Like a giant serpent, the boardwalk through the Amelia Island marsh meandered its curving way out through the tall sea grasses. Rachel Carson had it right to describe this kind of grass as a sea. The wind whipped it into a current of its own just like the ocean, changing the varied colors from cool to warm depending on your perspective. The marsh was alive. Not with just the multitude of creatures — birds, crabs, insects, mammals — but took on a life of its own, combining into a gigantic organism responding to its environ.
Without the boardwalk we could have only stood in longing at the marsh’s edge, unable to traverse into its interior and discover any of its mystery. As it was, even in its depths we found it gave up what little it did begrudgingly. A peak at a heron on a roost. Egrets skimming its surface. Dragonflies pausing for rest on a reed. What lay beneath we could only imagine.
This is another painting of the marsh grasses on Amelia Island from our trip there in the Spring of 2004. I look at these pictures and remember so well the sense of wonder and contentment at having this stretch of grassy marsh all to ourselves. As we walked along the boardwalks there wasn’t another soul in sight over the two days we went back to explore on several occasions. It was just us, the wind, and the wading birds in all this wide expanse.
The colors speak to me especially. These muted earth tones of lavenders, burnt orange, and greens. Then there’s that sky of piled up clouds that stretches to the horizon. That green island of trees and scrub was how I felt, like we were in an oasis of peace away from the daily pressures of our lives. I need those places to recharge.
I’m still into cobalt blue today after my success yesterday. Again it turned out to be the right color to provide the sky with that certain brilliant blue, especially against the chartreuse of the cactus I had in mind. I can never remember their name but they’re one of my favorites in Mexico. You see them everywhere around San Miguel, and in their maturity they grow to majestic tree size. And like trees, their limbs are strong and woody to support all that weight. Little birds of various sorts like to hop among their branches looking for food and, no doubt, protection. The skin of the cactus is smooth but better watch out for those needles! They’re serious business.
This scene is from a Christmas day walk that Dave and i took in 2004 on our first 6 month trip to San Miguel. We climbed a hill across the bypass from our house and went hiking through the valley and over the hilltop. At the top were a scattering of houses and a long sloping pasture that reached to a hidden canyon far to the south. The pasture was filled with a variety of cacti and mesquite along with long dry wind-blown grass swaying in the afternoon breeze. We watched a kite hover determinedly overhead looking for some rodent for its Christmas dinner. Once we reached the canyon we found an outcropping of rugged rocks with brilliant yellow-green and red lichen, and out of it grew nopales, the Mexican’s favorite vegetable, and my favorite cactus.
I’ve wanted for so long to paint this but have never quite figured out what to do with my photo references to do it justice. Today I decided that rather than trying to provide a literal depiction I needed instead to use the elements that I focused on, combining them in a way to show the feel and the effect of all those brilliant colors playing together. The colors are outrageous, but that’s the Mexico way.
Last summer we had a pair of Carolina Wrens that frequented our flower gardens, especially in back of the house. This year I never saw them. Maybe I just wasn’t alert enough, but I sure did miss them. I even hung a small bird house made especially for wrens but none ever came nor did any other bird use it, for that matter. For a brief moment I thought it might be inhabited by paper wasps but that turned out not to be true.
We have some kind of wrens in San Miguel around our house there, which we see usually early in the morning or at dusk when they make their way around the rocks and our brick fence looking for bugs in the crevices. I’ve even had them perch momentarily on my kitchen windowsill, an act I consider to be of supreme order.
This little guy (and I assume it is a guy) we saw in the tropical foliage in Florida a couple years ago on a visit to Corkscrew Swamp. I’m sure I didn’t hear him, not being reliably able to hear birds with higher pitched voices, but we managed to spot him from his flitting about the big banana tree leaves. I think I’ve made him look a bit like a robin, but tomorrow I plan to do him in another pose, so I have a second chance of making him even more true to life. Even so, I like to think of this Springtime bird as the weather turns to Fall. Something to look forward to at the other end of Winter.
Malaysia was such a surprise. We crossed from Singapore via bus into a torrential downpour, as if the heavens had opened up, and then spent two days at the port city of Malacca. From there we journeyed north into the mountains to the Cameron Highlands. The high elevations were a welcome cool that we’d not experienced since reaching southeast Asia several weeks before. It felt like we’d been transported into a glorious hidden realm with lush, shadowy, deep forests and rolling tea fields as far as the eye could see. These are the vast tea plantations established by the English and taken over by the Malaysians. They look like endless meticulously manicured gardens that create patterns across the landscape, providing a verdant palate for play of light and shadow. Dave took picture after picture, but still I think we failed to capture this resplendent sight. And if the visual wasn’t enough the tea was perhaps the best we’ve ever experienced.
We lingered a long while in the Singapore Bontanic Garden. It’s hot and extremely humid there but I remember enjoying myself there more than a lot of our wanderings in the heat. There were places of shade, and it was such an oasis of wonder.
This image is of heliconias, one of my favorite exotic flowers, that grow hanging down and form pods in a charming symetrical chain. The intertwined large leaves of luscious green superimposed against lily pads from a small pond give them even more mystery.
My last two posts have been about things up on houses and their surrounding walls. Today I’m back on the ground and have been thinking of Singapore. Maybe it’s the dull darkness of today brought on by the rain storms that makes me dream of sun and heat that enveloped us in the island state of Singapore. Specifically, I remember the botanic gardens with its exotic plants, cool ponds, and meandering paths. We spent half a day there relaxing and exclaiming over the strange new plants we saw.
I felt like doing flowers or something from that experience today so I sought out the photos we’d taken. There among them was a fantastically colored close up of lotus flowers and their pads floating on one of the ponds. The water is an unbelievable purplish blue that causes the lily pads to stand out in stark relief. The white lotus is almost electric as a brilliant beacon among the saturated colors. I closed in even further on it from the original photo and to make it more dominant and the composition simpler. The colors are the thing, and I’m happy to remember Singapore that way.
Everyone in San Miguel, and other villages in Mexico as well, seems to have roof dogs. Most houses have flat roofs which serve as terraces and a place for clothes lines to dry your clothes. They also are a convenient place to keep your dogs that gets them outside and doesn’t require a fence. Some dogs just peer over the side and watch you as you walk by. Others bark and snarl and threaten to leap on your head. We’ve been intimidated by a few roof dogs in our explorations of San Miguel. For a while I carried dog biscuits to throw at them and other stray dogs we’d see around town. They tend to be less threatening if you feed them.
To me the roof dogs always seemed like living gargoyles, strange in their stance and perspective above you. Many of them I felt sad for because they seemed to long for attention. In any case, they came to be representative of a part of the culture where we lived, and I came to expect them.
The painting today is a pair of roof dogs that we saw in Granada, Spain, not San Miguel. Isn’t it strange that the Mexican motherland also has this tradition? Maybe it’s something about having flat roofs. These guys and a buddy of theirs I didn’t paint weren’t terribly intimidating. They looked like old pals and the sentries of their domain. So we felt more at home there in Granada with this familiar sight and Spanish floating through the air.
As you can see, I’m not done with chickens yet. This one is a funny little girl Dave and I saw in a back yard on one of our walks in San Miguel when we were exploring the city early during our time there. She seemed to be patrolling the back fence of her owners’ property, or maybe she just wanted to see beyond her little walled in world.Â From this pose she hopped onto the clothes line strung across at about the same height and became a tightrope walker. You may not be able to tell from the painting but she’s a special breed, though I don’t know what kind. She has a puffy little topknotch on her crown.
Birds in general are on my mind since I found this morning, with my studio window open, that I’m hearing them more clearly. A female cardinal got my attention with her clear ringing song as I read my morning email. She sounded like a bell to me, but when I looked out the window I saw her flitting among the sycamore branches. She’s more clear and different than I heard before.
I had a keen interest in the roosters we saw in southeast Asia on our world trip. They were everywhere in Bali and Malaysia, and I loved their colors. The ones that particularly got my attention had iridescent blue green feathers with reddish accents like the one in my painting. I found them irresistible.
This is an older painting as I’m still getting back into my schedule. I’m preparing for a show here locally at the Mentor House Gallery to open October 9th so that and other things left unattended during my recent absences have been gaining my attention. Hopefully I’ll have a new painting tomorrow.