Friday, October 7, 2011

Only the Beginning

These images are monoprints—created by inking a metal plate and scraping away the ink.
You only get one print from each drawing with this method.

We are back from the Domeland Wilderness and what a wild wilderness it was indeed. We had four glorious days in this rugged, battered, and beautiful wild place. I have so many paintings to come and impressions to share—where do I begin?

We camped next to a meadow gone gold with the coming of winter. It was surrounded by a forest of trees; trees that told amazing stories of hardship and survival. 

Along the south edge of the meadow stood a patch of tall skeletons left behind by a devastating fire that came through 10 years ago. Bones etched with char, standing as eerie fence posts against a dark backdrop of trees that escaped burning, these trees, the ghosts and the living, are the remains of a dense forest once choked with undergrowth, the ground blanketed in a century of decaying duff.

Survivors reach up to a sharp blue sky. The bases of the trunks, charred, the dark crevices outlining the puzzle pieces of bark. Cartoon trees. Stretching upward, the lower limbs gone, burnt away, the needled branches high over our heads. They are funhouse trees, pulled upward like taffy in one of those mirrors that squeeze you into a long narrow shape arching your mirror body over the real one. Peering down at you, creaking as the wind makes them sway. They've struggled. Determined, they survive.

They’ve stood and watched while brothers and sisters succumb to fire, or snap off when heavy with snow. A swath of those winter casualties is nearby—jagged stumps surrounded by shattered pieces of branches, the needles long gone, dissolved into soil. 

Can you imagine the sound of a hundred trees—maybe all at once—as a gust came through and tore them apart, the crown and branches crashing down into the snow in a tangle of ice and mist and needles and cones? Snow spurred into the air, then carried along in a cloud trailing the burst of wind.

Did the birds know to get out in time? Did they know their home was about to blow apart? Were the wood rats nestled in the holes under the snow shaken apart? Frightened to death? Or, did they instinctively seek out homes in trees sheltered from the winter winds?

Each winter, the wind and snow take down their share of trees. Some, though green and healthy, haven't sunk their roots deep enough to hold on against the elements. Others, long dead, the heart and roots eaten away by grubs and bugs and tiny things we can't see, finally give in to the forces conspiring to drive them to the ground.

Yet right next to a casualty, there stands a withered skeleton with a twisted and delicate shard at the top offered to the sky; a tenuous, yet defiant fist against the elements.

What I would give to see one of these giants fall! The day it gives up and gives in to becoming earth, its ghostly branches shattering against the ground, splinters clattering against those who still stand. Dirt and duff spinning upward with the root ball, the bark crust crumbling away upon impact.

And then silence for a while. Everything settles and starts to breathe again. A tentative caw from a raven, and then the forest resumes its rhythm and hum.

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