This is my story of a day I spent drawing some ruins in the Bears Ears National Monument near Moab, Utah. Climbers call it Indian Creek.
November 18, 2022
My climbing buddy Dave and I had discovered this place a week before during a snowy rest day. He had seen the ruins from afar, but had never visited. What better time to find them than during a blizzard in November? So this was my second visit.
I’d hiked up in the sunny morning with Samantha, Gus and David. But they had descended, leaving me alone knowing I would be painting for hours. After an hour of work I was deep into the creative zone that only artists know. All of my India Ink lines were steady and true as I traced the edges of the stones protruding from the 900 year old mud based mortar. Drawing with ink forces me into the zone faster than any other medium because you can’t erase. You must draw perfectly, so you do.
Drawing this well is mesmerizing. Many activities, if you reach excellence, can have a flow state. But with art, you are creating something you can look at later and treasure. I feel fortunate to have the gift.
As I drew each stone on the paper I could almost feel the ancient artisan working with me, one stone at a time, building a structure that would keep his family safe from intruders and the howling wind.
It can feel like a higher power has taken over my hand and I’m just along for the ride. Now, obviously I know that neither God, Buddha nor Vishnu is directing my art…but it does seems as though I reach a higher or purer state of consciousness. I’ll be like, whoa! This is amazing work, who is this person?
While blowing on my fingers to keep them warm, I wondered how life was back then, trying to reach back through the 900 years that separated our parallel lives. What fluke of circumstance had placed me and these ancient people on this narrow ledge above the 60 foot tall cliff below the overhanging roof of orange sandstone. My mind wondered through all the old tales of mysticism concerning ghosts, spirits and afterlives. I was miles from another soul, and the bitter wind tugged at my clothes as I drew.
I kept feeling a presence and wondered if it was something dangerous, perhaps a mountain lion? Isolated cowboys ranch on the basin below and surely they had long ago pushed all the cougars out. There were three stories to the tower ruins. I’d peeked my head in the two lower rooms, being careful not to touch anything. It was all just bare dirt and small stones, with a ceiling of thin woven sticks over ancient timbers, as thick as my arm and covered by mortar.
But the upper third story was inaccessible. You would have to climb up the wall and stand on the protruding rafters…definitely not OSHA approved. It was pitch dark in the window of that upper story. As I shaded it in I was careful to leave it a little less dark on the right, as there was a tiny bit of reflected light getting in there.
At about 2 hours in I was freezing despite my thick down jacket. Temps were in the upper 30’s and the wind was light but bitterly cold. I was dehydrated, my water was still partially frozen from the 16 degree temps of the night before. A hot thermos would have been lovely. I realized this would just be a pen drawing, there wouldn’t be time to add color until I got home.
I was shading the back wall and the window there in the growing gloaming when my sense of a presence electrified. I looked up at the upper window and saw an ancient Anasazi Indian step outside onto the rafters.
Because I was in that higher state of consciousness, the appearance of an ancient Indian seemed plausible. I was like, well, he might be real, or he might be a figment of my imagination.
He had ragged dirty black hair down to his shoulders and looked about 40. He wore a brown leather tunic that fell to his knees. It was unadorned and dirty from long use. He was barefoot and simply stood there looking at me. His gaze was very direct, not threatening, but not friendly either.
His black eyes appeared bottomless. I could sense that he understood what I was doing. His peoples pictographs and petroglyphs are all over those canyons, so at some level he could see I was also a maker of marks. For a few wary moments we simply stared at each other across the 40 feet and the 900 years. There was no possibility of running away, the ledge on which I had placed my easel was far too narrow. Slowly I drew another stone…and when I looked back at the window he was gone.
I remember having a moment of: “What the hell just happened?” But I didn’t take a lot of time to think about whether he had really been there or not. I had a drawing to complete before my hands turned to blocks of ice. As I packed up my stuff though, I considered the possibility that he might have been real.
I know it sounds crazy, but maybe, just maybe, my intense hours long focus on rendering the precise edges of his stonework had caused a ripple, or rip in time that resonated back through the eons. He, or his soul, spirit, ghost, avatar, whatever…felt my focus on his life’s work and was pulled however briefly into my presence and that moment. Maybe he was thanking me for honoring his work.
Or was he just a homeless guy who is living up there right now..or the last living member of the ancient peoples? But there was no sound at all, only the sussing of the wind amongst the ancient stones. The dress and the overall vibe suggested he was not from this time. Plus, there was no sign of anyone living there currently. Everything was ancient… dirt and stone. Even the park service knew it was ancient. They had plastic signs on the ledge and in each room telling people not to steal artifacts and to leave no trace.
I packed up and skedaddled out of there, shivering as I stepped delicately over a few of the yawning gaps in the eroding path along the cliff towards the safety of the trail down. I saw my Tundra waiting patiently on the flat ground far below. I was very glad to get out of there. That was some trippy shit!
Later I told a few climber friends around the campfire about the experience. And on the way home I called a few more friends and got a number of different reactions. One guy said I might have had a mini stroke, with a resulting hallucination. Brett, a PHD scientist, said that it may not have been real, but it was real for me, and that’s all that matters. Several of my more open minded friends, Landon, Cass, said that my artistic mindset opened my ‘chakra’ to a much fuller state of awareness than is normal and this higher consciousness allowed me to see things that aren’t normally seen.
Others said it might have been an acid flashback, dating back to my last trip in the 1970’s. But why now when I’ve never had one before? Plus, I was stone cold sober. All I’d had was a cup of coffee in the morning. It’s true that I’d stood around a couple campfires the night before and inhaled some second hand wacky tabacky, but not nearly enough to get high. I may have simply had a daydream too, I mean who knows?
I had intentionally gone up there to have an experience. I knew that it was, in some respects, a holy place. There is much mystery surrounding these ancient abandoned dwellings. No one knows why they left their homes so suddenly though there are many theories. At the end of the day though, I have a drawing and a few photos to remind me of a remarkable day.
As far as the climbing goes, I’m putting the visual stuff first, with the more narrative story last. It’s taken me more than two weeks of part time work to write this trip report.
I left t-town at 4pm Saturday and got to Immigrant Springs campground at 10pm. With a 6am start I rolled into the Rest Area past Price at 11pm and Indian Creek the next day (Halloween Monday) at noon. Handsome Dave from Wenatchee was already there, and well warmed up from a week of climbing.
He had unknowingly grabbed the unofficial party site. When we pulled in there were costumed people setting up 3 foot tall speakers on the picnic table, connected to car batteries. More party ready people were drifting towards the site from all over the campground. The guy in the bright red crowned king style top hat said we were welcome to stay, but that we wouldn’t get much sleep. We bailed out to Beef Basin.
Tuesday Dave and I went to Nuclear wall AKA Sin Bad. You park at the wide spot on the right just beyond Donnelly, then hike up and way around back climbers right toward Donnelly to the sunny side.
Dave took me to a cool route called Hot Sex which was 5.9 reds and yellows. It has a double crack so you can choose whether to climbs reds in the corner or yellows on the right. I was very glad to have a nice hand crack option. This was my first day of climbing and I was rusty.
Wednesday we went to The Fin, which can be found by looking for the Broken Tooth, a 100 foot tower leaning on the buttress in back and to the right of The Fin.
Dave led : Nagasaki & an Undercling 8. I tried to lead the 8, but the slippery undercling stumped me. I’d like to go back when I’m more warmed up. The upper section was nice hands. Nagasaki is an 11. For me to get up an 11 on day two required some serious effort. It has a long section of greens (rattly fingers) that would be impossible except there is a 6 inch protrusion on the left. It runs up the cliff about 2 feet away from the main crack during the green section. So, if you get that high, you can set your back on it and chimney. But it’s so narrow that you never get a solid hip jam, your feet constantly feel like they are going to skate off…and the fingers are rattly nonsense. It’s solid 5.11.
Thursday we had two days of snow so did some exploring over by Jupiter crack on Sparks wall. Look for the black streaks. The rock was wet so I spent the next day painting and riding my unicycle. As I was painting I saw a couple other climbers painting nearby. He walked up the hill to look at my painting, and later I walked over to see her canvas and to compare our work. I couldn’t believe that they also had unicycles! I’ve never seen another unicycle in the wild.
Saturday Crystal from Durango joined us for 3 days. She had a little crag dog with a big personality. Between her and Dave they seemed to know everyone of consequence at the creek. She pointed out the well known developer named Devin who was walking around in blue jeans.
After scarfing up Climber Coffee they guided me out to Cat wall. It’s named for a little promontory on top of the wall to climbers right shaped like a cat holding it’s little paws up in the air. The road wasn’t too bad though I had to pull Dave’s sedan out of a hole.
On the way up we saw the Access Fund crew building the trail with a crew of native Americans. We later learned that Kyle and Lauryn work for the Access Fund 10 months a year building trails. Their work crew is on shorter rotations and is paid through the government America Works program…or Peace Corps…something along those lines. We’d look down at them as we were climbing and they seemed to spend a lot of time leaning on their pick axes…like a city works crew. But I don’t mean to sound critical. Moving heavy boulders and swinging sledgehammers is really hard work.
Despite the leisurely pace, they got stuff done. On the way up, the trail was clearly under construction, very rough. But as we came down after climbing all day the trail was amazing! They had moved and carved a lot of huge boulders, turning the trail into cleanly carved switchbacks.
Then I noticed their Access Fund van was parked at our campground in a government paid site. They were basically working a 9 to 5 job, every day. A week later when Sam arrived it turned out that her friend Gus was also a master trail builder for the government. As Gus said: “The community of federal trail builders is extremely small. We all know each other.” Kyle, Lauryn, Gus, Sam and Landon all hung around our small campfire talking trail building and some fascinating stories about the ancient peoples of the area.
Sunday Dave and Crystal took me to Fist Fight wall, it’s across from Donnelly. It’s in the book but not on Mountain Project…which is kind of cool. Neither had been there and the trail is still in it’s infancy. I love going to new crags. As long time creek climbers like to say: “Every crag is a Donnelly. There are Super Cracks and Incredible Hand Cracks all over, you just have to explore.” Beside avoiding crowds, going to lesser known crags means the climbs will be crisper. They won’t have those rounded off edges from thousands of boots. In the photo below, note how crisp the crack is.
Crystal did a beautiful job leading this, though I have to say her hands fit in the reds at the bottom. I was able to follow it cleanly by stemming across to the high boulder to avoid the reds and jump right into the yellows. There is a roof up high (bring a 70 meter) that would benefit from a couple #4’s. And it’s big down below as well, so having…dare I say four fours?…might be wise. I was able to jam my big mitts nicely in the roof and might be able to lead it next trip. There is a nice looking fist crack off to climbers right that we never got to.
Monday (also went again with Sam, Zac, william and Landon later) we went to Selfish wall up a long dirt road, very rough. My Tundra bottomed out going in and coming out. We had to get out and scout the holes for a safe passage. There was a Subaru up there but they have a shorter wheelbase so maybe it’s easier? It is beyond a gate towards the campground from beef meat basin. The gate is across from the large metal barn with just a roof, no walls. There is a lovely 5.9 up there that I called Mini Generic for obvious reasons. It’s actual name is Hand Solo. Crystal led a purple finger flake called Tag Team. There is a 5.9 off to climbers left I led called Instagram Sex Worker. It has a huge chopper flake at the top that did not look or feel safe as I pulled on it to reach the anchors. There are good Fist cracks off to climbers right that I have yet to check out.
— second trip did 5.8 Bromance with umbrella #6 top out
Tuesday was a rest day before a storm. I’d misjudged the weather in November. I thought it would be warm and only had my summer bag. I called Sue and had her put my 1979 Stevenson winter bag in the mail addressed to me, general delivery, the Moab Post Office. Handsome Dave (also known as Wenatchee Dave) left after two weeks at the creek. He didn’t like the looks of the bad weather approaching and I can’t blame him. I’m lucky to have hobbies like my guitar, unicycle and painting to keep me entertained when the weather shuts down the climbing.
Wednesday a huge 40 mph windstorm Tuesday PM through Wednesday AM, no precipitation at Creek Pasture CG but the place emptied out. Everyone must have been in town re-supplying.
Thursday the 10th Samantha rolled in at 8pm. We were communicating via my inReach so I managed to get my brand new stove top oven working on the first try. She arrived to hot pizza at the picnic table in 35 degrees weather! Her friends Zack and William also rolled in that night. Zack is the ukulele guy featured in the video above.
November 11 to 13, Friday through Sunday, Sam, Zack, William, Landon and I climbed at Cat wall, Selfish wall and the inner wall out to to climbers right of Chocolate corner…which Sam led cleanly. I led a 5.10 route called The Thing. It looked easy but I hung all over it. Still, it was fun and had some cool moves through barn door hand jams and chimneys. The anchor was glued in angle pitons. We did some other stuff but I didn’t keep good records. With a crowd that large it’s a party night and day, we had a blast. They left Sunday night.
Monday, Sam and I drove in for showers, shopping and I picked up my winter Stevenson bag. We got back in time to hike out to a new wall in back of Donelly called Habitado wall. In the parking lot Sam met some other seasonal friends from the valley: David, Annalisa and several others. There is some excellent climbing at Habitado wall. It’s so good that we went back the next day. There are eights and nines, and even two over hanging sport routes sort of similar to 9 gallon buckets at Smith. Gus showed up that night and we had more hot pizzas ready when he arrived.
Tuesday November 15
Went back to Havitado to climb the lightning bolt 5.9 yellow crack shown below. This thing is sooo good! It was also a nice little alcove out of the wind.
Wednesday Nov 17 Cat wall
Led Child Abuse 10b? I needed 8 blues 8 yellows. Hung when I ran out of gear. Easy jamming the whole way. There is one awkward move into a pod, but it’s very safe. It is an endurance fest. Sam, Gus, David & Annalise were all up there doing various things.
I led Bromance, a 5.8 off width with a tipped out 6 protecting a 40 footer
Thursday was a rest day from pushing hard on tens. We decided to climb the desert tower called South Six Shooter with Sam, Gus, Annalise, Boris, David and Katie. See video above. Thanks to Gus for offering to lead every pitch and carry the rack. Also thanks to Sam for carrying the rope and the beer. I carried…a harmonica? No, wait, Sam carried that too. With my super light mostly empty Hyperlight pack I was able to keep up with the young people. These guys can really move!
Friday was a true rest day…meaning no climbing. I hiked up to paint the ruins. See story at the top of the page. Later I hung out at our propane campfire with Kyle, Lauryn, Gus, Sam and Landon.
During a long period of good climbing weather I’ve noticed that most people run out of firewood. Because re-supply is an hour away in Moab, the campground goes dark, unless you have a propane campfire. My 5 gallon tank lasts at least 9 nights. We met some very nice people when they stopped by to warm their hands.
We met our neighbor Landon from site 7 a week earlier when he saw my campfire and walked over with a six pack. I also heard from Crystal that the best way to get a campsite in a crowded climber campground is to walk up to the fire with a six pack. “Y’all need any more beer?”
Cass was overdue but showed up later that night. She’d had a bunch of problems with her Sprinter, including a broken interior heater. I was standing around a campfire at the Squamish neighbors when a woman reached out to give me a hug. I was startled because I thought she had bailed. But it was super nice to have one of my homies from t-town show up. I’ve known her for about a year and we’ve been on a few trips and had some fun adventures. She is also a gym regular here when she is visiting her mom.
Earlier we’d seen the sign (below), and could hear the music and shouting from the unofficial ‘party site’. A couple Canadians had been over and said there were people getting naked. I didn’t think they would really do that in the 25 degree temps but Cass and I decided to check it out.
When we got there we saw a roaring bonfire with both men and women stripping naked…at least on the top half. They also had a set of large speakers pumping out rock and roll for the costumed booty shakers. Later I heard that the Halloween party was even wilder, and that there is a strong culture of skinny dipping in Yosemite, where many of these folks were from. Clearly I’m out of touch.
They were playing a drinking game that involved whiskey poured into the natural ‘cup’ formed by the clavicle bone. There are other cups on the body also…as you can imagine. Anyway, they poured it in, drank it out, and then other shenanigans ensued. It’s definitely a young persons game. I have distant 60 year old memories of my carefree hippy days when parties like these were the norm. But in my retirement, getting wasted is just not my thing. We enjoyed the show for half an hour and then left them to their fun.
Cass drove us in her Sprinter up to Pistol Whipped wall. The road was rough and her house on wheels was rocking and rattling like a ship at sea. We should have taken my Tundra. It’s the road that goes right at the fork past the Willows campground out at Beef Basin. We climbed Spaghetti Western and Short Dumb, which I ended up hang dogging to the second anchor.
This little red #1 crack is only rated 5.8. IMHO this rating is completely bogus if you have big hands like mine. I pulled on 4 reds to get above the chains where it turned into a very nice yellow and blue hand crack. The last 6 feet involved pulling on a loosely seated refrigerator sized block. As I pulled on the top, it creaked out away from the wall. I quickly let go and it thumped back in place like a dinosaur awakening. That block could kill someone some day.
I followed Landon up Super Crack. He flew up that thing so fast it was hard to believe. He was cruising towards the anchor when I suddenly felt a big fall. The guy who was racking nearby saw the 30 foot whip and called it correctly: “Victory whip!!!”
When I followed it to clean the anchors I fell out of the boulder move at the start. The secret seems to be to get your right hand fingers cammed into the crack on the left above the bulge. Once past that move I hiked up the rest like it was a long 5.8. Cass also TR’d Supercrack. She made some progress on hand-fist jamming. It was fun to see her smile.
Next I led The Incredible Hand Crack with one hang. I could have led TIHC clean but there was a crowd on it and we did Supercrack first…which made my arms tired. At my age, it takes weeks to build up the power for the creek. There was a crowd of young people top roping TIHC all morning. When I walked over and led it with one hang they were impressed and offered me a shot from their flask of whiskey.
At my side is Landon, my trusty belayer and neighbor in site 7. Landon is a really cool guy. He is an Air Force veteran and one of my only partners down there who would actually slow down to my hiking pace on the approaches. Most of my partners would leave me in the dust. And I get that, they are young and fit and loved to move. But Landon was a real gentleman and would hike along at my old man pace so we could talk about life and stuff.
I left Creek Pasture campground yesterday at dawn and drove up through Price and Salt Lake City to the open but deserted Farewell Bend State Park at 10PM.
At Salt Lake City google said I needed to drive 636 miles before turning right. Geez!
From Farewell Bend State park, Google Maps said I had a 7 hour drive home. Despite a 6 AM start I didn’t get home until 4PM thanks to a snowstorm on Snoqualmie Pass. Cars and trucks were stuck and flipped over everywhere. It doesn’t take a genius to know that there can be snow on the mountain passes. Why don’t people carry chains? My 4WD Tundra was a rock with Hakkapelita studless snow tires. But I think my windows blew a fuse. They froze in place and only the drivers side moves.
Since I’ve been home we’ve fallen back into our routine of ping pong twice a week plus skiing at Rainier and the occasional trip to the climbing gym. I set up my easel in the kitchen and tried to talk myself into being a studio artist. It was fun adding color to the rocks. I went a little crazy only because bright colors make me smile. I’m not trying to make something real. It is after all the story of a vision…or was it? I’ll probably never know what really happened up there.
Sue and I drove to Chinook Pass to meet Lisa. They went hiking 8 miles to Sheep Lake while I painted Lake Tipsoo in oils. It was my first oil painting of the year.
I’ve been missing my hand held ham radio for almost a year. It was sitting at the bottom of my oil painting backpack. I’d searched high and low for it. I’d looked in every box, shelf and backpack multiple times. But I’d never looked in the bottom of the oil painting backpack. I guess I must have brought radios to Paradise so Sue and I could communicate. Then, when that last oil painting bombed, I totally forgot that I’d left the $300 radio sitting in the pack.
My painting sucks, but I expected that after not using the medium for that long. Passages of the piece were fun to work on, but it needs a lot of work. Oils give you second chances and then some. There is a reason most serious painters work in oils.
I seem to be in a place with my art where I enjoy creating it, but lack the work ethic to polish it after the fact so it is sellable. I had such a strong work ethic before I retired. I was always pushing for excellence. But the steady pension checks have removed the need for the extra income from gallery sales. I like having the experience creating something on the blank canvas and living in the moment seems to be all I want to do.
Alex and I were talking about that at the gym recently. I said it’s like going climbing without a camera. I just want to have the experience of climbing. I don’t need to document it. The experience is enough. Painting is like that now…the act of creation is self fulfilling in and of itself. I still have a small desire to share my work. But social media seems so weak and ephemeral compared to face to face with friends or in a gallery.
We slept at the Buck Creek airport campground near Crystal Mountain Ski Area. It’s an awesome find. It’s free and there are tons of sites. It’s almost like Vantage, but with picnic tables at the spots. The next day we drove up to Sunrise fearing smoke…but lucked out with relatively clear weather. We were going to hike to Mt. Fremont but on the drive up I realized I wanted to be closer to the glaciers. And for that there is only one choice: Bouroughs Mountain.
I was fresh from standing at the easel all day at Tipsoo. Sue was sore from hiking 8 miles to Sheep Lake but she was game and we trudged up to second Bouroughs, which I determined was pretty enough. I painted another lame painting in Gouache and pen. My Sunrise paintings always bomb. The mountain goes into complete shade by 3pm. All the light is gone. Whereas on the South side (Paradise) it doesn’t lose the light until 6pm. I’ve been known to still be painting at 6 at Paradise.
But at Sunrise…the light is gone at 2. I must have done a dozen paintings up there over the decades…they all suck, without exception. I even did a dawn start there once. We camped in the meadow to be able to be on location at 8:30 AM. Total failure, the painting bombed. But the hike is super fun with dramatic false summits and views that open up like a curtain in a theater.
On the way down we saw a black fox and a family of 5 mountain goats, but the highlight of the day happened at Frozen Lake. We’d heard there was a large carnivore down there. As we approached within a few blocks of the lake, we saw a group of people gathered closely together. They were looking intently at something on the hillside, close to where we were hiking down.
As we got closer one of the guys started waving frantically and pointing. I slowed down and looked in the direction he was pointing. I saw a large, cow sized black back moving slowly just beyond a boulder. It was a full grown black bear, 60 feet away. Sue was just ahead and I told her to get out her iPhone. Mine was buried in my pack.
She quickly handed me her phone, saying: “Take some pictures!” then walked briskly down the trail to the relative safety of the group of 10 hikers watching the bear. I slowly raised the phone and began shooting video…watching carefully for signs of unease in the bears demeanor. I’m no bear expert…but it looked very happy, munching heather like a cow in high clover. Really snuffling it up. You can see it in the video. He has zero interest in me and is clearly used to people being around.
In hindsight though, it’s clear why women live longer than men. She handed me the camera and vamoosed! As we walked away, we both commented on the fact that the bear was the highlight of the trip…far out shining the two paintings. To see such a powerful apex predator ambling along eating grass and heather…completely at ease in nature. Wow! That was super cool to think this was his or her natural environment. We were the visitors, he or she lives here year long.
And this was no zoo, and we had no bear spray…and certainly no guns of any kind. We’d decided earlier that we: (1) never saw bears, and (2), they aren’t in attack mode if and when you do see one. My legs are sore from hiking, but I have a glow from the two paintings…and the bear encounter. We haven’t seen a bear in 15 years.
We ran into two young women a block further down the trail. We told them about the bear. They were worried.
“Should we be scared?” they asked.
I was like: “It’s ok to be scared. I was scared….he was 60 feet away….but he was too busy eating to pay me any mind.”
I’ve started in on my usual fall still life painting series. Just today the rain started falling for the first time since early June. I’ve been unicycling past this old retired ferry on the public bike path. It seemed like it might be paintable so I took my sketch pad down.
Fletch is back in Leavy for a few weeks and invited a dozen friends over to climb in the smoke. Five of us showed up. We climbed at R&D, Careno (his new routes), Parasol Rock and Classic Crack. By the last day I had warmed up and led Classic cleanly. This was a huge improvement over earlier in the summer when I hung on every cam. And this on a route I’ve been leading with 3 cams for 20 years.
Fletch and I are lucky to have a two pronged relationship. Not only do we climb together, we also both play and sing on the geetar. I brought some of my newly prepared sheet music over. Brian also plays, and Dave invited a friend out who knew the blues. A grand time was had by all. Nice to play the blues harp again, it’s been a while.
After a 3 year absence I finally got back to Squish. Though crossing the border was not without its drama. We had complied with all the arriveCAN headaches, which included uploading your vaccine proof via a photo, and scheduling your arrival time…basically making an appointment to cross the border. We also had to give them an address where we would be staying.
A Canadian address is problematic because we were dirt bagging it and in reality had no idea where we would end up finding room to camp. But I told them we were staying at the Chief, since it has a street address for the arriveCAN form and does not allow reservations…which simplified the paperwork.
We sailed through the border with no problems until the very last moment when the border guard said:
“You have been randomly selected to take a Covid Test. Here is your kit.”
“How is that going to work?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s super easy, you just follow the instructions and schedule a FedEx pickup. You have 24 hours to do it.”
We drove north with a growing sense of un-ease. Our first priority was to get a camp spot. It was Friday morning at a world famous climbing area in a perfect weather window with rain to either side of our 5 day stretch. Both the Chief and Mamquam were fully packed with climbers in all manner of vehicles from $200,000 Sprinters to beater rusted out Chevy vans, not to mention a few packed to the brim Subarus.
Squamish in good weather is the place to be and any climber worth his salt within walking, driving or flying distance was already there…many for several month stretches. But I’ve been climbing there since 1978 and I know a few of the secret camping spots. Privacy concerns prevent me from sharing online…but I will say that we headed up towards Whistler and got lucky.
After putting up a tent, we headed for the Smoke Bluffs and the Black Zawn. I’d planned to deal with the Covid test in the evening…but of course we were far too tired after the long drive and a day of climbing. On the next day, we did a dawn start to get a parking spot at the Bluffs.
James cooked while I battled through the long process of navigating a very badly designed website to set up a Microsoft Teams meeting at 11 AM for the remote home Covid Self administered test. They want a nurse watching while you swab.
We climbed a few fun routes at Neat and Cool before I logged into Microsoft Teams. I wasn’t sure which log in to use. I have a backup account with another email address, but not the one I used for arriveCAN. I wasn’t sure how tightly the databases were integrated. Plus, I haven’t used Teams in 4 years. It sucked back then even on a computer. It was even worse on a smartphone. It’s the kind of thing that is supposed to be easy, even for a beginner…but it’s not.
By some miracle of the computing gods the nurse and I were able to see and hear each other. But it immediately became apparent that my extended Verizon Canada coverage plan was throttling my data. That would have been survivable, but her accent was very strong. They had clearly offshored the work to a place where people work for pennies and can barely speak English.
I had assumed that she would walk me though the whole process, starting with opening the sealed serial numbered box. But due to her strong Pakistani accent and the bad ‘FaceTime’ connection, she had to repeat every instruction several times. I was sitting on a ledge in climbing gear and didn’t know I needed a pen to write with. James had to hike over with my pen…which was fortunately on my key ring. I got a few lines penned in and she had to move on to her next appointment. They only schedule 15 minutes!
We went climbing after that up at Ronin’s corner…which, by the way, is still in the sun at 3! It was too hot to lead without incurring rivers of sweat. Our plan to escape the inland heat by climbing on the seashore at Squish had backfired. Not that I’m complaining. It was so lovely to be back on the exquisite Canadian granite.
We knocked off at 4, drove into town and I once again waded through the awful website to schedule another appointment for a home test. Despite a 4 bar signal the FaceTime experience was even worse. And his accent was abominable. I even asked him if there was anyone there who could speak English more clearly…because even when he slowed down and repeated his words multiple times, it was as if he was speaking gibberish. By that time James was in the car. Even with both of us guessing at his meaning we were getting zip.
Prior to this latest meeting I’d done some research and discovered that there is a $5000 fine if you don’t complete the test within 24 hours of crossing. Or maybe it’s by end of day the day after you arrive…I read conflicting reports. Either way, with our facetime crashing repeatedly, Verizon throttling my data, my RoboCall software intercepting his phone calls when FaceTime crashed, we were having a first class sh$tshow. I was looking at a $5000 fine with a deadline…plus he was running way over his 15 minutes of allowed time for our ‘appointment’. I think he even mentioned that we were out of time…but that he was going to make it work, even if he couldn’t see me.
I was like, you mean we can do this by phone…really? You don’t have to watch me on video?
So that’s how it ended. Despite all the communication nightmares, we managed to get a swab into the packaging and I dropped it off at Shoppers Drug Mart in Squamish. They were familiar with the border sh$tshow and had a form to accept my test kit.
My 24 hours of stress were finally over and we spent the rest of the trip enjoying ourselves. We spent a day at Octopus Garden, a day at and above Klahanie Crack, a day up at Chek and maybe somewhere else? My favorite lead was Edible Panties. And no, I don’t name these things. Climbers have a long history of ribald route names. It probably stems from the fact that these routes were put up back when women climbers were thin on the ground.
Sue and I would be out climbing with a bunch of sausages and she would literally be the only women in a crag filled with 20 guys. This used to happen all the time. It worked in my favor when I’d call my buddies to ask if they wanted to go climbing, they wanted to know if Sue was coming.
A couple weeks ago Sue and I hiked up the skyline trail to my favorite view of Rainier. I did a strong pen and ink underdrawing feeling dialed in. I put my pens away and started in on the Gouache. Normally, the India Ink is dry and I can paint over the top of the ink as if it wasn’t there. This time a disaster ensued.
I need to back up a little. Back in March, my Twisbi pen had clogged up. I was too ignorant to realize I was using the wrong ink. I’d gotten away with using India Ink because it does work for a while…just not in hot weather.
India Ink, also known as *dip pen* ink is designed to be used on pens from the 1860’s. Those pens were a wood body with a thin split metal tip (nib). You dip the nib in the ink bottle and draw until the nib runs dry, then you dip again. Think calligraphy from 1975. I’m not big on reading directions, and having come from dip pens back in the seventies, I put that same ink in my modern $60 Twisbi fountain pen. As long as I drew every few days, the ink, which has shellac and large pigment particles would work fine. But if I stopped drawing for a couple weeks, or tried to draw in a heat wave the ink would dry up and ruin a $25 Twisbi nib.
Fast forward to last March when my nib died. I purchased a new Lamy pen in Vegas, thinking it was using the same waterproof India ink as my Twisbi. I would have bought another fountain pen, but the Lamy was all they had at Blicks.
The Lamy ink, which comes in disposable cartridges, is designed for just the Lamy fountain pen. It will not dry out in the pen. Part of the reason it stays wet when the pen is capped is that it doesn’t have shellac.
My Twisbi pen would literally dry out while I was drawing if it was hot and the sun was shining. But back to that day on Rainier a month ago…I start to paint over the Lamy pen and ink drawing and the black ink melted and ran. Every color I painted had black added to it as the line dissolved. My yellow gouache brush strokes turned brown, my reds turned muddy. It was a wasted hike and a bad painting.
Wednesday Sue and I hiked up to the same viewpoint. This time I had my Twisbi fountain pen loaded with a new ink. I’d done my research after the Lamy disaster. I’d found a new waterproof and permanent ink called de Atramentis Archive. I also had my Lamy loaded with this new ink, plus a technical pen from my Uncle Dan (thanks Marcus) along with a new pen called a Noodlers Safety pen loaded with true India Ink. Beyond that I had a few Pigma disposable pens. I was loaded for bear.
I did a fine pen underdrawing and started in on the color. Big surprise: it worked flawlessly. No bleeding, no melting, a perfect ink. With that problem out of the way I could focus on what I do best: staring at the subtle colors on the mountain and interpreting them into something I could mix on my palette. As a famous painter once said: “The hue doesn’t matter if the value is right”. This means if you view a crazy colored painting in black and white it will look correct.
Painting the Nisqually glacier is always the heart of the matter. If I can nail those blues and greens down the rest of the painting is easy breezy. Those go down without a pen underdrawing. The values are so light pen can’t be used. I can usually capture it with about 7 barely there colors. Almost all the same value…just variations on emerald as the waining afternoon light builds into alpenglow.
I usually have about 90 minutes of stable light. It’s a mad dash of mixing and throwing color around. I love that part of the process. I’m like a kid in a candy store. Every little stroke of color makes me smile. I’ve had small crowds of hikers stand behind me while I’m laying down those brushstrokes, murmuring amongst themselves like I’m some kind of magician.
On the last trip, I was listening to some calming music on my headphones when a hiker suddenly appeared at my elbow. He startled me as it had been a fairly quiet day. But suddenly he was there, lips moving. I had to pull my ear buds out to hear him. I don’t mind talking to folks, but it does stop my painting process until they leave.
I thought of dropping by my gallery on the way through Ashford. But if he had wanted them, I wouldn’t even have high resolution photo for my records. Plus I like to fondle my latest creations for a few weeks. If it’s a boring day and I’m feeling uninspired, I can get them out and bask in their illumination.
Pam got married last weekend, which was a year after starting her practice. He seems like a great guy, we are very happy for her.
We climbed a lot during her breaks from college and training. For a few months she lived in Tacoma, which made for a bunch of gym and Index trips.
She is the only one of my nieces and nephews with whom I ever spent any serious time. Though I’ve also been on a few 3 day trips with her brother, who is a great climber as well.
David and Beth moved too far away for me to really get to know. We used to see all 7 of the cousins every Thanksgiving back when Grandma was alive. But then we all got older and people spread across the country. I feel lucky to have climbed with Lisa, Clint, Pam and John as much as we could given our busy lives.
Pam asked me to play guitar as she walked down the aisle. I was supposed to start singing when her grandma walked. Because I had to keep looking up at the walkers, I lost my place for a few agonizing seconds, and had one of those awful stage fright moments where nothing made sense. My harp and guitar which had been flowing so well fell into a discordant mess of broken sounds. I saw the two people in the front row looking at me in surprise. I panicked and made a snap decision to switch from instrumental to voice, regardless of who was walking.
I was fine after that, and none of my relatives noticed…or said they didn’t…but it made me frustrated. I’d practiced so hard to nail it down. And to make a major flub like that was…well, at the end of the day…I’m just an average Joe, not a professional wedding performer. I have to cut myself some slack.
We left after the ‘ball and chain’ event and drove out to the Oregon coast where I did too bad paintings. My pen and ink is not practical for fast plein air. I mean, duh. Everyone knows pen is super slow. I need to practice loosening up and drawing more frequently in a sketchy style. Or just go back to pastel. Pastel is so quick on color paper. It’s pretty as soon as you put in the high lights. How did I get sucked down this urban sketcher dead end?
Facebook and Instagram had a 6 hour outage yesterday. I was painting all day and didn’t even notice. That’s how it should be. I have no need to ‘build my brand’ anymore. I’m retired. I should close all my accounts. My new friends from Idaho aren’t on social media at all. Many people aren’t anymore…like Sue, Clint, Pam, Paul and Chad. The entire concept of Social Media is flawed from the get go. I would be wise to let it all go.
Since I wrote last I’ve been on two, week long road trips and numerous day trips to Index. James and I spent 5 days at Index climbing moderates. And just two days ago I returned from a solo trip to the City where I met 10 new ‘over 50’ partners in a Mountain Project event. It was a week long event and I had a great time climbing with new friends, some in their mid seventies.
I led all the standard moderates, both trad and sport. Highlights were Sinocranium with a party of grey and white haired folks. Who needs young people?
My best lead was the run out 5.9 Mystery Bolter route down at Flaming Rock. I also got to dance up Rain Dance, in the rain.
Tuesday I painted the mountain with Sue. She always drags me out hiking the minute I get back from a road trip. I’ll be suffering major jetlag from the drive and she’ll be like:
“Let’s go hiking, you can bring your paints!”
I was hiking with a major bad attitude up there, cursing life in general. But the mountain worked it’s magic. The Red Bull that I hauled up didn’t hurt either. First time I’ve tried to paint after one of those nasty brews.
I was really shocked to see the painting coming to life. We got a late start, so I had to rush the pen work, making copious structural errors. I finished most of it from 2:30 to 4:30. It’s not bad for a 2 hour rush job.
I started my Spring trip by driving solo down to Vegas. There was a long stretch where 93 turns to 6 south of Ely where there was no cell service. I remember pulling over at an intersection. My maps app had died, the no stoplight town was long dead and abandoned. I had no idea which road to take at the Y junction. I got out my paper Atlas map of the country and figured that South was a good guess and drove. Fortunately I had a full tank of gas.
I got up on a pass where it was snowing lightly and pulled over. Still no cell service. Before leaving town I’d installed my HF ham radio in the Tundra. I got out, tuned the antenna to the twenty meter frequency band and spun the dial on my Icom IC-7300. I heard a couple guys in New Hampshire having a friendly competition to talk to every grid square (sort of like counties) in the country. It’s like Bingo, they color in their paper map as they talk to the grid squares. I told them I was in Nevada and they got all excited.
“Where are you in central Nevada? We don’t have any grid squares because no one lives there!”
“I know, I’m driving down a random highway and haven’t seen a soul for hours!”
“Can you look up your location on your phone?”
“No cell service, I’m glad I have this ham radio.”
I continued to talk to those guys, and a dozen others as I racked up the dusty deserted miles in my trusty Tundra. It was really cool to be able to reach out into the invisible airwaves in the absence of a cell signal.
As I pulled into Vegas Aaron invited me to drop by for dinner and some music. He plays banjo and is an old Tacoma friend going back 8 years. We got up in the morning and climbed the 5.7 Group Therapy route to the left of Purblind Pillar. It had a long 7 inch chimney that had me wishing for more big gear.
The next day I hooked up with Kena, Tony and Cole for Cat in the Hat. The last two pitches were intimidating as I was so rusty. Cole led the last (4th?) pitch with the bolted runnout. That took me to Monday and I needed a rest day. Two days of driving followed by two, long approach multipitch routes had me hammered.
I did a bad painting in the afternoon, and activated Red Rocks in the morning with my Icom 7300, making about 25 contacts. The next day the four of us hiked up to do Johnny Vegas. We found a slow moving party of 3 women doing a NOLS training climb and bailed to Solar Slabs Chimney. It turns out they weren’t that slow, but you have to go with your gut in those situations. The chimney was super fun and relaxing climbing. At the top the sun was blazing down and we bailed.
I’m having trouble remembering what I did every day now, it being 5 weeks in the past. Kena and Tony and I continued climbing. We had a splendid day at Physical Graffiti, one of the best 3 pitch 5.6’s anywhere. We also did one of the pitches of Big Bad Wolf 5.9 sport. Then Tony left Thursday to be replaced with Pamela, another OB/GYN doctor and we three climbed at Panty Wall.
On the weekend, Aaron was off again and we climbed Ragged Edges, a two pitch 8? that was uber cool. By Monday, everyone had flown home or gone back to work so I drove toward to Moab to meet Fletch who was off work Wednesday evening. I stopped near St. George and activated a random state park on the way. Ham radio is a fun diversion. The wind almost broke my antenna again. I picked up Fletch at Grand Junction airport in Colorado after camping two nights at Courthouse Rock. We met up with Lisa and Brian and drove to Beef Basin. I led Generic Crack with some hangs…it’s so long! I should have taped. My crack gloves were too thick. I followed Chocolate Corner and a few others.
In the morning we drove all the way back through Moab to the famous Fisher Towers Ancient art route. I’d been hearing about Fletches adventures with our friends there for at least a decade. It looked extremely intimidating in photos. I’d heard it described as climbing mud, rotten everywhere, with loose bolts a plenty. But it was actually reasonably safe, for a desert tower.
Fletch backed off the last pitch. I couldn’t blame him, it looked extremely dangerous. I decided to go take a look, since he’d already clipped the first 3 bolts. There was no way I was going to stress those bolts on that weak tower with a lead fall. I french free’d all of them, even added two cams to get to the top.
That took us to Sunday and Fletch decided to go to work. I dropped him in Moab and met Cole. This was kind of a pattern. I’d wear out a couple partners and new ones would drive or fly in to replace the old ones. I never stopped climbing for 3 weeks. Well, I did take a few rest days to paint, and one was forced on me by rain…but yeah, I basically never stopped hustling the whole trip.
Cole and I climbed at Donnely where I led Chocolate Corner clean (Yes!) and Supercrack not clean. Then it rained and I did a nice painting at Beef Basin. Next day I painted Delicate Arch, Cole left and I picked up Fletch from work and we climbed Castleton Tower in a 17 hour day. Young people do Ancient Art and Castleton in a day…but wait until they are 67…well see how many linkups they can pull then.
We were tanked after that and headed home with a brief stop at The City where I led (finished) Rye Crisp. We were both clearly done with climbing. When I got home I started to spend some time with my grandaughter Rose. Sue likes to babysit her. I’m starting to warm to her also. She seems to tolerate me fairly well.
I’ve been up to Rainier once and did a great painting with pen and Gouache.
It’s been 20 days since arriving home from my 22 day holiday trip with James. We left on the 18th after the fall quarter ended. and drove to Zion in two days, sleeping once in the snow up on the Blue Mountains. It was a weird campground. Who keeps a campground open with 6 inches of snow on the ground? The rain and melting snow were pelting down at a furious rate all night. I wondered if we might be snowed in for the winter, but there were a few other campers around and I knew we’d get out eventually. The freeway was only a block away.
Next day we made it to a free camp spot outside Zion near Springdale / Virgin. Sue and I have camped there before. James left his tent up for 4 nights with no problem. The most we saw there was 5 cars. The next day we got to the Angels Landing parking spot around 8am and as soon as I drove into the crowded gravel lot I was immediately surrounded by other cars jamming in. It was merciless. I backed up into a fishy spot that potentially could have blocked other cars from leaving, unless they drove backwards and around the lot. But I had no choice. My truck was too big to back out, that was like swimming up river. I was soon blocked in myself by cars doing much worse parking jobs right beside me. James was like: “Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore.”
We cooked breakfast in the dirt then packed up and started the hike. To save weight I took my oils out and put my gouache kit in my rock pack. Angels Landing is an extremely dangerous hike. It’s far worse than the cables route on Half Dome. The chain railings are secure enough, assuming some out of shape tourist doesn’t fall off and cause a chain reaction. But what if you pull a muscle in your hand, or slip, and and can’t hang on? The worst spots were some sandy slabs where there were no chains. Who decides these things? On a climbing approach we’d belay the hell out of slabs like those. There were huge drop offs below them.
The trail looked endlessly dangerous…but was actually quite do-able….as long as I kept my cool. People hike it all day long. I did regret my huge pack. No one had as large a pack as my art pack. But, I did do a reasonably good painting considering we’d just driven a thousand miles in the last 35 hours.
I need to sew a lighter pack, one that isn’t so overly re-enforced everywhere. It just needs to be good enough for skiing and gouache painting days. Probably should have a zipper in the back for repair access…with a vinyl bottom.
Next day I painted Upper Emerald Pool, badly. I just couldn’t seem to get my game face on. Day after that, our third day at Zion, we tried to climb the Mountaineers Route. It used to be like Angels Landing with cables everywhere, built around 1920. It was chopped in the eighties when maintenance became too expensive. There is lots of evidence of the old tourist route in the shape of chopped one inch iron bolts and polished footsteps carved into the sandstone.
James was totally comfortable free soloing death slabs but I hated it. At one point, I was traversing a slab with a huge drop off. There was a bush 50 feet down that might have stopped a slide towards the drop off, or maybe not. We actually had a discussion about the odds of landing on the bush, versus missing it and plummeting into air. James was already across with the rope. The cliff ahead got steeper and was forcing me backwards. The ledge narrowed down to 2 inches of horizontal “trail” on the steep sandy slab. It was about as steep as Slender Thread at Peshastin.
As I stepped forward there was a prickly bush that forced me even farther backwards off balance toward the drop off. I thought of calling James for a belay, but he was out of sight around a corner scampering happily along. With no other options, I grabbed a half inch thick branch of the bush and edged forward thinking: This is a really stupid way to die. I made the move, the flat spot on the slab got bigger and I was able to “hike” another block or so before the same scenario repeated itself. This time I hollered for James. He came back and was able to get me a top rope by scampering up to a 2 inch bush behind which he could belay. All together there were 5 places I had him belay me in the thousand feet we climbed. People on Mtn Project were saying they either free soloed everything, or belayed maybe twice.
I have zero tolerance for mountain climbing. People who enjoy the danger are made from sterner stuff than me. I like the “relative” safety in rock climbing. Sure, it’s dangerous, but so is driving in the dark in a heavy rain storm at 70 miles an hour. Mountain climbing involves a lot of movement over 5th class terrain with no rope. It’s more like that same rainstorm, in the dark…but on a motorcycle. Your margin of safety is very narrow while mountain climbing. I’ve had 8 friends die mountain climbing. Any serious mountaineer will tell you the same stories.
But back to the cliff…we were only half way, a thousand feet up, and it was 2pm. I didn’t want to descend in the dark so we bailed. The rangers told us they were locking the gates next day, which was Xmas eve, the 24th. For three days we had been able to drive through the gate at 6 AM before the rangers arrived.
Beginning in the morning you would only be able to come in via shuttles, and only if you had a reservation. That was a non-starter for us and we bailed at dawn, driving to St. George in a few hours. We lucked out with a $20 camping spot at Snowy Canyon campground. Full service hot showers and everything.
Just Deserts is a lovely three pitch 5.8 with modern bolting…so fun! There is a three pitch 5.7 to it’s right. I led the first pitch, but bailed on the second after Dennis took a 20 foot whipper on a pin. It’s protected with half inch angles…but they held his whipper…I just didn’t want to chance it.
It was good we bailed because at the bottom James suggested doing another route, but I realized Dennis and Julie were probably having trouble finding the walk off. They should have been down an hour earlier.
I hustled around to the walk off an saw them at the very top, belaying down the wrong way. I hollered to look for a hidden manhole style tunnel to skiers left, then began climbing up to guide them down. James and I had just done the walk off earlier on Just Desserts, so I knew it well.
We got all got down and had a nice wood fire that night. Dennis brought the wood.
The next day they did Just Deserts while James led a horror show of a 5.6. 50 feet to the first manky cam, and it got worse from there. He has a dangerous ability to basically free solo chossy rock. He just keeps going up as the pro gets worse and worse. And he does it in guide tennies.
We joined Dennis and Julie where the routes converge and sailed to the top, where it started to rain, hard. Dennis set up a 3 cam anchor for a handline, which I happily used. Then we slid on our butts down the 4th class slabs. That night, they guided us up to Prophesy Wall where there is BLM camping…and 3 inches of snow.
In the bright white morning we drove to Jtree with a stop to see Aaron + Katie and the ham store in Vegas. I ordered the FT3DR general delivery to Jtree post office where it arrived 4 days later.
Jtree was fine, I led Hands Off, Damper, Toe Jam and a super fun new route called Penny Lane left of Double Dip. I tried to lead Stick to What and Touch & Go, but there were crowds of top ropers so we bailed to a nice little 5.8 chimney route left of Chalk Up Another One.
That’s basically the trip. It was 22 days on the road in the Tundra. I never got very good. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, or if it was all the interruptions. Driving here, driving there, bad camp spots many miles from the cliffs, endless hours of driving, unfamiliar climbing areas….I have lots of excuses.
One of the things I really like about jtree is those lazy mornings at the campground. This is pre-covid of course. You get there, you stock up on food and you live the life until the food and water runs out. All the climbs are familiar, like seeing my cousins at a family reunion. There is very little stress. It’s conducive to getting real good real fast. Can’t wait get back down there after covid eases up.
I’ve been racking my brain for a way to make my painting pack lighter. Sue loves to hike, and I’ll put up with a hike if I can paint, but my art pack is too heavy. I tried acrylics, but so far I don’t like them. I’ve been seeing some nice work done with Gouache. It’s used like a little water color set, but with the ability to have opaque white, like oil. It also blends a bit better than acrylics, since it’s more like water color.
It drys instantly, between watercolor and acrylics for speed. So I don’t need a wet painting carrier box as with oils. I can go on a long hike with just a few sheets of paper, paints and my easel. So it should be extremely light…which means we can hike farther.
Don’t get me wrong. Oil is my go to medium. But for long hikes, it’s just so heavy. The squash was my first gouache painting ever. I’m about 6 hours in and liking the process very much. I predict a scenario where I do sketches plein air in gouache, then expand them in the studio with oil.
Update on 12 – 15: I’ve started combining pen with Gouache. Pen is great because if forces me into right brain mode faster. You can’t erase with pen and ink….so you either draw well quickly, or quit. There is a whole movement called “urban sketchers” that combines pen and watercolor in little 6 x 8 sketchbooks. You can pack the whole thing in a laptop bag and bicycle around town…or Europe.
California has locked down the campgrounds due to ICU capacity being below 15% in most counties. I’d planned my usual jtree trip as soon as the quarter was over…but now I’m hesitating. Even though Sue and I and C L probably had covid in February, I really don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who travels during a statewide stay at home order. I have the rest of my life to travel…don’t have to jump in the truck with no partner and violate all kinds of civic responsibilities because I want my vacation no matter what.
I have to clear out my desk at work Wednesday, and hand in my Master Key. I wonder if I’ll get a golden watch? Seems appropriate…but unlikely. I have over 600 hours of unused sick leave…wonder if it’s worth anything. I claimed two sick days in 20 years at this job. I’m going to miss John, Darryl, Ken and Joe. All really good teachers and top notch human beings trying to do their best.
Retired after 52 years of working
Cleared out my desk today. Ken was there, and Shawn in studio A. Went over to security to hand in my key and badge. Bunch of cars out front, lights were on, it wasn’t quitting time but they weren’t answering my knock. I think they were hoping I’d go away. I stood there under the porch in the heavy rain, lit by a small lamp, thinking: not much of a retirement party. I called the night number and Mark came over and let me in. I’ve had many long conversations with Mark going all the way back to Nancy in 1999 when I was a student there. But the lack of excitement was palpable: “Retiring after twenty years, huh, cool.”
Retiring is something you only do once. I guess my big event was back when our main program closed and I went from tenure to part time contract work. I met with the pres’ that day. I remember him saying: “Closing his program huh? We are losing a lot of experience and training here, shame to see you go. But now you’ll have more time to pursue other interests.” That must have been about 4 years ago now.
I am really liking having a painting going in the studio (our heated shed). It may be my best turban squash painting ever. And even if it’s not, it’s given me a lot of satisfaction. I haven’t painted large since my 30 inch water colors in the early nineties. This one is 24 x 36 inch. When I’m out there painting, I get a deep sense of peace, like, this is where I should be, and what I should be doing. I know it sounds like psychobabble but my mind gets very clear and I enter a “zone” where it’s just me and the painting. Everything else is forgotten. I’ve missed this…a lot.
Because it’s so large, it has a presence that’s undeniable. It seems to say: “Like me or hate me, I’m big, and I’m here to stay!” But speaking of that…this one is painted on 5 ply cradled maple plywood. It’s huge, it’s heavy and it will be difficult to store. Here I was thinking I was so clever to cradle a couple 36″ boards.
I’m realizing there was a reason Van Gogh painted on large canvases. He could take them off the stretcher and roll them up. When Vincent died, his brother found a shed full of rolled up canvases in perfect condition. They make for a very compact storage option. Even some modern painters prefer to work on unstretched canvases. They tape them to boards for plein air work. If they turn out, they can be stretched and mounted later. If they don’t turn out, they can be painted over like any bad work.
To that end, I just bought 3 yards of medium weight canvas for $36. I’m priming it for oils as we speak. Perhaps I’ll do some big jtree paintings. With this studio work, I should be warmed up enough to do some good work down there.