Archive for September 2012

The Other Side of the River   1 comment

On Sunday, September 21, 2012, I decided to get out of my apartment for another early morning hike.  I really wanted to see some kind of wildlife, so I went to the one place where I’ve seen a lot of animal life before, the bed of the Salt River that has been turned into a park stretching from 24th Street to 19th Avenue.  The City of Phoenix has been adding water back into the riverbed–don’t know if it is waste water or irrigation water or where it comes from, but the City is making about 5 miles of river in the center of the valley.  It was a beautiful day for hiking, too bad I was by myself.  I brought along my camera, and what follows is my record of my walk.  I especially tried to get pictures of animals, so look closely and see if you can spot the beasties my human eye spotted and tried to get on camera.  I probably need a better camera for this sort of picture taking.  I’m sure Brian’s latest toy would have done a much better job, but I work with what I have.

Although this looks like a view of the parking area where I left my car, and started the walk, it is really included to show the skyline of Phoenix to the north. Maybe I should have climbed up on the wall to get a better angle on it.

Telescopic view of the 7th Avenue bridge with the city beyond it. I have learned to use the telephoto ability of my camera, and sometimes I even remember to do so.

View from beneath the 7th Avenue Bridge.

Daffy Duck? From the south side of the river, one can get much closer to the water.

One of seven pools along this stretch of “river”. It looks natural, but the City’s Parks Department built it. This water is way up above the natural bottom of the river. Pumps must be involved.

For a desert rat like me, this is kind of a strange sight. Peaceful. Kind of makes me wish I could be that duck for a short while.

Access road on the south side of the river. Easy walking.

Side trail leading down to the river.

The heart of the forest. Early in the walk I reached the greenest part of the park.

Looking back toward the 7th Ave. bridge. You can see my trademark shadow in the picture thus proving it was really me taking these pictures.

a hidden pool.

No fishing! It would take a very determined fisherman to get down to the water around here. I wonder what kind of fish, the city has put into the river.

Tangled. I think I was trying to photograph a dragonfly here, but I don’t see it.

Two-headed duck.

First glimpse of Bugs. There’s a rabbit in this picture. Can you find it?

One step closer with the telephoto on.

The road twists and turns. This feels about right for me–the proper mixture between nature and civilization.

This looks like a birch tree to me. You don’t see many birch trees in the Phoenix area. It is too hot and dry for them.

I saw another rabbit, but it blends into the scenery very well. This seems to be the main area for rabbits along this trail. There are probably hundreds of them.

Big scummy pool–i wonder what lurks below the surface.

The ground here is full of holes. Snakes and small rodents live in these, and there is a maze of small tunnels beneath all this vegetation.

There’s a bird in here somewhere.

I met some park rangers. They told me about the seven pools on the river, and about some of the wildlife I didn’t see. They saw a coyote that morning, and there are rumors of beavers living on the river. Back before Arizona was a state, there were plenty of beavers living on Arizona rivers, but they were trapped and hunted to extinction by the mountain men before 1850. I enjoyed my chat with these guys.

Waterfall. I have walked almost all the way to Central Avenue. Water is entering the river here from the south.

West side of the Central Avenue bridge. Central Avenue splits the Phoenix area into eastern and western halves.

The eastern side of the Central Avenue bridge. Note the massive buttresses supporting the bridge. In the past during floods, the bridges supported only by pillars like those at 7th Avenue would often be undermined and crumble, but the Central Avenue bridge never failed.

Anthill. When I was a boy in Phoenix, there were anthills everywhere, and a favorite game was collecting ants in a large bottle and having one’s own ant colony. Now, I go years without seeing anthills sometimes, and if you do find them, they are the tiny black ants. These are red ants, but not the big red fire ants i remember playing with as a child.

These white flowers look almost like lillies, and were growing along the river wherever the ground was open enough.

Riverbed showing finely sorted pebbles, all about the same size and composition. I saw some kind of desert squirrel here, but it didn’t hold still long enough for me to catch a picture of it.

There were a fair number of butterflies in the air, and there is a yellow butterfly in the center of this picture on the bush. With wings folded it was almost invisible, and you could see right through the filmy yellow wings.

I have reached the 7th Street bridge, about 14 blocks east of where I started. You can tell I am a troll–I have a fondness for being beneath bridges.

View of the river east of 7th Street. There are parking areas here too, and I may come and start my walk from this part of the river some time in the future.

I found this plastic Chevy hubcap at my easternmost part of the walk, off the main road. I’m sorry to say there was plenty of litter in the park. I picked up the hubcap and brought it home with me as a symbol of my walk, and a bit of clean up.

At this point I turned back, and walked as quickly as I could back to my car.  I meant to take a few other pictures, but the batteries were low, and the camera refused to work.  I had one more encounter, came across a big gray rabbit with a white tail, on my way back.  At one point it passed beside me no more than six feet from me, but he was really moving.  I saw it clearly, but there was no chance to photo it.

So, there you have it.  My animal encounters started with a black duck and ended with a gray rabbit with a white tail.  If they aren’t Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, two of my cartoon heroes sent to brighten up my day by a benevolent universe, then there is no greater power that caters to the whims of men.  Ducks and rabbits are common animals, but being superstitious, I consider their appearance to be a kind of gift.  Thank you, World!

The hubcap and the Trollgod’s hat are home now. The hubcap is really too dirty to bring into the house, but it has a position of honor on the concrete wall just outside my front door. The circle is complete, and once again I have returned to the place from which I started.

I hope you have enjoyed my little walk along the Salt River bed.  The pictures are nothing special–just a record of a couple of hours in one morning of my life.  In this age of computers and high tech, this kind of interaction with the world gets less and less common.  Who knows what will be of value, and to whom?  I leave this record in hopes that someone, somewhere, somewhen will get something of value from it.

If you know anything about Arizona’s urban wilderness, or even if you don’t, please feel free to leave a comment.

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Off to See the Mermaid   4 comments

My home city of Phoenix, Arizona lies in the middle of a desert. One wouldn’t expect to find many mermaids that far from the ocean–the shortest route is over 300 miles to reach the Gulf of California–but I found one. So, Sunday, September 15, I walked off to see her instead of going out into the desert. The walk that follows is a minor tour of the neighborhood where I live on the northwest side of town.

When I walk in the desert I try to photograph any animals I see. The first thing I saw when I started this city walk was this pigeon. There are thousands of pigeons living wild in Phoenix, maybe tens of thousands of them. I sometimes think they should be the state bird. They are the commonest creature (other than man and dogs and cats) that you will see in Phoenix.

When I go walking in town, I usually take a book to read. I’ve been working on this epic fantasy by Chris Marks since I returned from GenCon a month ago. If you like fantasy in the Tolkien tradition, you would like ELFHUNTER by C. S. Marks. My copy is autographed by the author. 🙂

The first obstacle is getting downstairs. I have fallen once on these stairs in the last year and a half–missed a step. I don’t like stairs. But my legs are stronger than they used to be because I go up and down these half a dozen times a day at least.

I walk for my health, not because I love walking. My feet have inflamed nerve ganglions in them, and every step hurts. If I did what I wanted, I’d get in my beautiful new 2012 Kia Forte and go for a hundred mile drive on this beautiful Sunday morning instead of walking the streets of Phoenix.

Heading south on 17th Avenue . . . the street is divided by a green belt that runs from Maryland to Glendale, and in that green belt is a single line of palm trees. This is dog country. Everyone who owns a dog on this street brings them out to walk and poop in this stretch of grass.

I have turned west on Maryland. It’s 2 blocks over to 19th Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in western Phoenix.

On 19th Avenue I turn south for half a mile. As I walk I think that Phoenix is a kind of very open forest. Really, there are trees everywhere you look.

It’s a lion. What kind of a person wants a lion sitting outside his or her home?

Apparently, the answer is a psychic. Judging from the trailer ad, this is the home of a psychic.

Actually there are two lions at this house. The second one hides behind the trailer, but it didn’t bother me. I’ve gone this way before, and I’m kind of a cat person. The lions are my friends.

I thought you might like to see the Phoenix sky. Sunday was a cloudless day, except for the contrails made by jets flying across the state through the upper atmosphere.

I have reached Bethany Home Road. Here I turn west and walk past a huge hospital.

We live in a science fictional world. Here’s a robot reminding me that I can ride the bus if I want to get around town.

Although, I claim this walk is all about going to see the Mermaid, it’s really about going to this place to get some Sunday morning breakfast. I like to reward myself on these walks, and what better reward is there than stopping for something good to eat and drink in the middle of it all?

And here’s the Mermaid at last. Isn’t she a beauty? Just based on this picture, I really want to come and eat at this restaurant some time.

The dive is called Brad’s Fish & Chips. Either the mermaid is named Brad, or she works for Brad, probably the latter.

Here’s another picture of her. I want to be . . . under the sea . . . with a mermaid.

Here’s another old friend, Ronald McDonald. You don’t see the clown inside the restaurants much any more. Ronald and two kids are out blowing bubbles behind the fast food joint.

I take a different path on my walk ome, going north on 23rd Avenue. Phoenix is a forest, and forests need rivers. Our rivers flow underground, and are protected from the people by metal gates and grates. You can hear the water rushing by just below your feet, but you can’t get to it.

I cut through the south side of Washington Park on my way home. This is as close to Nature as I will come this day.

Home at last. My back and feet hurt, but I have done over 9000 steps this morning. That’s a good thing. I will re-enter the Troll Cave now and take it easy for the rest of the day.

And there you have it, friends, a very ordinary walk in a very ordinary city by an ordinary guy–a slice of life to be part of a record that will never matter to anyone.

If you ever go looking for mermaids, why not leave a comment and tell me how and where YOU find them?

–end

Judge Dredd in violent 3D slow motion   3 comments

Would you take a drug that made time seem to go in super slow motion for you?  It doesn’t speed up your natural reactions, it just speeds up your thinking.  I wouldn’t.  But that’s the new narcotic of choice for the new Judge Dredd movie.  I think it’s just a gimmick so the film makers could do a lot of super slow motion sequences, and to be fair, there are some pretty cool sequences in the film.

The latest comic book inspired movie to hit the screens is Judge Dredd, another Lionsgate picture.  Judge Dredd made it to the movies once before starring Sylvester Stallone.  That movie was kind of forgettable, and though I know I saw it, I’ve mostly forgotten it.  I think I’ll remember the current version a lot longer.  Karl Urban is amazing as Judge Dredd.  Cold, passionless, brutal–he is the law.  Olivia Thirlby is even better as Cassandra Anderson.  She gets a chance to act, and she makes the movie.  Academy award nomination for her if I was in the Academy.  I never heard of either one of these actors, but they’re at the top of my favorites list now.

This is the story of Anderson’s pass/fail exam to become a Judge.  She gets to spend a day on the beat with Dredd.  He is constantly testing her judgment abilities.  Of course she tackles a crime that turns out to be one of the greatest challenges of Dredd’s career.  They wind up taking on a whole criminal gang, locked into a gigantic skyscraper with every hand against them.  There is no plot.  Just crisis after crisis of escalating firepower and danger.

The movie is a first person shooter video game brought to the big screen.  In 3D.  And super slow motion!  With lots and lots of blood!  And graphic depictions of violence that could turn your stomach if you stopped to think about it, or had to see it in real life.  And lots of bad street language.  And a calculating female villain as tough and nasty as can be imagined.

And it all works extremely well.  I was caught up in it from beginning to end.  This is the way the comic should be translated to real life.  The people seem real, even if the world is too horrible to believe in.  My one word description of this movie is: NASTY!  And I mean that in a good way.

My favorite scene is where Anderson is asked to list and evaluate their options.  She comes up with two: hide or fight.  Dredd gives her a third, go after Ma-Ma, the gang leader.  She recommends waiting till the odds are more in her favor.  She’s that green.  She doesn’t realize that since she’s with Dredd, the odds are already in their favor.  Those couple hundred gang members never really stood a chance.

If there’s one place where the film makers went a bit too far, it was in the overuse of violent slow motion and smoke.  Somebody fell in love with the idea of smoke swirling around in slow motion 3D on film, and it happens repeatedly during the movie.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of smoke, so that part just sort of turned my stomach.  But, it was all sort of moody and artistic, so I’m not complaining very hard.

Generally, critics hate action science fiction movies, but they liked this one.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 91%.  The audiences give it a 95%.  I’d rate it that high.  Other than blowing too much smoke at the audience, I couldn’t find a thing I didn’t like about the movie.

If you like to see heroes facing down the hordes of hell, then this is the movie of the year for you.  I rate it higher than the Avengers movie, and that one was mighty good.

If you’d like to comment on the new Judge Dredd movie, leave your remarks below.

–end

Posted September 14, 2012 by atroll in Judge Dredd, Uncategorized

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Thun’da   1 comment

I’ve been a Tarzan fan since I was 10 years old and first heard Johnny Weismuller’s unearthly jungle yodels.  If you’re a Tarzan fan, you sort of become a fan of all the other imitation Tarzans, and one of the best imitations was Frank Frazetta’s Thun’da, King of the Congo.

Dynamite Comics retells the story of Thun’da, King of the Lost Land.

Gardner Fox and Frank Frazetta created Thun’da in 1952.  American aviator Roger Drum crashes in the heart of Africa only to find himself in a place like Burroughs’ Pal-ul-don, a land full of mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, ape-men, and even some left-over dinosaurs. Although fit when he started, the rigorous life of survival in this savage world turned Drum into a paragon of physical perfection.  Of course he soon met a beautiful jungle queen, and found himself elevated to the status of jungle god.  He got his name from the sound his pistol made when he was slaying a gigantic serpent–the sound of thunder.

In August of 2012 Dynamite Comics, re-packagers of every pulp hero they can get their hands on, relaunched the Thund’da comics. Written by Robert Place Napton with art by Cliff Richards and covers by Jae Lee, they tell the story as if it was happening now instead of the World War II setting originally envisioned by Gardner Fox.  Today’s comics are more gorgeous than those of yesteryear, and move a lot slower. Napton uses 22 pages to start building the character of Thun’da and gets about as far as Fox did in his first 2 pages of story.  But, it’s the same story.

Dynamite has done something that I really want to praise them for.  They reprinted the first 10 page Thun’da story in the back of the book.  Although I knew Thun’da existed, I had never actually read any of his stories.  The Frazetta artwork of the original is clean and beautiful, and doesn’t waste any time on psychological character development.  Roger Drum just naturally adjusts to being a lord of the jungle in the original, slaying ape-men and savage beasts with ease.

These covers are all symbolic. Nothing like this happens in the actual comic.

The 22 pages of retelling in the second issue gets us through pages 3 and 4 of the original 10-page tale.  We can see the ratio now.  The modern retelling of Thun’da is ten times as long as the original.  This is a nice formula.  Take some classic pulp story and retell it in the present, but make it ten times as long and detailed as the original.  No need to worry about plot–the original tale does the plotting for you.  All you as a writer need to do is fill in lots of details that help get from point A to point B in the story.  Napton does this extremely well and the comics are just beautiful.  Still, it seems a bit wrong to me that I’m paying 30 times as much today as I would have in 1952 for 1/10 of the actual story content.  This makes the ratio of money to story an incredible 300 to 1 compared to what a kid could have gotten in 1952.  The second issue of the new Thun’da reprints a 7 page story from the 50s.

Well, I’m hooked.  Cliff Richards’ art is excellent.  His monsters and jungle beasts are especially fine.  These comics are everything comics should be–well drawn, colorful, and exciting.  And the reprints are making me think about finding the Thun’da archive publication that came out in 2010 and buying it.  The original Frazetta art is mighty fine in its own right, and nobody was better at pulp adventure storytelling than Gardner Fox.

In my not so humble opinion, Dynamite has become the best comic book publisher in the country over the last few years, and they have done it by going back to the classics and retelling stories of high adventure that today’s readers were too young to read when they first came out.  I love it.

If you like Frank Frazetta, Gardner Fox, Cliff Richards or Robert Napton, feel free to leave a comment.

–end

Return to Dreamy Draw   7 comments

Take a walk in the Arizona desert with me.  Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, I left my apartment at 6:30 in the morning and went out to take a hike in the desert by myself–did not connect with my brother this time.  I brought my camera and took pictures along the way.  This walk happened in the Dreamy Draw Park in northern Phoenix.

Lots of people come out to enjoy this park. This is the entry from the parking lot.

Dawn in the desert. It rained the night before. A cloudy sky promised some coolness for a change.

The trail begins easily enough.

The trail divides. I went right this time because I went left last time.

Is this the Dreamy Draw? No, it’s just a gully.

Looking westward toward the city of Phoenix.

My plan is to climb as far into the hills as the trails will easily take me. Climbing is good for the heart.

I am lured by the arroyos. They are the wilder places in the desert.

I kept trying to go off on the narrower, less obvious paths.

One of the wilder, more verdant spots. Do desert elves hide in such places?

You can almost always see mountains in Arizona. I love these long vistas.

It rains in the summer in the desert here, and that is why it is so green.

The trail leads ever upwards. I’m interested in a good climb.

This park is used a lot by mountain bikers. This young lady hit a sharp rock and got a flat tire.

She had a couple of friends with her to help in case of emergency. They fixed the flat, and I saw them again when I was walking out, still rolling and having a good time.

All trails lead back to the main trail. I’ve stepped over this ridge of stones before on my last trip up here. It almost looks like someone built a little wall here to give bikers a hard time. Maybe it’s a desert speed bump.

Once again I’ve gotten off the main trail, taking a narrower, steeper one uphill.

From the shoulder of the mountain I can look northeast to the weirdly named Mazatzls Mountains.  There is a strong cool breeze up here.

Onward!

I had been walking for over an hour. I was happy to find this place to rest.

Entrance to a Dwarven Kingdom, or a Troll’s Cave? The door appears to be closed, and I didn’t climb up and knock on it.

There’s a big quartz outcropping in the center of this picture.  These hills are full of quartz–an igneous rock rising up from below.  I sometimes think that quartz is like the bones of the mountain, and what a weird skeleton it must have.  Although quartz is the commonest stone on earth, it happens to be my favorite rock.  There are pieces of quartz inside my apartment, just because I like the rock.

Looking up at the next high ridge.

This cholla cactus has both leaves and thorns. I call them Cthulhu bushes because they have tentacles.

Looking up a sheer cliff face.

Looking down and out. I have gotten quite high on the mountainside.

The hidden side of the mountains. Usually I walk into this area from the south.

A path fit for mountain goats and guarded by Saguaro cacti.

This was my turnaround point. We are looking south now, and the distant mountains are the South Mountains on the far side of the city.

Starting the trip back to the car. It will be mostly downhill from here. Downhill in the desert can be more dangerous and difficult than uphill, especially if one is tired.

Is that civilization in the distance? No, it’s just northeast Phoenix.

I want to get down to that relatively easy path at the bottom, but I have a long way to go.

I had seen very little wildlife on my walk–a few insects was all. Finally this lizard came out to look at me.

I decided I needed proof that I was really up here. Here’s a picture of my hat, posing on a boulder. Battered as it is, the hat likes to have its picture taken.

Dang! I’ve walked a long way. Heading down, and still a long way to go.

Me and my shadow. More proof I was really up here. I wonder if I could use this shadow as a profile photo.

Mountain bikers go everywhere. Even the narrowest trails show wheel tracks.

I spot a second lizard. Looks like the same species, but not the same one, as I’m half a mile past where I took the first picture.

What a handsome fellow! And he posed very nicely, even when I put my camera down close to get a better picture of him. I would see one more lizard before I finished my walk, but that one was running, and there was no chance to photograph it. Still, I guess Sunday was a three lizard day.

This path is very steep and very slippery. I was taking teeny tiny careful steps to get down it. But, it would be very easy to walk up it.

Back on the main trail at last. From here on I made good speed for a tired old man.

This is the real Dreamy Draw. See how wide and deep it has gotten. These little desert rivers are dry most of the time, and they start out as tiny erosion channels high on the mountainside, but they get wide and deep fast as they reach the bottom of the hill.

Almost down now. I step aside to let some bikers zoom by me.

Here’s a map of the park. If I were a planner, I would have looked at this and planned my route instead of wandering wherever my fancy took me.

The end is in sight.

Climbing into my car and saying goodbye to Dreamy Draw. It was a good walk, about 3.5 miles according to my pedometer, though it felt like more. Even the hat has had enough and wants to head home. Hot shower, here I come!  Left my apartment about 6:30 and got home again at 9:45.  So I spent about 3 hours in the desert.

If you enjoyed my little desert hike, go ahead and leave a comment.  If you think I should get back to reviewing books, comics, and movies, you could say that too.  🙂

–end