Friday, August 21, 2009

The Palouse

I spent most of this week in Spokane - a town I love more every time I go. Possibly the town is basking in the reflected glow of the people I work with when I'm there. Possibly I've always been there in nice weather... Like the roads I saw in the Palouse, with signs at their starts that warned "Summer Road." I doubt I could handle the dark of an East Washington winter, but the two glowing trips I've made in the fall and now in August, have left an indelible impression of clear air, golden light, and a solid reality to the people and the place which I found hard to match anywhere else I've been. I'll write more about Spokane in another post.

On my last evening in Washington, after four days of hard travel and intense work, I was very tired. But I wanted to visit an area south of Spokane called the Palouse, a wheat growing area of rolling hills and small canyons. I called my Dearest to discuss my long made plan, but also how tired I was, and she provided the little boost I needed to go.

Just a thirty minute drive south on 195 and you leave the mountains and can see, off to the east, rolling golden hills, sweeping up onto the southern slopes of the ridge that hides the Spokane River Valley from this side. I was mesmerized by all the gold curves off in the distance. I abandonded the highway for the first real road heading east, cutting out through fields of wheat in various stages of harvest.

I've included some large shots (this one, and the one above, click to view larger), so you can view them too wide for the screen and can pan back and forth the way you must in reality. The place is too large to take in. I wanted to turn and turn to capture it all. I wanted eyes on all sides of my head so I could drink it all in at once, and SEE that I was surrounded on all sides by space and wheat and light. I could not open myself wide enough to let even a fraction of it in, though I tried for hours.

I wandered and got farther south and east into this beautiful place, mostly on dirt roads. Huge harvesters were raising clouds of dust as they slowly moved across fields that rolled up to the tall horizon. At one point I thought I was far enough off the road, taking photos, when a dull roar behind me turned out to be a harvester coming over the hill. I had to hurry and leave because it took the entire road and then some, and I was in the way. As busy as the people here are, and as hard as they work from first light to after sunset during harvest, I was sorry to delay them even twenty seconds.

The light was amazing. I had turned off the air conditioning and rolled down the windows as soon as I got off the highway. It was 90, but I wanted to feel and hear this place. I had brought water and I kept drinking... For three hours I meandered roads like Rattler Run, Spangle Road (I drove through Spangle), and many more without names. The white Malibu I was renting got thoroughly filthy from the dark dust; I grinned every time I got in and out; my clothes smelled of it; I could taste it on my tongue. The air was full of the smell of road and wheat, dry heat, late afternoon light, and the sound of grasshoppers and distant harvesting.

I called Dearest from a spot on the road where I found a wide shoulder to pull off. Green grass was growing on the slopes, and the road twisted provocatively away from me toward the northwest. Here are photos showing the road forward, and then back toward the car.

We talked for thirty minutes or so, as I walked up and down this hill, oblivious of the cloud of small flies that flew around my head, biting me. I was too enraptured by the light, and talking excitedly to my sweetheart. I only noticed the bites after I got back in the car.

I knew I had to start heading back when the sun dipped below the edge of the little valley I was in. I wandered back towards the slopes of the mountains, planning to cross the ridge in a different spot and come back into Spokane from the east. The last photo below was taken just after the sun set, from the edge of a road lined with daisies and mullein. I knelt in the soft silt so I could capture the foreground detail as well as the one long golden hill in the background, with the small, neat farm on the south side.

My post sundown wandering was done by watching the ridge on my left, and taking roads that looked likely. Elder Road looked like what I wanted, but it was closed. I passed through Rockford, and took 278 southeast, then crossed into Idaho onto Idaho route 58. Eventually I got on 195 north, because it said it went to Coeur d'Alene, and I knew that would get me to I-90 and back to Spokane. I got into Coeur d'Alene with enough light to see the lake, and then to walk the main street where all the pubs and restaurants are. I sat outside the Beacon and ate fish and chips thinking of Steve, the Kiwi on the team, who had just that afternoon nearly ordered chips forgetting that they wouldn't be fries... The fish was hot and delicious (black cod), the "chips" were OK. They weren't served with vinegar, though - tartar sauce, of course.

I was back to Spokane and in bed by 10:30. Now, back in NC, home and at my studio table, I can easily call up the sounds, sights, and taste of the Palouse, but the size and space remain beyond my grasp, and these photos are tiny fractured reminders, wondrous bits and pieces of a glorious late afternoon.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Out of My Bubble

It may seem obvious to the rest of you (but it's easy for me to forget somehow) that I can paint whatever I want. Within the limits of my talent and skills I can paint anything in any way I wish. But it's not that easy, to me. In my mind there seem to be all sorts of expectations and reasons crowding in around me, and the space is much smaller than you might think. Like what you can see in the light of a midnight campfire.

I'm unable to get beyond my small bubble of murky light. I'm afraid to trip over things in the dark further away. I don't want to get stung or bitten. I don't want to fall. I'm worried I won't be able to find my way back to the fireside. I'm afraid my nearest will not recognize me and their faces will reflect me a stranger.

Then events conspire to push back the boundaries or, better yet, the sun comes up for a bit and I can see further than usual. Further for me. I'm still oddly limited in what I will attempt, or in what I will imagine, but my reach is extended.

Yesterday I had a lot of pent up emotions, and it came to boil just as everyone else was leaving for a play. So I stormed around the house alone, moving furiously from one chore to another, moving things fast and slamming what was safe to slam, and cussing and snarling and enjoying it. And after about twenty minutes of that I felt surprisingly free to paint.

So I did this. And I worked on it some more today.

I don't always feel like I have a beard - my inner artist (when I catch glimpses of him) is clean shaven. And lately my eyebrows are getting crazier, reaching all over. I keep them trimmed, but I wonder what would happen if I let them go. So I thought of a self portrait with my facial hair gone wild, expressing more of me than I feel it does now.

19 x 19 Watercolor and a little white charcoal.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer - Home

We have spent this summer under the spell of the Muses.

Daughter has built pressure for months, unable to dance, recovering from a sprained ankle. That pressure was finally released this last week in an intense, week long, 12 hour per day camp of song and dance, called Next Stage. There were 26 numbers performed after just a week - nearly 100 kids, from fourth grade to rising college freshmen. It was inspiring. It was her first dance in over two months - she looked great, released back into her element.

My day work has been creative and full of the satisfaction of taking the right road, regardless of the risk. And my night work has bloomed into more painting, as I've realized that I MUST make time for it. Above is this weekend's effort (finished except for final twiddling), called Home. It looks nothing like anywhere I've actually lived, but it represents some of what I feel about my home, and the home my heart seeks and wants beyond the one I can see and touch. I am living half-phased in and out of reality and dream, present, past and future. That's the story of what I'm doing at work. That's where I paint. This piece is watercolor, acrylic, and white charcoal.

And the last two months have been full of preparation for the Orange Community Players production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It's an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical we have not seen or heard before this, and I'm glad we waited, so we could experience it through our local director's eyes, and performed by our local band of actors. Dearest and Oldest were both in it. We saw it twice, and I captured a lot of it with my camera the second time.

And during this time I have had many evenings alone with Youngest, and we've both really enjoyed that. Lots of conversations, joint investigations on line, a first bike expedition together, and yo yoing. I intend to keep doing more of this - it's time.

There will be a quiet spell now, with some post event blues. I hope to keep right on into this new spurt of painting, but the others around me are going to wind down somewhat, and they have to adjust to being without projects for the moment. I hope they will have new ones to look forward to soon. Oldest starts college in just over two weeks - Daughter will get her license soon. We are on the edge of changes. It has been a potent, fruitful summer.