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CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - FEBRUARY 2011 Journal Archives

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Cloudland Cabin Cam February 28, 7:31am - warm and breezy with heavy fog rolling in

February Prints of the Month

UPDATED Monday the 28th

02/01/11 WE HAVE INTERNET - YIPPIE!!! Amazing how such a small thing that we take for granted can become such a huge issue. We've enjoyed DSL service here for a very long time, and while the speed has been about as slow as DSL gets, it was much better than dialup. Sometime last month all of that changed and our service dropped to zero at times, and close to dial-up speed the rest of the time - meaning hours and hours just to do simple task, and unable to do many tasks due to loss of signal. It got to the point where it was affecting our business and not just our lives - spending an hour just to fill out a UPS shipping label online or two hours to upload the Journal is not a good use of time. Amber was unable to fill out college scholarship applications, it was nearly impossible for us to place online orders sometimes, and many e-mails could not be delivered to us (although in the end I don't think we lost any for good). We did find one great but expensive option (using our cell phone as a wifi hotspot), but in the end the local phone company, Ritternet, finally came through for us - and so now for the first time in almost two months we have good internet speed - did I say YIPPIE!!! I feel like I've lost a month or more of my life just messing with the internet and it is great to have this behind us. THANKS to everyone who wrote with suggestions!

Like much of northwest Arkansas, we are bracing for the big winter storm, although we are right on the edge and could get anywhere from a foot of snow to nothing - I suspect we'll be on the low side of whatever hits. So far this morning we've only had light rain during the night. Aspen just came back indoors from an early-morning visit to the woods and he was soaked - that is great since we really need the moisture! If we can keep the power on there are TONS of jobs that we need to do online that I've been unable to get done for awhile - like upgrading computer and printer software. And while I would not be able to get out and take pictures if we did get a beautiful deep snowfall, I'd still be happy just to see it out the window! And as always, we'll figure out a way to get print and book orders processed and shipped no matter what hits - as long as the postman can get his truck out here. (I've been known to hike the mail out to the mailbox when the weather was bad - we strive for very quick order processing all the time.)

One odd wildlife note to report. Both Pam and I have been seeing armadillos out roaming the countryside this past couple of weeks - very strange to see them in the WINTER! These critters do not like cold weather. A strange animal to begin with, they are a newcomer to Arkansas - I never saw one here until I was an adult - they eventually moved in from Texas. And so far we've not had any more hawk issues, although the air was so thick with fog yesterday that I don't think any hawks were flying. Our chickens got back to normal yesterday. We'll be keeping a close eye on the sky around here for a while and are prepared to use noisemakers to scare off any chicken hawks that come close - although I suspect just like the one that hit the other day, they remain out of sight until ready for a kill and we might not ever see them coming until it is too late - birds of prey are great hunters and killing machines!

I'm hoping for a really wet month to recharge the water table, creeks, and waterfalls in the Ozarks - BRING ON THE RAIN!

UPDATE AT FIRST LIGHT. The rain is now freezing on the trees - if that keeps up we'll have a pretty good mess. But at least it IS moisture that we need so badly...

02/02/11 The temp is about 9 at first light today, but I hear that will feel balmy compared to the temp tomorrow morning, which is supposed to be below zero. We don't have too much wind this morning, but there are a few ice-laden limbs bobbing up and down slowly so I would put the wind chill around zero, perhaps a little below. Our total snowfall yesterday was about three-five inches, give or take, with a thin layer of ice underneath. The snowflakes changed size, shape, and velocity many times during the day, at one point being an all-out blizzard with horizontal snow, then a few minutes later we had GIANT flakes just floating down gently. Finally the snow was more like powder and moving slowly, often just hanging in the air, hovering around and exploring a little bit before coming to rest on the ground.

It seemed very cold outside all day, but when I made my way out into the snowy landscape in the afternoon and hiked around a bit it really did not seem too cold - I guess it really all had to do with your dress and your mental attitude. It was one of those days when if I had not had a wounded wing that I needed to protect I probably would have been out for hours just wandering around. While the snow did not pile up on the sides of trees like a recent snowfall, the ground was covered with several inches of "fluff" and everything looked really neat and clean. Our chickens were not too happy about it though - they spent the day huddled under a deck up close to the base of the cabin. My lovely bride crawled under there a time or two with some chicken feed (she also fed a multitude of birds several times during the day).

I had a conversation with a bluebird during the worst part of the blizzard. I was standing shoulder-deep in hot water and working out on the treadmill when the little splash of color landed on an icy limb just a few feet outside the window. Some of the icicles on the limb were longer than the little bird, and the snow was blowing around like crazy and the limb was moving around a good bit too. But the little bird did not seem to mind the wind or the ice or the snow at all. He just sat there and looked at me - and I swear there was a smile on his little beak! I guess he realized that I rather enjoyed that type of weather and would much rather have been outdoors with him than indoors, and I think he wanted me to know how much fun he was having.

Other parts of Arkansas got a lot more snow than we did (and our friends in Missouri got pounded - hey guys, feel free to send any you don't want down here to us!), although I think overall the amounts were less than expected, and our power has remained on the entire time so it looks like we will survive this round of winter without issues.

GALLERY OPEN TODAY - ALL PRINTS HALF PRICE! We thought that since just about everything is closed down around the region today we would buck the trend and open the gallery to the public - from 10-4 today only. I don't expect we will have too much traffic, and we won't be serving any treats - but for anyone who does happen to make it here today I will give you a FREE PICTURE book just for showing up!

As daylight sweeps across the wilderness it looks like the clouds may break up a bit and let some sunshine in. I expect that with the temps remaining so cold that the snow and ice will stick around a while even if the sun pops out. Pam is thinking about knitting seven little sweaters for the chickens and our cats - it is going to be a wee bit frigid tonight!

By the way, it is SO NICE to be able to surf the net again and get e-mails - YIPPIE!!!!!!!!!!!!

02/03/11 'Tis a wee bit chilly outside this morning, although not nearly as cold as predicted - all of our thermometers show about 10 degrees. The one in Boxley via the Weather Channel shows 3, all above zero. And there is no wind at all, so to me it actually feels warmer than it did during the cold snap a couple of weeks ago. Or perhaps we are getting more used to the cold. Even so we've been worried about our outdoor livestock (cats and chickens and birds), but I think they will be fine - they are all tough, grizzled, wilderness animals. (Don't tell anyone, but I just put a bowl of warm milk out on the front porch for our cats.)

It snowed here nearly all day yesterday - a surprise! It was very light, fluffy snow, but eventually added about 1/2" on top of what we already had. I made two trips out to the mailbox, and by the second trip the ruts in the road were already melting with standing water - even though the air temp was under 14 and the sun was not shining! Not sure how that happened, unless the earth had remained very warm. I saw one dark coyote out running around, and tons of other tracks in the snow - most of them deer tracks. I stopped along the road once to take some pictures - it was a beautiful winter wonderland!

Later in the afternoon while I was in the exercise tub trying to do my shoulder rehab moves (much easier to do in hot water), the sun started to break through the heavy cloud cover and was sending sunbeams down into the upper end of Whitaker Creek drainage. Since the clouds were moving around so did the beams, and sometimes an entire ridge way over there would be lit up. Each time the beams happened I would tell myself that I really should be OUTSIDE taking pictures instead of in a hot tub watching! But I was a good boy and continued to do my exercises, and gawk at the amazing light show going on.

After about 20 minutes of this my lovely bride came running into the room to let me know about the light show - "you should be taking PICTURES!" Of course I should, and while her words were still hanging in the air, I was out of the tub and out onto the back deck working with a camera on a tripod (my "intermediate" camera, which has a long zoom lens). I felt a little silly standing there dripping wet in my bathrobe and slippers, but man the light was just wonderful! After a few minutes I went inside and returned with my REAL camera, then spent the next ten minutes trying to shoot the scene with both cameras - I wanted to get some telephoto shots but also wanted to make sure that I had some good images taken with the high-resolution technical camera in case the scene really was as good as it looked.

Even though the wind was blowing quite a bit and the temp was in the low teens, I never really got too chilled - perhaps it was the rush of adrenaline from being able to witness and photograph this type of scene that kept me warm - which is one of the reasons why I do what I do. The downside to this is feeling obligated to work the cameras to make sure I get a good photo, which means I can't really just stand there and enjoy - however in this case I think I got to do both since I had a good bit of time to watch while doing my exercises before. And I think I did get a good photo with the big camera that might make it into the new picture book I'm working on, we'll see.

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OK, back to real time this morning. It was crystal clear most of the night with tons of stars out - I was up until 3am for some reason (spent time in three different sleep locations but none of them worked), although I did take a long nap around 8pm after not being able to keep my eyes open - moral of that story is don't take a nap right before bedtime! The wilderness outside is alive with movement and sounds - mostly of the dozens of birds out looking for food, although many of them seem to just be playing in the trees - perhaps trying to warm up? I know our cats spend cold nights like this under the front porch somewhere, but where do birds spend the night? I wonder if they seek out a sheltered limb, or if it really makes any difference to them when the wind is not blowing?

The trees around the cabin are covered with icicles about 2-3 inches long, and some of the limbs are snow covered on top of that. Other than the ruts in the road it does not look like anything melted yesterday. If the sun can chase all the clouds away this morning we might see some melting this afternoon, but otherwise I expect we'll be looking at the same landscape for days to come. Oops, I see some BLUE sky high above so I bet it does clear off. If the winds stays down I bet it will be a balmy day....

Oh by the way, we decided to give away a FREE CANVAS PRINT to the first person to show up at the gallery yesterday - but no one showed - that was probably a safe bet on our part, ha, ha!

TEMP update at 8:30am - I just spent about five minutes outside feeding the critters wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no gloves and want to amend my temperature comment - it is FRIGID outside! It does indeed feel like zero or below, and that without any wind blowing. My fingers got numb in that short time. Perhaps next time I should wear a jacket...

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02/05/11 Needless to say we got a LOT more snow yesterday than was expected - YIPPIE! The dusting turned into probably an average of six inches here, more in some places up on the mountain. I love snow - and all of the moisture that we really need that comes with it when the snow melts. And the snowfall yesterday blanketed the wilderness with one of those magical winter wonderland coats. It snowed all day, heavy at times, and even the tracks that I made in the snow when I returned to the cabin from being over in the print room at 8pm were almost totally covered up this morning. It was/is a great snow - finally deep enough - for cross-country skiing. We've got three pairs here all ready to go, but I'm not allowed to get out in the snow nor on the skis so I'll have to wait until later in the year for all of that fun stuff. And as I've been saying all along, I think we'll have a wet winter and early spring so I should get plenty of opportunity. In the meantime it is just to just stand around and marvel at all the great beauty in the snow-covered mountains - who needs Colorado!

The chickens are not amused though. They have not set foot outside their coop since the snow started a few days ago. Pam and I will try to make a path for them today and get them outside in the sunshine some. And man it is BRIGHT today, with pure blue skies and warming temps - a BRILLIANT day in the wilderness! Again, reminds me of Colorado. I've made daily trips out to the mailbox (orders have shipped out as normal thanks to the post office), and have made many trips over to the gallery to work in the print room - sometimes I've been forced to wander of course a little bit to get out and enjoy some of the deep snow in the forest. Thank goodness through all of this we've had internet and power all week - yippie! (oh yes, and we have WATER too - we got that fixed in the nick of time)

One of the times yesterday while I was out wandering around during the snowstorm I came upon a little bird on the ground - or actually he was almost underground. I stopped to watch. This little guy was all puffed up in a ball like a puffer fish. And as I watched he actually dug out a cave in the snow that just fit his size, then he crawled in and rotated around so that he could see out. If I had not seen him do all of this from the beginning I would never have seen him. He looked warm and cozy and happy and willing to wait out the storm - at least until he got covered up with new snow! Later on I saw another little bird that was all puffed up - I mean this guy was at least twice the size of his normal body. He was more out in the open and did not seem as cozy as the bird that had burrowed into the snow - in fact this second bird gave me a dirty look as I passed by. In general I think most wildlife species are well prepared for this type of weather, even here in Arkansas. (Especially the birds at Cloudland - my lovely bride keeps them well fed!)

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The Faddis Cabin yesterday (Benny & Mildred's place), and the exercise tub in our sun room this morning

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02/09/11 It is five-something this morning and Aspen just came back inside after making a quick trip to check on weather conditions. He came back soaked to the bone. With a temp in the teens I can only surmise that it is SNOWING heavily, yippie! I know, folks are probably getting tired of this, but each new wave of the brilliant white stuff produces an amazing landscape that we only get to see a few times a year if we are lucky. Tough to drive on, but beautiful.

The girls moved into Jasper on Saturday so that Amber could be close by to get to school in this bad weather, so the pets and I have been batching it for the last few days. A fox got into the hen house the other night and there was quite a struggle - the fox won. But he only got one of the chickens. It was sad because these ladies have all become pets, not just livestock, each with their own personality (and name). But life in the wild is the constant struggle of life and death and this is part of it for both sides.

I made the long journey into Jasper yesterday to pick up my lovely bride and bring her back to the cabin - life here without Pam is not nearly as nice as having her here! Cave Mountain Road was mostly still solid ice and snow in the morning, although it was beginning to thaw out a little by afternoon (while I don't mind driving on snow-packed roads - in fact prefer it, the big hill going down into Boxley is just too dangerous and so we will often take the "back" way to Jasper by way of Fallsville, which adds about an hour driving time each way, but it is much safer).

And as luck would have it, BOTH UPS and Fed-X were able to make it out to deliver packages (and pick some up too). For the first time ever, the UPS guy had chains on - and oh brother did he need them since his tires were almost completely bald. The drivers always want to deliver/pickup, but often their bosses tell them to simply stay away from places like ours when the roads are bad, and the result is that things we order are often delayed for a week or two or more. But tire chains change the story, only the poor driver has to remove them for any highway driving, then has to re-install for each dirt road delivery, and our driver goes on and off dirt roads a lot out here - the poor guy was a mud ball from having to lay on the ground for each tire chain swap. KUDOS to UPS! And to Fed-X as well - one of their supervisors (or owner of the route) drove out his personal 4WD pickup that was piled high with boxes - it was sort of like Santa's sleigh coming down the road! The other option for us would be to make a four-hour drive to pickup packages this time of the year.

One of the boxes contained a Valentine's gift for Pam. We have an odd romance I guess, and this item was her number one choice - a special tool for doing hiking trail maintenance! I think that a lot of guys will drool over this in fact, it was really quite amazing. "Loppers" are used to trim back branches that grow across the trail, and the correct way to cut them is to step off the trail and cut them off way back at the base of the tree. Pam figured that the work would go faster if she didn't have to be stepping off the trail constantly, so she dreamed up this design of a really LONG pair of loppers - I told her they probably did not exist. Well shucks, it not a good idea to tell that girl "no" so she went out and found the exact item - a REALLY long pair of loppers! In fact as you can see fro this photo they will actually extend to a full EIGHT FEET long! The only issue is that I think I need them too - hum, I'm not sure there is room for two of them in this family though so I may just stand back and watch her work!

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This winter continues to be one of the most scenic I can remember, with wave after wave of wind-driven wet snow events that sticks to the trees and piles up on the limbs. So many new features of the forest take shape when they are outlined with snow, and a simple hike through the magical winter wonderland becomes a feast for your eyes and soul. Somehow the entire world seems at peace - it is SO quiet after the landscape is covered with a thick blanket of the fluffy stuff! I have often gone out into the middle of the forest during a snowstorm and just stood there, with my eyes closed, and listened to the individual snowflakes landing gently on the ground. But so far this year the snow has not fallen gently and so it has been easy to hear it hit - a completely different sound though. I'm hoping that later today the winds will die down as the snow continues to fall so I can run out and listen - try it sometime.

Speaking of snow, you may have noticed that I added an extra Print of the Month image a couple of days ago. When I uploaded the digital files of the Winter God Beams photo from last week into my big computer next door and started to take a closer look at this one specific file, it instantly hit me - the look and character of that amazing scene would look terrific if printed on a special type of glossy metallic printing paper that I have. So I made a print and was floored by the result - of my goodness, while this God Beams image already looked nice, when printed on the metallic paper the print itself GLOWED! Wow, I was really surprised by how well the scene and the paper went together - this metallic paper does not match up well with most other scenes. So instead of charging extra for these prints (the paper is about three times more expensive than normal photo paper), I decided to offer it to folks at the special Print of the Month discounted price - at least until I ran out of the metallic paper! I have printed quite a few of this scene now on the special paper and each time I pull a print off the printer I just have to stop and shine a spotlight on it and marvel at the detail, color, feeling, and GLOW of it. I have a feeling that if I put a matted print of this up on the wall in my office I probably would not get any work done - so this print comes with a warning to not display it at work!

One other note about the snow - yesterday for the first time in a good long while I saw the Buffalo River flowing beneath the bridge in upper Boxley - the result of recent melting snows. This is great news, and the more snow we continue to get the more it will feed the water table and creeks and rivers and WATERFALLS! If we can just continue with the moisture - either snow or rainfall - we'll have a grand waterfall season this year.

Oh, and note about my trip into Jasper yesterday - I got to eat at the OZARK CAFE, double YIPPIE! (Mexican salad) It has been a very long time since I've eaten there, and this was the first time in two months that I had actually sat down at a table to eat. The town seemed a little crowded for me though, so I was really happy to get back to our little log cabin snuggled into the winter forest...

7:30AM UPDATE. I just spent about 20 minutes outside set up in one spot taking a picture. EASILY a full inch of snow piled up on top of me while I was shooting. This is perhaps the heaviest snowfall I've ever been in, and I've sat through four feet of snow in Colorado one February. And we are on the leading edge of this snow band so are likely to get a lot more. So far - between 8-12 inches of new snow this morning. And for those who ask, this is how I help protect my camera when I'm shooting in the rain or in this case snow - it is called a "chairbrella" and is designed to attach to a stadium seat to provide shade - I had to replace the clamp on the end of the gooseneck that attaches to the tripod so that it would fit on my tripod, but it works great - as my workshop students know, I've been using this setup for many years...

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EVENING UPDATE.Well we had one heck of a snowstorm today - as had many of you (and some even more so). It was a beautiful snowfall from start to finish. We ended the day with 18-20 inches in most places, although sometimes it sure did feel a lot deeper and probably was.

We dug out our snow boots left over from our February trip to Yellowstone several years ago, and also got out two pair of snowshoes, then I spent some time hiking around up and down the road just for practice - and it was GREAT exercise too! This snow was so FLUFFY AND LIGHT that the snowshoes went through it like there was no snow at all. It was pure snow, seemingly without any moisture in it at all (not good for snowmen or snowballs, but great for ICE CREAM!). It was, for me, the snow of the decade. I've been in snow like this before up in the Rockies when cross-country skiing or just taking winter photos, but I do believe this is the first of its kind for me here in Arkansas. Beautiful, just gorgeous.

The snow slowly tapered off and by mid-afternoon I was ready for a real trip into the woods - I wanted to go have a look at Hawksbill Crag. It took me nearly and hour of very careful planning and equipment selection - I was going to take a camera of course, but could not use a normal camera backpack due to my shoulder surgery. The camera needed to be a good one - not a snapshot camera - but I did not want to haul my big camera in the smaller shoulder bag that I had selected - so I settled for my middle camera, which I got for this exact type of situation - great quality but light weight. I packed a two-way radio, cell phone, and Find Me Spot (getting a little anal here or what?). While out practicing on the snowshoes I realized that I did not need much in the way of clothing to stay warm - even though the temp was in the high teens - so I put on only one layer of pants, a thin shirt, vest, and lightweight jacket - that was it. And that combo turned out to be perfect - plenty warm without being hot. Just right!

It has been two months since my shoulder surgery and even though I am no longer wearing my brace I put it on and strapped it down for my trip just in case. It is OK for me to use my arm (just REALLY painful - what a wimp!), but if I were to fall out in the woods my natural reaction would be to reach out with that arm to catch myself - and that could prove to be very bad and rip out some of what the doctor put back together. By having my arm secured inside the brace and the brace secured to my body, I could not reach out with that arm. In fact if I were to fall in this deep snow it probably not even hurt since the landing would be so soft! I am a klutz when out of the woods and sometimes trip and fall flat on my face while walking across a perfectly flat and smooth parking lot. But I am pretty good when out in the woods, especially if I am bushwhacking and not on a maintained trail.

And that proved to be the case today - I was at once at home and at ease the moment I stepped into the forest today with my snowshoes on. The woods were just spectacular, and moving through them was effortless, and was in fact a pure JOY! Wow, just being out there in the middle of it all made my spirit soar. And there was no sound, none at all. It had stopped snowing, and there was no wind. Only the deep powder. I could have stopped and just stood there for hours - and I did frequently - but at the same time I wanted to make it to Hawksbill Crag and take a photo just to show you what it looked like so I kept going.

The historical trail down to the Crag from the Faddis property crosses two different parcels of private land. Folks have continued to use this trail over the years even though ownership has changed hands several times. The current owners decided to close this trail to all public access - and so it is now closed. There are many signs posted, and all of the property around is private. The only public access is via the official trail that begins at the trailhead on Cave Mountain Road. BUT it is possible for me to bushwhack from our own property, and since the landscape was covered with at least a foot or more of new snow there really were no trails anyway - YIPPIE! I prefer to bushwhack most of the time anyway, especially in the snow.

Once I hit the really steep benches just above the Crag I took off my snowshoes and went the rest of the way with my Yellowstone snow boots. The snow was so deep that my boots dug in and it was just so easy, even going down the steep stuff. And soon I was standing on level ground and looking across at the snow-covered Crag, which usually does not hold much snow since it is an exposed rock and the snow normally just blows off.

Wanting to be perfectly safe I brought along a length of a nylon strap and tied myself off to a tree. Then I dug out my camera and set the tripod firmly into the snow and started taking pictures, making sure not to get too close to the edge - even with the safety harness. (I almost always use a safety harness these days when getting close to the edge - older and wiser you know.) I had the photo that I wanted in about two minutes, yet I continue to take pictures, over and over and over again. What was that? I guess because part of all this that is great for me is the actual act of taking the picture - I just love it. And so I wanted that moment and the feeling to last, and so it did. Then I packed up and moved slowly along the top of the bluffline until I found another vantage point, then dug out the camera again and took a few more pictures.

There had not been a single mark in the snow from the very beginning - certainly no people tracks, but also no critter tracks of any kind, anywhere. This is common with a big snowstorm like that - all the critters of the forest take shelter and hunker down for a while. By tonight and tomorrow there will be many tracks all over the place. But today the wilderness was mine, and each step felt like I was walking into a brand new world - and I guess it indeed was, sort of.

I eventually made my way back to the Crag and walked on out onto the big rock. The snow there was about a foot deep, which was really surprising since snow almost never piles up on the Crag - it just blows away since the rock is so exposed. The snow back in the forest was much deeper, at times twice as deep, but this was no doubt the most snow I've ever seen on the Crag itself.

And as if simply BEING there in the midst of all the great beauty all around me, four things happened at the same time that elevated the moment to an amazing Cloudland Moment, a slice of time that will forever live inside me. First off, a barred owl started to hoot way off in the distance - kind of odd hearing one in the daytime at this time of the year. And then I heard the honking of GEESE - and as I strained to listen and look, not one, but THREE different flocks came soaring overhead - each one being lower in altitude - the final one so close I could see glint in the eyes of the individual geese. Glint of what? From the SUNSHINE that was trying to break through the heavy cloud cover - double YIPPIE! And finally as I turned to dash over to my camera spot to resume taking pictures (actually I never dashed - I always set each foot firmly before moving the next), oh my goodness I could not believe my eyes - a bald eagle appeared just across the way above Beagle Mountain - he was flying west, from my left to my right (the geese were flying east, the direction the snow had come from). I wanted to stop and admire this moment, soak it all in, but then I also felt obligated to get my fanny on over and take a picture of the Crag in the sunshine too, so off I went. WOW, just wow!

OK, the birds all left and so did the sunshine, and after checking in with my lovely bride via radio and phone, and making a quick post on our Facebook page (how pathetic is that?), I packed my gear up and turned my big boots uphill and headed back home. Making sure to open my wardrobe as much as possible so that I would not overheat, I kept up a pretty good pace going on up the hill - again, it was almost effortless, even though I was going up a steep hillside in deep snow - I probably could have climbed a real mountain in the heightened mental state of bliss that I was in.

And before long I was back on top of the ridge and found an even greater beauty sight - my lovely bride was out with the dogs on a bushwhack of their own through the deep snow. Lucy was so funny - since the snow was over her back she had to leap instead of taking steps - reminded me of a coyote in Yellowstone going after mice. Aspen just plowed his way through most of the time - or followed Pam's plowed path. The perfect end to a delightful snowshoe-bushwhack!

Well, actually there was one more part. We had a big plate of smashed potatoes and roast beef for dinner! I make my smashed 'taters with lots of onions, butter, and sour cream - a Cloudland DIET food for sure!

I can't remember when I've enjoyed time in the woods more - there was just something rare about the trip today - every step was special, pure wilderness. It may be months before I'm able to spend a full day in the woods again, and I'm hopeful there will be many more days like this.

One parting thought before I ramble on forever - it was ironic that a set of tire chains I had ordered the other day could not be delivered today due to the snow, ha, ha!

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02/11/11 Yesterday evening I was sitting around watching the bright day fade into twilight, The sky grew dark blue, then dark gray and stars began to appear. The horizon faded from a brilliant orange to light blue. There came a point when the snow on the trees and the ground began to glow, and then something odd happened - the sky and the air got darker but the snow got BRIGHTER! How could that be? It must have been an optical illusion and it was really just the relationship of the snow to the sky that made the snow appear brighter, but however it happened it looked really neat. And is often the case on evenings like this, my thoughts drifted on back over to Hawksbill Crag, and I wondered what it would look like covered with snow in the moonlight?

Several hours later I was packing my camera bag and happened to notice that the temp was about ten degrees - yikes, that would be a chilly trip to the Crag! But with the landscape still covered with a foot or more of fresh snow I would produce quite a bit of heat just making my way on snowshoes down to the Crag, and certainly would heat up on the way back. But still, ten degrees?

It was a surreal landscape that I stepped into near midnight - the snow all around was glowing blue, the trees all silhouetted in black with their black shadows covering the forest floor, above me was a dark sky filled with stars, and everywhere I went the moon shone in my eyes - it was a small moon but still pretty bright, and certainly so after reflecting off the snow - there was no need for a flashlight, although I did carry a micro light clipped to one of the straps on my arm brace that highlighted any low-hanging branches I was about to run into.

The snow had a thin crust on top and so it was a little bit of a chore to stomp the snowshoes into it to get a good grip with each step. But before long I was lost in the magic of the moment and just sorted of floated on down towards the Crag, looking all around as I went in complete wonderment at the scene I was part of. The crisp night air seemed to highlight the experience as well - it was easy to get plenty of oxygen with each breath since cold air holds more (I just made that up). It was one of those trips where I really wanted to hurry up and get to my destination, but the journey was so wonderful I just wanted for it to keep on going!

The moon was shining on the Crag when I arrived there, and needless to say it was quite a scene as well. Things always look wonderful in moonlight (by the way guys, that means that we do too - so take every chance you can get to be out in the moonlight with your lady - it is your best light to be seen in!). I took a little extra time setting up the strap that I use to tie myself to a nearby tree in case I slip and head towards the edge of the bluff - I wanted to make double sure that I was secure since it was the middle of the night and the snow was, well, after all, SLIPPERY!

I set up the camera on a big tripod and spread the legs out so the camera was at a low angle - so I could get more stars in the photo. I spent the next hour or so taking pictures of the Crag and the snow and the moonlight and the stars. I hardly ever felt the cold. I did feel the worry of my lovely bride back at the cabin, and was careful to check in with her via two-way radio frequently.

The trip back out seemed to happen almost instantly - I probably could have made the trip two or three more times and still not had enough of the magic of the night.

f1111mooncrag

The power went off at the cabin just after daylight this morning. I gathered some firewood and built a fire in the fireplace - the first we've had this winter. Within minutes the cabin was alive with the crackling and the motion and the aroma of a great fire. We don't heat with wood since it dries out the cabin logs so much, but it is our emergency heat source whenever the power goes out on cold days like this one. I do miss splitting firewood in my underwear on days like this though - I don't know why I've always loved that but I have ever since I was a youngster.

An hour later the power came back on again and we fired up all the electronics in the cabin and got to work for the day. Then the power went off again and we had to shut everything down. A little while later the power was back on again, but only for about 30 minutes. After a few cycles of this we gave up and decided to just hit the road and try to make it into town - we had a pile of packages to get to the post office, so we headed out.

We were thrilled to discover that the county had graded Cave Mountain Road - yippie! It was still snow-packed, but that was a lot easier to get through than the deep snow. Actually the highways were a lot worse though - they had been plowed but not down to bare pavement - in fact it was almost solid snowpack all the way to Fayetteville. But by the time we made the return trip much of the snow had melted and the highways were a lot better - so was Cave Mountain Road - still lots of snow pack, and also the beginnings of a muddy mess when it all melts this weekend!

When we got home we discovered that chicken who had survived the hawk attack last week had been killed and carried off by a fox. I trailed the fox down below the cabin and it appeared that the fox - with chicken in his teeth - went right on over the edge of the bluff - I don't know what happened below, but I assume the fox knew a secret passage to get down the bluff. The chicken who died was the leader of our little flock. Another chicken was killed and half-eaten by probably the same fox last weekend. It appears that our birds are not safe being out during the wintertime here so we'll have to keep them penned up from now on until spring - perhaps I'll need to build a larger pen for them to run in. We really only expected to keep three of the five hens anyway, but we did not expect for all of them to live this long and have names and personalities.

There should be some waterfalls running this weekend, although I don't really expect anything running at high levels - there is a lot of snow to melt but also a very low water table. No doubt it will be the best conditions for waterfalls so far this winter though, and I hope lots of folks are able to get out and enjoy!

Sunset from the back deck Saturday night:

f1211sunset.

And before sunrise on Sunday morning looking the other direction:

f1311sunrise

02/17/11 Wild winds howled all night and continue this morning just before dawn. I don't think they are bringing in any weather, just making a lot noise, er I mean music! Speaking of music, the Buffalo River far below has been singing a lively tune the past few days as well. Even though all the snow we had only amounted to a couple inches of actual rainfall total, the runoff has added a great deal to the creek levels and they are up and running again at last - literally music to me years! Snow is always great that way. I don't recall a foot plus of snow melting off so quickly though - even Beagle Point snow disappeared almost overnight - it often hangs around for a week even with a small amount of snow.

Not a whole lot of activity going on around here other than normal work, shoulder rehab, and travel. I've been out a time or two trying to get some exercise and soak up the beautiful weather we've had, but I'm mostly sticking to the roads for now. While out hiking this past couple of days, both my lovely bride and I have discovered wild burro tracks along the road into our cabin - I wonder if it is the same guy I found living down next to Whitaker Creek last spring? Oddly enough the tracks were in the same area where we've seen all the other exotic critters up here, including both the white and black squirrels, cougar, and black bobcat. So if you venture up to Cave Mountain be on the lookout for a wild burro!

A quick funny note and then I must post this and get back to work. I've been doing a lot of interviews with reporters recently, including two this week that were more than an hour long, which is a pretty long interview for a magazine article these days. I woke up yesterday morning without most of my voice, and what little was left was a foreign sound. They started me on some medication the day before but it was some I had had before so am not sure if that is what did it or not. Anyway, when I sat down for another hour-long interview in the afternoon I was worried if my voice would hold up or even be loud enough to being with for the tape recording - the voice was up to about half volume by then. Turns out the tape recorder did not work, ha! After several sets of fresh batteries the reporter still did not think it was working correctly but we went on anyway and used up two cassette tapes. My voice held out but I don't know if the recorder ever worked.

Daylight is approaching and I hope you have a GRAND day!

02/20/11 Did you see the moonrise last night? It was the day after the full moon but a giant orange ball rose up through layers of clouds and it lit up the night and my spirits really nice! We've had mostly cloudy skies during full moon rises/sets lately so it was especially nice to see this one. That big old moon is still up early this morning as I'm writing this, and if I were a real photographer I'd be on the road hunting up a suitable location to shoot the moon hovering just above the western horizon at sunrise, but I'll have to save that for another month.

I LOVE fog - 'tis no secret. Not much fun to drive in, but thick fog can turn an ordinary patch of woods into a magical forest filled with whatever your mind happens to conjure up. And I especially love the look of trees in fog - they stand out from the background more but also have more detail in them - foggy trees have more personality. So yesterday when my caretaker bride left to take our daughter to Missouri I took the opportunity to strap on a fanny pack and headed into the foggy woods for a little ramble.

It is easy to get lost in the fog, but sometimes that is a good thing as it frees your mind to wander right on along with your legs. I seemed like only a minute or two had passed since I had left the cabin when I looked up and realized that I was standing right in the middle of a thick stand of big old pine trees and young beech trees - nearly a mile away. The little beeches keep their golden leaves all winter and a lot of color to the sometimes monotone winter landscape. These guys were all huddled around the bases of the pines, with their soft glowing leaves, and seemed to be inviting me to come join them, and so I did. I raised both of my arms up from my side like airplane wings - one of my rehab exercises - and then gently moved through the beech fairyland as the leaves caressed my arms. Sounds kind of odd as I write about it now, but it just seemed like the thing to do at the time and I rather enjoyed it. Really though, I believe that any time spent interacting in with the forest is good time.

f1911beech

Later on I drifted on down the hillside and found myself back at Hawksbill Crag, which loomed large out over the foggy landscape - the hills that normally are there had disappeared into the background. Not a soul around. I got onto the trail and hiked back towards the trailhead, passing many ghostly giant slabs of sandstone just sitting on top of the big bluff. The little creek feeding Haley Falls was bone dry - I had expected at least a little bit of water flow, but the landscape had already soaked up all that snow from last week and was holding on tight. The creeks below were running though, and in fact while standing back on the Crag you could hear Whitaker Creek flowing far below (and we can hear the Buffalo quite well from our cabin).

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I suspect most of you that have hiked this trail have seen this old beech tree with all the holes, and I have photographed it a dozen times, but here is one more shot of it. Beeches hollow out before reaching old age - nutrients travel in the outer parts of the tree anyway and the insides are just there for stability.

f19beechholes

I passed a lone pair of hikers coming in as I got near the trailhead, but that was it. After I got back to the cabin and for much of the rest of the day we could hear hikers shouting out over on the Crag so I suspect the trail saw a lot of action yesterday. Why is it that folks go to the trouble to get out into the middle of the wilderness to get away from the noise of the city and then stand there and YELL into the wilderness? I just don't get that.

The fog continued to hang low in the forest and got pretty thick as I made my way back towards the cabin, but then eventually I could tell the sky above was clearing up a bit as some color began to creep into the forest. It was a good day to be out in the woods.

f19treefog

I spent most of Friday restocking the Hastings bookstores in both Conway and Russellville - and discovered they have THREE CALENDARS in stock at the Russellville store! (they also have ten copies of the SEARCH FOR HALEY book) We still have a handful of calendars here as well that you can order from our online store (just order a gift certificate and note it is for a calendar and we'll charge the correct amount).

Pam has FLOWERS breaking the surface in the front yard - SPRING is just around the corner! But I'm still hopeful that we have at least one or two more heavy snow events - those typically come in March, and we sure do need the moisture to keep the creeks running and get waterfalls flowing.

Our free-range chickens now spend their days all penned up in their covered run to keep them from the hawks and foxes. We'll keep them there until springtime brings more food for the predators and the we'll let them out to be free once again. They have continued to produce eggs throughout the winter, although on the coldest nights Pam keeps a light burning in their coop for warmth, and to encourage egg production.

No wild burro sightings, but we have been seeing some fresh bear scat around the mountain - warm temps will encourage bears to get out and roam around, kind of like me. And someone near Boxley killed a bear last week and hung the skin on a post along the road between Boxley and Kingston - kind of a weird sight. I have no idea what was up with this but the skin disappeared a couple days later.

02/28/11 The wilderness is alive with sound, movement, and color this morning! We had a few waves of storms roll through during the night, and while I don't think it dumped too much rain nor caused any wind damage, it seems to have energized the landscape, perhaps an awakening from winter slumber in preparation for spring, which will be soon upon us. We probably still have some winter weather ahead of us - our deepest snows often come in March - but the giant sponge of the earth that has been long dry and parched is now saturated and ready and willing to sprout creeks and waterfalls and all new life that will spring forth from it!

As the girls woke up this morning I was informed of the news about the magnitude 4.7 earthquake that hit Arkansas late last night. I was up at the time and felt it, however I just assumed it was Aspen jumping up into his favorite chair - he has put on a few pounds over the winter.

With only a few lines of space left in this month's Journal, I'll just make a couple more quick notes and then see you here in March. First, there are only a few copies left of the current Print Of The Month "Winter God Beams" print on the special metallic paper so be sure to order yours today! Secondly, we are planning our first ever SPRING OPEN HOUSE at our Canvas Print Gallery here on April 2nd - more details to come but if you are planning to visit this area in April that might be a good day to visit! And finally, we still have some space left in all of our spring photo workshops but they usually fill up so if you know of someone who is on the fence or might be interested be sure to sign up soon. I'm really looking forward to MARCH, and hope you will follow along!.

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