Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Escaping the Heat Part III

After we left Carolina Hemlock we drove over to see the Black Mountain Recreation Area which is just a short drive down 80 back toward the Parkway. We've stayed there a number of times in our trailer and just wanted to take a look. It was relatively uncrowded there, despite the fact that it has a great swimming hole that is generally popular with the locals on warm summer days.

We toyed with the idea of hiking over to Setrock Creek Falls, but decided that we'd seen that waterfall so many times that we ended up passing. So we turned back toward 80 and headed for the Parkway to hike to see Crabtree Falls. We'd hiked to it once, when we were first married, but it had been well over two decades since we'd been.

As it happened, Carole decided that the trail was too rocky for her, so she turned back and returned to the parking lot while I pushed on. I was impressed with the trail--there are some impressive stands of hardwoods along the way and the forest is relatively clear because of ice and snow damage to the smaller trees during the past winter.

The one-mile hike took me to the falls, which is an impressive one. It's well worth the hike if you're in the area and I recommend it, despite the fact that you won't find any solitude there. It's a good waterfall with relatively easy access, so there's likely to be a crowd there when you visit. I stayed long enough to take a number of photos and a couple of videos, then I turned around and headed back to the parking area. I showed Carole the pictures I'd taken of the falls, and in short order we pointed the truck back toward Charlotte and headed home.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Escaping the Heat Part II

On Sunday we escaped the heat of Charlotte for the high country near Mount Mitchell. One place that we had visited briefly in the past but never stopped to enjoy was the Carolina Hemlock Recreation Area. It's on NC 80 a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was developed many years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps, in the days when socialist programs could be enacted and put in place without too much screaming and stomping by right wing elements in the government. Those were the days, by gosh!

The main reason for this spot being placed here by the CCC boys is that this particular area on the South Toe River has a few very nice, very deep swimming holes. One of these has a set of rock stairs and a retaining wall so that it serves now as a kind of beach. When we arrived, we were the only ones there, but we knew that would change as the day progressed. So in short order we paid our $3.00 day use fee and picked out a picnic spot all to ourselves and prepared the grill with charcoal and the table with food and such. While Carole was getting the grill ready for cooking, I explored the river and searched out the various swimming holes.

Once upon a time the recreation area was green with the namesake hemlock trees. But now the only healthy hemlocks are the ones that have been treated against adelgid infestation by the application of insecticides. You can tell by the health of the various stands of trees how much money the National Forest Service had to spend at each step of the insect plague. The hemlocks closest to the bathrooms at the campsites look like hemlocks are supposed to appear--fully green with thick needles and lots of new growth. Hemlocks further out from there look sick, but perhaps in a state in which they can survive if the nicotine-based chemicals have been applied in time. And farther away than those, you can see the trees that are a lost cause, although some of them have been marked as having been treated--too late. And, of course, there are the dead hemlocks standing bare and ghostly everywhere around where no one had the funds or foresight to treat them.

After I explored a bit and we took some photos, we just relaxed and talked. In time, we cooked up some Polish sausages with sauerkraut and mustard and had potato salad with them. They were delicious. After that, we packed up our stuff and drove a few yards to the beach parking and walked down to the water's edge and jumped into the cool waters of the South Toe River. We had a great time just soaking up the sun and swimming back and forth and up and down the swimming hole. The water is deep enough so that you can safely jump and dive into the pools. As we knew, the crowds grew as the hours passed until at some point the beach was packed from end to end with families and couples doing as we were--enjoying the recreation area.

Toward 2:00 pm the numbers of people were grating on our need for solitude, so we gathered up our stuff, took a few last photos, and then headed up the road to see a couple of other places that were on our agenda. More on that tomorrow.

Minerals Museum and Blue Ridge Parkway Visitors Center at the intersection of the Parkway and NC 226. I like this spot and almost always visit it on drives along the Parkway.

The rhododendron was in full bloom. I took this shot almost as soon as we pulled in to the Carolina Hemlock Recreation Area.

My simple Canon A1100IS isn't the best camera on the market, but sometimes I can capture a nice shot or two when I'm playing around with the macro settings. This blossom was busy with these tiny black bumblebees. These are the type of bee that stung me on Wilson Creek last year and caused me to drop my camera into a waterfall.

This is the picnic pavilion at the recreation area. You can rent this for the day. The barbecue pit on the right is double sided and you could likely grill up some huge sides of beef or pork on those babies. They keep this place very clean and in good order.

Stairs leading down from the pavilion to the South Toe River.

From the river's shore looking back up at the pavilion.

Each hemlock tree that has been treated against Hemlock wooly adelgid has these little tags nailed on them. In some cases, the trees were dead anyway.

Carole roasts yellow corn for lunch! Yum!

This was our picnic spot right by the South Toe River.

Carole took this of me in the deepest pool. You can see people leaping into the water behind me, and kids sitting on a boulder in the middle of the river.

This was the big swimming hole above the official beach area.

Nice Ron Paul article for those of you still too stupid to see how evil he and his son are.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Escaping the Heat

Yesterday we hid in the NC high country, not far from Mount Mitchell (the highest mountain in the eastern USA). While it was almost 100 in Charlotte, we enjoyed temperatures in the 80s and lots of cool mountain river water.

Carolina Hemlock Recreation Area. This is where we went swimming.

I even found a few fairly large trees on a hike!

We hiked down to Crabtree Falls. It had been 25 years since we'd seen it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cry "Uncle"!


That's it.

The Internet is officially taking up too much of my free time. I found myself on a currency exchange calculator website trying to figure out how much
Doctor Venture was paid for a speaking fee in Tijuana in an episode of THE VENTURE BROTHERS.


Talk to you later.

Much later.

Go outside and play now.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

West Virginia Rock

I took this one in Dolly Sods at a place called Bear Rocks.

One of our favorite vacation places is West Virginia. Sadly, we don't go there nearly as often as we once did, but we still try to get there at least once per year. It's kind of like our secret, in a way, for we have rarely encountered crowds at any of the parks we've visited.

One thing about West Virginia is that it has a lot of genuine high country. Well, genuinely high by eastern standards. 4800 feet above sea level would be far underground in many locations in the western USA, but here in our half of the continent, that's pretty good.

And among the most beautiful parts of West Virginia are the really highest peaks--the stuff around the Allegheny Front. Here there are dozens of miles of ridges that break the 4,000-foot barrier and lots and lots of exposed rock that juts up like claws through the green fur of the great West Virginia park lands. If you've never been, you're in for a treat.

Looking up at Seneca Rock.

Taken from Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.

If you click on this photograph and look closely, you'll see tiny little humans climbing up the sheer face of Seneca Rock.

Lindy Point.

Friday, June 25, 2010

One Place

I have lived all of my 52 years in the South. I've traveled very little. All of my years I have spent living in two states--Georgia and North Carolina. I've rarely left the confines of the southern USA. I am not, as they say, a well-traveled man.

Because the southern USA is familiar to me, I feel relatively comfortable within it. The various dialects of English that are spoken from the low country to the mountains are all familiar to my ear and I can both understand and converse in these dialects.

The terrain, as diverse as it is here the South, is also familiar to me. I have lived on the coastal plains and tramped through the pine plantations and floated the tidal creeks and explored the swamps; I've also hiked the highest peaks the Appalachians offer, and bushwhacked into deep hardwood coves and have gone swimming in cold, clear streams full of native brook trout.

And I've scrambled around most of the Piedmont country in between these two extremes.

I have almost always been a lover of the rural over the urban. I've lived in homes in cities, of course, but I prefer the green, open spaces of the countryside. I'd rather deal with ticks and mosquitoes than the roar of engines and the screech of the crowds. Even the gunshots are different in the country--the occasional boom of a hunting rifle is almost reassuring after dealing with the pop-pop-pop of turf warfare on a city street.

My earliest memories are of tagging along with my dad into the countryside. We'd drive the dirt roads. We'd stop and explore the woods. We'd stop and buy quail or eggs or vegetables or home-kilned pottery from farmers along the way. I would hike behind my dad through the forests looking for Indian relics or just exploring the woods for no good reason at all.

Physically, I like the South. I even like the heat, although I occasionally curse it as I pursue my job as a laborer when the sun is bearing down and the heat lies like a great, wet, sweat-inducing blanket over the world. As a kid I would stop as we tromped along sandy roads looking for bits of stone and clay left behind by the natives who preceded us to these shores. I would walk atop this sandy soil and look around me and see the pines standing tall, planted in orderly rows, waiting for the saws that would turn them into logs to be pulped for paper. I'd stand there and listen to the world around me--the constant buzz and rattle of a billion-billion insects clattering their wings together, roaring.

No matter where I go or how far away I end up going, I'll never forget the South. I am a part of it, and it is a part of me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Unintended Humor

To me, this has always been the most unintentionally hilarious comic book cover of all time:

Basically, Iron Jaw was a barbarian comic book intended to cop the popularity of Conan. The only difference was that Iron Jaw was Conan with his mandible cut off and an iron jaw in place of the original flesh and blood. He could still talk, so I always reckoned they'd left him his tongue and palate.

Atlas-Seaboard Comics was a short-lived publishing venture of the 1970s. It was started after publisher Martin Goodman sold Marvel Comics. Apparently he'd assumed that his son would be highly placed after the elder Goodman took his leave of the company. Instead, they tossed the younger Goodman and doled out important roles to other employees such as pitch-man extraordinaire Stanley Lieber, AKA Stan Lee. This so angered Goodman and son that they started up a rival comic book company with the intention of slicing in to Marvel's market share.

Unfortunately, although Goodman was able to hire some top writers and artists of the day, the titles sucked Holy Roman Ass. So the company quickly folded in the face of lackluster sales. Most of the artists and writers returned to Marvel, tails tucked firmly, and thus did Atlas-Seaboard become a sad chapter in the history of American comic books.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On Writing a Sequel

I'm trying to have the new book completed before Carole and I leave for Yellowstone in mid-August. So I've been working hard to get the manuscript done. Worst case it'll be finished around September 1st, which was my initial (self-imposed) deadline.

It feels both strange and exciting to revisit old characters. Normally when I finish a novel or short story, I don't want to revisit the folk I dreamed up for the initial tale. But when I got the chance to write a sequel to THE FLOCK I was happy to rejoin the people from that first novel and see what kind of mischief they were up to.

I have a third book proposal for my publishers, but that will depend of course on sales. It would be nice to generate a series, though. That's something that I'd hoped to be able to achieve as a professional writer. And recently I wrote a note to my agent that I had the idea for a fourth novel for continuing the adventures. I never would have supposed the possibility!

Where I need to return for rest and relaxation and meditation. (After descending and climbing several thousand feet!)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lilly Loves

Lilly resting with Carole.

Lilly believes that Carole is her mother. Of that I have no doubt. Oh, she knows that she's a cat, all right. But somehow she thinks Carole is her mum. Every night she jumps up on the bed, marches across my carcass, and climbs up on Carole's chest where she gives Carole one big kiss after another with her sandpaper tongue. That's a greeting that is reserved specifically for momma.

If Carole is working the night shift delivering babies Lilly will still jump up on the bed at the usual time. And then she is always surprised to find only me there. She looks at the situation with some surprise, marches across my carcass as usual, checks the place where Carole should be, looks once more at me, and then jumps down. I am definitely not the momma.

The only time I'm ever treated with anything like the affection reserved for Carole is when Carole is at work and Lilly is lonesome. Generally these fits of loneliness occur when I'm working on a manuscript. Lilly will come into the office, hop on the desk and stand in front of the video screen and stare at me. Then I have to sit back and allow her to hop into my lap. She will then give me one, very brief kiss on the tip of my nose and settle down in my lap to be rubbed. I'm not the one she needs, but I'll do in the meantime.

Lilly and the cats constantly remind me that animals are persons with emotions and free will. They are not robots. They do not merely respond to the forces around them, but make their own decisions.

A tortoise with compassion. Yeah. It's the real deal.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wishing for a New Camera

It's times like this when I wish I had a better camera.

We were having a nice day at the US National Whitewater Center. Carole and Andy were taking another turn on the rafts while I sat by the fake river to relax. I'd found a nice shady Adirondack chair under a bridge and was just taking it easy. Then a little finch of some kind landed on a rock to my right. It was a relatively bland color, but it had a nice patch of orange-red on the back of its head. So I carefully got my digital camera out and was able to snap a few shots before the bird got skittish and flew away.

I'd have really been able to land some nice photographs of the finch if I'd had a much nicer camera. I recently got some advance money on one of my novels, so I think we'll now go and pick out a nice SLR camera and lens. We'll see.

What's up, doc?

Don't know if I can trust a human.

Okay, then. One good shot and it's off to the races.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Carole and I discovered some time back that we prefer kayaking over canoeing. The canoe has its place, but for casual cruising on the lakes and rivers, I much prefer kayaks over canoes. The thing I like most about kayaks is their superior maneuverability. They're just a whole lot easier to steer than canoes. Another thing I like about them over canoes is that they seem to draw less water--I've paddled in water a few inches deep without scraping bottom in a good kayak.

Carole speeds ahead of me on the Catawba River.

The kayaks that we want to purchase are a bit expensive. So we've been holding off on getting replacements for our canoe. We like the idea of solo kayaks instead of a tandem model, so that will also add to the cost. In addition, we want to get kayaks that we can use in slightly rough water--maybe up to Class III rapids--and something that will allow us to take multi-day trips with room for camping gear. We've actually picked out the models we want, so we're just waiting for the budget to allow for the purchase.

I find a nice backwater channel to chill out and listen to the woods.

I took this video mainly to illustrate with sounds and moving images the song of the cicadas in the forest on the island we circumnavigated. In this inlet they were really chirping away. The discordant screeching of a group of human children behind me distracts from the song of the insects, but you can still feel the power of the singing cicadas.

Andy stopped to go wading in the shallows at the low end of the island. (Behind him are the chattering kids--nice children, but I just wanted them to be quiet for a bit. Oh, well. Quiet's not something that kids normally do.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Joe-the bastard-Barton

Joe Barton eat shit!

Joe-the bastard-Barton

This RepubliKKKan motherfucker dearly loves to kiss rich corporate ass! Fuck him and fuck the political party to which that traitorous sack of shit belongs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Whitewater Center

Cities that want to be "world class" often claim that they have "world class" this and "world class" that. Most of those claims are hot air.

However, Charlotte North Carolina does have something that's world class. It's the US National Whitewater Center on the southern edge of town. Why this was placed in this particular location is a mystery to me. I'm not complaining or anything, but I don't know how we managed to get it.

The entrance, when we arrived before the 10:00 am opening.

Among other things, it contains the largest and most extensive artificial whitewater training facility on Earth. It has an enormous pumping station that chugs out 13 million gallons of purified water down a number of artificial river tracks. These mini-rivers contain anything from Class II to Class IV rapids. It's a very impressive set-up.

At the big rock climbing walls.

For some reason, despite the fact that we'd wanted to go there for some time, today was the first time we availed ourselves of the opportunity to go. Since it was our 26th wedding anniversary, Carole wanted to do something both special and different. So we bought admissions for our little family to go to the center to spend the day.

The main pool above the whitewater. It's all downriver from here.

As soon as we arrived we decided to do some flatwater kayaking on the Catawba River which runs beside the center. The price of admission included unlimited day-long kayaking on the river, so we took advantage of that and kayaked around a large island for about an hour and twenty minutes.

Carole and Andy on the Catawba River.

After that, we hiked back up to the center and went to experience the tree-high zip line. Well, Andy and I did. Carole opted to stay down below and take photos. It was beyond her physical capabilities anyway.

Yep. There I go up to the top of the zip-line! (I learned rock climbing's not for me.)

Then we headed over to the center's restaurant and ordered lunch--it was after noon by this time. We each had a good sandwich and some tea (I had water and a nice micro-brew). As soon as we took leave of the restaurant we hiked around the center, checking out the various whitewater tributaries and the massive system of pumps that make it all possible. By that hour it was time for us to meet up at the main staging area to get ready for the day's main event: the guided whitewater rafting.

The giant conveyor belt that takes your raft/kayak back to the top pool after a run through the whitewater. Also see the giant pumps at work. And notice the person falling off the raft at the very end of the video.

We all had a blast! The rapids were as advertised. Anything from Class II to Class IV. We got soaked, and upended on one set of really tough water. The whole raft just went completely over and dumped us into the drink. All part of the price of admission, as far as we were concerned. Following almost two hours of this, I opted to relax by the faux-river while Carole and Andy signed up for another go. By 5:30 pm the day was over and we headed home. We dropped Andy at his place and then came back to our place. Carole is already snoozing away, and I'll join her soon.

Best anniversary celebration in some time!

Carole and Andy see me on the bank of the whitewater course.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Great Jove Speaks!

Zeus laughs!

The lesser pretenders are a joke to him!


Zeus loves a good laugh!

You don't have to ask what Jove would do. Ka-BLAM!