Landscape Painting in the Palouse

The Palouse is characterized by rolling hills like these.

How fortunate to have had the opportunity to take a watercolor workshop from Tom Hoffmann, a local Seattle artist and teacher.  I love his paintings — click on this link to see some images of his work.  One can learn so much simply from observing a master at work.  During his demos, Tom shared his thinking processes as he approached the blank page.  It is a revelation to begin to see like an artist; Tom was thinking about values (lights and darks), wetness, the softness or hardness of edges, color, and composition (major shapes and balance).  He tried to articulate what was the important thing about what he was preparing to paint.  Why was he drawn to paint this particular scene?

The process of painting landscapes was a joy and a challenge and an endless source of creative frustration (not quite right; how can I fix this mess . . .).  I felt that I have overcome my stumbling block to painting landscapes and using larger pieces of paper (even 8″ x 10″ is larger than I normally work).  The wide, flat brushes that Tom favors are a key to his kind of painting.  I could grow to love those brushes!

We painted for about 6 hours each day at sites around the small town of Dayton, Washington.  Here are a few of my paintings from the workshop:


Country Roads: My Drive to the Palouse

Landscape along Hwy 26 in Washington State

Last week I drove to the Palouse in southeastern Washington for a 4-day watercolor workshop with Tom Hoffmann.

I’ve long been intimidated by the challenge of composing something as sweeping as a landscape.  In my slow evolution as a painter, I’ve focused so far on painting a single object or a few objects, as realistically as possible, skipping the backgrounds.  Hoffmann is far along the scale toward abstracting his work, and I really admire his paintings.  I took the workshop as an opportunity to stretch and grow and experiment with new directions in my own art.

While the primary focus of my time away was painting, I did treat my travel time (5 hours each way) as an opportunity to photograph the amazing and varied landscapes.  Once I left I-90 for the more sparsely traveled Hwy 26 and other country roads, I was able to go at a more leisurely pace and actually stop alongside the roads to take photographs.  The Palouse is truly a photographer’s paradise.  Here are some views:

Basalt columns, Frenchman’s Coulee near George, WA
Frenchman’s Coulee
Palouse Falls
Downriver from Palouse Falls
On Hwy 261 between Palouse Falls and Dayton, WA
Spring green
On Hwy 12 going toward Pomeroy
Near Dayton, WA
Abandoned shed, Hwy 12 near Dayton
Palouse colors
Canada geese with 14 goslings, Lyon’s Ferry State Park

Tomorrow’s blog post will feature some of my watercolor paintings.



Travels in Eastern Washington: A Weekend Road Trip

Along the road near Walla Walla, WA

This past weekend my husband and I took a road trip to Eastern Washington with the goal of seeing some sandhill cranes on their spring migration.  Three years ago I had traveled to the Platte River in Nebraska to witness the sandhill crane migration in our nation’s heartland.  (You can read my posts about that experience here, and here, and here.)  This year I was looking forward to seeing something similar without having to travel so far away.  In my own home state of Washington, this was the weekend the town of Othello was hosting its annual Sandhill Crane Festival.

Unfortunately, we were skunked by the sandhill cranes.  We saw not a single crane.

Yet the drive through this part of my state held its own rewards.  The scenery was interesting and beautiful in its own way.  Othello and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge are situated in a scoured, dry landscape called the channeled scablands.

Columbia National Wildlife Refuge
The landscape is dotted with small ponds

I am not sure why we did not see any cranes.  One Fish and Wildlife employee said just the other day he saw a flock of about 1,000 sandhill cranes in the refuge.  Perhaps it was too windy on the day we were there.  Tumbleweeds crossed the road.  We saw hundreds of them piled up against the buttes and cliffs.

Tumbleweeds arrested in their windblown journeys

Giving up on the cranes, we spent two days driving even farther east into the Palouse, the state’s wheat-growing region.  Many of the hilltops sported giant windmills — clearly this is a windy part of the state.

This early in the year, many of the vast fields were still brown.  A few brilliant green fields were shockingly beautiful — harbingers of Spring.  My eyes just soaked in the fresh color.  I am so enamored of the rolling hills in the Palouse.  The landscape reminds me of the desert dunes of Namibia — covered with fertile soil rather than dry sand.  I love taking photographs here.

On the road near Walla Walla
Heading toward Colfax in the Palouse

So in spite of the absence of flocks of sandhill cranes, our weekend getaway was a delight.



Day Trip to the J Paul Getty Museum

J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Other than exploring beaches and spending time with family, another highlight of our short LA vacation was a day trip to the J Paul Getty Museum.  This was a visually satisfying destination — pleasing architecture, well-maintained grounds, long views of Los Angeles and the surrounding area, and the art, of course.  Admission to the museum is free, but there is a $15 fee to park.  A visit begins with a tram ride up from the parking garage to the museum complex.

Lovely patterns of shadows and reflections

I enjoyed strolling through the galleries and taking time to check out the views from the balconies and decks.  The patterns of shadows and reflections made the buildings and grounds seem like extensions of the more formal art inside.  Everything seemed well-designed and thoughtfully arranged to bring pleasure.

Trees and their shadows in the museum gardens
The arrangement of tables and chairs would have made a great painting, I thought.

After spending time in the galleries and wandering the gardens, we ate lunch in the museum cafe before leaving.  We all agreed that the food and selection were superb.  This museum is really a wonderful destination for a day trip.

“Irises” by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

View of the Los Angeles skyline from a balcony
Cactus garden
My husband loved these rebar trees!
Garden maze (sans water)

Sun Break in Southern California

“Give me the splendid, silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling.”
— Walt Whitman

Palm trees, Point Vincente, California

“On my way to sunny California.
On my way to spend another sunny day.”
— from “California Saga” by the Beach Boys

My husband and I escaped the cold, gray, wet, gloom of Seattle’s winter and spent four days visiting my sister and her husband in Long Beach, California.  Aaaah!  It was wonderful to feel the warm sun on my face.  Our time together was low-key and relaxing, spent mostly exploring the many beaches and coves along the Pacific Coast Highway.

I was struck by the tall silhouettes of palm trees which dotted the vistas in this part of the country.  They stood like sentinels on the horizon — resilient and proud.

Gray whales are still migrating south to give birth.  We saw a couple of whale spouts in the distance.

Point Vincente Lighthouse and whale watcher tabulations
Whale watchers
Lighthouse at Point Vincente
Santa Monica Pier, the terminus of Route 66
Crescent Bay Point Park near Laguna Beach
San Clemente Pier
Sunset at Seal Beach
Pier at Seal Beach
Pacific Coast, southern California

“I sit listening
To the surf as it falls,
The power and inexhaustible freshness of the sea,
The suck and inner boom
As a wave tears free and crashes back
In overlapping thunders going down the beach.

It is the most we know of time,
And it is our undermusic of eternity.”
— from “Spendrift” by Galway Kinnell




Camera as Travel Companion

“Impulsively, I had bought a pocket-sized digital Canon the night before leaving San Francisco. . . . I quickly realized, the camera itself was my travel companion.  It gave me a reason to leave the flat every day and search for pictures in parts of London I had never seen before.”
— Bill Hayes, Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me

Self portrait in mirror

Bill Haye’s comment about his camera being his travel companion resonated with me.  I am generally at ease and motivated to wander without another companion while I am at home or on my travels, and I think it is because when I have camera on hand, I am paying more attention to what is around me, always looking for unusual sights, interesting patterns, or fresh perspectives on “ordinary” scenes.  My mind and imagination are so preoccupied with looking and seeing, that I don’t miss company.

Self portrait, reflection in paned glass

“In each place I have traveled, I have used my camera as an extension of my memory.  The images are a tourist’s picture in this sense.  But they also have an inquiry feeling to them and, in some cases, showed me more about the place than I might have seen otherwise.”
— Teju Cole, Blind Spot

My photos and subsequent blog posts serve as my trip journals and trigger my memories of the people and places I have visited.  I always think I should pare down and travel lightly, and my camera and lens are bulky and weighty.  So far, I’ve always decided to put up with the extra weight and I’m always glad I did after the fact.  Still, those slender, light smart phones with camera that can fit in a pocket are very tempting.  They take wondeful photos, too.  But I end up sticking with what I know.

I try to embody that visitor’s sense of inquiry, curiosity, and attention in my normal life at home.  As I move into the new year, I will try to take Mary Oliver’s advice below and make the time to “Tell about it,” that is, reflect and write more blog posts about my life.

“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.

Tell about it.”
Mary Oliver, from “Sometimes,” in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

The “Nimble Frolic” of Terns

Common terns, Johanna Beach, Australia

by Mary Oliver, from Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.

It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,

sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,

their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails.

The years to come — this is a promise —
will grant you ample time

to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world.

The flock thickens
over the roiling, salt brightness.  Listen,

maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,

but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,

but of pure submission.  Tell me, what else
could beauty be for?  And now the tide

is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,

gathering up the loose silver, rising
as if weightless.  It isn’t instruction, or a parable.

It isn’t for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.

It’s only a nimble frolic
over the waves.  And you find, for hours,

you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.

Tern in the sky over Johanna Beach
In flight, the terns bring to mind an Escher painting
Terns and shadows

Watercolor painting of tern

I really cannot recommend highly enough the new book, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver.  Over and over, she writes so lyrically about recalling oneself to an attitude of attention to everything. Oliver says, “I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t admire” (from “Hum”).

Like Rilke, she finds profound truths in nature’s offerings:

“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”
— Mary Oliver, from “It Was Early”




Ocean Breakers: “The Fall of Kings”

View of the Southern Ocean from the Great Ocean Walk, day 1

“The line of breakers on the beach is a fantastic dissipation of long-accumulated power.  It is the fall of kings.”
— Jonathan Raban, from “Waves” in Driving Home

I don’t remember ever learning about the Southern Ocean when I was in primary school.  I remember the other oceans — the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean.  According to NOAA’s Ocean Service, “The Southern Ocean is the ‘newest’ named ocean. It is recognized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names as the body of water extending from the coast of Antarctica to the line of latitude at 60 degrees South. The boundaries of this ocean were proposed to the International Hydrographic Organization in 2000.”

Oceans were just a mental image to me until I was in college and I flew over the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.  That was the first time I actually saw an ocean in person.  I still get a thrill every time I experience time on an ocean beach.  Oceans and the infinite waves lapping or pounding the shore evoke a sense of power, majesty, vastness and eternity.  I like how Jonathan Raban describes this:  ” . . . the crest of each wave poised for its downfall, is a universal symbol because it unites the extremities of human experience in a single continuous line.”  And, “In the winter of life, the sea lulls and comforts.  It has the look and sound of eternity without putting one through the troublesome formality of having to die first.”

It’s no wonder that I loved best the ocean stretches of Australia’s Great Ocean Walk.  Here are a few more photos:

Shelly Beach
Seascape near Apollo Bay
Johanna Beach
Wreck Beach


Australia Trip Notes from the Great Ocean Walk

Me at the start of the Great Ocean Walk; Shelly Beach on the Southern Ocean
Map showing Great Ocean Walk from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles (near Princetown)

The highlight of my trip to Australia was a seven-day hiking experience along the Great Ocean Trail in Great Otway National Park.  This is a 104-kilometer (65-mile) trail from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles on the rugged Southern Ocean coast.  I had arranged a self-guided hike through Walk 91 — they took care of all meals, lodging, and daily transport to and from the trailheads.

Originally I had intended a thru-hike over all 104 kilometers.  But my hiking partner was dealing with a respiratory infection, so my experience ended up being more of a sampling of shorter hikes all along the trail.  Walk 91 staff accommodated our changes to the initial itinerary so that we could be outdoors hiking for several  hours every day, but not do the longer full-day walks.  This ended up being just perfect for me.  And I didn’t feel short-changed in experiencing the scenic wonders of this part of Australia.

If I were ever to return to the Great Ocean Road, I would allow an extra day or two in Apollo Bay.  I saw from the bus windows that it would be possible to walk for miles and miles along the shores and beaches of this large bay.  You could easily do this from your hotel.

Parts of the Great Ocean Walk trail took us across lovely sandy beaches.

The first day’s hike on the Walk 91 itinerary was a short 5-mile hike from Shelly Beach back to our hotel in Apollo Bay.  The trail passed along sandy beaches, pastures and farmland, bluffs, a caravan park, suburbs, and the Great Ocean Road (highway).

While the Great Ocean Walk does follow the rugged coastline of the Southern Ocean, long stretches of the walk are too far inland to afford views of the water.  We hiked through coastal forests  of gum trees and eucalyptus, and along bluffs of coastal scrub bushes that were too high to see over.  The occasional breaks in the foliage gave out on amazing ocean vistas.  And all of the trail’s beach stretches were our favorite parts of the Great Ocean Walk.  And where we took the most photographs!

Trail from Blanket Bay to the Cape Otway Lighthouse through coastal forest
Parker Inlet

Great Ocean Walk; many of the beaches had rocky shelves like these

We stopped for a scone with Devonshire cream at the cafe opposite the Cape Otway Lighthouse.  You couldn’t beat the setting for this afternoon break.

Peek-a-boo view of the wild Southern Ocean coast from the trail between the Aire River and Castle Cove
Sunset at Castle Cove
Grass tree and shadow on the Great Ocean Walk trail from Castle Cove to Johanna Beach
Coastal forest with grass trees in the underbrush

Great Ocean Walk from Castle Cove to Johanna Beach
Stretch of the trail along Johanna Beach
Pitted rocks at Johanna Beach
Hiking shadow, Great Ocean Walk
Sunset with eucalyptus trees

Half-buried anchor of the Marie Gabrielle at Wreck Beach

The Twelve Apostles, the endpoint of the Great Ocean Walk





Australia Trip Notes: Koalas and Kangaroos and More

Kangaroo crossing sign

I knew I was in Australia when I saw koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and echidna in the wild — animals I had previously seen only in zoos or television documentaries.

These wildlife viewing opportunities came on a seven-day Great Ocean Walking tour that I had arranged through Walk 91.  From Melbourne, we took a one-hour train ride to Geelong, and there we transferred to a bus for a 2-1/2 hour ride to Apollo Bay.  Most of the bus ride followed the coast of the Southern Ocean — a very scenic and wild coast.  For seven days, we hiked portions of the coast trail, the Great Ocean Walk, which is in the Great Otway National Park.  And we stayed in several different accommodations along the way.  Most of our Australian animal sightings were in the evenings or mornings by our accommodations.

Koala at Bimbi Park

We saw koalas in the trees near the Cape Otway Lighthouse area.  Most often, the koalas were lethargic, sleeping or dozing on tree limbs.  But in Bimbi Park, near our lodging, we saw a couple of more active koalas.  We watched one climb down a tree, jump to another one, fall down, and then run to another tree, which it climbed to safety.  So I got some good, up-close photos.

Koalas are marsupials, mammals that carry their developing young in pouches.  Kangaroos and wallabies are also marsupials.  We saw both.  The wallabies looked like kangaroos to us, but they were darker and heftier.

Wallaby alongside the road near Castle Cove
Wallaby with joey seen from the deck of our accommodation near Milanesia Gate

The wallabies seemed curious, and stood and stared at us for a while.  The kangaroos we saw, however, seemed much more wary.  We saw them only from a distance as they grazed in a meadow at sunrise near the place we were staying.  They took off as soon as they spotted us.  I was surprised at how high they could jump!

Another of Australia’s unusual animals is the echidna.  It is sometimes called a spiny anteater.  It is just one of two egg-laying mammals (the other is the platypus).  I saw one along the hiking trail between Station Beach and the Cape Otway Lighthouse.