Anticipation has been building in our family for a while now for the last major trip of our project. Of course the amazing scenery, incredible waters and wildlife, and enjoyable people will all be present as usual. But in addition to all this, well, it’s summer! Sunshine and warm days mean lots of fun in the water and on the beaches and hikes, and weather that just makes you want to be outside. For me, it means lush landscapes, not having to paint with gloves and freezing, and long days to paint in. In all, it’s a great time to be out.
This trip is beginning near the Pigeon River on Lake Superior, very close to the Canada/USA border west of Thunder Bay. Because of where we live, this means a drive along the entire length of The Great Lakes Heritage Coast. Although a long trek, approximately 18 hours with children, it serves to build even greater anticipation for our on-the-water excursions. During the drive, glimpses of the coast are caught revealing incredible expanses of rich blue waters and rugged shores. The hills and valleys take us through incredible forests and rock faces, especially along Superior. We just can’t help turning our heads every time the lake appears. As a matter of fact, as I am writing this, Janet, who is driving at present (not safe for me to ink and drive), has just lost the speed she needed to make it up this hill easily, because of such a vista.
Creativity is essential on long trips like these if one wants to avoid the inevitable “how much longer?” question from the kids less than a couple of hundred times. Fortunately for us, we were travelling with an iBook laptop outfitted with a DVD player/CD burning drive as part of my working gear. The girls are usually great travellers, so it felt more like a treat for them rather than a pacifier when after about 5 hours on the road, I surprised them with the mini movie theatre in the back seat (I had rigged a couple of computer speakers in the ceiling for that surround sound feel). The greatest surprise was actually for us, in that after the entertainment, they never really asked much for it again throughout the rest of the trip.
At last, the long trip behind us, we hit the water. Beautiful flat water greeted us as our canoe sliced through the water with our load. We were just east of Pigeon River on Lake Superior, accessing the water from a new 400 meter boardwalk that was just put in as part of the Heritage Coast initiative. After setting up camp, we paddled to a point on the shore that gave us access to the new trail, and made our way to the top. A great view of the coast in both directions was our reward. The rest of the day turned grey, and after paddling about a kilometre into the open water to explore the Boundary Islands, it began to rain. Accompanied by a quickly disappearing distant shoreline, I though it best to hightail it back to camp, in case the calm water turned bad while I was still out there. Unfortunately, shortly after my return, the rain actually stopped, and things never did get to rough. I say unfortunately, because I was sizing up a scene to paint, and now it was too late to go back. Maybe next time.
A busy day in Thunder Bay (meeting with Thunder Bay Art Gallery , radio interview with CBC, BBQ with old college friend Steve Lawson and his family) preceded our late arrival to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park . Although we spent a little time there in the winter, conditions did not allow me to see very much of it. The following morning we made our way to a great campsite at Tea Harbour, where we were within a few steps of an incredible view of the bottom section of the Sleeping Giant mountain. Winds kept the canoeing to a minimum, but there was a great deal to see on foot. Hiking down the cobble beach brought to a location where at last I would begin the first painting of the trip. I was finally able to scratch that painting itch which had eluded me for the previous several days. Even more rewarding was that I was able to break out one of the two biggest canvases that I had brought along with me, one that was 2 feet by almost 3.5 feet. On each trip I have been bringing along two of this size, hoping to use one in Lake Superior and the other in Georgian Bay. I try and save them for just the right scene, one that imposes itself upon me in the field and requires a larger canvas to convey the impressions received while standing there. This one had all the potential. I began work on it, although, the lighting wasn’t the best, anticipating that over the next couple of days at this site, I would find the right atmosphere to complement the scene the next morning.
Later that day CBC arrived to do a television piece for their Country Canada Channel. I met Colleen (producer) and Jason (videographer) and was given a quick tour of the visitor centre by Cam Snell, park superintendent. This was great in helping to impart a sense of this special place to the Colleen and Jason, who flew in from Winnipeg, and had never been to this park before. From that point on (2:30pm) until they left (next day at 6:00pm), things got even busier than usual, in a good way. Having had a couple of conversations over the phone prior to her coming, Colleen had a good sense of what we were up to and we had worked on a shot list to gather while they were with us. So off we went, portage to the lake, canoe and paint, back to the campsite, gather around the fire, do some more painting, carrying on with family stuff, until finally it was past 11pm. Next morning, back to filming some more painting, this time with an incredible rainbow filled sunrise (and no rain anywhere) before 6:00am, back to the campsite for breakfast, then a hike up the new Top Of The Mountain Trail . But not your ordinary hike. Jason was lugging his big TV camera and a 60 lb pack of batteries while Colleen had the big tripod. I had my pack with easel and painting gear, and we had Andie and Sydney along as well. All started out well, but after about an hour, some newly found muscles began to make themselves known. For me this happened after our 3 year old had reached her max, and I had to carry her on my shoulders up the steepest part of the trail. We managed our way to a great lookout over Tea Harbour, and finished the shooting with an interview piece with the view over my right shoulder. It was certainly worth the hike. Oh I forgot to mention Janet’s whopper ankle sprain that blew up like a grapefruit; she just tightened her boots and kept going…what a trooper! (the swelling didn’t completely go away for almost 3 weeks).
Things returned to normal for the next couple of days as I explored and painted some more in this fabulous park.