Monday, December 27, 2010

Hogsback Falls (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.)

26 December finds me on my 59th birthday, at Ottawa's Hogsback Falls, to do my "birthday painting." I sit on my paint box behind a wrought iron fence and below me the water, leaping and churning like blended toffee and whipped cream, rushes through a channel between vertical limestone cliff and a massive rock that crouches like a "hogs back" in the middle of the river.  The wider view upstream is a fantasy of raging falls, leaping spray and river sculpted ice, but I have only half an hour before sunset and I choose a simpler composition, closer at hand.

My camera battery is dead, so I can't begin by taking a reference photo to aid in finishing the painting indoors, so I just "wing it", even though the icy-fingered bush on the rock face before me must be indicated only perfunctorily in hopes that I can return some day soon to do it justice.

So this is what I have, on a windy day at -12C just before dusk.


  1. I hope you had a happy birthday, Aleta, but you must have been icy-fingered yourself! A very chilly day for painting outdoors.
    Wishing you the best for the coming year,

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  2. I feel most alive when I'm painting outdoors in the winter! My fingers get used to the cold - the capillaries expand through the winter. Once they're acclimatized - a little bit of cold and I can feel them flush with hot blood! When the temperatures are down around minus 20C they can get pretty stiff, so it's hard to handle the caps of my paint tubes... then I find fingerless gloves helps a lot. The trick is to have my back to the breeze, and have a thermos of tea handy. Have a happy New Year!

  3. A belated happy birthday to you, Aleta. Hogsback can be a very cold spot in winter! Don and I used to walk over there when we were first married and living in an apartment before we bought our farm. Glad you go to spend some time painting on your birthday. During the holidays, it's nice to take time out from the festivities to do something quiet and contemplative such as painting.

  4. Hogsback is also famous as a former station for Two-lined salamanders, and as a place where Wanyne Grimm introduced Cepaea hortensis around 1971, but neither of these could be evaluated on Sunday, so I stayed in the car and entered field notes from 2001, in order to have someone present in the vehicle in case authorities decided it was inappropriately situated.

    In 1998 we composed a song about how late into the evening Aleta would continue working on a daylit scene, which began "Your Mommy is a mommy who can paint in the dark, paint in the dark..." and this ditty began to seem applicable just at the point when I began to wonder if she'd slid down into the Rideau and been wafted lifelessly off to the shores of Carleton University, so I set off cross-country to try to see if there was something I could help to carry back to the car, if she had in fact survived.

    Aleta reports that there are rows and rows of fencing situated to intercept those sliding down the ice into the river, and posted signs imposing huge fines on those who drown themselves in this way ('"Transportation for life was the sentence it gave, and then to be fined forty pound." The jury all cheered, but the judge said he feared that the phrase was not legally sound.').

    But it turns out that she was both prudently situated and so dedicatedly painting in the dark that she hadn't looked up to notice the huge downstream movement of hundreds of Ducks, which seemed, to overall observers, the main feature of the evening. These were going, in flocks of a few to a score, down the river from wherever they'd spent the afternoon to what must be their nocturnal refuge. It was nice to see so many independent groups so agreed on a common purpose (of course, if they'd been Humans in cars, we'd have regarded them as traffic-jam idiots, but there was a lot more room in the sky than there was on the Colonel By Parkway, and we didn't follow them to their nocturnal refuge to see how crowded they may be there).

  5. I discovered Hogsback Falls when I had my first apartment on my own. It was spring 1972 and I had left art school in Toronto before graduation to take a contract to draw invertebrates for the new Hall of Diversity at the (then) National Museum of Natural Sciences in Ottawa. My apartment was a garret in Sandy Hill, right near the Rideau Canal and one enchanting spring evening I ventured out along the bike path on my old coaster bike. I rode much farther from home than I felt comfortable doing but the path led me on, and if I stayed on the same side of the canal, how could I get lost? The path seemed to end at a bridge, and there was a mysterious rushing sound beyond a low wall. I dismounted and leaned out over into the darkness - and instantly my head was engulfed in the violent breath of the river's springtime raging. It was like a monstrous in-roaring. I pulled back in alarm, feeling as if my soul had been nearly sucked into chaos!

    I didn't see Hogsback Falls in daylight until much later on - but every time I do I feel surprised by its wild rocky beauty and untamed ferocity, raging away in its own piece of wilderness. It seems so self-absorbed in its wildness as to be entirely unaware of bridges, busy streets, and the small lawnpark with fenced viewpoint - where I painted it for the first time on my 59th birthday.


What do you think of this painting, and what do you know about the subject that I have painted?