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I’ve decided to post something useful for all the future PCT hikers: the sum total of my PCT advice. This isn’t gospel, just one hiker’s take on stuff. I hope this helps, and happy hiking!!

  1. If your trail name is just one word, and if it’s a common noun, be aware that others will probably have the same one. I encountered tons of Turtles and Chefs. 🙂 It’s okay to shop around for a trail name. It’s also okay to have no trail name at all. It’s your hike, and no one else’s.

2. You will not survive off hiker boxes alone. It’s a worthwhile goal, but some towns have no trail boxes at all. Also, your diet would be limited to mysterious Ziploc baggies full of unidentifiable powders. Either way, not nearly enough calories.

3. Eat a lot. I promise you won’t gain weight by the time your thru-hike is over. I devoured 4K calories a day, and still ended up losing 18% of my body weight by the end. O_o

4. If you spend a zero day in a campground/resort, you won’t have as much fun as you would with a town zero. There’s just… not a whole lot to do. That’s something I wish I’d changed on my hike.

5. A lot of resorts/stores, especially starting in the Sierra, will not have price tags… VVR is the worst offender – they don’t quite tell you their tiny beers are $6 each. O_o Don’t be afraid to ask for prices.

6. Don’t chug olive oil if your digestive tract isn’t used to it. Yes, that’s the most efficient way to get your calories, but… At least one hiker shat his pants after he started chugging oil. (He will remain nameless hahaha) As life hacks go, this one may have some severe consequences.

7. Send resupply boxes to tiny towns along the trail. After South Lake Tahoe, and basically for the rest of the trail, there’ll be a ton of tiny towns with tiny stores: even when they have price tags, it’ll be ridiculously expensive to resupply. If you’re not sure about a town, look it up with the Google Maps street view, and you’ll see if it has a Safeway or just one tiny-looking store.

8. Send yourself a variety of supplies. A lot of hikers get tired of the food they’d sent themselves in resupply boxes. (I ended up hating peanut butter pretty fast lol)

9. Take tons of pictures and videos. 🙂 Also, this will sound elementary, but use a microfiber cloth on your phone/camera lens. If you forget to do that once in a while, your pics will come out duller than they should be.

10. Don’t carry $50 or $100 bills. (This is especially applicable to foreign hikers.) Most stores on the trail are small, and they usually wouldn’t be able to break you a big bill. Carry an assortment of $1, $5, and $10 bills.

11. Have a secret cash stash in your backpack in case you really need it. Some places (like Hikertown) accept only cash, and there aren’t a lot of ATMs.

12. This one is just my personal opinion, but Platypus-brand water bladders are poorly designed. You can accidentally yank out the main water tube, or they could develop a micro-leak because of all the friction in your backpack… I ended up carrying my water in SmartWater bottles instead.

13. Dudes, this one is for you (women already know this stuff haha) – after you put sunscreen on your face, wash it off before going to sleep… I miiiight have ended up with 4 days of sunscreen slowly getting inside my eyes and irritating the hell out of my eyes for 2 days in the Sierra. Zero stars, would not recommend.

14. Outside your face, sunscreen generally stays on for several days. You can make it last, and still get enough protection from the sun. (If your skin starts turning pink, reapply as needed.) If you sweat a lot, this tip might not work for you, but in my experience, all the trail dust combined with the sunscreen to form a nice protective layer around my legs.

15. Trail magic is amazing, but don’t rely on it or expect it. Less disappointment that way, and you’ll appreciate any and all unexpected trail magic that much more. 🙂

16. If you’re going through the bear country and don’t have your bear can yet (or anymore), hang your food off a tree branch. It’ll take just a few minutes, and you won’t end up with just a can of Pringles (bears *hate* Pringles!) to last you to the next town.

17. Get a small compass, learn how to use it. Phone apps can get accidentally deleted, electronics can run out of power or drown, but it’d take physical force to smash a compass. There are quite a few confusing spots along the trail.

18. Speaking of backups: National Geographic maps are awesome. 🙂 I actually navigated with one (and my compass!) after I fell into Bear Creek just ahead of VVR. It’s a good idea to have non-electronic backups like that.

19. If your phone drowns and stops working, keep it in a ziploc filled with dry rice. That stuff really works! (But not on DSLR cameras. I’m so sorry, Great Dingleberry…)

20. Don’t pack your fears. I’ve seen a hiker who carried a hatchet (he claimed he saw a lot of violent people in news clips about California…), another hiker with a pistol, etc. In the entire history of the PCT, no one died of human violence or animal attack. Leave the fear (and extra weight) at home.

21. Don’t be an asshole – pack out your toilet paper. There was quite a lot of it along the trail… Just yeet it into a ziploc, and into another ziploc, and put it deep into an outside pocket where it won’t touch anything else. It’s as simple as that.

22. Glissading is awesome, but it tends to randomize your gear. Everything that’s not secured to your backpack can fall off – and even if it’s secured, who knows. One guy hiking next to me ended up losing his sock (it was hanging and drying) but found a bottle of water instead. :))

23**. Don’t glissade in short-shorts…** One girl ended up getting named “Road Rash” – apparently, there was quite a lot of damage.

24. After you get a hitch, always – **always** – make sure you don’t forget your electronics and your hiking poles. Those were the top items folks forgot, from what I’ve seen. (Hell, I forgot my own poles at Kennedy Meadows South. 😛 )

25. Don’t start political debates, and don’t join them if some other idiot starts them. Leave the drama and the politics at home. Enjoy the beautiful nature instead. 🙂

26. A small mylar emergency blanket can be super useful. It can protect your exposed skin from mosquitoes when you’re filtering water next to their natural habitat. It can also keep you warmer at night if you wrap yourself in the emergency blanket while inside the sleeping bag. (It retains a lot of the heat your body radiates.)

27. Try to journal. Days will merge into weeks into months, and a lot of small things (and hiker names!) will be forgotten.

28. If you order Altra Lone Peak shoes from their site, keep in mind that they don’t deliver to post office buildings. (Ask me how I know!) They ship by Fedex, so that won’t work out. You can try shipping them to a local trail angel’s house instead.

29. Your feet will expand. Probably by a lot. If you put new shoes in your resupply boxes, plan accordingly, or you might not fit in them.

30. If you have large (and flat) feet like myself, don’t buy synthetic socks. Wool socks expand relatively well, but synthetic socks… My feet went from size 13 to size 16 (yes, really), and when I switched out my wool DarnTough socks for synthetic ones in Bishop, the synthetic socks started biting into the ankle so much that I ended up with so-called “hiker inflammation” aka fluid build-up in the ankle. Keeping it iced and elevated helped fix it, but I still ended up missing quite a few days of hiking. So, either stick with wool socks only, or keep rolling your synthetic socks up/down throughout the day. Keep them from staying in one place.

31. PCT is a very expensive adventure. Plan accordingly. In my experience, by mid-point, a lot of hikers were walking more miles than they were comfortable with because a) they were tight on cash, or b) they had minor injuries and wanted to reach the finish line before they became **major** injuries, or c) both.

32. Don’t be too cool for an ice axe/microspikes. They can save your life, or prevent a major injury. It’s better to have them and not need them… (I ended up using my ice axe when I started sliding off the hard packed snow on the damn Mather Pass. Best investment ever!)

33. Please don’t try trail-running up a mountain in the dark and/or when there’s ice.

34. You’re gonna have to get good at math, or become comfortable using a calculator. When shopping for food in town, you’ll end up doing tons of math to find the best “calories per $” deal.

35. Make sure you have some food variety when you buy food for the next few days of hiking. It can be **very** tempting to just buy a ton of peanuts (800 calories for $1, wooo!) but you’ll hate yourself afterwards. 😛

36. It’s okay if your hiking routine is different than other people’s. Maybe you like waking up at 3:30am and stopping at 5pm, or maybe you’ll get up after dawn and walk till dark. Maybe you want to take 2-hour siestas in the afternoon. Totally up to you.

37. There’ll be **a lot** of fallen trees (aka blowbacks) along the trail. Just mentally brace yourself ahead of time. 🙂 The hike into Idyllwild was basically an obstacle course, and then there were roughly 50-70 miles of blowdowns on the way to Etna… Quite a few in Washington, too. They’ll slow you down, and there’s no escaping them, so just make peace with that fact.

38. There will be loooong stretches without any cellphone reception, especially in the Sierra. Tell your friends/family not to worry. If you use a Garmin GPS thingy, make sure the folks back home know how to see your location.

39. No internet means you won’t be able to do a lot of time-sensitive online stuff. This is a very niche tip, I know 🙂 but if you decide to sell monthly covered calls to nonchalantly sponsor your hike, you’re gonna miss out on a week or two because, again, no internet. Or if you’re selling your house, maybe. Or negotiating with your crappy accountant. Plan accordingly.

40. Be nice. For a lot of regular people you encounter, you might be the first and last PCT hikers they’ll ever meet. You’re a PCT ambassador. Try to leave a good impression.

41. For fuck’s sake, don’t run off without paying. At least one NorCal hostel shut down in 2021 because the owner was heartbroken that hikers kept slipping away in the morning instead of paying for their bed + dinner. According to Guthook, at one point 15 hikers did that as a group in September 2021. Your actions affect not just this current hiking season, but future years as well.

42. When you’re in town, the most efficient calories = buying a bucket of ice cream. 🙂 a 1.5-liter bucket of ice cream = 1,800 calories. I used to just buy it and eat it with a spork on the nearest flat surface. 🙂

43. Trust your intuition. If all of a sudden, you notice that the path looks kinda faint and not very PCT-like, stop and check Guthook. I’m positive that every PCT hiker got turned around at some point. There’s lots of tiny forks you might not notice. It takes just a few seconds to double-check your location, and if you ignore your intuition, you might spend an hour or more heading completely the wrong way lol

44. Learn to use Guthook’s features – especially the altitude display that shows what ups and downs are ahead of you.

45. If you have doubts… You don’t need to be a super-experienced veteran hiker to do the PCT. I sure as hell wasn’t. 🙂 I’d never spent a night outdoors of my own accord (aside from Search & Rescue training earlier), and never hiked for fun, but I picked it up fast and finished the PCT in one piece. Just pay attention and don’t do dumb stuff, that’s all there is to it.

46. Yes, the Timberline buffet really is as awesome as everyone says it is. 🙂 Their strawberry smoothies were amazing!! Don’t skip the buffet, is what I’m saying, or you’ll miss out on an amazing experience.

47. In the Sierra, most bridges are located in the JMT section. Before and after it, not so much. Be **very** careful when crossing creeks and streams. Even a relatively small creek can kick your ass if it’s strong enough. (Damn you, Bear Creek!) Use caution and common sense.

48. Gloves vs mittens. Gloves give you more dexterity (good for setting up/taking down your tent, etc) but mittens are warmer since your fingers are together and share the warmth.

49. If there’s stuff (water bottles, etc) in your backpack’s outside pockets, at some point it might fall off and get lost. If your stuff is secured by a strap, that strap might fail – for example, if you’re navigating a lot of branches while climbing over blowdowns. To make sure you don’t lose, say, your tent poles – secure your stuff using 2 straps. It might still fall off and get lost, but much less likely that way.

50. Carry an emergency tampon. Human bodies can get weird on a giant endurance hike like that: at a tiny highway rest stop, I met a hiker whose period started wayyy earlier than expected. She always used to buy tampons just in time, and none of the other PCT hikers had a spare… She ended up asking all the locals that hiked by. Fun fact: most women who go out for a day hike on a weekday morning are on the older side, so they don’t have spares either. I used to pride myself in being able to help almost anyone, but I was completely useless in that situation.

51. The JetBoil cooking pot&stove combo is more expensive than generic pots, but it’s wayyy more efficient. It really does boil water faster than your basic aluminum/titanium no-name pots. Just make sure you have a lighter or matches to start the flame – it’s not piezoelectric.

52. Nothing wrong with taking multiple consecutive zeroes, but after about 2-3 zeroes in a row, your body will have to readjust to the hiking mode. Keep that in mind if you take a long detour to Vegas, San Francisco, Portland, etc. 🙂

53. Your water filter will **not** help you if the water is chemically contaminated. (Fertilizers, industrial runoff, etc.) If the water source looks/smells funny, try to wait until the next water source.

54. Wildfires in Cali/Oregon start in August. Keep that in mind if you have a late start.

55. If you plan on night-hiking, be aware that you’re sharing the territory with predatory critters. One time, a dude woke me up at 4am because he was **convinced** he was being stalked by a mountain lion. (“Too insistent for a deer, too small for a bear.”) He was just so damn happy to have some human company – I had a quick breakfast and we hiked together until dawn. 🙂 (His strategy was to nap during the day, then walk at night – that was during the heatwave.)

56. You probably won’t finish that large pizza you order in town. 😛 You’ll be hungry, yeah, but those large-sized pizzas are HUGE, y’all. Order a medium, or be prepared to walk around town with a to-go box full of cold slices hahaha

57. Bagels are awesome. ❤ Each bagel is about 220 calories, has 10 grams of protein, and they don’t really go bad. Bagels were my must-have carryout food in every town.

58. New to hiking? Or never hiked in the desert? I did a 3-day “rehearsal hike” and I highly recommend it! I rented a cheap campspot in Potrero through AirBnB, just 5 miles or so west of the South Terminus. (There’s a bus from San Diego that goes there.) It was a really laid-back way to make sure my body adjusted to the climate, humidity, altitude, etc. Also, a great way to get last-minute practice with all your shiny new gear. 🙂

59. Don’t carry huge knives. A small folding knife and/or a tiny flat one-piece metal multi-tool will do just fine.

60. There are many trail angel groups in towns along the PCT. You can find them either through the main trail angel group on Facebook, or if you search for the town name + trail angels. Not every town has them, but it’s a great way to find a free (or cheap) place to crash when you’re in town.

61. Cowboy-camping is indescribably awesome. Hands down one of my favourite parts of the trail. Waking up in the middle of the night, looking up at the stars (and the Milky Way, if you’re lucky) amid the velvet-black background of the universe… There is nothing like it. ❤

62. Leave no trace – carry out all your trash. Yes, that means you’ll have a tons of plastic packaging and food wrappers by the time you reach the next town in 3-5 days, but if all 4,500 hikers started throwing their trash around… Just don’t do that.

63. Electrolytes are your friends, especially during heatwaves. You will sweat **a lot**, and you’ll need to replenish the salt you sweat out. Experiment with different electrolyte powders. Include them in your resupply boxes because PCT-adjacent stores often sell out.

64. Yes, Oregon mosquitoes are as terrible as everyone says. There are literal swarms of them. Pack a head-net: it weighs just a few grams, and you won’t regret it.

65. Take a few minutes to google, read, and understand the symptoms (and treatment) of heatstroke and frostbite. You may end up needing that information in the desert, in the Sierra, and during heatwaves. It could save your life. (Or somebody else’s.)

66. When you’re in town and all the electric outlets are already taken, check the back of the building! Always check the perimeter, y’all. 😉 More often than you’d think, there’s an empty outlet (or more than one!) in the back, out of sight and all yours to use.

67. I already mentioned the blowdowns – mentally prepare yourself for some really frustrating days. There’s a section (near mile 200) where the trail got swept away by annual flooding, so you’ll spend 15 or so miles wandering from one tiny stone cairn to another – no trail, no signposts. 🙂 In the Sierra, especially along the JMT, there’ll be virtually no PCT signage, no way to tell where exactly the path to the summit lies under all that snow. You can’t change that, but you can change your attitude. Just keep in mind that it really is wilderness out there, and not every stretch is easy to navigate.

68. The farther you get from the PCT, the fewer people will know what that is, and hitchhiking might get difficult. When I had to leave the trail to nurse my ankle, I got a ride from KMN all the way to Modesto. (2 hours away.) Coming back, the locals all thought I was a homeless person and not a thru-hiker. 😦 I tried and failed to hitchhike, and ended up spending roughly $150 on Uber and Lyft to get from Modesto to Sonora, and from Sonora back to the trail near KMN. Keep that in mind if you plan to hitch back to the trail from a city 50+ miles away.

69. Have fun out there. 🙂

(Crossposted on my PCT-2022 trail journal)

Short version:

I’ve created a new e-book. It’ll be available for free on Kindle from February 10th through February 14th. You can download it over here. You can also download the 59Mb PDF version over here. (And please, share it as much as you can/want.)

Long version:

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

Oscar Wilde

This collection of banned books was inspired by Florida’s House Bill 1467, which aims to police which books would be allowed in public schools. Schools in Manatee and Duval counties are hiding, removing, or covering up all of their books just to be on the safe side. A teacher charged with distributing “obscene” books to minors could be charged with a third-degree felony. Since no one knows what precisely would qualify as obscene, there are entire schools with empty shelves.

A “media specialist” (and not a teacher) would be tasked with deciding what’s allowed and what isn’t: by default, everything is banned, and books would be approved on an individual basis. If that doesn’t make you confused, bewildered, and perhaps a little angry – well, maybe this collection of banned books (and the introductions I prepared for them) will show why censorship has always been a losing game, a coward’s last defense.

I was born in the Soviet Union. My grandma spent seven years in Stalin’s Gulag camp. My home country, which I haven’t visited since 2003 and likely never will, kills journalists for sport. Let’s just say I have low tolerance for censors and bullies. I always low-key wondered how I could help, what – if anything – I could contribute, and I got this idea after reading a few too many accounts of the consequences of Florida’s book ban. (They aren’t setting up book bonfires just yet, but we live in an age where the unthinkable becomes improbable becomes news.)

If I were the pretentious kind, I’d say that I’m a friend of freedom, a lover of libraries, a keeper of knowledge – but I’m not, so I won’t, though I sort of did. Heh. I’m just a guy with a computer and a little too much time on my hands. I’m good at editing huge volumes of information, and my sole accomplishment here is meta-compiling old books using publicly available resources. If I could do it, so can you.

At first, I thought this banned book compendium would take just one all-nighter: find the most famous public domain books that had been banned in the past, splice them all together, add some formatting, a few words about each book, etc… That was idealistic of me: I suddenly understood why the only other collection I found stopped at 18 books. I went with 32. Working nights and weekends, this project took well over a week, even though Project Gutenberg and Wikipedia had already done all the heavy lifting. Still – worth it.

There are two often-banned pieces of literature I couldn’t fit in: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s plays. They require so many footnotes (which would have to be very carefully interlinked) that adding them here was beyond my capacity. Fortunately, you can find them for free right here, on Project Gutenberg: Canterbury Tales; Shakespeare.

Each banned book in this 8,622-page monster of an anthology is preceded by a short text: a summary of the book, why it was controversial, and who tried (or succeeded in) banning it. That’s followed by a link or two that will lead you to sites with other relevant information on the topic.

Incidentally, it’s quite disturbing how much information is hidden behind the paywalls of academic journals. The research published (presumably) for the public good, often in taxpayer-funded universities, gets locked away where an average reader can’t read it without paying $25 or more. (Good luck finding anything useful and accessible on Nicholas I’s “terror of censorship.”) Some of the links I’ve included lead to hobbyist blogs that have remarkably useful and in-depth information. Those sites were created by average people like you and I, and they dispense their knowledge freely. Some food for thought…

I’ve learned a fair bit while assembling this collection. Before I started this project, I had no idea just how much influence Anthony Comstock (he of the 1873 Comstock Act) had with all his puritanical purges. I didn’t know that his successor, John S. Sumner of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV), kept the work going until 1950, which is still within living memory. And I certainly had no clue that Boston remained a hotbed of censorship well into the 20th century, to the point where “Banned in Boston” was a coveted distinction that was almost guaranteed to boost a book’s sales.

Some of the incidents I describe in those mini-introductions sound ridiculous. For example, the time Oklahoma’s Mothers United for Decency couldn’t explain why their Smut Mobile featured the Mad magazine. Or the time Australia kept banning and un-banning James Joyce’s Ulysses. Or the time Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland got banned in China because “animals should not use human language.” We can condescendingly chuckle at those displays of idiocy, but each of them is a canary in the coal mine of literacy.

There always were, and are, and will remain authoritarian despots, power-drunk bureaucrats, puritanical activists, and others like them who hate unusual books, who think they know better than you, who try to dam the flow of progress. Ironically, their efforts often bring even more attention to the books they seek to hide.

There are some who would argue that e-books will end censorship once and for all. Well… That’s true if you manually pass them around as EPUB files. If, however, you download them directly on Kindle (or Nook, or elsewhere), the same centralized system can delete your e-books just as fast, just as easily. That already happened once: in 2009, Amazon realized it didn’t have the right to sell George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm in the US. It proceeded to immediately delete those e-books from all their customers’ Kindles and Kindle apps. The irony of that Orwellian move is overwhelming, and though Amazon apologized profusely and promised not to do that again (unless they must), that showed just how easy it would be to censor an e-book if the push came to shove.

Ergo this file: I’m uploading the whole collection on Kindle as a cheap e-book because that’s the fastest way to ensure wide distribution. ($2.99 was the lowest price they allowed me to set.) You can download the Kindle version here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BV96DX8R I’ll also try to spread the free PDF version all over the web. Save it, make a copy, send it to your friends – and read it yourself: the books within may not be your cup of tea, but once upon a time they were bestsellers, and they pissed off The Powers That Be so much that they continued to be banned centuries and even millennia after they were published. Books that inspire so much angst across eons make for some interesting reading. Besides, Lysistrata is hilarious and Mark Twain is a national treasure.

One could argue that we as a culture can be defined not by what we permit but by what we prohibit. Banned books, banned art, banned objects: they’re the negative space in the self-portrait that is our civilization. One of my favourite authors, Claire North, had this insightful gem in her Notes from the Burning Age: “Before the burning, it was considered heretical for women to behave in a manner considered male. Then these words changed – ‘female’, ‘male’. They have changed again since that time. What is our new morality? What is our new heresy?” What indeed.

Next time there’s a book ban (or a Nazi-like book bonfire), there’s a good chance something from this collection will be included. Save it. Pass it on. Historically speaking, literacy is a rare privilege. Public libraries have existed for just a couple of centuries. Public schools, even less than that. Knowledge is fragile, and critical thinking is powerful. There are those who would love for them both to go away, and fast. Read. Resist. Rage.

If you want to help, go to this Project Gutenberg page and start there. I’m not affiliated with them, but they fight the good fight as they digitize thousands of public domain texts. If you want to do more, start stockpiling controversial books (modern or classic) for safekeeping. Build a little lending library on your streetcorner. Pay very close attention to proposed book bans in your area, and protest like hell if they happen. As you will see below, quite a few bans were overturned when the appalling apparatchiks got overwhelmed by their community’s outrage. Shame still works, if only for the time being.

If there’s a large-scale book ban in progress in some other part of the world, get involved by mailing books to students and local activists. Send money. Send emails. Send the good vibes and share social media articles, if that’s all you have the time and the inclination for. Just don’t be silent.

If you have an idea for other public domain digitization projects, and if you’d like my help, you can reach me here: https://grigorylukin.com/contact-me/ So long, and happy reading.

This was an interesting one. Despite having a Liberal Arts degree, I have huge, gigantic, monumental gaps in my knowledge of poetry. I was perusing a list of the top 1920s poems (as one does), found a reference to Nancy Cunard’s “Parallax,” and was mighty surprised when I failed to find it online.

Somehow, some way, that excellent long poem never got reprinted after its 1925 debut (sexism?..), until it appeared in a 2016 poetry collection – but even that wasn’t available as an e-book. Well, the poem became public domain a couple of years ago, and it was time to reintroduce it to the public…

Some extensive googling led me to another amateur blog, which posted only part of the poem. Interestingly, though, there was a short comment: an academic said that they could email the scanned version of the poem to anyone who asked for it. That comment was from 2015, and it was a long shot, but I sent an email and got the precious file almost immediately. (I’m keeping my new academic friend anonymous, unless they specifically wish to get a shout-out.)

Interestingly, it was only after I googled a line from the poem that I found a later post from the same blog: after several years, that blogger managed to transcribe the entire poem, but Google wouldn’t show you the post unless you searched for a line from the poem. In other words, you had to already have it in order to find it. I love how surreal our world can be… Unfortunately, that transcribed version had a few errors, so I’m not linking to it – you can easily find it yourself if you’re so inclined.

The poem itself is… impressive. There’s a lot going on there – layers upon layers of meaning, and oh-so-many references to T.S. Eliot and, quite likely, many other contemporaries. (Cunard was a muse for many 1920s writers.) And, needless to say, this long poem is the kind of masterpiece where you’d have to look up quite a few unfamiliar words – but then again, this isn’t Twilight, eh? Even for a completely casual reader like myself, though, the poem is quite beautiful. Try reading it out loud: it flows like a river of verse.

If you’d like to learn more, this site contains some excellent analysis, as well as literary and historical perspectives on Parallax.

After doing a bit of arguing with Amazon’s overzealous and under-educated enforcement team (the other day, they demanded copyright information for a poem published in 1773…), I finally got Parallax posted on Kindle, where it will hopefully live on forever, accessible to far more readers than this blog ever will be. Here it is. A disclosure, as always: I’m not doing this as some sort of get-rich-slowly project: $0.99 is the lowest price they allow on a public-domain work. Do feel free to leave a 5-star review on that poem, though – that should get more poetry lovers’ attention!

And, finally, here is the poem itself, faithfully transcribed and digitized by yours truly. It looks like WordPress didn’t transfer over the many paragraph breaks Cunard had added for emphasis, and I’m not entirely sure how to carry them over in this simplistic interface… The original formatting still shows up in the Kindle e-book, though.

Please feel free to repost this poem wherever you wish: let’s not have it get lost again.

Parallax (1925)

by Nancy Cunard 

I desire here to pay my thanks, and state my admiration for the two drawings by Eugene McCown that form the covers of this volume.

N. C.

He would have every milestone back of him,

The seas explored, clouds, winds, and stars encompassed,

All separate moods unwrapped, made clear–

Tapping of brains, inquisitive tasting of hearts,

Provisioning of various appetite.

Midnights have heard the wine’s philosophy

Spill from glass he holds, defiant tomorrows

Pushed back.

His credo threads

Doubt with belief, questions the ultimate grace

That shall explain, atoning.

A candle drips beside the nocturnal score–

Dawns move along the city’s line reflecting,

Stare through his rented casement.

Earth, earth with consuming breast,

Across its ruined waste, its tortuous acre

Draws out his complex fires, drives on his feet

Behind imperious rain, and multiplies

The urges, questions in the wilderness.

All roads that circle back–he shall tread these

And know the mirage in the desert’s eyes

The desert’s voices wait.

This clouded fool,

This poet-fool must halt in every tavern

Observing the crusty wrecks of aftermath,

Plied by his dual mood–uneasy, still–

Devouring fever of bone transfused to brain,

In that exact alembic burned away,

Made rare, perpetual.

Come music,

In a clear vernal month

Outside the window sighing in a lane,

With trysts by appletrees–

Moths drift in the room,

Measure with running feet the book he reads.

The month is golden to all ripening seeds;

Long dawns, suspended twilight by a sea

Of slow transition, halting at full ebb;

Midnight, aurora, daytime, all in one key—

The whispering hour before a storm, the treacherous hour

Breaking—

So wake, wind’s fever, branches delirious

Against a riven sky.

All houses are too small now,

A thought outgrows a brain—

Open the doors, the skeleton must pass

Into the night.

In rags and dust, haunted, irresolute,

Its passion cuts new furrows athwart the years.

Sorrow, my sister—

yet who accepts

At once her tragic hand?

From pitiless explorations

Come the unwarrantable deeds,

The over-proved frustrations.

O vulgar lures of a curl!

Tricks, catches, nimble-fingered ruffian adolescence

Whose beauty pulls 

The will to fragments—

Young beauty in raffish mood,

Love to be sold,

Lily and pleasant rose,

Street lily, alley rose,

For all Love-to be-sold, who will not buy?

Rose, gold—and flush of peach

(Never by sun formed,)

Bloom-dust off gala moon

In restaurants,

Cupid of crimson lamps—

His cassolette

Streams through the coy reitererative tune

Nightlong.

Oh come, this barbed rosette

(Or perhaps spangle

From champagne)

Drops off once out the exit-door—

Or how many thousand prodigal francs

From serious patriarchal banks

Must build the card-house for this ‘Grand Amour’?

Sour grapes of reason’s vine

Perfecting, hang on that symbolic house,

And passion is a copious mine

No matter how stripped it’s always full—carouse

Then, cytherean, with the cursory false love

That has his bed

Gold-lined, and robs you, host that are too fond—

Cold, cold,

Mind’s acid gales arouse the sated old

Fool that was gulled by love and paid his bond—

Young love is dead.

‘I that am seed, root and kernel-stone

Buried in the present, I that exact fulfillment from every hour

Now tell you:

Accept all things, accept—if only to be aware.

Understand, no choice is granted,

Nor the prudent craving, nor the ultimate romance—

But the unalterable deed, the mystic and positive

Stands, monumental against the astonished sky

Of an inquisitive world.

Now fierce, now cold,

Time beats in the hours, threatens from smoky ruins—

And yet to whom the loss

If one be made the sempiternal fool

Of chance,

Muddied with temporary growth of love’s importunate weeds?

‘In the penumbra

Of the wilderness,

On the rim of the tide along Commercial street

You meet one like you for an hour or two—

But eventual sameness creeps to repossess

All eyes, supplicant, offering unusable fidelities;

Eyes of defiance sulking into assent,

Acute with repetition, aged by a stale demand . . .

Though I did mark the turn of every hand

In the beginning, tendered my respect

To ante-rooms, while the sand ran from the hours.

‘Think now how friends grow old—

Their diverse brains, hearts, faces, modify;

Each candle wasting at both ends, the sly

Disguise of its treacherous flame . . .

Am I the same?

Or a vagrant, of other breed, gone further, lost—

I am most surely at the beginning yet.

If so, contemporaries, what have you done?

We chose a different game—

But all have touched the same desires

Receded now to oblivion—as a once-lustrous chain

Hangs in the window of the antiquary,

Dry bric-à-brac, time-dulled,

That the eventual customer must buy . .

(Tomorrow’s child)’

Sunday’s bell

Rings in the street. An old figure

Grins–(why notice the old,

The scabrous old that creep from night to night

Bringing their poor drama of blenched faces and fearful hands

That beg?)

Two old women drinking on a cellar floor

Huddled, with a beerish look at the scavenging rat—

A fur-collared decrepitude peers

From tattered eyelids

That shrivel malignant before an answering stare—

Old men in the civic chariots 

Parade with muffled protestations,

Derelicts spit on the young.

Oh symbol, symbol,

Indecorous age and cadence of christian bell.

This thin edge of December

Wears out meagrely in the 

Cold muds, rains, intolerable nauseas of the street.

Closed doors, where are your keys?

Closed hearts, does your embitteredness endure forever?

Torpidly

Afternoon settles on the town, 

each hour long as a street—

In the rooms

A sombre carpet broods, stagnates beneath deliberate steps:

Here drag a foot, there a foot, drop sighs, look round for nothing, shiver.

Sunday creeps in silence

Under suspended smoke,

And curdles defiant in unreal sleep.

The gas-fire puffs, consumes, ticks out its minor chords—

And at the door

I guess the arrested knuckles of the one-time friend,

One foot on the stair delaying, that turns again.

London—

youth and heart-break

Growing from ashes.

The war’s dirges

Burning, reverberate—burning

Now far away, sea-echoed, now in the sense,

Taste, mind, uneasy quest of what I am—

London, the hideous wall, the jail of what I am,

With fear nudging and pinching

Keeping each side of me

Down one street and another, lost—

Returned to search through adolescent years

For key, for mark of what was done and said.

Do ghosts alone possess the outworn decade?

Souls fled, bones scattered—

And still the vigilant past

Crowds, climbs, insinuates its whimpering vampire-song:

(No more, oh never, never . . . )

Are the living ghosts to the dead, or do the dead disclaim

This clutch of hands, the tears cast out to them?

Must one be courteous, halve defunct regrets,

Present oneself as host to ‘Yester-year’?

By the Embankment I counted the grey gulls

Nailed to the wind above a distorted tide.

On discreet waters

In Battersea I drifted, acquiescent.

And on the frosted paths of suburbs

At Wimbledon, where the wind veers from the new ice,

Solitary.

In Gravesend rusty funnels rise on the winter noon

From the iron-crane forests, with the tide away from the rank mud.

Kew in chestnut-time, September in Oxford Street

Through the stale hot dust—

And up across the murk to Fitzroy Square

With a lemon blind at one end, and the halfway spire

Attesting God on the right hand of the street—

London—

Old.

Dry bones turfed over by reiterant seasons,

Dry graves filled in, stifled, built upon with new customs.

Well, instead—

The south, and its enormous days;

Light consuming the sea, and sun-dust on the mountain,

Churn of the harbour, the toiling and loading, unloading

By tideless seas

In a classic land, timeless and hot.

Trees

Bowed to the immemorial Mistral

The evergreens, the pines,

Open their fans—

Red-barked forest,

O vast, brown, terrible,

Silent and calcinated.

Moonstruck, dewless . . . 

Or further

I know a land . . . red earth, ripe vines and plane-trees,

A gulf of mournful islands, best from afar.

The sunset’s huge surrender

Ripens the dead-sea fruit in decaying saltmarsh.

Then brain sings out to the night in muffled thirds,

Resumes the uneasy counting and the planning—

What wings beat in my ears

The old tattoo of journeys?

Why dreamer, this is the dream,

The question’s answer. And yet, and yet,

The foot’s impatient ( . . . where?) 

the eye is not convinced,

Compares, decides what’s gone was better,

Murmurs about ‘lost days’ . . . 

Sit then, look in the deep wells of the sky,

Compose the past—

Dry moss, grey stone,

Hill ruins, grass in ruins

Without water, and multitudinous

Tintinnabulation in poplar leaves;

A spendrift dust from desiccated pools,

Spider in draughty husks, snail on the leaf—

Provence, the solstice.

And the days after,

By the showman’s travelling houses, the land caravels

Under the poplar—the proud grapes and the burst grape-skins.

Arles in the plain, Miramas after sunset-time

In a ring of lights,

And a pale sky with a sickle-moon.

Thin winds undress the branch, it is October.

And in Les Baux

An old life slips out, patriarch of eleven inhabitants—

‘Fatigué’ she said, a terse beldam by the latch,

‘Il est fatigué, depuis douze ans toujours dans le même coin.’

In Aix, what’s remembered of Cézanne?

A house to let (with studio) in a garden,

(Meanwhile, ‘help yourself to these ripe figs, profitez . . .

And if it doesn’t suit, we, Agence Sextus, will find you another just as good.’)

The years are sewn together with the thread of the same story;

Beauty picked in a field, shaped, re-created,

Sold and dispatched to distant Municipality—

But in the Master’s town

Merely an old waiter, crossly,

‘Of course I knew him, he was a dull silent fellow,

Dead now.’

And Beauty walked alone here,

Unpraised, unhindered,

Defiant, of single mind,

And took no rest, and has no epitaph.

What hand shall hold the absolute,

What’s beauty?

Silent, the echo points to the ladderless mind

Tumbled with meanings, creeping in fœtus thoughts . . .

(Out, out, clear words!)

Genius is grace, is beauty—shall I be less deceived

Life-long, because of beauty’s printed word?

And yet—what’s beauty, where?

Perhaps in eyes, those paths,

Quick funnels to the complicated pool

Of the mind. But the thinking eye

Is blank—cold water-veils

Proceed above what sunken curious shells,

What stones, what weed?

The thinker’s eye a blank—with flowering words

Back of it waiting, whereas other eyes

Attend to books, bills, schemes, and how-do-you-do’s,

Entrench their independence, liberty . . .

(O liberty that must be so exactly organised!)

Brain

Train

Of conscious passion,

Music

Absolution, sweet abnegation

Of choice—A palm-grove’s transmigration

On soft hawaiian strings 

Softly, to languid ballrooms—

(God grant us appetite for all illusions,

God grant us ever, as now, the sweet delusions.)

Spring flushes the gardens.

In season of return bloom the forgotten days

Thinly; an empty house

Waits, that has once been mine.

Spring flushes the gardens—

Here a road, there a flowering tree,

And the lonely house

The lost house, the house bereft,

Spider-filled, with the hearth ash-laden from the last fire—

But he that delays here, now an anonymous traveller,

Stares at the evening silence, and without gesture

Passes on.

The sand is scored with print of unknown feet

Where seas are hollow, tenanted by sound;

The air is empty save where two wings beat

In timeless journeying—deep underground

Brood the eternal things, but in the street

No whisper comes of these, no word is found.

See now these berries dark along the hedge

Hard as black withered blood drawn long ago

Whose sap is frozen dry; a windy sedge

Hides field from ashen field, pale lapwings go

Whining above the heath, and floods are out

Over the meadows clasped in frigid lace

Of wintry avenues, ringed and fenced about—

His life is a place like this, just such a place.

For him no house, but only empty halls

To fill with strangers’ voices and short grace

Of passing laughter, while the shadows’ lace

Creeps from the fire along dismantled walls,

Uncertain tapestry of altering moods—

Only the sunset’s hour, the solitudes

Of sea and sky, the rain come with the spring;

Dark winds that gnarl the olive trees, and moan

Against the shuttered brain that thrills alone

Each night more racked by its adventuring.

The sirens then, beyond the ocean’s brim,

Call, and make ready on their ultimate shore,

And singing raise their arms, and wait for him,

Nepenthe rises at the prison door . . .

But in what hour, what age

Are siren voices heard across the water?

No—instead

Only bread and rain

Are on the waters—

And in the flooded orient

Dawn

Unwinds from the edge of a gale, 

Muffled, old-purple.

Between two hours the dawn runs very surely

Into a morning March.

Wild-fowl from the sedge, thrushes are in the dew

On distant lawns, so you remember . . .

Is it the end or the beginning,

Caesura, knot in the time-thread?

And Paris

Rolls up the monstrous carpet of its nights,

Picks back the specks and forms—

O individual, disparate,

Where now from the river bank?

From the Seine, up the Quarter, homeward at last to sleep.

—Clothes, old clothes—

early is it, or noon,

By this alarm-clock?

The rag-man turns the corner—

For him, past one; just today here in bed.

So—one begins again?

so soon preoccupied . . .

Who’s ill, tired, contumacious, sour, forswearing

After last night?

With wine alone one is allowed to think

Less cumbrously, and if one may recall

Little, there’s always tomorrow—when a something sore

Gropes in the brain—and shall one not condone

The shame, the doubt of this, the automaton?

With no particular heartache,

Only subsiding chords,

Echoes of transience.

In adolescence creep the first bitter roots

Darkly

To a full rich world—

The rich bitter fulness, where the play stands

Without prompter for the love-scene or the anger-scene.

And . . . You and I,

Propelled, controlled by need only,

Forced by dark appetites;

Lovers, friends, rivals for a time,

thinking to choose,

And having chosen, losing.

. . . ‘How long shall we last each other . . .

Perhaps a year . . .

Omens I do not see . . . ‘

But now we are three together—

How is it when we three are together

No rancour comes, but only the tired

Acceptance, the heart-ache in each heart-beat?

Full acceptance, beaten out to the very end—

Life blooms against disaster,

pressing its new immortal shoots against disaster.

And one of us questions, and smiles—

And one of us, smiling, answers with a gesture only—

And one:—’Ah no—

the new cannot put out the old—

Though I clutch on the new I shall not shuffle off the old,

Wrapped, folded together

The new burns, ripens in the known,

Folded, growing together—

Yes—(even to paradox)

Have I not loved you better, loving again?’

Up, down a little world—

south, north—

Pale north, dark-hedged; two cities grow and rot there

Stealthily.

War’s over, and with it, spring 

That opening blinds let in no more.

Only the grey 

Habit of days,

The yawning visits, the forced revisitations.

Oh very much the same, these faces and places,

These meals and conversations,

Custom of being alive, averting of the death-thought.

But in the charnel-cloister Dupuytren,

Down a side-street, there’s a full century’s matter

Collected—

The death-before-life, the atom in the womb

Preparing—snarled embryos,

pinched

By once-roseate poisons.

(Frail brown

Pre-natal dust, what life is it you missed?)

The skeletons swing on a line,

Dark-waxed, patined, defective-boned—

O commemorable fusion of science with disease . . .

(That was a new contemplation, the death-museum.)

Up and down

On a little track,

With a lighthouse to end the chapter.

The sea is glass—slip briefly into France;

Brown-gold Rhône, slip with me to the other sea

Where the mimosa flowers

Ecstatically for moribunds,

Immensely, in thundering rains.

Time rings in the weakening pulse, aggressive high—

Time,

Time—

Do you remember:

A cliff had hidden the wind—

The fishes came, and the gold-eyed plaintive mongrel

To snap at cast-off scraps;

We were talking of mutability—

(Your eyes dark

As a sky when the winter sun wearies of it

Drawing into a cloud.)

‘Now at least

We are forgotten of time, this hour escapes him—

Where he sits

In the work-shops

Tying his knots, unravelling,

Spoiling the work of others—

He who dramatises the nights

Of lovers, and tears fierce words from their insurgent hearts—

He who sits

In the taverns, lusty, aloof,

Condemning, experienced, jealous . . .

Milord Eternity—’

And the seas turn mutable foam, in fear transfusing

Themselves to the watcher—

they have nor wish nor choosing,

But turn, tossing fragments, spars,

Forever—meridian calms

Fill these still classic shores with unaccountable voice,

And in the weeded stones

The carapace life creeps singly, unafraid.

“—Then I was in a train

in pale clear country—

By Genoa at night, 

Where the old palatial banks

Rise out of vanquished swamps

Redundant—

And in San Gimignano’s

Towers, where Dante once . . .

And in the plains, with the mountain’s veil

Before me and the waterless rivers of stones—

Siena-brown, with Christ’s head on gold,

Pinturicchio’s trees on the hill

In the nostalgic damps, when the maremma’s underworld

Creeps through at evening.

Defunct Arezzo, Pisa the forgotten—

And in Florence

Benozzo

With his embroidered princely cavalcades;

And Signorelli, the austere passion.

Look—Christ hangs on a sombre mound,

Magdalen dramatic

Proclaims the tortured god; the rest have gone

To a far hill. Very dark it is, soon it will thunder

From that last rim of amarinthine sky.

Life broods at the cross’s foot,

Lizard, and campion, star-weeds like Parnassus grass,

And plaited strawberry leaves; 

The lizard inspects a skull,

You can foretell the worm between the bones.

(I am alone. Read from this letter

That I have left you and do not intend to return.)

. . . Then I was walking in the mountains,

And drunk in Cortona, furiously,

With the black wine rough and sour

from a Tuscan hill;

Drunk and silent between the dwarfs and the cripples

And the military in their intricate capes

Signed with the Italian star.

Eleven shuddered in a fly-blown clock.

O frustrations, discrepancies,

I had you to myself then!

To count and examine,

Carve, trim, pare—and skewer you with words.

Words . . . like the stony rivers

Anguished and dry.

Words clouding, spoiling, getting between one and the mark,

Falsely perpetuating—’Why he was thus,

Self-painted, a very personal testimony

Of half-expression’—and oh the hypocrisy

Of the surrender in the written word . . .

(Yet taken from this

The discerning estimate of ‘what you’ve been’—)

What now can be remembered that was seen

Long ago? (always long ago.)

The empty seas, the unpeopled landscape,

and the sullen acre

Trodden out in revolt—

Associations

Called in unmerited resurrection

Of what’s accomplished, dead—

These, and the chasing of the immortal Question,

The hunted absolute.

In the shade of the bitter vine

I sit, instructed fool and phœnix-growth,

Ash-from-my-ash that made me, that I made

Myself in the folded curve of Origin—

Heredities disclaim, will not explain

All prior mischiefs in the bone, the brain—

Only a ponderous mirror holds

The eyes that look deep and see but the eyes again.

One for another

I have changed my prisons;

Held fast, as the flame stands, locked in the prism—

And at one end I see

Beauty of other times, mirage of old beauty

Down a long road, clear of the strands and patches of associations,

Keen, resurrected, very clear—

—And at one side

The symbol of the vacant crossroads,

Then the veiled figure waiting at the crossroads

Leaning against the wind,

urging, delaying . . . 

(I have come for you, Peer!)

—And behind me

The candles of thoughtful nights,

And the green months, solitary,

Across dividing seas—

And again behind me, the cities

Rising on the inexpressible meaning of their streets,

Unaltering—and the eyes lifting over a wine-glass,

Holding the inexpressible, 

playing terror against acceptance—

Eyes, and siren voices lost at dawn . . . 

Only the empty dawn

Comes, over the harbour; with the getting-back to day,

The resumed love-songs and the rhythms of illusion.

—And around me

Legend of other times on dry gold background,

Pitted with slow insinuations

Probings of now defunct animalculæ . . 

Worm, mighty and dead, established in the paint and the tapestries,

Having ended your statements.

Only the statement, the unalterable deed only

Stands, and is no more than a halt on the track—

—And at last, before me

In fierce rise and fall of impetuous seasons,

The articulate skeleton

In clothes grown one with the frame,

At the finger-post waiting,

aureoled with lamentations.

‘Hail partner, that went as I

In towns, in wastes—I, shadow,

Meet with you—I that have walked with recording eyes

Through a rich bitter world, and seen

The heart close with the brain, the brain crossed by the heart—

I that have made, seeing all,

Nothing, and nothing kept, nor understood

Of the empty hands, the hands impotent through time that lift and fall

Along a question—

Nor of passing and re-passing

By the twin affirmations of never and for-ever,

In doubt, in shame, in silence.'”

I may have found a new calling in life. A few days ago, I was casually perusing (as one does) the list of works published in 1927, which became copyright-free as of January 1, 2023. I was amused to see that some of them haven’t shown up on Kindle, so I remedied that: from now on, if any Kindle user downloads T.S. Eliot’s “Salutation” or “Journey of the Magi,” I’ll net 35 cents. Heh.

When I looked a bit closer, I found that some Black poets also didn’t have a lot of presence on Kindle. Digitizing their works from random PDFs and scanned books took quite a while longer… By now, I’ve prepared, proofread, and uploaded several of their poetry collections: not for any sort of serious profit (I’d get only $1.05 per download, hardly worth several days’ work) but because I found something disturbing… Some of those poems disappeared. They don’t show up on Google Scholar, on plain old Google, or in any online poetry collections. In other words, it’s as if they never existed at all.

My own contributions to civilization in general and the field of literature in particular are – let’s be honest – virtually nonexistent. But if I can find, digitize, and upload lost works of long-gone poets… Well, as long as this blog and its mirrors remain up (decades, hopefully), their legacy will live on. This is an interesting intersection of my talents (data processing and research) and my desire to do something – anything – useful and meaningful. I think preserving and propagating old poems qualifies.

To ensure anyone – students, scholars, and assorted curious folks – can find them, I’ll post them not just on Kindle, but on this blog this as well. Through the magic of indexing, they’ll show up on Google, available for all. Please feel free to repost them on your own blogs and platforms as well, just to ensure there isn’t a single point of failure. May beauty never fade away…

And so, here is the first batch of five resurrected poems, with many more to come.

1.
To a Young Girl Leaving the Hill Country
by Arna Bontemps

The hills are wroth; the stones have scored you bitterly
Because you looked upon the naked sun
Oblivious of them, because you did not see
The trees you touched or mountains that you walked upon.

But there will come a day of darkness in the land,
A day wherein remembered sun alone comes through
To mark the hills; then perhaps you’ll understand
Just how it was you drew from them and they from you.

For there will be a bent old woman in that day
Who, feeling something of this country in her bones,
Will leave her house tapping with a stick, who will (they say)
Come back to seek the girl she was in these familiar stones.

2.
After All
by Donald Jeffrey Hayes

After all and after all
When the song is sung
And swallowed up in silence
It were more real unsung. …

After all and after all
When the lips have stirred
Such a little of the thought
Is transmuted in the word. …

Suffer not my ears with hearing
Suffer not your thoughts with speech.
Let us feel into our meaning
And thus know the all of each.

3.
Sonnet
by Countee Cullen

I know now how a man whose blood is hot
And rich, still undiminished of desire,
Thinking (too soon), “The world is dust and mire,”
Must feel who takes to wife four walls, a cot,
A hemped robe and cowl, saying, “I’ll not
To anything, save God and Heaven’s fire,
Permit a thought; and I will never tire
Of Christ, and in Him all shall be forgot.”

He too, as it were Torquemada’s rack,
Writhes piteously on that unyielding bed,
Crying, “Take Heaven all, but give me back
Those words and sighs without which I am dead;
Which thinking on are lances, and I reel.”
Letting you go, I know how he would feel.

4.
La Belle, La Douce, La Grande
by Countee Cullen

France! How shall we call her belle again?
Does loveliness reside
In sunken cheeks, in bellies barren and denied?
What twisted inconsistent pen
Can ever call her belle again?
Or douce? Can gentleness invade
The frozen heart, the mind betrayed,
Or search for refuge in the viper’s den?
How shall we call her douce again?
Or grande? Did greatness ever season
The broth of shame, repudiation, treason?
Or shine upon the lips of little lying men?
How shall we call her grande again?

Has history no memory, no reason?
What land inhabited of men
Has never known that dark hour when
First it felt the sting of treason?
Petain? Laval? Can they outweigh
By an eyelash or a stone
The softest word she had to say,
That sainted soul of France called Joan?

Nay even now, look up, see fall
As on Elisha Elijah’s shawl,
Joan’s mantle on the gaunt De Gaulle:
New Knight of France, great paladin,
Behold him sally forth to win
Her place anew at freedom’s hand,
A place for France: la belle, la douce, la grande.

5.

The-Snake-That-Walked-Upon-His-Tail

by Countee Cullen

How envied, how admired a male,
The-Snake-That-Walked-Upon-His-Tail!
The forest all emerged to stare
When he came out to take the air.
With bright eye flashing merrily,
He seemed to say, “Come, gaze on me!
Behold as near as animal’s can,
A walk resembling that of man!”
And holding high his haughty head,
He would stroll on with graceful tread.
And how his tiny little ear
Would throb these compliments to hear:
“What charm he has!” “What elegance!”
“The ideal partner for a dance!”
“However do you think he learned?”
At this, although he blushed and burned
To tell them how, he never turned,
But, looking neither left nor right,
Would wander on and out of sight.

But why indeed was he so gifted?
By what strange powers was he lifted
A little nearer to the skies?
The reason’s plain. Hard exercise!
Hard exercise, indeed! You shake
Your head, and think, “When did a snake,
A creature sleepy and inert,
Content to slumber in the dirt,
Or lie in caverns dank and dark,
Exhibit such a worthy spark?”

But be it found in man or horse,
(Or even snake), a driving force
The fever is we call ambition.
When it attacks, there’s no condition
Of man or beast which may withstand
Ambition’s hard, compelling hand.

And from his very, very birth
No common snake was this of ours;
But he was conscious of his worth,
And well aware of all his powers.
He never cared for toads and newts,
For catching flies or digging roots;
No cavern cool could lure him in,
No muddy bank his fancy win.
Wherever man was, there was he!
Eager to watch, eager to see!
He thought it fine that Man could talk,
But finer still that Man could walk.
He thought, “If Man can do this, why
With proper training, so can I.”

He kept his secret from his nearest
Friend, he never told his dearest,
But in a quiet glade he knew
Where none was apt to come and spy,
The more his perseverance grew,
The nearer did his dream draw high;
He practiced patiently and drilled,
And wished, and yearned, and longed, and willed.
From crack of dawn to darkest night,
He practiced sitting bolt upright.
At first he fell with a terrible thump,
And bruised his head and raised a bump;
But, “Walk I will!” is what he said,
And lightly rubbed his aching head.

Night after night, day after day,
He would sit up, and sway and sway,
Until one day, oh, think of it!
He stood and never swayed a bit!
He stood as rigid as a pole,
With perfect ease, perfect control!

Though Men should do most wondrous things
In years to come: on iron wings
Fly faster than the fastest bird,
Or talk or sing, and make it heard
Over mountains and over seas,
You must confess that none of these
Could for excitement quite compare
With Snake triumphant standing there
Tip-toe upon his tail! And now
How to begin? He wondered how!
What should he do? Leap? Jump? Or stride?
His heart was hammering inside
Its narrow cell! His throat was dry!
Ambition’s fever fired his eye.
Within his grasp he had his dream.
Here was his moment, his, supreme!

Just then he chanced to glance and see
Man passing by, most leisurely;
Step after step Man took with ease,
Eclipsing houses, rocks, and trees.
And suddenly our Snake grew pale,
And whimpered forth a woeful wail;
Till Doomsday though he stood on end,
He would not walk! No need pretend!
One thing he lacked to be complete.
Nothing could walk which hadn’t feet!

Down, down, he dropped, and sadly crept
Into a bush nearby, and wept.
The tears he shed were sad and salty;
He felt a failure, weak and faulty.
At last, too weary more to weep,
He curled him up and went to sleep.

But some sweet spirit knew his zeal,
Pitied his grief, and sped to heal.
Our Snake’s ambitious lower tip
Was caught in some magician’s grip,
Till where had been, so sharp and neat
A tail, were now two tiny feet.
It may have been by wishing so
His earnestness had made them grow!
At any rate, as I repeat,
When he awoke, there were his feet!

He wept again, but now for pleasure!
His joy burst forth in lavish measure.
He popped up straighter than an arrow;
Happiness went bubbling through his marrow!

Then gingerly and cautiously,
And praying Heaven kind to be,
He put his best foot forward! Oh,
It knew exactly where to go!
Without the slightest fuss or bother
Straight behind it came the other.
And from that day until his fall,
He was a wonder to them all.

Pray notice well that last remark,
To wit: “Until his fall,” for hark
How too much pride and too much glory
Bring dismal climax to our story.
Our hero, for I still opine
That such he was, though serpentine,
Waxed fat on praise and admiration,
Forgot his former lowly station.

Looked on his mate with mild disdain
As being somewhat soft of brain;
With favor viewed her not at all,
Because, poor thing, she still must crawl!
(Which needs no explanation here,
For we believe we’ve made it clear
That of these two only the Male
Contrived to walk upon his tail.)

The compliments which, left and right,
Were showered on him, spoiled him quite;
No longer friendly and benign,
He strode along with rigid spine,
Nor bent to pass the time of day
Though gently greeted on the way.
Himself he thought the world’s last wonder
All other beasts a foolish blunder,
And even Man he somewhat eyed
A bit obliquely in his pride.

One only thing, or rather two,
He lover with ardor all complete;
Yea, evermore his rapture grew
As he beheld his darling feet!
He bathed them in the coolest brooks,
Wrapped them in leaves against the heat;
He never wearied of the looks
Of those amazing little feet!
And every day, foul day or fair,
Most carefully did count his toes
To be quite certain they were there,
Two sets of five, in double rows.

Flood morning came and Mrs. Snake
Was early up and wide awake.
“Dear husband, rise,” she hissed, “the Ark
We must be on and in ere dark.”
But he, he only stretched and yawned,
As in his brain an idea dawned
That promised great publicity.
“Suppose, my dear, you go,” said he,
“Ahead, and wait on board for me.
Your rate of travel’s none too great.
You crawl along; I won’t be late.”

“True,” said his Madam, somewhat tartly,
“I travel as the good Lord made me;
And though I may not travel smartly,
My crawling never has delayed me.”
At which in somewhat of a huff,
She straightened out and rippled off.

Quite tardily our arose,
Sat fondly gazing at his toes,
And thought, “The last to catch the boat
I’ll be; arrive as one of note.
Perhaps its sailing I’ll delay
Almost as much as one whole day;
For certainly they wouldn’t dare
To sail away with me not there.”

Through all the bustle and commotion,
Of others hastening to the ocean,
He gayly spent his time in primping
And polishing his shiny scales,
And laughed to think of others limping
Instead of walking on their tails.

Long, long, he dillied, long, long he dallied,
And dilly-dalliers never yet
Have at the proper moment sallied
To where they were supposed to get.
At length he deemed the proper second
For his departure had appeared;
The fame of being latest beckoned;
For conquest he felt fully geared.

But even as he straightly rose,
And lightly turned upon his toes,
The quiet skies above him darkened.
A panic seized him as he harkened
To thunder rolling long and loud.
Foreboding filled his frame, and dread,
As, glancing up, he saw a cloud
About to spill its contents on his head!
He fled in fright; away he scurried;
From that disturbing spot he hurried.
Yet ever as he onward sped
That cloud still threatened overhead.

At last, at last, he nears the Ark;
‘Tis just a little ways away!
Its lights are gleaming in the dark,
It rocks with laughter loud and gay.
“Oh, let me reach it,” gasps our hero;
“Though fame and fortune be as zero,
Though none my praises sing aloud,
O Heaven, spare me from that cloud!”

What irony of fate is this?
What bitter fare is his to eat?
Why does our hero write and hiss?
Something has tangled up his feet.
A little plant, a sickly bush,
Has grappled with those lovely toes;
Though he may flounder, shove, and push,
No further on our hero goes.
The awful cloud above him tips
And pours its mighty torrents down.
One last look and the captive slips
Away within their depths to drown.
Undone by what he loved the most
He gently renders up the ghost.

Long may his mate stand at the rail,
With anxious eye explore the dark;
The-Snake-That-Walked-Upon-His-Tail
Will never walk upon the Ark.

Giving away my Kindle e-books

It’s been a while since I’ve done that, so why not, eh? I’m giving away most of my Kindle e-books until December 30th and/or 31st. (Amazon’s delightful KDP menu glitched halfway through the process. Heh.)

If you like what you see, please feel free to leave a 5-star review! Tell your friends, download some fun non-fiction goodness, and I hope you’ll enjoy your new reading material.

The full list can be found over here. Or, for posterity’s sake, here’s the list of what’s up for grabs:

  1. Plague Diaries: a Covid Chronicle. As the title suggests, this is the 406-day-long chronicle of my covid lockdown, from the first emergency declaration in Canada right until I got my vaccines in the States. A whole lot more happened in between… Occasionally funny, mostly terrifying, and an honest look at what that was like.
  2. 50 shades of yay: great thinkers on happiness. Hands down my favourite creation – but, ironically, the least popular one among my readers. This is a collection of 50 ancient (and overall old-timey) thinkers who pontificated on the nature of happiness. It’s quite interesting (as well as useful!) to see the perspectives from centuries and even millennia ago. My favourite? Christina, Queen of Sweden.
  3. Legends & Lore from Around the World. I’ll be the first to admit that the formatting in this 15,000-page monster of an e-book is pretty bad. If you’re willing to look past that, though, you’ll find the largest collection of myths and legends ever assembled under one cover. Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, African myths – this book has them all.
  4. Roommate Survival Guide: 33 ways to stay sane and have fun. I’ve had well over 100 roommates over the course of my life. Learn from my mistakes and fun experiences!
  5. Taoism-101: Answers and Explanations. This is a short and sweet guide to Taoism, presented in the FAQ format. Learn what it is, find out what it isn’t, and dazzle all your friends with your newfound esoteric knowledge!
  6. Go to college without going broke: 33 ways to save your time, money and sanity. Released over a decade ago, this was once one of my most popular e-books. (I like to think that the advice is still quite applicable!) As an immigrant, I had to learn the intricacies of the US college system all on my own. This book has the sum total of my knowledge: how to travel almost for free, how to save a fortune on textbooks, where to find free food and wine on campus, etc. It’s only 37 pages long, but it should save you and yours thousands of dollars.

That’s about it: go forth and download! (And, as always, don’t forget those 5-star reviews, eh!)

Another year is almost over.

Thinking back, it’s rather impressive how much has happened. A year ago, there was no war in Ukraine. There was no Wordle. I hadn’t even known about the PCT. (That came about after a rapid succession of really bad news, followed by the desire to get away from it all.)

It’s impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy what will happen in 2023. Will the stock market recover? Will the recent covid surge in China produce a particularly dangerous variant? Will there be another bizarre and very precisely phrased Pentagon report on UFOs? At the very least, I hope Ukraine will fight off its invader and get some semblance of peace.

On a personal note, I’ll be spending most of the year in the francization school here in Quebec: it’ll run until October-ish. Learning a whole new language is a fine intellectual challenge, and the fact that the local government pays a $200 CAD weekly stipend is a fun cherry on top. 🙂 Also, might get a bit more serious about my writing… And though there’ll be no epic hikes in 2023, I’ll have a 6-week summer break: if everything goes according to plan, I should be able to join FEMA’s reservist program and spend that time helping out in some natural disaster area. (The reservist program is a new development: a logical yet horrifying reaction to the global warming. There are so many disasters now that the best bad option is to enlist average people’s help. That should be interesting…)

A year ago today, I couldn’t have imagined how 2022 would’ve changed me – or the world. Here is to a less eventful new year, eh?

Pacific Crest Trail: the aftermath

I figured I should probably post this update before the year ends. The 9-month gap between posts is strange enough as it is – no reason to stretch it across 2 years. All is well, and I finished the PCT in one piece. I had to skip a section in Oregon because of wildfire closures, but I’ll come back and finish it at some point in the future.

The whole experience was… strange. And beautiful. And a little dangerous. Sometimes, the trail would try to kill you, but it was so beautiful that you’d forgive it soon after. That’s how relationships work, right? Right?

I walked mostly alone. At one point, I walked through the snowy Sierra mountains for 3 days without meeting a single person. Turns out, dozens of other hikers were deliberately staying 1 day behind me because they wanted to get to the nearby campground resort on the opening night. I had no idea about any of that, so I just kept on walking and wondering what the hell happened to everyone else. Heh.

There were a couple of scary moments… The time I started sliding off a mountain and had to use my ice axe to self-arrest. The time at the notorious mile 169.5 (a hiker died there last year) where I had to make One Perfect Step on an incredibly narrow and ice-covered mountain path. Even with my microspikes and ice axe, that part was sketchy. There was the time I underestimated the strength of the stream current and got knocked over. It wasn’t very deep, but it was ice-cold, and my phone was never the same afterwards. (I walked with just my compass and a backup paper map for the rest of the day. Good times.)

But there was also so, sooo much beauty… I never did see the Milky Way in all its shiny glory, but I’m pretty sure I saw its pale outlines, and that’s good enough. I adopted the routine of waking up at 3:30am (and getting up at 4am, and walking by 5:30am) – I cowboy-camped as much as possible, and seeing all those beautiful bright stars against the black velvet of the sky… It was amazing, each and every time. There were also the giant wind turbine fields of Tehachapi, and miles and miles of ridiculously bright wildflowers, and far too many encounters with wild critters. Shameless deer who would steal anything you put down, and shy and timid young deer, and fluffy marmots, and a blue-hour cougar near the Vasquez National Park, and incredibly lazy birds that might have been related to the dodo… Also, a couple of bear encounters: one of them ate my entire food bag at a certain campsite which will remain nameless. (Mostly because we made a deal: I don’t mention them online, and they pay me back for my lost food, since they’d had zero warning signs or bear boxes.)

I got a trail name, too – about a week in. It was “The Godfather.” I recited the name’s origin story hundreds of times, and it pains me to type it up here yet again, but what the hell: my buddy and I set up camp next to 2 girls who were hiking toward Mexico. We started talking, and the girls started describing their life after college – all the towns where they’ve lived and worked since then. Well, it turned out I lived and worked in all of those towns, or I had family there. We were up to 6 or 7 towns, and it was getting funny, and ridiculous, and a little weird. Finally, one of the girls snapped: “Are you in the mafia?!” My buddy replied with, “Nah, he’s the Godfather!” And then we laughed and laughed and laughed – and I think that girl got better. Heh. Other trail names (off the top of my head) included Oracle, Turtle, Chef, Alaska, Basecamp, Yeti Legs, Socrates, Forklift, No Brakes, Star Camel, etc. Also, if you’re reading this in preparation for your own PCT thru-hike, keep in mind that there are tons of hikers who end up sharing the same trail name. If someone gives you a simple noun like Chef or Turtle (or, gods forbid, names you after a state), make sure to add a cool adjective to it. (See, for example, Rocket Llama from 2013.)

The nature was beautiful. So beautiful… Even the Sierra section, which I ended up hating due to lack of bridges and/or guideposts at the mountain passes, was gorgeous in its own way. I ended up hiking up Mount Whitney (the highest mountain in the lower 48), and that was the most physically challenging experience of my entire life. Toward the end, I had to take breaks every 3 minutes or so. It was worth it, though. So very, very worth it.

Toward the end of the Sierra, at Kennedy Meadows North, I had a bit of a health scare: I thought I sprained my ankle (it got cartoonishly huge), but as it later turned out, that was just plain old hiker inflammation. I’d switched my wool socks for synthetic ones a few weeks earlier, and since my feet had swollen from size 13 to size 16, those synthetic socks bit into the skin and started acting as compression socks. No bueno, eh. I ended up taking 2 weeks off and chilling with my family in Seattle – and that made for a strange intermission that split my trail into the “before” and “after” parts. The same thing happened again in Ashland, but by then I (finally) figured out what was happening, and managed to stabilize my ankle in just 4 days.

It was odd to walk the (almost) entirety of the PCT without any rain… My hike lasted from April 3-September 1, and there were only 2 days with rain – and even then, that was just a drizzle. There were pretty long stretches in NorCal, during a heatwave, where I was chugging my electrolyte water like some land-dwelling fish. I think there were some days where I drank almost 7 liters… (That’s particularly awful since you have to filter all of your own water, and that can take a while.)

I didn’t get to Oregon fast enough to avoid wildfires… There were a total of 3 closures in Oregon, and hundreds of hikers ended up forming a gigantic hiker bubble as we all hitchhiked (or got shuttled) to the next part of the trail. And then, at the very end… I was concerned about new wildfires popping up, so I picked up my pace. Normally, I walked 25-30 miles per day. (Take that, marathon runners!) By the end, I was doing 37 miles per day, walking from 5:30am until the true dark at 8pm. I never moved fast (~2.5-3 mph) but when you walk almost 15 hours a day, that adds up. In the end, that made all the difference.

I was one of the last hikers to touch the Northern Terminus on the Canadian border. I did that around 6pm on September 1. The following day, at 2pm, the Forest Service rangers closed off the last 30 miles of the trail due to 3 separate wildfires that started to spread in that area. (Walking back from the border, there was a section where flakes of ash drifted on the wind… It made for a lot of coughing.) When I made it back to the tiny ranger station 30 miles south of the border, the mood was mighty mixed. There was confusion, there was anger (a lot of hikers were from overseas, and had put a lot on the line to get there), there was free food provided by the amazing trail angel volunteers.

That night, after I caught a ride to the nearest hostel, the mood there was mixed, and more than a little toxic. There were no celebrations, no singing, no fanfares: some of us had walked to the finish line, while others got screwed by fate and blind chance. That was a very strange experience, but maybe that’s just life. There are no perfect happy stories – everything is ambiguous and at least a little bit morally grey. For every 10 selfless trail angels who give you a ride and go out of their way to help you, there’s a store owner in a tiny town, shamelessly robbing you with inflated food prices. (There usually aren’t any price tags.) For every amazing hostel, there is a campground where a power-tripping owner threatens to call the police on an RV resident who throws a free BBQ in our honour. (Rot in hell, Acton KOA’s owner.) It was a mixed bag. Mostly amazing and beautiful, but mixed.

Fun sidenote: I’ve just checked that campground’s reviews. One of the reviews, dated June (a month after my bad experience there), states there are too many homeless people. Heh – I guess they never bothered to ask, or they would’ve learned those were all PCT hikers.

On the definite plus side, I went wayyyy outside my comfort zone with all the hitchhiking I did, and I got to experience the greatest form of travel (in the back of a pickup truck!) a couple of times. Also, I crossed an actual waterfall. Twice. Uphill. The navigation in the Sierra section gets a little wild, what can I say.

There is a whole lot more I can say, but gotta draw the line somewhere. Suffice to say, it was beautiful. Also, I finally proved to myself that my body can cash the checks that my mouth writes. Having returned to civilization, nothing is quite the same anymore. The clean water, and hot showers, and easily accessible food are nice, sure (I lost 31 lbs and ended up at 6’1″ and 144 lbs by the end), but there’s so much mindless consumerism and waste. My heart breaks a little each time when I see all the plastic packaging my groceries are sold in, and shopping malls seem even more ridiculous than they had before. It’s been about 100 days since I returned, and I still dream about hiking. I dream of it a lot. This experience has greatly deepened my thirst for adventure…

Right now, I’m enrolled in a year-long francization course here in Quebec: they promised to make me completely fluent by the time that’s done, so I don’t think I’ll get to hike again next year, but after that… I’m thinking the Appalachian Trail in 2024, and the Continental Divide Trail in 2025 to get my coveted Triple Crown. (In the whole world, only 530 or so people have finished all 3 trails.) We’ll see how things play out when I get closer.

For now, though, you can read my detailed daily trail journal over here (it’s a lot like my daily pandemic journal, only with beauty instead of death), and you can check out the pictures of my trail adventure on Instagram: I go by @hellamellowfellow there.

Cheers, y’all.

When the pandemic first began two years ago, we all sought different coping mechanisms. Indoor gardening, adopting a pet from the local shelter, sourdough bread starters (I still haven’t managed to grow one of those), singing sea shanties over Zoom, and many, many more. For me, it was a bit different. 

I saw a Reddit post that recommended keeping a daily diary. That would keep you grounded and distracted, give you something to do, and might provide an interesting time capsule for your future self to reflect upon…

When I started my daily “Plague Diaries” blog posts, I didn’t have a particular plan or destination in mind. At some point, I promised myself I’d keep writing until I got fully vaccinated. I had no idea that would take over a year. Had I known ahead of time that the blog series would last 406 days, I might not have started it in the first place — but I’m glad I went through with that project.

Someday, somehow, some way, some other, future, wiser version of myself will be able to re-read all those daily posts, reflect on that crazy year of politics and pandemic, as well as my highly unstable job situation as I kept trying to not get fired, to last just long enough to become a permanent Canadian resident. 

Here and now, though… I wanted to share this experience and this tale with the world, but I found out the hard way that book agents aren’t very enthusiastic about 232,500-word manuscripts landing in their inbox. Heh. I did the next best thing: spent several days compiling and formatting all those posts, and then turned it into my longest Kindle e-book to date.

To celebrate its release, I’m giving it away for free: it’ll stay free on Kindle for the next five days, until the end of Sunday, March 13th. If you’re reading this in the future, then a) hello from the past! and b) if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can still read the book for free that way. And if you don’t have an actual Kindle device, fret not — you can install the Kindle app on your phone or computer. I’ve got you covered, eh: just go over yonder and click the big button.

If you like the book — or if you’d read those blog posts of mine in the past (you know who you are!), I would sincerely appreciate it if you download the book and leave a five-star review, even if it’s just two sentences long.

If you’d like to learn more, here is the official book description. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks in advance!

“Plague Diaries: a Covid Chronicle” begins with a Russian-American-Canadian workaholic trying to keep his artsy and immuno-compromise girlfriend safe from covid in rural Ontario in March 2020. Things get a whole lot weirder after that.

This book is a chronicle of one man’s quest to stay away from covid, to find vaccines, and — hopefully — maintain his sanity as the world falls apart. Part personal journal, part time capsule, each of the 406 days has a small personal update and a link to that day’s strangest news, be it political or covid-related. Mundanity and boredom are mixed with global horror as the virus spreads…

Relive the events of that turbulent year with this book: the stranded cruise ships, the sourdough starter mania, the summer riots, the week-long uncertainty as Trump caught covid, the longest election of our lifetime, the long-awaited vaccine news, the January coup attempt, the GameStop saga, and much, much more. Along the way, there are road trips, abandoned mine exploration, a quest to become a Canadian, a love affair with an Instapot, a pursuit of financial independence and early retirement, and lots more.

About three weeks from now, I’ll board a one-way flight to San Diego, spend a day shopping and sightseeing, then four days getting used to the desert at an AirBnB backyard, and then I’ll walk 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. The whole thing shouldn’t take more than four or five months.

The PCT has always been one of those things I’m tangentially aware of. Not something I could give up a speech about, but something I’d recognize in a conversation, and nod and smile along. This decision has been a weird end product of a lot of recent developments…

To start with, even with omicron presumably waning (though there’s that new sub-variant to keep an eye on), we might get a new challenger: to quote a brilliant movie, “safety not guaranteed.” It’s worth keeping in mind that none of the previous big variants – omicron, delta, the ones from Brazil and the UK, etc – were one another’s direct descendants. From what I understand (and please correct me if I’m wrong), they’re cousins, not a direct lineage.

On a more shallow front: even without new variants of concern, tourism will suck in 2022. With omicron still out and about, and with so many anti-vaxxers (or good, sane folks in other countries who want a shot but cannot get one), all the landmarks will still be there, but your experience will be subpar. The Coliseum, the Louvre, the Costa Rican rainforests – all of that will still be around, but with all the precautions and regulations (and possible shutdowns), you won’t get as much enjoyment and happiness as you would’ve before the pandemic.

A more mundane (and less capitalist-shark-y) reason is that Quebec is decidedly not fun these days. I gave it a good chance and the benefit of the doubt, but with more and more lockdowns, and all the real-world social meetups being shut down indefinitely, it’s kind of miserable. The final insult was when they cancelled the New Year’s Eve celebrations with a surprise curfew announcement even though they’d let all the Christmas celebrations proceed without a hitch. For all the talk of secularism, I guess they still didn’t want to offend Baby Jesus on his alleged birthday. Heh. (“Alleged” because there’s no way that was in December. Aside from a lazy CIA spook, what kind of shepherd would be out and about that time of year?)

The curfew ended after about a month, and restaurants re-opened a few weeks ago, but in this here third year of the worldwide plague, my patience with hypocritical governments runs extra-thin… And so, that leaves us with fun places outside Quebec, but the kind that have very few interactions with (justifiably) concerned people. That cuts out most of the tourism sector, and leaves us with wilderness.

First, I looked into the Trans Canada Trail in early January. It stretches for 15,000 miles from coast to coast, and it sounds pretty amazing. Unfortunately, if you do just a little digging, you’ll see that the whole thing is overrated: only 32% of the trail is in actual wilderness. The rest of it is on or near roads. Somehow, the allure of walking 10,000 miles on the side of the highway just doesn’t do it for me… Speaking purely as a lifelong cynic, and with zero data to back me up, I strongly suspect that all the different provinces and districts got “voluntold” to set up some sort of trail – any trail at all – to connect two separate points in their jurisdiction. And then, the human nature being what it is, most of them collectively half-assed the assignment. So, no hiking in Canada, then.

I still have my notes from staying up late that night, looking at other (and more legitimate) long-range hiking trails, and then I had it – the Triple Crown. The Appalachian, Continental Divide, and Pacific Crest trails. A bit more googling showed that the PCT is probably the least difficult (though by no means easy) of the three. The timing was serendipitous, because the annual free permit giveaway happened just a week later. I snagged one for April 3rd: no particular significance, except that my complicated taxes would probably take until late March to process.

…I don’t miss my old job, but I do miss having an ocean of data to dive into, to learn, to master. This thru-hiking affair is a pretty good substitute. By now, my plain old .txt file probably has enough notes to rival some of the legitimate guidebooks, and all the days spent comparison-shopping and researching the optimal (weight/price) gear… Delicious. Positively delicious.

This adventure will cost me a pretty penny, since I’ve had to upgrade just about every piece of hiking gear I had, aside from my compass, headlamp, and thermals. (Even my trusty old power bank is too bulky and heavy by modern standards.) On the other hand, seeing people’s reactions as I hoofed around in the snow with my weighed-down 40-lbs backpack (I’ve since downgraded it to 33 lbs) – that’s just priceless. It’s a bit too cold here to camp overnight (at least if you have the intention of waking up), so I’ve had to make do with practice sleepovers using my sleeping pad+bag and tent indoors, inside my bedroom. Practice makes perfect, eh? (Also, ice axes look badass. So very, very badass. Seriously, spend $100 and get yourself a badass anti-zombie weapon. You’ll be the envy of all your friends!)

On a less mercenary and more fun level, this will be awesome. I was an absolute nerd during college, so that whole opportunity was wasted on me. This feels like a second chance… (Followed by the AT and CDT trails later on, assuming I ace this one.) New lifelong friends, a cool trail name that will follow me everywhere, and a hard reset from all the fucked-up news and social media. (The war in Ukraine makes me glad I left Russia behind and never returned… Hang in there, Kyiv!)

And hey, I’ll finally get to see the stars – the Milky Way itself – without any light pollution. And hang out in my beloved desert. And then the Sierras, and Mount Whitney, and speedwalking through Oregon to escape the notorious swarms of mosquitoes. Heh.

This will be a fine chance to flex creative muscles, too – assuming there’s any energy left at all by the end of each day. My sole luxury item will be a small harmonica, and my brain will be soaking up all the new ideas and experiences as fuel for short stories I intend to write. (A 2022 resolution I’m actually following up on: currently shopping around my 4,500-word sci-fi story.) That should be fun.

I’ve already promised myself (out loud and with a straight face) that I won’t quit the trail unless there’s a severe medical emergency. The data is vague, but it looks like only 20%-40% of the starting PCT hikers ever make it to the Canadian border. I intend to be one of them.

There’ll be zero blogging here between April-August, but I’ve set up a little trail journal I’ll try to update with my field notes and pics. Here it is.

Just over three weeks to go, and it can’t come soon enough… This time next month, I’ll be crushing 15-mile days (start slow, then work up to 20-30), pooping in holes like a pro, and back in my favourite element, the southwestern desert. I’ll be a very different person when I return from that adventure: that future self will be as strange and alien to me as I – here, now – would be to him. Just three more weeks to go…

If you’re here because you googled me after reading the Wall Street Journal article on GameStop – welcome! This wasn’t my first time in WSJ, but it’s always fun when that happens.

The article is well written, and it provides a balanced and nuanced look at the WallStreetBets subreddit’s evolution (some would say devolution) since the big GameStop affair exactly a year ago. I gave several hours of interviews for the article, and while I’m glad to see my experience described fairly, a lot was left unsaid. This post aims to provide more context, not in the least part due to all the roasting I’m currently getting in the WSJ comment section by people who think I’m a gambler or question my professional credentials. (Somehow, I can’t seem to reply to them – as a new subscriber, my comments are stuck in the moderation queue limbo. Heh.)

For example, I didn’t retire early solely because of the small fortune I made on GME over the course of 45 hours. That certainly helped, but the bulk of my 193.7% return between May 2020-May2021 came from being greedy when others were fearful, Buffett-style. Stocks that had been most affected by covid (travel, retail, energy) were on sale, and no one else wanted to buy them. I still remember the raw fear of possible failure when I sold all my Amazon shares and transferred the money into my investing account to buy a few handpicked and carefully selected stocks. (That key moment’s drama was a bit diluted by the fact that I had to click at least four confirmation pop-ups.)

When I did that, I’d been with Amazon for 10.5 years, most of them as an analyst of various kinds: a quality analyst, a business analyst in charge of fulfillment strategies in most of Canada, Midwest, and Mexico, an investigator, and finally the financial analyst at one of Amazon’s biggest fulfillment centers in North America. Long journey, many lessons, lots of opportunities to hone my skills. I’d read every single thing ever written by Buffett, attended his annual shareholder meetings, listened to every Q&A… I jumped on that once-in-a-lifetime investing opportunity when it presented itself in 2020. I write this now from my cozy apartment in the beautiful Quebec City, eight months and nine days into my early retirement, because all my preparations, and my ultimate choice to dive in, paid off beyond my wildest expectations.

If not for GameStop, I probably would’ve spent another year or so in the rat race: my early retirement (at the ripe old age of 34) was an eventual inevitability, not a lucky fluke. But since this is the one-year GameStop anniversary…

In January 2021, I made a rare discovery: I found a blind spot in my own mind. I was taking a detailed look at the previous decade (as one does) and asked myself, “Self, why did you overlook the raging successes that were Tesla and bitcoin?” And it occurred to me that I’d spent all my time making fun of those and other phenomena, and never even deigned to look at them seriously. Both Tesla and bitcoin were weird-sounding underdogs, and yet they prevailed. I realized there was a flaw in my cognition: I’d jump to conclusions and never give things another chance. That’s a bad trait to have as a human; that’s a dangerous trait to have as an analyst.

And thus a resolution was born: I would suppress my instinct to make fun of crazy ideas, no matter how strange they would seem. I would look into them without bias or prejudice, see what they were all about, check the math, and then make fun of them. Easy as pie – seemed like a fine compromise. I had no idea where that would lead me…

I curate my social media to follow only comedians or scientists: that way, I avoid political and religious drama, and every time I check my Twitter feed, I either laugh or learn something new. Some of the brainiacs I followed routinely made fun of Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets community. (Referred to as “WSB” from here on.) Despite being an avid Reddit user myself, I never once went to WSB: my exposure to that community consisted solely of cherrypicked funny screenshots people would share online. Those memes made it seem like the entire community was filled with idiots and/or gamblers. (And to be fair, that does describe a lot of them.)

I remember Friday, January 22, 2021. I remember logging on Twitter at the end of a monotone workday. I remember some Twitter brainiac I followed making fun of WSB – as I recall, he simply wrote, “those WSB idiots think they can resurrect GameStop!” Months earlier, in 2020, GME was one of the stocks I’d looked at – and recoiled from in disgust. The stock price was around $4 a share back then, and it seemed on the verge of bankruptcy. (My life would’ve been a whole lot different if I’d sought out other opinions on that day… Oh well.) But not this time: armed with my shiny new resolution, I went into the belly of the beast, and started reading what WSB had to say.

I still remember looking at the afterhours action that Friday, when it was still not too late to buy some shares: GME had gone up 51% that day, from $43.03 on Thursday to $65.01 on Friday. It was remarkable – but I didn’t want to make a move without learning more. And so I sat, and read, and learned all weekend long.

I looked at the arguments and theses of Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty, aka DeepFuckingValue. I looked at what had caused the 83.1% week-over-week increase from $35.50 to $65.01. I saw (and double checked, and verified) the strange claims that 140% (yes, one-hundred-and-forty percent) of the float had been shorted. I saw the beautiful, brilliant, brave trap WSB had laid out by buying up as many call options as they could, then nudging the stock price just high enough to trigger them at the end of the week. As hedge funds scrambled to buy more shares to fill the exercised call options, the stock price went higher in the afterhours, triggering higher call strike prices, requiring them to buy more shares, and so on. All that with the stock that was remarkably over-shorted and didn’t have a lot of available shares.

Thus started the chain reaction that changed the world. Someday, someone will make a big fancy movie in the style of The Big Short, and explain this chain reaction concept in great detail and in simpler terms. Until then, just take my word for it – it was brilliant. In the year that followed, people’s notions of GameStop became associated exclusively with cult-like followers, with ridiculous memes and screenshots, with naïve simpletons losing their shirts. Most of that happened later, long after the key event. Most of the people who mock GameStop and sneer at it (I’m looking at you, WSJ comment section!) probably share the same mindset I had prior to 2021: they don’t even bother to look for themselves, to see how all of that began…

That weekend, I checked and double-checked and triple-checked the math, the insane “short % of float” figures, the number of outstanding shares and the timeline for hedge funds to deliver said shares… Everything pointed to the same indisputable conclusion: the math checked out. On Monday, January 25, 2021, I liquidated some holdings (for a net gain, of course) and started buying GME as it experienced a particularly volatile trading day. Part of my research involved looking at the daily charts and patterns: I identified a specific time slot when the selling (or shorting) activity was usually at its peak: between 11:45am-12:30pm EST. (Don’t try this at home, kids – that shipped sailed a year ago.)

That Monday, in between writing weekly business reports and dealing with routine work, I kept a close eye on the price… GME opened at $96, went as low as $61 and as high as $159, and finally closed at $76. My tactic worked: buying in lots, I acquired a substantial number of shares at the average cost of $77.90 per share: not as low as it could’ve been but far better than many others fared on that day. The following two days were a blur of anticipation and looking at the price as the squeeze continued, just as planned. The stock closed at $147.98 on Tuesday. In the afterhours, Elon Musk (who hates short-sellers with fiery passion) tweeted “Gamestonk!!” followed by a link to WSB. The afterhours price shot up to $250 as Musk’s fans poured in. I have mixed feelings about Musk, but damn, that was some brilliant trolling.

And then there was Wednesday… I remember seeing the GME stock over $300 in the premarket trading, then acting incredibly volatile right as the market opened. I remember being torn: what if it really does go all the way to the moon, the way Volkswagen once did after a brilliant short squeeze? Would I be leaving a fortune on the table? A different, more pragmatic part of myself said, “This is too good to be true – just take the money and run.” And I did: I placed a market sell order, it got filled at precisely $293, and I ended up making 276.1% in both my taxable and my Roth accounts in less than 48 hours.

The stock hit $380 that day, and $483 on Thursday, just before the rug got pulled. I still think the sheer momentum would’ve been unstoppable if not for foul play. Robinhood literally disabled the “Buy” button because that was the only way they would’ve remained solvent. Stop and think about that for a bit: a major trading platform had to do the unprecedented, and that was the only thing that stopped the ongoing short squeeze. Meanwhile, the Apex clearinghouse (and all the brokerages under it) limited or disabled access outright. My own broker, Ally (hitherto Tradeking, hitherto Zecco) disabled the login page for three days, and never satisfactorily explained why. Later on, I moved my accounts to Fidelity directly because of that.

The blockade maneuver worked for a bit, and the price dropped to $193. GME recovered and ended the week at $325, a 399.9% week-over-week increase. But the momentum was gone: the following week, the stock price began the long drop to $38.50. (That happened on February 19, 2001.)

If you didn’t experience the GameStop mania firsthand, merely reading about it will not suffice. Tens of millions of Americans – having done zero research, of course – tried jumping on that train. Some made money. Many didn’t. Someone out there bought at the very top ($483) and never regained their cash unless they did a lot of averaging down. My estranged American step-brother contacted me for the first time in 15 years to ask how to set up a Robinhood trading account. I advised him not to, and I still don’t know if he lost any money. (He never contacted me again. So it goes.)

If you look at GME’s one-year chart, you’ll see how ridiculously volatile it was in the year that followed. It jumped to $483 in late January, then dropped to $38.50 in February, rocketed up to $348.50 in March (a nice 805% return if you’d timed everything perfectly, which no one ever does), down to $132 in April, up to $345 in early June, etc. It was a real rollercoaster of a year.

GME’s one-year chart. (Source: Yahoo Finance)

I was never part of the “diamond hands ape HODL” legion: I fancy myself a strategist, and I always work on being a better tactician. I didn’t touch the stock again unless the chart showed clear support levels. Since the big spike and the plunge that followed a year ago, I’ve made 10 more swing trades: all successful, but never quite as profitable. I dabbled a bit with selling covered calls (a fine hobby when the implied volatility is so high) before selling my shares for a small profit during the final little price spike a few weeks ago. As I am writing this, at the end of a particularly choppy trading day, GME went as low as $86.29 before closing just a hair above $100.

I have no clue what the future will bring: perhaps GME will fall below $20, perhaps it will rally to $300 again. At this point, there are too many forces at work, and it’s among the most irrational stocks in the market: fun to observe, but from a very safe distance.

And as for me… A year ago, I made myself a promise: henceforth, forevermore, I would celebrate the anniversary of those three days (January 25, 26, and 27) with food, and drink, and revelry, and dance. Those 45 hours were a remarkable experience, and I’d celebrate their anniversary forever. Right now, Quebec is in the midst of a strict covid lockdown, with all the restaurants and clubs on indefinite hiatus, so there’ll be limited revelry and dancing. And yet, there’s still champagne, and cake, and the oddly cheap caviar at the local grocery store. (Very fishy, I know.)

The next three days will be a bit of a blur as I celebrate the first anniversary of the time a bunch of peasants armed with math broke Wall Street’s nose. It may have healed, but it will never be the same again. A year ago, we executed a brilliant plan, in pursuit of a beautiful dream, and we made history.

I’ll drink to that.