Month of Love - Love is All Around


Plein air sketches, Mercer Botanical Gardens. Watercolor & pencil. 6" x 9".

The Month of Love challenge for this week was slightly different from the others: "Get outside your studio and your comfort zone. Go somewhere you’ve never been and look for “love”...The possibilities are endless if you go out with eyes (and sketchbook) open."

Sounds like a plein air assignment to me, so I went to the Mercer Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, which I've been meaning to visit for over a year. On the way I took a wrong turn and found myself on a toll road with no way off, and no cash to pay the toll. The lady at the tollbooth gave me a card announcing "THIS IS A NOTICE OF A TOLL VIOLATION EVENT." I was terrified I'd have to play several hundred dollars in fines for taking a wrong turn-- but since I was a first offender, in the end I only had to pay the cost of the toll.

Never doing that again. Ever.

The Botanical Gardens were beautiful. I can't believe I waited this long to visit. Even though the flower beds were still mostly brown and dead, the gardens were still beautiful. Daffodils were blooming, the grass was green, and there were lots of white flowers that resembled lilies-of-the-valley. I also made the acquaintance of one of the gardeners, who happens to be a one-eyed cat.

Cold Mountains

I always crave mountains in the fall.  I get an itch under my skin that grows worse as the year wears on, until I end up like Bilbo, wishing to "go and and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls...and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick." This October, for the first time in nearly four years, I got to see my mountains.  My brother, sister-in-law and I rented a cabin in Seven Devils, NC, population 192-- the perfect town to visit at Halloween.  Our cabin was just below the part of the woods marked off for the "Haunted Hayride," and the hayride drove past our campfire regularly every night.  I couldn't convince either my brother or sister-in-law to go on the hayride with me, and I certainly wasn't going to go alone.  So I did my best werewolf howls whenever the hayride drove past.  (Helping out the other haunters, you know.  Brother & sister-in-law did not appreciate this.)

On our first day in the mountains we hiked portion of the Tanawha Trail that ran through open fields and hills. There were enormous cow pats in the grass, the largest I've ever seen. Eventually, we met the cows: huge black beasts who kept their distance from us.

On the top of a hill, with a view of field, forest, mountain, and cattle, I sat down and painted this dead tree. The sign for the Tanawha trail was nailed to the trunk.  That sign was the only thing that assured me that we weren't trespassing on someone's farm.


The next day, we drove to the trailhead for Linnville Falls. If I've ever been to those falls before, it was when I was too young to remember. They were new to me.  Hiking to the highest overlook was work.  (I was in good shape this summer, running three times a week, until I got my fourth sinus infection of the year.  By the time my sinuses had recovered, it was August, and too hot to walk anywhere, let alone run.)  But the hikes were worth it.  The falls were truly stunning, like a wilderness from Middle Earth.

Since it was the weekend, there were a lot of people on the trails, and I had an audience while I painted.  Several children sat next to me, asked questions ("Are you painting that waterfall?") and tried to snatch my paintbrushes.


On our last day, we drove a long ways south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to Craggy Gardens. October is not the best time of year to hike this trail, since the rhododendrons are not in bloom, and hang over the trail all shaggy and brown.  Even in the open places there were gnats everywhere.  But I remember coming here as a child, and I wanted to see it again.

I painted this view very quickly, in about fifteen minutes, because the sun was hot and the gnats kept drowning themselves in my water.


I'd like to start a project that will probably last a long time-- painting through the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Eventually perhaps I'll put all the paintings and sketches together in a book.