This is not an official artist residency, but it’s beginning to feel like it. On Sept. 6, we drove to Mitchell, in eastern Oregon, near the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I swore this was going to be a bon-bon eating, trash-novel reading two weeks, but the hills and buttes of the Ochoco Mountains and the Painted Hills won’t be denied. They must be painted. I’ll have to eat my bons-bons beside my easel.
Our trip along Route 26 took us along the back (south) side of Mt Hood, which was shrouded in eerie smoke from at least two fires, one to the north near Hood River and one to the south, near Sisters. As we dropped down into the Warm Springs area near the Deschutes River,Â blackened range land came right to the highway’s edge. The smoke wasn’t much fun up on the mountain, but by the time we got to Madras it had pretty much cleared up.
Mt Hood, somewhat visible through the smoky air
The drive into the Ochoco Mountains took us beyond the smoke and was, as usual, a fine experience of woodsy-woods and hilly hills. After unpacking and grabbing tomato sandwiches (tomatoes courtesy of our hosts) we drove to the great badlands called the Painted Hills.
Although we were too late to do much more than take a little hike up a promising trail (promising for painting, that is), the land enthralled both of us once more. It didn’t hurt that we arrived just at sunset with the moon over the warped and layered badlands.
I immediately saw the panorama that I must paint tomorrow — five panels? And a way to incorporate some verticals into a putative large panel or canvas. In fact, I’m planning on a variety of verticals in some serious versions of landscape around here — the Black Butte and White Butte, remains of ancient stratovolcanoes — the Carroll Rim where the trail we were on this first night — and of course those emerging beast-like forms of ancient clay — all these will have to figure in yet another attempt to capture the Painted Hills.
Oh yes, as we came down the trail in the twilight, me in front, there was the sign that we were “blessed” or at least in good company. I did not scream, did not leap three feet in the air, but I did stop abruptly and back up and back up and back up some more, pushing Jer back up the trail as I retreated, my eyes watching the snake (a rattler? too dark to tell) that tasted the air and waggled its head along the path just beyond where I had, for a minute, stopped. We were afraid it might not move along (and me in my city tennies) but eventually, it decided to give way gracefully, slithered into the sage, and we continued down the path, skirting the area where Grandfather Snake was last seen.
Now I’m counting this as a blessing by the hills, but also, tomorrow, I’m wearing my snake-stomping boots — as well as long pants. Just in case… –June