Saturday, June 28, 2008

Columnar Basalt and Sagebrush

I had a four day hiatus from painting, having been ill for a couple of days and then having to actually work for a couple of days. This morning I painted on the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Washington State, which is where I grew up. And I will paint there for the next few days until I return to NE Oregon. The refuge is full of little irrigation runoff lakes formed in coulees of columnar basalt formations, surrounded by buttes and mesas. They call this constellation of pockmark geological features "scablands", which sounds revolting but looks beautiful. Lots of sagebrush, raptors, migratory waterfowl, mule deer, coyote and rattlesnakes. This morning I almost bumped into a mule deer on the trail and the coyote tracks and scat were fresh. At regular intervals I could hear a large ungulate animal nearby using its hoof to rhythmically paw the hard ground, the sound of which transmitted through the rock as a deep resonate thump. This is the area where we would find swimming holes as kids and where keg parties would form as teenagers. I often rode my bicycle out here to scavenge for arrowheads and shed snake rattles -- a completely different life from suburban kids who hang out at the mall. The mosquitos, deer flies and horse flies can be tenacious and vicious, especially since they are skilled at biting through clothing. There is always something ready to suck your blood out here, even in the water there are leeches, which are preferable to the horseflies out of the water. The basalt has bright red (iron oxide?) and sulphur yellow patches and streaks on the surface. The thermometer hit 106 degrees F today so it was a good idea to paint at 5am. I love insect repellant clothing!

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