Ossipee Mountain Vortex: a ghost story part 2

This is the second installment in my 3/4th true ghost story about my week in a New Hampshire cabin. To be clear, the scary stuff mostly didn’t happen, except in my febrile imagination. You can read the first part here, but I recommend instead you read it in this Google doc where I’ve also embedded pictures from the “real life” portion of my journey. I’m a day behind, so perhaps I’ll get the third installment tonight. It’s just a hunch, but I think things are about to get much worse (and therefore fictional) for our protagonist.

What I had wanted for my sabbatical was to hike, write and read, in that order. Although between the two of us, I wasn’t ruling out video games either. Hiking got first billing because reading and writing can be done in winter, in less scenic locations. But hiking was best done here at the height of blueberry season, in the gentle warmth of mountain summer.

Having signally failed to find the Ossipee mountain trails I intended from the back of the circle, I decided instead to take the well-marked routes from the Lake Winnepesaukee side. They all originated from the Castle in the Clouds parking lot. As I pulled in, under the shade of an old oak tree, I contemplated the different New Hampshires on offer. Yesterday had been the rural, poverty-touched, “Live free or die” New Hampshire woods. Today was the bucolic, orderly, historic “Currier and Ives” version of New Hampshire. The green fields were separated on the horizon by white picket fences before turning into the summer-dark green of the trees. Sparkling blue ponds (manmade) held clean gray boulders and were alive with fish and ducks. There was a stables nearby, as well as the eponymous castle a bit further up the roads. I frankly wasn’t sure which New Hampshire I preferred. Yesterday’s had felt rather more authentic.

My planned route this time was on the shorter side, the longer trails having been marked as strenuous. The first hour was marked by frequent dog-walkers, with joyful off-leash beasts who to a hound “just want to lick you”. The last of my encounters was with a woman who kept her hound in close reach on a leash, and she looked spooked. I called a cheery greeting, and she replied with a warning. “I have never seen that before!” she declared. “There was a porcupine that almost got Lucy here! She was off leash and ahead of me, and I didn’t even see the porcupine until she nearly had him! Good thing Lucy is good at stopping when I call her!” The protective cling of the leash was well-explained, then. I’ve heard that porcupines smell like delicious dinner, only to be the snack of great pain. I was relieved to see an unpunctured muzzle on Lucy – she was very lucky she was well trained. “Thanks for the warning!” I called back. “I’m glad you’re not headed to the vet right now!” “Me too!” her voice faded as she disappeared down the path. I was momentarily sad that I was not taking that trail. I’ve never seen a porcupine in the wild before. But it had probably also been rattled by its encounter, and had scurried to the undergrowth.

But a few miles up a broad, even, gently sloping carriage trail (according to the interpretive signs) led me to suspect that my path was only strenuous for a lady in a bustle with a parasol and shoes designed to show her ankles to advantage. It was as boring as it was easy – mile after mile of deep forest gentle slope, with no viewpoints in the homogeneous and well-mannered forest. By the time I hit my first peak, which finally had views, I was impatient with the placidness of the place. I resolved to switch my itinerary to a longer, theoretically harder one to stretch my legs a little more.

I regretted my decision to prioritize length over peaks by the time the sun was on the other side of the mountains. All I’d bought myself was a longer stretch of boring. Worse, instead of being a full-shade trail, there were now few enough hiking boots and plenty enough light that I often found myself hiking through high grasses – the favorite home of my least favorite creature: the tick. I consoled myself with the liberal dousing of bug spray that had started my day, but itched to get out of these broads and up to peaks.

Glancing down what seemed like aeons later, I saw my light gray pants legs were liberally coated with black dots. Moving black dots. Sticky moving black dots. There were maybe twenty ticks coating my lower body. I looked ahead and saw a shady, clear patch and sprinted, boots and all, to the welcome loam under a pine tree. I brushed off the ticks from my legs, pulled up the stretchy material as far as it would go and evicted a few more. I carefully checked my socks. Finally – I hadn’t seen another person in three hours – I took off my pants entirely right there on the trail and meticulously inspected both myself and them (removing a few more unwanted guests) before putting them back on. That there showed me beyond a doubt that I was really alone up here. Nothing summons other hikers like stepping off the path to rebalance your water ratio.

My knees, and the rest of me, were still a bit shaky. I’m not generally a scared person. But I have a *thing* about ticks. I want my bloodsucking attacks to be ones that I notice, not stealthy, horribly embedded ones that pay me for my blood by spilling poison back into my system, THANKYOUVERYMUCH. I was actually proud of my cool, collectedness and rational response to these ticks (as I drained a bottle of picaridin over myself). But I was still having a bit of a shock reaction to encountering my fears in such abundance.

So it took me a moment to pay attention to the circumstances in which I found myself. I was standing on the soft loam of under-a-pine-tree, but the tree itself let through the sky past skeletal branches, cold white against the blue of the sky. It wasn’t the only one – there was a big patch where the boring green I’d been lamenting had been turned to the white of bark-bare limbs and virulent green of pond slime. The air was still in this depression. A high-flying cloud in a mostly blue sky chose that moment to fly over, casting the mire and me both in shadow. From the unseen depths of the marsh came a strange sound, like the twanging of a huge rubber band. I stood, unsettled and transfixed by it, immune from mosquitos temporarily due to the fog of bugspray that still hovered around me. I noticed a great, old tree nearly divided in two and leaning towards the water. Like old man Willow from the Old Forest in The Lord of the Rings.

Yesterday my thumbs pricked. But today I couldn’t help remember a phrase I’d read in that crazypants vortex print-out: “Twisted trees, time/ space anomalies, bodily responses are markers of a vortex.” This was definitely a twisted-feeling space. I reassured myself what it REALLY was is a beaver pond and a sign of a healthy and evolving ecosystem, which would cycle through swamp to pond to meadow before returning to forest. But it FELT like a twisted place. I checked my watch to make sure I hadn’t experienced any temporal anomalies, and was informed that it was probably past time to get myself down off this mountain and get some dinner. And maybe boil all my clothes.

I picked up my pace and the fastest way down (that didn’t include going back through tick-glen) and such was my focus that when I started the pheasants, I almost leaped backwards. I was trotting through a section with heavy brush on the sides when those sides exploded into action and feather and flight, and three birds launched skywards with velocity. But one beat against the brushes as if caught, moaned piteously and then crawled away, crying in fear and pain just out of reach.

This might have been of concern if I wasn’t on to the bird’s tricks. I’d never flushed pheasants before (how bucolic!) but I knew that this was a favorite mommy-bird trick. She had a nest near where I was standing. But she was inviting me to come eat very visible, audible, clearly injured her instead of her chicks. She’d keep flopping *juuuuuust* out of reach until I was far enough from the nest, and then fly away completely uninjured, having bamboozled me and saved her chicks. I grinned at her excellent acting, but my feet kept to the trail and I let her save her little ones the easy way.

That was not the only animal sighting on my way down. I encountered gigantic hoof prints in soft mud that must be the elusive moose. There were a few times I could hear brush-scrapes or the sounds of large, moving things headed down the mountain. I was happy to find my car and the relentlessly scenic meadows.

As I pulled out the gracefully-designed road, I had to stop as three deer bounded in front of me, headed down off the mountain towards the lake. I wished them well in avoiding all other cars on their journey, and drove with eyes peeled for the remainder of my way circumnavigating the Ring Dike on Rt. 25. It was good I did, since I encountered a crazy number of other animals crossing the road all (I noted uneasily) heading AWAY from the Ossipee range. I swear I even saw a bear in a flash through my rear view mirror just before taking a curve.

Nightmares were probably inevitable after the day I’d just had. I tucked myself in, having scoured every inch of my body and tightly bagged my clothes, prepared for the tick nightmares. But while I’m sure there were some creepy-crawly dreams, I thrashed all night with dreams of running away, of fleeing, of looking back over my shoulders and seeing something horrible gaining on me, and needing to run faster. My dream-self was flooded with adrenalin and the need for greater speed, and my waking self sat bolt upright in bed, gasping, heart racing – filled with fear and dread and the desire to flee.

Ossipee Mountain Vortex: a ghost story part 1

Today I walked for almost ten miles. It was the easiest trail I’ve ever encountered, to the point of being boring. After I got bored of yet-another-forest-switchback I started telling myself the tale of my journey thus far (you know, a heady two days in) as the ghost story it longs to be. The story below is 3/4ths true. It’s me telling a story as though it was my story (I think I always write first person), but a more fascinating story than I hope my actual story turns out to be. This is part 1. I have no idea if there will be future parts, but I know what will be in them (at least somewhat) if there are.

The first night in the cabin there were thunderstorms. I didn’t mind. I love a good thunderstorm, and the windows that had been designed to showcase the dramatic mountain did a great job of giving me a dry and safe view of the pounding rain and slashing lightening. I had nine more days to enjoy the view of the mountains, I’d take this one to enjoy the view of the storm breaking over the windowpanes.

After a few minutes of watching from the hard chair in front of the window, I moved to the less scenic view from the couch and pulled out the horror book I had bought from the veritable box of books I’d brought with me. I was embracing the irony, you see. Here I was, a woman alone renting a cabin in the wild woods of New Hampshire (which means I was as much as FIVE MILES from the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts). The setup had slasher flick/murder mystery/Stephen King written all over it. So I leaned into it and cuddled up on the couch with the fury of nature breaking over my head.

You will be shocked to hear that I didn’t sleep well that night. The cabin was truly dark – at least after I’d unplugged all the decorative lights. The sky didn’t carry the sickly orange hue of the halogens on my suburban street. The rain had spent the better part of its fury and was now settling down to the business of watering trees and filling rivers. But I had been cavalier about my own fearlessness. It’s not that I thought the fate of the (incredibly stupid, unperceptive) heroine from the novel was likely to happen to me. But my skin pricked. The line rattled unhelpfully in my head, to the time of the biggest splats from the rain gutter:

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

Eventually morning dawned, like morning has a way of doing. I was tired, but the world before me was clean-washed and the view of the mountain just as spectacular as I’d ever hoped it would be. Over my breakfast (Cap’n Crunch – double bonus that I didn’t have to set a good example for the children who were enjoying themselves at summer camp, and also they wouldn’t steal my sugary cereal) I perused the white folder on the rental’s table. While I was expecting a nicely ordered set of menus, attractions and house rules (and maybe the wifi password?), instead I got the most fascinating combination of takeout menus, five year old expired trash permits, letters from guests, and internet clippings.

The folder’s front insert said in a clear cursive script “Welcome to Ring Dike Cabin”. Below were the names and numbers of the hosts. Er, host. Someone had taken black sharpie and scratched out one of the names, still identifiable as a woman’s name. Only the man’s was left. I had a guess who’d originally created the folder, and who was now responsible for its curation.

The internet clippings were fascinating, and explained the cabin’s name. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, I was on the very foot of an incredibly rare geological phenomenon: a ring dike. The first document was a printed out internet summary of the phenomenon from the geologists point of view, waving around words like “Intrusive rhyolite”, “Batholith” and my favorite “hyperabyssal magma chambers”. It ends with five different spots to visit, with driving instructions like “Good outcrops of pink fine- to medium-grained subporphyritic granite are exposed along the access road leading to the lumber yard.”

There were a few slightly boring clippings of “did you know there’s a collapsed circular crater of a hundred-million year old volcano right here in NH?” But the last one really got me. It started talking about how to open an interdimensional Star Gate on the Ossipee Ring Dike. It called out references to one of my favorite tourist holes, The Oregon Vortex, and generally seemed entirely batty and fun until it recommended crucifixion as a possible method of opening “Out of the chaos of nature symmetry occasionally emerges in the shape of mountains and humans, who when crucified or spun with Unity consciousness becomes a Star Gate for the earth in total.” Let’s stick with spinning with the Unity, lads. One of the charts even showed the mystical alignment with Chocorua, the mountain I had come here to see, as well as Mt. Washington and most amusingly America’s Stonehenge which WISHES it was the Oregon Vortex.

I laid aside the sheets with a satisfied sigh. I’d just been able to read something random cover to cover because I’d been interested. That was the whole point of this week alone in the mountains – to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, because I wanted to do it. That said, few mornings have dawned as fair and bright as this one had. And one thing I definitely wanted to do was go hiking! In all my journeys to New Hampshire, my heart and gaze had been ineffably drawn to the White Mountains. I was very ready to hike the White Mountain trails – I’d even bought an annual parking pass! But I had never, in all my journeys, looked at the eerily perfect circle of the Ossipee Mountains which were the battered remnants of a long-lost volcano.

So instead of taking my Sunday jaunt up in the Whites, as planned, I pulled up an internet map of hikes in the Ossipees and laced on my boots. OK, sure, I couldn’t quite figure out where the trailhead was. But I was ready for adventure! My heart felt full as I drove open-windowed over a gravel road up through the heart of the circle of the mountains. New Hampshire moved from suburban to bucolic to rural as I drove. I passed white houses with peeling paint, lovely estates with exceptional views, trailers half-hidden in the woods and farms done over as wedding venues. I was passed by one car, which had been new and cool when I was in high school (cough) 20 years ago with a tattoo’d, half-naked man more than half-way out the moonroof. If I was feeling liberated, I was still driving too sedately for that guy. But he didn’t hassle me as the Trans Am sped past.

Indeed, the trail head was undiscoverable. I drove as far along that dirt road, well past the “single lane, note turnout locations” point. I finally had to concede I would not find the trail head I was aimed at. I’d driven into the heart of the circle, through a gulley in it, and I’d been looking to hike up to the mountains there and see the circle from the heart of it. Much to my surprise, the Trans Am was parked at what *looked* like trailhead parking. I hadn’t imagined tattoo’d Trans-Am guy as a hiker. But people can surprise you. I applied sun screen and bug spray, looked meaningfully at the mountain stream that *would* refill my water bottle on the way home, and headed up the trail.

I was greatly surprised to catch up to the dudes. (Of course there were two. Shirtless & tattoo’d may have been reckless hanging halfway out the car, but not reckless enough to attempt to drive while doing it.) The driver, carrying a camo backpack and wearing mismatched ankle-length argyle/cartoon socks, was looking at something off trail while his compatriot waited for him. Despite my epic lostness (and no cell connection) I couldn’t quite bring myself to strike up a conversation with them. They ignored me in the way only a pudgy 40 year old woman can be ignored.

We played leapfrog like that all the way up the mountain. They were faster than me when moving. But they’d frequently stop and wander off the trail looking for… who knew? I was relieved when our strange procession was joined by a patient pair of adults cajoling what looked like a 4 and 2 year old to go up the near straight “trail” that was really ¾ boulder scramble. As I passed, praising the children for their effort, the mom stepped aside and instructed “Let this nice woman pass. She at least looks like she knows where she’s going!” Ah, irony!! But there were clear blazes (mostly), and I was pretty much never out of sight of my TransAm friends.

It took a shockingly short amount of time to climb from forest, to boulder scramble, to summit. And the summit was as worthwhile a goal as I’ve ever seen. The entire thing was covered in ripe blueberries, hearkening back to one of my favorite childhood books, “Blueberries for Sal”. I stopped and refreshed myself with them, and finally broke my silence to the two boys by commenting on their excellence. They opined expertly (and politely) on the crop and then leapt ahead of me one more time before the summit.

They were still milling around the border between summit and not-summit when I claimed the very best spot for sitting. I sometimes forget to wonder how gigantic, car-sized boulders get to the TOP of mountains, but not this time. I wondered whether it was volcano or glacier, fire or ice, that had deposited this boulder I sat on. Did it have intrusive rhyolite? I’d never know. I sat in the sunlight, strong breeze both blowing away pesky insects and drying the sweat from my back and hair. And I didn’t have to go anywhere, or do anything. I had my choice of views. Would I look south to the Lakes region of New Hampshire? (BORING!) Would I look east and see Ossipee Lake stretched out, nestled between green hills? (Better). Normally, I suspect, I would have looked north. There were the Whites, slightly obscured by a passing summer rain, too far away to be of any concern. I’d be watching for Chocorua. But my whole point this day had been to look away from the transfixing Whites and to this Ossipee mystery. So I turned my gaze west, to the still-unassuming hills I’d *meant* to hike. I sat with the sun and the breeze and my snacks (which involved both fruit and chocolate, although separately) and listened to the finally triumphant dad explain to the four year old how the carpet of blueberries was thanks to a forest fire four years ago. The mom and the two year old did not make an appearance, a tales whose history was easy to read.

I was peaceful, and quiet, and exactly where I wanted to be. Here I was, one day into my much-needed sabbatical, and I was resting. I released a breath that chased a portion of cortisol out of my body forever.

Now, many people can physically feel barometric pressure changes. Despite what I thought when I was a girl, it does not make me psychically attuned or special that I can feel when the barometric pressure drops. It probably didn’t help my 14 year old delusions of grandeur that I feel such drops as a sense of mystical forboding, as though something dire is coming and I need to be wary. In fact, that’s more or less what it means. The pressure drops and very often a storm follows.

But there on the fire-blasted summit of Bayle Mountain, in the Ossipee Ring Dike, I felt the ominous dread overtaking me like a wave drenching dry sand as the tide rises. A fast-moving cloud changed my sun-drenched perch to a greyed, chilled location. I pressed my palms to the (volcanic?) boulder, to reassure myself that my memory of the heat was a real thing. The sound of the songbirds was replaced by the cawing of crows – a sound I usually like. But in combination with the onrushing barometric dread and the dying of the light, it seemed like a bad omen.

I pulled my bag back onto my shoulders, stowed my no-longer-needed sun hat and told myself that it was just good sense to get off the mountain before the storm my senses was screaming at me about hit.

As I clumped heavily down the granite face (was it Biotite Granite or possibly Winnepesaukee tonalite?) I saw the TransAm Two huddled at that border between forest and summit, surrounded by charred logs, in a small cave made by two vast boulders. I thought about waving, but the weight of the barometric pressure pushed me on and I hastened down.

By the time I got back to the cheerful stream and my car, the weight had entirely lifted and the sun was shining. I took off my boots and waded in the water (I had learned not to do this if there was more hiking to be done, but I was finished for the day). I captured my flagon of beautiful river water and purified it with my light saber (ok, ultraviolet purification thingy) and drank it. I also marveled at just how wussy the soles of my feet were. As I child I would have danced across these pebbles. As a much stouter adult whose feet were entirely used to the wearing of shoes, the stones dug into my feet and the gravel got between my toes. The weird weight of the weather was entirely washed away in the dappled sunlight and annoying gravel.

Lovecraftian October

I really, really love Fall in New England. Of course, everyone loves Fall in New England. It’s the reason we haven’t all moved to Southern California. I lament that fall is my busiest season, in which I have the least leisure time to devote to Really Enjoying Fall. I’ve taken far too few Fells hikes, shuffled insufficient leaves and there’s been inadequate pumpkin spice. OK, I don’t really do pumpkin spice, but I like the concept. The one place where I’ve been able to sufficiently celebrate autumn is in the ghost stories.

According to the traditions of Brenda, I start reading ghost stories on the last camping trip of the year, on Labor Day. This particular time, I read a book loaned by a friend “Shadows Over Innsmouth” was a very fun riff, starting with HP Lovecraft’s original tale and then going through several author’s worth of short stories. They were all very well done, and a great bite-sized set of horror snacks. Then I happened to stumble across a book written by an author I’d enjoyed earlier this summer, Sarah Monette. This time, mostly in the tub, I read through “The Bone Key“, and it was a great horrifying lark – a perfect read on a night when the moon rose over my en-tubbed feet and was lost into the great tumult of rain lashing leaf and window alike.

Having finished them, and wishing to honor this old harvest time further (ok, really been enjoying them), I’ve moved on to New Cthulu: The Recent Weird. It’s showing me that I need to revisit some of the classic works – I don’t remember all the originals referenced. I’ve been trying to step away from my phone, as it were. So I’ve been reading them in the morning (when Adam brings me breakfast in bed). You know things aren’t going well in the world when Cthulu-esque horror is far better for your mental health than what’s actually going on in the world. And yes, even on the occasion of his birthday Adam still brought *me* breakfast in bed. That’s a loving, devoted man there, folks.

It maybe isn’t my best move to be reading that stuff before church. Just not quite the right worshipful spirit.

Last night was even more Cthulu. What Adam *really* wanted for his birthday was uninterrupted gaming time. While my plans didn’t quite coalesce to Plan A, Plan B had me joining the table for the game. He ran this amazing spooky, creepy, horrifying game set in 3rd century BCE China. By my estimate, he’s done well over 100 hours of research for this game, and read at least 8 books. The man is a purist. The game was about 6 hours (punctuated by dinner and periodic parenting). We lit all the candles and pursued the path of immortality with insufficiently wary feet. It was great.

In a few weeks I’ll set down the horror. Maybe I’ll find some fiction. Maybe I’ll take bite sized bits of the Muir that felt this summer like the revelation of a sacred text. Maybe it’s Pratchett time, or Wodehouse.

Until then, it turns out there are a ton of great stories “inspired by” that weird guy from Providence!

Over the Garden Wall

One of the great joys, and small sorrows, of parenting is revealing your favorite things to your children to be embraced or reviled. There’s the magic of having them fall in love with something you fell in love with too. There’s nothing like snuggling with them on the couch watching your favorite movie for the first time, or catching your youngest staying up too late reading a book you also stayed up too late reading. Of course, they don’t always love what you loved. There you just hope that maybe someday they’ll have better taste.

But every once in a while, they introduce you to something that means a lot to THEM and the process works in reverse.

Grey bought a Google Home Mini with the Christmas money his uncle gave him. I’d been reluctant to add that technology to our household mix, but then he put together a six slide presentation on why he should be allowed to keep it. So it stayed. Grey and I have, uh, different taste in music. He really likes rap. So I was very surprised, listening to one of his playlists, to hear him singing joyfully along to a simple piano and vocal piece with the refrain “Potatoes and Molasses“. Very weird.

I asked him what it was from, and he was horrified to discover that I hadn’t seen his possibly favorite ever show, Over the Garden Wall. So over the course of the next few evenings, we watched it together as a family.

You know what? It was really fantastic. The kids kept warning me every episode that it was “dark”. It was serious, with real emotions and important themes and the opportunity for real loss. But it was also silly, surreal, sweet and unexpected. It had beautiful pieces of music interspersed. I think my favorite moment was the Beast’s Song, which I recognized from Engelbird Humperdink’s opera Hansel und Gretel. Do you have any idea how few subtle references there are in popular culture to obscure Germanic operas? And that one was so spot on, thematically, that it pointed to an incredible attention and care that the makers of the show lavished on it. I so deeply appreciate discovering my children love something that has depth, meaning and craft to it. This is literature in cartoon form – nodding backwards as it walks new ground forward.

I also really liked how the show modeled being brothers. (Mild spoilers.) The two key characters are step brothers. The little brother is annoying, for sure. The older brother is supercilious. But the love the two of them have for each other is plain in every scene and interaction. They’re never cruel to each other, and are very patient even when the sunny, goofy character of the youngest puts them in true peril. It’s a lovely model for my two, as they think about how they want to deal with each other.

It was a lovely thing – to have my kids pleased and proud to show me something that they loved. We got to be together. We got to point out to each other things we’d missed – those small details that can tie together a complicated story.

What’s something the next generation has introduced you to that you’ve discovered you really like afterwards? What are some of those moments of reversal for you?

Sometimes you just gotta Skyrim

So my thirty loyal readers may have noticed I missed last week’s post. This is hardly so surprising, since my cadence lately has been more fortnightly than weekly. (Crazy to think at one point I wrote blog posts daily, or even more than daily! They were shorter, and not amazingly well thought out or written. As opposed to these posts… um, yeah.)

I often have really good excuses of why I’m too busy to do something. Sometimes I go through these periods where my schedule bounces between insane and crazy with only period stops at out-of-control. But I have to be honest with you – last weekend it was the video game Skyrim.

Lots of people are having a hard time right now. Across the Caribbean, there are folks who are struggling to keep body and soul together. Many are leaving homes they may never be able to return to, in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other smaller locales. Houston and Florida are still drying out. The West is burning. The air is unbreathable and the flames have claimed more than 35 lives. We refuse to even admit that global climate change is a problem, so it feels like there’s little hope of fixing it. The Dreamers wonder if they’ll be sent to exile in countries they do not know, whose language they do not speak. And there is fear, anger and hatred on every channel, Facebook check and news article. Heck, even the sports news is bad around here. The US Men’s Soccer team won’t be going to the World Cup, the Red Sox went down early and easily and the Patriots are not looking quite like the machine they once did. Also, football nastily kills or maims the boys who play it for our entertainment, so good luck enjoying that.

I’m a gamer, and we describe the characters we play using attributes. So for instance, your Cleric might have a 16 wisdom, a 13 charisma and a 10 strength. You would roll a 20 sided die to try to do something, and if the number is under your attribute you succeed. If it’s over your attribute, you fail. Sometimes, you get things that temporarily modify your attributes (like poison damage) that make it easier or harder by increasing or decreasing your attributes. So instead of a 16 wisdom, if your character say gets drunk, they might have a -2 modifier that means there wisdom is temporarily only a 14.

That’s a really long digression to say – I feel like everything I’m doing right now has a -3 modifier for the state of the world. Sure, I still usually am fine. But things that used to be easy are harder. And hard things feel almost impossible.

Generally I try to be a good steward of my time. When the weather is beautiful, I try to drag my kids on hikes. I exercise. I read. I make time for friends. I cook meals from my farm share vegetables. I LIKE video games, but I don’t really play video games because I carefully write thought-provoking blogs posts instead.

But man, these last few weeks my coping skills have run out, my well has run dry, and I’ve wanted nothing so much as a problem I can solve with a few fireballs and flame atronach. Grey had a sleepover for his friends last weekend where they mostly played video games together. And honestly? There were a million things I probably should’ve been doing. But what I was doing was getting my character up to level 29. I feel guilty. I actually think video games are a pretty bad way to recharge. A good book, exercise, clean living… much better ideas. But I’ve just run out of the will to keep making these healthy choices as often.

So if you’ll excuse me, I heard from a guy who used to be an adventurer like me (until he took an arrow to the knee) that there’s a dragon near Ivarstead that needs my attention.


How about you? There must be some people out there pleased at the way the world is going – are you one? If you’re not, what are some of the coping skills you’re using to face your every day?

Nothing new under the sun

It’s Mother’s Day, and I’ve spent it in glorious sloth and catching up on some things that need to be caught up on. Someone praised my blogging on Facebook today, and I’m happy for the compliment. But then I find myself with another week coming, and another post, and not such great ideas.

This year’s lilacs

Or rather, I have some excellent ideas. I’d love to tell you about Mother’s Day, lilacs, and how much I love lilacs. Except I did that back in 2009. (Eight years later, the boys still roll down the hills at the Arnold Arboretum during the Lilac Festival.) Also, please note that in that post I whined about how hard it is to come up with things to write about. I also covered lilacs in 2010, 2011, 2012 and probably every year since then. Maybe I should start thinking of these posts as traditions instead of repetitions?

Yesterday at one point I had on my “Mirkwood National Forest” t shirt, had my “Not all who wander are lost” sticker on my laptop (the other laptop has a custom made “Gates of Moria” sticker and was reading Tolkien.

In an attempt to restore and rejuvenate myself, I’ve reread Tolkien for, I dunno. It might be the 40th time. I have my own “Editor’s Cut” of how to read the books if I’m in a hurry. I read them super slowly this time, to notice things that had previously escaped my attention. I did! It’s such a rich text. I love it more each time. This time I pondered a parallel between Theoden of Rohan and Roland of “The Song of Roland”. Both are killed by their own weapons (horse and horn), arguably because such characters couldn’t be bested by a foe and hold to the story. I also saw more clearly than ever some of the Christian allegory Tolkien claimed he was including. There is much of the Christ story in Gandalf’s death, resurrection, transformation & teaching. But I’ve also covered the topic of Tolkien pretty well.

Complaining about being busy is boring. Being busy is also boring.

My life is pretty awesome. The most I have to complain about is too much awesomesauce. There’s chocolate cake to celebrate tonight. And at any moment now I’m going to log off and start playing Civ VI like I intended to three hours ago.

May your remembrances of mothers and mothering bring you joy today. For those of you who do not have your mothers, may you find consolation either in memory, or in the memory of those who have served as loving influences in your life!

The Wheel of Time

I often looked at the cover art and wondered what the heck they'd told the artist, who had clearly never read the books.
I often looked at the cover art and wondered what the heck they’d told the artist, who had clearly never read the books.

“The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings in the wheel of time. But it was a beginning”

The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan

I was in sixth grade – perhaps seventh. Having worn through a few copies of The Lord of the Rings, my fifth grade teacher had lovingly given me a copy of Terry Brooks’ “Sword of Shannara” for graduation, as perhaps a subtle hint that there were more fantasy authors out there than just the one. (In my defense, that particular school didn’t have a library. And fantasy novels were far rarer in the 80s than they are now.) Having made that great discovery, I began reading at a great rate, along with three companions in my literary journey. Now, if I’d had the kind of heroes journey I was reading about, the four of us would’ve become inseparable companions, filled with a respect and friendship that would warm our memories.

The way it really worked was that there were four of us who like to read fantasy in the tiny podunk logging town I was raised in. If we wanted to talk about books, it was with each other. We did play Middle Earth Role Playing together. But despite my best efforts, fondness never grew from forced interaction. In retrospect, I deeply pity the guy I had a crush on who was forced to deal with me six days a week (we went to the same church) for multiple hours a day. I saw him at reunion and he got a slightly haunted look seeing me. Sorry!

I digress.

One of the books we discovered was “The Eye of the World”. It was a good one. I had bought a copy, and we all read it in turn. The seven hundred page sequel followed, and was similarly devoured. And then, bliss! The third came out! Granted, it was crazy expensive on my $40 a month food/clothes/fun money budget (if you knew me then, this explains why I dressed the way I did), but life was too short to not buy books! It would be great to finish the trilogy and move on to the next one. I may have pondered how wonderful it was to have a living author who would keep writing! I never fully got over the betrayal of Tolkien dying without knowing how much I loved him.

But what? The series didn’t conclude? I’d read all three back to back – with labyrinthine plots and a cast that had to be in the hundreds, you couldn’t rely on your memories of the last reading a year or two ago to see you through. You had to start over.

Well, a four book series wasn’t unheard of. We’d allocated out the purchasing of these books. None was available at any library we had access to, so they must be bought. This was back when a bookstore meant Waldens – before the big box bookstores came and long before they were replaced by the great online retailers. We had a deal. I’d buy Jordan. Chad bought Terry Brooks. Jack bought Lawhead. And maybe Heidi somehow weaseled her way out of being responsible for buying any author’s books.

A year later – in high school – the fifth came out. When I graduated from high school I was still there on release day, buying the seventh volume and praying that this time he’d really wrap it up. I spent hours in my bedroom reading the books and listening to “All the Best from Scotland volume II” on repeat – they’re still inextricably combined in my head. My collection of books was getting unwieldy, my budget largely spent on Starbucks, and the time commitment required to read seven books at about a thousand pages a piece was significant. But I was there. I even got that seventh book signed.

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In college when the eight came out, I may have made time to reread it. Maybe over the summer. But then it was followed by the ninth. Rumors began of his ill health. He had a fatal diagnosis. Surely, one thought, this would encourage him to oh… I dunno… actually close a plot thread for once? Ha! Great at opening them. Lousy at closing them. He even went to write a prequel. It’s possible that I was actually angry about this.

He died and I never read his last books because I couldn’t justify weeks of rereading, and he hadn’t *finished*. It all felt very tragic.

He had, though, written down how he was planning to some day finish up the plot. That thread was pulled up by Brandon Sanderson, who had probably been buying them from Waldens in the mall just like I was. That “last book” turned into three books, ponderous as their predecessors if a little better in the “closing plot threads” department.

And finally, the last book was written and the last story told in Spring of 2013.

In the Spring of 2015, I got a new job with a new commute. A car commute. By myself. As time has gone one, my tolerance for NPR has gone down. (I like the non-political news far more, and that’s been a vanishing commodity over the last two decades.) So I needed to listen to something. I figured that this was the perfect time for me to finally catch up and hear the end of the story!

So every single commute for the last TWO YEARS I have spent two hours a day listening to the Wheel of Time on audiobook. Especially around book six or seven I would get to work irritated. The entire commute could be cut by an editor (if only!) and there would’ve been no material change to the story.

But it was entertaining. And over this vast repetition, it also became much more real and tangible to me than if I’d only read it. Last weekend, recovering from a bout of labrynthitis, I laid on a chaise and listened to about eight hours of the conclusion. I realized, staring fixedly out the window, that this was it. I’d spent two years living with Perrin the Blacksmith and his strength, and Mat the womanizing gambler, and Rand the started-every-book-less-mad-than-he-ended-the-last-one, and Nynaeve with her temper and braid and Pevara who I think might be the only real hero in the whole book and and and… well, the list of characters is long. And I know them all with the intimacy of daily contact over two years.

The end of the series, if you’re curious, did not satisfy. All battle, no epilogue. There were major plot threads left open. (Spoiler alert – seriously, how did you not manage to explain that Olver is actually Gaidal Cane reborn, which is sooooo obvious!) We don’t see how the world does get remade, or how these overarching conflicts that I spent DAYS of my life hearing about were finally resolved. I got to the end, but I could’ve stood that last half of the book to be what came after. Alas, I didn’t get it.

But with all this – with the annoyance at the lack of editing and lack of satisfying culmination – I have done it. I have finished the series. I enjoyed it, whining aside. And it is almost certain that I will never read it again. That brings a sense of loss. I suppose I could read it, if I wanted. But those down sides are too steep to encourage me to ever climb them again. It’s just not worth the effort. And so it is that this journey, which I started twenty-seven years ago and spent endless hours on, is done. It is finished. I will never again hear of Thom Merrilin in his patched cloak or the hawk-nosed and fierce Faile.

Farewell, fictional friends. You will be remembered fondly.

It is not THE end, but it is AN end, for the wheel of time has neither beginnings nor ends.

Many, many first editions
Many, many first editions