Friday, August 13, 2010

Tahquamenon Falls

Still in Michigan's UP (Upper Peninsula) here -- the beautiful upper Tahquamenon Falls. First, the underpainting:
Basically, this is mainly the values, though you see the green of the forest on the upper far side.

Here's mostly finished:
No, the water isn't brackish. The Tahquamenon flows through thousands of acres of cedar swamp and the cedar root colors the water, making it look like (some say) coffee or (others say) root beer.

There's a story around the viewpoint. I don't believe you can see the falls from this vantage point any more: down on the river back just downstream of the falls. There's a viewing platform on the high bank on the other side, and that's where modern photos are taken.

There's a trail worn into the escarpment on the left. It leads under the falls. And, here's an excerpt of a story I've written (copyright 2010) about one of our family vacation trips to the falls -- by day, we stayed at my grandfather's cabin on the shores of Lake Michigan. If you buy the painting, you get the whole story....

My mother must not have known what we were doing, she (with my little sister) looking at the Upper Tahquamenon Falls from the base of the path well behind us. The whole scene is hazy because it’s now so far back in time, in the mid-1950s, but the whole notion (if I’m remembering right) came from my father.

“What say we walk behind the falls?” he asked. There was a precarious path plainly worn into the escarpment, up along the talus of sand and fallen rock that was perched a slanting forty-five degrees. The talus connected the sheer cliff of sandstone with the coffee-colored water.

It was completely out of character. I must have gaped at him. He might as well have said, “Let’s ditch your mother, go into town, grab some beers and pick up chicks.” Did this happen? Or was it just some sort of dream, me sleeping in the car back to the cabin on Lake Michigan?
Beyond astonishment, I felt a pleasant mix of terror and excitement, seasoned with a little confusion at my father’s sudden boldness. I went because he went. After a while, maybe he kept going because I kept going. It was increasingly clear (as the water noise steadily became louder during our approach) that we were going where we should not be going. We were our own mob mentality, a two-person mob.

Behind the falls was chest-pounding loud, the escarpment vibrating under the flow of coffee-colored water. Today I look at the falls and, seeing that its bones are stratified sandstone, I wonder what we would have done if the falls had decided at that moment to step a yard or two upstream. It does that, now and then: sandstone is hardly the most coherent of rock. But then, we had not made the most coherent of decisions.

Under the falls, the path (forever in spray) was slippery with moss. My own chest was doubly pounding, once from the outside from the sound of the water, once from the inside as my heart dealt with my slipping feet. If I’m remembering this right, I was first along the path and under the falls, so once under, I had to wait until my father decided it was time to leave. It was a long time...

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