Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wildlife Encounters on My Birthday

There we were, just five minutes up the trail from the trailhead. Ickie was walking along with his head down, and I looked up the wooded path to a clearing about 40 yards ahead. In the space of a second, the following thoughts went through my head:

Oh, look, someone is horseback riding. They must have left the horse in the clearing.

Hmm, that's very tall and lanky for a horse. And dark. Is it a mule?

Slowly the creature turned its head to look back at us. It had antlers.

Oh. Dear.

It's. A. Moose.

A huge bull moose was staring at us. I froze and whispered to Ickie to stop, pointing ahead. We began to back away cautiously.

The moose turned to consider us a few more times, then sauntered up the trail and disappeared. I turned to Ickie and cursed quietly.

We waited a very long time before moving on. After that, the hike ranged from moderate to strenuous, but I told Ickie I was burning twice as many calories because my insides were still quivering with fear. We dubbed this form of exercise "Terror Exercise." Every time a squirrel or woodpecker moved in the bushes after that, we freaked out all over again.

After we returned home, Ickie looked online and discovered that fall is when bull moose are in rut and the most dangerous. Thank goodness we didn't douse ourselves with Eau de Female Moose before leaving the house.

Other tips suggested that if attacked by a moose, one should:

1. Increase the distance between you and the moose.
2. Get behind a tree.
3. Change your route.

I find the "get behind a tree" advice morbidly amusing. Unless there's a redwood nearby, I don't see how it could protect me very well from a 2,000-pound moose. However, it is recommended to make a lot of noise while hiking, and we had enough sense to do that.

Moose exits, stage right.

I practice self defense.

Ickie is startled by a squirrel that sounds like a moose.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Watoosa the Reckless

Those of you who have kept up with my transition to Maine may have heard that I was working for a little town newspaper. Today I gave my two weeks' notice after only being employed there for about two months. Many reasons contributed to my decision, all of which are too dull to bother discussing. What greatly pleases me is the realization that I can just quit the job because it is not what I wish to do. I'm rather gun-shy of work-related stress after several years of miserable work as a production editor in the bowels of Hades, and though this recently deceased job never amounted to the stress that I encountered at that dolorous den of torment, I have a merry, freeing feeling as a result of resigning. So, call me reckless, for that is how I am feeling.

I'm not altogether reckless, mind you. I'm not running off to start a skydiving business or to slaughter pigs, and I have freelance work to keep me busy. I just feel as though I have more control over my own destiny at the moment, and I'm a wee bit tipsy with that power. Tra la, tra la la la...

Now for the bookish bit. The title of this blog post comes from P.G. Wodehouse's Jill the Reckless, one of the tall stack of Wodehouse novels I checked out from the well stocked main library branch yesterday. I've been thirsty for Wodehouse of late, and that thirst must be sated! My one problem is that I have difficulty remembering the novels I have and haven't read by him. The Jeeves and Bertie episodes are especially hard to distinguish, but it's a pleasant problem to have. As a result, I began Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves the other day, and after several chapters realized I had read it once before. But no matter! This one has some of the best similes in the first few chapters, and it contains many winning Wooster-isms, in particular Bertie's snappy habit of abbreviation. Here they are for your afternoon enjoyment:

Bertie on Madeline Bassett: "She's one of those soppy girls, riddled from head to foot with whimsy. She holds the views that the stars are God's daisy chain, that rabbits are gnomes in attendance on the Fairy Queen, and that every time a fairy blows its wee nose a baby is born, which, as we know, is not the case."

Bertie on Gussie Fink-Nottle: "He looked like a halibut that's taken offence at a rude remark from another halibut."

Bertie on Stiffy Byng's dog Bartholomew: "He biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder."

Bertie on his Aunt Agatha: "...the one who eats broken bottles and turns into a werewolf at the time of the full moon."

Hobbits Are More Like Men Than Men

No doubt you (you being my few devoted readers) are curious to hear what has become of me. First, I was swamped with work. Then I went jaunting up and down the coast, and then I reread The Hobbit, which just gets better every time. My favorites are like that. And I still say it and The Lord of the Rings have the best beginnings and endings of any books I've read.

As always, I'm charmed by Tolkien's decision to use a very ordinary main character to help the reader transition into a fantastic land of dragons, magic rings, elves, and wizards. Thanks to a hobbit's tendancies to worry about lunch from day to day yet to reveal his most brave, resourceful self when placed in a tough situation, I both commiserate with and admire them. Hambone recently left a beautiful comment on my post saying she most resembled Eowyn in LOTR. I am much more like Bilbo and Sam. I also like Bilbo's poems the best, even compared to the artistry of the elves' songs.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

There's a simplicity in these lines to which I relate moreso than the epic poems elsewhere in Tolkien's books, and I'm sure he meant for that to be the case. The lure of adventure, the exhaustion from it, and ultimately familiar landscape and home: That is something I consider daily.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

That Dead Tramp Stole My Husband

I think Alfred Hitchcock may have learned everything he knew from Daphne du Maurier.

Alright, I know some of you are getting in a huff over this statement, but it's probably those of you who haven't yet read Rebecca by du Maurier. Hitchcock directed the film adaptation, and when you read the book, you'll know it's a perfect fit. I can't remember the last book I read as fraught with suspense as Rebecca. It's been a very long time since I saw the movie, and about all I could remember was that Mrs. de Winter is a spineless sadsack (portrayed aptly by my least favorite actress of all time, spineless sadsack Joan Fontaine), Maxim de Winter is distant, and Mrs. Danvers is insidious. In fact, the word insidious only begins to approach the dizzying level of creepdom that is Mrs. Danvers. (Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in the movie version doesn't do justice to the skull-faced, vindictive wraith of the novel.)

I know you nay-sayers are asking: How can you compare a book to Hitchcock? What of his cinematography? the atmosphere? those striking black and white shots? Well, somehow du Maurier creates an equally vivid atmosphere with her detailed, flowery descriptions. I also suspect young Daphne's favorite novel was Jane Eyre. You'll see what I mean.

I'm putting the movie back on my Netflix queue for an updated comparison, although I encourage you to read the book before watching the movie. If you've already seen the movie, read the book anyway. I must note that I spent the first two thirds of the narrative ready to pull my hair out over the protagonist's infuriating, self-conscious impotence and the de Winters' complete inability to communicate openly with each other. But I managed to make it through my frustrated fantasies of slapping a large portion of sense into each character, and it certainly paid off. The ending was deliciously gothic--a sort of ominous conclusion/cliffhanger.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

No Prison Can Hold Them

What with the excitement of settling into my new jobs and visiting Tennessee just in time for some kind of allergy torture zone, I haven't posted anything for a while, but I have indeed been reading.

First off, Ickie passed on to me Passarola Rising by Azhar Abidi. The author is originally from Pakistan, although he lives in Australia and writes in English. His elegant, stylized writing reminds me of Middle Eastern traditions of storytelling, such as the Arabian Nights stories. Passarola is about two historical figures, but the events are fictional. Two brothers, living in Europe in the 18th century, create a flying ship, hobnob with royalty, flee the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expects), and venture into the arctic. Somehow Abidi's storytelling feels both detached and formal while also delving deeply into the personal and spiritual struggles of the two brothers. The ending is transcendent. The book feels very un-20th-Century and un-American (in the cultural, not the patriotic, sense). The cover art is exquisite.

After Passarola I read Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. It's a truly unique take on super villians and heros. At first glance, Ickie and I suspected it would be hilarious (the chapter titles are genre clichés like "Foiled Again," "Welcome to My Island," and "Maybe We Are Not So Different, You and I"). Instead, the book contains a more subtle humor. As with Wodehouse and Austen, the reader is more entertained by Grossman's wit than the actual events.

Grossman makes heros and villians more real than any other attempt I've seen. The story is told from two alternating points of view by diabolical genius Dr. Impossible and crime-fighting cyborg Fatale. Superheros pop painkillers to deal with their artificial organs, undergo divorce, and suspect each other of eating disorders. Dr. Impossible has flashbacks to his unpopular school days. These themes are treated with a light, clever hand--you can't help laughing when reference is made to an army of fungus. Dr. Impossible is especially engaging with his sarcasm and optimism (noticeably lacking among the downtrodden heros). Fans of James Bond, superhero stories, and even The Narnia Chronicles will discover something personal in Grossman's first novel.