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
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.