Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Winter Storm Kade - Small Flakes, Big Snow

Winter Storm Kade

Just hours after a furry groundhog in Pennsylvania prophesied a swift spring arrival, a brutal winter storm hammered the foothills in Colorado. It was a classic example of the old adage - Big flakes, small snow. Small flakes, big snow.

The tiny snowflakes poured like rain through a bitterly cold night, resulting in a smothered landscape buried below deep snow. The crystalline powder was piled into fragile drifts that shifted in a brisk wind.

After experiencing our least snowiest January in 50 years, the blizzard was a stunning slap in the face, snapping us back into the reality of winter conditions in the mountains. The glorious daybreak was punctuated by a bright sun whose sleek rays leaked through the branches of a dense woodland.

The low, diffused light spread throughout the forest creating a curious combination of fluorescence and shadow. Seen across the valley from a high vantage point, Bergen Peak was a regal monarch robed in white, a frozen monument revealing the true power of the most recent weather system.

Trudging through the labyrinth of timber, rock and ice on such an extraordinary day was an exhilarating experience. The slippery descent emptied into an isolated meadow where a dilapidated homestead was a weather-beaten tribute to all of the resilient inhabitants of the Rock Mountains.

A brutal winter storm

Small flakes, big snow

A smothered landscape

Crystalline powder

A glorious daybreak

Low, diffused light

Light leaked through the dense woodland

Snapped back to reality

An extraordinary day

A regal monarch

A dilapidated homestead

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Mule Deer Morning - Always a Thrill

Mule Deer Morning

The local wildlife is becoming more active because the morning light is brighter and the winter weather is warmer. The forest is slowly waking to the sound of flickers, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Recently, while walking through a drowsy woodland, I stumbled across a small herd of deer. I found them on a rocky hillside foraging for brush, branches and anything else they could find.

They were a tight-knit bunch of females and yearlings and they were unconcerned by my presence. Because hunting is not allowed in the area, they tolerate the intrusion of humans into their domain.

If anything, the mule deer were intensely curious as they contemplated my activity. I remained quiet and still and watched while they gracefully negotiated the mountain’s rugged terrain.

Fortunately, I was able to document this intimate encounter. I had my phone with me so I was able to take some pictures and get a quick video in order to capture their extraordinary movement.

The muleys gradually made their steep ascent up to the ridge and vanished from my view. It was a fleeting interaction with an animal that is considered quite common but for me, an unexpected path-crossing with these impressive creatures is always a thrill.

A rocky hillside

They were curious about my activity

An intimate encounter

Impressive creatures

They made a steep ascent

Friday, January 24, 2020

In the Meadow - Below Bergen Peak

Below Bergen Peak

It is a brisk sunrise in the meadow below Bergen Peak where the solemn monarch presides over the forlorn foothills. Scattered haphazardly across the golden field, ponderosa pine are lonely sentinels overseeing any approach.

After a month of mild weather, most of the snow has melted but there are a few drifts that still survive in the shadows. On this clear winter morning, wispy white clouds are blown across a cobalt blue sky.

The muddy trail, set upon a tilted plain, is a gradual incline that is quite grueling to traverse. While the scenery on this day may not be so spectacular, the sleepy landscape affords some serenity in order to recharge the soul for another year.

Snow drifts survive in the shadows

Wispy white clouds

A grueling traverse

A sleepy landscape

Serenity to recharge the soul

A solemn monarch

Lonely sentinels

Ponderosa pine

Friday, January 17, 2020

In the Forest, Fillius Ridge - Colored Pencil Drawing

"In the Forest, Fillius Ridge" Colored Pencil

It is the middle of winter in the Colorado foothills and Fillius Ridge is the spiny crest of a steep, forested hillside. The rugged scene is another study in contrast involving opposing shapes, edges and values.

The forest interior during the winter is one of the most austere places on earth erecting a severe barrier from the rock, ice and fallen lumber found in a forbidding wilderness. Life is a struggle on the lofty rim where plants, trees and animals struggle to survive this season of gloom.

The flickering landscape makes a gradual transition towards abstraction as the indistinct edges of the lodgepole pine melt into the morning sky. The dark mood is alleviated by a trickle of pink light that gradually seeps through a web of tangled branches and needled foliage.

It is a natural patchwork of analogous colors where white highlights streak across the cliff’s snowy surface. The sharp angles of the deep, blue shadows convey action and dynamic movement that spread across this unique drawing.

The murky silhouette of pine trees suggests the impenetrable fortress of a dense woodland. The somber palette is layered over a warm undertone that permeates throughout the entire piece, unifying the intricate composition.

The depiction of this coarse environment is meant to express the stern beauty of a snowstorm’s aftermath. Just like the sun’s first rays breaking through the black of a long night so will the forest’s icy tones surrender to the fiery mosaic of summer.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Winter Storm Gage - An Artistic Effect

Winter Storm Gage

Right at the start of another decade, a named storm descended onto the foothills, dumping heavy amounts of more snowfall. Winter Storm Gage cruised down through the corridor, eliminating any hint of color while leaving behind a landscape converted to gray.

Trudging up a steep hill was a struggle but I did witness white flakes falling against the black trees, creating a soft, artistic effect. There was so much contrast between the two values, I felt like I was walking through a pointillistic painting.

A few snags and fallen logs were representative of the rough life endured by the trees and animals that survive on Elk Ridge. From a high overlook, most of the valley was visible but the horizon line was lost due to the dense atmosphere.

Working my way back down was a bit dicey because the trail was broken by rock, slush and ice. Back down at the bottom, a miserable wind made everything cold and uncomfortable but despite the bad weather, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the hopeful beginning of a new year.

Heavy amounts of snowfall

The valley was visible

A rough life

A gray landscape

White flakes and black trees

A pointillistic painting

The beginning of a new year

An artistic effect

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Christmas in Western Nebraska - Calm Before the Storm

Christmas in Western Nebraska

Christmas in Western Nebraska is a bittersweet holiday because the temperatures are always brutally cold. The northern plains normally get pounded by winter storms and a ferocious wind blows snow across the grassland, creating whiteout conditions that make travel impossible.

During our stay at my parents’ Little House on the Prairie, the weird weather was unseasonably warm. This December, the usually frozen creek was found to be ice-free and flowing smoothly through a semi-frosted pasture.

The cattle had been put out on the corn where the longhorns formed an imposing silhouette against an early sunset. The barren trees stood in stark contrast to the fading, orange light as the entire scene was faithfully reflected on the water’s glassy surface.

Our good fortune only lasted for a few days before the peaceful setting was disappointingly shattered. The forecast turned ominous and just as we were leaving town, a surprise storm appeared out of nowhere and charged down the valley enveloping Chimney Rock.

The fast-moving system buried the Sandhills under a blanket of deep snow. I should have known that fragile window of fine weather at the farm was only a mirage. Those few nice days were really just an anomaly - they were the calm before the storm.

The creek was ice-free

Sorghum bales

Longhorn cattle

A peaceful setting

Faithful reflections

Chimney Rock

Little House on the Prairie

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Mount Evans Christmas - Watercolor

"Mount Evans Christmas" Watercolor

It is a cold and windy day in a spectacular basin known as Upper Bear Creek. Buried under a blanket of fresh snow, Mount Evans is a lofty landmark that imposes it’s iron will on the local weather patterns.

Tethered to the foreground, sturdy evergreens are built to withstand the brutal storms that wreak havoc on this hidden valley. Here, heavy snow clings to the blue spruce creating an intricate pattern of dark and light.

This time of year, the landscape can only be expressed with mostly cool colors like blue and green. Surprisingly, there is also a few touches of pink and yellow scrubbed into this wintery composition.

Such a difficult medium to work with, watercolor painting demands that you relinquish control. Most of the fluid brushstrokes are allowed to flow freely as they encourage you to let your imagination run wild.

Strokes of pale color are washed across the smooth surface, giving a loose suggestion of the vast wonderland. Cerulean skies set the ominous tone that permeates the arctic atmosphere, instilling the inhabitants with a sense of dread.

It’s an uncomfortable morning devoted to tramping around on treacherous terrain. The risk involved in such an undertaking is worth it though because being immersed in such pristine surroundings is an unforgettable reward.