Thursday, February 27, 2014


I know we still have some official Winter to slog through...but the trees think it's Spring!

One a street on my route. Two days ago.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Newfound Gap!

One of my favorite car-accessible spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Newfound Gap. This is at the highest point on 441, which is the road that bisects the Park and allows visitors to drive from Gatlinburg TN on the north side of the Park over to Cherokee NC on the southern side.

Generally I can't stand being around traffic, lots of cars, and crowds. And you stand a really good chance of encountering all three at Newfound Gap. However, it's also a great way to achieve access to trails that take you to some of the most stunning scenery in the Great Smokies. The Appalachian Trail crosses at Newfound Gap, and you can head off either east or west and eventually find your way to just about any other trail in the Park from here. I have done so many, many times.

And so, although the road in many ways wrecks the wilderness aspect of the Park, it is a glorious place to stop your car and enjoy the scenery, or to begin a backpacking trip or a day-hike. Here's to Newfound Gap! Where Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

You want views? We got views.

From the viewing platform looking down on the parking lot.

More views.

From the parking area looking toward the overlook platform and the Appalachian Trail.

And the Appalachian Trail. March off in this direction and you'll reach one of my very favorite peaks in the Park: Charlies Bunion. Hang a left along the way and you'll travel along the trail called The Boulevard leading to the summit of Mount LeConte.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cairo is Fat

We've had Cairo for several years, now. She's a fun cat, I have to say.

Andy with Cairo just after we found her and decided to bring her home. She was abandoned in Cairo, West Virginia, thus the name for her. I have never seen a kitten take so instantly to a human family. There was no transition period, at all. She acted as if she had been among us since birth. No fear. No trepidation. Just acceptance.

And Cairo these days. She still has that brilliantly pink nose that hasn't faded since kittenhood.
Cairo WV was once a prosperous town, drunk on oil money. These days it's barely there. This converted bank building is one of the coolest structures left.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Drag the Bankers from Their Warm Beds and Slit Their Throats.

A Story:
I found out a few more details about the woman whose house was foreclosed--the only home she'd ever lived in her entire life. Apparently some enterprising smear of shit at the bank surfs the tax rolls trying to find properties with delinquent tax bills. If the property has potential promise for a good profit, he pays the tax bill, the bank gains title, and they kick out the former home owner. So that's what the guy did. I assume he earns brownie points for such evil as he sucks his way up the corporate ladder.

The thing about this one is that I've never seen a house begin its facelift so soon after a homeowner has been evicted. It has only been a couple of weeks since they kicked her out, and already they've started in on giving the house a facelift.

Another thing that I'd noticed is that one street away the City has bought out every single house on the stream-side of the avenue. The reason they give is that the houses were built on a flood plain and never should have been placed there. Sixty years ago. I asked a woman who had lived on the safe side of the street if she'd ever seen any of them flood, and she said that one time in forty years she had seen one of those houses get some flood damage. Forty years.

The City has bought almost all of those houses (I haven't counted them, but I think about forty of them). As soon as the owners are out, they knock them down and leave empty lots. What's it going to be? A park? Are they going to "fix" the non-existent drainage problem and then sell the empty lots to a certain bank at cost? Who knows?

At any rate, real estate values are climbing fast in that neighborhood.

All of the things left in her house are now in this garbage unit.

Gazebo the family once used. Religious figure of course. No church helped her pay her back taxes. Churches don't pay taxes! Not even those of members in danger of losing their homes.
The old man used to send the Stars and Stripes up this flagpole every morning when he was alive. The citizens are left to wander aimlessly, while the banks are protected tooth and nail.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Once again...too exhausted to write. I'm trying to get a day off for rest. We'll see.

White-tailed deer are actually not common in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the few places in the Park where you can generally see them is Cades Cove. Here was part of a herd that were out in a meadow moving snow to get to the grass.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

New Falls

I'm so tired and in so much physical pain that I can't even photoblog.

I'll write some more tomorrow about the latest trip to the Smokies. If I can scrape up the energy.

Here's a waterfall that I had somehow missed over the decades. The Smokies are not geologically good for waterfalls. There really are not very many in the Park. And this was one that's at the end of a one-half mile hike. Cataract Falls. I didn't even know about it until I started hiking down the trail!

Cataract Falls. Near the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fading Away.

Carole and I took advantage of the briefly opened Little River Road to drive to Elkmont to see what was left of the old Wonderland Hotel. I covered this place before in my blog. It was once the only active hotel within the borders of the Park. But it had been grandfathered in and the deal had an end date. It had been known for some time that the Park Service wanted to get rid of the Wonderland, and basically I agree with their decision to end the concession and demolish the building. After all, the Park was created to protect mainly the ecosystems there and not to preserve a rickety, poorly engineered hotel.

Still, having stayed in the hotel (we booked a room when we heard they'd lost an extension on their concession and would soon be closing up forever), and having known people who stayed there many times over the years, it was still a sad day when it closed down.

In the intervening years, with no one to repair the place, the elements have had their way with it. There was even a fire that burned down the main building which is no longer there in even a ruined state. Just some stairs and the remnants of the brick chimney.

The part of the hotel that is still standing is the section where Carole and I stayed. That is, it had the bedroom we rented during our trip there. Even though I saw it as it was winding down, I liked the old place. It was old and rickety and the bed in our room was ridiculously soft. But it was really quiet and nice. Quaint is the word that always occurs to me when I need to describe it. It was a part of America that is mainly gone, now. The kind of Park experience that visitors expected during the wild and exploitative days of the National Parks. Sad as it is to see it go, that kind of thing really has no place in our National Parks. You can still witness a form of it in many of our western National Parks (Yellowstone, Yosemite, Crater Lake, etc.).

But the old Wonderland is almost gone, these days. Just a few shaky structures still holding up, ready for the first big windstorm to finish knocking them over.

The stairs that once led up from the road/railroad to the Wonderland.

All that's left of the fireplace in the main lodge.

This was the section that had the bedroom Carole and I used. Ours was on the other side. I remember walking down the hallways, rooms on either side. We were on the ground floor, communal restrooms at the end of the hall.

This building is almost gone. Last time we were there it was in okay shape. Now the roof has completely given way and most of the floor is also gone.

At the rear of the Wonderland. Our room looked out on these woods. Of course there weren't trees growing up to crowd out the building in those days.

This staircase actually led from the main building to a breezeway that went to lodging rooms. I remember exploring that building that is now completely gone, save for those steps and that crumb of a chimney.

Monday, February 17, 2014


We just returned from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Park has pretty much been buried in snow for weeks. They kept having to shut down most of the roads in the Park which kept me maddeningly away from all of the trailheads I wanted to use. So I got almost no hiking done, at all, and didn't get to hike to any of the spots I'd picked out to strike off my to-do list. Alas.

But here are a few shots I took in the Park. I'll post details tomorrow when I return from work.

Not all of the Park is about the natural beauty. Some of it is devoted to the European presence in the area. This is Cable Mill in Cades Cove, a still operating grist mill.

While I had to have seen this waterfall before, I don't recall it. It's visible from the Little River Road on the way to Cades Cove. Not a bad waterfall. Maybe fifteen feet in height.

Carole and I at the Park entrance sign (the Gatlinburg entrance).
This was a coyote I saw in Cades Cove. When I showed the photos that I took of him to a ranger at Cable Mill, he told me that the coyotes had interbred with the Red wolves that the Park Service tried to reintroduce to the ecosystem some years back. Initially, he said, there were a number of coyotes that had a lot of Red wolf genetics in them, but that they'd mostly been bred out. He said that this individual was the last one in the pack there that looks like a Red wolf. (And, yes, I acknowledge that a lot of my learned friends argue persuasively that coyotes and Red wolves are actually the same animal. I don't feel that way, but concede that they may be correct.)

Cades Cove on a warm day in the deep snow.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I've lived in Charlotte, NC since 1980. And since I've lived here I've never seen it snow for three days in a row. I could even say "four days" on a technicality because we had a brief period of snow flurries on Monday evening (but no accumulation). The serious stuff started on Tuesday with a three-inch snowfall. Then yesterday's (official) seven-inch storm, and now more today (they're predicting another 3 inches of snow).

They pulled us in early from the street yesterday because of treacherous conditions. And today they didn't even send us out. The problem is that the roads are solid sheets of ice, our vehicles are puny two-wheel drives, and the City of Charlotte only plows a few main roads and leaves the side streets to languish. So it would have been unsafe to send the vehicles out today.

Now I'm home early to watch the snow falling in grand, pale sheets from the brilliant, icy skies.

I can dig it.

This was actually taken last night as I was getting ready to drive Carole to work. The snow made things so bright that the automatic flash on the camera did not go off.

This morning at work. The parking lot was an ice rink. This was just before the next band of heavy snowfall hit.

Our street as I turned in.
My tracks atop the frozen snow. We had heavy snow, then sleet, then freezing rain, and now more snow.

The drive home through Winter Storm Pax (2014).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Backyard Hemlocks

The two hemlock trees that were transplanted in the back yard of my in-laws' home are doing well. These two were brought from the Mills Creek area of North Carolina where there are pretty much no living hemlocks, at all. So my late father-in-law managed to save a tiny portion of those groves when he grabbed those saplings from the forest and brought them back for his yard.

At one time there were three, but the center tree didn't make it. The two others, however, are still thriving. I'm lucky never to have forgotten what it's like to see healthy hemlock trees, because I can go see this pair just about any time I wish.

Every time I visit them I check to see if there is any sign of hemlock wooly adelgid. So far, none have shown. If they ever do, I'll immediately treat the trees with the appropriate insecticide.

Good, lush, green growth.

Under the hemlock canopy. In some places, black bears would den under the overhanging branches of hemlock trees. As the snow would collect on the needles, the area around the trunks would become sheltered, like small rooms.

Sunday, February 09, 2014


Holy crap. The life of a laborer.

I slept 12 hours...6 to 6. I didn't even eat supper. Just took a shower and fell into bed.

Next week...some much-needed vacation.

The flats in Cataloochee.

Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Writer versus Self-Publisher.

Self-publishers are not writers. They type, but they're not writers. They are a completely new critter on the face of business, but they are not artists and they are not creators in the classic sense of the term.

What they are, is exactly what they call themselves: Self-publishers. A lot of them like to use the hideous term "Indie Writer" to self-identify. But that description--while it conjures an overwhelming stench--doesn't really do justice to what it is that these folk do.

They self-publish.

That's all that they do.

Everything about them revolves around this one thing: self-publishing.

It doesn't matter what it is that they're self-publishing. Everything takes a back seat to the fact that they are pushing a button and sending out their poorly rendered crap onto the Internet and into the marketplace and hoping against hope that they'll make a buck from this dissemination of garbage.

They live to self-publish. They exist to clog the book business with a blockage of sewage that no plumber can dislodge. I doubt anything short of a thermonuclear detonation could clear the backlog of stink that they have forced on us all.

A self-publisher does not write. They do produce words, but they do not strive to make anything of worth by doing so. Self-publishers are shills for and Apple and the various companies who sell applications for tablet devices and the portable computers that people call phones. These scumbags don't care that their so-called 'work' is completely lacking in anything that might otherwise be worthy in fiction or non-fiction. That doesn't matter to them. They are here to sell a pyramid scheme, not a book.

Self-publishers are the worst of the worst. If they were writers (and they are not), then they would be the least talented and the least deserving to see the light of print. Instead, they are salesmen. And the lowest order of salesmen. These weasels strive to ensure that there is a sucker born every millisecond. Their job is to create victims and not something of merit.

Some time back I swore never to spend a penny of my money on self-published work. I swore never to waste an instant of my time trying to struggle through self-published fiction. So far, since that moment, I have stuck to that oath. And this is the only thing that will put an end to what another writer has termed "the shit-volcano" that is self-publishing. I'm hoping that at some point the avid readers will boycott anything tainted with the stench of self-publishing.

I do hold out hope that the fad will come to an end. That the millions of self-published novels will wither and die on the Internet vine and that the scumbags who make their livings promoting the self-published Ponzi scheme will find themselves tending the counter at the nearest equivalent of the Kwik-E-Mart.

"I was once a successful self-published asshole."

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Fragment, Found on a Disk.

Sometimes I'll search my old computer files and find little bits of stories and story/novel ideas that never went any farther than a few paragraphs. They sit there, lonely, waiting for the creator to return.

Here's one I stumbled across today. I don't even recall where I was going with it, because I can find no accompanying plot or notations.

"The Old Vicar"
By James Robert Smith.

At first, there weren't any ghosts.
 This was for a time after the machines stopped working and the fuels everyone once depended upon had become useless. People went into a panic, I've been told. They were like animals for a while, and then everyone learned that life was no worse than before, only different. People died because they were far from help and travel was slow; but the world was bigger. Images couldn't be sent through the air to homes all over the land; but books were precious again. No one could climb into those metal boxes and be transported at great speeds; but the air was clear.

     The Old Vicar had stood on a hill in the day and had pointed at the brilliant, cobalt blue sky and had done his best to explain how dingy the sky had been. It's hard to believe. At night, he had stood on that same hill and we had all looked up at the numberless stars twinkling in the velvet, those untold bits of diamond light scattered, scattered. Before, he had told us, one could not see the stars for the dirty lights mankind had planted all about. I do not think the wonders that could be as great as what are.

     Then, the ghosts came.

    The first ones arrived when I was a child. For a while, I thought that I had brought them in. My mother had me abed with the fever, and I had been delirious for days, the doctor coming to offer medicine and to make sure that water and broth were poured down my throat. On the fourth day of my sickness, when the fever was begining to break, I saw it come into the room, passing like tobacco smoke through the wall. I had thought that my eyes had fooled me and that it was my mother in there with me. For I saw that the figure was a woman; but my mother would not have come like that into my room. My mother would not stand over my bed and leer at me in such a manner, spit drooling down her chin. When the ghost opened its mouth...rather, when the thing's jaws became unhinged and its tongue settled on my chest, I screamed.

   When the others had come, the thing had not vanished. It had hovered over me, and it had seemed to delight in the fear of the others as they wanted to come to me but could not because they were too afraid. Even my mother had been too afraid for a while and only when she, too, screamed and raced to take me up in her arms did the thing retreat. For weeks my mother was obsessed with what the ghost's face had done as it went away. Soon, however, she came to see much worse than that and it became the least of her nightmares.

   Mercifully, for a time, the ghosts came only rarely. And they did not linger, usually only long enough to instill fear and loathing in those who saw them. No one knew why they were there, for no one could recall them from before. The Old Vicar said that there had been no ghosts in the world before mankind's contraptions ceased to work. Mankind's works had kept them at bay, had kept them at bay for at least two hundred years, he had told us. Perhaps the ghosts had returned because they now could. Perhaps, he had told us in that mature, but powerful voice, the ghosts had grown weary of being held at bay and now we knew why motors no longer ran, why fuel no longer burned. Perhaps, and maybe not, for the Old Vicar never claims to have all answers. He is our strength.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Long Drive

The longest drive we ever took with the Casita travel trailer was a vacation to the Florida Keys. Yeah, I's on the east coast. We stayed in the south. But great Jove it was a long, honking drive! It took two days to get there, driving as I did around 60-65 mph the whole way.

We enjoy the Keys. It was enough like the Caribbean to make it different from the rest of the southern coastlands. I always figured that by now we'd have made a return trip because we had such a great time there. But we just never have gone back. Maybe some day.

View from an elevated overlook on Bahia Honda, where we stayed.

Andy on the big kapok tree.

Hemingway's house.

The Dry Tortugas National Park.

Sun and the Seven-Mile Bridge.

Lighthouse on the fort at the Dry Tortugas.

Tiny little Key Deer on Big Pine Key.

At the sea turtle rescue center.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Sad People

There are individuals I have always referred to as ‘the sad people’. These are folk I have met from time to time. Sometimes it’s just people I’ve watched from a distance, keeping them appropriately at arm’s length.

They are the people with no one. No one who loves them. No one to worry over them. No one to see how they are doing.

I have met them more often over the past couple of decades because of my job as a letter carrier. I suppose that in that capacity I become one of the few people with whom they can interact, at all. So it was with a particular woman on one of the streets that I deliver.

From the nature of the mail that I would deliver to her modest house in a working class neighborhood I just have always assumed that she inherited the place from her parents. I never have figured out her age—she’s one of those people who are hard to peg that way. She might have been younger than I am, or older, or the same age. I have no way of knowing. I never saw anyone visiting her other than a couple of her neighbors. A couple of times I spoke to her to discover that the power had been cut off to her house and she was without the means to heat the place, sometimes in the depth of winter.

Because of moments like this, I assumed that she was on some kind of disability. She didn’t seem to work, so income must have been coming from some source, inadequate though the money obviously was. With her, there was something slightly off. It wasn’t something you could just name, but something wasn’t right. No family. No husband. No children. No close friends. No one.

If you’re lucky, at some point you have parents who love you and care for you. I would try to piece together her history without actually knowing it. I always figured that her parents were long gone, and that they had left the house to her. It was their way to assure that their love for her would linger as a roof over her head, at least.

A few days ago she was on the tiny porch of her little house, standing with a battered suitcase while a woman waited for her in a car in the driveway. To the right and left of the porch were the plastic flowers and little pinwheels she’d put in the brick planters on either side of the steps. I handed her the mail and smiled and asked her how she was doing.

As she reached out with that strange, uncoordinated way I had always noted to grasp the letters, she replied. “Not well,” she said. “The bank is kicking me out of my house.”

I looked at her, standing there with the old suitcase. “I’m so sorry,” I told her.

“Do you have a change of address card?” she asked.

“I don’t, but I’ll bring you one tomorrow.” She came down the stairs. I turned my back and proceeded on my way, speechless.

The next day I got to her house. There was that sheriff’s department card in the window. Locked by order, it said . They had wasted no time. No time, at all.

I will never get over the overwhelming presence of the sad people I meet.