dispatches from terra incognita

Category: Praise

A Year About the Place

My absolute favorite place upon this Earth is my home. An unanticipated bright side to this year was that I got to spend a lot more time there. My wife and I made an extra effort to document the year along the way.

This post will concern some of my other hobbies — gardening, carpentry, sky-gazing …


Nandina bushes and a patio bench on the 1st day of 2020.
Front of the house, 1/1/2020.


New “prep” table. All eggs laid by our industrious hens.
Unusual February snow in North Carolina.
The new “solarium” I was in the process of finishing. Began life as a simple deck, then a larger screened porch. Now glassed and heated/cooled.


Cherry tree blossoms.
Front corner of the lot. I have been an unlucky beekeeper. The hives are empty.
Signs for the garden, fashioned by my younger son & niece.


Dogwood blossoms.
Called “the Wonderland,” Hobby Shack in the background.
My wife’s birthday feast.
Working to enclose the garden vs. varmints.


Sustenance in order to persevere.
The garden, complete.
Most prolific garden we have had in 20 years.


One of the aforementioned varmints, helping herself to my chickens’ feed.
The “solarium,” largely complete.


Marital collaboration: birdhouse and post by me, sign painted by my wife.
Summer flowers, and basil in the background. The counter is cherry, made by me.
Luminaries on our street, in honor of a beloved neighbor who died.
Bounty from the garden.


The “cutting garden,” source for the zinnias.


I believe these marigolds made a previous appearance on this blog.
The okra plants gave all summer.


Bought from an artist, years ago. A favorite.
Lightly haunted.
Swamp sunflowers. A favorite — I am surprised every year when these open.


Red maple in its glory.
Morning in the kitchen.
Front porch on Veterans’ Day.


Reminiscent of Owl’s living room in the Arnold Lobel children’s book, Owl at Home.
The room was built to hold this tree.

Thanks for sharing this journey!

I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

Henry thoreau, Walden, 1854

Further praise

I have been driven to the point of proverbial distraction by ætheric misbehavior. I put in hours to perfect the fine points of an imaginary language, only to discover that my blog obdurately declined to reproduce it accurately.

After spending significant portions of multiple days questing for resolution of the issue, I once again put myself in the capable hands of WP Tech Support. An expert soul called “Honey” sorted the issue, and now the Ascaria Parts I and II appear as I intended.

One side effect is that some punctuation and oddments were replaced by “?” in older posts; I’ll have to comb through them gradually and re-type. I did manage to learn just enough about SQL Databases and character set collation to be dangerous, but not enough to repair the problem.

It’s my sincere hope that this old Circa Games machine should be running smoothly and securely now, so that I can devote more time to creativity than maintenance.

A word from our sponsor

A brief peek “under the hood” at Circa Games. I rarely do “commercial breaks,” but I was ably assisted in a time of need, and thus am moved to sing appropriate praises.

Broadcasting was temporarily disrupted for a day or two here in terra incognita, owing to my apparent technical hubris. I grew tired of seeing the little warning that my humble blog was “unsafe” due to its lack of an SSL certificate. True, we conduct no sensitive business here, but one day I may offer my humble services as a terrain builder, and thus I want positive “brand” associations.

At any rate, my web provider made it easy enough to acquire an SSL, but installing it was a bit more arcane. This is a WordPress.org site, which means I have my own web host for a WordPress blog. It may in fact be cheaper for me to have gone the WordPress.com route, where they host it, but I have a legacy provider and domain name from the previous website I ran, starting way back in 1999.

Well, my maladroitness resulted in the site going straight offline. I mucked about using WordPress support forum advice, likely making things worse by the minute. Finally I engaged the services of a company called, informatively, WP Tech Support, who, for a well deserved $65 US, had it back up and whirring within an hour. 

Should you experience difficulties with a WordPress.org blog, I unreservedly recommend WP Tech Support.

Notice the reassuring little “lock” symbol next to my web address. Security, hard won.

A Parable…

This is a parable concerning craft paints, real guitars, and pretend pianos. I wrote a bit in my essay on the GULP that I paint both terrain and miniatures with inexpensive craft paints. This wasn’t always the case.

When I was new to the hobby of collecting and painting miniatures, I did a lot lot of research online. Rather than serving as inspiration, all those meticulously painted miniatures served as intimidation and generally hindered the process. I started out buying Testors acrylics (because those were available at my local hobby shop, Hungates) but soon fell under the spell of Æheric fiends asserting that only Games Workshop pigments were worthy. But nothing I painted with those expensive paints looked like those I saw online.

I eventually stopped painting miniatures entirely, focussing instead on terrain, which, of course, I daubed with craft paint from Walmart, Michael’s, and A.C. Moore. When I embarked upon the Square Pegs project, it seemed obvious to use craft paints, as those cylindrical warriors boast a lot of surface area. Plus, for awhile there, GW kept changing around their paint names, pot types, and generally confused me. When the big box o’ Reaper Bones arrived all bendy-plasticy, craft paint kept flowing.

Now, if you’re wondering, or just bored, this is when I get to the parable part with musical instruments.

For way longer than I’ve collected miniatures — about 30 years, in fact — I’ve played guitar. Or rather, I’ve attempted to play guitar;— I am an auto didact, not a particularly perspicacious one, and it took me about 26 years of making noise to realize that it’s difficult to teach yourself how to do something that you don’t know how to do…

So, I carried my son for guitar lessons for a year or so, and worked up the nerve to take some myself. My teacher was a professional musician who had been involved in jangle-pop music in the 80’s North Carolina music scene, contemporaneous with rise of R.E.M. His band wasn’t similarly successful, but he loved to play guitar, so he made a life of working in the studio, teaching guitar, and playing in local bands. His especial gift is a connection between ears, brain, and fingers. In addition to the encyclopedia of songs he knows, he can simply listen to a song, figure out what the guitarist is playing, and transcribe it for the student.

Back in the 80’s, I had a serviceable guitar purchased by my parents. But I too was under the spell of the young R.E.M. and decided that an expensive electric guitar would certainly improve my playing. I got a bank loan (!) to purchase a Rickenbacker 330, which cost the equivalent of $3700 in today’s dollars (!). The short and obvious conclusion to this part of my tale is that this dear beauty didn’t bring me any closer to Buck. I was just a lousy guitarist with an expensive axe. I’ve collected a few more here and there, and as recently as a few years ago bought a Squier Telecaster (at least I didn’t bite for the real deal) because I thought that would make me better… [Since writing this, I traded up the Squier for a made in Mexico tele.]

The main guitar I practice on to this day is that serviceable Yamaha dreadnought bought for me by my parents circa 1984. One afternoon, my teacher Brad was adeptly unravelling some tune for me on his beat up, Willy Nelson-looking classical guitar, and I fumbled along behind pathetically. Bothered by some sort of string buzz emanating from my guitar, he asked if he could play it for a moment. Music erupted like you hear on the radio. There was still some sort of buzz owing to the vagaries of 30 year-old frets, but he could minimize it by how he held his fingers.

Some days later, while painting clothespins to look like 19th century Victorian soldiers, I was visited by epiphany. Brad sounded great on his old practice guitar, he sounded great on my middling Yamaha, and he sounded great on his expensive Les Paul; he is a gifted musician and would sound great on a tissue box with rubber bands stretched across it. He is a living equivalent of Schroeder in Peanuts, who can coax classical music out of a piano with the black keys painted on.

Great miniature painters can go on for as long as they like about the necessity of expensive paints, but I’m fairly certain they could knock out superb work with daubs of mud and a stick. I’m not saying that only a gifted few can do great work;— rather, that the amount of practice one puts in trumps the quality of the tools.

So, I plan to plod on with craft paints and an inclination to improve my technique. I won’t try anything too hard; I’m satisfied with a base coat and shading with future wash. After 20-odd years and a modest accumulation of guitars, I have learned to Travis pick and can sound like a coffee house folk singer should I want to. In all of my hobbying, I attend to people who have practiced more than I (and are likely more talented than I), incorporating what I can.

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