CLOUDLAND CABIN CAM January 31, 10:38am - foggy and cool, winter storm on the way


January Print of the Month

Updated Monday the 31st - TERROR FROM THE SKY!

01/01/11 The new year began for me around 2am this morning when I stepped outside to see if I could see Amber's car - she had been out on a date and I just wanted to make sure she had made it home OK (she did, although they hit a deer early in the evening and messed up his car - amazing that does not happen more often around here(. I was met with a crispy-cold blast of frigid air - the temp was way below freezing - but that air was extremely clean and clear, and was one of those rare nights where the "transparency"  of the sky was very good, and the zillions of shining stars above seemed like you could reach out and touch them.

There was a stark silence to the wilderness, which seemed so odd since all those stars were twinkling and should have made some noise. I wondered just exactly what sound the twinkle of a star shouldmak? It was as beautiful a nighttime sky as I'd ever seen, and a fitting squeaky-clean clear way to begin the new year.

The only problem I had being out there in the middle of the night was the fact that since the sky was SO clear, I wished I had been out someplace taking pictures - we don't get too many chances at clear skies like this one was. But oh well, I'm hopeful we'll have another one or two later this winter that I can point my camera at.

It is afternoon now and the sun has been beaming down from a bright blue sky all day - so I decided to head out on another little hike to see if I could make it up to the warehouse that I never did reach the other day. Even though the temp was nearly 40 degrees this afternoon, it felt MUCH COLDER than it had been at 2am since there was a brisk wind coming from out of the north and the wind chill was probably down close to zero. YIKES it was a wee bit chilly on my bare legs! But the hike through the woods and on up the hill was just wonderful, and I soaked up as much of that sunshine as I could. By the time I reached the warehouse the hand on my wounded arm was almost numb - note to self - next time cover that stub with a stocking cap! (can't fit a glove over my brace, nor put my hand in a pocket)

Thus begins what I consider to be one of the very best hiking seasons of the year anywhere - winter in Arkansas. And it is sort of a double-sided piece of chocolate - if the temp is cold like it is now, there should be some nice ice formations to view. When the temp is warmer - even 40 or 50 degrees - it will feel balmy since it is winter time! And all the time the woods are clear so you can see so many more things like bluffs and vistas, plus there are no bugs or snakes and rarely other people. And NORMALLY we have high water so there are lots of waterfalls - this will come later as I'm still anticipating a great waterfall season this year. And of course, I LOVE the look of naked trees - they just seem to have so much more personality when shed of their leaves - we get to see all their shapes and features, especially when silhouetted against an early or late day sky.

I'll be working on a new picture book filled with more than 100 brand new photographs - hopefully to be published in the fall of this year. I've already been working on the book for a couple of years, and will add a lot more great scenes of Arkansas as this year progresses. One of the things I'll be specifically looking for will be more TREE scenes - I just LOVE trees!

We have tons of other new projects on the list for this year - both business and personal ones. It will be a very exciting year, and I hope to be able to write a lot more here to keep you in the loop. In the meantime, all of us here a Cloudland wish you and yours the very best for 2011, and THANK YOU bunches for allowing us to be a part of your lives in 2010!


sunset today from the back deck

01/03/11 Cold and clear and crispy again early this morning. Right now the sky is coal black with twinkling stars everywhere, but soon that black will turn dark blue and the tiny spots will disappear. Already the eastern horizon is beginning to glow bright orange, which silhouettes the curves of the ridgetops and individual limbs of nearby trees. It is a quiet time of the day, with no wind nor critters stirring yet. 'Tis a brand new week - thank goodness for Monday!

Even though the sun shown all day yesterday there was a frigid northwesterly wind blowing which cut right into ya. My lovely bride and I went out for a short jaunt up the hill - with two dogs in front and two cats bringing up the rear - we looked kind of odd with the cats in tow. How many people go hiking with their CATS? Even through it was nippy I was glad to get out and enjoy some of that sunshine and stretch my legs - Aspen really needed this too.

The winter woods these days are mostly at rest and just waiting for something to happen. The leaves of autumn are slowly melting into the ground and being transformed into soil - this gradual decay softens the leaves and you can easily move through the forest without hardly a sound if you are careful - essential for stalking wildlife. Soon we'll have extended rainfall and the water table will rise until full, then creeks and waterfalls will fill and flow and the landscape will once again be full of motion and sound. But for now, just quiet slumber - it is a great time to be out in the woods wandering around, and I highly recommend it every chance you get!

Speaking of the winter woods, one sign that we may be in for some real winter weather this year are hornet nests. I don't recall ever seeing one built near our cabin before, however we have at least two of them within sight, including one less than 50 feet from the front door. One of them was built very high in the tree, which is a sign of harsh winter on the way (I guess the hornets are afraid of deep snow perhaps - boy, that would be REALLY deep!). I love to look at these beautiful nests, but don't like to think of being around one when things warm up in the spring and all the baby hornets come out to play!

I realize that many Journal readers have already had more snow this young season then they care to see, and for you please feel free to pack some of it up and send it down our way.

01/04/11 I spent a good bit of he night watching a PBS documentary and doing further study on the greatest nature photographer of all time, Ansel Adams (we have 5 or 6 documentaries and scores of books on the master). One item they brought out in this film was the fact that Ansel would work 18-20 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, for years without a break. The only times he ever took a day off was to recover from a hangover - Ansel loved to PARTY! No photographer has ever dominated the world stage and his profession like Ansel did, nor will this feat ever be repeated - I liken him to the Beatles - both flourished in a unique time and circumstances and will never happen again. These days there are so many new photographers who think all they have to do is use the same camera equipment as someone and their photos will be the best ever - it just doesn't work that way, with photography, or with most things that are really worth doing in life. I've been working at close to Ansel's pace now entering my 36th year - one of these years I hope to make a photograph as good as one of his - something that keeps me going!

A wildlife note - a wild cougar was recently killed in Missouri - traced back to Nebraska. Someone at one of my programs this past season told me that a cougar was killed in Arkansas last year that had an ear tag from Wyoming. Credible reports continue to come in from folks around Arkansas of cougar sightings - just like they have been doing for years, although there do seem to be more lately than in previous years. There is no question that we have cougars roaming the woods in Arkansas, but certainly they remain a tiny population with isolated individuals spread out over huge areas of wilderness - in all my decades of being in the woods I've only ever seen two of them, and one of those was via a remote camera setup.

BEARS on the other hand continue to be overcrowded in Arkansas, and your chances of seeing one of them are much greater now than in any time in modern history - just be sure to have your camera ready!

I spent at least four hours yesterday scouring drawers, boxes and cabinets looking for a software disk so we could update one of our bookkeeping programs that had grown long in the tooth. I found a lot of neat stuff in three different buildings that I looked in, but no CD. Then my lovely and brilliant bride suggested that I look in a cabinet just a few feet away from my desk in the cabin - note to self - ALWAYS ask your wife first!

01/07/11 I made the trek up to the top of the hill late afternoon to check on our water supply that has once again gotten very low. It was a very warm and sunny afternoon, the sort of winter day that probably brought out blooming witchhazel bushes down along the creeks - they will the air with an incredible sweet aroma that is just heavenly - these plants love warm and sunny winter days like this one was. While I was up there and bent over to gaze down into the holding tank to see how much water we had left and all of a sudden a frigid winter blast came out of the north and blew up my skirt and nearly froze me to death! (I actually was not wearing a skirt but did not know what other term to use!) This was just a friendly reminder from the winter gods to tell me that they were fully in control and that winter was just getting started and to not get used to the warm spell!

As I made my way on back down the hill the sun began to sink into the distant hillside, and the sharp and bright rays of energy slowly began to grow softer and redder - the trees all around me lit up with "Ozarkglow" and were quite beautiful. The quality of light changes rapidly at beginning and ends of the day like this, and that special quality of light that sometimes only lasts a few minutes or even less is what I seek out when I'm taking pictures - great light (or the lack of it), can make or break a scene. The only way to understand this is to be there while it is happening.

A friend of mine sent a link to this amazing story from Chicago that I thought I would pass on - things like this are very rare. Since our internet access here at the cabin continues to be almost nil (although better than that past couple of weeks when it WAS nil!), it took me several hours of download time before I was able to view this video clip, but with a fast/normal connection you should not have too much trouble. The story is about a box of negatives that a guy bought at auction. Turns out the black and white negatives were taken by a life-long nanny that had recently died. She had been making "street" photos of life in and around her neighborhoods since the 1950's and many of the photos were some of the very best ever taken. Once the guy realized that he had something really special he went on a mission to find out as much about the lady as he could, and collect the rest of her items that had been sold at auction - which totaled 100,000 negatives! He has only been able to scan a small number of them - like 10,000 - and so no telling what treasures will be discovered in the 90,000 that no one has ever seen, but already the photos are a treasure. Anyway, it is a great story about someone who was just an incredible photographer, but since there were never any prints made of any of her work (until now) not even she knew how good they were. Here is the link.

I long for the day when I will be able to get out and work with my camera again (it will be at least another month or more) - with folks like Ansel Adams and Vivian Maier for inspiration!


01/09/11 It was VERY brisk outside this morning. So much so that you would most likely have laughed your head off if you saw me moving through the woods. Granted, the temp felt a wee bit cooler since I was wearing shorts and a very thin Hawaiian shirt, but still, it was mighty frigid. I stepped out the door and put my jacket hood over my head and one arm in the sleeve - the rest of the jacket just flopped in the breeze. It did not take me long to realize that the brisk north wind would soon freeze me solid (not really, but it FELT like it was going to!). So the only thing I could think of was to turn around and walk backwards through the woods - that way the wind kept my jacket wrapped around me as much as possible without blowing around. And it WORKED! My legs still got pretty chilled, but that was no big deal - the main thing was that my upper body core was sheltered from that wind and so I was OK. I have to walk kind of slow right now anyway, but when going backwards really slowed me down, although I did not mind a bit - nor did I ever run smack into a tree - somehow I managed to just fell my way through the forest without any major mishaps - yippie!

It is dark and cloudy and kind of a gloomy day today - the type I normally love. There is a hint of "winter" in the air besides just being cold, and I guess they are calling for some snow tonight and/or tomorrow so that makes sense. It will be nice to see some moisture arrive.

Early this morning I spent about 30 minutes walking on the treadmill, which is positioned so that we can look out into the wilderness and enjoy the scenery. Since it was cloudy there was no light show, but there certainly was a BIRD show. Not only did I count more than a dozen different species of birds in close, but there were flocks of one species that kept moving from tree to tree to tree, all in sync - small birds, I think some sort of sparrow. They would all land in the same tree and kind of blend in so I could not see what they were doing. Then a few seconds later the entire flock would rise up and fly off, often changing direction a couple seconds into the flight, and head for another tree somewhere in or around the edges of the meadow just below the cabin. The other birds in the area did not seem to pay too much attention to these flocks - and I say "these" because there were at least three or four different flocks, but all seemed to be the same species. There was certainly a lot of feathered motion in the air and in the trees.

Speaking of feathers, our five hens continue to enjoy life at Cloudland, as we enjoy having them. Pam put a bare light bulb inside their coop a few weeks ago that stays on all night to help take the chill off. When it is really cold the girls don't lay many eggs - in fact sometimes none at all. But when the temps warm up a bit the group will produce 2-3 a day, although never one each as we got used to last summer. They are true free-range chickens now in that the door to their roost is open all the time and they can decide when it is time to get up and head outside to forage (usually about 30 minutes before sunrise), and when it is time to gather back at the roost for bedtime (usually just before dark). The only time they return to the coop is when one of them needs to sit on a nesting box to lay an egg - the rest of the time they are all outside no matter what the weather. The colder it is the less we see them - they spend most of the day huddled under a tree somewhere. But on warmer days we'll see them going all over the place, scratching up leaves looking for bugs.

My lovely bride drove me into St. Paul the other day to fill up a 550-gallon tank of water (have to feed the machine 47 quarters - one at a time). I can tolerate riding in Pam's car on the rough road since her car has a pretty soft suspension/ride, however it won't pull the 6,000-pound load of water/trailer so we have to drive my car - it rides pretty rough in comparison and I can feel each and every bump right on into my bones! Funny, but I never paid too much attention to how rough the road was before the surgery.

We got home and parked the big water tank next to the in-ground holding tank for our water system, then let the water gravy-feed into the holding tank - we were almost completely out of water. I returned to the spot the next morning to check on the water level and lock the holding tank back up again. While I was there the bright sun rose in the east and lit everything up - I've attached a snapshot here so you can see the setup. This water system works pretty well for us since it will work just fine during a power outage - the water in the big holding tank feeds the cabin via gravity. Right now we are not sure if our water issues are due to mechanical breakdown (there are at least three different major parts that could break down or mess up), or simply that the water table is so low that the well is just not producing much water right now - I'm hopeful that one of the electrical parts is messing up, although without replacing it I don't really have any way of knowing - I may have to bite the bullet and buy a part and see how it goes - 'tis the nature of the beast I guess! We are pretty luck with water anyway - most of the other folks who live out here on Cave Mountain have to haul all of their water at least some parts of the year.

OK, time to get back to my honey-do list, which will include getting things prepared for snow and ice and a power outage if we have a really bad storm...


01/10/11 The girls made it home yesterday evening right in the middle of HEAVY snowfall - the ground got covered completely white in about ten minutes - the snow was blowing pretty hard for a while. Looks like we got more snow overnight and as the landscape begins to take shape in the dimness before first light there appears to be a solid 1-2 inches of snow on the ground. It is a little chilly in the cabin - for some reason the heat pump has not been able to keep up with the cold - typical for this time of the year.

We have kind of a catch-22 with our cabin heat. We have a VERY efficient fireplace that can heat the entire cabin, although it will not heat the basement, which is where I've been living. But the fireplace puts out so much heat that the air quickly dries out and the humidity can drop to 10% and below in a hurry. Those little humidifiers don't produce enough moisture to even make a dent, and soon skin dries out and so do the logs in the cabin - not a good thing for either. So years ago we installed a new heat pump with an integrated whole-house humidifier. When the heating system is working the humidifier can inject 15-20 GALLONS of water into the cabin air a day, and that has helped save our logs and our skins. But the heat pump can't keep up with really cold weather, but if we run the fireplace to heat then the big humidifier won't work - what to do, what to do. On days like this we simply bundle up and be thankful for any heat. And if the power goes out then we can crank up the fireplace and get really toasty!

The snowy landscape this morning reminds me of the current photograph in our 2011 Arkansas scenic calendar. This is one of my most favorite winter photos of all time, and was taken right after another driving snowstorm where the snow stuck to the side of the trees - plus there was a lot more snow - I think it was something like 10-12 inches total. I had just been out driving around and was the first vehicle to climb up Cave Mountain Road from Boxley when I topped out and saw that scene right next to the road. I spent the next 30 minutes taking pictures of the same scene - it was just so incredible I kept taking the picture over and over again, making sure I got everything perfect. The snow on the trees just seems to glow sliver. And there are so many layers of snow and trees - I have a large canvas print of this scene over in the gallery that allows you to see and feel all of this amazing detail - those sorts of things can only be seen in a very large print, although if you have good eyes and look at the calendar print really close you might be able to see some of this - look deep into the background.

I don't believe we will be going anywhere today since the roads are pretty slick up here on the mountain. That's OK - I really needed a day off and to spend some time at the cabin, ha! I'm hopeful for a bowl of snow ice cream later this morning. And of course it is MONDAY - the best day of the week - I hope you have a safe and happy one!

01/11/11 A Cloudland Moment early this morning. It was just breaking daylight when I stepped into the exercise tank to work out my legs on the treadmill and my shoulder - this tank has been a godsend for many ways, but especially now since we are unable to drive into town for rehab and so I've been able to do some of the exercises in the tank that are normally done by the rehab staff, but would otherwise would be ill-advised for a layman to do out of water. And also since I am slowly gaining weight from several weeks of inactivity, the treadmill is helping to burn a few calories during very low-impact workouts.

We had heavy cloud cover above and snow coming down, and a great, white landscape spread out before me. When I built the lower deck 12 years ago I located the hot tub - and now the exercise tank - right near the edge of the deck so that I would have a great view. That is paying off in spades - especially since I'm not allowed to get out into the snow it gives me a great view of the winter landscape.

The wind was not blowing and the snowflakes were just kind of floating around in the air, moving side to side, sometimes working their way UP into the air, and every now and then they would come to rest on the ground. The snowflakes that were above the horizon were actually silhouetted by the bright clouds behind them and appeared dark, but once they floated below the horizon line they became white against the darker background. I was mesmerized by the movement of the snowflakes, and sometimes by their non-movement - I swear some of the flakes would remain suspended in a one spot for several seconds before moving on.

And then the sun broke through the clouds and BRILLIANT streaks of golden sunshine flooded the canyons below. Everywhere the sunshine touched snow on the landscape, the white was transformed into gold - and since the clouds were moving in front of the rising sun, those golden beams were moving back and forth creating a kaleidoscope of color and motion - oh my! Even the individual snow flakes were golden, then white when the sun moved on, then golden again. As the scene became more spectacular my pace on the treadmill got quicker, and at one point I was gasping for breath and had to slow down and stop - 'twas a Cloudland Moment!

We did not get much snow overnight, mostly the blowing snow near sunrise which continues now on into the morning - but less than 1/2 additional snowfall. The temp has gone down and is supposed to drop to near zero the next two mornings - I think we will be at the cabin for a few more days before we'll want to venture out. I could not think of a better place to be marooned in a log cabin in the wintertime!

The only downside to this morning was the fact that Amber and Sonya got up and cooked a huge breakfast of bacon, farm FRESH eggs, and biscuits - filling the cabin with that incredible aroma. Unfortunately for me I had already eaten a bowl of cold cereal a couple of hours before for breakfast - bad timing on my part!

01/17/11 Seems like ages since I have written anything here - mostly due to the fact that I've not found a comfortable way to type with two hands - trying out a new position this morning for a few minutes. My shoulder is getting much better but still another couple of weeks in the brace (and sleeping in a chair down in the basement) with twice-weekly visits to the rehab facility in Harrison for torture treatments (and now since it is the new year it is costing me $200 per visit - no insurance coverage). But things are looking up and I should be back to near-normal comfort level by July we hope.

It is still dark outside early this morning and I can't see much but it does appear to be VERY froggy - deep blue fog. Since I love froggy days I'm hoping to go wander out into the woods this morning and soak it deep into my lungs.

A couple of wildlife sightings of note. There is a spot near our cabin along the road out to the mailbox that is a wildlife funnel. We almost always see deer there, but it also seems to be a gathering spot for every type of critter in the area. That is where we saw the black squirrel, the WHITE squirrel, the cougar, numerous bears, coyotes, and other four-legged guys. The other day we came around the corner and saw a BLACK BOBCAT standing right in the middle of the road at this funnel spot. There was no mistake about it - a bobcat for sure, and black as the ace of spades. He stood there and looked at us for a few moments and then wandered on off into the woods. Looked very odd. A few days later we saw one of the largest and most beautiful coyotes I've ever laid eyes on near that same spot. We are happy to view all this wildlife - as long as they stay away from our hen house!

My lovely bride has been spending a lot of time behind the wheel not only driving me to rehab but also to St. Paul to fill up our big water tank. In fact we had to make a couple of runs when Cave Mountain Road was solid snow and ice pack and really slick. Our car could make the trip with ease, but the addition of 6,000 pounds of water and steel behind us made for some scary moments. One in particular was when I insisted on driving the last nine miles in from the highway back to the cabin with the road at its worst. While creeping down a steep hill the heavy trailer broke loose from the road and started to slide sideways - PUSHING our car along in front of it down the slope! What a helpless feeling it was to not only be out of control like that and unable to do anything about it, but also the fear of having all that weight coming at us and ready to smash into us. As luck would have it we reached the bottom of the hill before a crash happened, and while both car and trailer blocked the road for a while, I was able to work our way out of the situation and drive on back home with the full load, minus a few gallons of water that spilled out during the episode. I have no doubts that this was caused by my bad driving, and in the future vowed to ALWAYS let Pam drive it instead, which she did from that point on, and had no troubles! She has been solid as a rock during all of this, and I know she LOATHES to drive not only my car but especially that giant water tank trailer of ours - but she does so now without a whimper.

After running a few tests we finally figured out that we had a leak in our underground water system somewhere between our storage tank and the cabin (a quarter mile apart). In a stoke of pure luck I managed to find the leak that was no doubt the root cause of all our water issues of late. The only problem was that the leak was about three feet underground and needed to be dug up and then a new piece of pipe and several new fittings spliced in. I jumped right into the chore, and spent a couple of hours digging down to reach and expose the leak. You should have seen me - I looked like a one-arm grave digger! It was really funny but kind of painful at the same time - but I really did not care since I was getting closer to the leak with each scoop I dug out. By the time I had the trench fully dug out and the pipes exposed, I was kind of exhausted but also fully mentally alert - alert enough to realize that it would not be a good idea for me to attempt to fix the leak by myself, so I had to call in reinforcements. We shut down the water to the cabin and waited until the next day - I typically pee outside anyway (no matter where I am - I don't like public toilets) - but it was asking quite a bit to have the girls run outside in the frigid weather.

Early the next morning Kennie Woods (and Roy, his ace helper) came to the rescue (he lives in Harrison and made the long drive out just to help!). Saint Kennie spent the next couple of hours working down in the hole and fixed the leak good as - actually BETTER than new! Turns out that a faulty connection had caused the leak and perhaps had been leaking for several years. I am HAPPY to report that our holding tank is now full and the girls can now pee indoors, DOUBLE YIPPIE!

Speaking of friends, I wanted to point you to Ray Scott's new web page that contains a lot of really great photography - including a brand new batch of street photos from New Orleans. Ray is not only a terrific landscape photographer (and has been one of my workshop assistants for many years), but he has a special gift for finding remarkable color compositions in ordinary urban scenes - I don't know how he does this but his work is really great, and inspiring - I wish I could SEE the way that he does!

We continue to have major issues with our internet connection out on Cave Mountain - everyone who lives out here with this service has been forced by our local phone company to live basically with dial-up speeds while paying the high price for DSL. It has been so bad of late that at times we can't even send or receive e-mail, much less spend time online. We've never had good speeds out here, but it has reached a new low since early December - sometimes it takes 30 minutes or longer just to fill out a simple online shipping label, so the poor service has cost us dearly in lost business time. But we really have no choice - there is only one phone company - Ritternet - and so they have us by the, well, you know. Satellite service is even worse so that is not an option. We are hoping that something better comes along before we are put out of business.

The dense fog outside is getting bluer and blue as the light of a new day begins to creep in. The ghostly forest surrounding the cabin is very still with no wind at all. IF I can find a time when there is no one else on the internet I will get this posted and then go disappear into the mist and wander around a bit - probably up to the top of the hill just to look into our FULL water tank! It is MONDAY, the best day of the week, and I hope you have a grand one!

01/20/11 I moved upstairs out of the cave I've been living in for the past five weeks and slept in a big chair in the living room - the girls had moved into Jasper yesterday to get ahead of the storm so there was no worry that I would keep them awake all night. The biggest change for me was the fact that it was BRIGHT all night long - at first I was confused and kept thinking that it was breaking daylight, but then I realized it was just a full moon shining brightly - even though there was a layer of clouds above the filtered moonlight spread out and made everything outside simply glow.

And then later in the might I realized the glow was different somehow. It was a blue glow with an orange glow mixed in. What? When my eyes finally opened up a bit the scene came into view - a warming light in our "outhouse" chicken coop was glowing out there in the middle of the forest, a forest that was completely snow covered - YIPPIE! We'd had a couple inches of very quiet snow overnight, and as I stepped outside to snap a photo, the very fine snow powder began to turn into flakes, and now as I'm typing this a few minutes later, it is coming down pretty hard with giant flakes - at this rate we'll get another couple of inches in no time.


Few things are as beautiful as a winter wonderland in the Ozarks, and even though I won't get to venture very far, I do plan to get out and wander around a bit later this morning.

Yesterday evening the full moonrise was just stunning - I've seen hundreds of moonrises but there was something different about this one - the quality of light in the air was really nice - softer, more colorful, I don't know, just different. And that me to thinking about the weather. I kid the weather guys here quite a bit but the fact is that modern weather forecasting is pretty darn nice, and yesterday was a perfect example. How in the world would we have known yesterday that a major winter storm was about to hit us - the afternoon was warm and sunny, and that full moonrise was just delicious. Who would have thunk that the morning would bring a heavy blanket of snow. Of course, I suspect that the pioneers may have figured it out - they were so much more in tune with nature than any of us will ever be, and they knew the signs and could probably feel it in their bones.

The snow today is quite different than what we had last week when it blew horizontal and piled up in drifts sometimes several feet deep. The flakes today are large and wet and coming straight down - not a wisp of air and so the only motion is caused by gravity - do snowflakes fall at the same speed as a pound of gold? I should have learned the answer to that in my college physics class but I only went to class the first day - then decided it was not for me and I never went back.

A couple of days ago I decided to bundle up and go out for a hike around the mountain - slow and secure and only following the route that the forest directed me to with no particular path to take nor destination in mind, a pure ramble in the woods. It was chilly, but my lovely bride got me all fixed up so I would stay warm - so nice to have your mommy dress you for the cold!

It was great to be out in the woods - the earth underfoot was soft and silent as I eased my way up the hillside and then along a level bench. I got so lost in feeling great in the middle of the forest that I did not realize where I was, which didn't matter much. But when I came upon a really neat young beech tree I stopped and got to looking around and thinking about beech trees on our property. When I bought this property there were only a handful of beech trees that I could find, and I was elated to know they were there. One in particular up in Aspen's meadow was all by itself, and got damaged quite a bit by the big ice storm a couple of years ago. Last week I realized that not only had it recovered from all that damage, but it had a beautiful look and shape to it - and someday I must figure out an angle and light pattern to photograph it in.
That tree is now perhaps 30-40 years old.

The little tree that I was admiring in the deep woods during my little jaunt was probably no more than 10 years old. And when I looked around a bit I realized I was standing in the middle of dozens and dozens of young beech trees - all still clinging to their bronze leaves that were lit up and just beaming in the afternoon sunshine. All these trees were young - probably only 10-15 years old. And then it hit me - NONE of those trees were here when I first bought the property. Indeed they were not even born yet until about the same time that I built the cabin (how they came to be I have no idea since there are no larger beech trees in the area - I counted more than 100 of the new beech trees total). So I guess these beech trees will continue to grow up and mature right along with our log cabin. Amazing how the landscape can change in such a short time. I wonder what that forest will look like in another 20 years?

OK, snow ice cream is on the way here, and I hope wherever you are will yield enough snow for the same!


01/22/11 A BRIGHT light woke me from a deep sleep around 3am today. It was the nearly-full moon shining in through one of the tall windows in the cabin and yelling at me to GET UP and get to work! It took my eyes a few minutes to open fully and focus on the spectacular moonlit snowy landscape - it was quite gorgeous! Since I was fully awake and probably unable to go back to sleep I decided it was time to work on a few e-mails - I've not been able to spend much time typing since it's been so painful, but I vowed to obey the moon and get ALL e-mail answered today. The sun has just now risen in the east and is replacing the blue moonlight with brilliant yellow sunshine across the landscape. I've been working at the e-mails about four hours now and have about half of them answered - yippie!

We ended up with about six inches of fluffy white snow on the ground from the recent snowstorm. It has been a mixed blessing for me. On the one hand it was a beautiful snowfall and the landscape is just gorgeous all around. On the other hand I am not supposed to walk on snow and so I've been unable to get out and take any pictures, gosh darn it! But I knew that would happen and I am content (well, almost) to just sit back and enjoy the view. (Perhaps I just told a little white lie - it has actually been PAINFUL to not be able to take pictures!!!)

I did get all bundled up yesterday and took the dogs out for a ramble in the woods, making sure my arm was strapped to my body tightly so there was no chance it would move, even if I fell. I've had a few headaches lately and heard that one possible cure would be to get OUTSIDE and breathe in some fresh air, and so this was actually a medical hike. We all enjoyed the romp in the woods and my headache did finally go away - hum, could the wilderness be A healing force? OF COURSE!

At one point I came across a deer bed - easy to spot since the snow was melted where the deer had been sleeping. It was located right at the outside edge of a level bench, where the terrain broke over the hill. I got down on my hand and knees to see it all from the deer's point of view - he could see down the steep slope below to another bench down there, but also could see all around the bench he was located on - so in other words, could see danger approaching from all directions! (like me) And then I looked up and realized that he could also see our cabin - he had been sitting there the whole time it was snowing, keeping an eye on us from his woodland bed.

The chickens have had a hard time with all the snow - in fact they refuse to set foot on the snow so have been hoed up in the coop all this time. I've cleared off a small area in front of the coop where I place food and water for them, and they take turns coming off the roost and spending a few minutes in the little open area, then back up onto the roost again quickly. One of the brave ones flew out of the coop and landed in the snow about 20 feet away. She was stunned by the snow and just stood there fore more than 30 minutes. I was beginning to think that perhaps her feet had frozen into the snow! But she eventually flew back to the coop and all was well.

The girls are still away and holed up at grandma's house in Jasper. They originally went there to get ahead of this snowstorm so that Amber could still make it to school and also get to a very important financial aid meeting in Springfield today. As luck would have it they did not have school in Jasper due to the snow, and Amber got really sick yesterday and was unable to make the trip up to Springfield for the meeting today. Not sure what she caught but she does not need to be around other people. And on top of that her car got a flat tire and the battery went dead! Pam's dad is out of town for a few days and I was unable to drive over to help, but I found someone in Jasper to drive up to their house and change the flat tire, and then eventually Pam was able to get the car into the tire shop in Jasper to get the flat fixed, and to get a new battery installed (Amber's car is a little Acura, and for some reason the batteries in Acuras are terrible - Pam had to replace more than a DOZEN batteries in her Acura - we'll probably never buy another Acura).

The sun is fully up now and the snow has changed from blue to yellow to white so it must be time for me to try to get this post uploaded (it took me three hours yesterday due to our horrible internet access speeds). And then I'll get back to the e-mails - hoping to get them all answered by noon today! Oh yes, but first I must go feed the livestock - chickens, birds, cats, and dogs! I hope you have a SPLENDID weekend!


01/23/11 It felt like I was getting ready to cheat on my lovely bride. It had been more than ten years, actually almost eleven years since I had met Pam and last did this sort of thing - my lips had touched none other. But since the girls were still away in Jasper, it was Saturday night, great music in the cabin, I was lonely, and well, it just felt like the thing to do. But I still felt really guilty, so I called Pam just to get permission - to make Banff Pasta without her! It's probably my most favorite dish in the world, one that I created after visiting a bistro in beautiful downtown Banff, Canada - after getting home from that four-month trip I tried to recreate a dish I had there, and this Banff Pasta is the result. It has become a Saturday night tradition for Pam and I and no Banff Pasta has touched my lips without her ever since we met. And while it was not quite the same without her, I must say that it was WONDERFUL, as always! (the recipe is in the back of the Cloudland Journal ~ Book One).

A couple of funny things happened yesterday. First, the chickens came out of their shells, so to speak - the left the coop and headed out into the wild wilderness, skipping across the snowy ground until they reached the trampoline over near the gallery, where they spent the entire rest of the day until almost dark - the area underneath was free of snow and piled high with leaves and the girls had a blast scratching and digging around under there! I gave them a large cup of feed, but I think they preferred the process of scratching up their own grub (worms that is).

I took the dogs on a hike along the road as the bright sunshine melted away snow wherever it touched. We were on the road and Aspen was walking along one of the ruts where the snow melted first. I hiked down the middle of the road where snow remained and held fast to my boots - so no chance of me slipping. There was one section of the road that remained in shade and the ruts were still frozen, packed snow - actually a thin layer of ice. When Aspen hit this short section he slipped, his butt landed on the ground, and he slid that way for about ten feet - you should have seen the look on his face! And he remained in the narrow rut all the while, kind of like a bobsled. I think he rather enjoyed the ride, and looked up at me like "Can I go again dad?"

When there is snow on the ground the view of the landscape changes dramatically. The normal view is of a sea of millions of trees for miles and miles into the distance, broken up by the shapes of the ridgetops and sometimes the brilliant sparkles of the river far below reflecting sunshine. But when there is snow on the ground those trees become secondary, and the actual GROUND of the landscape takes center stage. You can see SO MUCH more detail with snow, especially old road traces, boulders, and the great bluffline that runs for 70 miles through the wilderness. I spent a good bit of time yesterday just looking at the bluffline, studying the details above and below, and of the bluff itself, with a pair of binocs. It is amazing how many giant boulders you can see right now - a few days ago there were none. And some of those boulders are miles away, yet you can see them clearly with the naked eye.


The bluffline runs right below the cabin - within 100 feet of where I'm sitting and typing this. But we can't see that part from here since it is below us. The bluff runs for several miles on up into Whitaker Creek and South Fork, then appears for the first time as it continues its journey deep up into Whitaker Creek towards Wild Burro, Compton Double, and Amber waterfalls, and points beyond. Then the bluff appears once again as it runs along the northern side of Beagle Point (shown above), which is directly across from the cabin. It turns the corner and heads away from us and on up into the main Buffalo River canyon.

The bluffline disappears each time it turns into the hillside to the west and works its way up into a hollow like Hubbard Hollow and Bowers Hollow. As the bluff reappears it looks a lot smaller since it is farther away. From one point on the deck you can line up all the different points along the bluffline - one after another after another - and the last bluff is tiny compared to the big bluff view right across from us - even though the height of the bluff remains about the same, averaging about 75 feet tall. It is the sort of scene that you can spend hours just sitting and looking at - as I have done many times - and will continue to do for the rest of my days if I have anything to do with it!

It got cloudy near the end of the day, but while I was in the exercise tank working out a hole of sorts opened up in the cloud cover and there was a brilliant sunset - at least a LOT of great color (I never did actually see the sun). Often color like this happens and is gone in just a minute or two, but this color grew more intense and remained like that for a long time, then slowly, ever so slowly, faded on to gray. The color was only in and around that hole in the clouds that extended all the way to the horizon. The weird part of it all was the fact that this hole and the color happened in the SOUTH and not the west! The clouds blocked any view to the west, but I bet that view would have been even better, although I rather enjoyed the light show as it was, and ended up spending a lot more time on the treadmill than I normally would have since that was the best seat in the house - so watching the sunset was very good for me!

Questions about waterfalls are really picking up - and here is my official answer - there are none right now, or at least they are very low. Normally this is the very best time of the year to view waterfalls here, but with the long spell without much rain and a very low water table there just is not much water on the surface to run off and produce waterfalls. The six inches of snow we just had will melt slowly and soak into the ground, which is great, but it only represents about 1/2 inch of rainfall which is not much - we need six inches of RAIN - that would help a lot! So don't plan any big waterfall hunting adventures this next week if you are looking for big water - although in nearly every case the location of the waterfall is quite scenic on its own and always worth the trouble to get to. - ANY time spent in the woods is better than time spent in town!

The cloud cover must be really thick this morning - I've been up for hours and it is still pitch black outside! Much of the snow melted away yesterday, but the view from our cabin remains mostly white since everything we are looking at faces north and does not get much sunshine in the winter. The cabin sits on a sough-facing slope and so melts off quickly in relation - I was thinking about future chicken residents when I selected this site so they would be able to get out and scratch around for bugs on winter days like this.

It is now after 6am - does that mean it would be OK for me to warm up a plate of Banff Pasta? Just in case, I will set a fresh egg next to my plate so I can call it breakfast...

01/29/11 The moonrise here a couple of hours ago was really nice - the crescent moon was laying on its back just above the eastern horizon and right next to a bright planet. The coal-black sky above was filled with a zillion stars - it was really CLEAR overnight. It was perfectly still outside - everyone was watching the moonrise I think!

So nice to have a bit of warm and balmy weather in the middle of winter - yesterday afternoon I opened up all the doors and windows and let it all wash through the cabin. The cats wandered in and out as they please, but thank goodness all the chickens remained outside - my lovely bride would not be happy if she came home from a weekend trip to Hot Springs with Amber to find a hen perched on her bed! Amazing that even with the warm temps above 60 degrees that we still have SNOW in some areas - including much of the steep slopes of Beagle Point just across the way that point north and remains shaded in winter.

I/we continue to spend most of our time fighting with the internet - it often takes us 15-20 minutes just to send an e-mail. Downloading even a single small file is impossible - the system times out. This is actually much worse than even dial-up. The local phone company seems to be trying to fix the issue, although I'm not sure they understand what the problem is yet. They obviously have had a lot of new customers sign up for DSL in the country and they simply cannot handle the load with their current equipment. However they did upgrade our specific phone line to a new "T1" just yesterday - which had absolutely zero effect on our speed or connection (which is constantly dropped). Of course part of the issue might be that the new equipment is about TEN miles down the line, which far exceeds acceptable DSL limits. We were covered up with suggestions from so many of you after our internet went south back in December, and I appreciate all the info. Unfortunately we've not been able to find anything that suits our needs yet out off all that. Satellite systems are actually very SLOW and quite expensive (there is a LOT of fine print). We are just out of reach of a new direct-tower system to the north, but even if that worked the price would be very steep. The latest thing we are looking into is cell phone internet service. We discovered that while we don't have any cell service inside the cabin, we do have some 3G service outside - that means we can setup a system to capture that signal with an outdoor antenna, bring it indoors and run it through an amplifier, then send the cell signal through the cabin via a wireless transmitter. That would get us good cell service inside the cabin, but them only internet on our phones and iPad - which doesn't really help us any. So taking that one step further we can get one of those new "hotspot" devices that could capture the amplified signal and give us a minimum amount of 3G internet - BUT the big question is HOW MUCH speed would that give us, and how reliable would it be? The trouble is that in order for us to find out what the signal might be we have to subscribe to the wifi device/data plan for TWO YEARS! The main issue is that before early December our internet was slow, but we at least had service - since then we have not had much service at all and this has cost us thousands of dollars in lost revenue and hundreds of hours of lost time. We will plow on in hopes the phone company can fix the problem (always open to a miracle cure though if you know of one!).

I have learned a lot about shoulder surgery in the past few weeks. First off, it seems that A LOT of people have had shoulder surgery - nearly every day we run across someone who has had at least one surgery - many folks have had it done more than once, sometimes to the same shoulder. The consensus is that this is one of the most painful procedures there is, and also that it takes at least six months to a YEAR of rehab before things get back to normal - although I've talked with some guys who recover within a few weeks. I feel really lucky to have had very little pain early on, and I was able to get off the heavy drugs within a week and without any complications. But now every visit to the rehab center brings on new levels of pain - so much so that each visit ends with me having to physically stop the process due to the pain being to intense and unbearable. There are times I've had to return to the heavy drugs, but generally I try not to take much of anything, with the result being that I'm in pain nearly 24/7 now - so the folks who have talked about this being so painful were correct! I am progressing each week with a little more movement by the end of each torture treatment. I am still wearing my funky brace almost 24 hours a day, and sleep in a chair, although the brace may come off next week - but it will be replaced with something else, especially any time I step outside - the risk of doing damage is great. In fact I've been amazed at how many people I talked to who have either done so much damage that they had to have the surgery all over again (due to over use too early), or have had permanent damage done and loss of movement in their shoulder/arm. I'm trying to walk that fine line where I get enough movement out of my arm/shoulder without going overboard and doing damage.

So as you can probably tell from the pair of long paragraphs above - most of my time is being spent dealing with the lack of internet and my recovery - AT LEAST we have plenty of water now, yippie!

An update on Amber's dead car battery from last week. The folks at the local feed store in Jasper made the emergency trek up to fix her flat and then eventually replaced her dead car battery. Turns out they did not have the correct-sized battery and so they had to build up the spot for the battery to sit under the hood. Several days later I got a call from the feed store - they had ordered a new battery for Amber that fit and wanted her to come by so they could install the new battery - no charge! It is so nice to know there are still people in the world that go out of their way to help folks - actually this is just plain good old customer service, something we seem to have lost sight of in this country - perhaps in this day and age everywhere. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the Jasper Farm Supply store for tires, chain saws, and all sorts of stuff.

01/31/11 I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye, and then turned to see what the movement was as it passed in front of a second cabin window - OH NO!!! I immediately ran for the front door as fast as I could, and when I opened it and started outside my worst fears were confirmed - a GIANT red-tailed hawk was attacking our chickens! The hens were over in the woods near the gallery building, and the hawk already had a good grip on one of them with his talons. I FLEW across the parking lot as fast as I could, yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs. What a sinking feeling to see a beloved pet being carried off to certain death! I ran faster and screamed louder, and as the hawk began to rise up and away from the forest floor, he let go of the chicken. The hawk darted off and disappeared into the sky.

I saw chickens running in all directions, and then an instant later everything was calm and still with no birds in sight. As I approached the spot where the hawk attack had happened my heart sunk when I saw a pile of feathers in the leaves - but when I reached down I breathed a huge sigh of relief to find it was only that - feathers and not a dead chicken - yippie! The feathers were from the leader of the flock, Yellowfoot, who had run across the parking lot after being let go by the hawk - she spent the rest of the day huddled under one of our decks and would not come out - can't blame her. We hoped the hawk had only grabbed feathers and did not dig into her body, but only time would tell if she lived.

It took an hour to find the other chickens - actually only three of them - and eventually they would make their way back towards the cabin. The fifth and final hen appeared a while later so all were now accounted for. Whew - a very close call indeed!

It is 3am Monday as I'm writing this. Something woke me up and I happened to turn on the computer and ran a speed test on our internet connection. We've had very little to no internet access the past several days, even though the phone company said they had just set up a special "T1" line to our cabin that should have increased speed ten fold. For those who know anything about this sort of thing, you might laugh when you hear that our download speed has been BELOW 10k (zero upload speed), and in fact most of the time it has been measured at LESS THAN 1k! A typical SLOW internet connection is in the hundreds of Ks, with normal DSL being 2mbs and above. What that meant was that we had no internet connection most of the time, and when the speed reached 10k we could open up a simple web page in about 20 minutes! I don't believe that the Journal was ever updated on Friday - sorry about that, but without internet connection we can't do anything. One option left is for me to transfer all the files to a laptop computer and then drive into town and sit in a McDonalds parking lot to do the upload.

But for some reason we had close to dial-up speed at 3am today, so I'll get this post done and see if I can get it uploaded. (Oops, I just checked and the speed is now ZERO - what could be going on in the middle of the night to cause all of this - the good and the bad?) A few minutes later now and the speed is back up to about 10k - not enough to make a post but perhaps it will come back to life.

We are bracing for the winter storm that is supposed to hit tonight. And as luck would have it, my long-awaited appointment with my shoulder doctor in Bentonville (to get my brace off) is Tuesday and it looks unlikely that we'll be able to make the trip due to ice conditions expected tomorrow. No telling when we'll be able to get another appointment after the roads clear.

That's it for January - hope you've had a grand one and we look forward to a wonderful February!.

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