Playa: September 13, 2013

Friday, Sept 13, 2 013

The big excitement of the day, aside from the fact that I got two more paintings started and the one from yesterday was almost dry today, is that I saw, and then tasted, my first dust storm.


Apparently dust storms on the playa are a common occurrence during the dry season, and this one, in its tasting phase, didn’t last long. But I went out about 3PM to paint (same scene as yesterday) hoping to catch the colors of the playa in mid-afternoon, to finish yesterday’s painting, and to catch the evening light in a new painting.

The playa runs along the old lake bed, north to south, and the wind was catching its eastern side, along the ridge and buttes that line that area. As the wind progressed down the fatter part of the playa, it picked up and was tossing dust high into the sky, way above the ridges on the east. It was a nice brisk wind, going straight south.  Playa’s compound is on the west (undusted) side of the old lake bed and so I painted merrily along, trying to capture the strange hues and colors, like mist only not mist.


[Rachel said later that the storm must have been going from south to north, although I painted it as well as registered it as going north to south. Dyslexia, bad eye sight, or a freak storm? I dunno]

Finishing up for the day, I stopped at the Commons, where Barbara and Rachel were finishing up for the afternoon. It was a bit close inside and all the doors were closed. I thought little of it, until I got back to Cabin 10, just across the great lawn. By the time I got inside and looked out, the wind had shifted and the dust was wiping out the view of Winter Ridge, to the west of the compound.

I ran around closing all the windows (I forgot a few) as if we were in a windy downpour. Then I stood at the balcony windows and watched the world get wiped out – and then reapear – and then get wiped out again. It was fascinating – and very close without the windows open. Finally I opened a beer and made some dinner and next time I looked out the windows, everything was clear and calm.


I have opened up the windows again, but with a bit of a question about whether this could happen while I’m asleep. I think I will cover my computer before I go to bed.


The moon is a bit more than half full and the outside looks delicious right now. I’ll have to make a bit of a jaunt around the great lawn. The mosquitos are fairly ferocious, although I have liberally dose myself with Cutters.


The dust storm over Winter Ridge. This was the only time I saw the Ridge look as though a rain storm was misting it over. There were lots of rain storms that came from the west over the ridge, but they tended to be fierce rather than misty.

So that’s the news from the Oregon Outback. Jer and I have made phone contact and email contact, the latter the only electronic contact available onsite. I could try a cell phone, if I hadn’t loaned it to Jer, but I hear you have to hike and check and check and hike some more to find the tiny corner of this property where you can get service. Not worth it, and I truly glad I don’t have one to think this way about.

Tomorrow is Saturday and time’s a-passing. But I found a sweet little easily-reached view that I can paint when all else fails and I did an oil bar “painting” at the crack of dawn this morning. So I’m doing OK as an artist. At least I’m showing up.   June

Playa: September 11th & 12th

Wednesday,  Sept 11, 2013 (This post also can be found on my southeastmain blog, with a few photos changed).

We left Portland about 8 and, taking our favorite Route 26 around the southern edge of Mt Hood, dropped further south on Rt. 97 through Bend.  At La Pine in southeast Oregon we finally left the trucks and high speed traffic and took Route 3, a relatively short two-lane between  La Pine and Lakeview. We traveled through a ponderosa forest, range and sage land, and  then came through the pass between Silver Lake and Summer lake, where we first caught sight of the Summer Lake playa and the curve of Winter Ridge. Winter Ridge stands like a crescent moon, a half circle whose granite arms embrace the lake bed, rugged and yet protective in its curve.

PlayaOfficeWLThe Commons at Playa include the office.

Playa (the art residency compound) fits into a green oasis inside the Winter Ridge curve and is west of the Summer Lake bed.  Jer helped me unpack my art supplies, 2 weeks worth of food stuffs (think tuna and iceberg lettuce), and then, as I turned down Kathy’s kind offer to allow him to stay overnight (I was to be completely alone and she thought perhaps it would be good to have someone else with me), he went on to Lakeview, where he had photographs to pursue.

As usual I am brain-dead because I became far too absorbed in wide-eyed gazing. The landscape is one of the northern-most, lusher versions of basin and range country that we found attracted us in Nevada.   Summer lake at the moment is almost dry but still impresses one as a primary force of the landscape. Winter Ridge is no small slouch, either, as it fronts Summer Lake, forming that great crescent along its western edge. Across from Playa to the east is  the lake bed,  the Diablo Mountains, and Ten Mile Butte.


The playa of Summer Lake, from one of the Playa Compound paths. Beyond, across the lake, is either Ten Mile Butte or the Diablo Mountains

I am in Cabin 10 at Playa, and right now am totally alone. Later tonight, the on-site manager, Rachel, will be coming home, but at the moment, except for the cars that occasionally go by, this is solitude.

Well, I did see a bunch of animal scat, some of it not so small. So I suspect I am not totally alone. And I heard what I think was a coyote (I’ve never heard a clearly identified one ) as I was walking around the pond between the Lake and the Playa compound.

The North Pond and Reflections

The pond at Playa. The reflections in this desert spot were simply amazing. This is looking north, toward Winter Ridge.

The quarters are elegant, simple, but have all the essential conveniences. Cabin 10 has an upstairs bedroom as well as a downstairs one and a small attached studio. Both bedrooms have balconies that look out over the lake, picking up the northern end of Winter Ridge, the Diablo mountains, and Ten Mile Butte across the dry lake bed.

It’s totally gorgeous, of course, but I must quit before I collapse. I did find my way to the computer (an Apple!) in the Commons and, after a few swearing sessions at Apple’s opacity, sent Jer a message from g-mail. So I am not being totally off the grid. But given the nature of the computer and my own delight in the isolation, I doubt that I’ll be making much of it.

Thursday, Sept 12, 2013

I was awakened in the dead of night by a raucous battle between a coyote or coyotes and a flock of geese. Such a honking and howling and barking in an otherwise silent night. The squabble was only stopped when the geese took off in one of their whooshes of wind and wings. This occurred three or four times during the early morning hours.

When I was wakened by the noise, the sky was bright with stars. When I woke next time, it had clouded over. And sunrise this morning was a scarf of clouds over the middle of the lake; Winter Ridge was thick with them; the sun was coming up in something like clear skies to the east.


So I got up and watched the sun on the clouds and the escarpment of Winter Ridge. I decided to go for a bit of a walk (it was about 6:30) but just as I put on my boots, it started to shower. The rain bounced cheerfully on the pond. The shower didn’t last long, the clouds moved off to the southeast, and by 11 the skies were clear. A heron or egret sat on the bridge across the northern end of the pond; different ducks fed here and there. A hawk or other predator flew by looking for breakfast, while swallows fed on the mosquitos. I begin to see my day taking shape.


I know what I need to start my painting processes with.

Later: Started a plein air painting today. Must go back in midday tomorrow to correct colors. The big shapes make the painting easier. Getting the colors right is the challenge.

The staff has been really helpful. Rachel took over today and found me a good cart to handle the gravel and grass I must haul my art stuff over.


The magical cart — worked like a dream through the gravel paths and grass and all my art stuff, including my own cart, fit inside.

I’m having a good time watching the playa and the animals. The bugs, not so much so. The questions are: will tonight’s rendition of drama on the playa be as exciting as last night’s; and will I sleep through it. I hope so. Rachel says a goose may have been dinner for the coyote, although she suspected it was more likely to have been a duck. I think I heard geese honking but then, what do I know?


Playa Residency, September 11 through September 25, 2013


[Note: The dated entries to the residency journal were done on-site at Playa, but because of restrictions on the bandwidth at the site, none were uploaded until I returned home at the end of September. I will be posting those over the next month, starting with the one done on the first day.]

In this post I thought I do a bit of introduction to Playa.

The Playa website explains something about how the idea for the compound of the artist residencies at Playa arose. My experience of the place was a bit odd, because, as a contributing artist, I was there totally alone; normally there are 8–10 other artists in residence. The on-site manager, Rachel Streeter and I bonded over beer and her dog Pepper. Unfortunately I never remembered to take photos of either. Or, more accurately, I thought of taking the photos but never when either were nearby.

The compound is large. My digs, of which more later in later posts, was a two-story house facing the playa (at the left in the above photo are a shop and two studios; Cabin 10,  where I was located, is next left in the photograph). The Commons, where normally everyone gathers for weekly meals and to pick up incidentals and chat up the staff and each other is on the far right in the photo. There are  three more cabins further to the right, out of sight, which sit on a little knoll (photo below). The playa or lakebed for which the residency is named is the area beyond the structures in the first photo.

southCabinwithclotheslineThe furthest south cabin, on the knoll, overlooks the playa and here, a classic clothesline. A piece of Winter Ridge can be seen in this photo; the Ridge extends in a quarter moon shaped escarpment that rounds from the southwest to the northwest. Playa sits within the shelter of it. The photo is from the Playa website.

I painted from that knoll a couple of times, as well as from the Great Lawn that stretches in front of the cabins from my space in the north to the south past the Commons. The pond, which I faced the north end of, is off the great lawn to the east , and the lake (encompassing the playa) is beyond the ponds further east. All the cabins have big windows and decks that face the playa, which is the feature that became my most frequent companion during my stay.


View from the south end of Summer Lake. Playa (a tiny line of green) is in the center. The curve of Winter Ridge is clearer in this photo. From Playa website.

A “playa” is a primary feature of the basin and range of a large geological area and should not to be confused with the “great basin” which is a subset of the basin and range land. The basin and range lies in the interior US, between the Cascade Mountains and the Rockies. Basin and range country can be found in southern Oregon (Steens Mountain and Lake Abert most prominently,) most of Nevada and pieces of Utah, Arizona, and the country of Mexico. A playa is formed when the water from the ranges flows to the valleys below and forms lakes rather than down to major rivers which ultimately run out to the oceans. Formally this is known as an endorheic basin, but “playa” is a much nicer word. And easier to pronounce.

And “Playa”, the artist residency site, is an oasis sandwiched between Summer Lake, which is endorheic and almost completely dry in mid-September, and Winter Ridge, a classic “range”, gradually graded from its floor going up the slope to the ridge to the steep frontage that confronts Playa. Both geographical places were named by John Fremont who climbed up Winter Ridge in a howling gale and saw the lake and valley below. It looked much warmer down there. Hence, “Summer” Lake.


Summer Lake and Winter Ridge. From Wikipedia