PART B - January 21 - present (see Part A - Jan 1-19 - here)



Cloudland remote Cabin Cam, January 31, 7:43am - moonset at sunrise, Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Journal updated Thursday afternoon the 31st - Rosemary Ladd


Print Of The Week #5 - Cactus Sunset, Fountain Hills, Arizona

01/21/13 There is an eerie calm, a stark quietness, and a river of tears that continue to flow at the cabin this morning. We have taken a deep breath at the emptiness, and cannot let go. This amazing dog has been a constant fixture at Cloudland for more than 13 years, and it may take that long to not look in the room each time we enter to see if he is there. Of course, his spirit will always be here, and the happy memories of The Super Dog that really was SUPER will be with us forever. (see Saturday's post about Aspen in the first part of the January Journal - click here.)

We were told almost a couple of years ago that Aspen would soon be eat up with cancer, but like everything else in his life he simply continued right on along living and hardly slowed down at all. He always jumped up onto the bed and slept close to my lovely bride - they had a life-long love affair going on right under my nose! Early last year he got to the point where he was unable to jump up onto the bed, so we set up a way he could climb up. Eventually he was unable to do that, but he still kept vigil each night on the floor right next to Pam.

Then the nerves to his hips started to erode away, and soon he was unable to climb the stairs up to the loft - for the first time in his life he was unable to sleep in our bedroom. There are three floors in our cabin, and the dog door is on the lowest level. Aspen was able to come and go freely through that door for a while, but eventually he was unable to climb down the stairs into the basement, so we installed a new dog door on the main level of the cabin, and that is where he would spend the rest of his days.

He eventually lost the ability to use his hips to get up off the ground - I became his "hipster," and was glad to be able to prolong his life by the simple act of giving him a boost whenever his rump hit the ground - he would have done it for me as long as I needed.

On Christmas night a winter storm rolled through, leaving 3-5 inches of snow on the ground. When I got up around 4am I discovered that Aspen was not in his bed and a chill ran down my spine - up to this point he had been able to climb the short flight of steps from the yard to the cabin, so he still retained the freedom to come and go as he needed. But I knew something was wrong, and I ran out the front door. I found him hiking around in the snow with a smile on his face, and I breathed a huge sign of relief. Until I saw the ground around him and realized what had happened. He had gone outside in the middle of the night to pee, and with the steps snow-covered, he was unable to climb up them - in fact it appeared that he tried many times and slipped and fell down each time. It was FRIGID out, with the wind blowing and the temps way below freezing. To keep warm he simply started to walk around, and walk, and walk, and walk. I found three places where the snow had melted all the way to the bare earth - he had fallen and it took him so much time to get himself back up that the snow melted underneath. He literally made HUNDREDS of trips back and forth, as every square inch of the front yard was covered with his tracks - I bet he walked several miles in the snow, pacing back and forth. It was a scene that brought horror to my heart.

From that night forward, Aspen was never been able to get back into the cabin on his own again - I had to help him up the steps, in fact had to lift his little behind up each step. And to keep him from getting up in the middle of the night, we would close off the dog door - he had always been good at holding it!

The funny thing, up until literally the very last day - was that once up on his feet, Aspen could hike for miles, and often did. He and Pam would hike out to the mailbox and back (three miles) several times a week. And often they would hike the "loop" around our end of the mountain, about a mile through the forest and meadows. But recently, he was unable to hike completely around the loop with her, and would turn around and head back to the cabin - that was not a good sign.

It did not appear to us that Aspen was in pain during any of this - he was almost immune to pain his entire life, a fact that astonished the doctors and us alike. He had been opened up nearly 20 times for various reasons, including one time he required 55 stitches to close up his chest after an accident deep in the woods. His tail had to be whacked off twice. I don't recall him ever wincing in pain at the doctor's office. I've seen him do some super-human things over the years like it was nothing to him - including routinely jumping OVER the bluff below the cabin for our daily hikes down to the river and back (the bluff breaks down to about 12 feet at that point).

I know there are many of you that are dog owners and have been faced with the difficult decision of when to pull the plug - something that is easy to do if your pup is in pain and not enjoying life. But our decision was compounded by the fact that Aspen seemed to be totally thrilled to be out in the woods hiking with his special lady, and even though he had reached the point where he could no longer take care of himself, we just couldn't do it. I will say that for the past several months I've considered every single hike we went on as his last - it was just one of those things that you never know when the end is going to come. And nearly each time at some point I was down on my knees in the leaves with him and the tears would flow. And yet there was tremendous happiness on both sides of the conversation at the same time.

We all took our last hike on Friday, and Aspen was happy and eager to make the complete loop around the mountain, through the forest, and across the meadows he had called home for more than 13 years. Towards the end of this hike we all sat down on a sunny slope in the woods - and everyone knew it would be the last hike - it's just one of those things.

On the way to town Saturday morning we stopped and Aspen got to dip it toes into the Buffalo River, another one of his playgrounds all these years. I never knew a dog that could spend so much time in the water swimming, and swimming, and swimming. And then once in town I took him out into the woods near where I grew up - in fact the very same woods where I took my first steps. And we hiked a little bit along the first trail that I ever hiked on. And I gave him a cheeseburger - he LOVED cheeseburgers!

At the doctor's office I stroked his ears (that always gave him intense pleasure), and he laid his head down on Pam's favorite stocking cap - his last scents were of the love of his life. The doctor looked up and said "He is chasing bears in heaven now." I have no doubt about it...

I was awakened early yesterday morning by the sound of Aspen's footprints on the living room floor below, I jumped up and hurried down the stairs in the dark to help him get down the stairs to pee - just like I had been doing every morning. Then I realized my job was complete, and I sat in the middle of the floor and filled a bucket with tears.

Lucy, of course, has also been a fixture at Cloudland since the girls moved in. And while Aspen has been the public star, she hasn't actually ever played second fiddle to him for a moment and has done so many amazing and incredible things that we've never seen a dog do before. It has been quite humourous watching the two of them interact with each other all these years. She is now in a state of shock as well and confused, but I think she now knows, and the sorrow for her lost bud shows. She will be getting a lot of extra attention, if that is possible.

Several years ago I had planned, and started to train for a special trip that I was going to take with Aspen - just the two of us - a guy trip you know. But my body began to mess up and I had to delay the trip. As I got my body back into working order this past year, Aspen's body started to go south. But the trip will still happen - sometime later this year I hope - and Aspen will go with me - and I will spread his ashes the entire way.

We've spent a good bit of time this weekend locked away in the cabin and going through the hundreds of photos of Aspen that have been posted here in the Journal for 13 years. We would laugh out loud at many of them - he was a true character. And then ball at the next. I am so grateful that digital photography came around when it did - right when Aspen first arrived at the cabin. And so he was one of the very first online dog stars of the internet, with fans and followers around the USA, and from other countries. We've been deluged with e-mails and are so grateful for all the kind words and stories you all have been sending - please know that he had a special place in his heart for each one of you - his heart was that big! At some point I hope to be able to restore the first several years of the Journal that have been lost so that they will once again be available online. But in the meantime, I wanted to share one small photo that pretty much sums up the life of this incredible dog - he absolutely LOVED every breath and every step he took in life - we should all live life through the heart and soul of a dog.


So long my good friend - you will be part of the wilderness for me forever...

A note about the Print Of The Week photo that I just posted. This is a photo of the big old hickory tree in the Faddis meadow that I was sitting under one moonlit night back in 1999 when I made the decision to purchase Aspen. Obviously it was a pivotal decision that has impacted the rest of my entire life (since he is the one who got my lovely bride and I together). Aspen was with me the other morning when I took this photo - our last sunrise together. So it is fitting that I honor his memory with this photo during the first week of many that will be filled with joy, laughter, and tears...

01/26/13 It's raining tonight - the wonderful sound of rain on our metal roof, and the sweet aroma - oh so delightful! Our cargo van is parked at a rest area just inside Arizona - at the beginning of a two-week trip - I'm going to art school in Scottsdale to see if I can learn a few things. Sunrise this morning was quite spectacular - at least for about twenty seconds (long enough for me to pull over and take a picture!). And so was the moment just before sunset this evening - the edge of this storm was right ahead to the west, and as the sun sank into the cloudbank it sent Godbeams up and filled the sky with color. I don't like going to school, and was a terrible student from K-12, then three years of college until I had had enough and dropped out. I'm hoping I've learned how to be a good student by now - at least to pay attention in class - I was never any good at that (spent most of my class time daydreaming about hunting or fishing or just hiking in the forests I'd dream up inside my head).

It's been a difficult week at Cloudland, and I suspect not a moment has gone by that either of us have not thought about Aspen. So many times we'd look up, and he would not be there when we expected him to be. Pam was on a hike a couple of days ago and found one of Aspen's tracks - made during his last hike. I was not with her, but I could imagine what it must have been like for her. Amazing what an impact a little dog can have on lives - I guess that is the reason why we humans have them, and why we cherish them so. We continue to receive a mountain of thoughtful notes from Journal readers - and we thank you one and all. So many dog lovers all around.

Lucy started the week totally lost and confused, but has been coming around and getting into a normal routine. For a while she wouldn't go on a hike with us - and that dog LIVES to run and play in the woods! But she is back on track now, and Queen of the mountain. She is a year older than Aspen was, but is the picture of health, and I believe can outrun and out-hike any person. The only issue I have with her is the fact that being black she does not show up well in photos - perhaps as she gets a few more gray hairs she will show up better!

If you asked the flowers at Cloudland, it would appear that winter is almost over and spring is on the way. We have no less than four different species of flowers already poking their heads up out of the earth. HEY GUYS, it is JANUARY! I suspect we will have plenty of cold weather still ahead. But there are few things any better than bright sunshine on a winter day in the Ozarks, and we've had several of those this past week - the sort of golden rays that drill right into ya, and warm your innards.

01/27/13 Camped in the desert tonight, and it was quite a light show just before sunset. There actually wasn't a sunset, but there were several storms rolling through. There is a panoramic, 360 degree view from the campsite, of hills and mountains off in the distance, small and large bushes and cacti from near to far covering the desert floor. I picked a campsite at the far edge of the campground, and even though the place is full, there is no sign of humans in about 180 degrees of the view. And even though there are several hundred thousand folks in the big cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale just beyond one of those mountains, there is no noise or bright lights around here at all. It's a very large county park just north of Fountain Hills, and is one of the very best campgrounds I've ever been to.

About the light show. It was quite spectacular and yet very frustrating at the same time. For one thing, with panoramas in every direction, I had trouble deciding which way to look at any given moment - the light and shapes of the mountains and ridges were constantly changing. Add to that the fact that I've been given strict orders to "forget photography" while I'm here and concentrate on trying to lean how to create art on canvas. I did manage to sneak in a little camera for the trip, but I kept it hidden during the light show. I LOVE the desert, at least when it is cool, and especially at night - or rather at the edges of the day when it is cool and still and colorful. I don't like cacti needles in my rump, and I've had my fair share over the years.

Something else I snuck on board - a very small box of sweet red wine. I am allergic to all forms of alcohol, but do get to take a sip of bourbon every now and then without ill effects, and with no ice available, I'll get to do the same with a little red wine - which I've heard is a health food anyway. I just have to stick to my strict limit of about one hefty glass of wine - which is about all I can handle without getting a headache anyway - I'm a cheap drunk and now prefer to savor what little I get - and sit back and enjoy the light show in the desert when I get the chance. It will be an hour drive each way to school this week, but I didn't really want to stay in a big city so figured it would be worth the drive to cleanse my soul each evening, There is a trailhead within 50 feet of camp, so I plan to get up early and put in a mile or two before heading into class. It has started to rain

Oh yes, I did manage to get a picture of a rainbow this morning as I was heading up and over one of the mountain ranges we drove through - kind of reflects the spirit of the place - happy, hopeful, and looking forward to a grand week of learning!


01/28/13 Just a quick update from the Arizona desert tonight. I left the campsite a couple hours before sunrise this morning - during a heavy downpour - and drove nearly an hour into town (I wanted to beat rush hour traffic). I'd never been to Scottsdale before, and found the downtown/old town area neat and tidy, with trees everywhere. It was cool and cloudy this morning in town, but by our noon break from class the sun had come out and chased the heavy cloud cover away, and there was some blue sky dotted with white puffs here and there. By the end of class there was more cold, driving rain, with the temp in the 40's - much colder than in the hills of Arkansas today. It was the height of rush hour on the way back out to the campsite, but the last 20 minutes of the drive provided spectacular views of a terrific light show going on in the mountains nearby - the hills in one direction were brilliant gold from sunset, while there was a thunderstorm going on in the hills in the other direction - bright white clouds and sheets of rain with silhouetted ridges. Had I been here to take pictures, I would have been running around like crazy trying to capture these amazing sights!

But my head is oil painted right now, and I'm trying to learn a few basics of the craft by day, while continuing to study some of the great masters' works through video and books by night. It is kind of a funny happening going on out in the "dry" desert, with a very talented Vermont painter trying to teach an old hillbilly from Arkansas.

I managed to get outside a coule hours after sunset to get some great light - this image was taken from our campsite, and is one fo the montains where the neat light and storns have been going on lately..

01/29/13 'Tis 34 degrees early this morning at the campsite, and totally crispy-clear skies above with a beautiful big moon lighting up the desert. A brisk hike through the cactus in the moonlight warmed my soul.

Late last night, after I took my sleeping pill, I went outside to water the cactus and realized the storms had passed and there was some interesting light happening past one of the mountain ridges. I dug out my camera (I know, I'm in paint mode, but what the heck), and set up the tripod near the very same cactus that I saw online a month or two ago when I books this specific campsite for the week - it was actually the reason why I picked this particular campsite, so I could photograph that cactus at night.

I took a series of 30-second exposures and the results were quite pleasing to me. There were still clouds hanging around, which were lit up by the city lights far in the distance behind the mountains. But the color, texture, and shape of the clouds was different with each exposure. And that big old cactus stood tall up into the night sky with a nice silhouette. Folks ask me frequently if I ever pre-visualize a photo, and the answer in this case was, well, kind of. My original vision after seeing the campsite photo online was that of a sky filled with stars, with the mountain and cactus rimmed by the warm glow of the distant city lights. So the sky was just filled with colorful clouds instead of stars.

Kind of funny, but when someone sits (or stands) to create a painting, it is 100% pre-visualized since every single brush stroke is created inside the mind of the artist. Hum...




01/31/13 I awoke early this morning before dawn, looked up and realized I was surrounded by towering cactus - some of them 10-15 feet tall it seemed. I left Scottsdale yesterday evening and drove into the night, pulling off and stopping at a forest service trailhead to spend the rest of the night. I made a cup of "Ernst Mocha" and wandered into the cactus forest to water the cactus, and by chance found the trail, which had no name, signs, or markers of any kind - other than a big sign that read "Trail."

Before I knew it I had hiked a mile along the trail, which gradually rose up an open hillside, winding through more towering cactus, with beautiful views every step of the way. The views were of more open hillsides that were covered with more tall cactus. A while later the deep blue sky gave way to brilliant sunshine that lit up some of the distant ridgetops. I found a spot where I could get low enough to have the moon in the frame, and took a few photos with my little camera. The entire scene, the air, and the hike, seemed pure and unspoiled.

I never figured out where the trail went or what its name was, but I'm really glad I took this little hike - when I first awoke I had a splitting headache, but by the time I got back to the van the headache was gone. Funny how spending time out in nature can do that!

I am "off" for the next few days and will be wandering around this part of Arizona. I just visited the Tonto Natural Bridge near Payson, which is a really neat travertine (made of calcite) bridge that spans a tumbling creek. The best part of the trail that goes under the bridge was closed, and the harsh sunshine was, well, HARSH, so I didn't take any pictures. The park is not open when the light would be good, so no pictures here - this isn't a photo trip anyway. But it was great to see this natural wonder and so many other folks enjoying themselves. If you are ever in the Payson area, I highly recommend it!

I got the rare opportunity to study with an amazing artist and even more incredible person this past week. Rosemary Ladd (her web site) is one of a famous group of artists from Vermont that is collectively known as "The Putney Painters." Several members of that group are in Scottsdale this week doing workshops, and so it is known at Putney Painter Week at the school. Rosemary's personality is pretty much indescribable - she is one of the most genuine and generous people I've ever met - and oh yes, her art speaks volumes as well, in very small packages. And not only was Rosemary able to get most of the other Putney Painters into our classroom to share some of their knowledge with her students, but she brought along her partner in crime as well - John D. Smith - who is also a talented painter, and filled with a wealth of knowledge that has already helped me a great deal in my artist quest. No doubt I have advanced my own skill level by many years as a result of the past few days. WOW Rosemary!

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