Thursday, July 31, 2008

Comic Convention

I'll be a guest at the local Charlotte ComicCon this Sunday.

I'll be selling and autographing copies of THE FLOCK. The hardback version is now officially out of print, so if you want a copy, I'm just about the only reliable source right now.

The hardback cover art by Thorsten Grambow.

Proposed comic cover by Mark Masztal.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Haunting the Appalachian Trail

Originally, I had intended to do some hiking on the Appalachian Trail last weekend. But since we had to curtail our original plans I didn't get to do that. We did stop at Neels Gap where the AT crosses the highway. We went into the Wasali Yi Center which has a hostel for hikers and a shop where folk can buy backpacking equipment and various trail supplies (such as food). The Center is the only place on the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail that passes through a building, going through a breezeway there.

When I was a teenager, I hiked all of the AT that lies within my home state of Georgia. Hiking through Neels Gap as a kid is one of my favorite memories. Not much has changed there, fortunately. The store is more well supplied than it was in the old days, but other than that it was pretty much as I recalled it.

The view from Neels Gap this past weekend.

Photo I took from the top of Blood Mountain (above Neels Gap) in 1975.

And me, age 18, in 1975.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Once Was, No More

Every day I am reminded of how our society thinks of construction. It's merely a process, apparently, and has nothing at all to do with the value of that which has been constructed. In the area where I work I see fine old houses bought up, then leveled so that three or four or five or six homes can be built on the same plot of land that once provided space to a single house. I see rich folk buying perfectly fine homes, and gutting them down to the bare stud walls and starting over. I've seen this done with homes in June, the house sells again in December, and in January the new owners repeat the process. It's bizarre and wasteful almost beyond belief.

When I was a kid the Forest Service was still using fire lookouts to spot fires. Ideally, three towers would take readings and the fire would be located via triangulation when the spotters radioed in the figures. Here in the South, full-time rangers would man the towers, usually on a shift by shift basis. Out west, where towers could be very isolated, the lookouts would sometimes be manned by full-time seasonal employees. Even Jack Kerouac once spent a spring and summer manning a lookout in Washington State.

By the time I was a teenager, these towers were being used less and less. The Forest Service was beginning to rely on spotter planes and, later, satellite imagery to pinpoint fires. Slowly, they stopped using fire towers entirely. And, having no more use for the towers, they began to either remove them, or allowed them to deteriorate.

The Green Knob Fire Tower in Pisgah National Forest is deteriorating.

Generally, I cannot stand to come across a man-made structure on an isolated mountain top. It bothers me to see a building or a house in the wilderness. Sometimes, it makes my blood boil. But I've never been bothered by seeing a fire tower when I get to the top of a mountain. These days the towers are generally locked up tight. No one drives or hikes up to use them anymore. But, to me, they're historical buildings. They're a part of how we managed and maintained our forests in earlier days. Sometimes for the good, and sometimes for the bad. But history they are.

Why does the Forest Service allow them to fall apart?

In the west, many fire lookouts are kept in good order and are offered as overnight lodging destinations for hikers. It would be great if this could be done with lookouts here in the East. However, there doesn't seem to be much of an effort to allow this. Nor does anyone seem interested in preserving most of our remaining fire towers as historical structures. It's a shame. All over the South fire towers are crumbling. Some are definitely not safe to climb, while others are still in relatively good shape.

This past weekend on my way to the top of Frosty Mountain, I found the location of the old fire tower that had once graced that Georgia summit. All that remains are the concrete footings. I haven't been there since I was seventeen years old, but I seem to recall that the fire tower was still there when I was in high school. The Forest Service has all but eradicated all evidence of that old structure.

So it goes.

Some concrete footings are all that remain of the Frosty Mountain Fire Tower.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Abbreviated Vacation

Originally, Carole and I were supposed to have had almost a week in the mountains of northern Georgia. Our plan was to take our travel trailer to De Soto Falls Campground in the Chattahoochee National Forest where I would have had the opportunity to climb Blood Mountain, hike in the De Soto Falls Wilderness, visit Sosebee Cove and Cooper Creek Recreation Area to see old growth trees. But, I couldn't get some annual leave on which we were counting and that wrecked our plans.

Amicalola Falls, a series of seven cascades totaling 729 feet making it, arguably, the highest waterfall in the eastern USA.
So, Carole called to see if we could get two nights at the Len Foote Hike Inn located adjacent to Amicalola Falls State Park. It was booked up, save for one Saturday night room due to a cancellation. Carole booked it. We then drove up to Dahlonega, spent the night in a Days Inn and then drove over to Amicalola Falls State Park on Saturday morning. After checking in at the visitors center, we started our hike at 9:00am. The five-mile hike to the Len Foote Lodge is listed as "moderate", but my wife is, to put it lightly, not an outdoors type. Common wisdom infers that the hike takes "two to four hours". It took us four hours, since Carole is not accustomed to hiking, and also because she has gained so much weight over the past year.

The hike to the facility is through classic southern Appalachian woodlands. There are few views because of the very thick and lush tree cover, which is part of the charm of the mountains of my native South. We saw some flowers (peak season for most flowering shrubs was over) and noted dozens of types of mushrooms and fungi along the trail. In fact, I've never witnessed so many types of mushrooms in my life. We couldn't get over the variety of 'shrooms.

This area supposedly has an enormous bear population, and I was hoping to see at least one. But the wildlife was pretty much absent for our entire trip. The whole time we were there, we saw only one squirrel and one small bird. That was about it for wildlife for us. Other guests of the lodge did encounter a bear, several deer, a timber rattler, a copperhead, an opossum, a raccoon, a turkey, etc. But all we saw was a squirrel and a little songbird. Alas!

From the trailhead at Amicalola Falls, the hike stays mainly on ridgelines with steady climbs and occasional drops into shallow gaps and subsequent reclimbs of the ridge. In all, you get a total gain of about 700 feet between the start of the hike and the end at the Lodge. But actually you climb a lot more than that when you factor in the drops to several gaps. In all, I'd say you have a total elevation gain of around 1,000 feet. Some of the climbs are rather steep and gave Carole a hard time. Between the two of us, we drained five bottles of water along the way.

When we arrived at the Lodge, we checked in and got our bed linens and bags with washcloths and towels. The rooms are simple, but comfortable, with wall fan, a single light, a bunk bed, built-in desk and small chair. There is a shelf and wall pegs for hanging stuff.

I was very impressed with the Len Foot Lodge. It was much, much larger than I had expected. The first thing you see is the covered breezeway with rock floor and Adirondack chairs and rockers. Then there's a set of stairs leading up to the office and the main lodge where the rooms are located. From there, you descend to the bathhouse which has a number of composting toilets, sets of showers and sinks. It was great to be able to take a hot shower after the long hike.

From the bathhouse you descend to the next level which is the dining hall which accommodates around 50 guests who all dine family style at three long tables. The meals proved to be quite substantial and the quality of the food excellent. I can't say enough good things about the fare offered. In addition, the chef keeps snacks in the dining area between meals and there is always tea, lemonade, apple juice, and water available for the taking. And the coffee pots are going continuously.

Taking it easy on a rocker in the breezeway.

After that, you descend another set of stairs to the Sunrise Room which is a large room featuring a padded bench on the circumference, a huge deck, lots of places to sit and enjoy the eastern view, ceiling fans to keep you cool, and games, puzzles, and books to keep you occupied. Below the Sunrise Room is a horseshoe pit, lawn chairs, a huge granite sun dial, and the Chattahoochee National Forest in which to roam.

While Carole took a shower and went to our room to nap, I found myself still full of energy and decided to continue my hike. Grabbing some water and our camera, I hiked up to the Approach Trail (that takes you to the Appalachian Trail) and hiked to the summit of Frosty Mountain, the former site of a fire tower. The tower has been removed, but the concrete footings are still there, and you are at the highest point on Amicalola Mountain. From there, I hiked back down the Approach Trail and down to the Lodge for a round-trip hike of almost four extra miles. Then I took a shower, too, and joined Carole in our room where I also decided to take a nap.

At about five pm we got up and wandered around the Lodge until suppertime. The evening meal was spectacular. We had roast pork loin, roast vegetable medley, green beans, cornbread dressing, whole wheat rolls, fresh green salad with dressing; followed by peach pie with vanilla bean ice cream. It's all served family style with the food arriving in big bowls and platters and passed around from guest to guest where everyone talks and gets to know one another.

After dinner we sloshed away from the table and sat
to enjoy a passing thunderstorm. It was fun to hear the thunder bouncing off the walls of the nearby peaks and coves, echoing round and round the high country. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to listen to a thunderstorm in the mountains. The rain was much needed and we were safe and dry so it was a very pleasant experience.

Relaxing in the Sunrise Room under the great ceiling fans after a hot shower.

Tired, Carole and I fell into a deep sleep by 7:00 pm. Both of us woke up at midnight to the great music of cicadas singing loudly the woods; and we strolled quietly around the lodge, looking up at the sky which had cleared and was packed with stars. Then we got back to sleep around 2:00 am and were awakened by the gentle beating of a leather Indian drum at 6:00 am, letting us know that there was going to be a nice sunrise if we wanted to see it. Carole chose to continue sleeping, but I got up and went to the dining hall where I got a big mug of coffee with lots of cream and sugar and took my camera to the Sunrise Room where I stood on the deck and snapped shots of the rising sun.

Sunrise from the Sunrise Room.

At 8:00 am, breakfast was served in the dining hall. We had crisp bacon, sweet cornbread, grits, fried potatoes with onions, scrambled eggs, juice, and more coffee. After that, we took it easy to let our meal settle, got our stuff packed for the hike back down the mountain, cleared our linens from the room and got it ready for the staff to clean, and sat in the breezeway of the Lodge to think about the long hike back out.

As with the hike to the Lodge, it took us right at four hours. Alone, I could have done it in about one hour fifteen minutes, but Carole is a slow hiker. We took our time with frequent stops along the way. We want to go back, but the next time we go we're going to stay at least two nights. If we'd had a longer stay, I would have hiked to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I haven't been there since I
was seventeen years old and I want to see if it's as I recall it.

Georgia is very lucky to have a place like the Len Foot Hike Inn. If you ever get the chance to stay there, I highly recommend it. The staff was very friendly and the service was top-notch. In addition, there's nothing much like a stay in a wilderness lodge, away from the sounds and the stenches of modern life.

Horseshoe Pit below the Sunrise Room.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Return of the Bob-Thing PartX

We just got back from a very short vacation to the north Georgia mountains. I lived there when I was a teenager, but I rarely return. Which is a shame, because it's a scenic area with much to offer in the way of natural resources. I'll write more about it once I've recuperated from the physical activity and the long drive back home. In the meantime, here are a few visuals:

Blood Mountain (on the far left) and related peaks leading toward the north.

Amicalola Falls. This is part of the 729-foot cascade that makes it, arguably, the highest waterfall in eastern North America.

Part of the Len Foote Hike Inn. This is where we stayed. Accessible only via a five-mile hike, this is a classic wilderness lodge. Georgia is very lucky to have such a facility. Details tomorrow.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Death Penalty

Humans spend trillions screwing up the Earth. But no money can be found to safeguard Nature from the depredations of those who would destroy it all for profit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

First and Latest

This is the first outdoor shot I took with a digital camera, my Canon Powershot A80. On March 28, 2004 . I was hiking the Rocktop Trail in Crowder's Mountain State Park when I saw these two rock climbers scaling one of the cliffs near the summit:

Climbers on the cliffs of Crowders Mountain

The latest digital photo that I've taken was with the same camera (on July 19, 2008), which still works just fine, even though we now own a much better digital camera (also a Canon). This was taken in the station where I work and is one of the photos that I took for the short bit about my job (posted here a few days ago). Appropriately, it's quite an ugly photo and has the very nice title (provided by the onboard computer) of "IMG_0013". Haha.


This has been a really good camera. It has never ceased to work perfectly. I've dropped it a number of times, and it just keeps doing the job for which it was designed: taking photographs. It has some scratches and dents (I once dropped it from quite a distance onto solid granite), but is otherwise working like new.

Well, I'm leaving for a few days to go hiking in the mountains of northern Georgia. I haven't been back to the Georgia mountains for about three years, so I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Too Hot to Think

Feeling lazy today because of the heat. Too tired to think much, so I'll make like Lilly and just lie around and be a lump.

I'm restin'.

Leave me alone.

Anyway, I'm trying not to think too hard about where Carole and I are headed in a few days. But you can read about the place here:

The Len Foot Hike Inn.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Absolute proof that technologically advanced apes once reigned supreme over the Earth. This is a photograph (taken by Jeff Polston) of a profile in Hanging Rock State Park in North Carolina.

Humans must forever be vigilant that these space apes do not once again seek to retake the planet. (It's said they are biding their time somewhere in the outer edges of the solar system.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Backpacking the Future

Now that I'm getting old, I don't go backpacking as much as I'd like. There's always something tugging at me to keep me away from the multi-day trips into the wilderness.

For one thing, Carole doesn't backpack and I don't like being away from her for too long, so that bites at my conscience and tends to make me get lonely when the sun fades below the horizon and the darkness falls with the totality one only sees in the big outdoors.

Also, there's the job. It's very hard for me to work out vacation that's not already dedicated to my family.

And I don't have a normal work week because the USPS works a six-day schedule. So I only have a normal weekend once every five weeks. This makes it tough to schedule a good string of days to go backpacking.

Plus there's the creative work. My novels demand a lot out of me. I enjoy creating works of fiction, but the worlds tend to be needy things. Characters constantly nag for attention. Plots constantly request revision. It's tough, sometimes, to have a novel that needs to be completed.

So there's that.

But, as I said, I'm getting old. There are only so many days left to me where I can physically carry a load of supplies on my back and hike into the mountains. I need to fill that dwindling supply of days with adventure.

Here's to a few more good years.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Work, work, work, work, work, work, work!

Since I rarely post anything here about my job, I figured I could post a few photographs of where I work.

This here is my "case". This is the small space where I collate the mail that's going out to the customers to whom I deliver each day. As you can see, I have decorated my case with some things to break the monotony. You've probably noticed the photo I printed of W. Moron Bush kissing Prince Fahd. Oy.

(If you embiggen this photo by clicking on it, you will see Wayne Sallee's infamous "four sticks".)

This is the view I get of the station when I turn around to see who's breathing down my back.

Part of our break room. Each morning I spend ten minutes in here violating photographs of Republican politicians.

After I deliver mail to the businesses at the mall, I head over to this apartment complex.

Often during the summertime when the humidity is high and the temperatures are in the mid-90s, as they were today, I spend quite the miserable time schlepping mail. On such days the sky is gun-metal gray rather than the blue that Mother Nature intended. This is due to the photochemical haze that human industry pumps into the skies. However, today the sky was a brilliant blue that was striking in its intensity. I suspect this may have had something to do with Tropical Storm Cristobal that had just formed off the South Carolina coast. Not sure. For whatever reason, though, the skies were crystalline and numbingly beautiful. It made working in the heat much more pleasant.