Sunday, June 28, 2015

Next!

Our next camping trip is to Van Hook Glade near Highlands, NC. Highlands is known these days as one of the most exclusive communities in the US. Many rich folk owns homes there, both vacation places and permanent abodes. Poor people are generally not welcome, unless it's as workers in the domestics profession.

However, there is much there to be enjoyed in the National Forests and nearby State parks. The place has, I've heard, the highest concentration of waterfalls in eastern North America. So we're pulling our Casita travel trailer there for four days of camping and waterfall wandering.

(The first two photos are not mine, garnered from public access sites on the Internet.)

This is the campground where we'll be staying.

The last time I was here, you were still allowed to drive behind this waterfall (just off the highway). But I've been told that these days it's blocked off and just foot traffic is allowed.

Salt Gap at the nearby Panthertown Valley.

Meself at Granny Burrell Falls in Panthertown.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Birthday!

We celebrated my birthday today. It's actually tomorrow, but we got the cake and did the party thing today. The only thing I ever ask for on my birthday is to have a yellow cake with chocolate icing. So Carole gave me that.

Excellent!

58!

My favorite type of birthday cake!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Waterfall Videos

Just some random videos I've shot at various waterfalls.

In Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina.

Camp Creek Falls in a state park in WV named for the creek.

Buckeye Falls, near Old Fort, NC.

On the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. This appears suddenly from a cave, plummets over a cliff, and vanishes into the rocks at the bottom of a sinkhole without so much as a single pool of water to mark its way.

A few minutes after I took this video, I dropped my camera into the creek and it plunged over the waterfall and fell more than 40 feet straight down. I was able to retrieve the camera, and even though it wasn't water resistant, I was able to dry it out and use it for almost two more years.

A 75-foot waterfall, and it's in Florida. The highest in a state not known for having waterfalls.

Crabtree Falls, One of North Carolina's most well-known waterfalls.

Cullasaja Falls, Highlands NC.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Liquid Inspiration

A lot of my writer pals use various stimuli to kick-start (or maintain) the writing process. Some just concentrate and the magic flows easily. But a lot of the writers I have met drink before and during the writing work. Everything from wine to to beer to whiskey. I've tried drinking alcohol to get the engine sparked, but it just has never worked for me.

What I do consume when I working on a story or a novel is coffee. Not tons of it. But I will go through two or three cups of hot coffee when I write in the afternoon to early evening. It keeps me sharp and helps prod my imagination.

I once read a brief biography of a writer who would retreat to his office on a Friday with a percolator and write and consume vast amounts of coffee until emerging a few days later with a completed novel. Forgive me, but I have forgotten the writer. I want to say he was a Frenchman, but the thing that struck me most was holing up in the room with gallons of coffee and not quitting until the book was ready. (I've read that the late George Simenon similarly survived on coffee as he produced each chapter of his novels.)

And don't laugh. Some writers can do things like churn out an entire pulp novel over the course of a weekend. The late Lester Dent was famous for that. He'd begin a book on Friday afternoon and by Monday morning there it would be: a 60,000-word novel of crime or fantasy or cowboys & Indians.

There was another guy I read about: he had to have sex with a woman every day to inspire his muse. His wife got tired of his demands, but not for the book contracts. So she helped him arrange the arrival of one prostitute or another every day to fire his mojo. Again, I'm terrible about recalling the stories but not the subjects, so don't ask me who this cat was.

So, here I sit. My coffee is steaming in its insulated container. The wordprocessor is open and working. And so am I.
 
"Workworkworkwork."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Craft

I have not been keeping the blog current. Mainly I have been working on my craft of choice: the creation of fiction. To that end I have been spending a lot of time writing, and reading.

If you choose or happen upon the right creator, you can be inspired to work harder and to try to reach another level. So it has been this week as I rediscovered the work of Fritz Leiber.

So, for a while I will likely not be able to post here regularly. I'll be working hard on at least two novels and crafting two short stories. Until then...

Fritz Leiber, Jr. Author of horror, sword and sorcery, fantasy, science fiction. Creator of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Author of NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS (which contains "Smoke Ghost", one of the finest ghost stories I have read). Stage actor, Film actor, Anglican lay preacher, and more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Trails

There's probably something at work in my own mind and personality that makes me want to go trekking off into the forests and to enjoy the works of Mother Nature. But there's also something of nurture in the makeup of every person that has just as much influence on us all. And so I'm left to conclude that my dad's often strange desire to follow oblique paths into the unknown is a part of what makes me work.

When I think of my dad, one of the things that is foremost in my mind is his penchant for taking off down unmarked roads to explore. Fuck maps. He'd mainly have a map in the truck somewhere, but he'd only refer to it when he found a posted landmark and needed to make his way back homeward.

Many were the days when my dad would walk into a room where I'd be reading or watching television and say, "Let's go for a ride." Now, to most people, "a ride" meant a short jaunt down to the shopping center, or a cruise through town. Not so with my dad. Such an announcement might mean a two-hour journey into the rural areas of Middle Georgia where we'd look to spot white-tailed deer or little flocks of quail.

And sometimes it meant a trip of two days or more. Seriously. Sometimes after a couple of hours of driving I'd say, "Where are we going?" And I'd be informed that he'd suddenly decided to drive to Florida to visit his brother, so we'd have to stop and buy a couple of toothbrushes and some new underwear. Or across the state to see the mountains. Or to Tifton to take a look at the area where he'd been born. Then, mission accomplished, we'd go back home.

I just never knew.

Another thing is that he'd sometimes see a dirt track leading off whatever gravel road we happened to be traveling and he'd say, "I wonder what's down there?". Then he'd hang a sharp left or right and we'd go tearing down some overgrown travesty of a pair of ruts leading off into piney woods, the limbs and briars tearing at the metal sides of his half-ton Chevy pickup truck. This kind of sudden decision meant nothing to him. He wanted to know where the abandoned road led, and by Jove he was going to find out.

We'd go flying down the path that perhaps had not been driven in years. Maybe it had been a logging road. Perhaps it had once been a driveway leading to an abandoned home site far in the forest. The truck would flatten pine saplings and young sassafras trees and send blackberry brambles into green bits. Away we'd go.

Sometimes, when I'm driving with my wife down some National Forest roadway, graveled and graded and well-maintained, we'll see a faint path intersecting with it and I will slow down, sometimes come to a complete stop, the motor purring, rumbling, waiting for my command. And I will turn to her and say:

"If my dad were driving, he'd turn here and take us down that path and we'd see where it leads."

"Don't you dare!"


And so I push on, taking the safe road, destination known.

Until, of course, I go hiking.


This isn't my dad's 1963 Chevy half-ton pickup, but it's the same basic model.

I recall hooking up the chains to secure the back many a time.

"Seat belts? What the hell are 'seat belts'?!"

My dad's pickup had the same wooden bed.
"Let's go see what's down there!"

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hoping.

On our upcoming trip to Glacier National Park, I am very much hoping to see several North American animals that I have never seen in the wild. Between trips to Colorado and Wyoming I was lucky enough to spot several animals I had never seen before, including the Moose, Bighorn sheep, Pronghorn, Coyote, Mule deer, Marmot, and Grizzly bear.

The ones that I am very much wanting to spot and photograph on this trip are Mountain lion, Mountain goat, Timber wolf, Badger, Porcupine, Wolverine, and Lynx. Badgers and porcupines are not rare, but I've never been able to spot one, even though I've hiked and backpacked where they were likely present. With any luck at all I should be able to witness at least some of these animals in their natural habitat.

Among this group, I really do not expect to see some of them. People search for years without ever seeing wolverines, mountain lions, or the Canada lynx. But I could get lucky. Wolves are also notoriously private creatures, but I've heard they're easier to spot in Glacier than in other National Parks. I'm looking forward to finding out.

(None of these photos were taken by me and all were found on stock footage sites.)

Wolverine.

Badger.

Mountain goat.

Porcupine.

Timber wolf.

Canada lynx.

Mountain lion.

Friday, June 12, 2015

STRANGE TALES #103

My latest pick up for my comic collection. This one's great for several reasons. It fills a gap in my run of Strange Tales, it's a Jack Kirby book, and it also has a Steve Ditko story! So I'll go through this one and pretend I'm an eight-year-old kid again, discovering the world of comics created by Kirby and Ditko! This copy is nice. It has some classic 'Marvel chipping', but is otherwise in decent shape. Marvel books during this period were notorious for having low-quality cover stock that is susceptible to chipping along the leading edges. I can live with it.

My copy of STRANGE TALES #103.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Crazies



I’m a writer. I have a number of friends who are writers, and an even larger number of acquaintances who are writers. There are a lot of us.

Unfortunately, these days, the nation seems to be packed cheek by jowl with “writers”. Everyone once wanted to be a writer. And now it seems as if everyone is a “writer”. Unfortunately, almost none of these folk bother to develop any skills, and the new world of self-published ebooks has been loosed upon the marketplace like a flesh-eating bacterial pandemic.

Initially I wondered what made all of these horrible people want to try to push their worthless stuff onto the rest of us. What could motivate these subnormals? At first I was truly mystified in a na├»ve sort of way. Because why would you publish this kind of awful material if you weren’t crazy?

Finally, of course, I realized that it’s all based on an unhealthy form of narcissism and that these people are crazy. Yes, this is a type of insanity and it’s running like Captain Trips through the world of publishing and seems as though it will be some kind of extinction event, just as that fictional disease was portrayed brilliantly by Mr. King.

I now meet people casually who tell me that they are writers. When this first began to occur I would ask them who published their work, until I found that every single time I asked this question the answer was that they were all self-published. So I stopped asking. To this date I have yet to read a single self-published work that is not absolutely awful in every way. (And I admit that I stopped reading all self-published books some time back.)

Oh, well.

I continue to write and to seek publication in the normal, traditional manner. There is no desire in me to arbitrarily decide that everything I pen is worthy of print. I always hope so, of course, but I am willing to work to achieve publication without dictating to everyone else that this goal has been reached. Where are the arbiters? Where are the standards? A kind of anarchism has entered the art form that is harmful rather than creative. The new system has constricted literature instead of expanding it. The bar has been cranked down so low that any creep and every moron can crawl easily over it on a track of slime; and all the creeps and morons have done just so.

One should not wonder at all that the situation is a sign of rampant narcissism. The act of creating art and the work of submitting those creations is a kind of self-centered practice. Admittedly, who are any of us to think we can entertain or interest the rest of us? That was always the case with writers and other artists, but at least in days past there were those standards I mentioned before. Those are gone. Pfft. Kaput.

But to understand the current situation in publishing, all you have to do is look around at western media. Crazy people abound, all of them screaming “Look at me!”; and far too many of them are held up in a positive light.

Alas.

Well, I'll keep plugging away. Luddite? Maybe. My keyboard is my workstation. My words are my tools. When I’m not out exploring the mountains and forests, the rivers and prairies, you can find me here. I’ll be busy writing, but not necessarily publishing.

;
"Look at me! LOOK AT ME!!!
“Bad writing's like bad women: there's just not much you can do about it”
Charles Bukowski, Tales of Ordinary Madness.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The White Squirrels

When we first read up on the Ochlockonee River State Park there was a lot of information about the park's "white squirrels". A genetic anomaly that has ended with a fair number of Gray squirrels in the park being white, or nearly white. They are not albino...just white-furred.

At first we wondered if we would see any. Even though it's the park's mascot animal, some might not show. We've had that happen before. But soon enough, they did make their appearance. And soon after that the squirrels of Ochlockonee became a pain in the ass.

Like some of the raccoons we have encountered, they have no fear of, nor respect for humans. They are veteran panhandlers and opportunists who were bedeviling us before we knew it. We saw not one raccoon the entire time we were at that park, and I wonder if it's because the damned squirrels are filling the niche between humans and thieving critters that the bandit-faced mammals normally occupy.

As it was, we got plenty of photos of the park's white squirrels, and more than enough of unwanted encounters with them.

They were pretty much everywhere there were hardwood trees.

Interesting and fun to spot.

And of course they were curious about us.

"Make a sound like a potato chip," the ranger said.
We had locked up extra food in the back of the truck, and they searched all over the vehicle for a way into the camper shell. They were relentless.
And this was where they dogged us constantly for several days.
Cute? Looks can be deceiving.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Eek! A Shar...no, wait. It's a dolphin.

Even when Carole and I do traditional stuff in Florida like sitting on the beach, we don't go to your regular beaches. Instead, we find out of the way beach areas where there are generally either no other people, or less than a dozen folk to share a mile or so of dunes and shore.

One day we went to a place called Bald Point. While we were sitting in the sand I noticed the mullet were jumping and seemed agitated. This is always a sure sign of some predator in the water. "Keep your eyes open for a shark or a dolphin or a pilot whale," I said to Carole.

Sure enough, we soon saw a dorsal fin cutting the water as a predator chased the mullet. I tried my best to get a photo of it, but managed only one, blurry shot. It was a dolphin.

(Look to the right in the photo.)


After about 20 attempts I catch one blurry image of the hunting dolphin.

Cropped photo of the dorsal fin.

Looking back toward Carole and hordes of humans on the beach.

A gull checks us out.

"The humans have not detected me!"

Large flocks of Brown pelicans periodically passed over the beach.
Carole endures the crowds.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Ecofina Splash!

Highest on our list of kayaking trips was Ecofina Creek. Now...there is also an Ecofina River, which was actually closer to where we were based at the state park. But we wanted to kayak the Creek because of the large number of freshwater springs along the route. And visiting the big springs of Florida is our favorite pastime when we're there. So we made arrangements to visit and float the Ecofina Creek.

There are a number of options one can choose to do that float. The upper reaches of Ecofina Creek are, however, considered very rugged and only for advanced kayakers. That section didn't really interest me at this point so it was never under consideration. What we decided on was a seven-mile stretch between the Ecofina Creek Canoe Livery and a take-out point at a bridge some miles distant where the Livery service would pick you up and return you to the original launch site. Due to the weirdnesses of GPS devices, we had a hard time locating the livery, but when I chose to ignore the computer voice and follow logic (none of the paper maps we had even showed the dirt roads we had to take) we soon figured out where it was.

The kayak ramp at the livery service was actually in a clear spring run and part of a very large spring that the state currently has closed while they renovate the infrastructure. It won't reopen until 2016. But in quick order as we kayaked down Ecofina Creek we began to encounter the first of many spring areas along the way. We paddled up a side tributary to Sylvan Springs and got out to take photos and to swim a little. Then it was back in the kayaks down to Pitt Springs where we tied up to a dock and walked up to see that spring, which was quite beautiful and not accessible by kayak directly from the creek (due to barricades to keep boats out). That spring area had its infrastructure repaired recently, and if this is what is in store for the one currently closed, then the reopening will find a much improved site.

After that we passed under a bridge and we floated down a long stretch of the quiet, tannin-colored water of the creek. I kept pulling ahead of Carole and would have to stop from time to time to allow her to catch up. Finally, at one point she was invisible to me as I had rounded a curve in the creek. So I reached up to snag a branch in my hand to stop myself so that she could catch up. This was a very bad decision. The current at the point where I chose to do this was deceptively strong, and it immediately pivoted me to the right so that my kayak was instantly cross-wise against the current. Before I could even release the branch, the current overturned my kayak and I found myself in deep water and my kayak hull-up.

At that point Carole appeared around the bend just in time to see my screw-up. She paddled over and prodded my kayak toward the shore. I struggled to keep the dry bag with my stuff from going downstream. It was partially opened and leaking. The first thing I did was get it up on the bank to make sure I hadn't lost anything of great value (including the keys to our truck). Everything was okay, except that I had soaked a spare (cheap) camera I take along because it was something I wasn't concerned about losing. It was there, but soaked. I lost a towel and I also lost my spare pair of glasses which are an old prescription and were also being worn for the sole reason that losing them would not be a disaster.

All in all, it could have been much worse. It only took a few minutes to right the kayak and drain the water from it. Carole has a bilge pump that she brings for this and it worked fine and got the excess water out that I couldn't just pour free. In just a little while we were on our way again. I will know in the future not to do something as silly as grasping an overhanging tree limb to halt my progress in a creek.

Our next stop was a vast group of springs known as "The Gainer Springs Group". They are listed as a group because there are quite a number of them issuing from the earth in close proximity. This area forms a vast set of blue pools pouring millions of gallons of water into the Econfina Creek. One thing that makes this area different from most other springs that Carole and I have visited is that the entire area surrounding each of these massive springs is privately owned. The dry land all around the water is posted against any form of trespassing. Some of the warning signs are specific enough to threaten you with arrest if you so much as set foot on dry land. This even includes a large island in the middle of a vast pool of water formed by these springs. Just consider all of the dry ground as private property and off limits.

We were able to climb out of our kayaks at this point by maneuvering them to shallow water beside some exposed limestone outcrops. And we spent about an hour in this area snorkeling and swimming in the cool, gorgeous water with the fishes. A few other kayakers were already there but they left before we did and so we had the place to ourselves for a while.

After this we hit the creek again and began the longest stretch of our journey along the Ecofina. The rest of the route is very unusual, the waterway having sliced its way through the limestone and sand banks, creating some cliff faces and steep geography. I kept hoping to encounter some unusual wildlife, but we just didn't see much on the way down to the takeout point beside the next bridge where the folk from the canoe livery were waiting to pick us up.

Carole and I very much enjoyed this kayak trip (despite the fact that I overturned my kayak). The next time we are in that area we are going to do pretty much the same trip, except that we will use the public canoe launch at Pitt Springs and just paddle as far as the Gainer Springs group, then kayak back to Pitt Springs. This way we won't have to arrange for a pickup to bring us back.

This kayak/canoe trail is known as one of the best, most scenic, and most fun of any in Florida. It well deserves that reputation.



Carole captures this image as we head down Ecofina Creek.

We arrive at Sylvan Springs.

Spring boil at Sylvan Springs.

Back out into the main course of the creek.

Pitt Springs.  We just stopped briefly to take a photo.

We pass Pitt Spring and Carole heads toward the first bridge.

Arriving at the Gainer Springs Group. The island in the center here and all of the land around the springs on all sides is privately owned and fiercely protected against trespass. For those of you not from the South, southerners are very jealous over their private property boundaries. When they post it as "Keep Out", they absolutely mean it. Don't test them.

Snorkeling at one of the big vents at Gainer Springs.

One of the spring heads where we got out of our kayaks.

"Glub glub!"

Limestone under the surface.

Carole precedes me as we reluctantly head out.

I've heard this spring referred to as "Emerald Spring". Stunning.

This is the last spring you encounter along the Ecofina Creek. The land around this one is also private. I've heard it referred to as "Emerald Springs" which is apt. It's part of the Gainer Springs group and is easily one of the most beautiful and impressive springs I have ever seen. There is an obvious boil that pushes up above the mean level of the water and the pressure of the water pushes you back if you approach the outlet. I really want to go back to visit this one.

Downstream, the banks and limestone cliffs are surprisingly steep.

We encounter other kayakers and canoeists along the way.

Peaceful.

We saw a lot of these magnolia trees that overhang the creek.

And this big, gnarly old cypress just before we reached the end of the ride.