Lake Superior Park, Lake Superior, 16” x 11”, oil on panel, 2002
“I knew I probably should have packed up and gone back to camp a little earlier. I have painted into the dark many times before, but this was Lake Superior, a beautiful but very unpredictable place, especially in the fall.
I had come out to this island a little earlier that evening to get a view looking back to the mainland, hoping the sun might cast a nice glow over the rock faces just north of Old Woman Bay. With any luck, the old lady’s face would also receive some setting rays in the background at the same time.
However, you can never count on these things when painting in the outdoors, so I turned my attention to exploring the island when the clouds decided not to share the sun with me. When at last I started on a panel, I was facing the lake, where I had found a really interesting tree with some incredible lichen covered rounded rock in the background, all being fused together by the sound of the waves washing up against the island. As I began work of the piece, racing against the now oncoming darkness, the sky at last gave in a little and enchanted me with a few moments of magenta hues and even a glimpse of the setting sun before closing back up again. It’s moments like these that really make working out in the field so worthwhile. Had I only taken a few photos and left, I would have missed this closing ceremony to the day, which was just the element needed to complete my composition.
Of course there is sometimes a price to pay. While I was busy painting, not only was my light dissipating quickly, but the fog had crept in slowly at the same time. When I lifted my eyes from the panel, I realized that I had better get a move on – and quickly. Although the gap that I had crossed was not very large, I had to paddle through some nice rollers to get there in the first place, and I had left my compass back at camp (never again!).
After packing my gear, I made my way carefully down the now slippery rocks back to the canoe. Waves were washing into the little cove pretty heavily as I began my paddle back. Our campsite was hidden behind a point that would have blocked the view at any time of day, and the conditions didn’t make things any better.
I pressed on knowing that I would soon be leaving the comfort of this island shore to cross the open water – in darkness. It’s been said before that when you lose one of your senses, the others become stronger. Well, this seemed to be true, because I could hear those waves pounding the far shore very loud and clear and they traveled through the thick air. As I was about to get into the open, I spotted small orange light on the distance shore.
Sure enough, Janet and the girls were thinking about me. Realizing the predicament that I might be in, they had made a small fire out on the rocks to help guide me back. It reminded me of stories I had read about the wives of sailors leaving a lantern in the window at night to guide their men home.
Using my flashlight, I gave a couple of quick bursts of light in their direction. They immediately flashed back. It was quite reassuring. The waves were not quite as big as they had been earlier, and after getting past a large flat rock – which I located by sound before sight – the rest of the way was clear.
While I pulled the canoe up on the shore, I joined Janet and the kids around the little fire and we chatted for a while. By the time the girls turned in to our comfortable Eureka tent for the night, the moon had risen, and its light danced on the water through the fog. The little fire’s embers were still glowing, and the imagery was just too good to miss. I grabbed my painting gear again, and by the light of my headlight, developed a painting that will certainly bring back memories for years to come.