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.