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Cloudland Cabin Cam, December 31st - brilliant last dawn of 2015

Journal updated Monday the 28th

2015 Poster-size Prints Special



12/01/15 Nice layer of fog covering the Buffalo River in the canyon below. An even 30 degrees to begin the winter season. We're headed out with the pups for a little exercise this morning, then will spend the rest of the day catching up what we didn't get done yesterday, pack up the book mobile, drive to Russellville to do the show at Arkansas Tech, then back home and unpack - we're hoping to get to bed by 1am tomorrow (20-hour work day). Hope to see many of you at the program tonight!

As you can see above our 25 Prints Of Christmas has begun - I'll post a new photo each day that will be available as a limited-edition poster-size print. I try to print these and ship within 48 hours of order. Each will be limited to 25 prints, starting with #1 and growing higher with each order placed. You'll be able to order any of the prints up until the 25 print limit is reached, then that image will be removed from the web page. There are some great images coming that I hope you enjoy...

12/03/15 Hiking in fog is always GREAT! A couple of days ago the fog was so thick we hiked for 30 minutes and almost never even saw the tops of trees. It was so quiet and peaceful, and of course I LOVE that cool thick air!

Then we heard honking. Goose honking. They were close by, really low, and made several passes. The fog was all the way to the ground, and even though the geese sounded like they were right on top of us (they WERE right on top of us!), we could not see them. And then all of a sudden, there they were - skimming the treetops and nearly hitting the trees! But still flying in formation, honking all the way. Poor geese - they were trying to find an open field to land and rest in, but with the fog so thick they could never find one, at least up at our level.


The next day we had brilliant, clear blue skies, and while my lovely bride and I took a quick jaunt around the loop with the pups we heard honking again. This time is was far away - but still directly overhead. The BRIGHT-WHITE snow geese shone like a hundred jet liners caught in the sunshine up there - it was a striking view against that pure blue sky. Honk, honk, honk. Geese are flying south. Winter is upon us.

Speaking of the puppies, they have found another deer - shot by a hunter during deer season a couple of weeks ago but never found. Wilson brought home a leg that was at least three feet long (pardon the pun). Momma was not happy. Neither was Wilson when I confiscated the leg and tossed it over the bluff.

Pam put up the Cloudland Christmas tree today and tonight it is lighting up the cabin with holiday cheer. Lucy is always glad to see the tree - Pam makes a special bed for her underneath. Lucy is 18 now, and not only can still keep up with the puppies on hikes, but she sometimes will chase and play with them while on the run! We don't know how she continues to live so well and with a smile on her face - she is the new wonder dog of the mountain. Go Lucy go!

12/06/15 'Tis late tonight and I just went outside to water the flowers. I lingered there in the darkness for a while admiring the stars and Orion rising. The longer I stood there the brighter the stars got. I miss being in the woods outside at night. (These days a lot of our nights are spent driving.) The cool temps feel really nice and the air crisp. The Buffalo River is full and flowing and singing a lovely tune that drifts up and over our place. The landscape is alive and doing well.

This afternoon I photographed a couple of William McNamara paintings for their archives. As I was downloading the files to my computer I realized it had been nearly TWO MONTHS since I took a picture with my real camera! There were no November or December files on my computer. Every year I claim I'll be able to get out and take pictures in between all the other activities we have going on at this most busy time of the year, and every year I come up short. It won't be long now, and I'll be able to begin work on the long list of places and things I need to point cameras at.

In the meantime our program and open house season marches on. We've had good numbers at all our programs so far - in fact record crowds at several shows. While my introductions have not been very good this year, I've enjoyed all the questions and discussion at the end. When I'm just out and about I tend to avoid other people, but when I'm up in front I can ramble on all day - and I especially LOVE to answer questions! Just wish there was more time.

The new Bookmobile has been GREAT to have this year (it has an enormous amount of cargo space). And we continue to hone our packing, unloading and setup techniques to be more efficient. We purchased two large carts that can hold ALL our stuff - one holds all of our books and one holds all the audio-visual equipment. We usually now only have to make one trip with each cart.

The high-resolution digital projector that we've been using for the past several years had to be replaced a couple of weeks ago - right in the middle of program season. The new projector is even higher resolution, and has much more accurate color then ever before. It's about three times as bulky and heavy, and even though it cost five grand, it didn't come with a carry case - I'm using a tough plastic bag inside of a carry bag that my sister made (stole it from my lovely bride - sorry honey!).

It has come to our attention that a majority of folks in the audience have been to multiple shows in previous years - some of you have been coming for a long time and we REALLY appreciate you! My goal in life and with my work and presentation is to improve with age - I really hope everyone enjoys the new show this year, and it's worth your time and effort to attend. If the seats were empty there would be no reason for us to do what we do - so THANKS!!!

12/12/15 I had a Cloudland Moment this evening. After we closed up shop from the Open House in the gallery today, I spent several hours recycling, printing, and packing up for our program in Little Rock tomorrow. I must have spent a lot of that time staring into a bright computer monitor because when I stepped outside to walk back to the cabin, I was met with total darkness - heck it was daylight just a few minutes before it seemed! I don't mind moving around in the dark, in fact I kind of like it. And all I needed to do was slow down - feel my way through the forest the short distance back to the cabin - and my night vision would come to me in a minute or two anyway. But in the meantime it began to rain - a pretty hard and COLD rain slammed into me! I still couldn't see the hands I had in front of my face to keep me from smacking into trees. So I had two choices - slow down and wait for my night vision to return, or forge ahead through the rain and darkness. I decided it would be better to be wet than run head-on into a big tree. And I just stood there in the pouring rain, soaking it all in, until my night vision had returned enough for me to safely make my way on home. Once I was resigned to get cold and wet, it didn't seem all that bad.

Funny how it had been so warm today, yet each raindrop felt like liquid ice running down the back of my neck!

It is later at night now and the rain continues - they originally predicted 4" of rainfall this weekend - fingers are crossed that this wish comes true. Waterfall season has begun, and a good rainfall like this every week or two will keep them flowing nicely.

We had a load of great folks visit our open house today, and while I have all but lost my voice and could not talk much, it was wonderful to see so many of you who made the trek up to Cloudland - I know you came mostly for Granny's cookies (and rightly so!). In an ironic twist of fate, I wasn't able to even nibble on a single bit of those sweet treats - I've been hit with an allergic reaction to something that has taken my voice and kept me in misery these past couple of days, and we've been told that sugar makes the reaction a lot worse - so I'm not allowed any sugar until I get back to normal. I'm the original cookie monster so that is really hitting below the belt!

Three slide programs this week - Little Rock tomorrow, Ft. Smith on Tuesday, and the grand hurrah in Harrison Friday at the historic Lyric Theater. Seems like just last week we were just getting started - time flies when there are lots of smiling faces all around you! Heck, we even had SANTA come to the show in Benton!

12/14/15 HAPPY MONDAY! The winds are howling early this morning before dawn, but I can hear the mighty Buffalo River roaring far below even though all the wind noise. Hum, we must have received a bit of rain yesterday. And of course that means there should be WATERFALLS running full tilt today - YIPPIE! My plate is overflowing though so I may not get to go enjoy any, but I'm hopeful lots of you will be able to visit some this week and get splashed by the healing waters.

Speaking of getting splashed, while our the new bookmobile van we've been using for programs this year has been just wonderful, it does not have an awning over the huge side door that we load/unload books and program gear through. It was raining lightly in Little Rock as we were unpacking for the show, but there was a threat of heavy rains for our repacking time slot in the afternoon - luckily I had a pair of large tarps on hand that came in handy. Only problem was that it took three of us to hold the tarps in position and unload all the gear successfully without getting anything wet - THANKS once again for Pam's parents who drove down from Jasper to help out - like they always do! I need to configure a better system for weather protection though for the next time.

The group at the nature center in Little Rock for the show as a great one, and we really appreciated everyone braving the bad weather to make the trip out - it was the largest crowd we'd had there, and it seemed like folks were even in a good mood - tough to do during the crush of Christmas and with the bad weather to boot! But that is one of the things I strive to do with my slide programs - put folks in a good mood! Speaking of boots, there were lots of rain boots in attendance - it was great to see you guys so well prepared! (I was not.) And a special thanks to everyone for putting up with my lack of voice - it was just OK for the introduction, but pretty much disappeared for the Q&A (my favorite part of the shows) - I hope I was able to answer your questions well enough. (I've not talked since getting home, and probably won't again until just before our program in Ft. Smith tomorrow.)

FYI, we left a bunch of autographed picture books at the nature center yesterday ARKANSAS WILDLIFE and the new book A RARE QUALITY OF LIGHT) - these are available for sale in their gift shop. Other locations in Little Rock that carry our books are Wordsworth Books, Barnes & Noble, and Bedfords Camera (no sure about stock in any of these stores at the moment though).

One final note about the LR program - it is always great to spend time in this wonderful Arkansas Game & Fish nature center for many reason, but one special one is the fact that elk are always bugling over the PA system! If you have never heard one - or even if you have - it is work a trip to this great educational center just to sit and listen to the elk!

We have two more big shows this week (Ft. Smith library on Tuesday and at the Lyric Theater in Harrison on Friday), then our Canvas Gallery will be open on Saturday, which will conclude our holiday season for 2015. Hope we've been able to greet you this year.

My lovely bride just informed me that the radar is indicating ice and snow approaching. I LOVE Mondays! I'm hoping for a very wet winter and spring - in the form of rain and snow (the ice can move around us if that is OK with Momma Nature)...

12/15/15 Cool and NOISY outside early this morning! The river is roaring at the top of its lungs far below, sending up music and smiles. As dim light begins to spread across the landscape I can see many baby clouds in the canyon below. It is not a typical sea of clouds, but rather individual guys creeping into the forest here and there, newborns peeking into the unknown, moving around like ghosts. The air is clear and crisp and recently scrubbed clean from the weekend storms and cold front. Each dawn comes with a brand new personality out here in the wilderness - I like Monday dawns the best it seems!

During my morning "neighborhood watch" hike I discovered that someone had broken into a nearby cabin. There was blood around the edges of the window that this person smashed to gain entry. Not knowing who might be still inside, we phoned the sheriff. In the meantime another Cave Mountain resident and I entered the cabin and found it empty, then searched other cabins nearby and did not find any other crimes. The person who broke into the cabin cut themselves while they were climbing into the window. He spent the night and slept on into the next day. There was something rather odd about the entire incident, and authorities are looking for any information from the public who might have seen something unusual in the area of Hawksbill Crag over the weekend - especially a person on the trail Sunday who may have been injured or acting unusual. Due to the nature of this incident there are at least several people who know this person, and/or know about the event. The land owner would like to clear this matter up quickly - a simple phone call or e-mail is all it would take. So please, if you know about this, get in touch with us or the sheriff's department ASAP...

We are down to our last week of the marathon holiday program season with a show in Ft. Smith tonight, the big show at the Lyric Theater in Harrison on Friday night, then our final open house at the gallery on Saturday. My lovely bride is busy processing, packing, and shipping individual orders - most completed and off to the post office within hours of the order being placed - she is the BEST! Hint - you can still place an order via our online store and get your autographed books, calendars, or prints within just a couple of days!

Oops, dawn has arrived, and it's time to get the machine up and running. - we look forward to seeing you in Ft. Smith, Harrison, or here at Cloudland!

12/21/15 High winds have been pounding the cabin all night; actually for the past couple of days. When daylight arrives this morning I'll get out and see if we have any deck furniture left - sounded like a lot of it left the building during the night! I was trying to watch a football game yesterday and kept thinking the sound effects of the game were getting a little intense, ha, ha.

We had our big Christmas celebration at grandma's house yesterday - always seems so odd to me having the major holiday of the year a week early, but in this day and age with so many fragmented families, I guess you work with what you've got. So Christmas is over for us, and it's back to a normal work week today. Time to begin our recovery from the marathon workshop/program/open house season that just ended. There will be some long days this week as Pam scrambles to process and pack up all the last-minute Christmas gifts ordered through our online store - she is so great at getting EVERYTHING out the door within 24 hours this week.

EVENING UPDATE. We did still have some deck furniture left, and not much damage elsewhere, so the high winds were just the landscape getting a little exercise. And speaking of exercise, my lovely bride took me along for her weekly yoga class, which is held in the historic Boxley Baptist Church and Community Center in Boxley Valley. 'Tis an amazing location to be inside of to begin with, then to spend an hour and a half in near-silence, with muscles stretching all directions, and a mental vacation from all the mind games of the day. Well, actually my mind never stopped racing, but the physical part was WONDERFUL! This was my very first yoga, and while I've got miles and miles to go before I pick up the different poses, it was a great start for what I hope will be a normal routine. Pam has been doing yoga for more than a year now, and she is the strongest I've ever known her.

One thing about doing yoga at the little church this time of year - the silence is broken now and then by bull elk bugling that echoes throughout the valley.

12/22/15 With the winter solstice happening last night, this morning was the very first day of WINTER - YIPPIE! We love winter around here, especially if we can get some SNOW! But first things first. While sitting here at the computer about 30 minutes before sunrise, it hit me that I needed to go hike to Hawksbill Crag and be witness to the first sunrise of winter from there. My poor planning left me no time to get my camera gear in order, so I jogged across the compound to collect a minimal amount of equipment, then headed off into the woods towards the Crag.

I arrived too late to catch any pre-dawn color in the sky, but found my shooting location vacant and still about ten minutes before sunrise, so I set up a special lightweight tripod and mounted the camera to begin shooting a series of photos of the new winter sunrise. There was one tent set up near the Crag (not allowed to camp within 500 feet of the Crag or along the trail), and also a couple of backpackers that I think spent the night right next to the Crag (not allowed to camp within 500 feet of the Crag or along the trail). Those hikers left and I had the place to myself. And then George Harrison started to sing...

The camera on the tripod remained focused on the same spot/composition the entire time I was there, but I also was using a second point-and-shoot camera to take snapshots as the sun appeared and lit up the fog in the valley. It was the fog in the valley that made this scene even "more better" (that has to be an official phrase after all this time of people using it, right). That sea of fog moved around quite a bit and eventually just evaporated, but not before the sun rose way off to the right (south) and put on quite a show. Near the end of the show three hikers arrived, then set up a hammock over there on top of the Crag and I bet had one amazing morning!

I could tell while shooting the sunrise that the two different cameras I was using were producing very different results. The snapshot camera created a brilliant sunburst, and I kind of used that as the main subject of the scene. The main camera captured the sunburst as much smaller, but also a much cleaner scene overall - the cheaper lens of the snapshot camera caused a lot of flare across the scene from the big fireball rising. Snapshot first, then the larger camera below it:


Snapshot camera photo above, regular camera photo below


The hike up and back out to the cabin was pretty easy, and I was warmed up enough to stretch things out very well. I've had a back issue since mid-August, and have been wearing a back brace most of the days. But the yoga and finally getting to get out into the woods and take long steps helped ease the pain somewhat. Due to the back issue I've not been able to carry a camera bag since August, nor even my regular tripod. So I've had to switch over to a special lightweight camera system, but am limited to what I can carry over my shoulder since I can't carry a camera bag. Not sure how all of this is going to impact my ongoing photo projects for the next six months, but I'll cope with it and shoot what I need to one way or another.

EVENING UPDATE. We are expecting a whopper storm to roll through during the night, so I spent some time this evening preparing the outside of the cabin for impact of potential large hail.

While out on a hike late afternoon with the pups I came upon an expected pleasure - a TINY blue-purple violet has broken through the earth and parted the dead leaves to peek out and say HELLO! I don't recall seeing one of these in late December before. I did not have my camera with me, but will try to return to this little jewel in the next day or two and see if he survived the storm.


12/23/15 The big storm did indeed roll through during the night - in fact it just left us and I can still see flashes of lightning in the distance. Not sure of any hail damage yet, but the cabin remained dry and secure. It will be a busy day here in Santa's workshop - my lovely bride worked long into the night to process and pack the last of the Christmas packages being shipped out today, which include one going overnight freight to Texas (I have to drive that one into Springdale to make sure it makes it to Texas in time).

The Bookmobile will be transformed into a pickup truck today. All the program equipment and cases of books have been unloaded and stacked in the warehouse, and the interior space is prepped with a giant rubber mat and sheet of 4'x8' plywood. Later this morning while I'm in Springdale they'll load a 2,000 pound pallet of books into the van through the side door (using a forklift). This is one of the main reasons for this vehicle - to be a pickup truck/trailer for some of the big loads, while not having to worry about the books getting wet riding on an exposed trailer during rainfall. How do I get the ton of books from the Bookmobile into the warehouse with my ailing back? That has been an issue in the past (THANKS to Jason and Jeff for helping unload!!!), but for this load I'll be trying out a new system, and if it is successful, I'll report on what it is. If unsuccessful, you'll just hear my whining about my aching back after unloading all the books, ha, ha! UPDATE - my new system FAILED and I had to unload all 2,000 pounds of books by hand. Bummer.

It is pretty warm this morning, and while the skies have cleared for now, they are calling for widespread heavy rains this next week - that will be GREAT for me as I'll be out in search of WATERFALLS! I suspect a lot of others will be too - just remember to be aware and SAFE and NEVER CROSS muddy flooded streams or any water that you can't see the bottom of! I've adopted a special "tripod walker" technique that I use when crossing fast water that so far has worked pretty well with clear water, and I find that the older I get (and wiser, maybe, perhaps?), the more cautious and careful I am with just about everything I do in life. Probably a good thing for everyone to do.

It's a couple hours before sunrise this morning and time for me to get off to work - the boss is headed down the staircase so I better get going!


2,000 pounds of guidebooks in the Bookmobile that I need to unload!

12/24/15 I was up and out early and standing at the historic little church in Boxley a couple hours before sunrise trying to photograph the almost-full moon that was setting behind the church. Funny, but I lingered near the church even after the moon went down - something magical about this spot, and the entire Boxley Valley too.


12/25/15 Back up at 3-something and down to the little church in Boxley this Christmas morning. The sky was clear and the full moon very bright. At one point when I was right in front of the church and the moon was just above it, I heard a noise behind me, turned around to see the minister outside loading his car. It was still a couple hours before sunrise, but both of us were up doing our chores. MERRY CHRISTMAS I said!

About an hour later, after the moon had set, I noticed a series of "Crepuscula rays" beaming up along the eastern horizon. I ran back behind the church to see if I could photograph the church in front of the rays, but there wasn't a good composition. I returned to in front of the church and continued to shoot the approach of dawn. It was quiet, and cool, and just beautiful.

And then there were MORE RAYS, only this time along the western horizon - right where the full moon had just disappeared below the horizon. At first I thought these must be some sort of weird moonbeams; later I was told these were "anti-Crepuscula rays" and were really extensions of the Crepuscula rays from the east. It all was quite spectacular, and was a delightful Christmas present for me!


"Crepuscular rays appear to converge on the sun, anticrepuscular or antisolar rays converge in the opposite direction and you must have your back to the sun or sunset point to see them. They appear to converge towards the antisolar point, the point on the sky sphere directly opposite the sun. Like crepuscular rays they are parallel shafts of sunlight from holes in the clouds and their apparently odd directions are a perspective effect. Think of a long straight road (or railroad track), it converges towards the horizon but turn around and it also converges to the opposite horizon. Crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays behave in the same way.

Anticrepuscular rays are not rare but they must be sought carefully. When ordinary crepuscular rays are visible, turn around and search for their opposite numbers.  More rarely, sunrays pass right across the sky."

My lovely bride and I spent the rest of the day working, taking down decorations, and unloading the bookmobile and getting it set back up for normal use. It had been a long holiday season for us, and by evening we finally were able to sit back and relax a bit. Not a creature was stirring...

12/26/15 We got to spend some time with my brother and his wife and her family today, at a wonderful little Italian restaurant in Hollister, MO. Everyone got a pizza except for me (like pies, I can't eat pizza due to allergies), but my eggplant Parmesan was mighty tasty. My brother gave me an old .22 pistol from our youth, and we realized that the leather holster it was in had been made by an eight-grader in shop class at Woodland Jr. High in Fayetteville in 1969 - ME! He also let us have custody of a piece of art work that my grandad made back near the turn of the century - he was a sculptor in St. Louis. We placed the plaster turkey on our mantle next to a wooden tug boat that my other grandad made for me back in about 1960. This is the first time I've had works of art from both my grandads!

12/27/15 We awoke to rain, rain, and more rain and lightning and thunder. The wilderness landscape all around was flooded, with a lot more rain to come. I knew there would be thousands of waterfalls all over the place, but I've never been a fan of muddy waterfall photos, so I elected to stay home and get more work done. It rained hard on into the night - not the largest total rainfall we've had, but it certainly kept on coming down for hours and days.

12/28/15 We worked for several hours this morning as the rains finally let up to just a drizzle, and I was all packed and ready to head out in search of some new waterfalls when the phone rang. It was the UPS driver telling us of a large tree blocking the county road (we had packages for him to pick up). I loaded up the packages and drove out to meet him. The guys who deliver packages way out here are THE BEST!


But that tree was a problem. The tree was too large for me to move, even with the bookmobile or with our tractor. I'm unable to run a chain saw at the moment, so the only alternative was simply to try and drive UNDER the darn thing. I had my doubts, but my lovely bride knew I could make it, so she cheered me on and the bookmobile just barely squeaked on through. (I had to get many packaged out to the mailbox, so was thankful to be able to get through.)

I spent the afternoon out in the wilderness looking for and photographing several new waterfalls. The side creeks were running very clear and the whitewater was back to a normal white. The forest all around was LUSH AND SATURATED from all the rain, and the GREENS of moss and GOLD from beech tree leaves were just beautiful. I hiked and hiked and hiked, took quite a few pictures, and was amazed as some of the sights I found. This was my first hike with camera gear since I hurt my back back in August - I was using a special ultra-light camera and tripod, and was thankful to have it instead of my normal camera rig (about five pounds of gear instead of 20 pounds of gear on my ailing back).


I love to crawl into the very back of an overhang like this and shoot out through the falls


This is a triple-decker falls, with each section being 12-15 feet tall (you can just barely see the top of the upper falls in the top-left corner of this photo)


This one is a very tall falls, but I think I like the details in the boulders at the bottom best

As darkness began to settle upon the landscape I made my way back UP and out of the canyon I had been in all afternoon. Then the air started to fill with snow - lots and lots of blowing snow! I was working up quite a sweat on the climb out and those tiny snow pellets were rather quite refreshing! It was dark by the time I arrived back at my van, and I was one tired puppy. It will take many more hikes like this and a lot longer and tougher before I have more normal "wilderness legs" under me, but today was a good start. AND I made it back home after driving beneath the big tree across the road. I missed yoga class though, but I probably did not have enough strength left to last an hour and a half - next week I hope.

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