Monday, October 30, 2017

Sojourn at Gettysburg

Somber. Whimsical. Intriguing. Hysterical. Profound.

That was our trip to Gettysburg, PA, this past weekend. Generally around Halloween, Ms. Brugger and I go haunt someplace for a few days, and this year we decided Gettysburg would be the place, as neither of us had been there, and it appealed to our mutual love of history, beautiful settings, and autumn. It proved perfect beyond our expectations.

I believe you say "convenience store"—we lived above it.
Actually, not really; it was an apartment above a podiatrist's office we found on AirBnB, but it was attractive, well-stocked, and conveniently located in Biglerville, about ten minutes north of Gettysburg. We left Greensboro on Friday morning at the ass-crack of dawn, stopping several times to find some creative and well-maintained geocaches, reaching our destination late in the afternoon. We had already noted the locations of a few wineries in the area, so after ensconcing ourselves in our lodgings, we made The Hauser Estate Winery, on Cashtown Road west of Biglerville, our first port of call. We didn't quite know what to expect from Pennsylvania wines, so we tried several—a Meritage, a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Franc, and a Cab Sauvignon. Of them, the Cab Sauvignon was the only one I'd rate quite highly, the others ranging from fair-at-best to decent, but the wine quality proved almost superfluous. The tasting room rests high on a hill overlooking the valley to the south, and the outdoor terrace provided the best possible location to enjoy a few spirits, as the temperature was balmy, the sunset spectacular. Now, inside, there was a DJ playing very loud 1980s music, which might have been off-putting had we been in the same room with it; however, for us outdoors, the sounds were muted enough to enjoy while still allowing us to carry on a conversation. Both Ms. B. and I would have preferred the smooth jazz/electronica so typical of our favorite NC wine-based establishments, but if the local patrons like what they're playing there, then so be it. We had a grand time, and I hope to have an opportunity to return.
For dinner, we pounced on and conquered a pizza at La Trattoria, a decent little establishment a shorter-than-short walk from our lodgings. And for our evening's Halloween flick, we put on Jeepers Creepers, which, despite the deviant leanings of director Victor Salva, I've always rather enjoyed.

Into the Field of Battle
Ms. B. confers with Abe and Perry Como
on the Gettysburg Address

On Saturday morning, after making breakfast and bracing ourselves with plenty of coffee (frou-frou coffee for Ms. B., I am compelled to tell you), we spent some time wandering about in Gettysburg proper, which we found appealing, in that, while rather touristy, it preserves and showcases a lot of genuine history in its streets and shops. The geocaching proved particularly pleasant here (as well as on the trip in general), as all the caches in the area appear to be well-maintained by their owners.

From there, we headed down to the Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park, where we availed ourselves to their film presentation ("A New Birth of Freedom," narrated by Morgan Freeman), and the Cyclorama, which features a 360-degree, 40 foot-tall painting of the field of battle rendered in the 1880s. It was an informative, illuminating intro to our day in the park. The official automobile tour takes you on a journey of 24 miles around the battlefield and runs about three hours, which I'm sure we would have enjoyed, but we preferred to spend the day on our own, which turned out to be a deeply moving experience for both of us.
Image from the Cyclorama at the Visitor Center
Because there were several virtual caches and Earthcaches at the locations, our primary targets were Devil's Den and Little Round Top, which we enjoyed exploring in considerable detail while searching for the information needed to claim the caches. One of the neat, non-battle-related items we found is a name engraved in the rocks at Devil's Den—"P. Noel"—which has a ghostly legend surrounding it. As the story goes, a young girl who lived in Gettysburg was thrown from her wagon, entangled in the wheels, and decapitated. Legend has it that her headless ghost may occasionally be seen wandering the battlefield. According to the story, the girl, while searching for her head, burned her name into the rocks with her fingertip. It is said if you trace the carving with your own finger, you will suffer serious misfortune. Now, I'll tell you, if a ghost engraved that name in the rock, she has one serious grip on typography and engraving. Just for good measure, I did indeed trace the letters with my fingertip, and I trust I have broken the curse for the benefit of future sightseers/geocachers.
Old fellow atop a monster skull at the Devil's Den
Ms. B. exhibits feats of strength
Our bivouac

We had brought our own provisions for a midday repast, and we chose for our bivouac a cluster of boulders in the wooded area near "The Wheat Field," along Sickles Road, a location marked as the encampment of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry. It was a beautiful, secluded site on high ground that would have provided natural cover against attack, which no doubt occurred at that very spot on 2 July, 1863. Spending time on our own, on this particular ground, struck us as at once somber and exhilarating. I can't help but wonder how the men who fought there might feel knowing that what they did, in some fashion, played a part in shaping a future where Ms. B. and I could sit in that very location and enjoy the beauty of the setting in peace and relative tranquility.

The search for strategically placed virtual and Earthcaches took us to Little Round Top, where we went among the monuments and explored the woods where Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's 20th Maine Regiment successfully fended off repeated attacks by Confederate infantry at the southern end of the hill on 2 July 1863. Once again non-battle-related, one of the Earthcaches we sought took us to a wall constructed of fossil-laden rocks, one of which is the very clear track of an atreipus milfordensis, a dog-sized plant eater which roamed eastern America during the Triassic period, some 220 million years ago.
Ms. B. among the rock walls constructed as barricades on Little Round Top
One of my favorite discoveries was at a virtual cache called "High on Longstreet" (GC8808): a 75-foot-tall observation tower that overlooks the battlefield from the west, which we climbed (with some strain on the old knees) while being battered by intense winds that had picked up during the afternoon. We spent a good while up there, enjoying the view and trying to keep from being picked up and whisked to the farthest reaches of rural Pennsylvania. Afterward, we made another climb into the higher altitudes, this time at the State of Pennsylvania monument on Hancock Avenue, along Cemetery Ridge. I did so love the views these heights afforded, not to mention all the hugs Ms. B. and I got trying to keep each other from flying off somewhere.
"Hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen!"
Spirits and Shellfish
Upon our departure from the battlefield, we headed back into Gettysburg to grab a few caches, drink some wine, and hunt down the evening's vittles. We found the perfect dinner spot at Garyowen Irish Pub, which was packed (as was just about every establishment in town on a Saturday evening), but we managed to find a cozy spot at the upstairs bar, where we fixed ourselves up with some excellent spirits, plus fish & chips for Kimberly and a dozen oysters on the half shell for the windblown old dude. This was the standout meal of the trip for both of us, and it's a place I really, really want to revisit on a future trip. It will be getting a fine Yelp review from me, to be sure.

For afters, we walked over to the nearby Knob Hall Winery, which is actually a Maryland-based winery, but they have a nice tasting room in downtown Gettysburg. Here, we found a fairly large selection of red and white wines, of generally high caliber, a Chambourcin Reserve being the best of them—almost ironic, as in NC, Chambourcins are ubiquitous, but rarely superlative.

(Shut up, I am not a wine snob.)

And to round out the evening, we followed up our previous night's movie selection with Jeepers Creepers 2, which, like its predecessor, makes for an entertaining Halloween flick.
Oysters on the half-shell at Garyowen Irish Pub
There is indeed a geocache in here.

Happily, the weather for our Gettysburg sojourn turned out just about perfect, if a little lacking in fall color (we're expecting the foliage to change somewhere around Christmas, at this rate). Sunday, though... holy godz, what a gullywasher. Almost the entire trip home, the rain came down in blinding sheets, which resulted, at times, in a thoroughly drenched old geocacher. Well, OF COURSE I went after some caches, I was on a freaking road trip, what can you be thinking? Our most amusing stop was probably at Mister Ed's Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium on the Chambersburg Pike because... well, because it's an elephant museum and candy emporium.

To end the journey on a high note, in Reidsville, we diverted ourselves to The Celtic Fringe, one of our longtime favorite restaurants. Here, Sazerac and bangers & mash for me, and bleu cheese/grilled chicken salad for the lady.

And so now, after one of the most wonderful trips I think I have ever taken, Halloween lurks around tomorrow's corner, and I will be out and about menacing the population. I've got the costume together, and I suspect some folks at the office tomorrow may suffer for it.

Got a light?
Nice Halloween decor in Arendtsville, a few minutes northwest of Gettysburg
Capturing the Halloween spirit in Gettysburg
Mister Ed's Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


It's how some of the best (and worst) horror stories begin: you're in the sticks, driving a series of windy mountain roads, sometimes sans pavement, in a vehicle of considerable age and thus questionable reliability (but it is a workhorse of a Buick, thank Yog); you've got no phone or internet service, which in fiction may be a cliché but in reality is still an all-too-common situation, especially when you're as far out in said sticks as we were; and, thanks to the absence of either technological or paper navigational aides—and the fact you're relying on fawlty memory because you didn't really plot this course in as much detail as might be prudent—you're not entirely sure you're on the right road.

Not to mention it's going on Halloween.

That was the situation in which Brugger and I found ourselves on our little excursion to Smith Mountain Lake the other day ("Heavens, What a Noise! and Others," Oct. 22, 2017). When I mentioned taking "the most scenic and circuitous route possible," I did not elaborate on just how scenic and circuitous it actually was. When we studied our maps before leaving Martinsville, we figured it to be a direct enough route, although I did say "I really hope we have service when we get up there," since there were several turns onto roads for which "secondary" is too generous a term. In places, we went miles without seeing a sign of human habitation, and when we did, they were anything but inviting. They were, to quote HPL, "dwellings wearing a surprisingly uniform aspect of age, squalor, and dilapidation."

And I had left my firearms in my other pants.

Now, while I did profess to Ms. B. an ardent desire for our carriage to maintain its good health, at no time did I feel we might be entering a danger zone, a place where, should our automobile give up its ghost, we might vanish from the face of the earth without a trace. As far as I know, no one typically thinks like that. It was all beautiful, atmospheric, serene. The surroundings might be unfamiliar; they might even be a little disturbing in their isolation and ghostly aspect. Yet we often fuss at people on the movie screen because they don't take note of their isolation; their lack of potential assistance; the ubiquitous signs of something menacing around us; for crying out loud, what about that ominous music? (For what it's worth, I listen to ominous music all the time.)

The thing is, neither you nor I know up front that we might be the ill-fated characters of an exquisitely rendered horror story.

But we might be. 

We might be.

Next time, perhaps....

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Heavens, What a Noise! and Others

Photo by Sarah Smith

An unexpectedly long weekend, the company of a nice lady, first-to-finds on a couple of geocaches, lots of wine, an old dude making a bunch of racket, too many hamburgers, a migraine, a 40th high school reunion, and worn-out feet.

I knew it was going to be a whirlwind weekend before it started, but it ended up one of the most special weekends I've had in a long time.

Mum's automatic garage door had broken a couple of weeks ago, and I ended up having to take Friday off work to go to Martinsville and be there when the repairman came. I'd had trouble working with a company there in Martinsville, so a special hats off to Overhead Door Company of Greensboro, NC, who came promptly and fixed the door with no problem—a great relief to me after the ordeal I'd been through trying to get the work done.

A couple of weeks back, I had attempted to find a puzzle cache at Fairy Stone Park—"GinGin Learns About Fairy Stone State Park" (GC7CB40)—but the container had gone missing even before the listing was published. The cache owner disabled it and promised to have the cache back up and running in a few days. After the garage work was done on Friday morning, I decided to take a chance that the container was back in place and rode up to Fairy Stone again. This time, I was rewarded with a quick first-to-find, which was especially satisfying since I had devoted such a long time searching in vain on my previous trip there.

And Friday evening, it was off to the Songwriters' Showcase event at the Daily Grind in uptown Martinsville. Ms. Brugger came up after work from Greensboro and met me there, just in time to tear into a couple of DG's cheddar & bacon burgers, which, I swearz, may be the most fantastic burgers anywhere, certainly better than the burgers of highest repute here in Greensboro. There weren't many musicians on hand this time, so that meant we select few got to play more than the usual number of sets. Since the Martinsville High School Class of 1977 was having its 40th reunion this weekend, a number of old classmates were in town, and a couple stopped by to hear the racket (and as near as I can tell, they're still talking to me—thank you, Sarah Smith and Marcus Hall!). I was informed that a couple of other classmates of some musical renown—Mssrs. Rick Godbee and Rich Lawrence—would be playing guitar at Forest Park Country Club, where I spent much of my checkered youth. The hosts were kind enough to permit me to crash the party, and once again the old guitar came out and assaulted the sensibilities of quite a few classmates as well as some other innocent bystanders. I'm not sure this could have been any more fun.

Over the course of the evening, Ms. B. and I had enjoyed a spot of wine, but as we had eaten an early supper, by near midnight, we were feeling uncharacteristically ravenous. So, casting aside all feelings of guilt and/or good sense, we hauled ourselves up to the Burger King drive-thru and snagged a couple more french fries. And just for good measure, we went the short distance to the nearest trailhead of The Dick & Willie Rail Trail, on which I frequently hike/bike/geocache, to tear into these goodies whilst parked in our vehicle. Yes, for a couple of damn near elderly souls who are trying to make at least token efforts in the healthy eating department, this was evil and decadent and probably overkill in the burger department, but by Yog, it was good. Take that, heart health!

Furthering our decadent adventure, on Saturday morning, we returned to The Daily Grind for breakfast, where we ordered the much-needed coffee and a couple of egg & cheese breakfast croissants (mine featuring a guest appearance by sausage). To our surprise, these bastards were bigger than our heads, and we marveled at the horror of them, but we ate them, every bit of them, and they were good. Dammit.

And I'd do it again.

The next phase of our day's plan, however, was a bit more cardiac-friendly. After breakfast, we drove—by the most scenic and circuitous route possible—up to Smith Mountain Lake State Park, for some hiking and geocaching, where we put in several miles in everything from moderate to rugged terrain over the course of the day. I made an unexpected first-to-find at a relatively new cache—"The Turtle of Turtle Island" (GC7D0M7)—and found a number of well-conceived, entertaining hides, featuring props such as a deer skull hanging in a tree, a giant wolf spider, a snake, and a turtle. We also found a very old, charming little graveyard out in the woods, which especially caught Ms. B.'s fancy, since she goes for that kind of thing.

On the drive home, I had a horrified moment as a portion of my vision dropped out of existence—the telltale evidence of migraine setting in. Of all times, of all nights! Rather surprisingly, and much to my relief, no prismatic aura set in, and when the headache hit a short time later, it was so mild I barely noticed it. Thankfully, it did not affect the events of the evening, and by eight-ish in the PM, all traces of the migraine had passed.
Old Rodan on Turtle Island at Smith Mountain Lake State Park
Ms. B. hanging out with some dead folk
My love is in league with the freeway.
Big old cache guardian
The McCray sisters and Rick Godbee
(photo by Sarah Smith)

The next phase of the weekend: The Martinsville High School Class of 1977 Reunion. The event took place at Chatmoss Country Club, where I also spent a respectable portion of my checkered youth, not to mention some time as a scarcely less-checkered adult. Classmates Timmy Pharr, Pam Mann Wren, Karen McCray & Sharon McCray Godbee, and several others put together the event and managed the music programming, for which I, and no doubt the rest of our class, are most grateful. We had a good turnout, though some number of old friends were unable to attend for various reasons, the saddest of them being health issues. And over the years, we've lost more than what seems our share of classmates, so there's a certain sense of the bittersweet in these gatherings. Regardless, those who came seemed genuinely pleased to have made this pilgrimage, as I certainly was. And how pleasing to see so many people looking so well, so healthy—and so goddamn suave!
Who do you think this is there?

Once again, my guitar and I made an appearance, this time for three songs—two originals ("My Loves Goes On," "Today Is for You") and one cover ("Hold On" by Ian Gomm)—and lord knows how, I once again escaped without suffering retribution from an aggrieved audience. This may be due, at least in part, to the fact the sound didn't carry all that well to the far corners of the sizable room, and thus those who weren't directly in the line of fire escaped the full impact of the assault. My performance, such as it was, opened for a beautiful set of songs by the ever-talented McCray sisters and Rick Godbee. And then there was joyous dancing (at least from some, not necessarily the old dude) and general merry-making with tunes blasting from DJ Tim Pharr's sound system.

I've not missed any of our class reunions, and I don't know if anyone else felt the same, but there seemed a stronger sense of camaraderie among all our classmates this time around—I suppose because we are getting older and have a deeper understanding of true friendship, and a deepening appreciation of our times here, accentuated by the sadness of seeing the images of so many of our friends who have passed away, some quite recently.

I loved, loved the event last night.

And while there, Ms. B. and I, as on the previous evening, enjoyed a number of nice drinks, but still fell short in the nutritious food department, so after we warmly parted ways with my old friends and classmates, we sought out something to fill the empty crevices in our respective physiques. This time, it turned out to be Applebees, one of the very few establishments open until the slightly later hours of the evening. We polished off some surprisingly good quesadillas and dead little shrimps—not burgers this time—and then, finally, returned to Mum's to retire for the night.

And now we are back to our respective homes, among our respective cats, all irate about humans who have the audacity to not be at their beck and call day in and day out.

To every member of the Martinsville High School Class of 1977, my love goes on.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Songwriters Showcase Tonight!

Lately, I've been about as busy playing music — or something akin to it — as writing fiction. Of course, the composing of prose is my secondary profession, while banging on the guitar and hollering to scare the wits out of innocent passersby falls more in the "hobby" department. Still, I've become a regular at the The Daily Grind's quarterly Songwriters' Showcase in Martinsville, VA, and we have one tonight — Friday, October 20, 7:00–10:00 PM. I'll be one of several singer/songwriters playing a set of original tunes, mine based primarily on the darker sides of life (and death), which I suppose surprises the hell out of my faithful followers.

BEER ALERT! There will be a beer tasting tonight as well. The Daily Grind also has a good selection of wines.

Do you have superhuman courage? Well, come on out and have a listen! But only heckle me if you really mean it.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How to Conquer Quicksand

Damned Rodan with a couple of old men (Diefenbaker & Robgso) in the background
After almost ending up in a watery grave by taking the land route to "Colter's Run" (GC1TM19) last weekend (see "When I Was a Kid...," October 11, 2017), I wondered if I should not go about getting these boat hides — which have been staring at me from the map for years upon years — by the more traditionally prescribed route. So this morning, Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob), and Damned Rodan (a.k.a. me) set out by kayak to do this thing, and an excellent day on the lake it proved to be.

A kayak is definitely the preferred means of accessing this cache, though the water route is not without its challenges. A time or two we thought we might have to leave Old Rob out here to fend for himself, but in the end, we all made it in and out of the narrow, reed and bramble-choked channel without mishap. After last week's experience, I was certain I knew exactly where I'd find the cache, and that, indeed, turned out to be the case. I absolutely do NOT recommend pulling a Rodan on this one and trying to access it by land. It could be bad.

We picked up a few other caches along the lake bank, though at one, we happened upon some fishermen who had made the mistake of parking their boat right at our GZ. We took care of this little impediment by slowly paddling toward them and adopting the demeanor of psychotic men. Problem solved.

The geocaching has been all too sparse lately, but it has been mostly good. Very good. On the way to 10,000 finds, currently at 9,608.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Far Above the Clouds

The view from Lover's Leap on the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 7:00 AM
Almost exactly five years ago, Ms. B. and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Blue Ridge Parkway, for breakfast at Mabry Mill, wine at Villa Appalaccia, and hiking/geocaching — at nearby Buffalo Mountain, to be precise ("Pilgrimage," October 27, 2012). This morning, we roused our asses well before the crack of dawn to do basically the same thing, for such good things awaited us there. On the way — even before I'd had any coffee — we stopped in Stuart, VA, that I might pick up a relatively new geocache at the library there (BRRL: Hilltop Hub, GC777D2), which was a damned happy thing for me because I've had a bloody long dry spell in the caching department (I seem to have found way too many, according to Kimberly).

On the way up into the mountains, we passed through some very dense fog, and when we reached the top, we made a stop at Lover's Leap, from which we could see the valley below smothered by a massive cloud layer (see photo above). Spectacular indeed, and from the number of photos posted on Facebook showing the same view this morning, we weren't the only ones stopping to take photos.

You never know what kind of crowd you're going to encounter at the restaurant at Mabry Mill, which is fairly small, so we like to arrive early to ensure we get in around their 8:00 AM opening time. This morning, we pulled in just before 7:30 and found a relatively small crowd, much to our relief. Best of all, the restaurant staff was kind enough to let us in almost immediately. COFFEE AT LAST! I drank lots. (I had to pee lots, too.) For Ms. B., scrambled eggs, sausage, and biscuits; for me, three pancakes — buckwheat, sweet potato, and traditional — and sausage. All so good I about couldn't stand it, but I tell you, when we got to hiking up Buffalo Mountain shortly after breakfast, between the backpack and the pancakes, it felt like I was hauling an extra 20 pounds or so.
Ms. B. on the rocks

And that hike. What a beauty! Last time we were there, the mountain was fogbound, the temperature chilly, and we were the only living souls in evidence during our entire time there. Agreeably eerie, that was. Today was somewhat different. At the trailhead, we were once again alone, though the sun was coming out, and by the time we hiked a few hundred yards we were sweating profusely. As the crow flies, it's less than a mile to the summit, but the snaking turns and switchbacks make it over a three-mile round trip, with several hundred feet of elevation change. A good workout, it is.

What really turned out to be a workout was going for the cache up there. Now, this was a somewhat odd situation: the cache had been recently archived because the Virginia Department Parks & Recreation indicated they had removed a cache from the summit, for whatever reason they felt compelled to do so. However, I was almost certain the one they had removed was the older cache at the summit, the one I found there five years ago (Buffalo Mountain Preserve Cache, GCNNZP), and that the newer one (Buffalo Mountain Cache, GC73HPY) would still be there. And happily, as it turns out, it was. Now, getting to this little fellow proved physically challenging, as one must traverse a steep, treacherous wall of rock from which a bad step will send one plunging many hundreds of feet into the valley below, and this morning, the rocks were extra slippery from the recent rains. I'm quite glad Kimberly stayed behind to doodle in her sketch pad because 1) I would have been paralyzed with worry about her, and 2) had I suffered a fatal mishap, she would have never spoken to me again. Of course, all turned out well, and above and beyond claiming that cache, I found the much-needed physical challenge altogether invigorating.
Tired, wind-blown hikers
About the time we started back down the mountain, most of the world, it would appear, was coming up the mountain. Holy cow, it was an endless stream of people ascending the trail — young, old, and all ages between. I suppose it's good to see so many people getting out and hiking, but it's also irritating to run into veritable traffic jams of humanity on a trail through such serene and lovely forestland. The parking area was now full to overflowing, and I'll tell you, that little access road from the trailhead to the main road is windy, steep, and too narrow at most places for two cars to pass. Fortunately, we made it down without meeting very many, and where we did, we had just enough room to pull off to the side.
I feel that someone is watching me.

Our next stop was Villa Appalaccia, which is easily our favorite winery. We enjoyed the obligatory wine tasting in the wine tasting room and then shared a bottle of Toscanella in the terrace area, some distance down from the main building, which we've always been fortunate enough to have to ourselves, as we did today. We had brought picnic goodies with us, but after such a huge breakfast, even after that hike, neither of us were hungry. So what we did was eventually hie ourselves over to Chateau Morrisette, just a couple of miles down the road, have another nice tasting, and set up our picnic over there. Oh yeah, good.

The day turned out to be a true stress-reliever for the both of us, and the timing couldn't have been better, as we've both been dealing with our share of stressors lately — each very different, but equally... stressful. And I've got to say, having done so little geocaching these past few weeks hasn't helped. Somebody needs to get out there and take care of some of that local open space. I kid you not.

And that was this year's Pilgrimage, and our return to Buffalo Mountain. I sleep now.

LOVE in the dark—"BRRL: Hilltop Hub" in Stuart, VA
Going up the trail at Buffalo Mountain
View near the summit
The signed logsheet at Buffalo Mountain Cache
Looking into the valley from GZ
The wine makes the shine

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"When I Was a Kid...

Yeah, I found it. No, not the cache...
the quicksand.

...I thought quicksand would be a much bigger problem."

You see memes with that quote going around from time to time, and—sure enough—growing up in the 1960s and 70s, you could turn on just about any TV show and there would be our hero, having to find some ingenious means of saving himself from the quicksand trap one arch-villain or another had set. But after leaving adolescence behind, all that quicksand, it seemed, proved to be figurative rather than literal.

That's largely still true, unless you happen to go hiking with me.

This past Sunday, I wasn't planning on going geocaching, both because, between work and having to drive to Mom's several times, I had put over 1,000 miles on the car the last couple of weeks, and also because the forecast called for serious rain. Come midday, and still no rain, I said fuckit, I'm gonna go out to one of our local lakes and see if I can find one of the caches you're supposed to reach by boat. However, I had bushwhacked out to that area a couple of years ago, and though I never spotted the cache, I knew you could at least get to ground zero by land.

That is, if you pick your route well you can get there by land—or at least within 30 ft. or so of GZ. However, I chose unwisely and headed straight for GZ instead of taking the roundabout but much easier route. For the way I chose, there be swamp. Much, much swamp. And...

Quicksand. An honest-to-god, scum-sucking, bottomless pool of quicksand, which, with my one errant step, took hold of me real good. I immediately sank past my knees and, with every attempt to extricate myself, went deeper and deeper. After maybe half a minute, it was up to my waist, and my feet still could find no purchase. Fortunately for me, while deep, the pool wasn't all that extensive, and I was able to maneuver close enough to a good-sized tree, grab it, and, with a disturbing amount of effort, finally drag myself out. (Thank Yog I'd had the foresight to wrap my electronic stuff and other valuables in plastic bags and stow them in my backpack.) Anyone witnessing me crawling out from that pool and lurching to my feet would have probably run screaming, convinced that The Boggy Creek Monster had risen from its watery lair.

Despite my GPS pointing me some distance to the left, I now went right, and managed to find solid, if not dry ground. After some time, the woods opened up a little, so I was able to get back on course and eventually reach GZ. Or damn near. However, Brush Creek was swollen to overflowing and my GPS still pointed to the far bank, about 40 feet away. I decided to test the water's depth; a mere foot from the bank, my hiking stick didn't touch bottom.

On the far bank, I could see a fallen tree with lots of limbs and a huge rootball, and I had the nagging suspicion that was where I'd find the cache. A couple of fallen trees, partly submerged, spanned the stream, so I figured I could use one of them to cross, as long as I didn't mind getting wet. But give me a break — I had just come close to being swallowed by motherfucking quicksand, and this was just deep river water. Since the near end of the log was submerged, walking across was right out. Nothing for it but to scoot. Thus, I lowered myself onto the log, legs dangling in the deep water, and began the scooting process, which went well enough until I was about ten feet from the far bank. Here, the incline became extreme enough to almost dissuade me from continuing. But giving up meant all this had been for naught, so... the word of the day became "perseverance." At last, I was able to pull myself onto the far bank, and my search for the geocache commenced.
My makeshift bridge across Brush Creek
I scoured that big old fallen tree. It looked recent, and I figured if the cache had been attached to a limb that had overhung the stream, that limb would now be pointing skyward. So I climbed one of those skyward-pointing limbs as high as I could go, and searched, and searched, and searched, and — no! The cache was not here!


I began checking every nearby host I could find. There was another fallen log about 20 feet away that looked semi-promising, but I couldn't reach it from the bank due to a barrier of briers that might have given pause even to Robgso (of the "No blood, no fun" persuasion). For the next hour and a half, I hunted and searched and searched and hunted, partly due to a stubborn desire not to get skunked again, but partly to put off repeating the dreaded log crossing. All during my hunt, I could hear heavy splashes; things scuttling through the tall, thick grasses; odd chirps and guttural groans, and I began to wonder if there might be something lurking in that deep water that would make my bout with the quicksand seem a pleasant little paddle. Eventually, though, I had to give up the hunt and reconcile myself to scooting back across—which I managed without mishap, and in the process washed off all remaining traces of my damn near-subterranean sojourn.

I had just regained solid ground when the rain started. Not a gentle, pitter-pattering rain, but the gullywasher from hell. So I got my stuff together and made my egress, steering way clear of the swamp and the quicksand, which meant a much longer bushwhack, but at least this time on solid ground.

A half hour later, a drowned rat would have been far dryer than the old fellow that stepped out onto Lewiston Road amid the Great Deluge of 2017.

And thus, did Damned Rodan not go geocaching on Sunday.
Yeah, that might have been the Boggy Creek monster shambling around over there on the far bank....

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It, Watching — It, Scary

While it's relatively rare for my stomach to start growling in hunger while reading about cannibalism, several of the stories in Elizabeth Massie's most recent short fiction collection, It, Watching, flung a healthy craving on me. Behind the gorgeous cover (featuring art by Ms. Massie's husband, Cortney Skinner), you'll find seventeen diverse short stories (plus one long poem), ranging from a Walking Dead-esque zombie tale ("Wet Birds") to a drama of personal revenge set in the Civil War ("Tintype"—which made me really hungry) to dark comedy ("Darla and Gina Try to Keep Out of Debt") to political allegory ("Pisspot Bay") to disturbing science fiction ("The Replacement"). Of course, there also plenty of the requisite spooky little horror tales.

Over thirty years or so, Ms. Massie has rightfully become one of the most respected names in the field of dark fiction, and if one should not understand why, then a full dose of It, Watching ought suffice to set one straight. One of Ms. Massie's most consistent and effective authorial traits is that her voice will lull you with a light and damn near comforting tone, only to turn nothing less than shocking in its assault on one's sensibilities, even when said sensibilities have been toughened by long experience with that voice. Mostly set in rural, isolated locations, these stories consistently emphasize a sense of personal isolation, of things being wrong, not just out there, but deep within the characters. As one is drawn into the narrative of each story, it's impossible not to feel a certain discombobulation, a feeling that something, somewhere, is off-kilter, even during the most prosaic of exchanges between characters. Tense dialogue is a hallmark of Ms. Massie's fiction, and almost unbearable tension pervades the best of these stories—"Don't Look at Me," "I Have a Little Shadow," and "The Well." Each have distinct supernatural overtones, each presents characters no less unsettling than the other-worldly elements.

It, Watching is 200-some pages of classic Elizabeth Massie fiction, some reprinted, some previously unpublished. While the reading here is not necessarily comfortable, it's compelling, and it's hard not to finish one story and tear right into the next.

Do not pass this collection by. Pick up It, Watching from here, in paperback or Kindle editions.