Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mitch and Barbara Burrell's paintings

South Yamhill, 1991, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 60 inches.

Mt. Tamalpais from El Sobrante, 1991, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 60 inches.

The Southern Sierra, 1996, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 72 inches.

Snailhead, 1997, acrylic on masonite, 36 x 42 inches.

The blue lines at the bottom of the painting depict a section of the guardrail along Highway 190 coming up the mountain along the quarter-mile grade CalTrans built like an Egyptian ramp in the 1960’s, up from the curve in the road down below, smoothed and straightened, up from the old Daunt lumber yard smoke cone where Charles Elster famously shot and killed August Coburn over one or the other’s wife in the 1890’s, and on up through what was once Henry Radeleff’s orchard to where the second new Telephone Company Building still stands at Campbell’s dead-end Street, and where, flattening out, Main Street begins across from what was once Danny and Carmen’s ‘Our Place and Pizza Restaurant’ and then, across from it, the convenience store.

The guardrail provides an anchor for me; it reminds me of the yard, and the highway so close to the house; then the river below, and the canyon and the hill.

The painting is supposed to be late spring. The Tule River, what there is of it in the middle of May, runs down the darker green stretch of the populated flood plain to the right of the blue cottonwoods in the painting, passing under the bridge at Upper Globe, winding on down behind the County Dump, then flowing under the bridge at Lower Globe, where even in these days of pollution and insecurity you might in the summer see kids and the casual inner tube lazing on the flat pool from where, another mile down, the river leaks along and waters River Island with it’s club house, green links and old sycamores, and then dribbles on through the desecrations of Wiesenberger’s gravel pits into the lake of houseboats and jet skis behind the dam.

I swear every leaf in those cottonwoods is painted, as if repetition were a measure of reality, assuring recognition and proof of presence in the blur of multiplicity.

The white rectangle on the lower mid right of the hill above the river is the unfinished dream home of an urban refugee who, on account his property line and the right of way of Southern Cal Edison conjoined at an unfortunate angle, abandoned his planned three bedrooms and two baths, left the house half built, gave up and moved his family on to somewhere the days in July are perhaps cooler, but the views hardly better.

Horses from Shew’s Pack Station are pastured on the lower slopes of the hill; they will stand in the shade of the shakeless roof of the unfinished house on hot days to catch any breeze that might tunnel through the structure, but there’s not usually much wind this time of year, and the clouds in the painting are surely left over from March, when it might’ve rained.

That is of course Snailhead, the hill, rolling up the snaky ravines to the height of three and a half, four thousand feet through the oaks and buckeyes, to the splendor of its granite crenellations and the spectacular exfoliated dome at the top that gives the hill its name. Seen from most directions, the rock becomes a mollusk at the slightest suggestion and having once been recognized the impression of a snail never waivers.

Before CalTrans straightened the highway, it curved to the west and there were no guard rails. Now that section of the old highway is called McDonald Street and my great aunts, Eula and Florence, both born McDonald’s, lived one street over in James Street when I was a boy, next door to each other in small frame single story one bedroom houses that smelled of bacon, coffee grinds and the sun falling on fruit in a bowl, the bowl on an oilcloth covered table in the kitchen. The sound of fans blowing over pans of block ice was constant in the summer, and the dry rattle of old playing cards being cut and shuffled was often heard; they loved their canasta, more their poker. The radio remained on all day, playing country music tuned low. They were both in their seventies when I knew them, large boned and strong, with the graceful and equine characteristics attractive in both sexes of the family. They’d come of age in the teens and twenties of the last century and there was a bit of the flapper about them, what I guessed was flapper, some kind of wildness that was generational as well as an exuberance of character that must have sprung from their isolated rural existence in the Sierra foothills. They kept their hair in pin curls or had it Marceled. Aunt Eula was more modest, more relaxed about her appearance, she reminded me of Marjorie Main, and I never saw her made up, but Aunt Florence was always heavily rouged and powdered with pencil-line eye brows, and she named one of her daughters Clara, in honor of Clara Bow, who was known for the bee-stung lips Aunt Florence favored. They were from the sticks, as poor as the dirt they were eventually buried in.

Aunt Florence’s second or third husband, Uncle Len Cassen, the bootlegger from Chico was long dead, but Aunt Eula, the oldest of the 11 McDonald children of which my grandmother was the youngest, was still married to her third or fourth husband, Uncle Bert Williams, who enjoyed smoking cigars in the shade of the pepper tree in the front yard in James Street, wearing unlaced high top field boots without socks, tobacco stained suspendered khaki’s, a sleeveless under shirt and a beat up fedora. He wore a week’s length of scraggly beard and rimless glasses which he kept removing to clean and wipe away the sweat, and he’d peel and slice a peach now and again with a fishing knife he kept stuck in a stump that also served by his chair as a table for a can of cigar butts. He hummed to the radio as he sat, and he’d cut up the peach or a melon in season and share the slices around to whoever was there to share with, mostly Aunt Eula and Aunt Florence.

I’d visit with my mother and grandparents on Sunday rides up Highway 190 every so often, to visit relatives strung out like nodes on the lymphatic system of our large extended family. We’d take them whatever Grampa had going; nuts most always, or his home cured olives, or the occasional Whitman’s Sampler, or salt water taffy from our last trip to the Coast, and always any news from town. These little gifts were exchanged for whatever the visited might have fresh or canned, or just on hand, with a relaxed give-when-you-come, get-when-you-go pleasantness. Gossip was shared; it was always too hot to slam screen doors and interrupt a story.

Uncle Bert mostly scared the shit out of me. I thought he looked like Ulysses S. Grant and the devil combined, but he is the one who showed me the snail of Snailhead when I was five or six, I admit to annoying precocity, and he got me to see and never forget the snail in the rocks of Snailhead. He asked me in his croaky whiskey dregs voice if I’d seen the fly on the snail up there and when I said no he laughed and swore and told me to look again, then again, and then again when I continued to miss the fly, until, close to tears, I rebelled and yelled there ain’t any fly on that snail, which threw him into a spasm of laughing and coughing, causing Aunt Eula to whip off her apron, snap it out, roll it back up and tie it around her waist again telling Uncle Bert to put down his cigar and stop pestering the boy while everyone laughed and said how smart I was to see a snail made out of a rock, and my mother would smile, roll her eyes, light a cigarette, leave red lipstick on the unfiltered Lucky Strike saying David don’t use ain’t, and yes thank you Aunt Eula, we would enjoy another glass of iced tea before we go on.

The painting looks at Snailhead from the porch of the house Henry and Juanita Radeleff built in 1909, where I lived for three and a half years with my old dog Bonnie. I rented the house from people who became my friends, who had saved the house from decay and certain destruction and who live there with their family today. Bonnie and me had left our own urban situation and escaped the devastations of the last years in Noe Street: I was returning to the country of my birth, the Sacred Homeland some would begin to call it after the events of September 11, and the world turned over. This was before all that. I was returning not for easy retirement but for resuscitation and inspiration, and, having realized after 25 years of living in San Francisco that it is a place for the young or the rich, I was returning as well for the affordability of an impoverished but beautiful landscape.

We found a very suitable place: I painted, planted vegetables, taught watercolor, and sat of an evening on the porch. It is broad and deep, and runs around all four sides of the house, and I looked at Snailhead across the river with some satisfaction from the busted spring comforts of a yard sale easy chair, or, beyond Snailhead, I stared at Cow Mountain to the south where my Dad had engineered the Edison line along a trail my Granddad had cleared to the south fork of the Tule, or to Black Mountain and the redwoods behind and above Snailhead to the east, all the while listening to music and the traffic coming and going up and down the highway below the yard, and the dog and I were content enough. But my nostalgia for the lights of Upper Market Street still glared dreadfully, they were to take another decade to dim, and I pined on that porch, and, in the oven of the heat of summer nights in Central California, when no wind but the smoke from my cigarette disturbed the ravenous mosquitoes, I longed for the lost protection of the fog on the bay, and the rattle of the bedroom window left half open to cool breezes from the sea and dreams of wild boys on the cliffs at Land’s End.

I remembered everything on the porch those evenings and imagined the rest.

I remember sticking my finger in an electrical socket at the house in Hot Springs where my grandparents lived when my granddad was District Ranger there, recovering from a heart attack in the bedroom, my grandmother asking my mother to call the doctor again.

I remember the roar of a huge nightmarish Air Force B29 flying low over Porterville into the bright light of a full moon rising above the ridge of the Sierra to the east one evening at the end of a war, most likely the Korean, though the end of that war came as I recall while grandma and grandpa and I were in the house trailer on vacation at Lake Havasu with the Stevenson’s and Aunt Alice, the night I caught the flying dollar bill the wind storm blew through the banging door.

Or have I now confused things, much like Aunt Alice, another great aunt, another sister of Eula and Florence and my grandmother, who pined so terribly for her second husband when he died? Aunt Alice never got her life back together, widowhood did not wear well with her, and she died young at 62 of liver disease, shortly after the scary incident, when, alone and very confused, she steered her speeding Studebaker down Highway 190 with it’s gas pedal stuck; or perhaps with her foot stuck on the gas pedal, thinking it was the brake for 15 miles between the dam and Plano Street after a poker weekend at the Lindley’s cabin at Mountain Home.

Aunt Alice loved music, loved to sing and dance. She played the piano well enough to teach, play for weddings and funerals, and give invitational parlor performances. She was also noted by the family for feeling her most musically inspired immediately after dinner when dishes needed washing and she would happily entertain the whole family with her fingers on the hot keys, while others warmed their own in soapy water. Aunt Alice was the true flapper of the family, she married the wrong man too early, had to divorce him, but then met the love of her life, Uncle Bob Eidson, a Highway Patrolman turned mining engineer who searched for uranium in the Kern deserts and helped design the Old West Mine Train amusement ride for Walter Knott at the Berry Farm, and died there one day, his hand held tightly on the engine’s blowing horn.

Aunt Alice was the true flapper of the McDonald girls, but Aunt Bertha wore the smooth cool feathers of a real loon. Like all her sisters save my grandmother, Aunt Bertha was married two or three times, most notably to Harry Wilkinson, who built among other structures, the US Forest Service Lookout on Jordan Peak and the Springville Hotel in 1912, which he unfortunately lost to Charles Elster the next year when his notes went bad.

Aunt Bertha was known for her independence and lived alone in Porterville in a little trailer house completely covered and hidden by wisteria. She did not enjoy card games. Aunt Bertha did not drive and had her groceries brought in. She saw the rest of the family rarely and preferred it that way. My grandmother, almost 30 years younger, her care and concern for Aunt Bertha so clearly genuine, would be allowed through the viney doorway and to check in on her, sometimes do her shopping, and take her to appointments. This acceptance of help from my grandmother spilled over to my mother, who was Aunt Bertha believed, correctly, smart as a whip.

One afternoon my mother picked up the telephone hanging in the kitchen by the back door and listened while my grandmother talked, replying yes, listening again, replying yes twice again, and finally said, some tension in her voice, “Don’t worry mother, I’ll go over right now”. She looked at me standing in the hall, lit a cigarette and told me to put my shoes on, get in the car and come with her. We were going to find Aunt Bertha.

We did not have a hard time finding her. The town is small and Aunt Bertha’s route was predictable. She was walking down the steps of a house on Harrison Street with a contented and purposeful expression on her face, putting an envelope into a leather satchel. My mother stopped the car, got out and talked to Aunt Bertha a moment on the sidewalk while I waited, then mother led her back to the car, Aunt Bertha displacing me in the passenger seat with a nod and a smile, and we drove up Harrison towards Main Street.

Aunt Bertha had been collecting her ‘rents’. My mother was going to help her ‘deposit’ them. Holding her satchel tight in her lap, she began worrying how she feared the new ‘renters’ might not make their rent next month. My mother tried to ease Aunt Bertha by saying how she was sure they would, and how she thought the house looked very nice, and how good it was to have ‘renters’ who kept things up.

Aunt Bertha snorted some at this and looked out the window. Then, at the house where Harrison crosses Oak, she cried out, “Oh stop right here now Barbara! These people are late again and I want to tell them if they can’t pay up they are just going to have to leave!”

“But it is almost three Aunt Bertha”, said my mother calmly, thinking quickly, speeding the car past the house before Aunt Bertha could stop her, “The bank will be closing in a minute. Don’t you want to deposit your money today so it’ll be safe and start earning interest for you?”

“Well yes, of course. You’re right Barbara”, replied Aunt Bertha, and we turned onto Main Street, parked in front of the Security Bank, got out, and, as mother and Aunt Bertha walked into the bank my mother gave me a dime, told me to walk over to the hardware store, get a Grapette out of the cooler and wait for her there. She and Aunt Bertha and Aunt Bertha’s satchel went into the bank.

I was very happy to do this. I loved Grapette and Jones Hardware Store was a treasure chest to me, filled with dozens of familiar items I coveted and thousands of mysterious items I knew nothing about. It held ancient wisdom in coiled rope and wooden casks of nails and it offered the acme of modernity in rows of enameled appliances. Uncles and Aunts owned the hardware store, my cousins worked there in the summer. It was a meeting place for the family and the town and when my mother came in with Aunt Bertha I was finishing my Grapette, listening to my cousin Kenny sell fishing flies to a camper from Pasadena.

They had ‘deposited’ the ‘rents’ at the bank with bank manager Harold Johnson, and mother passed the time of day with whomever was in the hardware store while Aunt Bertha stood quietly to the side with her satchel, and then mother took Aunt Bertha across the street to Judy Barnhart’s ‘We-Sell-Fit’ for a new house coat and perhaps, if affordable, a new foundation garment. Meanwhile, I was allowed another Grapette and more time to regard the rifles and shotguns in the glass cases behind the pistols and boxes of ammunition.

Judy let Aunt Bertha pay on account for the new house coat of course, and my mother would write a check the next day for anything Aunt Bertha bought. And when the ‘renters’, who knew Aunt Bertha to be a responsible and determined but not especially rich ‘landlady’, dropped a sympathetic ten or twenty dollar bill into the envelope that went into the satchel for deposit, my mother would return the money and the envelope with a tight but grateful smile, say thank you, and tell them Mrs. Wilkinson and she would see them next month.

Aunt Bertha was quite old when she thought she owned half the property in town. She was kind to me, and once put a four leaf clover in my hand saying, “Take this. Now you’re a lucky boy. Make something good of your luck young man”.

On the porch staring at Snailhead I remembered standing on the back stoop of the little rented house in Doris Street with my parents the night of the Tehachapi earthquake, in pajamas, wrapped in a sheet, holding on to my pillow and the remnants of one of the last little blue and pink pieces of crocheted yarn my grandmother made for me to use as a pacifier almost until high school, looking west at 5 in the morning across the used car lot next door at the utility poles shaking with the aftershocks that came with decreasing strength and regularity but no less terror until they stopped and stood bent but still in the red light of dawn, and dad could go out for fresh smokes for my mother, then to work.

I remembered Bellview Street and the model boats I sailed in the puddled rain water made into an ocean at the angle of the curb, the street where friends were made for a life time in the house next door, how we all became family under the loquat tree, and how, in front of my Dad’s TV, The Twilight Zone became more thrilling with Susan and Murtie watching with me on the floor in the blue-green light behind the screen door where skeeters buzzed and the June Bugs danced Outer Space Rock-a-Billy, and how, at their mother’s dining table set with ironed linen, heirloom crystal and yellow zinnias, a roast chicken with watermelon pickles and shared stories became more delicious than any exotic meal I’ve ever had away from home.

Sitting on Henry Radelleff’s porch I remembered hunting with my granddad until hunting ended for me with the first four point buck in the sights of my rifle, my finger frozen, unable to pull the trigger and how the buck jumped and spared us both the nightmare of a wounding shot and slow death on the bloody trail and how, putting the gun down I said I can’t shoot him anyways Grampa and how he said that’s fine it don’t matter, let’s get back down the mountain.

I remember seeing my granddad 4 years after his death, the spirit of him, running on the side of Snailhead, a white horse during the 1976 Springville Rodeo Parade.

My grandmother was Grand Marshal that year, and even though she repeated to all again and again that it was her husband Wes, my Granddad who should be riding at the head of the Parade and would’ve been had he lived, he’d been District Ranger after all, she was happy enough to have the honor herself and pleased to ride along dressed up in what was thought to be historically accurate fashion from the pioneer years long before her birth, when her own grandparents came to the area and settled in with chickens and a milk cow above Sycamore Creek and started the local branch of the clan, and she was very pleased to ride in the passenger seat of the Model T with Clinton Brown, who she’d cared for as boy when his mama died of diphtheria as had so many when she was young, driving down Main Street behind the colors, the mounted honor guard and the Springville School Band.

I’d flown down from San Francisco for the event. I cannot remember my sisters picking me up at the Bakersfield Airport, though Beth may have had her learner’s permit; maybe Dad drove. Maybe they all came down to meet me and enjoy the shared entertainment of watching the planes take off and land and the people getting on and off them.

But it was not a good time in my parent’s house; my mother was not well, her health was failing, and now, Barbara, my mother, the paper, scissors and glue of the family since my father’s stroke 13 years before was skin and bones, eating cheddar cheese, Spanish peanuts and Ritz crackers washed down with iced tea or red wine, breathing with the help of an oxygen tank and, when she was not in bed, she was pushed in a wheel chair, the situation in which she would find herself for the remaining 5 years of her life. The parade with her mother honored as Grand Marshall was a command performance of course; a very public reunion of the whole extended family of 40 or 50 people. We were all going to watch from the balcony of the Springville Hotel, and eat lunch there after the parade. It did not provide the best time for Barbara’s first appearance in this reduced condition, or the realization of the condition by her aunts, uncles and cousins.

My mother, a natural performer, was undaunted, and would not be held back by infirmity. She planned with the help of my sisters and a good friend, the lunch and arrangements from the phone in the weeks before the parade, and when the day came and everything was as ready as she was, I wheeled her through the doors of the Hotel with Sarah leading, Beth at one side and my Dad with his cane at the other, and we walked and rolled across the room greeting family and friends and parked her at the window with a good view of Main Street where she sat with her back yard-stick straight and her black diamond, topaz eyes shining and between sips of iced tea and long easy breaths through the tubes of the oxygen tank, she chatted with everyone; how good it was to see them and how exciting to wait for a parade.

Parades were not unfamiliar to my mother. At 12 she was Queen of the May in Glenville in 1936, when her dad was Ranger of the Greenhorn District. Dressed in a country version of a white neo-classic faerie tunic, the Kodak snaps show her leading children in a parade around the school yard to dance at the May Pole, her dark brunette hair softly curled under a crown of wildflowers. The snaps show the looks she carried until her death. She had large, liquid eyes, and long lashes that could mask the points she held in her Bridge hand but not hide her intelligence or passion. She favored her father; they carried an almost Asiatic aquilinity in deeply Hispanic faces. Her grandmother’s language was Spanish. She exulted in her Mexican cousins, but she would tell you her heritage was California not Aztlán, indeed she had no knowledge of the word, and any trace of Indian genetic memory was unknown to her. She wore turtle shell combs.

She adored her father. I believe his death in 1972 was the straw that, after the long years of my father’s illness and the disappointments I gave her growing up, broke her will and forced her into accepting a fate she understood but would not have chosen. She once told me she did not want to be a grandmother.

She knitted to distraction; she knitted while talking or reading a book or watching TV, beautiful dresses and skirts for herself and my sisters and sweaters and vests for my dad and me. Her knitted argyle socks were beautiful, but she did no darning, and the socks were tossed when they showed holes. Only once did she mend the elbow of my favorite sweater, taking her time, an extra day, keeping me off the plane back to San Francisco. She did not bake, leaving that art to my grandmother, but she cooked effortlessly when she was of a mind, with an imagination far beyond the dullness of mid-century menus. She introduced fondue to Porterville kitchens, was thought quite elegant for it, and surprised conservative tastes with shish-kebab and pilaf when steak and a baked potato were the norm.

I imagine she considered herself Queen of the Rodeo, though she never tried out for the title at the Glenville, Springville or Porterville roundups. She must have been proud of her mother’s honor as Grand Marshall, but like her mother she would have preferred her it were father being driven down Main Street, and I am not sure she did not envy her mother in the old car.

She rode well. She and a friend started The Canterbelles in the late 1940’s, a women’s equestrienne team that performed at Southern Tulare and North Kern county rodeos. She trained the girls, high school seniors from local ranch families in the arts of Western saddle and dressage and designed their cowgirl costumes. I do not know why she stopped riding, except she and my father could not afford to keep a horse.

Her pretensions were theatrical, but they could be practical as well. She built a 3 foot high 30 foot long brick wall by herself one summer, curved gracefully around walnut trees in the back yard of the second of the three houses she and my father built. She mixed the mortar, troweling it onto the bricks with a slap, laying the bricks quickly and firmly and cutting away the excess mortar with an expertise only an amateur could achieve. I watched her do it from an ant hill I played on behind the wall, and helped her plant the area with succulents, cactus, and portulaca, and though she was saddened next summer to leave the wall when we moved to Manhattan Beach, she was proud to show it off to prospective house buyers, and happy to know her handiwork increased the value of the property.

She was mightily surprised to become pregnant again 13 years after my birth, first with one daughter, then another. So was my father. I was surprised as well when they announced the news to me: I told them I’d been hoping for a dog but guessed a little brother or sister would be fine, I was an only child after all, but I was delighted with my sisters arrival as much as my parents, who were happy to allow me most of the pleasures of child rearing without any of the responsibilities.

Beth and Sarah grew up fast. They had to. Having dealt with crises in series from the earliest age, they came to a certain maturity early, and measures of their character, especially those of compassion and acceptance were formed and marked early. They grew up with the understanding that my father might die any day. They came to things of a life and death nature before most, certainly long before I did. And growing up young, they stayed young, and seemed, at least to me, not to age mentally or spiritually between 6 and 7 and the year my father died, when they were 30 and 31. They were not overwhelmed by my disabled father’s fragility, they knew him no other way, and they cared and loved him as if his health were simply a part of his whole being as their father. Nor did they miss a beat, (my mother’s words), when she fell ill and slid into the grave. They nursed her without complaint, held her hand and my father’s and mine, and we all laughed at death as if death were just a part of the parade.

When Clinton Brown drove the Model T up to the Hotel we all had to scream like hell to get Gramma to see us. She was waving and smiling to the crowd in front of Gifford’s Market on the other side of the street, but she heard us in time and turned and screamed herself and called to Clinton to slow down, slow down so she could see us and wave to us and she yelled out when she saw us, “My babies! My babies! Oh hello my babies!”, and we all cheered, and then they were past as I looked up and away through tears across the river to the side of Snailhead and saw a lone white stallion with a gait to match the speed of the car and knew it was my granddad prancing along through the hot April fields.

When the hubbub of my grandmother in her car passed by, The Canterbelles followed at a parade pace two entries back, behind the mounted sheriffs and whoever was the District Supervisor at the time, and my father leaned over to my mother and quietly said to her, “There you go honey”.

I returned to San Francisco the Monday after the parade, then flew to London at the end of May, where I spent the summer in a vain and what I now see as a rude attempt to rekindle love gone wrong. I crossed the channel on the night boat to Calais. My pretensions too were usually theatrical, and with the collar of my jacket turned up against the weather I drew on the windy deck of the ferry with visions of Turner in the storm, tied to the mast of his boat; but unlike my mother, my pretensions were rarely practical, and I was tied up by an empty wallet, carried along by an anguished and ineffectual romanticism, and I saw Paris for the first time broke and disheveled. I had enough Francs for a croissant and a coffee in the morning and 50 centime slices of coconut in the evening, with just enough leftover to spend days in the Louvre. I wound up sleeping in the jardins du Trocadero, and had to wire home for money.

My life has strung along for another 30 years, all of them lucky.

Sitting in the heat of those nights on the porch I remembered all of it and more and stared off down the road past James Street, past the Pie Crust Hills to Globe and Worth and Success and all the orange grove, cotton field, sheep dip, train stop, mini-mart intersections from Springville to the end of the world and, my glass half full, becoming Poseidon, I imagined I flooded the god dammed Central Valley and remapped it as a great inland sea; The Tyrrhenian or the Adriatic, or The South China, or the Sea of Cortez, as if great Hokusai waves poured in through the delta and all manner of sea life and lore swam in the briny waters above the drowned and lost towns of Visalia and Hanford and Fresno, as if crabs hid in pirate coves where cows once bellowed among the rocks and the breakers crashed and terns and gulls and pelicans flew over a great carpet of dunes running from Plano Street to Rag Gulch and a hang-ten surf pounded the wide strand of sandpipers where tourists and local lay-abouts mingled at adobe and palm frond fish taco stands on the salty shore and out beyond the abalone beds elegant yachts and feluccas played with dolphins on the gentle waves hand painted this time by Canaletto beyond the mystic harbor light where the Coast Range rose, a string of azure peninsulas and islands in the far pearly distance under Albert Ryder’s moon.

I climbed Snailhead one day in another April with Nathan Jessup and Bob Johnson. We carried supplies, awkward and too many I thought, from the Shew’s gate up through the wild oats and filaree, around the poison oak and under the buckthorn over rocks and ledges up along an impossible trail we made as we climbed. I followed their lead and reached the top of the snail shell a few minutes behind Nate and Bob; we shared a joint, opened a bottle of wine and sat looking at what truly did look like a Sacred Homeland, and I opened my note book and made a quick drawing. Nate and Bob opened their bags, each took out a club and they teed off from the dome, driving golf balls into the canyon, and we watched the balls sail out and away and disappear into the afternoon light.

Below was the river, and across the guard rail the town and the house, and in the quiet I heard my dog bark, or thought I did, and saw her in the yard looking up at us. She was like that, had a good sense of direction. She’d come home by herself when she was still a pup and Michael some how’d lost her in Dolores Park, in the city, 10 or 12 years before, and I expect she watched Nate and Bob and me climb Snailhead, but she was getting old then and was happy enough to stay home on the porch and swim in the Jessup’s pool later that evening.

The Canby Ferry, 1998, arylic on canvas, 42 x 60 inches.

The Willamette: evening, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 52 inches.

Barbara and Mitch with their dog Jake at Riverbend, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16 inhes.

The Willamette at Riverbend, 1998, watercolor on paper, 7 X 9 inches.

Paris: pont de Tournelles, 2000, acrylic on canvas, 36 X 72 inches.

Paris: dawn from Jacques et Bernard's rooftop, 1991, watecolor on paper, 7 x 9 inches.

Cap d'Ail, 1990, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches.

Cap d'Ail, the Villa Thallassa, 1990, watercolor on paper, 9 x 11 inches.

I will get to all this one day soon. There is so much to remember.
I have never, ever seen light as brilliant as poured across the windshield crossing South Yamhill on my way to your place in Portland in the fall of '91. Or that light caressing Mt. Tam the afternoon I walked from Carol and Diane's with Michael and Bobby Gilchrest into the Bay. Or Snailhead everyday for years on end, with old Bonnie on the porch, and you and Barbara down from Fresno sitting at the side of the house in Springville, or the two of you and Jake, yep, that was his name, laying house plans at Riverbend before your sons were born.
And what can I say of Paris and the rest of France that you don't already comprehend?

Mme. Ner'Min's Cinciano, 1997

Marlena Ner'Min' on the terrace above the rocaille grotto at Frattoria Cinciano,
2 June 1997, ink on paper, 13 x 9 inches.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Paintings from Martos, 2005

Mary Saville, Lady Bagshaw, and her cat Binky, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 14x14 inches.

We walked Mary up to the painting room at Martos after breakfast each day, she would sit and hold Binky and tell me tales of Old England, repeating over and over how her Dad was so loving and her mum the same, how her mum loved colour so much, and how deeply they were thrown into grief when they all heard that her beloved brother was lost over the Channel in 1940. He joined the RAF too young she said.

She married late in life, to a handsome younger man, and they left Old England for the Costa del Sol in the '70s and built a hacienda high on a little hill at Sierrezuela overlooking Fuengirola and that wide horizon to Africa.

Raphael in his garden, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches; with the campanile of La Iglesia de San Amador below the terrace and the back road to Torredonmolinos and Jaen across the ravine with the farm house and the old man who stood and sat there for hours each day, no one knows why.

Moorish towers at Martos, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 30 inches.

The view from my room.

Martos sunset, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 30 inches.

View of Martos, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 11 x 7 feet.

This is the biggest of the lot by far, it was the painted to hang in the grand stairwell of Casa Martinez Cruz-Conde, seen here as a spot of white on the lower flank of La Penya.

La Penya and poster of St. Amador, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 24 inches.
La Penya is the rocky toe sticking up in the plains west of Jaen.

View of Andalucia, 2005, acylic on canvas, 12 x 36 inches.
A general view along the road from Martos to Granada.

All images expand when clicked.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A still life and five landscapes

Yellow roses, white pitcher, 2004, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 inches.

Rocky Hill from the Tule bridge at Plano, 1988, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 72 inches.

Sunrise, 1990, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches.

Mary's Peak, 1990, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches.

Ditch at Battle Moutnain Ranch: Mt. Dennison, 2004, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24 inches.

Blooming Buckeye, Battle Mountain Ranch, 2004, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24 inches.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Windy day by the Bay

Cindy and Nicole, and their children Maddie and Aiden, acrylic on canvas, 14 x18 inches.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007