Fresh Eyes: Swannanoa River Offers Second Look at Art and Life

Every visit to Asheville inspires, and our latest trip was no exception. An April run took us along a well-worn trail beside the Swannanoa River. The path dipped and wound and climbed, past an outdoor grotto wreathed in wedding tulle, rock walls frescoed with Mandalas, a lush bamboo forest edging Warren Wilson University.

Near the end, we encountered a painter, his easel angled against the river, his palette clutched to his hip. We stopped to admire his work, and he graciously permitted me to take his photo. He had begun this landscape one year ago in this very spot, he explained, and had returned this day to complete it.

After wishing him well and resuming our course, I considered the idea of coming back to something (or someone) after the passage of time, of picking up at the exact point of detachment. Would it be difficult to find one’s way back? Would fresh eyes and perspective enhance the encounter, or might preconceptions cloud the view? 

Certainly it is simpler to cling to initial impressions than to step back and discern the new growth time has fostered.

Our artist was courageous to do the latter, I decided. He might easily have finished his painting in the comfort of his own studio, relying on memory and his mind’s eye. But think of the details he might have missed!

In terms of my own writing, I’m alternately amazed and appalled to exhume an old piece. Frequently, reading an early draft make me squirm. But the passage of time permits me to reapproach the work, tentatively at first, then more confidently, bolstered by my experiences during this interval.

Like the riverside painter, I’m reinvested. I honor my work’s potential, acknowledging its warts as well as its buds of maturity. I clear away dead branches to get to its bones.

The final picture may not be what I initially envisioned, but it is one I can embrace wholeheartedly.

Nature isn’t perfect, and neither is art. Individuals are works in progress. Happily, life provides frequent do-overs, those rare second chances to revise tired impressions.

And in those moments, should you determine that nothing serves you, give yourself permission to start fresh with a clean canvas, a blank screen, a new conversation.

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