Love Letter

Being away from Astrid reminded Hiccup of losing his leg. At first it was painful but after a while the pain was replaced by an overwhelming feeling that something vital was missing.

His mind played their goodbye over and over again, each time focusing on a different detail; the colour of her hair in the soft morning light, her fond smile, the gentle curve of her belly. These thoughts were preferable to listening to the Meathead chief ramble on about their new method of grainery dispersion.

The gathering of the chieftains was a monumental affair, the most important men and women of the archipelago coming together to form new alliances for their villages. Berk’s dragons were still something of an oddity and from the moment Hiccup’s feet touched the earth he’d been bombarded with questions. As much as he hated to admit it, Hiccup knew he could do more as a dragon advocate here than at home with his pregnant wife, but it didn’t make the loneliness easier to bear.

A week after he’d arrived and the gathering had become less about politics and more about drinking. The hall stunk of smoke and charred meat but there was an ease in the air; grudges settled and tension done away with. Hiccup laughed along as a large Berserker told crude joke after crude joke.

“Chief Hiccup!” The sound of someone shouting his name cut through the noise and brought Hiccup to his feet. It was one of the children who’d been camped around Toothless since their arrival. The little girl crossed the room full of drunken vikings with a determination that reminded him of Astrid, ducking and dodging any obstacle that appeared in her path.   

She reached him and grinned excitedly. “We were playing with Toothless and a Terrible Terror flew down and it had this letter so I thought I should bring it to you.” He thanked her and took the letter. The little girl scampered off, probably back to her friends.

One look at the handwriting and he knew the letter was from Astrid. Not trusting himself in public, he quietly slipped from the room and made his way back to his quarters. He wasted no time opening the letter as soon as he was alone in his room.

Dear Hiccup,

You’ve only been gone a day and there are already so many things I wish I could talk to you about. The twins filled Gothi’s hut full of rotten fish and the smell is so strong I can smell it as I sit by the fire. Snotlout and Fishlegs are butting heads again over who should teach the academy’s class on Nightmares. Your mother, Gobber and I have kept Berk in one piece so far. I wish you were here so we could laugh about everything as we eat our dinner. Eating in the Great Hall just isn’t the same.

It’s not always easy for me to put into words how important you are to me. You’re my husband and I love you but I don’t think I’ve ever said how much I need you. It’s only been a day and yet I feel like my heart’s been carved out of my chest. I miss you so much and I need you to hurry back to me, as quickly as you can.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to send this letter, if I’ll be able to let you see it. But I felt the baby moving for the first time today and I needed you to know how I feel.

Your Loving Wife

He barely finished reading the last word before he was shoving his possessions in his bag and getting ready to go back home.


#TravelTuesday with Guest Photographer Bob Wick through Southeastern Utah’s Red-Rock Riches!

Moab, Utah is synonymous with slickrock canyons and public land adventure sports. One could fill a novel with nearby public land recreation opportunities within a stone’s through of town. But for this trip, we’ll use Moab as a jumping off point to head further south into more remote canyons and mesas of Southeast Utah. 

Between Moab and Montecello is the immense Canyon Rims Recreation Area. It offers top-of-the-world vistas of vast the labyrinth of Colorado River Canyons including several BLM wilderness study areas and the east side of Canyonlands National Park.  The BLM maintains two primitive campgrounds on the rim, which are open from May to October and can serve as a base for exploration – although the views from the campgrounds themselves are so spectacular that there is no need to go far for stunning photo opportunities. More adventurous explorers can search the canyon rims for that perfect photo angle in the ever-changing light on the multi-hued red rocks.

Next, continue south to Cedar Mesa to visit one of the most significant cultural history locales in North America. This area was occupied by Ancestral Puebloan Native Americans, often called the “Anasazi”, between 800 and 2,000 years ago. Remains from their civilization are located throughout the canyons that dissect the mesa, and it is very moving and humbling to stand among them. Cliff dwellings, graineries and other structures are extremely well preserved and perched under overhangs in the cliffs. Amazing pictographs and petroglyphs can also be found here.  All of the sites require moderate to arduous hikes into the canyons and even multi-day backpacks are popular in Grand Gulch.  Due to the significance and fragility of the sites, you must obtain a permit for use of the area and numbers are limited during peak seasons. Plan ahead and also stop by the Kane Gulch Visitor Center for the latest information. 

Driving further south along Cedar Mesa, Highway 261 eventually reaches a lip that seems like the end of the earth – the mesa drops 1100 feet straight down to the desert below with the buttes and spires of Monument Valley visible in the distance.  The curiously named “Moki Dugway”, a bit of a white-knuckle route carved into the escarpment, allows you to drive down the cliff face to the valley below. A short drive further takes you to the Valley of the Gods, a hidden gem with scenery similar to that of nearby Monument Valley. Valley of the God’s isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and tall cliffs offer endless photo angles.  A 17 mile drive circles the valley and more adventurous explorers can go into the Road Canyon Wilderness Study Area for backcountry hikes.

Photo Tips: Often the best and most unique photo angles in Utah’s canyon country and other western landscapes require traveling far off the pavement on remote back roads, then hiking away from your vehicle. I often use web-based aerial image programs (like Google Earth) to scout areas before trips for the best potential photo spots. Safety should always be front in these remote places.  Even renowned western author and explorer Edward Abbey spoke of some close calls in the desert in his book Desert Solitare.  I always tell someone where I am going with as many specifics as I can. Most importantly I tell them when I plan to be out and when I will contact them.  I always carry a GPS emergency locator unit, and I can use that to check in with family each night while on extended trips when I am out of cell range. I also carry enough clothing and water to be able to be on my own without help for several days. Finally, I mark my vehicle location with a GPS waypoint so that I can find it when I am hiking back in the dark after an evening photo shoot!

Check out our @esri Southeast Utah multimedia storymap for more stunning photos, videos, helpful links and maps of the area:

Inari, Fox Spirits

The raws have revealed that the destroyed shrine where Arima and Eto met is flanked by fox guardians associated with the god Inari. 

It’s suggested that they were once solely an agricultural deity, worshipped in hopes of a good harvest. Over time, the spread of Inari throughout Japan resulted in an array of new interpretations, including the role of protector of warriors, patron of actors and prostitutes, and bellwether of long life. Eventually it became known as the deity of desire fulfillment, and today is typically viewed as the Shinto kami of prosperity. 

The fox guardians were believed to be Inari’s messengers, and represent both malevolence and benevolence in an act of balance, as all variants of komainu do. They are often depicted holding a wish-granting jewel, a key to a rice grainery, scrolls, sheafs of rice, or a cub beneath it’s foot (representing the cycle of life).

So here Eto and Arima stand, in the neutral no-man’s land of a shrine dedicated to granting wishes. They are neither enemies nor comrades, good or evil, but merely two beings who share a common desire to change the world they live in. 

They made a pact to connect, to bring forth a life that would prosper and fulfill their wishes. Eto, who planted her seeds of fire and strength…

and Arima who helped them grow…

in a bizarre act of coordination between two parties that shouldn’t have existed. In truth, though, what they wanted is really no different than what any other character in the series hoped for.