Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Of Bears and Buffalo

So this year I get into Yellowstone, find a campsite, and head out for a bit of evening sightseeing. Before long, I'm in the Lamar Valley, surrounded by buffalo. As the herd moved closer to the road, a constant rumbling - somewhere between a burp and a roar- reverberates through them all. Mothers to calves, bulls to cows, bulls to one another. As they neared the road, I climbed out the window onto the roof of the Jug. Buffalo everywhere.

I spent a few days drawing, hiking and exploring. Trying to get a handle on this new idea of landscape painting I am thinking about. For years I have avoided working from or with photographs. I've promised people, Give me a photograph to work from, I'll give you a bad painting.

But now I am faced with the need for more information, and I don't have the time to spend drawing all the things I would like to include. Seems that photography will be necessary.

I hope I have learned enough to avoid the tyranny of all the detail

Tundra Grizzly,
bronze, edition of 35

I love all the wildlife there, but would it be Yellowstone without the bears? The night I camped at Pebble Creek campground, a grizzly chomped on a guy's hand after it tried to push his way into the man's tent, at another campground just down the road, outside the park. The bear eventually left when the man's calls for help alerted others. Investigators said the man had done everything right- kept a clean camp, didn't have any food in his tent. Who knows what that bear was thinking. I have to admit, I slept better not finding out about it til I had gone.

On my way out I watched a big grizzly on an elk carcass. From a looooooooong ways away. From inside the Jug. The carcass was black with rot, and the bear laid on top of it, burying his head in for another mouthful. Beautiful, mesmerizing, terrifying - all the things I love about wilderness, though seeing from the road in a National Park can hardly be considered wilderness.

Finally, as I approached the bridge over the Yellowstone River, traffic was stopped. Apparently the river was too high for a black bear to swim, and as it waited on the shoulder of the road, rangers stopped traffic and cleared the bridge. And the bear crossed. Obviously anxious - from the traffic, the spectators, being stared at?

Who knows what that bear was thinking.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Awareness, or lack there of.

So there I was, early last fall, on my way home from California, a few days in Yellowstone before the show in Kansas City. Up in the morning, trying to get warm, then hiking, drawing and fishing for the day. The hardest part of being on the road is the aloneness, and in the west, finding a cell signal so I can call home.
Bear Study, oil on panel, 10 x 10 inches

In Yellowstone I know three places I can get a signal, one on a high ridge in the north central part of the park where I wanted to do some drawing. So early one morning I am walking along the ridge, carrying my drawing board, a big tablet, charcoal, watercolors, my morning coffee, and gabbing with Darby on the phone. My version of multi-tasking.

Bear Study, oil on panel, 10 x 10 inches

I am not good at it, the multi-tasking. And Yellowstone is not the place to practice. As I walked along the ridge, I was noticing something that didn't fit quite right, but I was busy talking -well, flirting - with Darb. But in the back of my mind something was saying, Hey, people don't do gardening up here, these big chunks of turf and boulders spread around mean something ........

And then I saw the big bear turd. Seemed fairly fresh. Time to quit flirting and pay attention to where I was.

I walked all around the ridge, being really noisy, before I was comfortable knowing I was the only one/thing my size or larger, around right then. And it was still difficult to concentrate enough to draw.
Grizzly in Summer Sun, Oil on panel, 24 x 24 inches

I love Yellowstone.

I have no intention of being a wildlife artist, but I have an idea floating around in my head that I want to explore. These, along with the monotypes of animals, are the beginnings of that exploration.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Here's the center console of the Jug on the way to Yellowstone. Everything necessary for a good road trip, but a little company. The Tick has been with me since I first hit the road about 5 1/2 years ago - a gift from the kids when they were young. While an inspiration, he's not much of a talker.

So, maps, good reading, my Yellowstone sketchbook (with the red binding), second b/w sketchbook with my favorite mechanical pencil, ibuprofen, some flies from my favorite fly shop - High Country Flies in Jackson- tunes/books on my Ipod, a little self-promo
material, expense envelope - and the kicker - bear spray. Wanting or needing the spray is a sign your in the right kind of place.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Summer Sun, 20 x 28, oil on linen
A beautiful barn across from my Uncle Reid and Aunt Marilyn's ranch in Oregon.

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame was my brother Todd's favorite book. At least when he was young. It was the adventures of Toad that most entertained my brother, and he would entertain me with his retelling of Toad's catastrophes.

I found kinship with Ratty, who says somewhere along the way, There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Well, until last week.

I headed out for Denver a bit late last Tuesday - no surprise there - but looking forward to the show as I am feeling pretty good about the work I have put together this spring. By Thursday morning I was looking to arrive right about on time as I headed across Nebraska. At about 9, a truck pulling a big horse trailer was merging down the on-ramp along I 80, I switched left, came around admiring the handsome buckskin in the trailer, and merged back right ahead of the truck/trailer.
Corn Crib, Summer, 30 x 30 inches, oil on linen.

And the back fell off the van. Or it felt that way. A tremendous lurch, the back dropped all out-a-whack. I looked in the rear view, expecting to see daylight and the truck trailer running over all my paintings. But the van was intact. I checked the passenger side rear view and there was a huge shower of sparks jetting out the back. And then a blur passed me on the shoulder to the right, dropped down in the ditch, and launched off the far-side. My wheel cleared the barb wire fence by at least ten feet, sailed 50, 60 feet and landed in a corn field. I could see the corn vibrate as the tire continued on it's way - doing about 70 mph. Fortunately it was a big field.

All the visions of long-ago driver's-ed flashed through my head. Shouldn't I be battling to keep control, to keep from going into some highway death-roll? My life flashing before my eyes? I've always known the Jug was not a high-performance, quick turning demon. It's not her job. She's a tank. Turns out she really likes to go straight. I put the blinker on, pulled over, a few calls to AAA had me a tow truck in 20 minutes. The great guys at Moguls Transmission in York, Nebraska got on the phone and found me some salvage parts, and had me back on the road by 3:30. An advantage to driving an old ...... I mean vintage, Chevy van is parts are plentiful.

The show in Denver was great, I'm leaving a few pieces behind. Off to get a matching pair of tires, then up to Wyoming to fish for a few days, and on to Yellowstone for some drawing/painting/hiking/fishing.

When you have your car worked on, always check the lug nuts yourself.

Corn Crib, Winter, 30 x 30 inches, oil on linen.