Rusty and I drove up the pretty valley
to Murphy Creek Road, took this to Murphy’s Lake,
a shallow bluegreen pool in front of Star Mountain.
Sitting at a picnic table in the shade,
I painted two cones, one rocky, one tree-covered,
over a detailed drawing in black pencil.
This painting is more complex and better
than the spruce-covered hill at Hoodoo Pass,
but I’m not quite happy with the tree reflections.
Then we spent hours driving up the Greys River,
looking for a side road to another lake,
a good place to camp, another scene to paint.
Out of the valley onto the beauty,
La Barge Creek meadow lush with flowers,
the last good grazing site on the Emigrant Trail.
There’s still plenty of range cattle here,
golden coneflowers, purple flowering stalks,
thin cones of scattered spruce,
a grove of globelike aspens
with white trunks and shimmering leaves.
The spruce looked like the spruce at Hoodoo Pass,
the aspen, beyond my skill and patience,
so I painted the mountains rising in the distance.
All those trees nearly drove me nuts.
Before I started painting, I drew them all,
a task akin to Rusty
drawing every scale on that dragon.
The only challenge with the actual painting
was that I’d used up all the nice dull green
and had to mix something reasonable
from deep green, golden ochre, and reddish brown.
A little way down the road we found a campsite
under the trees near La Barge Creek.
Most of the cows were across the road,
but they could go wherever they wanted.
This morning we got woke up by a cow
licking the tarp over our tent,
and found five cows, three of them calves,
licking the mud off our car
and chewing ground cover plants.
They looked at Rusty and I looking at them.
I stared them down so they wouldn’t come closer.
The two mama cows disagreed about something
and head-butted each other.
After this they all turned away,
out of sight before I could get a camera.
In the covered wagon time,
this place was a well-known landmark,
a place to camp and graze the stock,
but now, an obscure wonder on a back road
in the hills of southern Idaho.
Pale gray granite outcrops and mountains
of diverse and fantastic form
rise from sagebrush and piñon pines.
Rusty and I used up three rolls of film
before I chose the scene I wanted to paint,
a row of interesting rocks,
peppered hills and mountains,
a valley under a sudden summer rain.
When I started drawing,
the rocks and foreground brush were sunny,
the Raft River valley shaded by clouds.
By the time I finished painting,
new clouds from the west shaded everything
and started to drizzle on me.
I put the painting on the dashboard to dry,
put the paints away, and drove to the last rock,
which was named “Loaf of Bread,”
where there was a well with a hand pump.
We tried to fill our canteens here,
but the wind blew the water everywhere
and stirred up the dust.
We tried waiting for the wind to calm,
but it never did. We called this
the wind-tunnel well of the City of Rocks.
One of my mother’s best paintings
shows a dark gray snowy mountain
reflected in a clear lake with conifers,
probably someone in the Rockies,
based on a calendar photograph.
Whenever someone asked me where
I wanted to go this summer,
I said I wanted to go to this painting.
The photograph in the dining room
of the lodge in Sawtooth City
shows green foothills and snowy peaks.
That’s not how it looks outside.
Almost all the snow has melted
from the Sawtooth Range.
The pines are turning red and dying
from beetles and lack of water.
A jagged irregular mountain
a few miles up Smiley Creek Road,
seemed the best one to paint.
By the time I found a good foreground,
the sun moved enough to wash out
the shading that gave it definition.
I painted this rough ridge
with neither snow nor shadow,
only a skirt of spruce and pine,
a grove of aspen over there.
I didn’t leave enough room
in the foreground for the creek.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller
Painting, “Smiley Creek Mountain”: 2004, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, 9 x 12 inches, detail 7.5 x 9 inches.