As much as I like to go to new, exotic places in the North, I enjoy just as much going to spots that are right nearby--locales I've visited countless times, but which seem to provide fresh inspiration again and again. Smith Lake is a good-sized body of water in the 2000-acre woods on the University of Alaska campus. This time of year, it is filled with migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, and their sounds in the light of the morning and evening are extraordinary.
It's light almost all night now--light enough to read a book out of doors all but a couple of hours in the middle of the night. But for all its length, the light changes constantly, and it's as different from hour to hour as it is from season to season. Birds, sounds, light, temperature, humidity, breeze or lack of it...all those things and more make the experience of these familiar places new on every visit.
The "West Ridge" is also on the University campus, and I've not only painted that ridge, but this particular grove of woods, regularly for 25 years. It's a steep, south-sloping hillside just below the University of Alaska Museum, covered still by beautiful boreal forest. Because it's a relatively open stand of trees, and tilts toward the sun, it's one of the first places each spring that gets dramatic shadows, revealing the subtle contours of the underlying slope.
Every spring, while it's still very cold, I find myself out on this hillside, hip deep, floundering around in the snow for a fresh look, my car parked on top of the ridge, underdressed for the temperatures and my everyday light boots filling with snow. I've watched the trees in this painting grow on that hillside for a quarter century now, and I'm still not tired of them.