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The Dam

NOVEMBER 3, 2012
It's with some trepidation that I publish this blog post about the river near my house while thousands: friends, colleagues and people I work for are still living the vividly bad memories that Hurricane Sandy left in its wake. Now, as the power slowly marches into the darker recesses of Manhattan, there is the curdling grind of putting life back together again. For the time-being, it's life in wartime with all its startling juxtapositions of venality and charity.
There is a small dam on the Charles River in Natick. It's a short walk from my house. In a calm moment, a mallard rested on the top of the dam this summer.
Boston was spared this time. And honestly, one benefit is that we've been treated to the enchanting spectacle of the governor of New Jersey palling around with the President. If only Hurricane Sandy had set up camp in Augusta, Maine! If it had been Massachusetts, we'd see our former Governor filling sandbags in Belmont. The President  might not have toured though because the state is so blue but maybe he would have invited the Romneys over for a Rose Garden beer —moment sometime in 2013. Good times …and the hatchets inadvertently covered under the New Jersey sand.
The mallards frolicked, fed and raised their families at the the dam. I drew them almost every day from July through early September.
The water pours over the dam in a well-behaved cascade. Rocks and riffles are evident in the shallow water. It's a good place for ducks and other birds which glean the algae and tiny insects off the boulders. The white noise in incredibly soothing and all my troubles join the flow and migrate to Boston Harbor and the briny Atlantic. (this is a charcoal drawing)
an effervescent moment captured in ballpoint pen and watercolor. Summer is almost over and Autumn's hurricane season seems very far away.
I've been sketching in this location for a few years now. It helps keep me moderately sane and domesticated. Just draw, with the greatest clarity possible, what is in front of your nose. It's just another drawing: tangible evidence of my sensitive mind loosed on the world for a brief flickering stream of moments.
I've seen the river flood before in Fall, Spring and Winter. I've seen it dry up in most summers. The fishermen come and go. The herons stalk about and the mergansers flit and splash. The kingfisher zooms close to the river's surface rattling its tin-can-filled-with-gravel song to any birds within earshot.
When I heard Sandy was approaching, I went down to see if the birds were aware of the impending situation. The dam had been quiet for a few weeks with only a reliable but solitary goose hanging around. On Oct. 28th there was a small flock of geese and two busy mallards. Something was up for sure.
A charcoal drawing of geese on top of the dam preening as if they are getting ready for a dance. A couple of mallards, bottoms up, making calm circular ripples in the reflective glassy river.
Here's a quick drawing done in the rain on Oct. 30th. No more geese and ducks. The kingfisher may have been somewhere nearby though.
With the hurricane due any hour, I went down to the dam again. The rain was spitting sideways and I made in a few happy drawings of the rising water. An urgent drizzle has a way of focusing one's drawing hand.
There was a woman standing by the railing (which I didn't draw, sorry). She wore a yellow slicker and looked out over the dotted and windswept river. I couldn't see her face. She was soon joined in a unashamedly romantic embrace by a scruffy young and hearty man (a poet or musician perhaps) sans coat and his flannel shirt unbuttoned one or two too many buttons. The wind raked across the park but the gale wouldn't dislodge them. As Aesop knew, they would only cling tighter and that was part of their pleasure anyway, the calculating fools. As many of you now know, the wind causes blunt force trauma. Greater cunning and delicacy is required to disunite true lovers.
Later in the day, it became very windy and fitful. The electricity finally gave out. I cooked leftovers on the wood stove and neighbors came over for wine and crackers in front of the merry fire. The wind huffed and puffed, branches crashed and we were glad we hadn't bothered to rake up the already accumulated Autumn leaves from the lawn. By the following morning, the power was restored and we were just learning the extent of Sandy's toll on New York and New Jersey. But I went down to the river to draw.
The island below the dam is submerged now.
I was there again yesterday. The water was roaring over the dam with such force. I tried to capture that. It's just another drawing and I've done a few hundred now I guess.
One final note about these drawings for all you illustrators and art buyers: These are done as self-therapy and reportage. I make them in my sketchbooks, turn the page and you'll see children's book illustrations: whimsical birds and castles there too. Since I'm hooked on drawing in general and these moments in particular, I have a blog of these types of drawings. I call it ROBSERVATIONS. Thanks for reading.