CLOUDLAND JOURNAL - FEBUARY 2023 (previous months)
Little Bluff Cabin cam February 8 - finally some real rain overnight and this morning - very foggy - but the birds still are hungry! -HAPPY WEDNESDAY to you!
Journal updated on the 7th
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02/01/23 Two-part post today. But first, a third part to help explain the other two. When I hung up (sold) my last big camera systems three years ago I never stopped taking photos, but rather stopped being a “fulltime” nature photographer, physically but also mentally. Many folks think this job is all fun, easy, and you get paid for just showing up. While it certainly was FUN much of the time it rarely was easy and I never got paid for taking pictures, at least most of the last 45 years. No one made a cent unless an item was SOLD to someone else (a book or print or image rights to reproduce a photo). 99% of my job over the years was not being out in the beautiful outdoors, but rather right here at the computer, or on the sales floor or phone trying to sell something. Not complaining, just stating the facts.
So when I hung it all up I eventually did get a small and lightweight pocket camera with a zoom lens - a camera I would produce “pro-quality” photos with when needed. It’s not a camera I “always” had with me (in fact rarely did), but it was available if I needed it for some reason. In the past three years I can count on one hand the time I specifically went out to take a serious photo - I was not a real nature photographer, but rather have been able to enjoy everyday life without the constant stress of needing to be ON duty all the time.
Turns out that little bridge camera was somewhat of a pain to use and we didn’t get along too well - good thing since I hardly ever used it. Most of the new photos you’ve seen from me the past few years have been with a phone camera. I did use that little camera for new waterfall finds (of which there have been hundreds of them), but those photos were usually just to document the waterfall and not deliberate works of art, haha.
When I got back from Nova Scotia I realized that little camera was not up to my standards, even for a small pocket camera - I especially missed out on the nighttime photos that Ray Scott and I took. Actually the camera was OK but I needed a different lens for the Milky Way photos I love so much. This past December while shopping for that lens I discovered a new and improved version of that camera was coming out, and GULP, I decided to trade the old one in for the new one - at about triple the price. After mulling it all over for a month, I decided to add a couple more lenses to the system, which would give me a really nice but still small camera system capable of taking really good quality images when needed. (and with the additional lenses, my system cost quadrupled - double gulp!)
OK, so I had my system figured out, but it has taken me literally a month to get the system in my hands. First the new camera was so popular that it was back-ordered. Then the camera and lens kit arrived and I realized it was an “open box” kit that had been used by no telling who for a while, so I sent the kit back. The kit was back-ordered again, but arrived a couple of weeks later. In the meantime I discovered the manufacturer (FujiFilm) had stated that the all-purpose lens that shipped with the camera was subpar and could not “resolve” the new hi-resolution (40mp) sensor in the new camera, even though they packaged this lens with the new camera as a kit. REALLY? OK, after a few test shots I agreed with them, and back the second camera kit rent.
So now I needed to order the camera and a very high-quality lens by themselves but, you guessed it - the camera was back-ordered again. When the camera became available again a couple of weeks ago and was shipped, winter weather hit us and FedX air was unable to deliver the camera to me - in fact if I had not been in Fayetteville for my car maintenance on Monday the camera would still not be here (understood - the roads have been really bad here).
So I finally got the camera, but the new lens to go with it was coming from a different company (that I traded some old camera in for) and it was also delayed, again and again. But I FINALLY got all my ducks in the same room and am now a happy camper the first good camera system I’ve had in several years.
I won't a fulltime nature photographer, but rather my plan is that instead of living every hour of each day and night stressed about where I should out be taking pictures, I’m going to be a part-time nature photographer, equipped with the goods and willing to get out from time to time to take pictures (maybe once or twice a month). There won’t be any new picture books (or new slide programs, probably), but we do plan to continue the ARKANSAS WALL CALENDAR each year, hopefully with a few new photos. AND I'll try to post some of the new photos in the "2023 NEW PHOTO" online gallery HERE. Some of these will be iphone photos (not additional processing - right of of the camera), but most will be taken with my real camera, after I'm able to get them processed).
OK, so yesterday I wandered out around our property looking for something to take a picture of, and I settled on one tree along the trail at the edge of our neighbor’s pasture. In person it was just BEAUTIFUL with the ice/snow/sleet mixture coating I love the graphic nature of trees and bushes like. It was FRIGID out, and my hands turned white almost immediately since I had to remove gloves to operate the metal camera (I have Raynaud’s phenomenon, sometimes called Raynaud’s syndrome or disease). I got the picture, then packed up and moved on to find another.
Never, ever, have I found any glove, mitten, heated or otherwise, that solves my fingers problem. The only thing I’ve ever found to work was - BARE HANDS with chemical hand warmers in my coat pocket - when not using my hands I reach in and grab the hand warmer and wrap my fingers around it. THIS is the only thing that has worked for me - but obviously I’m not able to have my hands out of the pocket for very long, otherwise they are toast (frozen toast!).
Anyway, I moved to a second frozen tree that was interesting and shot a few photos, then left our property and hiked up the equally-frozen county road a ways looking for other photos. Nothing. So I retraced my steps back to the office, stopping a couple of times to reshoot the same photos I’d already taken (you can NEVER have too many photos of the same thing!).
When I arrived back at the gallery and peeled my clothes off I discovered one of my gloves was missing! (I’d only used them for a few minutes until I realized they were useless with the temp so low - they are OK when temps are higher). It wasn’t until a few hours later - last night - when I suited up at the cabin and headed out to look for the lost glove - should be easy to find - just follow my tracks in the snow until I found the glove.
I had my stocking cap with a built-in light (no need for a headlamp), but immediately realized it was really BRIGHT outside, even though it had been “dark” for several hours already. Of course man, there was a 3/4 moon up there somewhere, and even though there was still sleet/ice/snow pellets in the air, what little moonlight that got through reflected off the white forest floor and hiking was easy.
In fact I rather enjoyed the journey, making my way down the trail and around through the nighttime winter woods. Stopping a time or two there was absolutely ZERO sound. Magical! The only problem was that even though I retraced my steps exactly I never found my glove. Oh well, I bought those gloves more than 20 years ago and they had served me well during more balmy temps. It was a great hike.
But of course first thing this morning I put on my serious-weather snowmobile suit (the temp was 16 with a wind chill below zero) and headed out once again to trace my steps and find that darn glove. That big suit is really best in sub-zero temps and it didn’t take long to work up a sweat, so I had to hike slower, and spent a good bit of time just looking around soaking it all in.
But once again I had failed - NO GLOVE! I took a few snapshots then headed back through the woods to the office. And of course - there it was - actually stuck to my tripod I’d used yesterday (they are the same color). YIPPIE!!!
One odd unrelated note - Wilson has this thing he does - he is addicted to eating snow. Sometimes he’ll just dip his head and scoop some up as he trots along. But with the snow/ice/sleet packed hard this time he has to stop and kind of dig with his mouth a little to get some of the frosty stuff. Yesterday I noticed blood on the snow - his blood. He must have some small cuts from the snow, and not wanting him to leave trails of bloody snow all over I leashed him up and returned to the cabin - he would be quarantined for most of the day (but did get out with me during my night hike last night).
They just issued another “winter snow warning” this morning until tomorrow morning. Doesn’t look like we’ll get mail service anytime soon, but I plan to have the gallery open this Saturday one way or the other - for anyone who can manage what may be a slippery road...
A note about TERRY KEEFE. We all got gut-punched a few days ago with the news that our dear friend, and OUTDOOR ARKANSAS LEGEND, Terry Keefe, was killed while trying to cross a road near his home (as his beloved wife watched in horror). I’d just spent an hour on the phone with him the evening before - he wanted me to go check out a waterfall he recently discovered - “it’s a good one” he’d told me and I know from experience he usually doesn’t sugar-coat many of these.
I first met him in 1980 as part of the HikeANation group of backpackers that were hiking across the United States. Twenty years later he went way out of his way many times to help me find and photograph a bunch of waterfalls in the Buffalo River watershed. This was well before hunting waterfalls in Arkansas was a thing, but Terry had been doing it for decades already. Our exploits led to the publication of my first ARKANSAS WATERFALLS guidebook, with one of the most beautiful apply named after him - KEEFE FALLS. It’s become a popular destination ever since with a well-worn social trail to it.
While he was known for a lot of other outdoor activities, he’s best know as a pioneer whitewater kayaker in Arkansas, being the first to explore, document, and name many of the classic whitewater runs in our great state. He also helped build the Ozark Highlands Trail, and was always been known as one of the Elders Of The Tribe of hiking in Arkansas. His lifelong partner along the way has also been a mover and shaker right there with him, and is in fact a very talented artist. The two of them since retiring a few years ago have explored many other parts of the world together - always lots of new adventures and stores to share.
Only once have I ever been able to show Keefe something he’d not already explored - a unique and obscure natural bridge. Several years ago I got a call from him and they were “in the area” I’d told him about but needed a little nudge to point in the right direction. Sure enough, within an hour they’d found it - I had no doubt.
I gotta tell ya there was something a little different during our last conversation just a few hours before he died. He wanted to make sure I would be able to find that new waterfall he’d called me twice about. I assured him it would be tops on my list to go find and would most certainly be included in the newest edition of the guidebook I’ve been working on. It’s as if he knew. Not to worry my friend - now that you are a little closer to the big water tap in the sky I’m hopeful you’ll turn it up a little bit when I go hunting for your new waterfall to make sure it’s flowing in all it’s glory!
02/02/23 Thoto is in our front yard yesterday - a large cedar tree limb finally brought down by a heavey load of ice/snow overnight (note the icy trees on the distant ridgetops - higher elevation got the most ice, as usual - we're right on that ice line so it's always a crap shoot if we get the most, and most beautiful ice/snow). Temp was 16 with a wind chill below zero.
There was a Cloudland Moment last night. The pups and I headed out late (after dinner and tv shows) for about two miles of night hiking in the snow. It was so peaceful, calm, and BEAUTIFUL wandering around. Still overcast with lots of diffused light from the 3/4 moon above - but no direct moonlight and no shadows in the forest. It’s kind of weird like this - hiking at night without a light - it is usually either REALLY DARK, or bright moonlight casting lots of shadows everywhere.
After the first mile or so of being in a zen-like state (no booze, just pure wonderfulness being in the forest!), all of a sudden the sky opened up and BRIGHT moonlight came rushing in, creating about a zillion shadows across the shadowless forest. It was a WOW moment, magical, amazing, and all that - a standard Cloudland Moment (in more ways than one since clouds made it happen - or rather them leaving did!). But like most Cloudland Moments, it didn’t last long, and soon the clouds joined up again and the second mile of the hike was shadowless, but still kind of magical...
02/03/23 The moon, snow, and stars...
02/06/23 It was late afternoon when we headed out for a short hike to Hammerschmidt Falls, which is the closest public waterfall to our cabin. Bright sunshine was continuing to melt away that last bits of snow and ice, and the air was a welcome warm for the first time in a while (two weeks maybe?). I do LOVE cool weather though, but sometimes ya just gotta soak up the warm.
The utility companies are in the process of mowing out the power pole right-of-ways, which is a GREAT thing to see since the chances of power outages due to falling trees/limbs is much reduced when they’re done. The machinery they use these days are massive and kinda threatening looking - like they could chew up an entire person as easily as a small oak tree. Several years ago they expanded the width of these right-of-ways around here by 20 feet, so when the cutting machines get done there are hugs swaths of empty forest crossing the landscape. Better than using chemicals in my opinion.
Just beyond, we came alongside the creek that feeds the big waterfall, and it was clean and clear sparkling water rolling over and jumping across moss-covered rocks. Small pools in between groups of rocks where quiet pools, and if you stood and looked just right the water turned a beautiful blue - reflecting the clear sky.
I eventually made my way around and down the social trail that leads to the bottom of the tall waterfall while my bride remained above lost in the moss and pools and warmth of the day (ever the artist, she was really working her brain, finding one painterly composition after another - taking snapshots and making mental notes - for perhaps a return trip with watercolor or pastels).
There was little snow below the big bluff, but there were piles of icicles here and there - especially at the base of the waterfall. As I slipped and slid down to the creek below the falls a few more of the ice daggers came crashing down. STAY AWAY FROM BELOW THE BLUFF EDGE I kept telling myself. On warm days like this after freezing spells the warming sunshine will loosed the ice just a tiny bit, which sends them straight down, often impalling them into the ground below. Good time to wear a hard hat I say!
The waterfall was running OK but I really wanted to find an intimate composition along the creek somewhere to practice with my little camera, and I found one nice spot a few minutes later. At the moment I don’t have a good tripod that works well with my new little camera system. My previous “perfect” tripod that I used for many years is simply too heavy for me to carry in the woods, and my smaller tripod that I’ve used the past couple of years is just too small and unstable. I finally cobbled together parts from three different tripods and wanted to see if that would work. It did, kinda, but it wasn’t a natural process for me to mount the camera, set up the composition, tweak the composition, and shoot a series of pictures, but it was a step forward, yea! (I took the same scene with both an iPhone and my real camera, shown below.)
I found a spot among some boulders where the creek poured over a ledge into a pool below, everything moving and glistening and making quiet music. I’m really not one of those persons who uses the back LCD of the camera to compose, focus, or really do much of anything with - I much prefer to have my face to the optical/electronic viewfinder for everything - somehow the scene before me and process of taking a picture are much more personal that way - it’s just me and the scene without the distraction of the rest of the world. (try it sometime - zoom into exactly what you want to take a picture of, then move in close and look through the viewfinder for a few moments, then back out and look at the LCD screen and see how much different it looks.
iPhone photo (above), normal camera photo (below) - different colors because the light was changing that fast
Anyway, I took a series of photos, lingered at the water’s edge for a little while to enjoy the moment, then packed up and headed out to find my bride - she was only about five feet from where I’d left her - an artist at work!
On the way out we stopped to converse with a trio of ducks at the edge of a small pond, and I picked up a Native American-made small tool of some point - it wasn’t an arrowhead, but could have been a small spear point, but most likely it was one of many types of little tools that were used for scraping or cutting or who knows what. We admired the craftsmanship then left it behind to perhaps return to the earth.
Not a long hike, but always a rewarding one getting to spend time in the woods with my bride!
02/07/23 Cindy told me the lowest she’d float the Buffalo River from Ponca in a kayak would be with the gauge at 3.0. Yesterday was the first chance I’ve had to float in almost three months, but the gauge was only 2.8 so a little too low. Since I really just wanted to get the boat and my feet wet I decided to go.
Bright sunshine and blue skies filled with puffy white clouds, and the temp was 60 degrees. But the river itself was the star, with that most wonderful emerald green color all the way. Winter floating is some of the very best - no bugs, snakes, or other people on the river! Although there were a couple of folks that literally walked out of the woods to stand and watch me pump up my little blow-up kayak. And for the first time ever, I actually got it to work first time (there are no less than seven air chambers in my boat).
So off I went, just for a short trip downstream two miles to Steele Creek. Within minutes I had seen a pair of wood ducks up close, a kingfisher flew right over me, and I was in a large pool of that emerald water and up against a painted limestone bluff. SO NICE to be able to reach out and touch the bluff that I’ve seen hundreds of time from a distance. Not a major bluff, but like to many things in Arkansas it’s the intimate details that make me smile.
I floated past several waterfalls that I’d documented last year running at full tilt - they of course looked differently today and mostly dry, but it all ready gave me a great perspective of how they are all lined up along the river. And then SURPRISE - a new waterfall along the same bluffline - but one not accessible from land - bluffs on either side come all the way into the river. Might get to this one when the river is low, but then there wouldn’t be any water in the fall then!
Came around the corner and through a set of rapids, then landed in a long pool of that same emerald water - only this time the bluff ahead was a giant one - Bee Bluff with it’s striking white line down the middle. I needed a picture of that scene so flipped the boat around and drifted sideways while I got out my phone camera and took a few snaps. Then as passed beneath the bluff I looked straight up and saw a giant bird in the sky - a bald eagle. For those that have kept up with this Journal for a long time, THIS was another Cloudland moment! Just amazing!
The next set of rapids and a tree across it so I had to do some quick thinking and took a shallow channel instead, and got hung up a bit (Cindy was RIGHT - needed a little more water beneath me). When I got free the river tossed me sideways into another tree and a broken branch dug into the side of my boat. That’s one of the problems with blow-up boats on rivers - getting speared by a sharp broken tree branch - YIKES!
But I realized my boat was three layers, with the outside cover being a really tough fabric - so we just bounced off and continued on downstream - yea boat!
There was a giant sycamore tree blocking almost the entire channel of the river, but I was able to scoot through the upper branches with ease - I bet this old tree will get swept off to the side with the next big rainfall (which we hope is TONIGHT and tomorrow!).
After another shallow area where I had to scoot and push off a little bit (I was too lazy to get out of the boat, and really wanted to test everything to see how the boat would perform in shallow water), I came through a set of rapids that pushed me into a calm area, almost to a stop. I looked up and realized I was staring at the full length of the mighty Roark Bluff, one of the longest and most beautiful painted bluffs on the entire river.
Kind of funny, but as the boat continued downstream a bit the far end of the bluff started to light up with late afternoon sunshine, and I knew I needed a picture - and it was as if the river knew this and wanted to push me back upstream a little bit so I could stop and do just that.
It was weird, and kind of magical at the same time - the rapids on my right, downstream on my left, and me being held in the middle at the perfect photo spot. And then something happened that’s been my life for 50 years - that beautiful light disappeared just as I was ready to take a picture! Can’t control sunshine when clouds are rolling through.
I sat there admiring the scene just waiting, but the sun never appeared, so I figured I’d just continue on. I’d only gotten maybe 100 feet downstream when the bluff lit up again, so I swung around and paddled against the current and landed back in my little still part of the river, reversed and got out my camera. Nope not this time - the sun disappeared again! And so I waited.
I’m not good at waiting, so I pushed back into the current and motored on, this time going farther downstream and getting an up-close look at the base of the big bluff, seeing so many things (like fossils and small ferns) that I’ve never been close enough to look at before. This is one of the many benefits of being in a boat instead of over on the opposite side on the bank. I followed the painted stripes of the bluff with my eyes up and up and up until I saw blue sky directly overhead - and there was another eagle - kind of hovering in place (most likely laughing at me).
Just then the big bluff lit up AGAIN! OK, Ok, I HAD to reverse and go back for one more try. I did. I sat for even longer waiting on the light. It never happened. Then I realized that since the water level was so low I could just go ahead and complete my float, then hike back up to this spot with my REAL camera (that was resting in the van at the takeout point). So off I went, this time in a hurry to finish the float and run back up to get that photo - if the sun were to reappear.
But no luck - by the time I’d pulled the boat out and packed up the sun had already sunk below the treeline and the bluffs would not longer be lit up. Oh well - mental note of location and circumstance - first chance I get with an emerald river, low water, and clear skies, I’ll be back and wade across the river to that spot and maybe get a good photo.
One last note - as I floated through the long hole below Roark Bluff my mind wandered back to the many photo workshops I used to teach there. And especially the many times one of my assistants, Angela Peace, would drag her bright RED kayak down to the water’s edge and get into the water and pose for us. So this part of the float was in honor of Angela, may she rest in peace. Then I thought about the whitewater all along the river - those were always Terry Keefe’s domain. The trails along the river where I’ve spent so much of my life I hike in memory of the great Jim Rawlins, Scott Crook, “The Wildman” Carl Ownbey, and Roy Senyard - all close friends that we’ve lost in the past several years. And, of course, the entire protected Buffalo National River itself - I think we all hike, canoe, and enjoy as a way to pay tribute to the many hundreds of volunteers who fought so long and hard to protect, but none greater than Dr. Neil Compton. So many memories, and so many more chances to ENJOY this great place!