Some Almanack readers may remember a couple of wildlife adventures I’ve written about (“The Cruel Art of Nature” and “Survival of the Fittest on the Pinnacle Trail”). I can’t say that I am obsessed with the cruelty of raw nature, but I am attracted to it – the primeval laws of survival. Some wild creatures have to eat other wild creatures in order to live. We humans used to be like that. This is the subject matter of two of my paintings being shown in an upcoming exhibit.
But not all my paintings are about life and death in nature – some are just encounters that occurred because, as an artist, I’m pretty observant. Especially in the natural world, I notice things that a lot of other people might just walk right by.
If readers can recall taking aptitude tests in elementary school, where there would be things like four graphic images and you’d have to identify the one that was different – I always scored in the 100th percentile on those. So when I’m out hiking or looking for painting locations, I’m always looking for what’s different, what’s out of place, or what’s new. For my plein air landscape paintings, I always feel I need to have an interesting composition of unique subject matter right from the start, so I look for the unusual rock formations, striking lighting condition and other elements that would help me produce a painting that would attract attention. I don’t want to just illustrate a view – I want to create a work of art that tells a story!
I also always watch the ground, not continuously, of course, but I pay attention to where I’m going. I notice things like the coyote tracks that cross over my ski tracks. Recently, while hiking in to Grassy Pond (site of one of my wildlife paintings), I spotted a coyote track in the wet sand alongside the outlet stream. How do I know it wasn’t the canine companion of someone who recently hiked the trail? Well, there were only 2, very clear tracks, in the wet sand. They were a little ways off the trail and they disappeared right away. The animal who made them was on a mission – it crossed the stream and moved on. No dallying about, no frisking around in the water or stopping to lap up a drink. This was not a domestic animal enjoying a walk in the woods.
Grassy Pond, a side trail that’s part of the Hayes Brook Truck Trail system north of Paul Smiths, was where the heron nest was that I wrote about in 2012, and again in 2013, “Returning to the Heron Nest”, when I encountered the biggest black bear I’d ever seen in the woods. I make the four-mile round trip often (I’ve adopted the lean-to there with my friend Marilyn Gillespie). The herons no longer come and try to nest there, although their nest tree can still be seen from several locations along the shore of the pond.
Unfortunately the ancient beaver dam at the outlet was breached two years ago. That may be why the herons haven’t returned as the pond water level is down almost two feet. The beavers also appear to be gone as all the dams are in disrepair and the lodge on the far side of the pond is out of the water. The bear, however, is still there. Someone wrote in the lean-to journal that they’d seen the bear last fall and just yesterday I noticed what appeared to be fresh bear scat not far from the lean-to, full of berry/fruit seeds.
Illustration: Sandra Hildreth’s “The Black Bear at Grassy Pond”.
NOTE: Sandra Hildreth’s exhibit “Close Encounters of the Wild Kind” has opened at the Adirondack Artist Guild Gallery in Saranac Lake. There will be a free Gallery Talk, August 13th at 7 pm, where Sandra will tell the stories behind the paintings. The Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery is located at 52 Main St, Saranac Lake.