Monday, July 06, 2009

Ode to a Black Bear

Driving out to the North Umpqua River brought me back home. The road looked as if it were a newly discovered route to Coloma through the rolling gold hills dotted with oak trees. It even smelled like I was approaching the valley. As I continued east it was if I ended up on some parallel universe’s idea of the North Fork of the American – a mellow version, lush and green. The Umpqua felt reassuringly familiar even though I had never been there before.

The river itself was not challenging. But that was ok. I was reveling in the beauty and the company of newly made friends. The sun was warm, the water clear and cool, but not cold. It felt so good to lazily cross the river from eddy to eddy, linking the currents and rocks, working harmoniously and easily with the rhythms of the water. It wasn’t the North Fork of the American, but the Umpqua I was on. It was a new river; a new process of gaining a new acquaintance had begun. It was an easy river to be present with, as was my new paddling partner, Stacia.

After the anomaly of a rapid, Pinball, a rapid full of beautiful big round boulders, we eddied out for lunch. Although we had been camping, lunch did not suffer. It was more aptly called a picnic. Fresh avocado, creamy goat cheese, white cheddar, crackers, fresh basil, cherry tomatoes, beets from the farmer’s market in Mount Shasta and apple was pulled from my boat and spread on the rocks. We pealed off our gear and stretched our bodies in the warm sun. This scenario, by the way, does not happen when paddling with men, an observation that both of us were somewhat smugly aware of.

Back on the water, we stretched out our time to delay the imminent end by making the easy remaining rapids as challenging as we could, playing with the river. We dropped into a long rapid, me following Stacia. Out of the corner of my eye, to my left, a large shadowed rock moved and rapidly revealed itself to be a large black bear in the middle of the rapid. My mind struggled to comprehend exactly what that meant. From my advantage, it looked as if Stacia was having the same struggles as I. She was frantically pointing, then paddling hard away from where she pointed, then pointing again, and paddling fast. It was hard to decide whether to keep an eye on the bear or on the fastest way away from the bear.

The bear was obviously also struggling with comprehending what it was seeing coming quickly toward it from upstream. It thrashed powerfully and erratically in the water. Much to my relief, it decided to flee to the opposite bank that we were trying to reach and leapt up the granite cliff face in a way that defied its impressive bulk and mass. It then took its bulk full speed downstream, keeping pace with us about ten feet above the water line, until it could find a path up to perceived safety. The bear disappeared into a dark hole in the rock wall. Clumsy grappling bent young trees back and forth as if they were experiences a very localized tornado. I fear that many small trees lost their lives to the escaping hulk of a beast.

Stacia and I sat together in the eddy, straining to watch the bear’s path as long as we could. It was like being in the presence of God. We wanted to hold it in our vision and presence as long as possible.

This is one of the many reason that paddling easy rivers is just as amazing as harder ones. We were relaxed and moving comfortably down the current with the ability to widen our awareness across the river to include a wide area. Direct focus wasn’t necessary. On a challenging stretch of river I may have shared the rapid with the bear and never have known it. On a challenging river my mind is focused and drops any extraneous and unnecessary information. If the bear was not in my direct path, it may have just been extraneous information – a funny thought to attach to a frantic hulking animal in such close proximity.

But instead, I was able to enjoy the bear’s presence in full awareness. Encountering it easily trumped the enjoyment of leisurely munching on fresh basil and goat cheese next to the beautiful clear river on a hot day. An easy stretch of river was transformed from a pleasant experience that would soon fuzz at the edges of memory, inevitably blending with countless others to becoming one that will hold crisp and clear definition in my mind for a lifetime.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Leah Wilson

June 30 – August 29, 2009
Artist’s Talk: Friday, July 24 at noon

Opening July 3, from 5:30pm – 8pm July 24

Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts
110 West Broadway
Eugene, OR 97401

Leah Wilson’s solo exhibition of recent work titled, Tropes will be seen at DIVA’s main gallery in Eugene, OR. The exhibition opens June 30 and runs through August 29, 2009 with a reception for the artist Friday, July 3rd from 5:30pm to 9pm during Eugene’s First Friday Art Walk.

Today every major river in Oregon violates water quality standards. Most of the pollution in Oregon’s rivers comes from urban and agricultural runoff. It is easily overlooked as it is not readily visible and the rivers maintain the illusion of health.

In this premier Oregon exhibition of Wilson’s work, she has created groups of paintings based on debris she has found in the rivers of Oregon and California. The waters claim the debris as their own, slowly changing it over time as if to appear part of the rivers themselves. Wilson views debris as a bridge between the natural wild areas of rivers and ourselves, markers that we have been here, leaving bits and pieces of our passing behind. She looks for the things that usually go unnoticed, the small things and the slowly changing things. She is drawn to the distortions created by the river on the debris and of our own perceptions of ourselves and the rivers.

Wilson received her M.F.A from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2003. Her penchant for traveling the world via whitewater kayak has brought her to many countries including New Zealand, Panama and Costa Rica. Guiding and teaching whitewater kayaking has allowed her to spend prolonged periods of time in a boat studying the subtleties of rivers. Wilson’s paintings have been exhibited at Julie Baker Fine Art in Nevada City, CA and featured at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival in Nevada City, California, Los Medanos College Art Gallery in Pittsburg, California and the Oakland Art Gallery in Oakland, California. Her work is in the collections of eBay, Inc., Adobe Systems, Inc., Namco Inc., as well as other corporate and private collections, and her photography has been featured in Common Ground magazine. She currently resides in Eugene, Oregon.