In general, the usuals are doing the usual things. At least one chipmunk survived the winter and last summer’s predators, thank heavens, and scoots past our feet as we garden. The garlic mustard, while almost eradicated in our own garden, thrives elsewhere, growing inches each day — It was discouraging to hike Mount Nemo this week and notice that its splendid masses of ephemerals are under siege. I pulled the biggest plants but this is not a battle which can be won. Woodpeckers everywhere hammer away, dazed by the bonanza of dead ash trees. And then there’s the grouse, of course. We’ve concluded that he is mildly insane, but in a nice way.
For me the excitement is in the return, if only briefly, of migrants. Jon saw a wild turkey a couple of doors down and the next night our neighbours called to ask about the enormous birds roosting in their tree — the huge lumps turned out to be turkey vultures. They soar above the valley but this is the first time I’ve seen them resting. Warblers appear and move on, edgy geese couples take turns brooding and guarding, and the steelhead run straggles on.
What brought all of this motion to my attention was a moment in an art gallery yesterday. I was admiring a Maurice Cullen when Jon said “Remember how I always tell you to add an animal to your paintings?” (He relentlessly teases me that there’s nothing wrong with a painting that can’t be fixed by the addition of a bunny. Or a fish. Or an eagle. You get the picture.) Anyway, I turned to look at the painting he was talking about and instantly caught the joke. The scene was beautifully painted with blue-capped snowbanks reminiscent of Lauren Harris, and perfectly capable of standing on its own. But at the focal point was an unfortunate stag, frozen in mid-jump like a wooden carousel horse. Jon christened it “Boing!!”
Not that I would do any better. Not a chance. While everything, particularly in the spring, is in motion, it is motion itself which is the hardest thing to capture. A still life subject has the virtue of staying put. (When I was teaching myself to paint, I began with single flowers on a white background; all alternatives were too overwhelming.) I wish I could report that I have since mastered motion but nope. Some of my paintings avoid sharp edges to give the impression of blurred speed but often the best I can do is to guide the viewer’s eye to move through the painting.
Whatever the device, spring paintings need an edge of chaos. This small watercolour reflects my panic as I watched Jon and Brian surf a standing wave. Maybe spring's my season. I scare easy.