, sharp incline just before the bridge. On this descent, the determined, energetic bicyclist could actually achieve some serious speed. We'd pedal hard, haul ass down the hill, hit that little incline in front of the bridge, and jump our bikes clear over the creek — at least if we did it properly. I accomplished this feat countless times, with picture-perfect form (I had earned my chops wiping out in spectacular fashion on any number of other makeshift jump ramps), and had there been a Boy Scout merit badge for Jumping Bicycles Over Long Distances, I'd have earned mine many times over.

Bear in mind, this was in the days before bikes were specifically made for rugged, off-road riding. Between Rufert, our friends Charles and Chuck, my brother, and I, we owned (or at least, thanks to our parents, had at our disposal) a fairly massive number of bicycles — mostly of the Stingray or Spyder bike variety — in various stages of repair. We'd ride one till there was little left of it, and either replace it or cannibalize parts from another to make it whole again. At any given time, I had at least two fully functional bicycles, usually built from the best-functioning parts of several. Now, I was pretty conscientious about putting together a solid bicycle, but not all of us paid such thorough attention to detail. More on this shortly.

One day, Rufert, my brother Phred, and I were riding at the area you see in the photos above. Rufert, having built a brand new bike, was keen on showing it off on a major jump over the creek. Now, there was no fault in the bicycle (this time), but one might not say the same for Rufert's situational awareness. He took off, pumping those pedals for all he was worth, and my brother and I, watching in admiration from the top of the hill, figured he was moving faster than we had ever seen him move. He hit the leading edge of that bridge at top speed, flew out into the air in perfect form — standing on the pedals, front wheel angled gracefully upward — and then yelled, "Oh, shiiiitttt!!!!" Little to our knowledge, since the last time we had come out to do some energetic bridge jumping, one of the boards about two-thirds of the way across had gone missing. Rufert's back tire came down squarely in the gap, and as if he had landed on a taut trampoline, his bike went — boiiiinnnng — straight up in the air and over the edge of the bridge. We saw a big explosion of water, heard a crunch-crack-splash, and then... naught but the dispassionate sun staring down through the trees and the peaceful chirping of birds.

Phred and I hauled ass down to the creek bank, looked down into the water, and there, sprawled like a casually tossed GI Joe figure upon a bed of not-so-comfortable-looking rocks, lay Rufert, staring dazedly skyward, the pieces of his bike scattered around him. His eyes rolled toward ours, and in a pained voice, he sputtered, "Wha- happened?"

Well, Rufert recovered just fine — he was bruised and bloodied, but there was nothing broken — and in no time at all, he had his bike put back together and was ready for the next challenge.

That next challenge was The Dirt Hill — a vacant lot up the road that was, as its given name might imply, a big dirt hill, or perhaps more accurately, an array of hills, some steep, some small, some tall. There was this beautiful, 20-foot sheer drop-off leading to a mound (where I now have a geocache called "Rodan's Jump" [GC1GEPF]) that you could ride down and then fly out into the air — far, far farther than the bridge jump. The key here was stopping before you went careening down another drop-off into big, jagged rocks a short distance from the end of the jump. Now, my first trip down this course resulted in me flying out into the air, looking up, and seeing my bicycle way up in the air, coming straight for me. I hit the ground, then got hit by my bike. Oww motherfucker, oww motherfucker, oww. But not unlike a little kid going off the high diving board for the first time, I decided to try again, and my next attempt went perfectly: a beautiful, stylish jump, and from then on, man, I was the master.

Rufert mastered this jump even more readily — he got it right the first time down. However, after his little mishap at the bridge, he may not have been as conscientious as he should have been when putting his bike back together. After several successful flights off the ramp, he mounted up again, pumped his way up to the top of the cliff, gave a premature cry of victory, and came barreling down in the grip of several Gs. He hit that mound, flew out in the air, standing on the pedals, looking for all the world like the king of all stuntmen — when his front wheel separated from the forks and went spiraling out into the air. As if in slow motion, Rufert and his bike arced downward, his eyes wider than dinner plates, and the now wheel-less forks burrowed into the ground, tossing him over the handlebars and into the rocks off the edge of the landing area. Phred and I went hauling down to check him out, peered down the hill, and saw him sprawled amid the rocks like a discarded Major Matt Mason figure whose internal wire framework had been twisted all out of shape. His eyes rolled toward ours, and in a voice that sounded like Mickey Mouse on helium, he piped, "Wha- happened?"

Well, Rufert recovered just fine. Again, he was bruised and bloodied, but he hadn't broken anything except his bike. I think at this point, he was forced to pressure his folks into buying him a new one because we were by now pretty much out of spare parts.

My understanding is that Rufert grew up to be a sane and reasonably responsible adult, and I don't think he has any weird scars or protruding bits of bone as evidence of our youthful exuberance. It's only a pity that this was in the days before video because, if we could have had videos of these, I'd have worn them out by now.

Oh, to bounce around with impunity the way we used to.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Witch's Woods

On the heels of my most recent geocache hides, "The Curse of Lillian Gadwick" (GC705N3) and "Oren Grey" (GC705P2), I have set up a new night cache, called "The Witch's Woods," based on the same faux legend of witchcraft and deviltry I concocted for the former two caches (see my blog entry, "The Curse of Lillian Gadwick"). It's a fairly lengthy hike — at least three miles round trip — along the Osprey Trail at Lake Townsend in north Greensboro, but unlike at least one of the aforementioned caches, no strenuous and/or hazardous acrobatics are required to retrieve the container. No, the real hazard is venturing into the witch's territory, which begins at a long footbridge across the treacherous marsh and extends along the lake, where taking accurate coordinates is a damn near impossible task, and strange things gibber and leer at you from the deep darkness beyond the water.

Hopefully, this one will be published within the next few days, and any number of daring souls will go forth to meet their fates....

Addendum: Went out after dark to check out my reflector trail and shot a bit of video. Pardon the shaky cam.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"The Curse of Lillian Gadwick"...

...is the name of a geocache (GC705N3) I hid a few days back out on the Osprey Trail, not too far from here, and for which I created some brand-new Guilford County folklore, since hiding a supernatural-themed cache — or two, actually — seemed just the ticket. (If you know anything about my geocaches, you know I never do anything like that.) The second cache, called "Oren Grey" (GC705P2)  follows the same legend. The story from the cache listing page goes as follows:

"One of Guilford County's lesser-known legends involves a woman named Lillian Gadwick (1723–1781), reputedly a practitioner of witchcraft, who resided in the area that is now Lake Townsend in northern Greensboro. The story goes that she lived alone in a cabin in the woods and was suspected of occasionally abducting and slaughtering children from the nearby community, then known as Capefair — though numerous investigations could produce no evidence of such deviltry. However, just prior to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a company of troops from General Cornwallis's advancing army came upon her cabin and caught her 'rendering the fat' of several young children, which she presumably intended to consume as a means to enhance her supernatural abilities. Horrified by such unspeakable wickedness, the troops hung her from a tree and burned her cabin to the ground, then departed to rejoin Cornwallis. However, the troops failed to report and, in fact, were never heard from again — except for one, who came back stark, raving mad. A scout was sent back to find the missing men but, at the site of Lillian Gadwick's cabin, discovered only a number of strange stick figures hanging from trees — forty-two to be precise, the same as the number of troops who had vanished. (Such 'witch symbols' have been referenced in literature and movies, such as in Karl Edward Wagner's short story 'Sticks' and in the films The Blair Witch Project and its sequel, Blair Witch.)

"Little else is known about Lillian Gadwick, but she reportedly kept as a familiar a strange creature called Oren Grey, which resembled a huge possum with a grotesque human face. (The witch Keziah Mason, as recounted in H.P. Lovecraft's story, 'Dreams in the Witch House,' kept a similar creature, named Brown Jenkin). Though no such creature as Oren Grey can be proven to exist, it was said to keep itself hidden in dark, hard-to-reach wooded areas, traditionally avoiding human contact except when it accompanied the witch on her unholy expeditions to abduct local children. Certain curses cast by witches who practice dark magic can supposedly alter time and space, and there were those who said Lillian Gadwick possessed such power.

"While creating this cache, I found taking coordinates in this area to be worse than problematic. Ten or so readings at exactly the same spot, taken over a period of 30 minutes, resulted in variations of hundreds of feet, and in one case, in a nonsensical set of numbers that appeared to be no coordinates that could actually be found on Earth. I left the area and returned an hour or so later, took another set of coordinates, and averaged what appeared to be the best — which I hope will get you reasonably close to the hide. While at ground zero, I took a number of photos of the area, and in some of them, a strange stick figure appeared, one of which I will post on this page. If you see such a construct on your hunt, you may be sure that you are close to the cache."

"The Curse of Lillian Gadwick" cache is, in fact, rather dangerous to retrieve (especially if you suffer from acrophobia), and I did have considerable difficulty getting good coordinates for the hide, doubtlessly due to strange, supernatural influences. But hey, if you're a geocacher and you're fearless, come visit these caches. You might even come back alive. At least a few have... so far.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Waterproof?


Well, that was a hoot. Four Old Farts gathered early this morning for geocaching on and around the American Tobacco Trail in Durham. Bloody Rob, Yoda Rob, Diefenbaker, and Old Rodan began with a couple of quick traditional caches in a crazy busy shopping area, but then we had to adjust our elevation to go after one of Vortexecho's (a.k.a. "Gone 2 Far") ubiquitous underground culvert hides. Just to get to the entrance, we had to hack our way through a veritable jungle of briers — that nasty, tiny, barbed type that cling to you like Velcro, shredding your skin and clothes until you somehow separate yourself from the little bastards. Bloody Rob was not the bloody one today, though, because I went first and did most of the clearing of the passage to the tunnel entrance. This resulted in considerable bloodletting and the occasional hollering for Mom that would have surely prompted Mom to clap her hands over her ears and sing "La, la, la, la, la!"

Naturally, no sooner had we cut our trail through this field of natural barbed wire than we saw Diefenbaker waltzing down the hill off to our right, which he cheerfully proclaimed free of briers. This was a really rotten thing to do, but we did use his route to go back out once we had completed our errand.

Then, for us, it was a delicate dance to get across a few rocks and into the pipe without drenching our boots. Done and done. The pipe wasn't too tight, and we could walk by bending over slightly — this was encouraging. We did notice raccoon tracks and droppings along the way, and I recalled a log indicating that a previous cache hunter had encountered a coon in the pipe. Mainly, though, since it was (and is) ridiculously warm out, around 80 freaking degrees, I was more concerned about encountering Copperheads, which tend to be fond of the environment we were occupying.

At the next junction, the pipe got narrower, resulting in more than a few conked noggins, and the going became a bit slower. Then, stepping into the chamber at the next junction, I glanced up and, sure enough, there was our raccoon friend lounging on the rungs of the ladder. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and I wanted to name him George and hug him and pet him and squeeze him, but mean old Uncle Bloody Rob said no. C'mon, jeez, just because the little fellow had sharp teeth and claws...? I took a couple of photos of George, but they ended up blurry because I was also trying to hold the flashlight and keep from slipping and falling in the cramped chamber. That's him hanging out at the manhole cover in the accompanying image. (You can click on these to enlarge.)
"Hello? Is it me you're looking for?"

Anyhow, we still had a ways to go, and this pipe was the smallest of all, necessitating either crawling or — as I did — lowering to one's haunches and shuffling along a hundred feet or so through shallow water.

At last, mission accomplished. Back through the pipe, wave to George as we pass, and finally reach sunlight — and few more briers, just for good measure.

From there we began our hike on the American Tobacco Trail, found a fair number of mostly traditional hides (an old telephone in the woods was something of a favorite), and eventually made our way to Ted's Montana Grill, which specializes in bison and is thus one of my favorite establishments to frequent. Service was very slow today, but the food was incredible, as always. I figure that will pretty much take care of today's vittles, and if I actually do care to eat to anything more tonight, I can go outside and nibble on some grass.

Ta ta!
L: Old Fart #1 (scary). R: Old Fart #2 (scarier).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bottoms Up

Too busy to blog much recently, but I did want to add a personal entry since I do enjoy having some written/visual record of certain occasions. Last night, headed up to Martinsville with Ms. B., had a nice dinner at The Third Bay, where we ran into old friend Rod Berry, as is fairly traditional. Then sank some wine — even Mum joined in for a little — and watched The Blair Witch Project, which I had watched not long ago, though it had been many years for Ms. Brugger. I do rather enjoy it, apart from the annoying characters.

After the usual morning errands with Mum, Brugger and I headed down to Autumn Creek Vineyards, where we met Joe & Suzy Albanese for another happy spot of wine and stimulating conversation (a bit political, but spirited rather than ugly). One of the highlights here was a visit by Winery Duck, who made quite a few friends out on the patio. Autumn Creek's logo is a graphic of a duck butt with "Bottoms Up" imprinted on it.

Tomorrow, there will be much hiking and geocaching. Yay!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Blair Witch (2016)


I love movies and fiction about scary things in the woods, probably because I grew up around woods, and when I was a kid, the sounds that came out of them at night scared the crap out of me. I attended several summer camps, and horror stories about the surrounding woods abounded. I watched countless movies about Bigfoot, kith and kin, such as The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Creature From Black Lake, The Legend of Bigfoot, et. al. — in fact, I've recently been on one of my periodic Bigfoot movie binges, watching everything from the best to the worst of them.

When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, I was hoping for something as chilling as the hype portended. To be sure, the movie had a lot going for it, at least in concept, and it laid the groundwork for a long line of shaky-cam-found-footage successors (I don't think I can offer any thanks for that). But the dopey characters and nauseating cinematography just about ruined the experience for me, despite some genuinely chilling moments, such as the discovery of sinister stick figures (which appeared to have taken their inspiration from Karl Edward Wagner's brilliant short tale, "Sticks"), and the strange, unidentifiable night sounds around the characters' campsite. The sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, at least did something altogether different with the premise. Different, of course, doesn't mean inspired, and at best, Book of Shadows is a moderately enjoyable, rather standard horror flick.

Here there will be spoilers.

Perhaps the most successful treatment of the Blair Witch property is 1999's Curse of the Blair Witch, a 45-minute, made-for-television faux documentary that expanded on the backstory of both the Blair Witch and the three lead characters, to more satisfying effect than the actual movie. This short film illustrated in detail how well-conceived the Blair Witch legend actually is, and also — no doubt contrary to its original intent — highlighted how the first movie (and by default, the second) fell short of so much promise. A couple of other "mockumentaries," Sticks and Stones: An Exploration of the Blair Witch Legend (1999) and The Massacre of The Burkittsville 7: The Blair Witch Legacy (2000), further elaborated on the Blair Witch backstory. Taken together, these mockumentaries create an appealing sense of authenticity about the Blair Witch mythos.

Having enjoyed steeping myself in Blair Witch lore over the years, despite not caring so much for the original film, I couldn't not check out the most recent entry in the series, titled simply Blair Witch, (known as The Woods prior to its release, as a means to keep its connection to the franchise a secret). This one takes place seventeen years after the original — which, if the film is actually set in present rather than 2011, would create some incongruity, as the events of the original ostensibly occurred in 1994. The story centers on James Donahue (James Allen McCune), brother of Heather Donahue from the first film, and three cohorts, Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez), Peter Jones (Brandon Scott), and Ashley Bennett (Corbin Reid), who set out for the woods around Burkittsville, MD, on a quest to find the long-missing Heather, who James believes may still be alive after some footage in which she appears is posted online. They are accompanied by Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), who posted the footage, which they claim to have found in an area of the woods where the original Blair Witch Project kids disappeared

In the woods, the group sets up camp and prepares to spend the night. Now, unlike Heather's crew, James and friends have come prepared to face the outdoors, with GPS units, cameras of all sorts, a camera-equipped drone, and plenty of flashlights. Once settled in their tents, they go to sleep but are awakened in the middle of the night by strange rustling sounds and voices in the woods. When they get up the next day, they discover that it is two o'clock in the afternoon and the strange stick figures, like those that appeared in the first movie, have been strung all around the campsite. Lisa notices that Lane is carrying some twine that exactly matches the twine used to bind the stick figures, and also that his old video camera uses the exact same kind of tape that he supposedly found in the woods. After some pressuring, he admits that he and Talia created the stick figures to scare them off, but only because they genuinely believe the Blair Witch exists in the cursed woods. Angered to the point of violence, James, Lisa, Peter, and Ashley run Lane and Talia off, ordering them to stay away from them.
Heading out into the woods, Lisa (Callie Hernandez) takes a last, worried look back at the "normal" world.
Scary stick figures that have mysteriously appeared around the campsite during the night
James and his party hike for the rest of the afternoon but — in a too-eerie repeat of events from the first movie — they find, even after following their GPS, they have gone in a circle and ended up back at their campsite. Lisa sends up the drone to get an aerial view of the forest, and she is stunned to find that the road, which they had previously been able to see, is no longer visible from above. Then the radio controls freeze, and the drone falls from the sky to crash somewhere in the woods. The group is forced to spend another night at their original campsite.

Talia (Valorie Curry) stumbles back into camp, after having
been trapped in perpetual night for five days.

Peter, while searching for wood to keep the fire going, encounters something that attacks him, and he disappears. Meanwhile, Lane and Talia reappear, haggard and exhausted, claiming that they have been wandering for five days — but in perpetual night. Sure enough, sometime later, though their watches tell them it's morning, no sun appears. And once again, they discover the campsite surrounded by stick figures. One of them appears to be bound with Talia's hair, and when Lisa snaps the figure in half, Talia's back breaks and she dies. Lane disappears in the darkness, and James, Lisa, and Ashley become separated from each other. While wandering hopelessly, Ashley sees the lights of the drone, stuck in a tree high overhead. Desperate to retrieve it, she climbs up the tree, but just as she reaches the drone, something impacts her, and she falls to her death.

James and Lisa meet up again, but now they come upon the old Rustin Parr house, where, in 1940, seven children were abducted and murdered. James believes he sees his sister in a window, and he goes inside after her. Lisa follows him in, but here, she encounters an aged and wild-looking Lane, who attacks her. She manages to stab and kill him, but now a bizarre, distorted-looking figure, barely visible in the darkness, comes after her. With Lane's camcorder, she runs up the stairs to the attic (creating the footage that Lane originally posted online), where she once again meets James.

He tells her to face the corner and not look around, believing that the witch will only kill them if they look directly at it. However, he hears Heather's voice speaking to him, and he turns around, only to be whisked away in the darkness. Then, Lisa hears him apologizing to her, and she turns around....
To escape from the Rustin Parr house, Lisa is forced to crawl through a dank underground tunnel.
#
Critically, Blair Witch was far from a howling success, with most reviewers and audiences calling it a more polished but beat-by-beat retread of the original film. To some extent, this is true — my first impression was that it was basically the The Blair Witch Project on steroids. Indeed, it's louder, annoyingly frenetic, and full of unnecessary jump scares in place of genuine suspense. Yet it also delivers more substance, particularly toward the end, than it's usually given credit for. While the characters may not be likable geniuses, they come across as relatively sensible and, as characters go, far more palatable than the three dolts in the original. It may be James's repeated insistence that his sister Heather could still be alive in the woods after seventeen years that most stretches his credibility, particularly since the video that inspires his quest reveals only a vague glimpse of the female in question.

There are several central aspects of the Blair Witch mythos introduced in the original movie, explored in the mockumentaries, and expanded upon to varying degrees in this film. To summarize, the Blair Witch was a woman named Elly Kedward, who lived in the village of Blair, Maryland, in the late 18th century. She was accused and convicted of witchcraft, taken into the woods, hoisted into a tree with heavy rocks hung from her arms and legs, and left to die. Shortly afterward, all her accusers as well as half the town's children vanished, and the rest of the town's inhabitants fled, fearing a witch's curse. Later, the (real) town of Burkittsville was built on the site of the old village.

Other noteworthy events followed. In the early 19th century, a child drowned in a shallow stream in the woods, after witnesses said an arm reached up from the water and pulled the kid under. In 1886, another child was reported missing and a search party went into the woods, never to return. The child returned unharmed, but another search party was sent out in search of the first. This group found the remains of the first search party at a location called Coffin Rock, the bodies tied together, all disemboweled. Then, in 1940, a hermit named Rustin Parr, who lived in the woods outside of Burkittsville, abducted eight children and took them to his house, where he had one child stand in a corner while he murdered and mutilated the others. He was arrested and confessed to the killings, saying he had been incited to murder by a disembodied voice, which might have been the Blair Witch. After being convicted, he was hanged, and the townspeople burned his house to the ground.

Yet — it is clear in the films that the house in the woods is, in fact, Rustin Parr's house, though we know it was burned decades earlier. In Curse of the Blair Witch, we learn that the videos made by Heather, Josh, and Mike in the first film were discovered by archaeology students in the ruins of an old structure — presumably one of the original buildings from the old town of Blair — under rocks and earth that had not been disturbed since the 18th century. Furthermore, in both movies, the groups end up hiking in circles, unable to escape the woods. In Blair Witch, we have several days of night passing for one group, while for the other, only a single night goes by. And the most novel paradox may be the fact that the footage which drew James and his party to the woods is actually filmed by Lisa in the Parr house.

So, indeed, the Blair Witch curse involves an altering of time and space. In the first movie, this premise is merely suggested, while in the 2016 Blair Witch, it's spelled out in huge neon letters. I read an interesting suggestion that the strange noises in the woods at night are actually the sounds of space reshaping itself to prevent the characters escaping. It's the curse's shifting of dimensions that I find most fascinating about the franchise, hearkening back to concepts in H. P. Lovecraft's "Dreams in the Witch House" and others. Years back, when discussions about The Blair Witch Project were in vogue, plenty of viewers argued the kids were simply too dense to find their way out of the woods and there was no supernatural influence at work. That argument simply doesn't hold up, however, for — as the characters even stated in the film — in that area of Maryland, simply by way of the geography, they would have emerged from the woods, and devoting half the film's running time to highlighting their ineptitude hardly squares with the movie's theme. In the new Blair Witch, the supernatural transformations of time and space render the countering hypothesis moot.

For bringing on a rush of sheer visceral dread, it would be difficult to top the scene of Lisa making a harrowing escape from the Parr house by way of a narrow, underground tunnel, choked with tree roots and half-filled with water. At one point, she gets stuck in the passage, and since I have crawled through a subterranean passage called "The Birth Canal" at Worley's Cave in Tennessee, not to mention innumerable underground culverts after geocaches, I found myself holding my breath during this scene. For any viewers suffering from claustrophobia, I can see it hitting a sensitive nerve.

For the first time, we get a glimpse of what we must assume is the Blair Witch herself. While the characters are trapped inside the Parr house, in a couple of quick, almost subliminal shots, a tall, spindly figure can be seen moving in the shadows, presumably reinforcing the idea that Elly Kedward's arms and legs had been stretched as if on a rack by the heavy rocks tied to them. The shots are effective since they are so quick and vague.

Blair Witch's most serious shortcomings — the obvious intention to "out-scream" the original, the myriad pointless jump scares, and a structure too closely matching its predecessor's — are not trivial, and they only diminish the positive impact of its better elements. But I do believe that a lot of viewers, overwhelmed by the frantic pace, the oftentimes too-jerky camerawork, and the shrill squalling of young people in terror, may be missing or underestimating the strength of the underlying story. Beneath all the rick-rack and racket, there are some genuinely frightening, even Lovecraftian concepts at work here. On that count, I heartily approve.

While Blair Witch respects its source material and expands on concepts introduced in the original, it doesn't break any new ground or set any new film-making trends in motion, which — whether you approve or don't — The Blair Witch Project certainly did. It's a mixed bag: effective enough to admire yet dopey enough to disappoint. If you enjoyed the original movie, you may well enjoy this one. If you didn't, you'll hate this one, maybe more than the first. I'll give it a thumbs-up but with some eye rolls.

Three out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
Peter (Brandon Scott), Ashley (Corbin Reid), James (James Allen McCune), Talia (Valorie Curry),
and Lane (Wes Robinson)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Live, From Lovecraft eZine, It's....

It was a fun yakking session on the Lovecraft eZine Video Show this evening. Host Mike Davis, along with writers Matthew Carpenter, Rick Lai, Joe Pulver, and editor Kelly Young, grilled the old man on such sensitive topics as "Why do spiders make you scream like a girl?" and "Where were you when Mark wore his drop-bottom red pajamas?" Other highlights include Frazier interrupting the proceedings to flop on my shoulder, me having to don my Geocaching hat to keep the reflection from my bald head from blinding the panelists, and a spirited recitation of the Sears & Roebuck Catalog of Alternative Facts. All in a day's work, it is.

Stephen Mark Rainey on
the Lovecraft eZine Video Show


The audio-only podcast is available here. It's also available on iTunes — search "Lovecraft eZine Podcast."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Coming Up on the Lovecraft eZine Podcast

This weekend — Sunday, January 22, right about 6:00 PM EST — you will find me live on the Lovecraft eZine Video Show, along with host Mike Davis and some or all of his gang of cutthroats — Joe Pulver, Rick Lai, Pete Rawlik, Salome Jones, Matthew Carpenter, Kelly Young, Philip Fracassi, and S.P. Miskowski. You may have had the misfortune to tune in on one of my previous appearances, but I'd like to invite you to make the same mistake twice. We'll be talking horror, lots of it, on film, in literature, and in your backyard. It'll be broadcast live and also available afterward in ye olde archives.

Mark your calendars, grab a drink, and come visit...

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration


It is with a heavy heart I say farewell to President Obama and his family. I have admired him, disagreed with him, sometimes sworn a little at him, praised him, laughed with him, and been shocked for him. I know a lot of people will disagree when I say that he and the first family brought a much-needed sense of dignity to the White House; but when you consider the relentless obstructionism from his political opponents, the unwarranted personal attacks by the ignorant masses he and his family suffered, and the unknowable challenge of being the first US President of African American heritage, down to the end, he refused to stoop to the level of his detractors. From day one of his presidency, his opponents brazenly boasted of their intent to make him a one-term president, and despite one attempt after another to reach across the aisle to them, the president was forever rebuffed, derided as "divisive," and subjected to increasingly ridiculous attempts to discredit him (birth certificate, anyone?). He was and is blamed — quite wrongly — for racial divisions that have come to the forefront of our national consciousness. There is all kinds of fault to go around, to be sure, but at the end of the day, we, not the president, are responsible. And yes, I know many of you disliked his policies, not his skin color, but racism was, in fact, a horrifyingly huge component of the hatred heaped upon the Obamas. For god's sake, I have personally witnessed racists coming out of the woodwork way too often, not just on social media but in the world at large. I stopped going to one local establishment I had frequented for years because, since 2008, the owners and staff constantly bitched and moaned about the "Muslim nigger from Kenya." Those exact words. Over and over and over. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

I have disagreed with President Obama on any number of issues; he did spend too much, he tended to go for over-regulation rather strike a fair balance between necessary protections — for the environment, for minorities, for labor issues — and executive overreach. I think he too often caved to special interests rather than stand up for the middle class. That said, however, the more he braved the slings and arrows of his detractors, the more I admired him. When his initiatives failed, he was derided as weak and ineffective; when they succeeded, he was vilified as a tyrant. From the right, no consistency, little logic, and never a reasonable alternative proposed. Nothing he did could please his detractors. And again, the uglier his detractors become, the more I came to admire him. Little illustrates the ridiculousness of the prejudice against him than the right's condemnation of his farewell address (to which I was going to link, but the White House site has apparently removed it), in which Obama's usage of the first person was condemned as "narcissistic." I did a little math on this myself. The speech ran approximately 4,800 words long. Obama referred to himself in the first person 75 times. That's 1.5 percent of the word count. To those of you in opposition, I defy you to produce a 4,800-word missive detailing one's eight-year tenure, one's accomplishments, one's failures, one's hopes, one's recollections of how it personally impacted one's family, one's forecasts for our nation, without mentioning yourself using no more than 1.5% of the total word count. I defy you.

"Oh, but the speech shouldn't be about him, it's about us." Next breath: "We never could get to know Obama because he was distant and disconnected." Sure. Sure thing.

A personal disappointment: more than anything, having seen the complete, utter failure of our pre-ACA health system to address severe, chronic illness — up close and personal — I truly wanted Obamacare to succeed. There are so many positive tenets of the plan, it's a damn shame it was implemented so poorly; I have never felt it beyond repair, however, and I fear the direction we'll be going in the coming days with healthcare is going to be an even greater disaster. I hope I'm wrong.

In fact, when it comes to President Donald Trump, I hope I'm very, very wrong in my, oh, maybe slightly negative evaluation of him. No, really. I have, with more than due conscientiousness, evaluated every conceivable rationale for accepting his shortcomings, every argument for his strengths, and I'm sorry, but there's just nothing there. Nothing. What we have today is a narcissistic, immature, tone-deaf bully, who has assembled the least-qualified bunch of clowns to staff his cabinet positions that any sentient being could imagine. I can't see any good coming out of this, and if you can, you must give me the name of your eye doctor.

All that said, I do not want to see Trump crash and burn. Our country, our fortunes, our lives depend on this man being an effective leader, a respected player on the world stage, a partner in the success of the United States. But at the end of the day, Trump works for us, we Americans who put him where he is, however unwillingly. Me, I will oppose his every utterance that does not reflect my values. As I have from the day I reached legal voting age, I will speak with my vote as well as whatever ability I might possess to influence rational, reasonable people to see what I see, as objectively as possible. If Trump follows through with his promises to bolster the middle class, to present a workable health plan that does not leave the most vulnerable of us to the wolves, to boost a still-struggling economy, to keep America a respected world power without thrusting us into yet another avoidable conflict... I will say to you, to the world, to Trump, to anyone with an ear to hear it... that I was wrong in my evaluation of his abilities. My ego has no vested interest here. But my well-being, and the well-being of my loved ones does. However, I will never apologize for condemning this man's lack of character, not only admitted to but celebrated by his most rabid supporters. Given that a disproportionately large number of Trump's supporters are diehard Christians... I'd call that an irreconcilable absurdity. Wouldn't you?

Yeah, I understand a dislike of Trump's opponent. Hillary Clinton brought enough baggage with her to kill a train of pack mules. But I tell you this, I'd vote for her again in a heartbeat over what our now-President Trump brings to the table.

If you don't see things as I do, I'm fine with that... up to the point that you and I get thrust into a void from which we can never return. I'm not fine with that. And truly, despite having been brought up in a period when fallout shelters were ubiquitous and we rather amusingly learned how to drop, duck and cover, this chapter of life is one that brings with it a unique trepidation, a sense that the territory into which we're treading is anything but Great.

No, I'm not religious, but I pray that I am the wrongest son of a bitch to ever walk this land. I pray this. If I'm wrong, in four years, you can have a front row seat as I eat humble pie. Deal?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Das Boot


I was off work today for Martin Luther King's birthday, so Bloody Rob (retired and almost always available for geocaching, the miserable old rat) and I headed over to the American Tobacco Trail in Wake County to finish the "Boot Print" geoart, which we had begun back in October (see "Getting the Boot," October 16, 2016). Dummy coordinates form a boot print on the map; to get the actual coordinates for the caches in the pattern, you must correctly answer a question on each cache listing page about Wake County Parks. There are 40 caches in total, which we've picked up on three separate hiking trips to the ATT. I was hoping at least a couple of the irregular Old Farts and Cupdaisy might join us today, but it was not to be. Thus, we had to tangle with all kinds of monstrous critters, such as the one you see to the left, all by our aging lonesomes — and tell me that big old beast right there wouldn't spoil your picnic. Our cache hider, the dastardly and devious NCBiscuit, a.k.a. Linda, concealed many of the caches in the series in such fashion, some of them even scarier than a big-ass fire ant (such as this mean old rotten bastard).

On a sad note, I understand that Linda's faithful canine caching companion, Miss Biscuit (for whom she adopted her geocaching handle), just passed away. Miss Biscuit was a constant companion to her, I know, so I send out my deepest sympathies. I could never get along without a houseful of critters, and I know how hard it is to lose them. Adieu, Biscuit!

My appreciation for a clever and fun series of caches.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Another Paranoid Shizophrenic


Another Songwriters' Showcase at the Daily Grind in Martinsville, and another fun racket, courtesy of the old man and a slew of other talented individuals from all around Virginia, North Carolina, and even as far away as LA — as in Los Angeles, not Lower Axton, as some Martinsville natives have dubbed the neighboring community. The first songwriters' event, back in September, drew a respectable crowd. This one, with twice as many musicians, drew what appeared to be about three times the number of attendees.

Ms. Brugger and I got there a little early to partake of their wine tasting, which proved decent enough, as did the paninis we attacked with ferocious delight, as neither of us had eaten in about a month. Our friends/fellow geocachers Tom and Linda Imbus from Browns Summit showed up to heckle me, as did old friends Ashby and Lynn Pritchett from Martinsville, and to their credit, none of them took it upon themselves to hurl undesirable objects or epithets my way. Sporting souls, our fine friends.

The event ran from roughly 7:30 to 10:00 PM, with eleven musicians, including me, signed up to play. My set consisted of three original songs, "Paranoid Schizophrenia" (again), "Ice Blossoms" (whose origin is recounted here), and "The Watcher" (yet again). I was hoping to include the video of "Ice Blossoms" here, as it's my favorite of the lot, but between electronic glitches and crowd noise, the video didn't turn out very well. I may go ahead and upload it to YouTube regardless, and I'll leave it to you to decide whether to give it a look or avoid it all costs and preserve your sanity.

I'll post the lyrics to "Paranoid Schizophrenia" — which is the second song I ever wrote, back in 1978, while I was at Ferrum College — beneath the videos below. Enjoy or run like hell, your choice.



Paranoid Schizophrenia
Talked with him just yesterday because I was all alone.
I heard his voice and what he said; it's different now you've gone.
In darkened halls and haunted paths, I hear him sing his song.
He told me what I thought I felt; he told me I was wrong.

Run away, I told myself. Run away, I cried.
I'm mad, I must be mad. Run away.

He told me to calm myself. He told me never run.
He told me to help myself. He told me never cry.

He's right again, he's never wrong; how could he ever lose?
I've talked with him, I can't believe there's nothing left to choose.
Talked with him just yesterday because I was all alone.
I've heard his voice inside of me — my heart, my guide, my soul.

Run away, I told myself. Run away, I cried.
I'm mad, I must be mad. Run away.

"Paranoid Schizophrenia," ©1978, 2017 Stephen Mark Rainey

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Songwriter's Showcase — Friday, January 13, 2017

Coming up next Friday — the dreaded 13th of January — I'll be making a racket at The Daily Grind in Martinsville, VA, at their second Songwriters Showcase. At their first event back in September, along with several other musicians, I played to an enthusiastic crowd, with nary a tomato or rotten egg chucked at the performers. It's all original music, no covers allowed, and I can tell you that the first such event featured some accomplished and innovative talents. I'll be playing several of my originals, including a couple I did not perform at the first ("Ice Blossoms" being one of them, the origin of which can be found in yesterday's blog, here). There will also be a wine tasting, which might entice you further, and certainly Brugger and I will look forward to it. If you're in the vicinity, or in comfortable traveling distance, please come round and enjoy yourself.

Songwriters Showcase at The Daily Grind
303 E. Church St., Martinsville, VA 24112
7:30 PM–10:00 PM



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ice Blossoms

The obligatory snow selfie. I feel impelled
to watch The Shining.

A nice big snowfall last night and this morning. So far, it's one of those where it's just snow, rather than that god-awful mix of snow and ice that takes out the power, which is what we more frequently get around here.

Here's a semi-random snow story from way back when....

After graduating from UGA in December 1981, I spent a little over a year in Martinsville, trying to make enough money to move to Chicago, which I eventually did, mostly by selling my artwork and teaching art. All the while, I entertained myself and tortured others by playing guitar, singing, and writing original music (I still occasionally torture others with this very endeavor; in fact, next Friday, 1/13/17, I'll be playing at The Daily Grind in Martinsville). It was one night in either late '82 or early '83 when we had a pretty big snowfall, and I went out walking in the neighborhood, and by the time I got back home, many hours later, I had the lyrics to a new song, called "Ice Blossoms," composed in my head. It's about freezing to death, and I plan to play it at The Daily Grind next week.

At the time, my brother, Phred, was seeing a young lady named Leslie, and earlier that evening he'd driven up to her house, a mile or so away. I decided to take a walk in that general direction, figuring that I'd eventually run into him on his way home, and he could give me a ride back. Well, I got as far as the corner of her street, and he still hadn't left, so, being the adventurous soul I was (and still strive to be), I found myself a tall tree that offered a good view of the neighborhood and climbed up it — way up it, figuring I'd be able to spot my brother's car coming well in advance.

I sat up in that tree for at least an hour, freezing my hind end off, eventually questioning the wisdom of my decision and wondering whether I should just get down and walk back home.

No. No, no. I sat up there well into the wee hours, at least partially bolstered by select botanical compounds I'd had the foresight to bring with me. By the time I finally saw my brother's car coming, I had the following lyrics firmly in my head, and the accompanying music written by the next afternoon.

Ice Blossoms
Wind in your hair, the snow in your eyes,
Feeling the chill of a cold winter's night.
Breathing the air brought by winds of the north,
Ice blossoms blooming forever.

Clear songs from forests a-glaze under ice,
Joining the spirits who dance in the night,
Who call to you in a crystal clear voice,
Reaching your soul from the nether.

Snowfall soft, open your eyes aloft,
You feel no cold, no pain. Open your eyes again.
There is no fear of the night, only hope inside.
There is a song calling you, so strong.

Then, in the sky, colors dance, glowing bright.
And your lifeline's gone. Spirits howl their song.
Colors bright.

Ice blossoms blooming in cold morning light.
Forests breathe songs that arise to the sky.
Standing alone torn by winds of the north,
Silently brooding forever.

Eyes dead and glazed under snowfall so fine,
Hands clutching nothing thrown wild at your sides.
Spirit has gone with your brothers of ice,
Singing your sad song forever.
 #

Fortunately, I didn't freeze to death, but I was probably as close to hypothermia as I've ever come. Mighty cold in that tree, I was.

Today's snow, so far, has been pretty, and I took an enjoyable mile-long walk through the neighborhood this morning while it was still coming down. Currently, there's about nine inches of accumulation. No ice blossoms.

"Ice Blossoms," ©1982, 2017, by Stephen Mark Rainey

The homestead as the snow falls
L: devilish hoofprints leading to my back door? R: Corner of Martin Ave. and Wilcox Dr.
I had never noticed there was a little footbridge — now half-collapsed — over a stream,
a short distance down the street
A little hidden glen near Martin Ave.
Heading north on Martin Ave., toward Pine Needle Dr.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Next Chapter, Please

Old dude getting up close and personal with some fire
Unlike some past years' festivities, last night's New Year's Eve celebration was fairly low-key, with dinner, drinks, and fireworks with friends at Ms. Brugger's house. While I almost always enjoy New Year's Eve, I've never cared for the whole business of changing the calendar, which primarily serves to remind one that the clock is ticking, the countdown drawing ever nearer to zero. These past few years, the clock has been zipping right along, and it just keeps speeding up. No like! No like!

For me, 2016 had many wonderful moments. But every moment of every day, my mom's declining health, which has required me to manage almost all her affairs, is a specter that takes no holiday. My day job, which I have held and loved for going on 18 years, has seen all kinds of changes due to our owner putting the company up for sale, the results of which will soon be revealed. While I'm very thankful that I will, in all probability, keep my job, I'll be facing a whole different daily dynamic, involving considerably more commute time, far less convenience for shopping and personal appointments, and lord knows what other changes; I can only hope that any new level of stress will be relatively minor, for my health's sake. I can feel how much dealing with Mom's diminished capacity has worn me down, and that aspect of life is not going to get any easier. Quite the contrary.

It's no secret that I have little but contempt for President-elect Donald Trump, and I cannot have anything like high hopes for where he and his cabal of billionaire bitches will lead this country. I've never been much stressed out over politics before, but there is nothing normal about what's happening in the USA, and I think we're going to have a hell of a bad ride. I want to be wrong; I pray to be wrong. But I bet I'm not.

The passing of people, famous and infamous... holy cow. Again, I've never been one to get shook up by the deaths of individuals who may be high profile but that I've never personally known. But this year... so many personalities that I have greatly admired, such as Mohamed Ali, David Bowie, William Christopher, Carrie Fisher (followed almost immediately by her mom, Debbie Reynolds), Ron Glass, John Glenn, Florence Henderson, George Michael, Prince, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, and so many others. It's just about enough to rattle one. Not to mention several deaths that did impact me personally, such as our friend, Dan Shannon, who died of cancer this past summer, as well as a number of old acquaintances from my hometown, many taken too young.

Some good stuff:

Several of my stories published or accepted for publication in very reputable markets. I was more prolific in the fiction department this past year than I have been for some time. My story "The Nothing" very recently came out at BuzzyMag.com. My novelization of the Smith Brothers' movie, Young Blood was published early in the year. My short-short nonfiction piece, "Arachnid Alley — Or 'How I Learned to Stop Screaming and Love the Spider'" appeared in the anthology of geocaching stories titled GPS: Great Personal Stories of Geocaching Firsts. And I'll have quite a few new ones coming up in the near future, all quite gratifying.

Shin Godzilla. Far from a perfect movie, but it was great to have a theatrical release of a film with so many powerful, impressive moments.

Star Wars: Rogue One. Me, a Star Wars geek? Well, some people would say so. I quite enjoyed this one, maybe a bit more than last year's The Force Awakens, which I also liked a lot.

Numerous gatherings and/or geocaching outings with some of the best friends and family in the world — my daughter, Allison; my brother, Phred; Joe and Suzy Albanese; Doug Cox and Jenny Chapman; Scott Hager; Faun de Henry; Tom and Linda Imbus; Rob Isenhour; Tom Kidd; Bridget Langley; Robbin Lee; Terry and Beth Nelson; Debbie Shoffner; Cortney Skinner and Beth Massie; Sarah Stevens; Beth Walton (whom I'd not seen in too many years), Gretchen and Todd Wickliffe; and lots of others — forgive me if I didn't drop your name. And at the risk of being mean, this year saw the (hopefully permanent) departure of an individual or two from my sphere of influence who really needed to depart, for their sake and mine.

And, of course, Kimberly Brugger remains the one human being in my life who keeps me sane and relatively stable. This year will make seven years together, all of which were made better — even damn near perfect — by her presence, her energy, and her love. At times in the past, I thought I knew what it meant to love, to be in love. The hell I did. I wish I had, as it would have been fairer to all involved. Sometimes, I think, it takes a rough ride, even a wrong ride, to get where one is meant to be, if this is even possible. Maybe, just maybe, it is.

To all my readers, my friends, my peers, and the rest of you out there: please, be good to each other. Lord knows, if there's anyone who has a hard time with that, it's me, but I'm working at it. Truly.

Happy New One Day Closer to Death to all of us.

video 
The video of the fiery maelstrom shown in the photo above — one of several fiery maelstroms we produced.