Thursday, October 29, 2020

Death’s Doorstep — Powerful and Poignant

Contemplating mortality is as natural as breathing, I suppose, since we were all blessed with the knowledge that, one day, each of us will draw that final breath and bid adieu the land of the living. In his novella Death’s Doorstep, author Stephen H. Provost explores the inevitable end of existence through the eyes of two individuals, a husband and wife, who in many ways could be any of us. They have their own personalities, their own lives, but there is virtually no separation between the first-person narrator and the reader. The story feels so close, so intimate, we as readers experience the emotions, the events, and the conflicts, in what feels like real time. Gut-wrenchingly so.

Allen, the protagonist, has been fortunate enough to find requited love with an enigmatic woman named Molly. We get just enough of the characters’ deepest feelings and beliefs to feel close and comfortable with them before the events that make this story a work of dark, speculative fiction set in. The character interactions are poignant, involving situations to which I personally relate. There were passages that I had to force myself to keep reading because the nerves they touched are still somewhat sensitive.

That, to me, simply proves that Provost has done what he set out to do. Philosophically, the story poses numerous questions and suggests a few answers. Can having hope destroy everything you hold dear? When a person loses so much of who he or she is—by way of Alzheimers, for example—is the essence of that person lost, or has it shifted somewhere else? Is the essence—the soul—of a human being mere illusion?

Death’s Doorstep is a quick but powerful reading experience. Provost’s easy narrative voice and generally agreeable wit convey love, tragedy, horror, and hope in compelling fashion.

Order Death’s Doorstep from Amazon here.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Spooky Place, Part II

Halloween 1974: young Mark gets to help design the Martinsville Jaycees’ haunted castle at The Spooky Place and thus has the most exhilarating Halloween of his life. Halloween 1982: somewhat older Mark again gets to help out at the haunted castle, this time playing both a mad scientist and a roving monster.

In 1982, in that period between graduating University of Georgia and moving to Chicago, I lived at home in Martinsville. Happily for me, the Jaycees again set up their haunted castle at the old Koehler Warehouse. I might mention here that each chamber in the castle was sponsored by various community organizations, and the wonderfully twisted mad scientist chamber was sponsored by, of all places, First United Methodist Church of Martinsville, which I had attended since my youngest days. Apparently, the church needed some warm bodies to man the chamber one evening, and they called me to see if I might be interested. Indeed I was. When I showed up to perform the dastardly deed, I met Blake, a young gentleman from the church, who told me he had brought refreshments as well as a few props to add to the authenticity of the set. The refreshments consisted of a cooler full of cold beer, the props a cooler full of warm animal entrails, courtesy of a local butcher shop.

Inside the mad scientist chamber, I found all kinds of scientific instruments, a black light, a lab table, and a hapless victim — in this case, a department store mannikin that had been chained to the table. What we ended up doing was cutting out a section of the dummy’s abdomen, dumping all that lovely offal inside, and covering it with a sheet. A young woman of our acquaintance stationed herself under the lab table, well out of sight of our visitors. We had a huge butcher knife on hand to facilitate the vivisection.

As the first group of visitors filed in, I explained that my experiments required certain contributions from living human beings, at which time I brandished the knife. The young lady under the table unleashed a barrage of blood curdling screams, and I thrust the blade into the mannikin’s abdomen. Joyously, I began scooping out the entrails, much to the disgust of our unsuspecting visitors. Now, I wasn’t wearing gloves or anything, just some scrubs and an apron. We didn’t have hand sanitizer in those days, so once covered in blood and guts, I was covered for the duration.

The first couple of groups seemed enthralled by the show, and I was having a fine time of it. By the third or fourth group, those entrails had begun smelling right pretty, and it wasn’t long before the aroma began to wend all through the various nearby chambers. Blake wanted to take a turn performing surgery, so I handed over the necessary accoutrements and went off to find a roving monster costume. I think I ended up being a werewolf. It was a hoot, of course, but now and again, folks downwind would detect my presence by the slightly tainted air preceding me.

At the end of the evening, Blake and I drank the rest of the beer, swapped stories about our experience, and parted ways happy. However, when I got home, my folks took one whiff of me and suggested I leave and never come back.

That night marked the end of my participation in the Jaycees’ haunted castle. Not as momentous as my first experience in 1974, to be sure, but it was a memorable and wonderfully disgusting evening.

I would do it again in a heartbeat — though, this time, I would make sure to have plenty of sanitizer on hand.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Spooky Place, Part I

Because I am reasonably old, I have quite a few Halloweens under my belt (although I am not that overweight), and a long list of favorite Halloween memories. For me as a youngster, Halloween was a special, thrilling time. In certain circles, it might be common knowledge that I was the world’s most terrified kid. I mean, up through my elementary school years, even into middle school, I spent a considerable percentage of my day-to-day life genuinely, heart-poundingly, mind-numbingly terrified. I am certain this innate, inexplicable terror was among the most motivating reasons for my becoming a writer of scary things once I grew up. I don’t know whether Halloween represented a means of making peace with my juvenile fears, but I do recall that dressing up in costumes (the scarier the better) and trick-or-treating was both exhilarating and cathartic. (I still love the costuming and socializing aspects of the season.) As often happens with youngsters, once in my late teens and through my early twenties, Halloween lost some of its shine; however, as a full-fledged adult, my passion for all things Halloween came roaring back, and it has been my favorite holiday for more years now than it hasn’t.

Perhaps my most memorable, most exciting Halloween came when I was fifteen, in 1974. At that time, much to my parents’ chagrin, I spent most of my waking moments immersed in scary, monstrous, otherworldly realms of fiction — cinematic as well as literary. In May of that year, The Martinsville Bulletin ran a full-page feature about me, following my sale of a Godzilla vs. the Thing filmbook to the long-dead but well-remembered monster movie tabloid called The Monster Times (see “Accent on Nerds” from October 6). I have no recollection of how anyone at the Bulletin came to find out about this particular feather in my cap, but the piece caught numerous eyes, including those of the Associated Press, who picked up the article and thus facilitated its publication in newspapers around the country. And as a result of that, WLVA-TV, Channel 13, out of Lynchburg, VA, sent a crew to my junior high school one day to interview me that I might further elaborate on my blathering from the newspaper article. Exciting times. Also as a result, a couple of members of the local Jaycees, who had begun plotting a massive haunted castle attraction for Martinsville, sought me out to recruit my help with the planning, design, and execution of this, their most ambitious community project.

And so, excited beyond words, I attended a series of meetings with the Jaycees to brainstorm ideas for a bona fide castle of horrors, to be set up in an abandoned warehouse in the small community of Koehler, just outside of Martinsville. All the classic creatures would be showcased in their own specially designed chambers: Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde... with a pretty fair budget to boot. Finally, one evening, just about sunset, the redoubtable Dickie Globman (whose wife, Pam, is nowadays a geocacher of high reputation), came by the house, picked me up in his MG sports car (which was a thrill because I had never ridden with a madman in a sports car before), and drove us out to Koehler.

Holy Yog! The warehouse, an old stone monstrosity half-hidden by trees and rising above the nearby Smith River, was imposing and downright scary even before any attractions had been set up. To enter, you had to go through these massive doors and down a long, earthen-floor passageway into a vast cellar with five-foot-diameter stone columns at regular intervals. What a perfect place to set up a maze of horror chambers! I was ecstatic, and to return a few times to contribute to the physical grunt work — sweeping away actual cobwebs and piles of dust, setting up sheets of polyurethane, connecting miles of extension cords, and the like — only heightened my anticipation of its completion. On top of everything, I got to write and illustrate the promos that ran in the Martinsville Bulletin. I wish I still had some of those little ads because, as crude as they might have been, they were among the most fun artistic projects I ever undertook.

For whatever reason, I wasn’t present when the actors for the various horrific roles came on the scene, but on opening night, my little brother and I dared to enter the now-transformed halls of this most haunted of haunted castles.

I couldn’t believe it. I had been in some big, scary, professional haunted attractions before, but this thing blew me away. The rooms, full of sparking, screeching scientific instruments; massive spiderwebs; fluorescent passageways leading to dizzying abysses, all were fantastic. And through it all, expertly made-up monsters roamed, screamed, and grabbed (ah, for those good old days!).

This place... this spooky, spooky place... was Halloween heaven. And from that moment on, to me, the old Koehler warehouse became known as simply “The Spooky Place.” At some later time, one company or another purchased the warehouse and returned it to its more traditional usage, which sadly put the kibosh on the classic haunted castle. The Jacyees moved the attraction to another location or two in Martinsville proper, and I think they were pretty good, but I had no hand in them. The most memorable thing about one of those was coming out of the exit and stepping on a stray roofing tack, which went through my shoe and punctured my sole, so that, upon taking off said shoe, I left a lovely trail of very real blood out to the parking lot. At least I’d had a tetanus shot at the time, and the wound healed up without complication.

Nowadays, the Koehler warehouse is still operating, I believe, but it’s still a spooky, spooky place, and I used to have a geocache placed right out in front of it. That one had to be archived, but I still have an active cache on the Smith River Fieldale Trail, just across the river, that overlooks the warehouse. I doubt the Koehler warehouse will ever again serve its true purpose — doubling as a haunted castle — but the memories it offered me, and many others, are priceless.

In 1982, I made something of a return to the fold for that year’s Koehler Halloween event. It, too, was classic stuff, although the rest of that Halloween season was far from joyous. More on that one tomorrow, or whenever I can get around to it.

Be spooky. Safe, but spooky.

Consolation Prize

Since Ms. B. and I missed out on our traditional Mabry Mill breakfast yesterday (“Another Parkway Pilgrimage”), I made myself a bunch of killer slapjacks — along with a side of bacon — for this morning’s breakfast. They really are not fancy or complicated; just some Hungry Jack pancake mix, an egg, some milk, and a splash of Southern Butter Pecan coffee creamer in the batter, cooked on the cast iron skillet. Some real butter and maple syprup, et voilá... massively satisfying slapjacks. Not quite Mabry Mill’s combo of buckwheat, sweet potato, and flour pancakes, which is absolutely my favorite, but I’d rack these suckers up against just about anything else.

Of course, it was followed by an immediate weight gain:

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Another Parkway Pilgrimage

For Brugger and me, the pandemic impacted but did not snuff our regular autumn Blue Ridge Parkway pilgrimage. We did miss it last autumn because we were abducted and hauled away to Europe, but I would wager that’s a fair excuse. Today, unfortunately, we did miss out on the always-anticipated Mabry Mill breakfast because, although the restaurant was open, it’s so small and confined that I can’t imagine effective social distancing being possible in there. So, as painful as it was, we opted to avoid the mill and restaurant this year. As a consolation, I expect I’ll be making a batch of my own killer slapjacks for my breakfast in the morning.

Our adventure kind of began last night, as we headed up to Martinsville, where we got together with our friends Stephen & Samaire, which resulted in us drinking perhaps a bit too much, getting perhaps a bit too loud, and having perhaps a bit too much fun. It was pretty late when we arrived back at Pleasant Hill, so we got off to a slightly later start than we had anticipated this morning. This was hardly a complication, though, particularly since we were avoiding the Mabry Mill breakfast. As it was, we headed up to Fairy Stone Park so I could snag a relatively new geocache, which I did, and then made our way to Villa Appalaccia, the first of our winery destinations. A good crowd had already gathered — there was live music on the schedule today — but the winery folk did a great job with facilitating social distancing, requiring masks, and limiting the number of people inside the facility at any given time.

They were not doing tastings, but since we already know several of their wines that we enjoy, we ordered a couple of bottles of Aglianico, one to consume on the premises, one to bring home. Our favorite seating area at the winery is a remote walled enclosure, but as the musicians were setting up there, we opted for a secluded table at the edge of the woods, which wasn’t bad except for the fact it kept getting hot when the sun broke through the clouds. The temperature rose to 80 freaking degrees on the Parkway today, so we had to wear our summer clothes, in stark contrast to our typical attire there this time of year, which is distinctly cold-weather wear. I much prefer the chill.

We had brought along a picnic lunch, so we enjoyed that along with our wine. Now, the Aglianico was tasty enough, but a 2019 vintage; obviously young and a little too tart yet. I’m going to let the bottle we bought age for a couple of years. Make no mistake, Villa Appalaccia still makes some the best wines in the region, and I can’t wait to go back. I hope we can manage it before next fall.
We had a nice, secluded table in the shade near the restaurant (closed) at Chateau Morrisette
The skies darkened a bit while we were at Chateau Morrisette, but the rain held off for us.
From there, it was on to Chateau Morrisette, where we have had some good experiences and we have had some great experiences. No doubt due to the pandemic, and the Parkway offering attractions that allow for good social distancing, the mountains were mobbed today. Both Villa Appalaccia and Chateau Morrisette had very large crowds, but both get high marks for safety. We were able to buy a bottle of their Petit Verdot from an outdoor booth rather than having to go inside the winery. While I have always enjoyed their Petit Verdot, it has generally been less striking than Villa Appalaccia’s Aglianico. Today, it was the other way around. For the first time, probably ever, we preferred Chateau Morrisette’s fare. Again, no one would ever mistake any of these wines for Old World or US west coast, but for what they are, they pretty much hit the spot.

The skies began to darken a bit as the day wore on. The chances of rain increased during the afternoon, but happily for us, the skies never dumped on us. Once we wrapped things up at Chateau Morrisette, we hit the road for Reynolds Homestead in Critz, VA, where a bit more geocaching awaited me. This one was an Adventure Lab cache, which is a bit different than your typical follow-the-coordinates-and-find-the-cache cache. Adventure Labs are “virtuals,” in that there is no physical container to find (unless, as in this case, you put information together from the various virtuals to find a physical cache somewhere nearby). Using the Adventure Lab app, you go to a series of locations, find the specified landmarks at those locations, and answer questions about them. Each one you correctly identify gives you credit for a geocache find. And if there is a bonus cache, you will also get information to help lead you to it. I find these a lot of fun, and this one provided for some exceptional scenery. I had done some geocaching at Reynolds Homestead back in 2008, and I’ve not been back since. Located on about 7 acres at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Reynolds Homestead is the birthplace and boyhood home of both tobacco magnate R. J. Reynolds and A. D. Reynolds, whose son Richard S. Reynolds was the founder of Reynolds Metals. The lab cache took us all around the property, from an imposing old Catalpa tree (which was part of a much older cache — “By the Old CatalpaGCJMCV — which I had found on my 2008 visit); to the main house, which took on a distinctly haunted aspect as the clouds grew darker; an old slave graveyard; and a spring in the woods along a beautiful nature trail. Happily, I was able to locate the nearby bonus cache without difficulty.

After all that, we hit the road for home. We did make a stop at a local jewelry store, where we had to pick up a little something, with which I had surprised Ms. B. a while back, that needed sizing. Done and done.

It was a day. Nary a thing happened that wasn’t better than be slapped in the belly with a wet trout.
The old Reynolds house, looking a bit haunted under the darkening sky
Some striking foliage near the Reynolds house
Ms. B. at the spring
The tobacco barn, protected from evil spirits by a handy-dandy hex sign

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Legend of Boggy Creek

For about a hundred years (or maybe it’s a couple of decades, I dunno), I’ve owned one of the multitudes of public domain DVD copies of The Legend of Boggy Creek, which is just this side of unwatchable—grainy, jumpy, dark, most likely taken from a VHS copy of a fading 16mm print. Mind you, I have loved The Legend of Boggy Creek, more or less irrationally, since the day I caught it at the Rives Theater in Martinsville, VA, in 1972, when I was twelve or thirteen. To me, The Legend of Boggy Creek is the ultimate cryptid film. It’s creepy, campy, shot as a docudrama, and features quite a few of the residents (who play themselves—or, in some cases, their own relatives) of the tiny town of Fouke, Arkansas, where the real-life events of the film ostensibly occurred. Having viewed only the abysmal DVD over all these years, it was a joy to discover that, in 2019, Pamela Pierce Barcelou, daughter of Charles B. Pierce, the film’s producer/director, took on the task of restoring the The Legend of Boggy Creek to its rightful quality and aspect ratio, which has given the film a whole new life for those of us who love it (however irrationally). 

Shot for a relatively paltry $100,000, the movie grossed $20 million in 1972 alone. With The Legend of Boggy Creek, Charles B. Pierce made quite the name for himself. In the 1970s and 80s, he enjoyed a successful career as a director, screenwriter, producer, set decorator, cinematographer, and actor (he reportedly wrote the line "Go ahead, make my day!" for Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in 1983’s Sudden Impact). His 1976 filmThe Town That Dreaded Sundown, made in a similar style to Boggy Creek, also achieved fair critical and commercial success. In 1985, Pierce returned to his roots with Boggy Creek II: The Legend Continues, though this movie, in which he starred (to less than stellar notices), failed by a long shot to match the success of its progenitor.
Chuck Pierce as young Jim

The Legend of Boggy Creek opens with a young, blond-haired lad named Jim (Chuck Pierce, the director’s son), frantically hauling ass through fields and woodlands until he reaches downtown Fouke, where a gaggle of elderly gentlemen are swapping exciting stories about their day-to-day existences in their rootin’-tootin’ town. Jim blurts out that some kind of huge-hairy-manlike-yet-not-quite-a-man thing has been lurking around his family’s place. The gentlemen chuckle good-naturedly at his panic and send him back home, assuring him that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Of course, it isn’t long before other folks in the community begin seeing our hairy, bog-dwelling friend. Apparently, living in the bog for extended periods can be boring, and the creature has decided he wants to experience civilization for himself. For him, this does not end altogether well. Before long, half the town has succumbed to panic, and our large, hairy friend ends up receiving a few reasonably well-placed bullets as a result. For a time, he disappears, presumably having decided that being bored in the bog is better than fucked over in Fouke.
Dennis Lamb as farmer O. H. Kennedy, wondering what the HELL is lurking out there in the Sulphur River bottoms.
If you are a cryptid, always remember to stand BEHIND the dude with the gun.
The story as it progresses is narrated by Jim, our young blond friend from the beginning of the film, as an adult. Actor Vern Stierman, who provides the running commentary, does an admirable job of injecting gravitas when gravitas is needed and adopting a light, conversational tone when characters aren’t in the throes of panic. And in true, early 1970s spirit, a couple of ballads interrupt the tense proceedings, the most memorable perhaps being the ballad of young Travis Crabtree, one of many Crabtrees who make appearances in this film. Travis plays himself (and, behind the scenes, was the film's key grip), and earning the right to his own ballad (titled “Nobody Sees the Flowers Bloom But Me”) is probably the most noteworthy thing he does in the film.

Hey, Travis Crabtree,
Wait a minute for me.
Let’s go back in the bottoms,
Back where the fish are bitin’,
Where all the world’s invitin’,
And nobody sees the flowers bloom but me.

Now, to be fair, Travis, on one of his canoe outings, takes us deep into the bottoms, where he introduces us to old-timer Herb Jones (played by Herb Jones), who has lived alone out yonder for twenty years. Herb doesn’t believe for one minute that any creature exists out there. In fact, Herb’s sole purpose for being in the film is apparently to offer a less-credulous view of the goings-on around Fouke.

Hey, Travis Crabtree... wait a minute for me!
Herb Jones: “I ain’t never seen nor heard no monster!”
After some years, our lonely, hairy friend has again grown bored of the rural life and decides to take another shot at socializing. If it went bad before, this time, it goes really bad. Our friend the Fouke Monster has decided to pay a visit to a couple of young couples who have moved into a place along Boggy Creek. The couples—Don & Sue Ford (John Wallis, Bunny Dees) and Charles & Ann Turner (Dave O’Brien, Sarah Coble)—seem sociable enough, but soon, nephews Bobby & Corky Ford (Glenn Caruth, Billy Crawford) arrive for a visit and seem to rile the creature, perhaps because they decided go fishing in its territory. For whatever reason, when the Fouke Monster comes calling, quite the ruckus results, making this the most energetic and engaging story in the movie.

Following the climax, adult Jim returns to his childhood home and reminisces about those long-gone days when he would hear the creature’s frightening cries coming out of the darkness. In a memorable scene, as the sun sets on the landscape, Jim says, “I almost wish I could once again hear that terrible cry, just to remind me that there is still some wilderness left.” And so the cry does again rise into the night, and the ballad of the Boggy Creek Creature—sung by Charles B. Pierce himself (credited as Chuck Bryant)—plays over the end credits. It’s cheesy yet evocative little piece, which conveys the loneliness the creature feels out there in the bog.

Perhaps he dimly wonders why
There is no other such as I.
To touch, to love, before I die,
To listen to my lonely cry.

As crude and even naïve as The Legend of Boggy Creek must seem to those of the younger set, who never experienced the allure and excitement of fright flicks at drive-in theaters and weekend movie-house matinées, the film was, in its way, ground-breaking. With its low budget and earthy documentary style, the film clearly influenced the makers of The Blair Witch Project and other minimalist, ostensibly “real” indie movies. In Boggy Creek, at no time do we get a clear, vivid view of the monster. It is always scene in shadows or silhouetted, often partially obscured by foliage—all of which works to the viewer’s benefit, for that which cannot be fully seen can hardly be criticized as “fakey.” Indeed, it is not seeing the creature in its entirety that makes it more convincing.

As for the human cast, there are no “stars.” Most of the residents of Fouke were able to make an appearance, either in front of or behind the camera. Director Pierce simply wrangled as much help as he could get from the townsfolk, which certainly kept the film’s the budget manageable. While few of the cast would ever find themselves accused of being actors, in most cases, their raw, untrained energy brings a touch of both whimsy and verisimilitude to the proceedings.

There is no doubt The Legend of Boggy Creek helped spawn a plethora of movies about big hairy cryptids. The early 1970s saw plenty of them (many of which I still quite love, however bad they might be). The Creature From Black Lake, Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot, Snowbeast, The Mysterious Monsters, and many more owe much to Charles B. Pierce’s vision. While The Legend of Boggy Creek itself was part of an already rolling cryptid bandwagon, it rose well above most of its contemporaries and imitators, and it is one of the few that are now well-remembered, going on fifty years after its release.

The beautifully restored version of the film can be rented on for $3.99. I strongly recommend it.
Now, what do you reckon that big old dude over there is up to?
Well, maybe not a lot, but what a mighty fun fellow!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Season’s Greetings

The Halloween season, of course. This year, I feel somewhat compelled to work overtime conjuring up the Halloween spirit, mainly because, well, it’s fookin’ 2020, and we all know how that has gone so far. But beyond that, Ms. B. and I had precious little Halloween last year — not that I would trade our big honking Europe trip for anything in the world — and I think we both want to immerse ourselves in the spirit this year until we start to prune. Now, at Casa de Rodan, the customary decor is Halloween 365 days a year, but I still like to put out a few subtle extras. Pedro the Spider, for example, has moved from his usual indoor perch to his slightly more extravagant outdoor abode. There will be gravestones and jack-o’-lanterns. And traditional as well as non-traditional Halloween movies have been running virtually nonstop here for the past couple of weeks.

Night (Curse) of the Demon is a given each year, as it is my favorite horror film; it appeared on last week’s viewing schedule. House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows ran this past weekend. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the absolute, inarguable harbinger of Halloween and cannot be missed; it is slated for this coming weekend at our friends’ outdoor movie night extravaganza, along with Hocus Pocus, which I’ve never seen. Ms. B. and I have also treated ourselves to Sleepy Hollow, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Terrifier, Lake Mungo, Restoration, Sea Fever, Silence of the Lambs, and others. Me, myself, and I have binged on every Hammer Christopher Lee Dracula, the two Count Yorga movies, King Kong, Frankenstein, Invasion of the Saucer Men, The Mothman Prophecies, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Sasquatch - The Legend of Bigfoot, Westworld, Madhouse, Theater of Blood, War of the Worlds, and lord knows what all else.

It is that time of year, yah. Also on the docket for Ms. B. and me is a trip up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, to Villa Appalaccia and Chateau Morissette wineries, another part of our traditional lead-in to Halloween. Sadly, the pandemic precludes the always-anticipated breakfast at Mabry Mill and lunch at Chateau Morissette’s restaurant. That part really sucks. But we will make do. Lord knows, yes, we are gonna make do.

It is the Halloween season, and that’s all there is to it.
Pedro catching some rays

Friday, October 9, 2020

Birds of a Feather

In the days of yore, geocaching-wise, there existed a series of caches called “Bird Watching: Feathered Friends 2K Series,” placed in honor of one of our favorite local geocachers, Big Tom, who — believe it or not — goes by the handle “Feathered Friends.” Big Tom is a birdwatcher, and should you ever have a question regarding anything bird, he would be your go-to. The caches in the original series, placed back in the mid-2000s, all contained clues that, when collated, provided the coordinates to a cache now considered something of a classic. Over the years, most of the caches in the series have gone missing or fallen into disrepair. Through it all, though, the well-hidden final cache has remained in place and in fair condition; the problem is that, without being able to find all the stages in the series, you couldn’t calculate the final cache’s coordinates.
A beautiful afternoon on the greenway

Happily, thanks to certain old timers willing to share the all-but-unattainable coordinates, I had found the final Bird Watching cache quite some time ago. Recently, however, our local puzzle cache guru (read “heartless monster”), friend Dave, who goes by the handle Rhodorooter, took it upon himself to call on the local caching community to refurbish, restore, and replace the original caches in the series so that the still-extant final cache might once again be found in the manner it was originally intended. I agreed to participate in this venture and, a few weeks ago, placed a cache called “Archaeoptryx - FeatheredFriends 2K Series” (GC8ZNKK). Now, if you frequent this blog, you might be aware that I have some fondness for the climbing of trees. It seemed only apt that a bird-themed cache might involve a change of altitude, and I would never dare disappoint anyone who harbored such expectations of one of my caches. So, yeah, you go after my cache, you get to climb a tree. Have fun.

Now, most of the other participants in this venture have their own antisocial inclinations — Dave, for example, favors creating puzzles so hellish that God himself threw up his hands, said some dirty words, and cursed Dave for all eternity. (Well, that’s what I heard.) Friend Jean (a.k.a. Sull427), also a puzzle maker, shares a similar warped mentality (and may suffer a similar fate). She offered a cache for the series that did require a wee bit of deviant thinking, but at least not the sort that results in permanent brain damage. Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob) opted for one of his customary challenging woodland hides. Similarly, friend Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom), placed a traditional cache at the site of the original hide in the series which has, quite literally, been swallowed — irretrievably so — by the hollow tree in which it resides. Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), bless his heart, also succumbed to the accursed lure of the puzzle; at least his was solvable without surgically removing his brain and downloading its vile contents into a William Gibson-esque biocomputer. Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) went for a classic, relatively simple bird-themed cache. All in all, these made for a bunch of exceptionally fun caches, at a time when, as far as I am concerned, new caches in the area are a godsend, given the pandemic and all.

Today after work, I found the last cache of the new series — “Stately Birds”(GC8ZHEJ) — hidden along the northern reaches of the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway in Greensboro. The afternoon turned out gray and a tad chilly, but it was perfect for a mile-plus hike through some gorgeous woods that I haven’t visited in several years. I am compelled to tip my hat to friend Dave, twisted though he might be, for heading up this project and enlisting so many fellow geocachers to do what they do best. Maybe God will cut him some slack for being an otherwise almost decent fellow.

Anything is possible.
Old dude on the hunt
Fall is in the air.
Shades of the Blair Witch

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Accent on Nerds

The things you sometimes find when you’re looking for other things....

I was going through old files, searching for a copy of my dad’s obituary, when I happened upon a folder full of family memorabilia, mostly from the 1970s and 80s. Among them were some singularly horrific items featuring my brother and me, the most egregious being an Accent on People feature from The Martinsville Bulletin, Sunday, May 12, 1974. The article was titled “Mark Rainey: A Monstrous Success,” and it related the story of a lad preoccupied with monsters — specifically, Godzilla and other daikaiju — to the point of mania. I can scarcely imagine a sadder, more tragic waste of a young life.

I don’t recall how the feature writer, a Ms. Gail Dudley, stumbled upon me and my unearthly hobbies, but I do recall her (and Bulletin photographer Mike Wray, who only relatively recently retired) coming to my house to conduct an interview and take photos. To be sure, it was an exciting day for me, and an even more exciting one when the article appeared in print. Once in a while, I have actually wondered if any copies of this thing might still exist. Apparently so. At one time, I may have had one tucked away in the vault upstairs, but I am not going in that scary place to hunt for it. The excavation required would prove prohibitive anyway.

But here it is... probably the nerdiest thing you’ll see today. Or maybe ever. If you can’t make out the little print, consider yourself lucky.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Fungus Amungus

The world’s most dejected mushroom

Fungus is fun. I’ve always found mushrooms in the wild kind of neat, but Brugger is an honest-to-god mushroom nut. She enjoys photographing them and then making watercolor & ink paintings or mixed-media images of them. These days, whenever I go out geocaching and come upon any striking examples of ye fungus, I make sure I take a few photos of them and send them along her way. This year, the late summer/early fall mushrooms have been plentiful and, in some instances, remarkable in shape, size, and color. As I have photographed these for Ms. B., I have  found myself oddly enamored of them as well.

Yesterday at Piedmont Environmental Center in Jamestown, on a caching outing with friends Old Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob) and Ms. Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), I happened upon what was probably the hugest examples of fungus I have ever encountered. Big, big clusters around a huge tree, each cluster as big or bigger than three or four dinner plates. I know nothing of mushroom types or which ones are edible (so I eat none of them); only that they can be remarkably photogenic. I am including a few shots here. You try not to eat these. Very bad.
The Fungi From Yuggoth, perhaps?
More Yuggothians!
Happy mushrooms! No sign of dejection whatsoever.
More happy little dudes
A mini-mushroom forest
A pretty parasol!
L: There's a nose on that tree! R: Little dudes wearing floppy hats
It’s another Tequila Sunrise
Amanita is the name they call her.
Ma & Pa Shroomie with the young'uns