Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Porpoise Driven Life

See what I did in the title? I made a pun! On the name of some completely naff self-help spiritual bollocks bestseller from the last decade. I'm actually in St Augustine Florida, the oldest city in the United States (if you discount the claim of Jamestown, Virginia--and all the Indian civilizations and settlements of the millenia preceding both of those). My wife Patty and I have come here for the last three years in a row, and it is full of delightful sightings that don't happen in our urban Chicago neighbourhood. To wit: porpoises curving out of the waters of the bay, glimpsed in groups and singly on our morning walk along the beach in front of our rented condo; osprey overhead, hovering in the air as they hunt for fishy prey, or calling loudly as they fly by with a fish wriggling in their talons:

On our very first stroll yesterday morning, we saw: a pelicanvention (copyright Patty McNair 2013), skimmers, gulls, osprey, sandpipers, and other birds that I don't even know the name of but which have thin legs and run very very fast when the waves come up the shore. And did I mention the porpoises?

I've been a city dweller for so long now that I know I can't live permanently anywhere else. Like I say to anyone who will listen: I only feel truly comfortable when I'm surrounded by five million people.

And yet, I never completely forget that I grew up close to a sea, surrounded by fields (blotted by coal mines, but anyway), with farms and horses near the small village of a couple of hundred people. Being closer to natural elements of water, sky, sand, and so many animals, is refreshing, a reminder of my old self that used to walk for hours through the fields to the cliffs overlooking the North Sea, a volume of Wordsworth's poems in my pocket. And when I'm in a place like this, my drawing starts to reflect it, too:

My studio in Chicago doesn't have windows, so spending a week next to the ocean is almost literally like opening the windows and letting some light in to my vision.  I look up from this table where I am typing, and I see a green lawn lit brightly by the morning sun, a line of ferns that marks  the dunes, and immediately above that, so close it seems I can touch it, a prussian blue slab of sea. Next week, we return to the frozen north, and preparations for a new semester of teaching, an exhibition in California, and so on. But for now, we're content to wander off to the beach as often as we can, and let ourselves be led around by the porpoises for a bit.

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