Posted August 11, 2016 by Kerry McFall
I’m not sure I had realized until now just precisely how much trees define my world. Look at this painting – it is at first glance about the building. I actually painted it because of the building (a Queen Anne style “cottage”.) But as I put on the finishing touches, it occurred to me that no, this was actually about the trees. After all, this scene is at an arboretum…
The first thing that pops is the bright pink Crape Myrtle in the middle. Yes, it really is THAT pink, even in the heat of August (102 by the car thermometer). To my Oregon sensibilities, spoiled rotten and accustomed to peaks covered in blue evergreens and valleys lush with deep green oaks, the next pop comes from those tall, graceful palm trees, ever so tropical. Next, the pale willows at the edges of what little water remains in the “lake”. There is also a magnolia lurking behind the Crape Myrtle. And last but not least, there is a big dying deciduous tree in the background. It was technically difficult to draw – I wanted to be accurate, but it’s ugly. I almost left it out. But that is perhaps the most important tree in this piece… because California trees are dying left, right, and center. Quietly, quickly, they are dying, everywhere you look.
Looking is the key. Apparently it’s a lost art.
Admittedly, it is difficult to see anything when you’re flying down the freeway at 90 mph hoping to hell that idiot on the Harley doesn’t splatter himself all over your windshield. Do people here ever slow down? Apparently not. To me it seems that they go from offices to workouts, as fast as they can, then pull into their automatically-opened garages and disappear into their air-conditioned units. “Units?” Yes, units. Ten or twelve on what used to be one suburban lot. Where there used to be one dwelling, there are now multiples, with nearly every square foot of earth paved or otherwise impermeably covered. (Sound familiar, Corvallis? Beware…) If it does rain, the water has nowhere to go but into the sewers.
California does not have a patent on not looking, or not paying attention to what should be as plain as the noses on our faces. This whole planet is guilty of that. But Californians do have a major issue with drought and water management, contrary to what a Certain Politician has blustered. Reading about the drought from the 45th parallel is one thing (yep, that’s where I usually live.) Or from Trump Tower. But being in the middle of it down here, we see more water running down the sewer gutters from broken sprinkler systems day and night than there is in any “river” in Southern California. We see the naked branches of dying trees stretching heavenward for help everywhere… ancient magnificent oaks, towering pines … it breaks my heart.
Back home, I’m pretty sure our tenants are looking out the front window on a patch of summer’s brown grass. That’s a natural process that many Oregonians have finally embraced over the last few years – it greens up again as soon as fall rains come. In the back, things are shaded by a giant fir, so it should still be green. I’m hoping they’ve been watering the fruit trees and gardens enough to keep things alive until we get back. Trees – they define our landscape, they matter so much for clean air, and they take so long to grow. I’d go outside and hug that little palm tree in this back yard right now… but I am learning that certain kinds of palm trees are as prickly as pine cones, so maybe I’ll just give it a little pat on that prickly trunk, and a big drink of “grey” water. Oh… but that means I have to actually get up and do the dishes… dang. Onward and upward!