Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Sense of Place

Have you ever traveled to a place that truly speaks to you, hugging you close like a new romance, begging you not to leave and waiting with open arms for your return? There's something intimate about returning to the same place over and over, building a relationship with one piece of land. Artists do it all the time. We find a spot that calls to us, and we visit it often, sketching and painting the same images in different weather conditions, throughout the seasons and at various times of day. By doing this one begins to take notice of changes in the light, colors, animals populations and plant life. Land ages as we do. New tenants take up residence and some leave forever. By using all your senses and being still, you can hear what the lands has to tell you, taking notice of what it reveals. By recording your impressions in a sketchbook with images and words, you are preserving a piece of history that may one day disappear.

I have two such places that draw me to them on a regular basis, but the most persuasive is Bodie Island. I apologize for once again writing about this spot but it constantly calls to me like a siren at sea. I have walked these roads and trails with my children throughout the years, marveling at the ibis, herons, kingfishers and turtles. We watched deer stepping softly on leaf-padded paths and rabbits slipping through their underbrush tunnels. Now I walk these trails with a close friend or by myself. Memories flood my brain full of quiet wonder, not as bittersweet as you might think, but joyous in all that has been shared with those I love.

For most of this summer, the heat and mosquitoes have kept me from visiting, waiting for the cooler weather to set in and lure me back to my familiar haunt. And so on Friday, even though I should have been locked up in the studio preparing for my shows, I grabbed my sketchbook and paints and spent a few hours on Bodie Island amidst Autumn who is just settling in, unpacking her foliage and donning her glow.

The plants, bushes and trees wore sap green, hooker's green, quinacridone burnt orange and cadmium yellow with a dappling of mixed violets in the shadows. Swipes of alizarin crimson and cobalt blue in the sky above and reflected in the rippled water below completed the scene. A surround-sound of bird calls filled the bushes, honking and squawking, while tiny fish jumped and splashed in the pool at the bottom of the creek. Friendly fishermen ambled down the road, calling out a hello as they headed back to their vehicles with a catch of metallic-scaled trout glinting in the abundant sunshine. But as I suspected, there were changes. The trails were overgrown, hiding the path into the wood. Only one familiar would know the way. And the water has edged up a bit onto the banks, pulling on the hem of the land like a toddler.

It has always been my practice to keep one sketchbook for everything from notes to myself to drawings of cats, bugs, trees, clouds, plants, along with glued in papers and newspaper clippings. But I decided to honor my favorite place with a handcrafted book all its own. I chose a chocolate brown hardcover book from the turn of the century entitled, Textbook of Phonography, stamped in gold lettering with a lovely embossed edging of flowers along the bottom. Since the definition of phonography is, shorthand writing based on sound, it fit the bill, sketching being my shorthand for all the senses.

I don't know how long it will take me to fill this little book but I will use it whenever I wander down to my favorite spot. When it becomes crammed with drawings and musings and not an inch is left to spare, I will lovingly close the cover, place it on my bookshelf and craft another volume, because I will always return to Bodie Island.

"And this our life exempt from public haunt finds its tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it."       -   Shakespeare


  1. fyi-"mossy" by jan brett
    a great story , check it out!

  2. phonography is a fascinating subject in and of itself.

  3. I love your re-purposed book turned sketchbook, Elizabeth! It is beautiful, and I am sure you will fill it with many beautiful things!