Origin Story: First meetings and lack of warning labels

Dear Bethany,

I want to tell you about two memories I have of you. One I treasure. The other is a cautionary tale.

We’ll start with the treasured bit, open this on a positive note.

Ice & fire 

Almost a year ago, quite unexpectedly, I froze.

The icy blast was momentary and swift, that space between heartbeats. It was the first sight of you that brought it, appearing all at once and looking so small – God, nothing could be so small – and confused and vulnerable to everything.

My shell, my carbonite fortress, melted just as quickly. Your tiny lungs heaved, and some kind of battle cry launched out. The sound itself  was an arsonist. It spit fire at my heart and set it ablaze. Then the ice melted, cascaded downward in a splash. To most, it would have looked like tears.

It’s been almost a year since that finger-snap battle of the elements raged; almost 365 days since my daughter appeared and froze me and set me on fire in the space of a breath.

Head clash 

I haven’t stopped thinking about this scene since last week. That was when you cracked your head between my eyes so hard I saw stars.

It was sudden and vengeful and brought on by rage, the seein’ red kind. Your mouth is getting more and more crowded with new teeth, and frankly, you hate it. I can’t fault you for it. Being stabbed in the gums 20 times in slow motion over the course of a few months is enough to rile anyone up.

Your mom and I were trying to calm you down, but you just had it. I had no chance. You squirmed and writhed and swung. Our foreheads met and bounced. Stars nova’d. The assault set you to crying and left me a mess of pain-stricken moans while my brain screamed for a damage assessment.

It was something you hadn’t done since you were a newborn, since you’d gotten control of your neck and stopped your head from occasional unprovoked attacks on mine.

But here we were again, kicking it old school; you, tired and hurting from teething, and me, trying to shake off the Ronda Rousey ka-pow you’d just landed on my face as I came to grips with the fact that an 11-month-old just beat me up.

“Just wait.”

It’s a study in contrasts, these two incidents: a joyous first meeting and a horrific medley of pain and confusion.

That will be the format for however long it is I have the pleasure of your company, I think, Bethany: chaos, beauty, chaos, beauty. It would be irresponsibly naive of me to think it’s going to be all puppies and rainbows, but it would be woefully glum of me to think it’s going to all head butts and crying.

It’s going to be both. All the time. Sometimes it’ll be hard to tell what’s what.

The intensity is going to build, too. I’ve known that. Family and friends whose kids are grown just keep affirming the inevitable with vague horoscope doom-and-gloom statements.

“Just wait,” they say after I tell them a more chaos-focused story about you. “Just wait.”

I get it, I do. Like any video game worth its salt, the challenges we will undoubtedly face will just get harder and harder. The bummer is that there’s no YouTube walkthrough or forum I can visit to get tips on a particular level that just stumps me.

For teething babies, see pg. 18. (Read also: “Choosing a helmet that’s right for you.”)

No such thing. I’ll just have to keep learning by doing, I suppose, figure out the angles without surefire absolute solutions from professionals. That’s daunting. There’s a comfort that comes with consumer warnings that say things like “may headbutt” or “will set your heart on fire and make it swell to its absolute limit.”

But Bethany, there’s also a kind of purity to not having any idea what you’re doing, to having God laugh at your plans.

It’s freeing in a way. You get blank pages in lieu of an instruction manual, ones you’re responsible for filling up. Those pages will be packed by the end, filled with eraser marks and crossed out words and ink smudges. A disorganized collection of notes and doodles that’s actually a story.

“All The Times I Wasn’t Ready”: The Ryan Pfeil Dadding Chronicles.

It’s far from over, but if I had to write a dedication right now, it would look something like this:

To my daughter, who prepared me to be unprepared. 

Happy first birthday, Bethany. The word to describe how much I love you hasn’t been invented yet, probably never will be.

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Pop quiz: Why do people keep sending me shark videos?

Pop quiz! Great white sharks:

a) Can reach speeds of 25 mph

b) Can grow up to 20+ feet in size

c) Have a bite force of close to two tons

d) All of the above.


It’s d. Congratulations to those who passed. The rest of you get out.

I’m not kidding, get out.

Thank you. Now that THEY’RE gone, let’s talk about the subject of this pop quiz a little bit. That and how my friends and family are conspiring against me and want me to lose sleep.

I don’t know where my fear of sharks started, but it really does feel like it’s always been there. I don’t think it’s something I acquired. There was no single “Jaws” viewing that kept me away from pools for three weeks, no close calls with stabby teeth traps while surfing.

This fear of mine is DNA-deep. My genetic helixes are built from nasty maws and deep water.

And before you jump on your “Actually-Did-You-Know” soapbox, yes, I’ve read the stats. I get that sharks confuse us for seals and actually don’t like how we taste that much. I understand toilets, buckets, and room fresheners injure more people each year than sharks do.

Here’s the thing: that logic has always reeked of men made of straw to me. Because yeah, anything can hurt you. My daughter went through a head butt phase when she was three months old. I stub my toe probably thrice weekly. One time my friend Mitch bit into a pepporcini, which sent a sniper shot of the vegetable’s fluid right in my eye.

Those things aren’t PURPOSELY DESIGNED to kill. Sharks, on the other hand…well, think submarines with teeth. Actual sea monsters. Chomp Torpedoes ®. ♫ They eat you while you drooooowwwwwn. ♪

We on the same page? Good.

My family and friends understand my hyper-sensitive dread of these beasts. And in classic friends-and-family fashion, they MAKE SURE I know about about every attack that gets on the news. It’s practically science at this point, their reactions.

Take this doozy of an attack, actually caught on camera at a recent surfing competition.

Pop quiz! How many people sent me that video over the course of about two hours?

a) 1

b) 2

c) 3

d) 4


Again, d. And again, the rest of you get out.

I’m an easy target when it comes to this, I get that. “Sharks petrify Ryan, ergo, we show our tough love* by sending him horrifying videos of them.”

*palatable hate

But if this practice MUST continue, coordinate. Family members, friends, and enemies with letters A-M can send me digital nightmares Sunday through Wednesday, the N-Z crowd Thursday into Saturday. Something like that. This current system feels like getting the same office memo from 10 different bosses. And they all have their caps lock keys on.

My point is that everyone could be so much more efficient about this. Streamline, man. Tighten your belts. You wanna devote this many mismanaged resources to the same goal? In this economy?

Food for thought. (That’s what sharks say when they see smart people in the water, by the way.)

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Team Pluto

Here’s a distance to consider: 7,750 miles.

That’s almost 300 marathons. About nine round trips from between Medford and Seattle. Just over 31 percent of the Earth’s total circumference. (I was Googling A LOT this morning.)

It’s also how close an earthling spacecraft came to Pluto this morning; a stone’s throw in space terms, “just down the street,” as they say in Texas.

The NASA New Horizons mission has been a decade in the making. Here’s its purpose, per the NASA website:

“New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system’s Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system.”

“Dwarf planet.” (Why not call it Gimli or Sneezy, then?)

There is actual, concrete controversy over what to classify Pluto as, much of it due to its orbit and location in the Kuiper Belt. In some ways the debate is the same as arguing about presidential candidates on Twitter or determining which of the original “Star Wars” films is the best, where a definitive answer is impossible and discussion dies a horrific death, replaced by a shouting match instead. Garbage discourse, fueled mostly by volume and caffeine and broken caps lock keys.

I get it but I don’t. Science is a fickle mistress when it comes to what’s what. Things that were definitive 100, 50, 10, 5 years ago have changed, maybe multiple times. Just look at nutrition. Hell, just look at whether eggs are good or bad for you.

But think about what’s at the center here: whether or not one giant, meandering space sphere is different from eight other meandering space spheres because of *Charlie Brown teacher drone.*

This is probably the curmudgeon in me talking, but leave Pluto alone, man. You don’t even have to make it a planet. Who cares if it doesn’t blah blah and blah blah?* Make it an Honorary Member or something. Don’t revoke its membership. We’re better than that.

* – Rough translation

Nostalgia and tradition have everything to do with my stance. Like most early-30 and late 20-somethings, Pluto was part of the full Solar System Package, the cherry on top of the planetary sundae. He was the little guy, sort of weird and quiet and doing his own thing. Not really boasting about his violent red spot or beautiful rings or life-sustaining atmosphere, just content to exist and just wander aimlessly.

Maybe Tolkien was talking about Pluto when he said that famous line about wandering and not necessarily being lost. (Go to Ashland and you’ll probably see the bumper sticker on at least three Priuses.)

Even when bored nerds wanted to strip its title, it didn’t fuss. Really it just seemed to shrug and kept on drifting through the icy dark vacuum of space, threw up a peace sign and just kept trucking when our expensive space probe surged past in the star-spotted dark at 30,000 mph.

So, while New Horizons is certainly another scientific feather in NASA’s cap, I hope the stunning image above – actually taken Monday, July 13 when the craft was about 476,000 miles away – reminds the know-hows that even though the far-flung ball of rock and ice is a little different, it deserves to keep its “planet” status.

Either way, the meek shall inherit the Solar System.

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At Thor’s Well, low tide > high tide

The Oregon Coast has a geological feature that seems co-authored in design – a shared effort between J.R.R. Tolkien and Marvel Comics.

This fantasy oracle of olde is a short drive south from Newport, maybe a half hour, a landmark just off the shore of Cape Perpetua.

My uncle told me about it this past weekend during a family gathering. Thor’s Well (or the Spouting Horn if it please ye), he said, looks like a hole in the ocean when the tide’s high enough. Think of those old flat earth maps where ships, at one point, fall off, sucked into a maelstrom where krakens, leviathans and all other manner of underwater nasties glide through the deep murk.

The know-hows say Thor’s Well was formed after millennia of waves biting the rock face eventually wore a hole in it and let the water inside.

The new confined space – maybe 20 feet across – surges at high tide. Think saltwater geyser, angry rockets of the stuff surging out and upward from the pit. A rocky cauldron the gods forgot to keep an eye on.

Cool, right? Just wait. Because at low tide, though, we mortals get a peek behind the curtain.

You do, of course, have to time your visits to the Asgardian landmark if you want to see its moments of frothy action. Thor’s Well isn’t furious all the time, mirrors its outbursts with the tide. Unknowingly, my family traveled there in the midst of a calm, when the waters had withdrawn and left a mussel-smothered landscape behind.

High tide wouldn’t return until about 10:30 p.m. we were told, and my exhausted 10-month-old was with us, so that was out. Still, we’d driven there. Let’s see what we came to see.

We hiked to the spot, passing other scenic vistas and rocky formations while waves surged and exploded in aqueous bombs against the shoreline.

Because the tide was low enough, my uncle, mother, brother and I walked out across the rocks, were able to stand at the literal edge of Thor’s Well and gaze into the abyss. Had we come at high tide, we would have had to stand a football field’s length back; behind barriers and kiosks and watched the action from a distance. This was different. This was experiential. This was an IMAX documentary without the glasses or the uncomfortable seat.

We watched the water level rise and fall inside the hole. Gush 10 feet up, sink seven feet down. Tiptoe up two feet, freefall another five. Etc. Like watching a high-rise elevator. Thousands of mussels and a few death-grip starfish lurked within, covered and uncovered for moments at a time in a seeming game of peek-a-boo.

At another angle, you could see the “intake valve.” The currents threaded themselves through the narrow eye in thuds that sounded like punches. From Thor.

I’m grateful I got to see this view up close. Would it have been nice to see explosions of water blossom out of the ground? Sure. But it would have limited my view. I couldn’t have stood at the edge of the mammoth shotgun barrel and peered inside at my own risk. A front row seat to the servos and gears that make this iconic hole tick would have been hidden beneath a saltwater temper tantrum.

I’ll certainly go back sometime, plan my visit around high tide and the beautiful geysers that will result. Until then, I feel like I’ve got some street cred on my side.

Oh, you watched Thor’s Well in a fury from a distance? I looked it in the eye when it was sleeping.

All photos by Blake Pfeil.

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The Mouth

My daughter’s abrupt scream during an otherwise-quiet 2 a.m. was a terrifying sound; nightmare notes blended together in an awful symphony.

My wife and I knew it was different than her other cries. It just sounded off key. Not frustration or hunger or an impolite request to change her. It sounded like fear, that horrible wavelength achieved when loneliness and desperation do a duet.

We stumbled through our dark house, flipping on lights and squinting while we adjusted to their sudden flares. We reached our daughter and held her and soothed her until her eyes closed and her diaphragm powered down.

Satisfied, we stumbled back to bed and fell asleep. But my night wasn’t over. I fell into a nightmare, a sampler platter of dream scenes that included running through a dark house – my childhood home, in fact – and warning family members that something was chasing me me. I flung open doors as my screams came out whispers, all while a sharp angled shadow skittered across the ceiling and walls toward me, haloed in a pulsing, maniacal light.

This was the fear I felt when I heard my daughter scream, I think, brought to life in a flickering patchwork of awful vignettes.

Fear has become just that for me after she appeared almost 10 months ago: projected and metaphorical. I can explain what the emotion looks like, how it smells.

And it won’t leave me be, either. Sitting here, now, I’m thinking about all the ways my daughter could hurt herself, tallying sharp corners.

This fear leaves me with a strange stomachache, like a mouth opens in my chest and starts screaming. Poison adrenaline. It opens wider when I hear or read or watch stories about children hurt or children killed on the news. It even opens when I’m watching or reading something that involves children in jeopardy.

The Mouth is horrible. The Mouth is loud and full of stuttering, shadowy paranoia, probably has ferocious halitosis. I wonder how many other dads experience it, how many are shocked when they start to feel that horrible and consistently anxious ache between their ribs soon after their first child is born. Maybe I’m just an anomaly. Maybe not. I haven’t taken a poll or run a study.

I’ve been thinking about the Mouth a lot this past week. I blame Father’s Day. First time participant this year because of my daughter’s arrival.

But all this thinking took a turn Friday. My daughter awakened just before 6 a.m., a few short minutes before I leave for work. I changed her and brought her out to our living room, put her on her play mat. I sat there and sipped the last of my coffee and watched while she played with some of her toys. Her coos accented her movements and her intense stares as she prodded her blocks and teething devices and books.

She was a distracted assembly line of attention: pick one toy up, put it down, move onto the next. When that got old, she switched to crawling. Her eyes danced around as she looked at the points in the floor and furniture. That same assembly line attitude of interest endured, like she didn’t want to miss anything.

Bathed in the pale blue light of a promised sunrise coming through our windows, my daughter seemed to want to experience everything at once, unafraid and curious. Where I saw minefield, she saw a meadow.

I want that attitude to endure for her. Just as much as I want her to be safe. I’ll deal with the Mouth and its screams for that.

She’ll learn caution with age and experience naturally, but learning that the pursuit of things that matter comes with risk is taught, I think. And the Mouth is just there to scream loud enough to distract me from that.

It’s because of the Mouth that this Father’s Day is different for me. There’s this new respect I have for every parent who’s come before me and dealt with the fear and worry on behalf of their children, who were somehow able to continue functioning with the knowledge their babies weren’t wearing suits of armor as they journeyed and learned and developed.

All I’ll ever really want for Father’s Day is to learn that the Mouth is unreliable, that my daughter deserves better than me heeding its each and every scream.

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Donuts are basically poison. I’ll take two.

Social media is great at reminding me that we really love to celebrate made up holidays. Oh and that 90 percent of them give us excuses to shovel more high-calorie swill down our collective recycling center intake valves.

We need the encouragement here in America, a day or two for all us squares to just CHILL OUT with the good choices. We all need a break from our usual collective diet of clean proteins and vegetables and plenty of water.

National IPA Day. National Burger Day. Recently: National Running Day. (To throw us off the scent that this scheme is really all about garbage food.)

Oh, and National Doughnut Day is today. Raise your fried sugar circle and rejoice.

Or don’t. At first, anyway. Be like me and try your hardest to be the authority on these velvety Heartburn Bombs™, only to fail.

Do a quick Google search and see that one basic doughnut has about 30 percent of the day’s recommended value of saturated fat. Look at the CDC website and see that childhood obesity levels have more than doubled over the last 30 years, that the numbers among adolescents have quadrupled.

Summon fake rage as you try to find some silver bullet fact that shows the treats are SOLELY RESPONSIBLE for this epidemic. Devour the ORGANIC apple you BROUGHT FROM HOME in smug self satisfaction. Because you’re ABOVE IT, man. Your high horse – high WINGED UNICORN – is made of kale and blueberries and quinoa.

Let THEM eat cake. And only them.

Then get to the point where you’ve thought about doughnuts so much where you just go and buy one anyway. Make that two. A maple creme and a glazed with vanilla frosting and sprinkles. Because sprinkles rule, that’s why.

Eat them triumphantly. Send ‘em on a ride down the Chocolate Milk River. Kale-Blueberry-Quinoa High Horse Guy was boring and pretentious and does Crossfit and says “bro” too much. Ugh. You HATE Kale-Blueberry-Quinoa High Horse Guy.

Follow this up with stomach-churning regret. Because you’re 31, not 21. Not running 90 miles a week like you used to in college. Not equipped with a metabolism that’s basically a flamethrower.

“Worth it,” you say, lying.

“LOL,” your stomach/soul says.

Then feel guilty the rest of the day.

Happy National Doughnut Day, guys. Seriously.

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Ugh, are we there yet?

Earlier this month, I started reading the book “Dead Wake,” a story about the sinking of the Lusitania by give-’em-hell historian Erik Larson.

I’m still taking the voyage. It’s a slow and steady one, but I’m enjoying it. Apparently one of the boat’s actual passengers did not:

That’s right, our humble tie to one of the worst maritime disasters in history, was, like, totally bored in the days before a German sub decided to open fire. I’m picturing her alive today, glued to her iPhone and starting a lot of texts with the word “Ugh.”

The demeanor of 20-somethings over the course of a century apparently hasn’t changed much.

Per our archives, Ms. Conner survived the horrific attack. It likely changed her tune.

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I should absolutely be able to expense the Captain America backpack I just found out existed

Dear Editor:

Good morning.

But enough about me. Can I get you anything? Tea? Coffee? Donuts? Have you been working out?

*clears throat*

Destiny is an odd concept. I imagine most people don’t believe in it.

I didn’t. It suggests our choices and decisions mean nothing, that ultimately, our journey is predetermined by outside forces beyond our control. That we’re puppets on strings.

Today, May 12, 2015, changed things. This Captain America shield backpack you should totally let me expense made me a believer. Now I know fate chooses us. Sometimes it takes awhile, but we’ll know when it’s time.

Everything in my 31+ years of existence has led to this point. This $49.99 plus shipping BARGAIN piece of hardware is my utility belt, my sword in the stone with rad pockets for my notepad, phone and bouquet of clickie top pens.

A professional’s only as good as his tools.

I have to believe it will also be the ultimate access to breaking news. You know how reporters sometimes flock to shootings or sizable fires and get put behind a makeshift yellow web of caution tape? This would give me authority. I show up with this on my back, the gate gets pushed aside.


I humbly await your decision. No rush.


Ryan Pfeil

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Sorcerer-historians and hunted boats

No joke: author Erik Larson could write a book about paint drying and I would read it.

Little-to-no hyperbole, Larson is an honest-to-God time traveler, a sorcerer-historian hybrid that probably secretly knows more about wormholes and space-time than Einstein, Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson. His historical narrative books read more like eyewitness accounts than simple history. He seems to have some kind of magic microscope or magnifying glass, some absurd relic you’d see on “Dr. Who” that can be placed over photos and documents from the world’s archives and historical societies and transport the user to the moment in question.

He’s also seemingly fascinated with a very specific period in history, namely a 50-year span between the end of the Civil War and the start of World War I. “The Devil in the White City” is about the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 (and the serial killer H.H. Holmes who worked in a self-made house of horrors nearby).

“Thunderstruck” is about how the invention of wireless telegraphy played a role in the apprehension of a London murder suspect fleeing for the U.S. across the Atlantic, a tale that runs from the late 1800s up through 1910 or so.

“Isaac’s Storm,” set in September 1900, tells of the deadliest hurricane in history, how it rocked Galveston, Texas, left thousands dead, and changed the way we think about weather’s humbling assaults and preparation.

“In the Garden of Beasts,” a chilling view into Nazi Germany set at the dawn of World War II, is obviously a departure from his usual time period of choice, but close enough.

Larson’s latest and greatest, “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania,” is another feather in his already-loaded time traveler’s cap. It tells of the infamous sinking of a famed commercial ocean liner by Germany’s Unterseeboot-20 and how it rocked the world.

Here’s part of the book’s intro, the line that double-sold me:

“I thought I knew everything there was to know about the incident, but, as so often happens when I do deep research on a subject, I quickly realized how wrong I was. Above all, I discovered that burned in the muddled details of the affair – deliberately muddled, in certain aspects – was something simple and satisfying: a very good story.”

Sold. Take my money.

I’ve only just begun, started the account of the fabled journey just this week, and am in the midst of learning about the ship’s captain, the esteemed William Turner. (Fun fact: he also served as commander of the Carpathia, the ship that would, under a different captain in 1912, come to the rescue of many who’d just suffered through another infamous maritime disaster on a ship called Titanic.)

Then came today, the 100th anniversary of the Lusitania sinking.

Totally unintentional. My timing is awesome, basically. The history teaching stars aligned, probably at sorcerer-historian Larson’s own hand.

But he didn’t stop there. In true sorcerer-historian form, Larson “live Tweeted” the ship’s departure and sinking this week. Chronologically.

You know, like any modern-day Internet addict would if the ship had sunk a century later than it did. Here’s one of his many Tweets:

Crazy how a single Tweet can send actual goosebumps up my back.

It’s an interesting contrast, really; this sorcerer-historian who lashed together a maritime suspense story using historic documents, logs, journals, archive photos, newspapers and other sources, then utilized a method of contemporary, digital record-keeping to retell the nightmarish account in 140-character installments.

Almost like he’s saying, “See, it doesn’t matter how you tell this story, it’s haunting and horrifying and unbelievable any way you slice it.”


One more quick thing.

To make the Lusitania sinking even closer to home, I give you Miss Dorothy Connors, of Medford, a passenger on the boat the day U-20 slithered through the Atlantic’s black waters and attacked like a robot shark.

From the Mail Tribune, May 7, 1915:

“Miss Dorothy Connors of this city sailed on the Lusitania for England to act in a unit of the English Red Cross as a nurse. Miss Connors left Medford three weeks ago, and is well known among the younger set. A message from her to her relatives in this valley as to her safety is expected. A mother in delicate health and a brother, Boudinot, live near Jacksonville.”

Here’s a headline from the following day, one that must have been a relief to family and friends:

Connors was one of 764 passengers who escaped with their life. Close to 1,200 would die.

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The prodigal Watterson

Here’s how some of the first few lines of my new book go:

“I grew up in Chagrin Falls, which is a small town, an outer suburb of Cleveland. It was originally a mill town in the 1800s, and a paper-bag factory was still going when I was growing up. They used to dump their dyes right in the river, so as a kid I remember seeing the river turn red and so on, if you can believe it.”

Then, a few paragraphs down:

“Our house was on a one-acre lot, at the outskirts of the village, with a big woods behind us. We didn’t own the woods, but it extended all the way to the river, and you couldn’t see an end to it. Our yard dropped continuously from the back door to the woods, so it was a truly fabulous sledding hill.”

And finally:

“Sometimes in the [comic] strip I tried to illustrate those big empty summer days spent messing around. It seems very anachronistic now that kids’ lives are organized to the minute.” 

Pop quiz: Who do these recollections belong to?

If you said “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson, you’re brilliant. That or you’ve recently purchased “Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue,” just released this month.

It isn’t the same kind of book I purchased as a precocious tween, the collections of newspaper strips that told the story of an imaginative 6-year-old and his stuffed tiger. This one’s more of a melange, a hybrid of biography, art and nostalgia. It’s the privacy-valuing Mr. Watterson opening up in a way die hard fans didn’t think was possible without hypnosis or a truth serum.

The book begins with a thoughtful interview conducted by Jenny Robb of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum of Ohio State University, followed by additional chapters on the creative process. Mr. Watterson discusses his utility belt of tools and materials, the storytelling process, and the daily grind; other equally fascinating gears in the Grandfather Clock of Creativity.

This is, finally, the Wizard of Calvin deciding to pull back the curtain and reveal himself.

Dec. 31, 1995

“Exploring Calvin and Hobbes” is on my desk right now. It’s marked with a laminated comic strip, the final one, the famous one with that famous line that ends the strip’s 10-year run: “Let’s go exploring!”

I cut that strip out from my hometown paper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, when I was 12. It was New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 1995.

That was actually a sad day, not an ounce of hyperbole. I devoured the newspaper comics as a kid, and “Calvin and Hobbes” was first on the daily regimen. We had two full pages devoted to comics – wait for it – BACK THEN (ugh), and it was in the section’s top left corner, either above or below “Dilbert.” Turn two pages of the “Lifestyle” section and there it was, the next bit of Calvin’s story.

This was comparable to eating dessert before dinner, and I didn’t care. It was the only strip on those two pages I actually loved. Others I just liked. Others I read out of this strange sense of almost habitual obligation, never mind their dull characters or hasty art or flaccid jokes.

Then came Dec. 31, 1995, the day that felt like a funeral to a weird 12-year-old that talked to himself and made up stories in the splash of sunlit forest behind his house and wasn’t very interested in much else.

Old friends, new friends 

I continued to remember the comic strip fondly. It scarred me, really, became the one that got away.

I’d abandon newspaper comics entirely. Eventually, all comics for the most part. They became a back burner hobby, something I’d poke with a stick every once in awhile before hiding it and turning back to newer flashier things like track and cross country, school, girls.

I found a renewed vigor for the medium in college; mostly superheroes at first, then finite stories that burned along at a slower churn. Mr. Watterson and Calvin stayed on my mind, invisible tattoos that never really healed properly and always needed touching up. Some of the strips morphed into weird, minute-or-so church sermons.

I’d find friends affected by the characters in the same way. Our mutual fondness helped open the door. It was weird, discovering there are others who still have a majority of the strip dialogue memorized and can still find the same kind of warmth in the art and stories.

And I think we all, at times, wondered what Mr. Watterson was up to; how he was faring almost 20 years after he’d written the epilogue to something so timeless and beautiful that we never really got over it.

Welcome home

One of these friends tipped me off to “Exploring Calvin and Hobbes.” He told me last week, via a Washington Post story.

I bought it the next day, only just started reading it.

Why I waited is pretty clear. I think I’m wanting to make it last, really. It’s a 20-year reunion, after all, with characters who aren’t real but feel quite the opposite, whom I care for dearly. The book’s going to end, so I want to soak it in; every word, every angle.

There’s wisdom in there, just like before. The once quiet Mr. Watterson is now on record as having said things like this, a statement about the woods surrounding his childhood home – woods that sound kind of like a grander version of the ones I played in when I wasn’t reading “Calvin and Hobbes” – that seems to be more about discovery:

“To be honest, we didn’t tramp around the woods all that much. Because it was low and heading toward the river, it was somewhat marshy and brambly. You’d get stuck full of prickers or tangled in brush, with your feet starting to sink into muck. We’d venture in occasionally, but it’s not like I was Christopher Robin. But I loved having that much nature around us. It mitigated the suburban feel, which I imagine is why my parents chose the property. Having something a bit wild and mysterious and beautiful at the end of the yard was a memorable thing.” 

No, no, it’s fine. I’ve just got something in my eye.

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    Ryan Pfeil

    This is a blog for southern Oregonians to check in on all things geek. Sci-fi, history, comics, movies, video/photo and anything else that would have gotten you shut in a locker in high school. Have fun. Read Full
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