Wandering…

I have a couple of paintings in mind and one is easier at least to visualize than the other so I’m starting with it, maybe today (Oh Boy!!!!) πŸ˜ƒ

I was happy a couple days ago to find that before I started working on the illustrations for An Alphabet of Place I’d done a sketch for that painting. Still, I need to get back in the studio or out in the world and draw so I did a pencil drawing of a crane from below, some lines whisker thin. I just went with the first pencil I picked up and it wasn’t a soft-leaded one.

Then I realized that going totally from memory on the rest of the scene would be very difficult, so I took Bear out for a walk. Any excuse, right?

Here’s the painting (in words)…

In Spring 2020, when we had no crane festival and the crane tourists all arrived on their own, there was (comparatively) a lot of traffic out there, people wanting to see the cranes. Nature had a hard row to hoe in 2020 everywhere, and the Refuge was no exception. One very windy day Bear and I headed out to find several cars and people with dogs. OH WELL. We have an alternative road we can take when that happens, so we went that way, a dirt road lined with old cottonwood trees.

The wind was brutal with gusts up to 40 mph (60 kph). There were thousands of cranes at the refuge and they, too, were struggling with the wind, partly because when it gusted, it changed direction. A couple of times I had to turn my back to the wind. Bear and I had some gentle arguments about who was protecting whom. ❀️

Then I heard them purring overhead. Hundreds of cranes above me, seizing the lull between gusts to make it across the main road to their barley field. For a moment the wind stopped completely, and I heard the taffeta rustle of their wings.

That’s what I’m preparing to try to paint.

Bear and I walked on that road yesterday. She loves it because there are a LOT of smells. It’s lined with cottonwood trees, fallen leaves, and hiding places for small animals. I found a feather, I think from a Great Horned Owl. They hang out in those trees.

Across the main road is a tumbled-down farm. The biggest house is like many houses in early 20th century western America (I didn’t take a photo of it). It’s a a little frame box of a house often built around a fire place or wood stove. My grandmother lived in a house like this. Plumbing had to be added to it and in my grandma’s case, my uncles built her an indoor toilet off her bedroom. Behind the main house is a smaller frame house with a wonderful south window (below), probably from the late 19th century. I could picture myself sitting in the light of that window in the winter, looking over the valley. I’m sure there are two more windows like it in back of the house but probably NOT on the north side.


I looked for a third house, the original house. Most of the tumbled-down farms I see have three houses, one of which is a log cabin but there is none on this property. I wondered if maybe this little frame house was the first building they lived in. BUT behind THAT structure is the most interesting and most mysterious building. I took photos of the farm — finally, I’ve meant to for a while — hoping when I got home I could zoom in on that mysterious building and see what it’s made of and what it is, but I’m still not sure.

The shape is that of a potato cellar, but it’s not a potato cellar. I can’t tell for sure what it’s made of — stones? Sod? but I think it was their first house. I’m not sure about the white stuff, but it could be adobe or stucco. And there is the blessed south facing window, a pretty important thing in houses in the San Luis Valley. My house has five — basically the whole south wall is windows. There were six, but Teddy made sure that a windowed front door wasn’t happening here.

I’m sure the building is now home to foxes, raccoons and snakes, but once? I’d love to know.

14 thoughts on “Wandering…

  1. I love the crane drawing. My ancestors (some of them) came from Finland. The first thing they built was the sauna, at the lakeshore. It was a quick dash from the sauna to dive into the lake. They lived in the sauna while building the house. As an 8 year old, I got to experience that sauna and sleep in an old iron bedstead in the sleeping loft of the house. (I also learned that most saunas in the US are not really hot.)

  2. The old Cunningham farm/ranch at the edge of the Tetons near Jackson WY is a fascinating place to visit and wonder about how life was for them. I’m guessing hard, but beautiful. They were there a long time. If I remember right, the last Cunningham left in the 1930s.

  3. I tend to get stuck on a word or a phrase that is so interesting or so beautiful that I have to stop and let it soak in. ‘the taffeta rustle of their wings’ was it for me. That phrase is what I’d love to see painted. No pressure, Martha πŸ˜‚ but I could picture the cranes while reading that phrase.

  4. I’m with Lois, that is a beautiful description!

    I often wonder about all the stories in these old abandoned houses. I bet Bear could sniff out a few recent ones!

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