We were in northern Florida for the past few days for a funeral and a time of family gathering; J.'s uncle (the brother of his father) lives there and is very elderly, so we were happy to be able to stay on an extra day and visit with him. There's a lot that I don't like about Florida, but I'm crazy about the plantlife.
There wasn't a lot of time to sketch but I managed to do a few. We were staying on land near a river, with many huge live oak trees festooned with Spanish moss, whose swaying softness was punctuated by the spiky leaves of palm trees. I found it very difficult indeed to capture the essense of the overgrown tropical wildness. It would take a lot of practice and trial and error with different media to find ways that satisfy me, and I thought back to Winslow Homer's and John Singer Sargeant's tropical watercolors with even greater admiration.
During different times of the day, the moss and the leaves were backlit, or in direct sunlight. Along the great old branches of the live oaks were colonies of ferns and other plants, living high in the canopy where they could catch and retain moisture and the additional sunlight they needed to thrive.
Fantastic, brightly-colored flowers bloomed below, and vines scrambled over walls and fences and other plants with a rampant vigor unknown to northern gardens.
Tiny lizards whose feet made a thin clattering sound scuttled ahead of my hand on wooden railings, mosquitoes and ants feasted on my exposed ankles, and feral cats lurked under trees weighted with ripening grapefruit and lemons.
Time-lost decay and feverish growth coexist there, in the moist heat that slows my feet while quickening my pulse. I sat on the glassed-in porch of the old house watching the moss sway in the breeze, while cracking fresh pecans and picking out the nutmeats, wondering how different I would have been if I had grown up in such a place. I'm fascinated by the tropics but it's an attraction tempered by awareness of violent weather, unfamiliar insects and serpents, disease and fungus, the unpredictable sea, and an aversion to heat-induced torpor; I'm so much more comfortable with rocks, snow, mountains and forests, and extreme cold. Still, I'd like to spend more time exploring these places with my camera and my paints, preferably with a guide who knows far more than I do and could keep me out of trouble.