CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - April 2017
Cloudland remote Cabin Cam, April 25 - sunset across the Flatside Wilderness last night, Ouachita National Forest
SPRING PHOTO WORKSHOPS - only one space left for May!
Print of The Week special (above)
04/25/17 Just a quickie update this morning. I'm down south trying to shoot some photos (sunset from Flatside Pinnacle last night, sunrise at Lake Maumelle this morning), and currently am at University Hospital getting an MRI done. I wanted to share this snapshot of my lovely bride from a couple of days ago just moments after she completed her latest plein air pastel - she was a happy camper! She'll have her first solo show at the Ft. Smith Library, opening reception will be from 2-4pm on Sunday, May 21st...
04/24/17 A little chilly at first light today, but once the landscape woke up to greet the rising sun it was QUITE SPECTACULAR all across the wilderness! Fresh greens, a few baby clouds in the canyon roaming around, and frogs, owls, and hawks all out exploring. And the two rivers below were singing lively tunes as you would expect after all the rainfall of the past few days.
The last week has been somewhat of a blur - could be because much of it was at 55mph+. I've been doing a lot of driving, which year in and year out is always a major part of my job of being a nature photographer. Lots and lots of driving and very little time in the woods. It is kind of ironic that while we live in the most incredible waterfall capitol of mid-America surrounding Cloudland, during this most recent (and still current) EPIC waterfall week, I didn't take a single picture of a waterfall in our neighborwoods. I figured there were thousands of others doing that so there was no need for me to add more waterfall photos to the internet. I did get to spend time with a natural feature I've been wanting to see for more than 40 years.
I'd heard about a natural bridge in the national forest since the mid-1970's but no one exactly where it was or had a photo of it. Over the years I visited and photographed all the natural bridges and arches I could find in Arkansas - Arlberg Arch, Buzzard Roost Arch, Marinoni Scenic Area Arch, Natural Bridge near Clinton (a tourist attraction), Alum Cove Natural Bridge, and the Hurricane Creek Natural Bridge; but this other one remained elusive - not a trace.
FYI, a natural "bridge" and "arch" are not the same. A bridge is actually formed by a flowing stream while an arch is not - typically the arch is eroded away by wind or other actions. Most natural "bridges" are not really bridges at all, they are just called that. You really need a genuine stream flowing beneath it to be official (or at least it had one that formed the formation in the past). I've never seen a real natural bridge in Arkansas.
Several years ago a gentleman came up to me after a slide program and asked about a natural bridge on a creek he knew about - my interest really peaked when he pulled out a RECENT photo of it that he had taken, and while there was no water flowing beneath, it appeared to span a named creek and so there would be water flowing at some point during the year. He said others had told him they used to drive log trucks UNDER the bridge. Hum. One thing led to another, and five or six years later (as in, last week), I FINALLY got around to contacting him to see if he could take me to the bridge (he'd been to every slide program there each year with the same story).
So we met up last Thursday and son of a gun, he took me right to the beautiful rock formation, and it was indeed a genuine natural BRIDGE! The bridge opening was about 40' wide at the narrowest point (upstream to downstream), with the opening about 36' across arching over the dry creekbed. End-to-end the top of the bridge exceeded 100'. This was a significant rock formation! With an actual creek to boot!
The roof was as low as about seven or eight feet and there was a road trace that led into it. We stood there an imagined what it must have looked like 100 years ago when the creek had a lot less gravel in it with plenty of room for a truck to pass beneath. Lots of sand and gravel there now, but still plenty tall enough to walk under.
So the rest of the story is - I made five trips to this great new natural bridge last week and got lucky on my FIFTH trip - the creek was running perfectly, with clear water that filled up the stream course below the bridge - YIPPIE COYOTE! (I had been there twice last week during all the rainfall with the creek still dry - it took a final couple of inches of rainfall early Saturday morning to get the creek up and running at last). The moral of the story - when an old timer tells you about something you've been chasing for 40 years, take him up on his offer to show you! (Top photo taken on Friday, bottom photo on Saturday.)
FYI - we plan to have our new gallery OPEN this coming Saturday, April 29th from 10am-3pm. Things are mostly still a mess there, but the gallery will have 40+ canvas prints on the wall - ALL ON SALE FOR 50% OFF! Plus you can see many of my lovely bride's pastels. You can find directions here.
04/18/17 I left the cabin this morning with a long list of chores to do in several different places. I never made it to a single one. For some reason I was lured away from my schedule, down into the wilderness, where I soon found myself standing on top of the bluff looking at Hawksbill Crag. I had a small camera bag with a camera, one lens, and a tripod.
It had rained during the night and fog had set in - first, covering the Buffalo River below; then the fog bank rose up to above the bluff level. I was hoping to catch some mist rising behind the Crag, or something interesting. I set up the camera and started to take pictures. An hour later I was still standing in the same spot taking pictures. It was still overcast, with that fog bank now a ways above me, but there were holes developing in that layer of fog, and now and then a shaft of brilliant sunshine would break through.
Another hour later I was still standing in the same spot taking pictures, but the light show was about done. I'd taken several hundred photos and hoped that one would turn out. Blue covered more of the sky than clouds, so I packed up my gear and headed for the magical sound that had been my sound track for the past couple of hours - running water. FYI, I never saw anyone in all that time, nor a single footprint on the trail or at Hawksbill Crag.
A few minutes later I had to stop and photograph some of the many wild mountain azaleas that were in bloom - it was like they just POPPED open over night! Some bushes were the normal lovely pink color; but other bushes were a deep rich pink, and their aroma was just overwhelming. Everyone was fresh from the overnight rainfall, lush and saturated and colorful. I didn't have a macro lens with me, just a normal wide-angle zoom lens, so I moved in close to a single bunch of flowers and took a picture or three.
Then it was on to the base of Mule Trail Falls, where I found some nice water running, and a hillside that was COVERED with beautiful GREEN ferns! I got down on my hands and knees to look through the viewfinder of the camera that was attached to a tripod that was spread out wide and very low to the ground. Once again I got up close to the ferns with my wide-angle lens, but this time I made a series of multiple exposures with different parts of the scene in focus. The camera could not capture the entire depth of the scene in focus at one time, but by using this "focus-stack" technique I would be able to combine the in-focus parts of each photo later and create a single photo with everything in focus - which is what my eye saw - everything in focus. So to answer the age-old question "do you manipulate?" YES I do - sometimes I have to manipulate multiple photos to create a single photo that looks closer to reality than any one photo would do!
The steep hike back out felt great on my bones - I actually prefer to hike UP rather than down, but you probably already knew I was weird that way. When I got back to the cabin my lovely took one look at me and knew exactly what I had been up to - or rather NOT up to. Since I now had pictures to process she had to take my to-do list and head out the door (she had already put in a couple hours in the office by this time). Sometimes life at Cloudland is like that - you end up in a different location than planned and your wife was to do your work!
04/16/17 Mia and I were up an hour before dawn and sitting on the steps of the western deck. A bright moon lit everything up so there was a lot to look at and see. The forest is rather soft right now with all the new growth that popped out the past couple of days - kind of like puppy fur.
We weren't the only ones up - the airwaves were alive with the music of the wilderness that included dozens of species of birds, bugs, tree frogs, and no telling what else. It was downright NOISY outside! There was a certain hoot owl that kept hooting in our direction, and each time Mia would look that way intently, then look back at me to see if I knew what the owl was talking about. I need to show Mia a barred owl up close one day.
After an early breakfast, my lovely bride headed into town to shop for groceries for the upcoming week, and I prepared to head over to the new gallery office and get some work done. Best laid plans of mice and men. I only made it about 1/4 mile from the cabin before I had to stop and look at some flowers that had popped up in the yard - a group of rich-colored wild iris - a circle about three feet wide in fact. There had been none there in previous years, then all of a sudden, up they came this past week.
I shot a photo looking straight down on a pair of them, then found an interesting composition that I liked which required me to lay flat on my belly and get the camera just above ground level so that I could shoot right into the side of this one particular flower. It was surrounded by all green, and looked really neat - almost like the flower itself was full of light from within. I was wearing shorts, and quickly realized my chosen spot to lay down was in the middle of a briar patch! The briars were dead but the thorns were very much alive when they stuck into my legs. I grabbed a sleeping bag pad from the van and doubled it over to lay on, and that worked fine.
I had taken one series of photos of this little glowing flower when I heard a clap of thunder. Then a minute later it began to rain. At first I set up a small light tent over the flower to keep it from getting wet, but then realized I probably should put the tent over my camera set up instead, so I did, and the little flower got a nice bath and drink of fresh rainfall - something we all really needed! A few minutes later there was a lull in the rain and so I got back down on my belly and took a second series of photos of the little flower, now dripping with raindrops.
One thing led to another, and now it is 10pm and I still never got any further than that batch of wildflowers! Oh well, wasn't today some sort of holiday?
My bride returned home after it had rained for an hour or two, and then began to prepare a Sunday feast of ham, green beans, stuffing, hot buttered rolls, and chocolate pie! Holy moly, I need to stay home more often! After we put the dishes and leftovers away Pam went out in search of a new scene to paint with her magical pastels, while I remained at the cabin and worked on a couple of odd jobs, including flying around a little bit down near the river. She returned home a couple of hours later with a pastel of a single dogwood blossom that absolutely GLOWS! That's my girl! Her deadline is coming up quickly, and she still has a dozen or two new plein air pastels to get done from scratch.
Here's a snapshot of the Buffalo River below our cabin about 1/4 mile away - LOVE the color of the river right now!
I discovered tonight that the outdoor shower here is carpeted with dogwood blossoms - the hard rain this morning knocked off a bunch of them from the tree that guards the shower. Dogwood blossoms underfoot while the rush of the Buffalo River rises from below - AND I got a second helping of chocolate pie - it really was a holiday!
04/15/17 It was about 3:30am yesterday morning when I parked the van, got out and started to walk away. I knew right away that something was wrong, VERY wrong. The van was still moving, and a second later it began to plunge over a 100' tall cliff!!! My immediate thought was to jump in and try to stop it, but instead I could only just stand there and watch in horror. Needless to day, that scene grabbed my attention, and I WOKE UP from a terrible dream just as the van was hitting the valley floor far below.
I rolled over in bed and realized that I needed to head for someplace FLAT, without bluffs. And so I got up out of bed, packed my clothes, and headed south, into the flatland SWAMPS of southeast Arkansas. Whew, that was a close one!
Fortunately I LOVE swamps, especially when they began to take on that spring green glow. It had been a five-hour drive, plus another hour of driving around before I settled on a location, got out my camera gear, and walked over to the water's edge. I put on a pair of hip waders, although I should have just left them packed since I'd be soaking wet all the way through in a minute or two anyway. But at least I HAD planned on and packed the waders. The swamp water was pretty warm and no doubt teaming with all sorts of fish and critters under the surface film of algae and whatever else swamp water has. The light was just so-so, and I did not see too much of those spring greens I was after. And the wind was blowing, so reflections were not perfect.
But what the heck, I was in a SWAMP with a camera - one of my most favorite places to be! I had decided to use only one lens for this shoot, and once again I picked a long zoom lens and a filter that would slow down my exposures, so that the camera would be able to capture a long-exposure of the world unlike any human could see in person. I got to work as the light changed quickly from sunshine to clouds, and back again, sometimes windy, other times perfectly still. And quiet - other than the gusty wind through the trees, and a barred owl that would hoot out once in a while, the swamp was silent. Sometimes I just stood there almost waist-deep in the swamp, not working, but rather just watching and soaking up the great beauty that surrounded me.
HOURS had passed by the time I was done shooting, when I left the swampy water and headed back to the van (a van that did not plunge over the cliff). I spent the afternoon driving around the "Dale Bumpers" White River National Wildlife Refuge looking for more, but flooded roads kept me from reaching some of my other favorite locations, and the light was pretty bad. I only shot one more sequence before it was time to crawl into the back of the van and snooze a few hours.
This morning I drove to a couple of other swamp locations but didn't find anything much to shoot, so I headed north back home. The older I get the less time I'm able to spend on the road, so my photo trips are a lot shorter, with more and more time on the road going to and from. But no matter, I got a couple of pictures I liked and got to stand in the swamp for a while so I was a happy camper.
I was a tired puppy when I got back to the cabin. My lovely bride and I took a hike out along our sun-drenched lane, and we almost got blown away - it was warm and windy, with lots of puffy white clouds floating around above. Later we had dinner of pasta and veggies on the back deck, and oh my goodness how the landscape had changed in only one day. SPRING had arrived at Cloudland while I was gone! That afternoon sunshine finally got the trees to pop open and sprout leaves - if "leaffall" is when the trees turn loose of their leaves in autumn, "leafPOP" is when they emerge in the spring, and today was that day at Cloudland - YIPPIE! And as I sat there on the back deck with my feet propped up on the log railing, and spring popping all around, I reminded myself as I do each year that THIS is the most beautiful spot on the planet...
4/13/17 We made a quick trip down to southwest Arkansas this past couple of days in search of beautiful scenery to photograph and paint. Both my lovely bride and I are feeling the heat of needing to produce new work - a lot of new work - for Pam's first solo art exhibition in Ft. Smith later in May, and my annual new picture book which I've barely had time to work on yet.
The trip down took an unexpected turn when we tried a new route that we'd never been on before. We discovered a lovely valley highway that went through lush pastures and across rivers, with towering mountain ranges on both sides. And the best part - we only saw a single vehicle in the 44-mile route! A lovely way to cover miles.
It began to rain as we approached the Mena area and headed up onto Rich Mountain - Pam wanted to paint a scene with overlapping ridges going off into the distance. But as we arrived on top we found storms hanging low with poor visibility - a common happening up on Rich Mountain! No matter, we had a grand time touring around as i tried to photograph some of the foggy weather with silhouetted trees and lots of wildflowers.
We hung out at the overlook that usually provides the best view of ridges for more than an hour, and with now visibility we decided to head for the eastern end of the mountain and see if we could catch the full moon rise. It too was socked in pretty good with clouds and weather. But Pam found a scene she liked and set up her pastels and went to work - having only about 30 minutes to begin and complete a pastel of the scene - it looked very nice!
So then we decided to speed back to the previous spot and see if the scene had opened up - and it had, but we were too late and missed it. I took a few photographs as the light and forms faded quickly. We then drove over to the state park lodge to see about the view there, but it was mostly socked in as well. Just as we were leaving the lodge area, and AMAZING, orange, GIANT full moon arrived just above the distant ridges - one of the biggest I've ever seen! But there was no way to photograph it other than a few shapshots, so we settled for enjoying the beautiful scene.
The next morning with the mountain socked in again we headed for Cossatot River State Park Natural Area and spent several hours working there. Pam set up her pastels and created a great pastel for her new show in May, then sat down and started working on a small watercolor of a different scene.
For me the light was not good but the water levels were perfect, so I hauled out my camera equipment to go see what I could find and photograph. I was not physically able to carry more than just a single lens, s I picked a long zoom lens to carry, and that would be the only lens I shot. I ended up way back in the trees away from the river in order to frame the whitewater scenes I found interesting, and I was able to shoot a few different ones in ever-changing light situation - full sun to full shade.
During one moment, a boater appeared right in front of me. He looked pretty experienced and I was admiring his kayak/raft when all of a sudden he simply disappeared - out of sight under the churning whitewater. Then his paddle surfaced, and his boat, and finally he popped up on top of the water. All three headed on downstream through the churning rapids and on out of sight. A second guy followed, and while he hung up on one of the rapids for a few seconds, he too soon was flipped over and spent the next dozen seconds or more upside down underwater and out of sight. I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time, and in fact they probably planned it that way - but I was glad to have my feet and tripod planted firmly on the shore!
Later in the day we returned to Rich Mountain and Pam made another pastel - this time the light and weather cooperated for her stacked ridge panorama. When she was done I was able to find a nice stacked ridge scene of my own and we were both happy campers. We spend the next night to a beautiful mountain stream in another part of the Ouachitas, then headed home early this morning, stopping only a single time for me to photograph an interesting tree. A couple of days is all we're able to be on the road at a time right now with so much going on, plus that is about all I'm able to physically do at the moment before I need some rest and time flat on my back to recover. It has been a banner year for dogwoods in Arkansas, and my earlier notes about their blooms being small have been wiped out - I spent an hour shooting a single dogwood bloom here at Cloudland this evening that was one of the largest I've ever seen!
Creeks remain healthy but we could use another round of rainfall in the next few days to keep things lush and flowing well. I hope to head to the swamps soon to see how they are looking. Should be a great weekend for everyone to get out wherever you are and ENJOY SPRING IN ARKANSAS!
04/10/17 The dogwood above the outdoor shower in in full bloom this week!
04/09/17 HEAVY WINDS all morning here in the wilderness, brilliant sunshine breaking through layers of puffy clouds. It feels like a thunderstorm is approaching, but the radar is clear and nothing in sight for the rest of today. So it must just be the wind playing around and having some fun dancing with the trees!
When I first got up just after 4am this morning there were about a dozen lightning bugs roaming about - aren't those summer bugs, and also mostly just in the evening? Seems odd to see them before the break of dawn. Come to think of it, I wonder if they light up during the day and we just don't see them?
Yesterday afternoon my lovely bride and I were sittin' on the back porch here at Cloudland having some dinner and there were HUNDREDS of bright yellow swallowtail butterflies EVERYWHERE! They were fluttering around in groups of twos and threes, and also lots and lots of singles. Sometimes they would come spilling over the top of the cabin and swoop down in front of us, then float right on across Moms Meadow, and eventually make it through the trees and disappear in the canyon below. Monarchs do this during their annual migration in the fall headed south, but I've never seen swallowtails do it, nor anywhere where near as many at the same time.
Speaking of my bride, a couple of days ago she and I and fellow photographer Ray Scott were down in Central Arkansas taking pictures. He and I had set up our tripods right in the middle of a rural highway and were shooting into and through a grove of giant pecan trees that formed a tunnel over the road. We'd been there about an hour as puffy clouds marched above us creating all sorts of light in and on the tree tunnel. Once in a while we would have to remove ourselves and camera equipment from the middle of the road while a car/truck passed by.
At one point a bright-white Mercedes came screaming into view behind us, and we gathered up and moved off to the side. As they guy began to speed by us he hit his brakes, came to a quick halt, then began to back up. Uh oh we thought - were we standing on someone's land and not just the highway right-of-way and about to get into trouble? Ray noted that it was probably someone who recognized my "hat" and wanted to chat. I told Ray it must have been one of his fans since he knows about everyone in the state! When the car reached us it did not stop but kept right on backing up - WHAT? And it stopped right next to Pam, who had set up her pastel painting setup on the other side of the highway behind us and had been creating a work of art of the tunnel of trees. The gentleman told her he was a local and had NEVER SEEN SUCH A BEAUTIFUL THING AS HER PAINTING! Would she sell it to him? (she did not) He went on and on about how amazing her pastel was, and he couldn't believe she had created it right there on the spot. When it came up that one of us was married to her, the young man looked over and said YOU LUCKY DUDE! (these are thoughts I have every day of my life ever since I met her...)
This episode kind of put Ray and I in our places - we really were just there to support Pam - she is the TRUE ARTIST for sure! (*There will be an opening reception for a solo show of Pam's pastels at the Ft. Smith Library on May 21st, 2-4pm. She will have 20-25 of our pastels on display, and many of them will have been made in the "plein air" style - i.e., painted in real time out in nature like she was doing when the guy stopped his car. There will be some snapshots with the pastels showing her setup and the actual scene so you can get an idea what it is all about.)
A quick note for those who asked about my ailing back after a visit with a surgeon. My spine is in fine shape and there is nothing wrong there that he could detect. There is one possible minor issue and I'll have to get an MRI done soon, but even if the issue is confirmed, there is no surgery to correct it, and it would probably go away on its own eventually. So while it is great that I don't have any spinal problems, I'll probably just have to live and adjust to the way things are and have been for the past year and a half. I'm not sure what this means for my photo taking, since that is one activity that hurts the most, but since I have a new picture book project in the works that has to be completed by the end of June, I do plan to be out taking pictures as much as possible, and I hope to share lots of new scenes with you here. I'll try not to whine too much!
DOGWOODS are beginning to pop out all over right now - smaller blooms but beautiful just the same!
04/05/17 One of the most INCREDIBLE rainbows I've ever seen happened tonight just as I stepped out of the van in front of the cabin after being gone most of the day. First off, the ridges over there to the east through the trees were all lit up with an especially brilliant sunset light - kind of like Alpenglow only direct sunshine coming through sunset clouds - the hills were quite spectacular! The sky behind the hills was mostly black storm clouds. And then the BRIGHT and VIVID rainbow in front of that black sky - almost no arch at all, a vertical rainbow! No way to take a photo, and I knew the moment would pass quickly. So I ran into the cabin and grabbed my lovely bride (who was rocking with Mia in her lap), and the two of us watched as the scene began to fade into the evening. Perfect moment with a perfect mate!
We've been running around like crazy this week and have not been here much. Sunday we drove about 800 miles up to Wisconsin. Monday we spent all day working and then left at 5pm and drove half way back home. Tuesday we drove the rest of the way back home and got some work done. Today I actually got out and TOOK PICTURES in a couple of places - something I have not been able to do in a long while. Tomorrow we're leaving the cabin at 4am to go see a doctor at UAMS in Little Rock to see if he can do anything about my ailing back. Turns out that taking pictures is one of the worst things I can do for my back, and I'm paying the price tonight for taking pictures today.
After the sky faded into night a little while ago we sat listening to the roar of both the Buffalo River and Whitaker Creek - there were some cloudbursts in places this afternoon, some of them must have really dumped on a localized spot or two since the rivers were running high and muddy. The back deck at Cloudland was front and center and a perfect spot to watch everything happen - it is a terrific place to be when there is any sort of weather going on in the area. And then just barely above the rivers we heard a whippoorwill calling out as the last bits of light drained away from the landscape.
We'll have plenty of sunshine this next few days, but waterfalls will continue to run and run, so I suggest you get out and enjoy them whenever and wherever you get the chance to! The alarm is set for 3am so I'm off to dreamland for a few hours...
Oh, one wildlife sighting to report. The puppies started to scream and yell and holler some unknown tunes and tones during our morning hike today, and when I came rushing to their aid, I discovered that they had discovered a possum - and in fact had one treed - the critter was about 30 feet up near the top of a hickory, all curled up and staring down at the pups. Probably was a first for all involved.
And another PASTEL sighting! My lovely bride got caught in one of those downpours while out trying to do a "plein air" painting of a weathered red barn - the rain was so hard that she had to retreat into her car, and she spent the next 30 minutes completing her pastel from the front seat! The final result was pretty darn amazing - I have no idea how she does this!!!
04/1/17 'Tis the best season on EARTH upon us - APRIL IN ARKANSAS!
It was a beautiful, wet, lush, soft beginning to April this morning, with water-saturated air dripping with tiny droplets, and a foggy ceiling that hugged the ridgetops in all directions around our Cloudland cabin in the wilderness. By afternoon all the fog had burned off and was replaced by brilliant crystal blue skies and warm sunshine - you could just hear redbuds and dogwoods and other trees budding and blooming - a textbook spring day in the High Ozarks!
One thing I've noticed this week - dogwood blossoms are smaller than normal. The last couple of years they were giant, but while I've not see a mature dogwood bloom yet, they all just seem small to me. We'll see what the next week or two brings - of course great things come in small packages, so I'm expecting a banner year for dogwoods!
Redbuds continue to sparkle and light up the landscape with burning bushes of COLOR. Still lots of wild plums and even a few popcorn trees dotting the hillsides and benches around old homesites. And normal trees are beginning to leaf out some - the sort of thing that produces a soft but vivid outline of green against the setting sun - sometimes a puffball of green.
When I came home from the office today I found this on our native stone mantle - my lovely bride had completed another pastel - this one of our beloved and recently departed cat, the Box Kitty (aka The Fat Cat, aka LUKE). When I first waked through the door I did a double-take - it looked like ol' Box Kitty sitting right up there on the lodgepole pine shelf himself. Turns out the work I did at the new office was not nearly as important or as creative as Pam was doing in her studio office here at Cloudland. Way to go BUNKIE! (11x14 pastel in a lovely 16x20 rich black wood frame with museum glass)
I just stepped outside tonight to look at the crescent moon (with a fuzzy ring around it) and the stars, and discovered the first LIGHTNING BUG of the year! WHOO HOOOO!