Summer drives: Sasquatch, a mysterious military vehicle and traffic jams.

In the vein of yesterday’s odds-n-ends post, I’ve found some tidbits and scraps to share. Weirdly (conveniently) they all have to do with traveling the roads of Minnesota.

MILLE LACS LAKE GIRLS’ WEEKEND:

Back in August, I hopped into the car with a friend, the lovely Caroline Burau, author of Life in the Hotseat: Answering 911 and Sugarfiend. I was actually combining two trips into one – Caroline wanted company as she sought out a childhood memory, and I was expected at my family’s girls’-weekend at the cabin.

On the way from St. Paul to Mille Lacs Lake, Caroline and I chatted, discussed and otherwise became embroiled in catching up with each other. Then – from the corner of my eye – I saw bigfoot lurking at the edge of the woods.

It is a testament to the patience of my friend that she turned the car around.

Imagine her relief when I was able to point out this:

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Of course we were both dressed in shorts and sandals, but we tramped through the field anyway so we could get a better look. I tore my ankle wide open on a tree stump. (‘Tried to snap a picture of the injury, but I missed. YOU try to photograph the back of your ankle with a cell phone.)

Bleeding staunched, we continued toward our destination.

Mille Lacs Lake is nothing compared to Superior, or even Ontario. It’s only 132,516 acres (536 km2), with a maximum depth of 42 feet.

minnesota map

Still, it’s big enough to freak me out. From certain vantage points, you cannot see the opposite shore at all. And 42 feet seems deep enough to host at least a small lake monster … which kind of turns this lake cam into a monster-watch cam, doesn’t it?

mille lacs lake

click the pic to go to a ‘best of’ Mille Lacs photographic collection

By the way, this is the same lake that made national news in spring of 2013. A rare phenomenon called an Ice Tsunami or Ice Shove was recorded by a woman who emphatically states she grants “no use (of her video) without permission”. (Even though she has not disabled the embed code. Hmm.) Anyway. You can see the video here. (I presume it’s okay to share the link.) Please enjoy the raw Minnesota-ness of the video, and remember we don’t all sound like that.

No. Really. You should watch at least a little of the video – it’s bizarre and awesome all at once. Mute if necessary.

PS: There will be no pictures of anything that took place at official girls’ weekend.  What happens at the cabin, stays at the cabin.

(I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t even mention the Cha Cha Slide.)

HINKLEY FIRE MUSEUM ROADTRIP:

On September 1st, Ogre and I needed a get-away, so we headed for the Fire Museum in Hinkley, MN. On the way up, we stopped at a Lion’s park in one town and A&W in another. Because I am a child.

Once I’d been sufficiently stuffed with pizza burgers, we moved along, taking the back roads, of course. On one otherwise quiet stretch, we passed this:

It just emanated menace and secrecy. The fatigue-clad driver and his cohort were young and stony-faced, with their eyes hidden behind mirrored aviators.

Do you have any idea what this kind of vehicle is used for?

In Hinkley, we were surprised to find that we’d coincidentally chosen to make our visit to the museum on the 119th anniversary of the fire itself.

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On October 4th, I’ll share a video project made from information gathered that day at the museum. It will be the inaugural entry in an experimental new blog feature – The Friday Night Picture Show.

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TRAFFIC:

Just this last weekend, we drove to a wedding on Saturday and a Renaissance Festival on Sunday. Somehow we managed to keep in good spirits through the events, even though traffic in both cases was a bloody nightmare.

Going to the wedding should have been a half-hour drive. Ogre and I left the house at 3:00p, planning to mill about with other guests before the 4:00p ceremony.

We arrived at the country club in time to see a distant white speck on the other side of the expansive grounds, marching down what appeared to be a grassy aisle. We opted not to wait for the next shuttle cart. I kicked off my heels and we trotted over.

Luckily, it’s summer, so I wasn’t wearing stockings. Also luckily, it was the correct bride. (We found out later that there were at least three other weddings going on – all in opposite directions. Did you know that pretty much all brides look alike from a distance?)

After the stress and joy of the wedding, we expected to be very calm about going to the Ren Fest the next day.

In the morning we had a nice pancake breakfast for five. (Ogre, The Dog, The Boy, The Boy’s Buddy, and me.)  We left the apartment with the expectation of an hour’s drive ahead. We knew it would be snug in the little commuter car that Ogre drives – what with a 70+ pound dog AND two 6′ young men in the itty-bitty back seat, but we’re a close family.

The first 30 minutes went fine. Then traffic started to slow. Ninety minutes later, we saw this sign.

20130929 renaissance congestion ahead

I had ample time to photograph it.

In another 10 minutes, we were parked next to a similar sign (which I didn’t photograph, sadly.) It said,

Renaissance Festival
1 mile

The time was 1:42p when our front fender crossed into the same plane as that sign.

Ogre hit the trip odometer.

Wait for it …

20130929 renaissaince odometer

That’s POINT 1 mile, btw. One TENTH of a mile.

We got through the festival gate a little after 3p. Miraculously we were all still alive and smiling.

I told you we’re a close family.

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In search of the Linwood Woolly Beast: part II

In the wake of this week’s earlier, serious-er post – My obscure cryptid sighting: the goblin / devil / mothman / gargoyle. – I feel the need to be a little irreverant. (It is Friday, after all.) May you spot a fabulous cryptid of your own, if you are so inclined, this weekend.

*

Not long ago, Mark Petruska of Mark My Words, blogged about the weird search terms people have used to end up at his place. (Circus Monkey With Guitar was my personal favorite.)

Because I keep a blog about the paranormal, ALL my search engine matches are pretty weird. The most embarrassing search to lead someone to me was “my first time with a prostitute” … but that’s what you get when you blog something titled: I met two prostitutes on my first day of work at the new hotel. (I’m a little surprised I haven’t gotten more strange hits thanks to my post: Sex and zombies. Where is my head these days?)

In truth, I was pretty dejected at the lack of craziness in my stats. When I was looking for search terms that stood out, however, I came across something interesting.

When I was just getting started on The Paranormalist, I  spent a lot of time  browsing the web, looking for potential topics to write about. I waded DEEP into the results Google returned for “Minnesota Paranormal.” Somewhere about the 10th or 11th page of results, I came across a brief reference to a cryptid I’d never heard of; one that supposedly prowled near my town. In a short, throw-away post at my baby-blog, I speculated on the nature of this obscure, absurd beast.

Since then, the following search terms have brought readers to my blog:

  • “linwood wooly beast” = 45 times
  • “linwood wooley beast” = 8 times
  • “linwood woolly beast” = 8 times
  • “woolly beast minnesota” = 3 times
  • “linwood wolly beast” = 3 times
  • “woolly beast linwood” = 2 times
  • “linwood wooly” = 2 times
  • “linwood mn paranormal” = 2 times
  • “lonwood wooley beast” = 2 times
  • “linwood wooley beast.” = 2 times
  • “haunted mn wooly beast” = 1 time
  • “the linwood wooley beast” = 1 time

That’s 79 searches, if you weren’t keeping count, for a creature that I had never heard of, and for which there are *were no real search results available.

*Wait! I just checked again and found the folks over at Camp Crypto have done a piece on The Linwood Wooly Beast since my initial search. How awesome is that?!? I think their theory on the creature’s actual identity is probably correct, but for the purposes of the remainder of this post, I’m going to ignore it. It’s more fun for me that way.

UPDATE 07/26/13: It seems Camp Crypto has gone belly up since I wrote this. A moment of silence, please, for another fallen paranormal blog.

For the record, they believed the beast was a misidentification of an albino deer.

linwood sign

An-y-way, today I went for a ride and took a couple of photographs of the beast’s supposed territory.

linwood roadside

I’m afraid, once again, I failed to obtain any photographic evidence.

Sigh.

By the way, I’m still looking for a special someone to do an “artist’s conception” of the creature.

What we know so far:

  • it is white
  • it is moose-sized
  • it has the head of a goat

Do I have any takers? Now I’ve even provided you with an accurate habitat in which to situate the beast.

*

So, what is the best / worst search term that led someone to YOUR blog?

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July 2013 WriMoProg: 64+ 38.5= 102.5/145
[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]


My obscure cryptid sighting: the goblin / devil / mothman / gargoyle.

I have a particular fascination with odd and unusual paranormal creatures. I realize that sounds redundant – paranormal is pretty much defined as odd and unusual – but even among fans of the supernatural, a cryptid’s popularity is based on how familiar a creature is, and how likely we judge its possible existence to be.

In the United States, 36% of people  believe aliens have visited Earth and 29% believe Bigfoot exists. In Scotland, 24% think Nessie is “definitely” or “probably” real.  Of course, ghosts are the royalty of the paranormal kingdom, with 45% of Americans (and a staggering 68% of Brits) willing to admit they believe in hauntings.

Scary Mothman

The Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

But who believes in Springheel Jack, the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, the Devon Devil, the Phantom of Flatwoods, the Jersey Devil, the Hopkinsville Goblins, and Mothman?

Well, I do. Kinda.

When I was a little girl (probably 8 or 9) my stepfather Chet (a junior-high math teacher) took a summer job cleaning a bar after it closed for the night.

At what felt like random intervals (but was probably every Friday or Saturday night) my mother would come into my room, wake me up, and send me out to the car. I remember my teeth chattering as I stumbled from the house to the driveway through wet grass that clutched at my ankles.

Feeling genuinely cold in the summertime was new to me. My bedtime was eight o’clock; I went to sleep and woke up when it was light out. We had no air conditioning, and my mother thought a fan blowing in my room at night would make me sick. As far as I knew – at least until Chet took that job – summer was just one long, variably hot, variably bright, day.

To me, then, it was a grand adventure when – in the middle of the chill, black night – we’d climb into the car and drive forever along winding country roads.

I was encouraged to lay down in the back seat and fall asleep. I never did. Instead, I watched the trees and the starry sky pass by my open window while the adults talked, argued, played the radio and drank beer.

Eventually, the smooth pavement would give way to crunchy gravel, and a few minutes later, we’d pull into an empty dirt parking lot, lit only by moonlight and a string of yellow bulbs that edged an awning over the back door. On the awning, there was a cartoon image of a winking vulpine face and the words: The Red Fox.

After Chet unlocked the door and flipped on a bank of light switches, my job was to look for lost change. I crawled under every table, and dug in the crevices of  every booth and chair. If I found nickles or dimes, I could use them to play the jukebox, but any other money had to be put into a glass my mother set out for me to fill. Meanwhile, the adults would roll up the big mats from the entryways and the area behind the bar,  drag them outside, hang them over a rickety fence and hose them off. While the mats dried, my parents would wipe down the bar and tables, sweep, vacuum, and mop.

Once the floor was wet, I had to sit in a booth with my feet tucked under me. Usually, they would give me a bag of pork rinds, a candy bar, or a cute little glass (a shot glass, of course) full of cherries or filberts to snack on while I waited for the floor to lose its shiny streaks.

Occasionally, when all the work was done, my step-dad would go behind the bar and mix a cocktail for each of us. (Mine was a Roy Rogers … NOT a Shirley Temple.) Then he would climb onto the stage – where I was usually forbidden to go – wend his way through the maze of mic stands, amplifiers and drums, and turn on the power to one microphone. He’d show me a space where I could be, (not close to any of the instruments) hand me the mic, and make me promise to sing real songs … not kid stuff.

I did a mean Tanya Tucker.

Then it would be time to go for another long ride through the night. We never used the exact same route to return home. My mother, who didn’t have her license, enjoyed going for rides and my stepfather would indulge her after the work was done. Sometimes we’d cruise to, and through, a nearby town where the stoplights blinked. Most often, though, we’d take a slow, winding tour through an area with several small lakes and ponds.

It was on one of those nights that I saw a creature that looked something like this:

Gargoyle

It was crouched high in a half-dead oak tree that stood on the bank of a pond. The moon was full, or close to it, and the wind was still. I had enough time to see the creature, look for its reflection in the polished  mirror of water beneath it, then look back up to confirm what I was seeing. I suppose I was wondering if  it was a weirdly contorted part of the tree itself.

Then the damn thing moved. At first I thought it was going to dive into the pond, but then I realized it was just turning away from the road. As we swept past it, I twisted around in my seat to keep it in sight. I swear, its eyes flared red in our taillights. Then I saw it had wings folded down its back.

Now here’s the thing: I wasn’t scared. Just that week I’d met my first salamander and –  until the day I found one under a rock – I’d had no idea such a thing existed. Every month I received a packet of Safari Wildlife Cards in the mail, which I could then sort and file into a red plastic tray. Each card detailed the characteristics of an animal species. I devoured the information on those cards. Every month, there were animals in the deck that I’d never heard of and that seemed hardly possible.  The variety of animal species that populated the world was astonishing to me.

(Weird kid, I know. Keep in mind, that I was raised on hobby farms – and I studied a wide variety of domestic and exotic animals daily. I think, maybe, I was destined to be a wildlife biologist, until the writing bug bit me.) 

When I saw the creature in the tree, I knew I needed to note as many identifying details as possible.

I estimated it to be about the size of a large dog or a small goat, though the shape was wrong. It was holding itself in a hunched, compact, almost huddled position. It had arms and legs shaped like those of a monkey or lemur, but much thicker and bulkier. (The glow in the creature’s eyes tilted me toward a lemur of some kind – I’d just received my first lemur card and I’d been struck by its red eyes.) A primate of some sort seemed most likely, but I was puzzled because its body didn’t look furry, but rather rough and scaly, like an alligator. When I caught a glimpse of the wings, I thought they looked like a bat’s.

Of course, I tried to tell Mom and Chet I’d seen something, but when I described it they chuckled and refused to go back and look for it.

I thought of the creature often in the following years. As I learned more about animals, I came to realize such a thing couldn’t exist within the animal kingdom as I understood it. Then, when I was 11 or 12, I started to come across accounts of cryptids like the Jersey Devil and Springheel Jack. There were similarities but the encounters didn’t seem right. I got excited about Mothman for a while, but that description was really off when I dug into it.

Honestly it wasn’t until I saw a book on the clearance table at Barnes & Nobel that I saw anything that looked right.

book cover nightmares in the sky

So. Do I think it was a gargoyle? No, not if you mean as in the popular 90’s cartoon. (Though I do sometimes wonder what those medieval carvings were based on.)

Was it Springheel Jack, the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, the Devon Devil, the Phantom of Flatwoods, the Jersey Devil, the Hopkinsville Goblins, or Mothman? I have no idea. If you read the wikis on the obscure cryptids I’ve listed, you’ll see there’s always an expert who comes forward to explain such sightings away by saying that some semi-literate yahoo just mistook an owl for a monster.

I may have  only been eight or nine, but I was literate and precociously familiar with biology. Most importantly, I think, I was unbiased as only a child can be when it comes to the difference between “real” and “imaginary” animals. What I can tell you is this: I saw something alive that night, and it was not an owl.

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July 2013 WriMoProg: 60+ 34= 94/145
[X + Y = Z / total-hours goal, where X = writing/editing time, Y= other writerly tasks.]