Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
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.
Monday, October 26, 2009
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.
All in all, she made me wish I'd been able to go with them. Life is short. Alas!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
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
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.
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
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.
Near Pickelsimer Fields we came to this abandoned and drained beaver pond. You can see the work of the busy beavers everywhere.
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!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
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.
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.
The mountaintop proposal. True Romance:
Part II of the trip tomorrow...
Monday, October 19, 2009
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.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
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:
"ME ME ME ME ME."
Trying to talk to these guys and gals was a struggle.
"ME ME ME ME ME."
'Have you ever been to...'
"ME ME ME ME ME."
'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
James Robert Smith.
An old pal came to me.
“I just want you to know,”
“I’m going to a party.
and they’re going to be there.”
“Oh,” I said.
In those days I still
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.
I thought it
for a minute.
“Well, I can tell you
She’ll know you’re
She’ll get someone to loan
She’ll read as much of
as she can before
That’s what she does.
She’ll flatter you and make
you think that
you are great.”
He pondered this.
“And she might
critique your work.
Tell you where you
He seemed to
“In a small way,”
I added. “Just to let
know that she was paying
“Okay,” he said.
A few days later
“You were right on the
“What a skank,”
We both roared.
Friday, October 16, 2009
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.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
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.
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 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.
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.
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.