Sketching

Another quick camping trip with Rocinante, my truck and camper. My wife and I disagree on whether that is the best name for her, named after Steinbeck’s camper in “Travels with Charlie”, which, in turn was named after Don Quixote’s mighty steed, but for the moment she is still Rosie to me. Soon the state park camp spots in California will be awash in summer outdoors people. When the camping season begins, I only take Rosie places I know I can stay. That season, I would guess, is now begun, as schools are out and families taking time from their lives of routine to go see the forests, coasts, and rivers that I frequent the rest of the year.

During the drive into Big Sur the other day, I could see how the rock cliffs that drop hundreds of feet into the cool and dark Pacific below were mostly obscured from bright June light. Summer here can be colder than winter. The state park in Big Sur has camp spots along the Big Sur River. Some are in the sun, while others are in the cool dark redwoods. I opted for a spot in the redwoods for the night. Being in the presence of these monsters always fires up my inspiration. I lit a little propane camp fire in the dark and while watching flickering shadows crawl up and down the incredibly round trunks, wondered to myself how many thousands of camp fires this particular ring of trees has witnessed during its career as a park visitor’s spectacle.

I slept in late the next morning. The lack of bright morning light gave me the impression the sun was not yet high, as I indulged in several iterations of a dream. I would wake and open one eye to peer out from within my sleeping bag, not see much light, wonder why, then retreat back into joining more of the drama and interesting characters in my dream. The years before I retired, I could seldom turn over, ignore clocks, and dig deeper into the surreal life that hides from me during the day.

When I got up, the morning light on tree limbs and long plein-air shadows tossed freely across hiking trails and river bottom, caused me to withdraw my pocket-sized Canon and go hunting for the best composition I could spot in this morning radiance. Back home I have recently pulled out my water colors, sketch pads, pencils, and ink, and allowed my vision to wander in search of the most interesting lines I can find that intersect and define the spaces about me. With the Canon loose and rapidly firing this morning, I trapped a few of those fleeting images one can only stumble across during the few magic hours of perfect light. Most of these images I have since brought home and am considering for further treatment.

Out on the narrow highway, I headed south a few more miles to McWay Falls, a famous and elegant dropping of creek water onto a beach that is cut off from the open ocean by a still pool of aquamarine. My wife is related to the pioneer McWay family that first settled this part of the world in the 1800s, so we see these falls as her inheritance, although now owned by the state of California. More Canonizing of the scenery here, the falls, rock cliffs, and serious photographers with their big cameras and tripod set-ups, which I also wanted to preserve for future line sketches of my own. I’m fascinated with the idea of doing a pen or water color sketch of a photographer hunched over his telephoto, especially when he doesn’t realize that he is posing for me.

I stop on the return trip north at Nepenthe, the place of no sorrow. This bohemian-style restaurant is perched atop ridiculously high cliffs, from where I can see a redwood-studded canyon that drops fearfully into the ocean. The barista serves me up a hot cup of what he calls American coffee. It must be a novelty for all the foreign tourists who come here to take a sip of the view. I’m watching for wild California condors who were once near extinction and have been re-introduced into this wild space of air, but I see none today. A crow watches me drink coffee, which is anti-climatic, as I’m hoping to see birds with nine-foot wing spans draw rolling lines in the space above me.

I scoot along up the coast. I want to be home before dark, where I have my own slice of redwood forest to enjoy. Another day I can limp along between the painted lines that divide the long stretch of asphalted space. I have some decent sketching material to unload from the Canon.

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