To inspire your creative practice, soak up another’s

“Those who have taken up homesteading – whether in the late nineteenth century, in midcentury, or in more recent periods – have all been acting out particular versions of larger experiments in American cultural dissent and spiritual creativity.”


I wake up early, not so usual for me, and when I raise the blinds it’s always sunny here on the dry side of the Columbia River Gorge in Washington.

I put on a thick woolen sweater with a Native American design in sepia and acorn hues, owned by the artist who lives and works here. I grab my cereal and juice, head outside, and eat my shredded wheat looking at Mt. Hood.

We just sold our home of 23 years, where we raised two sons. Wanting to get our minds off of what we left behind, we flew across the country to an artist’s studio and retreat in the Pacific Northwest. New terrain and evidence of an artist hard at work teaching, learning, sharing, and making are reviving my creative spirit.

These things inspire:

  • a weaver’s loom
  • artwork on all the walls, mostly nature based
  • marigolds drying in a basket
  • a display of cloth swatches dyed from goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, turmeric, eucalyptus, horsetail, walnut, and blackberries
  • a fragrant garden with mint, basil, tomatoes, squash and other goodies
  • a handmade bread oven
  • poppies everywhere in gold and fiery red
  • jars filled with mysterious things, such as dried flower petals and I don’t know what
  • thick, blush-pink pear slices put by in glass jars
  • a catalog of enticing classes like Wooden Spoon Carving, Flower Farm Dyes, Ikat Weaving, and Columbia Plateau Beadwork


It’s chilly in the morning, often windy, always sunny.


Other people’s book collections take us down unforeseen paths, and sometimes the more off the beaten path, the better. There are many books to sample here. At the moment, I’m delving into At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America, by Rebecca Kneale Gould, learning about John Burroughs, Henry David Thoreau, Helen and Scott Nearing, and lesser known American homesteaders – an intriguing slice of American history. It’s perhaps more scholarly than I’d prefer, but I’m enjoying it.

Some other books that live here:

which “aesthetics” do you mean? ten definitions, by Leonard Koren

Coming to Stay: A Columbia River Journey, by Mary Dodds Schlick

A Dyer’s Garden: From Plant to Pot, Growing Dyes for Natural Fibers, by Rita Buchanan

Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine, by Jennifer Hahn

Art of the Northern Tlingit, by Aldona Jonaitis

The Textiles of Guatemala, by Regis Bertrand and Danielle Magne

Native Arts of the Columbia River Plateau: The Doris Swayze Bounds Collection, edited by Susan E. Harless

In Zanesville, a novel by Jo Ann Beard (I loved her memoir, The Boys of My Youth.)

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family & Survival, by Christopher Benfey

Recommended by my son, which I packed in my suitcase:

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber

Other books I brought with me:

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker (book club reading)

The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, by Christine Valters Paintner

No Experience Required! Watercolor, by Carol Cooper

I’ll likely read just a couple of these but it’s nice to be able to choose.


View from the backyard. (I zoomed in on Mt. Hood.)



A homemade bread oven. At the moment, a burn ban prohibits its use.


I think these sunflowers would be a relatively easy watercolor project for a beginner like me.


Marigold blossoms drying


Climbing a small mountain is another way to get your mind off things. I have more stores of endurance than I thought and limbs that are plenty sore, but the climb gave me a sense of accomplishment.


View of Mt. Hood from Little Huckleberry Mountain in Gifford Pinchot National Forest


We saw three of the Cascade mountains once we made it to the top…


Mt. Adams


….which I could not have done without the encouragement of my husband.


Mt. Rainier 


Atop Little Huckleberry Mountain, on the ruins of an old fire lookout. Elevation: 4,781 feet.


An artist’s tools and artifacts. Books that belong to another. Climbing a small mountain. How do you feed your creative spirit? Can you recommend any books? Are you traveling this summer or working on a creative project?

24 thoughts on “To inspire your creative practice, soak up another’s”

  1. Val & Joe , Your spirits shine in the realm of adventure ! must admit i am a bit jealous of the spontaneity of your decisions …. Keep the creative drive & thanks for inspiring us to look around ourselves for what sparks our creativeness . Wishing you the best journeys ,

  2. Just gorgeous: enjoy! Other people’s libraries can be inspiring, but I can’t think of one I’ve discovered on a holiday which I felt fed my creative spirit (maybe I wasn’t staying in the “right” places – hee hee). One book I’ve discovered lately which I did find inspiring was the volume designed to accompany the gallery exhibit “The Artist Herself” which considers women artists in Canada and their self-portraits (including different ways of self-portraiting, so that the artist is reflected in the work without an image of a face, for instance, like an image of one’s studio). The gallery showing was awhile ago, I think, and I just stumbled on the volume in the library catalogue, but found it has made for lovely browsing and musing sessions. Timeless, really.

    1. That sounds like such an interesting find. I think with this particular collection, I’ve always regretted not having done more art of some sort – felt as though I was tested away from it quite early. So these books of a working artist are sort of vicarious inspiration and fulfillment. Great for skimming and awakening the creative spirit.

  3. Loved this! What an interesting collection of things and books that inspire you. So many subjects out of my realm–the weaving, drying flowers, natural dyes. And so much within–artwork, poppy fields, hikes up mountains. What do you do with the dried marigolds? Love the mysterious things in jars too, I do that as well, mostly stones and driftwood I find on beaches, tiny shells, sand dollars, rose petals. Your book titles sound like you will get many nourishing “meals” in the reading. What a lovely way to spend your summer!

  4. Thank you for sharing this soul-nourishing post, Val. I am glad that you are also going to try watercolours. I would love to see your artwork soon. I have been thinking of exploring watercolours too. I love taking my bicycle out when my mind is stagnant. Sometimes, that doesn’t help too. So, I rest well, and sleep for nine hours. 🙂 🙂

  5. All of those books sound tremendously inspiring, I’d love to read them all. Walking is my way of unlocking my creative spirit, your mountain climb looks challenging but rewarding, and such gorgeous views! Lovely blog. The move sounds daunting, but hopefully will turn out to be wonderful.

  6. Oh my gosh! Val, I didn’t know that you sold your home or were even thinking about it! We MUST get together after your return to Rochester, but depending on when you are back, it might not be until end of August as I’m joining Natalia, my youngest, in Egypt for a month. She just left Senegal and is now in Morocco on a two-day layover before going to Egypt. She’s working on an agriculture/vet internship required for her B.S. in International Development.

  7. Whether you are moving homes or locations as well, I wish you well. Beautiful photos. I’m afraid my reading choices wouldn’t be yours because I read mysteries. I just finished new ones from David Baldacci, John Sanford, and Lee Child. I find creative jolts from various bloggers as well as checking on local classes on gardening and quilting. No big travel plans this summer because we have a couple of outpatient surgeries we have to contend with. Enjoy your summer. 🙂

    1. I hope the outpatient surgeries go well – reading sounds like a perfect pastime in that case. We’ll be back in Rochester after vacation in an apartment figuring out long-term plans. I think classes are a great way to inspire creativity.

  8. Your move sounds scary but the new environment is very beautiful. Look forward to hearing more about your new life.

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