My show goes up at the end of March. As the time gets closer, getting into my studio to finish the last painting is becoming more and more of a chore. This show is mostly paintings from my last show. But the problem is that after that show came down I’ve been mentally done with it. Since last summer I’ve felt in limbo. This month’s show did not offer me enough time to develop a new body of work, but that’s what I’ve been wanting to do. Painting old ideas is not fun.
So, on the last day of February, less than a month before I install the new show, I indulged. This weekend was spent hiking along Fall Creek. When I was living in Nevada City I had the S. Yuba River as a logical home river to work with. Since being here (now a year and a half) there hasn’t been a home river. I thought I needed one to replace the S. Yuba and forced a few upon myself, but nothing seemed to stick.
This past fall I paddled Fall Creek. It was a beautiful, crisp day. The leaves were changing. The whitewater wasn’t white, but a creamy coffee color, full of sediment that felt gritty underneath my eyelids. The run began in a burn area. Back in 2003 the area burned in the Clark fire. It struck me as oddly beautiful to paddle through it. I liked that there was more light and views of ridge lines because of the lack of dense Pacific Northwest trees. The fire area abruptly ended after a small ledge drop and the rest of the run plunged into lush old growth forest. The contrast was stark and striking. Moss covered trees leaned over the creek at angles that made them look as if they were in the middle of a gesture as they ambled across the landscape, simultaneously still and animate.
Months later I learned there was a trail along the creek from a 12 year old boy that I took hiking on Brice Creek. I meant to go see the trail for myself, but didn’t get there until yesterday. The water was no longer that thick brown, but a translucent green. It stopped me in my tracks more than once. It was such a compelling color that I returned today, camera in hand.
The burn area from the trail is more stark from the trail than the water. On the creek I felt removed and sheltered from the naked, black trees – the creek is still alive. But walking through it was a different experience, a much more unsettling experience. The creek was in the distance, and I was not silently sliding by the dessicated landscape, but surrounded by it.
Downed, dead trees are not uncommon here. I’ve paddled through many deadened areas, but those are typically clear-cut areas. Those areas are sick. But the burn area is anything but dead. In an uncommon decision, the Forest Service didn’t allow post-fire logging but left it as it was. Although most everything was brown, it felt dormant, not sick like the clear cut areas. The frogs were loud. There was a palpable energy in the land.
Fall Creek has piqued my interest. I can’t wait to get to know it more. But before that happens I need to spend time in my studio wrapping up the old project, hopefully with more enthusiasm than I was able to muster recently. There is such a difference between painting for a show and being able to follow the natural progression of the creative process. At one time, not that long ago, I felt that same enthusiasm for this body of work. Fall Creek has put me in touch again with that again. It all begins with curiosity and a desire to investigate. It needs to end with it too, otherwise being in the studio becomes just going through the motions, and doing that is a waste of time.