Ah, an afternoon at the beach. Can’t you just feel the sun warming your shoulders, as your feet relish the sand and the water that never really warms up? I saw this trio the last time I had my daughter at the beach at Fort Sheridan. I really liked the dog leading the parade with his big stick, just like a parade marshal should. The graceful way the mom moves between the child and the dog, linking them. The adorable child, concentrating as she navigates the waves and sand and rocks along the shore. I painted this very loosely, to suggest the casualness of a summer afternoon, and used saturated colors to capture the bright sunshine. It was a bit turbulent in the water that day, so I had a wonderful time with color and brushstroke to suggest that.
This is a place on the shore of Lake Michigan that has a rich history. It was a military fort for a long time~there are photos of soldiers in the water with their cavalry horses dating back to the civil war. The area was closed to the public right after the afternoon in question. The Lake County Forest Preserve and the Corps of Engineers are working together to stabilize the shoreline and the ravines that terminate at the shore. You may remember Ray Bradbury talking about ravines in his wonderful book, “Dandelion Wine”. His ravines are from Waukegan, a bit to the north of the ones at Fort Sheridan. Stabilizing them is a tricky balance, because they are home to unique suites of plants that actually need erosion to thrive. Too much erosion from above, from home building, for example, will of course sweep away the whole thing. Too little and the plants will begin to die.
You may be wondering why I started talking about ravines when this is clearly a beach painting… 🙂 The thing is, it is all connected, all part of the same system. A thriving shoreline helps keep the Lake healthy and clean. Involving the nearby homeowners gives them a sense of connection, too, helping them understand how their actions affect the whole. The beach isn’t just a place to spend the day. It is part of their home.
I love it that what early settlers took for primeval forest here in America was, in fact, a garden. When Native Americans traveled they would gather seeds from trees and edible or useful plants and carry them back to their home territory where they would plant them. Fires were used to keep down brush and encourage the species they wanted to grow. Working with the natural world, rather than against it, they were able to create a beautiful healthy ecosystem that in turn fed them and provided them with fiber and wood. I am over simplifying, of course, but you get the idea. When I first learned of this it really captured my imagination, and inspired thoughts that led to this painting. By creating a background that almost resembles wall paper to set off the native tamarack I wished to portray, I want to convey this idea of working with nature. Think how our communities could be, if we invited nature back in and worked with her rather than banishing her to the neglected outskirts. This is happening in some areas. In many city neighborhoods gardens are appearing on roofs and on abandoned lots. They serve to provide food, slow the flow of water, and help keep temperatures cooler. Equally important they provide a green and leafy place for people to just be. In other areas the native ecosystems are being restored. Right in the heart of Chicago, for example, dunes and their native plant assemblies are being restored along the lakeshore. What a wonderful opportunity for people to see nature at work, right where they live. Who wouldn’t rather see grasses, flowers and birds than rip rap and chain link fencing as they stroll or jog along?
I hope my painting inspires you. Look around~how might your community invite nature back in, to the benefit of everyone? Can a small grocery store be inserted where people can walk to it? Could a tiny rose garden be squeezed into a parkway? Let me know what ideas you come up with. What if, instead of traveling to Europe to experience beautiful city centers, we could create them here? What if, instead of traveling to Costa Rica to experience rich forest, we could invite back our own? What if, rather than creating problems for ourselves and our beautiful planet, we created beauty?