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Leaf research

I AM not an artist, and yet I paint. I am a writer, nevertheless, I do paint. The soft exchange of watercolor seems my best medium. Still, do not get any notions -- I reiterate -- I am no painter. I paint because I write. I write about the stirring fiesta of autumn leaves making castanet sounds as they dance in the wind. Or about a brassy city's summer eve, cooled to the tempo of a fog at twilight. These are some painterly images first caught with a five-and-dime-store watercolor set.

In order to grasp the painterly image -- which so surprises, comforts, and cheers -- then commit it to poem or prose, one is obliged to look. The best way I know to really look, discover, wonder at, and explore is to paint your subject.

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It was the path of serendipity that led me to this happy knowledge. One October, while vacationing in Maine, I was enraptured by the florid autumnal palette. Brisk afternoon walks minted a wealth of brilliant foliage. When held to the light the colors glowed like stained glass.

I stopped at a nearby market to fetch some tape. Joyously I fastened samples of maple, oak, and birch to my cottage windows. A gentle rain started to shimmer and streak behind my rainbow collection, changing the intensity of light and color. Another trip to the corner store, and I returned with a set of watercolors. Softly as a whispered hope, I began to paint this world awash with the play of water and color.

As I worked, I studied and as I studied, I saw more and more. Leaves that at first glance seemed simple yellows had lines of vermillion; the red ones deepened and purpled towards the center; while the orange leaves were a confetti of coloration throughout! As I mixed and applied the floating pigments, fresh words surfaced. I kept a pen near to jot descriptions alongside:

``Oak leaves are symmetrical, sharply cut and strong.

Maple leaves are compact, intricate, having many interconnections.

Veins radiate, colors change around these radiations.

Even stems take on a pure color change.''

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I taped these paintings, now accompanied by words and phrases, next to their original subjects.

The process of discovery continued with rendering my painted observations in print. Paint and print, like two playful muses, each reciprocated the other. I wondered at the rich impulsion of words readily at hand as I gratefully penned line upon line.

I wondered again when later on a walk -- allowed by a sudden break in the storm -- I could see, feel, hear, and smell the fall day ever so clearly. I knew I was seeing more out here too, and with each new observation -- learning, learning how to look.

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