Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Well, we're heading out to go on vacation for a few days. Until then, I'm leaving Lilly in charge of the joint.

"I'll hold down the fort, dude."
"Yeah, right. We know who's really in charge around here."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Films of the 70s

The 1970s were just a plain weird time for movies. Not bad movies, but just strange. All kinds of amazing work was hitting the screens in those days. And there were so many venues for independent producers: lots of smaller theater chains and drive-in theaters. Even TV was in on the never knew what kind of weirdness was going to come out of the old boob tube on any given day.

Here's an obscure film with Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton. I really would like to own a copy of this one. Makes you wonder what could have been if THE MISSOURI BREAKS had been filmed the way it was originally intended...low budget and starring these two guys instead of Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson.

Here's another totally strange one, MONGO'S BACK IN TOWN. I saw this once--and once only--when it first aired on television. This was really a rough vision of life. It bothered me from beginning to end (I believe I was twelve or thirteen years old). I'd seen THUNDER ROAD with Robert Mitchum years before, but Mongo, as portrayed by Joe Don Baker, was the meanest anti-hero I'd ever seen. To my kid's-eye view, it just did not compute. And the ending! It took me days to get over the ending of that movie. Yet another one I should try to find and view again through the jaded eyes of present day.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Carole's Trip to Asheville

Well, Carole went with her friend Janice and Janice's daughter Maxine to a fabrics show in Asheville. As it was on one of my work days, I didn't get to tag along. Janice is one of Carole's more interesting friends. She's originally from Johannesberg South Africa, educated in Africa and Scotland as a midwife, and has been living here in the States for some time. However, she and her family are soon moving permanently to Australia. Maxine is going ahead of her parents to attend boarding school there, joining her older sister who is already attending college in that country.

As soon as Janice and her husband sell their house, they're off Down Under for good. Carole will miss them.

A lot of the fabrics they saw were woven from lama and alpaca wool. And so these critters were on display of course. Here Janice and Maxine view an alpaca.

Maxine and one of the critters.

Carole bought a very nice scarf made from alpaca wool. It's really soft and I wish she'd bought me one, too. It wasn't very expensive. She also bought some fudge made with goat's milk from a farm outside of Asheville. That was the best fudge I've ever had. We'll have to visit that place and buy some more.

All in all, she made me wish I'd been able to go with them. Life is short. Alas!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Help Me, She Said: A True Story

"I don't believe in ghosts."

I say that to myself a lot when I'm hiking through deep forests when I'm all alone. Kind of like Bert Lahr in THE WIZARD OF OZ movie.

On June 1 of this year (2009), I took several days off from work so that I could take my travel trailer and run up to the mountains near Wilson Creek to find some solitude. I needed that solitude so that I could finish a particularly stubborn manuscript. As I always do when I'm camping, I went with the idea of cramming as much hiking as I could into the working vacation.

My first full day I decided to head to a cliff top. Along the way I found myself hiking through a kind of forest I'd never encountered. The classic southern coves are filled with what are called Poplar/Hemlock forests. So named because the dominant trees are Tulip poplars and either Eastern or Carolina hemlocks. Both of these trees are relatively fast growing, and both can reach really huge dimensions by eastern standards. But the forest I found myself hiking through was mainly white oak and hemlocks. It was weird. I'd never seen these two species together in such a forest. Of course the hemlocks were almost all dead (as I've belabored here many times), but there were enough hanging on to life so that I could see what the forest must have looked like several years ago: beautiful.

I found myself on a trail that took me along a high ridge line. My intention was to hike out to a peak called Darkside Cliffs. I'd heard the views there were impressive. In addition, I also found myself completely alone. I had encountered no one at all since I'd driven away from the campsite, and there were no other vehicles parked at the trail head. The forest seemed completely deserted of humans, other than myself.

It was getting late in the afternoon so I wanted to get to the cliffs and see the views before the sun started to set. I surely didn't want to get caught hiking in the dark, an undertaking I'd experience in the past, and one which I don't find particularly fun.

When hiking alone, one hears many things. The forest is almost always filled with sounds. Blowing leaves, creaking trunks, bird song, the scuttle of bugs in the undergrowth. And so on. One sound that can get the blood pounding if you've never heard it is the truly creepy groan of tree trunks rubbing together in the wind. There are almost always trees that have managed to be in such close proximity that through exuberant growth or by accident, they find themselves in physical contact. When a high wind pushes them, the creaking and groaning of one woody trunk against the other can make your hair stand on end. There's nothing else quite like it.

And so I found myself hiking through this wilderness, completely alone.

The wind was blowing.

Dry leaves were clattering along the forest floor.

I heard that ominous thunder of one trunk all but cracking against the other.

A voice called out to me.

I stopped in my tracks. "Hello?" I asked. I looked around. The weird thing about this oak and hemlock forest was that it was clear. That is, I could see through it for a long way. There was almost no clinging undergrowth and the limbs of each tree were high on the trunks, making for unobstructed views through the forest.

There was no reply so I pushed on. The wind continued to blow. I could hear the crunching of my boots over the small stones on the path and the cracking of dry twigs under my feet. Again, I heard a voice call out to me. Did it say Help me? Goddamn!

I stopped again. It sounded like a little girl.

"Hello? Who's there?" I yelled it out. I turned around and around, looking in every direction through the forest.

I didn't see a soul. It was just those dark woods. And me.

I was getting to a bend in the trail, so I just pushed on, figuring the wind was playing tricks on the old ears. It happens almost every time I go hiking alone. You make of the forest sounds what you will. I was hurrying again, wanting to get to those fantastic views. But I didn't get far before I heard the voice once more.

This time, I was sure of what I'd heard:

Help me. Help me.

"HELLO!" I yelled it this time. "Are you okay? Where are you? I don't see you!" I stumbled into the forest, headed for where I'd heard the voice. It couldn't have come from more than a dozen feet away. I thrashed about in the woods, looking for someone, calling out. "Where are you?" I kept asking that.

And then, seeming to come from just up the slope within all of those white oaks and dying hemlocks I heard the voice. It was a little girl. Maybe six or seven years old from the sound of her. But I couldn't see her. And this is what she said, practically in my ear:

Help me. My mommy's dead.

You must forgive me. I ran. I ran away and away and away. I didn't look back.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Everywhere a Sign.

One thing that I like about National Forest trails are the signs. I can negotiate okay in wilderness areas where there are no signs, but I prefer to have them. I have a lousy sense of direction and can get myself lost. Not lost in the sense of having to spend the night in the woods or have someone come in to rescue me, but "lost" in the way that I sometimes have to backtrack to find the correct route. I can use a map and compass like most outdoorsmen, but I like a trail that's plainly blazed and which has signs.

Pisgah National Forest does a pretty good job with the signs. They have several types. Here are some of the signs that I encountered on my hike on Sunday.

Sign along the trail indicating how to get to the cliff top views.

They also use this kind of sign. I haven't figured out what they're made of, but you encounter these often in Pisgah. I suppose they're low maintenance, but they don't appear to be very sturdy.

A USGS survey marker indicating the summit of Cedar Rock Mountain. The elevation figures were just about worn off. Circa the 1930s, I think.

Here's an old-fashioned kind of trail sign that we encountered in a gap with a lot of intersections from a number of trails. This spot apparently gets confusing for some people.

This was the only "keep out" type of sign we encountered. This was to protect access to part of the Fish Hatchery. They have to keep the fish hatchery area clean and clear so that the fry will grow up and be able to stock our streams and rivers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One For the Ages

After we left the top of Cedar Rock we began what was essentially a very long downhill hike back to the fish hatchery parking lot. Along the way we passed through some very scenic country. Eventually we ended up taking a route that took us along some of the rock walls of Cedar Rock Mountain and I, being unable to resist such temptations, had to scramble upon those walls. It was a lot of fun and if I'd not been so tired by that point I'd have climbed a bit more there.

In short order, though, we came to Butter Gap and the intersection with the Art Loeb Trail. I was impressed with the A-frame shelter that the National Forest Service erected there. They've built several shelters along the Art Loeb Trail, and this is a good one. It needs a little repair work, but largely it's in decent shape and offers a great place to sleep for weary backpackers.

Then we pushed on, and the trail soon took us into lower country where the small streams began to build into larger tributaries. Passing through Pickelsimer Fields we encountered a huge area that had been a beaver dammed lake in recent years, but which is now abandoned and drained. The sign of beaver activity is everywhere, but the animals have moved on after transforming the landscape. Soon after this we were at the first of the waterfalls where we lingered to take many photographs. Then it was on again to the next one where we were surprised to find more than a dozen people gathered there to take photographs. Everyone seemed to have big SLR digital cameras and ponderous tripods which they were using to snap memorable photographs.

And soon after that we were pushing into the parking lot. The hike turned out to be roughly ten miles in length and we had gained and lost over 1800 feet of relief over that distance. I was bushed, of course, and as I write this three days later I'm still physically recovering from that effort. But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I enjoyed the views and the forest and the waterfalls and the company of five decent people (and two dogs). It was a great hike. One for the ages.

Last year's huckleberries were all going purple on the mountaintop.

Mother Nature's Fall Palette.

Okay. Whenever I come to a steep rock wall, I'm like a big kid. Yes, I was very tired at this point, but I could not resist scrambling up that steep wall of granite. Matilda beat me to it. So much easier for four legs! I copied her a bit and crabbed up the rock to a nice high point to take some shots.

Photograph from my vantage point about halfway up the slope.

Looking back up toward the top. I should have climbed higher.

A nice A-frame shelter on the Art Loeb Trail at Butter Gap. Thus: The Butter Gap Shelter.

I couldn't resist taking a photo of the water and the leaves.

I think Jack used my camera to take this shot of me with the first waterfall.

The first waterfall we hit on the way down the mountain.

Waterfall seen through the rhododendron.

Old logs and leaves and water.

Near Pickelsimer Fields we came to this abandoned and drained beaver pond. You can see the work of the busy beavers everywhere.

Closeup of a large-ish tree that the beavers felled.

The empty beaver lodge. Whence the critters? One of my hiking companions, Johnny Corn, gets all of his hiking staffs from such beaver lodges. I was too tired at this point to go digging for a proper wooden hiking staff. But the beavers do all of the work for you. They cut them, peel them, and generally have them the proper length.

The next waterfall we came to. This one was actually quite crowded. There were easily over a dozen people there taking photographs. Everyone but me seemed to have a good SLR digital camera. Alas!

I took this one of Jack at the waterfall.

Jump across, but don't fall in!

Big Bob and the waterfall.

The second waterfall we saw just before the last leg of the hike.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Epic Hike

On Sunday, I joined up with Andy Kunkle, Jack Thyen, Johnny Corn, and Myron & Dorcas for a ten-mile hike that would take us to a couple of major Pisgah National Forest summits and two nice waterfalls. I'd hiked some of this big trail loop in years past, but never the entire distance. Much of this was going to be new territory for me, including the waterfalls and the summit of Cedar Rock.

I met up with Andy at the Wal-Mart parking lot in Gastonia where we generally hook up for our hikes. We left my car at the Wal-Mart and took his car to the trailhead at the Pisgah National Forest Fish Hatchery not far above the Davidson River Campground near Brevard. Generally we take my truck, but Andy wanted to hear some football game on the way back and he knew he could listen on his satellite radio in his car, so we took that instead of my truck. Boone sat in the back seat and tended to try to drag his huge, clumsy ass into the front seat to sit in my lap. He is one lovable, but very heavy, dawg.

We were the firs to arrive at the Fish Hatchery. Soon, though, Jack and Johnny arrived in one vehicle, and this Myron and Dorcas (retired couple) arrived with their own dog, Matilda. I used to get annoyed when I'd encounter dogs on the hiking trails, but now that I've hiked with dogs a few times I really enjoy it. You miss seeing wildlife with dogs along, but there's something about the enthusiasm of a dog in the woods that's charming and fun to witness.

In short order we were all hiking along the trail toward John Rock. As usual, the younger (and better conditioned) Jack and Andy took the lead. I followed next with Johnny, Myron, and Dorcas bringing up the rear of the line. I used to be able to keep up with Jack and Andy, but after pneumonia, surgery, and many weeks of inactivity this year I can no longer do that. Plus, I'm just getting old. C'est la vie.

In a few miles and about one thousand vertical feet, we came out on the cliff tops of the famous John Rock. The views from the top are really impressive and if you're in that area, I highly recommend that hike. Even if that's all you do, it's worth the calories to hike up there to look across at the very high country across the valley. From that peak you can see some of the highest mountains in the eastern USA--many peaks that stand well over 6,000 feet above sea level. And you can look down on the toy cars that you drove in with sitting tiny and insignificant in the fish hatchery parking lot.

After braving the cold winds tearing at us on the cliffs, we pushed on past the summit and descended to Cat Gap. From there, we took another trail (the Art Loeb Trail) toward Cedar Rock. A steady climb took us to a saddle below the summit of that mountain. There is no official trail to the top, but rock climbers have pounded out a really good trail to the summit. That trail is well maintained and easy to follow. Someone has even blazed it in several places with red paint and triangular metal markers nailed to some trees--so it's very simple to stay on target.

After a climb of about half a mile and 400 feet of pretty steep vertical, we found ourselves at the top of the mountain. We encountered a very nice fellow who was setting up a table with wine, food, and flowers for his best friend who was climbing the cliffs with his girlfriend. He expected his friends to arrive within the hour and he was setting everything up for his best pal so that his buddy could have the proper ambiance to propose to his girlfriend. How cool is that? He asked us to be careful not to dislodge any of the roses tied to trees from the cliff top to the mountain's summit. So we were careful not to do that. We took out photos and quickly left the mountain before the couple could arrive via one of the rock climbing routes. We wanted to respect their romantic moment.

This is the Pisgah Fish Hatchery and the high country looming beyond. A number of high country trails begin here at the hatchery parking lot.

Some grand Fall color as we begin our ascent of the mountains.

After a while and some climbing, we came to the cliff tops of John Rock. This place offers one of the best views anywhere of the famous Looking Glass Rock which most people see from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Braving the cold and blasting wind for a self-portrait at the cliff edge. You can see the fish hatchery parking lot far below.

The really high country was covered in snowfall. These peaks are around Black Balsam Knob and Mount Hardy. Much of that terrain is over 6,000 feet above sea level. Among the highest mountains in the eastern USA.

The wind was really brisk and made it feel even colder. My fingers quickly became numb and I had to retreat back into the forest to warm up.

After we passed by John Rock, we were back in the forest with only occasional views through the tree cover. Classic southern high country hiking.

Jack and Andy and I take a break at a trail junction and wait for the rest of the group to catch up to us.

Jack and Andy passing under a recent dead fall across the trail.

This was our first view as we approached the summit of Cedar Rock.

More Fall color as I lay on my back, resting on the relatively warm rock.

Matilda and Boone, our canine hiking pals. Boone (the Weimeraner) lives with Andy. Matilda (the Australian sheepdog) lives with Myron and Dorcas.

The mountaintop proposal. True Romance:

The view the rock climbing couple would have when they reached the top.

One of the many roses strung from the cliff top along the trail through the woods to the summit.

Where a table, food, wine, and flowers were waiting for the rock climbing couple's moment. How romantic is THAT?

This is the guy who lugged all of that stuff five miles from the nearest trail head up 1800 very rugged vertical feet. We should all have friends one-tenth so cool.

Part II of the trip tomorrow...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Best. Hike. Ever.

Whoa. This was the single best day hike of my life. It was cold on the peaks, but the views were spectacular. The waterfalls were fantastic.

Details tomorrow. (Click on these photos for the full effect.)

The view from Cedar Rock. The peaks across the distance were some of the highest in the eastern USA. The upper elevations were covered in snow.

We saw two great waterfalls on this hike.

I wish I could have made this hike into an overnight trip. Maybe some other day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Creeps I Knew

I have a really healthy work ethic when it comes to my writing. I love to write and I work on my fiction almost every day. The only times that I don't actually find myself working on a novel or writing a short story are the days when I'm in the midst of vacation or outdoor activities. When I go to hike a mountain or canoe a river or snorkel in a spring or along the coast I don't write.

This is the difference between me and a lot of the other writers with whom I once socialized.

In my younger days I tended to seek out and spend a lot of time with other people who either were writers or who wanted to work professionally as writers. Initially I got a kick out of meeting people who shared a similar passion for writing and creating. However, after a while, their company began to wear on me. It's natural for writers to be at least mildly selfish and egotistical. But the writers I found myself around had passed a certain point. They were pretty much uniformly obsessive about writing and--worse than that--obsessed with their own "greatness".

One guy I used to spend a lot of time with became disillusioned over his inability to sell a novel to a major publisher. He was forever whining about it and damning all of the editors at the larger houses as fools for not recognizing his genius. (I'm not exaggerating.) He was a pal so I put up with his near-constant complaining. Until, one day, he told me that he was probably doomed to never be appreciated in this life, but that when he died, his genius would be recognized the world over.

It took a great deal of effort, but I bit my tongue and kept my mouth shut. However, that was it. That was the straw that broke this particular camel's back. After that, I just never could look at the guy in the same way as in the past. He'd gone from being a sometimes amusing friend to an egocentric creep.

Over the years I've always tried to keep an objective eye on my writing career. I've never consciously complained about rejection. The way I saw it was that any editor who rejected my work must have had a good reason for doing so. I never begrudged them their decisions and if I ever spoke to any of those folk at all, it was to thank them for the time they spent with my manuscript. Their time is money, after all, and they do any writer a big favor by taking some of that time to review a work.

During those days of my youth, I would attend lots of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and comic book conventions. Initially, I enjoyed hanging around with writers to pick up tips, share market knowledge, and just talking shop. Those were pretty good days, in the beginning. But after a time I kept running into that same old song and dance:


Trying to talk to these guys and gals was a struggle.

'How about...'


'Have you ever been to...'


'Why don't we...'

"ME ME ME ME ME!!!!"

I don't mind listening to that stuff for a while, but too much of it grates. One day I realized that it had been over a year since I'd attended a genre convention. That stretched into two years, then three, then five...I never looked back. I've been considering attending a few shows in the coming year, but I'm not so sure. I fear that I'd encounter that same old droning, and I sickly recall why I'd stopped going in the first place.

Whenever I'd talk to some of these cats and ask them what they did when they weren't writing or reading, they would often just stare dumbly at me. As if they weren't aware that there was anything else to do. I've always had a number of hobbies to take the edge off of things. If I have a problem with a novel, I can go for a long hike to clear my head. If a short story plot isn't working out, a trip to go snorkeling can sometimes help. Or Carole and Andy and I will try out a new restaurant and sample different foods. Sometimes I'll take out a pad and pencil and do figure drawings. The things is, the world is filled with other ideas and other places and other things to do.

I just got sick of those obsessive personalities.

I don't miss them.

As for me...I'll be hiking in western North Carolina with friends today. To organize some of those recollections of those creeps of old. They appear from time to time as characters in my books and stories. Turns out that they're good for something, after all.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Party I Never Attended

The Party I Never Attended


James Robert Smith.

An old pal came to me.

“I just want you to know,”

he said.

“I’m going to a party.

and they’re going to be there.”

“Oh,” I said.

“That’s interesting.”

In those days I still


a few

mutual friends.

But not for long.

“I just wanted to tell you,”

he told me.

“Just so’s you’d know.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Is there anything you


to tell me. You know.

About them.”

I thought it


for a minute.

“Well, I can tell you


she’ll do.

She’ll know you’re

a writer.

She’ll get someone to loan


your work.

She’ll read as much of


as she can before

the party.”

He nodded


“And she’ll

flatter you.

That’s what she does.

She’ll flatter you and make

you think that

she thinks

you are great.”

He pondered this.

“And she might


critique your work.

Tell you where you

went wrong.”

He seemed to


this, too.

“In a small way,”

I added. “Just to let


know that she was paying


“Okay,” he said.

A few days later


saw him



he said.

“You were right on the


She did


you said

that she’d


I shrugged,



“What a skank,”

he said.

We both roared.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grayson Highlands Day Trip, Part IV

Just before we left the park we drove to the parking lot near the top of Haw Orchard Mountain where the visitors center is located. There, I hiked d0wn the Listening Rock Trail to an overlook where I took some photos.

After that I scrambled to the top of a huge boulder above the overlook where I snapped some more photos of the valley below and the rocks and trees around me. And then it was time to head home. Bummer.

The view from the overlook just below the parking lot at the Visitor's Center.

Just a bit of Autumn color on the big boulders I was scrambling around on.

And a composite photo of the view I had from the top of the boulders.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Grayson Highlands Day Trip, Part III

After we left the historical part of the park we drove up to Massie Gap where I could hike the Cabin Creek Trail. Despite my many trips to Grayons Highlands State Park, I'd always managed to avoid the Cabin Creek area. I'd heard that the creek had a wealth of waterfalls, but most of the time when I'd go there, my main concern was in bagging peaks and viewing the treeless heights. This time I'd promised myself to hike to see those waterfalls.

As it turned out, I'd been robbing myself of quite a sight. There are two really nice medium-sized waterfalls along the trail. However, at about the halfway mark on the roughly two-mile trail there is a tremendous series of cascades that tumble at least 100 feet down the mountain. They're not really a single waterfall, but together they make up quite a sight. I'm hoping that I can go back soon and take them in as a more leisurely hike. As it was, I was pressed for time after spending most of an hour photographing the previous waterfalls I'd seen along the trail.

This colorful view of Haw Orchard Mountain greeted us as we drove toward the Massie Gap trailheads.

As I hiked out of Massie Gap, I passed by this pretty spruce tree.

This is a horse baffle to keep the asshole horseback riders off of the hiking trails. Horseback riders are easily the biggest jerks one will encounter when in our parks and wild lands. They are almost uniformly a selfish and inconsiderate bunch of assholes. I rank them near the bottom with ATV fans.

I saw this blossom just as I started down the trail. There weren't many flowers left on the forest floor this late in the year, but this was one I'd never seen before. I don't know what it is, since I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to flowers.

The trail passes through classic rhododendron tunnels. I love these places!

The first nice waterfall I came to was visually the nicest. I like the multiple streams of water falling into the shallow pool.

I took this self-portrait at the first waterfall. Despite my grim demeanor (I didn't have time to smile before the camera took the shot), I was feeling quite happy.

The rugged trail as you pass the nice waterfall.

The next waterfall I came to wasn't as impressive, but it had a deeper pool.

The view from the top of the falls.

I saw this sign just as I came to the next series of waterfalls.

I had no idea I was going to see this kind of plunge. This wasn't really a waterfall, but was a tremendous series of cascades that splashed down the mountain in a great display. I want to go back and explore it in detail and get some better photographs.

After that it was just a mild uphill climb to get back to the trail head.

I soon came to this wonderfully colorful view of Haw Orchard Mountain, which looms above Massie Gap.

You can see why I don't like horses in our parks. This trail is ruined beyond repair. The horses tear up the terrain and cause much erosion. In this very fragile ecosystem, it would take many hundreds of years to correct this kind of damage.

And this was the view at the truck where Carole and her mom were waiting for me to return from my hike. Massie Gap is one amazingly pretty spot, no matter what the season.

For the sake of contrast, here's a photo I took from basically the same spot a few years ago. This was right after a snowfall of about one foot in early December when we went up to a choose and cut Christmas tree farm.