Archive for October, 2019

Stories for a Walk in the Woods

No better inspiration for spooky stories than a walk in the woods in the fall

I went for a walk yesterday morning in a park nearby my house. It’s a pleasant little park, long lanes up to a small castle (there are zillions in the CR) and crooked paths through the woods. The ground was padded with golden, yellow, and red leaves. What was left on the trees was still colorful as well, so the place was eerily inviting.  

Given the choice of walking on a patted-down lane or a forest path, I chose the forest path. Again, really just a meandering lane that doesn’t get too far from the main road. I walked for a while and just took in the crisp air, the blue sky. I am thinking about stories today. More specifically, the stories I want to read at Halloween.  

I am a very moody reader. Around Christmas time I want funny stories about dysfunctional families. It’s the time of year I deal with the joys and stresses of family, so that’s what I feel I can relate to then. In the spring and summer I want a good adventure novel. It’s because this time of year is when I want to go on an adventure myself. So the idea of Huck pushing off on a raft or Frodo and Sam stepping off towards Mordor have real appeal to me.

In autumn, it’s mystery and spookiness. It’s getting darker daily, the air is crisper and the warm comforting time of year is at an end. I want stories that poke at my anxieties and which force me to leave my comfort zone. I want to read about places called Sleepy Hollow and Godric’s Hollow and Haddonfield.

Not only does it dictate what I want to read, but also what I want to write. As I wander these leafy back paths with swaying trees I see visions of quaint cottages with a secret and potential stories of adventurers, ghosts, and rogues. It’s these stories that first attracted me to writing when I was young and I constructed fairylands in closets and had some boys’ forest tree fort under attack by legless forest ghouls.

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Columbo Day

Every year in October, millions of children praise the good, wholesome and unsoiled name of Christopher Columbus. They sing their Columbus songs about syphilis, buy Columbus Day boat decorations, and eat the (obvious) famous meal. We had Columbus Day leftovers for a week when I was a kid. Joyous times.

Now, I’ve well grown out of Columbus Day. My dad sat me down and had a talk with me on a blue October afternoon when I was ten. So now I spend my weekends in October praising a different Italian who came to America. Columbo.

Lieutenant (Frank) Columbo. If you don’t know Columbo, he’s a detective who arrived in the early seventies and he was different from all of the others America had seen. He works on the LAPD and he’s a famously rumpled, messy-haired and constantly smoking a pretty mauled cigar. His raincoat is one big wrinkle. This is in contrast to his suspect (and eventual victim) who are almost always part of the LA upper crust. Part of the pleasure of a Columbo episode is their often condescending attitude towards Columbo, for his humble demeanor tricks them into thinking he’s a nit. And then they are taken down by him, because Columbo always always catches the bad guy (or girl). Each episode saw him driving forward relentlessly, but at a slow pace, observing everything. He often became close to his suspect, sometimes they tried to endear themselves to him because they wanted to trick him or it gave them a sense of security, sometimes they did actually like him, sometimes they pretended to like him, sometimes they were openly aggravated by his pestering, sometimes they tried to pull rank or threaten. But it never worked, he always got them.

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Natural Habitat

It’s an unusually sunny and warm afternoon in October. The leaves are changing and are in that perfect zone of yellow and light brown. The sunlight comes through them, making the ground almost golden. I am watching the world go by my window. Though there are three parks with a five minutes’ walk from my flat, I have decided to eschew nature today. Both of my living room windows are cracked open. A ladybug is walking on the tip of one of them…both of them.

I sigh. Nature is wonderful. I go to my kitchen for a sandwich.

I am rereading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a book that I have consistently recommended since reading it for the first time in 2004. The book is about Bryson’s 1996 hike of the Appalachian Trail, though, as some readers will immediately point out, not all of it. These are the same people who tell you that pineapple belongs on pizza.

Reading A Walk in the Woods has had the same effect on me as it did the first time I read it. Namely, it makes me want to up and walk somewhere through nature. I have done my days in nature. A camping and fishing trip in the west. A yearly canoeing trip in southern Bohemia. Countless days fishing as a kid. A Boy Scout camping trip. I can, as Bryson so desires, look into a set of mountains and woods, and say with a far-ff stare, “I have shit in the woods.”

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Zero Tolerance

I am looking into my computer, trying to get some proofreading done. I am having trouble concentrating, finding just about any reason possible to stop looking at my computer. This is perhaps because the average sentence length in the academic paper I’m proofreading comes in around 89 words.

There’s an outside chance that my trouble concentrating is due to the fact that my work email, my personal email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are all open in my browser. The Office is playing on the TV behind me and the cat has decided that she wants to sit on my shoulder so that we can pretend to be Greybeard the pirate and his cat, Smithers. Again.   

I get up from my computer to check my phone and while I’m there I check my email inbox, which I have been staring at in a tab on my computer for the last ninety minutes. It’s then I realize that I might have a problem.

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