Saturday, September 22, 2007


Today, the last paint day of my residency, is again rainy. Occasionally, a break comes in the clouds, immediately filled with a new cloud and shower. I am tired, feeling the call of home and my upcoming trip to Pittsburgh.

One last time, I choose some favorite trees and shrubs out the visitors’ center windows. This will be my last memories of oncoming fall in the North Cascades, the rich, dark greens and dripping air. I sketch in the dark trees first, then in the foreground add the yellowing ferns, the slightly orange-tinted maples, the pendant rust-colored old leaves of cedars, the small, light-green pines.

If it clears this afternoon, I will hike or paint somewhere in the park. If not, I will answer the call of home.

Friday, September 21, 2007


It’s my next-to-last paint day in the park. I’m taking advantage of a window in the weather to hike back to the meadow on Maple Loop Trail. I pack my minimal paint kit so as to give my knees an easy time, and hike the mile. After all the more demanding hikes, this one comes easily. I set up on a flat stone and contemplate the pattern of dark trees against the colorful tapestry.
It is a day of sounds, of wind dropping down the mountainside in concert with the moving clouds, of whirlwinds whispering in the grasses behind me. Of picas, squeaking from rock piles to my left and right, and of the high crystal whistle of the marmot. Sound textures enrich the color textures on my canvas, the tall reds of mountain ash, low-growing burgundies of blueberry, straw-green grasses, dark velvet of fir trees, rusty rustling tow-headed seeds of long-gone flowers.
When I pack up to leave, I have collected what I came here for.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Fall is truly here. The forecast for today was partly sunny, but the part that was sunny was pretty much all above a thick cover of dripping clouds. It’s this sort of reliability that lets you know summer has truly given up. I spent the morning at the Visitors’ Center, working on a large painting of Newhalem Creek Falls.
Later in the day, I slogged through dripping bushes to photograph some more tumbling creeks. Then escaped to the car to find a spot to paint.
I have been eyeing the cliffs by Newhalem for some time. Every day the grasses get more golden, the leaves more red. Today I parked in the fog and painted a tree atop a cliff with golden grasses and the clouds behind it. A little salute to fall.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Cindy and I are headed out to paint at Ruby Creek. A change has come over the mountains. The rain that pattered on my roof last night fell on the higher peaks as the first snow of the season. Colonial Peak looks like it has a five-o’clock shadow. The clouds are breaking up, and the sun will set to work melting the snow.

The creek is fresh and lively and filled with varying shades of turquoise. We set up on the bridge to paint the flow of water across a cobble-bottomed pool, down a drop, and around the bend. The cedars on the far bank look vivid yellow-green next to the water. Sunlight glints off the river bottom in ripple-focused gold lines. I try futilely to capture the glow in paint, but it looks dead. Will have to think later about how to do that.

Cindy is painting in watercolor, and I in oil. It’s wonderful how different our two pieces come out, as if the universe were processed differently in our two brains. Just one of the many things that makes art so refreshing. We could both take photographs, and our efforts would have technical differences, but be recognizably the same place. But interpretation in paint is dependent, not only on our technical variations, but differences in what we decide is important, what we leave out, and even the way we name and mix the colors we see.

The creek has offered its multi-colored water for us to interpret. We head to the Environmental Learning Center, where I hike up Sourdough Creek to the waterfall that isn’t (only a trickle left after the summer). On the way down, I enjoy the view of high peaks over Diablo Lake. The new snow is already gone.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Clouds with occasional sky holes, and still cold, so I explore the country around Diablo. There is a trail, which overlooks the dam and the town and a bit of the Skagit. The bluff has large bands of crystalline white among the weather-darkened rock. The path is worn into a dip along the hillside, like the path up the hill behind Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s house. There’s a structure which I’m told was an old incline, but looks more like just cables stretching down to the tiny town of Diablo.

The road into town has some views of the turquoise Skagit, as well as Pyramid Peak. I park by an old mill replica (not nearly as interesting as the original mill would have been) and paint the view out the side door of my car. This keeps me warm and out of the considerable wind, and has the added advantage of keeping the sun off my canvas nicely. I miss out on the wildlife, though.

Monday, September 17, 2007


The remnants of yesterday’s rain are drifting in cottony tufts around the mountains. I head east, toward Rainy Pass, hoping for a drier day. The views at Diablo Lake are stunning. Wisps of clouds pass in front of and behind the mountains, emphasizing the layers of space. The sun feels extra-strong, punching through the sky holes.

At Rainy Pass, the air is nippy. I pile on all my coats, a scarf, and a fuzzy hat, and hike in all that gear to the lake without even getting hot. At the lake, clouds come and go across the sun, leaving me mostly in shade. At first the lake is full of reflections from the light rock slides and dark trees. Gradually, the wind picks up, and the blue-green of the water takes over. Marmots whistle from at least three spots around the lake, picas squeek from six or seven.

I wonder what makes a rock pile suitable for pica or marmot, and why both would live in the same area. I meet some visitors from Holland, and we talk about their travels in Washington and Oregon. They liked Mt. Hood, where they could so easily walk on the snow. We talk about the picas and marmots, which someone tells me make good pets in Holland. Perhaps a bit of confusion with rabbits, but I have no photos to clear up the language.

An alarming rap comes from behind me. Investigating quietly, I expect to find someone chopping at a log. It is a woodpecker, probably a hairy woodpecker (one I’ve met in these woods before.) He pounds at a tree’s bark in full view, not just pecking a hole, but chipping away bits of bark with twists of his head. It must take considerable force to create so loud a noise. I would have to hit the tree with a professional batter’s swing to match his volume. He is braced against the tree, not just with his feet, but with the lower part of his legs and his tail as well.

I am growing colder and colder. My cadmium yellow is thick as refrigerated peanut butter. I finish the painting, and head back west, where the afternoon sun is shining. Go figure.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Today, it is raining. I have scouted a few locations for painting in the rain (a picnic shelter, under a bridge, and such) but opt to paint at the visitors’ center instead. It’s time to put the finishing touches on the paintings I am giving to the park as part of my residency. Because they are small, I am giving two: a water piece from Newhalem Creek, and a view of the Pickets from the visitors’ center.

The painting of the Pickets seems fine, as is. The creek painting needs a few touches. The question I ask myself is: What would make this a better painting? In this case, I want to pull attention away from the hard edge of the rock and down toward the spilling water. I also want to emphasize the diagonal line of the rock ledge. These things I accomplish with a few brushstrokes of saturated dark colors along the ledge, and some light areas on the foreground rocks. The changes are subtle, but significant.

I am standing in the main room of the visitors’ center where a table has been set up for me. Outside, rain is falling among the cedars and Douglas-fir. I keep watching the mist pull back and forth across the nearby hills, like a curtain opening and closing. I pull a canvas from the car and paint the trees in the mist.