Friday, August 5, 2011

Fieldwork Friday: North Backbone Trail

Old piñon on the North Backbone, pencil on Stonehenge paper, 11x14

At about 8:00 this morning I pulled into the North Backbone trailhead on CR 175. It was a later start than I had hoped, but I was pleased to find no other cars in the lot and a hillside full of quiet.

It's possible to hike back to town on this trail– from the northern trailhead to my house the journey is about 5 miles– but today was about dawdling.

I strolled 15 or 20 minutes down the trail and then settled in to spend some time with this downed piñon pine. I quite like this drawing because I can see myself relax as the lines flow from top to bottom of the page. Those first marks are tight... illustrative, not interpretive. The shapes are tense and, if you'll excuse the pun, wooden. But by the time I was ready to move on, I felt myself a little more in sync with my subject and my surroundings.

I did have to chuckle, though. If you've been reading Brush and Baren for any length of time, you might remember that peculiar interruptions are de rigueur for my outdoor drawing adventures. So picture me, if you will, seated just off the trail. Smell of pines. Pip of birds. Scratch of pencil. No wind. No other hikers. From time to time the sound of a vehicle drifts up from below, but it's otherwise just me and soft morning sounds.

And then the crunch of gravel and unmistakable metal ring of a shovel. Step step. Scrape. Ring. Thunk. Step step step. Scrape. Ring. Thunk. Someone is moving slowly up the trail. With a shovel. Suddenly I am reminded of creepy stories told at childhood sleepovers and a vague unease sets in. I did, after all, find what appeared to be two carpal bones just down the path.

The sound comes closer, then fades, then comes closer again. After probably half an hour it becomes clear that whoever it is is almost upon me and my pencil lines become distracted. And suddenly, there he is.

It's Larry. A trail volunteer. A retired fellow in a floppy hat, wearing a camelback and wielding a long, thin shovel. He's flipping loose stones, "ankle twisters" he calls them, out of the trail and down the hill. Scrape. Ring. Thunk. He stops to see what I am up to.

"You came all the way up here just to draw that old stump, eh?"

"Yessir, I did."

"Well. (Pause) I guess that's better than all those folk who come up here with their cell phones, goin' 'Ooh. Ooh. Ooh. Click. Click. Click.' Those pictures don't even come close."

Well said, Larry. Well said. Thanks for the chat... and thanks for clearing those ankle-twisters.


  1. I love it! Both the sketch and the story. Larry's a great character, and now you have the Larry seal of approval (sort of!). Oh yeah...

  2. :-) His actual first words to me were, "Do you do this for a living?" I couldn't decide how he felt about either the question OR the answer.

  3. Bet you remember Larry every time you look at that sketch now. What a great guy. Lovely sketch, you've really captured the character of the stump.

  4. I like how you make the distinction between illustrative and interpretive, and how it feels to get to the improv free-flow that makes your drawing come alive. Beautiful tree, great drawing, a fine post!

  5. Indeed, Lisa... the drawings made under, erm, interesting circumstances always have the best memories attached to them! Or at least the best laughs.

    Debby, for me it's one of the greater challenges... to give myself and the work enough time to cross the threshold. Oh-so-great when it happens! (See you in September?)

  6. Oh my gosh, you were so brave for staying put! (Or maybe a bit crazy!!) I have such trouble drawing old twisted trees like this. I really need to work on it. Love how you did this one.