Water, water, art

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The braided hump in the lower left of the photo appears to be one of the Nature of Art installations that Renee and I volunteered on in 2015. At least I want it to be! 

We went out and walked along the Truckee River from the western end of McCarran Ranch yesterday to soak in a little bit of the water that is flowing into the heart of the Great Basin, and will maybe recharge our aquifers and build our water tables (I’m not expert, this is just what I hope will happen), and refresh our hearts.

 

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Volunteering with artists Mary O’Brien and Daniel McCormick in 2015 (they are the people on the left). The photo above was taken from somewhere near the cottonwoods in the distance. 

McCarran Ranch has been the site of extensive, well, first landscape restructuring to straighten the river, and then, more recently, landscape restructuring to restore the river’s natural flow patterns, part of which mean diffusing the water out and slowing it down at times of high water flow. A part of this landscape work involved the Nature of Art, which Renee and volunteered for and I’ve written about before here and more briefly here.

 

The first impression of walking into the western end of the McCarran Ranch is that the work they have done is paying off. From the quick channel dropping water straight into the preserve, it almost immediately becomes diffused and spread out across the whole floodplain. While this is certainly no scientific observation, it seemed pretty clear that the work was doing what it was intended to do (we were also all the way across the plain from the main channel, so again this is just anecdotal).

Then walking along we saw an elongated hump out on across one of the slower moving channels. With the high water it was hard to say for sure, but we were fairly convinced that it was one of the Nature of Art installations, the first one that we volunteered on helping making willow wattles (written about in the post linked above). Whether it really was or not, it made us feel so good to see that and believe it. To believe in the power of people coming together to make a difference in our world, and in the power to revision a world in a different way that combines beauty and respect, and to see WATER!!!

The Rises and Falls of the Truckee

The Truckee at flood stage West of Reno.


We had a very exciting night in Reno and Sparks last night and into today with the Truckee rising to flood level with heavy rain high in the mountains on top of snow. It’s a weather phenomenon that brings pretty regular floods to the Truckee Meadows and other similar mountain and basin landscapes in our region. We stayed pretty close to home yesterday, our location is rather near the flood plain as it extends south from the where the Truckee enters the canyon south across the UNR farms. 

Our feeder road, Rio Poco, became Rio Mucho last night. Here during a brief lull in the rain.


There was some flooding on our main feeder road, especially early in the day when I’m guessing a culvert must have been blocked. We walked out in the evening and it is extradordinarily stunning to see the power of water, especially when we’ve been in a drought for a few years now. 

The periodic rises and falls of the Truckee are something I’ve always known about, but I thought I’d do a little more digging on them and share any tidbits I found. The most interesting article I found was at a Tahoe-based site stormking.com, with an article “Floods in the Driest State.” In the winter of 1889-1890, a chinook melted snow and flooded the Carson River Valley with debris. Ranchers had to dynamite ice near Gardnerville to open the waterways. The winter of 1906-1907 was particularly active in both northern and southern Nevada. Las Vegas was for a time completely cut off and running low on food supplies. Meanwhile in northern Nevada there was chicanery, shotguns, and a flood surge that carried away bridges and entire houses. One rancher left his house, but wasn’t able to take along his dog. He returned in a canoe to find his home flooded but his pup safe and sound, atop the family piano! There are many more stories such as this at the above mentioned site which is well worth the read. 

Of course, famously, the flood of 1997 “created” the Sparks Marina, which had previously been a gravel pit (and superfund site). 

Well as the waters recede we look toward the next rise and fall of the Truckee. 

Welcome to 2017! Learn-Grow Drawing

My first Learn-Grow of the year, an attempt to render the Truckee River’s “silvery rills” from our walk today.

Welcome to the 2017 edition of Overland Passages! I’m so excited for this year to start and to spend it learning and sharing things that interest me, I love, or, sometimes, that cause me pain, or anxiety, or despair. All of it geared toward learning.

A few weeks ago I started a post thread called “Learn-Grow,” in which I am going to share the results of choosing to learn to do something or to do something better that has always interested me, but that I’ve always felt I didn’t have the time or the blah-blah whatever to do. 

One of these things is drawing and I thought it would be a great way to begin the new year to get back to it and to continue the lessons I started in the last post.

There are 2 activities from the lesson on enhancing visual intelligence that most interested me the last time that I wrote on this that I want to focus on for now:

  1. Maintain a Sketchbook: Render at least one drawing of an actual object or person every day from memory.
  2. Draw Mental Images: Imagine an object or living being and draw what you are visualizing in as much detail as possible.

I don’t know if keeping a  sketchbook every day is going to work, but I’m going to do at least 2-3 a week, even if they are only a line. Also I’m going to play around with drawing digitally and with pencil. Since these 2 lessons are pretty related I am also going to just sort of conflate them into one. I am not going to share all of the results of this experiment, but I’ll try to keep my readers up to date on my progress good or bad.

The first challenge to this is trying to separate memory and image. I’ve become such a prolific capturer of moments that sometimes I’m not sure if my memory is digital or real. So the “from memory,” and “imagine” portions of these lessons could be some of the more difficult aspects (other of course than really drawing, but at least I know that I’m not good at that so it doesn’t matter so much).

The second immediate challenge is deciding how to keep this digitally organized. I am a bit obsessed by apps and so I’ve spent a good bit of time tonight deciding how I’m going to organize these. The pencil ones are easy enough, just snap a pic of a real object, but the digital ones are more of a challenge. I used to really love this app called Paper 53 as it let you organize drawings (never many, but you know), into a beautiful interface of notebooks. They have since updated, in my opinion much to the worse, to make the app more utilitarian and I’m just turned off by it, as well as they really want you to use their Pencil, an aftermarket stylus. So that’s not going to work. Instead I’m going to sketch in Procreate, the best art app I’ve seen, although just a little heavy, not much in the way of organization. So I’ll just export and save them into my journaling app, Day One. I’m sure this will evolve, so I’ll keep you up to date on that as well.

Thanks so much for reading these crazy jots and again, welcome to 2017, let’s enter it bravely and make it ours! 

Read Land, Write Walk: Northern Virginia Range, Nevada

This image from the Lagomarsino trailhead on Long Valley Creek well illustrates the role of perspective in evaluating landscapes, if facing the other direction, rather than this pretty scene, we would be looking at the entrance to the Washington Hill quarry.

Walking in the foothills east of Reno recently, I thought about what my first write-walk should be after the end of NaNoWriMo. Sometime last year I wrote a post about a day out that Renee and I shared in Reno on our bikes. It was, among other things, National Indie Bookstore Day, so our day started off with a stop at Sundance Bookstore. There I found a fascinating book called How to Read the American West: A Field Guide by William Wyckoff. Casting about for topics, and wanting to really focus on this blog, I remembered that post and thought what a better thing to write-walk than a landscape. And what a better place to read landscape than these tortured, volcanic, long and deeply used hills.

Hills are mountains that will be hills again.

I pulled up the list that Wyckoff had created giving tips for reading landscapes. While there are many more to focus on than these, the ones that I want to focus on today are, “Appreciate the role of time,” “Recognize the importance of scale,” and “Remember that what you see depends on the experiences you bring with you, the questions you pose, and the details you emphasize.”

Time

These hills east of Reno are the remains of volcanic activity that predates the rise of the Sierra Nevada, and the landscape would have then resembled the Cascades more than the current Virginia Range (more in my post on The Old Mother Who Sleeps and Wants to Be Left Alone ). The dominant plant and animal species came in waves: some “real” pine trees, the juniper and sagebrush, wild horses, later invasive species: cheat grass and mustard weed most notably. While I am walking across their slopes many jet planes, some obviously commercial, others more likely military, use the airspace above me to approach the Reno airport. There is day-long activity at the quarry that is Washington Hill. And there is much evidence of past heavy use: the remains of a stone house I see in the canyon bottom, a wide old road now an OHV path. At places I can almost see over to the Tesla Gigafactory. I crest over a hill and see in the canyon of the Truckee below me a place that was an important life source for native people. Then transformed into a major thoroughfare for the West: gold-seeking emigrant parties, the first transcontinental railroad, the first interstate all have used this narrow funnel into the Golden Land of California.

Volcanic deposits and pine trees in the Virginia Range, or the Mountains that Built Modernity.

Scale

The scale of the landscape is dominated by the massive undertaking that scraped off the top of Washington Hill and that continues to haul it away for our purposes. A massive scale that is mirrored in the vistas of the river, of the sierra to the west, Clark Mountain to the east. Nearby rock formations, splashes of multicolored rock, pines spaced parklike in otherwise grassless volcanic parks all seem to be muted against the vastness of all else, and yet these are just little trackless mountains, blinks of the eyes on the interstates. Places to go through to get somewhere else. The juxtaposition is powerful.

Washington Hill dominates the local landscape.

Seeing Your Own Experience

I set out in the morning along a jeep trail that climbs along the side of the Washington Hill Quarry. There are numerous shooting sites here and the landscape, while still brilliantly volcanically colored, is tortured and adorned with litter and the trappings of modern gun culture: hundreds of shells, metal and plastic twisted by bullet holes, the remains of several destroyed pumpkins from recent Halloween. In the canyon bottom I notice a large piece of cardboard on which someone has scrawled cartoons of a man grasping his penis and a naked woman alongside. The crude drawings are labeled “DICK HEAD” and “SKANK” and are peppered with bullet holes. Something I hope was just the release of steam and not the prelude to tragedy. Beyond there someone has planted 2 trees, surrounded by stones as though they are meant to mark something. The place makes me nervous and I hurry past. Deeper in the canyon there is still evidence of people. I follow tracks, but the litter is less and I start to appreciate the presence of the volcanic parks dotted with not-juniper pines. Climbing out of the canyon I am struck by the vastness of the city basin from Mount Rose up to Peavine. The modest silhouette of Clark Mountain belying in the distance its grandness, the utility of Washington Hill. Walking back along the ridge line it is the Truckee and colorful volcanic outcroppings.

The remains of the gun range.

I think part of the reason I am so attracted by this landscape, by exploring in this area, is just this. It is a place in complete transit, unconsidered by many and used hard by others. It doesn’t reveal itself easily. And yet when it comes into focus its story is incredibly rich and is a microcosm for how Nevada has always been seen by people. While there is a growing sense of pride in place in Nevada, it still remains for many a place to use and go through. Real understanding of the landscape goes much deeper than that.