Playa September 14, 2013

(This residency recollection was interrupted by a 50th wedding anniversary orgy of photographs, which I shall post on Flicker as soon as I get a bit caught up here. My apologies to my faithful fans who have been waiting for the next installment.)

Saturday, September 14:

Yesterday I climbed up the hill across the road. It’s actually a kind of “front range” to Winter Ridge ( a set of small hills in front of the basalt of the Ridge) where I found a good wide view. I might have to paint from it. But it was hot and by the time I got back, I was sweating, dehydrated, and tired. Ah well, what did I expect at 4000 feet above sea level for an aging out-of-shape body.  But it’s always good to have possibilities for further exploration. I told myself that Saturday (today) would be a lazy day,  to make up for the exertion and excitements of yesterday. (So much for promises).

Here’s one photo of Playa-from-the-Hill:


The big excitement of today, however, really was neat. A huge white bird came into the north pond (the one Cabin 10 looks out on). It looked like a swan, but with an enormous beak like a pelican. It was bigger than any pelican I’d ever seen.


And when it raised its wings to lord over some ducks, I saw stark black undersides to them.


PelicanGroomingI sneaked outside to take photos, although it didn’t seem to take any notice of my presence. I saw it eat a couple of fish with its tremendous beak, sliding them into its beak and down its gullet which was long and elegant.

It came right up to the edge of the pond where I was photographing:


When it flew off I saw the black underwings again. Stark black against stark white. And not thin like a heron.


This guy was substantial. So when Rachel came back from her work with the neighbor I asked her about it. She got all excited, found it in a book, and said they had never been seen on these ponds before. It was an American White Pelican, which is very scarce because of pesticides and human invasions. It can have a 10 foot wing span. The flight was stunning.

I think I’m very lucky to be in Cabin 10.

Afterward everything else was a kind of anti-climax. I laid in the shapes for a couple of paintings. I want to try to paint the morning mist that seems to rise in the south playa (there might still be some water down there). I saw it today, but couldn’t bear to take my stuff out at that unhealthy early hour.

Other than that, I finished off a painting or two and worked a couple more to see what would happen. And laid in the shapes for the ones I’d like to get at soon. I’m not exactly an early riser — Rachel volunteered, with a guffaw, to come and get me up. I have been waking up early, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to roll. And I’m still a bit sore from my hike yesterday (my little walk, actually) so I don’t know if tomorrow is the day I’ll get up at an hour that some people (you know who you are) deem acceptable. I also have an idea about what I can do with the very long view up on the hill but I’ll have to explore that some more.


Rachel gave me three kinds of mosquito repellant so I don’t need to go to Paisley to get any. And my beer is holding out well, as is the food:-) Maybe spaghetti for dinner tonight. Haven’t decided yet. I’m starting to wear down, so it might be tuna fish instead. I had guacamole for lunch, with tomato and lots of onions and lemon juice. It was wonderful. The avocado was just at its best stage — perfection. I’ve been drinking cold ginger tea and liking that a lot. I see that there’s plenty of herbal teas for the taking in the Commons so if I run out I’ll have plenty of substitutes. –June

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 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