Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Orange Door

Today, we continue down the frightening path first traveled by our intrepid Creature Feature Writer of the Stoughton Press. 

Doing my due diligence for our readers, this reporter attempted to trace the relationship between fairies and the autumnal equinox, but nothing seemed to fit. Fairies are simply not regarded as creatures of the autumn. Some claimed they migrated south for the winter, but others were certain they hibernated nearby. I knew better. They were out there, waiting for me. Looking back, I now realize they were never far. With frayed nerves, I donned comfortable boots and a leather coat in an absurd attempt to keep malicious spells at bay.

I endeavored to retrace the tangled path laid down by Leaf all those weeks ago, but I quickly lost my way, and I suspected I wasn’t alone. A mushroom winked on to my right. Then another a few yards up the path. I did my best to ignore the fairies rising like fireflies from the forest floor, but it wasn’t easy. Afraid to look back, I sensed mischief as the fairies continued to swarm, pushing me forward, silent but for the buzz of their wings. 

Leaf stepped from behind a maple, its leaves ignited by the multi-hued swarm behind me. “There are many sides to a legend, human,” she said. “Blaze insists you know hers.” A tiny sun lifted from an oddly pungent wild rose. Behind the white fairy, the portal tree pierced the quarter moon, a tree so massive it would have taken a dozen men to encircle its base.

I moved closer as the swarm settled in the shrubbery, their tiny wings humming with distrust. “The trolls are children, fools living in ignorance and denial, and the dragons are little more than animals.” Blaze lifted her chin, and I noticed Leaf stiffen. 

“Careful, Blaze. You had need of the dragons once, and you may again.” The fairy snorted, but Leaf continued. “You didn’t sniff at the dragons when you needed their help.” 

Blaze crossed her arms and looked away.

I heard a snap followed by crashing through the canopy of the towering tree, and I stepped back, raising my arm against whatever had grown tired of the pompous fairy as an object slammed into the ground at my feet. 

Leaf approached it and looked up. “The tree has chosen you. I knew it would, although I must admit, I hesitate to believe it.” 

I tapped the glistening plum with my boot. “Chosen—for what?” Blaze flared, shining her light on the base of the tree. It didn’t look like any plum tree I had ever seen, but it all made sense now. Slowly, my eyes adjusted to the fairy’s intense flare and a shape began to appear in the deep moss shrouding the bark. Indistinct at first, an iron ring, like that on a medieval castle protruded from an orange door that glowed like a sunset even as Blaze dimmed her internal fire. 

“The tree chose you for this journey.” Leaf smiled up at me as the door began to open. Under the golden light streaming through her auburn hair, Leaf looked every bit a fairy, but she bore no wings. 

The reporter in me clawed to the surface, smothering my instincts to run. “Is it dangerous?” 

Leaf beckoned me to my knees before the squat door. “All journeys worth taking are dangerous, human.” 

The harsh squawk of bickering gulls echoed down the portal as I crawled forward to peer down the passage.

Suddenly, a scream—part panther, part something—other, curled my toes. “Dragons?” I prayed I was wrong, but Leaf brushed a bead of perspiration from my cheek. 

“Oh, yes. One very special dragon.” 

Fear seeped in at the edges of my adventurous spirit. “I—I have a deadline. People are waiting for this story.” 

Blaze buzzed closer as the moon dove under a blanket of clouds. “The signs are fading, human. We must hurry.” 

I looked over my shoulder at the black night, and made up my mind. Pulling a pad from my pocket, I scribbled this report. I now leave it the clutches of the swarm, but I have no way of knowing if it will be delivered. If I don’t return, know that I chose to go, but if I do, imagine the story I’ll come back with for I am Rebecca Porter, Creature Feature Writer. 

Originally published in the Stoughton Press Autumn 2015

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Early Winter Walk

I know. The calendar says it's still autumn, but this far north, winter is underway. Still, I shouldn't complain. The storms that have been raging throughout much of the western half and upper plains of the United States, have swung around us. We were hit with 8 inches a few days back, but it melted quickly, leaving the extra moisture to spread green though out the grasses and moss species of the region. I decided to take advantage of things and got out there with my camera. 
Why don't you come along?

It may have been a nice day, but winter was certainly licking at the edges of forest.

But it wasn't hard to find patches of brilliant green moss, resilient in the face of the bitter cold.

I can always count on the forest fungi to add a splash of color. I like to think of the middle photo as a nasty set of green teeth, and this one as snow dripping from delicate cups of fungus.
I call this photo Fuzzy Rock. It's coated with a soft fringe of algae at the edge of the river. It waved and dipped with the current, and I had a difficulty looking away. 

Seed heads are some of my favorite photo opportunities in the winter woods. 

Of course, I wasn't alone. Never. Never Alone in the Forest.

At the end of my journey, I wished this oak a silent slumber. Winter is a time of rebirth as those seeds fall to the ground and begin their migration deep into the soil with the the cycles of freeze and thaw. Even in slumber, the forest never rests. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Shattered Bones, Beautiful Legacy

While out admiring the leaves this week, I stumbled on this amazing structure. I know some of you are looking at this "wreck" and thinking A. Sad B. Ruin C. Tear it Down or D. All of the Above, but I see a shattered beauty that gave her all for her family. 

Look at her. Against all odds, she still stands. She won't forever, but I have a wonderful story to share with you. 

I pulled to the side of the rural road outside my hometown and slung my camera across my shoulder. Snapping away, I pulled the camera from my eye to find a man walking toward me. Startled, I remembered to smile and say hello. "She's a beauty," I told him. 

"Yep. I learned to milk a cow by hand in Grandpa's barn." He obviously loved this barn. "I offered to pay for a new roof years ago, but Dad said no. It wasn't worth it, but now I wish I had pushed harder." His eyes twinkled. 

"You want to know what I see when I look at her?" I asked. "I see crisp, early mornings of your family warming their hands in the breath of a cow. I see hot summer afternoons, rushing to finish the milking before showering and heading out on your first date. I see art that can't be purchased. It must been nurtured, slowly."

He looked away. "I get people stopping here all the time. They all want to take a piece. You can't imagine how many people think of this as their barn."

"I'm not one of those people. I would never muddy your sacred space, but I want to take its image with me, to cherish when one day it's gone."

He nodded, and I snapped another photo. 

"How old is it?" I asked.

"Grandpa built it in 1941."

That seemed young to me, but he continued. 

"He couldn't get his hands on all the steel he needed. The war, you know. It had to come first. If they had only had more rebar, the foundation wouldn't have given out. The rock part of the foundation is still standing strong, but the cement crumbled, and well ... "

The hair on my arm stood up. I knew that if it had been built at any other time, a time without the rationing of World War II, it would still be standing strong. This man's grandfather gave to the war in an invisible way. "I sensed it was special, but thank you for sharing that with me. It's an incredible story." I took one more photo and said goodbye. I hope it wasn't for the last time. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Blaze of Glory

I'm human, although I often wish I wasn't. Can't you see me as a dragon? Back away from the flame, Rebecca. Anyway, Autumn in Wisconsin is glorious this year, but it always a reminder of the deep freeze to come. (I'm so not looking forward to winter) However, this year autumn has been spectacular. 

Some year, the gush of golden glory comes and goes in a single week, but 2015 has seen a protracted autumn. I can't stop driving around to ogle.  

It's not all about the trees. It's often the details that catch my eye. 

There's symmetry in a milkweed pod that is there ... if you look for it. 

But my favorites are trees that slowly start one color only to soften into something darker, richer, more ... autumnal. 

Enjoy the season wherever you live. Here in Wisconsin the sweet smell of summer flowers is already a distant memory, but I'm relishing the final fireworks before the world turns gray and white. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fairy Activity Escalates

 Reports of fairy activity continued to flare in and around the city throughout the spring and early summer. While some city leaders privately acknowledge unexplained events, none is willing to go public with their suspicions, but this reporter remains convinced the fairy activity will continue unabated. Research has shown fairies are egotistical beings who seek attention both good and bad. Once an infestation takes hold, little can be done.

Thus far, the Stoughton Press has confirmed three cases of fairy mischief.  First, a stroller temporarily abandoned on Main Street, was recovered overflowing with violets and dandelions. Next, a kitten escaped her owner only to return with her coat covered in what has been determined to be the pollen from a distant relative of the plum tree, one never seen before. In response, botanists are scouring the area to find the tree.  Finally, and most disturbing to this reporter, the fairies have once again made contact. 

Arriving at the office early on the morning of August 1st, I was dismayed to find the tattered remains of the previous day’s donuts next to my desk. While donuts formerly drew me like catnip, they no longer tantalize. Something I attribute to Oton’s gluttonous habits. The donuts had to go, but as I reached for the box, my fingers stiffened. Tiny footprints swirled through the powdered sugar and orbited the colorful sprinkles. Too tiny for troll prints, it could mean only one thing. Fairies had invaded the office.  With growing unease, I followed the footprints to my laptop and reached for my mouse. I was unsurprised to find it smeared with tiny, chocolate hand prints.

Be at the portal tree when the summer fades into autumn. Come alone if you want to learn the truth.
The words stared out at me, daring me to close the document, but I couldn’t do it. My reporter senses floated to the surface although my inner child cowered in a hidden corner. I pressed print and locked the office door before I began researching the autumnal equinox, a mere 53 days away. Exhaustive research failed to uncover reliable references to any tree that could be termed a portal, but I have alternative resources.

After parking my car behind a stand of sumac, I started down the path. Upon rounding the first bend, my attention fell on strange mushrooms. With a hobbyist’s knowledge of the woods, I had never seen anything like them. In various forms and even more colors, they seemed to glow from within, but as I approached, the light faded. Luckily, I was able to snap these photos before they went dark.

The winking mushrooms grew sparse then dwindled away before I entered the village. The trolls remain cautious, but they have grown comfortable in my presence although I feel like a lumbering giant among the ankle high trolls. I located Oton and pulled him away. Being troll, Oton has no interest in human scribbles so I read the message to him. His eyes soared across the valley. “You know where it is, don’t you.” He looked over his shoulder. “Yes, but it’s not my secret to share.” I followed his gaze to the even smaller trolless they call Leaf. “Will she tell me?” Oton shrugged, but Leaf dipped her chin and began walking. I followed her through the night, her long auburn hair swaying with each step. I knew we were going in circles, but the tiny trolless never looked back until we skirted an abandoned farmhouse. Finally, Leaf stopped and pointed to a massive tree. “You can’t tell anyone. It’s not safe.” A shiver slithered up my spine. “I’m not sure I can find it again,” I said. “You will, when the time comes. The fairies will make certain you find your way.”

While this reporter prepares to embark on a career making—or breaking—assignment city residents are advised to remain calm as the fairies have shown no sign of real aggression, but things could get interesting at 3:22am on Wednesday, September 23rd

Originally appeared in the Fall edition of the Stoughton Press

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Lovely but TOXIC!
I'm currently suffering a period of forced relaxation. I have so many projects beckoning, calling out for  my attention, but I'm not getting to any of them. In fact, this post is my way of trying to focus if only for a few minutes. 

One week ago, I was working on the land my family is converting to a songbird and pollinator haven. It's a lot of work to free farm land, but it was something my father started in the mid 1980's. He's gone now, but we continue his quest. The work is hands-on, get-in-there and get-dirty-type-of-stuff, and with the temperatures expected to top 90 with humidity to match, I was dumb--so dumb. I wore shorts. 

There's a non-native plant that originated in Eurasia that is taking over  the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin, all of Wisconsin in fact. This plant grows in two stages. Year one, it's relatively small and innocent looking. But year two, it soars to five feet and sprouts a showy head of flowers with hundreds of seeds. 
Wild parsnip. 

I was well aware that it is a poisonous plant, and I was also aware that it was growing on the land, but I thought it was mostly contained in a well defined area as it has been for the last few years. Not so much anymore. It was everywhere. But I was dumb. I didn't understand how wicked this stuff is, but I know now.

Wild parsnip leaves, stems and flowers are all oily and if that oil gets on your skin, you feel nothing, but add UV light, the stuff that causes sunburns even on cloudy days, you get instant sunburn quickly followed by second degree burns. Second degree burns involve the destruction of the skin layer. The oil literally explodes skin cells when mixed with light! 
Not my legs, but they look similar.

I tried to avoid it, but based on the burn pattern on my legs, I apparently knelt in a patch. The burn showed up the next morning. The next morning, I could barely walk. A trip to the doctor and I'm on oral steroids and chronically checking for signs of infection. As the blisters pop, the pain is exquisite. My legs are swathed in leggings in an attempt to provide a second skin to my traumatized legs. It's nearly impossible to focus. 

I'll get better. Eventually. But it occurred to me that this is a sign. Book three, the final chapters in the Legends of the Aurora trilogy, centers around an amazing garden, a Primordial Garden tended by an Elemental. Here's where the sign comes in. The working title of book three is Garden of Betrayal. While this garden is sublime, it hides infinite traps. Seems like a perfect place to plant a vicious wild parsnip. So while I may morph the plant into some other form, the horrific effects of this torture will make an appearance in the Garden of Betrayal

I will have my revenge through words.

Sunday, July 26, 2015