Blog, life

This window’s an entire mood, though.

I feel like I’ve kind of left this blog in the dark lately — as much as I keep intending to come back and write more, I am so damn tired still, my people.

Here’s the teal deer:

  • My partner and I moved. This place is endlessly delightful so far, our new space is pretty much perfect for us, but the whole process of pulling up stakes and going to a new spot is still pretty exhausting. And I say this as someone who enjoys moving!
  • I’m coping with a bothersome and seemingly long-term side effect of the vaccine I chose. I knew I was going to have a rough time, I’m dealing, I’m surrounded by wonderful help, but it’s taking a bit of getting used to. Either way, I will gladly take it over a ventilator or “long COVID” any day and twice on Sunday.
  • My partner recently lost someone very important to him. It’s not my place to go into someone else’s personal tragedy, but it has impacted our family. If you aren’t vaccinated, please don’t put it off. If you can’t be, please take every possible precaution to protect yourself and those around you.
  • I have new clients, and a much heavier workload now than I did before. The money’s awesome, and the work is interesting and right up my alley. It taps me out a lot, though, so by the time I’m done with paid writing I end up coming to my “New Post” page with my brain basically the consistency of custard.
  • I’ve been painting a lot. It’s easier on me, and doesn’t tax my brain, body, and creativity the same way that writing does. There’ll be lots of new prints in the shop, and plenty of originals too!

That’s pretty much it. There are a lot of new developments in my life, but most of them are okay. I’m immensely grateful to my guides, the spirits around me, and the Shining Ones that things have been as manageable as they have.

Did I mention how much I love this window? I do. I really do.

I hope you’re all doing well, too.

Also, as a PSA: Ivermectin does have uses beyond killing parasites. That said, the only information supporting ivermectin as a possible treatment for SARS-CoV-2 involved a) an experiment involving primate kidney cells in a petri dish, not a living human, and b) a cocktail of multiple other drugs, not ivermectin alone, c) in a hospital setting in areas where vaccines and first-line treatments were unavailable. It doesn’t have a studied, documented survival benefit for people with COVID-19, and its uses, dosage, and administration are still in the realm of the theoretical. Despite its promising results in vitro against Zika, HIV, dengue fever, or yellow fever, it hasn’t shown any actual clinical benefit against these viruses, either. Remember: In vitro isn’t the same as in vivo. In vitro studies are barely the first step to demonstrating that a medication actually does anything. A lot of things will kill or inhibit viruses in a petri dish, including bleach and flamethrowers. That doesn’t mean that they’ll do so in a living organism, or that the dosages required to make them do so won’t kill that organism.

There’s a theory that ivermectin might help COVID-19 by acting as an anti-inflammatory, but there are already much safer and already-tested anti-inflammatories on the market.

It’s also important to consider that ivermectin is made to kill parasites, which are eukaryotic organisms. Humans are eukaryotic, too. There are dangers in misusing antihelminthics that do not exist with, for example, antibiotics.

It’s still an interesting drug that does more than act as “horse dewormer.” Let’s not get it confused, though — the ivermectin paste sold at tack shops and Tractor Supply is horse dewormer. It’s compounded with binders, flavoring agents, and other inactive ingredients that very likely haven’t been tested for safety in humans. Those using it are inadvertently submitting themselves for a safety study in whether or not FDA-unapproved artificial apple flavoring causes stomach cancer.

Take it from someone who has absolutely been poor enough to have to resort to animal medication in the past — don’t. If you’re gung-ho about experimental treatments, agree to participate in a clinical trial. If you’re hoping for anti-inflammatory benefits from ivermectin, ask your doctor for a recommendation for an NSAID. If you have worms, send your doctor a stool sample. Until it shows an actual clinical benefit, not just a maybe-promising in vitro experiment, please skip the ivermectin. Look into the history of the people and organizations touting it as a cure. Be at least as skeptical about it as you would be about other COVID treatments or preventatives.

Blog, life, Plants and Herbs

The Winding Skyline Drive

I didn’t think much when I posted a picture of a cool rock. (It was columnar basalt, which always reminds me of some surreal, alien landscape out of Kenshi.)

“Hey,” a friend replied in not-those-exact words, “There’s a neat example of that not too far from us.”

“Oh sweet,” I approximately replied, “Where?”

And so that was how my partner and I ended up loaded with snacks and music, navigating our way down a gorgeous scenic drive through Shenandoah National Park. When I say scenic, I’m not messing around, either — it was gorgeous, the kind of beauty that pictures can’t really do justice.

Of course, we tried anyhow.

You know how when the landscape is uninterrupted for far enough, you can see the way the hills fade to blue in the distance, and the shadows of the clouds moving over them? I live for that.

We even stopped for a bit of a hike at Compton Gap, where the columnar basalt was. The entrance to the trail showed a picture of it, but we weren’t able to find the specimen itself — the trail branched, and I think we ended up taking the wrong fork. Not that I minded at all. The air was fresh and sweet, the trail was quiet save for the song of birds and bugs, and everything was a fresh, deep green so intense, it almost didn’t seem real.

There was a small mushroom friend (a Russula, I think), bright orange trumpet creeper, and some very busy insect buddies — including a spicebush swallowtail and an American bumble bee!

The drive was long enough that we were in the midst of golden hour on our way back. The sun painted the clouds shades of pink and lavender, and the light took on that warm, comforting, well… golden tone. We paused at all of the overlooks to soak it up, relishing the warmth radiating from the granite rocks, and the cool, fresh breezes all around.

We’re planning on going back in the autumn, when the leaves start to change. It should be amazing!

life

I tried so hard, and got so far.

I grew my hair out.

Well, attempted to.

This actually met with some success — I got it to about 3″ long, though it seemed to reject any any all input from paltry things like combs, hair spray, or gravity. Instead, it insisted on sticking straight out from my head like some kind of mutant dandelion.

Alas, my dreams of eventually having hair that did as it was told were not to be. I felt like I found one (1), single, solitary, lone hair of a different texture, which put my brain into some kind of search-and-destroy fugue state. Long story short, I ended up staying up until 6 AM feeling through and plucking hairs until I found it. This resulted in a roughly quarter-sized bald spot, a bit of blood, and an appreciable amount of concern on my partner’s part. It wasn’t the baldness that bothered him, just the fact that I was on edge enough to end up unintentionally hurting myself like that.

Obsessive compulsive disorder: It’s not like they show on TV!

And so, in the grand tradition of getting rid of things that no longer serve me, I busted out the buzzer.

Honestly, I love having a buzzcut. The only reason I had attempted to grow my hair out was for a change of pace, and to see if I could. A buzz is the ultimate low-maintenance hairstyle, and it keeps me cool in the swampy DC heat. Plus it’s just less stressful — I can’t worry about how my hair looks or feels if I don’t have any. Unlike the patchy spots from trichotillomania, there’s no hiding a buzzcut, either. If you’ll pardon the expression, a shaved head dramatically limits the number of fucks I have to give.

Really, I don’t think this whole thing was triggered purely by the existence of one slightly different hair. I mean, I have a scar on my scalp that makes an entire chunk of my otherwise-straight mane grow in a 4c curl pattern. The real culprit?

Houses.

*organ music sting*

I love my apartment, but we’ve outgrown it. The longer we’ve lived here, the more we’ve discovered things that are rapidly turning into dealbreakers. If we owned the place, we could just change them. Alas, we do not.

And so, my partner and I struck out on the journey to homeownership. From what we’ve gathered so far, the process for first-time homeowners goes like this:

  1. Scope out real estate in the area in which you’d like to live.
  2. Call a housing counseling agency.
  3. Go through their first-time buyer educational program.
  4. Make sure you have enough money for a down payment and closing costs.
  5. No, not like that.

Stressful, yeah?

Both of us are almost pathologically afraid of debt. (My credit report looks like a 16 year old’s. I avoided student loans by drawing furry porn to pay my way through college.) The idea of buying more house than we can easily afford is, frankly, terrifying. So, short of trying to find a really good deal on a former meth lab/murder shack, we’re taking a detour.

We’re moving to a different apartment closer to the area we want to buy in. It’ll alleviate some of the pressure we feel living here, give us an opportunity to save more, and let us scope out the local culture and amenities.

Fortunately, since this’s much lower-stakes than house buying, I won’t pluck myself bald within a fortnight. Wish us luck!

life

Pfizer, round two: Fight!

Last month, I wrote about my first bout with the Pfizer COVID vaccine. Things went pretty well, dizziness aside. I anticipated that this time wouldn’t be quite so easy — if the first shot really worked, my immune system should’ve been primed to absolutely lose its shit when it encountered the second shot, right?

Right.

To recap: I have idiopathic intracranial hypertension. In addition to completely sucking in its own right at the best of times, it means that I can’t take a lot of medications, and need special consideration during many medical procedures. You’d be amazed at the sheer number of otherwise-totally-innocuous things that can raise your intracranial pressure. For most people, this isn’t a big deal. If you have intracranial hypertension, it could be the difference between life and death by stroke — or, at least, the difference between life and a sudden and very uncomfortable needle in the spine.

There’s not a lot of info about intracranial hypertension. Before the program discontinued, I actually signed myself up to be a research subject so I could help add to the limited bank of knowledge doctors and researchers have about the condition. That’s why I wanted to record how the vaccination process went for me — so other people with this condition, or who care for people with this condition, might be able to derive some comfort, know what to expect, and be adequately prepared.

Anyhow! The second shot sucked.

I didn’t experience any dizziness, which I thought was a bit odd. It was my primary side-effect the first time around, almost to the point where it was the only indicator the shot was really doing anything. This time, though, I had the whole enchilada: a confirmed fever (about 101°F/38.3°C), joint pain, body aches, insomnia, a very-definitely-vaccine-related headache, nausea, and even some itchy irritation in my lungs. Just like the first shot, the side effects appeared about twelve hours after getting it. Most of them lasted roughly two days.

The first night, I think I managed to sleep a total of forty five minutes, and every one of them was weird. At some point, I sent my partner a garbled and vaguely threatening message about manga, and said my joints felt like they “were made of legos.” Somehow, despite sleeping for less than an hour, I’m pretty sure I had at least six hours of wavering, half-awake dreams. I was so thirsty, I would’ve drunk a mug of ketchup if someone had handed me one.

All told, while things were very uncomfortable for a bit, I’m happy that my immune system reacted the way it did. It recognized the viral DNA, and mounted a defense against it. To be honest, it was at least as fascinating as it was deeply annoying, just knowing that this shot was deliberately triggering disease-fighting mechanisms as old as time. That’s a neat concept!

If you haven’t received your second shot yet and asked me about it, I’d probably give you the following advice:

  • Your side effects might be completely different this go-round. I expected to be dizzy, just more so. I wasn’t dizzy at all — instead, it seemed like I got all the side effects I didn’t have the first time.
  • You’re probably going to want to have the next day off.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) doesn’t list increased intracranial pressure as a side effect. It’s also the drug recommended for dealing with vaccine-related fevers and aches. While I choose not to use any because I’m weird about that, it’s a potential option for other people in a similar position.
  • Have a lot of ginger tea prepped and refrigerated. It’ll help with the heat and nausea.
  • Drink a lot of liquids. They’ll probably tell you to do this when you get your shot.
  • Seriously, drink a lot of liquids. They’re not kidding.
  • Have some extra pillows to support any achy joints/sore arms/etc. during the night. I’m pretty sure my knee pillow was the only reason I got any sleep at all.
life

Intracranial Hypertension and the Pfizer Vaccine

Last Thursday, I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I chose Pfizer because one source I’d read (and have since forgotten) pointed out that it had a slightly lower instance of headache as a side effect when compared to Moderna. Since I have intracranial hypertension, I figured anything that made me less likely to be in brain-crushing pain was probably the way to go.

I haven’t seen a lot of resources related to how people with IH respond to the COVID vaccine, even in my support groups. This made me a little anxious and hesitant — at first, I wanted to wait to see what other people’s experiences were, even just anecdotally. When a few weeks passed and I hadn’t found any more information than I started with, I figured, screw it. Be the anecdote.

So here’s my totally subjective and not at all scientific experience with getting the Pfizer COVID vaccine.

First, let me begin by saying that I kind of saw this coming. Curious as I was, I did a small Lenormand reading so I could prepare myself. Let’s just say that Tree + Cross is not exactly a recipe for good times. Bummer.

I read advice suggesting to eat something before going in. My appointment was fairly early for my schedule, and I don’t often have much of an appetite most mornings. I drank a cup of soymilk and figured it was close enough.

The shot itself was fine. It didn’t even hurt. I felt slightly lightheaded afterward, which I attribute to anxiety. Since I have other allergies, I had to sit and wait for a half an hour of observation to make sure I didn’t react. Everything was fine.

I went home, still feeling about the same. Drank a can of Olipop (root beer, yessss) and had chicken pot pie for dinner. My arm was sore, and my stomach felt a bit upset. I was also getting itchy, though I didn’t appear to have a rash.

Twelve hours after the shot, however… Hoo boy.

I was dizzy. Very, very dizzy. I’d hoped that a lower instance of headache also correlated to a decreased risk of dizziness, but these hopes were misplaced. Fortunately, the dizziness didn’t seem tied to an increase in cerebrospinal fluid pressure. When my CSF pressure goes up, I get very definite visual signals. This time? Nada. Just dizzy. I also had a bit of a hollow ache in my cervical spine and the back of my head, but not enough to worry about.

I also experienced (more) brain fog. At one point, I forgot how to describe fevers. High? Low? I ended up telling my partner, “I think I have a fever, but not an important one.”

The day after was particularly rough, largely because it coincided with a big thunderstorm. Anyone who’s experienced IH can tell you how the weather impacts everything — we get headaches, neck aches, back aches, visual disturbances, dizziness, phantom smells, the works. Coupled with the post-vax feelings of general crappiness, and I had to strap in for a sucky night.

By Saturday, the headache and dizziness had receded into the background. I felt well enough to go out for a walk by Lake Accotink and a quick trip to Occoquan for Beltane supplies, but I definitely felt things more as the day wore on. Moving around a lot seemed to make the dizziness return, albeit not nearly as bad as the first day. I came home, took a nap, drank a lot of herbal tea, and felt better than evening. I had to put off my Beltane observance for a day, but I think everyone understood.

Ultimately, my experience wasn’t a bad one. For one, things could totally have been worse. Secondly, feeling gross is a sign that my immune system is reacting to the shot. That’s what’s supposed to happen. If I feel crappy, it means its doing something. A robust immune response feels bad, man. As long as I’m not experiencing side effects that aren’t related to my immune response, things are okay.

If I had to offer advice based on this experience, I’d say:

  • Schedule an appointment for when you’ll have some time off.
  • Have a snack before you go.
  • Eat lightly the rest of the day.
  • Stock up on cold ginger ale, ginger tea, peppermint, and other gentle nausea-fighting remedies.
  • Try to schedule your appointment so you can sleep through when the dizziness hits. For me, that took about twelve hours.
  • Have some ice packs ready to go. They’ll help a little with the dizziness and aches.
  • Keep an eye on the weather.
  • Maybe don’t do anything super physical for a few days afterward. Like, don’t plan to start a new gym routine or run any marathons or anything.
art, life, Neodruidry

Double it.

We’re at the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, when things often paradoxically feel even colder and grayer than they did in the middle of winter. So why not have a holiday?

Celebrating Imbolc in a city doesn’t really have much of a resemblance to how it’s done traditionally, especially now. There is no lambing season here, and nobody’s gathering. There’s no well here to pray around, nowhere to offer coins or clooties.

I had a small ADF-style ritual, with a glass prep bowl for the well, a small cauldron for a hearth, and my cypress knee for a tree. I offered a bit of blackberry cobbler, fresh from the oven. to Brigid. I put on some Ani DiFranco and read aloud from Jarod K. Anderson’s Field Guide to the Haunted Forest.

When you were born, your enthusiasm was a red flame atop a mountain of fuel. As you age, the fuel burns low. No one warns you. Yet, with intention, you can learn to feed that warming fire long after the fuel you were born with is ash on the wind. Be kind to yourself. Learn this.

They say cut all the wood you think you will need for the night, then double it. Cut it during the daylight when fuel seems irrelevant. Dead limbs hanging low, sun-dried, hungry for fire. The night can be longer than we expect. The wind can be colder than we predict. The dark beneath the trees is absolute. Gather the fuel. Double it.

“The Wood,” Jarod K. Anderson

I’ve never been much for poetry — writing it, I mean. I recently read an article on creativity whose title I forget. (I was one of the ones that calls everything a “hack” and measures it in terms of boosting productivity.) It was mostly forgettable, but there was one bit that stood out: the idea of creating within limits.

Humans build at right angles. We have a sense of geometry, of corners, walls, inside, and outside. If we have rules to play within, we can create amazing things. Strangely, this gets harder when those limits are removed.

I know poetry has rules, I remember spending days on iambic pentameter, sonnets, and rhyming couplets in school. I remember cutting pieces of construction paper into diamonds, to enforce the structure of a diamante poem, lines meant to swell and taper from top, to middle, to bottom. I think I have a harder time with it, though.

Visual art is easy. I can grasp the limits of color mixing, knowing how to blend things so they don’t become muddy, to work wet-on-dry or wet-on-wet, to layer fat and lean. I can see the underpinning geometric shapes. It’s simpler to perceive. I don’t really get poetry the same way.

So, I offered my baking, played someone else’s songs, and read someone else’s poems.

My offerings were accepted. In exchange, the spirits of nature offered me the things symbolized by The Magician (confidence, creativity, manifestation). My ancestors offered my the things symbolized by Justice (cause and effect, balance, fairness). The Shining Ones offered me… also Justice. It looks like I need a lot of it.

Sometimes, they know me better than I know myself. I know my life hasn’t been balanced lately. I let this lack of balance serve as an excuse for not creating things, largely because I find the prospect intimidating. I haven’t been writing as much. I haven’t been painting as much. I haven’t even been taking as many pictures.

I cracked open a root beer and hallowed the waters of life. I asked the Kindred to bless and imbue it with their blessings and advice, so I might be able to internalize and benefit from it as much as possible.

It’s hard to really find the impetus to kick myself in the ass. To tip the scales and rebalance things. To tap into the confidence to keep from making excuses for myself. Hopefully this helps.

Gather fuel. Double it.

life

A man, a plan, a sledgehammer.

I’m firmly of the opinion that most people would benefit greatly from cultivating four disciplines: something physical, something linguistic, something creative, and something that pays the bills. It doesn’t really matter what those things are, as long as you’re able to keep at them. Some people can luck out and become multilingual professional musical theater actors and knock out all four at once. The rest of us, not so much. Still, even if you never become fluent in another language, even if your creative endeavors never turn into a profitable side-hustle, it’s okay! The real goal is to improve your physical health, release endorphins, and maintain your neuroplasticity.

Admittedly, I had a hard time finding a physical activity I enjoyed. My body’s been through a lot, between chronic CSF headaches, joint pain, deconditoning, this one weird, twisty rib that pops in and out ever since I got run over, etc. Activities that weren’t boring usually put too much stress on my body. Activities that were gentle enough didn’t keep me mentally stimulated. Then a friend introduced me to shovelglove. (Note: The original page contains some ableist and fat-shaming language.)

The teal deer is this: You get a sledgehammer. You wrap the end in a sweater so it doesn’t heck your floors. For fourteen minutes a day, every day except weekends and holidays, you pick it up and you move it. It isn’t important how you do this — pick motions that feel good and get your muscles working. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re consistent. If it starts to feel too easy, buy a heavier sledgehammer.

As a concept, it appealed to me for several reasons:

  1. It only requires fourteen minutes a day, and nothing at all on weekends or holidays. That’s barely a blip in my schedule.
  2. It’s really freeform, so it’s hard to get bored. Turn it into an imagination game. Crank up Finntroll or Turisas, pretend you’re building a forest stronghold and fighting off bandits, and the fourteen minutes’ll be up before you know it.
  3. The movements feel useful. I never really enjoyed regular weight training because, while it’s certainly effective, the motions feel repetitive and arbitrary. This feels natural and functional, like my body is learning to do things (row a boat, chop wood, battle alien invaders) that I might actually have to do someday.
  4. You only need two pieces of equipment: a sweater, and a sledgehammer. One, I had in my dresser. The other, I got from a hardware store for like $10.
  5. It can be as intense or as gentle as you want.
  6. It makes me feel like a sexy barbarian.

I also enjoy it because I feel like it’s a good idea to have some familiarity with some kind of melee weapon, even if you’re not actually practicing a martial art with it. My partner has some pretty serious training in a variety of martial arts. I can at least brain a dude with a maul if I need to.

The only piece of advice I’d give is this: Engage your core. If you’re not familiar with the movements you choose, and aren’t careful to protect your back, it’s very easy to wrench something.

Other than that, it’s a fun, effective way to exercise, and one I actually look forward to. I’ve been able to achieve visible results — while before I had the noodly appendages of a heavy reader, my biceps and triceps are larger, more defined, and just generally better at doing stuff.

Plus spending fourteen minutes a day feeling like a Klingon is pretty rad, in itself.

life

Safe(ish.)

Man, where do I even start?

By now, you probably know that a bunch of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol Building, where they were more or less welcomed with open arms by the people tasked with preventing that kind of thing. At least, until some rioters apparently tried to make their way to Pence’s office, resulting in one tragic death. Excruciatingly stupid, but tragic.

We were put under a 6 PM curfew. There’s a state of emergency until the inauguration. People are already talking about disciplining the police, who seemed complicit at worst and mind-bogglingly ineffective at best, and having the national guard walk around the city with guns. The Department of Defense is blaming the police, the police are blaming the DoD, and I’m pretty sure the mayor has some solid ground to blame both. House Majority Whip James Clyburn thinks the whole thing may have been an inside job, as insurrectionists were able to target his unmarked office while ignoring his marked one.

Without doxing myself, I live near where all of this went down. Like, really near. To say this has been a nerve-wracking shitshow would be an understatement. I’m not even going to get into the difference in police response to the insurrectionists vs. BLM, because more eloquent people have already done that many times over, and, to be perfectly honest, I generally don’t express myself well when I’m on the brink of a rage aneurysm. I will say that it has definitely served to underline the idea that police apparently can interact with protesters in a nonviolent fashion, and choose not to.

There were pipe bombs. There was a hastily-constructed gallows.

About half of the population of various pro-Trump venues blamed antifa for staging the insurrection to make them look bad, the other half posted selfies from inside the Capitol Building. Others posted their relatives’ pictures with pride. It doesn’t really matter, because the insurrectionists learned absolutely nothing from other protests and refused to wear masks, so identifying them hasn’t exactly been difficult.

One of my S.O.’s co-workers had rioters on their porch, and had to chase them away with a bat. The rioters said he “better have a gun next time.”

We’re safe here for now. Word is there will be more riots. Even if there isn’t, it means there will be more curfews and guards. Even if the insurrectionists are punished for their actions, it’s the people who actually live here who’ll have to deal with the consequences. (Probably in perpetuity, too, considering the fact that people in airports still have to take their shoes off before they’re allowed on a plane.)

I just… I’m so tired.

life

Isolation Vacation

As it turns out, there’s a buttload more to working from home than setting up a desk.

I think neither my partner nor I would’ve been able to predict the effects it had: worse sleep hygiene, confused cats, a general air of unease, a much harder time separating work and life, working an extra three hours or so a day. The trouble is, if you have to work from home, you don’t get much choice in the matter — you either have a separate space for an office and the kind of mental walls that help you keep your work life and home life separate, or you’re kind of boned.

So we engineered a way to take a vacation in the most low-risk, isolated way possible.

Getaway offers tiny cabins a little less than two hours outside of D.C. It worked out perfect for us — we booked and paid for the cabin online a few months in advance (they fill up quick), picked up some extra provisions during our last grocery trip, filled up on gas when we normally would anyhow, and made the trip without having to stop. Checking in was completely contactless, too. We received a text with the lock code, keyed it in to the number pad on the door, and stepped into a very comfy, charming one-room cabin.

It was pretty much perfect. There was a spacious bathroom at one end, with a large shower and accessibility bars. At the other, there was a big, marshmallowy queen sized bed under an enormous window that looked out onto the woods. The cabin also had a pretty well-equipped kitchen, with a two burner stove, sink, pots, pans, silverware, and dishes. (There was even a bowl for traveling dogs.)

It snowed pretty heavily, which kept us from really taking advantage of the trails or the fire pit. Even so, it was really wonderful being able to snuggle up in bed with a cup of tea and some pancakes, under that huge window, and watch the snow through the trees. The night sky was gorgeous, too — I stayed up late both nights to stargaze.

It was just cozy, you know? Peaceful. Idyllic. No work emails, no calls, no wifi to answer them even if we wanted to. Just the creaking of the trees in the wind, snow, and the stars at night.

It turned out to be a great atmosphere for brainstorming, too. My S.O. and I did some storyboarding, and he wrote a really awesome short story (that will hopefully go up somewhere in the future). I had about a thousand ideas, but didn’t really get into writing or making art while I was there — I took a few notes and made some sketches, but I didn’t want to lose too much time trancing out in a creativity fugue like usual.

Even the way home was pretty. It rained after it snowed, and the nighttime temperature drop made the water freeze around all of the bare trees until it looked like they were covered in diamonds. The sky was blue, and the sun glittered through the trees’ ice-covered claws until even an ordinary road next to a set of power lines looked like something out of Narnia.

Everything was so bright and pretty, in fact, and we felt so refreshed, that we didn’t really want to go home right away. Stopping somewhere populated wasn’t really an option, but that’s okay.

There’re always roadside attractions.

We’re both kind of suckers for them (by which I mean that, if there’s a World’s Largest Something between here and California, we’ve probably stopped by). The biggest windchime? Been there, rang it, had a slice of pie. My S.O. had barely opened his mouth to say he wished there was something cool on the way home before I had a list of things that were a) large, b) unpopulated, and c) at least slightly ridiculous.

And that’s how we found a giant nutcracker. (Well, mostly the head.)

He used to be a paving company’s tar silo. When a paint company bought the property, they painted it and converted it to this fellow. Honestly, the setting had a pretty unique sense of melancholy — there he was, with the approaching clouds just beginning to gray the sky, strewn with unlit Christmas lights, staring unblinkingly out at a McDonald’s across the street.
It felt very Lynchian, though I’ll be damned if I can explain how.

Our appetites whetted by the urge to see more huge things, we next drove back to D.C. to find an actual giant.

Fortunately, it being the middle of the week, during a pandemic, and also December, the place was pretty much deserted. Several areas were closed off, so I wasn’t able to get closer to the sculptures themselves, but the image was still very striking. There he was, this metal titan struggling up from the beach sand, face twisted in anguished effort.
Then, in the background, a lazily turning Ferris wheel.

I don’t know if any of you have played Kenshi, but there’s one particular area that gives me a similar feeling. There’s just something about massive metal hands clawing vainly at the sky that’s so damn eerie. When it’s juxtaposed against a beach and a carnival ride, it’s surreal as hell. I love it.

Now we’re home, snuggled up with two cats who had Many Things to Say about our absence. If you’re reading this the day it was posted, it’s the winter solstice. Keep your eyes peeled tonight for the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, and have a happy Yule.

Blog, life, Plants and Herbs

In the conifers.

As much as I love cypress trees literally any time of year, November to early December is my favorite time for them.

Why?

Because they make everything smell fantastic.

Bald cypress trees turn orange and shed their needles in autumn to early winter — as I write this, most of the ones here are, indeed, impressively bald. The result is a carpet of needles mingled with sticky, resinous cones.

The cones are particularly interesting to me. They start out as small, hard green buds. Sometimes you can find them on the ground as early as October, but they don’t really ripen for another month after that. Then, they expand and become almost crumbly, their scaly surfaces separating and falling apart to reveal the fragrant seeds inside. That’s when it’s really nice to find a stand of them and pick up a few from the ground. I live for the smell of the rich, autumn soil, the earthy-spicy-sweet smell of decaying leaves, and the fresh, piney, almost citrusy scent of cypress resin. If I can meet some mushrooms or a neat patch of lichen on the same trip, I’m ecstatic.

(I’m a pretty easy organism to please, all told. I’m pretty much a beetle with different ideas.)

We went and gathered a few cones not long ago. I keep a small jar of them on my altar, right next to a bald cypress knee. The seeds, I sneak into various concoctions — nothing ingestible, though. While cypress trees are generally not considered poisonous, they’re not edible, either. It’s a bit of a bummer, if you ask me. I’d love to be able to have it as a twist on pine tip tea.

After that, we took a trip to the arboretum. Naturally, there’s not much to see this time of year — the flowering dogwoods are not, the lilac is long since asleep, and the oaks and maples are skeletal — but there’s a kind of architectural beauty to a lot of the bare trees. Now is when they get to show off colors and patterns in their bark, the strange, Escher-like twists of their branches, and all of the other things leaves hide in spring and summer.

Most of the conifers, of course, are still going strong. I met a Norway spruce that I found especially pretty — I hadn’t realized that their immature buds look like flowers before, their papery brown petals unfolding like tiny roses.

It wasn’t late when we arrived, but this time of year, the early sunset and angle of the planet slants the sunlight in a way that makes everything look almost surreal. It’s a cold beauty, but I love it.