Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ernest Thompson Seton.

Every once in a while someone will ask me who was the greatest influence on me in relation to my writing.

I never hesitate. The answer has always been Ernest Thompson Seton.

I’m now almost 50 years old, and even by the time I was eight years old—when I first discovered Seton’s work—he was already largely forgotten by American youth. Between the time he began writing and the 1930s, he was one of the most popular American writers, not only for the youth at whom he aimed much of his work, but also quite popular among the general reading public.

Many of his collections and novellas were best sellers in their day, and his artwork was highly regarded and published worldwide.

For myself, I had to discover his work in the form of second-hand books I’d find in libraries and in the stacks in one or another of my dad’s used bookstores. I suspect that it was my mom who first suggested his work to me, but I can’t recall if that was actually the case. All I can say is that I discovered his books and that for about two years I pursued any of his works that I could find in my dad’s shops or in any of the libraries to which I had access.

Luckily, the elementary school that I attended in Decatur, Georgia had a number of his books on the shelves. I’d check them out and read them and go back to them time and again until such time as either my mom or my dad found a duplicate copy in the bookshop that I could keep as my own.

The most important lesson I got from Seton was illustrated in the title of the book that was his most popular, and which remains the most famous of those he released:

Wild Animals I Have Known.

At once, the title is a radical statement in and of itself. Had any writer before considered any creature other than a Man as someone? He could easily have given the book a less provocative title, but there it was. Animals were not things. They were, in effect, persons. They had emotions and desires. They were possessed of individual personalities.

I already knew this from having had animal companionship from dogs that had lived with my family. Each of these animals had personalities and qualities that I’d witnessed. Each of them were, in effect, persons to me. As a kid, I had no problem with Seton’s assurances to his readers that animals were to be known, if one were lucky enough to have the experience to make their acquaintance.

Sadly, Seton seems to be even less well known today than his fading fame at the time of my childhood. It’s a rare reader who knows the name if I bring him up in conversation, or when I answer that question concerning the writer who was my main influence.

If you wish to learn more about Seton, you can find out about him at the website for The Seton Institute. I heartily recommend his works, wherever you can find them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Swimming With the Rest of the Bait.

There's nothing so humbling as thinking that you could soon be nothing more than something to be eaten by another creature. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to go snorkeling in the Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys. After having explored the area adjacent to the walls of Fort Jefferson, I asked a park ranger where the best examples of coral reef were located. She informed me that if I swam out to the area between buoys three and five, I would be well rewarded for the trip out.

The distance to these buoys seemed to be about 1/3 mile,so I set out. My wife had bought a cheap underwater film camera for our day in the park and I took this with me, pausing from time to time to snap a shot. Along the way I encountered quite a lot of fish and some nice coral formations. Pretty soon I was approaching the first of the buoys indicated by the ranger. However, looking down, I realized that I was swimming just above a shark that was longer than I was tall.

I'm marginally familiar with shark species, and I seemed to recall that this individual was a member of a rather innocuous breed of shark. However, because he was so large and because I was swimming so far from shore and alone (no other swimmers had ventured out so far), I began to feel like not so much more than something to be eaten by a big fish.

Stopping just long enough to take a couple of photos of this shark (a nurse shark, I've been told), I decided to head back to shallower waters closer to the foundation of Fort Jefferson, where I was only too happy to continue my snorkeling adventure. The better part of valor and all that.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Landsford Canal

Landsford Canal State Park (South Carolina)

Taken along the Catawba River.

After a twelve-hour shift on Saturday, my wife and I (along with a couple of hiking/kayaking pals) drove to nearby Landsford Canal State Park. Our main goal was to paddle our canoe along the Catawba River to see the vast expanses of Spider lilies that grow in the rocky shoals protected within the borders of the park, and to see the historic site of the old canal and lock system that allowed barges to bypass those same shoals in Colonial and post-Colonial days.

The rocky shoals just before the Spider lily habitat.

The highlight of the trip was, indeed, the huge expanses of Spider lilies blooming under a clear Carolina sky, but we also managed to see river otters, gar, various turtles, herons, red-winged blackbirds, and about two dozen or more water snakes.

The vast expanse of Spider lilies.

We got a very early start on our trip, arriving at the park at opening at 9:00 am. This was a good move, as the annual Spider lily Festival was today, so the park filled to capacity while we were on the river. The water level was a bit low, which made maneuvering a canoe a bit dicey over the rocky shoals. But we had a good time exploring the river and viewing the lilies.

Well worth the canoe trip to snap this shot.

By the time I got home, unloaded and stored the canoe and cleaned up, the physical activities of the past two days caught up with me and I collapsed to my mattress to spend the next few hours in quite a deep and restful sleep. I ain't young enough to keep going at those kinds of levels and shrug it off. So much for biking the nearby greenway I'd planned for later in the day.

Snakes abound in this park.

I highly recommend a visit to the Landsford Canal State Park if you're interested in pre-Colonial engineering or American history. In addition, of course, to just viewing a slice of nature in the Carolina Piedmont area.

Red-winged blackbird.

Part of the old canal and lock system that bypassed the rocky shoals. (Based on a sixteenth century design.)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Global Warming.

It strikes me that those who deny that global warming has been caused by the effects of Mankind burning fossil fuels are similar to those who claim that the Holocaust never happened. In fact, most of the folk who claim "there's no such thing as global warming" are among the numbers who claim Nazi Germany didn't initiate or engage in the mass murder of Jews and Slavs.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Mother Earth is Speaking

Every day the news gets worse.

I’m not talking about the latest wires concerning any war you might want to mention. Or the most recent Internet buzz about political turmoil. Or anything concerning any societal debate currently garnering the attention of the populace.

What I’m talking about is the health of the Planet. Each time I take a look, the news is worse than the day before. There is no large scale improvement as the human race rapidly eats everything in sight and shits anywhere is wants and belches indescribable toxins into the very air we all have to breathe and befouls every waterway and aquifer on our continents and in the crust upon which we move.

There is a current meme flittering about concerning population growth. Whereas once there was well-founded fear in the rampant explosion of the human populace, now we are told that the economy will collapse without new youths to fuel various welfare options for the aged (whether public or private). This is, to put it mildly, corporate bullshit. Once upon a time, it was religious leaders debating the sins of birth control. Now, the monsters who sit at the heads of our bloated corporate monstrosities are preaching the new Gospel of continued population growth. They’ve taken the place of old Popes and Priests and Ministers to ensure that they have a constant supply of customers. Not to some church or temple or mosque, but to their own every starving, very gaping maws fed by our endless consumerism.

So what are we going to do? While our atmosphere rebels against us? While the Earth gives up the good fight? While our seas stink and die?

We seem to be doing nothing. There are few voices speaking up to put an end to the insanity leading to the destruction of so many of the creatures with whom we share this globe. The Great Apes are our brothers, but their homes will be felled and plundered just as surely as the homes of races trampled underfoot by more advanced societies. The idea that they are persons should not even be argued. The idea that they deserve their own nations and preserves where they can live unmolested and unexploited by Homo sapiens should not even be the subject of debate. Let them have their peace and their survival.

Around us, animals are fading fast. Tasmania is losing their precious devil to some mysterious virus that causes cancer to erupt and kill them off. The government there is desperately seeking a last refuge for the tenacious little scavengers. An island redoubt where uninfected individuals can wait out the plague that is wiping out the species.

In the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Caribbean, a virus is afflicting all of the species of sea turtles there so that massive growths form on their bodies and flippers and heads, causing the animals to be unable to swim or to dive or to even see. Some few humans attempt to gather up these tumor-afflicted turtles and to surgically remove the growths and return the animals to their habitats. There is a single turtle hospital in the Florida Keys devoted exclusively to this struggle. But one group cannot stem the destruction of every type of sea turtle. A reaction to a problem spawned by the warming of the Earth and the fouling of the seas is no solution to the base problem.

Mother Earth is talking to us. With each species that is smothered out of existence we are delivered a dark warning of a fate, which ultimately awaits our own species if we refuse to take heed.

Deny the corporate greedheads what they consider their due. Fight them. Slow down. Take stock of their lies. Struggle against these new liars who are bound and determined to destroy everything by exploiting our own individual greeds to feed the black holes of their corporate hunger.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Only One Question.

One Question
James Robert Smith

I’d perc’d my own coffee,
put it in a mug
and left
for work
the insulated mug on my
I took a hard turn
too quickly, perhaps
and the mug spilled
hot coffee
on my thigh.
Driving on, more slowly,
I dabbed at the
with a handy towel.
I had only one question:
“Who would I sue?”

Friday, May 04, 2007

A Good Month!

April 2007 was a good month for me.

My family and I had a grand time on our long vacation this year. We always have fun on our trips, especially since we bought our travel trailer. This year we took two weeks and headed down to the lower Florida Keys where we camped at Bahia Honda State Park. The highlight of our stay was a day-cruise to the Dry Tortugas National Park. While one of our less visited national parks, it’s easily one of our most beautiful.

I’ve had two inquiries into the movie rights for my novel, The Flock. No one has made a firm offer, yet. Hopefully one of the producers will take on the project.

I also got my first royalty statement for The Flock, and the book has done quite well. We got the initial royalty check, which Carole and I have decided to spend on something frivolous, such as a big, flat screen TV. We’ll go shopping this weekend.

My second Amazon Shorts appearance also took place this month. "For My Father's Brother's Children", a collaboration with Taboo alumnus L. Roy Aiken is now available via

All in all, this has been a really good month.

At the Hemingway House in Key West.
(That guy really knew how to live!)