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Views of haystacks, and of Monet and me
Whenever I visit the Chicago Art Institute, I make sure to re-acquaint myself with French Impressionist painter Claude Monet's "Haystack" paintings.
While his late-1800s contemporaries copied Old Masters' portraits, Monet was said to be fascinated by the movement of light on the haystacks just outside his rural home in Normandy.
At that time, wheat was cut by hand, piled together and then covered with conical stacks of hay to protect it from rain until the threshing machines that passed from village to village arrived.
Though the subject was thought too mundane at the time for a gifted painter, Monet depicted vividly how a change of light between seasons, days or even hours could affect views of the same object.
Of about 30 haystack paintings from Monet's best-known 1888-91 series, the Chicago Art Institute has six, the largest number in any one place. Growing up near Chicago, I didn't realize how lucky I was to have that many so close by.
He's one of my favorite painters and I've always been intrigued by his interpretations of the same subject. And just recently, I had the chance to try my hand and eye on a "Haystack" of a different kind.
I was on the Oregon coast and saw another impressive haystack view — Cannon Beach's famed rock formations. Haystack Rock itself is 235 feet at low tide and is flanked by "The Needles," several shorter but no-less-impressive rock formations jutting out of the Pacific.
Like the Monet works, this haystack scene proved mesmerising, too.
While Monet used oil paints, I took photos of Haystack Rock and the adjacent coastal rocks from different directions and in the morning and evening over two days. Monet captured what he called 'instantaneous' moments in the cycle of nature, according the art institute's website. I hoped to do the same.
We were staying at the Waves Cannon Beach motel — recommended by a friend at the newspaper — and walked half a block to the ocean where we got our first glimpse of Haystack Rock while people strolled in the sand along the water and the sun slowly went down.
Cannon Beach, named after a cannon that washed up on the beach in 1846 from a wrecked ship, is a fun, upscale beach town with picturesque weathered gray-shingled buildings, art galleries, small shops and restaurants and flowers all over. It was unexpectedly reminiscent of Door County and Mackinac Island.
In the morning after a pastry and coffee at Cannon Beach Bakery, we headed to Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach to see the early morning fog over the coast and the foam-topped waves rolling in against Haystack Rock in the distance and other rocks closer by. We lucked into it, just trying to follow a guidebook The view was stunning. I took photos, of course — one of my favorite activities on trips — and emailed a few and also posted them on Facebook. I've never received so many compliments on a photo before.
Then we hiked to the beach in a different direction and up a trail through the woods for a view of the red-topped old white Tillamook Rock Lighthouse on top of a 1,000-foot high rock formation beyond the shore. After a tumultuous history, the lighthouse was closed. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. A little farther north, we walked down to the water to watch the surfers.
We took off for a drive along the scenic coast, stopping to take more photos of rocky promontories, but no sights could top the Haystack Rock area. So on our way back, we stopped there again to see if the late afternoon sunlight would give a different view. It did.
That night we had a delicious dinner, including crab cakes to die for, at Sweet Basil's Café, recommended by a helpful couple we met on the street.
Later, I was drawn again to walk to the beach to look at Haystack Rock. As the sun went down, several groups enjoyed bonfires in the sand.
The next morning I took one last walk on the beach and took photos of the early-morning sun gently lighting the beach and silhouetting the rocks.
Somehow, the task of revisiting the spot had opened my eyes to sights I might otherwise have overlooked. I watched the gulls swoop in and out of the estuary and call to their partners, and I marveled at the wave patterns in the sand. I loved walking along the ocean and felt sad to leave though grateful to have been there.
Once I get my Haystack photos up on my wall, I'll be able to enjoy them every day, while I can only see Monet's infrequently.
And I hope I can retain the habit of looking at things more than once, from new angles and in different lighting. I've found it offers fascinating new views, both outward and inward.
Pamela O’Meara can be reached at 651-748-7818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.