Wednesday, February 29, 2012
And despite the size of the trailer, it has everything we need to remain comfortable. When we have electric hookup capability, it has a powerful air conditioner. When we don't have electric hookups, we can exist for several days on battery power, but we also have a Honda 2000-watt generator that we use from time to time. The generator will even run the air conditioner, but we don't use it for that.
Another thing that always surprises people who go inside our little trailer is that it has a full bathroom. It has what would be called a "marine head". In the bathroom there is a toilet, a sink, and a shower.
There's also a two-burner gas stove in the trailer, a sink, and a two-person dinette. We leave our bed permanently as a bed, but it can also be made up to serve as a four-person dining table with benches. In brief, the trailer is perfect for our jaunts to isolated campgrounds around the country.
Vacation season is coming up for us, so we're looking around and planning our warm-weather itinerary.
I like this photo because it shows the small size of our little trailer. This was taken at the Salt Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest in Florida. This campground was originally a private concern, but the National Forest Service bought it and now it's a public campground. We stayed there while exploring the first-magnitude springs of the Ocala. We enjoyed this campground because it had complete hookups, which we almost never encounter in our National Forest journeys. It had electric, water, and sewer hookups. We're thinking of heading there again for another stay.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Monday, February 27, 2012
Reedy Creek Park is a pretty cool place, but I generally avoid it during warm months because of the thick crowds that take advantage of the picnic grounds and the lake fishing and biking trails. I go there to hike, since there's a pretty darned good system of woodland trails in the park. It's also a fairly large park--over 700 acres. I can almost get a feeling of wilderness and solitude if I can hit a day when there aren't many people (and dogs) in there.
Today was a Sunday, which would generally make it a crowd day. But the temperatures were in the high 40s so there weren't any picnickers in the park. Mainly there were just people playing disc golf and a fair number of hikers like myself. It wasn't too bad.
I've posted some columns about the park before. One of my favorite spots there are the ruins of an old farmhouse that has fallen to rocky bits. There are a couple of genuinely creepy ghost stories about the place, one of which I keep meaning to use as the basis for a short story or novella. It's percolating.
This is the site of the old farmhouse. This was the house of the son of the couple who originally owned most of the acreage. There's a ghost story attached to this place that genuinely scared me when I read of it. Not the ghost itself...I don't believe in such. But what happened to the person whose ghost apparently haunted the vicinity because of what happened to her.
This corner of the house was reassembled by the County some years ago. They pieced the stones back together. In fact, the house was completely in bits before they decided to cement some of it to its original state to give a better idea of the scope of the old place. It wasn't a huge house, but wasn't insubstantial, either.
The cursed farmhouse from the opposite side from where you arrive by way of the Sierra Loop Trail.
When things are just right, you can pretend you're really in the woods.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
However, once upon a time there was a busy town there called, of course, Mortimer NC. The main reason for the town was the commerce created by the Ritter Lumber Company which was the engine of destruction that raped the local mountains and valleys of virtually all the timber that was growing there. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the company skinned the mountains. The timber barons in charge of the concern clear cut everything in sight. In the days beginning in the late 1800s and up until about 1930, just about every bit of forest in the southern Appalachians was scraped off the land. You could stand on peaks and ridges and look in every direction and not see a single standing tree of significant height.
There were a few other employers in Mortimer, including a couple of inns and a couple of mills, including a cotton mill near the banks of Wilson Creek. It must be said that Wilson Creek is not a small tributary but is, in fact, a fairly impressive river. It drains the eastern side of the Grandfather Mountain massif and moves quite the volume of fresh water down the almost 6,000-foot slopes toward the lowlands. Several times in the history of the town of Mortimer the "creek" flooded in truly disastrous fashion. Earlier, when there was still timber to be moved and plenty of reason to rebuild destroyed infrastructure, the town recovered. However, the last big flood in 1940 sealed the town's fate. By then, there was no timber to be harvested (it had all been cut down to the mineral earth) and the only thing left was a single cotton mill which was inundated and wrecked by the flood waters.
And that was the final nail in the coffin of Mortimer's existence.
These days it's just a spot on the county road where the Mortimer Campground sits, along with the Mortimer Picnic Area. It's still popular with the locals from Morganton and visitors from Charlotte and Greensboro and Raleigh, etc. Wilson Creek is a beautiful spot and quite a good place for recreation, especially for people who don't have a lot of money in their pockets. On a summer weekend the main road along the banks of the river are packed end to end and side to side with cars unloading thousands of people to go swimming, diving, kayaking, and hiking.
My truck and trailer and setup when I went to Mortimer in June of 2009 to finish a novel.
But of the town of Mortimer, there is hardly a sign. A few of the walls of the old cotton mill are obvious beside the main road, and the headquarters building of the old CCC camp is still there. And if you hike into the forest you might chance upon old foundations, sunken cellars slowly filling in with leaves and limbs, odd pipes and cables sticking out of the earth...but that's about it. The forests have reclaimed the coves and summits and in another hundred years it might all look like it did before the first saws and axes began to bite into the trunks of all of that wonderful timber.
Maybe next time the humans won't be quite so cruel.
The timber company clear cut every tree in sight. The mountains had become a wasteland.
The old CCC headquarters (large white building) is the only structure in this photo that still exists and which remains in use.
Another shot of one of the old cotton mill buildings. They put the mill on the flood plains and must have known that it would be flooded again as it had been in the past. By the time of the last flood, in 1940, the town was so far gone and the infrastructure so weakened that the rails were not rebuilt, and so the mill was left to rot away, the workers left to fend for themselves. The town finished dying.
It's fun to wander around in the ruins and imagine what it was like there when the place was a going concern.
What 70+ years of peace and the absence of "development" has given us.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Even though I've spent a fair amount of time on and around Wilson Creek, I have missed all but two of the waterfalls there. I had been to North Harper Creek Falls, which is where I dropped my favorite camera a few years ago (due to angry bumblebees) and watched it go over the falls. And I'd been to Hunt Fish Falls also in the vicinity. But most of the hikes were to peaks and cliffs so there are a number of really nice waterfalls there that I have yet to see.
Since I had Thursday off and needed a brief respite not only from carrying the mail, but also from working on the novels, I loaded up my daypack and truck and sped off for the Morganton area.
One nice thing about the day I chose was that no one else seemed to be interested in using the trails. I did see a fair number of folk fly fishing in Wilson Creek, but no other humans seemed to be about. Another thing that you could not help but notice was the weather. The day was all but hot. Temperatures hit the mid-70s. This year we didn't have a winter. We had a very late Autumn which remained warm for the whole of the season, and winter has been a joke. No snow. No ice. Only a few days of what I would call cold weather. The trees and flowers have already decided that it's Spring and are budding and blooming. I can only imagine what summer is going to be like.
I'll never understand why people insist on cutting across switchbacks on our trails. It is, of course, very destructive. But also it makes no sense! It's far more difficult to scramble up or down one of these messes than it is to follow the trail. Morons!
The trail offers classic southern Appalachian hiking. This place has to be pure beauty when the rhododendron and mountain laurel (and azalea) are blooming in the spring and summer.
This is the end of the spur that leads to Harper Creek Falls. This is the best of the safe grandstands for viewing the falls. You can get down lower to the base of the falls, but unless you're willing to get wet, I wouldn't advise it if the rock is damp. When I arrived a heavy fog had just lifted and it had rained heavily in the night. The rocks were very slick, so I couldn't get down safely below the falls. Therefore, I didn't go.
The soothing sound of falling water.
I did use the rope anchored above the falls to go partway down the slope. I took this photo from a point by sitting on the rock while holding to the rope and snapping a quick shot.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Today I made a very quick trip over and hiked in to see Harper Creek Falls. I have to say that it's an exceptional waterfall. I couldn't get all the way down to the base because the very steep rock walls below the trail were wet and slick. I'll post more about the trip later.
Harper Creek Falls from above. It was far too dangerous to get down the rock face to take photos from below.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Last winter, on a hike to find the elusive Sally Queen Falls, we stumbled upon just such an abandoned still. This one looked to have been last used many, many years ago. These mountains are full of old roads that were probably passable as late as the early 1960s, but which are now not even recognizable as road beds.
The still here was probably pretty high volume, so they'd have needed road access to be nearby, even if they were able to haul out gallons of this stuff by hand or by pack horse.
Anyway, the southern Appalachians are packed with these old sites.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Monday, February 20, 2012
He stood in front of the refrigerator for a while, letting the cold air drift over him. Normally, he didn’t get hot in this apartment, even on the second floor as it was, because the humidity was rarely high and a fairly constant wind blew either up or down the Tijuana estuary toward or away from the Pacific. But one of those rare fronts loaded with moisture had stalled over Imperial Beach and the air was heavy, the temperature was high, there was no wind, no clouds, lots of sun, and his shirt stuck to his torso like wet paper.
Gazing over the contents of the fridge, he decided on a bottled beer, took it out, closed the refrigerator door and said goodbye to the cold air. He’d have to make do with the beer and get used to the heat and humidity. A man could get used to anything, he told himself. The bottle cap fell to the counter top with a little metallic sound and he turned the bottle up and drained half the beer; he had to, because it would just get warm in this hot air, and he hated warm beer. Warm beer was something he didn’t want to get used to, but he might, if he had to.
Slowly, in bare feet, he eased across the den floor, feeling the shag carpet under his soles. The shag was old, left over from installation at least fifteen years before he’d taken the apartment, but had been kept clean by both himself and previous tenants. He liked feeling the stuff around his toes, and the way it softly filled his arches. In a moment, he was standing at the open door looking down on the marsh. Nothing moved except for a young skunk nosing about where the marsh grass met the lawn: nature’s blue-green meeting Chem-Lawn’s manmade emerald hues.
He looked to his right, and realized that Logan Peck, his old hippie neighbor, was draped over his wooden lounge chair, his soapstone pipe gone black and dead in his hand.
“Hey, Logan,” he said.
Logan sat up, placed the hand-carved soapstone pipe between his legs as his hand drifted to his pocket to withdraw a baggie of weed newly arrived from Oregon’s coast.
“Hey, man,” Logan replied. “You sure slept late today. I’ve been waiting out here for a long time waiting for you to come out. See if you wanted to smoke out.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” he said. “Thanks for thinking of me.”
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Except where the lawn was meticulously maintained, dark woods of spruce and hemlocks pressed in, often damp and dripping, always in shadow. At night, if you were about, and held your breath (as you would do if you found yourself in that place), you would hear the forest floor tick with the odd movement of small things. Leaves and needles, dead and somehow dry despite the dampness of the oppressive woods, would clatter startlingly either in wind, or perturbed by other means. Sometimes, if one were particularly alert and very fearful, the sounds of crunching leaves would assail one’s ears. And small sticks would crack like tiny, brittle bones. Larger limbs, too, would snap nearby as something more substantial than expected moved boldly toward the listener.
If, just before fleeing to the expected safety of that solid house sitting in the middle of that storybook patch of green lawn, you listened closely, you would hear something sigh. Or sometimes you would hear something groan, almost human, perhaps not. If you turned your prickling back to those woods to retreat to the supposed security of four walls standing rigidly, fearfully, awaiting whatever those dark woods may ultimately disgorge, you might hear something speak. You would tell yourself that it was not speech, but you would be telling yourself lies.
And then, then, you would run, hoping to outpace whatever was in those woods, whatever had snapped those dry sticks like brittle bones, whatever had trilled from the darkness, had moaned from the shadows, had muttered weirdly from those deeps. You would run to that strange house with the solid walls and doors that fit wood against wood, and you would think yourself secure.
You would be wrong.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Almost every day I will come up with some idea that I don't really know what to do with. In such situations I will jot down the idea as a partial manuscript. If it has some momentum I'll generally come back to it and see if it will make a good poem, or a good short story, or a good comic book script, or a decent novel.
As you can imagine, I have saved many (manymanymany) such fragments in my life.
Every once in a while I'll stumble upon one of these notes to myself and I'm at a loss.
Such is the case with this one: "Cheetah". I suppose it was the idea for a short story. But I swear I've forgotten where it was going because I didn't follow up the fragment with a bare bones outline as I generally do when I've taken the effort to write more than a paragraph.
I might come back to this one.
A story fragment
James Robert Smith
(Copyright 2012 by James Robert Smith)
Cheetah was in the tree, above the spring. He moved smoothly from one branch to the next until he was at the base of Johnny’s favorite palm. The cameramen were waiting for the big man to arrive. Cheetah sat high on the leaning trunk—it really was a good tree from which his co-star could dive. And the water below it was almost as clear as the air. Cheetah could see fish floating languidly in that water, along with the vegetation down there that fluttered in the current as if in an easy breeze.
He shuddered. Fuck the water. You could drown in that shit. Why Johnny liked it so much was a total mystery to Cheetah. Sitting, he pondered the water and its dangers—he’d seen an alligator in it the day before; a real one and not the stupid rubber one they used so that Johnny could pretend to wrestle and kill. Apparently the rubes actually believed that shit. He'd been to the cinema a few times. Cheetah scratched his ass.
Brenda was already on the set, and they were just waiting for Cheetah’s co-star. He liked Johnny. Cheetah had decided long ago that the man was a dumbass, but he liked him nonetheless. The big goof knew how to act around chimps—that was for sure—and he shared his beer. Not like some of those other sons of bitches who swilled the cans and bottles and wouldn’t share with him if their lives depended on it. Johnny even brought him cigars when Cheetah's handlers weren't around to stop him. Yeah, Johnny was a stupid, drunken lout, but then so was Cheetah.
Friday, February 17, 2012
Between me and Andy and Carole, we took literally thousands of photos on our Yellowstone trip.
This is the very first photo I took in Yellowstone after we'd crossed the park border from West Yellowstone (the town).
This was a swimming place in Firehole Canyon. At the time I figured that water must be cold as heck, but later I found out the water here is actually lukewarm due to the fact that this river drains one of the geyser basins. We'll have to go swimming here next time.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
One of my family's best vacations was taken in the Keys in 2007. We had an absolutely flawless and wonderful time when we were there. As always, we enjoyed the native flora and fauna of the state. I had noticed while on Bahia Honda that iguanas had invaded the place. I kept trying to get a photo of one of them but they were pretty skittish and would always flee when I paused to take a photo of one of them.
Now it seems--like other invasive species--they are having quite a nasty impact on the island. To the tune of one native butterfly perhaps going extinct because of them. I know that humans are the worst of all invasive species and I have admitted this on this blog at least a couple of times. However, the best thing that Floridians can do when they encounter any invasive reptile, fish, bird, or insect is to kill it. At the very least trap it so that the authorities can dispose of it. This includes the snakes and lizards that are wreaking havoc on the native plants and animals of the state.
On the beach on Bahia Honda. That's the famous A1A running down the Keys off the coast there.
I took this one in the fort in the Dry Torugas National Park. The place is packed with birdlife because of the small freshwater fountain inside the fort that runs for the benefit of the migrating birds.
On the beach in front of the fort. Just on the other side of the water is an island that, unlike the fort, is free of rats. Because of this fact the place is a hell of a rookery and is a haven to nesting native birds. Because of the distance of water, the rats have been unable to colonize it. For much of the year (nesting seasons), the other island is off limits even to humans.
Andy and I hiked a trail on one of the other Keys just north of Key West. This one had a small pond formed by past use of a limestone quarry.
The old man and his son enjoying the beach at the Dry Tortugas National Park.
Key Deer are tiny. A fully grown buck like the one here is smaller than most medium-sized dogs. The doe here was even smaller, and the fawn was like a toy. They're endangered of course, suffering high mortality due to being run down by speeding tourists on the roads of the Keys.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Here's an example:
A few states away there was a tree that was so spectacular that a park was formed around it. This tree was termed "The Senator" in honor of the man who'd bought the land on which it grew and who deeded that land to the public for the tree's protection. It had pretty well been concluded that The Senator was more than 3,500 years old. Which means that even Rome had to wait 1,500 years for Augustus Caesar to be born when this tree was a seedling.
The Senator was easily, by far, the largest tree growing on the eastern side of the North American continent. To see anything that even approached this mammoth tree you'd have to drive a couple thousand miles to the west. It was unique. It was amazing. It was the Stupefyin' Jones of the eastern forests.
A few weeks ago The Senator was intentionally set alight by two meth freaks. It quickly burst into flames. At first the authorities thought that the tree had been struck by lightning, but finally the truth came out. By the time flames were noticed it was far too late to save this amazing living thing.
The point here is that I would always tell friends and acquaintances that they needed to stop at the Big Tree Park to see this tree if they were anywhere in the vicinity. It would only take a short few moments to locate the park, stroll the boardwalk to the tree and to view it. Doing so would hopefully put some things in life into perspective. One would, hopefully at least, gain an appreciation for the wealth that Nature displays for us.
Now The Senator is gone forever. If you never saw it...well, you fucked up. If, like me, you visited the park to see this tree whenever you were in that area, at least you have the memory of having experienced its majesty. In that respect, I have no regrets.
A stitched panorama of The Senator. The insignificant speck to the left of the tree is me. If you ever saw this tree, then good for you. If you never got the chance, or did and passed it by, then I feel sorry for you.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
I finally located it in Spring 0f 2006 with Jack Thyen and Hank Pownell along. I was in good health on that trip with no flu bug nagging me and I was about forty pounds lighter than my previous attempt to hike to the tree.
Since the shocking death of the world's largest bald cypress, The Senator, in Florida, the Sag Branch Poplar may now be the largest tree in the eastern USA. I'm glad that this tree is off the beaten path and that its location is not widely known. Will Blozan reports that part of the crown came down last year, but that the tree is still likely the biggest here in the east.
This is where you have to leave the trail and do a short bit of bushwhacking to locate the champion poplar.
The phenomenal thing about the Sag Branch Poplar is how massive the tree remains so high above its base. It seems to hardly taper at all.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
These magazines were called "pulps" because they were mainly printed on the cheapest paper stock the publishers could buy. It was highly acidic stuff that tended to quickly deteriorate in conditions that were in any way warm and moist. Thus, they soon faded into brittle pulp at the first opportunity the elements found. Too, they were not highly regarded in literary circles, despite the fact that they spawned great creations by authors who would later come to be regarded as very talented folk indeed.
The pay rate was generally low in the pulps, but in those days there were so many magazines on the stands that a relatively talented and eager writer could actually make a decent living exclusively writing short stories. Even into the late 1950s this was still a viable way to earn good money. And then, of course, television became cheap and widespread and thus the pulp markets completely collapsed as watching TV became the most common form of entertainment for the kinds of people who once paid 25cents for a couple of hundred thousand words of pulp fiction. The markets faded and faded. Some guys like Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Elmore Leonard, John D. McDonald (and others) made the transition from the pulps to either the best seller lists or TV and movie scripts (or both). The rest...well, they went back to digging ditches or working as clerks and secretaries or fell by the way.
Currently, some publishers are reprinting some of the classic pulps. One such is Titan Books who, under the direction of editor Steve Saffel, have just revived the highly imitated villain FU MANCHU by Sax Rohmer. It's time to rediscover one of the reasons pulp fiction was as popular as it was in its day. May that old popularity be revived by such efforts.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
This photo is of one of the high mountains above Elkmont where we were camping. Every time I look at it I think of "regret". For when I see this photo it reminds me of the high mountains that we could see from our property in Gilmer County in Georgia. It rarely snowed in Gilmer (only once in the four years we were there). But often on cold mornings after fronts had passed through we would stand at a clearing on a ridge and look across to the north of the county and see the high peaks all frozen in ice and snow.
My dad and I would gaze up at those high, cold summits and say, "We should drive up there and go play in the snow." But every time there would be other things calling. Either I had to be in school or he had to drive north to run his shop in Chattanooga. We never did take that jaunt across the county and up those roads to those 4,000-foot peaks to tromp around in the ice and play in the snow.
And what would it have mattered? One lost day of school. A day away from retail. The cost would have been small and brief, the rewards rich and lasting.
Life is oh-so-brief. Grab the days while you can.