Unawares

Hey everyone!

If you’re just finding this site, I wanted to say welcome. I’d hoped to do something more elaborate before the BYU Magazine article published, you know–perhaps rehauling the website, making it look sweet, more user-friendly… alas.

You see, this sudden burst of publicity–while not completely unexpected–arrived rather suddenly, and a more prepared me would have been, well… more prepared.

Instead, like a hapless baby mammoth beset by a pack of ever-deadly deer I find myself wholly unprepared and feeling rather like everything is about to go to pieces.

While you’re here, might I recommend you check out the Urban Forager series, a day-by-day account of my erstwhile wintry week on BYU campus? If you can’t be bothered to read them all,  look into Day 5: The Illusion of Plenty which I regard as the gem of the lot.

The strangest thing I have written is probably Weaseling to Succeed (a series of emails with BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library) but a close second must be when I sold my housing contract on KSL with The Great Groundhog Lob–go ahead and read either one.

If you like dating fails, check out A Burn to Remember–my most popular post to date, probably because I Get Learned Real Good.

Finally, if you have children, have spoken to a child,  or have been a child you will likely enjoy Tales From the Trenches: Tales of a Substitute Teacher.

Want to hear more from me in the future? If you like what you’re reading here, you can follow the blog directly by clicking the link on the right side of the page, or via Wilderness of the Mind’s Facebook page.

Come again soon,

Neil

DSCN8228
First picture: Uncertain waters. Second: Rio Paraguay at sunset

 

 

 

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Meanwhile, in Kosovo…

Dear Readers,

Thanks for checking back now and again for sweet new posts about badgers, dumpster diving, and whatever else the heck it is you come here for.

Predictably, you probably have found, well… nothing.

Because I have not written anything. Not since Uruguay, in what was that, January? And now I find myself sitting in the capital of one of the world’s youngest nations, browsing mindlessly through the internet in a smoky internet-turned-PC-gaming cafe.

So what gives?

I hate to give that lame excuse of “life has been busy,” so instead I will instead voice I haven’t been in my home base of Utah for more than 10 days in the last six months, and things have fallen behind. Not just the blog. Life, friendships neglected, important weddings missed,  relationships (ha ha, jokes… but no, I never texted that girl back), various financial-y responsibilities, trying to pay off my life debt to various fictitious woodland animals…you get the idea.

I have found that in my absence, life doesn’t wait. Things change. Stuff happens. Memories fade. And people move on. Including you.

If you never read this post, I wouldn’t really blame you. There’s a lot of other things you could and probably should be doing with your time, like eating pickled vegetables, or raising brine shrimp. And I would understand if you felt like I had abandoned this blog, which I only update like twice a year anyways. Rather like my life plans, the general aims and future trajectory of this blog remain—as of now—undefined, undetermined. But since you have come by, I will tell you this much:

Right now I am in full-time story gathering mode. Stories virtually indifferent from the paskillion other stories online! Crappy recipes! Travels to the same places as everyone else! Platitudes about life and travel! Blurry pictures of a fish!

BUT ALSO.

Giant otters and piranhas encountered in Paraguay. Christmas dinner with drug dealers in Argentina. Foods scavenged from dumpsters. Pummelings by grape-sized hail in the highlands of Bolivia. Discovering flash floods are real. Consequently yelling. A lot. Greyhound bus trips across America. Paralyzing indecision. Cross-country road trips. Breakaway post-Soviet nations visited. Getting caught in storms in the Accursed Mountains of Montenegro. Food scavenged from trash cans. Bad decisions, missed connections, the kindness of strangers, and sometimes… sometimes just trying at trying again.

barez
Brown bear pawprint in Kuqiste, Kosovo

I hope to start rolling out these stories on a semi-regular basis—that is, more semi-regularly than now—starting sometime in July.

In the meantime, take care of yo’self, eat a dandelion or two and don’t forget to wash your socks.

I promise to do the same.

Albania
PC: Shawn Reed

Of Uruguay and Things

Dear Readers,

I haven’t been able to write as often as I would like these days. Writing consistently has been a struggle for me, particularly since I have been traveling in South America since early last December. Currently I am in Termas del Dayman in Uruguay, somewhat close to the Argentinian border. It is past midnight, and I am getting swarmed with mosquitoes… and bad singing from a dude in a nearby campground shower singing garbled words. I don’t know how long I can last. This is… this is worse than eating glue berries. Tomorrow’s going to be a long haul. We are trying to hitchhike to Paraguay–yes, the other Guay–and I need to get some sleep.

I did, however, want to to take the time to welcome any new readers to the site.  There will be tales aplenty of–dear gracious, Shower Man is now singing the nonsense words “Mongoli, mongoli, mongoli” in every conceivable off-tune intonation, this has been happening for a good eight minutes–

Where was I? There will be tales of nights spent sleeping in gas stations, countries crossed by dusty bus, and Christmas meals shared with gang members to come, so I hope you will stop by the site again in the future. In the meantime, check out my digital digs and–if you haven’t already–this great Daily Universe article I somehow wound up in (thanks for the interview, JW).

Cheers,

Neil

P.S. If you are ever tiredly sitting on some stairs near a bathroom of questionable construction and you think it smells like you are perched near an open sewer thing… look around you. You probably are.

P.P.S. Total duration of Shower Man’s “Mongoli” incanting phenomenon: 17 minutes, at least.

Tales from the Trenches: Conversations of a Substitute Teacher

I started working as a substitute teacher about six weeks ago. It’s been interesting, challenging, but especially hilarious. Here are some real-life conversations and humorous situations that have occurred.

Kindergarten
The end of the day is approaching. I am very tired.
5 Year Old: I like to eat pizza sometimes.
Me (in a tired monotone): Fascinating.
5 YO:(suddenly enraged): No! NOT FASCINATING!!!!
Me: Whoa, whoa, sorry! No, not interesting in the least!

ravell-call
A student I know shown in the recent Deseret News article “More Utah students may get access to breakfast in the classroom.” Photo by Ravell Call. Check out the link to see other hilarious photos of kids in costume for Halloween.

Kindergarten teachers often supervise students during recess. I walked inside to check on a student supposedly getting a drink. She has fetched a gallon-size carton of rainbow goldfish crackers down from a cupboard and is eating them by the handful.
Me: What are you doing with those crackers?
Kindergartner: Our teacher lets us eat these when she’s not here!
Me: I doubt that, portly child. I doubt that a lot.

Some elementary schools get a healthy snack for lower-income kids in the afternoon.
Kindergartners: What are these?
Me: They’re pomegranate seeds. Try them! They’re really good. See, Aisha likes them.
Aisha: Yeah. I’ve had these before.
**Kids pick cautiously at pomegranate seeds for a minute or two. One kid decides they have had enough.**
Incite A Riot Child: Bleggggh! These are GROSS!
Every Other Child (besides Aisha): Eww! Gross! Disgusting! Bleggggh! Pbbththth!
**throw away virtually untouched pomegranate seeds into trash can while screaming**

Middle School
7th Grade Resource
7th Grader:  I don’t want to do homework. I just want to go home and sleep.
Me: So do I, kid, so do I.
7th Grader: What?
Me: What?
Me (muttering under breath): One day you’ll understand.

Elementary
Me: Today we are learning about Neil Armstrong. He was an astronaut. Who here wants to be an astronaut?
1st Graders (raising hands): Me! Me! Mee!
Me: I also wanted to be an astronaut when I was little. Now I am a substitute teacher.
Observing Student Teacher:  **facepalms**

The following conversation is all in Spanish.
1st grader: You speak Spanish?
Me: No. I don’t speak understand any Spanish.
1st Grader: Oh. Wait—you’re speaking in Spanish right now.
Me: What? No, I’m not. How could I speak Spanish? I’m just a sub.
1st Grader: See?!? How did you learn that?
Me: I’m terribly sorry, I don’t understand a single thing you just said.

 

Worksheets won’t lay flat and sort of bend in half down the middle hot-dog ways because they were stored in a bag
5th grader: Hey, this paper won’t flatten out? What happened?
Me: You see, we were teaching the papers to do backflips before school and some of them forgot how to untuck, so now they’re stuck like that, folded all weird.Cool, right?
5th grader: Oh, okay.
**2 minutes pass**
5th grader (with a perplexed expression): Uh, teacher?
Me: Yes?
5th grader: Oh… um… never mind.

High School
Me: Hey, can you put your phone away please?
11th grader: Our teacher lets us have our phones out.
Me: Does. He. Really.
11th grader, sadly: No, not really.
**puts away phone**

10th grader: So, are you gonna be a sub your whole life?
Me: O_O

11th Grade Girl: So, are you married?
Me: O_O

Me: Guys, pay attention. This is the good part of the documentary, where people eat termites. Apparently they taste like a mixture of peanut butter and bone marrow, but who’s to say otherwise?
9th Grader: It’s true! I ate some in northern Ethiopia!
Me: Oohhkay then. I’m not jealous. Not at all.

At my old high school
12th graders: Our teacher told us to ask you about your six pack!
Me: She did not.
12th graders: She did.
Me, to trustworthy teen: Did she?
Trustworthy Teen: Yes, she did.
12th graders: Show us your abs!
Me: Ab-solutely not.

In the spirit of decorum I would like to clarify my six-pack was indeed public knowledge (due to swim team, a satirical “man pageant” and a shirtless poster of me placed at one point in a hallway… It’s a long story). But hey, I did have sweet abs.
color-balanced-swim-2

Stats Break, because TMI
Days worked as a sub
: 12
Days that have felt like the first day at a new job: 12
Most likely to ask for a Band-Aid for any real or perceived malady: 1st Grade
Most likely to cry after they’ve pushed someone else over: Kindergarten
Number of children I’ve accidentally driven to tears: 3-4
Number of children I’ve made cry simply by walking in the classroom:1
Best at zoning out: High School
Most likely to livestream class: High School
Best philosophical conversations: Theory of Knowledge class in High School
Most likely to actually listen and participate: 4th Grade

More Kindergarten
Kindergarten lunch recess. I am conversing with a fellow twenty-something student aide.
Me: These kids are so crazy when they run out here from lunch.
Dhanya: Really. It’s like they’ve escapped from prison.
**2 minutes pass. A commotion is heard. A little girl has wrestled a boy to his stomach on the ground and has placed locking toy handcuffs around his wrists, a la Hawaii 5.0**
Dhanya, freeing hapless child: Sophie, we do not bring toys from home!

A few minutes after third coloring assignment of the day has been passed out.
Kindergartner: I can’t take all this coloring any more!
**slumps face-first onto desk**
Me: That’s the spirit.

I am shifting kids up and down on a chart that quantifies their behavior. Kids are reacting. A lot.
Me: It’s crazy that you kids are motivated by this completely arbitrary chart. I move it up, you get excited. I move it down, you cry.  It’s like you’ll do anything for peer validation.
**goes home and logs on Facebook**


Thanks for reading! Do you know a teacher? please give them a hug, some chocolate, and probably $50 because school supplies don’t buy themselves. Especially in Utah.

Still here? Check out that news article from earlier for great pictures, because I know most of those guys and they are hilarious. Except for you, Goldfish Cracker thief. You would weasel your way into a major news outlet.

A Burn to Remember

When I reached back into my past to text a girl out of the blue, I had little idea of the scathingly hilarious reply that would return: custom-made memes and a burn to level the most overbuilt ego.


Last summer, I was invited to attend a crawfish boil at Strawberry Reservoir by my friend M from Tacky Galoshes.

While I was there, I met a cute girl who I’ll simply refer to as K.
“Hey,” I asked, “Could you take a picture and send it to me?”
“Sure,” she replied, and sent me the following picture.

crawfish

Later that evening…

K: Hey, I hope you got the pictures. It was nice to meet you!

I am pretty sure I never responded to that text, or saved her number, for nine months later I received a series of text messages from her trying to figure out who I was. The crawfish boil long forgotten, neither of us had any idea how we’d ever met.

K:I was going through my contacts and this number is in it with the name “Neil. Is this Neil? If so, who are you? Haha sorry I’m not sure I know you at all.

N: Yes, this Neil.  .I don’t know how I know you, either, and I don’t have your number saved. Some ways we might know each other, though… well, I like hiking a lot, and I love foraging for berries in the wilderness and stuff (thinking she might have read this blog or something)…

K: Huh. I don’t know where I got to know you to have your number. If I got it from lame-o things like Tinder I would have saved it as “Neil Tinder.” Not that I’m judging if I did because I was on it too. Oh the tales I have from that! I got rid of that a while ago so I’m a bit perplexed. My name is K and I’m a member of the fitness cult known as Crossfit. Hiking is amazingly fun but I don’t recall running into any Neil and swapping numbers on a trail  full of berries.

I’ve lost most of the text messages I sent around here, because I have an old phone. Needless to say, we concluded we didn’t know each other, just had each other’s numbers somehow. I said something like this:

N: Well, we really don’t know each other, but perhaps we can get to know each other more.

K:Of course we can meet each other more.

I probably texted her once after that, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

MONTHS PASS.

Cleaning out the text messages from my decrepit phone’s inbox, I discover the crawfish picture and make the connection. I text K.

N: Neil here. Remember how we couldn’t figure out how we had ever met? We met at a crawfish boil at Strawberry Reservoir a year ago.

K: Ah yes!..that’s where the mysterious Neil came from. Haha 🙂

N: I found a picture you’d sent of me, not sure why I didn’t connect it sooner.

We texted back and forth a little, and I left her last text unfinished.
The next morning, she had sent me a message.

K: If you’re easily offended, I apologize in advance for what’s about to happen. You only met me that one time so you might not understand my jokester nature. Nevertheless, I can’t resist a goldmine when it’s put so nicely in my lap for me.

I could not help but be reminded of a scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where the giant spider Aragog informs Harry and Ron they will not be allowed to leave the Forbidden Forest where they are visiting him.

Go? I think not. My sons and daughters do not harm Hagrid, on my command. But I cannot deny them fresh meat, when it wanders so willingly into our midst. Good-bye, friend of Hagrid.

Feeling trapped—but curious, I opened the messages. This is what she sent me:

slowpoke

unsure

skeleton

birbamirit's overkipmugatuoffice

Of course, my phone could only open a few of these because it is old. I asked her to email them to me, and she assented. When she did so, she sent a couple more:

2 sucess baby2 gandalf2 das bear

2 indy

Well played, K. Well played. Yours was a burn forged in the fires of Mount Doom.

I, uh… I still haven’t replied.


Did you enjoy this post? If so, you’ll probably enjoy Weaseling to Succeed, in which I send Pokemon Dark Knight Rises fanfiction I wrote to a library to avoid paying a measly fee.

If you don’t get all the berry references, check out Urban Forager, a series in which I attempt to live on my college campus for a week subsisting solely off whatever plants I can find.

Follow me on Facebook, if you like. Or high-five a lizard. Both are worthwhile causes.

Arcane Magicks: The KGB Protocol

Full_moon_in_the_cloudsWhen some friends in my apartment complex discovered two pots immovably stuck together, I ventured the only logical explanation:  Soviet KGB agents and a malevolent power more oppressive than the stench of your Uncle Larry’s socks.

A variety of solutions were posited on a Facebook thread, but as the night wore on and the pots remained unmoved, it was clear I had to do something. Borrowing every bad fantasy trope, I posted this comment as my reply to the debacle.  A couple details that will help this make sense: my apartment complex is very close to the BYU football stadium, things always seem to be breaking,  we have consistently spotty wifi and this all suspiciously took place on February 20-21, the fifty-first and fifty second days of the year. 

What none of the brave volunteers dared disclose that night—for fear of ridicule—was the true plan by which they intended to separate the maidens’ be-welded cauldrons.

For who would have suspected they’d each discovered the hidden passageway in the clubhouse, or followed it to the vast cavern lying in wait below the whole of the apartment complex above since time immemorial? Who could have felt their silent awe as they stepped gingerly down the same rough-hewn steps of limestone into the crumbling vault waiting at the chamber’s terminus, or found the dusty, aged tome of arcane arts upon the cracked pedestal of midnight obsidian? Though it had been months—years, even— since any of the men had seen it, who could have known they’d recall its yellowed contents as if they still held its worn, leathery pages between thumb and forefinger?

Had someone asked them, not a one would have replied ‘magic,” though that was precisely what it was. But this was not the magic of faeries and toadstools, nor the flimsy charms sold at apothecaries to restore hair or curry favor with a lad or lass at the nearby University. No, these were the magicks which had shaped nations, rent armies, and torn mountains asunder. Long ago the magic had done these things, now it clamored to do them again. At the boundaries of the mens’ slumber it prodded, at the edges of dreaming it begged, crying to claw free.

For powerful and vast though it may have been, it could no more shape itself than a silvery vial of mercury decide to freeze on a summer’s day. It needed someone to mold it, forge it, channel it, release its raw power from the formlessness which bound it in the dark cavern which was its prison. It needed human initiative to free it—a Spell of Unbinding, specifically. But who to do it? Knowledge of the arcane arts had faded to mere stories and tales told around the embers of dying fires, no more than watered-down fables. More troubling, the cave had been sealed by an enchanter’s earthquake for some time, and as humans had forgotten the art of Stonewalking the likelihood of a visitor entering through a wall was… slim. Having no other recourse, the power decided to wait.


It needed human initiative to free it—a Spell of Unbinding, specifically. But who to do it?


 

For untold eons the cavern sat undisturbed. The power occasionally felt above for information, but the land was utterly devoid of human habitation. Without tools, it waited. Again it felt above, and again it waited. The power fell dormant, silent beneath the stones.

Nearly two centuries later, a number of men entered the valley above. The year was 1979, and the Cold War was in full swing. Even as the USSR invaded Afghanistan, they kept their mission a secret to all but themselves and the Kremlin. These KGB agents sought to establish a Soviet presence in the unlikeliest of places—even Utah Valley. To speak openly of their ideologies would have been a mistake among the area’s leaders, but perhaps the young, poor and idealistic students—the proletariat—could be convinced to live in a communal way, learning the messages of Marx and Lenin through experience. An unassuming piece of farmland was acquired for practically free from a farmer who complained no crop would grow. “There’s nothing but bedrock underfoot,” the man complained, “so y’all are doin’ me a big favor. Perfect for construction, though.” The Soviet men smiled coldly and wrote him a check.

Construction proceeded without incident. Communal kitchens and bathrooms were to be the standard in the buildings (the better to help the residents understand that privacy was the enemy of unity), the squat blocky construction and low ceilings reminiscent of the Stalingrad aesthetic. Finally complete, the apartments gleamed and beckoned to be used. “We’ll call it Soviet Terrace,” said its architect proudly. “Subtlety, Vlad, subtlety,” chided their leader gently. “Stadium Terrace, then,” quipped Vlad, eyeing the gargantuan construction underway to the south. He winced as he watched their careless foreman prematurely trigger a massive set of explosive charges meant to deepen its foundation. The explosion was followed by another blast, then another.

The ground shook beneath them, and the darkness below began to stir.

The next years were full of misfortune for the new apartments. Pipes and appliances would inexplicably break, apartments spontaneously became infested with bedbugs. The Soviet gentlemen scratched their heads in puzzlement and simply got to work, determined to keep it afloat. Despite their heroic repair efforts and enticing plans for a new pool (for the betterment of the Party, of course), no tenant would remain longer than a semester or two, complaining of ‘an oppressive air about the place’. Still the men worked for a better future, but their hopes crumbled with the Berlin Wall. Heartbroken and penniless, the men sold the apartments for a pittance and left behind them the dried husks of convalescent dreams?


“Subtlety, Vlad, subtlety,” chided their leader gently.


Stadium Terrace changed hands numerous times over the coming years, bringing ill to all who owned it. The arrival of the internet did little good for the place, for the WiFi above was consistently warped and blocked by the darkness below. The attempted construction of a hot tub ended disastrously when the cavern was rediscovered. Hastily poured concrete concealed the entrance, but could not close it again. Humans could once again enter, and enter they did. Surely enough, they found the spellbook, and with it the Spell of Unbinding which—performed correctly—would set the power free. The only thing that remained was to pick an occasion—a day that was a multiple of thirteen, perhaps, or a full moon. Midnight of the fifty-second day of the year would have both.

The fifty-first day dawned much as any other. Unseasonably warm, the men took advantage of the sunshine and strolled about. Who could guess that their casual finds in the melting snow—the talon of a snowy owl, the antler of a stag, the fossil of a trilobite, a self-titled vintage Christian death metal vinyl album by Donald Trump—were the precise ingredients necessary for the Spell of Unbinding? How might [the owners of the pots] have suspected their pots’ sudden welding was anything out of the ordinary? When the men secretly decided a Spell of Unbinding was the only thing that would separate the be-deviled land dishes, who would have guessed they’d try it at the stroke of midnight on the fifty-second day beneath the full moon, when its strength was enough to release both the pots and the malevolent evil far underfoot? When the dispute appeared unresolved on the ward Facebook page in perpetuity, who could blame the man who would perform the spell for not updating it? Ambiguity would be the least of his worries now—the cavern below soon empty and the dark power gone elsewhere… for the time being. Who might have known eating a sixth consecutive plate of celebratory cookies would not in the best interest of this mystery man’s pancreas, Roberto? Who might have known? Who indeed…

Fortunately for all involved, the whole debacle was solved by an unsung hero on the fifty-third day through the Power of Science,  preventing the evil beneath the complex from escaping for the time being.

One Sentence Sundance Stories

I did a summer internship with the Sundance Institute this last summer. There’s many things I could say about the many interesting and talented people I met, but for now i’ll just leave you with a handful of true one-sentence stories, Jaden Smith style.


Ants in Your Pants: A Legitimate Concern

Saturdays Are Great Until You Get Mugged By A Trampoline In the Forest

If You’re Not On The Dark Side You’re On The Light Side

The Turkey Mafia Called And They Said Gobble Gobble

If You Eat Food All Day Apparently You Get Fat

The Ghosts Of Cat Pee Like To Haunt Your Basement

How to Domesticate a Wild Rabbit: Not Indian Food

If Tony Plana Wishes You Happy Birthday It’s Probably Past Midnight

The Difference Between Squirrels And Moose Is Subtle But It Won’t Save Your Life

Why Is Everything I Am Writing About Animals

I’m Sorry, But The Deer In Your Woodshed Is Actually A Shirtless Man

This is probably my best story, though:

gettin jiggy with it
Thanks for the picture, Natalie.

Would you like more one-sentence stories bereft of all context and meaning?

Too bad. But if samurai-killing pandas are your thing, I got that right here.

Weaseling to Succeed


Sometimes the best way to avoid late fees at the library is to write Dark Knight Rises/ Pokemon crossover fanfiction. You might say it’s super-effective.


I recently missed a flight with Southwest Airlines due to my own negligence and stupidity when forgot I was supposed to go somewhere until two days after the flight had departed. Full of sads, I sent them an email explaining the situation (Neil in Utah + flight = Neil still in Utah) and basically just asked if they would give me a refund. You know, for being stupid. Some days later, I was pretty dang excited when they granted my request. They thanked me for the “humorous” email and said they’d found a way to get me some dinero.

Now, I’ve sent emails like this before. I’ve emailed total strangers things like “I too dream of an idyllic world, one where all ones dreams of delicious food come true, especially the part about unlimited Creamies in every fridge; but alas, the cold knives of reality stab at the Moonrise Kingdom.”  I’ve concocted stories about groundhogs, hilbillies and Dragonball Z to sell housing contracts.  My favorite weasel-out-of-fines story, though, took place last August.


Bla bla boring backstory scroll down for killer pandas


I’d checked out an amazing book—Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson—and then gone out of town for a few weeks on a trip. While I was gone, the book was unexpectedly recalled and I was informed by my college library I would be assessed a late fee if I didn’t get it back reaaal quick.  I was over eight hundred miles away in Seattle, so I emailed them and asked for some extra time. They consented, but in the end I still didn’t turn the book in was justifiably assessed a late fee of ten dollars. Miserly to a fault, I decided to appeal to their better nature. The following set of emails is the result.


to: library holds

Dear Top Secret Library Holds Agents,

(Too Long; Didn’t Read at the bottom)

My name is Neil Reed and my student number is [such and such]. I have checked out, among other books, Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance. Since it’s in high demand, my due date was moved from August 22 to August 13 (today) at 11:59 PM. Normally, returning a book to the library is simple, but for the last two weeks I have been out of town in southern Utah, Oregon and Washington and have therefore been physically unable to return WoR. 

I won’t be able to return it before the due date, but I will be able to bring it in before 5 PM on Friday since both I and the book will be back then.

When I called Circulation and tearfully explained to them my hopeless plight, they informed me with due gravity of the automatic $10.00 late fee that should soon appear on my account and warned me I’d basically get to buy the book a week from today if I still didn’t return it. Since it’s a phenomenal book, I don’t think this is as grave a threat as they suppose, but hey, I get the message.

They did, however, tell me that on occasion you at library holds give people a couple of days’ extension on the recall date in order to get books in on time. I therefore humbly request two days’ clemency—through the end of Friday—so I may return the Words to you as soon as I am able. But should you not accept my peasant’s plea, I shall accept my grim fate with solemnity and shed a single tear all the colors of the rainbow. (It will turn into a jelly bean.)

TL;DR?

Can I get a couple extra days on my recall date? I’ll bring the book in Friday. But if not, that’s OK too.

Library Holds

Aug 13
to me

Dear Neil,

As you are out of town, will only be a few days late, and provided this hilarious email, we will forgive your recall fine if you return the book, Words of Radiance, by Friday, 8/15/2014If you do not return the book by Friday, you will be billed the recall fine. A note has been placed on your account to forgive the fine, but your account is blocked and a bill will appear until you return the book. Thank you for contacting us. Sorry for any inconveniences we may have caused.

Holds and Faculty Delivery


At this point I am unable to turn in the book because of weird library hours. I decide drastic action is necessary.


to Library, August 16

The doors to the grimy hall were flung open. A man dressed in a green tunic and leather cap was dragged in, his body limp.
“What’s this?” asked a sallow, thin man seated at a makeshift judge’s podium crowning a massive heap of crushed furniture.
“Last night’s trash,” responded the bailiff, a swarthy, smelly man with a lip plug he’d fashioned himself out of what might have once been a gerbil.
“Why’s he out? Did you club him?” asked the thin man, more out of boredom than curiosity.
“Maybe once or twice.”
Just then, the man began to stir. As he regained consciousness, he fixed his bleary eyes on the judge. “Scarecrow?”
Scarecrow ignored the man’s question as he began to speak.”Neil Reed, you know why I have been brought here today to this court of law,” gesturing grandly to the rubbish piling the sides of the room. “You promised to have the Words back.”

scarecrow
Source


Neil began to protest. “But…”
“You agreed in writing. Friday night at 11:59 PM, wasn’t it?”
“Hey–”
“Yet you withheld your valuable item from the rest of us and so we were left wasting, wandering, as we were without the Words.”
Neil furrowed his brow at Scarecrow’s impressive use of alliteration. “But…I tried to return the Words…the building was locked completely at 6:00 PM. I pounded on the door… there was no reply!”

Scarecrow leaned over his pulpit, his eyes alight with a sneer that pierced his thick glasses and greasy bangs. “Is it the court’s fault that you didn’t check the hours of the building?”
“No, no I didn’t say that, but–” blurted Neil, an edge of panic in his voice.
“But what?”
“I did return the Words, though! First thing, Saturday morning as soon as I could.”
Scarecrow began to stroke a thick tome on his pulpit. “So you did… so you did.”
Neil gave a surprised yelp as he noticed.

Scarecrow sneered. “Too late, though. That was your last chance. Now you will be judged for your crimes–”
“Please–”

“the court has found you–”
“No—!”
“Guilty.”
Neil sobbed and sank into his rickety chair.
With faux gravitas, Scarecrow pronounced the verdict.
“Your sentence is a choice: Death…or exile.
Neil had seen the exiled prisoners. Their lives had lasted just slightly, horribly longer than the ice on which they stood.

“Well?” Scarecrow demanded.

A glint of something desperate, still clinging to hope flashed in the battered peasant’s eyes.
“I choose…”Neil began…”Death…by EXILED PANDA!”
The bailiff roared and grabbed at the rough fabric of Neil’s tunic, but the ragged peasant danced out of reach, his feet suddenly nimble.
“I CHOOSE YOU, EXILED PANDAMON!” He whipped a Pokeball from a fold of his clothing and tossed it before the judge. The red and white ball burst asunder with a blinding flash and a guttural roar shook the hall. An enormous, scarred panda lumbered out of the brightness, the light in its eyes glowing dangerously. It’s fur was ragged and torn where old wounds had not quite healed right. The panda also sported a gargantuan bunch of facial hair.
exiled pandamon


The ragged peasant danced out of reach, his feet suddenly nimble.


“He’s the last of his kind,” said Neil. “He grew a beard as soon as he could to cover the scars on his face, and always urged his men on.”
Scarecrow, horrified at the beastly apparition, could not help but notice the overall effect meant the monochrome bear kinda looked just like Shan Yu, mixed with Zach Galifianakis.
“Let me go, and you might survive.” declared Neil.
Scarecrow remained impassive as Exiled Pandamon growled.
Neil went on. “He only obeys me, so if you don’t—”
His words cut off abruptly as he felt a sharp pain between his shoulder blades.
The gerbil plug-toting bailiff triumphantly pulled out the knife he’d planted in the peasant’s back with a schick! and Neil collapsed to the ground, wheezing. He looked up at Scarecrow,his eyes wild.

“You sly dog… you got me monologuing,” he gasped.  As the blood spread down Neil’s back, he felt death near.

Scarecrow laughed. “Some panda.”
Neil’s eyes began to cloud over. “I will pay for my crimes…as you will for yours.” His eyes brimmed with moisture, and a single tear all the colors of the rainbow rolled down his cheek. As it dripped onto the floor, it turned into a jelly bean pulsing with brilliant light.
Mustering his wits in a final burst of lucidity, Neil picked up the radiant bean between his thumb and forefinger.


Scarecrow laughed. “Some panda.”


“Exiled Pandamon–”
The grizzled bear turned to his dying master.
Neil flicked the jelly bean to the ursine behemoth who deftly caught and swallowed the bean. Its eyes began to glow furiously.
Scarecrow raised a wary eyebrow.
“–use PANDAMONIUM!”
The bear reared onto it’s hind legs and gave an almighty roar. Its eyes flared to life and it began to blast lasers wily-nily through the hall.

laser bear 1 laser bear 2

As the moldering mounds of furniture and desks ignited under the panda’s withering gaze, the bailiff ran for the door—but alas, the bear proved too quick. As the air sizzled, the beefy man’s ashes fell to the ground in a pile. At the top of the heap of cinders, his emancipated gerbil lip plug smiled almost imperceptibly. Balance restoredit mused.

laser bear 3

Truly, the attack was super effective.
Neil laboriously turned his head towards the podium to witness the corrupt judge’s subsequent downfall, only to see Scarecrow had fled.

“Pandamon…you know what to do. Goodbye, old friend.” With a very unromantic, spluttering but still terribly manly cough, Neil fell still at last.

The bear whined, licked him goodbye sadly, and lumbered out into the grimy city streets.

It was time for Gotham’s reckoning.

rainbow vomit 1
Source

TL; DR? 

I tried to to turn in the book Friday evening at 7:00 but forgot the library closed at 6:00, at which time I was busy eating my seventh sugar cookie at my roommate’s graduation. I regret nothing. Nor do I ask for more clemency, having grimly (but theatrically) accepted my fate as previously promised. This email is a tribute to you guys and a note of gratitude for being so kind the first time around.  Have a nice day. Steer clear of Gotham for a while. That bear’s got a temper hot enough to blow an ice monkey’s cool.

–Neil

P.S. If you are unfamiliar with the Flight of the Conchords’ Albi the Racist Dragon, or Dispatch’s The General,  I highly recommend them.

Library Holds

Aug 18
to me

Neil,

Thank you for providing that comedic story to make Monday morning BEARable. As you informed us of the mishap and because of the obscure library hours on Friday, we have forgiven your recall fine. Please feel free to email us anytime if you have any questions or concerns. Have a wonderful day!

Thanks!

Holds and Faculty Delivery

(Some months later)

Neil

5:45 PM
to Library

Dear Moste Favourite Library Holds people,

It’s finals, which reminds me you never got to hear the final portion of the preceding story.

EPILOGUE

Scarecrow trudged heavily up the ridge in the afternoon light. Each step of his mailed boots maimed the bluegrass and fescue beneath his feet,  and a slight breath of wind carried the sweet aroma to his nostrils. He inhaled slowly, savoring the verdant scent. He closed his eyes, and for a moment he felt as if he were back in the Gotham of hischildhood. Of course, Gotham in any form was a time and place far removed.


As surely as he’d risen to the top of Gotham’s refuse, he’d risen to the challenge in these new surroundings.


He had hardly believed his luck when he found the time rift in his frenzied flight to escape Exiled Pandamon.  After his escape from the kangaroo court, the ravening kaleidoscopic killing machine had somehow tracked him through Gotham’s labyrinthine slums to a dead-end alleyway close to the river. He remembered his sheer desperation as he’d reached its terminus to find his escape blocked by a large, wooden fence. The furious roars of the Bearded Beast growing louder as it approached, Scarecrow had scrabbled frantically at a loose portion of soil at its base and wriggled through the ensuing hole to the other side… only to find a solid brick wall. Exhausted and not sure what to do, he slumped against the wall—

—and fell between, somehow, into a place of suffocating, cold nothingness. Ending as rapidly as it began, the moment ended and he emerged into reality again, slamming face-down into freshly tilled dirt.He came to slowly, the sun-warmed soil coaxing his body into wakefulness. When he finally dared to look up, he found neither Gotham nor bear but a place of verdant fields and greenery—astonishingly, Feudal Japan.

To say those first couple of years had been difficult and disorienting was an understatement, but as surely as he’d risen to the top of Gotham’s refuse, he’d risen to the challenge in these new surroundings. Just this week, his ferocity in battle and political savvy had earned him a position as the local daimyo’s most trusted samurai and advisor. He did miss Gotham on occasion, but life wasn’t too bad here. Also, sushi. The sushi was fantastic.

Scarecrow neared the crest of the hill.  Just then, he thought he heard some sound, some noise, some thing off in the distancebut he shrugged it off. It was impossible, after all. That was so long ago, an alternate reality.
Then he heard it again. A roar, unmistakable this time. It couldn’t be. He halted just shy a field of wildflowers carpeting the alpine peak.
The ground trembling beneath the footfalls of a nightmare, Scarecrow stood motionless as the shaggy specter lumbered over the top of the hill. As Scarecrow turned to flee, he paused. Ten years ago, he would have run, but in that moment he was surprised to discover he was no longer that man. Slowly, deliberately, the samurai turned and drew his gleaming katana. 

“Exiled Pandamon-san. We are well met.”

The bear’s chuffed in response.

Holding his sword aloft and closing his eyes,Scarecrow let loose the full-throated yell of a warrior. As the prismatic beam pierced him, the guilt and frustration of ten years on the run melted away to nothing.

rainbow vomit 2
Source

Unfortunately, so did his body.


What shenanigans have you been willing to stage in order to avoid late fees?
Want to make sure Exiled Pandamon doesn’t cross time and space to hunt you down? Like and share!
I once lived on BYU campus for a week, eating only nuts and berries I’d gathered myself. If you’d like to read about that, click ye olde words.

The Tombs of Atuan

I first wrote this when I was studying at the BYU Jerusalem Center for a few months in 2012.  The first part is kind of whatever, but I like how the ending turned out. Thanks for reading!

Jerusalem and the Holy Land are full of caves and tombs of all sorts. It’s principally limestone, so if you put on your geology hats you will remember that limestone loves to form caves just like the area under the bed inexplicably creates dust bunnies. What is a dust bunny, anyways? Anyways, any way I could lead into this story in the way most obtuse and with the most similar-sounding things sounds rings of goodness to me.

tombs-of-prophets-plan-350
Source

One Sabbath Saturday we walked down to Gethsemane to see if we could pop on in and do a study session in the private portion of the Garden. Well, we took our plea to a locked door with no one inside, and we decided to keep on going somewhere else. We walked past a couple other churches and cemeteries on the Mount of Olives before the people with me declared their intentions to go to the Tomb of the Prophets. Wait, who died? We walked into someone’s yard where there was this big green gate and signs in this yard pointing to some stairs leading down about two stories into the solid rock. When my eyes had adjusted I could see in the dim light I stood in a domed room about 25 feet across carved out of the rock. To my right and left were tall passageways leading into darkness. The only light in the room came from the doorway behind me, a small hole in the ceiling which flowed to the surface above…and the wan light of a single candle held by a man standing by the stairs. I don’t remember the exact story, I’ll tell you if I remember. In decent English he said that when his family had moved into the region, they rediscovered the cave and used it as a home for several months when conditions above were unfavorable because of civil strife. Later, during the Six Days War of 1967 they again spent a few days below to wait out the tempest above. He also told us that according to tradition, the Old Testament prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi are buried here (this is probably just tradition—the style of the tombs dates closer to the time of Christ or 1st century AD.)

He then gave us each a lit candle and set us free in the tombs. The place was wasn’t enormous, but it was decently sized. If your candle went out, you would be plunged into total darkness. It reminded me of something I read about in a book called the Tombs of Atuan, an underground maze where no light reaches. When I closed my eyes, I could imagine I was there.

“He kept his right hand on the wall. As his hand brushed against its damp mass, loose pieces of dirt and rock crumbled off of the limestone beneath. His torch long extinguished, the inky blackness pressed against his open eyes, robbing their sight. He counted each opening he came to. Some were passageways, some tombs, and some were both. How many openings had he passed? Seven…eight…nine. Right, then left, then right again. It would be a miracle if he found what he was looking for. He couldn’t leave without it, but if he searched much longer he might never leave at all. His soft footsteps echoed quietly off of the walls, sometimes wandering off and never coming back when he passed a pit or crossed some dark crevasse and they were lost in the depths. The air was stale. How long had it been since anyone had come this way? Fourteen…fifteen…sixteen….or was that seventeen? Panic rose up in his throat. His worst fears began to realize themselves as—no, wait! A draft of cool air on his right cheek. He was close. Very close indeed….”


Have you read the actual Tombs of Atuan? Like and share!

Wilderness of the Mind posts every Wednesday. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

Urban Forager, Day Final: The Goldfish Effect

I lived on my college campus for seven days over winter break sleeping under a tree and eating only fruits, nuts and berries I’d  gathered from my surroundings. This is how it all ends.

This is the eighth and final installment of the Urban Forager series. Want to go back and start from the beginning? Click here.


O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?
–Percy Bysshe Shelley


FRIDAY, 2:03 PM
My fingers wrapped around the dark hilt of the machete and tugged. The notched blade whispered metallically as it pulled free of its maroon leather scabbard and I stared the silver man in the space where his eyes should have been. “Thank you, Bryan.” The man’s expression remained impassive beneath his black mask and hat adorned with a peacock feather. Aside from his cloak twitching in the wind, there was no indication he had even heard me. “Thank you for your weapon,” I said again. Again, no response, but I couldn’t judge him too harshly. He was, after all, a mannequin. Rescued from a formalwear shop in the throes of foreclosure, Bryan had guarded my apartment silently for months with his unblinking gaze festooned in whatever discarded garb we’d seen fit to give him. His current musketeer accoutrement and Robin pajamas were on loan from a mutual ally we had living nearby. Get on with it, Bryan Mannikin seemed to say. Get on with—oh, right. I spun around and regarded my true foe. For two weeks now this squat snowman had watched my apartment. It had seen my struggles, and it had mocked them. For this, it would die. For the icy gales it had encouraged, the subzero nights it condoned, the winter it represented, I would smite its head from its body. But not before I took a moment to remember.

THURSDAY MORNING, 10 AM
The last thirty six hours had been exhausting. I had begun my adventure on a Friday six days prior, and at long last it was almost Friday again. Today—New Years Day—had been strange. My roommate MacGyver had camped out at Cloudreach with me and we’d eluded detection. Unfortunately, every building on BYU campus was closed for the New Year. If this had occurred at the beginning of my week in the winter wild, it might have been merely inconvenient. At this late date, it was looking to be soul-crushingly boring and possibly even dangerous. While my breakthrough in learning Picking up Tenzinhow to speed-prepare acorns (thanks, Hermana) meant I was getting more to eat, I could tell my overall nutrient levels weren’t doing so hot. Trying my best to observe Rule #1: Don’t Die, I decided I would spend some time in my own apartment. I also had another compelling reason to do this. Friday was supposedly the day my three new roommates would move in, which meant I would have to clear up some space in cupboards and closets to at least give the appearance of accommodating their arrival. So I began to sort and organize. As the hours passed, one thing became glaringly clear: I had stashed food everywhere in my apartment. Inside and on top of my fridge, in my cupboards, in my roommates’ fridges and cupboards, stacked on shelves, stuffed in closets, hidden at the back of bookshelves, crammed beneath beds, filling shoes, lining coat pockets and squirreled away in the hollows of cinderblocks. Were she to stumble upon it, an archaeologist from some distant time and planet could only assume she’d discovered the hideout of some apocalypse-fearing giant squirrel. It had to be a varmint, for what human would cache eighty pounds of walnuts and acorns in an old laundry bag?

Self-awareness of my hoarding aside, the whole enterprise of sifting through buckets of food quickly became some sort of idiotic, self-imposed purgatory. The stupid cleanup finally ended and after speaking to my soon-to-be-affianced-and-thrilled-about-it cousin on the phone for a while I decided to have a meal. Crushed gravel acorn gruel and rehydrated FishFood, I concluded, would be ruled cruel and unusual punishment were it served to the inmates of some high-security facility, a preschool perhaps.

Fishfood Porridge
FishFood Porridge
FishFood Shake
FishFood Instant Beverage: Just like the porridge, only worse.
brekkist
Hooray, gravel! I mean, acorn bits.

My eyes closed and I was transported back to a time when Russia and America didn’t pretend to be friends.


Commies
Commies. Dozens of them.

THURSDAY AFTERNOON, 3:32 PM
Filled but not full, I set out onto campus. I’d spent a lot of time on the grounds in varying states of mind. As the day wore on, the sun began to set. I was filled with a strange, warm confidence. I was hungry, I was tired, but I could sense victory was close at hand. Campus was almost as deserted as Kmart on a Tuesday. I saw only two people; and I gave the police vehicle I spotted an unnecessarily wide berth. I munched on a handful of Russian olives as I moseyed along a dry streambed. Their dry, astringent pulp numbed my mouth, but it didn’t really matter. I ran into bunches of some other tree berry I’d tried before. I have no idea what species it was. Some kind of local hackberry?  It didn’t really matter, for each berry yielded a thin bud edible layer of raisinlike pulp surrounding a cherry-pit sized seed. Perhaps influenced by the Russian olives in my pocket, I decreed them “commies.” My eyes closed and I was transported back to a time when Russia and America didn’t pretend to be friends.
So, Ray. How many Commies you say you take down in th’ war?
Oh, I can hardly count. At least a couple dozen. EVERY DAY.
How’d you git ‘em to surrender?
With a freakin’ twelve gauge, whaddya think? Gosh, Leroy. It’s like you ain’t even American or somethin’.
You callin’ me a Commie?
Mebbe, mebbe not. You admittin’ to somethin’?
I ain’t askin’, I’m tellin’.
I didn’t like where the conversation was going, so I grabbed a few more handfuls of commies to go and dropped by a friend’s house where I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Pumped-up and ready to face the winter night one last time, I geared up and set out for Cloudreach. I slipped into the tent quietly, burrowed into my massed sleeping bags and promptly passed out.

Walking sausage mocks my pain
Local walking sausage mocks my pain
secret life of wallace mitty
Fraternizing with locals prior to final night at Cloudreach

final night

FRIDAY MORNING, 6:12 AM

sunrise jan 2 My eyes fluttered open and drank in the gray predawn light. Stretching to ease the cramps out of my body, I sighed and breathed deeply for a few moments and thought.
In. This is the last day.
Out. But you’re not done.
In. I’m close!
Out. Yes, but you still have a few more hours. Until two, perhaps.
In. Two? Two PM? Why so long?
Out. Look, you started in the early afternoon last week. If you’ve already been out here for nearly a week, you might as well go a little extra just to make sure you make it the whole week.
In. I guess that makes sense. Well, I’ll just sleep until then!
Out. Um, no. I think not. You’ve got to break camp and bust out of here, and soon.
In. What do you mean?
Out. If they catch you hauling all your stuff out of Cloudreach, you know what will happen. Remember Leafhaven?
I winced involuntarily at its mention. Leafhaven was another tree on campus, the place where I’d originally intended to live during the Urban Forager project. Long ago I’d first climbed into its ladderlike boughs and carefully hung up a hammock. Leafhaven 1Rocked to sleep by the warm summer wind, I’d awoken refreshed… and my face covered in pine sap. I’d rubbed pine bark on myself during the night whenever I awoke to abate the stickiness, which caused no small concern when I’d showed up to work at an art museum hours later looking like I’d spontaneously developed a precancerous lesion. This initial setback aside, I took provisions and building Leafhaven 2supplies to Leafhaven from time to time. I envisioned stringing multiple hammocks up in its mighty boughs, a place where I would study, relax, and sleep. I would learn how to carve wood and work obsidian. When I wanted company, I would bring friends over and we would talk late into the night beneath the slow dance of the stars.

Unfortunately, as school started up that fall I didn’t make it to Leafhaven much, and weeks passed without a visit. Deeply stressed out one autumn afternoon, I decided to check up on my urban sanctum. As I drew close, I could see something was very wrong. The thick underbrush that had given Leafhaven both privacy and protection were cut down to the ground. Which meant—I ran around the corner—which meant—
Leafhaven 3My jaw tightened. The tree that was the center of Leafhaven had been discovered. Twelve feet off the ground, the branch where I’d once placed my hammock remained intact… but every branch below that level had been severed. Other branches on the tree had also been cut. Even if I could somehow manage to clamber up the trunk, the once secluded hammock perch was now hopelessly exposed to the eyes of passersby. I reached out and touched the sticky sap bleeding from the missing limbs, examining the damage. This was no attack by Sand People, but the precise circular cuts of imperial stormtroopers the campus grounds crew. It was a calculated leafhaven 5move to ensure I’d never return. This place was to have been my refuge, my hideaway, my Terabithia. Now it was destroyed, and my careless association with it was the reason it had been targeted. I slowly slumped to the ground and rested my back against Leafhaven’s rough bark. Overcome with guilt and sorrow for the dreams that could no longer be, I put my head into my knees and sobbed as my tears mingled with the deep smells of wet dirt and sawdust.

I breathed quietly, deeply in my tent at Cloudreach as I remembered.
In.
Out.
In.
Out.


I put my head into my knees and sobbed as my tears mingled with the deep smells of wet dirt and sawdust.


FRIDAY MORNING, 10:22 AM
I stood at the road nearest to Cloudreach. I knew I needed help to get my mountain of gear out quickly and covertly, so I’d contacted my buddy Tenzin. He agreed without hesitation or reservations. I look up to this guy a lot. Not only is he three inches taller than me, he is easygoing, intelligent, insightful, and adapts quickly to any new situation in which he finds himself. He is also an Airbender. After some recon in Cloudreach’s vicinity, we made our approach through the DCIM100GOPROsecret path. Emerging through the branches at last, we arrived in the sheltered clearing.
“Whoa,” said Tenzin.
“I know, right? It’s perfect for human habitation! Or deer walking sausages, but that’s too darn bad for them. So, you think we can get all this stuff out in two trips?”cloudreach interior
We looked down at the accumulated sleeping bags, mattress pads, backpacks and tent I’d heaped together before I’d left.
Tenzin frowned. “Two trips? We can get this out in one.” And after taking some commemoratory photos with Cloudreach’s third human visitor ever, that is exactly what we did. Afterwards, we drove around campus for a few minutes and I showed him some important spots. “Here’s where I captured my first flock of glue berries. Try one.” He bit into the red fruit and chewed. “Hey, that’s not bad.”
“No, but eat another one,” I responded. He obliged, and frowned ever so slightly as nature’s finest  glue began to form in his mouth.
“Hmm.”
“Say no more, Tenzin. Say no more.”

FRIDAY AFTERNOON, 1:53 PM
Back at my apartment, it was almost two PM, the time I’d chosen to officially conclude Urban Forager.
There has only been one other time in my life I’d anticipated two PM as much as I had now, and that was as a nineteen year-old when I was leaving my family and home for two years to be a full-time missionary volunteer for my church in Paraguay.  But at least that day I’d been able to eat as many slices of Costco combo pizza and Jelly Belly beans as I’d wanted.  Right now I felt like I wanted to consume an entire ice cream metropolis. Seeking to commemorate the occasion, I ran compulsively around the apartment engaging in bizarre behaviors like cleaning the kitchen, shaving, and showering in my own apartment. It wasn’t enough. I needed something more. Something important, and also really cool. I drummed my fingers frenetically on the windowsill, takatakatakataka. What could I possibly—I locked stares with the snowman outside my window. What could I possibly—

FRIDAY AFTERNOON, 1:58 PM
I dragged Bryan Manikin outside, the sun glinting off his silvery forehead as we emerged from the stairwell. The world may never know why his head and chest were the color of the forty-seventh element, but it was probably the same reason he didn’t have arms. Or eyes. Or a soul.  I ran through the apartment complex, gathering some friends, some strangers, a shield I’d built out of a shipping pallet and some old jeans, and a camera. There was just one more thing I needed: a sword.


There was just one more thing I needed: a sword.


2:04 PM
Get on with it, Bryan urged.
 I slowly approached the snowman dressed in cardboard armor. My left arm carried my homemade shield. My right carried Bryan’s wickedly notched blade. bearing scorch marks in places where it had previously been set ablaze, i     t was the perfect weapon to vanquish the memory of December. I addressed my mortal enemy. “Winter. You said I couldn’t do it. You boasted you would be victorious. Well, how’s this for victory?”
Swinging my blade in a powerful diagonal arc, the blade connected perfectly with the snowman’s neck—
—and bounced harmlessly off the solid ice beneath its surface. What?!?
I swung again, harder this time. The blade ricocheted again. I began hacking and slashing indiscriminately, but the abominable creature scarcely acknowledged the ineffectual flurry of blows. Yelling in frustration, I swung my buckler at its head in a shield bash fueled by desperation.With an audible CRACK, the head rocked back on its axis, paused for a moment, and finally plummeted lifelessly to the ground. I plunged my blade downwards into its body, sunk to my knees, and let out a guttural yell. Victory was mine.

snowman 1
The blow strikes true—
snowman 2
—but the beast remains unfazed.
snowman 3
Is Winter too much for Marshmallow Kodiak Destructo-Man?!?
snowman 4
SHIELD
snowman 5
BASH
snowman 6
FINISH HIM
snowman 7
LEVEL UP!!!
snowman 8
This victory brought to you by cardboard armor and orange Crocs.
snowman 9
“Psst. Even I know Crocs are a bad idea.”
snowman satisfied with carnage
“As I have no soul, I approve this carnage.”

2:12 PM
Finally. I sat at my kitchen table, reveling in the moment. I’d compulsively arranged and rearranged plates of food on the grass mat moonlighting as a tablecloth in the hours leading up to this moment. I’d just finished saying a prayer to conclude my week. The moment to think for a few quiet moments and meditate felt fitting, though I seem to recall telling God I was “thankful for industrial food systems.” (They’re not all bad, right?). I regarded the plates of food before me.

DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPROBesides the plates of food I’d saved from my cousin’s missionary farewell on Day 3 (see A Miserable Feast), I also had some sauerkraut and kefir. I reached for the kefir first. This fizzy, yogurtlike drink probably originated with shepherds thousands of years ago in the Fertile Crescent, so to choose kefir was to slowly leave my hunter-gatherer lifestyle behind and transition to the pastoral. I tipped back my mason jar full of it, inhaled slowly, and took a sip.


The blade connected perfectly with the snowman’s neck and bounced harmlessly off the solid ice beneath its surface.


Whoa. A bit tangy, a bit yeasty, definitely not plant. This was food? This was food! It was amazing. I reached next for the sauerkraut, a nod to early farmers (and Germans, I suppose) who preserved their crops without refrigeration. The sauerkraut was a surge of flavor combined with a satisfying crunch, and there was something about it my tastebuds craved. Next, ham. I’d looked forward to this a lot, reasoning I would really enjoy the protein. And you know, it wasn’t bad or anything, but it was loaded with salt. This was even more true of the cold-cut style ham and turkey I tried. Cheese was likewise very salty. I thought drinking pine-needle infused saltwater over the week would have left me with my taste for salt, but the opposite seemed to hold true. I shoved the meat aside and reached for a pretzel roll. I bit into its chewy mass, closed my eyes, and savored. This was fantastic. I reveled in how much nutrition just one bite of the bread yielded, and just how easy it was to get those calories. It’s something I’d never really understood until that moment. As a society, we’re really good at getting calories into a ready-to-eat form. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just think about it next time you eat something. YOU BETTER BE GRATEFUL YOU MAGGOTS  It’s worth considering. I ate for a little while longer, and encountered an unfamiliar sensation: I was getting full. This made sense. My stomach had shrunken considerably as of late, and now I was at the point where I could stop eating and still be satisfied. I was almost ready to get up and leave the table when the Goldfish Brain awoke.

Have you ever accidentally dumped too much food in a goldfish’s tank? Unless you get those soggy cornflakes outta there lickety-split, yo’ fish gonna’ be like HEY GUESS WHAT THERE’S FOOD RAINING FROM THE SKY IMMA EAT SOME O’ THIS OH WOW IT TASTES THE EXACT SAME AS EVERY OTHER DAY ONLY THIS TIME THERE’S FOOD FREAKIN’ EVERYWHERE OMNOMNOM HEY LOOK I’M EATING THIS FOOD FISH FRIENDS CHECK IT OUT IT’S PRECIPITATING JOY I AM BEGINNING TO FEEL FULL BUT HOW OFTEN DOES THE SKY RAIN FOOD I MEAN SERIOUSLY WHAT’S THAT PHRASE FROM ANCIENT GOLDFISH PHILOSOPHERS OH YEAH  IT’S ‘CARPE DIEM’ WHICH I’M PRETTY SURE MEANS ‘SEIZE THE CARP’ SO NEVER LET IT BE SAID THAT I DID NOT RISE TO MY POTENTIAL ON THIS, THE GREATEST DAY OF MY PITIFULLY SHORT LIFE OH NOW ITS BEGINNING TO HURT BUT THAT WHICH DOESN’T KILL YOU ONLY MAKES YOU KELLY CLARKSON SO HERE GOES OMNOMNOM ITS SOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOD—
and at this point the average aspiring anchovy violently explodes, but on rare occasions becomes an overrated American pop star. Both are equally unfortunate.

i feel so gross to you right now
Right before the Goldfish Brain awakes. This is the face of a person who has already eaten too much.

The Goldfish Brain is a part of the brain inside each of us that feels no remorse and no restraint when it encounters unexpected abundance. Different people’s goldfish brains are triggered by different things and situations. For some, the place where they will lose control is an all-you-can-eat buffet. For others, the Goldfish Brain manifests itself when a clearance rack at H&M is spotted, and for a few it is a Starbucks every time one appears in the rear-view mirror. As for me, my Goldfish Brain had awoken right now.
HEY GUESS WHAT said the Goldfish Brain, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY KNOW THERE IS A TON OF FOOD IN FRONT OF YOU. 
“Actually, I feel perfectly full right now. I think I’m just going to get up and—
GET OUT FROM BEHIND THE WHEEL the Goldfish Brain yelled, tossing me aside as it took control.
WE’RE EATING THIS MEAT AND CHEESE FIRST BECAUSE IT IS CLOSEST TO OUR FACE the Goldfish helpfully informed me.
No, I don’t want that. That stuff nasty and I don’t want too—” but the Goldfish had already inhaled the oversalty horror.
WHAT ELSE IS IN THIS PLACE demanded the Goldfish in a declaration of unabated greed as it cased the apartment. I watched in horror as the Goldfish found my carefully organized pantry of food.
GIANT COSTCO BAG OF PEANUT M&MS? DON’T MIND IF I DO and half of the fifty-five oz. (1587 g) bag disappeared before I could convince the Brain to move its attention away to my comparatively safer bedroom where—
HEY THERE IS FOOD PRACTICALLY OOZING FROM EVERYWHERE MAN ROCK ON
Big mistake. “No, dude, just get out of here!” and for once the Goldfish Brain complied… making a beeline for my roommate’s freezer.
HEY GUESS WHAT I FOUND screamed the Brain, IT’S AN UNTOUCHED HALF GALLON OF YOUR ROOMMATE’S STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM
“Hey man, that’s not yours! Don’t touch that!”

DUDE HE’S IN VIRGINIA RIGHT NOW AIN’T NO WAY HE GON’ STOP US!
My stomach moaned in pain. “Sweet mercy, I can’t even…” but apparently I could, and by gosh I was gonna’.

before m&ms
I ATE THAT FOOD FOR YOU AREN’T YOU SO PROUD OF ME HEY I HAVE AN IDEA LET’S GO  EAT THE APARTMENT

GET OUT FROM BEHIND THE WHEEL the Goldfish Brain yelled, tossing me aside as it took control.


4:20 PM
I stared at the ceiling blankly. By some small, inexplicable miracle I’d neither died nor turned into Kelly Clarkson. As for the Goldfish Brain, it appeared to have overdosed on sucrose and had gone somewhere to have a long, slow recovery. I didn’t miss it. Unable to move as the pain in my distended belly gradually subsided, I had a chance to think long and hard about the Urban Forager project, and I’ve summarized those thoughts (along with some more recent musings) here :sunset final night
I feel like it was successful. It was also much, much harder than I thought it would be. I ended up losing more than ten pounds in seven days, all of which I regained in the next week (gracias, Costco Vanilla Bean Ice Cream). There was more food on campus than I’d previously supposed, but I was also much less willing to eat it than I thought I would be. Even when I felt like I was starving, my desire to eat things I’d gathered—say, already-made glue berry jelly—was approximately equal to zero. I was hungrier than I’d ever been that week, though it would still be a little pretentious to say I actually understand chronic hunger when the World Hunger Organization estimates 1 in 9 people worldwide suffer from malnutrition.

Before this project, I would have said I was a medium-proficiency survivalist. Guess what? I’m a beginner. For sure. Were I suddenly plunged into a wilderness survival situation this summer, I’d probably die in like three weeks, though you can bet your badger I’d try to blog about it in my final moments as I slid screaming into a void full of rabid monkeys. That blog would be shorter than this one, though. Pits full of terminally ill primates will definitely kill your productivity. And you.
Anyways. There’s some really great survival experts out there that I couldn’t ever really compete with, and I feel OK about that.There’s less pressure this way. I’ve also learned I rely on other people in my life much more than I thought I had. Whether for material assistance or for helping me stave off massive boredom, friends and family were key to this and many other adventures. Thanks to the student newspaper employee who did not find my evil plans to live on campus “credible” when informed of them some months ago. Your incredulity fed my stubborn resolve to go on. More significant thanks go to the many people who texted me, emailed and messaged me notes of encouragement during Urban Forager. I really needed them.


By some small, inexplicable miracle I’d neither died nor turned into Kelly Clarkson.


I am also grateful to the people who encouraged me to finish writing about this and who didn’t shun me utterly when they found out I was actually a hobo in disguise, and to the person who gave me amazing chicken enchiladas the day after UF concluded. I am not grateful to winter for vanishing two days after I began living in houses again and never reappearing. I apparently chose the worst week possible for living outside in a tent because every other week this winter has been like seventy degrees with a chance of palm trees. Forsooth!
DCIM100GOPRO

Holy smokes, did you read all that? Or even skim it? This post must be like a paskillion words long! Regardless of how much you did or did not read, I thank you, dear readers. Thank you for sharing in my journey, even though especially because I was really just living under a tree somewhere eating berries. Oh, about that. Cloudreach. Many of you have asked where it is. For reasons I hope are clear, I’m not comfortable sharing its location online. If you talk to me in person, though, feel free to ask.  But hey, here’s a picture of Cloudreach from the outside.  Pretty nifty, huh? You almost can’t tell there’s anyone in there, which is kind of the point.

cloudreach 2

cloudreach
Okay… here’s this one too.

I hope you come back and visit Wilderness of the Mind (this blog) again. I’m hoping to post more often on Wednesdays. And if you just want to hang out sometime and eat glue berries, come on down! Believe me—I know just the place.Cloudreach 1


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