LITTLE BLUFF JOURNAL - July 2018
Little Bluff Cabin cam July 31 - life is emerging again from the gloom and doom
Journal updated on the 28th, 29th, and 30th
07/02/18 It is SO LOUD outside tonight!!! Must be a k-zillion cicadas, tree frogs, and other assorted night critters and bugs that are all SCREAMING into the darkness. Oh dear, the silence of the wilderness can be deafening.
Last night late we were called out to attend the night event of the season at Mt. Sherman - the annual fireworks display at the church. There was indeed so many folks there (nice live music going on) that we had to park across the street in a vacant lot to watch once the exploding show began. In all my 43+ years as a photographer have never taken pictures of fireworks (that I can recall). So it was mostly guesswork from me, and while I didn't happen to have the correct focal-length lens with me, I managed to do OK with one lens I did have. Next year I may plan for a more formal attempt. Glad we went.
The past several weeks are mostly a blur to me, other than some very special moments at our new house - which included a very spectacular full moon rise last week. And four nights spent out roaming the woodlands, rivers, blufftops, and even a prairie, trying my best to capture some of the magic of summer nights in Arkansas. But not a moment did I sit down to write about any of it. My plan is to at least write up a little about my four nights out shooting - those were all quite memorable. I'll post them in the June Journal and will make a note here when I finally get around to doing that.
Our building project has been pretty silent these past couple of weeks. Other than our great electrician Shane got all the electrical work done (except two appliances, which are waiting for the kitchen countertop to go in). And there has been rockwork done on the front porch - very slow but steady, inching along - taking months and months and still only half way done it seems. We're hoping to get our kitchen countertops this week, then the final plumbing and electrical and carpentry and finish work done.
Oh, and my bride has been working like a crazy lady cleaing up the floors - which had been inches and inches deep in fine dust and piled high with construction debris. Her and her dad have also hauled in some of her studio raw equipment - bookshelves and rolling desks and chairs. There will be painting and quilting happening up there before too long!
My workspace remains a mess as I'm still struggling to recover from all the damage the lightning caused last month. I'm having to press onward and limp along as best I can since I need to produce our two new 2019 calendars (which are already late to the printer). Sometimes I spend all day trying to get everything set up just right and end up not getting a single thing done. Hum. But at least we are now after nine months sleeping in a real BED - yippie COYOTE! July is going to be an epic month here at Little Bluff...
07/16/18 Nighttime photography workshop week ended about 4am Saturday. I've mostly been a night bird these past couple of weeks working up to these, and did just fine with my 9am-5am work day, then grabbing 4-5 hours of sleep before getting up and doing it all over again. We had terrific clear skies for all of the nighttime workshops, and I think everyone in all the groups got not one or two, but FOUR spectacular images of iconic Milky Way locations in the upper Buffalo River region. I mean - WOW!!! I mostly just stood around and watched, or wandered from student to student seeing if I could help. As everyone learns in the short classroom part of these workshops, there are really only a couple of steps to making a world-class nighttime photo, but often the first one is the most difficult - just getting the darn camera in focus.
There were many great moments, but a couple come to mind. A young lady who "always goes to bed by 9:30" and didn't think she would even be able to stay awake for the workshop was still bubbly, happy and kind of giddy as she stood in a graveyard at 3am taking one amazing picture after another.
On one of the other workshops we were all standing there in the middle of an open field still getting our eyes dark adapted when all of a sudden nighttime turned to day as an EARTH GRAZER streaked across the sky from one horizon to the other - a giant METEOR! This group witnessed four of those in the next couple of hours. It's one of those times when there is nothing you can do about it other than to just stand there in awe and enjoy - if you didn't have your camera pointed the right direction and running, there was no way you could photograph it. A rare moment to simply ENJOY the wonder!
Anyway, so what did I do my first night off after the workshops had ended? I went out and stayed up all night trying to shoot Milky Way photos and didn't get home until after 5am of course! This sort of gets into your blood. But it also kind of messes up your day job since one can only operate on 4-5 hours of sleep for so long. Last night I took my little 12-cent sleeping pill at 10pm and went to bed - first time in July. I'm not sure if I'll do nighttime workshops next year, but sure did enjoy this past week. THANKS to all who attended!
We had a couple of memorable events at the new cabin this week. The rock man completed work on some stone around the kitchen window - a BIG YIPPIE! All that remains inside the cabin are for the crew to install four more white pine posts (three in the kitchen) - later this week - then do a few minor things here and there inside, then some major work outside, then more rock outside, and in another month or two the cabin will be read. But we are trying to inch our way in - can't wait any longer. No furniture yet other than our beds, but it is GREAT to see it become more of a home instead of just a construction project.
Oh, one more memorable event that was the result of a workshop. My lovely bride was gone a couple of days during the workshop and when she got back home she discovered a ladies's makeup purse in the guest bathroom. "HONEY, UM, WHERE DID THIS COME FROM?" Most likely a very tense situation in most marriages. But we both laughed out loud. The night before one of the workshop students arrived and wondered if there was a place his wife could nap for a few hours while he was in class. I offered the cabin to her, and she seemed quite happy. When the classroom part of the workshop ended (located at the gallery, 1/4 mile from the cabin), and we packed up to head out for the night, I reminded the student that he probably should go collect his wife since she was going with us!
LONG week ahead of us here, and maybe some more nighttime pictures - sorry, I just can't get enough. Hope you have a TERRIFIC WEEK!
07/16/18 It is night here at the new cabin, and outside the night bugs and frogs are SCREAMING - sounds of joy for the rainfall we all got this afternoon. Skies were black and lots of rumbling going on, then heavy rain for an hour. Some folks reported two inches or more. I'd guess we had enough here to float a fairy leaf half way down the mountain (somewhere between one and two inches).
Just before bedtime last night I grabbed a camera and tripod and spent some time on the back deck trying to record the view. There were a lot of clouds swirling around, and the horizon was lit up with shots of distant lightning. It had rained here a little in the afternoon, but only a few drops, and about 15 degrees less heat. We have a clear view of the Milky Way from our back deck - in fact, almost from horizon to horizon. One of the photos is actually made up of five photos shot left to right, that cover the entire "rainbow" of the visible Milky Way.
But tonight the frogs are taking center stage, along with fog banks that have been creeping in and out and slithering along the distance ridges all evening, putting on quite a show. There was a Cloudland Moment while I was fixing my lovely bride some dinner (our second one in the new cabin). Pam has a blue tooth speaker for streaming music on her phone - we don't have a radio or TV connected to anything so for now the phone and computer via cell service are our music. Anyway, Pam was off to yoga down at Boxley Church, and I had a skillet mounded full of veggies and pasta on the stove, and someone was singing a beautiful tune on this little blue tooth speaker. I could see there was quite a show in progress outside, so I started shooting a video with my little phone, starting with the skillet, then moving through the still-empty great room (no furniture, just a rug), and finally out the door onto the back deck for a sweeping 180-degree view of the Henson Creek Valley below. It was so peaceful and exciting at the same time. Good thing I didn't record myself singing - that might have scared off all the forest critters!
The pasta and veggies were WONDERFUL, as was this special non-dairy ice cream that Pam brought home some small containers of yesterday - "STOP EATING when you reach the bottom" was the message under the lid. So I did as directed and ate the entire tub (always follow directions, especially if it says to eat all the ice cream!).
The air and forest will be sweet in the morning after all the rain. The parched landscape cooled and renewed...
07/18/18 Quick note - I began watching the view out the back around 4am this morning. It was a sea of clouds filling the canyon below, with a ZILLION stars above. Storms had cleared out and left this spectacular view - I couldn't sleep, yet it was so comfortable and the view so great right there in bed that I forgot to get up and take pictures. As dawn approached, the stars were replaced with clouds that began to glow with the horizon. So I was forced out of bed to take a picture and begin the day - what a way to begin a day!
We had storms roll through several times yesterday, and had an endless clouds show all afternoon in the canyons below. Our view here is much wider and longer than we had at Cloudland, and sometimes the cloud formations and movement are more than we had at Cloudland. And I think we spend more time here just standing or sitting enjoying the view - OH MY, this view is GREAT! My bride worked on putting closet shelves together and other chores yesterday (cleaning, a new layer of dust forms on everything each day) and never left the cabin - first time. I hike back and forth between gallery and cabin. It was a wonderful day to be at Little Bluff. Wonderful rainfall across the Upper Buffalo watershed, and I bet it got some waterfalls running. Waterfalls in late July - won't last long, probably already mostly dry by end of today. HAPPY SUMMER IN ARKANSAS!
07/24/18 Such WONDERFUL cool nights (in the mid-60's) and cooling days every day. It almost feels like late September when fall begins to advance. But of course the weather is just flirting with us. It was 101 here on Friday, and I suspect those high temps will be back soon - I always consider August as the hottest month in Arkansas.
We had a flurry of activity at the cabin the past few days. Our main crew got back to work Friday afternoon and just left today. They had a to-do list of more than 40 items - some of them major including building four different sets of stairs from the ground up to the decks - YIPPIE COYOTE, we finally can walk up to the front door, or get to the ground from the back deck!!!!! (see photo above)
The rock guys continued to creep along and yesterday finally got the front porch finished - another YIPPIE COYOTE! We really hadn't wanted any stone on the front of the cabin, but kind of got talked into it and now we have a lot. It looks wonderful, and now we are glad we did it - perhaps just not so much. The rock crew still has a few days of work left to finish the band around the garage and finally some rock trim around the outside of the prow, which still looks naked without it.
A couple of items that I will take the design credit for. In our giant garage we now have a band of white peg board four feet tall running around two sides of the garage at eye level. I like to have tools, hoses, etc. in view and within easy reach. I want to be able to walk into the garage and find what I'm looking for at a quick glance. Row of sheetrock below, peg board in the middle, another row of sheetrock across the top. We don't have enough room for cabinets other than at one end, so the peg board will help a lot.
The other was our screened-in porch. It was my bride's idea to have one - we've been run indoors for nearly 20 years due to no-see-ums. And we REALLY enjoy being outside in the evenings when those pesky bugs are most active. But we also want maximum view. So while I always wanted to put in a removable screen wall system at Cloudland, I never figured out a good way to do it. The builder here laid down a sheet of wire mesh beneath the deck boards in our covered porch area just outside the master bedroom. Then yesterday, as the last thing the crew did, we installed a single sheet of very tough no-see-um fiberglass netting 44 feet long that covered all the space between the posts on the covered porch, then they installed a normal screen door on one end (see photo below of them unrolling it in the great room). It was SO EASY to do. And the best part is that this fall as the bugs go away we can just detach and roll up that screen and we have naked walls once again! It was all my idea - not even from pintrest - and I managed to find a roll of exactly what we needed (no-see-um) that was eight feet tall and 100' long. INSTANT SCREEN ROOM! Our bedroom opens into this area so we can now leave doors and windows open (without screens) and not worry about the bugs.
One lingering issue is constant dust in the entire cabin and we have to dust every day, and by morning there is already more dust. One reason for this is the fact our AC system is still not connected to the cold-air return, so basically the air is not filtered in any way - the dust just keeps going round and round. Hopefully our HVAC guy will be able to connect the system and we can begin to spend more time enjoying and less time dusting.
In the meantime, I've been cramming to get both our 2019 calendars done. The monthly calendar is mostly done, but I'm thinking about changing a couple of the photos so it is not completely done yet. The weekly calendar has a lot more pictures, and I'm slowing down finding brand new material that has not been used in this calendar before. Getting tough to not pick something old, and while I have enough new material since the last one was published, a lot of that material is the same subject matter - I've got 200 nice images of the Milky Way right now, but don't want to fill the calendar with too many! It will all be done by the end of this week one way or the other...
A blast from the past. Sorry for this, but I came across a photo that was taken during an all-night exploration in the back parts of Blanchard Springs Caverns back in the early 1970's, probably 1973, the first year we opened the cave to the public.
Blanchard Springs Caverns staff (L-R): Herb Evans, John Thomas, Vicki Firestone, Karen Allred, Tim Ernst
07/25/18 This is a first. I'm in my zero-gravity chair on the back deck, safely inside the confines of Pam's new screen porch. The computer is in my lap, an almost-full moon has risen, the night bugs and frogs are SCREAMING, and the air is warm but with the promise of temps in the mid-60s to come later tonight. Puppy to my right, puppy to my left. My lovely bride left Saturday to spend a week with her family on vacation in northern Minnesota - I had to stay behind to deal with the last bits of cabin construction, and also because I've been much too lazy this summer and still don't have either 2019 calender completed. Pam has been mostly stuck here in limbo since leaving Cloudland more than ten months ago, and it's about time she had a break.
A photo revelation just came to me. Some of you may have noticed how once in a while a star (or planet) in my pictures will have a sparkle to it - actually those are called "cross stars" and produced by a filter with thin wires sandwiched between glass (we can also do that same thing - kind of - in the computer, sometimes). Anyway there are two photos that will be in the new calendars I'm working on that will have the cross-star look to Mars. Mars seems to be the nighttime "star" this summer, and I think today or tomorrow or yesterday is the closest it has been to earth in quite a while - which means it appears larger and brighter. In fact as I look to the south east right now there is Mars rising just above our friends Jay and Judy McDonalds house (several miles - the house, not Mars). The funny thing that I just realized is that both Mars and the moon have cross-stars on the tonight - indeed all of the bright stars do too. Hum - the screen around the screen porch is actually a giant cross-star filter and all points of light that shine through it are cross-starred! (including the blinking lights on communication towers and yard lights that dot the landscape below and beyond) That's exactly what a cross-star filter is. Now you know. (a very poor iphone photo of the moon-thru-screen is below)
I've tried to not include any photo in the weekly engagement calendar that has been published in the calendar before - getting tougher and tougher to do as the years go on. After my first big selection push I had 46 of the 56 pictures selected, then had to tighten my belt and dig deep into the archives to come up with the final 10 photos, plus a cover and a page 1 cover. Page one might be a little bit of a surprise - 'tis the first photo of mine taken with a phone that has been published (I think). It is also one of two photos in the engagement calendar that are the first to be published from our new property - in fact page 1 was taken while sitting in the very seat on the deck I'm sitting in now - before the giant cross-star filter was added.
Speaking of seats, we still have the same furniture in the cabin that we've had all month - four lawn chairs on the deck and two glider chairs in the media room (from Cloudland). So far we've spent a total of $14 on furniture - two $7 lawn chairs from Lowes (oops, not counting two beds-in-bags - those were more than $14). No doubt there will be more to come, but I LOVE the fact that I can roam around in the dark all throughout the cabin and not bump into anything!
The air-conditioner guy still has not shown up to hook up the HVAC system (Brad, where are you?). The rock guys just started the last part of rock work to be done - a little bit surrounding the windows on the outside of the prow. It will be WONDERFUL to get all of them out of here! (Sorry, was that my outside voice?)
One odd construction note to report. There is a pile of more than 1,000 truss hangers in the front yard. All new, all unused, all not needed. But we paid for every one of them and can't return them. Turns out the company we got our new home from wanted to make sure we had plenty of truss hangers - including at least eight extra truss hangers for each truss - even though the truss company ALWAYS supplies all needed truss hangers (2 per truss required). Anyone happen to want about 1,000 truss hangers of varying sizes and shapes?
I took a break this afternoon to run a couple bags of recyclables out to the highway for pickup. For some reason I drove Pam's car instead of my van. Soon I was driving on only three tires, and I ended up with a bad front tire (after making several attempts to find the leak, I gave up and aired it up enough to get me to the tire-fix-it store in Jasper, where we found the tire was no good). We have a GREAT tire store in town thank goodness. Being fifth in line at the tire store and it being only 94 degrees in town, I decided to take a hike. An hour and a half later I made it back to the tire store in time to discover that all four of her tires needed to be replaced. Shhhh, don't tell her, but she'll have a new set of shoes on there when she gets home. Gosh darn it, if only we hadn't spent all that money buying 1,000 truss hangers that we didn't need...
07/28/18 Our outdoor shower has now been installed and put into service, but I've decided not to name it the Ray Scott Memorial Shower like the one at Cloudland because, well, Ray is still alive and well and a memorial to him now seems premature. So we'll just call it the outdoor shower. It is one of the best features of any wilderness cabin - being outside under the stars, with the breezes and sounds and sights all around. My first experience was high in the Wind River Mountains at an old log forest ranger cabin I stayed in once while working in the Popo Agie Wilderness. There was a grove of aspen trees out back, and a shower head and controls were nailed to one of the aspens. It was HEAVENLY! (possibly because I'd been in the backcountry without one for ten days) Anyway, so the outdoor shower at Cloudand was terrific, but the new one here is even better because we have city water and much more pressure. Anyway, I had placed a wooden pallet as the base for our new shower and was taking a shower this evening at dusk as the sky began to turn pink and purple and all sorts of wonderful colors. When I happened to turn around and look down - there was a COPPERHEAD snake ON the pallet with me, within inches of my feet!!! And he was looking straight at me! Naked, backed up against the wall of the cabin, and with nothing within reach to use to move him off the pallet - talk about feeling defenseless. Snakes will strike at movement. Hum, not a good spot to be in. This is only the second snake I've seen all year, and the only time I've ever been bit by a poisonous snake was while on the back deck at Cloudland, and I was naked then too. It took a little doing to be able to exit the pallet without being bitten, but I did, and managed to relocate Mr. Copperhead without further incident. WHEW! But I probably won't be quite so at ease at the outdoor shower for a while...
07/29/18 It was the sort of news that makes ya fell like someone punched you in the gut. We just received the terrible news today that one of our greatest and dearest friends, Roy Senyard, has died in Idaho. In typical Roy and Norma fashion, they were in between outdoor adventures, having just done a backpacking trip last week in the Colorado wilderness and waiting to head out on a raft trip down the Salmon River, he died of natural causes last night in their hotel room with Norma by his side. Roy spent more time at, an is mentioned in the original Cloudland Journal the first ten years more than anyone. He and his bride, Norma, were frequent visitors and guests and workers and meant everything to me and to Cloudland and so my lovely bride. He was the best of the best - so many adventures we all had together, including several trips the four of us out west in the winter to cross-country ski and snowshoe. In fact we spent our honeymoons together in Crested Butte. The famed Bushwhacker Parties of the past were never get started without Roy and Norma being there - in fact they were the only ones besides me that attended the first and the last party at Cloudland. He and I spent many thousands of hours together - literally - in the woods doing trail work on the Ozark Highlands Trail (he was our maintenance coordinator for 20 years or more). Sometimes in order to get the job done we had to, well, sort of just get the job done without getting approval first if you know what I mean. Like when the historic 2009 ice storm came crashing down on about 1/3 of the Ozark Highlands Trail. It was Roy and I who made the decision to clear access to the trailheads and begin opening up as much of the trail corridor as we could, which took a great deal of intense physical and mental labor to accomplish. It was a war zone out there. Eventually the government allowed the rest of the trail to be opened, but it was Roy that helped me get it all going.
Speaking of the war, he did not talk freely about this - as most vets won't do - but he was a decorated soldier/medic in Vietnam and had been shot numerous times. I will never know the horror of war and always thankful for those who fight them so that the rest of us can be free. Roy also was a private investigator some of the time while we were friends, and, well, most of those stories shall remain private.
Roy and Norma dropped by to see us here just a few weeks ago before they began their long summer adventure trip that has now been cut short. They were as full of life and excited as ever, and forever soulmates and hopelessly in love (kind of like my bride and I).
Anyway, a black curtain has come down over us knowing Roy is no longer with us. We feel so bad for Norma, being so far away from home and family and having to deal with such a monumental event and task. Thank goodness they were not in the backcountry when this happened - GREAT timing on that one Roy.
Roy and Norma during a snoweshoe trip with us in Colorado
07/30/18 I've never really used this word before, but after finally looking it up in the dictionary it seems to describe our current state of mind - Melancholy is beyond sad: it's a word for the gloomiest of spirits. Being melancholy means that you're overcome in sorrow, wrapped up in sorrowful thoughts.
The weather decided to match the mood and a horrific storm moved in just before dark. The loudest of loud thunder, lightning, shaking the ground and cabin. It poured and poured (which the landscape desperately needed), and the thunder boomed on. A bit of irony - the visual display of the brunt of the storm was quite spectacular - we think - but our view was blocked since all of the prow windows were covered up with black plastic due to ongoing rock work on the outside - even the new screen porch door was covered up - so we didn't get to see as much as we had liked. (all of that should be removed in time for the next storm)
After we had gone to bed, with the weight of Roy's loss still heavy on my mind and heart, a bright light began to shine through the gloom. I got up and worked my way across the great room and tiptoed out the side door to a spot in the corner of the far deck and was dumbfounded by what I saw. The giant storm that had moved through swept the atmosphere clean of everything, leaving behind one of the most BRILLIANT displays of the Milky Way I've ever witnessed - oh my, it was just SPECTACULAR! I took it as a sign that while the impact of Roy's death will long live inside me for a long time, life will continue, and he'll be up there turning on those lights now and then to remind us of that. Roy was the best of the best, and it was an honor and pleasure to have spent time with him. Thank you sir for all that you did for the world...