Friday, November 16, 2007

The Best of Europe

The Best of Europe

I'm sitting here in my apartment again. I have at least a dozen assignments due in the next two weeks, and my list of legitimate excuses to put off my assignments is growing thin. Out of desperation I've decided it's time to blog again.

Autumn is always a very emotional time for me. I don't normally consider myself a very emotional person, and so I blame the diminishing daylight (isn't ultra-violet light somehow connected with the production of serotonin?), the departure of summer, and the annual death and dormancy of everything green. Add to all of that the stress of a full time job and a double load of classes, and well, it's enough to make one either completely succumb to madness, or worse yet, wax poetic. (utilizing very poor poetical abilities at that) I've never dealt with stress very well, in fact, I don't usually deal with it at all. I just ignore it and hope it goes away. My efforts to avoid my assignments over the past two weeks have included but not been limited to: Bike riding, Swing Dancing, watching really crummy movies at the dollar theater, watching really crummy movies at the more expensive theaters, vandalism of city property (don't ask), mountain climbing, and shopping-cart racing.

The weather this week has been divine. November has always been one of the best months weather-wise. This year has been slightly warmer than normal, with temperatures ranging from 75-80 to 45-50 at night. The wind has calmed for the year, and the sky is ever the deepest colors of blue, offsetting the tawny desert colors and the brighter, more traditional autumn tones. Walking outside in the late afternoon the air is so still, almost as if the whole world is holding its breath. It's the interim between summer and winter, and like that moment of hesitation one experiences before leaping into a pool, nothing is happening. It's the quiet between happenings. I rode my bike down the street past the empty baseball diamond, past the vacant YMCA, and turned the corner and passed the lonely elementary school. Ultimately I had no destination in mind. I was just riding to get out and away and hopefully clear my head. I was also hungry. As I rode I casually watched the criss-cross pattern of cracks in the sidewalk as they went zooming under my bike's tires, and listened to the arhythmic sound of leaves crackling like cellophane as I sailed over them.

I was getting really hungry, and when I'm hungry it's difficult to think of anything else. I remembered that a friend of mine had told me about some deli near the laundromat, and claimed they had some of the best sandwiches she'd ever had. Being the fan of sandwiches that I am I figured I should give this place a try. I rode over there and was very surprised to find the place tucked away in a little shopping center between two stores I frequent quite often (is that a redundant statement? It sounds good at least). Sometimes it's amazing what you can overlook. The sign over the door read "The Best of Europe," and above that was a bright colored banner which announced to passers-by that they now proudly feature Boar's Head. On the other side of the door was a tiny little shop with all sorts of interesting food items packed on the narrow shelves which lined the wall to the right. There were cans of pickled herring, exotic candies, and colorful drinks. They also had a variety of German and Belgian chocolates. (Now I won't have to bug my German friend to send chocolate through the mail) After looking briefly at the selections on the shelves I turned around and asked the girl behind the counter about their sandwiches. "You'll never eat at Subway again" she said. As she made my sandwich I marveled at how I'd managed to remain ignorant of this store's existence until now. "How long has this place been here?" I asked, thinking perhaps it had only recently opened, and that maybe then my ignorance could be justified. "Oh, seven years or so" she said. Apparently there are still doors opening to magical worlds overlooked by most. A sandwich shop may not be all that exciting, but it sure is a good temporary escape from coursework.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

On Ghosts and Folklore

Haunted Ponds
Originally uploaded by empyrean_squire
Myths and Folktales have always fascinated me. I'm amazed at how certain stories can evolve, twist and be embellished through generations of retelling, yet still maintain enough of an element of truth to ensure their continued survival. The life cycle of a virus might make a good analogy. Every time a virus is passed from one person to another, it changes ever so slightly. It's a method of survival. However, where a virus brings sickness and even death, a folktale can infect a person with a glimpse at a culture and a way of thinking that exists just below the surface of what is real and perceivable to the naked eye. The greatest thing about these stories is that they transcend time. Not only do you get a quick view into a present lifestyle and mindset, but you can also see into the past, to the story's origin and a way of life that has been all but forgotten. I'm amazed at how many myths run through the Antelope Valley; from the incredible stories of early pioneers, indians, and outlaws; to tragedies, murders, and monsters.

Yesterday I had to set mosquito traps in the Barrel Springs area around Lake Una. The area lies just south of Palmdale at the base of the mountains. Nestled in the San Andres rift zone, Lake Una is rumored to be bottomless. Hundreds of years ago it was the junction of indian trails, and a trading hub where Chumash Indians would come from the coast to trade abalone shells for pottery and obsidian. About a mile from there are the Haunted Ponds, and an old stagecoach stop which predates the railroad and the forgotten town of Harrold. Wayward and dust-smattered travelers would pass through there, bound for Los Angeles and a new life. They would stretch their legs and knead the sore spots out of their backs, or sit in the shade under the enormous cottonwoods while the coach was outfitted with fresh horses and a new driver. The trail south was perilous. The area was also frequented by bandits- including the infamous Tiburcio Vasquez, who robbed from the rich and gave to himself.

I was poking around the lake looking for a good place to set my mosquito traps when The Caretaker suddenly appeared. He's an interesting guy, middle-aged, tattooed, and sporting a mustache and a fisherman's hat with the words "Bite Me" embroidered over the brim. I run into him almost every time I'm out there. He's full of old stories; from the things he's dredged up out of the lake or found with his metal detector; to the history and local lore of ghosts, mysterious murders, and even dragons... Whenever I run into him I know it's going to be at least a half an hour before I'll be able to get any work done. I don't mind though, he's fun to listen to. He told me the Old Mountain Lion had been spotted down there again. He turns up around Barrel Springs every autumn. Forty-five minutes later I was once again crawling through tules and cattails and thickets of woody brush that reached over twenty feet tall. A few of these thickets are over a mile square and so tightly packed that only the tiniest amount of sunlight is able to break through. The maze of pathways and animal trails through the muddy ground are beyond confusing and one could easily spend hours wandering in circles and never know it. The dim light and broken branches protruding at grotesque angles give the place an eerie feel. Even the birds are reluctant to penetrate very deeply into the thickets, and the silence adds to the spooky ambiance. It's easy to see how the early settlers came up with the name "Haunted Ponds."