Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit #9 – Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

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This book is for the busy person but who would still like the feeling of the dark frightening them for the evening. Through the Woods is an amazing graphic novel written by Canadian, Emily Carrol. The stories have a fairy tale theme to them, but take the stories to a dark conclusion that will leave you feeling that the dark is closing all around you and you don’t want to venture out into the wilderness on your own. Add to these stories an element of brilliant art work with a great use of color and you have a series of stories that are fin to read, will leave you thinking about the ending, and give you the creeps that a good Halloween story should. This is a book that should be on everybody’s shelf. It is on mine, and I know I enjoy pulling it out every once in a while to enjoy the stories that it hold because they are fun and thoughtful.

Books to Get You In the Halloween Spirit #10 – Tithe by Holly Black

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Disney has ruined the integrity of Celtic mythology. People now believe that fairies are happy creatures that fly through the air spreading joy and happiness all the while looking cute as button. This is not the way these stories started. There was a darker edge to the mythology as two warring courts fought over the control of nature and didn’t really care about the humans who got in their way. A few authors keep the true spirit of this mythology in their stories, and the best one of them is Holly Black. This modern faerie tale is not one that you read to your children before you put them to bed at night. It focuses on the darker side of the human soul and toys around with the idea of what is the true nature of evil. I read this book for the first time twelve years ago, and the story of a girl who did not know she belonged to this darker world as she navigates through it has always stuck with me. If you want to get spooked during these chilly autumn evening while getting in touch with your Celtic heritage, this is the book for you.

Books to Get You in the Halloween Spirit

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#10 – Tithe by Holly Black

Disney has ruined the integrity of Celtic mythology. People now believe that fairies are happy creatures that fly through the air spreading joy and happiness all the while looking cute as button. This is not the way these stories started. There was a darker edge to the mythology as two warring courts fought over the control of nature and didn’t really care about the humans who got in their way. A few authors keep the true spirit of this mythology in their stories, and the best one of them is Holly Black. This modern faerie tale is not one that you read to your children before you put them to bed at night. It focuses on the darker side of the human soul and toys around with the idea of what is the true nature of evil. I read this book for the first time twelve years ago, and the story of a girl who did not know she belonged to this darker world as she navigates through it has always stuck with me. If you want to get spooked during these chilly autumn evening while getting in touch with your Celtic heritage, this is the book for you.

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#9 – Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

This book is for the busy person but who would still like the feeling of the dark frightening them for the evening. Through the Woods is an amazing graphic novel written by Canadian, Emily Carrol. The stories have a fairy tale theme to them, but take the stories to a dark conclusion that will leave you feeling that the dark is closing all around you and you don’t want to venture out into the wilderness on your own. Add to these stories an element of brilliant art work with a great use of color and you have a series of stories that are fin to read, will leave you thinking about the ending, and give you the creeps that a good Halloween story should. This is a book that should be on everybody’s shelf. It is on mine, and I know I enjoy pulling it out every once in a while to enjoy the stories that it hold because they are fun and thoughtful.

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#8 – I am Legend By Richard Matheson

When I placed this book on the list, I thought long and hard about which cover I would include for the post considering there are so many of them out there. The one I chose was the one that spoke to me the most when it said, “The book that inspired the hit motion picture.” Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the movie, but there is not a lot of similarities between that story and the one that Richard Matheson wrote. Yes, there is a character Robert Neville in both and he thinks he is the last person left on earth. A dog dies tragically in both stories as well. Beyond that, there is no other real connection. Robert, in the book, is plagued with vampires that hang outside of his house and taunt him, and the twist at the end of the story really sends your mind racing. The whole meaning of the title changes because of this twist, and it makes for a more profound story. If you have enjoyed the movie, you still need to pick up this short read because it is really different than the original. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, watch that first before reading the book because it will only anger you with how much they changed the story to meet their needs. Either way, you will come away thinking that I Am Legend is one of the best horror novels ever written.

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#7 – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Forget the fact that this book won the Newberry Award. I would tend to agree with the assessment of most people that any book that wins this award tends to be mushy, predictable and only worthy of the time of the people who inhabit the grades five through eight. There are some exceptions to the rule, and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is a great example of this. From the opening line you know this book is going to explore some dark subject matter that might not be suitable for a younger audience. But that is the brilliance of this book. Neil Gaiman takes his usual love of mythology and magic and blends together a tale that doesn’t speak down to its audience, but instead treats them as the intelligent human beings that they are. Because of this, the story that is told not only appeals to the middle school crowd, but also to lovers of a good horror story as well. Neil Gaiman is one of the best writers practicing the craft right now, and this book is an example why.

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#6 – Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury has long been considered an American treasure, and his stories would play with reality in such a way to reveal the truth about the world we live in. Most of the time, he delved into themes set in science fiction worlds that only his imagination could have created, but one special story set a darker mood that haunted anyone who read the story, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Yes, the title comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in reference to the title character entering right before he speaks with the three witches. It makes the viewer wonder who should be the one that should be trusted much as Ray Bradbury does with his carnival that visits a small American town. What secrets does the traveling freak show hold? Why are so many people interested in what appears to be cheap displays and rides? How are two boys’ lives changed by what they find there? These are the questions that this amazingly dark and creepy tale tells, and there is no way that anyone can read this book without getting creeped out by what happens.

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#5 – The Shining by Stephen King

You knew that Stephen King would make this list somewhere. What would a list of books about getting in the Halloween spirit be without his name. Some might not agree with the selection of the book that I chose. They might think that there are many more scary stories that he has written and this is the obvious choice. But stop for a second, and think about where I come from. This story speaks to me at another level than any of his other books. Being trapped in a Colorado snowstorm is something that has always terrified me. Going stir crazy because of the lack of alcohol and any outside contact is another thing that speaks to me. Add in the fact that it is set in one of the creepiest hotels I have ever spent the night in makes this story really come to life. Yes, that is the Stanley Hotel on the cover of this book, and it really does exist in Estes Park, Colorado. It is still open and for a few extra dollars, you can spend the night in Room 237. They will even run the Stanley Kubrick film twenty-four hours a day on their television station, but still reading the book is scarier than the vision that this director had for this horror classic.

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#4 – The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

I used to teach a horror literature class, and I would start the year off by talking about the history of this genre. Even though there were some instances of horror before Edgar Allan Poe sat down to craft his unique brand of literature, most modern writers of this genre can trace their roots back to this man. His exploration of the gothic side of our nature and the things that haunt us the most have created some of the most iconic moments in all of literature. His poetic ability also creates a melancholy mood while lyrically creating a sound unique to his style. When thinking of the month of October, Edgar Allan Poe’s name is synonymous with all of the classic creatures that decorate people’s houses to let us know that this holiday is just around the corner. With stories such as “The Cask of the Amontillado”, “The Tell Tale Heart”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”, people would have a hard time making an argument why Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works should not be included on this list.

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#3 – The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

A lot of the books that I have included on this list so far have been pretty obvious, so it is probably pretty surprising that I would include a book that many people have never heard of and at such a high position on the list. But that is the problem with this book; more people need to know about this story. Around the turn of the nineteenth century in New England lived a man who studied the monsters of the world, and used his knowledge of them to keep the rest of society safe. The sad thing is his decisions have caused the death of many of the loved ones around him including his father and his faithful apprentice. Because of his guilt, he takes his deceased apprentice’s son as his new ward even though he is barely a teenager. When a gravedigger shows up at his house in the middle of the night with the corpse of a anthropophagi (see Shakespeare’s Othello for a description), a story starts to unravel that will leave you breathless. The book asks the question of what a monster really is and how we can decide for ourselves. Mix in some incredible language, dynamic characters reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and some daddy issues and you have one of the best horror novels ever written. It has won the Michael Prinz award for literature and has spawned one of the most unique series ever written. You can not pass up this book because it will instantly become one of your favorites. Some day when they get around to making it into a movie, you will be able to say you knew this story when it was the incredible book that it is now.

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#2 – Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre by H. P. Lovecraft

It really doesn’t matter which book of H.P. Lovecraft you pick up, they will all be a collection of short stories that when put together will tell a greater tale of horror that makes you wonder about the world that we live in. The mythology he has created touches upon the darkest part of humanity and leaves enough of it unexplained to send your mind reeling to fill in the blanks. He understood the concept of fear better than any other writer out there, and he exploits that feeling in each of his readers. Lovecraft understood that fear begins with what we don’t know, so the mythology he created is always shrouded in mystery. The creatures of your nightmares always stand on the edge of your perception, but anytime you look to see what they are they disappear. It is the masterful turn of plot that allows your imagination to run away with what you do not know is there. This philosophy works perfectly for everybody who reads his stories because H.P. Lovecraft knew that what scared one person did not necessarily scare another, but that feeling of fear is within each and every one of us. By bringing us to the edge of that fear, and then letting us supply our own horror, he was able to tap into each individual’s nightmare. These are not stories to be read for the light of heart, but they are worth it if you want explore that darker side of your soul.

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#1 – Haunted by Chuck Palahnuik

Only two writers have been able to achieve such a horror in my adult life that I have had such terrible nightmares in the middle of the night that I have woken up in a cold sweat willing to take the risk of keeping my eyes open until the comfort of the morning sun relieves me from the horror that is somehow wrapped around my brain because of their prose. The previous book on this list is one of those writers, but the other one is one of the best satirical voices of this era, Chuck Palahnuik. Haunted is the story that he wrote that gave me these tremors. Now, I will place the disclosure before I continue on with my discourse about his brilliance that what he wrote is not for the feint of heart, and if you are young, there is no way that you should ever consider reading this book. Keep in mind, I am an adult who enjoys exploring the dark side of the soul, and this book gave me nightmares. Just imagine what it will do to an individual who is not ready for these ideas. If you are still curious I would suggest you read “The Nightmare Box” first before you explore the rest of the book. It is in the middle of the book, and it is okay to read that first because the book is actually a frame story, much like a haunted version of The Canterbury Tales. Palahniuk wrote a series of stories that are tied together with one common idea in this book, and some of them are so dark and disturbing that you will start to wonder if they are really about you. “The Nightmare Box” gives you a glimpse of what will happen to you if you believe you are strong enough to look into all of these stories. They are not your typical horror tales of monsters lurking under the bed. Instead, they are the monsters haunting us from the inside. If you believe that you are strong enough to take that peek into the Nightmare Box, then start back at the beginning, but understand that what you see there you can not take back. Reader beware, this is one of the most horrifying experiences of your life.

 

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The Effects of Colonialism

 

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If you look out your window and down on the streets of your neighborhood, or the area where you work, you expect to see a diverse population moving about their business. You believe that your community has people from different backgrounds, from different cultures, and from different heritages. If you are in America, you believe that this melting pot of people is part of the reason that the country has grown into what it is today. But take a closer look at those people as they pass by your window. Is it really as diverse as you think it is? Do you really see a huge mixing of cultures, or are you only imagining it because this is the way we have been taught how to think? I know that when I look out my window it is not a vast collection of cultures, but then again I live in a place where this melting pot idea has not taken root yet.

Some people would claim that this segregation of cultures is one of the downfalls of the American society and something must be done about it. But how are we to combat this problem if  we are not the ones who segregate ourselves? Look at a lunch room at any local high school and you will see a phenomenon that will make your stomach turn. The cultures that you believe should blend so well together move to different tables to be with like-minded people. You can’t blame these people for doing this. It is a scary thing to get up from one table full of the people you are comfortable with to make that huge journey over to the next table of people who might not see the world the same way as you do. What if they don’t bring you into their fold? What if they don’t listen to the new ideas that you have to offer them? What if they shun you for being different, or even worse, what if they just kill you? It is better to stay put with like-minded people and not deviate from the place where you find comfort. There is no place on earth where this mythical blending of cultures exists anyways.

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I have pondered this problem for many years wondering if there was ever a way to create a society of diversity that would be accepting of others and was about to give up. This was until I visited the city of Hong Kong. This is where the melting pot of the world happens. I have never seen such a blending of cultures in my life. Any corner you turned would introduce you to a diverse group of human beings speaking different languages, practicing different beliefs, wearing different clothes, and yet still managing to get along. How could this be possible? It went against everything I had observed so far in life. What event brought all of these people together to work towards one common goal of bringing a great city up from the depths of a small fishing village? It must have started with the British occupation of the town.

Even though diversity is present in Hong Kong, there are still two major influences occupying this city, that of the Chinese and the British. The clashing cultures seemed to find a way to work together in harmony, and I hate to say it, but the thing that probably brought them together was the concept of money. Hong Kong is definitely one of the economic hubs of the world. It makes sense due to the fact that it is nestled in the perfect location for shipping trade between Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and even North America. Goods and supplies must have come in and out of this location for years, but it would not have happened if it was left under the control of the Chinese. This is not meant to criticize that culture in any way, but it has only been in recent history that this country had opened its doors and was willing to let visitors in to witness its greatness. If the British had not colonized this small portion of the country, it would have taken a lot longer before people could have experienced their unique brand of culture. It would have been as closed to the world as the rest of China had been.

Combine the British colonization with the economic rise that this city experienced over the years, and it is no wonder that more cultures found their way to this place. They all started to work together to develop the city into this fiscal giant it is today, as well as the true melting pot of the world. So now, when you visit this bustling metropolis, it is easy to experience many different corners of the world all at once.

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Hong Kong doesn’t only leave its mark on the world financially, but it is also one of the greatest film producing cities in the world. I did not know this when I came to visit here, but after walking around for a few minutes, I quickly realized that I was in the East Asian equivalent of Hollywood. Pictures and statues dedicated to the legends that this industry has produced are all over the town. There is a walk similar to the one in Hollywood where you can see how your hands and feet match up with some of their greatest stars. And if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will be asked to wait as a film crew pieces together a scene that will be used for an upcoming blockbuster. I was lucky enough to experience this on the first day I was in town. As I was checking into my room I looked out my window and watched as a film crew shot a scene on the busy streets of Kowloon. Once again, it was an aspect of the culture that I was not expecting.

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I was also surprised at how green this city was. Not very often do I think of a city in the protection of China as having the ability to take care of the nature that surrounds it. Expansive parks are in the middle of the city inviting you to take a leisurely stroll through them. You no longer feel like you are walking through one of the largest cities in the world. There are even surprises along the way. What you thought was just a pond placed in the middle of a park after further inspection would reveal that it is actually the home to flamingos, another inhabitant that I don’t believe is indigenous to the region.

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While I was walking the streets of Hong Kong, I started to believe that there couldn’t be a place more diverse than this place. But on a day trip from there, I soon discovered I was wrong. I traveled over to the city of Macao. This took an hour to get there by high-speed ferry. It was another city in the China region that was influenced under the sphere of another European country. This time it was Portugal instead of Britain. The difference was that this city did not become the giant economic powerhouse that Hong Kong had become, and because of this, the flavor of this city is different than the one I was staying in.

First of all, the Portugal influence is huge. There are city squares placed strategically all over to allow the fine citizens of the city to congregate and the merchants to sell their wares to visitors. These plazas are still there and in recent years they have undergone some revitalization to attract more visitors. It has worked because these are now the central meeting places in the city.

Besides the city layout, other Portuguese architecture  can be seen here and there. St. Paul’s Cathedral was one of the first Catholic churches built in East Asia, and the Jesuits opened the first university in the area as well. Sadly, early in the 19th century, the building caught on fire, and all that is left is the façade of the building. It is now one of the biggest landmarks and the greatest tourist attraction of the city. There are thousands of people milling on the steps of the cathedral to take picture and stroll further up the hill to the other structure that reminds visitors of the colonization of this city, the old fort that was built to protect the citizen of the town from would-be invaders.

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It is quite the fortress on what used to be the highest point of the city. Of course, modern buildings have overtaken the peak’s high point, but it is still interesting to wander around this structure’s great vantage point to see the various parts of the city that have been left behind. This is when you start to see how diverse this city actually is.

The first thing that you notice are the collection of buildings situated near the ferry terminal. They seem a little out of place, almost like the Portuguese ruins. This is because they are replicas of the casinos that you would find in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is as if a piece of the United States has been placed in the middle of the East Asian city. When you start to think about the economic structure that has been set up by the modern Chinese government, it sense of irony really starts to bug you. This bastion of capitalism really seems out of place in a country that has lived by the precepts of communism for so long. It adds more to the mix making the argument for the most diverse place on earth even stronger.

There is still, of course, the various temples to old Chinese gods, and Buddha. The biggest one is the temple to A-ma on the southern tip of the island. It is an old maze of stone staircases, and shrines that ask practitioners to light some incense to pay homage to the god of the fishermen. By doing so, it ensures that the next catch they make will be a good one. It is amazing that this ancient temple has been preserved for so long. It makes you wonder about what that says about the strength of certain institutions and how some can withstand the test of time while others are only there for a shorter period.

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My trip to Hong Kong begged for me to search the path of enlightenment to find the true meaning of togetherness. Which path has led us to this ideal. Is it the great American melting pot, or is it Hong Kong? Should togetherness come through assimilation or should it come through acceptance? I know my trip to Hong Kong opened up my eyes to different possibilities, and I now must ponder the question further to come up with the better answer. Therefore, I will find a tree to sit under, gather up its shade and think about this as I travel this voyage to true enlightenment.

The Danger of Complacency

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I am now a month into my second year of teaching in an international setting. It has been easier this year to make the transition into the teaching grove. By this time last year, I was still wandering the streets of Seoul with my eyes opened wide believing that I was on some magical vacation that would never end. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this foreign environment was now my home and I needed to figure out how to work within its confines. I struggled with this during my first year, and it felt as if I was starting my teaching profession all over again.

But then the second year came around. I touched down in Incheon Airport knowing exactly what I needed to do to get through customs. The bus to my neighborhood was now routine. I snickered and felt for the new teachers who wore the wide-eyed look that I wore the previous year. There was nothing that this country could throw at me that I couldn’t expect and handle. I was now a part of the team and I felt a sense of acceptance that I had not previously felt. The experiential education trip I was in charge of was going smoothly as the team the school had given me took on the challenge, leaving me to pick up some of the loose ends to make sure all the little details were accounted for. I could lace my fingers behind my head and lay in the tall grass without a care in the world. The trip would take care of itself, and there wasn’t much I needed to worry myself over.

Of course, you know that this isn’t that kind of story. Nobody wants to read about a man without any problems. There has to be a monster lurking around the corner the man doesn’t know about that will bring about his demise. My monster has a name and it called itself Complacency. This idea that you are in control of your destiny just because you have done something before could be the most dangerous idea that you can allow to possess you. First of all, you are never in control of your destiny. There is always somebody, somewhere that will create a problem for you that will delay the path you have laid out for yourself. Secondly, without any struggle you never grow as a person. It was this look for a struggle that caused me to give up my comfy home in the United States so I could grow as an individual and a teacher, and here I was in my second year already believing that I had everything under control.

I should have paid attention to the music industry’s warning about artists’ second albums. Critics always warn listeners about this album for any band or musician that exploded onto the scene after a successful first showing. They even have a name for it, the Sophomore Slump. These musicians who were so hungry for fame and finally got the chance to taste it, now had to create a follow up that lived up to what they had just done. They don’t know this though. After producing such a masterpiece, they believe they can do no wrong. They are invincible. They are creative. They are popular. Of course, all the drugs they are doing does not help them see what is really going on. What they eventually come up with does not come close to the fresh and original album they had just created. It falls flat because it is just a reproduction of what they had just produced earlier, and it is all because they became comfortable in the role that they were in, and chose not to challenge themselves to take a chance and move out of their comfort zone. They became victims of that beast, Complacency. Their devoted fans moved on because they felt the passion missing and no longer believed in the magic the band had produced on their first album.

This was the trap that I found myself falling victim to. The group I was working with had taken over so many aspects of the trip that I could rest and reap all the rewards when everything worked out beautifully. We had just been on this same trip four months earlier, and it was so fresh in our minds that we could not possibly think of what would go wrong. If television has taught me anything, it is when somebody starts to think this way, something inevitably will go wrong.

A series of logistical nightmares presented themselves to me two nights before the trip started. I soon found out that this was not going to be the same trip we were on last time. When we were at Boramwon last April, we had the whole facility to ourselves. This was not the case this time around. We were sharing the place with two other schools. I did not know all of the students we had taken with us because it was early in the school year, and I did not have the time to get to know them. Add into this mix a bunch of students running around from the other schools and I don’t know who I can discipline if I find them doing something out of line, and who I can’t.

This was just the first of our problems. Boramwon then threw another ruffle into the mix. Our perfect schedule did not work with them because they did not have enough guides to cover our events as well as the other schools who were also going to be at the place. I had to rearrange things quickly, and found out that there was this huge spot left over where we had no activities planned for the students. I had to come up with a couple of new things that fit in with our overall theme of ensemble on this trip. Luckily, I had a member on my team who was a P.E. teacher and he was able to come up with a bunch of activities that could fit into this empty time slot.

I thought even though we had a couple of minor bumps that things would be smoother from here on out, but that was not the case. The night before we left, I was told we had lost five of the dorm rooms we were going to use in order to house our students. I needed to quickly rearrange all of our dorms to make sure we could comfortably fit everybody into a room. Once again, another one of my group stepped up and made arrangements to make this work. There was nothing else this place could throw in my way to make things fall apart.

This is when mother nature took charge. There happened to be a typhoon hitting the shore of Japan the same time we would be having our outdoor adventure. Now I know where I was taking my students to was miles away from this force, but we were close enough that there was a steady rainfall coming down during the whole bus ride out to the facility. We were not going to be able to do all the activities we were hoping to do. The hike would be a little dangerous, and the mountain biking would be a muddy mess with the challenging courses maybe a little too challenging with the weather. In fact, as soon as we arrived at the camp, we huddled the kids in the lobby of the dry dorms and I went to talk to the director of the camp to work out plans to keep the students safe and get the keys to the rooms.

This is where a new wrinkle in the story comes along. We quickly changed our plans, and things looked like they would work out, but the place was holding our keys hostage. Apparently, just like United Airlines, they had overbooked. They needed somebody to give up some of their rooms, and we were the obvious choice. They wanted us to relinquish four more rooms on top of the five we had already given up. In order to make this happen, we were really going to have to pack these kids into the room, and at first, we were adamantly opposed to the idea. But then again, we couldn’t get into the rooms if they wouldn’t give up the keys. We had to work out a deal or put everybody back on the bus and take them back to the school. They had us more than we had them, and the only thing we could threaten them with was that we wouldn’t be booking any more business with them. With the struggle we had booking this place the first time around, this was not really a threat that they would consider. We eventually gave into their demands, and tried to make the most out of the experience we had designed for the students.

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That is the thing I learned from this trip that I could apply to every experience in life. Even if I have done something before, and believe that it should be easier the second time around, there is still an element of an uphill battle that I will have to deal with. This is the problem with being complacent about each of these challenges. When you lie down, the hill looks like a gentle plain, and perception does not change the rules of gravity. You need to pick yourself up to take on the challenge because you will be able to handle it a lot better standing up than lying down.

Granted, even though I came into this trip thinking that it would be really easy, and the unsuspected troubles surprised me, we were still able to put together a great trip. I really want to emphasize the word “we” because this was not a solo effort. There was a great group of people behind me that never lost sight of the ultimate prize. They also were ready for the challenges thrown our way, and I am glad that they were able to pick me up to make sure that I contributed my share to solving all of these problems. I learned as much from this recent experience that my students did, and it makes this experiential education trip one of the most memorable ones I have ever been on.

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My students got a lot out of the experience as well. The bus ride back to school was one of the quieter ones I have experienced. They were all worn out, and a lot of that was because we made sure that each moment was filled with adventure and excitement. Of course, there will be moments that they did not enjoy themselves, but when they look back at this weekend they will remember some of the fond ones, and they will realize how they have grown as an individual, just like I did.

The Road Back Home

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When I think about the place where I am from, the thought of the Rocky Mountains instantly pops into my mind. Ask anybody who grew up in Colorado, and they will tell you the same thing. There is a purple outline of them always stretching out in the distance any time you look to the west. Even at night, when you cannot see them, their comforting presence is there. It is something that you start to take for granted the longer you live in the state. Even a visit through its winding path and majestic grandeur doesn’t always impress you the way it once did when you first were able to witness them.

But you should never take those stalwart things in your life for granted. You should treasure every minute that you have with them because you don’t know how it will make you feel when they are no longer there. I recently had lost the luxury of staring at these mountains for a whole year, and I was lost because of it. I know Coloradoans will joke that is because I could no longer find west, and there is some truth to that. I have spent my whole life relying on this natural compass to help guide me through the streets of Denver, so now, when I look for west and can no longer see the mountains, it leaves me a little disoriented. But it is something more than that. It was that sense of have something strong and immovable suddenly no longer there; it was that sense of loss; it was that sense of being some place out of my comfort zone that caused this pain in my soul. So when I realized at the end of last school year that I would be heading home again, the longing in my heart grew stronger and I desired to see those mountains again to set it at ease. In my mind’s eye, I could see that purple outline in the distance and I desired to be back among its rocky grandeur.

But the road back home is never short and many adventures needed to happen before I returned.

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My voyage home took me through Japan first. The hills there were beautiful and they reminded me of home, but the tree capped tops of these mountains were not the Rocky Mountains that I longed for. They made the longing for home even larger, but I needed to put that behind me and enjoy the sights of Japan instead. I always talk about how you should enjoy the moment in life and not worry about where you will be tomorrow because you will lose something with the experience, and here I was not listening to my own advice. But when the heart longs for something that advice is hard to follow.

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But whether I wanted to or not, I still had to follow it. I was not alone on my travels. My wife, Christine, and her parents were also along for the ride. Christine felt much the same as I did. She wanted to get back to the states and the thought of returning home excited her, but her parents were in a part of the world that they had never been in before, and they were looking for us to guide them through the experience. We had traveled to Japan eight years earlier and many of the places we were going to were the same places we had traveled to in the past. Though we couldn’t remember everything from that first trip, there was enough there that allowed us to show them some very exciting places.

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Kyoto was our first stop on our trip and it is an amazing place to start on the road through Japan. Every turn you take in this city is a cultural experience. You know you are in a part of the world that has preserved its ancient culture to remain true to its past. The cobblestone roads are clean and lined with shops, and restaurant house themselves in old buuildings. Some might think this is done just to help support the tourism needed in order to keep the city on the map, but that is not necessarily true. image

There are many times when I turned the corner and find myself staring at a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. They are all over the place, and they are not just there because they were built years ago and it still brings people to the city to witness its culture. People come to these places to worship and connect with themselves spiritually. The Japanese possess an amazing ability to blend together two ancient religions into one. You see in many Buddhist temples and their surrounding grounds the shrines to nature that is connected to the Shinto belief.

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A great example of this is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The grounds for this place is found on the mountainside on the outskirts of Kyoto. It is an extremely popular tourist spot and thousands of people can be found walking around. The grounds have the Buddhist bell, and drum, and there is definitely a place where worshippers can pay their respects to his teachings. But there are many other natural connections that found there as well. A great example of this are the two rocks placed thirty meters away from each other. The story goes that if someone touches one of the rocks and close his or her eyes, they travel across the busy walkway between the two stone. If they find the other one without the help of anybody else, it then that means that they will someday find their true love.

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A spring running behind the grounds is another example. People line up to drink water from one of the three different spouts coming from the stream. Each one holds a certain power behind it that helps a person gain success in a certain part of their lives if they drink from the spout. I can’t remember what exactly the three different aspects of life are, but I believe they are health, wealth, and love. I was told what they were eight years ago when I first visited this place but have since forgotten them. The first time I was here, Christine and I were walking through the entrance to the grounds when we were stopped by a young Japanese girl. She was working on her undergraduate degree in English at one of the local universities and she wanted an opportunity to practice communicating in this language. So she looked for English speaking tourists and asked if she could take them around to explain everything to them. We happily obliged and the experience was great.

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The same thing happened again on this visit except I was asked for an interview from a local girl in a middle school. She wanted to practice her English as well, and she had a script to help her get with the questions she needed to ask me. I told her all about where I was from, what I did for a living, and what I thought about Japan. It was a fun experience for me, but I believe that it was terrifying for her. The funny thing is I will probably always hold this moment dear to my heart; whereas, she will forget about it soon after and think about it only as something she needed to get done to complete an assignment for school. It is funny how people take for granted all of the things that they see on a daily basis while a different perspective will give it a greater value.

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It would always blow my mind when any of my relatives would visit us from out of town and we would take them up into the mountains. They would gape at them as we drove through. I couldn’t understand why they would be this dumbfounded by something I had grown up with. When I was able to drive myself, I would get mad at the tourists that would slow me down as I drove I-70 into the mountains because they were too busy rubbernecking to see all of the sights around them and did notice the awful job they were doing driving these dangerous roads. But the more I travel on my own road around the world, I start to understand why they did it. My heart may have longed to be back in Colorado, but there were times along the way where I needed to turn my head to see something I missed the first time around.

The first time I went to Japan we took a trip to the edge of Kyoto to see its Imperial Palace. We went there because we were looking specifically for the bamboo forest used in the filming of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. We thought it was held on the grounds of the palace and we did find a small corner of a bamboo grove, but it was not the impressive place I had thought we were going to find. That was because we had actually missed it. We needed to travel down a path outside of the palace and this expansive grove would have spread out before us. I don’t know how we missed it the first time because it was huge and packed with people as they explored it. It took the second time going to Japan to be able to find it. This is when I felt like one of those tourists that annoyed me so much from my home state. But I was able to gain some clarity from the experience.

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When I get out of my comfort zone and see something I have never seen before I can appreciate it for what it is. When I see something on a daily basis, it no longer holds that special quality of something new and exciting. It is not until it is taken away that I will start to appreciate it again with the quality of a child looking at a forest of bamboo trees for the first time. When I had found the bamboo grove, this idea was tickling around in the back of my mind, but I hadn’t formulated a stronger connection with it until I arrived in Nara.

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This smaller town in Japan sits on the edge of the mountains. People flock there for a couple of reasons. One, it holds the largest wooden building in the world, a Buddhist temple, and secondly because of the deer.

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And let me tell you, there are a lot of deer.

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They roam the streets, and they are not afraid of humans. A lot of this is because of the attitude the Japanese take towards the animal. They believe that it is sacred, and should not be hunted, and definitely should not be eaten. With this being the case, there are many generations of these creatures who have never felt the cruel side of the human race, so why should they fear them. It also doesn’t help that there are many carts in the area selling cookies you can buy to feed the deer with. Of course, they will hang out in the area for the free meal. Some of them are big and a little bit of a bully, but for the most part, they are gentle and looking for the handout. It is funny to watch them as they walk around after people because it looks like every individual is out walking their deer. That is until the deer realizes that they have no food and they go off looking for a different person who might feed them.

I had to walk through these herds of deer and people to get to the Todaiji Temple. I started to wonder if people even get there because of the distraction of the deer, but when I finally arrived, I saw that people had put aside playing with the deer to check out this world heritage site. It is an impressive place that is filled with school aged children who are taken there by their schools so they can connect with their heritage. They are a lot like me with my mountains. The interest I would think that they would have at the site is just not there. This is something they have seen on a daily basis and they didn’t find it exciting enough to pay attention to where they were so they could gain a new perspective on their lives. In fact, they were more interested in yelling hello to the English speaking tourists to see if they could get the English speakers to say something back to them. There were many times I obliged them by waving and saying hello. It was kind of fun but I guarantee that their teachers hated the fact it was going on.

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A lot of it had to do with what the students were not taking from the experience. At this place, the children could find huge wooden statues carved centuries ago to guard the entrance to the grounds. It blew my mind that these statues existed. I had no idea where they would have found a tree large enough to carve such a masterpiece in the first place, and there were not only one of these giants to look at, but two. How could these kids miss these behemoths as they walked by? But then I would remember the fact that I would no longer pay attention to my much beloved mountains when I was back in Colorado unless there was a way I could have some sort of fun while I visited them.

The kids of Japan were the same way. It wasn’t until they made it inside the temple that they started to enjoy the place. First off, there is one of the largest Buddha statues inside. There are smaller replications of the building showing how the design process was made and it isn’t until I made it to the back corner of the building that I found the area that help the children’s interest. At the bottom of one of the columns holding up the roof, there was a large hole carved in the middle of it. Legend had it that it was as large as one of the nostrils of the Buddha housed in the building. If you could wiggle your way through the hole to the other side of the column then you would be able to find true enlightenment in your life. It was fun to watch these students line up to have their try at squeezing their way through the hole.

There was an older Buddha on the outside of the building that was not viewed as much though. If the students had paid attention to this, there was magic within its wood they would have appreciated as well. Apparently if you rubbed the part of the Buddha’s body that ailed you and then rubbed that same place on your body you would find relief from the pain. I can sort of see why that many of the children would not pay attention to this Buddha, but it was one appreciated more by the older generations.

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The path through Nara prepared me for the next stop on my road trip back home. It was a place I had been to before, but I was excited to see again because I remembered the profound effect it had on me the last time. In fact, I can’t imagine anybody who would venture to this location without feeling its significance. Hiroshima is one of those places that holds that much power in this modern age.

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Just wandering through the Peace Park is enough to make people feel the event that happened here on August 6th, 1945. You might not be able to see it because of the beautiful modern city that surrounds you, but the quiet respect that surrounds the eternal flame reminds you.

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And if that is not enough there is the shell of the building left behind. It was right under the blast of the atomic bomb that fell on that fateful day, and even though the tiny sun that the explosion created leveled the city, it was not enough to destroy this skeleton. At one time, the people of Hiroshima demanded to tear down this eyesore, but more forward thinking folks won out. The structure remained to remind visitors of what happened that day so we could avoid repeating the same mistake in the future.

Just going to this place, I wondered how people couldn’t help but be affected by what they saw. That was until you looked across the street from the park. Office buildings sit there. There is a hospital just down the road from it. Men and women dressed for business move about their days without ever looking over at this building. Why should they? The impact it had on me loses its effect when you see it every day.

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I guess that is the joy of being a tourist. You get to notice the things that the people who live there take for granted.

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They can range in size from monstrous to minimal.

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They can be displayed proudly.

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Or you may have to wander through the woods to find their special location.

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The point being that these places are in all great cities in every country on the world. They bring thousands of people away from the comfort of their living rooms every day just for the chance to see them. Yet, you might live right next to one and you might have forgotten about its existence or may not have ever noticed in the first place.

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Just by being more aware, these little things become more spectacular every time you take the time to notice them. My trip through Japan became one moment after another that sparked within me awe. And even though I was able to look at my trip through this lens, I still longed for the thing that I had once taken for granted, Colorado.

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I marveled at the mountains that presented themselves wherever I went, and even though their green majesty was a sight that I enjoyed, it wasn’t the same kind of mountain you would find in the Rocky Mountains. Growing up, I always thought that there was only one kind of mountain, and if you had seen one, you had seen them all. But this is not the case. Throughout my travels, I have come to realize that each range of mountains holds their own contours. The science teachers have worked with have explained to me that this is because of the way they are formed. Even though the Rocky Mountains do have some of their formation due to volcanic activity, it is more the pushing together of two plates that has created this rangge. This is completely different from the mountains in Japan. They are definitely on the ring of fire, and because of this, each one of their hills were formed due to some form of volcanic activity. Because of this they look different, and the ecosystem they belong to allows for a different type of flora, and a different kind of animal inhabits the wilderness.

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The hills are greener. The rivers are wider and deeper.

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The animals we found would be considered more exotic. It is not everyday in the state of Colorado that you can take a short twenty minute hike up to the top of a mountain to feed monkeys peanuts from your hand. While we found this an amazing activity, it was still only something mainly done by the tourists of the region, just as there are people who travel all the way to Colorado to watch the elk at Rocky Mountain National Park. I would never think of an elk as an exotic animal, but then again there are probably a lot of Japanese that don’t find the monkey to be that exotic either.

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If it hasn’t become evidently clear yet, everywhere I went I saw scenery that would have, for most people, been place in their most spectacular vacation ever, but I couldn’t enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed because I had been long away from the place that for so many years had been my home that all my thoughts would drift to that place.

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The next stop on my journey did not help to quell this longing for home. For the casual observer, it should have though. The scenery was dramatically different from anything I could have found in Denver, or even Colorado for that matter.

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And even though herons may be found in the United States, they don’t venture so far inland to be seen in the Rocky Mountains, and when they do, it is not in a place that is as much of a dessert as the landscape that can be found in my home state.

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The artwork that I found on the streets was foreign as well. But for some reason, the vibe I felt here made me feel like I was back in Denver. Of course, I knew why, but for many people who travel here they don’t. The place we had arrived in was Takayama. It is a small mountain town that loves their dogs, and gets cold and snowy during the winter. The good folks of this town know that they are so similar to the city of Denver that they got together with the good people of my home town and all of these good people decided to become sister cities. Sadly, the good people of Takayama celebrate this fact more than the good people of Denver do, but Denverites should start to pay attention more because this is really a wonderful place to visit.

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The streets are fun to wander around, and even though they do not brew as much beer as Denver does, they are one of the major producers of sake in the world. There is an old-town area whose alleys have many buildings with large rice balls hanging from the front of the door. When you find one, you know you are the place where they make the traditional Japanese liquor, sake. After a couple of sips, you start to understand that sake can be just as complex and varied as either beer or wine. It makes for a fun day to go from place to place and sample all that they have to offer.

Many of the sake breweries have these foxes in front of them as well. It is a common accompaniment with many businesses in Japan. The spirit of the fox is believed to bring good luck to the establishment and to protect it from any enemies. The business needs to satisfy the fox with food and in this case a bottle of sake. It also helps the business as well to know that the protector of the establishment also enjoys the product.

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If you are looking for the more traditional kind of Japan landscape, Takayama is also the place. On the outskirts of town there is the Hida Folk Village with its traditional houses and thatched roofs. These structures are the perfect buildings to house the people that inhabited these hills. They would keep them warm in the snowy winter months, and cool in the hot, humid summer days. It is also the perfect place to breed silk worms. Many of the attics of these homes held apparatuses that would house these creatures as they produced the thread that is so coveted by many of the people in the world. The folks who work in the village still take that thread and weave it together by hand into beautiful pieces of cloth. It is one of the reasons that makes Takayama one of the more special towns in the country of Japan.

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But the main reason that this place made me feel like I was at home was the people. They were friendly and took joy out of just being alive. We went to one of the traditional bar-b-q places in town one night. It is a fun experience. They have grills right in the table that they heat with briquettes of hard wood. You then order the vegetables and meat you wish to eat. If you ever go there, I would suggest that you order some of the beef. Hida beef may not be as famous as Kobe beef, but it is just as tender and it melts in your mouth the same way. You will not regret the experience.

The night we went, we were being given a demonstration by the owner of the restaurant who asked us where we were coming from. Of course we told him that we were originally from Denver. It was amazing how much this one word excited the people of this town. The owner started talking about the Nuggets, and the people sitting at the table next to us started to ask us questions about my home town. It turns out that the person at the table next to us was the main coordinator from Takayama who promoted the sister city aspect between the two towns. The conversation that ensued made me feel like I was at home again. There was talk of the Broncos, Michael Hancock, and the Rocky Mountains. If this was to help with my homesickness, it did not. It just made my longing for the place I called home even stronger. And even though the road I was on took me closer to the place my heart desired, I was still a ways from getting there.

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There was still one more stop on my trip through Japan, and that was Osaka. We had not planned to do a lot in this town. In fact, it was just a place to lay over until we were able to catch our flight back home, but I caught enough of the flavor of the city that I wished to learn more about it if I ever found myself here again. There is a vibrant energy running through the people who live here. Whether you are in the numerous shopping districts, walking around the back streets with their punk-rock attitude or watching the tourists as they wander by the waterfront, you can feel this vibe.

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This only problem was, we did not participate in this feeling. Instead, we ventured to the one place that felt the most like home. Osaka is home to one of the world’s Universal Studios. As soon as we heard this, we knew that we had to by tickets to the amusement park, mainly because Harry Potter’s World. I know this is not the cultural experience you look for when you travel to the exotic places of the world, but we had spent over two weeks soaking up the culture of Japan, and it was time to see what their take on this iconic story was like. Of course, it was like any other Universal Studios in the world. You could taste a butterbeer, take a ride on a broom with Harry and Ron, and shop for a wand at Olivander’s. The only difference was these characters that I had fallen in love with both in literature and film now spoke fluent Japanese. I knew I was nowhere near home when I saw the sorting hat tell me important details about the wizarding world in this foreign language. I still did not let this bring me down because there was enough things in this place to distract me from the fact that I wasn’t in my home town that it didn’t really matter. It was the perfect distraction on the last day away from the United States.

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We were so excited about returning back home the next day, that we packed up our bags on rushed to the airport. It was our last leg on the long road back home. This was the longest of the legs, and it ended up being an exhausting day. I won’t even go into details, but just know that it involved a lot of delays on airplanes on tarmacs that made the travel of getting back home that more painful.

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We knew we were close when we landed in Vancouver, and for the first time in a long time we were able to hear English again from the conversations around us. I felt a little bit of a heal  when I would listen in on people’s conversations. I wasn’t doing it to be a jerk, but because it was one of those little things I missed so much. If you have ever lived for a long time away from your native language, you know what it is like. Any opportunity you get to listen to the words you are familiar with, you just soak it up. You will eavesdrop. You will talk to complete strangers. You will read every word you see on a bathroom sign, not because you need to know about the blowers, but because you can the language. It was just a short hop from this airport to the place I longed for the most.20160710_020024

The next morning, I was able to wake up to this site, the Rocky Mountains. I was home again. Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to talk to many people from many different corners of the world. They have told me all about their experiences of living abroad, and talked about how each year they adjust to the changes around them. They have talked about missing their home towns, but they have also told me that this longing for familiar places gets smaller every year they live abroad. It might be true, but I do know that I had a strong desire to see these mountains again because this was the first time in my life I had lived without them for so long. It was one of the most welcoming sights I has ever seen.

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I even started to appreciate the small things I did not notice the first time as much while I was living here. I knew about the wild flowers that grew in the mountains, but I never knew how amazing it was when you were to come across a group of columbines in bloom in Colorado. It made me know that I was home.

There were other things I got to see in those first few days that made me excited about this trip home. Many people who live  in the United States would take these things for granted. I remember walking into a grocery store the first day back and being blown away by all the various types of food I saw on the shelves. If I wanted to I could find all the stuff I needed to make a delicious meal, and I wouldn’t need to travel all over the city to obtain each item. Visiting Target had the same kind of appeal to me. Not only was there food, but I could find music, movies, clothes and games there. It was pure heaven.

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A vibrant, colorful world was all around me. Wherever I turned on my trip back to America, I was greeted by things that I, at one time, had taken for granted, and it was like viewing them for the first time. But there was something I came across on my long road back home and throughout the trails I traveled through while I was there that I discovered was more important than anything else.

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It was always in the background. Sneaking into the photos being taken of me. It was something I missed more than anything else during my year away.

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I would run into it on backwoods trails in the Rocky Mountains. They were always there with a smile, and great conversation.

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It was the greatest part of being back. Its strength is more powerful than the Rocky Mountains, and I will take it in my heart as I travel back to my job in Seoul. It is my family.

I know that a lot of people take their family for granted. They expect them to be on their beckon call at all times, and my family would be willing to do anything for me as I would for them. But you learn as you make your way out into the great big world that distance might make that harder to accomplish on a regular basis. That still doesn’t mean they are still not with me as I travel from country to country. The experiences I have had with them combine together to create who I am now. And as I meet and get to know other people in this vast world, they are really getting to know my family better. It took me a year away from them to figure this out, and more importantly, to figure out what they mean to me. It is this new understanding of the importance of family that I take with me as I go off into my second year of teaching abroad, and I will never take them for granted again. I will treasure every moment I get to spend with them from now on.

(42 pictures were used to tell this story.)

Tag: A Cautionary Tale

Book Cover (r.4) (1)

4 out of 4 stars


Review by Scerakor

What I liked most about this book, however, is that after a few chapters pass, the genius of this story comes out in droves. Like an onion, once you rip off the outer layer that is the simple childhood game, you are rewarded with layer after layer of sub-text. There is the (still light-hearted) suggestion that this group of kids not only “invented” the game of tag, but in the process of doing so, also “invented” many other childhood games we know and love. There is the witty banter between the naïvety of the old man and the sassy, but not exactly wrong, little Lizzie. This banter reeks of a battle between the super-ego and the id. There is a dark and foreboding layer that outlines how low humanity can stoop simply by imposing rule after rule upon its occupants. This layer is eerily redolent of books like Animal Farm or, even more so, Lord of the Flies. Finally, there is also that silent warning layer that screams how difficult (if not impossible) it is to pull out the deeply rooted traditions, prejudices, conventions, and preconceptions that are littered throughout our society. It shows how, despite being pestilential to our very existence, it is extremely difficult to change how we think and feel once we have an idea in our head and are willing to fight for it. – OnlineBookClub.org

Top 25 list for 2016.
Everyone needs a Little Lizzy & old man friend. – Tony Parsons

A Good Read Indeed! – Amazon Customer

A perfectly timed read with infuriating characters and unbelievable events that somehow represent what the United States (and much else of the world) seems to be going through more and more these days. This story gives light to the incoherent and twisted perspective of those who abide by the Just World Phenomenon and should motivate those who don’t share that view to get off their butts and change the conversation. A good read…Read More
 

Available for purchase at

http://emsapublishing.com/books/tag-a-cautionary-tale/

and Amazon.com

Opening

The old man shuffled his way to the foot of the great hill where sat a smooth boulder, protruding from the ground. He arrived every day, at precisely at 7:01, with the precision of a German engineer, as if he’d just disembarked from a bus or a train somewhere around the hill, and taken only the time needed to waddle over to the rock, and sit in the indentation worn into it by his butt over the years. He’d become a slave to this routine over the years, sitting there, on rock at the foot of a burnt out hill, undisturbed by the people who passed him as they moved about their day. They probably didn’t even notice him, seeing as they had other priorities to possess their time.

The man remembered a time, long ago, when the hill possessed the highest peak in the town. If a person climbed to the top of it, he could look down and take it in at a glance. But progress had seized the town, and large buildings soon grew to obscure the view, until the hill served as no more than the outline for the roundabout, designed to take busy people to their busy places. If any of them ever took the time away from their busy pace, how many of them would wonder how this old man found his way across that busy street to sit on his rock?

The current aesthetic labeled the hill an eyesore, an abomination, best residing on the other side of the tracks. If any of the fools ever put forth the effort, they’d march up to their representatives in the city hall and demand that the
representatives move it to the place where it actually belonged. No doubt those representatives would get right on the task, filing injunctions, posting notices, and writing bills about the town’s eyesore. And still the hill would remain as the busy people rushed their way through the roundabout towards their destination, never considering the state of the hill’s dilapidation. The representatives did, however, get around to putting a chain-linked fence around the hill with imposing ropes of razor sharp barbed wire on top, to keep out all the busy people who never wanted to go in in the first place. The fence marked, to all who cared to notice, the speed of “progress”.

After all these years, the hill remained. Nothing would grow on it. No one would walk on it. Not even the birds would feign to fly over the flimsy, metal barrier to land upon the hill’s desecrated domain. No one else seemed to even care about it but the old man, and he cared enough to visit it on a daily basis. So often had he visited the hill that he’d almost became a permanent addition to it. Except for the fact his clothes would change from day to day, people might have mistaken him for a statue.

He sat on the rock leaning heavily on the cane he carried with him, craning to get a better look at the nothingness the hill had to offer. What had begun as a mild interest in the hill had grown to such an obsession, that he would often squint his eyes at it, as if hoping to read the words somehow typed into the typography. His bald head protruded from his shirt collar so much that an onlooker might mistake him for a turtle, taking its first trembling steps onto the sands of some foreign beach, if, that is, they stopped long enough to notice. He thought he might need to find a place to rest his weary head, or it would fall from his body. Instead it came to lie on the gnarled and knobby hands he’d wrapped around the handle of his sturdy oak cane.

Day in and day out he sat, fearing any change in his routine, until Little Lizzy showed up to change that routine for him, having found her way across the traffic to the burnt-out oasis of the hill. Her blonde curls bounced giddily as she skipped her way over to where the old man sat on his rock. She wore a pink dress barely long enough to cover her chubby knees. She carried a box in her hands, about the size of a Bible, which she brandished with extreme importance.

The old man watched as Little Lizzy made her way around the fence line to approach him. When she noticed him, she stopped and stared at the sight, as if she found it hard to believe another soul had found his way over to this parcel of land. She dropped the box in her hands and it disappeared in the shadow of the rock. Because items not in the immediate view of children are seldom remembered, the box remained there as she slowly walked towards the ancient anomaly.

The old man sat there, unmoving. Little Lizzy approached with caution, as if she feared chasing him away by her approach.

First, she waved at him from a safe distance; the old man did not move.

Then, she skipped into the old man’s peripheral view and tilted her head; still, the old man did not move.

Finally, she took a spot in-between the old man and the object of his attention. She grabbed the sides of her fluffy skirt and twisted it right and then left, wearing a pouty expression on her face. At last she said, “Hi.”

The old man responded, “Go away.”

She took a step closer and said, “My name’s Lizzy.”

“Go away, Lizzy.”

Little Lizzy looked at the old man closely, then turned her head to follow his gaze. “Whatchya looking at?”

“Right now? A little girl who won’t go away.”

Still Lizzy was not deterred. She ignored the slight and went on with her questioning. “What were you looking at before that?”

The old man lifted his head from his crooked hands, and looked at Little Lizzy with renewed interest. “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?”

Lizzy also ignored the man’s attempt to change the subject. “Are you looking at that hill?” she asked.

The old man finally gave into the girl’s interrogation. “Yes, I’m looking at the hill. Now, go away.”

“Why would you want to spend all day looking at that hill? It’s sure an ugly hill. Not even weeds grow on it. It is probably the most worthless plot of land in the whole town.”

The words of the young child enraged the old man. He stood up from his seat and used his cane to point at the hill. “How dare you call Arbella Hill a worthless plot of land? If it wasn’t for that hill, this town would never have existed. It’s thanks to that hill that you see all this around you.”

“Why?”

“Why? Why? WHY?”

Little Lizzy looked at the exasperated old man as if wondering why her question would illicit such a response. “Yes,” she said, undeterred. “Why?”

The old man considered Little Lizzy’s question with a new respect. He placed his sturdy oak cane back on the ground, and snuggled back into his groove in the rock. “Well, that requires a complicated answer, little girl.”

Lizzy’s eyes brightened up. “Does it involve a story?”

“Yes, and what a story it is!”

Lizzy took this as an invitation. She sat down Indian style on a soft patch of grass in front of the rock, smoothed her skirt out, and rested her chin in the crag of her fists.

The old man’s eyes grew foggy, as if looking at a faraway place. He cleared his throat and began.

“This place once looked quite different than it does today…”

Chapter One

Back then, roads didn’t exist. Big buildings didn’t block out the blue sky. Even the cars didn’t hurry off to the places where cars hurry off to. Tall trees circled the expanse of the field. Of course, a few stray trees here and there offered their shade to those in need on sunny days, and shelter to those in need on rainy days. Arbella Hill stood over there, the steep sides of it also covered with trees. On the top of it stood the mightiest of all trees, a proud oak. And, of course, this rock I’m sitting on sat right here.

Back in the day, we didn’t call the hill Arbella; that name came later. We only called the hill, “The Hill”, just as we called the rock, “The Rock” and each individual tree, a tree. We didn’t spend a lot of time naming things back in those days. We had more important things to do. We had a big field.

I couldn’t tell you where everybody came from, but we came, none the less. We all wandered out of the woods and across the horizon, drawn by this majestic mound. It stood above everything else on the plain, rivaled by no other formation in its beauty. On it, assorted fruit trees and tall pines pointed their peaks towards the heavens, wondrous wildflowers blossomed, rearing their heads to the world, animals scurried under the protection of the hill, peeking their happy heads out whenever they saw fit. If they ever noticed us looking at them, they would dart back into the shadows. They didn’t know they had nothing to worry about because we cared about them as much as they cared about us. We had many more exciting things to do, besides.

We ran. Not to or from a specific place—doing something like that didn’t interest us much. We ran more for the why, rather than the where.

What was the why, you ask? Well, why not?

But just imagine a huge field stretched out before you, soft and supple grass growing just tall enough to tickle your toes as the drops of dew danced upon your bare feet, the subtle sun warming you as you wind your way through the maze of dandelions. And if ever its heat gets too hot, the shade of a nearby tree is there to comfort you. If you’d rather continue on your run, the wind was there to blow a refreshing breeze your way. As far as we were concerned, the field had been created just for our pleasure, and we took every opportunity to partake in that gift.

As was the case with the hill, the rock, and the trees, we didn’t bother with each other’s names. We didn’t even bother to acknowledge each other’s presence. We weren’t very social at that time—running occupied most of our time.
We didn’t care about speed or direction—some of us sprinted from one end of the field to the other; some of us twirled in circles, arms outstretched; some of us darted this way and that; and some just meandered from place to place, spending more time taking in our surroundings than those who surrounded us. It probably helped to get it all started, I guess.

The first uproar was caused by two kids of opposite natures. I later learned that their names were Tommy and Franklin, but I just knew them as the Fat Kid and the Focused Kid.

Tommy ran with purpose. He focused directly on where he wanted to run and when he got there, he turned right around to focus on getting back.

Franklin didn’t run so much as meander all about the place. His head constantly turning to observe the world around him, darting from place to place, to stoop down to look at a wildflower, or up to the sky to watch an eagle fly. Rarely was his head in what he was supposed to be doing down on the field.

As in all other aspects of life, when you have two opposites such as Tommy and Franklin, they are destined to clash, and clash, they did.

Franklin backed into Tommy one hot Thursday afternoon, too busy watching a wild turkey dart across the field while trying to get out of its way, running backwards, not really looking where he was going. Tommy, on the other hand, was so focused on where his run was taking him that he didn’t see Franklin coming. Franklin weighed more than Tommy, and it was he who took the tumble and landed flat on his butt.

Tommy wasn’t much of an orator at that early age, but of course none of us were. Later, Tommy would become the great speaker you may have heard about, but on that fateful day, he looked at where he’d landed in that big field of grass, and said the only thing he could in that situation: “I’s It.”

Rather, that’s what Franklin thought he’d said, for even though Tommy talked as if he’d marbles in his mouth, he wasn’t one to practice such bad grammar. He also didn’t back away from a confrontation, particularly one spurring from an intrusion concerning his right to run.

Tommy stood up, and walked over to where Franklin was standing. Franklin tried to stammer out an apology, but was unable to articulate the thought before Tommy pushed him, and Franklin landed on his butt.

Franklin could not believe Tommy capable of performing such an act of anger. He looked up at his antagonist, hoping for an apology he knew wouldn’t come. Instead, Tommy responded with a retort that would endure in the cannon of our consciousness for all eternity.

“You’s It!” he said.

Interlude One

“And that’s where it came from.”

“That’s where what came from?”

“Why, Tag, of course, Sarah.”

“Lizzy!”

“Whatever. Tag started that day.”

“What’s Tag?”

“What’s Tag?”

“Didn’t I just ask that?”

“I can’t believe that you haven’t heard of Tag.”

“I can’t believe you were there to see the beginning of this so-called Tag and you still can’t tell me what it is.”

“It’s a game.”

“And the object of this game is to push each other over?”

“No! You’re not listening to what I’m saying”

“I am. You said all they did was to push each other over, so they would sit.”

“It was a little more complicated than that.”

“It doesn’t sound that complicated. I push you down and say, ‘You sit,’ then you push me down and say, ‘You sit,’ and apparently, if I get really tired I can sit down and say, ‘I sit.’ It sounds more boring than complicated to me. Maybe you should have called it Sit instead.”

“We called the game Tag.”

“Well, I like Sit.”

“Well, that’s just stupid.”

“Like calling a game Tag when all you do is sit isn’t?”

“No, you don’t understand the game.”

“What don’t I understand? I mean look. I sit. You sit. We all sit. It sounds like a game my mom would make up when it’s her Special Juice Time.”

“The game had rules.”

“Like how to sit?”

“No! Just…listen, okay?”

“Okay, but this had better get interesting quick because skipping sounds a lot more exciting than this story does.”