Friday, March 25, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 163: A Day in the Woods

Today, Mom decided to pull out some of the old homeschooling binders that she had (we were trying to remember who had the highest ACT score. We're pretty fiercely competitive). While perusing one of the binders, I stumbled across one of the essays I'd written for college back when I was sixteen. Since I was still being homeschooled by Mom at the time (she liked to keep me busy), I'd decided to also make it count towards my spelling lesson of the week. I'd forgotten that I'd written it...until now, anyway. The result was amusing. 
Anyway, without further ado, allow me to present A Day in the Woods.

It was a clear summer day four years ago. Our expedition set out as loudly as was humanly possible; my siblings and I bolted out the back door at top speed, heading for the woods. Carefree, exuberant, plans for the day fresh in our minds, we were the axiomatic archetype of capriciousness. Not to be wordy about it or anything.
Plowing up dirt and grass, we skidded to a stop at the base of an oak tree. The grand patriarch of this part of our forest, he offered the best climbing around. First, my brother, cognizant of all the nuts around the tree, mentioned this find, which promptly led to an abandonment of all plans for the time being as we raced to gather the acorns. Soon, however, candid remarks offered by contentious siblings turned the area into a battleground. In good humor, we pelted each other with “bullets” and, grabbing sticks, commenced to “swordfighting.” This turn of events could only disturb the woods for so long; soon we were flat on our backs, out of breath. Peace was made between the pirates and the royal navy, and we were ready to begin the ascent.
I hoisted myself into the tree and lent a hand to the others. The birds chattered at us as we trespassed into their domain, and the squirrels snatched some of our ammo from the ground and scurried off. Up and up we went, higher and higher, until we were at the top, or as high as we were going to go.
The view was excellent. Sitting with our backs to the rough tree trunk, we ignored the discomfort and admired the scenery. Even though we were—are—not aesthetically minded, we could still appreciate the surrounding sights. My brother promptly started to make up new adjectives to describe the area and was instantly and effectively sedated by popular request. The general conclusion afterwards was that wrestling in a tree that high up was just dangerous, so we descended the tree. I stepped on a rotten branch, resulting in me beating them to the ground by a good five minutes.
Once they made it to the ground and I took stock of my new assortment of bruises, we headed off for tree two. Some anomaly had caused one of the branches to grow out almost perpendicular to the trunk six feet from the ground. It was really thick and had convenient handholds in the form of small branches growing straight out of the main limb. Needless to say, we practically ran up the slope and swung like monkeys in and out of the branches. My brother started making drum noises and was shoved out of the tree by a vengeful older sister.
The drum re-ascended the tree amid loud protests. A shower of leaves fell upon the protesters, who promptly turned on me. I don’t care what Galileo said; I know I hit the ground harder and faster then my erstwhile brother-turned-word-creator-turned-drum. I scampered back up the tree and confronted my sisters. I didn’t get the chance. The drum had taken its revenge.
Peace momentarily restored, we began to have a yelling contest; i.e. whoever yelled the longest without taking a breath won. Since nobody was willing to concede defeat, there was very nearly a mass exodus from the tree right then and there. I suggested turning our thoughts to other pursuits, such as an animal-imitation competition. My brother won this one with his impression of a sick horse; I don’t think he meant to do that, but it knocked his older sister, the hairball-inducing cat, off her perch convulsed with laughter. The youngest person in the family, the dying cow, was hanging limp over two branches while me, the Spanish duck with a sore throat, threatened the winner with dire consequences if he didn’t cut it out and let us catch our breath.
The unanimous conclusion of said contest resulted in a general consensus that “our family had talent.” Looking back now, I wonder what we ate that afternoon. I’m guessing it was high in sugar. Or caffeine. But I digress.
By now, it was almost dinnertime. I suggested seeing if we could jump from our perches without getting hurt. A vote was called for. Two “ayes” and the reappearance of the horse were counted, with the end result that three of our number were writhing on the ground in helpless laughter, choking out dire threats against the naysayer smiling benignly down at us from his perch on the tree. Obviously, we had lost what little sanity we had to begin with. I recognized that and called for a return to the house. The horse drummed his way out of the tree and fled for his life as a mass grab was made for him. We reentered the back door sweaty and bedraggled, multi-colored from numerous bruises. We didn’t care.
As I recall this incident, I am convulsed with helpless laughter every time, as I was on that afternoon. I wonder exactly why we set out on that expedition and why it stands out so well in my memory. There must have been dozens of such incidents in my past. Why do I remember it in particular? Was it our good-natured squabbling? Our weird contests? Our constant descents?

Or was it because Mom caught us red-handed in the chocolate chips that night?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 162: Duel in the Dark

FB: Musica is online!

Radar: You went to SPAIN??

Musica: Yes! Guess what I brought back from will be proud....

Radar: A Stetson? Wait, they don't have those, do they?

Musica: Try a sword!





Radar: AND HOW DID YOU GET IT BACK?? Aren't airlines pretty strict about that sort of thing?

Radar: Way to make me spazz, by the way.

Musica: It's really short because that was the cheapest. The hilt is really simple, but it's really sleek too. And I just packed it in a suitcase; as long as I didn't take it in the plane, I was fine. No, no shield, that would have put me way over the 50lb suitcase limit! Anyway, you totally need to teach me how to swordfight sometime! Also, you gotta help me name her!

Musica: *picture attached*

Radar: Actually, that's pretty close to the perfect length for you. Well done!

Radar: I'm thinking about coming down there this evening for a swing dance. Any chance I could see it....??

Musica: Yeah totally!


          I coasted into the parking lot outside Musica's dorm. To my annoyance, the weather had gotten cold again, the seventy degrees of but a few days ago giving way to something I like to call "too damn cold." I pulled my gloves on, shut the truck off, and bolted for the doors, skidding on an icy patch and almost slamming full tilt into the glass. 
          An exiting resident kindly pushed the door open before I actually hit it and stepped to the side to avoid my flailing attempts to stop. "Are you late for something?"
          I laughed. "No, it's just cold! Thanks!"
          Musica, who was waiting in the lobby, snickered. I didn't even stop to greet her before demanding, "Where??" 
          She outright laughed at that one. "It's in my car. You can't have swords on campus. You should know--you used to go here!"
          I shrugged. "I thought they might have changed the rules. Good thing I decided to check first--I almost brought my swords in with me."
          "You brought your own?"
          "Yeah, the split-blade ones. Where are you parked?"
          We walked back out the doors into the Arctic. She pointed. "Over there."
          "Too far. We're driving," I stated and made a beeline for my truck. Musica followed, laughing again. "Come on, it's not that far! It would be quicker to walk!"
          "Yeah, but this way, I'll be warm," I pointed out logically. 
          Musica conceded the point. A few minutes later (apparently, the college moved the entrance to the parking lot, a decision I thought was stupid), we arrived at her car and discovered a new problem. 
          "No parking spots?" I demanded, outraged.
          "There's one over there," Musica suggested.
          I gave her a look. "I don't wanna walk that far--that's the whole reason we drove in the first place." I checked the immediate area. No one was around, so I put my truck in park in the middle of the lane. "Perfect. Right here."
          "That is so illegal," she pointed out.
          "Only if you get caught. Wait! I have an idea!" I announced and turned my hazard lights on. "There. Park-anywhere-button activated!"
          Musica decided not to comment on my questionable relabeling of and flagrant misuse of the emergency gear and hopped out to get to her car. I followed, where she presented me with the sword.
          "Whoa, that is nice," I breathed, promptly forgetting the cold. I twirled it briefly. "Full tang, too. Sharpen this up, and you have a battle-ready sword."
          "Yepp." I handed her back the sword. "I prefer an hand-and-a-half grip, myself, though. More versatility."
          "'s kind of a hand-and-a-half for me," she pointed out, actually getting both hands on the grip. 
          "Good gravy, how small are your hands?" I demanded before looking at mine. "Okay, to be fair, mine are freakishly huge, but still."
          Musica adopted a fighting stance. "So, what are you going to teach me?"
          "The importance of not doing this in the campus parking lot," I said regretfully. "Campus PD would probably not take kindly to that. Let's get in the truck and try to find a place to fight."
          "Where are your swords?" Musica asked as we got back in the truck. 
          "Back seat," I said distractedly, reaching back to pull them out. "Careful, these are literally battle-ready."
          "No kidding. They look sharp."
          "They are sharp," I confirmed, leg twitching a little as I remembered a certain incident regarding the coffee table, a failed somersaulting attempt, and my knee. "Anyway, where can we go? Maybe..."
          "Skipper's apartment," we both said at the same time before laughing. 
          "That wouldn't be awkward at all," Musica snickered, glancing at the clock, which read 9:03 PM.
          I nodded. "Yeah, he's probably in bed by now. Let's not make him answer the door in his PJs because two insomniacs wanna spar."
          We finally decided on a park and set course, briefly debating the legalities of sword-fighting in the middle of town before deciding that there probably weren't any laws either for or against it. I brought both of my blades, long experience teaching me that it was best to have more than one available weapon when training novices. Professionals were predictable; novices tended to flail in some odd and surprising ways. My blades were both single-edged to Musica's dual-edge, so I flipped them both around to that the dull edge was my leading edge. Like I said before...flailing.
          "So what should I do first?" Musica asked.
          I grinned. "Glad you asked. Grab your sword with both hands and raise it over your head."
          "Like this?"
          I put one of my blades down and showed her. "No, like this."
          "This feels weird," Musica muttered.
          I nodded. "Yeah, but it's crazy versatile. You can do a straight downward chop, or come in from both sides, or--" I demonstrated, "sweep in from underneath and up."
          "Wow." She tried all the different strikes, frowning at the last one.
          "Yeah. Drop your shoulder into that a little more--it will help get you more power," I suggested.
          She tried it again, with much more success. "This is so cool! So how do you defend?" She raised her sword.
          I grinned. "Back up a little."
          "Here, go ahead and strike at me," I offered, picking up my second blade and assuming a ready stance.
          She came in with an overhead strike. I moved back just enough to let the blade pass harmlessly in front of me before sliding forward and flicking my right sword up to her shoulder. "Tag!"
          Musica blinked. "That was fast.
          "Yepp." I backed up and resumed my stance. "Most swordfights are decided in the first few seconds, as opposed to swordplay, which is strictly theatrical. That reminds me. You know any movie that has swordfighting in it?"
          I shrugged. "All bullcrap. You don't want to hit swords unless you absolutely have to."
          Musica frowned. "'ll damage them?"
          "Exactly. If you do have to block, use the flat of the blade, never the edge. Edge on edge will destroy your sword pretty fast."
          "How would you do that?"
          I grinned. "Here, stab at me."
          She thrust. I spun my blade in a circle, smacked the sword away, and continued the motion to tap the flat on top of her shoulder. "Like that." I did it a little slower this time. "Circle, flat to edge, then continue the motion."
          "Like this?"
          "Very close. Try not to stop your sword; just redirect the motion. Make it one fluid movement." I spun my sword for emphasis. 
          We continued working, with occasional breaks to retreat to the truck and warm up. (I was doing okay, despite having a body fat index that was seriously pushing the "ridiculously low" level.) We also relocated to a different park when the wind picked up. I showed Musica how to thrust properly, adjust sword angle mid-block, and how to use direction and force of incoming attacks to effectively foil them. She did better than I was expecting, given that it was kind of dark out and that my blades were black.
          There was also not as much flailing as I expected. I did, however, manage to get clobbered across the knuckles when I accidentally stepped into an echo spot, deafen myself, and lose track of her blade. I'd never really realized how much my hearing was tied into my combat skills. After figuring out that I was a literal version of Batman (I said Daredevil initially, but she didn't know who that was), we started playing with my hearing to see if I could effectively pick up attacks when I wasn't looking. Let's just say I did really well. 
          I kinda wished that I'd brought my nunchucks too, but unfortunately, I hadn't thought about that before leaving.
          When we were driving back (some of us finally got cold enough to decide to stop), Musica brought up something I'd completely forgotten about. "So, when are you doing to the dance?"
          I checked the clock. 10:44 PM. "Well, in theory...almost two hours ago."
          I grinned. "It started at nine."
          She shook her head. "I'm so sorry! When does it go until?"
          "One AM."
          "Oh, good, you've got time. When were you going to go back home?"
          "Um...fifteen minutes ago?"
          She stared at me. "RADAR!"
          "What?" I defended myself. "I was only going to go there for an hour and half anyway. I got work tomorrow. Besides, sword-fighting is more fun anyway. And..." I raised a finger for emphasis," I get to cross "sword-fighting at night in a park" off my bucket list."
          "That was on your bucket list?"
          "It was as soon as I thought of it. Hey, we should do this again, and get the twins in on it too!"

Monday, March 7, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 161: Another Career Bites the Dust

          I was whistling (sort of) as I pranced through the woods, staff in my hand and my golden retriever Max at my side. Today's mission: deep forest exploration, following the creek back to the rear end of our property. Since we'd only lived out on the farm for a few years, and various events, insects, plants, and injuries kept interfering with my plans, I didn't quite have the whole woods mapped out yet.
          ...all right, all right, Maxie was sort of "at my side." He was more like "in my general vicinity," being only slightly less ADHD than I was at 12. (To be fair, I really haven't mellowed out with age, either.)
          "Hey, Maxie, check this out!" I yelled, about fifty feet down the hill from the forest border.
          Maxie wildly misinterpreted my command. There was the pattering of paws, followed by an ominous, one-second silence, followed by a mighty thud as airborne dog collided with the unaware kid holding the staff that the retriever wrongly considered to be his rightful property. We rolled down the hill, almost all the way to the creek, at which point I wrestled my errant buddy into submission (Max always did love a good romp) and retrieved my staff. "Not what I meant, Maxie!"
          Max gave me a toothy grin from flat on his back, then licked my face.
          "Ahh! Dude! I did not need a bath!" I yelped, leaping off of him.
          Maxie regained his feet and cocked his head. I looked down at the mud covering me and sighed. "Okay, maybe I do, but this is totally your fault."
          He sniffed my jeans before wandering off to the creek for a drink. I thought about joining him, but I remembered what he'd done the other day, upstream, and decided to pass. Ew.
          "Come on, doofus. I gotta show you something," I tried again, trudging back up the hill. The dog followed my this time.
          We made it to the tree that had caught my attention. It was a monster, probably thirty or forty feet tall, overlooking a steep drop off to the right. Down in the valley, I could see another tree; this one had collapsed, part of it sticking up at an angle from the ground. Must have had a y-branch thing going on...
          Gotta be honest, I really only noticed all of that peripherally. What had my full attention was the vine arcing its way up into the branches in the top of the tree.
          "I've so always wanted to swing on a vine," I confided in Max. He licked my hand in response and tore after a cat that had appeared in the undergrowth.
          "Fine! Don't be adventurous!" I yelled after him, before reminding myself that dog paws weren't really meant for clinging to vines anyway. I yanked on the aforementioned creeper before discovering something interesting; the vine was firmly anchored to the ground.
          Huh. I'd always thought that they grew down from the treetops and not up from the ground.
          Oh well. I had this covered. I yanked out my pocketknife and set to work.
          After ten minutes, I was in the middle of my sixteenth or seventeenth vow to sharpen my bloody knife when I finally cut all the way through. Wiping my slightly-sappy knife off on my jeans (they were a lost cause by now anyway), I closed it up and grabbed the vine firmly, yanking on it.
          It held. Nice.
          I jumped off the ground, wrapping my legs around it. It dipped slightly, the branches of the trees shaking...
          It held. Wonderful!
          I took a little test swing, arcing a ways out over the drop before swinging back the other direction.
          It held. Awesome!
          Time for some fun. I took a running start and hurtled out over the drop, yelling like a maniac. This was even more fun than the rope swing! Better yet, the tree was angled just enough so that there was little danger of me smacking straight into the trunk on my return, so I could swing freely. Life rarely worked out that well. I was beyond pleased, and forthwith claimed both the tree and the vine as my own personal property. My siblings would be so jealous!
          (Note: we kids had a habit of laying claim to anything interesting that we found in the woods. For instance, I owned a whole island in the middle of the creek. Nemesis had another one, while Quill and Squirrel laid joint claim to the last. We each had our own special trees and literal tree houses, while I also had a sort of runoff cave that I was very jealously protective of. This would just be the latest acquisition.)
          I scooted back up to the house and summoned anyone who would listen, refusing to impart my grand secret but demanding that they "come and see." The only ones who turned out were Nemesis and Quill, Squirrel being elsewhere. After looking askance at my clothes (and after five minutes of assuring them that my discovery was in no way--well, indirectly, anyway--related to my find), they agree to join me.
          We marched out to the woods (I may have skipped) posthaste, where I triumphantly unveiled my find.
          "I saw that the other day," Nemesis started.
          I settled into a combat stance, staff at the ready. "But I set it up. Care to challenge?"
          Given that I was the undisputed master of the quarterstaff, they had both forgotten to bring their staffs, and my staffs were lightyears stronger than any deadwood they would find on the ground (my secret shall follow me to the grave), they declined to challenge my claim.
          "What are you gonna call it?" Quill asked.
          Huh. "Um, haven't decided yet," I stammered. "Here--you gotta see this, though! It's amazing!"
          I seized the vine, backed up, and took a running start, sailing over the drop.
          I didn't hardly have time to register that I was suddenly going down, not up, when I slammed hard into that downed tree, wrapping up on the higher branch. Sudden loss of breath made me a little dizzy, but not quite as dizzy as the upper end of that damn vine smacking me in the back of the head, as if to emphasize the more crueler aspects of Murphy's Law.
          I expected that my siblings would come to my aid--but as I peeled myself off the branch and fell in a heap on the ground, I realized that I'd apparently crashed harder than I'd thought. Of course my siblings wouldn't come to help; the official Midway Sibling Code stated that all brotherly or sisterly mishaps must be handled with uproarious laughter, since that was clearly the best medicine. (Our code didn't say whose medicine it was. In this instance, it clearly wasn't mine.)
          Anyway, Quill and Nemesis were rolling down the hill, laughing so hard they weren't making any noise. I wished sourly that they'd end up in the creek (Midway Sibling Code, Paragraph 35: Karmic wishes were better than beating the tar out of each other, but the tar shall be held in reserve) before taking stock of my injuries. My left leg had impacted the lower branch, but since my legs were used to abuse of all sorts, nothing broke. I hoped irreverently that I'd at least get a decent bruise this time. I never had visible bruises, which was annoying.
          My rib felt weird, though. I carefully rolled up my shirt to behold the massive swelling forming on my right side lower ribcage. Careful experimentation (I almost passed out) yielded the conclusion that I'd definitely cracked at least two of them. Well, guess that was why I was having trouble breathing.
          Ugh. I picked myself up, kicked the vine resentfully, and walked slowly back up the hill to meet my siblings' incessant teasing about my "Tarzan-like" abilities (or lack thereof). The general consensus was that any career I had as a "professional jungle dude" was officially out. I managed to hide my injuries from Mom for about three days, at which point she walked in on me changing and saw my multicolored side. Needless to say, there was minor freaking.
          Yeah, now I get a bruise. Yes, I do understand the irony.
          ...on the plus side, it was quite impressive.