I don’t think I shall ever see a tree as pretty as a bumble bee.– William Shakespeare”Grandpa Bigley
I heard that saying a lot as a kid whenever my grandpa was feeling whimsical or faux-philosophical. I heard it so often it’s stuck with me to this day. It never really made sense what it meant, but my grandpa found it funny so I found it funny too. This brazen misquote, I only found out after his passing, wasn’t even based on anything Shakespeare ever said. Instead, it comes from the poem Trees by Joyce Kilmer which starts off, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.”
My grandpa was famous for his storytelling. Of course, he had his share of true stories, but the ones he made up held particular notoriety. Decades after he came up with them people would ask him to retell these tales. I remember one story my grandpa would tell about the time he wrestled Sampson the gorilla after he escaped from the zoo (they never did manage to put my grandpa back in the zoo). Other times he created a story right there on the spot for my amusement.
Even from a young age, I knew those stories were made up, much like the Shakespeare quote. It didn’t matter though; they were hilarious and enjoyable and that was the fun of it. I think that influenced me a lot, listening to my grandpa or watching him tell these stories to other people. From grade school or even earlier, I had stories of my own to share, convincing classmates of the leprechauns that lived in my backyard or the sharks at the deep end of the public swimming pool.
Where The Stories Started
In one particular high school math class, I remember repeatedly milking the Monday session where our teacher asked us about our weekends. He probably wanted to kill time as much as we did, so I would happily oblige. I’d weave embellished tales of my adventures to black, sulfurous, death-lagoons, across traction-less, ice-coated tundras, or down crumbly cliffs overhanging the raging Menomonee river.
I also read and was read to a lot as a child. Whether it was stories from the Irish legends like “Finn McCool” or “Cuchulainn,” my all-time favorite of Treasure Island, Harry Potter, or the countless other books I picked up from the local library, these were always my escape from the frigid Wisconsin winters. They taught me adventure was out there waiting, you just had to go and find it.
Exploring The Unknown
Exploration into the untamed and unknown called to me. What started off as extra-long walks with the dog or bike trips pushing another mile, and then a mile further down the bug-line trail turned into bike trips from Milwaukee to Madison, and hikes across the entire Virginian Appalachians. That evolved further into “true” mountain climbing with axes and crampons at elevation and a solo trip into the Colombian Amazon.
One of my first “big” purchases was a kayak. I took it out on some lakes a few times before eventually rolling it in a rain/hail/wind storm while kayaking with my dad. That became the feature of one of my English papers the following school year and one of my first penned adventure stories. In college, some friends and I decided to go winter kayaking in the Plover River near Stevens Point, Wi. This was a dangerous, and probably stupid, idea which left me as cold as I’ve ever been.
That section of river is a lovely little float in the summertime, but the winter had been harsh. Tree after tree were left fallen across the river and sections had completely frozen over, forcing a lot of maneuvering and many portages. What started off with the bad idea of kayak-tobogganing down an embankment into the river (soaking our bottom halves instantly) ended well after dark and hours longer than we expected. We came prepared, however, having packed extra (dry) socks, as well as some whiskey and chocolates for warmth. That’s just the sort of story I live for!
Travel was always another outlet for adventure. My family would use the excuse of a feis (Irish dance competition) to vacation to other places like Kentucky, Ohio, the Twin Cities or otherwise. I got a job at fifteen so I could travel to Ireland/Northern Ireland and visit all the friends I’d made during the Milwaukee Ulster Project. At nineteen I spent a semester in Hungary where I also poked around to nearby Serbia, Slovenia, and Germany. That experience led me to write what I hoped would become a graphic novel for children, based loosely on my time there. Finally, after college, I moved to Sacramento, CA where I currently reside and periodically adventure out from.
How What Goes Unseen Began
Upon first landing in Sacramento, I was very broke and ended up working multiple jobs just to scrape by. During that period, I had very little free time, let alone time to adventure into the wild. Much like during my youth, I used stories as a getaway to adventure, only this time I did more writing them than reading them. Much of this started while I rode the train from one job to the next, trying to escape the rut of endless work. If I missed one of the later trains home that meant I had an extra half hour to kill, a prime excuse to put some words on the page.
So, I wrote for my mind to adventure while my body could not. Some of these initial musings got typed up, and some of those got edited and revised under the delusion that someone might read them someday. After a change in employment (really after like eight changes in employment) I became more financially stable. This opened up some free time to adventure and provided the gas money to get there. I kept writing, however, because as it turns out writing is a lot of fun. Eventually, I linked up with the fantastic publisher, MKZ Books, Inc. (they go by Calling Card Books and Z Girls Press), and months of grueling edits later, my stories were ready to print!
Experiencing the thrills of the unknown is my passion but sharing that experience with others is a close second. I love taking people beyond their comfort zone, if only in their heads. Some say that’s the only way to see who you really are. I don’t know if that’s true, but often as not it does change who you are, if only in some small way. I can say for certain I’ve been changed by stories just as much as (if not more than) any brush with death has ever influenced me. So, to those who are curious about what’s out there but content to remain in the safety of their own homes, these are the stories for you. Be warned, however, for while your body is safe and sound, your mind will be whisked away into the unknown. Do not worry about becoming lost, if you are too disoriented you can always just close the book. Be cautious, rather, of what it is you find there. Once out the other side and back amongst the familiar it might be too late, but only then can you appraise if what lurks in the dark was better left unseen.