Much of my time spent as a professional artist was producing product. Mind you, that product was art, paintings, drawings, and original prints, and I enjoyed making it. But, it was not the art that I had dreamed of making when I first studied to become an artist. I had learned early on in my career as an artist that if you wished to survive you had to earn a living, and if you weren’t going into teaching, you had to produce something for which there was a market. Being a naturalist, and having a passion for bird watching, I painted and made etchings of birds and waterfowl. Weekends and holidays, to satisfy the need to grow as an artist, we’d head off to Superior, Algonquin, or Killarney Provincial Park to canoe, hike, and to sketch. We had many adventures and I produced many sketches that I promised to share and write about in my old age. Perhaps, now is a good time to begin.
A Superior Adventure
Vacationing in mid October up on the north shores of Lake Superior is an invitation to a bag of mixed weather. Dawn breaks and the showers that plagued us the previous day begin to give way to overcast conditions and a cold north wind. Our room at Superior Adventures Lodge near to Wawa, although comfortable, was never designed to accommodate clients late into the season, and this morning it feels cold and damp. There's no hurrying to meet the day. We linger in bed enjoying the warmth of the down filled duvet until we were certain that the woodstove in the kitchen had been stoked and coffee is ready.
Our plan for the day is to hike the trail from Old Woman Bay up into the hills where, hopefully, I can sit for awhile and complete a few sketches. Following morning coffee and a breakfast consisting of second helpings of gorp we set about preparing for our hike. It's hard to know just what to wear at this time of the year. Often times, despite the cold of the morning, afternoons can become quite warm. Water, energy bars, painting equipment, and rain jackets stored in our knapsacks we grabbed our walking sticks, jump in the car, and take off down the road for Old Woman Bay.
There's no one in the parking lot at Old Woman Bay. You can't blame anyone for delaying their trip into the park early this morning. The wind off the lake is numbing cold. A streak of blue sky on the horizon, however, holds promise that the weather might break and provide favourable sketching conditions. We head out on the trail.
The first half mile, or so, leads through a second growth forest beside a rushing river. I'm tempted to go back and get the fishing rod and give it a try. "Perhaps next time," I think to myself. The trail is wet and muddy. Water drips off the overhanging branches as we brush by and soon the cold is compounded by dampness, which seeps into our clothing. The muddy trail turns into an ancient riverbed strewn with boulders and rocks forcing us to calculate every step and slowing our pace. Another quarter mile, the trail narrows and we head up. The trail up to the ridge is well worn and made slippery by the previous day's rain. We're quickly winded, and stop often to catch our breath. We push on to the top. It seems like forever, but we make it. The view is awesome.
Northern Ontario with its rocks and trees, small hills and mountains stretch off into the horizon. Canada's Group of Seven painters referred to this country as Algoma. Some of their best works came from this area. We hike the ridge and look for a place to make some sketches. The trail meanders up and down the ridge. We're bushed when, a half-hour or so later, we come upon a rocky outcropping with a suitable place to sit and sketch for awhile. Sandy, an avid birder, pulls out her binoculars ready for whatever bird specie that might happen by. I pull out my sketchpad and watercolours and search for a comfortable rock, if there is such a thing. As I begin to sketch the sky begins to clear and the all but leafless forest far below lights up. The few Aspens that still have leaves are lit up like blotches of gold. A lone raven soars high above. Its gronks and cackles break the silence of this place of quiet solitude.
I've gone away to my private place. It's quiet here, ever so quiet. In this place there are no troubles, nor worldly concerns. Scientists debate about the existence of alternate universes and some even go so far as to suggest that we live multiple lives in different dimensions. This must be true for in this moment I've become a witness to the world that exists before me. Unconsciously I mix paint and make marks on a piece of paper creating a memory of my being here.
Sandy rooting through the knapsack distracts me. I've been in my far away place for almost two hours. It's lunchtime. My butt is numb. My legs are cramped and I can hardly stand proving that there exists no such thing as a comfortable rock. I've managed several sketches. It's time for a break. We sit on the rocky ledge high above the forest floor eating our lunch and enjoying the warmth of the late autumn afternoon sun. I'm fascinated by the light and shadow show being played out on the forest floor caused by clouds scurrying through the sky, hurried along by a stiff northern breeze. I'm reminded of a book dealing with the life and times of Franklin Carmichael, the Group of Seven artist, entitled "Light and Shadow". Carmichael was fascinated by the shifting shadows on the La Cloche Hills. For the plein air artist the shifting shadows can be a nightmare as the landscape that they're attempting to capture is constantly changing.
Lunch finished we pack up and begin the long trek back to the trailhead. We continue along the ridge and come out on a lookout over Old Woman Bay. It's quite spectacular and although the afternoon is racing along I have to stop and make a sketch.