Life drawing is like riding a bicycle - when you start again after even a short break, you immediately fall over the handlebars, get your wheel stuck in a sewer grate, flip over the curb and ride into a parked car. Fortunately, there are no trucks to run you over, so it eventually comes back. And no one needs to see all those re-learning accidents. Here are some of the more successful recent attempts.
A miscellanea of snowy drawings from before and after our tropical travels. First, an ice-colour painting - note the crystals in the sky - of Grouse Mountain as seen from the powerline at Hollyburn:
The crowds heading up Hollyburn peak on a sunny long-weekend day, with clouds building up over the city and ocean:
The sun getting noticeably higher and warmer through the trees:
The neighbour's outhouse - only visible when deep snow buries the blueberries and saplings:
Another Hollyburn cabin bearing its winter burden. We had a visitor stop by this summer who described a cabin he had stayed at as a boy in 1958. The description, the family name and an old map let us figure out that it was this cabin. I took him into it, and he remembered every detail of the roofline, the windows, the big old fireplace and many stories of the owners.
And after all those muted blues and greens, a wintry sunset in the city, somehow both warm and cold at the same time:
Our second week in Costa Rica was spent on the Osa Peninsula in the far southwest. I didn't make it there 25 years ago because it was too dangerous - rogue gold miners in the relatively new Corcovado Park were robbing people. Not so any more. In fact, the park is the gold mine now, a large area of primary lowland forest that is a main attraction on the peninsula. It is surrounded by even larger areas of wetlands and other forest that is now more valuable as park land than for raising cattle. Puerto Jimenez is the end of the somewhat-paved road. It's hot and dusty, but a pleasant town with a frontier feel. Most vehicles are 4-wheel drive trucks or motorcycles, or - our choice of transportation - old cattle trucks (we were in the cattle part, not the people part). A mangrove estuary divides the little town, scarlet macaws make more noise than people, and howler monkeys hang out near the airstrip roaring at incoming small planes.
We made the 30-km trip to Carate, on the edge of the park, in 3 hours in the aforementioned cattle truck - a pace that would be challenging for a moderately good runner. Actually, that included a half hour stop so the driver could have lunch at his uncle's. Our destination was Lookout Lodge, a place built like a beautiful tree-house on the side of a steep hill, where monkeys and macaws came and went from the open decks and rooms, cougars sleep on the trail nearby and the little pool has a rock barrier to keep tapirs out. And there is a happy hour every day. It meets all the criteria of the formal definition of paradise. Including the fact that the first creature we saw was a large snake, and the last creature we saw, as we were being driven out, was a larger snake. This is the view from the lookout:
Sketching is sometimes a bit stressful - you're often in a hurry, there's way too much to fit in your drawing, your models keep moving, loud traffic is whizzing by you, your paint is freezing / you're getting heatstroke / there's a charging grizzly bear, etc. But I always find drawing flowers and other things botanical to be very peaceful. Luckily in Costa Rica, you can't go more than a few feet without finding something beautiful or fascinating to draw.
From San Gerardo de Dota, we got a ride up the 9km to the Interamericana highway. It took just over an hour (I mentioned that it is a very steep 9km...) Then we flagged down a bus heading down the mountain. This turned out to be more challenging than expected. When we were in Costa Rica 25 years ago, all the buses were retired school buses from North Carolina that had made their way south - getting ever older the farther south they made it. You didn't even have to flag them down - they went so slowly you could basically walk briskly and just climb on. Buses are now much fancier, and they go at a good clip along the highway. Which meant that the first two hourly buses blew right by us. It took fairly vigorous waving and nearly throwing ourselves on the road to make the next one stop - just as a very cold fog was settling over the pass. It was a fairly comfortable ride down into San Isidro, even though we had to sit in the stairwell of the back door. The bus even had wi-fi - a pretty good deal for the $3 price.
San Isidro was 28 degrees C hotter than the pass (the bus had a digital thermometer too). We had a few hours to wait for the ongoing bus to Dominical, so we hung out in the shade in the central park, eating the street food and watching the passers-by. Lonely Planet reports that San Isidro has the most beautiful women in Costa Rica - possibly the only useful information in the whole book. Several passed by, clad in what I suspected might be their professional attire. More sensible women went by under umbrellas in the scorching sun, and everyone was stopping for shaved ice and fresh orange juice (50 cents a litre). Even the inevitable soccer game was having a siesta in the shade.
Last time I was in San Isidro, 25 years ago, I was waiting in a big crowd to get on a bus when one of its tires exploded. It was like a bomb attack, and people went flying to the ground, a bunch of chickens escaped their boxes, and two pigs somehow materialized to add to the pandemonium. It was much more peaceful this time waiting for the bus to Dominical, and I got in a quick drawing of the street opposite.
The bus to Domincal made the 33km trip in a record 2 hours. The old buses only went that fast when their brakes failed. And we had real seats, so I could draw the crowd. (I was probably the oldest person on the bus - otherwise I do give up my seat...)
Dominical is a surfer village on the Pacific coast, heavily gringo'ized. Lots of dreadlocks, bikinis, board shops and yoga classes on the beach. Like most places in Costa Rica, it also has several big parks right near it. It was a fun place to hang out for a couple days, but I don't think I'll be getting the one-way ticket that so many Californians and Aussies had. This is the main street. The big sign is for a micro-brewery. On second thought, maybe that one-way ticket isn't such a bad idea...
Like many other west coasts, the sun sets there too.
We spent most of our Costa Rica time in two very different areas of primary forest - high-elevation cloud forest and coastal lowland rainforest. One was downright cold in the mornings, the other was relentlessly hot. The cloud-forest is dominated by big oak trees, and sometimes looked a little like an eastern deciduous forest, except with epiphytes and vines you could swing on. In other places, there was a mid-canopy of palms, an understory of fern-trees and long golden fronds of arboreal moss waving in the mist, and it looked more like something from a different planet. The coastal forest was a straight-up jungle, an impenetrable tangle of who-knows-what - my limited temperate-zone botany knowledge simply gave up and went for a nap on the beach. But one thing they had in common with each other, and with my home town for that matter, was Big Trees.
This cloud-forest white oak is a good 4m diameter at the base. It had a name - the Centenary Oak, though I'm sure it was older than that - and a plaque from the government in front of it saying that it was a commendable tree. We made a long and very worthwhile uphill pilgrimage to see it, and I paid my respects by sitting in front of it and drawing, just before the clouds moved into its upper limbs.
This buttressed base of a Ficus tree in the lowland rainforest near Carate was also a good 4m across, and those roots are chest-high. Good things happen when you sit quietly and draw - in this case, the good thing was a tayra. This is a sleek, beautiful creature in the weasel family, which looks like a cross between a North American fisher and a large black house cat. It sprang up onto one of the roots, realized I was there and gave me a brief stare of pure predation, then decided it wasn't hungry enough to take me on (it's fiercer, but I'm bigger) and disappeared in a quick leap. You could spend months running around looking for one of them - or you can just sit and draw...
The strangler fig is a related tree that uses a different growth strategy. It starts out as an epiphyte, growing on another tree. When it gets big enough, it sends down vines that become roots and then trunks. Over time, it completely surrounds the original tree, which may eventually die and decay, leaving a hollow wicker basket of a tree. This one was enormous - it would hold an awfully large wine bottle.
From San Jose, we went up up up and then down into San Gerardo de Dota, a little village high in the cloud forest. The highway passes through the enticingly named Cerro de la Muerte - the Summit of Death - where earlier travelers froze or starved on their way to San Jose, and we wondered if the same fate would befall us as we tried to flag down a bus when we left later in the week. The "down" part of the trip from San Jose is a 9km road from the highway down into the village. We have a lot of dodgy roads in the mountains in BC, but this one beat them all, with incredibly steep grades on a narrow dirt surface, sheer drops on the one side, and, of course, horses, motorcycles, cars, vans, buses and trucks going both ways (though fortunately only a few of them in this remote area). The valley has some agriculture - apples, watermelons and pasture - but much of it and the surrounding slopes has been preserved. Tourists, especially the bird-watching variety, are the mainstay of the economy, with several nice lodges. The resplendent quetzal is king here- it is definitely in the top 10 of beautiful birds of the world. An entire nearby national park is named for it and troops of tourists stake out the favourite avocado trees at 5:30 every morning, but the oak/palm/fern tree cloud forest is a spectacular ecosystem in its own right.
This is a view through the treetops and across the valley. Mornings are clear and cold (not quite frosty, but close), then fog rolls up from the humid coast or down from the colder peaks every afternoon, but we always managed to be either above or below it. I was perched on a gravel pile on the side of a small road to draw this view. Sure enough, when I was halfway through, a work crew showed up with a truck and shovels and started excavating right under me. I had to rush the painting part before my perch collapsed. The workers were polite to the crazy gringo on their gravel pile - there are lots of birders around, so they've seen stranger things.
Steep terrain and lots of moisture means many waterfalls. Getting to this one required walking beneath an enormous boulder that looked to be precariously perched on two very small boulders. It was covered in trees, vines and general foliage. I'm sure it's been there for thousands of years, but I still couldn't get myself to stand under it to draw, so I sat on another boulder that I figured was out of the fall path. And I drew very quickly.
Savegre Lodge, where we stayed, has wood-burning fireplaces in the rooms, which you need at night, and a big open fire in the lounge. It was cozy, but a bit odd to be in the tropics huddling around a fire. Of course, we were longing for that a few days later when we were 2700m lower and 27C hotter...