Cloudland Cabin View, August 31, 9:58am - light rain all night and day, cool, and DELIGHTFUL!

August 2012 Print Of The Month ~ Wilderness Lightning

Journal updated on Sunday morning the 26th

08/01/12 It was still dusky dark and a while before dawn, but I could make out some movement in the tall grass down in Mom's meadow below the cabin. As my eyes got used to the dim light, the movement began to take shape and gain color. After watching him for a while, it dawned on me that today was the 100th birthday of the great Neil Compton - and that the figure I was watching down in the meadow was perhaps the ghost of - or rather the SPIRIT of - Neil Compton. It was an old buck with a glossy coat that shimmered as daylight began to creep into the sky above. He was working the plants in the meadow - bending down to munch on the tender new shoots of green, and then reaching up to strip leaves from a sumac bush. This was probably the big buck I had seen in the front yard the other day, but now I got to get a really good look at him through the binocs. He was still in "velvet" - his antlers were soft and bloated and covered with fine hairs. I could count nine points - some of them standing 8-10 inches tall above the main beam. A tenth point was just beginning, and probably would form before the end of summer. The buck's antlers were already beginning to itch, and he spent a bit of time "rubbing" them on the little branches of the sumac bush. Actually he got two sumacs - the first one was covered with dead brown leaves - he stripped them one branch at a time, and in a single motion. The second bush's leaves were still green, and he made them disappear in the same manner. I ended up watching him for at least 30 minutes, then I realized that dawn had broken, and it was time for me to shoulder my backpack and hit the road, so I bid Sir Neil goodbye and good eating, and I headed off in the opposite direction.

Today would have been Neil Compton's 100th birthday. He is the man who led the fight to save the Buffalo River, and we all will be forever indebted to him for all that he did for the world. Neil's last visit to our Cloudland Cabin was back in 1998, just a few months before he passed away.


08/02/12 I spent the night on the couch in the great room below since my lovely bride was sick - she is just like me and never wants to be close to others when she is sick - just stick me in a dark room somewhere and leave me alone! I was up quite a bit during the night and it always looked like dawn was breaking - I got up several times to start my day, only to discover that it was the full moon that was making things so bright. We will have two full moons this month, and the second one on the 31st will be a "blue" moon - which means it is a second moon in a single month.

Soon after daylight the winds started to blow, clouds rolled in, and thunder and lightning began. We ran around and shutdown and unplugged all computer and phone equipment as usual, but when it started to rain I wanted to be outside and soak it all in, so I brought out my little laptop and fired it up. I'm going to be spending a lot of time on the road this next year, and need to get into the habit of typing on this laptop while in the van since I won't have much time back at the cabin to do so. I have an older model Mac laptop, and it has the best keyboard I've used on one of these - I normally don't like laptops, but like I said, I will need to get to love this one!

The rains that finally hit this morning brought cool temps and lots of wind and it felt and smelled great! Strong winds blew in from the south and soaked most of our back porch, which is where I'm sitting. It is mostly just wind and thunder right now, but oh my goodness that cool breeze FEELS great! There are already a few baby clouds forming in the canyons below, and soon they will brow and rise up and sail off to other parts of the state to provide much-needed shade. Funny how so many of us curse a thunderstorm like this at other times of the year, but right now it is such a welcome relief. I love contrasts in nature, which is one reason why I love the changing of the seasons, and also the edges of storms in any season. We seem to be seeing miniature versions of the changing of the seasons - from summer to fall - more frequently now. HOT to cold. GREEN to brilliant fall color. I can't wait for the real thing, but in the meantime, I'll take as many days like today as we can get! The wind is blowing strongly from the east now, so I'm hoping the storm that just passed through will reverse and come back to pay another visit. I hope you get some of the thunder-boomers, wind, and rain where you are today as well…

08/04/12 I was lazy and slept in until daylight yesterday. By the time I had my big pack saddled up and began a fitness hike it was past sunrise, although the skies above were kind of dark - and in fact were getting darker with each step I took. I glanced at the computer radar just before I left, and knew there was a large red blob out there ahead of me, but since we needed rain so bad I figured nothing would ever become of it. The temp seemed to be in the 90s - VERY hot for early morning here. I'm normally soaked to the bone within a few minutes anyway so that didn't bother me much.

The hiking was easy and I continue to be impressed by this newfangled backpack I've been using. Even though I cancelled my trip to the arctic in September, I sill have a few backpack trips planned, plus carrying the extra weight on my back helps me burn calories faster and eases me back into shape. The miles rolled on underfoot without hardly a care in the world.

It got a little darker, and the nice breeze that had been following me stopped - not a tree nor branch or leaf was stirring. The air was thick and heavy and filled my lungs easily.

And then all of a sudden - BAM! A loud clap of thunder happened directly above me, And a wall of water hit me right in the face! It was like someone turned on the big fan and dumped a bucket of water right in front of me - it was a blowing downpour. After the initial shock of the blast you should have seen the grin on my face - pure heaven! I knew there was no way to try and outrun this thing - and why would I want to anyway? So I just continued to hike, but having to lean into the strong winds and rain a little bit - burning off an extra calorie or two in the process. It was raining so hard I could not even look up and around much to see where I was going, but it didn't matter - I had already arrived where I wanted to be (in the rain!).

And then as quickly as it had arrived, poof, the rain and wind stopped and dust returned beneath my feet. DRATS! It looked like I had just hiked across the very corner of this storm - when I eventually turned around and hiked back to the cabin, only a small part of the landscape was wet - everything else was the same dry and dusty as it had been. But it was nice to be in the storm, if only for a few minutes.

The other night I was watching the Olympics when I head a large plane approaching. I got up and ran out the door just as one of those monster HC 130's flew directly over the cabin at a low altitude. It was late at night but the big plane flashed as it passed over, and the roar of the four giant engines was deafening. And then IT happened - a Cloudland moment, a once-in-a-lifetime moment. All I could do was stand there with my jaw dropped and holding my breath - the plane was flying directly into the rising FULL moon, a moon that was a large as the plane - and for a few seconds, the plane was silhouetted against that big beautiful moon - oh my goodness! And then it was over, and I was left with the silence of the wilderness and that silver moon. WOW! (The next day I found out that my brother-in-law, Corky Cecil, was coming to Harrison today for a high school reunion - he flew the very same type of giant aircraft in Vietnam during the war, and for six years after that for the Air Force doing air-sea rescue missions in Hawaii.)

A note about the Olympics. I have been especially interested in this one due to a couple of reasons. First, I'm a swimmer. I've always been a swimmer, and in fact swam competitively since I was a toddler all the way up through college - I was on the Razorback swim team for a while. My brother, Terry was a swimmer. And my DAD was swimmer - in fact he was a world-class swimmer that was on the Olympic swim team back in the 1930's. But even more so, he helped develop the final swimming stoke that is in use today - the butterfly. And so as I watched Phelps swim his very last individual event to gold last night (100 meter butterfly), I swelled up with pride that my dad played a big part in not only this great swimmer's unbelievable success, but also to our country's success. (I also kind of wanted to be back in the pool again and experience the rush of the competition.) Thanks dad.....

08/05/12 It was raining smoke when I got up and stumbled outside just before daylight. There was roaring, booming thunder above. Flashes of bright light all around - kind of like a strobe light at a dark dance hall. (I've never actually danced in public, but have seen in on TV!). 

As daylight began to creep into the landscape, the rumble and strobe lights moved on, leaving behind the heavy smell of forest fire smoke - YIKES! My first thought was that a lightning strike had caught the forest on fire, and hopefully the heavy downpour had quickly extinguished it. We have a pretty limited view here from our cabin - mostly just directly south. I strained to see if I could spot any billowing smoke coming from a particular area, but there was billowing smoke coming from everywhere!

The smoke would rise up from the depths of the Buffalo River canyon as a slender column of blue-gray-white, twisting, twirling, snaking its way as it climbed. As it reached the top of the canyon a wind current would grab and pull it left or right, and the smoke would race across the scene. Multiply this by a dozen at a time, sometimes twenty or thirty - there was a lot of smoke on the move! But was the wilderness on fire, or was this just the usual formations of baby clouds I was seeing? 

Looking at the scene in real time right now there are a variety of smoke patterns going on. A couple columns have risen up just in front of our cabin and are reaching the top of the bluff line - twisting, bending over, and just beginning to pick up speed. The Whitaker Creek Canyon off to my right is filled with a solid wall of smoke. Individual trees - including a giant pine tree at the edge of Mom's meadow - are silhouetted against this wall of white. The big ridge to my left is solid green trees - thousands of them, with just a couple of tiny smoke columns dancing their way up the steep slope. A few feet in front of my outstretched legs is a large red oak - the one that lives in our lower deck. Its rain-soaked branches are drooping, and each leaf is moving around just a little bit as a breeze moves through. 

Out in front is the main canyon of the Buffalo, and some parts of it are beginning to glow as baby clouds mix with what must be new light coming from the east. There are several different ridges outlined - first is Beagle Point, where I can see individual trees of green with a few yellow hints. The next ridge is less detailed, but if I squint and I make out a few trees. The next ridge is just an outline, as is the next, each getting darker until the final one is a silhouette of nearly black/blue/green. 

Far beyond I can see color and shape above the horizon - lots of pink with just a hint of blue, with outlines of dark clouds. I just tried to take a picture of all this and my camera flashed a nice good morning message back at me - BATTERY EXPIRED! This is a new little point-and-shoot camera and I don't have a spare battery - note to self, and to all workshop students - ALWAYS have a spare battery - buy one when you get the camera!

Heavy smoke still lingers and fills my lungs. Baby clouds in the canyons below continue to rise up and dance. A lonely mourning dove calls out - is she calling to a mate for an early Sunday date, or warning of something dire? Her call hangs in the air just a moment as I hold my breath waiting for an answer. Living in the middle of the forest comes with knowing that a forest fire could destroy you at any moment - a real possibility right now considering the horrific drought, and especially today with all of the lightning. My worry intensifies.

And then a woodpecker breaks the silence with the CRACK of his beak that echoes across the entire landscape. And that crack somehow opens my memory and takes me back to last night - to the beautiful moonrise that for the third evening in a row was one where the moon was a brilliant orange as it rose. I don't have a long telephoto lens for any of my cameras right now so I could only sit and enjoy the view. It rose into a sky filled with stars, and even though it was kind of like watching the scene from inside an oven since it was so hot, it was a wonderful scene just the same. But then an hour later my lovely bride called out to me - "Have you seen the MOON?" Well of course deer, but that was a hour ago. When I stepped outside to have a look I saw not an orange moon, but instead a RED moon that seemed to grow more intense with each passing moment. There was a thick layer of forest fire smoke passing overhead from the big fires in Oklahoma - at least that is what I hoped was going on. And so now this morning I just put two and two together and figured out that the heavy smoke that was raining down, and is now filling my lungs, is from that very same smoke cloud  that had blown over from our neighbor to the west.

Another baby cloud is just now being born right out in front of me - reaching high towards the sky, twisting, arching over, and then catching a wind current like a wave and floating off to being its new life - and perhaps provide shade for someone reading this very Journal. The wilderness is a happy place this morning, freshly washed and cooled and dancing to the coos of the doves, the pounding of the woodpecker, and the baying of a cow several miles away.

08/07/12 Aspen and I spent some time out wandering around a couple of hours before daylight today. It was actually pretty bright outside and easy to get around. In fact I think the light of a half-full moon is the best for this sort of thing - with brightness of the moon is less than when full, and that creates a lower contrast between the moonlit areas and the shadows, especially in the deep forest - which means I can see into the shadows a lot better than with a full moon. The shadows have no sharp lines, nor does any detail - everything is soft. It is beautiful light. I heard the other day that it takes actually three full hours for our eyes to get completely acclimated to darkness, but we can see pretty well after just 30 minutes. Aspen and I were in that 30 minute range, and with the moonlight to help out, it was almost like hiking around in the daylight with eyes squinted a little bit.

The air was cool - cooler than it has been this past week - with a slight breeze blowing. The air was quite sweet in fact. The music of the early morning was coming from crickets, cicadas, tree frogs, and once in a while a distant woodpecker. Oh, and at one point a LOUD whippoorwill cried out - I guess we got too close to his tree!

Aspen moves very slow these days, which was the perfect speed to be moving through the moonlit forest. We had no destination in mind, nor distance to cover - we were just out for a stroll to soak up a bit of twilight. My faithful hairy companion smiled a lot, and was enjoying the soft earth beneath his feet.

It is later now, the horizon is turning pink, and the moonlit landscape is getting even lighter with the glow from the approaching sunrise. It is clear above, with just the brightest stars still awake, but they will be off to bed too in a few minutes. The trees are very still now - not a hint of breeze any more. It is kind of like everyone is holding their breath waiting on sunrise. Think I'll step outside and soak up a few early rays myself...

EVENING UPDATE. I'm headed west at 3am tomorrow to spend a bit of time in my beloved Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. I won't be albe to make any post here or add photos from the back deck - I'll catch up when I return sometime mid next week. Hope you enjoy the cool spell that is headed our way - I had to pack my down jacket, mittens, and a warm hat!


A historic Mormon barn in Teton National Park, Wyoming during the Perseid Meteor shower last week

08/16/12 It is coming down in heavy sheets right now - wonderful, luscious, WET rain! Lots of thunder, lightning, and dark clouds. The trees all around the cabin are being tossed back and forth - no wait, they are DANCIG to the music of the summer thunderstorm, and loving it! As we all are.I'm sitting on the back deck of the cabin and the spray from the rainfall is hitting my face and the back of this computer. A loud CRACK just landed on the tippy-top of Beagle Point just across the way - I can just barely see the outline of the ridge top - it is a wee bit darker than the sea of dark grey that surrounds. The only color is that of the line of pine trees at the edge of Mom's meadow.

Aspen is spread out across the floor of the cabin dreaming of some far-away fishing hole; Lucy is right here next to my hyperventilating (she does not like storms); and my lovely bride is a few windows away in the drawing room working on a small painting of a bear in a pine tree. The temp was dropped about 20 degrees in the past few minutes since the storm hit, and it is quite DELIGHTFUL outside on the deck!

As quickly as the thunder-boomers arrived, they sky has lightened and the rainfall is about over. We probably got a half inch of rain out of this bright red cell as it raced across the radar screen. 

I realize that the doomsday folks say otherwise, but from where I sit the forest overall remains in pretty good health around here - certainly dry, but not dead. Some of the forest is leaning a little towards a yellow hue already, with a few individual trees showing a good bit of yellow. Contrary to what even some fellow photographers are saying, I do believe we will have some really nice color this fall in the Ozarks - not sure where, or when, or how much - but that is always the case every year! In the meantime we will take every drop we can get. Dance on baby!

Soon after the rain stopped, the nursery in the bottom of the canyons opened for business, and baby clouds of all sizes and shapes were born. Some rose up and floated off to the left, others to the right, some just rose straight up and disappeared into the clouds above. One or two would grow in size right in front of us (my lovely bride has joined me on the back deck), then slowly shrink in place and eventually just blend into the background - poof, they were gone!

Small birds seemed to appear out of no where, filling the limbs of nearby trees, singing out loud, and flying all over the place - catching bugs I presume. The wilderness filled with life and laughter, all brought on by the rainfall. 




08/21/12 It was still, very quiet, and chilly early this morning, with a few stars and planets left over from a brilliantly-clear nighttime sky. I sat out on the back deck and sipped some warm java and listened while the night faded into the day. And then all of a sudden an owl of some sort SCREAMED out as loud as he could, and his voice echoed throughout the wilderness, bouncing off the canyon walls over and over again. He repeated. Over and over again. No one answered - the ladies were probably all scared to death! And then he quit, and the landscape was once again in silence.

We had a really noisy afternoon here the other day. It started off as a classic early-fall day with a blanket of clouds covering the floor of the canyon, ridgetops peaking out and reaching skyward. I set up one of my cameras pointing off the back deck to do an hour-long time-lapse, hoping to catch the sea of clouds in different stages as they evaporated. My lovely bride and I took off on a fitness hike, and by the time we had returned to the cabin all the clouds were gone and the timelapse complete (I posted it on our Facebook page). Then a few heavy dark clouds moved in, obscuring most of the sun, and a nice light show began as shafts of sunshine lit up one ridgetop at a time while the rest of the wilderness was in cloud shadow. I started another timelapse sequence on the camera, set for two hours this time.

Soon there was no sun. In fact there was not much light left at all - it grew pretty dark in a hurry. And then the wind began to blow, and the rains came down. And then both at once - high winds and HEAVY downpour - YIPPIE! I let the camera run as long as I dared (it was taking a picture every minute), but finally had to go rescue the camera since it was getting drenched as the wind blew the rain in under our porch overhang (I was also worried about the camera and tripod being blown away by the wind!). It rained HARD for more than 30 minutes, dumping nearly two inches of rain - YIPPIE COYOTE! It was a very loud rain too. We sat inside the cabin and watched and enjoyed the show.

And then when a giant CRACK happened somewhere near the cabin, I realized I should have shut down and unplugged my computer over at the gallery, so I put on a jacket, hat, and sprinted out across the yard. There was really no reason to be concerned with getting wet - I was totally soaked before the third step! In fact the rain was coming down so hard that the road was flooded with at least an inch of rushing water, more in some places. This was literally a gully washer! I slowed my pace down and just enjoyed the refreshing downpour. When I finally made it over to the gallery and went inside, I realized that I had already shut down and unplugged my computers, so my trip over was for naught. Or was it?
Actually it was one of the most enjoyable "hikes" I'd had in a while - I just LOVE being out in a thunderstorm!

The storm eventually passed on and the landscape was left with a huge grin with all the water. I replaced the camera and continued the timelapse sequence, and posted that one as well on our Facebook page - this one really needs to be viewed on a large screen (it was shot in HD format) as you can see the individual raindrops and then a curtain of rainfall hitting the camera. But it is recorded anyway in hopes some folks can get a sense of what an approaching storm is like - but you really had to step out into it for the full effect!

Here are the two short timelapses -double-click on one to play it...

One last note about today - it really does FEEL and even look like an early fall day here - not only the coolness, but the taste of the sweet air - and the fact that some of the landscape is taking on a yellow hue, just like it does in early October. I can't wait!

08/26/12 We have some really BIG NUTS this year! The wind is gusting early this morning, and every now and then an acorn from the big red oak tree that grows up through our lower deck spits out an acorn and it lands on the tin roof overhead - and it lands with a LOUD bang! With the huge new population of deer we're seeing, and the return of a few squirrels to our mountain (they have been missing for a couple of years), the increased mast crop will be a good thing since this is what many critters rely on for food during the winter months.

It feels like early fall again this morning, with cool breezes and lots of moisture in the air, with the promise of more of both to come. We got a little bit of rain yesterday, but mostly it was just cloudy and breezy and delightful all day, like it has been for the past week. Is it really August?

A couple of days ago I took Aspen outside to do his thing. When I looked up in what seemed like just a couple of minutes later, we were almost a MILE away from the cabin! It was just such a wonderful ramble through the forest that I wasn't paying much attention to where we were going - but only that we were moving forward, and that is always a good thing.

When we entered the East meadow there were at least 11 deer scattered about, including four or five spotted fawns. Pam's dad has a theory about why there are so many fawns this year. It seems that with the mild winter we just had, the hay crop came in early. In a normal year there are lots and lots of fawns born in the tall hay and they get caught in the mowers. With the early cutting this year the fawns had not been born yet, so far less of them were killed by the mowers. Sounds logical.

We spent a few minutes at the edge of the meadow watching the deer while they fed and played (adults mostly fed, fawns mostly played). The wind was blowing from them towards us so they never scented us - a rare thing for a herd of deer like this for one of them not to see us, but then both Aspen and I are experts at creeping along and not alerting wildlife. When we finally did make a move into the meadow and started to make our way across, the deer all looked up and bounded off going every which way. And then I saw IT - I had to look twice to be sure, but there was a coyote that had been right in the middle of the herd! I have no idea what he had been doing the while time, but he was in there with them, and since the deer did not seem to be alarmed when we arrived or while we were watching them, the coyote must have simply been hanging out with them. Very odd indeed.

As we hiked on past the meadow the air filled with one of the sweetest smells known to man - RIPE PAWPAWS!!! I could see several of them in the trees, but I scrambled in the thick underbrush to find one that had fallen to the ground. PawPaw is one of those fruits that will tell you when it is ready to be eaten in two ways - that glorious aroma, and when it falls to the ground. I found a single, small and oddly-shaped one, sitting up on the ground and smiling at me. I sat down right next to it and spent the next couple of minutes savoring each luscious bite - OH MY HOW GOOD! There is nothing else I know with that sort of sweetness. I shall return to this little grove of ours as the rest ripen until the very last one is in my belly.

It wasn't until an hour or so later as we were approaching the cabin at the end of the ramble that I realized my dress for this unscheduled little hike may not have been quite right - I was clad in only underwear and house slippers!

A couple of book notes. The advance copies of both our 2013 Arkansas scenic wall calendar and the new ARKANSAS LANDSCAPES II picture book will arrive this week - both will be the very best ever, and we are really looking forward to sharing them with you. It normally takes 4-5 weeks for the full shipment to arrive, so we are looking at early October when they will be available for sale - I'll keep ya posted here of course!

And the other note is that we will be closed the first two weeks of September. Our online store will remain open, and orders for non-personalized books will ship before we return, but any print orders, or orders for picture books that you want a personalized autograph in will wait until we return, which will be about September 14, give or take a day or two. I will be available via e-mail some of this time, but sometimes it will be a day or two or three before I could answer e-mails. So the moral of this announcement is that if you want something between now and then you need to ORDER THIS WEEK! All orders placed this week will be shipped before we leave.

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