Evolution of Ideas


Progress 2

You may notice a signature on this draft of the painting…ignore it. The canvas was originally intended to be an abstract painting, but I just couldn’t leave it there. In this image I’ve begun laying in the distant line of trees that protect this little wetland from the world.

I intended to show the painting in more stages but I got all caught up in painting and forgot to pause for the camera. Sorry about that! Here it is, completed:

Spring Bluff Egret

You’ll notice that the finished painting appears to be a much higher key than it started out as. Hm. I think that is a function of adding elements, plus perhaps differences in lighting. I liked the water just as it was, and so set about layering in vegetation to give context to the egret stalking about in the foreground.

This ecosystem has changed, and will continue to change. You’ll notice the tree snags in the center. Water levels were altered at some point, allowing trees to get growing there. Then drought ended, water rose, and the trees died. This is good news for herons that nest in dead trees. Eventually these snags will rot away, and the birds will have to find a new place to hang out. That is fine, if we allow it to happen. Sometimes the conservation community gets hung up on what was, and tries to force the natural world to stay still. We expend tremendous amounts of effort and money trying to keep habitats just as they are, forgetting that nature is always changing and evolving. I think we can let go, a little. This may even apply to exotics. Certainly alien species can look like thugs that will take over the world. We wage endless wars against them, often creating the precise conditions they need in the process. What if we step back for a moment instead, and wait to see what happens? In Australia, native creatures are learning how to cope with Cane toads, for example, and the species is beginning to fit in. I think that is very hopeful news. Of course, the wider community also has to help. Rivers need room to meander, creating shifting wetland habitats. Nature evolves and our understanding needs to evolve along with it. Trust nature’s wild unfolding and learn to flow along.

I’ll leave you with a cool mushroom I came across at the bog this weekend…

Volo 'shroom

Pretty neat, huh?

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40 thoughts on “Evolution of Ideas

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    Interesting to see the process of your painting for this non-painter. It came out well.
    I agree with you about conservationists getting stuck on keeping things in the past. Yes, we may be losing diversity, but we must trust that evolution will do its thing. We just don’t have the scale of millions of years to understand this process. Sometimes it is sad when we lose stuff we love, but my oft-repeated refrain is, “The horse is out of the barn, folks!” Invasives are here to stay and the birds are loving and spreading many of them far and wide. Not much we can do at this point… when I look around, just about half of what I see is non-native. We simply must go forward the best we can.

    • melissabluefineart says:

      That is it exactly, Eliza. Or as my botany professor would say, “Adjust, adjust, adjust!”
      I heard a Fish and Wildlife biologist say that all the brushcutting and herbiciding we are doing is like putting a band-aid on gangrene. That was such a shocking comment that I’ve been mulling it over ever since. Surely that is an indication that they are taking the wrong approach!

      On the same vein, I loved your post on change. What a beautiful soul you have always been.

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Yes, we need a new approach and one that is more realistic as to ‘what is’ – with an understanding of how nature really works, of which humans, in general, are terrible at doing, IMO!
        Thank you for your compliments on my change post. Talk about embracing ‘what is!’ πŸ˜‰

      • melissabluefineart says:

        Amen to that, and collecting the photos together really makes the time seem to have passed very quickly, doesn’t it? I worked on a project that spanned a lifetime like this, and was stunned by the emotions it pulled up. Thank you for sharing that.

  2. Steve Schwartzman says:

    What you said about the trees dying is a familiar phenomenon here in central Texas. We have occasional droughts, during which creeks dry out and various plants and young trees begin to spring up in the creek beds. Then we get a good round of rain and water comes flooding back through the creeks, killing most of what had started growing there. Some hardy things, like sycamore saplings, may survive if they’ve gotten off to a good enough start and if the flooding isn’t too intense.

    I’m wondering what species the tan grass seed heads in the foreground are intended to be.

    • melissabluefineart says:

      And do you then see a crop of herons nesting in them?
      The grass is Indian Grass. Spring Bluff is morainal, with sharply defined ridges of high and dry sand alternating with deep wet sloughs, so you find Cord Grass (not shown) growing in close proximity to Indian Grass. Fortunately there isn’t phragmites growing there, although perhaps I shouldn’t say that…

      • Steve Schwartzman says:

        I can’t say I’ve made a connection to herons, even if there might well be one.

        Ah yes, Indian grass. I saw some on a field trip a week ago.

        According to the website at

        http://www.invasiveplants.net/phragmites/

        “Until recently the status of the plant as native to North America or introduced has been in dispute but new work has demonstrated the existence of native and introduced genotypes of P. australis.”

      • melissabluefineart says:

        Oh yes, that is an interesting story. It started out as a native grass that got sent to Europe (If I remember correctly) Somewhere along the way it developed polypody, and was brought back to the US where the new genotype happily cross-bred to native specimens, and is now just about indestructible and rampant.

      • Steve Schwartzman says:

        It’s all new to me. I just searched the Travis County plant list and found no phragment of Phragmites. As rampant as it may be elsewhere, it’s apparently not yet in Austin.

      • Steve Schwartzman says:

        Down here we may not have Phragmites, but unfortunately we have plenty of other alien invasives: K-R bluestem, Johnson grass, Chinaberry, ligustrum, Chinese tallow tree, nandina, etc.

      • Steve Schwartzman says:

        The species I mentioned have settled in rather permanently, I’m afraid. They certainly phracture my view of many of the places where I wander in nature, and I often have to compose a photograph carefully to keep obstreperous invasives out of the picture. Sometimes there are so many aliens in a small area that I give up on photographing the native that I wanted to take a picture of.

  3. Jane says:

    I’m glad you couldn’t leave the painting how it was as I love what you’ve done with it. I can’t help but view the evolution of a painting as a bit magical. To see all the layers and shapes come to together like this is always special to me. Thanks for sharing it, Melissa. πŸ™‚

  4. melissabluefineart says:

    You’re very welcome, Jane. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. My galleries encourage me to paint abstracts, which I do like, but I always feel they leave things unsaid. πŸ™‚
    My brother is a musician, and I feel just the same about that. I’ll be listening to one of his CD’s, and marveling that that music didn’t exist until he wrote it. Chords and passages came into being, and it is magical.

  5. Steve Gingold says:

    Several years back I read a book called “Playing God in Yellowstone” regarding the removal and reintroduction of wolves there. That title could be used in many instance over a myriad of topics in nature. So much damage is done by well-meaning (and sometimes not so well) people trying to save nature from itself. There are natural cycles and nature does just fine without our help or especially without our interference which is a much larger worry.

    It is enjoyable to see how you work through your paintings. If I am not mistaken, I think you have shared the evolution of at least one other.

    I did not see nearly the number of mushrooms this year as in past. Most likely due to the scant rains we had. It’s still dry here which is causing both late foliage development and quick leaf dropping. Nice color still, but not as in previous years.

  6. Steve Schwartzman says:

    Your title, “Evolution of Ideas,” suddenly reminded me that evolution is likewise an idea that evolved. Now if someone could explain how non-life miraculously first crossed the threshold into life…

  7. melissabluefineart says:

    Exactly, Steve. Everything evolves. And yes, the ultimate miraculous mystery. I’ve always felt that evolution was completely compatible with the miracle of creation. I never bought the primordial soup idea but who’s to say, maybe God made soup to go with His Big Bang πŸ™‚

  8. shoreacres says:

    One of the best examples of the kind of non-helpful human intervention I can think of involves fires in the West. It became a practice of the Forest Service to prevent every fire possible, because of the threat to human habitation. Over time, due to a combination of circumstances, including the drought/growth cycles, the amount of brush that grew up was far greater than would have been there, had the normal fire cycles been allowed to happen.

    Of course, the result was predictable. Once the serious drought set in, and the brush began to dry, it became tinder for new and more destructive fires.

    Many people see fire solely as an enemy, and not as part of nature’s way of balancing things. That’s changing slowly — in our area, there now are controlled burns at the wildlife refuges on a carefully planned schedule — but there are many areas where human convenience and misunderstanding are causing problems of their own.

    • melissabluefineart says:

      I well remember the Smoky the Bear campaigns, growing up in the forests of CA and WA. Living here in IL and being a part of prairie restoration I’ve seen prescribed burns slowly gain public acceptance. I’ve wondered whether the habitats out there wouldn’t benefit from the same treatment, and, it seems, they do. I’m relieved that there is a growing trend to reintroduce fire.
      It encourages me that we do learn, albeit slowly, and eventually respond.

  9. Barbara Rodgers says:

    Love the mushroom and your painting is lovely. Fascinating how art evolves, too. Change truly is the one constant in nature, in everything…

    I think about this a lot. When I was growing up we lived in the woods surrounded by countless hemlock trees. Because of the woolly adelgid pest they are all dying or dead now – the landscape of my childhood gone forever. I’m wondering what will be coming in to replace the hemlocks.

    We see many more egrets fishing and breeding down here in the ponds and salt marshes by the sound these days. I don’t remember seeing them when my kids were growing up.

  10. melissabluefineart says:

    Thank you so much, Barbara!
    Yes, I do think evolution is fascinating, whether of nature or of ideas. I’m sad to hear about your hemlocks. They are beautiful trees. Here the oaks are facing threats…and, for years, I’ve promised myself I’d get back to the Pacific Northwest. Now, however, both the sea and the land seem to be in trouble and I wonder if I’d get out there just to watch things die.

  11. shoreacres says:

    Hooray! I didn’t say anything about your painting yesterday, because, once again, all I got when I enlarged them was a black screen with a broken link symbol. But, it happened on two other blogs I follow, so I assumed it was a WordPress problem, and I’d just wait.

    Sure enough! I can enlarge them now, and it’s a delight to see the detail. I especially like the grasses in the second. Grasses and sedges are a great mystery to me, and seem even more difficult to identify than flowers: except in cases where there’s not much question, like bushy bluestem. But I think you’ve captured them nicely. I’ve seen paintings where every stem bent at the same angle, and in the same direction. It just isn’t like that in nature!

  12. melissabluefineart says:

    Yay! I’m glad it was just a wordpress problem. Thank you thank you for saying you like my grasses. I was the least confident about that part of the painting but, like you, I like my grass to look the way it does “out there”.
    You are right about identifying grasses and sedges. A dear friend of mine is a botanist who has made a career of studying sedges and has written 2 wonderful books on them, with a third on the way. Even with all that, she will tell you they can be difficult! Fun, though. She is in her 70’s now, so she takes her husband with her out into the field. When venturing out into boggy areas she ties a rope around her waist, and he has had to pull her out more than once. πŸ™‚ As you can imagine, this is a very lively and delightful pair!

  13. Myriam (Myr's Bytes) says:

    Beautiful painting :-). The golden grasses and purplish-maroon plants in the foreground caught my attention and then I moved in to the different vegetation layers in your wetland. A very enjoyable journey.

    I spent some time in a wetland yesterday and came upon a little plaque that talked about oxbow lakes and how they become cut off from a river. With time, if the oxbow continues to hold water, a new wetland ecosystem develops around it. I hadn’t heard about oxbows before, but I thought it was neat that the park people were just letting it do its thing, observing it change from year to year.

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