Ecotourism and art

Painting aboard schooner American Eagle.

The track up Beech Hill is my daily morning routine. Occasionally I run across C-, who’s a co-owner of an elegant windjammer plying Penobscot Bay.

As you know, I teach two watercolor workshops each year aboard the schooner American Eagle. These workshops combine two things I love: sailing and painting. I get to do them without the responsibility of owning a boat, and my students get to do them without the responsibility of carrying their gear. (I supply it.)

I’m always thinking about ways to get more people excited about the combination of painting and sailing, because I can’t imagine anything better. Windjammers tend to attract older people, and that’s great, except that I don’t really understand why younger people don’t love them too.

“I had an idea that windjamming is the natural extension of eco-tourism,” I told C- the other day. “But I can’t figure out a way that you could stack 18 kayaks on your deck. They wouldn’t fit.”

“We don’t have to,” she pointed out. “The boats themselves are the original form of ecotourism.”

That’s my girl! American Eagle modeled for this painting, called Breaking Storm, 30X48, oil on linen, $5,579.00 including shipping in continental US.

What is ecotourism?

Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”*

Schooners rely on wind power to glide silently through the sea; hence their moniker of ‘windjammers.’ We pass ledge and small islands where sea birds and eagles nest. I’ve seen sea otters, dolphins, and, memorably, a whale breaching off Rockland harbor last fall.

Because American Eagle carries several smaller vessels, including a seine boat, we can row to uninhabited islands, which we visit on a carry-in, carry-out basis. And those interested in studying quaint, endangered local cultures need look no farther than the lobstermen of coastal Maine.

Lobster pound, 14X18, oil on canvas, $1,594.00 framed, includes shipping in the continental US. G**gle recently disapproved this image because it violates their policy. “Local legal requirements and safety standards (live animals).”

So why hasn’t the windjammer industry tapped into the $200 billion annual ecotourism market? I suspect it is because we believe that to see something exotic, you must go overseas. Having traveled extensively, I know this is nonsense. New Englanders and Nevadans may-nominally-share the same language, but we live in very different physical, economic and cultural communities. Ours is a vast country, twice as large as the EU. It has amazing diversity, including more than 95,000 miles of coastline.

Maine’s little piece of that includes 17 million acres of forestland and 3,500 miles of rocky coast. There are more than 3000 sea islands (and who knows how many on inland lakes). Only about 200 have more than four structures, meaning that the whole coastline is covered with forestland, bluffs, cliffs, and coves-and all the wildlife that goes with that.

As a painter, I find that irresistible, and I’m not alone. That’s why the Maine coast is infested with artists and galleries.

The Wave, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 includes shipping in continental US. You can tell it was painted from a boat, rather than from shore, because the wave isn’t horizontal.

Where happiness lies

“A wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” wrote Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert. We’re happiest when we’re living in the moment, totally focused on what we’re doing. A wandering person, on the other hand, tends to be a sublimely happy soul. New experiences sharpen our focus in a way that material goods can’t. Soon after they’re purchased, our new car, phone or dress fade into the background; in fact, they’re only notable if there is a story to their acquisition.

Psychologists tells us that experiences bring people more enduring happiness than do possessions. Which, I suppose, is why I love the paintings I’ve done from the deck of American Eagle so much. They are treasured memories of happy days.

My workshop schedule can be found here. That includes an immersive, in-person workshop in Rockport, ME. In 2024, we’ll be in Sedona and Austin in March, and the Berkshires in August. Why not register today?

Happiness is beauty in, beauty out

Persistent clouds along the Upper Wash, 11X14, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 unframed.

Every morning I do a fast hike from Erickson Field to the summit of Beech Hill and back, about 4.5 miles. It’s not steep but I try to bring it in at an hour and a half. A twenty-minute mile is a fast pace for hill-walking. As I approach the summit, it can be unpleasant, particularly if the trail is icy or the wind is howling.

Then I round the bend and Penobscot Bay is laid out at my feet. On particularly ratty mornings, there is the faint glimmer of Owls Head Light, faithfully bringing mariners in to safety as it has for almost two hundred years. On a clear day, you can see north to Acadia and as far out to sea as Matinicus. The sea may shimmer, glimmer, scowl, or be obscured by fog, but it’s always beautiful.

“I dream a lot. I do more painting when I'm not painting. It's in the subconscious,” said Andrew Wyeth. My daily jaunts up the hill serve the same purpose. They’re a positive input in a world full of negativity.

Dish of Butter, 6X8, oil on archival canvasboard, $435.

You are what you eat

This weekend, my hometown of Buffalo braces itself for yet another blizzard. It’s being called a “once in a generation event.” Perhaps they’re right. But there’s inflationary hype around storms. It’s been blizzarding in Buffalo since long before someone invented the term ‘bomb cyclone’.

That inflationary hype is true across the news, not just the weather. Most of us now get our news on the internet. That’s a crash site. Even assuming what you read is true (and, sadly, that may not be the case) it’s heavily slanted towards tragedy.

Back in the era of daily papers, we read about our own communities. That included positive news. Now we’re fed a steady diet of kidnappings in Kentucky, mayhem in Mississippi, or crime in California. This gives us the false sense that the world is spinning out of control. It’s just spinning, the same as it always has, but in the past we weren’t trying to absorb all the world’s tragedies before breakfast.

If you regularly ingest a diet of bad news, artificial drama, and hostility, you’re going to feel depressed, anxious and angry.

Breaking storm, 48X30, oil on canvas, $5,579 framed

“You can’t ignore reality,” a friend retorted. But this bad news is no more real than the good news and peace that surrounds us all. We’re being sold it to keep our eyes glued to our screens. We can turn it off.

We can choose what we look at. It’s why I climb a hill every day, and why I go to church. How can I paint what’s beautiful if I haven’t focused my mind on what’s beautiful?

Dawn Wind, Twin Lights, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869.

The news is driving us crazy

It’s no wonder that so many of us take antidepressants, which, incidentally, don’t seem to improve quality of life. My father and paternal grandmother both died in the grip of long-term depression. To be fair, they both had good reason for it. As did I. But I’m not a depressive, despite years of thinking otherwise. What changed? My focus.

There is much to be said for lifting our eyes to the hills, both literally and metaphorically. Hiking has physical benefits that include improving mood, of course. So does spending time actively seeking beauty. But an outward focus also includes the people around us. Self-focused naval-gazing is demoralizing.

Tomorrow, we enter the Christmas season. The greatest gift you can give yourself is to actively seek out beauty—in creation, in others, and in yourself.

And don’t forget, here’s a quiz for you to discover the kind of workshop that suits you best. There’s no obligation, of course; it’s all in fun.