The Cottonwood on the Corner

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The old cottonwood tree on the Aldrich farm corner has been there for as long as I can remember.  It was there when I was a small boy visiting Grandpa Aldrich’s farm.  It is still there 55 years later as I visit Mom and Dad who are still living on the farm.  A lot has changed.  Time has passed.  It is a different decade, a different century, a different millennium.

The old tree is like an anchor in time.  I can come home and look at it and be taken back in time.  I know that tree.  And he knows me.

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That isn’t true of all of the trees on the farm.

 

 

 

 

This pine by the house is tree who is younger than me.  I can remember when it was planted.  It was not so very many years ago.

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This gnarled old tree in the grove may be about the same age as I am.  I remember it when both it and I were small and we played together in the grove.  I was Tarzan, Jungle Jim, and the Lone Ranger.  It was the post I leaned on in my secret lookout post.  Back then my hand went most of the way around the trunk.

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It is good to come home to a place where you know the trees personally.  You can revisit old haunts, see old friends and acquaintances, and walk along gravel roads in a place where there is little traffic and no smog.

So I came back to Iowa to visit a tree.  Well, the farm place and aging parents too.

 

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The Terribly Icky Car Trip

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The Iowa Landscape in late, late afternoon… or possibly evening.

We made it to Iowa.  But only after a long, hard, impossibly-icky travel day.  More than 700 miles were covered in only fifteen-plus hours.  With no real breaks for meals because restaurants will not look kindly on bringing the family dog into the dining room.  Especially our dog, who will kill for people food, and even threaten small children if she thinks they might pull her ears and also look tasty enough.  Traveling with an insane dog is never easy.

And the way was unusually challenging.  We normally travel up Interstate 35 because it goes from the North Dallas suburbs where we live to within a few miles of the family farm where my parents still live.   It is a good route because it is very travel-friendly with numerous places to stop and a 70-plus miles per hour speed limit to make the trip faster.

But first, we had to pass through Oklahoma.  And unfortunately that means Okie drivers.  Especially the super-speed Bubba trucks (Chevy pickups with a rebel flag in the back window and more often red than any other saner vehicle color), ultra-super-speed oil-money Wasp-rockets (BMW’s, Rolls Royces, Italian sports  cars of high-dollar varieties),  and the most dangerous, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (because I have a Texas license plate, that is.  They never seem to be a problem for the first two groups on this list.  Do other people in the world do racial profiling against Texans in general?  They probably should.)

And, apparently every bridge, over-pass, and under-pass on Interstate 35 has to be repaired, inducing a lowered speed limit that also apparently doesn’t apply to Okie drivers.  And the powers that decide things for highways went with the northbound lanes first so they could save the southbound  side for my eventual return trip.  I got honked at, headlight flashed at, and endured several Okie drivers using one of their fingers to brag at me about their current I.Q. (I won’t mention which single finger they all use for that).  They heaped this scorn on me for daring to go no faster than the posted speed limit.  I mean, there are road signs in Oklahoma that tell you it is against the law not read and obey all road signs.  And fines are doubled, if not quadrupled, in work zones.  But the laws against not reading probably don’t apply to those who naturally can’t read.

And I ran into trouble with Kansas City rush hour.  Which, of course, travels in the opposite of a rush.  And while we were sitting and waiting in the middle of the rush, my little car’s engine overheated.  So I had to turn the heater on high and aim the dashboard vents out the rolled-down windows to prevent the car’s engine control chip from shutting the engine off to cool down in the middle of the stationary rush.  The heat made the dog even more insane.

And when we finally got to Iowa just before dark, we may have been kidnapped by aliens.  Time, it seems, completely went missing  in southern Iowa, making the trip last even longer.  I may actually have captured the reason for that.  I took a few pictures with my phone camera on top of the steering wheel, which probably isn’t a safe thing to do, but I wasn’t in Oklahoma at the time.  So decide for yourself if this is significant, or just marsh gas.

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Stardusters… Canto 51

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Canto Fifty-One – On the Operations Deck of the Star Ship Bone Head

The forty-two Galtorrian soldiers stood at parade rest.  Tedhkruhz in his ghastly purple robes stood quietly watching as two more soldiers led Farbick, Starbright, Stabharh, and Bahbahr out into the operations deck in manacles.

“Ah, Bahbahr, my friend, we meet again… but for the last time,” said Tedhkruhz in an oily voice that was so oily you could lubricate six Earther car engines with the vowels alone.

“You have won…  I don’t deny it,” said a defeated Bahbahr with tears still rolling down his fat cheeks.

“Yes.  I have won.  And as the victor, it is my privilege to execute you now.”

Bahbahr hung his fat head and cried more freely.

“You know, it is my prerogative as his security chief,” said Stabharh, “to be executed before my master.”

“Oh, yes.  We will be quite happy to oblige,” said Tedhkruhz while swinging the gun around to point at Stabharh.

“Wait a minute,” said Stabharh.  “It is my prerogative.  Doesn’t that mean that I can also choose to not be executed first?”

“Well, now, maybe you have a point there, Stabharh,” said Tedhkruhz, leaking more oil out of his corrupted personality.  “What do you think men?  Do we let the security lizard make that particularly disloyal sort of choice?”

“Of course not, sir,” replied a junior officer.  “Execute him first.”

“Even though Stabharh is scrawny with far less meat on his bones?” wheedled Tedhkruhz.  “Remember, Bahbahr alone has enough bulk to feed us all for a few days before we have to kill and eat anybody else.”

“Okay, Farbick, help me out here,” said Stabharh.  “Surely there is something in all of that which you can use to start something brewing.”

Farbick was surprised.  Stabharh was throwing the figurative basketball to him now?  What did the lizard man expect him to do?  Talk the oily Grandpa Munster-lizard into killing himself?

“I, uh…”

“Surely you can point out to these warriors that Tedhkruhz once had a crew of hundreds aboard his flag ship, the Bone Head.  And then you could ask them what happened to all the rest?  Why are there only forty-four of them left?”

“Yes, what did happen to all the rest?” asked Farbick nervously.

“Some of them died in battle…” said a young warrior.

“And we ate them after they died,” said another lizard warrior.

“And we ate some of the rest because we were starving,” said a third.

“But who picked the ones to be eaten?” asked Farbick, beginning to form a plan.  “Did they volunteer?”

“Of course not,” answered another lizard-warrior.  “Tedhkruhz always selected them.”

The Senator’s dimpled smile had disappeared completely.  He grabbed a warrior’s weapon and fired a shot directly into Bahbahr’s head.  “I truly believe that that is enough thinking for one day.  You troopers do not want to tax your brains over-much.   Look at all the meat we now have.”

“Let’s cook him immediately,” said a lizard-warrior in an ugly hat that Farbick assumed must be a cook’s hat.

“Yes, let’s,” said Tedhkruhz, smiling again.  “And put the three prisoners back in the pit until the meat runs out.  No sense in letting anything spoil before we get to it.”

The lizard warriors dragged the no-longer blubbering mound of carcass that had been Bahbahr away.  He was obviously headed to the cook pots.

“That didn’t go like I thought,” said Stabharh to Farbick as the soldiers grabbed the manacles of all three prisoners.

“What were you actually thinking?” asked Farbick.  But before the small lizard-man could answer, Farbick noticed Tedhkruhz looking at him.  The Grandpa Munster grin was definitely gone.  And was that a look of fear in his eyes?  Fear as he looked at Farbick?

*****

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Away to Ioway

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Yes, I probably won’t be using this road to get there.  This one is north of the family farm and I will be coming from the south.  But, it is time to head home again to the Land Where the Tall Corn Grows.  My parents are aging.  My sister will be visiting there too.  I need to spend some of my retirement time in the place where I was born and raised.

The Road Home

I am much more likely to take this road, US Highway 3, that takes us from Interstate 35 to Rowan, Iowa.  The town is over the hill in the blue distance.

Travelling is the reason for today’s short post.  We are going to try to make the long journey from Texas to Iowa in a day.  We’ve done it many times before.

So, wish me smooth sailing.  I know I am probably going by car, but it is cool to imagine taking one of the airships from our D & D game.

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Silly Sunday Stuff

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I made a choice, long about 1980 or so.  And I have not regretted that choice.  I became a teacher instead of the writer/artist I thought I wanted to be.  And the more I look back on it now, if I had gone the writer route back then, I could’ve eventually become an author like Terry Brooks who wrote the Shannara books.  I might’ve even been as good as R.A. Salvatore whose fantasy adventure stories have reached the best seller list.  Back then, in the 1980’s I could’ve eventually broke into the business and been successful.  Even as late as when Frank McCourt broke onto the literary scene with his memoir, Angela’s Ashes in 1996, I might’ve been able to transition from teacher to writer the way he did.  But I chose to keep going with a teaching career that enthralled me.

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Publishing and the literary scene is changing now.  And it is no longer possible for someone like me to break into the big time.  I am an author who has come aboard a sinking ship.

But I have stories to tell.  They have lived inside me for more than thirty years.  And I am scrambling now to get them told before my crappy old body completely betrays me and makes the chance go away.  I will get them told… even if no one ever listens.

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And there are some advantages to doing it the way I have done it.  It is, and always has been, about the people in my life.  My wife, my children, my students, my co-workers, my cousins by the dozens, my little town in Iowa…  they are the people in my stories.  My stories are true to life, even if they have werewolves and fairies and living gingerbread men and nudists in them.  I live in a cartoon world of metaphor and surrealism, after all.  I would not have had the depth of character-understanding in my stories without my experiences as a teacher.  And I really don’t have to worry about the whole marketing thing any more.  I am not on that treadmill.  I do not have to be aware of what the market is looking for.  If my writing ever turns a profit, I won’t live long enough to see it anyway.  And that has never been what it is all about.

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I can do anything I please with my stories.  They belong to me.  I do not owe the world anything.  What I give you now in this blog and in my books, is given for love, not profit.  I can even write a pointless blog post about Sunday blather and illustrate it with Tintin drawings by Herge. And you can’t stop me.  And, hopefully… you don’t even want to.

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Eberron

When you play Dungeons and Dragons the way we constantly do, it helps to have an over-all campaign, a world created by gifted imaginers to play in and use as the setting for all our adventures.

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There are good published campaign worlds to choose from.  We chose the Eberron world because it was so thoroughly magical and and steam-punk in nature and artwork.

This is a world where magic and alchemy have taken the place of science in the world’s technology.  Instead of airplanes, the magic-technicians known as magewrights in Eberron bind the living air and fire elementals to their ships and use elemental magic to fly.

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Even robot-like constructs called warforged are built by magewrights to become, not only warriors to fill out armies, but sentient individuals with personalities and complex problems and emotions.  Book in the illustration above is a warforged wizard.  Book is his name.  Warforged are very simple artificial people… but also complicated.  They name themselves after weapons, armor parts, and random things.

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A campaign world provides places and non-player characters to interact with.  As well as monsters to kill and exotic locations to kill them in.  Eberron has its unique peoples, like Shifters.  Shifters are a race of people who are the result of humans loving lycanthropes… you know, werewolves and weretigers and weresharks and other were-things.

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Our family game got involved from adventure number one with the secret service of the Kingdom of Breland, the Dark Lanterns, so Breland and it’s cities became something of a home base.

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The city known as Sharn, City of Towers, became a particularly fascinating home base.  The Broken Anvil Inn in the mid-reaches of Dura became a sometimes place to live and alwaystimes place to drink liquor and recruit weird friends.  And this is a vast city with a cluster of mile-high towers and a population of various peoples and monsters from throughout the continent of Khorvaire.

So if you have been reading any of my Saturday D & D posts, and found the place names confusing and hard to remember, now you have this post to read and confuse you even more thoroughly.  How do I, as dungeon master, keep it all straight?  I don’t.  I bought the books and I am constantly looking stuff up.  In fact, I often assign number one son the Player’s Handbook for Eberron to look up that stuff, number two son gets the Campaign Guide to look stuff up in, and the Princess handles the Monster Manuals.  (Really, I have spent a ton of pennies on the books and have too many to juggle them all myself.)

So we play the game in a world called Eberron and share the fantasies and stories of world where magic is science and science is magic.

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Why Do You Think That? Part 4

I had to think long and hard about this.  I don’t know how to go about it because I myself am really the opposite of a nudist or a naturist.  I cover up parts of me in public that most people don’t because of psoriasis and unsightly sores on my arms, hands, neck, and jawline.  But I used to know naturists.  I have walked among them, even though I was never brave enough to actually walk naked among them.  But I have this goofy thought that has been nagging me from a back corner of the upstairs filing rooms of my stupid old head.  All people are actually nudists under their clothes.

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Now, if a doofus is trying to argue something as crazily goofy as this, he better have some good main points backed up by real research.  I, of course, am probably not as sensible as that, so let me go with these three main points;

  1. Public nudity is not an invasion of privacy since the person pretty much has to be intentionally nude, and they are not revealing anything that isn’t true of all of us.
  2. Artists really need to draw and paint nudes because one can’t create realistic figures without discovering how to do it by practice.
  3. Naked people are generally happier and more sane than the rest of us.

 

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When I was visiting my girlfriend in the 1980’s at the clothing-optional apartment complex in Austin, Texas, I did not option for naked.  And I really couldn’t protest naked hairy guys strutting in front of me by the pool because I knew what was inside the gate when I knocked the first time.  Nudists are not really suffering from invasion of privacy.  They choose to be naked and choose to be in these places like nude beaches where other people are naked too.

You don’t accidentally become a nudist.  (Even though I wrote a novel about a boy accidentally becoming a nudist in Iowa in the 70’s.)  Even the nudists I have posted in these pictures are not having their privacy violated.  These images originate with old naturist publications purchased in the 80’s.   That means they intended them to be seen.  In fact, I am able to find ample nudism seeking an audience on Facebook and Twitter.

Twitter link to NeoNudist

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BBC Why All Artists Should Have Naked Ambition

And either drawing nude models is an essential part of art training, or all people who learn to draw are perverts and just make art so they can ogle nude models.  I wrote in this crazy blog before about my experience with college-level nude drawing class.  I got a “C+”, not because I wasn’t any good at drawing the naked female art students and naked exhibitionist hairy guys that posed for us, but because the teacher was hyper critical and probably anal-retentive just the way all really exceptional art teachers probably are.

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I am quite capable of drawing the delicate and exquisite nude figure without becoming a gynecological illustrator or even a crude, rude dude.  And there is art to it.  It is not meaningless.

But in the final analysis, we all have a bit of the nudist instinct in us.  We all secretly enjoy those times when we were able to naked, however briefly, in the warm enfolding light of the sun.  If you have not experienced that and don’t know what I’m talking about, then why have you read this far through the post?  Why have my posts about drawing nudes and being around naturists been my most popular posts?

We have that urge to go naked because that is how God made us.  Being naked in the company of other naked people is actually good for you.  At least, Scientific American thinks so.

Benefits of Nudity from Scientific American

Daily Mail Being naked makes us happier with our bodies

In truth, my time among the naturists helped me recover from the trauma of being sexually assaulted by another boy when I was ten.  That was a long, painful journey that deprived me for a while of being able to be naked.  For a while I was too damaged to be a happy naturist.  But I have come so far now; I can even make this admission in writing.  I would like to be a nudist, even if only for a very brief while.  In fact, I think we are all at least a bit like that.  Now, if only my skin would stop flaking and peeling off.

Naked Wanderings

 

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