Friday, November 1, 2013

The Poet's Speech - Hyperion by Dan Simmons

This is an excerpt from one of the books in the Hyperion space opera epic by Dan Simmons - I can't remember which, and honestly, I can't remember much of the surrounding story (by the gods there was a lot of it), but this one chunk of writing made a huge impression on me the first time that I read it, and every now and again someone will be waxing philosophical about the glories of the works of mankind or something, and I'll want to mention this idea. I never do though, because I don't think I'll ever be able to put it quite as particularly "right" as this. It took quite a lot of hunting to find it, which genuinely surprised me. Apparently I'm the only one who was particularly stricken by this - what I thought ended up being one of the central and pinioning ideas of the entire story arch. I ended up having to transcribe it from a photograph of a page of the book that was scanned into some Romanian e-Lending Library type site.

 Anyway, I consider this to be a really moving piece, and like I said, I'm often tempted to quote it or even copy/paste it to situations in need of such an idea, but I don't think I ever will. I think the closest I'll come is to whisper it quietly into the void of you, dear invisoblog. It will be our little secret.  B-Tots

* * * * *

The twentieth century's most honored writer, William Gass, once said in an interview: "Words are the supreme objects. They are minded things."

And so they are. As pure and transcendent as any Idea which ever cast a shadow into Plato's dark cave of our perceptions. But they are also pitfalls of deceit and misperception. Words bend our thinking to infinite paths of self-delusion, and the fact that we spend most of our mental lives in brain mansions built of words means that we lack the objectivity necessary to see the terrible distortion of reality which language brings. Example: the Chinese pictogram for "honesty" is a two-part symbol of a man literally standing next to his word. So far, so good. But what does the Late English word "integrity" mean? Or "Motherland"? Or "progress"? Or "democracy"? Or "beauty"? But even in our self-deception, we become gods.

A philosopher/mathematician named Bertrand Russel who lived and died in the same century as Gass once wrote: "Language serves not only to express thought but to make possible thoughts which could not exist without it." Here is the essence of mankind's creative genius: not the edifices of civilization nor the bang-flash weapons which can end it but the words which fertilize new concepts like spermatozoa attacking an ovum. It might be argued that the Siamese-twin infants of word/idea are the only contribution the human species can, will, or should make to the raveling cosmos. (Yes, our DNA is unique but so is a salamander's. Yes, we construct artifacts but so have species ranging from beavers to the architect ants whose crenellated towers are visible right now off the port bow. Yes, we weave real-fabric things from the dreamstuff of mathematics, but the universe is hardwired with arithmetic. Scratch a circle and pi peeps out. Enter a new solar system and the Tycho Brahe's formulae lie waiting under the black velvet cloak of space/time. But where has the universe hidden a word under its outer layer of biology, geometry, or insensate rock?) Even the traces of other intelligent life we have found -- the blimps on Jove II, the Labyrinth Builders, the Senseschai empaths on Hebron, the Stick People of Durulis, the architects of the Time Tombs, the Shrike itself -- have left us mysteries and obscure artifacts but no language. No words.

The poet John Keats once wrote to a friend of his named Bailey: "I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart's affection and the truth of Imagination--What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth--whether it existed before or not."

The Chinese poet George Wu, who died in the Last Sino-Japanese War about three centuries before the Hegira, understood this when he recorded on his comlog: "Poets are the mad midwives to reality. They see not what is, nor what can be, but what must become." Later, on his last disk to his lover the week before he died, Wu said: "Words are the only bullets in truth's bandolier. And poets are the snipers."
You see, in the beginning was the Word. And the Word was made flesh in the weave of the human universe. And only the poet can expand this universe, finding shortcuts to new realities the way the Hawking drive tunnels under the barriers of Einsteinian space/time.

To be a poet, I realized, a true poet, was to become the Avatar of humanity incarnate; to accept the mantle of poet is to carry the cross of the Son of Man, to suffer the birth pangs of the Soul-Mother of Humanity. 

To be a true poet is to become God.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Circadian Rhythm

Boop! This might be cheating, my friend Bigs asked me a while back to write her about what it was like to live in Alaska, specifically with regards to the sun. I was feeling nostalgic this morning, so I went back and re-read it and edited it a bit JUST FOR YOU, POSTERITY. I'll apologize in advance for how overwrought and mawkishly wistful this will be. I'm not famous for being thrifty with imagery - I was raised on Tolkien. Sue me.

Anyway, living in a sun-soaked and sun-deprived environment was definitely surprising and strange. It had a very big effect on my mood, and drastically altered my daily activities. I started both the fall and spring with a fair amount of work followed by a long period of unemployment, but the kind of life I led during them could not have been more different.

Probably first and foremost was the amount of sleep I needed. During the winter I had a hard time waking up before 9 am (often I slept until 11 am), and felt exhausted by 9 pm. The world seemed to begin and end at the walls of the cabin, and so did my mentality. When the summer really got into full swing, the difference was unbelievable. I found myself easily waking up at 6 am, helping Barbara get ready for work, making tea, listening to NPR, and thinking about the day. I moved around without feeling restless, and I could sit for long periods of time without feeling listless. Just being able to see the outside drew my mind out of the cabin space and I found myself getting a lot more done mentally than I did during the whole winter. Of course, there were so many other factors available to affect my mood, like not having to worry about putting on five layers to step outside the door, and having outdoor spaces to spend time like the porch or the garden or with the chickens expanded my range of available activities when work was short.

It was really bizarre though, catching myself gardening at 11 pm and thinking it was just about dinner time. I found my sense of time in general expanded to match the amount of light available. I adjusted pretty seamlessly to a 22 hour day, and had to really make sure that I was getting in bed on time to get the 6 hours of sleep I like to have. Dinner happened at 10 pm by accident pretty often. The downside to the light was a feeling of exposure. The winter offered what was often a comforting sense of envelopment - like I could run to the outhouse naked at 7 pm and feel completely safe, clothed in darkness. If I did that during the summer - even at 2 am - there would unavoidably be someone out for a walk or picking berries who would spot me a hundred yards away in the twilight that passes for night that time of year. In more than a few ways, Barbara and I felt on display in the summer light, and we took active measures to close off the cabin a little bit with blinds and then more blinds.

Physically, I just felt more energetic and engaged during the summer. It was not at all clear to me how direct a correlation there was between the amount of positive energy I had and how much sunlight there was until winter solstice. The moment we gained 6 minutes of sunlight rather than lost it, my attitude shifted drastically for the better. By the time the days were normal length, it was a lot easier to get motivated about any activity, and where it might have taken a whole weekend of planning to prepare for an adventure during the winter, it took half an hour to whip a similar activity into reality during the summer. Nothing could replace the sun.

Winter goes beyond bleak. It reaches a level of such intense inhospitality that it feels at once ambivalent and malevolent. It was beautiful and terrible. Despite filling our cabin with bright colors, fantastic music, and delicious smells and flavors, we were completely surrounded by singularity - specific sensations drawn to their utter extreme. There was no smell in the air except the pure emptiness of the dry cold, no feeling in windless air but the seeping, invisible, deadening chill, no taste to the world but that of your own frozen breath, absolute deafening silence broken only by the doleful ravens or the occasional chorus of sled dogs or wolves, and no light to see by except the wild, monochromatic blue palette of endless dusk, barely shifting tone as the sun rolled along the horizon. Even when the sun was gone and the world went as dark as the abyss, the sky still shone with intensity. The stars did not just shine, they screamed. I could stand on the driveway and stare for hours at our galactic arm, and it became very clear why the Ursa Major is our state flag. Winter was, in effect, vividly and sensationally sensation-less. The beauty of the winter is in this. It's almost like poetry. Everything is experienced in concentrate, and everything you do is deliberate. You're not just cold, you are painfully, mindlessly cold. You're not just bored and lonely, you are soul-crushingly without purpose and hopelessly isolated. You're not just running out to the outhouse, you are taking your life in your hands.

Summer drenched the world in dramatic contrast to the winter. Our garden spilled from its confines with vibrant colors, and the woods burst to life. First the little, white dwarf dogwood flowers poke through the snow, followed soon after by the bluebells and alpine azaleas. Then the wild raspberries, the low-bush and high-bush cranberries, and the wild roses all erupt into life. Neon blue bird vetch carpets the willows and alders while the wild geranium, irises, twinflower, and western columbine fill the spaces in between. The birches and aspen explode with new leaves, and the black and white spruces shake off their deep emerald winter coats and ring themselves with electric green shoots of new growth. Soon the fireweed, which has been growing in dense patches wherever there is open ground, springs into action, setting whole fields on fire with millions of pink flowers, smoking with puffy white seed clusters that float off in the breeze. The air is heady with the earthy cinnamon perfume of tundra spices: labrador tea, crowberries, mountain bell heather, and a hundred different mosses and lichens. One breeze might be acrid with the smell of fermenting high-bush cranberries, and another might bring the carroty scent of cow parsnip. Then come the wild bilberries, which are like what blueberries wish they could be but never dreamed possible. Every meal is packed with wild berries, and littered with edible wildflowers. Everything bursts at the seams in a screaming, frenzied symphony of living as the plants tug at their roots to soak in every last drop of sun. The summer is as explosive in flavor as it is in color. The long sunlight causes the plants to go into overdrive - carrots push themselves out of the ground, surging with super loaded sugars, broccoli grows dark and rich, and tastes every bit as complex and savory as a bite of steak. The chickadees, loons, arctic ground squirrels, snowy owls, black-billed magpies, woodpeckers, jays, and tree frogs all return from the south or come out of hiding to join the ravens and wolves in filling the days and nights with their cacophony. It's a tapestry of unique sensory input that can take whole afternoons to soak up correctly, and finding an ideal place to pitch a hammock or a good bed of tundra to lie on where this can be accomplished is not at all difficult.

Coming from the winter, almost sterile in its harshness and castigating extremity, the summer is practically obscene with its sumptuousness and opulence - an orgy of sensation. Everything in Fairbanks exists in extremes. The life, the light, the people, the temperature, even the land itself... Leaving that world behind for the relatively tame environs of the lower 48 felt like walking out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and back into the bleached grey streets of industrial London. I had been coloring with the 128 pack crayon box with the built in sharpener, and I was back to working with the 8 pack with the missing orange. The regularity of the hours and return of nighttime was immediately striking as we drove south through Canada. The closer we got to civilization, the more desaturated the landscape became. Of course, I've been living in not-Alaska for the overwhelming majority of my life, and it was not too difficult to get back into the rhythm of a normal night/day light cycle, but I found myself missing the sun's asymptotic games with the horizon pointedly. I remember being honestly shocked to see the moon for the first time in months somewhere in British Columbia. I was very glad to see the stars again too, but they weren't Fairbanks stars, and I would have traded both stars and moon to have the sun back in my evenings for a bit longer. It was the intersection of a cornucopia of environmental factors that made Fairbanks resonate so deeply with me, but probably none had so direct an impact on my psychological well-being as the sun did.

There is no word that I know of that can accurately capture the specific type of warmth and vitality of our sun's light, and I have felt it nowhere as powerfully as I did during my time in Alaska.

Monday, April 4, 2011


I'm trying to imagine the life of this can of pumpkin while I twist the handle on the can opener. I watch the words “Best by: Apr 2005” spin counterclockwise on the lid to the can opener's munching. I'm not sure I can even guess when this pumpkin must have been canned to have passed its best-by date six years ago. I picture the pumpkin as a waxy young gourd, growing up in an era where canning is kind of a new thing to the world of food - off-white and eggshell are the in-vogue kitchen colors. I try to imagine the shock and confusion, the soft hiss of decompression, the light beginning to spill in, Beck playing Hot Wax very loudly in the background to welcome it back to the world. How different the bright blues and pastel red, gold, and greens of my kitchen must look to the pumpkin. I do not envy it. Soon it’ll be muffins, so it goes.

The muffins turn out dry, stillborn from the oven. I have a bowl of Cheerios while I wait for them to cool and then wrap them in cheery green cellophane without removing them from the muffin tin. It’s 7 pm and I wonder what the mailbox is up to. I emerge from my house with about the same viscosity as the pumpkin from the can, punctuating each of my actions with wider, more dramatic swinging motions than necessary. Giving the mundane activities in my day this kind of energy lends them an element of grandiosity that they otherwise might lack.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bacon Bits

1. Whenever I looked into those flat, despondent eyes of his, the way they always focused on something about ten feet behind me and never quite managing to look like attention had been gained from them, I got that sort of enthusiastic frustration - the kind that makes you force people to fly kites and go on picnics or camping trips, and incidentally, seemed to be exactly the part of him that he’d lost somewhere in the last thirty years of his cubicled life.

2. Brian felt like his relationship with Cynthia was going pretty well, and in fact, if you had asked him, he would have told you so with a smile on his face and not even a twinge of doubt, that is, right up until the moment she hit him in the face with the shovel.

3. It was the first time that she’d ever seen anyone who actually kept gloves in the glove compartment, and this made her keenly suspicious of him.

4. “Well why couldn’t she just take your car?” was just what Jim was expecting her to say, and he had already prepared an exhaustive list of reasons why that was precisely the worst idea she had ever had, so it very disappointing when it didn’t come up.

5. Ellen was just innocently minding her coffee at the bar when Dan asked her one of those questions that you only expect to get when you’re sitting down or not holding anything dangerous, which is why he was in the bathroom wringing $2.75 of decaf house blend out of his shirt and she was trying to see if she could get a free refill out of the waitress.

6. Like most white people, Doug thought that Jesus was a white guy, which is why it took him almost ten minutes to recognize what he was looking at on his waffle, and an additional two minutes to realize that his whole life was about to change.

7. Ashley had a chronic problem of feeling like her life was low budget indie film, and she felt this most acutely whenever she got on the bus and put on her headphones, because no matter what was playing on her discman, it was the perfect song to accompany shots of her with her forehead pressed disconsolately against the window.


So I'm a fan of dogs for the most part. Dogs have been a part of my childhood, and while I've had mixed experiences with being chased around a park by an overprotective akita inu and had my face chomped on by a labrador I decided to play peek-a-boo with, the majority of my experiences with dogs have been positive. For a few years in college, I thought that a dog was what would really complete my image, but then I decided that maybe I had better just work on my people skills rather than retreat into some fantasy mountain man world. I can't say I've totally succeeded but I don't yearn for a dog like I did, and I think a large part of that has been thanks to moving to Alaska.

Here in Fairbanks, dog mushing is a pretty popular activity. However, it's a labor intensive and time consuming activity which demands discipline and care from both the musher and the dogs, so it isn't for everybody. However, for those who lack the care and discipline, a sense of humanity, regard for life, or suffer paranoid delusions, there is a second incredibly popular activity that you can take part in that is almost as much fun: dog hoarding! From the sound of things at night, you might expect that the entire city is populated by werewolves. I know the howling and yelping and barking and whining bothers some people, but it doesn't particularly bother me. It is sometimes unnerving to step into the night for a midnight tinkle and suddenly the trees all around you start moaning and howling, but you get used to it and I definitely prefer it over being woken up by sirens every other night like while living in Chicago. No, my problem is not the sound - my problem is with the affect this has on the life of a car-less individual.

Our cabin is up on the east saddle of the, as far as I know, nameless mountain next to Moose Mt., about 15-10 miles outside of town depending on what part of town you're pulling from. The cabin is located pretty close to the beginning of a major gravel road network that spiders about the mountainside and reaches far back into the wilderness like a network of tiny, delicate blood vessels. Unless you know where you are going, and unless you are prepared to fend for yourself, it can be surprisingly dangerous to explore trails on foot. There are of course the obvious dangers of running into a moose or a bear or a wolf, but definitely more likely, you'll either accidentally cross onto a game trail which will lead you onto private property or out into the middle of freaking nowhere (This is surprisingly simple to do, as this part of town is literally on the border of civilization, and if you end up on the northside or down in the valley beyond, you could very easily wander many hundreds of miles without running into anyone. I've heard more than one story of people going out for a jog or a hike and getting mixed up on a game trail and ending up dying in the wilderness miles from town. Game trails have a nasty habit of leading nowhere and everywhere, especially other game trails that will get you even more lost). During the winter it's easier to tell which is which since you can look at the prints in the snow, but during the summer, it's easy to get mixed up and take a wrong turn and end up somewhere you don't want to be.

To give you, dear reader, an idea of how many dogs there are in the area, in the half of a mile gravel road between the highway into town and our cabin, there are six yards that I can see (and more that I can only hear and guess at) directly off the road that are home to anywhere from three to several dozen dogs, only ONE of which belongs to a musher as far as I can tell. I walk very often to get around, especially since I sold my motorcycle and my truck a couple months ago. I hitchhike to work and into town or for whatever takes me further than I can walk. Also, weather permitting, I walk the mile or so down to the general store where our mailbox is every day. I have been attacked by dogs no less than seven times since moving to Fairbanks, and harassed by yards full of them too many times to count. Here are a few highlights.

* * *

When I first moved to Fairbanks, I was living down the road from my friends, Jon and Lou, in an unfinished cabin that Jon was building as a rental. Jon and I had just gotten back from a two week long caribou hunting trip, and after dropping my bag off at the rental, we drove over to their house for dinner. After dinner, I was walking home with an extra pair of tennis shoes that I had forgotten in the truck. Between the house and the cabin is maybe a quarter mile, and it passes by a particular yard with a handful of dogs. Usually they are penned up, but in the dim evening light, I could see as I approached that somehow the chickenwire fencing had come loose at one point, and that a couple of the dogs were milling about just outside of the fence. Now, having walked past these dogs a few times before, I knew they were pretty unfriendly to strangers, so I knotted my laces together and edged my way along the road, hoping not to attract their attention. Unfortunately, there is no good way to get past dogs like these - if you try to sneak past them, then they'll be surprised by you and go ballistic; if you try to be loud and present and march past them, then they will consider any distance closed between you as a hostile action on your part and go ballistic, but having no real option but to go back and bug Jon and Lou, who were very likely already heading to bed (it was quite late), I decided to just behave as normally as possible and keep as much distance as possible. A natural choke point of trees, however, brought me too close, and suddenly I found myself being chased by a very large dalmatian and a nondescript, black dog. I took off running down the road towards my cabin, and whenever the dogs got close, I would turn and flail wildly at them with my tennis shoes. After landing a substantial blow to the snout on the dalmatian, who had gotten his paws up on my jacket but failed to connect on the arm he'd been going for, they backed off a bit, and I stopped running and began backing my way down the road away from them. They lost interest in me once I had moved far enough away from their owner's property and trotted back up the road. I walked briskly and shakily down the road to the cabin and made sure to bolt the door behind me.

* * *

During the winter, Barbara and I tried our hands at skiing, but I failed to find reasonably priced ski boots that would both fit the skis I borrowed from Michael and would keep my feet warm enough to make it an enjoyable activity. After a couple failed attempts at skiing together, I decided to simply be Barbara's photo documenter. Earlier in the fall, I'd mapped out a few good trails around our neighborhood that would make good ski trails once snow fell. One afternoon we were feeling particularly listless and I suggested she go for a ski and I would trot along behind her. We usually ski down at the bog a mile down the road, but it's kind of flat and boring, especially if you're not skiing, so I thought it'd be a fun idea to try the trails.

The main road leading to our cabin from the highway makes a big L shape, and the trail I had in mind meanders about the bottom half of the L, and eventually ends by forking off into a powerline trail, a driveway, or a turnoff trail which parallels the longitudinal part of the L to the highway. Along this straightaway, there are two branches. One leads the ten feet or so over to the road on the right, the other heads off to the left, while the main trail stays true. The left trail is one of the kinds of trails I was talking about earlier. It is a wide, well defined, human traversed trail which branches off of what is clearly a major all-purpose, public, 4-wheeling, sled-dog, skiing, walking, biking, running trail, but it dives headfirst into the heart of a very dangerous property.

I happened to have taken this left path in the fall and ended up on this property quite by accident. My experiences there are a completely unique story that deserves its own post, so I won't get into it except to say that the property itself is an exaggerated extreme of a pretty common Alaskan pastime, which is collecting rusty shit and dogs on your property. If I had to guess, I'd say the property is at least 10 acres or so, and extends directly off the highway back into the woods quite a ways. Unlike the dense black spruce and aspen forest that surround it, the property has been mostly clear cut - save the occasional desperate and forlorn looking paper birch clawing its way out of the heaps of wreckage - and a labyrinth of old machinery, buses, logging equipment, mining tools, cars, trucks, trailers, campers, boats, and tin sheds has been, it seems, lovingly arranged in a sprawling orgasm of human wretchedness and folly across it. When I first turned a corner and emerged out of the trees and onto the edge of this surreal place and gazed down the hillside at this spectacle, I felt like I had stepped onto an abandoned set from Mad Max. Thankfully I was at the back end of the property, and I could seem from a distance, like ants swarming over the rotting carcass of some massive robot straight out of a steampunk's wet dream, hordes of dogs. I won't get into what happened to me on that day, but it sets the backdrop for what happened to us during that skiing expedition in the winter.

We had it in our heads to head down to the highway and across the road to the community soccer field which is hooked up to several cross country trails. I had never actually taken the straight path all the way to the highway, but I thought I knew where it came out on the road, and it was acceptably distanced from the property in question. The trail was undeniably a well travelled one, so I felt secure in saying we should take it straight rather than jump off on the right-leading trail and walk on the road. We passed the turn-offs and I noticed that as we went on, the trail moved subtly to the left. Apprehension started to gather in the corners of my mind, but I had no reason to suspect my guess at the trail's exit was wrong. Suddenly, however, we noticed hulking corrugated plates looming behind the trees beside us, and without warning the forest ran out and we were on a trail which ran right along the front edge of that wretched land. Worst, it was completely open to a little open yard where several dogs could be seen languishing in little makeshift alcoves, like a Hooverville ghetto for dogs. We stopped briefly and considered our situation. I don't know what Barbara was thinking, but I felt like I had led her unwittingly into a lion's den, and I was horrified at the very real possibility that we might be seriously injured, since I knew from previous experience that this land was irregularly tenanted, and that it being tenanted might not necessarily work in our favor. From where we stood and about 50 feet ahead of us, we could see the tree line that screened the property from the road, and the arch-like break in it where the trail emerged. As soon as we stopped and really before we had a chance to decide to turn around, we heard a yelp of alarm, followed by a chorus of answering yelps, and suddenly the deafening barks of what had to be at least 50 dogs were being directed at us. Like a startled beehive, they suddenly sprang from every metal orifice, perched on heaps of oil drums and cranes, seated in molding, doorless cars and leaning out broken and scum encrusted windows, scrambling over patched roofs and bounding over piles of snow covered tires, it was like a scene out of a horror film.

Many of the dogs were content to jeer and howl balefully at us from their positions among the debris, but a dozen at least began moving forward in a pack, coming onto the path behind us, forcing us to move forward. Before they had even started to make for us, however, I had made up my mind that making for the road was our best bet, and I didn't want Barbara to have a chance to assess the situation and become as terrified as I was, so I told her to keep going and gave her a little push-start. My rationale here was that knowing that you were being pursued by a pack of slavering dogs, while certain to incentivize motion, might not necessarily translate into the coordination necessary to ski successfully as a beginner to the sport. It seemed best to give the impression that everything was under control and push her forward. A couple of particularly vicious dogs advanced on me, and nipped at my heels. I jogged behind Barbara and tried to sound encouraging and told her to keep going no matter what, thinking that I might have to actually stop and give them something to direct their attention to while she escaped to the road. A middle sized dog with long hair that looked alarmingly like the akita inu that had chased me around the park as a child took the lead, barking ferociously and bearing its teeth. It bit at my ankle a couple times, and I had to stop every few feet and make - what, in confronting bears at least, is referred to as - "big arms" at it. When it actually connected a solid hold on my ankle, I turned around and punched it in the face. It nipped at my hand, but yelped and backed off, putting enough pause in the pack for us to break through the tree line and out onto the road. We recklessly crossed over to the soccer field and gathered our wits. A couple of the dogs followed us through the trees, but stopped short of the road and barked psychotically at us for a minute or so and then trotted back into the abyss. I think Barbara was shaken by it, but didn't quite realize what was going on behind her as she powered ahead. I screwed up my wits and brushed it off, considering myself lucky for having escaped with just a torn snowboot and a small rip on my right glove. The rest of the day was fun after that, and on the return trek, we gave the path wide berth until we had completely passed the property.

* * *

A few days ago, Barbara's car was in the shop, and after dropping her off at work and it off at the shop, I walked home and played on the internet until it was time to pick her up. The shop was running behind schedule, and with an hour before I had to pick up Barbara, I made up my mind to find Michael's truck. I couldn't get a hold of Michael after a few tries, so I decided to make some progress and call again later. Michael had just left town a week before, and since he had been housesitting Jon and Lou's place while they were on vacation, I figured that was a good place to start looking. I hitched down the highway to Jon and Lou's neighborhood. Their cabin is about halfway down Home Run, a tributary to Line Dr., which runs to the highway. The guys who picked me up dropped me off at Line Dr. and I made my way down the road. I rounded the corner and started making my way up Home Run. I was about 25 feet down the road when I looked up and noticed that maybe 200 feet down the road from me was a very very large husky. Huskies are good dogs, and one of their better attributes is that they haven't been mal-bred over the millennia to be hyperactive barking machines. It stood silently and completely still at the end of the road and watched me with silent intensity. I stopped and watched it for a moment and briefly considered my options.

I had been in an almost identical situation earlier in the summer walking to get the mail where a large black dog had walked out of a driveway and stood in the middle of the road blocking my path. In that instance, thankfully, I was able to call for the owner, who was operating a nail gun, thankfully, without hearing protection, and he called the dog off before it actually attacked me, but not before I was able to learn that even standing still or appearing to walk away did not assuage the dog's suspicions that I was a threat. I decided therefore, that I would not be able to walk away from the husky without signaling to it that I was a tasty treat, nor would I, in any universe, be able to out run it, nor would I be able to wrestle with it in shorts and sandals and a t-shirt. The road was smooth and rockless from a great deal of rain and recent travel, and I didn't spot anything that looked like it would be a useful or practical defense to me. Almost exactly between the dog and me, about 100 feet away, was Jon and Lou's driveway. I made up my mind to act naturally and make a beeline for their cabin.

I started walking forward, and as I did, the husky slowly walked forward as well. I made it about 3/4 of the way to the driveway and we were about 75 feet apart when the husky started showing signs of hostility. I could tell from the size of it that it was a very well trained and groomed sled dog, and I could tell from its jingling tags that it very well might even be a skijor dog belonging to someone nearby. I was surprised that it was being hostile because well-loved sled dogs are usually friendly to everyone. I was hoping that it belonged to someone at the end of the road, but I was afraid that it might belong to the people directly across the street from Jon and Lou, who, I recall Michael telling me, kept several sled dogs. If this was the case, I could believe that the normal reaction of a sled dog not in the presence of its owner and seeing a stranger coming between it and its home might become aggressive.

It made several of those low "huff"ing noises, which are about all the warning you get from a husky, and then started making little hops forward, coiling its back legs and keeping its tail back. I hesitated, but I was close enough to the driveway, that I felt I could probably make it safely. I was at the mouth of the driveway when it gave me a single loud bark and a growl and dashed forward a few feet and stopped again. I backed into the mouth of the driveway, which winds surreptitiously through dense black spruce before ending in a parking lot. I had moved out of sight of the dog and didn't hear it pursue me, so I turned and walked faster. At the parking lot, there is a long path to the house and a shorter path to Jon and Lou's very very large garden and greenhouse. There was no truck or any vehicle in the parking lot, and I wasn't sure how I felt about going in their house without their knowing it, although I'm sure they'd be fine with it if they knew I was being hunted by an enormous dog. I weighed the decision in my mind for a few seconds standing in the parking lot. I decided that the greenhouse was closer, more likely to have the door open, more likely to be unlocked, and would be a little more considerate given that I was on their property uninvited and entirely unawares. As I decided this, I heard another loud bark from the road, and the sudden, furious jangling of dog tags. I bolted up the path into the garden and into the greenhouse. Thankfully the door was open and I slammed it behind me just as the husky veered around the path and into the garden. I checked to make sure there were no openings besides the cutout vents and then sat across from the door amongst the basil. As I sat on the ground in the greenhouse and stayed absolutely still, there came the jingling tags as they circled the greenhouse a couple times, and then stood still for a few minutes somewhere towards the front of the greenhouse. Finally, after at least seven eternities, the jingling moved off into the distance towards the road, and then out of earshot. I stayed put for a bit longer and then milled about in the garden for half an hour or so before gathering some hefty rocks and making my way back to the highway. Thankfully, there was no sign of the husky when I emerged from the trees, and a nice lady let me ride in her truck bed back to my road.

* * *

I don't know what it is, really. You hear about cat ladies pretty often, but dog guys are far more prevalent up here, and far more dangerous to the average pedestrian. I guess that with all the sled dog breeding that goes on, for every one pup that ends up being a great sled dog, there must be four that are better suited for being chained on some dude's front lawn or let free in the yard of an abandoned property to be visited every week or so. There are a lot of people around here who honestly believe that the government or space monsters or their neighbors or Obama personally is out to get them and steal their ammunition, and the answer to this problem is apparently lots and lots of rabid dogs. I don't know why people feel they need this level of protection while the rest of us feel safe enough to leave our doors unlocked and our windows open on a day to day basis, but I know that after that german shepherd down the street got loose from the tree it was chained to and almost successfully managed to wrap its mouth around my face before its shirtless meth-head owner came out and called it off, I have developed a pretty strong dislike for whatever stupid ideology it is that cultivates this attitude in people, and I definitely get the mail less...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Awkward Pause...

I like to imagine that at the end of every other YouTube video when the person leans in and reaches towards me to turn off the webcam, that they're doing something else. Like, what if they were going in for a kiss, or what if they were going to try to punch through the 4th wall and choke me? Did they want to pinch my cheek? Cup my face in their hand? Push the stop button on MY computer? Where they suddenly filled with zombie hunger for human flesh, and I was the first person they saw? It's lucky the video ended just in time to stop them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bill, Lord of Nightmares

This post is pretty much just for me. As the topic is primarily dreams, it won't mean anything to any of you, likely. Other people's dreams are the least interesting things to listen to. I don't blame you if you don't read this.

My nightmares are having to get more creative these days. The things that used to scare me a lot still give me a huge adventure rush, but they just don't *terrify* me like they used to. I imagine this little black oozeball responsible for making sure we're meeting my yearly quota of nightmares sweating pretty hard as the new year approaches. It used to be dinosaurs and spooky houses, but now I love my dinosaur dreams, even when they're still chasing me, and spooky house theme doesn't hit quite as hard as it used to since I took up carpentry. Spend enough time renovating actually old haunted houses, and dreams about being in them is just annoying because its like dreaming about having to go to work. I had really terrible falling dreams for a while that would wake me with a start, but I started to look forward to these ones, and then I stopped waking up for them and Bill (which is what I'm naming the malevolent force responsible for my nightmares) had to quickly improvise to come up with what happens *after* you fall off the back of a boat (you drown or get chopped up by the propellers) or off a porch (you just break your arm and it sucks). Zombies worked well for a while, but I got better and better at killing them, so Bill went hyperbole on me and upped the zombie count and power to the point of absurdity. The last really scary dream where I was feeling like I was in danger was set in a city. I was holed up in the 40th or 120th floor (you know how it goes in dreams) of this apartment complex that was U shaped and had floor to ceiling windows. The zombies at this point were a seething mass of undead flesh at the base of the complex. I knew they were working their way up the stairs, but I felt pretty good that I had blocked off all the entrances and made it hard for them for a while. But the zombies where also endowed with flea-like jumping powers, and came leaping 40 to 120 stories up at me. This sucked, but I could shoot them out of the air as they got near. Then they broke into my floor and I was forced to run away. I did this by leaping out one of the windows I shot out and grabbing a rope that was tethered somewhere (I assume) and had a horrible Spiderman battle with superzombies for a while before falling, inevitably into that roiling sea of gnashing yellow teeth and cracked, overgrown fingernails. I admit that one got me pretty good, but I was pretty burned out on zombies after that. Since then, Bill has mostly just stolen ideas from movies I've watched recently. After I saw The Ring, I had a pretty good run of nightmares concerning that little girl. Previews I accidentally saw for The Grudge resulted in a dream where I was being hunted by characters from a movie I hadn't even *seen*, but the horror of that one borrowed heavily from the same things that scared me about The Ring.

Last night, I think the theme was borrowed from that movie The Cell starring J Lo and Vince Vaughn. It's actually a stupendous movie. It has great philosophical issues (although their complexity is whitewashed by the mediocre "big names" they brought in to illuminate them, and the directors - for whatever reason - seemed to have taken a film that could have been hugely successful and made the last minute decision to try to sell it to teenagers instead of adults, resulting in a very adult move with adult level sophistication with this weird veneer of teenage angst and flash-bangery). The cinematography is the best I've ever seen in a movie, ever. Anyway, the thing that was so scary about this one is that it happened in the morning after Barbara's alarm had gone off once. I was sort of in that space between sleeping and being awake, and when the dream set in, the transition was seamless. I was still in bed, Barbara was still next to me, nothing had changed except we and the bed had been shrunk had moved from next to the staircase to under the staircase. I was kind of dozing when this banging started coming from the side of the staircase. It looked like there was a gate under the stairs that was, I rationalized, banging in the wind. I thought this was annoying and thought to point it out to Barbara, but suddenly it started getting more insistent. That's when I noticed that the whole cabin was starting to shake and heave. I rolled and looked up through the crack in the floorboards of the staircase above me into the blackness beyond. I saw a glimmer of light, and then a huge, pulsing drone shook the cabin. It seemed to close on me, pressing on me like thousands of tiny hands on my chest, neck, arms, and pinning me to the bed. The cabin groaned and the glimmer of light throbbed brighter, deepened into a menacing orange and seemed to peer through the crack in the floorboards at me, settling its enormous and infinitely malevolent presence on me. I couldn't hear anything but the horrible, bone conducting palpitations that shook the entire bed and held me firmly in place. It was very much like that scene from Close Encounters with the little boy at the door, except the aliens aren't friendly. I stopped being able to breath, and so I started yelling for Barbara. I guess I must have actually said something because she shook me awake. The weird thing was that nothing changed about where I was. I was in exactly the same position as I had been in the dream, and Barbara moved the same in real life as she did in the dream. The whole alien business clapped shut like a thunderstorm getting shut up behind a door, but it took me a few minutes to find my breath again. You win this time, Bill.