Sunday, October 26, 2014

Murmuring Sweet Nothings

Cottonwoods at River Edge, oil on linen, 14 x 18 inches, by STEVEN BOONE
To be a landscape painter is is to marvel at the beauty of nature and be its lover. An artist can stand in one spot for hours, looking fondly at his subject . . . caressing endlessly with his eyes, and murmuring sweet nothings.

There are two spectacular fall happenings here in Northern New Mexico. The first is the changing of aspen trees. Aspen are known to be one of natures largest phenomena, since many trees are in fact one—they are a one root system, spreading and sprouting up out of the earth in mass, covering mountain terrain. The “quaking aspen,” are called that because their small heart-shaped leaves tremble and shimmer in a breeze. They turn vibrant gold in the autumn. Here in Santa Fe, entire mountainsides blaze with their color. The show lasts about two weeks. 

About the time that display ends, another is beginning. The mighty cottonwood trees that need more water and grow along the Rio Grande River turn bright yellow. The cottonwood is one of the largest hardwood trees in North America, with thick, fissured bark, and leaves that are flat and diamond shaped. I love to listen to the leaves when they have turned dry and brown, and some remain on the tree. When a breeze blows, the leaves bump each other and make a pleasant clacking noise.

 Yesterday, Heidi Of The Mountains worked half a day at a local art gallery, then came home and we packed up the car to go out painting. We drove north, toward Taos, and at one point the two lane road enters a narrow canyon that follows along the Rio Grande River. And this is where cottonwood trees live. They make a breathtaking display in the brilliant New Mexico light, especially on clear days when their boughs form a fan shape of golden leaves that shout with glee against the deep blue sky. The canyons, purple and grey, and spotted deep green with low lying juniper and pinon trees, lurch downward toward the blue Rio Grande River—and this completes the scene. 

Heidi's River, oil on board, 9 x 12 inches

We found our spot, set up our easels and painted. My wife had never painted a river before. I have thirty years of practice. Once started, she went non-stop until I looked behind and saw that she was half done while I was only beginning. This is her enthusiasm that makes her throw herself into something with all her weight. I relaxed, and let myself be led by pleasure and the dance of my nervous system playing with the paints and making song with colors and brush.

The air temperature was perfect, and the gurgling river accented the silence. Nature blazed all around, giving itself to seed and glorious sight—swooning at the end of gay summer and the entrance of frosty winter. Before long, the shadows had lengthened and the sun was setting behind the plateau. We stood back and examined our efforts, gave thanks for a satisfying adventure and headed home.

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