CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - March 2015
Cloudland Cabin cam, March 2 - still mostly frozen up here today, roads remain icy
03/2/15 We have about 2-3" of snow that looks and acts like ICE on the ground today, slowly melting away and feeding hundreds of WATERFALLS! More rain and maybe show later this week should produce some nice waterfall hunting. The way the snow/ice is on the ground right now makes for better exercise while "hiking" - it takes a little extra umph to dig your boots into the snow/ice layer (and you MUST dig in otherwise you will slide on the top layer of ice); and likewise, it takes a little extra effort to pull each step out of the snow/ice layer to continue moving forward - so I figure I'm burning three times the calories each mile!
My internal alarm went off at 3:45am a couple of mornings ago, and I crept downstairs and strapped myself into my snowmobile suit while the coffee was heating up. Sitting in the dark sipping the warm stuff I noticed the temp outside was a balmy 8 degrees with a stiff wind blowing - 20-25mph with even higher gusts. Why I picked this particular morning to get out and restart my nature photography career I have no idea, but since there was no time like the present, I shouldered my camera gear and headed for the car.
My first stop was at our neighbor's field where there is a clear view to the east of not only the rising sun, but more importantly the rising Milky Way, which was supposed to be just now starting to show it's brightest part after having been hidden below the horizon all winter. The Milky Way has always been up at night in the winter, but the bright "galactic center" has been below the horizon. I set up my camera and tripod and took a few test photos while my eyes got accustomed to the darkness, and son of a gun, THERE IT WAS - the Milky Way was right there in front of me, galactic center and all! I was a happy camper, and it wasn't even 5am yet!
I had to drive over to Mt. Sherman and deliver a couple of large prints that a customer had ordered the day before and I had printed the night before - no one was at home, but my plan was to leave them on the front porch as the guy needed the prints that morning.
My next stop was the main even to of the day - a test to see how well my body had been repaired and if I would be able to resume my crazy photo career. I had injured my arm/shoulder 18 months ago, and had not been able to setup or use my camera equipment without a great deal of pain ever since. But I was hoping those issue were behind me with my new shoulder, and this would be the first big test.
So I parked the car at the edge of a large hay field, loaded up my big backpack of camera gear and my largest tripod, and headed out hiking slowly across the field - it was about an hour before sunrise, but there was already light beginning to creep into the valley so it was easy to hike without a light. It was indeed every bit of 8 degrees with 20mph+ winds blowing, and the combination drove the wind chill past 10 below zero - I was afraid to calculate the actual number.
And then less than 100 feet from the car my photo career would resume with a snap, crackle, POP, and then a BANG! I stepped into a hole, my ankle rolled over and snapped, and I fell face first with a loud bang onto the frozen tundra. I felt like an idiot, but only for a few seconds until the pain reached my brain. Part of being in this position is the fact that my heavy camera pack and tripod were sitting on top of me, driving my face into that frozen tundra. So first I had to wriggle out of all that, then roll over and try to get up. I've discovered that whenever I snap my ankle like this it is very important to get back up on my feet and immediately start walking around - something that was not too easy since the earth was frozen solid and not very smooth. At this point it looked like getting back into my photo career was in doubt. But I was able to "walk it off" for several minutes, going round and round my camera gear, until I was able to stop and collect that gear and continue on my hike.
I got to the bank of the Buffalo River and started to make my way upstream, realizing that my original scene was not going to happen due to light and weather conditions, so I continued on upstream searching for something interesting to stop and photograph.
I ended up leaving the river and hiking farther upstream in the field, then going back to the river and finally to a spot where the river itself was frozen solid with some interesting patterns, and I set my camera gear down to search for the perfect composition. Soon the sun was be rising, and when that happens the light changes rapidly so I would not have much time.
And then wouldn't you know it - the call of nature snuck up on me - sometimes you just gotta go. Bad timing, but 'tis part of the adventure! So I made my way quickly into the woods, dug a hole, then started the process of taking off the snowmobile suit - with these things you pretty much have to take it almost completely off - down to your knees. It was then I realized that I had FORGOT MY DOWN JACKET! (that I would normally wear under the snowmobile suit) So there I was, with a wind chill somewhere south of 10-15 degrees below zero, wearing nothing a t-shirt, and bare all the way down to my knees!
You know what they say happens to "exposed flesh" at those frigid temps - I had a LOT OF EXPOSED FLESH! And just so I don't get e-mails complaining about me doing it in the woods, I used a trick that I learned from NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming), and used SNOW as toilet paper - it works really well, gets you clean, and there is nothing left behind.
OK, business done, I left no trace, and the sun had just appeared and was beginning to light up the hillside across the river. That's what I had been waiting for - not to take a picture of the hillside, but rather of the hillside reflecting in a pool of ice.
All the reflections are ice
I spent the next hour working two or three different ice reflection scenes, and am happy to report that everything worked out great and I was able to set up and change things as needed, then pack up and hike out, without any pain in my arm/shoulder - YIPPIE COYOTE! I was back in business after 18 months, literally!
The following morning I slept in until after sunrise since there was a bit of a snowstorm going on outside. The roads were pretty bad but I really wanted to get out and shoot something as the snows began to let up, so I packed my camera bag and headed out the door towards Hawksbill Crag. We'd received about 3-4 inches of really FLUFFY snow during the night, and there were still waves of snow showers coming and going, but the flakes were tiny, so not building up much.
It was a delightful hike through the fresh snow on over and down to the Crag, and whenever I stopped for a moment to look around, the only sounds I heard where of those tiny snowflakes hitting the trees around me. Such soft, beautiful music! I never crossed any sort of critter track, man or beast, and found myself alone at the Crag as well - no one else had been there.
I set up and shot for about an hour. At first there were a few hints of color in the sky and I thought the sun might break through, but then another wave of light snow would sweep across the scene, adding more white, and a little atmosphere in the background. Sometimes the sky would grow quite dark, then get brilliant white again, but I never saw any sunshine. I got to be out in the woods taking pictures TWO days in a row, and never saw another soul - other than the soul of the wilderness.
Since that day the snow has compacted and melted and froze and melted and froze, and now it is Monday afternoon and we still have a layer of ice covering the landscape - but with temps just above freezing things are beginning to thaw out a little bit. Supposed to be up towards 60 degrees tomorrow with lots of rain (DOUBLE YIPPIE!), but then drop to 11 degrees at night with more snow Wednesday! Seems like it is what John Denver called "Late Winter, Early Spring, When Everyone Goes To Mexico" - I LOVE that piece of music! Speaking of which, if you like him or his music, many PBS stations will air a new hour-long special about him tomorrow night (in Arkansas on AETN at 7pm). The preview looks really good. I'd be willing to bet that John used snow a time or two...