Saturday, January 25, 2014

Idaho Trout Country

Grangeville, Idaho, lies on the western edge of the Bitterroot Range.  I had barely heard of the town before I arrived the evening I painted the apple tree, much less expected to spend two nights there.

Ms Garmin II lead me to a “mom and pop” motel located off the main road through town.  The owner, a very serious immigrant from India who had migrated to Grangeville to buy the motel doesn’t like northern Idaho winters.  Judging from his lack of smiles -- just one briefly cracked his perpetual frown -- I suspect that wasn’t all he dislikes. However the motel was clean and quiet with a firm mattress.  And, it was cheap.  What more could I have wanted -- except maybe some smiles from the proprietor?

                  My first glimpse into the South Fork of the Clearwater drainage in Nez Perce National Forest

In contrast I had not anticipated being so enchanted with the rivers flowing west out of the Bitterroot range.  Memories of my middle school and early high school years, exploring Utah trout streams filled my head.  Ahh, another direction to go with my plein air paintings -- depict images speaking to those memories.  

             Down by the river, I could only imagine how many cutthroat swam within just this reach of the Clearwater.

Another bonus -- following US 12 along the Clearwater River, I was hot on the trail of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. These explorers had floated down the Clearwater in dugout canoes to it’s junction with the Snake River.  That led them to the Columbia River and eventually the Pacific Ocean.  I can barely imagine what their route looked like before the dams, the pulp mills, clearcuts, farms and cities. 

Maybe I had glimpses of their feelings along the South Fork of the Clearwater River which I followed on a narrow road leading to Elk City, Idaho.  With deep pools, room-sized boulders (OK, maybe a small bathroom-sized) deflecting the relentless force of the water, beckoning evergreen forests lining the banks, it almost felt like a wilderness bisected by a narrow winding highway often crowding it’s banks.  Surely the river held plenty of cutthroat trout behind every rock, in every riffle -- eager to nab a dry fly drifted over their lairs.  However, I was surprised to see only one father/son duo fishing over miles and miles of alluring waters.  Sixty years ago that could have been me with my dad.

South Fork   9 x 12 inches   Alkyd of Raymar Panel  I couldn't wait to set up my easel along the South Fork.  I kept expecting to see trout rising to hatching insects while I painted, but alas...

Now, my objective has morphed from catching and eating those cold-water fish to my new-found quest -- capturing the feeling of the waters they inhabit with my paints -- all the while imagining what trophy-sized trout lay just below the glimmering surface I was painting.

Near the head of the South Fork lies the community of Elk City, a town I now wish I had stayed in my second night in the area. 

Idaho Back Road   9 x 12 inches  Alkyd on Raymar Panel  Instead of spending the night in Elk City, and with the Clearwater now enveloped in shadows, I opted for a fast painting capturing the last light on a pull out, another painting for my American back roads series.

Ruby Creek Crossing   9 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Raymar Panel  Up another drainage into the Clearwater I followed a rough road (Karen would have suggested it was not a wise decision) to where it forded Ruby Creek.  There, knowing I was alone in the world and totally immersed in my painting, a branch snapped close behind me.  Chills raced up my spine.  I was not alone.   I turned expecting to see a bear but, whew, it was only my latest fan -- a cow.

Meanwhile, Karen, always on my mind was over in Iowa savoring the mid-western sun, reliving memories and photographing her own quarry.  She's always somewhat envious of the variety of birds that frequent the forest around her cousin, Connies' home.

                                                                               Red-bellied Woodpecker

                                                                            White-breasted Nuthatch

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Apple Tree

A detour for a closed road out of Nez Perce, Idaho sent me east towards Grangeville.  That wasn’t on my moment by moment itinerary, but apparently was my destiny -- a destiny that lead me to the apple tree.

The lonely road between Nez Perce and Grangelville, Idaho -- my favorite kind of route during cross-country trips.  They may not be the most direct or fastest routes, but what they lack in efficiency, they more than make up for in interest.

Working farms/ranches laid out in artistic geometric patterns dominated the passing scene along route 162 until a “blemish” on the landscape -- an abandoned homestead -- caught my eye.  Ah ha -- a painting subject!  Abandoned buildings beckon me like a scone at Mimi’s Bakery so a U-turn in the middle of the lonely highway set me on a course down the overgrown “driveway.”   Alas, so much brush and trees enveloped the old home site, that I would have needed a chain saw to bring the building into paintable view.  I passed.

                                                 The "road" to the remnants of the history of a bygone era.

As every plein air artist knows, when seeking out a subject one needs to turn one's head -- your subject may lie in your rear view “mirror.”  Sure enough returning towards the highway, several abandoned apple trees adorned with ripe fruit beckoned.  My mind drifted to Petersburg artist, Pia Reilly and her endless depiction's of trees -- creativity pouring out of her watercolor brushes with every stroke.   After “borrowing” one green apple that I figured was unlikely to find a more appreciative “audience,” and with a future studio abstraction in mind, I set to work with my paints.

                                               Abandoned   9 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Raymar Panel

Meanwhile, Karen found herself reconnecting with her cousin Connie Mutel and her husband, Bob, in Solon, Iowa.  For Karen, the Mutel’s house located in an extensive woodlot, is like a second home -- a place where she can commune with the Iowa landscape and savor a temperate climate so much more pastoral than our Alaska home. 

                       Karen savored many hikes with her cousin throughout the rolling hills of eastern Iowa.

Karen thrives on a favorite routine during visits with the Mutels -- a meal of farm-fresh organic produce and an evening game such as Chinese Checkers. 

                                                  Cousin Connie's self portrait with Karen (left in the photo).

One discovery for Karen and Connie was a giant puffball, an edible mushroom that the Mutel's dog, Sandy, would like Karen to throw for a game of retrieve.  I didn't see it on the table several photos above so, could Sandy possibly have had her dream fulfilled?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Palouse

The free four-day car wash in western Washington set me on a quest to find a drier climate for my two-week plein air painting odyssey.  Waiting out the big soaker in Packwood, "please come to Washington" magazines all  featured sunny, brightly colored images of the Palouse Hills.  While the photos were obviously taken in the spring or summer, surely autumn would have it's own enticing color scheme.

                                               View from the Colfax, Washington cemetery. 

With destination set, I motored east.  Now, one thing the magazines failed to note is that all crops in the Palouse are artistically created equal after they have been harvested.  Each field of stubble was a Naples yellow hue with a bit of burnt sienna added at the edges of the day -- unless the farmers had plowed their stubble under, thus turning them into a uniform Van Dyke brown -- which they all seemed to be in the process of doing.  The saving grace was shadows of which the rolling sea of hills, like a sandless Sahara -- abounded in -- complimentary hued shadows accented with scattered farm houses and barns, usually shaded with a handful of trees.  

 I was drawn to morning shadows accentuating the rolling hills when I painted  After the Harvest  in plein air:  9 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Raymar Panel

Another bonus, it turned out, is the attitude of the local inhabitants.  Being used to seeing barbed-wire fences and "don't you dare tread on my land signs" in so much of our country, it was quite a shock to see the scarcity of both.  And even when there were signs, most only featured the words, "No Hunting."  I figured that didn't refer to artists hunting for painting subjects.  Another added feature was the cleanliness of the countryside.  Where had all the litterers gone?  I had begun to think that litter was as ubiquitous in America as McDonald's and Walmart.

So, with two weeks to just follow my whims, I followed the lead of the trappers and prospectors who explored the west.  Here's a road, I wonder where it goes?  It would driven Karen nuts, but she was off visiting her cousin in Iowa, so...

       View from the Colfax, Washington cemetery during one of my side trips back to Palouse, Washington.

One such road lead to the town of Palouse, Washington, where I made one of the most significant discoveries of the trip -- Mimi’s Bakery.  Now, one difference when I’m not traveling with Karen is the lack of my external conscience warning me of the pitfalls of over indulgence.  So, on my pass down the several block long Palouse main street (that’s the size town I like), I spotted a small sign with an arrow pointing down a side street -- Mimi’s Bakery. 

Oh my, what Mimi’s lacked for in size it made up for in quality.  I ordered a scone which was probably a mistake because I like and often order scones.  Now the bar has been set so high I fear I’ll forever be disappointed unless I make Palouse a regular side trip during future road trips.  I even made a second detour through Palouse
a few days later, just to buy another scone with yet another one for the next day.

The Palouse country seemed prime for my abstraction style genre so I wandered a lot and painted a few subjects as fodder for potential abstracted pieces.  However,  a sortie further east into forested land told me I would need more time to develop a niche as a farmers artist.  That said, one farmer spotted me as I was wrapping up one piece.  For the record, I'm shy about painting where I can be discovered, but this time I got caught.  The result -- he bought it on the spot.

Autumn in the Palouse is my first plein air painting in Idaho.  At one point I thought an exciting project would be to complete a plein air painting in every state.  Upon a bit more rational reconsideration I narrowed it down to every state west of and including the Rockies.  Only Arizona, Wyoming, oops, and Hawaii, remain.   9 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Raymar Panel.

The colorful photos that lured me to the Palouse were taken from the top of Steptoe Butte where a narrow road -- a poor choice for those with acrophobia -- winds to the top.  That had been my goal from the moment I focused on the Palouse Hills.   However, on top of the Butte I ran into a retired logger who saw our Alaska license plates and wandered over for a chat.  It turned out he had logged in Kake, a village near Petersburg that hardly anyone seems to have even heard of.  Ultimately he asked if I would mind if he watched me paint.  "Of course not." I responded verbally while freezing up internally.  After a frustrating struggle until he departed, I wiped my canvas clean and snapped a few photos.  Maybe this one will work best as a studio piece,

Rolling Hills Above the Clearwater   9 x 12 inches  Alkyd on Raymar Panel   From the route I took it seemed the gateway to the Palouse was a steep winding drive out of the Lewiston, Idaho/Clarkson, Washington metropolitan area.  Oh my, what a beauty, although places to pull off the 4-lane highway were less than abundant.  However, all I needed was one, so I savored the kind of experience that makes plein air painting so attractive -- warm sun, no wind, and an inspiring vista.  What a spot to indulge in my last Mimi's scone.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year

It’s that season when it seems every radio program (we don’t have TV) is streaming programs summarizing news highlights of the past year.  It’s a good time since so much energy devoted to past events must mean that not much that is newsworthy is happening during this season.  It makes us wish we were celebrating New Years Day every day.-- that people from all cultures, religious denominations, ethnicities and political persuasions could follow Jesus’ message to simply love one another.  Imagine how different our daily feed of news would differ with that one change.  Toss in being good stewards of God's creation and imagine the new world order.

Not wanting to break with the trend, this seems like a good time to begin 2014 with some of our highlights of 2013 as "spoken" through a few of our photos. 

 2013 was the year of the squirrel around here -- a family of them in the attic -- followed by hours of entertainment by these acrobatic rodents on our deck (AFTER the attic eviction).

We had far fewer Sitka Black-tailed Deer around our house in 2013, so Karen ventured around our neighborhood to capture images of these rather tame neighbors.

2013 may well be remembered as the year of the whale in Petersburg.  Karen took this photo of a breaching humpback whale from the shoreline right here in town.

Another humpback, this one a salmon, also known as pink salmon, seemed to invade streams around our island -- again in numbers we've never seen before.

Our daughter, Tamia, becames Mrs. Cash Philo in July at a ceremony in Hatcher Pass officiated by her other dad, Ken Fallon.

True to form, Tamia had to try a little fishing on her way between the wedding ceremony and the reception.

Former college roommate Karl Schneider and his wife, Mary, visited us and lured us out for several outings -- here at Shakes Lake, up the Stikine River.

A side tributary into Shakes Lake proved to be one highlight of that trip with Karl and Mary.  Here Karen photographs something -- maybe flowers, maybe the roaring falls above her.

Another excursion with Karl and Mary led us to Anan Creek to see the brown and black bears catching and feeding on salmon.

An autumn road trip took us to Washington's Olympic Peninsula where Karen (pictured here at Ruby Beach) filled our car with wonderfully colored and shaped rocks.

Another highlight of our road trip was Cape Meares, Oregon, where we were joined by our daughter Mandy and her, Mike -- oh, and Gigi -- for a week of daily sorties to savor the thunder of incoming surf.

And so, as 2013 slides into 2014 our prayer is that you all have good health, happiness and find Peace in our often crazy world.  Dream big and may all of your dreams come to fruition.