The Coachella Valley has seen its share of rainfall since the beginning of the year. Yet, for all these gray rain clouds shrouding the desert, there is a sliver lining. Bright blue skies returned and the warm midday sunshine woke up millions of sleeping wildflowers, creating a breathtaking display of colors and perfumes. Hikers along the many trails in this usually hot and dusty area, busy taking in the spectacle, soon forget the effort required to navigate steep inclines and rocky paths, awed by the impressive heartiness of nature. Photographers can’t get enough; thanks to digital photography and endless storage, they can let loose their shutter-happy fingers. Not so for the painter working with a single canvas, looking attentively at the scene in front of him, carefully mixing oil colors, and patiently capturing the landscape’s details and feelings, one stroke of the brush at a time.
On a recent hike at the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, on top of the hill a little past Simone Pond at McCallum Grove, from a distance, I spotted someone facing what looked like an easel, standing under a silvery umbrella. We approached the artist almost on tiptoes (that’s what it felt like), trying not to disturb the moment, watching as he observed the scenery, twirled his brush on the palette in a little patch of coloured oil, applied the paint to the canvas with a few deliberate strokes, and stared in the distance, comparing the image developing on the canvas and in his mind’s eye with reality. He would repeat this creative cycle hundreds, maybe even thousands of times, over the next couple of hours.
I felt a little shy, almost guilty, for stealing a glance at someone’s personal work. That feeling quickly gave way to curiosity, and I peeked at the canvas where a snowcapped Mt. San Gorgonio (Old Greyback) already dominated the developing image of surrounding canyons and crests, green creosote bushes, yellow wildflowers, and sandy ribbons. Daring to disrupt the artist, I introduced myself and asked if I could photograph him in action, which he agreed to.
His name is Henry Buerckholtz, a New York City painter with an impressive portfolio of landscapes, still lifes and figures (I checked his website). We discussed his art, his techniques, his work. Henry explained that the first part of this project was to position the scenery’s main features. Next would come the application of colors and details.
Discovering a mutual appreciation for nature’s beauty, and the gift of seeing when we truly take time to look around us, are what I enjoyed most of our brief conversation. These are not unique to painters or photographers.
Conscious that we had invited ourselves in Henry’s creative space, we bid him farewell and resumed our hike on Moon Country Trail up the canyon, surrounded by this silence and never-ending natural beauty.
On our way back, from way down in the wash, we could see Henry at the top of the hill, still in the shadow of his umbrella, applying the finishing touches to his painting. Although I have never painted, I have spent long contemplative moments simply letting the vastness and beauty of the surrounding nature wrap around me. I can appreciate the special enchanting bond that develops between artist and nature. It’s good for the soul.
Brush canvas and oils
Capture nature’s bright colors
Brought by winter’s storms
Snowcapped mountains and blue skies
Let your soul wander
On desert silence
Echoes of footsteps and breaths
Canyon’s only sounds