Even when you aren’t out looking for it.
There are times when you are painting and you become so focused upon your canvas that you’ve shut everything else out except your art. You fail to see what lies just beyond your frame of reference.
The thing about painting en plein air is that everything around you is alive: the trees, the grass, the sun, the air – even the light itself can appear to shimmer and dance. And certainly the wildlife is alive. The view from of this cliff was so awe-inspiring, so engrossing, that not one of us ten painters working away in John Burton’s workshop noticed what was happily munching on the shrubbery one outcrop over.
That is, until someone looked up from the water below to rest her eyes, and said, “Hey, there’s a deer over there!”
There is much comedy to be found in these two photographs. All of us huddled together like puffins on a rock (or cormorants if you insist upon being more ornithologically correct!), bracing our bodies and easels against the unexpected gust, entirely absorbed by our struggle to trap the light before it faded away, when along comes a California mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) who was entirely unconcerned with our drama.
It was young buck, a first year, and he seemed quite nonchalant about our intrusion into his world. Unconcerned, because if you tried to step off the trail anywhere within the park you’d immediately find yourself in the middle of a large patch of poison oak, a plant which provides a most effective barrier against the usual and customary idiocy of your everyday tourist. Poison oak is everywhere in Point Lobos and the park management likes to keep it that way. They’ll clear the trails by cutting back the greenery but leave the roots and branches along the edge as a warning. Apparently it keeps the erosion down and silly visitors on the straight and narrow at the same time. There are a lot of deadly drop-offs in the park.
However, I’m lucky. I have a high tolerance for poison oak and can be exposed to a lot of it before it becomes a problem. So I marched over swathes of the stuff to trap the buck out on his rock and had time to photograph him at my leisure. Eventually though, he lost patience and charged at me twice with his antlers lowered. But he was young and unsure, a first-year buck in his first rut, so I don’t believe his heart was entirely into it. Or perhaps he wasn’t as concerned as I thought. And maybe less so after I backed off and offered a way out. But once he got the out he didn’t take it. Went back to dinner instead.
Isn’t that what we all want anyway? To have a way off our bluff? Once you get that you can always go back to grazing.