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CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - December 2013

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12/30/13 HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE MOST WONDERFUL YOUNG PERSON I'VE EVER MET! She left the cabin yesterday as an adult for the first time, full of hopes and dreams and goals that are grand enough for anyone - and I bet she exceeds them all in spades! She has had a profound, life-changing, uplifting impression on me and Cloudland, and I hope she takes with her - lessons, fun, and happiness from the mountain and the wilderness as she makes her way through the world. Thank you Miss Amber, for bringing so much joy!

So long 2013 - it has been a great year, and we look forward to 2014!

JOURNAL UPDATED - Saturday evening the 28th

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Print Of The Week #54 - "Easter Island Moai" in Arkansas

12/01/13 It is late tonight and I just hiked a bit in a soft and soothing rainfall. The past several days have been quite clear, and even pretty warm for this time of year. The nights especially have been crisp and beautiful, with a zillion stars twinkling, and the Milky Way arching directly overhead. And our old lady friend, Venus, has been lighting up the evening sky in the southwest just after sunset.

Funny how time flies. We got a full extra day on Monday this past week when our program in Benton was postponed (to December 9th) due to some nasty winter weather in Central Arkansas. Then we had to cancel our annual Thanksgiving trip to the big bash in Illinois, which gave us two more full days that we did not expect. Yet, even with tree extra days, I still worked long into the night on Friday, and then up again at 5 on Saturday morning to work a few hours, and STILL did not get the gallery up to full speed in time for our open house. I'm one of those who will ALWAYS wait until the last minute to get stuff done, no matter what! Our next open house at the Canvas Gallery will be on December 14th - guess where I'll be at midnight Friday?

We had a wonderful open house with many smiling faces, including folks from as far away as Indiana and Mississippi. The weather was perfect, and in fact we had the gallery door open with cool afternoon breezes coming in counter the warm gallery flood lights. A special THANKS to everyone who brave the long and rough drive to come see us! I had a Cloudland Moment Saturday afternoon while I made a rare appearance outside while talking with some friends who had come to the gallery - a mature bald eagle circled the cabin and trees, soaring down pretty low, and sticking around for quite a while for us to get some close looks. I saw where someone mentioned that Ben Franklin was right when he wanted to make the turkey our national symbol - and while I LOVE turkey, I think they made the right choice!

For the very first time ever, my lovely bride and I spent Thanksgiving day here alone. We got up at the crack of dawn and worked for a few hours over in the gallery, then Pam prepared a delightful feast that included smoked turkey (Penguin Eds), smashed sweet 'taters, and Pam's homemade apple crisp with French vanilly ice cream. When we could hold no more, we took a nice long nap, then got up and spent the rest of the day and into the night back over at the gallery working. I made a trip or two back to the cabin for more turkey, 'taters, crisp & cream to keep my strength up. Amber joined us that evening and Cloudland filled with laughter as the girls put up the Christmas tree, hung stockings over the fireplace, and spread holiday cheer all around the cabin - it was a wonderful time for us to be together (and did I mention the turkey and 'taters?).

This was also our first holiday without our beloved Aspen. But he still got leftovers - I made sure to place a dish at his feet in the flower garden - and son-of-a-gun, it was all gone by the next morning - good dog!

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We are headed to Clarksville on Monday to begin the second half of our slide program season, then programs in Springfield on Friday and Bentonville on Saturday. We hope everyone has enjoyed the shows so far, and for those who have not been able to attend yet, hope you get to do so between now and our last one on December 19th!

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This was a quick snapshot I took just before sunrise on the 4th - from Firetower Road overlooking Ponca.

12/05/13 The best laid plans... We were up quite early this morning, packing the bookmobile and ready to flee the approaching winter storm and position ourselves in Springfield so that we could be there for our slide show on Friday. I came up with some pretty nifty packing schemes for cases of books, boxes of prints, and program presentation gear inside the van that would enable us to live and sleep there for the next couple of days. And then literally as we were about to back out of the carport and head up the driveway towards Missouri, the ice storm hit us square in the face, three hours early. We were unable to even get out and turned around, must less make it the first 100 yards from the cabin - the road and ground were covered with a sheet of solid ice. I had one of those moments from Apollo 13 when astronaut Jim Lovell said "We just lost the moon." I knew right away that we would not be able to get off the mountain today, or tomorrow, and probably not Saturday either - so we would have to cancel our slide programs. Bummer.

The folks at the other end of my e-mails were just so wonderful, and within a very short period of time we had both programs rescheduled. The Springfield Nature Center programs will be next Friday the 13th, and the Bentonville Library show will be on January 18th. We really hated to do this, but it appears that the winter storm hit both areas pretty hard as well, and so I think in the end it was best for everyone.

We've had sleet nearly all day long, and into the night as well, with several inches of the stuff blanketing the landscape. At one point the sleet turned into rain, and some parts of the road to slush, even though the temp was 28 degrees. I took the opportunity to take our mail out to the mailbox (a mile and a half) - the post office in Pettigrew told us that our mail carrier was going to try and make it - and HE DID, yippie! I made another run out late in the day to pickup our incoming mail (the road was back to being completely frozen), and was able to make it back to the cabin OK. Funny thing about that - I have one of the most technological 4WD wonders available (a fancy jeep), yet it is broken down due to a glitch in its adjustable air suspension system, so I could not drive it. But my lovely bride's soccer-mom Toyota SUV worked like a charm - in fact I think it is a better vehicle in these conditions than the jeep is - go figure!

At one point this afternoon the three of us were all outside doing something (me, Pam, and Lucy), and we just sort of ended up out in the woods doing a mile hike through the ice and snow. It was very easy walking - as long as we stayed on leaves that would give and crunch when we stepped - everything else was solid ice and pretty slick. It was bitter cold with a brisk north wind howling, but after a few minutes it did not seem too cold. Other than a few deer we saw, I think we were the only critters stirring. It turned out to be a delightful hike.

12/06/13 We've had snow most of today, and the wilderness landscape is covered with a blanket of soft, fluffy snow - about 8-9 inches the last time that I checked.

I put on a pair of snowshoes and made my way through the thick forest on over to Hawksbill Crag this afternoon (about a mile each way as the crow flies, or five miles the way I slip and slide all the time!). It was the most snow I'd seen on the Crag in a while, which was somewhat of a surprise since the snow has been so dry and not really clinging to the sides of things. It is a very fine snow too.

It felt kind of odd underfoot as I made my way down and across a couple of the steep hillsides towards the Crag. That deep powder had a solid bottom of ice. And then when I put my weight into each step the ice layer would give way and I'd sink in another several inches - breaking through the crust of ice and down into the thick bed of leaves.

It was still snowing pretty hard when I reached the Crag, but the light was beautiful and so I set up my camera and tripod. I spent the next hour or so taking pictures - part of the time trying to blow off all the snow from the camera. At one point the snow let up and nearly stopped, the sky got lighter, then the canyon was flooded with the warm glow from sunshine above - the sun was trying to break through the clouds. WOW, it was pretty magical being there! The color did not last long though, and soon the light had faded back and snow returned.

And then something really odd happened. The honking I heard could only be coming from one source - geese! At first I only heard them, but suddenly I caught some motion out of the corner of my vision and I turned to see a small flock of snow geese BELOW the clouds - they were so low, and only slightly above me! I'm not sure if they were just trying to get their bearings and look for a landing spot, or if someone in the group had told them about Hawksbill Crag and they were doing a low fly-by. Either way, it was quite a sight! Honk, HONK!

A little while later I packed up my camera gear, removed the light down jacket I had been wearing (it was 18 degrees with a stiff wind blowing, so in other words, kind of chilly), and headed on up the hill back home. The forest was completely silent, except for the crunch, crunch, crunch of my snowshoes breaking through that layer of ice hidden beneath the snow.

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12/07/13 Mom would have been proud of me. At 4am this morning I was already down on my knees, and was in one of the grandest cathedrals ever - the great outdoors! I was out working on a new picture book, and I had to get down in the deep show for a low-angle shot of a neat tree and snow and stars. I guess you could say I was "knee-deep" in snow!

The temp was about 3 degrees, and the winds were howling with a wind chill way below zero - hum, I guess that meant I was freezing my you-know-what off! Actually I was pretty toasty though. I had on an old, thin long-John, a down vest, and all wrapped up inside my Jellystone snowmobile suit (I got it several years ago for a winter photography trip to Yellowstone). But what really helped was the fact that for one of the pictures I was working on I only had ten seconds to push the camera shutter button, run out across the snow in the dark (there was no moon, only starlight), find the exact predetermined spot, then turn on a dim blue light for two seconds - AND THEN run all the way back to the camera to check the exposure before it went away! All the running back and forth got my blood pumping, and brought back come circulation and warmth to my fingers (my fingers always go first).

My next stop was to a wide meadow about a mile away, where I was back down in the snow for more scenes looking up towards the stars - first of an old barn, then of a John Deere tractor.

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As the stars began to disappear and hints of daylight crept into the landscape, I shed my down vest (because I knew it would get to hot), and headed into the woods and back down the steep slope to Hawksbill Crag. I wanted to photograph sunrise there with all the snow. Just moments after I arrived and got my big camera and heavy tripod (really, my tripod alone weights eight pounds), the eastern sky began to glow and then light up with brilliant reds, oranges, and blues - it was a magical light show at dawn!

A few icicles had formed along the bottom of the Crag, which kind of made it look like a bear with teeth. Soon after the sun appeared, I could see a few drips of water, which soon turned into a stream of water - it looked like the Crag was drooling! But the temp was below 10 degrees!?

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Once the sun arrived I spent a little more time taking pictures, then made my way back to the car, stopping to take a few pictures along the way (an excuse to stop and catch my breath more likely). I did happen upon two sets of critter tracks in the snow that were right next to each other - kind of like a pair of footprints, only one foot was completely different than the other. I had stopped on a very steep hillside that I was climbing, and had to dig into the snow and ice while taking the pictures to keep myself from sliding down the hill. Anyone know what these tracks might be from?

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It was a delightful early-morning photo trip into the deep freeze, and I think I got a couple of pictures for my new book project. The more time I spend outdoors in the winter, the easier it is to take the cool temps, and the less clothing I have to wear. I just need some heated gloves though!

The photo of Hawksbill Crag at dawn turned out pretty well...

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Thanks Mom!!! (While I don't always bundle up like you would have liked for me to, I did pay attention to a lot of the life lessons you taught me.........)

FYI, we remain kind of isolated up here on Cave Mountain. According to the main county road up here - mine were the only tire tracks even late today - no one has gotten up to Cave Mountain from the outside world since the snow began, nor left the mountain. That includes the mail - our mailman tried with 4WD and chains today to make it, but was foiled by the snow and ice. Bummer. My bride has been busy processing orders and packing boxes for shipment - thank goodness the internet and power have remained on. We're hoping road conditions improve somewhat on Monday - so that the mail can get in and out, and so that we can make it to our program in Benton!

12/09/13 The roads have gotten worse out here on the mountain if that is possible. I put chains on yesterday and could not even make it up to the warehouse due to solid ice in the road ruts. The mailman was unable to get out here on Saturday with the same issues. And it was with great reluctance that last night we decided to cancel our Benton program tonight for the second time. Then I learned that Jimmy Buffet also had to cancel his show in Central Arkansas so I didn't feel so bad. We are working with the library to reschedule that one and I will let you know.

We are assuming we'll be able to get out of here tomorrow and make it to the show in Ft. Smith, as well as the other programs this week, although Ft. Smith may be a game-time decision. We also have a HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE here at the gallery this coming Saturday the 14th - with three NEW METAL PRINTS!!! (stunning) In the meantime, we have been keeping pretty busy here with print processing and book and calendar orders. Every day is a Monday here, but I happen to LOVE Mondays, so today should be a great day!

As for the landscape, it is little changed since Friday - deep snow and cold temps, and white all around. LOTS and lots of critter tracks everywhere - for them all the snow is just another day at the office - they still spend most of their time in search of food. Although I do believe some of them tend to have more fun and play a lot (just like people) when there is snow, at least for a little while.

We never did get any ice in the trees - just on the ground - so power has not been an issue, thank goodness! We keep the cabin and gallery pretty cool though, and both my lovely bride and I usually wear at least a sweater and heavy pants, and me almost always a stocking cap while indoors - we just hate to waste electricity keeping the place heated so much when the temps are so cold outdoors.

It has actually been quite nice outside wandering around - the soft snow is easy to hike through - as long as you are not trying to walk along a road, since those are solid ice. The key to being outdoors in winter (or at any time for that matter) is simply to dress for the weather - AND also for your activity. I load up with lots of layers if I'm just going to be standing around and not producing any heat; yet if I hiking and especially packing heavy camera gear then I usually just have a light wrap on. Of course, when the temp reaches zero I pack a down vest to add when I'm standing around waiting for great light or something (and my snowmobile suit!).

Pam has been able to keep up with all book orders and all print orders, although the mail has not run since Thursday - we're hopeful the packages will go out today or tomorrow. Same with UPS shipments - they are all boxed up and ready to go, just waiting for roads to become passable.

In the meantime, we hope the heat is on where you are, and you have been able to get out and enjoy some of this balmy December weather - and most importantly hope you are safe and sound! HAPPY MONDAY, and have a terrific week!

12/17/13 Just a quickie as I have a few minutes this morning before we get up to full speed for the day. Sorry it has been so long since I've posed! The weather threw us into a tizzy, and we've been scrambling for the past 12 days just trying to keep up with all the delays. We still now - even after it being nearly 60 degrees here yesterday - have lots of snow and solid ice on the our road leading into the cabin and between the cabin and the gallery. I've made literally hundreds of trips back and forth to the gallery - many of them at night - and after the first couple of days of soft snow it has been slick going! But I think the end is in sight.

We've not had UPS service here since before the storm 12 days ago, but we have managed to load up our car and drive in over the ice to meet the UPS guy several times to exchange packages - one time was with our car completely loaded, with more freezing rain coming down and the highway solid ice, and the driver and I made the exchange in the middle of the highway! Those poor drivers have it so bad! We've not seen or heard anything from FedX - they have many packages for us and no telling when they will arrive. We also drove the mail into "town" a couple of times early on, but they have been able to make it out here this past week so at least that part of life has been normal - YIPPIE for our postal service! My lovely bride has been working overtime every day to get the crush of holiday orders processed and ready for shipping - amazing what that young lady can get done in a day! She is not only a peach, but also a keeper! (And her parents have been doing so much extra work for us as well - how did I ever manage with such incredible in-laws!!!)

The continued ice on the road forced us to abandon our bookmobile so we've been using Pam's car for all programs and deliveries - it has been great having her car as a backup (my jeep remains crippled and unusable, although I finally did get it into the dealer yesterday for service sometime this week we hope). But her car is TINY compared to the bookmobile, and so we've had to spend a lot more time and effort loading and unloading it for each program, then for our open house that we had to cancel at the last minute this past weekend.

BUT everything will be back to normal later this week we hope! Our final open house of the year will be this coming Saturday the 21st, and we have some new canvas on the wall PLUS three new METAL PRINT that will knock your socks off! AND we'll have a room full of canvas prints that will all be priced at only $200 each, and that includes up to 30x40 canvas prints - oh my! And we will also have all of our special framed canvas prints on special sale prices too - this Saturday will be a GREAT time to come visit and take home a new canvas print!!!

We're headed to Dover tonight for our program there - still in the little car as the ice and now mud are so bad the van won't make it. We've worn our a couple of chains already - put a lot of miles on those chains, at times it being a 60 mile round trip on ice. The van could probably have made some of these trips, but with that beast, one slip and we are out of commission and would have a huge bill to pay. Lucy has been going with us for all programs, and while her quarters have been quite small, she kind of likes being in her mommy's lap!

I've only been able to get out and take pictures once for about 30 minutes the other night. And I must say that our nights here have just been GORGEOUS! The snow and glaze-ice covering have been reflecting that bright moonlight and the forest has been lit up as bright as I've ever seen it. I LOVE the winter woods at night!

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And I had a Cloudland moment late last night, just before midnight as I was making my way back to the cabin one last time after putting the print room to bed. I wandered off the beaten track a little bit - it is sometimes safer to stomp through virgin snow rather than ice footprints. The full moon had risin' and was lighting everything up and I just had to stop out in the middle of it all and take in a few deep breaths of that wonderful air. And then I heard it - the Buffalo River far below and out of sight was awake and singing a lively tune, and I do believe had I been standing on the river bank I would have seen it dancing to the rhythm of the moonlight. And then a lone coyote sang out, and his high-pitched voice echoed throughout the wilderness. A couple of his buddies joined him for a chorus to harmonize with the river. IT WAS ALL GOOD! (thanks Emil)

Dover tonight, then our very last program of 2013 on Thursday at the historic Lyric theater on the square in Harrison. We're hoping for a large crowd in Harrison - they have plenty of room and it is the BIGGEST screen we show on, so all the photos will be super-sized - and they have a terrific sound system as well. AND they also have a balcony, and I know a lot of folks who make this a "date night" and sneak up into the balcony with their mate and snuggle during the show. We'll have a table set up right inside the front door of the theater before and during the show for folks who don't want to mess with all the craziness at the stage and just want to pick up a calendar or autographed copy of the new Buffalo River Beauty picture book (checks or cash only at this table since our credit card machine will be at the stage). We will also have a special selection of Black Mat Prints of the Buffalo River that make terrific last-minute Christmas gifts - come early before the show for the best selection of those, which will be next to our main sales table at the stage.

And then after all the chaos of this past week and this coming week is over, I will begin working on the NEW picture book for 2015. You've already seen a couple photos from it, but I hope to be able to show you a lot of wonderful things you may have never seen before about Arkansas in the weeks and months ahead! In the meantime, we hope you are having a wonderful holiday season so far, and I promise to spend more time writing and posting here - and THANKS for reading!

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12/18/13 We are thrilled to have a very special post today by National Geographic photographer Peter Essick from Georgia (visit his web site). We met Peter several years ago while he was working on the feature article about the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) here in Arkansas. That 17-page article opened with a two-page spread of Pam's Grotto Waterfall, which of course was named after my lovely bride. Funny, but even though I helped layout much of the OHT, and have been taking pictures of it for more than 30 years, Peter was able to find and capture some of the most incredible scenes along the trail that I've ever seen. He is not only one of the really great photographers in the world, but is also someone who cares about our planet a great deal, and that passion shows in his work - we were honored that he spent so much time and talent to tell the story of the OHT in pictures.

Peter has just published a new coffee table picture book that includes an image from his time in Arkansas, and I asked if he would tell us a little something about it (he is a Cloudland Journal reader). Oh my gosh this book is simply AMAZING! I would expect nothing less from him. You can order copies of this new book and see more about it here. THANK YOU PETER, for all that you have done for the world!

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From Peter Essick

"For the last 25 years I have been working as a photographer for National Geographic Magazine. I live in Stone Mountain, Georgia, but have been fortunate to have visited all 50 states and over 100 countries looking for compelling photographs. A story I did a few years back on the Ozarks Highlands Trail in Arkansas was special in many ways. The scenery along the trail is spectacular and not overcrowded like so many national parks. I was able to hike through tall, hardwood forests to many of the waterfalls and overlooks in relative solitude, something to be treasured in today’s world. It was also one of the few locations I have photographed professionally that I was able to drive to.

In the course of doing the story, I met Tim Ernst and discovered the Cloudland Journal. Tim graciously shared his extraordinary knowledge of the trail and the region that he has documented with his camera as a lifelong pursuit. He was a big part of making the National Geographic story a success and I am very appreciative of his help.

A book of my nature and environmental photographs titled, Our Beautiful, Fragile World has just been published and is available on Amazon (click here rfor the link) and in bookstores nationwide. It is a collection of 50 photographs, each with a one-page text describing the creative process in making the image. One photograph and accompanying text is from the Ozark Highlands Trail story is in the book, and I wanted to share it here as a guest blog for the readers of the Cloudland Journal:

An Ozark Snowstorm: Worth the Drive

In 2008, I was working on a story about the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas. The trail is 165 miles long and was constructed completely by volunteers. It passes through many remote and beautiful hardwood forests. I wanted to photograph the trail in all the seasons. The winter was the most difficult; in recent years there had been little or no snow. When it did snow, it was just a dusting that usually didn’t last for long.

One evening in my home city of Atlanta, I heard about a storm heading for Arkansas. Ironically, that night I was giving a lecture about climate change. I decided I had to leave for Arkansas immediately after the talk, since it might be my only chance to photograph snow in the Ozarks. White Rock Mountain, about a 14-hour drive from Atlanta, is the highest elevation on the trail. At 2,320 feet, it had the best possibility of getting snow.

I drove all night and arrived at White Rock Mountain the following day at about one in the afternoon. The top of the mountain was in a cloud, and was getting a small, but significant dusting of snow. The light snow, dark bare trees, and misty light created an unusual effect. The whole forest looked like a charcoal etching. I spotted a section of the forest where two trees were bent in a similar fashion. I’m not sure why those two trees grew that way, but it made for a curious graphic element. The small birch tree on the right still had its leaves, and completed the composition by adding some color to the scene. I used a slight telephoto lens to accentuate the atmospheric effect.

Nature photography, and perhaps every form of photography, is all about timing. With news photography there is a saying that sums it all up, “f/11 and be there,” which means that being on the scene is more important than worrying about technical details. For snow scenes, a photographer has to go out in the storm, even though this can be hazardous. Photographs of falling snow often make for great atmospheric effects. Usually after a snowstorm, there is a short period of clearing clouds and sunlight when you can photograph the scene before the snow starts to drop from the trees.

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For this picture of the Ozark snowstorm, the opposite effect happened. The more it snowed, the more the charcoal effect disappeared. The following morning the sky was clear, and there was about two inches of snow on the ground. The scene didn’t look special at all. The snow started to melt by the afternoon, and by the following day it was all gone. As it turned out, I’d hit a window of about two hours when all the elements were in place. If I had waited until the morning to leave from Atlanta, I would have missed it.

This photograph of the snowstorm on White Rock Mountain has been one of my most popular prints. I don’t recommend driving all night with little sleep, but in this case the result made the long, somewhat risky drive worthwhile."

Here are a few more photos from Peter's new book - WOW!!!:

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Oulanka National Park, Finland (above); Deer Creek, Grand Canyon, Arizona (below)

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Pia Bay, Chile (below)

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Potato Farmers, Greenland (above); Fleischmann's Glass Frog, Costa Rica (below)

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~~~~~

12/19/13 We've had heavy rain since noon yesterday. All night, and again this morning. Yet the ground is getting drier with each passing hour - what the heck? Our cabin roof is pretty well insulated, and we've not had any melting ice or snow from up there in the past two weeks. But yesterday all the frozen stuff finally hit the melting point, and all of a sudden it started to turn loose. Ever since then we've had a steady stream - in fact waterfalls of it - pouring off the roof all around - a downpour from the melting ice and snow - YIPPIE! And finally our roads melted day before yesterday, and we were able to drive the bookmobile to our program in Dover. It was a muddy mess at first, but now the roads are beginning to dry out and firm up - just in time for heavy rains this weekend! We LOVE to see all this moisture being added back into the landscape - that means lots of WATERFALLS, and waterfall season has officially begun! BE SUPER-DUPER CAREFUL crossing flooding streams - in fact, DON'T! (come back later)

12/24/13 It is a bit nippy early this morning - 16 degrees with clear skies, no wind, and WONDERFUL clean air that is easy to fill your lungs with! I continue to be taken back to my childhood when I used to go grocery shopping with mom. I didn't mind a bit - I spent most of my time back in the frozen foods section, where they had all of those open-top freezers (cold SINKS, so no need for a top, and much easier for customers to access the food). Since I was still a little kid, I would reach up and grab the top wall of the freeze, hoist myself up, then bend over and stick my nose down into the cold and just breath in deeply - ahhhhhh, I loved that frigid air! And I still do.

I was up early yesterday morning at 3am hiking up a steep hill, along the base of a tall bluff, and then scrambling over many boulders to reach the base of my beloved Pam's Grotto Falls. The temp was 19 degrees, and the air was as crispy and wonderful as those old grocery store freezers (although I was a bit hungry as I spent the night in the van without supper or breakfast - I had not planned to spend the night in the van, but decided to do so to try and get a picture in the morning.) There was a 3/4 moon upstairs beaming down through a thin cloud layer and casting soft light everywhere, and even though it was several hours before first light, I didn't need a flashlight. I spent a while working at the waterfall with lights and cameras and running back and forth to make it all happen. The waterfall was running full tilt, and it was great to be there

I had just been to this falls after dark the day before to take pictures, and when we hiked back out to our cars late at night, the moon was hidden beyond heavy clouds and the landscape was much darker. Jason Weaver and I had met up during the early evening to do a little reconnaissance work nearby, and then hiked up to Pam's Grotto after sunset to spend a couple hours shooting light-painted pictures of this beautiful spot. The temp was only in the upper 20's at that time, but my fingers and toes got quite cold - poor circulation no doubt. When I hiked back up the following morning, I wore rubber insulated boots, and even though the temp was a lot colder, my toes were happy campers and remained warm!

12/27/13 'Twas the night before Christmas, and of course I headed down to Boxley to try and capture a scene of the historical church that was decked out with a lit candle in every window, an evergreen wreath on the front door, and a tall cedar tree all lit up in front. I wanted an interesting sky behind it all, and started shooting just after dusky-dark as the bright sky turned dark blue, then a little purple, then mostly black and white - the WHITE were millions of twinkling stars, and a few planets, YIPPIE!

I shot for several hours, trying different compositions, exposures, and ideas. But those artificial lights were kind of too bright against that dark sky full of stars. The great folks at the church allowed me to switch off the street lights in front of the church, and that helped a lot, but something just wasn't quite right. I left the church for a while, then returned after midnight and continued shooting.

Just before dawn on Christmas morning, a couple of things happened. First, while out there under all those stars, in the holy place next to the historic church and cemetery, and with a half-moon that had risen during the night shining down on all, an elk started to bugle - and his music echoed through the peaceful valley. It was just one of those moments that nearly brought me to tears, although those tears would have frozen because it was a wee bit chilly out there! (temp was near 20 degrees) It was a special moment and the world was at peace, and joy spread across the landscape.

That joy came also from the fact that with the moon shining brightly and with the approach of dawn, the sky lightened up just enough so that I could balance the light on the historic church with the star-lit sky, and I got my picture - YIPPIE, COYOTE! It was a magical moment I shall never forget...

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Later in the day my lovely bride and I got to make a quick trek to find a waterfall, and spent an hour or two in the woods, just the two of us (actually three of us - we could not go without Lucy!). Lonesome Hollow Falls was running nicely, and there were also some very nice ice formations along the base of the bluff that we followed to reach the waterfall. It was sunny and warm (ish), and it felt great to just get out together and do nothing but enjoy each other and the beautiful outdoors. (we rarely get to go hiking just for the fun of it anymore) I think Lucy had a blast too!

hike

12/28/13 I got a late start, and didn't even get to the parking spot until almost 9pm. And then something kind of funny happened. After I loaded up my camera backpack with all the needed camera gear, five different types of flashlights, GPS unit, cell phone, and Find Me Spot, I locked up the van and headed UP into the thick woods for what I knew was going to be a tedious and tough little hike to the top of the hill. And then I had a thought - was I in the right place? I had only been to this spot once, and that was in the middle of the day. I started to second-guess myself, and instead of spending the next several hours lost on a mountainside, I decided to let modern technology work for me. I pulled out the GPS - I almost never carry one with me - but son of a gun, it would not get a fix on my position. So I did the next best thing - I sent myself a Find Me Spot notice. Then I went back to the van and fired up my computer, opened the e-mail notice I had just sent myself, and zoomed in on the google map to see exactly where I was. Gosh, this sure was a lot easier when we just used to use a paper map! Anyway, good thing I checked - I was at the wrong spot.

About 30 minutes later, after fighting through some of the thickest brush on a very steep hillside, I arrived at my destination on the mountaintop. And when I say thick and steep, I mean it - holy moly! A lot of the brush had thorns on it, which at times made me get down on my hands and knees and crawl under it all to keep from getting myself shredded. I had to stop a time or two to blow - it was really steep, and my camera bag pretty heavy.

But I made it to the top, set down my camera bag, and had a look around - WOW!!! The night sky was so clear, so the zillions of stars were quite beautiful; but the 180-degree view I had was also quite breathtaking - even though only lit by starlight - the moon would not rise for several hours yet.

I set up my tripod and then stepped over to it to see what the scene looked like, and BOOM, all of a sudden I was airborne! My right foot never touched earth - YIKES! I was standing on a small bluff, and my foot went right over the edge, with me following - it was not a tall bluff, but enough of one that I hit with a small thud - more like slide down the bluff to the more level spot below. Just when I realized I was OK, my tripod clunked me on my head! I had one hand on it when I fell, so it followed me on down the hillside. Thank goodness it was the lightest tripod in my stable, and I have a hard head - no damage done, although I did wonder if this was how my night was going to start, what was next?

Turns out what was next was several hours of incredible shooting, and I had the wilderness all to my own to work in. I've looked for a while to find a suitable pillar of stone in Arkansas - a monolith that stuck up into the sky and would give me a view of zillions of stars behind it. This night was my first attempt to fulfill that vision. I hope you like it! (FYI, this image will be posted as the new Print Of The Week on Monday...)

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