Looking at what is around us is essential, as often we lose the habit of seeing. Over the last several years I began to visit central Florida, for personal reasons. The first time I arrived, rented my car and drove north from Orlando into the country. When I reached the ranch where I was meeting some people I was completely amazed by the enormous rafts of Spanish Moss hanging off the trees. I continued to be impressed by it throughout my brief stay. In fact, it seems to have been more pronounce on that visit than on most of my subsequent visits–I surmise that it may be stronger, or more visible in the winter months. Some of the trees near my hotel were wrapped in shawls of Spanish moss, and one morning I went out early and did a quick sketch of the Spanish moss hanging off a nearby tree.
I was back in central Florida in October, for a few days after the big storm hit San Juan. One morning I went hiking in a large state park, Paynes Prairie Preserve. As i walked around i collected a few bunches of Spanish moss, as well as taking pictures of the scenery. I brought them back in my bag, and draped them over the monitor in my room. I wondered how to capture this phenomenon–in photographs the Spanish moss becomes a big mass encompassing large trees. Close up, it is striking for its complex twining of small filaments. In the intimacy of my room it’s the pattern, the winding and stretching that matters, and that’s what I have looked at. I have focused on seeing each strand that winds behind, over, and around the others. I chose to investigate the form by drawing each strand outlined by two lines, roughly the same width. The only tonal change is in the thickness and darkness of the outline. It is the magic and mystery of this tangle, of this dance of threads, that runs up my page from the final points of each growth towards the thicker mass.
Somehow this analysis, this research, allowed me to imagine the presence of a sea turtle floating or swimming behind the Spanish moss. It is a visual invention, but also a reference to longevity and endurance. These stubborn, stolid, stable animals, who pursue their lives in an inexorable and determined fashion seem perfect in company of the fragile interweaving of the Spanish moss. Things can blow away, things are made with a great delicacy, an extraordinary care, but there will be witnesses, there will be survivors, still swimming, still floating slowly by.