Besides the wildlife, of which I wrote in Part 1, our trip to Alaska this past August provided me with plenty of material for landscape painting, as well.
My husband insists that the mountains of Alaska put the Rockies to shame. It was difficult for me to judge their heights except by their sharply delineated bands of color. As you can see in “Kenai Lily Pond” (#100905), bare and ice-glazed rock capped the peaks, while a misty green of mosses and lichens veiled the steep, unyielding slopes below; shrubs provided a belt of richer greens undergirding that, and only at the base lay the deep, dark band of forest. We were fortunate to see the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula on a rare, clear day. Clouds often hang heavy and low, hiding much of the glory of the high ridges and snow-encrusted hollows, and the gleaming glaciers flowing inexorably onward through the valleys they themselves carve out as they move on their course to the sea.
Undercut by the salt-laden ocean water, some of the glaciers, which may move as much as seven feet a day, calve frequently. The calves, or broken chunks, large or small, spewed water high and sent waves out for a considerable distance when they cracked and tumbled off the sheer surface of the glacier’s face. The freshly fractured surface glowed a brilliant turquoise blue, typical of the densely compressed interior, which, in a matter of days would fade, like the rest, to the pervading white of ice that had been exposed far longer to the atmosphere. The glaciers’ upper surface, I was surprised to discover, is not smooth but is creviced and eroded into hoodoos by the sun’s heat, by rain, and by unforgiving winds.
Yet not all the landscape seemed so severe. Rocky streams, fed by rain and melting snow, coursed down the mountainsides and cascaded into grand waterfalls. Lakes, reflecting their rim of grasses and moss and evergreens, as well as the overshadowing mountainsides, lay still and serene in the valleys. Lily pads clustered, like pubescent sunbathers waving urgently to friends but jealous of their prime basking positions and one another’s company, and zealous to absorb the sun’s scant attention through summer’s short season. Tall grasses rippled, wildflowers blossomed and faded, undisturbed by human cultivation. Dense rainforests near the ocean’s edge dripped with mosses and lichen and fungi of various forms. Second- and third-growth forest sprouted bowlegged roots to span older, decaying stumps, drawing nourishment not only from the soft, rich soil but from the remains of trees that had fallen long before.
Normally little affected by tidal action around my home in southwest Florida, I was fascinated to see, at these northern latitudes, how radically the ebbing tide changed the contours of the shoreline, revealing islands and tidepools that disappeared again as the hours swept past and the endless pendulum of come-and-go, ebb-and-flow reversed.