17 October finds me painting just below the high granite crest of of Hawkridge, north of Morton, Ontario. The trees are part of the sky here, and I am part of the leaves and the mossy, lichen rocks. The pastoral landscape below, seen through the thin tray tree trunks and what's left of their autumn leaves, is soft and blurry like a smudged pastel drawing. Blue Jays echo their voices back and forth across the crest of this high granite ridge, and a White Breasted Nuthatch honks a few times.
I am painting the wall of the top of the ridge, where stands the straight trunk of a Maple that is all gnarled and twisted from eight to twelve feet above the cliff edge. When Fred and I stood at the edge of the cliff, just above where I sit now, I photographed the mid section of the tree, considering it as the subject of a painting - a rather macabre portrait of a tree twisted and tortured by some mysterious influence, some effect of growing up past the edge of the cliff, and exposed to the weather atop Hawkridge.There's another similarly contorted Sugar Maple farther along the ridge.
I'm mixing colours on my palette. A sharp squeak makes me raise my head. A Chipmunk appears right in the centre of my scene, but if it had stayed still, and not shouted to announce its presence, it would have blended so well with the tawny dry leaves on the mossy rock, that I might not have noticed it until I'd begun to paint those particular leaves.
The fallen leaves, at the foot of the uppermost wall of rock and trapped among the tumble of massive rocks on this steep slope, are knee-deep in places - deeper than I can remember fallen leaves to be. I said to Fred, "There must be no Earthworms here". The forest is too vertical, too rocky and high and the worms have not climbed up. Many, many years of leaves lie layered, settling very slowly into an organic soil with the help of Springtails and Millipedes and Fungi, organisms that nibble and digest the leaves where they lie, rather than pulling leaves bodily down into the ground to munch upon as Earthworms do - the familiar european Earthworms that we now realize are invasive aliens in Ontario.
I'm glad that the leaf litter is deep on Hawkridge. It will help to retain moisture when the summers are hot and dry, and the many young Maples and Oaks will thrive, along with the mosses, lichens, and liverworts. The forest though now protected and growing old, is yet not much older than I am. Fred has been finding stumps that attest to logging in the 1940's and '50's, and even the White Pines that wave long limbs against the sky along the ridge are only 45 cm in diameter at breast height. The few patches of Rock Tripe are small, as if they haven't had 100 years to grow. Ferns are the usual Dryopteris and Polypodium - no Maidenhair or Spleenworts. We did see a wonderfully large old puffball just as we began to ascend the ridge earlier this afternoon. It sat like a soft and puffy ancient volleyball in the fallen leaves at the foot of a tree.