A New Piece, Traveling Blind

By nature, I’m mostly a hobbit. However, like Bilbo Baggins, I do travel, sometimes more than I want. And I mostly travel alone, which means I rely on the kindness and assistance of people who work for airlines and in airports. And these people are amazing—helpful, good natured, efficient, and friendly. I couldn’t travel the way I do without them.
“Traveling Blind” is a nonfiction piece about getting there—where ever that is. I hope you find it funny, in a neurotic sort of way. The piece first appeared in Wanderlust Journal, and I want to thank Sarah Leamy for being interested enough to accept it for publication. Enjoy the piece, and make sure to check out the magazine.

A New Venue for Edmonton Writers

Next time you fly out of the Edmonton International Airport, check out the new Short Edition, short story dispenser. This project, conceived and organized by Edmonton writer #Jason Lee Norman, brings a range of Edmonton writers to a new venue in a new way.
If you want some stories or poems to read while you wait for your flight, you stand at the dispenser, make a selection, and the machine spits it out. I haven’t seen it in action, but apparently the dispenser works like an ATM. You will find a range of seventy-odd Edmonton writer’s from which to choose, including Jason Lee Norman, Thomas Trofimuk, Jessica Kluthe, and Don Perkins—and many, many more.
I have a piece in the machine as well, called “Superhero of the Supermarket.” Thank you to Jason for thinking of yet another way to promote Edmonton writers. His projects such as 40 Below and #yegwords Coffee Sleeves show his commitment to the city and its writers. Next time you check in for a flight, give yourself an extra few minutes, visit the dispenser, get yourself a couple of stories, and take a little of Edmonton with you.

A Visit to Hadrian’s Wall


If you love stories of King Arthur, or any books about Roman-Britain, you are likely to encounter a reference to Hadrian’s Wall. This is the wall the Romans built after Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Britain in 122 CE, to mark the northern border of the Empire. It ran nearly eighty miles, east to west, stood fifteen feet high—not including the parapet wall—and  marked by guard posts every mile or so.
We drove down from Glasgow to Carlyle, following the signs until we found the wall. We were in the middle of fields of grazing sheep, bordered by stone fences, and we parked by an after school care. Kids were running and playing games, and there was the wall—right across the road.
We crossed over and clambered onto the wall. It was only a couple of feet high at that point, and we walked along the broken stones of the top until it began to get higher. Farther along, we stopped to look at a squared-off section that was clearly one of the guard-posts punctuating the wall. We kept going and found a higher section where we could climb. We sat about ten feet up, talked and wondered about the soldiers who sat and watched on the wall. It must have been intensely boring for those men, standing and staring out over hills and woods, day and night, in wind and sun and rain, and wondering if the barbarians would ever come out of the north.
Much of the wall is now gone, and I wondered at first about the lack of fallen stones. It’s built of roughly squared stones, mudded together with a mixture of clay and who knows what. This wall has stood for nearly two thousand years, and you can imagine what the people thought who lived beside the wall ever since the Romans left. If they wanted to build a house, a pen for cattle or sheep, or even a church, they had a supply of building stones ready to hand.
After a while, we got back in the car and headed for the museum nearby. We  saw a couple of short videos about life as a Roman soldier on the frontier, and checked out the gear that was part of a Roman soldier’s kit: knives, spears, short swords, cooking pots, and the wooden frame to carry it all. We then drove farther on to see the fort at Vindolanda, a working archeological site with another museum attached. It was fascinating to learn about the fort and its history. Getting a close look at the range of artifacts from the site was fascinating as well, especially the alter to the weather god, Jupiter Dolichenus,, a four-foot carven stone alter, discovered at the site in 2009.
Visiting both the museum and Vindolanda was an education, but climbing over the ruins of Hadrian’s wall itself fired my imagination in a different way. More than the history of the fort and the wall, I thought about the people this wall was meant to keep out—the northern tribes, those people who occupied all of what we now know as Scotland. They must have come here, hunting parties on foot or horseback, only to see a wall being built across their land by the Latin-speaking intruders who would block the way into the south for the next two centuries.

Travels in Scotland and Encountering the Literary

As you travel through Scotland, it’s hard not to encounter literary types from the past. This last May, my daughter and I drove from Glasgow down to Dumfries. We wanted to see the Robbie Burns House. In spite of teaching English for a living—not to mention my Scottish heritage—I found I knew surprisingly little about Burns. I knew he was a poet, of course, but I didn’t realize he died so young—at the age of thirty-seven.
We found the house, a small two-story place just off a busy road in Dumfries. It had a large room downstairs, with a wide fireplace and alcove for possibly preparing food. Upstairs had two rooms, one with a small space, big enough to hold a desk where Burns wrote and worked. The man clearly loved women, as he had several illegitimate children, as well as a family with Jean Armour. The last few years of his life was spent working as an Excise Officer in Dumfries to support his family. Not quite the romantic picture of the Plowman Poet—save for maybe the illegitimate children. You can read more about his life here.

We walked up the street to the church where Burns is buried. It’s a mausoleum, a structure about the size of a garden shed, where Burns and Jean Armour are buried. Apparently, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy visited Burns grave, which at that time was a simple stone, not befitting the romantic life and legacy of Burns. The mausoleum came later.
After leaving Dumfries, we looked for a place to picnic. We found a lovely spot in the Forest of Ae, a grassy spot beneath a tree, right next to a burn. We sat, had our lunch, listened to the cows across the road, and watched the dog-walkers and cyclists pass by.
We drove north the next day towards Inverness, passing through lovely countryside, open and hilly, with heather and gorse purpling the fields—the perfect place for romantically minded, heartbroken young men to wander in despair as they thought of their lost loves.
We made one longer stop on the way north—a place called The Hermitage, which is a park in Craigvinean Forest. The walk takes you through tall trees and down to the River Braan, a shallow, fast-flowing stream. Again, Wordsworth and Dorothy got there before us. As we wandered along the path, I thought about what it meant for me to walk such a path in the footsteps of people like Wordsworth and Dorothy, who saw these same sights nearly two hundred years before.

Travels in Britain, a Literary Pilgrimage


For the last five years, I’ve been trying to arrange a trip to the UK. I finally managed it, and now I’m here. The last time I tried to travel to Britain, I had to cancel because of family matters. That was for a Harry Potter conference in Scotland. Much of the travelling I’ve done recently is like that—taking trips to places, but always to a conference. Travelling to conferences means that you need to attend sessions, and you get less of a chance to see the place you’re visiting.
This time it’s different. I’m travelling with my daughter, and we are hitting as many interesting sites as we can. Because so much of my reading and academic work is tied to this island, my trip feels as much a literary pilgrimage as it does a holiday. We’ve already seen many places in and around Glasgow, but so far my favourite has been visiting the antonine Wall near Falkirk.
The Antonine Wall is a roman Wall built around 142 C.E., which was a way for the romans to try to push their territory into what they called Caledonia. Unlike Hadrian’s Wall, a hundred miles to the south, the Antonine Wall was a turf wall built on a stone foundation. The foundation remains, but little else. You can also find the remains of a roman fort known as rough castle nearby. The romans abandoned the wall after only eight years, withdrawing south to Hadrian’s Wall.
We got spectacularly lost trying to find the wall—missing a sign, and getting sent in circles by the ubiquitous round-abouts, which seem to be the favoured way of moving traffic here. Once we found the site of Rough Castle and the Antonine Wall, we got out of the car and began to wander. There’s a dog park on the other side of the wall, and people were out walking dogs or jogging in the late afternoon.
There I was, my hands on the wall—an ancient foundation, now covered with moss and grasses, built nearly two millennia ago by the romans. We walked farther on to the site of the fort, and I stood on the remains of the rampart, and thought about the romans and their efforts to push their way into this country. Who knows what the peoples of northern Britain thought of these southern invaders. We of course can speculate, and I could feel my imagination running away with the possibilities. I thought of Tolkien as we followed a path lined with large stones leading to the fort, , and standing on the old rampart I thought of the books I’ve read by rosemary Sutcliff—books such as The Eagle of the Ninth, in which Marcus and Esca, his friend and former body slave, journey into the north to discover the fate of the lost Ninth Legion.
The hills, the quiet, and the ancient stones covered in grasses fill me with an emotion I can’t articulate. The place itself inspires the imagination, but I also feel a connection to the landscape and its people through the books I’ve read that were in turn inspired by these same places and their histories.