Posted August 15, 2018 by Kerry McFall
The term “Natural Wonders” may bring to mind the Tetons, Victoria Falls, orchids, rhinos. But think smaller, think about your own little piece of paradise. The wonders are right beside you, you just have to look a little closer, a little longer, maybe get out of your car and put down your phone. And maybe grab a sketchbook or a paintbrush and make the full impact of that wonder last for hours, even years!
Sunday morning I got up early – well, not fishing trip early, but early enough that the cat wasn’t clamoring for breakfast yet. As soon as I could get my sketching gear into the car (and feed Sparky) I was off up the road toward Bald Hill Farm, aka my “church”. The staff at Greenbelt Land Trust (which owns the farm) had organized a “Paint Out”, so I got to go beyond my usual trails and the closed gates, past the house and barns, all the way around the next long curve in the gravel road to the shop.
Rebecca, who works for the Trust, explained a bit about the Trust and how the land belongs to the Calapuya people, which we are holding in trust for the future. The farm is being managed as a working farm with a goal of returning the landscape to the native oak savannah of Calapuya times and to bring back many endangered or at risk local species. I find it comforting to know there are so many people in this area with priorities focused on the future rather than profit.
The critical first part of a paint-out involves choosing your subject. For me, that was right where I stood beside the shop, looking west toward a cluster of oaks outlined against the crest of a golden hayfield. The bottom edges of those oak branches looked like they had been drawn with a ruler, a product of hungry cattle or deer reaching up as high as possible for tender new growth. A gobbling noise drifted down to me, and voila, a flock of wild turkeys suddenly found themselves in my painting!
A few more quick strokes, and I went in search of another subject. As I walked through the oak forest, avoiding poison oak, and mysterious holes in the ground (snakes? bunnies? moles?) I gathered several turkey feathers. Those turkeys are big, and so are their feathers, 10.5” x 2.5”. If you pull the “vanes” of the feather apart, (vanes are those little skinny threads coming out of the quill, the stuff that clumps together and makes it, well, a feather,) you can see what might have been the inspiration for Velcro – talk about a wonder of nature! And then you can smooth the vanes back together again and the feather is good as new! Did you ever do that when you were a kid?
I was about to wander past the logging truck parked up the hill, then decided it might make a challenging subject, a contrast to all the surrounding organic shapes. Apparently it’s used when needed to clear out the invasive fir trees in the oak savannah areas. The background was splashy and quick, just took a few minutes. But then I began detailing the truck, carefully sussing out those little holes in that chrome muffler pipe thingy that runs up the back of the cab, or counting how many lugnuts on each wheel…
The end of the Paint-Out came much too soon. As I packed my art supplies and feathers, one feather drifted down across the first piece I had done – and “Oh!” That was just what it needed, so once back at home, I painted in a feather right in that spot where it had landed. Since I was painting with watercolor over some of the original landscape, the feather seems a bit ghostly, perfect for the feeling that this place belongs both to the future and the past. Perfect for a natural wonder.
The allure for me of Bald Hill Farm is not so much that this place is particularly unique or full of hidden treasure, The appeal is simply that I know it is there, with its natural wonders quietly existing as they have in the past and will in the future. Thanks for reading!
Click on a thumbnail to see a larger image of other recent paintings: