On Saturday I was looking for something to paint when I noticed a commotion near at hand in the bush. A bear, I thought. Then the hook of a walking-cane stuck out. “What are you doing in there?” I asked. A man’s voice and then a man emerged. “Lookin’ fer an’ pickin’ chokecherries,” he said. He was a rough character, like an old cowboy in a baseball cap — he was wearing an old-fashioned galvanized iron apple-bucket with a canvas bottom. The cane was for getting at the high branches. “Try ’em,” he said, handing me a handful, “They’re chalky, but they’ll make damn fine jelly.” Chokecherries are about the size of a pea — they taste a bit like red grapes. Mostly pit, I noticed, and chalky for sure. I almost gagged. “As fer this time of year, I make jelly,” he said. Unlikely jelly guy, I thought, but you never know. He bent down and gave me a personal demonstration of the way the berries tumbled flawlessly out of the bottom of the bucket and into his berry sack. This guy knew what he was doing.
Later, he moved further through the bush, whistling, lookin’. That’s what we hunter-gatherers are doing — lookin’. Maybe the lookin’s the best part. When all else fails, when life lets you down or disappoints, there’s always stuff to size up, analyze and gather. In the sanctuary of nature, the wonderland of imagination, or the eternal theatre of mankind — there’s gathering to be done.
The evening sky reflects in the slow river, taking the clouds with it. Overhead and on the horizon, geese are on the move. The wind is from the north and the woodland seems to snap with the new colour. Here in this arbour, from this very seat, there’s more than enough to get my brush around, more than my digital camera can ever hold. I watch gentle arnica fold and put away her petals while designer burrs reach out and cling to my trousers. To be alone in nature is to be one with nature. Here, the squirrel and the magpie are critics of value.
The hunter-gatherer, shouldering a huge sack, passes by for the last time. “Don’t eat ’em too fast,” he warns, “You’ll choke on ’em. People do.”
PS: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,
Little we see in Nature that is ours.” (William Wordsworth, 1806)
Esoterica: Some thoughts for the hunter-gatherer: Go slow. Focus — but at the same time be in multitask and multi-level mode. Let things sink in, even burn in. Catch the spirit. If possible, go it alone. Know that quality counts — you do not need to fill your bucket. Be prepared that what you went out to get may not be what you end up getting. Take with you the sobering thought that you will never, ever be in this exact place again.
This letter was originally published as “Hunting and gathering” on September 30, 2003.
“I can’t conceive of anything being more varied and rich and handsome than the planet Earth. And its crowning beauty is the natural world.” (Robert Bateman)
Highlights: See all 6 Mosaic’d churches in Ravenna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Visit & sketch the places where Michelangelo sketched in the late 1490’s in Bologna; Wander the house where Renaissance artist Rafael’s grew up; Tour the castle that inspired a chapter in Dante’s Divine Comedy; Paint while watching the sunset over a cliff-top castle; Ride a bicycle along the beach to a Roman Bridge built in 10AD that is still in use today!; Sketch alongside Canadian artist Joanne Hastie & experience how the Italian countryside inspires her art.
Included: 7 nights accommodations, 7 gourmet breakfasts, 7 gourmet dinners (wine included) at Hotel Belvedere in Riccione; transportation to and from Riccione to each location; watercolor sketchbook, plein-air starter kit (watercolor), ink pen, eraser
$3325 CAD per person
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I seek to paint the essence and beauty of the natural world, land and sea impressions, textured nuances of tree bark or beautifully imperfect jars of clay.