En Plein Air

Most people know about plein air painting—painting in the open air, focusing on the natural surroundings. The Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, Oregon, is one of the few—and maybe was the first—to sponsor plein air writing.

There’s an annual event, the most recent just concluded, that features a gallery show (of the paintings) and an evening performance (of the writing). The artists and writers go to the five difference pre-selected locations on five consecutive days; the painting or writing has to be done in that spot at that time. One or two works are then chosen to be in the show or the evening reading.

I participated for the first time this year and the experience was both interesting and challenging. I always write here in my room in front of this monitor. I struggle much more with description than dialogue, most of all with description of the natural environment—not least because I know the names of very few trees or flowers or any other plants beyond grass.

Nevertheless, I ended up having fun with it, enjoying the writing and the reading. There’s going to be an on-line anthology of all the pieces done by the twenty participating writers but I thought I’d also share two I chose here on my blog.

The first was written at The Gorge White House, a historic home that now features fresh, local and seasonally available flowers and produce, gourmet lunches plus a variety of wines, cider and beer. The second was written in Mayer State Park, about fifteen miles east of Hood River on Interstate 84.


Two Moments at The White House


sunflowers burst from motley fields

yellow above dappled green

soft voice


snow covered mountain

peaks above a sea of clouds

bird flutters down


At the End of the Fence-line

You walk down the fence line, the fence protecting the “Sensitive Natural Area Keep Out,” all the way to the end, to the water of the Columbia, and then it’s just you and the distant big rig noise from the interstate.

And lots of oddly-cleft rocks waiting to twist your ankle if you aren’t careful.

And the wind, the gusts grabbing at your broad-brimmed hat, trying to steal it away as they almost did your Day-Use Fee Receipt at the gate.

Oh, and a few green bushes. They’re boring. That’s on this side.

Across the water are huge, dramatically serrated yellow-orange and gray cliffs seeming dry enough to suck all that water in between right up. Sprinkled along the top are more green bushes—not so boring because they look like they’re desperate to scoot down through all that dry into the blue-gray water.

Finally, at the foot of those cliffs is the best set of little toy cars I’ve ever seen: Incredibly detailed, all different styles and colors, self-damned-propelled back and forth on the model highway over there, so all I have to do is stand here and watch.

And hold onto my hat.


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