Sunday, June 30, 2013

No More Solitude

One of my old favorite hiking destinations used to be Panthertown Valley. It wasn't a terribly long drive for me, and the rewards of scenery and solitude were high. However, since I first discovered the place it has become a hiking/camping Mecca. Many thousands of people flock there to enjoy the scenery. It has much to offer, of course. Cliffs and mountains. Streams and waterfalls. The forests aren't impressive because the place was logged down to the mineral earth and left to burn, but in general it's a gorgeous place.

However, it is now so popular that I can't find any solitude there. No matter the season and no matter the weather I run into crowds. In addition, very wealthy people bought up lots on some of the ridges surrounding the Valley so that there are now mansions looming over the place--and no likelihood that they'll be righteously burned to the ground. Thus, I probably won't return there much. Fortunately, I've seen most of it so there's not a lot there to draw me back for an initial experience.

Still...I miss the quiet that I once found there in Panthertown Valley.

The first few times I went hiking in Panthertown I saw no one at all. It was if I had the entire Valley to myself. On at least one occasion, I'm pretty sure that I did have the whole valley to myself (the National Forest had posted it as closed after a hurricane had gone through, dumping vast amounts of rain. But a forest ranger had told me that the Valley was actually opened but they hadn't gotten around to taking the "Closed" signs down. For three days I saw no one else there.

One of many views on Little Green Mountain. The mountain through the trees there now has houses all over it. So you can forget about any illusions of feeling like you're in a wilderness.

School House Falls. One of the nicer waterfalls in the Valley. I like to go swimming in that plunge pool. The water there is VERY cold!

I'm sure that stump has been used as firewood by now.

Another great view from Little Green Mountain.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Maybe...the Smokies.

I have a three-day weekend coming up in July. I may use it to go explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I haven't been there in quite some time. My main problem with the Smokies is that much of it is crowded. And I go to the forests to find solitude. Thus, my reason for going is often muted because of the swarms of idiot humans mucking about.

However, there are corners of the Park where lots of people don't go. I may head out for those areas and steer clear of the sections where the crowds generally congregate.

When I was a kid, it was my favorite wild place to visit. Now, however, it's hardly wild by most standards. So many of the trails are packed with people. The forests are very sick--not as sick as the forests in Shenandoah National Park, but getting there. The boundaries of the Smokies are being squeezed inexorably by development, which is turning the Park into a kind of suburban curiosity rather than a wilderness.'s foremost in my mind as a destination, and I may head in that direction in July.

We'll see.

(All of the following photos were taken on a 2004 trip to the Park.)

This is a self-portrait I took on Charlie's Bunion. I had started the hike before light hoping to get some good views from the treeless peak. However, the weather did not cooperate. In the Smokies, you never know what you're going to get in the way of weather.

Typical view from Cades Cove. If I go I will steer well clear of Cades Cove. In an already overcrowded Park, Cades Cove is perhaps the most crowded part of the Smokies. So crowded that the loop road through the Cove is generally bumper to bumper. Fuck that.

This is a forest I visited on the Gatlinburg side of the Park. It consisted mainly of old poplar and ancient hemlocks. All of he hemlocks in that grove are now dead. The giant tree directly behind me is a hemlock. Gone. One day I will wake up to hear that something is killing off the poplars. Then all of the Park's giants will be gone.

Mount LeConte. One of the highest summits in the Park, but also one of the most popular hiking destinations there. Even steep trails and long slogs can't seem to keep the humans away.

The Chimneys. A really great hiking destination. The last time I was there I began the climb just at dawn and had the summit to myself for about two and a half hours. When the crowds began to arrive, I fled.

Friday, June 28, 2013

I Yam 56

Today I turned 56!

Birthday dinner! (For those keeping score, I've finally lost most of the weight I'd gained since coming back from Colorado in September of last year.)

As a birthday gift, buy my latest novel, WITHERING!

"Often the monster is just a misunderstood anti-hero. But sometimes it's a murdering, blood thirsty asshole."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Kid at Heart

Some of the things I loved as a kid I never really outgrew. I still love old comic books, and I still get a kick out of dinosaurs.

Some years back I heard of a line of small dinosaur toys in Asia called, variously, "chocosaurs" (because apparently at one time they were offered with a piece of chocolate) and "Dinotales", and "furuta animals". Manufactured by a Japanese company called Kaiyodo, they are amazingly intricately detailed models. Furthermore, they do models of prehistoric animals that no one else bothers to mass produce.

Briefly, a few years back, there was an attempt to distribute them to the States, but it soon failed. I wanted to buy more of them to place around my office, but when I'd see them for sale on the Internet the prices were just frankly insane. But, finally, I've begun to see them advertised here and there for prices I don't mind paying ($5 to $8, post paid). So I've picked up a few.

If anyone is headed to the Pacific rim and wants to grab some more for me, let me know.




Wednesday, June 26, 2013


During the zombie apocalypse civilization was on the brink of collapse. But it pulled through. Alex Wenzler, however, did not. He was a victim and became one of the walking dead.

Now, things have changed. Two years on, society is getting back to normal. The zombies are on the run. Life is close to being the way it was.

But Alex Wenzler suddenly wakes up, roused from the waking coma of the zombie un-life.
He is aware of what he was and what he is and what he is…becoming.

Now all he wants is to find his son, Mark.

He will have to run a gauntlet of violence and almost sure destruction to see his boy. Can he do it? And if he can, what will he do once his child is within reach?

There are two sides to every story. Even the undead have something to say.


By James Robert Smith


Coming soon from Severed Press.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Time for New Glasses

I went to get new glasses today. Had to have my eyes examined since it has been more than two years since my last prescription. Fortunately, because of my job with the Feds, I have decent insurance. Eye exams are free, and glasses are partially paid for.

My optometrist, despite having thousands of patients and the fact that he sees me only once every two years, always recalls my prescriptions because my eyesight is so utterly fucked up. I have different problems in each eye. One eye is really screwed up--commonly referred to as "lazy eye". Except for peripheral vision and to be used for depth perception, it doesn't do much. And my "good" eye has been pretty bad itself for most of my life.

However, over the past six years, the eye that I use to see with has been strangely getting progressively better. Every time I go in I have to get a less and less powerful prescription to correct it. Technically, my optometrist tells me, in six years I won't need a prescription at all in my good eye. He says this is due to the fact that as I age, the shape of my eyeball is altering and causing a great improvement in my eyesight. This is, apparently, not unheard of and he has seen it before.

However, he also told me not to expect it to keep getting better every two years. Apparently most people experience a state of diminishing returns and the improvement generally stops short of complete regeneration of perfect vision.

But I'll take what I can get.

One eye is wrecked, t'other'n is ruint.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Literary Influences.

People always ask me about my literary influences. And I go down the list of the usual suspects of my youth and young adulthood:

Ernest Thompson Seton. Ray Bradbury. Ernest Hemingway. Charles Bukowski. Robert Graves. Hal Clement. Charles Dickens. Hugh Lofting. Jack Kerouac. Cormac McCarty. Robert E. Howard. Charles Portis. Isaac Asimov. Harlan Ellison. Karl Edward Wagner. Etc.

But I rarely talk about two writers who had a huge and almost overwhelming influence on my modern work, because they didn't work in the form of straight prose. These men are principally remembered as illustrators of comics, but they created and wrote everything that they illustrated. Those two amazing gents are:

Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Now, contrary to the general line of ultimate bullshit propaganda that you will read, both of these men were the creators of the comics that they are best known for penciling. They didn't just draw the pretty pictures. They concocted the characters and the situations and they WROTE THE STORIES.

And what stories they wrote! Adventure yarns! Fantasy tales! Science Fiction! Thrillers! Political subterfuge! Romantic entanglements!

Kirby and Ditko were the finest comics writers of their age.
The fact that they are regarded mainly as illustrators is only part of their history and something that needs to be corrected.

From Kirby I learned how to write broad stories that contain tension and great emotion.

From Ditko I learned how to write stories of conviction, and to have the courage not to flinch in the telling of those tales.

Thus, two writers I rarely mention when I list my seminal influences. But I'll try to correct that in the future.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Andy's Birthday

We had a belated birthday dinner for Andy today. His birthday was on the 19th, but we didn't get a chance to take him to dinner until today.

Now I'm going back to sleep.

Birthday Boy. (Well, he's my birthday boy.)
Andy's vegetarian dinner.
Da Smiff Family. (Except for me. Somebody had to take the photo.)

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Rough day. Hardly wrote at all today. No energy for blogging.

I actually see this kind of thing a lot on the coastal regions of the South. This was part of the cistern system at the naval fort on Egmont Key. When it was constructed, this spot was beneath part of the old fort and well on shore. These days, coastal creep has washed away almost all of the fort that used to stand here. Instead of a half mile or more of sold land real estate around it, the cistern now sits constantly in deep water.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pay Attention. This is What Happens.

Ecological degradation. It happens all around us. Every second of every day. It never stops.

Here is one tiny case to illustrate what we are going to reap for the storms we have sown.

We can't keep consuming the Earth. There are already about ten times as many of us on the planet as can be comfortably accommodated here. The planet was just not made to serve as a home to almost eight billion enormous naked apes. And, yes, we are enormous creatures. As animals go, human beings are pretty damned big and qualify as megafauna.

But as we go along gobbling up everything in sight, squatting and shitting where we were not meant to live, and carving up the crust of the very planet, we are causing the systems that have sustained us to begin shutting down, one by one.

Just look around to see what's going on. In Beijing they had to build oxygen domes where college athletes could exercise without fear of choking on the polluted air in that overcrowded, vile monstrosity of a city. In Singapore, as I write these words, people are suffering because of the the hideous air pollution that has settled over that place. Everywhere you look we are killing off our wild companions and sending them straight to oblivion because we are stealing their homes and eating their bodies.

This cannot go on. At some point not only will we kill the creatures with whom we have lived for all of these centuries, but we will also destroy ourselves.

It's coming. Unless we put a halt to this unimpeded industrialization and the unending urge to fuck and overpopulate, then we're headed down the same path as the creatures whose existences we have snuffed out.

To get back to the issue at hand, here is the case in point.

When I was a kid living in Middle Georgia, there was a privately owned fresh water spring where people could go to swim. At Mock Spring, crystal clear water welled up in vast amounts, flowing out of the karst topography and into the nearby creek. The family upon whose land this spring welled had graciously allowed the public to experience this amazing place for a modest fee. Many, many, many thousands of gallons of water gushed out of the earth here every hour, as it had done for THOUSANDS OF YEARS.

And now? Now Mock Springs is gone. It's a dry hole. Why?

Because of the pressures of more and more water being tapped from the aquifer to be used in factory farms and for the burgeoning population of that part of Georgia. The water that once gushed from the ground in crystal purity can no longer reach the surface. That water is grabbed by vast farms, is stolen by cities and towns, is used by nameless industries.

Mock Springs is gone.

This is just one tiny example of what billions of humans are doing to our planet. This is our home. This is where we have to live. We are going nowhere else, so if we don't learn to stop what we have been doing, then it's all going to be ruined. And if you think that we are going to survive, then you are indeed an idiot.

Here is a brief view of what the people of Georgia, of Pulaski County, of Hawkinsville have lost. (As have we all.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Self-Publishing and the Death of Traditional Publishing: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

Slowly, I'm being led down a path that will end--Jove help me--to self-publishing my work.

Yeah, you all know what I think of that. I have never been a fan of it and I think that all things considered, the ebook and self-publishing development has been the worst thing that has happened to literature since...well, since ever.

But, I find that traditional markets are vanishing at a faster pace than in the past. Yes, TV helped kill off the pulps beginning in the 1950s. Video games almost strangled the comics industry in the late 1990s. And here the ebook/self-publishing market has a fatal choke-hold on traditional publishing.

One self-publisher who has done well at the game is really celebrating the apparent death of
the old retail model. I generally avoid his constant blabbering, but the last time I checked what he had to say he was gloating over the idea that Barnes & Noble Booksellers might soon go bankrupt and out of business. Why he thinks this is a good thing is beyond my ability to compute. I mean, yes, he was a failed writer in traditional publishing, but I can't see where that would make you happy to see the end of bookstores.

But, there it is.

The markets for submission of fiction has shrunk to pathetic levels. The few large publishers who have so far survived don't have much in the way of budgets for acquisitions. To me, it looks as if the end is looming for traditional publishing, as much as I hate to admit it.

I have some things to say about traditional publishing that I will withhold for the time being. I'm
reserving some material for a later blog when things that I think are going to happen either don't
come to pass, or after the dust has settled.

The bad thing is, I find myself having to look at self-publishing as a more and more attractive alternative to flailing around trying to find markets that are drying up, that are choking to death, that are nearing the point of extinction.

Yes, there are the micro-publishers. But why bother? If the paying markets are all dead, why give away a piece of the action for no good reason and for no possibility of a decent advance?

Self-publishing, I thought you were indeed a dark and horrible creature.

But now that I'm getting desperate...maybe you're really a gorgeous doll.

Taming the Trails

For years the Big Butt Trail did not get much in the way of engineering attention from the National Forest Service. I used to hear stories about the scrambling you would encounter if you hiked to Point Misery and beyond. No easy Class I hiking, but Class II stuff and a little scrambling where you couldn't help but use all four limbs to advance up the trail.

But in the past few years the National Forest folk have paid good money to engineer the trail to file off the rough patches. At some of the more difficult sections they did slight re-routes and put in very stout stairs so that you can continue onward and upward without having to result to climbing up rock walls like a spider monkey.

In some ways, I'm relieved. But I always did enjoy a scrambling route now and again. That's gone from this particular trail.

These stairs are really solid!
The cliff faces and boulders that once had to be climbed hand over hand.
These staircases kick ass. Solid as they make 'em.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Big Butt Trail!

As I've already mentioned, the Black Mountain range looks like a gigantic "J" or fish hook when viewed on a topo map or from high above. It has been conjectured that the Blacks are the result of some minor and relatively recent tectonic activity when a smaller sub-plate shifted and forced up the peaks that now make up the Black Mountains.

Like most people who are attracted to the Black Mountains, I had done most of my hiking in the eastern part of the range. That ridge has the highest summits, many of which break the 6,000-foot mark. The western part of the "J" has no 6,000-foot peaks, with only Big Butt coming close to that height.

But what interests me to a great degree about this area is the vast acreage that lies between the two ridges. There is some park and official literature that refers to this huge, green swath of land only as the "Big Tom Wilson Preserve" and telling us all that it's "protected". It's a tremendous chunk of land--tens of thousands of acres. I've been told that it's anywhere from 30,000 acres to 50,000 acres.

And here's the thing: if it's a "preserve" and if it's "protected", then why is all of it posted against trespassing by the public?

On Google Earth and other online satellite mapping programs, you can see that it is, indeed, mainly undeveloped. There are a few structures in there, and a central road that seems to go about halfway up the valley that marks the center of the gulf between the two very high ridges that form the Black Mountains.

All kinds of stories flit about the local hiking groups and the blogosphere. Who owns this land? How much of it is actually protected? Is it a casual kind of conservation easement? Was it achieved via a handshake? I keep hearing the rumor that one extremely wealthy family out of Winston-Salem owns the property.

I don't know.

What I do know is that the Black Mountains were seriously considered for National Park status several decades back. but, in the end, the Great Smoky Mountains beat them out, so that's where a Park was created.

The Black Mountains still have a tremendous amount of wild and roadless area. There is the Asheville watershed. The Mackey Mountain roadless area. The Bearwallow. The Cone. The Big Ivy. Craggy Mountain. All of these areas could easily be linked via buyouts and/or the declaration of eminent domain. If we're ever going to preserve what remains of this world's ecosystems, and save the plants and animals that live in those ecosystems (including ourselves), then we need to do things like this. Before it's too late.

See all that land? Private freaking property.

Keep out. They aren't kidding.

The Big Butt Trail.

A few times I thought I was hiking through Englemann spruce groves in Colorado instead of Red spruce here in North Carolina.

See all that land between where I took this photo and the tops of those 6,000-foot peaks on the horizon? Keep out, brother.

I mean. Don't even think of trespassing.

Clam shell fungus.

When I can't find wildlife to photograph, I look for other things.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Summit of Big Butt Mountain

I ended up doing the easy hike as a day-trip instead of camping out up there. Although I do wish I'd stayed. The weather was nice and I'd have been able to do some star-gazing.

One peak that I wanted to bag, and one that has been on my to-hike list for many, many years is Big Butt Mountain. It's one of those peaks that many people ignore because it's not quite a 6,000-foot summit. My GPS reading came out at 5,961 feet which is, I think, pretty accurate. I calibrated it as nearly as I could before I hit the trail.

One thing that is strange to me is that the summit is clothed in hardwoods and rhododendron rather than spruce and balsam trees like most of the rest of the Black Mountain high summits. What's different about this mountain from other Black Mountain summits that are at, or above, 6,000 feet in elevation?

Yeah, this is a "trail". Unofficial manways like this one tend to get overwhelmed by vegetation when people don't use them. Fortunately for me, something was using this one to help me find my way. That something was...

...a bear! The Black Mountains are dense with bears. This pile of bear scat was sitting in the middle of the manway. Which actually makes it, I would reckon, a bear trail.

This is the marker for the very summit of the peak. My GPS device gave me a reading of 5,961 feet which is probably pretty close to the real figure. Mountains like this one don't get a lot of visitors because they're not on the list of "Sixers"--that is, southern peaks that are over 6,000 feet in elevation. Because of this, there are no official trails to this summit, and I didn't have to deal with any pesky humans. I had the trail, and the mountain, all to myself!

Most of the rhododendrons on the summit were in full, glorious bloom.
I had been told that there are no views from the summit. That information is correct, as the top is fully clothed in dense vegetation. This was the closest thing to a long-range view to be had up there.
This ancient, gnarly birch tree was perched just below the summit. Birch trees at such altitudes tend to get twisted into weird shapes and end up looking really strange.
There were a few rhododendron blossoms still waiting to unfurl at the summit.
No pesky humans! No blabbering companions! No slobbering dogs! Just me and the sounds of the wild forest!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Short Note!

Headed up to the high country. Won't be back in time to post a blog. So just a brief one here.

Zombie Pop did a brief bio of me. You can read it here: ZOMBIE POP.

And after that, pick up a copy of my latest novel, WITHERING.

"Often the monster is just a misunderstood anti-hero. But sometimes it's murdering, blood-thirsty asshole!"

Six Days.

Six days straight of working without a break at USPS. Time for a brief road trip. I'll be heading up to the mountains. Right around our highest of high country. I think it's my favorite part of North Carolina. Wish I could hang out up there for weeks at a time without coming down.

Can't do that right now, but a day or two will do the job. So this amazing mountain range is where I'll be spending a couple of days after I clock out tomorrow.

The mountain in the foreground is Mount Craig, the second-highest summit in the eastern USA. Just beyond it is another summit that is almost 6,600 feet high. One of only a handful in the east of which that can be said.

Potato Knob. Another of the east's great summits. Over 6,400 feet high.

This rock formation is on Potato Knob. I've often thought about bushwhacking up there and pitching my tent in the shadow of that huge boulder to spend the evening watching the stars. One day...

I love this summit. One of the big peaks of the Black Mountains: Potato Hill. (Not to be confused with the nearby Potato Knob). Also about 6,400 feet above sea level.