Elevation-dependent Warming – and Alpine Fires

It may be safe to assume that no one who works in Glacier National Park denies global warming. Proof of change is so overwhelming even the casual visitor can see it. It somehow seems more intense here – though perhaps it is just more visible. But from my interview with Dan Fagre, scientists working in the Park have confirmed a greater rate of change the higher in elevation you go, with profound implications for the species the Park is sworn to protect.

This week I saw my first alpine-zone burn: small and once-ancient, twisted, krummholz fir trees in vertical stripes running up steep meadows on the way to Siyeh Pass. Even the shrubby heathers, kinnikinicks and creeping junipers remain as blackened runners. Sooner or later these will get added to my individual burned tree series.

Burned Krummholz

 

Midpoint

I’ve been here two weeks now. Because I have to drive into town to get sufficient bandwidth to post photos, my blogging is confined to grocery/laundry trips to Columbia Falls.

I have gotten oriented to the Lake McDonald valley area, done seven hikes and produced 13 paintings. Most are too tight — it’s clear to me I’m not yet fully at ease in the environment. (Forgive the low photo quality; I didn’t bring that equipment with me.)

Suze Woolf watercolor painting

Falls above Avalanche Lake

A theme is emerging – not surprisingly, my new knowledge of the Park’s centennial history, combined with the number of visitors I see on the roads, trails and in the lodge, and walking through burned-over areas suggests juxtaposing iconic tourist views with burned forests in the foreground. This is change writ large. In a sense, I’m returning to my Banff Centre work, back to the entire landscape and not individual burned trees.

Suze Woolf watercolor painting

Robert Fire Panorama

Suze Woolf watercolor painting

Up St Mary Valley (Reynolds Creek Fire)

You would think I would know by now, but I’m still surprised that themes emerge as a result of walking in nature. It’s almost like I need so many miles for reflective thinking – even though while walking I’m not aware of “deep thoughts,” just “find the right aerobic pace,” “is there a bear around the next corner,” “how much farther is it,” and “this is just gorgeous..”. If anyone ever asks me about artist blocks, I’ll just tell them to start walking.

 

Glen Canyon

October 22

I join friends for a boat ride upriver. I fill my entire camera card with photos. It was like a mini-Grand Canyon raft trip, similar spectacular scenery but louder and without all the sand in your food. Ospreys and herons every quarter-mile. However it is well-beloved of fishermen and duck hunters; unlike the Grand Canyon solitude is unlikely. And it was bizarre to round the last corner and see the dam. Also strange to see the Colorado so clear and green: because it’s coming out of the bottom of Lake Powell it lacks the silt and sediment of its enormous watershed. I am reading Tim Egan’s Lasso the Wind; he reminds me of the great irony of the lake behind it named for John Wesley Powell, who argued for climate-appropriate development in the arid southwest and failed.

Photo of Glen Canyon Dam from the Colorado River

Glen Canyon Dam from the Colorado River

 

45-minute sketch of a buttress in Glenn Canyon

45-minute sketch of a buttress in Glenn Canyon

Suze Woolf painting in Glen Canyon AZ

Painting on the beach in Glen Canyon

 

Stehekin Re-Bound

I’ve been back in the remote valley of my 2013 North Cascades National Park residency for an exhibit of my work at the Golden West Visitor Center Gallery. It’s a treat to be here again, to take the long boat ride up Lake Chelan, reacquaint myself with the people who were so welcoming, and re-visit some of the beautiful places that inspired me. Self-evidently it’s different in the spring than the fall – bright greens instead of golds, tongues of snow still reaching down the gullies from the heights, roiling water in the rivers and creeks, fields of flowers… a few more of the burned trees have fallen over but most of the char is still iridescent. I hiked up to re-visit the “live” models for Corrugated, Knotted, Trochanter, and De-Limbed shown below. I’m happy to see some of the kids from my day in the school last year at the opening.

Photo of Suze Woolf exhibit, Stehekin Lands and Burns

Several landscape views (framed) and individual burned tree watercolor paintings at the Golden West Visitor Center Gallery in Stehekin, Washington.

Suze Woolf painting of fireweed near Stehekin WA

Fireweed above Rainbow Bridge is the work I donated to the North Cascades National Park in partial fulfillment of my term as 2013 Artist-in-Residence. It is watercolor on paper, 20.5 x 33.25 (32 x 45 framed), with singed edges.

Suze Woolf photo of arnica under burned trees

Arnica blooming — rather than fireweed going to seed — under the Rainbow Bridge burn.

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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Leaving Zion

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion (Psalms 137:1 and Bob Marley 😉

Only one more day open to hike and paint in this incredible environment. Then I will spend a day packing and cleaning the Grotto House for its next inhabitants.  I gave my  talk at Southern Utah University in Cedar City last night, and will speak at Zion Lodge in the Park tonight. Here is my slide deck:

Suze Woolf Zion Artist in Residence, October 2012

My own recursion: trees wrapping trees

This weekend with the help of four other people, three dogs and a cat, I took the large burned tree paintings, After the First Death and Burned at the Base out to the snowy woods. Ruth and I had spent part of the previous day tromping around the vicinity, scouting for the right group of trees. It took about 4 hours to stage the paintings, to put protective fabric and plastic up to keep small branches from poking and sap from sticking to the backs of the paintings, to pin them in place, to photograph them and take them down. The temperatures with in the 20’s (Fahrenheit), with light snow. Good thing Steve is over 6 feet (2 meters) tall; we needed his height so that the base of the tree showed at the bottom.

I’m thrilled with how compelling they look in their (un?) natural habitat. There is something visually intriguing about the mix of rendered and photographed surfaces; how well they blend in and yet how much they stand out. This is as exciting as when I started burning drawings of burned forests on rice paper.

I learned a great deal in the process, were I to repeat this installation. It’s astonishing how much engineering and problem-solving there is in fine art!