CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - MARCH 2012 Journal Archives
PART B, March 16th - present (see PART A here)
Cloudland Cabin Cam, March 30, 8:07am - cloudy and cool
Journal updated Friday morning - a place of great learning and wonderful people
CANVAS GALLERY OPEN HOUSE - THIS SATURDAY MARCH 31!
03/16/12 It is warm with a cool breeze tonight, clear skies as Venus and Jupiter remain close together in the western sky. That sky was lit up nicely just before sunset, with lots of puffy clouds floating around. In fact it was like that all day, lots of bright spots and shadows moving across the landscape. The morning began with a giant thunderhead in the west - about 20 minutes before sunrise it lit up bright red and orange against a backdrop of beautiful blue sky.
I took the pups for a spin around the mountain this afternoon and while the woods were pretty dry (we really need some rain), there were more new plants and wildflowers than ever so far this year. In fact I saw several MAYapples just coming up out of the ground - seems a little early for them. More and more redbuds are beginning to show some color (PINK, not red), and a couple of dogwoods were beginning to bud out just a little bit. They are calling for heavy rain early next week, but lots of sunshine until then, so I suspect we'll continue to have trees and flowers pop until the rains come. Things will die down for a few days as WATERFALLS fire up, and then once the sunshine returns hold onto your seat - SPRING will be officially here in many ways!
Wild plums are blooming everywhere, and their delicate aroma is so SWEET right now! Oh my goodness I could just stand there all day and suck it all in. Bees like those trees too. There are also BRIGHT wild peach blossoms that are about as colorful as I've ever seen them. Bears are taking notice I bet - they wait until the peaches are just at the peak of ripeness, then they will climb the tree and every just about every last one!
We worked our way down a steep hillside and out onto a level bench - a bench that was covered with bouquets of toothwort wildflowers as far as I could see. The afternoon sun was lighting them up and they were just glowing, and waving in the wind.
And then we came upon an area of brown grasses right in the middle of the forest - actually there were green (new) grass and brown (old) grass - about 20'x20'. And that is all there was - no more grass in sight in the forest. I wonder if the soil was just right, or the best moisture, or some critter just happened to poop out grass seed in that spot years ago and that is how far it had spread. I would bet on the poop theory.
We wondered on down into Moms meadow, which is right below the cabin, and I sat around in the gazebo for a while enjoying the breezes and the music from the river far below. The late-afternoon sun was getting low in the west and casting long shadows below, and the river was such a beautiful color - I just had to go grab my camera and find a spot with an open view. And so I did.
There is only a spot or two along the top of the big bluff below that is open where you can see out, and that is where I set up my camera and tripod. I probably should not admit this since most of my photos are won with a great deal of hard work and sacrifice - but I found a spot right in front of a nice rock on a moss-covered ledge - and I set up the camera and tripod so that I could see through the camera to compose and make exposures while I leaned back against the rock and enjoyed the view! And since the clouds were moving around so much there was plenty of time for me to just sit and watch the light show. And so I did. It was kind of the calm before the storm because starting tomorrow I will be working pretty much non-stop until June, so I needed this moment of relaxation to get ready mentally. But of course I was still working, and ended up with a couple of nice pictures for all of my efforts!
The day ended with more clouds, and I took a picture in the deep forest looking up through the silhouetted trees at the light show that was going on above.
03/17/12 First thing this morning I made up my "to do" list for the week. #1-9 were all the same - Ouachita Trail Guidebook. Other than short hikes around the mountain to stretch my legs and exercise the pups, I'm locked inside the cabin at the computer until I get this project completed. I'm only two months behind schedule on it. So I spent the day back down on the Ouachita Trail in my mind, and my eyes were seeing all the twists and turns and ridgetops and vistas - and especially all the really neat boulder-strewn creeks I had visited along the trail back in January. I am also transcribing tapes I made with specific data (reroutes, new road names, etc.). And looking at lots of
GPS coordinates and points on topo maps. (I'm adding GPS coordinates in the new guide for all the important spots along the trail.)
I have one computer program open that is just for tweaking the guidebook maps, another program for downloading the GPS info and seeing it up on the big screen on fullsize topo maps, yet another program for the actual text of the guidebook, and an image-processing program - there will be a new front cover photograph. And e-mails going back and forth to verify some shuttle service info., and finally the internet for various other tasks related to the production of a guidebook. Needless to say my eyes are kind of buggy tonight after being deep into the computer screen all day - but I made a great deal of progress and it did my mind wonders to be on the move with the project.
I did manage to get out and wander around just a little bit right at dusk. The air was filled with the sweetness of early spring. No night bugs yet, but I did hear lonely howling from the canyon below - I was not sure if it was lost hikers, or just a coyote!
03/18/12 The dogs woke me up early and I took the opportunity to strap on my boots and head out into the dim light before dawn. The winds were blowing but it was warm. The air felt saturated, although the big rains were not due for another day or two yet. Before long I found myself down on my belly on the forest floor. I brought my little camera along just in case I needed to take a picture or two. My subject was the emerging mayapple plants, some of them already eight inches tall. I wanted to get a very low perspective and be looking up at them with the dusky dark sky in the background. Mayapples are almost always stationary subjects no matter what the breeze is and I love spending a bit of time with them. Lucy, however, doesn't NOT like standing still, so I was up and back on the trail again soon.
My next stop was at a dogwood tree that had already started to bloom just a little bit - the bracts were coming out green, but there as no mistaking what they were. These will eventually turn bright white, and the green phase always looks odd to me, but some years that is just what we get. Seems like this is happening several weeks early - in fact some of the dogwoods are skipping the bracts altogether and just sending out baby leaves. No doubt it will be an odd spring here - mostly early I suppose. But we never really know what is going to happen with the weather, and spring weather can easily stop and even reverse the progress of spring.
Lots of other trees are popping out already - oak "worms" cover many trees - those will turn into leaves soon. The redbuds seem to be right on schedule though.
Oh yes, back to the dogwood. I was using the macro setting on my little point-and-shoot camera and wanted to fill the frame with the new bloom - that meant getting in real close. And since it was still kind of dim light still, I used the on-camera flash just like with the mayapple. The problem with the dogwoods was that even the slightest breeze would move it around quite a bit and ruin the picture - and the darn wind was blowing pretty hard at the edge of the meadow where the dogwood was. I shot about 50 pictures - sometimes the bloom was within an inch of the camera lens. A couple turned out OK - including one with Aspen in the background - I did not see him back there when I took the picture.
I spent a bit of time in the middle of several wid plums that were going wild with their blooms - delicate blooms with that wonderful fragrance!
Our last stop was to a wild peach tree at the edge of the Faddis meadow. It is one of the brightest and most colorful trees I've seen this spring, and just LOADED with blossoms. Lots of wind there as well made shooting tough, but I think I got one OK.
The rest of my day was spent at the computer working on the guidebook again - I worked long into the night and am just now shutting things down near midnight. Lots more progress, and I'm hoping that I will get it all completed and onto #10 on my to-do list soon!
03/20/12 If you counted every single drop of rain that falls today you could not equal the number of moments of total happiness and bliss I've had in my life since putting a ring on my lovely bride's finger 11 years ago. (We were married at the Lake Leatherwood Trail in Eureka Springs - same spot we first met.) I have a feeling we are just getting started...39 years to go!
03/21/12 It rained most of the night last night and most of the day today - not a heavy, booming rain, just a nice slow soaking that went on and on - exactly what we needed! Joseph and I spent the morning working in the front yard trying to get the creek and waterfall flowing again. There were a LOT of leaves to clean out of everything - the pump has been turned off since last fall. The little streambed was covered with all sorts of new plants trying to take hold - some we like there and others we don't.
When it came time to clean out the 3-4 foot-deep well where the water pump sits, I drew the short straw since my arms were the longest. I spent 30 minutes hauling out clumps of frog or toad eggs - I did not bother to see which. Funny how I used to spend so much time as a kid seeking out and playing with frog eggs, but now they mostly just get in the way!
When I got close to the bottom of the well the water got so nasty that every time I would pull my arm out it would be almost BLACK with gook. Sometimes it was raining hard enough to wash it all off. In the end, after all of our work, we could not get the stream flowing very much at all - kind of funny that all the natural streams in the area were flowing full tilt and our man-made one was not! Momma Nature knows best!
My good friend, David Dodson and his lovely bride were here in the afternoon picking up one of my big canvas-stretching machines that is being relocated to his house. David is a talented nature photographer, and is one of only a handful of guys who I can relate to on a photographic level - he not only gets what he is doing behind the camera, but he also understands the great beauty and importance of what is in front of it too.
By late afternoon the rains had finally quit, and I was anxious to get out with my camera and see if I could find anything to point it at. One thing I learned a long time ago about taking pictures in the rain - I have no issues keeping my camera gear dry no matter how heavy the rain is, and when it is actually raining (as opposed to misting), keeping the camera dry is not the problem. If there are raindrops coming down, not only are all those millions of drops getting in the way of your picture (they are not invisible to the camera), but since they are all moving, your picture will be BLURRY! There is no way around this, nor a way to get a sharp scene while it is raining.
So I wait until the rain has mostly stopped - and then with the landscape freshly cleaned and everything wet and rich with saturated colors, that is the time to get out with your camera.
I didn't really had any location in mind - one issue with the conditions like they were this afternoon is that pretty much ALL waterfalls were flowing well, and so there were literally hundreds and hundreds of great photo subjects - I generally have a difficult time picking one when this happens, and sometimes I end up just wandering around and never getting anything done.
So I decided just to start driving and see where I ended up. Turns out that the sun broke out just as I was coming around a curve in the road, and right in front of me was a beautiful and rather bright-green pine tree, standing all alone in the middle of a bright-green pasture. There were dark clouds behind it, and the light on the entire scene was pretty nice. So I pulled over, dug out my camera gear, and slogged through the mud to try and find a suitable composition before the great light ended. I guess the combination of the three-day-long washing, and the brilliant low-angle sunshine hitting the tree, made the entire scene look just squeaky-clean.
I motored onto another location but the sun had already changed attitudes and the next scene was not very good. So I decided to just to waterfall hunting and see what I could find. I ended up parking right along the highway and heading down the very steep hillside that feeds into Smith Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo River. I passed by one thundering water that was quite beautiful (the sun had disappeared for the day), but decided to come back to it "later" - and so I continued downstream. I found one waterfall after another after another, and stopped to look and size up each one. But it wasn't until I came to a narrow falls that was crashing down over a pair of giant boulders that I took my camera out and started to work. The boulder on he near side was covered with nice green moss, while the boulder on the other side was mostly covered with lichens. I shot a series of images from wide angle to close up tight shots, using different shutter speeds. It was good to be pointing my camera at waterfalls again!
I contained to explore the steep and rugged landscape below the last spot, and found that the creek leapt off the hillside and disappeared into the mist below. It took me a while of slipping and sliding and hanging on for deal life as I slid on my rump down some of the spots - thank goodness there was a sapling or two for me to hold onto!
I landed right next to a wade thundering waterfall that seemed to pour directly from underneath a giant rock slab. By this time the sun had gone down and it was already getting dusky dark. Looking around I could only find one location on the hillside to set up my camera - I could not go down any farther, or closer, or even farther away for that matter. Sometimes these things just happen this way - I set up my camera equipment where I had landed on a narrow and very wet ledge that had a good view of the waterfall.
I took pictures for the next 20 minutes of the waterfall. Sometimes at the edge of day like this I get so involved in the natural scene I am interacting with me, and the mechanics of the camera equipment, that I lose track of all time (could be the fact I don't carry a watch contributes to that!). I noticed that my exposures were going from 1/8 of a second, to 1/2 second, 2 seconds, 10 seconds, TWENTY seconds, and finally THIRTY SECONDS! I had to open the lens up to get more light in. You can shoot almost in total darkness if you give the light enough time to interface with the camera sensor, and when you look at the resulting photo it looks just like it was taken in daylight. And then you look around and get back down to earth - it was DARK outside all around me - YIKES!
I had not made an escape plan when I slide down the hillside to this spot, and now I could not see too well - probably a good thing in the end - all I could so was see what was a few feet in front of me at a time an begin to inch my way on up the hillside, grabbing at saplings and hoped they would not pull out of the ground.
A few minutes later I had success and had reached the top of the first bench above the waterfall area. But I still had a half mile and two blufflines to find my up and through before I got back to the car. No problem - I had a pile of carrots for lunch and could see in the dark!
It felt GREAT to get out and slide around and get all muddy again. The light and colors and water were all beautiful. It was a very short, but a great little photo trip. Waterfalls should be running well in the Ozarks for many days and perhaps even weeks to come - 'TIS THE WATERFALL SEASON - GET OUT AND ENJOY!
03/22/12 It is raining late tonight after not doing much of that all day. Colder than it has been, with some strong winds and light flashes now and then. Lucy is our severe-weather dog, but she is curled up in bed napping so I am not too concerned.
I got to dash out early this morning and spend a bit of time with one of my favorite waterfalls - The Glory Hole. It was very wet out but the new little trail off to the side at the very end makes getting down the final bluffline so much easier and safer. I could have easily spent the entire day chasing waterfalls, but picking which ones to visit on a day like this when ALL of them are running well is always a tough call, so I decided to just go to the Nail store and fill my tanks and think about it for a while (the gas bill was about $80!). After feasting on a Klondike bar I decided it would be better if I headed back towards home to spend the rest of the day getting ready for my girls to come home tomorrow - the ladies have been on their annual retreat to the beach at Gulf Shores.
This is the top of The Glory Hole - it is about five feet wide
Just one quick run through Boxley Valley first though.
I stopped and spent some time shooting a neat scene that I have looked at a hundred times but never took the time to stop and shoot (did I just repeat about every word?). I stood there beside and below the road for about 20 minutes and I bet about 30 cars stopped to see what I was taking a picture of. It is called the "Yellowstone" effect, something that Greg Heinze and I discovered there one year. It seemed that no matter where we stopped to take pictures, lots of cars would always pile up behind us. So just to make sure it wasn't the subject matter, we picked a lonely stretch of road with absolutely NOTHING photogenic on either side of the road, set up just our tripods, then sat down next to the car and filled our glasses with gin and tonic. Literally within seconds a car stopped to see what we were taking a picture of. Then a second, a third, etc. Everyone just saw "tripods" and figured we must be taking pictures of something really important. But heck, we didn't even have a CAMERA anywhere in sight! What was most amazing was the fact that so many people who stopped actually took pictures of SOMETHING - no idea what - but they just didn't want to be left out! Hey Greg - "What was here, what was HERE?"
Anyway, one truck that stopped left a delightful candle for my lovely bride (an Apple Honeysuckle candle - www.notjustanothercandle.com) - we use them all the time in the cabin and in the gallery (if you come to our open house on March 31st you will get to smell these!). THANKS Jerry!
And the next truck handed me a key to the historic old church/schoolhouse/community center just up the road. I wanted to get inside and see what they had done to the inside - they have completed renovation of both the inside and outside of this historic landmark. I fell in love with the staircase that led up to the second level the walls were covered with rough sawed oak planks, and the hand rail was priceless - polished by many generations of kids running down the staircase after Sunday school heading for fried chicken out in the yard! While I was there some nice folks from Springfield stopped by to have a look at the cemetery and I invited them in to look around. It is so great that we have this wonderful old building that is part of not only the history of Boxley and the Buffalo River area, but also is part of the history of Arkansas and indeed the United States too - a special THANKS to all the volunteers who worked to preserve this building, and to everyone who donated the much-needed funds! (Although the renovation work is complete, they are still about $20,000 short and are in need of more contributions - I'll list the details in a few days of how you can help.)
03/23/12 It is a little nippy outside tonight, and quite dark. I've gotten so used to nighttime moonlight, but I guess it goes away like this ever month.
I was up at 3-something this morning, and headed east soon after to check on a few sites over in my old stomping grounds in Stone County. The night sky was blazing with a zillion stars when I left. As daylight approached I could see a large and very tall wall of clouds ahead of me - that must have been all the red stuff I saw on the radar when I first got up. I watched part of the wall for nearly an hour as I drove - the top of the wall was not solid, but rather had canyons in it, and also individual mountains of dark clouds. I sped up as sunrise approached - I could tell the sun would emerge directly behind one of the tall parts of the cloud bank. But I never did find an open view of the sunrise, so I had to settle for just enjoying the magnificent splendor as the brilliant ball of sunshine rose. As luck would have it, about two minutes later I found a great open view along the highway - but it was too late - the sun had already risen.
Ten or fifteen minutes later I came to a scene that I recall quite distinctly from the first week of cave guide training in June, 1973. The geologist stopped the vans (there were 32 of us original Blanchard Springs guides - hired to open the cave to the public the next month on July th), and told us about sinkholes - the places where caves get their water and nourishment from - a direct link from the surface to the subsurface world. The wide scene spread out before us he said was one giant sinkhole - "Can you imaging how big that cave system must be with a sinkhole this LARGE?"
Today that very same sinkhole had turned into a very large pond/small lake, and there were lots of black cows lining the edges. Actually I stopped to photograph a single tree that lives at the edge of the lake/pond, but while I was taking pictures of the tree all the cows gathered on the far shore. The quality of the early sunshine was just beautiful, and that big storm I had been following had really swept the landscape squeaky-clean (sorry to use that term twice in one week, but it fits). Also spring was well advanced in the area, and the grasses and trees were LUSH!
I bet a saw a million bright-white dogwood trees in full bloom the next hour - they were EVERYWHERE - more than I'd ever seen before I'm sure! WOW, it was a dogwood explosion.
When I first came to work for the forest service just a week after my high school graduation in 1973, there were not many places to live in Stone County, certainly not out near the cave where I was to work. Then someone said I should go see Gus Mitchell. He lived with his wife, Elsie, down a narrow dirt road a couple miles from the highwy in Fifty-Six. That turned out to be one of the best tips I'd ever received. Gus rented me a two-bedroom trailer, furnished, air-conditioned, with all utilities paid, for $50 a month! And not only where they just wonderful people, but Elsie would bring me dinner several times a week - what a deal!
Turns out that Gus and his dad had operated a grist mill just below Mirror Lake, which is part of the Blanchard Springs Caverns Recreation Area. Only the stone walls and foundation remain now, but it is a neat old structure that I have always admired. I used to fish in Mirror Lake a lot - brought home a few trout when I knew Elsie was not going to be home to cook me supper! There is a double-decker waterfall that is the dam and spillway, which is a pretty nice waterfall. I worked at the cave four years, and spent a few trips scuba diving around in Mirror Lake, and also in between the two waterfalls - it is actually pretty deep in there! (I also was one of only five guys who got to scuba dive through the lower level of the cave system - the part that exits as Blanchard Springs (I was along to take pictures for a slide program for the forest service).
Anyway, today I wanted to return to the old grist mill and photograph the waterfall through one of the windows - I had done that many years before, but just as a snapshot - today I wanted to see what I could do with it, especially since I figured the waterfall would be running well. It is a beautiful stone structure, and a terrific location - just imagine looking out the window at this waterfall all day!
I spend some time wandering around the area where I used to spend so much time in my youth, and took a few more pictures, although the light was really pretty harsh once the sun arrived in this deep valley.
As clouds rolled in I motored on over to see how a trio of waterfalls right next to the highway were doing - this is a very unique spot where three large waterfall can be see at the same time. It is tough to photograph them - and in fact I didn't get anything good today - it takes a lot of water to make them look good, and for some reason that particular drainage had not seen much high water this week. I named two of the waterfalls after Senator Dale Bumpers for all the great work he had done for Arkansas wilderness and conservation issues.
I was too late for some of the pictures that I went to Stone County to find, and early for some others - I plan to make one or more trips back this spring and photograph the great beauty of this limestone and clear water country - the water has a clarity and some special property to it that I can't really describe, but I know spending time there and soaking in the creeks does many great things for the soul!
Back at Cloudland the REDBUD trees had just exploded! They are everywhere! I counted 33 redbuds around the edges of our little orchard - we are down to only four fruit trees this year - the big bear completely destroyed one of them, and ate all the fruit from the other four the day the became ripe - bears around here loves apples and especially peaches!
While the dogs and I were out for a walk our lovely ladies drove up and had made it back home from a week at the beach - YIPPIE COYOTE!!! The only issue I have with the girls coming home is the fact that I can't find my to-do list - I've only marked off ONE of my chores for the day, and I sure don't want to boos to find it!
We should have some nice waterfalls running this weekend, and hopefull flood waters that have run down. Be sure NEVER CROSS any stream that you can't see the bottom of. And even the smallest of stream can become dangerous. I reminded of the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court who down here while cross a creek that was only about two feet deep! Obviously utmost care and common sense go along with any waterfall hunting trip.
AND A SPECIAL NOTE FOR FAMILIES. I'd had a lot of folks write to tell me of their family adventure this weekend with young children and spouses and how they plan to see as MANY waterfalls as the can. NOT A GOOD IDEA! Some of us a just plan nuts and can go on no food of dring for days and without sleep and can just keep going and going - the tougher the waterfall is to reach the better. But look around your other team members - are they as gong-ho and physically fit as you? And do they really want to spend their weekend filthy, wet, and exhausted? My advice is to pick one or two really beautiful and safe waterfalls for everyone to visit, then see how many want to go find another (keep it easy and safe), and then another if the lowest person in the group wants to. Remember - and this goes for every member of your team - you must plan your trip for the weakest member of the group. Some folks are not always interested in what you are interested in and you got to be aware of an act on that - in order to keep them coming back again!
Should be a grand waterfall and overall spring weekend - HAVE FUN AND BE CAREFUL!
03/25/12 The girls LEFT ME! My lovely bride, her mom, and Amber, all headed to the beach for a week of wild spring break parties! That was a week ago. They arrived back home safe and sound late Friday - and I survived the entire week - somehow. It is ALWAYS great to have my girlfriend back home again..........
As they were driving off a week ago I got out my big yellow pad and made up a to-do list for myself - things I needed to get done before they returned. I naturally misplaced that list shortly thereafter, but it really didn't matter - I didn't need the list anyway since I never had the time to do even a single thing on the list! When I find the list again I will add it to the pile of other to-do lists - I hope to take some time off this summer and maybe get some of that stuff done.
I took my lovely bride fishing yesterday. It was a warm and inviting spring day and was just beautiful outside. There wasn't any action at the first pond we visited, but man there were tons of fish in the second pond, and Pam hauled them in with just about every cast. Since she has promised Amber pasta for dinner, all the fish were released to fight another day. I mostly just sat on the pond bank and soaked up some sunshine - they tell me that I don't get enough vitamin D - I'm a shade worshiper. In fact the last time I went to the beach with the girls I just dug a deep hole in the sand and hid under a large umbrella all week - it was nice and cool and shady in that hole!
Redbud tree continue to blaze away - easily the best year for them ever that I can recall. While looking closely at some test pictures I've been taking from the tops of bluffs lately I've been spotting dozens and dozens of redbuds when I blow the digital files up on my giant monitor at 100% - I never saw them when I was taking the picture.
And overall I would say that our little corner of the Ozarks is about 50-60% leafed out already - several weeks ahead of schedule. The dogwoods have not popped here yet though - only a few of them here and there - nothing like the ocean of them over in northcentral Arkansas - but I'm sure it is coming, probably in the next few days.
The creeks and rivers have taken on that remarkable emerald color - it shows up best after high waters have churned up tiny particles that get suspended in the water and reflect certain colors of light. When I was younger I would be living in that cold water, but now I stand on the bank and admire it through the camera lens.
The other day on a warm and sunny afternoon I was outside taking a shower when I heard a voice. I wiped the Dr. Bonners soap from my eyes and saw a person standing about 100 feet away in the woods - and walking right towards me! (our outdoor shower faces the wilderness and there are no trails - just a lot of trees and then the top of a tall bluff) They were lost and wanted to know how to get un-lost. (there were actually two of them) The entire time we talked they never seemed to notice that I was naked as a jaybird! I can just imagine the story they are telling back home. (Speaking of that - how come jaybirds don't wear clothes?)
I just made several trips to the gallery late tonight and the moon, Venus and Jupiter are all dancing together once again and it is quite spectacular out! It is one of the last times I'll feel free to hike around in the dark without a flashlight - soon there will be a few snakes out roaming around without flashlights too and I don't want to bother them. I'm testing a new camera and got to take a few star photos last night - it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful the night sky is when you just stop whatever you are doing and look up and study it. WOW!
Speaking of the gallery, we'll be open this coming Saturday the 31st from 10am to 4pm with all canvas prints on sale for half price, plus all our books at special program prices too! There won't be any new canvas prints on the wall - so if you have been here recently you have already seen them - but this will be our last chance for a while to have the gallery open and it should be a grand weekend for folks to get out and tour the Ozarks. (The gallery will be turned into a photo workshop classroom in April and May.)
Looks like the moon has gone to sleep tonight - think I'll go outside and wander around just a little bit before I join it....
03/27/12 We left the cabin at 4-something yesterday to head south for a couple of days, leaving Joseph in charge of Cloudland. We had two goals for this short trip - first was to hike a section of the Ouachita Trail that I realized I needed to lay eyes on before I completed the guidebook update - a mere nine mile hike. Second was to take pictures wherever I could find them, specifically for my new book project.
It was going to be something like a five-hour drive to get to the trailhead, and I planned the trip to take advantage of what hopefully would be some nice early-morning light for pictures somewhere along the way. The rising sun was a giant orange ball that only lasted less than a minute before it became a brilliant sun ball - you can't really photograph the sun like that once it has risen above the horizon. But just a little while later we passed a wonderful scene next to the highway with beautiful trees, glowing with just a bit of fog and some sunshine filtering through. Oh yes, and a HORSE!
I spent the next fifteen minutes taking pictures of the scene. At first the horse was kind of standing off to the side and not in the composition that I wanted to shoot, but eventually he got interested in something going on at the other end of the property and started to wander back and forth right through the middle of my scene - GOOD HORSE! The quality of light remained high for a good while, and I kept taking pictures. Eventually the sun burned off all the fog and the magic of the moment evaporated.
It was a clear-blue sort of day after that - not a cloud in the sky and lots of bright, hot sunshine. Lucy and I spent three hours on the trail while my lovely bride and Aspen drove to the other end to pick us up so we didn't have to double back. They hiked some and Pam got a bit of studying in - she is working on her very LAST course before complete her college degree - YIPPIE COYOTE!!!
The trail was a joy to hike, and we kept up a fast pace, although I did get slowed down a bit when the trail went through what I call rock "glaciers" - and there were plenty of them. These amazing features of the Ouachita Trail are boulder fields that can sometimes spread over the entire hillside - sometimes the trail tread was actually dug down several feet into the rocks - other times there is no trail tread and you just sort of hop from rock to rock following the blue blazes on the tree. There was quite a bit of water along this stretch of trail, and Lucy took full advantage and took a dip in just about every one. But towards the end of the hike it was getting pretty hot and both of us were huffing and puffing (probably the steep hillside had something to do with that). I was out of water and Lucy had not had any in a while when we came upon a babbling brook - EUREKA! But not quite. As we got closer we realized that the brook was actually UNDERground and we could not get to it - we could hear the water down under there, and that made it all the worse! So we just kept going until we found Pam and Aspen - and they had some nice cold jugs of water AND cold watermelon balls - double YIPPIE!
We checked out another section of the trail for one final bit of data that I needed, then we headed back into Arkansas (we had been on the Oklahoma part of the trail) - hoping to find something in ere sting to photograph as the day came to a close.
Turns out there were eleven controlled burns in the national forests yesterday, and we could see the smoke from a couple of them as we drove. I knew of one creek where I wanted to shoot some photos and perhaps spend the night at, and began to get concerned that the controlled burn in that area might prevent us from doing that. But the more we drove the more excited we got at the prospect of the smoke creating some nice soft light instead of the harsh sunlight that we had had all day. We stopped at Big Brushy Campground on Hwy. 270 to go have a look at the beautiful creek there, and were really surprised at what we found. The fire smoke was pretty thick overhead (nothing down on the ground - it all "went up in smoke" and passed overhead). The the naked sun turned into a red ball and was kind of neat to look at, but you would not believe what it did to the whitewater on the creek - oh my goodness!
The sunlight hitting the stream was blood RED. All the other colors seemed normal, but the whitewater was really something else. So I scrambled to find a good composition along the creek and spent the next little while taking pictures of the glowing highlights of the whitewater and the emerald pools beyond. It was kind of surreal. Pam helped look up the weather forecast for the rest of the week as they were hiking for the next five days - and they kind of wondered what the red ball was all about.
Typically when there is dense smoke like this and clear skies with sunshine there can be some pretty interesting color and compositions as the evening progressed. I knew of one or two places that would be great sunset spots, but it did not look like we would have enough time to get there. So I put Pam on map duty and she found a spot where a highway crossed the Ouachita River. There were a couple of neat scenes there, but the MOSQUITOES drove us back into the cab - they were the worst I've ever seen in Arkansas! We stopped a couple of other places nearby too and got a few shots, but not a "portfolio" grade shot like I'm always looking for. So we drove on.
The sun was just about to set - it was really BLOOD red by then - when Pam screamed - TURN THE CAR AROUND! She found a nice pond with a red bard reflected in it, and the waters were very calm. The scene certainly did have potential, but we needed to get permission from a property owner before we could set foot on the place. Luckily I had my lovely bride with me and she secured permission for us and we were off to the edge of the pond with camera in hand.
This was one of those scenes where you stand there with your jaw dropped trying to figure out if it was real or not. The colors were bright to begin with, but got more intense with each passing minute. I adjusted my position, put on a new lens, tried different exposures, and the pond and the sky just blazed on. WOW, it was a spectacular sunset! Score one for Pam!
We drove another hour or two and stopped for the night at an access point for the Ouachita Trail. It was a spectacular night as well with the crescent moon dancing with Venus and Jupiter. I Took out the new Nikon camera that I was testing and spent the next hour out there in the darkness - like a dig in a candy store - I LOVE doing nighttime photos! There were pines all around us and a giant sky filled with stars,. Seems like I could point out more constellations than normal.
I was up and out bright and early this morning and Aspen and I explored the banks of Iron Fork Creek taking pictures before the girls joined us later - there were thin layer of clouds sending down some mighty fine soft light. The girls joined up and everyone got to do a bit of splashing in this wonderful place.
Since we still have clouds I kept searching for some nice prestine streams to photograph, and we ended up at Fiiddlers Creek and spent a couple of hours there, until the bright sun started to burn through the thin clouds, making the sunshine too harsh for photography. The air was so clean and pure and a cool wind was blowing - and the pine trees so nice - it all added up to a wonderful office to be working in today!
And then we packed up all the camera gear and headed for the long drive home. I don't have room to post all the pictures form the trip, but there are two of my favorites.
03/30/12 I'm out of space here once again so will make this brief, but I wanted to share an important event with you - this type of thing does not come along very often in the life of a guy like me. I was very surprised when I got the notice a couple of months ago - in fact I was stunned. This will certainly go down as a highlight for me personally as wall as for my career, and is something that I never, ever thought I would be recognized for. It was indeed a great honor for me, and I will be forever grateful.
Yesterday I received the 10th annual Subiaco Award for Literary Merit for Excellence in Writing at their Literary Symposium (one of the previous recipients was a Pulitzer Prize winner - YIKES!). Wow, can you believe it? The award was for my years of work writing Arkansas guidebooks and the Cloudland Journal. The ceremony took place in a packed auditorium at the beautiful Subiaco Academy near Paris (Arkansas). While I was indeed speechless to get the award, I was of course not speechless once the event started - in fact they had a hard time getting me to shut up and get off the stage, ha, ha!
The day began with me teaching a writing workshop to a select group of students at the Academy. I had no idea what to expect from them - I had given them a small assignment to write about some of my photographs, and what they handed in kind of floored me - everything from pure poetry to descriptive narratives to technical reports. I would have LOVED to have their talent!
I don't believe I've ever spent time with so many people who seemed to all be happy and in harmony with each other - students from many different countries, students from big and small towns in Arkansas, teachers, staff, and the brothers/monks of the Abbey. It FELT like a place of great learning and wonderful people, and indeed it was. I've always loved the architecture of the facility, and now I know the joyful souls of those inside. THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of those at Subiaco for a wonderful day, and for all that you have done for the world.
By the way, while this will indeed be my greatest literary achievement by a long shot, I have been recognized for my writing before - when I was in the 4th grade I won a Reader's Digest Creative Writing Award - for a story I wrote about deer hunting! I think it must have been totally fiction because I remember the story being all about me bringing home a giant buck, ha, ha!