Tag Archives: Bald Hill Trail

Natural Wonders

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!

oaks on a hill plus a turkey feather

“Bald Hill Iconic Oaks”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

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…

logging truck in oak forest

“Working Farm,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

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:


Mother Nature’s Math: Death = Renewal

I went to Bald Hill this morning for a quiet walk before the temperature passes 90 degrees.  It’s been a tough couple of weeks, dealing with my aging mother, worrying about world events, and I always find spiritual repair there, always see or hear some natural phenomenon I’ve never witnessed before, and come away uplifted.

Oak Leaf Gall, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Oak Leaf Gall, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Today was different, leaving me with more questions than answers.  The pasture seemed quiet and golden as I rounded the first bend and gazed out to Mary’s Peak.  The blackberries tumbling over each other beside the trail promised the first fruit of the season, but it was a tease.  The few dark berries among the red and green didn’t budge when I pulled on them,  Drat.

Then I saw the vultures.  Three very big and very busy black bodies flapping and fussing around something small and brown.  I was too far away to see what it was, probably a blessing.  Maybe a calf, maybe a dog or a fawn.  I’m not squeamish, but I just didn’t expect to be faced with death so graphically, not there, not in my cathedral of nature.

I walked on, thinking about National Geographic TV specials where the lions took down the reeboks, hearing that man’s soothing voice talk about the circle of life, using my hiking pole to keep from slipping on the loose gravel here and there.  Just a few steps away, as I planted my pole, there was a bit of fur.  I bent closer.  No, there was half a mouse, the tail half.   Death had visited the pasture twice in recent hours.  I know it is never far away in any natural setting, yet I have never seen it there before.  I resented its intrusion.

I started up the little hill by the farm house and saw a bluebird pair swooping in and out of one of the nest boxes on a fence post.  I stopped to listen and was rewarded with the reassuring sounds of baby birds inside.  Life goes on.  Life is good.  Up ahead, the pear tree in the ditch was heavy with small green fruit, and a distant cow called out repeatedly.  I continued to the west end of the pasture where the cattle had congregated in the shade – there were several calves in the herd, small and clean and perfect, that hadn’t been there three weeks ago when I came by.  A lone black and white and brown dog wandered casually at the edges of the herd.  Was he working?  Was he lost?  I decided today was not my day to fix that, or as a recently-heard quote sums it up so well:  not my circus, not my monkey.  Throughout the day there would be many people passing by who might be better prepared mentally to deal with him.  The cow continued to call for her lost calf.  Such a sad sound.  The odd thought occurred to me – how long before she realized the calf wasn’t coming back?  How long before her milk dried up?  Would her udders become infected?  How was it that I have lived 62 years and don’t know the answer to that kind of basic agrarian question?

Up at the barn, I sat for awhile and stared at the hazy silhouettes on the eastern horizon, glad I had brought a water bottle, savoring the sweet cool water.  Smoke must be drifting in from the fires in Eastern Oregon.  Mother Nature’s math: Summer heat + Lightning = Fire.  Fire = renewal.  Fire = death.  Ergo Death = Renewal?

I finished the loop trail, stopping now and then to breathe in the warm sweet scent of grasses and forest, picking up an oak leaf with a puff ball on its back – something to sketch in the afternoon.  Just before I reached the parking lot, my cell phone rang.  Dang, I meant to turn it off.  I almost didn’t answer, but it might be Mom so I fished it out of my pack… it was my son, and I don’t hear from him very often.  So I did what I criticize others for doing, I finished the last few yards of my walk with a phone pressed to my head.  My calf was calling me.  Life is complicated, but life is good… and the Rich Pageant Marches On.

Technique notes

Sharpie fine point pen on NatureSketch 130lb 8.5 x 11

Obviously the leaf needs another couple of layers of green colored pencil at this stage in the photo, and it turned out well, but I’m too hot to take another photo and repost it…I’m pleased with the puffball (gall).  The highlight on the ball was preserved by rubbing a white wax pastel over the area early in the process, after just a light yellow wash and preserving some blank white – it resists transparent watercolor.  I recently learned from experience though that opaque watercolor just paints right over wax, like acrylic.  There’s always something new to learn.  I think the lettering is too heavy for the sketch, but oh well, different pen next time.


Lovely Day for a Quick Plein Air Sketch

sketch of lupine

“Lupine”, watercolor and ink, by Kerry McFall

sketch of fields and mountains

“Midge Cramer Trail”, ink and watercolor by Kerry McFall

Half a mile from the parking lot at the fairgrounds, there is a bench on the Midge Cramer trail, the perfect spot for sketching.  By the time you’ve reached it, you can’t help but feel your batteries re-charging.  It smells good (wild roses and sweet meadow grass), it sounds good (crickets and birdsong), it’s gorgeous and green.  People jog and pedal along smiling, dogs can barely walk for wagging, the occasional horses even seem glad to see you.  There are lots of wildflowers this time of year, and unfortunately also lots of poison oak so stay on the trail.  The lupine I sketched above are undoubtedly transplants from someone’s garden via a blue jay or squirrel, they’ve sprouted up just behind the bench.

Technique Notes

I sketched these in my Grey toned Strathmore book, which just happened to be the right size to fit in a small pack, and discovered that a toned paper is really great when you’re sitting out in the direct sunlight.  Instead of being blinded by the reflection on bright white paper, you can actually see what you’re doing.  And as a bonus, just a white charcoal pencil makes for easy highlights.  I wondered if the watercolor and colored pencil would still be as bright after photographing, and I think they look good!

Mary’s Peak from Bald Hill Trail

"Mary's Peak from Bald Hill", mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

“Mary’s Peak from Bald Hill”, mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

A lovely bright green morning called for a sketching expedition.  I packed up my arting bag and my 3-legged stool/cane and found a good spot beside the fence up at the Bald Hill natural area.  The cloud cougar was about to creep over the top of Mary’s Peak at first, but it slunk away, leaving the silhouette shining in the sun (you know how people see shapes in clouds?  the clouds behind the peak always look like a cougar to me, just waiting for its chance to leap over the mountain and into the valley.)  It was fun to see all the Mother’s Day hikers (one little guy had a pair of binoculars, wrong end up, and spent a good long time staring at me) and bikers, even a couple of horseback riders.  I’ve been wished Happy Mother’s Day from most of “my” kids all over the world, I’ve got a bottle of Cupcake Champagne chilling in the fridge, and I found some leftover chocolate truffles from Christmas, so I’m a happy Mom!


White Horse, Red Barn

"White Horse, Red Barn", mixed media by Kerry McFall

I finished this quick sketch last night from a photo taken last month up at Bald Hill Farms.  White horses really make the flies obvious – poor thing, they were all over him.   Or her – I didn’t really notice at the time…  Still need to work on faces and hooves – is it just me, or should it be physically impossible for such a large animal to stand on such tiny hooves?


Oregon’s January Palette

"Oregon's Winter Palette", watercolor and colored pencil by Kerry McFall

Clearly, we’re not in Botswana any more… or Tennessee, or Brooklyn.  Sigh.

But it’s beautiful here in a cold, foggy kind of way.  This afternoon I walked the Bald Hill Farm trail as part of my “re-entry” therapy – the Oregon Winter palette is very simple:  grey, pale lichen green, more grey, nut brown, dead grass green, and thank goodness for the red of wild rosehips.

I hope to find time to post the last few Botswana sketches soon, but I’ll be back to work tomorrow so it may be a few days before I get everything sorted out.

Suddenly Summer

Pastorale scene with sheep
Bald Hill Pasture
 Sunday late morning I sat on the bench just off the Bald Hill trail and lost myself in the sweet scent of blackberry blossoms and the song of bluebirds swooping and diving over the pasture.  It was truly “pastorale”.  I learned a lot, too, as I sketched and painted and chatted with passersby:
  1. Sheep cannot be counted upon to stay still.  Although they are not darting about like bluebirds, they are in constant steady motion.  So the moral is, draw the critters first.
  2. Always take a paint rag because you never know when you’re going to stick your thumb into the gooey blue paint.  Also, find a better tin for water colors.
  3. Order that nifty “water brush” that holds water in its handle that you can supposedly sqeeze out while you paint.

After my resident art critic pointed out that the wire fencing didn’t look “like it should”, I re-visited the piece and added more colored pencil.  I like the result but it still has plenty of room for improvement… for one thing, true to the actual motion of the animals, the whole piece looks like it’s in danger of wandering off the right side of the frame, like a Harry Potter photograph.  I think if I had made the grasses in the foreground blow to the north instead of the south, it would have been a more stable composition.  The mid-day lighting was tricky, too, putting shadows directly beneath the objects – never realized how that warps perception.