Friday, May 30, 2008

Agent At Work

My agent has been busy trying to sell one of my novels. We're waiting to hear.

While I bite my nails, here's a (very) brief description of my horror novel, HISSMELINA:

In Elijah, high in the Carolina mountains, police officer Frances Jennings is drawn into a mystery involving several missing locals and the return of local matriarch Hester Keener. While Frances battles city fathers over her position as Elijah’s first female officer, her boyfriend is seduced by the power that emanates from The Crag, the peak that dominates Elijah, by his attraction for that place and for Hester’s young heir. What dark forces are at play? Who, or what, is the twisted form called "Hissmelina"? Frances peels away the layers of darkness to find an answer she may not wish to know.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Working at Work

One of the things that I was able to do when the movie advance money came in was buy myself, at long last, a laptop computer. I never felt that the expense was justified when I had a perfectly good desktop at home where I was able to work on my fiction in the evenings and on my days off.

But with thousands of dollars of found money in my savings account, I went out and bought a decent laptop with the thought being that I could work on my latest novel on my lunch breaks.

You know what? It's worked like a charm.

For half an hour four or five days a week I'm able to produce anywhere from one thousand to as many (on one day) four thousand words of fiction. As I'm currently collaborating on a novel (with a close friend with whom I've vowed to work on a novel for years), we should finish our project in quick order.

Sometimes things work out as you planned.

If you don't count the vacation thing. I thought I'd work on my novel in my travel trailer once I had the laptop. However, I always found myself either too tired to write, or too busy to do so.

C'est la vie.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Open Letter

As anyone who frequents this blog knows, I'm very concerned with the impending extinction of two of the most beautiful tree species on the east coast: the Carolina hemlock, and the Eastern hemlock (aka Canadian hemlock). I won't go into the details again, but it's something that can be helped, if only this nation's priorities were different. Over a year ago I hiked in an area of the South that has so far not felt the effects of the invasive pest that is killing all of our hemlock trees. One of the places where I hiked was a wilderness area in Tennessee that was formed partly due to the efforts of former Republican Senator Howard Baker. So I wrote him a letter making some suggestions concerning proposals that could help preserve the vast stands of hemlocks that remain so far free of infestation on the Cumberland Plateau in his home state. I never got any response. At any rate, here is the letter. Feel free to copy it, alter it (insert your own name) and mail it along to any elected official whom you feel may wish to act on the recommendations contained therein.

Fall Creek Falls State Park: vast tracts of virgin hemlock forests. Doomed if nothing is done to save them.

To the Honorable Senator Baker.

Honorable Howard Baker, Jr.
P.O. Box 600
Huntsville, TN 37756

As you are likely aware, the hemlock trees of the South are under threat of extinction due to the introduced insect pest Hemlock wooly adelgid (commonly referred to as hwa). I had the wonderful good fortune to go hiking this summer in the Bridgestone-Firestone Wilderness and in the Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness and in Falls Creek Falls State Park. I know that your great efforts were instrumental in the preservation of the phenomenal wilderness areas in which I hiked.

I was heartened and delighted to see that the hemlock forests in the areas where I hiked were still healthy and had not succumbed to the infestation as they have in my home state of North Carolina. The hemlock forests in two of our most beautiful national parks, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah have been virtually wiped out by this infestation.

There are some efforts afoot to stop the spread of this plague, but time is a problem. The only sure way to save a grove once the aphids have invaded is to treat it with an insecticide called Imadacloprid, created by Bayer. Treatment kills the infestation and ensures the survival of the trees until a further application that may become necessary in five years or so.

What I am proposing would be an effort manned by volunteers to go into the remaining healthy groves along the Cumberland Plateau to treat the hemlocks against these insects and preserve them until such time as a biological agent can be established to stop hwa. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who would be willing and happy to supply the manpower to go into Tennessee’s hemlock groves to treat them with Imadacloprid.

I would further propose that some public funds be set aside for this effort. In addition, since Imadacloprid is based on a synthesized form of nicotine, perhaps some of our tobacco companies and farmers would be willing to help fund such a drive to save our native hemlock forests. How often do the tobacco farmers or cigarette companies have occasion to promote a positive aspect of a derivation of their product?

I am not saying the Imadacloprid is without its own critics, and I am not saying that it alone is a cure-all for the problem of looming extinction of our hemlock forests. But it is a way of giving our native hemlock forests the extra time they need to avoid oblivion. For that is what they are facing without such an effort: total extinction of both the Carolina hemlock and the Eastern hemlock.

For my own part, I am only a letter carrier for the US Postal Service who happens to love the forests of my native South. However, there are very educated and qualified scientists within the Eastern Native Tree Society who would be only too happy to devote their time and efforts and knowledge to implementing a mass drive to treat the hemlock forests of the Cumberland Plateau and thus save them from destruction.

Senator Baker, thank you so much for your very valuable time. Sincerely,

James Robert Smith

Monday, May 26, 2008

Silly Superheroes

I had a blast reading this post over at John Kricfalusi's blog. He takes on the iconic superhero idea full on in a really blunt, but funny way. He also mentions Mort Weisinger, who was the editor responsible for some of the coolest and silliest superhero comic tales ever put to cheap pulp paper. I recall his editorship at DC Comics with more than a huge heaping of affection.

Who was the first costumed hero? That's what they were called when they first hit the big time. Publishers would call up the operators of the various sweatshops who produced the comics for them and they'd say: "Gee whiz! Can you deliver me up a good costumed hero?" And the sweat shop owners would oblige and serve up an endless array of copies of Batman or Superman or Human Torch or Capt. America or what-have-you. Those were the days!

Kricfalusi and his pals come to the conclusion that the first guy to don his underwear in public to fight crime was Lee Falk's THE PHANTOM. Can anyone claim an earlier costumed superhero? (Maybe Steve Bissette could offer some advice.)

The conclusion of the sentiment at John K's brilliant blog is that superheroes are silly as hell. And that they should remain totally silly without anyone trying to take them as serious literature. I must agree.

Was Mort Weisinger the last true Prophet of silly superhero comics?

On a similar note, I'm selling some comics that I don't want anymore. You can find them on Ebay.

What Would Buckaroo Do?

Between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, I lived in a wonderful/horrible place called Gilmer County in the north Georgia mountains. I won't get into the whys of the "horrible", but I will mention some of the "wonderful" things.

Probably the best thing about it was its rural character. It even had real wilderness remaining. Vast tracts of land where there were no roads and where access was possible only on foot in some places. Many of the kids I knew lived on farms. Actual honest-to-Bacchus farms. Most of those families didn't make all of their money from farming, but it was an integral part of the lives of just about everyone I knew when I went to high school there. All but the richest of the families seemed to have at least a couple of acres of some type under plow, or have livestock of some kind.

This was, looking back on it, very fine. I miss experiencing that. I miss helping friends plow a field. I miss spreading manure. (No, really! I do! It was fun.) I miss helping people harvest things from the fields--apples, corn, beans, okra, tomatoes, you-name-it. One of my pals I used to help when he'd go to the chicken coop to pick out a chicken for slaughter. They really do run around when you chop off their heads. Mainly, though, they fall down a lot.

Two of my pals were brothers, and we did a lot of hiking and backpacking together. Their dad leased a large pasture for raising beef cattle. They had a huge bull named Buckaroo. Whenever they had to go into the pasture, they had to keep a close eye out for Buckaroo. He did not care for humans trespassing on his territory. My pals would sometimes cut across the pasture on their hikes, and would make sure Buckaroo was far away when they'd commence to invading his land as they shortcut across it. Often, Buckaroo would spy them and give chase.

"What would Buckaroo do if he caught you guys?" I once asked them.

The brothers looked at one another, nodded, and said, "He'd kill us."

Not Buckaroo, but a reasonable facsimile.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

First, and Most Recent

The greatest toy my wife ever bought me is my digital camera. Well, plural, now. She bought me my first one in 2004, and here's the very first photo that I took on a hike. It's of a rock climber on one of the cliffs near the summit of Crowder's Mountain, a quartzite monadnock not far from Charlotte, NC, where I live.

Fast forward some four years and two months later. Carole bought me a second digital camera that's a bit better than the old one. Nice lens, more memory, etc. (Both are made by Canon.) While I do the lion's share of my hiking in the mountains, my latest outdoors excursion was in the low country, in Florida, and features the scrub jay that stole all of the bait out of the live trap meant for the problem raccoon at our campsite.

I'm left to conclude that I'm not a very good photographer. I'm far too impatient and I never learn all of the details of a camera's operation. As soon as I learn the basics, I shut down the learning process and just start snapping photos as fast as I can. That's the thing about a digital camera. You can take so many damned photos that you're bound to snap a few that are pretty good.

At any rate, having these cameras has meant a lot to me. The fact that I can record so very much of my hiking and camping and backpacking experiences has added a tremendous layer of joy to my outdoor activities. I took pictures when I used a film camera, but of course not nearly so many.

Here's one from June 24, 2004, the day I learned how to use the camera timer for self-portraits. This is, I think, the first self-portrait that I took on one of my hikes. This one from the summit of Cook's Wall in Hanging Rock State Park near the NC/VA border.

And a self-portrait two years later when I was in the Bald River Gorge Wilderness in Tennessee. By then I had a tripod that I took along instead of struggling to find a rock or a stump to put the camera on.

Well, it's been a few weeks since I've been on a hike, and I'm going stir-crazy to get out of the city and back into the woods. My next trip is in June when I plan on hitting some big waterfalls and bagging some peaks I've never climbed. And, of course, I'll also be taking quite a pile of photographs.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sweet Nostalgia!

Sometimes I get a kick out of looking at some of the toys of childhood and recalling those sweet days. In the past couple of years I decided to begin accumulating a set of the original run of the Ditko-created issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. As my friends know, I feel that Steve Ditko pretty much created the character whole cloth and that adding another person’s name as “co-creator” is nothing short of a lie. I came to this conclusion based on a number of facts, and it irks me to see people like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby referred to as assistants to someone else.


Recently, at a comic convention, I picked up The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 by Steve Ditko. I hadn’t read this comic book in quite some time, and I’d largely forgotten what a complete package of kid’s delight that it is. The book was ingeniously designed to be something that would dazzle any boy who bought it. The story brings the uninitiated reader up to speed on the then-new title character. It contains most of the major villains that had appeared in the first fifteen issues of the regular title, and has a fun—although simple—storyline.

What kid could resist this book? (Not this kid!)

The book is packed with great splash pages, pinup pages, cover recreations, and informational bits explaining the whys and hows of the Amazing Spider-Man. Of all of the comics of my childhood, this one transported me back to those early memories better than anything else I’ve acquired from those days.

Nobody could do this kind of page like Steve Ditko!

I know that this book has been reprinted a number of times, and that it can be had in book format and printed on high quality paper. But one of the pleasures of owning these books (for me) is partly due to the sensation of feeling that old pulp paper and smelling what I realize is the slow and unstoppable dissolution of that pulp. There’s nothing like the smell of an old comic!

Take me home!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This is the Thursby House located inside Blue Springs State Park in Florida. It was built at the junction of Blue Springs Run and the St. Johns River. At one time, it was a major stop along the river for huge riverboats carrying cargo and passengers en route north to Jacksonville FL or points south toward the headwaters of the St. Johns. At one time, hundreds of passengers per day disembarked here.

And then, suddenly, the railroads arrived in Florida. In short order, the riverboats found themselves competing with rail cars. The rails won. In a matter of months, the Thursby House went from a thriving business to a lost backwater where only sportsmen came to hunt and fish. And then, the house was abandoned.

It sits now, restored as a museum where a new generation of visitors can walk through the lower floor and sit on the wide porch and look out on the lawn and the river and the spring run. Gone are the riverboats. Closing in on what was once a wilderness acting as a buffer to this place is the urban sprawl that is rapidly creeping all across the state of Florida, wiping out everything that was once wild, destroying all that was once rural.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gone Forever

I was born in 1957. I grew up reading comics. The first comic book that I can actually recall reading was the Jesse Marsh adaptation of JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS that appeared from Dell Comics. If memory serves me, I think my mom’s mother bought it for me during the only time she ever visited our home. But it could have been someone else who bought it—I would have been about four years old at that time. At any rate, it’s the first comic I ever saw, and I liked the thoats of Barsoom because they reminded me of dinosaurs, which were my passion (even at four years old).

The next comic books I ever received were several copies of FANTASTIC FOUR that my dad picked up for me at a used bookstore when I was around five or six years old. These were issue numbers 3, 4, and 12. I really enjoyed these, especially the character known as Ben Grimm/The Thing.

By the time I was seven years old, my family had moved from Brunswick to Atlanta where my parents had opened a used bookstore. It was there that my dad quickly began to accumulate well over 100,000 comic books. And so my childhood was filled with being able to read just about any comic you can name that appeared between the mid-1950s until the time he opened the shop—1965.

What amazes me now is that there were so many kinds of comic books. I had at my pleasure science comics (CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED WORLD AROUND US), adventure comics, superhero comics, funny animal comics, romance comics, war comics, science fiction comics, fantasy comics, movie comics, TV comics, humor comics, crime comics, monster comics, animal comics, detective comics, western comics, history comics...just about anything you could imagine was being done in comics form. When I go to comic conventions these days, I find that there are pretty much no comic books published between 1957 and 1975 that I haven’t read at least once. In that way, I led a really cool childhood.

Today, when I walk into a comic book shop, I find the variety of comics to be extremely limited. The industry is completely dominated by superhero comics. I don’t have anything against that little genre, as such, but it’s a shame that it’s just about the only game in town. Even something as once dominant as funny animal and children’s comics are pretty much gone forever. Gone are Wendy, Casper, Hot Stuff, Pogo, Bugs Bunny, Tweety & Sylvester, Little Archie, Sad Sack, Dennis the Menace, Melvin the Monster, Little Lulu, and their type.

Slowly, over the years, the many other publishers of comic books relinquished their market shares to Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Dell faded. Gold Key left. Charlton failed. Harvey Comics vanished. Archie Comics has shriveled from the racks to retreat to digests, it seems. Classics Illustrated became extinct. Even Disney characters can now be found only in trade paperback format.

I keep wondering if, perhaps, comic books could make a comeback in something like their old form. But the older I get, the more I have to realize that this will likely never happen. For one thing, it’s so damned expensive to produce a comic book these days. Even the most awful of formats is a slim version of its old self—termed the “floppy” by the folk who sell them. At more than $3 an issue, how can kids afford to buy them? A dime or twelve cents or even fifteen cents was something just about any kid could scrape together every week. But several bucks for a comic book? No wonder there’s so little variety on the comic racks these days.

I’m not begrudging the folk who make their livings at creating comics. Far from it. They deserve to earn a decent paycheck. But it’s sad to think of everything the past couple of generations of kids have lost by not having the selection of comic books that I experienced when I was growing up.

Unfortunately, I don't see them ever coming back.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Damned Diet

My weight has fluctuated quite a lot over the course of my adult life. Since the age of 17, I've been as light as 172 pounds, or as heavy as 250 pounds.

Fuck it. I like to eat.

However, I don't enjoy being fat. If you've ever been thin and also fat, you know how much more fun it is to be thin. When you have a tendency to go to fat, the problem is in weighing the difference between the constant struggle to stay thin and the pleasures of eating lots of good food. Generally, my will power is not able to overcome my need to enjoy lots of good and very fattening foods.

The last time I altered my diet, in 2006, I lost a bit over forty pounds. I had not started out the heaviest I'd ever been (but close to it) and I didn't end up the lightest I've ever been (but relatively close, especially considering my age). Now that I'm 50 years old (almost 51) I know better than to expect my body to ever snap back to the way it looked at 26. It ain't gonna happen. However, I do enjoy being lighter. There's just that problem of fighting the urge to over-indulge in the kinds of meals that I seek out when I'm not paying close attention to what is, in reality, best for me.

When I started my dieting in 2006, I went from a size "40" pants to a size "36". And the 36 waist sizes were getting loose when the Holiday season rolled around. I opted to leave the confines of my diet around November so that I could enjoy the various dinners that I knew would be coming along. I managed not to gain much weight through the beginning of 2007. However, my weight slowly began to creep north. Until last week when I had to face the fact that, while I can still wear the size "36" slacks and shorts, they're getting tight. I've managed, since October of 2006, to gain back about twenty pounds.


Time to go back on the diet.

2005, before a two-day backpack in the Black Mountains. Probably the heaviest I'd been in a long time. I'd guess I was around 240 pounds. One thing about me is that even when I'm fat I'm still physically active. My weight has never stopped me from hiking, backpacking, or scrambling.

Mid-2006, goofing off with my wife at Huntington Beach in South Carolina. This was about the lightest I got that year. Somewhat south of 200 pounds, but more than 180.

This was taken recently on a hike to Green Knob in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. My weight is around 215 or so. Time to go back on the diet. Ugh!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Elephants, Wolves, Pine trees, and Humans

Human beings and elephants--it’s hard to find two more disparate creatures among the order Mammalia, yes. We’re both among the animals we consider “mega fauna”, but that’s about where the relationship ends. Humans are allowed to kill and slaughter and eat every other creature on Earth, but no other creature is allowed to kill and slaughter and/or eat a human. It’s a very goddamned selfish attitude.

Due to the Internet, I’ve had the good fortune to communicate with people all over the Earth. From actual honest-to-Moses Samaritans in Palestine, to Russians, to German mountain climbers, to Israeli naturalists, to…well, the list is rather extensive.

A couple of years ago I was curious about one of my ancestral homelands—Scotland. My dad’s folk hailed from there. Clan Smith and all that. I would look at photographs of Scotland and not see any trees. I would look at maps of Scotland and figure that it was far enough south so that it should be loaded with trees. But you rarely see trees in Scotland save for very, very ancient forest plots and newer monoculture forests that are fenced in and look like dark squares and rectangles from a distance. Why was this?

Research led me to discover that there are no extensive plots of medium-aged forests in Scotland because the trees were mainly all cut down long ago. And new trees found it impossible to establish themselves for several reasons. One reason is that sheep graze the new growth before it can gain a foothold. And, historically, there are a lot of freaking sheep in Scotland. In addition, there are no large predators left in Scotland. The last wolves were slaughtered off in the mid-1700s. What the hell has this to do with trees?

A mild lesson in ecology:

The wolves in Scotland kept the red deer populations in check. The humans, not wishing to share the land with another tribal species, killed off every damned wolf in the nation. Not one remains. The biggest predators left in Scotland are badgers and Scottish wildcats. And even those are on the ropes. Again…what has this to do with the forests?

Red deer are pretty big critters. As herbivores that supply venison to the humans, they are not unwanted on the landscape. But they eat the hell out of any new green shoot that shows its leafy head. With no wolves left to cull the herds of red deer, their populations increased rapidly to the point that they were (and are) capable of eating every single new broadleaf and evergreen tree that makes so much as a pathetic attempt to break the surface of the earth. Places that should be forest are now meadow and glen. Given time and the appetite of vast numbers of red deer, there will, eventually, be no forests left in Scotland. Not any that aren’t fenced off, you see.

There are old-growth forests that pre-date the demise of the wolf. But these woods are many hundreds of years old and are reaching the ends of their lifespan. When they go, there will be only meadows in their places.

I had looked at some official informational websites in Scotland concerning the reintroduction of extirpated species. The beaver has been reintroduced in some places (although I don’t know what a beaver can do in the absence of forests). And the otter has been reintroduced in some places. So I emailed a Scottish government naturalist and asked why they didn’t reintroduce the wolf.

“Are you daft?” That was his response.

You see…people don’t like sharing Mother Earth with anything they look upon as a competitor. And wolves are so very much like humans. They have families. They have a social order. They have rules. They eat meat. They live in tribal groups. They used to compete with our species, but the idea of a few thousands competing against several billions is laughable.

Let them return home. The forests would appreciate it. They, too, could return to grace the land. I think even the red deer would appreciate it. Let their hearts race again when the long-absent call of the wild rings the night air.

Share the place, damn it!

I’ve heard that there’s a very rich man who owns vast expanses of property in Texas. I’ve gotten this second-hand, so I have no way of confirming it. Apparently this very wealthy fellow feels that North America should once again be home to many of the species that were wiped out in the wake of the Native Americans and the Europeans who later invaded. Rumor has it that he wanted the Wooly mammoth to make a comeback. Of course, as they are extinct (and cloning is currently a pipe dream), how could this be accomplished?

The closest living relative of the Wooly mammoth is the Indian elephant. So—again, based on Internet hearsay—this billionaire wants to release herds of Indian elephants to roam freely in North America.

I like the idea of not being the biggest badass in the forest. We already share what remains of our wildernesses with grizzly bears and cougars. Let the pachyderms return, in whatever form.

Share the place, damn it!

I like elephants.

Scots should like wolves. Bring ‘em back. Restore the forests. Cut our companions some goddamned slack.

Drunk elephants

Drunk bear

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The World's Most Sexually Suggestive Trees

If not the champs, then this Sabal palm and Live oak are certainly in the running. (Photographed near the Thursby House in Blue Springs State Park, Florida.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cute Kitten

Pictures of Lilly. Just because.

Climbing on everything

Curious kitten

Sleepy Lilly

What're you wakin' me up for?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cousin of T-rex Hisownself

And then you have the easy to photograph critters. I was standing at the point where the Blue Springs Run meets the St. Johns River and noticed a Great blue heron fishing, just moving along the shore nabbing small fish as it went. Great blue herons are neat as hell. I'd always thought of them as just these huge, fragile-looking wading birds. But, actually, they're one of the top predators of the low country. They eat just about anything you can think of that is smaller than they are. Young alligators. Lizards. Bunny rabbits. Snakes of all sizes. Rodents. Etc. One of the park rangers told me that he watched one the previous day pick up a hard-shelled turtle. At first he figured it would have to drop the turtle. "No way he was going to be able to swallow that one," he told me. But, no. It turned its beak to the sky, opened up, and swallowed that turtle whole. No problem.

Great blue herons can stand four and a half feet tall. So I've met a few of them when they were standing on a small log who could look me right in the eye. Amazing animals, and peering into that eye, you can certainly believe that they're the cousin of the late, lamented T-rex.

Here's a series of photos I took of the Great blue as he walked along, filling his stomach from the all-you-can-eat buffet know as the St. John's River.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

No Wonder Audobon Shot 'Em

The thing about trying to photograph wildlife is that, mostly, they won't sit still. And many of the times when I'm trying to get shots of birds, I'm in a canoe which also won't sit still. Recently, on the St. Johns River, I was trying to get a photograph of a young Green heron. Finally, I got a halfway decent shot. But generally I missed getting good pictures of birds more often than I got a good hit.

First try...not good.

Damn! We drifted!

Crap! Boat moved!

Darn! Didn't get the color patterns!

This will have to do.
(The current took us out of sight.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Old Trees and Forests, and No Human Whine

I like old trees. Frankly, I like old trees a lot better than I like people. When I'm in an old growth forest I generally know that I'm a good distance from crowds, and that pleases me. It pleases me a lot. Call me a misanthrope if you must; I really don't care.

Whenever my wife and I go on vacation, I'm always on the lookout for groves of old trees or exceptional individuals trees in what are called "remnant" or "relic" positions. The rest of their siblings were felled or paved under long ago, but these lone (or few) trees remain to let us know what we've lost.

On our latest vacation I knew that there were a few such trees in the neighborhood, and so we made plans to visit them. These were classic remnant trees. Just huge old giants surrounded by patches of young forest which, in turn, were surrounded by urban sprawl. The parks I visited in Florida were prime examples of Mankind, at long last, turning rural and wilderness lands into suburban parks. (And even urban parks.) Long gone are the forests which formerly stood. Gone even are the farmlands that, until the last few decades, lay as a kind of buffer for these individual trees against the onslaught of human waves.

Our first visit was to see a pair of trees in a place near Longwood Florida called, appropriately and bluntly, "Big Tree Park". The trees here are The Senator, considered to be the largest (and possibly oldest) living cypress tree. A few yards away from that tree stands "Lady Liberty", its companion. If there is a larger tree than The Senator on the east coast, I've yet to hear of it, and would much like to see it (if it exists). Until then, this one boggles the mind. I first saw it when my dad and his older brother took me to see it when I was a kid. Then, the tree was protected by a flimsy bit of chain link leaning against the trunk. I was able then to walk right up to it and touch the bark. Now, though, one is led to the tree via a long and very well-constructed boardwalk and the tree is behind a substantial steel fence. It's still an impressive sight.

The Senator (3,500 years old)

A few yards farther down the boardwalk is Lady Liberty, another remnant tree. I'm sure the lumber companies would have loved to have taken both of these down and sold the lumber for a tidy profit. But some folk got together and protected these bits of "Old Florida" and here they still stand, after 3,500 years (in the case of The Senator). Cypress trees grow very slowly, so it takes a very long time for them to achieve impressive stature, as trees go. But because they just keep on growing, given time, the cypress tree can reach truly phenomenal sizes. One of the rangers at Blue Springs State Park told me that there was a stump from a logged giant that was 31 feet in diameter. Such a tree! Gone forever, or until such time as Mankind can go away and leave Mother Nature alone.

Lady Liberty (Jove, I hate that name)

A couple of days later we visited De Leon Springs State Park some miles father north of Longwood. I'd heard that there was a big cypress tree in that park, also, and so I hiked to see it. Indeed, there is a nice old tree there. Called "Old Methusala", it's a mere 400-500 years old and, while impressive, is not nearly so huge as its fellows at Big Tree Park. Still and all, it's worth the short stroll into the woods to view this grand old cypress tree.

Old Methusala

After viewing the monster trees, I made many hikes into the woods and several float trips into the St. Johns River where I was able to view groves of various broadleaf and evergreen trees. None of them were particularly old or large, but given time, and a lack of molestation from my own species, they'll once more sport vast stands of trees like The Senator, Lady Liberty, and Old Methusala.

I hope our ancestors are around to see such a thing.

But I rather doubt it.

Waiting For You To Go

Close Encounters in a Blue Spring (State Park)


Let me elaborate a bit on the chance meetings with several species of critter on this latest trip.

First, the raccoon. Yes, yes, the animal looks just adorable. But it was a most aggressive little opportunist. As soon as we arrived at our campsite, I set up the travel trailer and we began to unload. We put a cooler under the awning in front of the trailer door. We immediately noticed that the cooler top was open. Carole asked if I'd opened it. "Nope," I told her. "Then we have a thief in the campground." Sure enough, something had taken a packet of frozen hamburgers out of the top of the cooler. Four patties. Yes, we realized immediately that it must have been a raccoon. Maybe it was the hundreds of raccoon tracks in the sand? Hard to say.

Later, my wife noticed that one of her water shoes was missing. She'd taken them off at the door and one was gone. More raccoon tracks. Circumstantial evidence? Yes, but it seemed pretty solid.

Later that night we awaken to raccoons fighting in the brush beside the trailer. How rude!

The next day we make sure not to leave anything out that might tempt the raccoon, including shoes. Carole and I are lying in bed watching TV that evening when we hear something. Carole had not quite closed the door. We look to our left to see a little masked face peeking around the refrigerator at us. Carole screams bloody murder and the bandit retreats. But that's the last straw for Carole. The next morning she goes to the ranger and tells her about the aggressive asshole raccoon. The ranger asks me, and animal lover that I am, I still have to admit that this raccoon is a bit cheeky. The ranger decides that live traps should be set and the raccoon should be moved to a different part of the park.

Later that day Carole is at the grill preparing salmon fillets for our supper. She screams and I emerge from the trailer. With a broom. By now I know the drill. There the culprit is where it had begun to prepare to charge Carole again so that it could nab our supper. I sit on the edge of the picnic table and the raccoon and I face off. Me with the broom, the raccoon with its sharp little teeth and lots of patience. I try to scare it off, but it always returns. When the fish is cooked, we retreat to our trailer to eat supper. Door secured, of course.

Next morning we check the traps the ranger set. One is empty and the other contains a puzzled opossum. Innocent bystander. The ranger comes and releases the poor possum. She then baits the trap with hot dogs. And as soon as she leaves, a beautiful scrub jay arrives, enters the trap, and methodically nabs every scrap of hot dog. So there, you stupid humans!

When we leave, the traps are still empty. The raccoon is still free.

On our last full day in the park, we were swimming in the Blue Spring Run. It's the short river formed by the sudden explosion of several million gallons of pure water per day from the headspring. We knew it is a great place to view manatees in the winter, but by May most of them have gone out into the St. Johns River. However, as we are enjoying the water on our final day in the park, what should swim up to us but a pair of young manatees! These were only two years old, recently rehabilitated orphans released from Sea World into the Blue Springs environs and still sporting radio transmitters on their tails.

The manatees are very friendly and gentle and swam right up to us. We managed to touch them, quite by accident, later learning that you're not supposed to touch them. At any rate, it was the manatees doing the curious contact. I've never been in the water with such creatures, and it was a true delight. I'd always heard that they were completely sluggish and slow moving at all times. Not so. After a while, the two animals decided to head to the main headspring and took off like a pair of rockets. No way even a strong swimmer could have kept up with them.

One morning I walked down to the bath to take a shower. In the stall (sans eyeglasses, of course) I note a leaf or something on my ankle and casually reach down with the washrag to remove it. I continue to lather my arms and only vaguely recall to open the rag and see what I had swabbed off from my foot. It was not a leaf.

It was a scorpion.

Normally, I have sympathy for even the creepy crawliest of animals. However, I draw the line at scorpions. This creature I carefully placed on the floor of the shower stall and bashed into oblivion with a container of shampoo. In my time I've been stung on about half a dozen occasions by common scorpions. It's not fatal, but it hurts! I wasn't going to give this one another chance at stinging me. Even I have my limitations.

All in all, a series of impressive encounters with some of the living things with whom we share the Earth.