Origin Story: A Parable of Endless Castles

The Personal Library Series

Previous post: The Bought Book

This post is something of a personal aside. If you’re looking for the main line of arguments toward the Personal Library concept, feel free to skip ahead to the next post. This one relates in several ways to the ongoing argument for the personal library, but it’s not clear or concise like I hope my other posts are. It appeals in part to the hollow yearning of a story told—loudly and clearly—to no audience, and it may explain some of the earliest moments that drove me to this subject, or the first time these motivations crystallized into actions and experiences.

It was summer early in high school, about seven or eight years ago now. This is a third of my life, so forgive me any absences of memory. I had tested several half-formed ideas about people and places through Minecraft, alone or with friends. It was always better with friends. I had just discovered reddit and a specific subreddit for solicitations for themed and sometimes highly exclusive Minecraft servers (reddit.com/r/mcservers). One of the best-developed and most exclusive servers, the world of Hermertia was a land of fantastic kingdoms bound to each other and to a sense of real, constructive life by a system of just, overarching rules and the steady priority of deep narrative over all else.

I should note here that upon revisiting the still-standing Hermertia website, (www.hermertia.com) [Note: this site is a reboot, the original forum was projecthermertia.com, and it was indeed discontinued, so I’m not entirely crazy. Unfortunately, most of the old forums and the related wiki has been scrapped entirely, like a tiny digital library of Alexandria burned to the ground…], some of what I wrote in my journal in the following paragraphs isn’t entirely accurate. It is quite probable that I entirely overstate my own importance there, in addition to a few technical and chronological faults. These should be mostly harmless faults, and they all play well into the story, so let’s preserve a bit of creative license…

To join the world, one had to read some of the stories of existing members and weave a compelling and appropriate origin story for oneself. To help with developing the stories and weeding out the riff-raff, a series of technical and essay questions were required in addition. Each application was reviewed by multiple members; some would offer advice to applications that came close but were not quite enough. Most applications were terribly childish and immediately rejected. I would see this even more clearly when I later became one of the main reviewers.

It’s a little amazing that such a place existed. I had the sense as a young teenager that this was a play-place for adults, but I wanted in. The application made it only more appealing, and the rigor convinced me that this community would help me grow as a writer. It takes a certain type of person to undergo an online review criticizing both your logic and creativity in pursuit of entertainment. For me, it was one of those delicious challenges that made everything else seem small and irrelevant in comparison. Certainly, no other experience in Minecraft came close.

I’m not a good architect. This being a Minecraft server, architecture was key, and I knew if I wanted in with my mediocre design skills, I’d need a gimmick—something to get the attention of my reviewers. I found it reading the ongoing stories of the active members of Hermertia.

The Hermertian server had a whole companion website to share and keep track of their convoluted lore as well as to manage the application process. Each kingdom in Hermertia, governed by one or a few real individuals, had a deep origin story. Some nations were born from refugees of religious persecution, many were composed of non-human races. As these kingdoms progressed in the Hermertian world, their background stories translated seamlessly into living histories, some expressed as bard-like epics of the great vision and brave exploits of their leaders, others as if written memoirs directly from the monarchs themselves. Some updates were quite serious: an obituary of a beloved prince slain in a barbarian raid; others were whimsical: a wedding fiasco in which 100 pounds of cake was catapulted across the palace’s great hall, coating the newlyweds and their entire procession in frosting.

Rarely, a well-established kingdom would host an event—usually a festival or political reckoning—that would draw emissaries from their distant neighbors, but otherwise the kingdoms grew independently with large swathes of land and little need to cross borders. Each castle (and they could barely be counted at this point) was built on the prettiest patch of land in a sprawling area. It didn’t help that the majority of cross-kingdom transportation was managed through the nether, an alternate dimension in Minecraft wherein one foot represented ten feet in the overworld. It was often hard to imagine one civilization as having any neighbors whatsoever. As a result, each narrative evolved in a functional vacuum and had no interactions with the others. It lacked cohesion and conflict. Comparison of any real sort was meaningless.

I could have angled myself as a warlord. It would have introduced—forcefully—an appropriate sense of interactivity. I could have created guerilla camps on the borders of nations and wrought a scourge upon the land. Of course, the majority of my work would have to be narrative over physical. There were express rules against simply vandalizing another’s land, but none against establishing a reasonable and warranted class conflict. However, it was generally frowned upon in a land with infinite opportunity available. Moreover, even if my application were accepted, there’s a good chance the vast kingdoms would unite to trounce my little rebellion quite quickly, as they had done with previous dissenters.

Instead, I offered myself to their world as a servant of stories, the first independent librarian. I wouldn’t have a kingdom and castle of my own, like all the others. I would be beholden to my hosts for food and bedding, bind my books from their cows’ leather, and collect my ink on their fishing boats.

In exchange, I would travel their lands, observe their culture, and write stories from an outside perspective, comparing the peoples of Hermertia without bias, as no other could. I was the honored guest, the patient listener. I could tell I was filling an unanticipated void in each kingdom I visited. Often, they would invite me to build a library in their capital, the first building by an outside hand. In these, I stored the many stories they and I had written, many of them dutifully transcribed from the online forums. With time, my personal tale became the most ubiquitous across several nations. I wove their stories into mine, charmed and engaged lonely rulers, and they loved the feeling of connectedness, even when the story no longer explicitly mentioned their lands. I even became a sort of translator and adjudicator when two kingdoms came into conflict. I was a level-headed, culture-sensitive judge. In a world where kingdoms stood on stories, I was one man—the librarian, the keeper, N, the old one, the legend.

Unfortunately, all this fun only lasted for the summer. Fall brought real commitments, and as I visited Hermertia less and less, my name became an echo in a small history. Though not directly related to me, the server became gradually more barbaric and unmanageable as its otherworldly managers spent more of their time away.

I took a few specific lessons from Hermertia that play into this blog series. Stories need audiences, and they thrive when shared and cared for. A little organization can go a long way. People buy into stories that touch them, even if only in passing. What really surprised me was how nobody had thought of building libraries, but once word got out that I was making them, everyone wanted one.  Something about placing the narratives into book form and gathering those books in a dedicated location, even in this artificial world, brought charm and weight to the experience of reading. Being the steward and creator of those places felt good—it was inherently fulfilling. I was the keeper of knowledge, and it made me more powerful in that empty, beautiful world than all the kings combined.


The Bought Book


Post three in The Personal Library Series

Previous Post: Buying Books

I would venture that the path a book takes once purchased depends largely on the context of its purchase (see previous post) and the contents of the book itself. Let’s explore a few plausible scenarios as a lay-test of this concept. Of course, this approach is far from perfect, and it’s the opposite of comprehensive, but I hope it’ll provoke some thought on the fate of the last few books you bought or read.

Let’s say the last Harry Potter book just came out. You and everyone you care about have been anticipating it for weeks. Some of your friends reread every previous book, still others waited all night outside the bookstore for the moment of release. You’re a calm but dedicated fan, and you have all the other books, of course. You but it about a week after release. You read it quickly–it is easy and enjoyable reading, and you don’t want to risk hearing any spoilers before you finish. When you finish, you have to let your little brother read it, and he gets BBQ stains all over a few of the pages, and after him it goes to your cousin. Your aunt knows your family bought every book in the series, so your cousin has always read them second-hand (third-hand if you count little bro’s greasy fingers). Then your mom reads it, quietly and patiently, in the evenings when she has time to sit down. It has rested ever since on the shelf with the rest of the series, the darkening tones on their book jackets reflecting the increasing grave tales they tell.

This story may be common to many families of the 2000’s, and their Harry Potter collections remain intact today, unopened since the last movie came out, probably. Part of the success of these books, I would argue, and especially for the last in the series, is that this story touches on every reason for purchasing a book I described in the last section. Of course, the first book became popular for its contents, but I bet many of us had no notion of the wizarding world until the second or third books had already been published. Anyway, back to the analysis of the story. Autonomy is obvious, as your whole family wanted the autonomy to read the book, and it was scarce and timely since it had just come out, and, importantly, you did not want to hear spoilers until you got the whole story itself. Pride, sentimentality, and a desire to complete the set would have driven you to buy the book even if it were complete rubbish. And of course, when someone writes something so profoundly popular as Harry Potter, everyone wants to contribute their part back to the author, even if she’s already absurdly rich from her earlier books. And it worked, obviously, since we’re still getting original HP-world movies. Anyway, perhaps the most interesting result here is that the book series is nearly perfectly replicated in millions of personal libraries around the world, even though many may never be read again. It’s a little beautiful, wonderfully unifying and familiarizing, and at this point it’s a massive waste of material.

Here’s a less cliché situation: you’re in college, and you’ve been raving to your friends about a book you read for a class. One of your friends recommends a similar nonfiction book–part memoir, part guide to self-improvement with a fascinating look into a technical field you’ve never really considered before, all culminating into surprisingly universal life-lessons. You think about it a bit and realize you haven’t read a book outside a class in ages. You put it on a wish list, and a relative buys it for you at some holiday occasion. (Note: this isn’t quite an independently motivated purchase like previously described; the book is already associated with two individuals in your life.) You read it slowly, except for the last few chapters, which you finish overnight. It was a compelling story, and you remember to thank your friend for the recommendation.

You leave the book on your desk when you finish, and it stays there under a pile of class notes. A month later you recommend it to a friend but never make the effort to follow through. Eventually, you move it to your bookshelf. When your apartment lease ends, it goes to stay in a densely packed cardboard box full of books in your parents’ garage. It fades from your mind–still owned but forgotten. If you were ever home and thinking about it, you might sell the whole box to a used book store, but the moment never comes.

Many books follow this or a similar path. It’s not so flashy as the Hogwarts story, but that’s how real life usually is. When you read the book, it might’ve resonated with you–stirred some passion–but once you finished reading, the book itself had no practical value to you anymore. You might share or discuss the book with someone, and that may briefly rekindle the flame, but the feeling and interest will almost never outlast the physical text itself. In that sense, most books become thoroughly squandered utility. Selling the books recoups some of that utility at the cost of long-term nostalgia. It is an easy solution but not a wholly satisfying one.

Maybe there is a better way to treat our books. It would be more work, but it would be deliberate and far more meaningful. It would need a community, and it would flourish with an app or effective technology to connect that community in the real and digital worlds. It would take a shared commitment to understanding the core purpose of books and the importance in engaging in each other’s stories. It would require a lasting idealism, self-motivated erudition, and conscious curating. It would engender warmth and a humble sense of beauty. It could be the future of literature.


I hope this post has given you a minute to pause and think about where you put that book and what–if anything– you plan to do with it in the future. So many finished books are left by the wayside, and I can’t be the only one who finds that frustrating. So now that you’re actively thinking about that book, are you going to do anything different about it? You can go ahead and sell it. That’s a start. What else could you do with it? I’d like to hear your ideas. I have an idea, if you’ll stick around for it.


Next Post: Origin Story: A Parable of Endless Castles

Buying Books

The Personal Library Series

Previous Post: Introduction to the Personal Library

This is the second post about the personal library. I’ll start tracking them on a separate page soon.

It’s a rainy day in Austin, Texas. Not a good day to bike to work, but a good enough day to sit at your desk at home and read and write. Today’s post is about why we buy books, and it offers several overarching reasons we buy books and some context on what that means. The reasons are biased by my experience, a little pedantic, and far from exhaustive, but they help to justify later arguments on this journey. Here goes.

First, let’s begin with the means of acquiring a book. A book can be bought, received for free, or borrowed. Buying a book implies the greatest amount of personal ownership at the cost of greatest investment. Even a book received freely tends to carry the small burden of previous ownership, with at least the good-faith assumption, usually, that the book will be read by the new owner. Given the free or reduced-cost methods of obtaining a book and therefore accessing the key function of a book — the opportunity to read its contents — we must examine what motivates someone to buy a book in today’s context.

The reasons a person would buy a book are many, and I will attempt to briefly describe and discuss the most currently prevalent reasons I can imagine:

  • Autonomy
  • Timeliness and Scarcity
  • Pride of ownership / Personal Meaning / Credibility
  • Long-term reading or recurring reference
  • Topical Coverage / Perspective / Insight into the Unknown
  • Supporting the author, publisher, bookstore, cause, etc.

Autonomy with a book is the simplest and most encompassing reason for buying a book. When you own a book, you are welcome to read it at leisure, mark your thoughts in the margins, fold corners of pages, and more. If the mood calls for it, you are free to burn your book or toss it into the sea. In a crude sense, you are the book’s master. The open-endedness therein is often reason enough to buy a book.

Timeliness often marks the decision to buy a book. Either it’s a sequel to your favorite novel that you need to read the second it’s released or you need that textbook now so you can study for that test. Timeliness runs hand in hand with scarcity, following that classic economic model of supply and demand. Maybe you’re desperately bored on a cruise so you buy the first thick novel you find at port. let’s face it — with books, as with many media, it is quicker, easier, and more reliable to purchase them than to acquire them any other way. Of course, that’s not always necessarily true.

I propose that the most profound drives for the purchase of books are pride and sentimentality. In the ways they contribute to the amassing of a collection of books, they are nearly indistinguishable except perhaps for the nature of the stories within and their relative prominence on the shelf (pride always rises to the fore). The need to purchase books to fulfill these urges ties back to the sense of autonomy. It also appeals endlessly to the owner’s definition of self — a certain kind of person will own a certain kind of book, naturally. Moreover, a person wants to be seen by others and associated with books that describe them in some way. What better way to establish this connection than by ownership? Often this motivation is unconscious or obscured by more mechanistic reasons, but it plays a role in every book purchased or kept on an individual’s shelf.

On the other side of the spectrum, long-term reading or recurring reference and resource are overt and rational reasons to purchase a book. This is often applied to history books, scientific writing, and textbooks, but it is far more interdisciplinary than that, as an actor will often return to a script or a novelist to an insightful story that informs their writing, often in new ways with each careful review. Such books are integral to education, and they are often read piecemeal or left untouched for years at a time until they are wanted or needed again. However, it is often more worthwhile to have these volumes owned and readily accessible than to have to seek them out anew each time they are needed. To describe the alternatives, and this is relevant even for the long, linear book, borrowed books imply or clearly state an expected point of return. Though libraries have developed methods of renewing a borrowed book with minimal effort when there is no other demand, the act of borrowing remains uncertain and, at best, a minor reoccurring hassle. The longer a book is expected to be used, the greater the worth of a one-time investment. This is an obvious general concept, but it’s important in the upcoming idea of personal libraries.

Another source that drives more “which” books you purchase than “why” you purchase — but the two are so intertwined — is the sense of topical coverage, multiple perspectives, or filling out a perceived unknown space. The sensitivity for a curated consistency. This is also important for personal libraries. I have a friend whose appreciation for science fiction has made me aware of my own deficiency of expertise in literary science fiction, and my father is such a thorough scholar and collector of both Napoleonic wartime history texts and thorough books, both fiction and fact, on exploration-era naval warships that I feel I would be wasting my time to ever start in on those subjects myself. Once one becomes self-aware of the nature or trend of their personal library, it becomes a bit of a calling to them and a beacon to those around them of where to invest in literary purchases and gifts, for better or worse.

Finally, and perhaps my favorite category in these broad, overlapping strokes of reasons for purchasing books, is the altruistically capitalistic decision to buy a book to support a message, cause, author, publisher, bookstore, or some other aspect of the providing process. In some sense, this motivation is unassailable and will live on forever. It is at once impeccably moral, highly privileged, naturally self-serving, and all the other surprising evolution and civilization have led us to be as purchasers, readers, and borrowers of books. The same motivations have driven the U.S. to be an untouchable bastion of culture and pushed capitalism into some of the most unwilling and resistant places in the world. (Note: I think I was thinking about China and North Korea when I first wrote that. Regardless, it’s a strange and largely irrelevant sentence.) Anyway, that’s enough grandstanding. I think it’s good, and it continues to keep books competitive for attention, but it wouldn’t be able to sustain the mass creation and sale of books without all the other motivations.

I’m sure there are plenty more motivations to buy books and some may be wholly independent from the above groups, but these should suffice in the context I am addressing, so I’m moving on to the next argument: what we do with the books we buy and what we should do, if I get that far. This is already taking longer than expected.

If you’re still reading, please consider these questions: Where is the last book you purchased? Have you read it yet? If so, what are you doing with it now? Anything? Have you done anything with that book since you finished reading it? What about your favorite book from five years ago?


Next Post: The Bought Book

The Personal Library Series

Introduction to the Personal Library

The Personal Library Series

I’m about to embark on a mini blog-series about owning books. At this point it’s mostly a conceit–that I have meaningful ideas and perspective on subjects other than science, music, and engineering. There are, after all, people much better prepared to discuss the livelihood of books: authors, publishers, and people who get graduate degrees in library science. However, I’m already enamored with this vision of the personal library in action, and maybe if I share it and you engage with me, maybe even share your thoughts on the idea, it could become more than a conceit–something real.

Anyway, I’ve already written two and a half essays on the idea in my notebook, and I’ve even gone so far as to plot out about eight total relevant posts I could make on the subject, so this will fill out some content on my quiet little blog. I think the diversity of the posts will be entertaining as well. They vary from persuasive essay to personal anecdote to speculative fiction. Maybe the sense of an audience, however invisible, will help keep me on track. I imagine I’ll have to finish this series by the start of the fall semester regardless, since I’ll be much more busy then with classes and the official beginning of graduate school. Nothing beats a good, concise summer project.

Here’s the pitch:

When I think about it, the way we buy, use, sell, and borrow books seems massively under-informed and archaic. Sure we have Amazon, GoodReads, and Kindles these days, even the NYT Bestsellers list to help inform our decisions. But it’s not personalized or curated around the user like so many media-forms today. Maybe it’s because there are simply too many books in the world. Maybe I’m a young, idealistic, well-supported American who can afford to think we should have fancy high-tech communities built around how we use and share books. Maybe there are good reasons why books are both the most used form of social media but also the least efficiently distributed. Think about it. Even with all those powerful book distribution websites, you still get your favorite books from friendly recommendations, mandatory reading for classes, or just wandering around a bookstore. And then once you’ve read the book, you have its neat little carcass of paper and ink to deal with. Meanwhile Spotify, Netflix, Pandora, Pinterest, and Facebook are busting their backs trying to provide a media experience that will appeal to you in cheap, sustainably ephemeral ways. (Note: I need to learn more about how Kindles work to debate this in full.) Why not books?  And why not take it into our own hands? Watch out Jeff Bezos. While you’re building spaceships, I’m going to take your founding industry out from under your feet. (Kidding. That’s not going to happen. I just want to help make books more fun, accessible, and social.)

And here’s a not-specifically-chronological list of some of the ideas my series will cover:

  • Why we buy books. What we do with the books we buy. What should we do.
  • Compare book dissemination to other popular media. Ideas to adopt and avoid.
  • The Personal Library master app and how to build that community.
  • How this idea traces back to my personal experience with a Minecraft microcosm.
  • What if books could talk to us?
  • The most visceral relationship I’ve ever had with a particular book
  • The implications and possible results of personal libraries. Shortcomings and Limitations?

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for now. I already have the first essay prepared in my notebook, so I’ll be rolling that out pretty soon. My question for you to think about until then is this: why would you buy a book?

Next Post: Buying Books

The Personal Library Series

Full Day in a New City

My alarm blares at 8 AM. I yell at it, and it goes silent. I sleep for an hour then lay in bed another thirty minutes. My Facebook post about the space force last night had sparked a minor controversy. I am in no rush; I have no obligations this morning. However, I received an email from a senior grad student asking if I was meeting with our professor that morning. I reply ‘no,’ but the email reminds me that I am still setting first impressions, so I hurriedly prepare to head to campus. I feed the fist and the cats. Speckles follows me around yowling for attention. I throw the spam musubi I made last night in the side pocket of my bag as an emergency snack. I don’t feel like I have time for oatmeal, so I leave for my fifteen minute bike commute.

When I arrive, I am told our professor won’t be able to meet with me today or tomorrow. I am not sure what to do, so I start my other project, ensuring I can take Korean classes in the fall. I walk to the Asian Studies department, accompanied by a light rain. I did not bring my rain jacket. Once there, I am briefly pin-balled around between staff members until I meet Jeffery, a tall, athletic black man with a big smile and dreads, dressed in a UT track suit. Jeffery is from Boulder, and he helps me sort everything out, except I need to lift my departmental registration bar and return at 1 PM so the Korean professor can evaluate my prior experience.

I return to my office – no rain this time – and send an email to Lacy about the registration bar after asking John for a little more advice. After checking my email, I run down to Lacy’s office, but she is not there. I go to the lab’s miniature kitchen and microwave then wolf down my spam musubi. It’s a mess, but nobody sees me, and I quickly clean up. When I return to the office again, John and Drew are discussing training on two machines that later turn out to be one with two functions. I ask to join them, and plans are made for 4 PM. I begin to work on online university employee ethics training, but Lacy replies to my email asking me to come talk to her before her lunch at noon. It is 11:45 so I go. She, the coordinator, cannot lift the bar without the approval of the graduate adviser, which is fine – just another set of emails. I return to my office and finish the online training just in time to go to the Asian Studies department – this time with my jacket.

It does not rain for the rest of the day. Jeffery is not in his office, s I wait in the corridor, reading some of Hemingway’s tiny first novel. When he arrives (Jeffery, not Hemingway) after thirty minutes, he takes me up to see the Korean professor. She asks me questions in Korean, and I reply in broken Korean littered with English, eventually transitioning to entirely English as I explain that for all my experience with Korean I would be more than happy starting from step one. She eventually agrees that would be best, and I return to Jeffery, who tells me he can get me in the class, but I should try to the lift the bar sooner rather than later.

After talking with Jeffery, I walk to a Japanese restaurant John recommended earlier. There are so many restaurants near campus. A nice girl explains the menu for me. I eat and read and tip her on the way out. Back in the office I send emails, check emails, plan my courses for the fall semester, and note that the controversy on my Facebook page has devolved into bickering between two people who are complete strangers to each other. I consider taking a nap at my desk for the half-hour prior to the 4 o’clock training. Instead, I change into pants so I can enter the lab and begin to skim two papers by another member of the lab while listening to John talk to his many undergraduate assistants. He’ll make a great PI.

John hands me a stack of technical notes on the equipment from Angela that we promptly ignore as he goes on to explain how everything works. He demonstrates in the lab on some of his samples, and I am stunned by how powerful the externally simple machines is. I realize the materials characterization I preformed in my previous lab was child’s play. I am not sure how to feel.

Just after the training I bike home. Speckles yowls, and I change into a swimsuit to go waterlining at the boardwalk. I park at the recommended location and walk the trail, appreciating the scenery. No slackliners are there, so I text the ringleader and he explains that rain ruins the water for up to 48 hours. He wants to try highlining when we eventually meet. On the return walk I think of my mom and call her. No answer. The climbing gym is nearby, and there’s a Taco Bell on the way, so I head in that direction. My mom calls back as I am sitting in my car outside the gym eating a mutilated (them, not me) black bean quesarito. We talk briefly because I am eager to climb.

I climb until my arms ache but don’t push it further. I don’t need to hurt myself right now. I drive home. Speckles yowls, and I give in and pet her for a little bit. The purring starts immediately and fills up her tiny little body. I don’t understand, but maybe she gets lonely in this big empty house while I am gone all day. her sister never seems to leave her bed. I shower, then I write.

It is nearly 11 PM, and I have much more to do tomorrow, so I’m going to bed.

^Copied from my personal notebook last night. I wanted to see if I could remember my entire day and write about it in a style similar to Hemingway’s. I like how it feels both personal and objective. I am not sure I like the use of present tense.


It’s been a while since I’ve written for my own sake. I use personal writing most often to vent ideas, either through blogging or composing, and today was a good day as any to do both. Tomorrow I move to Austin to begin my professional career as a scientist in earnest. Today I am home, jet-lagged from yesterday’s return from a fantastic vacation in Hawaii, and eager to begin anew.

Today’s piece is called sunshine because it feels incredibly bright and simple. It’s a waltz of sorts, and I can only hope somebody dances to it someday. Part of the piece came to me when I was playing around in a music room during my last week of undergraduate, and the rest came in a rush today at my piano, prompting me to reinstall Finale and put the notes on paper.

As I was reinstalling Finale, I found that I had deleted all my old pieces when I switched everything else to my new laptop. I felt a small void open in my gut. The folder wasn’t in my back-up hard drive. I had already reformatted my previous laptop for my brother to use. Even the desktop I had first composed with in high school had been erased so my great uncle could use it. I found a massive zip file on my Google drive titled BackupDocs and downloaded it. I paced in nervous circles as it downloaded for twenty minutes. Nested in an folder marked ‘other’ in the download, I found my finale files. Five years of amateur composing were mercifully saved, except for the last thing I had been working on, a half-finished piano arrangement of Cat Steven’s “Miles from Nowhere” I had spent about 20 hours working on over the last year for my dad. Better than losing everything.

Sunshine isn’t that hard to play. The hardest part is the bouncing left hand covering bass and chords. The melody rings lightly above it, usually a single note at a time. It moves more quickly than a typical waltz so the melody never fully fades from the ears, and the alternative key has a few surprises in store that keep it whimsically upbeat. It’s my favorite composition yet, although it doesn’t have much competition.

I hope in the coming days, months, years, I find time to write and play piano. I’m not sure what lies ahead in my life and work, but I’m excited to be on the road to find out. (Cue the lively piano refrain of “Miles from Nowhere”)

Here’s “Sunshine” as a downloadable pdf or as images:


Arboreal Admiration

I spent a late May Wednesday afternoon taking pictures of trees. Trees’ trunks, specifically. I began the first of several trips to catalog the trees I’ve climbed and will climb for this guide/collection. I’ve never pretended to be a good photographer, but this project continues to push me outside my comfort zone. I thought it might be embarrassing, walking around taking candid shots of these immobile giants, but it quickly became a very relaxing walk. OU’s campus is prettier in summer without the currents of student cortisol coursing between classes. I talked with a nice old man who was feeding the squirrels.

When I started, I just wanted a picture of each tree for the record. That evolved to include bark types and examples of holds, so the project grew, as with all my projects. Here’s a ton of pictures of trees:

King Tree, No FA, center of the courtyard east of the library


I started with the King Tree, because why not. It’s massive, offering at least twenty feet of quality trunking. I haven’t tried climbing it yet, because it’s incredibly intimidating. I think I’d want at least four crash pads in case of a fall. It is the most “highball” route OU has to offer. However, its bark is sturdy, rugged, and all-around fantastic for a brave climber.


Duckie, FA: Suds, just south of the library, on the left if facing the south oval


Duckie, or Lil’ Duckie begins with a fun throw to a sloper for us shorter fellows (the bottom edge of the stump pictured above), followed by a short but delicate traverse to the right limb.

Foie Gras, FA: Matt, just across the library entrance walkway from Duckie


Foie Gras has an easy line under the lowest branch or more difficult lines on the other side. A traditional trunk.

DSCN0610 The bark of Foie Gras has a typical oak-y pattern. Tough with just enough edge for a few choice crimps (Thumb for scale).

What’s for Lunch?, FA: Suds, due southwest of Foie Gras, across the east-west walkway


What’s for lunch? has a fantastic set of gnarls just above the first limb.  It has two good lines: directly under the lowest branch, swinging to the right to top out, and up the south face.

The next set of images were of an unnamed tree, a hackberry whose bark is too rough and fragile to be practical for trunking. It had a very photogenic squirrel. . .

School-bus, FA: Suds, near the northwest corner inside the south oval

School-bus is one of my favorite trees. It has giant features, durable bark, and plenty of ways to ascend. It is an easy trees to climb, but it remains charming. It is among the few climbing-friendly hackberries.

Mother of All, FA: Nate, stands out as the largest tree on the south oval

Mother of all is the beautiful behemoth that got me started on trunking. It stands tall near the center of the south oval, with clear routes on the east and southwest faces and a trickier path on the northwest face. It features deep crack features and grippy branch stumps. Its thick bark makes it near-impenetrable to harm from trunking.

Two Stumps, FA: Matt, due west across the south oval from Mother of All

Two Stumps is the patron tree of slacklining on the south oval. It also features a fun technical problem where you can only hold the lower stump and a stump off the first large branch to ascend. Its metal placard was recently destroyed, but it is a Shumard Oak.

Just south of Two Stumps we have the other patron tree of slacklining. It’s unnamed because its bark is not appropriate for trunking, but it can be climbed with a running jump to the first branch.

Huecos, FA: Nate, a ways south of Mother of All

This beautiful tree features two rotted-out “hueco” stumps perfect for some dynamic throws to get up the trunk. It’s a sweetgum tree with very dense, almost spongy bark.

Barkfoot, FA: Nate, between the Glitch and the architecture building

Barkfoot is a nasty route that convinced me not to climb hackberry trees. It has rough and brittle bark. Climbing it will hurt both you and the tree, and the tree is already in a questionable state.

Uncle Alligator, FA: Suds, across the walkway from barkfoot, inside the south oval

Uncle Alligator defies its species as an excellent route with some flavor. The knobs make for interesting slopers, and the proudly extending lowest limb, like a ship’s prow, makes for a challenging top-out.

Huckleberry, FA: Nate, large tree beginning the south half of the south oval

Huckleberry, like school-bus, features absurdly friendly holds around its base and trunk. It really demonstrates the bouldering-like features available to trunking, demonstrated by the undercling and pocket pictured above.

A previously unclimbed tree caught my eye on this photographic adventure. Whatever prompted its trimming, it reminded me that these trees are living, changing beings, For better or worse. That means the routes change too. Once these cuts heal, this may prove to be a fantastic new trunking route.

Stumplestiltskin, FA: Nate, beside Gaylord College in the south oval

Last but not least, Stumplestiltskin demonstrates perfectly just how interesting a trunk can be. With crimps, slopers, and edges to spare, plus plenty of height to the first crown, it provides a healthy challenge that just feels good to climb.


That wraps up my first collection of tree-pictures. Most of these trees I’ve climbed, and I’m itching to try the rest. These trees are beautiful in themselves, but they also have so much potential for climbing. They’re all conveniently collected on campus, too, with plenty of grass around them to set up crash pads and manage falls safely.