Incurable Curiosity

In-cur-able: (adj.) Not likely to be changed. Cu-ri-os-i-ty: (n) A desire to know.

Leave a comment

The Book Sale: Supporting My Local Literacy Foundation and Building a Library for Next to Nothing

A building full of thousands of books, arranged on tables by genre, author, and type. People everywhere, moving in tides between the volumes, pulling in and out of the crowd to scour the selection. Some search for quantity, taking advantage of the cheap prices. Others look for gift potential. A great many look for school materials. But there are a few that look for that one table of books. Whether it holds classics, sheet music for mandolins, or anthologies of German short stories, it is their table; the table where they zone out the chaos around them as they search for that one book. Maybe it doesn’t even exist. Maybe it hasn’t been written yet. But if it has, surely it’s here, somewhere in the boxes, or underneath the table, hidden until more room is made. The crowd shifts again, around and behind and beside the searcher, unspeaking, their focused eyes looking only at the books. The searcher looks at every title, picking one or two or three volumes up, wondering if one might be the book. But none are. Then, as books are shuffled, something new comes into the picture. Is this it? Look at the cover, turn it over to read the dust jacket. Flip through the pages. A little bit of penciled writing, a few dog-eared pages, not bad on the whole. This is it! Look at the cover again, find the colored sticker. What does the sign say that color means? One dollar! Is that all? But there can be no doubt that the sticker is blue, and why question the sticker-placer? The searcher has become the finder, their bag one book heavier, and their day that much better.

As you can guess from that short vignette, I went to a book sale yesterday. Quite a large book sale, put on annually by the area literacy foundation. It’s really a win-win situation: you can literally build a personal library in a few hours for less than $50, all while supporting a good cause. It was the first time I’d gone in several years, and it was much bigger than I remembered. I spent most of my time hovering around the classics table, and I got 14 books in all:

To list:

  • A collection of 63 short mysteries compiled by Alfred Hitchcock ($1)
  • A book of classical music for piano (for when I finally learn to read sheet music) ($1)
  • The published journal of Philip Vickers Pithian, written in the 1770s ($1)
  • ‘The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney’ (replacement for a copy I previously had in my collection) ($3)
  • ‘Edda’, a Norse book on writing poetry ($1)
  • ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, a classic tale of seafaring ($.50)
  • ‘Ivanhoe’, a story I only know of because of Wishbone ($.50)
  • A compilation of various Oscar Wilde works ($.50)
  • A paperback copy of ‘Wuthering Heights’ to take a heavy editor’s pencil to ($.50)
  • A paperback copy of ‘Jane Eyre’ to make notes in ($.50)
  • ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ ($.50)
  • ‘The House of Seven Gables’, because I’ve never read it before ($.50)
  • A pocket-size hardback edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, to replace my falling-apart paperback ($1)
  • A matching copy of ‘Jane Eyre’, because it was the only other pocket-sized hardback in the lot ($1)

Unfortunately, unlike my searcher, I did not find exactly what I was looking for (paperback copies of my favorite Agatha Christie’s). Instead, I found several books I didn’t know about and picked them up on a whim (the anthology of mysteries, ‘Edda’, the journals of Mr. Pithian, and ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’). I might not like them, but they’re worth a try, and I’ll at least see examples of different writing styles (and maybe get ideas for this year’s NaNoWriMo).

If you hear of such an event close to you, I would highly recommend braving the crowds. It’s is a great way to find new inspirations: in the books, the crowds, and in the experience.


Leave a comment

Toms Creek Falls

It’s summer. Where’s the best place to go when it’s summer in the south? The mountains. It’s been awhile since my family has gone waterfall hunting, and this past weekend was perfect for a road trip, so we looked up some spots in North Carolina and planned a morning venture. This lovely waterfall is hidden away in the mountains of western North Carolina. There are a few write-ups about it already (this one is very detailed), so I’m just going to post pictures from our .5-mile trek along the trail.

I actually took over 100 pictures during the hour we were at the falls. Hey, you can’t expect me to go somewhere so pretty and not be snapping pictures every 5 seconds. Not if there’s life in my batteries and room on my memory card, you don’t. And believe me, I have enough extra batteries to last a while.

How far will you travel to escape the heat?

Leave a comment

Climbing a Mountain

What was I thinking when I decided to continue beyond the half-way point? Can I even make it up that step in front of me? Those are the kinds of thoughts that ran through my mind a thousand times as I slowly made my way up the mountainside. Emphasis on slowly.

The Blue Ridge mountains are usually pretty this time of year, depending on how dry the preceding summer was, and this year has been no exception. Driving alongside the base of the mountains, you can see the vibrant reds and oranges casting a sunset-like glow through the trees. Like I said, it’s pretty from the road, and beautiful once you’re inside the park.

It’s still great for the first 30 minutes while you’re photographing every flower and above-ground tree root that line the well-beaten path. The weather is the very definition of fall: Pure blue sky, a crisp breeze, decaying leaves swirling about…. pretty much perfect for hiking.


It’s not so beautiful when all you can focus on is the stone step sitting between you and the rest of the trail. This rock looks the same as the one you are currently gasping for breath on, and it’s fairly likely that it is identical to the rest of the thigh-melting hewn-rock steps looming ahead of you. Why keep moving forward?

Because someone said that the view from the half-way point is amazing. It better be. There was also the promise of lunch to press on for.

Suddenly there is a break in the trees, and the bald rock face of the half-way point comes into view. The rock is south-eastern facing, so that the sun beats down directly on lounging hikers in the early afternoon.

Is it worth it? In a word, yes. I could have sat there for a while before heading back down to the parking lot, but I was promised still a better view – this time from the top. Supposedly the hike is easier once you get beyond the oh-so tempting warmth of the stopping place.

Now, I had always planned on climbing to the top someday – I just didn’t plan on getting to the summit that day. A little battle went on inside my head, and I argued myself as to whether I was actually up to the hike. In the end I decided to go for it; who knew when I’d get back to the mountain?

So that’s how I found myself panting on a stone step with limbs as stable as jello doing their best to hold me up. There is an insane reality to be faced at that point: You know that you cannot possibly go on without taking a break, but you also know that it’s nearly impossible to move again if you rest for too long.

I could have turned back at any time, but the thought of the accomplishment and great pictures found at the top, combined with the patience and encouragement of friends, kept me placing one foot in front of – or rather above – the other.

A couple we passed on their way down told us not to stop until we reached the 3.5 mile marker – over a mile away – or else we’d miss a spectacular view. Oh, so it’s a spectacular view now….

The trail is misleading right around the 3-mile point, as there is a sign proclaiming the summit of 3,124 feet. Whatever the sign says, it is not surrounded by a spectacular view. It isn’t even a nice view. In fact, there isn’t a view of anything at that sign except for some pretty skinny trees on either side.

But the trail goes beyond the summit notation. Follow it a little ways and you get to more exposed rock, stuff that would make you think you’re standing on a volcano. Look around, and no views greet you – this is just a little clearing in the trees. The path continues. For another half-mile it continues. Through trees lining a narrow path with little outlooks that don’t provide spectacular views scattered along the way, even going down in elevation a few times, as if you’ve been on a pleasant stroll for the past few hours instead of a test of endurance.

There was very little conversation for that last stretch, and even fewer photographs taken. It took everything I had just to keep moving forward. And then the trail ended.

You really can’t miss the end of the trail, since you come to about 50 feet of sloping rock that ends in a cliff. With the elevation of around 3,000 feet, there’s a constant breeze that serves to remind you of the cool season – as if the stunning foliage to be seen in all directions isn’t enough.

I could say that it wasn’t about what I found at the top of the mountain but the journey itself, but that wouldn’t be true. In the end I was just thankful that I could sit down in the sun and stare out over the horizon and not have to climb up any more weather-beaten stairs. I could say that the view took my breath away, but the hike had stolen that commodity long before the summit marker.

The view from the top really was wonderful though, and worth the trouble it took to get up there. The trip back down was much better, and I got down the mountain in half the time it took to hike to the spectacular view.

I’ll let the following picture speak for itself:

Leave a comment

Preparing for An Adventure Into the Unknown: NaNoWriMo 2011

In the spirit of adventure, I have signed up for the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge, which dares writers to create a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30.

It really will be an adventure for several reasons:

  1. This is my first NaNoWriMo.
  2. I have never tried to write a fictional work beyond short-story length.
  3. Writing fiction in general is a foreign thing to me.
  4. I have no plot line (though I do have several potential stories scattered around).
What I hope to gain from this experience:
  1. An understanding of the basics of story writing. I have read a few things on the topic, but why not test the sink-or-swim theory?
  2. An expanded writing horizon. It may fail miserably or exceed my highest hopes, but I won’t know until I give it a try.
And I might be trying to satisfy my habit of going after ridiculously unrealistic goals, too.
In any case, I’ll try to post some of what I’m writing here. As always, feedback is a beautiful thing, and I’d welcome some accountability. Until the 1st, I’ll also be finishing up some drafts that have been idling, so expect several posts over the next few days.

1 Comment

I’m Not Lost; I’m Exploring

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

“I never thought I’d be driving through the country just to drive….” – Relient K

Part 3 in the Pursuing Inspiration series.

So far I’ve covered exploring unfamiliar parts of familiar places (the library and the internet) in search of inspiration. Those are good, and you can certainly find new things that way, but sometimes you have to go a bit further beyond the bounds of the known into the unknown to find what you seek. Today’s topic: Pursuing inspiration outside your locale’s limits.

You don’t have to go very far away, just cross the line that defines your knowledge of local geography. Step out of your shire into the next town, city, or county. This can be an afternoon’s excursion or a day-long expedition, depending on where you go and what you find. Immerse yourself in local culture: Visit local landmarks and icons. Eat at one-of-a-kind coffee shops, lunch counters and diners. Talk to the natives. Be prepared to get lost and ask for directions.

So what should you bring on your journey? 

Things to take:

  1.  A sense of adventure; you’ll notice interesting details that would otherwise be missed.
  2. Some method of capturing the elusive inspiration; this can be a camera, notebook, laptop, etc.
  3. Music; something by a local artist, perhaps?
  4. Recommendations; don’t be afraid to take advice from locals on neat places to visit – so long as you follow common safety sense.
  5. (Optional) A traveling companion; a friend to share the experience with is always fun, though sometimes you might want to explore solo.

There are also things that you shouldn’t bring.

Things to leave at home:

  1. Your GPS; you aren’t headed anywhere in particular, and you’re not traveling so far as to completely lose the trail of breadcrumbs leading home (maps, however, are allowed).
  2. Geographical bias; if you’re taking a road simply because it’s familiar, you’re on the wrong road.
  3. Assumptions; don’t assume anything – instead, look at everything like you’re seeing it for the first time.

But the most important thing is not what you have with you, where you go, or what you do; it’s what you find – hopefully inspiration. So go out there, intentionally seek out inspiration in your own backyard, and as Mark Twain said, “Explore. Dream. Discover.”


A Taste of Flight

We had been waiting at the gate for over an hour, having followed advice to get there at least 90 minutes before takeoff; it actually took longer to purchase coffee and a newspaper at the airport Starbucks than it had taken to get through security that morning. At least we could watch the sunrise over the neighboring terminal…. and all the people coming and going. Speculating about the lives of the random group you’ll be stuck with for the next few hours is an interesting way to pass the time. I wondered about the young couple who were taking two very small dogs as carry-on items, whether the little girl in a stroller being entertained by her mother would remain so well-behaved for the duration of the flight, and if the man sleeping with headphones on would hear the call to board.

Finally, just when I was ready to break out the copy of Lemony Snicket’s Horseradish sitting in my backpack, the boarding agent began calling out instructions to board the plane according to lettered seating assignments. Like Titanic in reverse, first class, women, children, and the disabled were called first. Due to the relatively small number of passengers, it didn’t take long before our own coach class was announced over the loudspeaker. We stepped over the the line, hesitating at the sight of the carry-on size checker – would we have to check our bags after all? No, the boarding agent didn’t even glance at our large backpacks (solid black and lime green, respectively) as she stamped our passes.

The reality of our adventure hit as I walked through the elevated tunnel between the gate and the door into the 747: I would soon be experiencing my first flight, traveling in a way faster and more complex than I had ever traveled before, and all I had to do was sit back and buckle in – after securing my luggage in the overhead compartment, that is.

When I saw many passengers stuffing bags considerably larger than mine into the small compartments, I wondered if I could have made use of my backpack’s expanding feature. Oh well, nothing for it at this point. We settled into our seats (I got the treat of being seated next to the window) and explored our limited personal space: royal blue vinyl-covered seats worn from a few decades’ service, small armrests, white plastic fold-down trays, flashing signs ordering the fastening of seat belts and the powering off of electronic devices, and yes, authentic Skymall catalogs in the seat pockets. A little more vintage than I expected, but not terrible at all.

As flight attendants slammed luggage bins closed, the plane was slowly guided out of the hanger onto the runway, following multicolored lines that I could only guess the meaning of. Our flight attendant was competing with the pilot’s announcements as she attempted – three times – to explain emergency exit protocol to passengers seated in the row ahead of us, succeeding once weather conditions for both departure and arrival cities were reported.

Waiting for the runway to be cleared seemed to take an eternity. How could my brother seem so relaxed as he perused the bizarre and overpriced items in the outdated catalog? Ah, but his voice betrayed the slightest hint of nerves as he pointed out the subscription to Cheese of the Month. As we waited, we watched other planes as they bent the rules of gravity. If that giant airbus could make it off the ground, our smaller craft could too, right?

And then we began to move forward. The pilot advised passengers to prepare for liftoff. I waited for a jolt of acceleration, sure that liftoff would be dramatic. Instead, it was really as if we were simply being driven into the air as one would drive a car onto an interstate entrance ramp. A sharp incline was followed by leveling out, then angling toward the sky again in a pattern of gaining altitude.

The weather was pleasant that day, a bit foggy, but we were low enough that larger roads and buildings could be guessed at. Every once in a while the plane would bank to one side or the other, changing the angle of view, and about a third of the way through the flight I got to see the interior of a cloud for a few seconds. Other than that, there was nothing much to write about – very minimal turbulence, no crying children, no crazy passengers or predatory reptiles; we even landed a few minutes ahead of schedule. And the landing was so smooth that I believe I wouldn’t have noticed if I’d had my eyes closed. All in all, a lovely first-flight experience that I won’t soon forget.

When I was little I would look up at the Carolina-blue sky overhead and wonder how far you had to be off the ground to officially be ‘in the sky’. Now I have my answer, and I heartily agree that it is the only way to travel. I think Leonardo put it best when he wrote, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”