When I returned from a stint of teaching and painting in France last week, the first thing i wanted to do was follow the admonition I'd jotted on my calendar before I left in early May, and "get started painting at the Johnson Farm".
Emerging from the fog of jet lag, I prepared the 12" x 12" supports I'll be using for the project by mounting linen on birch panels, then coating them with gesso. Yesterday morning at 6:00 am, I loaded my car with easel, painting supplies, lunch in a cooler, bug spray, and a cup of strong coffee, and headed out in the cool of the early morning for a 2 hour drive to the very northeast corner of Vermont.
This Northeast Kingdom had become a very green and lush place since I was last up here in the early spring. As I wound along the Connecticut River near Canaan, I searched for familiar spots from my last trip up, trying to figure out exactly where I was on the 1,000 acre Johnson Farm. When I came upon this sign for one of the property's Wildlife Management Areas--one of only three WMA's along the entire Connecticut River--I turned off to explore on foot with sketchbook and camera.
On my first trip up to the farm, I'd discovered that I was most interested in those margins where working landscape meets natural environment. I like the patterns, shapes, colors, and compositions where these corn and hay fields abut woods and wetlands.
The "back story" here is compelling, too. The Johnson family wanted to protect both the legacy of their family property, and the natural areas they had come to know so well over their thirty years of tilling and grazing this land. Their partnership with the Vermont Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, the state of Vermont, and the new owners Cy and Andrea Nelson, is a real conservation--and family farm--success story.
All of this interesting content faded from my mind as I picked a spot for my first painting of a year-long project. For the next four hours, it was just me and my easel skirmishing with ninety degree heat, deer flies, and my paint and canvas.
There's a saying that it takes two people to do a painting: one to paint, and one to tell her when to stop. Once I stopped, I revived myself with an iced coffee across the river in Colebrook, NH, then drove back down VT Route 102 to do some more looking around, and think about future paintings.
I pulled into the next Johnson Farm Wildlife ManagementAarea, and came upon a place I hadn't seen before, with a little pond, old rock walls, and the remnants of a long-gone perennial garden. There had been a home here once, a place of hard work and pleasure in small beauties, but now It was completely quiet, and returned to nature.
I walked down a path in the woods hoping to find the river, but turned back after a few minutes, deciding to leave that exploration for another day. I was hot and tired, and it was time to get on the road. I'd seen so much I wanted to paint, and would be back in a few days.
But before i called it a day, I made one more stop at the last Johnson Farm WMA down Route 102, to see how the landscape in this protected area had changed since my first visit in May. The field by the wetlands was hayed, but grasses grew tall around the marsh. I startled ducks nesting on the pond, but they quickly settled down. So did the domesticated geese grazing in the yard by the access road, too occupied with looking at the river to pay me much mind, as I drove past them, on my way home.