Friday, August 31, 2007


I didn't go to Diablo Lake today. I painted at the Visitor's Center, working on Goodell Creek, which is progressing nicely. But here is the picture of Diablo Lake that I painted on Monday afternoon.

I followed the winding dead-end road down to the Diablo dam and drove across, threading my way through a busload of senior tourists who were milling around the road. On the far side of the dam, the road continued, and suddenly, this mountain view appeared between the trees. What struck me was the color of the water against the greens and the sky. I had just settled in to paint, when I rememebered seeing a sign that said the gate would close at four-thirty. This might be the fastest nine-by-twelve painting I've ever done. I did NOT want to be stuck behind that gate!

Thursday, August 30, 2007


I have settled in a small patch of shade to try and capture these mountains. The idea of putting these massive rock walls on a nine by twelve canvas is simply ludicrous. They rise all around me, one mountain after another, so tall and close that I have to tilt my head back to look at the peaks. It would be hard to do them justice on a 30 by 40 canvas. But they are inspiring, and I have to try.

Another small piece of beauty is the butterflies who visit me. There are several, unconcerned that my paints are not really flowers, and I smell like insect repellent (in a vain effort to discourage the multitudinous black flies). There is one mid-sized butterfly that looks like a bit of parchment with ink scratchings on it. I look it up later with Andrew...maybe a Mormon Fritillary.

It turns out that butterflies' wings are brightest when they first burst out of their pupae, and they dim as the butterflies age. Imagine getting one set of hair for your entire lifetime. Whatever gets cut or falls out doesn't grow back, until you are finally bald. No, that's not a good enough analogy, as the wings are functional. Imagine you come equipped with a wheelchair instead of legs. Only it is made of balsa wood, and you can't repair or replace it. I guess we do have single-use body parts like that, just not such fragile ones.

Halfway through my second canvas, a shadow falls across the valley. Marmots whistle among the rocks, single-pitched notes like bells, the amphitheater of mountains funnelling their sound to me. I finish my paintings, having ridiculously simplified the magnificent view.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I am having the most lovely strenuous time scrambling over moss-covered boulders. A two-inch nut-brown frog hops across my path, as if we were on intersecting highways, and he was determined to go first. I watch him hop two feet at time, wondering where he is going in such an unnaturally straight line.

I certainly can't go in a straight line. Since I am unable to hop thirty times my height, I must climb up and around every boulder. I too have a goal in mind: a waterfall, glimpsed from the road, that the National Park Service hasn't made accessible by trail. It promises to be very large and twisting, and a confirmed waterfall hound like me just can't pass it up, despite the very steep descent from the road.

My first vantage point brings me to a view of the bottom section of falls. Very nice, but there are still trees in the way. I snap a few photos between the branches, but can't get any closer. There is a cliff below me and I have no rope.
Back up to the road... did I really climb down this far?... and down at another spot. This time, I find the creek, turquoise and tumbling. An amply rewarding view. I follow the creek downhill, lured by a patch of sunshine that might, just might be the top of the falls.

It is, and it is magnificent. Two channels of water slide and tumble over sculpted rock. I scramble down to vantage points near the top, and near the middle of the slide. After seeking out every accessible view, I return to the road, three hundred photos in my camera. I foresee many studio pieces from this lot.

An actual trail takes me with my paint kit to a lovely little falls and pool. Here I relax and paint for the afternoon.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Just in back of the Visitors' Center, there's a cameo view of the Picket range. This view has special meaning for me, because when I was in my twenties, Rick, Benny, Charlton and I climbed McMillan (just off to the right of this view). We still have our slides of this mountain range from a much higher viewpoint, with sweeping glaciers and insistent rock. It was the hardest climb I ever did (relentless elevation gain in the approach.) Now, looking at these mountains, I have trouble recognizing the shapes that were once so familiar. But I definitely recognize the names. The Chopping Block. Triumph. Despair. They look steep and forbidding, even in the distance.

People step up and watch me paint. A couple from New Jersey. Some neighbors who used to live in Oregon. Their dogs wonder why they have stopped at the end of this platform. They all (except the dogs) appreciate the view, but I wonder how many can even imagine what it takes to get there. At fifty, I'm not sure I even want to attempt walking up the creek to get a closer look.

It's late in the afternoon, and the shadows are changing rapidly. I get them down with sweeping brushstrokes, and try to resist correcting as the dark shapes grow. Put in the foreground trees. Then go back to my comfortable lodge, where I can imagine not climbing the Pickets.

Monday, August 27, 2007


An icy wind funnels through the canyon, as if the water has thawed just moments ago. It's a bright sunny day in August, but I'm wishing for gloves, or at least hand warmers. I am also wishing that the landings on these stairs were wider, and placed for MY favorite views. I have set my tripod bridging a couple of stairs, to give myself more room to stand below it.

The falls are magnificient, twisting and turning in a sculpted rock channel. The water catches my attention first, bluish white and foamy. But the rocks are just as attractive, and I wonder if I can make their scoops and gullies into a convincing image. I decide to focus on the rocks.

Again, the plants are all familiar: hemlock, cedar, salal, huckleberry (probably red), and sword fern. And lively green moss everywhere. The rocks around the falls are darker, their crevices in deep shade.

I finish my painting with hands that are rapidly becoming immobile. Even stepping into a small patch of sunlight doesn't help. Must get away from this cold mist.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Arrived today in the North Cascades to an intermittent misty drizzle. Clouds hung low over the surrounding mountains, giving me the feeling of driving down a long corridor, with tree-lined walls and a cottony ceiling.

There's something invigorating about travelling to a new place, particularly to a place outside one's home climate zone. I wouldn't have thought that Oregon and Washington were especially different from one another. I expected to be driving into mountains, perhaps steeper than the Cascades in Oregon. But the roads were lined with familiar big-leaf maples, Douglas fir, and cedar trees. Grasses, farms, and blackberries all gave me a feeling of being in my home countryside.

It wasn't until I left my car in a campground and walked down to the Skagit River that the strangeness of the place hit me. The colors of rock and water were as foreign to me as white sand beaches and tropical oceans. The rock is a light gray, sometimes pinkish, sometimes blueish, but never, never dark even when it's wet. Marble? Granite? I will have to ask. The effect of all that light rock is to send light through the moving water, so that even the slight glacial silt leaves it translucent and turquoise. I'm going to have lots of fun painting this water.

The light rain started back up. I drove to the visitors' center, moved into my residence, and set up indoors to start a painting of Goodell Creek, and that lovely turquoise water.