Monday, January 23, 2012

Sketching and painting at Fakahatchee Strand

Fakahatchee grassy marsh, originally uploaded by Elizabeth Smith.

“There are still remnants of the old wild Florida. There is always something. Anytime. Day or night, cold or warm, in the rain or shining sun you can find bits of the old wild left around, if you can only get away from your fellow man for a spell.”
~ Archie Carr

One way to rediscover the old wild Florida is to visit Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, which I did as part of the En Plein Art – Arts in the Fakahatchee event last Saturday, which also happened to correspond with the 34th Worldwide SketchCrawl. Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park has many different types of habitats: strand swamp, marl prairies, cypress strands, tropical hardwood hammocks where one can find royal palm groves, pine rocklands, and even an estuarine system. A group of us met on the south side of US 41, just across from the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, where an old remnant of the highway bordered a vast sea of gold and green grasses.

There were remnants of charred cabbage palms along the roadside, with interesting textures. I found myself sketching one of the palm trunks near the ground because of the dried palms fronds and grasses arranged around it. We are in South Florida’s dry season, and one can find this reflected in the plants and grasses. Things aren’t the crunchy dryness of late spring quite yet, when fire danger is high, but the ground beneath the sea of grasses is only damp, not wet or marshy.

As I painted, I found myself thinking of what it was like when men and women first encountered these habitats, and how their environment shaped their days and nights. Another artist and I walked out into grasses, which was hard going. They were taller than they looked, head height and higher in some places, the ground so low that we couldn’t get to a vantage point for painting. I settled for coming back to the road and painting along the edge, while she remained, creating a lovely intimate watercolor of grasses framing a clear blue sky.

Off in the distance I observed wood storks flying in low over the grasses. Along the edge of the road, orange, white, and yellow butterflies nectared on the Spanish needles and rattlebox wildflowers in bloom. Overhead flew two large groups of tree swallows in seemingly random patterns. Later a trio of black vultures circled the sky. The sun was out all morning, with clear skies and occasional puffy clouds that soon vanished. Our high was 79 degrees (F)! What a beautiful day! Thank you to Amy, Anita, Cathy, Cyril, Karen, Kerri, Linda, Mary, Rose, and Stephanee for coming! A special thanks to Cyril for making the signs, and to Karen for creating the event!