Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Stone Mountain Park, North Carolina.

Lately I haven't had a lot of time to go hiking. I've been helping my son a lot, plus the responsibility of having to be around the homestead to care for my wife's elderly mother. In late March the pressure should slacken and I can go back to hiking and camping when I choose.

That said, I was able to get away for most of last weekend. One of those three days I spent hiking in Stone Mountain State Park. I like that park because it has a lot of exposed rock, decent forest cover, a number of impressive waterfalls, and an excellent network of hiking trails, a few of which I still haven't hiked.

So on Saturday I got a very early start and drove up. Another plus for me is that it's a genuinely mountainous area and only a little over an hour from the house. If traffic is light I can get there in under an hour.

I ended up getting there just a tad later than I like to, which meant that I missed seeing the roving deer out browsing for breakfast, and the wild turkey that seem to like to accompany them in the early light. But that was tempered by the fact that I got to hit the trails before all but a few of my fellow humans. I spent the main part of the day hiking a six-mile loop that took me from the parking area, over the summit of Stone Mountain, down the other side, along the base of the peak to the upper Stone Mountain Falls and then a return to the ridge line and back to Andy's car (which I borrowed because my truck uses a lot more gas than his Santa Fe).

Here, then, are some images and video of my main hike from last Saturday.






On the summit. Said to be the most photographed tree in North Carolina.



The stairs alongside upper Stone Mountain Falls.


A rock climber on the face of Stone Mountain.

A stitched panorama of the face of Stone Mountain.



Saturday, February 06, 2021

Interview, and a sneak preview.

Recently the nice folk at the very excellent House of Mystery Radio interviewed me. The interview is still up and can be streamed online HERE.

I'm hoping to have the second WORKING CLASS HERO ready for publication very soon. In just a few weeks (knock on adamantium). So I'm posting a sneak preview here. The working title for it is: BILLY B VERSUS THE TROUBLE BOYS. As with the first book, I'm having a blast writing it. Superhero comics plus pulp fiction...a match made in Heaven.

BILLY B VERSUS THE TROUBLE BOYS (sneak preview)

By James Robert Smith


It was roughly ten in the morning. The sun was out. The air was cold and a wind was blowing. That wind was especially rough where I was standing on the roof of the Drake Building in midtown, thirty stories above the street. I had managed to scramble to the top without entering the building at all, having made my way from a seventh-floor parking deck to a section of wall that was uniquely suited for a man with super-strength to make his way up, floor by floor, leaping like an impossible red ape along the rough concrete exterior.

I’m sure some people must have seen me, but if they had I was such a boring sight these days that no one had appeared on the roof to bother me or to ask for an autograph or to take my photo or to ask me not to freaking do that anymore.

And so, of course, idling away the minutes and just standing up there watching the flow of traffic below, I was actually surprised enough to flinch when my best hyper-friend Shylock Holmes spoke up from behind me.

Have I mentioned that he has perhaps the most gratingly annoying voice known to humankind? Well, he does. It’s like a staccato assault of gravel fired from a machine gun directly into the ear canal. Keep in mind that I hear about fifty times better than the most gifted of people.

“Figured I’d find you on a mountaintop,” he said, voice like a teenaged girl’s fingernails across dry slate.

“Goddamn it, Shylock,” I said, turning to face him. I stuck a gloved finger roughly where my ear would be if I hadn’t been wearing that helmet with its space-age amazing perforated fabric allowing egress to all sounds, especially his monstrous voice.

Whenever he did that I always expected him to apologize, but he never did. I think he likes doing it; scaring arguably the toughest hyper between Atlanta and the Big Apple. But, old Shylock didn’t decide to gift me or surprise me with the apology then, either.

He was baiting me, so I waited before asking him why he’d appeared once more in such a way as to get the maximum rise out of my hyped-up sneakers. A few seconds passed. The wind blew. I wondered if I’d grab a sandwich later. I blinked.

“Okay. You must have some nugget of wisdom to impart, or else you wouldn’t have come up here to startle me.”

He drew in an audible gasp of pure sarcasm. “Oh! Did I startle you? Heavens! It was not my intention.”

For a guy with borderline Asperger’s Syndrome, he had a pretty good grasp of cynicism and humor. I waved him off.

I knew he was smiling beneath that ridiculous mask of his. “I just figured you’d like to know that they’re bringing in some new talent,” he said.

We had all wondered about that. We figured that they would. Gila had been killed. Amber Ember was in Denver gestating a baby courtesy of me in an episode of bad judgment by way of (apparently) an honest-to-Jovian god’s asshole assistant. Flitter had pretty much filled the empty peg left by Amber, but the folk who paid us would also want us to have someone to serve in place of poor, departed Gila.

“So…what are you hearing?” I asked him. The thing about having Shylock for a pal was that there wasn’t much that got past him. Because of the nature of his hyper abilities, he was a pure conduit for the answers to mysteries that hadn’t crossed our minds yet. And if someone was hiding something, they’d better hide it pretty damned well or he would show up with the solution in his pocket.

“What I’m hearing is Fido and Timmy,” he said.

“Fuck me,” I replied.

“Well, when you figure…we had a guy like Gila…they’re going to give us something similar.” He began to sing that old Sesame Street tune. “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t…”

“Enough!” I held my left hand palm out. He thankfully shut the fuck up.

“Look at this way, Billy. Gila was a nine-foot tall beaded reptile in roughly human form who had to be kept inside most of the time because he was just too damned scary-looking for the hoi-polloi. The Agency has a number of hyper-folk around who are similar to our old pal, and they need a place to store them.

“We had one that we were taking care of for them. And now we don’t have one. So…” He left it hanging.

“We get two for the price of one.”  I sighed in resignation. Because I was the one who would have to deal with them whenever there was some action. Also, I had always been the man to talk with Gila, to do my best to make him feel better about his situation. Because they need a man with Level Seven strength, speed, and durability to serve as a sounding board for a half-ton lizard with armored skin who can lift an Abrams tank and toss it across a parking lot. I was their lion tamer.

“Fido and Timmy are…different,” Holmes said.

I looked down at him. He was now sitting on the edge of the cover to an air vent. It was pretty much the right height to be a chair for him. “I met them once. About two and a half years back. Right before you came to head the team here,” he reminded me. “They work so closely together that it’s hard to figure out where one of them stops and the other starts.”

“I don’t dig you,” I admitted. I shifted and little rocks crunched under my feet. A 737 roared overhead on its way out of Douglas International toward some point west.

“Well, there’s a mental connection going on with them. I mean…one of them is like a bull mastiff that stands ten feet at the shoulder, and the other one is a little kid who looks like a real-life version of Dennis the Menace.” He paused. “He even has a slingshot in his back pocket. Did you know that?”

I shook my head from side to side.

“I saw him use it once. Knocked that chick…” he snapped his fingers a few times, reaching for a name. “Bella Bella, that was her. He cocked back with that crazy slingshot and bounced a rock off her skull at fifty meters. Knocked her out. Cold. Game over.” He was grinning under that plastic mask.

“Okay. What was your original train of thought?”

“The kid. Timmy. Overalls. Sneakers. Slingshot. Blonde hair. Freckles. Ten years old, maybe.”

I motioned with my hands, drawing for more information and a little faster, please.

“Those two are bound, Billy. I mean, they are so tight that I can’t really read either of them. I probe at their minds and they’re almost merged completely. Not exactly. One of them is thinking and making plans and formulating tactics. And the other one is mainly just some basic emotions and wants and desires without much in the way of complications.” He seemed to be finished.

“Okay. One’s a giant dog and one’s a kid. So?”

“So I can’t read either of them the way that I should because they’re telepathically communicating with one another so well that I can’t really get inside. I’m stuck talking to the kid the way I would if I were anyone else.” Meaning, of course, if he couldn’t read minds and influence enemies where those two were concerned.

“I’ve never met them,” I said. “But I’ve watched video. Fido is just fucking scary. Looks like he could bite through concrete.”

“He can.”

I nodded, believing. “And the kid…Timmy. It’s like you said. He looks like Hank Ketcham drew him or something.”

“He never ages, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. He’s been around now…what? Twelve years? He was a ten-year-old kid when they found him, and he’s still ten years old.” I shivered.

“They’re not sure Fido ages, either,” Shylock said. “He carries a few scars, but pretty much seems the same elephant-sized canine who walked up being led on a rope leash in Timmy’s hand over a decade back. “He gets testy when they get too close to him with probes and needles,” Shylock added. “So they’ve been willing to let him ride.”

There had been other animals that had been victim to AOHD. Of course with animals they called it Adult Onset Mammalian Hyper-Development Disorder. They settled on AOMD for the sake of simplicity, having chosen not to want to add too many letters to the anagram. But there had been only a few examples of it and most of those creatures had either been captured and penned up, or had died quickly because they burned themselves out, or had been killed by The Agency or the military.

“The AOMD…do you think it effects anything besides mammals?” I was curious what my all-seeing friend thought. “You ever see anything that made you wonder?”

“Billy…since the first of us appeared some time back, the whole world wonders. I know you think I’m an extra smart guy, but I’m here to let you know that I’m not as sharp as all that in matters animal, vegetable, and mineral. Yeah, I know some basic chemistry and can crunch numbers better than some, and you know I love history. But genetics….who the hell knows? We have seen some strange shit.”

“Yeah…look at poor old Gila. He was about one quarter human and three fourths reptile.”

“And Gorilla Jack,” Shylock reminded me. “You went toe to toe with that guy. Looks more ape than human. And yet…human he is.” He slapped his hands on his knees and stood, his deerstalker cape rolling with the motion. “You never know. It gave us some false human/animal hybrids, and a mutated dog. Maybe there are hyper-birds up there.” He pointed into the clear, cold, February sky. I looked up. “And the ocean is a mighty deep place, too. It may be that there’s stuff swimming around in it that has been affected. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“So. Tell me,” I said. “When are our two new playmates supposed to arrive?”

Down on the streets far below, something was going on. I could hear horns blaring and even from almost thirty stories the voices were coming to us loud and clear as men yelled and women screamed.

“Right about now, I’d say,” Shylock told me. By then my back was to him and I was standing on the edge of the roof looking down.

The street was now home to a monstrous dog roughly the size of an Indian elephant who was strolling down the right hand sidewalk and clearing a path through the intimidation of sheer, hairy mass. In front of the beast, holding a length of what I knew was a flimsy hemp rope was a kid, maybe ten years old, maybe seventy pounds, leading that monster canine. Some people were cowering aside, cars were honking their horns, other people were running from the scene, and, I knew, a lot of Charlotte folk were soiling themselves.

“Time for me to do my thing and maintain order,” I told Shylock as I turned to address him.

But of course the asshole was gone.

 

Until the new volume is published, you can get your WORKING CLASS HERO fix at Amazon. Available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook. Just click HERE.




WORKING CLASS HERO: The Autobiography of a Superhman.


Monday, January 04, 2021

Peepers

In case you don't know, peepers are a type of small frog that come out of hibernation every Spring to begin a new year and to breed and otherwise enjoy their lives. If you live even in suburbia you've likely heard their call when they pop out to announce to us that their long sleep is over. It's something that I have experienced all of my life, except for the years when I've lived in an urban environment.

For the past three years, generally around this time in the midst of winter, we will have a very powerful warm patch (we don't even have a prolonged winter anymore) and the peepers will emerge and begin to call out, letting us all know that they're here. And for the past two winters I have worried--apparently needlessly--that doom will befall them all. My assumption has been that the next cold snap will catch our thin-skinned amphibian pals by surprise and that they'll all freeze to death and the local population of peepers will become extinct.

But I'm not going to worry about the tiny frogs anymore. It's not as if I don't have enough to worry about. I don't need this yearly burden to bear. The way I figure it now is that they've survived two warm winter thaws and refreezes with no diminished ability to crawl up to fresh air and fill our neighborhood with their pleasant songs. Winter of 2018/19 they did it. Winter of 2019/20 they committed the same act. And here it is Winter of 2020/21 and once more they're singing their itty-bitty lungs out and serenading me.

This year I'm not worrying. They did A-OK the past two winters and avoided a mass die-off. I figure they'll do it again and continue to repopulate the local ecology. My little friends are going to be fine. Maybe that's a good tiding for the rest of us, too.

It's 50 degrees out, headed for the mid-60s. The peepers are singing in the back yard. We're good to go.

 

Hey, Mr. Peeper!


Saturday, January 02, 2021

2021

When I was a kid I used to wonder what it would be like in the year 2000. Now it's 2021. I thought 2000 was scewed up, but 2020 proved to me that the system we live under is about as monstrous as it gets. These days I figure things will only get worse because the way it's geared it can't get better (there's no process for improvement).

Last time I posted here I figured I'd be logging in at the old blog more often. In fact, I was here less. Every day that I thought about sitting at the desk to post something, the time I spend here seemed unimportant, and so I stayed away. In fact, aside from writing, I almost never turn on the desktop. It sits quiet and cold and ignored most days. I'll work on a novel for an hour or two, then turn it off.

So it goes.

Since our trip to Kentucky things have been hectic. We had the whole holiday thang to go through. Unlike most cynics I actually adore the time from Halloween through New Year's Day. And even though I'm not religious at all, I'm with Andy Williams on Christmas. For me, both currently and nostalgically, it is the most wonderful time of the year. I was reminded of the reaction I got from a former friend when I told him that. He was horrified. Last I knew of that twisted loon, he had become both a Christian and a Hitler-loving neo-Nazi. (You can't make this shit up. If it was fiction, readers would think it was too outrageous.)

The Casita needs some work done on the water pump, so I haven't taken it camping since our return from Kentucky. I have an appointment to take it in for that, plus some other issues that need attention (windows resealed, new stabilizer jacks on the back, 'porch' light, etc). That's why I haven't been on any cold-weather trips in the travel trailer. When I get it back later this month I'll hit some parks in glamping style.

My son, Andy, landed a good job. Making the legendary "living wage". The job is a bit of a haul from where he lives and he needed a new vehicle for that so I bought him one. These days I'm economically able to do that kind of thing...so I do it. It's what parents do, I reckon. At least this parent.

With any luck, January will be the beginning of a much more active time for me compared to the last two months. Carole and I were planning vacations, but then the covid reemerged so now we don't know what's going to happen with that. We had planned a winter trip to Key West and a camping trip out to Dry Tortugas National Park, but that's off. Later in the year we wanted to go camping in Pennsylvania, but they have a 10-day quarantine regime set up for out-of-state visitors! If you cross the border to stay you have to quarantine yourself. That would essentially eat up the entire vacation. (Or get a covid-19 test. If it comes up negative and you can present the paperwork you're good to go. Only I'm not taking a virus test to go camping and sightseeing. Therefore, PA as a vacation destination is right out.)

As I said, 2020 was a messed up year, and not a lot is going to change soon for 2021.

 

Just after we got the tree put up and got the lights on. Carole and I both think this is probably the prettiest tree we've ever had. We got lucky.


Tree up and decorated, no presents yet.

Presents accumulating over the days leading up to Christmas.

Christmas morning.



 The last photo of the tree. It comes down today (January 2, 2021).



I bought this 2017 Santa Fe from my sister for Andy to get to and from his new job.



Yeah, I know. I'm a heathen, but I love the holiday season. I adore it when it's happening and I gravely miss it when it's over. I suppose I'm that rare person who looks forward to it every year. My two favorite Christmas songs are Andy Williams classics.


Thursday, November 19, 2020

What the Hell, Dude?!

Well...I've been busy being retired. I don't work for anyone anymore. Not one hour, not one bit.

Weirdly, I'll often find myself worrying about something. And when I sit to pinpoint the source of my worry, I realize that it's a stubborn and persistent form of guilt that I'm not working. At such moments I'll wonder what the Hell is wrong with me.

I worked for decades. I worked constantly for my parents as a kid and never skipped a beat as I entered adulthood and continued to do so. Unlike so many lazy bastards I have met over the years I never shirked the opportunity to engage in labor of any type that would keep a roof over my head and food in the pantry. There have been so many losers I've encountered who would do anything at all to avoid working.

That said, being at the beck and call of a petty supervisor or a sadistic manager was often difficult for me. I suffered for quite a lot of my years as a worker from having a white-hot temper and enough physical strength to hurt people with my bare hands. Some days it was a close call to resist the need to lash out and find myself arrested (again) for giving in and beating someone.

I don't have to worry about that anymore, because I'm retired. Facing down abusive employers and willing to go to violence over it is no longer a possibility. And, yet, these nagging feelings of guilt keep cropping up at the weirdest times. Sometimes they'll linger in my subconscious to the point where I'll dream I'm working again: as a letter carrier, on a loading dock, clerking in a grocery store, running a bookshop, cutting and assembling pool covers...whatever.

What the Hell?!

And each time this pointless guilt gnaws at me I will realize that it's from the effects of more than five decades of being conditioned to work for slave wages and to obey orders. They drill that into you from the day you are grabbed up and sent to school, and throughout the years you toil as a servant. It's something you're just supposed to do.

These days, I take that guilt and bludgeon it, or choke it until it expires, or stab it in the face, or pour gasoline over it and light a match. But like some kind of rotten ghoul it pulls itself together and comes creeping up on me again and again. Repeat, kill, repeat.

So, what I try to do is stay busy doing fun stuff. I read a lot. I hike and camp. Spending time researching places where we can vacation is a big pastime for me.

But what I really want to do is find that silver bullet, that wooden stake. Because feeling guilty for not working after five decades of that shit is unfathomable. Maybe the knockout punch for that asshole will come the next time I climb a high mountain or kayak a wild river or hike a wilderness trail or return to Yellowstone or take that trip to Florence, Italy.

We'll see.

In the meantime...to Hell with work.


Some things I've done this year because I have no nagging job, no reason to hear an alarm clock, no desire to so much as recall what it's like to commit labor under orders:

 









Tuesday, August 04, 2020

No Glacial Time for Me.

Weird.

Here I am retired, tons of time on my hands, and I neglect the old blog.

In my defense I have been busy. Hiking, gardening, writing. Also, after our West Virginia vacation (I'll post photos) I got seriously sick. I was sick for weeks. Better now, but it was a horror show.

I've been going through old photos, planning a big trip for next year. Yeah, I know how that goes. Carole and I planned a huge, detailed, complicated trip for this past Spring that was completely botched by Covid-19. But we make more plans anyway. What we hope to do is take some excursions farther afield. At his moment we're looking at Colorado. About a 50-50 chance of that being our destination.

Carole has never seen Colorado. I've only been once, but it was an extended trip and I experienced a lot. One place that I visited that I know she'd love is Rocky Mountains National Park and the adjacent town of  Estes Park, Colorado. Both are her type of place.

At any rate, these are my current musings and this is our thinking for next year when Carole will be very close to retirement herself.

And this is the photo of one of the vistas that made the biggest impact on me when I was in Colorado eight years ago.



This is a glacial moraine. It sits on the flanks of Longs Peak, the highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park (14,259 feet above sea level). We weren't climbing to the summit on this day, but to a place called Chasm Lake about 2,000 feet or so below the summit. We still had a few miles to go when we stopped at this spot.

I need to try to impress upon you the scale of the landscape here. This is a glacial moraine. A localized glacier once sat at this point and this was its terminal reach. It sat here puking up boulders and rock and soil and sand that it had ground up for thousands of years. And then it melted completely away, revealing this big wall of what is, essentially, glacier vomit. That wall of rock and dirt is huge. Those trees at the base down there are not tiny shrubs. The hills beyond would be considered mountains here in the East.

Another reason this panorama is imprinted on my mind is that it is where I discovered that I am susceptible to altitude sickness. Two years before this trip I had specifically climbed several peaks in Yellowstone over 10,000 feet above sea level to find out if I got altitude sickness, or not. I was pleased then to find then that climbing a summit of 10,500 or 10,700 feet was, to me, no different than hiking up a 6,000 foot mountain here in the South. And so I had concluded that I wouldn't get altitude sickness.

I was wrong. That malady hit me with both fists precisely at this point. I think we were around 11,200 feet here. Up on a big plateau ground out by that dead glacier. I was nauseous, dizzy, addled; my head ached. In fact, the more we pushed on, the worse it got. The weird thing was that I began to babble complete and utter nonsense and realized that I was doing this, but couldn't stop. My hiking companions should have--in retrospect--forced me to turn around. They suggested it, but I refused, wanting to see Chasm Lake in the worst way. So I pushed on. I recall not being with either of them as I clambered up the final wall of rock that served as the dam for Chasm Lake. I was on my own.

At any rate, the pure enormity of the landscape out there is essentially beyond description. You have to experience it.This was a single mountain. Huge like a god. Bits of it so impressive that I was held in place, shocked by the mass of it all.

I want to go back. This time I'll train better and do more to acclimate myself before tackling altitudes over 11,200 feet. (I do fine below that.)

I'm looking forward to it.


A week later, deep in the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains.
A week later, deep in the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juans.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Stalking the Cooperative Vulture.

I've been enjoying a lot of outdoor activities lately. My son and I head to the high country often to go hiking. My wife and I have been doing a good deal of kayaking locally. And of course when no one else has the leisure time to go with me, I go off by myself. I take advantage of most of those days to go hiking, generally within a drive of anywhere from half an hour to as much as three hours.

Today I fell back on the old standby activity, hiking at Crowders Mountain State Park. My main purpose was to hike to the summit of Crowders to see if I would have the opportunity to photograph Turkey vultures. They're one of the most common large birds around, and they use the cliffs and thermals around the summit to launch themselves into the sky to scan for the scent of carrion.On a sunny day it's hard to miss them at either of the two peaks in the park, Crowders and Kings Pinnacle.

I have to say, it was a hot day for hiking. I arrived at the trailhead at about 10:00 am. The lot was about 2/3 full, and it's a vast parking area. There is very good reason that local hikers refer to it as "Crowded Mountain". On some days you can encounter as many as 100 people arriving at the summit every hour or so. Today wasn't quite that busy, but nearly so.

After reaching the top and toweling all of the sweat off of me, I staked out a shady spot at the edge of a cliff and began to take landscape photos and to scan the area for signs of vultures. One of my friends, writer/photographer Michael Hodges had suggested a lens to me: a Canon 24mm pancake lens. He told me that photographs taken with it would "pop", and he wasn't kidding. It captures crisp, colorful, brilliant images. This was the first time I'd used it other than to take a couple of test photos. Michael was spot on.

I stayed on the summit for about three hours taking photos, drinking lots of water, and enjoying the views. The people arrived and left at a steady pace. Sometimes it got quite noisy, then the voices and music would subside as the numbers of people dwindled. (I never have figured out why anyone would bring music with them on a hike. I find the idea pathetic.)

Over the course of my time there I took well over 200 photographs of the crew of Turkey vultures who passed in front of and above my patch of rocky cliffside. I think I'll salvage about a dozen images good enough for me to add to my online portfolio of photos that I sell through some online purveyors of stock photos.  Every month I make a little more than I did the month before. It has become my part-time job. A job, for once, that's fun (aside from writing).


Say what you will, they're actually quite the majestic bird in flight.

I don't know if this bird is just old, in the midst of molting, or the victim of a tussle. It seems healthy and flew and cruised the thermals as well as the others. But it looked rough.

Aside from the Great blue heron, the Turkey vulture is my favorite bird to photograph.

Michael was right. That lens makes the image really stand out.