Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Meadow on the Commons

Last week I took my bike out and started riding out again, down the Niagara Parkway path. This pathway begins just at the east edge of town, and closely skirting Fort George, heads east to the river. The very first stretch of this route passes across the Commons just south of Fort George. The Commons consists of some hundreds of acres of field and woodland. The part that is now open grassland was used for decades as a military encampment, but now lies quiet, except for the odd equestrian event or military re-enactment. Most of the grassland is mown a few times a year, but a patch bordering the woodland towards the river has been left as a natural meadow. As I passed by early last week, I was struck by the wonderful display of wildflowers. The growth was riotous. There were great swathes of different species, blue, pink, purple, mauve and yellow. I got off my bike and made my way through the long grass to the edge of this glorious field. I was quite transfixed. I stood and studied the scene for a while. Not being a botanist, I cannot tell you (yet) the names of all the lovely flowers that carpeted the landscape. Perhaps with the aid of the photos I have posted on Flickr, some kind person will help me with their identification. They are not rare, and I am surprised that, although I consulted my copy of the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, I was still unable to put a name to any except the Chicory and the Milkweed, both of which I already knew.

The next day I took along my camera and took numerous shots of the area, including some closeups of the flowers and others showing the context of how they grow. I was struck by how the patches of each flower in its thousands formed bands of colour, receding towards the woodland edge. When I got home I examined my photos, and felt frustration and disappointment that somehow I hadn't captured the wonder of it all. I went back several times, even bringing home some samples of the flowers and their leaves and stems, determined to find out what they were.

I realized there was potentially a lovely painting waiting for me here and I soon felt urgently that I should try to capture the scene before nature changed its clothes once more.

So this morning I put my sketchbook and some paints in my saddlebag and set out once more. It was a beautiful day, all day. The sun shone brightly and the air was clear, giving hard edges and a vibrancy to the colours which I hadn't seen before. I had a wonderful time. I stood in the field, painting, for about an hour and a half before I was done. And the great thing was this: I knew that here I had a view which was inherently free; free of any requirement for symmetry, or particular shape. It consisted of bold patches of colour in random shapes and sizes, sometimes flowing one into the other, sometimes showing a natural layering one on the other as they marched into the distance. Spiking up here and there were scores of milkweeds with their pink pom-pom flowers, and the occasional shrub and sapling added interest. There was nothing at all which said "I have to be here, and shown exactly like this!" So, I thought, here's the best chance I'll have to break away from tightness and careful drawing. I decided, for the first time ever, that I would not make a drawing, that I would use no pencil. Usually, I feel a certain fear when beginning a painting, that it won't work out the way I hope; that I won't realize the vision. Today I told myself that I had little need to worry, just so long as I faithfully set out the colours. And so it proved. I am rather happy with this one.

1 comment:

Judybec said...

And break free you did! You not only paint beautifully you also write well too. Great story. Best of luck finding out the names of the plants.