Sunday, January 15, 2012

First Coyote

Book Cliffs Butte 18" x 24" Oil on Canvas Panel
The painting leading off this post was painted last summer. Although the season is different from the following story, this scene was painted in the same general area that the winter painting trip took place. The trip this story is about happened a year ago.

Heard my first coyote of the new year last Friday.

A place in the Book Cliffs near Price in Utah is becoming a favorite place of mine to paint. A road there I like to explore parallels some spectacular geologic formations, and crosses the heads of a number of small canyons.

I've been itching to do some desert painting in spite of the cold, and last Friday seemed like a good day to try. The Book Cliffs are relatively close, so I headed out of the Utah Valley haze and into a clear sunny day in Spanish Fork Canyon. Then it was down Price Canyon and into the desert. My aim was to visit a small canyon southwest of Helper that I had visited last year, but snow had changed the appearance of things and months had faded my memory of the place, so I walked down the wrong canyon. It didn't take long to figure that out, but it seemed like a good place anyway, so I kept hiking.

This canyon isn't quite as deep as the one I had originally wanted to go to but is mostly typical of relatively small desert canyons. At least the ones I'm familiar with. Sandstone cliffs and jumbled boulders form the sides of the canyon. Pinion pine and juniper trees grow in loosely bunched forests and scattered stands in typical p&j fashion, from the canyon rim to the edges of the canyon floor. There are a few scrub oak thickets and the sharp, pointy leaves of the occasional yucca could be seen poking up through the snow. The unusual thing about this canyon was that the canyon floor seemed to be mostly marshland. Luckily, the marshes were frozen, and the ice supported my weight. If not for that this canyon might have been nearly impassable. I still had to push through stands of cattails and whippy little willows. The willows would occasionally whip me in the face or hands, and the cattails' fluffy seeds stuck all over me. I also had to push past the occasional russian olive, which might then rudely remind me how sharp and pointy they can be. There was more snow than expected, varying in depth from half a foot to halfway-to-the-knees. The snow was dry and grainy and surprisingly tiring to walk through.

Walking past several sunlit sandstone walls and outcrops, I had a feeling I should soon set up and paint but I kept on hiking, looking for better subjects. The usual "what's around the next bend" curiosity also kept pulling me farther down the canyon. Eventually I found a place and set up on a sagebrush bench. That's when the sunlight became impatient and abandoned me. The small scattered cirrus clouds thickened into a solid gray overcast, showing little sympathy for my attempts at a visual art career, and also showing the usual disrespect toward weather forecasters who said this wouldn't happen that day. So much for paintings of sunlit canyon walls. I decided to paint anyway. A successful landscape painter I know of has said that every time he goes out to paint, he comes back with either a painting or a lesson. Adopting that philosophy I set to painting, accompanied by only a few passing ravens or small flocks of raucous jays.

Afterward I headed back up canyon, once again pushing through whippy willows and cattails, and through tiring snow. Back out of the canyon I could see some low sun was temporarily getting through the overcast and casting a golden glow on the Book Cliffs. I drove to an open area, a place thick with deer, and started a sunset painting. I finished up this painting after dark by the light of my head lamp.

That's when I heard the coyote.

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