Again

1981  
She sat in her chair   
Laughing  
(with concern)  
When I put 27 grapes in my mouth at once  
And got one stuck up my nose  
Again  
  
1982  
She sat in her chair   
Sleeping  
(blissfully unaware)  
While I dug a hole  
All the way to China  
Again  
  
1983  
She sat in her chair  
Pondering  
(with me)  
When I sat beside her and asked  
Why the sand was full of plastic  
Again  
  
1984  
She sat in her chair   
Reading  
(romance novels)  
When I was hit in the head  
By a stray surfboard  
Again  
  
1985  
She jumped out of her chair  
Yelling  
(things I can’t repeat)  
At the seagull thiefs   
Who came for our lunches  
Again  
  
1986  
She sat on her boogie board  
Grinning  
(behind dark sunglasses)  
Like the coolest kid on the beach  
After riding the wave of her life  
Again  
  
2021  
She sat in her chair alone
Leaving  
(this world behind)  
And I wish we could be  
Back on this beach
Again  

Parts and Pieces

I forged you in an open field
On a bright and cloudless day
Rare elements and minerals
Mixed within the clay
You took the form my eyes beheld
And there was no other way
I gave to you part of myself
And let the chips fall where they may
I gave you more and more and more
I gave and then I gave

And now parts of me are missing
I’m losing pieces everyday
I’m not the same as I ever was
And I don’t know what to say

You stuck your boot into the mud
Your hand into the brine
You painted me as though I mattered
As though parts of you were mine
And now I’ll go into the world
Forgotten by design
Set aside where few will see
Although to them I just may shine
But it’s not me that draws them in
It’s the parts of you they find

And now parts of you are with me
I’m finding more everyday
I’m not the same as I ever was
And I don’t know what to say

War and Peace

Plein air painting of the Humboldt county coast near Trinidad, California

Conflict is inevitable. Land vs Sea. Fog vs Blue Skies. Mud vs My Boots. Warring factions lie in wait around every bend at the end of this trail named for a creek whose Latin roots run to the God of War whose thirst for conflict is only surpassed by the mutiny of his forces aligning with the dappled light and buzzing bees and bubbling creek conspiring to bring peace instead.

Proof of Concept

Plein air painting by Matt Beard of the California coast just north of Point Conception

Painted this one en route to a lighthouse at California’s greatest turning point. I was originally going to paint the beach park about 5 miles north of this point, just around that first bend in the distance of this painting. After walking about 30 feet north to seek a nearby view, not even getting out of the parking lot, I turned on a whim and walked south. For 5 miles. I did some things wrong. I didn’t check the tide. I didn’t consult a map. I didn’t bring any food. All I remember is reading that you could walk to the lighthouse now, so off I went.

When I reached the 5 mile mark I couldn’t go any further on the beach, blocked by the massive cliffs jutting right into the water. No lighthouse in sight, I figured I would just follow the road that came down the ravine here. Lots of no trespassing signs, I mean, they really wanted to let people know, but I recognized the name on the sign as the previous landowners and so I thought that surely these must be out of date. When I got up on the bluff I could make out the lighthouse in the distance a little less than a mile away.

I could also make out a white truck. It’s always a white truck. I don’t know why. It just is.

Well, I figured the worst that might happen is that I’d be asked to leave. I figured I could talk my way out of any situation that arose, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to talk my way into permission to pass if that’s what it came to. So after getting this far without thinking things through, I did the first smart thing I’d done all day. I retreated about 30 feet below the crest of the hill, out of sight from whoever was rolling around in that white truck, and painted this scene looking back over the coast I’d just traversed. This way even if I got kicked out of here on my way to ascend the knoll where the lighthouse was, I’d at least go home with this painting done. Proof of Concept, if you will.

My Father’s Song

There’s a song my father used to sing
Not really a song at all
Just a rhythm of syllables
Rising and falling
With every step
And a pause with
Every breath

There were never any words
Neither for the song itself
Nor for the way
It brings me home

It would often be sung
Out in the wilderness
Surrounded by wonders
Sometimes emerging
From an ice cold pool
Formed by a beaver dam
In the high mountains

Or sometimes just in the kitchen
After a phone call
Grandpa has gone home
And our hearts fell
Like fresh-washed plates
And broke

Today I heard the song again
It came from my own heart
Sung quietly over my kids
On a forest path
As they took my hand
And said
Papa we’ll show you
The waterfall
And the ice cold pool

And along that path
The song walked along
Never really beginning
And never really ending
Just filling the air
Like the call of birds
Like the rush of the creek
Like my Father’s song

Say Nothing

The land behind me as I painted this view belongs to Neil Young, and I couldn't help but recall him singing the old Woodie Guthrie tune This Land is Your Land:

As I was walkin', I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "no trespassing"
But on the other side, it didn't say nothin'
That side was made for you and me

Had me tempted to go walking right through his land. But I'm pretty sure it was just a song he was covering and not his life manifesto or anything and if I'd made it very far at all nobody would have thought it was all that witty of me.

And besides, I was dropped off here to paint the view from this ridge and it was far more beautiful looking this way than over at his hills anyway.

I had learned it was Neil Young's property from the guy who drove me up and dropped me off up here.  He's spent a lot of time on this property and knows everyone pretty well.

He even knows the caretaker of the cattle up here, the same cattle that we had to slowly navigate through just after the second gate, and he knows he's a real... let's just say handful. We see the cattle man coming up the hill in a cloud of anger and we pull aside to let him pass and he's yelling and spitting as us, red in the face, because a water truck is coming up behind him and I guess he's afraid we'll just plow into it blindly instead of pulling over like we had just done for him and he's also yelling about some loose cattle, and I'm thinking, yeah they're all pretty loose, just hanging around. Who ties up their cattle anyway? They were all together, we didn't see any single cows roaming free anywhere else and we close every gate behind us as we went along, and besides we had permission from the ranch owner to carry out this art mission anyway, but everything makes this guy madder so we leave it at that and wait for the water truck to pass.

We sat there for a long time. Long enough to hear my driver's story about the time he carried an 8 foot life-size crucifix up the hill in the spring mud when his truck wouldn't go any further and dug a hole on the peak and stood it there for the owners to find on their own sweet time.

He was put up to that by some friends that knew the owners were grossed out by the goriness of the catholic crucifix.  When the owners finally found it and were sufficiently grossed out by it, they had him carry the cross back down the hill and put it under the covers in the bed of the friends they suspected of the original prank while they were out of town, repranking the prank if you will.

And this poor guy gets stuck carrying the crucifix everywhere he goes. Not today, though, today it's just me in the truck, and even if I carry the cross and believe in Christ's sacrifice in my heart, I am not some grossly carved replica of the bloody event itself. I am just a painter driven by love... and right now by this crazy cross-carrying pickup driver that is driving just fine all over these beautiful hills, thank you very much red-faced man.

We wonder how long this water truck will take and start to wonder if it could be a real long time so we drive slowly down the road and sure enough after one bend there she comes around the corner and we pull off nice and easy and let her pass. Smiles and waves. All nice and easy like it ought to be on the back hills of a cattle ranch near sunset. Order restored.

But my cross carrying driver is out of smokes now and says he and the others are gonna need more tonight, so off we go to the market down the hill. Except the market is a bar, with a band playing a Neil Young tune out front and my friend has left his wallet and shoes behind and since it's just me and him in the truck we hold an election and I am nominated to go in and buy the smokes since I have shoes and a wallet.

We'd just left Neil's neighbor's ranch where live bands were playing all day in the valley beneath the ridge where I painted. Did I mention that part? I was here for a music festival I've been an artful part of for a few years running. I couldn't hear a single bit of music from up the hill where I painted this though, so this market/bar music was the best bit of live music I'd heard all day as I walked in the bar and right back out again since they didn't sell any tobacco at all. Good for them. But bad for us because that meant my new pal would need to drive us all the way to the next town for smokes.

We rolled through a valley where the old Hippies went to become new Hippies. Nobody is a real Hippy anymore, you know that, right? Everywhere I go now, Hippy is a dirty word, or a pedestal on which lives some Greco-American nature god who can do no wrong but doesn't actually exist beside us in flesh and blood. It's like calling someone a Christian. You know real Christians this and real Hippies that. I love Christian Hippies. I know a guy whose whole deal is making Christian Hippy tie-die t-shirts and quotes Jerry Garcia lyrics as cryptic gospel passages all day long.  He'd love this valley. Full of old broken down vans that the Merry Pranksters once called their homes, back when there were real Hippies and real Christians all over the place seeking truth like it mattered.

Speaking of truth my guide wasn't sure of the truth of this but he's heard that the last grizzly bear in California was killed in this valley. We both sorta wonder quietly at that and mumble a few things. But mostly because this road just kept going and going. It got quiet for awhile and we finally arrive at a country market, where they do indeed sell cigarettes and so I return victorious this time and even though it's only two packs my driver pal seems satisfied as we contemplate checking out the old bar next door. Says he knows a lot of the regulars there. I'm thinking of the music festival that I'm missing right now, but I say nothing, because this is where I am here and now. And If I'm about to roll into this bar with this guy then I want to be all in cause I'm just along for the ride and it's out of my hands anyway and did I mention I'd been up since 4 in the morning?

We crank our necks in deep concentration and focus as we turnaround and leave the market and bar behind us and continue discussing the merits of a good drinking hole where people like to be. I guess we were looking for people we know, some excuse to derail our night. Stranger things have happened but not here and not now. We drive back uneventfully and return the truck. It wasn't ours.  We borrowed it from one of the musicians who's helped organize the music festival for the last fifteen years. Yes, the same music festival that I've been unintentionally avoiding all day. He told me during a sound check that morning that I could borrow the truck to drive up to the ridge, but I wouldn't have made it past the loose cattle so I was glad my cross carrying driver overheard the conversation and stepped up to the plate.

The driver knows everyone.  He and the musician go way back also.  He's helped tear this old truck apart and rebuild it with the musician multiple times. The musician is a genius electrical engineer and he was married last year in small ceremony up on the hill where the crucifix once stood. God bless their marriage. His wife can sing Led Zeppelin's Ramble On like nobody's business, so they'll always have that going for them. When I first became part of this festival years ago, I heard these two playing music by the fireside after the bands were done on the main stage, and a little part of my soul ascended with the smoke and melodies into the night sky and I will forever be looking for it whenever there is fire and music near each other. This could be taken wrongly I suppose but I think I just see these two as fire and music and I love them both even though I hardly know either of them and I wish the best for their lives together.

Even now the night is coming on and I'm avoiding my third peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the day and eating two slabs of steak from a friends cooler while the final band takes the stage in a whirl of light and intentional discomfort. A man born of Irish and African roots. Illegal love. And with the voice of a hundred street preachers and a band to back him up that makes music entirely out of electric velvet.

Soon enough this Prince from Oakland settles down and the usual crew of musicians makes their way to the firepit and continues into the night. There's a lot of folks lingering to listen and me and my buddy and his lady sneak under a hammock and lay in the grass to get a glimpse and hear the music continue on it's own softer pace. And guess who is there?

That's right, my driver pal is there and belting out some of the sweetest lines and tunes you'll ever hear including one about his grandma's passing that had me holding back tears. She was a real Christian, and maybe a real hippy too. Not sure, but I know she prayed for him, that's for sure.

Before I know it the three of us are in the hammock together, just enjoying music and a bit of warmth like the cattle are probably doing up on the hill right now, sans the music. I hope the loose cattle has returned to the warmth of the others by now. It's cold out here. Thankfully when my friends retired for the night they left me their blanket and I went horizontal proper on that hammock and fell asleep to the best sounds on earth. I hope my snoring at least kept the beat for the music as it rambled on until morning.

And all this madness and love is why I'm here and why this painting happened at all. The folks who own the ranch where this festival has happened for the last 15 years are selling the property and all the musicians rallied and hired me to come paint the scene as a gift to the ranchowners who have opened their land to the music, and the crazy nuts that play it, for all these years.

It was an honor and a joy and I don't know what else to say.

So I'll say nothing more.

Pale Blue Eyes

It’s true, that fog just lingered on, and on. Those pale blue eyes…

I saw a burst of blue sky while rounding a bend and thought for sure the fog was lifting. That was my mistake- thinking anything was sure about fog. I should know better. And I generally do, but the scene was truly beautiful so I thought I’d risk it for the biscuit and I barely got a sketch in before the fog went all gray and dark. I could still make out the foreground ok, but mostly just had to finish the piece on that first impression of a memory. All good. It can be somewhat liberating to chase a memory because it’s more of a feeling than a literal thing to look at and compare to. When it works it’s a lot of fun.

Something Not So Easy

If the previous painting of the day was titled Something Easy, well this would be the opposite of that. This place is hard. In many ways. And so was this painting. For a long few minutes, I didn’t think it was ever going to work to get this down the beach perspective. But what a dynamic place to hang and paint on a cool summer evening, I left the beach buzzing.

 

The Whole Wide World

This was a commissioned piece for a couple who was married on the bluff beneath those trees in the distance. It had me thinking of marriage and a song I’d been enjoying by Bill Callahan called Pigeons where he sings:

when you are dating, you only see each other
And the rest of us can go to hell
But when you are married, you’re married to the whole wide world

I thought that was pretty much genius and truth. So I named this painting after the song.

Also unrelated to the title and song and all that, the wind was howling so much so that I had the easel blow over twice even with my weighted pack on it. That’s unusual. I ended up finding some loose bricks from an old industrial foundation and used some tape I keep rolled around my water jug to strap bricks to the windward leg of my easel, which did the trick, but still was a challenge to paint through and I called it a day while the painting was still in a pretty rough state. Had quite a bit of studio finish work to do on this one when I got home later.

Ether

Ever since I’d heard about the remains of this old pier at the bottom of a steep cliff, all covered in graffiti, I knew I’d need to paint the place. The morning fog kept me from being able to paint another cliff top vista nearby so I took advantage of the weather to paint these remains from a close distance where the fog wouldn’t obscure my subject completely. I didn’t know the graffiti would read “ether”. Seemed appropriate to me on this day where even one’s own thoughts seemed to vanish in the ether of fog every few steps.  Halfway through painting the sun burned the fog away and a beautiful morning light hit the remains and I went after it.

Nowhere Else to Go

Sometimes there’s just nowhere else to go.

You might be the raindrop drifting freely from a cloud, your flight abruptly ending in earth.

You might be the stream gathered from many mountains rushing down the valley locking into every twist and turn, hypnotized like a teenage race car driver, your mad dash halted by the edge of a cliff and suddenly you are a raindrop once again.

Or you might be the thermal energy stored up and released in the wind and transferred to the ocean as you march a thousand miles, flinging water molecules in a great circle behind you as you run at the pace that your slow decay calls for until one day it all comes crashing down and you meet a steep beach beneath a waterfall and in your final breath your exhalation sends water droplets into the warm air to become part of the atmosphere and eventually yes, a rain drop.

Or you might be me grumbling along a tourist coral herded like cattle until you reach a fence across the trail cutting your trip short and forcing you to stop in your tracks and paint the scene from where you stand, damn the stinkeye you get from the occasional tourist who is certain that your sprawling art setup is hogging the only photogenic spot on this wickedly shortened trail.  I tend to be a water person, I flow around things rather than push through, always seeking the path of least resistance, letting gravity pull me along, but just like the rain drops, sometimes there’s just nowhere else to go.

Sorry Not Sorry

So this was different. There's a really great beach park 6 miles north of here that I hadn't painted for awhile. I was on my way through the area and thought it would be fun to return and see what I could do with it after a few years of pushing my art process a little further along. I had the idea to hike to a small bluff just north of the park and explore for a different view from over there. I made it about ten feet from my van and then had an idea.

I recalled reading recently that you could hike to the lighthouse 6 miles south of the park at low tides. I didn't say I had a good idea. But I did have peanut butter and jelly sandwich just before setting out from the van so I figured I'd be good to go and off I went on a whim. Just to see how far I would get.  You know.

The tide seemed favorable, so I just kept going, and going, and going. All the way to the end of the beach. Now I didn't read anything too closely, I just thought I saw that I could walk to the lighthouse and when the beach came to an end at a sheer cliff, the only route to go any further was up a trail past one no-trespassing sign after another. I couldn't be sure I was doing this right, but I recognized the name on the sign as belonging the previous owners of the property and so I figured the new owners had some deal with the state worked out for access and just hadn't removed the signs yet. Sounds good, right? I thought so too.

So up the trail I went and over the bluff, marching in broad daylight right up to the turning point of all of California. Just before ascending the knoll was another gate of sorts, with new signs, this time from the Coast Guard saying that only authorized personnel were allowed. I'd come this far to see the light house that I was sure that I read I was allowed to see, so yes, authorized I was. A bit of an odd feeling, tromping past one sign after another with creeping sense that I'd made a wrong turn or missed something somewhere.

But up I went and checked out the whole scene. Didn't see a single person out there. Desolation row. I took some photos of the lighthouse itself but the wind was beyond next level and I wasn't having that, so I settled on this view from a shaded and sheltered spot in front of some old living quarters on the back of the knoll, looking due East! It was a view I had not expected to paint this day, or any other anytime soon.

I had to work exceedingly fast as the day was getting long, the tide was coming up and I had to jam 6 miles back to the car on foot before dark since I was just parked in the day-use spot. I was hoping for a burger at the park store too, but I had a sinking feeling the grill would be long cold by the time I made it back.

Tired and half-broken from the high tide rock scrambles, but proud to have two dry boots after numerous close calls, my tired body smiled as wide as my happy soul as I raised my feet and ate my second peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the day in my van before moving on.

Post-edit:
Later on I read a little more about the hike to the lighthouse. I was supposed to stay on the beach at the lowest tides and see the lighthouse from below. My bad. Sorry, but not sorry. It was an amazing day and my conscience was clean on this one.  Ignorance can be beautiful like that.

The Sea is for “California”

The Sea is for “California”
The Ay is for “Ay, it looks kinda fun out there”
The El is for “Where the El did all these people come from? It didn’t look this crowded a minute ago”
The I is for “I didn’t see you back there”
The Ef is for things I’ve heard out there that I can’t repeat
The Oh, is for “Oh look at this set coming in”
The Arr is for “Arr, that guy seems like he’s getting every wave with that massive log”
The In is for “Hey those guys just went in”
The I is for “I might get a wave or two now”
The Ay is for “ay, it is was super fun out there today”