Stone walls are a subtle reminder of the vast human labor that has gone into these fields.
|Clary Hill #2, by Carol L. Douglas. Watercolor on Yupo, full sheet.|
I dropped Clif off at Rolling Acres Farm and collected my oil-painting kit. If I hurried, there was just enough time to finish a painting in the waning light. It’s perfectly serviceable, but the composition doesn’t begin to express the skewed perspective on this hilltop.
|Blueberries, by Carol L. Douglas. By late September, the red of the blueberry barrens is an impossible color.|
In early September, the groundcover is orange-red and the small outcroppings of trees are green. Farther along in the season, the plants will be an impossible, deep, uniform red. There are open patches where nothing grows. In a more conventional landscape, these would be small ponds, but here they are granite, rising to the surface in long fingers.
The farther north you travel on the Atlantic seaboard, the more blueberry barrens you see. They and their close relatives, cranberries, are the only crops that we harvest from wild plants. But blueberries aren’t planted and cultivated in purpose-built bogs, as cranberries are. Instead, blueberries spread from rhizomes. You don’t plant them as much as encourage them. In the right conditions, they grow like weeds, including in my lawn. In that sense they’re more like a natural resource than a crop.
|Clary Hill #1, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvas, 36X24.|
Wild blueberries bear little resemblance to the fat highbush blueberries that are grown commercially in milder climes. Ours are short, tough, shrubby things, with tiny berries. The wild ones like the acidic soil and abundant sunshine of the far north, and they have their counterparts in the subarctic ring worldwide.
Today rocks can be moved with heavy equipment, but the stone walls that crisscross blueberry barrens were built by unknown, long-gone hands. The berries are hand-harvested as well. That makes the stone wall an integral part of the portrait of a blueberry barren, a subtle reminder of the vast labor that has been done on this spot for generations.
|Sketch for the painting at top.|
On Sunday, I went back again with watercolors. As I was setting up, a birder stopped by. He’s been visiting Clary Hill for forty years, and encouraged me to cross the gate and walk to the top. There, laid out below me, was Joseph Fiore’s vista. I would have had to trespass to get his exact view, but the wishbone track peters off to the right, just as he painted it. Far in the distance is the coast—St. George, perhaps, or Owls Head.
|Just like old times!|
I was just settling down to work when my daughter Mary showed up. Our phones location-share, so she drove over from Augusta to find me. Mary traveled across Canada with me, studying and reading while I painted. It was like old times. She did homework while I painted, on a barren hilltop in the middle of nowhere.