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I Hiked Cross-Country Across a Wilderness Island and All I Brought Home Was This Yellow Pond Lily

I sketched for just five minutes — while the bugs re-doubled their attacks. Then my husband Ben rescued me with, “dinner’s done!”

But during that short time, the yellow orbs became (seemed to become?) disco balls. Their opening reproductive parts pulsated with black insects that spread over seeping red jewels around their centers. My pencil captured only the shape arrangement: stems crossing under leaves, round flowers against the deep sepia brown panels through which showed bottomless mud.

That turned out to be the only rain-free hours of the entire eight-day adventure, the only time I relaxed into all-absorbing beauty.

Most of the trip, I was soaked. Shivering. Anxious. I hadn’t planned mentally for what we found: Innocuous creeks made uncrossable by rising water levels. Fields of house-sized boulders buried in over-the-head brush. Micro canyons sprung fully formed between widely spaced map contours. The sopping wetness inside clouds.

I have lived and explored here for almost thirty years. I know how wet a Southeast Alaskan low pressure system can get. And yet I was surprised: during our research, Google Earth promised meadows and good weather.

I finished the painting two weeks later — back home. It still rained in sheets. Clouds still covered the ridges and peaks we had planned to cross. And, as an uncomfortable aside, I now had a strangely unstable knee later diagnosed as a torn ACL.

After surgery, I re-painted it. Six times. I played particularly with edges and background. Clean, bright edges versus others brushed with water into slight softness. Brown water so dark as to be blue-red. Dashes of gold to match the lilies.

I read about the suffusion of light. I learned that light straight from the sun produces colors we see as cool (a science fact contradicting the warming comfort of sunlight). But as it passes through the semi-transparent layers of petals, it loses energy and, therefore, its shorter wavelengths. Now those colors warm up. Paint the outer edges with a yellow slightly tinged with blue; change to a goldy-orange on the inside.

Meanwhile, that alien creature, the yellow pond lily, does what all creatures do, exist fully and shortly. Long after the cold and wet and pain have passed — using expensive 100% cold press paper and highest lightfastness rated colors — I hold its burst of glory.


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