Pat and I attended a memorial walk recently. It honored a local publican who died a couple of years ago. We knew him well, as we had played music in his pub every Sunday for several years. We gathered in the parking area near the pub, about a hundred of us; the lead guide then described the walk and what to expect. We were to strike off down the road for 200 meters and then head up (way up) Knockglassmore, then down (way down) onto a woodland trail, then along the Finglass River, slowly picking our way over stones, then up (way up) a muddy path studded in cow and sheep droppings, then down (way down) a small narrow local road to the cemetery, where we paid our respects at the grave of the honoree, then back further down the road to the beach, where we walked for another half mile or so, then up (way up) another muddy trail to the main road and back to the pub. In total, eight kilometers. Note: We had been to the neighbors for dinner the previous night and left at 3 am! For me . . . not bad.
As we walked (not everyone finished), the crowd strung out into smaller groups. I found myself, like some others, walking alone. It was when I began to fatigue that I became very aware of my surroundings, fresh field smells, wet wood and water, and those colors that fall between trees. I was about to take my phone out and take a few pictures but thought better of it. I just needed to walk. It didn’t seem to make sense to try and capture what I was experiencing right then; too much seemed to be going on, and any photo would only act as a dissected moment in the larger picture of the day. I would trust my mind’s eye to store the images.
There is something about going outdoors and attempting to recreate what we see, to conquer and capture the enormity of it, to reduce it to a small rectangle for safekeeping, in the hope that one day it will remind us of a time and place, but that moment has forever changed. There is no going back, or as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus pointed out, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man.” Sitting on the shoreline, looking at hills and sea, painting that watercolor gives us a chance to personalize a small bit of this world. To change it. To turn it to our favor and make it our own, because it will not be the same tomorrow.
The State of Maine has always drawn those who looked for natural beauty in the landscape. For years, artists have found its scenery paintable and compelling. In a UMVA newsletter from August 1978, Shirleyann Ratajczak* wrote: “Yesterday, Bill Fowler* and Stephen Petroff* camped out in my backyard as a stop-over before heading up to Canada on their yearly ‘painting trip.'” It’s worth noting that there is very little mention of landscape painting in any of the UMVA newsletters in our possession. This is not to say that the Union did not represent classic plein air artists, they were and still are, but the Union’s trajectory has remained somewhat progressive and cutting-edge.
They say the only constant in life is change, and that goes for what we remember, that is, until we somehow can fix it visually. My very first job in Maine was working for Oakhurst Dairy in Bath, Maine. We delivered milk house to house from the truck. One Monday morning in September, the driver (I forgot his name) asked me how my weekend was, and I told him I had done a painting of some trees. “So you’re an artist,’ he said, ‘ain’t paintin’ season over?” I guess he saw those artists working away on the rocks at Reid State Park and thought, like birds in the fall; they’ll migrate to wherever they came from. In a way, he was right. Most of them disappeared; painting season was over! That’s what I remember. I’m sure of it!
When we returned from that Sunday remembrance walk, I could still see the river we had to cross. I could still see the muddy trail and the cow dung. I could still see the stone walls. If I were to paint them right now, they would look different. Perhaps if I were a great painter, I could make them more beautiful, but they wouldn’t be what I remembered, not exactly; they would be changed, and I along with them. Nothing stays the same.
All the Best, from the West (of Ireland),
Tony and Pat Owen
Image at top: The Remembrance Walk (photo: Pat and Tony Owen).