7/1/98 The moon was only half full, but it lit up the forest quite nicely. The view off the deck was a little eerie. You could look way up the Buffalo valley and see faint fog banks beginning to build. There were a few fireflies out, but not very many. It was cool, in the upper 60's. I checked on Bob's on the way in, but no sign of bear activity. I'm still worried that the cinnamon bear will put in an appearance. Since Bob will be gone for over two weeks, and I'll be gone much of that time as well, the bear could have easy pickins.

7/2/98 The eastern sky glowed as early as 5am, got really brilliant, then faded a few minutes before the sun rose over the ridge. The scene out back was as wonderful as any I had ever seen here. The valleys were filled with seas of fog, each layer turning gold as the first rays of sun touched them. The fog banks began to move with the warm sunshine, and within 30 minutes were completely gone. I don't know why this scene still amazes me - I've seen it dozens of times before already this year, but it is just too incredible to ignore. I hope that it never becomes ordinary to me. I guess that may be one indication of the quality of life - when remarkable things cease to stir the soul, when they pass unnoticed, when you no longer gasp at a glorious sunrise, pause at a thunderous waterfall to soak up the spray, listen to the call of a distant owl, strain your neck to follow the path of a red tailed hawk soaring overhead, or sit quietly in awe in a field of wildflowers - when these things are ignored, then life has taken a turn for the worse, and perhaps it is time to remove yourself from whatever you are doing, wherever you are, and head to the wilderness with nothing to do but exist and recharge the batteries.

I decided to head on up the hill to check out the garden, and was surprised to find that Stable, my loyal cabin dog, was anxious to go with me. This dog only moves when there is food on the horizon. He is rather old, so I allow him to lay about the cabin as he pleases. But today he not only hit the trail, but actually kept up with me, and even went out in front some! I couldn't believe it. Don't know what had got into him. He sometimes gets hyper when a storm is approaching, but it was nothing but clear blue skies out. There was an interesting patch of Virginia creeper that had been eaten up by some bugs. It seemed like there was more of the leaves eaten than were left - made some really interesting patterns in the leaves. I will try to remember to take one home and see what it would look like on the copy machine.

We made it to the garden and found lots of tomatoes about to ripen, green beans, bell peppers, new potatoes, and a few onions, all ready for the picking. The corn was coming along nicely. I put Stable inside the Faddis cabin, and I went down to Bob's to check on things. As I approached, I heard noises coming from the cabin. It sounded like someone was there, and was working on something. But as I got closer, there was no vehicle in the driveway. Damn, not another bear! I approached cautiously, peeking around every corner, but never saw anything. And nothing had been disturbed. Everything was OK. I have no idea what the noises were, unless they were manufactured in my head by my still active bear mind. I swiped his John Muir book, as it has more of the mainstream writings in it than the one that I have been reading. These are very large books, and I thought how funny it was that I was carrying this big Muir book through the woods on a hot summer day - me, a guy who has barely read a dozen books in his life. On the way back up the hill, I heard a thud up on the hillside in the woods. A few seconds later I saw the maker of the thud - it was a huge hickory nut that had fallen out of the tree, and was bumping and bouncing its way down the steep hillside, crashing through stands of Virginia creeper and poison ivy along the way. It stopped just short of the path that I was one. One big nut - glad I wasn't standing under the tree when it fell!

As Stable and I crossed the Faddis meadow on our way back to the cabin, I noticed a tall thunderhead off in the distance. I didn't make the connection at the time, but that thunderhead was just the beginning of a much larger storm system, which had to have been what made Stable so active - he is a great weather dog. Two hours later, I was quite literally shaken from my nap on the couch by continuous rolls of thunder. I got up to a very dark, green sky all around, and lots and lots of thunder and lightening. Then it began to rain, and a heavy fog rolled in. This wasn't a real violent thunderstorm that is typical of summer ones here, except for all of the thunder and lightening, but rather a very nice rainshower that was badly needed. I sat out on the deck and watched the lightening bolts for awhile, then retreated to the computer when it began to rain. For the first time that I remember, the power went off while I was typing, and I would have lost a great deal of unsaved work, had it not been for the backup power system that I had installed on this computer - it just beeped to let me know that the power had been interrupted, then continued on as though nothing had happened. The power was only off for a few seconds in the cabin, but that would have shut down the computer for sure, and I would have lost all that I had typed. Money well spent!

OK, the shower continues, it is very cool, I have a heavy John Muir book on the table, it must be time to go lay down and read for the rest of the afternoon. Life at Cloudland can sometimes just be rather tough.

Lori Spencer from the Ozark Natural Science Center came by for a visit and to check out the trail to the Crag for an upcoming Elderhostel hike. She is the director of programs for the Center, but more importantly, a butterfly expert. In fact, she is working on an Arkansas Butterfly ID book. She tells me that there are 127 different species of butterflies in Arkansas! Good grief. I was just pulling some Cloudland Pizza out of the oven as she drove up, and we spent some time on the back deck devouring it. As darkness fell, I turned on the front porch light to attract some moths (also a speciality of hers) to see what we had living around here. Below are a few notes from Lori.

"10:00 p.m. Tim's porch light--insects identified Catacola moth--biggest one at the light so far Limacodidae-detailed green moth family 12 different geometrid moths Weevils, ladybugs, May beetles Ant lion-looks just like a damselfly, but flies at night, and if you look closely at the base of the wings and the long antennae, you can tell immediately it's an ant lion. Have you ever seen the larvae's sand pits? These are what the adults turn out to be. The wings on this one were mottled with a charcoal gray color. It's not quite calling time for the silk moths like the Luna, Cecropia, and Polyphemus. "Calling time" means that's when they release their pheromones to attract mates. Silk moths only live for about a week, just long enough to mate and breed. In fact, they don't even have any mouthparts--no time to eat. Silk moths "call" each other between midnight and three, usually, so we'll have to check later to find any. Five in the morning will be a good time to do a "deck check" and see if any have spent the night.

I can't get all the moths to species, but I'm seeing at least twenty different kinds in various sizes. Most moths rest with their wings open straight out--one of the ways you can tell them apart from butterflies. Obviously, most moths are nocturnal, butterflies the opposite. But some of these smaller moths are resting with their wings over their bodies as if they were roofs, like butterflies do. I'm hoping for a dobson fly or a few click beetles, but mainly for some silk moths" - Lori Spencer

7/3/98 I was tired and went to bed before the midnight calling began, and I think Lori did too. I was awakened by a pair of screech owls at about 4am - they seemed to be right outside of the guest bedroom window, but Lori later said she never heard them, so I guess she was fast asleep. Neither of us got up to check the lights just before dawn, although there were still a few months hanging around when I finally did get up. We hiked on over to the Crag as it got warm in a hurry. With Lori the butterfly expert along, I began to notice that there were all kinds of butterflies everywhere, mostly traveling in singles, fluttering and flapping to and fro with no particular route in mind. Lori identified almost all of them, although the names were foreign to me. She is one of those people who can spout out multitudes of scientific and common names like she is talking regular English, and most of it goes right over my head.

Just before she left for civilization, I spotted a pair of butterflies in the front "yard" of the cabin. She grabbed her net, and before I could even tell what color they were, she had swooped BOTH of them up in the net and was examining them. She made it look so easy - I'm sure if I tried to do such a thing, I would not only smash the butterflies (if I ever got close enough to them), but would probably wind up smashing my head with the net pole too. Anyway, she ID'd them right away (Pipevine swallowtails), and discovered that they were a pair - one male and one female. When I first saw them, they were flying in formation, and looked so graceful, kind of like a pair of dolphins in the sea. It was obvious that they were true mates.

After a nap or two and some Muir reading, I headed out for another hike, this time to the Crag and then out to the mailboxes and loop back via the road. Along the way I passed three folks from Oklahoma who were enjoying the rocks to the west of the Crag, on the trail that the Forest Service doesn't want anyone to hike because it is too scenic. It was getting hot. Hey, it must be July in the Ozarks! But there was a nice, cool breeze blowing, and I took up residence in the back porch swing, letting the breezes rock me to sleep. Could it be that I have returned to my childhood, always wanting to nap? Actually, I don't think that I napped very much as a child, I think that I spent most of my first few years running wild in the woods around my house. Perhaps I was reclaiming my lost youth. What the heck, I am still a child, a child of the wilderness!

My gentle nap was broken by the ringing of the bell in front of the cabin, and I realized that Roy and Norma had arrived for the weekend. It didn't take me long to convince them that it was time to head down the hill to the swimming hole. This would prove to be one of the best hikes to date here at Cloudland.

We all bundled up in long pants and shirts, boots, daypack laden with water and swim masks, then were sprayed with bug dupe - yuk, I wonder if it wouldn't almost be of lessor evil to be covered with bugs rather than with this foul smelling stuff! As we headed down the hill, Norma remarked "I just love the smell of the heat from the forest floor." An interesting observation.

As we dropped below the ladder, the same sense of a tropical jungle came to mind. All was dense and lush and dark. Some of the trees were just HUGE! I don't know why this continues to excite me every time that I see them, but it dues. We determined that the largest one was a red oak, towering way up out of sight. Next to it was a 6 foot tall blue wildflower, which I still haven't looked up the identity of yet. The trail was very easy to follow, even through the thickest of underbrush. The more traffic it sees, the more this will come true. Roy kept pointing out that the big trees were all old growth. I sometimes feel that way myself, but hope that in my old growth years I don't spread out quite as large as these fellows! Towards the bottom we came across the Golden Seal plants that I had spotted before (the TV show that I had watched said the roots were going for $40 a pound). And near them, we found a trail that had been cut out and flagged by horse folks. It came across one of the homestead areas, crossed our trail, and went on down to Whitaker Creek. But it ended there. Some day I must follow it backwards and see where it goes.

We reached the Buffalo, stripped off (well, not everything, after all, there was a lady present) and jumped in. The water was super warm and felt great. We made it to the big swimming hole, dawned our swim masks, and disappeared underwater. Few things in life are more interesting to me than peering into the lives of fishes. This is the first time that I really got to take a look around underwater in this hole. It is over 100 yards long, most of it being about 6 feet deep in the middle. On the far side is a row of boulders and small cliffs that line the pool. We three spent an hour or more exploring around, then made our way downstream to another interesting pool, where we spied several good-sized smallmouth bass hiding under a big rock.

Back at the main pool, Norma and I found a cave of sorts, or at least a place where you can swim down under a big boulder and come up on the other side. There were a lot of fish hanging around at the bottom of these big rocks too, wondering what all these other big fish with funny eyes were doing invading their space. At the head of this pool is where the water comes in, warmed by the shallow pools upstream. You can lay there in the foot-deep white water and the little fishes will come crowd around you. It is wonderful to lay there and have the warm water wash all over you.

Roy and Norma retreated to the flat rock upstream and relaxed while I took off upstream with mask and snorkel in hand - I wanted to see if there were other great swimming holes nearby. The rocks underwater were very slippery, and tevas were of no help. I sloshed my way upstream, as big black thunderheads loomed on down the valley. Once and a while thunder could be heard. Hey, it was the 4th of July weekend, so I expected it to rain at some point.

Most of the river was shallow, but I did find one deep pool that allowed me to put on the mask and dive into. This pool was quite different from the main one, and had a point or two that were deeper than it, although it was much shorter. There were two main boulders out in the middle - that's where the deeper water was. As soon as you got underwater a couple of feet, the temperature got cold in a hurry. In fact, it was so cold at the bottom of these boulders, that I could hardly stand to be down there - must be spring fed. I had a grand time exploring this little pool, chasing the fishes around, and seeing what was in all of the dark recesses. I tried to cover every inch, seeing all that there was to see. As I worked my way upstream the water got shallow and was rushing. I kept my head underwater and sort of pushed my body along. There were fishes of all colors, sizes and shapes darting about. It was an amazing color show. This is what I had come to see, and was content to lay here in the shallows with my head in the water for a long time. Just then the sun came out from behind a cloud, and I was blinded by a million tiny silver sparkles - holy smokes, I had just discovered the most incredible diamond mind! The view before me was quite indescribable, and was one of the most amazing things that I had ever seen. The sunlight had turned each tiny air bubble that was forced down into the shallow by the rushing water into liquid silver. And the sunlight was creating shadows and silver slivers on the bottom from the patterns of water on the surface, but the real gems were a million times more than that - tiny air bubbles lined every rock and the floor of the pool and when the sun hit them, they simply exploded with brightness! It was just unbelievable. And add to all of this the hundreds of fishes that were flashing about. This is my world. My wilderness. My playground. This could not be created on film. It was Mother Nature at her finest. And no scene in the ocean could top it.

I don't know how long I laid there mesmerized, but I eventually got up, quite stunned at what I had just been watching, and tried to stumble my way even further upstream. Just a short distance away was another pool, a little longer than the first. I had a good long swim there, and it was a fine pool, but it contained little of the gems of before. The river began to turn back to the left, the thunder increased in intensity and volume, so I turned back and headed downstream. Instead of tromping through the shallow waters, I was determined to stay head down and swim/push my way as far as I could. I was able to stay in the water almost all the way back, and had many a grand time playing with the fishes. At one point, I was laying in water about two feet deep, at the edge of a ledge that made the water about two inches deep upstream. This shallow flat was filled with rushing water, and it seemed like every square inch of space was taken up with silver minnows, schools of a hundred at a time. Since I was in the deeper water, they didn't seem to pay any attention to me, and danced back and forth in time with the water. Who needs TV!!! I was quite entertained. Then I was shocked back into reality by the loud crack from the clouds now looming above. I got turned around and crawled through the shallow water to where Roy and Norma were reading the paper.

Roy, the ex-marine, was getting a little concerned about the impending storm, but I smiled with each new boom, and Norma got up and headed for the big pool to swim a few laps. Norma is one of those city-slicker girls that you would expect to be running for cover when the first cloud appears, but she is quite the outdoors woman, and was relishing the thought of hiking in the rain.

I put on my hiking clothes and headed up the hill, making it to the top without stopping a single time - I was trying to get into some sort of shape for my upcoming trip to the high country in Wyoming. The trail was very easy to follow. It was quite warm, and I collapsed on the front porch of the cabin completely drenched. I sat in the swing, trying to regain my composure, and listened to the thunder. Soon the sky opened up and it began to pour. I had just missed getting caught in it. What I also missed was a terrific experience of hiking in an Ozark summer thunderstorm. I kind of knew that, and almost took off back down the hill, but my attention was taken up by the fact that the power was off.

It poured and poured, and I just knew Roy would be bitching. Before long they appeared at the cabin, both completely drenched, but both absolutely bubbling over with excitement and glee. They were like two little kids playing in a mud puddle. Roy was grinning from ear to ear, and kept talking nonstop about how it was the greatest thing that he had ever done. They had just started up the hill when the sky opened up. In a dense forest like this one, you can hear the rain hitting the treetops high above, but it takes a while before the rain can make its way down through all of the canopy and to the forest floor. When it finally did hit the ground, Roy described it as "...the dancing flora on the forest floor..." It really is a terrific treat to hike in the rain when it is warm.

I told them that there would be no showers available since the electricity was off (and therefore no water pressure pump), but they just shouted with glee and began to strip off all their clothes and headed for the rain pouring off of the rain gutters. Boy, now why didn't I think of that. Of course, they were all hot and sweaty from the hike up, and I had cooled down - the though of the cold rain was not appealing to me, but they sure did have a ball!

Being the gentleman that I am, I sat on the back porch while Norma, 'a-la-natural, bathed in the front of the cabin. It was still raining, and the scene out the back was tremendous. There were those dark clouds overhead, still booming and spilling buckets of water, but just a little ways out it was perfectly clear and the sun was shining. And then it happened - a brilliant rainbow appeared in the valley. It arched down to the river where we had just been swimming. This is the first ever rainbow that I had seen at Cloudland! I ran to the van to get my little camera (it must have been quite some rainbow, because I never even noticed Norma in the buff just a few feet away - perhaps I have been in the woods too long!). I shot a few pictures of the rainbow, and got the waving bear in the foreground. Rainbows are tough to take pictures of, especially with the little cameras.

Roy joined me on the deck, and soon the rain quit and the rainbow disappeared. But the steam banks began to pop up all over the valley. They would grow and move back and forth, up and down, then disappear. The sun would light up one of them, and it would dance and sway around. Roy was especially excited about the show, although I had seen it many, many times before (was still spectacular to me!). He lit up a cigar, popped open a beer, and kicked back in the chair to enjoy the show. Norma soon joined us, and I felt a little out of place, since I still stunk from my hot ascent, and they had been freshly bathed in rain water. The power was still off. Birds began to appear in the meadow. My friend bunting came and sat in his place and began to sing. Then a scarlet tanager flew through. The birds were putting on quite a show themselves.

You could tell that Roy and Norma were about to burst with excitement, yet they were so relaxed that they could hardly keep from sliding out of their chairs. Norma finally spoke and summed up their current state of being - she said that the day had been "satisfactory, in a Nero Wolf kind of way." I would agree.

I was telling them about this huge walking stick that Lori and I had seen on the limb right out in front the day before. Upon further inspection, we discovered that it was still right there, only inches away from us, and completely unnoticed. It was over six inches long, rather large for this time of year.

Before long the bell rung, and Hete appeared, with a beer and cantaloupe in hand. He was not in a good mood, but wouldn't explain. We tried to ignore him and continued with our "Satisfactory" day. It was soon time to fire up the grill, and well all got busy preparing dinner. Doc was even going to drop by. As it turned out, it was nearly 9pm before we all sat down to a dinner of BBQ chicken with all the fixins. It was a fine meal, and was good to have a table full. Doc had been out working in the gardens all day.

Out came another cigar, along with the moon, and we spent some time examining the moon with the telescope. Don't know if all the beer had anything to do with it or not, but the craters on the moon were especially clear and detailed this night, and the moon itself was very bright silver. And I swear, we may have even been sober, but there was a bright light making its way across the sky in front of us. It was nearly as bright as the moon. As I ran to get the telescope, the light quickly faded, then disappeared altogether. Satellites do not light up like this thing did! Nor do airplanes. And neither would just disappear. I'm not saying that it was a craft full of little green men, but it certainly was a UFO, the first ever sighted at Cloudland.

7/4/98 There were only a few clouds hanging around in the valley this morning. Roy and I had breakfast on the deck, and Norma caught up on her beauty rest (it is obvious that she has been quite successful doing this). There was a very nice breeze blowing through, and lots of birds about. The little Indigo bunting made an appearance, and spent ten minutes in his usual place, singing and praising the glory of the day. And then the Scarlet tanager flew through. This guy is rather shy, and always tends to stay out a little, but close enough to give us a great view of his brilliant red body.

When Norma got up, Roy was ready to go hiking. Norma wasn't. We all enjoyed the morning breezes a while longer. No firecrackers anywhere, although we did hear Bob fire up his lawn mower (he was mowing down some vegetable plants in the garden), which sounded quite out of place here in the middle of the wilderness. Before long Roy and Norma headed out for a hike to the Crag. They returned a while later, refreshed by the hike, but needing to get back to town, and left.

(an entry from Roy and Norma) "July 3-4. Back to Cloudland. Hike to the river for a swim. Great fun, grat up the hill after the swim in a thunderstorm. Super. Hete and Doc came for supper. What a morning on the 4th. Cool, clear blue sky. One of the best times I've had at Cloudland. 105 & Norma"

I took up my proper holiday spot on the couch, under the ceiling fan, with the John Muir book. I read his "Thousand Mile Walk To The Gulf" book, then managed a good long nap. No one was stirring on the mountain. I was awakened by two birds who flew into the west windows. I went out and checked on them, and could not find either body, so I figured they were OK and flew off.

I went downstairs in the basement to check on something, and discovered that I had a growing problem down there, literally. Two of the steel doors had mildew growing on the base of them. So did some of the stuff that was up against the north wall. I moved everything away from the wall in both rooms, and realized that there was indeed a crack in the concrete where the floor met the wall. I would have to get some crack fixing stuff, and get something done about that as soon as I got back from my western trip. I already had the waterproof paint to go over it, but you've got to fill in the cracks first. I hoped that all of this would fix the problem, otherwise I would have to put in a dehumidifier.

It was nearing 90 degrees outside, but I felt that I had lounged around like a lizard long enough, so I headed out the door for a hike to the Crag, then out to the trailhead, and back. As I left the cabin and bushwhacked down the hillside to the informal trail to the Crag, I realized that when you hike without a trail in thick brush like this was, you really don't get much of a chance to look around while you are hiking - your attention is focused on the unstable and mostly hidden ground that you are stepping on. I do a great deal of bushwhacking around, and prefer to wander around that way most of the time, but hiking on a proper trail is really the way to go. You don't have to worry about where you are walking much at all, and can spend your moving time looking at everything around you instead of at your feet. It wasn't really too hot outside in the cool of the woods.

There was a young couple at the Crag, enjoying the day, and each other. I excused myself for interrupting their solitude, and stepped out to the edge to take a look around. I will never tire of the Crag. We struck up a conversation, and I just had to laugh when I was asked if "I had been hiking long." With the outfit that I was wearing, I took it to mean how long in general, not this day. I had on a pair of very long shorts that hung to the knees, a clean white t-shirt that was tucked in, no water whatsoever, and white tennis shoes. It must have been the tennis shoes that prompted the question. I was lectured on the proper attire for hiking in the Ozarks - I bit my tongue, thanked them for their advice, then hiked on. As I left, I heard the girl telling the guy about how the Buffalo River was right below them, and that the beginning of it was just to their right - good description, but the wrong river.

Up the trail a ways I passed this odd beech tree. It had a wonderful personality, and had been hollowed out a great deal over time. On one side there were three uniquely-shaped holes. I have always wanted to photograph this tree, but can't figure out a good way to do it, since the image would be very tall and skinny. I guess I will just have to shoot it, then crop out the distracting woods on either side, making instead of an 8/10 print, a 2/10 print. Just beyond the beech, I heard another one of a dozen squirrels scampering about. Although this one was a little different. I looked up and saw a huge squirrel running through the leaves at the base of a small bluff that I had never seen before. That was no squirrel, it was a woodchuck! A woodchuck, what in the world was he doing down here in the woods? He saw me and hesitated a moment, then disappeared into a hole at the base of the bluff.

I followed the trail out to the trailhead, then turned right on the road and followed it back towards the cabin. Along the way I saw the old owl again. Roy and Norma had said that they saw what looked like an owl perched on a big bale of hay in the field right next to this spot. It must have a nest nearby or something. I found a large feather on the ground near this spot, and it was half white and half black. Don't know what it came from. I also found that there were a few blackberries on the vines nearby that were screaming to be picked. Always wanting to help out, I gathered a cup full and continued on.

As I entered the Faddis Meadow, there was a pair of goldfinches playing in the apple tree - the male was brilliant yellow with striking black wings. I always used to call these birds wild parakeets - good thing that I have a bird ID book now (thanks to Beth Motherwell!).

It is great to hike in the summer, but it is wonderful to take a cool shower at Cloudland upon your return! Sometimes I think that I built this cabin just so that I could take showers at the end of hikes. Of course, the couch makes a great reading spot. And the back deck a splendid breakfast nook. And the loft bed a fine spot for nighttime storms...Ya, ya, ya.

For dinner I grilled the usual fresh veggies and chicken/apple sausage, and inhaled a pitcher of strawberry daiquiris. The daiquiris were spiked with the cup full of blackberries that I had picked during the hike - they must have been fermenting on the vine, as this pitcher really knocked me for a loop! Of course, it could have been the rum too. The wind died down, and the no-see-ums came out in full force, so I retreated to the couch to begin another John Muir book, this on his "My First Summer In The Sierra." He mentions "Cloudland" several times in the early chapters, and I must do some more digging to find out exactly what he is talking about. I had never heard the term Cloudland before I named my place, except for the campground in Colorado up near Mt. Evans.

At one point I took a break from the Sierra and sat out on the deck, star gazing, and enjoying the moonlight. The moon was a little past half full, and I think is the perfect size for the view from Cloudland. It is bright enough to light up the ridges and valleys, but no so bright that it destroys your night vision. Boy, I really wish that I could have sketched the night scene - there must have been twenty shades of grey, all the way from pure black in the deep hollows to the brilliant silver of the moon. I know, I know, the Zone System that Ansel Adams invented only had ten zones, but it just seemed like a lot more than that. It was spectacular.

This wonderful scene was interrupted by an idiot and a fool who was camping at the Crag. He had built a campfire right out on the Crag, and had it stoked up pretty big. If I had any authority I would have hiked over there and knocked his fire and his equipment right over the edge, and handed him a big fat citation. But I have no authority here, so I had to frown and bear it. He set of a few firecrackers too. What a tough guy. (I assume this is the same single individual that I had passed on my hike, and he was hiking in with a backpack on.)

AT SOME POINT during the weekend, I realized that my young girlfriend was not too interested in me any longer, or in being at Cloudland (this was just another in a long string of weekends alone). I guess she was on the same wavelength, as she had never even called or wrote once all the while she had been gone on her trip. So I decided it was time to end the relationship. Since she would be out of town for no telling how long, and I was leaving myself, I wrote her a nice letter and politely bowed out of the relationship. I will keep many wonderful thoughts of her tucked into my head. Funny, she never once wrote a single word in this journal, even though it was her who bought the original notebook and encouraged me to write in it. It is time to move on, in hopes that someone who wants to share the wonders of Cloudland with me will appear.

7/5/98 John Muir kept me awake long past midnight, and since I had the blinds closed, I never saw the beginning of the day. Stable got me up after 8am, telling me that he had urgent business outside. I needed to get some business of my own done, as I had a lot of work to do before I left the cabin and headed home at mid-day. It was very still out, not a whisper of wind, and getting hotter by the minute. There were lot of birds playing about as I dined on toasted bagels and Starbuck coffee on the back deck. From across the way, came a sorrowful, mournful howling from a dog. Roy and I had heard the same howling the morning before, but could not agree as to where it had come from. The howling this morning was quite clear, and easy to tell where it was coming from. The poor dog only howled twice, then was silent. A vision of a mangled dog flashed through my head, lying at the base of the bluff opposite. Hurt in the fall, he could not move, and could only muster enough energy for two cries for help each morning. I had to do something. I had to go see if I could help.

Within minutes I was clothed in my summer bushwhacking attire of long pants, long shirt, boots and a bandanna. In my daypack I had some water, a turkey sandwich, a couple of Worther's candies, and my 9mm pistol, just in case the poor fellow was beyond help. There was an urgency in my step, and I had fallen twice before I ever got to the ladder. I had to slow down, or I might end up in the same position as this dog, only my cries for help would probably not be ever heard by anyone. It was a quick trip to the bottom anyway, and soon I was across Whitaker Creek and heading up the other side. I wanted to find the old log road that left the old field and climbed up the hillside, but the brush was just too thick, and I was unable to find it. I was reminded that I really should have been wearing a headnet, as the spider webs were everywhere, and most of them ended up in my face.

Before long I found a beautiful rock wall that I had never seen before. It was quite wide and sturdy. I put in on my mental map of things to explore later in the year, when I could see farther, and when there weren't so many spider webs out! I climbed over the wall and continued up the hill. Son of a gun, right on the other side of the wall was the road that I had been looking for - I was glad to find it. Up, up and away it took me, but all too soon it ended, just like before, although I did manage to push the end of it up another bench. It was a steep last two benches up to the bluffline, but I made it OK.

My plan was to follow along the bottom of the bluff, reaching out to the steep slopes below with my eyes, looking for any sign of the dog. I rounded the point, and began to search carefully, as this was the area where I thought the howling had come from. I called, and whistled, just in case he would respond to a human sound. About ten minutes into the search, he cried out - again, two long, moaning cries for help. He was close, but not in the immediate vicinity, so I hustled along the bluffline, around a little point, then stopped and called out again. He answered, and sounded very close, perhaps just on the next point. I scrambled along the bluffline, falling a time or two in my haste.

As I got around to the nose of this little ridge, I slowed down, called and listened. Nothing. He had to be right here somewhere. I sat down on a rock and called some more. Still nothing. Had he used up his last breath crying out to me and could call out no more? Time seemed to be very important now. I scrambled and clawed and stumbled about, but no pup. I went back up to the bluffline and continued along it for some ways, until I figured I was out of the range of where his cries had come from. I doubled back, lower this time, just in case he had rolled down the steep slope. Nothing. I climbed back up to the bluffline, and rested under an overhang (this is the same one where I had found the wood sorel back in May - the delicate flowers were all gone, and the little plants were about dried up, although there was a small pool of water in the back, catching a few drips that were running down the wall).

In a few days I would be hiking at 11,000 feet, well above timberline, probably sitting next to a snow bank, in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. It would be in the 20's at night, maybe even lower, with an average humidity of 20% or less, and a snow shower or two every day. What a contrast to my present resting place, with its jungle vegetation, heat and humidity. I love them both. I hated to leave the jungle, but was really looking forward to the mountains.

I rested and waited, calling and whistling, but only silence. Not even a breeze to stir things up. I really wanted to find this dog, and find him alive, but feared I was too late. I just had to look some more. I got up and scoured the steep hillside once again. I whistled, and called, then listened. A cry rang out from behind a giant boulder near the base of the bluff, and as I approached it, a little beagle dog stood there, smiling and wagging his tail. He was alive, and in good shape - hurrah! He turned and disappeared behind the boulder. I followed. Near the back of the boulder I found a much more somber scene. Another small beagle dog, with a smile on his face, but a badly torn up body, lay in the leaves. Apparently the two were traveling together, as is often the case with these beagle dogs. It appeared that the second one had indeed fallen off of the bluff. He probably got confused during the big storm on Friday and simply couldn't stop. Somehow the other dog got down the bluff and found him, and was so loyal that he would not leave his side. He didn't look too good, and with broken legs he obviously could not walk. I was surprised that he had lived so long in this condition, with nothing to eat or drink. They most likely hadn't had anything to eat in a while anyway, and the healthy pup was nothing but skin and bones.

The healthy pup cowered over to the side, and let me deal with the hurt pup. I could not see anything that I could to, he was just so badly hurt. I gave him a drink of water, and then fed him my turkey sandwich, which he gulped almost without chewing. Then I gave each of them a piece of my hard candy. I sat with the injured pup for a half hour, holding him as best I could, and told him of my own brave dog Yukon, how he used to run these very hills with such great enthusiasm, and how he is buried not far away, on the banks of the Buffalo, overlooking a fine swimming hole. He looked up at me with eyes of great understanding, comforted in knowing that when he left this earth in this beautiful valley he would not be alone. He seemed quite peaceful, and at rest. Then he breathed his last in my arms. I never had to use my firearm, and was thankful for that.

I spent some time preparing a proper grave in the rubble at the base of the bluff, laid him in it, then covered him up with a nice pile of moss-covered stones. During leaf-off he would have a great view of the valley.

I turned my attention to the other pup, and decided to try to get him to follow me back to the cabin, where I would feed him and take him to a neighbor that I thought he belonged to (neither dog had a collar). He would not leave his buddy at first, but I did manage to get him down off of the hill, and he followed me to the base of the valley, me slipping and sliding all the way, and he just moseying along. When we reached Whitaker Creek, it was flowing some, and I stopped at a little hole of water and splashed myself. The beagle came gingerly over and drank for about two minutes - he was quite dry! We rested a while, and I gave him the temporary name of Whitaker Sam.

Before long were had climbed out of the valley, and were standing at the base of the ladder at the bluff. I was completely soaked from head to toe with sweat, and out of breath. Sam had a smile on his face, and breathing normally. Rub it in little beagle dog! It took some doing, but he finally allowed me to grab a hold of him and carry him up the ladder. He followed me to the front steps of the cabin, and I went inside and got a bowl of dog food and set it out by the outside faucet with a bowl of water. He would not approach at first, but once I left and went inside, he was seen emptying both. My soaking clothes were on the front porch, and I stood there naked under the ceiling fans, trying to cool off. Sam finished his dinner, then curled up in the shade at the base of a hickory.

I showered, cleaned up the cabin, spent some time at the computer, then loaded everyone up, including Whitaker Sam, and reluctantly headed for home. I would be leaving for the high country tomorrow, and had to give a slide program at the Ozark Natural Science Center near Eureka Springs tonight. Spending the summer at Cloudland was a lot nicer that I had ever expected, and I looked forward to getting back and exploring more of the jungle. But first, I had to enjoy my second home in the mountains for a few days, clear out my lungs, and rest my crippled arm. Along the way home I stopped and left Sam at his house - the kids were very glad to see him, but sad to hear of his buddy's accident.

7/13/98 Wow, I can't believe that I have been away so long! The trip into the high country in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming was quite spectacular, as always, and it went by very fast. The Wildman and I made the drive in record time (less than 18 hours), stopping only three times for gas and the other essentials. We only spent a few minutes in town, then headed up to the trailhead. We got there so early, we decided to go ahead and hike in and spend the night in the mountains instead of acclimating at the trailhead. Carl did very well with his heavier-than-expected pack. Both of our weighed in at 40 pounds - I always have a scale handy so that no one can stretch the truth.

The next day we continued up to and over a high pass. Since Carl was a little slower than me, I gave him a head start, while I stayed in my little tent and recovered from the drive out. When I finally did getup, I was shocked at how easily I handled the altitude, and the steep climb with the full pack. I guess my little trips down into my Ozark jungle and back UP the hill to the cabin had kept me in much better shape that I had thought. Anyway, I raced up to the pass, expecting to pass the old Wildman at every corner, but he was nowhere to be found on the trail. I though that he must have made a wrong turn or something, because he could not have stayed that far in front of me. Son of a gun, when I got to the top of the pass, there he was, killed over right in the middle of the trail, with his backpack still strapped on, and engulfed with a swarm of mosquitoes. My first thought was that he had had a heart attack, and died right there on the trail with one of the most incredible views of the high country as his last scene. That would have been one of the two ways that he would like to go (the other being hanged as a rapist at age 99). Upon closer inspection, I found him to be in deep sleep, sawing logs like he had a bridge to build. He, too, felt great and scampered up the hillside, which exhausted him, and he quickly collapsed into sleep when he got to the top. Apparently this took a great deal out of him, as he really never recovered from that climb.

The days in the high country were gorgeous - blue skies, a few puffy clouds, a cool breeze, and a high in the low 70's. The nights were clear and cool, dropping down into the upper 30's only once, with a bright full moon shining across the snow-capped mountains. There had been a great deal of snow in the high country, and with the warm weather of the past couple of weeks, the snowmelt created near flood conditions in all of the now raging streams and rivers. The Wildman recovered enough to grab the fly rod the very first afternoon and fill his time with thrashing trout. We bent down the barbs on the hooks of his flies, a little-known secret that not only allows the fish to be released a lot easier, and unharmed, but also saves the flies - he fished almost the entire time and only used two flies, only changing once to a different color. Most flies with barbs on the hooks would get torn up after a few fights, and the fish end up in much worst condition. We had camped next to a small snow bank, and happy hour began any time after noon each day, with the snow providing the basis for our patented Whiskey Sours. These were actually invented by the then ten-year-old son of Luke Collins. We all were on a hiking trip into the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, and he gathered up a cup full of snow, sprinkled a little lemonade power on it, poured some Wild Turkey over it, and handed it over to his dad. The Turkey melted the snow, and presto, instant Whiskey Sour! It is the standard OHTA mountain drink, and the Wildman and I enjoyed a number of them on our little trip.

We only ate trout once, four unfortunate souls that happened to have grown up in a little secret lake that I knew about a couple of miles from our campsite. No one ever fishes this little hole, but I have always found it to be full of 12-14 inch trout, which is larger than most of the rest up there (certainly there are much larger ones in the bigger lakes, but they take too much effort to catch - these are always willing to jump into the frying pan). We filled the trout with butter, fresh lemon juice and seasonings, wrapped them in foil, and baked them in the campfire coals. They were simply wonderful, better than any gourmet restaurant. Funny thing though, both of us had very strange dreams that night, totally unrelated, but the most bizarre that either of us could remember having in a long time. Perhaps the fish getting back at us, or providing us with further entertainment?

While I made a number of hikes around the area, I only had one really big day of hiking. The Wildman stayed behind and fished, and I went out to take a look at all of the trail work that my crews had done during the period between 1990 and 1994. We had built five log bridges, plus scores of turnpikes, boulder steps, waterbars, and new trail reroutes. It was of great comfort to me to find all of this work still in excellent shape and working fine. All of this work stuck out like a pretty bride among all of the other sub-par trail work that had been done by the Forest Service crews of the past. And apparently they didn't learn anything from my reign as trail chief, because the only bridge that they had built since my departure (from logs that my last crew had cut and stacked in place for them), was built wrong! I couldn't believe it. Idiots. Anyway, my hike was a fabulous one, full of exhilarating views and new discovery. I had worked in this very same valley for five summers, and yet found several new things, like a thundering waterfall on the main river. The river was so wild and thrashing, that I had to hike over two miles out of my way in order to find a safe crossing.

I visited all of my old haunts, and rambled cross-country across hillsides and meadows with ease. The deep snow at higher elevations kept me from making a big loop that I had wanted to do, and so after hiking about 15 miles - all of the trail that I could reach that wasn't snowbound - I returned to camp in early afternoon, just in time for a nice rain shower, and happy hour.

We reluctantly bid the high county farewell, and raced back across the desert of Kansas and Oklahoma, making another record of 17 hours drive! The humidity socked us in the face, but I knew that I would soon be back out at Cloudland, where nothing so far as damped my spirits.

Boy, I didn't mean to get off on that Western trip, but it was very nice. So was my return to Cloudland. It had just rained, and everything was fresh and green and plump and actually kind of cool. It had reached 91 degrees the week before outside, and 81 for a high inside. I unloaded a couple of granite boulders that I borrowed from a Wyoming field, set up a new water cooler, and left on a hike, happy that the cabin was no worse for my having been gone an entire week. I walked up to the big goat meadow, and was met there by three whitetail does grazing in the twilight. Funny, I only saw one animal in Wyoming, a big mule deer doe near camp. My favorite hickory trees had showered the path with nuts, making it nearly impossible to walk without bending over and picking up a few nuts to toss at nearby trees. There were hundreds and hundreds of hickory nuts on the ground. Euel Gibbons could make Grape Nuts for years from this harvest. ("Tastes like WILD Hickory Nuts...")

I ended up at the Crag, sat down and marveled at the exquisite view laid out before me. It was quite a dramatic change from the stunning views of the high country, but I felt even more relaxed here in my own backyard jungle. It was very quiet, and still, no breeze at all. As darkness fell, the volume of the summer bugs increased to a high pitch - cicadas, tree frogs, barred owls - they all got in the act. It got very dark in a hurry, and really loud. The sky began to dance with stars of all sizes and colors - the sky was really dark, and the bright lights stuck out. The light shows in the high country were wonderful, but a bright moon was always shining, so we never got to see many stars, at least not as bright and clear as this sky was. I must have been tired, because I retreated to a tree away from the Crag a little and fell sound asleep. Thank goodness there were no biting bugs out, or they would have eaten me alive. Hard to believe that I could go to sleep with the deafening sound of the summer creatures all about.

I don't remember what I was dreaming, or if I was at all, but all of a sudden I awoke, in a daze, and it took me a minute to figure out exactly where I was. Yes, I remember, the Ozarks jungle, the black night, a million bugs screaming in my ear. But it was very bright out, and there was hardly any sound at all. I struggled to my feet, still a little stove up from all the hiking in Wyoming, and walked out onto the Crag and was blinded by the bright moon rising over the far ridge - it was nighttime daylight, and the moonbeams lit up all the hills and valleys just like sunrise. But what was really strange, was that there was no sound at all - it's as if the night bugs had been hushed by the brilliance of the moonlight, like they had paused in their continous pursuit of high-pitched chatter to pay homage to the moon. This silence must have been what woke me up. I sat there on the Crag, in the moonlight, mesmerized by it all. Then a barred owl broke the silence from across the way, calling to anyone who would listen. One of these days I will have to learn how to call them so that I can carry on an intelligent conversation with these forest friends of mine. It seemed like this owl was the main spokesman for all the critters, for soon after his calls, the forest woke up again, and all the bugs and frogs started screaming at the top of their lungs. It was kind of neat, the pause in the verbal action, like everyone was sitting back and staring at the incredible spectacle of the rising moon as I had been doing. Wouldn't you just love to be a wild critter for a day, just to see what they are all about, what they think, and do and say to each other. Wow, what a gift that would be. Perhaps all of these bugs and critters are people who have gone before us, and we will indeed end up as a cicada or a tree frog or an owl. If so, I would pause and gaze at the rising moon just as they had done.

I made my way back to the cabin in the moonlight - as fine a hike as anyone could ever want. And the cabin looked as grand as any in the Rocky Mountains. My faithful guard dog Stable was waiting for me, or actually he was waiting to get out the door to pee. It was late, so I quickly drifted off to sleep inside, but with the summer bugs still ringing in my ears.

7/14/98 Daylight found the cabin engulfed with a fog bank - hey, it's CLOUDLAND! I was very tired and closed the blinds, but moved on over to the other side of the bed where I could gaze at the view from time to time. It was 8 o'clock before the fog had retreated enough for a really good view, which brought me out of the bed and out onto the back porch - WOW, what an incredible view! The sea of fog laid down on all the streams in the valleys, and stretched as far as you could see in all directions, with the ridges sticking up above it all. It took nearly an hour for the sun to burn everything off. It was very still, cool, and quiet. Only a few small birds were about, including my friend Mr. Bunting, singing from his dogwood perch.

7/16/98 I spent a great deal of my time back in town typing in the first month of this journal (late May and early June) so that I could upload it to the web page - this first part had been hand-written because I didn't have the computer at the cabin yet. While there is a certain satisfaction in writing in the journal with a pencil, I find it very slow, which means that I won't write as much, and there are many more misspelled and misplaced words. It took a long time to type all of the back pages in, but now everything is on the computer, with multiple copies (in case the cabin burns down or something should happen to the journal). As weeks are written, the pages will be printed out and put into the journal at the cabin. Of course, there will always be more neat stuff in the journal that simply can't be put into the computer easily, so the original "hard copy" of the journal will be the best reading.

I arrived on Cave Mountain late in the evening, after dark, and went by to check on Bob's. Everything was OK, but I discovered that his gardens had been raided by his caretaker Benny earlier in the week. I had planned to use some of the produce from the gardens for the feed at Cloudland on Saturday. Bob is still out of town on his bus tour of the Northeast.

The moon hadn't showed up yet, and I spent some time on the lower deck in the hammock, gazing at the incredible sky full of a zillion stars. It was dead still out, not a wisp of air moving. The summer bugs were as loud as I had ever heard them. Man, how did the pioneers and Indians ever get any sleep!

I set up a dehumidifier down in the basement that I bought at Lowes - it is really getting bad down there. I have all of the items needed to coat the concrete walls, but am still not sure if this is going to solve the problem. I have been waiting for them to dry out completely before I do the coating, but we seem to get just enough rain now and then to keep the seep alive, if that is what is happening at all - I won't know for sure until I get everything coated.

7/17/98 I slept in late, but did manage to get up, stumble out of bed and make it for breakfast of a blueberry bagel and Starbucks out on the deck before the morning show was over. It was dead still once again, and no clouds in the valley. The shadows from the early, low light in the valleys was fine, and it seemed like there were more little birds flying around - some even daring to land on the tree growing out of the lower deck. There are so many birds around in the meadow now, I just can't imagine how many there will be once I get any bird feeders up.

I hiked up to visit Bob's gardens to see what was left, and found a bunch of near-ripe tomatoes that I could use for the feed tomorrow. Eggplants were about ready (I need to learn how to cook them), and the field corn was way up over my head. Bob will use this stand of corn to make corn meal out of later in the fall (he give most of it away). Then I went over to the garden in the East meadow and didn't find much - tons of sweet corn, but it was still a week or so away. Looks like Benny had picked tomatoes a plenty. There were a few yellow squash ready. And the watermelons that Benny planted were coming along, but no actual melons yet - must be an August thing. There were lots of deer prints in the garden.

Benny had mowed the connection road between the two gardens, and out across the East meadow, which made the walking a lot nicer. There were a ton of spider webs out across the way though. I have received at least two dozen phone calls lately about hikers wanting to do the OHT, and the discussion has always ended up with "be sure to bring a head net for the spider webs." Most people never think of that, but in the woods a head net works wonders. Come to think of it, I FORGOT to bring mine!

It is quite pleasant back at the cabin. I cut and pulled some weeds in the front, sent a few e-mails, and did some journal work. It is clear blue outside, with no wind - I suspect that it is going to be hot today, which means I will be forced down to the river later for a swim. But for now have to decide between more work, reading another John Muir book, or a nap. Hum.

Well, I did them all. Followed Muir high up into the Sierras, worked a little, managed to sneak in a nap on the couch, and went hiking several times more. I found two different types of fungi that were interesting. First, a small but bright, lime green mushroom in the prefect mushroom shape was poking up from the middle of the trail - I'd never seen one that color before. Then I found a most unusual shelf fungi. It was rather large, about eight inches across, and growing right out of the ground, with the shelf about an inch above the ground. What was really strange about it was the fact that there were about a dozen shafts of grass growing right up through the shelf - these were the regular wide grass shafts (for lack of a better word), and didn't seem to be the least bit bothered by its location. I could not figure out if the grass had grown up through the fungi (the fungi shelf was very hard), or the fungi had grown around the grass.

There were also several brilliant red trees in the forest along the trail to the Crag. The leaves were as gorgeous as any in the fall. On one tree, all of the leaves had turned. On another, only three or four leaves at the end of a branch were red. Then I found several small copies of the trees near the ground, and they were completely turned. I could not identify the tree - there are a couple zillion species out here, and I can ID maybe a dozen or two. It's funny, how in the fall all of the experts weigh in with all of their scientific glop about what makes trees turn and when (and, of course, most of them are wrong on the timing, just like weatherpeople). And here we have some of the most brilliant color of the year, right in the middle of summer - I wonder how that fits into their scheme.

Many of the larger persimmon trees have dropped a lot of their fruit - about large marble size, and colored bright green, or deep green or deep purple. I've not seen this before, but then this is the first summer that I have really paid much attention to what was going on in the Ozarks. I bit into one of them and it was quite dry, not at all edible. Can't figure out why they are dropping them now, unless they need more rain. Also saw a lot more small hickory nuts on the ground, and lot of acorns. One of my favorite hickory trees, growing big and tall right out in the open, was full of BIG hickory nuts. It had dropped a lot of smaller ones a couple of weeks ago - perhaps this is just to rid the tree of some fruit before going on with the good stuff. Boy, when this baby drops its full load, I would like to be sitting under it with a strong umbrella. From out on the Crag, you can look down onto the tops of many big trees, and you can spot a few that are hickories - their same large nuts really stick out.

On one of my hikes I ended up at the mailbox and got the local paper. A hiker from Texas fell while hiking a couple of days ago and died. The spot was noted only as "Horse Shoe Canyon near Jasper." Elsewhere in the paper it was said to be near Low Gap, and then near Mt. Sherman. Someone also spoke of taking a hike there. I'm not sure where it is, but intend to find out. An outdoor photographer needs to know where a place with such a great name in his neighborhood is.

I brought back a bucket of tomatoes and white and yellow onions from the garden. Had a bunch of the tiny tomatoes with my giant salad that was dinner. The salad was perfect, and I felt great, having put in a lot of exercise today with not too much to eat. Then I got into this wonderful stuff that I bought at SAMS yesterday - had to go take another hike after pigging out (Viennese wafers filled with cream of hazelnut and cocoa).

It is dead still outside at dark, and no clouds at all. In a few minutes the sky will be filled with spots of light, all straining to light up the dark forest.

7/17/98 I slept in late, but did manage to get up, stumble out of bed and make it for breakfast of a blueberry bagel and Starbucks out on the deck before the morning show was over. It was dead still once again, and no clouds in the valley. The shadows from the early, low light in the valleys was fine, and it seemed like there were more little birds flying around - some even daring to land on the tree growing out of the lower deck. There are so many birds around in the meadow now, I just can't imagine how many there will be once I get any bird feeders up.

I hiked up to visit Bob's gardens to see what was left, and found a bunch of near-ripe tomatoes that I could use for the feed tomorrow. Eggplants were about ready (I need to learn how to cook them), and the field corn was way up over my head. Bob will use this stand of corn to make corn meal out of later in the fall (he give most of it away). Then I went over to the garden in the East meadow and didn't find much - tons of sweet corn, but it was still a week or so away. Looks like Benny had picked tomatoes a plenty. There were a few yellow squash ready. And the watermelons that Benny planted were coming along, but no actual melons yet - must be an August thing. There were lots of deer prints in the garden.

Benny had mowed the connection road between the two gardens, and out across the East meadow, which made the walking a lot nicer. There were a ton of spider webs out across the way though. I have received at least two dozen phone calls lately about hikers wanting to do the OHT, and the discussion has always ended up with "be sure to bring a head net for the spider webs." Most people never think of that, but in the woods a head net works wonders. Come to think of it, I FORGOT to bring mine!

It is quite pleasant back at the cabin. I cut and pulled some weeds in the front, sent a few e-mails, and did some journal work. It is clear blue outside, with no wind - I suspect that it is going to be hot today, which means I will be forced down to the river later for a swim. But for now have to decide between more work, reading another John Muir book, or a nap. Hum.

Well, I did them all. Followed Muir high up into the Sierras, worked a little, managed to sneak in a nap on the couch, and went hiking several times more. I found two different types of fungi that were interesting. First, a small but bright, lime green mushroom in the prefect mushroom shape was poking up from the middle of the trail - I'd never seen one that color before. Then I found a most unusual shelf fungi. It was rather large, about eight inches across, and growing right out of the ground, with the shelf about an inch above the ground. What was really strange about it was the fact that there were about a dozen shafts of grass growing right up through the shelf - these were the regular wide grass shafts (for lack of a better word), and didn't seem to be the least bit bothered by its location. I could not figure out if the grass had grown up through the fungi (the fungi shelf was very hard), or the fungi had grown around the grass.

There were also several brilliant red trees in the forest along the trail to the Crag. The leaves were as gorgeous as any in the fall. On one tree, all of the leaves had turned. On another, only three or four leaves at the end of a branch were red. Then I found several small copies of the trees near the ground, and they were completely turned. I could not identify the tree - there are a couple zillion species out here, and I can ID maybe a dozen or two. It's funny, how in the fall all of the experts weigh in with all of their scientific glop about what makes trees turn and when (and, of course, most of them are wrong on the timing, just like weatherpeople). And here we have some of the most brilliant color of the year, right in the middle of summer - I wonder how that fits into their scheme.

Many of the larger persimmon trees have dropped a lot of their fruit - about large marble size, and colored bright green, or deep green or deep purple. I've not seen this before, but then this is the first summer that I have really paid much attention to what was going on in the Ozarks. I bit into one of them and it was quite dry, not at all edible. Can't figure out why they are dropping them now, unless they need more rain. Also saw a lot more small hickory nuts on the ground, and lot of acorns. One of my favorite hickory trees, growing big and tall right out in the open, was full of BIG hickory nuts. It had dropped a lot of smaller ones a couple of weeks ago - perhaps this is just to rid the tree of some fruit before going on with the good stuff. Boy, when this baby drops its full load, I would like to be sitting under it with a strong umbrella. From out on the Crag, you can look down onto the tops of many big trees, and you can spot a few that are hickories - their same large nuts really stick out.

On one of my hikes I ended up at the mailbox and got the local paper. A hiker from Texas fell while hiking a couple of days ago and died. The spot was noted only as "Horse Shoe Canyon near Jasper." Elsewhere in the paper it was said to be near Low Gap, and then near Mt. Sherman. Someone also spoke of taking a hike there. I'm not sure where it is, but intend to find out. An outdoor photographer needs to know where a place with such a great name in his neighborhood is.

I brought back a bucket of tomatoes and white and yellow onions from the garden. Had a bunch of the tiny tomatoes with my giant salad that was dinner. The salad was perfect, and I felt great, having put in a lot of exercise today with not too much to eat. Then I got into this wonderful stuff that I bought at SAMS yesterday - had to go take another hike after pigging out (Viennese wafers filled with cream of hazelnut and cocoa).

It is dead still outside at dark, and no clouds at all. In a few minutes the sky will be filled with spots of light, all straining to light up the dark forest.

7/18/98 A little bird landed on the gutter overhead while I was sitting out on the back deck having breakfast and enjoying the morning. All I could see was his tail feathers, which were sticking out over the gutter. This little guy was there for nearly 15 minutes, bouncing up and down and moving back and forth. I never got to see any more of him than just these tail feathers, and I never really figured out what kind of bird it was. But it was fun trying to converse with these living tail feathers.

I spent a couple of hours cleaning up the cabin, getting ready for the arrival of guests for the first ever CLOUDLAND ERECTION PARTY. This was the first anniversary of when the logs were erected (actually, it was begun on the 17th, and lasted until late in the day on the 18th last year). I wanted to keep the numbers small for this party, so only invited eight people. Keeping the numbers under ten seems about right to me. The humidifier was working very well, and I had to empty the water container about every six hours - boy, it was sucking a great deal of water out of the air! And the basement wall was beginning to dry out.

Roy Senyard was the first to show up (Norma Meadors had to go to Ft. Smith to deal with plans for her daughter's wedding, and would be late getting here), quickly followed by The Wildman and Mary Chodrick, Bob and Dawna Robinson, and then Dean and Bonnie LaGrone (withe their two dogs Mocha and Cocoa). Everyone brought a ton of food and booze with them, along with great spirits.

It was getting hot, so several of us loaded up and headed down the hill for the swimming hole. Roy and Dawna stayed behind to guard the cabin, and the booze. The trail down to the river is getting worn in pretty good, and was fairly easy to follow. Only one of the dogs made it down the bluff, the other returning to home base. Lots of spider webs across the trail - I should have let someone else lead. The Wildman and Mary got a little behind, and ended up wandering off of the trail and bushwhacking through a thick stand of briars before finding the water. Just as we were about to reach the river, and I knew that I should have never opened my mouth, but I talked about how I had not seen a single snake all summer - really, not a single one, anywhere. And, of course, within minutes, as we reached the river, there was Mr. Snake, right at the edge of the water. It was a banded water snake, harmless and rather small, and it quickly swam off. But my streak had been broken. That happens a lot when you mention some streak. Hey, you know what, I have never won a million dollars before!

We all jumped into the warm water with shouts of glee. This is one of the things that can be enjoyed, even looked forward to, here in the Ozarks in the summertime. If more people had this wonderful swimming hole at their disposal, more people would love summer in Arkansas! Of course, this hole is available to everyone, plus thousands and thousands of others all over the state - they just have to make the effort to get to them. Dean talked about several great holes on the Buffalo in Boxley Valley, just downstream a few miles - these holes are a lot easier to get to, reached merely by walking across a pasture - but they are much more "public" than our little swimming hole, and you never know who, or how many other swimmers will be there.

I had urgent business back up at the cabin (needed to start making up some appetizers, and the bread dough in the bread machine was about to be ready), so I bid farewell and hurried back up the hill, making it all the way up without stopping. Roy hiked up to the garden to gather cherry tomatoes for diner, Dawna was out on the back deck enjoying view, the solitude and a good book. I put the Beatles on the stereo and went to cooking.

While taking a break down on the river, the swimmers had an unusual experience. They were all sitting off to the side, drying off on a flat rock that is slightly slanted towards the river, and ends down in the water. There is a good view upstream from there. Anyway, they were all laying around enjoying the day, when they heard splashing upstream. A doe deer had stepped into the shallow river upstream, and was slowly crossing, keeping an eye on the funny -looking critters that were sunning themselves on the rock downstream. She was almost across when out stepped another figure behind her - a spotted fawn. Wow, what a great scene. Where was I with my camera!!! As the fawn stepped into the river, it slipped, and went down, thrashing and splashing and making all kinds of commotion. Mom just looked back and smirked, and motioned to get on with it junior. The fawn regained its composure, then sort of hopped across the shallow water until it reached mom. After checking that her baby was OK, they both continued on across the dry river bank and into the woods, leaving their stunned viewers with big smiles on their faces.

The swimmers returned to the cabin, all sweaty, but proclaiming that it was not all that big of a climb up from the river (yea, right, only after they were handed a cold beer and told that they could indeed take quick showers). Norma arrived, and everyone fell into the familiar tone of party life. I passed out the hot appetizers and made pitchers of bushwhackers. The well-oiled party machine hit a snag with my gas grill sputtered and ran out of propane, just at the corn was about to be grilled. Ah ha said Roy, gas is no good, you need charcoal! No problem I said, I have a spare bottle. Sure enough, the spare was full of propane, but the fitting were not the same, so we were out of gas. And we had salmon filets to grill! Dean and Bonnie raided Bob's cabin and came back with a sack of charcoal briquets, so they set up a makeshift grill out in front and everything got back to normal.

Roy and The Wildman grilled the salmon to perfection, and we all enjoyed a splendid feast fitting of the first annual Cloudland Erection Party. The menu included the salmon, corn on the cob, broccoli/tomato dish, wild rice dish, special salad a 'la Bonnie, bread sticks, wine, and a wonderful cheesecake for dessert. Typical of the dinners at Cloudland. But it was the company that really made the meal, and the celebration. Friends like these are hard to find, and I have been blessed with quite a few of them. I plan to keep feeding them good food and drink for a long time to come!

Milancy McNamara, the business manager of the famous artist William McNamara (they both live within a mile as the crow flies from here), dropped by after dinner to look at the third set of proofs from the new Buffalo River picture book. The book is a collection of my photographs and Billy's paintings. Milancy and I sat on the office floor and worked through the proofs, while The Wildman tested the range of his personal cannon (a .44 magnum revolver) off of the back deck (it was rather loud!). Everyone else ate cheesecake.

Once all the cheesecake was gone, the party wound down and everyone actually got to bed before midnight. The stars were out and dancing their spectacular dance as usual. So were the no-see-ums. Dean and Bonnie were driven into the cabin by early morning by the pesky little buggers. Before that happened though, one of their dogs got all excited by a "large, lumbering creature" that was stirring about in the woods next to the cabin. Perhaps it was the cinnamon bear checking things out, the smell of grilled salmon being too much to ignore. If it was him, he never made a formal appearance.

7/19/98 I got up soon after sunrise to make coffee, and wandered out to the back deck with my own little vile of Starbucks. Bob and Dawna were already up, perched in the high deck chairs, with their legs dangling over the log railing, chattering like a couple of squirrels. This is one of the best things about Cloudland - it creates a space, if you will, for couples, friends and soon-to-be either, to gather and converse in a comfortable and perhaps even stimulating environment. I noted that they were up early (after a big party), and they recalled that I had said that the best hour of the day was between 6am-7am, and they didn't want to miss a single second.

They related the following story about a minor wildlife struggle they had just witnessed. A bee and an ant had a minor war. It seems the bee had a hole in the tree right in front of the deck, and was buzzing about. One of those large carpenter ants climbed up and was trying to get into the hole - there was probably some sweet sap or something running out of it that he was interested in, although, it doesn't take all that much for an ant to become a pest. Anyway, the ant kept trying to get to the hole, and the bee kept dive bombing him and shooing him away. Finally, it looked like the bee had lost interest, and the ant made it to the opening of the hole. It seemed like he turned around just for an instant to be recognized by all who were watching that he had indeed reached his goal, and then the bee returned and knocked him right off of the tree and sent him into space. Score one for the bee.

I sat back and enjoyed the new day as well, and one by one the rest of the cabin came alive and ended up on the back deck too. Before long, the deck looked like some big lodge deck, with most all of the seats filled with people, all bubbling over with stories and conversation and contentment. This continued long into the morning - a fine way to begin the day!

Roy and Norma spent the night in the basement bedroom, and mentioned that a ceiling fan might be good down there - Roy got a little warm, and when questioned, I found out that he only got warm because he was zipped up in his sleeping bag! It was 69 degrees in the basement. But it brought up the point that I really do need to get that bedroom finished off and a real bed put in. That way, guests could sleep under a sheet instead of having to cover up with a thick sleeping bag. I need to get on with that project.

Dean and Bonnie bid farewell, and headed off to visit their own property over on Walker Mountain across Boxley Valley (they will have a wonderful cabin there someday, and I plan to spend some time on their back deck!). Bob and Dawna went out for a hike, up to the Faddis garden, then down to the Crag, and back to the cabin. Some friends from Ozone came by to see the cabin. It was Decoration Day at Cave Mountain Church, and they had come over for the celebration. They were all Sparks people, and one of the most interesting of the old homestead sites down along the Buffalo belonged to their ancestors - the cabin with two stone chimneys. There were a lot of little kids in tow, and is typical of the mountain families around here. Nice folks. The Wildman and Mary headed back to town.

The rest of us packed up and headed down to the swimming hole once again, leaving Dawna behind with her books. She had a few other visitors during the afternoon, including Willie Faddis, the guy that I bought the land for Cloudland from (he is a chicken farmer in Gravette, and grew up at the Faddis cabin). One of the Woods boys came by, Danny and his daughter. Bob bought his additional 80 acres from the Woods boys and their dad. Danny was there on that dreary winter day when I sat down with all of them and made the deal for Bob to buy their land. They are super people, and we are fortunate that they continue to be involved in the land here. Dawna got to spend some time talking to all these folks, and apparently learned a great deal of the history of the area from them (she was gone when I got back to the cabin, and learned of all this only by her note).

Down at the river, the water seemed a little cooler than usual, perhaps because it was still morning, and it hadn't had a chance to warm up enough. Still, it felt terrific, and we swam and dove and played in the big hole. Roy called me over to look at a swarm of bluegills fighting over a spot on the river. As we watched through our swim masks, there were indeed dozens of bluegill and other small fish fighting and playing and generally making a big fuss over a small spot of the river bottom, about four feet down. It seemed like it might be a nest, but there was no clear fish in charge. As we watched in amazement, a GIANT smallmouth bass swam over and immediately chased everyone else away - it was clearly her nest, and she must have been scared off when Roy came by, and the others took advantage and were attacking with vengeance. As we watched, the old girl did her best job of keeping all the others away, but they kept nudging in. The rocks below her were all cleaned off, and she seemed intent on guarding her nest.

On another part of the river, much shallower, I had noticed about seven or eight piles of stones that looked a lot like the ones the bass was guarding. It appeared that these stones had been piled up there, one at a time, and some of the piles were six inches tall and about two feet in diameter. I assumed that they were places that fish had built, then laid eggs in. Although none of these locations were being guarded. Roy noted that there were many tiny minnows swarming around one of them - new fish from the nest perhaps? I would have loved to seen the fish building these nests!

We waded/swam/floated downstream, visiting several other pools and stretches of the river. There is one large flat boulder that is laid out in the middle of one pool. I found this rock many years ago, right after I bought Cloudland, and have often camped on top of it - it is covered with a thick layer of moss. I was appalled to discover a firering built on top of it! Good grief, come on people, how stupid can you get! I thought that everyone knew by now that firerings were not only totally unnecessary, but were nothing but an eyesore on the wilderness that would last a long time. Whoever built this one was not only stupid, but a criminal. What part of NO FIRERINGS do you not understand? Anyone who builds a firering is a fool. Pure and simple.

Anyway, none of the pools were as deep or as nice as our main pool, although I did have a great time exploring around the edges of each and every one of them. In the last one, as I was creeping around the boulders at the edge, just underwater with my mask, I came across two small bluegills, staring right back at me. I got a little closer and examined their brilliant blue masks - boy, these guys were brightly colored! They parted and let me pass, but they seemed to be guarding the entrance something. Sure enough, way back in the shadows, up against a wall of rock, there was a much larger bluegill - this one was a large as my hand! She was very wide as well, and seemed to be guarding a nest. She stared at me and dared me to approach closer. Somehow I knew that she really meant business, so I stopped my progress, and just sat there and watched. Her eyes were digging holes in me. She was hovering about two inches above the cleaned-off pebbles below, only having to twitch a side fin once in a while to stay in place. While I was there, several little fish approached, and she quickly darted at them and chased them off. This was one mean little mamma! I thanked her for the show, backed off, and went on with my exploration.


After taking a few pictures back up at the main swimming hole (I used Norma as a subject for some "right way and wrong way to photogaphy people" pictures that I had to do for a TV show next week), Bob left, and Roy, Norma and I laid back on the sunning rock, now in shade, and soaked up the afternoon. Norma got out a Nero Wolf book, and read it out loud. It was a great little book, but her voice was quite soothing - Roy's snores soon mingled with the sounds of the burgling water, the birds, the wind, and Norma's Nero Wolf. It was a wonderful hour of relaxation! All too soon I headed back up the hill to began making pizzas for supper, leaving Roy and Norma to commune with nature alone. I made it back up the hill to the cabin in 18 minutes. Lordly, I was HOT. Even after a cold shower, I had to lay down on the bed with the ceiling fan going full blast for ten minutes before I really cooled down. This is one of the coolest spots in the cabin - I made sure of that when I built the place by putting the big fan down low, right over the bed - I have to sleep cool at night!

I met Roy and Norma at the front door with a frosted mug of cold beer - they looked like hell, exhausted and soaked from the climb - not nearly as exhilarated as at the end of their last climb up during the big rainstorm. After showers they got back to normal. We all feasted on Cloudland pizza - too much of it actually. I hit the couch while Norma cleaned up my mess in the kitchen, then the young couple departed and left me with the quiet sounds of the evening.

There is always a little depression that sets in after an all-too-short weekend with good friends. And I must say that the normal regimen of having to spend hours cleaning up after such a party simply does not happen at Cloudland - the messes are almost always cleared away and cleaned up by my group of friends before they leave. Gosh, they bring booze and food and great conversation and wonderful personalities, and they even clean up! What more could one ask for? I value, no I treasure my friends.

It was an early evening for me. I sat out in the hammock and watched the stars come out, read a little, then retired.

(Here are some of the notes left by my weekend guests:)

"The hike to the river was a sweaty feat; But OH that water did take off the heat! The dinner of salmon, assorted veggies and such; Wine and spirits, I imbibed too much! The setting so stunning, the cabin so right; Peace, tranquility and Oh the Stars at night! The weekend's been a pleasure, Tim Ernst you're quite a host; And in this journal, its to you I toast! (If you don't like my poetry please remember this quote: 'I'm not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you're not in this world to live up to mine. But if by chance we meet, it's beautiful.')" ---Bonnie LaGrone

"It was good, it was bad, but I'm much glad that I'm here!" ---The Wildman

"There is such a feeling of peace here and a sense of belonging. The view, the wind, the sound of the birds as we awakened on the deck bring us peace. The belonging comes from a wonderful host who lets us share his dream and encourages us to pursue ours. Thanks for another great weekend at Cloudland." ---Dawna Robinson (Moose)

"Thanks for including us in the celebrating the anniversary of the final log on the cabin." ---Bob Robinson

"I've been swimming in lots of nice places, but the pool at the base of your mountain is luscious. A little sunburn, a little exploring, a little contemplation of nature. What a great day! Thanks for the pizza with six kinds of cheese!" Norma Meadors

7/20/98 There was a thin haze in the air at dawn, the yellow sun stirring up the breeze a little. I sat on the deck and finished the pizza for breakfast, while birds flew hither and yawn (I've always wanted to say that), and squirrels barked and gathered nuts. I rigged up the dehumidifier so that it would run all the time, draining into a floor drain in the basement (instead of it shutting off every time the water bucket was full). Then I wrote in the journal, gathered up the laundry and trash, bid Cloudland farewell, and headed back into the oven of civilization. I would soon return.

7/21/98 The evening sun was filtering through the forest with a rich orange glow, calling to me to get out and explore. I stopped the van even before I reached the cabin and went for a hike. You can head out in any direction here, and follow old log roads, trails, or just amble through the open woods or meadows.

Some of the woods are rather thick at this time of year, but it always amazes me how some of the forested areas have almost no underbrush whatsoever. These remind me of the pictures that I have seen of the old wilderness parks of Europe, the ones that have been set aside for hundreds of years. I suspect this is what the Ozarks used to look like all over, with giant white oak trees that towered a hundred feet or more in the air, their heavy canopies blocking out the sun so that underbrush couldn't grow. Now I find the open underbrush to be in groves of maple trees. It is quite a sight to come over a rise and look down onto an open bench below, a maple bench of fairytale forest.

I was tired, and didn't get a single thing accomplished once I got to the cabin, except for some sitting on the back deck and admiring the nightime sky. Guess the city swelter wore me out.

7/22/98 I woke up early and got a wild hare to run on down to the river for an early morning swim. It was hazy out, and the sun barely shown through. The forest was still asleep as I stumbled on down the steep hillside. And the water was rather chilly! I plunged into the big swimming hole and did a few laps, having a conversation or two with the fishes along the way. One thing about skinny dipping when you are a guy - it is not always a good idea to do so when there are pesky little fishes around. Think about it.

The hike back up the hill actually felt pretty good, although I was drenched when I arrived back at the cabin. I took a cold shower and fixed a little early lunch. There was some wonderful smoked ham left over from the weekend, but it needed a little something extra. I thought about all the sweet corn in Bob's East garden. He was still out of town. So I hiked on up the hill and swiped a couple of fresh ears. Lots of tomatoes on the vines too.

I learned all about cooking and eating sweet corn at an early age from my grandpa, who had one of the largest sweet corn farms in Minnesota. I used to spend most of the month of August there, just as the corn was getting ripe. We had corn at least two meals a day, and I never got tired of it! To this day, I still eat my corn the same way that he showed me how to when I was about six or seven years old. The rest of you can do what you like, but there is only one best way to eat fresh corn on the cob. There are lots of great ways to cook it, but only one way to eat it. The quckest way to cook it is simply to boil it, and only for about four minutes - any longer and you just ruin the tenderness and cook out the flavor. Then you cut the corn off of the cob. I know, I know, how could I do such a thing. But I promise you, you will not only get MORE of the corn this way, but it will be a lot SWEETER than if you bite it off of the cob. Plus, it is a lot less messy to eat, especially if you are a hairy guy like me. Once cut off, I put butter, pepper, salt, and a dash of thyme on it. NOTHING in this world is so good!!!

I'm not sure if I have written this elsewhere in this journal before, but since I was talking about my grandpa, I will put it down here. He is the one responsible for my desire all of my life to own and live in a log cabin in the wilderness. The very first time that I remember going to the farm in Minnesota was actually in the winter. Just my mom and I drove up. In these northern farm houses, there was always an area where you put on or took off all of your heavy clothes and boots. I remember sitting down to take my shoes off and seeing two things on the wall opposite me. One was a double-barrel shotgun. The other was this most incredible painting, an image that immediately had a major impact on my perception of the world, and implanted not only my desire to have a log cabin, but also created the impression of what "wilderness" would come to mean to me. The watercolor showed a trail leading to a log cabin at the edge of a lake, with smoke coming out of the chimney and a warm glow from the fireplace seen through the windows, and in the background was a snow-capped mountain, and a waterfall pouring into the far end of the lake, the entire scene being lit by a full moon. The moon, a waterfall, a hiking trail, the log cabin - does this sound like me or what! I was mesmerized by the painting, and I always ran to see it as soon as I would arrive each summer. I have no idea who did the painting, but have seen many similar ones that were done by Thomas Kinkade.

Years later, when both of my mom's parents died, she asked me if there was anything of theirs that I wanted - THE PAINTING! It isn't really not all that much, and was in a cheap frame, but it is the only thing that hangs in my bedroom at home, and it is the very first thing that I see when I wake up. I have never brought it out to Cloudland, well, I guess because Cloudland IS that painting. Anyway, ever since that winter day way back in 1960, I have wanted to live in a log cabin. Thanks grandpa!

A couple of years ago, while watching a rerun of The Waltons on TV, my mouth dropped open when I spotted the very same painting on John Boy's bedroom wall - really, the exact same painting. It appeared in dozens of episodes. I even taped one segment of the show just to stop the frame and compare the two. I guess it was drepression era art.

After my sweet meal of corn and ham, I spent the day down in the basement, putting up peg boards and organizing tools, and installing a water filter on the main waterline. While the well water is seldom ever dingy, once in a while it is, and it has been staining the inside of the dishwasher, although the dishes are always fine. I suspect some of this might be leftover clay residue in the lines from when the waterline was broken last fall.

"Whenever we go to the mountains, we find more than we seek." ---John Muir

7/23/98 Hot, hot, hot. And muggy. There was a great cloudburst in town during the day, which dropped the temperature down to 70, but when I arrived back at Cloudland late in the day, there didn't appear to have been any rainfall at all. The rain guage confirmed this. We've had less then two inches of rain this month. Actually, I would like for the rain to hold off a little longer, at least until I can get the basement wall painted with the waterproof covering. The de-humidifier has been doing a great job, and it is not only quite dry down there, but the noisy machine as actually been shutting itself off now and then because it has been lowering the humidity. Since it warms up the basement when it is running, this is good news. It has raised the temp down there by three or four degrees.

For the first time in a long while, I got out the guitar and spent an hour playing. One of my problems out here has always been that I have been unable to find a comfortable spot to play. I sat just about everywhere and still couldn't find a good place, one that lets me sit upright and supports my back, while allowing free movement of the guitar. The only place that I have found is sitting on the carpeted floor in the loft, leaning up against the log wall. The music sounded pretty good, although the sounds coming from the strummer were less than desirable. My fingers wore down in a hurry - I really need to trade this wonderful steel-stringed instrument in for a classical one with the softer strings. The thin steel strings really dig into my tender fingers. Of course, if I would play an hour or three a day, the fingers would soon get in good shape. I really hate to get rid of this guitar, although I have barely ever played it. The thing is really a piece of fine art, with its maple back and sides being as fine an example of man's crafting of Mother Nature as I have ever seen. I should just set it in a stand in the middle of the great room for all to admire.

After my fingers gave out, I landed in the hammock on the lower deck, and spent some time gazing at the stars and listening to the music of the night. There was a light haze in the air, so the stars were muted, but still a delight. There was also quite a bit of heat lightening going on somewhere, but it must have been a long ways off because there weren't really flashes of light, but it was rather like the entire sky twinkled just a little every now and then.

2/24/98 For the first time in a long while, it was cooler outside than in at daybreak. There was no sunrise, just a gradual lightening of the forms outside, as the greys and blacks turned to shades of green and lighter greys. It was hazy, and there appeared to be some low clouds hanging around. Hardly any breeze at all. In fact, July has been rather calm, with the high wind only topping out at 17mph.

Mr. Bunting was waiting for me, perched in his normal location in the dogwood tree right were the branch was broken off by the storm, his blueness standing out against all of the green background of the trees. It sounded like he wanted me to know that I should leave the singing to the professionals, such as himself. He sang and sang and sang. I noticed, for the first time, that there was a group of bright yellow wildflowers down in the right hand corner of the meadow. They were pretty big, and I needed to go down and see what kind they were. All of a sudden, one of the flowers got up and moved about ten feet. What? It moved again. I went to get the binocs, and what I found was the most brilliantly colored Goldfinch that I had ever seen. His yellow body was as richly yellow as the wildflowers, and his coal black head and wing tips looked really weird. Come to think of it, the wildflowers also had some coal black parts. He was a perfect wildflower, with his colors just rearranged a little. Or were the wildflowers the goldfinch? He was playing in the flowers, and seemed to be eating seeds from them. He would sit on one for several minutes, then fly to another. I would like to get the bunting and the goldfinch together on the same branch.

While I was concentrating on the birds out in the meadow, a humming bird came by, inspected the tree in the deck very closely, working his way around and up the trunk, then he came in under the porch, hovering close to the rocking chair that has a pad on it. I wondered why he choose that particular chair to look at, but then I realized that there was a floral pattern on the pad - smart little bird! I have been hesitating to put up the great hummer feeder that Jim and Susie gave me last month, mainly because I didn't know how to anchor it to keep it from being blown to bits by the high winds. But now that the high winds have been reduced to calm breezes, I must make up some sugar solution and hang it.

While it never felt like there were birds everywhere this morning, there was a constant parade of different kinds of birds, each waiting their turn to make an appearance. Several chickadees made a big racket nearby. I've always thought that their noises are nothing more than laughter. A Pileated woodpecker came screaming through, always loud, always annoying, but always a welcome guest. I counted at least fourteen bird calls that I could not identify, nor see the birds that made them.

Looking at the telescope, and after watching the way that guests try to aim it, I realized that folks have all but ruined the screw plate. When the tele is on the tripod (which is most of the time), and someone wants to point it at something, they don't try to move the tripod head like you are supposed to do, they always just grab the telescope and try to move it. This doesn't work. What it does do is tear up the tripod attachment on the base of the telescope. Now the scope won't mount to the tripod. I guess if I ever get it fixed, I will have to put some sort of sign on it. Good grief, I thought everyone knew how to use a tripod!

There is a large tree across the way on the Boen Gulf hillside that appears to be turning yellow. I remember a tree in that general area as being the first to turn green back in March or April. I wonder if it is the same tree? I will keep an eye on it.

Yesterday, I got a new laser printer for the office in Fayetteville. I brought the old printer out to the cabin, and hooked it up this morning. At last, a printer at Cloudland! You wouldn't think that getting a laser printer for a computer in a log cabin in the middle of the wilderness would be a priority, or even a necessity, but this will allow me to print out the journal and keep the physical journal up to date. For the last several weeks, the on-line journal was more up to date than the real thing, since I have had to wait until I went home to print out any pages. Progress in the wilderness!

I hiked up to raid both gardens, filled my basket with cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, green peppers, squash, and sweet corn. The garden in the East meadow had been visited by deer, and they were taking a toll on the melon crop. About a dozen of the young melons were either partially or completely eaten. The only tracks in the dirt were deer tracks. Some of the melons were all eaten except for part of the shell - they had scraped them clean! Others only had a bite or two out of them. And I found one shell in the middle of the corn patch - carried there over twenty feet. Last year Bob had said that all of his canteloupe were eaten by the bear - I guess he must have found the tracks - but I wonder if the deer were not to blame for that as well. Deer are such wonderful critters to see in the wild, so gentle, and personable and beautiful. But they can get rather destructive to crops for sure. I guess it is their garden too!

Lunch was made up of the fruits of my raiding, and I gorged myself until I couldn't move. All I could do was sit out on the deck and watch the soaring birds, which numbered in the dozens. They were all playing in the air, swooping and turning and diving, and coming in very close to the deck. Eventually eight or nine of them landed in the dead snag at the edge of the meadow. It was hot. I got to thinking about that snag. I've seen the buzzards there, doves, hawks, jays, cardinals, and Scarlet tanagers. It seems to attract everyone who flies by. Kind of like the only bench in a park I guess. I'll bet there have been some wonderful stories told by the perchers. If only that tree could talk!

I spent some time down in the basement washing the bottom of the cement wall with a solution of Muric acid and water. Not sure if it did any good. I do know that it made the wall all wet again! Things are looking a lot better down there in the tool/junk room, especially since I put up the peg boards and hooks. Now I seem obsessed with wanting go hang something every time that I walk in there. I also decided that I would buy and put up an outside storage shed, not too large, to hold any tools that are strictly outdoor tools - like chainsaw & fuel, shovel, pry bar, etc. - which would free up more space in the tool room.

As I was emptying out the acid bucket outside, I looked up and noticed green swirling clouds overhead, and to the west, BLACK clouds! Just then a bolt of lightening hit nearby and rattled the deck. Oh boy, a storm! For some reason, instead of running out into the storm like I am prone to do, I choose instead to come inside and sit down and experience this storm at the computer, which is what I am doing now. I can hear the storm cell moving closer, and it has begun to rain. Flashes of light are all around. BOOM! There goes a big bolt of thunder off to my right, and it was only two seconds after the lightening bolt. Wow, here comes the rain for real - it is pouring, and blowing as hard as I have ever seen it pour here. Wow, Beagle hill has completely disappeared, and I can hardly seen even the end of the lower deck through the blowing rain. 36mph says the gauge. Wasn't I just talking about no wind this month? CRASH!!! Another strong bolt hit somewhere nearby. I was holding onto the cabin walls when that one hit and the entire cabin really shook, like a truck slammed into the front of the place. The bolts are coming about every ten seconds now. The trees that I can barely see outside are twisting and thrashing about, and there are numerous branches with leaves attached flying by. And now, hail, about pea size, is thumping the metal roof. More rain, and wind, and lightening, and THUNDER! Man, is it loud with the windows open. I have to close them because the rain is blowing in.

As quickly as the cell hit, it is now moving off. The black clouds are now visible over the valley to the east, and Mossville is about to get pounded. You can hear the thunder echo up and down the various valleys. It is still flashing. The rain has all but stopped. I can see far up Whitaker Creek that steam clouds are beginning to form in the valley - they are slowly rising up to the sky. There is still heavy rain in the Buffalo Valley upstream, and black clouds overhead. I can see up that way about five miles to Curtis Cemetery. There is clear sky a long ways off under the black. The temperature dropped 15 degrees in about five minutes. Wow, it smells wonderful outside - Mr. Clean has just come by, and he wasn't using Pine Sol!

Large steam clouds are forming just off Whitaker Point out back, and on up the Buffalo Valley. They are moving fast the opposite direction of the storm, working their way up Whitaker Creek, and boiling up over the point and across the meadow. I just ran around and opened all of the windows - I try to do that whenever the temperature is lower outside than in (closing them when it is hotter outside - this helps cool down the cabin and keep it that way). The remnants of the storm are blowing through the cabin now, moving papers around and sweeping the cabin air clean. The power never went off. It rained .86 inches.

I can hear more thunder off to the West - another cell approaching! It has begun to rain again now, only slower. And while there is a great deal of thunder building, with flashes every few seconds, the lower sky is light, and I can see all the way to Buffalo Fire Tower. Perhaps I need to get out and play in this storm. But soon the rain stopped, and all was calm. I sat back on the deck and spent an hour watching the best ever show of steam/fog/clouds down in the valleys. They were building up in the main Buffalo valley, then were racing up each and every hollow, no matter how big. It was a very active fog playground. And the battery in my camera was dead. All I could do was sit and enjoy. Oh darn.

Eventually, all of the fog went away, and the sky broke up a little, but still remained mostly cloudy. I decided to hike out to the mail box and get Bob's paper, and see what I could find on the ground.

Storms blow all kinds of neat stuff from up in the trees and ends up on the ground. Stuff that you would never see otherwise. There was all kinds of green leaves and branches on the ground, plus a number of brilliantly colored orange and red leaves, turning a few months too soon. I discovered that the orange trees that I had seen a week or two ago were young cowcumber trees. And today I spotted a very strange object on the ground under one of them. At first I thought it was a young, naked bird blown out of its nest. Or perhaps it was a mouse that hadn't survived the blow. It was a mass of slick red and grey, with a couple of orange eyes popping out. Son of a gun, it was the fruit from the cowcumber tree! But it looked nothing like the cucumber fruit of just a few weeks ago. There were actually several "eyes," which were seeds popping out. A strange looking mass of color. And later, under what looked like hickory tree, were red cucumber fruits - they looked just like the cowcumber fruit that I had seen before, only they were red in stead of green, and had fallen from a hickory tree - I need to go back and confirm whether I am going nuts, or they really did come from the hickory tree.

As I walked through the Faddis meadow, the air was filled with grasshoppers. Not everyone realizes that they not only hop quite well, but they also fly, and these guys were doing a lot of flying.

A wild turkey hen burst into the air with a great deal of commotion. I have seen this lady in the same spot several times, so she must be guarding a nest in the area. Few things in nature are as startling than a big old turkey taking to the air. It is a wonder how they can get off of the ground with all that mass. I guess that is one reason why they make so much noise - it takes a lot of wing flapping to get enough lift!

There were a ton of new small persimmons on the ground, dark purple as well as bright green, plus lots of hickory nuts - many much larger now. It was a wonderful fruit and nut year! Although, I noticed that all of the blackberries had vanished. I was sort of waiting them out, until the vines got just right, only snatching a handful or two every now and then. Now they were all gone. I think they did all get ripe, and then were all eaten by birds before I could get a hold of them. (This actually happened a week or two ago, but I just now remembered it.)

No vehicles had come in since the rain, but it looked like Eddie Silcott had gone over to his place. I should go down and see what all he has done, although I hesitate to do so until invited. I think he is still mainly clearing and cleaning and getting ready to build a cabin. He found his property in a novel way. He couldn't find anything for sale to buy, so he went down to the courthouse in Jasper, looked up all the property owners in the area, and called many of them to see if they would sell any land to him. Sure enough, he found a guy living in Colorado (I think that is where he was from) that sold him a very nice parcel that borders the wilderness area and Dug Hollow. There was an old homeplace there and some open fields. He tore down the home place, and has cleaned up the fields (lots of old junk cars). It will be one terrific place once he gets something built.

I got the papers, left them at Bob's, and strolled back to Cloudland just as the sun was setting. The clouds really lit up with some great color - vibrant oranges and reds and yellows, and some muted, more delicate colors as well. There were dozens of bats out patrolling, and it was a wonderful sight to see them silhouetted against those colorful clouds. Go bats, go bats, eat them bugs! Everything had been scrubbed clean by the rains, and smelled great. All was well on my little mountaintop world.

7/25/98 It was nearly 6:30 before the sun rose above the ridge - I was out on the back deck just waiting for it. There was a cool breeze blowing, it was 71 degrees, and it was a little chilly as I sipped on my Starbucks Mocha. There were a few clouds down in the valley, but most had worn themselves out playing the day before. After getting some more work done in the basement, I was going to return to town for a short visit with my brother and his wife who were down from St. Louis for the weekend. Then it would be back to Cloudland for more of my fix.

As I was driving off, I noticed some sort of track in the fresh dirt that I had piled up and smoothed down in the low area next to the entrance staircase. I paid it no mind, but noted that it must be fresh, as the hard rain of the day before beat everything down there - I had been watching the water patterns during the rain to see how my little mound of dirt was doing. Anyway, when I got back to the cabin later in the day, I looked at the track. SON OF A GUN - IT WAS A BEAR TRACK!!! And within two feet of the first step. The rest of the area is surrounded by rocks, so this was the only place that one could have made a track. It appeared that the bear had been up on the porch, probably on Friday night or early Saturday, and stepped off into this dirt. It wasn't all that large, 4 1/2" across by 5" long, probably a yearling bear, or even a large cub. This is the very first time that any bear sign has ever been found on the South side of the ridge that divides my place with Bob's Woods Place. That ridge has always served as some sort of boundary line. No more. We have live bears at Cloudland! I found it funny that the bear track was right at the foot of one of the carved wooded bears. Now I find myself spending more time looking out the front window.

After lots of grilled veggies for dinner, and a few hours of following Muir through Alaska, I retired to the porch swing to greet and enjoy all that the nighttime had to offer. It was rather warm for me - 78 degrees - but the wind was blowing 10-12mph, and it was very comfortable. Before it got completely dark, I had a feathered visitor. A large barred owl swooped up out of no where and landed on the lower branch of the tree that grows out of the lower deck. He knew exactly where he was. He peered at me with those huge eyes, swayed his head back and forth a couple of times, then launched himself up and over the cabin and out of sight. I felt graced by his visit.

I must have fallen asleep in the swing, and was awakened by a large crash around 11pm. It took me a minute to figure out where I was. There was a big thunderstorm passing out in front of my view, and it was full of lightening. The wind kicked up to nearly 30mph. Lots of flashes and booms. But it never rained a drop. It passed by slowly, then the sky opened up with its brilliant display of a million tiny lights. Up Whitaker Creek a ways I heard the lonely call of a Barred owl, perhaps the one that I had seen. No one answered.

7/26/98 Late sunrise, mostly clear, nice breeze blowing. I slept in and eventually laid around on the back deck watching the morning fade away, then got some computer work done. Later in the morning a friend, Kevin Myatt, who is one of the editors of the Batesville paper stopped by. He had been in Eureka Springs for a press club convention. While he is much to modest to make anything of it, he won first place for one of his articles that he had written during the year, and placed second for another. Batesville is not a mecca for hikers, but many of his articles are about hiking, since that is one of the main things that he does during his free time.

While we on out on the back deck, the soaring birds put on quite a show. There were about a dozen buzzards circling in one group, and there was a red tailed hawk with them. This hawk stayed pretty much in formation with them for nearly twenty minutes, and would move right along when the formation moved. The buzzards didn't seem to pay him much mind. Later, two red tailed hawks came in close by, riding the currents coming up out of the valley. The smaller one was really giving the larger one a lot of grief - kind of like when you see smaller birds picking on a crow or something. But these were both the same kind of hawks. Perhaps the smaller one was a female, and there was something going on there that we weren't privy to.

After Kevin left, I finished up my travels with John Muir up in Alaska. He was really quite something, and I am glad that I have finally been able to spend some time reading his books.

Soon it was time to go hiking, and I headed up the hill to see what the afternoon would show me. One of the first things that I found was a tiny, miniature feather. It was not more than 1/4 inch long, but almost as wide, very fluffy, with half of it almost pure white, and the outer half being bright red. It must have some from the breast of a Scarlet tanager or something like that. Later I discovered that the red fruit that I had talked about being from a hickory tree was actually a cowcumber tree - duh. There are two of these trees growing together just inside Bob's property line along the road.

In the spot where all of the wild bergamot was growing, there were now these wonderful, delicate purple wildflowers, standing nearly six feet tall. And like the wild mint before, they too were covered with the same orange butterflies, one assigned to each bunch of flowers on a stalk. These stately wildflowers were actually ironweed. We seem to have a lot of very beautiful "weeds" out there at this time of the year!

When I got to the garden in the East meadow, I confirmed what I had said about the deer eating the melons. I got to thinking that perhaps a bear had eaten the melons before the heavy rain on Friday, and then his tracks were washed away. But there were at least two melons that had been eaten since I had been there on Friday, and the only tracks around were deer tracks. Guilty!

It was a most pleasant walk in the evening breeze. I found dozens and dozens of leaves on bushes and small trees and even some poison ivy that were turning bright oranges, yellows and reds. One entire tree was engulfed with a poison ivy vine that was brilliant red. If these guys can hold off long enough, I think that we may be in for a spectacular fall color season. Some of the brightest leaves were sassafras leaves. Two of them were huge.


I gathered some of the colored leaves, along with a bit of the fruit that I picked up along the way, and took a picture of them all on Bob's deck. Hickory nuts, persimmon fruit, cucumber magnolia fruit, plus six or eight types of leaves, showing their fall color in the middle of summer.

Back at the cabin I did a little more reading, worked on a design for an OHTA volunteer mug, answered some e-mail, and made a few phone calls. While this cabin is basically right in the middle of wilderness, I am still able to stay in contact with the rest of the world, which is critical for me right now. It seems to me to be the perfect match of wild and civilization - just enough civilization, and an amount that I can control. I got about 15 e-mails this weekend, which I prefer now over a phone call or letter anytime. Well, I take that back. No communication can beat a great love letter. An e-mailed one is fine, but there is just something about that little extra human touch that makes a difference.

I also took a few pictures of the inside of the cabin. With a real camera on a tripod. If any of them turn out, I will post them on the pictures page in a couple of days. I've got this live TV interview on Tuesday that I have to shoot some pictures for.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but the evening breeze was nice and cool, and darkness found me napping in the porch swing. While the fireflies seem to have died out quite a bit, the stars were as brilliant as I had ever seen them out here. I truly love moonlight, but when it is hiding like it is now, the stars really shine. My barred owl friend didn't pay a visit (at least not while I was awake), but he did strike up a conversation across the way. Not one, but two females answered him (I should be so lucky), and soon the valley echoed with a conference call of love.

7/27/98 I was wide awake at 4am, so I got up, cooked up a hearty Cloudland hash breakfast, and enjoyed the predawn light from the back deck. I decided to get in a little hiking, and see what the sunrise would look like from Beagle Point, so I put on my summer hiking garb, and headed down the ladder trail. It was just light enough to see, and soon got very light, as the entire morning sky overhead began to glow. There were a lot of spider webs out as usual, but this time I remembered to bring my head net, so I kept up a steady pace, not having to be constantly pulling fat spiders out of my eyes and mouth. It was still pretty cool, and the wind was blowing, and the ascent up to the bluffline was not too bad. I rounded the point and found the scramble up the bluff that the squirrel had showed me back in May. That little squirrel will save me a great deal of time as the years go by - the next place to climb up to this bluff is several hundred tough yards further on along the bluff.

The Eastern skyline was still glowing pink when I reached the lookout point. Probably another twenty minutes until sunrise. I settled back against a moss-covered rock and got comfortable. I couldn't see my cabin, which was hidden behind the trees, but I could see a lot of the Buffalo Valley spread out before me. At first, there wasn't much noise, just the sound of the wind in the trees. Then as sunrise got nearer, birds began to wake up and fill the valley with singing and laughter. I could see many of them shifting positions across the way, winging it from one part of the hillside to another. The music intensified, and reached a fever pitch as the sun peaked over the opposite hillside. Then, for just a moment, the earth stood completely still. There was a hush. A little blue wildflower, growing on top of the rock next to me, opened its eyes and yawned. The beginning of another new day in the wilderness. I was honored to be able to share it. The music stuck up again, and the summer bug section joined in. I've never understood why people say they want to "escape to the peace and quiet of the wilderness." Hey, it is LOUD out here!

It was Monday morning, and anyone who knows me knows that I love Mondays the best. This day was certainly no exception. The perfect beginning to a glorious week.

Once I got back down to the bottom of the bluff, I just sort of drifted on down the steep hillside, not really following any particular route (there really is no good way down this hill, and as long as you continue DOWN, you will reach the bottom). I came down the east side of the hill, and wound up at the main Buffalo River, near one of the swimming holes that is upstream from our normal one. Hey, it was summer, and there was a swimming hole in front of me, so I was obliged to strip off and jump in. YIKES, it was cold! If the early hike up the steep hillside, and the incredible view of the sunrise didn't wake me up, this little plunge sure did.

I didn't linger in the water long, and soon was up on a flat rock drying off. As I sat there, I watched several little bass and bluegill hunting along the shoreline for breakfast. Within seconds after anything hit the water, two or three little fish exploded on the scene. I'm afraid to say that several of those large carpenter ants that happened to wander by my seat ended up as fish food. It was interesting to see how the bass and perch hunted differently. The bass would patrol the shoreline, always moving, always turning and looking in every direction. While the little bluegill perch mostly stayed in the same spot, with their eyes focused on a certain area of the water surface. It seemed to me that both got their fair share of food, but the bass had to expend more energy to get theirs. Come to think of it, when you compare the two fish, the bass are long and sleek, while the perch are quite short and dumpy. Hum, I wonder, do I more resemble a bass or a perch?

By the time the morning breezes had dried me off, the sun had finally found its way to the bottom of the canyon, and I could feel things beginning to heat up. I got dressed and headed back up to the cabin. For some reason, I had a bit of a tough time keeping my pace up the hill - perhaps it was the hash weighing me down. Then the afterburners kicked in and I scampered up the last, and toughest, of the steep benches. Those chairs on the back deck are a delight to the eye, and to the tired and sweating body.

A fierce storm swept through the area in the afternoon, with 41mph winds and .67 inches of much-needed rain. No real damage anywhere, except that my BBQ took an unscheduled trip across the back deck.

7/30/98 After giving a program to a group of gifted and talented kids at the Ozark Natural Science Center, one of the students came up to me with a painting that she had done there during the week. It was a painting of a photograph of mine, taken from the Wilderness Reflections book, and was a close up of two spider wort wildflowers. She was quite proud of it, although not nearly as proud as the guy who took the photograph! I don't relate much to kids, even though I am still one myself in many ways. I grew up in a hurry (then retreated), was the youngest in the family, and have never been around kids much. I have trouble "teaching" anyone anything. But I do revel on the few occasions when something that I do or say strikes paydirt in a young mind - their eyes and souls light up, and you know that you have made a connection.

It was late when I arrived back at Cloudland, near midnight, and all was calm and cool. A quarter moon lightly lit up a hazy view out back. Not too many bugs singing. There was one distant barred owl calling out to anyone who would listen. Only the bright stars were poking through the haze. I spent an hour working down in the basement, then retired.

7/31/98 There was an odd feeling about me when I awoke. Looking around, I found that I was not alone, and was being watched. A red tailed hawk, perched on a limb just outside my window, was staring in my direction. What a beautiful beast! He was sitting there, proud and majestic, searching for some sign of life, with a look on his face of "when are you going to get up and do something?" I did, he flew off.

The haze had lifted somewhat, and the sky was full of low-hanging clouds, a dark and dreary day - just my kind of day! It was rather cool. I quickly sucked down my Starbucks mocha and a toasted bagel, then put on my walking shoes and headed out to see what I could find. There wasn't too much going on, and the forest was very still, although there was a slight breeze. It was perfect walking weather, in the low 70's. After dodging a number of giant hickory nuts that had come down in the last storm, I checked in on Bob's and found everything to be OK. He had a visitor spend the night, but they guy had already left. Bob had come back from his long bus trip to the Northeast, but I don't know if he ever made it out to his cabin this week or not. He is leaving early next week for a tour of Wyoming and Montana. Ever since he retired, he has been very busy!

I went over towards the East meadow. As I try to do before stepping into any open space in the woods, I hesitated a moment and crept to the edge of the opening to look into it and see what was going on. So many times in the past I have stepped hastily into a field, and got to see the fleeing rears of deer, or turkey, or some other wildlife that I could have viewed undisturbed had I only stopped before entering. Anyway, sure enough, clear across this ten-acre meadow on the other side, I saw something dark and low moving in the tall grass. Could it be? YES, it was a bear!

There was no way that this bear could have seen or heard me, and at first he appeared to be undisturbed, simply moving about in the grass, minding his own business. Then, all of a sudden, he stopped, and stood straight up on his hind legs, and looked right at me from across the field. His big ears stood straight up, and his paws were bent in front of his coal black body just like some of the bears that you see on TV. I noticed that the wind had picked up a little, and it was blowing my scent right over to him. He stood there for a minute, then landed back on all fours, turned the other direction and began to walk away slowly. He must not have realized that I was a human, nor felt any threat, because he didn't run, but merely continued with his lazy exploration of the meadow. So I decided to watch him as long as I could.

The bear gradually worked his way around the outside of the meadow. He ignored the garden full of tasty treats only a couple of hundred feet out into the center. It was tough to follow his every step, because the grass was so tall, and he was down on all fours. Every once in a while, he would stand back up again, looking my direction. Those big ears always looked so funny sticking straight up. I knew that the size of the ears was how you could tell how big a bear was - the SMALLER the ears appeared, the larger the bear was. You see, bears ears don't grow much, especially in relation to how their head grows. So if the ears look small, the head is large, but if the ears look big, the head must be small. This bear was not a cub, but was small compared to the big one that I had seen at Bob's cabin. I figured that he was about two years old, typical of many black bears seen in the Ozarks.

Rounding the far end of the meadow, the bear continued his rounds and began to head my way. I took up a position in the trees, close enough to be able to watch him, yet far enough away I thought to keep from being seen. The wind was still blowing, although not as much as before. The bear began to get pretty close, and I was able to get a good look at him. He didn't seem to be feeding on anything, just nosing around here and there, trying to see all that was there. Don't know why he never went into the middle of the meadow - he stayed within 50 feet of the edge all the time. He would sniff something on the ground, then snort it out. From time to time he would test the wind, pointing his brown nose high into the air, swinging it from side to side, then once satisfied, he would go back to sniffing the ground.

The bear was now within 100 feet of me, and my heart was pounding. I clung to the hickory that I was leaning up against and using for some cover. Man, this guy was black, as black as deep inside a cave when your light goes out. Then he stood up on his hind legs, and looked right at me. He was as tall as me, and his eyes burned a hole right through me. I held fast. He sniffed the air again and again, knowing that something was there, but couldn't quite identify it. Suddenly it hit him that he was in the wrong place. In a flash he turned and hit the ground running, bounded across the meadow, and in just a few seconds had run all the way to the far end and disappeared into the thick woods. I think that my heart had stopped those few seconds, but started beating again, and I breathed a heavy sigh. I was extremely happy to have been blessed with such a long time of visual excitement, but at the same time was thankful that the bear didn't make a bluff charge, like they are prone to do. I probably would have fainted.

The hunter instinct in me wanted to see more of this bear, and I wanted to follow him, but hesitated to go into that thick brush. I opted to take up a stand on a hill overlooking a spot where the thick brush gave way to more open woods - this was actually my property line. Bob's property had been logged just before he bought it five years ago (selective logged - there were still lots of trees standing), and there was a definite line there where the logged part was growing up with thick underbrush, and my part where the trees were larger and there was no underbrush.

I hadn't been on my stand more than a minute when the bear appeared about half way down the hillside. I have always been a lucky hunter, but was a little surprised when the bear actually did what I had expected him to do. He didn't seem to be concerned, and he was just moseying along on a general downward path, sniffing and pawing the ground. He pulled up a couple of big rocks, rolled them over, and got real excited. He must have found a good nest of ants, and he spent several minutes vacuuming them up. Next he found a rotten log, which he tore into and dug up for another several minutes. They find a lot of grub worms and other assorted bugs in rotten logs.

About this time the breeze came up again, and he stopped and looked my way for the first time since appearing in the open woods. He sniffed the air, then turned and ran down the hill. Damn wind! I was really getting into watching this bear, so I decided to follow and see if I could find him again. The last that I saw of him, he had gone over a very steep hillside. This hillside dropped down in a series of near-vertical benches, broken up by the 100' bluffline that circles the mountain.

I got to the point where I saw him last, peered over the edge, but could not see any sign of Mr. bear. I knew that he was down there somewhere. I made my way down the first bench - it was VERY steep, and I pretty much had to go from tree to tree, hanging on for dear life, and trying not to make much noise. No bear in sight. At one point I did hear him on the bench below, but the underbrush in this area was so thick that I could never see him. He was moving around slowly, perhaps had even forgot all about me and was back to his foraging. I strained to see any movement through the brush, but nothing. I stood there, frozen to my tree, for about ten minutes, until I could no longer hear him.

I walked across the level bench, over to the edge of the next dropoff where I thought I last heard him, and peered over. Still no bear. I worked my way down that bench, making a lot of racket as I slipped and slid my way down. This part of the hillside was actually the top of the 100' bluff, although it was broken up by many ledges here, and it seemed possible to work your way down through some of it. While I couldn't hear or see the bear, I did pick up his tracks, or rather a trail of disturbed leaves here and there and bent over poison ivy and Virginia creeper plants, all pointing his direction. More than once, a hickory nut must have fallen and crashed onto the forest floor, which made me jump and my heart race.

Following his trail down through the steep, broken bluffline, I ended up at a point on a ledge where I could not easily go down, the next ledge being about six feet below. There didn't seem to be any way off of the ledge but down. His trail seemed to go to the edge, and I figured that he had jumped over it. I wasn't sure what I would find down there, or if I would be able to go down any further, but I had come this far, so what the heck, I grabbed onto a small tree for support and scooted over the edge, landing on firm ground below.

Just then I realized two things. First, it was obvious that my bear had not landed on this ground - no leaves were disturbed. Which meant that the bear was still above me. Oh shit! Terror swept into my brain, and I broke out into an instant sweat. A second later I caught a blur of black out of the corner of my eye - it was the bear, up on the ledge right above, and he was coming at me! (No kidding.) I really didn't have time to think, or to react - what could I do anyway, he had me, I was caught. A stupid kid playing a man's game. No wait, I did react, and fell to the ground. The bear came flying off of the ledge, and hit the ground next to me with a loud thud.

For an instant, we were eye to eye, not two feet apart, his fur touching my leg. My heart really did stop this time I'm sure. What plans did he have for me? I knew that black bears did not attack humans as a general rule, but this one had been pursued, and was put into a survival situation. I could imagine his claws ripping into me, his teeth sinking into my chest. I hoped that he would go for my head first, so it would end quickly without much pain. A calm came over me for a moment, and I could smell the bear (they really stink - imagine wearing a heavy black fur coat all summer in this heat with no bath!). Then as fast as he had appeared, he disappeared over the ledge below, leaving me in a pile of shock and dismay.

When I finally did began breathing again, and blood was restored to my extremities, I realized that I had just been blessed. I couldn't imagine being any closer to nature. I can't imagine being more in fear of my life. Perhaps one day if I slip and fall over the edge of a big bluff, and know that the end awaits me at the bottom, I will know more fear. But otherwise, this takes the cake. If I would have had a keyboard with me at the time, the pages would be filled with a hundred phrases of thanks, relief, curses, and of admiration for the bear. What a magnificent creature.

Looking back, I realized that he must have been just as terrified as me, and the only reason that he came over the ledge at me was because that was the only way out, or at least the easiest way (the only other way being to go straight up the hill, where he had just come from, and he knew that danger was up there as well - the ledge that he was on was blocked at both ends). I just simply was in the way, and got in front of him. He must have been crouched under the little overhang, and I didn't see him at first, until he came rushing out to go over the edge.

I know what you are thinking now, did I follow him further? You bet! The next ledge was too high for me, but I was able to find a way down through it, and I got down through the one below too, which was at the bottom of the bluff system. I don't know if the bear knew that this part of the bluff was broken like it was, and that he could get down it or not, or if it was just dumb luck on his part. The bluffline on both sides for hundreds of yards is solid bluff, and the bear would have been killed trying to go over the edge (actually, it is over a mile in one direction before there is a break in the bluffline). I really do think that it was luck, because I don't think that this bear was from this area, and had been pushed out of his home territory and into this one by a larger male. Of course, since he had been at my cabin a week ago, which is located about a quarter mile from this spot, he probably had enough time to look around and map the country.

When I got down to the wide bench at the bottom of the bluff, I continued to follow his disturbed-leaf-and-bent-poison-ivy trail. I had an idea that this bear ran all the way to the bottom and never looked back. His trail led down the five very tall and extremely steep benches to the river, where I gave up the hunt. I figured that I would not see him again. I really just wanted an excuse to go to the river, and being exhausted and completely soaked with sweat (it was now getting kind of hot), I jumped into a nearby pool with all of my clothes on, even my shoes and socks. I lay there in the water, floating on my back, thankful to be alive. Then the sun broke through and created a million sparkling diamonds on and in the water.

The climb out of the canyon was a tough one, the river water in my clothes being replaced with sweat. When I got back to the bluffline, I followed it around to the left. Even though this part of the bluff was almost directly under my cabin, I had only been to it once. Wow, it was really impressive! It is perhaps the tallest of the bluffs in the area, and painted with orange streaks and green lichen. I found a couple of large overhangs there were large enough to camp under. Both were east-facing overhangs, and probably not used extensively by the Indians. Under one of them I found a near perfectly square rock, smooth on top. I turned it over to see if it had been used as a grind stone (I've always heard that the Indians often turned them over to keep from being spotted), but the bottom was smooth too, and probably had only recently fallen from the ceiling. There were several phoebe nests, but I never saw any of the birds. Phoebes are small birds that build nests of mud under protected overhangs like these.

After all of the climbing, chasing, and nearly being eaten alive, I was really glad to see the ladder, which meant the protection and comfort of my cabin was only a few minutes away. I spent a long time in the shower, then took a cool nap under the fan. Then I got up and painted one of my basement walls with waterproofing paint. I've been trying to do this for a month! Billy Woods and his family stopped by - they were out for a weekend of work on their cabin. Later, after a dinner of Caesar salad, I hiked on over to see what progress they had made. A cold front had moved through and it was most pleasant outside.

The woods place is looking very nice indeed. I stayed until dark, then wandered on back to my cabin. It's funny, but for some reason the sounds in the night woods didn't strike terror in me the way that they always have in the past. Perhaps coming face to face with those terrors, and surviving, has allowed me to calm my fears a little. Thanks Mr. Bear.

Back at the cabin, I listened to blues on the radio and swung myself to sleep in the porch swing. It was cloudy, and the stars never did come out. It was a very cool evening, and had been a wonderful July.

JULY rain 2.92", low 67 degrees, high 94 degrees, wind 41mph

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