Friday, June 3, 2016

The Day I Met Dirty Harry in the Gulf Islands National Seashore

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Beach Marsh - oil on linen - 18x24"
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My painting spot was a long walk from the parking area. I'm still searching for a plein air easel that suits my needs - one that will accommodate a larger canvas or panel and that will hold my paints and brushes. Got any suggestions any of you plein air painters? My current easel is a standard french easel which when loaded up weighs about 18 pounds. The best I've been able to manage everything is to put the paints, thinner, paper towels, water, lunch, sunscreen etc into a backpack and carry the almost empty easel, canvas and umbrella. It's better, but I still can't get more than about a half mile before it all gets too unwieldy. So, after choosing a good painting spot last week, I figured I'd unload my gear roadside before leaving to park. I didn't want anything to walk off in the meantime, so I looked around and spotted a bush 20 feet off the road that I could put everything behind. 

I love painting in the National Park! It's mere minutes from my house. I don't know what twist of fate brought me here. As Maria sings in The Sound of Music, I must have done something good.
Even though the land couldn't be flatter- the highest point in town is about 45 feet above sea level, it's incredibly beautiful. The sand is white, not tan like the east coast or volcanic dark like the west. It's actually pulverized quartz washed down from the Appalachians. In the twilight it glows like snow. And unlike the steel grey water of the east coast, the hues here are emerald green and sapphire blue and are crystal clear. Within a half mile in any direction you can find beach, dunes, marsh and coastal woods full of holly, pine and live oaks. In summer it's hot and very humid but there are always coastal breezes to cool things off. In short, it's a kind of Paradise. 

As I quickly unloaded in a spot I technically shouldn't have stopped in, a couple on a motorcycle came up behind my idling car. He looked like a long haired version of Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry days. The woman with him seemed tailor cast as his perfect partner. He stopped, and with a Dirty Harry look of you better not be messing with my day, looked me straight in the eye and called out "Hey are you putting bags of garbage there?" The woman spotted The National Park Volunteer cap on my head and the blank canvas sticking out of the car trunk and quickly assured Harry that I wasn't up to anything nefarious.

Like most artists who paint nature's beautiful places, I feel a strong sense of stewardship and of ownership of the land. I'm ever ready to protect it. It's nice to know that the person you would least expect, feels equally fierce about preserving the parks that truly belong to us all. 

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