To the Tchefuncte, With Love

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 “Hurricane” Barry was a non event. There’s still a twig in my yard that blew off the sycamore tree, but other than that, there’s no evidence. And the twig wouldn’t hold up in court because even the slightest rains bring down branches in my tree-happy yard. 

But nevertheless, and even though it barely rained, I found myself in a productive, thoughtful “hunkering down” period. I could have netflixed the whole time because we never lost power and I have just started Stranger Things, but instead I worked on several paintings. And the one that got me thinking was the one the hurricane threat inspired– this painting of the Tchefuncte river. 

The Tchefuncte and I, we have a history. 

She’s where I learned to waterski off the back of a jet ski. Where I fed bread to alligators from the porch at Friends in Madisonville before it turned into the ill-fitting highrise that eventually went out of business. She’s where I went to in my mind, floating on an inner tube when the lamaze instructor told us to visualize a peaceful place. 

In 2012, I watched her creep threateningly close to my front porch steps, Hurricane Isaac causing her to swell and pour towards me and the newborn son in my arms. And then, months later, hurricane debris cleared and forgotten, I found a quiet spot where I could just sit and watch her, telling her about the debris in my own life that I was less able to clear. Less able to forget. She didn’t care. But her calm way of reflecting the cypress trees back to themselves (they didn’t care either) started to convince me that her detached peace was reality too. Grief wasn’t all there was. 

Painting this river is part careful adherence to observable reality and part fantasy– I sometimes put moss where I wanted it or turquoise where I don’t really see it. The Tchefuncte seems to invite me to participate in her beauty, to create. I observe but I also invent, I look but I also remember, imagine. Rivers aren’t still but ever moving, ever changing. This painting is about a specific river but also a specific relationship with it– one that’s been shaped over a lifetime, one I’ve just begun to tap into on the canvas.

I’ve got several more planned in this series– the next I envision will include a larger section of sky well beyond where the trees can touch it– the river will shrink, become part of a larger slice of earth and not all-consuming on the plane of the canvas. 

Is there a physical place you go to, that you find tied up in your emotions and memories? I would love to know it’s story and would be honored if you’d share it with me. 

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

July 24, 2019

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