Friday, May 6, 2011

Seeing Deer

A whitetail deer at Broadmoor

"[Stewart Edward] White was an excellent observer, and devoted an entire chapter of The Mountains to the subject of seeing deer: “As soon as you can forget the naturally obvious and construct an artificial obvious, then you too will see deer.”
But the artificial obvious is hard to see. My eyes account for less than one percent of the weight of my head; I’m bony and dense; I see what I expect. I once spent a full three minutes looking at a bullfrog that was so unexpectedly large I couldn’t see it even though a dozen enthusiastic campers were shouting directions. Finally I asked, “What color am I looking for?” and a fellow said, “Green.” When at last I picked out the frog, I saw what painters are up against: the thing wasn’t green at all, but the color of wet hickory bark.
The lover can see, and the knowledgeable."
–Annie Dillard "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek", 1994
I was walking under the spell of the early morning light yesterday. It was damp and cold from the previous day's rain as I followed the trail around the head of the marsh. I surprised strange ducks, numerous chipmunks and several whitetail deer. This fellow stopped and stood and allowed me to sketch the basics of his aspect. After it ambled away I stood there for another twenty minutes trying to render the vegetation and general visual static of the new growth in the open forest. But there was so much that I didn't draw!

Walking in the woods as an artist requires the delicate management of one's patience, one's knowledge about what is or should be there, and, as Dillard says: "the artificially obvious",  the imagination that anticipates things we are seeking. Things like deer or even things that are not visible.

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