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.
Allie May, Cleo and Hugh were pleased with a job well done. They congratulated each other not just on their latest teamwork, but for all the trials they had passed through together. Clasping hands they pledged long lasting friendship.
“I’m not just saying this, it really is true. I have never had a buddy like either of you,” Allie May told them with a smile.
“We take such good care of one another. I feel I have a new sister and brother,” Cleo agreed.
“Yes! Our strange trio is pretty great. Let’s take time to celebrate!” Hugh added with enthusiasm.
After yesterday’s scribbling crosshatch tonight it was nice to use my new varied point pens to draw a few more precise lines.
“Anyone could be walking along without a care, and then snap, they’re caught in the snare!” Hugh stood up and looked around. “It’s not just a matter of luck. We need to make sure no else gets stuck.”
Cleo and Allie May agreed. They discussed their options and decided the best plan was to dig a hole and bury the rope and net. Both armadillos and coypus are expert diggers so they took care of the hole while Allie May climbed the tree and cut down the rest of the net.
Once it was buried they found twigs and leaves to spread around so that the spot looked like any other place in the woods.
Allie May was pondering what her mother might be cooking for dinner when she heard a loud yelp from behind her. She stood up and looked around. Her friends had left obvious tracks across the sand leading to the woods beyond the beach. She started heading that direction and then heard what was definitely Cleo and Hugh calling her name. She picked up her pace and it did not take long for her to find them. Hugh was stuck in a big net hanging from a tree and Cleo was jumping up and down beneath trying to grasp hold of it.
“While you were finishing up your nap, I seem to have walked right into a trap,” Hugh told her the obvious and then went back to gnawing on the ropes that surrounded him.
Allie May climbed on Cleo’s back which allowed her to reach the net and started cutting at the rope with her knife as well. Working together they were able to rip a large enough hole in the net for the Coypu to push himself through. He fell to the ground beside them with a crash.
“Who do you think put this here? And do you think they are still near? Cleo asked them looking around nervously.