Earlier this summer, the fashion house of Dior produced a publicity video for their autumn-winter 2020–2021 haute couture collection that appeared — to my eyes — to be all about the the Other Crowd, so I blogged it as “Dior Dresses the Fair Folk.”
About that time I also wrote a post, “The Pizzica Video that Tore my Heart,” In it, a woman defiantly performs the traditional dance called pizzica in a lockdown-deserted piazza in the southern Italian city of Lecce, in the region of Salento, “the heel of the boot.”
So what did Dior do to introduce their 2020-2021 “cruise collection” but create their own spectacle in Lecce, including pizzica.
I found it a little spooky. Maybe I was infuenced by the earlier solo pizzica video in the deserted (seemingly de-populated) square.
The scene is dominated by musicians and dancers.
There was a dazzling set by feminist artist Marinella Senatore, in collaboration with Puglia-based light designers Fratelli Paris, where 30,000 coloured bulbs evoked the luminaire of local folk festivals and contained a number of the artist’s slogans; a rousing score by the Italian composer Paolo Buonvino, who conducted an 18-strong orchestra from Rome, alongside 21 local musicians; a performance by Italian rock musician Giuliano Sangiorgi, folk dancers, and, of course, a vast 90-look collection worn by a slew of the world’s top models. “An Ode to Puglia: How Dior’s Cruise Show Celebrates Italian Craftsmanship.”
Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, has roots in the region. The clothing featured used local products: fabrics from “Le Costantine Foundation, which aims to preserve centuries-old textile arts in Puglia . . . lace embroiderer Marilena Sparasci; weavers Tessitura Calabrese, and more.”
The folded kerchiefs worn by some of the models were also a nod to local traditional costume.
I wanted to focus on the music and dancing, which made the silent models parading through the square seem like inter-dimensional beings. Interlopers. Visitors. Part of “the phenomeon.” That is perhaps not what Chiuri intended.
So —visitors from another dimension, ecstatic music, a certain feminist flavor, beauty, nighttime, tradition — does that add up to “Pagan-ish”?
Early in the twentieth century, the famous physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937), “the father of nuclear physics,” is supposed to have remarked snarkily that all science was either physics or “stamp-collecting.” 1)Variations on the saying include “That which is not measurable is not science. That which is not physics is stamp collecting” and “Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting.”
By “stamp-collecting,” I have always assumed he meant collecting and classifying, in that a geologist of his time might have been mainly occupied with classifying rocks and minerals or an entymologist concerned with classifying insects. (These disciplines — and others — now include much more.)
“Stamp-collecting” likewise describes a lot of paranormal studies. The famed Charles Fort (1874–1932 was the master of it.2)His life almost parallels Rutherford’s. Interesting. “As a young adult, Fort wanted to be a naturalist, collecting sea shells, minerals, and birds” (Wikipedia). The sheer size of his collections had an effect, however.
Fort is acknowledged by religious scholars such as Jeffrey J. Kripal and Joseph P. Laycock as a pioneering theorist of the paranormal who helped define “paranormal” as a discursive category and provided insight into its importance in human experience. Although Fort is consistently critical of the scientific study of abnormal phenomena, he remains relevant today for those who engage in such studies
Back in the the early 1690s — contemporanous with the Salem witch trials — the Rev. Robert Kirk3)A minister in the then-large Scottish Episcopal Church was not afraid to theorize, producing a handwritten book on fairies that latter became The Secret Commonwealth. Maybe his MA at Edinburgh University prepared him.
His attempt to fit the fairies into a Great Chain of Being might not appeal to everyone, but at least it gave him a theoretical lens through which to consider them.
Kirk proposed that the reason that the fairies appeared to humanity was to convince us that an invisible realm exists, and that it’s not entirely out of reach. Their occasional interactions with humans served as both a “caution and warning” that we are not alone in the world, and that unseen, intelligent forces occasionally meddled in our affairs. Maybe these forces are still at work. (video transcript)
We still have people who are solely Bigfoot-hunters or UFO researchers or ghost-hunters or whatever, but thanks to Vallée, it is more and more common to see all of these as part of something bigger: “the phenomenon.”4)Some BIgfoot researchers still seek a flesh-and-blood “wood ape,” which might be less psychologically threatening than an interdimensional big hairy critter.
Variations on the saying include “That which is not measurable is not science. That which is not physics is stamp collecting” and “Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting.”
I wonder when this white fir was cut. The 1950s? Anyway, it seemed like a good place for offerings.
This time last year M. and I were picking mushrooms at higher elevations — and almost were trapped in a fairy portal. At least, that is what it seemed like. I might have provoked That Crowd by feeling a little too arrogant about my woodsmanship, but at least I saw the trap in time.
Admittedly, we were right up against the red zone, “extreme drought” in southern Colorado.
That event was August 6th. This year we returned to the same spot on July 29th, just to see if any mushrooms were coming up — there had been a few good rains up high — but there was nothing, edible or otherwise. It’s been a bad bad drought year, even in the high country (above 10,000 feet / 3,050 m).
But I had another purpose. Drought or not, I wanted to leave something for The Locals. The Other Crowd. Them. I did not know what protocol would work in “the mushroom grounds,” so I just brought some whiskey and a tobacco bundle, made from Nicotiana rustica that I had grown last year and dried, tied up in a scrap of old bandana.
Whiskey in a stump.
I poured some bourbon into a natural “cup” formed by the stump, and I tied the tobacco bundle to a protruding spike of wood inside the hollow stump.
We went back up there on August 6th, a year after the “portal” event. Still not a mushroom in sight. But I strolled past that stump and the tobacco bundle was gone. Flat gone. This is not an area that gets many human visitors.
The lore is that if an offering disappears, it has been accepted. Now if we could have more rain. But that is a different ritual and a different story.
“Fairies and fashion” as a suggested topic? Someone must have seen my “Dior Dresses the Fair Folk” post! Seriously, there are some fascinating topics under potential consideration for this conference:
Call for papers: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture
University of Hertfordshire, 8–10 April 2021.
The Open Graves, Open Minds (OGOM) Project was launched in 2010 with the Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture conference.We have subsequently hosted symposia on Bram Stoker and John William Polidori, unearthing depictions of the vampire in literature, art, and other media, before embracing shapeshifting creatures and other supernatural beings and their worlds. The Company of Wolves, our ground-breaking werewolf and feral humans conference, took place in 2015. This was followed by The Urban Weird, a folkloric collaboration with Supernatural Cities in 2017. The OGOM Project now extends to all narratives of the fantastic, the folkloric, the fabulous, and the magical.
One of the last films made by the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) was Dreams, which he wrote himself, based on his own dreams. It premiered in Cannes in 1990 to “a polite but muted reception.”
As a Pagan, I notice that it opens and closes with processions, which I think are the most elementary form of ritual, more basic even than ritual circles. The first procession, however, is not meant for human eyes. It is a wedding procession of the “foxes” (Japanese, kitsune). I am no expert on Japanese lore, but they seem in what I have read to act a lot like the Fair Folk. When a little boy witnesses their procession, he is in big trouble.
Here is an excerpt from “Kitsune Wedding,” and you can get the whole movie from Netflix or elsewhere.
Wednesday was the first nice day in a while, so M. and I went hiking on some national forest land near home. We were on a “social trail,” one that is not signed and listed on the forest maps, but we saw maybe four other people there anyway. I stopped partway up to repair a geocache container — not a cache that I own, but one that has been more or less abandoned by its owners. I feel affection for it because it was the first one that I ever found, so I check on it now and then.
For me those include a deserted lakeside resort in central North Dakota where an artesian well gushes water from a big rusty pipe, a tiny cemetary in Taos, New Mexico, a cavalryman’s grave on a Wyoming hillside, or an abandoned bridge on the Dismal RIver in Nebraska’s Sand Hills.2)You can also find tiny magnetic containers stuck to benches in city parks, but after a while, they are not so special anymore.
In a recent episode titled “Force the Hand of Chance: A How-To Guide to Psychogeography” on the Strange Familiars podcast, co-host Alison Renner mentions how recent conditions have meant she and her husband, Timothy, have been exploring the seen and unseen environment of their hometown more these days. When she remarked about walking down an alley that she had never entered before, it reminded me of geocaching.
But insead of using a GPS receiver, the Renners were following a route on a cell phone app called Randonautica, advertised as “The world’s first quantumly generated Choose Your Own Adventure reality game. Explore the world you never knew existed.” 3)There is a forum on Reddit, of course: r/randonauts, and a Facebook group.
Randonautica app puts the user in the Director’s Chair of an adventure story yet to be written. By using the app, the user can break from their mundane day-to-day and take a journey of randomness into the world around them.
Where the mind goes, the universe follows. The Randonautica app is built with mind-machine interfacing technology which allows the user to drive their trip simply by thinking.
A user in Cambodia wrote on Reddit, “Set my intent to’find a portal to another world’…found an arch that led me to a wealthy gated community. Compared to the poverty that most people here live in, it is certainly another world for them.”
Randonauts Facebook profile graphic
Part of the Strange Familiars podcast episode is the Renners trying out the Randonautica app and experiencing at least one strong synchronicity. Timothy Renner also utilzes it in an episode called “Synchronicity Storm on Toad Road,” although it is mentioned only briefly.
I had wanted to try it four days ago, but the app needs a cellular data connection, and I live in what amounts to a cell-service dead zone.
We had things to buy today, so we went to a nearby town and gave it a try. I tried generic requests, such as “anomaly.” The first hit sent us on about a 2.5-mile drive out of town to a certain road — only I knew that that road led into a gravel-mining operation owned by a local paving company, where we would probably not be welcomed to park and explore. If there is an “anomaly” there, it will have to wait.
Our second run took us a newish subdivision out in the desert. It was amazing that Apple Maps knew the roads, since they were just bulldozed dirt, completely unimproved. It looked like we were to drive to the end of one road, park, and climb a small nearby mesa, only this was the sort of place where strange vehicles acting strangely are regarded with acute suspicion. So I canceled that quest too.
But I want to go back, maybe try a more specific request than just “void” or “anomaly,” and most of all, I would rather do it mostly on foot. I want to see if Randonautica leads me to sites of low-to-moderate strangeness.
Even geocachers experience strangeness.If you join and go to the discussion forums, you will find occasional multi-year threads with titles like “Weird or What?” “Help me plant some weird California caches,” “Weird Findings in the Woods,” “Animals are acting weird,” “Weird Adventure,” “What’s that Weird Noise?” and so on.
But what if you don’t want to walk around looking at a screen?
All by itself, the act of walking puts you in a liminal state — neither here nor there but in between. This makes it especially suitable for spiritual and mystical purposes, where we are already seeking to draw back the veil between the worlds for a momeny and interact with the gods and spirits . . . . Going out on intentional walks as a means of discovering and honoring the spirits of place in a city can take myriad forms.
She has much to say about whom you might encounter and how to interact with them — all in a compact book that will fit into your hip pocket. And if you sit on it, it won’t butt-dial anyone.
Geocaching is a “sport” in that it has rules, and you can be competitive about numbers and categories if you want to be. On the other hand, since I most often do it alone, perhaps it is more a “hobby” or a “pursuit.”
You can buy this artwork in various forms at Strange Familiars’ Patreon site.
Readers, I have reworked the blogroll (right-hand column) to create a new “Podcast” category.
If you are looking at a single post, the blogroll might not display for you. In that case, click the main blog title or the banner photo at the top to switch to the main page.
I had few podcasts mixed in the blogs, but I am listening to more now, and I decided that they deserved their own category.
For instance, I mentioned Strange Familiars recently in my post, “Don’t Follow the Lights across the Moor, said the Monk.” Apparently that episode — with host Timothy Renner interviewing Br. Richard Hendrick about fairies, ghosts, and poltergeists — was their highest-rated ever.
Weird Studies is another solid favorite. Co-host Phil Ford is a musicologist at Indiana University. Who knew you could do such strange and edgy stuff under the roof of the School of Music? About every other time that I listen to Phil and his co-host, J. F. Martel, I have to visit the library.
Some of these podcasts are easily downloaded from their home sites, plus you can get them on Google Play, Apple Podcast, and usually various other podcast sites. I use Apple gear, but I don’t like Apple Podcast very much and prefer to download individual episodes to iTunes.
William James in Brazil, about age 23 (Wikimedia Commons)
The famous American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842–1910) was also a paranormal researcher, chiefly in the area of Spiritualism and mediumship. Toward the end of his life, he wrote about a problem that still vexes ufologists, ghost-hunters, and everyone else engaging “the phenomenon.” He starts by speaking of a fellow psychical researcher, Prof. Henry Sidgwick:
Like all [psychical research] founders, Sidgwick hoped for a certain promptitude of result; and I heard him say, the year before his death, that if anyone had told him at the outset that after twenty years he would be in the same identical state of doubt and balance that he started with, he would have deemed the prophecy incredible. It appeared impossible that that amount of handling evidence should bring so little finality of decision.
My own experience has been similar to Sidgwick’s. For twenty-five years I have been in touch with the literature of psychical research, and have had acquaintance with numerous “researchers.” I have also spent a good many hours (though far fewer than I ought to have spent) in witnessing (or trying to witness) phenomena. Yet I am theoretically no “further” than I was at the beginning; and I confess that at times I have been tempted to believe that the Creator has eternally intended this department of nature to remain baffling, to prompt our curiosities and hopes and suspicions all in equal measure, so that, although ghosts and clairvoyances, and raps and messages from spirits, are always seeming to exist and can never be fully explained away, they also can never be susceptible of full corroboration.1)William James, “The Last Report: The Final Impressions of a Psychical Researcher,” in William James and Psychical Research, ed. Gardner Murphey and Robert O. Ballou, (London: Chatto and Windus, 1961), 310. Originally published in The American Magazine, October 1909.
James’s frustration was mentioned in an episode of Weird Studies, a podcast produced by musicologist Phil Ford and writer-filmmaker J. F. Martel.2)Both are Canadian, although Ford teaches at Indiana University.Weird Studies is devoted to “a scholarly field that doesn’t and can’t exist,” but they try.3)The Weird is that which resists any settled explanation or frame of reference. It is the bulging file labelled “other/misc.” in our mental filing cabinet, full of supernatural entities, magical synchronicities, and occult rites. But it also appears when a work of art breaks in on our habits of perception and ordinary things become uncanny.The Weird is easiest to define as whatever lies on the further side of a line between what we can easily accept from our world and what we cannot. And it defines an attitude towards whatever lies on that side of the line: a willingness to remain suspended between explanations and abide in strangeness.
James’s comments also reminded of a comment by some UFO researcher I once read who said that during the Fifties and Sixties there was this rising anticipation that Something Was Going to Happen. Maybe the Space Brothers would simultaneously land in Red Square, Lafayette Square (by the White House) and Brasiilia — or whatever. But the climax never happened; instead, the same stories repeat and repeat.
These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People . . . are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (lyke those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the sublety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.
And can we say anymore today, three centuries later? We ask a few more questions: Do the Good People associate with certain ethnic groups? Do they migrate? Can they change shapes (orbs of light, silvery “aliens,” tall hairy bipeds, etc.)? But do we really know anymore than Robert Kirk did?
A few years back, when I was co-chair of Contemporary Pagan Studies within the American Academy of Religion, seeing a rise in the number of “fairy festivals,” which seemed to overlap Pagan festivals to some degree, as well as new books on the Fairy Folk, I suggested all that as a topic for one of our sessions, but my idea got no traction. Too early, maybe.
Now there are more books4)Some of them seem to say, “Fairies are dangerous, but if you read my book, I will tell you how contact them.” and even Cherry Hills Seminary, the most viable Pagan seminary, is offering a class called “The Fair Folk: A Thanatological Perspective.”
Class Description: Who are the Fair Folk? Many do not expect one of the answers to be “the dead”! In this Insights course we will parse through the different types of Fair Folk (focusing on the Irish traditions), examine species of Faery with clearly human folklore (including hauntings, burials and premature deaths) and contemplate the possibility of the Fair Folk as ancestral figures.
Brother Richard tells some stories of house-cleansings, where people thought they were disturbed by ghosts or other entities. He comes across as level-headed and compassionate, and he stresses that one cannot respond to such requests by charging in and (my words) firing off Latin invocations while throwing incense grenades.
Brother Richard talks about being spiritually grounded, avoiding obsession, and “not following the lights across the moor,” In other words, don’t let yourself get sucked in to the point where you have one foot on the Other Side.
But if there is anyone who does “follow the lights,” it is all the ghost-hunters and paranormal investigators out there, who show up with their spotlights and cameras and recording equipment and digital thermometers and other gadgetry and announce, “All right, Bigfoot, where are you? Goblins, show yourselves! We come in peace! [Aside: “Are you getting a reading?”]
Here is the synopsis:
In 2012, Greg Newkirk received an email from a man calling himself David Christie, who claimed that he and his family were being terrorized by unearthly creatures by night. After exchanging emails, David disappeared. For the next five years, the case only got stranger, as more connections and mysterious emails came in. Then, in 2017, Greg and a team of researchers [chiefly Dana Newkirk, Karl Pfeiffer, and Conor Randall] traveled to rural Kentucky, not knowing what they would uncover, or how deep they would discover the case might go.
Back at Weird Studies, J. F. Martel observes, “If you ever wondered what Samuel Beckett would have written if he had developed an interest in the paranormal, Hellier may be the answer.”
Yeah, Waiting for Goblin, that’s it.
On the plus side, the show’s production values are high. I have seen stuff on cable TV that was a lot worse. On the negative, sometimes I just want to reach into the screen and grab them:
If y’all are “digital natives,” why did you wait five years to have a competent IT guy check the headers on that email — which reveal that it did not come from eastern Kentucky at all?
Do you know anything about using public records? Don’t you realize that the volunteer fire department in a small town will know where everything is?
Don’t you carry a good GPS receiver? If you can’t write down the address when you think you have found “the house,” at least get its coordinates, which will save you a lot of driving around later, plus you can research its ownership history with the county assessor.
Since the initial email sounds a lot like Whitley Strieber’s experience in Communion — and his books are on the Newkirks’ shelves, I am surprised Strieber’s name does not come up. (At least so far. I am only just into Season Two, so no spoilers, please.)
One book that does come up a lot is John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies.It took me a long time to read that, because the title put me off, but it remains a classic study of how the researcher can go over the edge, off “across the moor.” The Hellier group refer to it a lot when they raise questions such as, does experiencing uncanny synchronicities mean that you are on the right track, or are they just a distraction? Are they “signal” or are they “noise”?
And to go back to William James, after twenty years, will you have learned anything substantive at all? Or is the real story the subjective experience of the researchers? I have been there, a little, and I know how fast the paranoia can grow.
William James, “The Last Report: The Final Impressions of a Psychical Researcher,” in William James and Psychical Research, ed. Gardner Murphey and Robert O. Ballou, (London: Chatto and Windus, 1961), 310. Originally published in The American Magazine, October 1909.
The Weird is that which resists any settled explanation or frame of reference. It is the bulging file labelled “other/misc.” in our mental filing cabinet, full of supernatural entities, magical synchronicities, and occult rites. But it also appears when a work of art breaks in on our habits of perception and ordinary things become uncanny.The Weird is easiest to define as whatever lies on the further side of a line between what we can easily accept from our world and what we cannot. And it defines an attitude towards whatever lies on that side of the line: a willingness to remain suspended between explanations and abide in strangeness.
I put its thesis like this: Instead of chugging through interstellar space to Earth, the UFO-nauts have always been here. “They” appear in many different shapes, some humanoid, some not, as it suits their fancy. Sometimes They just like to mess with us for reasons we do not understand. Or in more refined language,
As an alternative to the extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis, Vallée has suggested a multidimensional visitation hypothesis. This hypothesis represents an extension of the ETH where the alleged extraterrestrials could be potentially from anywhere. The entities could be multidimensional beyond space-time, and thus could coexist with humans, yet remain undetected (Wikipedia).
Back in the 1970s, Vallée and his wife flew to Argentina to investigate the case of Juan Pérez, a 12-year-old boy from a gaucho family in northern Argentina. Sent out one morning to bring in the family herd, Juan saddled his favorite horse, Cometa (Comet), and rode off into the pastures. On his ride, Juan encountered . . . something . . . that seemed to be a typical flying saucer. Tying Cometa to the craft’s ladder, he went up into it, he said.
There he encountered two beings. When he went home and told his story, he soon became a UFO celebrity. Cometa, however, sickened and died mysteriously only a few days after the encounter.
Juan’s life was wrecked. Call it PTSD. Call it a bad case of susto (soul loss). He fled the ufology scene. He ended up a fifty-ish bachelor, living an isolated life with just his dogs, working seasonally on neighboring ranches and otherwise alone.
There he was until an Argentine filmmaker, Alan Stivelman, decided to reunite him with Vallée, with whom he had had a good relationship as a youth. Vallée was enthusiastic about the plan — all he wanted was a couple of months to study intensively to improve his Spanish.
Stivelman’s documentary, Witness of Another World, is just beautiful movie-making. Whether on Argentinian pampas or up north in the jungle villages of Guaraní Indians, who play an important part in the documentary (Juan has some Guaraní ancestry) or exploring the texture’s of Juan’s crumbling house, it is good to look at.
It is a story of a man brought back from the edge, a spiritual rescue mission, where ufology meets shamanism meets a compassionate reunion of old friends — the eighty-year-old scientist and the grown-up but still frightened gaucho boy.
Listen to what Jacques Vallée has to say about “the phenomenon,” his term for the whole UFO/demon/fairy/visitor complex. Watch what the shamans do. And remember that “They” are not necessarily our friends.
There are at least five stages to mushroom-hunting.
You walk in the woods but do not see the mushrooms.
You begin to see mushrooms here and there.
Your unconscious is seeing mushrooms. For example, every reddish-tan thing on the forest floor that approximates the cap of a bolete will jump out and grab your attention.
Even before you see the mushroom, you know it is right around that clump of trees — and it is. (This happens to me rarely, but it has happened)
You have full bags of mushrooms in your pack or in your hands. Then you look around, and it’s “Holy Pan, how did we get to be here? And just where are we?”
That was yesterday, up in the Wet Mountains, a thick fir forest at about 11,000 feet elevation. “Let’s swing around and work back to the Jeep,” I said to M., and she was ready, so we started moving slowly up the broad ridge.
Then I looked around, and there to the north (on our left), was a steep-sided ravine that I had never seen before — any steeper and no trees could have grown on it. Where did that come from? Just where were we?
Oh, we could make it down into it, I figured, but climbing back out would be a struggle. Something was Very Wrong. I decided to move uphill and try to get above it.
“Nice job, pixies!” I said aloud.
I could see daylight ahead, so I hustled to the gentle crest of the ridge. Walking fast at that altitude mixed with just a little anxiety had my heart going thumpety-thump.
“Are we lost?” asked M.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe we are a little south of where we should be.”1)Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”
Far in the distance were were Sheep and Little Sheep mountains. Yes, we were too far south. We just needed to go east to cut the little dirt Forest Service road we had come up on. I got my compass, and saw that East was not precisely where I thought it was.
A few minutes on, we came to a small clearing, and looking downslope to the south, I could see a gravel road — not our road, but one that I knew intersected it. Since I had a clear view of the sky and was high up, I checked the iPhone. Sure enough, three bars.
I turned on the GPS, clicked the Avenza Maps app, and discovered that I did not have the necessary topopgraphic map loaded. Nor had I brought a paper map. Why should I? Hadn’t we been mushroom-hunting that area since the 2000s without getting lost?
This old hollow fir trunk looked like the mask of a forest god.
But there was a good county road map loaded in the phone, the one that EMS and volunteer firefighters use for navigating mountain subdivisions. Sure enough, the blue dot was close to the road that I was looking for. We would have crossed it anyway, but the high-tech confirmation was comforting, I will admit.
We kept walking, and about half a mile later, there was the Jeep parked in the overgrown old skid road where we had left it.
I think the forest spirits have a message: “Don’t get cocky, kid. The world is a sharp as the edge of a knife.”
But wait, there is more. That night we were busy processing mushrooms, but the next evening I went to Google Earth and looked over the area. That steep ravine? I could not find it.
Google Earth is not perfect though. It used to exaggerate slopes; now it seems to flatten them. So I opened the paper USGS topographic map for that area. (Those are usually based on aerial photos.) I looked carefully. No steep-sided ravine appeared in the area where we were.
That gave me chills. That seemingly bottomless ravine did not officially exist.