Sunday, June 17, 2012

Grandmother Maple at Sunset (oil on canvas 11 x 14 in.) Sold

14 June finds me painting at the foot of a venerable Sugar Maple near Eadie Road, North Russell, Ontario. A Red Squirrel chase explodes, close and urgent, around the base of this tree and up another, launching onto the zig-zag tree-top paths in a territorial dispute. This old Maple and its neighbours are over a metre in diameter, perhaps 200 years old. They look like they may be the first generation after the original woods were cut down, and left as shade trees in a pasture. In 1981 the pasture was
planted around them in White Spruce, leaving the Maples to begin their own grove in the centre - which they did. Now slim young Maples complete the canopy of sun-dappled green.

The tangle of branches at the foot of this tree are from a neighbour that fell, perhaps in the 1998 ice storm. Brush in hand, I glance up from my palette at a slight movement along one of the fungus-blackened fallen limbs and it's a Chipmunk, pausing between broken ends to make some adjustment in the contents of its cheek pouches, but when it notices me reaching for my camera, it's off with a squeak, under, over, and away. I have an image in my mind, which I will paint right - here!

The tree is massive, and I feel inspired. As I apply big strokes in a race with the advancing sunset and the gathering mosquitoes, Fred explores, finding scattered patches of Viola pubescens past flowering, and a few scattered patches of Trout Lily leaves. We passed through one patch of Enchanter's Nightshade at the edge of the Spruces today, and last time we were here Fred found a tiny patch of Spring Beauty in bloom, but all the distinctive spring ephemerals of Sugar Maple woods are missing -  Bloodroot, Trillium, Hepatica, Wild Ginger, Cohosh, Dutchman's Breeches, the list goes on and on. It takes more than old trees to make a mature forest! There is plenty of fallen wood and rotting logs, with a diversity of little mushrooms and bracket fungi, food for the grey Arion slugs that we haven't identified yet - but most of the forest floor is a thin layer of last fall's leaves. The forest is waiting for its floor to fill in with understory shrubs and herbs. The next time we visit, we will bring some local Wild Leeks as a contribution to forest floor biodiversity.


  1. Those flames of colour on the trunks of the trees are the sunset shooting through the northwestern edge of the stand. Old pasture trees embedded in young woods are a regular feature of eastern Ontario, which was nearly deforested, except for some sugar bushes, before fossil fuels began to be used to heat houses in the 20th Century.

  2. facebook commenters have remarked that this painting is spectacular, and it was spectacular as soon as Aleta started to put in the background trees to the left of the grandmother. The advantage she had over the conventional forest interior, with its darkness and bright sky, was that the sunset was coming in horizontally through the edge of the stand, and lightening things up, though when we finished it was still a lot brighter outside than it was in the woods (it's a Sugar Maple stand in a year when a long cool period encouraged the generous growth of leaves).


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