06 July 2008

Palouse Country

The Palouse area of Washington lies on the eastern edge of the state bordering Idaho; depending on who you talk to, it begins just south of Spokane and ends somewhere around the Walla Walla area. Although there are many parts of the United States and Canada that produce wheat, I can’t think of any that share the interesting topography of hills and buttes that cover this area, it is unique. If you’ve ever seen the film “Toys” starring Robin Williams, you will know exactly what I am talking about. The movie was filmed about halfway between where I live and the city of Spokane. Imagine that movie set covering an area roughly 100 miles from north to south, and 40 miles east to west. This is the Palouse.

This is wheat country, 4,000 square miles of it, and at this time of the year, the landscape is carpeted in various shades of greens, yellows, and blues. I recall a while back, reading a local photographers statement in the newspaper commenting on the Palouse. He likened it to “a giant abstract painting, a photographer’s playground.” I suppose that I can see his point of view; I believe that a lot of amateur and professional photographers view it that way too. It is not that uncommon to see a vehicle pulled off to the side of the road with a camera mounted on a tri-pod, a sunset or a butte or some other subject posing for the camera in the distance, all the while accompanied by various hues of amber and jade.
Riding the gently sweeping “Blue roads” in the Palouse country is much like riding through a painting, though it doesn’t always have to be abstract. A tree still looks like a tree, and a barn is of course a barn, and as I ride, I observe casually as the gentle breath of summer coaxes the waist high grass to dance over rolling fields and the leaves in the trees to tremble, shimmering in the sun. Anyone with an unquenchable passion for light will eventually find themselves intoxicated by the raking sunlight against the hills and various fields of depth in the shadows. As for the roads, this is not a technical ride out here, just a soothing one as the scenery of the ride passes through me; I can understand why photographers are so drawn to this place. As summer ages, the colors change from a dominant green to shades of gold. I believe Katharine Lee Bates said it best when she coined the term, “Amber waves of grain” in her poem “America the beautiful.” As with many forms of art, usually when viewing a painting or photograph, abstract or otherwise, it requires the viewer to pay attention, and when I think of “paying attention” my first thought would be of sitting still, clearing my mind of distractions and focusing on the art that is to be had. As a Motorcyclist however, those rules don’t apply; I revel in the experience of a passing landscape, the constant evolution of sights, sounds, and smells. This is not revolutionary thinking though; 135 years ago there was an artist who used to paint from perhaps a similar point of view that continues to inspire Motorcyclists everyday.

Studio Boat

Imagine for a moment, that you’re standing on the banks of the Seine, in a town just down-river from Paris called Argenteuil; the year is 1874. At that moment, a small boat slowly drifts past; in the boat a bearded man sits with a short three-legged easel holding a paint brush, painting the scenery as he drifts by. The man is Claude Monet who would later become known as the Father of Impressionism. Monet was doing something revolutionary, not only was he painting “En plein air” (painting outdoors) but he was also painting the scenery as it was passing by, capturing the effects of light, ‘from one twilight to the next’ as his close friend Eduard Manet once described it. Monet was on to something, gliding with the light rather than trying to conquer it.

As Motorcyclists, Bikers, and Scooterists, perhaps our machines are our own floating studios and though our scenery passes more quickly than Monet’s, our inspirations could possibly be quite similar.

Ever since man put an engine between two wheels, we have tried to express to the uninitiated, the experience, the passion, the raw inspiration that we feel while riding our machines. I’ve read many articles and posts on the subject; I imagine that I will read many more. This post is one of my own efforts at doing that same thing and I imagine that this blog will be filled with many additional attempts in the future.

So if you’ll excuse me, with what remains of the day, I plan to jump on my bike and take a ride through the work of art that is my Palouse Country. Over countless hills and through fertile green valleys, I’ll let the landscape inspire me as I visualize myself, in my minds eye, on the prow of a small boat; and if I clear my mind of life’s little distractions for just a moment, perhaps I will look over my shoulder and visualize a bearded man with his easel and brush, and together we can capture the light in our own unique ways, from one twilight to the next.

Ride well