CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - September 2014
Cloudland remote Cabin Cam September 22 - view from our camps
NOTE: all book or print orders placed today will ship on October 1st
Journal updated the 23rd - Rocky Mountain High
09/01/14 The sky was filled with flashes of light at 5 this morning (looked like a thunderstorm down south somewhere). Treetops danced and twisted to the beat of high winds tossing them around. Every now and then the winds would ease up, and sometimes come to a complete stop - dead still all around. And then I could hear them - in fact the "silence" of the wilderness was quite LOUD! Many different species of night bugs and tree frogs screaming. And then a barred owl would cry out - he was in a nearby tree and his voice crystal clear. Another owl would answer. Then another pair would strike up a conversation off in another direction. And a third pair - or had one of the other owls moved to a new location? At one point I heard five of six different owls calling out. As the wind picked up again the bugs and birds vanished into the rhythm of the breezes.
By dawn the air was completely still, no owls, and bugs and frogs seemed to have gone to sleep, with only a chorus of crickets keeping up the music. The landscape had gotten lighter, but the sky remained dark, and a layer of clouds moved closer to the ground. By 9am we had a very soft light rain with cool temps. Yup, I believe we have left summer behind, and are seeing the beginning of early autumn in the High Ozarks.
There is a box filled with puppy toys over there in the corner of the cabin. The pups have a few favorites, but most of the time they prefer items they harvest from outside - rocks, leaves, plants that have been ripped out of the ground, and sticks, lots of sticks. For a while the cabin would be littered with many different sticks, each one having been debarked - and so there were scraps of bark all over the floor as well. I would sweep everything up at least once a day, and toss out all the sticks. Then my lovely bride came up with a brilliant idea. She selected two debarked sticks and kept them - one long and skinny, the other shorter and fatter with a fork. Whenever we would collect the toys and replace in their toy box, those two sticks would go in the same box right along with the store-bought toys. Son of a gun, those two sticks are almost always the first to the dogs select to drag out of the box and play with! And since the bark has already been removed, the cabin remains a lot cleaner - my wife is a genius!
The other "toy" we've figured out to use are ice cubes. Whenever the pups get to being especially "chewy" we pull out a pair of ice cubes - they LOVE them! And not only are they great to relieve pain from their teething, but our pine floor is so slick, it is like an ice hockey rink in here with the pups are running around chasing those ice cubes! When the pups first arrived we removed all rugs and pushed the furniture out of the way so the room is mostly open and they have a large rink to move around in without messing up too much. (FYI, I made one final post for August yesterday the 31st)
09/08/14 It began to rain lightly just before sunrise. I was out in the woods with the pups enjoying the cool and crisp sweetness of an early fall day. When I heard the raindrops I paused and looked upward, closed my eyes and waited for those chilled drops from heaven to splash. But none did. I could hear raindrops hitting, but none were finding me! Turns out the forest was grabbing all the drops before they could reach the ground. The forest was alive with the rhythm of the rain, and I just stood there and soaked it up, without acting getting wet. Then I hiked on. Eventually the trees got saturated and the rain began to filter on down to me. It was kind of like being massaged by tiny, soft, ice pellets - the water was cold, but felt great!
We took the bookmobile on a test run up to Petit Jean State Park last week to see how the pups would do while camping. We've had three different trips scheduled out west this past few months and have had to cancel all of them, but hope to be able to make it to Colorado or Wyoming before workshop and program season kicks in. Petit Jean is on one of the best parks in the United States, and it does Arkansas proud. It was just after the Labor Day holiday weekend and so most of the park was empty - well, almost. There are four campgrounds clustered together. The RV campground was nearly full - only a couple of spots open. The next campground was nearly empty with only one tent and one camper trailer. Then a couple of motorcycles pulled in, each towing a pop-up camper - I'd never seen anything like that before - really nice!
We tend to prefer camping by ourselves, and avoid normal campgrounds and RV parks unless forced to stay there. The other two campground at Petit Jean were empty - not a single camper. These two campgrounds are totally woods and are much more private to begin with. I must give the state park staff credit - even though it was right after the big holiday weekend and I'm sure the place was packed, all the facilities were squeaky clean, no trash - like the maid had just been there to clean up! We were amazed there were no other campers in either campground. Dogs are not allowed to run free in parks, and we hate to always have them tied up, so we set up a cheap screen tent at our little campsite in the woods. This worked out really well for all concerned. We spent a good bit of time out with the dogs on a leash, but then retired to the screen tent and the pups could romp around inside and not be literally "tied down" all the time.
The next morning we toured the Bear Crack trail, which winds through narrow canyons in exposed cap rock - a tall sandstone formation that is great for kids, and also for puppies! (the trails are in the BOTTOM of the narrow canyons, so the area is pretty safe - no great heights to fall from) At one point the pups had led us up into a dead-end canyon, and then we all stopped to have a look around, a bunch of pigeons that had been roosting overhead burst into the air and made a lot of noise - that REALLY got the pups attention! They are after all, BIRD dogs, and they got pretty excited. I tried to take a group photo of everyone, but the pups spent most of their time trying to figure out how to get up to where the birds where - it was kind of funny.I finally manged to get a group photo with the dogs looking at the camera.
We also had a real sit-down breakfast at the beautifully-restored Mather Lodge. That has to be one of the best views in the state for dining - and oh my goodness the food was GREAT too! The setting kind of reminded me of the lunch we had at Waterton Lake in Canada a couple of years ago. Both locations HIGHLY RECCOMENDED.
The quick shakedown trip to Petit Jean went well and the pups were comfortable in the van. They will be going with us on most program trips this upcoming season, and the fact that they ride well in there is a big plus!
I spent some time this past weekend up on the roof of the cabin cleaning out the gutters. I knew it was time when my lovely bride said something about the small TREE that was growing out of the gutter! While I was up there I discovered what has to be a world record hickory nut - part of a GIANT PAIR of nuts! The large one is about three inches across. Seems to be a lot of large nuts this year - note to self - while hiking through hickory forest this fall watch out for falling nuts!
We've had the pups out for at least one long hike a day this past week, and besides large nuts we've also been finding a lot of fresh bear scat. We had a bear at the cabin early in the summer, but nothing since then other than scat on the road. Seems the bears are dining on green persimmons right now, which is mostly what their scat is composed of (the seeds). I've only managed to find a couple of persimmon trees with fruit on them, but the fall fruit season is almost upon us.
Speaking of all, so far the early color has been late - almost none to report. That's mostly due to all the rain we've had which tends to delay color. The forest is really healthy, and I'm expecting a pretty terrific color season late next month.
Just a note - we still have a few spaces in our FALL COLOR PHOTO WORKSHOPS. No experience is necessary, and you don't need any more equipment other than your camera and at least one lens. Other equipment is helpful, but not required. Lots of folks think you need to be an expert to attend one of these classes, but actually novice shooters get much more out of them.
09/10/14 BANG! CRACK! POOOOPPPPP!!! We're getting hammered tonight with bright slaps of lighting and the assorted loud, sharp sounds that go along with it. Some of those have been several seconds after the flash; others have been many seconds later; some have been INSTANT!!! Funny thing about our internet. The phone company installed two short towers recently that bumped the speed of our internet five times faster (from 1mb to 5 mb) literally overnight. Only problem is that any storm clouds disrupt the signal between their towers and our internet is lost. Just when there is a dangerous storm baring down on us and we need the internet and doppler radar the most, we have zero DSL. Tonight the internet has been out for at least the past five hours - the amount of time we've had storm clouds rolling through. Bummer. Getting "Dish" or another satellite service won't help - those go out during storms too. Cell service is stark out here at best, so that doesn't help.
But the rest of the time our internet is quite zippy to us and we are happy campers! Oh I remember with great fondness good old dial up.....
I had a Cloudland Moment a couple of nights ago. It was late - near midnight on the night of the full moon - and I was taking a shower outside. It was SO BRIGHT out! I think I spent more time gazing up and staring at the moon through the trees than I did washing off. Kind of weird to be showing in the middle of the woods and bathed with moonlight, but then I guess taking a shower these days INDOORS is rather odd to me.
Anyway, after my shower while walking back to the door of the cabin I stepped right smack on a GIANT TOAD! Talk about feeling odd! You know how toads are - with most things besides car tires, those guys are so fat they just spread out as wide as needed to absorb the impact, then reform themselves back in to a toad shape once the impact (my foot) has been removed. I returned to the shower for another minute or two, and paid more attention to my footsteps after that.
Speaking of wildlife, my lovely bride spotted a large WOODCHUCK feeding at the edge of our carport the other day - first one we've ever seen out here on the mountain. If he hangs around it will be interesting to see what the pups will do with him when they make that discovery. We've not found any den holes yet, nor have seen the woodchuck again, so perhaps he was just passing through, but how in the world did he get out here to begin with?
09/16/14 I was out watering the dogs late tonight and there was a sweet scent in the air - flowers blooming somewhere out there in the night. And oh my goodness, it was LOUD! I guess they are all tree frogs, or what I've always called "night bugs" even though they are mostly not bugs. It was cool, with a slight breeze, and the dogs and I wandered off into the woods a little bit, out of sight of the warm glow of the cabin. No stars tonight, although the past several nights have been pretty darn clear and spectacular upstairs!
I took the dogs on a long ramble several days ago when the sky was down low in the treetops, and the air was thick, and wet, and white. Whenever I would stop and concentrate, I could see millions of tiny "mist drops" streaking across the view - they really showed up against dark backgrounds. It was not really rain, yet more than just mist.
The afternoon air was also quite cool and breezy - the sort that you want to hike on through. And we did, for nearly two hours. It was a true "ramble" - we headed out with no particular destination nor route in mind. We ended up following several top-of-the-ridge hay meadows that were almost all connected in one fashion or another. Some had recently been mowed and were more like strolling across a thick lawn; others had not been mowed in a while and had waist-high and very WET brush. The heavy air cast very soft light, and the moisture saturated pastel colors of green and brown and gray - all so very soft and LUSH!
It was so easy to hike along - almost like floating across the meadows. Well, I was floating - the pups were RUNNING FULL BLAST! They are bird dogs, and their MO is to cover a field from one side to the other, and then back again. There were not birds in these meadows - well, not game birds anyway. There were lots of finches and other little birds both on the ground and up in the bushes, especially along the edges of the meadows.
We came over the hill and into a small meadow and found an 8-point buck standing on his hind legs with his head up into a persimmon tree that was LOADED with green fruit. He looked over at us like we had found his secret stash. And in a way we had. This began a long line of persimmon trees alOng the edge of the hay meadow that all were LOADED WITH GREEN FRUIT - some of them riper than others and getting some nice color.
I had been wondering where all the persimmon seeds came from that the bears were eating and leaving in the middle of the road - we found the mother load! I counted more than 47 trees that were full of ripening fruit!
It was a GREAT day to be out in such ideal weather conditions roaming around with my two new pups (and Lucy too!).
A couple of other notes from rambles through the fields and forests. Pam and I were out with the dogs a ways from the cabin just drifting around, when all of a sudden we both heard the ding of an incoming e-mail. First off, there was no cell service in the area. But that would not have mattered anyway since we did not have cell phones with us (I almost never carry one in the woods). We both independently and immediately identified the sound as coming from a cell phone, announcing a new e-mail message had been received. Very weird. Have some plants in the forest evolved to the point where they can mimic other sounds?
I found a beautiful red wild plum on the ground yesterday. There were several scattered on the forest floor. I polished the little fruit to a brilliant red, then took a bite. My first impression was one of joy - wild fruit in the wilderness. But that quickly turned to a sour pucker - it was NOT READY for eating just yet!
Our pawpaw patch has a lot of green fruit hanging high, but it will probably be another couple of weeks or longer before they ripen and begin to fall. That's how you tell when it is time to eat a pawpaw - got to be on the ground. Something about the trip from branch to forest floor that makes this fruit especially sweet!
We continue to see large spotted deer - fawns nearly at large as their mom's.
Yesterday afternoon the air was completely still. The sound track of the forest sounded like everyone was holding their breath and waiting for something to happen. And I guess they are. The "feeling" of early fall is beginning to creep into the landscape - not just tinges of color, but just the overall look and smell of it all. Sometimes I want to get down on all fours and crawl around on the forest floor to get a better look.
A few dogwood leaves are beginning to turn color, but a lot of dogwood berries are taking on that brilliant RED shine - I think it is going to be a great dogwood fall color season.
I'm off to town tomorrow to pick up our prints from the Compton Gardens display. We've had a number of folks call lately to request a gallery appointment, but we won't have the gallery back into shape for that for at least another month - sorry, but there is little on the walls for you to see! We hope to have the gallery stocked at 50% by October 16th, although it will be set up for photo workshops with tables and chairs. Our first open house (with 50-60 prints or more) will be on November 15th.
Our new picture book is done and is in transit to us - we expect delivery here by the end of October or early November. Both of our new calenders should arrive within the next 2-3 weeks - I'll be sure to post their arrival date. We are especially pleased with the quality of printing for all three items.
09/18/14 We had some major storms roll through yesterday afternoon and evening, bringing lots of thunder boomers and one major rainstorm that dumped a ton of COLD water in a short period. One funny note I have to share from yesterday that includes a weather component.
When I got home from being in town all day I found a large box that had been literally dumped in the front yard by FedX (not sure if it was the "ground" division, the "home delivery" division, or some other division - fedx has many different divisions/companies all under the same umbrella). It was pouring rain - a really heavy downpour that felt like glacier water - it was really COLD! Since the fedx guy left the box in the yard, out in the open, it was soaked. A few minutes later the UPS guy arrived to deliver a package, and he immediately stepped out of his van and offered to move the fedx box under cover for me (he knew that I'm physically handicapped at the moment and could not move the fedx box by myself). We have the BEST UPS drivers on the planet! I wish the rest of the world did their jobs the way that our UPS driver does his...
Some have asked for more photos of our pups and an update on how big they are getting. I submit the following photo for your info. It seems that Wilson (five months old) has just about outgrown Amber (21 years old).
09/19/14 Heavy fog at first light today...
09/20/14 A SPECTACULAR clear, cool, calm, and beautiful night tonight! Even though I just read something that said we could only see about 4500 stars total with our naked eyes, it seems like there were zillions of them out tonight. The Milky Way was especially brilliant, standing straight and tall.
And then a Cloudland Moment happened. I was down in the sun room where we have exercise and rehab equipment. I was just hanging around in one of those upside-down contraptions that I got to try and help my ailing body parts - I call it our batmobile. (Thanks Jason for putting it together!) Anyway, I discovered there was a terrific view of the Milky Way once I was completely inverted, relaxed, and hanging like a bat. It was quite comfortable, and the longer I hung there and looked at the stars, the more of them I could see. Such an incredible sight for sure! And then BAM!!! (Oops, sorry for another batman reference, but in this case it really fit!) A giant hickory nut crashed into the glass directly above me, and it made quite a loud noise. Nothing like one of those to bring me out of my gravity-induced altered state. Not sure if the batmobile is going to work, but so far it feels pretty good.
Speaking of nuts, I've been collecting hickory nuts from the forest around here for days and the largest one I've found is scarcely half the size of the giant nuts we have in the tree here at the cabin - most are 1/3 the size or less. I've never seen hickory nuts anywhere near as large as the ones on our tree. And then I remembered that several years ago that hickory tree that is within ten feet of the cabin got stuck by lightning - in fact I continue to be amazed that it survived. I wonder of that jolt of electricity is what has caused the giant hickory nuts?
Oh yes, here is what the Milky Way looked like while I was hanging upside down in the batmobile. Hope everyone has a grand weekend, and gets the chance to step outside with a loved one and make a wish upon a star, and have that wish come true.
9/23/14 It's about 3am this morning and I just stepped outside and had a stroll around our campsite. We're camped at 9,200 feet at the edge of a small lake in the San Isabel National Forest in Colorado. I actually don't know the name of the lake - my lovely bride found this small, remote campground as a tiny dot on a map and thought it might be a nice spot to spend our first night in Colorado. She should have been a carpenter because she hit the nail on the head - we stumbled into a SPECTACULAR spot! (near Salida somewhere)
We've been anxiously following the fall color reports online waiting for peak fall color to happen before we headed west, and must say that the aspens are in full bloom in this area, far exceeding anything that is being reported online. This little lake sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains, and is rimmed with a forest of brilliant RED-orange-gold aspens, and large pines. It is an older campground that has been recently upgraded by the forest service and is a neat and tidy place. Each campsite is less than 100' from the edge of the lake, with terrific views all around. The cost is $17 per site, although they don't accept the Federal Lands Pass, which is a bummer since most forest service campgrounds do (policy determined by the contracting company that runs the campground - most forest service campgrounds in the west are run by private companies these day, not the forest service). There are 32 campsites here, and I hear it gets heavy use in the summer, and is nearly full now too (although almost empty when we first arrived yesterday afternoon).
Yesterday, after sunset, I spent the next hour standing on the shore taking pictures of a group of glowing aspens and their reflections. The wind was nearly completely calm, which is what I needed for the very long exposures I was taking of the trees - it takes a long exposure to get stuff to show up after sunset. I could see every campsite around the lake, and could smell a lot of great cooking going on over campfires! (We both had salads for dinner a couple of hours before.) I have no idea what the picture I took will look like to you since it is always a crap shoot trying to process a photo on a laptop computer, but I hope you get some sense from this photo how lovely the colors were.
We had planned four trips out west recently - the previous three being cancelled for one reason or another. So it is great to finally be up in the mountains working once again. My goodness I have no idea how we ever did this sort of thing without our van, which is in "photo" mode right now so I guess I should call it the photomobile. As I look around inside the vehicle I count at least five different electronic items that have been plugged in and charging all night (cameras, computers, phones, etc.). There is no electricity in the campground, but we generally don't need any - our van has a pair of "house" batteries that power everything except for the coach air conditioner. We also have a generator, but almost never use it - I HATE those things!
Anyway, as I was just out wandering around in the darkness around the lake it felt like coming home again - there were a lot of stars out, and it just felt great to be gazing up at them once again. Being up at elevation near 10,000 feet the air is thinner and the night sky darker, which means brighter stars. There were also a bunch of clouds drifting across the sky though, so I didn't get to take any Milky Way photos. But there was enough starlight to be able to wander around without aid of a flashlight - AND I didn't have to worry about snakes!
We'll be up in the mountains for a few more days - don't know how long or where we will go - that will depend on the color, weather, and which way the wind is blowing.
Speaking of snakes, I got a good long look at one of our friendly snakes back at Cloudland the other day, a hognose , "puff" or "spreading" adder snake. At first glance these snakes look exactly like a dreaded cottonmouth (a snake I try to avoid). The color and shape really makes me stop in my tracks, step back, and plan an escape route. But the hognose is mostly harmless, and we like having them around. They are the snakes that will spread/flatten/fan their head and raise their head to mimic a little cobra, and it is really fun to watch them! This particular guy went even further and spread his entire body out flat on the ground as wide as he could get it, which showed off his beautiful coloration. When provoked too much, these snakes will simply roll over and play dead.
I did not realize this, but my friend, Jason, who was working on a project for me at the time, said these snakes love toads - we have a lot of toads at Cloudland, and are happy to contribute a few to help feed the hognose snakes (they also tend to chase off poisonous snakes too).
OK, back to Colorado. Once daylight breaks we will be off to hike a trail that begins at the far side of the lake and climbs one of those mountains we can see from here, and winds up through many stands of glowing aspen trees and towering pines. I don't know if there will be any good picture scenes from up there, but I'll never know unless I try. Oh yes, all three pups are with us, and for the new kids this will be their first trip to the mountains. Lucy has been at high elevation a couple of times before.
FYI, there is basically no cell or internet service up here - sometimes we get 1 bar of 1x on our verizon phone - hardly enough for even a text message to get out. But when I connect a special cell booster cradle and "truckers" antenna that I mount on top of the van, the service jumps to a full 3g, and sometimes even 4g service - YIPPIE! I LOVE being in the middle of nowhere, but it is also great to be able to carry on our online and other business activities without having to drive back down into civilization.