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CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - February 2014

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• Print Of The Week special (above); • Engagement Calendar Print Of The Week special(below)

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02/03/14 I LOVE SNOW! And so was a happy camper yesterday when our total reached 8" or more in some places. I needed clear skies to do some nighttime photo work in the snow (without stars, nighttime snow photos look just like daytime snow photos). Turns out the clouds were to clear out sometime Sunday evening. So I watched the first half of the football game, then suited up and hiked on over and down to Hawksbill Crag to set up a camera for an all-night shoot.

The deep snow made it easy to hike through the forest. When it first fell, the snow seemed heavy and wet. My lovely bride and I hiked around the mountain in the afternoon and it required a little effort to pick up our feet, and we shed clothes in a hurry as we warmed up. Snow warming you up - sounds kind of nutty. But the temps had fallen into the low 20's by halftime and it had become very dry snow, more like power, and gave way easily. But packing that heavy camera gear kept me quite warm, so much so that I didn't even need a jacket.

I set up the camera on the edge of the bluff to record a scene that includes the snowy landscape and rotating stars overhead (if the sky ever cleared), and hiked back to the cabin to see how the football game was going. Then I packed up the car with a plan to drive to a neat location about an hour away and hike into another area and set up camera #2 to take pictures the rest of the night. It was still cloudy, but it felt like things were about to break up overhead, and I had a vision of this second snow and star picture that I wanted to shoot (actually I have dozens and dozens of them in my head, but not enough perfect nights to shoot them!).

Best laid plans of mice and men......My wheels were dead as the result of some questionable dealer service...

So I had to shift my plans a bit, and decided to stay closer to home for the rest of the night. I spent some time up in Aspen's meadow photographing a beautiful beech tree, naked and proud against a sky filled with brilliant stars - it had indeed cleared up and those stars were just spectacular!

beechstars

Then I decided to hike back down to the Crag and set up a second camera using a different set of exposure values to capture star trails, and also to insure that I could record the stars until dawn. Typically, a digital camera doesn't have enough juice to run all night long, especially in cold weather. So I lifted my camera bag and headed into the woods, and my oh my was it a beautiful hike in the starlight! The snow was so soft that I didn't make a single sound as I swooshed along - I take it back, perhaps I was making just a little "swooshing" noise, but I figured all the bears and squirrels were fast asleep so no one was listening. Question - if a hiker walks through the woods and there is no one else there, does he make a sound? That line has never made any sense to me...

You may find this a tad bit humourous, but it made my heart skip a beat or two when it happened. I sat down on the snow near the camera that was set up and running at the edge of the bluff. My plan was to carefully erect my tripod right next to the first camera so as not to get the camera or tripod or bluffline in the bottom of the frame (I was using really wide angle lenses on both cameras). I had to be careful not to bump the other camera since it was taking pictures the entire time. I had everything in place just fine, but when I made just one last tiny adjustment in the tripod position, I bumped the first camera, knocked it over, and it headed for the edge of the bluff - that is right about the time that my heart skipped a beat or two. I could not move any closer to the bluff to grab it since I was already as close to the edge as I dare get, yet I sure did hate to see several thousands bucks worth of camera get smashed 100 feet below. So in the blink of an eye, I grabbed the new camera by a tripod leg (so that I did not knock it over too), leaned against a small tree that I was using for support, and reached my other arm out towards the falling camera and tripod. Normally I would have been too late and the camera would have already been over the edge. But hours before, just as I was about to hike off and leave that first camera on the edge of the bluff, I got to thinking about how hard the wind was blowing and that I really needed something to secure the camera. So in the darkness I rigged up a long piece of black electrical tape that I had in the bag, and used it as kind of a rope to loop through the camera strap and around that same small tree. This would probably not hold the weight of the camera and tripod if it all went over the bluff - especially since it had frozen solid. But it did apparently stop the motion of the camera for just an instant, and that pause allowed me to grab the tripod leg and save it - YIPPIE COYOTE!!!!!!! Whew, bit sigh of relief.

So I reset the first camera and got it working again, then I started the second camera and let it roll. And I enjoyed the next hour hiking back up the hill and through the winter wonderland in the starlight. If you have never been there, standing in the middle of the woods at night in the snow - especially with just starlight - is a magical experience - words cannot describe.

I hiked back to the cabin and crawled into bed for a couple of hours, then got up and hiked back down to the Crag about an hour before sunrise. The night sky had already started to lighten up enough to blow out my exposures, and the stars were gone anyway, so my night-long photos had ended. I packed everything up and hiked back up the big hill. It had been a great night! Well, all except for the dead battery and dealer fraud stuff. I probably won't take a look at the pictures for a while, but hope to post one here if any of them turned out. UPDATE - here is one of the photos, which is actually a bunch of images all stacked together:

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I am HAPPY TO REPORT that we have now completed four of the six guidebook updates that we needed to get done in January. I'm headed into Fayetteville here in a little while to deliver the DVD's of that 4th one to our print broker, who in turn will get them sent off to the printers. We still have two more to update, so we'll be working hard to get those out by the end of January as well. Oops, I guess the end of January has already come and gone!

02/04/14 We've had a mix of freezing rain, snow, and sleet here this morning. The long view of the landscape are kind of foggy, and the distant hills we see from here go in and out of view as the precip comes and goes. My lovely bride and Lucy took a long hike yesterday to pick up the mail while I was in town, and they reported a lovely time with the snow and sunshine! They will make the same three-mile trip today to take the mail, but I suspect they may not be so thrilled with the condition of the trail. 'Tis the way of life in the mountains, and we love it!

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Someone needs to do a little trail maintenance around here!

02/09/04 I was one of them, along with more than half of everyone else in the country - 50 years ago tonight. Our TV was black and white (we didn't get a color one until many years later). The screams were real. The excitement genuine. Their enthusiasm infectious. I'm sure my dad was about to die, and I have no idea how mom talked him into letting me watch The Beatles on their very first Ed Sullivan broadcast, but it was a moment that changed my life forever. Their music of that time remains the best I've ever heard from anyone, and I suspect it always will. I don't listen to them non-stop, but I know each and every song by heart, and from the very first note I know exactly what is coming, my heart races, and I smile - their music was/is such pure joy to experience. No other band has ever come close...

Speaking of TV, since folks do ask from time to time, there have been three programs that have been of great interest to me over the past decade, and I think they all share a common bond of being upbeat, positive, and full of smiles. Flying Wild Alaska (the series died MUCH too young!), Big Bang Theory, and now Treehouse Masters. (Also American Pickers and Pawn Stars.) I used to also watch Northern Exposure and Gilmore Girls. There are a few other nice shows that have been on, but for the most part what we get on TV these days is pretty much trash, including the "news." OK, 'nuff of that.

My eyes opened about a quarter to four this morning, and I rolled over and turned off the alarm clock that was set to go off at 4am. 20 minutes later I was headed up the driveway in a dense fog. The first nine miles was all solid snowpack and ice, some of it pretty slick. But once I reached the highway it was clear, although it took me double the time to get to Alum Cove Natural Bridge than normal due to the very thick fog the entire way.

I spent the next hour slipping on the shiny ice that covered the stone floor beneath the great arch, trying to photograph an impressive wall of ice that loomed above - it was just pouring out of the mountain. I wanted to catch the color and tones of the glowing blue ice before the light of dawn messed things up.

I managed to only fall once - AMAZING how FAST your rump can hit the ground with one tiny slip! Actually it was not my rump that hit - somehow I managed to tuck and roll while going down, and so there was no damage. But I did spend about 20 minutes sitting on the glaze ice while shooting the scene from a low angle. I only had a pair of jeans on (heck, it was only 28 degrees and rather balmy compared to what I've gotten used to while out shooting during the night here lately), but the interaction with my warm behind and that frigid ice was not good - I ended up with soaked jeans, and later on, a frozen butt!

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Yesterday four of us went for a hike around the mountain - my lovely bride and I, Lucy, and the Fat Cat. This is the first time the Fat Cat had been hiking with us in quite a while. (The girl cat had snuck into the cabin and was all bundled up in a far corner of the loft closet, far away from the snow and ice - we found her there later, and had to escort her out the door.)

The top inch or so of the 6-8" of snow cover was still mostly solid/frozen, and it was kind of funny to watch Lucy break through the ice - but only about once every eight or ten steps - that sort of thing tends to put a damper in your pace! Oddly, the Fat Cat - who is about as fat as he has ever been - never broke through the ice once. Actually it had snowed about a half inch on top of that icy cap, so we could see new tracks in the snow if the critter did not break through.

We found a LOT of places where wild turkeys had walked by recently, and also a lot of rabbit tracks. Sometimes the turkeys and rabbits seemed to have been traveling together - or perhaps one was following the other, but which one? And in one area we found the smallest rabbit tracks - they were so cute! (Was that my outside voice?) It is so interesting to find and follow tracks in the snow and try to imagine what the animal was up to.

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By the way, here is an animal-related puzzle. We found a bit of fresh scat on top of the snow - it was not steaming, but it clearly had been deposited since the big snow ended. And it had been made by an animal that would have left some deep tracks (coyote-size). Yet there were no tracks anywhere near the pile. A flying coyote perhaps?

And speaking of puzzles, there is an artist in Ft. Smith that creates incredible hand-crafted puzzles made out of wood. He has turned several of my photos into puzzles, and then sent the puzzle to us - an absolute TREAT each one of them! Well this year he casually asked for a print from us that we would like to have made into a puzzle, and so we sent him one that Pam thought would be good. But when the puzzle arrived and she dumped it out on the table, she just stood there with this dazed and confused look on her face. She is really good at doing puzzles, yet after three days of working on this puzzle, she only has about 15 pieces put together - it is a REALLY difficult puzzle! By the way - there are no outside edges (straight edges) to his puzzles...

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One of this artist's great gifts is the ability to recognize and create special shapes within the puzzle - most of them relate to the photo. For instance, the photo we sent him for this puzzle just happens to be the current February, 2014 wall calendar photo - pine cones. He cut out several pine trees; squirrels, a bunny rabbit, deer, elk, bear, our own beloved Aspen, and a pine cone! Good luck with this one dear!

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I plan to celebrate the 50th anniversary tonight with the TV special, then will get all my camera gear prepared for MORE SNOW I hope! (and if you end up with more than you want, please send it our way...)

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We got Lucy a reflective vest so I'll be able to spot her at night - she just wants to bury her head

02/12/14 I've been waiting for clear skies at night for a week now, so put chains on the jeep, loaded camera gear, and headed out just after dark last night. The back roads up here remain SOLID ICE, so tire chains were required. There seems to be some question as to whether you put chains on the front tires or back tires of 4WD cars. On Pam's Toyota Highlander they say put on the front, but on my Jeep they say the back. I ran into a guy the other day who had four chains on a big 4WD truck, and he advised to always put your best chains on the front of a 4WD vehicle, so I've been trying that out and it seems to work well.

I took back roads all the way over to the trailhead at Kings River Falls Natural Area - holy cow, some of those roads were still nearly impassable due to the solid ICE!!! But I made it just fine, thanks to those chains, and the ability to put the jeep into low range.

The sun had set a while before, but the 3/4+ moon was standing tall and shining, and with all that moonlight reflecting off the snow-covered landscape it seemed as bright as daytime - easy to follow the trail downstream to Kings River Falls.

I took my first star-trail photo when I was just a pup more than 30 years ago - it too was during a very bright moon phase and did not turn out too well. I've avoided doing star-trail photos during bright moon phases ever since, but I wanted that moonlight to light up the landscape so thought I would give it another try. (When the moon is bright, so is the sky, and stars don't show up nearly as well in a bright sky as they do in a dark sky.)

The waterfall was running about normal - not too low, not too high - and the ground was still mostly covered with snow. I was really glad to see the snow hanging around - so much was melting elsewhere, and I really wanted some of that snow. The temp was in the upper teens, but I wore just a light layer and kept pretty warm.

I made a bunch of test exposures, trying different compositions and camera positions. When I finally settled on a composition that I liked, I ran a few more test shots, then set up the camera timer to take a series of photos during the night and hit the GO button.

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The ten-minute stroll back to the trailhead was quite delightful - if you have never hiked through a snowy landscape under a bright moon I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it! Great beauty all around. And temps in the teens and even below don't bother me much, although my fingers still get numb in a hurry. But here is a little trick - when that begins to happen, stop what you are doing and take a few moments to wind up your arm like a windmill - get it going pretty hard and fast - this will force warm blood far out into your finger tips, warming them up in the process! Probably best to only do one arm at a time. One of my wings is still handicapped, so I was only able to do one of them, but man it made a huge difference.

Once I got back to the car I drove to another location and set up another type of photo. Did I mention that the MOONLIGHT was really BRIGHT! I ended up on a small river, kind of out in the middle, standing up on a boulder about ten feet above the water. My camera was actually over on the bank about 50 feet away and I was taking pictures by remote control. Then I heard a "PLOP" in the water - uh oh, that was not good - remote control overboard! When an electronic item like this gets totally submerged, it is toast. Gosh darn it - that remote was only a week old!

I returned to the cabin (15-mile drive on ice) and got a few hours sleep, then was up and out the door early - about 4am - to return to Kings River and see if my camera was still there. The temp was down close to 10 degrees, and the sky was still quite clear and just spectacular! As I drove to the trailhead the moon was setting - which made that night sky darker and the stars really pop - YIPPIE!

Another quick easy hike downstream and I was soon standing next to my camera, and it was still taking pictures. Turns out it had taken more than 1300 pictures during the night - I will put all of these together as a short timelapse movie that you might see at our 2014 slide programs later this fall.

Sunrise was still more than an hour away, so I let the main camera continue to take pictures of the stars and dark sky, while I set up a second camera and started taking other pictures. The waterfall and snowy landscape were very nice in that dim pre-dawn light. And a little while later - about an hour before sunrise - the sky in the very back of the far reaches of the scene I was photographing began to get some color. I shot a series of pictures as the color grew - pinks and reds against a beautiful blue background.

As soon as daylight began to creep into the landscape, my work was done, so I packed up both cameras, two tripods, and a large external battery that was powering the first camera all night, and hiked back out to the jeep. I'm sure I looked pretty funny with all this stuff hanging off my backpack, but I am my own mule most of the time - and look the part all the time!

Just for fun, I paid a visit to the boulder in the middle of the creek where I had lost my remote control the night before. Son of a gun, I FOUND IT - at the bottom of a pool about five feet deep. The water was so clear, I could easily see the face of the remote control - and it looked like it was STILL WORKING! Could that be possible? If so I would have gladly jumped right in and fetched the remote (I had just paid $100 for it two weeks ago.) But the more I looked - and thought about it, I realized there was no way the remote had not been immediately flooded - too many openings. So instead of risking going into the water head first at 11 o2 12 degrees, I decided it was a total loss and would come back later to go swimming.

My two trips were not a total loss though - I managed to get a nice star-trail image with the waterfall and snowy landscape all lit up by the moon, and enough photos for that timelapse movie. YIPPIE COYOTE!

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02/13/14 I'm headed into town later this morning by way of the creek where I lost the remote, and will make a little trip to the bottom of that pool to retrieve my remote control - I consider it to be litter and certainly don't want to add any to the creek!

EVENING UPDATE. Oh my goodness, that was the COLDEST water I've ever been in!!! The road out of here was still mostly solid ice so I was glad to have chains on (sounds kind of odd to still have such bad roads up here with the rest of the state being rather balmy today). When I got to the river where I had lost the remote I stripped down to my "skivvies" and put on a pair of felt-soled wading shoes. I had to make my way along an ice-covered ledge next to the pool, climb over some brushes that were growing up against a small bluff, then carefully inch along a narrow underwater ledge to get close to where the remote was. The pool on the other side was really deep and over my head. I eventually had to move into deeper water - kind of funny when I got in waist deep and deeper my voice got really HIGH!

And then there it was - the remote was sitting on the bottom of the pool just looking up at me laughing! I was able to reach into the water with my 3' long grabber and grab the remote without having to get myself totally submerged - thank goodness. I was shocked when I reached out and grabbed the remote in my hands - it WAS indeed STILL RUNNING!!! I had seen numbers on the display the night before - it had not totally soaked.

But oh how that cold water HURT! 'Tis probably just another sign of getting older - or it could have been the fact that I had to break through a layer of ice to get into the water. Hum....

When I got home tonight I plugged in the remote and it would not work correctly, so it looks like a total loss after all. Oh well, at least I removed this little bit of black plastic litter from the river!

02/17/14 I was outside tonight heading over to the print room to get some work done when I stopped for a moment to look around at the incredible skyscapes all around me. The Big Dipper standing tall to the north; Orion making its way across the southern sky, and a zillion other bright stars in between. It was still and quiet and the air was cold and crisp - the sort that I like to breathe deep into my lungs and hold for a moment or two. And then I heard a terrible CRASH AND RUMBLE from a distant hillside - actually from over on Beagle Point. Sounded like a landslide, which would make sense since these hillsides like to turn loose and move on down the hillside after a freezing and thawing cycle or two. It probably was more like a giant oak tree finally done with life and wanting to turn loose from the earth for a big ride down the steep slope with a final hurrah.

And just then I happened to look up and saw the BRILLIANT 3/4 moon inching its way up into the estern horizon - it flooded the mountaintops with bright moonlight as far as I could see. The moon is king of the night, and we all stop to gaze a while, and smile. Just for a few moments the moon is part of us, right over there at the treetops, and so HUGE a presence, with great details. But soon it would break away from its ties with the landscape and rise quickly into the sky, up towards the Dipper and Hunter and all his other buddies of the night.Time spent moondipping is time well spent, and I highly recommend it!

02/20/14 The temp dropped more than 20 degrees in an hour this afternoon as a cold front pushed in. Tree pruners were out in full force - there were downed limbs all over the place in the forest and on roads due to 30-40-50mph winds much of the day. I had to move a full-size tree that had fallen across the road in order to get home from town. Later, the UPS man called to say he was blocked from even getting to our turnoff by a large tree across Cave Mountain Road. When I arrived a few minutes later with our outgoing packages for him, he pointed to a second, GIANT tree that had just fallen while he had been there waiting on me - it landed half-way across the road less than 50 feet from him! Our UPS man helped me saw through the first tree, then we drug it out of the road with my jeep and tow strap. We get nothing less than STELLAR SERVICE from our UPS guys!!!

Speaking of Cave Mountain Road, some of you may have been involved with this - over the weekend parts of the road were basically impassable with 8-12" ruts in the mucky clay roadbed that stranded at least seven vehicles that I know of - right there in the middle of the wide road on the level - it was really nasty! A number of cars simply parked before the worst area and hiked three miles to the Hawksbill Crag Trailhead before they could get onto the hiking trail. I was out of town over the weekend and could not get home due to the road and the stranded cars - had to turn around and go back down to Boxley, then drive around through Mossville, Fallsville, and Red Star. My lovely bride had to do the same thing when she came home later. The next day was a holiday so the road remained a mess, although all the vehicles had been removed and the clay was drying out quite a bit. On Wednesday they spread six truck loads of creek bed gravel on the worst spot, and the grader many bladed off several other places so that the road was passable once again. Problem is that the county has been spreading truckloads of clay on the road instead of gravel, and that clay just turns to a nasty mess when it is wet - oops!

Wildlife note: all six of the trumpeter swans had left the Boxley Mill Pond a few days ago, although I did see one zoo swan at the pond yesterday. Lots and LOTS of living and dead skunks along roadsides - in fact my lovely bride tells a funny story about chasing - and being chased - by one a couple of nights ago - then the skunk ran into a pair of wandering dogs and the skunk sprayed the heck out of them (bet their owner will be happy to see them!). Skunks have really been on the move.

02/22/14 Do spiders have a bedtime? When I headed out the door after dark last night to hike down below the rim into the wilderness, they certainly were AWAKE. In fact, I saw hundreds, probably thousands of them as I made my way through the woods - or should I say that I just saw their EYES. Oh my gosh, it was like sparkling emeralds! There is a phenomenon in the woods at night when you hold a flashlight near your eyes you can see right into the eyes of spiders, and a tiny bit of your light reflects right back at ya. At first it is kind of creepy when you know what those sparkles are, but since it is quite beautiful I have some to appreciate an enjoy seeing them - and the more I move along, the more sparkles get reflected back at me.

But there were SO MANY spiders up and about last night - they were everywhere! At least, at first. I hiked into the wilderness and set up tripod and camera to shoot pictures all night. Then I returned to the scene about 3am to stop the camera, and lo and behold there were NO SPIDERS to be seen - I guess they all went to bed! I sat down on a moss-covered rock and looked up at the incredible landscape that was moonlit by this time all around me, and I kind of felt all alone. Turns out those little guys were keeping me company out there in the darkness, and now they were all asleep.

And one of them messed up my camera! Something happened while I was gone and the camera malfunctioned and so I didn't get a picture. Oh well, at least I got to spend a bit of quality time with the spiders! I'll try again tomorrow night. Here is an image that I took during the night with a different camera - of Orion, The Hunter, rising just above our cabin...

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We had a terrific program at the Gaston's Visitor Center today - an overflow crowd that seemed quite happy to be there. THANKS to everyone who left the beautiful day outside to come inside and attend the program. This was our last one of the "holiday" season for us - 20 programs in all we've done since November. We do have a program in Springfield at the library on April 5th, but that one will be different - I'll post some info about it later on.

02/23/14 Tonight I hiked down the same hillside to set up my camera to try again to get the picture from the other night, only this time I only saw a handful of spiders - same time of night, same route, but most of my little buddies were already in bed I guess.

The moonless night sky was spectacular as always, with a zillion bright stars overhead shining down. After setting up my camera, I laid back on a smooth boulder and just looked up in awe and wonder. There were tall trees crowded in all around me - silhouettes against that sea of stars. It was so quiet and peaceful.

And then I heard footsteps. I doubted there was another person anywhere, so figured it was a critter of some sort. It seemed to be coming around the hillside at the base of the tall bluff that I was at the bottom of - the piles of dry leaves made a lot of noise when this guy moved. I could hear the footsteps slow down as he got closer. There was not enough starlight for me to spot any movement, so I had to only guess at his distance and location from the sound. It was kind of creepy and the hair on the back of my neck stood up a bit - you know, just a little chill running down your back at the unknown. And then the critter stopped, and the wilderness was silent once again. No doubt he had scented me, or spotted me - I'm sure his eyes were 100 times more sensitive than mine to the darkness, or more. He was probably giving me a good once over.

The only light I had with me was a single-LED one that was pretty dim, but I decided to shine it around and see what I could find. What I found was a pair of rather large red eyes staring right back at me - oh my! I could not tell exactly what type of critter it was - I could only see his eyes. He looked away. Then back at me again. I no doubt was holding my breath, and I could easily hear the thumping of my heart - probably a drop or two of sweat formed as well. And then his eyes disappeared, I heard a little rustle in the leaves, and he was gone - at least I think so.

I never saw or heard him again, but I did hear from some of his buddies. First one, then two, then an entire pack of coyotes across the canyon at the base of the big bluffline over there started up a chorus of lonely, haunting, and then quite humorous yips, yells, and howls. I LOVE this music! No doubt they were playing and laughing and having a grand time. It was nice knowing I was not completely alone, and was happy that a coyote had paid a visit to see what I was up to.

I laid back on the rock and turned my attention back to the stars - WOW, they sure were beautiful! And all that wonderful background music made it a Cloudland Moment for sure.

I'll get up about 4am tomorrow and hike back down through the bluffline and through a jumble of jagged boulders to where my camera is - by the half-moon will have risen and thrown tree shadows across the face of the bluff, and those stars would have moved and danced and had a good time - all in front of my camera. I only hope it keeps on working all night!

I wonder if my spider buddies are tucked away in bed?

By the way, my lovely bride finally completed the pine cone puzzle - my oh my it was a TOUGH ONE! The artist who built it is a genius! (and slightly EVIL) See what I mean -

puzzle1

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02/24/14 Morning update - I actually remembered to hike back in at 5am and pick up my camera - it worked all night this time, and here is one of the images (actually there are 153 images stacked together to make this one):

OakBluffComets1

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