Painter in the Ditch

I’m painting the road.

When I tell people that, they figure I’m painting the yellow line some different colour.

What I’m actually doing is stopping every 50 kilometres on the drive from Edmonton to Whitehorse and painting a picture of the road and the landscape it’s travelling through.

I paint it where it curves right or goes straight, since the paintings will hang in se

quence. I also require a safe place to turn my truck around, because I paint right out of the back of my truck. I store the paintings in slotted boxes, as wet oil paintings are delicate creatures.

It’s been interesting to slow this drive down, to spend time not in places but between places.

The wild strawberries have been amazing.

Birds sing. Passing trucks whoosh.

It’s been pretty hot and not too buggy, so I’ve been painting in shorts. I sit cross-legged, and often lean my painty gloves on my ankles. As a result, my legs are green and sparkly just about up to my knees. It’s not best studio practice. (Don’t try this at home kids.)

Painting from the back of the truck puts me in a place where I can talk with passing cycle tourists. Cycle tourists on the Alaska Highway travel alone for long, weary stretches. Some stop to chat.

One cyclist from Florida stopped to make sure I wasn’t having mechanical troubles. I assured him I was just painting.

“Oh,” he said, almost dismissively. “You’re that artist. Everybody knows you.”

“What do you mean, everybody knows me?” I asked. It’s odd to be told that everyone knows you by a cyclist from Florida to whom you haven’t even been introduced.

He explained that he had seen me talking on the pay phones at the Liard River Hot Springs. He mentioned to a woman from Whitehorse that I seemed to have mud all over my legs.

“She’s an artist,” that gallant Yukon lady replied. “Her legs are supposed to be like that.”

That’s why I live here. That Yukon attitude toward their artists. I don’t know who this lady was, who leapt so quickly to the defence of my legs. If she contacts me I will give her a set of my raven cards as a token of my appreciation.

Somewhere in the Northern Rockies, I realized that by the time I got to Whitehorse, I’d have painted more than half of the Alaska Highway. So why stop in Whitehorse?

Well, Whitehorse is home, and so I’m stopping for a couple of days. Then Monday I’ll continue along the road, painting toward Fairbanks.

Stop and chat if you see me – but please pull safely off the travelled roadway.

I’m grateful that the Advanced Artists Award is helping me out with gas and other expenses on this project.

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