Charles E. Burchfield in his own words Share Tweet

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Heat Lightning (also known as Landscape with Grey Clouds), ca. 1962; watercolor, charcoal, and white chalk on joined paper, 58 x 45 inches; DC Moore Gallery, New York

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Heat Lightning (also known as Landscape with Grey Clouds), ca. 1962; watercolor, charcoal, and white chalk on joined paper, 58 x 45 inches; DC Moore Gallery, New York

Charles E. Burchfield, Journals August 8, 1914

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

August 8, 1914.

     J.C.C. relates odd electrical performance, witnessed by his parents. Ball of lightning goes thru three rooms of house, out to a sugar shed thru paper covering window, over to fireplace, also covered with paper, up chimney & just at top explodes tearing chimney to pieces.

     Last night’s meagre sprinkle abated the drought none. Today the heat is intensified and the broiling of the earth is continued.

     Start out in search of source of Little Beaver. Out Goshen Road to .... Mill. The roads are powdery & clouds of dust mark the course of every vehicle. Distant woods blued as by wood smoke. Seen thru opening in a near screen of trees, these woods seem like distant lakes. The wind displays the tinny glint on all the trees, which reaches a high polish on the twinkling poplars. The cicada in his life among these trees must have gotten some of that tin on his musical instrument. Z-ing of katydids on all sides; Grasshoppers clipper up in spiral flight. The Brook shows a bright patch of smartweed.

     Saw some robins in a wild cherry tree, feeding on the ripe fruit. Thus are the seeds scattered. Like the cherry tree,the robins have become faded & scrawny.

     Nearing [the] Mill, the sight of the green glittering wil­lows marking the Beaver-channel in itself is cooling. The road here is being macadamized. Cross fence north of creek and skirting corn-field come to pastury meadows. Ideal pasturage for cows with its cool creek & shade afforded by beeches elms & buttonwood. As I entered this field, I am welcomed by the guttural yipings of a sheit-poke. While I am standing under a beech, I hear a frantic scrambling behind me which, on turning I perceive to be that of a woodchuck, making all possible haste to reach his hole, where he scurries in unceremoniously. This discovery leads to my noticing two trees; an elm and a buttonwood, whose trunks at the base had become welded together.

     What could be more fitting than the union of these trees, our two most beautiful. The union, I doubt not was blessed by all the beholders - by the winds that toss their branches, the birds that sing from their boughs, the sunlight that falls thru them, by the rain that washes their leaves, trickles down their trunks, and moistens their fibrous roots, and by the cattle that seek their shade.

     Their branches intertwine above and their roots mingle below. Their trunks clasped so securely, that one is led to believe that perhaps some night, they had been ripped asunder by lightning, and then with their vitals laid open to each other had come together while their wounds were still fresh and healed each others hurts by their very life sap. Who knows but from this union may spring a new species - a wonderful hybrid offspring combining all the magic and witchery of both species?

     Continue thru hot dry pastures. Some of the leaves of button-woods are turning yellow and sienna, adding to their beauty.

 The untrammeled heads of a species of panicum puts a creamy haze over the field. In a flat open space, I come upon great quantities of a peculiar plant, a member of the mint family, which I discovered from their rich spicy odor. They stand about eighteen inches high, and have the appearance of lance-leaved golden rod, except for the bunches of flowers, which are whitish green. The leaved is lanced shaped. The flowers are like the mints, white speckled finely with red violet dots.

     To the south and east are dignified thunderheads, attaining a dignity & majesty which I think only must be equaled by mountains. Their “base” is lost in the haze at the horizon. To the north is a fan shaped bank of clouds, which is only distinguished from the sky by its white feathery edge, which is sending filmy tendrils into the sky.

     The creek lined with rank swamp grasses, cat-tails, butterfly weeds & willows. By a wide, smooth place in the stream I sit down under ash. A school of two inch minnows. Something beautiful in the way, one fish taking the lead, they dart in unison here & there, the bodies of all pointing precisely at the leader.  A frog jumps in – his effective weapon against pursuit being the manner in which he stirs up the water. Damsel-flies along shore. A tiger swallow-tail pursues its bounding flight over the water, his reflection gleaming darkly in the watering against the waving cloud reflections. Willows here tangled by blooming wild cucumber-­vines. Tiny skippers blacken water around two rocks whose tops are above water.

     A line of shooting bubbles up creek attracts my eye. They prove to be the rapids which marks the convergance (sic) of two small rocky rills. The line of bubbles proceeds in a straight line till it strikes the opposite shore, where its speed dies & most of the bubbles float idly down stream, all of them bursting before going far, rippling the waters surface with rings. Others are returned to the starting point by a backcurrent. As I look across the water I note that it is covered with speckly scum.

    Here are several blackwinged damsel-flies. I observe two in the act of procreation. The female (green body) clasps neck of male (blackish body, one white spot on each wing) with nippers at end of body. The male arches his body under him, uniting with the female just below the thorax. The union lasted several minutes. This is about paramount to the manner in which the horn-tail para­site lays her eggs.

    Mass of larvae of mourning cloak on willow. Black bodies finely speckled with white, & sparsely covered with tiny white hairs. Each “section” except 1st & last two marked with orange spots,legs orange, six thorn-like spurs on each “section”.

     On stripped branches are empty skins of all sizes marking each moult. Creek divides into tiny rills that sparkle over mossy stones. Sheitpoke flies overhead. Hear blue jays. Kingfisher.

     Leaving here I penetrate shady grove, where grew scrawny sunflowers, and ascending a steep hill & climbing fence I found myself in a high pasture. I was at once enveloped by a sense of superiority and elation. The pasture was broad & flat and high - the grass was dried & whitish and struck by the late afternoon sun grew whiter & hence broader. To the east were the green beeches hiding the view. To the west were the misty woods, which seemed carved out of some rare marble, which was green blue and semi transparent as agate. Here & there looming on the horizon were majestic thunderheads.

     Traversing this field, I came to the edge of the hill which I descended. The hillsides for the most part here are covered with moss, which lands an air of ancientness to them as it does to any thing. Flock of grotesque turkeys.

     The creek here is flat, scarce three or four inches deep, the bed of pebbly stones.

     Growing around the edge of a stranded pile of stones I found a peculiar fibrous growth resembling pond scum in appearance. A plant which seemed all root, which were very finely woven like the hair of a curly dog. On lifting it up I saw it clung together like a huge mat. In its meshes were numberless snails. I found a small piece of glutenous (sic) transparent matter, which I took to be snail­spawn. In it were tiny white eggs.

     I found this “scummy growth”in great quantities along here, which had the same effect on the water as moss & lichens do on trees, giving it an air of antiquity. It softened the shore’s outline. The creek in its windings forms almost complete circles. Crossing a fence here I enter a meadow that is run wild with tall flowering plants of all sorts, yellow sunflowers overrunning all others. Boneset, Vervain Agrimony, Jewellweed (near creek) wild bergamot, goldenrod, yarrow, hogpeanut - the harvest season’s own garden. Several willows here crowed by a mass of white blossoms of white cucumbers. Goldthread in bloom. Knotty bunches of white flowers along stem.

Pin-point sound of crickets.

Cat-bird meows.

            The stream becomes more secluded. It narrows & cone willows hang far out so that very little sky is reflected. The water’s clear by warm. Rank growths of jewellweed. A leaf submerged in water becomes silver. When I let it go, it seeks top & shedding water, shoots out. I wonder if Hiawatha had coated his canoe with these leaves,if it would have been any more buoyant? At least it would have had a silver wake, as it sped along,the like of which no other canoe could make.

            I have often noticed in cool sandy hollows, that this -plant,this Jewell-weed - I wonder why the discoverer starting out with the poetical word “jewell” ended up so weakly? At least we can put accent on the first word - hangs over stream beds, of sandy stones,which sparkle with a myriad tiny diamond specks - a drop a dew has shattered on the stones, from this plant.

     Wade up middle of creek. Water knee deep at times, again scarcely toe-deep.

     Songsparrow - the eternal songster - sings.

     See wasp in nest of small spiders. Whether the dead skins I see were result of moulting or the effect of wasps hunger I have no way of telling.

     Young cat bird here. Half grown. Unable to fly very well. Young has much the appearance of young robin. Parent bird much worried.

     The sunset hour is on. A calm on the air. The charm of this adventure is that I have no idea of where I am, screened in on every side by dense growths of beech & willows.

The top most parts of tall trees are gilded.

In one place creek is scarcely a yard wide & immediately becomes 5 yds wide. Trees meet over creek.

     Come out in open pasturage overgrown with boneset. Creek here divides a road, which connects Goshen & Benton Roads. Go under cool bridge. The bed here is slimy with the siftings of many years dust. Who can say what were the feet that jarred this dust down here or whence came the dust? There may be mud here from the next state, brought on a rainy day. A horse suddenly converted from farm to driving horse may have brought some from the fields. Boys & men afoot, cattle, dogs, buggies, farm wagons, bicycles carriage, autos, motorcycles, and what not go by in endless succession, to sift this dirt down here, a bed at last for the carp.

     Scrubby pasturage continues. I was surprised & delighted at the great quantities of birds here. I emerged from under the bridge in time to see five crows fly overhead - there is poetry in the sight of their shrinking black bodies in the pale sky over the sun gilded trees at night. Swallows, skimming low over the ground in their silvery bat-like flight were numerous. To get that silver film on their wings they must have blundered thru some dew-laden Jewellweed. What sharp graceful turns they make!

      With a spring I vaulted from the creek bed to the high bank – bang! The whole meadow was filled with a piercing whistling whirr that jarred the willows, and the waters below - a flock of birds looking not unlike quail, as my view of them was end on, shot from the grass, and whistled & whirred away in a big circle over a woody hill ahead out of sight. An occurrence like this gives a thrill which cannot be appreciated by the uninitiated.

      One sandpiper here. At my approach he ran lightly across the meadow for a short distance & finally took flight. Robins were on all sides. I was surprised at their wildness until I dis­covered they were of this year’s breeding.

     The creek becomes hedged by willows again & makes turn S.W. As I come around bend, as I expected, I came upon the same flock of birds that had whistled away on my entrance. I saw that they were mourning-doves and I was surprised. I have never thought of them as gregarious birds - that unutterably sad call of theirs suggests the most reticent solitude - I could not become used to this new idea. It was not long until I heard one call far to the west and it seemed as from a different bird than these around me.

     Hawthornes plentiful here. Meadow overgrown with goldenrod, whose maturing blossoms put a filmy yellowish green over the meadow. I could take no step without it being attended by robins & mourning doves flying up. Evening livens the throats of birds. Catbird, Robins,Crows (always remote) A cicada.

     Creek becomes narrow - only a brook now. In it are long streams of pond scum which mark the direction of current.

     Teasel patch.

     Again am I secluded - the meadow is rife with Haros. Creek becomes deep & has muddy green color. More than dou­bles back upon itself & divides in several places. It becomes more wild as I proceed. I must advance in a crouching position. Elders, Willows. All at once the stream widens out into a broad creek again deep looking & green. Does not seem to move. A dozen or more turtles at waters surface. Sink at my approach - they are very watchful.

     Redbird commences his beautiful yodeling song, which he utters rarely. Catbirds. Wren’s scolding. - sings once.

     Come to more open territory. Climb a bare mound crowned by elm & sit down. Light is fading. I am in absolutely unknown territory. Look where I will I can see no habitation of any sort - naught but pastures & woods. Were it not for the roar & whistle of a train the isolation would be complete 

For the only sounds are the calls of robins & complaint of a catbird.

Continue. Every willow alive with the startled flutter of wings.

Mount a high mound - coming from the damp river air to the dry hot air of the upland is a peculiar sensation - and sit down among some scrubby apple-trees to watch the western sky. It is lit up with a rose-yellow glow, thru which shoot long almost unnoticeable rays. The horizon is red-purple. The yellow light spreads thru all the land. The trees are dimmed in the blue mists. The sky is full of the most beautiful weird shades, all of them lessened in intensity & raise in value - all the violets (near the horizon) red,red orange - in fact the whole color spectrum is here - all of them drenched in yellow-rose. Evening star­ - Venus - to one side.

Tree frogs commence, Crickets & katydids. Birds silent.

Homeward on dark roads dreaming dreams of the most wonderful poems I should write,with the most wonderful picture-poems to go with them.

Charles E. Burchfield, August 8, 1914