Vancouver Sun


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Cities have names.  Some cities are sister cities. Seattle is the Emerald City.  It shimmers green and blue next to Puget Sound, moving, almost in a way that mirrors the water below its azure towers.

Vancouver has no comparable name.  Or if it does I am unaware of what it is.  It doesn’t shimmer and shake in the way Seattle does next to English Bay.  It doesn’t reflect its context through a material palette of green-blue glass and steel facades.  Neither has it merged the city’s foundation with the water by building right up to the edge. I wonder if this is a shortcoming.  But I also wonder if it doesn’t need to be similar to other cities, necessarily.  Vancouver is bordered by mountains and the ocean.  It is a gem, without declaring so.

Vancouver is unlike any place I’ve ever been.  It sits alone on the furthest shore of Western Canada. The city  has disregarded the last 60 years of urban development that suggested building highways next to waterfront areas was efficient, and smart.  Consequently the perimeter of Vancouver is edged by a green pedestrian corridor.  There are nine beaches that wrap the city with sand banks. Each is complete with neatly organized driftwood seating that is identical to the one that precedes it.

I spent my summer on these beaches.  Sand, and sun, and early morning ocean swimming complemented my not-so-distant memory of Seattle’s parks and coffee shops. Harbor seals often join me in the morning while the sun is coming up behind the city.  They lift their eyes just above the water to observe what is going on, then disappear quickly once they realize they are being watched.  Shortly after they reemerge several feet away, peering intently.

In a lot of ways they are far better companions than baristas.

Vancouver Sun




A few months ago a friend and I took a short trip over the Cascade mountains to Yakima.  The skies had lightened in Seattle — finally — after four straight months of rain, and the city was emerging again.

IMG_6575.jpg                                                                                                                          Discovery Park, Seattle


  1. noun| moisture condensed from the atmosphere that falls in visibly separate drops.   “The rain has not stopped for days”
  2. verb| rain falls. “It was beginning to rain”

If each day in Seattle starts with “it was beginning to rain” rather than….”it has not stopped for days”…… does rain start each day, and stop again? Or does it continue on as one long event?  The definition of monotony begins in the marking of time… in identifying the objectification of a thing.  If there is a beginning and an end to something, the pieces in the middle can seem long, or short —  depending, altogether, on the mark making.

Is it in experiential qualities, that we best remember things then?  It rained heavily today, — lighter yesterday.  Tomorrow it will sprinkle.

Or, if the latter is true then perhaps October to April is one long day of rain? It gets logged in one’s memory as continuous somehow, despite its fluctuation…

cloudburst, condensate, drench, drizzle, fall, flood, flurry, heavy, dew, mist, pouring, precipitate, raindrops, rainfall, rainstorm, storming, shower, spate, spit, spray, sprinkle, sprinkling, stream, sun shower, torrent, volley, drizzle, pitter, patter, pour, burst, dribble, plop, splash

The winter isn’t so bad in Seattle, it has its own beauty — but it is persistent.  Spring arrived in April and my friend and I began taking weekend trips over the mountains — in part, to experience the landscape, and in part, in search of the sun.

OVER THE MOUNTAINSDSCN7759.jpg                                                                                                                                                            I-90

In traveling over the Cascade Mountains from Seattle to Yakima one moves through several micro-climates.  Seattle is coastal, fertile, drizzly, and protected by the archipelago of islands separating the city from the Pacific ocean.  Puget Sound’s overcast sky changes shape by the hour.  In Seattle rain is often barely there, but moisture is omnipresent nonetheless.  The city’s defining feature in the winter is the persistent gray sky set against moss and concrete — almost more than the rain.

We drove East through an overcast blanket above us as we made our way up the Cascade mountains. The experience of weather in Seattle and in the Cascades are united only through the experience of moving through them in a linear way.  As one climbs this route along I-90, the air becomes cooler, and the rain lightens, slightly.  Soon after it arrives in sheets, and cloudbursts appear and vanish quickly from in-between the body of the mountains.  As we ascended the range — nearly at the peak of the Cascades — the trees shorten significantly and snow appears, despite an arid, almost warm environment.

We drove higher through mist condensing off the mountain peaks and watched it rise and form into clouds.  At the summit of the Cascade range the clouds break and a great space emerges from in between the masses surrounding us.  The sky opens up here, and the atmosphere burns through.  One feels much closer to the sun.  Although there is snow everywhere, the air is dry, and the earth is warm.

DESCENDINGIMG_7498.jpg                                                                                                                                                      Yakima

Beyond the Cascades the landscape flattens into level stretches of earth.  The eastern base of the Cascade mountains meet high desert plateau with quiet subtlety.  The view is expansive, in Yakima. A marked transition from the wet, atmospheric, mossy condition of Seattle has occurred — Yakima is the tail end of the mountains.  It is the transition ground between the Cascades and the plains.

The environment of Yakima is rolling, sparse, and stark.  Three elements are immediately visible as primary and primordial anchors to this place.  The sky.  The bare, exposed body of the descending Cascade topography.  And deep marks in the earth where water has cut and formed the land over time.  Beyond these three elements a great unifying principle of this environment is light.

The sky above — both vast and transient — equally holds a sense of openness and drama. Large storm masses passing through reflect in shadow masses that slip across the earth below.  It is a landscape that feels solid in mass yet strikingly exposed.


Places that are large enough to hold our imagination are places of big ideas, clear perception, and rich understanding of space and scale.  With an eye that is grounded in the transient nature of the moment — one is present to the changeability of time.

We arrived in Yakima just before a thunderstorm came rolling through the desert.  We could see it gathering speed across the vineyard, on the horizon. Several days earlier a thunderstorm had arrived in Seattle — a very rare event in a seaside climate that is perpetually gray.  Was it the same sqaull? We caught the end of the storm in Yakima as it had built energy over the Mountains behind us and watched it thunder across the desert in full force.

It was refreshing to watch the spectacle of lightening ricochet across the landscape, building in strength and darkening the sky before brushing through the vineyard we had arrived in, and then moving on.  The dynamism of the thunder.  A welcome friend.


In Yakima we rediscovered light — ultramarine and viridian — broken by straight, orderly lines of vineyards and peach orchards dressed in white.  And the bees.

What do bees do when it rains?

A bee is the size of a raindrop.  If a raindrop hit a bee in flight, what would happen to her, or him? Would they fall into a puddle? Soaked wings can’t fly.

When it is raining all the time, bees and insects are like the rest of us, and elect to stay home.

My friend and I had emerged along with the bees in Yakima.  Here we were together in a vineyard, partaking in one another’s company among the peach trees.



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Yakima is beautiful because it is devoid of the visual clutter that a landscape often includes.  The barren earth is legible here —

Light moving across exposed topography reveals the earth’s inherent beauty.  Namely, it reveals the play of light across a landscape cut and shaped by flowing water. Each crevice is visible, each mark in time has a value and a strength.  Desert brush in Yakima is continuous in tone across this expansive, open space.  As a result Yakima’s ground holds the sky in a way that few landscapes can.  Together this language of earth sculpted by water frames the space above.  We drove through the countryside and the movement of light and shadow over the desert began to reveal itself as strikingly similar to the models in our landscape studio.


As one makes one’s way through life an artist, with this intention, the landscapes of our childhood re-emerge in our work.  The world, as it was when we were children — large, out of scale, and magical — is the landscape that continues to enliven our dreams throughout life.  And not just our dreams, but our internal landscapes — the bedrock of who a person is as an artist. This internal landscape is the place one returns to again, and again, as a source for new insight and creativity.

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In Yakima water leaves a mark on the landscape. Over time the culmination of rain falling shapes and sculpts the ground.  Through the rising and falling of mountains, rivers born and dried, and within this play of form and light and precipitation we find ourselves embedded in a theater of universal order.

By observing water moving in the landscape one becomes cognizant of a longer stretch of time.

Against the land one can perceive the transformation of the sky from light to dark, and through time the shaping of mountains.  There is a cosmic aspect to the earth’s processes in the rhythm of form.

the rain had not stopped for days…

is a notion that provides a boundary.  A beginning, and an end.  As a phrase it is an understanding that is contained in the realm of objects, language, and things.  It is difficult to objectify an experience of rain when there is no beginning or end to the marks rivers and rivulets leave behind.  In this way Yakima appears to be shaped by a larger hand.

it was beginning to rain

We mark days by the rise and fall of the moon.  The timeless sense of space and scale the environment of Yakima evokes suggests flexibility of experience.  Within this sensation of beginning — life is intellectual, open and in flux.  Material and ephemeral experience is diverse, and alive. Amidst this language of vast horizons, steady plateaus, descents and longed for arrivals one surrenders to the tenor of a space.

At the edge of the abyss one’s mind meets its limit.  The scale we perceive around us is much larger and primordial than we are able to comprehend.  So we are humbled.  And in this encounter with the miraculous bees continue to buzz about their work in the vineyard.  Viridian merges with ultramarine and tumbles on beyond the edge of perception.  I often imagine it is possible to catch a moment of this process, perhaps in the gesture of a steady hand.

Within this dance we stand solitary in a field of sage.








Beyond the islands that make up Washington’s archipelago, one is aware of how small we are, at the edge of the world.  The sea stretches out into nothing.  Beyond the furthest edge of the nothingness the horizon appears as one faint line.

Feeling’s a hard

Thing to do well —

And slightly absurd;

I’d rather smell


How different the language between land and sea are from one place to the next.  Seattle, has tamed its shore.  Green space succumbs to the ever present demand of the city.  It is tucked away to a tidy overlook park, or positioned on a ledge of some sort and organized to capture the most spectacular view.  Secondary to the urban context.  A main highway separates the city from the water in the place where the shoreline used to be.  It is really just the light that reminds one of the ocean.

We reflect back to the earth what we absorb from it; we give back what we take in; what seeps in.  In Seattle it is the light.

That dance of space, the rotation of the sky…..

city lights at night

the passing of the weather

a tumultuous sky…

There is something magic about this imposition on the land.  At night rows of homes climb the hills of Seattle and reveal the shape of the earth.  The city shimmers.

My courage kisses the ground

I am looking out over the ocean this evening.  The atmosphere is dark, and the is sky stormy.  I keep having dreams of tornadoes, imposing on old Victorian houses.  Collections of women run upstairs in these dreams, banding together against the violence outside.  Perhaps this is a metaphor for change.  Events in life wash over us and we are different afterward.  There are few boundaries between our interior and exterior spaces.  The very fine skin between ourselves and otherness is permeable.  Unlike raindrops on a pane of glass, much seeps through and saturates our interior.  Color and light.  The act of making art is in many ways about giving back.  Reflecting some of this change in what we are making.  Colors, impressions return from outside and come through us in our work. It is the most palpable expression of how impressionable we are as human beings. Perhaps this is a reflection of our humanity — being a conduit for the vastness that surrounds us.   Writing about change today.  I am not sure where to begin.  What is this place to me now.  What will this moment be about.  Where am I going.

If you can’t think, at least sing 

About feeling in work, in landscape work.  Working in this realm, in this story of artists — finding a meeting point at the center.  Clarifying this — the artist legacy, the landscape legacy — where these two things meet.  With cage, perhaps.  Change. Chance.

Finding myself in Freeway park accidentally. On wandering in the city.

Being open to miraculous encounter

[  ]

Appreciating the scale of Seattle, the rise and fall of mounds of earth, emerging from the sea.  Enclosing freshwater.

A cloud climbs to the moon;

Thought within thought can be

Bleak stone upon bleak stone

 An opening from above, into the light of presence.  Being present in a windstorm, with the sky alight and raging.  A sharpening of the senses.  Ah the trees.  So visible again.  All the peculiarities of bark and dried nut laid bare.  A slight shimmering in the arc of a branch.  The light from above, flickering.  And the tree wavering.

By light, light; by love, love; by this, this





adapted from T. Roethke





Freedom to me is a luxury of being able to follow the path of the heart, to keep the magic in your life. Freedom is necessary for me in order to create, and if I cannot create I don’t feel alive.

How does a person create a song? A lot of it is being open, I think, to encounter and to, in a way, be in touch with the miraculous.


Sifting Ground; Wind over Water



It seems the world is meeting in Seattle.  Old friends are arriving in the city, sprouting almost, as if they’ve always been here.  Early last week my friend Sara from the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia arrived to prepare for an exhibition she is having here in December.

We met at Magnolia Park in Seattle’s west end.  Sara, her husband Nik, and I quickly wandered away from the undersized urban park with the wide view and descended down an old concrete stairway.   It wound down a cliff and we emerged from the overgrowth on a path behind a narrow street.  To our left a strip of homes hug the palisade overlooking the Sound, each more precariously balanced on the clay edge than the next.

At the base of the road, we follow a pathway down to a small public landing on the water.  The tide is out.  We can see a rough area about a meter wide revealed along the edge of the shore.  This fleeting landscape stretches from where we stand to the furthest point in Discovery Park several miles down the embankment.  Onward, we set, toward the ocean.


There are few places I have been where time is visible.  Today it is a painters world, animated by the backdrop of the passing wind.

We discover, as we walk, the sensibility of Puget Sound.  Each place has a unique ethos — a rare and entirely consequential set of characteristics that distinguishes it from others. This language is bound in the rock, sand, trees and atmosphere.  It is easy to believe that we, small in comparison to the environment around us, discern each place as wildly different, simply because we cannot comprehend the whole.

It is more disciplined to understand this frame as a human convention created to simplify a complex world, even as we know each tract of land is woven interchangeably with all others.  Yet, ecologies are perceivable.  Not as individuated, isolated organisms, but as a map that reveals a deeper order — the earth’s painting; made visible as a distinct series of layers that are particular from one local to the next.


We walk on through gentle wind.  A rainstorm approaches from Seattle and coolly passes us, whipping up the clouds as it stalks across the inlet sea.  We watch light rise, fall and fluctuate through falling rain; the swell approaches our path in steady bands across open water.

Time here is palpable.  The ocean, mountains. Yellow earth, and sky.  Red alder, douglas fir, and red cedar. A myriad of cool, silvered blue.  To be immersed in the Sound and feel its eons, its age, and the terror of its magnitude; while being captured by its transient and irresistible beauty, is to begin to feel this place.  Each moment is manifest in passing light across the landscape, and therefore discernible from the first — the October evening sky changes place with the ocean, and the horizon dissolves.  It is there perhaps, but beyond the steady lapping of waves a gray wall moves toward us.

Next to the backdrop of the cliff-face, between the water and the clay, we wind a narrow path along the shore.  Night falls, blanketing everything, and we arrive at the furthest point of the promenade. The land behind us glimmers with the lights of the city. The land before us opens up and we are greeted with the ocean.


It is inspiring to spend the evening on the Sound with an old friend; nonetheless an old artist friend.  It called up my roots and my love of my work in a way I needed to be immersed in again.  In looking at the land through a painter’s eyes, everything is suddenly brighter.  Every mark, stroke and wash across the sky is alive — internalized, saved, housed for a later date when it will come spilling forth in gratitude for the day spent walking along the coastline.

Landscapes become us in ways one least expects.  They enter our sensibility through subtle means that are not obvious at first.  Taken by the drama of a windswept October evening is but one way these external maps chart our internal terrain, and inform our perception.  We look again for the ageless, cool blue and the warm windswept sky that we have never seen anywhere else before.  We find this play of tone in ourselves again and we draw it.  And it transforms us.


Sifting Ground; Wind over Water

Coming round; familiarity and the hidden waterfall

A poem archived on one of my favorite blogs,
The Yellow Diaries, by Lisa Ray:
We shall not stop our exploring
And at the end of our exploring
we shall arrive where we started. and know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remember the gate
through the last of earth left to discover
is that which was the beginning
At the source of the largest river
the voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple tree-
not known because not looked for
but heard, half-heard in the stillness,
between two waves of the sea
Here now a condition of complete simplicity
costing not less than everything.

TS Eliot

Coming round, to ideas again that have been shelved for two years.

An unexpected and in some ways unavoidable emergence into familiar territory.  New eyes see into former inquiries in a way that couldn’t be planned when their arc began.  In many circumstances it is the same territory, familiar territory, and in many others it is no longer of the same hue.  Changed, perhaps tarnished by experiences that weather the surface in a way that deepen it    …creates a glow of knowing around it that makes it dreadfully more serious, but also richer.

Arriving at the beginning and knowing this place for the first time

Is also a not knowing.  Realizing that in having the first thought, first inclination toward something, there was a great deal of not knowing in this initial gesture. Leaning in, and feeling one’s way around, arriving at a familiar landscape and slowly, methodically, learning its processes.

Familiarizing oneself, into knowing.

Through the unknown, remember the gate

And retiring all of it.  Thrusting oneself into a chasm.  The knowing became too heavy.  Releasing and shedding all of this intimacy of a thing, of a place into a simple moment of inquiry.  The freshness of curiosity, returned.

And life retains a glow, a shimmer that betrays the vibrance of all things, once again.

At the source of the largest river

richness resides…


Coming round; familiarity and the hidden waterfall