Monday, May 7, 2012

An Artist’s Art

On a recent hike in a glorious forest in northern New Jersey, where I went as a team member to maintain a trail, my task was to paint blazes on trees to mark the way.   Some markers were there already.  The trail had been blazed before, but had fallen into a less cared-for condition.  The plan was to mark the path well when it was not obvious where to go next, and to mark it just enough so that a hiker doesn’t have to go too far to see the next blaze even when the way is clear. 

My teammate was busy pruning and sawing, cutting away intruding branches and “stickers”, which are thorny viney things that grab you and prick you but don’t give you a rose.  I walked ahead, far enough often to be by myself in that big forest.   I’ve been craving just that solitude for a long time, in just that sort of place, where there is no evidence of the built world or debris from human civilization.  And there wasn’t – the trail was clean, no wrappers, no coffee cups. 
The poetry of the walk was this, that I was alone but someone had watched out for me, laying out the route, blazing it years ago.  And now I was contributing to that conversation, so that tomorrow another hiker could walk here and know the way.  Sublime is the right word for certain moments on that walk, all I could wish for as an artist, even though I was painting 2”x3” yellow rectangles on rough bark, because of the pleasure of communicating silently through form and color.  Being in a beautiful forest, painting on the bark as canvas, but not harming the tree, in perfect hiking weather, looking out for the newcomers, feeling part of an ancient cycle, carrying the communication forward with invisible partners.  

This encaustic painting is of a different trail.

 Red Trail at Saltonstall, encaustic, 8.5" x 12", 1998

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