One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

06 May 2016

Come on Baby, Light My Fire

The Road to Thomasville: Chapter 2

This morning I woke to a hazy view that reminded me of the Southern mornings of my youth.  It seems the smoke from Canada’s tragic fires has found its way into Montana.  It is wrong to think that arbitrary lines on maps can separate us…the wind always reminds us that we are one.

The smoke also reminded me that I needed to share the second chapter in my “Road to Thomasville” series.  

In March, I’d just wrapped up my “Encore Artist” year at Natureworks in Tulsa and decided, rather than work my way home to Montana, I’d head home to Tennessee and then make a little detour.  I arrived at Mom’s in Nashville late in the evening on Tuesday and, with Mom joining me, headed toward Thomasville on Wednesday morning.  Toward the end of the day, as we rolled through Southern Georgia in the dark, I was fading.  The weeks of long painting days, nights of sporadic sleeping in sight of the easel, then days of driving, the show and more driving were catching up.  Then I saw the fire.

Like a moth drawn, I pulled off the highway onto a red clay road and parked next to the burn.  The flames licked at the bases of the tall pines and cut winding, jagged lines through the forest.  My camera came out and I tried to capture what I was seeing.  The headlights of a four-wheeler came toward us and I thought the driver would send us on our way…but it turned into the fire and vanished.  I kept taking pictures and watching…burning the experience into my memory.

Another four-wheeler headed for us and this one kept coming.  The driver rolled up and stopped.  I expected him to ask us to leave…but I was wrong.  With a wide hospitable grin, the driver said “if I had known y’all would be here taking pictures, I’d have built a better fire!”.  
“Oh my”, I thought happily, “I am in the South!”

The gentleman, whose name I was too tired to remember, went on to explain that he would have made straight fire lines if he’d have known we would be watching.  Since the winding arcs of flame had appealed to my artist side, I asked “are crooked lines bad?”.  “Oh no”, he laughed “I just like ‘em to look like the seven dwarves, all lined up straight”.  

I thanked him and asked if it was okay to keep taking photos.  He said “sure, and you’re welcome to drive or walk in there if you want”.  He told us how to get to another burn that was going nearby…and invited us to come back the next day, since they’d still be burning.  

My hosts were waiting for us in Thomasville and I was tired, so I took some more photos and stared into the flames a little longer…then headed on.  Thinking that we’d be seeing more burns, I did not go back the next day.  Wish I had, if only to get his name.

Despite the best efforts of some great folks, we never did find ourselves in the midst of a good daytime burn.  Perhaps that was as it should be…I’ve seen artists paint burning in the daylight…but I did not remember many, if any, paintings of night burns.

For me, painting is not so simple as seeing something and painting it.  I want to experience my subjects, to soak them in and discover what fires up my muse.  No matter what the subject, photos are not enough…it is the being there that fuels my work.  The time spent discovering, trying to understand and, even, falling in love with my subjects is, hopefully, what lights up my work.

I’ve always had a serious crush on Thomasville, this trip was about tipping the scale into something more…and there’s nothing like a good fire in the night to spark some passion.