As hard as I try to focus on the here-and-now in the rest of my life, in my art I seem always to be either reflecting on what I have seen or done, or looking forward to what I will see or do. Light in the Dooryard is a look back at the magical light that sustained me through the winter.
Dorli and I run on the trails out our back door for miles, at least three days a week, all winter long, and when we come back up the hill to our house at the end of each morning's run, I nearly always walk to the front yard and drink in this scene--the morning light's beaming from almost due south, boring a hole through the forest and casting sharp shadows of the trees to my feet, at our front door. I absorb it daily, all winter long, but I almost never paint it until April, when the sun comes from north of east at 5 a.m. and already wheels about, above the horizon, until after 10 p.m.
When I'm not looking back, I'm looking forward, to the time I'll be in Denali National Park again, as I have been every summer since I served as the Park's first Artist-in-Residence in 2002. I'm planning the talks I'll give at Camp Denali in August, and in doing so, I'm remembering the first time I ever saw "The Mountain" from the campground at Wonder Lake, just 30 miles or so away from the foot of the massif. Almost 40 years ago, my late wife Missy and I were camping at Wonder Lake with a friend from college who was visiting. Denali had been shrouded by clouds on our way in, but late in the midsummer night, they were tantalizingly beginning to break up, and we were lusting for a view of the great peak. Occasionally, a hole would open, impossibly high above the horizon, and we'd seem to see a bit of ice and snow, but we told ourselves that it couldn't be the mountain. It couldn't possibly be that high. When, in the wee hours of the morning, it did clear, we could see that it was indeed Denali, and it was even more grand than we'd ever imagined.
"Adynaton" is a figure of speech--a form of hyperbole, of outlandish exaggeration, indicating something so extreme as to seem impossible. "When pigs fly," is the example given most often in definitions of the term. The mountain Denali, as it was unveiled that day almost 40 years ago, and each time I see it still, is like that to me. It couldn't possibly be that high...that big.... It couldn't possibly tower that grandly over the lesser peaks. But it does. This little painting is an homage to that recollection.
Meanwhile, between recollection and anticipation, here in Interior Alaska it's spring. It seems like hubris to name a painting of my own Primavera, as if it had anything to do with Botticelli's great allegory of spring, but I painted this little birch out my window, and when I sat back and looked at it, so pretty, and so full of the promise of the budburst of leaves that will come in just a few weeks to every tree in the boreal forest, there seemed no other title to give it.
Budburst is going on every week, as well, in the laboratory run by the scientists at OneTree Alaska, where I've been spending a lot of my time. Jan and Nicole, whom I've mentioned before, and the school classes from the community with whom they are working, are growing birch saplings in controlled conditions, putting them into dormancy in coolers and freezers, bringing them out and exposing them to various colors of light, and measuring their responses, in an ongoing effort to understand the effects of climate change on the boreal forest.
When I look at row after row of those tiny saplings, I wonder why I haven't looked closely at younger birches before...why I haven't paid attention to the ones just a few inches or a a foot tall, but only to those of adolescence, maturity, and old age. Working with these scientists makes me realize that for all my attention over four decades, there's so much more to see than I've ever noticed. Young Ones is a small song of praise to saplings that remind me of my 4 1/2 year old granddaughter Sage--beautiful, full of promise, reaching for the light with joy and anticipation.