Monday, January 30, 2017

Colonial Charm, Southern Hospitality, And The Perfect Kitty

After visiting Frederick, Maryland, for Easels in Frederick, it quickly made the list of possible places to settle down if we ever decide to go back to a sticks and bricks life.

Frederick and its surrounding communities are picturesque, and the people are friendly. Just as I have come to love some of the great neighborhoods of New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and St. Louis, I fell for downtown Frederick immediately, with its great shops and restaurants, and blocks of lovingly maintained colonial townhouses. It’s the charm of salvaged history coupled with all the desirable modern amenities. Frederick is also relatively affordable yet within easy driving distance of other great cities like New York and Washington D.C., something we took advantage of the first chance we got. So what’s not to love about Frederick?

The icing on the cake of the Easels event was our housing hosts. The couple have deep roots in the area, and we learned some interesting local history from them. They also gave me these playing cards as a gag after hearing about our bear adventures (exaggerations) in Cumberland. Love, love, love these people. 


Our hosts also have a young golden retriever named Summer, and of course we photographed and painted her. She’s such a gorgeous girl, how could we not?


Probably my favorite memory from this event was a peaceful morning Patrick and I spent at Monocacy National Battlefied. Patrick painted the historic Thomas House, and I was able to capture a vivid sunrise while he did. 



Patrick also painted a barn on the property of our housing hosts that ended up winning a light award at Easels … no shortage of historic barn charm in Maryland.



As soon as Easels in Frederick was over, we had to hustle to Richmond, Virginia for Plein Air Richmond, which started the day after Easels ended. Again we lucked out with a great host couple who could have not been more gracious and welcoming. They have two dogs who make the most adorable pair, especially side by side - big Bentley and little Dudley - so more pet photography and painting of course ensued. It was about at this point that Patrick and I realized that if we could just travel the country photographing and painting pets for portraits, that would be our ultimate dream job, a next level of joy even above the dream jobs we are already living. Maybe someday we’ll get there. Patrick loves painting pets - they are by far his favorite subject. We loved Bentley and Dudley's painting so much it ended up on our latest business card.
I tagged along with Patrick to Maymont Gardens, one of the Plein Air Richmond painting locations, out of sheer curiosity because I had never been there before. It’s a beautiful place, and well worth visiting, but I didn’t get any photographs of it because I ended up on a cat run.

After Patrick had scouted and picked a location at the garden, which produced another of my favorites of his plein air paintings this season, I wandered off to explore. I never got my camera out of its bag, because I stumbled across a scrawny cat, crying loudly. He was very friendly, and VERY hungry. He was pretty underweight, and had a small wound on his lower gums, something I have seen before in my years of work with animal shelters and rescues. It’s the type of injury that frequently occurs when a starving animal gnaws on things that aren’t particularly edible, in hopes of sustenance. From what I could tell, this little fellow was living under a bush at the garden, either a stray or dumped. He was very friendly and trusting with people, and while he was underweight and a little dirty, he wasn’t filthy, so perhaps he hadn’t been living in the garden for very long. I found a garden employee and asked if he knew about this cat. He did not, and said he would check with the rest of the staff. I went back to kitty, who continued to rub up against me, crying loudly. Anyone who’s ever had a cat knows that sound. It doesn’t matter how well fed they might be, cats can scream for food like they’re about to die. I decided to run to a deli down the street from the garden and pick up a can of cat food. Kitty came running as soon as I came back to his spot in the garden, and it broke my heart to see the speed at which this little fellow wolfed down his food - he was clearly starving.

A park volunteer came at this point with some food in her hand. As soon as she found out there was a stray cat in the park, she had rustled up the remnants of a staffer’s fast food breakfast in hopes of catching the cat. She was adamant about the urgency. “We can’t leave him here,” she told me, because of all the wildlife in the park - a hawk could get him, or he might wander into the bear sanctuary. At about this time I ran across one of the organizers of Plein Air Richmond from the Brazier Gallery. She suggested that I contact the Richmond SPCA, which happens to be the beneficiary of the Plein Air Richmond event. To make a long story short, I drove to the Richmond SPCA to get a cat carrier, and the Richmond SPCA agreed to check the cat for a micro chip. We were hoping we might be able to re-unite the cat with his owner. He was such a sweet and friendly feline that it seemed plausible that someone might be missing him. The SPCA was great - they gave me a carrier and a blanket, and I headed back to the garden to get the cat.

Until fairly recently, Patrick and I had four cats. We loved them to pieces, and they were spoiled rotten. The only thing I don’t love about cats is trying to get them into carriers. Most of them fight you like it’s a death match. I have a scar from trying to get a cat in a carrier. When I got back to the garden, I was dreading this part. I even asked the Plein Air Richmond representative from the Brazier Gallery to back me up, because I fully expected a fight. But bless his heart, this guy didn’t fuss or fight at all. Not even a squirm. He was as docile and gentle as could be. He whined a bit in the car on the way to the SPCA, but that was it. Cats seem to universally hate car rides as much as they hate carriers. I remember thinking “Wow, this little guy is perfect.”




Sadly, there was no micro chip. The Richmond SPCA then gave him a quick check up. He was under weight and dehydrated, but there were no outward signs of serious illness or disease. Unfortunately, because there was no micro chip, kitty’s next stop was the city animal shelter. The SPCA called ahead for me, because it was a Sunday, making sure that I could get in, and that the cat would be taken. They also promised to pull kitty back over to the SPCA as soon as possible. City regulations require that strays go to the city animal shelter and be put on hold for a certain number of days, which gives their owners a chance to find them if they are lost. I went to visit kitty at the shelter every day while we were in Richmond, and I felt really guilty about him being in a cage, but at least he was no longer starving, and I didn’t have to worry about him being injured or eaten. The city animal shelter took good care of him, and the SPCA pulled him as soon as his hold was up, and while it took quite a long time because he is an adult cat, little Potter, as he came to be named, was finally adopted.


I can’t say enough good things about the Brazier Gallery and the Richmond SPCA. Both parties stepped up immediately to help an animal in distress, and to get him out of danger. I can’t thank them enough. 



I still think about Potter from time to time, because he was a perfect gentleman. Even at the city shelter, he remained friendly, and it must have been scary for him. I really wanted to keep him for myself, but Patrick is terribly allergic, and I am mildly so. We could get away with having cats when we lived in a large space, but in an Airstream, it would never work. So we can only spoil other people’s cats these days. If you have one, give your cat a good cuddle for me. I miss always having a warm lap and falling asleep to a good purr. - Kimberly

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Miles and Mountains and Bears Oh My



I have a thing about bears just like I have a thing about sharks.

After Paint Annapolis, we headed for the Allegheny Mountain Range to get to Cumberland, Maryland, for Mountain Maryland Plein Air. Climbing mountains is no problem for the Ford F-250, but it was a bit of a sweat for the Smart car. The Smart was a boon in Annapolis, but we were definitely glad to have the truck in Cumberland, because it allowed Patrick Saunders to reach painting locations that the Smart just couldn't.

Patrick picked up his welcome packet shortly after we arrived, which included this brochure. It should have immediately set off a round of irrational bear fear, but at this point we were lunching in a rustic restaurant with a gorgeous lake view, and I was so enthralled with the beauty of the area that I couldn't get that worked up about being in bear danger just yet.

We quickly learned that when you attend a painting event and they go to the trouble of putting a brochure like this in your swag, it really means something. We ran into not one, but two black bears for the first time in our lives in Cumberland. We still haven't been to any other plein air event anywhere in the country where they put an animal warning pamphlet in your materials, but I will say that this part of the country is so pristine that it's more than worth the risk. Just seriously watch yourself, and not just in the woods. I mean in your subdivision even. Get some bear spray and keep it handy.

We stayed with a terrific host family with some adorable pets. Two very sweet cats frequently visited our room to let us fawn all over them, and to cover our suitcases and anything clean with cat hair. Just like old times. We felt right at home. Even though all of our cats are gone, we still take a lint brush everywhere we go, because our pets raised us right.

Patrick painted one of the cats as a gift to our hosts, but sorry, no photo - it was a relatively short event and the days were long and we didn't get around to photographing the painting. Oops. There were also two dachshunds in the house who actually protected us during a bear visit by barking like crazy. We met one of the dogs, but not the other, because apparently he has a habit of biting anyone who isn't family. Can't blame him though. He's a weenie living in bear country, so he has reason to be defensive. You might be able to catch his heroic and life saving barking in this video I shot of a young black bear strolling through the side yard of our housing hosts after checking their humming bird feeder for food. I will never forget seeing this one's long dark claws gently wrapping around the feeder after rising up on two legs to expertly assess whether there was any liquid to be drained from the thing. Bears are smart, ya'll.


This wasn't even our first bear sighting. Patrick Saunders and I went for a walk just one day before this video was shot and didn't get two blocks away from our host house when a black bear emerged from some bushes and waltzed into the street maybe 100 feet in front of us. Patrick says it was a small bear, maybe even the same one, but it looked huge to me, and he also claims it turned around and headed back into the bushes as soon as it saw us, but I wouldn't know, because I did an immediate about face. I walked, as slowly as I could make myself walk, straight back to the house, because the only thing I could remember from reading the bear brochure is that you are not supposed to run from bears, because they might decide it would be fun to chase you or something. So all of this is to say, when you're in bear country, GET BEAR SPRAY. Just in case. What if that bear hadn't seen or heard us coming and we'd walked right up on it and startled it? GET BEAR SPRAY. The end.

One of the first places we visited for Mountain Maryland was Swallow Falls State Park, to see the Muddy Creek Falls. Definitely worth a trip, but Patrick wasn't feeling it for a painting, so we explored the park, looking for inspiration. We really enjoyed the trails along the Youghiogheny River and Tolivar Creek, and witnessed damage done to hemlock trees here, some of which are more than 300 years old. Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012, and as you can read on the posted sign, caused so much heavy, wet snow to fall all the way in Garrett County that many trees snapped and uprooted. Incredible to think that weather from a hurricane that struck so far away could cause what they call a superstorm here.

Hemlock tree damage from Hurricane Sandy in Swallow Falls State Park

Not long after reading this sign, we got a lesson in the power of nature, and how fast mountain weather can change. We were enjoying a sunny June day in this park when we snapped these photos, and not a half hour later, we had to scramble to find shelter under a rock formation, because not only did it start to rain, suddenly there was hail. It passed almost as quickly as it came and the sun popped right back out. Good thing we were close to a rock overhang that we could pass the time under when the short storm hit. We didn't need shelter to protect ourselves, but we did need it to protect Patrick's painting canvas and my camera gear.


Once the coast was clear, Patrick found a spot at the Lower Falls that he wanted to paint. We were able to get off the trail and out onto a rock formation that jutted pretty far into the water so that he had a better vantage point to paint from. While he painted, I continued to explore the park.

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts
Lower Swallow Falls - Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

I found Tolliver Falls to be lovely as well, and more secluded. I only have iPhone photos of it though because the trail was pretty treacherous after the rain and hail, and I didn't want to risk damaging my good camera if I slipped and fell, so I left it behind with Patrick.

Tolliver Falls - Photo by Saunders Fine Arts


Tolliver Falls - Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts


Needless to say, we had a beautiful day at Swallow Falls State Park.

Another place we visited that really knocked us out while we were in the Cumberland area is the Savage River State Forest. It was wonderful just driving through it, and we even found a park that is adjacent to the forest that has the biggest, most secluded dry campsites we've seen yet. You are surrounded by forest if you camp at Big Run State Park, and your nearest neighbor at the next campsite is almost a city block away, if you even have one. We put Big Run on our list of places to camp with the Baked Potato if we ever come back this way. The only problem would be finding enough open sunlight in the forest to charge a portable solar panel so that we could keep the Airstream battery from getting too low, but that's a small price to pay for the most pristine dry camping sites we've ever seen. The trees, the creek water ... it was just perfect. You can camp at Big Run and spend weeks just exploring and hiking the Savage River Forest - they are next to each other and connected by roads and trails. Here's an iPhone video I shot of the forest as we drove through it.



During our drive, Patrick found a snapped tree he wanted to paint. This painting ended up being one of my favorites among his plein air pieces in 2016. When I look at it, it reminds me of yet another beautiful day we spent in Maryland, and I can almost smell the air again in that forest.

"Historical Record, Savage River Forest" (oil on panel, 16"x20") by Patrick Saunders won an Honorable Mention Award at the 8th Annual Mountain Maryland Plein Air. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

The Cumberland area and the entire Allegheny Mountains region are clearly well worth your time to visit. Just get some bear spray first and you'll probably be fine.

Next up, Frederick, Maryland, which we liked so much it's now on a very short list of places we would consider settling down in if we ever get tired of life on wheels. - Kimberly

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