After weeks of rain it was great to get back out and walk to another waterfall this weekend. This walk was especially nice because my daughter and her dog joined me. Both of them enjoyed it as much as I did. Stonewall Falls Trail is mainly a mountain bikers’ trail, but my daughter’s cross country team ran it last fall. The drive to the trail head involves a rather long gravel road, but it is along the ridge so there are some views. The trail itself is broad and well maintained. It probably wouldn’t be to fun to walk with bikers whizzing by, but we had to ourselves except for one family of walkers who arrived at the falls after we had been there about an hour.
Those of you who who talk to me often may have heard me mention that time in the basement of the bank has a tendency to drag. I admit occasionally I wish I could be using those 40+ hours a week in a different way. However my friend Tony has helped me think of it from a different perspective. He said that as American artists we cannot expect to have patrons like some other countries still do. (Though I am not sure that there is anywhere today where patrons like the Medici, the Catholic Church or royal families are commissioning grand pieces.) He believes we should consider our day job as our patron. He has shifted his thinking so that instead of considering his non-art work as preventing him from creating, he appreciates that it makes his art possible. He also pointed out that this gives us total independence to focus on the art we are moved to make. No one is going to force us to paint ceilings when we would rather be carving marble. I have made a concentrated effort to adopt this view.
This shift in thinking is made easier when a bank holiday gives us a three day weekend. A full extra day to do with as I please is such a treat. There was no question in my mind that what I wanted to do with this most recent one was hike and and make art. Last week I checked the forecast over and over hoping and praying that it would stop calling for rain and clouds all weekend. The forecast never really improved, but luckily the weatherman was wrong. We got an absolutely gorgeous day on Saturday and Monday morning was clear and sunny as well. I was able to go back over to Lake Rabun and do the hike to Angel and Panther Falls and paint there twice.
The trail is an easy mile from the Lake Rabun Recreation Area to Panther Falls, then a more challenging half mile up to Angel Falls. It stays close to the water almost the whole way, and there are tons of rhododendron, which are difficult to paint, but lovely to look at. I painted the lower falls Saturday and the upper ones Monday. It is interesting that looking at both of them propped up next to each other back at my house they look very similar, but the experience of painting them was remarkably different.
On Saturday there was a fair amount of drama along the edges of the day. Two coworkers and I has planned the outing together, unfortunately one of them had a fender bender on the way and had to cancel. The other hit traffic, but Google maps and I did a much better job with navigation than the last time and I was able to get there in just over 30 minutes. I got there half an hour early and saw that the recreation area was closed. (for the winter?) I parked at the alternative trail head and as soon as I got out of my car I realized I had made a mistake. It has been raining in Georgia for weeks on end and I had placed my poor little red car in extremely soft ground. I tried to go ahead and move but the wheels just spun. I do not claim to know very much about cars but I do know that continued spinning will just make things worse. I walked down to the closed parking lot and filled my pockets with gravel. I brought it back and placed it behind the wheels and then decided to do my best Scarlet O’Hara impression and not to think about it until later. I did not even mention it to my coworker when she arrived with her cute little dog in tow. I had honestly forgotten about it by the time we crossed the first little foot bridge. Since I have gotten used to hiking by myself it took me a few minutes to remember how to be a considerate hiking companion, but we found our pace.
There was a family with children playing at the first falls when we got to them so so we just rested for a moment and then continued on up the trail. Not far above Panther Falls there are some shoals that are dramatic enough that I thought maybe they were the second water fall. We almost did not continue up the trail, but neither of us wanted to risk missing anything so we kept going. Angel Falls is much taller but there are so many rhododendrons that you cannot even see it all at once. There was a couple about half way up in what looked like a very picturesque spot. I tried what looked like might be a trail to the left of the falls but soon found that I was mistaken and slid myself back down to safety. A second couple then showed up and made their way up what looked like a trail on the right side of the trail. When they did not immediately come back down we decided to follow them. Because of the challenge of the little dog my friend turned around. I made it up a bit farther, pulling myself up on the larger rhodedendrens, when I came up across the second couple trying to turn around and head back down.
We carefully traded spots on the steep slippery slope and I continued climbing until I came to a beautiful little hidden cascade on a stream that runs parallel to the one feeding the large falls. It was a magical feeling spot, the light flickering through the leaves, the sound of the water. I let myself get a bit mesmerized and while moving closer to get another picture slipped and slid down the bank. I was not hurt, but it was sobering and I was reminded (again) I need to stick to well-established trails. I had carefully made my way about halfway back to the deck at the base of the falls when I realized my phone was no longer in my pocket. I climbed back to where I had slipped, found it waiting patiently in the leaves, and then did what was really just a controlled slide back down to the trail.
Walking back to Panther Falls and finding a spot to paint was uneventful. We sat there for about 1 1/2 hours. My friend was very patient and told me stories about what is going on in her life while I worked on my painting. Other hikers stopped by and a few checked out my painting and seemed to like. Several asked if I sold them. I did not have a good answer, but I am going to work on that. After a while the sun went behind the clouds, it started getting cold, and as soon as the painting was finished we packed up and hiked out. It was not until the parking lot was in sight that I remembered about my car and the mud. It will come as a surprise to no one that the amount of gravel that fits in my sweatshirt pockets was not enough for my tires to get traction, but luckily there was a wonderful group of people coming off the trail at the same time who helped me enormously. I was so grateful I did not have to spend the evening sitting there waiting for AAA to send a tow truck to rescue me.
Sunday rained just as much as the weather man had warned. I taught Sunday school and went to the tattoo shop, but Monday once the kids were off to school all I wanted to do was go back and paint the other waterfall. Having my coffee I decided that even if it was cloudy if I bundled up I would be fine, so I went, but the layers were not needed. The sun came out, the sky was clear and I parked in a very solid parking spot. I made great time to the very top of the trail where I experimented with a blissful little practice my friend Richard had talked to me about, then I painted for 3 full hours. There is an observation deck with a bench is very comfortable for someone whose back and shoulders might have been a bit sore from some sliding. The finished piece may not really show it, but I laid down layer after layer of different greens to try and get the feel for the rhododendrons on either side. I found the end result very satisfying.
I am so thankful to my patron day job and the forces behind the weather for such a delightful weekend.
This weekend’s plein air painting did not involve hiking or waterfalls, but was still a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Today I visited Minnehaha Falls, in Lakemont, right beside Lake Rabun. As the crow flies it is not very far from my house, but the road wraps around the lake (and I missed a turn) so it took me over an hour to drive there. But it was an absolutely gorgeous day and the drive was an interesting one. I had never seen Lake Rabun before and enjoyed looking at all the beautiful homes and boat houses perched all along its edges. After a while I had driven so far I started to wonder if the GPS was just going to dump me somewhere random and say I had arrived, but then right there on a gravel road among the lake homes there was a little sign and some stairs leading up to the trail.
It is a very short trail, just half a mile to the base of the falls, not strenuous at all. After all the cold weather and rain I would have welcomed a longer walk, but I am not complaining. There were several people at the base so I just took a few pictures and climbed up to the top. That gave me more of a work out.
I checked out the top of the falls and then slowly made my way back down as close to them as possible looking for the right place to sit and paint. I really wanted to be in the sun, but even though it was noon there was not a spot with direct light. About half way down I found a spot that was not muddy, had a nice view, and was at least partially sunny. I sat there and painted for about 2 1/2 hours.
I used a ceramic marker to sketch the scene first, then used it again to add details at the end. Again I only brought the primary colors, green and white, so it was nice to be able to get rich darks with the marker instead of trying to mix them from all the other colors. The light changed dramatically over that time. I would like to talk to some other plein air artists about how they handle that. I think it must always be an issue unless one is an extremely fast painter. There is a going to a plein air event in Sautee in mid April. I may need to take a day off and attend.
It seems like each post about walking to waterfalls and painting them all I really have to say is how much I enjoy it. It is starting to feel repetitive, so I will stop typing and just share a few more pictures.
Toccoa Falls is the tallest waterfall (186 feet) I have visited so far, with the shortest walk to get to it. It is on the Toccoa Falls campus and you enter through the gift shop and walk up a short paved path. I had spent my Saturday doing other things and was looking for a quick visit to a place that was on my way home and Toccoa Falls was the right fit. It is a very beautiful spot. Unfortunately it was too late in the day to sit in the sun and I had an important basketball game to get to. I only spent about an hour painting and I was not at all pleased with my initial results. I thought I was going to have to plan a return visit in order to get a post worthy image. However, over the last week I have reworked the painting in the studio and gotten it to the point where I can call it done.
I did not make any traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2019, but I did start the year thinking about what I would like my life to be like, and what sorts of things I want to do. Continuing the plein-air drawing and painting was at the top of the list, so to hold myself accountable I found a website with a list of the waterfalls in Habersham and the surrounding counties and decided to set the goal of visiting (and painting or drawing) them all this year. This weekend was cold and rainy, but Monday was sunny and a bank holiday. I have new fleece lined hiking pants and a warm purple hat my bun fits through so I packed up my paints and set out.
Because it was so cold and I was not sure how well I would handle it I picked the waterfall closet to my house. And it was very close to my house, less than ten minutes away. I cannot believe that in all the driving around we did when we were house hunting we never drove to the top of Chenocetah Dr to look out over Lake Russell and see the tower there. It is a beautiful spot and near the entrance there is a trail to a nice little waterfall.
In the heat of a Georgia summer a trail through thin woods is not very fun, but on a cold day the sun is more than welcome. Walking down was easy. I was moving quickly and the sun was on my face so I really didn’t notice the cold. Cascade Falls is a little over halfway down the trail. I checked it out briefly then walked the rest of the way down to Lake Russell Rd, a little over 2.6 miles total. I then turned around and walked back up to the water fall. The most dramatic part was the rock face on the shady side of the fall that was covered in icicles but I decided on a sunny spot right near the water to set up and paint.
I spent a little over two hours painting. At first, while the sun was on me I did not even notice the cold. I even took my coat and gloves off for a while. I tried to put down big solid patches of color right away so I would have a full image, even if it wasn’t very detailed. But I got in “the flow”* and lost track of the time and temperature. As the sun moved my spot became less ideal but I bundled back up and was able to stay till I felt the image was finished.
It was funny though, as soon as I had packed up the cold became very real and I started back up the trail way too fast. I quickly was totally winded and both freezing and sweating. I drank some water, ate some almonds, gave my self a pep talk , and then started back up the mountain at a more reasonable pace. I stopped once more for a little rest before I reached the top, but was soon safely back to my car.
Rhododendron Trail and Cascade Falls are not like the Gorge or some of the other trails to dramatic falls in the area that people would drive a long way to see, but for those of us that live in Mount Airy or Cornelia it is neat to be able to do a hike so close to home.
*For years I have used the phrase “the zone” when talking about the blissful state of total immersion in an activity, but wasn’t crazy about the semantics of it. It seemed more apt for athletes than artists. In Wabi Sabi Simple by Richard Powell, which I am currently reading, it is called “the flow.” I like the sound of “the flow” much better and plan on altering my vocabulary accordingly.
While driving back and forth to the NC for the holidays (twice) I listened to a novel that included a murder that was solved with the help of Google Time Line. The deceased’s girlfriend logged into his gmail account and was able to trace everywhere he went on his last day finding the clue she needed to what happened to him. Before listening to the story I knew that google was keeping track of where I went, but I don’t think I realized it could be viewed as a time line. I know I should be creeped out by the Big Brother aspect of it, but I am actually more curious about what it can tell me about where I go and how often. On Christmas Eve while sitting at Tallulah Gorge, enjoying the view and trying to draw a bit, I started wondering if Google Time Line could tell me how many times I had been there over the past year. I imagined an end of the year post that included the number of visits and some of the drawings I did while I was there. Turns out it is not that simple. It really is just a time line, it is easy to pick a day and see where you went, but not easy to pick a place and see when you went. I downloaded the JSON file with all my coordinates and times for 2018, but wow, that is a lot of data. I am not curious enough for a project of that scale at this time. Anyway, all this introduction, and all I really want to say is “I went to Tallulah Gorge a lot of times in 2018.”
I was there on New Year’s Day, on Thanksgiving, on Christmas Eve and I would guess several dozen times in between. I went by myself, with family, and took friends. I walked the North Rim Trail, the South Rim Trail, the Terrora Trails, went up and down all those crazy stairs by day and under the full moon, sat by the lake, walked the Short Line trail with Max and Sophie over and over, and did a wonderful Ranger led hike down the short but incredibly steep Sliding Rock Trail. Watching the kayakers come through that day was especially amazing. And it was also that day (in November) near the the trailhead where I found my new favorite place to sit: under the South Wallenda Tower.
I did my my first plein air drawing back in August from Inspiration Point. Since then I hiked to and drew other waterfalls which I have written about, but I have also drawn at the gorge many more times. Before finding my new spot I found it challenging to find a place to sit where I could be comfortable and out of the way of all the the other visitors. There are plenty of benches but, with the exception of the one at Inspiration Point, they just don’t have the views I want to capture on paper. The new spot, out of the way, with a grand view and no guard rail is so perfect. Today instead of oil crayons or colored pencils I took five tubes of acrylic paint. I spent over two hours painting the view of the gorge wall on the other side. It is a lot try and capture on one 9×13″ piece of watercolor paper. I know I would be more successful if I just picked one section at a time, but what thrills me about the gorge is the scale. The expanse and grandeur of it is what I want to try and get down on paper.
I will keep trying, but really, as I have said many times before, for me plein air is so much more about the process than the finished product. It would be nice to have some really striking drawings and paintings of beautiful sites of North Georgia. I have thought about how neat it would be able to sell prints (or originals) to the people who stop and enjoy watching me work, and maybe some day I will get there. But for now the act of being there, sitting in front of such majesty and being 100% focused on it, is exactly what I need.
It has now been over a dozen years since our family moved to North Georgia. We have lived in four different counties in the region, but in each it seems like one of everyone’s favorite recreational activities is going to the lake. I grew up in the mountains, and though I drove past Lake Watauga a couple of times a year, I never visited it. Of course in Cancun we went to the beach, and went out on boats to fish,or have a dinner cruise, or get to an island, but my lake boating experience has been pretty minimal. In the past twelve years I think I have been on a boat 2, maybe 3 times, and it was just for short rides that were like little bonuses to picnics held at lake houses. They were pleasant enough I am sure but did not make a big impression. I did not feel like I was missing out on anything by not going to the lake on the weekends. But right now I am really trying to be open to opportunities that come my way, so when the invitation came for a day on the lake as part of Employee Appreciation Day at Celtic Crow I had to say yes.
Not everyone who works at the shop was able to go. It turned out to just be seven of us. We drove up to Lake Hartwell and put the boat in at Jenkins Ferry. The first stop was a rock outcropping over water deep enough to jump into. Stephen, Dale and Sammy all took a turn. I have no allusions about my upper body strength so there was no temptation to try. However, the next activity was riding a blow up chair thing behind the boat. Watching Stephen and Sammy get swung around and thrown off actually looked like a lot of fun.
I had never done such a thing, but figured it was time to try, so Dale and I went next. It was pretty amazing. They took it easy on us at first, but then apparently got bored. They only threw us off twice but I think I may be sore for the rest of my life.
We had a cookout lunch on a little island, swam a bit and I got to do a little drawing. Then the best part was Jamie just driving us around the lake listening to trippy music he and his friends had recorded, feeling the wind and watching the world go by. I might could be a lake person…
I don’t know that I have anything new to say about how much am I enjoying my drawing hikes. Each time I go just reinforces the fact that it has become my favorite thing to do. And I think my most recent drawing is improved over previous attempts.
This past weekend I went home to western North Carolina for a quick visit and to take my niece on a horseback ride around the Moses Cone Estate in Blowing Rock. I had never been on a horse before (don’t think I had ever even touched one) so I excited for a new experience. During my childhood our family walked around Bass Lake on the estate often. I remember not only the walks, but also the sense of magic I felt there. Though I cannot recall the details the feeling and mood of the fanciful stories I would make up about the fairies and other little folk that inhabited the lily pads, moss covered rocks, and trees with perfectly shaped and sized openings for their doorways are still clear. I also remember seeing the horses and their riders pass by on the far side of the lake on their way through the maze and up to Flat Top Manor. As a little girl I wondered what that might be like, now I know. My niece and I had a wonderful time on our 2 1/2 hour ride. The weather was perfect and after I got over my initial nervousness it was nice to watch the scenery as we slowly meandered up the path. But as fun as it was I found I missed the connection with the trail and the sites along it that I feel when walking on my own two feet, as well as the ability to set my own pace.
On my way back to Georgia the next day I decided I should take try and fit in a walk and some drawing. At first it seemed like all the waterfalls were in the opposite direction of my route, or at least required quite the detour, but it turns out that Linville Falls could not have been more on my way. Back in college I went camping in the gorge a couple of times, but I had never been to the falls. They were the perfect choice, a non-strenuous walk on wide well-maintained trails to breathtaking overlooks. I spent about an hour at the Emerson’s View overlook doing a pencil sketch of the falls, then visited the other overlooks and spent another hour working in oil crayons on a drawing of the rock formations at the top of the falls. There were more fellow site-seers than I usually see in Georgia, but once I got in the zone of drawing I did not even notice them. I know I keep saying this, but it really was a perfectly lovely experience. There are two more trails that start at the visitor’s center so next trip to NC I would like to try one or both of them. I may need to start padding all my trips with extra time for walking and drawing.
The summer between my seventh and eighth grade years my father taught a landscape painting workshop as part of Appalachian Summer. I am sure there was a classroom part of the class but my memories are of the time we spent painting outside. I have incredibly clear recollections of a day by the duck pond, an afternoon sitting on the rocks at Howard’s Knob and another at an old farm out in the county somewhere. After a hot water heater leak a few years ago I went through and piles of old art work and found several examples of the paintings I did that summer. Most of them were obviously done by a child. The lines and shapes seem a bit choppy, but some the compositions were actually quite good. This I think is due to the fact that one of the first things Dad had us all do was take a piece of mat board and cut a rectangular window in it. These were our viewfinders and we took them with us on each excursion. Before we ever sketched a single line on our paper we would slowly move our rectangles around the landscape trying to find the perfect slice of the scene from among the limitless possibilities. It made a huge difference. It helped find the right image to start with, but also made sketching the initial lines simpler, and as the painting progressed it could be held up again and again to verify details of the scene.
I do not often think of the long ago course (could it really have been 30 years ago?) or the lessons I learned in it, but this past Saturday sitting drawing at Duke Creek Falls I realized I should still be trying to apply them. As I set on the steps leading down to observation decks I was overwhelmed by the view in front of me. Duke Creek Falls is not just one waterfall, it really is falls, plural. My eye did not know where to rest, and my first drawing reflects that. There is no focal point, no organization of the composition. It is confusing and lacks a sense of depth. If I had brought a viewfinder with me I think I would have done a much better job. My second drawing I tried to limit myself more, to focus in on one part of the falls. I even used my hands to make a little rectangle to try and plan what I would include. It is a more successful drawing compositionally. I am going to make myself a viewfinder this week and keep it in my hiking backpack. Hopefully next weekend’s drawings will be markedly improved.
But even though this past Saturday’s drawings were not among my best the walk itself was. Where Panther Creek and Raven Cliffs were true hikes, each several miles in with narrow and steep portions, Duke Creek has a wide and smooth walking path that is just a little over a mile long. There are stairs in the steep places and observation decks around the falls. There was only one other car in the parking lot when Max and I arrived. We made the whole walk down without seeing another soul. Until this week I had never heard of Forest Bathing, but I am in agreement with the adherents and researchers that “if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.”
When we arrived at the falls there was a couple there with their little dog, who was not fond of Max, so we explored around the observation decks a while. A large portion is blocked off because of storm damage. The spot where the tree came through the deck would have been the perfect place to sit and draw the dramatic view of the water finding many ways to come down the side of the mountain. If I had not had Max with me I might have sat there anyway. But even though I may be brave enough to climb over barriers and check out the damage I would not want to risk Max getting too close to the edge and falling off, and I wasn’t eager to get fussed at by a ranger either. I do not know if they enforce the $500 fine for getting off the trail, but I do not wish to find out. We took some pictures and then went back to the “safe” areas. The benches on the lower observation decks did not offer the views I wanted to draw. We ended up sitting on the stairs leading down to them which was very comfortable until other folks started arriving. Then we may have been in their way, but I just held Max close to me as they passed and no one complained. There were far fewer people than at either Raven Cliff or Panther Creek. I do not know if it was because the site is not as popular or because it is after Labor Day. I drew for about an hour and twenty minutes then we walked back up at a nice relaxing pace.