christmas wolves part 3

(Every traditional Christmas story is open to debate … the traditional Kekionga Christmas story continues)


Clap. Clap. Clap.  Iowa heard the “slow clap” applause behind her and didn’t even have to turn around to know who it was.

“Very nice, Ms. Ginsberg. Well done.  You’re certainly ready to go back to Story Hour whenever you like.”

“No thanks, sir.  Never again.  But Shelley’s telling “Christmas Wolves” at the Winter Folklore Fest next month, and she’s practiced it on Gale and me so often that I couldn’t help learning it.”  Shelley could sometimes get a little intense about her projects, but, hey, roommates.

“Ms. Berry should do well with her rendition.”  Her boss, Professor Lykander, joined them on the bench without an invitation.  He was wearing a rather disturbing red and green felt elf hat and, even worse, had transformed just enough to add a pair of hairy pointed ears.  The teeth, also slightly transformed, were just the final touch.

“That’s my very favorite Christmas story,” the Professor went on.  “There are so few folk stories where the wolves are the good guys, much less tales with heartwarming holiday content.”

“I’m sure that’s true.” Iowa replied, willing him to ease off because she really didn’t want to have to explain him to Jack, who was looking at him with mild curiosity, no doubt wondering what unfamiliar local Christmas character cosplay combined an elf hat with furry brown ears and plastic vampire teeth.

“The part where the wolves eat the Christmas dinner is my favorite.”  The Professor smiled at her (with all the teeth), declaring his intention to push it.  Thanks a lot, sir. “That is, of course, if the Christmas wolves were natural wolves at all.”

Jack smiled at him, with his usual “my girlfriend’s library assistantship is great for her academic career, and her boss is a really smart guy but a bit of an oddball,” expression.  “What do you mean, Professor? What other kinds of wolves are there?  I guess they could have been Christmas spirits, like in Dickens. Or maybe ghosts or something, but then they wouldn’t have left tracks or been able to eat the Christmas dinner.”

“Think about it, Mr. Swann.  All the versions of the story that I’ve ever heard emphasize the fact that there was a full moon that Christmas Eve.”

Jack thought about that for a moment.  Iowa waited for him to put two and two together.  Finally. “Werewolves you mean?” Jack chuckled to himself at the absurdity of his own question. “Would old-timey settlers have mixed genres like that?  Putting werewolves in a Christmas story sounds more like something a modern fantasy writer would do.”

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christmas wolves part 2

(Our Kekionga Christmas story continues.)

christmas-jack2-use this-blog

“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of the Christmas Wolves.” Iowa was slightly amazed.  “It must really be a local thing.”

“Sorry, never heard of them,” Jack replied, shrugging in an embarassed sort of way.  “They look cool, though.  Very …lupine. But very Christmassy.  Never seen anything like them.  So they’re characters from a story?”

“They certainly are,” Iowa replied, and she led Jack over to a park bench between two of the wolves. “Want to hear it?  You can’t really have a Kekionga Christmas without the Christmas Wolves”

“Yes, please, Miss Iowa!” Jack imitated the audience at Story Hour at the Public Library during Iowa’s brief internship in the Children’s Department and earned himself a light kick in the shin as he sat down.

“Hush now,” she said, in a quite professional voice, “And I will tell you a story.

“Back in the earliest part of pioneer times, before Kekionga itself was founded, even before the new United States had started to show much interest in what would become Indiana, the first settlers lived in scattered settlements all around what is now Salt County.  Just one or two families in a little clearing, maybe a mile or two from their nearest neighbors.  A lot of them didn’t know each other very well—they came from all kinds of places and some of them thought the others were … strange.

“Then there came a winter that was much worse than the previous ones.  This still happens today: winters come along in clumps, and when a harsh one comes after several mild ones, people can be caught unprepared, especially newcomers.  So when the lake effect snow started to pile up early in December and some domestic animals and even a couple of people had already died, the settlers got frightened and sent messengers around the the settlements  and they finally decided to hold a meeting at the Deer Tavern, which was pretty much the only gathering place there was.”

Jack looked down the block, where the Third Deer Tavern occupied the space between the bike shop and Iowa’s favorite café, The Beanery.  “Yes,” Iowa said.  “It was right there, a big log building where the Old Fox Road passed through the district.

“At the meeting, the settlers voted to move in closer together and winter over in the Tavern and a couple of big houses that had been built over the summer, so they could pool their resources and protect each other other and their animals.  The snow got deeper and deeper and even the short journey in from the clearings was frightening, but by Christmas everyone was gathered in, even the animals, the cows and the sheep and the horses.  The men fenced some big corrals for them, and the women and children built them shelters out of pine branches and chopped up turnips for them to eat and melted snow for them to drink.

“Then on Christmas Eve it got terribly cold.  There was a full moon, and all around the Tavern and the houses packed full of people, and the corrals packed full of horses and cows and sheep, from Mystery Hill and Rook’s Hill and all the high places along the Terminal Moraine as far as Balancing Rock, wolves started to howl.  So many wolves, and they were howling so loudly that the animals panicked and knocked over the fences, which had been built very quickly, of course, and all the horses and the cows and the sheep stampeded away out into the snowy woods.

This was a disaster. The wolves were sure to eat all the animals, which the settlers needed to work the land and give them milk and wool, and without them things were going to be very bad even if everybody lived until spring.  The men were getting ready to go after them, and the wolves, with their guns when it started to snow again.

“The women and children made the men put their guns away and come to bed.  Having their animals freeze or be eaten by wolves would be bad, but having their husbands and brothers and fathers freeze or get eaten by wolves would be worse.  But a few teenage boys and girls stayed up and watched, thinking that if the snow stopped the search party could still go out.

“So they were awake to see the sky clear up, and the moon come back out, and the howling start again, as the wolves drove the animals back to the corrals and stayed by the toppled gates, pacing and growling, keeping them inside until, very timidly, the young people crept out of the taverns and the houses.  They were terrified, but the wolves stepped back and let them come closer, and they were brave enough to put the fence rails into place and set the gates back up, and close them.  The wolves never touched or threatened them,  and as soon as the pens were secure, they ran off.

“But they didn’t go far.  The wolves clumped together on a little hill nearby and howled in the moonlight for a long moment before fading into the woods.

“By then, the adults had woken up and the boys and girls told them what had happened.  Nobody wanted to believe that wolves had actually done what they had done, but the animals were in the corrals and the snow all around was thick with wolf tracks, so the evidence was there.  The settlers decided to thank the wolves by making a second Christmas dinner for them and they put it out for the wolves the next night, at a safe distance from the animal pens, of course.

“The winter eased up after the new year, and the settlers returned to their homes.  But after that Deer Tavern and the little hill where the wolves had howled were the center of a new community, and well, you know what happened after that.

“And to this day, when it snows hard on Christmas Eve in Kekionga, you can hear the Christmas Wolves howling in the wind, and  if you do, you might put out some of your food on Christmas night to thank them.”

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christmas wolves, part one

(Part one of our classic Kekionga Christmas Episode, the story of the Christmas Wolves.)


Iowa Ginsberg walked through downtown Kekionga, enjoying the weekend-before-Christmas holiday atmosphere with the glorious smug relief of someone who had finished her last exam yesterday.  Finals were over and it was almost Christmas—what else did a person need?

Except maybe a headband with reindeer ears and antlers and a green and red scarf that looked quite cute with the camel colored cashmere sweater you’d gotten as an early Christmas present from your boyfriend. Well, it was more “web safe tan” than camel, but it was cashmere and really warm and soft and Jack had declared he was celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas with twelve presents for his Best Girl, the sweater being number three in the series.  Iowa knew, of course, that the Twelve Days of Christmas were technically the twelve days after Christmas, between that holiday and the feast of the Epiphany, but she was not going to ruin Jack’s romantic idea with trivial details.  (Also, presents.)

She turned onto Lincoln and crossed the street to the Courthouse square. The Parks Department had finally finished the decorating. From the red and green lights in the Bell Tower to the white ones in all the windows and the strings of little blinkers wound around the banisters and strung through all the trees and bushes, the red sandstone bulk of the Courthouse looked fairly festive.  And, two on each side of the square, facing the street, were the topiary wolves, slightly larger than life size, decorated with burlap harnesses lined with silver jingle bells and wearing red Santa caps trimmed with fluffy white fur.

Iowa loved those wolves   They’d been there every year since she could remember, watching over the town in every direction.  It wouldn’t be Christmas without the wolves.

“Hey, Iowa!”  She turned around, and there he was, only slightly late, and dressed up as she’d reminded him.  Jack had never spent the holidays in Kekionga before and he’d had no way of knowing that you always wore something Christmassy when you came downtown to shop and look at the decorations on the “Saturday before.”  He hadn’t done anything elaborate, but he looked handsome in a green sweater under his usual grey hoodie and a Santa hat like the ones the wolves were wearing.

(Very handsome.  Really.  He was seriously a bit of a dreamboat, and no one had any business looking that … attractive in a Santa hat.  You go, Iowa.)

“Uh, Iowa?” he asked, looking charmingly baffled.  “The … plant sculptures? Are those wolves?”  Wow.  It really was his first Christmas in Kekionga.

“Of course they are.  They’re the Christmas Wolves.”


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public holiday decorations in kekionga

(The second introduction to the classic Kekionga Holiday Episode, which really does start tommorrow.)

Yes. In Kekionga, they’d be wolves.


One of the topiaries on the courthouse square in Kekionga.

Starting tomorrow: Christmas Wolves.

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on public holiday decorations

(Our annual holiday daily blog begins again, with the introduction to the Official Kekionga Christmas Episode.)

christmaswolves-photo4-blogThese photographs were taken last year, when the powers that be in our town in Northwest Indiana decided, for reasons best known to themselves, to decorate the courthouse square with festive holiday topiaries in the shape of hunting dogs on point, slightly larger than life size.

My first thought was that in Kekionga they would definitely be wolves.


(More to come.)

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happy buddha grape! the blog returns!

The blog reappears to say we are sorry there has not been a blog and try to explain why.  The reason there has not been a blog is because we have had Technical Difficulties.  So many Technical Difficulties.  You do not want to hear about these Technical Difficulties, a) because they are boring and b) because I made several stupid mistakes dealing with them that made them worse.  There are much funner things to write about than stupid mistakes.

Like Happy Buddha Grape!  Happy Buddha Grape is a little Happy Buddha that we all collectively pretend is made of grape flavored … something, and he goes around having weird little adventures which are documented by his personal photographer, me.  Follow the adventures of Happy Buddha Grape (among many other photographic enterprises) on my photography Instagram, @yardcoyote.

There.  The blog is back, and real news is coming.

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happy thanksgiving: handprint turkey in flight

Just a brief note to let you know that I did not forget to draw my annual handprint turkey for you this year, and to wish my blogsters, far and near, a happy American Thanksgiving.

Yes, turkeys can fly, or at least the wild ones can.  The altitude is purely imaginary.  Lined notebook paper is a traditional medium for drawings of this kind.

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scary apples

I’ve made up my mind.  I’m going to buy an iPad and install Procreate on it and use an Apple Pencil to draw some little doodle comics. I’m not planning to replace my natural media cartooning– I bleed wet ink and that’s all there is to it– but I am ready to learn something new, here on the trailing edge of technology.  At this time in my life, I want to become as technically adept as a middle schooler, yay me.  Any advice is more than welcome,

Plus, of course, I have an idea for a new take on my cartoon world, and this one demands digital art and a web presence.  You will see it here as soon as it starts to happen.

But I have to get there first and  right now the whole prospect is at a really scary point. I am scared of picking out the wrong hardware, about getting it up and running, and about learning to draw all over again for what, the third or fourth time?  Augh.  Pure terror.  But I know it is good for me, and I am going to persist.  And still, she persisted.  With an iPad.  Augh.

The illustration is the only drawing I have ever made (so far) specifically about scary apples.

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halloween, two weeks later– a 15 minute fiction

  • Hey, look at the illustration for my Halloween story!
  • Halloween was two weeks ago.  It’s the middle of November and the snow plow just went through.
  • But the spiders on the porch caught a Horsehead Skeleton!  It’s an archetypical Local Spook with a complicated folkloric backstory that I haven’t made up yet!
  • It’s a plastic skeleton with a rubber horse mask on.
  • It’s a representation of a Horsehead Skeleton. Those aren’t real spiders either, duh.
  • But that doesn’t even make sense.  If it’s a horse-headed skeleton, its head would be a horse skull, not a whole horse head.
  • But then I’d have to learn to draw a horse skull, and look up actual references and all that stuff.
  • Stop whining.  Here.
  • Oh, you think you can solve everything with your fancy new searchable camera roll on your fancy new phone.
  • Not to mention the sepia film simulation on my camera.  Oh, and I wouldn’t turn around if I was you.
  • Why wouldn’t I want to turn around?

  • I told you not to turn around.
  • Happy two weeks after Halloween, everybody.
  • You know I’m scared of creepy dolls …
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“this halloween in Kekionga” : our classic holiday episode

(It has been quite an October.  Inktober took a lot out of me, and some other stuff was happening too.  The blog will be back to its usual abnormal normal soon.

But today, as the early darkness gathers around us and it begins to snow, please enjoy a “rerun” of A Cartoonist in Kekionga’s classic Halloween Episode, “This Halloween in Kekionga”, originally posted on this date in 2015 …)

This Halloween in Kekionga

You know that guy who lives in the double house down in the middle of the block on Shakespeare Street?  The really tall guy who fixes up antique radios?  He does programs at the library sometimes, where he brings in a radio and plays all kinds of crackly old shows; they’re like stories acted out with sound effects and music and they’re quite interesting.


His house is always a good one to visit on Halloween.  This year he had one of his radios playing on the porch with a purplish light on top of it, and a purple light in his street light.  It was a really simple style compared to the elaborate setups his neighbors had, with pull-apart giant spider webs and and fake tombstones and about a million plastic skeletons, but that made it even creepier.  And the darker it got, the creepier it was.


Instead of one of the horror story programs he’d played this week at the library, the radio was playing some really weird music, sort of spooky and delicate at the same time.  Nina said it sounded like old Victorian china dolls dancing in black lace dresses, and Mr. Spit made her shut up because the image in his head was creeping him out.

When we knocked on the door (that’s what the sign said to do), he did that thing with making a face in a weird colored light that some grownups do, and even though you are half expecting it, it always makes you jump.

Halloween2015-black and white-blog

But he gave out some awesome treats, peanut butter Snickers and Twixes and mini bags of Fritos and Doritos,  so we were OK with it.

Halloween2015-good night

So Happy Halloween from the Old Radio Guy’s front porch, right here in Kekionga.  It’s all the way dark now, and everything’s all purple and orange and amazing.  Nina and Murphy and Pounce are dancing on the sidewalk to the spooky doll music, and the rest of us are eating Doritos.

(Thanks to regular reader Wolfie, the real Old Radio Guy.  He just started texting me pictures earlier tonight and this sort of happened.  I edited the photographs and wrote the story, but it’s all his fault. He’s Kekionga canon now …)

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