Thursday, August 4, 2022

Powerlines: Pasture and Pavement


Pedal, pedal, breathe, blink.


I used to be able to ride a wheelie for an entire block, you know?  I’d start in the front yard of my childhood home on Locust Drive, pass the duplexes with enough speed to coast through a sandlot onto Wilson Street, and then carefully navigate my little BMX bicycle through a ninety degree turn in direct view of the public swimming pool…all on a single twenty inch wheel.  With any luck, I thought back then, one of the bikini-clad lifeguards would see me from their perch and fall in love with me for my prowess and daring.  Never happened, of course…but once, I crashed in tremendous fashion during peak pool season for a full audience.  A beautiful girl with a lifesaver saw me tumble end over end and yelled “Are you okay?” from the other side of a chain-link fence…her tone loud and alarming enough to scare every swimmer out of the deep end.  I must still be embarrassed about it, because I don’t ride in my old neighborhood anymore. 


Instead, here I am twenty-odd years later, rocketing down South Seminary, pedaling as fast as I can for the sake of fitness and the breeze on my face.  I traded my wheelies for padded cycling shorts and a padded saddle on a proper adult-sized bicycle, but I still try to hop over the railroad tracks just as I did twenty years ago.  I’d come down here to blow out tires on a regular basis when I was young, trying all sorts of dangerous stunts behind the IMI plant.  This was by design, as I knew I could push my habitually crippled bicycle to an appliance repair man a hundred yards away on Mill Street.  He’d fix me up with parts borrowed from a collection of bicycles he had in his shop intended for young girls, as they were the only cadavers of similar size available…at least here in little Bloomfield.  I’d eat a snow cone next to Joe’s Pizza while the repairman took a break from his washers and dryers to swap my bent rims with sparkly pink ones off of My Little Pony themed bikes.  Amongst my friends, it soon became a point of pride to ride around with those cheap white tires with glitter flecks in them…it meant you were dangerous.  It meant you were really “going for it.”  I’m not so dangerous anymore…my bike is blue and in good condition.  Pedal, pedal, breathe, blink. 


Now, you see this formidable asphalt hump in front of me?  This is what I call Hi-Decker Hill.  It’s my pathetically civilian version of Hamburger Hill, I guess, with what surely must be Indiana’s only false summit and a reputation for making me get off and push, hence the double-pattied describer I’ve chosen in reference to everyone’s favorite local drive-in.  Hunter’s restaurant closed years ago but all of Bloomfield still romanticizes its paper wrapped and tartar sauce slathered signature “Hi-Decker.”  Back then, my friend and I would pedal our way to Hunter’s once a week for the delicious burger, taking our pink and sparkly BMX bikes down every farm road and through every field until we were forced to shoulder the highway.  It wasn’t overwhelmingly dangerous, but it always seemed like a great adventure of worth and purpose.  Now, halfway up Hi-Decker Hill with my forties in plain sight, I’m as uncertain of purpose as I’ve ever been.  What adventure am I seeking now?  Sunburn?  A heart attack?  If I ever get to the top of this damn thing, I’ve only got plans to roll down the other side gasping for air, contemplating the specific recipe of that tartar sauce I remember so fondly.  Pedal, pedal, breathe, blink…I should turn around in Koleen and go back…maybe stop at the Dairy Queen? 


I might only be a painting peddling amateur pedaler…nonetheless, I know every nook and cranny of this place.  Anyone within earshot would say the same, I’m sure, but believe me…I can tell you with my eyes closed what side of town I’m on, simply based on the smells and sounds.   Can you hear that warble?  Those are blackbirds in the cattails, by that pond at Walnut Gove.  That smell?  That’s the honeysuckle climbing on Leroy’s barn.  I know this place!  And here comes the little red Jeep I’ll pass at least a dozen more times before I get back, twice in town and ten more times on gravel roads like this one, barely wide enough for the two of us…she waves every time.  She might even know this place better than I do…but I doubt it.  Pedal, pedal, breathe, blink.   


I’m on the homestretch now.  I pass by the old Marathon station and run a stop sign or two while the locals yell out to me.  Friends and strangers alike shout, “Hey Lance Armstrong!” and “You look stupid!”.  Sometimes I’ll even hear a young voice scream, “LeGrand!” as a pack of my students pedal up behind me.  It’s sweet that they do that, but I typically pull away within a block or two.  Not because I’m fast, of course, but because they’re more interested at wheelie-ing past the swimming pool, as they should be.  Pedal, pedal…this world’s been kind to me. 


While rounding the corner through the alley, I pull a sightline tight between here and my house, a series of tiny geometric shapes on the horizon, nestled between two trees atop stripes of green and yellow and grey.  My place in the universe is the anchor of this landscape I’ve been riding through…the vanishing point I’ll recede to and then stop.  The buildings on either side of me frame my view like a painting, the rooflines leading me home.  Dumpster, dumpster, truck, shed, shadow…all pointing to the western horizon like crosshairs in my sights.  Pedal, pedal, breathe, blink. 


The alley ejects me out the other side and the sun pushes me forward, my silhouette on the asphalt beneath me pointing in the direction I roll.  My shadow bobs…pedal, pedal, breathe, blink.  I push harder and faster now, making my shapes and trees grow larger.  Green field, yellow field, grey trees and blue trees in the distance…I’m almost there.  Double the size, triple the size…my destination snowballs.  There’s a rhythm now.  A drum beat that keeps getting sharper…green field, yellow field, house, barn, building.  Truck for sale, house for sale, bridge, building, field…I’m nearly there. 


And every few seconds a pole passes by with a wire on top.  The wire stretches from the alley behind, overhead, and forever, past my home and as far as I can see, connecting all places I’ve been with presumably all places I might go. The poles keep time for eternity, it seems, measuring my life like a song.  And as the vanishing point comes into focus, I discover another ahead of me, far beyond the anchor I’ve created here.  Am I home or do I just keep pedaling?  Green field, yellow field, alley, dumpster, barn…pasture and pavement for as far as I can see.  Power lines.


Wyatt LeGrand

8/4/2022


Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Hundredth Hill and Juniper


Whispers of Spring
oil on board
18" x 36"

A couple weeks ago, I painted some pictures at The Hundredth Hill in Bloomington, Indiana.  The Hundredth Hill is a cool place:  https://www.thehundredthhill.org/

Those pictures will be featured in an exhibit at Juniper Gallery in Spencer, Indiana.  Juniper Gallery is a cool place:  https://juniperartgallery.com/

The show opens on Saturday, April 16th with a reception from 2-4pm.  It should be cool.  

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Nuts



I'm just a nut on a big ol’ tree
that's tryin’ real hard to stay real green
and get real strong and grow real tall
‘til the leaves turn yella then red then fall.
I'm just a nut just a blowin’ in the breeze,
wishin’ and a hopin’ to make more trees.
When the wind from the west comes blowin’ real hard,
I'll fall off of a limb and get buried in the yard.
And when the tree stops tryin’ and its trunk comes down,
I'll be waiting underneath in it's shadow underground
to sprout a little leaf through the earth for the sun
so I can grow a little bit bigger and become…
A little bitty tree just blowin’ in the breeze,
where a biggin' once stood that made room for me,
with my own green leaves that'll fill someday
the hole in the sky where my daddy did sway.
I'm just a nut on a big ol' tree,
with real big thoughts and real big dreams
about growin' up tall and growin' up strong…
and then a squirrel came by and ate me.


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Family and Friends


George and Avenelle Heaton
20" x 48"
oil on board


Family and Friends

“It takes a big dog to weigh a ton,” he said.  I nodded in agreement, but I didn’t know what he meant.  Then, my grandfather pointed at me with an open bag of Fritos he’d been warming in his lap while napping in his favorite chair.   “Would you like a corn chip?” my ‘Papu’ asked with a smirk…"They’ll make your hair curly.”  I would always help myself to a handful for the sake of the ritual…it wasn’t the first time I’d been offered a stale chip from his end table stash of recliner snacks.  And I’ll be damned if my hair isn’t curly to this day.


For as long as I knew him, my grandfather said ridiculous things that rarely made much sense in the moment.  And my grandmother, ‘Nana,’ would tell me, “Your grandfather isn’t thinking right.”  She’d follow that up with a long sigh and a reassuring smile that only a kindergarten teacher could muster.  She had a certain sadness about her, but it was most always negated by a contradictory and unwavering kindness she shared with every person she met.  I knew it was in there, though…the sadness…underneath a shield of stubborn selflessness.  There were no half-hearted back pats for Nana.  She had no use for patronizing appeals from people who couldn’t really relate…no need for sympathy sans empathy.  She was Mrs. Heaton, the lifelong kindergarten teacher.  She was the reassuring smile you needed more than she did.  She was the sweetest lady a person could inherit a sadness from.

   

And I wish I could smile like my Nana.  But instead, to disguise myself in moments of doubt and turmoil, I channel my Papu.  I snarl a bit, as he did.  Papu snarled ‘til the day he died, a year after my grandmother.  And in a cruel, ironic twist, my grandmother died trying to keep Papu alive.  She doesn’t have a birthdate carved on her gravestone, but the two mink coats my grandfather bought her are stowed away in our guest bedroom closet.  It’s a highway house we live in, my wife and I, just as it had been when Nana and Papu lived here.


Along with the minks, my grandmother kept every godawful construction paper valentine she ever received.  And every glitter-dipped pine cone ornament and every graduation invitation.  She could recall forty years of class roster roll calls when a familiar face greeted her at the post office, all while finishing impromptu handwritten letters to old friends who’d never write back.  Hell, she even used more postage than necessary to better decorate each envelope for its recipient.  I remember wishing she’d write me a letter like that, with four stamps and extra curly cursive.  She probably did and I’ve likely forgotten…shame on me and God bless my grandma.   


I share little stories from time to time with my own students.  They seem to enjoy my ramblings but they might only be humoring me…they’re sweet like that and I enjoy a captive audience.  Today, in an attempt to better tell an old story to a group of underclassman, I decided to share some of my latest paintings—some portraits I’ve been working on for an upcoming exhibit.  The kids are critical, of course, as they know I expect them to be, and brutally honest in the most helpful ways.  Their critiques aren’t contaminated by the pretentious jargon that typical fine art discussions are hinged on.  They say the first thing that pops in their heads, thank God, and rarely does it have to do with composition or color theory.  They only know how to ponder the most important questions.  So when I shared a painting of my Papu, they asked “Is that your grandpa?”  When I shared a painting of my grandmother, they said “I know her!  Who is she?”   


And when I shared with the class a painting of my wife, Brittany, and our dog, Gibson, I cried.  Gibson has been gone for a couple years now.  I couldn’t help but weep.  I attempted to laugh the tears away but had trouble.  I tried to find a smile to ease the nervousness I’d created.  But instead I snarled…and choked on an apology while the class sat in silence.  I was mortified…defeated.  And then a voice from the back of the classroom whispered, “It’s okay.” 


It’s nearly midnight now.  I’m staring at a new face staring back at me from my Papu’s favorite chair, in the sunken living room of a highway house.  He’s a rescue we named Murphy.  It takes a big dog.


Wyatt LeGrand

3/16/2022