Strange Spring

Strange Spring. Watercolor and pencil on Yupo, 9×12″ 4/1/2020

As we finish our third week of staying home in an attempt to slow the spread of this new virus I don’t think anyone would disagree that this is the strangest Spring we’ve ever known. The weather gets more beautiful every day. Leaves are budding on the trees and our yards are filling with the color of flowers. Spring is my favorite season, and in the South it is especially gorgeous. Yet the joy of watching everything come to life becomes surreal when experienced simultaneously with the spread of sickness and panic. Uncertainty about the what the next days, weeks, and months will bring contrasts completely with our Lenten preparation. Counting down forty days of asceticism to an assured day of rejoicing is a comforting ritual. A viral spread with an unknown trajectory, schedule, and snowballing effects on every part of the world as we know it is quite the opposite. As I have the privilege of comfortably working from home with a fully stocked pantry and a healthy family I am aware that what seems strange to me is catastrophic for many many others.

In spite of my white liberal guilt, or perhaps because of it, last Saturday my desire to get out of the house and out to paint a waterfall was extremely strong. Social media comment sections have been full of people blasting others for filling up the parks and hiking trails. Many mountain communities are begging people to stay home, and some of the most popular trails and sites have been closed. I understand the logic of that. I do not wish to be part of the problem and even in normal times I vastly prefer solitude in the woods. I decided that if stay within Habersham county and restrict myself to waterfalls I know are unlikely to have many (if any) other visitors I would not be harming anyone. I was excited when my research led to the discovery that Tabor Falls, which I visited last year and is less than four miles from my house, is just the first of four falls along the same creek system. They are on an unofficial trail off a gated forest service road so I made sure I had the relevant GPS coordinates saved and got an early start.

The drive from my house really is extremely short so it took only minutes for me to see a Bridge Out sign. I had only a moment to wonder if the bridge was before or after my next turn and then I was at the blockade. I turned around and parked so I could consult the GPS for alternative routes. There was one long meandering possibility, but if I knew one end of the forest service road I was heading towards was gated then the other end probably was too. It did not seem like a risk worth taking. There are two other waterfalls I had painted before in the general area. Both are more known than Tabor but neither are especially popular. The closest is Nancytown Falls so I headed there.

At one of the trailheads for Nancytown Falls there is a smaller waterfall right by the road with a nice large parking area. It is not grand, but is very picturesque and I painted it over the winter. I had thought I might do a quick sketch there before walking up to the other, but when I arrived I found the area full of piles of belongings and a strange sign almost explaining why. It offers much to ponder but I did not let myself venture down that rabbit hole. I had the momentary thought that I should just go home, that this was another sign I wasn’t supposed to be out painting, but it was fleeting. I parked a bit farther down the road and set off.

The walk in is less than a mile on a thin but well maintained trail. It is not strenuous at all. The weather was perfect and no one else was there. I had hoped that all the rain we got over the winter might have washed out some of the fallen trees and brush that keep Nancytown Falls from being as pretty as it could be, however when I arrived I saw that it was just as clogged up as I remembered. There are a lot of pretty sections, but it is difficult to find a full view of them all together. I did a fair amount of scrambling around the rocks testing different spots for interesting compositions but most felt too precarious. I ended up choosing the only spot flat enough that I felt confident I could set my beloved chair without the risk of a tumble. It was a wet sandy spot, so I had to find flat rocks to keep the front legs from sinking.

The fallen trees really do distract from the view of the falling water, but I decided to just go with that. The purpose of my outing was greater than just trying to end up with a beautiful painting of a waterfall. I wanted to be outside in the sun and fresh air. I wanted to practice getting distant trees rendered better. And I especially wanted to continue to experiment with the watercolor on the yupo paper. All of those could be accomplished painting the fallen trees. I had brought my watercolor pencils as well as some tray watercolors so instead of using a ceramic marker to sketch like I do with the acrylics I used a brown watercolor pencil instead. I had gotten most of the most important lines sketched in and was trying to decide if there was any chance I could draw the most prominent fallen tree as a Dryad or if it would just look like a female version of Groot when a breeze came through. It felt good as the day was warm, but it took my paper right out of lap and blew it over the rocks to the water below. It then traveled over another set of rocks and into a pool below.

My sigh could probably be heard a mile back at my car. I could not go straight down to where the paper was lazily drifting around in circles. I had to climb back off the rocks, go back down to the trail, cross the creek and then climb back up on the other side. It is funny that just thirty minutes earlier I would have balked at the bouldering necessary to reach my yupo, but I did it quickly, without falling in, and with a fairly long stick in my grasp. I had to wait until it circled back close to where I was perched but I was able to fish it out. It was damp but otherwise completely unharmed. My drawing was even still there. I have been fascinated with how watercolors and alcohol markers can be so smoothly applied to and then lifted back off the plastic paper, but now I can also sing its praises as a waterproof option for plein air painting near water. It really is amazing stuff.

Once I got back settled, making sure to keep one hand gripping the paper at all times, it took a little over an hour to make my painting. I really enjoying experimenting with combining the pencils and the paint, adding extra water to “erase,” and using the other end of my painting brush to scratch back into wet areas to create white lines. It is not a painting that will end up in a frame, but it served its purpose. There are a few details that I think are nice and I like the way the colors are more muted and soft than my normal pallet. I ended up having a lovely day despite all the strange things that seemed to want to keep me from having my afternoon of plein air painting. I am very thankful that Habersham County offers so many natural places to explore without the risk of crowds.

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