Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas '12

No white Christmas in my neck of the woods this year. Instead, it was a bit balmy.  I'll take that over frigid temperatures. Somehow, if there's snow, I don't seem to mind the icy temperatures.  I guess it must be the expectation -- snow+cold=acceptable.

Took a walk in the woods with our little black dog, Blackie or Bear.  He's part chow and looks like a little bear with the shortest of legs. He bounces along the trail and really pants a lot along the way.

He had a hard early life -- his previous owner apparently used to beat him and starve him.  He's such a cute little guy -- I can't imagine why anyone would ever hit or harm an animal. 

Blackie or Bear is so fiercely loyal. Even though he seems to struggle to keep up on the trail, he insists on coming along each time I go for a walk.  We stop regularly to let him catch his breath.

He loves to eat popcorn when we get back home.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Autumn is all around -- the squawking Bluejays are back from a summer hiatus. I'm not sure where they go, maybe some place cooler.  They greet me each morning as a I step outside in the crisp mountain air. The cool air reminds me that I am still alive and glad to be up before daylight.

The groundhog that lives in the barn down below the house looks fatter. He's probably storing up for the winter - which I expect will be more harsh than the last one around here.  Most folks were complaining that we had no winter in '11-'12.  It would be nice to have a few inches of snow this time.

The thistles with the purple flowers are spreading their seeds which look like snow blowing across the hillsides and the roadways.  It's fun to pretend its snow coming down in a still-green canopy of trees.

I've been staying on trails where you can see where you step.  A friend two weeks ago posted that a friend of his was bitten by a copperhead along a popular trail. I expect she might have stepped on it. Copperhead bites are not usually fatal, but I find snakes, in general, terrifying.  I'm not sure why.

One of the surest signs of autumn is the changing of the leaves. The higher elevations are already beginning to see color change. The poplars, always leading the way, are shedding their big yellow/brown leaves on the forest floor as are the maples.  These early leaves are a bit faded, not the brilliant yellows, reds and oranges.

Spiders, too, seem really active, spinning their webs on the porch rails and between one of the out-buildings and the house -- a distance of 20 feet. I'm always amazed at how these little critters can spin their way across such long distances without any kind of support between two distant points.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

More Incredible Mushrooms

Another hike today in the damp forests of Western North Carolina. This time a hike up to Rich Mountain near Hot Springs, NC.  These were taken with an iPhone.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mushroom Hike

Here in the mountains of Western North Carolina it's been raining daily -- except for today.  I took advantage and went for a hike in the woods and discovered a forest full of mushrooms.  They love the damp and wet conditions and are thriving in the dead leaves of the forest.

All the photos were taken with an iPhone and a few were manipulated with an app called Camera Art FX.

Here are a few pictures of some of the best ones I spotted today.  And....feel free to identify as many as you can!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Prediction: Mitt Romney May Not Be the GOP Nominee

Mitt Romney is the presumed GOP candidate for president, but will he actually be the nominee?  I can't help but think he might not be unless he changes course. 

He is now adamant about not releasing any more of his tax returns -- that is creating suspicion that he must have something to hide. Even some Republicans are urging him to release more than the last two years' worth of documents.  Romney made it clear yesterday he would not.

The tax returns may be the least of his worries. 

His relationship with Bain after 1999 is the bigger problem and his refusal to clear the air is turning this into a bigger and bigger campaign issue for the Obama camp. Romney is sensing that he's in trouble, but in five different appearances on various networks on Friday, he just created more suspicion. Again, even some republicans are wondering why he doesn't just clear up these discrepancies and move on.  Why give the Obama campaign more ammunition?

Will the Romney campaign self-destruct?  It seems to be heading further down that path each day, but the campaign doesn't seem to understand what is happening.  Arrogance? Ignorance? Naivete? Maybe, all three.

Many republicans simply don't like Romney, but say they'll hold their nose and vote for him. However, if he doesn't make the Bain employment and tax return issues go away soon, they could overwhelm the campaign.

I wouldn't be surprised if some republicans and their millionaire/billionaire donors are not scouting around to see who might be the best candidate to step in should the Romney campaign self-destruct before the convention. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hot as a Firecracker

I write this entry from the comfort of my air conditioned little shed. Outside, it's anything but comfortable. I just watched the digital thermometer move from 99 to 100.  Summer.

I am glad I woke up early and headed for an even higher mountain than I live on for a "before the heat wave" hike.  It was quite nice at 7 a.m. hiking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail from the top of the Hot Springs, NC mountain to the Rich Mountain fire tower. 

I'm not sure how far it is, but the tower, itself, makes the walk worthwhile.  From the lookout on the tower I can see for miles -- facing east -- everything in front of me is North Carolina -- behind me is Tennessee. In fact, the tower, situated in North Carolina, is very close to the state line.

These walks are always exhilarating and if I'm lucky I might see an animal or two along the way.  A few years ago as I ascended Rich Mountain I encountered a peacock. Strange, yes?  It was standing in the middle of the trail and appeared to be lost.  I often wonder whatever happened to it. Did it find its way back home or did the coyotes get to it first.  It was a beauty.

This morning I spotted the less exotic -- robin, a squirrel or two and a shiny black snake.  He/She was relaxing in the middle of the trail -- and not wanting to interrupt its rest -- I climbed the bank and made my way around it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Pizza-sized beautiful mushroom spotted on Mill Ridge near Hot Springs, NC

As a kid, I often ignored the dialogue on television -- particularly that of movies.  I was more interested in the ambient sounds:  shoe soles smacking against the concrete sidewalk, car tires on gravel, the squeaky screen door on the front porch and the train whistle.

I was reminded of my childhood listening habits when I watched Jean-Luc Godard's chaotic thriller Made in the USA, the other day.  I didn't particularly care for the movie, although Anna Karina is pleasant to watch in her brightly colored outfits.  Admittedly, the airplane sound effect became annoying after the first half dozen times.  Every time Karina attempted to mention the last name of her missing lover, Richard, the airplane sound drowned her out.

Today, during a morning walk in the woods, I encountered dense fog -- and the sound of raindrops dripping from leaf to leaf as they made their way to the ground. It made for a beautiful canopy of sound -- and yet there was something unsettling about the sound.

First of all, it was quite loud -- and secondly it drowned out most other sounds around me. It was as if I was wearing headphones in the forest.  So my sense of hearing was severely limited -- as was my vision -- as a result of the dense fog.

This was bear country -- and when walking in an area like this -- I like to be hyper-tuned to all of my surroundings.  I actually did encounter a bear along this same trail about six months ago. 

And I suppose I could have turned around this morning and gone back to the car, but then I would have  regretted not having walked in the woods on such a beautiful, cool morning.

As it turns out, I saw no bears today.  I did see a wild turkey and a rabbit.  What I should have prepared for were the stinging black flies.  The last two miles or so of my five mile walk was spent slapping my head and neck constantly. While I did manage to swap a dozen or so of the pests -- they had called out their entire air force.  It was a losing battle.  Next time I'll take bug spray.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Writing a book is one of those things that I always wanted to do, but never took the time to actually sit down and do it.  Until now.

It's obviously time-consuming and it's one of the main reasons I have ignored this blog for the past few months.  Hopefully, now, I will be writing more regularly here.

The book is about my nearly two years living in Mongolia.  It's a series of sketches of my observations while I was a Knight Fellow -- training journalists all across the vast country. It's part adventure, part travelogue.

You can find it here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Covered Bridge

There are often "things" along the way that you want to see, but you just don't take the time to see them. Yesterday, I took the time to see one of those "things."

I regularly travel to nearby Greenville, South Carolina for a change of scenery and along the way, on US Highway 25, is a sign for Campbell's Covered Bridge.  I even Googled it once and discovered it's the last surviving covered bridge in the state of South Carolina.  Yesterday, on my way back to Asheville, I detoured off the main road and travel along a beautiful country road for 11 miles or so and turned off to the right and there it was -- a beautiful old plank bridge surrounded by trees and a gentle creek flowing beneath.  It was peaceful.

I'm glad I took the time to slow down and make that detour.  The bridge is not spectacular, but it was refreshing to walk across it and for a few minutes imagine the sound of horse-drawn buggies and maybe even a Model T or two....creaking their way across those wooden planks.
The bridge was built in 1909.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ridiculous Bank Fees

Occasionally, everyone finds themselves in a situation where their checking account may not have enough funds to cover an expense.  That's why it's handy to have overdraft protection.  Simply put -- you have a second account with money in it that automatically covers those expenses when you are overdrawn.

It worked fine with my old bank -- the funds simply transferred automatically into the depleted checking account.

Now that my bank has been purchased by a much larger bank, I can still get the overdraft protection -- BUT -- it's not free.  My new bank charges a 12.50 USD fee each time to transfer my own money from one account to another.  If you don't have overdraft protection and you don't have enough funds to cover an expense -- the bank charges 35.00 USD -- which is normal.  However, to charge a customer to transfer his/her own money is gouging.

I think it's time to find a friendlier bank.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Beyond the Limits of Technology....almost

I have spent the last year trying to identify the best way to get a decent internet connection here at my mountain home.  In August, as a last resort, I chose a satellite delivered internet provider.  It was expensive -- 80 bucks a month -- and slow. Faster than dial-up, but not by much.  It was also impossible to make Skype calls with this system. This was another reason I was reluctant to sign up and I literally mean sign up.  It was a two year contract.

Whenever I would call to report that I was never getting the speed that I was paying for -- the robotic sounding person on the other end would take me through the same drill.  Turn off your router, then turn off your modem and now turn off your computer.  Reboot everything. 

Afterward, the speed would increase slightly, but not by much. I would complain again and then the robotic individual on the other end of the line would say "I'm sorry. This is all we can do. However, if you would like to schedule a service call I would be happy to do that for you. By the way, you will be billed 95 USD for the service call."

Living in a rural area, this is what people who want internet have to deal with on a regular basis. It's absolutely unfair and maddening.

So, last week, a friend brought over one of those credit card sized 4G hotspots and we tried it out.  I was not optimistic since mobile phone signals don't usually work here because of the mountains.  Yet when he turned it on -- the gadget started blinking green. "This is a good sign," he said.  We connected a small antenna to it and suddenly it was picking up a 4G signal from a cell tower over the mountain.  I could not believe my eyes.

I tested out this little gadget for the next few days and found it to be very reliable. So much so, I went out and bought one -- outright -- no two year contract -- just pay as I go -- just the way I like it.

Today, I am connected to the internet via the "hotspot" and even though it only gets "one bar" on the signal strength meter -- one bar is enough. Suddenly, I am getting faster internet, much faster -- up to 6 or 7 megabytes fast. 

I still find it hard to believe that it works and I'm told that if it's working now, it'll work even better in the autumn because leaves on the trees can block a cell phone signal.  So I feel lucky.  However, I will have to keep close tabs on my monthly bandwidth usage -- that's the only downside.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss and Patriotic?

Few opinion pieces strike me as right on, but this one did. Superb and timely thoughts from Charles Simic.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Along the A-T

The A-T overlooking the French Broad River near Hot Springs, NC

It's been a very long time since I've seen spring really explode so early.

I've been mesmerized by the beautiful colors -- the Bradley Pear trees looking so dressed for success in their white blossoms, the red buds (which are really purple) adding brillant color to the gray trees that await their day and those amazing ornamental bushes in bright shades of yellow and red.  It's all so early and so beautiful.

Today....finally, I brought along the camera and took a hike along a stretch of the Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs, North Carolina.  Here are some of the colors I spotted along the way.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Public vs Private Morality

The current crop of Republican presidential contenders are trying to mix up the issue of morality. They spend all their time focusing on private morality -- contraception, abortion, etc -- issues that belong in the bedroom -- when they should be looking at the real issue that is destroying America -- the lack of public morality.

Robert Reich has written a nice piece on the issue of private vs public morality.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Used Car Blues

My car has set up residency at my local mechanic. 

I haven't driven the car in nearly four months.  It all started a few days before Thanksgiving when the transmission died.  After a couple of grand, I got the car back only to drive it a week before it began to "miss" badly. New spark plugs and coils -- those things that sit on top of the plugs -- didn't make a difference.  The new diagnosis -- a new fuel pump.  The car, actually a Jeep Liberty, was still sick.

One mechanic suggested a new engine -- the second opinion recommended the same.  So now, the Jeep has a new, used, engine. The "miss" is gone, but now it has trouble starting -- the new fuel pump was the chief suspect, so it was replaced, but guess what -- it still has trouble starting -- so now -- the mechanic is recommending I replace the little device that sits between the fuel pump and the engine. 

We'll see.  There's not too many other things to replace so I essentially have a new car, but after a Saturday night hail storm -- with hail the size of ice cubes -- the Jeep could use a new paint job.

Ka-ching, Kaching.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Frightened Bear Cub Out on a Limb

It was a pitiful scene: a bear cub trapped in a tree as dozens of people watched below.  I was one of those people for a short while on Thursday.  After all, it's not every day that you see a bear up a tree in the middle of a metropolitan area -- as was the case in downtown Asheville.

No one, particularly the authorities seemed too worried about the animal's safety.

Police seemed clueless.  When I asked one officer what the plan was for rescuing the cub, he said in a patronizing tone -- "we've got it covered."  Apparently not.  The bear spent at least five hours up the tree and I assume it eventually came down when the sun went down. In fact, after speaking to the officer, the bear remained in the tree for at least another four hours.
I was told by one spectator that the guy who would normally "rescue" animals was out of town. In a town the size of Asheville, you'd think there would be at least two people who could be called in to save the cub from civilization.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cozy Little Shed

The first day of this new year, 2012, and I am sitting on a North Carolina hillside inside my cozy little shed aka art studio. It's fully-insulated for the cold winter months ahead -- complete with a skylight to bring in that southern exposure sunlight, track lighting for that extra bit of light and an electric radiator.

Outside, the temperature is near freezing, so the little heater keeps the 8x12 foot room cozy. A strong wind is blowing the tall poplar and oak trees -- and the pines are whispering through their needles.

Over the last few weeks, I've worked up a series of new paintings from this little shed -- feel free to view them here.

I wanted to move in a new direction with my work and have started adding symbols -- mostly ancient ones -- to the pieces. One exception is the painting the Russian Ballerina.

I recently watched the grand re-opening of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow after a multi-million dollar renovation. One of the performances included Swan Lake. I was really struck with the passion of the performers in the piece.  It was performed with a stark blue background -- which worked well with the white costumes.