Mid-April vibrancy

If there’s something I like on mid- to late- April, it’s that the nature is almost fully awakened after the winter and the trees with their fresh leaves have unmatched vibrancy in their light green colors. It’s something that wants me to spend time outside a lot. Of course, there are years that screw it up sometimes, like last year. Most of the time, fortunately, the time between 20th and 30th April is perfect hike time here.

When I went for a hike in this time last year, I did not make even a single photo. It was cold, remains of the surprising mid-April snowfall and gloomy with mist that would fit November more. Something around 1°C. Yesterday, it was more like early June: 26°C, sunny.

April weather perfection. Photo from 2016

My hike was not supposed to be hard, it was to enjoy the usual April weather, something I did to the fullest. It had some overlap with a hike I did three years ago (minus one day) and I was glad to see some of those places again.

The first rock of the day

The trail led around several smaller rock formations, which is again something I like, more so if they are covered by a few trees that seem to defy logic with where they managed to grow. These places have small disadvantage in limiting photos by the lack of space, but they are nice places all the same.

Eventually, we made it to the second rock formation and the first slight lookout. Knowing there will be better places for observing the landscape later, I was more focused on enjoying the April vibrancy.

It turned out I was probably half a week too late, the birches had their leaves already fully grown instead of just sprouting, at which point they have quite a charming shade of green (as seen on the very first photo to the very left). Maybe the very warm last days affected it, maybe not.

Overgrown abandoned quarry, 4/2015

Then the trail led us around abandoned quarry. Mixture of birches, larches and pines (maybe some other trees as well) grows there almost undisturbed now and create quite interesting scenery.

Same place as above, 4/2018

Just as with birches, larches too have quite charming shade of green when their needles are freshly grown, made even more charming with the growing tiny cones in some kind of purple-ish color I can’t even name. They are also pain to take close-up photo of as the light branches will start swaying on the faintest breath of wind. I gave up when I failed to focus it well for the fifth time.

Then we went to another rock formation. This one had all I liked – could be climbed, had trees growing weirdly in the tight gaps and was decent lookout point.

Spring forests below

From there on, it was mostly walk through the forests for quite a while, until reaching a village with really nervous dog that followed me very loudly for maybe 200 meters until the owner came to scold it and escort it back home. Then, it was through fields a bit, these having their own spring charm as well.

Last ascension after, to a lookout tower built in 2016 (gets me to the point I might as well make a post about the massive growth of these in last years).

And then finally descent to our destination. Apart from the last year, it was as close to perfection as it goes in these days. Maybe too warm for this part of year, I guess I better get used for it again.


And that’s it from this one.

Reader’s thoughts: endings

A question I pondered a few times is: what is a good ending? Eventually, I realized that there are several factors, and that is even for the outcome. “…and they lived happily ever after” might sound like a good ending, but it will help none if it’s reached in a way that makes it feel out of place.

Satisfaction

One of the factors is surely satisfaction. I believe that many people stick with a story to see the bad guy defeated and the problems that arose solved. How the story is told is great part and I would say that the more you can hate the antagonist, the more satisfaction you get from finally seeing him meet the deserved end.

Realism

Satisfaction is good, but the bad guy’s defeat is just a part of it. How the story ends is about more than just that. What went on through the story should be reflected by the ending – it would be weird if a land decimated by wars would suddenly turn into “everything is all nice” with his death, forgetting the destruction. Rebuilding takes time and the outcome should probably reflect that if the damage done was massive.

Cost

This goes with what I mentioned above. It’s pretty much inevitable that characters will die on their way to defeating the antagonist, but even those need to have some sense. I believe that death of each characters should have some point to drive the story forward – to make or break someone. The cost of victory should be related to the power of enemy being fought. Too easy victory will make it look like the problem was inflated, but too high cost could be problem as well.

This also opens opportunities for selfless acts of heroes, going as far as the ultimate sacrifice. In a post I made in 11/2017, I mentioned Kyle Reese from Terminator movie as my favorite example. I might even get back to this topic at some point and make a post more about what I think in this regard.

Balance of power

During a struggle, let alone war, factions with different aims will appear and influence those around. When a faction meets its end, they leave an empty spot that someone will, sooner or later, try to fill. Struggles to take hold of this power vacuum can be base for sequels, but leaving obvious loose ends unresolved will only result in disappointment, more so if the end hints that there will be no sequel but leaves unanswered questions.


So, in conclusion, what matters for the ending (and affects my review and rating) is how much sense the ending makes. If the ending is sad but makes complete sense and the story was done really well, the rating will be high.

If the story leaves several loose ends, more so if they are left to be unresolved, even the happiest ending in the world will not save me from taking % off, no matter how much I might wish for the main characters to live happily forever.

Book review: The blood debt

I followed reading the final book in the trilogy the day after reading the second book. Compared to the second one, the PoV shifts are not that numerous or sudden, but that is great part due to the story converging in two places: around Wulfric and around Rodulf.

Rodulf keeps his scheming and takes it to the next level, resulting to multitude of atrocious acts. Adalhaid is finishing her studies with plan to leave the city as soon as she finishes what Aethelman could not, knowing that she’d not be safe remaining around if she succeeded (and would probably not live long if she failed). She has some obstacles in the way, partially due to the headmistress having some aversion to Northlanders.

In the meantime, Wulfric returns from his journey overseas only to end up tangled in a messy webs of politics and traitors. And as it tends to be, he just can’t kill those, no matter how reasonable his suspicions are, without a proof his enemies are not willing to give.

He is lured away from the city on a quest to find a blade worthy of a hero, realizing it’s a trap but having no choice. He gets some insight and understanding on the way and just as he returns, the story seems to be getting to the finale… which it would be, if not for the narrative, as I mentioned in my review of the second book. It is here when it shows as trouble. When you know that some characters will survive, it kills the surprise.

I also though some characters maybe deserved a bit better end (no spoiler to who) and that the ending, shifted several years later, is quite anticlimactic. One would expect that after dealing with an uprising led by traitor, a monarch aiming for peace would do all in his power to have all the schemers, and especially the head, searched and dealt with at any cost, yet it is not the case here.

The good part was in the head Intelligencier (that’s how the inquisitor-like sect is called) who shows compassion for the sake of his family, realizing that despite what many would think not all magic is bad.


Read date: 11.-12.4.2018
Published: 2.10.2017
Goodreads / Amazon rating: 4,25 / 4,2
My rating: 80%
Length: 376 pages (kindle edition).

My final verdict for the book, and the whole series, is that it was great read that sucked me in, but could be much better if not for the spoiler-ish narration.

Also, I guess this will lead to me writing blog posts about some topics I wanted to cover: my thoughts about PoV/narration and my thoughts about what is (or not) good or satisfactory ending.

Book review: Jorundyr’s path

As I mentioned at the end of my review of “Wolf of the North“, I was tempted to get into the sequel right away, but for reasons delayed that. The story was captivating, so I blazed through the second book in two days, but it had its issues.


Given how the first book ended, with Wulfric at the run (both away from Leondorf and towards his revenge), Aethelman with is own goal, Rodulf scheming more and Adalhaid with her own choices to make, there were many sub-stories to follow.

That itself would not be an issue, but how the PoV shifts were handled was troublesome, often changing several times in a single chapter, something that might confuse some readers. Worst, these plot parts were happening at different places, detached enough that just following one character for a while would be enough – there was no hint that they happened at the same time to require these abrupt shifts (except when they converged, of course). Personally I’d guess they were supposed to build suspense but I did not feel it that way.

The book also showed why I don’t like books told in this kind of retrospective with shifts to the narrator retelling the story much later, for one reason: it is easy way to spoilers, which was the case in this book. As enjoyable as it was, since maybe half of the second book, it turned from “how it will end?” to “how it’ll get there”, which is quite a pity.


Read date: 9.-10.4.2018
Published: 30.5.2017
Goodreads / Amazon rating: 4,15 / 4,3
My rating: 80% (with mixed feelings, 70% of it is immersion)
Length: 368 pages (kindle edition).

Book review: The Wolf of the North

So, I finally got to another book that was on my TBR quite soon after I bought my e-reader… two years ago. Needless to say, I am glad I got to it. Another quick and very good read.

The Wolf of the North starts like underdog story with Wulfric being weak and bullied by older boys in the village and having pretty much only one friend in Adalhaid, girl from the same village. He’s quite the opposite of his father, the village’s best warriors who’s quite disappointed by it.

Eventually, Wulfric starts changing and eventually beats Rodulf, the ‘boss’ of his bully gang, to the point that Rodulf loses an eye and his hopes for becoming a great warrior are crushed forever. Probably very well deserved beating that changes both Wulfric and Rodulf.

Wulfric then starts his training while Rodulf and his father take different path, choosing to pursue wealth and political power instead of physical power and skill with blade.

The machinations of those two eventually start a downhill spiral (won’t spoil the details) and the growing greed of those two causes large amount of grief among the other villagers, Wulfric being one of those hit hardest, of which most was quite cold plan.

At this point I’ll stop when it comes to the story. I must say that I felt Wulfric quite relatable, especially when it came to struggling with his feelings and the hard decisions. The story of Rodulf and his father, with their machinations and growing fall to corruption was likewise well done, to the point of being able to cause countless deaths just to reach their goal.

Small downside was that in the early part of the book, there were one or two points where the shifts to the narrator felt a bit weird. Regardless, second book, here I come!


Read date: 4.-7.4.2018
Published: 8.10.2016
Goodreads / Amazon rating: 4,11 / 4,3
My rating: 95%
Length: 326 pages (kindle edition)

Lowland hills

Sometimes, nature can surprise me more than I’d expect. Some places I’d expect to be either flat or lazily rolling hills with no steep parts, yet I can be proven the opposite. I roughly had an idea where I was to go this Saturday – I planned to go there last year at roughly this time, but weather and then other things happened and I had to postpone it, eventually to the next year at least as the place is nice in early April with the flowers blooming.

Warning: long post with lots of photos.

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Deforested

This will be a post that goes a bit into biology even though it’ll include photos and experience from my hikes. It’s about a fact that places I knew (know) are changing before my eyes, and might as well change forever, voluntarily or not.

Since 18th century, spruce forests started to dominate central Europe. The lumber they produce has wide use and they grow fast in the first 20-25 years. Yet, they have several vulnerabilities, the main one in normal conditions is shallow root system.

Spruces here in central Europe have much more problems. Easy to take root, they started to dominate the landscape, but pollution weakened them, making them easy target for bark beetles. Combined with the larger frequency of dry years in the last 10 years, the shallow roots mean the trees are becoming dry due to lack of moisture and even easier target for parasites. And to top them off (literally, in the end), the increasing amount of strong winds that can uproot the weakened trees or snap them in half.

The most memorable of many was the windy night in late 2004. It hit several places, but the devastation in Slovakian High Tatras was most prominent with strip two to five kilometers wide and over fifty kilometers long. The place changed forever, once shady forests below the hill giving space to low plants.

Tri studničky, Tatranský Národný Park, Slovakia (2017)

What survived the night in 2004 was not much and most of it was taken down by the following two or three nights that came in 2010s  (the second big one was in 2014, almost exactly 10 years later, with several minor in other years). The events, in turn, made the bark beetle infestation even worse as they could use the massive amount of fallen trees to breed even more and make the forests vulnerable for disasters that did not need much time to come.

The problems are even worse in east Czech republic, historically industrial area with pollution problems (even though the situation is getting better). As I mentioned recently, in the last hike I was crossing a place that was formerly spruce forest. Even three years after the 2015 wind, not all the fallen trees were taken away. Infrastructure suffers in turn as the village roads were not planned to carry several trucks with loads of wood every day for months, let alone years. Seeds of other trees are on short supply as the forest owners try to replace the fallen trees with something that would have better chances.

Former forest near Karlovice village, Czech republic (2018, destroyed in 7/2015)

Sometimes, more trees are destroyed before the results of one calamity are dealt with. I can say for sure that hikes when I’d not hear at least distant sounds of chain saw are getting quite rare. Even though making marked trails passable is often done just after clearing the roads, there were times when a trail was closed for three to four months after one windy day.

Destroyed forest near Králický Sněžník, Czech republic (2015, a week after the windstorm)

To make it worse, some places are hard to reach and even clearing the path is complicated, let alone helping the land to recover. The options to get heavy trucks to elevation around 1300 meters when the villages below are around 500 is quite complicated, as the places have roads that can carry an off-road vehicle or snowmobile at most and are used primarily by cyclists.

Uprooted spruces, Sušina peak, Czech republic (2016, year after the windstorm)

A few years ago, spruces made up to 90% of trees. The ratio in cultivated areas is decreasing with each harsh wind (I believe that most of the times it was somewhere between 100 and 200 km/h) as its obvious that re-planting spruces would most likely be wasted effort.


Some places change right before my eyes. What will they look like in a decade or two I don’t dare to guess…