Matches for: “plein air” …

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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Plein Air Rising

I wrote in a 2012 GYPO blog post about participating in a special writing event in the Columbia Gorge every fall, the Plein Air Writing Exhibition. In fact, I ran the event for a couple years and launched the first online anthology in 2008. Next to the Oregon Book Awards, it was my favorite literary event of the year. I liked that it was different writing from what I was usually doing, short fiction and essays. I liked that it was an excuse to sit outside for hours at a time, simply observing things and not feeling like I ought to be cleaning out the chicken coop or mending fence.

When I was invited to serve as the Harney County Writer-in-Residence in 2010, I based my curriculum for everyone I worked with—from kindergarteners to adults—on this experience of writing en plein air. We all bundled up and went outside, ignoring the springtime chill, and observed: What do we see? What do we hear? What do we feel? The younger kids dictated their thoughts to me; the older kids and adults wrote their own pieces. These, too, were collected in an anthology.

Students in Diamond laboring over their work

Students in Diamond laboring over their work

It was especially cold for this workshop in Burns!

It was especially cold for this workshop in Burns!

Over the years, I have accumulated a manuscript’s worth of pieces. I’ve published a few—in the Plein Air anthologies of course, but also in High Desert Journal and Eclectic Flash, and submitted them to Literary Arts’ Oregon Literary Fellowships program. This year, they appealed to judge Amy Leach, and I was awarded a fellowship!

Many years ago (1999 – 2006) I ran this very program myself, and so it means a great deal to me to be recognized by it. I know, intimately, how much work it is for program manager Susan Denning, so I want to take the opportunity to publicly recognize her efforts to keep the OLFs running smoothly.

I also want to thank the Columbia Center for the Arts (CCA) for keeping the Plein Air Writing Exhibition going for nine years. And Pat Case, whose idea it was originally to add a writing component to the painting competition, and who invited me to participate in the first event.

Plein Air writing on display in CCA gallery, 2010

Plein Air writing on display in CCA gallery, 2010

The nonfiction judge, Amy Leach, wrote this about the manuscript:

“In each of her short and radiant portraits of the Columbia River Gorge, Kristy Athens captures a distinct moment in a distinct place. Entering imaginatively into the disparate purposes of basalt, dahlias, spent strawberries and antiquated stairways, she writes with fellow feeling and wit about a remarkable range of lives, thrilling with the quiddity of each. A prosperous pear tree throws away perfect fruit; an obsolete tractor is revived by its own exploding boiler; solitary ponderosas leave the observer ‘pondering deep-rooted complexity.’ These encounters of a sympathetic, nimble mind with a marvelous place remind us of the limitlessness of life.”

Wow! You can view some of the pieces included in this collection via my website: scroll down to the Basalt Becomes You section.

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Guest Post: Animal Arbitrators

I met Linda Jo Hunter at the home of friends Jurgen and Susan Hess. She wowed me with her tales of tracking bear, cougars, and other critters in the woods that surrounded us in the Columbia River Gorge. We got to know each other as Linda participated in, and later coordinated, the Plein Air Writing Exhibition. She is the author of Lonesome for Bears and has started a volunteer group to help landowners coexist with wild animals on their country property. She can be reached by email or on the Animal Arbitrators Facebook page.

Animal Arbitrators: Co-Existence Counseling

By Linda Jo Hunter

“Not under my porch!”

The lady was adamant that a skunk may not raise her young under the front porch of her house. She wanted the skunks killed, or maybe moved, but someone had to do something!

I watched the woman’s body language as she talked about her garden and house. She felt murderous and protective of all she felt was her own. While I listened, I noticed a small dish of leftover cat food by her left foot that had attracted several yellow jackets. As we talked the number of yellow jackets increased, each carrying away a little morsel of the leftovers and heading towards the woman’s garden.

I was trying to get to the bottom of why she hated skunks so much. There wasn’t a reason she could put her finger on, except that she objected to the smell of skunk and felt that if there were skunks under her porch that her whole house would be permeated with the smell of skunk spray. No, she didn’t have a dog. She had no cats either. But, she was feeding some in the neighborhood.

This is where my job starts. I pointed out that she was undoubtedly also feeding the mother skunk right there on her porch as well as several raccoons, whose tracks around the bowl were outlined in mud. My first suggestion was that she move the food, or at least take it indoors at night. Then we talked about skunks and I told her how they don’t want or intend to spray things but only do so when threatened. I described the body language that skunks use to warn that they are upset. They stomp their front paws and eventually, if you don’t get that message, they continue looking at you while their body makes a U-shape and the back end comes around to aim the spray.

Linda snapped this skunk using a trail camera near her home

Linda snapped this skunk using a trail camera near her home

When I mentioned that they eat yellow jacket nests she finally got interested. We found some chicken fencing in her shed and tacked it up to the edge of the porch to keep the animals out and she voluntarily moved her stray cat food bowl over in front of the shed. By the time I left, she hoped the mother skunk would move her family over to the shed and stay around.

When I visited her the next season, she was happily tolerating a family of skunks which she proudly pointed out had eliminated several pests in her yard, including yellow jackets. “Her” skunk had also sprayed a neighborhood dog, which left piles of unwanted poop in her garden. She was pleased as punch that the dog never came in her yard again.

Co-existing with wild animals is usually a matter of figuring out what exactly is going on in your personal habitat, rather than relying on what people have told you all your life. Any wild animal, no matter how cute or ugly has a place in the habitat or they wouldn’t exist or be there. Each time you make a change to your garden or grounds, you make changes in the habitat that affect these animals. Being aware of what eats what is one of the best ways not to make a mistake that will make you and all the animals uncomfortable.

For instance, if everyone in your neighborhood is insistent on killing coyotes because of something they “might” do, you could very likely have a problem with rabbits, mice, rats and ticks and other species too numerous to name. Ticks have an interesting reproduction cycle and must find a furry animal to hibernate on in order to multiply. The perfect candidates are in the squirrel family as well as other small mammals that coyotes control.

Oh, I can already hear the groans; “but they eat dogs and cats!” Yes, they do sometimes. However, so do owls, bobcats and other animals. Even domestic dogs kill pet kitties and cause mayhem that their wild buddies get blamed for. Some cats live for years around every kind of wild animal and have the wisdom to survive. Domestic dogs either have wild wisdom or they don’t. You know best about your pet; if it lacks the wisdom to survive in the face of wild animals it needs to be protected and supervised when outdoors.

Coyotes get a bad reputation for eating the occasional kitty, but mostly they catch mice and other pests

Coyote that caught a mouse

Coexisting with wildlife can enrich your life. The bottom line is, that is why you moved to the country to begin with. The deer who grace your neighborhood in the evening come with their predators, which are just as necessary as the deer. Seeing a cougar, for instance, is not a life-threatening event, but rather a gift and a wonderfully wild experience. Cougars have a job to do and if they can freely move with their food they will do that job.

One of the best ways to enjoy your habitat is to be more aware of the animals that visit, pass through, or make it their territory and how you can assist that animal to fulfill its function. To that end, I teach people how to see animal passages and set up trail cameras so they can see what uses different parts of their land. Changing unwanted wild animal behavior can be as easy as moving an access site or moving a food source as long as you understand what it is. If a bear, for instance, has always visited a wild apple tree in your pasture, year after year, and suddenly that tree is fenced in, the bear will become a pest when it breaks down the fence. Instead, when the apples fall on the ground and the smell of apples gets strong, you can take a bushel basket and move the unwanted fruit over the fence, set up a trail camera and enjoy the results.

Fear of wild animals is something we all grew up with or, if we didn’t, various news media will make sure you pick up some fear, even if it isn’t rational or real. If you are afraid of a particular animal, say rattlesnakes, that is the animal you need to study. If you learn about their lives, and how they use and benefit your habitat you won’t have a reason to fear them because you won’t go stepping on one.

Bears seem to generate the most fear, although statistically they are the very least of our worries when it comes to being hurt by wildlife. Understanding the habits of your neighborhood bears is fascinating. First, they eat different things in each part of the season and if you find out what those things are in your area, it is a huge step in understanding the local natural history. Cubs learn what and when to eat by following their mothers closely for a year and a half. They lick their mother’s mouth when she eats something new to make sure they get the right things, and they remember even individual plants from one year to the next. Slowly, the news media is allowing us to know that bears are not meat-hungry predators that will eat a person if they find them out alone. Bears are mostly vegetarian and prefer their meat to be killed by some other animal—they like it aged. It seems like when they kill an animal to eat it, it is almost because of an unusual opportunity.

If you still don’t like the idea of a bear eating on your property, just remember that bears avoid skunks!

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Guest Post: Living a Local Life

I met poet Penelope Scambly Schott at the Columbia Center for the Arts’ annual Plein Air Writing Exhibition. Her work became some I looked forward to most. I learned that she lived in Portland but was spending a good deal of time in Dufur, a tiny town about 40 miles east of Hood River. She recently published a book of poetry dedicated to her half-time home.

Living a Local Life

By Penelope Scambly Schott

I’ve been thinking about what constitutes a local life.

As for me, I live two lives, one on a hill in Portland, Oregon, about four miles from the heart of downtown, and the other right next to the K-12 school in Dufur, Oregon, population 600, on the dry side of Mount Hood in a valley embraced by wheat fields. In Portland I go to theater and attend poetry readings; in Dufur I attend the threshing bee and go every Thursday evening to the knitting group at the school and community library.

Yes, I have had previous lives. I grew up on the upper west side of Manhattan and spent my childhood at the Museum of Modern Art and Broadway shows. I spent 30 years outside Princeton, New Jersey, among the intellectually pretentious before I moved to Portland where I learned the word “spendy” for what is overpriced or ostentatious. Three years ago, in a conjunction of circumstances, I bought this small house in Dufur, and every week from Thursday to Saturday I come out here to write.

I am telling you a love story. When I started coming here, I had various other writing projects but I kept interrupting myself to wander about with my dog, Lily, and then go back to my house and write poems about Dufur. This spring Windfall Press–which is concerned with “poetry of place”–published my book Lovesong for Dufur. The collection opens with the meadowlark announcing Spring up on “D” Hill, runs through all the seasons, and ends with my buying a plot at the local cemetery and discovering that “I have never been happier.”


Penelope and Lily on top of “D” Hill above Dufur, Oregon (photo: Margaret Chula)

I recently gave a reading from my book at our local historic hotel, the Balch, which was built in 1907 from bricks made right here in Dufur. Samantha, the current hard-working owner, served fruit and cheese, and there was a cash bar but almost everyone drank the free water. My many Dufur friends, and some of their friends, came to hear me. As far as I know, nobody in that crowd had ever attended a poetry reading before. I have no idea what they were expecting. My publisher read a few poems from his own book and then introduced me to the waiting crowd that already knew me.

I began with the dedication to all my local friends. In my second poem, “How to Move to a Small Town,” I described a return trip to the local hardware store and read the line, “Let Molly the owner be there drinking coffee.” Well, everyone cracked up. I guess I was just about the only one in the room who didn’t know that Molly is usually drinking beer. I read about the grain elevators, the local sewage plant, the food bank, the nun with six cats–Sister Patricia was there and corrected me; she’s up to nine cats. I concluded with a poem:

Do You Want to Visit Dufur?

Is the world too much with you “late and soon”

as the poet Wordsworth complained?


Call the hotel.  It’s the Balch.  Or email them.

We’re quite modern:


up on “D” hill, we have many fancy antennas

between the cows.


The Balch boasts running water in every room.

And steam heat.


When the hotel opened in 1908, it had electricity

twelve hours a day–


at night when the Dufur sawmill wasn’t using it.

These good solid bricks


were made right near here on Mr. Balch’s ranch:

three stories of Italianate brick.


Salesmen who rode the Great Southern Railroad

set up their wares in the parlor


Witness this big black safe standing by the wall.

Don’t try to unlock it.


Rest assured.  Whatever you want is safely there,

I promise.


Though the knobs conform to fingers long dead,

you are still breathing.


See what Dufur can do for you.

It’s our town motto.


People loved it.  They bought multiple copies of Lovesong for Dufur to give to their children who had moved out of town.  It was a great evening.  After signing a bunch of books, I went home and served Dufur sausage casserole to seven people.  Now, that’s local.

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A Sense of Place

At Get Your Pitchfork On! readings, people ask me what I miss most about living in the country and I answer, the land. I’ve been ending my readings with the opening to the Land Section, which I describe as a sort of love letter. Sometimes I have to fight back tears (and if you know me, you know I’m not predisposed to public weeping), because this makes me think about the plant-friends Mike and I left behind: the fruit trees we planted; the orchids, ginger and Indian pipe that grew in our woodlot; the Ponderosas in our field.

For the last eight years, I have participated in a special arts event in the Columbia River Gorge—the Plein Air Writing Exhibition. Held in conjunction with a painting competition, this program is sponsored by the Columbia Center for the Arts and takes place at the end of August. For five days, artists with canvases and notebooks descend upon pre-selected locations that offer gorgeous views.

The goal: capture a moment. Plein air painting is an art form that developed before photography. You’ve seen someone out on a hill with an easel and canvas, studying the horizon? That is plein air painting. The artist is attempting to re-create a specific view as quickly as possible—before the light shifts and the clouds move across the sky.

Writers do the same thing but have all of their senses, not just sight, at their disposal. Plus, they can incorporate their thoughts. Both art forms have their charms.

I generally don’t do a lot of nature writing, but I really enjoy this annual pilgrimage out into the land to try to put words to the love I feel for it. And, apparently, so do a lot of other writers! Julie Jindal coordinated this year’s program, and she put together the anthology of participants’ work, Blue Skies Forever Open. There you will find two of my pieces, “Glider” and “Ponderosa.”

The latter piece describes my longing to live in a rural place. I eagerly await the day Mike and I can move back out of the city!

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Water Event II

It looks like we survived our first winter in Wallowa County—the valley is green, frogs are getting it on in the swale, and the robins and swallows have returned. The moon and sun’s arc across the sky has shifted significantly since we first got here. Instead of turning the Seven Devils pink when the sun sets, the light hits the Zumwalt Prairie instead. I’m pleased to be unable report on the condition of things at three in the morning, as the puppies are old enough to sleep through the night. Though I miss hearing the great horned owls.

Things were quite manageable until February. The climate here is so dry that the snow hardly accumulates. A push broom was usually more effective than the snow shovel to clear our deck. Shoveling the driveway was unnecessary since there was never more than a Subaru could handle.

Okay, sometimes it got a little nasty ...

Okay, sometimes it got a little nasty …

But, as I mentioned in a previous post, the snowstorm in the beginning of February was more than we bargained for. Biggest snow in fifteen years, some of the locals say. We shoveled the driveway until we ran out of places to put the snow. Its meltwater inundated our rental’s foundation and created flooding that lasted a week. But once it dried up and the soaked carpet pad was replaced, we thought we were done. Wrong.

About a month later, I was in the basement to collect materials for the workshop I wrote about earlier this month. I pulled out a small suitcase Mike used for Pancake Breakfast merchandise and noticed that the edge that has been against the floor had about six different colors of mold on it. Weird. I pulled out another suitcase, which I bought at a yard sale in fourth grade for my doll clothes and, more recently, have used in my ithaka display at Wordstock. Its little brass feet had left four rust circles in the carpet. Oh, crap. While there was flooding along the east wall that we noticed, the north wall had quietly been seeping as well.

Behind the suitcases was a cardboard apple box in which I stored all my reference materials for Get Your Pitchfork On!—horse magazines, county welcome guides, other moving-to-the-country books, and all my notes from screeners of the original draft. Everything up about three inches from the bottom of the box was ruined.

The paperboard backs to my new shelves were warped; thankfully the shelves themselves are metal. Then I looked to my left and winced. Mike’s banjo was in its soft case, leaned up against the wall. I pulled it out and it, too, had taken on a bunch of different kinds of mold. It absorbed so much water that the strings rusted and broke. The case for the bass guitar (which thankfully, was elsewhere) was also moldy.

Sad banjo

Sad banjo

Since this was water from outside (as opposed to faulty plumbing), our insurance company wouldn’t touch it. We considered asking the owner of our house to reimburse us but realized he was in the same boat. No one on a hill buys flood insurance! And he had a bunch of repairs to pay for.

As I mention in GYPO, it’s hard to find handypersons for small jobs; they all want to work on the big jobs with steady pay. The owner got someone to pull back the carpet, cut about eight inches of drywall away from the floor and put a fan on it. But he couldn’t get anyone to come back to clean the mold or replace the drywall! After a couple weeks of not being able to use the basement nor access the things that are packed, Mike has graciously offered to fill in. I know I said this last time, but now I’m really hoping we can put Water Event 2014 behind us.

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