One of the most shocking effects of climate change out west is the explosion of the pine beetle. Without a period of deep freeze across a full month of time, the beetles were not kept in check by the normal cycle of the winter season. So they spread like wildfire and killed huge swaths of lodgepole pines. Whole mountain ranges became cloaked in the rust colored dead forest. Because of the dry climate, this led to mega-wildfires. Where fire is essential to the cycle of the forests in the west, these super fires wrought nothing but destruction. The lumber is still good, but the market became quickly saturated, so landowners had a hard time finding ways to clear their dead woods and still make ends meet from the clearing. The Lazy Shamrock Ranch has a tree farm in the higher elevations of the ranch. The trees were infected and ultimately logged out to make toilet paper. We enjoyed several bonfires of slash over the years it took to clear the wood. By the time they had cleared the breadth of their tree farm, young trees started growing. It ends up that beetles target trees that are tired. Development disrupts the natural cycle of fire, so we end up with aged forests. When the young trees are growing, even in an outbreak of pine beetle, they produce enough sap that the beetle cannot burrow under the bark, so they thrive. I made these four oil paintings on canvas as intimate portraits of infected trees. I was heartbroken to see such dramatic shifts in the landscape, but I also realize we are experiencing great changes in our time.
en plein air
My father spent over 50 years working at the Lazy Shamrock Ranch. Ultimately he became known as the master irrigator throughout the ranching community of the Blue River Valley. We would join him in the spring time when the snow melt run-off was at its highest, so that he could direct the water, spreading it across the meadows to give the grass a good soaking before the summer dryness would set in. In good years, a monsoon season would water the fields later in the season, so this gave a good start to the grass being able to thrive and feed the cattle. It was here that I had the space to work with a shotgun and create textural foundations to my paintings. This series was created in my favorite aspen groves. These areas were magic for me when I was growing up and to this day, when I think of my absolute favorite places, it is the aspen grove which brings me most peace. The shimmering light filtered through quaking leaves, the soft and smooth white bark, the familial nature of the groves and the wildflowers that abound all come together to make an ideal landscape. I would spend days lost in my imagination while wandering with the fairies and sprites who inhabit these groves. By this time in my life, I camped out alone to have the solitude to create these paintings of my most favorite place on earth.
en plein air
After irrigating on the Lazy Shamrock Ranch for over 50 years, my father was asked to restore an old network of ditches that had fallen into dis-use at the neighboring Shadow Creek Ranch. Because the Flanigans were keeping some of their cattle there, they urged my dad to take the offer as they knew that he would grow more ‘groceries’ on which to sustain the large herd. Shadow Creek was taking a unique approach to ranching. They had subdivided a portion of the ranch to build luxury homes then hired ranch hands to run the operation. Part of the package was the use of little hunting cabins perched high above the ranches. Instead of commuting back and forth, we stayed together in one of these little cabins for a while during his time working there. Cooking over a campfire, sleeping out under the stars, waking up to spectacular views of the Gore range and exploring the immediate woodlands were sheer delight. I created a series of plein-air paintings of a nearby forest hollow that was filled with fallen trees. The tangle of massive trunks was visually appealing. The cool shadows of the forest in this area offered a respite from the glaring early summer sun. I felt dwarfed by the size of the piled up wood and it brought me back to my childhood and the awe that I felt by these landscapes. These works are small scale oil on card.
These still life paintings were created while tucked into the tack shed during the winter cold in January, 2005. The snow covered landscape is visible through the window. Saddles, bridles and gear infused with the warm smell of horses lay in rest through the winter season.