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Night Cathedral
Night Cathedral

© D. Yael Bernhard

If you walk in the woods or along the edge of a field at this time of year, you might find a fresh buck rub on a tree.

The bucks choose slender trunks that fit between their antlers, affording a surface where the velvety spikes can be rubbed smooth – and the restless energy of the deer rut, or mating season, vented.

The rut just ended here in the Catskills, so the rubs are still pretty fresh. Usually it's a rusty orange smear of inner bark rubbed raw on the side of a young tree. The buck's scent is all over it – a calling card to a nearby doe in estrus. Under cover of night, buck and doe will return to this place to meet.

When I first moved back to the Catskills, I found my way to new hunting grounds on the abandoned ski slopes of Romer Mountain. The steep, overgrown meadows were crisscrossed with deer sign – but it took a whole season of scouting and tracking to figure out this activity was all nocturnal. Toward the end of the rut I found a patch of young beech that I nicknamed "Rub City". Signs of the rut were all around me. I could just imagine the deer, waiting for darkness, emerging from the shadows in their shy elegance, picking their steps through the tall grass, their moonlit silhouettes moving through a cathedral of silent black conifers. Every rub I found was evidence of these nocturnal trysts . . . the flick of a tail, the shudder of a haunch as buck and doe approach.

Night Cathedral was fully formed in my mind long before I was able to bring it out on paper – my favorite textured grey paper that allows me to paint both darker and lighter than the background. A world of tonal shapes emerged, haloed with white moonlight. In those days I was painting mostly in gouache. The medium served well the mystery and mood of this place that was so familiar and ordinary in the daytime, yet transformed into the deers' secret, sacred mating grounds at night.


Wishing you a good week.

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