Monday, February 28, 2011

Sally Queen Falls

Today (Sunday, 02-27-2011) Jack Thyen, Andy Kunkle (and Boone the dawg) and I went on a long bushwhack into the South Mountains Games Lands. We took this hike to try to find a waterfall that was rumored to be located on a stream in the game lands not far from the South Mountains State Park. Jack and Andy did the orienteering and I followed. Tomorrow I'll try to write more about the hellis...hike. This was one of the toughest hikes I've been on in a very long time. We pretty much bushwhacked the entire way, for we had to carefully stay on public land, off of posted private property, and without a single official trail to follow.

We found the waterfall and discovered that it's not a rumor. It was well worth the very long, very tough hike in and out of the area.

Until later, here are a couple of photos:

We even stumbled upon some nice old trees. This poplar was fairly impressive.

Here I am, in self-portrait, at the former mystery of Sally Queen Falls.



Sunday, February 27, 2011

Latest Pre Hero Marvels

I added four pre-hero Marvels to my collection this week. I've been actively seeking these books and they're not as easy to locate as I'd hoped. But I landed four books this past week, all from the same collection.

It's fun to see how Marvel operated in those days just before Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were cut loose to create an entire line of new characters that ended up earning billions of dollars for the parent companies who took and inherited the product of their imaginations.

This was actually a pretty desperate era for the company that was not yet called Marvel Comics. Sales of comic books were largely in decline and so the editor there was constantly struggling to keep sales on an even keel. In these times, Marvel was existing as a kind of faded copy of the old EC company, publishing watered-down versions of the ground-breaking weird and science-fiction stories that had propelled EC to notoriety. To keep the titles supplied with stories, Marvel had come to depend on a small but talented and reliable stable of artists. The workhorses for the remaining Marvel titles were Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Don Heck. Other artists chipped in and filled in various slots, but those three men were creating the lion's share of the art and scripts for all of Marvel's books. And of course Jack Kirby was creating at an almost unbelievable pace in these last years before he created the pantheon of characters upon which Marvel would stand for the next fifty years.


TALES OF SUSPENSE #36 (I already owned a copy of this book, but in poor condition. So I decided to buy this copy which is in very nice shape.)


TALES TO ASTONISH#28. I'd been trying to get this book for quite some time but always missed out on auctions or was too late in getting to my favorite back issue dealers before they'd moved copies. So I'm really happy to land this one.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Images of a Virgin Hemlock Forest

When we got to Blackwater Falls Lodge, our room wasn't ready, so we hopped back in the truck and made the short drive over to Cathedral State Park. This is the last remaining patch of virgin hemlock forest in the entire state of West Virginia. One thing that I can say about West Virginia is that it is packed with some tree-cuttin' sons o' bitches. At the turn of the century the whole state was pretty much denuded of tree cover from north to south, side to side. Every peak and hollow and canyon had been scoured clean of anything woody. One hundred years since that ecological genocide and the forests have somewhat recovered only to be knocked over in the same fashion yet again. Every time we go to the state we are horrified at the endless truckloads of giant hardwood logs we see barreling down the highway headed for sawmills and pulping facilities. Humans never fucking learn.

However, this single 133-acre patch of virgin forest was spared due to the efforts of a single man who purchased the plot and saved it from logging. This has pretty much been the case of most virgin forests in the eastern USA. Foresighted men who decided to do what they could to preserve one small bit of wilderness amidst the rape of industry.

The most amazing thing to me, living here in North Carolina where you can no longer find a healthy grove of hemlocks at all, much less a virgin stand, is that the trees appear to be free of the hemlock wooly adelgid. I assume the pest has not made it this far west for some reason, and even though I'm sure one of my learned friends will apprise me otherwise, I can hope that the plague may have run its westward course and these trees will be spared.

At any rate, it was refreshing to be able to walk through such a stand of hemlock trees (and hardwoods!). All of my favorite groves here in North Carolina and in Virginia and eastern Tennessee have been laid low. It was sweet and wonderful.

Sign at the entrance to the grove.

Stitched photo of one of the first big hemlocks we approached.

Carole at a double-trunked hemlock.

Stitched shot of the open hemlock/hardwood forest.

Along one of the forest streams.

Carole precedes me along the snowy trail.

Although the snow had been melting for a few days, the heavy snowfalls of previous weeks was obvious. This bridge had about three feet of snow covering it.

Just a shot through the forest, with dozens of new hemlocks popping up through the snow.

Old trees fall to make way for new ones.

A peaceful hike.

The park boasts six miles of marked trails.

And plenty of opportunities for walking off trail into the woods.

Standing beside an ancient hemlock.

There was deer poop everywhere. We didn't see any deer, but the signs of their passing were almost everywhere you looked.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

The Power of Water

When we got to the Blackwater Falls area they were experiencing some warm weather after a long period of very heavy snowfall. So there was a tremendous amount of snow melt going on, even though I had to hike through places where the snow was about two feet deep. I could only imagine how deep the snow must have been before the thaw.

Because of this, the streams and rivers were bursting their banks. Thus, the waterfalls were about as powerful as you could ever hope to see them. In fact, the trail down to the Blackwater Falls had been put off limits because the flow was so great and the ice cover was so treacherous that the park officials felt the need to keep people away. So I was not able to hike all the way down to the base of the falls where the best photo opportunities were to be had. I was able to get a look at the viewing platform from above, and it was coated in what appeared to be five feet of solid ice. I decided to obey the signs and not venture beyond the barriers the park rangers had erected.

Here then are some videos and images that I took of the rivers and waterfalls that we encountered in West Virginia and Maryland.

This falls in Swallow Falls State Park reminded me of Hooker Falls at Du Pont State Forest here in North Carolina.

The namesake falls of Swallow Falls State Park.

The river was actually kind of frightening with the elevated levels and the constant steaming of sublimating snow and ice.

This was the best view I could get of Blackwater Falls due to the closure of the main trail. If you look to the left side of the photo you can see the dwarfed viewing platform almost filled with snow and ice. The staircase leading down to it was so packed with ice that the stairs were completely hidden.

The Blackwater River just above the falls.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Train Depot

Usually I'm busy taking photographs of mountains, trees, rivers, waterfalls, and wildlife. However, sometimes I'll happen upon a really neat building that I have to photograph. Such was the case on the way back from Swallow Falls State Park. Carole and I saw a truly impressive train depot that has been converted into a museum. You can see how important this place was when it was the center of commerce for the town of Oakland, MD back in the day. Truly an impressive building in every way. It was closed, so we couldn't go inside, but I plan on seeing it again and touring the interior.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reluctantly Heading Home

Carole and I did NOT want to leave Blackwater Falls State Park. We were having such a good time and we still had things we wanted to see and do in the area. To make things even more painful, the snowstorm that had been predicted for days was just getting cranked up. There was about three inches of new snow on the ground with another half of a foot forecast before the storm would end. We debated staying over and playing hooky from work...but decided against it: our sense of responsibility kicked in. Too many Steve Ditko comics in my past, I reckon.

Here I was at Pendleton Point on the north rim of the gorge. I was standing on newly fallen ice/sleet/snow. If not for my Yaktrax (those guys need to pay me), there's no way I'd have wandered out on the cliff edge.

And here I am in largely the same spot in the summer of 2007.

This was taken on another cliff and I'm pointing across the gorge to the lodge where we spent three and a half great days.

This is actually the last photo I took as we were leaving the park. I used my telephoto lens to catch this one. The deer had been pawing in the snow to excavate whatever they were eating--grass or lichens or mosses--not sure which. This was in a kind of bog/wetland, so there's not telling what kind of vegetation they were eating.

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Or my cryptozoology action novel, THE FLOCK!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Dead go Live!

THE LIVING END is now available for purchase from your favorite online bookseller!


And here!

Wild Maryland

We traveled a few miles north into Maryland today to check out a couple of state parks there. I was really surprised at some of the stuff we found. More later. For now, a video and a couple of photos:

Swallow Falls State Park. The highest waterfall in Maryland.

This park has a patch of virgin hemlock/white pine forest. 300+ years old.

The place was packed with waterfalls. Four major falls.

Once again, if not for my Yaktrax, I'd have had to cancel the hike.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Unexpected Snow.

Yesterday we went for a ride to scope out some of the local recreation areas. We found a National Forest campground that had totally escaped our notice and we're definitely going to take our travel trailer there as soon as we can. I'll post some details on that spot in a couple of days.

On the way back it began to rain. This was expected as the weather report had called for such. However, as we gained elevation and began to close in on Blackwater State Park snow began to mix in and soon the rain had turned completely to snow! And not just a flurry, but a full-on blinding snowstorm! In nothing flat it began to accumulate everywhere, adding to the deep snow that was already covering most of the terrain.

So we delayed our trip to a local restaurant so that we could hike to the Blackwater Falls overlook in the snow. We took a few photos and then drove back into Thomas WV where we had a light supper at a Restaurant/Hostel in the middle of the tiny town. The place was packed with young people staying at the hostel and there was live music by a very talented fellow playing neo-classical piano.

Looking down on Blackwater Falls. The volume over the falls was fantastic!

The happy travelers in the snow.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lindy Point

I hiked through some seriously deep snow to get to an overlook today. I'd promised myself to take a winter photo from Lindy Point which I'd visited before during summer. But the road to the trailhead was shut because of deep snow so that added more than a mile to the hike, so instead of a one and a half mile round trip I was looking at a four-mile round trip. Still an easy hike if you didn't consider that I was going to be hiking through extremely deep snow with many patches of hardened ice. If I hadn't worn my Yaktrak Pros I probably wouldn't have been able to make the hike in a reasonable time frame. As it was I did it fairly quickly. I only encountered one other person the hike--a woman who'd ski'd in on her cross-country skis, but she left soon after I arrived at Lindy Point so I had the place to myself for quite a while.

The trail in to Lindy Point. Very deep snow and lots of ice.

I went over the fence onto a rock pillar to get this photo. That's my camera tripod beside the viewing platform.

And here I am at the tower of rock they call Lindy Point. The Blackwater Canyon behind me.

Friday, February 18, 2011


For years I’ve been a fan of zombie movies and zombie fiction. I was hooked the first time I saw George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. What a great concept! The best paranoid fantasy I’ve ever seen, and nothing has matched it in the years since. With the possible exceptions of Romero’s follow-ups DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD. I even quite like the remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD directed by Tom Savini—a much underappreciated horror movie that’s quite good (but more on that for another day).

And then there are the zombie novels. At first, there weren’t many of them. And those were mainly just the movie-to-novel books and John Russo’s excellent RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (which had nothing to do with the later film horror/comedy by the amazing Dan O’ Bannon--other than the title). For decades, really, no author seemed to want to go near the concept of Romero-esque zombies in horror fiction.

The first real zombie novel I can recall encountering was Philip Nutman’s WET WORK. His zombies were the same as Romero’s and some of them were..well, not like Romero's zombies . He split the difference by making some of them mindless, and some of them intelligent. As a book of apocalyptic horror, it really worked on every level. There’s even a scene toward the end with George Herbert Walker Bush and Dan Quayle zombies. The book was a good combination of scary and funny. Again…there’s time for that some other day.

After that, there didn’t seem to be much in the publishing world in the way of zombie fiction. There was a long running comic book series called DEADWORLD that was kind of nifty. But it faded away. The years continued to tick by and now and again there would be a zombie film that would prove relatively popular, but the idea seemed to stay mainly within the occasional B-movie.

Because of my long admiration for Romero’s bit of paranoid genius, I’d wanted to write a zombie novel. In the days before the form was made popular I’d even written and published a zombie comic book script, “The New Ecology of Death” in Steve Bissette’s TABOO. In those days you really didn’t see much around that was anything like it, so it stood out. But during that time I didn’t think there’d be a market for a zombie novel from a mainstream press.

And then, with the advent of the Internet and print-on-demand and a proliferation of small press publishers there was suddenly an eruption of zombie fiction. Some of it was awful, and some of it was really good. I’d search out these self-published and small print run novels and often I’d be surprised at how well written they were. In quick order there were literally dozens of zombie novels, and some of those small press publishers were actually making money printing apocalyptic zombie fiction. In a flash of sales and literary gore, there was a market for something as bizarre as the zombie novel.

So I jotted down some ideas and wrote out some sample chapters. Initially, my idea for a zombie novel was to do something like Sherwood Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO. Something like that, but involving the zombie apocalypse, and holding it together a bit more coherently than the tales in that great book. However, my agent thought that while he could sell a zombie novel, the Winesburg thing was probably not a good idea. I thought about it for a while and didn’t really agree, and then I recalled that my favorite Ray Bradbury book, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY (aka DARK CARNIVAL) was his take on a supernatural version of WINESBURG, OHIO. So, reluctantly, I backed away from my original idea. (And, of course, now someone has actually written such a novel! Oh, well.)

Before I got started on my zombie project I took a long, hard look at the community around zombie fiction. And something that jumped out at me almost immediately was that a lot of the fans were either borderline or blatant racists. The discussion boards online were packed with gun-mad racists actually longing for something like a zombie plague so that they could start shooting everyone they didn’t like. It was pretty disturbing. So disturbing that I almost considered abandoning the project. I even wrote an essay about it, which I published here at my blog. That essay generated a bit of controversy and ill feeling toward me from blockheads and right wing assholes. Oh, well.

After some consideration I figured I could write a zombie novel that wasn’t—like many I’d read—a thin line distant from THE TURNER DIARIES. What the hell. I was ready to give it a try.

The thing about the zombie trope is that it encompasses so many fears. There’s the xenophobia, of course. But you can imprint just about any fear known on the scalps of zombies. Fear of death. Fear of life. Fear of disease. Fear of violence. Fear of madness. Fear of others. Fear of strangers. Fear of being the stranger. Fear of ignorance. Fear of knowledge. You name it, it’s probably lurking just under the surface of the faces of those rotting, implacable monsters.

As I gathered creative steam for the book I thought that I’d want to have a collaborator. However, I had to disconnect that particular route of attack when a year passed after I was largely finished with my section and the rest of the book was not forthcoming from my writing partner. By then, my agent was frustrated and at least one opportunity from editors had come and gone, so I cut those collaborative ties and wrote the remaining forty thousand words myself, adding them to the seventy thousand I’d already created and ended up with THE LIVING END: A Zombie Novel (with Dogs).

However, by the time I handed it in to my agent, the markets seemed almost glutted with zombie fiction! Here was this little ghetto within a ghetto of horror fiction and editors were being deluged with manuscripts about zombies. One editor even sent a note—“What’s going on? I get one of these across the desk every few days!” It was sad, but the main publishers were actually overloaded with zombie novels. And who could blame other writers by then? Max Brooks’ WORLD WAR Z had been a bona fide best seller. King’s CELL had sold tons of copies. The Emily Bronte’ pastiche was roaring up the charts. Zombie movies were going great guns at the box office. Maybe the delay was going to prove a death blow to the project.

But then there were the small presses. Guys like Permuted Press and Coscom and others were selling lots of copies of novels about end-of-the-world scenarios, often featuring the living dead. So we sent the book out into the small press world, leaving a lot of those professional editors holding the manuscript while they made up their minds.

And in quick order the good folk at Severed Press asked for a contract to publish my zombie novel, THE LIVING END. I tried to write a zombie novel that takes a different direction from a lot of that type of book. My zombies are traditional in that they’re the slow, plodding, incoming tide of death. But I wrote a book about the kinds of worlds that coalesce after (and around) something like the plague of the reanimated. As with my earlier thoughts—the variation on the Sherwood Anderson theme, I place the story in a particular place and featured a wide and varied cast. The germ of my original idea is still there, but stitched together by a more coherent narrative than what I’d originally intended.

That, briefly, is how it happened.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Amazing Adult Fantasy

This is the latest addition to my Silver Age comic book collection:

My copy of Amazing Adult Fantasy #13.

You gotta love that title. These days it would have some twisted sexual connotation, but in the relatively innocent days of the early 1960s it was a good title for a comic book filled with weird fiction.

The copy's in decent shape, I got it at a good price, and best of all it's Steve Ditko from cover to cover! I really enjoy these books. Amazing Adult Fantasy was Steve Ditko's title and I'm pretty sure he did all of the art in all eight issues of the book, ending with AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #15 which introduced the Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and his guardians, Aunt May and Uncle Ben.

Narrowing down the collection slowly but surely. If you'd told me seven years ago that I'd be collecting old comics I'd have figured you for a crackpot. I'm having a great time putting this collection together.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Our Next Two Vacations

Our next two significant vacations are going to be familiar territory. This month we'll be returning directly to a place we haven't visited since 2007: Blackwater Falls State Park in northern West Virginia.

Our initial reason for going there in February was to enjoy the snow. However, it looks as if we're going to be there during a period of warmer weather and we'll miss our chance at snow sports. We won't get to enjoy the sledding slope they have in the park, and I won't get to try my hand (or legs) at cross-country skiing. Crap!

But we'll fill our days enjoying the fantastic scenery that Mother Nature provides in the Mountain State. One place that I'm going to hit that I've wanted to see for some time is Cathedral State Park. It's the last surviving patch of virgin hemlock forest in the entire state of West Virginia. The trees, I hear, are still free of the hemlock wooly adelgid that has obliterated our hemlock forests in Georgia, North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and Virginia. It'll be great to witness such a forest.

Blackwater Falls.

The Blackwater River.

Me, standing on the lip of the Blackwater Canyon.

The Canyon from Lindy Point.

Seneca Rock, also in West Virginia. We won't likely have time to see it this trip.

Me, in Bear Rocks near Dolly Sods Wilderness. Another place we likely won't have the time to see this trip up.

After that, late in the Spring, we're headed down to Florida. We're going to hit a spot in the state where we've driven but never camped. I don't have any photos of the specific area where we'll be staying on that trip, but here are a few blasts from the past.

When I was a kid, we lived just across the Georgia/Florida border and I was actually kind of bored with the state, since we spent so much time there visiting relatives. But now that I'm older I've discovered so much natural beauty in Florida that I love going down there to vacation.

Of course Carole and I don't hit the places that 90% of the tourists hit. We don't do the amusement parks and the beaches are not generally our favored haunts when we're there. We really enjoy the rivers and the first and second magnitude freshwater springs that dot the karst topography of Florida. And I have to say that, with the possible exception of West Virginia, Florida has the finest system of state parks on the east coast of North America.

Blue Springs, from 2008.

Standing inside the resisting snag of a dead monster cypress, 2008.

Great blue heron, a really great predator of our forests and rivers.

Mr. Alligator. I enjoy seeing them in the low country.

Live oaks and Spanish moss.