I’m pleased to announce the creation of “Fictional Campfire“. This brand new blog will offer me a place to work on my fiction writing skills without worrying about how it fits with the “Other Side of 40” theme. I hope that you can drop by and maybe pull up a camp chair. The fire is burning, and the stories are just about to start.
I’m a War of 1812 reenactor (Scout Brigade of Fort George – CSM of the Light Company, 49th Foot) and every camp, when I stand in the musket line I think of this song. The song references the 93rd Highlanders and their stand-off against an attack by Russian cavalry during the Battle of Balaclava, October 25th 1854.
The song uses the lyric “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel” which is direct quote from The Times correspondent, William H. Russell’s report of the Russian charge.
“The Thin Red Line” painted by Robert Gibb 1881
Glass Tiger will always be a great band to me; I bought this album (Titled Thin Red Line) when it came out, and it was full of great songs. Even now, after 25 years the band still does a limited number of shows. I hope you enjoy this weeks Musical Thoughts
Photo by Cat Sidh’s (Flickr)
Last weekend I experienced a haunting, or maybe it might be more accurate to say I encountered a ghost (I think). I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m losing my marbles, or wondering why on God’s green earth would he even admit that, much less write it down? Part of me is asking those same questions too!
First off I’m part Irish, so I have a healthy respect for things that can’t be seen (tip – never ask me about “the little people). You could consider this as me being superstitious, but I feel that just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there. In this day and age, science seems to be the only recognized method of proof. If you can’t create it using either chemicals or math equations, then it can’t be real right? Except that science can’t calculate either faith or belief, so in the end it becomes a personal choice. You have to ask yourself – What do I really believe? Personally, I choose to believe that I’m not privy to all the mysteries of the world, so maybe it wouldn’t hurt to keep an open mind.
Photo: Scout Brigade of Fort George website
I’m a member of the Scout Brigade of Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake) which re-enacts the war of 1812 at two camps each year. The summer campaign takes place just west of the fort at Butler’s Barracks and will often host a couple thousand Scouts from both Canada and the United States. The winter campaign (last weekend) is a much more intimate event with just over a hundred Scouting members taking part. The fun part about the winter camp is that the participants get to sleep like the soldiers of the British army did (in Blockhouse #2) which makes the experience feel very realistic (and educational too! but we try not to tell the kids that).
There are a few things that I need to add at this point. First, the fort has a fairly well documented history of “incidents” of the unexplained kind. Second, I have camped in and around the fort several times and have never had or seen one of these “incidents”. I have however listened to both youth and adults earnestly tell tales of ghost orbs, strange people (stranger than the ones getting dressed up as soldiers and running around a field with a cap musket), or events they have encountered. Also consider there has been a great deal of pain, suffering, and death that has occurred in the geographic area of the fort as well. So if ever there was a place that could be inhabited by spirits, Fort George certainly fits the bill.
Fort George by William J. Gibson (Flickr)
Blockhouse #2 is believed to be home to several ethereal friends, and while doing some research on the building, it would seem that my cot ended up in a hot zone for sightings (the lesson here, don’t be the last leader to arrive at Fort George so you can choose where you sleep!). After we had settled in Friday night I kept dreaming that I was on my cot in the blockhouse and something was trying to get me to sit up (it happened 3 or 4 times). The dream was very accurate in the details of the room right down to the sleeping people. It was almost like I was awake and looking around me. At another point later in the night, I remember having a nice chat with someone (at the time I assumed that it was another leader) just outside the building, yet I know I didn’t leave the blockhouse until morning (well at least my body didn’t). I normally don’t sleep well at a Scouting camp, I tend to worry that I’ll be shaken awake because of some emergency (I have had it happen, and going from sound sleep to full awake in about 3 seconds isn’t fun) but this “dream” had a different feel to it. Definitely not the “wake up every 40 minutes” to listen everybody sleep, check my watch, close my eyes, and then repeat the process… that has become my usual Scout camp routine.
When I was sharing the experience with a few others at breakfast, I was asked why I hadn’t told Irving (the ghost which they suspected had been socializing with me) to stop bothering me? (Thanks for the timely advice, I could have used that on Friday night) Sometimes the solution is so obvious you just don’t see it. I tried it going to bed on Saturday night, and it seemed to do the trick, because I slept like the dead (trying for a cheap laugh here). What I can’t figure out is, was this an “incident” or just the product an over tried mind. I saw no traditional white figure that Hollywood has depicted so well, no evil voices from the darkness saying “get out”, or any floating items. What I did have, was an experience I can’t explain (I have never had a dream repeat an image over and over) and while it was in no way frightening, it still has me wondering what exactly did happen.
Ghosts sound like a topic meant for late night talk radio, and not something that a rational person talks about. Yet here I am doing just that, and the one thing that I keep coming back to is the question:why do ghosts exist? I am in no way a paranormal expert (though I will admit as a kid I loved the TV show “In Search Of” narrated by Lenord Nimoy) so I can’t give a scientific answer to that question. Most likely nobody will ever be able to give an answer to that question. There are many theories about haunting and why they occur, some include victims of murder and the damned souls of their murders, spirits of the dead that still have work here on earth, or that the ghost just doesn’t realize that it is dead.
Purvis Family Portrait – Jim Moran (Flickr)
My personal theory to why a spirit choses to stay long after it has finished it’s time on earth is rather simple, they wish to be remembered. For the most part many ghosts are unidentified, and carry simple names that describe their appearance to us such as the “man in a black cape”. Their historic facts also tend to be totally lacking, or vague at best (victim of murder, or stranded lover forever waiting for their endeared one to return…). It is rare for a ghost story to involve a spirit for which we know all the details, like the name, why they died, and why they are still here. Ghosts are a legion of forgotten souls. Let me ask you this. How often do you think about your great-great-great-grandmother? While she might be listed in the family tree, along with some of her personal history, and (if you are very lucky) an old photo, no one can sit down with you and say “I remember that time when…” She has passed from our living memory. Now think of all the people who have lived and died in this world that also no longer have a living memory as well. That certainly is a pretty big number.
When a person we care for leaves this world, well wishers looking to console us will often say things such as “the person is never really gone if you keep them in your heart”. Does that mean that a small piece of their soul remains with us (bet you never considered that)? And what happens to that piece, when we eventually quit this world as well? (could these lost pieces of soul eventually become a ghost?) Do they become a footnote for our family history, delegated to a box of old photos and papers in the basement or attic? Have they joined the ranks of the forgotten? I like to think that this is too much for some spirits to bear, and that they reappear in the world of the living attempting to be noticed again. We all want someone in our lives who will witnesses our achievements and comfort us in our loses. Why not the same for those who have departed the living? Being gradually forgotten over the course of time, would be traumatic and could make a lost person try to get our attention again.
Of course is just all speculation on my part, but there is a romantic part of my brain that likes to believe this is possible, and that the simple act of remembering allows for a certain amount of immortality. Living on, even if it is just in a memory seems like reason enough for a spirit to come into being. So Irving (if that was you who visited me), I hope you enjoyed our talk. I won’t be back down your way for a few months, but rest easy knowing that I now remember you. If by chance you are up to it in September, you’re welcome to drop by my dreams, but please remember that I still need some sleep so we’ll have to limit the time of the visit OK. As for the living who may read this, try to find a bit of time this week to remember those that have left this world and joined the forgotten. I’m sure they might appreciate it.