Friday, January 20, 2017

Perpetual.

A line from one of the many hundred of treaties the US government signed with one of the many Native American nations that were here before the USA was established.

The hatchet shall be forever buried, and the peace given by the United States, and friendship re-established between the said states on the one part, and all the Cherokees on the other, shall be universal; and the contracting parties shall use their utmost endeavors to maintain the peace given as aforesaid, and friendship re-established.

I am reminded that the only thing that comes anywhere near "perpetual" is the land. And even that is infinitely malleable and will, in its own good time, change.

In 2004 I seemed to recall some things that were truthful to me in youth and which I had forgotten. And for reasons that are no mystery to me, I returned to those places in which I find a measure of peace in solitude.

Almost everything from Men are lies. Nothing from Nature is untrue. Here, then, are my journeys around what was mainly once land of the Cherokee Nation.


2004: My return to outdoor activities.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Monadnock

I went to visit an old, familiar park today--Crowders Mountain State Park. It's one of the places I hit when I want to see some forests and steep slopes without driving for two hours. Twenty-five minutes in agreeable traffic will find me at the parking lot and on my way down a trail leading to the top of a mountain.

Of course "mountain" is relative. There are two major summits in the park: Crowders Mountain and King's Pinnacle. Both are composed of quartzite caprock, which is why they are there--all softer material has long ago eroded away and been washed down the Piedmont to the sea. Crowders Mountain stands about seven hundred feet above its base, and King's Pinnacle rises a bit over nine hundred feet above the surrounding terrain. That's probably not enough for either to officially bear the title of mountain. But we are comfortable calling them that.

Another nickname for the peak is "Crowded Mountain". Lying close to both Gastonia and Charlotte, it gets a lot of visits. Even on a mid-week morning I encountered dozens and dozens of climbers heading to and from the peak.If I needed to reminded (I did not), I recalled why it's almost impossible to seek solitude there. Many hikers, and many hikers with their dogs.

I put in about four miles on the trails, tramped about on the rocks, and headed back home. It was nice, but really made me realize why I prefer our bigger mountains and more isolated trails farther west.


Even the quartzite eventually gives way before erosion and gravity.

Where I reclined and ate lunch at the top of the mountain.


An abandoned mill store across the street from the Crowders Mountain Golf Course.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Alligators and Competent Information

When I was a kid you pretty much never heard of alligators attacking humans. I was, of course, born in 1957 and grew up in the 60s and approached adulthood in the mid 70s.

During all this time the alligator was under real threat of extinction. This is amazing because, being exothermic predators, alligators are a type of predator that can live in vast numbers. An endothermic predator, because of the rate at which it burns calories, cannot also normally be very numerous because of the way it would tax an ecosystem's prey species. Alligators can eat a big critter and then sit around satiated and lazy for weeks and weeks--even months. Thus, their numbers can be vast.

I was a very well-read kid when I was growing up in this world wherein alligators were not very numerous. The reptiles had been hunted down to where you had to really go looking to find one. And all of the big ones were pretty much dead and gone. It was a world of small and medium-sized alligators. And I suppose because humans had forgotten what a truly large alligator was like, they became complacent. All of the literature I was consuming referred to them as "docile" and "harmless to humans". I ate that shit up.

These days, I am convinced that historical records showed very few alligator predation on humans to be rare or non-existent because for about a hundred years alligators were just mainly too damned small to look upon a human as something that could be easily taken and eaten. I believed that crap about gators just being sedate animals that consumed only turtles and fish, the occasional raccoon or even a young deer.

This is what I believed when--one sunny day--my pal Scott McGregor and I decided to sneak onto the Jekyll Island Golf Course and dive for golf balls in the ponds and lakes. Yes, we knew there were alligators in those ponds and lakes, but we dismissed any danger because those animals were "docile" and "harmless" as we'd both read and heard. We grabbed our burlap sacks, our snorkel gear, and away we went. We even took a couple of fishing tridents Scott's father had stored in their garage, which we could use to prod any curious alligator that might get on our nerves and crowd our personal space, dude.

For days we got away with it. We dove into the ponds and gathered, quite actually, thousands of lost golf balls. We would dive down to the bottom, and the floor of the lakes would be carpeted with what seemed like an endless horizon of pale dots sitting there at the surface of the muck. Sometimes we'd see alligators. Small ones from less than a foot long to some as big as four or five feet in length. We paid them almost no mind whatsoever.

After a few days, we realized that we'd cleaned out the smaller ponds. So we set our sights on the big lakes in the golf course. We headed across the course and marched to the biggest lake there. This was a real lake. Not a pond. Not something you could swim across in a minute or so, but a real, by-Jove lake. All we could think about were the vast thousands of golf balls we'd find and recover. (The course would pay us ten cents each for those things.)

As we walked down to the lake shore, the first thing that happened was that we frighted an alligator that was sunning itself on the grassy shore. It was an impressive beast. Easily seven feet long and solid.  I weighed 230 pounds at the time, and it appeared to be heavier than I was. However, its reaction backed up the literature of alligators being frightened of humans and eager only to avoid us. It vanished immediately into the big lake.

Without another thought we hit the water and began to bring up the golf balls. This was going to make us kings of the used golf ball business! At some point, though, I came up, standing in water about chest deep. I looked across the lake. On the far shore was an alligator I had not noticed before. He was huge. Nine feet, easy. Monstrous. Ponderous bulk. Jaw muscles like cast iron cannonballs standing in relief at the rear of that mammoth skull. And I got nervous.

"Hey, Scott."

"Yeah?"

"Let's take turns diving."

"Why?"

"I think maybe one of us should keep an eye on that big alligator while one dives. Just in case." Suddenly, the idea of prodding that monster with that pathetic fishing trident seemed like a joke.


"Okay," Scott said.

And I went back to retrieving golf balls, filling my burlap bag and seeing that carpet of golf balls stretching on beyond my sight into the the murky distance. After a few minutes of popping up now and again to draw air through my snorkel, I stood up. I was neck deep in lake water.

"Bob!" There was genuine concern in Scott's voice. He was scared, but safely near to shore in ankle-deep water.

"What?"

"That big alligator. It's gone!"


"When did it go in the water?"

"I don't know. I wasn't paying attention for a while and when I looked back over, it was gone."


I backed toward shore a couple of steps. Then a few more steps until I was waist-deep in the lake. We stared hard, surveying the surface of the lake, searching for that monster.

And suddenly, maybe three feet from me, that alligator surfaced, his head and eyes and part of his armored back suddenly and totally revealed in complete silence.

Without so much as a "FUCK!" I backpedaled until I was safely on solid ground.

There he was. Easily nine or ten feet of top predator, called to action by our movement in his lake and the sounds of our idiotic splashing about in his watery matrix. He'd vanished from his post with no sound, had moved across the lake in silence, and had suddenly made his presence known to us with zero indication that he'd probably been watching me for some minutes floundering around on the bottom of his goddamned lake and looking at me and trying to decide if I might be something worth his while to kill and eat.

He was the big dog in that lake and he'd been sizing me up for caloric intake. Of that I have absolutely no doubt.

"Goddamn," I finally said. "Let's get the hell out of here."

We ended up selling the giant load of golf balls we'd already acquired over the course of three days of diving and cashed them in at ten cents apiece. We made out pretty good, netting a couple of hundred dollars each for our trouble.

I made out pretty good, too. Because I didn't end up being the first human in a long time to be killed and eaten by a big alligator.

These days, boys and girls, there are tens of thousands of alligators that big and larger. In these modern times, because we finally protected this glorious species, they have once again reached a point where they are big enough to think of Homo sapiens as a prey animal.

Be careful in those creeks and rivers and lakes. I know I will be.

This was about a five-footer we encountered on the Silver River in Florida. Not a real danger to someone like me, but big enough to take out a dog or a child.


This twelve-foot monster was in Rainbow Springs in Florida. I would not go swimming around a leviathan like this one.

Big enough to eat just about anything.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Jacob Fork Falls

I went hiking on Thursday.

Here are a couple of videos I made. The first one is the easy approach trail to Jacob Fork Falls.

The second one is of the trail up to the falls (and above).

I did a loop hike---I think it totaled about four miles.



The author at Jacob Fork Falls.

This is the longest video movie I've ever made. I edited out about twenty minutes of video.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

No Crow for Me, Thanks.

Holy crap. I can't wait to get all of my computer stuff set up in the new office space I have in Huntersville. Then I can get back to a regular writing schedule and return to posting on my blog.

I am hoping to have the new writing space set up and dedicated in a few days.

Until then, I just wanted to post some musings on writing.

*

In the past--and for very good reasons--I have been extremely critical of the self-publishing game. I had sworn never to do it again after my brief flirtation with following along those lines. (I did self-publish one novel and quickly withdrew it until I could sell it legitimately.)

But then, over the past year or so, editorial doors have chambered closed to me, mainly over the fact that I am often politically vocal. And my politics are not popular, especially among the liberal self-described "Social Justice Warriors", among whom are many anthologists, editors, even some publishers who all refuse to consider my work out of hand. They won't even look at my manuscripts or respond to queries, not even from my agent.

Thus, I had begun to lean toward eating some crow and move into the self-publishing field.

However, after discussing the scene with some of my good friends who do self-publish, I decided against it. The market is just way too crowded. And not crowded with good writing, but with the inept and hollow shit that is indicative of the scene. Added to the task of producing work, you also have to commission cover art, format the manuscripts for publication, employ a professional editor/proofreader, and advertise. If you want to do it right you have to spend a fair amount of money. And then you have to struggle to try to get your work noticed over the vast flood of literary turds that dominate self-published novels.

Therefore, I opted not to self-publish. A couple of my friends who do publish their own books encouraged me, but the word I got from most of them is that it's almost a lost cause and that few of them can make any money at it. Yeah, your work is published...but alongside crappy tomes about woman-on-lizard bestiality and racist gun-porn parading as zombie fiction.

No, thanks.

I'll continue to try to find traditional publishers. It will be hard to do and I'll have to seek out some honest editors who aren't blinded by crazed politics.

Otherwise, I'll just write and be unpublished. And for now I won't be eating any crow.

"Git some! Git some!"

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Morons I Have Seen

I once saw a clueless tourist walk up to a bull bison in Yellowstone. The bison was lying down in the dust. Massive, one-ton beast. The tourist walked up to the furry critter and leaned back against the bison's spine so that his equally stupid wife could snap a photo.
Unfortunately, the bison took it all in stride and did not squash the two morons into paste. But it could have (and probably should have) been otherwise.

Bull bison. I took this from a great distance. Keep your distance, people.

I once saw an idiot tourist in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park walk up to a bear and begin to toss it slices of bread, one slice at a time. After a few tosses the bear realized the freaking moron had a whole bag of bread and was just doling it out like a greedy asshole. So the bear charged. To, you know, get the whole bag. The moron tourist had his tiny toddler daughter beside him. When the bear charged he ran. Just left his tiny girl there, alone. Fortunately for them all, he dropped the bag of bread and so the bear veered aside at the last possible second and did not trample the toddler. (It had no interest at all in the girl, only the bag of bread.)

Black bear I encountered while hiking in Douthat State Park in Virginia. I took this from a great distance as the fleeing bear turned to make sure I wasn't following him. Keep your distance, people.

A few years back I hiked into the Shining Rock Wilderness Area. It was on a Saturday so that wilderness was packed to the gills with humans, many of them having set up tents. This wilderness does not allow fires (signs posted at all trailheads), and being a wilderness, all plants and trees are protected. As I hiked along the air was filled with firesmoke. Every campsite had a campfire. In addition, I saw people with axes chopping not just dead, dry timber, but actively felling living trees. I even saw some of these scumbags chopping down living rhododendron.

There are few things less likely to burn in your campfire than the wood of a living rhododendron. Don't cut them down.

We don't have anywhere near enough rangers (a classic case of politicians trying to starve our parks and wilderness areas into extinction); but I also cannot imagine being a National Park ranger and having to put up with so many idiots.



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Campground Review: Hurricane, Jefferson National Forest, Virginia.

Carole and I have used a LOT of National Forest campgrounds in our years. Both when we tent-camped and after we got our Casita travel trailer. We have had almost uniformly wonderful experiences using the campgrounds in our National Forests, but some of them stand out above the others.

While not our all-time favorite campground, Hurricane--located in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area--is easily in the top three. What it might lack in some of the things some people expect in a campground, it more than makes up for in others.

As luck would have it, we were able to grab our favorite spot in the campground (#19). All of the sites have paved surfaces for your vehicles. We were able to back into our site with our truck and had much space to spare. There are no hookups (neither water, nor electric), so if you want to use electric appliances you'll have to have a generator. Also, fill up your onboard water tanks at home, or use a water spigot at the campground. These minor drawbacks (for some, not for us) are made up for in the campground's isolation from paved roads and subsequent lack of traffic and the peacefulness of the forested surroundings.

The campground has two bathhouses with flush toilets and warm water showers. But there is no dump station. Just a couple of miles down the road from Hurricane is Raccoon Branch Campground, another National Forest facility. It does have a dump station and it is open to campers at Hurricane.

We like this campground so much for many reasons. But at the top of our list is that it is very, very quiet. There is no noise from passing autos because the only nearby roads are gravel Forest Service roads and not heavily used. The forest is deep and lush, classic Southern Cove Hardwood. Plenty of trees of an amazing variety and lots of flowering plants in spring and summer.

There is no shortage of things to do here. I love to hike and there are hundreds of miles of amazing trails. You can access the Appalachian Trail from the campground. One can drive to Damascus and bike the Virginia Creeper Trail, which I very highly recommend. Start at the Whitetop Station and you can bike pretty much all downhill to Damascus. A very inexpensive and gorgeous way to spend part of a day. Grayson Highlands State Park is nearby, and the trails there make you feel more like you're hiking in Montana than in Virginia. Seriously. I have shown photos I've take above Massie Gap to people and they think I took them in the Rocky Mountains.

To our way of thinking, Hurricane Campground is one of the best options in the southeastern USA for camping. Trails. Quiet. Solitude. Waterfalls. Wildlife. Deep forests. What the heck else do you need?

Entrance to Hurricane Campground.

Our site was level. All we had to do was park and use the tongue jack. Level as could be!

Carole is always in charge of the campfire. She does about half of her cooking over the fire.

Unlimited firewood was provided free of charge by the campground hosts! They did this on their own. They had permission to cut up and split downed trees. Then the hosts would pile it up in a huge stack near the center of the campground. Take all you want!

Our favorite site: #19. Streamside.

Bathhouse with shower.

I didn't see much wildlife on this trip, but I did get this photo of a grouse.

A hike I took to bag a 4,500-foot peak. I got lost. This was actually taken after I'd gotten lost.