CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - May 2016 (Part A - May 1-16)
Cloudland Cabin Cam, May 16 -
Journal updated Sunday evening the 15th - R.I.P. Jessamy...
CLOUDLAND FOR SALE - info here
Print of the Week special - Kings River rocks
05/01/16 We had both a lucky strike and a lightning strike hit our last photo workshop of the season. I'd been fretting all week about where to take my workshop students on Saturday - we go to one scenic location if the Buffalo River level is low, and to a different location if the water levels are high - but I need to know the water level a couple of days before the workshop so students know where to meet. They were calling for heavy rain on Friday all week, but usually those long-range forecasts don't pan out. I went out on a limb and went ahead and told everyone to meet at the high-water location before sunrise Saturday.
And then we didn't get hardly any rain during the day Friday. Oops! A light rain had begun to fall as I went to sleep, and when I awoke at 3:30 Saturday morning to get ready for the workshop, my lovely bride informed me that it had been raining hard all night - YIPPIE!! So there was plenty of water as our workshop group waded across Clark Creek and hiked into Lost Valley, and the waterfalls there were flowing at perfect levels so everyone got some terrific images - double YIPPIE! Lucky dog. (FYI, we had the entire place to ourselves for the first four hours, on a Saturday morning! The parking lot was jammed full as we were leaving.)
So after a great BBQ lunch back at Cloudland, we all moved into the gallery classroom for an afternoon of image processing and printing. But I could not get the projector to work - tried three video cables, and then another couple of video cables; and then I called my bride to bring us the backup projector, but it too failed to work. I switched to a backup computer, and one of our students came to the rescue and finally got the main projector to work, but only by using a different video setup (THANKS Eddie!). We had several other issues come up, but finally were able to get all files processed and printed - everyone took home an incredible color print, as good as any on the planet!
It wasn't until today that I realized the main video port of the projector was knocked out by a lightning strike that hit the gallery during the storm that rolled through Friday night. Pam said several of the breakers had been tripped, and this projector was plugged into one of those circuits (it was also plugged into a surge protector - but obviously that didn't work). Nothing else in the gallery was damaged - projectors are kind of delicate.
Normally I don't shoot much during a photo workshop I'm teaching, and while I did take a few snapshots yesterday with my little camera, I didn't even carry my big camera so didn't do any serious work. I was back up at 4 this morning and hiked back into Lost Valley before daylight. A constant breeze kept me from getting the images of a group of columbine wildflowers I had wanted to shoot, but I got to spend some really nice time in the back of the big overhang called Cob Cave. The forest there was lush and beautiful, and the view was too. Again, I had the entire place to myself, and when I left sometime after 8am, mine was the only vehicle in the lot. Hint - MORNING is the best time of day to be outdoors!
The landscape really needed the drink it got, and you can see smiles all around! But with the forest gulping up billions of gallons of water daily, all that rainfall will begin to disappear. If you have your dancing shoes around, please put them on and do a tap or two once or twice a week to keep those rain clouds rolling in...
WILDLIFE NOTE. My lovely bride was hiking this afternoon with the puppies when she got pooped on by a bird flying by - landed right on top of her head. I've always heard that was good luck, but I don't think she saw it that way!
It was 15 years ago TODAY when Haley Zega was rescued by local volunteers Lytle James and William Jeff Villines of Mt. Sherman. This ended the largest search and rescue mission in Arkansas History that included more than 1,000 volunteers, 80 government agencies, and four helicopters flying day and night. Up to 60 folks from Haley's family and close friends were camped at Cloudland during the ordeal - the state police kept our driveway closed off to the public. Here are a few snapshots taken on that historic day. (We have a few copies left of THE SEARCH FOR HALEY book about the ordeal.)
Haley's parents speak to the media and plead for Haley's life (above); Haley at the rescue site (below)
Haley's family and friends celebrate at Cloudland after we got the news (below) NOTE that the guy standing next to the post in the green hat is none other than Mike Shirkey of The Pickin' Post radio show (on KUAF) fame!
05/02/16 A hike along Knuckles Creek and Big Buffalo Creek...
05/04/16 The alarm went off at 2am and I jumped out of bed, sat there in the dark sipping a cup of Keurig, then shouldered my camera backpack and stepped out of the van into an ocean of bright stars above. (Can you have an "ocean" of stars above I wonder? There were a LOT of stars, seemed like about the number of drops of water in an ocean, hence the reference.)
My night vision grew better with each step, although not nearly as fast as normal - with all the leaves on the trees and bushes now there was not much starlight reaching my level in the forest. I was using a single-LED red light headlamp to navigate since I wanted to hike quickly (and not run into a big fat tree!). And then I caught a whiff of campfire smoke. Someone had pitched their tent not three feet from the trail! A then there was a hammock a few feet beyond on the other side of the trail - I almost ran into that guy! Normally I would make some sort of growling bear sound at this point, but these days you don't know if someone would imply wet their pants, or just start shooting, so I eased right on by without a whisper.
I spent the next 30 minutes or so taking pictures of Hawksbill Crag and a wonderful Milky Way that was rising behind it. Once I got the star pictures completed, I did a series of really long exposures of several minutes each.
This is a first for me - but rather than just sit there on top of the bluff wondering how long it was until the picture ended, I did yoga - just a single pose - and held the pose until the long exposure ended. My body has been a mess this past couple of months and I've not been able to attend yoga class with the ladies at the historic Boxley Baptist Church, and my body has grown the worse for neglect for sure. But it felt great to be doing something, anything, even if it was only a single pose. While I normally close my eyes during yoga class, I figured it would be better if I kept them open this time. Seeing someone doing yoga in the woods is not that uncommon - but if you happen upon someone doing yoga in the woods at night, it might be me!
A light came on over near the hammock, so I figured it was time for me to leave, so I packed up my gear and headed up the hillside through the thick brush - wondering what the campers thought of the red light moving through the woods.
It was a great workout on the way back, and I leaned into the hillside and hiked as fast as I could - my lovely bride brought home some waffle fries from chick-filet that I really needed to work off (they are great micro'ed). The forest was so peaceful this morning, not a critter was stirring, 'cept for this grizzled old woodsboy with a single glowing red eye.
Next I spent a while in a nearby meadow taking more photos of the Milky Way as it climbed high in the sky. There was a nice pair of walnut trees that wanted to silhouette, and I was happy to include them. I shot some giant hay bales, and also our RV van, where I had been napping until 2am. And then I realized the stars were fading - "astronomical twilight" had begun - and it was still almost two hours before sunrise! (This is the point in time when the rising sun around the corner of the earth begins to light up the sky and stars begin to fade - normally about 90 minutes before sunrise, but this morning it was even sooner.)
And then I noticed a glow of orange on the distant horizon - it was the crescent moon arriving, only about 8% of it illuminated by the very same sunshine. It glowed and rose right on up into what had become a dark blue sky, and behind another tree that was in prefect silhouette. I always enjoy taking pictures of trees, but I LOVE taking pictures of SILHOUETTED trees!
This afternoon I made a quick trip into town to deliver some books and maps to the elk center in Jasper (the elk center in Ponca stocks our books too), and also stopped by the new property to check on progress of the new warehouse/gallery building - they are just getting started on the foundation - no due date yet, but we're hoping it will be done sometime this summer (terrible light - sorry). (Cloudland For Sale update - we have not made a deal with anyone yet and are still looking for the perfect match. We have a university considering the property for use as a remote campus with advanced students working on nature, geological, botany, or other science-related projects - AND student artists (we have not one, but two buildings that are art studios!). A couple of folks have inquired about a helicopter pad - YES, you can land those at Cloudland! (A big PLUS for emergency air-evac.)
You might chuckle at me for this. I used at least four different cameras today, from an ultra-wide angle lens to capture the Milky Way to a long telephoto to shoot a dead armadillo, I mean PHOTOGRAPH a dead armadillo). The older I get the more my camera gear gets spread out all over the place. So I just had to laugh after getting myself all prepared to go for a hike to take some afternoon pictures - when I realized I didn't have the correct camera with me - I had left it in a drawer of the RV when I had removed that camera to make room for the "Milky Way" camera early this morning. Too many cameras!
05/09/16 We just had a Cloudland Moment this evening. It had been raining off and on today, with some really heavy rainfall and bad storms early this evening - YIPPIE COYOTE - we sure did/do need the rain! I was not able to make it to yoga in Boxley tonight, but my bride came home exhausted and a little sore, so we both settled into the hot tub to soak for a little while as it was getting dark. Out of nowhere there was a LOUD CRACK, and the entire sky LIT UP with a GIANT LIGHTNING BOLT! The flash lit up the sun/hot tub room like someone had taken a flash picture. And there it was - not more than a mile in front of us, inside the "bowl" of the wilderness before us - the bolt hit the side of the mountain and shook the earth. Took our breath away - partly because it was such a shock, but also because it scared the beejeevees out of us! "Honey, it is time to get out of the hot tub and away from the window!"
I've been away from the computer for a while but I have not spent all my time napping. In fact just this evening before the lightning bolt hit I was doing a bit of multi-tasking, Ernst style. We had gone through several bouts of weather today when I had to shut down and unplug everything in both the cabin and in the print room, so while there was a lull in the action I would try my best to get as much done as possible. At one point while my lovely bride was at yoga I was: making a large canvas print of Eden Falls for a hotel in Clarksville on my main print room computer; scanning an old 35mm Kodachrome slide on a second computer to be printed later tonight (I hope); processing about a thousand images into a 25-second timelapse video that I had shot a couple of nights ago; shooting a new timelapse from the back deck of the cabin of the cloud formations down in the wilderness - one picture every five seconds; and also cooking Banff Pasta to have ready when Pam returned from yoga - how's that for an old man multi-tasking!
I'm happy to report that the pasta was very good, the big print turned out great, I have not looked at the scan yet, the first timelapse I was processing looks really good, and the cloud timelapse I was shooting had ended, but I've not seen the results yet - maybe later tonight.
A bit of wildlife news. First, our neighbors Benny and Mildred saw a giant bull elk nearby a couple of days ago. The largest of the "herd bulls" from Boxley spend spring and summer up here on the mountain, but they usually stay pretty well hidden and it is always a treat to see them, especially within spittin' distance of Cloudland. Secondly, yesterday evening I was once again soaking in the hot tub right at dusk, and saw something very odd - we often see hawks, eagles, and buzzards riding the wind currents out in front of the cabin - in fact I swear many times they are PLAYING in the wind! But last night was a first for me - BATS were riding the wind currents! We have a colony of bats living here (we LOVE bats - they eat their weight in mosquitoes every day - go bats!), and often see them darting about chasing bugs. But it was just so weird to see them riding the wind. And finally, a couple of mornings ago, after having been awake for all but four hours of in a 48-hour stretch, I was hiking across a high meadow at about 3:30am. The grass was LUSH and full of wildflowers - although with the red light I could not tell what colors the flower were, but they were plentiful. I felt like an extra in a Sound Of Music scene - it was a rolling meadow that was just soft and beautiful. Anyway, I spotted an eye in front of me, down low to the ground. Most eyes I see at night dart away in a hurry, but this one stayed put. As I got closer the shape of a rabbit formed on the ground, with that one eye glowing back at me (not a red eye - it was just shining white in the red light). I could not believe the wild rabbit had not run off. In fact he remained perfectly still. I stopped, bend down, and actually touched him on the back! Then he took off as expected. How many times can you actually walk right up and touch a wild animal? Not very often. In face I thought that perhaps my lack of sleep had me seeing things. But then I came upon another rabbit - same deal - I was able to walk right up to him and touch his behind. I thought about picking one up, but then realized it was still a wild animal after all, and it is NOT a good idea to handle a wild animal like that!
One other wildlife note, which was also a Cloudland Moment I got to share with my bride. Yesterday we saw the very first fawn of the season. Little guy couldn't have been more than a couple of hours old, and taking his first steps. He was scared to death and so we quickly got out of the way - didn't even take a picture. Spring is all about birth and renewal, and nothing says that more than a newborn fawn.
OK, one more wildlife note, although these really were not wild. The other night I left the cabin pretty late at night and headed out in search of star photos. I stopped at a nearby pasture and got out to walk around to let my night vision settle in and begin the watch for the rising Milky Way. A few minutes later I had one of those cold chills run down my spine - you know, like someone was watching me? I turned on the red headlamp and discovered about 20 red eyes staring at me! HOLY COW I said out loud! Sure enough, there was a herd of cows standing there behind me. I hiked back to the van and returned with my camera and tripod, then got down on my belly with the camera resting just a few inches above the pasture, and started taking pictures. The cows were quite interested in what I was doing, especially a couple of them that kept coming in really close - one of them was less than five feet from the front of the lens when I took this picture! I named them STAR COWS.
Later on that same night, as I was coming back to the van across a different pasture I came upon a single cow - only this one was a BULL! He was all by himself in the pasture, separated from all the lady cows by a single fence. I don't think he was happy about the fact that I got to be in with his cows while he could not get to them. We had a short conversation - he won, and I turned around and took the long way back to the van.
This past week I've been working the night shift, leaving the cabin soon after dark and coming home just before sunrise. I crawl into the RV/bookmobile in our carport about 6am to get a few hours of sleep (I prefer to "sleep it off" in the RV instead of inside the cabin - that way Pam can get up and work as usual and not worry about waking me up.). I take a sleeping pill that usually gets me about six hours of sleep, although lately in the RV I usually wake up after only four hours - but that seems to be enough. Now that we have cloudy nights I'll be switching to the day shift and hopefully a WATERFALL or two!
I need to post this and then head back over to the print room tonight for a while longer, then hope to be on the road by about 4am tomorrow to shoot as much as I can before the dreaded blue sky and sunshine appear - bring on more rain and clouds please!
05/10/16 We had more thunder, lightning, and heavy rain last night - DOUBLE YIPPIE! And I managed to get all of my printing done before shutting the gallery building down around midnight. I sprang to life at 4am when the alarm went off, and I spent the next 30 minutes looking at maps and rain totals for the area, then selected a handful of waterfalls and drainages I wanted to go explore.
My first stop was not even a stop - what had been flooded just a few hours before was just a trickle this morning. 'Tis the nature of these spring thunderstorms in the Ozarks - the thirsty landscape just sucks it up as fast and it can fall. No problem, my second location had received nearly two inches of rain and was in the bottom of a drainage - but OOPS, it was not flowing very well either! Yet the Buffalo River was high and muddy.
My third choice was running OK, and was not muddy, so I put on my creek & snake boots, shouldered my pack, and headed on up into the wilderness, stomping up the shallow stream. Almost immediately I was hit with how amazingly LUSH and delightful this place was - a classic spring beauty! It was also quite SLICK in the stream and on the hillside whenever I had to retreat from the little canyon.
I had photographed a waterfall far upstream years before, and that was my goal for this morning. But it seemed to be a LOT LONGER than I had remembered - is that a case of my memory getting fuzzy, or my bones weary? Seems like we all live in a get there NOW world, and are not always willing to put in as much time and effort as before. But my problem was that I really wanted to make it to the waterfall before blue sky and harsh sunshine flooded the landscape, yet there were so many beautiful scenes along the way to stop and photograph that I was afraid to set up my camera, so I wandered on upstream, enjoying the journey while keeping up a pretty good clip.
And then just as I saw the waterfall ahead, I also ran smack into a carpet of amazing ferns spread out before me. OK, enough was enough - the waterfalls was right over there, and it will have to wait. So I did set up my camera and spent some time getting to know this lush intimate fern and moss-covered landscape.
It was nearly three hours later when I was happy with pictures of the waterfall - there for those who ask, sometimes I only make it 100 yards through the forest (from the ferns to the waterfall) in three hours! I had photographed the ferns and waterfall from several different angles, and even one set with ferns at the base of the waterfall including both. The soft, sweet filtered light of early morning continued on into mid morning. It was a good day to be in the woods. It was a great day to be in the woods with a camera!
By the time I arrived back at the van I was soaked to the bone and so was most of my camera gear. In fact what caused me to stop taking pictures and head home was that all the humidity had begun to soak into my camera gear and it was tough to keep my lenses from fogging up. The creeks may have run off quickly, but the landscape remained very WET!
Brilliant sunshine broke through the clouds and it was time to return to the electronic office at Cloudland.
05/13/16 Couple of wildlife notes. The other day while driving along a lonely stretch of scenic Hwy. 16 near Fallsville, I came upon a very skinny new momma turkey hen crossing the road - with about 18 newly-hatched chicks scurrying behind here. I came to a screeching halt and just sat there and watched in amazement - those chicks were so TINY! And momma was doing a great job of getting them across the highway. Only the last part of the pack froze about two feet from the shoulder. Momma turned around and frantically tried to herd them along, and eventually she got all but one off into the grass and with the other chicks. The last one hit the grass and just sat down.
By this time I had taken a few snapshots through the windshield, and then I zoomed in really close to the tiny chick, CLICK. QUACK! I swear these birds were only slightly larger than the egg they had just come from, yet very fine turkey feathers and turkey down. I was happy to see this last little guy finally leap up and run to the flock, and everyone disappeared into the woods. "Hey mom, let's not cross THAT highway again, ey!?"
newborn wild turkeys
I spent the next afternoon and evening in the Kings River Falls Natural Area. There had been 24 concrete parking blocks added for more parking space on the near side of the bridge - 27 parking spaces there now total - must be getting crowded sometimes, although I only saw one young couple for a moment in passing during the four hours I was there, and had the place to myself.
I hiked back out just after sunset, hot and sticky and tired from a long day. I rolled the windows in the van down and drove through the countryside as twilight eased into night. Each time I would pass a farm pond or watering hole, the music of spring peepers (little frogs) would begin and build to a fever pitch when I got right next to the water, then die down as I moved away. Then I would pass a whippoorwill and his/her calls could bounce around inside the van for a few moments. Then more peepers, or other birds calling out. Crickets. Etc. Kind of funny - but in this case I was able to hear more wildlife music while driving than while just hiking along at a much slower pace!
Oh yes, and one more wildlife story. Last night I headed out into the wilderness after dark to shoot a long series of pictures of the Milky Way rising behind Hawksbill Crag (as the moonlight on the Crag disappeared). I set up the camera and started the sequence, then hiked back out to the cabin. As I approached home I found my lovely bride on the front porch trying to signal me and yelling something. She was trying to tell me about the "raccoon " she just encountered in the carport. It turned out to be a BEAR! She screamed and yelled and chased and probably made so much noise that the bear hightailed it into the next county. This was the first bear incident at the cabin in quite some time, and the puppies thought it all was a great big treat - though Pam was able to keep them inside so they would not get themselves into trouble.
Several days ago I hiked the short distance along the Ozark Highlands Trail to Lichen Falls just as the sun set through the trees. I've always been drawn to this beautiful spot that is right next to, but is a steep slide down from the trail. It's not large or thunderous, but it has always had a great personality when I've visited, as it did this day. I found myself not wanting to stand back and take the overall scene photo, but rather I waded out into the shallow pool of the upper part of the falls and spent about 30 minutes trying to capture details in the flowing water by using different shutter speeds. My lens was about two feet from the water, and we both got splashed a time or two. I think it's a good sign when you get splashed by a waterfall, don't you? I may never use any of those photos, but the pleasant memory of standing there in the water with such a pretty lady falls will hang around with me a while.
Being at Hawksbill Crag late last night was most rewarding as well. The moon was lightning up the entire wilderness out in front and across the way - it felt different than at other times I believe - must have been the way the moonlight struck the landscape or something. And then again this morning, the Milky Way had already set and most of the stars had gone to bed by the time I hiked back in to end the timelapse sequence, yet it was still pretty dark all over. As I sat there in the darkness at the edge of the tall bluff packing up my camera gear, I just had to stop and soak it all in for a while. Whitaker Creek was playing some mighty fine music, there was a cool breeze, and a pastel dawn was on the way - it was one of the most beautiful locations on the planet. I've photographed from that very spot a couple hundred times in the past 30 years (many of those at night). I feel at one with and at home with this place perhaps more so than any other wild natural area - but at the same time I don't think I've ever really captured in a photograph the best the Crag has to offer - that would take many more trips. I wondered if this would perhaps be my last trip to the Crag to try and do just that? I guess every visit anywhere could be the last for one reason or another, but certainly the odds are increasing. So I lingered a while longer, zipped up the camera backpack, stood up and give the Crag a happy salute, then hiked on up the steep hillside towards our cabin - hoping that Pam's bear was not looking for breakfast...
05/15/16 How quickly tragedy strikes. It was just after 11am this morning when I got a call from the Newton County Sheriff's office reporting that a hiker had fallen off the bluff nearby. "She is responsive" - meaning she may have survived the fall. No greater hope than that. I ran out the door and sped up to Benny/Mildred's cabin (the old Faddis Cabin), then took off through the woods and down the steep hill until I reached Hawksbill Crag. My heart sank when the two men there said she had not survived the fall, and that there were two other guys from their group that were down with her. They pointed to a spot about 100 feet away where she had fallen from (a location east of the Crag itself). I asked if either of the guys below had medical training, trying to figure out if their diagnoses was accurate, when another man that was not with their group came over and said that he did have medical training. I asked if he would go below the bluff with me and have a look at her, and so the two of us headed the 1/2 along the trail to a point where you can get down through the bluffline.
We made our way along the base of the bluff, then below the Crag, and then came to the guys who were watching over the young woman who fell (Jessamy Samuels, 19, from Rogers). It was the worst news, and there was no hope. My heart and spirit sank - how could someone so young...
I leaned up against a nearby tree and said a quiet prayer. When I opened my eyes I realized that I was leaning against a wide yellow ribbon that had been placed there a couple of years ago by Austin Elder's family. Austin had fallen to his death in the middle of the night and landed in the very same spot. I hope that at some point in the future there will be comfort to Jessamy's family to know that there was an angel with her at the moment of truth, and that she was at peace and no doubt unafraid to pass into the next world.
I have no official part in these search and rescue missions - other than to try and stay out of their way - we have the BEST folks on the planet in this area, and I knew there would be a crowd of them gathering. But I did want to make my way back on top and reach the incident commander, Glenn Wheeler, to let him know her exact location, so that they would know the quickest way for the evacuation team to reach her. I passed a string of great folks while on the way up that were coming in, including a law enforcement officer from the forest service, local search and rescue team members, and even a local policeman. When the call goes out, everyone drops what they are doing and responds. I was rather winded when I reached the top of the ridge and found Glenn along with a couple dozen other folks getting ready to enter the woods. A command tent was being erected, and other items and crews being organized. As usual Glenn had things under control and in order. Good egg.
I left the command center and headed back towards Benny/Mildred's cabin, and marked with flagging tape the route from the road on down the hillside via an old access trail that led directly to Hawksbill Crag. This would be the shortest route for the evac team to take both coming in and bringing her back up and out. Their plan was for their specialized "High Angle" team to raise her up and over the 100 foot tall bluff, then place her in a wheeled cart for the steep trip out. Their route would be narrow and thick, but the best way. I checked in with the guys setting up the ropes, then headed back out, passing the carry team along the way. These guys/gals are all the best for sure. That's all I could do - I returned to the cabin, helpless and defeated.
I made a quick post to social media asking folks to avoid the area this afternoon to keep the roadways open for the responders and emergency vehicles. We all want to know what is going on, but it is not my place to post details during an ongoing event. I don't really know what to say here and now either, other than to be sad for her family and friends, and thankful for all the great folks who were involved in her recovery. I had visited the Crag just a couple of nights ago and it was the most glorious place and experience. And now, such sadness. Here's the Harrison Daily Times online note.
It seems to me that Jessamy brought much joy and happiness to the world during her short time on earth. She will be missed by many, and her good deeds will live on forever...