When my family and I moved to Marietta ten years ago, part of the reason I was attracted to this small, quiet borough was its setting along the outside edge of a broad, wooded bend in the Susquehanna River. From our house, it's a very short two blocks and over the berm that carries two sets of Norfolk Southern railroad tracks to a narrow band of tangled woods leading to the river, with a steeply wooded high ridge in view across the fast moving but flat water. The juxtaposition of a wide, flowing river and the metaphoric river of rolling steel was a compellingly poetic image in my mind. I envisioned long, meditative walks as a part of my daily life here, nourishing my spirit in the way that growing up on my parents' farm in the hills of central New York state did when I was a boy.
Yet I've taken advantage of this feature far too little in the time that we've lived here. The demands of work, family, and the driving pace of modern living have made it regrettably easy to allow months to pass without a single excursion down to the river's edge, even as it is virtually just outside our front door. But on this beautiful springlike morning, feeling stressed and dispirited over my purpose in life (sounds melodramatic and corny, but there it is), I stuffed a favorite pipe with a wad of tobacco, hung my black leather bag with sketchbook and pencils inside over my shoulder, and walked down to the riverside.
When I got there, the morning mist was still burning off, and the colors were soft. No one else was out and I had the woods to myself. Soon enough, I wandered off the winding path and into the trees, found a spot to sit, and took out my sketchbook and tin of colored pencils. I set my still smoldering pipe down in the dry, dead leaves and the season's first new growth and began to draw. It wasn't long before I let go of the worries and upset that I'd been carrying around. The restorative power of being out in the untended natural world calmed and soothed me, and once again, whether it resulted in art or not, engaging with that world and responding with pencils on paper gave me back the sense of gratitude that eludes me when I fail to appreciate these simple blessings of being alive and aware.
Sometimes it's fun to just do a little bit at a time as a break and distraction from other work. Started drawing the still bare trees by the river from the studio balcony yesteday near dusk, then lost interest and drew the pipe I was smoking, one of the oldest in my collection, by an obscure maker named Saginario that I ran across at an outdoor art fair in Rochester, New York's Third Ward neighborhood in 1980. This morning, I added the empty old Balkan Sobranie tin that an ebay merchant sent to me for free a couple of years ago. But now, back to WORK.