Since taking my new position at work and starting the studying for my AAP exam I have not painted very much at all. The longer hours, the summer heat, and the joy of moving rocks around on Amos Creek seemed to have kept me from chasing waterfalls. I never made a decision to not go out to paint, I just didn’t go. Creekscaping relieves stress, is creative, and apparently gives me my fill of negative ions. I do not post many picture of my cairns and rock mosaics because they are always a work in progress, but the process of moving, sorting, and stacking them continues to be blissful. I really do hope that someday I will have property with my own creek passing through it so I can spend time at it daily.
I was not able to visit Amos Creek this weekend, but I guess it was a blessing in disguise because it inspired me to get back out to paint a waterfall. It had been over four months since the last time I hiked out to paint one and I felt a bit of trepidation as I got ready. Snakes, bears, and stinging caterpillars have made appearances since the last time I went bushwhacking and somehow I did not feel up to blazing a new path. I decided to go back to the trail off Seller’s Road (FS 89A) that I know fairly well and has a good selection of falls. I headed towards Tranquility Falls because I have only painted it once before and I did not remember it as being very difficult to get to.
Tabor Falls was the first waterfall I visited using GPS coordinates instead of following a trail back in March of 2019. That first time the trail was so faint that I had to be very focused to not miss my turns. That is no longer the case. The path is now very well-used and someone has spray painted trees to mark the way. The creek crossings felt a bit different but it was easy going to Tabor Falls and then on to Lower Tabor Falls. I had gotten a later start than I meant to so I did not stop at either. After Lower Tabor Falls the path was faint like I remembered and I lost track of it for a while but followed the water down to where I needed to cross and start back up the other fork. The way up to Tranquility Falls was a little rougher than I remembered, but not horribly so. The falls themselves were just as lovely as I remembered with a dramatic rock face right next to them. I spent almost two hours painting.
Right before I accepted my new position in March I had been working on a new series where I was attempting to combine my plein air painting with my studio work. Some of the images showed some promise, but overall I was struggling with finding the right combination of contrast and subtlety. I had been working on larger panels and the transition from on-site to in-studio had been difficult as well. This afternoon I decided to work on paper and at a size I felt I could cover in one visit. I also sketched the outline of a figure on a couple of sheets before I left the house. Once I was set up I picked the one that seems to make the most sense compositionaly and painted the waterfall around and on it. I am very pleased with how this worked and plan to try the same process again soon.
Hiking out was a little more eventful than I would have liked. I took a slightly different route back to the trail but found it again right by Lower Tabor Falls. When I got up to the top of Tabor Falls I decided to stop for a minute to drink some water and take in the dramatic view down the cliff. When I shrugged out of my back pack it slid a little and though it didn’t go far my water bottle got loose. My red Klean Kanteen that I have carried with me everywhere, every day for two, maybe almost three, years rolled right over the edge. The urge to try and go after it was strong, but my respect for the slipperiness at the top of waterfalls is stronger. It was not safe to try from where I was. From the comfort of my living room it is easy to think I should have gone back down the trail and found a safe place to descend and then look for it from the bottom, but at the time I was thirsty and tired and ready to get home. Building rock sculptures that will be washed away by the next heavy rain continues to be a lesson in impermanence and letting go. I am not going to let myself get all deep or poetic writing about a water bottle, but the loss does feel significant. Mr. Bezos can have me another here by Tuesday, and make it blue, but well, you know…
I have not posted a waterfall adventure and painting in quite some time, but that does not mean they are not still happening. I am not bushwhacking to new waterfalls nearly as often, but I have been toting larger wood panels to the same sites multiple times, adding different elements on site and back in the studio, trying to reach a new level with them. I have half a dozen of these that are almost done. Some of them may end up being successful completed paintings, but I admit the process change alters the experience. There is a bliss in creating a complete painting in the one focused visit that is lost. I may start doing some paintings on paper again, or maybe mix some smaller panels in, but in the meantime I have found another way to get my negative ions, connect with the beauty of nature, and be fully present in the moment. I have been playing in the creek.
I spent countless hours playing in the creek as a child and even as a teen continued to visit my favorite spots in the woods off Glendale Drive. My time at Amos Creek is very similar. The soothing sounds, glistening colors, and the gentle challenge of sorting and stacking rocks work together to create a deep calm. In a season of increasing stress and pressure the effect seems nothing short of magical.
I feel like I need to mention that I am not out in wilderness areas leaving a trace and messing up habitats. My bits of creekscaping are on land that has been domesticated and altered by humans for generations. Larger scale changes to avoid erosion and optimize drainage make the area far from pristine. The salamanders of Amos Creek are used to a shifting landscape. My little creations seem unlikely to ruin their day.
There are artists creating dramatic pieces in nature on many scales. Some are exquisite while others others feel gimmicky. Though I am trying to share a few images of mine they are not meant to be Art with a capital A. They have no chance of permanence. They will wash away with the next rain so there is no need to seek perfection. The bliss is in the moment of balance, the comfort of sorting, the ripples of pleasure that coincide with the flow of light, water, and color.
Today I visited Secret Cove Falls for the second time. The first was in spring and the mountain laurel was blooming. Today it was bright and sunny, but still very much winter. There was less water flowing and most of it tended to fall more to one side; of course the colors were all very different. If it was not for the distinctive rock face to the left of the fall it might be hard to recognize them as of the same site.
There is not a trail to get to the “Secret Cove”, which I find surprising since it is quite close to Forest Service Trail 155 off Nancytown Road. It is such a lovely spot with dramatic walls of rock and several comfortable spots to sit and take it all in. It is much more picturesque than Nancytown Falls which does have a well built trail. One of these days I am going to have to do some research on trail building and how paths get chosen to be developed. A direct route from FST 155 to the waterfall is barely half a mile, but both in May and today I took much longer routes in than necessary. It would be great if this waterfall had a true trail leading to it.
The route in orange is from my first visit. The blue line from today is embarrassing, but it is an honest depiction of what I did. The first time I parked on the road near the line in the very top right of the map. I made my way through the undergrowth across the top and then came down the creek to falls. It was not very easy going so I tried a more direct route out. I made some wrong turns but then found FS155 and followed it back to the road. Today I parked right by the FS155 trail head and planned to use it and then take the same direct route. But I did not remember how close to the road I should leave the trail. I followed it way too long as it led away from the waterfall and then accidentally turned the GPS tracker off. When I realized what I’d done I should have just turned around and gone back to where my last track had veered off, but I am stubborn. I just kept going and tried to correct myself. I ended up going way out of my way, but it was fairly easy walking as long as I went around the mountain laurel thickets. I saw some beautiful spots on my way.
When I got to the falls I took pictures for a while and then found a comfortable place to set up. I got off to a good start. Last week I could not finish my painting of Lower Rhododendron Falls because I got too cold, so today instead of a panel I just brought a pad of the 9×12″ watercolor paper I used for my first plein air paintings. It was nice to have a smaller surface to cover and I got my sketch and first blocks of color in quickly. Spending time with talking art with an Impressionist has changed the way I look at the scenes as I paint. I find myself much more aware of the light. My paintings had been more about the capturing the composition (and I hope the feeling) of the scenes. The texture of the rock, the flow of the water, and the pattern of the surrounding vegetation felt more important than the light. I think this change of focus has helped the paintings improve, but it has also added extra challenge. As the image starts to take shape I have been influenced to ask myself, “where is the light coming from?” This is an easy question the first time it is asked, but as time passes the answer can change dramatically.
Today I spent about two hours painting and the light changed completely while I was there. Unfortunately the finished product suffers for it. I think it may be time to either do some reading up on how other plein air artists solve this problem, or give in and do more finishing work in the studio by photograph. I do not enjoy painting in the studio nearly as much as I like being out on site, so I am hoping the former is possible.
The way the light came through the trees behind me made it impossible to geta good picture of the painting as part of the scene.
Though I worked on several studio pieces, no plein air painting happened for the entire month of December. I have the mildly superstitious belief that what you are doing as the new year begins is symbolic of what the rest of the year will bring, so it felt imperative to get back out there as soon as possible. On Saturday the 2nd I chose Rushie Falls, in the Lake Russell WMA, because it looked like a short bushwhack with no creek crossings. Days with heavy rain of course make the area waterfalls run full and especially beautiful, but it also makes getting to them a bit more treacherous. An uncontrolled slide down a muddy bank into a swollen cold creek is not part of what I want for 2021, symbolic or otherwise.
I set out right around mid day. I saw more cars than usual when I turned on to the forest service roads. It was my first time on this section of FS 92 so I wasn’t sure if it is a more frequently used road or if the holiday weekend had more people out. Browns Bottom Road, FS 92B, which I have driven a lot lately, is maintained better. There was one place where the creek seemed to be flowing straight down the road and a couple of sections where I needed to be very intentional about where I aimed my wheels, but I had no problems getting to the pull out right next to Rushie Branch. The creek was running as high as I expected and had an amazing color to it. My pictures do not capture it, but it seemed kin to the almost glowing color in the water near glaciers. There was a trail from the pull off along the creek and I initially thought it might be a fairly visited water fall. Unfortunately the trail just led to where the site’s visitors leave their cans.
I have found plenty of trash on my waterfall hikes before, but I think this was the largest most intentional pile. I admit I do not understand how someone could appreciate how nice it is to sit in the woods by a creek and enjoy a “few” drinks, but then decide it was too much trouble to take the cans back out. But just because I do not understand does not mean it is uncommon. -sigh- Anyway, I followed the creek for about a quarter of a mile. The day was cool but not cold, the damp enhanced the color of the closest things while muting everything else. I spent a long time looking at what I think were polypore fungi on a fallen log. They seemed to beg to have their portraits painted. I have started a watercolor study of them.
The walking was easy at first, but then I ended up in a patch of mountain laurel. I considered backtracking and trying to go up and across on the ridge, but my GPS app promised I was quite close to the waterfall. I went ahead and wove my way through wishing I did not have the panel I was planning to paint on in my hands. I need to prioritize getting a way to attach them to the outside of my backpack, though when it comes to mountain laurel or rhododendron thickets that might make things even more difficult. It is not a great feeling to think you have ducked under a branch and then have it grab hold of your backpack and keep you from moving forward. Luckily I avoided that experience on this hike. Once I got past the mountain laurel I was very close to the top of the falls. There is a long vertical rock face alongside the waterfall on the side I was approaching from so I had to go past it to find a place that seemed safe to climb down. The thick layer of leaves on top of the saturated ground do not offer much in the way of traction so I went very slowly and cautiously. All my kit and I made it safely to the bottom where we found the picturesque winter waterfall scene.
There is only a narrow strip of sand and stones between the wall of rock and the creek so there was not much exploring that could be done. Without my wonderful little chair there would not have been a single dry place to sit. I walked back and forth a bit taking a few pictures and finding what seemed like the best place to sit. It was a bit farther back than I usually chose but I think that worked in my favor. The dripping moss and leaves on the rock cliff adds a lot of interest and I think balances well against the leaning tree. The low cloud and recent rain made for a pallet of colors very different from any of the other waterfall paintings I have done. The weather was cool, I had to put my jacket back on, but I did not get uncomfortably cold. I painted for a little over three hours and was very please with both the process and the product. After taking my final pictures I started hiking out. I did not want to go back through the mountain laurel so I climbed straight up to the ridge. Once I managed to catch my breath the way back from there was open and effortless. When I got back to the car and reexamined the painting I felt pretty convinced it was one of the strongest I have done so far.
The painting of Rushie Falls has been simply framed in rustic barn wood. It will be on display at the Sautee Nacoochee Center’s gallery until March 7, 2021.
Last night it felt like the story was finished, but there are 31 days in October. I am as tired as she is, but let’s see Allie May all the way home…
Allie May made it safely home, however she was too tired to share any stories about her day.
“Tomorrow there will be plenty of time to tell, first I just need to sleep a spell,” she whispered to herself as she went straight to her room.
It was all she could do to crawl into bed under the quilt her Gran had made her. She fell asleep almost instantly. She slept soundly, but none of her dreams were as fantastic or exciting as her actual day.
The garden was full of animals celebrating their freedom from the cave. They sang and danced and told the stories of their adventures over and over. Allie May’s basket contained snacks that she contributed to the picnic that was spread. As they were finishing their joyous meal the sky began to glow with the bands of color that signified the end of the day. Allie May oohed and ahed with the others, but as the sky darkened she knew it was time to go. The dusk felt ominous so far from her house and family.
“What a wonderful day to explore and roam, but now I really must be getting home,” she told her friends.
“Watching you leave makes us sigh, but it’s see you later, not goodbye,” Hugh tried not to sound too sad.
She promised they would have another day together soon. Cleo and Hugh walked with her until she came to the familiar path by the fishing hole. Then with a wave she left them and hurried to get home before the last light of the day was gone.
Tuner met them with a smile and a cheerful song. They followed him into the garden where there was quite the crowd of animals ready to celebrate their return. However before she made it that far Allie May came to a cairn of carefully placed rocks. Balanced on the top were her shoes, perfectly clean and undamaged by their time in the deep mud. At the bottom sat her fishing basket and pole, also unharmed.
“What a lovely way to end my day. Here’s everything I left along the way,” she said with a smile. She had to get up on her toes to teach her shoes.
It felt good to have them on her feet. She put her basket on her shoulder, picked up her pole, and then followed her friends on in to the gathering.
We have been without electricity since 5:30 this morning. There was no damage to the house or yard, but its absence certainly altered the day.
The music led them straight to the river. When they arrived they saw Tuner, radio still on his back, waving to them from the other side. The water was flowing swiftly and looked rather deep. Allie and Cleo hesitated but Hugh dove right in and started swimming towards him.
Tuner called out to them over the music, “Look there’s a raft over by that moss. You don’t have to swim, you can float across.”
Allie May sighed with relief. She picked up the oar as Cleo took the helm. With a few strong strokes they were on the far bank, and the entrance to the garden was just a few steps away.
Allie May looked up through the trees to try and figure out where the sound was coming from. Her mouth dropped open in shock when she realized it was the rocket they had seen in the caves. The trapped animals must have finished it, because now it was soaring through the clouds above them.
“Come and look! They’re in the sky! I never thought they’d really fly,” she called to her friends. They left their hiding places to watch it make its journey across the sky.
As the sound of the rocket faded it was replaced with music that seemed to beckon them. Allie May felt pulled to it like she had that morning when she first heard the turtle’s radio. She was about to say so when Hugh spoke up, “I bet that is Tuner putting out a call. If we follow we will reach the garden wall.”
So they set off in the direction of the beguiling tune.
They did not actually take much time to celebrate. They were each hungry and tired and ready to be back in a more familiar setting. A faint trail led further into the woods and they decided to try their luck following it. They were climbing up an embankment of rocks and roots when a loud boom stopped them in their tracks. Even the trees and stones shook from the sound of the blast. The trio rushed to hide themselves. The possibility of a hunter angry at the loss of his trap was not far from their minds. They stayed perfectly still and silent while they watched and listened from their hiding spots. They did not see anything approaching but the initial bang was followed by a whooshing sound that seemed to right overhead.