Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Clarion ForeWord Review of my new book

ForeWord Clarion Reviews
Lost Then Found
Jeff Morgan
Five Stars (out of Five)

Jeff Morgan has written a deceptively simple, short tale about hiking the Appalachian Trail, one that is rich in detail and meaning.

While Lost Then Found is a work of fiction, Morgan draws heavily from his experiences as a long-distance hiker. "All of the characters in this novel are real," he says in a note at the beginning of the book, "but they may have been embellished to make them more interesting to the reader – not that they were not interesting to begin with."

Indeed, it is the interesting characters that make this story engaging. The reader learns that everyone has a nickname on the Appalachian Trail. Kirk, the semi-retired baby boomer narrator, is known as Piece Maker. He sets off on a hike from his Atlanta home by himself and meets a number of colorful personalities along the way, including the fun-loving Bruiser and Tooth Fairy, a large woman who is not at all what she seems.

Kirk stays a few nights at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina and befriends a young woman named Caroline. Caroline, despite her youth, stirs emotions in Kirk but their relationship remains platonic. A central character in Lost Then Found, Caroline makes an unexpected appearance later in the story.

Kirk must move along, and that’s when he meets the somewhat mysterious Pops, an old man who is unusually fit for his age. Kirk and Pops end up hiking together and sharing details of each other’s lives. Their talks cause Kirk to reflect on his marriage, his
daughter, and the meaning of life. It is Pops who awakens a spiritual side in Kirk that he didn’t realize he had.

The author does a fine job describing Kirk’s journey (both the actual one on the trail and the metaphorical one) with just enough detail to give the reader a sense of what hiking the Appalachian Trail is like. The first-person narrative provides the reader with an intimate view of the hiking experience as well as Kirk’s thoughts on life.

Morgan skillfully paints pictures of the story’s characters so that they have realism and depth. The narrator himself is the most developed character, but Caroline may be the most complex; in fact, the story is as much about her journey as it is about Kirk’s. Pops, as Kirk’s spiritual guide, is the most mystical and endearing character in the book.

Lost Then Found is a thought-provoking story that uses the Appalachian Trail as a backdrop to what is, ultimately, a story about spiritual enlightenment. With an unusual twist at the end, Lost Then Found is a satisfying and enjoyable book that will likely make the reader take stock and think about his or her own life.

Barry Silverstein

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

'Little Beee-hind' the Rain

‘Little Beee-hind’ the Rain

‘Little Behind’, that’s what they call him. It’s pronounced, if you want to say it correctly, ‘Little Beee-hind’. That’s my buddy, Rick. I guess you can say he is probably my best friend. We share the same interests, about the same age, and fit socially in the same circles. We frequent the same neighborhood watering holes, grabbing free hugs from the young barmaids, captivating them as well as other patrons with our tall tales about our mountain adventures.
You might wonder how the name ‘Little Beee-hind’ was acquired by the previously mentioned and I will attempt to explain, although to do it justice, it would take an average size paperback novel.
We had hiked, climbed mountains, and backpacked all over the world, but never much together, until we decided to do a small stretch of the Appalachian Trail a few years back. We started at Springer Mountain and planned to hike about four to five days, enjoying the camaraderie with the mass of thru-hikers that begin their journey at Springer Mountain in early April and continue over the next five to six months till they reach their final destination at Katadin in Maine. It was on this trip that Rick was bequeathed, anointed, and given the trail name, ‘Little Beee-hind’, and I must admit it was well deserved. On the trails, especially the Appalachian Trail, hikers will be given trail names. These names are usually earned in some way by the individual. It will sometimes reflect an individual’s personality, state of origin, physical appearance, or almost any other identifying quality of that individual. On the trail there may be several Steve’s for instance, but there will only be one ‘Stuttering Steve’, or ‘Stinky Steve’ or ‘St. Louis Steve’, or ‘Stoned Steve’, and that is how trail names work.
‘Little Beee-hind’ from the very beginning hiked much slower than most of the group that we tended to hang with on the trail. I and many of the others would arrive at the next campsite a good one to two hours before ‘Little Beee-hind’ would meander into camp, usually at dusk, causing an unusual amount of worry on my part, for I did not want to go looking for my friend in the dark. I would sit at camp, with everyone else slowly drifting into camp, and I would question them, “Did you see my buddy Rick?” They would always acknowledge they had, usually explaining the general area where they passed him as he was sitting on a log or a rock, resting. This would normally set my mind somewhat at ease, but never totally relaxing until I would see him sauntering into the camp, grinning from ear to ear, looking like a Bluetick Coonhound that had bit into the ass of a Porcupine.
What made matters worse, or almost funny, was that once into camp, he would realize he had left something at the other camp or left a water bottle, or bandanna at one of the many locations he stopped to rest. He would then begin to retrace his steps back on the trail, hiking sometimes one to two miles to retrieve a necessary piece of equipment or gear. There was one incident where I had been waiting on Rick at camp for at least an hour, which I had begun to expect, and like always Rick strolled into camp right at dusk. I had already gathered firewood and was sitting at the fire when he walked up. He sat to rest before beginning to pitch his tent. Another hiker came strolling into camp even after Rick and I was curious as to who it could be. Who could be slower than Rick? I was watching the hiker, not recognizing who he was, but I did notice his cap. I looked at Rick and made a comment that the late hiker, whoever he was, had a hat just like his. Rick, curious as I, watched the lone hiker stroll toward the three sided shelter. The lone hiker removed his cap, waving it in the air, and questioning, “Anybody lose a hat?”
I immediately glanced at Rick. Rick reached for his head, where it was cap less. Rick immediately laid claim to his cap. The lone hiker explained that he had found it sitting on a rock alongside the trail. I was laughing so hard I thought I might have a coronary. Always leaving a little behind.
Don’t think I’m belittling my buddy Rick for hiking slow. This is merely his choice. I tend to be destination oriented, looking forward to reaching my next destination, where Rick enjoys the journey to the destination. He says he likes to stop and smell the roses, which I wished I could be more like. I sometimes hike with blinders on, huffing and puffing, sweating like a race horse, with only one thought, and that is to get to camp and that’s not necessarily right. Point is, over the years we have grown to respect each other’s different approach to hiking and realize there is not necessarily a right way or wrong way, just your way. With all that said, I as well as the others on the trail began to realize that Rick would always be a little behind.
One night sitting around the campfire, as we all discussed trail names, Rick was anointed by the group as being ‘Little Behind’, and me with my Tennessee accent and slow southern speech patterns, the name became ‘Little Beee-hind’.
It’s been several years since Rick was named ‘Little Beee-hind’, but he is still living up to his name. Just this past weekend, Rick and I planned a three day backpack trip to Panthertown Valley in North Carolina. It’s a beautiful valley, which has been called the Yosemite of the East, because of its numerous waterfalls and huge granite cliffs rising on both sides of the valley. It’s truly a beautiful wilderness to explore.
The weather forecast called for a sixty to ninety percent chance of afternoon thundershowers for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so we were fairly confident that we would see a little rain and maybe a lot of rain. No worries, we’ve been wet before.
Normally I would leave early Friday morning, driving myself, and arriving at the trailhead around noon. I would hike through the valley and climb the southwestern ridgeline of Little Green Mountain where I would set camp in a small pine forest at the top of Little Green. I would be there early enough to set camp, gather firewood, eat one or two meals, and relax on the granite outcroppings of Tranquility Point which proffers tremendous views of the valley below. Rick, ‘Little Beee-hind’ would normally arrive at the trailhead much later, sometimes at dusk, meander his way through the valley, and arrive at camp at dark. This was never a problem, because he had grown accustomed to reaching camp late in the day and hurriedly setting camp and then fall easily into a relaxation mode that night around the campfire brings. I on the other hand require an ample amount of time to organize my camp, arranging my gear, stacking firewood neatly, falling into a rhythm that eventually allows me to relax, reaching that state of mind that Rick can accomplish at a drop of a hat. This particular trip I decided to ride with Rick to the trailhead. Don’t get me wrong, I was a little concerned from the get go, but after questioning Rick when he thought he may be able to leave town, he assured me we could get a way around noon. That would put us at the trailhead around 3:00pm which would still allow me plenty of time to hike in, set camp, and begin to unwind, before dark. What concerned me was the fact that the forecast called for afternoon thundershowers!
‘Little Beee-hind’ picked me up at 2:00pm-running a little behind- and then informed me that he still had to stop by the laundry, the grocery store, and a drug store before we began the three hour drive to the trailhead. The skies were turning dark gray suggesting rain.
We made our necessary stops, and arrived at some of the most congested areas of Forsyth County just in the nick of time to watch everyone leave work- rush hour! I could not help but wonder why they call it rush hour. I never see anyone moving fast as if they were in a rush. Matter of fact, I began to see what it was like to stop and smell the roses! Oh well, at least it’s not dark yet. Was that rain drops I saw on the windshield?
After stopping for gas, then a bathroom break, then a snack, we finally reached the trailhead. There were only two vehicles parked at the trailhead, which was a good sign. At least the valley was not going to be crowded with hikers. Most everyone had more sense than to walk into the wilderness at this time of day, with the aforementioned weather forecast. I couldn’t tell if the clouds were making it so dark or had the sun already started its final descent. Either way, I knew we were running a little behind.
I began to worry. Why? Was it because we only had about one hour of day light left, or was it because I smelled rain and I heard rumbling, thunder, or was that my stomach? Was I worried because I only had about one liter of water in my pack and knew that once at camp, I would have to hike another ½ mile to fill my water bottles, and it seemed I may have to do this in the dark? Hiking down a trail that even in broad day light is snaky. I wondered what it would be like hiking down that trail, through tunnels of Rhododendron, the trail covered with roots that always seemed to resemble serpents, slithering across the dismal trail. Rick interrupted my thoughts, “I think I left my water bottle in the car, hold on,” as he turned to retrace his steps to his car, lifting the back hatch and retrieving his water bottle, grinning, apparently proud of himself for remembering it before he had walked the usual one to two miles. We were definitely getting a little more behind!
Walking through the valley was pleasant, at least there was no sun beating down on us, and the occasional raindrops were a little refreshing or were they depressing? To walk the valley floor, one walks through a huge pine forest, the floor covered with a deep layer of pine needles. The canopy of the surrounding trees sucking what little light was left from the forest floor. The woods deathly still, the only sound were the crickets that seemed to be rejoicing that the weather forecast seemed to be right on. I take that back, the crickets were the only sound when it was not thundering. I told Rick that I was going to stop at Boggy Creek and fill my water bottles before I climbed up the ridge of Little Green. He looked at me as if to question if I was serious. A gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds. I was carrying about forty five pounds and if I filled all my water containers, that would push my pack weight to close to sixty three pounds. That in itself would not be of great concern, but first I had to stop and take about fifteen minutes to fill my containers, and then lug that extra weight up the steepest part of our climb. I realized I may even have to do this in the dark, as it was getting ever darker, or worse it may finally make the crickets day and rain. I may have to climb it in the dark and rain!
I stopped, filled my water bottles, sending Rick on his way ahead of me, to try to reach camp before it started raining. I carefully filled each container, calculating that with this one effort, I may not need to get anymore water for the weekend, saving myself that dreaded ½ mile hike down to School House Falls to retrieve water, stepping over the serpent roots in the dark. I almost felt like I had outwitted nature, until I tried to pick my pack up. The weight seemed to magically double. Had I mistakenly filled a forty-five gallon drum and placed in my pack unknowingly? It was dark you know!
I shouldered the gargantuan mass of a pack, and started up the mountain. I had climbed maybe one hundred yards and suddenly I felt like I needed to stop to rest, I like to say it was to smell the roses. I continued to climb eighty yards and stop, sixty yards and stop, forty yards and stop; I was getting this Rick thing down pat.
I made the last half mile, across the granite face of Little Green, just as the sun, I think it was the sun, but it may have been lightning slipped behind the mountains to our west. Rick was finishing setting his tent. I hurriedly pitched my tent, throwing my gear into the protected space, keeping what I may immediately need, like a shot of Maker’s Mark Whiskey out and within reach as I plopped down to rest my weary legs. Rick busied himself with gathering firewood.
The rain seemed to pass us, as we sat around the comfort of the campfire, watching strange shadows dance across the wall of trees surrounding us. The Cicadas began their musical arrangement of “Flight of the Bumblebee” in stereo no doubt, drowning out every other noise except the occasional rumble of thunder and the ever so often snap and crackle of the fire as it consumed the carefully cut pieces of timber we had gathered.
Surprisingly, I began to relax, realizing, after all the worry, we were here. Dry and for the most part settled in, even if the rain did come. Darkness now was welcomed, bringing with it a sense of solitude and peace, a blanket of dark comfort, not necessarily hiding me from the world, but the world from me. The Maker’s Mark warming my insides just as the campfire warmed the out.
I was facing west, watching the embers rise from the fire, drifting slowly in the still air. Distant flashes of lightning danced across the western sky. I pointed and told Rick that it was lightning. He assured me it was only ‘heat lightning’, which I immediately questioned, “What’s the difference?”
“I guess it has something to do with the temperature,” he tried to make it sound as if what he said was positively scientific fact, no question about it, absolute, concrete evidence that it was hot and yes it was lightning in the distance.
I had been told by a reputable source that ‘heat lightning’ was a misnomer. Actually the lightning you see is associated with thunderstorms, it’s just off in a distance, and the sound of the thunder is not heard, because it dissipates over the distance, long before the flashes of light do. These distant thunderstorms are frequent in the southern summers when it is so hot, thus it became known as heat lightning. So I knew, regardless of Ricks assurance, that the lightning I was witnessing, even though still far away, was evidence bad weather was still a possibility and possibly moving our way. I listened for the crickets wondering if they were still singing their happy tunes expecting the rain but they could not be heard. It could have been because the Cicadas were so loud that the crickets chirping were drowned out by their cacophony or because the crickets were all ready seeking shelter to prevent being drowned by the oncoming rain.
As we sat trying to solve all of the world’s woes, I could not help myself but brag a little to Rick about the amount of weight I drug up the side of Little Green Mountain. I explained to him that even though it was tough, and physically trying, I would benefit by the fact that I would not have to make the ½ mile hike down to School House Falls for water. He agreed that it was quite a physical feat to drag that amount of water, with a full pack, up the side of the mountain, but he himself was glad to find that there was a steady stream of water, filling a small pool, just twenty yards down the granite bald. He informed me that once he had pitched his tent that he leisurely filled all his water bottles at the small pool and suggested that if I needed more, which he doubted I would, that I use the same source of water.
Thanks Rick.”
10:00pm and getting a buzz from the Maker’s Mark and beginning to think that the Cicadas had changed melodies and were now singing ‘Wipe Out’, the song by the Surfaris in the 60’s.
Rick went to his tent to retrieve some reading material, I guess my discussion about the heat lightning got too deep, and that’s when it began. It was a sound of wind in the tree tops. A whooshing sound and the Cicadas stopped mid chorus. I listened wondering why the sound of the wind was so evident but was not felt. Then I felt it….. Not wind, but rain. I stood doubting my senses, but only for a second, because within two seconds the bottom fell out of the sky.
Rick, with all his wisdom, rain pouring from the sky, yelled from his tent, “Is that rain?”
“No Rick! It’s just heat rain…. You know like the stuff that comes from heat lightning!” I answered as I was gathering gear running for my tent, which for some stupid reason, I had left open.
The rain was deafening as it pelted our tents. I tried to remember what I may have left out in the elements as I rushed for the confines of my abode. Too late to worry about it now. I fell asleep before even removing my wet clothes dreaming about storms, snakes, drowning and leaving a little something behind.
It rained off and on the whole next day, never allowing me to dry any of my gear. I had wet clothes, wet sleeping bag, wet pack, and wet tent, but still I was having fun. Rick and I sat under a make shift tarp and would laugh as we each brought up stories of our past. We goaded each other about our insecurities, our mistakes in life, and praised each other for each of our successes. You see, once in nature you become part of it. If it rains, you rain, if it is sunny and bright, then you become the sun. This particular trip, I was just a little beee-hind.
Thanks Rick for a great trip. See you on the trail soon!

This trip took place on August 13, 2010 and we returned to Atlanta on August 15, 2010. Camped two nights on top of Little Green Mountain, in Panthertown Valley, located about five miles, North East of Cashiers, North Carolina. It RAINED!