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Inness at Sunrise

George Inness 

George Inness 

I awoke before sunrise. It was my last day of vacation on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I thought, “I should really turn over and sleep in, being my last day of vacation…” Looking out from the 8th floor over the vast expanse of water below, I heard the rhythmic clanking of halyards in the marina announcing some sort of necessity to arise.

While my family slept, I set out into the cool Gulf air, through the marina and down Victoria Drive. Along the water, Spanish moss swayed in the early morning breeze, draped on live oaks whose horizontal limbs reached out, seeming to defy gravity. 

At the end of the road, there is an extremely long pier that juts out into the water. It is a ritual for me to walk to the end of it on my last morning in Florida. It is clarifying standing on the end of that pier, surrounded by water with the wind blowing over me. It is usually at the Vernal Equinox, my birthday. It feels like I’m refreshing a new year.

On this morning, as I turned east to return to the mainland, the sun was just rising through the distant trees. Backlit with the orange orb of sunrise, the trees looked as if they were on fire. The leaves were illuminated and glowed like halos around the dark silhouettes of the tree trunks. I was struck by the realization that this was what George Inness saw when he painted here in Pinellas County 100 years ago. The light cutting through the early morning haze dissolved all of the detail and left a fleeting spiritual glow. In that moment, I connected with this painter more deeply than I ever had just gazing at his paintings. 

Sparked, I wished immediately that I had my paints with me. I started to regret not getting out for every sunrise that week to paint. I felt myself start to go down that road of self-loathing and harsh self-criticism about not painting.  When the magic of the moment started to escape me, I remembered gentleness. I realized that I had chosen to watch my daughter sleep instead or have a cup of coffee with my parents over the early morning paper. This was what this trip was about.

This taste of amber sunrise is an imprint I won’t forget. It brought up a sort of desperation within me which, I suppose, is really about longing. A longing to create connected to a continuum of painters inspired by the natural world. Until next time, get up before sunrise and take a solitary walk. See what the quality of that solitude might reveal. CREATE.