Prophet of Hope

Yesterday was overcast and damp, but I went searching for signs of spring along the wooded streamside anyway. “If you are afflicted with melancholy at this season, go to the swamp and see the brave spears of skunk-cabbage buds already advanced toward a new year.” Leave it to Thoreau. His timeless wisdom relevant still. And as much of the world shuts down to stem the spread of coronavirus and my state braces for the worst to come, I need that swamp, that skunk cabbage, Thoreau’s insight more than ever. “See those green cabbage buds lifting the dry leaves in that watery and muddy place. There is no can’t nor cant to them. They see over the brow of winter’s hill. They see another summer ahead.”

Tips and Techniques– Which came first, skunk cabbage or Thoreau? I typically go out and sketch what I find outside and then follow up with research. I look up some natural history information about what I’ve drawn, and sometimes look for a relevant quote or poem. I’ve been thinking all week about the role of art in times of struggle, and about how to record and express some of what I’m feeling. Finding Thoreau’s quote, written in 1857, could not have been more fitting.

26 Comments on “Prophet of Hope

  1. Wonderful uplifting message, perfect for these worrying times filled with “can’t and can’t. “ Thank you. I’m feeilng hope as I record the last shrinking vestiges of ice in the cove of our pond, and rejoicing seeing o lone angler out fishing in his boat each day, though he acknowledges he’s not catching anything, that it’s probably too cold. Spring is coming, and day by day we will each, separately, do our part in remotely caring for each other and flatlining this devastating virus.
    Thank you for your message of hope and courage. Stay well.

    • Hi Sherry- Thanks for being in touch. I’m glad you are seeing some signs of the changing season and taking heart from them. Keep it up and stay well! — Jean

  2. Jean you can make even skunk cabbage beautiful. I am 5 weeks into recovery from rotator cuff surgery and at 75 years old, it has not been fun. I am telling you this because by now I too, would have been out in the forest and observed that harbinger of spring. So I thank you for reminding me and for the weekly joy of seeing your art. I think I mentioned in a post last spring that you should look for ramps because I think you should have some near your stream. They will begin showing themselves around mid April but I also dug some in May because I wanted them a little bigger. Can’t recall if you didn’t know or if you found some to draw. There is also the beautiful trout lily, Claytonia (spring beauty) and Jack in the pulpit all in bloom at the same time. Ramps are good to eat!

    • Hi Dawn– sorry you are confined from your surgery. It has to be hard to not to get out. Trout lily and Jack in the pulpit are not up yet…they are typically mid-late April here. I’ll try to bring you some more spring in the coming weeks. Be well, Jean

  3. Beautiful drawing and such lovely, hopeful words from Thoreau. I saw peony spears coming up yesterday…..I’ll try and paint a few today. Take care, Jean. ( I soooo enjoyed your workshop in Anacortes Wa several years ago )

  4. Yes. Yes. Yes, “another summer is ahead”.
    Hope to talk soon, my friend, during these
    unprecedented times. Sending you my love.
    And yes, art heals the soul. Yours is beautiful. ❤️

  5. Thanks, Jean! Beautiful start to a brisk and beautiful walk along he Sawkill…

  6. Thank you for sharing this Jean. Your work and the words of Thoreau are poignant, yet uplifting and speak to me this rainy morning. Focusing on hope is the best that we all can do right now.

    • Agreed, Lisa. I look at Italy and Spain to see what might be coming. But take heart from seeing people singing and sharing poetry on rooftops and cheering for medical workers. Let’s keep the focus on hope.

  7. I really needed a post like this today – hopeful and artistic. It inspired me to
    feel better and make art during my quarantine time. Thank you!

    • You bet, Steve. The new reality is dawning on all of us. I plan to stay on the side of hope. I just checked out your blog and it’s fun learn more about you. I have your book, Unbeatable Beaks. Love it. Thanks for being in touch!

  8. Jean, I really loved your skunk cabbage drawing and your words from Thoreau. It made me feel better about what lies ahead. I am on the Hog Island waiting list for this summer, but am assuming it will get cancelled so I am going to try to do more sketching around home. No skunk cabbage yet, only 8 degrees this morning!
    Would you mind sharing how you got that wonderful deep purpley red in your painting? Thanks for your inspiration!

    • Hi Dory– Nice to hear from you. Oh, I hope we don’t have to cancel this summer…we’ll see. It’s cold here, too, but I bet there is skunk cabbage in your CT wetlands. It’s been poking up here since February, but really coming out in earnest now. For the red: alizarin crimson with burnt umber for brownish shades and with indanthrone blue for the purple shades. I think you could get there with ultramarine as well. Stay healthy! — J

  9. This is of my favorite spring flowers. I have a picture of one melting the snow around it I am hoping to capture some day. This is a beautiful rendition. You have totally captured it’s essence.

  10. A simple but beautiful poem. It fits nicely with your subject. It made me smile. Thank you.

  11. This quote by Thoreau about the skunk cabbage is so apropos to this time. … even for those of us who live in the south where it isn’t the change from winter to warmer weather we are coping with.

  12. Ha ha, what fun! You know, I’ve practically forgotten what the eastern version looks like, so this is great! Those terrific spathes, their colors – that’s one big difference between the eastern and western Skunk cabbages, but the basic gestalt is the same, isn’t it, and I love the way Thoreau described it. And needless to say, the way you painted them is full of life. 🙂

  13. This is so beautiful! I teach Fifth Grade at a Waldorf School, currently teaching remotely, of course. We are in a unit on botany and just discussed the skunk cabbage, and your drawing was so lovely to find. I would love to share it with my parents through my professional instagram, giving you credit and linking to your blog, of course. Would that be ok with you?

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