In a previous post, I have included a painting of mine brook, late in the day, facing north. The image above is a quick watercolor sketch in the other direction. I was looking down from the 2nd floor apartment building and I only had about half an hour before the light would change. The daylight was so intense and it really lit up the big yellow house and the two red cars as well as the hill in the back of the house. A nice little picture, but I had covered up too much of the white snow to create the effect I was ultimately shooting for. In watercolor, once you cover up the white paper, you can never get it back. Applying white paint just doesn’t look right. This might be another one that deserves a 2nd attempt in the future.
Some say that the suburbs are boring. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t been bored since I was a teenager. But, I do think that the suburbs are annoying. You can’t even enjoy a quiet walk. Frantic people in their Mercedes and BMWs speed up and down quiet streets in a rush to worship their television, or maybe they’re on an important journey to the mall. But, I think beauty exists everywhere; even in the suburbs. After a good snow suburbia or any other place transforms into a beautiful new landscape. Trees, houses, and roads are blanketed in this magnificent cold, fresh, white powder, and you can’t help but feel a sense of mystery and wonder. I don’t mean to sound like Aladdin going on a magic carpet ride, but the feeling is coincidentally similar.
I am thankful for a few good recent snow storms in my neighborhood, which inspired this painting. The house on the right seems to be a “second home”; the light is never on, and there is hardly any sign of life other than an occasional pileated woodpecker in that big old oak tree. On one night in July this year, this place was rockin with about 40 strong, and that was the only time I have ever seen a human soul here. I could be totally off the mark of course, as this might be the residence of Count Dracula. No, perhaps it’s Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Oh, I guess I’ll never know.
The photograph above of Spiderman’s Aunt’s place left a bit of room for painting imagination….
Mine Brook (above) is a brook that runs parallel (for a while) with the street I live on (today), and flows into the North Branch of the Raritan River. Attempting to re-create a place that is local is always more special than doing a scene that I have traveled to once (or twice), especially, if I don’t consider that landscape “home”. For instance, looking at a painting of a desert may not resonate with me the way it would with a resident of a desert landscape. I’m accustomed to hardwood trees like oak, maple, and hickory; rivers, streams, and slight rocky elevations (Piedmont); fields, swamps, and marshes in the lowlands. These types of landscape characteristics have engrained themselves in me as signs of home. This is not to say that people can’t find a new home in a new landscape. The painting of Mine Brook is embellished, of course, as it is the artist’s responsibility. In reality, the brook is more like a tiny trickle, which gives the impression that it will dry up by next morning. Yet, it continues to trickle on and after a good rain the brook comes alive with a strong steady flow once again…
This is a quick watercolor sketch of the Hudson highlands in the distance and a glimmer of Lake Skannatati; one of the many lakes in Harriman State Park. The park is an outdoor paradise for city dwellers as well as suburbanites who travel here on weekends. The trailhead parking lot was a sea of screaming adults, kids, and clicking cameras. Walk about a mile up the red trail or the “long path” and all the noise and calamity fades away. It seems that most people “experience nature” from the comfort of their cars. On a beautiful day like this, the only thing that could make it better is a nice cold beer after the long hike!
And now….an exercise in Bioregional practice; a moment from tonight’s class assignment.
I was very excited to see today’s discussion topic because it ties in nicely into my daily routine. If I don’t get to take a walk I get a little crazy; like a golden retriever that didn’t get to run around. In the northeast, we are very fortunate to experience the seasons. During the hot summer months my strategy is to get out around 6am and take it all in while the air is still cool (or at least tolerable) before it climbs to a thick soupy 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, I’m outside during lunch time when the sun brings comfort in the cold. But, this time of year I choose to enjoy the experience later in the evening so I can smell the cool earthy crisp air, as that nostalgic fall feeling sets in. This is my favorite time of the year; a time to enjoy the brilliant display of “nature’s fireworks” as the leaves change before the cold makes its return.
These days I tend to run out of day light before I can escape outside for the daily life-place bonding ritual, and today was no exception. Much to my chagrin tonight was an unusually warm October night and it seems that the cool air arrives later and later every year. I stepped outside and headed down my usual route. I designed this route specifically to avoid as much car traffic as possible. To the casual observer, it may appear as if I am trespassing through private backyards into order to avoid busy streets, but I am traversing through areas where small businesses have shut down and the spaces are still unrented. I proceed to climb up a familiar gravel slope, as my eyes finally adjust to the dark to help me see the shape of the old stone church against the evening sky, which was noticeably darker than usual as we are only a couple days away from a new moon.
As I continued up the slope the area began to shift from an urban scene to more of a wooded area. The area I am describing is the beginning of a 276 acre sanctuary called the Scherman Hoffman sanctuary, which is owned by the New Jersey Audubon Society (2013). The sanctuary is named after Mr. and Mrs. Harry Scherman and Mr. Frederick Hoffman who donated the land to the New Jersey Audubon Society (NJ Audubon, 2013). I could only make out the silhouettes of the shrubbery growing along side of the road, but I knew well enough (from weekend day-time visits) that growing along the road is a tangled web of field thistles, chicory, golden rods, the invasive Japanese knot-weed, and the poisonous snake root, which follows me everywhere I go.
On my way back down the slope I tune into the sounds of late evening and it is quite the symphony. Crickets engage in harmonious music making that seems to carry on throughout all hours of the night. Don’t they ever get tired? Other insects (cicadas perhaps?) up in the trees echo back and forth to one another: chee-chee-chee….kaaa-kaaa-kaaa….chee-chee-chee…kaaa-kaaa-kaaa. It’s amazing how easy it is to ignore these sounds if our attention is focused on something else and how impossible it is to ignore these sounds once we become aware of them. Upon my return I am almost saddened that my experience had come to an end, but I am happy to know that I will do it again tomorrow.
New Jersey Audubon Society. (2013). About Scherman Hoffman. Retrieved from http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionCenters/SectionScherman/AboutSchermanHoffman.aspx