Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beneath the Hemlocks (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.)

3 February finds me sitting in Pieter Trip's forest, preparing to paint a felled dead Spruce in his Hemlock grove. In the lofty, shadowy hall of Hemlocks the dark trunks stand well spaced, and strewn about their feet is all the "coarse woody debris" of the past 50 years of fallen trunks and branches. The older layers are already part of the soil, laced with living roots and suffused with a microscopic network of fungi that helps to release nutrients that feed the trees.

An old mossy log has been crushed by the fall of a dead Spruce, cut by Pieter who encourages the deposition of coarse woody debris in his woods. Its radiating branches gesture every which way, speaking of the energy gathered in growth. Its long curved branches are actually poised motionless, but I can feel in the stillness of the winter woods that they are moving -  by seasons and years and decades, from life to death to life again as the forest slowly feeds itself, with a little help from its friends.
On our way in I had asked Pieter if he's ever seen any salamanders in his woods, and he answered that he hadn't. The soil is 50 cm of glacial till over limestone bedrock and was all pasture in the 1930's, trampled by cattle and horses, the soil compressed, with no old tunnels from totted roots down which salamanders could descend below frost in winter. Perhaps some year in the future, there will be salamanders, able to winter here again. It may take a few generations of trees, whose falling and dying creates the undulating microtopography of a healthy old growth forest. Until then, Pieter Trip experiments, enhancing the growth of some of his trees by periodically fertilized them - an arrangement he's made with a neighboring farmer who has manure to spare. Pieter's White Pines are twice the diameter of others the same age across the highway. You can read about it in his book "Growing Beautiful Trees".

Before I have quite gotten my forest background filled in it has begun to snow again, The trunk of the fallen Spruce becomes rapidly whiter and my oil paint on my palette is sprinkled with icy crystals which clot on my brush and scumble my strokes. Fred had planned to walk back to waypoint the Dog Strangling Vine, but I have persuaded him to hold a small blanket open above me to keep the snow off my palette, as I continue to paint, holding my canvas nearly vertical. I have just completed the scene as we hear the muffled roars of approaching 4-wheelers, coming to pick us up. It quite looks like the spot and will just need a little touching up in the studio.

This painting is for sale at $275. For information on purchase and shipping, contact me at karstad@pinicola.ca

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