I’m in the early stages of my investigation of a suspected haunting in the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, a local nature preserve. Last Friday, I shared the Facebook conversation which inspired me to begin this series, as well as brief sketch of the park’s history.
The day after I last wrote about this topic, my husband (aka Ogre) and I visited one small portion of the WMA. Since then, I’ve searched the internet to find any references to paranormal phenomena associated with the area. I am continuing to find and read dozens of old newspaper articles about the park and its environs.
Here’s what I discovered this week:
ACCESSING THE LAND
Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve spent hundreds of hours exploring our local public parks and doing citizen science projects in regional nature centers. My engagement with Carlos Avery, however, has been limited. (Or, at least I thought so, until I began to understand the scope and scale of Carlos Avery. I’ll get back to that in a moment.)
I’ve been driving past, and through, portions of the preserve for most of my life, occasionally noticing small signs meant to identify it, without any real understanding of its purpose. My first order of business was to find out what a “WMA” is.
“Wildlife management areas (WMAs) are part of Minnesota’s outdoor recreation system and are established to protect those lands and waters that have a high potential for wildlife production, public hunting, trapping, fishing, and other compatible recreational uses.”
This, then, is not the kind of park most of us are accustomed to.
It’s a beautiful area with good access. It provides habitat for a multitude of species, (only a fraction of which are game animals.) I’ve learned that it is a popular spot for birders.
But. It is also often full of hunters, many of them inexperienced, who are absolutely intent on killing something.
If, like me, you believe that a haunting can be caused by a concentration of negative or harmful intent, or by a saturation of fear or tragedy, then it’s only logical to see how the atmosphere in a hunting preserve could become … tainted.
(I’m not knocking the practice of hunting. I don’t really get it, in the absence of a need for food, but that’s just me. Here in Minnesota, hunting is fact of life and I don’t begrudge the hunters their space. The WMA isn’t meant for me. I understand that I am only a curious guest there … one who is a little worried about getting shot as I continue to explore the grounds. I think I might need to add some blaze-orange to my wardrobe.)
When Ogre and I visited there were no hunters. (Apparently, though, turkey season has since started.) The access roads were closed to vehicles due to muddy areas, resulting from a recent thunderstorm, but we were encouraged to grab a map and walk in.
In our two and a half mile walk, we saw a flock of turkeys, a herd of deer, a variety of birds, and this little guy:
It’s early spring here, so the park felt quite open and well lit. It was quiet, though some frogs were calling from the wet areas. Overall, it was peaceful and pleasant. At no point did I feel unsettled or uncomfortable.
Of course, this was just a taste of the WMA, in of one of the most frequently accessed areas of the preserve. I have not yet located the specific sites of the tragedies I referenced in part one of this series, so I cannot say that anything bad or traumatic happened here. I would be surprised if there was even much hunting this close to the park entrance.
It does appear that gunfire is common though.
OTHER LARGE PREDATORS & DEAD THINGS:
It’s important to understand that this is a huge tract of land, ( 23,000 acres,) containing a variety of zones which are dedicated to diverse purposes.
This particular WMA includes the Wildlife Science Center on its grounds.
This center “was founded as a federally funded research facility in 1976, in order to observe and document the physiology and behavior of a captive population of gray wolves.” (WSC)
Now, in 2015, the center houses more species than just the grays.
I know this not just because I can use google, but because I was once a regular volunteer there.
Yes, I’m admitting that I have spent a great deal of time on the Carlos Avery property, without realizing it.
In my defense, the Wildlife Science Center feels very distinct from the rest of the WMA. You visit the center by going through this arch, which is visible from a well-trafficked two-lane highway:
The white structures you can see in this photo are part of an eleven building complex built between 1936 and 1941. (I have never been inside any of these buildings.)
After you go through the gate, the road curves to the left, past the complex.
The section of the property which houses the Wildlife Science Center is composed of modern barns and sheds, as well as the main building, which is just a modified, late 20th century, residential house. Large, chain-link, animal enclosures stretch back into the park, providing homes for animals. (Resident species include: gray, red and Mexican gray wolf; coyote; fox; bobcat; lynx; cougar; black bear; porcupine; and several different kinds of raptors.) The entire center is well fenced and only open to public tours on Saturdays.
During the week, the yard of the center is over-run by a pack of 20-30 large-breed dogs which belong to the center’s director … or at least that was true when I was working there ten years ago. (There were also several wolf-dog hybrids.)
Most of my job was dealing with dead things. I chopped up gophers, which had been turned in for a bounty, then laced them with vitamin supplements, so they could be fed to the raptors. I boosted road-killed, maggot-infested, deer into a wheelbarrow and carted them over to the wolf enclosures. (This was very hard for me. I have a particular aversion to maggots.)
I wasn’t permitted to handle the live creatures, (other than the dogs,) though I did once get to stroke an anesthetized adult wolf who was having a medical procedure done.
HOW DOES THIS FIGURE INTO THE HAUNTING?
All of this is a digression, really. Yes, I did feel watched–even hunted–sometimes when I was moving around in this part of the WMA, but that’s because I was being watched, and watched intently, by large predators who wanted my carcasses. Even when I wasn’t toting a corpse around with me, I still reeked of flesh and blood and decomposition. I’m sure I seemed likely to be quite tasty.
(By the way, I loved the work … well, not so much the tasks I was assigned, but the larger work. I’d still be doing it, but I screwed up and got myself dismissed. That’s an embarrassing story for another day, though.)
I will say this: The wolves (and other canids) like to howl. On still nights, and quiet, overcast days, I imagine their chorus can be heard throughout many acres of the WMA. That sound would absolutely contribute to a sense that the area is haunted.
A BRUSH WITH THE SKUNK APE
As long as I went off on this tangent, I might as well share one more interesting tidbit about the Wildlife Science Center. Its director, Peggy Callahan, has appeared as a wildlife expert on an episode of History Channel’s MonsterQuest (Swampbeast, 2007, S1E5.) For the show, she devised and conducted an experiment meant to determine how long it takes for the body of a large beast in the wilderness to decompose and completely disappear.
A RESIDENT CRYPTID & PHANTOM VEHICLES
My quest for accounts of paranormal events associated with Carlos Avery is only beginning. An internet search revealed two primary legends.
One that amused me is our old friend, the Linwood Woolly Beast. If you’ve been reading The Paranormalist blog for a while, you may have run into one of my posts about this creature:
- In search of the cryptid known as the Linwood Woolly Beast.
- In search of the Linwood Woolly Beast: part II
My best guess is that folks are seeing a large, perhaps albino, deer. If you’d like to know more about the critter, feel free to click on one or both of the above links. I won’t be spending a lot of time watching for the Beast. If I spot him, I’ll be sure to let you know.
The second commonly told legend of Carlos Avery is more interesting to me. Apparently several people have reported seeing phantom vehicles in the park. Headlights and taillights are seen shining from areas that are actually inaccessible to a vehicle. (From the middle of a pond, or swamp, or otherwise road-less spot.) This is a legend I can pursue. The WMA is open to visitors from 4:00 am – 10:00 pm. I should be able to legally spend some time driving around in there while it’s dark, once the roads are open.
Though I have some feelers out in search of local people who have had unusual experiences in and near Carlos Avery, I haven’t yet been contacted by anyone other than “Rebecca” my original source.
If you are reading this page because you searched for information about Carlos Avery after encountering something unexplained in or near the preserve, please contact me to share your story. To remain anonymous, send me a PRIVATE message at my Facebook page. Our conversation will be confidential, and you will determine how you will be identified if I quote you or include your experience in this series.
A FEW DETAILS OF THE EARLY LAND USE
Last week, I mentioned that this region of Minnesota was first utilized by fur traders in the 1700s, then by loggers in the early to mid-1800s. After that, some of the land that now makes up Carlos Avery was purchased by a carpet manufacturer which wanted to use the wire grass that grew abundantly there. (Wire grass is similar to sisal.)
Based on these facts, I am assuming that the land has been witness to some significant human activity in the past couple of centuries. I have not been able to confirm any particular settlements prior to 1890, but I do know that the carpet manufacturer created three camps on this property which, at one point, employed 100 men and used 250 horses. (I do wonder what camp life was like at that time, and how this activity could have contributed to the atmosphere of the area.)
After WWI, the carpet industry faltered, and the land became tax delinquent. Many acres reverted to the state’s ownership.
The Carlos Avery Game Park was established on about 8,000 of these acres in 1933. In 1935, the project was approved for WPA status and expanded. Since then, it has been subject to an evolving system of wildlife management.
And so ends my speculation about the pre-1933 era.
UNLESS I STUMBLE ON MORE THINGS LIKE THIS …
My continuing search through old newspapers has turned up a 1911 murder that occurred in Linwood Township, (which now borders a portion of Carlos Avery.) I have not yet ascertained how close this location is to the boundaries of what is currently the Carlos Avery WMA. (Remember, in 1911, the preserve had not yet been established.)
It’s an interesting, if brutal story, so I’ll likely share it in a future post. For now I’ll give you a glimpse of one James Dugart:
Starting next week, I’ll provide the details of at least one of the historical events that could be contributing to a haunting at Carlos Avery.
This is going to be a busy week for me, so I’m not sure I’ll have time to do any on-site investigations, but I will try. (Once I figure out how to not get shot.)
ADOPT HISTORICAL SLEEP PATTERNS TO HAVE MORE MYSTICAL DREAMS
From T. M. Luhrmann at nytimes.com:
MEET ARTIST JURY THE CLOWN
From Mitch Lavender at Life in 64 Square Feet:
READ ANOTHER GOOD CREEPY TRUE GHOST STORY
From Christy at Ghosts & Ghouls:
SUPPORT A DOCUMENTARY OF PARANORMAL WISCONSIN
Jessica Freeburg, children’s writer and paranormal investigator, recently contacted me about a paranormal investigation project that is currently seeking funding on INDIEGOGO. After checking into it, and watching a 30-minute webisode, I am intrigued. In the spirit of being a good neighbor (Jessica is from Minnesota, and the film’s subject is paranormal Wisconsin) I thought I’d share some information:
Haunted State: Whispers of History Past is a unique documentary about the state of Wisconsin that has never before been told. The film focuses on the history and folklore surrounding the state, seeking to answer questions that have been asked for generations …
With a scheduled release for fall 2014, the crew is currently running an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund the final phase of production. “This money will help cover things like insurance, permits and travel expenses. Right now, we’ve got a good movie. We want a great movie,” said Michael Brown, the film’s Executive Producer. Take a peek at their website www.hauntedstate.com for more details and information the film, or go directly to their IndieGoGo page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/haunted-state-whispers-from-history-past/x/7256993 to see how you can become a part of this innovative historical, paranormal film!
Here’s the short trailer for the project, to whet your appetite.
The following 30-minute webisode, however, is what really drew me in. I appreciated the enthusiastic but respectful personality of Michael, who conducts an interesting spirit box session at about the 10-minute mark. I’m also impressed with the captured EVPs.
Check out the INDIEGOGO project:
MOURN A FAD THAT WE ALL WOULD HAVE LOVED
From Patrick Keller at The Big Séance:
READ THE REVIEW THAT INSPIRED ME TO ADD A FEATURE TO MY MOST POPULAR BLOG POST
I think you all know that I don’t often do standard reviews of books and movies here at The Paranormalist. Yes, I have my Courting Creepy Movie Lists, but in them I really only provide a teaser or snippet, my personal reason for recommending the film, and a link to IMDb (or a similar source) so that interested readers can read plot summaries and full-length synopses if they want.
Today, though, I read a review of The Haunting (1963) at one of your blogs that made me think, “Ayup. That’s exactly right. I couldn’t have said it better myself.” That’s when I realized there’s no reason that I can’t link my movies recommendations to reviews written by my blogging peers. (After all, some of you specialize in that art.)
The Haunting happens to rank high on: The 13 most haunting films, for ghost story lovers (and another 13+ worth watching.) Because this is my most popular post, I think it’s the perfect list to host this idea.
The haunting films list is due to be updated, so I’ll start adding review links when I tackle that task. You don’t have to wait until the revamp to see what kind of review I particularly like though … go see an example now:
From Scholar* at The Angry Scholar:
*I do actually know his name, but I learned it AFTER we’d communicated a fair bit, so he will always be Scholar in my mind.
IF YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE A REVIEW (OF ONE OF THE MOVIES ON THIS LIST) HIDDEN AWAY ON YOUR BLOG, DROP A LINK BELOW!
If I agree with your assessment of the film (or if your piece provides an interesting opposing view) I may link it.
There is no way I’m going to capture every great thing that happens in my personal web, let alone on the wider internet. The posts I feature here just happened to catch my eye. They resonated with me and whatever is going on in my life right now. And they are worth sharing.
I’ve been stricken with the flu since Saturday, but I’m feeling much better. Tonight, I return to work at the paranormal hotel. I’ll work tomorrow too, and maybe venture back to the gym for a nice gentle treadmill walk.
If you follow @RRudeParanormal, you already know that my first trip to our brand new health club on Friday evening delayed my realization that I had the flu. The confusion was compounded by my decision to spend all of Friday night writing … and consuming far too much coffee and too many cigarettes. When I woke Saturday morning, feeling awful, I thought I knew what was going on. I “cleverly” tweeted: Gave myself pseudo-flu. First made body aches @ gym. Then stayed up all night smoking. Voila: fatigue, burning eyes, sore throat & cough.
Having thus appropriately mocked myself, I went about my day.
Halfway through my regular shift at the hotel that night, I found myself sprawled on the floor in the office annex, out of sight of any cameras or guests. It was a long, surreal night. (I don’t do fevers well.) And it’s been a long week. Somewhere in that time, there was a trip to a nice doctor who gave me a miraculous slip of paper that said I shouldn’t go to work, or be near anyone. Mostly I’ve been sleeping (and aching and coughing and sneezing and taking dangerously hot baths) but I did put the finishing touches on the following video.
Back in January, my husband and I spent a few hours practicing our paranormal investigation skills in room 217 at the old hotel. We made many mistakes, forgot to do half of what we intended, and had a great time together.
Right now, I’m working on the EVP session that begins just as this video ends. I’ve been shocked to see that no one is posting the kind of EVP video that I want to see – the kind that shows the waveform / sonograph of the suspected EVP right in the video. Turns out, that isn’t as easy to do as I assumed it would be. I’ll figure it out, but it’s going to take a little time and tech. Though it would be easy to spend more hours tweaking part one, It’s time to move on. Before I become immersed in part two, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned so far:
- Practice using your intended investigation tools more than you think you need to – they will be uncooperative when it’s dark, and there’s a camera recording your every hesitation.
- Don’t think you can ad-lib your way through missing props or non-functional tools. Have a backup plan.
- Don’t forget the tripod.
- Wear contacts if you have to. Glasses are distracting in night vision.
- If you’re over 40, try to avoid profile shots.
- Wear dark, matte clothing. The glowing shirt I’m wearing is just a pastel, cotton, button-up.
- Expect that EVERYTHING you record could end up in the final cut – “orbs” don’t wait for you to be ready.
We’re planning a trip to the infamous Palmer House this April. Maybe, by then, I’ll be ready.
I’ve delayed writing about an experience I had in the old hotel for too long. Already, some of the details of the event are slipping away. I can’t remember what night of the week it was, for example, or what the weather was like. I have no recollection of what else was going on my life at the time. I can’t forget, however, exactly what I saw, and heard, inside room 217.
I know that I was working the overnight shift. The hotel was nearly full. It was late. A sixty-something gentleman came in, wanting a non-smoking room for two nights. This presented me with a dilemma. We did have one available non-smoking room, but I knew it was reserved for the following night. Hotel management would frown on me splitting the guest’s two-night stay into two different rooms.
(The hospitality industry hates to accommodate a guest’s consecutive-nights stay using more than one room because doing so raises housekeeping costs. When housekeeping cleans a room from start to finish, it takes about a half hour. When they do a stay-over, it takes about ten minutes.)
So, I lied. I told the gentleman we had only smoking rooms remaining. I also told him that the intensity of the smoke smell in any given room depends largely on how recently the carpets had been cleaned and how heavily the latest guest smoked. I suggested we go have a look at – or rather a sniff of – one of the available rooms, to see if it would work for him. He agreed to my suggestion. When I checked the computer for an empty smoking room, 215 came up.
While the gentleman and I climbed the stairs and walked along the hallway, he told me he was taking a road trip on his Harley, which he was enjoying immensely, but that he was missing his boxer dog. Already inclined to like this polite prospective guest, I warmed to the conversation. As I was telling him about my own dog, I kept an eye out for the room I wanted to show him. Still describing the boxery features of my cross-breed, I stopped in front of room 217. I rapped on the door – because hotel clerks are taught they must ALWAYS knock – then unlocked and opened it. I stepped into the room and reached for the light switch. My hand froze in mid-air.
All the lamps in the room were off, but – because the security light in the parking lot was glowing through the drapes – I could clearly see the bed closest to the window … and what I saw was not the smooth, made-up bed I expected. Instead, I saw the silhouette of a man who had just thrown back the covers. The room was shadowy enough that I couldn’t make out many details of his appearance. The figure was male, I determined, because its shoulders were broad and its hair was close-cropped. I remember thinking, Either his pajamas are awfully snug or he’s naked. In the instant I saw him, he was sitting on the edge of the bed with his back to me, but he was using his arms to push himself up and off the mattress.
I gasped and stumbled backward, into the chest of the gentleman who was trying to follow me into the room. “Oh my God! I’m so sorry,” I said to the figure on the bed. I spun and pushed the prospective guest into the hallway. I pulled the door shut behind me, stopping just short of slamming it. My heart was hammering. I looked up into the surprised eyes of the gentleman and said, “There’s someone in there. I just walked in on a sleeping guest at two-thirty in the morning.”
I must have looked as panicky as I felt because he lightly grasped my arm and guided me away from the door. We stopped in front of room 215. “I thought you said we were going to room 215, but then I thought maybe I was miss-remembering when you walked past it,” he said. “I should have spoken up when I saw the sign on 217 that says it’s non-smoking.”
I believe I responded with, “I am so fired.”
“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” he said gently. “Maybe we didn’t even wake him up.”
“He was getting out of the bed. He must have heard the knock, and was coming to the door.”
“Well, he’s not coming out–” His words were cut off by the distinct sound of the guest in room 217 flipping the security lock to the engaged position. We both stood silently, staring at the door. After a few seconds, he resumed speaking. “See? He’s just going to go back to bed. Maybe he thinks he dreamed us coming in.”
I wanted, more than anything, to run downstairs to see who was in 217. I was hoping it was occupied by one of the construction crew guys. I imagined one of them would be most likely to forgive me, and to not complain to management. I still had to deal with the guest in front of me, however, so – after knocking and waiting a long time to ensure 215 was empty – I showed him the room. He found the scent inside acceptable and agreed to rent it. We headed toward the front desk.
When we came to the end of the hallway, I looked down into the lobby. A fully uniformed police officer was standing at the foot of the stairs. Of course, I immediately assumed the guest in room 217 had called the cops; I was only surprised by his quick response time. On shaky legs, I descended.
The cop nodded at the gentleman and me, then gestured toward the sofa in the lobby, where a young man was trying to sit up straight. “We can wait until you’re done,” he said.
As quickly as possible, I checked the gentleman into the hotel. The last thing he said to me, before heading upstairs was, “I’m sure it will be okay.”
The police officer beckoned the unsteady young man to the desk. He explained he’d found him passed out in the middle of a local bar’s parking lot. Because the young man had not attempted to drive – and seemed to have resources with which he could pay for lodging – the cop didn’t want to haul him all the way over to the drunk tank in the next town. He asked me if I minded renting him a room. I didn’t. Under the cop’s watchful eye, I guided the young man through the process of checking in. The officer then told me he’d escort the young man to the room, and see to it that he got settled in.
After they departed, I had a moment to check to see who was in room 217. I flipped through the file of room cards. The slot for room 217 was empty. I checked the computer. The register showed that room 217 was unoccupied and available for rent, but reserved for the following night. I realized, with shock, it was the same room that I’d lied about, the one I’d said we didn’t have. Incredibly, it took another moment for me to really parse that it was most definitely supposed to be vacant.
More than an hour passed before I summoned the courage to go back upstairs to check the room. The door yielded to my keycard. the room was empty. Both beds were immaculately made up. There was no sign anyone had been in it since it had last been cleaned.
I spent the rest of my shift trying to figure out what had happened. I contemplated the possibility that my own guilty conscience had betrayed me. I told myself I’d led the gentleman to that room because I’d felt bad about not offering it to him. I’d imagined a figure in the room because some part of my unconscious mind realized that I had been about to reveal my lie. I considered my own nature. I call myself the paranormalist, for God’s sake – It’s obvious that I want to see a ghost. Probably I’d just conjured one in my mind. Even after rationalizing the sighting, however, I couldn’t convince myself that the thing I saw was imaginary. It had been solid and it had acted realistically. At the time of the sighting, a paranormal entity couldn’t have been further from my mind. Most persuasively, I knew that I had not imagined the sharp, unambiguous sound of the security lock being engaged.
Days passed. I confessed what had happened to a coworker. I asked her if there were any stories associated with room 217. She said there were not – at least none to her knowledge – but that everyone got the creeps when they passed the weird stairwell that was directly across the hall from its door.
Finally, on a day off, I convinced my husband to come to the hotel with me, so that I could take the photographs you see in this post. Nothing strange showed up in any of the pictures.
By that time, I’d come around to believing I’d imagined the sighting. In order to convince myself, all I needed to do was replicate the sound of the security lock without actually engaging it. We tried to force the door to make the sound the gentleman and I had heard while we stood in the hallway that night. Repeatedly, we left the door just slightly unlatched, so that it might click into place under its own weight.
It didn’t work. The only way we could duplicate the noise was to have my husband stand inside the room with the door closed then flip the security lock.
It wasn’t long after that I was transferred to my new hotel. I haven’t had the chance to pick up a shift at the old place, but I intend to. Some winter’s night, when the hotel is all but empty, I want to unpack my ghost chasing tools and investigate room 217. As long as I’m at it, I’ll go after room 107 too.
I’ll let you know what happens.
WriMoProg: 12 +30 = 42/80 (updated – I’m at almost 10,000 words now)
I feel I should tread carefully in this post, because I’ve just moved to this town. I don’t want to give non-natives the wrong impression of White Bear Lake. And I certainly don’t want to offend my new neighbors by taking a too-ghoulish approach to their local tragic stories – stories that may feel fresh and personal to residents here. Still, I am who I am. I notice things, then turn them over and over inside my head.
Tonight, on the news, there was a story about a woman who went missing from WBL back in 1997. The case has been reopened because new technology – ground penetrating radar – might reveal bones that were missed fifteen years ago.
As I understand it, the woman was last heard from when she emailed a friend, saying that her husband was about to come home to resume an argument. He was the main suspect in her disappearance (and presumed murder) but there was not enough evidence to charge him.
Sixteen months later, he was convicted of raping and torturing a girlfriend in the same house. He served seven years in prison. Now he lives somewhere in Anoka County. He is not listed among the level 3 sexual offenders living in Minnesota.
Yes. I do intend to find the property. After that? I don’t know. I can’t help but be intrigued, but I think I might be better served by continuing to comb White Bear Lake’s 19th century history as I search for the hidden haunts of this town.
When my family decided we wanted to make a new life for ourselves, we chose to move forty minutes due south, to White Bear Lake in Ramsey County, because … well, because this little city has been seducing us for years. My husband and I first came here to have dinner with a pair of interesting writer-acquaintances we had met online. (A decade later, they are dear friends – and now, also our neighbors.) Six years ago, my son got involved with a loosely organized psudo-sword-fighting group which meets in a park here. (The group is still going strong.) A year or so after that, I decided I wanted to find a Unitarian church we could attend. Sure enough, the closest one was in WBL.
Before we knew it, we were traveling here at least twice a week. All those trips to the park and the church meant that I was driving around and through the town often. I found a real bakery, an independent bookstore, and a main street lined with other locally owned small businesses. With each discovery, I became more enamored. Last year, my son’s karate studio opened up a new branch … in White Bear Lake.
In February of 2012, when it was time to leave our old life behind and start over, we came home.
So far, we love it here, but – to be honest – White Bear Lake overwhelms me with its overt wholesomeness. The streets are free of litter; the yards are free of dandelions. Smooth bike paths and sidewalks run alongside lush parks and clean beaches – which are almost always populated by healthy-looking people of all ages and races, most of whom are accompanied by a polite dog or two. In the city proper, there are recycling cans as well as trash bins. There are benches scattered all over town. Hell, some of the businesses put out a clean bowl of water for passing dogs.
If you were to suggest that it all sounds a little like Stepford, you would not be the first. It’s not like that though – I see a fair number of folks that would be considered weird anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Here, though, no one glares at the long-haired, gray-bearded guy who pedals along on his tricycle, not even when his giant American flag hits them in the face as it snaps in his wake. No one stares at out-of-the-norm attire, be it a biker’s dusty leathers or a woman’s jewel-spangled sari. No one looks askance at the strange lady who spends an awful lot of time prowling the local graveyards. (One handsome, fit, middle-aged, property owner helped me find my EMF reader when he discovered me searching for it in the snow. He figured it would be good practice for his trained sniffer dog.)
I was raised in Anoka, a town that should exude the same kind of small-town charm as WBL, because of its similar age and history. The atmosphere there, though, is different. The mood is more suspicious, more depressed. There’s more talk of haunted places and tragic tales. Nothing is quite so clean, no one seems quite so content. Now that I live here – in bright, shiny WBL – I see Anoka’s shadows more clearly.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Anoka too. I love that there is a grave in Oakwood Cemetery for an unknown child who was found at the depot in 1888. I love that the Doctors Kline established a sanitarium there in 1892. I love the fact that Anoka survived five major fires between 1855 and 1884. (And that – after the last, and worst of them – she was rebuilt from brick.) I love that she considers herself the Halloween Capital of the World. I love that she is sad, and tired and old and haunted.
But maybe I perceive a certain darkness in my hometown simply because I know her so well. Tonight I am wondering if I will find that White Bear lake, too, has a battered but resilient soul. I’m wondering if she is haunted. If she is, then I’ll be able to settle here.
This is a hummingbird moth. Well, to be accurate, it’s a snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) which looks more like a very large bumblebee than a hummingbird.
Before I muse on my encounter with this insect, though, I want to explain the title of this post.
The Blog ~
Lately, I’ve been pretty consistent about adding a quick, nightly snippet to my Facebook page, even as I’ve let this blog mostly languish. Almost every evening, I think: This could be expanded into a full post. Then I decide that whatever I’m writing about isn’t quite right for the blog. It’s not creepy enough. Or clever enough. Or well-researched enough. Sometimes my thought is simply: No. I’m too tired to put that much time into writing tonight.
I write slow. Every line of text that makes it to the page has been rewritten a half-dozen times. (Curse the convenience of the backspace button.) Here’s a confession: those “quick” Facebook snippets of mine actually require an hour or more. Mostly because there’s always a slightly better way to express a thought.
Then there are the projects for the blog that never seen to come to completion – I’m embroiled in at least three which I intend to write about … as soon as I finish them.
An example? Back on April 17th, I set myself the task of reviewing, sorting and categorizing films based on the works of Stephen King. There’s a hell of a lot of them, however, and I’m having a problem figuring out where to draw the line. Do made-for-TV movies count? Well, they have to, thanks to The Stand, It and Bag of Bones – all of which I have strong opinions about. And what about the short films?
The Paranormal ~
When my daughter, Pooka, was home for a visit, she accidentally reminded me of what I meant to do back when I started this blog. Somehow – perhaps because I’ve since watched too many ghost hunter shows – I had become fixated on finding a reputedly haunted location to investigate in the customary manner, but that is not what I set out to do. In fact, I wanted to do the reverse – I wanted to closely observe places that inspire in me a sense of mystery, melancholy or dread, and write about that experience. The gadgets and tools were meant to be secondary, a way to quantify any phenomena (natural or supernatural) that contribute to an evocative atmosphere. It took my daughter’s insight to show me that I had gotten caught up in a strange set of ghost hunter rules that I felt ill-equipped to abide by. She helped me remember that I have always been less concerned with finding a ghost than with exploring the sensation of being haunted.
The Book ~
I haven’t been writing it. I haven’t been editing it. I haven’t even read any of it in more than a month. I can hardly remember what it felt like to really work with it. I know there were weeks at a time when I wrote fast and hard – come hell or typographical errors – while generating the bulk of my novel. Forcing myself forward felt awful, but pages chugged out of the printer and the manuscript stack thickened every day. Then I started editing the draft, even though I hadn’t finished writing the story. I think that’s when I first veered off the path.
The Whining ~
To be fair to myself, I did okay for a while even after I switched to editing. Then my life blew up (for the fifth or sixth time in the last four years) and I lost sight of the path entirely. But I digress.
The Solution ~
It’s time to renew my battle with perfectionism. I have to start writing again – not editing, writing. I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but I suspect that letting the blog posts come when they want to is part of it … even when my inner critic says, “No, that topic is not right enough.”
The Moth ~
Which brings me back to the hummingbird moth.
My children and I were visiting the nature center in my new hometown. It has the most amazing play area any of us has ever seen – in this case, a photograph will illustrate better than words:
Yes, there are manufactured caves and rocks to climb on. That muddy patch in the foreground hints at the center’s most brilliant feature: an artificial stream that allows children to slap a rock to make water gush forth and run along the bed. On this day, there were only a couple of preschoolers playing, so the stream wasn’t very full … until my children arrived. (They are 16 and 26, by the way.) They not only filled that stream, they also diverted its flow with a dam. (No, they did not interfere with the little ones; they used the empty end of the stream and dismantled the dam when they were done.)
Then we noticed an insect – something that looked like a giant bee – buzzing in a nearby flower patch. It didn’t take us long to rule out every species any of us had ever seen. We marveled. We snapped pictures. We moved on.
Later, after we used the internet to identify the insect as a hummingbird moth, and after everyone had gone to bed, I sat on the deck in the dark, listening to a lone alien amphibian calling from the pond below me. (I can identify at least six frogs and toads by their calls. This call was similar to an American Toad but different. Perhaps it was just a particularly large specimen, or one that had some sort of mutation.)
I’ve lived in Minnesota all my life, and spent countless hours outdoors. I’ve grown whole gardens to attract wildlife to observe. I’ve done nature studies in swamps, forests and meadows. I consider myself pretty well-informed about the native fauna of my region. How is it possible, then, that I encountered two unknown (to me) species, in one day, when I wasn’t even looking for them?
Granted, moths and toads are small creatures, which can easily escape notice. But they make me wonder what else is out there that I don’t know about. I keep thinking that all of my outdoor time has been spent in, or very near, well-settled areas.
Suddenly I find myself reconsidering what might be lurking in the Northern Minnesota woods.
*”In Minnesota there are approximately 16.3 million acres of forest land, of which 14.9 million acres are classified as “timberland” or lands capable of producing timber. A geographical depiction of forest land location can be seen on the map. An additional 960,000 acres are not included in productive timberland due to their inclusion in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or other reserved land category.”
*Source: USDA Forest Service
I’ve been a busy beginner-paranormalist these last couple of days. On Sunday afternoon, I gathered my ghost investigation equipment before heading out to Anoka’s Oakwood Cemetery. There, I practiced using all of my tools … except the digital voice recorder – which I forgot I had with me. The laser thermometer and the EMF meter are simple, seemingly foolproof, tools; I didn’t spend much time fussing with them during this dry run. I concentrated, instead, on overcoming my fear of my husband’s expensive camera. Once I tamed that, learning my son’s cheap digital video camera was a cinch.
Yes, I enjoyed spending the afternoon wandering the graveyard. No, nothing even vaguely paranormal occurred.
On Sunday night, I figured out how to transfer all the digital data I’d collected to the computer … and how to organize it in a way that makes sense to me. I went to bed pondering what I could do with it.
I spent the daylight hours of Monday learning Twitter … well, getting started in Twitter – I’m sure I have much more to learn. Tweet me: @RRudeParanormal, if you are so inclined 🙂
Monday evening, I settled in at the computer with a program called Windows Live Movie Maker. Determined to figure out how to make a slideshow, I took a deep breath and dived in. Seven hours later, I surfaced with this one minute and forty-seven second “movie”.
Yep, it has a typo. I would like to fine-tune the title. And there are a couple of time adjustments I’d like to make. (I don’t know how I failed to notice those problems in any one of the dozens of times I reviewed and tweaked the damn thing before hitting save – but I did.) I am, however, valiantly resisting the urge to go back in to make the fixes. Sometimes it’s best to just let. it. go. I am going to have to be very careful – I can’t afford to spend too many hours playing with this wonderful new toy if I intend to maintain a healthy writing practice.
Still, I can’t wait to go get more footage (maybe even of something interesting) so I can make better, stronger, longer movies.