Sunday, August 26, 2012

Natural High

Beth and Cortney... Yeah,
they're stayin' alive.

Little boosts my spirits more than spending an activity-packed, slightly long weekend with some of the finest maniacal mutants the unnatural world has ever produced. So, on Thursday evening, Ms. Kimberly and I packed up and hit the road, bound for Skeeryvilletown, VA (a.k.a. Waynesboro) — the lair of the dreaded Cortney Skinner-Elizabeth Massie pair. From Greensboro, we had a pleasant drive up U.S. 29, and then, just shy of Waynesboro, we turned off onto Route 6 to make our way up the dark, treacherous bulk of Afton Mountain. (It's nearly as scary as traveling on the Jerry Falwell Memorial Highway.) Safely at our destination, we spent the remainder of the evening sipping Barbera wine from NC's Brandon Hills Vineyards, catching up on all things that required catching up on.

'Tis far better to have a Friday off work than to go to work. It was up relatively early and off to Starbucks for breakfast — an insidious, potentially contagious Massie-Skinner tradition. Then off for some geocaching — we targeted about a dozen. The highlight of the day just might have been a visit to Veritas Vineyards on Afton Mountain, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the sprawling, scenic grounds, in the company of the vineyard's very friendly and well-behaved dog. Brugger and I sampled some of the vineyard's dry reds; Mr. Skinner fulfilled his daily requirement of stainless steel with an unoaked Chardonnay; and Ms. Massie overdid it with a carbonated, dark amber vintage from an altogether different establishment, a.k.a. Pepsi.

In the early evening, the four of us met maven, Nanci Kalanta; her sinister spouse, Phil; and horror author Matthew Warner at El Puerto Mexican Restaurant for a lively and very satisfying dinner. (El Puerto's tacos diablo, advertised as very hot, proved delicious but did require a few extra shots of habanero sauce to suit my palette.) As might be expected in this company, much horror and hilarity ensued.

Then... oh, my lord... back to the ranch to watch the short film Abed, made by Jenny Lasko, Philip Nutman, and Ryan Lieske, based on Beth's short story, which originally appeared in the anthology Still Dead (edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector, Bantam, 1992). Truly, the most graphic, sanity-stretching zombie film my innocent little eyes have ever beheld. Not sure I'll ever be quite the same, and there's certainly no knowing the long-term ramifications for my sex life. The antidote for this brain-searing horror was 1973's snake-fest, Ssssssss, starring Dirk Benedict, Heather Menzies, Strother Martin, Richard B. Shull, and Tim O'Connor. I had seen this at the theater when it came out all those happy years ago, and back then, it kind of messed up my poor little mind. This time, the only casualty might have been Brugger's good sense.

Alas, as all fun things must end, yesterday morning, after yet another Starbucks' breakfast and a handful of local caches, Kimberly and I ventured southward to Natural Bridge, VA, to view one of the most spectacular natural formations in the world. I had been there a number of times in the past, the first being the summer of 1974; this was Brugger's first visit. It's still as breathtaking as it was the first time I saw it. It rises 215 feet above Cedar Creek, made of solid gray limestone, 40 feet thick and 100 feet wide, spanning a gorge of 90 feet. The bridge itself is estimated to weight about 72 million pounds, and is in the neighborhood of 500 million years old. In 1750, George Washington carved his initials in the rock wall beneath the bridge, and they can still be clearly seen today. Thomas Jefferson purchased the bridge and 157 surrounding acres from King George III in the year 1774, for twenty shillings of "good and lawful money" (a little over $2 in today's currency). There are certainly more tourist attractions around the bridge than when I was a kid — such as a wax museum and a Styrofoam replica of Stonehenge called "Foamhenge" — but the natural grandeur of the place is still beyond impressive. Photographs cannot do the bridge justice.

Our lunch was at the nearby Pink Cadillac Diner, which does indeed feature a pink Cadillac out front (along with a geocache), a giant statue of King Kong, a bronze Elvis, and lots of other gaudy goodies. Damn good meatloaf.

And today, it was out to the trail to place a new geocache. It might be a tough one. It's called Darth Fox....

Click images to enlarge.
Ahh, nuts.
Creeple people at Veritas Vineyards, Afton Mountain, VA
At El Puerto Mexican Restaurant: this very scary man would not leave us alone
Brugger playing the bizarro Fay Wray.
Apt sign at the Pink Cadillac Diner.
Creepy creepers at the McCormick Farm, near "Don't Fear the Reaper" (GC28RCC)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Here's the story. There's this dude I keep seeing driving by in his car. Every time he drives past, by sheer coincidence, I happen to be with Kimberly. Not only that, whenever he drives by, Kimberly is engaged in the process of swatting me a good one. Now, I'm told this happens because I've said something that deserves a good swatting. Here and now, however, let it here be known: when I say something, it's because it's something that ought to have been said. But you know how things go; sometimes things that ought to have been said get misconstrued as things that maybe, really, ought not have been.

So a little while ago, I saw the dude drive by, but Kimberly wasn't here to swat me. Ergo, I must have said something. I'll find out later what it was.

Carry on.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kingdom of the Spiders

After work, Kimberly and I paid a visit to the very nice Bistro B Wine Bar in Kernersville, then headed over to Prissy Polly's Barbecue for a geocaching event honoring Christopher "Ranger Fox" Hall for achieving a momentous milestone — having found 30,000 geocaches. Whoa, and all. From there, she and I headed up to Lake Brandt to go on an enjoyable nighttime hike on the Laurel Bluff Trail, where my night cache, "The Missing: Dweller in Darkness" (GC3G3N7), resides. I wanted make sure the reflector trail was in good condition — it was — but mainly it was just a good night to go out on a hike and commune with spiders. For oh, my lord, they are out there in force. Big ones, little ones, teeny ones, giant ones. The forest was absolutely brilliant with their glowing eyes in the beams of our lights. Some were bright enough to mistake for reflective fire tacks — and perhaps ironically, those that glowed brightest belonged to the smallest spiders. We did come upon the second-biggest spider in the world's third largest cousin, pictured above, which made Kimberly holler. Some of you probably heard it. (The biggest spider in the world lives over in Burlington; my friend Paul found it on a caching outing one night a few years ago, and he's been in recovery ever since.) The spiders didn't bother me, but I did fuss a bit when I found a slug crawling on me. Gooshy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Illegimate Rape?

If you're a regular visitor around these parts, you know that I very, very rarely wade into politics and emotion-charged social issues. Not because I don't have strong positions on such matters but because commentary is bleepin' everywhere; you can't get away from it — though way too much of it is simply gross regurgitation of meaningless sound bites. More than anything, there are limited hours in the day, and mine are usually pretty damn full. Posting on political topics most often leads to yet more emotionally charged "discussion," which, should I  go whole-hog into it, eats up ridiculous amounts of time and usually just pisses me off.

In the case of the very recent, very stupid remarks by Congressman Todd Akin (R, MO), however, I'm going to make an exception and express some personal feelings. Feel free to respond if you wish, but if you're just going to blurt out crap like, "Well, you liberals think blah blah blah," you might as well not bother. First and foremost, I'm hardly a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. Nor am I anywhere near a staunch conservative. I hate labels. Opposing sides on many complex issues oftentimes bring well-considered points to the table, and rarely are they as cut-and-dry as partisan sound bites portray them. My own problem is that I try to educate myself on the various sides of just about every issue, and the information overload drives me freaking mad. But that's a whole 'nuther issue anyway.

As for Congressman Akin, I'm sure you know what he said about pregnancies resulting from rape, but here's the primary offending remark: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."

Legitimate rape. Now there's a fine term. That, to me, appears to stem from a condescending — if not contemptuous — attitude toward women. As if there's such a thing as "illegitimate" rape. While Akin claims he "misspoke," I don't buy it. I think his off-the-cuff remarks expressed exactly what he thought. My real problem here is less about Akin as an individual than the socially conservative mindset of which he is representative.

First and foremost, I, as a male, can only imagine the trauma of a rape, particularly one that results in an unwanted pregnancy. Same goes for Akin and every other male lawmaker, on whichever side of the political aisle. But I'm going beyond this single example to express some thoughts on abortion overall. My main thought on the topic is this: if you're a conservative and favor smaller government, then you and your lawmakers should butt the hell out of the issue. Leave the decision to made by individual women and their doctors.

Or do you believe that they are simply too stupid to know better than you what they should do? Some conservative, you.

In situations where a woman has been raped, or has a fetus that is not viable outside the womb, or faces a life-threatening situation, a state that denies her the right to make her own choice is absolutely monstrous. Yes, I am aware that there are at least some conservatives who would make exceptions in those extreme cases, and I applaud them. But particularly as of these past couple of years, the voices of those who would make no exceptions have clearly increased, if not in number, then in the shrillness of their trumpeting.

Now, from a simply rationalistic perspective, I don't buy personhood beginning at conception. What you have there is a mass of cells that, without interference, will eventually develop into a human being. Life, yes, but not a full-fledged, aware, and — dare I say it — soul-possessing human being. That said, psychologically, for a woman — and an involved male partner — the decision to have an abortion is murderous enough (pardon the crass expression). Indeed, if my significant other were in the position of having to make such a decision, I don't know whether I could handle the trauma of terminating the life inside her.

But it's not my body. It's not for me to say how she can or cannot deal with it. A woman should have the freedom to deal with it as her conscience guides her. You tell me, is that not the true conservative ideal?

Okay, yeah, well, I know, we've got to protect those precious babies, right? And the Bible says to be fruitful and multiply, yes? While I am anything but a social Darwinist, I am a pragmatist. Back in those fabulous days of yore, the earth was an almost infinite place; as an added bonus, disease and pestilence made for effective population control. You needed to multiply in order to assure a future for your family, your community, your civilization.

Nowadays? Eh... not so much. We're a species struggling to find room to thrive. We fight for our limited resources. We're living longer. So we're eating the earth. Quite frankly, when it comes down to it, I favor the rights of those who are already here. Little, to me, is more wicked than forcing a new life into this world, particularly when, in the interest of your own selfish well-being, you don't want to put your money where your mouth is and take care of the young one that might otherwise have been aborted — and you sure as hell don't want to be made to share by the government.

If you are absolutely anti-abortion, and you have adopted or sponsored a child that would have been aborted, then you are saintly, and your existence is worthy. You are a true philanthropist. However, if you would force a woman to have an unwanted child, to likely perpetuate that which you find so offensive — a human being that the odds do not favor becoming a productive, positive member of society — and you are not actively supporting the life that would have been terminated otherwise, you are simply talking out your ass and really not worth the time of day.

All that said, none of this should be construed as meaning I favor abortion. I absolutely do not. I do not condone abortion simply because a baby is inconvenient. Even in a worst-case scenario, if a woman makes the choice to keep a baby conceived by rape or incest — or even has the baby and offers it for adoption — then that is clearly wisdom. More power to her; it's the most likely means of preventing deep regret later. I do not feel she should be forced into that situation.

And that, as they say, is that, from the old prehistoric radioactively mutated flying rubber reptile, who is now going to go back to writing a novel.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Do You Seawell?

Today was the perfect day for lots of outdoor activities — you know, visiting wineries, having picnic lunches, hiking in the woods, geocaching, getting really small, and being menaced by man-eating trees. That was very much the day for Ms. B. and Damned Rodan. After a work week that just about did us poor old folk in, we set our sights on relaxing a bit in Chapel Hill — via Benjamin Vineyards and Winery near Saxapahaw, a ways south of Burlington. We had been to Benjamin once before and very much enjoyed the setting and the products, and when Groupon again offered a good deal on their fare, we opted to make use of it. They don't have an extensive catalog, but like so many of the local vineyards, the wines they do produce are of very good quality. They offered three white varieties, three dry reds, and four semi-dry to sweet types. I was quite taken with their Chambourcin and Norton, and though I'm generally not fond of white wines, I enjoyed their 2009 oaked Chardonnay. We had a picnic lunch in their picturesque little cedar grove, and then set out for Chapel Hill — with some caching along the way, of course.

Once in Chapel Hill, it was onto the very extensive trail system in the woods along Seawell School Rd. The most noticeable feature of these woods, at least this season, were the gigantic mushrooms, growing in profusion everywhere we went. Claimed several caches on the fairly lengthy hike, bringing my total to 4,936. Five-thousand is getting so close....

Click on the images to enlarge.
I didn't see it sneaking up on me. Really, I didn't. Don't know how I managed to get away from that one.
Brugger made a similarly lucky escape.
Some of the teeny-tiny fungus among us.
Brugger guards trail while ol' Rodan goes after cache.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hydro Fox

Bridge over the Polecat Creek, Randolph County, NC, seen from near "Hydro Fox" (GC3TP19)
Nice afternoon of caching with Bridget "Suntigres" Langley down in Randolph County. A few new ones came out today, mostly tribute caches to Christopher "Ranger Fox" Hall, who has joined the ranks of those scant few geocachers who have logged over 30,000 cache finds. Bridget and I met up in Liberty and booked over toward Randleman, where we discovered a very scenic and marginally creepy area around Polecat Creek (yep) — plus a couple of caches, of course. We ended up hiking what started as a little gravel drive and then became a windy little trail that led to the dam near Creekridge Country Road. There we discovered a ramshackle house on stilts that doesn't appear to be much longer for the earth, as well as a mysterious little place that, in appearance, wasn't unlike the cabin in Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead. We didn't hear any ghostly voices, though. Just some dogs barking at the ghosts.

I'm nowhere near 30,000 caches and probably never will be, not in this lifetime, but as of today, my total count is 4,925. Five-thousand, here I come.

Today would have been my 26th wedding anniversary. I'm very pleased that life has taken me in different directions than I would have ever expected all those years ago, but there are a lot of good memories from that long marriage. I hope it's mutual.

And it's to bed.

Click on the images to enlarge.
The dam on Polecat Creek
Hey Bridget, I'm not sure that's the world's safest place to stand!
Dude contemplating wormholes at "Worm Rock" (GC3B5K6). They would explain a lot, wouldn't they?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Have You Ever Wondered?

I've found myself revisiting a lot of my favorite music in the past few weeks, particularly progressive rock from the 1970s. Last night, I treated myself to Jeff Wayne's 1979 musical version of War of the Worlds, which I still believe is the best adaptation of Wells's novel (perhaps my all-time favorite novel, apart from Dumas's The Three Musketeers). The recording came out at the height of the disco era, and the disco influence shows a bit — and despite an overall positive reception at the time, I recall some serious backlash because of it. Back then, being a progressive-rock purist, I was as anti-disco as they came, but also being a Moody Blues fanatic, Justin Hayward's presence on the album sold me. Upon my first listening, I considered the album a masterpiece, and to this day, I still do.

And on the subject of The Moody Blues, Graeme Edge, their drummer/lyricist, had a short but fairly brilliant run in the late 70s with The Graeme Edge Band, which featured Adrian Gurvitz on guitar/vocals. Their albums, Kick Off Your Muddy Boots and Paradise Ballroom were both jam-packed gems of progressive rock. They never achieved much recognition, but the little body of work they had still stands out as awesome. "Have You Ever Wondered" is one of the many noteworthy cuts from Kick Off Your Muddy Boots. Give it a listen; if you're of that age and/or musical persuasion and haven't checked them out before, you're so in for a treat.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Wettest Drought Ever

8-10-12: At the office — The storm took out a bunch of woods, our servers, email, and the coffeemaker.
We had a pretty good thunderstorm last night — as we have pretty much every day since this infernal drought began. We've had so much rain my house is waterlogged, the gutters are clogged, and some of the siding on the chimney has peeled off. Came into work this morning, and it looked like the woods had exploded all over the parking lot. Clearly, the storm was worse here than at home, and to top it off, all our systems in the office were down — including the coffeemaker. Fortunately, our priorities are in order here, and the coffee is flowing again. Thank Yog, for it was about to get ugly. If there were any mercy in the universe, it would be raining pancakes and bacon.

I'm sure the folks out west could use some of what we're getting. We're technically still in a drought here, but I might need to consider buying a boat so I can at least get back and forth to work.

Dammit, need more coffee.
Why is it not raining pancakes (maybe even with butter and syrup) and bacon?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Caching on the Brain

Yeah, that's Damned Rodan on "The Brain" (GC2JGGM), down near nothing, somewhere between Asheboro and Lexington. A nice day on the caching trail with Bridget "Suntigres" Langley; mostly park-&-grab caches, which added another 26 to my total, now at 4,896. "The Brain" looks like a big old hunk of marble, though my expertise in things geological isn't exactly prodigious. Caching, though, has certainly helped dredge up a lot of forgotten knowledge from my school years, particularly when I'm out in the field with science guru Mark Case, who never lets slip an opportunity to share his love of geology. Aptly, Mark was the first finder of "The Brain" when the cache was published a ways back. The one disagreeable aspect of digging into the brain to snag the cache was the fact that, when brains haven't been discovered for a good while, sometimes vermin set in. As I moved the medulla oblongata to access the cache, all kinds of hopping, scuttling, slithering things exploded from the dark recesses, and I'm pretty sure I saw an icky little tumor back in there. No matter, though. We signed the log, and from there, went forth to take on a host of spiders, including black widows, at a few more caches around Randolph County.

Thanks for the caches.

Click images to enlarge.
Suntigres contemplates the answers to life, the universe, and everything.
A fun array of signs near "Bus Stop" (GC2FM4V)
And here's where it all ends: a graveyard in a cornfield.