One Hundred Years of Solitude

I saw that title and I knew I had to read it!

I was not disappointed. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, by Gabriel García Márquez, is one of the Fringiest books I’ve ever read!

I highlighted about a hundred passages that could have come straight from THE FRINGE HIKERS, if only I was as clever a writer as Nobel-laureate Márquez. The book is categorized as ‘magical realism,’ which could also perhaps apply to THE FRINGE HIKERS. Both are not quite Tall Tales, but share many elements with the stories of Daniel Boone, Calamity Jane, and John Henry.

It’s about the Buendía family, showing several generations of life in their South American village. Every member of the family, including the founder who crossed the mountains in search of the sea, is exceptional in some way. None have flashy magic, but there are gypsy fortune tellers, impossible weather events (such as four years of constant rain), and supernatural alchemists. What I’d like to talk about most is the magic of fate in this book, since it ties in to my own manuscript.

The founder of the little town is definitely a Fringe Hiker. At one point, he tries to cross the swamp and finds himself lost for weeks. He returns and proclaims it impassable. When his wife heads out, however, she returns in four days bearing trade goods from the village on the other side of the swamp.

He believes in, and experiences, the perversity of the universe. The harder he tries, the more lost he becomes.

He considered it a trick of his whimsical fate to have searched for the sea without finding it, at the cost of countless sacrifices and suffering, and to have found it all of a sudden without looking for it, as if it lay across his path like an insurmountable object.

Much like a Fringe Hiker, his family proves very hard to kill. Not a single soul in the entire village dies in the first ~thirty years of the story. Even the children who grow up to be soldiers survive against impossible odds.

“Tell him,” the colonel said, smiling, “that a person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”

From the moment of birth, they seem doomed to share their father’s curse. Each child is different, but their defining feature is solitude, incarnate in many different ways.

He was silent and withdrawn. He had wept in his mother’s womb and had been born with his eyes open. As they were cutting the umbilical cord, he moved his head from side to side, taking in the things in the room and examining the faces of the people with a fearless curiosity. Then, indifferent to those who came close to look at him, he kept his attention concentrated on the palm roof, which looked as if it were about to collapse under the tremendous pressure of the rain.

At least that’s what I see through the lens of someone who thinks about the Fringe all day.

The writing makes the everyday feel supernatural in a way that really inspires me.

He became lost in misty byways, in times reserved for oblivion, in labyrinths of disappointment.

…that paradise of disaster…

…consuming itself in the inner fire of bad news…

The book shows dozens of the ways in which people deal with loss and eternal hopelessness. How they bear it alone. To me, that’s an appealing side of the coin of disaster.

She asked God, without fear, if he really believed that people were made of iron in order to bear so many troubles and mortifications…

It reminded me a lot of BIG FISH: tall tales, interesting larger-than-life people, intense interpersonal trials. I’m a big fan of ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, and I think I shall have to read it again to find all the patterns and brilliant turns of phrase.

One final note: Unlike THE FRINGE HIKERS, ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE isn’t appropriate for children. It actually gets quite uncomfortable and weird at times. There are entire chapters focused on violence, sex, and incest. But overall, it’s a fun book, the kind where you don’t even need a happy ending.

Happy Towel Day, all you hitchhikers!

Douglas Adams died in May of 2001. We’ve held Towel Day on May 25th ever since, to honor his memory. And not just for his literary contributions, either.

Adams was the author of the influential HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, a sci-fi satire trilogy consisting of at least five books, depending on how you count them. It started as a radio show, actually, and eventually became a miniseries, a mediocre star-studded movie, and a video game.

H2G2 is about a hapless ape descendant, Arthur Dent, on his trip across the galaxy after Earth is destroyed to make room for a hyperspace bypass. Adams embraces the concept of “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and in the least convenient way.”

I love this series and I’ve read the first one at least a dozen times. It’s stuffed with dry humor and lots of really good one-liners. But the plot is really interesting too, once you see past the silliness. I don’t really think that was intentional.

The picture H2G2 paints about galactic hitchhiking culture lends itself really well to references and jokes in pop culture. The hitchhikers have their own vocab, their own ethics, their own philosophies – just like a Fringe Hiker. They accept that life isn’t going to be easy. It’s just the cost of a great adventure: a cost they’re more than willing to pay.

The most useful item a hitchhiker can have is a towel. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about the towel:

A towel is just about the most massively useful thing any interstellar Hitchhiker can carry. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course you can dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase which has passed into hitch hiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.”

So carry your towel proudly today and let everyone see you’re someone who knows where your towel is.

Homes of the Fringe

Fringe Hikers have trouble reaching home.
Some of my Fringe Hikers in the book have iconic homes, such as the cozy cabin in WINTER WANDERER. Or the homey cottage in MOSAIC.

I imagine it looks something like this shelter at the Backbone Ridge Campground in Tennessee.
backbone ridge shelter mossy roof stone chimney
The roof leaks, moss has overtaken it, the stone hearth is the social center of the homey place.

At other times, I’ll see a home and I’ll know in my heart some kind of wanderer or mystic lives there. Someone who doesn’t need thick walls to barricade themselves from nature. Someone whose life experiences have led them away from conformity and then some.

Here are a few examples from my travels on Earth:

Homes Belonging to Hikers

A hunter's cabin on a stony mountain. Not much more than a bed inside, and some pictures of ducks the owner would like to shoot someday.
A hunter’s cabin on a stony mountain. Not much more than a bed inside, and some pictures of ducks the owner would like to shoot someday.
A bold memorial reminiscent of Roman architecture. Up near Virginia's border with West Virginia.
A bold memorial reminiscent of Roman architecture. Up near Virginia’s border with West Virginia.
This amazing home sparked my imagination. I have a little story for each addition, and I love that no two wings are the same. Resourceful people!
This amazing home sparked my imagination. I have a little story for each addition, and I love that no two wings are the same. Resourceful people!
A pagoda where it always rains?
A pagoda where it always rains? I think so.
This stands on Barnrock Road. In reality, I'm sure the stone came first. To a Fringe Hiker, I'd count on the barn coming first and the stone coming in rather violently.
This stands on Barnrock Road. In reality, I’m sure the stone came first. To a Fringe Hiker, I’d count on the barn coming first and the stone coming in rather violently.
This castle in someone's backyard is mostly underground. It's not a tourist attraction or anything. Just someone's pet project.
This castle in someone’s backyard is mostly underground. It’s not a tourist attraction or anything. Just someone’s pet project.
This is more of a fringe hiker's home: a shelter on the Appalachian Trail.
This is more of a fringe hiker’s home: a shelter on the Appalachian Trail.
No comment on this idiosyncratic architecture.
No comment on this idiosyncratic architecture.
This house is barely wide enough to lie down in. Built wayyy out in the country where they don't have, or enforce, building codes.
This house is barely wide enough to lie down in. Built wayyy out in the country where they don’t have, or enforce, building codes.

Animal Homes

We can learn a lot from the animals who can make their homes anywhere. Fringe Hikers all have this talent to a greater or lesser degree, but it doesn’t feel like home to them.

crawfish hole
crawfish hole
Ah, to be able to carry your home on your back like this eastern box turtle!
Ah, to be able to carry your home on your back like this eastern box turtle!
A woodpecker's home. Hopefully a cool pileated woodpecker.
A woodpecker’s home. Hopefully a cool pileated woodpecker.
Or be able to just create a new home whenever? Sounds fun!
Or be able to just create a new home whenever? Sounds fun!
This cicada nymph was a couple feet underground, waiting for the perfect time to emerge. A creature of hope?
This cicada nymph was a couple feet underground, waiting for the perfect time to emerge. A creature of hope?
I don't know what creature lives in this perfect log, but...it's perfect.
I don’t know what creature lives in this perfect log, but…it’s perfect.

The real home of a hiker?

The real home of a hiker is right here, around the fire.
The real home of a hiker is right here, around the fire.