Monday, June 30, 2008
Sunday, June 29, 2008
A while back I said that Mars was just a dusty, dead ball of rock. Or something to that effect. Well, it seems I was just a bit off the mark.
The Mars Phoenix Lander has found water ice just below the slight covering of soil. You can see it sublimating here in this very darned cool photo.
Now, in addition to the water ice, the Phoenix is telling us that the soil is not, as some had predicted, toxic. Apparently stuff from Earth could grow in it. So I take back some of those nasty things I said about Mars.
Heck. Maybe there are some hot babes wandering around the planet? Who knows?
Saturday, June 28, 2008
However, it is part of a nature preserve and apparently has some form of conservation easement along the slopes. Therefore, the gravel road that leads to the top is open to public foot traffic. There are also, of course, some radio and microwave and cell phone towers up there, which is just about the case with every prominent privately owned mountaintop in the southeastern USA.
The road to the top also takes you through an active pasture, so the cows stop to give you the eye and wonder what the hell you're doing up there. The last time they saw someone, the guy held them down and punched a hole in their ear and stuck a tag in it. They are suspicious critters, yes.
At the top of Bearwallow we happened upon the old Forest Service tower and what was, obviously, the cabin of the ranger who manned it. In the old days before satellites and GPS took over the job of fire spotting, many of the fire towers were manned on a somewhat permanent basis. In the west, the towers themselves provided the live-in quarters. But here in the south, there were actual cabins and cottages at the base of the towers for the rangers and, sometimes, their families. This was such a tower. The house and facility are now surrounded by a tall chain link fence and off limits. But you can tell that the house was quite nice in its day. It even had a proper yard and one can imagine the ranger and his family having had quite a life up there above 4,000 feet. There was a shed and miniature barn out back, a fenced-in area, what appears to have been a garden once upon a time. Just outside the chain link was a line of red spruce growing in perfect symmetry that I suppose the ranger had placed there for shade and decoration on some future date when the trees had grown large enough to provide both.
Well, now the trees are big enough to provide some shade and some unusual scenery. They're the only red spruce I've seen on any mountaintops in the Lake Lure area. But the ranger is gone. The ranger's family is gone. No ranger goes to this place anymore, for fire lookouts are a crusty residue from a bygone day put to rest forever by rockets and satellites and digitized signals received by computers and GPS devices. It must have been a nice place. Before the radio towers and cell phone towers and microwave receivers. It must have been an interesting place to live, there, above the valleys and looking out over waves of mountains rolling off to the horizon, covered with trees, blue in the southern haze, before the spread of roads, and gas stations, and developments of second homes like a rash on the hide of a giant ox.
Once upon a time, the view enjoyed by ranger and wife and children.
If I had a machine gun.
Friday, June 27, 2008
And still the Holocaust deniers spew their shit in the face of evidence:
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Here's a photo that was taken, for some strange reason, very early in the a.m. on the morning of my 47th birthday back in 2004. This was about one year before I sold my first novel, when I didn't have a literary agent any more, and when I was starting to figure that I'd maybe never sell a novel. I had no idea at all that within a few months, without an agent, I would sell my first novel and, later, the movie rights to that novel.
What a difference a year makes.
When we got to the waterfall (Hooker Falls) we decided to all go swimming in the plunge pool there. The pool at the base of the falls is pretty deep--ten feet or so at the deepest points. Which was great for swimming. Other people arrived down a hiking trail to also enjoy the waterfall and swimming hole.
After a while, I noticed that Nolan was shivering. The water seemed to be a bit too cold for him, despite the warm temperatures of the day, and despite the fact that he was having a great time. So I told Mark that Nolan was getting cold. At that point, Mark dried Nolan off and swaddled him in a huge beach towel and tucked him in the front of the canoe. I figured that was quite a photo and got a nice shot of Nolan sitting safe and warm in the canoe with his dad:
Here's to sweet children and great dads like my nephew, Mark. I hope every kid should have a father like Mark.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Occasionally people ask me why I hike up mountains. Wouldn't it be simpler and more fun to drive to the top of a mountain or stop at an overlook at a place like the Blue Ridge Parkway. Well, I don't ever say this to the people who ask me those questions, but the answer is "No. And you're an idiot."
I've been an avid hiker and backpacker since I was a young teenager. I took my first two-week backpacking trip when I was 15 years old. Since that time, except for a few years when I was too busy with a job or with family responsibilities, I've spent a lot of time going hiking, camping, and backpacking. It's been many years since I've taken more than a three-day backpacking trip, but I go often enough to keep my skills sharp.
Sometimes the effort of getting to the top of a mountain or to the lip of a gorge is really tough. Sometimes I even overdo it on the exertion, as I did this Sunday when I misjudged the slope and the vertical climb before me on my way to bagging Little Pisgah Mountain. In that case, I got a bit dehydrated, a bit too hot, and...well...I'll be 51 years old in four days and I just don't have the physical strength and stamina that I had even five years ago. I just plumb gave out and had to rest short of the peak. I'm gettin' old.
But as for the worth of it. Yeah, the doing is the thing. But not just that. There's usually a grand view from the top of a mountain. And that's always worth the effort, no matter what.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Little Pisgah has a number of towers on the summit. Common for prominent peaks in the eastern USA. Lots of radio, microwave, cell phone stuff. It's a bane of the southern highlands. You also run into folk building all sorts of vacation homes on these mountains. Generally, I loathe seeing these houses, second homes for the rich, which pock my Appalachian green heaven and which I'd generally like to see pushed over or burnt down.
However, on the way to the top of Little Pisgah we happened upon a particularly nice private home. It's situation below the main peak and sitting alone on a broad ridge looking out over the nearby peaks and over Hickory Nut Gorge actually charmed me. It also made me wish that the place could be mine. That had never happened before. I guess they aren't all blights on the landscape:
Lilly continues to grow. She's a great cat, as we'd hoped she would be. Lots of intelligence and personality and very affectionate:
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Standing on the shoulder of Little Pisgah, the second of the two peaks, we saw what appeared to be a trail heading up a field that looked like an official trail. Jack and I were faced with a choice:
either the road on which we'd been hiking, or the trail that went straight up the mountain through the field. We, being idiots, chose the trail. It turned out to be a cow path. With ticks in the grass. And what we assumed was a 200-foot climb was, in fact, 500 vertical feet of 50-degree asskick. About 3/4 of the way up I had to actually lie down in the tick-infested grass to keep from puking in the hot, beating sun. At any rate, we made it to the summit. I rewarded myself for the hideous climb by eating pizza this evening.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
A few years ago the Park Service took it upon itself to remedy this situation and made two attempts to reintroduce missing species from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The first attempt was to bring back the red wolf. Unfortunately that attempt failed because the very similar animal, the coyote, had already moved into the park ecosystem to fill the niche that had once belonged to the almost-extinct red wolf. It was sad that the red wolf attempt failed, but the coyote is such a similar species that it's hard to tell the difference between the two. So, for what it's worth, a creature almost identical to the red wolf has come back to those mountains.
The second attempt has proven to be easier and more successful. One reason for this is that the elk reintroduction had already begun in several other eastern states from Pennsylvania in the north to Kentucky farther south. If you want to see elk in the Park, the best place to go is to Cataloochee, one of the more inaccessible sections of the park. You can drive in, but only via gravel roads. There are no nearby urban areas, and so this section of the park is less tame than those closed in by Cherokee and Gatlinburg and other such hellish spots.
Every time I drive in to Cataloochee, I see the elk. Sometimes only a few, but at other times dozens of them. You can find them in the fields that are kept cleared for historical reasons, and also in the forests as you hike along. The elk reintroduction has proven to be quite successful and the herd numbers are holding steady.
The buzz I hear around the wilderness community is that the Park system is considering the restoration of the bison to the area. This would be a great thing, and I hope to see it happen within the next few years. I would love to live to see the return of the two largest mammals of the southern woodlands to a part of their historical range.
Friday, June 20, 2008
But as Jack and I hiked along, exploring a dead-end trail, we followed it to a small pond known as Lake Albert (a pond, I tell ya). The lake has a covered dock and a pathway in a crescent that doesn't quite navigate the place. On the little covered dock was a small land turtle commonly referred to in this neck of the woods as a "box turtle" or "box tortoise". They are indeed actually turtles, but don't spend any time at all in water. Completely land-based creatures, the box turtle. Quite colorful, too. Most of the ones that I've encountered are dominantly orange. This one was mainly yellow in color.
The most amazing thing about him, though, was that he seemed pretty much unafraid of us. In every occasion before, each turtle I've come across has closed up his little box shell, sealing the soft parts under that bony carapace. This one...this one somehow seemed as curious of us as we were of him. All the time we were giving him the once-over, he was gazing up at us in just as much wonder and just as much curiosity.
Here's to the brave and curious little box turtle of Albert Lake.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Here's the thing: it's listed as a state "forest" and not a park. What is the difference between a state park and a state forest? I'm not quite sure. I do know that most state parks have more of a wilderness aspect about them. That is, there are rules and regulations that restrict access and limit development of the forests, mountains, streams, rivers, swamps...basically whatever it is about the park that made it worth protecting as a park in the first place.
The nomenclature of state "forest", however, may leave the question of development in a state of constant debate. You can cut a forest down. You can't generally cut down a park. Defeats the purpose.
When they made this land into an official state forest it still had an active industrial site within its borders. This was the Agfa Plant. I'm not even sure what the Agfa Plant made, but it was a fairly large series of structures and supporting sites and employed quite a number of people. The land contained as the Agfa Plant was pretty much squat-dab in the center of the forest, and is often referred to as "the doughnut hole". That's what it looks like on a map of the park.
Now, though, the plant is closed down. Not only is it no longer a working plant, all of the buildings and tanks and other structures connected to it have been taken apart and hauled out of the forest. So there it sits, where you can see it from a distance, just a big blank area in the bottom of the valley with some empty foundations and parking lots and a paved road leading up to it.
In addition to the old Agfa Plant site, there are quite a number of existing roads that criss-cross the DuPont State Forest. I can understand the desire to keep these roads in good condition. For one thing, it can be argued that they're needed to maintain motor vehicle access to the cabins that are now serving as homes for park rangers. And for access to the empty lodge building which may or may not continue to be operated as a lodge at some future time. The whole future of the forest is pretty much a mystery to me. The horseback riders and mountain bikers also seem to enjoy these roads. (Also, apparently these roads are sometimes unlocked to allow access to the waterfalls for folk who are physically disabled. I once saw a family of lardasses given access to one of these roads so that they could haul their fat butts to a waterfall lookout.)
But on my latest hike into the park, I saw something rather puzzling, even for a park with a misspent budget. On the Joanna Road, near the top of Joanna Mountain, in a big clearing about 200 feet shy of the summit, my friend Jack and I came across new road construction. This is puzzling for a number of reasons. First of all, the road cuts across the top of pretty much level exposed rock as it is. Why would you need to "improve" such a surface? Second of all, this is now supposed to be a park. At least I thought it was. Why would one haul up heavy equipment to carve out a new road base where one doesn't seem to be needed? Just a way to spend some extra money? The actions of some bureaucratic asswipe? I have no answer.
But I can say that it was exceedingly ugly to look upon. And weird to see this heavy equipment just sitting there in the midst of ripping out chunks of the ridgeline to make a level road surface. Just god damned weird. And what was ironic about it is that this spot is also the finest view I've seen of the old Agfa Plant site. It seemed somehow appropriate in a truly twisted way to stand on new construction in the forest to look down on a site that is supposed to be slowly recovering from the violent hand of Man.
As Jack and I hopped down from our rocky perch to continue on our journey to bag Joanna Mountain, the very loud buzz of what appeared to be a very big rattlesnake assailed our ears as we passed a rubble heap baking in the afternoon sun.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Right away, we noticed problems with this place. The folk on the other end of the line weren't all that helpful when we called to make reservations. We ended up in a campsite across the road from the lake (that was actually good) but completely absent of trees (boo!). The campsites where we were situated had been created by carving away a hill to make a level area suitable for seven campsites (sans trees). Yes, we had full hookups, but I missed the trees.
Bridal Veil Falls.
The main focus of the trip was to get a good visit of DuPont State Forest. At one time, the almost 11,000 acre tract that makes up this quasi-park was in the hands of the DuPont Corporation. They used part of it as an industrial site (for their Agfa Plant), and the rest as a kind of retreat for company big-shots and as rewards for loyal employees and such. The park is criss-crossed with amazing gravel roads and trails, has at least four lakes, a lodge, several cabins, and a paved airstrip complete with hangar.
Under the Falls.
However...the next time I go, I will stay at the Davidson River Campground, which is a National Forest facility and not quite so encumbered with so many rules and not run by such a lot of ancient prison camp guards.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Well, we returned from our first extended (mountain) vacation of the year. I spent several days tramping around the high country, most of it in DuPont State Forest near Brevard, NC. I had a great time, save for denting the door of my travel trailer on the way home. I fear I'm going to have to get the entire door replaced. I shouldn't be too depressed over it (I am), for it could have been far worse.
While in DuPont, I took a shower at the base of the highest waterfall in the park, the aptly named High Falls. If the footing at the top of the falls is anything like that at the base, I can well understand why so many people have fallen to their deaths in such places.
I'll write more about my hikes when I've recovered from the drive home.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Go to the window and look outside.
If there are trees, there will be a day when they’ll
Be cut the fuck
If you look out and see
Buildings, or other
Houses, or other
Offices, then there will come a
When they will all be knocked the fuck
Nothing in Man’s way will
We destroy everything
We have built.
We eat everything placed
There is nothing too quaint to be preserved.
There is nothing too beautiful to be saved.
There is nothing too rare to be spared.
We knock down mountains.
We carve up rivers.
We shove whole forests into our guts.
We shit on the land
And piss in the oceans
And fart into the skies.
Look out the window.
Everything you saw is gone.
Alas, he has no interest in going to college. (Argh!)
He's gainfully employed at a metals shop where he's training to be a welder. Yes, I know that welders often make decent money. And there's nothing wrong with being a laborer. (I am a laborer, too.)
However, I did have my dreams for Andy. But he just didn't share them. So it goes.
At work, there is often scrap metal lying about that is good for odd little projects when he's not working. He brought one home yesterday. Here it is:
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
We are constantly scouring the Internet and searching for new places to visit. Surfing the net being what it is, we often stumble upon places that are relatively nearby and which seem exceedingly unique and, because of that character, exceedingly fragile and under threat. Because travel is becoming more and more expensive, we reserve one big trip far afield every year, and try to take several journeys far closer to home, but which are rewarding in natural beauty.
We've discovered some amazing places by seeking out the less known and lightly visited parks and rural areas. Also, because we feel that we're bound by time as we settle into middle age and the cancer of urban sprawl, we look to take these trips as often as we can.
Very high on our list is a rural discovery that we made online. In Tazewell County in the state of Virginia is a high mountain valley commonly referred to as "Burke's Garden". It is also known as "God's Thumbprint", due to its appearance when seen from high above. I have to say, it does indeed look to be the thumbprint of a gigantic deity making Her mark on the planet.
We're not sure if we're going to be able to see this part of the country in 2008, but it is on the radar and will likely be part of a multi-park swing through Virginia/West Virginia/Kentucky within the next twelve months.
I'll keep you posted when we finally do hit the area.
Chestnut Knob Shelter, one of the more unusual Appalachian Trail Shelters. Located high above Burke's Garden in Virginia.
I have some writing news to announce--once again, just as soon as my agent gives the all-clear. A few more weeks, apparently.
For now, my main concern is to buy some new fishing gear, make sure the canoe and all the doo-dads that go with it are in order, and to get out my stack of trail maps and try to decide which mountain peaks I need to bag.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
After sending a few things Steve's way, he accepted my short story "Wet", and thus I soon got my first fully professional sale under my belt. Until that time, all of my sales had been to small press outfits for rather pitiful sums. It took some time for my story to see print (in issue #2) due to the hideous problems Steve was having getting his anthology comic published (which is a true horror story unto itself).
Steve is one of the more intelligent fellows who worked in comics, and it was a shame to see him leave the format for so many years. But the Internet has brought him partially back to those of us who enjoyed his company in the day, and apparently he's creating comics again. I look forward to these new projects, as Steve Bissette was always one of the more talented folk working in the field of comic art.
One thing that I find strange about Steve is that he claims to enjoy every single film that he has ever seen. Since I am personally a monster of a curmudgeon when it comes to films (I loathe about 90% of every film I've ever seen), I always think of Steve when I listen to the Statler Brothers, who made a singing career out of nostalgia and movies.
So, my hat's off to Steve Bissette, who likes all movies, and without whom I may never have made not only my first professional fiction sale, but everything that soon followed it.
Outside, it's so hot that even the community swimming pool is largely deserted. Ugh. I look out at the clear sky, a kind of metal gray rather than blue. The heat is overwhelming and quite hideous. Carole and I look at the weather reports from Camden Maine and dream. Bar Harbor calls. We'll be there in two months.
Next week, we hook up the travel trailer and journey to the North Carolina mountains to spend a few days at Cascade Lake, taking the canoe out, doing some fishing. I'll wander around and view the waterfalls, bag a few peaks, and hopefully enjoy cooler weather in the southern high country.
For now, though, we work inside and peer out and hope for hurricanes from of the Caribbean. Push some moisture this way. The drought is once more upon us. Did it ever break?
Saturday, June 07, 2008
"Dale, we live in Texas where it already gets to 110 degrees in the Summer. If it gets one degree hotter I'm gonna kick your ass!"
As a laborer who works in the elements all year, I can say that slogging away in the heat and humidity is pretty damned miserable. The past few days the temperature has hovered in the high 90s. Tomorrow, it's supposed to hit, and maybe surpass, the century mark. Thank Jove I don't have to work tomorrow.
And if it gets any hotter, I'm going to kick the shit out of the next Nimrod who claims that there's no such thing as global warming.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Thursday, June 05, 2008
The awards ceremonies were sometimes fun, but the political circle jerks that led up to the issuing of these awards sickened me. Year after year I would receive letters and phone calls and (after computers became commonplace) emails lobbying me for my support for this writer or that novel or this short story. It made me sick. Year after year I would see undeserving work winning awards that meant absolutely nothing, save that some writer had a lot of friends whom he had swabbed so effectively.
It's no wonder I stopped going to these "conventions". As I got older and began to see the natural world dissolving around me, I decided that what I really needed to do was get back out into the outdoors a lot more often to experience the wild places that I loved before they were all paved over or cut down or just generally wiped off the map in an orgy of human destruction. So, I stopped going to writers conventions and started spending a lot more time traveling to places where I could swim in clean waters, climb to roadless summits, and walk in virgin forests. These places are becoming more rare with each passing second. Every time we blink we lose a forest somewhere.
Sometimes I bump into some writer I used to know (usually online) and they ask me where I've been and why I don't come to this or that gathering anymore. I try to be polite, usually, but mainly I'm honest and tell them that I reached a point where I couldn't stand to be there anymore. These same folk don't know what to say when I tell them what I've been doing instead of standing around watching a bunch of disingenuous fops pretend that they're somehow important. They don't understand how I can expend the calories to hike to the top of a mountain. It's beyond their ken.
Instead of attending those writers gatherings, I go hiking. I climb mountains. I watch wild animals, who are far more interesting and far more worthwhile in the scheme of things than some pandering wanna-Stoker asswipe. One thing that I like to do when I'm in a particular area of the country is to climb that area's highest point. Sometimes the hike is very easy, and sometimes it's a long and difficult undertaking. There are even clubs that do this, much like there are gathering places for passionless writers.
I'm heading up to New England later this year. I want to climb some mountains in Maine, principally, but I also was thinking of hitting some other areas. One thing that I find disturbing in the East is that most states have rammed roads to their highest points, spoiling them almost beyond repair with automobile access and parking lots and summit construction. Case in point being Mount Washington and Clingman's Dome and Brasstown Bald and Mount Mitchell...well, I could go on.
But I was pleasantly surprised to see that, for reasons that are temporary, there is no automobile access to the summit of Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusettes. Unfortunately, the foot-travel only access is temporary. But enjoy it while you can, folk. I may take the time to do so, just so that I can see what it's like to stand there without having to worry about the constant arrival of endless numbers of lazy Americans driving to a place where access should be strictly on foot.
Ah, if only the road closure was made permanent. If only you worthless car-driving assholes were forced to walk up.
I would always tag along at my dad’s heel. He was a tall, long-legged man, and his idea of waiting was to slow down just a very little bit. Not a nice thing, I suppose, and it’s something that stuck with me. I remain a fast walker when tramping through the forests, and my own response to the plea “wait for me” is to slow down, very slightly, and allow the person hiking with me a chance to catch up. Otherwise, to hell with their slow asses.
One of the things I can vividly remember are his warnings to steer clear of sawdust piles. We would encounter these things all over the place, especially in areas that had been parts of monoculture pine tree plantations for generations. As we would hike along in the neatly planted rows of jacks pines or slash pines or longleaf pines or scotch pines, we would sometimes come upon the site of abandoned sawmills.
The sawmills themselves were long gone. Often they had been temporary affairs, or portable. The landowners would send in teams to assemble these mills to saw up the trees where they were being felled. And, after the area was depleted of mature trees, they would take the mill apart and move it on down the line. The only thing they’d leave behind were vast piles of sawdust.
Depending on the age and the situation, the sawdust piles we’d encounter varied in size and profile. Some of them were massive—tall piles of sawdust going all brown and moist over the years. Some had collapsed in on themselves, rotting from bottom to top and forming dark, concave shapes on the forest floor. If we encountered one in cool weather or on chilly mornings, they would often be steaming with the interior heat of rot.
My dad was actually frightened of these things. When he’d been a very small boy, at the turn of the 20th century, he’d known another boy who had ventured out onto a big sawdust pile. The hard crust on top of that particular pile had given way beneath the boy’s weight and he’d gone through it up to his thighs. The sudden introduction of oxygen caused the slowly rotting stuff to spontaneously combust, and the kid had third-degree burns on his legs. My dad, having seen the boy’s scars much later, never forgot the horror of that. Whenever we’d see one of these things lying so seemingly benign and permanent on the forest floor, we would go wide of it.
And my dad would offer additional warnings of the dangers of the sawdust pile.
Another reason to fear them, he’d tell me, is that because of the interior heat being generated by most of them, they were attractive places for serpents. My dad was not of the enlightened age of trying to understand and tolerate snakes. He loathed them all and would kill just about any snake that encroached on his space, poisonous or non-poisonous. Sawdust piles were great places for snakes to burrow into, seeking warmth in times of rare cool weather in the deep South. One more reason to stay away from the sawdust piles.
Sometimes, when I’m walking alone in the woods, I will encounter these piles of sawdust as I hike along. Recalling my dad’s words, I will steer clear of them, always looking for snakes (although unlike my dad I don’t have any fear of snakes), and I will wonder what heat smolders there, just beneath the dark, moist surface, waiting to burst out, filled with red hot power.