CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - August 2013
Cloudland remote Cabin Cam - white bark aspen and rainbows from our campsite in Colorado
Journal updated Saturday the 31st
08/01/13 A bit of dim grey light is creeping into the landscape. The cabin is engulfed with heavy fog. The deep bellow of a large bullfrog echoes from deep out there in the wilderness somewhere. There is a dutch oven on the porch with biscuits cooking. And two goats are feeding in Moms meadow below - actually one of them is inside the gazebo right now. The temp is in the upper 60s, and it feels quite delightful outside - must be August at Cloudland!
Which brings up my first question of the month - do you know anyone who has lost a goat? We now have a pair of big boys with rather large horns living in Moms meadow, and lounging in the gazebo once in a while. One is snow white, the other a medium gray. They just sort of wandered in, and seem to be enjoying themselves.
08/02/13 I had a Cloudland Moment yesterday. Lucy and I took off for the very first hike I’d taken in a long time - July was not a good month here, and August began quite foggy, with an uncertain future - so it felt GREAT to finally get out into the woods and stretch my legs, and enlighten my mind a bit. Here and there the fog was thinner, and I could see out into the forest. There seemed to be hundreds of spider webs, each freshly woven and sparkling in the early-morning light. At one point I stopped and counted more than 100 of them in a single scene. Some of the webs were small and close to the ground, while others were several feet above the ground and rather large - up to several feet wide! I wondered if the spider was wanting to catch a deer, or a hiker?
We are entering the time of year when spiders are the lords of the wilderness, and if you are the first to hike a trail on any given day, I suggest you wear a headnet - those webs, and juicy spiders who are weaving them - like to be right at mouth level - great for a little snack if you like that sort of thing. Or simply hike second behind a hiker that is a little bit taller than you - that guy will clear all of the webs out for ya!
It was easy hiking and in no time we had covered several miles and were headed back towards the cabin. Lucy sometimes runs ahead a little bit to make sure there are not buggers up there, and today was no exception. Just as we were coming around a corner her demeanor had an abrupt change - she sped up into a dead run, barking and snarling, and I do believe the hair stood on end. (mine, not hers) And then her voice changed - into a happy bark if there is such a thing. As I rounded the bend in the trail I understood. The fog had opened up, and the forest was filled with dozens of soft and feathery “God Beams” from the brilliant sunshine above.
It was indeed a happy sight, filled with joy and hope. Funny how sometimes a visual moment like this will move me to tears, but that is what happened as I moved into the wall of beams, and found myself completely surrounded by them. It was as if I could reach out and touch them - or perhaps I was touched by them. I took it as a sign of a brighter future - which is almost always the case in the wilderness.
08/03/13 Speaking of Lucy, we went into town today to visit the Farmers Market on the Fayetteville square. Lucy is mostly anti-social (much more so than me), and she does not do good in crowds, or even with other people around. But we did not want to leave her in the van, so we put on a collar and leash, and held our breaths, assuming she would only last a minute or two before we’d have to return her to the van. The square was crowded, with more folks than we’d ever seen at the market before. And oh my goodness, there were other DOGS everywhere - YIKES! If Lucy does not do well around people, she really does not like other dogs!
I could see the terror in her eyes, and she immediately began to whimper, and started to muster a growl. Just then a little kid came running up to Lucy (not much taller than she), reached out his hand and patted her on the head softly (my hand was immediately at the same spot - just in case). Lucy would not bite someone - unless they were an intruder at the cabin, then you had better look out! But she not only did not snap at the child, he seemed to ease her mind, she smiled, and rather enjoyed this chance meeting with the little boy. WHAT, who was this little black dog on our leash?
We spent a good bit of time touring the market as Pam collected fresh veggies. The entire time Lucy was the perfect lady, nodding and smiling at everyone and every dog we passed. While that was weird enough, quite a few people went out of their way to come over and speak to Lucy - and she responded with a smile and a wag. She even rubbed noses with a BOXER with a smile - oh my! The order of the universe had indeed been altered!
We had some very strong storms pass through during the night, and as we headed into town this morning the heavy rains continued. All the streams we passed up here in the Buffalo Headwaters - including even the ditches - were running with what looked like hot chocolate - a FLOOD in August? When we crossed the Buffalo down in Boxley later in the day, it was bone dry. Yet the wilderness had flooded only hours before. Hum - must be that new universe thing.
08/04/13 It was pretty foggy at 4am this morning as I sat on the back deck sipping a cup of java. There was no moon, but the fog was kind of bright - lit up by stars up above somewhere I figured. The trees surrounding the cabin and the meadow below were silhouetted against the white fog most of the time. But now and then the sea of fog would rise up just a little bit and inch towards the cabin, engulfing those black trees.
I was up before the birds - not a single peep, hoot, or coo out of anyone. There was just a tiny bit of background noise from crickets and frogs though - not loud, but hanging there. But the air was filled with sound - the music of the Buffalo River far below was rising up and filtered through the fog direct to my ears. I don’t recall ever hearing the river here in August. The river does flow all summer in the extreme headwaters, but it goes underground before it reaches Boxley so it is a dry riverbed there (then surfaces again before it reaches Ponca). But the flow is mostly from underground springs, keeping the deeper pools full of clear and COLD water. Funny, but I’ve always felt that those pools are colder in the summer than in springtime - since a majority of the water is from cold springs instead of warmer surface runoff. But this week there is plenty of runoff, and so the river is up and flowing above and between those pools, creating the music.
GOAT UPDATE. This month began with a pair of large Billy goats that had moved into Moms Meadow below the cabin. At first they were a novelty - we’ve never had goats around here before. Then we began to get concerned that the goats would move up around the cabin and eat everything in sight, including all of Pam’s flowers she has worked so hard for years to cultivate. We had a lot of folks online preach gloom and doom about the goats. And the goats did make an appearance at the cabin - and we held our breaths.
Turns out the goats were perfectly respectful, and never touched a flower. It became a treat for several days to see them down in the meadow grazing - with no worries they would eat everything up since there was SO MUCH for them to eat - they don’t call this the OZARK JUNGLE for nothing! When goats are not penned up and are free to wander and roam, they will graze a bit here and there, and then move on, which is exactly what these goats did. They have now moved on, and we expect for them to be reported elsewhere on Cave Mountain. Turns out they have been wandering around the mountain for a while, as we’ve talked to many different folks who have seen them this spring and summer. We wish them a continued safe and happy journey!
08/07/13 It was a month ago today that we left the cabin at 2am to get my lovely bride to Springfield for a scheduled surgery that had been a long time in coming (thank you health insurance companies for forcing four years of unnecessary pain and suffering!). Her two-hour surgery went well, and we were back at the cabin by dark that same day. Pam has been sequestered at the cabin all this time, except for a couple of short trips into town to test her sea legs. Her recovery has gone well (except for the extreme cabin fever!), and we return to Springfield today in hopes of getting a two thumbs up from the doctor in her rehab schedule. Doctors are certainly miracle workers. If only the health insurance companies did not have them by the throat (or other body parts) in this country...(Oops, was that my outside voice?)
With rain in the forecast every day for a while, it looks like August is going to be a very nice GREEN month, which should set the stage for a terrific fall color season - I can’t wait!
EVENING UPDATE from the doctor visit today. My lovely bride is doing well with her recovery, and while it will still take another month or two for her to get back to normal, there was no cancer - a great big YIPPIE COYOTE is floating out over the wilderness tonight!
08/08/13 There was quite an electrical storm going on most of the night - what we used to call "heat lightning" in the olden days. Now we can pull up the radar screen and see that the bright, almost constant flashes that light up the surrounding wilderness, are coming from giant thunderstorms raging in another part of the state. Late last night there was one just east of Harrison; early this morning they were coming from the northwest corner and Ft. Smith areas - the sort of storms that are not only red on the radar screen, but DARK red. Sometimes we will sit and watch them light up, and realize the thunderheads are 50-100 miles away, yet we still can see the actual lightning bolts.
It wasn't until almost daylight that we go the first drops of rain here this morning - and when it arrive it did so with a big BANG, lots of wind, and heavy rainfall. Since those surge protectors don't really work when there is a direct lightning strike to or nearby, we always unplug all computers when there is a chance of bad storms. We do leave the modem and router plugged in and are able to stay online and computer wirelessly using a laptop - that keeps up informed with the approaching weather, and we are able to conduct normal business when needed.
One funny note about Lucy, our little pup that Pam and Amber rescued from the animal shelter in Springfield more than 1999. She has always lived here under the shadow of Aspen, who was the Alpha dog. Now that he is gone, Lucy has been taking on more of that roll. I noted how she was able to get out and strut her stuff in public the other day at the Farmers Market (a FIRST for her!), and now when storms approach she has become quite protective and sees to it that Amber is OK, and will spend the night beside Amber's bed. In the past, Lucy would simply start to hyperventilate and go run hide under our bed when a low pressure approached. And the other day, after Amber brought home some stuff from a yard sale, Lucy started to dig through it, pulling out several clothing items that belonged to Amber - something Aspen used to do all the time. In fact Aspen gained a reputation early of stealing boots and shoes of guests and hiding them in the woods - some of those have never been found (SORRY Don Kurz!).
And speaking of Amber, she has been busy ever since returning from school in Greece - doing yet more college credit hours online while living here at home. When she enters her third year of college in a couple of weeks, she will have enough credit hours to be listed as a SENIOR already - really, I'm married to a young lady who has a SENIOR in college? My lovely bride remains a spring chicken, but her daughter is growing up really FAST! Amber's degree program lasts five years and requires 150 or more credit hours, so she will still be in school at least four years, but she will be able to cut off one full year of that because of the extra class loads she has been doing.
It has been raining here now for a couple of hours this morning, and I just heard the first peep from a critter since it started - a pair of tree frogs sang out to each other. Wildlife will frequently hunker down when a big storm first hits, but eventually they will return to their normal activities if the rain continues - not that big of a deal to them. People tend to do that as well - we adapt. After having spent the last few hours trying to catch up on some paperwork, I'm going to adapt as well, go outside and take the daily deck cam photo, then get back to normal work. Hope you enjoy the rain today if you get some! This is August, right?
08/10/13 I'll tell ya a funny story about that lightning picture I posted yesterday morning (and now, below). As the storms were rolling in and all the lightning began to happen the night before, I got a desperate e-mail from the biggest fish in the nature photography magazine publishing world (they were working late on Thursday night). They were about to select the cover for their upcoming October fall color issue and needed to get high-res versions of two of my pictures "ASAP." It sounded like they were trying to decide on the cover that night. They had previously requested some low-res images from me for that issue, but not for the cover, and one of those they were requesting had not been part of that group. No problem I told them, I would get the files worked up and sent to them in an hour.
But there WAS a problem - I could not run my computers with all that lightning in the air! Yet if I delayed getting the files to them they might pick someone else's photo for the cover - that's the way they work - they want your stuff NOW or they will move on. The big files were on the computer next door in the gallery, so I fired it up and held my breath as I processed and sized those two files, then I shut down that computer and ran back to the cabin. I could use my laptop at the cabin via wireless connection to the router so the computer would not be plugged into the phone line or electricity and not subject to lightning strike. Big files, and it would take a while to get them uploaded, made slower by the wireless connection.
And then the cabin power went off for a little while, messing up the DSL connection to the router. I got out my cell phone and got a weak signal and used it as a hot spot and started the upload again, laptop running off of battery. It took nearly an hour to get both files uploaded.
All the while that darn lightning storm was going on and I was on the back deck trying to get my gosh-darn tripods set up and two cameras shooting the long exposures for the lightning strikes, and was being eaten alive by no-see-ums and mosquitoes! I wanted to go inside and check the progress of the file upload, knowing my once-in-a-lifetime chance of having the cover on the most important photo magazine on the planet was at stake. Yet if I went inside I might jiggle the deck just enough to mess up the long exposures. And when I finally did break down and go inside to check on the upload, one of the cameras ended its exposure - and of course there was a wonderful lightening display that happened while the camera was off in between exposures so I missed it!
I ended up getting a lightning photo that I liked, so that worked out fine. But I never heard back from the big magazine company. That means they probably will not use my photo on the cover. Oh well, it was a thrill for me to even be considered - made especially more thrilling due to all the electricity in the air!
Back to real time on Saturday morning now, it has been raining here most of the night, some of it heavy. Whitaker Creek below is really flooded - so much so that we can't even hear the Buffalo River over the roar of Whitaker Creek. The ground in the High Ozarks is mostly saturated now, so this rain will produce waterfalls in many places - BUT those waterfalls can also run down and dry up in a hurry. It looks to me like waterfalls on the southern slops of the Ozarks might be doing well today at least, although those on the northern slopes got less rain so may not be running too well. WATCH OUT FOR FLOODED ROADWAYS - do not cross them! And certainly DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CROSS FLOODED CREEKS!!!!!!!
One wildlife note this morning. Normally when we have rainfall like this one sign that the heavy stuff has ended is when the birds start singing again. They have been pretty quiet all morning today. But just now, at 8:45am, the band of bird songs began, and I remarked to my lovely bride that the rain was over! And then two minutes later the sky cut loose with a heavy downpour! You can't always trust the birds...
We all are talking about how weird it is to have rain in August - but hey, what about the SNOWSTORM that we got in May! Come to think of it, we had temps in the TEENS for three days in a raw during May several years ago and all the trees froze lost their leaves - remember that? So really, there is no telling what the weather is going to be like no matter what season or month it is. Enjoy the good stuff while you can!
PERSEID METEOR SHOWER GONE WILD! After being out shooting the meteor shower all night, I discovered these crazy meteors on one of my photographs when I reviewed the images this morning. It took me a minute to figure out what the heck had happened - during one long exposure I had picked up the camera and tripod and moved it to a new location, and the brightest stars did not want to be left out, and so the camera recorded their movement the entire time! (weaker stars were not bright enough to show up during the move)
08/17/13 There is a cool calmness across the wilderness early this morning, with a sea of fog filling the canyons below, and a soft blue and pink sky above. No birds up yet, but the air is filled with the low hushed lullaby of the Buffalo River drifting up from beneath the sea.
As I stood on the front porch to witness an age-old tradition here at Cloudland for perhaps the very last time, a bit of melancholy came over me. Amber was headed off to school. It has been the same every year since the girls moved here in 2001, an event that I never thought this old wilderness man would never partake in to begin with, yet it became an annual celebration of the advance and freedom of our little girl.
Today was quite different though. As the girls drove away, a lone barred owl sitting high in a tree above them called out a goodbye and congratulations to Amber for going so far in such a short time (this is only her third year at college of a five-year degree program, yet she enters this semester with enough credit hours as a senior, so will probably finish in four years, spending next summer elsewhere working). And then just as the girls disappeared into the trees, my eye caught the concrete figure of Aspen in the flower garden - I do believe his tears were as real as mine - his little girl has grown up so fast. Aspen had been here to every one of those years to see her off and wish her the best.
I might be able to get back to normal today if that is possible. Night before last was the first time I'd actually gone to bed in nearly a week. I have been out every night trying to capture meteors with my camera, spending the long hours from dusk to dawn standing somewhere out there next to my tripod. This is the first year I've really made an attempt to photograph the Perseid Meteor Shower that is always touted as being one of the best all year. I've long been a fan of shooting stars, and frequently see them as I wonder the wilderness at night - there are many thousands of them going on all the time during the year. But the summer shower and all the hype that goes with it allows many more people an excuse to stay up late and get out and see the stars, something I think our civilization has lost touch with. My goodness, SO MANY adults have never even seen the Milky Way, and I'm floored every time someone tells me that!
I have been amused at so many folks this week who have reported not seeing any meteors - "I stepped outside and didn't see any." I bet that was indeed the case. While it is possible to simply step outside and get lucky, it really takes many long hours of waiting and looking and waiting and looking, and sometimes you never do see any really bright ones. But that is part of the fun and glory of it all - the nighttime sky is nothing less than SPECTACULAR!
I averaged nearly 500 pictures a night, and while I captured dozens and dozens of shooting stars, there were only a handful of really bright, nice meteors that happened to streak across the same field of sky where my camera was pointed. Although I actually have not looked all the pictures yet - I won't have time to do that for another couple of weeks. But I enjoyed every moment of being out there, and glad I made the effort.
One night in particular was quite special. While hiking into a waterfall that was flowing because of all the rains - probably the first time it had been flowing during the Perseid Meteor Shower in decades - I passed by literally hundreds and hundreds of tiny opal-colored dots along the path. I normally don't like spiders, but these tiny jewels really lit up when my light hit them. I probably should have got down on my belly to have a closer look - and I will the next time - but I was on a mission this night, so I pressed on towards the waterfall, using the spiders as trail markers to lead the way.
When I arrived at the waterfall the 1/3 moon was shining brightly on the hills around me, and the waterfall was so loud I could hardly hear myself think. I sat down on a rock ledge to let my eyes soak it all in, and then try and figure out how I should frame my picture. Part of the sky around the moon was so bright that there were no stars showing, but I knew that moon would be moving fast and soon the sky would fill with stars. That turned out to be the best composition to have the waterfall, part of the stream, trees, stars, and hopefully - a couple of meteors - all in the same frame.
So I set up my camera equipment and started taking test exposures. I wanted to lightpaint the waterfall so that it would be visible in the foreground with the background of stars. Every single exposure is different, depending on how the flashlight is moved and how long it shines. Sometimes I can get an idea of just how good or bad my lightpainting is from reviewing the little photo on the back of the camera after the picture is taken, but generally I just shoot and shoot and shoot as much as I can, trying many different techniques, and then pick the best one later.
I worked at the waterfall for several hours. The bright sky with the moon soon disappeared and stars gradually began to appear. The Milky Way was up there too, and it started to come out and play. Yet as the night wore on (actually it was the wee hours of the morning), the temps dropped quite a bit, and the river started to produce fog. That fog hung low over the water, yet since I was down at creek level, the fog also hung in all around me. So the darkening sky that I hoped would fill with stars actually started filling with fog instead! But that was not all bad - in fact I think the fog layer mixing with the starlight and left-over moonlight made for a very interesting scene, and so I shot on for another hours.
Finally I decided to pack up and head on back to the van. On my way back I got startled by a bright light coming at me - WHAT, was someone else hiking into this waterfall in the middle of the night? What I had seen was actually a yard light of an old homestead place near the trailhead. That same layer of fog was hanging around and old barn there, and that light on the other side of the barn was shining up through the fog and creating "God Beams" - or as I dubbed them this time - "Barn Beams." And just above the layer of fog and beams, the night sky gave way to absolute crystal clear skies, with a coal black background, and a zillion twinkling stars. Oh my gosh, it was a STUNNING sight indeed!
I know how fickle fog can be, and that this incredible scene would not last for long, so I rushed around to try and find a way to capture both the beams and the stars in the same frame. I ended up on my belly in what had to have been the WETTEST grass - I was instantly soaked to the bone. But I had to be down that low to get the angle that I needed for the picture. So there I lay, in the middle of the night, shooting this heavenly scene. Wow, just WOW!
We will be on the road working next week and so I will not be able to update the daily cabin cam photo. Our online stores will be open as usual, however any orders placed won't be shipped until we get back, which will be sometime the following week. We will have limited internet access and will be able to answer e-mails, but it might take a day or two. Pam's dad will be staying at the cabin while we're gone and doing some work around the place - SO NICE to have him and his bride living so close to us! And this will be a first - LUCY will be traveling with us - her very first really big trip!
A quick medical update before I begin the work day. My lovely bride continues to progress and is doing well after her surgery. She has resumed running the day-to-day business chores here - THANK GOODNESS! - I don't know how I ever ran this place before she arrived! And I had to make a run to the Monfee Medical Clinic in Russellville this past week to get an ailment dealt with - all I've got to say is that if all medical places were staffed and run like this one, our health care system would be the very best in the world! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!
Here is one of the images shot during the Perseid Meteor Shower - this one from within the beast that is within the Buzzard Roost Rocks looking up. The rocks were lightpainted with a small red light. I've got a waterfall photo with meteor that I will post soon - probably once we get back from our upcoming trip - it will be a Print Of The Week, and I want to be able to be here to print and ship orders without delay.
08/19/13 We've been on the road for 14 hours today, headed west to work on some projects. We drove through what almost seemed like alien terrain - the landscape of Oklahoma and New Mexico was LUSH with green pastures as far as we could see, AND multi-colored landscape of yellows, purples, and reds - WILDFLOWERS! Especially wild yellow sunflowers. Normally these areas are pretty well burned up by late summer, so it was quite refreshing to see it all so beautiful.
We are camped for the night overlooking a small lake in northeast New Mexico. This state park is a pleasant surprise - not only because of the lush landscape of greens, yellows, etc., but also because it is such a neat and tidy and scenic state park. Kind of funny - we had not seen hardly a drop of water since leaving Arkansas, and we headed off the main highway and across vast fields of emptiness - void of even farm houses or cows - just lush grasslands, and WILDFLOWERS, lots and lots of wildflowers. And then all of a sudden, we came up over the ridge at the end of the road, and there it was, a little oasis below - Lake Clayton State Park. Nice campsites along the southern side of the lake, many of them up high and looking down on the lake, each with individual covered picnic tables.
We set up camp, had dinner, and then went out for a moonlight stroll. A nearly-full moon had risen over the lake, and the soft hues of the evening sky bouncing off the lake were just wonderful. The temp was cool, with slight breezes.
08/20/13 We got up early, before sunrise, had a quick breakfast, then hiked along a nice trail to and across the spillway of the lake to a surprise - DINOSAUR tracks! What? When building the dam and spillway they discovered an ancient mud flat that was covered with dinosaur tracks - several species had romped and played and hiked across the flats, leaving clear footprints that would be turned to stone. Lucy rather enjoyed touring the boardwalk that surrounded the site.
From there we drove on westward, through more and more lush landscapes of green and yellow as far as we could see. Wildflowers were profuse, and we stopped at the base of a neat volcano and took a few pictures of the flowers and the volcano. If you ever pass through this area, you can drive up to the top of the volcano and actually take a short hike down inside - there is a terrific view from up there too.
Colorado was equally lush with green and yellow and lots of wildflowers. We turned and headed up into the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, the same one that forms the border between Mexico and Texas. Just like the Arkansas River, the Rio Grande is born high in the Colorado Rockies. After touring the small art galleries in the little mountain town of Creede, we found a spot at a small forest service campground along the banks of the river to spend the night.
And then my lovely bride got a shock - CELL SERVICE! That meant internet service, which is not always a good thing. She spent a few hours doing business chores (sorry honey!), but I guess the view out the office door was pretty nice. This is, after all, a working trip for us, and she has to keep things running back home, and the internet helps a great deal. Later on during the trip, she will spend a good bit of time working on an update to one of Don Kurz's guidebooks that publish. Computers and all of that allow us to do this sort of thing no matter where we are, and our "bookmobile" van not only provides a terrific base of operations for my photography business, but a mobile office for us both to work.
8/21/13 It is 3-something this morning and it is SO BRIGHT outside! The full moon is high in the sky, and I've just been out to stroll along the river. It looks more like a sunny day with sunglasses than the middle of the night. I LOVE moonlight, but this is really something special. Not only are there spruce and fir trees towering above, and also giant granite cliffs reaching high into the bright night sky, all lit up by that big and beautiful moon. There is so much light you could easily float this river right now.
This is Lucy's very first trip into the high country, and so far she is loving it. We're at 9,000 feet right now and she is just as springy and full of life as ever. In fact I think she likes the high country.
We will be headed deeper into the back country of the San Juan Mountains today for a few days - not sure when we will come out, but I will try to at least post a picture once we get back into cell phone range (no service back in where we will be).
Just a note that we have two different Prints Of The Week that remain on SALE at the special prices this week. The online store is open for orders, although we won't ship anything until we get back to Cloudland, which will be sometime next week. Our caretaker reports all is well at the cabin, with cool nights and even cool days - kind of odd for August - and no more goat sightings.
Lucy hunting some dinosaur eggs for breakfast (above), Sunflowers & the Capulin volcano, New Mexico. (below)
Evening light along the Rio Grande River (above), North Clear Creek Falls (below)
08/27/13 It is cool and quiet here at Cloudland, with slight breezes, and a hushed lullaby from the river far below drifting up. So nice to hear the river at this time of the year. It never really goes dry in the Buffalo headwaters like it does farther downstream, but the usual summer water levels are mostly pools with shallow flow between them. The river continues to flow higher thanks to the heavy rains we had the first half of August. The landscape is lush and its water tanks are full - a great way to head into fall, which will be fast upon us. Of course, we will be living in an oven for a while before that happens, as intense heat returns to the High Ozarks - but what the heck, we've had it pretty easy this past month.
We have returned from a marathon seven-day trip out west to Colorado and New Mexico. Five of those seven days were on the road driving from 10-14 hours a day - not a lot of fun, but that is the way we travel, and was just part of the process. This was a work trip for us, as most are, but we did get to see and enjoy a bit of the high county in the San Juan Mountains along the way.
In fact, we spent two days totally immersed in what I believe might be the most beautiful aspen forests I've ever set foot in (THANKS to Jeff Davis from the Russellville Fire Department for telling us about this area!). GIANT trees, tall trees, and mostly unmarked by the idiots that tend to carve up such works of Momma Nature's art. The air was thin and crisp and clear above 9,000 feet, and it rained a lot, with a bit of hail now and then. The aspen forest floor was LUSH and covered with knee-high plants, many that had already begun to turn color - mostly yellow, but reds and oranges here and there. It was a fairyland, full of rich beauty.
The aspens were not the only stars, as this area also had many thousands of blue spruce trees, some of them giants as well, but many smaller trees that surrounded us whenever we ventured into the forest. I've never seen such lovely color from these trees before - probably due to the moisture in the air (water usually intensifies color). They really are blue, and sometimes that blue actually glowed in the soft light.
One evening after sunset, we ventured out into the darkening forest, and spent a little time just moving slowly, being drawn in by the blue glow of the spruce trees. Pam reached out to touch one of them, and was amazed how soft the branches were. Blue is a happy color, and I think these spruce are happy trees!
There were a lot of glowing trees, in fact I would say the entire forest glowed with rich color, and also from the pure white of the aspen trees. It was a magical place, made all the more special because I walked hand-in-hand with my lovely bride - what more could a guy ask for!
Pam is still recovering from recent surgery, yet her hubby made her bring along a computer as she had a lot of work to do each day. In fact even when we were in the deepest part of the wilderness, we had to drive an hour each day to find a spot with cell service so she could get online and deal with business matter. It was kind of funny one day while we were doing this - 30 miles from the nearest pavement, above 10,000 feet in elevation, and there was cell service. Pam had to research a shipment of books to one of our largest dealers who was panicked about it not arriving. Turned out the books had already been delivered to their warehouse a week before, and their multi-million dollar inventory system failed to log the shipment in.
One evening we were sitting by the campfire, completely surrounded by the tall aspens and blue spruces, our bellies full from a big dinner my lovely bride pulled from said campfire. It was SO QUIET there! Even though we live in the middle of a wilderness here in Arkansas, summer nights are usually quite noisy from all the bugs, frogs, birds, and other assorted musical notes produced by critters large and small. So the quiet of the mountains took us a little by surprise - I mean there was not a single sound anywhere, not even a breeze to stir the airwaves. The only sound was that of the crackling fire (we brought scraps of wood from a construction project we've been working on at Cloudland this summer, and made several nice fires from it).
As I sat by the fire typing on a small computer (sorry, but this was a work trip, and I had to be working), I got the feeling that someone - or something - was watching us. But there were no humans in sight that we knew of, just us and the trees and the fire, and a sky filled with alternating stars, moonlight, and tall thunderheads. I happened to turn around and caught a glimpse of three mule deer, all standing right at the edge of the firelight, all gazing into the fire, with that bright light reflecting in their eyes. We saw these deer often around camp, and they just wanted to come in close and enjoy the glow too.
I got to spend a bit of time taking pictures of the beautiful aspens - couldn't help it in fact, since they were just so darn amazing. There were fat and tall ones all over the place, but also thick stands of skinny guys, reaching far up into the sky. Aspens, aspens, and more aspens. And now and then they all started glowing in that wonderful light. We hiked around a bit, and drove around a lot, always in awe of the aspen forest around us.
But one stand of aspens in particular stuck my fancy, and I shot many hundreds of pictures of it while we were there - I only had to walk about 20 feet from camp. Amazing how the exact same scene can change so much during the day, all depending on the light, and moisture in the air and on the ground. I wound up with two or three aspen pictures I like, and those will be on sale this week in our online store.
Another print you will see is one that I took during an event that lasted for perhaps two minutes at most, and I had to sprint through the forest to get it. We were huddled in camp waiting out a fierce thunderstorm, when all of a sudden the sky parted and the sun came out. The distant peaks started to glow from that sunshine, and then red and yellow and purple began to appear - a rainbow, yippie! We did not have a clear view of the scene, so I grabbed my camera and ran over to the edge of a small opening in the forest and started to take pictures. The main rainbow grew in intensity just as raindrops started to fall on my head. I did not have time to set up a tripod because I knew the rainbow probably would not last long - I'm sure it was comical to watch me try and cover the front of the lens with my hand to keep raindrops from hitting it, yet trying to steady the camera as best I could to take the rainbow picture. There was a giant, tall, naked, and pure-white single aspen tree reaching for the sky in the scene, and the rainbow arched directly behind it. It was one of those moments that I held my breath. I got the picture I wanted, and while it will never reproduce the feeling of euphoria we had at that very moment, I'm hopeful this happy scene will spread a little bit of joy to others who have a print of it on their wall.
This was the first time we ever took Lucy with us on a trip west. She seemed hesitant at first, but quickly warmed up to the high country and loved to run and play in the forest. But most of the time we had to keep her on a leash, and I don't think she enjoyed that too much! We were almost never around people except when in campgrounds, but since she cannot hear, we did not want her to wander off into country she had never been in before - if she got lost, she would not know how to get back to us. But I think it was a good trip for her - she got to sniff a lot of new smells, and if you have a dog you know that is a priority in their lives!
We did get to set Lucy loose once while we were stopped by a small pond in the middle of a high meadow. There were tons of wildflowers all around, a few aspen trees, and a view that went on forever. Lucy took full advantage of the open meadow and ran and jumped and played like a child. And then far up the hillside a small herd of bighorn sheep appeared. They saw us right away, but instead of turning tail and disappearing, they seemed more curious than afraid. Ten minutes later they had crossed about half that meadow and were making their way down the slope right to us. We all stood there and watched, even Lucy - the sheep were kind of funny as they romped around a bit just like Lucy had been doing - I guess everyone loved being in a high meadow in the wilderness!
As we headed back to Arkansas we made a slight detour to drive through Taos, New Mexico. Ever since I got interested in photography 40 years ago, I'd always wanted to visit the area as a result of my hero, the great Ansel Adams, and painter, Georgia O'Keefe, spoke so much about the magic light in that part of the United States. It was late afternoon as we got up into the high country in New Mexico, and there were thunderstorms on either side of us, and sometimes directly on top of us. I kept muttering something about how Ansel and Georgia had better produce some of that magic light for us since we had come so far - not only in miles, but also in life - to visit the area.
And then all of a sudden, the gloom of heavy clouds opened up just a little tiny bit, and a brilliant rainbow - or actually parts of a rainbow - appeared along the base of a distant mountain range many miles away. As we drove through a rain shower we had to stop frequently to take pictures as the color kept changing shape and intensity - sometimes it was almost a rainbow, a very flat rainbow and never even made it to the top of the mountains. At other times only small parts of the rainbow were visible, where sunbeams had poked holes in the thick clouds. The colors just got weirder and weirder, oddly shaped, and more intense. And then it finally hit me - OK Ansel and Georgia, I GET IT - this was their way of welcoming me to their part of New Mexico, and it WAS indeed magical light!
We spent our last night camped at the edge of Eagle's Nest Lake - a beautiful area that is quickly being urbanized - the lake and nearby ski area being the popular draws. I guess it was fitting that we took part in it all. After what had been a very long and exhaustive day of leaving the mountains, driving across Colorado, through the high desert area, and then a brief visit to Taos (we got chased away by the crowds!), then camping with a crowd of RVs at a state park, a very funny moment happened. Famished and exhausted, we didn't feel like cooking dinner. So we sat in the front seat of our van, binoculars in hand, and scanned the distant urban area behind the other side of the lake, looking for golden arches - the McDonald kind! There were none, so we popped frozen dinners in the microwave.
I must say that when we camped on this trip, we ate very well. My lovely bride has started to lean campfire cooking,. She prepared a new recipe of hers each night - always wrapped in heavy foil - and placed it carefully on a bed of campfire coals. As most of you know who have done such things, it is often a long and anxious wait for that moment when the foil packet is finally pulled from the coals and pronounced DONE. My lovely bride feeds me well. But then I did also in return - each morning I would prepare something tasty in the dutch oven next to the fire - usually based on either biscuits or cinnamon rolls (I'm allergic to yeast, and have found some cinnamon rolls without).
Anyway, back to the crowded campground, we got up early the next morning for the 14-hour drive home - at least it was all downhill across eastern New Mexico and Oklahoma. Pam's dad had been cabin sitting for us while we were gone - and also working on that little construction project. He noticed a small water leak under the kitchen sink - THANK GOODNESS! And while he got everything dried up and cleaned out well, we discovered after our return that the leak had been much larger than any of us thought, and it turned out to have flooded nearly half of the cabin basement - YIKES! So while we have been trying to play catchup with business chores since our return a couple of days ago, we also have been trying to dry the rest of the basement out, not a small job. Without Pam's dad being here, no telling how much damage we would have had.
I have not processed all the pictures from our trip yet, but sometime later this week I will post several more of them that will be available at our special Print Of The Week price for a few days (and then always available at the regular prices). I will probably make a large canvas print or two for our upcoming Holiday Open Houses - we have posted the dates of those already, and will be giving you more info here as the time gets closer.
In the meantime, even though we love the high country a great deal, it is WONDERFUL to be back home in the High Ozarks, especially with such lush and healthy forests all around us here too! NOTE: any orders placed while we were gone shipped on Monday - my lovely bride got up early and did a marathon order processing session and got everything all packed up and sent out - way to go BUNKIE! How I ever functioned without her I will never know...
*One other amusing note from our camping trip. In the middle of a prolonged rain shower it was time to start the fire for our evening meal - these sorts of dinners take a good bed of coals, and it was raining so much that a fire could not sustain itself. So we opened the van awning for shelter, and I built a fire in a "firepan" that I always carry. (a firepan is really an aluminum pan used to catch oil when changing the oil in your vehicle - it is safe to build a fire in it, plus the entire pan - fire and all - can be picked up and moved if needed) Just when the fire got going pretty well, the smoke alarm inside the van started screaming - DUH! I had left the van door open! The rains eventually let up enough so that I could pick up the campfire in the firepan and move it away from the van, and the meal that my lovely bride created was delicious!
My lovely bride driving our van up a steep hill along one of Colorado's backroads
08/31/13 The airwaves are filled with chirps early this morning - crickets. They seem happy, as do most critters that stir this time of day. Funny how each morning there is complete and total silence at first. No crickets, or frogs, or birds. Then gradually I notice a little bit of white noise in the background. Often this is the low hush of the river running far below. Today it was the crickets. But no birds. And then after a while, a single fellow will wake up and announce to the world that it is time to get the day started! Yesterday it was a whippoorwill - LOUD and shrill. Today it was a barred owl - he was sitting in a tree just beyond the edge of Mom's meadow below. Once one of those guys gets going, the airwaves will with the music of waking birds, playing and singing like they have to get as many notes in as possible before the sun arrives. And this morning there seemed to be a hundred bats doing aerial combat around my head - YIPPIE for them, eat those bugs guys, as many as you can, fill your bellies! The bats are silent, except when they come really close to my ears - then you can hear the rush of wind. (I LOVE bats!)
Speaking of crickets, I was out yesterday afternoon in the heat of the day and heard a cricket singing (I don't think they actually sing, but that is what I call it). For some odd reason I got the urge to go find this cricket. And so for the next 20 minutes I searched the edge of the meadow I had been walking through, high and low, behind every weed and twig. 'Twas one of those things that once you get started it drives you nuts until you located it. FINALLY, after what seemed like I had touched every single part of the meadow, I turned over a pretty large rock, and there he was - the little son of a gun had crawled under there to hide from me. I just wanted to say HI in person, did so, and carefully replaced the rock so that I did not squish the little guy.
Lucy and I went for a short hike at dusk, while there was still enough light to see color. And my oh my, the GOLDENROD plants are really starting to "bloom" and are really bright yellow right now - a sure sign of a brilliant fall color season ahead. There are a few items in nature that I consider to be a pure color, and these certainly are one of those flowers right now. I did not have a camera and tripod with me at the time, but I shall make the effort to be better equipped the next time.
I have processed a few more photos from our quick trip to the high country in Colorado last week, and have added them to the Print Of The Week gallery in our online gallery web page (not the one on this site, but here). All fsix images will be available at the special price for the next few days (as a print-only or with the special black mat) - probably good until Tuesday when I post a new print there. So if you like any of them, now is the time to get one! I out of room for this month on this page, so go to the link to have a look just for fun too. It has been a grand August, and I hope to see ya in September too!