Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Phil Ochs is Gone.

Phil Ochs is gone.
Now, there...there was a brave man.

But he's gone now.
The darkness got him.
The bad guys got him.
The ignorance and hatred and want and greed.
All that took him down.

I still listen to his songs.
And I still hear his voice.
At the conclusion of many of those tunes...
you can hear the applause.

But he's still gone.
And the applause has faded into dusty memories.

Worse than that, though:
All of those hands that produced that applause,
all of those people willing to listen,
to hear the truth...

They're all gone, too.
One way or another...
they're all of them gone.

Phil Ochs.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hiatus? What hiatus?

Whoa. For those loyal readers who stop here to see what's up, my apologies. I have been ill off and on and haven't been able to post. Also, my computer modem was on the fritz. I had to use my cell phone and tablet to access the Internet and those are not, of course, conducive to posting material on this blog.

For today, just some images as place holders. I'll have some decent content online here in a day or so.

As everyone knows who heard my whining last year, the horrible fires in Glacier National Park in August of 2015 chased away most of the wildlife. This was one of only two bears I saw in the Park while I was there. This one was in Many Glacier and was VERY far away. Just a classic black phase black bear. He was, however, quite healthy and was already putting on fat for the winter ahead.

This is Big Spring in Missouri. One of the largest freshwater springs in North America. From a trip in 2008.

I took this one a couple of years back. When I was a kid gazing up at the Moon in expectation of the impending Apollo 11 Mission, I would have killed to have had a camera capable of this kind of image. Now you can buy a camera that can do this for $50 on Ebay.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Spider in a Falcon

Here's a true story that's been with me for over 50 years:
My favorite car my parents ever owned was a Ford Falcon. Just a great car. The thing I liked most was that it had a bright red leather interior. Could have been faux leather...I don't recall. But just this brilliant crimson interior. One day we were riding along and I was sitting in the back passenger seat looking out the window. Somehow, I noticed a movement at my left elbow and I looked down. In the leather upholstery was a tiny hole and inside that tiny hole I could see a spider...a black, black, black, black spider of the most amazing obsidian hue. In retrospect, it was probably a black widow. But the spider kept coming to the edge of the little hole and peering out, it's gleaming legs barely visible.
Then it hit me. Sometimes (this was the days before every car had factory-air as a given) flies would settle beyond the back seat and hunker down between the glass and the leather. I looked. Sure enough there was a big, fat fly back there. I caught the lazy bastard without killing it and...just out of curiosity...I offered it to the spider. Just held it up there at the entrance to the tiny hole.
Those bitch-ass spider legs REACHED out faster than light and grabbed that fucking fly! Took that sumbitch right on back there into the shadows.
Next day, I rode along once more and the first thing I did was catch a damned fly in the back window. Once again...I offered it up to the spider. Same reaction. SNAG!
I felt like I was doing a good deed. Also...and this was the neatest part...I had a pet spider! How freaking cool was that?
This went on almost every day for about two weeks. One day I caught a fly and placed it at the hole. Nothin'. I pushed the fly in a little closer. No reaction. I realized the spider was gone. Kaput. Fled the scene of the crime.
Not long after that my dad hit a whitetail buck while driving the Falcon at about 75mph on the Interstate. They got the car home somehow. I remember seeing the car in the back yard, the grill mashed in, the hood partially buckled, deer hair and deer blood all the frack over the damned thing. I'm not sure how they got it back to Decatur, but the insurance folk totaled it out and that was the end of the Ford Falcon. I never did get to see if any tiny black spiders hatched out of that tiny spider's den in the red leather upholstery.

Not the model my parents owned (theirs wasn't a convertible), but that was the interior color, by Jove.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Three of a Perfect Pair.

Recent video uploads of a 2013 trip to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

Our site at Grindstone Campground at Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Sometimes I have really weird, brief, vivid dreams. All of my writer pals like to talk about their dreams. I rarely do, but from time to time they're so bright in my mind when I awaken I scribble down my impressions.

Last night's dream. Very brief.

I dreamed a guy I knew died. I went to his house. I don't know why, because his death really didn't mean all that much to me. Finding myself in the kitchen I looked across the room and his wife was standing at the sink, her back to me. She was wearing this brilliant cobalt blue dress. I walked up to her and smacked her on the ass and said, "How's it goin', old woman?"

Then I woke up.

I woke up before this could happen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Good Old Linville Gorge

One place where I sometimes visit to escape from the city is the Linville Gorge Wilderness. There are days when I can even get away from crowds there. But you have to visit it on days when the weather is unpleasant and when it's not on a holiday. Being one of the most easily accessible wilderness areas in North Carolina with some of the most spectacular scenery on the east coast makes it a very popular destination with everyone from casual sightseers to hard-core backpackers and rock climbers.

One September day my son and I headed over there to do some day-hiking. We hit the Chimneys, look around Table Rock and then headed over to Hawksbill Mountain. For some reason, after all of my previous visits to the Gorge, I had never climbed Hawksbill. I would always have other destinations in mind and just never got around to bagging that peak. But on that day Andy and I marked that one off the list.

Finally, we drove past a trailhead to a well known waterfall to take a look. Then, as always, we had to head back home.

Andy at The Chimneys, looking back at Table Rock.

The day condensed into a few minutes of videos and photos.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

My Favorite War Movies.

I have read a lot of war history in my life. Everything from the battles of ancient empires pre-dating the Romans, to modern conflicts in the 21st Century. I've also seen a lot of movies about war. Again, older films that feature battles with men wearing primitive armor and slashing at one another with bronze weapons, to films featuring up-to-date GPS guided missiles and massive tanks with computerized targeting systems. (I won't mention films that carry robots and time machines, or dragons and magic. Those would be science fiction or fantasy films. Not part of the topic of today's blog.)

I'm not exactly sure why I watch war films. I'm not a soldier and I'm not particularly attracted to the subject of warfare as far as nationalism and conflict is concerned. I suppose I am interested because, as a writer, warfare is the very essence of story: personalities, conflict, and a linear progression.

For that reason there have been a number of great war movies that have inspired me at one level or another, or for a combination of reasons. Here, then, is a list of my five favorite war movies.

1: "Come and See". This a late Soviet film (1985) directed by Elem Klimov, written by Klimov and Alex Adamovich, and starring Alexi Kravchenko and Olga Mironova. The movie takes place over the course of an indeterminate amount of time but which stands in for the years during which the Soviet Union was initially overwhelmed by Nazi forces before finally wearing them down and turning the tables on their Fascist enemies.

The action seems to be within the borders of Belorussia which was victim to some of the most horrific of the racist atrocities of World War II. "Come and See" serves as a microcosm of the entire conflict between the Aryan occupiers out to exterminate the Slavic natives. The film is so monstrously effective as a tool of patriotic fervor that I found myself wanting to go out and kill Germans after I'd seen it. I'm not sure if this is the reaction Klimov was hoping for, but it's what I felt. This is, easily, the best war film I have ever seen.

Monsters walked the Earth.

2: "Fires on the Plain". This 1959 black and white Japanese film centers on the closing days of World War II from the point of view of an ill Imperial Japanese soldier in the Phillipines as the Americans are closing in. It was directed by Kon Ichikawa and was written by Natto Wada and based on a novel by Shohei Ooka. The movie stars Eiji Funokosha as the lost and wandering Japanese soldier.

Funokosha portrays a lowly Private Tamura who is suffering from tuberculosis and of no worth to his outfit. He is ordered to a hospital that does not wish to house him. He is further ordered to commit suicide if he cannot find shelter there. Twice refused sanctuary at the makeshift hospital he decides not to kill himself and instead marches out in the hopes of meeting up with a naval force that will hopefully rescue the starving, ill-equipped Japanese forces and return them to Japan.

Of course there are no Imperial Navy ships to rescue anyone and the tightening noose of American forces slowly closes in on all of the Japanese soldiers trying to make their ways to the coast and the ships which are never coming to remove them. The scenes of savagery and violence and despair that Tamura encounters are the very breath of horror and depression. And, strangely, in the midst of it all Ichikawa finds a way to instill a few moments of mirth along the way.

I first saw this movie when I was a child...on Public Television. Although the horrific imagery stayed with me all of my life, I did not see the movie again until recently. It's a solid second place on my list. (This 1959 film was remade for some reason in 2014. As with most remakes...why did they bother?)

Funokosha as Pvt. Tamura.

3: "Attack" is a 1956 film directed by Robert Aldrich, adapted for screen by James Poe from a play by Norman Brooks. The cast is about as good as it gets for this period of American films when it comes to character actors. The star of the film is Jack Palance who plays the battle-hardened Lieutenant Joe Costa. He obeys his orders and excels at killing Nazis, but is tired of being forced to risk his men to the whims of his drunken, cowardly commanding officer, Capt. Cooney played by Eddie Albert.

The play on which the screenplay is based is heavy-handed in its anti-war stance, but effective nonetheless. It doesn't hurt that all of the acting in the movie is about as good as it can be under the direction of Robert Aldrich in one of his best moments as a director. And even with great actors like Lee Marvin as a cynical major, Richard Jaekel, Buddy Ebsen, William Smithers, Robert Strauss and others, Palance stands out. His portrayal of the killing machine US Lieutenant focuses the story in such a way that makes the whole film far more memorable than the script likely deserves.

One thing that I was impressed by was that the 1954 play seems to presage the phenomenon of American enlisted men "fragging" their officers during the war in Vietnam. Either this kind of thing happened in the Second World War and served as fodder for Norman Brooks, or it was a brilliant bit of prescience on the writer's part.

Palance as Lt. Costa.

4: "Patton". I speak to very few people who have not seen "Patton" at least once. George C. Scott dominates the color scenery in this movie like few actors are ever able to do in any film in their career. I hope he kissed Franklin Schaffer's ass for allowing him to chew the scenery to brilliant effect in this intensely watchable scream of propaganda. Just as "Attack" was an anti-war yarn, "Patton" is a big-foot monstrosity of pro-war bullshit, yelling the so-called honor of warfare from the highest peak and promoting a total bastard of a man as some kind of wondrous hero with flaws that are so sweet they bleed gold. As a kid I bought every second of it, and as an adult I still cannot make myself turn from the screen when I walk into a room and seeing it playing on a TV screen. It's that effective a film and that fine a performance from Scott as the bloody bastard, Patton. Karl Malden does a pretty good job (as Omar Bradley) of trying to make one forget that the star of the movie is George C. Scott, but his skill is so subdued and so human that he doesn't stand a chance against a cad like Patton.

Try to watch this movie once in your life and never again. It would be a difficult task.

Propaganda. About as good as it gets.

5: "Kagemusha" by Akira Kurasawa and starring Tatsuya Nakadai. This film about 16th Century Japanese intrigue and violence between warlords variously battling to unify Japan, or to keep it as independent feudal states is another of my favorites. As a Kurosawa film it is eye-popping in its visual beauty. But swimming about on the surface with these images of vibrant color is a tremendous story of intrigue, connivance, ingenuity, and the accidents that most humans have come to call "fate".

Nakadai plays a dual role here. Both the brilliant tactician warlord Takeda Shingen, and the lowly Kagemusha of the title. The genius of war, Shingen, is shot and mortally wounded by a clever sniper using an arquebus. Before the great lord can die, his retainers recruit a lookalike to stand in for the warlord and Kagemusha must not only look the part, but be trained to act as a brave leader would at the head of his armies.

This film combines hope and fatalism in a unique way and one does not know how the chips will fall until the final minutes of the story feed out. Expertly helmed at the peak of Kurosawa's power as a director and cinematographer, the tale is also unique and powerful under his hand.

Tatsuya Nakadei as Kagemusha.

Friday, August 05, 2016


We just reserved a spot at one of our favorite campgrounds. Late Fall. We haven't been back there in quite some time. In fact, not since we had our old white Nissan Frontier. We're really looking forward to getting back there. In fact, we even got the same campsite we had the last time were stayed there! Woo-HOO!

Carole and our reliable Casita the first time we went there.

Plenty of trails, plenty of waterfalls.

Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

A Bad Hike.

I think I posted about this hike some time back when I returned from it. Normally, my hiking trips are great. Never a bad moment. But this hike was different. On this hike I encountered...horseback riders.

Now, hiking on trails that are for horses and hikers is problematic. Horses do a tremendous lot of damage to trails. You would have to hike such trails to know what I'm talking about. They are huge, heavy creatures who walk on their toenails, so they really dig into the earth and break it up, causing trails to become mudpits and creating truly nasty erosion.

And it's not the horses that bother me. I like horses. Amazing critters. And it's not horse poop that gets on my nerves.'s barely digested grass and plant matter. It doesn't bother me.

What does bother me is the combination of the trail damage...and the assholes who ride the horses. Most of the people who get outdoors by way of horses are, by and large, jerks. They are loud, obnoxious, rude, often bellicose, and just pretty much a lot of self-centered assholes. As I discovered when I did this hike in the Mount Rogers Recreation Area so that I could bag three summits that had been on my list for years.

That day I encountered a LOT of groups of horseback riders. In fact, I didn't see any other hikers or backpackers, but scores of horseback riders, all moving along in various parties. They were all...except for one group right at the end of my hike...a pile of total freaking assholes. A lot of them were carrying firearms. A couple of them went out of their way to let me know it. I hope never to bump into these kinds of scumbags on the trails again.

One trail was so damaged that the Forest Service had to put up this warming sign.

I couldn't hike through this shit. I tried and sank in almost to my knees. Once I got out I found the only way to proceed was to bushwhack through the forest. I spent about a mile each way doing this.

I bag the peaks.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

New Video, Old Trip.

I compiled images and video footage from a 2013 trip. This was a nice visit to Grindstone Campground in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in southwest Virginia.

I'm not sure who invented the concept of the National Recreation Area, but it was a good idea. It creates a park-like construct within an area that probably deserves National Park status but for which the political will is lacking to create a new Park. So what you get is the combining of existing recreation infrastructure into a larger unit, some of which is run by various government agencies, but all of which is under the guiding hand of the National Forest Service or the National Park Service.

One drawback is that a National Recreation Area does not have the protections of a National Park, but they do offer wonderful access to campgrounds, trails, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, etc. In my region, one of the best of these is the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. We've been visiting it for many years and I have still not come close to seeing all of the features I want to see.

Our Casita at Grindstone Campground.

Much to see and do!