Friday, February 29, 2008


So cute it makes you want to puke:

My Casita and old truck at the Ammons Branch Campground.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Well Spent Youth

(What I was riding, circa 1967.)

The brightest part of my youth was spent on a residential street in Decatur, Georgia called Mead Road. The entire street ran from Oakview Road on the south and Howard Avenue on the north end. Each end of the street was a terminus for Mead Road, for it did not continue on the opposite side of the streets with which it intersected. The entire street was only a few blocks long, and composed completely of single-family homes (one duplex of which I was aware), a doctor's office (Dr. Levin, my own doctor), and the elementary school which I attended and which was directly next door to where I lived.

I loved that place. I lived there for just a few years--from the time I entered the third grade until I graduated from the sixth grade. I had friends all up and down the street and some from the streets on one side or the other. We spent our days playing in the school fields, in the many patches of woods scattered throughout the area, and exploring up and down vast streams and creeks filled with fish and reptiles and amphibians, many of which we caught and released. I was lucky to have lived in an area that was filled with so many types of salamanders, which we kids were always thrilled to catch and examine and then put back into the creeks from which we'd kidnapped them.

We lived in a rambling house of wood and Stone Mountain granite. The foundation was granite and the fireplace was granite. It was a pretty darned cool place to live. We had a big living room which was more often than not piled to the ceiling with boxes of comic books from my dad's used bookshops. I don't think there was a comic book published between 1956 and 1968 that I hadn't at least looked at, and most of which I'd read.
For a kid between the ages of eight and eleven, it was a pretty goddamned cool place.

Don't get me wrong--it wasn't all fun and giggles. But for the most part I had a really good time being a little boy. My parents bought me most of the toys I asked for, but I never was a greedy kid. I had model rockets and dinosaurs and books-a-jillion. There just wasn't a whole hell of a lot that I wanted and didn't have.
But here, condensed into just a few items, are the things which seemed to me to have been the most important bits of silliness to the child I was then:

I had access to every comic book imaginable. None fascinated me more than Steve Ditko's creation, The Amazing Spider-Man.

I had quite a number of the Aurora Model Kits. Probably about twenty of them. The Superman model was a classic.

You can say what you want about Forry Ackerman and Jim Warren, but the fact remains that they influenced many of the children of the 60s who went on to become creators in comics, prose, TV, and film. Forry's vision was, and still is, seminal.

Yes, TV was a huge influence on me. One of my favorite shows was, of course, The Munsters.

I had several of the Weird Ohs model kits, also. Influenced by Big Daddy Roth, these were all the rage in my neighborhood (and neighborhoods nationwide) when I was in the third and fourth grades.

When I was eight years old my mom handed me this book. I sat down to read it and was scared shitless, amazed, stunned, fascinated, dazzled. I put aside Hugh Lofting and devoted myself to weird fiction for many years.

B.K. Taylor

(Image copyright B.K. Taylor)

Whatever happened to B.K. Taylor?

When I was a teenager, I loved reading his contributions to the humor magazine, National Lampoon, which appealed to my brutish and primitive sense of what was funny. I have to say that I still have a brutish and primitive sense of what is funny, and I was curious about Mr. Taylor’s work.

Apparently, from what I’ve been able to glean from the internet, none of his particularly funny strips from Lampoon are available in book form. Which is a shame, because the material is truly good. I especially recall being amused by his “Timberland Tales”, and would love to read them again without having to dig up back issues of National Lampoon.

I did find one website with which he seems to be involved, but no other details. Someone told me that they think he does material for Mad Magazine and that he wrote, at least for a while, for some TV sitcoms.

When I was about nineteen, I met BK Taylor at the great old OrlandoCon run by Jim Ivey in the day. It was a really friendly comic convention packed into a small dealer’s room and accompanying panel rooms at the International Inn not far from the airport in Orlando, Florida. He’s one of the few artists/writers I ever approached to tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He thanked me and then told me that he was one of two BK Taylors who worked as a cartoonist, but that he was the funnier (and more talented) of the two. Whatever.

Innyway, I was just thinking of the dude and wondering about his past, present, and future projects. His work made me laugh.

(Image copyright B.K. Taylor)

Sunday, February 24, 2008


You know what’s frustrating?

Being about to burst to post some news, but not being allowed to post the news because your literary agent advises against it. That’s frustrating!

Contracts are signed. Every “i” dotted; every “t” crossed. Everything delivered and done.

And you can’t brag, yet.


Where's my dignity? I'm sure I left it somewhere around here!

Thursday, February 21, 2008


When I was a kid, and very excited by the impending Moon missions being launched by NASA, I was fascinated by our planetary companion. I learned all that I could about it as a small child, gazing up at it in the evenings and using the reflector telescope that my parents had bought me so that I could see the volcanic flatlands and the monstrous craters and the ragged highlands. I imagined the frail Apollo spacecraft flying to Luna and the spider-like Lunar Excursion Module touching down on the surface to deposit its crew of two.

Those were great days to be a kid interested in nature. To look up at the moon and to know that men were heading there. To read science books and understand how it was being done. To watch the news and see it happening. I'll never forget sitting in front of the television set to watch the launches of the various spacecraft as the USA painstakingly went through each step along the way. There were the Mercury shots, the Gemini missions, and then the Apollo spacecraft with the enormous Saturn V boosters.

I never forgot the feelings of pure amazement of how things worked, both in the turning of the globe, of the orbit of the Moon, of our own journey about the Sun. I would look up at the night sky and marvel at it all.

Last night, my son and I watched the total eclipse of the Moon. I've seen such events many times since I was a kid. I'd seen so many that I actually found myself missing them from time to time, despite the opportunity to witness them. But last night my son and I set up my digital camera and tripod and we took photos as the moon slowly vanished behind the enormous shadow of the Earth.

And there, for a moment, I felt a little of the awe over such an event when I was just a kid. It was nice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Climbing Scaly Mountain: A Picture Tour

Scaly Mountain is a 4,804-foot peak in North Carolina not far from the Georgia border. It's also known as Big Scaly, as there is a peak called "Little Scaly" (it being somewhat shorter). We began the hike in the Blue Valley Backcountry and linked up with the Bartram Trail via a connector and took another connector on the way back to make about a seven-mile hike. It was quite a nice climb, moving through some surprisingly beautiful stands of white pine. However, being in the Highlands area, there is overdevelopment, suburban sprawl into the forests, and houses have crept right up to the Bartram Trail, spoiling what should be a wilderness experience and keeping the hiker from finding solitude.

We took the West Fork Trail to Bartram going up, and Hurrah Ridge Trail coming down.

I was surprised at how well engineered the Bartram Trail was.

Saucony leads the way along a rocky overhang.

Our first good view of Scaly Mountain as we cross NC 109.

I love looking at old rock slides, imagining the power.

The Bartram Trail advancing up the peak.

Saucony pauses to get a drink at a stream crossing.

One of many little streams that cross the trail.

Our first view of Rabun Bald, in northern Georgia (2nd highest in GA).

Classic southern Appalachian ridge hiking.

We had to pass these horrid vacation homes along the Bartram Trail. I hope they burn down.

Andy Kunkle, Jack Thyen, and Saucony at the first set of cliffs.

Just below the 4,804-foot summit of Scaly Mountain.

On the way back down, we pass several more streams and small waterfalls.

Jack at a double stream crossing.

Just at the end of the trail, we passed through a magnificent white pine grove.

Monday, February 18, 2008


His anger was such that he often had nightmares in which he murdered someone, sometimes more than someone; violently, and with his bare hands.

His character was such that they remained nightmares.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Reality of It All

Several people have emailed me to say how much they'd like to hike to this waterfall:
While the hike to this waterfall is only about 200 yards from the road which runs adjacent to the wilderness area where it's located, there is no trail. I keep trying to impress upon folk what "no trail" means in the Southern Appalachians. Generally, it means extremely steep slopes, poor footing, and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of very thick vegetation. That vegetation generally being various species of brambles, rhododendron (they don't call them rhododendron hells for nothing) and often a nasty foot-grabbing plant called dog-hobble. While it wasn't very far, this is what the hike down to the bottom of the gorge looked like:
If you're up to it, then I highly recommend the scramble down to see these falls on Scotsmans Creek. Otherwise, just be aware of the kind of tough sledding you'll face. (Oh, yes. We also have lots of copperheads and rattlesnakes in this part of the country in the summertime.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In the Midst

My wife and I, perhaps counting some chickens not quite hatched, went to western North Carolina today to shop for some nice furniture, which we may buy at a later date.

On the way home, I talked my wife into agreeing to a detour through the Black Mountains, one of my favorite hiking and camping areas. We didn't get a chance to do more than just a very short hike (to a swimming hole), but I got this great panoramic shot of the Black Mountains of North Carolina. This spot from a golf course at the base of the peaks, is just about the best grandstand of the northern section of the Blacks.

Well worth the side trip.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

They're Wrecking It

We're going to destroy it all.

I'm convinced of it. This past weekend my son and I traveled to western North Carolina to camp and go hiking in the Nantahala National Forest near the towns of Cashiers and Highlands. Highlands has been known as an exclusive resort community for many years--decades, in fact.

(The land beyond this falls is private property. I don't know what lies beyond.)

For a long time it was a high income retreat for wealthy southerners, many from the Atlanta area. Real estate in and around Highlands has been at a premium for a very long time. Unfortunately for the bulk of the public, relatively very little of the South is in public hands. Unlike the states in the west, we east of the Mississippi River have had to make do with fewer parks and very little in the way of protected (or even regulated) forests.

(One has to hike past these hideous vacation homes along the ridge of Scaly Mountain to find your way to the summit.)

Highlands and its immediate vicinity is a textbook example of what can and will happen without stiff regulation and protection of forest lands for use by the wider public. As I've said before, every time I look upon the landscape of this part of the nation where North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia meet, I am stunned at the sheer physical beauty on display. The highest sheer cliffs in the eastern USA are here.

There are so many waterfalls that some lie still undiscovered in the few pockets of forests that are rarely visited. There are groves of trees that have not been logged in hundreds of years, and even some spots that have never felt the teeth of a saw or the bite of an axe. The land rises abruptly from the Piedmont creating what some describe as a temperate rainforest packed hundreds of species of trees and dozens of types of amphibians.

The water table that has poured forth from this amazing terrain was once the cleanest and purest to be found in the east.

(The Chatooga River, which runs past private property, much of which prevents public access.)

But now, with unbridled development, with much of the land in private hands, it is all being quite literally loved to death by the wealthy elite. Tens of thousands of acres of forests are being plowed under to make way for subdivisions.

Mountaintops and ridgelines are off limits to the public, whom this wealthy elite looks upon with disdain and contempt. Waterfalls are fenced off for the benefit of a few families rich enough to afford to carve driveways to them where they can plant their enormous vacation homes.

(Yet another vacation home being ridge built.)

In short, the stunning beauty of these mountains is falling victim to the whims of a tiny minority of land developers hell-bent on the unintended destruction of that which they advertise as the source of the lure.

One can hike trails that were once in forest and which now meander past the front yards of multi-million dollar mansions. Peaks that could be climbed are now closed to the public and limited to the very damned few who can afford club memberships or the price of a lot within an exclusive development. Waterfalls are kept invisible to most of us and are now the privilege of only the wealthiest among us.
Something needs to be done. The time for conservation easements and half-hearted attempts to reclaim land for the use of the average citizen wishing to hike, to camp, to hunt, to fish, to find solitude is over.

These lands need to be either bought, or there should be a concerted drive to create parklands in this amazing place by use of eminent domain, condemnation, and seizure of property that never should have been private in the first place. If something is not done, then these mountains and valleys and streams and rivers and gorges will become nothing more than small suburban parks within a vast and connected mess of ruined lands.

The time is now. Parks via attrition, or parks by some method more immediate and less palatable for the rich who are wrecking it all.

(A rare bit of public land amidst the sprawl of private developments.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Coolest Hike

The best hike from my weekend was the shortest, but technically the toughest. It was only about 200 yards from the road, but was down into an extremely steep gorge cut by Scotsman's Creek which crossed Bullpen Road below Cashiers NC. Soon after you begin the descent, you pass into the Ellicott's Rock Wilderness Area. The grade is ridiculous and the vegetation (even in the depths of winter) extremely thick. Most of the problems are from having to negotiate through the rhododendron.

If you still need a lesson in ecological horror, take a look at the hemlock trees here, which are almost all dead from hwa infestation. What makes it doubly sickening is that these hemlock groves are all very old and these trees were of exceptional size. Say goodbye forever.

Our goal, however, was not to mourn the dying evergreens, but to view a little known waterfall called The Lower Falls of Scotsman's Creek. I was expecting a decent waterfall that was, I hoped, worth the tough scramble down to the foot of the gorge. What we got was one of the nicest waterfalls I've hiked to in a very long time. The water volume was great, and the vertical of this falls was also very impressive. I can only imagine what this place looked like when the dominant hemlock trees were in the glory of health.


Well, here is the place to which we scrambled down and struggled up from when it was time to make the next hike:

The Lower Falls: Amazing!

Nothing like standing in a place such as this to make you feel quite small.

Out of the gorge. Yes, it was very steep!

Through the rhododendron and up to the top!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hidden Waterfall, Wilderness Hike

My son and I took off for a weekend of hiking in the Nantahala National Forest where North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina border one another. The area is packed with beautiful mountains and fantastic waterfalls and wildwater. Unfortunately, it's an area that is very popular with the moderately wealthy elite of the South and has succumbed to overdevelopment by rapacious builders. Urban sprawl has all but raped this corner of the formerly wild lands of the southern Appalachians.

One of our intended hikes had to be called off because the mountains we wanted to bag are now under the complete ownership of a private concern. The public is no longer allowed there. Two entire mountains under private ownership. If ever I needed an illustration of why it's okay to condemn land and take it from private ownership to public holdings, I have to look no farther. If only we had a government with some balls, much of the high country in that part of the state could be taken from the rich who have bought it and placed within parkland so that all could enjoy it.

Until I have time to write more, here are a few photos from our trip:

Whiteside Mountain as seen from Whiteside Cove Road.

The lower falls of Scotsman's Creek.
Our campsite at Ammon Branch Campground, a Nantahala National Forest facility. Great price, too: Free!
My son, Andy, on an iron bridge on the Chatooga River Trail.
The Waterfall Andy was looking at from the iron bridge.
Our hiking companion, Andy Kunkle, negotiating a rough blowdown beside the trail.

Andy at a large poplar tree near Highlands after the Chatooga hike.

Andy standing beside a large hemlock tree on the Chatooga Trail. Most the hemlocks in this area are all dead from hwa.