For The Woods Are Dark And Deep…

Did I ever tell you about the time that the forest spirits decided to have a laugh with myself and a few friends, and got us lost in my backyard?  No?  Well, then, let’s fix that, shall we?

One afternoon, many ages ago, when I was a much younger river nymph than I am now, some friends and I decided that we would go into the forest that grew beside the house I lived in at the time, to perform arcane rituals of our own devising* on a heath that I and my brother had found the previous autumn while following a herd of deer at dusk.

It was an overcast day in early spring, and the air held that chill mistiness that it often does in the northern forests at that time of year.  Everything is half-frozen, still, and it’s as likely to snow as it is to rain.  Generally not the best time to be venturing deep into the trees, but we were determined. The ritual needed performing, and we weren’t sure when we would get another chance, so out we went.

There is a place in those woods where several pine trees grow in two, perfect rows, for reasons that no one knows.  They weren’t particularly old trees, maybe a decade or two, in the middle of a much older stretch of forest.  To get to the heath, you have to follow an old, forgotten road until it’s swallowed by the trees and ceases to exist, cross through a small valley, pass on the right side of the boulder on the ridge, pass to the left of the row of pines, and straight on until you come to the remains of an old stone wall, the other side of which is the heath.

Seems simple, right?  Except on that day we didn’t pass the pines on the left.  Instead, when we approached, I noticed how the light had a peculiar quality about it as it filtered through the mist and the grey-green haze of the pine needles, and my attention was raptly caught.  I had been to this spot before, but had never seen the light look so captivating, and decided to walk between the rows, and the others followed behind.

We came to the stone wall, which is only a couple of hundred feet from the pines, and crossed onto the heath.  After some wandering and discussion, we found a place among the rocks and winter-dry grasses to perform the ritual we had come to do to, and when we were done some time later, we left the heath to cross back through the woods in search of lunch and warm drinks.  It was good to be outside, but we had sat on cold stones and bare dirt long enough to be chilled, and the air had taken on the warning hints of incoming weather.  We wanted to be back under a roof before it started, with cocoa and sandwiches in hand.

We crossed back over the wall, one by one, and passed to the right of the pines, but after a short while realized that we had not come to the boulder as we should have.

This was something of a problem, particularly since you can see the boulder from the edge of the pines.  It should not have been possible to miss it.  As we looked around, my brother and I exchanged a troubled glance as we realized something else.  Despite the fact that we had both been out this way many times in the recent months, both together and separately, neither of us recognized where we were.  So we retraced our steps back to the pine row (this was easy, considering that our fellow woodland adventurers were very much not wilderness types and left a clear, broad trail in their wake) and tried again.

As we did so, I noticed something odd, but kept my tongue behind my teeth at what I saw.  We started back out, and this time passed the boulder and kept on our way.

We walked and walked and walked, and we did not come to the valley, nor did we come to the remains of the old, lost road.  We crossed a small brook by walking over the remnants of an old beaver dam, which was very worrying, as I knew of no running water or ponds nearby.  Judging by the set of my brother’s shoulders, he did not know of any, either.  One of the girls slipped on the wet logs, and twisted her ankle just enough to make walking harder.  We stopped to rest, and my brother and I conferred away from the others.  Neither of us had recognized anything since before the brook, but decided that it was best, for the time being, that we not let the others know just how bad the situation was just yet, as we still hoped to be able to sort the path out.

We walked on, and the day grew late.  The clouds were that flat, uniform grey that ensures there is no chance of telling where the sun is, and it had begun to drizzle very lightly.  As the light faded, we decided to stop walking and resigned ourselves to a deeply uncomfortable night under the trees.  We started to build a makeshift shelter that would at least protect us from the worst of the elements, and hoped that there were enough of us that our body heat would help stave off hypothermia.  My brother decided to take one last scouting run a little way further, just in case.  The area was thinly populated, but we should have come to a house or road long since, and he didn’t want to spend the night in the woods within shouting distance of someone’s back door.

He came back a few minutes later, laughing oddly.  He knew where we were!  He had come across a small clearing that he and his father had spent many a morning in while out hunting, and it was not far from the dirt road that ran past my house.  We stopped building the shelter and followed him out of the woods and at last stepped onto the road.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, we walked down the driveway of the house, where my father and a friend’s father were standing.  They had been out in the woods yelling for us, but we had never heard them.  Once it was determined that everyone was fine and none the worse for the wear, my friends left for their respective homes, and it was just my brother and I in the kitchen, sipping cocoa and staring out at the dark line of trees.

“When we went back to the pines to try and find the boulder again, did you notice that there were no tracks through them, or on the other side?”  I asked him, not taking my eyes off the trees?

“You noticed that, too, huh?” he replied.

“Yup.”

“Remember that clearing that I go hunting in, that we found our way out from?  It’s about four miles away.   That wasn’t a four mile walk back. ”

“I know,” I said. “There’s also only 100 acres* of woods right there, before you hit the heath, the road, or the orchard.”

“Yup.  Not sure where we went, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t where we thought it was.”

“Yeah…. Pretty sure those pines are somehow involved, and we should probably not go through them again.  I’m also pretty sure we shouldn’t mention this to the others.”

“Agreed.”

We sipped our cocoa and thoughtfully looked at the trees, wondering what else was looking back at us from the shadows, as the moon began to climb from behind the clouds into the cold night sky…

 

*Oddly enough, not a metaphor.  We were a strange and raggedy collection of souls, prone to creating odd rituals and looking for magic in mundane places.

*About 1.5 square miles.

This Semi-Quarantine Life (plus a long overdue shop update).

So….I’m climbing the walls already.  How are you all doing?

Still alive and breathing, here.  Managing to keep myself from freaking out, if only barely at times. Trying to find a way to make art while my brain wants to do nothing more than crawl into a blanket fort and hide.  Maybe I’ll just paint a bunch of monsters with blankets until I feel better, or you feel better, or someone feels better.

I went out for a drive on Sunday and went to visit one of my favorite places; the terribly named “Ponyhenge” over in Lincoln.  No, I didn’t touch anything and there were no other people around (I made sure).  Even when I leave the house, I’m aggressively avoiding other humans.  Ponyhenge is, well….it’s A Thing.  I’ll write more about that separately, because it deserves it’s own post.  Suffice to say, I avoided getting stolen by the faeries, but only because they were feeling kindly disposed…

Woke up with serious brain squirrels yesterday, so I didn’t get my originally planned list of things done, but I *did* manage to jury-rig a makeshift lightbox out of an old cardboard box and some paper, so I can take better photos of stuff I make and get them listed in the shop (can’t sell anything if I don’t have it listed!).

20200317_162010

It’s not the best looking thing, but it’s what I could do with what I had on hand, and it’ll do for the time being.  It doesn’t do too badly, and with a little tweaking it’ll work better.

MockSeaBun1

Later on this week I’m expecting delivery of a couple of shiny new toys (why my budget is out for other stuff): a tabletop tripod, remote shutter control, and a microphone for my smartphone.   I’m going to be figuring out how to do some videos and vlogging.  I don’t promise I’ll be any good at it, but I do promise to try my best (seriously, please don’t expect high-end quality stuff out of me…not only am I new at the idea and have to learn, but I’m not working with high end recording and editing equipment).

Going back to the lightbox conversation, I did get a couple of small, simple paintings listed in the shop yesterday.  Brain weasels willing, I should be getting more stuff listed at least once a week, if not more often, now that I’ve got some way to take pictures with reliable lighting and we’ve gotten my desktop computer back up and running again.

One other thing I’ve decided to do for the time being is to unlock posts to everyone for a bit.  I feel awful about the idea of paywalls, even temporary ones, when pretty much everyone is stuck inside, scared, and in need of distraction.  I *really* hope folks will continue to subscribe to my Patreon and/or chip in as they can via my tip jar (located on the top right corner of the webpage) or Ko-fi , because this is my only source of income, and with the quarantine and everything, my chances of finding a Day Job right now is more or less non-existent.

That’s it for me, at the moment.  How are you all getting through?

Sunset In Satan’s Kingdom

It was getting late in the day and I had been driving for hours.  The highway signs at the deserted intersection directed me to my choice of three different states but, to be honest, I wasn’t even sure which one I was in at that point.  My legs and back were screaming at me that it had been too long since I had last stopped to stretch, and my head was informing me that if I did not put caffeine and maybe some Tylenol into myself, it was going to produce a world class headache and then where would we be?  Sighing wearily, I turned the truck into the parking lot of the store at the corner to see about caffeination and getting my bearings again.

Iced coffee and a few minutes of walking around later, and I was starting to feel better.  Getting back in the truck, I decided it was probably getting to be about time to make my way home, since I hadn’t really found what I was looking for and it was getting late, anyway.  I turned my GPS on and started to tell it to steer us home.  Before I tapped the “Home” box, though, a name on the map caught my eye.

Satan’s Kingdom*.

Huh.  Well, that’s a thing.

I noted the distance from my location, and considered going to check it out.  It was only about 20 minutes west of where I was, but detouring would put me at least an hour out of my way, and I hadn’t brought anything that would pass for dinner with me.  The last 100 calorie packet with all of four almonds, a cashew, and two sliced up dried cranberries was not going to cut it.  As I weighed my options, the opening notes to “Sympathy For The Devil” came drifting out of the radio speakers.

That answered that question.  I switched my GPS’ destination and pointed the truck toward Satan’s Kingdom.  I know a hint when I hear one, and that one was loud and clear.

The highway was empty and the area was pretty much just trees, pavement, and the occasional run-down old house, and that was about it.  I mean, credit where due, if you’re going to go looking for a town called Satan’s Kingdom in god-knows-where Massachusetts, the area was doing its level best to provide the appropriate atmosphere. Definite A+ work, there.

The GPS instructed me to turn down a very narrow and winding side road and out into the woods. It was paved, I’ll give it that.  I gave my GPS some serious side-eye when, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, it announced “Arriving at destination”.

20200216_170705

Um. Right.

Also, it’s a switchback road.  That comes to a dead end.

20200216_171126

The road looks like it continues further, and if I wasn’t wearing a skirt and boots without good traction, and it wasn’t maybe half an hour until full dark (the sun was already below the trees and it was overcast), I might have considered hiking in, but alas…

20200216_171026

Since a hike was out, I decided to call it a day and go back to my original plan to head home.  So much for this trip, I guess?  I mean, interesting side road, but definitely not worth the hype.  I questioned the radio telling me to come out here.  It didn’t usually steer me wrong, but here I was, looking at an actual dead end.  I got back in the truck, turned around, and started back on up the road.

When I got to the main road that I’d turned off of to get to this particular section of hinterlands (there’d been a few houses and a wide field area), I noticed an old cemetery set back from the side of the road and decided to check it out.  It was still light enough, and I do have a fondness for old cemeteries.

20200216_172410

As I turned from the cemetery to get back in the truck, I was struck by the strange desolation of the area.  I mean, sure, some of it’s the fact that it’s winter, it was overcast, and dusk, and it’s probably much more inviting in the summer, but it had a Feeling about it…it reminded me of the feeling of standing on a widow’s walk in November, looking out over the sea…

20200216_172517

It was eerily quiet.  A place like that, I’d have expected to hear snowmobiles, or dogs barking, or something, but there was nothing but the sound of my truck’s engine idling and my own breathing.  Vaguely disquieted, I got back in the truck and turned out onto the main road and heading back toward home again.

Not a few hundred feet down the road, something caught my eye.  I slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road and stopped to look at the big, old house.  I didn’t remember seeing it on the way in, and that alone bothered me a bit.  I notice houses like that, and I swear I hadn’t seen this one.  Of course I pulled into the driveway that ran up one side.

20200216_172946

Not creepy at all…

As I drove up, a rabbit bolted out from where the driveway curved up and around behind the house.  It stopped and looked at me for a moment, before running toward the back courtyard that I could see the edge of.  I had an urge to follow it, to see where it was going, but decided that following a rabbit toward the old, abandoned house at dusk was probably not the best plan.  I settled for simply parking, and walking back to the edge of the road to take a picture of it.

I felt like it was watching me the whole time.  I fully expected to see someone looking back at me, but windows remained dark.

I took a couple of quick pictures in the fading light, and then turned to go back up to my waiting vehicle.  As I did so, I nearly jumped out of my skin.  There was a boy, maybe 10 or 12, with a pale, rangy dog sitting next to him, standing on the other side of the road behind me, looking at me.  It was a long, straight road, and there hadn’t been anyone walking along it, nor in the field across the street.  I don’t know where he came from, but there he was.  I nodded at him in greeting, but he just stood there, watching.  I went back up to where I had parked.

I’ve seen a number of horror movies in my life, and let’s be real, this was a classic horror movie setting if I’ve ever seen one.  Big, abandoned, old house in a remote New England town named Satan’s Kingdom just before dark?  Check.  Wildlife luring you further in?  Check.  Creepy child with dog staring at you?  Of course.

I’m not saying it was haunted, or that the boy was anything other than a normal, real boy, but ya know….the signs were all there that something was a little odd that day and I figure it’s better safe than sorry.  I got back in my truck and headed home before I ended up becoming a ghost and haunting the place, myself.

I did apologize to the radio for doubting it, though.  It was right, and it was worth the detour.

 

*It’s an unincorporated township that no one seems really sure how it got its name.  There’s a few theories ranging from early colonists getting driven out by the local Native tribes who lives there, to a preacher delivering a particularly fiery speech on Sunday, only to come out of the church to find the woods on fire, and making some remark about Satan’s Kingdom coming to challenge him or something.  No one really knows, though, and for whatever reason the town never became a town.  Eventually it ended up getting folded into Northfield, but still retains it’s name and not much else.

Roadside Gods

On the side of the old Post Road, there is an ancient and forgotten god that watches over travelers as they pass by. It was a god of hospitality, once, but now it’s mostly a god of mice and beetles and the odd wanderer who happens to see it for what it is. It’s shrine is falling down and overgrown with weeds, and old bottles and litter blown by the wind lie scattered around it’s pedestal.
I’ve taken to offering it a greeting as I pass by. It seems lonely, and I feel a little bad for it. Plus, it can’t hurt to have a god well-inclined toward you while you’re traveling, even if it is only a small and forgotten one. I keep thinking that I should maybe leave it an offering of some kind, but I don’t know what would be appropriate for it. I’m not entirely sure that it even knows, these days. It may not even remember that it’s a god, anymore.
Still, I should visit it’s shrine, and leave something for it.
After all. I am an odd wanderer, and I see it for what it is.
 
roadsidegod
Want to see posts sooner and help an artist make a living? Become a Patron, get early access, and help me continue to do what I love!

Spite Monuments Are Some Of My Favorite Things.

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter)

My deepest apologies for dropping off the planet!  My schedule got eaten by home repairs, doctor visits and, to be honest, my bank account hitting mothball-stage, all of which conspired to effectively ground me for a bit.  But!  Things seems to have stabilized a bit, and I’m back up and running again, albeit closer to home than usual….


A friend on Twitter posted a thing recently that asked “Without naming your city, what is your city known for?”, and I thought about what was nearby, and was reminded that one of my favorite spite monuments is just a few miles away: the John Brown Bell 




So, back around the start of the Civil War, there was an abolitionist named John Brown.  Mr. Brown appears to have had a rather “V for Vendetta” way of going about things, and made quite a name for himself as he went around doing everything he could to set off, well, basically the Civil War (he was going for a large scale anti-slavery revolt, which, I mean, is more or less what the war was, so… he sort of succeeded?).  He eventually ended up getting pinned down and captured at the Harper’s Ferry fire station where he and a few folks had holed up in Virginia, brought to trial, and executed for treason and murder, along with a few other folks, which had something of a catalyzing effect on the whole issue and helped push things toward the war.


Shortly thereafter, a company of soldiers from Marlborough, Mass. were stationed down in Harper’s Ferry, because war, and as part of the capture of the area, were told to salvage anything they could.  Several of the soldiers were members of the Marlborough fire department, and they had a fire station with no bell, and well, the Harper’s Ferry fire station had a really nice one, so they decided to take it home.  There’s some additional shenanigans where they can’t get the bell home by reason of transportation funding, and it ends up buried in a garden for safe keeping for a while, before it finally makes it way up north to it’s new home.


The war ends, time passes, and Harper’s Ferry sets up a wax museum about the whole thing because we really like museums to things like major historical events in this country, and they decide to approach Marlborough about getting the bell back to put in the museum, figuring that the city would cheerfully hand over the bell.


This did not go as they planned. Raise your hand if you’re surprised.  No?  Didn’t think so.  Y’all are smart folks.


They try this several times.  At one point the words “Neener” and “tough noogies” are allegedly used by the chairman of the Marlborough Historical Society.  At least one mayor of Harper’s Ferry has made comments about trying to steal it back, but well, it’s wired with a very nice alarm system.



It’s currently sitting right downtown in a small park, looking like just another relic of some random historical event (Massachusetts has a ridiculous number of things with plaques commemorating everything from actual major historical events like Bunker Hill to “George Washington once rode a horse through this intersection on his way to somewhere else”…no really, that one’s in Waltham), but it is apparently a rather hotly contested item between the two places, and I find myself deeply amused by the whole thing, and I may giggle just a little every time I drive past it.



Oh, yeah… the park’s name?  It’s Union Park.