Painting Trip 2012

October 13, 2012

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I took a painting/camping trip to the White Mountains in September. Here are the results:

September 4. Slow going through rush hour up to New Hampshire border. Very rainy. Saw sign for “Shaker Village” but decided not to visit. Reached Conway about 11:30. Too rainy to paint. Upon local recommendation set up camp at Green Meadow Campground in Glen. The owners had a distinct “Deliverance” air to them. Made me think twice about filling in the requested info (“How many cars? Just one? How many people? Just you?”) The campground was virtually deserted. Odd to be able to make a cell phone call from my tent. Heavy rain all night.

September 5. Painted this view just above Glen Ellis Falls (44.24551, -71.25332):

I did a second painting that day but I am not happy with it and am not showing it here.

September 6. Drove back to Conway and painted:

Diana’s Bath (44.07520, -71.13944)

Afterwards drove to Crawford Notch and painted:

Mt. Franklin (44.14655, -71.36570)

I was very impressed with the scenery in Crawford Notch and decided to relocate the next day.

September 7. Very happy with this painting:

Mt. Webster (44.18276, -71.39925)

I was resolved to paint a small painting in the morning so I’d have the energy and time to paint a larger one later. Instead, I keep undertaking ambitious paintings like this. Took up residence in Zealand Campground, a primitive camp site in the National Forest.

September 8. Bathed in an ice-cold mountain stream. Ridiculously pleased with myself. Did three little paintings today, first:

Cog Railway (44.26947, -71.35100)

Reached the Cog Railway site just as the train was leaving. This is the traditional little steam engine which makes its run once a day. By the time I set up and started painting it had just reached the crest of the first rise. You can see a little touch of brown paint where the coal fire smoke escaped. A huge crowd of Indians, the women in traditional saris, were waiting for the 9:30 train. Given the patches of bare midriff I could see, I wonder how they fared on top of Mt. Washington. Very windy.

Silver Cascade (44.123107, -71.241430)

Still windy, almost too windy to paint.

Twin Mountains (44.1161114, -71.312113)

I actually got a little rained out painting this third painting and then it began to pour, beginning around 6 pm. Heavy rain, thunder and lightning, very windy, and then the temperature dropped 20 degrees. All of a sudden the sleeping bag, which I had unzipped to use as a blanket, wasn’t doing the trick any more and the winter jacket, which I had brought along almost as a joke, started service as an additional blanket.

Let me mention here parenthetically that I saw virtually no animal life for this entire trip. I saw a covey of wild turkeys and three Great Blue Herons, but aside from squirrels and chipmunks, nothing else to speak of. I stopped off at a country store for ice and on impulse also bought a bag of Oreos. I said to the cashier “Haven’t seen any bears yet so I thought I’d buy some bait.” She answered very seriously “Oh, please don’t do that.” By my calculations there are approximately 4,000 “Caution Moose Crossing” signs for every actual moose in the state of New Hampshire.

September 9. Decided to head down into Franconia Notch. Once again, Franconia Notch, The World’s Greatest Man-Made Natural Wonder™, fails to deliver. I wasted the $15 entry fee a few years ago to visit the Flume, so that was off the list. For those who want their fond childhood memories crushed, the Flume is a great place to start. As I recall, all the charming little waterfalls and tumbled stones I remember climbing around on as a kid are now safe from depredation behind an extensive system of chest-high log fences, and the overall experience of nature is enhanced by a series of concrete steps and metal railings to facilitate the communing process. However, I did not go in this time, so they may have made things even better in the interim.

I also visited Boise Rock, which looked to be about a hundred feet tall in the 19th century illustration displayed at the Visitors’ Center. It turned out in reality to be about ten feet tall. There’s a story behind Boise Rock. Some guy named Boise got caught in a snowstorm, killed and skinned his horse to make a blanket, and hid under an overhang of Boise Rock for an entire day until rescued. Apparently this thin gruel is all it takes to get a notice in Franconia Notch State Park. Few people realize that the original Franconia Notch draw was an enormous boulder that sat astride the Flume Gorge. People came from miles around to see it. One day, back in the 1850’s, there was a huge storm and the next day the boulder had disappeared. There are still signs pointing to where the rock used to be.

I did do a painting in the Notch. I stopped off at The Basin, a 15 foot deep/wide glacial cauldron or pothole, to check it out. Again I was not impressed. The Basin looks like forgotten, mildewed corner of a public swimming pool. The glacial potholes in Shelburne, MA are bigger and nicer. I dunno, maybe if I’d arrived in the spring the water levels might have been higher and The Basin more impressive. In any case, like all the natural wonders™ of Franconia Notch it came accompanied by a log fence, a sign warning against climbing on the fence or swimming, and an informational sign from which I learned that Henry David Thoreau had been thoroughly impressed by The Basin. I instantly formed the conclusion that anything that impressed Henry David Thoreau probably sucks, while anything that put Henry David Thoreau into a near catatonic state of existential angst is worth seeing. That’s why I’m going to make it to Mt. Katahdin some day. I painted, but fifty yards further up the trail at a charming waterfall with a smaller cauldron the State of New Hampshire had not seen fit to hide behind a log fence or annotate with signage.

The Falls Above the Basin (44.12297, -71.68247)

I pulled off at the Old Man of the Mountain site, wondering “How are they going to spin this one?” As usual, Franconia Notch did not disappoint. The OMOTM viewing site has been replaced (actually, added to–you can still go to the old viewing site, which now has a sign that says “This is where you used to stand when you used to be able to see the OMOTM”) by the OMOTM Memorial Park. The park consists of a plaza with poles planted at certain positions. You select a location based on your height and looked along the pole to where the OMOTM used to be. Certain cast metal elements welded near the top of the pole line up, and you can see a replica of the OMOTM — OZOTM?–in all its former glory. Seriously. I have no doubt that future generations will find even tackier ways to keep the OMOTM’s memory alive. He is, after all, printed on every piece of official stationary and every highway sign in the state.

There are places in Franconia Notch I’d like to paint. Unfortunately, there are no places to pull over along the Parkway to do the paintings. I will probably make a trip back there (there is a lovely tarn next to the Memorial Park) but in general, the entire thing seems to have been designed primarily as a habitat for chipmunks.

Drove back to Bretton Woods and painted:

Mt. Washington and Mount Eisenhower (44.25349, -71.44832)

This painting, executed near the Mt. Washington Resort and carefully painted to omit all mention of the Mt. Washington Resort, was the last of the trip. It got cold as hell that night, I was constantly getting tangled in the sleeping bag, and frankly the whole “lying on the ground and having to stand up carefully in the dark to go take a pee” thing was getting to me, as was the “I could trip and die here now and no one would find my body for weeks” aspect of poking around in the woods on my own. So I abandoned my plan for one more evening of camping (along the Kankamagus Highway) and headed for home. On the way back I stopped off at the Canterbury Shaker Village (the longest seven mile ride of my life) and bought myself a hat, which pleases me no end, and I did end up with a mild case of plein air thumb (when your thumb is a distinctly different color from the rest of you hand due to holding a palette with just your thumb sticking out). All in all, a pleasant and rewarding experience. I need to keep in mind that, from where I live, the White Mountains are not much more distant than the Cape. I could certainly make quick trips on long weekends and get some painting and camping in.

Next year, the Smokies!



October 13, 2012

My dad had to move to much smaller digs and as a result I ended up with his 1971 copy of the Oxford English Dictionary –the micrographed one in two volumes that comes with a magnifying glass so you can read the text. I went through it pretty thoroughly back in the day, but I haven’t really opened it since I brought it home a few months ago, so today I decided to take a look.

Being only 56 years old, naturally the very first word I looked up was Fuck. The OED had no entry for Fuck; but the lesson I learned from this disappointment was that almost any word that starts “F-U” is inherently funny. There is no Fuck, but right where it should be there are Fucaceous, Fucal, Fucate, and Fucatory, all having to do with either face painting or a lichen. Then fuchsia of course, and then Fuchsine, Fuchsite, Fucivarous, Fucoidal, Fucose, and Fucus, before passing mercifully on to Fud. Before that we have Fuage (hearth tax), Fub and Fubbery (to cheat and cheating), Fubb or Fubble (a fat person) and its forms Fubby, Fubsical and Fubsy. The page headings are Fry Fucal Fucate Fuddle Fuddle Fuff Fuff Fugitation. Not until it reaches Fugue does the dictionary regain some measure of its dignity.


October 9, 2012

Given the weather, this is probably the last panhandler painting of 2012. To be honest with you, I’m a little disappointed in this piece, and if this were purely an art project, which it started out to be, I would probably omit this painting. But this exercise has turned into more than a simple art project; it has taken on sociological and even literary connotations, and so, for the first time, a painting in which I feel my commentary is of more value than the painting.

Christina has been in the Square for a week or two now. She holds a sign which reads “Family in Need,” and reads the Bible. She was very eager to pose and very eager to talk.

Her story is that she has a 16 month old baby. Her mother had come out from Nevada to pick up the child, but Christina and her baby daddy were trying to raise the wherewithal for tickets to Las Vegas. She told me her street name is “Penguin,” as in the Batman villain. Then her story started to unravel, at least from my point of view.

First of all, for someone who was ostentatiously reading the Bible and trading on people’s sympathy for an unwed mother, she had a mouth like a longshoreman. Her panhandling technique was more West Coast-style, involving as it did loud and enthusiastic cursing of anyone who ignored her pleas. She had an immediate opinion on anyone who did not make a contribution, and since no one did while I was there virtually all the women and many of the men passing by were subjects for her scorn. She did not approve of the other panhandlers, who she considered liars and phonies compared to her own verifiable claims to sympathy, and she found the Harvard Square passersby cheap and ungenerous. On the other side of her sign it read “On My Wat to Hippie Hill.”

In the final analysis, there was something rude and dishonest about Christina, something calculated and inauthentic, and I believe that came through, unfortunately, in my painting. I realize I am a little too trusting and believing of the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard, but, with the exception of Mike whose lies, if such they were, were pathological, and a couple of other examples of transparent pleas for sympathy, this is the first time I’ve really felt someone I was painting was actively trying to deceive the marks, including me. Perhaps a sad conclusion to the 2012 painting season, but an important if disheartening lesson to learn: the poor and the homeless are just like you and me. They have their own saiints, their own sinners, their tragedies and their comedies, their Romeos, Othellos and Iagos, their Barts, Lisas and Homers. There, but for the grace of God, go the rest of us, and perhaps that’s why we find them so hard to look at.