Saturday, May 19, 2018

Big Water

In my damn-near six decades of existence, I have never seen water hit my old hometown of Martinsville, VA, the way it hit this afternoon. I was driving up from Greensboro after work for my regular maintenance visit with Mom, and I'd heard just before I left there was a flash flood warning in Martinsville. The rain was coming down in buckets, but I didn't run into the floodwaters until I reached the city limits. On U.S. 220, I encountered several stretches with water a foot deep, and on Spruce Street, just before entering our neighborhood, I came upon a hundred-yard section of road under a couple of feet of water. A few cars approaching from the opposite direction plowed through it by driving down the center of the road, which is what I ended up doing—but if the water had been even a few inches deeper, I might well have ended up stranded. From there, the road appeared clear, and I stopped for some Chinese food to bring home for our dinner. It was only on that last mile that the extent of the flooding became clear.

The creek that runs along Indian Trail was swollen beyond anything I'd ever seen. The stream runs through a little gorge anywhere from 10 to 30 feet below the road level, and in places, the water had risen to the point it was washing over the road. At a small apartment complex on the corner of Indian Trail and Prospect Hill, the parking lot was flooded, the water level above the tires of the parked cars. Several broken trees lay next to the road but did not present a hazard. However, about a quarter mile from Mom's, a city vehicle was blocking the road, and an officer was turning back cars traveling the same way as me. He told me a tree had fallen across the road just past the electrical substation—the lot next to ours—and beyond that, down by Lake Lanier, the road was under water. I told him I only had to go one lot past the substation and I'd take my chances, so he let me through.

Indeed, directly in front of Mom's house, a good-size tree had come down over the road, taking out the phone line but—thankfully—leaving the power lines untouched. I was able to edge around its uppermost branches and turn into the our driveway. But sure enough, not even a hundred yards down the road, the creek was no longer a creek but a lake, the water easily ten feet deep in places and fully engulfing a sizable section of the road. A pair of ducks were swimming happily around their new pond, and I suspect they fully approved of the neighborhood's new decor.
Tree across the road right in front of Mom's house
Big water just down the street. Apparently, the level had gone down a little here — from photos I've seen,
it was waist-high in the middle of road.
Around the corner, on Sam Lions Trail at the end of Lake Lanier, a sinkhole had opened up and taken out a thirty-foot section of the road. The massive flood had washed the huge pipe underneath a hundred feet into the lake, and as I watched from a vantage point almost too close for safety, another section of road collapsed into the newly formed gulf. The city crews had already set up a barricade, but several more soon arrived and set out additional orange cones to warn drivers away from the danger area.

Not be deprived of a rip-roaring good time by inclement weather, the local redneck contingent took the opportunity to come out in their jacked-up pickup trucks and race up and down the roads, spinning their tires in mud and running over curbs into people's yards—including Mom's, as I discovered when I got back to the house. Chalk up another one for the Martinsville brain trust. It is rather a pity none of them got their kicks by discovering the sinkhole the hard way.

All this less than a month after a tornado passed within a half-mile of my house in Greensboro, unbeknownst to me at the time. All I knew was that the sky delivered a monstrous roaring wind and lots of water in the matter of a minute or so and then fell silent. Ms. B. lost power for a few days, but neither of us suffered property damage.

For now, Mom is okay, I am okay, the house is okay. Mom's phone and internet are out, but we still have power. From what I understand, the roof of the local Roses store collapsed and injured at least one person. A lot of cars suffered water damage over at Walmart on Memorial Blvd. Much of Collinsville is closed because so many businesses got flooded. So I'd say that, so far, we've been fortunate.

I do wonder if the Martians are going to invade to make things really interesting. Oh wait... there might have been one in Mom's basement, driven in by the flood waters:
The Martian invaders?

Some scenes from Indian Trail and Sam Lions Trail:
Apartment building at the corner of Indian Trail and Prospect Hill Drive
Footbridge over the stream that enters Lake Lanier under Sam Lions Trail
The culvert that had been underneath the road
Sam Lions Trail washout. Fixing that will take some work.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ten Years, Ten-Thousand Geocaches

When I began Geocaching in early 2008, I had no idea where this activity would lead me. I just knew I loved the hunt, and that many of the locations to which these excursions took me were some of the most alluring sites I had ever experienced.

When I found my 100th cache, I never expected to actually make 500 finds. When I found my 500th cache, I was pretty sure getting to 1,000 finds was right out. When I found my 1,000th cache, 5,000 finds still seemed far beyond reach. And when I found my 5,000th cache, I didn't think I could live long enough to reach 10,000. Well, apparently, I have lived long enough because I found the big 10K today. (There are those who say I am addicted, and I would never dream of disagreeing.) Now, make no mistake, there are many Geocachers, of my personal acquaintance and otherwise, who have achieved many times this numerical milestone, and we all have our stories to tell about our respective journeys. Me, I would not trade a moment of the experiences I've had to reach this level of distinction, whatever that means to anyone else.

For this milestone experience, I wanted to select a cache that Ms. Brugger—who is not so much a Geocacher as a sometimes-unwilling accomplice—might find appealing enough to go after with me and thus turn the hunt into something of a celebratory event. Back at milestone #7,000, she had joined several of us for a beautiful and fun kayak trip down the Yadkin River, followed by wine at nearby Flint Hill Winery, and she had not thought to drown me or anything. So for #10,000, I wanted to come up with something that might be genuinely appealing to the lady.

It wasn't hard to settle on The McAfee Knob Challenge (GC2JJJD), as we have both wanted to hike to the overlook for some time. The plan we devised was to spend a Saturday in Roanoke; stay overnight at Hotel Roanoke, at which we had a marvelous time at SheVaCon some years ago; and hit McAfee Knob on that Sunday. Given my caching numbers and schedule, this weekend appeared to be best for the event. If you've read any of my recent blogs, you might have picked up on the fact that getting to just the right number caches without going over on a predetermined schedule has its tricky points. But things worked out, and so, yesterday, we made the trip from Greensboro to Roanoke, checked into the Hotel Roanoke as anticipated, and spent most of the day and evening wandering about town, seeking out good food and drink wherever we might. Highlights included 202 Social House, where I actually willingly ordered some white wine (hey, it was bloody hot outside); Alejandro's Mexican Grill & Salsa Bar, which we had discovered on our SheVaCon trip; Cedar's Lebanese Kitchen; and The Pine Pub Room at the hotel, which has a most wonderful bar.
The Hotel Roanoke, our home away from home for the weekend
Ms. B. with a fine Bordeaux, old Rodan with a very dirty martini at The Pine Pub Room
This morning, shortly after the ass-crack of dawn, we checked out of the hotel and headed to the Appalachian Trail on Highway 311, which was very familiar to me from years of traveling up that way when my brother lived in the area and bunches of used used to frequently go camping at nearby Craig Creek. From trailhead to overlook, it's a 4.4-mile hike, making for a damn near 9-mile round trip, presenting everything from easy to difficult terrain along the way. Since the forecast called for temperatures in the mid-90s later in the day, we came prepared to face the hated heat. Fortunately, on the hike up, the temperature was tolerable and we had a nice breeze for much of the way.

But then... we had not gone very far when a rampaging bear decided to attack us, but brave Ms. B., utterly disregarding her personal safety, leaped to my defense.* She ended up with a mauled arm, but thanks to her bravery, we escaped otherwise unscathed. After this, we also encountered a couple of skinks, a nice little northern ring-neck snake, and a garter snake, but these critters were friendly enough and wished us well on our endeavor.
Brugger, mauled by bear!
My target cache was located amid a concentration of huge, magnificent rock formations that rose from a veritable jungle of tangled mountain laurel, about a quarter mile short of the overlook itself. At ground zero, there was plenty of coordinate bounce among the massive boulders, but thankfully, it wasn't long before I managed to locate my quarry, well-concealed and in good condition. I dirtied up the log with my moniker, posed for a few photos of the occasion, and re-hid the container. Then it was time to continue to the summit.

The overlook is a rocky shelf along the summit of the ridge, with a small, precarious point that extends into space a couple of thousand feet above the valley below. On our ascent, we hadn't encountered all that many hikers, but once we reached the overlook, the place began to fill up quickly. Quite a few folks posed on the rocks for some dramatic shots, and a young gentleman was kind enough to snap a few photos of Ms. B. and me at the point. In my old age, vertigo is more of an issue than it used to be, so I felt compelled to keep some distance back from the edge. Regardless, the view was spectacular, the experience overall a rush and a half.

Eventually, our primary task completed, we made our way back down the trail, stopping at another cache known as "Dragon Isle," named for the rock formation that bears a striking resemblance to the fabled "Wyrm" of old. By now, our little feets were battered and sore, but I pressed on and climbed up the rock wall to face the dragon, while Ms. B. lounged about in the shade below, texting her friends a detailed account of how she had defeated a raging bear on the trail, saved my life, and ended up with a mauled arm.

It was a good story.

Now, I'm here to tell you, there is not a chance on God's green earth I will ever, ever reach 20,000 Geocache finds. Nope. But a mighty happy 10K experience this has been, certainly for me and hopefully for Ms. B., although I rather doubt the bear enjoyed it.

*She slipped on some loose rock.
Ms. B. performing the McAfee Knob Shuffle. Everyone is doing it!
Gorgeous view from the overlook, except for the old fart standing in the way
The snoozing Wyrm at "Dragon Isle"
Wee little hornet's nest in the eye of the dragon. No varmints came out to accost me, which was
good because Ms. B. was too pooped to save my life a second time.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Back to the Barn

In the past couple of months, I think I've spent more time hunting Geocaches at and around Hagan Stone Park in southeastern Guilford County than in all my previous nine years of caching (see "From Hagan Stone to Transylvania," "From Company Mill to Wet Willie," and "The Last Year of My Fifth Decade Begins" for some real sob stories). Each of these excursions has been made as a direct result of numerous new caches coming out over a period of weeks, most hidden by the nefarious Geocacher known only as Government Mule. Apparently, Mr. Mule has been back at it this past week, for a few more caches have been published on the new Company Mill Preserve nature trail — problem being that I can't hunt them.

Except for one. Because I've made plans to find cache #10,000 this weekend, and I'm at the cutoff point — as of this afternoon, I had 9,998 logged finds — I could hunt one. And do you think I did? Damn right.

During my three-day, many-hours-long hunt for "Back from Transylvania" (GC7MX1F) — whose published coordinates turned out to be more than a quarter mile from its actual hiding place — I had discovered the remains of an old homestead, including a couple of crumbling tobacco barns, and explored them all in great depth. And wouldn't you know it, one of the new caches — "Tobacco" (GC7P9Q8) — appeared to be at one of those barns. Friend Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) had hunted this one a couple of days ago but had been unable to find it. So this afternoon, she and I teamed up to hopefully beat it into submission and claim the coveted first-to-find (FTF) honors.

We met at the trailhead in the park and had a very pleasant hike out to ground zero, most of a mile from the parking area. A severe thunderstorm warning had been issued, and skies were turning dark, but we weren't about to let a little adverse weather put a kink in our plan. Quite a bit of thunder began to boom through the woods, but as it turned out, not a drop of water fell until we were on our ways back home. Soon enough we reached our destination and, as expected, our GPS units did little more than lead us around in circles, the satellite bounce being so bad we never could ascertain a true ground zero. So we set our geosenses to working overtime and began close, thorough examinations of both those tenuous, dilapidated structures. These old buildings are just shy of collapse, and one of them is much farther than the other into the process of disintegration.

Eventually, we broke and regrouped, hoping our GPS units would calibrate enough to offer us a little more help, but this was not to be. But after a time, during one of our many circuits of the site, I noticed something that appeared out of place peeking from one of the barns' tenebrous hollows, and upon investigation, much to my satisfaction, it was indeed the cache.

So. A nice hike, nice company, and a nice FTF, which puts my total number of finds at 9,999. So until the big one, much to my chagrin, I am pretty much done.

I hope I don't get too antsy. I can feel it happening already.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

As the Last Year of my Fifth Decade Begins...

Old Rodan at "A Point in the Distance" (GCMF98)
Most years since I started Geocaching (in 2008), I've taken a day off work at my birthday to go out on the hunt. This year, however, timing-wise and work-wise, it didn't work out, but next weekend — all the forces of the universe cooperating — I'm anticipating an outing with Ms. Brugger to go in search of Geocache #10,000. Hoping for all good things on this front.

I had plotted something of an early birthday surprise for Ms. B., so on Friday, she and I went to Martinsville where she was treated to a wine glass painting class at Piedmont Arts Association (where I once exhibited and taught art back in the dawn of man). For good measure, I joined her in this endeavor, and we painted ourselves some nice wine glasses, which I'm certain will be put to good use. We also got to drink wine and eat good food at the event, so there was happiness to go around.

Despite being only a handful of caches away from hitting the big milestone, I managed to get in some highly satisfying hunting this weekend. To provide some context: yesterday was what is known in certain esoteric circles as "Crunken Dorking Day," a tradition that came about some time ago when Kimberly and friend Beth N. got together to do crafting with wine corks. Of course wine was involved, and an attempt by one of them to say "drunken corking" came out as "crunken dorking," and the name stuck. So yesterday morning, we trucked over to Winston-Salem so that the ladies might crunk some dorks, and I hit the caching trail.

Twice over the years I had gone after a truly mean hide in Horizons Park called "David & Diana's Bane" (GCQFJ4), but because getting to the logsheet involves spending an inordinate amount of time in one spot — usually interfering with valuable, limited caching time — I had simply given up. Because I could only claim a scant few before hitting the big #10K, I figured this was the time to give it a go. The cache is a great big water bottle filled with a couple hundred film canisters, and only one of them contains the log sheet. Because of the shape of the water bottle, you can only shake out one canister at a time, and as you might imagine, this process might tax the patience of the less-than-patient among us. Well, several years and 98 film canisters later, I have finally claimed "David & Diana's Bane." And so glad am I to put this one to rest....
The other rather beastly one is called "A Point in the Distance" (GCMF98), a multi-stage cache which requires calculating the coordinates of the final stage by determining the convergence point of two bearings from separate waypoints several miles apart. This involved finding a container at Horizons Park, then at another park some distance to the south. Happily, I had discovered an online tool to calculate coordinates for just such a problem, and so I was able to finally put this cache to rest as well. The travel between waypoints and the hiking involved to each stage made this one the day's most challenging endeavor.

Ms. B. and I then spent a most pleasant evening of dinner, wine, and great company with friends Terry and Beth. By the time we got home, quite late last night, at least one of us fell over and went boom.

My old friend Bog Turtle (a.k.a. Beth W.), caching partner extraordinaire from too many years back, was in town for a few days, so today, we met with the notorious Cupdaisy (a.k.a. Debbie) at Hagan Stone Park to hike and hunt caches — I limited myself to four, though Beth and Debbie picked up several others along the way. Things started out peaceably enough, with some relatively easy trail hiking and a few nice finds. But the placement of a few newer caches out there had us in a quandary. Should we go back to the road and approach the caches as the cache owner (CO) recommended? Or just power on through all kinds of unknown terrain? We opted for the latter, which, as you may have by now guessed, was not the world's best idea ever.

The official Geocaching Terrain Difficulty Scale goes from 1 to 5, 1 being the easiest, 5 being the hardest. As I led the parade through thick woods and across broad power line cuts, I managed to land us in some areas of about Terrain 8. I am not going to say that we clambered over an electrified fence onto private property, went some distance, and then repeated the process to return to park property (the shortest individual in the party making a spectacular flying leap), but I suppose any witnesses who might have been in the area would say someone did. (Nor will I mention that we signed the cache logs as "The Electric Company.") And there was blood. Not mine, but at least one among us (okay, it was Beth W.) decided that the creed devised by our mutual caching buddy Robgso — "If you don't bleed, you're not having fun" — is not one to take lightly.

We finished our outing by meeting Ms. B. for an excellent lunch at The Fat Frogg in Elon. Their "Poison Dart" hot sauce, which I put on some excellent chicken tenders, has one powerful burn, and they make a mean Bloody Mary. By the time I got back home, I fell over and went boom. I may do it again before the night is over.

Current cache count is 9,997. And happy trails to you.
Ms. Bog Turtle was hollering "Giddyup! Go! Giddyup! Go!" But it wouldn't go.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Another Random Monster Memory

On these shores, Daikaij√Ľ Baran — or Varan, the Unbelievable, as the U.S. version is called — might be considered one of Toho's more obscure monster flicks, as hardly anyone other than diehard daikaiju freaks would know of its existence. (Way back when, I did a capsule review of the film for the late AboutHorror.com website, which I resurrected for The Blog Where Horror Dwells; that review can be found here.) Now, the Japanese version has many merits, despite its rather plodding pace and lackluster cast. Eiji Tsuburaya's visual effects work is top-notch; the grim, black-and-white cinematography sets up a delightfully dark atmosphere; and Akira Ifukube's score is majestic and evocative. The American version, on the other hand, is a bunch of celluloid cobbled together to create an entire different movie, featuring Myron Healy sleepwalking from set to set and some monster scenes from the original film thrown in for good measure. It's junk, really, and virtually never seen these days (though it can be streamed at various sites online).

Still, I must tell you, I do have a certain nostalgic fondness for the American version. As a kid, I had only read about it in Greg Shoemaker's Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, and this made for a certain mystique about the film. When I was in sixth or seventh grade, my friends David and Jimmy, both knowing I was a monster movie maniac, kindly informed me that Varan would be coming on TV at 5:00 a.m. on the upcoming Saturday — but it was on a channel that required one of those fancy rotating antennas to receive, and we had no such high-tech gadget at my house. But lord have mercy, friend Jimmy did. What exciting news! So, on that Saturday, at 4-ish in the a.m. — with my parents' reluctant blessing, which in itself was a miracle — I got out of bed, hopped on my bike, and rode the couple of miles to David's place. Then, together, we made our way down the road to Jimmy's place. Now, another friend of mine, Frank, who couldn't come to the showing, had lent me his cassette recorder so I could tape the soundtrack for him. With almost insane eagerness, I set the machine up, and soon enough, on came Varan. The monster scenes were exciting as hell, and the lot of us ate it right up.

Later in the day, and much to my surprise, Gappa, the Triphibian Monster (a.k.a. Monster From a Prehistoric Planet) came on TV, and I had never seen it either. I was in a quandary. I only had my friend's one cassette — should I record over Varan, or miss out on Gappa? (This was all on my friend Frank's behalf, I might add, though I knew we'd be listening to whichever soundtrack we had together frequently.) On the spur of the moment, I taped Gappa over Varan, and of course, Frank was pissed at me because he had watched Gappa but had not seen Varan. So for a few minutes, I was in a the doghouse with him. We got over it real quickly, though, because Destroy All Monsters came to the drive-in theater not long afterward, and we must have listened to the recorded soundtrack to that one a couple of hundred times over.

I never got to see Varan again for about a decade, but for the U.S. version, I've always had a soft spot (which I call Frank).

Thursday, April 26, 2018

From Company Mill to Wet Willie

I'm steadily closing in on 10,000 geocache finds. Claimed six today, bringing my total count to 9,976. Ms. Brugger and I are making plans for a fun weekend together on May 12–13, at which time I plan on making the big 10K find. Got the trip plotted, and we almost have a backup plan, just in case....

The mysterious madman known as Government Mule has put out several more caches near Hagan Stone Park in southeast Guilford County, this time at the relatively new Company Mill Preserve, which adjoins the Hagan Stone property. Company Mill comprises 240 acres — mostly wetlands — and includes two lengthy nature trails. A couple of weeks back, I had challenged (and occasionally tortured) myself chasing down some of Government Mule's other caches (see "From Hagan Stone to Transylvania"), and today I discovered just how much wet there is in the wetlands. Short answer: a lot.

A few the new hides are along a power line easement through the preserve, and on either side of the easement, there are creeks, swamps, marshes, bogs, and geocaches. One of them is aptly named "Wet Willie" (GC7NK3J). To wit:
It's a little damp.
Today, I went more or less prepared for a good soaking, since we've had significant rainfall over the past week, but I managed to confine the muck to mostly my boots and pants legs. I did snag first-to-finds on three of the six caches out there, which is nice and everything, but the highlight of the journey was finding a rather ancient dam and some attendant ruins, which for me is one of the best aspects of geocaching. I love some good ruins, and the Company Mill Preserve is rich with them. I also had the pleasure of running into geocaching buddy Night-hawk (a.k.a. Tom) while on the hunt, and on my egress, I encountered ^c3^ (a.k.a. Chuck) and Ranger Fox (a.k.a. Christopher). Apparently, several folks were all about a good soaking today.

There was a fun physical challenge too, one that could have ended up soaking me real good (or worse), but I somehow managed to escape nature's wrath this go-round. The trail on the southern side of Big Alamance Creek involves a couple of water crossings; nothing major when the weather is dry, but as it is not currently dry, it was a bit more difficult today. I did find a handy-dandy makeshift bridge — a cut log balanced on top of a larger cut log — which was a bit precarious, but it supported me well enough on my outbound trip. Coming back, however, just as I hopped off the log into the muckity-muck, I heard a sharp crack, and when I looked back, I saw yon log had split itself into two irreparable halves. What impeccable timing, for if it had broken while I was still on it, I might have been catapulted into the next county (Randolph, about ten miles south of there). Now, the broken bridge may impede the progress of future geocaching parties, one of which I know will be attempting these caches come Saturday, so I may get called ugly names; who knows. But it was not my fault. The log just broke, is all.
It held me well enough on my outbound trip. Not so much on the return.
Well, I've had my shower, so I am once again clean and reasonably human. Now, I don't know how many folks pop in here to read about these exploits, but if you've popped in, I hope you enjoy the tales. I write these primarily for my own edification — it's fun to be able to look back at some of these outings and find more detail than my old memory might allow. Try not to chuck things at me, it's all in good fun.

Till the morrow.
The remains of a little spring house near the dam

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Snake Oil

The origin of this little anecdote goes back many years, but recent scams and scammers — particularly the vile scum who constantly call my mom trying to finagle money from her — have prompted me to scrub the cobwebs from this event and shine a light on it.

Back in one of my myriad psychology classes at college, we frequently watched films about various mental infirmities. One of them explored autism, and the film showcased a little boy who suffered one of its most extreme permutations, in which his ability to communicate was limited to mimicking others. The film went into great detail about the boy's condition and the attempts over many years to treat it, most of which were less than successful.

Coincidentally, mere days after seeing the film in question, I flipped on the television, and what should I witness but the very recognizable face of that same little boy. For a second, I thought whatever station I had tuned to must be running that same psychology film. But no — this time, I was seeing the boy in a very different environment: the television “sanctuary” of televangelist Ernest Angley, who in those days enjoyed a sizable TV audience.

My first reaction was that the boy's parents, in desperation, must have turned to spiritual healing, however dubious such a thing might be. But then, to my horror, I discovered this was something altogether different.

The slick, oh-so-concerned Ernest Angley sidekick brought to the boy to the waiting, cherub-like figure on the dais and explained that the boy was deaf from birth and had never heard a spoken word in his life.

Why, you sorry, lying son of a bitch, I thought to myself.

It was all I could do to watch Ernest Angley pop the little boy in the head with that healing club of a hand he bore at the end of his arm, call upon the angels on high, and then scream in the boy's face, “In the name of Jay-zus, BE HEALED!”

The boy stood there silent and bewildered until the porcine Angley took him by the shoulder and said, “Now say, ‘I am healed!’”

“I am healed!” the little boy repeated in barely intelligible English.

“Glory be to God!”

“Glory be to God!”

“Praise Jay-zus!”

“Praise Jay-zus!”

Then, with a shove, Angley sent the little boy on his way and, with his ever-smug little smile, explained how the power of the lord could overcome any infirmity, even total deafness.

But the boy was not deaf. The poor soul was autistic and could only mimic words that were spoken directly to him. I had only just viewed a detailed case study of the boy in psychology class.

Now, never for one minute did I believe that Ernest Angley — or televangelists in general, for that matter — were anything but money-grubbing scammers, but I had just seen incontrovertible proof, on national television, that Angley had taken advantage of a child's tragic infirmity to spread his particular brand of poison over the airwaves. I had to assume this was done with the boy's parents' approval, perhaps to receive some much-needed remuneration for years of expensive treatment. But in the end, to me, their motives were inconsequential. Because there was no question about Ernest Angley's motives: he was a money-grubbing pig.

How many people then — and now —would fall for these parlor tricks and send money to Angley and his ilk? Sadly, it's people who are desperate, who are elderly, who have infirmities of their own — such as my mom — who become the targets of these monstrous predators. Too often successfully.

Be wary of the snake oil salesman. Be wary of the snake. They're very, very venomous. How I wish I could slay the lot of them.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

From Hagan Stone to Transylvania

I'm getting closer and closer to my 10,000th Geocache find—my current count stands at 9,933, and I have made plans to go after #10K on May 12, since Brugger and I had already reserved that weekend for something a bit out of the ordinary. So, between now and then, I have to claim 67 more caches, which, all things considered, should not prove too difficult. It's just that working toward a specific number, never knowing what new caches might pop up in the interim, can end up a little dicey, as I discovered with several previous milestone finds.

This has been an interesting week for Geocaching indeed. During the past month, a number of caches along a new nature trail at Hagan Stone Park, in SE Guilford County, have been published, so I've made several trips down that way to hunt them. On my initial searches, I found all but one of them—a devilish beast called “Back From Transilvania” [sic], (GC7MX1F)—which had also stymied several cache hunters before me. On my first search for this elusive little devil, I discovered the skeletal remains of an old homestead very near the posted coordinates, and since I couldn't find the cache, I spent a considerable amount of time exploring the old ruins. I had notified the cache owner that I suspected his listed coordinates were not correct, and in a message back to me, he indicated the hide was at or near an old farmhouse. Well... in light of what I had discovered, I set about a methodical search of the various structures. Given the sheer number of potential hiding places, I knew this would be a daunting task, but I felt I at least had a sporting chance. Out here, I found myself totally isolated, the atmosphere agreeably eerie. A few turkey buzzards scrabbling around the old metal roofs made for a startling moment.

Alas, this first expedition, while enjoyable, failed to turn up the cache.

Yesterday, following a gratifying first-to-find at another new hide in the vicinity (“& Bullwinkle” [GC7MRFY]), I decided to return to the old homestead and try again. I spent a couple of hours on the hunt, focusing on certain areas around the old buildings, but I again failed to find my quarry. As I made my egress from the site, the cache owner sent me a slightly more precise hint, and I was tempted to turn around and try again, but Ms. B. and I had a dinner engagement at her house with friends—Geocaching friends, in fact: Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom) and Punkins19 (a.k.a. Linda)—so I had to reluctantly admit defeat a second time.

Our dinner (my homemade vegetable beef soup, made only slightly nuclear for our guests' sake,) proved delicious, the company fantastic, and since I had resolved to hit Hagan Stone at the crack of dawn—to hopefully beat the forecast bad weather—I spent the night at Ms. B.'s place. And indeed, not long after sunrise, I was on my way back to the trail to put whatever new knowledge I had to good use.

Well. Almost two hours later, I still had turned up a whole lot of nothing. I sent some more photos of my search area to the cache owner, who at last realized I was actually at the wrong location. The cache was not hidden among these structures, but at another old place I had yet to discover.

Hoo boy.

Off I went, for finding this cache had by now become an obsession. Sure enough, after another half mile or so on the trail, I found another old building—this one very much in keeping with the CO's description.

My first discovery here: a very nice six-foot black rat snake, who was kind enough to pose for a photo session (and a very photogenic fellow he was). Happily, thankfully, mercifully, at long last, here I found the cache, and a nicely done cache it turned out to be. Snake took his leave, I dirtied up the log with my signature (in the coveted FTF slot), and after doing a little victory dance*, I marched myself the mile and half back to the Damned Rodan Mobile, headed home, and took a much-needed shower, for which the cats thanked me profusely.

I did take new coordinates at GZ and forwarded them to the CO. Apparently, he had made a typo on one of the bigger numbers of the longitude, and that had indeed mucked up the works. However, if I'd not devoted myself to going after this one prior to his checking on the coordinates, I would have deprived myself of an exhilarating, creepy, three-day Geocaching adventure. And I am, I can tell you, all about the adventure.
My geocaching partner
If all goes according to plan, my target cache for #10K is “The McAfee Knob Challenge” (GC2JJJD) near Salem Virginia—close to where I spent much time camping (along Craig Creek) back in the 80s and 90s. I do look forward to it.

*I did no such thing.
My first view of the old structures just off the trail
The first place I focused my search
Big barn a few hundred feet from the collapsing structures below
Turkey buzzard chuckles while watching me hunt in vain
Yet another old farmhouse along the trail, about a half mile from my original search area

Sunday, April 8, 2018

From Ferrum to Saxapahaw

Some nice Geocaching buddies near Ferrum, VA
Closing in on 10,000 geocache finds, I am. Picked up an even dozen this weekend, bringing my total find count to 9,921. I am hoping to make the 10K find... whenever and whatever it might be... something memorable, so I need to start doing my research. It would be great if it involves kayaking and is close to a winery, in which case Ms. Brugger would be inclined to join the fun.

After spending Friday and Saturday looking after my mom in Martinsville, I set out after a few caches before heading home. Three new ones had come out around Ferrum, VA, where I went to college back in the darkest of dark ages, so I decided to target them. They had been published several days earlier, but, surprisingly, no one had logged finds on them. Fortuitously, I managed to claim FTF on all three by an hour or so, as longtime geocachers (and forest rangers) TracksAll & Will Ketchum apparently came along soon after me. I almost feel bad for beating them to the punch, since they don't get to cache nearly as much as they used to. But hey, a smiley is a smiley, and an FTF is a damn near empty honorific, at best.

From there, the Rodan Mobile conveyed me to Fairy Stone Park, where I have spent many happy times and found numerous caches over the years. There was a relatively new one there, which did not appear to involve significant hiking... until I opted to depart the trail and make a beeline for the cache. Making a beeline for the cache turned out to be more like hauling one's self up and over one majestic incline after another, and reaching the cache involved a rather precarious change in elevation just above a creek. On my egress, I decided to keep to the trail, which proved less rigorous but also involved no little altering of altitude.
Hanging out with funky little Tiki Dude

Then it was on to Eden, NC. Here, there were several more to find (two of which I sadly did not), including a wondrous, beastly little hide amid a massive network of roots in a deep, dank ravine, which I found to be a pure joy in the driving rain that had begun to fall. You may think I speak facetiously, but I do not speak facetiously, for I had a grand time of it making this find (admittedly with a modicum of help from friend Night-Hawk (a.k.a. Tom).

Drenched and exhausted, I eventually made it home. Then, this morning, friend Robgso (a.k.a. Rob) and I made another fine day of it, first at Hagan Stone Park in southern Guilford County, then at Cedar Rock Park in Alamance County, and then in Saxapahaw, on a scenic trail along the Haw River. Lunch at the Saxapahaw General Store was, hardly unexpectedly, among the day's highlights. Ms. B. and I have had some mighty good meals at this place over the years, and today the goat burger was the item of choice, and a fine one at that. Caching-wise, we found a couple of particularly enjoyable hides, including a rat in a tree and a funky little coconut Tiki dude. We finished our hunt—successfully—at the edge of the Buckhorn Gamelands, where we have cached on many previous occasions, and then we came home, where I fell over and went boom.
Rodan's Roots?
View of Philpott Lake from the Lake Shore Trail
View of the Haw River
Found along the Haw River Trail
Old, crumbling dam on a Haw River tributary

Friday, April 6, 2018

Speaking of Chicago...


In my previous entry about my story, "Willow Bend," I delved into the importance of setting and how a specific location—Rock Castle Gorge in Virginia—played a major part in the tale. However, the real genesis of the story may be traced back to an incident that occurred 30-some years ago and 700-some miles away, in a very different setting—Chicago—where I lived in the mid-1980s.

At that time, I was an avid Paintball player, the game being known in those days as "Survival." I was part of a group that got together every weekend in the woods near the Wisconsin border, and I was as addicted to Paintball then as I am to Geocaching today. It was beyond fun shooting the hell out of each other (though it hurt like like a motherfucker when you got hit), and certain experiences from the game naturally wove their way into a number of my stories over the years. The event in question, however, involved not the game itself but one of my fellow players. I'm pretty sure his name was Kurt, and for the purposes of this narrative, that is what I shall call him.

Kurt and I got to be pretty good friends, and as experienced players, we took considerable delight in teaming up each weekend to take out craploads of newbies who came to sample the Survival experience. He was a hardcore Paintballer, and he owned several of the CO2-powered guns we used in the game. He offered one of them to me at a bargain-basement price, and I was happy to take him up on the deal. It was kind of nice having a gun of my own rather than renting one every weekend.

One day he came to me with uncharacteristic solemnity and asked whether I might be willing to do him an unusual favor. Apparently, Kurt lived next door to an aging woman who was convinced that people were coming into her house at night and making a lot of racket. Oddly, when she would get out of bed to accost them, there was never anyone there. This happened every Friday night, and one weekend she asked Kurt if he might be so kind as to stand watch outside and have cross words with any strangers inclined to enter her house uninvited. She did suggest that, since there was no knowing these people's intentions, it was only prudent that he should arm himself. Well, the only arms Kurt owned were Paintball guns, so figuring... I guess... that two Paintball guns might at least partially compensate for their basic lack of lethality, he asked me if I'd be willing to join him standing vigil overnight at the nice lady's place.

Well, ever one to rise to a stimulating challenge, of course I said yes. Hell, neither of us believed a word of it, for the lady was old and probably firmly in the clutches of dementia, and this struck both of us as an opportunity to stay up all night, drink beer, shoot the shit, and maybe shoot somebody's eye out with paintballs should the need actually arise.

The lady lived in a small Chicago brownstone in a reasonably well-to-do neighborhood. On either side of the house, there were tall, thick evergreens that separated the adjacent lots, so shortly after sunset on this chilly evening, Kurt and I armed ourselves with our Paintball guns, a shitload of paintballs, a twelve-pack or two of Old Style, some munchies, and a few packs of cigarettes, and we settled ourselves across from each other in the shelter of the tent-like evergreen branches.

For lord knows how long, we drank, smoked, and jabbered back and forth, until the lady popped her head out the door and told us to shut the hell up because she really wanted to see the situation resolved, and our cavalier attitudes were of no help. This was sound logic as far as it went, so we got serious, clammed up, and went on full alert. This state of alertness lasted until sometime around two in the morning, when I began to get really, really sleepy.

The next thing I knew, Kurt was shaking me and saying he could hear voices coming from inside. We both crept to a window and, sure enough, there were low, masculine voices emanating from what I believed to be the living room. A second later, the woman began to holler from another room, and the voices went silent. Kurt produced a key, and we rushed inside with our Paintball guns ready to blast the hell out of any intruders. What we found was a bewildered, frustrated-looking lady and... not one other soul in the house. No TV or radio turned on. No indication that anyone other than the woman was, or had been, inside.

And that was that. Our hostess told us that, inevitably, once the people went away, they didn't come back anymore on the same night. Disheartened, Kurt and I returned to our posts, where we spent a few more uneventful hours until daybreak. When we finally parted ways, we half-heartedly assured each other it might be worth trying the same plan on some other night, but we never did. Frankly, despite things having been a little weird, we did not believe anyone besides the lady had ever been in that house. She probably had turned on the television, or voices coming from somewhere else simply sounded as if they were coming from within. After all, at any given time, we were surrounded by a fair amount of city noise....

Some weeks or months later, Kurt told me that the woman had had no more complaints about intruders, so we did take some satisfaction in the idea that... maybe... our Paintball guns had scared the dickens out of some ghostly ghosts and sent them permanently packing. I felt happy, for the night had proven interesting enough, and thirty-some years later, it became the basis for one of my scary stories.

And that was the Night We Shot a Ghost's Eye Out.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Willow Bend

Discovering intriguing, scenic locations has always been a joy for me—which is one of the main reasons I am addicted to Geocaching—and in my fiction, setting virtually always plays a significant part in the story. One of my relatively recent tales of terror, “Willow Bend” (slated to appear in in the Ulthar Press anthology Voices in the Darkness later this year), came about after Ms. B. and I, on a geocaching venture at Rock Castle Gorge in Patrick County, VA, discovered The Austin Homestead, a tract of privately owned land in the middle of the state-owned Rocky Knob Recreational Area (see “Stonewalled,” “The Haunting of Stonewall, Episode 4”). My first impression of the place was that it was the Vermont setting for H. P. Lovecraft's “Whisperer in Darkness” transplanted in Virginia. A few additional hikes in the area convinced me that I needed to use a fictionalized version of the place in a story of my own. And thus, in 2016, “Willow Bend” came about. It's a ghost story set in a location based closely on the Austin Homestead and Rock Castle Gorge.

Particularly for less-experienced writers, the effective setting may often be overlooked or short-changed. Even in a story that is driven primarily by the characters or specific events, a work that fails to convey a sense of place often lacks one of the crucial elements of believability. In the proper hands, the setting can function as a character, evoking mood and emotion, or serving as a motivator for critical events.

Forgive me for picking on the late Rex Miller, but I'm going to pick on Rex Miller. His novel, Slob, which in many respects stood out as an effective, gripping tale, was ostensibly set in Chicago, yet there was not one scene I can recall that in any way evoked the sense of being in Chicago, where I lived for several years. Every aspect of the location felt nondescript, even lifeless, so much so that it damn near pulled me out of the book. Contrast this with author Wayne Allen Sallee's fiction, much of which is set in Chicago, his hometown. Holy crap, Wayne's stories—even those that don't need Chicago to function—function so much the better because every vivid detail of the setting brings all other aspects of the story into stark clarity. Had one never visited Chicago, sufficient exposure to Wayne's body of work might fool one into thinking one had lived there for a decade or two. And seen many things that sane individuals ought not see....

“Willow Bend” is one of my many tales in which the setting plays a distinctive, crucial role, and I hope I have succeeded in making it a place you might care to visit. And perhaps remain...indefinitely.

Figuratively, of course. Perhaps.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Voices in the Darkness

Oh yeah. My little chiller-thriller, “Willow Bend,” has been accepted for Voices in the Darkness, a new anthology from Ulthar Press slated for release later this year. This new anthology will explore horror in all its many shades: quiet, chilling stories; loud, violent tales; stories about monsters, both human and not; quick jolts; lingering reflections of the macabre; classics and new voices all muttering, whispering, crying, and screaming in the darkness. Here is the complete table of contents (not necessarily in order):

  • “The Junkyard” by Joe R. Lansdale
  • “The Coming of the Storm” by Jeffrey Thomas
  • “Bedside” by Christine Morgan
  • “Broken” by Jeffery X Martin
  • “The Pipe People” by Mark Allan Gunnells
  • “Eat to Live” by Brian M. Sammons
  • “The Rennard Inheritance” by Andi Newton
  • “Dreams of Shattered Teeth” by Tim Waggoner
  • “Jack: A Dirge” by David Dunwoody
  • “She Never Swept” by Robert M. Price
  • “Luna e Volk” by Mercedes M. Yardley
  • “Something for the Weekend” by William Meikle
  • “Willow Bend” by Stephen Mark Rainey
  • “A Lack of Humanity” by Oscar Rios
  • “Here in Status Symbol Land” by D.A. Madigan
  • “Barking” by Pete Rawlik
  • “Those Who Stay” by John Linwood Grant
  • “The Beatification of Custer Poe” by Laird Barron
  • “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” by Don Webb
  • “Trista“ by Cody Goodfellow
  • “Out of Days” by Nathan Carson
  • “Those That Dwell Below” by Glynn Owen Barrass
  • “Ogopogo” by Edward Morris
  • “Down There” by Ramsey Campbell
Look forward to Voices in the Darkness with excitement and dread, if you would be so kind.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Diverse Voices

The issue of diverse literary voices—especially in anthologies of short fiction—has in recent times rightly become a critical subject for editors and publishers, and in certain quarters of the social media set, a matter of no quiet contention. It would be hard to argue that, historically, the dark/speculative fiction field has been dominated by anyone but heterosexual male authors, of which I am one—not that I can claim to dominate anything above and beyond a household of cats (and most might argue I'm fooling myself on that count). I may not the world's most accomplished or prolific editor, but I have had my share of experience in the field: ten years of editing Deathrealm magazine; anthologies for publishers such as Delirium Books, Chaosium, and Arkham House; and a handful of guest-editing stints at other professional publications.

If you have ever read any of  the work I have produced, whether as writer or editor, you have almost certainly picked up on the fact that a large percentage of it is related, directly or tangentially, to the good ol' Cthulhu Mythos; or, at the very least, that it is rooted in the supernatural, the occult, the outr√© in its countless permutations. In fiction, above all things, the Weird Tale has been my chosen oeuvre. Now, the greater share of both aficionados and writers of the Weird Tale has typically been the human male, and while things have changed in that regard, even since I started getting paid for my writing in the mid 1980s, as near as I can tell with these aging eyes, it still holds true. I will confess to you that, at least in those early days of my editing career, diversity—most notably in regard to female writers—was not a huge consideration in my mind, simply because I never felt the works I produced were aimed at an audience beyond what might be called the stereotypical. In my editorial experience, I tended to select the works I felt best represented the theme or tone of the book or periodical as a whole, without regard to the identity of the writer. End of story.

Well, actually, not. The current "discussions"—a term I toss out with no little irony—have served to crystallize certain personal ideas and observations that evolved over many years in this business. First of all, I'll toss out a few stats, just as background (and bear in mind that these are not hard numbers but estimations derived from long hands-on experience). During my days of editing Deathrealm (1987–1997), it's safe to say that 70 to 75 percent of submissions came from male writers, at least early on. Later, that ratio changed to something like 60 to 65 percent. Subscribers were even more male-dominated, with a majority around 75%. That changed only slightly over the years, the biggest shift happening during the last two. Given these stats, would I submit that there was even a hint of intentional discrimination involved in the editorial process? None whatsoever. Would I concede there was a male-centered mindset that blithely sailed past considerations of more diverse tables of contents? Highly likely.

The biggest factor at play here was... is... basic sensibilities. Males and females simply do not share all similar interests, nor should they. I'm certain the readerships of Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated differ wildly from those of Cosmopolitan or Vogue (that's my best guess, anyway, though maybe I'm wrong and fully half the first example's readership is women; I'm gonna bet not). I can tell you from years and years of experience, the male audience for Godzilla movies outweighs the female audience by uncountable metric tons. The simple fact is that, historically, Cthulhu and the rest of the Great Old Ones, kith and kin, appeal more to the Godzilla-type demographic.

You need not remind me that dark fiction encompasses a much vaster range of subjects, themes, and styles than the relatively limited scope of Lovecraftiana. Of course that's true, but somewhere in the typically male-dominated hierarchy of authors, editors, and publishers, I suspect that this concept still holds an inordinate amount of weight. To be honest, twenty-five years ago, it struck as me something of a novelty that as many women as did wrote, edited, and published dark fiction. Not only good, but great dark fiction. What an eye-opening experience it became for the likes of me. I made the acquaintances, virtually and in-person, of such women as Ellen Datlow, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Elizabeth Massie, Kathleen Jurgens, Peggy Nadramia, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Melanie Tem, Kathe Koja, Poppy Z. Brite, Nancy Collins, Lucy Snyder, Cynthia Ward, Caitlin Kiernan, Nancy Kilpatrick, Anne K. Schwader... the list goes on and on.

How could a literate being not take note of the numbers, the voices, the power in the perspectives shared by these and so many creative women who have emerged in the days since? What vistas one can behold when the blinders aren't fastened so tightly.

Taking notice leads to cognizance, and cognizance leads to action. If by some mad quirk of nature Deathrealm were to make a resurgence during my lifetime, would there be a whole new set of sensibilities at play in its production? A resounding yes. Naturally, I'm very proud of the number of female authors that Deathrealm showcased during its years. If my youthful sensibilities had evolved more deeply and rapidly, no doubt there would have been more. Now, granted, in this space I have primarily focused on women as examples of diversity; I have hardly addressed other marginalized groups whose voices are just as worthy and just as impressive, but for now, this is a start, and deadlines and other duties call.

I simply say to any and all creative persons who labor in the field who may yet wear a set of blinders: take notice. Things can—must—progress from there.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Swarming Through Moncure

Team 3Acrobats — Old Man Rodan, BigG7777, and Suntigres
Suntigres (a.k.a. Bridget), BigG7777 (a.k.a. Gerry), and Old Man Rodan made a fine day of geocaching in and around the towns of Pittsboro and Moncure, mostly targeting a bunch of little rubber bees from a series called "The Swarm," which comprises hundreds of caches over several counties in central and eastern NC. We started at UP! (GC20985), a wonderful cache up a grain silo just this side of Pittsboro. Suntigres and I had already found it several years ago, but since Mr. G. still needed it, we stopped at the location so he could perform the requisite daredevil acts. He did so readily, and since all of us could now claim UP! as a find, we settled on 3Acrobats as our team moniker for the day.
BigG goes UP!

Among the day's highlights was a multi-cache that took us to a little graveyard outside Moncure and a micro inside a crumbling old building that damn near forced us to live up to our team name (again), as we struggled to avoid falling through holes in floors, descended and then ascended partially collapsed stairs, and clambered and crawled through a dark cellar littered with lord knows what kind of pointy detritus; and a cache underneath an ancient concrete bridge over US Hwy 1. The cache container there, sadly, appears to have gone missing, though we did enjoy exploring the bridge's dark underbelly. Instead of a cache, we did find a partially eaten can of ravioli, which we offered to Suntigres to assuage her munchies, though she inexplicably declined our good-hearted gesture.

At the end of the day, I had added 27 caches to my total, which now stands at 9,903. I suppose it's time to start thinking about a specific, challenging cache to go after for find #10,000. I'm thinking something that requires a kayak and isn't far away from a decent winery.

 Cache on.
Inside and out
"He fell through a hole in the floor!"
Suntigres at the bridge