CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - MARCH 2012 Journal Archives
PART A, March 1-15
Cloudland Cabin Cam, March 16, 7:23am - a brilliant thunderhead just before sunrise; normal trees "popping" below
Journal updated Friday morning - wildflower Wednesday and popcorn Thursday
March 2012 Prints Of The Month, Redbud In The Mist and Roark Bluff
PLUS a new 24x36 poster-size print available - Polished River Stones
03/01/12 The sun has just arrived this morning and is flooding the wilderness with warm rays. There is a little bit of crispness in the air - left over from the almost-winter we just had. Temps will be in the 70s today in the Ozarks, even warmer down south. Today is the official beginning of SPRING at Cloudland, the very best season of any on earth!
I got to wander around a bit last night and marvel at the beautiful moonlit landscape all around me. I've been spending some time each evening outside to watch the dance going on with the moon, Venus and Juniper in the western sky. It has been fun to see the old moon flirt with each planet, but now it has climbed higher into the sky and getting brighter - plenty of light for me to get out and dance with the trees and the stars and the moon. There is magic in moonlight for sure, and the more time one spends in moonlight the better off they will be!
A couple of nights ago the sky was full of dark clouds, in fact those clouds were down low and blowing and swirling around like crazy. As darkness approached I wanted to be up there in the clouds, and so I hiked on through the forest to the very top of the hill where I could almost poke my head up into the clouds. But I wanted to get closer still. The tops of the trees were in the clouds, and were being blown by the strong winds, swaying back and forth. I found a redbud tree at the edge of Aspen's meadow and started to climb it - I am NOT a very good tree climber, but this guy welcomed me and made it so easy. A minute later I was as high up in the tree as I could get. And my head was indeed up in the cloud, and it blew through my brain and into my soul. I closed my eyes and just let the wind and the tree take me where they may (of course, I was still holding on for dear life!).
Like most every other time I've ever climbed a tree, when it came time to come down I was in trouble - I'm not good at climbing down a tree either! In fact I didn't really climb down this redbud at all - rather I let me feet go and held on as best I could - it was more of a controlled fall - but a moment later I was on the ground, sitting on my rump, and laughing out loud.
MARCH is going to be a big month around here. First off, I'm hoping to be able to write something for the Journal EVERY day - I won't be able to POST something each day since I will be traveling quite a bit and not at the computer, but eventually each day's thoughts will be posted. And there will be lots more pictures too - this will begin a three-month marathon run up to the publication of my next picture book, which means we'll be visiting many scenic parts of Arkansas - some of them several times - and I'll be shooting thousands and thousands of new images for the book.
And what perfect timing for this next item - a cousin who is "between assignments" in life is moving into our guestroom at the cabin for a while and so will be able to take care of things here while we are gone. How long is he going to stay - that depends on how much yard WORK he gets done, ha, ha! He will not be able to open the canvas gallery for visits, but he will be on hand to keep any spooks at bay. We normally have family, friends, or neighbors come stay at the cabin while we are gone, and so him living here all the time for a while will give us a lot more freedom - and we won't have to impose on others all the time!
And finally, I'm beginning training for another trip of a lifetime - this fall I'll be spending a week backpacking deep in a northwest Yukon Territory wilderness above the Arctic Circle, taking pictures of the spectacular fall color AND northern lights. We'll be doing some pretty serious backing each day and so I will not only have to get my old and feeble body back into hiking condition, but also build up some muscle to be able to carry a heavy backpack full of camping and camera equipment. My camera equipment has grown so heavy that I rarely am able to actually backpack with all of it, so I usually don't - for me it is usually backpacking OR photography, but not both. I hope to have all four limbs healthy for the first time in a long while this month, so am keeping my fingers crossed they all stay that way during my training! I'm not getting off to a very good start with this one though - I've been up working since 3-something this morning and it doesn't look like I'll be able to get my very first day of training in today - oops! I'll have to do double-miles tomorrow.
And lastly of course, today is the 40th anniversary of the date that President Nixon signed the law that created America's first National River - Buffalo National River. It took ten long years of struggle by Neil Compton and the rest of the Ozark Society, as well as many other groups and countless individuals to save the Buffalo. It has become perhaps the single most important tourist attraction in Arkansas - and also bragging rights as one of the most scenic locations in this part of the United States. I live and work here because of the quality of LIGHT, but the air and water and the PEOPLE are also first class. THANKS TO EVERYONE who made this all possible! Now, get out and enjoy the Buffalo River this spring!
Limited-edition 24"x36" 40th anniversary print available here
And just for fun, I've made two March Prints of the Month - both from the Buffalo River area (and available at the special prices). Enjoy!
Redbud Tree in the Mist (above), Roark Bluff and the Buffalo River (below)
03/02/12 Jimmy Buffet helped save my shoulder. I'm coming near the end of my rehab for a frozen shoulder - those of you who have had one know what I'm talking about. The great folks at the rehab center's job is to twist and turn and crank and sit upon (well, not really) my arm until it is able to do what it is supposed to do - something it has not done in many months. Wednesday we had a major breakthrough - literally - as I think the entire complex heard the POPS coming from my room as Rusty pushed my arm back against the bed and some adhesions broke loose. YIKES!!!!!
In between rehab sessions I am supposed to push my arm/shoulder as far as I can stand to keep what progress was made at the rehab center the day before from freezing back up again. I was on the road most of yesterday and did not have the time or location to do my stretches. By about 11pm my shoulder was beginning to freeze up again and getting pretty stiff. Just then - near the end of the Jimmy Buffet concert in N. Little Rock - he had the crowd do the "fin" - putting your hands together way above your head, then lean to the left, lean to the right, etc. At first I could hardly even get my hands together above my head, but seeing 14,000 others doing it with ease to the rhythm of the music pushed me farther and farther, higher and higher, until at least I could fully extend my frozen shoulder - indeed I was reaching higher than anyone around me! It hurt so GOOD! Thanks Jimmy - it would have been an even more painful rehab session today if not for your help last night!
We camped along the banks of the Arkansas river after the concert - it was breezy and just lovely there. I was up and out walking along the river early this morning just as the sun appeared. You know how the sun comes up on a large body of water and its reflection stretches all the way from the horizon to your feet? It was quite golden and beautiful this morning - pretty as a picture! The river was calm, the air still, and it was a great moment of serenity right there at the edge of the campground. And for once in about as long as I can remember, I did not run for my camera! I stopped and watched and listened to the morning birds and took in that great air deep inside. All of this within a stone's throw of the big city of Little Rock - you don't always have to be deep in the wilderness to have a wilderness moment!
It was about 80 degrees there this morning, but by the time we reached home the temp had dropped into the 40s. Momma Nature just wants to remind us who is in charge, and that SPRING doesn't officially start until March 20th! I rather enjoy these weather changes - both going up, and going down.
Two notes before I call it a day and crawl up into the loft - one sad, one a little humorous. First, there is only one trumpeter swan remaining in residence at the Mill Pond in Boxley. There was a total of six or seven that were released there several years ago. (There had been an increasing flock of wild swans there the previous three winters, but they have not reappeared once the "zoo" swans from Iowa were released.) A couple were killed by some critter the first week. There were four that remained for the past couple of years, although recently one pair of them flew away and stayed away - sometimes seen at Lake Harrison. A little over a week ago one of the last two remaining swans disappeared - I don't know if he/she left on his/her own or if something bad happened. But now there is only one lonely swan. We some wild swans will return next winter to spend the winter - they typically will fly back north in the summer months to hatch young and bring buddies back to Boxley with them. But for now we can only hope the last one hangs around a while longer for everyone to enjoy.
And the other item - I am severely allergic to yeast. I found that fact out after doing battle with allergies for more than 45 years. Since then I have only have one big relapse plus a couple of smaller ones. Last weekend my lovely bride left me ALONE at the cabin with a full PIZZA and a box of ICE CREAM! By the time she returned everything had been consumed - and I was not able to blame Aspen for any of it. I had eaten an entire pizza. That on its own probably would have triggered an allergic reaction, but we discovered that adding ice cream to the mix only pours fuel on the fire. I've been suffering all week with no signs of relief (normally takes several weeks for things to calm down). I know I KNOW! Every time Pam looks at me I know what she is thinking - and I know - I should not have eaten the entire pizza! Oh well, I LOVE pizza so was weak and could not resist. I will, however, probably not eat another slice of pizza for years to come!
03/03/12 It was a little brisk outside this morning, but the crispness felt really good. Cold air seems to go down easier and often smells and tastes better too! Sunshine often makes it all feel warmer, and so wandering through the forest, especially this afternoon, was very nice, although a light jacket helped block the brisk wind.
My lovely bride and I spent some time looking for rocks today. There is no shortage of rocks at Cloudland! These rocks had to be 3-4 inches tall, mostly flat on both sides, and about 2-3 square feet. We're going to add a flagstone walk to the front of the cabin and figured local rocks would look better than store-bought - plus it would be a lot cheaper. We found lots of great flat rocks to use, but more importantly got to spend some time together just out rambling around in the woods together. With both of us working so much at what has become an electronic lifestyle, we rarely get to spend time like this in the outdoors anymore. Sometimes the simple things are the very BEST!
One thing we noticed was that just about every flat stone that we turned over had at least one mole/snake burro underneath. When I was a kid (well, OK, a younger kid), I used to spend many hours a day out in the woods doing the very same thing so I have not come very far - turning over rocks looking for snakes! I used to LOVE snake hunting, and I found a lot of them under rocks and rotten logs. No snakes today - in fact I don't think we even saw a single bug.
Not too much in the way of wildflowers either - although we did find a nice stand of trout lilies along the outer edge of a bench about a quarter mile west of the cabin. Each bloom was open wide but still bent completely over as if to protect themselves from the chilly winds. Probably in the next sunny day or two these little ladies will turn upwards and soak in all the rays they can.
That bench is also where we found one of the most beautiful rocks. Oh my goodness, I have passed by this rock a hundred times and always make a mental note to myself how interesting it is, but today we sat down and got a close look and it was just wonderful! The rock is about six feet wide and four feet tall, 4-8 inches thick, and domed just a little bit (so it won't work in our flagstone project). It was laid up against a tree during construction of our little hiking trail that passes through the area. The really neat thing about this rock is that the surface is now covered with small lichens of different colors - each probably about a half inch across. It is just an amazing rock! I want to photograph it one day, but will wait until we have some really wet conditions and then quality light. I believe this rock was totally covered up with dirt before we hauled it out of the way of the new trail, and all that lichen has grown on it in the past ten years. If we can get a tractor into that location and get a chain around it we might just find a new home for it next to the flagstone walkway. Or perhaps just leave it be - it makes a great backrest while stopping to admire the view of the broad bench far below.
Later in the day "cuz" (our cousin that is spending some time here at the cabin) and I want out with the tractor and collected a few of the flat stones that Pam and I had selected, and moved them to the cabin just to see how it all looked. Everyone agreed that the natural stones were the best way to do. I suspect it will take a week or two or three to get all the rocks moved, the prep work done, and then everything laid down and set into place. We used to have a large pile of sand here, although Pam said that it has filled up with cat poop so it will take a bit of work to clean up the sand.
I spent a good part of today working in the print room on Prints of the Month and the new Buffalo River 40th Anniversary prints - my oh my those big prints look TERRIFIC! Speaking of that photo, if you are an Arkansas electric coop customer you probably received the new Arkansas Living magazine today - a different version of that same photo - with three canoes - is on the front cover. There is also a photo of the cobblestone floor of Amber's "honeymoon" cabin inside the magazine with the very nice article on the Buffalo River birthday.
03/04/12 There is a ring around the moon this evening, and fire clouds in the western sky just after sunset - a beautiful light show all around! There were fire clouds in the east before sunrise this morning too, and I spent a little bit of time taking pictures out the bedroom window of the light streak that shot up through the clouds before the sun arrived. The clouds and sky went from burnt red to brilliant orange to pale yellow in a matter of minutes. Colorful bookends to a classic early spring day in the Ozarks!
We had lots of wind all day that kept the temps down a bit, but there was enough sunshine to make it comfortable. Aspen and I went out into the middle of the woods and took a nap. He is recovering from yet another surgery and is doing well - so well in fact that he would prefer to hike ten miles instead of stopping to take a nap - but I fear he would tear open stitches.
While on the ground I got to looking around and found about a hundred trout lilies in bloom, with a few spring beauty wildflowers sprinkled about as well. I had my picket camera with me and tried to get a picture of a flower or two, but the wind was blowing so much I would never get a good picture. When I do that for real I carry a small light tent that I set up over the flower - it does help break the wind a little bit sometimes, and also bathes the flower in beautiful soft light. The trout all had their heads turned down but the spring beauties were pointed up at the sun and just beaming with joy! I do believe little flowers have big smiles. Or perhaps these little guys are just so amused at what I have to do to get a good look at them - get down on my hands and knees and lean down really close to the ground - they are only an inch or less tall with a bloom hardly larger than 1/4" across. But I love to get up close and personal with them since the purple veins are so pretty.
Our classic pioneer daffodils are peaking here right now - you can find them sprinkled all over the Ozarks - mostly where old homesteads once stood - sometimes all that are left of a once-great homestead. When you find a patch like this you know they are hearty plants - they've survived 50-75 years or more - and always produce large, bright and beautiful blooms. The modern varieties for sale these days just don't seem to be as nice, nor live as long. There may come a time when these pioneer flowers are the only things left of the old homesteads.
It is well after dark now and there is a lone coyote across the way sending some music bouncing off the canyon walls and up into our cabin - he is literally howling at the moon. I've never felt like these are lonely calls, but rather almost always a happy voice. "Come on out - the moon is beautiful and the night air is perfect for play!" No one answer him tonight so he may have to curl up under a bluff somewhere still alone - probably will snuggle down in a deep pile of leaves that insulate against the chill. I've done that myself a few times and it is not all that bad - the only thing being you spend the night wondering if a coyote or some other critter is going to join you! (I had a coyote try that one time over in a place called Clifty Canyon back in the 1970's, but there was only room for one of us and I had the larger stick!)
03/05/12 I went outside last night to water the flowers and didn't get back to the cabin for more than an hour! It was so beautiful, almost haunting, that I just wandered off into the woods and kept going. Moonlit bushwhacks used to be common for me, especially during the summer months - that is until I got bit by a copperhead! So now I usually reserve nighttime wanderings for the cooler months when most snakes should be still tucked in bed. (I prefer not to carry or use a flashlight - that kind of takes all the fun out of it!)
The moon was high and bright although instead of a ring like the night before there was a wide glow all around the moon from a thin layer of clouds. In photography terms that would be a diffusion filter, which took the already soft moonlight and spread it out even more, making it very, very soft moonlight. Great for romantics like myself, but even better for seeing things in the nighttime forest - the soft light went around corners and really lit up shadows.
Venus and Jupiter have been getting closer and closer to each other and really stand out in the western sky - even visible through the trees. With strong winds tossing the trees around, the planets seemed to be dancing - or perhaps it was me that was dancing! The music of the wind, the swaying trees, and that soft moonlight made for a quite delightful stroll. One odd thing though - every where I went I was trailed by a pair of CATS! It was so bright that I could easily see them, even though in the daylight their color is pretty close to the same as the brown forest floor right now. But they matched me step for step, and when I would stop, they would stop - often sitting down to admire the same view I was. My brave attack dogs were no where in sight, but it was comforting to know I had the cats with me in case I came upon a giant mouse!
Speaking of critters, the lone coyote I heard the other night must have found a mate because the howls and yips and yells were multiplied. Sounded like they were right across the cabin at the base of the bluff on Beagle Point., with their music bouncing off the bluff and being sent throughout the wilderness. I wondered what they were singing about - the moon no doubt - but what else? Or is the moon enough to make critters howl all on its own? Perhaps they knew about the approaching rain front that we hope arrives in a couple of days. Or maybe they were just trying to get my cats to come closer so they could have a midnight snack!
The predicted rainfall should fill up streams and get WATERFALLS flowing nicely again. Winter and early spring are the best times for waterfalls since most of the moisture that falls runs off and is not sucked up by growing vegetation. By the time the trees start to really leaf out it takes a lot more rainfall to make waterfalls run. So if you have been waiting for some great waterfall viewing, I suspect this might be a great weekend for it if we get what they are calling for - but please remember - if the water is high and fast, or you can't see the bottom, DON'T CROSS THE CREEK!
03/06/12 I dreamed about her all night. In fact I woke up thinking about her and couldn't get back to sleep. I saw her for just a moment the day before, but didn't get to spend any time with her. I wanted to go see if I could find her today, but was not sure if I could, and then if I did find her I didn't know how I was going to be able to get her to hold still with the high winds!
I always look forward to the first bloodroot wildflower bloom, and yesterday I made a quick stop and hunted for one - and found a single pure white bloom in the middle of the vast forest. No camera through, nor any time to enjoy. Sometimes these blooms are only open for a few hours during the day, then close up again due to lack of sunshine or perhaps even the cold. We had winds in the 40-50mps range all day long, a nearly impossible situation to try and get a little wildflower to hold perfectly still for a picture. But I had to try.
So I drove and I hiked and to my great surprise I found the little lady still right there, wide open and just waiting for me to return. Plus there were at least 100 others nearby! Wow, these flowers really popped open overnight! It took me nearly an hour using a special small light tent to surround the flower to help block the wind, and then just sitting and waiting for the howling winds to die down completely. I did get a few quiet moments with this beautiful little wildflower and I was a happy camper. When I got back to the car I found four or five flowers that had opened up during that hour - including one that was three inches wide - a huge bloodroot! FYI , these are named for the deep red sap in the roots - I suspect the Indians would have used this for face or pottery paint.
Not only did the winds howl and swirl all day today but there was something different about how they did it. There were more large limbs flying around than I've ever seen before. I had to stop and remove large limbs across the road more than a dozen times, including while following behind Joseph ("cuz") back to the cabin - he was only a few minutes in front of me. If this brings us the much-need rain that will be great - I just hope we still have some deck furniture left in the morning!
I spent a little bit of time out wandering in the moonlight again tonight. There were no clouds to diffuse the light and it was really BRIGHT outside. Not sure why, but I am fascinated by tree shadows in moonlight - they are actually about the same as tree shadows from sunlight but not quite as bright. I guess there is just some magic in moonlight. The shadows were really vivid and well defined - and MOVING around quite a bit too from the strong winds! It is possible to photograph these shadows now with the high-sensitivity digital sensors we have, but it is kind of a catch-22 in that if you make a proper exposure for the shadows and the forest floor it will look just like daylight.
03/07/12 When I stepped outside late tonight to get some work done next door in the gallery a feeling of euphoria washed over and through me. Funny how a certain aroma can do that to a person. And also funny that the very same scent can make folks cringe. I generally tend towards the euphoria side, but that is probably 'cause I'm a little weird. The lovely scent was that of approaching RAIN, and all I can add is YIPPIE COYOTE!!! It has been a long time since there was moisture in the air, and while I know some areas may get more rain than wanted this week, in general it will be a welcome relief for many. And we'll have WATERFALLS flowing well once again - DOUBLE YIPPIE COYOTE!
It started to sprinkle a bit, and instead of heading to the computer to get a print done, I wandered off into the night woods - there was just enough moonlight drifting down through the clouds for me to move around without bumping into too many things. I walked slowly, but mostly I stopped and closed my eyes and took deep breaths. I raised my head and let the wonderful drops land and dribble down my face. And then the drops halted, the sky above parted, and I was washed with brilliant moonlight! Can a person purr?
03/08/12 Darkness remained a long time this morning and there was a heavy layer of clouds all around. A bright flash to the south now and then lit up the landscape and revealed a few baby clouds forming down in the canyon. We had heavy winds most of the night, and that kept much rain from falling, but those winds stopped by 5am and that wonderful scent of rain was back in the air. As light began to creep ever so slightly into the scene I grabbed my camera and took a few 30-second exposures off the back deck. And then a slow and steady rain began to fall. Most folks love the sound of rainfall on a tin roof - and me too - but unlike most I prefer to run out into the rain instead of letting it lull me to sleep! They are calling for rain showers most of the day and it will be a great time for this - just the thing to really get SPRING kick-started around here - ENJOY!!!
03/09/12 A bright light woke me up at about 4 this morning. It was the full moon shining in from an upper window on the western wall. Guess it was telling me to GET UP and get to work! And so I did. A couple hours later I was spread out flat on the ground - a VERY cold 33 degree ground that felt frozen solid - with my camera and zoom lens trained on the very same moon as it set behind a neat walnut tree.
If you take a picture of the moon with just a normal lens on your camera the moon will be tiny. There are two ways to make the moon larger in a photo - one, get CLOSER to the moon. Most of us will never have that opportunity. So the only other thing you can do is use a LONGER lens. The longer the lens, the larger the moon. The longer the lens, also the more difficult it is to get a sharp picture of the moon since every tiny wiggle in your camera setup is magnified. I will often take dozens of pictures of the moon and only get one or two that are sharp enough. Anyway, it doesn't take an expensive camera, but it does take a long lens, a sturdy tripod, and above all else - GREAT TECHNIQUE!
The moon and walnut tree were the perfect compliment to each other - with the tree's long arm sort of reaching out over the moon. I was down flat on the ground - and my tripod legs were also spread flat with the camera just a few inches above the ground - because that was where I needed to be in order to get the view that I wanted. The camera is also a little more stable like that, and with a long lens you need all the stability that you can get. I spent about ten minutes on the ground taking the picture, then got up and moved a little bit and took more pictures - the moon moves really fast when it gets low like that.
Later in the day I made what I hope is my last rehab trip to town for my frozen shoulder that has hampered me since last September. I'm not back to 100%, but am back to where I can use the arm for most things without too much pain. The folks at the Ortho Spine Rehab Center in Harrison have been just terrific!!! And on top of the great care they have given me (for both shoulders now), I get to rub elbows with the great musician, Joel Sebag - he owns the center and is there several days a week (they also do Zumba classes and have exercise equipment).
Back at home in the cabin I had a wonderful Cloudland Moment tonight that sort of ties in with a couple things that have gone on this week. First, yesterday I lost my beloved wedding ring - it just vanished and we've turned everything upside down and can't find it. I know that I was wearing it the day before since I took a picture of a giant bloodroot bloom with my hand to show scale. Until the ring is found I was lucky enough to have been presented with a beautiful silver ring by our daughter to wear - and it fit perfectly. (She gave me the ring for Father's Day when she was a little girl and I have treasured it ever since, but never wore it - it has always been in my top drawer and I've admired it often.)
Anyway, so tonight Amber was home from college and my lovely bride was teaching her how to do cross-stitch. The cabin was glowing with the warm tones of our lodgepole pine logs. Our two pups were spread out at our feet, and I was all stretched out in the aging over-stuffed leather chair sipping a cup of Earl Gray tea. The girls were in quiet conversation, Aspen was snoring (we went on a three-mail hike this afternoon), and the muted notes of Joseph's radio downstairs were drifting up. And then I looked up and saw a HUGE moon rising - I had to look through our living room, through the library (now the computer room where we do most of the book business), through the drawing room (which was turned into the shipping department years ago - sorry Pam), and finally out the window to the moon. The painting that I got from my grandparent's farmhouse in Minnesota was hanging on the wall right next to the rising moon - this painting is of a log cabin on a lake at night, a waterfall at the far end of the lake, and a full moon rising! This painting formed the basis of my idea of "wilderness" from the time I was about five years old. And now it was all in real time - the log cabin and the rising moon and the serenity of the moment and all the happiness within our home. Sometimes - and often - the best times in life are the simple times spent at home with the ones you love - and the rising moon!
03/10/12 Another beautiful bright moon hanging in the western sky early this morning. It was lighting up the lower deck so much that I decided a picture was in order. I love shadows, and especially moon shadows! So I set up the camera carefully and tried to focus - for camera geeks, this is a LOT easier to do with an "optical" viewfinder but much less so with an "electronic" viewfinder.
There was a neat scene behind the railing as well - one of our popcorn trees was in full bloom and glowing from the backlit moonlight. I had to raise the camera pretty high to get a clear shot of the glowing tree, and ended up having to get a step-stool from inside to stand on (my tripod goes up to nearly seven feet tall). The moonlight had already gotten much dimmer in the few minutes since I started taking pictures of the railing, and the exposure time had more than doubled. I only got one picture of the backlit glowing popcorn tree before the glow from the eastern horizon behind me overpowered the moonlight and the shadows at the base of the tree disappeared. What a terrible position to be in - stuck between moonlight and sunrise!
'Tis the weekend and we have several folks coming out to visit the canvas print gallery this morning - and then we're hoping for MORE RAIN later today! Wildflowers should be popping up this morning, and tomorrow waterfalls should be abundant. We didn't get nearly as much rain as predicted in the Buffalo River area on Thursday, but there will still be some good waterfalls today, although they are tough to photograph in bright sunshine - although I'm sure the warmth will be welcome!
03/11/12 Lots of cold rain today, some of pretty hard. We're seeing waterfalls coming off the big bluffline around us and the Buffalo is finally getting cloudy - and muddy by the end of the day. The rains during the week helped to saturate the ground and so now with today's rain there are many more great waterfalls running.
Since I love rain so much I bundled up and went on a hike with the dogs during some of the really heavy downpour. Nothing can really keep you dry during this sort of rain, especially if you are hiking. But knowing I had a nice warm and dry log cabin to return too it didn't matter how wet I got. The pups seemed a little annoyed by the heavy rain hitting their faces, but they scampered on since they love to be outside no matter how heavy the rain. All the little drainages were full of flowing water, and the forest had come to life with sound and movement. And then some heavy fog rolled in and began to swirl and it became a magical place.
We all loaded up on Saturday and took a nice drive over to the Stack Rock area near Richland Creek and spent some time hiking on the Ozark Highlands Trail. There was a report in the local paper about how the trail had been "obliterated" by the forest service there, but that report was TOTALLY FALSE. The trail was in great condition and had not been touched by the recent forest service activities at all. Perhaps the guy who wrote the article had not actually set foot on the trail - or maybe he did not recognize what ice storm damage from three years ago looked like? I don't know, but the trail is FINE. That part of the trail was damaged by the ice storm in 2009, but our OHTA volunteers had it all cut out and the trail back open again within a month. Fact is that most of the 165-miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail has a 400-foot wide protected corridor along it (actually 198 feet on either side, or 3 "chains"), and the forest service has been pretty good through the years about honoring this protection zone. This protected corridor is clearly marked on the "Phase II" forest service maps, and I expect the trail will also remain protected throughout that entire project.
We had a lovely hike down to one of my most favorite part on the OHT - an old homestead that was built on a narrow bench with an incredible view looking out into the lower Richland Creek valley towards the Buffalo River at Woolum. The homesite sat next to a giant sandstone block that rolled down from the bluff above that no doubt towered over the old log cabin (only the chimney and two base logs remain of the cabin). It was a terrific spot to live.
And nearby is Stack Rock Homestead Falls (listed in the Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook), a beautiful 35' tall falls that pours over the bluff just below the cabin site. The creek that feeds this waterfall was no doubt the water supply for the homestead, and the creek and falls were running well yesterday and sending lots of beautiful music up through the forest. No doubt the family that lived in the cabin spent quite a bit of time on the front porch listening to this music and admiring the spectacular view.
RICHLAND CAMPGROUND remains CLOSED, but it probably will reopen sometime later this spring. The gates at either end of the Falling Water Road have been opened - however road closed signs remain in place so it may not be officially open to public traffic yet. It looks like work on the giant landslide area along that stretch has been completed - the forest service and contractors did a wonderful job with this terrible spot! This road has been closed for several years due to the landslide, which has made it tougher to access several wateralls in the area, including Six Finger, Fuzzybutt, and Keefe Falls. So once the road is officially back open again be sure to go have a look at the waterfalls and the new section of road. FYI, I've added an alternate route in the new Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook to reach Fuzzybutt Falls that does not require wading the creek - but it does require a longer hike on an easy trail.
The forest has come alive with blooming popcorn and wild plum trees, and we saw hints of the first redbud trees just beginning to show a little bit of color - I suspect the redbuds will bloom with lots of color this week and next - a sure sign and spring had taken hold, YIPPIE! Dogwoods won't bloom for a while yet, although since some other things have bloomed a week or two early I suspect we'll have Dogwoods by early April, or perhaps even sooner? I have a feeling we are going to see a color explosion soon and this will be one of the best springs ever - of course, they all are so that is a safe bet!
Sort of an unoffricial announcement - we'll be having a low-key Spring Open House at our Canvas Prints Gallery on March 31st - all canvas prints will be on sale for 50% off! Shhhh, don't tell anyone...And oh - I FOUND IT!!!
03/12/12 My lovely bride hiked to a neighbor's pond today and with her second cast caught a MONSTER catfish! She was just fishing for a little perch or two. I was napping in the warm afternoon sunshine. Lucy was guarding the pond from bears. Aspen was, well, anytime Aspen gets near water he is IN the water, and so he spent most of his time swimming back and forth in front of Pam - that is until she wrestled the big fish near the shore, then he lunged at it and hung on for dear life!
We were totally unprepared for a fish this size, and the entire time she was fighting the fish I was kind of wondering how in the heck I was going to get it ashore without breaking the light fishing line. The pond was kind of muddy and so we could only see glimpses of the fish every now and then when she would get close to the surface (the fish, not Pam), then she would bend her powerful body and swish that wide tail (the fish, not Pam), and Pam's Zebco 33 reel started singing as the big cat headed for the other side of the pond.
I've been fishing for more than 50 years and this was the 3rd largest fish I'd ever been part of (one of the others was a giant appaloosa catfish that we caught on a trot line, the other a lunker Kentucky bass my dad caught - both from Tablerock Lake back in the 1960's). This girl was a so fat with eggs I don't know how she could move (the fish, not...).
We had quite a tussle when Pam finally got the fish to the shore - me struggling to grab the fish with both hands while Pam tried to keep Aspen from pouncing. We did not have a camera with us, and after admiring the monster for a moment or two we gently returned her to the pond and set her free - Aspen was not happy about that!
Later on I got the camera and took a picture of the next fish - also a nice fat female catfish - Pam caught four in all and we turned them all loose to fight another day. It was a beautiful WARM spring day with bright sunshine and smiles all around.
My lovely bride with one of the smaller catfish (above), and with Aspen (below)
03/13/12 I spent most of the day in Fayetteville on dog duty - Aspen to get shaved in the morning and both dogs to the vet in the afternoon (Aspen also had to get stitches removed from recent surgery). In between Lucy and I spent the day hiking around on the Lake Fayetteville Trail. Part of the trail was closed, so we kind of did one direction to the closed part and back, and then the opposite direction to the closed part and back - all in all about 7 miles. Lucy has always been a "free range" dog ever since moving in here 11 years ago and has never worn a collar or been on a leash in that time, however when she lived in Missouri with the girls she was well trained by Pam to walk on a leash. I must say that Lucy remembered all her training and did very well on the leash all day, and in fact never even barked a single time at any passing hiker or other dog. And even though she is NOT a water dog, she ran and jumped into the lake several times and had fun swimming around.
We passed the location where many, many years ago my brother, Terry, and I caught our limit of perch - 50 each. It was so easy - back then we got a pound or two of beef liver from the butcher - cost about one cent a pound as I recall - then we let the liver set outside for a couple of days and get ripe - then just put a little bit of liver on a hook and toss it in the water. We hauled in perch as fast as we could. (At about this same time today, my lovely bride was out with her dad catching a lot of perch, and bass too - she loves to fish!)
It was a great day to be on the trail, and the Lake Fayetteville Trail is one of the better urban trails in the region. Popcorn trees were in full bloom, although I did not see many wildflowers - soon to explode I suspect. It was really great to see SO MANY people out hiking, jogging, riding bikes, and generally enjoying the great outdoors. Such a huge change to when I used to live in town - I really do believe our urban folks are getting more healthy in that regard - or at least taking the time out of their busy lives more often to get out into the great outdoors and exercise. Heck there were even a lot of folks using the frisbee golf area - all of this during mid-day on a Tuesday. We also hiked part of the Mud Creek Trail and also found lots of folks using it. KUDOS to all city managers in Arkansas for putting some real money into TRAILS!
The popcorn and wild plum trees continue to bloom throughout the Ozarks, and also a lot more redbud trees just beginning to come out. In the overall landscape I'm seeing individual green trees "blooming" too. The wilderness will transform daily for the next several weeks all across the state - is there a better season anywhere on the planet than here in March and April - I think not!
03/14/12 I try to photograph the large and beautiful popcorn tree that lives at the top edge of the bluff just down below our cabin each year. It is a tough spot to get to since the two benches above it are extremely steep - in fact where I must place the camera is so steep that I cannot stand up unaided - I must hold onto something or slide over the edge of the bluff. One reason I love this tree and composition so much is that in the early morning just after the sun rises I can capture the entire glowing white tree against a completely dark background, making the already brilliant blossoms stand out even more. The background is the big mountain directly to the east of our cabin, and with the sun rising above the mountain, the side of the mountain that faces me is in shadow and very dark.
So early this morning I slipped and slid and finally landed at my shooting location right above the popcorn tree. But as soon as I arrived I knew it was of no use. Not only where there two large dead branches from trees above lodged in the branches of the popcorn tree, but the very top of the popcorn tree blossoms were already past peak. So no picture. Oh well, I needed the exercise, and it was a great way to WAKE UP!
Later in the day I spent a couple of hours visiting some of my favorite wildflowers along the Lost Valley Trail in Boxley - Ozark wake robins. It was a sunny afternoon with LOTS OF WIND, but it was warm and the winds felt great. Lots of wildflowers all over the place too - not so much as in some previous years - but thousands and thousands of at least 12 different species that I counted.
I found a nice pair of wake robins growing right next to each other and set up shop - which includes a small light tent around the flowers to help cut down on the wind, which also bathes the flowers in beautiful soft light no matter what the sun is doing (direct harsh sunshine is generally not good for delicate wildflowers). My light ten only cuts down the wind - it won't stop a strong wind - I still have to wait for nearly calm conditions before I can take a picture. And so I waited. There are worse things to be doing than sitting on the forest floor on a textbook early spring day in a national park waiting for the wind to stop. But on the other hand, it was also a chore to be able to wait it out, and I've so many other photographers that give up and just can't do this - "It is good enough." I try not to take pictures that are just good enough - I want them to be TERRIFIC! And so I waited.
It was about an hour before I felt good enough with my picture - there were seven or eight lulls in the winds, and a couple of times when things got dead still. The key to success in this situation is being READY when those rare moments of stillness happen. I was not prepared once, but I was the second time and I think got a nice image.
Part of the trail was washed out last spring due to really bad flooding, it was great to see all of the heavy-duty rock work that the national park service put in to rebuild the trail - KUDOS to them for making this happen and getting the trail back open again in record time! Note that the little campground there remains closed and may or may not ever open again.
I shot a few more flower pictures - LOTS of great bloodroot, liverwort, yellow trout lilies, and toothwort flowers growing all over the place. And Eden Falls was running nicely. It was just a beautiful day to be in the woods.
Lost Valley boulders (above), beech forest before leaffall (below)
The highlight of the day came while I was sitting there on the ground waiting for the wind to stop. I was surrounded by beech trees - most of them still had their leaves, which they keep during the winter. These golden leaves add a touch of warmth on cold winter days, and it is just great to see that added touch of color in the landscape. In the early spring when new leaves are ready to appear, the new growth pushed the old leaves off the limb. It seemed like all the beech trees in my area today wanted to give me a really nice show, and one time when the wind blew really hard there were thousands and thousands of those gleaming golden beech leaves that got pushed off and took to the air - it was LEAFFALL in the spring! Oh my goodness it was something to see, and to feel, and to experience! This went on for five or ten minutes - it was quite a show!!!
Sand phlox in Boxley
One sad note about the Lost Valley area. The only grove of aspen trees that I know of in Arkansas has been cut down - every last one of them now in a pile. I suspect this was done due to the trees growing in the powerline right of way, but I don't know for sure. The neat grove of aspens with their glowing white barks have lived right in front of the old sway-back cabin that you pass on the way into Lost Valley (planted - they were never native here). I have photographed the trees and cabin many times over the past ten years, usually with some great fall color in the background (these were not "quaking" aspens like you see in Colorado, and their leaves were never brilliant orange - but I still loved the white bark).
Tonight I reopened our outdoor shower for the season, and as I was standing there enjoying the hot water and being outdoors, I happened to look down upon the very same popcorn tree that I had tried to photograph this morning. Much to my surprise the ENTIRE tree had turned GREEN! All the blooms were gone - in a single day! Wow, in some places springtime is progressing at a fast pace.
03/15/12 After my failure yesterday I decided that today was going to be my popcorn tree day! And so I spent about half the day in search of the perfect popcorn tree, and for no wind. Finding great trees was not issue - but getting the wind to stop was tough, especially since I could not cover them with a light tent, ha, ha! I spent a while hiking along the tops of bluffs and saw many beautiful popcorn trees at the peak of their brightness overlooking lush green valleys with many ridges running off into the distance. Many of the blossoms were being blown off by the wind though, and the branches were moving around quite a bit - great to look at, but not good for photography. The sun played hide and seek all day, and it was one of those times when I did not know if I wanted sunshine or shade - I guess the sun knew I could not make up my mind so it kept giving my both options.
And then I found a striking popcorn tree right along the road into our cabin - in fact it is just across the lane from the Arkansas state champion popcorn tree (that champion tree is tall and not very photographic). The tree was backlit and against a darker hillside when the sun was out - with those pure-white blossoms really glowing in the sunshine. And when a cloud got in the way the blossoms still stood out against darker hillside behind. The problem was the wind. I visited this tree three different times during the day, each time waiting and waiting and waiting for the wind to quit. I knew I could probably return in the evening and get calmer winds, but the light would not be the same. So I kept trying. Turns out I was successful and I got an image that I like with the beautiful blossoms in sharp focus and not moving, while the darker background is blurred and out of focus (draws your attention more to the in-focus and brighter blossoms).
So it turned out to be a great popcorn tree day!
LOTS of other trees are popping out in a manner of hours right now - the overall landscape is dotted with them, perhaps more than I've ever seen here before - especially in mid-March. And with redbuds and fruit trees popping out now too the landscape is getting quite colorful. I've received more than 100 requests already this week for "When are the dogwoods going to bloom?" My answer - I have no idea. Neither does anyone else. But I'll post a few photos here when they start to bloom for sure! And of course the trees down south would normally bloom before the ones up here in the Ozarks.
I got to spend some time today talking with Benny about fishing - he knows a lot - and was surprised to learn how big the catfish were in his pond! He gave us some pointers about how to catch Cave Mountain perch, and I suspect there will be a frying pan full of them soon (catching perch is pretty easy, but the problem up here is there are so many catfish that get on the hook first!). Benny has decided to acquire the services of our cousin to do a bit of yard work and look after their cabin while they are gone. We may never get Joseph to leave the mountain now!