On the shores of Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

On the shores of Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

Early morning moments at Nature Bridge

Early morning moments at Nature Bridge

During my childhood and youth, I never went to summer camp.  I could imagine what it was like though, from reading books.  My week at Nature Bridge finally gave me — in my sixth decade — a personal, first-hand taste of summer camp!  In fact, several youth groups shared the campus with us.  Unlike them, my time was not taken with group outings and pre-planned activities.  My time was pretty much my own.

Sunrise from the dock at Nature Bridge, Lake Crescent

Sunrise from the dock at Nature Bridge, Lake Crescent

I am an early riser, and I truly enjoyed my quiet moments on the dock watching the sun rise.  Little waves lapped and the dock creaked.  Swallows dove and swooped over the water.  I sat with my cup of coffee and marveled at the abstract, undulating colors and reflections on the lake’s surface.

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Wouldn’t these watery images make a great abstract painting?

My attempt at painting the ripples in the lake

My attempt at painting the ripples in the lake

The sky had lightened considerably by the time the sun finally peeked over the surrounding mountains.  As it rose, it highlighted the tips of the trees and rock outcroppings on the opposite shore.

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Tree tops sun lit like candle flames

Shsoreline, Lake Crescent

Shoreline, Lake Crescent

Watercolor sketch of view from the dock

Watercolor sketch of view from the dock

Watercolor and ink sketch of shoreline, Lake Crescent

Watercolor and ink sketch of shoreline, Lake Crescent

Baby swallows alighted on the dock rails.  A rabbit sat still in high alert.  A deer and her twin fawns nibbled the grass by the cottages.  The day was coming alive.  And then it was time for breakfast.

Baby barn swallow on the dock railing

Baby barn swallow on the dock railing

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Rabbit outside the dining hall

Rabbit outside the dining hall

Fawn

Fawn

Watercolor sketch of fawn

Watercolor sketch of fawn

By the second day I found this perfect spot to do my painting.

By the second day, I found this perfect spot for painting in an empty classroom above the dining hall.  I am a bit chagrined to admit that I prefer painting from my photographs rather than in the field.  For one thing, it is always awkward to cart painting supplies in the outdoors.  And I find painting outside overwhelming.  My eyes see too much — in my direct vision, and in my peripheral vision.  I am constantly distracted.  And everything keeps moving!  When I photograph, I frame the view and limit all these competing elements.  So when I paint from one of my photographs, I can narrow my focus to just what is is the frame.

Using my photos as a starting point, I attempted to paint my impressions of the lush forests in the area.

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My first watercolor sketch of tree trunks

My first watercolor sketch of tree trunks

I started my next watercolor painting of tree trunks by coloring in the negative space between the trees.

I started my next watercolor painting of tree trunks by coloring in the negative space between the trees.

Watercolor painting of forest

Watercolor painting of forest

 

 

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Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Big-leaf maple

Big-leaf maple

I just returned from five days at the Nature Bridge conference center in Olympic National Park near Lake Crescent where I joined 12 other women on retreat.  As check-in was at 3:00 p.m. on Monday and I left after breakfast on Friday, we had just three full days there — not really long enough for me to completely relax and rejuvenate — but still a true vacation from my city life.

The definition of a retreat is “an act of moving back or withdrawing,” especially from what is difficult, dangerous or disagreeable.  Or it can be a withdrawal for contemplation and meditation.  I found my experience at Nature Bridge way too stimulating for that.  There were all these interesting and wise women to meet and be friendly with.  The immediate surroundings offered walking trails and swimming.  Every day a few of the group took off on day trips to the ocean beaches, longer hiking trails on the other side of the lake, or other destinations on the peninsula.  The choices!

The Nature Bridge campus.  All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The Nature Bridge campus. All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn.  (I felt at home.)

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn. (I felt at home.)

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“The time for it is always with us though we say I do not have that kind of time.  The kind of time I have is not for this but for that.  I wish I had that kind of time.  But if you had that kind of time — would you do it?  Would you give it a try?”
— Lynda Barry, What It Is

This retreat was a chance for me to have the time for “it,” and I decided that my “it” would be devoting myself to painting.  It was hard to stay focused on the goal with so many appealing alternatives.  The lovely thing about these days was that all meals were provided and I did not have to spend one minute thinking about the state of my cupboards, meal planning, or cooking.  We met as a group at breakfast and dinner, but other than that, our time was completely self-directed.

And although I did manage to make a painting each of the five days, I found I did not create as many as I had expected.  The free days were a gift, but somehow the hours disappeared far too quickly.  For me, this was a revealing taste of what life might be like in retirement.  I think I will have to develop a rhythm and structure to my days — with a regular few hours sitting down with my paints — in order to settle my mind and feel some sense of growth and satisfaction.  I never did find this kind of rhythm at Nature Bridge.

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest

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The first afternoon I walked the “Moments in Time” loop trail through a stand of old growth forest.  And I made my first painting there.  This Western Red Cedar was completely burned out at the bottom, but still managed to live, with green on its upper branches.

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Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

I am still transitioning back to city life, but I will share more of my Nature Bridge experience in the next few days.  Stay tuned!