Category Archives: Random Life

Stonehenge: Archeological Myths and Truths

Stonehenge is on my bucket list to visit one day. Until then, I had the opportunity to dig in to some of its history for my anthropology class research paper. I received an A, so here it is in all its APA glory. Enjoy!

            The ancient ring at Stonehenge has baffled historians, researchers, and archeologists for centuries. While it is not the only stone ring found in Britain, it is the most famous and most intact of the mysterious neolithic structures (Pearson, 2021). Archeologists have no definitive consensus on how the structure was built, but they have come to agree that Stonehenge was likely used as a central gathering point for worship, offering a comparison of the concentric stone circle simply being a form of neolithic outdoor church. However, not all accept such a basic approach. Many modern theorists speculate that it was a primitive calendar, star chart, or a sacrificial site built as part of a druidic or Roman temple. Archeological excavation beginning in the 1950s has proven the formation predates both druids and Romans in England (Stonehenge, n.d.). Those cultures may have used it or improved upon it, but they did not build it. There is some evidence backing the calendar and star chart theories, yet the timeline of construction proves that was not its original purpose for being built.

Stonehenge today is not what it looked like when first built.

            Excavations at Stonehenge have revealed artifacts proving multicultural and multi-use purposes over long periods. These finds prove that Stonehenge may have been built for a specific reason—which remains a mystery—but was utilized for many different purposes based on which culture controlled the landscape in its over-five-thousand-year history. The site underwent three distinct phases of construction spread over 2,000 years beginning in 3100BC. Sometimes the site was not utilized for anything, with archeological evidence showing the site was built, abandoned, reclaimed, and rebuilt multiple times (Stonehenge, n.d.). This continuous restructuring and reuse by multiple peoples and cultures shows an interconnected web of relationships to this complex structure that are similar, though not necessarily related.

            Many legends surround the stones concerning origin, purpose, transportation, alignment, magical creatures such as elves, trolls, giants, and even aliens. The application of fantasy to the unexplainable was a result of a limited frame of reference for early archeologists. Anything that could not be interpreted as biblical truth was assigned a supernatural origin (Wolcott Paskey and Beasley Cisneros, 2020). While the legends are mostly fantastical in nature, some of them may contain grains of truth that are not yet understood. Modern researchers and archeologists are suspending the obvious disbelief of such stories and examining these fanciful origins to extract the reality behind them with some success. While the mysticism of Stonehenge conjures unbelievable feats of magic and fantasy, the evidence shows that the stone circle was not created by magic. It was built by early humans devoted to their cause in three distinct phases over two thousand years, and possibly a reconstruction of an earlier monument called Waun Mawn.

Waun Mawn in western Wales, a possible earlier predecessor to Stonehenge. (Photography by A. Stanford)
Waun Mawn in western Wales, a possible earlier predecessor to Stonehenge. (Photography by A. Stanford)

Stonehenge Phase One: An Early Cemetery

An early-period grave discovered at the Stonehenge site.

The first phase of Stonehenge’s construction began with a circular twenty-foot-wide ditch and chalky berm flanked by two large barrows and a standing stone entry. The ditches were dug by hand with tools made of stone and antler by native neolithic peoples about 3100 BCE prior to the arrival of the Beaker peoples (Stonehenge, n.d.). The perimeter was ringed with fifty-six holes, called the Aubrey Holes, that went unused and refilled naturally with silt. Early scientific excavation strictly focused on human remains, grave goods, and typographical classification of monuments (Pearson, 2021). Since early neolithic inhabitants of Britain cremated their dead, little biological evidence remains to prove the holes were intended for graves. Though many remains were found, the discoveries were inconclusive on the intent of the Aubrey Holes. Prevailing theory states they were intended for erecting the first standing stones of the monument, but the effort remained incomplete. After five hundred years of use as an early cemetery, the entire Stonehenge site was abandoned and reclaimed by nature. The reason for abandonment is unknown, though some stone features remained intact afterward. One of the two ‘Slaughter Stones’ marking the entrance, the ‘Heel Stone,’ and two of the four ‘Station Stones’ within the circle is still standing (Stonehenge, n.d.).  

The Slaughter Stone

The ‘Station Stones’ appear to also be aligned with lunar cycles and sunrises, possibly marking times for harvests or seasons and lending to a theory that Stonehenge could have been intended as an agrarian monument before becoming a cemetery (Introductory Astronomy: Stonehenge, n.d.). Archeological excavations due to a highway tunneling project revealed not only graves, but further evidence of agrarian uses around the site as well. The discovery of Late Bronze Age pottery shards, hazelnut fragments, cereal grain husks like barley, and wheat with some hulled varieties with evident preservation is proof of the site being used for purposes other than funeral ritual. The 2018 excavation of the Winterbourne barrow ditches by Wessex Archeology on the Stonehenge site also revealed multiple neolithic pottery shards, worked flint, cattle bones, deer antler, and a stone axe (Roberts et al, 2018). The infamous bluestones and triliths seen today would come much later.

Stonehenge Phase Two: The Myth of Magic

The second phase of Stonehenge is the most active and hardest to explain because the landscape of Britain during this time is extremely complex. Beginning around 2100 BCE, the Bell Beaker peoples migrated into areas not occupied by the original Neolithic peoples who built phase one and lived side by side with them. This blending of migrating cultures heralded the beginning of Britain’s bronze age. While the two cultures shared ideas and culture, it is likely the Beaker peoples resurrected the Stonehenge site with further ideas of burial ritual relevance of the site up to and including a limited understanding of astronomical marking (Pearson et al, 2019). The decision to create artificial sacred places was an early indication of the ability of humanity to transcend its environment (Devereaux, 2000, 119). Stonehenge is surrounded by other neolithic sites that the Beaker peoples adopted into their own culture of belief systems and used them for ritual burials, even though they were unrelated biologically or culturally to the original builders of Stonehenge. (Pearson et al, 2019). During this time is when the first bluestones arrived, and the legends began.

A bluestone of Stonehenge

Arthurian legend tells of an ambitious plot to capture sacred healing bluestones from a stone circle in Ireland. Briton King Aurelius Ambrosius desired a monument for the murder of over four hundred British nobles at Mount Ambrius (modern Amesbury) by Saxon assassins. His advisor Merlin suggested these magical stones should be erected as a monument to the dead at their burial place on Ambrius (Coghlan, 1994, 225). Ambrosius sent his brother, Uther, and Merlin at the head of a vast army to bring the stones back to England, which according to Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain, they do. In Geoffrey’s history, Uther was the father of the mythical King Arthur. To explain the logistics of moving monoliths weighing over five tons, Geoffrey escapes the difficult engineering question by asserting Merlin simply used magic to move them over water.

An illuminated 14th century text depicting the wizard Merlin

Two facts give a breath of truth to the bluestone origin legend. First, that due to the large amount of actual human remains discovered on the Stonehenge site, perhaps some massacre did occur there, and this site could be their monument. Second, the bluestones were hewn from a quarry at the Perseli Mountains in southern Wales. The Irish kings controlled parts of southern Wales where the Perseli Mountains are located causing Wales to possibly be considered part of Ireland at that time (Pearson, 2021). These facts blur the lines of Geoffrey’s tale to determine if his story was a work of pure imagination or based in any historical truth. In either case, his timeline depicts Stonehenge being built around 400 CE when there is overwhelming proof against that date, further diminishing his historical credibility.

In this second phase, the structures known today began to take shape. The addition of two concentric circles of standing bluestones came about but was left incomplete. Also, the entrance, now called ‘The Avenue’ was widened and fitted with additional stones that aligned with the summer solstice sunrise, showing a more advanced understanding of marking time by the builders (Stonehenge, n.d.). This period is also when the myth of healing properties within the bluestones becomes prevalent in historical record. This evidence is linked to the discovery in 2008 of burials near the site with unusual injuries. A Bell Beaker grave known as the ‘Amesbury Archer’ with a jaw abscess and severely damaged kneecap was found, along with two burials with trepanned skulls, appearing to be some sort of early attempt to cure head injuries and swelling (Pearson, 2021). These finds show a potential link to pilgrims travelling to the site seeking relief through the purported healing power of the stones. Framed in a medieval mindset of biblical truth, these legends likely influenced Geoffrey of Monmouth again for other ecclesiastical claims that water splashed on the stones gave them additional healing properties (Pearson, 2021).

Gravesite of “The Amesbury Archer”, photo: Wessex Archeology

Stonehenge Phase 3: A Remodeling for the Heavens

            The third phase of construction can be broken into three parts: the early stage, second stage, and the final stage, and is begun around 100 years after the second phase of construction (2000 BCE). Within this time, Stonehenge is transformed into what is found today on the Salisbury Plain in England. The features are grander and more ceremonial than in previous phases and are seemingly aligned on axial lines with purpose to mark annual events of nature, such as the times of solstices and equinoxes, sunrises and sets, and cardinal directions.

Phase 3: Early Stage

            Phase three construction of Stonehenge suggests a large tribal or chiefdom-led social structure due to the relatively coordinated labor of many people and craftsmen to cut, shape, transport, and erect the sandstone triliths that are seen on the modern Stonehenge landscape (Wolcott Paskey and Beasley Cisneros, 2020, 161). In addition, the motivations of a small population to take on such a monumental project must come from a deep-rooted belief system in the effort. The first change in the site during this phase is the addition of thirty upright stones in a circle with a continuous lentil cap called the Sarsen Circle, and five triliths in a horseshoe shape within the circle. Each stone is approximately thirty feet long, weighs an impressive fifty tons, and shaped in a curved fashion by hand with stone hammers, with mortise-and-tenon and tongue-and-groove joints to support the lentils. These were erected into the shape of a horseshoe at the center of the stone ring and aligned with an expansion of ‘The Avenue’ entrance stones, further suggesting a large amount of expected visitor traffic (Stonehenge, n.d.). Some evidence suggests the stones were taken from another dismantled stone circle at Waun Mawn over 200 miles away, which ironically, has similar astrological alignments of the solstice with Stonehenge (Pearson, 2021).

            The ‘Heel Stone’ that remains on ‘The Avenue’ appears to be in direct northeast alignment with the opening of the horseshoe shape, casting a long phallic shadow into the triliths at the summer solstice sunrise. This is thought to be an intentional representation of the mating of earth and sky. These mythical coincidences of shadow usage do not appear coincidental at all but are also not scientific, leaning more toward astrology than scientific astronomy (Devereaux, 2000, 140-141). The Station Stones remain intact throughout reconstruction, furthering the likelihood they were still used for lunar cycle and sunrise alignments. These alignments with astrological events also strengthen the popular myth of a druidic ritual purpose for Stonehenge, but no archeological proof of this has been discovered.

Phase 3: Second Stage

            Less than a century later, this stage sees a removal and realignment of the bluestones, suggesting the continued belief and use of them as healing objects. When wet, the bluestones take on a distinctive blue hue which was thought to deliver their healing properties (Pearson, 2021). About twenty of the bluestones were redressed, some carved with small axes and daggers, then replaced in an oval pattern within Sarsen Circle. The remaining bluestones were set aside for later installation in yet another circle to surround the Sarsen Circle. The holes were dug in two circles for their placement, yet never filled and left open to fill with silt on their own. Shortly after, for an unknown reason, the oval resetting of bluestones was removed, and the installation of the two surrounding bluestone circles was abandoned (Stonehenge, n.d.).

Phase 3: Final Stage

            After the abrupt removal of the oval bluestone circle at the center of the triliths, they were replaced in a specific sequence and horseshoe pattern within the trilith horseshoe. The removed bluestones from the second stage were redressed yet again into obelisks and pillars, with the largest bluestone, misnamed the ‘Altar Stone,’ at the axial center. The remaining bluestones were also reshaped and reinstalled outside the horseshoe but within the Sarsen Circle (Stonehenge, n.d.). There is no evidence revealing why such drastic changes were made in short succession. A final change to the site dated at 1100 BCE was another widening of The Avenue and a lengthening of almost two miles to connect with the River Avon. This suggests an increased interest in travel to the sight, now including a road access for river travelers and that the enduring site of Stonehenge held a popular relevancy and attraction still two thousand years after the first chalk berm and ditch were excavated by its neolithic founders.

A Lack of Consensus on Stonehenge Archeology and Research

            Since the first excavation at the behest of King James I by the Duke of Buckingham in 1620, Stonehenge has only offered more questions than answers as to its origin, purpose, and builder’s motivations. Even amongst modern technological advances, the simple neolithic stone circles of early man remain largely closed. However, certain truths remain clear: Stonehenge was not built by magic, and it was not a druidic or Roman temple, but some of the myths and legends have yielded supporting facts that help unravel the mysteries. A final point that becomes clear in the dedicated people who study Stonehenge and monuments like it, is that there is little agreed upon and even less definitive answers to the questions such sacred places ask.

The Summer Solstice sunrise at Stonehenge

            A deeper study of the astrological significance may reveal how early humans used sacred places like Stonehenge, at least in phases two and three of its construction, to further advance their societies, particularly in agriculture. Even in modern times, many still make the annual purchase of Farmer’s Almanacs, though they amount to about the same result as a newspaper horoscope. However, that modern written tradition may have roots carved in the same stones that the builders of Stonehenge sought out in the movements of the sun and moon to guide their harvests and mark their seasons. A further study of the burials around the site could also reveal the thinking of early humans within the limited framework of their beliefs in nature being a great healer. In this research, I have learned a great deal that early man may have been more advanced than modern society gives them credit for, and that perhaps they were able to find answers among the stars that our modern minds cannot comprehend, begging the question of which society is more advanced after all.


Coghlan, R. (1994, September 1). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends. (pp. 224-225). Element Books, Limited.

Devereux, P. (2000, November 1). The Sacred Place. In The Ancient Origin of Holy and Mystical Sites. (pp. 114-119). Burns & Oates.

Introductory Astronomy: Stonehenge. (n.d.). Introductory Astronomy: Stonehenge. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from

Pearson, M. P. (2021, December 30). Archaeology and legend: investigating Stonehenge. ScienceOpen. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from

Pearson, M. P., Chamberlain A., Jay, M., Richards, M., Evans, J., and Sheridan, A. (Eds.), (2019, March 31)., The Beaker People: Isotopes, Mobility and Diet in Prehistoric Britain (Vol. 7). Oxbow Books.

Roberts, D., Valdez-Tullett, A., Marshall, P., Last, J., Oswald, A., Barclay, A., Bishop, B., Dunbar, E., Forward, A., Law, M., Linford, N., López-Dóriga, I., Manning, A., Payne, A., Pelling, R., Powell, A., Reimer, P., Russell, M., Small, F., . . . Worley, F. (2018). Roberts et al. Internet Archaeology. 47. Recent Investigations at Two Long Barrows and Reflections on their Context in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and Environs. Summary. Roberts Et Al. Internet Archaeology. 47. Recent Investigations at Two Long Barrows and Reflections on Their Context in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and Environs. Summary. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from

Stonehenge. (n.d.). Stonehenge. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from

Wolcott Paskey, A. and Beasley Cisneros, A. (2020). Digging Into Archeology: A Brief OER Introduction to Archeology with Activities. (pp. 19). Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.

A Case for Birds of Prey and the Importance of Raptor Conservation

Have you thanked a raptor today? If not, read on to see why you should.

Barred Owl
Pearl, a female Barred Owl rehabbed and released in Normandy, Tennessee after being hit by a pickup truck. (photo: Alan MacFarland)

A farmer who sells their bushels of grain to market should thank raptors for their pest control services. Just as dogs are considered man’s best friend, hawks and owls could be considered a farmer’s best friend. One mouse in a grain storage bin can ruin up to 3,000 pounds of grain in a few days. On average, rodents destroy 1% of the world’s cereal grain supply, with 3-5% loss reported in developing countries (“Rodents”). A single Barn Owl can eat one rat or up to one dozen mice per night. Imagine that statistic with a breeding pair of Barn Owls along with two owlets in the nest for approximately five months. They can consume 1,030 rats and/or 9,780 mice in a year (“Barn Owl”). Hawks are just as voracious, preying on a high number of rodents and rabbits during daylight hours. While open acreage makes for prime hawk hunting habitat, many acres of old family farms are being converted into subdivisions. Raptors are being pushed out by development that is bringing the built world into conflict with the natural environment and shrinking those ever-important hunting grounds. This loss of habitat and increased negative human interaction creates unsustainable competition for dwindling food sources, and for unrecoverable injuries in vulnerable bird of prey populations. Farther reaching protections should be enacted in areas where wild raptors are in decline due to negative human interaction that impacts habitat loss and environmental quality, natural prey availability, and preventable human-caused injuries.

Barn Owl
Remington is an education ambassador for the Barn Owl ‘Tyto alba’ species that visits over 1,000 schoolchildren per year in education outreach programs.

Raptor populations are in decline around the world, and that is cause for great alarm (McClure et al). A new analysis of data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and BirdLife International found that 30% of 557 raptor species worldwide are considered near threatened, vulnerable or endangered, or critically endangered (Larson). A primary driver of this decline is the poorly planned spread of human developments and invasive built environments. In the last several hundred years, the North American landscape has changed greatly because of human development, and suitable raptor (and wildlife in general) habitat has decreased in turn (“Hawkwatch International”). A secondary driver of the decline in raptor populations is a sharp downturn in environmental quality. Prairie landscapes that intersperse the continent are the least protected biome worldwide, which has resulted in the large-scale loss and desertification of habitats and the species that rely on them (Wallen and Bickford). Without these critical prey species being able to flourish, declines in prey population will certainly result in a sharp decline of their predators.

American Kestrels
These orphaned American Kestrel fledglings were raised by a surrogate Kestrel mother and successfully released back into the wild. Kestrel populations are in decline worldwide, especially in North America. (photo: Middle Tennessee Raptor Center)

The western plains states in the U.S. have experienced extensive grassland conversion to agriculture, and temperate grasslands have suffered greater species loss than any other North American biome (Wallen and Bickford). Non-native invasive plants, such as aggressive-growing Cheatgrass, have caused a decline in the native grasses which rodent and rabbit populations feed on. Those losses have depleted natural prey for raptors, like Prairie Falcons and Harris’ Hawks, to feed on (“Hawkwatch International”). In addition, humanity’s insatiable appetite for expansion has resulted in those prey species populations finding fewer places to succeed. Where prey populations do thrive, humans then deploy pesticides and rodenticides to eradicate them. Irresponsible use of these poisons then kills off the natural predators and destroys the ecosystem.

Harris's Hawks
Cobra and Stark, a hunting pair of Harris’s Hawks native to the southwestern United States, scan a grassland for prey. These birds hunt in cooperative casts (groups) for greater hunting success and share prey when caught. (photo: Ian Turner)

Due to these compounding challenges, many raptor conservation organizations, such as the North American Falconers Association (NAFA), are undertaking focused efforts to preserve these sensitive environmental areas to reconstitute quarry populations. By taking a prey-centered focus, the efforts broaden an organization’s conservation perspective as it does not exclude raptors in the plan but allows raptor conservation to be viewed with a different lens; one that includes and prioritizes quarry habitat as well as primary and secondary prey consumers (Wallen and Bickford). An alternate approach to habitat and prey conservation is occurring in Future Farmers Association (FFA) clubs in high schools. At Coffee County High School in Manchester, Tennessee, one ninth grade FFA student is undertaking a personal project to restore habitat for wild quail—a staple food source for wild raptors—on his family’s 48-acre farm in rural Coffee County. In addition, he is funding his project by breeding and selling captive live quail to falconers and other consumers. Grassroots conservation efforts such as this are the lifeblood of launching larger movements that will help establish greater protections not only for birds of prey but also their quarry.

Red Tailed Hawk
Lady, a Red-Tailed Hawk, enjoys her quail snack (photo: Middle Tennessee Raptor Center)

While all animals are subject to natural threats such as disease and predation, raptors suffer far greater harm from human causes (“Hawkwatch International”). A resident of Winchester, Tennessee brought a wounded Cooper’s Hawk to Middle Tennessee Raptor Center for treatment. The mid-sized predator was shot through its wing and side with a .22 caliber rifle by a homeowner defending their favored songbirds from becoming a meal: a federal crime punishable under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (“Migratory Bird Treaty Act”). The bird survived its wounds and was released back into the wild, but not all who suffer from negative human interactions are so successful. Small amounts of lead can cause fatal poisoning in raptors, which can consume lead fragments from scavenging on carrion, or from eating birds or fish that have accidentally ingested lead or have been shot like the Cooper’s Hawk mentioned above (“Raptor Conservation”). While shooting is an extreme example, it is a common occurrence in rural areas and a reportable offense to wildlife authorities.

Red Tailed Hawk
Shelby, a Red Tailed Hawk, was admitted to rehab at Middle Tennessee Raptor Center in 2022 with a gunshot wound in his right wing and right side. He fully recovered and was released. (photo: Middle Tennessee Raptor Center)

Urban areas are also fraught with significant chances for negative interactions with humans and built environments, such as collisions with cars and trains, window strikes, and accidental electrocution. Due to these recurrent events, licensed wildlife rehabilitators are frequently overburdened, leaving many raptors and other wildlife to suffer or die through no fault of their own. Though dedicated and passionate, rehabilitators are not veterinarians. They are usually underfunded and minimally equipped citizens assuming the heavy mantle of care for wildlife (“Middle Tennessee Raptor Center”). The best way to help conserve both raptors and their caregivers is to be responsible stewards of the local environment and reduce as many controllable conflicts between humans and wildlife as possible. Another simple way to help is to support legislation and enacted protections for wildlife.

Middle Tennessee Raptor Center logo
Consider donating to your local wildlife rehabilitator. A little bit can go a long way in helping our raptors and other injured wildlife.

An alternative method to boost raptor conservation efforts without the arduous task of becoming a wildlife rehabilitator is through the installation of habitat nesting boxes. In urban areas where there is a shortage of suitable nesting sites for cavity-nesting birds, installing nest boxes can help support raptor populations, such as the American Kestrel in particular, and give the unique opportunity to possibly observe the birds up close (“Raptor Conservation”). Plans and videos for boxes that suit different species the best are readily found with a quick internet search. Providing raptors with nest boxes is an excellent method to facilitate a natural form of rodent population control on adjacent properties. Even in rural areas, suitable nesting and breeding sites may be lacking, and nesting boxes could make a tremendous difference. There is also less opportunity for boxes in rural areas to be disturbed often by humans, giving the species an even better chance of thriving.

Barn Owl nest box
This Barn Owl nest box was installed near a municipal airport for a pair of nesting Barn Owls in a nearby hangar with the assistance of the local Fire Department in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

The human population continues to grow, and with that growth comes more opportunities for conflict with the natural environment. It is inherent on people to manage economic growth and urban sprawl responsibly, and with more than just humans in mind. Being better environmental stewards is incumbent on all nations and peoples. For some species or countries, the conservation action that likely could bring the most immediate change is to improve legislation—including implementation and enforcement, and policy changes, such as improved regulation in the use of poisons or mitigation of dangerous power lines (McClure et al). With minor adjustments in behaviors, humans can significantly reduce the negative impact on raptors and their prey, helping preserve these magnificent creatures for future generations (“Raptor Conservation – Raptor Inc”). If up to 5% of the world’s grain supplies are already lost to pests, imagine the percentage without raptors doing their natural jobs. The world’s food supply may be dependent on increased protection measures for raptors. Without them, farmers may end up with nothing left to sell, and humans with even less to eat.

To help and support raptor education programs, you can donate to Middle Tennessee Raptor Center at

Lucy, a female Great Horned Owl, wows kids at summer camp in 2022. (photo: Bean Acres Farm Camp)

Works Cited

“Barn Owl – The Peregrine Fund.” Barn Owl | the Peregrine Fund, 21 Jan. 2001,

“Hawkwatch International – Threats to Raptors.” Hawkwatch International – Threats to Raptors, Accessed 25 Nov. 2022.

Larson, Christina. “Birds of Prey Face Global Decline from Habitat Loss, Poisons.” AP NEWS, 30 Aug. 2021,–0c7d627f236fe1ff86aa4fc34b22916c. Accessed 18 Nov. 2022.

McClure, Christopher J.W, et al. “State of the world’s raptors: Distributions, threats, and conservation recommendations.” Biological Conservation, Volume 227, 2018, Pages 390-402, ISSN 0006-3207,

“Middle Tennessee Raptor Center.” Middle Tennessee Raptor Center, Accessed 29 Nov. 2022.

“Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”, 26 Apr. 2020,

“Raptor Conservation – Raptor Inc.” Raptor Inc, 2022, Accessed 18 Nov. 2022.

“Rodents.” Rodents – IRRI Rice Knowledge Bank, Accessed 18 Nov. 2022.

Wallen, Kenneth E. and Nate A. Bickford. Stakeholder Perspectives on Raptor Conservation and Falconry in North America, Global Ecology and Conservation, Volume 24. 2020.

The Call of the Sea: An Essay

I’ve always been at home on the water. Any water, be it a river or a fishing pond, a trickling brook or the vast oceans. While the eyes of many explorers look to the heavens and the far away stars, my heart has always dreamed of the deep places beneath the waves.

As an orphan growing up on the wharves, I wander the dock under the bows at port trying to guess their country of origin by what flies on the jack staff. As the ships roll in, I sit among the barrels and listen to the sailors talk in between the cries of the fishmongers about cockles and mussels for sale. I revel in the tales they spin. They tell me of treacherous sirens and beautiful mermaids, of cutthroat pirates and buried golden treasures. Some are lies, for certain, but those make the best tales. One even claims he saw a kraken. I may be ten, but I am not that gullible. There’s no such creature as a kraken. Some teach me knots while others toss me a tuppence for directions to the nearest ale houses and brothels. I learned my ropes and took many a coin for helping them navigate the town, but I would trade all the knots and coins I’ve earned for a berth on the next ship out. I dream only of the sea.

One particular night, down past the rocky point where the gulls won’t fly because the water roils there with some black evil in the depths, a great storm brewed up. It raged for three whole days wreaking havoc on the local fisherman’s haul. Ships are stranded in port while the sea rages on in unrivaled fury. On the second night, a sloop-of-war hobbles out of the blackness and into my port, her rigging looking a fright after her tempest-tossed lashing from the waves. The captain, a Dutch fellow by the name of Homburg, expertly pilots his battered oaken beast, Hollandia, right to the offing. I’m certain at launch, her lines were clean and her hull ship-shape and Bristol-fashion. This brutal storm, however, has made her a right mess. The sailors debark in a heap of ragged humanity, some vomiting, some kissing the dock as they file off the gangplank and cross themselves like some water-logged priests at an oceanic mass. Their survival is a miracle for sure, and they all credit the captain with saving their souls.

I stand there, my maw gaping open like a cracked barnacle, as the bedraggled men stagger past. Captain Homburg is last off, limping and bloodied at his left eye. The sailors take no notice of me, but the captain does. Even with one eye, he is observant of everything. “You there, wharf rat,” he calls out. I can’t answer. My voice rasps like a weak breeze as the old salt gimps toward me. His remaining good eye looks me over, then he flips me a silver piece. “None among us have the legs left to stand watch tonight, boy,” he growls with a rumbling Jutlandic tone. “See that my Hollandia remains undisturbed ’til morning and there’ll be ten more of those for ‘ya.” Eleven silver pieces! I’ve never seen so much money in my life! I puff out my chest and salute smartly like I’ve seen so many sailors do when addressed by their officers. “Good lad.” He hobbles off into the night as I take my first watch with glee.

The bright streaks of morning warm my face as I stand on the abaft railing facing east to greet the sun. My first watch is a grand success. All supplies are accounted for. Not only did I fend off imaginary bandits through the night, but, in my moon-lit boredom, I also untangled and re-lashed two running backstays. I contemplated climbing them up the mast myself, but decided against it in case my imagined saboteurs scaled the anchor ropes while I was away. Captain Homburg is most pleased with my efforts as were the sailors. Two of them hoist me on their shoulders, parading me around with a cheer as if I am the hero of the day. Soon after, they go about the rest of the work, refitting planks and hauling sails with block and tackle larger than my whole body. The deck is a bustling hive of sailors preparing to go back to sea. For a moment, I am one of the crew. Oh, how I long to be one of them forever!

For two days, I man the bottom of the gangplank under Hollandia as she becomes seaworthy once again. The sailors jeer and joke with me as they pass to and fro, tussling my hair and giving a wink and nod. The ship’s carpenter, Billy Fleet, thanks me for my expert advice on which planks are ridden with woodworms and which are not. I learn all the sailor’s names. There’s Salty Jack, Paul the Butcher, Mister Killingsworth, Hatchet, Helmsman Reed, Bosun’s Mate Peterman, and One-Eyed William Hastings, the scourge of the Black Isles. I have never heard of the Black Isles, but he must have done something terrible there. He is missing a hand and has a patch over his eye. It appears he earned his moniker the hard way. All of their names are as colorful as the men who wear them. Salty Jack enlists me to freshen up the paint on the prow figurehead; a life-size nude likeness of Eirene, the daughter of Poseidon.

“Carved her meself, I did!” exclaims Salty Jack with his jack-o-lantern toothless grin—which is also how he got his name. “With Eirene on the prow, the god of the sea always favors us. Paint her up right, and don’t be touching her breasts now. They may be wood, but I did carve them mighty nice and tempting!” His guffaw turns my face every shade of red in the paint palette. The other sailors join in having a laugh at my innocent expense. It’s all in good fun, however the last laugh is mine. When no one was looking, I gave them both a good squeeze.

At long last, the morning arrives when Hollandia must depart, bound for service off the Spanish coast. Admiral Nelson is assembling the fleet and taking the fight to Napoleon. I listen as Captain Homburg reads the orders to his sailors, that Hollandia will join the blockade forming near Trafalgar in hopes to starve out the French and their allies. The crew cheers at the prospect of action. I look on as they make ready to weight anchor, and I long to haul the rope alongside Mister Killingsworth. I swell with pride as Bosun’s Mate Peterman hoists the Meteor Flag of Old England boasting the King’s Colors at the canton. The banner catches high in the morning breeze, snapping crisp like the gnashing teeth of a lion ready to pounce.

Though my heart is full for the experience, I am saddened to stand at the end of the dock on that grey, foggy morning knowing that was as far as I would ever go to sea. A single tear rolls down my cheek and I steel myself for the hard goodbyes I will have to say. As Hatchet and One-Eyed William roll the last barrels of salt pork and dried fish up the gangplank, Captain Homburg limps to my side. “You’ve done us a great service, lad,” he tells me in a soft voice; softer than I thought possible out of the old seaman. “Your jolly countenance has lifted the hearts of these old sea dogs, myself included. Me and the crew like the cut of your jib.” He places his rough and reassuring hand on my shoulder. “We lost our last cabin boy in the storm that brought us here. Useless as he was at sea, he was good for a shanty and divvying the rum rations, and the men miss him. You’ve got some wits and decent skills with a rope. What say you, boy? Will you join us in his stead?”

An hour later, I am standing above Eirene’s freshly-painted likeness on the prow of the Hollandia while the brisk salty air whirls around me in a tempest. The gulls dive and soar through the sails as we cross into the deep blues and blacks of the channel. The mist breaks, revealing the sun glittered-waves sparkling like so many diamonds adorning the Crown Jewels. Their brilliance stings my eyes with their shimmering brightness. I howl and hoot like a wild dog filled with sheer joy of a fresh kill. There is no sensation to compare with this. The whole world could end after this day and I would not have a care. At long last, I am at sea. I am at home.

By nightfall, my elation is cut to the quick. The gentle rolling waves of my first day turn into the stuff of nightmares as Hollandia goes headlong into the teeth of another raging storm. Captain Homburg has lashed himself to the helm as the roiling black where the gulls dare not fly does it’s level best to take us under. I can hear his laughter through the cracks of thunder. He spits curses and dares the sea to take him. The crew below decks whispers of the ship being overwhelmed, maybe even cursed. They vomit and cross themselves as I saw them do before. Others bail helplessly against the ocean’s onslaught as plank after plank gives way to the icy north Atlantic waters. The salt spray stings my nose and throat. All the while, Hollandia tosses bow to stern and port to starboard, testing the strength of good English oak past its limits. Eirene, in her wooden and naked glory stands her silent vigil as the roiling black swallows us whole.

I still stand at the prow above her from time to time between the coral heads, but now it is the tides that swirl about me instead of the winds. Eirene is my constant companion. Salty Jack would be proud that I keep his wooden masterwork clear of barnacles and seaweed. Even my paint is still visible on a clear day. Sometimes I ask her why her father forsook us to the waves. She never answers. Her visage smiles back at me. Unchanging, wooden and stiff, yet warm and inviting as the day I painted her.

Sometimes I will stand my moonlit watch again on the gangplank and defend my ship against the imaginary saboteurs haunting the depths. Captain Homburg would be pleased to know I’ve kept them at bay these great many years. To my astonishment, I’ve even seen a kraken. That old sailor was telling the truth after all.

I stand abaft on clear days and imagine I can still feel the warmth of that morning sun as it crests the horizon, but the sun and moon appear different down here. The deep is cold. There is no sun here. I pass my days watching the modern metal hulls pass overhead, witnessing the change from sails to steam to ships that now travel beneath the waves. Such a marvel! I’ve even visited a few ships at anchor. I envy those who still sail above me, but I don’t begrudge them. All my life I’ve always been at home on the water, and now the water has become just that. I am home. I am where I belong, and here I will remain. My eyes will look to the heavens and the far away stars, but my heart still dreams of the deep places beneath the waves.

Author’s note: The oceans and the age of sail is a fascinating time that captured my young imagination on the first pages of Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and the first time I read Melville’s opening words, “Call me Ishmael.

As an adult, that fascination translated into a love for Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series, Gene Hackman’s The Wake of the Perdido Star, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, among many others. Everything about the ocean is a wonder. If I couldn’t sail on it, I wanted to swim under it. I fondly recall the nights laying under the coffee table in my Great-Grandmother’s living room eagerly awaiting the commercials on her console television to finish for the start of the next edition of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. I suppose that’s a condition that comes from being born under the sign of Pisces.

I’ve always been at home on the water. While the eyes of many explorers look to the heavens and far away worlds, my heart has always dreamed of the deep places beneath the waves.

Lifeboat: A Star Wars Fan Fiction, Part VI

The Emperor’s Lambda-Class t4-a Shuttle,
Great Gran Run Hyperspace lane, Tashtor Sector, 4 ABY

Krest was furious. She paced the short distance of the stateroom in stuttering, angry steps. Meera placed her finger on the mute button, suspending the Shaaridan bounty hunter’s face on a blinking pause. “Krest, I have an idea.”

“As do I, and it involves scattering that creature’s atoms from here to Velusia.”

Velusia, Velus System – Galactic Core

“There may be another way to play this and I think I know how to do it. You said the crew of the Stargazer would defend themselves, how many are there?”

“The last time the Emperor brought us here, Aloo had his own private army of aboard that ship. Surely they have heard about the disaster over Endor by now. Anyone coming close to it will have quite a fight on their hands.”

“How loyal are they to Aloo?”

“As much as we are, or were, to the Emperor. They are not conscripts or mercenaries. He cultivated the greatest warriors from Oktaria as his personal security, and there’s no telling who—or what—else they have on board.”

“How do you think they would feel about you if they knew you killed him?” The glare Krest shot back said more than any words. “If we’re going to get out of this and get what you want off the Stargazer, I need you to do exactly what I say or we’re all going to die.”

Krest stared at her with a long look of distrust, but she knew Aloo’s soldiers would cut her down without mercy for killing him if they found out she did it. “Alright, Lieutenant. Let’s hear your plan.”

“We need to get everyone on the same page or it won’t work. Gather the troops in here. We don’t have much time.” Krest opened the door and spoke quietly to Sergeant Marillion. In moments, the sergeant was back with Majors Deshken and Andalor along with Technician Vel. The six of them filled the small room to capacity, so the others crowded outside. Krest gestured to Meera. “Let’s hear it, Lieutenant.”

Meera looked around the room and gave a reassuring nod, though she wasn’t even sure herself that this plan would work, but it was all she had. “I need you all to trust what I am about to do. You need to put aside loyalties and feelings about the Empire and follow my lead.” She picked up a datapad from the table and tossed it to Marillion. “Sergeant, have one of your men get Aloo’s code cylinder and a photograph of his face on the double if you please.” He shuffled through the others out of the room. She took a quick deep breath and removed her finger from the mute button. The blue static image of Gekko sparked back to life. “Here we go.”

“…inal warning. You will be taken. How you are taken is your choice. The Guild pays me either way. Power down your engines or be fired upon!”

“Bounty hunter Gekko, this is Meera Dyre. Please don’t fire on us! I was a prisoner on the Death Star. We are not Imperials. I repeat, we are not Imperials. We are refugees and wish to negotiate. Please do not fire!”

“Your claim is weak, Meera Dyre. The Imperial code your ship is transmitting tells me you are not only Imperials, but you travel aboard the shuttle of Emperor Palpatine, himself.” The guttural, reptilian tone of the bounty hunter’s voice sounded sarcastic and unconvinced. Meera cleared her throat to respond as a cannon blast seared across the bow of the shuttle in warning.

“We are not Imperials, I said. Hold your fire!” She muted the transmitter. “Sergeant, I need that picture. Krest, tell the pilot to power down the engine but keep his finger on the button. If this works, we’re going to need to get out of here quickly.” Sweat broke out on her brow. She needed to convince Gekko to stop firing on them before the Stargazer noticed the skirmish and got involved. Timing was everything. She unmuted Gekko again and altered her voice to sound panicked.

“We were prisoners of the Empire but escaped aboard this shuttle. We overpowered the guards and took a hostage. He’s an Imp, or he was. Looked like someone important. He was killed in the skirmish but we still got out. Please, don’t fire on us. We just want to live.”

There was a long silence. At first, Meera thought the holo-projector stopped working, but the Shaaridan monster turned his head. At least he stopped firing on them.

“Gekko, did you hear us? We are not Imps—”

“Who is your hostage? Speak now!”

Gekko the Bounty Hunter, art by Aubrey Eden Dukes

She pressed the mute button again. “Sergeant, where is that picture?” The datapad was passed forward through the throng. The contorted face of Sim Aloo stared back through the screen. At that moment, the rhythmic thrum of the ship’s engines stopped as the pilot powered down the engines. She looked at Krest. “Tell the pilot to be ready. As soon as we offload Aloo’s body, fire the engines and hail the Stargazer with a mayday. We’ll be coming in hot.”

“Just what do you have in mind, Lieutenant?” Major Deshken appeared to not like this part of the plan. “Going down this path will get us all killed. You heard the bounty hunter. He has us dead in the water!”

“Lieutenant Dyre is in charge of this plan, Major,” Krest stepped in front of him. “Accept it or find your way to the airlock. I’m sure the Shaaridan will welcome the extra profit from your surrender.” He acquiesced, but the look on his face screamed that he was not happy about it. Meera punched in a code on the datapad, sending the digital death mask of Aloo through the comm channel. She watched as the progress bar painfully crawled across the screen like a wounded womprat.

“Transmission underway. Check your datapad,” she said into the holoprojector. “It looks like the shuttle computer recognized him, too. He was an Imperial adviser named Sim Aloo. He resisted, so we had to kill him.”

Again, there was a long silence. She could see the Shaaridan looking between screens to verify Aloo’s identity. Finally, he spoke. “What was your crime, Meera Dyre?”

“What?” she asked, confused.

“You were a prisoner of the Empire. What was your crime? I warn you, do not lie or I will know it.”

She knew that the Shaaridan species had a pheromone sensitivity that could sense deceit. Something in their reptilian nature gave them abilities some would consider unnatural. If she continued to lie, he wouldn’t know it now, but should be board the shuttle, they could not hide it from him. That’s why she decided to tell a partial truth.

“My father stole something from them,” she said, not making eye contact with anyone else in the room. “And I hid it. When I refused to give it back, they killed him and took me.”

“What did he steal?”

“If you’re trying to find a puck on me—” She wasn’t expecting any further inquiry. Meera suddenly regretted bringing everyone in the room to hear this.

“I will not ask again. What did he steal?”

“It was a Kyber Crystal.” Deshken gasped, but everyone else remained silent.

“Do you still possess this crystal, Meera Dyre?” Her hand went to her neck and felt for the familiar bulge of it at the end of the leather thong, always hiding in plain sight under her Imperial uniform.

“There is a ship, The Stargaz—”

“I am aware of Aloo’s vessel. They scan us as we speak. Again, do you still possess the crystal? Is it on your person?” She reached into her shirt and pulled out, the room’s light refracted in tiny rainbows as it spun in her hand. She held it where he could see its reddish brilliance shine through the holoprojector.

“I do, and I will make you a deal.”


“We will place Aloo’s body and my crystal in a cargo container and drop it out of the air lock. You can take it and collect the reward for him from the Republic. The crystal is yours as a gift.”

“And in exchange for this generous gift?”

“You will fire warning shots at us for effect, after which you will jump to hyperspace and let us go our own way.” Meera kept the crystal dangling in front of the device where she knew Gekko could see it spin and refract. The shuttle pilot comm interrupted and she quickly hit the pause button.

“Stargazer is hailing us. They are transmitting Advisor Aloo’s personal docking codes. They must have been expecting him. Your orders, Captain Krest?”

Krest looked at Meera with urgency in her eyes. “Wait,” she said to Krest, then tossed her necklace to Major Andalor. “Major, take another and prepare to jettison Aloo’s body. Double time please, Major.” He nodded in agreement and one of the Storm Troopers followed him out. Meera then turned back to the projector. “Gekko, do we have a bargain?”

The projection flickered and refocused on the bounty hunter’s masked face. “We have a bargain, Meera Dyre. I sense you speak the truth, yet still hide much. I warn you, should you double-cross me, I will assign you the Death Mark of the Shaaridi. My kind will not rest until you are destroyed.”

“I understand. You are most gracious and deserve your reward. Stand by for cargo offload.” She cut the projector and looked at Krest. “Once the airlock reseals, tell the pilot to answer the hail with a distress call. Have him report a toxin on board and that we have captured a traitor that killed Aloo. Tell him not to make it sound Imperial.”

“What does that mean?” Krest asked with a puzzled expression.

“The more professional it sounds, the less believable it becomes. Tell him to make it lubberly and un-Imperial Navy-like. Request that they fire on the bounty hunter’s ship, shoot to kill. Then put him in our wake and run for the Stargazer. One good thrust in their direction, then cut the engine and let us drift.”

Krest scowled. “Adrift makes us vulnerable. I don’t like it.”

“Like it or not, we need to look panicked or they’ll see right through the ruse and we die anyway.” Meera was taking a risky path, but in her mind, she could see the entire scenario play out perfectly, almost as if she had seen or done this before. Had she? The feelings of deja vu were overpowering yet somehow in her mind, she could see every piece of this plan working.

Krest smiled in return. “You’re more useful than I thought you would be, Lieutenant.” She looked at the rest. “Look alive, rebel scum. Battle stations, and prepare for close-quarter combat!” They scurried out, leaving Krest and Meera alone for a moment.

“How did you know the bounty hunter would accept your terms? He could have taken us any time he wanted.” Krest asked.

Meera smiled back. “My father had dealings with Trandoshans once. They are as bad a Jawas when it comes to shiny objects. Since the Shaaridi are close cousins of Trandoshans, I took a gamble. It worked out.”

“Your ‘shiny object’ is property of the Empire,” Major Deshkin walked back in after hearing her last statement. “You stole from your Emperor and then hid your father’s crime. Now you give your ill-gotten gains freely to this beast and take foolish risks with all our lives. You should be executed for this insolence. Your father was no better than the rebels we fight against!”

Major Karlov Deshken, photographed at his promotion to captain, Imperial Loyalty Bureau

Meera shot from her chair and charged at the Major. Krest intercepted her before she crashed into him, holding her back. “My father paid for that crime with his life!” Meera screamed back. “The Emperor got his justice when his Storm Troopers came for us and murdered him. Despite all that, here I am, still loyal to the Empire, you bastard! How dare you!” The Major was taken aback by the ferocity of her response, but composed himself for a reply ripped straight from the pages of an Imperial Training manual.

“None of that matters. I will be adding your most irregular behavior to my report for the fleet and requesting a full inquiry. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be below assisting Major Andalor.”

Meera struggled against Krest. Rage and anger coursed through her marrow. She reached after him and missed by some distance, but a sensation in her hand felt like she had grabbed him anyway. The Major stopped in his tracks and grabbed at his throat, gasping like he was being choked. Meera strained against Krest’s grip, but focused her intense feelings of hate on Deshkin. She could feel her hand around his neck and squeezing the life from him, though she was still several feet away. Her fingers slowly clenched into a fist while he turned shades of red, then blue. With a flick of her wrist, his neck spun in an unnatural twist and his corpse collapsed to the floor.

Krest flung Meera down into the chair and quickly shut the door. “My, my, Lieutenant Dyre. First, a kyber crystal, and now you use the force like a Sith Lord. What other forbidden secrets do you harbor in there?” Major Andalor’s voice crackled over the intercom before she could answer.

“Payload ready for launch, Lieutenant Dyre. Awaiting you order.”

Meera was exhausted. Her lungs could barely take in enough air to speak. She did not know what just happened, but it drained every ounce of energy she had. The anger overtook her senses and she couldn’t control herself. Krest sat and pressed her finger to her lips, indicating for Meera remain quiet. “Dyre has been attacked by Major Deshkin. Send Marillion and his troopers to the conference room immediately.” She then pressed the cockpit comm. “Keep your finger on the button, Lieutenant Cearza.”

“Aye, Captain Krest. Standing by.”

She stared at Meera again with a look of wide wonder and calculating calm. “When Marillion arrives, follow my lead.” She stood, drew her vibroblade, and plunged it deep into Deshkin’s chest. Just then, the door swung wide and Marillion’s red-armored form filled the entrance without his helmet, but blaster at the ready.

The Imperial Crimson Storm Trooper Battalion

“What happened here?” he asked.

“It would seem the good Major was angry that Lieutenant Dyre stole from his precious Empire. He attacked her and I ended it. Take his body below and toss him in with Aloo. That should earn us extra goodwill the bounty hunter.”

Marillion looked at Meera with confusion. She sat sprawled in the chair, panting like a Lothcat, barely conscious and drenched in sweat. All she could do was nod in agreement. Marillion and one of his men took Deshkin’s arms and drug him out. The door swished closed behind them and Krest sheathed her deadly talon.

“I cannot have the crew see us as equals, Dyre. I control them because they fear me. If they know what you are capable of, I no longer control that fear. Loyalty becomes divided, and I cannot allow that. Something has awoken within you. You possess the very skills the Emperor scoured the galaxy for, but be mindful. Just because he is dead does not mean you are safe. There are others, and the Emperor still has reach far beyond the grave.”

“I am…I’m no one…I am just a …medical off…icer. Nothing more.” Meera struggled to reply.

“Silly girl. You are far more than that now. I’ll keep your secret and you will follow my command until this mission is complete. If you’ll agree to that, I swear to you I will help you discover these abilities you have. Earlier I gave you a choice, so I ask you once again: Join me and live or oppose me and die. We’ll speak on this again after we’ve taken the Stargazer.” She reached over to the comm. “Major Andalor, is the secondary cargo prepared?”

“Yes, Captain. Prepared.”

“Good. Activate Aloo’s code cylinder and jettison the package immediately.” She quickly pressed the button to the pilot. “Lieutenant Cearza, once the cargo doors close, give a twenty-count, then fire engines. Plot intercept course with Stargazer and request fire support. Distress signal Zeta-Omicron-Six-Six. Give me some distance between us and this bounty hunter heathen.”

“Aye, Captain. Orders confirmed”

“Stay here and recover, Dyre. You’re going to need your strength for what comes next. We’ll handle the rest of your plan from here.” Krest swept out, leaving Meera alone.

Over the last twelve hours, Meera’s body endured a myriad of brutal trials, from the relentless thrashing aboard the failing Death Star, to the stresses of the situation aboard this shuttle, her lifeboat, and now whatever supernatural transformation was happening to her. The moments of quiet washed over like waves, making her limbs and eyes heavy. It felt like days since she slept. As her head lolled to the side, a tiny blue light flickered on the holoprojector. She swung her arm up as if it were tied down with stones and pushed it. The Shaaridan’s face in a blue holographic triangle erupted upward.

“Meera Dyre, my patience wears thin. You have—”


“Repeat your message?”

“They’re calling Aloo’s ship to destroy you. Take your bounty and run.” A grinding sound could be heard through the durasteel walls as the cargo doors swung open to space. They were sending out the bodies.

“I fear no luxury cruiser. My ship is—”

“There’s an army aboard it, loyal to the Empire. Take what we have offered you and run. You only have a moments to live otherwise.”

“You speak truly, Meera Dyre?” The grinding sound started again. The cargo bay doors were closing.

“I do. You have twenty seconds. Collect the payload and run.”

“You have earned the respect of Gekko. I will not forget this.” His visage wavered and disappeared. She didn’t know what happened after that. Her eyes closed and exhaustion took her.

Coming Soon in Star Wars: Lifeboat, Part VII…

Krest leads a boarding party onto the Stargazer seeking the holocron manual and her missing son, and ends up finding more than she bargained for when Aloo’s guards unleash an unexpected and powerful enemy against the shuttle crew. Meera struggles with her new-found abilities and what they are turning her in to, and Captain Vario finally wakes with a warning for her. Tune in next time!


The preceding is a work of fan fiction based upon and utilizing locations, characters, and/or plot points from the Star Wars universe, originally created by George Lucas and trademarked to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The author makes no claim whatsoever of ownership of the Star Wars name, characters represented, or the Star Wars universe generally. This work is created of the author’s own imagination and is intended for entertainment purposes only. It does not purport to be an “official” Star Wars story or part of existing Star Wars canon in any way. The author is not profiting financially in any way as the result of the creation or publication of this piece of fan fiction.

The Day I Became a “Rocket Boy”

I received a message out of the blue today from a dear old friend. It said:

“Just getting ready for Wood Badge this morning, preparing my presentation and my thoughts turned to you. Wondered how you were doing and hope all is well!”

Wood Badge Beads: Two is a participant, Three is a staffer, and four is a Course Director (Scoutmaster)

For those who don’t know what that means, Wood Badge is the penultimate (in my opinion) adult leader training in the Boy Scout organization. Over the span of seven days, sixty-four participants and twenty-eight staffers become a whole new family to you that you will never forget. I went through as a participant in course #MT-61 back in 2014. Then, for MT-63 in 2016, I was a first-year staffer when I met Liz and her husband Ren, and during my second stint on the Wood Badge staff for MT-64 in 2017, Liz and I were both staffers and Ren was a participant. I could write another entire article about this amazing training and the wonderful friends you make along the way, but that’s not why I write this today. I’ll sum Wood Badge up for you with this description: As a participant, you are in for the time of your life during the most effective servant leadership training course you have ever experienced. When you are invited to be a staffer, you are given the enormous honor to deliver the most effective servant leadership training course you have ever experienced. But again, that’s for another article. Let’s get back to that text message.

As a Wood Badge staffer, you get assigned presentations to do throughout the week that make the program so exemplary. My first year on staff, my assigned presentation was “Coaching and Mentoring.” I worked hard on perfecting it, and to this day, some five years later, I still receive the occasional message about it from random MT-63 participants. The text I received above from Liz, a MT-63 participant from five years ago, still remembered my presentation and my chaplain’s message from MT-64 about the “Lower Lights”. It goes to show you that you don’t realize how much of an impact your words can have on someone, and how long those words will stay with them.

Her kind message today found me in a strange mood. There is some tumult going on with me these days that I’m wrestling with. Of course, I responded with warm regards and that I’m great and all that good stuff. But the truth is, I’m not. The reasons why don’t matter. What matters here is that the universe knew I needed a kick in the pants, and delivered it wrapped in twenty-seven typed words from a good friend. The universe is smart. It knows things and has an uncanny sense of timing.

What that text message did was remind me of those days back in Wood Badge that inspired me so much. When you’re a staffer, your whole job is to inspire the participants in any way you can within your assigned role. I was a Troop Guide, and then Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and also had the Chaplain duty during my second year to boot. I like to think that within those three titles, I did my best to deliver whatever inspiration I could. These occasional messages from my Wood Badge family are evidence that I must have done alright back then. Even with that legacy behind me, sometimes the inspiration well still runs dry. That message this morning found me lacking, but it also reminded me of the day I became a “Rocket Boy.”

October Sky poster

One of the presentations in Wood Badge centers around the movie October Sky. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean when I say “inspirational.” It’s a heart-warming tale about a group of boys from a small coal-mining town that do extraordinary things in the arena of aerospace and rockets during the time of Sputnik and the start of the space race. That’s a terribly poor description on my part, however, the unmistakable message of the film is the three P’s of success:




You may know this already, but October Sky is based on the true story Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. (Trivia moment: October Sky is an anagram for Rocket Boys.) If you haven’t read the book, I cannot recommend it enough. I devoured it shortly after it came out, but the subtle messages in the story didn’t resonate with me as much until I went through Wood Badge. Going back through it again as a staffer put a whole new spin on those three P’s and what they really mean. So, after my first turn on staff at MT-63, I reached out to Homer Hickam to ask a favor. I decided to go to the source of all that inspiration and see what he had to say. Lo and behold, he replied.

Book cover for Rocket Boys

When I was invited back for my second staff gig, I wanted to bring with me something that conveyed how much the message of this program and his story can change your life. I wanted to give the participants of MT-64 something they would never forget. I asked Mr. Hickam if he would write them an inspirational letter that I would deliver on his behalf, and he did. Here’s what the letter said:

Homer Hickam's Letter to MT-64

I got to read this aloud to the ninety-one other people of MT-64 at the end of our third day together—right after watching October Sky—and there was barely a dry eye in the house. It’s not sad, not at all. I struggled through those elegant words, breaking up a couple times in joy. Those words—they hit you right in the feels, don’t they? It doesn’t matter what condition you happen to be in at any given moment. Pick up a letter written like this, and, well, like it says—

“A rocket won’t fly unless somebody lights the fuse.”

O’Dell, Rocket Boys

I framed the original as a gift for our MT-64 Scoutmaster, Michelle, and made copies for everyone else in the course. I hadn’t forgotten about that letter, but it was also not at the forefront of my mind. However, when I received that text message this morning, it reminded me how kind words can make such a difference to someone. It reminded me of the lessons I learned from Rocket Boys/October Sky.

My fuse was lit.

When I came home this evening, I went to the book shelf and pulled down my hardback copy of Rocket Boys for a quick browse. Ironically, a folded copy of that letter was neatly tucked in the dust jacket. I read it and re-read it, then I read it again. I’m not ashamed to admit my eyes leaked a little bit. I was transported back in front of those ninety-one people again; reading it aloud and sending my feels on a tempest-tossed ride one more time. I folded it back the way I found it, nestled into the cover until the next time I forget it’s in there. Then, I flipped a little further to the bookplate page and my eyes leaked—again—when I read this:

Homer Hickam's inscription to me in my copy of Rocket Boys

I was honored that my words so many years ago still inspired one of my participants, who turned out to become a dear friend, and how her preparations to be a staffer this year hearkened back to something I said all those years ago. I’m proud that she’s going back now for what I believe is her third or fourth time as a staffer, and that now, in twenty-seven typed words, our roles have reversed. She is delivering inspiration to another generation of adult leaders this time, and knocking it out of the park. Then to top it off, THE Rocket Boy himself, Homer Hickam, counts me among his pantheon with this inscription. Boy, I needed that.

The universe sure is smart, ain’t it?

MT-61 Bear.

MT-63 Owl Troop Guide. (The Bear with Owl tendencies…)

MT-64 Assistant Senior Patrol Leader and Chaplain.

Servant Leader for Life.

Would You Want to Know When it’s Your Time to Die?

If you could know the appointed date and time of your demise, would you want to?

Or, would you prefer the random, “when it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go” philosophy we humans abide by now? Perhaps just embrace the concept of YOLO?

Or what about this: what would you do if you knew the exact time and date of death for another? Would you tell them or keep it a secret?

July 27th, 2020. 4:30pm CST.

That was the knowledge I was doomed to carry for two whole weeks.

I lost a family member that day and I knew exactly when and where it was going to happen. I even knew how they would die. How would you feel if you were burdened with this knowledge? For me, it was absolutely crippling.

Anything you say (or write, in this case) in an emotional heat of the moment can have unintended consequences, so I tend to bottle up until I can make better sense of what I’m feeling before I speak or write. I’ve waited until now to pen this post in an effort let some of my raw emotion simmer down. I know it’s always going to be there but after time it settles into the fabric of my being. Now that I’ve had time to process, I feel I can write this with a small bit of coherence. As best an effort this will be, it will fall short of the eulogy this family member deserves.

Allow me to introduce you to Tinker Bell. Tink was our 14-year-old Akita/Pyrenees mix that, sadly, had to be put down after a long bout with hip and knee problems in her back legs. It wasn’t the standard dysplasia larger dogs are typically plagued with. A couple years ago, it was discovered she had damaged both meniscus in her hind legs at an early age. She never outwardly showed signs of injury, so it went unnoticed until it was too late to repair. As she got older, the problem manifested and robbed her of any remaining quality of life. She became almost immobile. The simple task of getting up from the floor to go outside was a painful chore that required human assistance, and even then it wasn’t guaranteed she could get up anyway. She was hurting, and we just couldn’t let her suffer anymore.

Let’s talk about that phrase for a second: quality of life.

Most people give context to that phrase at the end of a life as opposed to the beginning or middle. Think for a moment about what that phrase means to you right now, today. For humans, it might mean the amenities of your home or car, your decor and furniture, your bank account or investments. Most (but not all) younger folks only consider it as a material reckoning. I think very few in the human realm contemplate what “quality of life” means to them or that it applies until they’re at the end of it. Why wait til then?

Tink has her Doggles on!
Tink has her Doggles on!

I have found a thread common with some other friends of mine: J.J. in New York, Greg in Indiana, Mary Jane here in Tennessee, and my youngest son Eian. What do we all have in common? We were dog dads and moms who have all lost our beloved fur babies this year. Back in March, J.J. lost his Boxer, Memphis. In July, I lost Tinkerbell. Earlier this week, Eian lost his mixed-breed, Shiloh. Mary Jane lost her rescue dog, Simon, and Greg lost his beloved German Shepherd, Scarlet, just today as I write this. When they leave us, there is a chasm that even time struggles to fill. For me, I’m a better person because of my dog.

Something else we all have in common is that our dogs were a major part of our quality of life considerations, even though we may not have thought about it that way. They are our family. I feel it safe to say I speak for them when I say that our dogs, probably much like yours, provided some of the happiest moments in our lives as well as saved us in some of our lowest. There is no greater unconditional love on this earth than a dog’s love for their family. My friend Mary Jane even wrote a book about Simon: Life Lessons from a Rescue Dog.

If you want to see a grown man (or woman) cry, wait until something happens to their dog. I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I had to take Tink for her last ride, I bawled like a newborn baby that was just smacked on the butt. I mean I ugly-cried. I was a wreck and so was everyone else in the house. The vet could not have been nicer or more gentle, and gave me all the time I needed with her both before the deed and after she was gone. I’m terrible with goodbyes, but I stayed and made this one meaningful.

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. - Josh Billings

I say this often as a joke, but I mean it with some level of sincerity when I say the more people I meet, the more I like my dog. Sometimes people just plain suck. But dogs? Never. I’ll say it again: Never on earth has the unconditional love for people been seen in a greater host than a family dog, and Tink was no exception. I know I am not the first one to say it, but we do not deserve dogs. Cat people, I know you’re scoffing right now. You might argue that cats are the same way, but I will argue back that no greater love exists than that of a canine. None. Anywhere. Search your feelings… you know it’s true.

Tink's last photo. I'll always remember her this way, with a smile on her face
Tink’s last photo. I’ll always remember her this way. Even when she was hurting, she had dirt on her nose and a smile on her face 🙂

Read more about J.J.’s dog, Memphis, here: Goodbye, My Memphis

So, I go back to my original question to you: If you could know the appointed date and time of your demise, would you want to? Personally, I don’t. I can tell you from my experience with Tink that knowing for two weeks about her final appointment tore me apart. And even though we spoke different languages, I never told her. In the end, I didn’t have to. I think she knew, and I think she was alright with it. Godspeed Tink, Shiloh, Scarlet, Simon, Memphis, and all the other fur babies out there who left us too soon, with memories in our minds and aches in our hearts. Enjoy that big dog park in the sky until we can get there to throw sticks and tennis balls for you again one day.

Lyle’s Sketch/Project of the Day: Fenrir-themed Viking Shield

I thought it would be fun to do a literary art/wood project, so I started brainstorming. While wasting time browsing Amazon, I found a place that sold a shield boss (that’s the round metal part in the center). Well you know I just had to have it. Now, about 4 months later, my Prose Edda literary art/wood project is complete! Here’s the stages of the project in photos. Enjoy!

My shield boss from Amazon
Next, I went to Lowe’s and bought a round tabletop blank and cut a hole in the center and routed out the sharp edge.
Once the boss was dry-fit, I marked out the hole
Shield boss pattern for later
Then I gave it two good primer spray coats
After finding the circumference center, I split the top in half with tape and a board to catch the overspray and painted half white.
After that dried, I repeated the process for the other half in green. The colors were simply ones I liked. No particular meaning.
In the end, I came out with this split-color shield blank
Then came the design elements. I decided to theme this project on Norse mythology in honor of my Finnish and Norwegian ancestry. I chose the great wolf, Fenrir, for the theme. This is the sketch pattern for the design of Fenrir.

In Norse Mythology, Fenrir is a wolf born of Loki and giantess Angrboda, the mother of monsters. Fenrir grew at an alarming rate to the Norse Gods and frightened them. Odin was particularly interested in seeing something done about this great and terrible beast when it was prophesied the wolf would devour and kill him during Ragnarok. The Gods tricked Fenrir into a game of strength by binding him with different strengths of chain to see if he could break them. He broke them all.

Little did Fenrir know that Odin went to the greatest craftsmen among the dwarves for a binding that could not be broken. They had just the thing: gleipnir. The super-strong silken bands were an enchanted concoction of a woman’s beard, a fish’s breath, root of a mountain, bird spittle, sinew of a bear, and the final ingredient, the sound of a cat’s footfall. Mixed together, they made an unbreakable bond.

Fenrir was wary of the God’s enthusiasm for this game, so when Odin proposed he try to escape a gleipnir binding, Fenrir demanded Tyr, the Norse God of Justice and Fenrir’s only friend among them, place his hand in Fenrir’s mouth while he tried to escape the gleipnir. They bound him up and as expected, he couldn’t break the binding. Fenrir bit off Tyr’s hand as he struggled to free himself but the binding grew tighter with every thrash and twist. Before long, the great wolf was trapped.

Fenris faces Thor concept art.

From there, Odin had Fenrir imprisoned on the isle of Lyngvi where the beast would be kept until Ragnarok. While Fenrir was free, he had two sons; Hati, the one who hates, and Skoll, the one who mocks. The white wolf, Hati, would forever chase the moon while his brother, the black wolf, Skoll, would chase the sun. Once the brothers succeeded, they would devour the heavenly bodies and herald the coming of Ragnarok. They would then free their father to take his revenge on Odin and bring about the end of the world.

The valknut symbol, often associated with Odin and Fenrir. Three interlocking and never-ending triangles.
The pattern for Hati and Skoll.
I cut them out to stencil onto the shield below.
I traced the outline of my design sketches to paint.
Four coats of black laid the foundation for the detailing to begin.
Laying in and painting details for the valknut, Hati and Skoll. Then came Fenrir. I used paint pens and acrylics for the details.
Once the designs were fully transferred, detail work was underway. Here’s my final detail on Fenrir.
Detail for Skoll, who chases the sun, with his binding rune.
Detail for Hati, who chases the moon, with his binding rune.
A leather band was added to the edge for a more authentic look, and the names Hati and Skoll were added in runic letters.
And the final product. Hati and Skoll are bound to always chase, but never catch, the sun and moon to try and free their father.

I hope you’ve liked this. I truly enjoyed making it and learning my ancestor’s mythology. It was a fun challenge that taught me a few things. In the end, it gives me a wonderful conversation piece I am proud to say I made. That’s something I love about hand made items: they aren’t perfect. They are just the work of a simple artist doing what they love. Now it’s your turn. Go make something awesome!

Lyle’s Sketch of the Day! May the Fourth: Star Wars Edition

Along with the rest of the fandom, I celebrated Star Wars Day with a couple sketches of my own while taking a break from writing Star Wars: Lifeboat. I suppose I fall into the category of fans that watched Episodes 7, 8, & 9 but wasn’t overly thrilled with them. However, I feel Disney is on the road to redemption with their direction of the franchise on Disney Plus.

The Clone Wars finale was outrageously good, The Mandalorian is phenomenal, and the slate of upcoming Star Wars projects (Obi-Wan, Cassian Andor, and more) looks great. So, in honor of May the Fourth and Revenge of the Fifth, here’s some Star Wars sketches. I even tried to learn a little Aurebesh. Enjoy!

Now that The Clone Wars is over, the best chance to see more Maul is if they finally make a Solo 2
“The Child” eyeing the biggest chiccy nugget in the galaxy!

Lyle’s Sketch of the Day! – April 11th – Heroic and Villainous

Feeling heroic and villainous today, so here’s a little of both! First up, in honor of the return of The Clone Wars final season, Ahsoka Tano – the best Star Wars character to not be in a film (so far). I prefer the black and white, personally, but here’s colored and uncolored. Okay, perhaps Thrawn is the best character not to be in a movie yet. We can fight it out between him and Ahsoka. Maybe Thrawn will be my next sketch of the day! (Oh, and I learned to write my name in Aurebesh!)

Then, poor Spidey has run afoul of Venom. I’m not thrilled with the final result, but not bad for an amateur! I haven’t seen the Venom movie yet, but I really do hope they eventually get these two on the big screen together. Tom Hardy’s Venom with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man would be sweet. Morbius looks pretty exciting, too. That would be an epic movie trio!

Have a wonderful Easter weekend, stay safe, and stay healthy. Practice, practice, practice!

Lyle’s Sketch of the Day – Unfinished Sketches… Finished! – April 1st

I was thumbing through my sketchbook and was disappointed in myself for having a bunch of outlines with nothing finished. Tonight I decided to start trying to knock off some of my better starts and ink a couple. Sadly, there were too many to complete in one night, but here’s three I’m pretty happy with so far. I might even color the Dr. Strange. If I do, I’ll update the post. Enjoy!

Dr. Strange - I think I'll color this one later on.
Dr. Strange – I think I’ll color this one later on.
Still have more to go on this Hulk. I want to put in more cracks and damage under him, and maybe a smashed car or something above him.
Still have more to go on this Hulk. I want to put in more cracks and damage under him, and maybe a smashed car or something above him.
Poor Batsy... Ivy has him all tangled
Poor Batsy… Ivy has him all tangled

Bonus Sketch: Puff, the Magic Dragon!

I drew this a long time ago in a class (I should have been paying attention, but I wasn’t). It hung in my son’s room for a while until we moved. I found it in a box the other day and rescued it from certain doom. The very first song I ever performed live in front of an audience was Puff the Magic Dragon when I was about 9-years-old. I sang it with a friend of the family who was doing a solo gig at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa, Florida. He even paid me $5 for my part! I love this drawing.

I hope you’re all staying safe and keeping well in these troubled times. I’ve got plenty more unfinished works to stay busy on. Keep your pencils sharp and practice, practice, practice!… from 6-feet apart. 😀

Lyle's Sketch of the Day – Judge Dredd – March 28th

Judge Dredd statue figure (not a drawing!)

The famous law man of Mega-City One. Judge Dredd has always been a favorite of mine. It can be dark and funny at the same time. His world is a dystopian nightmare, where crazy villains and daily waves of criminals are the norm.

It’s an unpopular opinion in the pop-culture world, but I liked Stallone’s 90s take on Judge Dredd. I liked Karl Urban’s updated movie more, but Stallone’s was decent. I especially liked Max von Sydow as Judge Fargo and Diane Lane as Judge Hershey. In Karl Urban’s updated film, I felt like it was closer to the intention of the character, mostly because Stallone’s Dredd took his helmet off. Dredd never removes his helmet! All that said, I think Urban’s Dredd deserves another movie. There’s so much more to the 2000A.D. universe to explore with him. In the meantime, I’ll just have to settle for the comics.

When drawing Dredd, the uniform is key element number one. It has a lot of parts and detail, especially the shoulder pads and badge. I need to do better detail on those. The second feature to get right is the frowny, scarred chin and helmet. Dredd never takes off his helmet, so the chin is a paramount feature since it’s the only part of the face you see.

Keep drawing!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day – Spider-Man – March 26th


By far, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is who I have drawn the most, and who I have the largest collection of comics from. He’s had so many great artists through the years. My favorites are Todd McFarlane, John Romita (both Sr. and Jr.), John and Sal Buscema, J. Scott Campbell, and Erik Larsen.

The first Spider-Man comic I ever picked up was Spectacular Spider-Man #178 The Child Within: Part 1. My collection now holds the entire 263-issue run from 1976 to 1998. Even though I haven’t drawn many of his villains, my favorites are Kraven the Hunter, Vermin, Tombstone and The Lizard. Looks like I’m drawn to the darker, crazier ones. Coincidence? I think not! I’ll have to do some sketches on those guys at a later time. For now, here’s some Spidey. Enjoy!

I think on my next Sketch of the Day, we’ll lay down the law with some Judge Dredd! Until next time, practice, practice, wash your hands, and practice some more!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day! – Tomb Raider – March 24th

Lara Croft – Tomb Raider

One of the rare times I colored a drawing!

When I was struggling with drawing women, I practiced heavily on one of my favorite video game characters, Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series. I remember the sickest I ever have been was this one three-week period where I got bronchitis and was stuck at home. This also happened to be aroud when the very first Tomb Raider game came out on PlayStation, circa 1997. I binge-played for three weeks and still couldn’t beat it (the game or bronchitis!) but it was fun trying, and I was hooked. Lara became my muse for a time and a drew her a lot.

I think this is the first one I drew of her.
The only thing that separates us from animals is our ability to accessorize, and Lara has some accessories. I wanted to do just a fun “What’s in the bag” sketch of Lara’s gear.
This one started out as just a mountain scene but no mountian scene is complete without Lara Croft!
I guess this is how she got to that mountain scene earlier.
I had such high hopes for this one but it didn’t pan out the way I wanted.
Lara has outfits for all occasions.

Speaking of illnesses, please be safe out there amid this current virus problem. I wish everyone the best of happiness and health as we ride this out. If there is a silver lining, at least we can write and draw in our spare time!

The book on the right is a sketch by artist Andy Park from Top Cow back in the day when I was big into collecting. He and Michael Turner are two of the best, in my opinion, to draw Tomb Raider.

There are actually a lot more sketches of her in my sketchbook, but the others are pretty cringeworthy. After these, I worked a lot on making my scenes more dynamic and trying to use more perspective. In a couple days, I’ll share some of those I worked on with another one of my favorite muses, Spider-Man! Until then, ‘Nuff Said True Believers!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day! – The X-Men – March 22nd

The X-Men

Ah, who doesn’t love Marvel’s elite team of mutants? Er,… I mean… students from Xavier’s School of Gifted Youngsters?

I’ll admit, the movies had their hiccups. But the comics… those were always gold! I tap Jim Lee as my favorite X-Men artist and I love his drawing style. Here’s a few of my favorite X-Men drawings. I have several more I’ll share at a later date. There were some storylines I struggled to follow in the books. It was superb work, but X-Tinction Agenda and The Muir Island Saga were deep X-Men doctrine. I had to read them a few times to get a good grasp. Until then, I hope you survive the experience!

Wolverine – always a fan favorite
Storm – the mutant who never has the same hairstyle twice!
One of my early high school-era drawings, Iceman
I always enjoyed the bickering between Wolverine and Cable (before Deadpool was cool). This is another high school-era attempt at a less-than-static fight scene.
Magneto – one of my favorite of all time villains

A character I haven’t drawn yet that I really liked from the comics is GambitComics have captured the imaginations of young people the world over and are bastions of excellent art and story-telling. The X-Men captured the complications of human relationships on the pages of comics, and I loved it. Until next time, Excelsior!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day! – Batman and his Villains – March 20th

Batman and his Villains

My George Perez commissioned Batman sketch

Batman comics have always been a favorite of mine. The Caped Crusader has lasted decades, and kept readers and artists enamored since day one. I met Justice League penciller George Perez at a Comic Convention several years ago and commissioned a Batman sketch from him. He told me whenever you draw Batman, he’s known as the “Sharpie killer”, so keep a box of black markers handy! His sketch for me is shown above. It’s still one of my favorites, so I did a few of my own, as well as a couple of his villains. Enjoy!

Joker is unfinished, but the Clown Prince always has something up his sleeve.
Also unfinished, but the Joker here grew out of another idea. When I drew it, it was originally going to be someone completely different. However, it already looked like Joker so I went with it.
This one also started out as something different but this was what it turned in to. Catwoman is a fun character to draw. Her positioning is never static, so you have to find ways to contort her.
I intended to color this one, but never did.

Batman has always been a draw (pun intended!) to me because he’s a super hero without super powers. What he does have, however, is a super bank account and that makes up for a lot of shortcomings! In the comics, I’ve always preferred the darker Batman stories. I think The Long Halloween by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb, Brian Bolland and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and the crossover one-shots with Judge Dredd are some of my favorite Batman stories. Hush was pretty good, too, but I liked the artwork more than the story.

Cityscapes are hard to draw because they can be tedious, but they make compelling backgrounds. This one is also unfinished. Are you sensing a pattern here?

I realize this will make hard-core Batman fans mad, but I didn’t like Frank Miller’s Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. They didn’t appeal to me that much, but they are definite fan favorites. What’s your favorite Batman story arc?

Until next time, practice, practice and practice some more!

Lyle’s Sketch of the Day! – March 18th

As promised, I dug around through my portfolio from back in the day and found a couple sketch-outs of a character I made up. She has no name or backstory, just happened to come to mind. Due to work schedules, I didn’t draw anything new today, so you’ll have to settle for another archive entry from 2002.

Sharpies can be your best friend with a black costume!

For the longest time, I struggled drawing women. So, I did what every other aspiring teenage artist would do; I studied them! Medical anatomy books helped, and I also practiced in the style of a couple of my favorite comic book artists: Michael Turner, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and J. Scott Campbell. Their figure drawings and muscle structures are superb. I learned a lot just by studying their work and seeing how they did it.

Character positioning sketch
What should her name and origin be?

Another thing that helped, especially trying to draw heroic figures both men and women, were fitness magazines. I’m sure to the Barnes and Noble clerk I looked like a pervy little creep buying women’s fitness journals, but they really were for research! I’m also not ashamed to say I made copies of some comic splash pages I liked and traced them as a training tool. It helped to condition my hand and give me a better feel for where curves and shadows should go.

What I use

A kind person sent a message asking what equipment do I use to draw. (Thanks for the question!) I use .07 and .05 lead mechanical pencils. I like Pentel, but the brand isn’t as important as feel to me. I like these mechanicals because they have metal parts and feel heavier and sturdy in my hand. For bigger marks, I use a regular #2 lead pencil, and then I have full graphite pencils for large areas. My only preferences for those are round instead of hex cut, and I prefer solid wood instead of compressed fiber.

I also do not use the erasers on any of those pencils. I use these click erasers exclusively with white refills. The red and black Rotring Tikky you see below has been with me since high school and has seen a lot of work cleaning up my mistakes. The blue one is my back-up in case ol’ “Tikky” breaks down, but she’s been going strong for almost 30 years!

For inks, I haven’t found anything I am partial to necessarily. Sharpies and their equivalents are good, but will fade and brown over time. There are specific art pens with India ink professionals use that won’t fade, but I have found many of them run out of ink quickly or dry up if you don’t use them that often. Plus, they can be expensive. For casual sketching, plain old black markers and ink suit me fine.

Until next time, practice, practice, and practice some more!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day! – Dragons – March 17th

Instead of catch of the day. See what I did there?

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a comic book artist, Ever since Middle School, I felt a draw to drawing. I’d like to think I’m pretty decent, but after visiting a few Comic Cons and meeting the people who do this for a living, well… I learned I have a long way to go. So for fun, I’ll post a couple sketches each week that just happen to come to my mind.

Today, my mind was on dragons. Don’t know why. I haven’t read or watched anything particular bringing them to the forefront. I just happen to like the overgrown lizards. Here’s a sketch I did today, just to pass some time:

Dragon sketch, 2020
The sketch of the day!

I feel much better about my abilities after drawing this one. I haven’t drawn much in years but today, the mood struck. In between writings, I’ll plan to draw a few times just to brush up on the old skills. When I dug through my archive, I found this gem from, wait for it… 17 years ago! We’ll call him a throwback dragon from 2003.

Dragon sketch, 2003

I’ll rummage through the archives and see what else I can dig up! I never learned to do any digital drawing or color. I do everything in simple pencil with a soft gum eraser and a black art pen. If I ever color any, it’s with colored pencil.

For my artistic friends: practice, practice, practice. Enjoy!

I walked one 1 mile on the Appalachian Trail (and why it matters, too) Part II


29 Dec 18 – Not long ago, I met a lady that summited Lobuche in Nepal. Lobuche is a mountain on the Everest Base Camp trek. Yes, that Everest. Mount Everest… the Roof of the World. She, along with her cousin and some climbing friends made the long trip halfway around the world to take the peak of that 20,075-foot mountain. And they did. I learned after hearing her Lobuche story that prior to that, she took a trip to Africa to the 19,341-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.  It was fascinating to hear her stories of how she would choose her destination, set her climbing goals, plans her trips, and then conquers whatever mountain is next on her list. Those feats are impressive, at least to me anyway.

I mention her story not because I want to do what she has done. As I said in part one of this blog, I am not that ambitious. I can live out my days not having climbed over 20,000 feet up a snowed and iced mountain of death and be perfectly content with that decision. I tell you about her because I admire the ambition she has to hit those goals. The desire to go and see and do something you might not ever get the chance to again. Those were items on her “list”. That is the type of goal-setting I’m trying to achieve for myself. The goals I want to accomplish before it’s time to punch my ticket… my bucket list.

I whetted my appetite for the Appalachian Trail in Vermont right before Christmas. Even though those initial 100 yards checked off an item, it just felt incomplete. Like my inner-Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor was grunting at me for stopping there. About four hours from where I live is the peak of Springer Mountain, standing at 3,782 feet above sea level. She’s nestled in the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia.  Believe me when I tell you it is in the middle of the area that is formerly known as the middle of nowhere. At least it felt like it. Oh, and did I mention that it is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail? How convenient. Now I can make a bigger check mark on this bucket-lister!


After talking my youngest son into going on this adventure with me, we grabbed a few items for the trip and off we went. He was a little reluctant at first, not knowing what he was about to get in to, but finally relented. We got a late start that morning, leaving home about 9:30am. Sunset was at 5:02pm that day. With the distance and time zone change, we would be racing the sun to reach the peak and get back off the mountain by dark. Time was against us, but wasn’t going to stop us. Again, undaunted, our heroes plunged on!


After a long and winding drive through the beautiful Chattahoochee National Forest, at long last we finally arrived at the trail parking area about 2:45pm Eastern time. In the six mile drive up the mountain you gain about 1,200 feet on hard-packed dirt and gravel called Forest Service Road 42-3. I will give credit where it is due… whoever maintains that road does a marvelous job. It’s somewhat daunting, being just wide enough for one vehicle the majority of the way with occasional pull-offs where you could let cars coming down the mountain go by. We met a few on the way up, and the conditions were wet and muddy. I wouldn’t call it “white-knuckle driving”, however, there were some unsettling moments. In the end, we made it to the packed parking lot and were ready to start our trek to the peak. I was excited… I was getting ready to be on the AT once again!


From the parking lot to the peak is about one mile. One of the websites I researched this trip on gave the trail to the peak a moderately strenuous rating, however I did not find it to be that difficult other than just going steadily uphill. It was wet and muddy in parts, but that wasn’t going to stop us. The peak was our prize and wet socks were but a penance to be able to say we conquered this mountain! At the beginning of our ascent, a group of about thirty college-aged people passed us on the way down. They were talking and carrying on as we passed by, but once they got out of earshot, I noticed something that I became aware of the rest of the entire time we were on the trail… the quiet.

Whatever noises you would hear up there were the ones you brought with you. The day was cool, with temperatures in the mid-’40s, slightly overcast skies and a light breeze. That breeze is the only thing you could hear. There were no birds, no planes, no sounds of civilization, just the light breeze making its way across the hillsides and giving the trees a gentle sway. It was a deafening silence, and it was amazing.


We passed a few other people on our way up. Small groups of two or three, and some families, all out enjoying this beautiful day just as we were. The occasional friendly greeting was the only sound we heard making our way up. After about 30 minutes of our steady uphill climb, we passed two young ladies on their descent who kindly informed us we were about 100 feet from the top, and no one else was up there right now. We stopped for a quick water break and I looked out into the horizon through the leafless trees. I introspected on how Benton Mackaye and Myron Avery determined this place to be the southern terminus of their trail. What I had first thought of as just the middle of nowhere was becoming the perfect place to end it, and there was no better place on Earth to be right then other than where I was standing. I had to imagine they thought the same thing when laying out this amazing trail. The peak was within sight, so up we went.


Throughout our history, man has created some amazingly beautiful spiritual buildings. Each is unique and beautiful in its own way, and many of the older ones have long and storied histories. I’ve been blessed to see inside several different ones of all shapes and sizes, and of different denominations. One thing I have not been to, however, is the top of many mountains. If I can be so bold to make a comparison, the top of a mountain has to be nature’s most spiritual place. Though this mountain is not the highest or most difficult to climb, none of that takes away from the feeling you get in your soul to sit quietly at the top and look out onto the world.


At the top of this particular mountain, I was experiencing another feeling. I wasn’t just checking off another item on my bucket list. I was feeling closure. I didn’t realize, nor fully appreciate, how the research work I did on this historic landmark had opened up a need to experience it. I’ve always wanted to hike it, and for weeks this trail and its stories consumed my entire work life. I would compare it to a lifetime Red Sox fan getting to go to a game at Fenway Park for the first time. You just can’t describe it… you have to feel it to understand. It’s not just pictures on a screen or words on a page. It’s a real place and I’m here, and in this moment, there is no place I’d rather be.

We had the peak to ourselves for about 20 minutes, just taking it in. Sitting on the rock at the center of the overlook, I happened to notice to my left this little trap door. Inside was a visitor log book. Not uncommon throughout the entire AT. They can be found at almost every trailhead or shelter along the way. I started looking through the pages to see what others had written. Several were just signatures and dates, where they were from. Some had encouraging or spiritual messages, birthdays, even marriage proposals as you can see below. I sat and read through some of it just to see what others had to say. Suffice it to say, there were some neat things in there. The book was full so I went back a few pages to leave our mark. Nothing prophetic or poetic. Just a little something saying we were here, and we loved it.


The sun was sinking quickly and it was time to head home. We took a few more pictures, gathered our things, and started back the same way we came for the journey home. At about the same spot we stopped for our earlier water break, we passed three guys coming up. We conveyed the same message we had received earlier, that they only had about 100 feet to go and they would have the peak to themselves. From there on out, we only saw two other people. Now we had the trail to ourselves. It was just as tranquil on the way down as we made our way to the car.


Now I have officially hiked 100 yards plus one mile on the Appalachian Trail.  There’s a bigger check mark on my bucket list I’m dang proud of it. My son asked me on the way home if I was planning to hike any more of the trail. I thought about it for a little bit before I answered. I’m sure the opportunity will present itself again. I told him I probably would and maybe next time we’ll bring gear and plan it as an over-nighter or maybe we can do part of it over spring break. He jokingly said if you’re going to do that, why not just plan to thru-hike it. I laughed. I like his way of thinking, but I’m not that ambitious.


I’m not normally a selfie person, but in this case, I made an exception.

I walked 100 yards on the Appalachian Trail (and why it matters), Part I


Dec. 21, 2018 – Everyone has thought about, at some time or another, what would be on their “bucket list”. At the ripe old age of 44, I have yet to make one on paper. However, I have a few ideas swirling around my head of certain things I’d like to accomplish before my time on the third rock from the sun is up.

One of those swirling bucket ideas is to perform the American National Anthem at a major sporting event. I would gladly do it anywhere there is an opportunity, but I’m a big hockey fan at heart. I’d love to belt one out on center ice. I even hedged my bet and learned the Canadian National Anthem as well, just in case I ever get the chance!

Another long-time item on my list is to become a published author. That’s a goal I work towards every day, even if it’s only a little tiny bit. I try to write at least one thing daily and I set regular benchmarks for myself. I tested those goals in 2017 when I wrote 51,055 words in 30 days for NaNoWriMo. I’m still proud of that one!

Recently I was fortunate enough to accomplish one item on my list. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. I do quite a few short day hikes or overnighters with my Boy Scout troop at nearby State Parks, and they’re great, but to trek the AT… now that is some real hiking! Up until now, I would have classified this as a passive bucket-lister. It was on the periphery… one that I wanted to do but I didn’t actively seek to check it off. It was more like a target of opportunity should the occasion arise. Then, one day, it moved from passive to very active.

For my day job, I am a programmer for my city’s Parks and Recreation department (writing doesn’t pay the bills…yet!). One of my 2018 programs was a “virtual walk” of all 2,158 miles of the AT. The southern terminus is at the peak of Springer Mountain in north Georgia, and continues all the way up the eastern United States, with the northern terminus at the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Teams of six people would sign up and count all their miles collectively toward the goal of “walking” the trail. In the end, over 300 people teamed up for the walk, covering over an impressive 50,000 miles as a group, and fun was had by all.

During the program, I had to do a lot of research for the weekly e-newsletters on the trail and some of the better highlights of its history. Each week of the walk, every participant received an email with the current standings, trail facts, silly hiking memes and stories from the trail. Over the course of my work, I caught the bug. The more research I did, the more I wanted to push the needle from this is something I’d like to do over to this is something I have done.  Not the whole trail, mind you. I’m not that ambitious. But hiking a small section would satisfy my curiosity and put a checkmark on my mental bucket list. Then, suddenly, it happened. While perusing a trail-finder website one afternoon, an opportunity appeared like a distant ship on the horizon.

My oldest son currently lives in Woodstock, Vermont, which also happens to be an AT “trail town” along with Barnard, Vermont. Woodstock is to the south of the trailhead, and Barnard to the north and the AT passes right between them. It just so happened that my wife and I were planning a visit to Woodstock right before Christmas this year.

Do you hear that?

Hear that sound?

That would be the soft  knock of opportunity!

I had a six-day window to answer that door. I packed my hiking boots and some halfway decent winter garb, hopped on a plane, and off we went. Upon arriving in Woodstock, I waited for a some decent weather and set out to find the trail off of Barnard Road/US-12.


A few days before our arrival, a snowstorm passed through the area dumping about a foot of snow. The day before we went in search of the trailhead was rainy and warmer, causing a lot of snow melt and high water everywhere. Suffice it to say, I did not have high expectations with the weather conditions of what we would find. This was truly meant to be a “let’s-just-say-we-were-here” kind of stop. After passing it a couple of times (we didn’t have a GPS), I noticed this little sign (above) behind the guard rail. We finally found it!


A small wooden bridge crossed a raging creek, through a gate, out into an open field and up a low hill. After eight weeks of researching and newsletters and pomp and circumstance about the Appalachian Trail, I was finally walking on part of it! Now you can tell by the photos that I wasn’t joking about conditions. Under that snow over the bridge is about an inch of solid ice. The snow was packed and crunchy. Every step was like walking on a floor that gave way under each footfall, about eight inches down. Then you had to try not to slip while taking your next step. The temperature was sitting right about 35 degrees, and I forgot to bring a jacket with me. But undaunted, our hero plunged on!


I’m sure to most, these just look like 100 yards worth of tracks through the snow, and it could be anywhere the white stuff falls, in any field, in any part of the world. However, these were my tracks on this national treasure of a trail fulfilling one of my bucket list items. My wife and son were in the car watching me tromp through the snow and ice, probably thinking, “Look at that idiot going off in the snow, and without a jacket even…”. It could have been waist-deep and I still would have done it. It could have been below freezing and I would still have gone up there. All the maple syrup in Vermont would not have kept me from walking up that hill, just so I could say “I was here, and this is what I did”.

As I’ve gotten older, I am more of a mind that material things are less valuable to me than experiences. I’d like to think I’m not alone in that thought process. That meager 100 yards was meaningful to me. It took all the reading, research and effort I put into that AT walking program and made it a real, tangible thing. It’s a real place in this wide world of ours and not just something on the other end of a keyboard.

If you haven’t thought about your bucket list yet, I encourage you to do so. Not as some sort of race against the grim reaper to see how much you can get in before he comes knocking, but as a scorecard of sorts. To give anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to encounter a chance to be realized. Go somewhere and experience it, even if it is only 100 yards at a time.


My AT journey doesn’t end here!

My trip to Springer Mountain is coming in Part II.

To be continued…

Welcome to the home of LSR Books!

Thank you for visiting my page. I’m grateful you’re here. This blog is a large first step toward the realization of my lifelong goal to become a published author. That goal grows nearer by the day!

Here you’ll find several creative outlets I enjoy; writing, drawing, music, books, and the occasional rant. I have several stories outlined and at various stages of completion. I also post a ‘Sketch of the Day’ when I can sit down to draw, and an occasional glimpse into my favorite musical artists.

Below is a list of stories in-progress that you’ll find on this site. If you’d like to read more about them, click on the image or the cover within the heading to go to that page. Thanks again for stopping by. If you’d like to keep up with my antics, I’d be grateful if you’d follow me by entering your email at the bottom of this page. I’d also love to hear from you, so feel free to drop a comment or a message any time. For now, sit back and enjoy these previews of what goes on in my mind!

Debut Novel – Code Name: Augustine

My first book is planned to release in late spring of 2022, titled Code Name: Augustine. It’s a Revolutionary War-era historical-fiction adventure based on the true story of Sergeant Major John Champe and his attempt to capture the traitor Benedict Arnold.

Currier and Ives publication of the escape of Sergeant Champe at the request of George Washington to retake Benedict Arnold from New York.

The idea first came to me when I read Washington’s Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade. In it, he mentions a plot hatched by George Washington for a continental soldier to defect and get close to Arnold so he could capture and return him for trial. I was fascinated with the idea and astonished no one else had written anything about it. Over the last few years, I’ve been researching and writing on it, and am happy to announce it is almost ready for publication. This book is a labor of love and I cannot wait to share it with you.

Due in late Spring 2021!

cover updated
Cover design

“What do you think would be my fate if my misguided countrymen were to take me prisoner?”
—Benedict Arnold, 1781

Reportedly asked to a captured captain from the Colonial Army, as quoted in The Picturesque Hudson (1915) by Clifton Johnson; the captain is said to have replied, “They would cut off the leg that was wounded at Saratoga and bury it with the honors of war, and the rest of you they would hang on a gibbet.”

Other stories in progress

The Man in Cell 41

This horror novel is set in the early 1960s, and tells the story of Dean Talbot and a family curse he cannot escape. Accused of a murder he’s not sure he committed and sentenced to prison on Alcatraz Island, Dean finds himself facing a supernatural foe he never dreamed could exist, and that he’s connected to it in an unimaginable way!

Click the cover to read more and see my self-produced book trailer.

The Man in Cell 41
Cover art

Star Wars: Lifeboat – A Fan Fiction

Another labor of love. I’m a huge Star Wars nerd.

Set at the end of Return of the Jedi, Lifeboat tells the story of a group of Imperial survivors after the fall of the Empire. One carries a grudge, another carries a secret, and they all carry the scars of galactic civil war. They hurtle towards a destiny none of them could fathom aboard the deceased Emperor Palpatine’s shuttle; their life boat.

Cover art

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part I

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part II

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part III

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part IV

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part V

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part VI … coming soon!

As this is a work of Star Wars fan fiction, I do not own or claim any rights to this story as mine or my idea. No printed copies will ever exist, and is available for free to read on this website for entertainment purposes only. Click the links above to start the story.

H.A.M.R.s (working title)

In the year 2307, man-kind faces extinction at the iron hands of their own mechanical creation, until a divine savior comes to their rescue. Click the picture below for a full outline of the story.

Fear, Itself (working title)

Set during the early 17th century witch trials of colonial America, a young boy discovers a dark secret within his humble home, but can’t tell anyone about it without casting suspicion of witchcraft on his family. He would soon discover the secret isn’t such a secret after all, and his family’s lives are all in danger from an unimaginable evil!

The Crimson King

In a time of medieval plague and strife, an unlikely hero sets into motion a chain of events to resurrect the legendary Crimson King, a monarch of ancient myth prophesied to save the kingdom in her darkest hour. However, many in the realm do not desire the return of the king and race to stop the prophecy from being fulfilled. This fantasy thriller is based on the music and lyrics of the 60’s progressive-rock band, King Crimson.

The Book of the Damned (working title)

During the Black Plague of the 1300’s, a disgraced English Nobleman returns from a long exile with an ancient and magical book of alchemy to exact revenge on the man who exiled him, King Edward III. He discovers an unlikely ally in 12-year-old Alice, and that his mystical book can give him a supernatural army to carry out his plan.

Scottish Knight Sir Dannag McColl is trying to find his place among the hostile English nobles at Edward’s court. Disliked and mistrusted by them because of his father’s traitorous legacy, Sir Dannag accepts a task that no one else at court wants: to investigate reports of a sickness in the village of Weymouth believed to be caused by witchcraft. Accompanied by a disgraced court physician and an ale-brewing friar, the trio embark into a dark world of betrayal, revenge, and witchcraft that will push them to the limits of sanity.

Down to the Crossroads: The Legend of Robert Johnson

Legendary bluesman Robert Johnson is a musician wrapped in mystery. It is said that one night, after being run off from a juke joint, Johnson took his guitar to a south Mississippi crossroads and there met Lucifer, the devil himself. Legend says he traded his soul to become the greatest blues player in the world. The devil tuned and played a bit on his guitar, granting Johnson’s wish and the rest is history.

One of the two known photos of Robert Johnson. This portrait was taken by the Hooks Bros. Photography Company in Memphis, Tenn., circa 1935.

Being a blues fan myself, Johnson’s story is fascinating to me and I’ve always wanted to write about it. One day, an outline came to me out of the blue (pun intended) for a different take on the legend of the man many consider to be the godfather of rock-n-roll. I’m looking forward to penning this historical fiction piece about love, danger, betrayal, music and a little bit of the supernatural and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Dear Satan Claus: A Christmas Comedy

Every 1,000 years, God challenges Lucifer with some menial earthly task for the chance to redeem his fallen son. God hopes above all hope that if Lucifer would see it through to completion, that he will be welcome back to Heaven with open arms.

Since his fall at the dawn of time, Lucifer has yet to complete one of these tasks. He finds them boring and mundane, and he’s not really sure he wants to go back to Heaven. But this time, the Devil will be handed the most challenging task God has ever charged him with: working at the Post Office on Christmas.

Colleen Critchlow is about to lose her job. In her decade with the United States Postal Service, her dyslexia has led to countless sorting errors and undelivered packages. As a final chance to stay employed, Colleen is reassigned to the USPS Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia, formerly known as the “dead letter office”. On her first day, she is assigned to sort this year’s “Dear Santa” letters and finds a few with misspellings to “Dear Satan”. Her new co-worker, “Lucien”, is very interested in these particular letters…

Thank you for visiting my site, and I hope you’ll consider following me for email updates on new posts and releases when they happen. All the best!