Thursday, October 31, 2013

Good Ol' Color

One thing about the Piedmont of North Carolina...we have a wealth of hardwood tree species (both native and introduced) and some years the Fall colors are wonderful. This is an especially good year for color. I took these today on the job. Take a look at what Autumn colors the Charlotte area has to offer right now.

Too busy working on fiction to muck about with travel reports or essays today. Or probably within the next week or two, for that matter.

Can't make it to New Charlotte will have to do.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Big Walker

No reason, except I found this fascinating. The largest dinosaur that we know of was Argentinosaurus. It probably weighed about 80-90 tons...roughly equivalent to a Blue whale, but it walked on land.

Well, they've done a computer model of how it might have moved, and have deduced that it had a top speed of about five miles per hour. Of course, why move fast when you're so big?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Writer at Work

I did not go hiking today. Instead I have stayed home and worked on novels. This is going to be the pattern for a while.

One of Jack Kirby's monster creations. Kirby excelled at this type of thing. Sometimes I think that Kirby and Ditko were in a friendly competition to see which of them could concoct the most creative monsters. Fin Fang Foom went on to later become an offbeat, if somewhat integral part o the Marvel Universe. In effect, the character was made canonical by later creators at Marvel Comics. Ol' Foomy was always popular with the readers and so he was added to the Marvel villain hierarchy. But of course Kirby earned nothing from the profits generated by the character's use.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another One Down!

Another minor collecting milestone as I labor to finish my collection of FANTASTIC FOUR by Jack Kirby. Now that I have this issue, #80, I have all of them from #68 through #102. I only have to pick up five or six issues to complete my run from #21 through #102.

Sometimes when I look at building the collection an issue or two at a time, I am reminded of my days as a comic book dealer when I would buy and sell wonderful rare comics at a rapid clip. In my earlier days as a comics dealer, I would barely notice issues of Fantastic Four over #25. They were that common in my stock of back issues that I didn't consider anything higher than #25 worth a second glance.

Now, as a civilian, things have changed. For one, I get a much bigger kick out of the books now than I ever did when I looked at them mainly as only a commodity to be bought and moved out as quickly as possible for a profit.

How things change.

This was a neat, if goofy story. Once again, Kirby refuses to create any new commercial properties for the thieves who employed him. The villain in this issue initially seems to be a god come back to exact vengeance, but turns out to be a Soviet-built robot out to cause trouble for the dirty capitalists. The FF set that straight! This story was actually a lot of fun to read. As robots go, this one was pretty darned tough, even beating the crap out of Ben! In the end, Wyatt Wingfoot and Reed Richards team up to take the big monstrosity down with skill and brains rather than brawn.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Explosion of Creativity

Kirby was easily the most creative man who ever worked in superhero comics. Nobody else even comes close to the level he established.

But when he was working at Marvel Comics, he went through a burst of creativity on the FANTASTIC FOUR title that is hard to grasp, creating a wealth of characters for the company that are still being utilized and capitalized today, decades after they appeared as supposedly secondary supporting cast.

During this time he created The Inhumans; Galactus; the Silver Surfer; the Black Panther; Wyatt Wingfoot; and HIM (aka Adam Warlock). This roughly two-year explosion of creativity only stopped when his editor intentionally wrecked the dialog for his two-story "HIM" arc in FF 66-67. Thereafter, Kirby pretty much stopped creating new characters for the company and stuck to the ones he'd already done.

Kirby had previously introduced the mysterious Medusa back in FF #36. Little did the readers know that she was part of the group that they would see revealed as the Inhumans, rivaling the Earth's mightiest superheroes in sheer power. The first of Kirby's amazing new creations during a roughly two-year stretch on the title.

The final part of the Galactus/Surfer arc and also features the introduction of Wyatt Wingfoot! Kirby was a real mensch when it came to being inclusive of all races within Marvel's flagship title.
Part One of the "HIM" story. Kirby had intended it as a statement on, and an indictment of, Ayn Rand's insane so-called "philosophy" of Objectivism. But his editor, the publisher's nephew and permanent shill, wrecked it by wrecking the dialog in a stupid attempt to change the intent of the story.
Subsequent symbolism.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Big Trouble for the FF!

One story that Kirby used quite a lot during his time on the Fantastic Four was of having Ben Grimm go rogue and actually coming to blows with the rest of the team. Sometimes he was being emotionally manipulated. Sometimes he was just pissed off. And sometimes the reason was mind control. The latter was the plot device of choice for Kirby in most of these stories.

Thus it was during the 41-43 story arc, one that I quite enjoyed as a kid and which stands up today. Kirby had, by this time, begun to use some rather sophisticated themes in his writing, diverging from the purely children's yarns he had utilized in the very earliest incarnations of the title.

My copies of FF 41 through 43. Ben goes rogue! The FF were in big trouble!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Time Out!

I'm going to take some time off from active blogging for a little while. I have to finish THE REZ so that my agent can start shopping it around. To that end, I need to stop devoting so much of my energy to the blog and reserve it for my now-precious writing time.

I'll still post some things here--maybe even on a daily basis. But they will be very brief. Perhaps limited to a photo or two.

But not so many outdoors reports or essays.

This cover amazed me when I was a kid. First time I saw it I realized that photos were involved but I couldn't quite figure out how Jack Kirby had done it. As with all such things art-related, I went to my mom for answers. And she explained to me how collages were created. Kirby went through a period during which he did a lot of collage work in his stories. He made this kid stop and think. Always.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


For several years now I have been boycotting anything from Marvel Comics. This is because of what was done to Jack Kirby when he worked there. I would love to see a good journalist tackle the project of totaling the financial value of everything that he created while he was at Marvel Comics...that is, how much money it has generated for the business interests who have profited from the sweat of his brow.

My suspicion is that in modern dollars it would be the greatest total of any such crime (theft of intellectual property).

If I had the journalist skills to take on such a project, I'd do it. Alas.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Crest Trail Part III

The hike back to the Mount Mitchell parking lot was a bit of a torture for me after I left Cattail Peak for the last time. The thing about the Crest Trail is that you hit each of these amazing 6,000-foot summits, but after each of these you have to plunge down into the deep gaps that separate them. Thus, you are constantly losing and then having to regain that lost altitude.

I've never seen a profile map of the trail, but it has to be extreme. The constant up and down really works your muscles and lungs even when you don't have a bum knee and a really bad back. For me, it's exceedingly tough and by the time I was less than halfway back I was struggling. Fortunately, I'd started the hike early enough so that I didn't have a problem with daylight and for the first time ever for this trail I'd brought more than enough water.

So, the last three miles for me consisted of LOTS of stopping to rest and LOTS of water breaks and LOTS of extra photography.

Someday, when I'm recovered from all of these injuries, I hope to be able to do this trail as I used to be able to do it when I was in better physical condition. When that happens, I'll do another overnight traverse of the Black Mountains and camp in Deep Gap, one of my favorite campsites in North Carolina.

It was cold up in them thar hills! First icicle of the hiking season!

Some of the best views are from Potato Hill.

On the top of Cattail Peak.

The almost constant moisture on these peaks produces a LOT of moss.

Green, my friends.

The trail is like a tunnel through the red spruce.

Everywhere the moss.

Trees grasping for purchase anywhere.

This is why the trail kicks my ass.

Gnarly snag on Mount Craig as I hit the home stretch.

A last, longing look back where I had been.

Fall paints the lower peaks.

This peak below was interesting because of the difference in vegetation from one side to the other. Evergreens on the north-facing slopes, hardwoods south-facing.

The picnic area just below the summit of Mount Mitchell is EXTREMELY nice! I highly recommend it. They have dozens of picnic tables for the huge crowds that often gather on the mountain to enjoy the scenery and the natural beauty of eastern USA's highest peak.

I took this one between Mount Craig and the parking lot. And there she was: Mount Mitchell. The highest summit in eastern USA. Yeah, it has a road carved into it; a restaurant near the top; a museum just below the summit; a tower on the very top; housing for the park rangers, etc. But even all of that can't wreck the beauty of this amazing peak and its associated range.

Quiet time on Cattail Peak.

Monday, October 21, 2013

So Green They're Black.

The reason the Black Mountains got their name is because of the cloak of balsam trees (Fraser firs) that clothed their bulk in the days before Europeans arrived on the scene and scoured the peaks clear of the timber. The trees were so green and so lush on the ridges that from a distance these greatest of eastern summits appeared to be black.

Some two decades ago, the Black Mountains were in the worst phase of a double curse of acid rain and an invasive pest, the Balsam wooly adelgid. The pollution and the insect coupled to all but denude the Black Mountains of the balsam forests that had pretty much recovered from the late 19th and early 20th century timber operations (another story of wanton destruction). On my first visit to Mount Mitchell and the Blacks, I was greeted by scenes of devastation with no forests and only small trees struggling amid vast stands of bleached snags standing on the slopes and peaks.

These days, the balsam trees seem to be recovering well. There is not as much acid rain because of industrial regulations. And the wooly adelgid could be gone, having exhausted the source of food that had fed them. However, we probably won't know if the pest is truly gone for a while. Unlike the hemlock wooly adelgid which can attack any hemlock tree, young or old, the balsam wooly adelgid is dependent on gaining access via troughs that appear in the bark of older balsam trees. Thus, younger trees are immune to the depredations of the insect and only mature trees fall. We have some years more to wait to see if they're still lying dormant, lurking to wreck the forests again.

Going through my photos of the hike, I am reminded of the toughness and diversity of the route. If you're in decent shape, you should really tackle this trail!

Big Tom is a peak that is named for a particularly rapacious bear hunter who, in his lifetime, killed over 100 black bears in the Black Mountains. Fortunately, he's good and dead now.

Looking down into lower elevations that have hardwoods instead of fir trees.

The farther away from the parking lot, the less engineering there is to the trail. This far in, there are still stairs in spots, even if they're of available timber instead of rock.

In a few spots the park service has installed bolts and durable ropes to negotiate what would otherwise be Class II and Class III scrambling. The last time I hiked this trail, these ropes were not in place.

Red spruce trees all around.

A gnarly old tree along the trail.

As you can see, the balsam trees have recovered well. Walking along you are immersed in the scent of Christmas trees!

Sign along the trail as it passes over Cattail Peak.

This is the spot where I had my lunch. A nice log to lean back on while I had my sandwich, and water, and cookies. It was very peaceful and quiet, except for a brief moment when four other hikers passed by, one of them a babbling fool who would not shut the fuck up.

The place is green, and I was reminded of how much moisture these peaks get.

So green that mosses grow almost everywhere. When it isn't actually raining or snowing here, then the peaks are drenched in the dew from the vast clouds that pass over the tops of these highest mountains in the East.

Here, on Potato Hill, I took a video from the high point. You can hear the blathering hiker in the background. This group had decided to stop and eat lunch right in the middle of the freaking trail. We're talking about a very steep and very narrow trail and it was exceedingly difficult to get past these rude assholes. I grinned through it all, but was very happy when I encountered them one final time and they were gone from my life for-fucking-ever.

Continued tomorrow....

My Favorite Trail. The Toughest Trail.

There are several trails here in North Carolina that I have hiked a number of times. I tend to go back to places for several reasons. Sometimes it's because conditions were not good on earlier attempts and I want to see them in better weather or without crowds or companions. (I prefer my hiking in solitude, thank you very much.) Sometimes I will go back to a place because it's just so beautiful and so freaking awesome.

The Black Mountain Crest Trail (also known as The Deep Gap Trail) is in this latter group. I keep going back because the trail is unique in North Carolina. It follows the high ridge of the highest mountain range in the eastern USA. Often, these peaks are called "the highest east of the Mississippi", which is categorically wrong. There are much higher peaks than the Blacks east of the Mississippi dividing line in northern Canada. One of these, Barbeau Peak, is almost 2,000 feet higher than Mount Mitchell. But these mountains are the highest in the eastern USA.

The thing about this trail is that the scenery is stunning. I read a recent essay that claims that the Black Mountains underwent some relatively new mountain building in the form of a bizarre kind of miniature plate tectonics. The range does have a weird "J" shape to it, and the author postulates that a small tectonic plate was forced into the range, warping and uplifting it, making it the highest in the Appalachians.

Because of this tortured terrain, this trail is extremely rugged. Some of it is Class II and Class III hiking. Indeed, the park service has even recently installed bolts and ropes to aid hikers in traversing some of the steeper sections. And, even though I've hiked this trail a number of times, it always kicks my ass. Almost every time I go I end up with vicious leg cramps that result from the constant ascents and descents or lack of water, etc. Keep in mind that this trail follows the high ridge and so does not have any reliable water source. You either take enough water with you, or suffer accordingly.

This latest hike was no exception. I did take enough water with me this time, but because of my old knee surgery and my back injury from last year, I found myself at odds with the mountains and the trail. Yet again, it kicked my ass. Also, hikers I've spoken to insist that elevations of 5,000 to 6,000 feet do not effect you as far as altitude sickness are concerned. I do not agree. On this hike I felt some of the exact symptoms I had when I was in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado last September. Especially on my hike back toward Mount Mitchell. Nausea, shortness of breath, etc.

But will I go back? Sure as shit, I will. In fact, I can't wait to go back and do the section I didn't have time for yesterday: the stretch from Deep Gap to Bowlens Creek Road. That's the section I've done the least and one which I am itching to do again. Only when my health is better.

Potato Knob. It's one of the most striking peaks in the Blacks, but not on the Crest Trail. Here it's seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Park entrance.

The trail actually begins here, in the Mount Mitchell picnic area.

The first sections of the trail are extremely well engineered and maintained.

At the first overlook, peering back at Mount Mitchell and Clingman's Peak (with the towers).

First sign requesting hikers to stay on the trail and not trample rare plants.

The log borders the park service has installed. People mainly stay inside, except where the cliffs are concerned. Hikers breach the barriers at will and trample all over the cliffs, stopping any chance of restoration there.

Part of the cliffs where hikers ignore the signs to stay off. Obviously great views to be had there, I have to admit. I stayed on the trail to get this shot.

The Blacks have always reminded me of a cresting wave getting ready to crash down into the valley on the other side.

Looking down at Fall colors.

The view as I got just below the summit of Mount Craig. Sorry for the heavy breathing. Injuries and altitude combined to make the climb a tough one for me.

Continued tomorrow....