CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - March 2015
Cloudland Cabin Cam March 31 - soft light at dawn
JOURNAL updated Monday the 30th - Wilson's Waterfall
03/2/15 We have about 2-3" of snow that looks and acts like ICE on the ground today, slowly melting away and feeding hundreds of WATERFALLS! More rain and maybe show later this week should produce some nice waterfall hunting. The way the snow/ice is on the ground right now makes for better exercise while "hiking" - it takes a little extra umph to dig your boots into the snow/ice layer (and you MUST dig in otherwise you will slide on the top layer of ice); and likewise, it takes a little extra effort to pull each step out of the snow/ice layer to continue moving forward - so I figure I'm burning three times the calories each mile!
My internal alarm went off at 3:45am a couple of mornings ago, and I crept downstairs and strapped myself into my snowmobile suit while the coffee was heating up. Sitting in the dark sipping the warm stuff I noticed the temp outside was a balmy 8 degrees with a stiff wind blowing - 20-25mph with even higher gusts. Why I picked this particular morning to get out and restart my nature photography career I have no idea, but since there was no time like the present, I shouldered my camera gear and headed for the car.
My first stop was at our neighbor's field where there is a clear view to the east of not only the rising sun, but more importantly the rising Milky Way, which was supposed to be just now starting to show it's brightest part after having been hidden below the horizon all winter. The Milky Way has always been up at night in the winter, but the bright "galactic center" has been below the horizon. I set up my camera and tripod and took a few test photos while my eyes got accustomed to the darkness, and son of a gun, THERE IT WAS - the Milky Way was right there in front of me, galactic center and all! I was a happy camper, and it wasn't even 5am yet!
I had to drive over to Mt. Sherman and deliver a couple of large prints that a customer had ordered the day before and I had printed the night before - no one was at home, but my plan was to leave them on the front porch as the guy needed the prints that morning.
My next stop was the main even to of the day - a test to see how well my body had been repaired and if I would be able to resume my crazy photo career. I had injured my arm/shoulder 18 months ago, and had not been able to setup or use my camera equipment without a great deal of pain ever since. But I was hoping those issue were behind me with my new shoulder, and this would be the first big test.
So I parked the car at the edge of a large hay field, loaded up my big backpack of camera gear and my largest tripod, and headed out hiking slowly across the field - it was about an hour before sunrise, but there was already light beginning to creep into the valley so it was easy to hike without a light. It was indeed every bit of 8 degrees with 20mph+ winds blowing, and the combination drove the wind chill past 10 below zero - I was afraid to calculate the actual number.
And then less than 100 feet from the car my photo career would resume with a snap, crackle, POP, and then a BANG! I stepped into a hole, my ankle rolled over and snapped, and I fell face first with a loud bang onto the frozen tundra. I felt like an idiot, but only for a few seconds until the pain reached my brain. Part of being in this position is the fact that my heavy camera pack and tripod were sitting on top of me, driving my face into that frozen tundra. So first I had to wriggle out of all that, then roll over and try to get up. I've discovered that whenever I snap my ankle like this it is very important to get back up on my feet and immediately start walking around - something that was not too easy since the earth was frozen solid and not very smooth. At this point it looked like getting back into my photo career was in doubt. But I was able to "walk it off" for several minutes, going round and round my camera gear, until I was able to stop and collect that gear and continue on my hike.
I got to the bank of the Buffalo River and started to make my way upstream, realizing that my original scene was not going to happen due to light and weather conditions, so I continued on upstream searching for something interesting to stop and photograph.
I ended up leaving the river and hiking farther upstream in the field, then going back to the river and finally to a spot where the river itself was frozen solid with some interesting patterns, and I set my camera gear down to search for the perfect composition. Soon the sun was be rising, and when that happens the light changes rapidly so I would not have much time.
And then wouldn't you know it - the call of nature snuck up on me - sometimes you just gotta go. Bad timing, but 'tis part of the adventure! So I made my way quickly into the woods, dug a hole, then started the process of taking off the snowmobile suit - with these things you pretty much have to take it almost completely off - down to your knees. It was then I realized that I had FORGOT MY DOWN JACKET! (that I would normally wear under the snowmobile suit) So there I was, with a wind chill somewhere south of 10-15 degrees below zero, wearing nothing a t-shirt, and bare all the way down to my knees!
You know what they say happens to "exposed flesh" at those frigid temps - I had a LOT OF EXPOSED FLESH! And just so I don't get e-mails complaining about me doing it in the woods, I used a trick that I learned from NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming), and used SNOW as toilet paper - it works really well, gets you clean, and there is nothing left behind.
OK, business done, I left no trace, and the sun had just appeared and was beginning to light up the hillside across the river. That's what I had been waiting for - not to take a picture of the hillside, but rather of the hillside reflecting in a pool of ice.
All the reflections are ice
I spent the next hour working two or three different ice reflection scenes, and am happy to report that everything worked out great and I was able to set up and change things as needed, then pack up and hike out, without any pain in my arm/shoulder - YIPPIE COYOTE! I was back in business after 18 months, literally!
The following morning I slept in until after sunrise since there was a bit of a snowstorm going on outside. The roads were pretty bad but I really wanted to get out and shoot something as the snows began to let up, so I packed my camera bag and headed out the door towards Hawksbill Crag. We'd received about 3-4 inches of really FLUFFY snow during the night, and there were still waves of snow showers coming and going, but the flakes were tiny, so not building up much.
It was a delightful hike through the fresh snow on over and down to the Crag, and whenever I stopped for a moment to look around, the only sounds I heard where of those tiny snowflakes hitting the trees around me. Such soft, beautiful music! I never crossed any sort of critter track, man or beast, and found myself alone at the Crag as well - no one else had been there.
I set up and shot for about an hour. At first there were a few hints of color in the sky and I thought the sun might break through, but then another wave of light snow would sweep across the scene, adding more white, and a little atmosphere in the background. Sometimes the sky would grow quite dark, then get brilliant white again, but I never saw any sunshine. I got to be out in the woods taking pictures TWO days in a row, and never saw another soul - other than the soul of the wilderness.
Since that day the snow has compacted and melted and froze and melted and froze, and now it is Monday afternoon and we still have a layer of ice covering the landscape - but with temps just above freezing things are beginning to thaw out a little bit. Supposed to be up towards 60 degrees tomorrow with lots of rain (DOUBLE YIPPIE!), but then drop to 11 degrees at night with more snow Wednesday! Seems like it is what John Denver called "Late Winter, Early Spring, When Everyone Goes To Mexico" - I LOVE that piece of music! Speaking of which, if you like him or his music, many PBS stations will air a new hour-long special about him tomorrow night (in Arkansas on AETN at 7pm). The preview looks really good. I'd be willing to bet that John used snow a time or two...
03/05/15 Cave Mountain Road has gotten really bad, the worst some of the locals have ever seen. I've been having to drive to St. Paul most every day to fill up a 550-gallon water tank as we have a leak in our water system here, and my aging jeep has been wonderful keeping the 6,000-pound tank & trailer on the road. The base of the road is still ice from more than two weeks ago, and when the ice and snow on top thaw a little bit, then mixes with the clay the county dumps on the road, it gets nasty in a hurry.
I had to make a run out two days ago with the Bookmobile to get new tires installed, had no problems since the road was a little bit frozen still. And the county has been blading off the big hill down into Boxley Valley after each snow event this year - YIPPIE! But on the way home that night I got into a three-inch layer of clay near the old church up here and the van slid sideways, all the tire tread filled in solid with clay. I was in the middle of putting chains on when our neighbor walked up in the dark to help - he eventually pulled me up the road with his Suburban, although I thought the chains probably would have done the job - I was covered head to toe with that awful clay, and my lovely bride insisted that I strip naked at the front door before she would let me in! The neighbor that pulled me out had just heard the county cut the road budget by 75%. With this recent round of snow and warm temps ahead, I recommend folks AVOID Cave Mountain Road from either direction until probably next week sometime, unless you have a high-clearance 4WD. It's not the snow and ice - it's the fact that the county only puts nasty clay on the road instead of gravel like they should use. Oh well...
Just as the freezing rain turned to snow - including some GIANT flakes that I swear were three or four inches across (later reported in the media to be "baseball" size snowflakes) - we all headed out for a little family hike. Gale-force winds straight out of the north blew those giant flakes horizontal as we made our way through the blizzard. The puppies LOVED every bit of it, ran and romped and played like it was the best day at the beach. Lucy enjoyed herself as well, and I think had fun playing with the pups as well. I guess I'll have to stop calling them that soon - we just switched to adult dog food - probably the exact same formula a puppy chow, but about 30% cheaper.
How did I get so lucky to have a lovely bride who no only condones me going out into the snow to play with the dogs, but is anxious to come with me - and a lot of times leads the way while I sit back at the cabin glaring at the computer (no need to answer - just dumb luck on my part I'm sure). Yesterday she bundled up with a bunny rabbit hat I got her in Alaska, and I believe she fared better than I in the blizzard.
I've been hiking up the hill to turn off our water system each night, and last night it took me quite a while to get the job done. It was just BEAUTIFUL outside in the deep forest with 5-6" of fresh snow on the ground. And while there was still snow coming out of the thin clouds above, a full moon up there really lit everything up and I just had to hike around a while. Few things are as magical as a night hike in the wilderness through fresh snow under a full moon.
It was a little chilly when I got up at 3-something this morning and climbed into my snowmobile suit. The temp was only in the teens - much warmer than it had been the other day when I had this suit on. But I figured I might be out for a while and it was easy to just put it on instead of trying to figure out what layers to wear. I wanted to go have a look at Hawksbill Crag again - not so much for the new snow - but for the moonlight on that snow. It was still cloudy when I headed off, but the radar showed clear skies approaching and I wanted to be there when they arrived.
The clouds broke up and the wilderness was flooded with brilliant moonlight before I reached the Crag - OH MY GOODNESS it was SPECTACULAR! But then the clouds moved in front of the moon and that magical light went away. I picked up my pace and half slid down the steep hillside to get into position if/when the moon appeared again - you might know that once you hit the ground while wearing a heavy camera backpack your body will pick up speed in a hurry going down a steep bench! I bounced off several trees and kept on going, finally landing on level ground, then hustled on over to the top of the bluff and setup my camera.
It was BEAUTIFUL! But the moon remained hidden, and in fact did so for the next 20 minutes or so. I set up my camera and shot all that time, noticing that the sky was beginning to turn color as dawn approached (well, an hour away from sunrise). I was happy to have the place all to myself - not a single footprint around but mine. And then I turned around and saw bright lights behind me through the woods - gosh darn it, someone else had the same idea! I tend to run away and hide from other people/photographers, even in the middle of the night - I have no idea why. But just as I started to pack my gear up, I had a good laugh at myself - it was the MOON shining so brightly back in the woods, not a flashlight! Yet there was no moonlight on the Crag. The moon had dropped too far and had cast a shadow over and beyond the Crag, bummer.
But I continued to shoot anyway, and ended up getting some interesting results due to the fact I was doing very long exposures and those clouds moved quite a bit during the exposure and mixed colors.
I hung around for the sunrise and shot some more, then packed up and hiked along the top of the bluff over to Haley's Falls. It was running well, but I've seen hundreds of waterfalls-and-snow lately and they all just sort of melt together, so I enjoyed the beauty and the music for a while, then headed on up the hill and out to the road and towards home.
Along the way I started to count critter tracks that I crossed. I never saw any bodies, but my goodness the sunrise brought everyone outside! I counted more than 50 sets of deer tracks, another dozen or two squirrels, more rabbits, and one fox - he walked right down the middle of our lane not too far from the cabin - and he was so light that he just barely sunk in.
I know folks might be getting tired of seeing Hawksbill Crag in the snow photos, but that's one spot that while is not easy to get to, it is one of those magical places on earth I never tire of. It always seems to lift my spirits and energize me - I guess it might be a vortex.
One funny note and a Cloudland Moment just now. My lovely bride just went by and said she headed for the hot tub - she could not shake the chill of our cabin - we've been keeping the temp pretty low in here due to excessive electric bills. Anyway, so we spent about 20 minutes soaking in the tube in brilliant sunshine, spending most of our time counting little clouds that drifted by. None of them laster more than a few minutes - they always evaporated - literally, into thin air. But always another little cloud would form a ways off and head across the scene, only to disappear too.
While that certainly was a Cloudand Moment in itself, as I was getting out of the tub we heard a loud helicopter flying somewhere low nearby. I love watching aircraft around here, and stepped outside to get a better view. Then I realized that the chopper pilot was probably the one getting a view - I'm sure my white rear end shone as brightly as the sun did!
03/08/15 I'm heading out for a quick road trip later this week and needed to try and fix an issue with the Photomobile. When I looked into the compartment under the driver's seat to see if I could find a loose wire, this is what I found:
Can anyone tell me which wire is the one I'm looking for? I posted this in an RV forum and several guys answered that it was the RED wire!
LOTS of waterfalls running right now, and in fact we can hear them from outside on the deck - in fact dueling waterfalls out there in the wilderness. I think they may get more water - it just started to rain here - YIPPIE!
03/18/15 The raindrops coming down this afternoon were light, yet hit bare skin with a hint of chilly tingle. It's the sort of rain where you lean your head back and that tingle becomes pleasure - AHHHH, just close your eyes and let the raindrops bounce off! We've had light rain much of the day, and now fog is rolling in to blanket the landscape for the night.
A popcorn tree just below the deck is ready to bloom - seems like it is time for them to begin popping out all over - a sunny afternoon would do the trick. Saw a wild plum blooming yesterday - those are usually the first two trees to bloom in the higher Ozarks. Wildflowers have already begun, waiting 'til the ice and snow melted away, and are now drinking in all the moisture to feed the upcoming blast of color. We should have good floating and waterfall hunting for a while.
I was up and outside early yesterday morning and surprised that the Milky Way was so visible - it had been cloudy most of the night, but then the clouds moved on down to gather at the horizon, and stars came out to play. While I was taking pictures of the Milky Way above that horizon, the crescent moon rose - but there was something very odd about it. The color was a deep orange - more of a burnt orange. And I could still see the Milky Way clearly, yet the moon was up and very orange.
A while later my bride and I made a trip into town, and the moon and stars had been replaced by sunshine - the odd color remained in the sky, turning the ball of sun a funky orange color, kind of like the moon had been. Same clouds.
I was on the road all last week working on images for a new book project (only three months of shooting time left). He didn't know it yet, but this was also a HAPPY RETIREMENT gift from me to my longtime photo assistant, Ray Scott, who made the trip with me (retiring from 50 years of government service, I hope not retiring from me!). We spent time photographing sandhill cranes along the Platte River in Nebraska (we were too early - they were not all there yet); was mesmerized by a band of wild mustangs in South Dakota; and photographed starry skies and amazing land features in Badlands National Park.
It was a typical grueling, exhausting, marvelous photo trip, and hopefully we got a few good pictures along the 2,000 mile journey. Four moments stood out that seem relevant. First, our last night on the road, while at a very crowded campground in Nebraska, we looked up and saw a young lady walking a black angus calf through the campground on a leash. WHAT? There were a lot of dogs on leashes, but only one COW on a leash. Or actually there were two cows on leashes - "Elizabeth" (the calf's name), had a twin, so there were two black angus calves on leashes staying just three campsites up the road. Something you would probasbly only see in Arkansas, or in this case, Nebraska. The young ladies seemed to light up the campground!
photo by Ray Scott
One warm evening high on a ridge in the Black Hills of South Dakota, after we had been trying to photograph wild American mustangs all day, we found ourselves at the edge of a band of incredible mustangs, and they were having a bit of dinner up there on the ridge. We moved slowly towards them, as quiet as church mice, sometimes not moving at all, but rather letting the horses come to us. Before long we were completely surrounded by this herd of 50-100 horses. It was quite surreal. I felt safer with these wild horses than I ever have with tame ones. The guide who led us there made a comment about how the mustangs sounded like a waterfall - of was that Ray who said that? I stopped working, laid my head back, closed my eyes and opened my ears. Wow! Just WOW! It wasn't the volume of the sound, but rather the message in the music of the munching that was so special. It was quite unexpected and wonderful. I had no idea such a place existed.
The next night I left the van near midnight and followed a narrow, dry wash as it wound back into the mud and stone hills that are the Badlands. It was quite dark and the moon would not rise until near 2am, yet it was pretty clear above and there was enough starlight that I could follow the wash easily. I set up my camera pointed northward over a short ridge of banded mud and towards a the craggy skyline, and set the camera to shoot a six-hours timelapse (hoping the moonlight would "strike" the landscape when it rose. It did). As I turned to head back to the van, I stopped for a moment just to look around a bit. That craggy skyline was glowing red, with zillions of twinkling stars above and beyond it. There was no sound - other than a wee bit of wind. It was another moment of amazement. Wow! Just WOWWW!!! The next morning I found a large poster at the campground amphitheater of this mostly-deserted national park that showed a starry sky and the following in big, bold black letters:
HALF OUR PARK - IS AFTER DARK!
I like this place...
The next night, still in Badlands, after photographing a blazing sunset and twilight, and while we sat in the van fixing dinner, an amazing light show began. Of course, we were INSIDE the van - but had the big sliding door open towards the west. We could not see the light show going on though, due to the lights inside the vehicle. It wasn't until I reached up and turned out the lights that we saw it - framed in the giant sliding side door of the Photomobile - ZODIACAL LIGHT! Only the second time I'd seen it.
The light was beaming up from below the western horizon, very near where the sun had gone down. The beam spread out in a triangle shape as it rose - and right there in the middle of the widening beam of Zodiacal Light was Venus, the goddess of nighttime photographers! The Winter Milky Way arched over the scene too. It was one of those moments that will stick with me for a long while.
OK, so maybe five moments to note. As we were screaming home on the last day we happened to make a short detour off of I-29 in Missouri to the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. We found out there were more than 650,000 snow geese passing through (no cranes though). The light was TERRIBLE for us, but we set up and shot some video through very long telephoto lenses of the birds motions and sounds. And right after I figured out how to use my camera to do this video stuff, and while it was recording, thousands upon thousands of white and black and black&white geese rose up from the surface of the lake in a wave that became an ocean; then they swirled 'round and 'round fighting heavy winds. Then everyone settled back down in with the larger pack of geese and just floated there.
We spent last week on the road taking pictures, and hope to again soon (my partner in crime above, Ray Scott, shooting in the Badlands with an infra-red camera). Many of those roads will be in Arkansas - one of the very best seasons on earth is about to happen here, and I can never get enough pictures of it all...
By the way, I use an iPhone so this is not a product endorsement, but I believe this is one of the best TV commercials ever, and in case you want to see the long version of the "Be Together, Not The Same" commercial (song by Roger Miller), here is a UTube link.
Madison Avenue - PLEASE make more commercials like this!
03/19/15 Now for the other side of the coin of our photo trip last week. Not knowing anything about the great sandhill crane migration - when most of the population stops to rest along the Platte River in Nebraska - we booked space for both of us in a viewing blind for the sunset arrival of the birds to the river - a blind right on the edge of the river in the center of the migration rest stop route (only $25 per person - quite reasonable).
After watching a short movie of do's and don's, and discovering that we would not be allowed to use our cameras on continuous shooting mode (almost a necessity for birds in flight), our group of about 20 folks were led along the shore and herded into a small enclosed blind that was complete with benches in the back and small openings in the front on the river side. Being kind of anti-social, especially when I have a camera and tripod in hand, I immediately fled to one corner of the blind. We were only allowed to whisper, had to cover the LCDs on the camera backs, no lights of any kind inside the blind, and nothing (like a lens shade) could stick out of the hole - all of this so as not to disturb the birds that were supposed to land and spend the night right in front of the blind. Once sunset arrived, we would all settle down for a bit, then be led quietly back to the visitor center in the dark - no light allowed - HEY, MY KIND OF HIKE!
But there were no birds - or at least no sandhill cranes. Not a one. In fact no bird of any sort landed within a mile of the blind. Everyone was friendly and easy to be around, just no birds. Oh well, 'tis the nature of the beast!
On our way back through Nebraska at the end of the week we once again stopped to try and photograph cranes coming in at sunset, this time on a public bridge across the Platte River. We showed up an hour early and it was not only standing room only, but there were hundreds of people on the narrow bridge, including lot of little kids running around - and doing what kids do - making a lot of noise. So were the adults. It was more of a party atmosphere and quite the opposite of the quiet life in the viewing blind. The results were the same though - not a single bird landed within a mile of the bridge. We did see a few flocks flying by overhead, everyone of them looked down and didn't want to have any part of the party on the bridge! If birds had come in close and wanted to stop for the night, they would have been scared off by all the noise. One funny comment about the todo with being so quite in the blind the first night - those giant cranes (wing spans six FEET or longer!) make SO MUCH NOISE themselves, they may not have ever noticed us in the blind.
We did get to spend two sunrises at another location along the river, but never did get to see any cranes landing near us - lots in the air though. All of the river is private land, and so access is extremely limited - and it seems the more money you spend the better your chances are of getting closer to the birds. I could not afford much. I suspect there are a LOT more birds there now and in the coming weeks, but we gave it a shot and lost (did get some nice river sunrises though).
As we were headed north into South Dakota on the way up I let Ray drive the Photomobile so he could get a sense of how the van drove and handled on the road - not at all like a normal motorhome (MUCH BETTER!). He is considering a future purchase. As I laid back and enjoyed the scenery, I realized something had been going wrong inside my head - well, at least inside my mouth (the stuff in my head has been going wrong for decades!). Turns out I had a cracked tooth, and would spend the remainder of the trip in extreme agony - so much so that Ray had to drive from that point on - I was either in too much pain to even see the road ahead, or was drugged up enough as to not be safe to drive (my dentist in Arkansas called in perspirations, but could only prescribe low-dose pain killers without a written prescription). So Ray got a LOT of experience driving the van - sorry Susan, but I suspect you guys may get a Photomobile/grandbabymobile at some point in the future.
It will be 7-8 months before my tooth is completely taken care of, and at a cost that could put us into one of the very elite photo blinds (that I could never afford) for a year! Ugggg...
03/21/15 Went for a hike yesterday afternoon. Warm sunshine flooded the forest, cool breezes played in the sky. The carpet of leaves underfoot was just perfect - soft enough that your feet sunk in a few inches and gripped each step. And not slick like in the fall, long gone is the crusty ice that held on for so long this winter.
I grabbed the hand of my bride and we floated across the hillside, then sat down next to a rounded boulder that was covered with brilliant green fresh moss - moisture from recent rains lingered in the air and that moisture saturated the color - in fact of the entire landscape. We shared a tender, quiet moment together, and just as our lips were about to touch, fifty pounds of fun came tumbling down the hillside and landed right in our lap! Hello Wilson! This dog is so hairy he reminds us of a wholly mammoth. (going to the beauty parlor next week)
Moments later Mia joined us - she's a licker and we were all soaked in no time. Lucy stood a few feet away with a look of "Kinds today..."
14 years ago I reached out and grasped my soon-to-be lovely bride's hand and hiked to the edge of Lake Leatherwood in Eureka Springs - we met a Justice of the Peace there and were married - still can't believe that she said I DO! Luckiest and the single most important day of my entire life. I continue to reach out to her every chance I get, but sometimes those pesky puppies get in the way.
I really don't remember the exact date of our marriage, only that it was the first day of Spring, which can be the 20th, 21st, or 22nd - that's all I need to know - first day of spring. THANKS for the BEST 14 years anyone could ever have...And I signed up for 50, so we only have 36 more years to go - I can't wait, and at the same time I suspect those years will fly by.
The High Ozarks are about to explode to life - saw the first popcorn tree in full bloom today. Wildflowers are coming on strong, and redbuds can't be far behind.
FYI for folks in Russellville that need guidebooks - I'm headed to Hastings on Sunday to restock - they called today to say they were almost out of all our guidebooks. But by sundown tomorrow they will be fully restocked. The Elk Centers in both Ponca and Jasper also stock most of our books; also Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca stocks a few. And of course we have nearly 200 retail outlets across the region, including most bookstores, outdoor stores, and park visitor centers. If you don't see what you are looking for be sure to ask. Hope everyone gets a chance to get out and ENJOY spring tomorrow in Arkansas!
03/24/15 At 3am yesterday and I was standing in the middle of a high mountain meadow here in the Arkansas Ozarks. The Milky Way was rising above the eastern horizon spread out before me. Skies were very clear, and there was no wind, no moon, only starlight. I LOVE being outdoors in the middle of the night, alone with just my thoughts, camera, and tripod, perhaps the lonely howl of a coyote in the distance.
As the Milky Way rose and I composed and shot many photos, I noticed a spot of white down in the canyon - a bit of fog gradually growing larger - often these build into a sea of fog that hovers above the Buffalo River. The fog was not in the scene I had set up, so I decided to move along to a new location and see if I could get closer.
As I stood atop one of the tallest bluffs in the headwaters of the Buffalo River, the Milky Way continued to rise, with that fog in the frame just below me. Then I realized I might be able to include an old, twisted cedar tree in the composition as well, using the white of the fog to outline the trunk of the tree. I had to work fast as twilight was about to begin, and soon the Milky Way would fade into dawn.
It was just after 6am when I made it back to the cabin and started to crawl back into bed, but my lovely bride was awake and insisted that I remove all my clothes first! There was no hanky panky on her mind, only TICKS! ‘Tis the tick season here in Arkansas, and whenever we venture out into the fields or forest we must do a “tick check” upon return. I get asked all the time what to do about ticks, and that is always the answer - do a tick check when you get off the trail or back at home and simply remove any that you find. I’m told a tick needs to be attached for 24 hours before they can do any harm, but since I’m not a doctor - nor play one on TV - you might take that with a grain of tick repellent!
I was on the road all day yesterday, and the forest was on fire when I got back home. The Arkansas Forestry Commission was doing a controlled burn on the private property just above Hawksbill Crag - the fire line is within 50 feet of the trail to the Crag in one spot, so if you saw this burn or the aftermath it was all OK. They had prefect conditions for this burn, and all hands were on deck for any hot spots. It will take a few weeks but soon the hillside will turn green with the rest of the forest.
Several hours later we had one of the worst natural events I’ve ever experienced here at Cloudland, and one of the LOUDEST. High winds blew in an extremely powerful thunderstorm complex that included hail - first pea-size hail, and eventually GOLF BALL size hail! The first rounds of hail were pretty loud on our metal roof, but when the big stuff started to come down we ran for cover and I gathered everyone into our safe room in the basement. It was just after dark when the hail stopped, and we could look up and see clear sky, crescent moon, and stars, but holy cow that heavy hail was almost deafening it was so loud!!! All of our vehicles were under cover, but I have a feeling there was some damage done to the metal roof.
When the pups were younger and teething we used to give them ice cubes to help keep them chewing up all our furniture. Well guess what - Mia decided to return the favor after the storm, and she brought in dozens of “round” ice cubes and placed them all over the living room floor! Good dog.
The wind was trucking more than 50mph just before the hail event, and I escorted my lovely bride out onto the lower back deck just to experience it - HOLD ON BABY! There is a popcorn tree just a few feet from the deck that is in full bloom right now, and it was swinging back and forth like crazy, as were the tall pine trees below. My bride was not amused!
03/25/15 We were greeted with BRILLIANT sunshine this morning and a landscape washed clean by the storm. Mia brought in several bits and pieces of things that were blasted apart by the hail, but we have not seen any major damage yet. Flowers will continue to burst forth with lots of color when the sun shines, but they better be ready to take cover as I hear there may be more storm events on the way. We sure do need the moisture, but we could do without the LOUD concert that we had last night, ha, ha!
03/30/15 'Tis a lovely night outside this evening just before midnight. I've been out strolling through the moonlit forest between the cabin and our warehouse up on the hill trying to get a few chores done before bedtime. It is rather warm, with cool breezes, and the soft glow of moonlight to show the way. The pups seem to like it too - although I can't call them pups much longer as they will turn ONE in a couple of weeks. We had them shaved at Dog Party USA in Springdale last week and they seem to love the short hair! We do too.
On my way back from town last week to pick up a load of freshly-printed guidebooks, I made a slight detour and hiked into Sweden Creek Falls Natural Area. After a couple day of rainfall it was running just about perfect, with strong winds making this tall falls dance around with joy. I set up my camera and took a series of photos of the same scene, changing the shutter speed with each shot. You never know which shutter speed is going to look best with running water until you see the finished product on a larger monitor back home. Beautiful color of the water at the base of the pool, with everything around still wet from the rainfall. Just as the sun arrived I packed up and continued my trip home to unload the new guidebooks into the warehouse.
The next day I got to run out for another quick shooting session, this time it was raining lightly with gorgeous soft light. Even mundane things in the forest (if there are any) take on a richness you just don't see when the air is dry and the sunlight harsh. I LOVE to be out shooting during light rain/misty conditions!
I seem to be more deliberate these days with my shooting - spend more time wandering around looking for a really nice subject and composition, then setting up and sticking with one composition much of the time - just tweaking exposure and framing until it just FEELS right. I'm seeing a final large print on the wall through the viewfinder, and the colors and forms soak into me and inspire my soul.
I dug out the umbrella that attaches to my tripod to protect the camera from light rain - sort of my modern-day version of the big black cloth I used to have to dive under in order to see the upside-down-and-backwards scene on the back of the ground glass in the view camera back. It was a much simpler time to create art, although the equipment and process and techniques I use today are bringing me back to that style and comfort zone - using a fine tool to hone my craft feels good.
I spent a couple of hours wandering in the wilderness, walking softly and only speaking in hushed tones. I talk to myself a lot while I'm working, and almost always in hushed tones. Somehow it wouldn't be the same if I just internalized it all. Once satisfied with my exposures, I shouldered my big camera backpack and headed out to the car at a steady pace - enough to get my heart pumping and the sweat pouring off, which felt GREAT - it was all uphill and I love to lean into the hillside with a load.
Just yesterday I took Wilson out for a spin, and we explored an area of Cave Mountain I've only been to once for a short hike. Wilson seemed to immediately be in his element - we found a small creek and he ran right down the middle of it like any good springer spaniel would do. We found a few smaller waterfalls along the way, and then came to the edge of a big bluff - and a really nice waterfall leaping over the edge! Looked to be about 40-50 feet tall. I sat down on a mossy rock near the edge of the stream just above the top of the falls and called Wilson over for a chat. THIS is why we hike I told him, so we can wander and explore and discover beautiful locations like this one. He sat down and those big brown eyes beamed up at me and his tail wiggled so much that his entire body wiggled. This no doubt shall be named Wilson Falls - the first of many great adventures we shall have together.
Spring is way late this year, with almost no wildflowers up here in the tops of the Ozarks - although I did see a flock of bloodroot wildflowers beaming this afternoon, plus Dutchman's Breeches starting to emerge. Trout lilies have already mostly faded away, but a few toothworts are coming along. Redbud trees are at least two weeks late but are starting to bloom, popcorn trees and wild plum leading the wayfor a week now, but still a couple weeks late. With warmer temps and more rainfall things will pick up speed and get back on track - dogwoods can't be too far away - OH MY!