We had little choice in the matter. Although we had arrived at French River Provincial Park with the intention of moving from one campsite to next each day, we had to stay put. It was a great campsite though, with beautiful sweeping pines sheltering us from the continuous winds, so we turned inland and began to explore on foot a little more. Night came, and as Janet got the fire going, I was struck by the way it cast it’s glow onto the surrounding tree limbs, and brought such warmth to the whole scene as it flickered. I have never gone out looking for a camp scene to paint, but this really caught my eye. Camping brings me closer to nature and allows me to live in it; I may do a painting reflecting this scene when I return to the studio. The ensuing morning brought a glorious sunrise. It turned out to be the last such for the remainder of the trip, as the days seemed to become more overcast from that point on, with the exception of one great sunset.
It’s funny how inspiration for my paintings come. Sometimes it’s an awesome scene with incredible light that just screams out to be painted. Other times it’s momentary flashes of light on a subject, such as the campfire scene, or texture, patterns, colours and design that initiate the creative process. Then there’s these little “dancing trees”.
I first noticed them out of the corner of my eye when I was scouting for a small painting the day we arrived. There they were, innocently standing afar, minding there own business. Just three little dead pine trees, sprouting up from an area of flat rock. Behind them was a much larger live pine looming over them. As much as I tried not to have preconceived ideas about what to paint when planning this trip, I suppose I did favour seeking scenes that represented the area to some degree. As these little trees looked like they could be from any place, I continued my search elsewhere. While having my morning coffee the next day and gazing about, my eyes once again fell upon these distant trees separated from me by some still backwaters. I again looked elsewhere and tried to ignore them. This went on for a couple of days until finally I grabbed my gear and hiked over there.
As the crow flies, it would have only been a 2 minute walk. But the geology in this place formed long ridges of rounded rock, with depressions between each of them filled with water. So after making my way around, I finally arrived at these trees to have a closer look. It turned out that they were actually branches from a larger tree, whose main trunk rose only a couple of feet above the ground, the rest having decayed. This was hidden from my original vantage point as it was growing in a low spot. The three remaining branches twisted their way up to the heavens, and in viewing them from any position they appeared to be alive. They even seemed to be dancing. Why this caught my attention so much I am not certain. Whether it’s the Disney influence of inanimate objects taking on life, or the spiritual analogies that could be drawn from these limbs extending toward their creator in a worshipful stance, I began to sketch them from different angles. These studies will be helpful for the large painting that I will be developing from them. The next time something catches my eye so strongly, perhaps I will go look more closely right away.
Meanwhile back at camp, our batteries were running low, so I found out later. A bit of poor planning (on my behalf) meant that soon we would not be able to recharge the digital camera, the video camera, the laptop, and so on. It was very fortunate that when Ed was bringing us out, he made mention of a fishing camp on an island as we passed by. It was not far off our planned route back, and, as calmness had finally come to the waters, we loaded the kayak to head over. By now it was just Janet and I as we had a chance opportunity to meet up with my parents nearby, who the kids had really missed. After consideration, it was decided that they could go back with their grandparents for the last few days. Until this point, we had been using the canoe for all our water travel, and loading the kayak up for the first time at last confirmed our suspicions; that although we had a big tandem boat, 21’6″ to be exact, there was no way the 4 of us could ever fit in it with all our gear for a camping trip. There is good reason why the canoe is the ultimate family watercraft, and why those voyageurs used canoes and not kayaks; you can really load them up.
AN OASIS IN A WET LAND
We couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The rains had started to settle in as we pulled into the docks of Georgian Bay Fishing Camp and made our way to the door. Opening it Dave, the owner, who greeted us with the offer of a freshly brewed cup of coffee. The batteries were put on the charger, and as this was going to take a while (not to mention the rains were now heavier and non-stop), it made good sense to grab a cabin for the night and dry out. After all, this wasn’t a survival trip, it was a painting trip.
We learned a lot from Dave about the fascinating history of the area. About the early lighthouse keeper who had to row out to the Bustard Islands twice each day; to put out the light in the morning and back out to light it up in the evening. And that was over a mile each way; rain or shine, wind or snow. Talk about a dangerous job. Finally, years later, the government made accommodations for the keeper next to the lighthouse. Then there was the local who was contracted to run a big wooden tug boat down the rapids. Of course there wasn’t enough water, so it got stuck on the rocks and apparently slowed the flow of the river. At last, the water built up and flushed it out. It goes on. Even this very camp was moved in the 1930’s or so in it’s entirety from up in the French River to it’s present location. It was felt that the fishing was better. We also met a couple of fellows from the MNR, Rob and Mark, who were doing walleye surveys in the area and were staying at Dave’s for a couple of weeks. Strong winds and rain were in the forecast for the next while. With no end in sight, it was looking as though we might become stranded there for a few days. As much as the kayak allowed us to take on bigger waves than the canoe, it was no match for the waves that were being whipped up. We did not wish to be among the too many who needed to be rescued each year because of conditions like these. Then in the late afternoon, things mysteriously calmed down. Gale force winds were still in the forecast for later, and we were at least a 6-7 hour paddle back from our put-in location. As it happened, Rob and Mark were finished early, and with this small window of calmness, we found ourselves, our charged batteries and the rest of our gear riding on their boat, back to the truck before nightfall.
GEORGIAN BAY ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Rain, wind, grey days. I guess we were due for this streak of weather. After all it was fall. Looking on the bright side, the colours around us were nicely saturated. We paddled out to our last location in the rain to an island off of Twelve Mile Bay, where you will find the most northerly of the islands that are part of Georgian Bay Islands National Park . Here set up for our remaining few days. The hope was to explore all around O’Donell Point and other areas, but the furthest I managed was a little island not more than a couple hundred yards away. Even that was a tricky paddle. I believe this might be the place where the east wind meets the west wind as well. Because not long after we set our tarp up over the eating area in a fairly mild east wind, I noticed a whitish band in the distance on Georgian Bay ‘s horizon. Well it wasn’t fog coming in, that’s for sure. Like a train, this west wind bullied over the east breeze and filled our tarp like a balloon. Never before have I experienced such a radical 180 degree wind change, and of course, with rain to boot. We scrambled to reset the tarp, sloping the low side against the wind, and tried to regain our composure. Fortunate for us though, the temperature remained mild. Despite the less than favourable conditions, I did manage to start a few more paintings. And before this last leg of of journey was over, the sun did finally peek out a couple of quick times to say goodbye.
Packing our gear up in the rain back at the truck, I reflected on the previous month and a bit. My boxes are full of paintings at various stages, and many experiences lived to help finish them by. We have covered a fair bit of ground, but the vastness of the Heritage Coast contains so many beautiful places and images that I will never be able to see in a lifetime. In leaving, it’s good to know that there is much yet to come back for and I am also already looking forward to future trips to the coast in the winter, spring and summer, when I will be once again be surrounded by the magnificent environment which I am privileged to paint.
As I finish this journal, I am back in my little barn studio here in Caledon East, enjoying the warmth and comfort of the wood stove, on yet another rainy day. I have an eagerness to complete these new paintings, and develop the larger pieces which now live in my memory. The process of doing so brings back my own recollection of places visited, family times and experiences from these outdoors. Indeed the act of painting now becomes much more than the mere creation of an image; it weaves my life experiences into each work, becoming a visual journal which reflects the footprints and paddle strokes of where I’ve been. For those viewing them, I hope that the allure of our wonderful land can transcend my brushstrokes, and grip them with a desire to visit these special places for themselves.