Layers

Layers

Today I thought I’d show you a painting I did several years ago.  So long ago the scene has changed, and so has technology.  This image was taken with my old film camera.  The middle of the image is pretty washed out, even after tinkering with it in my photo software.  Still, I like this painting and always relish this spot on the trail at Illinois Beach State Park.  Just past the distant line of greenery is Lake Michigan.  We’re standing on the trail that runs along the ridge of an old dune, looking out over younger dunes closer to the Lake.  I think it is so cool how you can see succession taking place, right there.

On the foredunes, things are still pretty dynamic.  Lots of bare sand shifts easily, whether in the wind or underfoot.  Creeping juniper and bearberry have tenuous holds on these relatively young dunes, and their root systems are easily damaged by foot traffic.  Moving back from the front line of dunes, little bluestem joins the first two.  Organic material begins to build up, and gradually the older dunes, the ones farther from the Lake, can begin to support a wider selection of plants, until finally they will support black oaks, Quercus velutina.  I only know these oaks from here, where they don’t tend to get very large.  It is a harsh environment, with very little nutrients in the soil, sharply drained, and faced with strong winds.  A few years ago we had a micro burst whip through, and it took out several trees.  Walking through the area afterward it was fascinating to see nothing but pure clean sand under the exposed root balls that got yanked right out by the wind.

As I mentioned, things have changed over the past 20 years there, so maybe I’ll paint this scene again.

 

33 Comments

  1. At first glance, I thought this was a scene from the West, so it was a surprise to read it’s Illinois. It’s a nice gentle-looking portrait of some pretty tough plants, to survive the sand, wind, and winters along the Great Lakes.

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    1. Do you find fall melancholy, Tanja? I guess I do, but for me this was a joyful painting. I was startled that it strikes you as melancholy. Fall on the dunes is very muted, with the trees turning a reddish brown. Come to think of it I remember one of the new volunteers insisting the trees were all sick and dying. They weren’t of course. Just wearing their fall wardrobe! 🙂

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      1. That’s a good question, Melissa. I love autumn, but by the same token, it always makes me slightly wistful, because the vegetation goes dormant, many birds head south, and the days shorten. I know nature is cyclical, but I always struggle a little in winter, so that anticipation might be responsible for the melancholy.

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  2. I like the composition in this painting – especially the placement of the background trees, the one upper left, and the neat partially obscured one on the right. Works well with the triangular area of foreground trees. It is somber, but the spaciousness balances that.

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    1. Thank you Tom. The photo I was posting was from early days, with a sloping horizon and background showing. To tilt the image and crop the background noise, I lost quite a bit of painting. It was unavoidable, I’m afraid. The painting is long- sold, so there isn’t a way to get a new photo, unfortunately. So in the painting the tree you mention is more fully present, not pressed up against the edge and chopped off. Like you I really liked those trees. It is fall on the dunes, which are muted in color. When I went back yesterday to that stretch of trail, I was shocked by how different it is after 20-some years. I found the trees. They are a bit bigger. Black oaks don’t get very big because of the poor soil. They were, however, choked by brush and that lovely expansiveness is gone.

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  3. It’s beautiful, Melissa. And as for painting the scene again, you’d be in good company of course – one’s mind immediately turns to all those haystacks which Monet painted!

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    1. Haha that’s true. I did go back to that stretch of trail yesterday and was shocked at how it had changed. It is a tricky site to manage because some of it hosts very rare plants and insects that would be killed by fire. Yet, without fire, too many trees have sprung up and that lovely open scene is now entirely choked by brush. It was a mess.

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      1. I am about to re-read Silent Spring for a readalong next month – it’s another example of balancing art and science. No easy answers tho 😞

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  4. Places change from year to year so I would guess the spot you’ve painted from the state park will be noticeably different. Still recognizable but different.
    I like the lone tree and the group in the foreground (I love your term, foredunes 🙂 ). I sometimes imagine the communication between trees, they do have a way of connecting, and for some reason the trees in your painting appear to be at least watching the singular tree or possibly calling.
    Umm…I don;t think it is at all too bad that you can no longer photograph the original painting. Sold is good. 🙂

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  5. 😀 You’re right, sold is good. I did go back that that spot on the trail, and was actually shocked by what I saw. I expected a gradual increase in the amount of forbs growing in there, and maybe another small tree or two. Instead, a throng of black oaks had sprung up in a tangle. The feeling of spaciousness is gone completely. It didn’t age will at all, in my opinion! Not that nature asks my opinion on anything.
    I love your thoughts on the trees reaching out to each other. I hadn’t thought of that, but now that you mention it, yeah, you can feel that, can’t you? And that’s a lot of commas~time for bed.

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    1. I use commas like they are going out of style sometimes too. 🙂

      The spot where I most often photograph grass pinks and rose pogonias gets mowed annually. Sometimes in paths and sometimes totally. If it wasn’t the exact same thing would happen. But nature does what nature does and we just have to appreciate it for itself and not for our vision. If our vision interferes then a beautiful woodland all too often becomes a subdivision which we both have expressed disappointment over. There are a few British photographers whose vlogs (video blogs) I watch on YouTube and they have trusts that manage some of their woodlands for beauty and accessibility. We don’t really have anything like that locally which in a way is too bad. But we do have recovering forests where all the old growth had previously been cleared as New England was settled…and the British needed tall pines for the sailing-ship masts.

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  6. I haven’t been to your area, but a couple of years ago we went to Asheville and I was impressed at their efforts to bring back forest. They aren’t thinning them at all, though, and I worry they will have a fire or disease sweep through. It was delightful to see forest. It is my favorite ecosystem by far.
    It’s good to hear that your orchid area gets mown. You wouldn’t think that would be good for them but it seems to be. Here some of our orchid populations struggle because managers are too careful to prevent disturbance when really they should probably be running bison through. 🙂

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  7. At first, I had the feeling that this was a western scene, too. Then, it seemed more reflective of our middle coast, where wind-bent cedars and scrub land’s more common because of the harsh conditions. Sand, water, and wind are what they are, and the effects they create differ only in the details, I suppose.

    This land reminds me of our salt flats, in the sense that it doesn’t look ‘pretty’ or necessarily inviting, but I’ll bet it’s filled with the most interesting details!

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    1. I suppose that the scenes that attract me here area influenced by what I loved growing up in the west. There will be more~I found a trove of photos from when I was young that I want to paint from.
      To my eye, these dunes were as pretty as it gets here in Illinois. I still think so, although the spot where this painting is from has changed entirely and not at all for the better. Where once there was a nice expanse of openness, now there is a choking of brush and small trees, all tangled together and destined never to be a forest.

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