Finally! The neurotypical world made more than reasonable accommodations. They made a special effort to include the mobility-challenged into their arena, and I had a blast. Yep. I sat out in a field and painted. No sidewalk for me next to an outbuilding and parking lot — ostracized from other artists.
“How did you get out there with the dragonflies and frogs? With the trees and grasses?” I hear you asking me. I know, I know. Right?
When I first read of the joint venture between the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SMLC) and the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan (PAAWM) to host an Art Walk/Paint Out event at the Wau-Ke-Na Preserve, I thought I wish I could participate. With unusual boldness, I dashed off an email to the president of the PAAWM asking if it would be a barrier-free event all the while expecting the usual reply that the paths would be difficult terrain for a wheelchair. Instead, he said, “Yes, please come.”
“Yes, please come?” Were these words right there on my screen? I couldn’t believe it. I was being included. No, more than that, I was invited – please, come. These words swam before my eyes and a smile spread from cheek to cheek. I was going to participate in an outdoor painting event – really participate – in the fields – with other artists.
The SMLC (who are dedicated to land conservation, duh) had come up with a solution to the barrier problem: drive your vehicle to a site, dump your stuff, drive your vehicle to a designated parking lot. Now, before you start thinking it is incongruous for the preserve to allow a vehicle onto their pristine lands, it was all very carefully planned to keep a minimum impact on the earth.
In the past, I have encountered other land conservation groups who were almost hostile to letting people use the land. Not this group, not this past summer. While being dedicated to protecting nature (a/k/a fields, birds, wildflowers), at the same time, they designed the Preserve to include human nature as part of the natural environment. (After all, what is the point of land conservancy if no one can enjoy it?)
Their balanced approach revealed a respect for God’s creation (which does include us human beings after all). Rather than promulgating a negative attitude about mankind’s relationship with nature and her beauty, the Preserve developed designated lanes, mostly narrow pathways of mown grass, for walkers — which they let me use in a most unique way. These passages are walkable for the able-bodied but dangerous and impassable for a wheelchair.
There I was, smiling all the while as my husband drove me, my wheelchair, and all the paraphernalia associated with plein air painting to a location of my choice. After unloading, my husband moved my mobility van to the parking lot. (Thank you, Dear.)
What a joy! I was just another artist painting in a field. 😀