Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Constant Struggle

There are some things that I will never completely understand. I try to figure them out, but in the end they make no sense whatsoever.

Probably the finest thing the US nation has ever done was to establish National Parks and wilderness areas. As far as I know, it was an original idea that was born in this country. Part of the reason could be that we actually had unspoiled places that were worth protecting. There was a time when these Parks and wild places were delineated and placed under the sheltering wing of common good.

But those days seem to be over.

And I cannot figure that out, no matter how hard I try to understand how we can all be manipulated to the contrary.

For some years now, there has been an effort to create a new National Park in the state of Maine. It has been some time since a large, new National Park was dedicated in the USA. Some smaller ones have been named, but these have almost all been mere transfers of title from National Monument status to that of National Park. Most of these have been rather small areas, very fragile, and with little in the way of infrastructure.

The proposed Park in Maine has been called "The North Woods National Park" and sometimes the Maine Woods National Park. It would encompass over three million acres of mainly roadless forests, rivers, ponds, lakes, gorges, valleys, bogs, and mountains. Almost none of it is virgin territory, since Maine has pretty much been logged from side to side, end to end for lumber and pulpwood over the past couple of centuries. So there's not really anything there in the form of untouched lands.

What this area does have is the potential to be a set of recovered environments, and a place where "rewilding" can take place. Mother Nature repairs Herself if left unmolested by the hand of Mankind's exploitation. Everything that lives on the planet needs places like this. As long as we have wide areas of wilderness, then the ecology that birthed us and sheltered us and provided us with clean air and water can continue to do so. These are facts that are self-evident.

But whenever such an effort to create something like a National Park is raised, there is always a push-back against them. The people who earn vast amounts of cash wrecking these spots never fail to rally their forces to prevent the establishment of Parks and wilderness. Generally, they get their ignorant minions to scream about "government land grabs" and other such nonsense. Grabbed from whom? Given to whom?

The proposed North Woods National Park is something that this nation needs. It has been far too long since a large, new national Park was added to the eastern USA. Here is the acreage. This is the place where forest ecosystems can be restored; where wild  creatures that have been eliminated from the land can be repatriated.

Let's have it. Now.

Katahdin.

The Woodland caribou, which used to live in Maine but which has been extirpated from the area. It could be restored to the area within the proposed Park boundaries.

Even the folk who promote the proposed Park are afraid to mention the Timber wolf when discussing the effort. This is because one of the main arguments against the Park come from brainless hunting and gun rights morons who are among the most effective weapons of the corporate elite who don't want to see a new National Park created.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sharing the Trail with a Critter

I took this on what I call "The Sick Hike" when I was hunting for the Sag Branch Poplar tree and in the middle of the hike I was suddenly hit with the flu. I've recounted it before (several times). It was a completely miserable experience. However, the forests of Cataloochee were particularly gorgeous that day, and the views from the overlooks were spectacular. I was just far too sick to enjoy them.

Early in the hike--before I got sick--I noticed that a coyote was also using the trail. No one else was in this part of the Park that cold, snowy morning. My tracks were the only ones...except for those being made by a wandering coyote.

Mr. Coyote was sharing the trail with me.

This was still early on in the elk restoration days.

A last view as I drove home with a high fever.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Light Hearted Fun

One of my favorite musicians from my youth was Nick Lowe. Among the many reasons that I liked him was that he had a kind of jaded attitude toward pop music, even though he created the same kind of material. He was sharp enough that he could make light of it in such a way that he could produce mocking, but brilliant pop music. Even while laughing at it and throwing confetti he managed to create amusing tunes.

One target of his inspired irony was the old flash-in-the-pan pop band, Bay City Rollers. Somehow, and for reasons that aren't quite clear to me, Lowe managed to fashion two excellent songs that poked good-natured ribbing at the Rollers, while at the same time crafting a pair of songs that are a lot of fun to hear.

Lowe seems to have left pop music far behind in his later years, these days crafting a much more introspective kind of art. I still tend to follow his career.

Good ol' Nick Lowe.

From his amazing album, PURE POP FOR NOW PEOPLE. I don't think there's a tune on this album that is disappointing.

The earlier "Bay City Rollers, We Love You" which perfectly captures the treacly sound (and attitude) of bubblegum pop.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Overload

Sometimes I find the Internet to be way the hell too much. Lately it has proven to be this way more than in the past.

One of my great regrets in life was that I never had a formal college education. I was too poor on the one hand, and too confused on the other. A lot of people I know who have good college educations tend to belittle the years they put into getting a degree, but for someone like me who never had the benefit of a discipline of ordered learning, those sentiments are not appreciated.

And so, over the years, I have tended to overcompensate for that lack of a disciplined education by reading. And I have read a lot. Not as much as some mutant intellects I have encountered, but more than most. The problem is that I have read widely and with absolutely no focus. I am familiar with a broad range of concepts and know a tremendous amount of superficial facts, but have detailed knowledge of few subjects.

Thus, my regret at having had no formal post-high school education.

I do have that Associate's degree that I earned by taking a class here and a class there at a local community college. But there it ended. Lack of funds and the responsibilities of a family stopped it there. Even that small accomplishment took me many years.

Because of the way that I tend to study (scattershot reading), the Internet has been a shiny toy for me. 'Ooo! Look! There! Yow! What's that?! Amazing! I didn't know that! Wow!' A sad and slapstick learning process that leads me to have just enough knowledge about things to piss people off and earn a reputation as a "know-it-all" (aka "smartass").

Recently I was looking at my newsfeeds. I consume a lot of news, but none of it domestic. (I find the various news sources in the USA to be stunted and laughable propaganda.) At one point recently I was perusing a little over 100 English-language news sites every day. Even I had to admit that this was pretty damned outrageous. I wouldn't actually read each of them every day, but I would skim them all and look for articles that interested me. Finally, I decided that 103 news sites was too much. So I pared them down...to sixty-one. Yeah...that's still wild.

I think I need to shift back a few gears on the old Internet. It long ago became a pretty radical time-sink for me. It has helped me in some ways, but has proven to be a barrier in others.

Stepping back for an objective look is in order.

"Ooo! Shiny!"

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Excerpt

Here's a brief excerpt from my novel, BEAUTIFUL BOY, making the rounds.

     Something was terribly wrong.
     Billy Sothern had sat and pondered this single fact for hours leading into entire days. It had been on his mind ever since he’d gone up on the ridge with his dogs.
     Dirty, unshaved, his hair wild and golden whiskers covering his young face, he suddenly became tense at the thought of his dogs. Where were his dogs?
     “I killt them all,” he said to no one, for he was alone in his house. “Naw, naw,” he whispered. “I couldn’t have killt my dogs. Not my very own dogs. How can a man run a decent hunt without dogs? I love my dogs.” Sothern closed his eyes and tried to remember.
     “I did,” he finally said. “I killed all of them. They attacked me. Why would they do that? Why would they turn on me like that? I had to do it.” He turned in his chair and looked down at the big mug of coffee on the dining room table. The coffee was thick and black and had gone completely cold. He’d brewed it that morning—hours before—and now it was all cold and unfit to drink. The sun was almost gone in the sky.
     “What the hell?” He asked no one. How had he sat there in the kitchen of his little house for so many hours? Had he even called in sick to work? He couldn’t recall.
     “They attacked me,” he said again. “I was just minding my own business, and all of the sudden they were on my ass. I had to do it. Nobody can blame me for defending myself.” He stood--as if to make a point to some absent jury. “Right? See? It was nothing but self defense. Anyone could see that.”
     “It wasn’t me they were attacking,” he whispered. His right hand, dry and dirty, went to his mouth, taking his chin and feeling the hard stubble. “It was something else, but it wasn’t me.”
     Sothern stumbled away from the table and he walked down the short hallway to his bedroom. The lights were all off and the sun was going down and only the reddish light of late afternoon filtered through the trees and over the high ridges that loomed over the tight little valley in which his house was located. Outside, the nearby creek gurgled relentlessly—he could hear it plainly through the open windows. Air that had gone from cool to cold, bordering on bitter cold, was filtering through the rooms.
     “How did I kill them? I didn’t shoot them. I didn’t even have my gun with me,” he said. “I don’t remember having a gun. How did I defend myself, then?”
     Suddenly, the room was very cold. Far colder than the wind coming in through those windows. Colder even than the water in the creek flowing outside.
     “You didn’t need no gun, Billy.”
     Sothern spun and looked back to the table from which he’d just risen. Someone was sitting there, someone he recognized.
     “Oh, shit,” Billy said. Sitting there at his table was Phil Rickley, and waiting silently on the other side of the room, just as he had always done, was Phil’s brother. “You’re dead,” he said to the ghost.
     Rickley smiled, his teeth rusty with dried blood, his eyes still bugging from the pressure of the impact of his car against earth. “Well, heck yes, I’m dead! Don’t I look dead?”
     “Yeah. You damned sure look dead, Phil.”
     The ghost got up from the seat and walked the few steps separating him from his host. He smiled again. “You don’t flinch, man. I like that. You always did have guts. Even back when we was in high school. I never could make you jump.”
     “No, I reckon not,” Sothern said, looking past Phil to the silent brother who merely stood, facing in the other direction, apparently looking out into the forest through the open window.
     “Yeah, I had to admit in those days that you had guts, Billy. You know, I wanted you to run with me and the boys. Tried like hell to get you to ride with us. But you never did.”
     “No,” Billy said. “I never did.”
     “Why is that, Billy? Why didn’t you hang with us? Me an’ the rest?” His face had taken on a more serious shade.
     “Well, look how you ended up, Phil.”
     The ghost snickered. “Hell, you do have a slight point. But look how you ended up. How you like your own current situation? How’s that workin’ out for you?”
     “I don’t know what you mean. What situation are you talking about?”
     The ghost came up very close to Sothern, and still the other man did not flinch, did not step back. Those golf-ball eyes peered into the face of the living fellow, examining him, measuring him. Rickley was so close that Billy should have been able to smell him, but all he could smell was the forest around the house, the water flowing down the creek, the drying and fading scents left by his dogs, who were all now dead and gone.
     “I almost believe you don’t know what situation I’m talkin’ about,” the ghost whispered. “But you do. You know goddamned well what I mean.”
     “I don’t.”
     “First of all, you see a ghost sittin’ at your dinner table and what do you do? Do you run? Do you scream? Do you question your sanity? No. Your senses are all wired up just right, and you damned well know it. You know it better than you would have known it a couple nights ago. And what happened then? What happened, Billy?
     “What did you do to your dogs, Billy? I know you loved them dogs. Where are they? What did you do to them? What’s that up there on old Tater Patch Mountain rottin’ away? All scattered on the ridge where you left ‘em?”
     “That was…self defense. They went crazy. I had to do it.”
     For an instant, it seemed as if Rickley was going to raise his hand and place it on Sothern’s shoulder. But he didn’t do that. The idea passed between the two—man and ghost—but nothing happened. “Of course you had to do it. Of course it was self-defense. But them dogs was bound to go after what you are.”
     “What I am? What are you talking about?”
     “Come on, goddamn it! Admit it! Admit what you are.” The expression on the ghost’s face had passed from mildly amused to something bordering anger. His scarred and bloody brow knitted into a frown. The mask was dark and hideous.
     “I’m just a man,” Billy Sothern said. “I’m just a man. I don’t know what got into my dogs. There’s no explanation for it, I tell you.”
     “I’m here to tell you, Billy. Don’t pull that holier-than-thou crap on me like you used to do in high school. Like your shit don’t stink or somethin’. I’m telling you that things have changed. You ain’t no better than me, now. In fact, you might even be worse.”
     “No!” There was something in Billy that wanted him to strike out at the dead man standing impossibly in his house, but his arms were frozen to his sides, his hand limp and not clenched into the fists he wanted to throw into that bloodied face. “I’m better than you.”
     “Hell no, you ain’t. Not now, if you ever was. You’re somethin’ else, now, boy. Like how you didn’t used to see a nigger when you looked at that fuck Ben Whittaker. It was only us Rickleys who could see that! It flat ate my daddy alive that nobody else could see those apes for what they was. It was witchcraft, Billy. And now things are goin’ to be different. Now there’s somethin’ to be done about it. And you’re goin’ to help do it!”
     By now, the sun had set. The skies were dark, save for the bare indication of pale light filtering over the ridge that stood watch over the deep valley in which Sothern’s house was couched. Sothern wanted to talk, to argue, to explain himself. But his throat was suddenly unsuitable for speech. His lips were now incapable of forming coherent syllables. His tongue was not then needed for making human sounds.
     “There’s a reason for this, Sothern! There’s a reason for everything. You’ve got a purpose in this life, now.” He raised his wet arm and pointed toward the window, cold wind blowing at the simple yellow curtains there.
     What had been Billy Sothern was now on all fours, tearing at the floor, eyes burning like embers, his face twisted into a snout, his teeth now tusks suitable for tearing. Hands were no more, gone to paws, Fingers were claws. His mind was missing in action. In place of coherent thoughts there were only images of rage, of violence, of crimson moments of assault, of attack, of bloody murder.
     Phil Rickley stood aside to let the huge thing roar past him, through the open window, into the moonlit night.
    “That’s what you are now, Billy Sothern. That’s what you are.” The ghost glided out of the house, his brother in tow. “Go do your work, Sothern. We all have our parts to play.”


Monday, September 21, 2015

Mockup

Migraine day. Going to hibernate.

Posting this mockup for a project-in-progress.

Later...


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Rain and Cold

When we first arrived at Glacier National Park it was to a place that was obscured by a hideous pall of smoke and haze. There were forest fires blazing all around at various point within the Park and all around the Park and in vast conflagrations in states to the west of Montana (Idaho and Washington). Thus, the route we took to the Park to take advantage of the scenery (viewing the Rocky Mountain Front) was instead just an interminable drive through smog.

When we got to the Park and set up camp we quickly learned that we couldn't put up the awning on the trailer because the winds were blowing so fiercely. At first, the winds were just swirling the smoke around and making the hot air blow dust and dirt everywhere. However, as the daylight faded and the day wound down, the weather began to change. It got progressively cooler, and thick rain clouds rolled in...and by the time the night came on, it rained, and rained hard.

In the morning the sun came out and the low clouds lifted from around us...and we saw the peaks as we had hoped to see them all along.

The look of the Park when we first arrived. We wuz robbed!

By morning, the cold front had passed through after having dumped much rain on us. I awoke to find clouds shrouding the mountains and I waited for them to lift.

Oh, my.

As they are meant to be seen.

Across Two Medicine Lake.

Friday, September 18, 2015

THIRD BOOK

I'm now cruising along on the third of my books based on the characters first introduced in THE FLOCK. Hopefully, we'll have found a new home for THE CLAN (the second in the series) so I'm getting a good start on completing the third novel.

I won't reveal too much about the plot of the novel, but I will say that Ron, Mary, and Vance Holcomb once more find themselves facing a cryptic threat. But this one is completely out of left field, from a source they could never have expected. For once, they are not searching for it. Rather, it has come for them.

And this time the threat is not just a temporary danger to their personal safety. Now, there is something far more sinister afoot. Rising from both shadow and light, from fire and ice, comes the very real consequence of the extinction of Homo sapiens.

EXTINCTION EVENT
By
James Robert Smith

Chapter One.

The old man walked out of the forest after a very long time. He was tired and hungry and he needed a car.
When he emerged from the forest he was still engaged in thought and was not paying specific attention to the details of his immediate surroundings. The forest in which he’d hidden himself for so long was green and lush. His initial goal had been to hide as far as possible from the sights and sounds and smells of Mankind. In that he had achieved a small measure of success, but one was never completely out of earshot of airliners and fighter jets using the Georgia hill country for training maneuvers. And no matter how deeply you tried to hide yourself, the stench of machines invariably found its way to any particularly sensitive nose. And the old man’s nose was extremely sensitive.
His legs ached from the long hike out of the deep cove where he’d spent most of the preceding weeks. So he found a good spot and rested there, his squat body and current posture causing him to look fat, rather than robust.
He had spent many nights gazing up at the heavens when the skies were clear and the tree cover was not too overbearing. In fact, he’d found a spot deep in the woods beside a trout pool where an enormous poplar had fallen, causing a break in the ancient forest canopy. At that spot he’d been able to look up to see the starry sky.
And, as had been the case for many years, he’d been disappointed at the sight that was afforded him, knowing what he was being denied. The skies were pale versions of what they had once been. Man had blinded the dark orb of the heavens with the twin curses of particulate matter and light pollution. It had been too long since the old man had been able to look up and see the sky as Nature had intended it to be seen. This was something that concerned him, and this was something he intended to remedy and was why he knew the time was ripe. This was why he had come out of the forest, tired, anxious, and needing that car.
After a while, thinking of these things and of tasks that he needed to complete, he opened up the little backpack that was on the ground beside him and he took out a number of items:
One: a large piece of flint that was about ten inches on a side and five inches in thickness. It had been heavy in his pack as he’d climbed the hills, but he didn’t care about that.
Two: A bit of very hard and smooth river rock that he’d plucked out of a rushing creek he’d crossed a few days before. It fit perfectly in his hand and made an excellent hammer. It, too, had been heavy, but he hadn’t minded carrying it around for a while.
Three: A small section of deer hide that had been handled so often that it was shiny and limp, but still tough.
Four: A piece of deer antler that he’d fashioned into something like an awl. It, too, fit in his hand perfectly, though used for finer work than the river rock.
Then, sitting cross-legged as his father and uncle had taught him so long ago that no one would believe him if he’d volunteered the bizarre date, he placed the section of deer leather (he’d killed the deer himself) on his left thigh and then held the large chunk of flint in his left hand, resting his forearm and the burden of stone on that thigh which was protected by the leather.
In his right hand he lifted the river stone and paused, eyeing the large piece of sandy-colored flint, thinking about his options. The old man examined the flint as if it were a bit of matter ready to be rendered into something else, something more useful than a lump of dense, brittle rock. He thought of the heavy piece of stone and he sheared it apart in his mind, thinking of tools. The old man saw a knife blade, its edges sharper than the finest steel. His mind switched gears and he saw small scrapers, rounded shapes that would fit snugly between thumb and forefinger—a tool that one could use to shave hair from hide, or scrape muscle and dried sinew from that same hide or from bone. Thinking of other options he saw an axe, blunt on one side where he could either hold it in his thick and callused hand, or tie it to a wooden handle with some stout sinew or tough tree bark.
Gazing intently at the blank face of the flint, he could see stone awls, useful for punching holes or drilling through any number of things. It was a large piece of useful flint, and so he even saw the makings of several spear points, all currently hidden away behind the unmoving mask that was the virgin surface of his chunk of fine stone.
He thought. He created images in his head and wondered where the best place to strike.
And after a long while he raised his right hand, in which the hammer of very hard river rock was held, and he brought it down. Immediately a large flake separated from the hunk of flint. It was a shard that slid cleanly away from the motherstone, revealing a glassy, black facet of gleaming edge as sharp as the best scalpel. This will make a good cutting blade, he thought.
Then he brought the hammer down again and another bit of flint came away, and he was thinking as he worked, deciding what flakes of rock were to be saved and worked, and which to be left where they fell, discarded by him for all time. All the while, he thought of the faces of the men who had taught him these things—his father smiling and slapping his back so terribly long ago, his mother’s brother sitting close and showing him how to choose the right point and what angle to use to peel away the old, outer surface to reveal the prizes and gifts that each boulder of flint held within.

Lost in these thoughts and concerns, he had chosen to ignore the sudden presence that he’d sensed, albeit obliquely. When the first voice came to him, he sighed and looked up, mildly angry with himself for intentionally ignoring the intrusion on this last bit of solitude before he once again plunged into the crowd he knew as Mankind.
His eyes flicked upward beneath his brow and the rim of his hat. This hat was old and worn and was seeing the last of its useful days. A hat was yet one more thing that he would need as he turned his path toward the cities. He was a very unusual looking sort, and he found it important to hide his unique features beneath big hats with wide brims. No matter his red and wiry beard, his enormous cape of rough ochre hair; a good hat was needed to blunt the shock of his singular skull. Turning his face to his right, he listened to the pair of fellows muttering to one another as they walked toward him. Although they would have been shocked to know, he could hear each word they said quite clearly.
"Why did you bring us all the way out here, anyway?" The voice was keening, almost a whine. "I've never even been to this county and now we're out here in the middle of the frickin' woods. What are we going to do to score out here? Huh?"
"I don't know, I told ya. I just had a feeling. I cain't explain it, but I know we'll find what we need out here." The voices were coming closer, although he was lost in a meditation of sorts, a drawing in.
"Well, if we have to turn around empty-handed we're going to have to fuel up or run out of gas. And I don't think we have enough between us to fill the damn tank."
Then, a brief instant of silence as the two young men saw something. One of them especially was struck almost dumb by the sight, as if a vision in his waking dreams had suddenly taken form and substance.
“Look at that old man,” the taller of the two said. “I can’t believe we got this lucky.”
“I knew it,” Said the shorter. "I told you I had a feeling."
The old man looked at them as they walked toward him. Two Caucasian males. One a shade over six feet tall, one hundred and seventy-nine pounds. The other was, perhaps, five feet nine inches tall, also around the same weight. Both were slightly blonde-ish, their hair going to brown as they passed through their twenty-fourth year. He grunted as he watched them walk toward him. They were familiar with one another and had walked this particular path before. He would have grinned, but already he could feel the blood beginning to pound in his chest.
“Think he has any money?” The tall one was now picking up the pace. He was anxious to get started.
“Maybe. He’s either been camping or he’s lost. Either way he probably has something worth taking,” replied the shorter youth, moving up to keep pace with his companion.
When they were close enough so that they were assured that the old man could not duck into the forest and, perhaps, escape from the situation, the pair drew up and hailed him. He sensed their clumsy ruse and chuckled lightly to himself, feeling his heart pounding and his fingers itching to get things started.
“Hey! Mister!”
The old man looked up at them and met their gaze. The shorter of the two fellows wilted just a bit, unable to tell if the reddish hue he had seen was really the old man’s eyes, or just a trick of the late summer sun.
“Mister! I’m talking to you.”
The old man just continued to sit. He’d tensed, though, and was ready to move.
They walked up to him, towering over the old man who looked shorter than he really was. If he’d stood, he would have been taller than one of the youths and almost as tall as the other, but heavier by far than either of them. Once again, due to his unbelievably stocky build, bone and muscle was mistaken for fat.
“What are you doing, old timer?” It was the shorter of the pair, who was obviously the alpha male.
His eyes shaded from the light by the limp but wide brim of his hat. He peered up at them. Neither of the two interlopers could see those eyes, which was a bad thing for them. If they’d seen into them, they might have been able to turn and run. Doubtful, but it was possible.
“I’m flint knapping,” the old man told them, his voice very deep. The vibration from that voice seemed to pierce to their hearts, and he had a very strange accent that neither of them could place.
“Flint knapping? What the hell is that?” It was the other, the taller one. Immediately the old man did not like him.
“I’m working the flint,” he said, holding up the newly broken master from which he was creating. “I’m making knives, and scrapers, maybe an axe.” His eyes darted back to the chunks of obsidian that he’d already knocked from the mass. “Oh. And at least two spear points,” he added.
“That’s really stupid,” the tall youth replied. “Who the hell needs tools made out of rocks?” He sneered.
“Fuck it,” the pair’s leader said. He reached back and retrieved the pistol from where it was tucked into his belt slightly behind his right hip. The old man had already smelled the familiar scent of gun metal and oil. The kid at least kept his gun in working order, he realized.
“Hey, old man, we’re talking to you. You need to pay attention when we talk.”
If the ancient figure had wondered why he had plunged himself into the deep forest for meditation, he had to look no farther than this pair. He’d not even properly emerged from these woods and already he was under assault. It had always been so, and would continue thus, until he finally did something about it. And, he knew, the time had finally come. The seeds he’d planted almost twenty years before had come up, and the fruit was ripe on the vine. This was why he had come out, and this was why he needed a car.
The old man stood.
The pair halted in their tracks. The old man was taller than they had thought. Seated on the leaves, beneath the poplar tree, he had appeared short and quite fat. But now that he was standing to full height, they saw that he was not quite six feet tall, and the illusion of fat had been created by the amazing breadth of his shoulders and the density of his torso above a pair of bowed and muscular legs clad in faded jeans. And the man’s hands were huge—enormous knuckles like small hammers above thick, gnarled fingers adorned with cracked nails showing the dark crescents of days spent deep in the forest without benefit of soap and hot water.
The situation had become quite the unfortunate one for the two companions. The old man had become completely aware of them.
Billy Wayne Riddle and Toby Wishon were not, strictly speaking, local boys. They did, in fact, hail from a distance of three counties, the one that they called home bordering the Georgia/Alabama state line. This area was not unknown to them, but it was farther afield than they were accustomed when they were on the prowl.
And currently they were certainly on the prowl. Funds were not just low, but almost completely exhausted. Even Billy Wayne, who normally got the lion’s share of whatever they took, had a grand total of seven dollars in his wallet. Toby, his pal and backup, had three bucks and some loose change rattling around in his front pocket.
Of course they had the gun. That was what mattered. They had the gun and an old man in their sights. Maybe the old man was a bit bigger than they had at first assumed, but he was still just one old man. In the past, they’d sometimes had good luck accosting hikers at trailheads and at campgrounds that they could reach (or nearly reach, in this case) with Billy’s car.
After the initial shock of finally recognizing that the stranger’s physique was not lard as they’d first thought, but probably pure muscle, the two predators collected their wits and Billy Wayne rallied all the courage the pair of them would need. In unison, Toby following, they found the necessary will in their step and edged forward.
“Well, we can dispense with the bullcrap,” Billy Wayne told the old man. He held the pistol out, almost cradling it in his palm so that the gnarly fellow could see the .357 in all of its well-oiled mass. “My pal and I need some money, old fellow. And so you need to hand over whatever you have.”
Behind Billy Wayne, Toby stood and smiled, his clean-shaven face looking far younger than his twenty-four years. He might easily have passed for the blonde high school punk he’d been seven years before when he’d walked away from school forever, a grade shy of graduating.
The old man stood his ground and seemed to be glaring at the pair. He neither said anything nor made a move to comply with the demand that Billy Wayne Riddle had made. The leader of the pathetic outlaws felt a prick of impatience as the silence dragged on for another few seconds. Something was telling him to hold back, to keep a few extra feet of space between himself and the aged target, but he chose to ignore this tiny instinct scratching ineffectively at his brain.
“I ain’t going to tell you again, old man.” He cocked the pistol. He’d stolen the gun in one of his very first robberies. It had been in the glove compartment of a car that had been the object of a smash and grab when he was just nineteen years old. That gun had seen some action in the intervening years and he knew how to use it. He didn’t particularly enjoy firing it, but he had been known to do so when the situation dictated it.
“Just give us your wallet, old man,” Toby said, standing safely behind his pal. “Don’t make us shoot you.” Even though only Billy Wayne had a gun.
There were a couple more seconds of silence. Billy Wayne and Toby tried to see into the old man’s eyes, but the shade being cast by the tall poplar tree and the brim of the guy’s broad hat prevented them from getting a good read of his face. He was just a wrinkled, hairy, old man as far as they could tell. The barrel of the pistol began to edge toward the old man’s torso.
“All right,” the man said, his voice low and rough, like a heavy tire rolling over wet gravel. “I’ll give you my money.” And he reached slowly into his back pocket and when his hand came back to where the two robbers could see, it was holding a wallet. The wallet was thick and very fat. Green bills seemed to want to spring from it—it was that packed with money.
“Damn,” Billy Wayne Riddle said.
“Shit,” Toby Wishon added, his own voice low and whispered.
The old man held the wallet out. Billy Wayne tapped his companion in the gut with the back of his left hand. “Go get it,” he said to Toby.
Toby scrambled forward. His eyes were on the wallet that was barely able to fold in half, so heavy from the mass of greenbacks held within it. Even if every bill there was a one, it was still enough money to keep them going for a couple of days, at least. Booze and pills and gas money. If the bills were larger denomination...well, they’d never seen that kind of cash. Toby all but trotted up to the old man, his eyes glued to the wallet and not giving their victim a second thought as he focused solely on the cash.
“Gimme that money, jackass,” Toby grunted, reaching for the wallet. He felt his fingers touch the leather surface of it. He could all but smell the familiar and fleeting scent of the folding cash. Nearby a hornet buzzed on the thick, warm air. He tugged on the wallet, but it did not come free of the old man’s fingers. Toby pulled a little harder, but the wallet stayed put.
He locked eyes with the old man.
His first and only thought was that it had not been his imagination that the old man’s eyes had been red. They were. They would be forever for Toby, because the next thing that happened was that the old man let go of the wallet and in one impossibly quick movement he pushed the enormous crowbar fingers of his right hand through Toby Wishon’s forehead. The youth was instantly dead and his body was still crumbling to the earth when the old man leaped over it and was a blur headed toward Billy Wayne Riddle.
Riddle had seen something in the wake of that initial action. It had just been the merest hint of red. Something like a mist or spray moving out from Toby’s head. Whatever it was, it had been enough for Billy Wayne to raise the pistol a couple of more inches and squeeze off a shot.
“Damn,” said the old man. He was surprised to feel the bullet whiz past the space between the left side of his neck and his trapezius. The kid had been faster than he’d thought. Even so, it was far too late for the punk to do anything more than scream and die as he passed the flake of super-sharp flint through the youth’s neck, creating a cut so smooth and so deep that the thug’s head almost came off. Only the fact that his spine had not been cut through kept that head on those dead shoulders.
When the rage passed, the old man looked down. Both men were very dead, their spirits fled from their skulls. Blood littered the forest floor and bits of brain matter were scattered over the green of the logging road. Looking around, the old man retrieved his wallet and his small bag of items that still lay beneath the poplar tree where he’d left them. Pausing for just a moment, he riffled through Billy Wayne Riddle’s pockets until he found what he was looking for.
Well, he was still tired.
            But he had his car.



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Iceberg Lake Hike, Part II

In looking back, the walk to Iceberg Lake was probably the best one we took in the Park. This is because it was the day that was least obscured by fire smoke after the initial day of clearing. Also, it was also the day that we saw the most big animals in Glacier. The huge herd of Bighorn sheep amounted to quite a lot of poundage of wild critters.

Carole also enjoyed the walk quite a lot. I  had a hard time getting her to leave the shores of Iceberg Lake. Since it's a very popular hike in Glacier, there were a fair number of people there, but no so many that we ever felt crowded out. You could still find a nice, quiet spot to take it easy and not hear other voices. Subtracting, of course, those brave (or foolhardy) folk who had taken the opportunity to go swimming in the lake just as we arrived.

Also, we did see a couple of the signature icebergs still on the lake at that late date. While the biggest of the icebergs didn't seem that large, keep in mind that most of the ice mass in beneath the surface. So it very well could have been a respectable chunk of ice floating around out there.

I'm pretty sure this summit is called Iceberg Peak.

We were getting close enough to be completely awed by the giant walls of rock that make up the glacial cirque where Iceberg Lake is perched.

This was the lower lake. There are signs informing you that it is a protected area and off limits. For this reason, the vegetation leading down to the shores is pretty much intact and free of foot trails.

Finally, we arrive at Iceberg Lake. It was, indeed, as beautiful as we had been told.

This little fellow showed up to beg.

Walking down to the shore, we saw the clarity of the water.

The larger of the two remaining icebergs in the lake.

Looking back into the cirque as we took our leave.

Carole and Sharon. Carole really wanted to stay longer.

View as we descended the trail back to Many Glacier.

Trailside wildflower on the way out.

On the way back down.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Almighty Psyche

Writers are a strange lot. I used to attend conventions where I would meet and spend time with other writers. A lot of these people are, like me, rather quiet and of a mild disposition in a public setting. However, all writers have at least a decent amount of ego: hence the fact that they think that anything they pen is worthy of viewing.

When I would hang out with writers I would mainly find myself perplexed and disgusted by them. For the fact that I would find myself surrounded by these hyper-inflated egos. And I would then discover myself often standing on my temper with both feet, wanting to pop those egos like the extended balloons they so resembled in spirit. So I stopped attending these gatherings.

I haven't been to one in decades and I don't really miss much about them.

Which brings me to want to discuss, at least briefly, the idea of knowing how and when to walk away from an idea or a project.

One of my biggest obstacles as an author is trying to decide if  the muse has presented me with something of merit. And most writers will tell you that there is no shortage of ideas. Our minds are packed to bursting with ideas and all of them vying for the opportunity to escape and find their ways eventually to the page and, if possible, publication. The ideas come and go endlessly, with even the worst of them lingering as echos in the conscious and unconscious mind.

And that's the biggest problem: trying to decide if an idea is worthy of pursuit and labor, or whether it's a travesty that should be--as best it can be--forgotten and put down. (Too many writers don't know when an idea is awful, thus we have the monstrosity known as ebooks and self-publishing.) 

Sometimes an idea will occur to me and I will immediately decide that it's not worth my effort and I will let it pass. They're like the well-known herd of cats, never coming in an orderly queue, but bounding and scattering in a thousand directions, but all vying to be first and foremost.

Other times the idea will present itself as a reasonable candidate to be blessed with attention by the almighty psyche. And among those initial decisions are ones that deserve the time, and those that only seem to be worth that time.

Since time, really, is all that we have (as Bukowski always said), then the germ of a story or a
poem or a novel had best be really fine. If not, it's like the nagging boss, or the complaining neighbor, or the screeching relatives, or the barking dogs, or the demanding paper-pushers at City Hall. There are just so many hours in a man's life and no shortage of people and things waiting to snatch them from one's grasp.

Some ideas are like that. It will appear as a raging, beautiful beast, demanding to be set free. And the writer will take a first look at the thing, glorious and fine and powerful, obviously deserving of each and every second that impulse has dictated for it. One embraces the idea and goes to work.

And then...a thousand words later, ten thousand words later, perhaps a hundred thousand words beyond that decision, the writer steps back and takes a good, long, lingering look at what he has created from that nagging idea. One looks at the project that has consumed your inspiration like phosphorous on pure oxygen. Objectivity peeks in for the first time.

And that glorious creature is not so noble and not so grand. It is, in fact, a shaking, shivering, silly construct.

There, then, the author finds himself with a problem. Which view is the right one? Is the tale shining and gleaming and worth release into the wider world? Or is it a sick, pathetic, dying thing that should be put down and buried beneath a shroud of dark earth?

Knowing when to walk away from an idea sometimes comes later rather than sooner.




Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Video Mistakes

A bit of a break in the schedule today. (I'll get back to the Iceberg Lake posts later.)

Years ago when I started posting stuff on the Internet I soon had to make a decision about where to upload and secure my video footage. Back then there were a fair number of such sites and I had to make some choices. What I ended up doing was placing a lot of my videos at several sites to kind of hedge my bets.

I put a lot of my stuff on Webshots. Alas, that site was abruptly sold some time back and before I could retrieve my videos (some had been lost from my hard drive in crashes), those files were forever lost to me. A mistake in that case, but you takes yer chances.



Another site that I placed too much faith in was Google Video. I figured...damn, they're the biggest name on the Internet--I'm sure their site will always be safe.

Wrong!

I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I suspect that they cut a deal with Youtube and shut down in favor of working closely with the Youtube format. As it was, one day I received a notice that I had a certain amount of time to transfer my files from Google Video to Youtube. I dallied and mainly retrieved them all, but not quite. Again, I lost some material that I had also lost on my various hard drives.

Another one that I used was Photobucket. They're still around, but it became more and more difficult to post files from them to the various online venues that I like to utilize for my blogs and thoughts and fiction promotion.

These  days, I stick with Youtube. Mistake? Well, only time will tell. They seem to be in a unique position akin to a monopoly. I don't like monopolies, but you have to live with them sometimes. Amazon is a growing monopoly, and I don't like that, but if I'm going to  send people to buy my work online then I'm pretty much forced to point them to links to my books there. Sometimes you have little or no choice in practical matters. I am forced to take a similar view in relation to Youtube.

Now...one thing that I did have a choice about was whether or not to "monetize"  my venues on the Internet. So a few years ago I made the decision to do just that with my videos on Youtube. Almost the first week I did so I began to see ads that I would term offensive attached to my postings there. I know that some ads are targeted to your viewing habits, but how ads for products that not only don't I use but to which I am morally, philosophically, and politically opposed is a mystery. It was almost as if they were there just to anger me.  So I shut down the monetization option on my videos.

Then, a few months ago, it was suggested to me by a number of people that I monetize my videos again. As with monopolies, offensive ads were just something I would have to deal with to make some money from my works on Youtube. I'm a capitalist at heart, so I figured, okay. I'll do it. So I ended up monetizing every video I have on that site (which are considerable).

Weeks and months passed. I decided to check my stats and total up what I had earned with the many tens of thousands of hits my videos were racking up. Indeed, my moving images there had garnered an impressive array of views. I was eager to see how much I'd earned.

Imagine my surprise when I found that I'd earned exactly: zero dollars and zero cents.

What the heck??!!

Like all shyster organizations, Youtube has a system in place that allows them to make a lot of money from your work, but which also allows them not to have to legally share those profits with you. I compared notes with folk who have been doing this for a much longer time than I and discovered that Youtube had changed the rules arbitrarily. People who had been making a decent amount of money from their videos had now seen their income stream dammed at the source and all of the profits staying with the parent company.

Alas.

People who had been going to my videos to view them were having to sit through the damnable ads and all I got was nothin'. You all have my apology.

I cancelled the monetization option on my Youtube channel. At least I think I have. You never know with giant corporations like Youtube. Greedy men, like Nature, always find a way.

And here are some videos that I shot that I quite like and which are now once again available without stupid ads mucking up the views.

The exact point where I first got altitude sickness.

Probably the most magical moment I ever experienced in the wild.

Another great experience where every step was a note of rocky music.


The view from Mount Craig. Often overlooked online because it's the second highest summit in the eastern USA and not the highest. In fact, though, the views here are far superior than those from nearby Mount Mitchell which is less than fifty feet higher.

Feel free to peruse all of my videos.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Iceberg Lake Trail, Part I.

Probably the prettiest hike we took on the trip was the one to Iceberg Lake. It's a pretty darned popular day-hike in the Park, so one is rarely alone on the trail. Also, it's a relatively easy hike of ten miles round-trip with not a lot of climbing. There's a steep section in the first mile, but after that it's petty steady and easy going.

One thing that I can say about this hike is that there is a lot to look at. Some of the route passes through forest, but the lion's share is above tree line and through meadows and open country with limitless views. Since the surrounding peaks loom as vast walls of steep rock, you often feel as though you are in a tremendous amphitheater. This is completely true of the terminus of the hike in the huge glacial bowl where Iceberg Lake is located.

Iceberg Lake was obviously the location of a glacier in recent times. In fact, there's a pretty extensive snowfield that lies just above the lake, hanging on the rocky slopes even late into summer. And the lake is colored with "glacial flour" (finely ground rock) which is produced by glacial action and gives the water a striking emerald hue. In heavy snow years the lake stays full of the icebergs for which it is named, but since there was very low snow in the winter of 2014/15, we arrived to find only two very tiny icebergs floating around on the opposite side of the lake.

Also in normal years, the area is packed with wildlife. I'd been told that it was one of the best areas to see many of the Park's signature creatures. However, 2015 was anything but a normal year for Glacier National Park. We were lucky enough to have pretty clear skies. The forest fires were still holding off the day we made the hike and the air was barely tinged with smoke. It wasn't as clear as the previous day, but almost so.

As for the wildlife, we managed to see a grouse, several types of resident rodents, and a vast herd of Bighorn sheep.

Today I will post photos of the hike from the start until just before we arrived at the Lake.



I had stayed behind at the truck to work on my camera equipment while the others pushed on. So it took me  a while to catch up to them. Here was Andy and Bobby ahead of me as I struggled to find the rest of the group. The air was really clear that day and the views would stop you every few steps.


Scenery to die for.

Vast peaks rising all around us.

We happened upon this grouse. She was speaking to us constantly, or to her two nearly-grown chicks. She seemed very nervous to have us so near her babies, but the pair of youngsters hardly seemed to notice us.

This was the drop-off of a really high waterfall. But it was almost impossible to see it because it plummets into a very narrow chasm. Getting down to a spot where you could take an effective photograph would be difficult at best, and probably very dangerous.

As good a video as I could shoot considering my choices.

We got to a point where we could see ahead to the huge glacial cirque that hold the lake.

Nice shot showing the snowfields above the lake.

I like this shot. Indicative of the rugged terrain through which we were hiking.

And almost to the lake we looked up to see a truly vast herd of Bighorn sheep. The herd seemed to be composed entirely of ewes and lambs. If there were any adult males in there, I didn't see them. This is just a piece of the herd and is a crop of a telephoto shot. Currently I have only one low-quality telephoto lens and it frankly takes grainy photos at distance. When I can, I will purchase a better lens for long shots.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Highline Trail, Part III

At one point on the trail Bobby and Sharon told me to push on, since Sharon was pretty sick. So I headed on, climbing to the top of the pass only to find that the trail still angled up, although at not quite as severe an angle. Still, the going was steep and tough and in open country in hot weather. It was hard.

I paused at a few spots along the way, but I was eager to get to the Granite Park Chalet because at this point daylight was becoming a serious factor. By this time I was pretty darned tired and wasn't  stopping so much to talk to the odd person who I saw on the trail from time to time. Most of them had no packs and no water bottles with them, so I knew that I was seeing people who were staying at the back country chalet. At least I was getting close.

Finally, after one last climb I found myself at a meadow with the stairs leading up to the famous chalet. Yeah, even to get to the inn I was going to have to climb some big-ass stairs.

Once there, I tried to relax a little. I had no choice but to wait for Bobby and Sharon to catch up so that we could decide what to do. Worst case, I was sure the folk at the chalet could help us out in some way in case Sharon couldn't push on. So I just walked around the grounds, took photos, and admired the fantastic views from the chalet porch that I'd heard so much about. If only there hadn't been any smoke haze from the forest fires. I could see why those views were so well known around the world.

After a few minutes I walked back to the bottom of the stairs and lay back on the grass. Sooner than I expected, my hiking pals appeared. Bobby informed me that it was going to be up to me to get down the mountain in time to catch the shuttle back to Logans Gap. Sharon looked worn out and there was no way she would be able to keep up the pace we needed to set to get down the mountain in time.

Thus, I took the keys and began to move down the slope (which was, this time, the promised downhill march). I had to travel a little over four miles in roughly and hour and fifteen minutes to assure beating the shuttle to the stop. I only stopped a couple of times to take photos and catch my breath. The hike was very hot since the forests that had once clothed these slopes had been taken out in a really severe fire some years before. Once again I was hiking in full sun.

I have to admit that I made great time. I got to The Loop a little less than one hour after I'd left Sharon and Bobby behind. I got there a full thirty minutes before the shuttle. But I was exhausted, my hip was screaming at me, and I was not only out of water, but unable to replenish my supply of water, since the bathroom at the road consisted of a pit toilet only and there was no running water available.

Finally, the shuttle pulled in and I climbed aboard. The driver assured me that the shuttle at Logans Gap would wait for us before it pulled out to head to Saint Mary Visitor Center where the truck was parked. And he was as good as his word. After the long drive to the gap I switched shuttles and another long drive ensued until I arrived at Saint Mary. There, I drank probably half a gallon of water from a fountain before climbing into Bobby's kick-ass V8 American-made truck. That machine drives a lot different than my Nissan V6, let me tell you.

I hit Logans Gap just to make sure Bobby and Sharon had not found a ride up there and found that they had not, but that the parking lot was full of Bighorn rams looking for handouts from the smattering of tourists who were still at the gap at sundown. Then I headed down to The Loop where my hiking companions were waiting for my arrival.

From there, we drove back to camp where--as I've recounted--Carole had reported us all missing to the National Park Service. We couldn't blame her, since it was well after 10 pm before we got back to Two Medicine. By the next morning my hip was screaming volumes of pain at me, and let me know that such hikes are definitely not good for me until the root problem has been treated.

But it was a hell of an adventure.

Not just uphill...but a damned long way to go.

Lichens cover the rock face of this cliff.

This hoary marmot spent some time with us.

Nothing to do but just keep pushing on!

Fossilized streambed from many millions of years ago.

Finally! I reach the meadow just below Granite Park Chalet!


I pause to enjoy the sights and sounds.


The front entrance to the famous back country chalet.

Inside, folk relax.

The rooms. I wish a door had been open so that I could have taken a photo of the accommodations.

The view from the chalet porch.

Bighorn rams in the Logans Pass parking lot.