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Lost in Thought: Painting Without Brushes

Lost in thought, she painted without brushes, a technique she shared with me, her granddaughter. My grandmother, Mary Agnes Davis Wall, was a talented artist who specialized in landscape and portrait paintings.

Decades after grandmother’s lessons I meander downstream, a paddler in the current. Stroke after stroke, slicing through the water, my blade enters at the catch, following through with fluid cadence and quick release to the finish. A repeated action, over and over, while banking the canoe ever so slightly as I arch turns around each bend in the river, silently calling “huts” with each shift of the blade. Moving paddle across gunnels from one side to the other, I guide my solo canoe swiftly down the fastest course of the flowing river, lost in thought.

Fire in the Sky_72A Great Blue Heron, standing at the water’s edge, lifted its mighty wings in flight soaring ahead, just above the wetland following the river. Each time I caught up, the heron lifted off again in the lead, lifting my spirits and thoughts. I felt alive and invigorated.

I continued downstream lost in thought and quiet contemplation, enchanted by the heron, mesmerized by shimmering light, tall reeds and majestic trees casting long shadows and patterns of light and dark on the water.

Soul Mates_72On the port side three turtles crawled off a nearby log flopping their hard bellies into the water. A flock of Redwing Black Birds chirped in the reeds, flittering from one cattail to another. Off the starboard bow two Sandhill cranes frolicked along the shoreline.

Farther down river, a doe and her fawn made their way through the thick marsh to drink from the river’s edge, sending fish fluttering beneath the surface. A fly fisherman enjoyed a solitary moment, casting, waiting passionately for his next catch.

Bark River Autumn_72dpiThe water was clear and yellow and white flowers bloomed among the floppy, green lilypads along the shore where the current wasn’t as strong. Tall marsh grasses added to the outdoor aroma, swaying with the breeze. As clouds dissipated the sky began clearing allowing sunrays to shine through. The air was crisp, cool and clear after the recent storm. A diminished wind moved from northwest toward the east. Lower humidity improved visibility but tall reeds along both sides of the river obscured the distant horizon.

Infused with the atmosphere of brilliant colors, the subtle changes in light and shadow and their affect on shapes and forms, I was lost in thought and one with my surroundings. In such moments I feel a deep affinity with nature and special connection to my paternal grandmother. These are landscapes we enjoy painting.

Lost in thought, my eyes continuously scan the landscape, observing the smallest details, painting with imagination. Occasionally, I take a break from paddling to capture a photograph and preserve a memory. I file these images away for days when weather conditions do not permit being lost in thought outdoors.

Paddle Partners_72dpi (1)Out for a daily workout, two paddlers pass by at a brisk pace in their sleek, carbon fiber racing canoe. These paddle partners are friends that have trained and raced together for many years, their technical skills evident, their performance worth a painting.

I have taken to heart lessons learned early in life from my grandmother. She taught me to see like the artist she was. Together we painted with our imaginations, observing and cataloging landscapes with our eyes. Whenever I had the opportunity I studied grandmother’s oil paintings and discussed technique with her.

Afflicted with diabetes, late in life grandmother went blind and could no longer paint, but she continued painting in her mind. On the day before she passed away, grandmother regained partial sight, gazed upon the artwork I had created, while keeping vigil by her bedside. It was clear to me that grandmother had regained the gift of sight for a few brief moments as we said our final goodbyes. She passed along her gift of sight and artistic talents to me, and her brushes and easel are still in use.

 

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