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Plein Air and Fremont Canyon

December 14, 2010

Last Friday I tagged along as an Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks volunteer to accompany 20 members of the Southern California Plein Air Painters Association (SOCALPAPA) on a field trip to the closed-to-the-general-public mouth of Fremont Canyon (which is near the big earthen dam that turns Santiago Creek into Irvine Lake.

The artists were out translating the morning light and red-gold sycamore leaf-shine into paintings.

Four hours of wandering and “watching paint dry” in one of my favorite wild places in Orange County–a peaceful way to spend a December morning.

Throughout this fall, winter, and spring, SOCALPAPA members are making art that celebrates our Orange County Parks in preparation for a juried show and weekend of related activities May 20-22, 2011 at the Katie Wheeler Library (part of the OC Public Library system). The library is a replica of the Irvine family’s  house, and sits on the former house’s footprint at the old Irvine Ranch headquarters near Irvine Blvd. and Jamboree.

Speaking of footprints . . . someone had been wandering in the sand wash not too long before we arrived . . .

An earlier name for Fremont Canyon is Canada de la Horca (“choked canyon”), because it has some narrow spots where the canyon walls are steep cliffs not too far apart. Sitting for a while in a narrow spot, one morning a couple of years ago, inspired this poem:

Valley of Shadow

Morning in Fremont Canyon

Shade-damp and chill and still,

but cozy with mule fat—sweet

green musk that resurrects

memories of creeks now dry—

here the arroyo tapers.

Carved sandstone walls show off

geomorphic trauma

and rosettes of silver dudleya.

First light strikes the rim,

transfigures the high dry grass,

summons a canyon wren’s cascade of song—

it is the beginning of the beginning—

the sycamore crowns break next

into a golden chorus.

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