OVER THE MOUNTAINS AND UNDER THE STARS. ON WE GO SAILING. FROM WET WET FEET TO SNOW AND A DRY BRIGHT SKY.
THOUGHTS ON RAIN
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.
Discovery Park, Seattle
- noun| moisture condensed from the atmosphere that falls in visibly separate drops. “The rain has not stopped for days”
- 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 MOUNTAINS 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.
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.
COLOR IN WINE COUNTRY
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.
LESSONS FROM YAKIMA
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.
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.