December 2, 2017

I like to think of myself as a rather robust individual. Excepting my migraines, of course, but that is hardly sporting. Beyond my faulty brain, I like to imagine myself as a man who can take a punch, stumble, and get back up and give them what for.The kind of fish that eats a bowl of nails for breakfast without any milk. 

But then life happens and reminds me that I am not, in fact, a pinnacle of health.

It happened one day, yesterday in fact. I had come home from lunch, and as I do every time I leave the house, my puppy Little Sir Finn (he’ll cease being ‘little’ when he stops chewing on the furniture) was locked inside his kennel. So naturally I wanted to let him out, and I decided to do something that I had not done in an age.


I am not a runner, and have not been for a long time. I have not been a runner ever since a wayward migraine medication made me balloon up like a stuck pig (and there was wailing and gnashing of teeth). 

Well, I ran that day, not wanting to leave Finn waiting. I had my eyes fixed on the prize—my dog in his crate, and he was watching me too with eagerness in his tiny frame.


I was on the ground, one leg forward, the other bent behind me. Then there was searing pain.

I had failed to see Finn’s mat on the ground before me, and I had paid the price. I had slipped and fallen, and done something heinous to my ankle.

I’d like to say I took it like a mountain man who had just clawed his way out of his own grave—silent, with a dour face and clenched fists.

But no. I was hysterical, nauseous, and crying. I think I was screaming God’s name and asking for strength. (As an aside, it is at the moment of pain that faith is most real, with the least amount of trumpets on corners and showiness) 

Finn was upset, he was crying too, and I composed myself and reassured him that I was all right, even though I wasn’t sure myself. I scooted across the floor, and with a sound that was almost a laugh I twisted my leg to see my ankle. With the amount of messages that the little theoretical men who run my ankle’s branch of the Office of Nervous System Telecommunications were sending to my brain, I figured it at least had to be broken. 

My ankle’s Office of Nervous System Telecommunications may need to fire a few key members down there, because it was decidedly not hanging limp, turned purple, or showing any of the other signs of a break. 

I still was not comforted, so I called my dad, who despite being an engineer has an extensive first aid knowledge. He assured me that it was not broken, but that it needed ice. 

Finn looked at me with concern as I grabbed a nearby walking stick—I fell merely a few feet from where I kept it leaned against the wall. I reassured him that I would be back, and he calmly laid down his head.

I am certain that he understands my words when I talk to him. 

Anyways I inched my way to the kitchen, and appraised myself of ice and a plastic baggie, and began the work of trying to fix my hurt ankle. I am certain that it was a sprain.

This hurting ankle has made me feel quite unlike myself. I cannot move as I wish, and I cannot play with my dog. I barely slept last night because I could not get comfortable. It was a new pain of a sort I am wholly unused to (except the last time Finn indirectly caused me to fall).

It is a great lesson in humility, and a reminder that migraines are not the only pain in the world, and that people the world over all have similar or different troubles and pains. In being forced, quite against my will, to taste of a new sort of pain, I have been reminded of the great value of empathy.

It is also a grand start to the Christmas season as I hobble about like Tiny Tim. 


A Brand New Puppy

September 26, 2017

I must announce something cool that has happened in the week since my last post. I am raising a puppy. I have waited for a while to get my hands on a puppy of my own, because I have loved dogs for as long as I can remember, as well as hearing things about pets helping with chronic pain (which is, you know, kind of my thing).

Now I have a very conflicted outlook towards animals. I love all animals except for a few exceptions like cats, spiders and guinea pigs. The spiders are because spiders are just plain creepy to me, and the cats and guinea pigs are because I am terribly allergic to them. In fact, I am allergic to most fur-bearing creatures. They make my eyes water and my nose get both stuffy and runny at the same time. The greatest offenders for me are guinea pigs and cats, but dogs are on the list too.

So I like to look at the animals, I like to watch the animals, sometimes even touch the animals, but I have to keep my distance. I tend to make friends with the neighborhood cats wherever I live, generally because they sense that I don’t want them touching me and naturally they flock to me. I’m less so with dogs, but they still flock to me likely because they are dogs and that is the way they are.

A mean ol’ tomcat that wandered by my old apartment and became my buddy until the rest of the neighborhood cats ganged up on him and chased him away. Nature is harsh.

Now a lot of people in my position tend to get a poodle mix, as poodles do not shed or cause allergies. As an aside: dog allergies are caused by their dandruff, and cat allergies are caused by the cat’s saliva. And when a poodle is bred with any other breed the resulting puppy has the poodle’s hypoallergenic coat, which traps dandruff inside its thick curls.

Now there is an obvious choice here: that I get a poodle, which is a storied and old breed that was bred for hunting waterfowl in Germany whilst being the national dog of France. But, I did not really want a poodle. I don’t like the look of poodle fur. It just looks too…I don’t honestly know. But I don’t like how it looks. Maybe it looks too human to me.

Moreover a poodle mix was not really up my alley either, because poodle mixes have that poodle hair that bugs me. No knocks against the creatures or their owners, because all dogs are grand. It is just one of my personal flaws. Besides, they are too new for a history nerd like me. I want a breed that has a story.

For years, the dog that I really liked was the Irish Wolfhound, a massive breed bred to hunt wolves. Just a quick Google search will turn up pictures of Wolfhounds towering over their masters. But I was turned away when I learned that they tend to have short lives (the bigger the dog, the shorter they live) and have a two-year puppy stage.

My family had an English bulldog when I was growing up, and we raised him from puppyhood. Two years of puppyness really scared me. So I scrapped that plan.

I also have wanted a big bouncy sheepdog for years. You know the breed—hair covering the eyes, a big friendly smile, and a look of shaggy quaintness that hearkens back to simple times lost in the mist of folksiness and old cartoons.

So I looked into getting one. But I found out that not only are they not hypoallergenic, but they also require a large space of grass to exercise on, as concrete and asphalt can severely damage their paws. Who would have thought a dog bred for herding sheep would not be that suitable for a place without sheep? So there went that option.

Then I looked into various small breeds—terriers, dachschunds, and a Belgian breed called a Schipperke that has pointy ears, insane eyes, and a temperament that has them nicknamed “Little Black Devils”.

But then I found the perfect breed. The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. They are one of the four terrier breeds of Ireland (the other three being the Kerry Blue, the Glen of Imaal, and the Irish), named for the color of their adult coat, which is the color of ripened wheat. As puppies, however, they are born dark brown and lighten with age.

There are historical references to Irish peasants keeping dogs that fit the Wheaten’s description going way back to the eighteenth century, when they were known as “the Poor Man’s Wolfhound” and served as a companion, a vermin-hunter, a sheepdog, and a guard dog. Just a general, multipurpose dog. In England, where a harsh set of laws called the Game Laws began to deeply affect the lower classes, Wheaten Terriers were used as hunting dogs to help hungry peasants put food on their tables.

And, adult Wheaten Terriers look like miniature English Sheepdogs, only their long flowing hair is hypoallergenic. These boys were all the breeds that I wanted, combined into one hypoallergenic terrier-sized package.

Plus these pups fit the general hobbit-like image that I try to present myself with. All the world’s a stage.

So I pooled birthday money and savings and skipped buying books for a while, and with help from my dad (he is a good problem solver) found a good Wheaten breeder and a while later, I was bringing a Wheaten puppy into my home.

The pup in all his fluffy glory.

I named him Finnegan MacCool—partly after the Irish hero Finn MacCool, but mostly after the Irish folk song “Finnegan’s Wake”, and after Irish author James Joyce’s book Finnegan’s Wake, which has always intrigued me, being essentially a book of puns and being the one book that English majors fear. Besides, what kind of English major would I be if I did not name my dog after a book?

I also figured that ‘Finn’ would be an easy name to call a dog.

Nerdy mythical, literary, and musical references aside, I brought little Finn into my house and oh man, is he a little adventure. These critters are definitely wolves bred to look less scary. Training him has been rough, as it has only been a week. He has already tried to become the head of the house, put holes in a few of my clothes, and has screamed through many nights.

Its been rough, but he now knows not to pee inside, and he is getting used to being on a leash. But there are some silver linings. He has shown an interest in, of all things, the instrumental sea songs from Spongebob.

Scurvy sea dog indeed.

His current favorite game is a terrier trademark, according to forums: latching onto my arm with his fangs and enjoy watching me figure out a way to make him let go. But, what would life be without some difficulty? It would be a cooked pepperoncini—a tasteless, rubbery thing that tastes like steamed broccoli and nothing that you would like near your sandwich.




July 21, 2017

There were three mosquitoes come from some swamp in the Sierras high. These three mosquitoes swore a solemn oath before whatever great thing mosquito society holds separate from the mundane—blood, I suppose. They buzzed to each other in The Queen’s Insectish, negotiating a partnership and the terms of their binding oath. Finally, when they were finished and they had called in a meticulous ant from the local hill to be their witness, they each raised an antenna and took the oath. The vow that these three mosquitoes swore? That Quaid Alexander must die.

I parked my car in a random turnout in Sequoia National Forest, and decided to go exploring in the woods around that turnout. The ground beyond this turnout falls steeply, and is covered in bushes that thankfully were not Poison Oak; but beyond that was a swathe of flat land, and bisecting that, a gently flowing stream surrounded by lush plants. My boots tramped down the hill, and with tentative steps that belied a not so subtle fear of quicksand, even though their owner has not heard of quicksand occurring in these mountains.

forest stream sierra nevadas ferns sequoias

This whole scene is waterlogged.

I approached the stream, and decided that I was going to follow it. It curved and cascaded downwards, for it appeared that the flat land was in fact gently sloped land, over rocks and roots, from a source likely many miles away in the High Sierras lwhere the snow never melts. However, I came to a beautiful scene, multiple small ponds, rocks, and plants arranged in a natural still life that simply demanded that I take many, many pictures. I squatted, and I knelt. I stood tall, and I stood short. All the while, my camera was snapping.


I froze. There was something behind me.


I slowly stood up. Squatting by water is what prey do.


I glanced all about myself, and my mind started spinning. It sounded like a dog. A big dog, taking a drink of water. Maybe a dog had escaped a camper somewhere? Or was it a phantom dog? Better not look in its eyes if I see it, or I would surely get bad luck, like that woman in the English folk tale I had read when I was little. Or could it even be a Sasquatch? Oh goodness, I was going to capture the first clear shot of a Sasquatch. However, the trees were completely empty. All, of course, save for the trees directly behind me.


I turned around slowly. Whatever was behind me was gone.

animal track in sand, sierra nevadas

If this is actually the track of a Quaid-eating beast, you’d tell me right?

Taking a deep breath, I grabbed my jug of water and walked towards where I had heard the sound. There in the mud was a pristine set of deer tracks.

“Well that explains it,” I said.

With newfound relief of my safety, I decided that I would follow the stream the opposite way, and such I did, my eyes peeled for my new deer acquaintance. As I followed the stream, I swatted at a bug that buzzed beside my head, its whistling wings bouncing about my eardrums. My mouth contorted into a grimace, if only for a moment. It was, after all, the tell-tale buzz of a mosquito.

For some reason my blood calls to them more than others, and has since I was young. “You have sweet blood,” my grandma would say as I would come back home from camping trips covered in tiny red welts. Sometimes they even dare to brave insect repellent to get a taste of my blood. I am certain that old and young mosquitoes sing my praises in their mosquito public houses each night whenever I stray into their habitats.

Eventually, I grew tired of swatting. I could feel a tingle on the back of my neck that was sure to become a bite, and I wanted no more of that. So I turned and walked back towards my car. When I go exploring around a turnout, I follow one simple rule: always keep the car in sight. That way, should anything happen where I was wounded and unable to walk, I could wait for someone to see my car and come investigate, and then I will be able to call out to them. Besides, it keeps one from getting lost.

As I walked back to my car as it shone as a city atop a hill that could not be hidden I felt something in my pocket. I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to take a certain picture. I have a little toy soldier of sorts, a blue eighteenth-century English explorer, that I like to take pictures of in front of various places. Sort of a traveling gnome, only it fits in my pocket.

I needed to take a picture of my little figurine in those beautiful rocks. But it was guarded by mosquitoes, and the bite on the back of my neck was already starting to itch. No matter, I needed that picture. I could deal with the bites. And so, I tramped forward and took the pictures among a cloud of mosquitoes.

Toy soldier, national parks, ranger, french and indian warI trudged back up the hill to my car. Uphill is, as a rule, harder than downhill. But I finally reached the top, and climbed into my car. I had two more festering mosquito bites, but more importantly, a camera full of pictures, and away I drove in success, and to the mosquitoes, the stronger man at last.


My Magic Green Hat

June 29, 2017

It was a misty December evening on the wharves of San Francisco. I walked slowly behind my parents, padding along and doing my best to make my unathletic body keep the rigid pace. We were in San Francisco to celebrate my grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, and between family gatherings and dinners we were exploring the Golden City. The sun began to set, and fog rolled in from the vast expanse of the Pacific to the sweeping west.
We walked along Fisherman’s Wharf, looking at shops and stalls and going from business to business to pass away the time until we were to meet with the rest of the family at a seafood restaurant. We were about to turn back, when a shop down the row caught my eye.

Its sign was inscribed with green uncials, and its walls were covered in a veneer of river-stones arranged to suggest a rustic drywall. I pointed it out, and in I went.

It was an Irish-American store. There is no better word to describe it. The construction crew had used a little bit of green paint on the sign, and then dumped the rest on the walls. There was a shamrock on every hand, a portrait of St. Patrick behind the counter, and every shelf was laden with little silver trinkets in the shape of Celtic crosses and Celtic knots and Celtic-knotted-Celtic-crosses. There was a speaker system that was playing appropriate music; at the time, I did not know Irish music and airs, but in retrospect I swear that one of the tunes being played was Molly Malone.

I looked around this store, unaware that destiny awaited. I looked from corner to corner, and then something caught my interest. It too, like the rest of the inventory, was green. It called across the aisle to me.

“Good evening,” I said to the green tweed cap.

“And the same to you, sir,” the hat did reply.

I reached up and plucked the hat from the shelf, and took off the olive-green stocking cap that covered my cropped hair. I slid the hat over my scalp, and found that it fit perfectly and snugly, but not too snug, gently complementing my head—scalp, cranium and all.

“I like the look of that,” said my mom when I looked at her with the hat crowning my brow.

“How much is it?” asked my dad.

I took off the hat and found the price-tag right beneath the labels that read ‘handmade in Ireland’ and ‘one-hundred percent wool laine’ in both English and French. The price boggled my eyes and shot my connection with the cap.

“Ninety-two dollars and fifty cents,” I intoned.

“I’ll buy it for you if you’ll wear it,” said my dad. “It looks better than your Alaska beanie.”

“Name’s Kerry, by the way,” said the hat as we walked to the cashier.

And together we lived in prosperity for the rest of our days.

I put the cap on and stepped into the cold San Francisco night. I looked at the shadow I cast on the wharf’s brick walls. My heart soared. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had style.

Besides that, there was a comforting feeling that came with wearing that Irish flat cap; something about it put me at ease. Maybe it was the combination of warmth (“it’s like having a sheep on your head,” as my dad says) and shade for my eyes. Maybe it was the smell of the wool. Or maybe its just that it was different from what everyone else was wearing. Whatever the case, it quickly ascended to being my hat (if you get my meaning), and trademark look.

Come rain or winter weather, summer weather, or even the weather on the other side of the world and back again, I have gone everywhere with my favorite green cap.

I even wore this hat on my ill-fated journey into Narnia.

I half-jokingly refer to it as my magic cap. Half-jokingly. All right, I don’t attribute actual powers to the thing, nor can it talk. It had a tag that said it was made in the Irish county of Kerry. Its just green tweed stitched together. But please, just don’t tell him I said this.

Nevertheless, I cannot get comfortable without my hat on. It has become a thing of comfort for me, protecting me and, in a strange way that only myself and God can fully understand, giving me confidence to step out a little farther out of my greater comfort zone by keeping my head firmly in my one-hundred percent wool comfort zone.

Its a very important thing to me, so much so that when a particularly rainy time came and my hat shrank I not only purchased a hat stretcher but traveled many miles to have it mended. I can and do wear other hats, but the thought of losing this particular hat was simply too much to bear.

The wearing of a hat was, before I discovered my green cap, a prerogative for me. My headaches made covering my head a necessity; hats shaded my eyes, and kept the sun from beating down upon and overheating my scalp. (Robinson Crusoe had the same problem in his classic adventure novel, its why he wears that hat he is associated with)

But with the discovery of my cap, I was able to turn my misfortune into a blessing, and in the end, that is worth much more than ninety-two dollars and fifty cents. Especially since I was not the one paying.


Cool Things

June 6, 2017

In which I explore the Internet, tell how I discovered my favorite hobby whilst looking for a pirate hat, discover a Little Treasure, ponder copyrights, talk of more hats, and explain how to be cool.

“Hmmm.” I said as I peered over my phone’s tiny screen, my eyes squinting to see the millimeter sized thumbnails it displayed. My comparably massive thumb lumbered over the screen, and with a rapid sweep sent the thumbnails hurtling. I looked at the newest batch of thumbnails that Amazon had for me to peruse. There were seemingly a thousand options, and all of them hovering at possibly overpriced or slightly underpriced. The underpriced ones were the tricky ones, for the underpriced ones usually make up for that lost cost with the cost of shipping. “Hruuum” I added with another thumb swipe.

There has been one hobby which has outlasted all other hobbies of mine, and that is the collecting and painting of miniatures. Now miniatures is the fancy, snooty, top-hat-and-monocle term for them. The word ‘figurine’ also fits into this category, but ‘miniature’ is the fanciest of the fancy. Popularly they may be known as Toy Soldiers, Army Men, Little Green Army Men, and if you wish to be exceedingly incorrect and get on many insiders’ nerves, Action Figures. My involvement in this hobby had a rather zany and outlandish origin. It all came about because I desired a hat.

Specifically, I wanted a Pirate’s Tricorn.

It was middle school. I was in seventh grade, to be precise. I had recently gotten into history, and felt that a properly historical hat was what I needed. This was before I started to wear hats daily, as I was but a humble middle schooler and far from free to choose my own style. Besides, I had yet to learn how to fully cope with headaches (this was only a few years into the development of my condition) and so wearable shade was substituted with just never going outside. Middle-Schoolers can be so pragmatic, no?

So, I desired for myself a tricorn hat. I cannot really remember what I wanted with it, besides of course to wear it on occasion. I still wonder if I would have actually worn it to school. That is a mystery of the ages; besides, college is when strange hats can be worn. Middle schoolers, although marveling in such things as pirates, have no mercy when it comes to anything outside of the norm. Even if everybody would secretly agree that those things are totally sweet. In college and beyond (if you are not lame) sabotaging the norm is a virtue that people only refrain from through fear of themselves.

But I still sat online, going from site to site (this was in the halcyon days before Amazon) looking for a tricorn. I found many, but none of them could be had for a Middle–Schooler’s humble allowance. Who would have thought that companies that made historically accurate hats that had been out of fashion for three-hundred years would demand large sums of money for their work?

At first, not me. But later, me.

However, in my searching I stumbled upon affordable tricorns, of sorts. They were plastic tricorns, molded onto a plastic figure. I had found many pictures of toy soldiers from the eighteenth century, lined up in shiny dioramas with vividly painted uniforms and moss and rocks glued to their bases. Deep within me, my slumbering artistic side awoke. The tricorn could wait. I saw a challenge before me, and a new field of artwork that I could dive into.

A few weeks later I was at Michael’s Arts and Crafts buying paint. I did not know what sort of paint to use, so I used simple acrylic paint. At home I had a box of new miniatures sculpted to depict British infantrymen from the American Revolution. Or, as popular imagination here in America (I cannot speak for other nations), Redcoats. Naturally, then, I needed red paint for the red coats. And some blue, for their cuffs, and of course some white for the rest of their clothes. A bottle of brown for the muskets and the strange spear that the officer carried would also be needed, and on that note, some metallic silver. Finally, and most importantly, I needed a good bottle of black for the soldiers’ tricorns.

It was the beginning of ten years of joy.

I was sitting at lunch, careful not to get residue from my sandwich on my phone. That sort of thing can greatly hinder the thumb’s versatility in the art of tapping and scrolling. I had settled on a miniature, and with Amazon’s keenly designed website, I was a tap away from summoning It to my apartment. Or, more specifically, Him. I’d found a rare thing: a page full of Hobbits. Just like people in most fantasy worlds where hobbits live, most miniature companies focus on armies: dashing captains with swords or hairy brutes with axes, and rank upon rank of soldiers. Very few companies mind little folk who are three feet tall, run around barefoot, and dress like characters in a Dickens novel. But here was a company I had never heard of, Stonehaven Miniatures, with an entire line of hobbits. Well they called them Halflings, but that is the non copyrighted generic term for the lil’ creatures. I call them Hobbits in honor of their creator and favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien.

So I was overjoyed to find out that a bunch of this mysterious Stonehaven’s Hobbits had recently hit Amazon. I absolutely positively had to purchase one. There could be no question. But which one? I scrolled through the options, and found my man. Well, found my hobbit. He was labelled “Hobbit Bannerman”. Besides the technically incorrect nomenclature, it was a dashing model. He held up a banner, was wearing a little suit of armor and was wearing a cape and a Breton cap.

Kentoc'h mervel eget bezañ saotret

The multiple dichotomies were beautiful to my eyes, and with a click he was mine. And I smiled. Hobbits have a special place in my heart, and soon a hobbit will have a special place on my shelf.
My hobby of miniature collecting and painting is one of my ways of relaxing and finding joy in life. I have found that involving myself in it, my mind is taken away from the negativity and, of course, the pain associated with my illness. A distraction can be just as good as a medication. My friends notice changes in my personality when I paint or not paint, and I’d believe it. Life is better when I am pursuing my artistic side. So, I encourage you to find what makes your life better, and pursue it whole-heartedly. It won’t cure whatever you are going through, so its not a complete fix, but it will make it easier to bear.

Oh sure, the darkness will be back eventually. I have no delusions about miniatures, or any diversion for that matter, being the cure. But as I said before, diversions can be just as effective as medication. If life is going to be difficult, there is no reason that you should let that hamper your ability to have fun and pursue the hobbies and things that you enjoy. There seems to be a growing movement to dissuade people from doing what they enjoy in favor of doing what society deems is enjoyable. Don’t listen to them. Do what you enjoy doing. If you happen to enjoy the popular thing, then that is a rare moment of serendipity. But, if you enjoy something ‘uncool’, take it from a random person writing about hobbits on the Internet, its far lamer to sacrifice yourself in the name of what is cool. Because this time next year, chances are, it won’t be cool. Instead, is it not much cooler to do what you will always think is cool? I have been collecting miniatures for years, and I do not regret a single moment of it. They have made my life much better, and I am so glad that I forged my own path. You should forge your own path too, no matter what obstacles or difficulties you face. That to me, is the definition of cool.

And now, to prove to you all that I am not pulling your leg, here is a very small gallery  (I think the smallest possible, actually) of my most recent miniatures project, the commanders of a regiment of Irish Mercenaries fighting on the Royalist side of the English Civil War.

The pipes are calling indeed.


Once I met a Lumberjack

April 18, 2017

It was a summer morning, the kind of summer morning where one wakes up and is suddenly transported back to the joy of waking up with the realization that he is off from school for three whole months. My eyes meandered around in my closet, trying to decide upon the best clothes for the day–today was a special day. Of course you’d have figured that out by now, as I am telling you about it.

I stepped out of the house dressed in an olive green jacket that was a callback to 2012 when dressing for an apocalypse was high fashion (a fashion trend I never left), and khaki cargo pants that gave a utilitarian bend to a classy look. Thick leather boots were laced about my feet, and a kelly green scarf was wrapped about my neck. Crowning it all was a royal blue French cap, a voyageur cap to be specific, a sort of long stocking cap with a tassel on the end of it. No proper Frenchman of the eighteenth century went exploring and trapping in the icy wastelands of New France without one.

I tramped out my door with my hands full. In one hand I had a blue cooler, in the other, my little mandolin. Now for before you ask–and I have been asked this as many times as I bring up my little friend, a mandolin is like a guitar mixed with a violin. It has eight strings, in four pairs like a very very small country dance. The strings in each pair are tuned the same, so in actual use a mandolin has four strings, it’s just that each string is actually two strings. And the two strings shall become one. I play British folk music on mine, that is to say, music from England, Ireland, and Scotland. I am rather devoted to it; my mandolin is a specially designed to be a “Celtic mandolin”. It has all the right specifications and sound. It is also shaped like something you would expect a trooping fairy to play while enrapturing a countryman or a fair damsel who had the fortune or misfortune to encounter a fairy court.

I went straight to my car and threw the cooler in the trunk and placed my mandolin in the passenger’s seat, carefully positioned so that he would not fall as I took turns and embankments. There would be a lot of those where we were going. I plugged in my iPod, and thumbed through my music. I needed a good and proper set of songs to listen to. I knew exactly who I would listen to.

Steeleye Span is a British folk-rock group formed in the late sixties in the shadow of the British folk revival movement and the widespread popularity of rock-n-roll. They are still active today, and their acts consist of arrangements of traditional ballads and instrumental jigs and reels. Their songs have the original poets’ madness about them, an unrepentant celebration of life that only comes about from the hearts of anonymous commoners who honestly do not know if they will survive until next Christmas, coupled with excellent musicianship and a calming but energizing sound. They are my favorite band.

I started up my car’s engine and set off bounding down the road. I made a quick detour at my first-favorite sandwich shop. I cracked my windows open so my mandolin could breathe and ordered my regular: “tuna on white bread with lettuce, pickles, olives, and banana peppers, and mayo.  No, would not like the juice and spices, thank you though”. The good people there know me. Well, they know my sandwich anyway. None of us wear nametags so I know them collectively as “Sandwich Peeps” and they probably know me as “tuna on white bread with lettuce, pickles, olives, and banana peppers, and mayo. No, I would not like the juice and spices, thank you though, Boy”.

After placing my sandwich in my cooler I set off down the road once again, only this time for real. I sped along until I reached the open highway, turning my car eastward like a Magi returning home. And then I beheld my destination.

“Montjoy” I intoned over the music.

There before me, in a rugged splendor that has weathered and will weather the test of time, stood the glorious Sierra Nevadas. I revved up my engine, and rushed down the road at great speed towards their towering embrace.

There is a little town nestled in the shadow of the Sierras called Squaw Valley. Now I say little because that is how much I have seen of it; the Highway cuts through it, and there are buildings clustered all about the road, forming what I assume to be the downtown area. I hear that Squaw Valley is in actuality a bunch of large properties scattered out over the hills and the rocks, inhabited by both a remnant of a more rural time and those city folk who want to return to such a time.

In Squaw Valley there is a little gas station that I always stop in. Never to get gas, but to use the toilet and to buy a candy bar. The only place I feel comfortable using the toilet and not making a purchase is Starbucks–they set the tone of their restaurant by giving away their internet for free and letting hipsters who dress like it is the 1890’s sit in their restaurant and type away on their laptop without purchasing nary a sweetroll or overpriced coffee. But this gas station in Squaw Valley is no Starbucks. So I stepped in, and emerged refreshed with a gigantic Twix bar and a Snickers bar. It’s amazing how much candy $2 can buy when there are no parents around to tell you no.

Thus proverbially refueled, I set off up the mountain again. The road outside of Squaw Valley quickly begins to climb over hills and then up and down, and then after that it begins to weave up the side of the mountains. Eventually it gets to the point where there is a cliff on one side of you and a sheet drop on the other, with nothing but a little barricade to stop your car from potentially falling from heaven like a bolt of lightning. Then you hit the snowline, which is both an environmental marker and an old inn in which I have never stepped foot but like to imagine plays host to all sorts of adventurous types including a perpetually made-up female wizard, a perpetually angry dwarf, and a perpetually shady fighter who broods in the back and just happens to be the rightful heir to the kingdom and is the only one who can free the land from a dread curse. Anyways, once you pass the snowline you find yourself encompassed by trees. Thick trees, tall trees, wild trees. Also dying trees. The part about the curse is real. Only instead of a wicked sorcerer or a general case of injustice it is but a tiny beetle that eats trees. It is a real problem.

My car zoomed along the road as it wove through the trees, still climbing and falling along the mountainside. I came to a bend, and then Steeleye Span hit a merry olde crescendo as I beheld the second best thing to behold when going to the mountains–the park entrance to Kings Canyon National Park. I heaved my car to and pulled into the line, rolling down my window to talk to the ranger. I handed him one of my favored possessions–a U.S. National Parks pass. I got it from my parents for my birthday, and it has a little polar bear on it, presumably to remind all adventurers that polar bears are migrating southwards and mating with grizzly bears and will soon unleash a giant bear apocalypse of giant bears on us all. (But not before the Wild Pig apocalypse. Time to invest in a good spear. They are coming)

I pass the little bear to the ranger, and he smiles. “Map and Newspaper today?” He asks. I said yes. Always say yes when offered a map. That’s one of my mottoes. Keeps you from getting lost, and those maps look good on your wall, especially with x’s and lines drawn on them. The ranger passed me the paper goods.

“They are doing some logging down the road past General Grant” he said as I took them from his hand.

I drove on into the forest, absentmindedly thinking not of the ranger’s warning but instead of the beauty of this place all around me. I never feel more at ease than when I am in God’s creation–really gets into that primal, natural world where one is truly free from all pretense and bonds. Even if I am cruising in a car.

I was looking for a little campground that is a lesser known one, a favorite haunt of ravens and French tour busses who are spilling over from when the parking lot for the Big Trees–Generals Grant and Sherman, tallest and largest in the world respectively, are too full. I was going to go sit on a rock and play a song on my mandolin for my raven friends.

I missed my turn–I had only found the campsite the previous trip, so I didn’t exactly know the way. I kept going along the road, until I found myself stopped behind a great line of cars.

“They are doing some logging down the road past General Grant” said the ranger’s voice in my head.

There was a big fire the previous winter–I remember the ash and the sweet wood smoke smell. Apparently there were a lot of damaged trees left over, trees mostly dead but not fully dead. So they were clearing them out, and they blocked the road for the log carrying trucks. Now this is all part of first-rate forestry, and is necessary for keeping the forest healthy and well, and falls well under what the Bible says about being “stewards of the earth”, but deep down, I was not too pleased with being in a traffic jam. That was Los Angeles business. Not Sierra Nevada business. I sighed, put my car in park, and reached for my map. Ah yes, there is the wrong turn I took. I knew I should have made that left turn at General Grant. Ah well, I said, turning down the Steeleye and reaching for my mandolin. Its twang filled the car, and even though I was not on a rock, I was playing mandolin in the mountains.

I put myself in a fairy trance (The Irish got their music from the Fairies, don’t you know–whether it was given freely or they stole it is a matter of folkloric debate) and smiled. If being in the mountains is the most liberating feeling, then playing mandolin is a close second.

Then I was interrupted by the hissing sound of a truck’s brakes. I looked out the window to see one of the enormous log hauling trucks off of the starboard prow of my car. And a very, very beardy construction worker in a checkered shirt, khaki suspenders, and a yellow hardhat looking down into my car with a great grin on his face.

“What is that thing?” bellowed Thorin.

“It is a mandolin” I said.

“That is the most hardcore thing I have seen today” he said, and drove away with his logs.

With the truck gone, so too was the need for a traffic jam. Of course it took five minutes for the traffic to realize that, but I was soon underway once more. I could have turned back, but the traffic had already taken so long, so I figured I’d keep going. I drove on, and found a nice clearing with a big rock in it. I sat atop that rock, and resumed my music, playing a fast-paced polka.

Once again I heard the sound of brakes. I looked up, and there was the loggers’ truck again, and Thorin Oakenshield grinning out of the window.

“I just wanted to hear what that thing sounded like” he cried.

I smiled back. “Thank you!” I cried back. I was rather at a loss for words. I’m not good at talking back to strangers, especially if a stranger is being kind.

“Thank you, and have a nice day!” he said, and drove away with another truckload of logs.

I smiled. I finally got to sit on a rock and play, and I also got to brighten this lumberjack’s day. Twice, and all before I ate my picnic dinner of tuna on white bread with lettuce, pickles, olives, and banana peppers, and mayo. No, would not like the juice and spices, thank you though.