Devil’s Gulch Plein Air Adventure

On Friday I got to blend a whole bunch of my favorite things: Making collage art, hiking, writing, checking out a new place, and hanging out with kids! Fishtrap, one of Oregon’s literary organizations, and Wallowa Resources, a natural-resource-management nonprofit, invited me to lead a day-long workshop with their WREN program, a sort of day camp for kids to make up for the school districts not convening on Fridays.

The plan was to hike into the canyonlands and do some plein-air writing. Some of you may recall that I was a writer-in-residence in Harney County in 2010, during which time I worked with children and adults to explore the craft of writing in the out-of-doors using all of one’s senses. (This residency also allowed me to write the bulk of Get Your Pitchfork On!.) I dusted off my old plein air workshop notes, found sewing instructions from a book-making workshop I took at Pacific Northwest College of Art and Design, and packed up a box of books and magazines to sacrifice to the greater good. Program coordinator Amy Busch gathered awls, needles and other materials.

But before we could write, we needed notebooks. I showed them how to create collage designs on sheets of cover stock and then sew blank paper into the spine.

One of the students sewing a book

One of the students sewing her book

Students and their notebooks!

Good-looking notebooks!









It was a good thing Amy procured waterproof paper for our notebooks. It drizzled on our hike up Devil’s Gulch, and as soon as everyone found a private, quiet spot to write, the rain picked up. Even so, the kids were quiet for a good twenty minutes. Then, we crowded into an old herder’s cabin, keeping a distance from the pack rat nest that occupied most of the bunk, and shared our work. One girl read a particularly astute description of the canyon, including past and present, and noting how life and death coexist there.

One of my favorite parts about working with teenagers (or, these days, pretty much any child older than ten) is that they never let on that they’re enjoying what you’re doing while you’re doing it. But then they surprise you at the end with their work.

I recently received a fellowship for my plein air writing, and will read some work—including my new Wallowa County piece—as a featured writer at Fishtrap’s Fireside program on Friday, April 11.

Photos courtesy of Fishtrap

Photos courtesy of Fishtrap

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