Summer has come and gone, and fall has certainly arrived full of color this year! The St Croix Valley truly is an incredible place to live and paint. I have many favorites where I frequently visit and haul my paints to 'the spot' where I attempt to capture the fleeting colors of the moment. I love that I never quite know what is going to happen, or what I will end up with after a trip out painting. Plein Air painting is so full of discovering, strategizing, observing, experiencing, revealing, translating, the list goes on and on . . . . however, along with all that, can certainly come with a healthy dose of frustrations and challenges along the way. With that said, any day out painting is a good day!
I'm sure if you were to get together with any group of serious 'plein air' painters you'd hear some pretty incredible stories of their crazy experiences out painting, and if you gave some of them a beer in a pub after a long day out painting the stories would probably grow. The 20 degree winter day out painting suddenly may turn into now 50 mile an hour winds, not snow but ice, pelting the side of their face, fingers so frozen they are like popsicles stuck to their hands, now 20 below temps, but "I stuck it out for the sake of the painting" kind of stories . . . . .you get the picture! I often hear from people how 'lucky' I am to be a painter, and how 'relaxing' it must be . . . . ha! :) I don't believe it has anything to do with luck and I'll tell you, it's far from relaxing, but I do love it and wouldn't trade this life for anything else!
Now for MY recent plein air 'story'!!
One of my 'favorites' in the Valley is William OB. State Park, (above). The day I shot this picture was a good day, I went out with a few of my painter friends, we met at the coffee shop in Marine and headed up to our location, then hiked into the park (about a 1/3 - 1/2 mile hike with gear up hill each way!;) It was cool and a little rainy which provided a nice blanket of rich color in the sky, and the land was saturated in color from the wetness, and soft light which allows the eye to see color so completely without great contrast of harsh sunlit areas. Loved it! What more could a painter ask for I say!
Chompin' at the bit to get out and do another study of this same place before the colors changed too drastically, I headed out at 7:00 AM a few days later, arrived on location around 7:30 AM. I had told my friend Diane that I would be heading out there to paint if she wanted to join me. I got out of my car and stepped into the crisp, cool, fall air. I saw my breath for the first time this year. I stood and listened before grabbing my gear from the back of the truck and heard lots of animal activity in the woods that morning and thought "sure . . . this would be the morning I'd see a bear". You see, it's been nearly 15 plus years that my Dad has been telling me I need to start carrying Bear Spray (don't worry, it causes no harm to the bear). I blow him off every time and tell him, I'm good, the wild life love me, they think I'm like Snow White out there, 'We Hang Out!". Deer lay by me and graze, and the turkeys come visit to see what I'm up to! It's true, they do! So, I hike up the hill, get set up, squeeze out my paints, put up a fresh new canvas, envision the possible potential for this painting that does not yet exist, feeling completely exhilarated still watching my breath as now the sun is brazing the damp foggy valley, looking miles out into the distance with my back is to the wooded tree line just 2o feet from where I stand, when my peace is suddenly jolted by an incredibly abrupt sound of what must be a very large tree branch forcefully cracked just behind me. In my 20 years painting out in Nature this is the first time I've ever heard this sound. I clap and make some noise, now breathing heavily and heart beating out of my chest. I hear nothing but complete silence. I calmly place my keys in one hand and phone in the other (remember I'm about 1/2 mile away from my vehicle) I don't see anything yet but I know it's a bear. What else could possibly make that sound? In an instant I make the decision to leave my equipment, to not go deeper in the park, but to walk back out to the road on the path that goes back towards where the sound came from. I speed dial my Dad while heading out (who I know is 50 miles away and could do nothing but to know where I am just in case. . . ). As I'm telling him my location I look up to my right and a 100 year old oak tree is moving like I never knew an oak tree could move, and I see the bear in the tree shaking the tree branches letting me know he's not happy I woke him up! I am now hyperventilating as he's only 2o feet from me in a tree and I'm on the phone with my Dad who I'm telling him repeatedly in a panic "I have a bear in my sight, I have a bear in my sight . . . .and close, in a tree!!" My Dad asks me over and over "is he still up there?? Are you past him yet??" Finally I am past him and my Dad says "Well, get out of there FAST!" Great idea Dad! Good thinking!!
The bear did not come down to greet me, thankfully! I safely reach my car and he says, "NOW are you going to go buy some Bear Spray?!" And I did, TWO cans!! I love bears and I think they are amazing creatures but I don't care if I ever see one that close again in my entire life! Sounds much more fun than it actually is! Yes, such a relaxing life!! :) Did I go back again? Of course I did!
Now to get my equipment. Diane and her sweet husband Doug showed up minutes later, and I tell them we can't go back in yet, "there's the largest bear in the entire United States waiting to eat us in a tree!!" Brave Doug feels confident and leads the way back in the park, the bear is gone, we get my equipment, I even did a quick study and survived another day painting!! Like I always say, "it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it!" Embellised? Well . . . it may not be a documented fact that he was the largest living bear in the USA but as far as I remember he WAS!