As much as I love cypress trees literally any time of year, November to early December is my favorite time for them.
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’mecstatic.
(I’m a pretty easy organism to please, all told. I’m pretty much a beetle with different ideas.)
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.
I mean, that’s not what’s kept me busy for the past twenty or so days, but it’s a small project I’ve embarked on.
(What did keep me away was an absolute ton of paid writing. It’s hard to write all day and then still feel like I want anything to do with words by the time I’m done. This is especially true when that writing involves hours of researching things like metallurgy and UV-C lighting. By the end of it, my brain is tired and feels like the tail end of a discarded boba tea.)
About a week ago, my S.O. and I found the app Meow Talk. It claimed to be able to record cat noises and translate them into something understandable to humans. I consider myself pretty perceptive when it comes to figuring out what these nerds are trying to say to me, but, admittedly, I was curious. How accurate could a cat recording app really be?
As it turns out, eerily so. It correctly interpreted all his weird little greeting chirps as “Hello.” He also tells the fridge “I love you,” and responds to my attempts to smooch him with “I AM IN PAIN.” Like I said, accurate. Meow Talk isn’t even paying me for this endorsement. I’m just genuinely surprised and tickled that someone was able to interpret my cats weird little trills and yowls. I haven’t yet managed to capture one of his weird 3 AM TED Talks to no one, or the paid mourner-style wailing he does every time we move a piece of furniture, but I’m working on it.
It doesn’t really work on Kiko, but she primarily communicates through touch. If someone makes an app that can turn little paw-taps into human speech, I’d be all over it. So far, I’ve managed to figure out her “please sit by my bowl and watch me eat,” “smooch my head,” and “roll over, I need to nap on your stomach. It’s an emergency” bops, but she’s developed a very robust punching-based language that defies interpretation a majority of the time.
If you have a cat, especially a vocal one, I recommend messing around with the Meow Talk app. It’s fun, if nothing else, and could be informative. Especially if your cat has a weird attachment to appliances.
One of the really hecking sweet parts of having more physical endurance now is that places I already loved to go have opened up a lot more to me. Take Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, for one.
It’s a very quietly beautiful place most of the year, other than summer when the lotuses bloom in a sea of brilliant pink. It’s never very crowded, there are always plenty of places to sit, and you rarely hear people over the orchestra of insect calls and birdsong. Even the city traffic dulls to a low, forgettable roar in the background.
Even though the gardens are arguably at their best in summer, I like them the most in autumn. My favorite part of them isn’t the lotuses, really (though I have a certain appreciation for their alien-looking pods), it’s the bald cypress trees.
I love bald cypress trees. They’re my favorite tree. I love their scent (I once knelt down to take a picture of one, and ended up ruining a good pair of jeans by permanently staining the knees green. I felt embarrassed afterward, like a child ruining a set of school clothes on the playground, but sweet, fresh smell of crushed cypress needles was almost worth it). I love the way their needles turn brilliant orange in autumn. I love that they’re one of the few weirdo conifers that actually loses their needles in winter. I love the way they grow, in the liminal space between land and water. I love their alien-looking knees — mistaken for people, animals, and even monsters once they get large enough.
Anyway, before I launch into another paean to bald cypress trees, all of this is to say that we took a long walk in the park and it was pretty nice. The boardwalk is especially pretty this time of year, with the leaves falling on it like confetti in shades of burgundy, vermillion, violet, and saffron.
There weren’t as many flowers, of course. I found some kind of yellow asteraceae, and these very pretty silver cock’s combs, but that was about it. I did also spot some aggressively purple berries on (what I think is) a viburnum, though. Judging by the number of bare twigs, the birds have been hitting them up for snacks pretty hardcore. I know cardinals will happily eat them — I used to have a bright red buddy who hung out outside of the window of my old apartment.
My partner and I sat on a bench for a bit, enjoying the sound of the insects chirping, birds warbling, and wind soughing through the trees.
“What… What are you doing?” He asked.
“Taking off my shoes,” I replied.
I shrugged. “Something about ions. Mostly because it feels good. Dirt. Moss. You know.”
(He eventually followed suit and realized I was right — the cool ground felt wonderful, and the moss was very soft.)
As I write this, it’s Saturday night, I’m snuggled up and waiting to watch a livestream by Gareth Reynolds. I’ve got my partner, my cats, and a fantastic slice of pie. All told, not a bad end to the day!
I mean, some parts of everywhere are weird, don’t get me wrong. Where I grew up, our favorite activity was spelunking in the sewers (I found a stray femur and was almost eaten by geese). When I lived in Delaware, it took me a bit to get used to the way the landscape was broken up — apartment complex, forest, strip mall, pasture, wetlands, wetlands, wetlands, city. In California, the neighborhood was a very tiny island in the middle of fields and pastures. Sometimes, you’d wake up and see all of the puddles shimmering strangely with whatever the crop dusters were spraying the day before. At night, even without seeing any cows for miles, you’d hear their eldritch moos as if they were right in the yard. The songs of coyotes carried for untold distances. Uncanny-valley strangers would come and knock on your door, ask to borrow things, and disappear. It had a very Southern Gothic atmosphere, especially for a place that was emphatically neither.
DC is weird in its own way. I love it here, and there are some extremely cool places and people. The architecture is gorgeous, and you can find some very lovely Victorian-style houses and unexpected details. Still, there are plenty of other areas here that I try to avoid if there’s any way to help it.
This was one of those.
My partner and I were picking up food at this place we found at the beginning of COVID — a little pricey, but they’ve got the best damned catfish po’boy and blackberry shortcake I’ve ever had. (I’d drop the name, but the location is called four different things depending on whether you go there on foot, find it via Google Maps, read their bags, or try to order through a delivery app. Like I said, weird.)
It’s situated in an area that, not unlike the rest of the city, combines historical architecture with modern touches. The thing is, where other areas of DC seem to give the impression that this is done out of necessity, or to fulfill actual human needs, this seems almost malicious. Concrete angel faces stare mutely out over doorways to imposing office and municipal buildings, expressions framed in equally-stony olive branches. At street level, there are stores — jewelers, Nordstrom Rack, a seemingly impossible number of Starbucks cafés — with large, thoroughly modern plate glass windows with the dead, flat gleam of sharks’ eyes.
There’s something about it that strikes me as very calculated. There’s a cultivated air of diversity here, but the kind of diversity that wouldn’t welcome anything that wasn’t a high-end department store, a Starbucks, or an eatery capable of suiting a very narrowly defined sensibility. Some of it is very pretty, but stifling, almost.
On the sidewalks, people sit too close together at outdoor tables. A maskless couple walk by, pushing a leather-clad baby carriage that mommyblogs say could pay a month of my neighbors’ rent.
People live here, too, but everything feels aggressively tailored to those who work here instead. I don’t think they’re the same population. Thinking about it too much makes my teeth itch.
“I need to get the fuck out of here,” I whisper-hiss to my partner, “Because I’ve got maybe ten minutes before this place turns me into an anprim.”
I wonder if this is how fireflies feel when you put them in a mason jar with a stick and a leaf.
Fortunately, getting elsewhere only takes about ten minutes. It might be a strange byproduct of this one self-hypnosis program I sort-of-kind-of-maybe did wrong a few years ago, but the sight of the color green makes my nerves finally start to unknot themselves.
We park and walk a ways. I know my food’s getting cold, but I don’t really care. I take big breaths — there’s smoke coming from somewhere, and it tinges the smell of soil, gently decaying leaves, and damp wood with an earthy sweetness.
We find a picnic table. I always eat fast, but today I manage to finish before my partner’s done unpacking.
“Okay! Gonna go climb on that tree and look for friends!”
He’s grown used to this. I think you kind of have to, after awhile — it’s something that seems pretty firmly baked-in to me. I’m told that when I was very little, maybe four, we had some kind of family function at a beach. My dad says he heard me walking around making tiny proclamations: “Anyone who wants to go find bentures, follow me!” (Then I disappeared into some trees for awhile and he had to peel me off of a sheer clay cliff face, but that’s another story.)
When I was dating one ex-partner, it was a near-constant bone of contention that he never wanted to go exploring with me. I ended up having a lot of adventures with my dog, including finding a broken wooden footbridge that led to nowhere, covered in graffiti that dated back to the ’40s. (I’m almost positive it was Extremely Haunted.)
After that, another ex-partner used to give me survival equipment for every holiday. They figured the odds were pretty good that I’d end up disappearing into the woods some day, and they wanted to hedge their bets on me coming back alive eventually.
In short, I think most of my loved ones throughout history have adapted to the idea of probably seeing me show up on the internet after being mistaken for some kind of pygmy sasquatch.
There’s so much moss. Damp and feathery, sporophytes reaching up on stalks like delicate red threads. I could probably photograph it all day, to be honest — the structures are so beautifully complex when you get close enough.
My partner comes to join me, so we can look for mushy boys.
Some type of Mycena builds a tiny cathedral in a fallen tree. I find another type growing from a separate tree, its cap an almost ghostly translucent white. It’s the only one there, and I don’t have the heart to touch it, see what color it bruises, or try to take a specimen for a spore print.
“Oh, hey,” my partner points to a dead stump. I make a kind of excited pterodactyl noise and get on my stomach for pictures. I haven’t seen jack-o-lantern mushrooms before, but their intense “fuck off” orange and fine, deeply-ridged gills are weirdly, poisonously beautiful.
I can see why they’re often mistaken for chanterelles, though it makes me wonder what came first. Did the chanterelle grow to resemble the false chanterelle and jack-o-lantern mushrooms because it kept it from being eaten, or was it a case of convergent evolution?
It strikes me with some irony that I feel better about poisonous mushrooms than I do about the “Welcome” sign in a shop. Warning orange is easier to look at than shark-eyed windows, I guess.
October marks the best timing for one of my favorite hobbies: mushroom spotting.
(Not the fun ones. The regular ones.)
I usually have far more luck finding them in autumn than I do in spring or summer, so I was pretty excited when my partner and I drove out to Jug Bay to hike the trails around the wetlands. AND RIGHTLY SO.
Last time we went, I couldn’t walk as far as I’d’ve liked. This time, I was able to go a full 2.25 miles from the visitor’s center to… well, the visitor’s center, but the long way. (I’m also starting to get actual triceps, so all the recreational sledgehammer-swinging is paying off!)
The weather was absolutely perfect — sunny, breezy, and cool, with nary a cloud in the sky. We rarely saw another soul on the trails, but we had our masks so we could pull them on by the ear loopies any time we passed near anyone. Most of the trees were still green, though there were a few splashes of scarlet, saffron, and gold. Winterberries were abundant, lining the boardwalk beside the marsh with bright yellow-green leaves and shining red fruit. Asters, their white faces like miniature daisies, looked up from the side of the trail. Long, hanging stalks of goldenrod, bent under the weight of their blooms, and tall sunchokes seemed to catch and hold the light in their yellow flowers.
As we were walking along the trail, a butterfly fluttered up to say hello, made a loop around my legs, and passed back into the trees. It moved too fast to get a good look or a photo — judging by the color, I think it was either a red-spotted purple or a type of swallowtail. (And a late one, in either case!) I also spotted the most perfect spiderweb, threads intact and shimmering iridescently in the sunlight.
(Two crows hopped up on a parking sign in front of the car earlier that day, too, so this afternoon was just full of good omens!)
Turtles sunned themselves on logs, sleek heads occasionally poking up like curious periscopes. All around, you could hear the chorus of insects in the trees.
It was idyllic as fuck.
It wasn’t until we were close to the visitor’s center again that we spotted some mushy boys. Forest cryptid that I am, I got down on my knees and elbows on the trail, in the leaf litter, said a silent prayer to whatever deity’s in charge of urushiol, and crept as close as I could to get a few pictures. Identifying mushrooms is always dicey if you can’t check them for bruising, spore prints, and other signs that require more than a cursory examination, but they’re beautiful nonetheless!
(I believe the first is a kind of brittlegill, and the one at the top right is some type of gilled polypore. I’m not sure about the other two, but I really love the cream-and-brown one’s mossy home.)
I saw one mushroom that had been snapped off where it grew, so you could see its round butt and the little divot where it once sat nestled in the ground. Inside, the soil was lined with a silvery, cottony web of mycelium — the stuff that actually makes up the bulk of the fungus. I didn’t get a picture of it, but it was fascinating to see past the eye-catching fruiting bodies and into the “heart” of the mushroom.
We rounded the day off with crêpes from Coffy Café (I went with the Bootsy instead of my usual Mr. Steed — I think I might have a new favorite!), and a long, hot bath.
First thing’s first! All of the tarot readings available in my shop are 30% off(!) for the entire month. I’m also adding some new spreads, so, whether you’re looking for a simple three-card reading, an extended 22-card reading, or something geared toward a specific question or life situation, there’s a reading for you.
Did you remember to say “white rabbits” yesterday morning?
Yesterday was the first day of October, the month when the veil between worlds grows thin. I can feel the thinning, too — my dreams always get extra vivid and extra strange, and I very often smell the scents I associate with my grandmothers who’ve passed on. We’re lucky this year, since, in addition to yesterday’s full moon, we’ll be getting another full moon on October 31st.
I mean, I didn’t feel super lucky earlier this week, when I managed to pinch a nerve in my neck (which absolutely felt like part of my brain) and trigger a four-day headache. You probably know the kind. While daily headaches are pretty much part of intracranial hypertension, this was one of those bad boys that seems to radiate from a single, intensely painful spot right at the base of the skull, which seem like nothing short of a brick would cure. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do the usual preparations I do this time of year, but I was able to knock my various bones and fleshes into shape well enough to manage.
(A protip from a pain specialist I used to see regularly: Only use cold therapy on your neck, not heat. Also, bad spines go on the rolly tube.)
Seven days ago, I set up a working designed to run through the end of the waxing moon and culminate on the full. Everything went off without a hitch (and with some wonderful results, but more on that another time), and I decided to celebrate by setting up a batch of oil that I use for trance and dreamwork. From experience, it seems to work best when I set it up on the October full moon. Sometimes, I let it infuse from one October to the next. This year, I think I’ll try letting it go just until the blue moon later this month.
It’s a special blend of dittany of Crete, mugwort, mullein, and cherry, among a few other secrets, and it’s wonderful for anything that involves crossing over into other realms. Not quite potent enough to be mind-altering, but it definitely helps the shift happen. Add a piece of black kyanite, and it’s *chef kiss*. I’m going to post the full recipe one of these days, but I’d like a few more rounds of experimenting with it before I do.
Whether you said anything about rabbits yesterday morning, or your relatives on the other side start hanging around more often, I hope this harvest moon is an abundant one for you.
So, if you missed the livestream on Canvisi, I went on around 1 PM.
Well, I was supposed to go on at 1 PM, but, having never done a livestream before ever in my life, I had no idea how they work. This was absolutely no fault of the person running the stream, either — he was very helpful, professional, understanding, and kind. I, on the other hand, barreled in at 1 and immediately launched into my introduction with the vocal cadence of a hyacinth macaw on PCP.
I saw him gesturing toward his ears, and I realized that, despite the amount of Zoom calls I’ve been on, I have no idea what I’m doing. Also my phone was muted.
Fortunately, there was some intermission music to cover for me while I figured out why my setup wasn’t relaying sound properly and tried to get my heart rate somewhere below “hummingbird.” Eventually, everything was good to go.
Honestly, streaming was kind of fun. My lighting was less than ideal, because my studio’s set up to have great light for painting — video, not so much. I managed to cover most of what I wanted to in the time I was allotted, and I didn’t forget to plug my various sites and social media. Score!
I’m actually considering getting back into making time-lapse painting videos. Maybe streaming on YouTube. That’s something for another day.
Things were extremely okay. I’d even say they were approaching neato. Then they were not.
My S.O. had a high-stress presentation, not at all helped by having to do it over Zoom. The effect was like something out of a Terry Gilliam-style dystopia (which, I guess, is kind of where we are now), only without the part where anyone was wearing a giant, terrifying baby head.
I, on the other hand, had a bunch of orders to write, a presentation to plan, two cats who’ve been throwing up just often enough to be Way Too Much yet Still Technically Normal, and about ninety pounds of carpet slowly moldering in the middle of my living room. (I am not good at estimating how long it takes things to dry. I also habitually underestimate how humid it is here. Next time, I will happily pay a cute amount of money to make this someone else’s problem.)
There’s only one way to unwind from this: Aggressive frolicking.
Well, aggressive frolicking after a long drive.
First, we tried to go to Great Falls Park, but they were crowded to the point where park rangers had the entrance blocked off. It’s still a pretty drive with a bunch of scenic spots to pull off, though, and time I spend in the car with this nerd is never wasted.
Plus we found a spot bursting with bright yellow sunchokes and goldenrod. I even made a little bug buddy:
Afterward, we found some crape myrtles suitable for frolicking amongst. The flowers smelled lovely, everyone else was sufficiently socially distant, and I was loaded up on enough Zyrtec to sedate a category 5 kaiju so the existence of grass didn’t make me break out in hives.
Most people wore masks, even the ones running or cycling, but some didn’t. We brought ours, but didn’t end up going anywhere where we were in danger of coming in contact with anyone. With an entire area of the park to ourselves, it was easy to avoid breathing at other people (and getting breathed at, in turn).
I think the closest we came to coming within a hundred feet of another person was when this extremely charming family looking for a picnic spot. They rounded a fence to head down a grassy hill, when one of their maybe-four-or-five-year-old children exclaimed, “Oh! What a nice view!” I’m not generally a person of young children or babies, but it was the cutest thing I’ve ever heard.
That was pretty much it — sun, breeze, and the smell of crape myrtles. That’s plenty for me.
I mean, I’m good at coming up with ideas, just generally not ones that I can convince other people to do with me. That’s why my S.O. is pretty awesome — he’s almost always up for my bullshit.
The weekend before last, the heat finally crept below 80°F. Of course, it also stormed the whole time, so options were limited. Last weekend, the sweltering heat was back. Hanging out indoors somewhere else isn’t something either of us considered optimal, so we made our own fun.
Saturday, we picked up some pies (tofu curry and Baltimore bomb for me, pulled pork and strawberry rhubarb for him), put on David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, and cracked open my copy of John Maizels’ Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond. (I bought this book used, and somehow ended up with a signed copy. So, if you’re out there Steve Moseley, thanks.) My S.O. and I huddled around it like kids with a pile of comic books, poring over the incredible body of work of Adolf Wölfli, the otherworldly twists of the Palais Idéal, and the incredible figures of the Rock Garden of Chandigarh.
(Honestly, if you’re not familiar with Wölfli, get ready to go down a deep rabbit hole. His work is fascinating and unmatched in scope. You can even find some of his musical compositions on Spotify.)
Sunday, we had crêpes and settled in to watch a movie — Color Out of Space. Admittedly, I mostly find Lovecraft kind of tiresome, owing in no small part to a former room mate who was a little too into his work. Still, COoS is probably my favorite of his short stories. I’ve got a thing for malevolent architecture and eldritch landscapes, and this tale in particular scratches that particular horror itch really well. (So do SCPs 455 and 3219, if you’re into that sort of thing.) It’s also the kind of subject that lends itself to Lovecraft’s particular style, which tends to vacillate between “I can’t describe it, but trust me, it was super weird” and “they were secretly… Foreigners!” When you’re talking about something that defies description by its very nature, like a nonexistent color, it works.
Speaking of, I dig the artistic choice to show the eponymous Color as various shades of magenta. While magenta does exist at least as much as any other color, it’s pretty much the color mascot for the fact that so much of what we consider real is incredibly subjective. Neato.
I also dug some of director Richard Stanley’s other choices in this film. For one, the main protagonists (I’m hesitant to attach the word “hero” to a story so bleak) are a Black man and a young woman. There’s some romantic tension between them. You know, the kind of stuff that would’ve made Lovecraft have to take to his bed with a cool rag and some kind of nostrum.
There’s also one scene with a horse where the horse’s eye briefly flashes purple. It’s ambiguous, however, whether this and the horse’s subsequent freakout are a sign of the contagion or not. Notably, the part of the horse’s eye that appears to flash is the tapetum lucidum, the membrane that reflects light and aids in night vision. Is the horse acting out because the Color’s gotten to it? Is it reacting to what it sees emanating from the people it’s looking at? Is it both? It’s the little fridge horror/fridge brilliance touches like that that I really enjoy.
Lavinia, the family’s daughter, also provides some interesting references to Wicca. Nothing too complicated or heavy, really, though mentioning the Wiccan Rule of Three provides a bit of foreshadowing. The Necronomicon makes a brief appearance at one point, though it’s left unclear whether the in-universe book is meant to be genuine, or just a paperback for edgy kids. Some viewers put forth the idea that, while the Necronomicon itself is widely regarded as a hoax, all of the best hoaxes contain something tangentially genuine — so it’s possible, at least in-universe, that Lavinia’s ritual did something.
(It just wasn’t what she wanted.)
Lastly, near the end, we’re given a brief glimpse of the Color’s home planet. Normally, I hate this kind of thing — one thing Lovecraft got right here was the fact that the things your imagination conjures are inevitably far more terrifying than anything anyone else can show you. In this case, the look we’re given is brief enough, and the atmosphere built by the flashing colors, patterns, emotions, and musical score building to that point is just mentally overwhelming enough, that it’s impossible to fully absorb what you see. You’re given an image, but your imagination still has plenty of room to build around it.
It also strikes me as somewhat visually similar to the ending city in Junji Ito’s Uzumaki:
Which I thought was awesome, because I love Uzumaki. (I get some very Hellstar Remina vibes, too.)
No idea what we’ll do next weekend. There’s an abandoned pyrite mine I’d like to poke around, and this reservoir I found a bone at once. Really, after all this, I kind of just want to snuggle up and re-read a bunch of Ito’s books.
I’ve also added a new line — now, in addition to the matte giclee prints, you can also get most of my work as lustre photographic prints. (These are just as high-quality as the others, just printed on a subtly glossy photo paper instead of heavy matte stock.)
And several others!
I always purchase copies of my prints before I list them, so I can make any adjustments to the source files to make sure they look as good as possible. Not to toot my own horn, but computer images don’t really do these justice — the prints came out so good, friends.
I also have several different tarot readings available. Please feel free to drop me a line through Etsy or my Contact page if you have any questions.