Proctor, Vermont: Flooded Quarries and Forbidden Castles

April 16, 2021. Proctor, Vermont.
Soundtrack: Wind Rose – Diggy Diggy Hole

Vermont is peopled, not with people, but with quarries. You can’t spit without hitting one, and the rare few that are not still in operation because they, what, ran out of rocks? – have gone on to be repurposed into subterranean ice skating rinks and swimming holes, the use of which are deeply, deeply illegal.

Fortunately, the police are (arguably) people, and you can’t be arrested if there’s no one around to arrest you. Which, there isn’t. The entire state is an arboreal wasteland.

“Beefton!” I said. “Do not leap into the quarry!”

“I tire of this life!” Beefton called back over his rippling, comically oversized deltoid. “The time has come for the next great adventure!

We were shouting because there was some kind of bird going absolutely bananas up along the wall in what had to be the most obnoxious, least effective mating display I’d ever seen. And I spent a good deal of time at the West Chester Landmark.

If anyone knows what this loser bird is, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail. It haunts me to this day.

My attorney approached the ledge again, heaved in a breath, steadied his nerves.

“Farewell, Bastard. Witch. I’ll never forget all you’ve taught me.”

It was at that point he recognized that the quarry was full of water, and he resolved to live another day. Beefton is highly avoidant of swimming, and if a light drizzle wets his fur he goes frothing mad and barrels through the house as fast as his densely packed, efficient little body will go, smashing into every available surface.

There are times I’m thankful he’s more pitbull than labrador, and most of those times are when we’re near a body of water in 40 degree weather. Do you think purebred a chocolate lab would hesitate, for even an instant? There might be ducks in there.

We loaded back into the wagon and resumed our traversal of the woodland wasteland, hoping to find somewhere to eat. In our travels, the universe provided me with a gift to ensure that my conduct was right and in accordance with my destiny.

Astoundingly, the giant gorilla dumbbell shoulder pressing a car was not on Atlas Obscura, but Wilson’s Castle was. Wilson’s Castle was also closed off to the public under penalty of law.

Not very defensible,I decided. Minimal ramparts, no murder holes to speak of. There’s tactical value in the elevation, but you just couldn’t muster a sufficient force of archers on that balcony to deter an invading force. Especially with the ground-level windows!

Disgusted at the misleading designation of this large, butt-ugly house, as well as at the Orwellian hellworld we occupy that forbade me from getting closer to pass still more cutting judgment on its strategic worthlessness, we wheeled the wagon around, returned my legal representation to the humper haunted airbnb, and drifted into Rutland proper, whereupon I learned what risotto is.

It’s this.

Outside the restaurant, I found an excellent mural of a peregrine falcon. Since a fungal encounter with a falcon in the dead of winter in my picaresque early twenties, I take raptors as universal signposts from Athena assuring me that I’m on the right track.

“Okay,” I told her. “I’ll learn a risotto recipe.”

Love,

B.

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I used to work as a BSC. A lot of my job was sitting in the back of classrooms “observing the problematic behavior” of my clients, but that only worked when they were being problematic. This kid was a little demon, but he would shut up during story time, and that’s where I first had a chapter of The One and Only Ivan read aloud to me by a kindly but exasperated secondary educator.

I put it on my to-read list, then forgot about it for a couple years, because it’s a YA book (being generous) and I don’t read YA. I was born old, and crotchety. I started into my father’s Stephen King collection when I was in 2nd grade, and to regress to whatever iteration of Harry Potter knockoff is currently sucking the attention of the near-literate would be detrimental to both mind and dignity.

“Don’t be such a fucker,” you might be saying. “It wouldn’t kill you to read YA once in a while.”

It wouldn’t kill me to eat Gerber Strained Peas for dinner once in a while either, but I wouldn’t hit my macros.

Animorphs was my stepping stone between Goosebumps and terrible, pulpy adult video game novels, like the abysmal Doom novels (in every sense of the word), and the Magic the Gathering novels that shared nothing in common with the card game, except that they both occasionally referred to wizards. I was voracious with the Animorphs series, and listed K.A. Applegate as my favorite author on more than a few grim late 90s/early 2000s internet forums, each undoubtedly devoted to one of the four franchises mentioned earlier in this paragraph.

I just sat down and read this book in one sitting, cover to cover. It took me two hours. I cried, openly and like a bitch, no fewer than three times.

The story’s about a gorilla named either Ivan or Mud, depending. His family is killed by poachers and the infant gorilla is sold off to some sleazy mall manager, who tries to raise him like they did to Caesar in the remake of Planet of the Apes. It works because Ivan is far too traumatized to develop a rebellious streak. Eventually, his owner tucks him away in a glass cubicle in his dead mall and charges people to gawk at him and an elderly elephant with an infected foot that never gets treatment.

The book focuses on Ivan’s understanding of himself, his limited grasp of “civilization”, and his avoidance of remembering the joy of his childhood because of the pain it would inevitably bring. It’s driven by the relationships with the wise, sick old elephant Stella and a feral dog named Bob who plays the role of Diogenes. I’m 90% sure that in the first draft, Bob was a rat, and Applegate changed it in order to sew up a happy ending for everyone. Feral rats are rarely adopted.

The mall owner, Mack, becomes an increasingly jaded alcoholic and flirts with animal abuse, though it never shows up. Children’s book, remember.

It really starts to grind up the ol’ heart meats when Mack buys a baby elephant named Rosie, whom Stella begins to raise as her own, for as long as she could. It’s a book about learned helplessness, about the isolation and gradual dying of the soul that comes with captivity, acceptance, complacency. It’s about the horrific ways humans mistreat animals, but also the kindnesses that we can do, however infrequently.

On the surface, that’s what it’s about. But under that, it’s about freedom and security. Ivan liked laying on his pillows in his cute little pajamas, being hand-fed orange soda and watching cartoons on TV, but late at night, the snatches of dreams he remembered were about the jungle, and the wind in his fur, playing with his sister, picking ripe fruit from the trees and weaving himself a nest to sleep in.

And I think that’s true of all of us.

Five stars. Read the book. Absolutely crushing.



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Book Review: What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Fisher-Price My First Neuroscience book. Somebody should have stopped him from publishing the introduction, it was so awkward that I almost stopped reading the book.

If you make it through that, it’s a primer on neuroscience and cognitive psych, citing the usual bunch of studies you would have learned about in a Psych 101 gen ed. The gorilla basketball experiment, the marshmallow one, monkeys creating a token economy, you know the drill.

The science was sturdy and the takeaway is that our brains are organized to prefer short-term benefits over the long-term promise of benefits due to an innate understanding of uncertainty, which served us fine living in the caves, but doesn’t fly as well trading crypto.







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Book Review: Ishmael

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (Ishmael, #1)Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hugely condescending gorilla bullies the narrator about his affiliation with civilized society and the mythology perpetuated by agriculture.

The titular Ishmael puts out an ad in a newspaper encouraging starry-eyed idealists who want to save the world to come to his darkened office, whereupon he talks down to them both for the ongoing ecocide of their species and their mistreatment of the Jews.

The narrator is a monke masochist and eagerly returns day after day to receive another telepathic lambasting from a pompous gorilla who, we are repeatedly assured, smells “meaty”.

Ishmael tells him that every society has a creation myth, and humanity’s prevailing myth of evolution, while correct, is organized so that creation is complete with the coming of man. Man is the reason for the creation, the world is man’s to conquer, and these are the reasons man is such an absolute asshole to ecology in general.

That’s the Takers mentality, or the people who opted in to the agricultural revolution and all the grody little kinks to our individual and collective psychology it brought with it. The Leavers are the isolated bands of humans who opted to keep living in accordance with nature, and they’re doing just peachy keen, as they had been for 2 million years. At least, they were peachy keen, until the Takers’ unrelenting destructive grabassery threatened (and continues to threaten) an extinction-level event.

There was a cool little Biblical analogy spun in there, where the story of Genesis is an allegory written by the Semites (Leavers, nomadic herders) and co-opted by the Caucasians (Takers, agriculturalists from the fertile crescent. Don’t be alarmed, this is before Caucasian was synonymous with white) after the smoke cleared.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the belief that the eater can distinguish exactly that, which was otherwise left up to the gods. When the first farmers started stockpiling grain, they were no longer at the mercy of the fates. They knew what was right. Their way was right, and anybody who disagreed was in for a good old fashioned reckoning.

Like any good fledgling empire, they expanded recklessly. They ran across the Semites, ancestors of the Hebrews, who were pastoralists, and they started killing them because they needed the land. The Semites, as you can imagine, were baffled.

This brings us to Cain and Able. Able represents the Semites, favored of God, his very chosen people, and Cain represents his murderer, the increasingly militarizing Caucasians, decidedly not their brother’s keeper for the first time in recorded history. And guess what that makes the mark of Cain?

The gorilla teaches the narrator that every civilization before us has crashed and burned, empires keep turning to ash, and we’re next in line, with the added bonus of destroying most of the environment.

“What do we do?” pleads the narrator.
“Knock it off,” says his instructor.
“How?”
“Destroy industrialized society and go camping again.”
“No,” says the narrator, “I mean what do I do, personally?”
“Teach 100 people.”

Cop out! Raise awareness? Come on, Ishmael. Nut up and advocate ecoterrorism. We’re all thinking it.

In the end of the book, Ishmael dies of pneumonia before the narrator can rescue him from the carnival sideshow. This was the masterstroke, in my opinion, because he didn’t need to die. When the narrator offered to help him, he insisted he wouldn’t live “off anyone’s largesse”. He didn’t even tell the narrator that he was sick.

He was trying to ignore it. He was too proud to change what he was doing, too proud to reach out for help, and it wound up killing him.

The same way we’re killing the world.

Hooooo, don’t it just give you chills? Five monke out of five.

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