Fresh corn from the stalk imposes a risk for those who prefer to eat from the argent end of a fork or spoon. Its added perils are dripping butter on one’s waistcoat and smarting salt on one’s lips. While I cannot recall when I first ate corn-on-the-cob, I most certainly recollect the image of my late father (who was normally reserved and restrained) at the head of table industriously devoted solely to the management of his soup plate of fresh vegetables slathered in butter and a spot of milk, his buttered corn at the ready so to speak à côté.
We’re just now on the heel of July, not yet having kicked open the door into the month of August which normally signals the start of the corn harvest (though there are already roadside shacks in the countryside advertising their agricultural trove). No doubt when the moment at last presents itself to poke about a local vegetable stand I shall commit the expected profligacy of purchasing a carton of everything, yellow beans, green beans, new potatoes, onions, beats, zucchini. What follows naturally is the customary concoction of “fresh vegetables” with Irish churned butter and Maldon sea salt (the latter two ingredients of which I am shamefully uncertain whether qualify as the sine qua non).
Late this afternoon as I tooled about the countryside en plein air with the windows open and landau roof retracted, I considered my personal bounty. The bucolic images all about me were frankly worthy of repeated gasps of pleasure. We’ve enjoyed an ideal summer so far this year, mostly fair or hot weather and sufficient rain. The landscapes are universally verdant and abundant.
Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood 1885
En plein air ( French for “outdoors”), or plein air painting, is the act of painting outdoors.
This method contrasts with studio painting or academic rules that might create a predetermined look. The theory of ‘En plein air’ painting is credited to Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750–1819), first expounded in a treatise entitled Reflections and Advice to a Student on Painting, Particularly on Landscape (1800), where he developed the concept of landscape portraiture by which the artist paints directly onto canvas in situ within the landscape.
Amongst the most prominent features of this school were its tonal qualities, colour, loose brushwork, and softness of form. These were variants that were particularly relevant to the mid 19th-century Hudson River School and to Impressionism.
It was during the mid-19th century that the ‘box easel’, typically known as the ‘French box easel’ or ‘field easel’, was invented. It is uncertain who developed it, but these highly portable easels with telescopic legs and built-in paint box and palette made it easier to go into the forest and up the hillsides. Still made today, they remain a popular choice (even for home use) since they fold up to the size of a brief case and thus are easy to store.
My effervescence was not however confined to the agrarian views. The metaphor of life’s seasons did not escape me. I marvelled at my own growth and fruition with a noticeable degree of surprise and much head nodding; which is to say, I survived in spite of myself. And survival is what it’s all about. Any attempt to fashion the goal otherwise is mistaken. It is at my antiquity unquestionable that no one is guaranteed anything. Those who presume to soften the blow are toying with fire. There is as a consequence but one way to go. I am not proposing that the only goal is survival. But for those of us who still know the meaning of the term, everything else pales by comparison. Just to be clear, no amount of anything will ever convince me to exchange what I now have. And furthermore, not being a gambler by any description, that is not the reason for my caution.