24" x 29.75"
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Anyone who has read any of these stories will understand that I want my paintings to tell a story. The story is usually about a plant in its natural surroundings. The natural surroundings of the Ponderosa Pine are found in every western state and parts of Canada and Mexico! This painting does not represent the best known of the Ponderosa’s habitats, which are flat lands and rolling hills, the classic backdrop for Western movies. Anyone who has seen a Western film can picture bandits riding through these towering pines to rob the stage coach. The pines have yellow-orange bark divided by deep fissures into large plates. The groves in these dry regions look like parks; the trees are widely spaced and little grows underneath. In these favorable places Ponderosa grow to great heights and girth, over 100 feet (30 m) tall and more than 2 ft (60 cm) in diameter.
However, this painting celebrates a different characteristic of this versatile pine: its ability to grow out of cracks in the arid cliffs. Some viewers thought that the cliffs were the theme of this painting. In fact, the Ponderosa Pines that are the subject of the painting cover only a tiny portion of the panel. They are the trees rising out of the valley in the background, including one whose top is struck with sun and a small one that is growing on a flat niche half way up the cliff. This is the scene that caught my eye as I labored up the switchbacks from the floor of the valley to the Mesa above.
When I reached the Mesa I saw many more Ponderosa Pines. They were growing out of cracks on sandstone flats that looked like pavement. The stones were so hot that you couldn’t walk on them with bare feet. I wondered how the trees could live there. Later I read that young Ponderosas grow very slowly at first. A tree of only three inches will establish a tap root four times that length. An eight year-old tree might be a little over a foot high. The tap root allows them to take advantage of winter snow melt that slowly percolates through the mountain all summer long.
The cliffs were interesting to paint because of the extreme lighting effects. Although all the cliffs were composed of stone of the same color, reflections painted each cliff with a distinctly different hue. Reflections from the sun off the cliff on the right gave an orange glow to the cliff on the left. The cliffs in the back were in shadow but without the warming effect of reflected light from neighboring cliffs. The sun is striking the tops of the far cliffs as well but they are pink not pale orange because of the shift to violet that takes place over distance. I used a mixture of Cadmium Red and Titanium White for these cliffs. Although this mixture is pink, and rocks are not pink, no one who has seen these desert cliffs thought it odd.
These Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa) live in a valley in Zion National Park. The trees growing on the floor of the valley, in the foreground, are Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga taxifolia).