Friday, January 21, 2011

Roeliff Jansen Kill

I grew up in a white elephant of a farm house in Columbia County, NY, across the road from a beautiful trout stream. That trout stream's name was Dutch, like almost all the older place names in the county, which had been settled when the city at the mouth of the Hudson was called New Amsterdam, not New York. Here in NC, where rivers don't get large until much closer to the sea, the stream would be called a river. In Dutch it was called the Roeliff Jansen Kill. We just called it the Roeliff, or "the stream." Many days after school, from the first days we moved there when I was six years old, we would call through the back door, "Can we go down to the stream"?

My memories of the Roeliff are what I painted here. I know there are all sorts of fictions in this, if I were to stand in this spot in the water in relation to our house (up there in the upper left of the painting). The stream passed through a narrows across from our house, and went over some large rocks, so there was a continuous music, and rapids even in the driest summers. I loved to climb down the steep slope into the stream bed and leap from rock to rock, holding a long stick to help with balance or to vault the gaps. I remember its smell, its sounds, and the bright chatter of light on the busy, broken surface. It was a peaceful but bustling place.

And it was full of trout, which I spent countless hours trying to catch with spinning lures and artificial flies. The rainbows (fish depicted here) would leap clear of the water sometimes, and they were the easiest to catch, stocked several times per year by the NY fish and game department. Brookies were a little harder to find. The long term residents were the big browns, wiley patient fish that lurked in the shadows under rocks beside rapids and cascades, waiting for a meal to drift by. I felt lucky to get some of the larger ones just to show themselves coming out to check my lure - I never caught one of the ancient beasts. To this day, though I no longer go fishing, I love to read a stream or river, looking for the signs on the surface that hint where fish are probably hiding.

I'm not happy with this composition, nor with this painting, but it was pleasant to spend time here, remembering. This is where my father taught me to cast a lure. This is where he took us swimming for the first time in running water, a very different thing than swimming in a lake or in a pool. A mile up the current, on Turkey Hill Road behind Gaddis' store, he jumped first into the stream off the bridge, paving the way for my first time. The drop seemed to take forever and then the water slapped the soles of my old sneakers and exploded over my head. Terrifying and thrilling - a rite of passage for the older boys and young teens in our little community. He got us a huge tractor inner tube one summer, and we rolled it bouncing up the road, nearly as tall as we were, and floated back down the stream countless times. Horseflies would land on the hot black surface and we'd try to smack them before they realized we were fresh prey. If the fly found one of us first, we would yell, "Horsefly!" and all roll off backward, like scuba divers from the sides of a boat. Last one on was frequently tipped in also, as the whole crazy raft upended. Dad patched that tube over and over, a casualty of the hot summer pavement and the sticks and rocks in the stream bed.

This much earlier painting of mine is also a memory painting of the Roeliff, Turkey Hill, and our house. It's a better painting than the one up top, which I might cut up into smaller pieces for other purposes.

I'm not sure where the pursuit of my father will take me next. I suspect it will still be in this place, though. The Roeliff passed only a few hundred yards from the hilltop where the landlocked sycamores stood side by side. Actually, in this earlier painting, if you find the round green tree on the hilltop to the right of the house (that's the "Roll-out Pine" because we used to climb up and then backward summersault down a spiral of branches that would bend and roll us out onto the golden slope - pine sap all over us) you will be close to the sycamores. They would be on the next hill over, further into the dream and just to the right of this memory.

4 comments:

Lisa said...

I am always enchanted with your work. But I understand why you do this. I often write vignettes that never get read by anyone but me, but it's my way of capturing a memory or an idea that is purely for me.

susan said...

I think by actually drawing the memories and impressions we give them form and reality to carry with us.

You seem to have enjoyed an extremely exuberant childhood and were blessed to have a very fine father.

The painting really has a number of fine aspects. I love the strong form of the trout with the water cascading in harmony with its movement. The color blending is is beautifully balanced to show high summer light against cool shadows near the water. The interconnecting elements work together to produce a a very nice symmetry.

Sometimes I have to put my own paintings away for a while before I like them. perhaps it will work this way for you too.

Pagan Sphinx said...

Will be back later to read the whole post but for right now: I LOVE that fish! You are an amazing talent!

linda said...

apologies, have had stupid computer problems taking too much of my online time.....as always your paintings intrigue me..but really, what is most memorable to me is how you see your youth and your father's role in it...i grew up with an alcoholic father, a tough one, and so did not share in anything like this and often, i was off getting into trouble without any guidance at all...so the intrigue for me is how you take both your memories of this light and beautiful warm time of life as well as the love and respect for such a larger than life person and weave it all into your work...perhaps that is the challenge but you make it look so easy...the top photo i like for it's perspective, as if almost from the fish, i like the stairs too, as if they lead both to and fro, into and out of the fun stuff...the second is gorgeous just as it is because there is a spareness to it, a summer-time feeling of light, it feels like a summer's day. how'd you do that?? i can see how you would look at it and want to add to it and yet, for me right now after reading your words, i look at this and see what you are saying, remember. It looks like the memory! ... now i feel i made no sense at all but wanted to tell you anyway. :)