It’s not every day that a plein air painter has to hide from the police. There had been an oil spill across the highway here and out into the ocean from a burst pipeline and after two days of citizens rescuing birds and other wildlife covered in oil, the police decided to close the entire area, four miles of highway above and below the spill, while cleanup crews dumped a toxic dispersant into the water to break up the oil and make it less visible so the beaches could look pretty again.

I thought it would be an interesting thing to capture in a painting. I had a friend drop me off (since there was nowhere to park and the whole highway was heavily patrolled) where I thought I’d be able to make my way out to the point just below the spill. We miscalculated and I quickly found myself within a stones throw from ground zero. Hazmat suits and cleanup crews and sheriff patrol cars everywhere. I had no chance of painting here.

While pondering what to do from the railroad tracks just out of sight of the highway, a police helicopter circles overhead. I hop half under the nearest bush I could and covered my legs with my pack and held still. The helicopter kept circling. A few minute later I could hear a highway patrol truck pull up and leave it’s engine running on the highway shoulder just over the embankment from my hideout. I waited a good long time until the helicopter was well out of sight, then carefully made my way back to our drop-off/pick-up spot and called my buddy to come and shuttle me a bit down the road away from ground zero.

This time I was able to make my way up to a high perch with a good view of the cleanup operation, but well out of view of the highway. Never saw the helicopter again. Not sure what would have happened if caught- probably not much, but I really wanted to get a painting done and avoid risking it with a confrontation. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission right? And if they caught me once, there’d likely be steeper consequences if they found me down the road a little later. Better to avoid all that if possible.