Friday, October 14, 2011

Old Bridge at Lemieux (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) Sold

7 October finds me perched on the brink of the concrete and stone north abutment of the old bridge of the now nonexistent town of Lemieux, Ontario, to paint the facing outer 
abutment on the south side. The inner portion of the abutment, which 
corresponded to the portion we were on, is toppled into the river, with a 
dance of Manitoba Maples around it. The river is still creamy with suspended clay, even though we've had a long dry spell. 

On 20 June 1993, this bridge was destroyed along with 17 hectares of farmland as the bank of the South Nation River collapsed after heavy rains in a landslide that in less than an hour left a crater some 320 metres wide and 18 metres deep.  This event occurred only one year after the last of the residents of the town of Lemieux had been relocated. Earlier soil testing by South Nation Conservation had revealed the likelihood of a catastrophic slide of the deep, unstable Leda clay, and three years later it happened.

Wikipedia says that "an estimated 2.8 to 3.5 million cubic metres of sand, silt and liquefied clay collapsed into the river, damming it for 3.3 kilometers (2.1 mi) for several days."

From the long, sinuous span of the new bridge, the area where the slide occurred can still be seen, but it no longer looks like a landslide, as the generous nutrition supplied by 
the clay has resulted in a widespread growth of trees, shrubs, and oversize herbs.

Fred went down to walk the shore below her site, and had what amounted to 
an experience. He writes: "There was a trail down to the riverbank under the new 
bridge, and when I got there I found Goose feathers and Cocklebur, but   
not much else to see but clay. I proceeded upstream along steep   
shores, which required one to grip the vegetation to keep from   
slipping into unknown depths of clay-opaque water, wrenching one old 
Lampsilis shell out of the mud on the way. 
Then I struggled up into dense Willow thickets on a clay terrace below 
the bridge abutment, and passed beneath Aleta and through head-high   
Goldenrod, to a slope down to a little flat area of mud, previously   
found by fishermen, as indicated by their rod-support sticks still   
standing in the clay on the water's edge. Here there were two old   
Elliptio shells, one with adhering Zebra Mussels that suggested that a   
fishhook had dredged it from the bottom. Underwhelmed, I gripped 
Willows to pull myself to another small patch of flat clay, where an   
old Leptodea shell buried in mud was available. 
Upstream from here, there were only steep shores in view, and I headed up the slope, for the first 10m or so through Sandbar Willows that   
Beavers had thinned by nibbling off many of the stems, and then into a dense stand where the Beavers hadn't penetrated, and the only sign of management was scars of springtime ice abrasion. Here many of the 
Willow stems were standing dead, and swathed by such vines as Hops,   
Bindweed, Prickly Cucumber, and Twining Buckwheat. 


Then a few metres of walkable Pussy Willows floored by 
Gill-over-the-ground, before I plunged into more head-high Goldenrods   
and then up a steep slope of small trees, where Beavers had been   
cutting Ash trees, and presumably dragging them along vertical   
trackways down to the river, and a final steep slope of Euiesetum   
hyemale Horsetail and Sensitive Fern (densest at the lip) to a terrace   
of the planted Red Pines of Larose Forest.
I then rejoined Aleta on the abutment until she finished painting at 18h45 or so - as we sat we saw big splashes in the river upstream but 
no wakes that might indicate a Beaver. Ringing three-notes calls up   
the river resolved into Yellowlegs-like Birds wading and walking on 
two mud islands upstream, and going a long way from the visible shore, suggesting very shallow water around the islands - and then they were off. Similar ringing calls of single notes matched a Picoides villosus   
(Hairy Woodpecker) flying across the river to the trees around where 
we were perched. Earlier a Warbler had come across and given a few notes as it poked through the branches overhead. There was a bird 
across the river that sang a variety of tentative songs, which we 
thought might be a young Catbird, also a few loud Robin notes, and   
sporadic singing of Melospiza melodia (Song Sparrow) songs; Parus atricapillus (Blackcap Chickadee) called briefly nearby, but all these 
ceased as dusk fell, and it was Branta canadensis (Canada Goose) overhead, flying west in small flocks, that provided bird-sound. 
Listening to the new bridge had verified Bierce's analysis that noise was the "chief product, and authenticating sign, of civilization" as 
vehicles producing various, all loud, motor sounds zoomed past, with 
the bridge seeming to amplify their passing. One sounded like a small plane taking off from the roadway, and there was a variety of roars 
and rumbles, and only a few that provided a simple whoosh. One would   
think that, out of respect for Lemieux, the South Nation, and the 
Champlain Sea, most drivers would slow down as they passed this place with its flexible bridge and swept-away predecessor, but few showed   
any sign of such consideration. About 19h00, as we were retiring into 
our trailer, a pickup, evidently of unusually civilized demeanor, roared into the gravel road that goes south along the river, sprayed 
gravel as it fish-tailed the full width of the road a couple of times, 
and then accelerated loudly around the corner of the road."

1 comment:

  1. It's believed by some of us that civilization should have higher goals than the production of ever-louder noises, and the evacuation of Lemieux, before the landslide occurred, on the basis of scientific evidence humanely applied, stands in our minds as one of the triumphs of civilized behaviour.

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