|View of Kansas City skyline from Penn Valley Park|
watercolor painting by author
The Colorful Landscape (seen and unseen)memoir
by Gregory E. Larson
Sit in one spot, for three hours or more, within the confines of the city (and with your cell phone turned off). Find a park or a good vantage point where you can observe man and nature. “Are you crazy?” some would ask. In today’s fast-paced world, it seems totally contrary to everyday life.
But that is just what my friend, Kirk, and I have been doing. We’ve started painting outdoors on a regular basis. It’s called plein air watercolor. We’ve taken our chairs, palettes and supplies outdoors a couple of times in the cool of the morning as the sun comes up in Kansas City.
|The Scout in Penn Valley Park|
photo by author
Our first time out was in Penn Valley Park on a spot near the sculpture of The Scout. We found a gap in the trees that provided a hillside view of greenery, with the city skyline beyond – a view where the colors in the foliage and the buildings mixed with the morning air, and the dreamy landscape was filled with the sound of bustling, rush-hour traffic.
Thankful of the luxury of a gorgeous view on a pleasant morning while the world rushed around us, I said to Kirk, “Heck, I just want to sit here and have my bagel and drink coffee for a little bit. What a great day!”
The sunlight touched the trees on the hilltops, reflecting a golden green, and the dark-blue shadows of the skyline began to brighten. As we sat and observed, more and more detail began to strike at our senses – a shadow here, a reflection there. The sky above the buildings was a collection of pale streaks of blues, pinks, and yellows. The change in light was slow-paced, but fun to observe. I began to think how different the skyline must have looked fifty years ago, and of all the life, business, and work that has transpired over the landscape. It made me think of a Beatle’s song, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Life goes on, braaah!”
Having brushed and daubed the paint onto the thick watercolor paper long enough, we abandoned our vantage point. It was late morning, and the city looked totally different. I’m sure a lot of business had transpired in front of us that morning inside the man-made edifices, and the trucks and cars were noisily going about their everyday routine.
I thought about what happens through the course of time on one spot on the landscape. What looks peaceful one moment can totally change in an instant or a day or a year – a sort of now you see it, now you don’t syndrome. The river of time prevents us from seeing all that transpires.
The next trip, a couple of weeks later was a visit to Loose Park, one of the jewels of the Kansas City Parks system. It’s a large swath of ground steeped in history, a place which has been the site of a civil war battle, a farm, a golf course, and now a park. Being in an urban area, it is a popular spot at all times of the day. I’m sure the list of activities and events (both legal and illegal) that have transpired in Loose Park would boggle the mind.
Kirk and I decided the peaceful setting of the scenic pond with an arched bridge and willow tree had good possibilities for a watercolor. We selected our vantage points and began sketching and painting. While we worked, a slow but steady stream of people walked by us. Some stopped to look at what we were doing. Some talked. We discovered that’s one of the benefits or hazards of plein air painting. There were a couple of peculiar happenings while we were there. A woman asked Kirk if he had seen a cell phone she lost there on Sunday. She said she was with a “wedding party.” We also noticed two park employees floating in a small aluminum boat, criss-crossing the area around the arched wooden bridge. Kirk and I commented to each other about the two men and how they didn’t look like they were doing much work. At times, it was hard for me to see the calm reflection of the pond because they were stirring up the water. It made me think of when I played along creeks and ponds as a kid. We walked away from the morning session not knowing what had transpired there over the last two days.They spent all evening wading in the pond, reaching and fishing for the engagement band, but came up empty-handed. The next day at church, they shared their sad story, and a whole group of church folk volunteered to help search for the lost ring. There were so many people wading in the pond at Loose Park that Sunday afternoon, they could have had a mass baptism. But the ring remained elusive.
That night I
lay in bed, listening to the news, and my ears perked up when I heard a story
about a local couple who went to Loose Park on Saturday afternoon. The guy (Seth Dixon of Warrensburg) had planned to propose to his
girlfriend (Ruth Salas of Liberty) out on the bridge. But once he bent down on his knee and looked to
his sweetheart, things went awry. He opened the lid on the box, the ring popped
out and dropped onto the bridge planks, fell through a crack and plopped into
the pond faster than you can say, “bye-bye bling.” Once the shock hit him, all
he could say was, “Oh . . . my . . . God.”
|Loose Park pond and bridge|
watercolor painting by author
On Monday, while Kirk and I were sitting at the bridge all morning, the story got on the news. A cell phone video, which their photographer friend had taken when the mishap occurred – well, it went viral – a hundred thousand hits in two days. Social media at its finest. The peaceful setting in Loose Park began to take on a life of its own.
The couple was invited to be on national TV and share their story on ABC’s 20/20 show (or so they thought). The network had them flown to California and tricked them on the night before the interview by giving them tickets to go see Jimmy Kimmel Live. Before they knew it, they were invited up on stage, not knowing the surprise that was hidden behind the stage curtain. Jimmy showed the video of their bad fortune on the bridge in Loose Park, and he had them share their story.
Voila, the curtain opened and revealed a stage set with a wooden bridge and a photomural of the weeping willow tree. Jimmy and a jeweler gave the couple a huge engagement ring set with a medley of diamonds. He talked them into recreating the proposal in front of a cheering studio audience and national TV.
But wait, there’s more.
Several divers had attempted to find the ring to no avail, but while the couple was in California, a Missouri truck driver (on his own time) felt sorry for the couple, and brought his metal detector to Loose Park. He searched in the pond for four hours, and found the ring! Now the couple has two rings, one small and one large.
It appears the park is peaceful again and life goes on in Kansas City.
Link to Kansas City Star article: