CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - March 2014
Cloudland Cabin Cam, March 11 - sunny and warm - early spring on its way!
03/11/14 note - We arrived home yesterday morning after a grueling allnight trip down from Alaska - amazing that we can be on the ground in Fairbanks at 5pm, and land in Arkansas by 9am the next morning! We spent most of yesterday just trying to get back to the cabin from town, unload the car, and sleep - we did a lot of that. Although not much work was done to catch up business-wise, we will work hard on that today and expect to ship out all orders that were placed while we were gone. It will take me a while to sit down and complete the narrative of our trip to post here, and to get the new Print Of The Week selected, processed, and posted, but I do plan to get all of that done later today or tomorrow. PLUS I hope to have an amazing timelapse video of the Aurora as it swirled and danced through the night - it will be later in the week before I'm able to figure out how to do that. Going from a low of about 65 degrees F below zero (wind chill, minus 29 actual temp) early Sunday to a high of near 80 degrees here this afternoon will be tough on our mental system!
Journal updated Wednesday March 5th
Print Of The Week - The Northern Lights, Alaska
Engagement Calendar Print Of The Week special
03/01/14 Very froggy and warm this morning. And the fog hung around for a while instead of burning off quickly like it often does. The earth smells and looks so wonderful when it is damp - colors so much richer. Air goes deep into your lungs.
It is a big day at Cloudland, as we welcome back our cuz' Joseph who is going to stay with us at the cabin for a while this spring. He has been down in Texas for the past couple of months, and I wonder how he is going to like the nippy weather that is headed our way? He is tough, so will be fine with it I bet. Joseph helps out a lot around the cabin, but his main job is to look after the place when we are gone.
And my lovely bride and I are headed into town for a hot date tonight - YIPPIE! We don't get out much.
I had a date with another lady a couple of nights ago, but it was not too hot - in fact is was down to 16 degrees while Lucy and I were out! Pam was in Missouri with our daughter, so Lucy came with me for one of my all-night photo shoots. We hiked into a neat scenic area of tall bluffs and interesting, weather-sculpted sandstone formations. I wanted to arrive just before dark so that I would have enough time to look around a bit and figure out exactly what I wanted to take a picture of - sometimes it is a lot easier to do that in daylight.
But my target was also the north star, which of course was not visible in the daytime. I did know about where it would be, but we ended up sticking around until after dark when the north star appeared just to make sure I was pointing the camera the right direction. Turns out just a few inches one way or another and the north star would have been hidden behind either a rock or a tree, so I was glad I waited until dark. I did in fact have to move both cameras just a few inches.
I set up two cameras to shoot basically the same scene - a series of long exposures over 10-12 hours to capture the rotation of the stars. One camera was setup to shoot a time-lapse of the moving stars, while the other camera would capture a very long star trail, hopefully good enough for the new picture book that I'm working on.
Once I got all of that set up, Lucy and I hiked back to the van - she LOVES to run in the woods! I could hardly keep up - in fact I'm sure she had to stop and wait on me may times. When I left the cabin I did not think about packing any dinner for myself, although I did have some for Lucy. Turns out that Lucy's dinner was pretty good, so I ended up eating dog food for dinner! It actually was not too bad. Although I must explain. We have discovered that Lucy just LOVES popcorn chicken. She has always been nothing but skin and bones, and we have never been able to get her to each much, no matter what type or brand of dog food we try and feed her. But she will clean up a bowl of popcorn chicken with a big grin on her face. So since she is getting so old (over 100 in dog years), we try to cook her up a little big of popcorn chicken once a day.
I did have some garlic mashed spuds in the van pantry, so I cooked them up and borrowed a few bits of Lucy's popcorn chicken to go with them. We both were happy campers!
It was a wee bit chilly when we got up early the next morning and hiked back into the area where the cameras were. Both were still running and taking long-exposure pictures. I took control of one of the cameras and shot a series of images of the same scene using different exposure parameters until the sky started to lighten. Then I packed everything up and we headed back to the van. Shhhh, don't tell anyone, but here is one of the photos that Lucy and I took:
It was a beautiful, crisp, and clear, pre-dawn sky, and the temp was such that I had to lean into the hill and hike a little faster in order to keep warm, something I enjoy. Dawn was breaking, and the eastern horizon glowed bright orange, then turned to yellow just above, and that blended into a deep blue sky with just a few of the brightest stars still awake. A forest of a thousand trees were silhouetted in front of all that color, and their shapes moved endlessly with each step I took.
Hanging there right in the middle of all those bands of color behind the silhouetted trees, was a tiny sliver of a brilliant, silver crescent moon. It was a spectacular scene - oh my! Our little dog is deaf, but she can still see pretty well, and I do believe I even caught her stopped and gazing at the scene a time or two - dogs enjoy beautiful things too!
03/02/14 Our date went very well, and included a wonderful dinner (THANKS Luke and Mary). Then we ended up at a nice motel in Bentonville - our lights were out by 9pm - we are lightweights! When morning came we discovered our car was covered with a rapidly-thickening layer of ice - in fact I could not get the doors open! So we hopped on a shuttle bus and ended up at the airport watching the planes trying to take off.
Before we knew it, we were sitting inside one of the planes, and a man on a boom was coating our plane with a high-pressure wash of ORANGE de-icer. Pam was sitting by the window and waved at him, and he was so close that he waved back. It was bitter cold outside, with a 20mph wind and sleet and freezing rain. Once the plane had been turned orange, they started around the plane again and covered it with green slime - some pretty thick stuff. So there we sat on the runway in a silver - then orange - then green airplane. In the middle of a winter ice storm.
The man on the boom coating our plane with orange deicer slime - that's one of our engines on the right
We had originally been scheduled to fly to Dallas, but that flight was cancelled. So they put us on a plane headed for Chicago. As we sat there on the runway about to take off, and the plane shook violently in the wind, we wondered what sort of flight was ahead of us in our little plane. Well son of a gun, not only did it take us less time to fly from Bentonville to Chicago than it takes us to drive from our cabin to Fayetteville, it was one of the smoothest flights EVER - not a single bump or jiggle!
We walked around in the giant O'Hare airport in Chicago for several hours watching all the huge planes come and go. Then one plane pulled up with an giant Eskimo painted on its tail, and we decided to get on board that one. And that is where we are now, cruising in the darkness at 30,000 feet, headed for Seattle. This is the first airplane trip that my lovely bride and I have ever taken together - after 14 years it was about time. Pretty smooth flight so far. Both flights today were packed to the gills.
We just landed in Seattle, in a driving rainstorm. A seven-year old girl sat next to me, and when they turned on the wing lights that lit up the rain as we were on final approach, she asked her mom "Why is it raining so hard?" They were from Seattle and had been on a trip. In a classic Seattle resident comment, she said "Because we are home..."
03/03/14 We had a lazy morning in Seattle, mostly sitting at the airport watching a lot more giant and beautiful planes come and go, as the weather turned from rain to sunshine. Soon we boarded a second plane with an eskimo on the tail and headed north. We flew into Canada, then above Alaska, following the Inside Passage - it was a sparkling clear day and the views of snow-covered mountains, glaciers, and assorted tall peaks were classic Alaska. After a smooth flight we rented a car and headed to a hotel in Fairbanks, our home for the next several days.
After meeting up with some fellow friends and photographers, we headed out into the night in search of Northern Lights. It was clear, with a zillion stars out, but rather windy. I spent a good bit of time standing around on the top of a windswept ridge taking pictures of the night, practicing, making sure the techniques I had honed over the years were up to snuff to capture the amazing light that shines up north. I have seen the Northern Lights many times over the years, but never have I photographed them - this would be a first.
Several hours later we were treated to one of the most magical light shows I've ever witnessed. Others in our group danced and laughed - and cried - at the magnitude of the power and beauty that was before us. If you have been a part of the Aurora at its peak, you know what I'm talking about. If you have not, there is no way to really describe it. I got kind of zoned in on the photography side things, with my head inside the camera as I shot and shot and shot, and then shot some more. When I finally looked up, I was away from the group, and in fact the rest of them were out of sight!
At one point when the motion and brightness and color were at their very peak, I stopped and just stood there, a gasp and breathless, and listened to the silence of the night - and wondered - could I hear the lights moving? And I think that I could - at least in my mind, and in my heart.
Oh yes, I also got to run over and hug my lovely bride tight, and laid one very long and deep eskimo kiss on her nose!
But let me digress for a moment and describe a moment that I've heard will live on for infamy. After hours of waiting for light to happened on the frozen top of the ridge, most of the group decided it was time to head for warmer pastures, so we packed up and left the mountaintop. One of the other photographers stopped on the way down the other side of the mountain to get out and look at a viewpoint that he had found before. I was in the process of removing my winter clothing, and in fact had stripped down to my underwear and only had one boot on - when I noticed something odd in the sky. I jumped out of the car and hobbled across the frozen road - not to the viewpoint - but rather off to the side, where many tall trees reached up into the night. I looked really hard to find a bit of light, color, and hope in the night. And then there it was - the faintest glow that was not normal. I watched the sky, standing there in my underwear and one bare foot (the temp was 2 degrees below zero). And then I finally declared - "LIGHTS, WE HAVE NORTHERN LIGHTS!" I ran back to the car and started to get out and set up my tripod and camera when my bride reminded me that while it was indeed a special moment that had arrived, but it probably would be better if I put some clothes on - at the very least, my other boot!
03/05/14 We've had light snow falling most of today, with several inches covering the landscape and refreshing the scene. The air has been crisp and cool and oh so REFRESHING - I really do LOVE this stuff! Always have. I have fond memories of building an igloo of sorts and playing in deep snow in the woods near where I grew up.
I attended a photo workshop last night and early this morning with some professional aurora photographers. Skies did not cooperate, and we had blowing snow and mostly cloudy conditions, but around 2am-ish we did see some stars and Northern Lights, but nothing to write home about (I in fact did not even take any pictures). We did learn a great deal of the science of Auroras - where they come from, what they are, how to predict them, etc. I had no idea about most of this stuff. And we spent a lot of time driving around visiting locations that I might return to for future Aurora shooting.
Today was mostly a town day, with a nap or two thrown in. The new snow was beautiful and refreshing. And, unfortunately, I've had one or two too many hot chocolates and whipped creams today! So this afternoon I headed out for an hour power hike in the new powder, trying to work off a little bit of that whipped cream. Just like I do when I'm back home, I did not wear much outerwear, and had to kind of lean into the wind and keep my legs and body at top speed to keep myself warm - it felt GREAT!
And I had one of those moments that nearly brought me to tears (tears would probably not have been a good idea - I think the wind chill was way below zero). As I was mushing through the snow - actually working my way up a small frozen river - an old church steeple came into view. It rose through a forest of aspen and spruce, into a white sky filled with blowing snow. My eyes zoomed in and cropped out everything around it. (The church was built in 1904 on one side of the river, then drug across the frozen river several years later to its current location.) Just then a clock tower started to play a tune that nearly brought those tears. I can't quite put my finger on what the music was, but it stirred my heart and made my soul soar. It was a most patriotic tune, and also celebrated the great beauty all around us. I paused for a moment to take soak it all in. I am proud to be an American..
Tonight is a blank slate - supposed to be cloudy all night, yet we see some blue sky here and there. I have all my gear ready to make another run out in to the sub-zero temps to hunt for Miss Aurora. I'm ready darling - hope to see ya in a few hours! (below is a snapshot of my lovely bride and I today)
photo by Jay McDonald
3/10/14 I POST THIS PHOTO (below) IN MEMORY OF OUR GREAT FRIEND, JOHN BENISH, who today is now walking the trails in heaven, waving a magic wand of light so that all can see. John and his dear wife, Barbara, have been longtime great friends of ours, and to the Ozark Highlands Trail that he loved so much - He was a trail pioneer, an Elder of The Tribe (he also taught me how to cross-country ski many moons ago). John worked with wood and stone and earth to hand craft the trail, and now completed his Stairway To Heaven. You will be missed by my friend in so many ways. Generations will follow your footsteps to see and experience the great beauty the trail leads them to. Thank you sir for a splendid job, and for all that you have done...