“The land just roars on and on for miles and miles and then, in an instant, there are herds of antelope and swatches of green, places of water and trees.”
Columbia River Gorge
Bill was one with Mother Nature, never more so than during his travels in America, especially in the West. He loved the vast scale of the land, particularly compared to what he had known as a child. He marveled at the Pacific Ocean sunsets – we see that in his paintings today. Those skies of bright, sometimes even translucent orange live in his paintings. The water reflections in big bold speckles of red, then pink, then a green as sharp as a meadow enhance his images. Bill knew that these flashes of brilliant color might be over in as little as fifteen minutes. So he developed an uncanny ability to remember these moments. We see them in paintings like “Columbia River Gorge” and “Merced River”.
He was also amazed by the deserts of Utah and Nevada. Bill said, “The land just roars on and on for miles and miles and then, in an instant, there are herds of antelope and swatches of green, places of water and trees.”
Bill was particularly fascinated by Montana. In some of his videos, he talks about the state’s vastness. He loved how it stretched off into the horizon, how the flat land turned into golden rolling hills rising to mountain heights. Bill felt that Nature always had a lesson for you out in the West if you just looked for it.
Margarete and Bill spent much time camping during their travels. Bill’s artistic eye was aided by his natural curiosity. During solitary moments camping on the Colorado River at night, he watched how the full moon seem to lie right on the river. Even though he knew the water was moving the river had the appearance of motionless molten lead. Bill couldn’t figure out why it looked and felt that way to him. Yet he was able to capture that moment to perfection in his painting “Colorado Canyon”.
Nothing escaped Bill’s gaze. He paid attention to the vast river canyon environment. He scrutinized the tiniest scratchings of life and movement on the shore. He saw the story of valley inhabitants from the lines they scratched in the sand. Bill relates observing the remnants of a struggle between a rat and a snake. One was battling to survive while the other was hunting for dinner. He recorded the tracks of the rat’s escape attempt and tracked the tracings of the snake as it followed its prey in a slow winding sketch in the sand. Bill observed their struggle and noticed how the snake moved off into the canyon dark. Behind remained the record of combat and death. Nothing missed Bill’s inquisitive eye. He loved the way nature seemed to slow and even stop time so that amidst vast beauty were glimpses of life and death.
Crossing America was a real joy for both Bill and Margarete. They wanted to see the land and meet the people of America. Traveling in Idaho near the Salmon River, they were broke as usual and almost out of gas. They were in the middle of a thick forest. A few moments later, like magic, a small gas station appeared on the road ahead. It was a single-pump station with a few log cabins behind it. A young boy pumped gas into the Volkswagen. He was a friendly kid, and as he started talking with them, he noticed the paintings and easels stacked in the back of the car.
“My dad’s an artist, too,” he said. “He writes poetry. Wonderful poems.” He couldn’t wait to introduce Bill and Margarete to his father. Bill and John, the boy’s father, hit it off right away. John was a thin yet well-built guy whose eyes were always smiling. He had long, graceful hands and soon began telling Bill his story.
He came from a city on the East Coast and grew up in a tenement. He always dreamed about getting away from the poverty and hardship he knew as a child. John and his wife, like Bill and Margarete, began traveling across America. They moved from one city and town to another. Along the way, they had seven children, all boys.
They had only recently moved to Idaho. They settled in a beautiful place to live and raise a family. It was just what John and his wife had sought all their lives. A forest of proud sturdy trees surrounded the motel cabins, and a river flowed nearby and twisted around so many bends that every part of it looked different. John’s sons ran the gas station and motel. One of them ran a ferry across the river. John planned to remodel the motel and get a liquor license. He wanted to make the lodge more attractive to appeal to more tourists but just couldn’t raise the money.
John knew Bill and Margarete had little money and insisted they stay the night for free. Later that evening, John read them his poems. They told of John’s dreams and the images he had gathered in his travels across America. They were simple, happy poems. They spoke about how he felt when he first saw the Rocky Mountains. They sang about the whistle of a railroad train when he was a boy in the city at night. They related the story of Mount Rushmore and the men who sculpted it. His poems were full of sounds, sights, and John’s impressions of life.
Merced River – Yosemite
Bill set up his easel and painted for them; showing them how to paint. They were such open people. Even though none of them had much money, Bill and Margarete and John’s family were alive with the almighty power of their dreams. Bill continued to write to John over the years, but John never managed to get the money he needed to build his dream lodge. After a few years, Bill lost track of John and his family. But he always felt that somewhere John’s dreams came true.
Bill loved Mother Nature but was also a people person. He met so many good people in his travels and he celebrated their powerful bond with the land.
Leave a Reply