Part 1. Finding a Campsite

Scouting for a campsite one day in the Warner Mountains, we take the Mosquito Loop road. We drive slowly along the dirt track that hugs the bottom of a hill. We round the loop, and I holler, “Stop!” Don pulls over and parks the truck. Where the hill slopes gently into a forested area stands a thicket of half-grown aspen, slender and graceful, aflutter with spring–green leaves. The immature white trunks are like elegant poles placed at random amid green grass and colorful wildflowers. Faint tire tracks invite us to walk into the grove. We have to see where this leads. The children run ahead as we linger among the trees. The miniature forest is alive with whispers—enchanting, other-worldly, yet so real. I reach out to touch one tree, stroking the bark, feeling the ridges that encircle the trunk. I run my hand over bold black scars that mark the pale white bark. They tell the story of the tree, if we could but read them.

We amble through the grove, listening for birds, watching for animal sign. A good number of small aspen poles lie in the grass, all dead wood, and each about 2-3 inches in diameter. Did a windstorm blow them over? Were they pushed flat by deer rubbing their horns on the bark? Downed by summer range cattle?

We emerge from the trees into a broad, sloping meadow rimmed by open forest of Ponderosa pine and aspen. Seep springs at the upper end of the meadow join forces in a growing trickle of water that becomes Mosquito Creek. It trails through grass, past a few shrubs, and into the heart of the meadow where it is outlined by even taller grasses. As it flows onward, the tiny creek also gives rise to the False Hellebore that later in the season will over–crowd the waterway.

Where the aspen grove meets the meadow lies a good camp site, and a day later we move into it. This is the 1970s, when open camping is still possible in most areas of the Warners. The children make themselves right at home, climbing trees, walking downed logs. They discover a small pond not more than hand–deep. It’s just large enough for a natural bird bath, and indeed the birds have found it. Juncos and a few white-crowned sparrows are cheerfully sharing the waters.

After we set up camp I go exploring on my own. I follow the spring waters, sidestepping the marshy area. I find a handful of bog orchids and a scattering of buttercups. To my left, mature aspen frame an eye–catching view that leads the eye down the meadow to the distant mountain ridge. While I watch, a deer raises its head above the line of Hellebore, not far from me, a doe with those big ears turned my direction. There’s my picture. I’ll be back to sketch.

Come back next week for Part 2. The Drawing Lesson: Paint what you see . . .  Have you ever done that?

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