Yesterday my husband and I went for a bike ride in the morning and came across a meter-long snake a little thicker than my wrist coiled up on the road. Fortunately a truck was driving down the road at the same time and pulled over to inspect the reptile. The driver, clearly knowing what he was doing and what species he was looking at, picked it up by its tail and flung it gently to safety in the ditch. His twelve year old son was right next to him wide-eyed. “It’s a bullsnake!” he yelled cheerfully after us.
Later that day we made a picnic to eat in a state park. We pulled into a site and I made my way towards the picnic table. Then I spotted a note scrawled on legal paper held down by rocks. It read, “Black widow nesting under table comes out at night. Consider moving away rather than killing? Thanks”… It was night. Perfect time for a dinner picnic… and letting black widows crawl on your knees. We ate in the car and enjoyed the brilliance of colour through the windshield.
In this land of tough, rough, wild creatures it’s nice once in a while to focus on the gentle, non-poisonous kinds. Here are some ducks I sketched at Oasis State Park the day I spotted “Snakey“.
This week while at Oasis State Park climbing a sandy slope to look for a nice place to paint I stumbled upon a snake. Not at all unusual, but the largest I’ve seen in the wild in New Mexico.
I was walking under a tree when I noticed some very slight movement above my head. I looked up to find a tan/gray shape coiled in the crook of the tree. I paused for a moment and saw that it was on the move down the tree three feet to my left. Obviously I retreated to the car where I continued to watch. Snakey (I named him/her) then investigated the area where I was standing and headed for the car. Unfortunately my nature viewing ended soon afterwards because I had clearly disturbed Snakey and he or she was now moving intently towards me. I didn’t want to let Snakey get so close to the car that I might run them over, nor did I want to stick my head out the open windows to check his/her progress… so I drove away.
I parked the car at a safe distance and walked to a shaded picnic bench where I painted for a few hours (see post “Oasis” which shows another canvas from this day). In this painting, the tree on the right is the one I saw Snakey in.
I described my snake spotting (in great detail) to some park employees and they helped me identify it as a Coachwhip.
Some neat things I learned about Coachwhips: They are often active in hot conditions when other snakes seek shelter in cool retreats. They spend most of their time on the ground but are capable climbers so are occasionally encountered in trees and on cacti. They are slender bodied snakes relative to their length and are extremely fast (believed to be the fastest in North America). If they are cornered, coachwhips will strike repeatedly (often at their attackers face) and bite strongly if given the opportunity (they can raise the first third of their bodies to reach what they want to bite). Though they are aggressive in defense, these snakes will not chase a person down and “whip them to death” as a common legend suggests. Phew.
So, this is just my shoddy internet research (Online Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Arizona among one of my sources) and I could be wrong in attributing some characteristics to Snakey when there are seven subspecies of coachwhips widely distributed across the southern US. But I got carried away with the fun factor of writing about snakes… I hope you forgive me.
Sometimes the process of making a painting is over in a blink. The ideas come to me in an instant, I make the time to plan, sketch, set up the colours and dive in. My body cooperates (no headaches or back aches) and hours later I stumble out of the studio in a dehydrated daze trying to remember when I last ate… I’m happy when I peek back through the door and see a new creation staring back at me… I’m excited, often surprised as I stare at it… the painting almost seems to be saying, “What? Did I get the wrong address? Isn’t this where I’m supposed to be?”
But quite often, this is not the case. Sometimes ideas germinate for a long, long time. I sketch, I plan and nothing develops out of my efforts so I leave it alone and move on. Often I let the ideas go forever (there will always be more) but some are more potent than others and I keep thinking about them from time to time, curious and hopeful that they might still one day grow.
I made Cedar Falling a few years ago and it has since been waiting for a “sibling” painting. I had many ideas in mind and never found the time between my four part-time jobs to test them out, always afraid they wouldn’t turn out and I’d have wasted my time. For the past two months however I’ve been walking past the imposing 38 x 48″ canvas of Cedar Falling, which I set against a wall in my living room – a constant reminder of those ‘loose ends’ in this story.
So for the past two weeks I’ve been piecing together more of the imagined narrative and have three new small canvases in various degrees of completion. Below is the first one that I finished today. Hopefully the other siblings will also find their full force and I’ll post them here… maybe they won’t. It’s a mystery. Stay tuned.