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Grandpa Joe and the Little Brown Bike That Flew

Grandpa Joe was a country boy long before it was cool—many years before John Denver sang about it… Truth be told, being country was more a part of his bones than it was an identity.

Joe tapped maple trees, collecting their sap and furnishing our family with an endless supply of maple syrup and sugar; he also made knives, carving the handles out of old bones and antlers that he’d collected. I think he loved the peace and tranquillity that his hobbies afforded him.

My parents said that Grandpa Joe was shortening his life with his cigarettes and alcohol. More importantly, however, he would surely never get into heaven with his behaviour.

I always felt that my parents’ harsh judgment of Joe was probably more than matched by his disregard for their opinion—in fact anyone’s opinion— of him.

Joe could roll a cigarette with one hand; a feat that mesmerized me. And although I never saw him drink or even smelled alcohol on him, he had quite a reputation … I wonder, now, if his drinking was mostly confined to his youth and if those days were accurately portrayed or grossly exaggerated when those observations and memories were filtered through the eyes of prohibition children. Either way, my grandfather didn’t seem to give a lick about anyone’s opinion; as an approval-seeking child, I loved that. Although Joe never rubbed anyone’s nose in his own opinions, that I recall, or even outwardly disrespected them: He simply didn’t give one shit what people thought or said about anything.

He was a man of very few words. But he had eyes that twinkled whenever he looked at me and I always felt that I had a special place in his heart.

I suspect all of his grandchildren felt exactly the same way.

When conversations got too grim for him, Joe would mumble, “I’m going down the grove and check on the maple taps,” or, “I’m going out ta the porch for air.”

Joe had a crooked smile that looked like he was either constantly amused or housing a pinch of chaw behind his lower lip. Probably both.

He called me Old Crow; sometimes shortened to Crow. When I asked him why he called me that, he said it was because I had the blackest hair he’d ever seen. “And I have a fondness for crows,” he smiled and added. That was as close as my grandfather ever got to expressing his love for me, in words.

It was autumn in Potter County—probably 1956 or ‘57—and we were spending Thanksgiving with my grandparents. As I recall, it was out of the blue that Grandpa decided it was time I learned how to ride a two-wheeler, although it’s entirely possible that he thought the conversation in the house was just too grim for both of us.

“Absolutely not!” my mother insisted. “She’s too little and a driveway like yours is no place for a child to learn to ride a bike.” I’m pretty sure my mother thought the conversation was over, as her father headed off quietly to the barn.

When he returned, he was wheeling the most beautiful small brown bicycle I’d ever seen, by his side. Closer inspection proved that the bike had once been blue before rust devoured almost all of its paint … I didn’t care. I still thought it was gorgeous and I had that distinct feeling, in the pit of my stomach, that this was going to be a red-letter day! “I cleaned her all up and oiled her for you, down the barn,” he said quietly.

Looking back I can’t imagine what she looked like prior to being all cleaned up.

As I mounted the bike, Joe explained that he would hold onto the seat, thus not allowing me to fall, until I could balance on my own.

“But how do I do that?” I asked.

“You don’t do anything; just let it happen,” he replied. “It’s like a bird learning to fly; you’ll just do it after a bunch of tries.” I nodded knowingly, silently wondering what in the world he meant.

My mother wrung her hands in despair, saying things like, “Daddy, this is the worst idea you’ve ever had and I absolutely forbid it,” as Grandpa Joe walked with me, perched proudly on the little brown bike, through the yard and down to the long rough, dirt and gravel driveway.

For what seemed like hours, we went up and down the drive, from the house to the road, and then back again… . To this day I can remember the joy I felt as I silently relished that beautiful day spent with my grandfather.

Since our staunch Christian home—and 1950’s society in general— seemed to house an overabundance of rules, attention was generally given with words: Either explaining a rule, or reprimanding us for not following one. As an extremely shy middle child, I lived quite contentedly receiving little attention.

That day, however, I felt warm and whole, bathed in the golden autumn sunlight while receiving the full—yet silent—attention of my grandfather, as we wordlessly accompanied one another up and down the driveway: My grandfather, huffing and puffing, and me grinning and pretending like I was doing whatever was expected of me—having no idea what that actually was.

I’m not certain that this is an accurate recollection, but when I remember that autumn afternoon in Potter County, it feels like one of my first meditations: Although it seemed like hours, it also seemed timeless … So was it our 10th time or our 30th time travelling that bumpy dirt driveway? I have no idea and never will. But on that final run from the road back to the house, I turned—as I had almost every other minute since we began this project—to ensure that Grandpa Joe had a firm grip on my seat. And suddenly something magical happened: as I fell heavily to the ground, skidding across the dirt, stones and grass, scraping my left leg and arm raw, I simultaneously saw my grandfather—grinning from ear to ear—with his arms raised joyously towards the heavens, 20 or more feet behind me in the driveway.

I had done it. I had balanced on the bike without ever knowing how and without a word of explanation. There were no rules or  restrictions and no conscious learning … I had simply flown, on my own!

My precious grandfather many years after he taught me to ride a bike, but still with that twinkle in his eyes.

My precious grandfather many years after he taught me to ride a bike, but still with that twinkle in his eyes. And note the hand-rolled cigarette he’s holding.

It was quite possibly the beginning of my understanding that sometimes, just the desire to do something and the will to stick with it, are all we need to accomplish the impossible: like building a house from the ground up with almost no skills, or moving to unknown parts of the world with children and no support system, or reinventing oneself almost entirely in those golden years… .

My grandfather and I walked silently back to the house, me trickling blood down my arm and leg, and both of us smiling like victorious generals returning from war.

I sat on the side of the bathtub as my mother and grandmother cleaned me up.

Angry statements like, “That Joe is such a stubborn mule,” and, “Daddy is the most infuriating man I know,” were muttered by the women as they dramatically bandaged my scrapes and cuts. Oddly I don’t remember any pain or even discomfort. I do, however, remember Grandpa Joe sticking his head in the bathroom doorway and saying, “Crows need to fly, don’t they?” It was more of a statement than question. He looked at me with his eyes twinkling and I’m pretty sure it was not tobacco tucked beneath his lip that gave him his amused expression.

Flash Forward Many Years

It was a warm autumn day that a middle-aged woman sat down next to me on a park bench here in London. I was resting from my bicycling route, which I do several times a week.

My Beautiful Park

My Beautiful Park Where I Fly Several Times A Week.

“I want to learn to bicycle but my husband says I’m too old,” she said.

“Well you’re never too old,” I replied. “But I think everyone takes a spill of two when learning and those spills are more painful as we get older.”

“I watch you here in the park and you always have a smile. You look like you’re flying!” she said, “This makes me want to learn to fly, too.”

In that moment I remembered my Grandfather. In a childhood filled with duck and cover drills and religious rules and regulations, my grandfather gave me his love of tranquillity as well as the gift of not only his silent attention, but also the gift of flight.

My Blue Bike

To This Day My Blue Bike is One of My Most Prized Possessions.

With the cool breezes and sun in my face I have always been able to pedal myself above almost all earthly stresses and horrors; and I’ve known a few. Bicycling has always been so much more than transportation or relaxation; it’s been a magical key to my inner freedom; it’s my meditation.

I’ve come to think that heaven is a place in our minds and souls. But I’m sure of one thing: If there actually is such a place as heaven, in spite of his smoking and drinking and not giving one shit about what people thought of him, my Grandpa Joe—just a simple country boy—will be there with bells on, if for no other reason, than his love of tranquillity. Oh yeah … and that entire afternoon of his life that he spent silently teaching a little Crow to fly …


Return Of An Early Inhabitant of Jaunpils Castle (Circa 1301) Or Just A Glitch In The Matrix?

HPIM1644 2

In the autumn of 2004, more than just the leaves were changing in Latvia. We were in the midst of immense cultural, financial and political shifts: We had been members of the EU (European Union) for precisely one year; within which time, change had consumed every level of Latvian life. Politicians now had the EU overlooking their shenanigans and had become somewhat less overt with their corruption.  The economy was—by Eastern European standards—robust and showing remarkable improvements. After some bouncing around, we’d reduced inflation from 958.6% in 1992 to 2.5% by 2004. People were renovating old properties and tourists were flooding the capital city of Riga. Life was finally stable and, as an American, I felt hopeful.

There was, however, a shadow side to all of this good news: With the tremendous  social and economic changes came a collective identity crisis shared by many local people. My dictionary defines Identity Crisis: A period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.

I leave it up to you to imagine what happens when an entire society experiences abrupt unexpected change in their aims and roles. When you compound this with the fact that what Latvian society had been and what it was transitioning into were almost diametrically opposed (regimented socialism/communism to a relatively freewheeling capitalism) … Let’s just say it was disorienting for many people.

The watchful, parental eye of the Soviet Union was in force for 50 years: People were told where they would work and live and had no worries about future security; all necessities were guaranteed. Music and art were defined and dictated by the state; even personal fashions, including the length of men’s hair, were mandated. The sudden collapse of such an austere political system left many people wondering what was normal within this brave new world into which they’d been launched. This lack of a clear identity created some rather inexplicable behavior—in the search for normal—that frequently offended my American sensibilities. More on that later …

2004 was also the year I bought my first digital camera. I was immediately in love with my new acquisition and we quickly became inseparable. The cost of film had been high in Europe, but the cost of developing pictures, particularly in Eastern Europe, had been extremely high and often had a 10-day to 2-week turnaround. Overnight I was able to take hundreds of pictures, download them onto my computer, delete them from the memory card, and start all over again. I was off and running with this new technology.

It was a warm, Saturday morning—with an azure sky as far as the eye could see, interrupted by only a handful of white fleecy clouds—that Egil and I headed to Jaunpils Parrish, about an hour south west of Riga, to visit the beautiful Jaunpils Castle. I knew nothing about this early 14th century castle, but Egil assured me that, although it had been rebuilt and restored many times over the past 7+ centuries, parts of it remained impressive examples of ancient architecture.

Factually, we were both longing to escape the noise and stress of the city, for the day—as much as we loved Riga—to commune with nature and hopefully experience a few Kodak Moments with my new digital companion.

We took our time driving to the castle—Enjoy The Journey as Much as The Destination is generally our motto—meandering through the bucolic Latvian countryside…

The journey was beautiful on that clear October day.

The journey was beautiful on that clear October day.

Consequently, we arrived at our destination in mid afternoon.

The castle gardens and grounds were spectacular. In every direction the scenes were surreal, in a Monet painting sort of way: soft, pastel gardens, grassy fields, meadows and ponds bathed in golden autumn sunlight… and all of this with a medieval castle as a backdrop.

A small pond, alive with wildlife, and illuminated by the soft golden sunlight of autumn ...

A small pond, alive with wildlife, and illuminated by the soft golden sunlight of autumn.

Jaunpils Castle in late afternoon sunlight.

Jaunpils Castle in afternoon sunlight, upon our arrival.

We wandered around silently for over an hour before realizing that we were ready for afternoon tea. As if on cue, a café appeared—stage right—just off the main cobblestoned square.

Just off of the cobblestone courtyard was the small cafe.

Just off of the cobblestone courtyard was the small cafe.

As we left the brightly sunlit courtyard and entered the softly candle lit café we found ourselves almost completely blind.

Standing in the arched doorway our eyes slowly adjusted and the lovely room came into focus: Three tables stood along a back wall—with the table to the far left being occupied; the two other tables awaited us. We moved towards the far right, leaving an empty table between us and the other patrons.

The candlelight danced magically around the room, bouncing off of the stone walls, leaving crevices and crannies hidden in deep shadows. I loved the absence of harsh electrical lighting as well as the lack of blaring techno music—which so many establishments in the former USSR seemed to consider an integral part of their ambience.

I was aware of a man, woman, and child sitting at the table on the far left wall and initially thought they were simply a family out enjoying the beautiful autumn day. Gradually, however, I became aware that the child—a boy of 9 or 10—was extremely agitated about something: Initially whispering—albeit very emphatically— that he wanted to go home. His whispering became louder until he was announcing to his father that, with or without him, he was leaving. The father was replying with soft, distracted responses like, “Oh lighten up, son. We are here to enjoy ourselves.” I wasn’t sure what “We” he was referring to because the boy was obviously not enjoying himself at all.

As my eyes further adjusted to the low light I could see a middle-aged man—let’s call him Clueless —groping a very young woman in a most inappropriate manner. I was thankful for the table that somewhat obscured our view, at least below the waist. The young woman—let’s call her Giggles—was laughing pretentiously, although not the least bit embarrassedly.

At one point Clueless put food in his teeth and then leaned in towards Giggles who obligingly nibbled it out of his grimacing mouth, while he fondled her. I was thankful I hadn’t ordered anything solid to eat, or I’d have possibly lost it.

I understood that without an internal appropriate behavior barometer these were difficult times, but this man had a child acting as his own built in barometer—and he was ignoring him! The scene was appalling on so many levels with the primary one being: The poor child, obviously saner than his hormonally imbalanced father, was feeling completely humiliated by the adults’ (chronologically speaking) behavior. And this fact haunts me to this day: How does a child have more inborn integrity than his parent?

[Okay, so this is a great example of the kind of behavior I was talking about Re. the collective identity crisis creating some really bizarre conduct. As an observer there was almost nothing one could do—in the absence of laws or even standards of acceptable behavior—but watch and cringe. Frequently it seemed like the person performing such acts had seen a movie and thought, “Oh! So that’s normal! Okay I’m good to go here …” and then went out and reenacted some ludicrous Hollywood performance on the street—or in a café, as it were.]

I cleared my throat loudly, several times—thinking perhaps Clueless and Giggles hadn’t realized they had company—in a tone that clearly stated that their fellow diners were not enjoying the show.

If anything our announced presence seemed to encourage the adults (I cringe at the use of this word) and further outrage the boy.

We’d ordered our tea upon entering the establishment—and not being the kind of people to waste money—we decided to drink and run, as the drama across the room unfolded.

“I’m going to turn my flash off and try to capture the beautiful candlelight in this room,” I announced, as I neared the end of my tea. Egil looked at me with his, “Um… Seriously? Alrighty, then…” facial conversation that ended with “I’d rather cut and run immediately, but … yeah okay, just be quick…”  (unlike me, Egil frequently speaks without words.) I can’t imagine what it would take for me to pass up a potentially nice picture; but Clueless and Giggles were not it.

With all patrons seated and the only waiter present hanging out in the backroom (good call in my opinion), I held my camera tightly in both hands; elbows propped firmly on the table, to avoid any movement and began clicking away. The room was absolutely still as I took several pictures, trying with each shot to hold my breath and steady my hands.

In our haste to miss the final act at the table across the room—and reconnect with nature and silence—we quickly left the café after I felt I’d taken an adequate number of pictures. We did not preview any of them.

Giggles and Clueless had so disrupted our peace that we called it a day almost immediately and returned home.

That night, I downloaded the pictures I’d taken throughout the day onto my computer. Initially, when I looked at the pictures I’d taken in the café, I failed to see the ghostly figure that appeared in one of the pictures. What I saw instead were a group of blurry pictures, one of which included a distorted image where light had refracted in some weird way … Then as I looked closer and my eyes focused, I gasped, as a human image materialized in front of my eyes. To me this looked like a woman—perhaps a servant, but not one living entirely in the material plane.

This is one of the several pictures I snapped, in quick succession. You can see the empty room, as we saw it.

This is one of the several pictures I snapped, in quick succession. You can see the empty room, as we saw it.

This photo was taken in the same "empty" room. This image (that looks female to me) is looking directly towards the table of unfolding drama.

This photo was taken in the same “empty” room. This image (that looks female to me) is looking directly towards the table of unfolding drama.

I came to learn that the Ghost of Jaunpils Castle is a well-accepted personality among the employees. When I sent my picture to the management, the response was simple: “Thank you for these photos. They are some of the best photos where [we can easily see] our ghost. This is our Good Ghost, who always takes care of Jaunpils Castle.”  There were no attempts to deny or explain what appeared in my picture; no apologies or excuses seemed necessary. This was a Good Ghost who assisted in taking care of the castle. The end.

This might be a good time to say that I don’t know what I believe ghosts are. A part of me thinks that if time isn’t linear—as some scientists and minds more brilliant than mine, hypothesize—then perhaps all souls are living simultaneously, separated by a thin veil, that is occasionally breached; when this happens perhaps we can see (or photograph) people living in other eras. My mind cannot entirely wrap around that concept but I can feel it. Sort of. The other possibility is that the energetic bodies, of those who have lived before, but not yet moved on, hang out and work with energies in our current time. On occasion, perhaps when they become excited or disturbed, we can see or photograph them. Or perhaps these are angels, or fairies…  Honestly, I have no idea; in fact, I don’t even have a favorite theory.

I just have feelings about these things.

Prior to receiving the email—informing me that I had photographed the Good Ghost—I’d felt in my bones, that the appearance of this ghostly image was somehow related to the drama and emotional state of the child. The image seemed soothing; she was also looking or moving towards the table where the drama was unfolding.

Was she the Good Ghost who considers it her responsibility to take care of the castle? Had she come to lend support and comfort to the young boy at this time of intense anger and humiliation? Or perhaps she materialized (almost entirely) in an attempt to knock Clueless and Giggles into next week: This being my favorite theory although it’s probably projection.

Once again: I have no idea.

For anyone wanting to know more about me (the author) and my journey, here’s a short video:


Disappearing Object Phenomenon: Valid Paranormal Occurrence or An Excuse For Boomers’ Failing Memories?

In the early 1980’s I took a Ghost Tour of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, conducted by Shirley Ann Dougherty. In researching for this blog post, I learned that this particular tour was one of the first of such tours, in America. I further learned that Shirley made quite a name for herself within the ghost hunting community. I can personally say: She was certainly a character!

[I want to say a bit about my impressions of Shirley before I continue: Shirley Dougherty seemed to me to be a woman of integrity who did what she did because she was an entertainer but more importantly, because she believed in what she was doing. Shirley was careful to tell our group what she felt was legitimate and what she felt could possibly have been a figment of someone’s active imagination. With that said, however, some of her stories were told to her by people who had actually witnessed events but most were passed down by word of mouth. How distorted these stories had become (or not), by the time they reached Shirley’s ears, is impossible to tell and even she acknowledged this. Another factor that must be considered is this: When something out of the ordinary occurs, it takes the human mind several seconds—sometimes even days—to wrap around what its own eyes have actually seen. During that time, the mind can inadvertently bend the facts as well as forget details. It’s the nature of the mind. What I believe is that Shirley took the stories that she was given and accepted them as truth and presented them as such. I do not believe that she lied or even exaggerate intentionally, regardless of the theatrical nature of her presentation.]

We arrived for the evening ghost tour, from our home in Loudoun County, Virginia, about 45 minutes away, ready to be entertained; we were not disappointed.

Shirley—dressed in mid 19th century clothing and carrying a gas lantern—met a small group of us at Lori’s Cafe on Potomac St. just as dusk was creeping up the quaint streets and alleyways of Harpers Ferry. I was in my early 30’s and saw her as a jolly old woman. She was in her early to mid 50’s; nearly a decade younger than I am today. Time is a funny factor of life.

Shirley regaled us with stories of unexplainable sights, sounds and events—said to have happened in Harpers Ferry—as we followed her through the streets, up hills and then back down, leading us ultimately into the darkness of night. Surprisingly most of her stories were quite well documented—in a paranormal experience kind of way—in that most were experienced by more than one person and in some cases were even caught on film—or not caught on film as it were—as in the following account: Reports of an actor—apparently dressed for a reenactment of the civil war era and appearing to resemble John Brownhave made their way to the park management over the years. These reports generally reflect appreciation for the authenticity and quiet manner (no one has ever heard him speak) of the gentleman; never as complaints. Numerous park employees have even seen the costumed gentleman in question, who shows up every so often and then disappears as suddenly as he appears. Several tourists—after returning home and developing their film discover that the “actor dressed up as John Brown” who had kindly agreed to be in their photo-shoot was completely missing from their film. Confused by this strange event, people have sent these bizarre photos to The US State Department and National Park Service, over the years; some demanding to know how this trick was accomplished. The State Department, along with The Parks Service, are at a complete loss of any explanation concerning the pictures since no actor has ever been hired by them nor any trick knowingly played.

But the following story, told on that warm summer night in the early 1980’s, which I later realized was my introduction to Disappearing Object Phenomenon, or DOP, baffled me at the time and continues to do so. Shirley associated DOP’s with ghosts that night because … well… it was a ghost tour. But I’m not sure they are related at all.

This following story, which Shirley received from carpenters who had been present at the occurrence, is an excellent example of a DOP, in that it was witnessed by several ordinary people—none of them expecting a paranormal experience—who just happened to be in the right place at the right time or the wrong place … depending on how you view it.

I’ve googled this story in the hope of relating it verbatim but cannot find it anywhere, so I will tell you how I remember it; admittedly I do not recall every detail.

  Story Number One

My Introduction To DOP’s 

Considered an important historical town, Harpers Ferry, is forever experiencing renovations and reconstruction. One such project was (I believe) a pub and hotel built pre-civil war that had not been renovated for a very long time. I apologize here for not having all of my dates and facts precise—pertaining to this particular project—but they are not really essential to the story.  The renovation project was fraught with problems and the foreman was struggling to meet his deadlines. The problems all stemmed from a singular root: Tools were mysteriously going missing on a regular basis.

[When we heard the beginning of this story, my husband and I chuckled. We’d been involved in building and we both knew how tools went missing even when we were the only ones on site.]

The loss of tools continued in spite of the men’s increased vigilance, which included wearing tool belts, constantly. This loss of tools impaired the men’s ability to stay on schedule because frequently the job came to a screeching halt as they searched for a tool that then ended with someone leaving the jobsite to replace the missing tool. In time they began suspecting one another of theft, which led to accusations and bickering, dragging morale into the gutter. The situation went from bad to worse.

Near the end of the renovation a windowsill needed to be removed. I can’t recall precisely why that was, but it was probably related to the installation of a new window. Because maintaining the authenticity of the old building was a high priority, the foreman needed to remove the windowsill with as little damage as possible, so it could be reinstalled at the end. The problem was, the sill had been painted so many times that it seemed impossible to find the best place to begin prying it up in such a way that would cause the least damage to the sill and wall. During this process of attempting to find the best place to begin the process of removal, several men inspected the old windowsill and wall and reported that it appeared to have been untouched for possibly up to a century.

After great deliberation and head scratching they began prying the old wood up and quickly realized, to their surprise, that beneath the windowsill was a hidden chamber. This was amazing enough but the next discovery nearly brought the men to their knees: inside of the chamber, all lined up neatly, were their missing tools—hammers, chisels, screw drivers … carefully organized in this chamber that appeared to have been sealed up for many decades if not a century or more.

Shirley ended her story with a question like: “So were the spirits playing games with the workmen? Did they object to having their space inundated with noise while being torn apart?” We all laughed and clapped in amusement.

The End

That was another lifetime for me. In that life I was married to a hot-blooded Italian-American man—an engineer by day and musician by night. My time was spent birthing, breast-feeding and raising a brood of four children in rural Virginia—baking bread, signing local petitions and writing children’s books. My life was good but often more fluid than I liked. Primarily because Fluid amounted to chaotic, at that time in my life, and that didn’t always suit me …

Anyone who has raised or lived within a large family knows that disappearing objects are part of life—combs, hairbrushes, pens, and car keys… Quite honestly, it’s more phenomenal when nothing goes missing for any extended period of time. If we experienced any DOP’s during those wonderful years where life was dominated by rambunctious children, misbehaving pets and various other forms of pandemonium, there would be no way of knowing. So while this story perplexed me, I pretty much chalked it off to … well, I’m not sure exactly. But I decided that there could have been a few flaws in the men’s observations that could have changed this story dramatically.

Flash forward 20 years: I am now in my next life. I was widowed many years ago and am now living with a chill, levelheaded Baltic man called Egil—a graphic designer, a traveler, and a committed long-distance bicycler. We live a quiet life with my two youngest daughters, Jessica and Erin—who are now both in their teens—in the capital city of Riga, Latvia, in Northeastern Europe. I spend my time doing photography, bicycling, home-schooling my daughters, and writing a book of the adult variety. Life is good but still fluid. I’ve come to realize that I thrive on change and create lives that feed me—lives that constantly swirl, morph and change. I’ve also learned, however, that fluid doesn’t necessarily equate to chaos and I now create less drama in my life. I accept the waves of change; I even enjoy them for the most part.

Story Number Two


In 2002, Egil and I have some vacation time coming up and decide to take a road-trip. We do this frequently since our home in Riga is central to a variety of wonderful places. A few hours of driving and a ferry crossing can have us in Stockholm, Sweden, Rostock, Germany or Helsinki, Finland in less than a day. Warsaw, Poland is a mere 8-½ hour drive away… Oh yeah, a sweet little B&B—with kiełbasa and sauerkraut for supper!

Several days prior to our planned mini holiday, we begin packing and preparing for our journey. Oddly, our atlas of Europe is missing when we go to the bookshelf where it always resides. When asked if they’ve seen it, both girls, ages 14 and 18, reply with answers like, “Yeah, like you guys’ atlas is my all-time favorite reading material. Duh, no I haven’t seen it.”

Here is the atlas. Obviously this large, brightly colored book was easy to see.

Here is the atlas. Obviously this large, brightly colored book was easy to see.

We search our entire flat, then the car and finally the garage—but no atlas. We’ve had this particular book for several years and it contains notes about our travels: cool places to see and stay, fuel consumption during various trips; it’s our personal journal, detailing chunks of our life together. So it’s a personal loss, as well as an expensive purchase, that’s also frequently difficult to find. By that evening, however, after thoroughly searching our home, car and garage with no sign of our precious atlas, we resign ourselves to buying a new one and hope that one of the bookstores in Riga will carry it.

The following morning, I wake before Egil and look down over the railing in our bedroom loft at our living room. Sitting front and center on the coffee table—with absolutely nothing else on the table (that might have obscured it)—is the atlas. I can’t believe my eyes. I run down the stairs to confirm that I’m not seeing things. It is indeed the atlas in question. I yell back up to Egil to get out of bed and look down at me. He looks over the railing and his expression turns slightly confused; then calmly he says, “Great! Where did you find it?”

Looking down at the coffee table from our loft, the coffee table is in clear sight.

Looking down at the coffee table from our loft I almost fell over the railing when seeing the atlas.

“I’ve not touched it,” I reply. “It was precisely where you see it when I woke up a few minutes ago.”

Egil doesn’t do well with the unexplainable. In fact he needs to find an explanation for everything. After several seconds he yawns and says, “One of the girls must have lent it out and didn’t want to admit it and they got it back during the night and…”

I cut him off, “That’s insane,” I say, “but we’ll ask them, even though you know that didn’t happen.”

I almost hate shooting down his absurd solution because I despise seeing his dazed and confused look. It’s heartbreaking since Egil is a Mr. Everything’s-under-control-at-all-times, kind of guy. He thrives on methodical scientific reasoning; all things rational; a place for everything and everything in its place. He wilts in the absence of logical explanations.

“Perhaps someone broke into our flat and left this here as a token of their esteem for us?” I offer, my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. And for a split second I honestly think he’s going to choose that explanation over the obvious one—which is: There is no logical explanation.

At this point, I was certain that something very strange and unexplainable had just happened. But what it was, I had no clue. So I was quite willing to file this experience away in a WTF? file and move forward in life.

I didn’t share this story with too many people because I fully realized how insane it sounded. I did, however, recall the Harpers Ferry story and felt there was a common thread.

The End

It would be seven years later that Egil would finally say, “Okay, this has absolutely no logical explanation.” We’ll get there in a minute …

In April of 2009, the crumbling Latvian economy, appeared to be gasping its final breaths. Neither Egil nor I had received a full paycheck for months and the promise of a lump sum to be paid as soon as things turn around was sounding less promising with every passing payday.

We formulated a plan that we called Plan A: We would head west. Egil took a week off work (which was essentially a volunteer job at this point) and flew to London with the extremely naïve expectation of finding a position. After several days of doors slamming in his face, he turned tail and ran up to Scotland to continue his search. Since we had limited funds, I sat at my desk in Riga, Latvia, Skyping advertising agencies in Glasgow, Edinburgh and everywhere in between, attempting to set up appointments for Egil to interview, thus saving him the high cost of using his mobile phone in Scotland. After several days of this routine, and no job in sight, he returned to Riga.

Exhausted and discouraged upon his arrival home, we had dinner and went to bed, leaving the unpacking, organizing and discussions of a plan B, for the following morning.

I want to acknowledge, right here, that this was a very stressful time for us and I’m certain that a cynic would argue that our absent-mindedness and preoccupation with our dilemma was behind our perception of what happened next.

I can tell you: They were not!

Here is where the story about Egil becoming a believer in DOP, and my discovery that we were not alone in experiencing this phenomenon truly begins.

Story Number Three:

Becoming a Believer And Learning The Name 

The morning following Egil’s return from UK, he gets up and goes off to work and I begin unpacking his suitcase, throwing laundry in the washer and generally organizing. When we travel, Egil—possibly one of the most pedantically organized people I know—wraps up our many chargers and their cables, tapes them, and packs them in a burlap bag with long handles that he slings over his shoulder. He also counts them to be certain that he’s not left one plugged in somewhere in a hotel or hostel. He has phone, camera, computer and various other cables and chargers so the bag is quite packed.

Around noon, I decide to use the laptop and seeing that it’s low on charge, I suddenly realize that I’ve not seen the charger bag in my organizing. I call Egil; he says he knows it’s there and he’ll find it when he comes home. I go to my desk and use the desktop computer, instead.

Later that evening, Egil and I search together for the missing charger and cable bag, well into the night. Nada. The following day I search again but to now avail. It seems to have disappeared. I call, on Skype, the hostel where Egil stayed in Scotland since he knows that he had it in Scotland… I begin doubting that he actually brought it home, in spite of his insistence that he recalls carrying it up the stairs to our flat.

After calling the hostel and getting the response that I dreaded—“No we’ve not seen anything like that here”—I go back to work, once again using the desktop computer. Later that evening, Egil needs to finish a side job so I relinquish the desktop computer to him.

Our bedroom is a loft area that also houses our office area. On the third morning, I awaken and, still in bed, look towards our desk. I see something draped over the computer chair as it sits in front of the desk and computer. I decide that wishful thinking has gotten the better of me. I get out of bed and gasp loud enough to awaken Egil. There, dangling off of the chair that we’ve both been sitting in and working from for many hours over the past two days is the missing charger and cable bag. The truth is no one could have sat in that chair without feeling the coarse burlap handles of that bag in their back, even if we were both somehow blinded to the sight of it.

And that was the morning that Egil said, “This is completely impossible and defies any logical explanation.”

I was shocked when I googled Things disappearing and reappearing and found a name for what we’d experienced, at least twice that I could swear to. And we were not—by a long shot—the only people to have had this experience.

The End (Sort Of)

What I’m telling you is exactly the way this happened. I smile when people say “How can anyone believe in the paranormal when there is absolutely no evidence?”

My dictionary defines evidence as: A. an outward sign: indication B: something that furnishes proof.

I saw and experienced this phenomenon with my eyes and mind on two separate occasions that I feel truly qualify as examples of DOP. Many other people have had this experience, as well. I consider this evidence. It may not, as of yet, be something that can be replicated in a lab, but if we as humans had stopped searching for answers to that which presented itself to us, but we didn’t understand—500, 100, 50 or even 5 years ago—science would have stopped progressing in its tracks. I believe, to question that which we do not understand and is not yet scientifically provable, is far more indicative of a curious mind, then it is to blindly deny the existence of that which many experience and document but have yet to prove.

I am writing these 4 blogs, knowing full well that I will be criticized and judged by some people. But I think it’s time to come out of the closet with our experiences and declare that we are investigators; we are open to experiencing life to its fullest!

Please feel free to share your stories!

My Quest To Find The Magical, Mystical And Truly Unexplainable

I had a column in City Paper EE, an English language magazine in the Baltic region of Northeastern Europe, a few years back. This particular gig was quite literally my dream job. My editor was a young Australian woman who asked little from me other than once a month handing her a 2,500-word article with pictures. The content requirements were loosely defined: Make it fun, fascinating, and (preferably) grammatically correct, about The Unseen (that’s a link to one of my articles) that lives within the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Any and everything that existed beyond the sense of sight was up for grabs: Ancient as well as urban myths, mystical forests, haunted homes and castles, UFO’s, orbs … This was a job tailor made for me, by the editor, because she’d learned that I was working on a book with the working title The Unseen.

I had several experiences, during the writing of my column, that I never wrote about, but have now decided to share with you: those of you who follow, or just popped into, my blog. There will be four posts of this sort in my blog unless you, the readers, want more; in which case I am thinking about pursuing my interest in these topics, here in UK, and continuing to blog along these lines on occasion.

But for now I am planning my next four blog entries with the following titles—more or less. #1. A Journey Into The Unseen (the one you’re currently reading). #2. DOP Disappearing Object Phenomenon: Valid Or An Excuse For Failing Memories? #3. An Unexpected Image in a Photograph in Jaunpils Castle Built Circa 1301 (obviously that title needs some streamlining, but you get the idea). #4. Be Careful What You Ask For (or an alternate title) An Enchanted Church In The Forest.

Those who know me, know that I am fascinated with The Unseen, perhaps because I love playing detective and the vast majority of paranormal experiences, mysterious photographs and unidentifiable sounds as well as objects are—if you delve deeply enough and keep an open mind—quite explainable within the physical plane. I’m not speaking of intentionally constructed hoaxes; I’m referring to cases where people witnessing these events are baffled and often frightened.

When working on my column I was contacted by my Latvian friend, Dace, who told me of a Russian man—we shall call Igor—living in the countryside, who believed he’d found The Holy Grail hidden deep in a cave in Latvia. Igor was in hiding—communicating only via prepaid mobile phone cards—because he had apparently received some (extremely unwanted) publicity in several Russian yellow newspapers and now, he claimed, Big Money Men, who wanted to know what he knew, were hunting him. At first I was amused that anyone actually believed The Holy Grail was more than part of King Arthur’s myth, that it was an actual object, and that it was still floating around somewhere, waiting to be discovered. After some research, however, I learned this belief was not exclusively Igor’s; in fact many people believe that The Holy Grail is the Arc of The Covenant, or the chalice from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, and that it does indeed still exist; even more surprisingly, some believe it is hidden in Latvia.

Igor was moving to a new location every few days in an attempt to hide from his would-be captors and swapping out his phone card even more frequently. To me creating such a challenging lifestyle around his own personal Quest for The Holy Grail was reason enough to meet with him and hear his story. I began laying the groundwork, for an upcoming interview with Igor, in my next article for City Paper, by presenting a loosely woven theory: Perhaps the handful of Knights Templar who were known to have escaped France, slipped into Latvia between 1307-1314 while King Phillip The Fair—a nickname, most certainly referring to his hair and complexion; not his character—systematically annihilated the rest of the knights. The most widely accepted belief is that these few Templar escapees were in possession of the vast Templar treasures, one of which may have been The Holy Grail … and since these treasures have yet to be recoveredIf one were to accept the possibility that, rather than UK or western Europe, the Knights Templar, slipped instead into a backwater territory of northeastern Europe, now known as the Baltic region, and that The Holy Grail was among their treasures, it would not be unreasonable to launch on a quest similar to Igor’s. Not completely unreasonable, I mean …

The same possibilities that sent Igor on his search could also serve as a launching pad for my investigation, or at the very least for an extremely entertaining, semi well documented, article.

Igor changed our meeting place twice on the afternoon prior to the evening we were to meet, demanding each time that I not share the location with anyone other than my interpreter, Dace, who was also taking his calls and whom he’d already met and trusted.  We had no phone number on which to reach him, since he replaced his phone cards several times a day, so we waited patiently by our phones prior to our meeting at a secret location in Riga—which he changed for a third time at the last minute. Just for good measure.

Arriving an hour late, at the designated place, Igor cautiously scans the room before entering. I wonder what he considers suspicious since the most dubious looking person in the place, by a long shot, is him: half-hiding behind a partition, his eyes dart from table to table beneath a furrowed brow; he has a large bundle of papers tucked securely beneath his arm. His appearance makes me sit up and feel something … Fear? Compassion? A good story?

Dace nods, tilting her head towards the door, and then between clenched teeth, with a slight smile—ventriloquist style—she whispers, “That’s him… and he is totally freaking out!” To which I reply, “No shit, he’s freaking out! But do you think he has a legitimate story?” and then on closer inspection I add,  “Or did he—did he derail a few stops back?”

Dace grins impishly and then says something that will become my touchstone during the remainder of my paranormal investigations: “Who knows? Maybe both: he’s derailed and holds an interesting story…. Which means we’ll have to follow him down the rabbit hole and try not to get derailed ourselves.”

In order to investigate and verify, or dismantle, claims that exist concerning The Unseen, the investigator—that would be me as well as you the reader—must be willing to move into unorthodox places, if only in our minds. We must entertain thoughts that frequently defy conventional wisdom; but we must also stay grounded and as objective as possible. Woo-woo lies just inside the rabbit hole and once you enter—which you must—you can quickly become disoriented, leaving you vulnerable to all sorts of craziness—which is fine if all you want is an entertaining story and you can find you’re way back to reality after you’ve gotten it. If, however, one wants to honestly determine whether or not something is unexplainable within current understandings of how the world works, one must remain grounded and objective but with an open mind. It hurts our credibility as an investigator if we detach from reality because A.) It impairs our ability to investigate. And B.) We are not sane according to standards set by the rest of the world and they happen to be our audience; so better not to alienate them.

Whether we have the ability to rejoin reality (as we know it) when we’ve completed the project, is yet another story …

Dace gave Igor a warm smile of acknowledgment and motioned for him to join us at our table when it appeared he had finished his room assessment.

Many beers and several hours later, I was feeling more awkward and with more unanswered questions than when I’d been sober and less informed.

Igor could not tell me what The Holy Grail looked like, because he had not yet retrieved it from its hiding place since, touching it, unless you were completely pure of heart, would mean certain and instant death. He would not tell me where it was, for my own protection. Apparently my purity of heart was not even worth discussing. He told me that several people who had been working with him to find this treasure had now been murdered, although their deaths were made to appear as though they came about from natural causes. I can’t recall the exact scenarios in which the two gentlemen had died but one was made to look like heart disease or something and the other guy was 98 years old. Okay I am improvising here but, after hearing how they died, had I been the coroner I would have called both deaths in question naturally caused.

Igor had years of documentation within his folders and files of papers. He showed me copies he had made from ancient writings, that gave clues to what the Holy Grail was and where it was hidden. He showed me page after page of documentation and data—some of which I understood and some of which was so far over my head that I asked for copies to study. Igor respectfully declined giving me copies of even a shred of his documentation—which, in all fairness was understandable—but not having any access whatsoever to Igor’s documentation brought my ability to investigate to a grinding halt.

Igor’s belief in his documentation was as unfaltering as was his belief that his protégés had been murdered. Challenges to his beliefs fell on deaf ears. He had been working too diligently and way to many years on his research to allow any cynical American journalist to rain on his parade.

And herein lies the trap. If we go into an investigation with a preconceived idea of what we will find, we probably will find exactly what we believe we’ll find—or believe that we have.

The more focused we are, the more the evidence—whether it actually does or not—appears to support our beliefs. If we are also closed to any opinions or even questions of others, our beliefs become more concrete and our findings less scientific and more anecdotal because we know we are right.

This is why double blind scientific studies—whenever possible—are so important. Generally when investigating a paranormal or mystical experience—or in this case finding a hidden treasure—a double blind approach isn’t possible, however.

Initially Igor had my attention with objectively collected and well-researched documentation; it was compelling and believable. But as he moved forward through his years of research, his evidence began relying more and more on dowsing, premonitions, mediums AKA channels  and synchronicities. While I don’t completely discredit any of these things, I also don’t use practices or techniques that live inside the rabbit hole, when attempting to substantiate, mystical, magical or paranormal events, to those believing exclusively in the physical world.

In the end Dace and I agreed that Igor might very well have discovered something of value—both ancient and mystical. But his unorthodox modes of research and inability to share any pertinent data as well as his failure to even see, let alone extricate, this treasure from its hiding place, led us to abandon any further investigation.

To this day, I wonder how Igor is faring. Has he followed in the path of his peers who are now living in the spirit world? Is he still hoping to become “pure of heart” to the extent he needs to be in order to retrieve his treasure? Is he in a padded cell somewhere?

I’m not making light or demeaning Igor or his quest. Not at all. I believe that, at some point, he was probably on his way to discovering something extraordinary. Perhaps he even found it. But I also believe that he didn’t stay grounded enough to bring his treasure back to the real world—perhaps he was even unable to return to reality himself. In the end Igor was a frightened man, unable to explain or share enough of his quest or his findings to give him any credibility. And he was living alone, moving from place to place, discarding telephone cards and leaving people with a lot of questions.

Which brings me to my reason for this first entry into The Unseen: I tried (and continue trying) when researching and sharing my findings with others, to rely on physical evidence when drawing my conclusions and whenever possible I have objective witnesses.

If you are interested in my paranormal experiences I’d love to get a comment below. I’d also like to hear any thoughts you may have concerning Igor. If you think I should have pursued him and his story more aggressively bear these facts in mind: If Igor was correct about the murders, I would be next in line. If Igor was wrong about the murders, he had become paranoid and possibly derailed. Either way, I would have been in for a strange and challenging ride. But I do sometimes wish I’d gone further with him … What are your thoughts?

That’s Me Signing Off~


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