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July 2, 2008. One day after my frustrated attempt to recapture my first water color at the orchard, I returned to the same area looking south down the run way. In contrast to my work just 24 hours earlier, this painting felt more alive. Nick had pushed pruned branches into a pile to burn. The pile had been much larger from prior days of burning. As I started to set up Nick arrived with his tractor and moved the remaining branches into one small pile leaving behind a large patch of scorched ground and ash. The patch was rich in color reminding me of the puddle that I painted just a few weeks earlier. Purples and blues wove through the dirt and ash. Heat from the burn in addition to the sun turned the grass just beyond the borders of the burn into embracing arms of orange and yellow.
An amazing thing occurred while I contemplated how to capture the few puffs of smoke that floated upward from the smoldering leaves and branches. Suddenly from the middle of the pile an eruption of smoke billowed up and with a southern wind I was engulfed in a thick gray veil. Ash fell around me sticking to the wet paper. Then, as quick as it came, the smoke lifted showing only a pillar or smoke rising from the center of the pile. A beautiful braid of yellow and pink smoke twisted through the center of the column. What an incredible site! As the yellow and pink faded, the tight column began to spread outward into a hazy cone.
As I progressed through the painting, I realized that the rows of apples on the right side of the work looked very much like green flames leaping from the earth. What a cool analogy. To the right of the pile can be seen a row of young saplings and the Packing House, a swath of red emerging from the smoke.
It is no wonder that fire and smoke can stimulate our imagination and inspire our soul. From Apollo and Prometheus of ancient Greek times, to the Spider Anansi of the Congo, to Attar (“ashes of roses”) from ancient Persia, to the Indian practice of keeping fire pits adorned by flowers and the noble colors of the kings (Arya), to the bible “Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke” (Song of Solomon 3:6).