My kind of plein air

This post is a little off the beaten path for someone who spends her days with pencils in hand and her bum planted on a five-wheeled twirly chair in the studio. But sometimes following a new road can be provoking.

A few nights ago, my husband and I hopped on his bike and took a ride to see his sister a few hours away. We left around 2:30 in the afternoon and the weather was perfect for riding–not too hot (a heavy black leather jacket can be torture)–not too cold (said jacket might as well be made of cobwebs and tissue paper when the temps drop). It was just cloudy enough to keep the glare from the sun at bay.

We made our way though Traverse City (which during the summer months is never fun due to the explosion of tourist traffic and a string of red lights) and then headed north on a few less traveled roads that connect a smattering of tiny towns that, after winter naps, spring to life to service and entertain the summer cottagers. Farms and lake houses. Woods and fields, A visual delicacy for an artist, but it was all the smells that turned the ride into a sensory feast.

Every turn and dip and hill along the road–every change in wind speed and direction and temperature–brought a rush of different smells: honeysuckle, newly cut grass, a blast of freshly laid asphalt, lake, pasture, tilled soil, cows, BBQ, cherry blossoms, pine trees, diesel exhaust, dry meadow weeds, fish, someone’s campfire … a kaleidoscope of odorifics.

You miss all of this when you are encased in the sterile bubble of a climate-controlled car.

Being on a motorcycle, plein air, changes everything. There is no buffer, no protection. No window to peer from. No knobs to adjust the air flow. The wind is loud and in my face. My senses are heightened and I feel weightless as we pass by trees, fields and rolling hills. Fancy houses, dilapidated shacks, stores, bars, cars, tractors and semis. We glide past them all and only hear the rush of air around our helmets and the glorious hum of the boxer.

I feel secure on my seat all the while knowing I could literally fly into the air at any moment. Scrape my hands and elbows into hamburger. Never be able to draw or paint again. Maybe worse. But perhaps being on a motorcycle, mere inches from the unforgiving pavement and just one mishap away from oblivion, is a righteous and needed wake up call. We are mortal. Everything could end in a second. I turn my head and and give the tail-gaiter behind us the evil eye even though I know he can’t see my face. I try to tell him, telepathically, that I have more art to create, a young daughter to raise, a son who’ll be getting married before too long. I vow to stay on the course I recently set for myself. Reaffirm that dying with regrets about the should’ve-would’ve-could’ves is, for me, worse than living the safe, un-examined life.

Those fleeting thoughts make me feel alive and appreciative of having what I have in this world.

After stopping for dinner and then finishing off the last hour of the trip, I got off the bike, pulled that tight helmet off my head, and unzipped my jacket. I could see our dogs at the front door, excited for our return. I felt exhilarated. And after sitting at my desk an awful lot the past few weeks, I felt recharged.

Please take care this summer and always watch out for motorcycles – you never who who’s under that alien-looking helmet. Somebody’s mom, dad, best friend, son or daughter. Or maybe just a girl who loves to draw.