CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - September 2016 Part B (16th - present - PART A is here)
Cloudland Colorado Campsite Cam, September 29 - a spectacular dawn!
Journal updated on the 25th-28th
09/16/16 So nice and "drippy" cool early this morning at Cloudland! We got a nice little shower yesterday that settled the dust and cooled things down - the air is sweet and saturated, as is the landscape. When we arrived home the other night late and stepped out of the van, we were greeted with a forest so LOUD we could hardly hear anything else - cicadas, crickets, tree frogs, and other night bugs. It was a wall of sound. There don't seem to be any night bugs in Colorado, other than the ones with four legs. Most mornings here the temp reaches the dew point and we awake to the sound of a gentle rain on our tin roof - dew running off the edge of the rood and splashing below.
Yesterday morning I was up at 4am-ish and went outside to soak in the stars - there were a zillion of them rising out of the clouds below, including the main winter constellation, Orion. I rumbled around a bit and found my camera and tripod and set up to take a few pictures. Most of the night bugs and frogs had gone to bed, so it was much quieter. But off in the distance - a mile or so up Whitaker creek - a pair of barred owls broke the silence and began to talk with one another. They were a little distance apart - probably on opposite side of the canyon - and each call would bounce off the tall bluffs and echo across the canyon. I could never detect that they ever got together - their calls remained coming from different locations.
And then as dawn approached, a whippoorwill woke up and started to sing. Late summer mornings are just terrific here in Arkansas!
We had watershed moments yesterday. First, our very first forklift was delivered to the new book warehouse building at our property over near Jasper. I'd had plenty of help moving around the heavy pallets of books this past 30 years - from the Woods Boys, Benny, Pam's dad, and Jason and Jeff. And I've always had a pallet jack for moving them around inside the warehouse (we have a very small warehouse here). But as my back issues continue and we get ready to move to the other building sometime in the next year, I decided it was time for some mechanical help. I found a very old and VERY beat up forklift for sale at about 10% of new cost. Our new building will be smaller than what we have now, and we only receive new pallets several times a year so the forklift won't have too many hours a year put on it, but it will help immensely to unload pallets off trailers and from inside the van, and also to move them around inside the building. Here's a snap of it inside the new building where it will live - note they just completed the spray-foam insulation, and now we are waiting for the contractor to install the doors and siding. We are getting close...
And secondly, a photo I posted a couple of days ago on our business facebook page blasted right on through 100,000 views and became our all-time most viewed photo on facebook - the Harvest Moonrise (views don't put cash in our pockets, but it is a way to sometimes judge how folks feel about a photo - nearly 120,000 now in two days). If we only had a penny for each view...
All of our new publications are on their way to us and should arrive within a couple of weeks - so we'll get to try out the old forklift to see if it really works. You can pre-order all three products now, but as the shipment gets closer I'll keep ya posted as so when we'll have them in hand and ready to shop - we're hoping by the second week of October. We have a copy of all three and the reproduction is the best we've ever seen - YIPPIE!
09/16/16 Last night while outside taking a shower in the dark, I started to notice BRIGHT lights coming through the forest! It didn't take me long to realize where the lights were coming from and chuckle a little bit, then be rewarded by the rising almost-full moon. It was a brilliant sight, but only lasted a few moments then disappeared behind clouds.
Tonight while outside taking a shower in the dark there were LOTS of bright lights - in fact these lights were very LOUD too! 'Twas in the middle of waves of strong thunderstorms, with lightning bolts flashing and lighting up the sky, and my personal full moon shining too (not something you want to see - thankfully my full moon was buried deep in the woods).
It was kind of weird being out there with all the lightning - I had waited a couple of hours for it to stop but finally had to give in and just go for it. But the weird part was the fact that the Buffalo River (about 600 feet below but only about 200 yards to the east of me), was ROARING from all the rain, and it sounded like the river was up at my level just through the trees. In almost 20 years of living here I don't recall ever knowing the sound of the river quite like that. Hum, exactly HOW MUCH rain had we had?
My lovely bride and I sat on the back deck this evening grilling split chicken breasts and watched as the storms moved past. For a while we were completely dry - not a drop since morning. Lots of thunder boomers though. Then Pam pointed to a cloud about five miles away and noted that we were "about to get HIT!" But it was so far away. Note to self - ALWAYS listen to your wife! That cloud moved rapidly and in no time the cabin was engulfed and we were getting poured on. At one point there were clouds/fog banks or whatever moving in three different directions right in front of us, each going a different speed too. Dark sky, then sunshine. White clouds, gray clouds, black clouds. More sunshine. The light and weather show was better than any TV. The bird was pretty good too.
09/19/16 Cloudland has grown silent. This morning the most wonderful furry critter in the world left our arms and pranced on up into puppy heaven. I've never known such deep, enduring, and completely unconditional love that Lucy brought into our hearts for so many years. There will never be another one like Lucy. And while it is dark and somber and quiet here tonight, there remains light and joy and laughter everywhere - Lucy's spirit will endure forever.
It was love at first sight when Pam and Amber reached out and swept her up from the animal shelter in Springfield in 1999 - someone had abused her during the first year of life, and she was on the list to be put to sleep only a couple of days later. My girls saved Lucy's life - and I think Lucy saved their/our lives in so many ways too. All three girls came into my life a year later, and brought a new form of civilization to the bachelor pad that belonged to my boy, Aspen, and I.
Aspen and Lucy became fast friends and spent nearly 24/7 together until we lost Aspen several years ago. It was then that we discovered Lucy had become deaf - she was using Aspen's ears to help guide her. Lucy was already pretty old at that point, and she went downhill rapidly after Aspen's death. Soon we were unable to leave her alone without her having a panic attack - one of us was always with her. Lucy and I got to spend a great deal of time together, including many long trips into the night while I was working on my nighttime picture book. She may have been deaf, but oh brother could she see and RUN in the dark! I had to get a reflective vest to be able to keep up with her! Lucy is in many of the nighttime photos of mine you've seen published - sometimes little more than a blur, but always a bright spirit.
We got the puppies a couple of years ago to keep Lucy company. Little did we know that the puppies would put a JOLT into her system - the old girl became like a PUPPY herself - running and skipping and playing for hours on end. She could not only keep up with the puppies, but she would often charge right past them. Lucy would usually make the three-mile hike we go on frequently here up on her toes and "prancing" the entire way, with a big grin on her snout - she enjoyed life!
We worried about taking her up into high altitude, but she seemed to really like it up there - in fact she seemed to grow even younger, and would often jump out of the van when we arrived and run off jumping for joy while the rest of us were left standing there trying to catch our breaths! Most dogs don't live to be teenagers - Lucy was almost 19! She was a miracle dog, one for the ages.
One funny note - I've not posted many photos of Lucy here like I have of the other dogs - she did not seem to like the camera. That could be that most of the time I pointed it at her when she was in a pickle - like with her face covered with snow or spider webs! But mostly I could not get many good pictures of her because she was coal BLACK - and a black puppy does not show up very well in photographs. This portrait of her was taken a couple of weeks ago during a hike around a high mountain lake in Colorado. She and I had wandered off from the others and were exploring a little creek, and somehow I think she knew the end was near - she just stood there and posed, happy and beaming. It's the way I'll always remember her.
There was a remarkable moment this afternoon at the cabin in the middle of all the gloom. Mia got up and ran over to the glass door to the back deck, then sat there measurmized at something. A beautiful butterfly had landed on the screen. There were dozens of butterflies in the sky behind, floating on the breezes and heading south for the winter. Perhaps the torch has been passed to a new generation.
Lucy, you were an elegant lady who brought so much love and joy to all of us. Now you are free to romp and prance and chase squirrels once again with your old pal, Aspen. I am weeping inside and out for you tonight though - you have shown so brightly in our lives all these years and brought us untold happiness. It was an honor to share your world. Thank you so much our little princess.....
09/21/16 A post card sent down from Lucy - The last Milky Way of summer from Cloudland.
09/24/16 It has been a difficult week at Cloudland, one filled with heartache and tears. There were times when Pam and I just sat and stared, not knowing what to do or say. Lucy had been with us, a part of our lives, and quite literally next to us 24/7/365 for such a long time, and then all of a sudden, not only was this amazing little heart not beating, but there was a vacuum left in her place. And then quite the opposite was true - everywhere we went and looked she was there - standing in the hallway where she always stood waiting on us to do this or that so she could follow; the spot where she slept during the day at our feet during work; and at times of the day that were her special times - like at 3pm. We never knew how she knew, but no matter where we were, what time zone even, at 3pm she would began to pant and her entire body would shake and jitter - it was her meal time. We automatically looked around to find her at 3pm every day this week, but she was not there. (On a side note, the puppies now get the can of special food we always had on hand for Lucy, precisely at 3pm!) I guess 3pm will always be our "Lucy hour."
There is a lot of open space in our cabin, with many windows, some towing quite high into the sky. At times of the day there are "sun spots" where sunshine floods in and makes a spot of light on the floor. That was always Lucy's spot - she LOVED laying in the sun, the hotter the better! Many times this week while passing through the cabin we would stop and fully expect to see her right there at our feet in the sunspot, whevever it happened to be. Every time it was heartache all over again that she was not there, yet would always being a smile of joy and laughter - "Lucy would have loved this sunspot today!"
Two especially heartache moments of my week and then I'll move one. These past few years since we lost Aspen, whenever I would be over in the print room working long hours, I would leave the door to the gallery open just a crack. At some point during my work I would hear the creek of that door, and moments later Lucy would appear and lay down at my feet, sprawled out across the floor. She never asked for anything while there - it was like she understood that I had work to do, but wanted me to know she would be there to keep me company. A couple of days ago I had an especially long processing session that I had to get done, and as habit I left the door cracked open just a little bit. I was having some difficulty getting one particular image to work, and was almost at wits end - it was the final image that I had to get done to complete a large project. And then I heard it - the creek of the front door. My heart SOARED knowing Lucy would soon be there beside me!!! But when I turned around to look, and even got up and walked into the next room towards the door, I found only silence and emptiness. Lucy, of course, was not there - would never be coming through the door to keep me company ever again. This was one of the tougher moments and I broke down. But then I realized, it must have been Lucy at the door after all - sending a gust of wind down to push the door open a little bit to help snap me out of my funk. It worked - I ran back to the computer, started with the problem image all over again, and in two minutes I figured out how to make it work. I guess that little gust of Lucy-wind cleared out the cobwebs and allowed me to think again.
Later on I was outside taking a long, hot shower. This was another place where Lucy would often come running up just to check on me. She would stand there next to me and peer down into the wilderness - I know she could not hear the roar of the Buffalo River below since she was deaf, but I believe she was soaking in a great deal of it in her own way. I finished my shower and started to walk around the deck to the back door then I was stopped in my tracks and I gasped. There were a single set of tiny muddy footprints on the deck leading from the shower to that door - they were Lucy's prints (none of the other dogs ever went down to that deck, only Lucy). She somehow had gotten down off the deck the last time she'd been there, and I had to step down and help her back up onto the deck. The ground was muddy, and as she followed me inside she left those little footprints. There were not enough towels to dry all my tears that day...
OK, fast forward to the present. Yesterday morning my lovely bride and I both sat up in bed at the same time - at 2am. Life at the cabin seemed to have come to a standstill this week without Lucy. We needed to move forward and breathe some fresh air. "Why don't we just go ahead and leave now?" And so we hurriedly filled the van, collected our puppies, and sped off into the night. Those of you who live in NWA will know how refreshing this was - we made it completely through Springdale on Hwy. 412 and only hit ONE RED STOPLIGHT! Not much traffic at 4am so all the lights were green - it was DELIGHTFUL! 15 hours later we arrived at our campsite in Colorado. The hills everywhere were ablaze with the peak of fall color - much of it a week or two early. We don't have much time here before we have to get back home to Cloudland, and it seems as if Colorado wants to put on a good show for us while we're here.
Just before we left the cabin, I ran back inside and grabbed something off the mantle - I attached Lucy's collar to the spot in the van where all the dogs' leashes hang - Lucy would be going on this trip with us! Actually she has been on more long-distance trips than any of our dogs, so that was only fitting.
It is a brisk 25 degrees at our campsite this morning as I'm writing this. We had several hours of blowing snow last night, but the skies cleared and oh my goodness the STARS that came out were just incredible! A half-moon was quite brilliant at 4 when I got up this morning. The snow that stuck to the ground and trees is above our 9,200' elevation campsite so only a thick layer of frost is here, but I think we'll make a run higher this morning and go play in it a little bit. We've heard some areas nearby got 3-6 inches of snow last night - YIPPIE COYOTE!
09/25/16 We spent some time yesterday morning touring around the area viewing some of the quickly-melting snowy mountains, and got a few snapshots at one small lake - brilliant aspen reflections were just wonderful. In trying to hike around the lake to get a better vantage point, I found myself in the middle of a marsh area - fortunately it was frozen solid (several inches deep) - all except for one spot where I fell through. My boots filled with cool water and I felt like an idiot, which I was! I didn't find any great photos over there, but hopefully learned a little more about hiking on ice. (I do come home with wet feet a lot, so maybe I'm a slow learner.)
Then we drove several miles up a rough forest road that reminded us a bit of Cave Mountain Road in Arkansas - ICY! Of course, the temp was in the low 20's and we were at nearly 12,000' elevation. But our 4wd van worked great and we made it up and back down again without slipping.
I would return to the same road late last night to shoot the Milky Way rising - no moon, so the sky was very dark and BLACK! When I first arrived on top of the Continental Divide and hiked out to a spot that overlooks about a million miles of mountain peaks, I set down my camera gear, put my hands in my pockets, and closed my eyes. A few minutes later I opened them and think I saw more twinkling stars than I'd ever seen anywhere - the sky was so clear and stars so bright! I know there is a reason why we see the stars "twinkle" but I can't think of it now. No question they really do, at least in our minds. So I set up and took a series of photos and quickly realized there was a lot of light pollution along the horizon. Oops. This was COLORADO, at nearly 12,000' high, on top of the Continental Divide, and still a lot of light pollution. Actually the clearer the air/atmosphere, the farther a single street light will travel.
While standing there waiting for one small cloud bank to move out of the picture, I listened to the Razorback game - which at the time was very exciting since we had just made a great drive and took the lead - yippie! (I used to be on the Razorback swim team.) The temp on the Divide was back down into the mid-20s, and the wind was HOWLING - 30mph, probably more. So that put the wind chill down in the teens or below. I'm a grizzled old wilderness veteran of course, but it was down right chilly on these old bones! And to make matters worse I was just standing there not moving or creating any internal heat. But I was prepared, and ended up putting on a pair of rain pants, plus four or five top layers.
I waited until I was sure the sky was as dark as possible (and the cloud moved on a little), then took a few last photos and packed it in for the night - disappointed at the light pollution that was not going away. I was back home and snug in our "tent" with my bride by 10:30. I never heard the end of the Hog game (probably a good thing). Tonight I hope to make the long drive (36 miles on rough dirt road) to another shooting location up high to get another chance at shooting the Milky Way with no light pollution. Lots of driving for a single photo, but it is what I love to do, and really need right no - 'tis great therapy for the soul.
The temp in camp just before dawn this morning is right at freezing - much warmer than yesterday - and it feels terrific out wandering through our miniature aspen forest here. The puppies are at my feet, anxiously waiting me to reach for the leashes so they can run up the mountain. I'll let ya know if we find any fall color today, and hope to post a better Milky Way photo tonight. In the meantime, HAPPY SUNDAY!
FYI, parts of Colorado are experiencing an EPIC fall color event right now - some of the photos I've seen online are nothing short of INCERDIBLE1 I'm not here to be a part of all that this time, so can only admire from a distance. I'm saving myself for the same sort of amazing fall color season back in Arkansas in a few weeks...
EVENING UPDATE. We're getting into a "beauty overload" state here when everywhere we look or drive or hike to is kind of stunning. At some point you just have to move on after standing there awestruck. But two points of special note from the day (and night). First, our daughter, Amber, and her boyfriend (of seven years!), Anthony, made the long drive out to spend a couple of days (they both worked all day, then drove all night, and arrived at 6am, then spent all day seeing the sights - oh to be so YOUNG again, ha, ha!). Pam took all of us up to a Love Lake and we spent some time totally engulfed with some of the most amazing COLOR I've ever seen - it was literally all around us. (How could you not love a place called Love Lake?).
During part of the hike we roamed through a section of forest with no trail - it was mostly aspens that seemed to be on fire. Heavy winds from the night before had blown leaves off and the forest floor was carpeted with zillions of yellow, orange, and even some read aspen leaves. The sky was pure-blue, so lots of brilliant sunshine that shown down into the deep forest, casting shadows on that colorful carpet. It was one of those times when everyone just wandered about through the forest individually with no particular route in mind - every footstep brought new and wonderful scenes, no matter if you look straight ahead, to the side, behind you, UP, or DOWN. It was a magical fairyland. I got my little snapshot camera out once and started taking pictures, but it was impossible to find the "best" composition since there we SO MANY beautiful scenes! I was content to simply wander and soak it all in. Once I sat down and just listened - the giggles and laughter from my bride and her daughter brought smiles all around.
Just before sunset I made a long drive up to Ellwood Pass along the Continental Divide in hopes of getting some photos of the Milky Way - total darkness begins about 90 minutes after sunset, so I had a bit of time to explore before I could begin shooting. I found myself hiking up along a narrow ridgetop seeking a better view, and ended up spending one of the most enjoyable hours of hiking of my life! No way I can describe the feeling, but it was one of euphoria, with each step being so easy and fun and - I don't know, it felt like I was floating across the meadows and through the forest and skipping up the ridgetop, everything in the dim light of dusky dark. I guess it felt like freedom, and there was discovery with each new viewpoint I found, and beyond each giant tree I passed. There were interconnected meadows that gently sloped from the narrow ridgetop across the slope and through small "bowls" in the hillside.
As full darkness approached I could see the Milky Way begin to shine through, and I returned to the van to collect my camera gear, then headed back UP the ridgeline to one viewpoint that I had picked out. It was just a little bit creepy hiking alone up there with no trail or sign of man, and the only sounds were those of distant coyotes beginning to yip and yell and howl at the night. The moon would not arrive until after midnight, so I only had stars to show the way. And of course, I kept singing John Denver's Rocky Mountain High - "starlight was softer than a lullaby" - something I've always noted and appreciated, and have even used to make some notable exposures in the past (if you have an exposure long enough, even the faintest glow from stars can illuminate the landscape).
So the Milky Way shone brightly and I got my pictures - it was just GLORIOUS! Then I quickly moved onto a second shooting location that I had found on my last trip to this location - a series of beaver ponds that I hoped would reflect the Milky Way. I had to wade through chest-high thick brush to make it to the shore of the largest of them, and son of a gun, the Milky Way was still high enough in the sky that I could see it and its reflection in the water - no wind at all - YIPPIE! Another magical moment - a Cloudland Moment for sure, just like at sunset, and during the day in the thick forest with the girls.
Soon after I began shooting the star reflection in the pond, one of the residents noticed me standing there, slowly crept up in the water nearby, and SLAPPED his tail on the water surface - it was such a SHOCK to my system that I nearly jumped into the water instead of away from it! Beavers at high altitude behave the same as beavers in the Buffalo River - they are little stinkers! (they do this on purpose to jolt people, and it works pretty well!). So Ithe book backed off a bit into the high brush and shot a few more pictures as the Milky Way descended into the landscape. (I'm reading Jim Bridger Mountain Man so my head is full of many beaver stories.)
The temp up high was down into the mid-20's, but my heavy down sleeping bag kept me toasty warm - my feet just barely fit in between the front seats as I sprawled out towards the back of the van. When I awoke at 5am, I opened the door and grabbed the bottle of starbucks mocha that I had set out there - I LOVE this stuff as cold as possible, and it was just beginning to freeze up a little bit - DELIGHTFUL!
09/26/16 The highlight of this day was a hike with all through a mature aspen - pine - fur - spruce forest along a trail that runs on the mountain slopes above our campsite property - but we had to drive about five miles to reach the trailhead. It was another magical day with brilliant blue skies and sunshine, and blazing aspens everywhere. Anthony rode his mountain bike far ahead while the girls hiked and talked and laughed a lot. Wilson and I often hiked along, sometimes leaving the trail to explore nearby hillsides and thick forests. Sometimes it was just Amber and I - we rarely get time together, just us, and it was wonderful. Other times it was just my lovely bride and I, hand in hand, hearts and spirits connected as one.
09/27/16 Today was mostly driving back roads high in the mountains - we were leaf-peeping tourists and marveled at almost unbelievable scenes around nearly every corner! At one point we let the dogs run free and they spent an hour doing just that - at TOP speed, crisscrossing a high meadow that was probably a half mile wide. Springer spaniels are made to run free and SPRING - and indeed they did!
It was a mix blessing for me seeing all of the incredible color. On the one hand I wanted to spend every moment hauling my camera gear and setting it up at every one of those turns, then hiking up and over the next ridge to shoot some more, over and over again. But I knew my efforts would be in vein - I'm weird in that I can't really justify to myself spending time shooting "real" pictures unless I am working on a project they can be used in - or offered as prints for sale (my non-Arkansas prints rarely sell to anyone). And when I did set up and try to shoot something, I felt guilty - because I was not back in Arkansas shooting! What it all boils down to is the fact that I'm all wound up now and ready to bolt out of the gate back in Arkansas - I plan to spend every waking hour either shooting or traveling to shooting locations for most of October and on into November - from corner to corner to corner to corner of Arkansas. Oops, I guess I have some photo workshops to teach and also a warehouse/gallery building to complete at the same time, so I'll have to stop an breathe a little. But I'm hoping this will be one of the great fall color seasons, and I'll try and capture as much of it as I can. (FYI, we still have space in our one-day digital photo workshops - no experience necessary!)
09/28/16 Pam and I hiked into a small lake just after sunrise where she spent a couple of hours creating both a pastel and a watercolor of the scene. This lake was lined with tall pines, and there were hundreds of aspen trees extending from the far shore on up the mountain in the background - all blazing away with brilliant fall color! At first winds were calm and all those colors and shapes were reflected in the lake. Then winds kicked up a bit and the surface of the water changed color and character, and I know Pam was having a devil of a time trying to figure out which version to paint! These were both "plein air" works, so she started with a blank board and ended with a completed work of art - continues to amaze me!
We were quite isolated and never saw another soul, and I let the puppies off leash to run and play and explore on their own. After an hour of this, I had settled down at the base of some towering pine trees, laid back on a soft bed of pine needles, and was surrounded by piles of large pine cones. My bride was down on the shore working, puppies were running and jumping (and swimming) and having a grand time, and I did absolutely nothing at all. It was a marvelous time!
(*Speaking of Pam's art, if you happen to be in the Branson area between now and Ocrtober 15th you may want to drop by the The Chateau on the Lake - five of her pastels are on display at their Grill (great food too!) And shhhh, don't tell anyone, but she will have the first major showing of her work - a solo exhibit next spring in Ft. Smith. More details on that forthcoming.)
Later in the afternoon back at our campsite, clouds moved in and lit up the miniature aspen forests with a soft glow that really made them shine. I wandered into one of the thick aspen groves with the puppies, then called out for my bride to join us, and we just sat there in the aspens, smiling faces all around. Our aspen trees are not large, but they are THICK, and at some point we'll need to start thinning the small ones. They are so dense that we can' see more than about 50 feet through them. So many soft aspen trunks all crammed together. Such soft ground cover and earth beneath them. We then moved to one of the small meadows in between aspen groves, and even the puppies laid down to rest, all of us basking in the soft glow from above. The meadow was still lush with tall grasses, rose hips, and other assorted meadow plants. For a short while the world had stood still, and we could breathe deeply and completely. Pam commented that "This will be one of my yoga spots!" Our little property on the hillside is not grand or spectacular, but it is a place we can come to and be at peace.
BOOK AND CALENDAR UPDATE. All three of our new products are en route by rail from the west coast to Chicago, and we're hoping they will be delivered to a giant warehouse in Springdale later next week. We're headed back home in a couple of days and will be able to pick them all up (seven large pallets of them!) and deliver to our new book warehouse space near Mt. Sherman. That means ALL PREORDERS for the new picture book, 2017 Arkansas calendars, and HOLIDAY SPECIAL orders will ship the next day - YIPPIE COYOTE! I'll keep ya posted...