This place is not far from home. A swamp, a wetland, a breeding ground for a myriad of organisms. Some we consider charismatic, some consider us their host, and some we don’t recognize. It’s hard to walk by without noticing things here, especially, in the fall. What was a sea of green is now a textury color kaleidoscope. This season seems more fleeting than the rest. So little time, so much to paint.
I’m driving to work. It’s September and the weather is kind of muggy already at 7am. Right before the light there’s an old abandoned village, or so it seems. This obscure place has become a resting place for a giant white oak that must have died a while ago, but fell not too long ago. I wondered if this tree was special to someone.
Man Mourns Oak – w/c 10×14”
The “Blizzard of 2016” rolled in and left a nice 30-inch snow portion for NJ folk to savor. But, this dish disappeared quickly – a big thaw began as the warm air crept in, melting the stuff away along Caitlin and the Twins’ creation, Ronnie the snowman. The big thaw inspired this watercolor. It is a slightly exaggerated view from the parking lot shared by tavern employees, shoppers, and residents of the old apartment building (that’s us). You may have seen the same building in an earlier post, but the Sycamores are brandy new. Enjoy!
Thought I’d share another one from the Natirar. This scene can be found in what I call the “upstairs” section of the park. Not too far from the entrance is a path that takes you over the Raritan river and up toward an open grassy area, where this big gray barn resides. It has been a “good” winter, so this area is almost entirely covered in snow and ice. Only a few random twigs and grasses emerge from underneath, and sway back and forth in the cold evening air. I have seen wild turkey in the area, so I thought that they might like to wander around the big barn once in a while in search of a meal. Who knows what else goes on when we are not around…
One morning before work I went out to Natirar Park to do a site assessment for my ecology class. I puttered around in the frozen field for a while and then I made my way down to the Raritan River to jot down a few more notes. A great blue heron patiently waited on the partially frozen section of the river and it probably wondered why I showed up and when I would go away. I know that’s what I’d be thinking if I were a great blue heron. I got what I needed for class and high-tailed it out of there before I completely lost feeling in my fingers. I rolled up to the stop sign and I noticed a bright red barn across the street. I thought it looked interesting so I snapped a quick photo before making a left turn out of the park. The following weekend I tried to recreate the scene on paper, minus that awful street running through the middle. I took out the street and put in a field where the snow had almost melted away. I didn’t like the way the first attempt came out so I tried it again. Here are the results.
Its like one of those electronic games you play at the bar trying to figure out the difference between the 2 pictures….
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…
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