Impressions of the North
Essays about a Northwest Landscape
Part II: Landscapes of
Vignettes from a Field Journal
The contribution by Libby Mills to this collection is
unique. Libby is an artist and a naturalist; she records her encounters
with the North Cascades in a combination of words and images. In these
selections from her field journals, art and natural history come
together to reveal the richness hidden in this landscape.
Libby teaches, studies, and travels extensively in
this region and is never without her sketchbook. While most of us may
occasionally stop briefly to compose a picture through the lens of our
camera, Libby stops, looks, sketchesand looks again. Her art
requires her to study the textures and details of this place with
greater care and intensity than those of us who do not see it through
the artist's eye. Sometimes she sets out to portray a scene or detail
with painstaking completeness. At other times she simply wanders the
mountains, casually recording her encounters in her field journal. These
journal entries are not completed works but impressions that she uses
later to reflect upon and deepen her understanding of her experience.
They also remind her of qualities of specific places that might deserve
a longer look on a future trip.
August 17, 1989
The alpine comes down to this low meadow on avian voices;
Clark's Nutcrackers crow and Townsend's Solitare's note
harmonizing with Western Tanager and nuthatch. Douglas
Squirrel answers as clouds form over unseen mountains.
Subalpine moth, dark brown & tan; Cottownwood bark
Field Journal Class
Any number of ants here making it impossible to feel alone
in the universe with this young pine. Shoes and socks after
lunch. It is so hot and dry; but a breeze helps. Mazama
meadows buzzed by a hummer or very large insect. Does the
ant bite me to remind me I am never alone here, there is
always animal company? or to remind me to be in the moment,
and not drifting back 20 minutes or so ....
The meadow is hushed at noon, just a light breeze sounds
rubbing needle against needle on the soft ponderosa.
If butteflies sang there would be a chorus of swallowtails,
cabbages and others I've barely discovered today, because
I'm looking at a page, not the air they live in. So nice
to be back!
Ponderosa pine; this piece of the puzzle bark fell onto
my shoulder as I sat quietly drawing.
downstream from Mazama
Aug 19, 1989
Wind in the cottonwoods and the quiet rush of water...sounds
that melt together, mix and sort out. Having exchanged their
messages the tree leaves ripple and and the river blows...
A twig of poplar the scent aged out now in August
How do you draw the way the aspens sound
when the breeze blows through them?
Intermittent warm evevning light blazes onto the meadow
and rock walls...shadows suddenly bring the beauty to
Bright Western Tanager calling...I thought we'd
heard the last from you on your journey southbound.
By the river a tributary to the Methow. Overcast and
threatening, restful to the eye.
How do we draw water? Good question.
Road to Harts Pass
July 24, 1993
Finally the day to sit and gaze into this superb
view of the Methow Valley. Listening to Robinson
Creek in its rush to converge with the Methow, and
Western Tanagers perching in all their colorful glory,
feeding young before our dazzled eyes, this stormy
unstable day. For now, we have more than enough
sun, having chased away the clouds with our
sheer gathered will power.
The Flora of mountain spring right after snowmelt
July 21, 1991
Hermit Thrushs meadows on the way to Hart's Pass
An old friend I met here one day with the help of
Claytonia lanceolata Western springbeauty;
Trollius laxus globeflower;
Veratrum viride Corn Lily or
False Hellebore, very young
"A bee-loud glade..." Yeats
Parnassia and Ligusticum
Calm morning at the meadow campground by Hart's Pass. Sun dodging in
and out of quickly growing clouds. A marmot whistles, gray jay &
Clark's nutcracker, juncos make their calls. So many flowers in
bloom. Gentian dots the meadow blue, red paintbrush, yellow arnica.
July 22nd, 1991
Crater Mountain, Pasayten Country
What a joy it has been spending this afternoon caressing your
stones and snowfields with my simple pencils and hearing nothing
but butterfly wings and melting snow.
I could never have enough of these sweet breezy brain-wasting
hot sunny days, of these ridges riding off into a distant sea
of more montane ridges... birds caressing the soft singing
branches of ancient nutcracker pine and fir
Subalpine Fir near Windy Pass
SundayJuly 17, 1988
Not so early morning the birds have been up.
Hermit thrush generous of flutey song, Hummingbird exploring
each color red. Pine siskins chittering, flocking, landing
impatiently on limbs, and moving on. Fox sparrow, the jazzy
swooping song of sunny subalpine fir and brush. Junco rolls
its call out over tree tops, the same yet sweet. Quiet
creek, more like a constant breeze the high whisper spills
down meadowside, clicking sound, mostly heard at dusk,
sounds again from fir branch... a bat? A cricket. The
breeze rushes, not yet sunny and warm as the day that has
created it. Sky of deep blue has covered the night stars,
even more sparkling than my fantasy dreams. The night deer,
odd thumps and scrapes in the dirt invited my weak eyes to
stare into the brilliant Milky Way. Now sunlight tries to
warm us on our borrowed meadow recently freed from snow,
punctuated with pika "peek". Morning comes again.
Oct. 17, 1989
Among the Lyall's Larch
Soft green bundles sprouted just in June now sprinkled,
seasoning the snow gold and tawny brown. You couldn't
wait just one more week for us, you couldn't risk the
raging dessication of autumn's initial blast, you let
go... why can't I?
Aug. 14, 1991
What a fine place to eat a peach!
Hill topping with the checkerspots and swallowtails,
the raptors and siskins. Only their sounds, marmot
whistles and the music of snow melting down ragged craggy
mountains. What a perch I've found, all the finery of
August dribbling on my chin as I try to take in mountains
in all directions, and clouds lifting to show swell
after tumbled swell of glacial landscape.
Back in the Mazama meadow haikus
Oct. 14, 1989
Eyes aiming upward; rock wall and pine sing autumn;
no rattlesnakes now.
Yearning for sunlight drawn to meadow overtime; aspen
First bike in crunchy flesh of autumn's sweet red fruit;
Nuthatch chatters back
Wolf Creek Road, Methow River
August 20, 1995
Warm August afternoon
nearing six, we consider
leaving this bend in the river where cedar waxwings flycatch over
Their trills turn the head in the evening light to assess and
discover the beauty all around us.
Methow River, Oct 15, 1989
Cottonwood leaf gold
Tales are told of monarchs too numerous to imagine, and
I long to lie below branches bending under their orange
weight. But here are my swallowtails, sailing out from
branches burning in their yellow brilliance, on each
rustle of breeze. One minute they fill the air, and like
butterflies draw my attention to follow their twisted
trails. Here they lodge between boulders... a dragonfly
hovers over the scene of ochre wings, some dotted black.
It darts away, avoiding autumn, as river stones are
buried in blankets of gold. And then, too soon, the snow.