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Ranch

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Walking up the East side, looking to the South West and over the distant hayfield.

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The lower end of the hayfield and up off the right is the new bbird house trek re the prev post. 

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Rounding the upper draw of forested coulee, we’ll head across and drop down another coulee.

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The pine forest is capped and bordered with Aspen groves.

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The high southern boundary of Aspen guards the spring deep in the forest.

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So many favorite places to visit!

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Spot Belt mountain in the next pic.

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Karen, Forest, Belt Mountain, Aspen; under sky of smoke and cloud and blue.

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Significance of Alone all ’round.

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These three trees have been as this for as long as I can remember.

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rounding the double tree drops into the bear’s back yard

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Bear sign. Grubbing stumps.

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Hillside subsidence inundates a water trough. Invasive weeds surround in their own disaster.

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Karen heads out after we take a day to drive to Billings and visit our cousin who is a partner in the ranch. I stay on to bike the canyon from Monarch to Neihart, but the day is hazy with smoke and I finish up chores.

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The evening begins to clear. The next day is clear enough and perfect for cycling. The ride is my first since E broke her thumb crossing a curved RR track on a June ride in SLC followed by triple digit heat that settled in months early and weeks long. A cool tail wind up the canyon ensures the distance, as Belt Creek tumbles brightly beside the road. The next day I head out and at the base of King’s Hill a Golden Eagle dives directly in front of the truck and lifts a rabbit roadkill in a perfect continuous display of speed and skill, then I roll on through 500 miles of smoke retracing our new best scenic route along the Madison river toward Yellowstone’s West Gate.   

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Southern highlands sunset phone signal sojourn.

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The heifers all line up to use the new phone; are bummed that we still can’t check messages.

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Looking North into the ranch.

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Smoke on 360 degrees of the horizon.

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Moon is back to white, from the blood-orange of a few nights ago.

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Up at the high meadows above the hayfield along the Blue Bird trek.

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This steep is a snowbank in winter, and stays green even in our Flash Drought year. 

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Surprise! Karen has jumped up from CA to visit for a few days at the ranch.

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One of the highland’s magical spots.

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Bluebird overlook from their front porch. Four hatchlings from a week ago are now fledged.

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A quiet evening and Karen joins E & I in putting up the new series of Bluebird houses.

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E watches a herd of deer watching us.

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Setting a whole new leg of Bluebird-House trekking.

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The deer are moving out as the sunset begins to move in.

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A last group of deer run the to the ridgeline.

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A fawn leaps to catch up with her group.

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Smoke down from Canada tinges the light.

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cool air rushes through the warm grasses and summer lifts from the earth

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Setting the last of the new houses.

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E can see the wooden bird house the bear opened like a lunchbox way over on the road. 

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More of a thermos than a lunchbox, E thinks the bear may just ignore the new models.

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the stillness of twilight sweeps beyond the mind’s eye

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infinite sky over unending undulations of coulees and mountain

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The moon is a dusky primrose from on top, but later rises again at the house… 

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Deep layers of atmospheric smoke tint the moonrise from the yard. Same night, different moon.

 

 

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Ranch house and fence back in the 19th century with my great grandparents.

Kaye and Walt flew back to Kansas City (once the Great Falls airport had held them nearly overnight) and E & I got on to a day-long Feller project of replacing 80 feet of wooden rail fence around the front of the house. Fence that is essential to keeping livestock out of the yard during cattle drives as well as bovine fence crawlers ambling up and down the road all season long.

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1998 painted fence with Alpine Meadows Angus sign I created in 1996. (I also trimmed the lilacs and hedge throughout the 1990’s, so they still looked spiffy and bloomed amazingly.)

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June 2012.

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2014 Walt and I put in new gate.

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Gate is finished and matches L side built out in 2008 by my father and sister & I. The R side will get long split rail to match in anther year or so. Then split rail becomes a rarity.

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Literally held together with string and wire, these old runs of hand-hewn timber were pulled from our forest nearly a century ago.

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Panel fence is the quick solution to keeping livestock on the road and out of the yard- it all goes.

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E & I salvaged 16′ runs of our old corral fence when the local supplier of split rail was out for the third year running.

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This post leaned far out, so I dug out behind it, soaked it, and levered it back with a rock bar- still leaning out.

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Webbing and a come-along fixed to the truck pull it into place.

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Sawzall takes off a split end and fits to the run of posts.

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Squeeze clamp puts hundreds of pounds of third-hand pressure while I set the board with heavy lag.

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Staggering the top boards for the uphill climb.

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Top rail is set all the way around, so on to the mid rail.

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The yard’s Mountain Bluebird keeps an eye on my work. 

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 Bluebird again.

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New salvage fence wraps around the lilacs I’ve saved for the Cedar Waxwings.

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5 new 16′ sections of salvage fence, with the last two sections retaining lower runs of hand-hewn lodgepole pine.

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2008 Split rail; to 2014 gate of split rail; to 2015 section of split rail following the gate; to 2017 new salvage. The dorky bit by the gate is a No Hunting sign on a wood panel- should reconsider that placement now…

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Meanwhile, back on the Montana ranch…

Kaye and Walt joined us in SLC, and we all drove up to the Montana spread. Elizabeth and I have done enough years of work on the homestead house that it can be mistaken for a rugged B&B.

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The lower end at sunset.

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Elizabeth leads Kaye & Walt to the secret rhubarb patch in the woods.

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Kaye’s Ohio farm-girl self takes the lead.

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A cool yard with a stream and big trees makes for birdwatching and long reads.

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The backyard shade tree needs triage- about two day’s worth.

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If out of new cuts, there are sloppy old cuts to clean up. 

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Walt sends the branches over the corral fence.

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Upper cable work begins, tying the tree together up high.

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Finding leverage and wishing I had a prehensile tail.

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Hummingbirds swept by with encouragements.

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Walt checks the ladder position he recommended. Tight.

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Threading the bolt by feel.

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Cable stranded with tension. (It will let go overnight and the fix will take some doing.)

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The split from the crook to the ground is why the upper cable, and now: cross-rods.

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The long bit is sunk 16″, now the extender is added and I plug along ’til entirely through.

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Language supervisor.

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Rod #2 of 3; Walt checks the tree’s vitals.

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Three rods at cross-directions stabilize the trunk.

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After the cable lets go overnight I redo the big cable with more tension and a better turnbuckle, tie in a sagging branch, and add a bat-house while I’m up.

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She already seemed happier in an evening wind.

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A drive across the top to check blue bird houses and set a few of the new tube-houses.

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On the other side of the valley things are drier.

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10am and already a bit too hot. “Flash Drought” is a new category for what Global Warming is offering up this summer.

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Back at the house I remove an ancient fluorescent ceiling fixture and replace it with a nice ceiling fan. Walt gets the old chime clock on the wall to have it’s chime match its time.  

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Laundry day. I stretch a tight line from the tree to the old laundry pins on the house and everyone chips in on running the laundry machine.

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This is the laundry machine.

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Massive fires in British Columbia smothers the landscape with smoke, and the moon turns orange.

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Our house Robins fledge in the smoke-silvered sky.

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Every morning I trim out snow-bent old-growth from the lilacs. 7 bushes total; stopping when a Cedar Waxwing flew out onto the brush pile and told me to quit before I reached his nest. The chicks all fledged a few days later. 

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Initial trim. Kaye wonders why I didn’t start out with the skirt of suckers. It seemed easier?

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Could call it done, they all are about trimmed and still look like themselves. A hard cut is better in the long run, and sucker skirts will go wild next year- so…

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Leaving the solid lilac bushes along the L side (about as long a run as what I trimmed) gives habitat for birds next spring. This will take a few seasons to stage through.

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Bluebird Houses: new design

June’s trip to the ranch revealed Tree Swallows taking over many Bluebird houses. They are lovely little birds, and will nest next to Bluebirds and vice-versa;  so I came up with a new design of birdhouse to place 25-50ft from the existing wooden houses. Some parameters: I want it to sleeve over the wooden fence poles of the barbed wire fence offering no incentive for cows to rub on them; easy to check for nesting birds via removable lid, with escape for mother out from entrance hole; easy to anchor to post and remove from post and clean out; insulates from heat & cold; waterproof and ventilated; can handle the harsh extremes of Montana highlands- all-weather / UV / extreme wind.

The far right is the first try; all black ABS in two sections connected by a snap-in drain insert (glued to the bottom/footing and pinned with a bolt to top/birdhouse, the lid is an insert bolted in place with a an inner screw-in lid as overkill for cleanout, the whole thing is spray-painted white and cost $17 per unit. Incredibly tough, but too pricey.

Next was an attempt to blend white pvc and fiberglass fitted inserts (ABS don’t fit and there are no similar PVC parts) – so no way to glue and join top to bottom. Plus, the inserts never quite snug-in or are too big. Too many issues and pricey; abandoned to the bin.

Finally I came up with a mix of irrigation tubing (multi-layered freeze-proof), black ABS tubing and black ABS drain insert, capped with a simple white pvc cap.

Materials:

4″dia x 10″ sections of insulated pvc irrigation tubing (10′ length @ $10.35)

4″dia x 4″ sections of ABS black  (2′ length @ $10 x 3ct = $30)

4″dia  ABS black Snap-In Drain Insert ($3.08)

4″dia Cap pvc ($2.48ea)

Total $102 per 12 houses, or $9.50 per house. Cost per unit just tops redwood/cedar, but these should easily outlast the wooden houses with no issues of warping & splitting, cleaning/viewing access, livestock damage; we’ll see what the Bluebirds think.

Notes: 1. With reciprocating saw or bandsaw, cut irrigation tubing to 10″ sections /  Cut black ABS tubing to 4″ sections (clean & level on sanding belt). 2. Put white cap on 10″ Irrigation tubing and measure down 1″, using 1.5″ hole saw, cut out entrance hole (angle upward slightly to deter water runoff), remove cap. 3. Put Cut-Off wheel on drill; scribe 3 lines below entrance as toe-holds, then move to inside wall and scribe midway at entrance down to bottom for fledging chick’s toe holds. 4. Place white cap as roof, drill hole for bolt undersize and bolt will self-tap, then drill 12 holes around back edge of cap & through pipe for ventilation (upward angle to deter water & small dia to deter insects). 5. Sanding Drum on drill bevels out base of irrigation tubing for seating ABS Snap-In Drain Insert (plus smooth entrance hole)- press insert into place with squeeze clamps or tap with dead blow hammer. 6. Brush out and wipe down interior. 7. ABS glue to bottom of Drain-Insert & 4″ section of black ABS, join and press for 30 seconds, set aside for curing. 8. Drill two holes near bottom of ABS tubing, run galvanized wire through ea. hole to drop well below rim of tubing, and use pliers to clip outside section leaving enough to twist into a loop/anchor. The wire runs down inside tubing and will wrap around woodscrews drilled into the fencepost, holding the house in place. 9. Drill holes into black ABS near joint as ventilation from the bottom (visible on far R prototype).

 

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Roof w anchor pin unscrewed

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Upper Ventilation holes , Front Door with toe-holds.

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Floor & Door, with climbing grooves cut into sidewall.

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Upside Down

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Lashing Wire

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The Oasis within the Wider Oasis

Crushed a 1200 mile drive into a long weekend for a jump up to the ranch. The yard should have been impassible without a machete, but it had been mowed: I’m guessing our good lessee brought up his riding mower on a visit up to his herd. And I must have Rodney to thank for coming up with a solution to shutting off the water in the springbox, way back on last fall’s hunting trip!

E has a broken thumb from taking a spill on her road bike going over a tight curve of RR tracks, so our candid-shot photographer was down: so the Bluebird house update has no images. Bluebirds are nesting in the garage and galvanized machine shed, leaving the only remaining yard birdhouse to Wrens. Out on our wider Bluebird House trek we shunted a few nests of unhatched Tree Swallow eggs, and the distressed birds pinwheeled around, taking turns looking into the empty house and coming to grips with their loss, then stoically set to building new nests. Bluebirds still hold the majority of houses, but the lovely little Tree Swallows are the competition; it makes it hard to dump the nests as they bravely hover overhead in dire concern- I could only do it a few times and only for eggs, leaving a few broods of hatchlings. (A bit of googling upon return to SLC and found that Tree Swallows are Federally protected and their takeover of Bbird houses should be allowed; so I’ve come up with a new design for houses using PVC & similar pipe media for quick-build houses to pair with the wooden houses as BBirds and Swallows will nest as neighbors).  I eventually caused the murder of a Bluebird by cleaning out a low old birdhouse of mice and placing it on a high post with a cross beam: this year a Bbird set up a nest and something ran across the cross beam and reached in leaving a pile of spent blue feathers on the ground. So I moved that house to a safe spot.

A grouse has moved into the yard and showed up here and there like a shy chicken. Goldfinches flitted about. An Oriel flew across the yard, which was a surprise. The Orange Flicker is still building her nest in the hole in the old Willow at the footbridge. One Robin made it his business to harass her. The high bee hive on the house is abandoned, and a Wren is nesting in one of the holes the bees bored out (so still have to wait to fix that corner). The golden eagles soared around and we saw them above us all about the ranch.  A Pronghorn Antelope was on Kibbey Ridge, and a cow Elk was in the verge on King’s Hill. Of course, the ubiquitous deer were all about, spikes and 4-prongs and Does. The yard bunnies and Garter snakes and bushy tailed squirrel were all present. So too the Faye.

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1988. Visiting from Colorado

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Now. Visiting from Utah.

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I split these three years ago and they have taken off!

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A flowered pathway to the footbridge.

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Purple Columbine on the shady side of the path.

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Purple Iris transplants from Utah, 3 seasons and well established.

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Part of last year’s Iris transplant after an evening of weeding an overburden of Wild Carrot and bindweed and every other sticker. A few blooms still going…

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By the weekend’s end the new line of white lilies began to bloom along the bottom near the stream.

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The Willows are inundated with a blight of caterpillars.

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Is that intentional, or is she stuck?

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Xander and Voices display their best night patrol efforts at my slippers: 3 of 5 over 4 nights.

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Bluebirding Storm on easel.

On a late afternoon bluebird house expedition (house is just left of center) this storm brewed up over the mountains and shot out a large arm reaching over the ranch to blot out the sun. Rain misted the air under the vast arm turning the sky beneath it a brilliant gold, while a premature twilight of the cloud’s shadow swept the landscape. The breeze fell away and the stillness was broken by the booming of thunder resonating from beyond the horizon.

It was a landscape that challenged me to paint the mood of it, and after spinning in pre-art miasma for a few weeks I finally toughened up and got to painting. The painting is in acrylic and 12″x48″, a new format for my work as my new camera has a panoramic feature. This brings a whole new challenge, as the light changes dramatically across the expanse.

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Bluebirding Storm