Wednesday, July 06, 2011


In search of luminosity

Last week I returned from a Maine island sojurn. Every year at this time I head out to sea, to rent a little cabin at the edge of the woods on a small family island in Penobscot Bay. No electricity, no phone, no running water, no problem! This year, instead of staying for a week as I usually do, I was there for twelve days. I painted like mad, created many landscapes full of sun and fog, and the one truly sopping rainy day when I couldn't be outside, I set up indoors and tinkered with all the paintings that needed a bit more work. The days were long and luminous and I could hardly bear to go indoors at all. I'd run in and make a sandwich and run back out. When I did go in, here is what I saw - oil lamps, an old white dresser, the stack of books I brought with me, including the usual suspects (Sarah Orne Jewett, Raymond Carver, Mary Oliver):

Turn and look the other way and there are some of my paintings leaning up on chairs to dry, and the woodstove, which is a godsend on the few particularly damp and chilly evenings:

When I wasn't painting, or writing in my journal, I could be found (if there was anyone to find me, which there wasn't) sitting at the very end of one of the rocky overlooks, gazing out at miles of sea, islands, mainland, and sunset. Sunsets here often last three or four hours, this time of year. At six o'clock they consider beginning, and the water looks like this:

How to paint that, I wonder. An hour or two later the sun tips itself over the mountains, and the seals on those ledges out there in the middle of the water talk the whole thing over (I listen in):

Well after nine the sunsets still linger, a cadmium red deep in the clouds off over the mainland. Unphotographable, by me at least. Dark finally, I head back to the cabin, then the stars come out and I walk out yet again to see them, and their earthbound counterparts, the fireflies, hovering over the island meadows.

I come home with my finished paintings and look at them back in the studio, and if I'm lucky and have observed closely and paid attention as well as I'm able, my paintings will have glimmers of all this available luminosity. This year, it was tough. Many of them clunk in shadow instead of singing with light. But even then, it's worth it, this island time. I still get to be in the light myself, even if I can't pack it up and bring it home with me. I wouldn't have it any other way. As Raymond Carver says in Where Water Comes Together with Other Water (p.81, from the poem Tomorrow):

"My bowl is empty. But it's my bowl, you see,
and I love it."

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