Monday, November 30, 2015

Miller Masterworks

Seriously, check out that stuff up there. Somewhere back in Deathrealm's ten-year run, artist M. Wayne Miller came to my attention. Whether he sought me out or vice-versa, I have no recollection, but it turned out he lived down the street from me, and it wasn't long before he became the go-to man whenever I needed art of exceptional caliber, be it for Deathrealm or some project of my own. Over the years, Wayne provided numerous illustrations for stories I ran in the magazine, and soon enough, the covers for my own novels and short-fiction collections. It doesn't hurt that Wayne is a fan of both Thai food and Godzilla — we get together now and again to celebrate these things. Truly, it's a rare and honorable soul what relishes the spectacle of miniature cities falling beneath the feet of monstrous, radioactively mutated rubber reptiles as much as I do, and Wayne is all there. Keeps us young and healthy, it does.

Wayne is currently the featured artist at GrayDogTales, and you need to check it out: M. Wayne Miller: An Artist Speaks. Go now.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Black Friday Trout Slayer

For me, Black Friday is the day to stay the hell away from any population center, particularly anything resembling a shopping area, and there is geocaching traditionally involved. This year's Black Friday was no exception, and it was, in fact, one of the most enjoyable such days in years — probably since 2011, when Ms. B. and I ventured out to the countryside around Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, to escape the Shopping Dead. Yesterday, we determined that a spot of wine and decent food would be a welcome switch from the spot of wine and decent food we'd been made to suffer on Thanksgiving, the day before. Thus it was off to Villa Appalaccia Winery (for that spot of wine) and Chateau Morrisette (for the decent food) in the Blue Ridge Mountains, by way of Kibler Valley, where a wunnerful little geocache called "Trout Slayer" (GC102WQ) awaited my attention. Once again, geocaching took us to one of the most beautiful, secluded little corners of the earth that we would have never otherwise discovered.

Kibler Valley is located in Patrick County, Virginia, just north of the North Carolina state line, a few miles southeast of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Dan River passes through the valley, and, somewhat surprisingly, a hydroelectric dam here provides power for the city of Danville, some 70 miles distant. The drive along the river toward the dam is truly one of the most picturesque locations I've ever encountered in the southeast United States. After weeks of torrential rains in the area — which had washed out a section of US 58, the main highway through the area — the river was running high and fast, but the winding gravel road out to the dam was passable and in fair condition. There are numerous dwellings along the route — everything from sprawling farmhouses to tiny, rustic cabins — many on the far side of the river and accessible only by narrow, rickety bridges, few of which appear all that sound. One geocacher who hails from Vermont described the location as virtually identical to the Green Mountains in that state, and it does, in fact, so resemble the Vermont countryside described in H. P. Lovecraft's classic horror tale, "The Whisperer in Darkness," that I could have been fooled into thinking I was on my way to the Akeley farmhouse featured in that story. We encountered precious few other human beings out there — nor any of them there "outer ones," probably to our good fortune — and at the parking location near the cache, the river ran through prodigious rock-strewn cliffs that rose so high and steep they appeared poised to collapse on our heads. Unfortunately, the above photo does not begin to convey the almost dizzying scale of the steep mountainside above the river. Happily, the geocache itself wasn't far up the hillside on the near side of the river, and I managed to locate it quickly. "Trout Slayer" was hidden in 2006, and it was good to find the container and contents in almost pristine condition.

After making the find, we drove back out of Kibler Valley, up the Parkway, and to Villa Appalaccia, which we'd had the pleasure of visiting just a few weeks ago, on Halloween (see "Stonewalling for Halloween," November 2, 2015). The wine here can scarcely be beat, and the weather was more than conducive for sitting out in the remote terrace area, which Ms. B. and I have traditionally had all to ourselves — as we did yesterday. After a delicious glass of wine each, we then made our way over to Chateau Morrisette, just a mile or so down the road. Actually, our reason for return to the area so soon after our recent visit was due to a nice incentive Chateau Morrisette provided us. As I mentioned in my blog at the time, our previous experience there was a bit underwhelming. I had also mentioned this in a review of the restaurant for OpenTable, through which we had made our reservation. For our dissatisfaction, the folks at Chateau Morrisette very kindly offered us a free bottle of wine on our next visit, and since we had the opportunity, we decided to take them up on the offer right away. This time, we could hardly have had a more enjoyable experience, both at the winery and at the restaurant. For them, it was an excellent investment; for offering us a bottle of wine, in return, we purchased several bottles at the winery (Ms. B. and I both have had a disconcerting number of empty slots in our respective wine racks) and had a near-perfect dinner, none of which would have happened had they not gone the extra mile for us. It's simply good business when the folks running an establishment understand they could have done better and then take the steps necessary to make things right. You can bet Ms. B. and I will be returning to Chateau Morrisette at the first available opportunity, and rather than a negative review at various online sites, they have a glowing one. In this day of the amazing power of the interwebz, I think that actually means something.

And then we returned to Mum's, visited a bit, and availed ourselves to a bit of The Walking Dead. It was kind of like watching Black Friday from a comfortable distance. Nice, it was.

I trust your day was as awesome or better.
An intense rock formation near the Dan River in Kibler Valley
Kibler Park stone marker, placed August 26, 1950
Don't fall into the river, Ms. B.!
Old Rodan with the logbook at "Trout Slayer" (GC102WQ)
A return to the Land of Happy — Villa Appalaccia, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fat Thursday

Nice Thanksgiving Day. Ms. B. and I had procured most all the food for the feast and hit the road bright and early for Martinsville so we could begin the prep post-haste. Big ol' turkey, stuffing, gravy, smashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry salad, pumpkin pie, apple pie... enough vittles to feed a small army of the undead. Had a nice little gathering: Ms. B., Mum, Brother, and two Wickliffes —  Dick and Gretchen. Spent some quality time with all, drank a little wine, and then took a walk back on the old Sam Lions Trail, where I burned off two turkeys, a potato, and half a pie. Ahh, some much-needed exercise as well as tranquility.

Next up for the evening: a tad more wine and some episodes of The Walking Dead, which might make me start feeling peckish again.

I hope you had a happy one.
Back in the woods on the old Sam Lions Trail. No walking dead visible in the photo,
but they were out there, I tell you. One of them was stuffed with turkey.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Why I Don't Drink White Wine

If you've ever read an entry in this blog or followed me on Facebook, you're surely aware I have some affinity for wine. Red wine, mind you. White wine has not set well with me since my college days. And since my previous entry was pretty gross, I think I'll stick to that theme here.

Fall 1977: I was a freshman at college, and a very fresh freshman at that. It was only a few days into the school year, and I had just joined the college newspaper staff. The professor who sponsored the paper decided to open the year with a nice wine and cheese party at his apartment.

I'm sure you can guess where this one's going.

Prior to the party, the sports editor for the paper and I went to the student cinema to see the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was the first time I had seen it — in fact, it was one of the earliest movies of its ilk that I experienced, and I have to admit, on that first viewing, Texas Chainsaw Massacre disturbed me a bit. It was quite the send-off to a hoity-toity wine party, I can tell you.

As I mentioned, I was a freshman.

I didn't drink much at all in those days, and when I did, it was usually beer. No one had informed me that, at a rather classy little soirée, one should not get into a race with the sports editor to see who could chug the most wine the fastest. For a little while, at least, I was convinced Sauvignon Blanc was nectar of the gods. I was a feeling great, and there was a lovely young woman who appeared to be taking interest in me. College life was going to be awesome! For some time, I sat comfortably at the dining room table with the young lady pressed close to me, the wine flowing, the almost-adult world looking finer than I might have anticipated.

Next thing I knew, a fellow named Gary was shaking me, telling me it was time to leave. I looked up, and the young lady was gone. In fact, most everyone was gone. Really? Seriously? Dismayed, I started to stand up, and as I did, I felt something moving about in the inner regions that really ought not move about. Yeah... up it came. All that wine, flooding the professor's dining room table, and sending people scurrying in panic. My buddy took me by the arm and dragged me out to the balcony, where I leaned  over the railing and urped onto the downstairs neighbor's terrace for quite some time. When I finally managed to take a breather, I drew my car keys from my pocket, handed them to Gary, and said, "You drive."

I have vague recollections of arriving back at my dorm, though I don't remember Gary recruiting another helper, which he apparently did, because when I hit the bed, I realized it had taken two people to drag me from the car to my room. Gary put some aspirin on my nightstand and said, "Take those now. You're not going to want to wait till morning."

Sound advice, I discovered in later days, but on this night, I was too far gone to get those pills down. I was out like a light and didn't stir again until sometime late the next morning. Upon sitting up, I swore then and there I would never, ever, ever drink again, and I realized that, just then, my life depended on getting some fluid into my dehydrated young body. I guzzled a bunch of water, but every move, every breath, every sound was a vivid sample of hell on Earth. Despite this agony, which was unlike any I had ever experienced, I was starving. I made my way to the cafeteria, a quarter mile across campus, every footstep sending blazing steel daggers into my brain, only to find that breakfast had just ended. No food for me! The cafeteria lady took one look at me and said I could have some orange juice.

Have you ever drank orange juice after a prolonged, violent urp?

If I'd had any voice left, I would have screamed. As it was, all that came out was a hiss and a ragged moan, and I staggered back to my dorm, sans orange juice, swearing again that my drinking days were done forever.

Much to my surprise, the professor whose table I had surely destroyed never mentioned the incident to me or in any way indicated that he considered me a damned young fool. Now, I don't know whether this is true because it's only hearsay, but I was later told that, during the fateful urp episode, he had already gone and passed out in his bedroom. He didn't know the culprit was I, and no one snitched. I sort of have my doubts, but, then again, that night was far from the last time I saw the good professor in his cups.

Since then, my fondness for wine has been limited to dry reds. Now, I had plenty of bad drinking experiences in my college days (though I did uphold my temperance pledge for three whole days, when I might have overdone it a bit with Miller High Life), but this being the first and most extreme example, I guess it had the most notable impact on me. Live and learn, you know? I certainly came to understand that white wine was not my drink of choice. I'll drink a little every now and then, mostly at wine tastings, and though I no longer have flareups of physical revulsion, as I did for many years afterward, the stuff just doesn't do it for me. So if you see me drinking red wine with fish, or some other vittles for which white wine should be the preferred accompaniment, It's not simply because my habits are gauche.

I don't drink Miller High Life anymore either — not due to any lingering aftereffects but because it's an affront to decent beer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Bloody Youth

A totally random tale for you. And it's gross, so be warned.

One day in fifth grade — sometime in 1970, I expect — at Druid Hills School (pictured above), I happened to have tomato soup at lunchtime. I no longer care much for tomato soup, but in those days, I was fine with it. Anyway, it wasn't long after lunch that I went into the restroom to go pee, and the moment I stepped through the door, I knew something was rotten in the state of Denmark. All over the floor, there were numerous piles of poo, big old turds of obviously recent vintage, though surely more than a single human being could have produced at one time. Not only that, poo was smeared on the walls, on the mirrors, all over the backs of the toilets and urinals. Pretty damn gross. And it stank to high heaven. Still, I had to pee like a bear, so being a trooper, I figured I'd hold my breath and make the best of it.

For a little while, that worked. I got my business mostly done before I had to breathe again. But when I did — oh, my god — the stench up and did me in. Thar she blows! Major urpage, all tomato soup, redder than red, which just made it worse. I spewed all over the wall, all over the floor, all over those happy piles of poo.

My fifth grade math teacher, Mrs. Davis (who later died under mysterious circumstances) heard the gagging and retching and came rushing in to see what was wrong. When she caught sight of all that poo and me urping streams of bright red, she let out a pretty good holler, reached to grab me, and then drew back because I had not quite finished. Once I did, she was in a state all right, clearly worried my innards had exploded in bloody fury. It took some time to convince her it was only tomato soup and even longer to make her believe I was not the mad poo bomber.

To the best of my recollection, the mad poo bomber never was identified. I was pretty sure I knew who it was, but I could never have proven it. Bastard. Anyway, I reckon the statute of limitations for poo bombing has expired.

As I said, I don't care much for tomato soup or even tomato juice these days, though I confess I'm all about a good Bloody Mary now and again.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

GeoWoodstack III

Noisy Rodan
GeoWoodstack: the very name is sufficient to instill mind-numbing horror into the general population, but one to bring ecstasy to the hearts and minds of geocachers everywhere. This year was the third such conflagration, held last night in Oak Ridge, North Carolina, at the residence of the legendary Tom "Night-hawk" Kidd, an event featuring geocachers from all over the state (and beyond), food aplenty, fireworks, live music, and the biggest eruption of hellfire since Krakatoa.
A magnificent winged fire demon erupts from
unfathomable depths. Photo by Dan Flye

Initially, yesterday's weather appeared ominous, with rain coming down for most of the day, but by nightfall, the skies began to clear, and for the rest of the evening, there were no more tears. Ms. B. and I arrived shortly before the lighting of the twenty-some-foot stack of wood, which, no doubt due to the all the recent rains, was a bit more stubborn than its predecessors about catching fire. Several attempts to light her up by armed drone attack ended in failure, and so we resorted to the more traditional means of igniting the beast: a barrage of fire from several batteries of roman candles wielded by an army of fearsome, fire-starved geocachers. At last, success! The stack began to burn, sending  flames a hundred feet into the sky, lighting up the landscape so that it could almost certainly be seen from outer space. Shortly afterward, the fireworks began, and I'm not talking a bunch of little poppers. We had some explosions fit to make the neighbors think they had fallen into a war zone. At times, massive eruptions of sparks showered the landscape, so it is no doubt well the ground was saturated with water.

At the last of these events, two years ago — see "GeoWoodstack II," October 13, 2013 — Ms. B. and I performed a few musical numbers for a raging, bloodthirsty crowd from whom we narrowly escaped at the end of the event. This year, Kimberly decided to forego the personal danger and settled for making the requisite video of Old Rodan as, following a beautiful performance by Ms. Kristina Kidd (a.k.a. Little Night-hawk), he commandeered the stage and made a racket that forced the evacuation of several nearby properties and may have caused the demise of at least one fried chicken. If you're brave, check out the video of "Ride, Ride, Ride" below, or "Spring Hill Mine Disaster" on YouTube here.

This morning, Bloody Rob Isenhour came round for breakfast, and then we went geocaching. Not bad weekend for the caching contingent. The Old Man's total find count now stands at 8,287.
Bloody Rob, Damned Rodan, and Bonehead at Geowoodstack III, Oak Ridge, NC

Monday, November 2, 2015

Stonewalling for Halloween

Halloween weekend could hardly have been more perfect for Kimberly and me, as we returned to one of our favorite haunts in the world — the View Cabin at the Stonewall Inn, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, VA. Stonewall was our first getaway together, back in the very early days of our relationship, and we also spent New Year's 2012 there. For us, it's a place of pure magic: rustic, secluded, intimate, comfortable. No place could be better suited for us to celebrate our favorite time of year.
At "A Nice Place for Eternity" (GC248QW)

We even managed to start out on an ideal note, with one of the geocaches along our way taking us to a very old, scenic family graveyard out in Stokes County, NC. Here, while I sought the cache, Ms. B. made sandwiches for our lunch on the road. Cache log signed and lunch in hand, we continued on our trip into the mountains of Virginia. Upon arriving at the Blue Ridge Parkway, our first stop was Villa Appalaccia Winery, another of our favorite places for liquid refreshment, now blanketed with colorful leaves that the moaning breeze was plucking and tossing down from the trees with considerable enthusiasm. For my money, Villa Appalaccia's Aglianico is their standout red wine, and their Cabernet Franc comes in a close second.

Then it was on to Stonewall, which is owned by Scott and Sally Truslow, both hosts par excellence. Shortly after checking in, we were ensconced in the View Cabin, about a quarter mile up in the woods. When I say it's rustic, I do not exaggerate. There is electricity, but no running water. It's a single room with a bed, a wood stove, a TV with DVD player, a porch swing, and an outhouse for taking care of personal business. Now, down at the main house, there are two dogs and three cats, which make one feel very welcome and also help take the edge off missing our own critters during our stay. It's a step above tent camping, to be sure, but for the most part, it's pretty primitive. And I just can't imagine a better place to be than out there in the woods on Halloween night.
Heating up by the campfire
For dinner that night, we journeyed forth to Chateau Morrisette, about ten or twelve miles down the Parkway. Generally, it's another of our favorite dinner venues, and while we enjoyed it, there was a good-size crowd, and the staff didn't seem quite up to the task of managing it. Our dinner was a bit more than leisurely — Kimberly and I both had their specialty pasta, hers with chicken, mine with shrimp — but at the end of the day, to us, the lengthy wait proved inconsequential. Our server was great, the wine was superb (their Archival I red blend), and we didn't exactly have a deadline to meet. So we just enjoyed ourselves for the duration; returned to the cabin rather late in the evening; and, to honor personal tradition, settled into the porch swing with a bit more wine to commune with the Halloween spirits.
Ms. B. and a wee sapling we discovered in Floyd

Yesterday, we decided to visit the little town of Floyd, a few miles to the west. Back in the days when I attended Ferrum College, not too far away, I had a good many adventures in Floyd County, few of which I could relate with a clear conscience to the world at large. I've passed through the one-stoplight town many times over the years, but to the best of my recollection, never actually stopped there. Since there were four geocaches in town awaiting my attention, it was only proper to go on a little walking tour of the community. For the most part, I was quite taken with its character and some of the novel Halloween decorations about the place. Once I had found all four caches and signed their attendant log sheets, I followed Ms. B. into downtown Floyd's antique shop, which was enjoyable enough, especially since there were a few fun Halloween-themed items to be seen on display (note the photo below). Then we had a fairly late lunch at a rather artsy little place called Oddfella's Cantina, where the barbecue sandwiches we had equaled or exceeded in quality just about any we've found in North Carolina. The fries were pretty damn good as well.

Upon our return to the cabin, I spent some time on the front porch making a racket with the ol' guitarbox, getting my fingers and vocal organs geared up for Geowoodstack III, coming up Saturday next at the domicile of one Tom "Night-hawk" Kidd, where I anticipate horrifying the individuals in attendance with several less-than-uplifting musical numbers.
The office

Dinner last night was hot dogs and s'mores — hardly as elegant as the fare at Chateau Morrisette, but every bit as satisfying. And it just wouldn't do to spend another night in the cabin without a scary movie or two, so we put on Willow Creek, which I had seen a month or so again, but Kimberly had not. Say what you will about the movie itself, but it was apt entertainment for our dark, secluded little spot in the woods. We followed this with a few episodes of The Walking Dead. And there might have been a tad more wine in the bargain.

This morning, sadly, we had to take our leave of the place, after a weekend that zipped by so fast it really ought to get a citation for speeding. For me, there was scarcely a moment during which I wasn't feeling at least a smidgen of ecstasy, and while I shan't carry on about the many stressors that have recently seemed bent on doing me in, I can safely say that this particular getaway at this particular time may have extended my life expectancy by at least as many days as we were there — hopefully more.

And may there be far fewer years between this and our next visit to Stonewall than there were since our last.

Click on images to enlarge.
Villa Appalaccia Winery, viewed from our favorite spot in the courtyard
The author and his horny girlfriend, who drinks
Say hello to my little friend — a happy fellow we discovered in Floyd
A random corner of the antique shop we visited
Out in front of the Green Man Inn, Floyd, VA
A view of our front yard on this dreary morning, just before leaving