Monday, November 13, 2017

Suckage.

The television show "The Black Mirror" sucks ass. Friends and acquaintances need to stop recommending that lame, obvious, bloated bullshit show to me.

Once again, "The Black Mirror" sucks ass.

It needed to be said. You can go now.

To Hell with this stupid, damned show.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

HP Lovecraft

I was both horrified and amused in recent years as a cadre of sick, twisted, authoritarian no-talent shitheads did their damndest to remove the image of HP Lovecraft from a mildly well known (but largely insignificant) literary award. Every few days the Internet would bring me the news of what these almost brainless louts would have to say about how the little bust of Lovecraft enraged them, or made them angry, or--and this was the best--offended their odious, worthless sensitivities. (This is their code word and their mantra. Things offend them.)

Alas, these punks succeeded in their stinking efforts to remove Lovecraft's name and image from their tiny circle-jerk awards ceremony. Well, I suppose they enjoy lathering the Vaseline upon one another's nether regions every twelve months. Let them have their moment of disgust.

After this went down I kept seeing one after another of these talentless shitheads droning on and on about what they term Lovecraft's worthlessness as a person and a writer or, if they were feeling magnanimous that day, the overrating of his body of work.

Yes, even Lovecraft's most ardent fans will readily admit that his purple prose is an acquired taste and that his fiction is sometimes riven with racist imagery. It was, as they say, a product of its time, and HPL was a result of his era and social station. That does not remove the importance of what he did any more than what any flawed human being did in their life both within and outside of their art. I don't see any of these morons trying to burn down Allen Ginsberg or Will Eisner, both of whom have awards created in their names, both of whom are guilty of offensive actions in their professional and personal lives.

At any rate, this all got me dwelling on what it was about HP Lovecraft that made him and his fiction so important and so influential. The following is why his stories became such seminal works. In addition the fiction of the anti-Lovecraft louts will be totally and utterly forgotten the second they are dead or otherwise unable to engage in their magical circle-jerk. And the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft will still be published, will still be read, and will still be imitated, will continue to influence many writers who will come.

And this is why Lovecraft and his works are deserving of respect.

Here's the thing about Lovecraft: He was an atheist. An adamant atheist. He believed in not one speck of the supernatural. Nothing. They also called themselves at that time, "realists". If it could not be detected or proven, then it was likely false.

So...a truly guilty pleasure of Lovecraft's was supernatural fiction. He loved the stuff. He reveled in it. Combined with his ironically Puritan ethics, such guilt must have driven him close to bats struggling with the incongruity of it all.

Thus, to assuage his guilt and put the matter to bed, he was struck with the spark of brilliance to create fiction in which the supernatural was given a SCIENTIFIC origin and principle.

This is the genius of Lovecraftian fiction. It puts the shade of supernatural within the realm of what is real. There is no magic, only science. There are no gods, only alien beings. Evil has no place; but cosmic indifference to squalid, tiny, insignificant Man rules the universe.

Therein lies the art of what Lovecraft did with horror/supernatural fiction. Nothing was the same after he created his literary work. It has dominated horror fiction and fantasy since the day he began to publish these works.


The whiny cadre of modern literary worms care not one whit for art. They only bother about themselves, all of whom will soon be forgotten and extinct. I have no doubt that they would dearly love to burn Lovecraft's books, but that would be too obvious.


The busts--created by artist Gahan Wilson--which so offended the worms.


Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the writer whose works offended the worms.

And yet, somehow, some way, for some reason, the man who created this image fails to upset any of the worms. They are not, for some inexplicable reason, offended by his name and reputation being touted and announced and celebrated every year for another award largely among a similar and connected genre literary ghetto.



Hideous, offensive, racist image created to demean and dehumanize, from the pencil and pen and mind of Will Eisner. Somehow I don't hear any voices raised over this offensive image of a widely published character that influenced millions of people in its day. Why is that?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Beauty from Disaster.

My last two trips to the North Carolina high country were to a pair of areas that are actually parts of the same ecosystem and lie cheek by jowl. The two are at very high elevations with one slightly lower (relatively speaking) than the other.

The first of the two I chose to visit was Graveyard Fields. It's located adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway and is an extremely popular spot on that National Park-administered roadway. The first thing that strikes you about the place when you hear about it is its name: Graveyard Fields. How the heck did it get such a macabre term to describe it? As simply as possible, it got that way due to Mankind's tendency to create ecological devastation.

In the case of Graveyard Fields what we have is an enormous, flat, high elevation valley. The mean altitude there is roughly 5,100 feet above sea level. For eastern USA that is extremely high for a valley of this type. It sits on the northern shoulders of the highlands that are among the tallest in the state. Several peaks of over 6,000 feet above sea level loom over the valley. And the floor of Graveyard Fields is wide and moderately level creating a vast plateau where streams meander in shallow pathways that are almost without banks and nearly forming braided patterns like some western streams down in glacial valleys.

So...how did it get that name? Well, we can thank the rapacious timber companies of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries for that. When railways came to western North Carolina and penetrated the high country (thanks to government sponsored tax dollars), the timber firms found that they at last had access to the highest and most rugged territory in eastern North America. Finally, the timber barons could get their mitts on those untold thousands of square miles of virgin hardwood and evergreen forests. And grab it, they did!

Over the course of a few decades those companies turned untouched forests of cove hardwoods and dark spruce expanses into ruined clear cuts. They left nothing but stumps and dead limbs and took out the vast trees that had stood tall and strong since before Europeans had set foot on the continent. Within the blink of an eye they left the forested summits and peaks as denuded, ruined landscapes.

The mountain men who had ended up in the high country after chasing away and killing the native Cherokees looked upon the valley and, seeing no trees but only the shortened stumps of the trunks that had once greeted them, instead saw something else--a gigantic graveyard full of dark tombstones stretching toward the heights. How fitting that they saw death where once had been life.

The same fate befell the enormous mountain peaks that rose above Graveyard Fields, which I hiked a week later. One of the tallest of these peaks is Black Balsam Knob. At 6,214 feet above sea level, it had been named for the dense forests of red spruce and Fraser firs that had clothed it in forests so lush and so dark that from a distance they appeared not green, but black. Black like shadows. Black like the rich, peaty loam that fed and sustained those trees. The timber barons took them all, leaving nothing whatsoever. No patches of forest to replenish the land. No seed stock to repopulate the ridges. For the first time since the last Ice Age these giant eastern peaks were bare of forests and were suddenly just dirt and stumps and the drying trash of wizened limbs lying on the ground like flammable tinder.

And, as was repeated over and over up and down the spine of the high Appalachians, these very tall summits and ridges were struck by drought. Streams dried up. Springs failed. The skies did not give up rain and the remains of the vast forest cuts became like matchsticks, the once moist peaty soil like parched brick.

After that, all it took was a single lightning-generated spark.

Those high lands went up. The mountains became a roaring Hell. The stumps burned. The limbs cast aside like trash were like fuel in a fireplace. Even the soil, once several feet deep, packed with carbon similarly burned not unlike a vast thousand-mile blanket of coal. Yes, the dirt burned until all that was left of the ecosystem that had birthed the forests were mountains from horizon to horizon cooked down to rocks and the most basic of mineral soils.

And, of course, eventually the rains returned. Gully-washers. Cloud bursts. Thunderstorms. Floods vast and powerful swept these great mountains and if there was any soil left to feed any returning vegetation it went flowing down the creeks and valleys toward the lowlands, fouling the waters, wrecking the fisheries, sending the stored centuries of fertility down and down toward the coast where it was wasted in the seas.

After that, there was nothing black at all about Black Balsam Knob.

Graveyard was indeed a fitting term for what remained.

It has been well over one hundred years since the timber barons raped these mountains and scoured away everything of value that was growing in this place. And the winters at these altitudes are severe. The heights are raked with powerful prevailing winds and shocked by ice and snow and temperatures that rival those one would expect a thousand miles to the north. Even if the grasses and shrubs could find some sustenance among the rocks and rubble, the cold adds yet another barrier to the recolonization of these ridges by the forests looted and gone.

These days what one sees in the heights we call the Shining Rock Wilderness is a false kind of alpine environment. Our southern Appalachians--even our highest peaks above 6,000 feet--do not create true alpine zones. But exposed here due to environmental rape and harsh winters and denuded soils we have false alpine spots. Shrubs and grasses have managed to come back, and there is the beginning of a new topsoil just starting to form itself again. The spruce and firs are merely starting to poke their needles toward the skies. It will probably take two or three hundred additional years before the stone and sand of Shining Rock and Black Balsam Knob will be clothed in a dark, green, billowing cloak of verdant forests.

Yes, there's a kind of beauty there in the open vistas and grassy flats. But one must understand that it is there because of a monstrous crime; the rape of Mother Earth.


No balsams these days on Black Balsam Knob.

The soils that have been built up are shallow and fragile and easily eroded.

Foot traffic reveals that just below the inch of so of soil is an even more shallow layer of easily removed sand.

In Graveyard Fields one sees some patches of beeches and spruce trees beginning to make a presence.

In the flat, damp expanse of Graveyard Fields some shrubs and grasses have established dominance.


Hiking in Shining Rock, Part I.


Hiking in Shining Rock, Part II.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wandering

Since Carole's health is pretty much back to normal I went on a one-day hike on Monday. I traveled up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and parked at Graveyard Fields where I wandered around that unusual high-elevation valley to see a couple of waterfalls and to drive up to the Shining Rock Wilderness trailheads to take some photos. After that I drove toward Looking Glass Rock to hike to the base of the cliffs where the rock climbers go to scale the mountain.

Briefly, that filled my day. I'm hoping to head back to the high country early next week. Maybe for an overnight backpacking excursion in the same general area.









Saturday, October 14, 2017

Art Imitating Life

When my wife and I were first married we flew up to Maine for a vacation. One day we drove to Lubec to visit an old pulp writer I knew (Ryerson Johnson who--among many other jobs--used to write the old Doc Savage stories). After we stayed with him a while we drove out to West Quoddy Head Island to see the famous lighthouse. As we were driving along the causeway we looked out to sea and noticed a weather phenomenon you would have to have witnessed to believe. It was so visually horrifying that it felt like my guts froze solid. We pulled over on the deserted stretch of road and climbed out of the car to look at it. Trying to describe it is a worthless act. You'd have had to have been there.

Out on the ocean--the COLD North Atlantic--was what appeared to be a solid wall of white, as if sheared off with geometric perfection, flying along the surface of the ocean and extending high into the sky. No imperfections. No iterations. Just this solid wall of white headed for us across the vast, dark sea; as if someone had used a giant ruler to create it.

"What is that?" I barely heard my wife ask.

"Some kind of front. I think. I've never seen anything like that. I've never HEARD of anything like it."

We nervously climbed back into the car and drove on to the island where the lighthouse was located. By then the front had reached us, and by then we were in the trees and so had been spared seeing it actually arrive. We got to the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse parking lot and stopped. The fog was so thick that visibility, even in daylight, was a few feet. We could only see the lighthouse when we got out and walked right up to it along the pathway.

After about fifteen or twenty minutes the fog began to lighten a little. Not enough for it to vanish, but visibility was better and it actually felt like the sun was somewhere above us.

A few years after that I read Stephen King's novella "The Mist". In that story he describes something almost exactly like what we saw on the causeway. I wonder if King was around there that day. If not, then it must mean that this kind of thing happens now and again in Maine.

Frankly, even though at the time I kind of knew what it was, I really don't ever want to see it happen again. It was that disturbing a sight.

(This is where we were headed. I didn't take the photo of West Quoddy Head Lighthouse.)


As a point of silly trivia, the easternmost point of land in the USA is WEST Quoddy Head Island. This is because EAST Quoddy Head Island is in Canada.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shazam!

I was recently told that there is a serious movement afoot to make a feature film about the very early superhero character, Captain Marvel. Not the one from Marvel Comics, but the original character once published by Fawcett Publications. DC Comics sued them in the 1950s because the book (and all of its spinoff titles) had become more popular than Superman. DC argued that Fawcett had intentionally copied Superman and so they took the matter to court. They won. Why? Because, under oath, the team of writers and artists who had put their heads together to come up with what were then called "costumed characters" admitted that they had been instructed to do just that: come up with something as similar to Superman as they could make it.

The loss of the lawsuit put Fawcett out of business. At the time they were one of the most successful and popular comic book publishers on the planet. One month their books were on the stands making tons of money, and the next they were gone. DC's win, in essence, gave them ownership of Fawcett's titles and characters. Their wish was to quash Captain Marvel, and that's exactly what they did, burying the superhero for well over a decade.

But that's not what I wanted to cover here, very briefly. The thing I wanted to mention is that one of the creators in that room--the artist CC Beck--was known for using movie stars upon which to pattern the physical appearances of his characters. For whatever reason, at that time he considered that the then-youthful Fred MacMurray was the perfect physical type to be a superhero.


And so, he illustrated Captain Marvel (SHAZAM!) to resemble MacMurray.

The inspiration.

All in color for a dime.


Sunday, October 08, 2017

TV

My wife has been ill lately and so I haven't been able to go hiking as I normally would do. Needing to be closer to home I have turned to reading and watching TV and movies for leisure activities. Thus, I have been able to buy some new books and sit in front of the television and watch some shows.

One TV series that I watched was the AMERICAN GODS show on streaming video. I watched all of the episodes and what held me was not so much the premise or the scripts or any deep characterization or messages, but a few bits of good acting and casting choices.

The series (as was the novel) is based upon the idea of the fading away of the old gods (Nordic, Greek, various African, Asian, etc.), and the rising of newer deities based on the obsessions that modern humans have with technology (TV, computers, iphones, etc.). It's not a terribly clever premise and to tell you the truth I was not impressed with it either in prose or television format.


One of the big reveals in the series is the person of one of the major characters, Mr. Wednesday. We know he is a supernatural being, that he is a very big deal, but the average person is supposed to not know who he really is. Great Jove, I hope that people are not that simple-minded and stupid, but I suppose this is true. Ian McShane portrays Odin/Wotan about as he should be portrayed. It's rather a predictable performance...but you know what? I kind of enjoyed watching him do it.


The main protagonist is a man named "Shadow Moon" played by an actor named Ricky Whittle. He's an atypical liberal wet-dream kind of a cypher and I was not impressed by either that character or the actor doing the role. He's a decent enough performer, but there is nothing inspired in said performance. It's all very workmanlike. I also wearied of Shadow Moon constantly being amazed and bewildered by the things he was seeing when it had already become obvious for anyone else that he was walking amidst various gods and demons and their metaphysical hangers-on.


And this is what bugged me most about the series, and about Gaiman's writing in general (ever since his days penning perfectly precious comic books for goths and liberal goofs): there's nothing original there. It's all a reflection on things that have gone before, created by civilizations great and minor and being hauled out and fluffed up for modern viewing. Nothing new. All kind of tired and pathetic, really.


After a few episodes of this ceaseless copping of various cultures, all while being used to hammer us ceaselessly with the idea that conservative thought is bad and liberal speak is good, I began to grow very, very weary of it. But I kept going, more out of curiosity of how the actors might perform than by being hammered over the skull with one bleeding heart opinion after another couched in the language of the holier-than-thou smirk.


One episode which seemed at first to go completely off-rail--almost like something David Lynch would do--was a flashback to the 1700s wherein we are given some really waaaaay back back-story for Laura Moon (Shadow Moon's wife), featuring her great-great-grandmother hailing from Ireland and ending up in the New World. What this episode was revealed was nothing more than a condensed retelling of The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders penned, it is said, by Daniel Dafoe. Again...this is the kind of thing about Gaiman's work that grates on my every last nerve. The dredging up of classic mythology and classic literature to use as substrate for his modern fiction. There's something there that I find rather dishonest in it all.


Still, that episode did obliquely co-star the character of Mad Sweeney who is actually a leprechaun who features prominently in almost all of the episodes. We see him a couple of hundred years ago and understand a little of perhaps why he keeps showing some amount of guilty attention toward Laura Moon. Still...it shouldn't have taken the hijacking of Dafoe's work to do that. Pablo Schreiber (half brother of the more popular and well known Liev Schreiber) regularly turns in the best acting in the show as Mad Sweeney. So there was that.


Later in the season--and I was waiting for it--there was an episode that reveled in its debasement of Christianity and the person of Jesus Christ. While I am not myself a Christian, I am always irked to see how the liberal set like Gaiman and company rarely sidestep a chance to make light of Christianity as rudely as they can. I could almost understand it if it was coming from the pen of an adolescent recently freeing himself from the yoke of tradition and the pedestrian. But this is all supposed to have been written by adults. Well...maybe emotionally stunted adults, or folk with a specific agenda to sell.


As I said, I kept watching because the series does have some good actors putting in some fine work. I never get tired of seeing what Peter Stormare brings to the screen, and his portrayal of Thor is good, with a helping of the humor he generally brings with him. Chloris Leachman is strange and vulnerable as an aging goddess. Crispin Glover is his usual, creepy, demented self as Mr. World, the top of the pyramid of neo-gods. And Gillian Anderson does some good scenes as Media, a kind of Hera to Mr. World's Zeus. Some scenes she does amazingly well, and others she shoots for the stars and falls back to low Earth orbit. But that's better than most actors.


All in all, it kept me from being totally bored when I wasn't reading, writing, or working my part-time job. But given the choice, I'd much rather go hiking or discover a new author to keep my mind busy. I doubt I'll bother to stream the series next season. (I will assume there will be a next season.)



"Mr. Wednesday." Oh my! Who could he really be?!




Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Crazy Stuff

Thinking back on my life as a kid, I am amazed that I lived past the age of ten. Daily life sometimes seemed to be a series of near-fatal mishaps. Seriously. The shit little dumbass boys do. How the hell do male children survive? If mothers knew the totally insane and dangerous shit their male offspring do when their parents aren't around, they'd probably all have heart attacks.
One time when I was nine or ten I climbed up this giant granite road cut (in Decatur GA--same granite formation that created Stone Mountain). The engineers had routed a road so that the construction crews had to blast and slice through a granite outcrop and there was then about a 30-foot high cliff beside the road. One of my pals said that we should scale it. Like mountain climbers going to the top of an ice-capped summit.
I liked that idea. Of climbing a mountain and reaching high above treeline where the snow never melted. It didn't matter that I lived just outside Atlanta and it was summer with no hint of temperatures under 88 degrees. To an adult mind the fantasy of snow and glaciers was silly. But I was a kid. Hell, yes, I figured. That seemed like a perfect idea. Let's climb that sumbitchin' cliff!
So, up we went. First there was a grassy embankment that probably sloped up to something akin to a pitch of about 40 degrees. But there was plenty of green blades of grass to hold to keep from sliding or falling down. Enough of a purchase to get us up to the granite where we could find handholds and ledges to put our feet. Just at the edge of the rock I was having doubts (I had looked down--big mistake). But somehow I made it up until I was at the granite and about ten feet above the road.
I looked down again. My pal--a kid named Paul I knew from school--was back at the road on safe, level ground.
"What the heck, man?!"
"It's too steep," he yelled up to me.
"You didn't even make it to the rock!" I wanted to tell him that he was a fucking asshole, but I didn't.
He shrugged.
Hell with it, I figured. I was already committed. So up I went.
At first it was easy. The road crews had left wide ledges from their blasting and jackhammers. You could almost stand on them. Not quite, but almost. I kept climbing. After about ten more vertical feet I got to a point where the places to hold on were getting sketchy, and my tennis shoes were on little outcrops that extended only deep enough for my toes--maybe an inch more. And then I did the stupid thing again.
I looked down.
Paul wasn't only not climbing anymore, he was gone. And I saw that the drop was not like the grassy slope at a disturbing but survivable 40-degree inclination--it was straight the fuck down. Like Wile E. Coyote down. Puff of dust and broken bones down. I could then see myself falling, but not getting up. I felt the fist of mortality squeezing my guts and a voice inside my fragile cranium telling me that I had fucked the goddamned fuck up.
Holy shit.
I couldn't hug the face of the artificial cliff, but I did as near an approximation of that as I could. I pushed up as close to the surface of that warm Georgia granite as possible, trying to meld with it, squinting my eyes and wondering how in the name of Steve Ditko I was going to get down.
The next thing I did was also stupid. I looked up. Holy Jesus. I was only halfway to the top. And the handholds were just as crappy. I squinted my eyes and wanted to scream. Cars below me were whizzing by, oblivious to the dumbass kid clinging to the rock face above them. Or maybe not oblivious, but just terribly amused.
What the hell was I going to do? How was I going to get down?
And here's the thing.
I have zero recollection of how I did get down.
None. Zilch.
All I can tell you is that I did get down, or maybe up. It's possible that I climbed the rest of the way up and bellied myself over the edge of the cliff to the pine forest above. Or maybe I edged to my left, closer to that crazy-steep grassy incline and came down that way. I seriously have no freaking idea how I got down. I seem to have blotted it from my mind.
Sometimes, when I'm half-awake and recalling that moment of extreme but also somehow average moment of male-child stupidity, my thoughts veer off into a dark world created by Philip K Dick and I'll muse that I didn't get down. I'll start to think that somewhere between climbing the rest of the way up, or edging my way to the grass and scooting down that embankment of green chlorophyll vegetation...well...that I fell to my death and that the rest of my life is just a way Death gave me to soften the blow. What if that kid Paul saw it happen and went screaming for someone to scrape his dumbass pal's bloody corpse off of the side of the road? What if that is the way it went down and the Grim Reaper just gave me a confusing dream to make it all a little less cruel?
And so here I am waiting to hit the pavement at some point.

What my spider sense really told me was that I had just totally fucked up.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Hornet was a Total ASSHOLE!

When I was 15 years old my parents were building a house on the 120 acres they had bought in the mountains of north Georgia. One day I was sitting at the picnic table my dad had built (everyone else was gone...to town to pick up building supplies I think)...and I was just chilling out, meditating. All of the sudden this GIGANTIC fucking hornet landed on my right forearm. Just came out of nowhere and landed on my arm. This bitch was HUGE! Emotionally, she looked about as big as my fist.

Okay, I thought. She's sitting there. I'm sitting here. If I just old still she won't sting me. There's no reason for her to sting me. I'll just hold still and wait for her to fly away.

And that is the precise moment she stung the FUCKING SHIT out of me!!!

Now, let me say right off that most stings don't bother me. All of my life I have spent a lot of time outdoors because that's where I like to be. Subsequently, I have been stung by everything you can think of: honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, yellowjackets, dirt daubers, red wasps, scorpions, you name it. And because I have been stung so many times by so many critters I have built up something akin to a dull acceptance of being stung. I don't stress out when it happens and I deal with the pain easily--so easily that stings generally only hurt me for a few seconds before the pain fades.

But this hornet...oh. my. fucking. god.

IT HURT!!! Great Humping Jove, it hurt! When she stung me she immediately took flight so that I couldn't have killed her no matter how much I'd have wanted to. But that wasn't foremost on my mind. What I was worrying about was the pain!!! I cannot describe it. As I said, most stings don't bother me that much--red wasps really hurt, but even that was nothing like this.

Pain shot through my entire arm. From my forearm where she stung me all the way to my shoulder and down into my fingers. I mean, she really laid that stinger deep into my flesh. The entry point was livid with an almost blood-red target right at the center where the stinger had plunged through the skin. I ran onto the screened-in porch and found a jug of cool water and poured it over my arm, which began to swell until it looked like a ping-pong ball had been lodged under my flesh.

I didn't know what kind of hornet that was, but I have been happy in the intervening 45 years that I have never encountered another one.



This is likely the species of hornet that stung me. There is only one native species that lives in Georgia: the Bald faced hornet. From my 45-year-old memory, this looks about right. From what I've read, they're usually rather docile when compared to things like yellowjackets, but the one that got me was anything but docile.

(For a story about the time I did get a nasty scorpion sting you can go HERE.)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Morrow Mountain Hike

Yesterday I went on a short hike at Morrow Mountain State Park. I sometimes visit that park when I can't get away to the real mountains. It's less than sixty miles away and I can be there in about an hour if traffic is light getting out of the Charlotte metro area.

The small mountain range there is called The Uwharries. Practically speaking, they are not mountains at all, but rather a range of low hills that persist due to a resistant layer of cap rock consisting of rhyolite and quartz. The range is considered one of the oldest on the planet at over 500 million years. Morrow Mountain, around which the park is set, was an important site to the Native American tribes that settled here thousands of years ago. Rhyolite fractures in a manner similar to flint and is excellent for making edged tools such as arrowheads, knives, axes, scrapers, drills, and the like. If you go to the summit of Morrow Mountain today you will find that it is covered in flakes of rhyolite, each and every one of them the result of tool production long, long ago.

The hike I took was one I had skipped in the past--a 4.1 mile loop called the Fall Mountain Trail. It takes you from the shores of Lake Tillery and over the top of Fall Mountain. It's an interesting hike with a change in vegetation--the flood-plain at the lake shore up to the rocky mountaintop with forests of oak and beech. A number of fires have run through the forest over the past few years and you get the impression of walking through a mature forest because all of the understory has removed through fire, wind, and ice storms. The forest is actually not old or even mature, at all. But because of the fires and storms it is wide and open.

In years past I would encounter a lot of wildlife in the park, but my last few trips there have been rather barren affairs when it comes to wildlife. In fact, I didn't see so much as a butterfly. I heard some locusts in the trees, and a woodpecker was having his way with a tree somewhere nearby, but I saw absolutely nothing living. I think I heard a lizard scurrying away at one point, but didn't see it. I suppose the forest floor has been scoured clean of food and so no wildlife. The oaks were, however, dropping vast numbers of acorns, so if there are any deer, squirrels, or bear still around they will have plenty to eat this season.

My original plan was to hike the Fall Mountain Trail and then go do a couple of other, shorter trails. But the heat became oppressive and I ended up only doing the one trail. One interesting thing that I noted as I climbed the mountain was that the lower and intermediate slopes were rich with quartz, but the highest ridges and summits were full of rhyolite. Some kind of layering there, but I don't know the reason for it.

Park entrance.

I'm pretty sure this building was constructed by the CCC. I do know they had a camp here and built a quarry to harvest local stone for building materials. It's vacant now and the park office is now in the interior of the park.

Along the shore of Lake Tillery near the start of the trail.

Just after I left the flood plain and began to climb the slopes.

You vant rhyolite? Ve got rhyolite.

I had to detour around a number of big trees like this on the trail. Some were victims, I think, of the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, Irma both of which created some windstorms through this area.

This is the only spot I have found in the Uwharries that makes me feel like I'm actually in the mountains.

I stopped for a quick peek at the overlook on the summit of Morrow Mountain before I left the park.

A brief video overview of the hike.

Monday, September 18, 2017

In the Short Term.

There is one thing for which I can thank ebooks and self-published writers:

Real books are stupidly cheap right now! Not only have independent bookstores been shutting down, not only are chain bookstores vanishing, but even used bookstores are going under. And the few used bookstores that are left won't even buy books anymore. So, guess what? People donate the shit out of books! They're in every donation shop you see, and packed into every flea market you stumble upon.

I discovered some time back, as traditional publishers began to wilt and fade at the assault from Amazon and Smashwords, etc., that I can walk into any second-hand shop and buy used books for next to nothing. I'm talking cheap. Cheaper than ever before. Yes, you could always find good books at a discount in such places, but not like this!

Last week when Carole and I were on a jaunt we stopped at an antique mall. Back in the day whenever I would find used books in one of these joints they would be prohibitively expensive for my cheapskate ass. But not now! I found an enormous selection of fantasy and science-fiction books from the 60s through the late 80s that ranged between 25 cents to a buck. Yes, I loaded up.

Today we visited a Goodwill store and I located more good stuff, nothing over a dollar.

So, for now, the self-published assholes and the emerging monopoly of Amazon have handed me a vast treasure of extremely cheap reading material. Cheaper by far than I could find online. Less expensive than anyone could purchase in even the most economy-driven used bookshop.

As you creeps destroy English literature you have given me cheap access to more books and more reading material than I could possibly read within a lifetime.

Thanks, you filthy, no-talent fucks (and your grinning monopolistic creep of a master). As you destroy literature, you have done something of value in the short term.

"Self-publishin' ferever!"

Friday, September 15, 2017

Comic Books are Doomed.

Ever since I was a child comic books have been a part of my life. Even during the periods when I wasn't so much as looking at a comic book they were still with me, the tens of thousands of them that I had read floating around in my mind.

Back in those days there were all kinds of comic books and they were inexpensive and readily available to children and their parents in all manner of places where people could buy them. They were in newsstands, grocery stores, convenience stores, at the druggists, bookshops, and so on. These days, not so much. Sometimes you can find a very limited selection of comic books in chain bookstores, but mainly you have to go into a comic book shop to locate them. Yeah, ever since around the 1980s or so, shops catering specifically to comic book fans have been the go-to spot to buy comic books.

At any rate, I'm not writing this to talk about why the comics industry is dying or how it happened. I'm just here to say that it is doomed and to explain, succinctly, how that's a foregone conclusion.

The two biggest comic book companies are Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Even the most non-nerdy of people generally know this fact. Both companies are owned by media conglomerates who make a huge amount of money producing feature films and TV shows. The reason they wanted to own Marvel and DC is because what they desired about the two publishing concerns was to get their corporate mitts on the intellectual property represented in Marvel and DC.

That is, Warner and Disney don't possess DC and Marvel to see the regular release of four-color periodicals. To the men who run those outfits, what they want are the grist that they use to make movies that produce billions of dollars in profits. In Disney's case they wanted the sweat of Jack Kirby's brow. Again, I'm not here to belabor the obvious fact that a corporate shill (Stan Lee) never created anything but was just the trigger that allowed Marvel to steal Jack Kirby's creations. That's an important part of the process of course, but it's not how the comics industry doomed itself.

The sad fact is that Disney and Warner no longer care one damned bit about comic books. What they want is the intellectual property that fuels the movies and cartoons that they make that, in turn, spawn toy sales and video game sales and infuse their coffers with the rentals of DVDs and streaming video. Fuck actual comic books. These guys don't give shit-one about the comic book and its place as one of the few uniquely American art forms.

Comic book publishing barely makes a profit mark on the logs of Warner and Disney. And that fine line of black on the yearly books keeps getting thinner and thinner. As far back as 1960 that profit margin was so small for a man named Martin Goodman who owned what later became known as Marvel Comics that he was going to abolish the company. Only the arrival of Jack Kirby and his talent put off that decision and created the basis for a billions-of-dollars company. But there aren't any more Jack Kirbys out there; and no champion with a gleaming mind and talent to illustrate is going to put off the demise of comic books.

Some years back I heard that the owners of comic book shops, and their customers, had begun referring to monthly comic books as "floppies". It's not a nice term and shows the contempt for comic books that both the sellers and buyers of them felt for the medium. Even at that point I realized that there was no way the industry could be resurrected. When the very people who sold them, and the "fans" themselves were using an epithet to label the books...well...that's just about the end of the line. To the big guys at Disney and Warner Communications floppies ain't something they want to deal with.

And here, then, is the bottom line:

DC and Marvel really aren't making a profit for Warner and Disney. At first, it was just a bothersome gnat for them. "These ants don't make us any money. But we gotta live with it 'cause we want the characters that we use for the movies and video games. What ya gonna do? Eh."

But it's only a small step from there to realizing that you can just as easily hire some hack writers to sit at a desk in an office somewhere and come up with more stupid superhero characters. You don't have to tend to a failing company like DC and Marvel rupturing cash and causing you momentary angst. Just close them down and have those low-paid hacks create for you and fuck the goddamned comic books.

It's coming. Hell...Warner came to the same conclusion long ago concerning real books when they shut down Warner Books and sold it off to a French corporation. If they can do it to a company that was making hardbacks and paperback books then they can (and will) certainly do the same with Marvel. These suits at the top of the heap will roll Marvel and DC up into the bigger corporation and shut down that annoying office full of incompetent editors and mouthpieces in New York. They can (and will) pay some clueless schmucks in Hollywood to make up silly superheroes for them without all of the cost and hassle of running offices on the other side of the continent.

Comic books are doomed. Soon, the only place you'll be able to find your "floppies" will be at the fan gatherings where nerds go to dress up as superheroes and fairies. For a while there will be some guys there selling moldy bits of limp pulp paper called "comic books". There will be some aging rubes there buying them for a decade or so, and then those rubes will die with their collections of acid-infused pulp decaying into flaking dust. There's a term for that kind of thing: Dead People's Toys.

And that will be the end of comic books.

"Gimme $100,000! Such a deal!"

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Two More Films.

I watched two more films this week: "The Master" (Paul Thomas Anderson) and "It" (Andy Muschietti).

"The Master" is a classic instance of when one should ignore the critics. When it came out in 2012 I heard absolutely nothing good about it and decided to avoid it. Based on what? The opinions of people I don't know, who don't know me. I need to stop listening to critical opinions. (But not you. You should listen to my critical opinions. Because I am the most critical guy you will ever meet.)

A lot of people were looking forward to "The Master" for many reasons. It is a Paul Thomas Anderson film and--I would not kid you here--he does have a track record for making some really excellent films. His movie "There Will Be Blood" remains one of my all-time favorite movies. And many folk were anxious to see Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance. Also, of course, lots of folk were curious to see what Anderson had to say about Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard which, although the names were changed and all that, is what the film was supposed to deliver.

It's hard to say, though, what the film was really about. I watched it and I am not sure. Yes, the role of Lancaster Dodd was a thinly-veiled version of L. Ron Hubbard. The producers didn't even really hide that fact, save for perhaps some legal reasons. Hoffman does a commendable job of portraying a truly parasitic con man creating a religion. But I've seen films of L. Ron Hubbard and Hoffman didn't even try to do anything approaching a mimicry of Hubbard, opting for a largely unformed monstrous liar doing his best to sucker anyone he can convince so that he can fleece them. I did see glimpses of an actual historical person in the performance, but it was not the faker Hubbard. It was, in fact, the actual ego-mad polymath Orson Welles. I don't think it was my imagination that I kept picking out bits of Welles' game more often than I did of Hubbard's. Hoffman was a decent actor, but he was no John C. Reilly, nor a Daniel Day Lewis, so he relied on doing a passable imitation of Orson Welles.

The thrust of the story, though, comes from the writer's foil seen in the person of Freddie Quell, played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix. Not sure what sources Pheonix used to conjure Quell, but it was an almost brilliant performance. The true protagonist of the film is a suffering, loony, alcoholic madman in some very serious need of psychiatric, emotional, and medical help. The off-putting and almost ape-like Quell somehow--and for some reason never mentioned--becomes friend and confidant to Lancaster Dodd; he's a kind of personal project of the Master. Perhaps it was their shared history of the US Navy, or maybe it's pity on Dodd's part, or perhaps even just one more piece of a religious structure being conjured by Dodd. It's never made clear and I cannot fathom the reason for it.

The film actually has a number of very fine actors in it. However, people like Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Laura Dern, and Kevin J. O'Connor just become set pieces in a film that focuses like a laser on Phoenix and Hoffman.

In the end, I have to admit that I enjoyed the movie and I'm glad I saw it. I did not consider it a waste of time and I will continue to dwell on the movie and its performers for a while. That's about as good as a film is going to get from me. It's rare that I will donate more praise than that.

Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell in "The Master".

"It" from director Andy Muschietti and adapted from the novel by Stephen King is, as I like to say, a piece of shit. I don't even want to waste too many of my words on it. What can I possibly add? It's a tired collection of shock takes and traditional monster images. And its all wrapped up in the kind of cinematic tale that uses the worst of faux-Spielberg tropes combined with uninspired direction, crappy acting, and cinematography that fails to show us anything of much worth.

In addition, the movie drags horribly and suffers from loopy dialog, campy drama, and totally unrealistic situations that prevented me from taking any of it seriously. One thing that bugged the shit out of me is that someone needed to either have had the kids enunciate more clearly, or have had the final print re-dubbed so that we could understand what the kids were goddamned saying half the time.

And where the hell were the adults?! Grownups make only the most brief of appearances, in order to fill in some insipid characterization points for the kids, and then vanish to some other dimension where people over 12 years old are banished when it comes to this story about Derry, Maine.


And, yes, if you've heard it's not a complete movie--only the first half a two-movie sucker deal, then you are right. When the final credits roll, we are met with "End of Part One".

Thank Jove for that, I figure. My two hours and fifteen minutes of torture were over and I know now that I will never pay to see "Part Two".

PS: Pennywise, as I like to say, sucked High Holy Ass. The monster's portrayal here was as flat and unimaginative as the rest of the movie. Unintentional humor. Cue the Curly Shuffle.


Fuck "IT".
"IT" floats. Like a turd!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pop Music.

These days I cannot abide pop music. What passes for hits these days grate on my every nerve whenever I am stuck in a place where I cannot avoid having my ears and my mind assaulted by this rubbish.

Of course I do have positive feelings for much of the pop music that was around in my youth and during those years when I was disposed to not only listening to it, but celebrating it. There is always room for hypocrisy and chauvinism when it comes to one's own nostalgia. So I will admit to that up front.

Thus, I do whatever I can to avoid modern pop music. I don't intentionally listen to radio at any point, and I don't allow it to be played in any car that I am driving. If I'm behind the wheel, then by Jove I will dictate the state of the radio and the speakers assaulting my ears. If you have your own device with earphones...go at it. Just as long as I don't have to hear it.

But sometimes I do enjoy listening to the pop music of my youth--which covers a lot of ground. I did listen and follow pop trends from about the time I was six or seven--when the Beatles were leading the British Invasion of the US pop scene--up until about 1990 when I completely stopped listening to pop. Typically, if anyone brings up a group or so-called "artist" who appeared after 1990 I have no idea who, or what, they are talking about.

One of the pop groups from my youth that I would only grudgingly listen to was the Bee Gees. Today most people dismiss them as some kind of twisted aberration of the US and British music scene, discounting that they were almost constantly charting hits from the '60s and for the next four decades. But those same people were glued to the radio and buying Bee Gees records for all that time. I never bought a Bee Gees record, but I did sometimes listen to them.

The reason I even mention them now is because of Robin Gibb who was the sometimes lead singer, but often stuck in a supporting role as vocalist. For decades I had supposed that his voice was electronically enhanced in some way, and that most of his vocals were, in fact, the trio singing in tandem as harmony while he led.

But this was a misconception. That really was Robin Gibb singing solo. And, no, his voice was not being artificially enhanced, nor was it some kind of spliced-in harmony with his two brothers. It really was his voice.

Yeah. I was surprised. I've heard his voice referred to as an acquired taste, and I admit that it can be annoying. But there is something unreal about it--almost, I would say--supernatural. When I finally read that his voice was not being twisted in some electronic way I wondered how this was so. For a while I refused to believe that it was one person singing and that it was not, at least, being looped with multiple tracks.

Since then, I've heard it described as a kind of unique vibrato, or a strange kind of tremulous warbling. Whatever it was, it was singular, and now and again I'll find myself intentionally listening to tunes where he was the lead vocalist, or singing without the benefit of his brothers.




Monday, September 11, 2017

Hallow's Eve is Waiting

I woke up this morning and it was really nice and chilly out. As I write this it is September 11th. Back in the days of my childhood, this is when the season began to turn from hot days and warm mornings to mild weather with cool temperatures at dawn. Recent years have put lie to that old standard but when the muted sunlight filtered through thick clouds to wake me it was nice to see the weather doing the right thing.

In the mountains on Saturday Carole and I saw a few trees just beginning to change from green to the burnished hues of approaching Autumn. Out in the yard this morning I noticed that the dogwoods are already going that way, too. They're always the first to take that trip.

So I know that Halloween is coming. That day when the trees are conspiring to give us a show of golds and reds and orange and all manner of fantastic hues. And the winds will begin to drift mildly out of the north to cool the skin and dry the perspiration from my brow. The nights will be not-quite-frigid and the days will be crisp. Gardens will give up the last of the crops while we humans ascend into a series of celebrations as we enjoy this season in wait of the frozen embrace of winter.

The days and evenings of ghosts and brittle leaves, of heavy fruit lying in the soil, of glorious lights and shadows; the winds whispering to us of exciting portents and the cold yet to come.

Hallow's Eve.

We'll all soon be there. It's been waiting for us.



Stone Mountain State Park, North Carolina.

Kumbrabow State Forest, West Virginia.

Kumbrabow, WV.

San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Rocky Face Recreation Area, NC.

The view from Mount Craig, second highest summit in the eastern USA in Autumn. It doesn't get any better.