The Group Huddle

Let me just say this; I absolutely love everything about Canada Geese. I love the regal way adult geese hold themselves out to the world, in their dramatic black and white markings. I love that they mate for life and that both parents take an active role in rearing their offspring. Even the downy little goslings are just too adorable for words. Every year, I thrill to the sound of hundreds of them honking en masse overhead as they make their way toward nearby waterways. Their semi-annual arrival and departure flights remind me of time ….. of my own time, which is the time I have before me, right now to admire and enjoy them.

For the most part, I think we humans expect birds to be somewhat subservient to us. When we approach, we think, they should move away from us. But this is just another thing I admire about Canada Geese (along with other birds who exhibit the same behavior) because they will physically defend their nesting areas, and their goslings. We may not recognize this exact same behavior from somewhat smaller birds (or birds which we may rarely come into contact) like Swifts, Starlings, Gulls, Crows and Owls. It is the unpredictable, aggressive behavior of Canada Geese, along with their relative size to our own stature, that makes us understandably wary.

So one day, while hiking around Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was surprised when I came upon a little family of Canada Geese out for a waddle, in the middle of my hiking trail.  I soon backed away from them v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, an indication to the adults I wasn’t presenting a threat. Still, they kept a vigilant eye on me while their golden fuzzy goslings pecked at the ground consuming seeds and insects.

Immensely enjoying a few minutes of solitude, just myself and the Goose family, eventually other hikers started to come up the trail behind me. It appeared the parents decided, enough was enough and time to head back to the safety of the lake. Then, in a means of communication that was oblivious to me, the family did an ‘about-face’ and waddled toward the shoreline. One gosling at a time ‘kerplunked’ into the water, their parents following suit right behind them.   As they all drifted way, I watched the little furry yellow chicks, packed tight together in a collective huddle. Bobbing up and down in the rhythmic waves, I knew I had to try to convey the image and paint them. 

“Group Huddle” – Soft Pastel on Black Arches, 11 x1 4″

Artistic decisions and considerations made in creating this painting: Normally, a family like this would be moving across open water with one adult leading the group and the other at the tail end with the goslings situated between them. Some of the artistic decisions I made in creating the painting and in the design was to move the goslings to one side, creating a splash of bright color that catches the viewer’s eye. I intentionally painted them without visibility of their individual faces which adds to the feeling of their vulnerability. Then I faced the heads of both parents in the direction of the goslings, which creates the feeling that the parents are watchful over their offspring but also of being aware of what might be up ahead in the open water. The color Blue is a ‘Complementary Color’ to Yellow, on opposing sides of the color wheel from each other. When complements are placed together, color harmony is achieved helping to unify the painting. I painted the black ‘shadow areas’ in the water a bit darker than what might be actual water shadows, but doing this mirrors the dramatic black goose necks, creating another unifying measure in the painting.

Winter Trail Inspiration

The snowpack was exceedingly dry. The snow hardened along the hiking trail was even more so, causing the treads of my boots to crunch emphatically with every step. I had fallen into a rhythmic breathing pattern. Methodically and melodically, I tramped on.  Inhale, step, crunch.  Exhale, step, crunch.  This pattern repeated for the entirety of my walk. The crunch decibel revealed the presence of a human to any wildlife that might have been in the woods.

Still, even without the wildlife, I had company. My trail companions were two enthusiastic Australian Shepherds who had been entertaining each other with a fierce game of hide and seek, first to the right side of the trail, then mad-dashing in front of me to the left side of the trail. This being a lodgepole pine forest, the skinny trunks offered slim hiding opportunities but the pups were free from restrain to be their frolicking dog-selves, covered in snow and blissfully happy. 

In general, the color of snow is universally identified as being White.  In direct sunlight, this is can be true.  But as an artist attended to the nuances of color, I have learned to look at the shadow side of snow or in shaded areas such as this forest floor, where it genuinely appears to be an other-worldly blue hue.  I challenge you to look for this color-shift yourself.  Snow can also appear purple or even pink, if something is reflected into the shadowed area.  

Finally, late in the day, we headed back to the truck. The trail itself had darkened.  And so it was that I was hiking along, admiring the variations of wondrous blues with slanting sunbeams filtering through the treetops when the crunching stopped.  It stopped because I had stopped.  

There in the middle of my path was the equivalent of what looked like a glowing, holy grail. Startling even.  A break in the tall tree canopy was the only excuse a setting sun needed to cast a halo effect directly onto a patch of golden, dried grasses. 

This scene, rather, this experience, became the painting, “A Winter’s Walk”, inspired by an afternoon hike. 

“A Winter’s Walk”
8×10″, Soft Pastel