Where I live, the spiders come out in autumn. They’re in my face when I bend to turn on the garden hose. Going about their sky-harvest and their devious mating-games, they spread their webs across my larger windows. In the nearby forest there’s a surprise of mushrooms. The longer, darker nights bring the owl’s call closer. Even by day the night birds are more active, silently moving between the tall cedars. It’s time to step out into a season — something to do with what John Muir called “washing your spirit clean.”
John Muir (1838-1914) was a Scottish-born naturalist, author, and early advocate of the preservation of wilderness. His essays and books were fresh with the spell of wilderness, particularly of the Sierra Nevada in California. Muir popularized the idea of nature as healer. Yosemite and Sequoia National Park, the Sierra Club and the modern environmental movement, are direct results of his gentle insight.
With the influence of a rigid, biblically-minded father, Muir, by age 11, could recite most of the bible by heart. Words and turn-of-phrase did him well, and while he escaped orthodox beliefs with little apology, he wrote well and often of a universal view of the power of deity through attention to nature.
When painters take their paints to the forest, they feel this presence. While the hiker, jogger and even the photographer can get some of the benefit, the richest spirit is released to the ones who sit in a spot for some time. Fitting in and adapting to the scene, we become part of nature’s furnishings. Alone, or with a quiet friend, with simple, timeless tools and procedures, we honour the privilege. Consistently, the surroundings that attracted us in the first place give up more secrets as we sit.
I wasn’t sure if Dorothy was bored or restless. She kept sniffing the air, alternately standing and sitting down. It was beyond squirrels; something deeper, something bigger. Suddenly she jumped up and took a rigid stance. It was a coyote — a rangy fellow about the same size as her, but skinny and ragged, as if his life might be a tough one. From not far away, he looked back at us with light yellow-grey eyes and some wild thought. Then, without notice or approval, he silently disappeared back into the mystery.
PS: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” (John Muir)
Esoterica: For woodland work, a small set of Golden Open acrylics is a delicious choice. While I wouldn’t want to eat them, they seem less toxic than some other media. A test box of six “modern” colours (¾ ounce, 22ml), or something similar, is perfect for delicate mixing in an understated autumn. The paint stays maneuverable for a long time and cleans up neatly, leaving no evidence that anyone was there.
This letter was originally published as “Tune up” on October 2, 2009.
Sara Genn: New Alphabet is on view until October 17th, 2019 at Dimmitt Contemporary Art, 3637 West Alabama Street, Houston.
“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings.” (John Muir)
Join award-winning Plein air painter Sharon Rusch Shaver as she conducts her next exciting workshop to the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland. Painting daily in your chosen medium: oil; watercolor; pastel; pen and ink artists as well as photographers will find plenty of inspiration where the sea defines the life and creates excitement on this amazing Island. Daily demonstrations and one-on-one help will be provided for those wanting to learn how to work quickly capturing that changing light and color in their paintings.
Delicious chef prepared gourmet meals and a well-appointed ensuite rooms, as well as all ground transfers are included. All-inclusive* 9 nights accommodation, transfers, meals, and instruction. Go to: Adventure-Artists.com