Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My Fiberglass Sedative

Over the years my wife and I found that the best way for both of us to enjoy the outdoors was to visit nice campgrounds that I could use as a base from which to day hike, since Carole doesn’t care for the tough hikes I generally take. So we bought all of the camping equipment a family needs to have a great time in a state park, or National Forest campground. We had a great tent, a canopy for the picnic table, lanterns, stoves, cots, sleeping bags; we had the works.

In our time as campers we hit dozens of state parks and National Forest Recreation Areas, in addition to several National Parks. We were generally having a great time wherever we went, even when the weather didn’t cooperate, such as the time we experienced sub-freezing temperatures and snowfall in October (in West Virginia), and unseasonably cold weather and extremely high winds one May (Shenandoah National Park). No matter what, though, we managed to have a good time.

Two years ago, however, we were camping at the Standing Indian Campground near Murphy North Carolina. This is an amazingly beautiful National Forest campground and we had a great spot right by the river. At night we would fall to sleep to the sound of water rushing over polished stones. It was great.

(Our last all-tent campsite.)

Until, one evening at around midnight, we were awakened by a loud crashing noise. I immediately knew that it could be only one thing: a bear. Whatever it was, it was trashing our campsite, despite the fact that all of our food and food items were packed up tight in our truck. I grabbed a flashlight and pointed it out through the door of the tent at the picnic table and, sure enough, an enormous black bear was hovering over our picnic table while scattering all of the things we tend to leave out in the night—things that are not associated with food, but which the bear was trying out anyway.

So I did what one is supposed to do in such a situation. I came out of the tent, put the light on the bear, and shouted for it to leave. Indeed, the bear did leave, vanishing into the thick rhododendron that hemmed in the campsite. We came out of the tent and began to clean up. I was on one side of the picnic table and my wife on the other. After a few minutes of tidying up, my wife screamed as the bear reappeared, shoving his enormous head out of the brush right beside her.

This was too much, as I realized that this bear was just too big and too aggressive to face down a second time. We scrambled into the cab of the truck and watched the bear for a few seconds. I decided to start the truck, with an idea that I might even try to nudge the bear away with it, but as soon as the engine fired, the bear took off in great haste, racing down the campground loop road in front of us. We waited for a bit and then got out of the truck and finished cleaning up and returned to our tent. My wife went right to sleep, but I wasn’t able to nod off until a couple of hours passed.

The following morning we learned that the bear had traversed the length of the campground (188 campsites!), hitting many along the way as he scrounged for food. Even though all of our food was secured, he wasn’t going to pass us by without checking to open up everything he could grab that looked as if it might harbor something good to eat. Since we didn't want to be something good to eat, we decided that it was time to ditch the tent and buy some kind of trailer.

For some months, Carole and I had been contemplating purchasing a travel trailer. We’d considered a number of options, including a pop-up, a hybrid model, and a 21-foot aluminum model. But a friend at work showed me a molded fiberglass RV he’d purchased and we were sold on the trailer he had:

The Casita.

At only 17 feet in length, it’s small enough and light enough to be able to be towed by my V-6 truck to any of the very out-of-the-way National Forest campgrounds that we prefer. In addition, it’s self-contained and has a complete bathroom in case you’re staying somewhere a bathroom is not available (the case in many National Forest sites). So we went with the Casita, and picked up our very own in August 2005. Since that time, we’ve taken it camping up and down the east coast and all over the high country of the Appalachians. It has been nothing but a delight and has made camping not only as much fun as before, but also far more secure. I can’t recommend these fiberglass trailers enough. Whether you buy a new Casita, Scamp, Escape, Bigfoot, or one from a new manufacturer, or a used model from one of a number of out-of-business companies, you are going to be sure to have a quality trailer that will give you many years of camping pleasure.

At Bahia Honda State Park, Florida Keys.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Teenage Lobotomy

When I was 19 years old, I met a guy who was about 17 at the time. He was rather strange and I didn’t care to get to know him any better, as I found his presence to be disturbing. I don’t even recall his name, but I do remember that I later learned that he was one of the last people in those days to be lobotomized as part of medical therapy.

Apparently he’d been quite wild and uncontrollable, so the family physician finally suggested that a lobotomy would be the best way to go. His parents conceded and the deed was done, the crime committed, the travesty fulfilled.

After the lobotomy, among the things he did was break into a family mausoleum in the Brunswick Cemetery, open up the urns he found inside, examined their contents (“they looked like dried up bones,” he said, “not ashes”) and then scattered the contents of those urns all over the cemetery lawn. Shortly after that he climbed up into the water tower on Jekyll Island, just off the Georgia coast, opened the hatch in the roof, leaped in, and swam around in the island’s drinking water for half an hour or so before climbing back out (I always assumed he had a rope, but I never asked the witnesses for details).

I don’t know what happened to him after that, as I did my best to avoid him and anyone with whom he ran.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Creators.

When I walked away from both the retail and creation side of the comic book industry more than a decade ago, I swore that I never wanted anything to do again with either. I never wanted to buy or sell a comic book again, and I’d lost the urge to write them.

And for a very long time I didn’t pay more than a bare look at the medium. I didn’t go into a comic book shop, and only visited a couple of comic book conventions to visit with a friend who was still selling old comics. Of course I still had a very few friends who were comics creators, so I would see them from time to time, but avoided the subject of comic books, save for the single exception of a pal who was making his living creating an indie comic book.

But in the last few years I slowly came out of my self-exile. I visited a few comic conventions expressly to buy some comics by folk such as Chris Ware and Eddie Campbell that I couldn’t locate in comic book shops. And I recalled why I loved comics in the first place:

The works of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. These two guys created almost the whole of the mythology that we’ve come to know as the “Marvel Universe”. These two fellows, together, revitalized the commercial comic book industry and their work has gone on to become an economic engine that creates vast wealth and employment for untold numbers of craftsmen, artists, clerks, executives, lawyers, technicians, and laborers (and others).

Steve Ditko created The Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange and the characters and villains and plots that moved those characters along. Kirby, of course, created everything else at Marvel in those days. Thor, and Capt. America, and The Avengers, and The X-Men, and The Fantastic Four, and Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk, and The Silver Surfer, and a world of other heroes and villains and normal folk who live in his pulp fiction pages.

And, since Ditko’s Spider-Man was my favorite comic book of my youth, I decided to begin to rebuild a set of the issues that Ditko plotted, wrote, and illustrated:

Amazing Fantasy #15 and The Amazing Spider-Man #s 1-38.

I’m moving along, assembling the set. It’s going to take a while, but I’m well on my way. I don’t want any of the issues that came along after Ditko left the book. His vision is the definitive one, since it was, and always will be, his creation. I don’t care a whit for the hundreds of issues that followed The Amazing Spider-Man #38. Ditko’s work transcends the commercial and elevated the form into true art. There is a power in those 39 issues that promote a vision and a philosophy, which is what makes his work superior to anything that anyone attempted after he left the project he solely created.

I admire that. I’d forgotten why I admired it, but now I’ve recalled it.

Steve Ditko:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Turn Out That Fire!

I do a lot of hiking and backpacking in wilderness areas in the Southeastern USA. Mainly, I stick to the limited high country of my native South, but occasionally I will venture into low country or Piedmont wilderness areas.

One of the things that I always liked about the wilderness concept was that of “leaving no trace”. As such, these places always had rules and laws in effect that were to prevent the building of campfires. Campfires consume deadwood, create smoke, and definitely impinge on the wilderness experience for those who don’t wish to see, hear, or smell wood smoke when they’re in wilderness.

Recently, I was appalled to visit the site of a certain (asshole) wilderness writer who posted many photographs of him proudly sitting around his hideous campfires in various wilderness areas in the Southeast. Sitting so smug and arrogant and ignorant while engaging in this destructive practice of bygone days. True, I suspect that it can be a pleasant experience to sit by a campfire and stare dumbly into the flames like a moron. But there are tons of non-wilderness lands in which this can be practiced without shattering the wilderness experience for others.

For myself, I go into wilderness for solitude and to escape from the influences of Mankind (as far as I am able). I don’t want to smell wood burning, and I don’t want to see light in a place where there is not supposed to be any light beyond that cast by the moon or the stars or the bioluminescence of some wild creatures who exist there.

In past years, it was public policy that campfires were not allowed at all in any of the wilderness areas in which I hiked. Now, it seems, the rules have been reinterpreted to merely state “limit campfire impact”, which basically means nothing, save that any moron can now plunge into our wilderness areas and begin dragging deadwood and piling it up to build a stinking campfire. I suspect that such ignorant sub-normals will soon begin to chop live wood from the forests to feed such fires, as the rules that were in place have been relaxed.

Alas, the wild places are dwindling fast. Soon, they will be ruined. I have resigned myself to this very sad fact and have been doing my best to see as much of it as I can before it succumbs to the destruction we’re bringing upon it.

However, if you’re going into wilderness, do it a favor: don’t build any goddamned campfires. And don’t take your dog with you—they spread diseases against which much wildlife has no defense. Just hike in and observe it and try to leave no fucking trace of your passing. I would ask you to destroy the traces of past fire rings, but I fear this would just encourage the idiots who follow you to create newer fire rings.

Basically…please don’t be a rude, arrogant, fire-building moron.

Wilderness campsite: no campfire!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Wayne Pulver
James Robert Smith

Wayne Pulver was my best pal
in the third grade.
Wayne was a mutant.
At the age of eight he was taller
than our teacher.
He was 5 feet 6 inches, and huge,
a belly like an ape’s.
He was happy, and friendly, and smiling
and jolly.
Wayne lived one street over.
I had to go through my back yard
past the apple trees
climb the steep hill in the neighbor’s yard
to emerge on Wayne’s street
two houses up and across the road
from his place.
Wayne had a mom
who was a lousy cook,
crunchy grits!
but a sweet lady,
an absent dad claimed by divorce.
But he had an older brother who was
cool as shit;
he built all
of the models I didn’t have—
Dracula, The Creature, Godzilla, The Old Witch,
all of the Ratfink models,
the Big Daddy Roth rods,
the Weird-Ohs
and custom stuff he created from
castoff parts he got from other
Wayne and I spent a lot of
time looking at his brother’s models;
his brother didn’t mind.
One day, we were in the front yard at
my house.
A new kid in our third grade class
walked up; a jackass,
a bully
named phil.
He was a pissant next to Wayne,
but he was aggressive and mean and bound by
CRUELTY to pick a fight with smiling, kind
I stood by, did nothing
and watched.
Wayne tried to avoid fighting,
but the little shit phil
Huge, heavy, unfortunate Wayne was forced
to fight.
It was a very, very short fight.
When phil picked himself up
had fled, bloody nose, bloody teeth, fat lips,
it was Wayne who was crying.
He looked at me.
“Why didn’t you do something?”
he asked.
“Why didn’t you stand up? He would have
backed off if you’d stood up
with me.”
I could have said,
“I was scared.” But
it wouldn’t have mattered, because I’d done
nothing, either way.
So Wayne left,
And other than in class,
I never saw him again. By year’s end,
they had moved

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I did a lot of hiking today. I bushwhacked up Little Sam Knob, a 5,900 foot peak that has no trail on it, and so if you want to bag that mountain, you have to be creative in finding your way to the top. Then we climbed Sam Knob, a 6040-foot peak that I've climbed before. Then we climbed up to near the summit of Black Balsam Knob (where our vehicles were parked). Then we climbed to the top of Mount Pisgah off the Blue Ridge Parkway, which I'd somehow managed to avoid doing over the years.

My son took this shot of me between reaching the summit of Sam Knob and heading off for Mount Pisgah:

Oh, damn, I am gettin' old.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Genre Coughs up a Good One.

For most of my late youth and almost all of my adult life I have enjoyed reading and writing horror fiction. However, while I have discovered many quality works of horror in the short form, and many skillful practitioners of horror fiction of shorter length, there have been very few novels within that genre that actually achieved what I suspect their authors set out to do.

So, about ten years ago I found myself reading less and less horror, either in the short story form or in the novel format. With the contraction of the magazine markets I really couldn't locate much in the way of short horror fiction, and almost all of the novels I was picking up just left me cold.

And that sent me to looking over my vast library of horror fiction and judging it. I own quite a lot of horror anthologies and collections and I attempted to reread material that had held my interest in earlier times.

On resurrecting this stuff, I found it better left in its pulpy graves. No new authors have appeared recently that have impressed me, at all. I grab horror novels in the shops and read the first chapter or two and…well, just put them back on the shelves.

Today, I walked into a local booksuperstore and walked down the aisles looking for something to buy. I read a lot of non-fiction, so buying something there wasn't going to be a problem. I read a lot of mainstream fiction, so picking out something along those lines that would interest me wasn't going to be much of a stretch. Even science-fiction has produced so many good authors and interesting ideas in the past couple of decades that I can almost always find a good sf novel of recent vintage that won't leave me regretting my purchase.

But I wanted to find a good horror novel, by Crom. Something with teeth. Something with wit. Something with style.

And I actually located a new book by probably the only horror writer who's walked up out of the horror ghetto in the past thirty years who seems to know how to write a good book:

Joe Lansdale.

Unlike too many writers today, the man has style. You don't have to see the name on the cover to know that you're reading a Joe Lansdale book (or short story). And, as I am out of the genre fiction news loop, I didn't realize that he had a new horror novel out there—one LOST ECHOES. I read the jacket blurb and the bare bones plot synopsis and while it didn't scream of innovation, it did grab my interest.

And then I opened it up and the book just fell open and my eyes nailed this line:

As his father said, "If it cost a nickel to shit, we'd have to throw up."

I don't know if Lansdale coined that himself, or if he heard it from one of the east Texas folk with whom he was raised. But whichever, it was a line I'd only be likely to see used (and used right) in a Joe Lansdale novel.

So I bought the book (the last copy on the shelf), and I'll have it read as soon as I get back from bushwhacking to the summit of a NC mile-high peak. Horror fiction seems to have come through with at least one book worth reading today. I reckon there's hope for that steaming, rotten, backwater, closed-up, decrepit, wandering-in-circles, dying genre yet.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mixed Feelings.

My initial notice of The Nature Conservancy was as a teenager when I was first beginning to think about what is commonly referred to as the Earth’s ecosystems, the depletion of same, and the negative influence of the Western world’s consumer driven economies.

In those days of my teen years, the early 1970s, I was very much interested in the preservation of large tracts of wild lands. There were various government agencies at that time involved in struggling to preserve such areas, and I was always happy to see legislation passed to buy and save as much wilderness and as much rural land as possible.

However, there began to be a lot of press for many private organizations who were active in protecting some wild places. The news media began to report on these groups, with specific attention given over to The Nature Conservancy. On the face of it, things sounded good. These people had been successful in buying up, or trading for parcels of unique and sensitive lands to lock them up in various ways to prevent them from being developed or exploited for commercial gain. Superficially, it seemed an encouraging development.

But even as a kid I was disturbed by this move away from governmental acquisitions of wild lands and toward a privately funded method of doing so. The first time I recall being truly disturbed by the actions of these private groups was in the description of how they were willing to negotiate and make concessions to gain some small advantages in protecting the core areas of some especially unique ecosystems. This bothered me mainly because, even as a kid, I’d learned that too much of working within the system and giving in to capitalist exploiters was to play into their hands. This was, in fact, a move to emasculate the governmental groups tasked with saving our wild places and making it easy for half-measures by private groups that did nothing much but enable corporations to exploit and ruin vast areas that might otherwise be saved.

To give them credit, the Nature Conservancy has, indeed, protected many wild and unique places in many nations around the world. Some truly rare systems and living organisms owe their continued existence to this group and the people who helm it. But one thing that seems central to their actions is that they generally end up protecting only the heart of a rare and endangered place. Yes, they safeguard the core of a wilderness, but the deals they cut for these small lands generally allow for the further exploitation of the areas around these limited and fragile wildernesses.

And what good does it do to protect a heart when the lungs are allowed to become diseased? What good a heart if kidneys are filled with toxins? What good a heart with livers swimming with poison? What good a heart with limbs lopped off and left to bleed?

The Nature Conservancy goes only so far in what they can do, and what they apparently are willing to do. By using specious arguments in favor of such concepts as “property rights” and “access to free enterprise”, the corporations who make obscene profits via the rape of our collective ownership of the lands that sustain us have empowered themselves to continue this rape at the cost of the rights of the citizens of this world. I have watched while the government has first given away its powers to protect our wild and rural lands, and then completely lost these powers to corporate interests. Wild and natural ecosystems cannot exist and thrive if they are allowed to be surrounded and imprisoned by walls of development and exploitation.

The Nature Conservancy is a good idea, if it had merely been a part of a much larger effort of a National (and International) movement to preserve our wildernesses and farmlands and rural areas as parks and regulated green spaces. Alas, it seems as if the Conservancy has been promoted by the corporate interests who wish to use it to their own advantages at the loss of the people of the nations within whose borders these same corporations do so much damage.

Unfortunately, the Nature Conservancy has ended up being not a part of a larger movement, but the only portion of a failing struggle to sustain life on this globe.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Return of the Creature from 1957.

We went to West Virginia again. I love that place.

Late and I must go to work tomorrow. Just a quick note that we had much fun and encountered a bear in, appropriately, Beartown State Park as we were finishing up our hike and returning to the parking lot. Here he (she?) is:

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I wrote this poem five years ago just after what I thought was the worst drought I'd ever see here in the South. But here it is 2007, and we're suffering from a drought even worse than the one in 2002.

At any rate, I figured it was appropriate that I repost this poem.

Drought of oh-two
James Robert Smith

The clouds gathered,
dark. And they muttered
softly, to the Earth’s
upturned face,
like a man telling lies
to a young girl,
promising love.
Then, those clouds,
like a deceitful lover,
fled over distant hills,
And whatever had been planted,
whatever was sown,
in that parched, despairing
would just have to
make do.