CLOUDLAND JOURNAL, SEPTEMBER 1998
9/1/98 It was very black in the shadows but quite light in the moonlight areas when I arrived at the cabin late. A light breeze was blowing, and the summer bugs were singing proudly. I was exhausted from a long day in the city, and all I could do was collapse into the hammock out on the lower deck and drift off with the moon. Several hours later, a barred owl woke me - he was somewhere very close, and was trying to get my attention. It was darker than I had remembered it being when I went to sleep. Oh yea, the moon. I got up and looked to the west - there it was, a pure white 3/4 moon dropping behind the distant hilltop. Thanks Mr. Owl, for alerting me to this incredible sight!
9/2/98 I finished the night up in the loft, and slept in late. A weird sound woke me up - this time it was no hoot owl. I got up and ran outside and found a small, noisy helicopter hovering right over the meadow! It was so low that the prop wash was moving the wild sunflowers around. I studied the pilot through the binocs, and saw that it was a woman, and it looked like she was smiling. I waved. She waved back, hovered another moment, then turned away and flew off down into the valley. She followed the river upstream, remaining just barely above tree level. I sat down and watched her through the binocs until she disappeared around the bend four miles away. Only then did I realize that I was stark naked! I wondered if she had been smiling in approval at what she had seen, or laughing hysterically.
This was going to be a day to work on the new Buffalo River Wilderness slide show. Picking the slides was easy - I am going to use all of the images in the new picture book. But the tough part was going to be selecting the music to go along with them. The images will be wonderful, but it will take the right music to make the show a great one. I want tears from the audience. The music has to be right.
I spent most of the day and long into the night plowing through dozens of CD's, listening to each note, trying to come up with four or five perfect pieces of music. The ones that struck me got played over and over and over again, and I was often seen dancing and humming and tapping my feet to the rhythm. Every now and then I would stand next to the window and let the music flow over and through me while I soaked up the view outside. I took a couple of breaks during the day when Bob Chester and Benny Stovall dropped by for a visit, and then when Milancy McNamara and I went over some of the details of the upcoming book tour and slide show schedule. Billy McNamara will be with me for many of the programs, but I will be doing most of them myself. I look forward to having him along with possible - he is one great artist!
9/3/98 Sometime in the early morning hours I turned off the stereo and wandered down onto the lower deck. Wow! The moonlit wilderness in front of me was nothing short of incredible. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but moonlight is just very special. It has a certain quality of light about it, unlike anything else you will ever see. It was quiet, with a slight breeze, and an owl or two hooting off in the distance. The night sky was very bright - I could hardly see many stars. But while I sat there in the hammock for thirty minutes, I saw three shooting stars! These guys must have been REALLY bright to show up in such a light sky! I firmly believe that the more time that you spend our in the moonlight the happier you will be. I spend a lot of time in the moonlight.
After a few hours of rest, I went down and greeted the new day from my usual spot out on the back deck. It was clear out, and the delicate orange sunlight bathed the tops of all the ridges, then turned yellow and finally white as it made its way down into the deepest valleys. There were a few hummers out, and lots of butterflies. The radio said that it was going to be between 95 and 100 degrees in town today - I just had to laugh.
Once my Starbucks Mocha and yogurt were gone, I cranked up the stereo and continued my search for the perfect music. I had found four of the five songs that I wanted the night before, but still needed one more. I put all of the selected CD's together and listened to the order over and over, assembling certain images and title slides fading into one another in my mind. Yea, the music was coming along, and this was going to be one terrific slide show! That fifth song was going to be an illusive one. Several were picked, but just didn't work out right. I typed up and printed out the title slides, and listened to more CD's (I've collected about 140 of them over the years). Still no perfect song for the number three slot - I had the first, second, fourth and last songs matched up.
Then I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye - it was the shadow of a butterfly on one of my office mini-blinds. He flew back and forth. I believe he was trying to tell me that it was time to put away the music for now and come out and play. Hey, it's not a good idea to argue with a butterfly! So I shut down the computer and put on my walking shoes, then slipped away into the forest. You can do that at Cloudland, anytime that you want.
9/5/98 The moon was just above the ridgetop at sunset, climbing rapidly into the sky. It was sort of a pale orange, not too bright, but very moonlike just the same. It was HUGE! A harvest moon perhaps - one day away from full. I sat in the back porch swing, sipped a little wine, and watched as the wilderness dimmed, then lit up once again with the moonlight. It was warm, in fact it had the warmest day of the entire year (95 degrees), but the wind was blowing at 15-20 mph, and it felt nothing short of wonderful.
Moonlight conjures up thoughts of romance and adventure. Well, there was no romance to be found this weekend at Cloudland, but I sure could create some adventure. At least at little Cloudland adventure. I laced up my hiking boots and headed out into the night for a hike. The first thing that I noticed as I made my way through the woods was that there were NO spider webs! What a pleasure it was to walk without eating spiders all along the way.
The wind hadn't penetrated the woods, and there weren't any critters out that I could detect, which made it very, very quiet out. The shadows created by the bright moon were filled in somewhat with reflected moonlight, so it was easy to wander around without a flashlight. It was sort of like those old movies that were filmed in the middle of the day with a very dark filter on to make it look like nighttime. It was nice walking, but it was clearly nighttime. And there was always a sense that something big and mean would step out from behind a tree at any moment.
As I passed the bear cutout that I had installed along the road several months ago to welcome visitors, my heart skipped a beat and I broke out in a cold sweat - even though I had driven past it a hundred times, and walked within several feet of it dozens of times, even many times in the dark, the sight of a bear outline jolted me. Calm down son, no real bears out tonight. Yea, right.
Beyond the bear I walked out into the open Faddis meadow and was met with the cooling wind and bright moonlight. Walking, standing, sitting in the tall grass, it didn't matter - it was absolutely incredible being out in the moonlight and the wind. Don't know exactly why. I have always enjoyed being out on summer nights ever since I was a little kid. I felt very much at home.
I walked out into a patch of very tall weeds - they were like giant queen Anne's lace - white bunches of tiny flowers on tall stalks. I wouldn't dream of walking through this thick, prickly mess during the heat of the day, but in the cool moonlight it seemed magical. The stalks were nearly six feet tall, and I got lost in the sea of blowing weeds. Looking up, I noticed a bright object that shown through the bright sky right next to the moon - it was Jupiter, and was about the only thing showing anywhere near the moon.
I left the Faddis meadow and headed over towards the East Meadow. The tunnel of trees that connected them became rather spooky - the trees were so thick that no moonlight penetrated to the ground. But there was enough reflected light that I could see the path easily. Ahead I could see an open patch, and it was really lit up. I thought about all kinds of different things that might be in that opening - a big bear or mountain lion that would come after me, chase me deeper into the woods, and feast on my bloody bones. Or perhaps a beautiful wood nymph would appear, take me in her arms, and allow me the ultimate commune with nature. While lost in this mental haze, I stepped into a depression in the path, stumbled, and fell flat on my face in the dirt. So much for the lovely wood nymph.
While I twist or pop my ankle a lot, the pain is normally eased by simply walking it out. So I continued along the dark tunnel, through the bright opening (no bears or nymphs), towards the East Meadow. The pain in my ankle grew, and shot up my leg to my knee - this wasn't normal. By this time, it was about as close to continue on as it would have been to turn back, so I kept going.
Soon I entered the East Meadow - Wow!, it was like walking back into bright sunshine! Hard to believe that it could be SO bright in the middle of the night. The wind picked up again, and I walked into the moonlight. As I moved on, I saw flashes of white in the meadow ahead - deer! I forgot all about sneaking up on the garden to see if anything was there, and I spooked them. Probably the three bucks that I had seen there before. I could see their white tails waving high in the night sky, bounding towards the woods, then they disappeared. I sat down in the weeds, actually I guess I laid down in them, and soaked up all the moonlight that I could.
My ankle began to throb, so I got up and continued my hike. I left the bright meadow and eased into the dark woods. While I had a flashlight in my pocket, I vowed not to use it unless I really had to - I wanted to experience the woods in the moonlight. This stretch of the woods was rather dark, not too much moonlight to bounce around and light things up. All I needed was another misstep and my ankle would be really messed up. I slowed down. Instead of walking through the woods, I went from tree to tree, using them as friendly handholds, a helping hand in the night.
When you move through the woods at this slow pace, you not only appreciate them more, but you get to know the individual trees. You feel their bark and branches, and sometimes, you know that they are smiling. I wrapped my arms around an old oak that was smiling - he had enjoyed thousands of moonlit nights, weathered countless severe storms, been the home to flying squirrels and woodpeckers and snakes, and had seen many loggers cut down his buddies. This night the wind produced sweet music in his high branches, and I knew that he must be dancing inside.
I moved on, carefully, and came to a broken bluffline. It was only about six feet tall, but quite solid, and covered with moss and small ferns. The rock still contained the heat of the day - like a living, breathing being. This dude was firmly anchored to the earth, solid, and nothing would ever move it. Yet the moss gave it a soft personality.
The wind picked up and the entire forest began to sing. The areas of light and dark moved and danced about and created a thousand patterns on the forest floor. I sat at the base of another old oak and took in the show. The trees were silhouetted against the bright moon. In daylight you never really see trees silhouetted - there is always some green or brown or red or whatever. Only in the moonlight can you see natural silhouettes. You can study the shape and form of the trunk, the branches, the individual leaves. I like silhouettes.
Looking up, I noticed a large blob in one of the trees. It began to move. It was moving down the tree. It got to the ground and started coming at me, making a lot of noise - oh my God, it was a bear! My heart pounded. I was trapped. He got closer and closer. In a flash he was right in front of me, about to crash into me. Just then an ant crawled up my leg and bit me, and I woke up. The moonlight had lulled me to sleep, and one of my greatest fears had invaded my dreams. Lordy, I was glad to be awake, and in the company of friendly trees instead of a charging bear!
My ankle had stiffened, and was really throbbing now. That, along with all of the bears running around in my mind, pushed me on towards the cabin. I left my forest wonderland behind and followed the road home. The warm glow of my cabin logs lit up by the outside light was the perfect balance to the moonlight, creating a very welcome scene. I imagined what this same scene would look like under a blanket of fresh snow - I'll have to photograph that this winter if it ever snows during a full moon.
Now it was time to get back to work. I had more CD's to listen to, and really needed to choose the final song for the Buffalo River Wilderness slide show. Then it hit me - I knew exactly what song I wanted - I couldn't believe that I didn't remember it before. I heard this song a couple of years ago, and immediately noted then that it would be in one of my slide shows some day. I dug through my pile of CD's and found it. Yes, that would work! I put all of the chosen songs together in the CD six pack on my stereo, and listened to the sequence over and over, for two hours. I turned up the volume, and played the dissolving images in my mind. After listening to over 75 CD's, I finally had my show.
9/9/98 The sky was pitch black, and a million stars were out when I returned to Cloudland. I know that I keep saying this, but the sky was as wonderful as I had ever seen it, and the stars went on forever. The temp was in the upper 50's, the wind was blowing a little, and it was FALL!!!
After unloading the van of all my slide show putting together stuff, I happened to look out the back window of the cabin and saw a tall white object. I went outside and discovered the big pine tree in the meadow was being lit up by a bright light - it must be the moon! But the hilltop where the moon had been rising was black. I walked around the east deck and son of a gun, there it was, a three-quarter moon rising into the night sky. But it was in the WRONG place! It was in the same spot where the sun rises this time of year, but just a week ago it rose at the other end of the ridge, about where the sun rises in December. I wish someone would come out here and explain all of the moon's movements to me. The sun has a predictable path that it follows, but sometimes the moon just seems to jump around wherever it pleases. Perhaps that is one reason why I relate so much to the moon - I kind of jump around some too. Anyway, it was a lovely moonrise, and soon the valleys were lit up just like after sunrise, with the shadows creating all kinds of patterns.
I sat out on the deck a while, enjoying the night spectacle. There were hardly any summer bugs out at all - perhaps they had already crawled into the ground. Or maybe they were just sitting there staring at the whole scene like I was, soaking it all in.
Later, after I went to bed, several owls woke up and began hooting back and forth. And even later, a coyote started yipping and howling. I love to hear them. Another one answered him. Then another. There were at least three of them in different areas of the wilderness that were singing to each other. For me, it was like stereo with a center speaker - the original surround sound! This went on for several minutes, and it was music indeed. All too soon they stopped, and the forest was quiet again.
The cool night sent me deep under the quilt. I always sleep better when it is cool.
9/10/98 A loud bang shook me awake - fall must be near, because an acorn had slammed into the metal roof. When the oak and hickory trees decide to release their fat fruit, it really gets loud at the cabin. You don't notice it too much down in the lower levels, because the logs and roof insulate the sound so well. But up in the loft, with all of the windows open, the sound is very loud, and startling. The lady that I am looking for to share my loft will need to be a sound sleeper.
Temps in the 50's, a light breeze, clear blue skies, it was heaven at Cloudland. Summer has been absolutely wonderful out here - way beyond my greatest expectations. But fall is going to be ten times better, if that is possible. I could not imagine being in a better place.
There was a noticeable absence of butterflies and hummingbirds (the feeder wasn't even empty - guess they have already flown elsewhere). But there were lots of goldfinches still around, and they were really enjoying themselves playing in the upper airspace above the meadow.
As I sat in the swing nibbling on my hashbrowns and cheese, the grey fox appeared down below. He obviously saw me, and in fact was giving me a good look-see, but didn't seem to be too concerned. He went into a brush pile and never came out. I remained glued on that spot, but no more fox. He must have a den there, but I have been hesitant to go investigate for fear of disturbing him. This is in the same spot as I had seen him twice before, right near the burn spot where he has been rolling - there are always fresh tracks there. I'm very glad to have him as my neighbor.
It is absolutely beautiful here right now. And there are more and more trees turning already. There are a number of smaller trees turning red along the top of the bluffline that I can see winding off in the distance, and there are even several splotches of red and orange trees above the bluff. Along the river too there are more trees turning. I suspect that some of them are turning because of a lack of water. But I think it is going to be one terrific fall color display this year. You will probably hear me say that a lot. Or all of the leaves will turn brown and drop off. One or the other.
By the end of this week I plan to have my new slide show pretty much put together and ready to show. I brought out some special stereo equipment to the cabin, light tables, projectors, a dissolve unit, a big projection screen, special glass slide mounts, custom slide masks for the watercolor slides, plus a lot of other stuff that I need to put this program together. It will take me most of today just to get all of the slide mounts cleaned and the slides mounted in them. Then I will begin to match all of the images to the music soundtrack that I recorded at my Fayetteville office earlier this week - that will be the tough part, and the most important part of creating the program. I suspect that the atmosphere out here at Cloudland will help things melt together just fine. So it's off to work!
Sometimes I get into a very focused work state of mind, which is what I did all day. It took me nearly eight hours just to mount all of the slides - I skipped lunch and worked straight through. After a quick salad for dinner, I went back to the editing table and worked long into the night. It was 2:30am before I finally turned off the projectors. Whew, I did it. All of the slides were matched to the music. Maybe not perfectly, but it is a pretty darn good first draft. I went through each musical part, selecting the images and the dissolve rates. It took me five times, ten times, fifteen times, and even twenty times going through the music and the images until everything was just right. That music would continue to bounce around in my head for a long time.
I got a glass of wine and plopped down on the hammock to rest a little before going to bed (sounds strange to rest before going to bed, but sometimes you just have to). The moon was up, a breeze was blowing, and there was almost no sound at all. The moon was shining brightly through the trees, creating dozens of silver starbursts (or I guess they should be called moonbursts). This was amazing, and unlike anything that you would see from the sun. And because the wind was blowing the limbs and leaves around, the moonbursts were dancing all over the place (I swear that was the only glass of wine that I had all night!). I was mesmerized until I dozed off. Then the deck woke me up when I fell out of the hammock. Duh.
9/11/98 I missed the sunrise again, but crawled out of bed in time to enjoy a good part of the morning. I walked out onto the back deck, and scanned the meadow below for any signs of the fox - none. As I hobbled down the stairs to the lower deck on my way to water the flowers, I startled some deer that were at the edge of the meadow. Darn, I was so concerned with finding the fox, I completely missed seeing the deer! They took off across the meadow towards the woods, their white flags waving in the morning sunshine. I didn't see a third one, but these two were both big bucks, and probably two of the ones that I had been seeing in the East meadow. I'll bet the third one was close by, standing in the shadows saying "I told you guys not to go into that meadow!"
I was forced to eat my bowl of fresh peaches, yogurt and Grape Nuts out on the deck, scanning the meadow for any movement. As soon as I sat down, the fox appeared. At last, I was able to get a good look at him with the binocs. What a beautiful animal - mostly grey along the top, but rust colored all along the underside, up the neck, and around the back of its head and ears. The face and tail were black. From reading the description that Gretchen Huey wrote in the Ozark Natural Science Center newsletter, this was indeed a Grey fox - no white tip on the tail like red foxes have.
The fox wandered around the left side of the meadow, and went over to where the deer were when I first saw them. At one point it stopped and stretched out and yawned. Another time it went jumping after a butterfly. When it got to the edge of the meadow, it turned around and circled back. I was watching all of this through the binocs. As it walked through a small opening it passed within a foot of another fox who was lying in the dirt - wow, two of them again! I was a little startled to see the second one - he was looking right at me.
This second fox was larger, probably the male, with a lustrous grey coat on top also, and lots of rusty red underneath, with a red chest, but no red ears. OK, I had a good ID on both of them and could now tell them apart. The guy has black ears, and the lady's are red. The guy stayed put in the dirt while the lady walked around some more. Then she went back into the bush where I had first spotted her, and disappeared. The guy put his head down onto his outstretched arms, closed his eyes and appeared to snooze and soak up the morning sunshine. He seemed to be pretty relaxed.
While I was watching the fox, a red squirrel jumped up onto a nearby branch - the closest that a squirrel had ever been to the cabin - and began to bark and cuss me out loudly. I put the binocs on him too, and studied every hair. His tail was incredible - it was wider than his body, and over half again as long as his body - it really stuck high up in the air. And he was waving it as he barked. It was backlit by the sun, and the red and grey hairs shown brightly. Come to think of it, this little squirrel looked a lot like the foxes down below, complete with a rusty underbelly and neck. No red ears though - he looked more like the male fox. I swear the grey coat was the same color too. This was the first red squirrel that I had seen at the cabin - most squirrels in the woods seem to be grey squirrels.
The fox down below woke up and glanced my way to see what all the ruckus was about, then went back to dozing. The squirrel continued to bark. A red tailed hawk showed up and screamed a little too as he rode the warming air currents up and out of sight. It seemed that everything out this morning but the deer had a red theme to it. I eventually finished my peaches, got up and went inside - neither the squirrel or the fox seemed to care. As I am typing this, I can still see the fox down below, sunning himself in the meadow. The squirrel has moved on to more important things. I am pretty sure now that there is a fox den in the meadow, and I think I know exactly where it is - one of these days I will venture down and make sure, but I don't want to scare them off just yet, so I'll wait a little longer for confirmation.
The wind is picking up and it is getting warmer outside. There are a few clouds rolling in. Another butterfly shadow just raced across my miniblinds - must be time to get up and do something. I think I'll go take a hike.
It was a short hike, just out to the mailbox and back, but along the way, I began to get very weak, even a little shaky, and was having trouble walking. Being way out in the country, you tend to make your own diagnosis, so I decided that I was having chocolate withdrawals. Pretty serious condition. Especially when I began to think about the fact that I didn't know of a single thing in the cabin that could remedy my condition. I got weaker, but my pace quickened as I approached my log dwelling. I raced the last few yards, tore off my shoes, and burst into the kitchen. No ice cream. Nothing in the frige. The cabinets were completely bare of all sweets. I opened one last cabinet door, and a package of Reese's Peanut Butter Chips and Miniature Chocolate Chips (left over from the banana splits) jumped out at screamed "eat me!" I did. Whew, that was a close call.
After my small feast, I just had to go down and see if I could find a fox den. Boy, the little buggers sure had the meadow beat down in a number of places. I never did find any sign of a den, but I did discover what they were now using the burn spot for - a cat box!
Many of the smaller trees and bushes are now showing signs of stress from the lack of water, and lots of them are dying out. Only time will tell if this is just temporary or if it is really killing them. I suspect that if we get some rain soon, they will survive, but if the dryness lasts several more weeks, I'll bet that we get a lot of dead trees. Several times during the day large, dark and threatening clouds gathered, but then moved on, without depositing any water.
Bob Chester called and invited me down for lunch - I had just eaten a ton of junk food, so was not hungry, but did go down for a short visit. We walked on over to the North meadow. He had just mowed part of it, but had left lots and lots of wildflowers. There were several different kinds still in full bloom, and I vowed to look up the ID of one of the major yellow varieties. There was one medium-sized maple tree out in the middle of the meadow that was in full brilliant red dress.
I spent the rest of the afternoon doing more work on the slide program, tweaking the placement of the slides and the dissolve rates, then spent an hour cleaning up all the mess - my marathon editing session caused great distress to the tidyness of the great room!
Friday night has now become my main pizza night, so I whipped up a batch of dough and stuck it in the oven to rise. A new friend from Little Rock was stopping by later for a quick visit, and I hoped that she would help keep me from killing myself by eating all four pizzas (which I have been known to do - well, they are rather small, but still more than any one human should eat in a sitting).
I wandered out to the back deck to listen to some Leo Kottke on KUAF radio (Ozark Outdoors then The New Blues Show) and soak up a little spectacular scenery. There were lots of puffy clouds hanging around, and the sun was getting low and shining below all of them, putting on quite a nice light show. Since I have been seeing so much of the foxes down in the meadow, I now spend most of my time scanning the meadow looking for them and ignoring the main view. Sure enough, right on cue, the little lady fox appeared out of the brush, sauntered on over to the burn spot, and squatted. Not very lady like. I did get a good look at her glorious salt and pepper coat though. Her face was streaked white and black, and the red from her belly and chest wrapped around the back of her ears. A terrific-looking lady.
The sunset was rather marvelous. Not much happened though until after the sun dipped below the ridgetop far away and behind the trees. The western sky lit up like a giant forest fire was raging below it. Nice rays. The wind was blowing pretty good, and it felt great out. The Blues on KUAF, a terrific sunset, Cloudland Pizza, cold Arkansas Ale, and a wonderful young woods maiden on the way - what more could a guy ask for on a Friday night! Life continues to be a struggle out here, but I manage.
By the time my guest had arrived, one of the pizzas was already gone. Oops. The sky was growing dark and the stars were coming out. While sipping a glass or two of wine on the back deck (she brought a wonderful bottle of Merlot), we saw a couple of shooting stars - one of them disappeared behind a cloud. Hum. The valley below began to glow, and we eased around the corner of the cabin and watched a gorgeous orange moon climb into the night sky, lightening up the valley along the way.
I fired up the projectors and the sound system and the first official presentation of the new Buffalo River Wilderness slide show was made. I routed the soundtrack through the cabin stereo, and it sounded pretty darn good. The images were nice too, dissolving into one another on my big new screen. I could see that the audience was going to have a problem telling which images were paintings and which were photographs. McNamara's watercolors often look so real. I'd have to work on that.
Before long the bottle of Merlot was empty and the wilderness was very bright, so we decided to take off on a hike. We made our way through the woods up to the East Meadow, and lingered there a while soaking up the moonlight. The moon was only half full, but it was still very bright - bright enough to see animals moving about in the meadow. Well, actually, we really didn't see any animals there, but it was bright enough for us to have seen some if any were there. Perhaps if we had a little more Merlot we would have seen something.
Jenny suggested that we do a rain dance, so we spent some time doing just that. It was sort of a combination moondance and raindance, right out there in the middle of the meadow. I wonder how many critters were watching us? Some of them probably had ID books and were trying to key us out and decide just exactly what in the heck we were. "One of them has a bare head and the other all of those curves. And blue eyes all around. They must be just migrating through."
After we had danced enough to please the rain gods, we migrated through the dark tree tunnel on over to the Faddis meadow, then eased down the road and back to the cabin. We saw several more shooting stars along the way. And more clouds moved in. At one point the clouds covered the moon, leaving only a faint glow in the woods. It was enough light for us to find the way home. Good thing that I had Jenny along for protection, or the bears might have gotten me. It was 3am when we arrived and time to call it a day.
9/12/98 We missed sunrise (two days in a row for me!), but did manage to make it down to the back deck in time for coffee and blueberry biscuits. The main goal of the day was to see a fox - no one but me had ever seen a fox here before, and I was beginning to wonder if they were a figment of my imagination. Well, I guess I could always prove their existence by scooping up a pile of fox scat. The more we looked though, the less fox we saw.
The sun was out, and there were clouds racing each other across the sky. The wind was blowing pretty good, and it was quite cool. The little meadow of mine down below the deck had turned from a wild sunflower meadow, to a sea of goldenrod in just one week. The sunflowers died out and the goldenrod flourished.
There were a lot of finches out playing, both in the meadow as well as up in the wind currents. We wondered how the little guys could be so accurate with their flight in such a strong wind. Guess they know how to fly. Lots of leaves were flying by too, some green, and others red and gold and orange. They were blowing across over the meadow in front of us, and a few of them were even rising up into the air. The finches were teaching the leaves how to have fun.
The music of the wind filtered through the trees all morning, sometimes reaching a high pitch. It looked like rain, though didn't smell like it, and nothing fell. Some rain would be most welcome. All too soon Jenny had to attend to wild grape gathering and fishing chores - she bid Cloudland farewell and headed out. We had been e-mail pals for a while, but had never met, so it was good to spend some time with her in the flesh.
The wind picked up, and the clouds got thicker. I was forced onto the couch for a nap. I'm not sure if it was the sound of my outside alarm or the smell of rain that woke me up. I quickly ran out into the front and welcomed both a rain shower and Erna Hassebrock, my Cloudland Benefactor from Hot Springs. She had e-mailed ahead and wanted to know what kind of homemade cookies were needed at Cloudland, so I was especially glad to see her! Hey, I'm always glad to see Erna. Let's see, she brought me two wonderful bluebird houses on her first visit, two great bear lamps on her second visit, and lots of edible goodies on her third.
Besides five bags of great cookies, Erna had brought another surprise - the most wonderful, heavy flannel Cloudland sheets!!! They have a cloud and star pattern against a blue background - stars and clouds and blue - what a combination! I wanted to frame one of the pillow cases and hang it up on the wall. Come to think of it, there are four pillow cases, so you just might see one of them on the wall out here.
Erna chatted a while, took a few pictures, then left. She needs to come back more often.
Oh yea, the RAIN! It never really rained hard, but it did rain for several hours - a light rain, and blowing a lot. The temp dropped and I had to go around and close up the windows - I consider this to be one of the first signs that fall is coming, having to close the windows to keep the cool air OUT. I've been opening the windows during the night all summer to allow the cool air IN. I look forward to the days when I can just leave the windows open all the time. It looked like our little rain dance up in the meadow last night worked.
One of the odd things about the weather today was that it all blew in from the east - the weather normally comes in from the southwest here. While this wouldn't normally be a problem, it sure did mess up my routine of where I stood to water the flowers - a constant and predictable wind is vital to the chore! There were a lot of clouds moving rapidly across the sky during the day - this was a big front, and I only wish that it had a little more water in it, but I'll take what I can get. The rain was wonderful.
The afternoon found me back to work on the slide show, cleaning slides and repositioning some of them. And I ate a few cookies. Prairie Home Companion was on the radio, playing more Leo Kottke. It's funny how you won't pay too much attention to something, or someone, like Leo Kottke, and then all of a sudden it/he will be everywhere. I went to my first Leo Kottke concert with my high school sweetheart way back in the 70's. I've had his CD's for a long time, but seldom listen to them. In the past two days I have heard him on the radio twice, and he is going to be playing in Eureka Springs in two weeks. Guess I will have to dig out those CD's.
The light rain and winds continued into the evening, when the gray day faded away into dark. I munched on leftover pizza (always great the second day), ate a few cookies, and sat out on the back deck and wondered how much longer this year I would be able to sit out there to eat and hang out - the winter winds make is rather chilly, although I am now used to sitting out there, so perhaps I will brave the cold and enjoy the view more often.
The Pickin' Post show on the radio was sounding good, as it always does. Mike Shirkey sure does a great job of putting together some nice music. I have been sitting here at the computer working on the journal, and every now and then I have had to jump up and go sit in the middle of the great room to listen to a song. I've never heard any of these cuts before. While I really do like folk music, I just never listen to it enough. Mike talked about what a great thing it is to go see live music. Cloudland is a virgin in that department - no live music has ever been played here before (my own sour notes on my beautiful maple guitar don't count). I know a few friends that are musicians. There needs to be some live music at Cloudland.
Pickin' Post, Folk Sampler, Piano Jazz - some great music on KUAF Saturday nights!
The long, soaking rain continued. I sat out on the back swing and nursed a bit of Turkey liqueur and ate some cookies. The raindrops were soothing and peaceful, the breeze refreshing. There were no other sounds. The sky was dark. Most storms of the past have been accompanied by thunder and lightening, but none was around this day. A fire would have felt good tonight. Ok, OK, enough work, enough cookies, enough great music. Time to crawl under the quilt and drift away with the raindrops.
9/13/98 Two of the windows next to my bed in the loft open up onto the tin roof of the back porch. The steady rain all night falling on that tin provided great music to sleep and dream by. You could just hear life coming down from the clouds, giving everyone a well-deserved drink. It was tough to get out of bed in the morning. Over an inch of rain had fallen, and it was still coming down. The cloudy, misty fog filled the valleys and swirled around back and forth, creating new scenes every few minutes. It was chilly out, and the rain was blowing in onto the deck furniture, so I opted to stay inside and enjoy the views through the windows. There are eight windows facing the great view to the South, including the picture window and the big sliding glass door. There is a great view from just about every spot in the cabin. Hum, who would have designed such a place? I'll take full credit.
This long, soaking rain couldn't have come at a better time for the wilderness. The river below is as low as I have ever seen it, and the stress on the forest has been evident. The river won't really come up too much, but the vegetation certainly is smiling this morning. I am still predicting a splendid fall in the Ozarks.
The rain and wind and fog continued most of the day, ending up at about two inches worth of wonderful water. As I left the cabin and headed to an OHTA meeting in town, it felt like it just might keep right on raining for days.
9/17/98 And boy did it ever rain! It didn't stop raining for five days! And all of it was slow, soaking, perfect rainfall. The weather station collected 5.4 inches of rain, and a top wind of 27mph. There were lots of branches down all over, and the road into the cabin was covered with leaves - it looked just like fall!
I returned to the cabin late at night, grabbed a glass of wine and headed for the back porch swing. The night sky was very black - the moon wouldn't show itself for another week. The sky was clear, the week-long storm having cleared out all clouds and haze. The stars twinkled with renewed vigor. It was still, and there were a few night bugs out. But there was something out there that I hadn't expected. Something there that hasn't been around for a very long time. Something wonderful, and welcome and joyous - the sound of the river! Oh the glorious voice of that long, winding friend! It takes a fair amount of water to create enough river music to reach all the way up to the cabin, and it was certainly doing it tonight. A hushed sound. Soft and inviting. It matched the gentle starlight perfectly.
In the dim glow of the night I could see a fog bank developing down on top of the river. I had a feeling that it would be one terrific sunrise and morning. But the night wasn't through yet. One shooting star after another streaked across the southern sky. It was like they had all been sitting around and holding out for a clear night, waiting for a chance to sparkle, not wanting to waste their brilliance behind the clouds. I wondered how many other late night viewers were out and taking in such an astrological show. I know one group of folks that was still up late in my neighborhood - the owls. More of them than I had heard in a long time. I couldn't quite tell if they were all welcoming me back, singing the praises of the rainfall, or shouting out loud with glee at the shooting stars. No matter which - I was glad to have them as company.
9/18/98 The outside alarm screamed and woke me from my dreams at 5:30am. I had recently adjusted the sensitivity of it so that it would only trip when something large moved in front of it, like a human, deer, or a bear. It was still dark out. I sat up and listened, expecting to hear the thud of a bear on the front porch at any moment. Then I turned my head and looked out the window to the east - there it was, delicate, thin, almost parallel to the ridgeline - a tiny glowing crescent moon! The moon, it is large enough, I'll bet it set off the alarm! It was one of those sights that leaves you breathless for a moment.
The view to the south out one of the other windows was blank - nothing but fog. I thought that was a little strange, because it was clear all the way to the moon to the east. So I was forced to lay there and study the moon. There was a very gentle breeze moving through the loft, the soft glow of the orange rising sliver, and absolutely no sound at all, except for gentle drops of dew falling from the roof. How could one do anything but be lulled to sleep? How could one not stay up and soak it all in?
A couple of hours later the moon had long since faded into heavy fog, and the sun had failed to show up for work. The dew kept falling. I forced myself up and hurried down to the back deck to see what was going on. I could just barely see two pine trees rising from the fog, and not much else. There were birds singing everywhere, though I couldn't see any of them. A blue jay's cries rang out in the distance, and I could tell that he was moving, as they often do when they cry out. I strained my eyes to look through the fog down into the meadow, but couldn't see any wildlife.
As I made my way down the steps to the lower deck to water the flowers, I heard the brush moving. There was a flash of grey. Darn, I had startled a fox! A few moments later I could see grey moving across the meadow. I hurried back up to my meadow-viewing post and studied the ground and the brush through the binocs, but couldn't see anything. I wondered why I was so concerned about seeing the fox again, since I knew what it was, and exactly what they looked like. But there is just something about having wildlife so close that makes you want to stop and see. I want to study every hair on them again, watch their movements, see what they are doing, gaze into their eyes. An old Native American medicine man once said that looking deep into the eyes of a fox would bring you good luck, just like watching shooting stars. My entire life is based on luck, so I need as much as I can get.
The sun didn't show up until after 8am - it had grown lazy and was sleeping late. It would be working double time to burn off all of the fog.
Today would be full of mixed emotions for me. It was one year ago that my most trusted friend in all the world died in my arms. We had spent the night in the woods after a short hike to explore an area near here. Even though it was still kind of warm out, I built a campfire and stayed up late, discussing the problems of the world with my two dogs Yukon and Stable. I remember the fire reflecting in Yukon's eyes as he looked over at me. He was trying to tell me good-bye then, but I didn't get it. Sometime during the night he curled up right next to me. I could feel his warmth.
In the morning, it was obvious that something was wrong. Very wrong. Yukon wouldn't wake up. He lay there, breathing heavily, with his eyes closed tightly. I knew that I had to get him to the vet. We all loaded up and headed for town. He was limp, like a bag of flower, when I carried him in. It didn't take but a minute for the Doctor to say that it was no use - kidney failure. He said it would be best to put him to sleep. I held Yukon, rubbed his paws, and felt life slip from his body. It was the most difficult thing that I had ever done in my life. In a moment, it was all over. The impact of that moment would stay with me for a very long time.
For thirteen years Yukon had followed me, led me, explored with me everywhere that I went. He loved to run in the woods, to play with logs, and to swim. They guy actually had webbed feet. He was a springer spaniel. And a rather handsome one at that. I could never wear him out. He would forgo food and attention as long as he could be in the woods.
I remember one trip when he and I took off for a hike on a warm February day. After a couple of hours, the sky turned dark, and a cold rain began to fall. I was totally unprepared, wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. We crawled into a low narrow overhang and got out of the direct rain. It was a pretty nice place to hide and watch the woods dance in the rain. Before long cold and stiffness crept in. Our little spot was still dry, but without moving to heat ourselves up, we both began to shiver. The rain poured on. Yukon kept looking at me with those big brown eyes. I didn't know what to tell him - his master was an idiot. I know that he would have stayed there with me all day, until we both frooze to death if it came to that. He was always willing to do whatever, whenever, as long as I was for it. I finally had enough, and dashed out into the frigid downpour, and ran up the trail. About half way up the hill, as I was about to give up hope of ever being found alive, I turned and looked at Yukon. He was smiling, probably laughing inside, and having a great time. He lifted my spirits, and I immediately began to enjoy myself too - even though it was pouring rain on me in the middle of the winter and I was freezing!
I drove from the vet's office back out to Cloudland, loaded Yukon into my backpack, and headed down the hill towards the river with a shovel and pick in hand. It was a hot day. Yukon loved the river, and I took him down to one of his favorite swimming holes. I found a level spot overlooking this great hole of water, and right next to the flowing waters of a spring. There were lots of moss-covered rocks there. The spring waters poured over a ledge and right into the Buffalo River. Yukon would be happy here. I dug a deep hole, carefully laid him in, and covered him with dirt and rocks.
I'm not sure why the death of this dog has affected me so, more so than even the death of my own family members. I guess we had shared so many things in the wilds, more than with anyone else in my life. He was not my first dog, but was the one that was with me the longest. Here is what I said about him in our hiking club newsletter:
"YOU LOOK LIKE YOU JUST LOST YOUR BEST FRIEND" said the main. I did said I. Many of you knew him. He was a great trail companion. He went along on countless hikes with me for thirteen years, had hiked over three thousand miles, and had been with me on most every trail construction project. He used to carry a whisky bottle in his little pack on OHTA hikes, so everyone loved to see him come down the trail. Last week I buried my beloved springer spaniel, Yukon, beside a waterfall that plunges into the Buffalo River, at a favorite swimming hole of his. He contributed a great deal to my time in the woods, and to my life. I remember taking a break one day after hiking 60 miles in three days - we were both worn out. A group of small blue butterflies landed on his head. And while I know his foot pads were smoking, he gave me a look of eagerness and encouragement to go the next mile that I've never received from any human. Once, while building a trail near Memphis, I looked back to see that he had carefully "retrieved" every single branch and log that I had just cleared out of the trail and thrown down the hillside, and he put them all right back on the trail. I knew he was just trying to help. And one day, while I was building another trail, lost in the sound of music from my walkman radio, I saw him out of the corner of my eye come running up, barking, to a spot that I was about to back into. I turned to see him lunge at a large rattlesnake that was coiled within my next step. Before I could react, the snake bit him three times in the face (Yukon survived, the snake did not). He had literally laid down his own life to save mine - what more could you ever ask of your best friend. You will be missed Pal."
There is a bottle of Yukon Jack on the mantle here at Cloudland. I bought it the day he died, a year ago today. I went over to the Wildman's house that night, and we toasted my trusted friend. It is Cloudland policy that any time Yukon is talked about here, that everyone present takes a swig from the Yukon Jack bottle in his honor. I'm going to go down to the river and visit Yukon here in a few minutes - I'll be passing that bottle around a lot today.
And later today, Neil Compton, the genuine Buffalo River God, the man who led the fight to save the Buffalo River so many years ago, will visit Cloudland to hike and feast and spend the night. I'm going to force him to watch the new Buffalo River Wilderness slide show. I had better go find that fox and gaze into her eyes for luck.
Not long after I left the cabin, I looked up and saw a hawk coming through the trees right at me. He veered away as soon as he saw me, and I got a good look at him. He was a red tailed hawk, with a beautiful red tail, and a bit husky. Husky? This dude was FAT! That's all that I can say. Must have been feeding on a few field mice in the meadow.
I headed down the steep hill towards the bluffline. The fog was still very heavy, and when I would look over the edge down to the next bench below, I couldn't see to the far end of the bench - and it was quite spooky looking. I made my way down through the first spot in the bluffline that I knew about. All of a sudden my hair stood on end - I realized that I was at the point where the bear and I had a close encounter of the scary kind back in July. I looked around very carefully as I inched down the slope. No sign of any bear today.
Once below the bluffline, I angled over to the right some, then landed on a wide and level bench. I didn't recall being here before. It was a magical place, especially with all of the fog. There were dozens of HUGE trees, towering overhead. They were so tall that they actually disappeared up into the fog. Sweet gums and red oaks. Man they were big, and there were so many of them. Surely this wasn't a virgin forest. Pretty much everything in the Ozarks had been logged at one time or another. I know what happened. When the first logged this bench, probably way back in the 1800's, they only took the largest trees out and left the rest. These giants of today were some of those that they left, probably over a hundred years old now. It all reminded me of the coastal redwood groves in Northern California. There is one hiking trail there that I have frequented, and the fog lays in thick every morning, just like it was here today. Wonderful, wonderful. Eat your heart out John Muir!
As I stepped down onto the next bench, my feet slipped out from under me and I landed on my butt. Those sorts of things take the breath out of you not only because of the landing, but because it is such a surprise and you wonder what the heck just happened. I knew what happened as soon as I hit - hickory nuts. The ground was COVERED with hickory nuts! They acted just like a floor full of marbles, and I got caught trying to walk on them. Boy, the hickory nuts are having one great year! It was a good thing that there were no witnesses.
The fog began to lift a little, as I continued down the hill. I visited the old Sparks homesite. This is where there are two stone chimneys - one was at the opposite end of the cabin from the other. The stones are all that are left. One of their descendents is Clyde Sparks, and he was the rock mason that did all of the fine work on my cabin (along with Billy Woods). Clyde is an unusual character. He is a craftsman, and does wonderful work. I only hired him to build one rock retaining wall, and I liked it so much that I kept him working for quite a while, ending up with the fireplace inside the cabin. The only problem with Clyde was that right in the middle of a big job, he would fail to show up the next day to work. No warning. His tools were left scattered all over the place. He would stay gone for several weeks, then again without warning would show up and continue his work. I have been told over and over again by folks out here that this is simply the pace of life out here, and is especially the case for rock masons. He does fine work.
I came to a little creek that was full of moss-covered rocks. The water was running pretty good, cold and clear. I followed this spring water on down the hill until I came to Yukon's grave, which is located right next to the flowing water. I sat down and talked with him a little while. Boy, he sure did have a nice view of the river! And it was running pretty good too, making a nice rushing sound. As I always do when I visit Yukon, I placed a new rock on his grave. This particular rock was about half covered with lush moss, and had a bright red dogwood leaf on it. And I left him a treat.
Down in the big pool of water on the river there was a beaver working. I could see him through the trees, and he did seem just as busy as a little beaver, swimming back and forth. I went down for a closer look, and found him swimming towards me with a gnawed stick in his mouth. He brought it over to the river bank just upstream, left it there, then disappeared under water. I took this as a sign that he wanted to add this beaver stick to Yukon's grave, so I picked it up and marched it right up the hill and planted it in the middle of the rocks.
I bid my friend farewell and walked downstream alongside the river on the bench above it. It was a wonderful day, and all of the fog had lifted. When I got to Dug Hollow, I was really surprised to find it bone dry. I thought there would be something flowing in it after five inches of rain. I worked my way up into that drainage, gaining altitude as I went. The vegetation was very thick, and I was thankful that I had on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. There were hardly any spiders out, and I was enjoying rambling on up the hillside.
Then I smelled something. It wasn't a pleasant odor. I looked around a little, trying to follow the smell, and finally spotted the source. Right in the middle of one of the benches in the thick brush, was the remains of A BEAR! Wow, I had never found anything like this in the woods before. Well, actually there wasn't too much left, just a few rib bones, several claws, some parts of the skeleton, and the skull. Alright, the skull! And there was black hair everywhere, scattered around in a twenty foot radius. I collected what I could, searched around the area some more, but didn't find anything else interesting, so I headed on up the hill once again.
I wondered what happened to this bear. Did he fall off of the bluff during a storm in the middle of the night like the beagle dog did? Was he shot by someone? Did the coyotes get him? Disease? Or did he simply die of old age? The skull looked pretty old to me, but I really have no idea about such things. Hum. One less bear.
As I climbed, the hill got really steep - kind of hand-over-fist climbing from one tree to another. Then I smelled something else. This odor was sweet, very sweet. It smelled like paw paws! And sure enough, the ground around me was littered with overripe paw paw fruit, each eaten to a different degree by one critter or another. I reached down and picked up one that was only half eaten, and bit into it. VERY TASTY! There were still a number of them up in the trees, so I decided to take a few home with me. It is one of those rites of passage to shake a paw paw out of a tree and catch it before it hits the ground, then devour it on the spot. I obliged. I've wrestled with a bar, built a log cabin, made love to a beautiful maiden under a full moon (I haven't done that one lately - I need to get back into practice), and now have caught and ate a paw paw. Perhaps one of these days I will become a full fledged adult. Na.
I continued up the slope, and made it to the base of the big bluff. As I walked along I came across another fragrant smell. This one was very light, and sweet, like wildflowers. I couldn't figure out what it was, but it lingered all along the base of the bluffline.
Eventually I came to the spot that I call "Magnolia Canyon." This is a wonderful little spot where there is a split in the bluff, and you can walk right though it. In fact, the canyon is thirty feet wide! On the right the bluff is about 40 feet tall - this rock is really just a giant slab that has broken off from the bluff. The main bluff on the left is probably 80 feet tall. The floor of the little canyon is covered with moss-covered rocks and a few tall umbrella magnolia trees, but it is pretty much open besides that. The magnolias shoot up and spread out, creating a roof over the canyon. Hardly any sun can penetrate their wide leaves, and I'll bet the sun is blocked by the tall bluff on the south side in the winter, preventing any sun from reaching the canyon floor at all. There is one giant tree guarding the entrance - I couldn't tell what kind it was.
Towards the end of the canyon, there is a split in the big rock slab on the right. You can go down into this crack and stand at the bottom of a 40 foot chimney. I wondered who else in history had stood in that very same spot and pondered the same thing. You can also climb up and out the other side. The main canyon itself is about 150-200 feet long. It is always cool, and shaded, and mossy, and just marvelous. I go there sometimes and just sit and think. It is a little world all to itself, isolated from everything else, even from the sun.
Further along the bluffline, I came to a spot where magnolia trees had shed all of their leaves, and the forest floor was covered with a smooth carpet of soft, giant leaves. The stress of the drought caused them to save themselves and drop their leaves and go dormant to conserve energy. There were some beech trees that did this same thing too - this was really strange, because they don't lose their leaves in the fall, but rather hold onto them until the new spring leaves push them out. It has been an interesting year in the wilderness so far!
I made it on over to the base of Robert's Falls, and found it actually running some. Not a great roar, but a descent little waterfall. In the spring, the waterfall is splendid, and the bowl below it is filled with flowering magnolias, and there are lots of wild azaleas above in full bloom. Another magical place. The side of one rock slab there, perhaps 15 feet tall, was covered with the thickest, brightest, most luxurious carpet of green moss that I had ever seen. What a great place it would be to lie down on and take a nap if it was only level. All of this lushness was juxtaposed with many dried up maidenhair ferns along the base of the bluff.
Once I had climbed up through the bluff via a stair-step formation near the waterfall, I noticed that the entire forest had changed. Below the bluff it was a jungle, literally. Lots of big trees, thick underbrush, paw paws, moss, and just THICK woods. Above the bluffline, the woods were more open, with less underbrush, and it seemed drier. I wonder why?
The east meadow was covered with yellow - the golden rod had moved in, and it all was blowing back and forth like a sea of wheat. And standing right out in the middle were three deer - I had remembered to stop before entering the meadow and take a look for any sign of wildlife. And there they were, not really feeding, but just roaming around. It was a mom and twin fawns. Well, they were hardly fawns any more, since they were nearly as large as she was. But they still had their spots! That was really odd. It is very late to still have spots! They soon caught wind of me and bounded off into the woods.
When I got back to the cabin, the phone was ringing. I hurried in and was talking on the phone when I noticed a HUGE hawk sitting in the snag on the other side of my little meadow. Hawks don't normally sit in that tree. He was as large as an eagle, and I wondered if it was a young one. I got to the binocs, but didn't get to look very long before he took off. He certainly wasn't a red tail hawk. He soared around for a little while, then wandered off. A smaller Cooper's hawk came around too and rode the wind currents a little. And lots of buzzards showed up. As I sat down to watch it all I discovered that there were dozens of soaring birds all over the place. It was getting warm. Well, it felt warm to me anyway, and I had to turn on the outside fan. Wait a minute, how could it be warm? I looked at the temp and it was only 75 degrees - but the humidity was 93%. That would explain all of the blue haze in the air too.
Neil Compton was on the way out, and while it was going to be great to visit with him, I was also looking forward to the two ladies that he was bringing with him, not to mention all of the wonderful food that I knew they were going to cook (I was told not to worry about providing any food, and not to eat too much before they got here - these kind of guests always have a standing invitation at Cloudland!).
Neil and his ladies showed up right on time. Neil Compton, a living legend, his friend Kay Richardson, and Beth Motherwell, whose Leica binocs I have coveted for a long time. Within minutes we had unloaded several coolers of food and drink and treats, and were all lounging out on the back deck.
This was the very first time that I had ever sat down with Neil and had time to really converse. He knows more about the Ozarks than anyone alive. Probably more than all the dead ones too. He is a living encyclopedia, and it was marvelous to sit there and absorb all of it coming out of him. There were many personal stories of the old days, historical tales of the pioneers who lived around Cloudland, geology, biology, zoology. He went on and on.
During a lull in the conversation (like, for maybe three seconds), I got out the first copy of the new Buffalo River Wilderness picture book. Neil latched onto it like a magnet, and clutched it in his lap. We all gathered around and looked through it, page by page. The images brought out more stories and facts from Neil. This was one of the main reasons that I wanted Neil to come out and spend some time here - I wanted to be standing right next to him, with unlimited time, when he looked through this new book. I wanted to see his reactions to the images and the words, and to hear the stories that I knew they would entice out of him. I value his opinions a great deal, and hung on every word. It was a wonderful experience for me.
By the end of the book it was time to get to work on dinner, and the ladies sped off to the kitchen. I left Neil alone, and noticed that he picked the book back up and quickly turned to the foreword, which he had written. He carefully read every line, words that he had written months before. Then he went through the introduction that I had written. The Buffalo River is sacred ground, and Neil is the God. I wondering if I had done it justice with the new book, scared to death that I might have fallen well short of his expectations. I brought out a bottle of wine and some goodies and set them on the deck table. Neil was silent, still buried in the book. Was he disappointed, was he mad, did I screw up this most important picture book? I sat down, sipped my wine, pondered my immediate future, and held my breath. Finally Neil closed the book, got up and waked over towards me - there was a serious look on his face. Then a wide, warm smile appeared, he handed the book to me, and as he shook my hand he said that it was the most beautiful thing that had ever been done on the Buffalo. My soul soared. I breathed again, and handed him a glass of wine.
We all gathered 'round the wine bottle and talked about wildlife. Neil told of his first visit to Hawksbill Crag back in the early 1970's. They collected a pile of unknown scat, and had it analyzed later by someone who knew what they were doing. It turned out to be cougar scat. There aren't supposed to be any cougars in the Ozarks. Neil had the proof.
Dinner was remarkable, as I knew it would be. I won't go through all of the particulars - there were too many to list - but I will say that the ladies put on quite a spread! And we had fresh pecan pie for dessert - worth a long hike in itself. Milancy McNamara dropped by just as the last slice was served (on her plate).
While Milancy and Beth and Kay and Neil talked, I rearranged the furniture and set up the slide show. The lights went out and the music came up. I was worried about the slide show too - concerned whether Milancy would like the way that I portrayed Bill's paintings. Unlike the book, which she had a lot of input on, she wasn't involved in the slide show production at all. When the music ended and the lights came on again, there was smile on her face. Whew, two in a row. The program is good, but I will have to tweak it as time goes on to get it perfect.
I began a new tradition at Cloudland. I am going to make a log floor lamp, and will have everyone sign the lamp shade. While I don't have the lamp built yet, I did have the shade, and got everyone to sign it - Neil first. So now all who visit will leave their mark, which will be in lights for many moons to come.
Beth and Milancy cornered each other in the kitchen, and Kay and Neil and I moved out onto the back deck. It was completely dark outside, but the stars were out and we talked astronomy and listened to the cicadas and to the owls. Neil soon retired, and Kay and I talked on. She lives on Beaver Lake, and has a great dock where she spends lots of time with herself and friends.
Beth and Milancy moved to the couch, but continued the non-stop, involved conversation. Then it happened - the second time in as many months - a flash of light. At first I thought it was just in my mind, but Kay saw the very same thing - a flash of light that seemed to come from within the cabin. Neither Beth nor Milancy saw anything, but that wasn't surprising since they were so involved. This same flash of light happened back in July, but that time we all were sitting around in the living room, and everyone saw it. It seemed to come from within the cabin then too. It was weird, really weird, and we couldn't come up with an explanation. Hum.
Later, I served the official Cloudland after-dinner drink (well, actually there are several of them, but this one is actually called a "Cloudland"). It is two parts Bailey's Irish Cream (chilled) and one part Frangelico liqueur - um, um good!
After Milancy left, a chorus of coyotes rang out - from at least three different areas in the wilderness. They talked back and forth for several minutes, then fell silent again. We all retired around midnight.
9/19/98 Sometime in the early light, Beth snuck out from her basement bedroom and headed down to the river, her trusty fishing rod in hand. She is a country girl through and through, and loves to fish. I wish that I would have gone with her because it sounded like she had a great time. She caught a number of smallmouth bass and perch, got a visit up close from a beaver, and did a little skinny-dipping (well, she said that she went skinny-dipping - my telescope was still in the shop so I couldn't report that first hand).
Neil and Kay were up early too, lounging on the back deck with their coffee and the morning sounds. Neil hit the ground running, and began talking once again of the natural diversity of the Ozarks, his eyes wide and sparkling. He talked about how the ice age and the deep valleys of the Buffalo combined to produce beech trees, and how the trees weren't found in other, less deep drainages like the King's River, just a few miles away. He talked about the band of sugar maples that spread across the Ozarks (he had recognized some individual trees and groves of maples pictured in the new book). Cloudland is located right in the middle of that band of maples.
We talked about the geology of the Ozarks too. Part of the Ozarks are actually related geographically to the rocks of Yellowstone - but up in the granite hills in the Missouri Ozarks.
We talked a lot about the early logging in the area, how they used cables to get the big white oak logs out of the deep valleys - you can find a few pieces of these very cables down in the bottom of Whitaker Creek. And he talked about how the repel of prohibition in 1933 actually help destroy some of the great white oak stands of the Ozarks - the wood was prized for the whiskey barrels that bourbon is aged in (they char the inside of the barrels first). So a lot of the virgin timber of the Ozarks was cut up and shipped over to the distilleries in Kentucky. A lot of it also went to the Fulbright Mill in Fayetteville (Senator Fulbright became one of the greatest national politicians from Arkansas).
Kay slaved over the stove again, and produced piles of homemade biscuits and gravy and jam, peppered ham, and eggs. We feasted. Beth returned from the river with the stories of her exploits, and we all enjoyed the morning. Then Neil got really wound up. I've always known him as a most serious gentleman - after all, he had been going toe-to-toe with lots of big thugs in the battle to save the Buffalo, not to mention all of the big shots in the Corps of Engineers that were trying to dam the river, and all of the politicians. Neil was a lot larger and more important in life than any of them ever were, which is in part why we have the Buffalo National River instead of a bunch of crummy lakes. Anyway, Neil kept us rolling on the deck with some very amusing stories, the topper being his rendition of a famous speech in the Arkansas legislature many years ago by a Johnson County politician. I will try to procure the text of that speech at some point, but am not sure if it is fit to print in this journal. It is one of the funniest things that I have ever heard. Of course, I'm sure that the way Neil recited it had a lot to do with that.
Out in the meadow, there were a number of birds and butterflies playing. The goldfinches were pairing up - instead of seeing three or four brilliant yellow males flying together, now there were pairs of one yellow one (male) and one dull one (female). I don't know when their mating season is, but love seems to be in the air right now in the goldfinch species. At one point there were two different species of woodpeckers in the old dead snag at the same time. A Cooper's hawk came by, and several red tailed hawks.
Neil had a new set of expensive hearing aids. They sang a lot, which drove him crazy. A high-pitched wine that everyone could hear - they needed a little adjustment. To me, they sounded like birds singing off in the distance, so I didn't mind. Hey, what a good idea - adjust all hearing aids so that they sounded like birds singing - and issue them to everyone in the world! We would all go through the day singing.
Once when Beth was in the cabin, I came in and announced that a fox had crept up onto the deck and ran off with her Leica binocs - everyone ran towards the deck just for a second, then realized that it was only a ploy on my part to explain the disappearance of her binocs (which I would have swiped if I could have come up with a believable story!).
The day was growing warm, and it was time to pack up and get ready to go. We all went down onto the lower deck to take a few pictures. Neil and I were lined up against the logs acting like good models, when I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. In a flash a big hawk swooped down, grabbed a chipmunk off of a log, and raced away above the meadow. He didn't have a good hold on the chipmunk, and it struggled in the hawk's claws. The hawk soared out over the Whitaker Valley, and the chipmunk's struggling caused the hawk to veer off course a time or two. Once the hawk gained full control, it made a wide arch and returned to the meadow, swooping right in front of us, then circling overhead - he just wanted to show off his catch and let us know who was boss. It was a fitting end to a marvelous visit - one that I will long remember.
I had to leave the cabin as well, and drive down to Lake Catherine below Hot Springs to give the first official Buffalo River Wilderness slide show to the Arkansas Canoe Club group gathered there. It was very hot and humid, and nearly 200 folks packed into the Exhibit Hall to see the show. The music is a major part of this slide show, and my stereo was messing up as I set everything up. I got very nervous. Finally it seemed to be working. The lights went dark, and I cranked up the music. Two notes into the very dramatic beginning, the stereo went dead - S%*T! After a few anxious moments, I got the sound back on again, and it worked fine. I doubt that anyone noticed. I still didn't know how this new program would be received by the masses, so I held my breath once again. As the first credit slide came up, there was a thunderous applause, followed by laughter, then more applause. It was so loud, that no one even heard the music. Then another image appeared on the screen, the place got deathly quiet, and the music took over again. You see, I always sit through the credits at the end of a movie, and it always has irked me how everyone jumps up and leaves when they start rolling. Hey, some of the most interesting music comes during those credits, and once in a while, like in my slide show, there is more on the screen. It is just my little way of making a point.
Anyway, I think the show went over pretty well. I was relieved. You never know if the outside world will see and appreciate the same beauty that you do. And I always want to produce something that the audience will like - that is the entire reason why I do these shows (and to sell books). The show is off and running.
It was nearly 3am when I returned to the cabin. It had been a very long and productive day. The sky was black, the stars were out, the bugs and owls were singing, and the loft bed felt great.
9/20/98 I slept in and missed most of the great morning light. When I finally did make it out to the back deck with my mocha, it was getting warm, but there was a breeze blowing. There were groups of living things out this morning. Dozens and dozens of those cloudless sulphur butterflies dropping out of the tops of the trees again. They were so funny. When they would first appear, high up in the air, they would fall like rocks - like rocks tumbling out of control. Just before they hit the ground, their wings would straighten out and they would, well, float like a butterfly, and go merrily along their way. They are yellow, greenish yellow.
And three times during the morning a flock of blue jays would appear above the cabin, normally 15-20 birds and spread out, and fly across above the meadow and head towards the opposite hillside. I haven't seen many blue jays here, but have heard them sounding their loud alarms.
My own alarm went off, and I had a visitor. It was Lori Johnson, from Dallas, who had been camping in the area and stopped by to see if Cloudland was real. I invited her to sit a spell and see what birds we could spot. I swear this is true - within five minutes of her arrival, that "big hawk" that I had seen sitting on the snag two days before appeared over the woods to the left, and swept across the top of the meadow in front of us, not making a sound, then disappeared over the woods to the right. A single white puffy breast feather floated in the air. Lori gasped, then ran through the cabin to her car. When she came back, she had a pair of Leica binocs around her neck. She was another bird expert - yea! And, of course, I immediately coveted her binocs too. What she said next I could not believe - "the big hawk" was none other than a Golden Eagle!!!!!!!! Oh my God, a Golden eagle at Cloudland! I was thunderstruck. So was she. We looked him up in the bird book and sure enough, it was the same as the "big hawk" that was sitting in the snag two days before.
Eagles don't normally spend the summer in Arkansas - they come down from the North for the milder winters. However, there have been pairs of bald eagles moving in lately as year-round residents, but they are still very rare. I had never seen one in Arkansas in other than the winter before. My friends Dean and Bonnie LaGrone, who own property overlooking Boxley Valley, have told me that they have been seeing a Golden Eagle in the valley this summer (I had always thought that they were just drinking too much) - this must be the very same one.
After the eagle went by, I noticed an odd absence of anything moving around, except for the butterflies. All of the birds in the meadow and surrounding woods were silent, and unseen. I wonder if they had seen or sensed the eagle and hid? We searched the skyline, the valley, the forest all around, but no sign of the eagle. At about the time that we settled back into our chairs and got comfortable, there he came again. This time he approached from the right, flew right over the meadow again, and disappeared. It was over in a few seconds. We both had our binocs trained on him. He looked straight ahead, but just before he disappeared, he looked down and glanced at us. Neither time did he ever flap a wing. Needless to say, we spent most of the next hour scouring the sky with our binocs, but we never did see him again. I guess he had just flown up from Boxley Valley, and took a quick tour of Cloudland and Hawksbill Crag, then returned home. The bald eagles do that too in the winter, although I usually get to watch them for soaring around for a lot longer. No matter, I was thrilled and proud to have seen a Golden eagle at Cloudland!
Lori soon left and headed back to Dallas, not sure how she would explain our sighting to her birding friends. As her car disappeared in the woods, I remembered that I forgot to get her to sign the lamp shade! Then I wondered - were both Lori and the Golden eagle merely a dream and wishful thinking on my part?
Alone again on the deck, I kept an eye out for the eagle. It was tough watching though, because I was still obsessed with the foxes, the foxes that still had not shown themselves for anyone to see but me. Most of the time that Neil was here, I kept my eyes glued down on the meadow, looking for any grey movement. Several times this morning while I was scanning the meadow for the foxes, a shadow would move across the ground - the eagle had returned! Nope, it was usually just a turkey buzzard. Although there were a number of red tail hawks playing about too, and they were fascinating to watch soaring around and riding the air currents.
As the day lingered on, the soaring birds took a break. The sky opened up and it poured for about a half hour - what a wonderful and pleasant time that was! I had noticed that the forest, once getting near to being all dried up, was now quite green and healthy looking. All of the rain last week had put a halt to the progress of the fall color change, and in some cases even seemed to reverse it. All we need now is a shower every now and then to keep the trees happy, then a cold snap in October with a little frost, and the wilderness will transform into a brilliant wonderland of color. The official start of autumn is three days away - I look forward to being a part of it all.
9/22/98 There were five copperhead snakes crawling across the road as I was driving in today. They must be migrating or something, or the rain drove them out of their dens. I haven't seen a single snake in the woods all summer! (only one water snake in the river) There was a big storm the day before, and I had to stop and remove 13 big branches that were across the road. The rain gauge showed another 1.5 inches of rain, with 29mph winds.
There was a lot of life down in the meadow when I plopped myself down for the afternoon view. I startled a fox, and it made its way across the meadow and out of sight. I could follow its progress by all of the goldfinches that it disturbed as it passed - lots and lots of bright, yellow males that must have been feeding down in the brush. There were hawks and buzzards and other birds and butterflies all out enjoying the afternoon too. Then a red-headed woodpecker appeared and flew out from the meadow and headed into the deep canyon. I watched him through the binocs - he kept flying and flying and flying, getting smaller and smaller. Lordy, it was a mile or more in the direction that he was flying before he would find solid ground. It was easy to follow him because his white feathers really stuck out against the dark green of the distant forest. I kept watching, until he finally just disappeared. Then a second one took off flying in the same direction, but soon flew some to the right and headed towards Beagle Point. I watched through the binocs again. It took him forever to get there, over a half mile of flight, but he did finally drop down and disappeared into the trees.
I took these two birds as a sign, and decided that I must follow them. So I stuffed a few things into my daypack, including my sleeping bag, and pointed my boots down the hillside. It felt right to be heading into the wilderness on the last day of summer, with plans to spend the night and awake to a new season - fall was to be officially here at 2:30am the next day or something like that.
When I reached the bottom I was really surprised to find Whitaker Creek flowing, and doing so at what looked like a normal springtime level. The water was clear and gorgeous. That last 1.5" of rain must be running off instead of being soaked up. And the main Buffalo was the same - lots and lots of water, rushing by with a passion. Summer was indeed gone.
I headed upstream, following along beside the river. Wow, what an incredible hike! I knew that there was some neat stuff down here, but the sights along the river were much nicer that I had planned on. There were lots of big boulders in the middle of the river, moving water surrounding them. I had hiked this stretch of river once before back in July, but there wasn't too much water, and I was face down in it anyway, paying more attention to the little fishes and sparkling diamonds than to the surrounding landscape. Looking around, it looked more like Richland Creek than the Buffalo River (Richland is probably the most scenic watercourse in Arkansas).
There was no trail, and so the going was pretty thick and tough. A bear helped out some though - a large rotten log blocking the way had been ripped up by a bear recently, allowing easy passage. I knew that there was an old pioneer road going the same direction, but it was off of the river some, up a bench or two, and I wanted to stay down along the river.
I came to a large flat-topped rock slab, sticking out nearly to the river's edge, and decided to climb up onto it and see what was there. The face of it was covered with moss, and there was an easy stair-step climb up on one side. It did take a little effort though. After all, I was carrying a pack full of gear. The top of the rock was wonderful - covered with thick, soft moss and lichens. And there was a great view of the river from on top. I felt a little foolish when I looked around and discovered that the top of the rock also led right out the back side onto level ground - I didn't have to climb up at all!
Further upstream there was another giant rock slab, and this one stuck right out into the middle of the river. I had to investigate. Most of this rock was bare, but the view from it was incredible - you could see a long ways up and down stream, and the river hugged it on three sides as it flowed past. I hadn't hiked/swam up this far in July, but probably would have found a terrific swimming hole if I had - the water around the boulder appeared to be very deep, perhaps even deep enough to jump off of the rock into! The surface of the rock was a little uneven, and there wasn't really a good spot worthy of sleeping on, so it wouldn't make a good camp spot. I did spend some time enjoying the view, then moved on.
Next I walked through a large and long grove of beech trees, the very type of trees that Neil Compton had talked about. They were everywhere! And some of them were pretty good sized, although many of the larger ones had lost their tops and were rotting down the middle - typical of big beeches. I didn't see a single carved name, thank goodness. Several of the beeches had lost all of their leaves during the dry stress of the end of the summer, and the ground was carpeted with them. I'm sure that I noted this once before, but since I don't get to note too many things, I will do so again. Beech tree don't lose their leaves in the fall like most of the other do. They just turn brown and stay on the branches until the new leaves in the spring push them out. Many a fine winter hike has been enhanced by walking through a grove of young beeches on a cool sunny day, especially when the wind blows them around a little and creates some rustling music to go along with the golden sunshine.
Many of the beeches had been gnawed on by beavers. They didn't really chew into the tree much, but rather seemed to be scraping off the bark. One tree looked like it had been the target of beavers several times before, each time they chewed a little more, but it was still alive. So I had hope for all of the rest. I guess the beavers were eating the bark.
At one point there was a large pile of smaller boulders, all covered with moss and lichens and leaves. It appeared to have spilled out of a small valley up above. Don't know exactly what caused it, or when.
Several times I passed through small groves of paw paw trees, and I was forced to linger in the heavy fragrance. Funny though, while the ripe fruit was evident from the smell, I could never find any of the fruit, either in the trees or along the ground. Perhaps the critters had beaten me to all of the fruit, and only the smell from the juices remained. Kind of reminded me of a beautiful young lady standing there wearing cutoffs and a t-shirt, smiling at me, lifting my spirits. Then her boyfriend walks up.
As I got further upstream, the land leveled out and the valley opened up some. The ground underfoot became very soft, and my boots sunk in an inch or two. Part of it was the thick mass of leaves, the rest was sand. You could take off your shoes and run around in this stuff all day! It felt wonderful hiking through it.
The dogwood trees were already showing off their bright red berries. Plump and tasty looking. Many of the trees had lost their leaves already, leaving behind naked branches covered with the red berries. One such tree that hung out over the river gathered in the glorious sunshine and it was almost blinding to look at it.
And one entire hillside was covered with lush ferns. After seeing all of the dead ferns in Dug Hollow last week, it was nice to see these guys all green and happy. In fact, the forest in general looked very good and healthy up close.
I finally reached the general area that I wanted to hike to - the mouth of Boen Gulf. Actually I wasn't sure exactly where it was, but I knew that I was across from the mouth because the hillside had opened up across the way. Much to my surprise, the river was flowing so much that I could not find a dry crossing. I did manage to hop from rock to rock to rock, and only got my feet wet a couple of times. If my backpack had been heavier, I would have had to take off my boots and wade, something I just hate to do.
I thought that I was still downstream from the mouth of Boen Gulf, since I hadn't seen it, but I was mistaken. I found the stream and followed it downstream to the river. It played a trick on me, and had entered the Buffalo hidden behind a giant rock slab. Boen Gulf was also flowing clear, though not as much volume as Whitaker Creek.
Hum, that big rock slab looked mighty inviting. I made my way out to and up on it, and sat down. This guy had been in the river a very long time, and had seen many floods. The top was polished smooth - it looked like limestone, but I felt sure that it was sandstone. There were a few cracks that were filled with dark moss, but otherwise it was all smooth stone, and mostly level.
The river rushed along around all four sides of the rock, whitewater on one side. Upstream there was more white water, as the river tumbled and gushed and fought to get around other boulders out in the middle of the river, splashing and making all kinds of noise. Just downstream, the river relaxed and flowed into a long, wide quiet pool of green.
Since I had arrived at my intended location, I decided that the correct wilderness protocol would be a little skinny dip, followed by an afternoon nap. My new found friend the rock was going to be my headquarters for the rest of my trip. I stripped off my sweaty clothes and slipped down off of the rock into the crystal clear water. Then there was a bloodcurdling cry that echoed up and down the valley. A wildcat scream? A bear? Some woods nymph being attacked? Nope, it was just me - that wonderful water was VERY COLD!!!
It was a refreshing dip to say the least, but I couldn't take it too long, and soon was up back on the rock, basking in the warm sunshine. The last hours of summer drifted by in a hurry. I really do think that if everyone in the world would spend an afternoon laying on a rock beside a mountain stream, letting their troubles and frustrations and personal problems flow downstream and away, then the world would be a much nicer place indeed. Thoreau said that "In wildness is the preservation of the world." He was so right.
One of the few problems that I have ever had in my life is an allergy that no one seems to be able to diagnose, or treat in any way. It has usually happened towards the end of the summer, as I was returning to Arkansas from a summer up in the mountains of the west. I had always dismissed it as my bodies way to protesting leaving the mountains. But it is real, and the symptoms are really annoying, both to me as well as others around me. I get this horrible cough, that comes from deep down inside, and it persists for weeks and even months. Nothing that I have ever taken has had any effect on it. And a really strange thing is that talking on the telephone seems to make it worse. Anyway, this cough has been creeping into me this past week. But after only a few hours out in the wilderness at Cloudland, it has completely disappeared. Hum. Perhaps it is all in my head, and I simply am growing allergic to city life. Anyway, it was a relief to be away from that terrible cough!
As the afternoon moved on into evening, I spent some time exploring around the area, and found several good future campsites. The east side of the river was rocky, but the west side was mostly that soft earth. I always have to laugh when people call up and ask if there "is any place to camp along the trail?" In pretty much all of the Ozarks, I think that you can find a place to camp just about anywhere that you care to. In fact, the more I got to thinking about that on this trip, the more funny that question was. I decided that in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness alone, if you set up your tent in a different place every night, out of sight from your last night's camp, that you could camp in a different place every single night for the rest of your life and never even come close to a previous site. Hum, that would be a nice thing to try to prove. I was looking for group campsites today though, because I was bringing in a small group of fellow backpackers this coming weekend to camp near here. No shortage of group sites either.
As it got dark, I got back out onto my smooth rock in the middle of the river and settled in for the night. I munched on my dinner sandwich some, although I was not all that hungry (mark that down - I am ALWAYS hungry!). I laid back and watched the sky turn from blue to grey to black. The air was at first filled with little birds and occasional hawk or buzzard soaring around, then the bats came out and danced all over, and finally the bats were replaced with a thousand stars. I couldn't see all that much of the sky from my rock home since the hills rose up sharply on two sides, but I did have a good view downstream to the north, and up to the south (that sounded a little strange didn't it?).
Most of the time when I sleep out in the woods, I have trouble getting to sleep because I am always listening for bears of wolves or bigfoot or some other monster to sneak up and kill me. And, of course, most of those times all of the noises are made by squirrels or deer or something else just as harmless (I've only been attacked by a bigfoot once). But on this night, all of the sounds of the forest were muted by the rushing of the whitewater at my side, and it didn't take very long for me to be lulled into deep sleep. It was comforting to know that when I awoke, it would be autumn!
The autumnal exuinox was going to happen sometime in the early morning. This is when the sun is directly above the equator. From then until March 20th the sun would be in the southern hemisphere, when it would once again pass directly over the equator and be up in our neck of the woods for another six months.
I swear that the big rock slab that I was sleeping on shook when it happened. I was startled awake by a loud crash, and I was certain that another slab of rock had plunged into the river. It was very dark, only a little bit of starlight, and I didn't have a flashlight. Then I realized what it was, and it happened again. There was a beaver in the calm pool downstream from my rock, and he wasn't at all happy that I was napping in his living room. While I couldn't actually see anything in the dark, I knew what he was up to. He was slamming his broad tail against the surface of the water just to see if I would jump. I did. Then he would swim around a little, and do it again. This went on for an hour. He finally decided that I wasn't going to give up my rock nest, nor was any threat to him, so he went about his business of chewing up beech trees and chasing beaver.
9/23/98 By first light my smooth rock bed had begun to suck the warmth right out of me, and I was getting rather chilled. I snuggled deeper into the bag until there was just a tiny peep hole for me to look out of. Even through that little peep hole I could see the forest and river coming to life as birds played in the trees and fish fed on the surface of the water. Sunlight streamed through the forest to the valley floor below. It took a while for the warm light to find my little frigid rock though. There are very few finer scenes anywhere in the world than awakening to a wilderness river at your feet. Now, if I were a real mountain man, I would have crawled out of that sleeping bag and jumped right in. There is a little sanity left in me. Just a little.
I laid in my bag and finished my dinner sandwich, then ate two homemade biscuits (left by Kay last weekend). By then I was all warmed up and ready to emerge from my cocoon and greet the day. Nope, still didn't jump in. But I did splash myself some and wash my face. Not jumping in seemed like a very smart thing - that water was cold!
I quickly packed my small camp up, looked around and made sure that there were no traces of my stay, and hopped across the river and headed back to Cloudland. This time I did follow the old pioneer road, and while it was very grown up with trees and brush, it was a lot easier walking than down beside the river (though not nearly as scenic!). There were more of those ladies in their cutoffs along the way - very refreshing.
Soon I was standing at the base of my little hill, and I leaned into it and started climbing. Boy, I had really gotten out of shape! I had to stop several times on the way up and blow. Guess there had been too much ice cream and too many cookies within reach this summer! There were lots of spider webs across the trail, so I had a few of them to snack on. As I topped out at the edge of the meadow, a cool breeze swept across and made the climb all worth it.
The afternoon was sunny and breezy, and I spent most of it lounging around out on the back deck, making sure that the swing was still suitable for guests. The foxes were both out, and I spent nearly an hour watching them. The red-eared lady was moving about a lot, circling around where the male was laying in the dirt. I could only see his head, and he was watching her every step. She was really intent on doing something, then I finally realized that she was chasing and catching grasshoppers! Then they guy got up and joined her, and they both made their way around the meadow.
Right in the middle of all this, a wolf let out a piercing howl from across the way. God, what an incredible sound! I quickly put my binocs back on the foxes, and they were both frozen and looking towards the sound, their ears standing up and pointing. There was only one howl, no more. The foxes remained frozen for a few more seconds, then turned and looked at each other, and then instantly jumped up and disappeared. I mean they were gone in a second! I didn't see where they went. I have seen these foxes before when coyotes yip and howl, and while they do pay attention to them, they have never really stopped what they were doing, and never have disappeared. I guess that wolves like to eat foxes, and these two guys knew it. I can't believe that I heard the wolf again. It was marvelous. This time he was not up on Beagle Point like before, but rather across the Buffalo, up over on that hillside somewhere.
About a half hour later the foxes did appear again in the meadow, but they weren't nearly as carefree and playful as they had been before. After studying them more through the binocs, I did realize that the male had red ears too, although not nearly as bright as the female's ears were. When he looked at you straight on, he looked mostly grey, much like a coyote face.
And then another wildlife treat happened - a red-shouldered hawk flew through my little meadow. The first thing that I noticed was his tail, which was fanned out, revealing many white bands that ran through it. And sure enough, the top of his shoulders, all the way across the back of his neck, was covered with rusty-colored feathers. He never flapped a single time, just coasted through and then was out of sight in a few seconds, but I got a good look at him through the binocs. I never saw him again all day. Both of my birding gurus, Beth Motherwell and Lori Johnson, have told me that I am likely to begin seeing many different hawks this fall as they migrate through. Looks like it will become tougher and tougher to get any work done out here!
After a dinner of rice and cheese, I took off for an evening walk. I visited the east meadow and found that Bob's friend Benny Stovall had bush-hogged it, leaving one dense stand of goldenrod. There were a couple of pumpkins getting larger in the garden. The sun had dipped below the trees, and there was a cool breeze blowing, which made for a perfect walk through the meadow. On my way over to check on Bob's cabin, I discovered another grove of paw paw's - sweet fragrance, but no fruit. Man, that girl is really making the rounds!
On the way back down the hill towards my cabin, the woods are really open, and you can see far into them. What I saw this night were lots of squirrels moving about, jumping from tree to tree and running up and down the trunks.
When I landed back in my deck swing I got a close up look at what the squirrels were up to. I put the binocs on a nearby squirrel and followed him for a while. He was stretched out, hanging by his hind feet, and had grabbed a fresh hickory hut. He hung there and twirled the nut in his front paws, knocking off bits and pieces as he went - you could hear the scraps drop out of the trees and hit the ground. When he was satisfied that his nut was completely smooth and round (I guess), the swung back and scurried down the tree. Once he got onto the ground, he raced here and there, looking for the perfect place to bury the nut. I'm not sure why they spend so much time searching for just the right spot, or how in the world they ever find it come winter, but they do manage quite well. I wonder how many hickory nuts go uneaten and remain in the ground each year? Come to think of it, those are the ones that grow up and become hickory trees - way to go squirrels!
Squirrels gathering nuts and hiding them in the dirt - is there a better sign of fall?
It was getting dark, and once the squirrel had found his perfect spot and buried his nut, then climbed back into the tree for another one, I turned my attention to the sky. An absolute sliver of a moon appeared in the grey sky. But it shown brightly, and really made the statement that "less is more." As the evening wore on, the sky turned black, and the moon changed to a bright silver, then to orange as it sank into the western sky.
There was no finer first day of autumn ever recorded anywhere. It was great to be a part of it. I crawled under the covers early.
9/24/98 With more than a full nights rest in me, I got up early, before sunrise, slurped down my mocha drink, put on my backpack, and headed down the steep trail towards the river. The climb up the day before had told me that I really needed to do something to get back into shape, so this was my little fitness hike with the full backpack (well, it weighed about 30 pounds). It was a wonderful little hike down the mountainside in the cool morning air. When I arrived at the river, it was singing and dancing and enjoying the new season. I located the swim mask and snorkel that I had stashed behind a tree all summer, and loaded it in my pack. I knew that while there may still be a plunge or two into the ol' swimming hole this fall, that I probably would not be in the water long enough to do any exploring with the mask.
And I found a single cardinal wildflower along the river bank. These brilliant red guys usually grow right in the middle of the dry river beds in the late summer, and were mostly underwater now or washed away all together. This lone survivor stood as a reminder of the warm waters of summer.
There were also bunches and bunches of these wonderful blue wildflowers with yellow centers growing along the bank. I have looked them up in the wildflower book before, and the only thing that come close is Asiatic dayflower. I question the ID because it says that they only last one day, and I have seen these same flowers in the same locations many times. At any rate, they were wonderful, and my favorite color too!
On the way back up the hill, I started making up another song - "Buffalo River Blues, I got the Buffalo River Blues. Blue skies, blue birds, wild blue berries..." Probably won't make it to the top-10.
I did make it up to the top of the hill though, but I had to stop and blow three times, always for less than ten seconds. If I could only stay with my promise of doing this every day, I would feel and look a lot better. I will try to do it again.
The sun was peeking out from behind a few clouds when I reached the cabin, and another cool breeze came along with it. It must be humid, because I was drenched. The forest floor was dry, but the small sycamore trees along the river bank and the wildflowers were wet from dew.
I spent the remainder of the morning working on the journal, answering e-mail, and vacuuming up the cabin. I had installed 44 brass pull knobs on all of the cabinet doors yesterday, and there were wood particles all over. And a few hundred dead bugs too.
All too soon it has come time for me to leave Cloudland for a little while, and go back to civilization to visit with my mom. I shall return tonight or tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if my cough returns during this short trip into town.
Oops, I just had to turn the computer back on and add this little note. I almost always take one last look from the back deck before I leave the cabin. When I just did so, I saw not one but two pairs of hawks and vultures flying together. They were in circling in formation, one pair down low in the valley, and the other pair up high. The lower pair nearly crashed into one another once. Very strange. Neither of the hawks were red-tailed hawks, nor red-shouldered, and they were large so not Cooper's - I have no idea what they were. I need Beth or Lori or someone to just move in out here to help ID birds!
One of the hawks came soaring over close by, and I could see that he was carrying something in his talons. In fact, he even juggled it a time or two. He sort of swooped up and flug it into the air, then reached up and grabbed it. It didn't look like a body of any kind, but rather was round, and about the size of a hickory nut. A hickory nut? Is that possible? Right in the middle of all this he flew down and landed in the top of one of the trees at the edge of the meadow. He seemed to be adjusting the nut some, then took off in flight again. Wow, I'm glad that I walked out onto the deck for one last look!
9/25/98 It is Friday afternoon, pizza is in the oven, a cold Arkansas Ale in a frosted mug is in my hand, and the evening light is just spectacular - must be another weekend brewing at Cloudland!
The wind is blowing a steady 10-15mph, and it is very hazy out. Some of the ridges are silhouetted, defined only by their fuzzy tree-lined ridgetops, while others are lit up by the sun, and every big oak and hickory tree is visible. Just across the way, over on Beagle Ridge, there are three smaller "draws." The right-hand side of each one is lit up, while the left-had side is in the shade, although you can still see the individual trees there. Everything is smoky. All of that smoke and the low light gives the landscape a very surreal feeling. There aren't any birds out - not even a single one that I can see. And my fox buddies are no where to be found. I guess they all know that there are a number of guests coming out for the weekend, and they have gone into hiding. That's OK with me - I feel like doing that sometimes myself.
The forest out here has responded to the rain last week in a very unusual way. I swear that the trees that had begun to turn colors are now back to their normal summer green. Is that possible? I know that some of the leaves simply turned color and dropped off, but the woods just look a lot more green that they did two weeks ago, and there is not nearly as much color. In fact, there really isn't much color at all. Although I did see some sumac bushes the other day that were brilliant red, which is typical for them at this time of the year. Fall is going to be glorious, no matter when it hits or how brilliant it is.
Time to go cut up the pizza, pour another Arkansas Ale, and tune in to Ozarks At Large and The New Blues Show on KUAF. Tomorrow I will be leading a group of OHTA members down to the river and up into the heart of the wilderness for an overnight trip. I look forward to each and every step.
I had two sets of folks coming out for the weekend. About a dozen backpackers for my hike, and several friends there were just coming out to spend the weekend - Rob, Sharon, Patsy and Cindy, who arrived at about the same time that I finished my pizza. The wind kicked up, and blew like crazy.
As Patsy and I were out on the back deck conversing, I noticed something hit the oak tree right in front of me, but it was dark and I couldn't see what it was. A few minutes later it happened again. I went inside and got a flashlight - son of a gun, it was a flying squirrel! He had literally "flown" from a tree about twenty feet away. He looked down on all of us with these two giant eyes that took up nearly half of his head, and he was clinging to a big acorn that was stuck in his mouth. My friend Scott Crook, who has a number of flying squirrels as pets, showed me last year how flying squirrels will eat a hole in an acorn, dig out the little grub that is living in most of them, then discard the nut. It turns out that flying squirrels are about as common in the Ozarks as any other variety, but since they are nocturnal, we seldom ever see any.
The wind continued to blow, but since it was a little warm, it felt great. We all stayed up and gabbed through more blues on the radio, jazz, and on into early morning. Then they all spread out on the lower deck and let the wind and stars put them to sleep.
9/26/98 I got up pretty early, shouldered my "fitness" backpack, and headed down the ladder trail to the river for my morning hike. On the way down, I realized that the steepness of the trail, and the weight of the filled pack, were taking a toll on my knew. I really don't mind the climb up at all, in fact rather look forward to it (because I know it is helping burn off some fat), but the descent is a real killer. So I decided that this might be my last fitness hike down this steep trail with a loaded pack. I would have to figure out some other hike with the pack that I could do from the cabin.
The river was relatively quiet when I arrived. The water level had dropped dramatically in two days, but it still filled the valley with hushed humming. I turned around and headed back up the trail, taking off at a pretty good clip at first. When I hit the first steep bench, my pace slowed significantly. I leaned into the hill. It felt great. The second steep bench was tougher, and my breathing got kind of loud. By the time I reached the third steep bench, I was whipped. This one is always a killer for me. And the footing is bad. I sucked it up and plowed on, creeping up the mountainside. Sweat began dripping onto the ground. I thought pausing to catch my breath, but wanted to make it without stopping. Another few steps. Damn, I need to stop and blow. Keep going. Keep going. Heck, I can just stop for a minute, who cares? I do. I'm wasn't doing this for anyone but me. And it did matter if I made it to the top without stopping. I had to keep going.
The fourth and final tough bench appeared. The little stretch of trail between them isn't quite as steep, so I "rested" as I walked across it. Up, up and away. My eyes were glued to the ground at my feet. Every fraction of an inch is important, so I made sure that I didn't step any higher than necessary, which sometimes meant veering off course a few inches to miss a rock in the way. The sweat was really pouring off now, and I was sucking wind like there wasn't much left. At last, the ladder! But I wasn't finished. My pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds as I climbed to the top of the bluff. One foot after the other. I can make it. Just as I reached the edge of my property, sunshine hit me in the face, and also illuminated a stretch of purple aster wildflowers that were swaying in the wind. A breeze, yes, the breeze felt great!!!
The rest of the cabin was awake when I finally drug myself in, and we all sat down to a wonderful egg casserole. It is always so great when my guests bring a lot of food and spread it around.
When I ended my hike, I had noticed a footprint in the mud near the front porch, but was too ravished to investigate. After cleaning up my plate, I went out to see what it was. ANOTHER BEAR TRACK! This one was a print from a back foot. It looked like the bear had stood there and put his paws up on the front railing. He probably had come up last night and just wanted to listen to the blues show, and stood up to hear better. Nice bear.
Breakfast revived me, and I slipped into a pair of coveralls, grabbed a few tools out of the Rubbermaid shed, and went to work on a short stretch of trail that I had been wanting to build between the cabin and the ladder trail. I dug and chopped and sawed and moved rocks. Then I made a couple of passes with a McLeod (a special trail-building and fire fighting tool), and the trail was nearly complete (well, as complete as I was going to make it this morning). This was the very first trail work that I had done at Cloudland. It only took me an hour, but will make the short trip from the cabin to the ladder trail a lot easier.
Soon the backpackers arrived, and both the parking lot and the cabin were crowded. I weighed my pack (my real one for the trip, not the fitness one), and it topped out at 13 pounds. How nice! Everyone else's looked a lot BIGGER. Sometimes I like to be a minimalist backpacker, and this was one of those times. I had everything that I needed though, and didn't feel like I was "doing without" anything. So what the heck. I had spent the night in the woods this summer already with much less. Well, actually with nothing. There were a few smirks from the group.
The contents of my pack: Daypack, pile sleeping bag, bivy sack, water bottle, water pump, 16ozs wine, pizza, rain jacket, bandanna, camera, two apples, three breakfast bars, gum, flashlight, comb, lighter, toothbrush & paste, kleenex, headnet, map. I was wearing shorts, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, hat, socks and gaiters.
We lost one hiker after only 15 minutes - his knees just couldn't handle the steep trail. The rest of us went on, but slowly, as a couple of others lagged behind. Before long we were all standing on the wonderful giant rock slab that I had visited a few days before. Several of the group hurriedly peeled off a few clothes, stood on the edge of the rock, and jumped in. The water was great! And pretty deep too. After a few seconds of debate, we decided to camp across the river on a sand and gravel bar. Within minutes everyone was exploring our new swimming hole. It was about eight feet deep, and you could see all the way to the bottom easily. One odd thing was that there were hardly any fish in the pool at all (noticed BEFORE everyone jumped in and stirred things up). I don't know why.
The gravel bar was rather interesting to me. The size of the rock/gravel/sand got smaller as you got further away from the river. The bank was lined with softball-sized polished rocks of all shapes. A little further up the sloop the rocks were baseball, then golf ball sized. Then large gravel, still all polished and smooth. Then coarse sand. And finally, right up next to the edge of the forest, very fine sand. This fine sand strip is where most everyone set up their camps. Who needed a sleeping pad in this soft stuff. I didn't have any camp to set up.
Once we all cooled off a bit, we took up for an exploratory trip upstream. One of the first things that some of the group noticed was that there were several areas of "stinging nettles" along the route - they were wearing shorts. Ouch! I hate those things. And you don't really know that you have gotten yourself into them until it is too late because there is a delay before the tiny stickers begin to itch - and by they you have walked through a lot of them, so you know the pain will continue for awhile. I had on long pants, so didn't pay them too much attention. Or did I really go out of my way to take the group through more patches of them? Hum.
The river down below was spectacular. Lots of emerald green pools with big boulders in them, and water rushing from pool to pool. And there were dozens and dozens of big beech trees, most of them in good shape and not rotten.
We headed up a steep hill, away from the river, topped out on a small ridge and dropped down into Hubbard Hollow. Wow!, what a great place! I had always heard about it, but this was my first visit. The place was magical. There were GIANT moss-covered boulders strewn about everywhere. When the water is really up, there would be hundreds of waterfalls. Like the siren of the sea, we were drawn up into the beauty, climbing up and up into the hillside. The scenery just got better and better. Every side drainage in this area of the Buffalo River has some incredible stuff in it, but this one is so special because it is a lot steeper than the others, so all of the neat stuff is compacted. And tougher to get to too. That's good - this place would never get too many visitors.
Once, while off to myself, I got into a silly predictiment that could have gotten serious. I tried to get across the face of a moss-covered bluff, but ended up slipping and falling. I managed to grab a grape vine that saved me temporarlly. There I was, dangling on the side of the bluff, with no foot holds, hanging onto this grapevine that went way up into a big tree. After several anxious minutes of looking around to see what I could do to escape, I decided that there was none. All I could do was let go of the vine and hope for the best. As I let go and began to fall, I rolled to my left against the face of the bluff. That took me away from the worst part of the fall, and I was able to get a foothold and get myself under control again. Good thing no one was around to witness this. I managed to escape with most of my pride and my rump intact.
Before we were able to see all of the hollow, stomachs began to growl, so we turned around and headed back to camp. It was a very nice, easy stroll through the beech groves and along the river.
Left over pizza (guess who's?), sandwiches, rice and broccoli, Mexican tortillas, freeze-dried dinners - there was a little bit of everything spread out on our rockslab table as nine hungry hikers chowed down. Our overnight hikes are limited to ten hikers. I always overbook, but assume some are going to cancel. Twelve signed up. Two cancelled. One had to turn back.
Dawna and I found a plant on the gravel bar that was covered with what seemed like wild peas or green beans (I have looked and looked but couldn't find anything in my ID books about it). We ate a number of them, and while a little crunchy raw, we thought that they would be pretty good if steamed. It was a wilderness gravel bar salad.
One of our group, Mike Anderson, must have been a beaver in a previous life. After dinner he jumped up and gathered firewood, and gathered firewood, and gathered firewood. We all laid down in the gravel around a marvelous campfire and talked long into the night. The crescent moon hung high over the river at first, but dipped below the trees and out of sight while the conversation was still in high gear. Roy Senyard had hiked into our campsite while we were out exploring and left a two-way radio behind. He returned to the cabin where a party was going on in my absence. The radio was to keep up with an important football game going on back in town (Roy was one of the cancellations, but he was kind enough to bring in the radio, then returned to the cabin). We got frequent updates, but really couldn't believe the score (Arkansas was beating Alabama badly).
At some point in the evening we had a good lesson about firerings. DO NOT BUILD THEM!!! I'm not sure why this stupid practice is so deeply ingrained in our American psyche, but the first thing that everyone wants to do is build a firering. They are stupid because they don't really contain a fire in the first place, they leave blacked and scarred stones behind to mar the landscape, and coals hidden under the stones often will get blown around by winds and cause forest fires long after the camper has left (even after "drowning" the rest of the fire). They are a waste of time, a fire hazard, and a horrible scar on the landscape. And they aren't even necessary in the first place. So please, Smokey Bear says don't play with matches, I say don't build firerings! Thank you. Now, back to the river.
Our little busy beaver kept getting up and hunting more firewood. He returned one time very excited - "want to see some glowing bugs?" These things were incredible. They were actually isopods, sort of relatives of rolly-pollies (I could NOT figure out how to spell this!). And when you shown a flashlight on them they looked perfectly normal. But when the light was out, they glowed like a firefly with a broken switch. And they lined the riverbank as far as you could see. There was probably two or three hundred years of woods experience represented in the astonished faces gathered there, but none of us had ever seen anything like it.
It temperature in the low 70's or upper 60's, but the campfire really felt great. Is there a better gathering spot in all the world than a campfire beside a river? Conversations went round and round. Stars came out. It must have been after midnight before we finally called it a night. I was the only one not sleeping on the gravel bar - I wanted the big rock. So I headed across the river and through the woods in the dark, much to some of the other hikers amazement. What, me hiking through the woods in the dark - that's just what you do at Cloudland, and you LOVE IT! I did.
I found a nice depression in the big rock slab that just fit my body and spread out the blanket. I had taken some ribbing from the group because I had not carried in a sleeping pad. Heck, I backpacked for ten or fifteen years before I ever used one. I do normally carry one, but didn't really feel the need to pack it in this time. All you have to do is get it in your mind that the rock is "firm" instead of "hard" and you will be OK. At least for one night.
The campfire across the way still flickered and glowed. One by one flashlights went out, and I was left all alone with the river and a million stars. The night sky never ceases to amaze me, and this was one very clear night. I laid there and stared. There went a shooting star. Then another. And another. I remembered back to a personality test that I took during training with the Forest Service back in 1973. One of the questions was "When was the last time that you spent five minutes looking for falling stars?" For me it had been the night before. I passed the test.
OK, it is late, I've seen falling stars before, let's get a little shut-eye. Just one more falling star and I'll close my eyes. Five minutes. Ten minutes. No more falling stars. Now it was driving me crazy. I had to see just one more. The sky remained silent and still. I was wide awake now. I got up and went over and sat on the edge of the big rock, which was about twelve feet above the water. Oh my - all of the night sky was reflected in the still pool below. And the edges of both sides of the river were lined with those glowing rolly-pollies. It looked a little like flying up the coast and seeing all of these lights of cities down below. This is one of those scenes in Nature that is very spectacular, but is impossible to photograph. It can be made up on canvas with a brush I guess, but not on film. So I was forced to simply sit there and enjoy. Then, as I was looking deep into the water, an incredibly brilliant star shot across the sky, lightening up the reflection in the water. I held my breath. It was beautiful. I turned around and saw the tail still glowing. Then it was all dark again. OK, I was now ready for sleep.
9/27/98 The gravel bar across the way was up and moving at first light. I stayed over on my little perch and had breakfast, pumped some water, and sat and stared into the pool. Eventually everyone packed up, made their slippery way across the river, and we were on our way out. We passed several fragrant paw paw patches, but none of us could locate any fruit - it was that darn lady in cutoffs again. (After my last little story about this, I got an e-mailed picture of a lovely lady in a bikini sitting on a rock in the Buffalo River - she wanted me to recognize her if I saw her in the woods and not think her one of the elusive ladies in cutoffs. I love cyberspace!)
When we got to Whitaker Creek, there was an incredible display of Asiatic day-flowers growing in the creekbed - it must have been ten feet wide and contained 60-80 little bright blue and yellow wildflowers. And on the other side Ony spotted an orchid growing right in the middle of the trail (not in bloom at this time of the year, but I'm going to look for it come April).
Oh yea, and we had this little hill to climb up. Hey, a piece of cake for me - I had just made it the day before with a full backpack that was much heavier than the daypack that I had on. I fell in behind a couple of hikers with very large packs on their backs. I knew they would fall by the wayside soon. Up and up we went. One of them peeled off in the middle of the first steep bench. It was getting hot and muggy, and there was no breeze. I broke out in a heavy sweat. The other guy ahead of my seemed to pick up speed. I leaned into the hillside, but couldn't keep up. Surely he would run out of steam soon. Nope. He just kept right on going, and my pace slowed to a crawl. I made it up to the ladder without stopping, but Bob Robinson was already there and breathing normally. It does pay to be in good shape! I'd be there one of these days.
Bob stayed behind to help get packs and people up the ladder. I pushed on to the cabin to see if it was still standing - we could tell from the radio transmissions the night before that there was a major party going on in my absence. That was the first time that I hadn't been in on a party at my own cabin. When I arrived everything look OK, and breakfast was in the oven. There was a great deal of food and beer and water consumed in the next couple of hours. All of the hikers made it out alive, although two of them on their very first backpack trip were questionable. (Not a good idea to go on a "difficult" rated backpack trip as you first hiking experience, especially when there is no trail! We all live and learn. Some lessons are tougher than others.)
The crowning event of the day was when Hete fired up his cooker and produced an endless supply of his famous "Hete Special" sandwiches. Well, they aren't exactly sandwiches, but they sure were GREAT!
For the first time that I can remember, every single seat on the back deck was occupied, even the swing and the log glider. I either need to get more chairs or have less guests. No, it was just right. It was getting hot, and there was no breeze at all, except for the two ceiling fans overhead. And there wasn't a single bird anywhere to be seen. Not even any buzzards. I guess all of the racket from the many conversations kept everyone away.
Soon all good-bys were finished, and the cabin and I were alone again. Can you say nap time!
The evening light lit up the canyons as I munched on the last of my pizza. It was dead still. No birds. No squirrels. No bugs. It was kind of eerie. As I was talking on the phone to my mom, I moved on over to the railing and looked down into the woods. Right there, sitting on a limb, was a HUGE black hawk. He looked up at me a little sheepishly, like he had been caught at something, then spun around and lumbered off through the woods. It was a roughed-legged hawk. He was dark, and big.
Later on, after the sun went down, but before it was completely dark, one of my little fox friends returned and paced back and forth in the meadow down below. I was kind of surprised that it had returned so quickly after all the noise died down. And this was the first time that I had seen a fox in dusky-dark conditions. It was dark enough out so that I couldn't see any color - never knew if the was the guy or the girl fox. But it was great to see it.
The nighttime air is cool now, it is still, and a band of night bugs are out. Think I'll go lounge around a while and converse with them and soak up the moonlight.
Speaking of the moon, I had a great view of it from my bed in the loft as it hung low in the western sky, then it dipped below the ridge and out of sight The lower it got, the more orange it became. The moon was lit from the right, and a little below. During a recent "Bird and Block from Earth and Sky" show on the radio I learned that whenever the moon is lit from the right, it is waxing, or getting larger (more of the moon lit up every night). When lit from the left, it is waning, or getting smaller each day. I will keep an eye on it during this cycle to make sure that they are correct.
9/28/98 The sun broke over the hillside with a brilliant yellow glow. The valleys and ridges were covered with a fine mist - not really haze or smoke, but mist. As I sat on the back deck with my Mocha, I saw a giant bird soaring way up the main valley. While it was over a mile away, I could still see it pretty good through the binocs. The wings were flat, meaning that it was not a buzzard (they have a "V" shape to their wings when flying). Since it was so large, it had to be an eagle, probably the golden eagle that I had seen before. I watched him for about a minute, and he never flapped his wings a single time. He soared on into the Boen Gulf drainage and disappeared. I've never seen a soaring bird out so early here before. I wonder what he was up to?
I had decided that I would make a pilgrimage down to the river this morning to photograph the bouquet of Asiatic day-flowers in the creekbed that we had seen the day before. I knew that the sun needed to find them for a little while before they would "wake" up and pose, so I wasn't in a big hurry. I packed up my fanny pack with the big camera, film, and a few accessories, got my big tripod (12 pounds) and headed down the trail. It was pretty easy going, although there were a lot of spider webs out. When I reached the flowers, they were still asleep and covered with dew - the sun had not gotten to them yet. I dropped my stuff there and went on over to the main river.
There was a little mist rising from the cool water. The river was pretty low now, but still flowing more so than July or August levels. I laid down on Norma's Reading Rock beside one of the pools and drifted off. About a half hour later the sun poked through the trees and woke me up. I had a strange feeling that something was watching me. As my eyes got accustomed to the brightness of the blue sky overhead, I saw my spy - it was the eagle, up high and just coasting downstream. He was looking right down at me, but soon soared out of sight. I suspect that if I had woken up 30 seconds later I would have never seen him.
That was kind of exhilarating, being studied by a golden eagle. And the sun made things rather warm. So I walked downstream to the big pool, stripped off my clothes, and jumped in for one last swim of the season. The water was cool, but not cold. I swam a couple of laps, then got out and returned to the flat rock to let the sun dry me off.
Back at the flower garden the sun still hadn't done much good, so I went off to wander around in the woods some. I examined the stone chimney at the old homesite nearby - I wondered if they built the chimney first or the cabin? When there is snow on the ground, you can see this chimney through the telescope on my back deck. I also wondered if the people who lived here spent as much time down by the river enjoying it as I had done this summer. It was a splendid location for a homesite.
Whitaker Creek was flowing a little - the water was clear and cold. I laid down beside it and sucked up some of the crystal water. Just then a batch of coyotes let out some yips and howls way up the valley - the sound echoed off of the steep forest walls and spilled out into the main canyon. I was full of wonder this morning, and wondered if they were calling out to each other, laughing at some joke, or moaning for a full moon.
I wandered down the creekbed and found an odd-looking caterpillar. I had seen this type before, but have been unable to find anything like it in the ID books. This one was resting on a sweet gum leaf that had already turned a nice shade of red and fallen to the ground. It was time for me to get working, so I set up the camera and shot 36 macro pictures of the little guy and the leaf. The scene looked great through the viewfinder, but I never know if it will turn out OK until I get the film processed.
It was obvious that the sun was not going to illuminate the flower garden the way that I had seen it yesterday - must have imagined the even light in my mind. Our brains have a way of making things look better than they really are sometimes, which is one reason why many of the pictures that we take just don't turn out the way we remembered the scene - our brain made the scene look perfect, when in reality it wasn't.
Anyway, I found one flower that was lit up just right, so I set up my camera rig and shot a few pictures. Then I shot a few more. And a few more. Another roll of 36 was soon used up, and I bid my flower garden and the creekbed farewell and headed up the hill to the cabin. About half way up I adjusted the heavy fanny pack to the front, which helped throw some of the weight into the hillside, making it easier to climb. I did stop and rest for a minute a couple of times, as much to take in the wonderful forest around me as to catch my breath. It was hot, and humid, but I didn't mind the exercise, especially after all of that pizza and Hete's Specials!
I am back at the cabin now, have showered and snacked and cleaned up and cooled down. Since I have a lot of work to do in town this week, I may not be back out here to Cloudland until the end of the week, which will be in October. For me October signals the beginning of fall. And I have been thinking back this morning to the summertime just ending, and all of the great and wonderful things and people that have happened and visited here. It has been a summer beyond my wildest dreams. I have met many wonderful people - interesting and funny and talented and, well, just plain good people. I have been honored that they, many of you, have taken the time out of their busy lives to stop buy and share this place with me. I have been loved, challenged, and made sport of (not enough of the loving though). We have had tremendous feasts, a lot of fine wine, and mouth-watering desserts. I have learned a great deal about our Ozarks history, about the people and plants and animals that call this area home, and have become friends with foxes and deer and falling stars. Summer is always the worst season of the year for me - as great as this past one has been, I look forward with glee to the seasons to come. I hope that you will come along and share it all with me. Thanks for reading.
9/30/98 I did get to spend part of another day at Cloudland in September after all. It was dark with a light rain falling when I arrived. That typical fall crispness was in the air, and the temperature had dropped down into the low 60's. The cabin was warm, but quickly cooled down with all of the windows open. I had to put on a long-sleeved shirt to sit out on the back deck. The rain didn't last too long, and finally gave way to moonlight. The clouds were high and broken, and the moon and a few stars broke through them to light up the night. Cloud banks gathered low in the valleys, then were blown around by the wind. They seemed to be searching out something, perhaps another season. Good-bye summer. You were one grand wilderness lullaby!
High temp - 95, low - 59, 7.03" rain, 30mph max wind