Tuesday, July 25, 2017


I read about another alligator-on-human attack in Florida today.

For all of my reading life and note-taking in my many outdoor adventures (you can better believe I always have done my freaking research when I go out into the wild) I would read that alligators are essentially harmless to humans. Over and over and over. Time after time I would read this and hear this. To the point that several times in my trips on Florida and south Georgia creeks and ponds I would go swimming with alligators nearby.

I was misinformed, for sure. And I was lucky that I was never attacked (I did have a close encounter with a big alligator that taught me that all of the "facts" I'd read about how they were harmless to people were so much bullshit). But why would anyone say this about an apex predator that can kill and dismember and eat large prey up to the size of horses?

It was because from the 19th Century until relatively recent years the alligator was actually a threatened species. Their numbers had dwindled so much due to over-hunting that they were approaching dangerous levels for the species. Then, in the 1960s they were protected. Harvesting was limited and ecosystems were put into parks and wilderness.

Alligator populations rebounded. With a vengeance. And, more importantly, they were allowed to live to be old. In the days when they were under threat there were almost no older, larger alligators. That is, there were very few gators who could seriously look at a human being as a prey animal--and those few were safely tucked away inside wildernesses where they were unlikely to ever see a human.

Not now. Now I see enormous alligators almost everywhere I go in Florida. 8-foot alligators are now routine. And we've all seen the film of the monster alligator on that golf course. You can better believe predators of that size would look at a 200-pound human being as nothing more than something good to eat.

These days I do not go swimming in rivers or creeks or springs in Florida unless I am DAMNED sure that there are no large alligators around.

It ain't worth the risk.

And, yes, I'm sure everyone has seen this video. I've heard it said that this alligator is between 16-17 feet in length. Keep in mind this is nowhere near the largest recorded gator which was almost 20 feet long. It's time to be careful when you go swimming in the deep South.

Be careful out there.

One of the largest alligators I have seen in Florida. He was at Wakulla Springs State Park. Very fat. Very healthy. Very damned intimidating. I would not swim around this animal.

I've heard it said the alligator in this video is 16-17 feet long. That is not as long as the largest on record (over 19 feet). It would look at you as something to eat.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

In the Trenches. First in a Series.

"In the Wake of the Bottles."
By James Robert Smith.

In one of my jobs as a laborer I knew a guy named Jimmy. Jimmy had a lot of good stories and I used to enjoy hearing them. Some of them seemed outlandish, but others were more down to earth. One that straddled the territory between the two was his yarn of cleaning gasoline storage tanks.

For years and years--decades, really--Jimmy spent his life as an itinerant drunk. He was rarely unemployed for long periods of time and always seemed to be able to not only find steady work, but to hold it until he felt like relinquishing it due to boredom or the itch to move on. But wherever he was and wherever he worked were in the wake of the bottles.

However, I don't think Jimmy was an alcoholic in the classic sense. That is, he didn't drink because of addiction, but merely because it was a way to pass the time. Mainly, he told me, he drank only beer. And not just beer, but shitty American beer. Occasionally he would drink bourbon, but that cost too much and he saved that for special occasions or moments when he was flush with cash.

To back up my impression that he was not an alcoholic, he told me of the day his wife finally managed to get through to him with her pleading that he stop drinking. "As long as you drink we will never have anything and we will never go anywhere."

That simple moment of pleading seemed to hit home and...he stopped drinking. Just like that. He said he tossed out the last case of shitty beer and never drank again, and never missed it. Frankly, that doesn't sound like an alcoholic. At least one that I've ever heard of.

As for the story, he said that during one of the stretches when he wasn't working but was mainly drinking, he walked out of a bar one evening--drunk, of course--and sat down on the curb with his feet in the gutter. A big, shiny sedan drove up. It stopped. The window went down. Not a roll down, but an electric window, which was pretty rare in those days.

"Hey, buddy," a guy inside said.

Jimmy looked up. It was hot out, even though the sun was going down.

"Yeah?" he asked.

"You look like a guy who needs a job. You want a good job?"

Jimmy stood up and erased the one foot separating him from the car. He put his hands on the dark, glossy door of the new car and leaned in. It was cool inside. Air conditioned. Also not a given back in those days. The guy inside was well dressed. Suit. Coat. Tie. Not cheap shit, either. The real stuff, from a tailor. Jimmy knew how to spot that kind of suit because his brother had made it as a businessman and wore those sorts of duds.

"What kind of job?"

The guy reached into a coat pocket and produced a card. He handed it to Jimmy.

Jimmy looked at it. The guy's name and an address. The card stock was pretty nice, with sunken lettering and raised outline in black ink. He ran his finger across it. "Getty Oil?"

"Yeah. I have a contract with them. We always need people who are willing to work. Good wages."

"What kind of work?" Jimmy blinked in the failing light and glanced again at the card. He had been at this bender for a while and had been drinking mainly and not eating. His face had a good two days growth of whiskers. His clothes were okay, but wrinkled and dirty. He was not penniless, but he knew that he sure didn't look like someone a general employer would think of for a job. Especially not when he had been sitting on the curb with his feet in the gutter.

"You got transportation to that office? If you don't, I can pick you up tomorrow. Too late today. But we can explain the work to you and give you a run through tomorrow morning. Good pay," he reiterated. "You interested?"

Jimmy nodded, his greasy black hair falling down across his high forehead. Someone told him once that he looked like a skinny Frankenstein monster. Even Jimmy had to admit the smartass had been close to the mark.

"Sure, yeah. I can get there."

"What's your name?"

"Jimmy Macy," he told him.

"See you tomorrow, Jimmy. Ten in the morning."

And the guy drove off.

So here we were, twenty years later, me and Jimmy working in a shop that made pool covers. We were on lunch break. The room was full of smoke. I was the only person in the joint who did not smoke. Jimmy might not have been an alcoholic, but he was one serious nicotine addict. He could not go more than fifteen minutes or so without a lit cigarette in his face. Through a cloud of Camel smoke Jimmy asked me if I'd ever put gasoline in a milk jug. "You know, for your lawnmower or any kind of small engine?"

"Yeah, sure," I told him.

"Well, have you ever left it sitting in a tool shed or storage building for a long time?"

"No. I always use it right away. Maybe a week or so. Why?"

"Well, if you leave it in there for a while--say a month, and you go back to get it and look at the jug, you will see a layer of crap at the bottom of the jug."

"What? In gasoline? Does it react with the plastic jug?"

"Naw. It doesn't matter what you put it in. Glass. Metal. Plastic. There will be a layer of brown sludge at the bottom of the container."

"What is it?"

"Well, gas has solids in it. Suspended in solution. You let it sit long enough and that stuff settles out. It sinks to the bottom."

"Okay. What's that got to do with the job the guy was offering you."

The next day Jimmy did as he was supposed to do. He showed up at the address listed on the card. A nice office in an industrial area near a tank farm. Those big areas where they have the enormous above-ground tanks where they store gasoline.

Once there the guy with the nice suit and the new sedan with electric windows and air-conditioning ran through the offer with Jimmy and three other guys. After the presentation two of the other guys got up and left. Only Jimmy and one other remained.

"What was the job?" I asked.

Jimmy and the others had watched a film. The job for the tank farm was to suit up like a fireman covered from head to foot in some kind of rubber. Boots, pants, coat, hood. All of the parts were sealed together so that when you were in it you were protected from liquids and gases. There was a very long hose attached to the hood (which had a glass mask so you could see out). The hose fed you air. Not oxygen, but air. A re-breather kicked out your breath so that the suit wouldn't fill up with CO2.

What then happened was that a pair of workers would go up there with another guy--a safety tech. The tech would suit up the other two and connect the hoses and start the air pump and keep watch on it. Then the two workers would open the same number of man-sized lids on the top of the tank and descend a ridiculously long metal ladder to the bottom of the tank. The tank would have been drained of all of the liquid gasoline. On the floor of that tank was about two feet thick of gasoline sludge--that solid shit that they can never quite get out of the gasoline that you buy at the pump. It had to be suctioned out before the tank was refilled with new gasoline.

Once down in the hold, Jimmy and the other guy would be fed a suction hose and they would basically walk around the floor of the tank vacuuming up the annoying brown sludge. The job paid $14 an hour, which was a shitload of money in those days. Especially for a guy like Jimmy.

"Fuck," I told him. "That sounds like a horrible freaking job."

Jimmy just shrugged. "It didn't bother me for a while. We would just go down there and suck that shit up until almost all of it was gone, then we'd climb out. When they took the suit off of us you couldn't even smell gasoline. You'd think some of it would go home with you, but my wife never smelled it on me."

"How long did you work it?"

"About three months."

"Why'd you quit?"

One day Jimmy and one of the other guys got to a tank. They suited up and went down just like always. They siphoned up all of the sludge and it was time to go back up. The other guy was a few steps faster that day than Jimmy. But Jimmy didn't notice. He just climbed up and got to the top and crawled out of the small opening up there so high above the floor.

The guy who suited them up was standing at the manhole gesturing for Jimmy to hurry. So Jimmy hustled up the last few rungs and as he stuck his arms out, the worker pointed to the other side of the tank.

Jimmy's co-worker in the tank was lodged halfway out of the manhole. He was covered in flames which were shooting out like jets. Blue flames. The guy was a cinder. That quick, surrounded by the blue fire. The safety guy helped Jimmy peel the suit off in double time and they scurried across the roof and descended the tank.

"Goddamn. It didn't blow?"

Jimmy shook his head. "Naw. It kind of burned itself out. Killed that guy pretty much instantly. They told me some kind of static charge set it off when he was climbing out."

Both of us sat there in silence for a while.

Jimmy smiled. "I never went back. They sent me my last paycheck in the mail."

"I never went back."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Karl Edward Wagner.

I rarely meet anyone these days who even knows who Karl Edward Wagner was. I knew him and exchanged letters with him and spoke to him a number of times at various conventions and writer gatherings. He was one of the most brilliant fantasists who ever lived. And he was from the South and part of Everywhere, and it's sad that so much of his work is forgotten. Wagner was a giant personality, but terribly flawed.

I say I knew him, but not really...and I don't want to give the impression that we were in any way close. But we would exchange letters from time to time. He even critiqued by work occasionally, for which I have always been grateful. But almost every time we would meet I would have to remind him who I was. Yes, this could have been partially because he was always drunk; but also because I am not a shining, glowing personality who is easy to remember.

I met Karl at least a dozen times. I always had to reintroduce myself. The only time he recalled who I am was when I saw him at an sf show in Atlanta not long before he died. He noticed me across the room and came over to chat. And although I said nothing, he could see the pure horror on my face and he stopped what he was talking about and said: "I have Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever." Then he showed me red spots on his pale, emaciated arm. "That's why I look the way I do." I later found it was a story he had concocted to tell people who were similarly horrified at his physical state. He didn't have the Fever, of course, and was just dying of a liver that had ceased to operate due to his chronic alcoholism. But I could not hide the shock that was painted over my face. The last time I'd seen him he was his hale, hearty, vibrant Viking self. And then I see this sick, wizened, obviously dying old man. Noting that horror on my face, he had to say something.

Now...damn. It seems no one recalls him. Until recently his books were out of print in any affordable way. I had seen his novels and stories appear in the past decade or so, but in very expensive limited edition books far beyond the affordability of casual readers. This giant of fantasy and horror is completely out of the view of the reading public.

These days, I think you can land his fiction courtesy of the company who seems to have inherited the rights of the works that he published under the old Warner imprint.

I recommend his fiction as highly as I possibly can.

Karl Wagner during his healthier days.
Wagner and a rendition of his alter-ego, Kane, the Mystic Swordsman.

This is how most people became familiar with his work--through the Warner books paperbacks with those amazing Frank Frazetta covers.

Nihilism Pays.

Not too long ago I posted a review of the first season of the nihilistic TV show PREACHER. Although I found large sections of the production to be actually offensive, there were enough bright and humorous touches for me to like it as a whole. Part of that had to do with the very simple (and selfish) fact that I find Ruth Negga to be extremely attractive, and another part of it was that I saw so much comedy and humanity in the way Jackie Earle Hailey portrayed the character of Odin Quinncannon.

Last week--because I had enjoyed the previous season--I tuned in for the first episode. I wish I had not done so.

For me, all of the humor was gone. The nihilism was still there--in great abundance--but the humor was missing. What they were trying to pass off as humor was just a kind of sick arrogance that I found merely disgusting. When one of the heroes casually murders the pet of an innocent man, and that same innocent man in hunting for the lost pet has his tongue pulled from his living face...well...you can see where I might be just a little bit put off. That's the point where I stopped watching, and that's the point where I decided that I won't bother with the show anymore.

Sorry, Ruth. Not even your presence can get me to watch another episode of PREACHER.
But nihilism these days seems to really pay in great dividends. All around the world of novels, comics, TV, and film, the worst of the worst seems to be in great demand. Novels that are nothing but racist gun-porn sell like mad. Movies that feature one inhuman murder after another are tops. I know this is nothing truly new, but the unrestrained excess of it has reached a point where I just cannot tolerate it.

Hell. Blame it on my age. Or on the point where my own level of tolerance has been saturated. Whatever it is, I've had enough.

Apparently the most popular cable TV show in the history of the medium is now embroiled in a vast legal battle over the billions (yes, you read that right--billions) of dollars it has generated for the network that aired it. I am, of course, talking about that Queen of Nihilism: THE WALKING DEAD.

That THE WALKING DEAD was copped from the work of George A Romero without remuneration to said fellow is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that while Romero's work was social commentary, the TV show gleaned from the vision of Romero and John Russo is just simple, nasty, violence-infused grue. But my how that shit sells! It has sold to tunes so vast that it has created its own self-perpetuating industries. Starting as a comic trimmed from Romero & Russo's zombie vision, it branched out into collected graphic novels, a TV series, video games, T-shirts, media conventions, etc. and so on. If there's a way to squeeze a dollar out of it, they have done so.

And enter now the original director and show-runner Frank Darabont who was chased away from the series and is now suing. There is something extremely satisfying in watching these Hollywood folk fighting over the steaming corpse of a visual property the way the rotting zombies struggle to get their piece of a recently murdered human.

I have to laugh.

There's still some actual humor to be found in the nihilism of true life.

For what it's worth, Mr. Darabont--I hope you win.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Where are the critters?

One thing that I am beginning to find especially disturbing these days is the almost complete lack of wildlife I am seeing when I go hiking and backpacking here in NC. Yes, I tend to go to very wild places where the animals are not accustomed to humans. And such animals are likely to be far more shy than critters who regularly encounter people.

However, I do a lot of exploring in wilderness areas and National Forest lands far off the beaten path. In years past I would see a fair number of wild animals. Over the past couple of years I am seeing almost none.

Take my backpacking trip last week into the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Now, that's a heavily visited wild area, but it wasn't what I would call crowded while I was there. My hike out I saw only a couple of people, and I didn't see one other person camping on Shortoff Mountain the night I stayed there.

Keep in mind that the title for my YouTube channel is "the Quiet Hiker" for a reason. I hike and backpack alone. I don't even talk to myself. If my sinuses are bothering me a lot I might breathe heavily, but that's about the only sound I make. Because of my quiet behavior I should see a fair number of wild animals. But...nothin'.

On my trip from Table Rock to Shortoff and back (about 12 miles round-trip) I saw one toad, one fence lizard...and nothing else. I didn't even see any birds. I heard some birds calling, but didn't see any. Not one. Not even a buzzard or a raven or a junco--birds that are pretty common when I go into the forests.

By this time, it can't just be the luck of the draw. I'm not seeing wildlife because populations are diminishing. It's very disturbing.

Lots of scenery. No animals.

The Black Mountains. Two days, one night. I saw zero wildlife, despite seeing no other humans.

The last time I encountered an animal of note while hiking--a grouse in Virginia over a year ago. Many, many miles hiked and backpacked since then.

A wilderness landscape absent animals.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Spacey Pipe Dreams.

I see once again news of the fact that the entire surface of Mars is not just dry, not only only barren, not merely bombarded with radiation, but also completely and utterly poisonous to life.

Enough with the fantasies and insanity that humans will go out into space and to alien worlds to live.

Colonization of other planets and points in deep space are nice ideas, but that's all they are. Getting there and creating a living environment is prohibitively expensive now and always will be. You cannot reduce the toxicity of a planet's entire surface. Humans did not evolve to live in zero G or even low G environments. We would die in either. The litany of dangers to colonizing space and planets with environments completely inimical to life is a sad pipe dream fit only for fiction. All very nice, but it ain't gonna happen. Not now. Not fifty years from now. Not ever.

We can't even stop ourselves from poisoning the planet that gave birth to us. How are we supposed to make a home out of locations that want only to destroy not just us, but Life itself? We aren't supposed to, and we can't do so.

What we need to do is forget about our greed, collectively reduce the human population in a sane manner, and stop consuming the planet that is the only place in the Universe where we are safe and relatively secure.

We're not going anywhere. Humans haven't even been beyond low Earth orbit in many decades; and we aren't going anywhere like that ever again. It's not just that it's too expensive, it's also that the world's collective wealth has been transferred from governments to individuals; and those richies ain't going to give any of it up.

So stop sucking on that pipe filled with opium dreams.

Mars. A dead planet. Dead in every way. You can't fix it. You can't live on it. Forget about it. It ain't gonna happen.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Dehydration in Linville Gorge!

I might not have made it a full week past my 60th birthday:

Maybe the most physically exhausting day of backpacking of my life. It started out okay as I left camp at exactly 7:00 am. Maybe an hour and a half later I missed the main trail and ended up hiking down an unnamed spur trail. By the time I realized that I was not on the right trail I had descended a good 800 feet into the gorge, which meant that I had to turn around and climb back out! When I left camp I had what I figured was enough water to get me back to my truck. But climbing up the very steep trail in sweltering heat and humidity caused me to consume most of my water. Within a mile after returning to the point that put me once more on the main trail all of my water was gone. And I still had quite a ways to backpack. The forests in that side of the wilderness were completely wiped out by the drought-induced wildfire in 2007. So not only was I carrying my pack with no water and in hot weather, there was almost ZERO shelter from the sun.

I quickly began to become dehydrated. The only thing that I could do (since finding water was not an option) was to hike a hundred or so feet at a time and then rest for ten or fifteen minutes, hiding behind low shrubs for shade. A hike that should have taken two hours at most ended up taking me six hours. A nice couple from Tallahassee Florida gave me a liter of water that maybe saved me from passing out. As it is, drying out like that did something to my vocal chords. I can talk, but my voice sounds like I'm talking with sandpaper.

More later.

I love the National Forest Service signs for Wilderness Areas.

Approaching The Chimneys, one of my favorite areas of the Gorge.

Hiking down into Chimney Gorge on the way back up to Shortoff Mountain.

My campsite on Shortoff Mountain.

The whippoorwill in the night.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Stone Mountain Hike.

Carole and I took her mom to Stone Mountain State Park Sunday for a picnic and quasi-60th birthday celebration for me. When it comes to NC high country, this state park is the most easily accessible for me. There are some lower monadnocks located closer (such as Crowders Mountain), but Stone Mountain is actually sitting in the midst of 4,000-foot summits and is definitely among the bigger mountains here in the Carolinas.

We got there early, picked out a picnic table and grill and soon got busy making hamburgers and relaxing by the table. Carole then drove me to a nearby trailhead so that all I had to do was hike up and over the mountain on the same trail that would dump me back out at the picnic area where they would be waiting.

The hike was a relatively easy one. There's just one big elevation gain at the beginning (about 600 feet, I think). I was having sinus problems so it winded me more than I'd like to admit, but it really is a simple, easy hike. I've always liked that trail, even back in the days when they didn't have all of the stairs and cables to help you over the roughest spots. The first time I hiked it back in the mid-80s there was nothing at all in the way of infrastructure on the trail except for painted orange dots on the exposed rock to let you know that you were on the trail.

Everything was really nice for that hike, including the weather. The temperatures barely broke into low 80s and the humidity was also very low. I got some great photos and video of the cliffs and views. Since it was on a Sunday, there were more people on the summit than I like to encounter, and I saw almost no wildlife--the exception being lots of white-tail deer off the main trail as I returned to the picnic area.

All in all, it was a great way to spend a quasi-birthday celebration.

Carole and Faye at the picnic spot we chose.

Pregnant doe at the edge of the forest.

Birthday selfie.

Although not on the summit, this is actually my favorite view on Stone Mountain.

The large crack on the mountain (actually an exfoliation scar) is the most popular climbing route on the mountain. This is where a lot of North Carolina rock climbers learn the sport.

A closer view of the climbing route called "The Great Arch".

Out of breath as I climb the slopes.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Brief Review of Two Zombie Movies.

I watched two zombie movies last week. Yeah. Me. The guy who learned to hate zombie movies, stories, and novels. But I was bored and I caved to peer pressure. (What? I have zombie pals? In a manner of speaking, yes.)

Generally these days I absolutely loathe all things zombie. Such books and movies have come to appeal to racists, nationalists, and gun-crazed neo-Nazis. It almost makes me wish I'd never written any zombie fiction at all. That said, there were two recent-ish zombie movies that a lot of people kept claiming were good and worth watching, and I caved to the pressure.

The first one I tried to watch was THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS. I'd been told it was a "new take" on the zombie trope. It was not. It sucked Holy Roman Ass. It had enough plot holes to drive an Armata tank through. Also, it had what may be the single most racist scene I have ever witnessed in a zombie movie; and brother believe me that was not easy to do. Avoid it. Piece of utter shit. That's all I'm going to say about that one.

The second film was TRAIN TO BUSAN. Everyone and his cousins had been telling me how good this movie is. But, you know--zombies. So I avoided it. Then on my son's birthday we were hanging out at his house and he told me that it really was good and we should watch it on streaming video. So we did.

Holy Hell! What a great movie! It's a Korean film, subtitled in English. (I hope they never dub it.) It's a great action movie with some truly wonderful characters packed into a two-hour running time. I mean...damn...very well rounded characters.

Not only is it a great action flick, it also has a dynamite load of subversive social and political messages going on. For one thing, I never expected a movie from South Korea to deliver such a powerful anti-capitalist message, but this one does; and effectively. The villains of the movie are personified in the two businessmen, one of whom evolves over the course of the movie, the other of whom only grows more detestable. I liked the fact that the two great heroic characters are working class--one a hulking weight-lifter of a man (played by Ma Dong-seok) who is a classic heroic figure, and who plays the part with a lot of humor (hard to do in a zombie movie). The other is described simply as a nameless "Homeless Man" skilfully rendered by Choi Gwi-hwa.

For a zombie film it is absent of much in the way of gore. There is blood, for sure, but no guts, really. One reason for this is that the transition from human to zombie takes place most of the time in a matter of seconds. And the purpose of the zombies seems to be to infect non-carriers rather than consuming them. The zombies are also the super-fast sort rather than the plodding Romero zombies.

At any rate, I can highly recommend this one, even if you're not a zombie fan (which I am not).
Here are my favorite characters from the movie.

Ma Dong-seok who is, I was surprised to learn, an American. He was my favorite character in the film. He played the part with a lot of humor and likability.

Kim Eui-sung as the vile, unrepentant, selfish capitalist sack of shit. It's not easy to play a role and to create a person who is completely corrupt and hateful. He does it with great skill. He's like a cockroach that won't die.

Choi Gwi-hwa as the "Homeless Man". Another wonderful performance. Andy and I both figured the actor for being Japanese, but apparently he's Korean. I admired how he played the this role carefully and resourcefully. Ultimately one of the most heroic roles in the movie.

And Yoo Gong as the privileged money manipulator who finds over the course of the film that he still has a soul.

Yeah, I know. Late to the party. But give it a view.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Too Many Humans!

To put it mildly, I don't like crowds. All of my life, places like rodeos, fairs, circuses, festivals, parades, marches, zoos, amusement parks...pretty much any kind of gatherings over a dozen people give me the creeps. I do like state parks and National Parks, because while the areas around the roads and parking lots can be crowded, I know that all I have to do is hike half a mile from the main arteries and I will find solitude and silence and peace.


Carole and I had decided to drive up to Roan Mountain where some of the best natural rhododendron gardens on the planet can be found. I've lived here in North Carolina for more than three decades and every year when the flowers are at their peak I have missed the show. I can't say why. So, this year we decided to drive up to Roan on Saturday, June 17 to see the flowers in what we'd been told were their peak.

We got to the area about 9:30 in the morning and immediately hit a traffic jam in Elk Park, TN. Why? Because the area was holding a RHODODENDRON FESTIVAL over the weekend. And we're not talking about a few hundred people. No. Tens of thousands had arrived as a mass to see the flowers and to attend a craft fair being held in Roan Mountain State Park. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was maddening stop and go as we approached the craft fair near the state park office.

After we passed the craft show, traffic opened up and got light the final ten miles to the trail head we wanted to use. Our plan was to park in Carvers Gap and hike a few miles up the Appalachian Trail to Grassy Ridge Bald where the best of the flowers were said to bloom.

Uh-uh. Wasn't going to happen.

Carvers Gap had become a mass traffic jam. The closest spot to park was about a mile either side of the Appalachian Trail. So a round trip distance of two miles would be added to any hike, and Carole was not up to that ridiculous shit. Truth to tell, even if I'd been alone I wouldn't have done it. The Appalachian Trail was like a human freeway. Hundreds of people were moving in a steady line headed for the ridges to see the rhododendron.


We stopped at a road block and spoke to a ranger and he suggested that we might be able to park and view the rhododendron at the old Cloudland Hotel site up on Roan High Knob. So we did this, only to find that the crowds were almost as bad there. The parking lots were almost full, but we found a spot to leave the car and began to hike the short loop trails near the summit. Only to find that they, too, were uncomfortably packed with humans. We often had to quite actually wait in line to walk past knots of people clogging the trail!

Yeah. It was about as close to a nightmare for me as it gets. Here I find myself in a place of natural beauty, but it's so crowded with goddamned people that I almost can't breathe.

With no other option, we chose to leave the area and head over to the Blue Ridge Parkway to hit Mount Mitchell State Park. Carole had not been there in a while and I had not made any backup plans for secondary hikes. Yes, I should have done a little more research, but I hadn't done that. If I'd known, we could have gone hiking somewhere else that was not being used by tens of thousands of people for a damned rhododendron festival.

We ended up on Mount Mitchell in alternating passing clouds and mild rain showers. Fortunately, the weather was good for some atmospheric photos (59 degrees!) and we ended up having a decent time, stopping to grill burgers and hot dogs at a picnic area. All in all, we did manage to salvage the day, which is a good thing. You know what they say: a bad day in the mountains is better than the best day in town.

Carole hiking at the old Cloudland Hotel location. Only two other humans visible in this shot, which amazes me. I got lucky and was able to avoid the several hundred others wandering around stinking up the joint.

I have to say, the flowers were gorgeous and most of them were either in, or approaching, full bloom.

This is the kind of crowds that make my skin crawl when I go to the mountains.

We found a nice picnic area and grilled out.

Lighter hued rhododendrons at lower altitudes.

Lots of flame azalea, also.

And plenty of Mountain laurel were still in full bloom, too!

The modern handicap accessible lookout on the summit of Mount Mitchell. A couple was sitting on Elisha Mitchell's grave (he's buried on the summit) having a good ol' time, I reckon.

Clingman's Peak from the summit of Mount Mitchell.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Goodreads Promotion Fail.

As an author I am a member of Goodreads. It's a fairly interesting site for readers and authors.

They have a promotions campaign where you can generate interest in your books by offering a sweepstakes where you give away a copy of one (or more) of your books. I figured it was a good way to get a copy of one of my novels into the hands of a reader who would--you know--actually READ the book and hopefully post a positive review, since the copy is, in essence, a gift. Quid pro quo, as they say.

I offered up my book WORKING CLASS HERO and, as chance would have it, a Charlotte resident won the copy. As the book is set in Charlotte, I thought that was cool and personalized and autographed the copy for the winner. I mailed it off.

A few days later I saw that there was a notice of sale of a copy of my book as "new" listed at Amazon.com. Not "like new", but "new". How could anyone undercut the publisher, since the print copies are POD? I need not have wondered, for the copy being offered as "new" was the personalized and autographed copy I had sent to the basta...I mean winner of the Goodreads contest. One Mr. Hall of Charlotte, NC who runs a bookstore on Amazon.com.

So, this wonderful jackass had me send him a copy of my book so that he could undercut my publisher. He never intended to read it. Of course the book that he is selling as "new" is not. It has been written on quite extensively in pen and ink (by me). And if he did actually read it, again...it's not new.

What a sack of shit.

I won't be doing any more of those giveaways.

WORKING CLASS HERO! By James Robert Smith.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Kayaking Scares the Birds.

I went kayaking again today. This time I headed toward a wilder side of Mountain Island lake where there are fewer homes and also where the Cowan Ford Wildlife Refuge is located. Not a lot of people visit the Refuge. Parts of it are off limits to humans, and no hunting is allowed. So the animals are more skittish and shy than in places where they are accustomed to people.

Today almost all of the birds I encountered did not like me around and let me know it. They all complained loudly when I'd come into view or close proximity. Some of them did not tolerate my presence and took wing and left me sitting there alone. Even the Canada geese at the refuge were shy--and the geese around here are not normally known for being afraid of people. But these were. Instead of flying away they just went ashore and vanished into the forest, taking their goslings with them.

Once again I saw an osprey and was not able to photograph it. It, too, headed off and left me fumbling with my lenses as it vanished.

Shy critters!

This fellow is THE biggest Great blue heron I have ever seen! He was enormous! Also, he gave me the stink-eye and took off!

He croaked at me and snapped his bill open and shut as he took his leave. He was pissed OFF!

This Red wing blackbird sat still just long enough for me to take a few photos, of which this is the best one. He also told me to go to Hell and left me floating on the lake.

Not sure what species of duck this is. But he muttered angrily at me as I beached my kayak to photograph him. Then he left in a huff.

Generally speaking, the local Canada geese are a nuisance. They will hang around you and bug you for handouts or attack you to get the hell out of their way. Not these. They took their babies out of the water and headed inland, glaring at me all the while.

Again, these turtles took offense at my presence and plunged into the lake, one by one.

This guy, though...this little dragonfly landed on the front of my kayak and refused to leave. He stayed with me practically the whole day. Even after I beached the kayak!! I had to poke him with my finger to get him to leave so that he didn't get hurt when I loaded my kayak!
I might post some video of the kayak trip tomorrow.

Friday, June 09, 2017


The kind of cemetery you could afford to build for your family in the late 1700s if you were a Revolutionary War hero, had a plantation of over 1,000 acres, and owned about thirty slaves (some of whom were masons) to build it for you for free.

Looking out of the cemetery toward former plantation land.

Every time I stop here to look at this place I am impressed by the masonry work.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017


I know a lot of writers, and I know a lot of people (too many, actually) who want to be writers. And over the years--because I have sold many short stories, comic book scripts, review columns, and even some novels--I have been asked for advice on writing. I always feel weird giving advice, mainly because while I may have sold a lot of fiction, I have never been able to earn a living from it. In all of the years I have been working at it, I made tens of thousands of dollars from it only twice: once in the year of my movie deal for THE FLOCK, and one year when I was writing a bunch of comic book scripts for the likes of Marvel Comics and a few other smaller comics publishers.

So I've always felt edgy about answering any questions about how to go about writing professionally.

The only real advice I could ever think of that were worth passing on were the same that you find coming from almost every professional author one would care to mention. And that advice is that first one should read, and ready voraciously and widely. And second, one should write, and write often--perhaps obsessively. If you do the former, you will discover what professional writing looks like. If you do the latter, you will eventually (one would hope) become decent at it.

There is a third bit that I used to give but which is all but useless these days: and that was that you should submit your work to various publications. The pool of professional publications--which was almost anemic even in my youth--has become all but absent. E-publishing and self-publishing have pretty much killed the professional markets, and self-publishing in general has caused the almost complete degeneration of English literature here in the States.

However, it occurred to me some time ago that there is another bit of advice that I could give, and it is this:

Don't compare yourself to any accomplished author, and certainly don't compare yourself to any great writer. Doing this is not only borderline insane, it is also rather a disgusting example of mad ego.

Case in point: Some years back I used to correspond with a professional writer who had sold a number or novels and had garnered a bit of critical praise. He was close to being able to earn his living completely from writing, which is an enviable and admirable feat--something I never could do.

After struggling along selling novels for low to moderate advances, he finally landed a very nice deal with a very large publishing house and for the first time in his life found himself with enough money to live comfortably for at least a year without having to punch a clock. That was cool. I was happy for him.

But then came time for promotional stuff and the interviews pushing this novel which had gotten him such a huge advance. And what does he do? This guy compared himself to Cormac McCarthy!

Yeah. Fuck.

Cormac McCarthy is about as good as it gets. There is only one Cormac McCarthy. If I was going to use the word "genius" to describe a living American author, he is only one of two I'd tag for that praise.

Don't compare yourself to a genius. Not only are you likely lying like a politician, you have set yourself up for a tremendous fall. A Humpty Dumpty fall. Because, really, you cannot hope to be even the tiniest fraction as talented as Cormac McCarthy. I had read this author's books, and he churned out serviceable--and often fun--pulp fiction. There was no brilliance to it. It was good, fun adventure stuff. Unless he'd made a leap of galactic proportion in his work, he was nothing near the ability and talent of McCarthy. I waited for the book, as did everyone else, hoping to see the appearance of a new work of absolute blinding brilliance.

It came out. The book got some very mild praise, some bloody savaging, and it quickly sank out of sight and went out of print. (I tried to read it, but found it both boring and pedestrian.) The editor who had argued for the publisher to cough up the big advance for the novel found himself fired and unemployed (true story). The book of course never came even the tiniest of  a fraction of earning back its advance. The author found himself thereafter without any further novel sales (for years and years).

So. Don't compare yourself to a great writer. I don't care who you are. It's a mistake. You're asking for trouble if you do.

You can say that you were influenced by a great writer, but don't say your work compares favorably to that of an actual genius.

Since that time I have seen self-centered asshole writers compare themselves to Ray Bradbury, to Charles Bukowski, to Charles Portis, to Harry Crews, to Harper Lee, to Kurt Vonnegut, to Ernest Hemingway, to Jack London, to Stephen King, to--Jove help the idiots--Ursula K. Le Guin.

Don't be like those dipshits comparing themselves to greatness. Just be yourself. Show some dignity.

Le Guin, an American treasure.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Invasive. Not Invasive.

What marks an invasive species, really? We all hear the term and those of us who bother to notice can see the effects of an invasive species on a native ecosystem.

Is the definition actually for a species that is currently in place where it does not belong? If so, Homo sapiens is highest on the list, since we likely should only be where we evolved: Africa. But that's not going to change until we go extinct, so back to the real issue.

There is no doubt--to use an example--that pythons are a harmful invasive species in south Florida and in the Everglades National Park. The ecosystem of that part of Earth slowly evolved over millions of years without the presence of a vast, aggressive constrictor snake in its midst. The sudden introduction of such an animal is resulting in the decimation of the native animals that did evolve there and which do belong there. I have no problem labeling pythons in Florida as an invasive species.

Further, there are invasive animals that are present in a foreign ecosystem which are not--apparently--harmful within that environment. When I go kayaking on the Silver River in Florida I generally encounter bands of feral Rhesus monkeys. I won't go in to how they got there (humans brought them, of course), but I often used to wonder if they were harmful to the system in which they found themselves living. I did some reading about it, and learned that apparently they are not considered particularly harmful. General browsers, they don't seem to eat enough of any particular food item in the forests to hinder the lives of the native animals and plants around them.

So. Not all invasive species are harmful.

Some of the worst invasive species are not mammals, reptiles, mollusks, or fish. Many of the most destructive of these things are plants, insects, and pathogens (think of the American chestnut blight). Again, to take Florida as an example, the list of plants that are changing and destroying native ecosystems is off the scales. Quite actually every waterway in Florida is home to any number of invasive plant species. Once established, how do you even begin to remove plants that are fast-growing and endlessly clogging rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams? It's probably an impossible task. The thing is to try to keep it from happening in the first place. But where humans are concerned, the problem seems to be ongoing and never-ending. People are going to acquire and dispose of exotic plants where they should never have been allowed to have them in the first place.

But in the case of plants, what constitutes a harmful invasive species? I actually do have a definition of that which meets popular consensus:

Characterized by:

rapid growth
multiple reproductive methods
wide dispersal and survival
broad environmental tolerance
and resistance to management. (I'll get back to this later.)

And the problems they cause are:

loss of recreation
severe oxygen depletion
stunted fish populations, fish kills
water-flow restrictions, flooding
navigation restrictions
accelerated sedimentation
habitat destruction
loss of biodiversity
reduction in property values.

What strikes me about the list of problems is that they are so centered on the troubles presented to human recreation and human economics. The concern for the local animals and plants is really just something that sits there and is only noticed for its tendency for causing an inconvenience to humans.

Fuck that.

These are problems that beset the web of life in which we all live. Economic concerns are moot. Humans are at the base of the situation, sitting on the web of life that supports everything and methodically plucking out the strands until the whole thing collapses. This constant degradation of Mother Earth is not just going to result in the extinction of some species of big animals, or even of some entire environments that have been present for tens of millions of years. Currently we are in danger of witnessing the total collapse of everything that gives us the air we breathe, the water we need, and the food that sustains us. No more rhinos? No one cares. Hemlock trees extinct? Big deal. Invasive carp eating and out-competing every fish species they encounter? Feh.

We keep plucking out the bits of the web, one string at a time.

Implosion will arrive. And it's not as if we didn't see it coming.

In reference to that list--humans can't manage the Earth. We either live within the limitations of not causing the planet irreparable harm, or we kill it and die with it. You can't manage something with trillions of moving parts. You flow with it, or perish while breaking it.

We have chosen to ignore every warning.

Back in the early 2000s I set about searching out and viewing the big groves of ancient Eastern hemlock forests before they were all extinct from the introduction of an invasive insect species. So that's what I did--I hiked all over the southern Appalachians finding the old trees before they could all succumb. And I saw as many of these places as I could. Those groves? They're all gone, now. All of them. Mankind at its most selfish and pernicious.