A couple of years back when I did the “The Living Coast” painting to promote and celebrate the Great Lakes Heritage Coast, we traveled by boat to the Head Islands, which belongs to friends back in Caledon East. It’s a beautiful set of islands, and on this trip we planned on revisiting them, this time by canoe. We put in north of the islands at Byng Inlet, new territory for us, and proceeded for an enjoyable few hours of paddling. The winds were from the right direction fortunately, and caused no problems. The plan of camping on the way was followed through, and we found ourselves a piece of clean rock to set up on. A few hours of chasing the setting sun prepared me for bed real well. The next morning after more paddling and painting, we broke camp and headed down to the Islands. Now this is where the story gets a little soft. You see, these friends had a really nice cozy cottage for us to stay in while we were there. It was a fishing camp back in the fifties, and had been beautifully renovated. Ok, ok, ok. You die-hard campers out there might be cringing, but it sure was a nice break for the family to have running water, flush toilets and the like. And they sure deserved a break. I guess I didn’t mind it too much either.
On the way in to the islands, we paddled past a scene that really caught my eye, even for the middle of the day lighting that was in place. Returning later, with the late afternoon sun lowering in the sky, confirmed what I had hoped would take place during the sunset. A small painting that I did on the spot there will never be finished. No, it was only to serve as an introduction for me, to help me get better acquainted with the scene. Back in the studio a very large canvas will be stretched to better portray the size and impact the scene had on me. Maybe it will be 7’ by 3’. Whatever size it winds up being, its always a highlight for me on a trip when I find a scene that I just have to do big when I get back to the studio.
That night, I went to check on the canoe at the dock before turning in. Its funny how inspiration comes at times, but there it was, just waiting to hit me upside the head. As I stood on the dock, with the incredible stars like a canopy beckoning my eyes upwards, I knew that I just had to try and capture this other side of being out on the coast. About 2:00am I hiked back out to the scene that I had located earlier to gauge its potential for a painting, now that the moon was up. No headlight was needed, as the moonlight had lit my way through this incredibly transformed landscape. Adding to the experience was a night occurrence that I had never before seen. It was a pale green flattish kind of arch floating above the north horizon. It wasn’t northern lights, and it certainly wasn’t city lights, for there is no city there. Whatever it was just confirmed that I was at the right place at the right time. An hour later I crawled into bed satisfied for what I had found, and really tired too.
THE END OF THE JOURNEY
Leaving Head Island, we paddled through, once again, beautifully calm waters and up to Bayfield Inlet. Our truck had been shuttled for us and we moved on to our last destination of not only the summer, but what would turn out to be the last destination for our COAST to CANVAS Project as well. We drove into Parry Sound, and down to a marina where our good friends the Koelschs met up with us. They took us to their place, an island as well, in a quiet spot at the back of Spider Bay, a part of The Massasauga Provincial Park. Being a long weekend, it would have been unwise for us to try canoeing down the channel to their place, as the boat traffic would have certainly caused some serious wave action along some stretches.
The plan was to stay for a the weekend and then move down the coast for the last couple of days of camping to finish off our trip. It seemed like it would be nice to end off the trip as we had begun it, camping. It turns out that weather did not allow us to do so, with the winds that came in, and we ended our journeys there.
Not that I am complaining by any means. It was a fabulous spot to be. From a family stand point. A little beach allowed the girls to swim every day, no matter the wind direction. The extra days were weekdays, when we had Georgian Bay almost to ourselves. Having access to a 12’ Lund boat with a 25h.p. Merc allowed me to go places I could never have gone otherwise, with the wind and all, and I began numerous paintings of scenes that I would have never seen by canoe. A cottage is however still a different experience altogether. When it rains, you just go inside. When you are hungry, you sit at the table to eat. Everything becomes a lot easier compared to setting up your shelter, and cooking over the open fire or single burner stove. Not that I didn’t enjoy the break as well, if I were to be honest. But it just helped me to realize that I would never want to give up the experiences of sleeping in the tent with my family and being not just close to the landscapes that I love to paint, but immersed in them totally.
I am now back in the studio, reflecting upon the experiences of the last year and feel extraordinarily blessed. I long to head out again, but with almost 60 paintings now, many to finish yet, I must buckle down in the studio, stoke the fire, and through the winter ahead complete the journeys on canvas. What was just an idea and hope at one point last year, I find myself now fully engulfed with. Every brush stroke I make over these next months will be a reminder of the waters canoed and shores hiked and snowshoed upon during our exploration of the Great Lakes Heritage Coast. I have seen our daughters change and grow, not just physically, but emotionally closer to the land through these outings. Janet is already missing the solitude of Lake Superior. And I, when not applying the oils to canvas, I am daydreaming of future painting excursions where the waters flow, the air is clean and the sounds of nature fill my ears.