Sunday, January 24, 2021

Phred’s Posthumous Profile in the Winston-Salem Journal


 

A nice posthumous profile of my brother in the Winston-Salem Journal today:

Alan “Phred” Rainey, Owner of Earshot Music, Has Died

I most appreciate that the piece features a video of him from 2014, when he was healthy. And I love being able to hear his voice again.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Universe Takes a Good One

It is with the greatest sorrow that I must announce that my younger brother, Alan “Phred” Rainey, has passed away following a long struggle with leukemia. He had been hospitalized for quite some time, and we had hoped he might get to a point where he could go back home. But over the past several days, his condition worsened, and a couple of days ago, he was admitted to hospice care. This evening, he slipped away peacefully.

Old dude (pre-old), Oolie-Poolie, Dad


Phred was born in May 1964, five years and two days after me (we always figured our folks might have been aiming for the same month and day; they never told). I well remember Mum bringing him home from the hospital for the first time. She came up the stairs to the kitchen from the basement, bearing a weird, prune-like bundle wearing only diapers. My first words to him were “Hello, dye-dees!” (Some derivation of “diapers,” I suppose it was.) Brother had lots of nicknames as a wee young’un. My 1969 diary indicates that “Oolie-Poolie” was the preferred sobriquet of the day. Countless entries refer to Oolie-Poolie and our beloved dog, Patty (“Patty bit Oolie-Poolie” appearing most frequently). “Phred” didn’t come along until his adult years, sometime post-college. I can’t recall the origin or significance of “Phred,” but he surely made it his own. To this day, I think few people, even his good friends, know his given name was Alan.

Oppressing the peasants

 
Brother and I had a fairly idyllic childhood, and we got along in the typical way of siblings with an age difference of several years. One of my favorite recollections of brotherly love was when I was 11 or 12, which put him at 6 or 7. Our parents had finally warmed to the idea of letting me stay alone with him for fairly short periods. One night, they went out and left me in charge for about an hour, after which a young lady named Sherry was to come round to babysit us for the rest of the evening. During that hour, due entirely to circumstances beyond my control, I locked Oolie-Poolie out of the house. Before I knew it, a brick came crashing through the backdoor window. Against my better judgment, I let him back in so he could clean up the glass. At this point, marginally peeved, I threatened to stab him with my pocket knife. I ran my thumb along the blade to test its sharpness (I mean, who would want to stab his little brother with a dull blade?), and in the process sliced my finger wide open. So, for a fair spell, I stood there, fussing and bleeding, trying to make sure he understood that his behavior was unacceptable. Soon enough, Sherry arrived to find a broken window, a brick, and a mess of glass and blood in the floor. She bandaged my gaping wound, taped Saran Wrap over the door’s, and told us she never wanted to see either of our faces again. (This was not true, of course; she babysat for us many times in the coming days, and only rarely did Oolie-Poolie cause as much trouble as on that particular night.) Once reconciled (all thanks to Sherry), brother and I devised the perfect alibi: we decided to blame the property damage on Dwayne Sigmon, our mortal enemy from the neighborhood. So, first thing next morning, when pressed to explain events, I told my understandably irate Mum and Dad that Dwayne had come out of the woods and heaved a brick through our backdoor window.

“Really? Why?”

 “Oolie-Poolie must have upset him.”

To this day, I will never understand why Mum and Dad refused to accept this interpretation of events, or why they wouldn’t allow me to babysit for my brother until I was 15 years old.

Despite the harmonious relationship between my brother and I, which you may have sensed from the preceding anecdotes, we did have the occasional rocky moment. Early 1972: I had painstakingly created an audio cassette recording of one of my monster stories, complete with music and sound effects. When I went to play it back, I discovered, not my monster story, but Oolie-Poolie singing along to The Partridge Family Sound Magazine album. Of the unforgivable offenses from childhood, this ranks near the top.

Like so many little brothers, young Phred tended to follow me around, often annoying me to the point that I wanted to shoot him in the butt with my BB gun. One time — I think I was in ninth grade — I shot him in the butt with my BB gun. To my eternal mortification (and yours too, I’ll wager), he violated the sacred trust between brothers and tattled, which resulted in my BB gun being confiscated for a period of two weeks. It may be worth noting that Mum was not known for her ingenuity when it came to hiding things, so whenever she wasn’t around, I grabbed the gun from her closet, shot things to my heart’s content (not little brothers at this point), and re-hid it before she returned.


As kids, we loved visiting our grandparents in Georgia, and we spent every Christmas with both sets of them until they passed away. (Most of the furniture in Phred’s house originally belonged to one set of grandparents or the other.) I would venture to say that, for both Phred and me, spending time at our grandparents’ was truly our version of heaven. Now, Mum’s mother, whom we called “Neenie,” was not necessarily slight of frame. In those days, we always said the blessing before every meal, and it was customary for our grandfather (“Papa”) to ask “Who’s going to say the blessing?” On one visit, four-year-old Phred brought the house down by pointing to Neenie and shouting, “Let Chubby say it!”

In the bedroom where he and I slept at Neenie & Papa’s house, the door to the living room had glass panes, which were covered by a diaphanous drape. One Christmas Eve, Neenie was wearing a chain belt that jingled, and she happened to walk by the door just after we had gone to bed. Upon seeing her silhouette on the translucent drape, Phred shot out of bed and cried, “Santa!” He suffered marginal disappointment to discover it was only Neenie, but Santa that year (as he was every year), proved very good to both us young rascals. 

A typical Christmas: Dude with gun and brother blowing his bugle

In elementary school, Phred developed a special affinity for music. I taught him to play guitar, and it wasn’t long before his proficiency surpassed mine. He also played clarinet in the school concert and marching bands, so people started calling him “Pete Fountain.” Over the years, he learned to play other instruments, including bass guitar, keyboards, and drums.

In his high school, college, and post-college years, Phred formed a number of bands with similarly talented musician friends. He headed up The Stars & Bars Band, Industrial Soldier, Joe the Fireman, and countless unnamed duets and trios. He wrote, performed, and recorded craploads of songs, sometimes with other folks, sometimes solo. Wherever he lived — from Blacksburg, VA, to Chapel Hill, NC, to Winston-Salem, NC — Phred attracted a considerable local following. A decade or so ago, he played frequently at a club called The Garage (sadly, now defunct) in Winston-Salem, which inspired Brugger and me to play music of our own there from time to time.

Phred provides musical accompaniment to Mum’s reading of The Night Before Christmas

During his Virginia Tech years — and for a long spell afterward — Phred worked for a music shop called The Record Exchange in Blacksburg, VA. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he ended up living several miles out of Blacksburg near Craig Creek in the Jefferson National Forest, where he introduced my (now ex-)wife and me to the joys of exploring endless networks of narrow, winding mountain roads in his pickup truck. We discovered what turned out to be one of our favorite places on Earth: a huge wall of slate cliffs above Craig Creek, with a clearing at its base perfect for camping out — which we did countless times over a couple of decades. On one of our truck outings, we took some random dirt road through the forest and happened upon a stone memorial, standing out there in the middle of nowhere. This turned out to be the site where legendary actor and WWII veteran Audie Murphy had died in a plane crash. Nowadays, the road to the memorial is more heavily traveled (and there is a geocache there), but back then, as near as we could tell, we were the only living human beings for miles around. For me, it was a transcendent experience.

In the early 1990s, Phred acquired a beautiful black lab, whom he named Luther. He loved Luther deeply, and that sweet dog was his constant companion whether he was at home or traveling. When Phred and I got together on our many rural excursions, Luther always accompanied us. One time, though, while just the two of them were out roaming along Marrowbone Creek in rural Henry County, VA, Luther went running after something and, as he often did, joyously leaped into the river. On this occasion — after a period of excessive rainfall — the water was high and fast, and the current swept Luther away. Panicked, Phred ran along the riverbank, trying to keep up with him. When it was clear that Luther was not going to be able to get out on his own, Phred, with no thought of his own safety, jumped into the river and swam after him. Eventually, he caught up to Luther, grabbed his collar, and managed to drag him to the bank and safety. I still get chills thinking about what might have happened to one or both of them. But you know what? I understand it. Like me, Phred loved animals and was fiercely loyal to those in his care (even Patty, who took such pleasure in gnawing on his bones).

Phred and Luther

After Blacksburg, Phred moved to Chapel Hill, NC, to manage The Record Exchange store there. He and I got together there a number of times, but by then, his busy schedule precluded sharing as much social time as he had in the past. After a couple of years in Chapel Hill, he moved to Winston-Salem, again to manage the local Record Exchange store. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the Record Exchange went out of business. However, this ended up offering Phred an opportunity that was too good to pass up: he became owner/manager of Earshot Music, which opened in the same space The Record Exchange had occupied.

Despite having established himself as a mature and responsible adult,* Phred enjoyed releasing his inner child whenever possible. From our school days until my dad’s death in the early 2000s, our family owned a timeshare condo at Myrtle Beach, where we all met every summer. Phred loved that place and looked forward to going every year. One time in the late 1990s, when he lived in Chapel Hill, he and I rode down to the beach together. When we got there, he got so excited that he did an expert handstand in the middle of the living room. Did I say expert? Actually, he overbalanced... kept going over...  and CRASH! — right into the lovely glass-topped coffee table. Glass everywhere! Finger-pointing at Dwayne Sigmon! Groundings! Okay, well, no groundings, not this time. My folks were by now pretty well accustomed to Phred’s excesses and simply made him call maintenance and explain to them what had happened.

*No.


In the mid-2000s, Phred decided to revisit his fondness for acting. In high school, he had acted in several school plays and proved himself quite adept. In Winston, he joined up with two or three acting companies and performed in a number of stage productions, some comedy, some drama. There was one production at small venue in Winston called The Stained-Glass Theater, which had once been a church. I cannot recall the name of the production, but it was a two-man drama, with him playing one of the two leads. He knocked that role right out of the ballpark.


Unfortunately, the rigors of managing a music store eventually crowded out most of Phred’s favorite creative endeavors. Acting went by the wayside, as did his forays into making music. Still, over the years, Phred became something of a local legend — for his talent, his knowledge, his warmth, and his passion. Since his passing the other day, seeing so many comments from people whose lives he impacted has brought me to tears. 

When we lost our mother last summer, the blow hit us both, but he took it particularly hard. He did not see her as regularly as I did, so on those occasions that he did, her decline appeared far more dramatic. I believe this devastated him, and he became somewhat more withdrawn.

When Phred was diagnosed with Leukemia, he was stoic, determined to overcome the challenges he knew he would face. For a long time, with all the treatments he was getting, he held out hope that he could eventually have a stem cell transplant, which would offer him a new lease on life. However, he continually suffered infections that resisted antibiotic treatment, and it was clear they were inflicting greater and greater damage. The past nine months, he spent more time in the hospital than out of it.

Last week, he and I had been shooting a few messages back and forth regarding Mum’s estate, which is still a long way from resolution. The tone of his texts were “normal,” with an occasional lighthearted quip. We were about done for the evening when he asked if we could talk on the phone. Of course we could, I said.

When I heard his voice — weak, pained — I knew it was bad. “Mark, it’s about time for me to say goodbye.”

Those words hit me like none ever spoken to me. He told me in some detail how he badly he had declined physically; the doctors gave him only a few more days. He asked if I would care to come see him in the hospital the next day, so I headed over to Winston very first thing.

We had a meaningful visit. He was lucid, which wasn’t always the case, given the meds he was on. He couldn’t speak much, as it hurt him and brought on serious coughing. A while back, I had found some of his old diaries in Martinsville, so I took them along and read him some passages that I thought he might find uplifting. I believe he did. The last thing he said before I left was, “The universe is getting the better end of this deal. It’s taking me away.”

Two days later, Phred was moved to hospice care. Once again, I went to see him, and this time, it was clear how little time he had left. He mostly slipped in and out of consciousness, though — thankfully — he was aware of my presence. I sat next to him while he listened to ambient music, which he appeared to find relaxing. When we were kids, back when we visited Neenie & Papa, if either of us didn’t feel well, Neenie would lightly rub our heads, which we both found soothing. So I rubbed his head for a while and reminded him of how Neenie did that way back when. He seemed to find genuine solace in this, and he told me that it really did feel good. After that, he faded away a bit; he just listened to his music and hummed.

Before I left, he reached out and, for the very last time, I held my brother’s hand.

Phred desired to be cremated (as do I, when the time comes), so his wishes are being honored. He asked that his ashes be scattered in several places that were special to him, including some of those I have written about here. Those wishes too will be lovingly honored.

I will never say that my relationship with Phred was without serious complications. We sometimes had them. Outside his more social relationships, he was an intensely private person, and he habitually kept those he loved — and who loved him — at arm’s length. Sometimes, we did not understand each other, and the results weren’t necessarily pretty. Yet, he and I shared a deep, unbreakable bond that I always valued and now treasure. The universe did get the better end of this deal, for it is taking back a gentle, warm, generous, formidably intelligent, sometimes frightened, oftentimes insecure, youthful soul whose life clearly touched many, many people. I can’t count how many of his friends have followed up to check on me. Each and every one has my gratitude.

I will miss my brother till the day I die. Wherever he is right now, I imagine he is running from Patty, who is surely ecstatic to be able to again engage in her favorite activity: chomping on Oolie-Poolie’s leg.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

A Stellar Start (NOT)

2021 has not exactly kicked off on a stellar note. DC riots and Capitol-storming aside, things on the family front have not quite gone as hoped. My brother, Phred (a.k.a. Alan) is in dire straits, health-wise, and this has cast a pall over even the more pleasant aspects of life. Dealing with Mom’s estate has presented me with more than its share of challenges, but right now — thankfully — I am able to step back a little to deal with other priorities.

The other day — Thursday, I believe it was — I took a little respite by heading up to the Laurel Bluff Trail, up at Lake Townsend. Friend Natalie had placed a slew of Munzees out there, and while I’m only so enamored of the Munzee concept, it gave me a fine excuse for an early evening hike. The sunset was gorgeous, and I ran into scarcely a soul out there, which made for a relaxing, contemplative outdoor experience.

On Friday, Kimberly and I headed to the old homestead in Martinsville, primarily to take down the Christmas decorations, which is always rather sad; perhaps more so this year, with Mom gone and Phred not doing well. We did have a fine dinner from Third Bay Cafe, watched The Mist, and played a bunch of fun tunes on YouTube till the wee hours. Once back home on Saturday, we set to work on the house upgrade; got a good spot of painting done in the kitchen.

Today, I hiked on the Blue Heron Trail to do some cache maintenance, which wasn’t as much fun as hiking to find caches, but it provided me with some much-needed exercise, and the weather was just right.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my Ameri-Scares novel, New Hampshire: Ghosts From the Skies, which I anticipate turning in this week. Then I have a short story lined up for an upcoming Lovecraftian anthology, which I hope will fly. Those are the high points, I reckon, but the low ones will be lurking around every corner. There’s just no way around them at this point.

But we maintain. Peace out.

A lovely evening on the Laurel Bluff trail, with the sun's last rays highlighting the trees across Lake Townsend

Fresh paint and primer brightens up the kitchen a bit....

Monday, January 4, 2021

How Very TruXXX

Letter from my (BIG FUCKING BANK):

"As a long-time client of (BIG FUCKING BANK), you are our number one priority. Our mission is to provide you, our client, with the finest possible customer service and convenience. As you are aware, we have recently merged with (OTHER BIG FUCKING BANK). In order to continue to provide you with the most convenient access to our services, we are closing the (BRANCH NEAREST YOU) as of January Whatever 2021. Rest assured that we are blah blah blah blah blah blah."

Friday, January 1, 2021

Zooming in the New Year

 
It wasn’t quite the way Brugger and I have typically ushered in a new year — or hoped to usher in this one — but one could hardly characterize 2020 as in any respect “typical.” For some time, we had dared hope the pandemic might have abated sufficiently to hang out with friends for New Year’s; mais alas, it most assuredly has not. So, in our typical undaunted fashion, Ms. B. and I made our own little New Year’s celebration, as we have a few times in the past, and actually had a damn fine time of it. I was pleased beyond pleased that a new geocache had published early in the day, over in Glen Raven, near Burlington. I went after it just before darkness fell and, as I was leaving, ran into friend Night-Hawk (a.k.a. Tom). Thus I got to wish one of my favorite fellow geocachers a miserable, socially distant new year. I’m sure he will take it to heart.

Not unlike our private little Christmas holiday, our New Year’s Eve proved intimate and mellow. Brugger had selected a couple of mighty fine wines for the evening, and I made Chicken Vindaloo for dinner, which turned out respectable. We watched Logan’s Run, which I hadn’t seen in many years and which she had never seen, and Liar, Liar, which she wanted to watch again after quite a few years. At midnight, friends Terry and Beth appeared on our computer screen for an impromptu bit of long-distance whooping and hollering via Zoom. Unlike most years, fireworks (and gunfire) from around the neighborhood was sparse. 2020 may have taken the bang out of more than a few folks.

I can’t say 2020 didn’t bring some good things, such as the publication of my third Ameri-Scares novel — Ohio: Fear the Grassman! — and Borderlands 7, which includes my story, “Escalation”; having my work published in Borderlands has been among my primary literary aspirations for many years. Working at home has been a godsend. But in the grand scheme of things, 2020 was a miserable spell, most notably because I lost my mom to COVID-19 back in July. Pandemic aside, having to deal with estate affairs has dominated a massive portion of my life, and I will be so ready to move beyond it, hopefully later this year.

No, there won’t be any immediate, miraculous changes on the horizon, but I do hope, over the long haul, 2021 brings about some much-needed healing — physically, mentally, and emotionally — for so many in this nation. We cannot continue on our dark, gloomy, divided path without totally coming apart. Maybe sooner than later. I don’t think many of us want that.

Happy happy happy. K?

Thursday, December 31, 2020

JUST FOR NEW YEAR’S...


STARTING TODAY—12/31/2020and running for the next SEVEN DAYS, you can pick up my novella, The Gods of Moab, for your Kindle at the special discounted price of 99¢ (regular price $2.99).

A pleasant New Year's Eve outing becomes an experience in otherworldly horror when two close-knit couples discover a shocking secret in the darkest corners of the Appalachian mountains. At an opulent mountain inn, Warren Burr, his fiancee, Anne, and their friends, Roger and Kristin Leverman, encounter a religious zealot named John Hanger, who makes it his business to bear witness to them of his peculiar... and disturbing... faith. His efforts rebuffed, Hanger insidiously assumes control of the couples' technological devices, leading them to stumble into unexpected, surreal landscapes... landscapes inhabited by nightmarish beings that defy explanation. To survive, Warren and his friends must not only escape the deadly entities that pursue them but somehow stop John Hanger's nightmare-plague from spreading to the outside world.

“The Gods of Moab is a chilling novella of Lovecraftian horror by Stephen Mark Rainey, acclaimed author of Balak, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, The Nightmare Frontier, Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie), and former editor of the award-winning Deathrealm Magazine.”

Put a little fear in your new year. Get The Gods of Moab by Stephen Mark Rainey for your Kindle here.

Love it or hate it, Amazon.com reviews are always appreciated. Thanks!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Can’t Hold Me Back

Thingummies overlooking my parking spot across US 70 at Haw River. Nah, I’ve no idea.

Why, yes I did need a rigorous geocaching adventure for today. There was a relatively new cache — “Can’t Hold Me Back” (GC93Y4W) — along the Haw River in Alamance County, just north of Burlington that looked promising, so I decided to make my way over yonder. The cache listing shows a set of parking coordinates, but they are quite remote, and I knew that legitimate roadside parking exists nearer the trailhead. However, that area turned out to be so muddy I feared I might end up needing AAA if I dared plant the Rodan Mobile there. When caching in this area a few years back, I had parked along US 70, near the southern end of the Haw River Trail, so I drove down to that location to see whether it appeared usable. It did, so I went for it. Across the road, there were thingummies watching me. No idea what they are about. Anyway, parking there shaves a wee bit of mileage off the hike, but what I saved in distance, I more than made up for in terrain difficulty....

Do you remember drought? At times like this, I recollect it fondly. The Haw is running high, fast, and hard, and there is flooding all around the trail. Before I even reached Boyd’s Creek, a fair-size stream that intersects the trail — today quite swollen — I had achieved the rank of Major Muddy Mess. The creek looked to be about waist-deep, so I went upstream a quarter mile or so and found a big log to use as a makeshift bridge. I stayed dry, but given the added distance, I resolved that, on the way back, I would attempt the water crossing. 

My makeshift bridge across Boyd’s Creek

At ground zero, I found the cache in good order. My pen didn’t much want to write, but I managed to get my signature on the log. About the time I started back toward the Rodan Mobile, I saw several deer grazing nearby. Then began the gunshots at frighteningly close range. I hadn’t thought to wear blaze orange (something to consider in this area during hunting season), so I made my egress from the area wildly waving my hiking stick and whistling Ennio Morricone’s “Ecstasy of the Gold” from The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly soundtrack at very high volume.

Back at Boyd’s Creek, I bit the bullet and made the water crossing. Someone had been kind enough to tie a rope across the creek, which is the only reason I didn’t end up totally submerged, for those unseen rocks down there are slickery. Happily, the water was only knee-deep, rather than waist-deep.

Boyd’s Creek water crossing, outbound; nice that someone has tied a rope across the water
Boyd’s Creek water crossing, inbound: chilly!

I was relieved to finally reach the Rodan Mobile, although it was not at all happy to see me, since I was covered in more mud than Lon Chaney as the mummy after sinking in quicksand at the end of The Mummy’s Ghost.

So, this outing proved rather more invigorating than I had expected. Although I did let loose a colorful metaphor or two along my trek, I can’t say I didn’t have fun. So, to the cache owner, all my appreciation for the new geocache and the opportunity for another adventure!

The Haw River: very high, very fast
An awful lot of this...
...and very few of these.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Little River Regional Park

It was just friend Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott) and a grumpy old fart (a.k.a. me) on the geocaching trail today. We headed out this morning in fairly frigid temperatures, bound for Little River Regional Park & Natural Area, a few miles north of Hillsborough. The park lies half in Orange County, half in Durham County; the dividing line is clearly marked on the trails through the woods. Thanks to friend Maingray (a.k.a. Rob), eleven relatively new caches at the park, which neither of us had visited before, awaited our attention. The temperature warmed up to about 50 over the course of the day, so it turned out better than tolerable.

The trails here are quite nice, both for hiking and biking, with beginner, intermediate, and advanced trail difficulty levels for the cyclists. Scott and I put in somewhere between three and four miles on foot. We encountered a handful of folks on the trails, but for the most part, we found ourselves mostly isolated in the woods, which I particularly appreciated. We did find all the caches we hunted, so happy day.

If we’re lucky (or not), perhaps one or more of the short women will accompany us on next weekend’s outing. It’s nice to feel tall now and again.
Scott demonstrates his "I'm not really sleeping" approach to finding geocaches.
Our track (in purple) through the park. The smiley icons denote the caches we found.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Pleasant Hill Christmas


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Last Christmas was the first I had ever spent without my mom being present. In the fall of 2019, she moved to a nursing home, so Kim and I made for ourselves a mellow Christmas at the old homestead in Martinsville — “Pleasant Hill,” as Mom loved to call it (see “Damned Rodan’s Christmas Special, December 25, 2019”). Now that Mom is no longer with us, Kim and I are once again celebrating Christmas at Pleasant Hill, just the two of us. In some ways, I feel Mom’s presence now more than when she was still alive but debilitated. Over a period of years, as dementia took an increasing toll on her memory, her identity, gathering as a family became more and more emotionally difficult, especially at holidays. Now that she is at rest, I find that I feel closer to her (as well as to my dad) because time and distance have somewhat dulled the pain of experiencing her physical and mental deterioration at close range for such a long time.

This afternoon, Kim and I got off work at lunchtime, so we opted to see if we might be able to continue one of our longstanding Christmas Eve traditions: visiting Grove Winery on our way to Martinsville. Happily, the winery was open, and — even more happily, at least for us — the few patrons on the premises were soon to leave, giving us plenty of space to ourselves out on the extensive patio. We enjoyed a tasting and a glass each of their wonderful Nebbiolo. We then hit the road for the old homestead.

We had hoped to spend a nice evening outdoors in the company of our friends Stephen & Samaire, but inclement weather forced us to postpone the gathering. None of us are comfortable spending any length of time together indoors, so we’ll be hoping for better circumstances in the near future. Failing Plan A, our Plan B was to cook up a pot of chili (which we did); make some mulled wine (which we also did); bake a pumpkin pie (done); wrap presents and place them under the tree (done); and watch our traditional Christmas Eve movies, A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (done and done). As it turned out, we had so much to do, trying to also fit in a social gathering would have kept us up even later than it is (currently 2:00 AM). Now that I’ve managed to crank out this portion of a blog entry, I think I will retire for the night. What’s left of it. Until later....

Ms. B. and Old Scrooge enjoying a windy afternoon at Grove Winery

Friday, December 25, 2020
For the past decade and some change, there has generally been geocaching on Christmas Day. Over the years, though, I have cached out such a radius that no caches remain for me to hunt in reasonably close range. But this weekend — and the upcoming week, since I am off work — may offer some decent geocaching opportunities. Here’s hoping.

Since it was a very late (or very early) Christmas Eve for Ms. B. and me, we slept far in excess of our normal hours this morning. Well, I did, anyway; sleeping late tends to be Ms. B.’s typical M.O. We opened our gifts — a wonderful haul! — and enjoyed some mighty fine apple fritters for breakfast. Coffee. Coffee! COFFEE! COFFEE!! I need more....

Then, right as we sat down to an excellent dinner... boom! Migraine. I’ve had far fewer of these damned things this past year than any out of the past eight or so, but the timing for this one sure sucked. Fortunately, the headache turned out to be relatively mild.

Upon arrival back home in Greensboro, I discovered what might be a troubling issue regarding Mom’s estate. But maybe not. I hope to have it sorted out shortly.

And so, I figure it’ll be a quiet evening but a busy week coming up, with quite a few activities on the docket, some fun, some less so.

I hope you’re having a fine time of it, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. G’day and g’night.

Dad is home. Woopee.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

If Jupiter and Saturn Meet...


I couldn’t get the greatest photo of Jupiter and Saturn all but touching each other this evening, but even with the barrier of trees partially obscuring the western sky, I managed to catch a pretty good view of the planets with the naked eye. It was a beautiful, if chilly, early evening, and somehow, seeing this relatively rare event — as well as having a fine view of Mars in close proximity to the Moon (at least from our perspective) — made me inordinately happy. Of all the sciences, astronomy most intrigued me as a youngster, and I still find myself getting a bit excited over intriguing celestial events.

And of course it’s not even a little bit cool, that — according to Twin Peaks lore — when Jupiter and Saturn meet, the door to the Black Lodge swings open. I suppose this is why my arm went completely dead and I could smell the odor of scorched engine oil around the house tonight.

“Once upon a time, there was a place of great goodness called the White Lodge. Fawns gamboled there amidst happy laughing spirits. The sounds of innocence and laughter filled the air. When it rained, it rained sweet nectar that paralyzed the heart with the desire to live one's life in truth and beauty. Generally speaking, a ghastly place. But, I am pleased to note, our story does not end in this place of saccharine excess. For there is another place, its opposite, of almost unimaginable power, chock full of dark forces and vicious secrets. Spirits there care not for good deeds and priestly invocations. They are as like to rip the flesh from your bones as greet you with a happy g’day. And, if harnessed, these spirits, this hidden land of unmuffled screams and broken hearts, will offer up a power so vast that its bearer might reorder the earth itself to his liking. This place I speak of is known as the Black Lodge. And I intend to find it.” — Former FBI Special Agent Windom Earle

I hope you get a chance to view this rare event amid the heavens, and may it make you as happy as it makes me.

“He is BOB, eager for fun. He wears a smile, everybody run.”

Decipher the Owl Cave painting, discover the way to the Black Lodge.
Tonight might be a fine night to try.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Geocaching Is Foundational

So intimated the hints on a couple of different geocaches I hunted this weekend. One in Winston-Salem, the other at Cedarock Park, in Alamance County, just south of Burlington. Yesterday, I went on a solo run around Winston, going more for caches that involved hoofing it than stopping and grabbing. I’ve become rather taken with Adventure Lab caches, which, unlike traditional caches, don’t offer hidden containers to hunt. Instead, they take you to various points of interest, where you must answer questions about specific landmarks while at the location. Usually, Adventure Labs have five separate stages, and you get credit for one cache for each stage of the Lab you complete. It’s a fun way to go after “virtual” caches while discovering cool locations. Yesterday’s Lab in downtown Winston took me to a number of historical points, some featuring statues, that I would have never otherwise discovered — which, for me, rates among the most desirable aspects of geocaching in general.

Statue of a young R. J. Reynolds, tobacco baron,
in downtown Winston-Salem

Another of the many joys of geocaching is finding great places for food and drink. Some time back, I discovered King’s Crab Shack & Oyster Bar, which I have enjoyed immensely any number of times now. Happily, they’re still open during the pandemic. They have outdoor seating, but as it was rather chilly yesterday, I opted for indoors — which suited me fine because, until I was ready to leave, I was the only patron in the place. A few came in just as I was leaving, but there was plenty of room to spread out, and everyone was wearing masks except when actually dining. I ordered my customary steamed oysters on the half shell, which were, as always, fantastic.

My favorite cache yesterday, apart from the Lab, was one out in an expansive area of woods; a rare commodity in the Triad, I can tell you. I had to hike a most of a mile out a semi-flooded sewer line cut through the woods, and then find an old concrete foundation where the cache was supposed to be hidden. The cache was rated only medium difficulty, but I was unable to locate it — until, just before I was ready to give up, I spied the container some distance away in the woods. Clearly, it had washed out of its hiding place. So, that turned out to be a successful venture, and I most enjoyed having all those woods to myself. Well, except maybe for Bigfoot. I’m pretty sure Bigfoot was lurking back there.

I also hunted and found a couple of caches on the grounds of Reynolda House, which is one of Winston-Salem’s most picturesque attractions. I’ve never actually been into the house, which is now a museum, but I’ve roamed the extensive grounds and wooded trails many times on my geocaching adventures. Yesterday’s visit didn’t involve a particularly long hike, but I did get to check out some beautiful areas around the gardens I hadn’t seen before. So my Winston-Salem outing made for a productive and highly enjoyable geocaching experience, even if I didn’t add a considerable number to my overall cache find count (which currently stands at 12,441).

Strollway Bridge, over US 421, in downtown Winston-Salem
A nice little wooded passage in downtown Winston
Garden House on the Reynolda House grounds
The gardens at Reynolda House
A cottage on the Reynolda House Grounds, where — if you are observant — you might find a geocache.

This morning, nasty weather dissuaded me from joining up with the Socially Distant No-Dead-Weight Irregulars for a typical Sunday outing, which usually involves a full day of it on the geocaching trail. Instead, since the rain let up early in the afternoon, three of us — friend Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott) and friend Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) — met at a brand new cache, published only this morning, at Cedarock Park. We all found it surprising that no one had logged it earlier in the day, since adverse weather rarely stymies many of the local cachers. As it turned out, we did snag the coveted (read utterly meaningless) first-to-find honors, thanks entirely to Natalie, who turned up the container in a spot I had already checked. Sometimes it is to wonder how I manage to find anything that isn’t right in front of my nose (sometimes it actually is).

After the geocaching, I turned my attention to the second season of The Mandalorian, now playing on Disney+. I had very much enjoyed the first season, and all the recent glowing commentary on social media prompted me to go ahead and splurge on Disney+ again. And boy howdy, am I glad I did. I binge-watched all eight episodes over two days, and I can safely say, this series is everything Star Wars should be. It’s got its whimsical moments, to be sure, but on the whole, it’s gritty, grim, and, most appealingly, made more for grown-ups than little people.

And I am getting down to the final stretch of my latest Ameri-Scares novel, New Hampshire: Ghosts From the Skies. I am hoping to have this one put to bed by New Year’s, if not sooner.

That is all.

A little fixer-upper at Cedarock Park

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sunday the Thirteenth

Geocaching has long been my exercise of choice. It gives me the opportunity to hike, bike, run, walk, paddle, and hunt cool shit in some of the most intriguing locations I have ever discovered. Sometimes there are car caches, sure, but my favorite hides are the ones that take me places, mostly in the woods, where I can combine the joy of the hunt with a rigorous workout. Lately, I haven’t had enough of these, but this weekend made up for some of that deficiency.

Yesterday, on my return to Greensboro from Martinsville, I detoured over to the Knight Brown Preserve, near Belews Lake, to hunt a relatively new cache, located at the farthest northern reaches of the trail system. The terrain here is moderately rugged, with significant ups and downs as well as rocky, root-laced, natural surface trails. The preserve lies a fair distance out in the sticks, but during the pandemic, people have been flocking to trails, however remote, to get that much-needed exercise. Not unexpectedly, I encountered quite a few vehicles parked at the trailhead, and a good many folks on the trails themselves. Happily, the cache took me far enough out to avoid most of the population.

Back home, Ms. B. and I set to work on the kitchen, scraping off the popcorn ceiling, removing light fixtures, and patching and sanding walls. Things are coming together, but there is still a ton of work to be done for the full renovation. That was far from as much fun as geocaching, but there was, in fact, yet more workout involved, so I ended the day pretty well exhausted.

Told Scott to look unpleasant, so he did.

This morning, I met friend Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott) — the only other member of the Socially Distant No-Dead-Weight Irregulars available today — at the Cane Creek Mountains Natural Area, a short distance south of Burlington. We had hunted a crop of new caches there a few weeks ago, but a handful of new ones had popped up a short time back, as well as at nearby Saxapahaw. We made those our targets for today. As with the Knight Brown Preserve, we encountered a good number of hikers on the trail, but we ended up far enough off the trails to hunt the geocaches in solitude. Happily, our hunts were successful. The trails here take you up and down many steep, rock-strewn hillsides, and after finding the last of our targets, we opted to forego the trail and bushwhack down one the steepest of the steep inclines. It cut off some distance, to be sure, but increased our cardio exercise three-fold, I would wager.

After Cane Creek, we set a course for Saxapahaw and a couple of new caches along the Haw River. The hikes here were short and easy, but the locations were scenic. The first one in particular, which led us to a Boy Scout camp along the river, bore an agreeable Camp Crystal Lake-ish atmosphere. We never did see Jason Voorhees (or his mum), but I think I made Scott nervous during our outing there, so my work was done.

A nice view of Saxapahaw Dam from the trail
After finding both the caches along the trail, we made our way to the Saxapahaw General Store, which — fortunately — wasn’t very crowded and offered decently spaced outdoor seating. So, we opted to grab lunch here, which, as is generally the case, turned out to be mighty satisfying. By the time we left, the crowd was getting larger, so our timing proved propitious.
 
The weather was all too summery for December, but at least the day turned out right pretty after some rain last night. Here’s hoping next weekend will offer another good cardio/caching opportunity.

Adieu.
The Haw River seen from the trail in Saxapahaw
Boy Scout camp near one of the caches. A bit of Camp Crystal Lake atmosphere going on here....
Scott nervously signs the log, fearing some frightful fiend doth close behind him tread.
Yeah, there was something fearsome watching us from the vicinity of the river. I think it was a duck.