It is early fall, and the valley temperatures have taken a noticeable shift. Cottonwood leaves blanket the dirt road that leads to the Neilson Property. It doesn’t take long to find the caretaker who is tinkering away in the garage. Before we venture out to survey the property, he shows me an aerial view of it. This was a terrific way for me to understand how pristine this 700 acre parcel remains with limited structures, virtually no roads and few trails. Regardless in whichever direction we would venture, a painting location would require hiking! I was happy that I brought my lightweight plein air oil painting set-up that is streamlined enough to fit in a daypack. Off we set to investigate!
To my delight, I soon discover that the caretaker, Rody, is like me, a Jackson native of many generations. As we walk , we talk of our long-time Jackson roots. I learn of how his grandfather came west during the Depression and ran trap lines to make a meager living. I share how my Mormon ancestors came westward with Brigham Young via push carts. Together, we share a profound connection to the valley that goes as far back as we remember. The cottonwood forests, the shadow of the Tetons and the Snake River have always been a part of our lives. This land shaped who we are in an essential way. It was as if our connection to the land is a shared language. It is important for me to note that Rody is especially supportive of the View 22 project because of his own family’s legacy as multi-generational artists. His innate sense for the visual instinctively brings out ideas for possible painting locations. He guides us to meandering streams, hemlock forests, and more spring creeks. Eventually we find the banks of the Snake River. As Rody explains how this property links to the different migration corridors, two bald eagles fly from their nest and soar over the water looking for fish.
Nearly an hour passes when our adventure really begins! The forest is suddenly boisterous as a bull elk challenges a nearby adversary with a bugle, and we realized that we were in the middle of this annual ritual. We realize we are surrounded by 300 dueling bull elk and their harems. Elk get so caught up in breeding this time of year they are virtually oblivious to everything else. ..and that includes us! in turn, I am so caught up in watching the rut that I never once take out my paints. Hours pass and eventually we know we need to get back to the cars before dark settled in. An old beaver dam provides a bridge (kind of) over the creek that laid between us and the way home.
I return a few days later with my photographer friend, Kelsey to paint one of these beautiful spring creeks as she shot. I am inspired by the natural serpentine of the water and the way the grasses grows thru the channel. I love how the clear creek rolled over the smooth round granite cobblestones. On this evening, instead of elk in the forest, we discover a great horned owl who silently watches our creative process from its perch in a giant cottonwood tree.