I awoke with a start. I had fallen asleep slumped against my favorite leaning poplar a ten-minute walk from the house. I was most certainly not exactly there now. I had nodded off on a warm summer afternoon, but now I was immersed in a cool but pleasant darkness, and more floating than lying against anything at all.
The half-familiar smell of being in a cave — or the dank, moist, earthy and energizing smell of a rainstorm — was intense; it came from every side of me, though I truly could not have told you — or cared at that moment — which way was up. My eyes waited for a glimmer. Maybe I’d slept into darkness under a passing shower. I was just groggy. Right?
I wasn’t afraid, exactly, but I confess some discomfort in not knowing: if I was dead; or in a coma maybe; or had I been transported across a divide into a place so utterly unfamiliar that I might never regain my bearings? Maybe I had gone mad.
I tried to stand, and somehow in the pitch-darkness had the sense that I became vertical, but I recall the odd sense of nothing under my feet — no pressure against my soles, no feeling of gravity whatsoever on my joints. Where ever I was, I was buoyant, weightless, a feather floating in… in what, I could not tell.
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Against the same smudged window out of which the Gollum gazed, a pedestaled two-dimensional mummified cat cast a terrible silhouette against the gray sky beyond.
Was this a totem to ward off cat-kind, or a monument to celebrate them–in a most peculiar and macabre fashion? The prominent display of this flattened fauna appeared almost like a work of art.
But wait! As I turned with no small apprehension to take my leave of this inexplicable place, it flashed before me that this whole compound may have no other portent or purpose than to say “Look at this and marvel!” Could it be a kind of gallery? But by whom?
I made my way, best I could, back down the mountain approximately along the path that had brought me to this place. And I had not gone a fraction of a mile before I came upon a message–a crudely penned parchment tied to a tree with a length of honeysuckle vine, still fresh and green. It read:
“To him what has come here: take care that you find your way home, and in so doing, find your way back. You’ll not see nowhere else the likes of these wonders I set out for ye.”
And in bold letters, the wizard signed his name and title:
Sir Ernest, the Supreme Bryant of all of Lick Ridge. And he added a PS: “come again and bring any what would fancy my curiosities such as ye have.”
And so I will.
Yes, I’ve been telling you a whopper of a tale, but it was the way I took in neighbor-artist Ernest Bryant’s wonderful assortment of craft, whimsy and tangible daydreams. There was a story there!
Read the four parts in order:
I don’t know what I intended from my walk up the steep ridge behind the house. It was so foggy when I set out that I almost turned around right away for fear of quickly becoming lost. But something drew me higher, farther and farther from any familiar landmark in these woods I thought I … Continue reading Strangeness on the Moors
I was not at ease exploring whatever it was that I had stumbled upon, and yet I could not just slip back into the woods without allowing my curiosity a closer look. Here is one close-up lignified creature that I almost expected to begin moving towards me–a wooden slug with waggling antennae–just one in this … Continue reading Not Long About It
So as I told you, I had come through the fog, up the mountain, into the clearing populated by a grove of gargoyles, posing as if so many dozen trees had bared their bottoms in a manner both threatening and somehow playful and liberating. As I might have confessed, I was tempted to run straightway back … Continue reading The Wizard’s Shop
Against the same smudged window out of which the Gollum gazed, a pedestaled two-dimensional mummified cat cast a terrible silhouette against the gray sky beyond.Was this a totem to ward off cat-kind, or a monument to celebrate them–in a most peculiar and macabre fashion? The prominent display of this flattened fauna appeared almost like a … Continue reading And I Live to Tell
I don’t know what I intended from my walk up the steep ridge behind the house. It was so foggy when I set out that I almost turned around right away for fear of quickly becoming lost.
But something drew me higher, farther and farther from any familiar landmark in these woods I thought I knew well, the more strange and disorienting for the thick whiteness in every direction. Up was, at least, still up. I would eventually reach the crest.
Eventually, after hours and I don’t know how many miles later and hundreds feet higher than the house, the forest gave way to an open glade. The sun by then had burned away most of the mist and shredded the wet haze to occasional gossamer wisps.
I found myself walking cautiously into an opening where it was clear I was not the first to go. I had the notion that there must have been moonlit evenings when many gathered in that place–for what unimaginable revelry or devilry? I am at a loss to explain the wizened totem-trunks and roots, many of them dragon or gargoyle-shaped, tentacled and clawed, leering- menacing or playful- whimsical, their shapes shifting with the light as I walked past.
But there’s more. Tomorrow.
For two decades far back in the last millennium, climate chaos resulted in increasingly violent and increasingly wide tornados. The scale that had once measured storm intensity had to be revised by an order of magnitude in order to measure and grade these storms that passed year after year along the same 12-state corridor of what once was the “mid-western and southeastern states” before the Great Decline.
The ravaged storm boulevard that had once been called “tornado alley” according to the surviving ancient documents was finally abandoned for human settlement entirely.
The Abandoned Land was scoured by superstorms of almost all remnants man-made dwellings, and the law forbad rebuilding there. The landscape reverted to visiting species that could come in during the relatively calm late fall for the scant seeds and nuts the stunted trees produced, then hastily leave ahead of 8 month long unrelenting roiling storms that came predictably as early as February.
There had once been a system of migration paths across the former US upon which the residents passed in wheeled vehicles powered almost entirely by ancient carbon in liquid form. Along those surfaced pathways, now overgrown and invisible, remain a few series of these monoliths of steel as pictured here, at intervals of a few to many miles.
Their purpose is not entirely clear, although they are believed to have been totems marking the domains of resident tribes some believe were called the McDonalds and the Hardees. The towering markers–an unbelievable extravagance in use of metals now so scarce– were obviously of great importance, built to be visible for miles by those of alien tribes, and designed to last as long as the culture that produced them. (A few of these surviving totems have been illegally toppled and sold at great price for the tons of precious iron they contain.)
Unfortunately, none of the McDonalds seem to have survived out of the Abandoned Land. To this day, a few of their tribal totems are all that remain of a once wide-ranging if not great civilization. The last of these metal monoliths is predicted finally to rust and crumble within the next several decades.