Cloudland Cabin Deck Cam, 4/30/05, Haley Zega with her dad, Steve
It was four years ago this weekend that a little girl got lost in the wilderness near Cloudland. More than 1,000 volunteers from 80 organizations including the National Guard and State Police searched for her for three days and two nights. While her parents and close friends held up at the Cloudland cabin and tried to cope, Haley made her way through the vast wilderness with nothing but a t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes - no food or water or shelter. After the largest search mission in Arkansas history, Haley was found alive and unhurt several miles away from where she first got lost. It was an incredible story of human spirit and will to survive, but also of the remarkable gift of love that so many gave to her. Haley visited Cloudland today - as she does every year - and made a log trek with her parents down into the lush wilderness that swallowed her up four years ago. She is ten now, and remains a bright and happy young lady. Her dad, Steve, recently came home after a year in Iraq. It was good to have them both safe and sound at Cloudland!
CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL, updated 4/29/05, A lovely pair of magnolia ladies....
The April Print of the Month
4/24/05 Well, I thought I could put away the long underwear, but not so fast. It was in the 30's this morning when a bright yellow sun rose into a clear blue sky. I was out the door soon after with camera pack and tripod, heading out into the forest to check on the progress of some yellow lady slipper orchids for a neighbor. The morning air was filled with the music of happy birds, and not much else - clear, clean, squeaky-clean fresh air was the order of the day. I guess the cold front that had passed through scrubbed all the haze out of if. From the cabin, the mountains all around looked to be much closer than normal - like you could reach right on out and touch them.
As I hiked across the East meadow I heard a soft crunching sound - crunch, crunch, crunch. But it stopped when I did. Hum, must be FROST underfoot! And yes it was. I knew in an instant where I had to get to, and that I had to get there fast - the wild strawberry patch! The sun was just then beginning to splash onto the open meadow where the strawberries were, and within seconds many of the frosted leaves and flowers began to melt - I had to locate an interesting composition and get set up and take some photos quickly or the frosty scene would vanish.
Sometimes it is tough to see the delicate frost patterns on these leaves and flowers from eye level on a human, and I had to do several things all at the same time to try to locate a good scene - I had to get down really LOW, literally on my hands an knees, then bend down even farther, while at the same time moving around and trying not to disturb anything - one little touch on a flower or leaf and the frost would be messed up. Most of the flowers were turned downward, away from the invading ice - none of those would work. Others were pointing skyward but had already been touched by the sun and were melting. So I had to find a flower that was still in shade - tough to do on a flat open meadow - and also looking upward or at least on the level.
I found one great flower and leaf combination that were covered with frost, dug out my camera and long macro lens and set up and fired away. On about the 20th frame I noticed that the flower was not complete - it only had four petals instead of five. Drats - I wanted a full flower! The sun continued to rise at a blistering pace, melting my frosted strawberries away.
I found another good shot, this one with all petals, but when I returned to the spot where I thought it was, I could not find it! Another scene was located, but Lucy, bless her heart, romped right on through it! OK dogs, SIT, STAY!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tough to keep these guys from flying all across the meadow in constant motion, but somehow they both immediately realized the gravity of the situation, and both took up seats nearby and patiently watched.
Found another flower, and I marked this one with my pop-up diffuser. Click, click, click, click. Got that one. It was a good one. It would work just fine thank you....
I sat back in the meadow and realized that while I only had on a thin shirt and sweatshirt and was sweating like crazy - I tend to get excited with a really neat scene is before me!
I hiked on through a new forest coming alive with spring - leaves about half grown now and proud to be coming out and beaming in the bright sunshine under that incredible blue sky above. Long the path were dozens and dozens of wild crested iris, about 30% of them up and in bloom. Some were nearly pale as my behind, while others were deep blue and purple. I do believe that all wildflowers are bursting out with joy at a record rate this year.
OK on over towards the pond where the dogwood stands right at the water's edge. If only I could keep the dogs from taking a dip and ruining the reflection. I was a little too late for the perfect scene at the pond, as the sun had already risen high enough to light up the trees, but that was OK - it looked pretty nice to me so I set up my tripod and fired away. Sit Aspen. Sit Lucy. No swimming for now please. Good dogs.
I packed the camera gear up and headed on down a steep slope towards the lady slipper flowers that I was supposed to check on for Kenny Woods. Lots of umbrella magnolia trees in this area, but none of them were in bloom. Just as I was approaching the area where the lady slippers were, Lucy began to bark - was there a bear just out of his den up ahead? Nope, it was another photographer out bright and early to hunt for flowers too. He had been to the lady slippers and reported that they were not quite open yet - perhaps another week. We walked on back a ways and I showed him a patch of showy orchids that were not quite open yet either, but had actually spread from the past couple of years. We both set up and made a few exposures - looks like these flowers are going to be really nice this year, like all the rest - I will return again in another week or so.
The temp seemed to rise with each step I took back up the steep hill and then across the meadow and through the woods back to the cabin. My bride had already left to head into town for a 15-mile training walk today on pavement, then she is headed up into Missouri to pick up Amber. I will have the entire cabin to myself today - and I have just decided that after I process a few of the images from this morning, and write in this Journal, and clean up and put away all the mess from our workshop here yesterday (this includes disposing all of the left-over BBQ and chocolate chip cookies!), and answer a few e-mails, THEN I plan to take a NAP - it has been weeks and weeks since I have taken a genuine nap, and today is the day. I expect I'll venture out into the gorgeous spring day later this afternoon in search of a few more photos to take.
4/25/05 Getting late in the afternoon today and while we had some pretty mean looking clouds this morning, nothing here but a little wind and a few sprinkles. I did get out yesterday evening and spent a couple of hours looking at and photographing some pawpaw blooms and dogwood close up shots. The wind was a problem though so most of my time was spent standing there with the camera on the tripod and the cable release in my hand just waiting for the wind to stop. Not a bad way to spend the evening, out there with all the dogwoods waving in the breezes.
Benny told me about a red tailed hawk nest near Bob's cabin, so I went to take a look. Sure enough, within sight of Bob's cabin there is a nest about 60 feet up in a big old shagbark hickory tree. Momma was sitting on the nest and immediately got up and flew to the next tree when I appeared. She quickly returned to the nest and didn't pay too much attention to me after that. It was really difficult to see this bird, and no way to see anything in the nest, since they were so high up in the tree. Pretty large hawk, pretty small nest.
Early this morning as a little bit of daylight began to creep into the forest I could see that everything was DEAD STILL outside, so I got my gear together and slipped out the door and headed back over to my favorite group of dogwood trees. It was still dim light when I arrived, but I set up and started shooting anyway. I spent another hour there and the wind was calm the entire time - I can NEVER get enough of dogwood blossoms! There were some strange clouds overhead and it looked like it might start snowing any moment, although the temp was in the upper 40's. It remained calm and dry.
I went on back over to the pawpaw patch (under momma hawk once again) and took a few more photos of them. The ones I shot yesterday with the sun shining looked like I had used a flash - I never use a flash, only natural light. So I got a few more images. Also found some Ohio buckeye trees blooming nearby by and got a few images of them. These were not the bright red ones, but rather just the plain old ones, but they look kind of weird here in the Ozarks with all the other trees.
My plans were only to stay gone a half hour then back to the cabin to get to work, but the light was just so gorgeous I continued to shoot, and then decided to move onto yet another area and see what I could find. Right off the bat I came to a really dark wild iris so got down on my hands and knees and shot a few images of it.
There were umbrella magnolia trees all around, and some of them were blooming, but I could not find a bloom close enough to the ground for a shot. Looked like this next week or two will be great for them. I visited the yellow lady slippers and found the yellow "boats" were out but still tucked away and not really showing yet - still another few days to a week on those.
YELLOW LADY SLIPPER ALERT: There are places in the Ouachitas that have batches of 50-100 of these flowers growing and blooming in the same spot - if anyone knows where I can find one of these patches please let me know. They should be in bloom down there right now, and so I need to get with the program if I am go get a shot of them. Thanks in advance....
I decided to continue my trek into the woods and bushwhacked on down the slope and to the edge of Roberts Falls. There was an azalea bush just starting to bloom there - that means this next week or two will be quite colorful in the azalea patches! Also lots of magnolia trees around, but none of them were in bloom yet, so I turned around and hiked on back up the creekbed.
It was a fine little hike back out, with the forest remaining to still and lush. The air was so clean and clear from the cold front. A number of woodpeckers were going about their business and filling the wilderness with their drumming. Man it sounded like they were pounding on some pretty solid wood! I hiked on up and around for another 30 minutes and never stopped again to take a photo, then headed on back to the cabin to get to my real job. Thank goodness my bride was already several hours into the work day and got a lot of my chores completed for me!
4/28/05 It is late night here now, dead still outdoors, with plenty of fireworks going off down south that we can see from the back deck. My lovely bride and I just spent a good bit of time in the swing on the back deck watching and listening and taking it all in. It is rather warm tonight - upper 60's.
Just before dark I went out to take a shower under the dogwood trees and was met with a sight that was both happy and sad - the entire floor of the shower deck was covered with white dogwood blossoms that had been blown off by the powerful storms that blew through last night. So sad to see them come off and the incredible dogwood display around the shower end for this year. It has been quite delightful being out there under cover of all those pure white blossoms, looking up at the sunshine spilling in through them from the blue sky above. But now, I got to walk on a carpet of them and it was a rare treat - we seem to have so many treats out here in the wilderness these days.
Just before my shower I was out wondering around in the evening light - actually I was simply returning to the cabin from working up at the warehouse for a while and took a little detour out into the main woods - that is easy to do around here, take a detour. The forest is showing it absolutely finest dress right now, with all that beautiful bright green new growth everywhere. The sights and sounds and smells of the woods shout out SPRING IS HERE! It had already gotten a little dark in the forest, however there was brilliant light coming from up above, over there in the east - I could just see thorough the upper canopy of the tall trees - giant thunderheads building in the heat of the afternoon, and catching the rays of golden sunshine. It was quite a sight, although I could not see an entire thunderhead at once through the trees.
Speaking of clouds, my oh my did we have some BLACK ones this morning! Long after Pam had taken Amber to the bus and returned to the cabin and did a few chores and ate breakfast it was still coal black outside - the sun had risen an hour before, yet it was dark as night, save for a thin opening way down to the south. Very eerie looking and feeling. But actually all the storms had already passed through, shaking and booming the world along the way. We got about an inch of rain out of it, but that was all - just enough to settle the dust and give everyone a good drink - that is what is happening now - the new vegetation is sucking up every precious drop that falls, and not much is left over to produce waterfalls. But the ground should be a little bit saturated now, and if we get some good rain tonight, we just might have some good waterfalls this weekend. We never got another drop of rain even though the sky was black at 8am.
I don't remember if I posted the infrared dogwood photos or not - guess I will just have to go look and see. But if not, I will post them here. I spent a couple of hours yesterday morning out wandering around, first down on my belly and up close and personal with one of the thousands of mayapple blossoms that are popping out now. Then across the wide open meadows that had just a hint of front on them - it was about 39 degrees back at the cabin at first light. Then on down into the woods and to the pond where I hoped to get that great reflection of the dogwood trees along the bank of the pond. Turned out I was too early for the best reflection, so I moved on, back to another meadow where the very best dogwoods grow.
By the time I had arrived the sun had already beat me and those gorgeous blossoms were all lit up - very harsh light on a delicate subject. But I had my trusty infrared camera with me, so I set up a shot and spent a good bit of time shooting with that unique camera. The views that I wanted to get were all of low branches, and I wanted the sky behind the blossoms because I wanted a black background - pure blue sky will turn black with infrared. I won't go into all the details, but suffice it to say I spent a good bit of time flat on my back, on my knees, and often halfway in between trying to get just the right angle and view looking up. Most of those shots would have been impossible if not for the special attachment that I had in my camera bag that allowed me to look through the camera while at very odd angles to it. This meadow below the dogwoods was carpeted with tall, wet, GREEN grass, and I sure did my best to grind that grass right on into my jeans and shirt. My mom thought I was an impossible child with how dirty I got my clothes, just look at me NOW!
Once I finished up with the dogwoods I returned to the pond reflection but the wind was blowing so hard I never got a single photo - you kind of need calm winds for reflections! But I was happy to have spent a couple hours out working in the early morning light and was happy as a clam as I strolled on back towards the cabin.
Today was the day - after nearly two years - that the big shots in Washington D.C. announced to the world that Arkansas was the home to the "extinct" ivory-billed woodpecker. That has turned out to be one of the greatest scientific finds of the century, even though it is not a very old century it remains very significant. I have a feeling now that some of those places in lower Arkansas are going to be swamped with folks wanting to see this giant wonder in the swamps. Way to go mr. woodpecker!
The Nature Conservancy will be back in the news again this weekend as they will formerly dedicate the Smith Creek Property - that is one of the new scenic areas where I have been going to photograph this winter and spring - some really terrific stuff in there that I will continue to share with you.
The official "artist in residence" for the Buffalo National River came by the cabin today to visit with Pam - Judy Maurer. I did not realize how big a deal this honored position really was - they went through 9,000 applications to pick the artists that reside for several weeks at a time in our national parks - it is quite an honor for us to know Judy - she is a great talent. While she has really been enjoying her stay at Buffalo River, it sounds like the hole they put her up in could use a little bit of fixing up - it is a rodent-infested room up above the old stable at Steele Creek. I guess the park service expects true artists to be OK with such a place! Anyway, it was great to see her and I know she is getting some wonderful work done (she lives in northwest Arkansas so many of you will be able to view her paintings before too long I bet).
The wildflowers down in Mom's meadow are busting out all over and soon it will be covered with them. The first and second and perhaps even third wave of wildflowers are here in the Ozarks now - iris, spider worts, and the orchids, plus a daisy or two beginning to pop out. I even saw a great crop of wood betony the other day - very unique flowers, and this year they seem to really be RED! And while I have seen but not photographed the wild azaleas this year, I got an order for a print today for my favorite azalea photo. I absolutely love all of this digital stuff - this photo was shot on film several years ago, and when the order came in via the online store, I reached over and found the original color transparency, fired up our big Nikon 9000 scanner, made a high-res scan of the slide, then brought it up in the computer and optimized the digital file until it looked just like the original (didn't take too much work - once you get a scanner like this one set up you can produce some amazing results right out of the box), then sent the file to the printer, and within an hour of getting the online order, I had a beautiful archival color print in my hands, as good as and even better than anything we could have ever produced before! Anyway, I love this photo, so wanted to share it with you. It was taken over in Hawk Hollow - some great azalea stands over there, and I must go pay a visit sometime soon...
And for any of you who read the OHTA newsletter, it is no online - we spent a good bit of yesterday and today working on it and finally got it sent off to the printers. I still have to tweak a few things online, but most of it is there.....
4/29/05 It is about 10pm here and I just got out of the shower. Not a big deal for most folks, but each shower is an experience here, especially when you are out under the dogwood tree and the temp is about 40 degrees! YIKES it was chilly this evening! Actually the crisp air feels just terrific - very much like a fall evening. It is also quite damp outside - we had a bit of rain during the day, more of heavy mist really - only about an inch fell last night, and less than a quarter inch all day today. And goodness the landscape just took every drop and sucked it up - the rivers actually are LOWER today then they were before the rains.
After a few hours of work this morning I just couldn't stand how beautiful it was outside - lots of clouds and mist and fog swirling around and all that wonderful spring green - so I snuck out the back door with my camera pack and headed to the woods (not sure why I needed to sneak out - my bride was in town all day doing workshop-prep chores, and no one here but me!). I came face to face with a wild critter that nearly scared the pants off me only five mi
Not sure who saw who first, but as I was making my way carefully down a very steep, wet, and slippery slope in the deep woods, I happened to catch a flash of movement, and then there she was, and we both froze. Not sure how long it was, but both of us stared deep into our souls and right on out the back of our heads for a good long while (probably only two or three seconds, but you know). I could feel my heart racing, my blood reached a fever pitch in an instant. Not sure if I wet my pants or not, but in an instant the loudest and most startling sound in the woods happened about twenty feet in front of me - the turkey hen got up and took to the air, looking sort of like an HC 130 air force cargo plane in the process. That was fun. I went on over and examined the eggs - they were huge, and would serve about a dozen Grand Slam breakfasts at Dennys. She laid them right at the base of a towering pine tree, and she had a good view of the countryside down below. But the brush was so thick, she really didn't see me until I was quite close, although I'm sure she heard me about a half mile away.
I landed on the bottom of the drainage and began to follow the creek downstream. At first I was a little surprised that the water level was so low - especially after the rains we have had this week. But since the vegetation is really getting into full swing right now, it does make sense that the forest drinks up billions and billions of gallons of more water a day than it did just a couple of weeks ago. No thundering waterfalls today, but no matter - I was out roaming free in the wild wilderness with camera in tow and some quite lovely light to work with.
Almost immediately I saw a bright white magnolia blossom a long way off. It took me several minutes to work my way over to it. One thing about these large blossoms is that they typically are way on up in the umbrella magnolia tree and nearly impossible to photograph. This tree was growing right in the bottom of the drainage right next to the creek, but I was able to get access out on a ledge about half way up the bluffline - and some of the limbs of the magnolia tree were growing right on top of that ledge. The blossom that I had seen from afar was about two feet from the edge of the ledge, and right out in front of me - a perfect viewpoint!
It was very wet in there - more like a jungle than just a simple forest. I had to put up my umbrella on my tripod in order to keep the camera form getting wet from drippings from above. Yup, I needed an umbrella to photograph an umbrella blossom. I spent about an hour in this one spot working with two different blossoms - there were six or eight right there in close. One problem that I had was that I kept rubbing up against some of the giant leaves or the limbs of the tree that were right on top of the ledge - and that in turn moved the blossom, so I would have to wait a few moments for the entire tree to calm down again. It was quite a place to be "working" on such a beautiful day - high cliffs both in front of and behind me, the creek rushing down below - well, actually it was more like just barely moving on, but there was a small waterfall so the music was pretty good.
OK, got my magnolia shot for the day, time to move on.
As I made my way along the far end of that ledge I looked over and saw another magnolia tree - this one tall and curvy and backlit up against a black bluff - I knew there was a photo in that scene somewhere, but I wasn't sure I could get to a spot where I could photograph it. I descended into the floor of the canyon and up the other side and found myself in a magical wonderland of green moss-covered boulders, ferns, magnolia trees, and all sorts of lush things. And the light was just, well, incredible. AND the wind wasn't blowing! Hot dam!
I had to make my way up on top of one of those very large boulders, and then balance myself with the camera and tripod almost in my lap in order to frame the trees the way I wanted to. I just sat there and shot frame after frame after frame, pausing to look into the camera and see exactly what it looked like again. I know the photo here will not even begin to show you how the light looked and FELT, but it was extraordinary.
And then it began to rain, just as I was exploring underneath the big bluff overhang. I didn't mind the rain at all, besides, I had Jack-in-the-pulpits to look at. The floor under the overhang was lush and carped with ferns and these unique flowers - and they are very difficult to photograph because they are so thick and the "Jack" is hidden under the leaf flap. I ended up laying down on my side with the camera on the tripod nearly flat on the ground in order to get this view. And I used a little diffuser to bounce some of that gorgeous light up under that flap to highlight the "Jack" (I know there is a proper name for it, but what the heck, it is very late).
The rains let up and I moved on, continuing to make my way downstream through a real boulder city - giant boulders of all shapes and sizes had rolled off of the big bluffs above and were strewn all along this creekbed. Parts of it reminded me of the new Smith Creek property that is being dedicated tomorrow, although this section seemed longer, and was much more lush - i.e. sometimes more difficult to photograph because there is just so MUCH stuff!
OK, I know I am getting a little long in the tooth - I'll be 50 in a couple of weeks - but here is an example to show you that my brainwaves are still working just fine thank you, and are able to process information quickly. I was making my way along the top edge of some rocks when my foot slipped out from under me and I went down. In the split second in between losing my balance and hitting the rock, I processed the visual info that told me yes, I would fall down pretty hard and would indeed not be able to stop myself until I reached the bottom; and also that I most likely would not die because of it so that I might as well make the best of it and enjoy the ride down. Then BOOM, I hit the ground with all fours and slid spread eagle all the way on down the flat face of this giant boulder - it took me down perhaps 15-20 feet before my feet hit solid ground. Felt really out of control of the situation, but I knew the ground would come soon.
And just about the time I was ready to turn around and start to make my way back to the truck, I happened upon three yellow lady slipper orchids. These guys are pretty rare up here in the Ozarks, and while I know where a number of patches and individuals are, it is very rare these days to come upon a new flower quite by accident. These guys were growing on a very steep side slope just above the creek, surrounded by ferns and all sorts of lush vegetation. I set up my tripod with two of the legs point UP and the third pointing down, and I was once again on my side looking through the camera to get a photo.
OK, I had run completely out of time and really needed to head back, so I stuck off straight up the hillside until I came to the base of this massive and highly decorated sandstone bluff. Seemed like every few steps I took along it I came upon a nice scene that I needed to photograph - but I was out of time and HAD to get moving! I have spent a lot of time these past 30 years of my photo career training myself to look for and recognize interesting items instantly as I moved quickly through the forest. But on this trip out I had to keep myself from looking around too much!
I did stop and photograph an unusual rock formation on the side of the cliff, and then this TREE came into view - a young beech tree growing up at the base of the bluff. I don't know what it was, but this guy literally stopped me in my tracks. The darn thing was just standing there glowing, and I believe smiling as well. I just had to stop. And so I did. I used four different lenses and still don't think I really captured the personality and sense of the tree. Once again, the web photo is dismal compared to the real thing, but here is a shot of the entire tree and part of the bluff.
OK, enough already! That would be my last photo. It took me about 45 minutes of touch climbing to make it back to the truck. Not much time in the wilderness today, but well worth the effort.