East Side Visiting

Mid-May, I got a chance to visit the east side of Washington- which is a whole other bio region full of dramatic landscape and colorful people. When making the pilgrimage to the east side of The Cascades, grab a friend and make it a real road trip- the journey is half the fun!. My friend Peg offered to join me in hopping over to the dry side, and had a mission to retrace some artist haunts and creative cats that dwell in the sage. We stopped off in Pateros to find some of her work at the local school- these fish are schooling! The small town of Pateros is located at the confluence of The Buttlemuleemauch River into The Colombia River above Wells Dam. The Methow Tribe, now part of The Confederated Tribes of The Coleville Reservation, once used this area extensively for salmon harvesting to feed the people. The sculpture seems to echo past salmon runs that once thrived in these waters. Now, with damming and industrialization of the water front after the removal of tribal people from their homeland, our colonial footprint leaves only trace shapes and haunting memorials to deeper connection with the rivers, mountains, and home.

The Colombia Basin was once filled with roaring energy as the glacier melt poured down from Canada and The Missoula Floods. Driving along the once rapidly flowing river, it is sad to recognize how the water has slowed and stagnated by damming. Though the cheap electrical power and “green” energy is nice- it’s killing the river and many of the species who had thrived in the currents. Elder first nation people tell stories of the singing river- it’s voice silenced by the dams. The salmon, sturgeon, peoples who ones lived together in interdependence with nature is all a distant memory. At least through art, we can remember what once was. At the base of this statue is frog- healer, medicine animal of repair and transition between water and land. His subtle connection to the salmon reminds us that change could happen, that the river would be released to flow in health and happiness once more, ushering back salmon runs and vibrancy to the landscape.

There’s a special place I usually head off 97N outside Tonaskit. A close friend and mentor raises her Katahdins here, wandering hillsides and rocky outcrops with her flock and good Kangal dog. She inspires me every day with her off grid living in a straw bale house built originally for rabbits. They’ve since moved down the hill into a vast warren of truck caps and buried chicken wire. We have a lot of fun talking shop, watching the animals on the land, and predicting our future in a fast changing world. Morning coffee fills our heads with caffeine and warms our hearts as we women tend the land.

Later that morning, we headed to Riverside, the nearest town form where I spent 8 months in The Lime Belt just above The Okanogan River. This area is wild, with active detachment faulting hillsides jutting up in the upheaval of Cascadia. I’ve always loved this ridge line for its color, although that has changed drastically in a recent fire caused by faulty wiring in an old trailer parked at the base of this extensive granite wall. The picture below was also taken on a cloudy morning, a rare thing on the east side of the mountains. While visiting Riverside, we stayed in a concerted church lovingly restored by a passionate artist. Craft was a running theme in this trip, as we all use our hands to create. Mine are handling animals or soil, but I got the chance to try my hand at glass on this trip.

While fire is a personal favorite of the elemental, I’ve always had a healthy respect for the chemical change. Looking out from the studio to the burned rock face of sacred slopes, I reflected deeply on the destructive force of fire. Then I turned, put on a pair of welding glasses, and began creating with fire under the close tutelage of a master. The sun had come out, and light filled the room with shattered color. A heated torch turned the glass rods white hot, and as the liquid became more and more elastic, my hands rotated, ambidextrously with help from gravity, to form a small bead. Temperature was crucial, and cooling happened quickly. Glass is always a liquid- even when its hard and set into windows. Watching it droop like taffy on a thin metal rod created some anxiety in me, but the glass remained thick and sticky, much like the huge lake of molten crust our continents float on.

Plates of earth, a crust of active movement, sometimes quite sudden and violent, the other signs arcross this eastern landscape of huge lava flows, carved out by ice sheets a mile or more thick, then polished off by floods of unimaginable force. My small blue bead shaped round and glossy on the metal rod, and I moved it gently off the torch to cool. It’s creation, much like our planet, a chemical wonder of elemental transformation. The magic of our living earth in a small trinket I could put in my pocket. Forged in the shadow of crested granite charred by licking flames, a return to base rock. In another hundred years of elemental change, new vegetation will establish, or grate quakes will come pushing geological time forward, lifting some while slipping other sheets of land under, back towards the core, a glowing torch of energy reshaping the earth.

Naturalist eyes have opened the world to my observations and added so much reference to time and space. Seeing geological time in road cuts on the drive, and formations of hills and mountains, rivers and dams. Driving through rainforest into sage desert and back again is such a trip. I have fallen in love with Washington though its geology, ecology, and creative people. Getting outside the farm from time to time helps me reference my place in this greater whole. Keeping up with good relationships that feed creativity and shared love of land replenishes my soul craft. And dipping my hands into art, making something, that’s one of my deep callings. With the intentions forged in front of a torch, in studio church, backed by the hills that awaken so much passion in me- I promised myself a home studio at EEC. Yes, the land has been that studio, in a sense, but a place for creative energy to centralize, an actual studio for creative process, is the next step in evolving my craft and embrace more purposeful art.

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