Camping, Air Mattresses, Cold Beer and Art

fishin-season-acrylic-on-canvas-20-x-20-47500    It’s almost time to do my workshop for beginning watercolorists at The Dalles Art Center in The Dalles, Oregon.  Each time I get close to the start of a workshop I get a little nervous.  It’s really a kind of “will they like me ?” thing that is somehow  ingrained in my personality.  So I was thinking about this workshop and my mind traveled back to all of the many workshops and classes I’ve done over the years.   I couldn’t even count them.  I’ve done workshops here at my cabin, colleges, high schools, private homes, Mexico and Utah. But there is one workshop I did in summer near Bend that will stay in my mind forever.

Over the years I’d had romantic ideas about teaching an art workshop while camping.  It would be a great way to combine two of the things I like most to do, painting and being outside.  It would be a perfect experience, a working vacation for me, and best of all I’d get paid for it.  What a great idea!  When I told people of my plans, they would look at me funny and shrug their shoulders.  Was I out of my mind?  Where would you do it?  Who in their right mind would take a class where they had to camp?  Would someone actually pay to sleep outside with the insects and then paint in the hot sun?

I knew just the place. It never rains in the summer in Central Oregon.  The weather is warm, the skies are clear and the nights are refreshing and cool.  I chose Tumalo State Park, close to a wonderful painting site, Smith Rocks.  Tumalo has solar showers, a fact that might make camping a little more digestible to those who don’t like to get dirty.  I called my local community college with my excellent idea and had a good response from the Director of Community Education.

 We listed the class in the summer catalog and sent out flyers.  We had an immediate call from an older woman who wanted to know all of the details about the class and seemed very concerned about tents.  She couldn’t stop talking about them.  We set a date for an information meeting and hoped for the best.

The meeting went well.  Lots of people showed up, more than I had expected.  There were questions about supplies, dates, and campsites and of course the same older woman asked again about tents.  I breezed through the questions feeling competent and in control.  I pictured myself as a great teacher, kind of an art guru if you will.  This was going to be fun.

When the day came in June, I packed up my ’72 Cheverolet Beauville (a classic van).  I brought my paints and camping supplies and stuck a mattress in the back for comfortable and quiet sleeping.  I brought books to read and quotes to share.  I was ready.

I got there on the day listed in the catalog, bright and early.  The camp ranger said he had no listing for our reservation.  After talking to everyone at Tumalo who looked like they might be “official”, I finally found out that our reservations had been made for the day before.  This would make us one day short for our stay.  As I’m trying to figure all of this out, the students are arriving, parking and beginning to follow me around like imprinted ducklings. We finally settled into two campsites by the river and started pitching tents.

The students ranged in age from 18-82.  Both the oldest and the youngest were men.  It was lucky to have men with us to chop wood and start fires, etc.  The 18 year old was a great guy.  He was helpful, patient with the older women and would do anything for me.  What more could I ask for?   The 82-year-old was a good painter but hadn’t camped for awhile.  He had brand new equipment that was right out of the box.  He had a new special air mattress, pumped up by foot, that looked like it was going to be great.  The only problem was each time he’d get it pumped up and lay down on it all of the air would squirt out of it.  He had lots of trouble sleeping so was up and down all night cussing and drinking cold beer from his cooler.   I climbed into my my van and was lulled to sleep by the sweet words  “God damned no good thing”, and then the sound of couple of hard kicks to the flat usless air  matress.

(to be continued)

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