The snow has arrived in Interior Alaska, and so I'm not only remembering wanting it to come, but looking back to the days just before it began drifting down. Liberty Falls is just off the road to Chitina, Alaska, almost seven hours' drive south of Fairbanks--a place I've gone most summers for the past 30 years to harvest salmon to fill my freezer for the coming winter. Nearing Chitina and access to the mighty Copper River, I'm usually gripped by fishing fever and can't make myself stop to admire Liberty Falls, but I have managed it often enough to paint it several times over the years.
This year, thanks to my broken, dislocated shoulder, I didn't make it to Chitina to perch precariously on rocks above the nearly half-mile wide torrent of the Copper, sweeping a 3' diameter net on the end of a 10' long pole through eddies of opaque, silt-laden water for hours, sometimes days, in search of sockeyes, silvers, or the occasional king salmon. But just before Labor Day, Dorli and I drove past the Liberty Falls campground on our way to McCarthy--a long 60 miles on a road rough even by Alaska standards, past Chitina. We took a few minutes to stop at the falls, camped nearby, and on the way back through a couple of days later, hiked up onto and around some of the ridges in the area.
I've painted falling, fast-running water off and on over the years and never tire of trying to capture a little of its magic. It's always hard to restrain my impulse to paint the water itself, to let the rocks, the vegetation, and the sticks and logs brought down by the torrent channel the brilliant white of the canvas and the little bits of flashing, flying color and darkness, the way they do the water itself.
The fall in Interior Alaska is breaktakingly brief, but always beautiful, and this year it was especially spectacular. I love the brilliant color of the variously yellow leaves on the birches and aspens, set against the dark, blue-green, almost blackness of the spruces, but even more magical for me is the bright red understory of the boreal forest. When it looked like this, just weeks ago, I was dreaming of snow. Now that I'm able to ski out my back door and onto the trails, I can revel contentedly in the memory of that brilliance.
Just before the snow started falling here, I completed this small painting of another autumn squall in Denali National Park. Gorge Creek Snowfall is almost a smaller version of the 4' x 5' canvas Harbinger that I completed this summer and posted an image of in July. It's the same kind of day, the same time of year, the same kind of sudden snow swirling through the bright autumn landscape, just turning my gaze slightly to the left and down, into the dramatic cleft of Gorge Creek.