Geocaching for Weirdness – 2

Bunny in a swing.

Part 1 is here.

Using the Randonautica app near home is impossible for me, due to the lack of reliable ceullar data service, but I kept reading posts on the Facebook page and on r/randonauts at Reddit.

Then two days ago I had some free time in Pueblo while M. was at an appointment, so I set an intention — a synchronicity related to one of my projects — and requested an “attractor” point.

It sent me to a street address a couple of miles from my location — in a neighborhood near where my mother and stepfather once lived, so I had a sense of it.

There hanging from a tree out front was this cast image of a rabbit, sitting in a little swing. Since one current project is using my scout cameras to try to get more small rodent photos, I called that a “hit.” 1)If I get some good ones, they will be at the other blog. Right now I have just a series of rock squirrel videos.

So what Randonautica really can be is a divination tool, like Tarot cards or the license plate of the car stopped in front of yours. Developers, users, and YouTubers toss the word “quantum” around in a way that would make a physicist cringe.2)I am not a physicist either. They might as well say “spooky.” With Tarot, you hold an intention or a question in your mind while shuffling or cutting the cards; with Randonautica, you do it will waiting for the random-number generator to produce your destination.

One other thing: I thought people might stop saying that X has “gone viral” in these days of COVID-19, but I have seen it said about Randonautica. So many people have downloaded it and tried to use it that its server has just been overwhelmed with requests at times, leading to the apperance of failure and complaints of “I just get a white screen! It’s not working!”

But by analogy with other activities — geocaching included — most of those new users will probably satisfy their curiosity and move before too long.

Notes   [ + ]

1. If I get some good ones, they will be at the other blog. Right now I have just a series of rock squirrel videos.
2. I am not a physicist either.

Geocaching for Weirdness & Other Psychogeography

Randonauts app screenshot

A screenshot of the Randonautica app

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.

What keeps a lot of geocachers going is not the sheer numbers of caches that they find, but the places that the sport (or hobby) takes them.1)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.” What they often mention is how caching takes them to unexpcted places that they never knew existed.

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

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?

Maybe you think that the Randonautica approach is too impersonal. Maybe you want to really make contact with the genius locii. So take a look at Sarah Kate Istra Winter’s book The City is a Labyrinth: A Walking Guide for Urban Animists.

She writes,

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.

Continued in Part 2 here.

Notes   [ + ]

1. 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.”
2. You can also find tiny magnetic containers stuck to benches in city parks, but after a while, they are not so special anymore.
3. There is a forum on Reddit, of course: r/randonauts, and a Facebook group.

UFOs, Bigfoot, and Economic Development in the Coal Camps

Some Rockvale residents are not too welcoming.

Three little towns in Fremont County, Colo., are referred to collectively as “the coal camps.” Rockvale, Coal Creek, and Williamsburg all housed coal miners of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I don’t know when their populations originally peaked — maybe in the 1920s.

They had a reputation for insularity, partly due to ethnic and language issues. Many of the miners were Italian or Slovenian or of other Eastern European origin. Meanwhile the county seat, Cañon City, was a stronghold of the 1920s Ku Klux Klan—the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic incarnation of the KKK. You can see how there might have been some conflict.

When M. and I lived in Fremont County in the late 1980s, these three town could almost have been called “ghost towns.” With house prices low there, we considered buying in Rockvale or Coal Creek, but unlike Cañon City with its several irrigation systems serving town lots, small orchards, and truck farms, the coal camps were bone dry, not good for gardeners at all.1)The word “truck” in “truck farms” does not refer to the transportation truck, which is derived from Latin for wheel, but rather from the old north French word troquer, which means “barter” or “exchange”. The use for vegetables raised for market can be traced back to 1784 and truck farms to 1866. [Wikipedia]

In my mind, inhabitants of Rockvale, for instance, were either old Italian ladies — widows of the aforesaid coal miners — or people with a front yard full of old cars and motorcycle parts, several pit bulls, a couple of pickup trucks and a Harley, and a general attitude of “Leave me the **** alone.”

Plus one real talented sculptor whom we knew. Mixed in there were some people who just found the coal towns to be a cheap place to live, as we almost did.

And some of them are fans of “the unexplained.”  Earlier this month, local newspapers reported an upcoming three evenings of story-swapping devoted to UFO (July), ghosts (August), and Bigfoot (September).

These hair-raising events are sponsored by the Rockvale Development Committee, which was formed in February 2018 to help the town recover from recent setbacks. The focus of the Rockvale Development Committee is to raise funds while providing positive community building events and experiences.

At $5 admission, they raised about $100 from a group of middle-aged to elderly locals, plus three teenagers, sitting on folding chairs in the tiny community building. Stories were swapped, and some of them were good ones — in other words, they defy rational explanation.2)I have had one literal “unidentified flying object” experience, and I was able to explain it rationally, but it took me a couple of years to duplicate the original circumstance.

One that did not involve “flying objects” struck me as highly strange. The speaker had been a teenager in the late 1960s, living in mostly agricultural Weld County in northern Colorado. One winter evening at dusk he was walking from a neighbor’s house back to his family’s farm, a route he took often. He passed an irrigation canal with a concrete-block pump house beside it as he turned onto a little dirt road. There was a car parked by the pump house — he thought it looked like a black mid-1960s Ford Mustang, with someone in the driver’s seat.

As he walked past and behind the car, he said, he looked at its interior from the rear. The interior was full of many sparkling multi-colored lights, far beyond the usual dashboard display for a Sixties car. This strange sight frightened him, and he started running

Then his cousin came along in his truck and offered him a ride. Their conversation was something like this:

Speaker: Did you go by the pump house?

Cousin: Yeah.

Speaker: Did you see a car parked there?

Cousin: I didn’t see any car.

Meanwhile people traded truisms like “There’s so much that can’t be explained in this world” or “Some talk about it, some don’t” or “The Indians saw a lot more than we do” or “There’s millions of planets out there.”

But here is what bothers me, as an orthodox Jacques Vallée-ian, is that people hold only one or two hypotheses.

  1. The “visitors” are from another solar system, flying here in physical spaceships.
  2. The so-called spaceships are actually secret military experiments.3)This group had no problem with secret military experiments, as long as the taxpayers get their money’s worth.

Both hypotheses are mechanistic. But consider what Vallée was writing years ago (via Wikipedia):

By 1969, Vallée’s conclusions had changed, and he publicly stated that the ETH was too narrow and ignored too much data. Vallée began exploring the commonalities between UFOs, cults, religious movements, demons, angels, ghosts, cryptid sightings, and psychic phenomena. Speculation about these potential links were first detailed in Vallée’s third UFO book, Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers.

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.

When we get to the ghosts and Bigfoot events, will people make these links?

Rockvale may have some hostile residents, but it has no monster — nothing along the lines of Nessie, Mothman, or the Jersey Devil. Towns that do have monsters can use them for economic development, just like a saint’s grave or the temple of a god.

A Search for Mysteries and Monsters in Small Town America: How Monster Festivals Became American Pilgrimage Sites,” an article on Smithsonian.com by religion scholar Joseph Laycock, connects sightings with the human hunger for mystery.

Many find legends like the Lizard Man [of Bishopville, South Carolina] enthralling. But some become obsessed, longing to know more about something both mysterious and frightening. In these monster hunters, I see elements of religion. . . . Here I see another connection to religious traditions. Pilgrimage has always been an economic phenomenon, and many medieval towns depended on stories of local miracles to draw pilgrims. By inviting in the cryptozoology tribe, today’s small towns are celebrating aspects of local culture that were once pushed to the periphery or mocked. But like the medieval towns of the past, their local economies are getting a nice little boost, too.

Read the whole thing. And keep looking up.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The word “truck” in “truck farms” does not refer to the transportation truck, which is derived from Latin for wheel, but rather from the old north French word troquer, which means “barter” or “exchange”. The use for vegetables raised for market can be traced back to 1784 and truck farms to 1866. [Wikipedia]
2. I have had one literal “unidentified flying object” experience, and I was able to explain it rationally, but it took me a couple of years to duplicate the original circumstance.
3. This group had no problem with secret military experiments, as long as the taxpayers get their money’s worth.

Ayahuasca Tourism and Pagan Holidays

Kira Salak, a writer for National Geographic, has a good article published on her ayahuasca pilgrimage to Peru.

But she can’t call it a that. It was “a lark,” at least the first time:

And then there is me, who a year ago came to Peru on a lark to take the “sacred spirit medicine,” ayahuasca, and get worked over by shamans. Little suspecting that I’d emerge from it feeling as if a waterlogged wool coat had been removed from my shoulders—literally feeling the burden of depression lifted—and thinking that there must be something to this crazy shamanism after all.

And so I am back again.

I have read a lot of put-downs of this sort of journey. The term “ayahuasca tourism” is tossed around, along with the presumption that any such experience cannot possibly be “authentic,” whatever that means.

Such an attitude may suit neo-puritans, but it is profoundly un-Pagan.

In the collection Anthropological Research on Contemporary Tourism (thanks to Amy W. for the citation), Nelson Graburn offers a “Working/Traveling Matrix,”

                                          Stay                                      Travel

 Voluntary                     “Doing Nothing” at home                  Tourism and/or recreation

Compulsory/Serious    Work, incl. school & housework       Occupations requiring travel

What I see in this is the attitude that if you are not getting paid to travel, it’s not real, and that if it is not work, it is not serious travel.

Think of those times when you have met someone — or maybe said about yourself — who claimed to be a “traveler” but not a “tourist.”

Imagine someone leaning against a wall two thousand years ago outside the sacred precinct of Delphi, sneering, “Look at that — another bunch of rich oracle tourists.” (Well, there were the Cynics.) But a scholar of religious tourism in ancient Greece writes,

Many tourism scholars however have begun to recognize that the differences between what is a tourist and what is a pilgrim is not as large as was once thought. These scholars have coined a new term, the religious tourist, to describe those travelers who seem to bridge the gap between the traditional definition of a pilgrim and the traditional definition of a tourist.

Maybe a contemporary writer has to describe her trip as “a lark” in order to distance herself from the fact that it might be a pilgrimage, leading some of her readers to dismiss her as a “religious wacko.”