Archeology, Near and Far

October 18

Today just inside the SW ranch gate I found a dried-out old Pink Pearl eraser and not far from it, a broken but beautifully-flaked pink arrowhead (as well as a horse shoe and a rusted top from a baking powder can. How long has it been since baking powder was 25 cents?)

Found baking powder lid, graphite rubbing

Found baking powder lid, graphite rubbing

It says “25 CTS/KC BAKING POWDER/25 CTS/SATISFACTION GUARENTEED”

(And how long has it been since they stopped putting the cents sign on keyboards?)

 

Which Way

October 17

I have been thinking about the Grand Canyon Trust’s experiments to improve grazing practices. Out behind the barn lie coils of old barbed wire, laboriously unstrung from fences by volunteers. A smooth lower wire still keeps the cattle in but allows antelope to crawl under them (and me, too). So I set up some of the rusted barbed wire for a tightly rendered study… exactly what I am going to tell my students not to do, “drawing with a paint brush.”

Which Way? Two pieces, each 5.5" x 15", watercolor on paper Suze Woolf paintings

Which Way? Two pieces, each 5.5″ x 15″, watercolor on paper

I revisited Lee’s Ferry to hike the Spencer Trail. It puts you on top of a plateau with wonderful views down into Glen Canyon – as well as the Page airport. Excellent cell coverage while contemplating the trio of puffing smokestacks of the coal-fired Navajo plant.

Looking into Glen Canyon painting by Suze Woolf

Looking into Glen Canyon

The view the other way was equally compelling, even on a hazy day. I loved serried silhouettes. Is it because of what my 80’s sculpture professor said, that repetition is compelling? Or that seeing a peek-a-boo view of anything occluded by something else is an invitation to exploration?

Suze Woolf painting of Vermilion Cliffs from Marble Canyon on a cloudy day

Vermilion Cliffs from Marble Canyon on a cloudy day

I walked down part of Cathedral Wash. Due to the flooding in September it has a fair amount of muddy waterholes, undesirable for someone who forgot her water shoes. It’s no Blacktail Canyon but the eroded and calcified limestone layer has a certain Halloween-y aspect.

 

Strange limestone formations in Cathedral Wash, Lee's Ferry AZ

Spooky limestone?

A Painting Day

October 15

I catch up with some of the drawings yet to be turned into paintings. Reading the log book makes me contemplate what I, as the first Kane Ranch Artist-in-Residence, will have to say two weeks from now.

Art, like the Grand Canyon Trust’s preservation/conservation/restoration is an act of faith, nonsensical to homo economicus. I do it because it brings me – and others – a pleasure of (landscape) recognition and a sense of common treasure. They are “public” lands, a theme that has come up before during my residencies.  I always have to do “the pretty stuff” first. Art depicting a place is a way of being deeply in that place. But beyond the souvenir, art can be a mirror, a goad, an encounter with important feelings and issues. What I shall paint to get at the issues here and the Trust’s work is one meditation as I walk.

And anyway, why do we respond so to vast panoramas, such as I see from this front porch? The sense of seeing farther? Fully satisfying those peripheral-vision neurons? Safety that no one can approach unperceived? Room for the new? The peace of solitude, alone with your thoughts?

Near the LeFevre Overlook

Near the LeFevre Overlook

A Walking Day: Eastern Crack to the Sand Hills

October 14

I follow guidebook instructions to climb through a cleft in the Vermilion Cliffs. Dramatic, not easy walking, but not technical or terribly exposed, I’m thrilled to be in these places. I have yet to see another soul, though foot prints suggest otherwise. History again hovers – pioneer cabin, rock art and arrowheads this time, though some graven graffiti from 1914 and 1952, too.

Snake petroglyph in the Sand Hills

Snake petroglyph in the Sand Hills

Near the top of Vermilion Cliffs

Near the top of Vermilion Cliffs

 

Mission: Aspen

October 13

While hiking up Saddle Mountain I could see the flames of intense yellow aspen high on the plateau above me. I had thought they were already gone, as I saw coming over Cedar Breaks in Utah. So my mission today is finding a grove to paint. I drive to Jacob’s Lake (no Internet access there either) and chase Forest Service dirt roads. Finally I do better on the main road – but I’m awed by how much there is to explore, and how much time it takes when you have 20 miles of dirt driveway round trip to negotiate. I decide to alternate walking and painting days.

Aspen grove on the Kaibab Plateau

Aspen grove on the Kaibab Plateau

Saddle Mountain Wilderness

October 12

I’m starting to feel more like myself as the fuss and anxiety of getting ready begin to drop away. I paint the house and drive a long dirt road to a hike that takes me to the edge of Grand Canyon National Park. It’s so windy it’s hard to keep the easel upright, and a fine layer of sand and dust sifts through everything. It reminds me of rafting the river (Colorado).

Kane Ranch AZ

The 1870 ranch house in the morning

 

Cane Springs

October 11

I head out for my first hike, the canyon behind the ranch house where its water seeps out of a spring several miles away. It’s always amazing to me how new ideas reach me while I’m walking. Usually it takes days of travelling on foot – just how is it my brain is so connected to my metatarsals ; – ) I spend the late afternoon painting on the porch, first the rift in the plain of sagebrush that hints of the great canyon to the south and west, and the Vermilion Cliffs to the north.

The Grand Canyon in the distance from Kane Ranch porch

The Grand Canyon in the distance from Kane Ranch porch

Vermilion Cliffs from the Kane Ranch porch

Vermilion Cliffs from the Kane Ranch porch

 

Kane Ranch

October 10

After stops in Boise with old friends, and new artist friends in Parowan Utah (the amazingly creative and accomplished Sue Cotter and Spike Ress), I finally reach Kane Ranch. Forgive me for posting many days at once – it’s several hours’ drive to access the Internet. Despite my residency on the east side of North Cascades National Park – to which you can only fly in, hike in or take a 2-4 hour boat ride — this is more remote! 10 miles of dirt road and 10 more on paved to the nearest gas. I have just enough cell coverage to occasionally get phone messages, but I am back to life without radio, recorded music, instant answers and facebook.

Built in the 1870s the stone ranch house has been updated with solar-powered electricity, propane heat/stove and new outhouses. So while primitive compared to my urban life, this would be luxury to the pioneers that originally occupied so many homes like this one. History hovers wherever you are around here, and in this dry desert air, its evidence is slow to disappear. Part of the residency goal is to communicate a sense of place, to find another way to express the value of public lands.

This is my 10-mile long driveway.

This is my 10-mile long driveway.

My nearest neighbors ; - )

My nearest neighbors ; – )

Kane Ranch house. It was windy enough that the easel blew over.

Kane Ranch house. It was windy enough that the easel blew over.

 

Wrapping Zion

No, not like Christo – more like closing the books on the 2013 Zion Plein Air Invitational. It was so rewarding to be back in that extraordinary environment. I can well believe that visitors to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis thought Frederick Dellenbaugh’s paintings were fantastical, made-up, unreal. I’m delighted to have parted with most of the pieces I painted there and raised a goodly sum for the Park’s youth outreach and art programs. Many of my pictures were bought by local residents: I take it as a sign they feel I’ve captured something of the beauty they walk in every day.

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I also did a number of outline pencil drawings for paintings that I’ve worked on since I got home. You can see that at least part of my heart is still there.

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Heading out in the West again

Packed up again and this time heading to Zion National Park for “In the Footsteps of Thomas Moran,” their annual fundraising painting competition.

photo of fully loaded car

My faithful car, loaded and ready to head for Utah

Despite the early snowfall I experienced in Stehekin (see posts for September/October), there was little left on the inland heights of eastern Oregon, Idaho and Utah. In the Puget Sound basin we’ve experienced an unusual run of pea-soup fog, so it was a relief to rise up over the coastal ranges into full late fall sunshine. The cottonwoods, aspen, willows have turned into brilliant yellows, golds and oranges. I saw pumpkins, some still in their fields, some in harvested piles. In both the eastern Cascades Mountains and the high plateaus of eastern Oregon, sub-alpine larches presented a color span of lime to orange, vivid against their dark green evergreen neighbors. It is a glorious time to be on a long drive in the West.

City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho. All those shapes made me laugh when I saw them.

City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho. All those shapes made me laugh when I saw them.

It’s true there is beauty, often unexpected, everywhere. Someone who paints industrial maritime scenes surely knows that! But I’m reminded each time I cross so many parts Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona –  those thinly-populated, high, semi-arid vast vistas of botany and geology – of my deep love of these landscapes. Is it a kind of misanthropy, I value places without people in them? Or that I can see so much farther than in any city or forest? As a painter, I love distance because it smears out the details I tend to get too mired in.

Willard Bay, near Brigham City, Utah

Willard Bay, near Brigham City, Utah