Smilefest Reunion 2011

I made a trip up to North Carolina last month to see some friends and visit with my family. The primary purpose was to go to Smilefest. This year was my fifth or sixth going to that festival, I believe. I’ve been to it in three different locations now, and the latest one, while still not quite my favorite, is definitely great. My favorite was when it was in Union Grove on Van Hoy Farms. Least favorite was at Deerfields outside Asheville. Of course, I love that area, but that park is not conducive to festivals whatsoever. We bitched the entire time about having to hike our stuff in for miles (even though there were flatbeds to ease the walk if you could catch one). It was still ridiculous, and I’m not a fan of sleeping in a tent pitched on a nearly vertical mountainside. This year, for the second year in a row, it’s been held at Jomeokee Campground in Pinnacle, right at the foot of Pilot Mountain. It’s a beautiful site, and they’ve kept the ticket sales semi-private for people who have been before (hence the “reunion” moniker), so you end up with people who know how not to act a fool, and who are experienced festival-goers and are there to enjoy the music (okay, and also have a little fun).

As usual, we heard a lot of really awesome music and drank a lot of beer and camped and got real dirty for a few days. I live for those weekends. Good times with good friends. Met a lot of awesome new people too. Saw folks I only ever see at Smilefest (another reason why it’s like a reunion). Here are some pictures my good friend Jenny took, since I have none of my own to share because I didn’t take any. You can check out the Facebook page of her photography business (Dancing Lemur Design) here. She is really good, and you should “like” her.

Me and my flip flops on my patchwork quilt, enjoying the band, Doby.

Every year, every location, they always have these cool windows and bottles hung in the trees.

Our buddy Kelly with his friend Laura, enjoying some muscadine moonshine.

Me trying to figure out how I’m gonna get a queen-size air mattress into my 2-man tent. Travis totally did it, and it was like my own private bouncy castle. Awesomeness.

Always love the hula-hoopers and wish I still had mine. Unfortunately not everything can make the cut when you move. I would like to investigate the collapsible options, though.

We had a huge campsite set up, with about eight people camping together, complete with four or five easy-up tents. We basically created an open-air house. One tent was just the kitchen area. One was the sitting room. We dubbed it “Cabanapyland.” The Jerry tapestry provided a little shade and privacy. In this picture, I’m standing in the living room. LOL. We had not one, but two solar showers. And, because we are seasoned veterans and smartipantses, we totally camped right beside a pole with a power outlet and a water spigot. SCORE!

Here’s a nice shot of the main stage with Pilot Mountain in the background. So pretty. Great time. Can’t wait til next year!

Fourth of July 2011

Yes, even though I post misanthropic things about government and politics at times, I still celebrate the Fourth of July. Well, sort of. I mean, I go to celebrations, and I enjoy them. I don’t feel particularly patriotic about it, and never have, with the exception of July 4, 2002, when everyone was still feeling patriotic on a daily basis after the events of 9/11/01. I bought a Boston Pops CD then, and the music made me cry. It was a good release. I still have it on my iPod, and I listen to it every Fourth of July, but it hasn’t stirred the same emotion since then.

This year was my first Fourth of July in Alabama. One of my friends’ coworkers invited us out to her house at Lake Martin for a get-together involving grilled meats, tossed footballs in the driveway, and jubilant children passing out tiny flags for waving. As it turned out, the husband of said coworker has family and roots in North Carolina, although they came here via Michigan most recently. We had a great time talking about differences in barbecue and between the Deep South and the “regular” South. How people are mistaken when they call a cookout a “barbecue,” how we both get challenged on whether North Carolina is even “the South” on a regular basis. (Seriously, have you people never heard of the Mason-Dixon Line? Can you not hear the way I speak?) There were some other coworkers of theirs present with their families and some neighbors from the street passing in and out.

I am a big fan of being near any body of water, no matter how large or small. So, I was very excited when we decided to caravan from their house on a small peninsula down to the neighborhood docks. What a beautiful spot of Earth! We sat out over the water, drinking beers, watching the sunset, craning our necks up at amateur fireworks being set off all around us, and watching kids and dogs swim merrily in the lake nearby. It was breezy and balmy and felt amazing. I can totally see why people dig living out there in the heat of an Alabama summer.

Lake Martin is about 40 minutes from where we live in Auburn, mostly two-lane back roads with nary a house in sight. It always sort of amazes me at how rural everything is here as soon as we get out of the city limits, particularly going west. I don’t feel like I live in the middle of nowhere, but it only takes driving for fifteen minutes to discover that in fact, I do.

According to my research, Lake Martin is actually a lot bigger than I thought it was when I was there. It’s about 40,000 acres and is actually one of the largest artificial lakes in the United States. I’m guessing I thought it was smaller because of the way it’s shaped, dipping in and out of many small peninsulas. I kept thinking I was looking across to the other side of the lake, but I think I was just looking across to other peninsulas. In a way, it reminded me of Lake Lure, which I grew up near in North Carolina, but without the mountains. Only Lake Lure is about 800 acres. Okay, so really not at all the same except they’re both lakes with houses and boats and docks.

Very interestingly, both Lake Lure and Lake Martin feature a rock formation called “Chimney Rock.” Here’s where I get to brag about mine. Alabama’s Chimney Rock is about 60 feet tall, and people jump off it into the water. Which sounds really frickin’ fun. But our Chimney Rock, in North Carolina, is 315 feet, and sits at a mountain-top elevation of 2,280 feet. You do not jump off that. You stand at the top and survey your 75-mile panoramic view. And yes, while a couple people have died jumping off Alabama’s Chimney Rock over the years, and it’s always possible because shit happens, I guarantee you if you jump off our Chimney Rock in North Carolina, you will absolutely die. No two ways about it.

Here’s a pic of Chimney Rock in Alabama:

Here’s the Chimney Rock I grew up with in North Carolina:

Incidentally, I think the North Carolina one looks a lot more like a chimney than Alabama’s. Although for years I’ve thought it looked more like a penis than anything else. Juuuuuuust sayin’!

Sweet Home Alabama

As a lifelong resident of North Carolina, I always thought of myself as being from “the South.” My friend, who was born in Alabama, and grew up in North Carolina, but came back to Alabama via a brief stint in Florida, has always tried to explain to me how “the South” is not just “the South.” He has always said the “Deep South” is different, and I always blew that off as nonsense stereotyping. He said that to people in Alabama, North Carolina might as well be “the North.” And I thought, “Oh, please.”

After just a week in Alabama, I can safely say that I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Things are different down here. Probably in some ways not for the best, but in many ways, better, at least in my mind. Here’s a brief list of things I’ve noticed in just one week.

1) Everyone is so friendly. Now, most people who visit anywhere in the South from anywhere else would say this. But I would say that it is all very dependent on the specific area. In Asheville, I found that people were much more ready to have a conversation with a stranger than in Winston. And certainly in Rutherfordton you will get someone’s life story (as well as that of their son-in-law) while standing in line at the Walmart pharmacy. One of the first things I noticed here was that everyone makes eye contact, smiles, and says hello. Retail clerks genuinely wish you a blessed day or confide something personal in you for the two minutes you stand before them. People are also very nosy. If you go to the post office, you should be prepared to report the purpose of your business in front of everyone else in the post office, before you get to the counter. Someone comes around and asks. One of the first things friends told me was to get ready to be asked insanely inappropriate questions in public on a regular basis and figure out how to deal with that. Their approach is to basically make shit up all the time, so that they appear to be cooperating but never divulge any real information. The people they work with know next to nothing about them, but they all think they do, and they all have a different idea as to what it is. This is because they never confirm or deny anything and let people make their own assumptions. They find this very entertaining. They enjoy testing the philosophical concept of “It doesn’t matter what the truth is; it only matters what you can make someone believe is the truth.”

2) It is much, much warmer here. The day I left Winston, I was bundled to the hilt in a down parka, fleece hat, gloves, and coffee for added warmth. There was still snow on the ground from the last storm. Since I’ve been in Alabama, I’ve been completely comfortable in a light fleece jacket. During the day, one could conceivably wear shorts right now. It’s only when the sun goes down that I need anything for additional warmth, and even then it feels like one of North Carolina’s chilly spring days right before it bursts into summer. I’ve been here in the summer, and I know this is not going to be a good thing when the humidity hits and all the gum and chap stick in my car melts into mush, and when you step outside and can hardly inhale because the air is so heavy and wet. But right now, it’s very nice.

3) Corn fritters. I had never in my life even heard of a corn fritter before. I thought it was something like a hush puppy. But no, it is a ball of creamy corn — whole kernels of yellow corn floating in the creamed corn soup — then breaded and deep fried, and it is heavenly. We had this as an appetizer at Niffer’s Place, an Auburn institution, and I thought it was specific to the restaurant. Then, I saw frozen corn fritters at the grocery store alongside the mozzarella sticks and pizza bites. Whaaaaat?

4) Alabama-style barbecue. North Carolina is pretty famous for its barbecue, and there are several different styles depending on the region. I like the vinegary Eastern NC barbecue the best, as opposed to the tomato-based Western style of my home region. There’s also a mustard sauce particular to the low country of South Carolina that I like a lot. Alabama has a couple different types of barbecue sauce — a smoky-sweet hickory that is reddish brown but still involves no tomatoes, and a mustardy-vinegar, like a cross between Eastern NC and low country SC, but thicker and creamier. As much as I like NC barbecue, I would have to say that at this point in time, Alabama barbecue is the best I’ve ever tasted. That mustardy-vinegar cream sauce that was ladled on my plate of sliced pork at Mike and Ed’s was divine.

5) Crazy rain/storms. It rains here quite a bit, maybe because it’s close to the coast. But it can be a torrential downpour one minute, and half an hour later, it will have stopped, and it’s fairly dry. Also, this place brings new meaning to “severe thunderstorm.” Wind, hail, rain, so powerful you can’t see through it, like a warm, wet blizzard. Approximately six hours and a few downed trees later, it looks like a blue-sky paradise again.

6) Alcohol. Alcohol costs more here because there is something called a “sin tax” on things like booze and cigarettes and other sinful indulgences. And yet, there is more alcohol being consumed here than anywhere I’ve ever lived. Yes, it’s a college town, but I’ve lived in college towns before, and never have I encountered the level of picked-over beer that I have seen here. If you go to buy alcohol after 5 pm, be prepared to settle for crap, because that’s what’s left. Party preparation has to begin early.

7) Ladies and Gentlemen. Gender roles are apparently much more strict here than elsewhere in the South. Much to my surprise, I like it very much. Whereas my independent self once would have taken offense at someone’s insinuation that I was less capable as a female in the world, I now actually appreciate it when multiple men vie for the opportunity to open doors for me, let me go ahead of them in line, pump my gas, or even tip their hat. Because I am a lady, and apparently that’s how gentlemen are supposed to treat ladies. It’s a little like being in the 19th century. But maybe I had a past life during that era that really suited me, because I am totally down with it. No, please, go ahead and dote on me just because I’m a girl. I enjoy being catered to, and I have never experienced that before. I believe that the men see this behavior not as a slight to my inferior gender, but as a sign of respect and safekeeping. Something akin to the respect for the divine “goddess,” the sacred female, that primitive peoples enjoyed. At least, that’s how I prefer to look at it, and I don’t think it’s far off the mark. I am woman, hear me roar? That’s good, but “You are woman, and beautiful, and sacred,” is a little better. Respect is actually a concept that people talk about. I was at a party last weekend and mentioned that I have one male neighbor who will only talk to me when he knows my male roommate is home. A number of the guys at the party responded very quickly in saying, “That’s being respectful.” I agree, I suppose, but it still struck me as strange until they explained it. And now that I know people actually think about stuff like that here, I appreciate it.

8) Central Time Zone. It’s a little weird to be living in a different time zone from most of my friends and family. At this point, my body is still on Eastern time, so I am staying up later and sleeping later than I think I should be, but then when I realize what time I physically feel like it is, it all makes sense. We are very close (about 20 minutes) to the Eastern/Central border, so depending on where you are, sometimes cell phones have a nasty habit of resetting themselves to what they perceive to be correct. This proves to be problematic for detecting when exactly you may have missed that last text message or if you rely on your phone as an alarm clock, which I have done for a long time. I may actually need to buy a real alarm clock now that plugs into the wall. The main weird thing is the light. The light is the same as in Eastern zone, but just at different times of the day. That’s been a bit weird to get used to. Three pm doesn’t look like it’s “supposed to” outside.

9) Slow driving. Although some people like to say I drive like a bat out of hell, I maintain that I drive no more crazily than anyone else. I am not a speed demon, particularly. But if I am in a hurry, I will punch the gas maybe a little too hard trying not to be late. Around here, everyone drives so slow. I consistently go five over the speed limit, and I am flying past people at that speed. I’m lucky if I get behind someone actually doing the speed limit, instead of a few miles per hour under the limit. I keep wondering why this is. A different type of respect for the law? An attitude towards life that allows one to slow down and enjoy being alive instead of rushing to the next thing/place as quickly as possibly? I have to say, even though I have been known to talk about wanting to live in a big city and do enjoy that fast pace of everything when visiting them, I kinda like living in a place where life goes a little slower. I never really noticed that slowness growing up in a very small Southern town. I don’t think we had that, particularly.

Other great things so far…Auburn is an awesome little college town that reminds me a lot of Chapel Hill, and seems to be pretty cultural and diverse and open-minded so far. There are actually hippies here, and places that remind me of Asheville (like little bookstores and coffee shops and bead/yarn shops with creaky wood floors), tons of cool bars and restaurants, good places for walking dogs (parks), tons of old houses with character, and lots of people up for hanging out. Auburn has a preeminent veterinary school, so there are tons of animal lovers and vet offices, and anywhere that has an abundance of animal lovers is all right with me. Politically, I was a little worried about being in the middle of red-state America, but today I drove by a local mechanic’s shop whose sign bore the words “infowars.com” on one side and something about a sale on the other side. As someone who knows that website well, I was pretty happy to see them promoting their support publicly, and to know that there are people everyone who are seeking out their own information instead of relying on mainstream whatever to guide them. You never can tell where you’re going to encounter an open mind. I probably wouldn’t have thought south Alabama would be the place that would come closest in my experience to the liberal bastion that is Asheville.

But all this sums up to…I love it here so far! And I am very happy with it as a landing spot for the time being. Never know what the future will hold, but so far this is just what I needed. I feel like the universe leads us to things/experiences/places/situations/people. I feel like I was led here. Maybe the reason(s) are not yet clear, but I’m listening. And enjoying the ride.

Dream Journal

Last night, I dreamed I was doing this:

The weird thing was that I was actually good at it, which makes no sense at all. I am normally terrible at doing anything physical. I can barely walk without falling down. Yesterday when I was taking Birdy out for her afternoon walk, I tripped over some new pine straw that the landscapers had laid down earlier in the day, and fell on my ass. Pine straw. I know. Well, it can be slick, and I was wearing flip flops. Birdy tried to leave me there on the ground, glancing at me over her shoulder as she kept walking, like, “Oh, good God! Here we go again.” I think I embarrassed her. She is way more athletic than I am.

In part two of the dream, I was on a camping trip with a friend. We saw some of these, which are pretty common in the mountains here in North Carolina:

I used to dream about bears all the time, but more in the context of being lost in a forest and having them chase me. This time it felt exciting and fun to see one in the wild.

My most recurrent dreams involve being part of a resistance movement or a rebellion, being pursued by bad people, doing things that aren’t necessary legal for the benefit of the greater good, being on the run, traveling. Recently I dreamed I was in a guitar class taught by Dave Matthews, and he was also the leader of the resistance. I lived next door to a powerful political figure, and Dave convinced me to get him to come over and then blow the place up. I don’t remember how I was supposed to escape. Dave brought me some gel explosive, but he didn’t tell me how to use it. So I put it inside a cigarette, lit it, and tossed it at the guy (but missed). But instead of blowing up the townhouse we were in, it just created a small fireball that extinguished itself pretty quickly. No one got hurt. My cover was obviously blown. That’s all I remember. Feel free to analyze my delusional subconscious at your leisure. ­čÖé

Land of Sky vs. Camel City

I would say that I am equal parts a glass-half-empty/glass-half-full kind of person. I think it’s the Libra in me. The whole balance thing. Choosing one over the other seems dishonest, because life is just not that black-and-white. It depends on the day. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on my mood.

Lately I’ve been trying to make an effort at positive thinking, and while that is not something that really comes difficult for me, lately it’s been an effort. Since I’ve moved to Winston-Salem, I think I’ve noticed a lot more negative things about it than positive, and I’m not sure if that’s due to my current mindset or if it really just doesn’t measure up to Asheville, from whence I came. So I’m going to do a little contest. If you are familiar with both places, you can weigh in if you like, and I encourage that. But I’m still going on the assumption that no one reads this blog, so it’s mainly a private contest.

Here are some things I miss and some ways that W-S tries to make up for it.

AVL: My Iraqi friend, Fred (actually Faraq), at the Citgo,clov who imported my favorite clove cigarettes for me and always tried to talk me into buying lottery tickets so he could get in on that action if I won.

W-S: Jay (we call him “The Auctioneer”) at the Shell station who always makes me laugh and tries to talk me into buying lottery tickets so he can get in on that action if I win.

AVL: The Orange Peel, Stella Blue, Emerald Lounge, Jack of the Wood, Barley’s, and Westside Pub for seeing awesome bands.

W-S: The Garage, for seeing bands only really known locally.

AVL: Hitting up Usual Suspects every Thursday night with my work peeps to have some drinks, swoon at the cutest bartender in town, and bitch about work.

W-S: I have one single friend here, and we work opposite schedules. I don’t socialize with the people I work with because they have other things to do (and children to look after) than hang out at the bar in the middle of the week.

AVL: Beautiful Blue Ridge mountain landscape surrounding you at all times. Particularly nice rush hour drives due to stunning sunrises and sunsets.

W-S: Sometimes I catch a glimpse of Pilot Mountain (the doorknob) on my way home from work, if traffic is just right and it’s a really clear day.

AVL: A town full of people who are not showering every day either, or else they’re okay with the fact that you aren’t. In fact, you’re cooler because of it.

W-S: You mean you don’t use a curling iron? What about pastel business suits? What would your husband say?

Okay, okay. I feel like I must point out some cool things about the Camel City now, because I do have a handful of good friends here, who are proud of it. And it’s not all bad. Especially when I don’t consider the alternative.

1. There are actually decent jobs here. In fact, that’s why I moved here. The job market in Asheville blows. Everyone wants to live there, but unfortunately unless you’re willing to wait tables or work at a resort, there is not much in the career department. After all, it’s a heavily tourism based economy. Some people are fine with that. Most people do it for a while, get sick of it, and move someplace where there are “real” jobs. “Real” jobs don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things societally, but when you’re just trying to make enough money to afford a place that’s in a semi-safe neighborhood and within 20 miles of your place of employment, that is a lot easier here than there.

We used to marvel at friends in Asheville who would move away to big cities and come back saying “Man, my apartment is like one-sixth of this size now! And it costs twice as much!” It’s interesting to me that just moving a couple hours away means I can make more money and pay less in rent. One of the big issues since I moved to Asheville has been the whole “living wage” thing. Because no one really gets that there. And twelve years later, they’re still fighting that battle. Nothing much has changed. I don’t know what will make it change, if anything.

2. We may not have natural beauty at our doorstep, but at least it’s within driving distance. I can still go hike on the Parkway with my dog — I just have to get up a lot earlier and drive a bit farther. When I lived in Asheville, it took at least an hour of driving up the Parkway to get far enough away from crowds to feel relaxed and comfortable anyway. Now I drive an hour straight to places that are isolated and beautiful and rugged.

3. It’s a different, more challenging, but positive experience to be a weirdo while living amongst the rest of society. I loved being around like-minded souls in Asheville. I loved not feeling weird because there was always someone way more weird than me. But there are days here when I think, it’s a good thing I am me, living here, because how else would these people ever get exposed to anything different?

I think it’s a similar mindset that led my parents and their hippied-out friends to settle back in Rutherford County, just to add to the diversity and open up some minds that might not have had a reason to open up before. It’s very entertaining to me now when I go shopping and someone looks at my patchwork pants or tie-dye skirt and smiles or strikes up a conversation just based on that. It’s so much more rare to find that like-minded soul here, when you do see them, you recognize it immediately.

4. It’s a dead tie between the two towns for quality Japanese food and sushi. This is a good thing. The places in Asheville have better atmosphere, but W-S is more of a take-out town anyway, so the quality of the food is really what matters. People here are less concerned with the authenticity of the dining experience because they’re trying to get home to watch American Idol with their California Rolls.

5. People are people everywhere. The people I’ve met here are great people. They just have different interests. Different focus. Perhaps a little less open-minded in general. Perhaps a little more materialistic. A little more conservative. In Asheville it seems like there really aren’t any “odd groups” of people. Here, it’s minorities. There is much more of a divide racially. If I was a minority living in Asheville, I might disagree with that statement. This is just my perspective.

I may have to postpone this diatribe until later. My brain is a little fried after nearly a week of intensity in the corporate world. I’m not done with good things about Winston, though, so stay tuned!

Tasty Tuesday: Bleu Restaurant & Bar

pic_bleu-night

If you know me, you probably know I really abhor chain stores and restaurants. The reasons are many, including their effects on local, independent businesses, but probably number one is just the character factor. I like character. In people, in food, in shopping experiences. In everything, really. I guess some people like the familiarity of chains, but I find them utterly boring in their predictability. I think it is horrible that you can go to any number of cities in the United States and have the exact same experience in every single one of them, if you so choose. This is also why I hate urban sprawl, because it makes this type of thing possible and probable. I’d have to say the only chain I like is Goodwill, and that’s only because they all have a different selection.

So I’m happy to say that Bleu is a unique dining experience in Winston-Salem. There is nothing chain-ish or predictable about it. The architecture of the building, the decor, and the menu are all a little different. Down to the table bread and dipping sauce. My company uses Bleu sometimes for a variety of functions, so I have eaten there a handful of times. Right now they have a 3-course prix fixe menu for $28 — not too shabby for the quality you’ll receive there. That would be a great reason to try it out. The Greensboro News & Record called it the Triad’s only 5-star restaurant, and while I disagree with that pretty seriously, it is worth putting on your short list.

Things I’ve had there that I would recommend are below.

Appetizers:

Vegetable pad Thai spring rolls with citrus-chili sauce, Sriracha peanuts, and herb salad.

Shrimp tempura with Chinese hot mustard, sweet Thai basil sauce, and kimchi.

Seared sea scallops with mushroom-lemon risotto and Norwegian goat cheese sauce. (This was awesome!!!)

Salads:

Mixed green salad with poached apples, walnuts, bleu cheese, and red wine vinaigrette. (Unfortunately I couldn’t eat the walnuts — allergic. The rest was great.)

Entrees:

Grilled salmon with lemon wine butter sauce and mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables. (This was excellent. I normally won’t eat salmon unless I cook it myself, but the temperature was perfect, and it was still just barely crisped on the edges and mouth-wateringly moist inside.)

What I would not recommend: the BLT, the Club sandwich, or the Prime Rib. This is not the best place in town to get a steak, and the lunch sandwiches are not as good as they sound on the menu.

On a happier note, they have some of the best service in town, hands down. I have only had better at one other place in this city. They are really good at being almost invisible and doing their work magically, quickly, quietly. You won’t have to ask for anything before they anticipate it. Five stars in that category. If any of you decide to check it out, let me know what you think!

Yellow Index Cards: Duck Nappers Anonymous

Right now I’m pretty sure the look my dog is giving me is saying, “Remind me why you’re doing this again?”

“Because, Bird,” I say. “This was funny once, so it must be funny now. In fact, I just laughed out loud, and this was 13 years ago. What?”

Birdy continues to look at me quizzically, which is an expression she seems to reserve for particularly perplexing moments. At the sound of the flatbed scanner sweeping, she retreats into the other room. She would normally be at my feet and has exited to protest the futility of her life, with her head on her crossed paws. From the futile padding of her pink reclining chair. Gazing dolefully at her favorite futile play-thing.

100_4811

Mrs. Robertson’s 1995-96 AP Biology class was simultaneously the most boring and the most entertaining class of my day. I was terrible at science, so I didn’t pay that much attention. But I have always been committed to finding creative forms of self-entertainment and looked forward to the 90 minutes I had every day to practice that. It’s an only-child thing.

The neighborhood kids thought there was something wrong with me because I never came outside. They knew I was in there and imagined me (they told me later) perched in my second-story dormer window, hoping emphatically I would be asked to join in.

hp

I was more likely sprawled blissfully on the gray fox shag carpet in the living room floor, listening to Beatles records on my dad’s hi-fi with his expensive padded headphones over my miniscule ears instead of the tinny $10 Sony Walkman headphones that I owned.

dig

Or I was digging holes under the backyard holly tree to give a proper burial to the most recent prey of my two fat orange tabby cats. (Two of the more pitiable victims were two tiny identical gray mice, who I named Eeeky and Squeeky and carved an epithet for, into the smooth green bark of the holly on its eastern side.)

girl

Or I was perched on the smooth, flat riverstone that lay at the entrance to my mother’s pastel azalea grove on the north side of the house, writing poems and stories in a journal and imagining myself as a famous writer, imagining herself in such an idyllic spot.

meandjen

Me (L), Jenny. Yes, we are still that cute. Though not nearly as tan.

My fellow only-child buddy and AP Bio lab partner, Jenny, understood this entertainment-of-oneself fascination and encouraged me to explore it during class, for her own entertainment. She aided and abetted by providing me with the very art supplies used to create this frivolous series of sketches. Jenny always had yellow index cards in her backpack. I’m not sure why. I think because she was organized enough to have index cards, but if my gut instinct is correct, she always had yellow ones because it was her least favorite color, and she used the cards in order according to color preference. Okay, really, that would be me. Jenny will have to tell us herself.

y1

For those of you who don’t remember, this is a scene illustrating the story Mrs. Robertson told us one day prior to doing an experiment of some sort on water fowl, about how she had come to obtain the birds we were about to test. Do I remember what we were testing them for, or what the result ended up being? Of course not. I don’t even remember if they were alive or dead. We could have been testing feces or feathers or skin cells. Who knows? But because I documented it, I remember the story of the ducks’ provenance.

In the sketch, Mrs. Robertson is crouched beside the lake at Isothermal Community College, in the next town over. She is there under the cover of night, flashlight and fishing net in hand. Her car is shown parked in the one parking spot available at the lake, waving a flag that reads “Duck Nappers Anonymous.” Near the beam of her flashlight, we see a duck who is obviously freaked out, and a thought bubble by her head explains, “Heh. Heh. Heh. They just THINK I’m getting pond water!”

A second later, a diabolical afternote: “AP Biology SUCKS!”

In the distance, approaching on an access road, is a blue Nissan campus security truck, ego inflated by a flashing light supported by its roof. This type of vehicle was notorious for busting the secretive activities of high school students, whether we were trying to make out or trying to smoke pot on the college’s soccer field, which happened to be surrounded on three sides by thickly forested pine groves. (It was appropriately located on Piney Ridge Road. I like it when things like that make sense.) More than one of us carpet burned our knees in Clark Griswold station-wagons, eluding at high speed on back roads the tin-can, pseudo-po-po in our tanks with the faux-woodgrain accent trim. As if they were Homeland Security. Oh. Wait. That was before Homeland Security existed. I suppose rather than Guantanamo, we feared…not arrest (they weren’t real cops)…not our parents (they probably would have just laughed)…but perhaps embarassment, which is really one of the only things teenagers have to fear in small towns.

Anyway, when Mrs. Robertson mentioned this caper, off-handedly in the build-up to the duck experiment, Jenny and I looked at each other, and then around at our classmates, engaged in their own personal little bubbles of distraction. We shared an expression that we still share often — a sisterly acknowledgement that something is happening here that only the two of us are appreciating. This is a connection on which I still base a part of my evaluations of friendships. Nowadays Jenny lives about a mile and a half from me with her husband, in an actual city, hundreds of miles from where we grew up, and on occasion, we still share that expression. And whenever that happens, my heart just leaps with the excitement of being “in on a secret.”

World Travel Wednesday: Linville Caverns

linville

I’m really glad I live in North Carolina. It is such a beautiful state, and there are so many amazing natural features “from Murphy to Manteo,” that I think we all tend to take it for granted most of the time. When I was in elementary school, we visited Linville Caverns, a cave inside┬áHumpback Mountain with an underground stream, stalactites and stalagmites, blind trout, and an atmosphere of dark, drippy, quiet strangeness. At one point on the tour, they wedge you into this tight little passageway and turn out all the lights to show what it was like when it was first discovered and how no light from the outside gets in at all. I guess that’s the only time I’ve ever been in complete darkness, and it was the only time in my life that I’ve ever experienced terrifying claustrophobia. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted out immediately. Even when the lights came back on, I was so freaked out, I practically ran out of there. Except I couldn’t because you can’t even stand up all the way in some places. Interestingly, I have never felt claustrophic like that since then, and I never had before that happened. Things that make you go “hmm.”