Thursday, February 20, 2014


I'm convinced I have a Guardian Angel.  I don't know where the Church stands on the existence of Guardian Angels, but with all the people that crowd this earth -- sending so many petitions to God -- I figure He must delegate.  Over the years I feel my Angel has guided me safely through many a situation that could have come out more than a little messy.

This white tail deer must also have a Guardian Angel in that it was more interested in a "lady friend" than me and bow and arrow deer hunting season was open.  Fortunately for him he had only come across a wandering plein air painter.

I encountered such an occasion during our fall road trip -- the day I drove from Plains, Montana to Sand Point, Idaho.  Idyllic plein air painting weather gave way to clouds and occasional drizzle throughout the day so, after one painting, I mostly explored and snapped a few photos.  As the day was about to be retired into the annals of history,  I could see the first rays of sun slice across distant mountainsides.  Ahead I could see a curve sparkling in that golden glow.

Let me digress.  Over just shy of 100,000 miles on the odometer, our 2001 Mazda Tribute's windshield has been struck by too many rocks and pitted by driving through blasts of windblown sand.  Then, heading south in British Columbia earlier in this odyssey, an 18-wheeler passed, liquid pouring from the rear of it's trailer and shloshing across our windshield,  I theorized his strange cargo consisted of melting ice although that seemed a bit odd in this age of the refrigerator.   Not so!  When I flicked on our wipers, the window just streaked with a bluish haze.  I added a squirt of windshield washer fluid.  It streaked.  Eventually I tried detergent.  It streaked although the window looked clear when dry.

Now, almost a month later, I braked before approaching that curve where a sun shower added itself to the mix.  As I hit the corner, the setting sun sat directly over the hood of our car.  I had a windshield covered with microscopic pits as well as larger rock strikes all reflecting the orb like a nest of prisms.  I had prisms from the raindrops. 
I reflexively turned on the wipers to add the blue haze of the streaked windshield.

The result -- all I could see was a sheet of white directly in front of the car.  I could barely make out the hood and nothing beyond.  Meanwhile the road was curving sharply to the left and another driver tailgated me by half a car length -- maybe less.  Another car whizzed past in the opposite direction splashing more water in my face.  I never saw it until it was directly alongside of me.

Have you ever tried to steer a car around a bend looking at the center line through the side window.  That's what my Guardian Angel did.  Had a police car seen "us" weaving around that corner, "we" would have been pulled over as suspected drunk drivers

And then we were back in shadow, shaken and uttering prayers of thanks.  The car on my tail flew past and it was on to Sand Point.  That was the last I saw of the sun that day.  I didn't complain.

                                 I failed to see even a single ray of sun that day -- until that sun-bathed corner.

Meanwhile Karen was still at Northern Wisconsin's Four Mile Lake where she and her cousin, Connie Mutel, were reliving favorite memories.

One favorite for both of them is Vanishing Lake, actually more of a pond that is slowly diminishing in size as the surrounding bog crowds ever closer.  Brush and even trees along the edges grow on a floating mat.

Karen and Connie have hiked around Vanishing Lake so many times that I think they've worn their personal grove in the trail

                                      Well aged planks over a wetland portion of the Vanishing Lake Trail.

Of course Karen's brother, Peter Groth, had to take the girls for boat rides on Four Mile Lake as well as adjoining lakes in the Chain of Lakes.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Down the Clark Fork

My original road trip “sort of” destination was Glacier National Park or maybe even Yellowstone -- where any plein air paintings might interest somebody.  However, that was before the 2013 government shutdown.  Ultimately, I figure Congress had my welfare in mind since it gave me the chance to discover places like the South Fork of the Clearwater and Mr. Zoom’s bridge.  So, abandoning thoughts of sneaking into Glacier or Yellowstone Parks, I continued my “explore.”  What would I  find along Montana State Highway 200 paralleling the Clark Fork?

If Lewis and Clark had rear view mirrors on their canoes they might have witnessed a scene much like this along the Clark Fork.

The Clark Fork, eventually leads to the Columbia River, albeit a longer route than the Clearwater River which Lewis and Clark floated down.  I wonder why they didn’t stick with the Clark Fork instead of dragging all their pots and pans and spare socks over a pass to the Clearwater.  First, it is named after Meriwether Clark, himself, and second,  following that drainage they could have added British Columbia, Canada, to their list of new discoveries.  

                             In this stretch Lewis and Clark could have enjoyed a leisurely paddle to the west.
Perhaps it was because driving this route I encountered several hazards.  First a doe deer dashed with her fawn across the highway in an effort to boost my ego -- that is -- to demonstrate how wise I was to have our car brakes serviced before the trip.  Obviously they were lost because the “deer crossing” sign was sited 100 yards further down the highway.  Within minutes a turkey tried to offer itself up for Thanksgiving dinner.  Even closer -- my definition of turning on a dime has now been revised to the image of  a turkey charging head down like a National Football League fullback instantly reversing course as he was about to be tackled -- the tackler in this case being my careening car.  I should have checked for tail feathers in the grill.

The other hazard -- I had consumed too much coffee, Montana obviously doesn’t believe in rest rooms on their state highways and trees were scarce along this section of road.  In contrast barbed-wire fences abounded in profusion with every single tree situated on the other side.  At the point of desperation I found a side “road” with a sign announcing “land for sale.”  Ah ha, a place where I could slip through a gate.  I’m glad I waited because there, out of sight of the highway, I found a bonafide sod house -- abandoned, but still intact -- a fringe benefit of drinking too much coffee.

                          I can't help but think life was pretty depressing living in this windowless abode.

The next day another side road caught my attention.  What would I find along White Pine Creek Road?  Maybe I'd even discover White Pine Creek...

...or another painting subject:  "Waiting for Rain"   9 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Raymar Panel.  This was my last plein air painting of the trip as the hour arrived when I had to cover some miles in order to catch my ferry home to Alaska.

Another factor that persuaded me to put away the brushes -- I wasn't excited about painting in the rain such as I found along Montana's Bull River.

Meanwhile, Karen was bidding her possible final good bye to Four Mile Lake, a farewell that included scenes and treasures from her past.

                     Some residents of Wisconsin's Four Mile Lake neighborhood keep their forests manicured.  

With no way to bring "him" home, Karen had to leave her only stone sculpture behind.  Karen carved "Quiet Time" out of a rock during a high school art class.

                                                    And so, farewell to Karen's sculpture "Quiet Time."

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mr. Zoom

A rotting log-stringer bridge across the West Fork of Lolo Creek near Lolo Hot Springs, Montana, stopped my forward momentum.  Off the main highway, the sign said Road Use Restricted.  The condition of the bridge suggested -- disobey its admonitions and an errant driver might have the opportunity to test the aerodynamic attributes of their car.  I parked in the middle of the one lane road and set up my easel.  

                                                  The bridge across the West Fork of Lolo Creek

Taking a peanut butter and honey sandwich break from my painting, I sat on a decaying log delineating the side of the structure,.  There I relished a  handful of rays of sun that sneaked through the day’s offering of cloud formations.  It was then that I saw it -- a tiny black ant slowly searching in seemingly random directions for whatever tiny black ants search for in seemingly random directions.  Maybe it would lead me back to an ant hill for more action, but no, it stuck to it’s little sawdust covered arena, maybe twice the size of my computer screen in diameter.  Perhaps my friend had been assigned guard duty to keep strangers like me from invading it’s nearby home. 

OK, calling my friend “it “seems a bit impersonal so at this point I’ve decided to call "it" Mr. even though the vast majority of ants are sterile females.  I base my decision on the fact that male ants' contribution to colonies has been termed “not significant,” -- which from my untrained observers eye, seemed to be it's role in life.

Maybe my new “friend” would like a treat.  I broke off a honey-covered crumb and quietly placed it within the perimeter of the ant’s territory.  By what seemed like pure chance it’s aimless wandering eventually led to my offering.  Lunch!  Soon, with a full “belly,” the ant departed.  However, its speed changed from that of the proverbial tortoise to that of the hare.  Newly named Mr. Zoom raced around like a highly caffeinated ant -- still within the confines of its restricted territory, still just as aimlessly, but now with heightened passion.  I returned to my painting satisfied that I had done something to make at least one newly energized denizen of this world a little more joyful that day.

   Montana Wetland  9 x 12 inches  Alkyd on Raymar Panel   Mr. Zoom's view if he could get on top of the his bridge.

Mr. Zoom’s bridge had interrupted my travels as I headed east to overnight in Missoula, a large city in which I really didn’t want to stay.  Just beyond the bridge, a sign along the road advertising The Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs suggested reasonable rates.  I took the bait and wasn’t sorry.  After checking out with a belly full of waffles the next day, I headed back to the bridge, for more painting until, bidding a fond farewell to Mr. Zoom, I  resumed my travels towards Missoula.  Since I had backtracked to Mr. Zoom’s bridge, one “obstacle” remained -- passing, once again, that sign suggesting reasonable rates at Lolo Hot Springs. 

Lolo Hot Springs -- Life was soooo peaceful there.  The food at the restaurant sooooo good.  Missoula has traffic.  I don’t thrive on crowded roads.  OK -- one more night.  I checked in again and LuAnn, the manager did the unthinkable.  Unbeknownst to me,  the resort has a reduced rate for multiple night stays.  I had already checked out so LuAnn would naturally charge me the full rate for the second night.  But no, that sweet lady gave me the reduced rate for the return visit.  You can’t beat that level of integrity.  If you’re ever in the area, check out The Lodge at Lolo Hot Springs.   LuAnn will even lend you a swimming suit if you want to soak in the hot springs.

Another side road near Lolo Hot Springs that really tempted me to stop and paint.  Ultimately I opted, instead, to hone in on a nearby meadow,

West Fork   9 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Raymar Panel   I completed this painting from the shoulder of US 12 not far from Lolo Hot Springs.

                                                       Back-lit forest along the Idaho side of US 12

Meanwhile Karen and her cousin, Connie, had driven north to Wisconsin's Four Mile Lake for what may possibly be Karen's farewell to an area that has had such a profound influence on her life.  

                                      Karen and her brother, Peter Groth on Peter's Four Mile Lake dock.

Four Mile Lake Road has led Karen to the family "cottage" and now Peter and Mary Ann Groths' home since she was an elementary school-aged girl.

Of course Karen continued her love affair with rodents at Four mile Lake -- here the latest family member of generations of red squirrel friends she had known since the early 1950s.