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CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - January 2014

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Cloudland Cabin Cam, January 31 - warm with clouds - hopefully some moisture this next week!

Journal updated Friday the 30th

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• Print Of The Week special - Buffalo River star trail

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• Engagement Calendar Print Of The Week special - Ground Hog Day!

01/02/14 Kind'a feels like winter this week! Crispy cool temps, clear skies, and zillions of twinkles overhead at night. We even saw a few snow flurries early this morning, but those were just floating around in the air to tease a little bit, and I don't think any of them landed.

I went for a hike around the loop trail yesterday, following the footsteps left by the ladies of the cabin. We saw some GIANT prints in frozen mud on the other side of the hill near our orchard. Had to be a puppy dog of some sort - nearly wolf-size prints but probably more like a large German shepherd or one of the big white dogs that guard goat herds around here (we have not see our goats in a while).

Interesting that I've received at least a couple of note from folks who have seen tracks like these in other parts of the Ozarks too. Humm, I wonder who is walking around out there?

01/04/14 The alarm went off at 3am yesterday, and I woke in bed up dazed and confused. I was fully dressed, and wearing my bulky snowmobile suit and heavy insulated rubber boots, with a stocking cap pulled down over my face (eye and mouth holes). Then I figured it out - I was in the middle of taking star photos, and was in the back of the van taking a nap and still had all of my winter clothing gear on.

I had been outside shooting for a few hours in a nearby meadow, and had gone inside the van to nap, and needed to go back out again to begin shooting a meteor shower. So after making a quick cup of java, I opened the door to the magic land of the moonless night, and a sky filled with zillions and zillions of twinkling stars. The meteor shower was supposed to peak at 2 o'clock - 2pm! But some folks thought the shower might happen early, so the best time to take pictures would be in the wee hours before daylight. I LOVE the nighttime!

At one point during the session I had three different cameras set up on tripods taking three different types of photos. One was simply pointed in the direction of where the best meteors might be and was taking a 30-second photo every 31 seconds automatically. A second camera was on a special tracking device (matched to the rotation of the earth) and was pointed towards some stars in the opposite direction and doing exposures that were five minutes long. The third camera was set up at the edge of a grove of interesting walnut trees - these guys really show off their personalities in the winter when they're naked and silhouetted against the starry sky. Although the "star" of this particular composition was Jupiter, who was getting close to the western horizon, and quite bright.

This third camera I was operating via my iphone, which was a good thing because both my toes and fingers began to get really cold, approaching frostbite perhaps, and so I retreated back into the van. What made the iPhone so important was that I could operate nearly all the functions of the camera from inside the van, and almost instantly see the resulting photos! Life in the iPhone age has both simplified and complicated the photographer's job. I have not had the chance to even look at any of the photos I took during the night - not sure if I got any meaningful meteor photos or not - seems that most of the big shooting stars I witnessed while out there were happening in some other part of the sky and I missed them, but hopefully I'll get one or two.

As daylight began to creep into the sky and the landscape, it was time to shut down all three cameras and pack all the gear up. Just about the time I got everything put away, I decided to just sit and enjoy the predawn show for a moment or two (and try to revive my ailing fingers and toes). There were some wispy clouds on the eastern horizon, and also directly overhead, that began to light up pink and orange and red. They were backed by a deep and brightening blue sky. These clouds were dramatic, nor had sharp edges, but rather were delicate and thin and wispy, and I thought made a rather interesting soft statement about the approach of the new day. Time to get the camera back out again!

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The color of both the clouds and sky changed rapidly, and the clouds moved around quickly too, and so did I. I put up on camera on a tripod to shoot a composition that I liked, and while doing that I noticed there were other clouds directly overhead that were calling my name. So I ran back into the van and got out another camera - things were changing so fast that I did not have time to set up a tripod for those. For the next two or three minutes I ran around that frozen meadow (it was totally covered with deep frost) pointing one camera straight up, while still trying to trip the shutter on the tripod-mounted camera. A few moments later all that beautiful light had vanished, and I fell back onto the frozen meadow and took a few deep breaths. Wow, just wow...

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01/05/14 There wasn't much snow on the ground as I headed into the woods early this morning, but it was coming down pretty hard. I was the sort of snowfall that when you turn around to look, your tracks are already covered up! I realized that as soon as I stepped into the forest the snow got a lot deeper - or at least it seemed that way. That's because part of our perception of how deep the snow is depends on how far our boots go down into it. On a hard surface that would only be the actual depth of the snow - this morning it was only about a half inch. But in the woods, my boot sunk in another 2-3 inches as the carpet of dead leaves compressed - therefore it was like walking through a lot more snow, YIPPIE!

We had a bit of rain just before it turned to snow, and so there was a thin layer of ice under the snow - each footstep had that soft "crunch" to it. So Lucy and I crunch, crunch, crunched our way across the bench and up the hillside, enjoying the blowing snow and winter wonderland around us.

And then we heard it (well I did anyway - Lucy can't hear) - the roar began as a low hum, but with each step the volume and intensity increased until by the time we had reached the top of the hill it sounded like a freight train approaching! And as we stepped into the East meadow (I stepped, Lucy flew), the full force of the great northern blizzard smacked me right in the face. 'Tis easy to manage the cold temps when you are prepared for it, but it is difficult to prepare mentally and physically for such a blast as that was. But it was soon forgotten as we made our way across the meadow through the beautiful tall grasses that were all arched over by the high winds, with just a little bit of snow and ice on them. I love the golden color of these meadows in winter.

And the we saw one, two, then tree "flags" at the far edge of the meadow. When I great up deer hunting, a good day in the woods was when someone "saw a flag" - there were not too many deer in Arkansas back then, and so simply seeing any part of a deer was big news. Our deer in Arkansas are whitetail deer, and they really live up to that name. Their rump and underneath part of their tails are snow white. When startled, they raise their tail and show off that bright white fur as a warning, as an alert to their other deer friends (kind of like the "bluemouth" snake I talked about as my programs this fall). When they take off running, that tail and their rump combine to form a much larger white patch, and since the tail waves as they run, it has always been known as a white "flag." Many times as young hunters all we ever got to see was the tail of a deer as they disappeared into the forest.

The first deer was a little buck, the second a larger buck, and the third one a buck with a real rack. Handsome dudes all of them. And when they ran, it was more like bounding - so fluid and graceful. I just stood and admired.

A while later we hiked on over the ridge and dropped into the southern side of the hill and the wind stopped, just like that. The snow was still coming down, but there were individual flakes floating around rather than streaks of blowing snow like we had on the north side of the ridge. I stopped just for a moment to take it all in - the forest, the ground that was slowly dissolving from the brown of leaf carpet to solid white, and the music in the distance. That music was the storm raging ahead on top of the next ridge - I knew what it was like over there, and was glad to be on the calm side of the mountain.

01/06/14 OK, so I'm getting soft in my old age. Last night I rigged up a large box with pillows for our cats, and placed it in their "nest" area under the front porch where they sleep - they like this spot because it is both out of the wind and also under our front door so they know when we come and go. Then I added a heating pad under the box and turned it on low. Our cats pretty much fend for themselves and are tough as nails, but I figured with the temps dropping so low I would give them a little boost. I checked on them early this morning and they look they gave me was that they may not be coming out into the cold anytime soon!

The temp was right at zero when I left the cabin before dawn this morning - I wanted to slip out and find a scene that kind of showed how cold it was, although the spot I found turned out to be VERY cold since the wind was blowing there at 20mph. The wind chill was 24 degrees F below zero! It was in a grove of old walnut trees at the top of a hill at an old home place. I had my long handles on, plus my snowmobile suit, gloves and mittens, handwarmers, a balaclava and insulated hood. The only part of me that was visible were my eyes! I was able to set up the camera and work the controls, but that gosh darn wind nearly blew me away.

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Speaking of blowing things away, right next to this spot used to stand a neat little barn that I have photographed a lot in the past 15 years - it fell over two days ago. This was the second old oak barn up here on Cave Mountain that has collapsed in the past month, the other one being the big barn right along Cave Mountain Road at the Boxley end of the mountain. One reason why I LOVE taking pictures of these historic structures is the fact that so many of them are falling over each year. This latest one had the old walnut-huller machine inside that is pictured in the BUFFALO RIVER BEAUTY picture book.

It snowed most of yesterday, and the total on the ground was about two inches or less. The girls and I stayed in the cabin all day tending the fire in the fireplace keeping warm (they played board games and created some great recipes in the kitchen, I watched football). Nice to see the snow, and I don't mind the cold - not much ice, and that was good.

Lucy is up early this morning and wants to go on a hike - she does not have a snowmobile suit, so we may have to wait until it warms up a bit.

01/07/14 It was after dark when I stepped out into the snowy and frigid woods yesterday evening. I wanted to go visit a waterfall area and see how much the ice had built up. The temp had already dipped to 1 degrees (down from a high of 8), but I had my long-johns and snowmobile suit on, and plenty of little hand warmers, so I figured I would be OK. I'm in the process of evaluating some different cameras to find a backup to use while working on a new book project, but I have found it is really tough to try and operate different cameras at the same time. So I only had one camera with me on this trip - that way, I would give it all my attention and see how comfortable I was with it. This would also let me see get the most out of the camera that it could produce.

There was a nearly half-full moon directly overhead, and with the forest floor covered with about an inch of snow reflecting that moonlight, the woods were pretty bright - it was really easy to find my way. I hiked down the trail for nearly an hour in peaceful silence - no wind at all. It was just quite spectacular, the moonlight, snow, STARS all around, and the hundreds of individual trees all along the way that cast their shadows on the snow - I was mesmerized just hiking through it all.

When I reached the waterfall area after a mile of hiking, and there was ice, but not a great deal of ice. So after milling around a little while, I decided to move on to plan B, which was to hike on over to Hawksbill Crag and see what it looked like in the moonlight. A half mile of more glorious moonlit forest later I arrived at the Crag.

I never tire of walking up to that scene - there is just something about Hawksbill Crag that is wonderful. Add to that the moonlight, stars, AND the Great Hunter, Orion, rising behind the Crag - it was a magical scene! The moon was so bright, and the Crag was really lit up, yet the stars were still bright as well - that meant that the air was really clean and clear and crisp.

I sat down to assemble my camera and tripod setup, then scooted over to a position where I could get a clear view of the Crag and starry sky. I was using an ultra-wide 14mm fullframe lens, so I had to get pretty close to the edge - that's one reason why I was on my rump the entire time - more stability. I spent the next hour taking pictures and working with the camera and lens as The Great Hunter rose higher and higher. It was quite spectacular all around. At one point the wind picked up and started to blow pretty hard - I had to really bundle up to keep from freezing - you know that old saying about "exposed flesh" freezing under such conditions. I figured the wind chill was at least 15-20 below zero at that point. The only flesh on me that was exposed were my eyes.

The hike back out a mile and a half to the car was one of the most enjoyable nighttime hikes I'd ever done. The wind had calmed back down, the moon was even brighter, and all those TREES and STARS shining through the naked trees - it was just a special time to be in the woods. I felt right at home...

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SLIDE PROGRAM NOTE - we'll be doing two shows this weekend - on Friday, 5pm at the Gaston's Visitor Center at White River-Bull Shoals State Park. This one is part of their EAGLE WATCH WEEKEND, and the visitor center will be filled with birds of prey and wildlife experts on hand to show you these amazing birds and answer questions about them. It is a rare chance to see them up close and personal. They even have "owl prowls" during the event, and boat tours to look for eagles too. Everything is FREE!

Then on Saturday we'll be at the Saline County Library in Benton for a 1pm show (book sales begin about noon) - this will be our last program in Central Arkansas until November. We'll have all of our publications for sale at both programs, plus a selection of Black Mat Prints. FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!

PRINTS OF THE WEEK. We plan to have two different prints each week this year that will be on sale - one photo will be from the 2014 Arkansas Engagement Calendar HERE. And then our popular regular print, which I pick each week and will often feature brand new work - like this week's photo is the one I just took of the Crag in the moonlight. GREAT DEALS FOR YOU THROUGHOUT THE YEAR!

PHOTO WORKSHOP NOTE. Our multi-day spring workshop is now full, but we have four different one-day workshops that all have space available in them. PLUS we just added a brand new type of workshop yesterday - a NIGHTTIME WORKSHOP. See our workshop page for more info.

01/10/14 It took us three hours to load up the bookmobile this morning and get ready for our trip to Gaston's Visitor Center and Benton library shows. It took a little longer to pack everything since all surfaces were covered with a half inch of shiny and very slick ice - unable to walk or drive on it without chains. My jeep had a good set of heavy chains on it, so I used it as a shuttle vehicle to back up to the gallery and transfer black mat prints and other stuff to the van, then up to the warehouse to load all the books and slide program equipment and back down to the van. Then when it looked like the heavy rain and warming temps were not going to melt all the ice in time, I put chains on the bookmobile to give us a fair chance.

Fat chance was more like it! We left in time for a five-hour window - giving us three extra hours to make this two-hour drive to Gaston's. Boy was I wrong! We encountered some melted roads, but most were solid ice, and many parts were some of the slickest ice I'd ever seen! We had to creep along to keep from losing control, at times shutting our eyes and holding our breaths! We reached a point where the road was getting even worse, and we were sliding sideways ON THE LEVEL, so I decided to stop and wait a while.

I got out and made my way along the road to see what it was like up ahead - nothing but ice, ICE, and more ice! We waited. Then moved a 100 yards along the road to a more level spot, where I spent the next 45 minutes installing a second set of tire chains - on our inside dual rear wheels. It poured the entire time, and I was down under there in the ice and mud and flood of water. You know those garage mechanic carts with wheels on them so that when you lay back you can slide under the vehicle easily? I didn't need one today - I slid on the ice all the time! I was a filthy, muddy, sopping mess by the time I got done.

The ice had melted a little bit, and the clock had ticked off a couple of hours since we had left the cabin - we had gone barely four miles and had another five miles of ICE to go before we reached the highway.

We made a run up a long hill, and made it to the top on a single breath! I don't think the girls breathed at all. It was a lot of pucker factor going on. Our van is a 10,000 pound, 10-foot tall chunk of aluminum, and while the center of gravity is pretty low, had we left the roadway we would have been in serious trouble.

When we reached the top of the hill I found a spot to pull completely off the road, shut the engine down, and fired up the onboard propane furnace - it was getting chilly in the big van.

I got out in the pouring rain and walked up the road a little ways, and realized there was no way we could ever make it out to the highway - the ice was still so solid and slick. And that next part of road was tilted off to one side - one slip and we would be over the edge. I returned to the van and called the state park to regrettably give them the news that we could not make it.

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Cell signal was very weak, but thanks to a booster and external phone antenna, I was able to make that phone call, and post notices here in the Journal and on our Facebook page too.

While I was making that call the girls got out to go have a look for themselves. They hadn't gone 50 feet until they looked up and saw a 4WD truck sliding sideways and over the edge at the very spot I was concerned about - and it was our mailman! Luckily he hit a large tree that kept him from rolling over and down the steep hillside and into the wilderness. YIKES! At that moment the girls understood why I had decided not to go any further.

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We waited around to see what would happen, and if the ice would melt away enough for us to continue on towards Benton, spending the night along the road somewhere. Then the tow truck arrived to pull out the mailman. But the tow truck was unable to even drive on the road where the mailman had slid off of - now that was a slick road if the tow truck would not attempt it! Fortunately there as a bypass around that particular section that the tow truck used, but after one attempt to approach the mailman, the tow truck backed up to where we were, hoisted up the front end of his truck, and installed a third set of tire chains (he already had big chains on his dual rear wheels). Then he made another attempt towards the mailman, and still slipped and slid sideways and started to head down over the edge - YIKES!!! Not sure what happened next, but we decided that we had seen enough, so we were able to turn around and make it back to the cabin OK - we could have never made it back without our four chains.

During all this time the temp was nearly 50 degrees and it was raining! And it had been above freezing for nearly 24 hours - yet parts of the road remained covered with thick glaze ice!

We decided to drive my jeep to Benton in the morning - it has a larger set of real chains instead of cable chains, but has much less room inside. It took me mover than an hour to transfer all the books and program gear into the jeep from the bookmobile. It will be a tight squeeze, especially with Amber and Lucy in with us, but we'll make it - we only hope the tow truck was able to get back home!

I suspect most roads will be completely melted by Saturday, and looking at them will seem impossible that they were so bad just a few hours before. We already had to cancel the Benton show twice last month, so we really, REALLY want to make it, and we will. It is a three-hour drive, and we're going to allow five hours to get there, including stopping to remove the chains. We LOVE winter and snow here, but the ice can get to be a little much when you have to get somewhere...

The program at Gaston's Visitor Center will be reschedule for later this year, and we'll let ya know when.

01/20/14 It was sometime after midnight early this morning when I noticed a pair of blood-red EYES staring back at me through the darkness. And those eyes were coming closer. While I didn't think the two events were not related, it was just a couple of days ago when I came upon two very large, handsome, and odd-colored brown/black coyotes. Their heavy winter coats stopped for a moment or two to turn back and look at me, studying my features to see if I looked anything like dinner to them, thankfully I did not, and so they trotted off.

Back to the pair of red eyes in the dark. I had been shooting along the base of a bluffline for a couple of hours, trying to capture the starry night and silhouetted features of Alum Cove Natural Bridge. When I'm working I often get tunnel vision and pay close attention to the task at hand and not much to what is going on around me. And just for a moment when I saw those eyes (I was shining a dim red light around), I totally forgot where I was and what I was doing. Then I remember that for I think perhaps the very first time while out doing night pictures like this, Lucy was with me, and it was here, just coming back to check on me - WHEW, I just had to laugh!

It was one of those nights where the sky was coal black and there were a zillion more stars than there were the night before - something about the quality of the air above - it was so much cleaner/clearer, and therefore more stars. I'm working on a nighttime photo project and so will be spending a lot more nights out under the stars this next few months. Like many locations I'll visit around the state, this would be just the first of many times I would visit this particular site - I was just testing to see how things looked to the camera, which often is quite different than to our eyes.

A few minutes after Lucy snuck up on me, we both were startled by a loud CRASH right behind us - a large chunk of ice had turned loose from the bluff above and smashed all around us. I had been careful not to stand directly underneath the ice, but had not figured it might break up on impact and shatter like it did. Those little red eyes looked up at me with this "Hey dad, perhaps it would be time to LEAVE now!" And so we packed up and headed back home.

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The last week has been mostly a blur, and sorry for the lack of posts. I've spent it mostly on the road and not in the woods, except for one trip that I made very early in the morning to photograph a neat scene that never happened - there will be lots of trips like that for me, as there always are. Sometimes you just never know, and I find it better to make a trip and not get a picture than to not make the trip and NEVER get the picture!

We had two record crowds at our programs in Benton and Bentonville this past week, including the largest crowd for an event ever at the Bentonville library this past Saturday - there were literally people standing and lining the walls and sitting on the floor. I think that perhaps the SPAM factor has kicked in - our program had been so long in getting there that everyone wanted to come see it - and I suspect they would have loved a bit of fried SPAM even! I LOVE giving programs to packed rooms, and hope that everyone enjoyed the show. We'll have our final two programs of the season this coming Friday at the Springfield Nature Center in Springfield - two shows, one at 5pm and one at 7pm. If you have not signed up for one, give the center a call and see if there are seats available (free of course!).

We are trying to reschedule our program at Gaston's Visitor Center for February, but don't know if that will happen or not - I'll let ya know...UPDATE - IT WILL BE AT 1PM, February 22nd!

In the meantime, just a note that we have TWO different special weekly print promotions every week this year - our normal Print Of The Week, and also our Engagement Calendar Print Of The Week.

And finally, it is MONDAY, the very best day of the week, and I hope your week is GRAND ONE!

Just FYI, here is an article about my lovely bride's distant cousin - who was shot six times a couple of months ago during a robbery - she is actually older than the article says (she is in her 70's), and is one heck of an amazing lady to have survived. WOW...

01/23/14 When I got back to the cabin yesterday morning after having been out all night working (taking pictures), and sat down in the living room to sip a cup of java, my lovely bride looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. "What is THAT on your hat?" Then laughter started. Apparently I had brought home some of the landscape with me. At some point during the night I was down on the ground, on my back, wallering around trying to look through the viewfinder of my camera that was on a tripod just a few inches above the ground. The ground was covered with ice (it was about 15 degrees at the time), but also with other stuff that had collected on the ice. Anyway, when I got back home and pulled my stocking hat off to see what she was laughing at, I discovered that it was covered with bit of moss and other assorted pieces of dirt and bark. My poor wife!

I've been out the past three nights shooting, or rather working at shooting. There is a large learning curve to the project I've started, and each time I go out I both learn something new/better way to do things, and also find out that I need some other little accessory, or camera, or lens. You should see all the WIRES I have! It is a process that will continue for the next few months. Sometimes I come home with a photo that I am happy with, other times I don't get anything good - 'tis the nature of the job. And while the weather has been brutal at times, I'm doing pretty well coping with it all - just a matter of being prepared. I still have not found a perfect solution to my frigid fingers, but wearing a base layer of latex gloves seems to help. So far, ALL electric gloves and socks did not work well and have been returned, but I continue my quest.

The other day my lovely bride and I got to spend an hour together just out in the woods wandering around and enjoying the great weather. We ventured over onto the north side of the mountain where we found what appeared to be an oak-hickory tree (not oaks and hickories, but a single tree). The base of this guy seemed to be a white oak, but about ten feet up it turned into a shagbark hickory! We found several more just like it. We have such diversity in our forests here - I bet there are thousands of different plant species in every section of the woods.

I've been seeing a lot of Adam & Eve orchid leaves lately - they are the wide, flat dark green leaves with small white strips that hug the ground. They show up well now against all the brown forest floor. The leaves are gone by the time the flowers appear in the summertime, so you never see them both together.

SPRINGFIELD TOMORROW - YIPPIE! Third time will be the charm. We'll have programs at 5pm and also 7pm, and Pam will be set up before, during, and after each show in the lobby with all of our publications ON SALE, plus a selection of our Black Mat Prints on sale too!

GASTON'S VISITOR CENTER program rescheduled to February 22nd, 1pm.

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01/26/14 Here's a nine-hour exposure of a neighbor's barn and some neat old oaks. The barn is beginning to lean and my not be around much longer...

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01/27/14 I feel like an idiot, and I'm pretty close. Late last night while standing in the middle of the Buffalo River setting up for eight hours of shooting, I heard a "plop" at my feet. It was quite dark with zero moon and I wasn't using a flashlight. My first thought was my camera, which I had just bolted to my tripod. I felt around and the camera was there - large sigh of relief. My tripod was extended up to about eye level, with the camera on top, and my camera backpack slung around and attached to the tripod. Inside the camera bag was a ten-pound battery that I had planned to use to power the camera all night with (the little batteries in digital cameras are not designed to run all night, so I have to use a different power source for my all-night photos). I felt around, and it was still inside the backpack. And then it hit me - the wad of electrical cords and adapters that are needed to attach the camera to the big battery were missing. I bent down and felt around in the water at my feet and came up with a hand full of electrical cords - not the worst disaster, but it did put me out of business for the photo I had wanted to take. (I dried them all off and plugged them in and no power - the electrical components had been fried by the river.)

But I decided to go ahead and set up my shot and use the normal camera battery and just see how long it would last. So I spent the next several hours in the dark along the river under a blanket of incredible stars, planets, many jet airplanes, and a shooting star or two. The air temp was 44 degrees, with no wind - which was rather balmy compared to what it is out there today. After being out in the darkness for an hour or more it is amazing how much you can actually see around you without using a flashlight. I did manage to step into a hole once though, and my high-top rubber boots got some chilly water in them. But otherwise I was toasty warm and dry.

Several times during the night I "felt" a large critter was nearby, although I never smelled or heard or saw anything. However the beavers were working overtime in the pool just in front of the camera - they don't like folks being there at night, and would swim around and SLAP the top of the water frequently. It's a game we always play.

Turns out that the camera battery lasted three hours, which was long enough for me to get a good photo that I think will work for a new book project I'm in the middle of. So the trip was well worth it, and I didn't destroy any really expensive stuff in the river. And while I never heard any of them, a YIPPIE COYOTE was in order!

One funny note from this particular shoot. While waiting on the long exposures and wandering around the gravel ba, I came upon an object on the ground in front of me that looked kind of odd. It was not alive (I hoped), so I knelt down and reached out my hands to try and feel it out to see what it was. Turned out to be an armadillo shell! Let me tell ya, nothing else feels like that in the dark...

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That is me in this photo pointing the light at you - right after I felt up the armadillo

I was out and shooting another long star trail photo early yesterday morning - actually it started the night before, and lasted until just before sunrise. I shot more than 1300 photos, and when "stacked" together (in the computer), they formed a nearly half circle of stars above and around this old barn (photo is posted above). That is what happens when you point the camera at the North Star. I did the very first one of those photos more than 35 years ago in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area - MAN I was surprised at how the photo turned out! A later one I did elsewhere was published in my very first picture book many years later. I LOVE this sort of thing, so get ready to see more posted here in the weeks and months to come - sorry about that.

One reason why I wanted to photograph that old barn is that it seems to be leaning more and more all the time, and I fear its days (and nights) are numbered. I expect to see it flattened any day - although it may also stand up for years, no telling. I have pointed my cameras at this barn many times in the past 20 years, but have never been satisfied with my results. This is the same barn that while shooting it for a couple of hours in the night last year, two rather GIANT bulls woke up and came out of the barn towards me - it was one of those HOLY COW! moments!!!

And I just had a Cloudland moment here at the cabin a few minutes ago. We are in the middle of updating not one or two, but FIVE different guidebooks that we publish - we are behind on ALL of them, but that is typical for me. Anyway, my lovely bride has been working on one guidebook at her computer next to me, while I work at my computer on another book file. We both have been rather focused all morning - it is a lot of detailed work that demands close attention. Anyway, I just had to smile, and laugh, when I realized that we both were singing the song that was playing on her computer - "You Don't Love Me Anymore" by one of our favorite artists, Canadian folk singer/songwriter, Lynn Miles. (Lynn recently won the Canadian "Solo Artist Of The Year" award - their version of our Grammys - you GO girl!) I could not imagine that ever happening to us - I think I'm more in love with her now after nearly 13 years of marriage than I was last year, and it was a record! More than all the stars in the universe times a billion. And besides, she puts up with me - how much luckier can a guy get!

Looks like frigid temps are settling in for a few days - stay safe and warm...

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I have a little technique for getting the most warmth out of a fire. You know, when you can get HOT on one side of your body while the other side is cold? First, stand close with your behind towards the fireplace and let the heat blast you. Then go sit down. The warmth on your backside will soak into your body and will warm your insides!

01/30/14 When I stepped out of the van at 4am this morning to begin my work day, I realized it was not only a lot colder than I had expected, but the wind was HOWLING pretty good, and I might have trouble standing up where I was headed! The night before I had packed two complete camera setups UP a steep hill - including two big tripods. I don't mind going up steep hills - in fact I rather prefer to go up really steep hills rather than going down - I have much more control over my feet and potential falling when going up - plus I enjoy the physical challenge of the UP part. But this hill was extremely steep - nearly as steep as it gets without being a bluff. And it was all bushwhacking - no trail or even an open corridor of any kind, and most of the hillside is a thick an tangled mess, recently clearcut, and now grown up with spines and thorns that tower overhead and reach out to rip at your cloths - or flesh. Not a fun trip up through that mess, but it is the shortest route to the top.

It was an incredibly-clear night, with a zillion stars all around. 'Twas one of those times when I just wanted to stand there and look around instead of work, but I had work to do so I didn't get to stargaze as much as I wanted to.

I packed in and set up two cameras because I wanted to capture two different types of scenes in this one location, both requiring many hours of picture taking - fortunately the picture-taking part was all automated so I didn't have to be there the entire time pushing buttons. But I had to get a lot of buttons set up correctly before I hit the GO buttons and left. I double checked everything - in fact triple checked everything - before I was satisfied. I had just been through this entire scenario the day and night before - packing up two sets of camera gear, setting it all up and letting it run all night taking pictures, then returning the next morning - only to discover that NOTHING HAD WORKED! Bummer. And what made matters worse, was the fact that I had help packing up some of the gear from my friend Jason (he is a glutton for punishment like this, same as me). So I felt bad that I had him do all that work for nothing. I also felt bad that I had to pack all of the gear down the next morning - including all the extra gear that Jason had packed up for me! (which included a extra 7-pound battery - YIKES!)

OK, back to my present story. After making sure I had everything working well, I left the mountaintop and hiked back downhill to the van. Just for fun, I had timed my trips to this particular location - 19 minutes UP and six minutes back down. Piece of cake!

The hike back up this morning was quick and refreshing, and I only got a few scratches. And when I arrived on the mountaintop I was quite relieved to discover that not only one, but BOTH of my camera systems had worked perfectly - YIPPIE COYOTE! It was really beautiful up there - still three hours before sunrise - everything looked so clean and clear and pristine. But I did indeed have trouble standing up because the wind was howling so hard. I don't worry too much about my cameras blowing over since I have long steel spiked on the tips of my tripod legs, and I drive them into the ground pretty good to stabilize the tripod.

You should have seen me when I had everything packed up and headed back down the mountain - I had two completely camera systems inside my big camera backpack, plus two large tripods attached to the sides of the pack. I left the big battery pack down in the van through, but used extra-large camera batteries inside a grip for each of the cameras instead, and those worked out well. When I made it back down to the van I discovered that the temp was 7 degrees! With that heavy wind I suspect the wind chill must have been way below zero, way below.

Next I headed for a frozen pond I knew about and wanted to try and photograph the pre-dawn color reflecting on it, so I drove on through the darkness and soon pulled up next to the pond. I thought I would be able to sit back and relax for a few minutes before the color started, but a full hour before sunrise there was already color building in the east. So I dug out a third camera system and set it up next to the little pond and started taking pictures. I shot for a while, then the color faded.

I hung around until sunrise, when a band of clouds moved in - which created some interesting light and more reflections on the frozen pond. So I got out my camera gear again and spent another hour shooting. It was then that I got a good look at the surface of the pond. It had been so cold and windy that the waves actually froze solid! And I do mean solid - after carefully checking that I could see to the bottom, I walked out onto the very edge of the pond to set up my tripod for a different composition. The pond ice never even made a sound when I stepped out onto it - the ice was very thick. (I would never go out farther on the ice than the depth of my rubber boots, nor within reach of trees along the shore - around here that would just be too dangerous and foolish - and I make a fool enough of my self without risking falling through the ice!)

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I've had somewhat of a split personality this past week, and working two shifts - one of the being the graveyard shift since the skies have been so clear with incredible stars - got to make star photos while the moon don't shine! So I have either been up all night shooting, or up late and early and back into the van for 30 winks in between setup and take down of camera gear. But then I go home and spend all day working at the computer - that's my day job, literally! We continue to be neck-deep with guidebook updates. So much so in fact that I hardly even get time to look at the star photos I've been taking at night, so only get to process maybe one of them from each shooting session - if any turn out that is. There is a pretty steep learning curve to some of the photo work I'm doing, and even though I may not come home with anything, I still figure things out a little more with each trip. With cloudy weather expected this next week I'm hopeful I'll be able to spend more computer time and get all those updates completed and off to the printers - then I can spend the rest of February shooting more star photos - and hopefully posting a few of them here for your inspection.

A couple of wildlife notes. First, we have had four WILD trumpeter swans in residence at the Mill Pond in Boxley this week - no green neck bands. The two "zoo" swans are there as well, usually at the opposite end of the pond. We had wild trumpeter swans in the pond for three winters before the zoo swans were introduced, but none of them have returned until just this past week. Let's hope they stick around for a few weeks, then fly back north as they are supposed to do - and return next winter with more friends!

I've been seeing a herd of elk making their way up Cave Mountain - mostly cows, they normally remain down in Boxley Valley during the winter months, so I'm not sure what is up with them.

And finally, I find it interesting that certain species of birds have claimed particular stretches of the road out here. As I drive or hike along the road I will see dozens of blue jays - always in the same 100-200 yard section of the road. Later one there will be nothing but cardinals. Another stretch has finches and nothing else. I've noticed this for years here, but it continues to be interesting to see them all segregated like that. Of course, as our cabin we had birds of all races, creeds, and political affiliations - my lovely bride's feeders are filled every day, sometimes more than once!

And one final "wildlife" note - Lucy seems to LOVE popcorn chicken!

OK, off to my day job....

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