Posted October 18, 2018 – Narrated by Carmen
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“While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my trailer door.
Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my trailer door —
Only this, and nothing more.”
– adapted from The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
Jim celebrated his sixty-fourth birthday on October 4th. And if that wasn’t spooky enough, we were all alone in the woods.
With the temperature in the high 20’s at night and the high 30’s daytime, we were the solitary campers in a large densely forested park during the last few days before seasonal closing. Shuswap Lake Provincial Park was kinda creepy in a beautiful way.
But good friends, old and new, warmed our rattling bones with home-cooked delights and even met us at a cheerful pub right across the road from our campground to toast Jim’s Beatle Birthday.
Watching the salmon run was the perfect metaphor for an epic Birthday Month. Old age ain’t for sissies! Whenever the futility of life gets me down I will turn to the salmon for inspiration …
Then, we moved south to a slightly warmer climate in Sasquatch Country!
In a few days, we will be in Port Townsend for my birthday and I will miss the trains in Canada. Trains soothe my mind and put me in a mood to ruminate.
Warming our feet by the fire tonight in our cozy campground on Cariboo Place, we realize how these past twenty-seven months of travel have connected us to the land, our roots, long lost friends and family … and also to some unexpected encounters with the spirit world.
Interested? Pull up a chair and sit for a spell …
The Ghost Lights
We’re not paranormal enthusiasts, but now and then, one or both of us have a feeling that a place is, well, invested with an energy – sometimes good and sometimes not so good. Traveling has sharpened our senses, made us more keen and perceptive.
An example of good energy is the ghost lights of Anza-Borrego which stayed right beside us inside our tent throughout a treacherous night of flash floods, making us feel safe and protected. Only a decade later did we learn they were The Ghost Lights. We thought they were angels.
The Monticello Snake Story
After a restful night at Golden Acres Ranch near Monticello where – we had no idea at the time – one in three houses are recorded (in a somewhat legitimate way) as haunted, I felt compelled to stop the rig on a narrow country road to take pics of an intriguing cottage.
A big yeller dog roused up from the porch and raised his hackles. The home’s human occupant promptly emerged from the house and, he – an exquisite orator in the southern tradition – recited, to my delight, a popular regional snake story.
What a gift! I hung on every word. Floridians, in my book, have full rights to all snake stories and this gentleman is a master of the art. But sometimes a house wants to tell its own story like the one in Opelika, Alabama …
On our way to Fort Pickens from my sister’s house in Tennessee, we’d hoped to overnight near Opelika. We pulled into Spring Villa Park and Campground on the chance they might have space for the night.
Instantly, our eyes fixed on the gorgeous old antebellum mansion and our immediate response was, “What a shame.” Poor thing needs some serious TLC.
At the check-in, a pale middle-aged ranger with a balding head and bulbous eyebags announced in a slow, gravelly baritone that the old house is haunted. Jim loved it. Thought it was an act. “Okay. That’s really cool” he said.
The ranger, unamused, held his weary “this-is-no-joke” gaze.
“So, um. Is the house being restored?” Jim asked. “No.” replied the caretaker/ranger guy, “We can’t find anyone to do the work. Like I said, it’s haunted.”
While this continued, I took Pico on a walk and observed the other campers who seemed to be excessively goth for small-town Alabama. A lady in a flowing satin-black gown and lipstick smiled and gave me a cheerful, “Hey!” as she decorated her picnic table in black chenille with purple string lights in late-November.
But, too tired to change our minds and more concerned about the basketball-sized anthills than the superstitious southern folk, we opted to stay put.
You see, we’d just come from Costco in Birmingham, and all we wanted to do was properly stash an obscene amount of food, and present our fresh, new rosemary Christmas tree for its first night of the season.
After dinner, we settled down, watched a movie and got ready for bed.
Jim always turns in around 10 pm while I take Pico for his last walk. But on this night, Jim grabbed the leash.
I presumed he was acting in my behalf due to the creepy neighbors. “I want to check this place out,” he said.
I had half a mind to go with him and said so, but then he got in a spooky mood and let loose an Jack Nicolson “Here’s Johnny” imitation. “Sure you don’t want to go?” he said, creeping me out better than I thought he could. I said, “Uh-uh. Not playing this game. But take the phone and may unicorns and rainbows guide you.”
He speed-dialed me and off he went into the sultry Southern night on a Young Goodman Brown escapade/with chihuahua.
On digital technology, I listened to their footfall through the deep wet grass as Jim slapped mosquitos off his face.
The squishy walking suddenly stopped!
“What’s going on? I asked. “Gotta ditch the headlamp … Bugs.” Then, squish, squish, squish … on they walked. Presently, Jim said, “I’m at the house.” He said it real important-like – as if he were about to set foot on the moon.
The boards creaked under his weight. Then, Pico sounded urgent warning barks. Several voices popped up in the background, women’s voices!
When Pico calmed down Jim told me the women were ghost hunters using an app to detect paranormal energy. The app told them that a presence was just inside the door. So Jim fastened his headlamp again just as … the door opened! The women screamed and ran.
“Just leave!” I said.
“Hold on,” he said, “It was probably a draft but I’m taking a photo … Sending.” The photo showed the door about three inches ajar from the inside. But what sent chills down my spine and made me scream, “Run!!!” was the shadow-play of Jim’s hand and iPhone which appeared to be a freshly dug grave and tombstone.
A sudden thunderstorm…
… on Lake Ponchartrain drove us off the designated bike lane near Fontainebleau State Park. We took shelter in a gazebo in an old cemetery.
By all appearances, we were alone. Yet, we both felt we were being watched.
Then … Out of nowhere
(Everything happened so suddenly the details are difficult to assemble)
Out of nowhere, a young man appeared in the gazebo with us – a boy really – blue eyes, brown hair, medium build, wearing dungarees and denim shirt. Just as I noticed the number on his shirt, I spied a work truck, way back in a far corner of the cemetery with a guard and several prisoners around it. Ah, a routine maintenance program. Of course.
We exchanged hellos and his dialect suggested he was from the area. He asked if we wanted to see some bones. Bones? No! We’re just passing by, ducking the weather, we explained.
But he wouldn’t have it. Bones we would see. For mercy’s sake and politeness, we followed the young man, and upon his request, we peered between broken crypt walls to behold the bones he spoke of.
But when we looked up to ask the boy if he knew the name of the deceased, he was gone – vanished – nowhere to be seen or heard and no sign of the old truck and crew.
And, oh, where to begin with Natchez? The ghosts outnumber the living so they all just have to to go along to get along.
But our most haunting moment was near Mount Moriah Cemetery, commonly known as Boothill where this row of tombstone clouds reminded us of the single row of thirteen civil war graves of unknown soldiers on the Natchez Trace.
We could go on and on … Fort Pickens and the bomb removal squad.
But that’s enough. Now, it’s time to pass the Talking Stick.
Do you have a ghost story to share – one from personal or second-hand experience?
Or just a good travel yarn, perhaps?
We’re dying to hear it.
Let’s see if we can keep this campfire burning through Halloween night!