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CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - January 2016

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Cloudland Cabin Cam, January 31 - HOWLING winds continue at dawn, clear and warm

Journal updated February 4 - one of the good eggs

We just found a case of Search For Haley books in our warehouse - limited supply!

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Prints Of The Week - two different Glory Hole photos are available (above)

01/05/16 There was a brilliant blast of yellow/orange light across the wilderness this morning, and with chilly temps it felt great outside.

Yesterday afternoon we were hiking across a mountaintop and found the ground covered with SNOW! What? It had not snowed since I had just been at the same spot a couple of days ago. But yet there it was - a thin layer of the white stuff. More white stuff - crystal sculptures of ice - dotted the forest floor. Frost flowers are supposed to have already been spent for the winter several weeks ago, yet yesterday afternoon we saw dozens of fresh ones. They were quite beautiful with graceful curves and lots of delicate detail. Frost flowers normally only happen during the first couple of heavy freezes in early winter, then all the plants that host them are gone and they can form no more until the following winter. I thought maybe this particular hillside had been protected from cold nights, but I've seen reports of frost flowers yesterday afternoon in other parts of the state as well - SOMETHING is going on this winter! At any rate, they were the most beautiful examples I'd seen this year, and perhaps even all of last year as well. We had to get on to yoga class, so I didn't even stop to take a single photo - but their joy landed on both of us so their task completed!

My yesterday began on a FRIGID hilltop with my bare fingers nearly frozen to camera gear. I was set up and shooting the Quadrantid Meteor Shower - the temp was in the low 20s and the howling wind pushed the wind chill factor down below zero. I get lots of questions about how digital cameras hold up in cold weather - I've never had an issue - modern cameras can take just about any sort of weather!

The "peak" shooting star period was supposed to be around 2am, but there were actually nice meteors much of the night. While you can pretty much see shooting stars every night all year, these meteor "showers" do concentrate more of them in a certain area of the sky, which makes is easier to take pictures of them. The trick is to point the camera towards the "radiant" area in the sky (this is where the meteors originate from, although they can actually burn through the earth's atmosphere at almost any point in the sky); then shoot a series of photos all night and hope you catch some in your field of view. I shot more than a thousand photos during the night, and after a quick look through my files yesterday it looks like I captured more than 20 meteors - YIPPIE! I'll put together a composite image showing a number of them that I got, but it takes a lot of time to get everything assembled into a single image. It is interesting to see these composite pictures to give you a better idea how the meteors fire off in different directions from the radiant.

The camera equipment didn't have any issues being in cold temps, but Momma Nature did rain down a very heavy layer of frost during the night which kind of messed things up a bit. Frost and dew are basically the same things, and when outside shooting pictures, that moisture will condense on all exposed equipment once the temp reaches the "dew/frost" point. Getting the camera covered with frost is no big deal, but my special star lens has a huge front glass element that easily catches every bit of moisture - once it fogs or frosts up, I'm done taking pictures. To combat the issue I use a "dew heater" - which is just a wire band that I put around the lens that is attached to a large battery - it heats the lens to keep it warmer than the air temp, which normally prevents fog/frost from forming. Silly me, I assumed that with the wind blowing so hard that there would not be too much frost, and I had the dew heater turned down low - and about 4:30am the frost overtook the dew heater and the lens was covered with enough frost to mess up pictures from that point on. Next time I will put the heater on full blast! Still, I got more than 20 meteors, and that is very good so I'm a happy camper.

Just FYI, if you happen to know anyone in the Mountain Home area - the LAST showing of our newest slide program will be this coming Friday the 8th, at Gaston's Visitor Center, Bull Shoals-White River State Park. We'll have two showings of the same program - one at ***NEW TIMES - 3pm and one at 5pm. The neatest thing about this event is that there will be BIRDS OF PREY roaming the halls for you to look at and learn about up close and personal, including eagles, hawks, and owls. Our program is just a small part of the much larger Eagle Awareness Weekend at the park.

01/06/16 Kind of creepy at dawn this morning. Pink clouds began to creep across the sky, beginning along the eastern horizon. I ran outside with my "Cabin cam" camera but realized the color had already begun to creep backwards. Ten minutes later the same pink clouds began to creep into the western skyline, only this time they were much richer color. Out the door again and I only had to go as far as the deck to find a nice composition that showed the clouds and trees above Pam's "nest" studio, with our little driveway winding into and out of the scene.

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The wind is pretty brisk this morning, and a light down jacket feels great. Miss Mia is patiently waiting at the edge of my chair as I type this - she knows it is time to get out and HIKE! Just now she grumbled a little bit - not her belly, but her face - so it sounds like I'm going to put off my work chores a little while and strap on my boots - tough to ignore little Miss Mia. (Although yesterday she found a pile of deer guts out in the woods and had a great time rolling in it - did not make her mom very happy! We're going to avoid that area this morning.) OK, OK - Mia is now climbing up the side of my office chair and over the armrests - guess it is time to go before I get barked at...

01/07/16 There's just something about fog. Really thick fog. When I hike out into a foggy forest, the world seems to slow down. All of a sudden everything gets really clear. I guess that's because when in thick fog the available things you have to look at are reduced - your vision is limited to stuff really close to you - because everything else is in the fog and you can't see it! It's like the world kind of wraps right on around your brain as you walk into and through the fog. It's a great feeling, and I love it! And, of course, what you CAN see is wet and saturated, so more colorful. Although some things turn into silhouettes - like trees - creating a black and white landscape - the mind doesn't have to process color, just shades of gray. It is tough to photograph fog, though I keep trying.

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01/11/16 I went out late last night for a walk in the starlight - after just a few minutes my eyes adjusted so well that I could see to hike through the forest without a flashlight. It was quite brisk, with temps in the teens already. I was struck at how clear and brilliant the sky above was - the cold front that moved through over the weekend swept the atmosphere clean, and with low humidity the "transparency" of the sky was very high. As I moved along the zillions of stars twinkled with each step, and they seemed to be calling down to me to "go get your camera!" And so I did.

With the temps so low I suited up with my big snowmobile suit and boots and spent the next hour shooing a scene that included my favorite winter constellation - Orion, The Hunter - and the Milky Way rising above my favorite tree - Aspen's Hickory. It was GREAT to be out in the frigid winter night working with the stars!

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We had some pretty tough frigid weather move through on Saturday, with really cold temps and howling winds. No much snow though - in fact I think the only snow we saw was the sort that flew by as a blur doing about 30mph! Nothing ever had the chance to land and stick to the ground. My lovely bride and I took a couple of long hikes and had to really lean into the wind, which helped work our leg muscles. The puppies ran about ten miles for each one of ours as usual.

Stepping back one last day, we had a very LONG day on Friday - I had breakfast about 4am, lunch at 9:30 just before we headed out for our program at Gaston's Visitor Center. And since we would be giving programs and not able to eat until later in the evening, we had dinner in Yellville about 1pm. After visiting subway, we pulled into the local park so I could eat my salad, only to discover there was no fork! The only tool I could find to eat it with was a straw - I bent it in half to use as chopsticks, and it worked! Some of you may remember about this time last year while I was in Canada getting some work done on our RV that I had to eat a Wendy's salad with a cup - I think the straw chopsticks worked out a lot better.

Anyway, we did two programs at the state park, which split up the normally standing-room-only crowd so that everyone could get a seat. I kind of hated to see the show end - it would be the last time showing the RARE QUALITY OF LIGHT program. I've got to come up with something new for our 2016 holiday program schedule, which begins on November 11th in Hot Springs Village! It has been a terrific program season and we hope everyone who attended enjoyed the show...

01/14/16 'Tis a delightful night outside tonight, with a 1/4 moon adding just enough light (filtered through moving clouds) to allow me to hike without a flashlight. The temp is warmish, and the air feels damp. Amber made me get out and hike in the moonlight - I'll be blaming her for all of this from now on. Ya see she got one of these "fitbit" things last year that you wear on your wrist to keep track of the number of steps you take, distance, heartbeat, calories burned, etc. Then my lovely bride got one a couple of weeks ago. And I liked it so much that I got one last week while on our way to the final slide show at Bull Shoals. I'm impressed with the number of things the little band keeps track of - like for instance I was able to go back and watch my heart rate before, during, and after my slide programs (I would get excited while the program was playing, then was more relaxed while answering questions at the end - I love that part!

My resting heartbeat during the last part of yoga class a couple of days ago was 46. (my normal resting beat is about 55.) On some of my casual hikes around here I try to push myself a little bit and the beats are getting up towards 160, which is just about peak for my age. I've not taken the band on a strenuous hike yet, but I'll be anxious to see results. It also keeps track of my sleeping - last night I only got 5 hours and 34 minutes, but it was a pretty solid amount with minimum tossing and turning - my normal night is about 6 hours.

Anyway, the app that comes with the wrist band has "goals" and "badges" to encourage you to take more steps, and I believe they really work. Like today. I spent much of my day in the car driving, so didn't get to hike much, and tonight when I sat down to check in on my steps balance, discovered that I was only about 600 steps away from the next level. So what the heck, it was a beautiful night out, and I hiked up the road with the pups for a while. The little band started to vibrate and buzz about half way up the hill - I had met my step count goal. YIPPIE! But of course I was just getting started on the hike, so not only did the little wrist band encourage me to get out and hike a bit, I kept on hiking, burning up more calories (I had a half-brownie as a snack, so needed to burn as much of that off as I could!). There are different brands, but the one we use seems about right - I don't even notice I'm wearing it - and I've not worn a watch for twenty years so I notice anything on my wrist normally. As a bonus, this little band has a watch too - and I can read it without my glasses!

While doing research into the "step-counter band" I realized that one of my friends had been using one for nearly a year - he has lost something like 60 pounds, and one day walked 43 miles!!! My longest day with a backpack was 32 miles, but I was much younger and had more hair way back then (1974). BONUS - my little band also has a GPS that is VERY accurate - so I can look at the route I took, and even upload the track into my normal mapping software. I was shocked the first time I used the GPS function when I hiked out to pick up the mail (three miles) - it literally showed when and where I had moved from one side of our driveway to the other! I'm not one who usually cares or keeps track of things like steps and calories during the day, but I really like the whole idea of having that info available, and especially when it encourages me to get up and out and hike more - thanks Amber and Pam! (and Rick O'K)

01/17/16 My lovely bride made me go out with her and hike in the moonlight last night. What sort of a husband would put up with this sort of thing?! So much moonlight that we didn't need a flashlight, and while it was a little brisk temp-wise, it felt great to be out wandering beneath the stars. Cassiopeia and Orion dominated the sky, with the Big Dipper rising in the north. The alarms on both of our Fitbits went off buzzing during the hike. These little gadgets really do encourage ya to get out and walk more - I'm all for that!

When I headed out early this morning the ground was frozen solid and I went crunch, crunch, crunch through the forest. And then I came upon dozens of fresh frost flowers - we've always been told these only form on the first few cold spells of the season, and only when the ground is saturated, certainly not in mid-January after we've already had dozen or more frigid nights and have not had any rainfall here at all in more than a couple weeks. Each frost flower was beautiful, and I got down on my knees to take a picture or two.

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Later one we discovered a "shed" in the middle of a big meadow on top of the ridge - a deer antler that was recently shed by an 8-point buck. Had I been there a few minutes before the antler was have been covered with frost, but with sunshine lighting it up the frost had already melted away. So do deer shed their antlers both at the same time? (meaning the other one might be close by) Since it was an open meadow I started to look around for the other one, then began walking in circles to cover more ground, gradually getting farther away from the antler. Nothing. I gave up and hiked on along towards the end of the big meadow, content with a handful of future puppy treats (they sell chopped up parts of deer and elk antlers at the pet store, and dogs love them). And then I found it - a couple hundred yards from the first antler - the second one of the matched pair! Here you see Wilson licking the antler with Mia fast approaching to get a few licks in herself.

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On the way back towards the cabin I came upon a frozen mud hole - and the ice formed a heart in the middle. Back down on my hands and knees for a closer look - there were actually tiny frozen pillars covering the surface of the ice. And everything looked golden when the sun hit it - due to the muddy water beneath. It was a nice little morning warm up - 6,000 steps...

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Last Friday morning I got a wild hare (or should that be "hair?") and decided to open our Canvas Gallery for a few hours on Saturday. We had some folks coming out to pick up books so we had to be here anyway. It was great to meet and greet a couple dozen people and hear some of their amazing stories. I think we may do this more often - when we know we're going to be here and the weather seems nice enough for folks to venture out into the wilderness. When we do it will be posted here and on our facebook page the day before...

01/18/16 We just discovered a small case of the book THE SEARCH FOR HALEY buried in our warehouse (the new books had been returned from a bookstore many years ago and I forgot about them). This book was publised in 2001 and has been out of print for a long time (We had donated the last 500 copies that were included in care packages sent to American soldiers fighting the war in Iraq.) So we now have a limited supply of these paperback books available for sale here.

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01/20/16 A thick fog has settled onto the landscape tonight. There must be a bright 3/4 moon up there above because it is pretty bright out, even while walking through a thick forest. I love hiking in thick fog during the day. I LOVE wandering through it on a moonlight NIGHT! A little while ago I checked my "fitbit" progress for the day and discovered I needed another 2900 steps before I went to bed. So I suited up and took the puppies out into the moonlit fog.

With the forest floor still covered with ice, I moved slowly at first, kind of feeling each step on down before putting any weight on it. As long as I had leaves to hike on, the footing was soft and secure, so I picked up my pace. The tall silhouettes that towered above me seemed to move right along with me. And once in a while one of them would bow down and wrap his arms around me - limbs touching mine. I don't know of another way to become more in tune with the wilderness. I think perhaps that is why I hike, why I like to hike at night, and especially why I enjoy the night in the fog so much.

Those steps flew by and before long I had passed my goal. Kind of funny, but in this case the little calculator on my wrist prevented me from going farther - I'm on an upward trend right now and always want to hike more steps than the day before, but if I hike TOO many more, then I'll just have to hike that much farther the next day! That part will come to an end once I get out and do some serious hiking one day - it would be tough to hike farther and farther and farther each day forever - I'll be too old for that pretty soon!

My first hike today was alone - Pam had too much work to do before the mail ran, and the puppies refused to leave her. So it was just me for a four-mail hike that was at times, a very slow and careful walk rather than a hike. The ground was covered with a slick and very solid sheet of ice. I was OK hiking in the leaves, but each rock or other smooth surface could easily had knocked me to the ground. So I spent a lot of my time looking at my feet and the ground right in front of me and not as much time enjoying the scenery. That was OK - I'm a better person while out in the woods than sitting back home in front of a computer screen. As the hike continued the temps reached above freezing and I could hear ice falling. One time I was standing on the top of a tall bluff admiring the ice on the bluff face a few feet away when part of the ice turned loose and crashed 100 feet below. NOTE TO SELF - don't hike beneath bluffs on days like this, especially not along the DRIP LINE - that is where all that ice crashes down!

Other than the sounds of crashing ice, the airwaves in the forest were pretty quiet. Once in a while I would scare up a bird or hear a woodpecker tapping on a dead tree nearby - I think sometimes those woodpeckers enjoy the sound of themselves echoing through the wilderness like they were doing today.

01/22/16 A couple of funny things happened here yesterday. First, while hauling a load of gravel to cover up our water pipe that had been exposed (I dug it up to fix a leak several months ago and never covered it back up!), one of the front tires on our tractor split open. I had to dump the load of gravel right there on the side of our narrow driveway and just barely made it backwards up the hill and into the tractor shed without the dead tire coming off. So now for a while until I am able to shovel this gravel out of the way, there will be a slight jog in our driveway to miss the gravel pile. (I was able to shovel enough gravel/dirt/clay on top of the water pipe by hand to keep it from freezing).

Then later when I opened a box that arrived from Forestry Supplies, I discovered they had sent me the wrong item - instead of a $20 pair of cheap waders, there was a $260 pair of handmade leather/kevlar boots! Someone in their warehouse grabbed the wrong box! The boots were a little too small for me, and so far I've not found anyone to give them to. I've had this sort of thing happen before and have always found it difficult to get the company to issue a call tag to come pick the incorrect item up. If you see my lovely bride walking around in a pair of handmade boots, you will know why!

We've had new layers of ice coating the landscape up here each night for a while, but have been able to get a fitness hike or two in each day anyway - sometimes we spend more time placing our feet to keep from slipping and sliding than we do exercising! The puppies don't seem to know the ground is solid ice - they just run full tile in all directions at the same time and have a blast. We did watch in kind of surprise and horror as Mia stopped dead in her tracks, twisted to her right, leaped up and pounced on the ground, plunged her nose into the ground, then pulled a lively and large vole right out of the ground and flipped it up into the air! She is one heck of a vole dog - we've seen her pounce on and dig up dozens of them - each one from beneath the surface of the forest floor. She has a special talent for voles. Or are they moles?

And we've had an explosion of ROBINS and BLUEBIRDS this week - my goodness there are flocks of them everywhere! I always associated robins with spring, but out here it seems they love the wintertime, especially when there is lots of ice.

We had some really nice hoar frost covering trees in the higher elevations today that hung around most of the day. I was never able to point a camera at any, but got to admire them from a distance often. Ice is one of those things we love to look at, but don't want underfoot or on the road!

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01/26/16 It was an especially DARK night last night, even though the moon was nearly full. The clouds must have been pretty thick and heavy since they didn't allow much if any moonlight to shine through. Just to test how much we could really see out there in the darkness, Pam turned off her flashlight and we stood there for a while, allowing our night vision to take over. Certainly not nearly as dark than while using the flashlight (turning the light off without sufficient time to let your night vision take over) - we could see to walk slowly along the road, but it would have been tough bushwhacking through the woods. And while we were standing there experience the quiet and solitude of the darkness, something smashed into both of our legs from behind - YIKES! It was Wilson - he picked up a large stick/thin log about seven feet long and was running down the road with it! Funny, but we've noticed he only does this at night (running with a long stick/log in his mouth). Maybe he is wanting to make sure he doesn't run into anything. He did.

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Mia awaits the next hike

01/30/16 HOWLING winds tonight are creating quite a stir in the wilderness! And it must be the warmest night of the year so far - the day was as well I bet. Very clear with a zillion twinkling stars above as well. Seems we've had windy nights for a while now. There is one pair of tall trees that lean over our path and touch each other about half way up. During previous nighttime hikes the trees were singing nicely with high-pitched voices. Tonight we were much deeper - groaning, moaning, almost sounding like grunts. Funny how the voice of the trees literally changes with the winds.

We had a "wildlife" moment at the cabin yesterday. It was in the late afternoon. Beagle Point was in shadow, but Whitaker Creek was still in full sunshine. Mia ran out onto the back deck and began to bark and something below the cabin. She was quite insistent about it. There have been a number of lost hikers daily for the past week, and so we figured it was just more of them. My lovely bride and I both stepped out onto the deck to see what was up and found Mia's head peering through the handrail at something. We looked up to see a flock of turkey take flight - Mia had not bothered them, but they did not like humans standing on the deck.

The birds were in full sunshine when they just sort of jumped up into the air and then began to glide out over Whitaker Creek. With Beagle Point in front of them being in shadow and the birds in sun, they really lit up and shone brightly. We watched as it took them probably 15 seconds or longer to cover the half mile of air space, then they disappeared into the shadow of Beagle Point one by one - no doubt landing in tall trees over there. It was quite amazing, and beautiful.

I forgot to note that about a week ago we were covered up with flocks of male bluebirds and robins - the birds seemed to be EVERYWHERE! Bluebirds, robins, and windy warm nights - can SPRING be far away?

We got a call this afternoon from the Newton County Sheriff's Department about an injured hiker at Punchbowl Falls they were trying top reach and evacuate. We're hopeful the hiker and all members of the rescue team made it out to safety. *Update - this terrible accident resulted in the tragic death of one of the good eggs in the world, Hal Smith of Ft. Smith. He was out doing what he loved to do, slipped and fell only a short distance, but head trauma took his life. (Reported to have been 60 foot fall, but those with him say it was really only 6 to 10 feet.) You don't need a tall bluff to die - it is possible to slip and fall onto even a level surface like a parking lot in the city. Life is precious no matter where you are - live it well and love those around you because you never know when the good lord will reach down and bring you home. His hiking partners made brave and heroic attemps to save him - so even while still on earth he had angels with him. His mortal life was a great one, but Hal's job now will include making sure waterfalls continue to be beautiful...

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Punchbowl Falls
 

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