Deep Forest Pool, oil on panel, 30 x 40, 2011
Sometimes setbacks are good. As a boy, I often suffered a forced separation from my friends. Let me explain.
In my neighborhood riding bikes was big. Unless there was snow covering the roads it was the default form of play for my friends. For hours at a time they'd ride bikes. If one wanted to fit in, this was the place to be.
When I was six I got my first two wheeler- it was too big for me but my parents figured I'd grow into it. The only place I could practice riding the thing was our steep driveway. Instead of paved asphalt it was covered in crushed stone that was really too rough to ride a bicycle over.
I walked the bike half way up the driveway hill and with a deep breath pushed off. Within seconds I lost my balance and went down hard, ripping through one of the knees of my pants and taking a gouge of flesh with it. To this day I still can see the little scar it left of my right knee. I was spooked and unfortunately stayed that way.
Subsequent attempts proved less bloody but my heightened anxiety kept me from having any hope of getting the balancing thing down. It took me another two or three years before I finally figured out how to stay upright on the darned thing. In the interim, something interesting happened. When my friends went riding their bikes I felt bad about not being able to join in. To save face, I'd leave.
I figured I might as well entertain myself. With nothing else to do I'd and would go off into the woods to play alone.
Where I grew up was pretty remarkable. It was a heavy forest along the shore of Lake Ontario, east of Rochester, NY. Very hilly. Lots of pine, white birches, and my favorites, the smooth light grey trunks of beech trees. I loved how the woods felt. I became sort of an amateur naturalist but never bothered to learn much of the names of all the plants, insects, rock formations and the like. Mostly I just liked looking at it.
Kids by nature tend to be pretty social, yelling to each other, laughing, whispering secrets. All this is good, but I think kids also often miss a lot. My enforced solitude in a way forced me to slow down and let the look and feel of the forest soak into me. Alone you can listen to the trees, smell the crumbling wood of a old log. You begin to realize the natural world speaks to us if only you stand still long enough to take it in. It was lonely. I made up for that as best I could by opening myself to feel the personalities of the forest.
Finding your own way, finding out what delights you and where you want to linger. By accident I stumbled into these things. What a wonderful preparation for the art life that, little did I know, would be awaiting me.