Category: Landscape Diaries

Questionable Grace

Of course I want to see Bald Eagles. The last time I came to Smith-Bybee I saw about a dozen altogether. At one point we came around a bend and there were five in trees right next to the trail, one on a lower branch that was so close we could see the texture of its feathers. They did not seem bothered by us, just perched in the trees by the water, in no particular hurry with no obvious wants. My friends were embarking on a new business together, I was planning my move back to Portland after losing my father. The three of us caught in uncertainties were suddenly thought-free, star struck in the trail staring at eagles.

The birds themselves offered no recompense for these uncertainties, but this awe-inspiring encounter served as a catalyst to move uncertainties to commitments, grief to breath. We are always caught in the power of elements and wildness. Even in a windowless office the steam from ones coffee rises and swirls in the air just as steam off a lake in the morning sun and each starchly clad coworker houses a mystery of blood and nerves, cycles and synapses. But it usually takes a less common encounter with an undomesticated species like eagles to catapult us out of complacency into the wondrous underpinnings of the universe.

I walk to the same place along the trail knowing the eagles are not obligated to be there again. It’s a different time of day, a different time of year. I would have to visit often to have a chance at predicting when and where I might find them.

No Eagles in sight or by ear but I keep seeing the brilliant white of a Great Egret flying from the other side of the lakes. Great Egrets are another striking bird, leggy, long-necked, brilliant white with an impressive wingspan. The week before my dad died I saw one fly over the house. I had only seen an egret once before in the neighborhood at Jackson-Frazier Wetlands so it was a notable moment. Standing in the driveway gawking straight up at the white body gleaming in the blue, loping across the open sky with the same questionable grace my spirit was traversing my dad’s transition from sickness to death.

A week later the egrets starting hunting in the meadow near the house. My mom once saw eight, I only ever saw three moving slowly across the field looking for frogs and mice. Their presence seemed to fill the void my father left as he took his last breath, the heat of his body leaving in one quick current under my hand. As if the only thing that could fill the shape of his spirit was a delicate looking hunter, its simple plumage in stark contrast to the complex world, elegant and awkward in the same moment.

I know the Egrets themselves are not concerned with my father’s death, with my loss, they are looking for food and would prefer not to be involved with us humans. But this feeling of events connected, this desire to make meaning out of the egrets’ arrival weighted against my father’s departure as a sort of mystical physics feels like an indulgence my heart needs as much as iron and ATP.

I sit on a bench at the end of the trail and watch a Great Blue Heron hunkered down in some brush at the edge of the water just moving his head this way and that. I’m not sure if it is hunting or digesting or just being a bird by the lake but it is fun to watch along with the occasional Great Egret flying over, swallows here and there, a couple Bald Eagles who perch in the pines to the north, a lone duck.

I sketch the lake with no confidence in my ability to paint a scene that is not predominantly arboreal. I notice some white spots in the trees on the far side of the lake that look more like paint blobs than light coming through the leaves. I look through binoculars and see that there are egrets in the trees, all these egrets flying over are coming from this spot and it is probably their rookery where they will all return to at dusk. And so it begins: learning a new place, weighing its rhythms against the rhythm of my pulse to make new meanings where a life and a comforting love once was.

Tender Enough

Sunday morning: my plan is to spend a couple hours at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge before I go to the writing group at Ford Food and Drink but this would involve getting up right at 6 am. Do I get up right at 6 am? No. I get up at 7:18 because day dreams are a necessary substitute for snuggles and I may be a little obsessed with this fellow I met the other day.

It is not normal for me to like someone at first sight. He was standing in a group of people, I caught a glimpse and the cells in my body started clamoring with delight. It felt like they were saying, You like everything about this man, you should try to date him. The message was then routed through synapse loops wired in my brain during middle school and revised to, DO NOT LET HIM FIND OUT!

Later at home, the adult in me admitted it would have been nice to have chatted more, perhaps casually investigated his relationship status. But what is there to be upset about when it is so fun to dwell on this mysterious attraction?

Eventually I get out of bed and make it through my usual routine on schedule to spend forty minutes in the woods. I’ll take it. It’s Sunday morning after all, and a lovely daywindy, rain here and there. The layered chorus of birdsong is full of tunes I don’t know as well as the usual: robins, song sparrows, black-capped chickadees, an Anna’s Hummingbird. The steep trail down into the refuge feels like a cavern under the leafing oaks. The foliage is so dense and shady it feels unfamiliar. When the trail forks at the bottom I know where I am again and saunter along in the spring damp just enjoying that I am there at all.

I sit down on a little cement-block wall along the trail and sketch the trees in front of me, their dark forms elegant against the green. I wanted my new body of work to reincorporate text and bits of poems but I seem to be unable to write anything deep or metaphorical, subtle or even interesting. It’s OK for now just to sketch trees. I finish and head up the trail, just far enough to watch some chickadees chase each other aggressively through the leaves. It is hard to distinguish mating and fighting with birds. I suppose that would be true of humans too if I didn’t know the language. Everyone is always so agreeable in my day dreams, so mutually interestedwhat special skills do birds have that they fight and mate and mate and fight and do not need counseling in the interim? Is this just the advantage of an undivided brain?

At the writer’s group I meet a woman who is a romance author. She actually writes one romance after another and they are different enough that people keep reading them. Have I missed my calling? I must have hundreds of quirky running-into-an-attractive-fellow-I’ve-been-pining-for-and-ending-up-together scenarios rolling about in my noggin. That time I was attracted to my counselor and imagined an elaborate Mardi Gras scenario so we could hook-up without sacrificing anyone’s integrity or mental health. The tryst ended with him waking first, tenderly ascertaining my identity while I slept in his bed, glitter-smeared, mask crushed under a pillow. After reflecting on this disastrous turn of events and his deep feelings for me, he slipped into the kitchen to make me gluten-free pancakes for breakfast.

I think about the Chickadees and the fact that I probably wouldn’t envy their relationships if I knew what all went on. Then I realize that this parody my imagination makes of longing and love is the advantage of having a divided brain. I get to reflect upon my true self while she is fast asleep, glitter-smeared, a shoddy costume in disarray but a heart intact in it’s own illogical integrity, gluten-free pancake mix conveniently stashed wherever she goes. It is just so funny, and tender enough to warrant tip-toeing into the kitchen to make her breakfast.

A Little in Love

Walking outside after my workday at the restaurant was especially gratifying in the warm rain. The big trees, the gravel roads lined with gardens, crows sauntering across from one yard to another as though it’s too much trouble to fly. If I believe humans are as much nature as the landscape then these things shouldn’t be any more fulfilling than the room full of chatty humans acquiring lunch that I just came from, but it is definitely more fulfilling.

Perhaps it is the lack of expectation, how the landscape doesn’t judge. The crows may very well judge but relationships across languages are rife with convenient misunderstanding of who one really is. Mostly they ignore me and I give them their space but crows are curious. I’m sure they have some thoughts about the tall, wingless creatures that make such great habitat for them unwittingly.

In the evening I sit on the couch with the radio on, working on a few sketches between day dreams. Outside a crow sits in the very top of a fir. It’s raining harder now and this crow is still, just adjusting to the wind and occasionally shaking off the water from its head. There are so many other places to go when one has wings, is this crow enjoying itself in the rain? The possibility, however faint, that a crow may love the rain—that we may have this in common—makes me feel sweet, a little giddy, a little in love.

Grey clouds drift past the crow, I sit and watch until it jumps off the tree and swoops out of view.

Intricate Interiors

I thought I was going to Gabriel Park to make sketches for a painting but apparently I was going there to take a nap in the meadow. I would blame this on the Pedalpalooza Kick-off ride but it was just me waiting until nearly 11pm to look at the bus schedule and then having a 2 hour journey ahead of me. There are reasons older people become set in their ways and do silly stuff like go to bed early and it’s not that they don’t like to have fun. We come to find it’s not fun to spend an entire day sleepwalking just for a little extra nonsense the night before.

All the same, I was excited to be on foot en route to my painting spot. Any time I can shirk off a car ride I feel accomplished, like putting off the laundry an extra day. Multnomah Village is a more active place than it used to be, a hub of urban life with a giant overpriced apartment building on the main street, an old favorite restaurant closing its doors because the rent is too high. I’m glad, at least, that so many people are drawn to live in a woodsy, walkable neighborhood. We have a desperate need to humanize more of our habitat but we need to do it for everyone, not just those who can afford to live in or near luxury apartment buildings.

Anyhow I’m half asleep and it’s hot out because I’m on the slacker schedule of leaving my house at 2 pm. This puts me in a mystical space of being aware of nothing besides being hot and sleepy and loud things like the Dad lecturing his son about his attitude on the baseball diamond sidelines. I personally support the son in not being able to gracefully handle an entire day of sportsball.

Past the ball field, I enter the cathedral of Cedars that make up the mid section of Gabriel Park. There is a crow aggressively dissecting the remains of a family picnic while the humans are off in the grass playing games, a woman sunning herself while reading a book. I stop and sit on a bench, I’m in one of my favorite parks, where do I want to go to sketch? I head into the forest by the creek and admire the cedars who do not grow all the way to the ground like cones when they are so close together; its an intricate interior without a lot of undergrowth. The shapes and shadows are intriguing but someone wants a cozy spot to sit so I walk through these woods to the little meadow where I used to go at dusk in the winter to watch the crows settle into their rook.

I sit on the grass and contemplate sketching, contemplate how long its been since I spent a lazy day laying in the grass with no goals, then lay down watching the birch leaves bob in and out of the light above me. The next thing I know I am confused about what is making so much noise splashing in a tiny creek when I realize there is a car on the gravel road behind me and I have been fast asleep. I watch a couple crows pick around in the grass and fix my eyes on a perfectly round black spot on a log at the edge of the wood which reveals itself as a bunny when it’s ears move. I can’t resist a chance to include wildlife in a painting so I get out my sketchbook and take some notes, draw a bit. Sometimes we have to finish a secret mission before we can get on with our goals.

Other Mysteries

Shotpouch Creek is lined with little homesteads and ranches, homes and barns on organic shaped plots of emerald grass between the highway and the creek protected by hills on either side. Some of these steads have tiny herds of livestock, perhaps 8 head of cattle, a dozen goats. Some have odd collections of alternative dwellings like converted buses, most run-down, or just cars sinking into the mud. It does not seem to be a very prosperous valley except for the tree farm on either side. Still, the enormous maples covered in moss and the rich green along the creek make it seem idyllically pastoral.

I am driving up the gravel road on my way to the Springcreek Foundation’s cabin where I am to do a 4 day artist residency. Of course I have been looking forward to spending 4 days in the woods painting trees. Taking 2 days off from the office job to do so felt like getting away with something even though there was no subterfuge required. As a relatively straight-laced person I derive an enormous amount of pleasure out of any sense that I a bucking an oppressive system. The discovery that I could wear flannel pjs under my work slacks, for instance, kept me in good spirits for weeks.

I had planned to arrive early this morning but now it’s just after 3 pm and my former excitement has waned to a dim hope that whatever I have become so desperately allergic to in the last few days is magically not present at Shotpouch. The organizer of the residencies did inform us that there is no poison oak on the land. This is the sort of miracle that could be followed by more miracles, I reasoned.

I arrive and settle in with great hope, chatting with the other artists between coughing bouts. I go for a walk in search of a place to hang a hammock. My allergies are not improving and sleeping outside is not a promising option. I hang my hammock anyway then spend some time admiring the art projects former participants left at the cabin, visit some more, journal, make a simple dinner and then head out for a dusk walk

I know I won’t be able to stay long and am strangely at peace with this lost opportunity. It is so calm here I can’t help but wade through the stillness and feel that things in the waist high nettles are as they are: answering to no one, accounting for nothing. The robins are making a late night of it, chuckling and flitting across the trail, their gray bodies easily mistaken for bats, mischievous fairies or other mysteries. It is not a peace I am sinking deeply into, I have a move to make, a housing application pending. Perhaps my psyche is so invested in future concerns I can’t fully grasp that my painting retreat is slipping through my fingers.

After attempting to sleep outside, feeling that each particle of pollen is a tangible presence in my lungs I go in to sleep on the couch and leave in the morning when I realize I’m losing my voice and I can’t not talk to the other guests.

I am a bit slow to the ways of the world. In a few more days it will occur to me that other people medicate themselves and go on with their lives when the pollen hits. But I will still feel magically as though nothing went wrong. The creek still winds through the homesteads and the cabin’s land. It is a place protected and cherished and there is another time for me to be there.

Little Else

 
The day is brilliant, it’s the end of April but it is so warm I have to take my long sleeves off as I start up the trail at Bald Hill with my old friend Consternation. We have been inseparable since the day I realized that being a receptionist wasn’t exactly my calling and failed to come up with an alternative that could be found in the want ads. Consternation has been such a faithful companion, together we mull over each option, tear it apart and look for a new option that doesn’t involve possible failure.

I look around for a moment outside, the section of the trail I’m on usually feels like a magical passage through an enchanted wood. Today it is just trees and grass. Has something changed? I wonder, is it better walking trough from the other direction? I know I am just too engrossed in these escape plans to feel the day.

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way,” A.J. Muste once said. He wasn’t thinking of internal struggles and yet it is very sage advice for any conflict. I take a deep breath, consider the strength of my legs on the uphill and look for trees to sketch. I remember last week when I searched the internet with “jobs for people who are not detail oriented.” I’d received a couple work emails asking me to do things I am not good at remembering to do. Names, call-back numbers—shouldn’t a fax number suffice in the modern age? I’ve done plenty of job searches before but this one turned up something interesting, “Adult Recreation Instructor.” I already do this, which makes it real, within reach, something besides heart ache.

 
Not wanting to be left out Consternation piped up and reminded me how hard it would be to have a full schedule. We’ve been scheming around this ever since, but now I’m in the woods, its beauty is lost on me and I blame my companion. What if he is like a bad boyfriend who knows the moment I believe in myself I will walk out the door without a single glance backward? What if every time I start to see a new possibility Consternation snares me in a question of how to make my exit completely risk free, knowing it isn’t possible?

At the top of the hill I bask in the sun on a bench with two other women and watch a buzzard glide past. We talk about our shared experience of participating in the Women’s March the last two years. It’s a simple conversation but I am suddenly awash in a desire to be here in someone else’s existence, someone besides Consternation. My smile feels awkwardly uncontained but somehow I don’t mind being the odd, needy girl in the park.

 
Did he leave? Is this who I am without him? Was my whole curmudgeonly, cynic-self the only person I could be in his presence?

I head back down the hill, finally able to be with the fresh green leaves of the undergrowth, the lilies and irises along the trail, the mossy oaks breaking the radiant blue into odd shapes. Consternation is not gone. He still butts in and pries me away. But by some grace I have changed a little, I know the way out, all I need is a little courage and maybe a lot of patience.

When the woods get dense and the lighting is just right I stop to draw. Three firs sharing a triangular space, each beautiful, slightly different from each other. I don’t sketch much. I am done with my studies and it’s time to experiment with new ways of painting. I just record the things I find compelling and don’t take a photo for reference. This is new, it is a tiny risk, as it always is to begin with a blank sheet of paper, a desire for peace and little else.

Awkward on Paper

I have been remiss in my diary and my treescapes are all out of order. I started 100 at Hoyt Arboretum after making sketches for 99 at E.E. Wilson Wildlife Refuge but then I finished 100 and as soon as it was finished, it became 99 which makes what was 99 now 100, sigh. I know, it’s a small thing, really.

I have been besieged by fatigue and while it is possible to paint fatigued it has taken so much effort to do my day job and feed myself that the sketches from E.E. Wilson sat for three and a half weeks before I even looked at them.

And while it is possible to paint fatigued it is a sort of internal slapstick the way chess is a sort of sport. My normal battle with a short attention span was all but lost at Hoyt, attempting to paint en plein air for the first time since winter. It is odd to feel a resentment toward branches for their complexity when their beauty is the whole reason I am out there in the first place. Do I really have to add in the foreshortened branch, those are so hard! I don’t know if I’ve painted this one already, they’re so crowded. These long larch branches look awkward on paper. You’re kind of ruining this painting, long-awkward branch…no, really, it’s not me, it’s you. 

It is as absurd as it sounds, the root issue could be impatience. But also, I like to work symbolically, to illustrate. Painting does not think, it observes and records at varying levels of realism or abstraction.

I find it very uncomfortable to climb into the part of my brain that can work on direct observation. When I do the resulting paintings have a sense of breath that is so compelling, I’d like to think I could become that kind of painter full-time if I worked at it. But I’m drawn instead to tell the story of a place—to illustrate the moment of three trees growing together like old friends in a shroud of lichen on an island of unruly foliage in the middle of a meadow that was just like walking into a fairy-tale bog.

Having pursued an academic training in art I decided to make 100 paintings of trees and their surrounds from observation to develop my facility from which to tell stories. I lapse often into illustrating but have always maintained an uncomfortable effort to use more direct observation than I would normally be inclined to and now I am almost done with the project. I finished the awkward larch and dawn redwood from Hoyt Arboretum in my studio with the help of a sketch and a photo. Now number 100 sits on my table as a silvery line drawing, fine as lace and waiting for paint.

Singing Shamelessly

 
I wake up unsure if I will make it out to sketch today. After fighting off a sinus infection all week it seems like rest might be the more reasonable path. But as I mill about the kitchen making breakfast the room fills up with sunlight and Chickadee songs, the outdoors have a way of improving one’s health on sunny days. I decide that the truly reasonable path is the boardwalk at Jackson-Frazier. It is short, surrounded by wild, bird-filled wetlands and has no elevation gain what-so-ever that might tax my busy immune system.

I leave after breakfast and take a slow saunter into the park. Just a few yards in I hear an Anna’s hummingbird. I spot him flying straight up, diving dramatically downward and then flying off after his preferred mate. Another catches my ear, he is sitting on the tip of a branch turning from side to side, his magenta feathers catching the sun like a signal lamp every time he turns toward me.

The Juncos are up in the tree tops for once making their little chit chit noises while the Towhees scree over the ethereal round of Red-winged Blackbirds, their obliquely shaped melodies ringing electric at the height of each crescendo.

Along the boardwalk I greet another human. “What a beautiful day!” we both say because we are human and exclaiming the weather is our song. We share our excitement over the spring and all the bird song and continue on in our separate directions.

The sun is lulling me into a strange contentment, my own thoughts hold no interest, sifting through my attention while I tend to the more important business of listening for birds. I look up just in time to see a male harrier slip over the treetops into the meadow, the bright sun making dramatic shadows on his wings so they look almost black next to his white body.

Around the corner I hear a female Harrier squeak, she is sitting on the low branch of a tree at the edge of the meadow her chest glowing like last autumn in the sun. I see the male again, his formidable wingspan moving through the sky in the watery way only harriers do. He enters another little meadow I can barely see into through the trees. There he climbs into the air like the hummingbird did and dives straight down with such speed I think I see his wings ripple like fabric. He lifts up just before the ground. I have never seen them do this, did he catch a mouse? It was so stunningly acrobatic. Then I see him flying in circles with a female. So, it is she he is after with the splendor of his flight.

A bit down the boardwalk I stop a woman with binoculars to tell her about this, she confirms that’s what they do when they mate. Having built a modest ego for myself, one of having more control and class than boasters and name droppers, it is a shock to find myself blurting out all the tiny scraps of knowledge I have about birds anytime I encounter a birder. I am as amateur and unstudied as could be, who exactly am I trying to impress?

 
These threadbare egos of ours take such a beating when we decide we want to be evolved. Perhaps this compulsion is as natural as the territorial songs of my beloved birds. This is my trail, because I love it, I come here all the time. Those are my Marsh Hawks because I love them and read about them on Allaboutbirds.org. Also, that first bench on the sunny side, that’s my favorite, don’t sit there. 

I look for a spot to sketch and end up at the start of the walk where I saw the Anna’s. The trees before me are small and thin, it will be a challenge to make an interesting painting with them but I have always admired the stark and rhythmic lines of their branches, each one placed just so. An immature Anna’s lands on the tip of one branch and starts singing shamelessly. It’s his tree, his beloved home. I have been warned.

Fairy-tale Style

 
It is sprinkling a bit at Witham Hill Natural Area, a chorus of crows lauding the morning at the house across the street, Robins and Chickadees keeping the background melodic with their usual songs. Misty rain is one of the things I love about Oregon and it doesn’t happen as often as it used to so the day feels like a special occasion.

I start up the trail and hear a metallic drumming from the neighborhood—who is being so industrious (and inconsiderate) on a Saturday morning? I hear it again and realize it is a Northern Flicker carving out its mating territory by drumming on something metal, a chimney perhaps. What a boon metal fixtures are for the prowess of the woodpecker, a development not unlike that of the guitar amp for musicians. I walk up the hill listening for other birds and breathing as deeply as I can; I’m finally in the woods where I have wanted to be all week.

This park has lots of twisty old oaks, there is no shortage of places to paint. Along the trail I hear the peeps of Junkos and rustling of Towhees in the undergrowth. Most of the time when I hear a bird making a ton of noise in the brush it is a Spotted Towhee, I told Jay last weekend on our first birding walk together. We were at Finley and saw more birds from the car on the way to and from the hike than we did on foot.

 

Stellar Jays dominated the outing and while they are by no means an unusual spotting their luminous blue with stark black crests never get old. We also had the privilege of admiring the orange brows of four Varied Thrushes and spotting a few Kinglets of some sort. That was it beside the neighborhood regulars.

Neither of us was looking for a flush list, it was nice just to be out together. Later in the day Jay read to me from Victor Emanuel’s One More Warbler, a surprisingly fascinating book about birding he picked up after learning it was an interest of mine.

This was my favorite part of the weekend. To hear someone who loves words read aloud, to be snuggled against the vibrating drum of their body. He reads differently than he speaks. His normal lingo and exaggerated inflections peg him as someone who smokes a decent amount of pot. This is not exactly my preference in dating partners so I was tempted to leave our first date after one cup of tea. But the two month e-mail conversation we had prior was so enjoyable I wanted to find some shred of the person I imagined I’d been talking to.

We took a stroll through the park. Being outside improves everything—maybe I was too quick to judge, I thought. Then he wrapped both arms around me and my heart opened up with the kind of crystalline warble that defies sense with fairy-tale style.

So we spent the following weekend together, my fairy tale bound with a convenient ambiguity about his occasional pot use. The chapter Jay read to me had a more genuine magic about an ornithologist failing at academics who devoted his life to field work. He ended up living a charmed life in remote forests, his heart full of caring friends and interesting neighbors, all the while making an epic contribution to his field identifying countless birds and their songs.

It was a touching story. It was also fun to imagine Jay’s new voice was the real him just waiting to be coaxed out of a deep sleep with a brilliant kiss or maybe just a newfound interest in birds. I did not get to entertain this fantasy for more than a few hours; ambiguities piled on top of one another and no amount of fairy dust could save me from their impending collapse.
 

The Towhee, meanwhile, had hopped up on a branch and was screeing at me or the other Towhees, maybe the whole forest. Another Towhee across the way would respond dutifully. A female, still sifting through the leaves of the underbrush, would join in almost absent-mindedly with a soft scree like a friend who wants you to believe they’re paying attention.

As I walk into the middle of the park I hear the songs of Pacific Wrens and then, high above me, the transcendental opera of a hidden warbler. The high pitched tune is so pure and crystalline, my whole being is drawn into its beauty. It makes me think about the importance I give to the songs in my heart, as if she should only sing for the things I am meant to keep.

 
A brief rain passes through, I find a lumpy old tree to sketch and, like clock-work, I am suddenly tired and have to pee. As if it would be torture to engage fully in this endeavor, the one that makes no pretense of happily-ever-after yet keeps me afloat in life like a magic canoe on a wild ocean.

I wander off for privacy then come back to my tree to make some studies. While I draw the traffic noise and bird songs disappear, it is just me and the intrigue I have with the exact shape of each tree, its exact relationship with all its neighbors. Each immersed in its own amazing tale of birdsong and bug travels, storm clouds and fairy dust.

The Power of Butterflies

 
On Saturday I leave the house just after eight, amazed I resisted the temptation to sleep in. It’s a half hour drive to Beazell Memorial and I hate driving but I feel it’s time to invest more in my painting and visit new places.

On the way, the sun broke through the grey behind me and cast an eerie golden light on the meadows and trees outside Philomath heightening the sense of adventure I feel about wandering into the woods with art supplies. At the park there is only one other car in the lot. I put on my boots and grab my pack, the sound of Plunckett Creek soothing me so deeply I feel like one of those compact sponges that expand when you put them in water.

I head up the trail on the left, faint memories telling me it will loop around to the trail on the right. These woods are mossy, full of thin trees, some bowed over in grand arcs along the rushing creek, Pacific Wrens singing their long intricate warbles from every corner.

Sometimes the expectation to gather sketches from which to paint hinders it’s own goal; as I look around for paintings the trees begin to look uniform and disorganized, a little on the bland side.

I focus instead on hiking, the satisfying pull of the uphill, the clean, damp air, the cathedral of trees leaning over the trail from either side. When the path leads high above the creek in its tiny valley I stop to look out. It reminds me of Balch Creek in Portland and this memory of my favorite hike brings a pain to my heart. It’s not the kind of nostalgic devastation that has some redeeming poignancy. It is just an ache, unadulterated with any ideas that might define it as a loss to grieve or a plea to move back.

Looking for a job, moving, getting settled in a new routine, these all take time and time is the thing I covet: coming home at lunch to paint for 20 minutes, shirking off chores to write, staying up late to finish an illustration. It took so many years to learn how to make art instead of thinking about making art that I am wary of interrupting it, but this ache is not interested in practicalities.

I keep walking, trying to hang out casually with this feeling as though we are friends. I come to the end of the trail I thought was a loop. There is a large metal gate with a Private Property sign on it, beyond which the woods have been clear-cut and I see that the fog has settled in along the ridge line, the morning sun gone. It feels like an augury, a comment on my ache: eventually each thing will end but some endings will be nothing more than a metal gate. This sense of loss may even be a seedling on land I haven’t given myself permission to enter.

 
I head back down the hill, stopping to check out possible painting spots. I am restless and every grouping of trees seems to be lacking in interest, too close together, too similar. The more spots I look at the less potential I see for a painting until I almost convince myself I do not even like painting trees.

I remember a few years ago, walking down this hill with an ex boyfriend. He was trying to get back together without promising that anything would be different which was not enticing except that I loved the attention. Except that as we walked dozens of silvery butterflies fluttered about our feet, their blueish wings flashing here and there so quickly you could never get a good look at the almost iridescent color. The power of butterflies to enchant a soft heart! The draw of things hinted at! We turned back before reaching the end of the trail and did not know we were on a dead end.

 
I stop to have a snack, decide the trees to my left will have to do; a mediocre painting day is more appealing than not even trying. As I sketch I see how the group of trees are unique, their lumpy moss coats, the way one has two branches arcing from either side, the little moon shaped piece of creek between them.

When I feel I have enough information to paint I pack up and head down the last leg of the trail, suddenly everything around me is an exquisite scene that would be lovely to sketch. The pain in my heart is gone, it’s question unanswered while the creek rushes by inviting me to come back and hike the other trail to its end.