CLOUDLAND JOURNAL, JUNE 1998
6/1/98 Yellow sunlight filtering through the trees woke me. Where I sleep, the way that my side of the bed is pointed, all that I have to do is open my eyes to view the sunrise. What a wonderful way to start the day! Of course, it is tough to sleep in. I could tell even before looking at the new weather station that a sweep of high pressure had passed through - confirmed by the gauge. The sky was clear blue, the sunshine white, and all the trees were green - no more haze!
I had a lot of journal writing to do, so I gathered up my stuff and had breakfast on the back deck, then stayed there all morning, writing, watching, listening, and doing my best to concentrate on the journal as the spectacle of nature proceeded out in front of me. Yesterday was mostly soaring birds, but today the open space was filled with all kinds - a scarlet tanager, neon red w/black wings, spent some time hopping from tree to tree. Later, a bright blue bird sat in the dogwood below. After close inspection, I realized that it was an indigo bunting! Beth Motherwell had left "Stokes Beginner's Guide to Birds" here, and it is proving to be a great asset to me. Later, a downy woodpecker spent some time in the oak trees right next to me. And the hawks were out in full force. It was obvious that one pair hunted together - they each soared at different altitudes, but usually followed the same pattern. Once in a while, they would dive and swoop, generally play around with each other for a few minutes, screaming all the while. Let me tell you, it was very difficult for me to write with a pair of binocs on the table next to me! I took a lot of breaks to watch and to study.
The wind was blowing, and it was a most pleasant morning.
The highlight of the morning had to be the noise that I heard in the woods below. I got up and went to the rail and saw a deer creeping through the brush. She was headed right for the open spot right in front - I just sat back and enjoyed. She eased her way into the opening and began to munch on some very large leaves of a plant that was growing close to the ground. She would bite off a few leaves and then lift her head up and look around as she ate, always looking for danger. She worked her way right through the middle of the opening, then slid into the woods below and out of sight. It was a joy seeing this deer, not only to be able to witness her in "her" world going about her business (you seldom get to see this with deer in the wild), but because this was the very first deer ever seen from the cabin. She never saw me, nor was the least bit disturbed by the cabin. It was mid-morning.
Soon after the deer left, the pair of hawks came in very close. They normally fly with feet and legs tucked up tight against their bodies to cut wind drag, but one of this pair was flying in "landing gear down" position. I don't know why. He never made an attempt to land. Looked kind of funny.
Tree frogs seemed to have replaced the cicadas as the loudest of the "summer bugs" noise. I don't normally like summertime in Arkansas, but I think that this one will be different - I'll try to watch as much "TV" as I can. Time to wash dishes, pack up and head back into town.
6/2/98 It was very late when I got here, and nearly hit a doe and fawn on the way - thank goodness for anti-lock breaks! It was a clear night, and a half moon lit up the canyons, but still allowed enough darkness for the stars to twinkle. I installed the hamper door - a proud moment for the builder - then hit the sack.
6/3/98 I hit the ground running early. It was warm, and the cabin didn't cool down much during the night. Opening and closing the windows was beginning to be a pain. They are such good quality, and seal very well, that they always stick, and it takes a bit of muscle to open them. One problem is that the little ridge on them is just not tough surface to grip to open - it takes two hands. I must get some handles!
The first order of business was to get the new, taller wind pole put up. I got a 10 foot electric conduit that I think will be strong enough to hold up. I figured out a way to simply bolt it to the existing wood post already in place, which seemed to make it very strong indeed. And I ran the wire down through inside the pipe for protection. I drilled a hole through the log wall into the loft closet, and ran the wire there and down into the basement to the main computer plug. I discovered that plain telephone wire works just fine for the extra wire length needed. I also found out quickly that the extra 5 feet in height on the wind pole made a big difference - the wind was indeed a lot slower at roof level, and I will get a much more accurate reading at 5 foot above the roof level.
The day flew by, and I got a ton of chores done. Good thing, because early in the afternoon I got a call saying the first set of proofs for the new Buffalo River picture book were in, so I literally dropped everything and sped home. One of the things that I got done before I left was to install a "tick inspection" mirror in each bathroom - very important this time of the year!
6/4/98 A beautiful wood nymph met me at the cabin door upon my arrival this evening, and she had a plate full of fresh grilled chicken and vegges. My girlfriend doesn't cook much, but when she does, it is certainly worth the wait. It was the perfect end to a very hectic day in town of working the new proofs with John Coghlan and Milancy McNamara.
As my girlfriend was pulling the last bird off of the grill, a thunder bolt landed in the valley just upstream with a loud crack that shook the cabin. I glanced at the barometer, which had dropped steeply, and realized that a real storm was upon us - oh boy! I love storms, especially summer thunderstorms. The wind blew and the lightening cracked. As we crawled into bed, it started to pour, and then the light show really got underway,. What followed was one of the most amazing and intense electrical storms that I had ever seen. It was a powerful storm, and moved right over and through the cabin area. From our perch in the loft you could see a long way up the Whitaker Valley towards Buffalo Fire Tower. Each flash lit up a different area of the scene. Sometimes the flash would throw one ridge in shadow, sometimes another, and it was happening in quick succession, kind of like a giant strobe light going off, only it was moving around. The rain blew in so hard that I had to close all of the windows - it even blew under the porch and into the living room! It was an incredible storm, and I enjoyed every second of it. There were a few scary moments as we could hear trees and branches crashing. I was anxious to see how the weather station performed. In all other storms here it was frustrating because I never knew how hard the wind was blowing - now I would be able to know for sure.
6/5/98 It was a grey dawn, and we were engulfed in a foggy cloud. I ran downstairs to check the particulars - 1.67 inches of rain and 53 MPH winds. A few chairs and a table were blown across the porch, but all else seemed OK. I brought my girlfriend a Cloudland breakfast in bed. Later, as she was driving away, she honked her horn and stopped the car. Uh oh. There was a large hickory tree down across the road. I managed to get enough of it out of the way for her to pass. She soon stopped and honked again. This was a bigger tree, and I had to go get the chain saw and do a little work. It was very cool outside, in the 50's, and it felt great to work with the was. No more big trees down, but lots of limbs, and you could see many other trees down in the woods. I guess 53 MPH winds can do some damage!
The fog was clearing when I got back to the cabin, and I soon realized that there were a number of trees down around the opening as well. The tops had blown out of several of the trees at the edge of the opening, including one entire big tree near the corner. Also, the top was blown out of the maple right in front of the porch - this is the tree that is so brilliant on page 112 of the Buffalo picture book. The river was really running too, and very muddy.
The weather station performed quite well, and I'm really glad to have it here. I'm going to put a page in this journal to keep track of highs and lows and rainfall, so that we can see what the trends are.
I put up my new snowshoes on the wall, overlooking the kitchen, ate a quick lunch, and headed back to civilization to visit my brother's grave - it had been 28 years since a preacher killed him in a car accident in Missouri - haven't had much to do with preachers ever since.
I arrived back at Cloudland late, near midnight, under the moon and stars. I had left the windows open all day, and it was downright cold in the cabin - 61 degrees inside, 53 degrees outside (and this is June?). The heavy quilt on the log bed felt great. Now, if I only had a warm body to curl up with...
6/6/98 Sunshine, breezy, 50 degrees. I sat out on the porch and wrote and had breakfast, all bundled up with sweatshirt and comforter. I just now realized that there are no soaring birds about, but lots of little ones flittering here and there. And there was one strange bird call close by that I'd never heard before. Then a grey bird flew across the scene - it had a funny hump in its back. Lots of folks on the Crag today - must have been some groups - they all looked about college age, all with the same type of dress - the standard boots, shorts and t-shirt.
The highlight of the day was when a bright blue indigo bunting came by, perched on the dogwood (it too was damaged by the storm, ripping off one of the main branches, creating a nice perch), and sang and sang for 15 minutes. I was able to get the spotting scope on him and observed him for a while - you don't get to watch many birds this way because they are always moving around. It felt like a fall day outside, and never got higher than the 60's.
I am really glad that I opened up the area down below - it has really created a wildlife playground and feeding area, and I doubt that I would be seeing much of the birds and other wildlife without the open space. I walked down and looked at the storm damage, which Included one larger hollow tree that just twisted and buckled and fell. The top of the tree right at the corner post is also gone, and the big tree next to it was completely blown over - this was a really big tree, but the root ball was not too big - no wonder it blew over (and it took others with it). I was really surprised at how everything was growing up so thick and lush down in this opening. I was told by some know-it-all that nothing but arid species like cacti and blackberries would grow there (he said that all of the soil had been removed since I cut down all of the trees). What is growing is hickory, oak, dogwood, and dozens of other species. I don't think that there was much soil lost at all. The only places that are not covered with vegetation are the two spots where I've had brush fires. I think it will be a battle to keep the forest cut back! So much for meddling noisy experts.
I spent the day doing more wiring in the basement, and finally have seen about the end to it (I hope). Also got an outdoor outlet put on the lower deck. No visitors all day. The nighttime air was quite pleasant, and a 3/4 moon lit everything up. I think that I found a good spot to put up the hammock on the lower deck, but I need two screw hooks to set it up - next visit. I brought out a chair and sat in the moonlight and listened to barred owls up and down the valley talk to each other.
6/7/98 Wow, what a spectacular morning at Cloudland! The pre-dawn reveled oceans of fog below. As the sun rose and lit up the fog banks, they began to move about, like the tide rolling in and out. Looking up the Buffalo, each holler was well defined by the fog, and the black ridgetops that were sunlit on the upper end disappeared into the fog below. As the fog warmed up, it moved around, sometimes covering up the ridges, sometimes backing off and revealing two or three ridges that were hidden before. It was a terrific view from everywhere in the cabin. Sure am glad that I cut out that view! 50 degrees outside. Time to take my hot chocolate and breakfast out to the deck, bundle up, and enjoy the show.
The fog burned off in a hurry, and was all gone by 7:30. There must be someone camped up near Twin Falls, as there is a cloud of blue smoke hanging in that area of the valley. Out across the Buffalo comes the lonely cries of a mourning dove. And a rooster! First time that I have heard this guy. Must belong to the neighbors, and is sleeping late. Time for a morning hike.
The highlight of this walk around was an orange butterfly. As I turned and walked down a lane covered with trees (kind of like walking through a tunnel), this butterfly joined me, and began to fly alongside. You know butterflies - they don't exactly fly in a straight line or follow any predictable pattern. They just sort of fly up and down, left and right, round and round, wherever life happens to take them. Well, this one did the same thing, only he did it within a few feet of me, and pretty much stayed right alongside the whole time. I walked and walked, and we conversed on the glories of the world, the problems (and solutions - butterflies are very smart), and about life at Cloudland in general. Butterflies usually don't make friends, but I considered this on mine. He stayed right with me for a couple of hundred yards, until we got to the end of the tunnel, then we bid farewell and he floated on up into the treetops. I felt like a very lucky traveler this morning!
I also discovered that some of Bob's corn in his garden had been flattened by the heavy winds. And it looked like something awful might happen to some of his sweet peas on the vines, as well as several onions, so I brought them along with me. The peas didn't last too long - these were the sweetest things that I have ever eaten out of a garden! Crisp too. I visited the new Woods brothers cabin, and found that they had made a lot of progress. The outside is nearly complete. It appears that the log rocking chair that I gave them as a cabin warming gift was now living elsewhere - I wonder which brother took it home. There was a heavy dew, and I returned to my cabin with soaked shoes, socks and jeans (the wheat in the North meadow was thigh-high).
After a heavy nap, I hiked on over to the Crag. There was a couple there doing what couples do on a sunny summer day in the wilderness - they were all laid out on the Crag reading thick novels. I'm not sure if they ever even noticed that I had been there. From the Crag, if you had a pair of binocs, you might be able to see the edge of my deck - if you knew right were to look. On the way back, I found a cucumber tree. The locals call them "cowcumber" trees. Their little cucumber fruit was strewn all over the ground.
I didn't get too much work done, but did entertain some friends/relatives of Bob's that he brought by. They were from Oregon, Michigan and Missouri. I did spend some time filling recent holes I had made in the cabin walls (electric wire holes, vacuum exhaust pipe, weather station cord holes, etc.). I filled them with foam, and insulated the new 1/2" hot water pipe. Then I made two wonderful Cloudland pizzas. That night there was just a little moonlight, but LOTS of wind.
6/8/98 A howling wind work me, with dark, dreary clouds moving about. The wind was whipping at 20-30mph. I love wind, and got up and wandered around outside. It is amazing to me how much wind the leaves can take without ripping out of their sockets. My Indigo bunting friend was singing in the meadow (I'm calling my "open space" "the Meadow" from now on). I grabbed the spotting scope and studied him. He was perched on the tip-top of a bare stack of some small tree, and was just singing his little heart out. In between songs, he was all puffed up, kind of like a blue tennis ball with head and tail. Some of his feathers were ruffled and out of place. I can't get over just how much of themselves these birds put into their singing - they use their entire bodies, which is how they can make such loud music with their relatively small bodies I guess.
6/10/98 It was hot and windy when I arrived back at Cloudland in mid-afternoon. The air was full of soaring birds - more than I have ever seen here before! They filled the canyons as far as you could see in all directions. And they were having a good time too, riding the waves and cutting across the currents. Several of them were using the meadow to display their talents.
I hooked up the hammock to the tree in the lower deck and a rail post - it was perfect, except that it put too much pressure on the rail, so I unhooked it and set up the green metal stand. I was forced to try it out for awhile and can report that it works just fine.
The wind had topped out at 55mph the night before (.6" of rain), but I couldn't see any damage from trees being blown down. This is the highest recorded wind so far at Cloudland. The wind kept up all day. I worked inside, putting up insulation and setting up the bookshelf. What a difference a bookshelf makes! Nighttime brought more wind - 45mph - and lots of rain. Plus, another electrical storm. I saw one bolt that hit over near Professor Stahley's cabin that must have been a mile or more tall, straight up. I must say that I'm a little surprised that the power stayed on all the time. It seems to go out for a minute or shorter every few days, no matter what the weather is doing, but it stays on during bad weather (yea!). I discovered not one but two leaks in the south wall of the living room - one from one of the stationary windows. Just a few drops that were blown through the logs, but enough to worry about. Time to call the Amish! I went to bed a around midnight, and it was very still and quiet outside.
6/11/98 I was literally blown awake at 5:30, as a cold rain hit me in the face - time to get up and close all the windows. The wind the night before moved the grill across the deck and ripped off its cover, but everything else was fine on the deck this morning. The strong winds made the light rain feel worse.
"Keep close to nature's heart, and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods." ---John Muir
Since I just love cloudy, gloomy, windy days, it seemed like a perfect time to go on a hike. The rain was really just spitting, so I didnÕt bother to take a rain jacket - it was plenty warm, in the 70Õs. WOW, I wasnÕt the only one who was out wandering around - I saw more wildlife in this one little hike that IÕve seen here in a long time! I think that I felt him coming long before I ever saw him. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw these unusual fuzzy posts moving through the thick brush. They looked so out of place! It was the velvet antlers of a huge whitetail buck, and he was moving right towards me, just sort of browsing on the tender leaves low to the ground. On a buck this size, even now, when the antlers arenÕt fully grown yet, what you see first, and what dominates your view, is that impressive set of antlers. At this stage, they are still just growing, and doing so very rapidly, and the expanding bone is covered with a thick, hairy covering, or ÒvelvetÓ as it is called. It looks like you could just reach out and break one off. Hardly. Anyway, this guy finally did notice me, and froze (I had done so immediately). He stood there big and bold and majestic, like he belonged on a stamp or a postcard. And those antlers were huge! The main branches were laid nearly flat against his head (a sign of an older, more mature buck in his prime), and swung out wide to the side, then curved up and branched out. I counted five points on each side, and it was obvious that he wasnÕt done growing - will probably end up as a 12 or 14 point buck. Very impressive! When I was much younger and used to bowhunt every day for five months every year, I dreamed about a buck like this one. Now I couldnÕt dream of ever killing him. He was so big that he looked more like a big Mule Deer instead of a little whitetail. He was a trophy for sure. Since it was obvious that he had lived through many hunting seasons, I suspect that he will remain a wild trophy for some time - he is a lot smarter than any hunter. Guys like this are one in a million, and know where to go hide when opening day comes around.
Only once before had I ever seen a whitetail buck like this one. It was in the bowhunting days of my youth. I used to spend the first hour of daylight creeping, crawling, inching my way through the overgrown fields and woodlands where I used to hunt outside of Fayetteville. If you stood there and watched me, I would cross the field in front of you, but you would never see me move - thatÕs how slow I hunted - itÕs called Òstill hunting,Ó and really lives up to its name. The idea is to move so slowly that your movements are not noticed by the game, and so you can literally creep up on them. Many times I would walk up on a deer that was bedded down in the tall grass. Anyway, there was this one magnificent buck in the area where I used to hunt, and I snuck up on him several times, but every time that I did, he would instantly see me at the same time that I saw him. Sometimes we were very close to each other, within spitting distance, and my heart would pound like a big bass drum. The problem with hunting with a bow is that once you see your game, you have to draw the arrow back before you can fire, and you have to do so with some precision. Well, this old fine buck wouldnÕt ever give me that opportunity, so I never got a shot at him - he was always hidden so well that I was just too close to do anything when I spotted him. Before I could even think about drawing back the arrow, he would jump up and disappear into the woods in a flash. I know that he spent a lot of time laughing at me. Of course, if he ever dozed off for just a minute at the wrong time, or perhaps spent a little too long daydreaming about that young doe of his fancy, I would have gotten him. Thinking back, just knowing that he was out there, year after year, testing my skill, pushing me to the limit every day, made me a better hunter, and it would have been a shame if I ever did get him. I would much rather have spent my time pitting my skills against his rather than looking at his stuffed head on the wall.
This buck standing right in front of me was just as smart, cunning, lucky, and magnificent as that one. Without the tension of me being in the ÒhuntingÓ mode, I was able to just stand there and really enjoy this creature. Our eyes were locked onto each other for what seemed like an eternity. I felt like we now on more equal terms, both living in and enjoying the Buffalo wilderness, and out for a morning stroll. It used to be that a buckÕs gaze would strike terror in me, but now I felt friendship. We were brothers of the woods instead of enemies. After all of my hunting days and killing several dozen fine whitetail bucks, and now not having the need or desire to do so anymore, I felt a great deal of respect and admiration for this animal. This buck would have normally bounded off in a flash, but instead he simply flipped his tail, turned and walked away. I think that he felt some sort of kinship with me as well. Or it could have just been that he knew what date it was, and that I didnÕt have a gun in my hands!
Later I saw a bobcat cross the lane in front of me. I've seen a lot of bobcats, so this was no big deal, although I had never seen one at Cloudland before. And this guy was a little different - he had white socks on all four feet! He didn't stick around long - these cats are very shy, and normally only out at night. I also jumped up two wild turkey hens - they ran off into the woods. It should be time for them to be sitting on a nest somewhere.
When I got to the edge of another meadow, I paused for a moment before crossing into it. Don't know why I did, but I do know that it is always a good idea to do this, just to take a look around and see what might be in the meadow. Well, there was nothing there, so I went on, but then I saw motion to my left and stopped in my tracks. Another deer. This one was a doe. She walked cautiously out into the field, and right behind her came a tiny fawn, its spots beaming. This little guy was a bundle of joy, and bounded left and right and was just having a bell. It didn't walk or even run like its mamma, but rather kicked up its back legs and landed on its front ones, with the back legs going high up into the air. I could swear there was a smile on its face. Not a care in the world, and an entire wildflower meadow to romp around in. Mamma never saw me, but I could tell she knew something was amiss, so she hurried junior along and the exited the far side of the meadow. The guy standing there at the edge of the meadow had a big grin on his face. Like I said, I love "weather." It just seems to bring out the best in nature.
6/12/98 The sun rose bright and early to a cloudless sky, and a wind-filled day. Stable and I got up to mill around for a few minutes outside, then went back to bed - the new mini blind that I put up may be the death of me, as all I had to do was pull it dark and roll over and go back to sleep! Before the blinds were there, the sun was hitting me in the face and I had no choice but to get myself out of bed and enjoy the best part of the day. When I finally got up for good, I spent some time on the porch, watching the wind twisting and thrashing all the trees at high speed. It was a strikingly clear day, a contrast to the gloomy clouds of yesterday. There was not a single bird in sight anywhere - they have probably been blown to the ground! It is going to be a hot summer day to be sure, but with all the wind, I suspect that it will be quite tolerable here at Cloudland. I should have put up a windmill instead of bringing in electricity - IÕll bet that it would work here. Of course, it would have to stick up above the treeline to be most effective, and it could be seen from Hawksbill, so it probably wouldnÕt be a good idea. However, if I ever go broke and canÕt afford the electricity bill anymore, and have one last pot of cash hidden away (I wish), then I could put up a windmill and cut the power cord.
Bob called in the afternoon to invite me to come talk with a Game & Fish guy who was coming by to see about the bear. So I hustled on over the hill. Bob was there with Eddie and some friends from Iowa there were spending the week at Bob's cabin. The Game & Fish guy showed up right on time, to the very second. We walked around and talked about the bear, and problem bears in general. You could tell that he gets a lot of calls about bears that are not really that much of a problem. You could also tell that he perked right up when he realized that this bear was beginning to be a real problem, and a problem that we really needed to take care of. He kept saying "we really do need to get this bears attention," and "we really do need to find this bear in October (when we could legally kill him." He said that the chances of trapping him were slim, and that we would probably attract other bears to the trap instead, and then they would become problem bears too. And he said that every bear that he had trapped and relocated had always returned, sometimes traveling 75 miles in a day to get back home. He issued Bob some special rubber shotgun shells made in Italy, and they cost $45 a box of 25! They were very lightweight, with no recoil. Eddie shot one at the BBQ grill, and it didn't even leave a mark. Eddie left Bob a single shot 12 gauge shotgun. The folks from Iowa, who were staying in the cabin, were not amused. The guy gave me a ride down to my cabin, and we talked about the bear some more. I got the feeling that he would like to see this bear destroyed, but he didn't want to know about it. I got the message. He was very nice, great PR skills, and you could tell that he loved his job, which was mostly working with the Elk in Boxley Valley. By the way, the very first thing that he noticed when he walked into the cabin was the flint knife with the bone handle that I had stuck into one of the logs. I like it too.
Ken Eastin and his wife Terry were scheduled to show up at 6pm to begin the weekend of festivities at the cabin. They were late. I was making Cloudland Pizza, and it was late too. They finally showed up at around 7, having taken the "short cut" between Fallsville and Cave Mountain Road (FR#1410 - there were six downed trees across the road). They looked like they had been dragged through the brush behind their jeep when they arrived! Terry headed for the shower, and Ken headed for the jeep, with a big grin on his face. He opened the back door and screamed HAPPY BIRTHDAY! He had brought a wonderful old black farm bell. I'm not sure if he realized it or not, but I was secretly wanting to buy this exact thing - it was wonderful! We quickly got a ladder and installed it on the overhanging log at the end of the carport, right next to the rain gauge. I had to step in and keep the Amish boys from cutting this very log off flush with the roof - I just knew I would need it for something. Anyway, the bell looked and worked great. THANKS KEN AND TERRY!
Cloudland Pizza is just the same old stuff that I seem to make everything out of here, but these two decreed that it was the best homemade pizza that they had ever tasted. Of course, it could have been all the beer too. After dinner and dark, we hung out on the lower deck, in and out of the hammock, and watched the most incredible electrical storm move across the sky in front of us. It began over near the fire tower, then slowly moved to our left, and finally settled in out in front of us. It was one of those cloudbanks that was full of lightening - almost all of the strikes were contained within the thunderhead (which stretched all the way back to near the firetower). Each bolt lit up the thunderhead from within, making a lot of bright colors. And since there were always several bolts going off at the same time, the thunderhead was really lit up. The funny thing about these types of thunderstorms is that there is never any sound - it was completely quiet. Very strange. I saw one in Kansas once at 3am as I was driving to Wyoming, and one down at Lost Maples State Park in Texas (you will read about this event in an upcoming book). They are always quite amazing. Every once in a while, a lightening bolt would escape from the thunderhead and shoot across the sky. It was a very impressive show, and we sat there for what seemed like hours watching it. We learned the next day the what we were looking at was most likely a thunderstorm that was actually SOUTH of Ft. Smith! No wonder we never heard anything.
6/13/98 BUSHWHACKER PARTY #1 Ken and Terry mostly laid around all day outside (I was afraid to look and see what this young loved-crazed couple was doing), and I mostly laid around all day on the couch - it was very hot. Terry finally came in and made up a terrific watermelon bowl - with lots of fancy carving. I made up a few appetizers out of the same stuff that the pizza was made out of. Terry and Bob Robinson and I went up and raided Bob's garden - what we brought back looked like something out of a farm life design book. We also gathered a lot of wild bergamot mint leaves, and Terry made up the most incredible sweet tea! I couldn't stop drinking it. It was very hot outside, and I turned on the AC, which made the inside really comfortable. The guests filtered in all afternoon, and precisely at 4pm, I fired up the blender. The first bushwhackers at Cloudland were consumed in a hurry. It was a great crew: Ken/Terry Eastin, Bob/Dawna Robinson, Luke Collins & Mary Wright (brought all of the marinated chicken!), Jim McDaniel & Susie Crisp (they left their own wonderful cabin over near Richland Creek to come, and brought a hummingbird feeder that looks more like a work of art), Norma Meadors & Roy Senyard (they brought all the veggies), The Wildman & Mary Chodrick, Hete, and Scott Crook (Carolyn was out of town. Scott blew out a tire on the way in and was not a very happy camper!). We all had a grand time, feasted on kabobs and bushwhackers and other delicacies and listened and danced to wild music long into the night. Norma was especially entertaining (as always), and she got everyone (well, most) out on the dance floor more than once. Let's see, what was that song, something like "In them old, cotton fields back home..."
(And this from Miss Norma) "Tim - absolutely fabulous party! Can't remember when I've had such a good time. I was singing and dancing - everybody was singing and dancing - and I can't do either one. 'When I was a little bitty baby, my mama would rock me in the cradle...'
The group was so congenial, so comfortable; your pine floor was so smooth against my feet. We were a happy bunch. Thanks for bringing it all together." ---Norma Meadors
(And a note from Jim and Susie) Dear Tim: Wow! What a place is this Cloudland! Susie and I talked about it for quite a while after we left. We decided that you couldn't possibly have made a better decision about where to live, considering who you are and where you are in your life. You have a large circle of friends who are well capable of appreciating your homesite, and who will be pleased to be received there. And yet, Cloudland is sufficiently constrained in scale so as not to violate the intimacy which so characterizes all classic Boston Mountains settings. We hope you won't be offended by the editorializing, but again, you just couldn't have done better!
As for the hummingbird feeder, we hope it will bring you pleasure. We have a few set out at our place which we think have done well for us. In truth, hummingbirds seem to have a nasty side to themselves, and we hope you don't find this disquieting.
Of course, we were pleased to get your invitation to Bushwhacker I (The namesake being every bit as feisty as the hummingbirds!). It was wonderful to visit with you and so many of our old friends in so wondrous a setting. Freddie and Nellie (our pups) loved your decks/porches. They have asked us to consider modifying the porch up at our cabin at Iceledo Gap. Speaking for both of us, Susie-Q advised our canines that we'd get back to them on this point.
Yes, we'd love to come by again - and soon! We will try to call you before we descend. And, of course, if you have reason to be up our way, you're welcome to stop by anytime. Your friends, Jim and Susie, Freddie and Nellie" ---Jim McDaniel & Susie Crisp
6/14/98 I was awakened at 4:30am by a big blow, and got up to close all the windows (I made everyone sleep outside on the deck or downstairs in the basement - most were on the deck). The rain was blowing in at 40 MPH. I knew some folks were scurrying around down on the deck. Upon investigating, I discovered Scott off of the deck, down on the hillside with a flashlight. The wind had blown away his sleeping bad, pad and pillow! He swears the lower deck acts like a wind tunnel and that the wind was considerably more than 40mph - I would agree. Terry got up and worried about her car windows - it was pouring down. She headed out the front door, turning on the porch light, and realized that there was an old griz passed out in the swing - it was Hete, and he was a grumbling. Terry came back in, but I volunteered to go close the windows. When I passed the old griz, he snapped at me.
I must tell ya, this storm was a very strange thing indeed. It was pouring buckets, blowing at 40mph+, and when you looked out the back into the valley, it was all lit up by the moon! Boy, it was really weird. The rain didn't last too long, and soon all was calm again and back to normal. Later I got up and fixed Cloudland Hash and Terry cooked blueberry pancakes for everyone. Soon the crowd thinned out and I was left with only myself and a few dirty dishes. The only major "party even" that happened was that there were several cups of bushwhackers spilled on the floor - no big deal except that at Cloudland, any liquid on the main floor floor goes right on through down into the basement! I was afraid to look.
Here are a couple of bear stories that I found on the Internet:
BEAR STORY#1: Once while out hiking a Park Ranger friend of mine surprised a griz. He quickly scooted up the nearest tree. The griz came over and started shaking the tree. My ranger friend held on for dear life. Then the bear walked away into the forest. Not trusting that the bear had actually left the area, the ranger stayed in the tree. Shortly the griz returned with another bear and they both started shaking the tree. The ranger held his grip. The two bears left but returned in a bit with a third bear. Try as they might, they could not dislodge my ranger friend from the tree. After a while the bears walked back into the forest but unfortunately quickly returned with a beaver.
BEAR Story #2: In the middle of a forest, there was a hunter who was suddenly confronted by a huge, mean bear. In his fear, all attempts to shoot the bear were unsuccessful. Finally, he turned and ran as fast as he could. The hunter ran and ran and ran, until he ended up at the edge of a very steep cliff. His hopes were dim. Seeing no way out of his predicament, and with the bear closing in rather quickly, the hunter got down on his knees, opened his arms, and exclaimed, "Dear God! Please give this bear some religion!" The sky darkened and there was lightning in the air. Just a few feet short of the hunter, the bear came to abrupt stop, and glanced around, somewhat confused. Suddenly, the bear looked up into the sky and said, "Thank you, God, for the food I'm about to receive ..."
6/19/98 I arrived at the cabin late in the afternoon, and it was rather hot, and very hazy. This was the longest that I had been away in quite some time, but I had business in town all week. The cabin was about 10 degrees cooler than it was outside. There were lots of birds fluttering about, singing and playing. I spent some time on the deck enjoying the view, and peering through the binocs. A huge redtail hawk came soaring by, and I mean a really big one. It just had the faintest of red in its tail. I got a good look at it through the binocs, and followed it for several minutes as it flew back and fourth, playing in the wind. This guy looked like an immature eagle - it was that big, and had those kind of markings. The leading edge if its wings looked like airplane wings, very thick and rounded. Duh, I guess that is where they got the idea for airplane wings from! The buzzards were following along the bluffline too, back and forth, back and forth. Every once in a while one of them would swing over into the meadow air space, just to check on me to see what I was up to. My girlfriend arrived with a car full of recreational toys, a kayak and two bikes. She would be heading out the next day for two weeks in the Appalachian Mountain area and the east coast. We grilled some apple/chicken sausage and veggies (some robbed from Bob's garden). I'm not sure if I spend a lot of time out on the deck grilling because of the terrific food or the view. It was a calm night, and we turned in early.
6/20/98 The morning was a lazy one, and I got up and fixed Cloudland coffee and hash and returned to the loft with my girlfriend. She was leaving for a two-week tour of the East Coast, including a week of Kayak instruction at the N. Outdoor Center, and a 4th of July wedding on the beach in South Carolina. (As it turned out, this would probably be the last time that she visited Cloudland, since we soon ended our relationship.) After she left, I decided to get in a little play time myself, so I headed out for a hike. One thing that I realized is that no matter how many times you pass the same place, you are bound to see something new and different. There is just so much going on in the woods, especially this time of year. One of my favorite spots along the lane towards Bob's cabin is one such place. The ground was covered with new hickory nuts. I looked up and saw three large shagbark hickories that I hadn't noticed before - it is going to be a great year for nut trees. The bark of one of the trees was nearly smooth, almost no "shag" at all. And just beyond I noticed a section of old fence that was stretched between two trees, and had grown into their bark. This fence was within a few inches of the lane, but I had not noticed it before. Bob's was fine - no sign of Mr. Bear. I walked on over to the Woods Cabin, through the north meadow. WOW, WHAT A MEADOW! The winter wheat was really tall and looking fine, but the meadow was also full of wildflowers, all swaying in the breeze. Most of the flowers were the bright yellow black-eyed Susans, but there were lots of others too - in fact, I could see eight different species in one small area. This is what I want my little meadow to look like - mostly wildflowers, with tall grasses. There was a black cat standing guard at the Woods Cabin.
On the way back up over the ridge, I spotted a barred owl perched near the Faddis Cabin. And right in the middle of the day too! He kept a close watch on me as I passed underneath. After a quick visit to the Crag (no people), I scooted on back to the cabin. As I came into the lower end of the meadow, I saw an Indigo Bunting in the low brush. He seemed to be quite innoxious about me being there, but would not fly away. Then a wren appeared in the same brush. They both fluttered about squawking, as though they were protecting a nest. That would be quite normal, but I have never seen two different species protecting the same nest! Perhaps they were very close neighbors. I didn't want to bother them any more, so I went on without further investigation. There were several buntings in the low brush of the meadow.
After a couple of naps and some computer work, I headed out for another hike. The shadows were getting longer, and the day cooler. The big buck was lurking around my gate, and he eased off just to the edge of my sight as I approached. He knows when deer season is. His rack is still very impressive, and getting more so every week.
As I got down to Bob's, I saw the bear again - he was coming out of the log smokehouse, and left in a hurry. He had ripped the door to the smokehouse open, and had been feasting on four large steel garbage cans of birdseed. He was attempting to haul one can full of shucked corn out the door when I scared him off. Bob says that this bear is very polite, and usually takes his food outdoors to eat - he doesn't want to make a mess. Hah! He has been making a mess everywhere that he goes! Upon further investigation, I found that he had been at the cabin too. He ripped off the screen of the front porch door and tried to get in there - the wood door stopped him, and then he tore off several boards of the bathroom door as well (this is where he had entered twice before, but the door had been boarded up), but failed to gain entry. Guess the birdseed was calling him.
I figured the bear might return, so I got the 12 gauge shotgun that was on the bed, loaded it with the special rubber slug from Italy, and sat on the deck and read the local paper (I find more interesting information in this paper than I do in any of the big ones - they are mostly a waste of time). Sure enough, within ten minutes, I heard something coming down the hillside behind the smokehouse in the leaves. I took up a position at the corner of the cabin and waited for him to enter the yard. It was just about dark by this time. My heart began to race, and I wondered exactly what impact the rubber bullet might have - was it going to scare the bear off for good, or would it just piss him off and bring him charging at me? Certainly the cabin would be no refuge - the bear had already proved that he could get in at any time. The shotgun was only a single shot, but I had two other shells in my pocket just in case. Yea, right, a second rubber bullet is going to help out a lot with a charging, mad bear. I waited. The sound got closer. All of a sudden, a dark mass entered the yard. Here he comes! A big doe and a tiny, spotted fawn stepped into the yard. What a beautiful sight. Life renewing itself, and in such a precious creature. Few things in the world are as wonderful to see as a new fawn. They made their way across the lawn and into the woods. I felt honored to have seen them. I put the shotgun away, closed up the cabin, and headed back to Cloudland, just as the last twinges of light faded from the forest.
6/21/98, first day of summer Summer began like a bowl of Rice Crispies - snap, crackle, POP! A big storm was rolling in, and the pre-dawn light showed a lot of big black clouds. It was still dark enough for the lightening strikes to light up the countryside, and it was an impressive show. Then the clouds opened up and released their precious cargo. It rained about a half inch in 30 minutes, then let up. It had stopped completely by sunrise. I've never seen a sky like this one before - dark clouds overhead stretched all the way to the horizon to the south and west, but to the east the black line stopped just short of the horizon, and there was a narrow break, which was bright orange. Soon the sun made a quick appearance, then rose into the blackness. I rolled over and returned to my dreams.
Later in the morning I was jarred awake again by loud cracks - this time the thunder and lightening was right down on top of me, and making a strange metallic noise. The clock beside the bed was not working, although there was power to everything else. I went downstairs and found the breaker tripped. When I reset it I realized that it was 10:30! Wow, I hadn't slept in that long here at Cloudland before! Don't know why that one breaker had tripped - it only fed the loft outlets. I sat on the porch watching the morning show - it was still very dark out, with black clouds swirling around, and a few fog clouds down in the valley. Then the clouds opened up once again, and I could see the large raindrops coming all the way across the valley. A cloud formed around the mountaintop across the way, and soon it began to boil over and spill down into Whitaker Creek Valley, moving rapidly. A large fog bank had formed in the Buffalo Valley, and soon this fog was racing up Whitaker Creek. As the two fog banks collided, clouds of mist and mystery shot up in all directions, some up to and through the cabin, others far up into Whitaker Creek. This stuff was having a great time playing at Cloudland.
I hiked on up to Bob's to check on the bear, and found Bob and Tom Triplet there, cleaning up the mess from the night before. It seemed that not only will Bob no longer sleep in his own cabin anymore, but he is afraid to even be there by himself - not a good thing. Something has to be done, this is insane. Wildlife is one thing, but a bear that keeps you from living at your own cabin is quite something else.
Bob and Trip came by the cabin for a bowl of ice cream, worked in the main garden some, then headed back to town. Right after they left another amazing lightening storm rolled through. I spent an hour on the deck mesmerized by the show. This one was far up the Buffalo Valley, sending bolts into Bowers, Terrapin, and the main river areas. Most of the bolts were really tall, vertical ones. But several entered the valley and really branched out, booming thunder all the time. I tried in vain to capture some of this with the little point and shoot camera, but it never was quick enough (my real camera was safely tucked away in a closet back in town). So I gave up and decided to try to make a little sketch - it looks more like something a first grader would do, but you get the idea. This one particular bolt is one of the neatest ones that I have ever seen, and it just spread out right there in the valley in front of me. The rain total was almost an inch for the day.
I hiked up to Bob's and decided to hang around for a while and see if the bear returned. Sure enough he did, but I was ready for him with the rubber bullets in the 12 gauge shotgun. He came around the corner of the cabin, and I blasted his behind with a rubber slug. He sort of grunted, and ran off into the yard. He stopped, and turned back to look at me. By this time I had reloaded (the gun is just a single shot), and so I blasted his behind again. He got a little peeved and took off running, this time at a good clip, and quickly disappeared into the woods. I hoped that he had gotten the message - to connect a pain in his butt with being at Bob's cabin - and would not return. Only time would tell.
6/22/98 I didn't sleep much during the night. That was probably a good thing, because I was awake at 5:30am when the sky lit up with an incredible display of brilliant color that I have never seen before. I got up and spent a couple of hours on the deck, enjoying the view, then packed up and headed back to town.
6/23/98 Another hot summer day in the mountains, although it was quite cool and pleasant on the back deck at Cloudland. Roy and Norma stopped by to spend the night. We all sat out on the deck after dark and pondered why there weren't as many lightening bugs these days as there were when we all were kids. Pesticides was the answer. You used to be able to run through fields and catch as many as your jar could hold in a matter of minutes, then spend hours wandering around in the dark with only your bug lantern to show the way. I told them of the practical joke that I helped play on the ladies of one of my high school trail crews many years ago. The girls had all left (three boys, three girls) to hike down the trail from our base camp to a telephone a couple of miles away downstream along the Little Missouri River. The boys and I spent an hour catching lightening bugs. We put all of them inside the girls' tent. Wow, you should have seen that tent light up! It reminded me of one of those thunderheads with all of the lightening going on inside, just like we had witnessed at Cloudland a week or two ago. When the girls returned, they spend an eternity catching fireflies and releasing them outdoors. That was all pretty funny, but this continued every night for a week, as it took them that long to get all the bugs out! I was proud to be the originator of that joke.
By the time I had finished telling my little story, the meadow below us was filled with fireflies - they were everywhere, and seemed as thick as they were in our youths. Man, they really lit up the meadow. Most of them were flying down low, close to the ground. But every once in a while, one would venture up high, close to our altitude, and would send its bright light streaking across the dark sky. Had we three been a little less sober, we probably would have been down in the meadow with the fireflies, filling a mason jar. The stars were late coming out, but were glorious. The moon was in a dark phase.
(an entry from Roy and Norma) "Norma and I had dinner at Jasper's only 5-star cafe. I puked alongside Hwy. 43 going to Cloudland. Hete called after we got to Cloudland and advised us he'd fix dinner Saturday night if we didn't have to show property. He needs to take the weekends off. I told him we would have a "Jose" weekend. Tim popped popcorn and also left a mint on Norms and I's pillow - what a host! It's great to be at a place at peace and solidarity (thanks Mr. Webster). More later, maybe, 105."
6/24/98 I had a dentist appointment in town, so I left the cabin at 5:30am, leaving behind a loaf of fresh bread baking for Roy and Norma. I heard later that it was eaten in its entirety.
(more from Roy and Norma) "Good morning Cloudland - sunny and nice this day,. Cool breeze blowing, bread was ready at 9:10am, thanks #1. Norma wanted to put whip cream on the bread but I told her the whip cream in the frig was not for bread. She's still learning. Tim left at 5:30am, had a million dollar smile appointment in town. Norma and I have had a great five days. We reconned the river from Rush to Boxley and hope to do a float next spring, from Ponca to Hwy. 65 bridge. It's back to Fayetteville in a short while. Hope to be back this weekend. Enjoyed as always - Sempa Fi, 105. 10:30am - we hiked to the Faddis cabin and also Bob's cabin. Ran into the electric meter man and his wife and kids, Bob's cabin is OK, left him a note. Back at Cloudland at 11:30am, took a nap on the back deck porch swing. Around 1:30pm Norma fixed pasta and veggies. We finished off the loaf of bread Tim had ready for us, just be loafing around. It's 5pm now and 87 degrees, highest all day. 80 degrees inside, AC not on and nice. Left to go home. Stopping by Bob's to check on yard - may mow some. Thanks #1, we will return! #105 and Norm"
6/26/98 It was quite hot but breezy when I arrived in mid-afternoon, about 8 degrees cooler than in town. The soaring birds were out in full force, riding the currents and playing like crazy, pretending to be working at finding food all the while. I knew better. If I only had wings, you know where I would be - out there with the buzzards, riding the currents, swooping up and down, cris-crossing the valley, playing tag with the wind. Can't think of any other creature that I would rather be than a soaring bird (preferably a hawk, not a buzzard!).
I spent an hour or two reading more adventures of John Muir in Alaska. Every time that I read him, I get to feeling very lazy - some of his feats were quite amazing. As far as his stamina, energy and obsession with exploring everything in sight right away, I would create a class with him, Bob Marshall, and Eric Ryback. There are a few others, but these three come to mind. I would also add Terry Keefe, Eddie Silcott and Terry Fredrick from this neighborhood to that list. And I never realize until today that Muir wrote an entire book (it must have been a very short one) about a little dog, Stickeen. Their travels together were quite exciting, and reminded me to some extent to my own Yukon, who is at this very moment probably sitting down next to the river, teaching the beaver how to swim correctly. Oops, I get to go take a swig of Yukon Jack in his honor...
After the usual grilled dinner, I headed out for a short hike. It wasn't nearly as cool or breezy in the woods as it was on the back deck, but the workout felt great. As I entered the Faddis meadow, the wind picked up again, and I started singing a song to the wind - can't remember a single word to it now, but I remember it was quite good. I also remember that I thought that I should stick to taking pictures and selling guidebooks and not get into music.
There is a wooded hillside that slopes up to my left on the way to Bob's place. It is heavily wooded with hickory, oaks, and a few large dogwood. But the understory is rather clean, and there seems to always be some type of natural carpet covering the forest floor. Back in late April and May, herds of Mayapple popped up, eventually producing a hillside of white and yellow flowers, easily visible from the walking lane below (you often have to look hard to see these delicate flowers that bloom under the low Mayapple leaves). Just as they began to fade away, tiny yellow wildflowers took over, covering the floor much closer to the ground. They are gone now, and the lush carpet is poison ivy and Virginia creeper, all of it rich shades of deep green. In the fall, this carpet will turn yellow and gold and crimson. I've always wanted to photograph this hillside, and will make it a point to do so come October.
I hiked across to the East field, and inspected the sweet corn, green beans and yellow squash coming up. The squash and beans were ready to eat, but my veggie bin was full, and Bob and Benny were coming later in the weekend, so I left it all for them. In the dried earth where no crops were planted, there were only a couple sets of animal tracks - a doe and fawn, probably ones that I have seen a time or two before. It was so funny, because the doe's track was a pretty good sized track, and next to it were these tiny, tiny impressions from the fawn's hooves. They give you an idea of just how small and delicate a young fawn can be. The upper end of the meadow was waist-high with tiny white and yellow wildflowers. These are the ones that grow tall on the stack, and bunch up, perhaps 15-20 little flowers in each bunch. They look all white from a distance, but when you look close, you can see the yellow centers. I suppose this is all really a weed, but it sure makes you feel good to walk through a tall sea of them, all waving in the late evening light.
As I sat on the deck later and made plans for a quick trip to the Wyoming mountains, I looked at the incredible view right out in front and wondered why I wanted to leave it for a hot drive across the plains. It was warmer outside than in, but with the steady breeze it was very comfortable, and I lingered there until the last rays of light left the hilltops across the way. I determined that there were about eight "points" that I could see from the cabin in the Buffalo Valley in front. At some point this year, most likely after the leaves are off, I want to hike up on top of each of those points, all eight of them, in one day, and return to the cabin. I suspect that I will gradually have to work up to them, and each trip will get a little easier, because I will know the route on all of the first ones. Perhaps that is something that I will do every New Year's Day from now on. Also, I decided that I wanted to continue the hikes to the river during each full moon, at least for the rest of the year, and plunge my body into the waters, even in the winter. It will be a fun year!
As dark slowly creeped in, the lightening bugs emerged. First, just a few, then eventually an entire meadow full of them. I had spent so much time watching them that I forgot about the stars - when I looked up, I was nearly knocked down by the number and brightness of them - they were everywhere, and contrasted against the black sky.
6/27/98 Cool and cloudy with a nice breeze at daybreak, low 70's. It was cold out on the deck with all of the wind, and I had to put a long-sleeve shirt on. This is all that I ask for in Arkansas in the summer - to be chilled by the morning air!
I drove on over to Bob's and picked up a wheel-barrel, then spent a couple of hours filling it with clay dirt from various spots near my cabin, and dumping them at the corner of the cabin where water was collecting. I'd hoped to be able to divert the water away from the foundation, to stop it from seeping down and getting into the same corner of the basement. The pond of water was twelve feet from the foundation to begin with, but it somehow has been making its way down to and through the basement wall, six feet underground. It was hot and sweaty work, but I sure did need it.
When I returned the wheelbarrow, I went on over to check on the progress of the new Woods cabin, and found four of the Woods boys hard at work putting up drywall. On their way in this morning, they had seen a cinnamon bear in the North meadow. It was probably the same bear that had been seen at Bob's on and off the last three years. They said it was a pretty big boy. Damn, I might have to go bear hunting again. I had hoped that all of that nonsense was over. Let's hope the bear stays away from the cabin.
Bob came by and brought the season's first red tomatoes from his garden (well, they will be red when they turn). He had been out doing maintenance on his section of the trail early in the day. He will be heading to Nova Scotia in a week for 16 days of bus touring. His garden is about overrun with weeds right now, and it should be about gone by the time he gets back. His neighbor at Cloudland sure does need to learn how to pick weeds!
It was a lazy afternoon, and I managed a couple of naps and several chapters in the Muir book. It is amazing that when Muir was a young man (1860's), you could just take off walking, and ramble around the countryside for days, weeks and even months, camping wherever you wished, working now and then for cash, but mostly just spending time exploring the wilderness that was still all around. He wandered up into Canada once, and stayed there for a couple of years. I remember one funny story about when he was staying at a home for months, and one day when the owners were away, a bird got into the house, and the family cat pounced on it. Well, Muir never liked to see any living thing harmed, so he chased the cat around the house, finally catching it, and ended up choking the cat to death trying to get it to release the bird. The famed world renowned naturalist, choking a house cat to death. Muir was going to be a physician, until one day a classmate at his University got him interested in some plant. The one incident on the school steps changed the world.
I went rambling myself in the early evening, and ended up at the old community of Ryker, right where the old post office stood. This is the exact same spot where the Cloudland mailbox stands today. Of course, I had no mail, but I did stand there in the road and read the Saturday Morning News from Springdale that was in Bob's box. There were a lot of small horse flies out, but not much other wildlife that I could detect. Except for a lot of squirrels. I made the loop from the cabin up past the Faddis house, past the goat man's field (which was filled with new big hay bales), and on out to the main road to the mailboxes. Then I dropped on down the hill and picked up the trail to Hawksbill Crag. The Crag was a stunning place this evening as always, and not a soul in sight. Then it was back along the bluffline, past the "cow cumber" tree, and finally to Cloudland. A nice leisurely loop. After all of the pizza that I baked up and ate, I should have made this loop about a dozen times!
The nighttime was breezy and cool, and I sat/laid out on the porch swing, watching night fall, the stars and fireflies come out, and listening to The Pickin'' Post and The Folk Sampler on KUAF through the window. (I am always amused when the national syndicated Folk Sampler advertises that it is coming to you from "the foothills of the Ozarks in Siloam Springs, Arkansas." I didn't know that there were any hills in Siloam Springs. Come to think of it, there is one BIG hill there, and it was always at the end of the triathlons that I used to run - that hill really killed me!) The breeze was gusting, and creating many songs of its own, as the trees and branches swayed back and forth, with tree frogs and cycads joining in now and in. Often the radio music matched the night sounds perfectly, and actually complemented all of the natural sounds.
The Folk Sampler's theme this night was about lost loves. Some of the songs really struck home. This music about love, combined with the swirling winds, and swept me away to my high school days of summer love. My sweetheart and I used to spend hours and hours several nights a week in June, July and August, laying out in the middle of a hayfield that belonged to a friend of mine. After all of the magical time of physical discovery was over, we would talk and talk and study the heavens and generally solve all the problems of the world, and plan out our adventures lives ahead. This young lady was a year older than me, and a great deal smarter, in fact, near genus level. I never could understand why she wanted to spend time with me, just a local hayseed, but when we were together, the sparks flew, both mentally as well as physically. My mind has never worked so well as when I was outside, under the stars with her. She probably never knew it, but her influence had a great deal to do with me becoming a nature photographer and environmentalist. She is now a doctor of something and a professor at Cornell University in New York. A far cry from an Arkansas summer night with a hayseed. Looking back on that summer, I think that we both learned a lot from each other, about the natural world, and about ourselves. I often what she would think of me now. I'm still just a hayseed, but a much more traveled one.
The moon, though just a sliver, was shining very bright, almost blinding in the black sky. I put the telescope on it and could see the rest of the moon hiding alongside it.
6/28/98 The phone rang at 12:30am, but no one was there. I laid there for an hour or two, wide awake, enjoying the breezes coming in through the windows. At 4:30am stable woke me up, apparently anxious to go outside. I got up and obliged, and spent fifteen minutes wandering around under the bright stars. I have always loved being outside at night in the summer Ozarks. The temperature seems about right. Knowing I would be tired at sunrise, I closed the mini blinds at my bedside window. The next thing I knew it was 8:30 - boy, those blinds really do work! I got up to close all of the cabin windows, and eat more pizza. The steady breeze continued, and soaring birds were out in full force.
Well, I feel a little like Dogie Howsier, as it is late at night, and I am sitting here at the computer typing in my journal for the day. Actually, he had a great idea, one that many folks should do every day. While I do enjoy the physical act of writing in the journal with a pencil, it takes me a very long time to write, and I literally get writer's cramps. I find it much easier to spend time at the keyboard, and end up putting a lot more down. Plus, at least most of the words are spelled correctly with a spell-checker - maybe not the right words (like bare in stead of bear), but spelled correctly.
The day was another lazy one, and I spent most of it indoors, reading and writing and eating and laying around enjoying the cabin. While eating a late lunch on the deck, a single cloud across the way caught my attention. It was a small cloud at first, and about the only one in a clear blue sky. When I noticed it again a few minutes later, it was much larger. This peaked my interest, and I began to watch it continuously. Son of a gun, it was growing. Slowly, but it was increasing in size, mostly staying put and not moving around, just billowing up. It got larger and larger. At first, I couldn't figure out exactly what was going on. Then it appeared to be raining underneath it - not the really noticeable streaks of water that you sometimes see, but the air was distorted enough to know that something was going on. And gradually, the cloud got smaller. And smaller. And smaller. It almost disappeared. Then it started getting big again. It got larger, then smaller, then larger and smaller again, several times in an hour. I guess what was happening was a micro scene of how clouds are formed and rain happens. First, the sun hitting a humid hillside extracts the moisture from it as vapor, which eventually gathers together and forms a cloud, then builds larger and larger, until the moisture content is so heavy that it can no longer be suspended in the air, and then it releases it, as rain. When the cloud gets small enough again, the process starts all over. Probably not really what happens, but it sounds good to me that way.
Late in the afternoon, I got out the spotting scope and looked around my world a little. Over towards the fire tower, on the last ridge before the one that the tower is on, there was the crown of a tree that stuck up above all the others around it, in an area that had been logged some time ago. The tree had died recently, and all the leaves were brown. I wonder what killed it? Some day I shall hike down to Whitaker Creek, follow it upstream and around the corner, then climb out and up to this logged area and see if I can find the tree. It will make a fine hike.
I also spotted a bunch of shiner minnows down in the river with the scope. They were just below the little falls that you can see from the deck. Every time that they rolled over to catch some little morsel of food tossed to them by the rushing water, the sun glinted off of their broad side, crating a little flash of light. This is where they get their common name from. I was a little surprised that I could see this from way up at the cabin. Of course, I had the tele set on 45x. It was time for a trip down to the river.
After putting on my usual summer jungle wear of long pants, long sleeve shirt, gaiters, and floppy hat, I headed off down the hill. It was hot, bright and breezy and a lot of the low growing vegetation was showing signs of burning up. When I descended the latter I plunged into another world. It was darker, very still - not a wisp of air - and everything was lush, lush, lush. I may have said this before, but man, it really was a jungle. There were a number of huge, giant trees (oaks, gums) that rose up through the thick tangle of branches and smaller trees, and disappeared out of sight. At one point I thought I heard rain, but realized that it was only cow cumber fruit raining down from a large cucumber magnolia tree. The forest floor was covered with a thick carpet of Virginia creeper and poison ivy, and I seldom every saw the old trail that I was following steeply down the hillside. A couple of benches down I came across a lot of storm damage - about a dozen very large trees had been blown down. This was probably the same storm that took out the ones in my meadow. I was actually a little glad to see them because someone had noted that the trees down at my place were probably the result of my having cleared the meadow, giving the wind a direct path to attack the trees. Well, these were mature, healthy trees, right in the middle of a thick forest, and they were blown over, so I felt better. Boy, that was some wind - some of these guys were monsters! And two of them were on top of each other, right across the trail. On their way down, one of them realized that the trail was there, and turned and twisted just a little until it crashed down on the trail with big branches protecting the corridor - there was a space under the tree to pass through without much trouble at all. Thanks Mr. Tree.
I heard a weird bird call. One that I think I had heard before, but I had no idea what made it. I milled around a little, and finally saw what looked like a blue jay making the sound. As dark as it was, I couldn't tell if it was actually blue or not - looked all grey to me. But with a strange call. I must consult my bird lady.
Also along the trail there were these blue wildflowers, some of them on stalks six feet tall! I have not been able to find them in the wildflower book, but will continue to investigate. There were more of them on the flat at the bottom too.
Whitaker Creek had some water in it, but it wasn't running, just sitting there quietly, reflecting the jungle that was gleaning life from it. The Buffalo was running a little, but the fish, crawdads and other life in the water really stirred it up a lot. It was a jungle getting to the river, but once there, the immediate river course was open and easy to traverse. I put my fanny pack down on the gravel bar and headed upstream. I just wanted to look around a little, but realized that I needed my tevas to explore too much. It was obvious that I would have to jump in, so I located a deep enough slough right next to the gravel bar, and after getting into my Ozark swim ware and waving off several crawdads, eased into the water. I was quite surprised to discover that the water was quite warm. I used to be able to jump into the water in the middle of the winter and love it, but now in my old age, prefer warmer waters. But this was heaven! My desire to just cool off quickly became one to actually swim, so I got up and headed downstream to find a real swimming hole.
The very next hole was just perfect - 6-8 feet deep and very long, perhaps 200 yards or more. There was a little rushing water at the head feeding it, boulders lining the western side, and a narrow gravel bar along the eastern side. The bottom was a little slimy, but the water was clear and warm, and I had a ball. I took up a position just below the inlet, and soon dozens of fish gathered. Guys learn fast to protect themselves in such circumstances when biting fish are about. Most of these fish were sunfish, but there were also a couple of little smallmouth milling about. I had caught several pretty good smallmouth with my fly rod in this pool two years ago.
This hole of water was right in front of the main camp spot in the area, so it might not be the best place for weekend skinny dip with a young lady. There are no doubt dozens and dozens of other such fine swimming holes on this stretch of the river, and I vowed to seek them out on my next visit. I also wanted to bring a mask and snorkel. I like to spend time in the riffles, just laying there in the shallows with my snorkel sticking out for air. When you first get there and lay down or swim up, all of the fish scurry away to cover and hide. But before long the river will get back to its normal life, and the colorful fish of every size and shape will gather around the oxygen-filled water, darting about and grabbing whatever morsels the water brings them. At least, that is what they are supposed to be doing. I think they are just playing half the time - really looks like fun! The water itself is an incredible silver whirlwind, dancing about and singing a tune. I never tire of this scene, and you can find them in any stream in the Ozarks that has running water in it. My favorite place used to be Richland Creek, but I have a feeling that name is about to change.
The hike up the hillside was not all that bad, and the trail was easier to find. It is too bad that the Forest Service will not allow us to open up the corridor to this historical trail. Perhaps with enough use it will get beat back so that folks can follow it. The trail really does have a great deal of historical significance, and I would hate for it to disappear. I'll work on it.
I huffed and puffed and sweated all the way up the hillside. But it felt great. I need to do this a couple of times a day. Stable was waiting for me upon my return. He is not one of those dogs that begs to go, and then scowls at you when you return after not having taken him - he knows what kind of hikes I go on, and is glad to be left behind to guard the castle. As long as I leave him enough treats.
Since I had a healthy hike, I had a healthy dinner too of a fresh salad and glass of red wine. I rid the cabin of sweets a couple of weeks ago, but was now craving them. Couldn't find anything to munch on. When you live in the mountains, far from civilization, you learn to do with whatever you have. So I invented a new dessert - clouds in a cup. It consists of a heaping cup full of Reddi-Wip (left here by my girlfriend - I know she had other ideas for it) and fresh blackberries, with Baileys Irish Cream poured over it. Wow, beats a candy bar any day!
Lots of stars out tonight shimmering against a black sky. The moon sliver is low and out of sight behind the trees.
6/29/98 Very still outside, cool, a little hazy. The sounds of a hundred birds can be heard, small and large, near and far, like a woodland symphony welcoming a brand new week. Reluctantly, I left my little wilderness world and headed back to civilization.
TOTAL RAINFALL for June was 3.25 inches. High, 90. Low, 49. Max wind 55mph.