Friday, June 26, 2015

Nebraska - #47

Nebraska - the Cornhusker State - smack in the middle of the country, the heart of the great plains, boasts Kool Aid as its official soft drink. It is my last state in this, my final extended road trip, and I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

When I crossed the border from Wyoming, the hills stretched into smooth, flat fields. I stopped halfway through the state in Kearney, as I had found a modest house on a quiet street in which to stay. After consulting the map, I visited a park that took up a large green rectangle at the edge of town. Yanney Heritage Park is indeed huge, consisting of 80 acres, born of a cornfield.

A sidewalk runs along its outline, so Charlie and I took a long walk to see what we could see.  A river fans out into a pond and people were paddle-boating around, sharing the water with giant white swans. The lawns were beautifully manicured and we saw a look-out tower, a senior activity center, work out stations and an outdoor amphitheater, where the final dress rehearsal for "Tarzan, the Musical" was being performed. Further along, a wooden bridge spanned the river and the views going both directions were nice, but all along, I thought I would like to paint a giant sky over farmers' fields because that is how I think of this state. And, then, there it was - a red barn tucked into a line of trees - the perfect Nebraska landscape!

The next day was slated to be hot so I got going early. I packed up my art gear on the rolling cart with plenty of bungee cords and set off at a brisk pace. Perfect clouds rose above the farm and I scribbled off a quick sketch and took some photos to catch their transitory path.  The wind was very strong so I left the palette on the ground to mix colors. I almost never mix ahead of time, preferring to react to what I've put on the canvas. But I found it was easy to do so: a light and dark green, a light tan, a medium purple, my favorite aqua blue and a rich dark brown. It turned out that having them ready made the whole process more streamlined. On this, one of my last states, I learned something new! I guess that is beauty of what I do - every situation presents an opportunity for growth.

It was a lovely day at the park! I took Charlie off-leash and he was happy to guard me with a few tough barks when strangers stopped to say hello. Though it was hot, the wind kept us cool. All in all, I enjoyed my time in this state. It felt uncomplicated and straight-forward. I am now happier than ever to be returning to Michigan and my home. If anyone (who doesn't already know) wants to guess the three final states, there's a reward in it for you! They will all be done in time for next summer's show at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts. See you there!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Sometimes I think fate has a real role in life. Things seem to pop up when you need them - challenges or rewards... life lessons in disguise. Like the universe gives you what you can most benefit by (or, at least - grow from) when you need it the most. And other times, I am quite sure that life is random. Things happen and you make choices - it is how you deal with these that defines your reality, and your "luck".

Monday was a day I felt rewarded. This has been a long trip; my Michigan departure was a lifetime ago. I caught a cold in Seattle, so I am tired and my snot is green. My first night in Wyoming was particularly tough. The 2nd floor apartment was not ready - no sheets on the bed and no key that fit the lock. Honestly. It was hot out and I had driven at least 5 hours from Salt Lake City. I went around the corner to a bar with a fenced, green lawn for dogs and kids (nice!), cold Budweiser on tap and a truly fabulous burger. The people were very friendly in Encampment, this dusty cowboy town (population 450), once a center of copper mining. Upon return, however, there was still no key. Well, okay, the door locks from the inside. But sleep was next to impossible - stale smoke smell, over 80 degrees with a broken fan and light from an orange street lamp that angled perfectly into my eyes. Every time I opened them, Charlie was looking at me from the other twin bed, like, "What the f?" 

I clearly was not going to invest two nights in this place and was quick to decide where to stay next. Laramie is 84 miles east - a college town with clean, comfortable hotels. And, the best part is the route there, through the Medicine Bow National Forest on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. These mountains are part of the Rockies that spill over from Northern Colorado and I was excited to see what they had to show me.

I was not disappointed! Rolling green pastures flanked the road as I left town. Closer views of the purple mountains appeared around each curve. Some of the pull-outs on the ascention had vistas right out of the beginning of "The Sound of Music". Oh, I felt like singing! Soon, I pulled into the Mirror Lake trailhead and could get no farther than 50' because of snow blocking the road. I tramped over it, towards the water, in my flip flops. The view was astounding. Right before me were 12,000' peaks, perfectly reflected. WOW! I quickly assembled my supplies and set up. It was 9 am. 

What pure pleasure to paint there! I had all the time in the world and no distractions. Charlie was free and happy, able to eat snow to his heart's content. The day was so bright that the shapes were clearly defined and the color - indisputable. That sky! My heart sang. So, this is why I am traipsing all over the US! 

I worked with a clarity and vigor that I had not felt in a while. After my canvas was covered with the first layer of oil paint, I pulled out watercolors. I just had to keep recording. The cool mountain air cleared my brain and calmed my nerves. Life suddenly made perfect sense. Am I lucky? Yes, and well rewarded too.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

California was not what I expected

I have been to California before. The drive up Highway 1 is exceptionally beautiful and I have yearned to paint those vistas. Family and friends - old and new - offered places to stay. But, in all honesty, it was easier to cut across the top of the state in this month-long journey than to go even as far south as Napa Valley. I looked for lodging in the upper fifth and found what appeared to be a cabin in the Shasta National Forest. There is more to California than its coast! My drive down the shoreline from Oregon had stunning views of huge rock formations and I pulled over frequently to do sketches and take pictures. Then Highway 101 went right through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and the giant trees rose straight up to the sun on either side of the winding road. Wow.

Just north of Eureka I turned on highway 299 and took the Trinity Scenic Byway east, into the mountains. My heart was light - I was really looking forward to two days of painting in a cabin in the crisp mountain air. At Burnt Ranch I turned on Underwood Mountain Road. The uphill climb was steep and quite narrow. It made endless turns, with rocks spilling across in places. I thought it could never support the passing of two cars. Occasionally, the view opened up and mountains folded over themselves into the distance. The longer it took to climb away from civilization, the more concerned I became that if I were to drive off the edge (which appeared entirely possible), no one would know. I was long since out of cell phone range. Luckily, it was plenty light out and I gripped the wheel and continued, trying to remain positive. The 27 mile drive took me over an hour. Finally, I started descending and soon a gate appeared, and then a house and then another. Phew! I pulled into the correct address with great relief. There was a business card thumbtacked to the middle of the front door. I knocked. A dog barked, then a skinny older man with watery eyes answered. "Anne?" he asked with a smile. I had arrived!

I drove my car around back and met him at an open gate. Horses kicked up dust on the other side of the fence. The small house where I was to stay was in the back yard along with several outbuildings in various stages of decay. The sun was strong, even at 6 pm, and I was dismayed to see precious little shade. Inside, the heat hit me like a wall and the mustiness brought up a sneeze. Walter pointed to the air conditioner. I smiled and said thanks. This place was teeny - one room with mismatched twin beds, two folding chairs, a tiny fridge and a small table covered with flowered contact paper. The bathroom was clean and furnished with essential oils and new soap. I understood that these folks had good intentions but right then and there I decided to leave after one night. This "cabin" was not in the woods and I could not imagine returning to it after a sticky day of painting. Luckily, their internet worked and I spent some real money on a hotel for the next night in Redding, CA, about 85 miles away. Until then, I would make do.

Charlie and I crowded into the slender bed. The air conditioner kept us cool enough to sleep and in the morning, I did a quick drawing of the horse corral, then loaded up and left before the heat could penetrate. I was counting on finding a landscape between there and Redding. I took the only way out - that same winding road - and near the end, found a spot to pull over and set up. It was 10 am and already 78 degrees - time to paint!

I tucked into a receding chunk of shade and hurried to catch the dramatic lighting on nearby trees. Charlie sniffed around long enough to get a million little sticky buds clinging to his fur, then settled down in the car. The temperature was bearable and there was little wind, plus the mountains held lovely secret shapes. I worked on mixing different shades of blue and purple with which to depict them. Soon, I heard a deer fly; there is no mistaking that buzz. Then several chimed in and I knew I did not have much time before they decided to circle. And so they did! I continued to paint, thinking that I would go until one bit me and - surprisingly - none did. Their "song" was not conducive to focused work, however, and I packed up after two hours. The drawing was good and the colors were a start. I will have to see what I can make of it when I get home.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Easel on, Oregon

I think "yurt" summarizes my Oregon experience exceptionally well. For one thing, the word itself rolls right off the tongue: yurt, yurt, yurrrrrrt. Also, it is a super cool structure and (dare I admit) quite comfortable. When I was first searching for lodging in this state (on Airbnb - they should underwrite me), I skipped the yurt. It was not on the coast and, well, I have never been much of a camper. Luckily, I returned to the listing because the location was both rural and only 40 minutes from the ocean, not to mention - in my price range. What the heck!

The thing about this quest is that I never know what I am getting into until I arrive. In Oregon, I really lucked out. Bradley Vineyards rise up a gentle slope, the bright green vines welcoming with wavy wands. I parked next to the Tasting Room, a small wooden building fronted by a rose garden. The yurt was a short walk through trees. It is, indeed, a "tent", in that the sides are canvas and the "windows" roll down and zipper shut. Otherwise, it is a lovely little house. It has wood doors, a wood floor and wood walls around the bathroom and bedroom. The rest is open with a big circle of sky at the top, wood stays pointing up to it in a grand gesture. The outside walls are reinforced by lattice, as are the windows.  There is electricity and plumbing, a kitchen with sink, refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker.  The living room boasts a big couch, chairs and an old record player with albums. Now this is my kind of camping!!

Not only that, the views were absolutely beautiful! After unpacking, I sat at a picnic table and watercolored a farm across the valley. The breeze was soft and fragrant. Cows grunted and lowed from a nearby pasture.

The next day I woke up to a cold yurt - only 50 degrees! I plugged in two electric heaters and quickly whipped on clothes. Today I would find the perfect coastal landscape. As I walked to the car with my lunch and Charlie, I met Bonnie. She and her son own the winery. She said that the lighthouse closest to us was nice but on sand dunes; to find rocks I needed to go South. I took note and drove to Reedsport, where 38 meets 101. There, I stropped at TJ's Bait Shop. I wanted another opinion on where to paint. The older gentleman did not look at me as he answered, "If I were a painter, I would go North, to the Sea Lion Caves." He was wrapping something with electrical tape. When I asked where to get the best cup of coffee, he offered me Folgers from his pot in back. Nice!

It was a beautiful drive north along the coast. I saw a sign for the Caves and parked in a "pull over" before the entrance. Lo and behold,  there was a stunning view of the ocean with rocks far below. I set up my easel on the grassy ridge and got to work. A young man on a riding mower stopped to see what I was doing. I asked if it was public land and he said no but it was fine for me to be there. I spent three hours focusing on the landscape, then packed up shop. The wind off the ocean was cold!

That wraps up state number 44. I can hardly believe I have only 6 left. California promises to be interesting. Here I go!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Washington State

In this unbelievably beautiful state, I combined pleasure with the business of making art.

When I left Idaho it was hot, hot, hot and my car rose through dusty construction into the hills of Southeast Washington. I have never seen anything exactly like them before: rich, green farmland in huge mounds with farmhouses, barns and trees nestled into the crevices.  I wound around this landscape for quite a while, passing through an occasional town too small to warrant a gas station.

After spending the night in a nondescript hotel in Ellensburg, Seattle was a mere 90 minutes away, so I stopped at a “picnic area” in Snoqualmie National Forest and watercolored an amazing view of Mt. Baker. Then, as I was a bit apprehensive about driving into the city with my trailer, and – especially – finding street parking, I left this idyllic spot in plenty of time to beat rush hour.

My cousin Jane is like a sister to me. Our parents were the closest of siblings and her dad is one of my personal heroes, in part because he was perpetually happy and also - insatiably curious. I had not seen her for many years and our reunion exploded with laughter and endless shared stories. She is one of the most enthusiastic and interesting people I know. Her adventures are a series of novels in themselves, only true! She and her husband, Sean, live in a modest home in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. The houses are built above single-door garages, with steps leading up to the front doors. Most people fill their elevated yards with flowers; there is little grass to be seen. Jane and Sean have surrounded their home with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, green beans, fig trees and much, much more.

We walked to a delicious dinner at a Thai restaurant with Jane’s daughter, my niece and her girlfriend. Upon returning, we hastily packed for an early morning trip to their island cottage. Hannah, my niece, handily fixed my easel, which had rattled apart in the highway’s huge hunger. The next day, we left on our weekend excursion at 6 a.m. in order to catch the 9 o’clock ferry out of Anacortes.

Orcas Island feels old. Its big, horseshoe shape is full of farms with faded barns. Two towns cling to the coast. They were both busy but not crowded. Their salt-water smell made me hungry for seafood. On one side of the island, Moran State Park encompasses the 2409 foot Mt. Constitution. We climbed a switchback dirt road towards the top and arrived at their cabin, one of the last three to back up against the park. Every window has a view of islands and water or the wooded incline behind.  The deck shares the sun with the tops of very tall, very straight pines. I set up my easel in their side yard, looking towards some Canadian islands that were framed by a pair of Douglas Firs. The day was sunny but cool and mountains sat quietly in the distance. What a stupendous site!

I have always felt lucky. For sure I am fortunate to have the time and funds to carry out a project of this magnitude. But I am especially lucky to have a big and boisterous family, with generous and loving members, ready to drop everything just because I have come to town! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Easel on down the Road - Idaho

Idaho has treated me well. The drive over the mountains through Lolo Pass was stupendous! Highway 12 shadows the Clearwater River through the Clearwater National Forest and every turn presents gorgeous views of water rushing through tall pines. The route was established by the Nez Perce Indians, then followed by Lewis and Clark. I can hardly fathom the difficulties these people must have encountered more than 200 years ago; I feel so privileged to be traveling in my dinky little Honda Fit.

The Idaho painting will certainly be one of my favorites. Everything fell into place. I realize that where I stay has a lot to do with the success of a painting. It's all about comfort. Montana was beautiful and the home I stayed in was nice but the town was rugged, to say the least. I was woken up at least twice Saturday night by loud after-bar arguments. ("I've got a five gallon tank of gas in my truck and I'm gonna burn your ass.") I'm pretty sure gun shots followed this declaration. When I don't get good sleep, I don't paint as well.

In contrast, the Idaho Sportsman Lodge in Stites (population 226) is clean, simple and safe. The "neighborhood" is one street with modest houses backing up into a giant hill. I was eternally grateful to find they have air conditioning. By the time I arrived, the temperature had rocketed to 99 degrees.

On my painting day, I made strong coffee and left by 7:20 to beat the heat. I headed to the Selway River because it looked wild and remote on the map. The 45 minute drive there confirmed this. Soon, a campground in the Nez Perce National Forest appeared and I pulled into a shaded spot on the river. Wow!

I set up quickly. My heart raced with the fear of changing light and the inevitable onset of the day's blinding heat.  A professional mushroom hunter came down the path and assembled an inflatable kayak with which to cross the river. He has found over 700 pounds of morels this year alone!  

I began to draw on the canvas. The pungent pines twanged my nose and the shade remained consistent. The gurgle of the water's song was invigorating.  Charlie settled in as I mixed colors. This was a glorious day to paint!

I stayed all morning and packed up as the heat soaked through the trees. What an amazing experience! Idaho has been exceptional. Next stop - Washington.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Montana - the NW 7 Begins

I've been on this journey an entire week and my first painting was today. That's what happens when you look at an atlas and put your finger down on the west side of Montana. Actually, the trip here was really fun. Allen drove with me and we made a vacation of it, taking Highway 2 (the northernmost east-west US Route in the country) from the Mackinaw Bridge to the east side of Montana, where we dipped down to reach Missoula via Lewistown.

After I dropped him at the airport at 5:30 Saturday morning, I returned to La Quinta with a heavy heart. Was I really going to continue without his light touch and large stature? What made me think I would be up to a month-long journey through the Northwest alone (not counting Charlie)? Then the coffee kicked in and by the time I met Katie - a high school friend - for a hike above the city, the excitement of the unknown had lifted my spirits.

I am staying at an Airbnb home in Hot Springs, a little hippie town west of Flathead Lake by 30 miles. After our hike, I drove directly to the lake to get a feel for it's landscapes. They are all stupendous, with giant purple mountains rising virtually out of the water, but I needed a workable vantage point. I entered a large state park and took a track winding up into the pines. Suddenly, I was at a dead end. There was no way to turn around with my trailer so I unhooked it to reposition for the drive out. Silly me! The incline of the hill tugged the trailer and I was suddenly holding on for dear life. Several bruises and blasphemies later, it rested snuggly against a tree. Phew! Right about then, a man bearing a brown beer bottle and wearing a sleeveless shirt and ball cap showed up. I was still panting as I asked if he was local. Yes. "Where can I go to paint this lake from up high?" Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, just 12 miles up a dirt road from Lakeside.

So, today I took that dusty trail, and learned that 12 miles takes a long time when battling the bumps and turns of a wiggly unpaved uphill. I ended up on the top of a mountain in the Flathead National Forest. I could see a ski lift just below and there was a radar tower behind me with signs reading, "US Property. No Trespassing". A pile of clothes lay on the ground. I wondered if a bear had spit them out after eating a fellow traveler. No matter - I was committed to this vista and it was breathtaking!

I spent the first hour alone and expected no company but then a mountain biker showed up. Soon after, some ATV riders arrived, followed by several carloads of locals plus tourists. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with those who came over to meet me. One family invited me to share their lunch of brats and sauerkraut! But I stuck to painting and blissfully filled the canvas with color. The wind was light, the sun was bright and the temperature was perfect. Life does not get much better than that!

Tomorrow I head into Idaho over the Lolo Pass for two nights at a rustic lodge. Montana has been very welcoming and extremely beautiful. Now I'm excited to discover what the next state has to share.