Thursday night we found ourselves in the small canal town of Leiden in the Netherlands, sampling some farm fresh cheese and catching up with our friend Walt. I had noticed that Jeff seemed preoccupied by a large canvas painting on the wall. There wasn’t much to ponder with this particular painting – a canvas rectangle divided in half between a royal blue sky and a flat green grass field, a silhouette of a windmill in the background and a curious milk cow gazing out from the foreground. Walt noticed Jeff’s upward stare and said, “Oh, that? Well that’s Holland. Cows, flat fields, and windmills.” We had been to the Netherlands before nearly four years ago but saw nothing beyond the canals and coffee shops of Amsterdam. This time we set out to discover the country beyond city limits, a “Tour de Holland” adventure that would take us along western coastal roads, past northern landscapes, through eastern woodlands, and south to charming canal villages. I had a hunch the painting was missing a few Dutch details.
If I were to make a few small revisions to Walt’s painting, I would first add two black circular swirls connected by a straight line – a bicycle. Like my first visit to Holland, I was amazed at the number of bicycles that were literally everywhere; propped against corner shops, parked in front of homes, decorating canal bridges, or riding along treelined paths in the countryside. Some are well taken care of, others will get you from point A to point B if you’re lucky. Some are brightly painted and others are equipped with baskets of varying sizes. But what stands out the most is that when a bicycle is not in use, it is simply parked – not chained – parked wherever the cyclist can find room. At any given time there could be upwards of fifty bikes resting on a street corner. I was obsessed and so was my camera.
Moving to the background of the painting, I would add a brushstroke of blue-gray at the base of the windmill to represent a canal. Driving around Holland I was surprised to find that canals are not just characteristic of cities but rather the entire country, and they seem to serve many purposes. Some are for navigating, some are for irrigating, and still others create a fencing system to keep livestock confined in the farmers’ fields. As practical as they may be, one thing is for certain; the canals grace the landscape with unexpected charm and beauty. Catch the light on them at just the right angle and they glisten under a beaming sun. It’s no wonder thousands of delicate blossoms call this place home.
And speaking of flowers, my final revision will require a palette of every color of the rainbow. I would sweep my brush across the canvas, creating seemingly infinite rows of brilliant reds, yellows, purples, greens and everything in between. Soft and graceful or bold and standing proud, there are no distinct petals but rather a sweep of color reaching longingly towards the sun. This is just another one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces and the breath of life in this otherwise ordinary painting.