Many of the people I know keep journals, or have kept them for long periods of time in their past. I have friends who still have journals they created all the way back in childhood, and others who have kept them off and on through their adult years. I've always kind of envied them. I imagine how nice it would be to look back and read what I was thinking in childhood, remember what I was doing on specific dates decades ago, peer through the window of a journal at an earlier image of myself. But I've never been able to do it. When I've tried, I've always felt self-conscious, stilted, silly to be talking to myself.
So it is with some surprise that I realized recently this blog has become not just a way of sharing some thoughts about new works as I complete them, but a kind of personal journal. Searching this week through earlier posts to find something I'd said, I could see that over the past three years of regular entries, it's become a chronicle not just of my artwork, but of my travels, activities, preoccupations, puzzlements, frustrations, and minor epiphanies. Somehow, jotting down a few thoughts about each new painting for people who have shown interest, or might be interested, has allowed me to ruminate in ways I seldom take time to do for myself.
It has been a little while since I posted new work on this site, but not because I haven't been painting. The latest paintings on my studio walls chronicle both my travels and my obsessions of the last couple of months. Missy and I spent a spectacular week at Camp Denali in early July. I gave talks to guests and staff in the evenings and went on hikes daily with guests and naturalist guides, exploring places both familiar and new to me. Missy hiked, biked many miles on the Park roads, photographed wildflowers, and had--by her own account--one of her best, most relaxing vacations ever.
As always at Camp Denali, we ate wonderful food and interacted with extraordinary people--both staff and guests. We had sunny weather almost every day, and "The Mountain" loomed impossibly large from just 27 miles away through the window of our cabin every night in the changing light.
When we got home, we were a little shocked to see how much the summer season had moved along. The summer here is so short, the pace of change during the growing season so swift, that the forest changes character from week to week. We returned at the height of summer, and the woods seemed deeper, thicker, far more lush than when we left just seven days before. I found myself wandering among the birches, enamored with the contrasting light and shade, the depth and variety of the foliage greens and the warmth of the trunks in shafts of sunlight.
It has been a delight to me, since moving into our home on Chena Ridge two years ago, to be surrounded by so many beautiful examples of my favorite subject. The few hundred birch trees on our own acre of forest mirror the diversity of their color, shape, and character throughout the region, and as so often happens when I've been away from making images of the trunks for a while, I found myself back in the studio painting their portraits.
Young birches and old birches. Birches deep in the forest and at the edge of the woods. Bright days and rainy days. Midday and midnight. Every meander through the forest that surrounds us reveals fresh views, and I sometimes think I should paint one trunk a day for a year, chronicling the arboreal life of this one small patch of ground.
I miss living on the river, miss watching the waterfowl arrive and leave from season to season and day to day, miss seeing what rafts down on the high water in flood, and what contrivances people take up and downstream. But living in the woods has reconnected me, more than I ever expected, to the boreal forest that inspired me to be a painter of birches three decades ago. I'm grateful to see them out my window, to be able to walk out my door and touch them every day.
Which reminds me of a little painting that I did on the spur of the moment one day in April, and haven't thought to put here on the site. My friend David Policansky was visiting from Washington, D.C., and he and I had been talking about how the light changes with the seasons, how hard it is to tell the depth of the snow by just looking at the winter forest floor, how it might be possible to know, at a glance, whether it was early spring or late, whether March or May.
I was working in my studio on something else, on a very bright, sunny day. All the sky I could see from my studio window was hard, clear blue. And suddenly, snow was falling. The flakes danced in the sunlight, the south-slanting, snow-covered ground beneath the trees gleamed, and the air was full of swirling white. It was surreal, lasted only a few minutes, but was too good to pass up. I almost never stop in the middle of one painting to work on another, am usually so wrought up about the one I'm struggling with that I can't refocus on a different scene. But this little flurry in the April sunshine, cast out of clouds I couldn't see, swept me away, and within minutes I was painting snow falling in the forest--a subject I'd moved on from and left behind a year before.
And then this week, something else. We attended a memorial potluck on Saturday for our dear friend Al George, who died at age 84 on July 24. Al, his wife Bruth, and their children and grandchildren have been our surrogate Alaskan family for almost 30 years. We have spent many Christmases, Thanksgivings, Easters with them, celebrated family birthdays with them, and watched our son grow up alongside their grandchildren.
When Missy and I helped harvest potatoes from Al and Bruth's garden and fill their root cellar for the first time, one September more than a quarter century ago, we thought how smart they were to have so many friends our age to help, since they were clearly too old to be doing much of that kind of work themselves. Now, of course, we're older than they were then, we still work alongside them, their family, and friends in the garden from time to time, and we don't feel old at all.
The potluck, hosted by the family at the homestead where they've lived since the 1950's, was attended by scores of friends from so many overlapping circles of the Fairbanks community. The great food, the fine fellowship, and the easy, comfortable peace that underlay the sadness at Al's passing were fitting tributes to a remarkable Alaskan and dear friend.
So...a variety of recent works I hadn't had time until now to get up on this site. A small slice of our life in the North, as the seasons fly from spring through summer, toward autumn. Already, this week, it feels like fall. It's almost dark now, in the wee hours of the morning. Runners competing in a race in the hills just outside town this weekend ran through snow flurries. It's early for that. But we'll have many more nice days, more weeks of picking up our Community Sustained Agriculture share of vegetables from Rosie Creek Farm, and another potato-digging day at the George homestead, before winter sets in. I like it all--the intensity of summer and the inexorable oncoming of winter, the grand sweep of the seasons--and I wonder what I'll find myself painting next.