Category Archives: Provo Tales

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.)


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.”


Neil began to protest. “But…”
“You agreed in writing. Friday night at 11:59 PM, wasn’t it?”
“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–”

“the court has found you–”
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.
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

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.


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


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!


Holds and Faculty Delivery

(Some months later)


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.


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

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.


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

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.

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.
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. Dozens of them.

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


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.

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

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.
“Say no more, Tenzin. Say no more.”

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—

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
snowman 5
snowman 6
snowman 7
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.

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.
“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.
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—
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 man, that’s not yours! Don’t touch that!”

My stomach moaned in pain. “Sweet mercy, I can’t even…” but apparently I could, and by gosh I was gonna’.

before m&ms

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!

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

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

Disappointed this didn’t all end in an obituary? Like, share, and follow the spiders to my nuevo Facebook page.

Urban Forager, Day 6: Marshmallow Kodiak Destructo-Man

Now is the winter of our discontent.
–William Shakespeare

“My car broke down. I need help.” I gazed at the text blearily for a moment, sounding out the syllables slowly.
My-car-broke-down-I-need-help.  I think this is some kind of call for help, said my mind in an effort to be helpful. Oh. OH! I GET IT! Throwing on two coats, I crawled out of my sleeping bag, unzipped the tent door and shivered. It was 3°F (-16° C). Ugh. It was like Siberia—or worse, Wisconsin. I struggled to lace my snowboots as my fingers lost dexterity and sensation in the cold.  How did a double knot go? Was it—no, it was—There! I headed off in the general direction of my car as dawn threatened to bleach the indigo sky.

This is the seventh installment of the Urban Forager Project. To start from the beginning and learn why I’m going a week in the winter wild eating only food I’ve foraged, click here.

In order to keep its location as unavailable as Benedict Cumberbatch’s heart, there’s a very specific way to leave Cloudreach. First, duck and step carefully through the exposed area to the untraceable zone. Crawl on hands and knees before sinking gloved fists into snow to get standing and stable without faceplanting in the snow. Walk carefully, being sure to step where you have previously stepped to give the appearance you were only ever there once.  Angle left. Now right. Left again. A casual observer may mistake you for a drunken cat at this point, but don’t take it personally. That’s probably enough. pause at a tree.  Listen for deer, cars, or people. Is it clear? Then angle right, dash through the bushes, through another untraceable zone and to the relative safety of the street.

Now in the clear, I began walking as quickly as I could. Despite the frigid temperatures, I was feeling great. This might have been because I was moving, but it’s more likely it came as a result of the clothes I was wearing:

Indestructible. (Source)
  • Black polyester running pants
  • Blue Jordanian kaffiyah (used as a scarf)
  • Knit technicolor hat with earflaps
  • Blue jeans with belt and Leatherman
  • Two pair of socks: one synthetic, one woolen, both moisture wicking
  • Two pair gloves: weird maroon thin gloves beneath big black ski gloves
  • Backpack
  • Snowboots: size 14 Columbia Bugaboot
  • Slim red running jacket
  • Black merino wool dress suit sweate
  • Puffy, black Euro-coat
  • Size XXL tan-puffy coat inherited from a deceased great-uncle with great clothes over it all.

The effect made me feel a little bit like Randy in A Christmas Story, but at the same time it granted me enormous power. Far larger and more armored than normal, I had completed my transformation into the sworn enemy of winter: Marshmallow Kodiak Destructo-Man.

Furious energy pulsed through my arteries with each heartbeat. I backhanded a shrub covered in snow as I passed; the powdery whiteness fell helplessly to the ground. A full-bore roundhouse kick to a snowbank left it in weeping ruins. Going out of my way to crush errant pieces of ice underfoot, I felt no sympathy for my victims.
“I’m just a civilian,” objected a small land-stranded berg. “I have no part in your—”
“Please, milord! I’ll bring the sheep to the manor on Thor’s Day!” cried a fallen icicle.
“Ay, Señor! Los niños estan in the casa, all alone! Por favor, for their cause please espare my life!”
I was invincible. Cackling pitilessly, I pulverized my enemy with each thundering step until I came at last to my car encased in a chrysalis eight inches thick of ice and snow. The door was frozen shut.
Is this all you’ve got, Winter?!?  I threw my head back and roared. Grabbing hold of the car door, my ursine muscles pulled taut. I strained for a long, quiet moment before the door burst free with a  groaning skkkrrrrikk!  My windshield scraper now in hand, the ice on my car fled from my presence like a herd of baby raindeer before a flamethrower-wielding Russian.

Some minutes later, I found MacGyver in a parking lot.DCIM100GOPRO
“What took you so long?”
“Oh, you know… stuff.”
After we jumped his car and took it to the mechanic, I drove him to work and returned to my territory. My sister and her family wanted to visit me during my self-imposed torment, so I agreed to meet them at the local museum of art.

delishis beverij
Pounded pine needles for pine needle tea

How To Laundry Like A Boss
Before that happened, I needed to wash some clothes. My thermal long johns were smellin’ pretty rank, as was the running jacket I was wearing beneath my Kodiak coats. I headed over to the locker room of the athletic building. After a quick shower and a shave to eliminate my patchy scruff and unseemly odor, I grabbed the things in need of cleansing and carried them over to one of the cleaner-looking sinks. Soaking them first in hot water, I applied a liberal amount of coconut-scented hand soap from the abundant dispensers. I washed my clothes by hand last year in Ecuador (out of stinginess rather than need) so this didn’t take long. Drying would take far longer than washing under normal circumstances, but desperation was a valuable teacher: some months ago before a lunch date with a friend, I’d learned a reeking, sopping-wet orange North Face jacket could be placed in the nearby swimsuit spinners for a couple cycles and emerge almost completely dry. The same trick worked today.  Total time elapsed from dirty jacket to dry coat: seven minutes. What’s more, my clothes smelled fantastic. Industrial coconut scent for the win.

My scraper now in hand, the ice on my car fled from my presence like a herd of baby reindeer before a flamethrower-wielding Russian.

I spent some time with my sister and her family. Before we parted, she handed me a carefully wrapped gift. “I was going to give this to you on Saturday,” she began, “but I think you could probably use it right now. Go ahead, open it.”
I found one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received:

hunting and gathering
This. Book.

“I got it for you weeks ago, before you’d ever said anything about your project. Sorry I couldn’t give it to you sooner, but I think it might still be helpful.”
Within minutes of opening the book I chanced upon Skill #136, the art of turning acorns into food. I’d spent part of Day 4 and most of Day 5 trying to understand why my acorns weren’t becoming edible, and here it was, explained. The most effective way to rid acorns of inedible tannins is to soak the nutmeats in alternating baths of warm and cold water in hourlong intervals, the book explained. Allowing the water to boil actually prevents the tannic acid from leaving effectively. Well, who’da thunk. My acorns had just been transformed from inedible frustrations to an easy source of carbohydrates.
After saying goodbye to my family, I went to the place where I had stashed my soaking acorns and pulled the containers out of the fake plants where they were hidden. I microwaved them in new water until they were warm, but not boiling. Once an hour I would return, change the water, and begin the process anew. In the meantime, I blogged and snacked on a new food source: frozen crabapples I’d found on a tree near the Museum of Art. Something about the freezing-thawing-refreezing process had changed these normally disgusting fruits into something that to me tasted like popsicles made of sweet, frozen apple butter complete with notes of clove and cinnamon. They were so intensely flavored that I could only eat a few at a time before my brain threatened to fry under the sensory overload.01 get it and get it

01 get it and get out

01 get it

01 get it and get

The lights began to shut off in the hallways of the building where I slowly coaxed my acorns to edibility, a not-so-subtle message for all denizens of the cavernous edifice to Get The Heck Out. I pulled my possessions out of the building in several trips, hoping I hadn’t left anything inside. The building would be closed for the next two days, and forgetting something critical like my mortar and pestle could end my urban adventure very quickly. Walking along a darkened hallway, I encountered a powerful carpet fan airing out a wet spot of carpet. Ever the opportunist, I pulled off a boot and placed it downwind of the humming device I promptly tilted on its side.

“Excuse me?” I looked up in alarm. One of the building caretakers was looking at me an odd expression apparently baked with two cups impatience, one cup suspicion and waaaay too much salt.
“Who, uh, what?”DCIM100GOPRO
“What are you doing?”
“Oh. Wait, me? Oh, I was just, uh… ” We both looked down at the boot drying by the fan, laces flapping in the breeze. “I was just curious what would happen if you put a boot… by a fan… turned on its side.”
No answer.
“Sorry, I guess that’s kind of weird. I’ll just… take that now.” She stared at me disgustedly as I glomped hurriedly down the hall, boot in hand. A question was forming on her lips and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be around when it was spoken.


‘Mah Texan friends

The rest of New Years’ Eve was pleasantly uneventful. I watched The Giver with some friends, stopped to see a good friend visiting from Texas, and ate a delicious acorn porridge. I should probably specify that “delicious” used in this context means “a quavering, microwaved acorn mash mixed with FishFood, sumac, pounded crabapples and—inexplicably—sea salt that you will force yourself to eat, periodically suppressing your gag reflex because it could probably be used as a psychological weapon were it to fall into the wrong hands.”  It was almost as bad as eating a raw tomato.

far out porridge
“This porridge gonna be far out, yo!”
2 revolution
“I have created food.”

3 a try sequence01 farrr out3 b try sequence3 c try sequence

The lights began to shut off in the hallways of the building… a not-so-subtle message for all denizens of the cavernous edifice to Get The Heck Out.

As the year concluded, I took the time to compile a few New Years’ Resolutions. I’m not really into the whole Resolutions idea (my resolution for most years being simply to not make any new resolutions the next year) but this time around I felt my goals were within reach:

  • Buy Strawberry Cheetos off the internet. They have them in Japan!  I knew the Japanese could do it.
  • Make my own version of Strawberry Cheetos.  The measly internet bag will hardly satisfy me; I anticipate I will be needing at least 3 to five buckets myself. Each individual corn snack will not be those stupid big puffy cheeto things, but the small, satisfying crunchy ones. The snack pieces will be made with a sweeter-style batter and have a hint of vanilla. The powder will be made of dehydrated strawberry jelly and confectioners sugar, or wait! I will use Strawberry Nesquik powder.

    strawberry cheetos
    A glimmer of hope in this mad world.
  • Eat a very large serving of fries
  • Eat butter, straight from the tub. (I do not admit to actually doing this. My roommates have tried to intervene, but I insist I don’t have a problem.)
  • Sleep in a bed.
  • Cook more food on the stove.
  • Actually use the two pounds of spices I have in my cupboard and learn how to make Indian food.
  • Alternatively, just eat the spices to see what happens.
  • Also, I guess I should probably graduate from college.

One general theme exists for the new year: I hope it is full of delicious things. Particularly if “delicious” is Japanese slang for “strawberry cheetos.”

I considered this glorious future as I silently approached Cloudreach. As the first moon of the new year rose sluggishly in the cloudless sky, I managed to think of something else:

Day 6 was complete.

Do you think Strawberry Cheetos should be brought to America? Like and share!

The eight and final installment of the Urban Forager series can be found here. Come on back if you want to know what machetes, snowmen, and the Silver Musketeer have to do with it. Also, if I survived. What if I were dead and had written a fake final post in case I didn’t make it? That’s not the case, but if it were it would be pretty messed up.

Urban Forager, Day 5: The Illusion of Plenty

Sleep is the poor man’s dinner.
—Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers

Glowing screens and interfaces surrounded me in the darkened. How did I never notice before that vending machines contained food? Bizzare concoctions that had never before interested me now had my full attention: sloppy joes in miniature bread bowls (microwaveable!), chocolate tacos (now with dairy-based filling!), and triple-layered mystery meat (being mysterious is considered an attractive quality, right?) sandwiches could only represent the apex of human civilization.

I had come to this cursed room to prepare my breakfast in the tiny microwave: pine needle tea in a saltwater infusion. I found it on Pinterest!
No, not really.
I refilled the Pyrex liquid measuring cup that had become my best friend up again and replaced the pine needles I’d chomped savagely for a bit (to release the flavor/nutrients) and decided I needed to get more calories than the les can bemicroscopic amount present in my drink. I whipped out my container of FishFood. This mealy substance is not actually fish food, but the ground-up, dried berries of the scarlet firethorn bush. Despite the shrub’s sweet name, the berries are pretty bland in fall and plain awful in winter. I’d discovered the dehydrated berries lying around my apartment months ago and used my metate y mano I  conveniently have lying around to grind them into a coarse flour. The resulting mix smelled vaguely like the golden standard for aquariums everywhere, so FishFood it became.
I only have one container of it, and while it’s generally used for emergencies I decided a handful in my pine-needle tea might make a fine breakfast porridge. I put a few spoonfuls into my measuring cup, added some needles for flavor, and nuked it for a few minutes. As I waited, my eyes fell once again upon the shiny, entrancing vending machines. No. I won’t do it! Wait, what on earth is THAT?


said the white lettering simply.
That… that sounds amazing. 
I stared closer, and then began to cry quietly as I saw it: No strawberry cheetos were these. A closer inspection of the red plastic package entombed behind a glass force field revealed it to be the pathetic


So disappointing. But why was I crying? As I wiped the tears from my face with my sleeve, it occurred to me. Even if the mythical snack was here right now, I would not be able to eat it. It was useless to me.

Trying to move on, I sampled my hot firethorn porridge. It was watery and nothing like the processed deep-fried corn strawberry dusted goodness I craved. Whatever. I left the building and made it to a place where I could use the internet to blog. More time passed than I expected, and it was quickly 2 PM. I was tired, and very hungry. So much for FishFood.
Fortunately, I had tons and tons of walnuts. I had found these one day in the city when I was helping film some extra shots for a Vidangel commercial. You know the one where they blast a family with 3,192 paintballs in five and a half seconds? Yep, that one. Fun fact: my left hand is insufferably pretentious and you can see it getting its long-awaited comeuppance at 0:53 in the commercial. Unfortunately, the left hand also got the upper hand and is now exponentially more famous than the rest of me. Truly, the right hand knoweth not what the left doeth.

Even if the mythical snack was here right now, I would not be able to eat it. It was useless to me.

But I digress. Walnuts, walnuts, walnuts. I must have gathered fifty pound of them in the dusty lot where my hand got its claim to fame.

acorn mash  acorn mash 2

I brought a bag of this with me on my adventure, chose a nice spot for a picnic, and decided to eat DCIM100GOPROwalnuts for the next four hours. While this was happening, I was busy heating up acorn meal with water in nearby microwaves in an attempt to get rid of the pesky chemicals that make raw acorns inedible/have the ability to tan leather.

When I finally stopped eating walnuts, I was tired.  Also, despite my constant shelling and chowing it didn’t feel as if I’d eaten anything at all. My stomach punched my diaphragm repeatedly, as if trying to say Hey you up there! Whenever you want you can start sending food down. Don’t hold off on my account, amirite?
Ungrateful loser.Trying to stay positive, I went to go check on the acorns’ progress.

They were still bitter. Hopelessly astringent, consuming them now tum diddlywould only block the nutrient uptake of the things I’d eaten. I tried to drink more water to take the edge off the hunger, so much I felt nauseous and almost gagged.
No. No no no no no no no. I am NOT losing my entire day’s calories for this.

I walked over to a couch and lay down, staring at the ceiling. I had pounds of acorns, but I didn’t know how to make them edible in time. I had walnuts, but they seemed to be costing me more energy than they stubbornly yielded. I had glue berries, but—eurgh, no way.  I was surrounded by food but didn’t see how I could get it to sustain me for three more days. There was no abundance here, just the hollow illusion of plenty.

Just then, a lady walked to the microwaves with cups in hand.
“Oh!” I said. “So sorry, I have something in those.”
“In both of them?”
“Yes, sorry, let me move that.” I pulled out the bowl of submerged acorn meal, the water colored brown by the bitter tannic acids. She asked me what I was doing, she looked at me suspiciously, and informed me she was writing a book regarding an LDS perspective on autism. Here it was, in fact. Just proofreading the finished copy over the holidays, you know?

DCIM100GOPRO“I take it you know someone with autism personally?”
“Oh no, no. Nothing like that. But I have a system!”
That she did. Also, many pages and a flowchart. Flowcharts are science, right?  I hope she accomplishes what she desires with her book.

Bidding her farewell, I added one last round of hot liquid to my acorn meal and glumly walked through the dark to Ashanandra’s house where yesterday’s kefir was culturing. I learned how to make a new batch and decided the result of the previous day looked delicious. But useless, at least until Friday.

The temperature was rapidly dropping into the single digits, and I was hungry and cold. The weather was forecasted to drop down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17.7 C) and I was not nutritionally prepared for the experience. I returned to my apartment and ate two slabs of glue berry jelly with mugs of steaming salt water. I microwaved the jelly in the hope that hot glue jelly would be better than cold. It wasn’t.

My roommates MacGyver and Aang were there, though. Aang informed me tonight was his last night in the apartment before he moved his stuff in preparation for basic training.  He has been a kind, considerate, and altogether awesome roommate for the last eight months, so we’re definitely going to miss him. Speaking with Aang and MacGyver rallied my spirits. It might be cold, but—no, it would still be cold, but I probably wouldn’t die. Probably. Trying to avoid this outcome, I plunked myself down at the kitchen table and ate walnuts for almost two more hours.

I exited the apartment and headed off to Cloudreach. On the way, I encountered a herd of walking sausages. The deer looked up at me.
Um, excuse me, we don’t know if you noticed but—
Well, the place you call Cloudreach, it’s sort of the place we sleep so we don’t freeze and die.
“Well, you should have sort of thought about that before you became stinking deer!”
Pity. Hmm. Since you feel that way about it—
Movement, in the trees and shrubs all around me. It was fixin’ to become an ambush. They say deer are herbivorous, but since I’ve never seen Them I wasn’t about to start taking their word for it now. This had to end, and fast. Brandishing the third coat I was carrying as a weapon, I whipped the air and stalked forward.
“This mah place now, BOIIIII!” Startled, their pitiful uprising scattered into the bushes from whence it had arisen.
Tonight, at least, Cloudreach would be safe.

Day Five was complete.

Do you agree deer are bent on annihilating humanity? Like and share!

If you don’t know what the heck Urban Forager is about, I recommend you start here.

Urban Forager, Day 1: In Search of Shelter

I trudged along the hill in the dwindling light. I needed to find shelter, and soon. Perhaps one hour was left before even the hint of sunset would fade.

My day had not started as smoothly as I’d hoped. When I arrived at the outdoor gear rental for a university close to my parent’s house, I was already worried. People were open the day after Christmas, right? I’d called the night before, but there was nothing to indicate they wouldn’t be open today on December 26th. They hadn’t answered the phones, however, and as I walked up to the red brick structure and saw the darkened windows, I knew something was wrong. I read the paper sign taped to the inside of the glass door.

“We will be CLOSED from December 25th to December 28th!” it proclaimed cheerfully.
Dagnabit. What am I going to sleep in now!?! No four-season tent. No bivy sack. No sleeping bag designed to make life survivable in freakishly cold (read: below room temperature) conditions.

Further digging on the internet yielded basically no other rental options, except for a mountaineering supply company in Utah Valley. The tent rentals there were expensive  but it seemed like a great way to make sure I adhered to Rule 1: Don’t die.
I cooked a huge meal to kick off the week. I didn’t know what food I could find before the night set in, so my last Civilised Meal consisted of two enormous breakfast burritos and a clamshell package of raspberries. I finished with the dishes, took out the trash, grabbed a bunch of helpful-looking things from the house, jumped into my car, and headed south.

So it begins.

An hour later,  a stop at Cabelas informed me they didn’t rent gear, but I disovered they did have huge tanks of trout and salmon I already wished I was eating instead of ogling. A few more minutes down the road was the mountaineering shop. The lights were off, but the door was open. In the dim twilight conditions a dark-haired man slowly adjusted an ice axe.  “Hey, so you guys rent tents, right?”
“Nope,” he said gruffly.
“But it says on your website…”
His only response was to shrug indifferently.
“But sleeping bags–you do rent those, don’t you?”

A visit to another winter gear store down the way discovered they did in fact have rentals.
In April.
“So, you don’t have anything?
“Not right now, sorry. Come back in April!”
“I’ll be dead by then…” I muttered to myself as I strolled towards the doors.
A kindly guy with a sweet beard approached me before I had a chance to leave.
“Dude, you’re trying to rent a sleeping bag? Try Out N Back, down the way.”


Not knowing what else to do, I listened to his advice and rolled on over. I found plenty of cold weather bags and tents, but no indication they rented everyone. Resigned to basically die of hypothermia, I approached the desk half-heartedly.
“You don’t… do you rent tents and sleeping bags?”
“Yes, we do! What would you like?”

The sun had already set when I found the place I was going to sleep.  A quick stop by my apartment to grab a few crucial pieces of equipment (like the GoPro I was using to document this misadventure), and I was attempting to set up a tent in the dark. Struggling to set up the infernal device, I became uneasy about my location. Sure, it had seemed ideal, but I felt the risk of discovery was too high.  I dragged my things to an alternative spot I’d discovered at the very end of my earlier scouting expedition.  Satisfied, I crawled inside into the warmth of my mummy bag in the shelter of the place I named Cloudreach.

At 5: 39 AM, I awoke shivering. A check on the weather forecast would later reveal the temperature outside had sunken to 12 degrees Fahrenheit.  My tent blocked a little wind, but as a three season tent there was only so much it could do. I was also hungry. In my urgency to get my shelter up the night before, I had only eaten a handful of berries.
I complained to my GoPro and noticed the inside of the tent was covered in frost. My sleeping bag was decently warm, but apparently I fit the Too Tall for Manufactured Goods category, because I couldn’t tighten the face area of the bag without it constricting my head instead. My two-person tent, I concluded, was probably made for one person, who happened to be a child. A short child. I almost filled the thing when I stretched out head to toe. Curling up, however, didn’t do much good. when I curled up, it stretched the bag tight and the compressed featherdown fill insulated much less effectively. Fortunately I’d brought an extra coat and a Jordanian kaffiyah. Putting these on, I eventually sank back into a fitful sleep.

Some time later, I heard the chiming of the campus belltower off in the distance. Nine chimes. Nine o’clock. I opened my eyes, and light streamed into the tent.

I had survived Day One.

Don’t know why I’m doing this? Check out my rationale in my first Urban Forager post here.

Urban Forager, Prologue: A Week in the Winter Wild

The Quest
During the next seven days, I will be attempting to survive in the wilds in and around my college campus by eating exclusively whatever I can gather and forage. I don’t mean dumpster-diving. I mean roots, berries, fruit, very small rocks—you name it. Want to know if I make it or not? I will be posting daily updates of my adventures here on Wilderness of the Mind.

I’ve come up with some basic rules for myself:

  1. Don’t die. If I’m not up to the task and it appears my health may be at risk, I will cease my experiment.
  2. Foraged foods only. Pretty self-explanatory. It is OK if I gathered these prior to commencement of the Week, as I figure any actual hunter-gatherer would not have just wandered into winter without preparing.  That would be kind of dumb. This food, however, must be foraged.  I’m making an allowance for some sea salt for electrolyte replenishment (See Rule 1).

That’s really it. As I am very interested in actually pulling this off, I am holding off on making too many rules at present since I’m oddly anxious to not break Rule #1. That being said, I hope to sleep outside. As I’ve never really been winter camping, I’m hoping the learning curve isn’t too steep.

I will be filming some of my exploits and vlogging it in a couple of weeks, but my initial record-keeping will be right here.

Want to visit, gather food, or do lunch? Please, come on over! Don’t worry, I won’t be offended if you bring your own food. Just don’t be disappointed when I keep to what I’ve gathered.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why are you doing this?
Can I be resourceful enough to survive on my own in the city environment in which I spend almost all my time? Do I know enough about plants to feed myself? Is there actually ample leisure time in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle? Imma figure all this out, but what it boils down to is I’m doing this because I want to. Also, science. For science.

How long have you been planning this?
Since 2008. More on that later.

Why are you doing this in the winter?
I don’t have school right now, nor do I have work I’m obligated to perform. Admittedly, I am not thrilled about the beastly snowstorm that just rumbled through or the temperatures that are forecasted to drop down to 0 degrees by early next week. Yay.

Are you wearing clothes?
For warmth and for the good of humanity, yes.

It is not enough to eat the berry. You must BECOME the berry.
Trust me, it’s best for everyone.

Where will you sleep?
Necessity is the mother of invention, so you might say I’m feeling a little maternal right now.

No, seriously.
A backyard somewhere? Your backyard? I mean, hopefully not—but make sure your dog is well-fed, just in case.

Do you need a place to sleep?

You aren’t spending time with us during the holidays. Do you hate us?
No, I do not hate you.

Are you leaving us?
No, Chancho. I would never leave you. I just need to borrow some sweats.

What will you eat?
I’m planning on making good use of previous research I’ve done to find the food I need.

Do you need me to bring you food?
No. That would defeat the entire purpose of the experiment.

Are you going to die?

Well, probably not.

Can I have your Tamagotchi when you are dead?
No, I’m not dead yet. Also, Leroy died years ago—too much candy. His little circuits just couldn’t take it. I’m sorry you had to find out like this.

Start reading Day 1 of Urban Forager here.

Note: This adventure is not meant to be confused with genuine homelessness, nor it is meant to trivialize, belittle, or mock any individual who has currently or historically fallen on hard times. Nor do I actually fancy myself a bona fide hunter-gatherer. They’re exponentially more legit. I’m just a kid from the ‘burbs trying to mix it up a bit.

Did you enjoy this post? Please like and share!



I nervously set down another piece of bread on the pedestrian overpass, trying to not look directly at the raven perched at eye level in the pine tree nearby.


Another raven flitted down to join it and added its voice to the clamor.


I learned earlier this year ravens and crows have the ability to distinguish and remember human faces, even after months or even years have passed. It helps them differentiate friendly, dangerous, or unknown individuals. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

You’re smart, right? You learned the alphabet. You know what your favorite celebrity (Bill Nye) wore to work every day for the last thirty years (it’s a magnificent array of bowties, in case you forgot). You remembered to put your milk away after only a couple of hours. You’ve got this, right? Not so fast.

Here is a picture of a raven. Please answer the question about arguably the world’s most famous raven, freshly plucked from its perch on its Wikipedia page.

Hey, girl.


Curious to know the answer?

It is not Harold. It is not Larry. It sure as beans isn’t Shaniqua. That name was banned in the Geneva Conventions of 1949. This raven has a name, too.

You’re all wrong. Please don’t get upset–this is one of thems lurning opurrtunateez. You’re not a raven, and so I hardly could have expected you to know something every raven instinctively  knows:

This raven is named Lloyd. In fact, all ravens are named Lloyd, regardless of gender. Every last one.

Each Lloyd grows up knowing this from the time she or he is a chick. They also notice pretty quickly that every other Lloyd looks and sounds almost exactly the same as them.   Therefore, they learn to remember the little differences to help them keep track of who’s who–Lloyd dat got dem 90’s frosted feathertips,  (friendly), Lloyd that speaks Spanish(neutral), Lloyd that ain’t got no bath since ’82 (menace to corvid society). With their impressive mind for details,  telling the difference between

Parks and Recreation - Season 6          and        JenniferAnistonHWoFFeb2012

is no big deal.

I wanted to see where I stood with these jet-black beings, so when I spotted some on my way to school, I hurried and dug some bread out of my bag to get their attention, a classic tactic to get attention from ducks, seagulls, and babies in stores.

I placed a couple hunks out in front of me and waited for their avian adoration.

Nothing. Then, “Caw!”

Before long four or five ravens had gathered, making a cacaphonous racket. They didn’t sound happy to see me. In fact, they seemed to be growing more agitated by the second, hopping from branch to branch in anger. But why would they–

Then I remembered.

Someone once told me it’s important to find new pursuits as we get older. I interpreted this to mean chasing animals I find around campus. This usually means quail, ducks, or–on particularly exciting occasions–herds of stinkin’ deer. Deer smell awful. Why anyone would chase a deer given their considerable stench is an important conversation but best addressed another time.

On one of these occasions I encountered a raven. Without thinking about it I dropped my bag and sprinted after my jet-black quarry, chasing the protesting bird from tree to tree. I never caught up, but I chased the thing over at least one hill before it finally went all stratospheric on me and glided out of sight.

Months later,  my past had caught up to me. Lloyd and I had apparently met again, face-to-face. He wasn’t happy about it.  Lloyd imperiously regarded my  pitiful offering of bread, the sun’s first amber rays revealing it for the heap of stale crumbs it really was.


The chorus of assembled Lloyds filled my ears with harsh cries.
I’d wanted to get in to the Raven Club, inexplicably craving their approval, but it was too late. My confusion gave way as I looked at  Lloyd directly in the eyes, in that moment I understood. “CAAAAAAAAW!”
Quoth the Raven,


the great groundhog lob

With only two weeks to sell a contract I couldn’t use, I did the only thing that came naturally: wrote about flying groundhogs and lint. I quote the post on Craigslist here:

“(Basic info and Google Street View link below thrilling, Hugo Award winning narrative)

“How far d’ya think it’ll fly?” asked Larry. Rigoberto furrowed his brow in thought and grunted as he hefted the obese rodent. “Oh, I dunno. I’d say fifeen, twenny feet, mebbe,” said Rigoberto dubiously. Twelve was the furthest he’d ever managed. Their plan to determine how much wood a woodchuck would chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood had shuddered to a halt when it quickly became apparent no self-respecting rodent would ever be found lobbing lumber in daylight, nor could one be persuaded, coerced or bribed to do so. In their frustration, the two dimwitted pals had decided to answer a simpler, more satisfying question: How far could a woodchuck BE chucked if it were simply tied to wood?

Lord Goruk, aka Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Story
Lord Goruk, Sir Sha’ant-Be-Tossed-Twice

Rigoberto and Larry stood on the edge of the busy street, their groundhog lovingly affixed to a moldy 2’x4″ with strips of a tattered, pink T-shirt. Rigoberto looked slyly at Larry. “Hey Larry,” he began.
“Betcha you can’t throw this here woodchuck onto yonder campus.”
Larry looked appraisingly at the edge of BYU campus, thirty feet from the edge of Rigoberto’s lawn. “Wot’s at stake?”
“Well…” Rigoberto began, “say if ya make it, I’ll give ya, say, two hundred bucks.”
Larry thought for a moment. “And saying I don’t chuck this here varmint all that way?” “Then you gives them $100 to me,” said Rigoberto swarthily, itching his scruffy chin. “Let’s raise it. Make it $135.”
“Cocky, is we?” Rigoberto elbowed Larry knowingly, causing him to almost drop the groundhog squirming under his arm. “But seein’ as $135’s th’ exact entrance fee to become part of th’ Awesome Possum Tossin’ Posse team this summer, y’ got yerself a deal.”

Larry wrapped a couple more fabric strips around the groundhog, which had nearly gnawed itself loose. Wasting no more time, Larry stepped up to the edge of the sidewalk. Rigoberto watched, unconcerned. Larry smiled, and then began yelling. Raw energy burst from his person. As Larry’s hair turned a bleach blond as a ferocious wind screamed out of nowhere Rigoberto knew something had gone horribly wrong… but couldn’t quite place a finger on what had changed. A passing jogger yelled over the gathering storm. “Looks like his power level’s over 9000–” but further wisdom was cut short as he was blown bodily from sight. Rigoberto frowned in contemplation as Larry raised the woodchuck overhead. “KAMEEEEEHAAMMMEEEEHAAAAAAAAA!” The groundhog sailed from Larry’s suddenly Super Saiyan hands across 800 N, easily clearing it and the looming hill behind it. As suddenly as it began, Larry’s glowing being and chiseled musculature faded back to his tattered jeans and potbellied self.

Rigoberto grunted, a glazed-donut stare of defeat creeping over his brown eyes.”See, Larry…I don’ have thems $135.”
Larry picked a piece of lint absentmindedly from his prodigious navel, then another. “Gee, Rigoberto. I seen this stuff corrode steel. It’d be a shame if this here lint ended up somewhere it warn’t wanted…” He began to fiddle with the gas valve to Larry’s prize four-wheeler.
Rigoberto’s eyes widened. “Git yer grubby hands off Sheila! I’ll get ya the money in a couple o’ days.”
“Like heck you will,” said Larry. “Ya got three weeks to get the money to me. After that, yer octane’s gonna be half lint, half funk.” Rigoberto grimaced and looked from Sheila to his beautiful, yellow house. He knew where his heart lay. He’d need to sell it to keep Sheila safe. Yessir, the house would have to go.

THE END? In order to help Rigoberto recoup his financial losses to the villainous, inhumanly strong and smelly Larry I am selling my summer contract at my Monticello-owned house.

(then I said some boring contract things, including:)

No, Larry doesn’t live nearby. Your four-wheeler is safe from his pernicious lint.

Literally so close to BYU campus you could chuck a woodchuck there from your front porch, Super Saiyan or no. 3 minute walk to the Testing Center or Comms building, five minutes from the Chemistry and brand-new Life Science building.”

The Frontier Is Lost Once Again
The Frontier Is Lost Once Again

I sold my contract in two days.

(Gracias, Don Gregorio)

Spontaneity, Part I

This post was originally published as a guest post on my dear friend M.C.’s  superlatively entertaining blog, Tacky Galoshes . Check it out!


Besides being really difficult to spell (right now, before looking at the word again I SAID DON’T LOOK AT IT just pull out your phone and try to spell it right on your first try and see if you got it right. You probably didn’t. If, by chance you did spell it right, then maybe you can teach me how to spell raccooonnn or leupleurydon  or leishmaniasis or perhaps the name of that white, fluffy grain served steamed with Chinese food–is it raiss?

But I digress. Besides being difficult to spell, what is spontaneity?

Imagine you’ve never heard it used to describe a person before when your friend begins telling you about her pal, Wilburforce Jones.

“Oh, Wilburforce is so spontaneous!” 

Spontaneous, you wonder to yourself as your mind dredges up some half-formed memories from your seventh-grade science class. Doesn’t that have something to do with flies and raw meat? Unsure of her meaning, you decide to test the waters further before taking a plunge into the murky lake of conjecture.

“Spontaneous, huh?”
“Yeah, you should have seen him last weekend!” your friend gushes.

“So, um…what did this Wilburforce…do?”

“Haha, well we’d been at a party for a while already, and Wilbur wasn’t there yet, anyways that’s what Hannah said. But then when I went to sit down on the couch he popped out of it and Neil it scared me sooo bad! He’d been waiting in there for a whole half hour!
Processing this information, your Braintionary hurriedly creates the following definition for spontaneous.

Spontaneous Adj. spahn-tae-nee-iss.

1)Of or pertaining to people who live inside upholstered furniture.

Example: As I came to be accepted among the tribe of R.C. Willey I realized them to be an entirely spontaneous people, preferring chesterfields and sectionals but happily occupying ottomans when these are not available.

2)27 gotta go!????????

While you think you understand what spontaneous means, it never hurts to be sure;  you pressure your friend for further information.

“Tell me about another time this  Wilburforce was spahn-tae-nee-iss.”

“Oh! Oh, you’ll love this story,” says your BFF cryptically as she continues. “We were walking in the park when Wilbur sees this big, brown pile of wet leaves, and then he says ‘Katie! Look out behind you!’ and I spin and there’s nothing there and then I hear some rustling somewhere and I turn around but WilburEff’s nowhere to be seen but then I see his red sweater buried in the leaves and Neil he jumped and hid in the pile of leaves!”  Katie suddenly bends over and slumps to the ground, convulsing. You panic for a moment before she takes a long, cackling breath and you remember Katie just laughs in a really, really weird way. “–and I said ‘Wilburforce Chesney-upon-Avon Jones, you get over here this instant!’ and he wouldn’t come out!” Katie manages to gasp out before being overcome again by a fit of what has now become genuinely dangerous laughter.  As you carefully observe her for signs of hypoxia and debate whether you should pull out the supplemental oxygen you always carry in your bag for situations such as this, your  Braintionary updates with additional information.

Spontaneous Adj. spahn-tae-nee-iss.

1)Of or pertaining to people who live inside upholstered furniture.

Example: As I came to be accepted among the tribe of R.C. Willey I realized them to be an entirely spontaneous people, preferring chesterfields and sectionals but  occupying ottomans when these are not available.

2)Characterized by a fear of bright light,  open places and  accompanied  by a compulsion to hide in dark spaces, even to the violation of social norms.

Sometimes when I ride the subway I start feeling really spontaneous and want to do something crazy like hiding under a flimsy bench where a really heavy guy is sitting and singing a song of sixpence and then talking about how scary for the blackbirds it must have been when they were taken out of the pie.

Seizing breath, Katie blurts”–and then Willy says “Hey, I found some worms! Dinner is served!–”


Looking excitedly at the contents of the fridge, Shaniqua exclaimed ‘Looks like another spontaneous dinner!”

“–and tells me he’s going to save some for later to keep in his collection–”

4) Appearing soon on A&E’s Hoarders.

Eyes tearing up with pride, Janice surveyed her bedroom filled with ropes and three-toed sloths. Feeling spontaneous, she draped One-Eyed Edgardo over her shoulders and began to do the Electric Slide just as a knock sounded at the door. Scratching a patch of dirt off the filth-encrusted window with her yellowed fingernails, she squinted a jaundiced eye and wondered from just where so many cameras had arrived. Surely they hadn’t come for–

‘They’re here!’ she screamed, her voice shrill with alarm as she cried out to her mossy brood. I’ll hold them off while you escape out the back!’ Slowly, imperceptibly they began their exodus. She estimated she’d only have to stave off the intruders for a moment, a couple weeks at most.

“Neil?” says Katie, snapping you out of your reverie.


“You are positively one of the least spontaneous people I know.”

And it that moment you know that despite your awkward adolescence you’ve turned out just fine after all.

Ok, you’ve caught me. I didn’t actually say what spontaneity was.  Stay tuned for Spontaneity, Part II!