On Good Friday 2013 I had decided to take advantage of thawing weather and head north into public land beyond Ely, Minnesota, the habitat of spruce grouse and source of the setting I am painting around a spruce grouse drawn from a photo I shot in Lake County two and a half years ago. Passing up through national forest along Highway 2 I sighted my subject bird, the spruce cock, in the roadway doing as his kind will, eating grit for use in grinding his food; he has a crop full of sand and pebbles which takes the place of a mouth full of teeth.
The encounter, it pleased me to think, boded well for the artwork that would continue from the top of that cliff I traveled toward, 112 miles north of Duluth, where snow likely blown and melted away should have handily exposed a little of the surface I yearned to paint. By my arrival, no trails had been broken by anything but deer in the campground I had to cross, and the snowshoes more often than not sank deeply at each stride, making for slow and sweaty travel. Reacting at intervals to my weight, a section of snow as big as a bathroom floor around me would sometimes fracture and whoosh downward, releasing air with an almost industrial-sounding blast from a range of hollow spots beneath. At other times the snow crust barely crushed under me. My laborious, calorie-fueled procession took its own time as the beast of burden continued to a settling-place on top of the rock dome where indeed I found the semi-bare conditions I had hoped for, the roots of pines exposed on pinkish cliff.
Sorrow, mostly a private matter except to those people I've told about it, accompanies me lots of places these days. There are various helps for sorrow but one of the best is huge country, too inhospitable for alien plants or much of the digging from urbanization to expand their reach. Here is the home of the wild beasts and specialized birds still left on earth, and sorrow might well arise from thoughts of the earth so glutted with humankind that these very places like the rest become infested with ourselves, our roads and our facilities.
It is natural to hate sorrow and fear all that poses a hazard of it, recognized in different ways by different people. At the same time sorrow persists, accompanies folks everywhere in low-grade, residual or full-blown intensity and is opposed with work and contemplation. Sorrow gives rise to corrective courses, new chapters and illness, which makes way for branching off and innovation by those more or less affected. Sorrow challenges our lives the way competition, seismic upheaval and disease challenge the trees at root level. We go into the wild and see what the trees have done by way of response.
We go back out into the streets, or, if we have the option to do so, we linger at those places deep in vegetation dead and alive, where we build something hidden, as we see it, to other people. We know ourselves sufficiently torn down by our choices and those of other people that we will make our creation manifest when the good hopes brought back in us somehow, through days and nights characterized by that forest, the heavenly bodies belonging to everyone and the drama of all events determine that the time is ripe.