PART A - May 1-21



Cloudland Cabin Cam, May 21, 7:12am - cool and beautiful - HAPPY MONDAY!


BOXLEY HISTORIC CHURCH RESTORATION PROJECT NEEDS YOUR HELP. The local community has completed restoration of the historic Boxley Church and Community Center this past year, which has become a scenic landmark for the Ozarks and the Buffalo River area. They spent $67,000 to restore the old building and keep it from falling down - a historic treasure for generations to come! They still need about $20,000 to pay off the bills from the restoration project, and are looking for donations in any amount from folks who visit the Buffalo River area, or who just want to help preserve this great beauty. Some of the work included new siding, windows and insulation; heating and air system; all new wiring, front and back doors, roof, and back porch; and they turned the upstairs meeting room into a very nice space. In short, they spent a lot of cash, and local volunteers and church members contributed hundreds of hours of volunteer labor in the process. The building is available for community events and weddings, and of course makes a great picture as it is lit up at dawn each day. To give whatever you can, or for more information, contact Bill Cochrane at 870-861-5835, or HC 70 Box 39, Ponca AR 72670. THANKS!

May 2012 Print Of The Month


NOTE: we will be closed from May 11-19 and there will not be any posts here. Our online store will function normally for orders, however nothing will ship until May 21st. Joseph is going home for a week, and being replaced by Bob "Bullet" Robinson.

Journal updated Monday morning the 21st - quality time with students

05/01/12 There were a pair of elderly ladies sitting next to the creek, in lawn chairs and all decked out to deal with harsh sunshine and hoards of bugs wearing the biggest straw hats I'd ever seen. They were using very long cane poles, and each had an assortment of buckets and other things around them. When I approached to ask what they were fishing for, two pairs of bright, beaming eyes shown out from under those huge hats "BRIM! And lots of them!" They were yanking them out about as fast as they could put a new worm in the water. Each had at least two poles with bobbers. My lovely bride would have been jealous!

Then one asked if I was "taking pictures of the gators?" Oops, no, I was not aware there were gaters in the pool of murky water I was about to wade into. "BIG GATORS, and lots of 'em!" Oops again. I told them I wanted to take pictures of the flowers in the swamp across the way that was covered with literally thousands of floating water hyacinths, back by cypress trees. They gave each other a funny look and made some comment about how they hoped the gaters were not hungry just then.

A few minutes later I was waist deep in some of the thickest muck you could imagine, struggling to go in even deeper, and to make my way over towards the edge of the floating flower shop in front of me. I spent the next hour in that muck, with my camera hovering just above the water's surface attached to my tall tripod. No doubt that C.C. Lockwood had done this sort of thing in his sleep a thousand times and many worse, but it was a tough situation for me, and I kept thinking about the gator comments. But the scene spread out before me was intoxicating and kept drawing me in - I just had to keep shooting, get closer if I could (although I was in about as deep as humanly possible without a boat, and with a boat I could not use a tripod for my many-seconds-long exposures).

And then I felt IT brush up against my submerged leg. And a millisecond later I heard a loud SPLASH right behind me - I'm sure I peed in my pants, but how would you know? Was it a gator? An alligator gar? Some other fish? Or just a stick that happened to touch my leg and a turtle that splashed? I had no idea, but I was not eaten, and breathed a rather large sigh of relief. (I'd been watching too many episodes of SWAMP PEOPLE) And I kept on taking pictures - scenes like that don't come along very often in a nature photographer's career!

After another hour and many hundreds of photos went by, I was standing closer to the bank in shallower water when a flock of red-winged blackbirds converged on the cypress trees all around me, and even on the floating water flowers - they were singing and yelling and generally making a great deal of noise - or was it music? I even called Pam to let her listen. I don't think she heard anything after I mentioned "gator" in the first part of the conversation though. I could have stood there all day and listened to the music, took more photos of the flowers and cypress, but thoughts of that gator kept creeping into my mind...

I made a very quick trip down to my favorite swamps in the White River National Wildlife Refuge area this past couple of days, and while many of the roads into the refuge remain under water and closed off, I still managed to find some good scenes to point my camera at. And just for kicks I hiked into visit my old friend - the state champion bald cypress tree, one of the oldest, and indeed the largest living things in Arkansas. When I first found this monster many years ago while doing research for my Arkansas Nature Lover's Guidebook, there was no trail to it, and in fact most folks on the refuge had never heard of it and did not know where it was. It took me three days to find it, the spot later confirmed by the only guy who had actual GPS coordinates to it. I've been thrilled that the refuge staff took the listing in my guidebook to heart, and now there is a graveled hiking trail that goes directly to the tree, along with a nice bench there, and now a monument declaring it as the champion cypress. Just like the birds and the flowers, I could have stood there for hours - it is really quite an impressive sight!

While I was visiting the nearby Arkansas Post National Monument I got to spend a bit of time up close and personal with one of the lovely floating flowers, and one of those images has been chosen as the May Print Of The Month - especially to honor our moms - I know there is only one day that is the official Mothers Day, but I consider the entire month of May as their "day" - none of us would be here without them! And since my own mom dearly loved flowers, I think every mom deserves flowers all month long!





The champion cypress tree - the largest living thing in Arkansas! (directions are in this guidebook)

04/04/12 I was just sitting there minding my own business, winding down after a long day, sipping on a very tall and cold glass of pure water, then a lightning bolt lit up the already-bright southern sky over and beyond Beagle Point. I sat and watched and took a few more sips. There was another bolt. The sun was getting low but mostly hidden by swirling clouds, and every now and the it would burst through with a brilliant display of golden sunshine on the hillside to my left/east. But most of the time the skies all around were dark. And then a bright orange cloud began to emerge from within the darkness to the south. The more I sipped the larger the orange cloud grew (I was sipping only WATER, really). It grew and grew, and spread out wide, and started to come right at me.

There was no thunder, no weather sounds - only the music of the wind twisting the trees all around me. Then I realized that I had to do something - I couldn't just sit there and let this big orange thing come at me and do nothing! So I scampered around the edge of the cabin and grabbed my tripod out of the van, then back through the cabin to pick up a camera and spare lens. The big glow was fast upon me, and I had to hurry to get it all set up, focussed, and the exposure set correctly. I only took one picture and then it started to dim a little, and within a minute there was only dark clouds, no orange left at all.

That was about ten minutes ago - now the black cloud is directly over the cabin, and it is dark all around up above, but still bright along the southern horizon. The wind has stopped dead still in its tracks. Kind of reminds me of that scene from that movie where the spaceship hovered over Devil's Tower in Wyoming. I never actually saw the movie - only some clips from it - but when I first visited Devil's Tower back in 1980 I thought it was a really neat place. I had no idea it was a movie star already.

No rain, no more bolts. It is calm and eerie. I just LOVE the edge of storms like this, and wanted to run and jump into one of the trees and get thrashed all around in the wind right with them. I often think of John Muir when storms roll through - I think he liked them too. Indeed he enjoyed most of what Momma Nature had to offer.

A note about the full moonrise tomorrow - it has been overly hyped as another "super moon" - I don't know when they started calling it that, but it happens every year - there is a "biggest full moon of the year" every year. From the deluge of e-mails I've been getting it sounds like folks are expecting a giant spaceship-sized moon to climb up over the horizon, but really, it is just going to be a tiny bit larger than the full moon last month, and the one next month. "Where to go for the best view" is what everyone wants to know. It is going to rise at about 112 degrees, which is kind of in the southeast, and well south (or to the right) of where the sun is rising right now, and it should appear on the horizon at or soon after sunset - sooner if you are in Kansas, later if you are standing behind a ridge in the Ozarks. It is a difficult task to photograph this sort of thing, especially if you want the photo to reflect what you actually see - cameras are mostly incapable of recording this event in a single exposure because the dynamic range or contrast from the bright full moon to the much-darker earth is so great, but it is a lot of fun trying. And indeed any moonrise you witness can be a glorious event, especially a full moonrise. I've always felt the more time spent basking in the glow of the moon the better your life will be. But where to go? I say anywhere you have a clear view of the moonrise will be great! I'll keep my toes crossed for clear skies.


05/05/12 Aspen was restless and up very early this morning. That meant I was up too. He has been one of the most loyal, best, and wonderful pups I've ever known, and I know he is not long for this world and I want to cherish all the time we have. So my bud and I went out wandering in the moonlit wilderness at 3-something. Words just cannot express those feelings...

I left the cabin soon after and headed into work - I was going to meet my workshop students well before sunrise along the Buffalo River to shoot and share for a couple of hours. But I was early enough that I got to stop a couple of times to photograph what turned out to be just a lovely moonset through pine trees (which I have not had time to process yet); and then a foggy, misty pasture scene in Boxley Valley. It often pays to leave for work early!



It always makes me smile when I look around and see my students splashing through the water to get to a great scene to photograph - most everyone ends up with wet feet - one sign of a good photographer! Another good sign is a healthy appetite, and for the fourth week in a row there were two heaped up plates of Pam's special homemade Cloudland chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies (warm out of the oven) that disappeared without a trace.

It is tough for me to not run out and take pictures of a full moonrise, any full moonrise, and so I headed out this evening in search of a spot to view and photograph the rising moon. I ended up on the side of a steep hill, looking through a tunnel of branches towards the Buffalo Fire Tower, hoping the moon would appear in the scene. I was not disappointed, and spent a good bit of time taking picture after picture, changing exposure, ISO, shutter speed, f-stop. Since I was using a long lens I tried several different techniques to get the moon and fire tower as sharp as possible - it is so easy to blur the moonrise when you are using a long lens because everything is magnified - including any slight vibration. I did not know for sure until I got home later if I got a good one for sure or not.


05/10/12 The other morning the sweetness and cool air felt just like an early fall day. Today it feels more like winter! Temps dipped into the 40s and the deep blue sky above seems like you could reach out and touch it. All the ridges around the cabin look a lot closer than they are - kind of like looking through crystal clear water - if it looks two feet deep it will be over your head!

I've been out some the past couple of nights trying to find a picture to take. I was in a land of giant meadows the first night, or should I say first evening. Photographers call the best shooting times the "golden hours" right at sunrise and sunset. But really it is more like a few golden minutes, and those minutes often SCREAM by very fast! I arrived at my shooting location about an hour before sunset and did some scouting around to try and figure out where to set up and shoot. And right at the point where I was the farthest away from my van, that great light began to happen - and all my equipment was back in the van. So I sprinted across the meadows as fast as my old legs and gimpy knees could take me, then sprinted back across and up the hill. When I first grabbed the camera gear and took off, my pace was pretty swift - but I gradually slowed down to a fast walking pace since I knew it was probably not good on my knees. But the light just kept getting better and better, and eventually my pace picked back up again until I was sprinting at full speed up the hill. I arrived just in time to set up a shot and take a few pictures - with the camera on a giant tripod like mine, once I set the timer to trip the shutter a few seconds later, the fact that I was breathing hard does not affect the camera at all! No way I could ever take most of the pictures that I do without the camera being on a tripod.

Anyway, after the light settled down a bit I started wandering around the wide open meadows and just enjoying the beautiful light - it is the quality of light that makes shooting early and late in the day so good. Rarely do I get to just spend time soaking it all in, but I made sure to do so - at least for a few seconds - before I spotted another composition that I wanted to shoot, and then I was off sprinting across the meadow once again!


Later on I drove to another location to look at a scene I found several months ago that I had thought might make a great night shot. I parked and walked along the shore of a big lake, but soon realized the scene I had seen from the highway was not going to work - oh well, it was pretty nice being out there with the water and all the stars anyway so was worth the extra miles. Then I decided just to spend the night nearby so I could see if anything developed in the morning.

And indeed it did. I was up and out wandering around well before daylight, and found a nice composition at the base of a long bridge. I set up my camera and took pictures for more than an hour as daylight began to creep into the foggy landscape - I was really glad I made the trip the night before as this neat bridge scene was not on my shooting list when I left home!


Last night I headed back out again to another wide open meadow to shoot another scene I had been thinking about. It was a gorgeous clear night with temps so cool that I could hike with all my camera gear and not work up too much of a sweat. At one point, when the western horizon was still glowing from the sunset, I realized someone - or something - was watching me. I looked around and saw not one or two, but FIVE big bull elk standing less than 100 feet away staring me down. There was no chance for a picture, so I got to just enjoy them for a little while - they eventually got bored and disappeared into the night. These big guys are growing antlers really fast right now - what is called "velvet" looks so soft, even in the dim twilight. By mid summer the velvet will harden and they will scrape it all off, leaving the hardened bone antlers, ready to do battle in the fall.

Aspen and I were up and outside at 3-something this morning - the half moon was shining brightly and lighting up the entire landscape. It was very cool and the air felt great - again, kind of like a crispy fall or even winter night. There were a number of other critters awake at that hour as well - barred owls and coyotes echoed throughout the still night air.

We will be all loaded up and hitting the road at about the same time tomorrow morning. Pam, Amber and I will be on the road working for the next week or so. The online store will continue to function as normal, although we won't ship anything until we get back - the next shipping day will be May 21st. I will have e-mail access sometimes if you need to get in touch with me.

On May 20th we will be at the annual BOOKS IN BLOOM festival at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs from noon to 5pm. There will be a ton of famous authors there talking about and autographing their books - we will be tucked back in the shade somewhere with all of our books available at our SPECIAL PROGRAM PRICES - $20 for ANY book, which includes sales tax! See more details about the event, including all of the famous authors, here -

Our cousin Joseph is getting a much-needed break from hanging around the cabin - he has gone home while we are away. Our good friend and frequent cabin sitter, Bullet Bob (aka Bob Robinson), is arriving later today and will be in charge of things while we are gone. He was here last fall also while we were gone and so I guess he has recovered enough from the experience to make a return visit! This will be the last post I'll be able to make here, but check back on May 21st.

ONE PERSONAL NOTE - I am no longer living with a college girl. I am most happy to report that my lovely bride has accomplished one of her life's goals, something she has been working towards for 37 years - a goal that got sidetracked a wee bit when she ran off into the wilderness of Arkansas with me. Pam completed her last college class and now has a UNIVERSITY DEGREE - YIPPIE COYOTE!!!!!!! She spent several years as a single parent working a fulltime job and struggling to pay for and keep up with night classes in Springfield, and got about half the way through her college degree - a terrific accomplishment in itself. And then she met me. Oops! We are really too far away from anywhere for her to have continued going to class, but several years ago she started taking classes online - which were a lot more involved and difficult that we ever imagined. She has worked her little fanny off for years - and now has made it to the pinnacle with her degree. The actual graduation ceremony won't happen until later this fall, but her diploma will be on the wall soon. I am SO PROUD of her for doing this - she is the MOST AMAZING young lady I've ever met......

I got to go pack - see ya on May 21st, or May 20th!

item5The Milky Way and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, Wyoming

05/21/12 It is nice and cool early this morning, with clear skies and lots of blue above. There are a few tweedy birds playing in the air above, and a mourning dove cooing softly. The air is still and quiet otherwise. Even though it is sweet and cool, it sort of feels like the landscape is holding its breath for a hot day ahead.

We have been home for a couple of days now but have been on the run most of the time so I have not had the chance to sit down and do a write up about our marathon trip out west - but I will get that done today or tomorrow, along with a few snapshots from the trip. It was not a photo-taking trip so I did not shoot much, although it was a work trip as we were doing research for and testing some new equipment for a potential new book project in the future. I just can't seem to take an actual vacation!

Yesterday the alarm went off at 2;30am, and I was up and stumbled across the compound to grab two bags of camera gear from the gallery next door. I had trouble focusing a little bit on the sky to figure out if the stars I was seeing were actually there or just inside my head! I drove to the far end of Cave Mountain and hiked out into the center of a friend's meadow and sure enough there were plenty of starts out, including the Milky Way spread nearly from horizon to horizon. I spent the next hour or so setting up and testing some more equipment that would allow me to take better pinpoint-star photos with more sharpness and less digital noise. But I soon realized that the fuzziness I'd been seeing was no just in my head, and that there much have been a layer of clouds above since the stars were not as intense as I wanted them to be. And by soon after 4am the eastern horizon began to glow already and it was time for me to stop taking pictures.

I headed back to the cabin and began to prepare for the day, which included sorting and packing 15 different book titles that I would have for sale at the Books In Bloom event in Eureka Springs, and also organize and pack all the equipment that I would need to give a presentation to a group of college students later in the evening.

The book event at the Crescent Hotel was wonderful, and I sat in my tent near the front of the line and watch as one great author after another went by and gave talks in the "Readers tent" directly in front of me or back in an inside room (they don't let me speak at these things because they know once I get up in front of a group of people I may never shut up, ha, ha!). We had the threat of rain once as a red blob line of storms approached, but all of the moisture evaporated before it hit the ground and we did not have to scramble to get books under cover. There were 21 different authors at the event, plus some booksellers like the University of Arkansas Press who publish the works of many authors.

I was surprised how many long-time Journal readers stopped by - it was GREAT to meet and chat with each and every one of you!

When the clock stuck 5pm I rushed to pack up all the boxes of books and head to the library down the street where I met up with a group of students from Hendrix College. They were spending a couple of weeks studying the Buffalo National River, and I had put together a slide program about the great beauty here to show them. I was a little concerned about the two-hour time slot with a small group like they were, but in the end, as usual, at 2:15 one of the teachers had to stand up and shut me off, ha, ha! They were a wonderful group of young people and it was a great pleasure to be able to spend some time with them - mostly answering questions and discussing the Buffalo.

I realized on the way home one reason why I talk so much when speaking to a group - or at least why it takes me so much time. There were at least three questions I was asked that required a simple one-word answer. And I gave that answer - but only after five or ten minutes of discussion, sometimes a monologue on my part! But I always feel that all the other info is necessary to understand my answer - perhaps so, perhaps not. Anyway, it was a great group and I wish them well on their journey through the Buffalo River area, and through life.

It was almost midnight by the time I got back home and unloaded and packed everything away. Someone once asked what a "typical" day for me would be - 2:30am to midnight seems to be more and more typical these days.

Oh, I almost forgot. Just as I was leaving Eureka Springs, I came around a corner and saw what has to have been the most incredible solar eclipse I've ever witnessed - and I've seen and photographed a number of them over the past 30-something years. The sun was a red ball with the shadow of the moon black - you normally can't even look directly at an eclipse, nor photograph it without special filters - yet you could look directly at this one - and it was setting right next to a silhouetted barn and hayfield! I nearly drove off the road trying to find a spot to pull over and shoot, but by the time I did so, the lower part of the sun had begun to sink into a cloud layer below, and I was unable to take even a single picture. WOW, if only I had made one of my questions a SINGLE MINUTE SHORTER, I would have captured the scene of a lifetime for me. But it was not to be - I spent that minute with the students and perhaps that was a better place for me to be. I got to see the eclipse from the front seat, a memory I will keep for a long time.

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