Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jove Help Me

By the Twelve Gods. We are definitely old and domesticated. The highlight of our weekend was not seeing one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the eastern USA. It was finding and buying a new washing machine to replace the one that broke.


Our new washing machine. A Maytag.

Bored? Need excitement?

Buy a copy (digital or paperback) of one of my current books!

THE LIVING END! Zombies galore! Excitement! Action! Pathos! Blood and gore! Puppies!

THE FLOCK! Giant terror birds! Fightin' Seminoles! Babes! Soldiers! Lawyers! Guns and money! Soon to be a major motion picture!

DEAD BAIT 2! Horror yarns about how it ain't safe to go back into the water! Buy yers now!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Cascades: Photo Essay

Photo essay of our visit to the Cascades Recreation Area near Pembroke, Virginia:

Carole, in the parking lot at around 9:00. When we got there, maybe ten vehicles were in the extensive parking lot. I should have taken an "after" photo when we returned at around two in the afternoon. The parking lot was packed and cars were lining the road in an effort to find a parking spot.

The Forest Service had set up these cool directional signs.


Some type of wild geranium?

Stony Creek, author of The Cascades.

This thing must be important, historically. Some kind of boiler, I reckon. It had a shed built over it, but there was no sign indicating what it was.

There are trails on both sides of the creek leading to the falls. This is the one on the right side. Highly engineered and pleasant to hike.

When the slope requires it, staircases are provided.

And nice bridges, too.

Stony Creek.

Carole pauses on a bridge at around the halfway point.

The views under the forest canopy are fantastic.

Self-portrait at the object of our walk--The Cascades. Easily one of the best overall waterfalls in the Southeastern USA.

Down in the gorge below the falls.

This was a really great swimming hole. Very deep!

Small stream entering Stony Creek from one side.

First place I've been where every single hemlock I saw was completely dead. In most places you can find a living one here and there, or small ones that are holding out against the infestation. But the adelgid has been here for so long that every single hemlock tree has been dead for years and years.

We took the other trail back down to the truck. This is a rocky overhang along the way.

The cove hardwood forest. This spot is just before we reached the packed parking lot.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Cascades

Carole and I drove up to Virginia yesterday. There's a waterfall near Pembroke VA that she wanted to see, and I never need an excuse to go to the high country. So we headed up yesterday afternoon, checked into a hotel, had a great meal in Blacksburg across the street from Virginia Tech, had a good sleep, then drove over to the falls this morning before the crowds could get there. My gimpy knee slowed us up some but we had a good time. I went swimming in the deep plunge pool below the falls. It was great!

Self-portrait in front of The Cascades. Easily one of the South's premiere waterfalls.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Experimenting with Macro

Still slowly trying to learn the new camera. I keep trying to get better at taking closeup photos, but my skills there have so far proven poor. I'll keep at it until I get some decent results. Among my problems are that the results end up, by and large, unfocused and slightly blurred.

I need to break down and take a couple of courses on the use of SLR digital cameras.


Mystery flower

Shot of new cones on the great hemlocks in my mother-in-law's back yard.

Another view of the mystery flower from a recent hike.

Another wild flower in the old growth forest.

Any expert who wants to ID the flowers, just post a comment.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Booger-eating Whore-monger SCORES!

Well, I just bought Chester Brown's new book. It's a hefty volume, nice hardback from one of my favorite publishers, Drawn & Quarterly. While it's a brand new tale from him, the book is vintage Chester Brown.

Chester Brown was among the early guys who followed Harvey Pekar in doing autobiography in comics form about day-to-day life. In Pekar's case, he was a regular working guy with a civil service job, so his take on the world was (and remains) a lot more easy to identify with than some of the group who followed. In Brown's case, as with so many of the other artists who took that route, their stories were curled about the fact that they are comic book artists. For most of us, that's not the kind of bedrock our own identities are built upon. Still, fellows like Joe Matt and Chester Brown created some intense and interesting narratives.

For years I thought of Brown as "the guy who eats his own boogers", since he singularly revealed this hideous fact in one of his comics. Graphically, of course. It's comics, after all.

If he came across as rather a strange bird, it's because he is a strange bird. He always seemed relatively honest--more so than most of us would be when faced with the task of documenting our own lives. I think that's what made his comics refreshing, give or take a really gross booger-eating sequence or two.

One thing about Brown's work is that he never seems to show himself expressing any emotion. The world is a slide and the rest of us are microbes that he's eye-balling as we glide across it beneath his all-seeing gaze. Whenever he shows himself, it's with a blank, clinical expression as he seems to be calmly considering his fellow bugs.

And so it is with this new book, PAYING FOR IT. It's his autobiography of his life as a John, the customer who pays prostitutes for sex. Like Chester himself, it's rather wretched, but very interesting. As usual, he portrays himself as a very unemotional, almost robotic individual. His face never has much of an expression--his eyes mere slits, his mouth a deft slash, his features cadaverous and almost death-like. I can believe this fellow eats boogers and has to pay whores for sex.

My hardback copy of PAYING FOR IT by Chester Brown (with a neat introduction by Robert Crumb).

And that's what he calls them in the book: "whores". It's not flattering. Of course he never calls them that to their faces, nor does he ever illustrate a single face of any of the whores he pays for sex. We see only their bodies and read his impressions of what they look like--"young" or "cute" or "gorgeous", etc. But always Brown hides their faces. He claims it's to mask their identities, as if his cartoons might be used in a police prosecution or something. In the end, it indicates a kind of disturbing dishonesty and condescension toward the whores he pays.

Still and all, PAYING FOR IT is an entertaining book. I read it with great interest and it's quite good. He seems to have leaned toward the style of one of his friends, comic book artist Joe Matt. As with Matt's style used in some issues of his book PEEPSHOW, Brown has opted for very small panels and tightly drawn figures and using a minimalist's edge to his pen. Since my eyesight is going, this kind of stuff is frustrating for me--one reason I find it more and more difficult to enjoy the work of artists like Matt and Brown who seem to be following the lead of Chris Ware. Amazing work, fellows, but I'm going blind.

Since I have done one other small essay on Chester Brown, that one focusing on his twisted political views, I will mention that these views also crop up in PAYING FOR IT. The one time he truly shows his cartoon self displaying any passionate emotion at all is when his friend, artist Seth, voices an opinion that flies in the face of Brown's Libertarian sensibilities. His mind is shown as a violent lightning storm and overlain with his reasonable thoughts that he needs to calm down because his friend is just being foolish. All this over whether or not prostitution should be regulated if it's made completely legal. (Brown thinks not, Seth thinks so.)

Another thing about the book is that it's largely humorless. The figure of Chester Brown is a most feeble individual. He shows himself to be a spineless sort in most matters, especially in his relationship with his last girlfriend, Sook-Yin (apparently some sort of counter-culture figure in Canada). He admits to being a total doormat of a man when Sook-Yin tells him that she thinks she loves someone else more than she loves Brown and would he mind if she had sex with that other guy, pretty please? Brown agrees to all of this impassively, even when the new boyfriend moves in and Brown finds himself alone while Sook-Yin bangs the new guy one thin wall away. A mensch, he's not.

The only time the book made me laugh was after Brown's first experience with a prostitute as he tells his pals Seth and Joe about it. Joe Matt's reaction was nothing short of hilarious and the exchange as it is illustrated was quite funny. For a moment I thought that Larry David was writing the book.

In the end, I found PAYING FOR IT illustrating Chester Brown as something of a social loser. He claims to be a Libertarian, champion of keep-the-government-out-of-my-life type. But it's good to know that he accepted Canada's generous government grants to artists--funds which kept him afloat while he created his books; funds which, in part, helped him to be able to buy his own condo so that he could bring his whores home when he could afford the expensive bouts of sex. And it was sad to read and watch as he tells his two best pals that he has fallen in love with his long-time whore. That's rich. I once had a friend who fell in love with one of his whores and continued to send her money even after he left Manila and shipped back home. I'm sure she continued to love him back.

Until the money ran out, I reckon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Melvin Again!

When I was a kid I loved this guy's work. His name was John Stanley and I was attracted to every comic book that he wrote and illustrated. Toward the end of his career he would mainly create, plot, write, and do what are called breakdowns--bare bones illustrations over which other artists could do the drawing and inking. But even his breakdowns held a measure of real humor that appealed to the kid I was.

This brilliant comic was contracted by Dell to capitalize on the then-current popularity of monsters--most notably the humorous monster take characterized by productions such as The Munsters, and The Addams Family TV shows. And also influenced--culturally, at least--by the light-hearted editorial slant of Forrest J. Ackerman's FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND Magazine.

I've read that Stanley never really got the appreciation he so deserved during most of his working life in comics. This is a real shame, because his work connected not just with me, but with probably millions of other kids who read his books. He also wrote and illustrated the popular LITTLE LULU and TUBBY comics that once commanded an important presence on newsstand shelves for so many years. It wasn't just hordes of little boys who were reading his comics, but vast crowds of little girls, too.

If you want to learn how to write a kid's comic, then study the work of John Stanley on LITTLE LULU and TUBBY comics.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Videos of Old Growth and a New Waterfall

When my pals and I go hiking, one of the most satisfying things is to discover a waterfall that's not listed in any literature or one that isn't marked on any maps that we use. So it was when Andy Kunkle and I ventured into the unnamed drainage near Curtis Creek Recreation Area in the Pisgah National Forest. We had been told that there was a waterfall, but we didn't know exactly what to expect.

We were both pleased to find a very extensive series of cascades that tumble down the very steep slopes of Laurel Knob. Laurel Knob itself is a moderately high mountain that stands on the verge of the Black Mountains, the highest range in the eastern United States of America. Just north of Laurel Knob one can find some of the finest grandstands here in South. So it shouldn't be a surprise that we stumbled upon a largely unknown waterfall. This area is perfect--geologically and topographically--for such discoveries.

Here then, are a couple of videos (plus some more photos) that I shot while hiking up the unnamed tributary in our search for forest giants, and finding the pleasing sights and sounds of falling water:

This photo illustrates the difficulty of shooting in a forest in summer. You can barely make out what is a pretty impressive cascade sliding over exposed rock. But I'm sure that in the winter, without all of the leaf cover, one could get a very good photo of this waterfall.

Standing on the very steep slopes of the valley, I thought this was a good vantage point above the creek. Again, in late Fall or Winter, this would make a great spot to photograph the cascade.

The frustration of trying to shoot on these extremely steep slopes is illustrated in my attempt to photograph this tree. It's a very impressive Tulip tree right on the verge of the creek. However, there was nowhere to safely anchor my tripod so that I could place myself in the photo with the tree. I like to have a human figure beside a tree to indicate the tree's true dimensions. This one stymied me in that effort.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Curtis Creek-Mackey Mountain Old Growth

This hike started with a search on the Internet. I wasn't hunting specifically for this hike, but for information on old growth trees in western North Carolina. I stumbled upon a report by ENTS member Josh Kelly that was accompanied with photographs of some very impressive trees. Further, the details in the article indicated that this forest was located near some trails I'd hiked before. Mr. Kelly was kind enough to provide me with some good information regarding the exact location of some of these groves, so I sent the details on to my hiking friend Andy Kunkle and we made plans to take a look.

This forest is located in an historically significant spot. The Curtis Creek area of western North Carolina is the very first section of our nation's National Forest system. Today, this particular bit of that system of regulated forest has within its borders about 8,500 acres of contiguous old growth forest. These days, here in the east, that's a very significant amount. Most people visiting this section of the Pisgah National Forest never see these old trees, because access is by foot only and the undisturbed sections are well away from road access. In fact, you won't even find established trails leading into these groves, so bushwhacking is the only way.

Andy and I found the spot near the Curtis Creek Campground where Josh's directions indicated we should begin. In short order we found the drainage of the unnamed tributary and began our hike. We were looking for a waterfall, above which the more significant trees would be located. As bushwhacking goes, this was pretty easy. The slopes are steep, but the forest is largely open, with a high canopy and not a lot of undergrowth to bar the way. The worst of the troubles are the many dead hemlock trees which can be irritating to negotiate.

Quickly, we found that the slopes of the drainage were extremely steep and in many cases our best bet was to use the stream itself as our main access. This was easy enough, but eventually we came to some cliffs and found that we had to enter the forest and climb above these to continue higher up the sides of Laurel Knob. This also was not a huge problem, save for the fact that we began to encounter large patches of stinging nettles and brambles which zapped our calves. In quick order, the thorns had torn at the exposed flesh of my calves and my legs were a bloody mess. Oh, well, just part of off-trail hiking.

We came to some of the cascades that Josh told us to look for, and as we passed by them and moved above the most impressive of these, we began to see the big trees we'd come to find.

I was very impressed with this forest. Most of the big trees here are Yellow (or Tulip) poplars. These are not the biggest poplars I've ever seen--the Great Smoky Mountains and the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest hold those positions. However, to have a forest like this so close to home was eye-opening. The higher we climbed up the slopes, the more big trees we found. Every time I figured we'd seen the best that the forest had to offer, the more extensive the grove seemed to be. We ended up spending about six hours exploring this old growth forest, so we'll return at the next opportunity to see more of it. We examined our topo map and figured how best to enter the grove next time so that we'll be able to explore the drainage from higher up the mountain and work our way down.

I am looking forward to that trip.

Andy Kunkle and I pause at a particularly impressive poplar for a self-portrait.

Exfoliation as we move through the drainage.

Sometimes the best option for us was to use the unnamed creek as our principle route.

Andy and Boone rest in the midst of the big trees.

At one point I headed off up the heights while Andy waited behind. I could see big trees above us so I had to check them out. I had to keep stopping to take photographs of these big, old forest giants that seemed to be everywhere I looked.

The depth and richness of the soil impressed me. This is a spot where merely the weight of my foot dug a furrow in the forest floor. The darkness and complexity of the earth forms the basis of this rich ecosystem.

Another tree as I climbed the slope of a ridge. Big trees wherever I cast my gaze.

One of the more photogenic sections of the waterfall, which we decided to name "Stinging Nettle Cascades" in honor of the vicious plant that made the hike a bit more memorable.

Mother Nature reminds us of how puny we are.

I used this downed hemlock as a bridge across the unnamed creek.

Fire pink.

I stopped to photograph this bit of fungi doing its part to break down a long-dead tree trunk.

What a grand forest! Andy dwarfed by huge poplars.

Andy and Boone standing at a huge, partially hollow poplar tree.

While this forest is indeed beautiful, I kept seeing reminders that it's supposed to be a Hemlock-Poplar forest. In this area, all of the mature hemlocks are dead. You see their standing corpses everywhere. So this forest--amazing as it is you have to realize that it's missing a major component.