Thursday, April 30, 2015


Carole took this photo of me at an outdoor sea-food restaurant on the Rainbow River in Florida. And looking at it, I noticed that the woman behind me seems to be flossing her teeth! Photobomb!

Strange lady flossing in a restaurant.
Or maybe just goofing off?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Old Favorite

One of my favorite places to hike and backpack used to be Panthertown Valley in the mountains near Highlands, North Carolina. I won't talk too much about the history of how it came to become a part of Nantahala National Forest except to say that originally it was to have been declared a wilderness area. But Duke Power stepped in and snatched it away from those wanting to protect it and rammed a transmission line through the center of it. Yes, they then sold the land on either side of their right-of-way to those same interests who subsequently bequeathed it to the National Forest system. But with a powerline running down the center of it, there is no way that it could ever be considered wilderness, or be designated as such.

When I first discovered Panthertown is was known but not often visited by crowds. So I used to be able to go there and hike all day without seeing anyone. I once backpacked in there for two nights and three days and never saw another human. And the vistas were forested with no sign of the hand of Man (other than that freaking powerline).

But in recent years it has become extremely popular. When I go there now to hike or backpack it's with the resignation that I will encounter many other hikers and backpackers and horseback riders and mountain bikers and kayakers. Those mountains that once held no sign of habitation are now speckled with million-dollar homes the crowd in around the edges of the protected areas. You cannot walk very far without hearing people talking or their dogs barking. It just ain't what it once was.

I still go there from time to time, but it's not one of my favorite destinations anymore.

(All of these stitched panoramas were taken in Panthertown Valley on a solo backpacking trip in 2004. I didn't see another person in there for three whole days. That wouldn't happen, now.)

I had to cross this river to remain on the trail I was hiking. Water was up. Beyond the bend there was a pretty impressive waterfall. I did not want to lose my balance here.

This is near a spot called Salt Gap. It used to be hard to get to. But now there is a parking area not far from it and it gets a lot of traffic.

This is at Granny Burrell Falls. I pitched my tent not far from the top of the falls.
I shot this the last time I backpacked there. It was cold and snowy. But I still ran into what I can only define as crowds of people deep into Panthertown. Solitude? Not anymore.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Did Bukowski Have it Right?

One of my favorite writers is the late Charles Bukowski. He was hardly my hero (I don't have any heroes). But he was an extremely talented and insightful writer whose work is unique in modern fiction and poetry.

He was definitely not a nice man. One has to often separate the art from the artist. Charles Bukowski is a classic example of this fact. He was a drunken, self-centered, sometimes violent asshole. But, Holy Humping Jove, he could write beautiful words.

One thing that I noticed very early on in Bukowski's work is that he didn't seem to really give much of a damn about anything but observation and getting the word down on the page. And that used to bother me about him. Sometimes, it still does. I could he not care? At least care enough to talk about things in specifics. If he was poor and lived in grinding poverty and was mashed down like a soft mammal under the foot of Society, why didn't he take up a position to decry these things?

And, of course, he did explain why.

Because to do so is pointless.

Bukowski was content (it seems) to sit in his darkened rooms and tap out the magical word. This is the way it is, boys and girls. Deal with it. Dig it. That is all.

Maybe it's a problem to watch and care. Bukowski observed and commented, but took no position, was the weirdly passionate observer who was also the dispassionate observer. If he does sometimes complain and point an accusatory finger, you have to squint myopically to catch just the barest shadow of give-a-shit.

Perhaps Bukowski was right.

The folk in charge are in charge. They cannot be dislodged. Better to just sit in that comfortable room with a refrigerator full of beer and a typewriter and watch it all go down and chuckle at the joke of it all.

Shit. Maybe so.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Comparing Notes

When we are preparing for a new trip to a relatively familiar location, I always dig through old photographs of past trips to get some ideas of what we will try to do. So, I went to see what images I had captured on our last vacation to Florida. It will have been pretty much exactly two years since we've been down there when we leave in a few weeks. May. You blink, and two years have vanished.

Carole and I both like Florida. It's not the greatest place we frequent, but it has so much to offer that we don't get tired of it. That's because it's a pretty darned big state and has a lot more variety than the average travel brochures would indicate. Sure...if all you do is lie around on a beach all day or pay a week's salary to gain admittance to a lousy amusement park it can get really stale very fast.

But that's not what we do when we visit the state. There's almost no limit to outdoor activities in Florida and we have more than enough to keep us busy from day to day. And that's what I was doing as I went over the old photos from our latest trip there...just taking a look at what we did and the kinds of things that we can accomplish in this new park which we've never visited.

Campsite on the Chassahowitzka River.

Florida must offer encounters with an alligator or 500.


Carole and I kayak over one of Florida's biggest springs.

A duck!
What's the deep South without some live oaks and Spanish moss?

Saturday, April 25, 2015


The computers that I have owned are like the motor vehicles that I've owned: they seem like something you need, but they are often headaches and more trouble than they're worth.

Recently the printer that I've been using for a few years stopped working. I tried everything to get it to work right, to no effect. Frankly, it was a poor design from a crappy manufacturer that I bought because it was cheap. I go what I paid for.

However, I had a printer that came in a package with my current computer. I never unpacked it because I already had the previously mentioned printer (now on the fritz). So I wasn't worried about having to buy another one. All I had to do was unpack the one that came with my desktop and hook it up.

So that's what I did. Hooked that sucker right up. Plug and play. Just connect it, turn it on, and start printing.


I did everything as per the instructions, but no dice. The printer would power up. But the software wouldn't quite load. The software would get about 90% installed and then malfunction. I know almost nothing about computers and how they work. I did take a computer course offered by the local community college, but that was just the basic. In all reality, I don't know much about how the programs operate.


But I learned years ago not to lose my temper with the computer. Just remain calm and keep trying various fixes and generally things would work out. I have grown to become very stubborn in that respect. So...I looked up various fixes on the websites of the maker of the printer (HP) and the maker of the computer (also HP). I downloaded the software online instead of using the disk that came with the printer. I tried many things.


The printer and the computer still would not communicate.

Finally, I went over various programs on the startup files, one at a time, looking for something I may have missed, or for something that might help. And that's when I noticed an update from HP that I had not downloaded. I looked at the description for it, and it informed me that it was to correct a flaw that prevented the computer from communicating with the printer.

I downloaded and installed it. The printer works.

I'm glad I'm stubborn.

Woo HOO! It works!

Friday, April 24, 2015


The English language is a weird thing. I suppose other languages may be just as weird, but I wouldn't know since I don't speak any other language. I once took German, but I never got beyond a second semester. And even the English that I do speak is in a heavy low-country dialect and peppered with various bits of southern slang.

Which is why I wanted to mention the word in the title of this bit of my blog:


Now, when most people hear or see that word they either have no idea what it is, or they recognize it as a small fish known for flopping around on the California sand to lay its eggs in vast numbers before either being eaten by predators (including humans) or retreating to the sea.

But here in the corner of the South where I grew up, grunion was something else entirely. What it meant was generally a person of less than average stature and/or strength. Grunion was reserved for the smallest fry who either tried to go out for a spot on the football team, or who actually made the team, but were still tagged with the epithet for being shorter and weaker than everyone else. In fact, most football teams generally have one or two grunions on the squad.

Why did this word make the leap from a fish to a type of person? I reckon, perhaps, because of the allusion I made above ("small fry"). But that could have served for any type of little fish, or maybe some small animal. Why didn't something else catch hold? Why grunion? is kind of cool, unique word. And there is something in the sound of it that indicates a certain level of contempt toward those on whom it is used. From what I understand it is pretty much a uniquely southern use of the word. If you played football in vast parts of the southeastern USA, then you likely heard the term or used it, or perhaps were even the target of it.

Football players can be real assholes.

At any rate, from the Big Thicket of Texas to the coast of Virginia I suspect that there are little guys running around on the football fields trying to make the cut, or trying to earn a starting spot who hear it to describe them.

Go get 'em, grunions.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I figured I'd post some photos of my son (Andy) today. He's all grown up of course, but we still manage to find the time to go on trips together as our tiny family group. Some of our best vacations were taken as a family, including to the Florida Keys, and to Yellowstone National Park. And this year we'll head out to Glacier National Park together.

This was at Mason's Ruby and Sapphire Mine in Franklin, NC. I can't remember why Andy was laughing.

Something  was funny, though.

One of Andy's hobbies is geology. He especially likes to hunt for gem stones. At this joint they let you mine your own earth from the hillside and take it to the sluice to find gems. Andy found a few decent sapphires.


Andy on a hike in Linville Gorge with his old man a couple of years back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Otter

When I first started hiking and backpacking it was hard to find some wild animals that were historically a part of the South. They'd been hounded by over hunting and habitat fragmentation to a point where some of them were genuinely rare. It's hard to believe, but even alligators were once scarce throughout parts of their former range.

One animal that always eluded my quests was the river otter. I would keep my eyes peeled for them, but never so much as a glimpse. You just didn't see them because they were few and far between. In fact, I didn't spot one in the wild until I was almost 20 years old, and it was at the edge of Liptrott Island in Brunwick, Georgia. Because I'd been waiting for such a thing for so long I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Yes, they were that rare.

These days I do encounter them when I'm in the low country. But because they're aquatic and also extremely active, they are very difficult to photograph. Usually when I see them I'm actually on the water in a canoe or kayak and that's when I have one of my cheaper cameras along. So I've never been able to get a nice photo of a wild river otter.

So, when we arrive in the panhandle of Florida in few weeks I will look--as I always do--for the elusive and hyper-active river otter. Maybe, finally, I'll get a nice photograph of one.

Sadly, the clearest shot I've ever taken of a wild otter. This one had just caught a fish and was chomping away on it. Taken on the Rainbow River below Rainbow Springs.

This is about all I ever see of otters when I'm on the water. Generally their heads popping up or their backs as they roll and dive. They move like greased lightning through the river.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Florida Preparations...

Well, one of the main reasons for the Mills River trip was to test out all of the repairs to the Casita. And everything worked perfectly. The freshwater tank works great; the new hot water heater is fantastic; and the new awning worked out perfectly, too.

Now all we have to do over the next few weeks is pack and resupply the trailer. And plan which waterways we're going to kayak and which of the big springs we're going to visit to go swimming and snorkeling.

We can hardly wait!

Say what you like about the weirdness of Florida...but, it's a great place to vacation with some of the best wild and rural landscape on the east coast.

Who needs the Caribbean when we have this?

Great state park and National Forest campgrounds abound.

Fantastic, other-worldly wildlife habitat.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mad Monster Chick

Just to see how many hits this post gets because of a few words. This young woman was at the Mad Monster Party here in Charlotte last year. I don't know what she was doing there, but people were gathered around and she was cute so I took her photo. Later, someone told me there was a snake.

Hot Chick with a Snake.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bird's Nest Surprise!

When we got to our camp site at North Mills River, I had to turn on the gas and activate both the refrigerator (which can run on gas) and the water heater. So I had to take the vinyl cover off of the dual gas tanks to open the valve on one of them. When I removed the cover I found a bird's nest carefully constructed around the valve of the left tank!

At first I was alarmed that we had perhaps moved the nest away from the parents, thus dooming the eggs. But when I looked in the nest I saw that the eggs had been cracked open....I suspect by some sort of small predator. It doesn't appear as if anything had hatched out of them--but I suppose it's possible.

Carole decided to keep the nest so that she can use it for an art project. And I took a closeup photo of the egg so that I could find someone who might be able to identify the species. (If you know--I'd be happy to hear it.)

The nest was under the white vinyl cover on the front of the Casita where the propane tanks are stationed.

Here's the nest with the two broken eggs.

Closeup detail of the egg coloring and patterns.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Frank's Legacy

One of the nicest people I ever met was my father-in-law, Frank Henderson. I've heard this said many times about some people: "He never knew a stranger." Well, with Frank, that was actually true. He genuinely liked people and he loved to make new acquaintances. And I never met anyone who didn't like him.

He's been gone a long time, now. Taken from his family by cancer. But I see echoes of him every time Carole and I visit her mom. He built the house her mom lives in. Back in the 1960s. And when I say "he built it", I mean that. He even dug the foundation himself. Yeah.With a pick and shovel.

But what makes me think of Frank every time I go over there is the yard and the landscaping. He did all that himself, too. He had the forethought to purchase two lots so that he'd have much room and a place for his kickass garden. No matter how tired Frank would be when he got home from his job as an electrical engineer for Duke Power, he would work in his garden. And when that was done, he'd tinker with the trees and flower beds that make that yard a very special place in the Spring.

So, here's to Frank Henderson. I think of him whenever I see the house he built and the yard he landscaped and planted.

Every Spring is a treasure for the eyes.

The front of the house. I rarely take any photos of the front yard. But there it is.

The grassy area in front of the dogwoods and azalea bed was where Frank had his garden. He could have fed an army with the fruits and vegetables he grew there.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Asheville and a Waterfall

After my hike up to Pilot Rock I returned to the campground and took a quick shower. Carole had arranged for us to meet up with one of her co-workers in Asheville who also happened to be spending the weekend there. We were afraid that it would take some time and co-ordination to hook up with Angel but as we pulled into a parking spot in downtown Asheville, there she was! Synchronicity in action!

We got our vehicles parked and then Carole, Andy, and Angel did some shopping while I just sat on the street and watched the crowds. Asheville is a very cool city and is packed with hippies and New Age types, so it's never boring to just watch the people go by. There's also lots of street performers working--actors, musicians, artists. We saw a guy doing wood-burning with a magnifying glass!

Our first order of the day was to head straight to our favorite pizza parlor in Asheville: The Mellow Mushroom. We really like their pies. Carole and I ordered one to share and Angel and Andy ordered one. We did not leave with a doggy bag, consuming every slice. We all highly recommend the Mellow Mushroom.

After that we walked around downtown a little more and hit up another favorite shop of ours, The Mast General Store. Then we headed back to the parking lot and retrieved our vehicles. We stashed Angel's car near the campground and then we drove over to see Looking Glass Falls on Highway 276. Angel had never seen it, and it's a great waterfall that is one of the most accessible large waterfalls in North Carolina.

We then drove up a couple of miles to Sliding Rock and took a look at that. We tried to go to the Fish Hatchery around the bend, but it was closed for the day and that meant that we were left with no other choice but to drive up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I figured that since Angel had stood at the base of Looking Glass Rock looking up at the summit towering a thousand feet above, it would be cool to take her to an overlook one thousand feet over the summit and looking down at Looking Glass Rock. She got a kick out of that.

With that, the daylight was beginning to fade so it was time to head back to the campground. At the parking area Angel got back into her car and went back to her hotel in Asheville and we returned to our campsite.

Our favorite pizza joint, The Mellow Mushroom!

Carole and Angel.

Friendly downtown Asheville.

Steel drums!

This guy serenaded us when we dropped some money to show our appreciation for his talent.

The easily accessible Looking Glass Falls.

Angel and Carole wade in the cold water.

My son, Andy, at Looking Glass Falls.

Lots of people (and Andy) at Looking Glass Falls.

Looking down on Looking Glass Rock!

With daylight fading, it was time to rest.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pilot Rock: A Brief Hike and Photojournal

Early on Saturday morning I decided that I needed to get in a good hike before we went into Asheville to meet up with Carole's friend, Angel (with whom she works). There is no shortage of trails around the North Mills River Campground, so I had quite a lot of choices. Finally, I decided on the Pilot Rock Trail that would take me up the mountain toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. If I hiked all the way to the Parkway, then I'd come out at Pisgah Inn where Carole and I had stayed last year. But all I wanted to do was trek up to the first summit to see the cliff faces and take in the views. Then I'd turn back and head down to the campground to join up with Carole and Andy.

This is exactly what I ended up doing. The hike started out very cool and I had on my hoodie to keep me warm, but in quick order the air began to warm up and so did I. Stubbornly, I waited until I'd gained the first ridge before I stopped to shed the sweater and zip off the legs of my convertible pants. I even took some time to lie down and rest before walking out on the exposed rock to take some photos and shoot some video.

After that, I packed up my camera stuff and went back down the trail to my truck. One thing that got to me--and I realize it more and more as the years go by--is that I saw almost no wildlife. That is one thing about the southern Appalachians: they are beautiful landscape, and there are a lot of wild animals in the forests, but those creatures are generally very shy and rarely seen. This is in contrast to the time I have spent in the low country where animals are seen everywhere, and also out west where the critters don't seem to even make an effort to hide. This hike was not much different from many others I have made here in my native mountains. I saw no wildlife and on this trip I didn't even hear very many bird calls.

The trailhead.

A footbridge across a creek.

I love hiking through heath tunnels.

These forests are certainly not impressive. Logged time and again, made up of young trees.
It's always fun to come to the first view along a trail.

Spring has certainly arrived, even at 4,000 feet above sea level.

I was tired after the hike up and took a few minutes to rest.

The view that had been waiting for me.

The view from one of the small cliffs near the top of the ridge.

Looking across the wide valley at the opposing mountains.

This gnarly tree must certainly be very old.
The big mountains in the center on the horizon are the high country in the Shining Rock Wilderness.

Hiking in the southern Appalachians is a unique experience.

On the way down I paused to take a photo of the twisted trunks and branches of the mountain laurel that dominated the area along the trail.