In March 2022 I returned to Florida from my two-month winter adventure in Maine, and started checking off items on my catch-up list.
But three weeks after my return, while innocently crossing the parking lot at the grocery store, I felt something pop at the back of my “good” knee. My orthopedist gave me the bad news: I had torn loose my medial meniscus root. My only guess is that it had just been hanging on by a thread. If I didn’t have it repaired, I would need a new knee inside of a year. He scheduled surgery to repair it. Argh! What a shock to my charmed life! I have run into obstacles before, but being non-weight-bearing turned out to be Full Stop for me. (Picture me bumping around backwards seated on a rolling walker for 6 weeks.) Stuck in my second-floor apartment, and having to stand on only one leg to do anything made a chore of everything and it made Joan quite the dull girl. Following that adventure, rehabilitation has felt like an eternity. I am out of the brace and have finished my work with the physical therapist, and am now working on strength and endurance, and slowly rebuilding cardio by swimming, because I am not yet walking very fast. Hopefully I soon will have a more even gait and able to stand for longer periods of time so that I can return to painting outdoors.
This drama delayed my plans. Instead of early summer, my move to Downeast Maine now will be in mid-October. I never really adapted to being laid up, staying disgruntled most of the time. I kept my dream alive by reviewing my hundreds of photos, and drooling over other artists’ rocky shoreline paintings on Instagram. Now finally, I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, able to stand for short periods, and I have started boxing things up. The first things to be packed, and happily, were my crutches, cane, walker, compression wraps, and my elevated toilet seat! Those will go in the far back corner of the basement in the duplex apartment I will be renting. And as of yesterday, except for what is actually on my walls, all of my loose paintings are carefully packed and ready for the movers, including my collection of other artists’ work. This week I hope to get started on my storage unit.
I thought I would post photos of a few studies I painted a year ago at an artists retreat hosted by Mary Erickson in Port Clyde, Maine. I have these hanging in my “visioning corner” in my dining nook along with the works in my last blog post.
Before making a firm decision to move to the Northeast to learn to paint the rocky shoreline, I decided to test my tolerance for the winter weather by living there for a couple of months. So I found a rental in South Portland, Maine, and on this past New Years Eve I started my drive north with my cat and some art supplies. For the most part my winter gear was perfect for my sightseeing and adventuring, thanks to new insulation technology. I think my coldest venturing was around 0°F, with a wind chill of 15 below. I did need to buy some different hiking shoes – “Arctic Grip” soles are a prerequisite for safely traversing trails any amount of snow or minimal ice. My “Yak-Trax” worked well for more seriously icy walks. But my fingers nearly froze during the three seconds I would unglove in order to shoot a photo with my iPhone. Chemical hand warmers inside my mittens just couldn’t re-warm my fingers fast enough. So I broke down and bought some rechargeable electric gloves — Best. Invention. Ever. for cold-weather photography. My raingear and snow pants did well to block the wind, which was fairly constant at the shore. There were some days that it might have been warm enough to paint outdoors, but hauling my gear up and down 2 flights of stairs wasn’t something I relished, so I painted from memory and from reference photos when I got back indoors.
My experience was fairly tame, since it was a mild winter in a very civilized city. There was only one true Nor’easter and just a few storms with freezing rain. I would guess around two feet of snow fell over the two months I was there but my host did all the shoveling and snow-blowing, and the city was immediate in plowing and salting the roads.
My exploring took me as far northeast as Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, and south to Cape Ann and Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
The area around Acadia National Park has every kind and color of rock and all of the ocean drama that I want to learn to paint. Most certainly cities have more cultural opportunities and events, but for my goal of learning to paint the rocky shoreline, it is better to be closer to my subject. I can always make day trips to the art museums in Rockland, Portland, and Boston. I anticipate that I will be more inconvenienced by the winter weather than I was in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, but I don’t think it will be unmanageable. To be frank, the tourist season may be more of an aggravation to me than the weather. A friend of mine says our lives are ruled by the availability of parking!
And now I am back in Florida, waiting for a callback from the apartment complex where I will be renting when I move to Maine. I expect to be making the move sometime around mid-summer. I will be taking my paddle board and my canoe, but I am starting to pare down my other belongings, including my piles of paintings and drawings. Stay tuned, if you are following my Facebook page — I may be posting some amazing bargains and some freebies!
My life began taking a radical turn in a new direction a year ago while I was taking a course mentored by Dr. Michelle Gordon. The misfortune of having my official “launch” as a serious artist foiled by the pandemic in 2020 had stalled me, and Dr. Gordon’s program proved to be a good reset. The segment on healthy thinking included a fun exercise, visualizing my ideal day. I knew where this was going to go — if I could picture my ideal day, then I could start living it now, at least the parts that could immediately be put into action!
I pictured living in a grand house on a grassy cliff with giant windows looking out to sea. The view from the side windows would be the rocky cliffs receding into the distance. There would be a path down to the beach so I could easily transport my plein air painting supplies on my electric cart. The gorgeous scenery would provide infinite inspiration. Art exhibits, live theater and the symphony would be in town a mere 10 or 20 minutes away, and my daily routine would include a walk on a trail near the road. Evenings would be filled with laughter and camaraderie of small gatherings of fellow creatives sharing dinner with me, the meal prepared by my award-winning chef of course. To cement the visualization, I got out a slatted, cradled wood panel that I had picked up on a whim, and I painted the imaginary view from my house looking out to sea, and a few weeks later I painted the view I was visualizing through the side window, the receding line of cliffs. Without my knowing it, the mysterious wheels of change were already starting to turn, as I was being pulled towards my visualization. On one of my walks near my home in Northwest Florida I even caught myself experiencing the happiness of being in that ideal place — one part of my road actually was lined with the same type of grasses I imagined would be on the path through the grassy cliff!
I had no idea where this coastal cliff might be, but that detail did not matter. What would be fulfilling to me was to be in an area of exciting, endless inspiration to paint. After living for 40 years on the beautiful but flat Emerald Coast, I hungered for more dramatic landscape, scenes with a lot of angles and contrast; water crashing on sharp rocks would fit the bill. I spent a lot of time looking at the US coastline on Google Maps, looking for rocky shores with easy access, and then image-searching those areas. Northern California is supremely beautiful, as is the Pacific Northwest. But then I looked at other factors, like climate, wildfire and wind. I have vacationed on the jaw-droppingly beautiful coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia, so I started thinking more and more about New England, even though the winter might be unappealing.
Meanwhile, back to reality… A dearly departed friend used to say, “When uncertain, chop wood and carry water.” In other words, maintain routine, do your chores. For me, the chores that needed doing were necessary repairs on my house, postponed until I retired from my non-art career, and now it was time to take care of them. So, with the experienced guidance and support of my real estate friends Kim and Keen, I repaired and renovated my house and my studio and had the slightly wild-looking yard cleaned up. My contractors re-shaped the trees, graveled the driveway and carport, installed a water feature for my geothermal heat-pump, and replaced a few aging appliances. Kim and Keen then sold my house for me and my dream became a possibility.
That dream has evolved — I would like to spend the next productive part of my life learning to paint gorgeous scenery in different parts of the country — first maybe two years on the rocky coastline in New England, and then maybe a couple of years painting the spires and arches around Moab, and then possibly northern California or the Pacific Northwest, and perhaps down around Sedona or north to Glacier National Park, just letting my heart call me to the next beautiful place to paint. Or I could fall in love with the first area I go and decide to put down roots, who knows! Colorado will always be home because my family lives there, and I grew up there.
And now, just one year after visualizing my ideal life, here I am, in Maine. Actually I am here for only two months, January and February, to test my tolerance for the worst of the winter weather before I commit to moving here, and to do recon on longterm rentals. I’ve been staying in South Portland, Maine, for the month of January, exploring the scenic coast here and enjoying a little of what this sweet area has to offer. If you follow me on my personal Facebook Page, you know that I have not found winter to be a deal-breaker. February will include a widening of my circles as I look for longterm rental options. Next week I will drive up to Acadia National Park. At the end of February, I will return to my apartment in Florida to gather up my life. On the way home I will look at the coast of New Hampshire and then Cape Ann in Massachusetts.
Stay tuned to follow my adventures in this giant, intentional upheaval of my life.
And, if you have a home on a grassy cliff overlooking the sea somewhere, I would be happy to discuss house-sitting for you, if my cat Rafiki approves!
In the fall of 2008, I took my second solo “artist” vacation. Once you get past the aloneness of it, there is something almost sacred about solitude. I had packed up two boxes of art supplies and shipped them to myself General Delivery at Stonington, Maine, on Deer Isle. Due south of Stonington is Isle au Haut, most of which is a part of Acadia National Park.
On this particular trek I rode out to the island on the mail-boat, intending to hike the cliffs trail. It was an easy hike to the other side of the island. I rounded the first curve and the view of the cliffs opened up in front of me. I saw no need to hike further! I ate my cheese and crackers and fruit lunch, and then set about sketching the cliffs.
I was completely absorbed for a long time. I had even lost awareness of how hard the rocky ledge was that I was sitting on. All of a sudden I was attacked, literally, by a very territorial American Kestrel, who dove at my head repeatedly, screaming at me the whole time. At first I was amused and awed by the small falcon, but after one fairly close call, it dawned on me that I might want to keep my scalp, so I stood up and raised my arms, and he flew up to the top of a nearby tree.
Shortly after that, he flew away the length of the cliffs and disappeared. I guess he just wanted to make sure I understood that this was his territory. Several hikers walked past me over the next hour or so, and I asked them if they had seen him, but none had. I was left a little unsettled by the experience, to have caused such drama just by sitting there. Usually when painting plein air, critters come either ignore me or they come right up to me. I must have posed some kind of threat. It certainly made for an unforgettable experience!