Monday, October 24, 2016

The Spooky Sand Hill Cemetery

The Sand Hill Cemetery has the unfortunate reputation of being haunted. 

In fact, there is no doubt that the location near Caryville, Wisconsin, isolated on a dirt road leading to the edge of a rural bluff, is indeed scary. But, is it haunted? As the narrator of Ancient Aliens always proclaims...some say yes. 

We were picnicking on the bucolic Chippewa River State Trail in May, when an older gentleman appeared out of nowhere, with a camera in hand. After discussing the historic value of the site where we were eating lunch, (click here for more on that) he regaled us with ghost stories surrounding the nearby Sand Hill Cemetery. He warned us that a demon named Blackie resided there, growling at all comers. He said once, back in the day, he witnessed a circle of dark figures wearing black swirling cloaks, surrounding the grave of Baby, performing some kind of unnerving ritual. And some say, they've seen children roaming the grounds, attempting to converse with visitors. Except, they might not really be children at all. Well, not anymore. Gulp. So what did we do after hearing these mysterious tales?

We finished eating and biking, of course, then headed straight for the cemetery...

The grave of Baby.

This stone is slowly being masticated by the ravenous earth.

The penny stones.

It really does seem like a lonely and forgotten place.

If you look into the distance, you can see that this small, scattered cemetery sits on a ridge. The isolation is off putting. After hearing tales of hauntings, my pulse raced as we approached the site in our vehicle. Luckily, it was during the day, because some say, the headlights of a ghostly vehicle will trail you at night and then mysteriously vanish. I wondered if we too, would experience an assault on our car, as others have claimed. After parking, I shakily exited the car with my camera. Meanwhile, my husband was too freaked out to take any photos with his phone. None.

I walked to the edge of the tombstones and just stood there. I wondered if I would be accosted with a negative energy.  To be honest. I didn't feel anything. I only felt a gentle breeze stir over the ridge line. I only heard was the rustle of pine branches. But, that being said, I didn't like it when my husband abandoned me to go wait in the car. I, on the other hand, felt compelled to finish my illicit photo safari.



I don't know what significance placing a penny on grave stones possesses. But, it must mean something to someone.

On our way out, we noticed blood red tags on this sign. I don't know what the red tag signifies either. But I assume it is some kind of warning. Unfortunately, we most likely didn't heed it. Gulp.

When we got home, I asked my husband why he wouldn't take any photos. And more importantly, why he abandoned me to wait in the car. Jerk.

He said he didn't want any spirits attaching to him like an unwanted tick. I've always wondered... 

if we came home alone.

Or not.

For more on the Sand Hill Cemetery and Caryville, Wisconsin, just google it. If you dare...

The Awesome Links:

Monday, October 17, 2016

What Lies Beneath?

Quarry Hill Nature Center

The question, "What lies beneath?" is very appropriate here. At the very top of a wooded hill in Rochester, Minnesota, there's an abandoned limestone quarry surrounded by a restored oak Savannah. Eight miles of trails zig zag its perimeter. But it's really what lies beneath that make it interesting. 

The 329 acre park was once part of Rochester's historic state hospital grounds. The hospital was built in 1877.

This fireplace opens its gaping mouth over a former landfill for the hospital. The fireplace site became a picnic area for patients. Click to enlarge the placards for the rest of the story. The placards do most of the talking today.

click to enlarge

This 250 foot cave was used for food storage. It was dug by a crew of hospital patients. The leader of the crew, Thomas Coyne was a poet. He carved lines of poetry into the soft rock walls. If you visit during the right time, you can take a guided tour. It was rather cavernous and creepy when we peered inside. Trust me. 

Inside the cave...

click to enlarge

2,019 grave sites dot the hillside below the Quarry. The park is in the process of placing new grave markers on all of the burial sites. But, a few old markers remain. They rise above the soil like spooky sentinels. 

click to enlarge

You can see some of the old markers here.  Eroded and lonely.

There was an occasional marker that was still legible. Ella must have had an unfortunate life. 

The state hospital was an asylum. 

Treatment of mental diseases at the hospital before the 1920s consisted mainly of keeping patients occupied with work and recreation, and restraining violent patients. Many patients worked on the hospital’s 500-acre farm. Plays, concerts, and dances were put on for recreational purposes. In the late 1940s insulin and electroshock treatments were common, and in the 1950s lobotomies were used on some patients. Throughout the hospital’s history the use of drugs became more extensive. The hospital served as a surgical center for many of the other state institutions, as well as for Rochester State Hospital. The Mayo Clinic provided doctors free of charge, and the hospital absorbed the cost of supplies.

It made me wonder if those lost souls still wander...

The Awesome Links:

Monday, October 10, 2016

It was a ghost...

Belize Snow. Served poolside to ghosts at Cahal Pech

We didn't have a T.V. when we stayed in Boquete, Panama last January. So, what do two early rising, exhausted and tipsy, middle aged travelers do at night? Read TripAdvisor reviews. But, we have our standards. We only read reviews of places we've had negative experiences with or ones that have crossed our paths, that resemble dumps. And there's one particular dump that's at the top of our list. Cahal Pech Resort in San Ignacio, Belize. We stayed there twice. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on us... 

The only reason we stayed there in the first place, was that it was the lesser of two evils. We booked a week at Iguana Junction, affectionately known as Iggy J's. (forever known as Icky J's to us) Unfortunately, the place flooded earlier that year. Every rustic cabana was sloped, sinking into the ground and moldy. At night, disco music blasted from a neighboring bar. It sounded like someone was menacingly holding a megaphone against your skull. And the worst part, was the stinky sheets neatly folded over our bed. They smelled like the owner's mangy dog. Do you know why? Because the dirty dog napped in the laundry room.

We hightailed it up to Cahal Pech. And in comparison, it seemed like a beautiful castle on a verdant hilltop. It has a great location overlooking the city. At night, you can sit in your own cabana, enjoying a Belikin and listening to the city. It also sports a great pool, delicious drinks (see above) and is next door to the Cahal Pech Mayan ruins. The cabanas however, are rustic at best.

Flash forward a few years. The cabanas were worse for wear. The rooms were dirty, crumbling and the blankets were scratchy and full of quarter sized holes. So, we weren't surprised, on our Panama trip, to read several bad reviews for the joint. We posted our own negative review after our stay. But what we didn't expect, was a hilarious review. 

Imagine're awakened in the middle of the night by a deranged monster; his drugged out face plastered against the thread bare screen to your room. You're in a foreign country and you are terrified. You call the front desk and then the police. An employee is quickly dispatched to comfort you. They tell you...that it was just a ghost. Ha! Is that supposed to make you feel better? I think not. 

But it wasn't a ghost. It was a Spanish speaking employee, trying to say in English, that it was only a guest. Hilariously lost in translation. It turns out, the wayward guest took sedatives for the first time and was so looped out, he wandered around the resort, asleep, like a deranged ghost. I mean guest. 

The review by Chase S. is posted below for your reading pleasure. The large print is the best part. Enjoy....

2 of 5 starsReviewed July 23, 2014

I've been debating writing this review for a long time... but the lack of customer service has struck me so much that I had to finally take the plunge.

My family and I visited this establishment for a few days as we made a day trip to Tikal around the new year. They picked us up from the airport, provided good service on the day of entrance. The daytime staff seemed very welcoming and cordial. The "Belize snow" award-wining mixed drink was very good. The Cahal Pech dig site next to the resort is fascinating and under appreciated or documented in the Fodors/Lonely Planet/Travellers Bible realm. However, overall, the "resort" was quite cheap looking on the inside. It felt like a run down beach cabana or college dorm -- that might be insulting to a college dorm. There weren't even phones to call the front desk in the room. Very bare bones. Fine, we'd rough it, we thought... until the second evening...

I'll try not to embellish this next part: at 1am, someone climbed onto our deck balcony and banged on our door, trying to get in. Luckily my fiancé had locked the door. Terrified, we tried to scare him off. He looked wild-eyed and altered. He stumbled off the deck onto the next deck. We tried to get help from the front desk but alas no phone. Worried as we were in the middle of nowhere, we were hesitant to leave the room as we couldn't see where he went. He came back again. Other patrons in neighboring rooms were yelling, too, screaming for help and for him to go away. Finally after 20 minutes of yelling a very confused man who only spoke Spanish came running with a headlamp and machete. He was more frightened by our story than we were -- kept calling it a ghost. I dragged him downstairs as my protection to find the only working phone at the front desk unmanned. I called 911 and luckily the police spoke english and said they were on the way. In the meantime, we saw him trying to break into another patron's room via chair banging on their deck window as they were screaming. Finally the police came and we ran around the corner. They fired gunshots, the whole hotel was awakened. No staff but this make-shift security guard. Luckily no one was hurt and the hauled the guy away in handcuffs. 

I awake the next day after taking us forever to get to sleep and we check-out to find that the guy was a patron of the hotel, a tourist, who took a sleeping pill he'd never taken before (probably Temazepam or Zolpidem/Ambien), doesn't recall the event and was delirious. I'm a physician. I understand that. This is probably a rare circumstance. I don't fault the hotel/resort for it.

However, I do fault them for being dismissive of the event, simply shrugging their shoulders, and offering no recourse. Their security was severely unhelpful. There are no phones in their rooms. There was no way to easily get help. Had I not intervened, would one of the patrons been even more hurt--either this delirious man or the people whose room he was about to break into? Absolutely. The staff did not thank me, did not want to hear the story despite multiple patrons being upset and furious. No apologies, AND no compensation. I don't ask for food to be returned or special treatment or reimbursements at restaurants or hotels. But in this case? Yes, absolutely, especially in light of no thankfulness or apologies. And nothing.

I don't believe it's proper for them to call themselves a resort. I perhaps would have given them two stars had this rare event not happened. But it did and the place is unsafe in the event of a rare circumstance. I'm not a sensationalist but they are close to very high crime neighborhoods. Their security is lacking. Their customer service is lacking. Their professionalism is lacking. I would never recommend friends or family to stay here.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Feathered Floozies

It's Halloween month on The Chorus of the Crows. I've lassoed 4 Halloween themed posts. And I'm sweetening the deal by re-posting an old favorite. An expose on my unforgivable, dirty lowdown past... 

Me and my favorite pistol. Beside me, my pretty partner in crime, 

Alas, there is a shameful and checkered past reflecting back at me from my foggy rear view mirror. Oops, I mean the dusty old fashioned looking glass I held up over my shoulder, to ascertain just what was galloping at a rowdy clip, at the tail end of my wagon. I ran across this picture in my photo archives and it spurred me to describe my former life, as a low cost Saloon girl. 

The news of the weird unfolds like this...I may have worn feathers by night, but by day, I was a gun toting outlaw; robbing from my former clients. There were no morning trots of shame for me. No little doggie. Me and my trusted horse Maybelline, tethered up back at the saloon every misty sunrise with garters full of cash. There were only a few occasions where the men were so flat broke, that I had to steal a chicken or a skinny goat. Well, a girl has to eat. It was all too easy. Those were the glory days. The nights were sticky, the sheets looked like a future Jackson Pollock painting and my lips were always irritatingly chapped, from long rides in the Arizona sun. But, those were good times. 

So, just how did I pull off my illicit crime sprees?  I plied the men folk with so much whiskey during our rolls in the hay, on the third floor of that filthy, whiskey soaked establishment, that they never saw me follow them home. Maybelline was a sure footed horse with the stealthy hooves of a cat on the hunt. The foul drunkards never heard or suspected a thing. Mind you, I never hurt any woman folk or young-ins. Although, I heard from my friend Michelle (on the right) through one of her clients, that one wife bashed in the skull of her husband at breakfast with a cast iron skillet; bison meat and eggs flying around the cabin in a flurry of grease, after one of my early morning visits. I guess the cheater deserved it. 

I never made enough money to get rich. But I lived well. I could afford to mail order new feathery frocks from the Sears Robuck catalog. I had a custom made saddle, rumored to be fashioned and carved by the same leather mason that the Jesse James gang used. How I learned that will remain a secret between me and a certain, un-named outlaw. And my friend Michelle and I never went hungry. When other settlers were eating potatoes boiled with pine needles for flavor, through the long harsh winters, we were eating high on the hog. And a fat one at that. 

After a time, I gave up the outlaw life and married a warrant/bill collector. My friend Michelle became a famous horse whisperer. She fixed up unhinged horse flesh in a jiffy, starting her career in the arid hills of Los Angeles, and winding all the way down to the wilds of Baja, Mexico. She always did have a way with my Maybelline. 

She gave up whiskey. 

I didn't.

The sober truth.
Me and my friend Michele at one of those old time photo booths. As if you didn't already know that!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Burning the Wood

"But people need to have their real sadness and fear to be justified, then begin working through it, to accept that their greatest wounding can be their greatest gift. That's what I call burning the wood. Only after you've burned all the wood are you ready to move on."

Your Story is Your Medicine: A Prescription for Healing in an Imperfect World. by Shelli Stanger Nelson

My dad and his animals during better times.
I love these photos.

I burned the wood by writing a novel inspired by my dad's long and insidious battle with Parkinson's. The story percolated in my cerebral cortex for years after his death. Spinning and spreading until I decided to listen to the voice urging me to write it down. Now that I'm weaving the story onto the page and nearing the end, I'm glad for every day that my brain functions normally. Scenes and sentences drift through my brain quickly and peacefully, like a bubbling stream, when ever I conjure them. And my fingers spryly tickle the keyboard. For now. But I worry. What if I'm afflicted by Alzheimer's or Parkinson's someday? 

Every story has a great villain. And Parkinson's is a sinister foe. 

 In my book, a retired farmer named Oren Walton is plagued by Parkinson's and menacing hallucinations. The visions start out benign enough. Small things really. Bugs that others don't see. A stray animal darting through the house. Little things. As Oren's disease progresses, so do his hallucinations. Crows act as a menacing harbinger as the hallucinations escalate mysteriously, as if fertilized by a poisonous and insidious farm chemical, until they become the central conflict of the story. 

All of the characters revolve around this conflict.

I'm almost done with the book. My wood has been reduced to flickering, undulating embers. 

I think we could all benefit by burning our wood pile...

Monday, September 19, 2016

Read, live long and prosper!

I just read in the Science and health section of the Star Tribune that book readers live an average of 2 years longer than non readers. The Yale study found a similar (but weaker, gulp) association among those that read newspapers and periodicals.

Well, luckily, I read lots of books as well! Here are 3 short and sweet book reviews I created for Springtime in Magnolia.  Including my newest review of The Dead Lands.

 Read, live long and prosper!

The Dead Lands is first and foremost, a re-imagining of the journey West by explorers Lewis and Clark. This time, in a post apocalyptic future, the expedition is led by Mina Clark and Lewis Meriwether. These characters didn't earn my love or reading devotion throughout the book. They seemed one dimensional, leaning on the harsh side. But since they were on a journey of survival, they were written in a singular way. The characters had little time for anything but staying alive. My favorite character was the psychopath Slade. He collected odds and ends from unlucky victims and adhered them to his mannequin collection. Delightfully wacky.

But it was an enjoyable and expansive story. Inventive, interesting and wildly creative. The book begins in the dusty, captive world of the Sanctuary.  Formally known as St. Louis. As the journey West unfolds, the reader flips back and forth between the struggle West and the trials of life in the militant Sanctuary.  If you think Trump would be a bad president, the character Thomas, Mayor of the Sanctuary, would be ten times worse! 

As an aspiring writer, I'll never forget the author's line, "...her teeth chattered a skeleton's song." That isn't an exact quote, since I couldn't find the passage. But the character was cold. And the sentence described it beautifully. 

This book isn't for everyone. I read it because I don't have a particular or preferred genre. I love them all. And Benjamin Percy is a Minnesota author endorsed by Stephen King. You can't beat that.

I have to admit, the first thing that intrigued me about Michele Raffin's book The Birds of Pandemonium was the beautiful cover. It's really hard to believe how many exotic and dazzling bird species fly our skies and nest in our trees. I love to spot them in the jungles of Central America. But most of them live in places that only exist on my bucket list. 

But not for Michele Raffin. On a whim, she rescued a dove by the side of a California road. No kidding. That is how it all started. We've all had that impulse. To save an injured animal. Or adopt a sad, abandoned pet. Michele took that impulse and ran with it. Now, her sanctuary is one of the largest in the country and she has rescued over a 1,000 birds. And many of the 89 species she has saved were threatened. 

Well, all of that is admirable.  But the real question of a book review blog is, "How's the book?" It is so charming. The reader wakes up with Michele and experiences the subtle, sweet sounds of bird chatter. Well, it is not always so soft and sweet. Sometimes it is demanding and deafening! And the birds, all 1,000 of them, have their own personality. You will discover that not every bird story has a happy ending. But you'll be glad you entered their feathered world for a little while.

It's a good read.

I brought the book Gone Girl with me on my last vacation. Well, it was so good that it was gone in a flash! But luckily the rental where we were staying had a pile of books. It was especially opportune since we were lodged in a remote area of Costa Rica. The Tico Times or a Spanish novella might have been my only other options. 

Clearly this book was left behind by a female traveler. It definitely was not part of the home owner's collection. His stash seemed to be all male. Politics, John Grisham and obscure biographies. But this booked screamed, "Read me on the beach! I'll entertain you." And it was a fun and fast read. Just look at the cheery cover. That usually says it all.

I'd definitely take Elizabeth Noble on a vacation. I bet she is just as fun as her characters. But she would probably prefer I take one of her books. In this book we meet Natalie and Tom. Tom is trying to win Natalie's heart. So far, he's been unsuccessful. Then he proposes an unusual arrangement of dates that run the garment from A- Z. The first thing they do is Abseiling. What the heck is that? Well... 

Abseiling (/ˈæbseɪl/ or /ˈɑːpzaɪl/; from German abseilen, meaning "to rope down"), also called rappelling, is the controlled descent of a vertical drop, such as a rock face, using a rope. Climbers use this technique when a cliff or slope is too steep and/or dangerous to descend without protection.

It was a fun book.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Human Wrangling

I've never wanted to be a human wrangler. Never. My friend Nina called me a cat wrangler in jest once. My new part time occupation stuck like a barbed tongue full of fur. Cat wrangling just sounds cool. But people? No way. 

Well, a couple months ago I created a new social group on the Meet-ups site. It is a website where cowpokes and their ilk, can coral groups of people with similar interests. Like reading, hiking, dining, traveling or cat wrangling. Whatever. I decided to start a book club for women writers. So far, it has been a small success. I've managed to rope in a few gals. And, I've even fenced in a few free laughs. Here's my open call...

This is a book club for women writers. We have a unique perspective. The books we read not only entertain us, but inspire and strengthen our written word. We'll socialize over a glass of wine and most importantly, take turns answering questions and discussing books. Everyone will get a chance to shine in this club. The future goal will be to form a small and intimate group of kind, thoughtful and committed readers and writers. 

As a creative, I use words like a paintbrush. And reading is my part time job!

I ran into a few wayward calves on my ride. First, I posted a few simple questions to weed out the prime Kobe beef from the mutton. Some of the answers tickled my funny bone. While others left me wondering if anyone really cares how they come across anymore. In the age of i-phones, it seems there's only a select few who attempt to spell, capitalize or give a generalized hoot about what they say. It makes me sad. If you were attempting to join a group of people who like to read and write, wouldn't you try to come across as doing both successfully? Here are some unsuccessful answers...

Why do you want to become a Novelista?
like the club description
What is the last book you read?
the turner house
What kind of creative writing do you do?
none....want to start
There's no need to attend every event. But, we'll be a small group. So please rsvp carefully. And if you need to cancel, be sure to change your status. How often do you hope to attend?
?? don't know
We'll be a small and intimate group. If you belong to dozens of meet-ups, this group might not be for you. Can you tell me what makes you Minnesota nice?
good listener,

What kind of creative writing do you do?Not much. I love to read.

What kind of creative writing do you do?Due to limited time, commenting on blogs.

What is the last book you read? 
I did just answer this.
We'll be a small and intimate group. If you belong to dozens of meet-ups, this group might not be for 
you. Can you tell me what makes you Minnesota nice?Can't. From Iowa.

No, you didn't just answer (Chris Hansen reference) The Iowa remark is pretty funny though. I'm left wondering, why would you want to join a group of writers, if you don't even write a darn thing? 

At least it gives me something funny to write about!

Uff da.