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Climbing through hand carved tunnels since 2003.

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Owen and Jenny
Casa Bellini (and Wistric, too!)


June 8th, 2011

All That is Sweetness and Light and I have returned, sunburnt and fly-bitten, but generally well-disposed to the past weekend. For what amounts to a comedy of errors, the weekend was really nice. Pictures may one day be available, but there’s a story to that, too. Lessons have been learned about the utility of dry bags.


We loaded the canoe and launched out in to the sound behind Bear Island (which, it turns out, has no bears, and was originally Bare Island. Not due to any human nudity, but a general denudedness of the landscape). Being in a moderately laden canoe, we cut across the channel that the motor boats were using so as to not be troubled by their stupidly over-compensating wakes, and through the break in the dredged-up dirt opposite the dock. This was the first mistake. On the other side of the dredgings we found ourselves in a sweep of hammocks. Here, perhaps, should be discussed Mistake the Negative First. Hammocks, by my definition, have never been “those muddy grassy shoals behind barrier islands”. Hammocks are a thing for swinging in. I was horribly misled by the name of the place, “Hammocks Beach State Park”. Suffice to say, the hammocks in the sound were the muddy variety.

We wound through the hammocks, and eventually stumbled on a marker for a canoe trail. I looked at it, looked around, and saw another marker a few hundred yards up-wind. “Balls to that,” said I, and ploughed onward among the hammocks. That would be the second mistake. A 2 mile paddle took us the better part of 2 and a half hours as we ran in to dead end after dead end until, finally, we came to a dead end that was separated from a wide open channel by only 10 feet of hammock. We portaged and finished the last half mile, or what we thought was the last half mile, paddling up wind, because apparently there is no “off shore breeze” in that part of the world. When we got to what we thought was the landing (Mistake the Third), we realized that there were another set of those canoe trail markers, and that they wound around the point of land we were at, and that they marked a trail that was indistinguishable from a narrow Floridian creek at low tide. This was low tide. There was no way in hell we were going to maneuver the boat up that (because, it being low tide, water was flowing out of the creek), so I got out and dragged the thing another half mile up this creek, until we reached the ACTUAL landing.

From there, it was a few hundred yards to carry our gear to our camp site, over beach sand, which meant that by the time everything, including the boat, had been moved, we were thoroughly exhausted. However, it was in all ways worth it. Our tent was pitched just behind the dune line, which we could sit on top of or lean against, looking out across the ocean, eating a long-delayed lunch, and drinking restorative liquids. And then the deer flies showed up. To the benefit of my continued marital happiness, they left Jenny alone and focused entirely on me. The sand flies, though, seeing that I had been claimed, set about making sure that Jenny did not feel left out. OFF Deep woods did the trick, though it needed re-applying every hour or two, and shortly after the sun went to bed we did the same.


Sunday we had nothing to do, which was the goal. We’d brought books (too many, it turned out, but that’s what happens when bookish people pack for vacation. Mistake the Negative Second) and mats to lie on and spent most of the morning alternating between swimming, reading, and collecting shells (which may or may not have been against the rules, we couldn’t quite figure out). After noon, the day got hotter, and we moved inside the tent, until we realized it was ghastly hot in there, too, and we couldn’t keep the deer flies out without turning it into a nylon oven. Eventually we caved and walked down to the bath house (the showers and toilets on the island, being another half mile away from our camp. Mistake the.. what are we on now?). At the bath house were also picnic tables and a concession stand that would have cold water. Unfortunately, it closed shortly before we got there. But we lounged in the shade and the breeze reading until the heat broke, and then went back to camp for dinner.


Monday saw the culmination of the sort of stellar stupidity only smart people can really attain. “We could just launch off the beach,” said Jenny. “Er… okay, how about we take the boat out empty and see if you think it’s really doable.” So we did. She, in the bow, got the rollercoaster ride of crashing over the tops of waves, but thought that it was just fine.

I mention here, briefly, that I love my wife, but that she does not paddle well, spends a lot of time being distracted by the wildlife instead of moving water, and would end up going in very tiny circles if I weren’t steering despite my best efforts at education. This became important when…

We actually launched the fully loaded canoe out through the waves (with the park rangers watching us do this thing that, we later found out, was kind of against the rules). Water came splashing over the bows, and it was about this time that the camera and my cell phone got killed. Saturday, I had argued with Jenny, repeatedly, that they should go in a dry bag. She stubbornly refused until the point where I said “Fine!” Monday I did not even bother raising the point. As a result, I have no cell phone, but I finally heard her admit I was right about something. We bore away from the shore, working towards Bogue inlet at the end of the island while keeping bow-on to the waves (the waves came at an angle, and between the wind and the current we could actually point into the waves and still move towards the inlet). After the initial terror, I subsided to mild panic, while Jenny, in the bow, pulling us off the line we REALLY needed to maintain with every stroke, said “How ya doing? Terrified? Why?” She, too, though, would achieve the same state about the time we hit the inlet, where water pushing off of Bear Island to the south, and Emerald Isle to the north, funneled into each other in cross-currents that kicked up evil standing waves, and put more water over the gunwales. I was mid-calf in water by the time we pushed through into the sound, and we beached, ate lunch, and bailed the canoe before continuing on.

The rest of the paddle was easy: the onshore breeze, the making tide, and the clear and easy to follow and plainly obvious canoe trail markers all made the rest of the trip mild and uneventful. We coasted in to dock, loaded up the car, and headed home, but not before I made one last mistake: not topping up the gas tank. We were two exits from home and the local gas station when we ran out, and spent a spare twenty minutes waiting for our friend or BWC to show up with gas, whoever managed it first.

Jenny asked me if I had fun, and I really, really did, but I told her that I could not think of how to talk about the weekend as anything other than a series of unpleasantnesses strung together. But it was great. It was relaxing. I finished my book, flew my kite, swam, got to see the rare site of Jenny in a bathing suit, and just had a couple of hiccups along the way. And I’d do it again. But I’d take the damn ferry and camp at the site right next to the bath house.

February 9th, 2011

Fur of Darkness

We had a mission. We were going uptown, right into the hot zone for Charlie activity. Natives told us how bad it was. Charlie all over the place. We were going to mop up, the gentle way. If that failed, then Command would kill 'em all., let God sort 'em out. We were going to try gentle, clean. That was the mission, but it wasn't mine. I was there for Kurtz.

Kurtz was a ghost, a supernatural being who could read your thoughts from a hundred yards. If you knew there was a trap, then he knew it. If you knew the plan, he knew the plan. He'd walked through an entire battlefield untouched, then followed it up with two victory laps. I saw it myself: Sent his true believers in to get caught while he stood there watching us the whole time. The clever damn bastard. I hadn't known it was Kurtz then. I knew it was now, and I knew I'd find him, and this time I'd get him.

4:30, touchdown in the drop zone. "Peachtree". One Charlie sitting there waiting for us, goes running off immediately to tell his friends. But they won't hide. That's not their style. Not his style. I'm headed to the tracks, the old railroad that runs through town, to wait. That's where he'll be. I know his habits, I know exactly where to be waiting.

6:15, forty-seven degrees. Kurtz sends a scout. He walks right past me, doesn't know I'm there, but he's not stupid either. Constantly on the lookout, doesn't trust anything. Sniffs at one of our outlier traps, bails. He knows it's a trap. Kurtz has been teaching his followers well. The scout comes in to the main trap, pokes at it, backs off. Way too smart to fall that easily. I wonder if Kurtz will even bother. For ten minutes we watch each other. He reminds me of someone I knew, someone named James, but James wouldn't have cared, he would have plowed straight in. Then, as I'm giving up hope, the scout springs the trap, and is caught. Still no sign of Kurtz.

6:38, and there's Kurtz, walked right up behind me. I thought I knew him, thought I knew his plan, knew where he lived, but in his first act of the night he's told me I know exactly nothing. And there he is, ten feet from me. Not for the first time, I wish for a tranq gun. Heads straight for the main trap, but gets spooked, knows it's there, and bails. He'll be back. He's not done toying with me yet. He'll be back, because his appetites are surpassed only by his desire for revenge.

6:47, and we've got 4 Charlies bagged, another 4 spotted, but Kurtz is still free. Resupply en route, and... shit, Kurtz is back already, two hours ahead of schedule... he's vanished, but he's out there, watching me... there... damn, slipped away again

7:41, quiet for an hour. Another Charlie spotted, headed inbound for the snare, but I think he knows I'm here, too. No... he was a distraction, there's Kurtz! Damn him! Shitting at me in his derision. Wait, not a distraction... this new Charlie is taking on Kurtz. Is it a civil war? Is he the enemy of my enemy? But he's not my friend on this mission. And now the rain begins.

Resupply comes, brings bigger guns, and rations - Prosciutto panini and an almond cookie. War is hell.

Resupply's arrival spooked Kurtz again, but it doesn't matter now, I know he'll be back. He wants this to end as much as I do.

8:30, another Charlie walks right through the snare and out the other side. Do I even care anymore? All I want is Kurtz.

9:15, we're icing the mission for tonight. Time to reassess, regroup, re-equip, and start again tomorrow. And as we're pulling out, there's Kurtz, standing right next to the snare, watching me, laughing.

October 13th, 2010

(no subject)

A happy kitty what lives on our street:

Fwd: Porch kitty

September 28th, 2010

Liveblogging From Stockholm

Part II: Conclusion

I expected the cab would stop before hitting me. I knew the bike wouldn't.

Oxford: Duke University of England

Slept 9 hours, feel wonderful, time to impersonate the Marines and kill foreigners

Lord Tomas said they've had 20 people at their weekday practices. Windmasters, there are a bunch of smug Swedes out there who need an ass-whoopin.

Also, Tomas is an evil Scandinavian giant.

"Sodom Cafe"... wasn't.

If they didn't want me chugging the meeting water, they shouldn't have served it in long-neck bottles.

Cafe Sud has excellent fud. Also, being from the Sud, it's very salty. And Rudolph, Donner, Dancer, and Blitzen taste wonderful.

Daim! That's good chocolate.

Room Service: Tikka Masala and a Swedish Ale. Neither is an exemplar of its type.

Willie Nelson and Emmy Lou Harris on the soundtrack in a trendy Swedish cafe.

Damn, I think the liquor store is closed today. How will I get my absinthe, go blind, and paint water lillies? Systembolaget has destroyed my dream!

If any American men take hope that by coming to Sweden they can find a Scandinavian goddess, give it up: All the menfolk are tall and strapping. There was a reason the zombies had to be fast, smart, and Nazis to scare these people.

If this keeps up, I wonder if I can trade this career into a TV show: "Wistric Fighting Around the Knowne Worlde"

I should paint the arms of the kingdoms I've fought in on my helm.

Erik Sture's pants were blood red. Who knew?

Well, okay, aside from you, Bel. And Roz, Maddalena, and... everybody.

God's Latte is shit. Back to the capitalists' demon drink.

I should have remembered that Arrack was a strong liquor. The gigantic Arrack ball (like a Casa Bellini Rumball, but huge and Swedish) was a bit much.

The Swedes have such good men's clothing stores, and they end up dressed like Eurotrash. Pencil leg jeans? Really?

Swedish Baby will win the staring contest! Until the American scares him. Oops.

All of them are bundled up in jackets, but the women are still wearing tights.

Uppsala Cathedral is on my Top 5 churches list. It is gorgeous.

I could take up golf or I could stab people. Stabbing people takes less time, money, and luggage, and I end up with less stress.

What with all the women in tights and all the men in pencil jeans, I have this advice to friends visiting Sweden: When you are trapped in your hotel room and there is a fire, call the female firefighters.

Mmmmmmmm... akvavit...

When I retire I shall farm caribou for the US market

Why is Robin Hood wearing a wife beater?

Nuts to Jake Gyllenhaal. Prince of Persia has Richard Coyle! Sadly, he does not say "Gusset" or "Breasts".

I just saw an Ugliest Tattoos and People of Wal-mart entrant. KISS, broad hairy sweaty totally uncovered chest.

And home!

September 27th, 2010

(no subject)


Ugh, confrontations, I hate them. This lady wants to adopt Darla and Dalton, which is great. She doesn't understand why she can't just pick them up from my house and take them home right now, which is not great. The whole "adoption process" is unclear to her. So I have to tell her that, no, you can't just have the cats. It's great that you want to take in some kitties, but we're not a pet store. We do things differently.

I think the point is moot, anyhow. Another woman came to visit the kittens this evening and wants to adopt them right away. First come, first served. She seems really nice. She said she's had Siamese cats since she was 3 years old, and was very good with both of them today. She didn't try to grab them, or insist that they interact with her, which is such good behavior from someone who wants to adopt two scaredy prima donnas.


In other news, the tutoring is going great. B, my student, picked out The Color Purple for us to read together. I'm so proud. She's finding the writing difficult (reading in dialect is never easy) but she's plugging away at it and isn't afraid of discussing the novel in depth. Last Thursday we had a lovely session in which we discussed ignorance and want, and how each could contribute to moral decay, particularly in the rural South. I told her about Faulker, how he wrote about poor white people in much the same way Walker wrote about poor black people, and the similarities one can find in the main characters. It's a discussion that could never come to a conclusion, but the fact that she can consider heavy philosophical ideas and, even better, come up with interesting ideas on the subject herself, is totally amazing.

September 24th, 2010

Liveblogging to Stockholm


Carrying on a grand tradition...

I love Delta and Mistress Stewardess. The real stewardesses are not amused by the snickers.

The jetway is five feet from the plane and stuck there. Get a plank, or I'll just jump the goddamn gap.

After my adventure flying to Tokyo, you'd think I'd learn not to go through Detroit.

Made the connection to Amsterdam with five minutes to spare. The stewardess met me with champagne, god love her. Next, a martini.

No martini, no vermouth. Vodka on the rocks.

"Lost" was such bullcrap. Nobody in first class wears their shoes from the time they board to the time they reach the gate. It's gonna smell like socks and bacon in here.

Little known fact about Amsterdam: All the terrorists fly through it.

I wonder if there will be a "coffee shop" in the airport. "It's 5AM, would you like to try some spliff buds?"

Business Class chairs come from the Brookstone store. Lumbar massages while taxiing rock.

I have ordered the filet of beef. "Airplane" taught me not to order the fish.

As I lie here, moist towelette to my face, chair massaging my back, snacking on warm cashews and sipping ice cold vodka, I would like to thank the American Congress, who believe that paying hugely inflated health costs just so I can get drunk in comfort is preferrable to socialized medicine. Especially the diabetics; this one's for you. My warm salty nuts thank you.

Must pirate Black Keyes oeuvre

I wonder if you can get a non-kosher meal on El Al

Just about the worst filet mignon ever. Still probably better than what they got in coach.

On the list of "Independent" movies: Ninja Assassin, Avatar. Naturally, for my bedtime viewing I opted for The A-Team.

Holy Shit! Patrick Maitland is in Ninja Assassin! This movie shall be awesome! (Also, dude's got some gray hair. Also also, looks like Richard Hammond's older brother)

You know, I'm having a hard time discerning a higher level process from Manciolino, but it's good to see "Attack on the diagonals" is period melee tactics. Also, I think Saviolo ran over his dog or something.

Touched down in Amsterdam. Local time: 6 AM. Body time: 12AM. Sleep: 0 Hrs. Caffeine up, or try to grab what I can en route to Stockholm?

Finished "Narrow Dog to Indian River". Good book, like if Bill Bryson were maritime. Next: "Shadow Country"

Amsterdam airport sells no marijuana. But it does sell tons of tulip bulbs. Equally illegal to take through customs, I bet.

I'm on a planeful of Scandinavian Superbeings. Sweet jebus it'll be my head on the stake if we crash on a remote Danish island.

I closed my eyes at the gate in Amsterdam and opened them at cruising altitude. 3 people in a 27 seat first class section, and I wasted it by sleeping. 2 hours. That's all I get.

The ground appears out of the fog right before we touch down. Despite the best efforts of the fates and the airlines, I have made it in one piece and on time.

Short of a shower, brushing your teeth does the most to make you feel human.

Stockholm has more cafes than restaurants. Two per block, at least, and I'm guessing it's a city law. It's Friday at 11AM, and they're full of locals. Apparently, nobody works here. Plus, it's beautiful. I could live here, six months a year.

Dianne, co-worker and touristing companion, asks if I think the local men get desensitized to being surrounded by gorgeous blondes. I'm too polite to say "Of course not!"

Her daughter is a Scadian-in-potentia.

Seriously, I think the Vikings are a mass hallucination of the rest of Europe. No land full of such beautiful women could produce warriors who wanted to go far away and rape and pillage distinctly less attractive women. Only poets and lovers could grow in such soil.

But really, can you imagine the disappointment they felt landing on other shores? "Erik, why did we come here? All these women are short, dumpy, and poxed. I think I'll just drown myself."

The Vasa is indescribable. It gives me chills, though that could also be to do with the climate control.

One of Drachenwald's "National Antiquities" is a poor little unicornate sea horse being horribly abused by some Swedish cross-dressing chica. Naturally, this means war.

Red squirrels here, and the birds are all wrong.

"Hey" is "Hello". I will not survive the weekend without setting The Fonz out to play.
Also, "Hey Hey" is an extra polite way of saying "Hello". I wonder if "Hey HEY Heyyyy" is even more polite, or not at all polite.

September 23rd, 2010

Little furry terrorists

I had my guitar out of its case and was playing. Cato jumped into the case with sufficient force to close the lid on top of her. I was waiting for her to open it up and pop out, until I realized Gil had immediately jumped on top of it and was standing there, smugly immobile. It's a wonder any siblings ever survive to adulthood.

September 19th, 2010

(no subject)


In which I bitch.

Mad Men, Desperate Housewives, The Riches, and Six Feet Under are three great shows that I can't stand. It didn't start off that way. There was a time when I loved these shows, especially Six Feet Under. However, after the first or second season of each, the characters started to change. They became unlikeable, they made bad decisions, and generally behaved badly. I don't know why I can't watch television shows with unlikeable characters, but there you go. It's not the same with books. My favorite books to read are those with flawed main characters; characters with such ambiguous consciences that they are practically antagonists. I love those books. They don't bother me at all. If I have to watch them in action, though, forget it.

Sometimes people make me nuts. Some of my coworkers, for example. So, the store changes a lot. The pants that are hung at the front of the store on Monday may be in the back of the store on Tuesday. Moving things around and rearranging merchandise is how we keep things fresh and desirable. I'm part of the team that does the moving around, and most of the time, I know where things are. It is perfectly reasonable, therefore, for sales associates to ask me where stuff is.


I generally only work three days a week. If I haven't been in the store for three days, how the hell am I supposed to know where the salmon colored oxford shirts are? The wrinkle-resistant one, not the stretch satin, and in size 6 petite? I know where it was three days ago, but if it's not there now, your guess is as good as mine. I don't, can't, and don't desire to have a running inventory of the few thousand pieces of merchandise this store carries in my brain at all times. I can't tell you how many times I have this conversation:

"Jennifer, do we have any more of those extended tab pants, the boot cut ones, in gray? I can't find them."
"I'm sorry, I don't know."
"It's just that they were here yesterday and now I can't find them."
"Yes. I haven't been here since Monday, so (other coworkers) may have moved them."
"Yeah, this customer really wants them so I need to know if we have any more."
"I don't know where they are." How many times do I need to say this?
"Do we have any in the back?"
"I don't know." Did you even look in the computerized inventory? It takes like two seconds!
"Didn't we get some more on Tuesday? I thought a shipment came in."
"I don't know." Jesus.
"Do you think maybe another store has them?"
Oh my freaking god, kill me now.

I'm happy to look for whatever godforsaken pair of crappy pants these people want, but for the love of god, "I don't know" means exactly that. I don't know, as in, I myself would have to look, so stop asking! What these people want, really, is for me to do all the seeking and finding. Whatever. That's kinda my job. It's the time wasting that gets me.

Especially when they start these conversations on my lunch break.

August 3rd, 2010

(no subject)

Owen and Jenny

Does anyone have a food mill I could borrow before Friday?
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