Monday, February 1, 2010

Perils of Plein Air Painting: a Stalking Bull

"Leelanau Vineyard", 8x10" plein air study, oil on canvas

I've been an outdoor enthusiast all of my life and in that time, as an artist, I've had the privilege of introducing many hundreds of students to painting en plein air, a French term meaning from life in the out-of-doors. Personal safety is always a consideration for artists when painting on location. Unfortunately, no matter how careful we are situations can and do happen to keep life interesting. I've certainly had my fair share of encounters with domestic and wild animals over the years. Some more interesting than others.

Two summers ago I met and received permission from the owner of a large vineyard in northern Michigan to paint anywhere I wanted on her picturesque and very hilly property as long as I had 4-wheel drive to get around. Towards the end of our conversation the woman casually mentioned, "don't go into the north pasture because there are cows there".

After driving around for sometime to familiarize myself with possible painting sites I ended up on a long up-hill farm lane next to the north field where a large herd of cows were fenced in by a single wire. The lane finally petered out so I killed the motor, stepped out of my car and continued the steep climb on foot to the top of the hill to see the view.

I was nearly to the top when I heard a grunting sound coming from the herd. Having grown up around farm animals, the hair on the back of my neck raised. I looked to my right across the thin wire that separated me from the herd and saw the cows dividing like the waters of the Red Sea as a huge bull stalked towards me not 30 feet away. Every few feet he'd hesitate and paw the earth. It was obvious he meant business and didn't want me near his cows. I desperately looked around for a place of safety only to discover that the nearest tree and my car were at least 100 yards below me. Clearly, I was in a dicey situation. I did the only thing I could do in such a situation and broke out into a cold sweat of fear as my mind raced searching for a possible out. The best I could figure was the obvious... I needed to get somewhere other than where I was fast.

If you know anything about the size of a bull in its prime, you'll know that a wire, even an electrified wire, wont stop a bull if he decides to go through it. In the short moments that my brain was calculating the distance between us and the distance to my car the behemoth arrived at the wire still snorting and pawing earth. I began to move slowly sideways in the direction of the car being cautious not to move fast and/or directly away from the bull. Believe me that trip down the hill to my car was the longest walk I've ever made. The bull, not 10 feet from me, followed my every step snorting and pawing earth all the way. With relief unequal to any word known in the English language, I finally reached the car and literally threw myself into it.

Later, when I returned to the vineyard office, I told the owner about the experience. She looked at me as though I was crazy and said, "that bull wouldn't hurt a flea!" Well, believe me when I say to you that I wont be going back any time soon to prove her wrong.

1 comment:

stephane said...

It is so beautiful !!!
Congratulations from Belgium ...