Friday, December 6, 2013

High Country Juniper (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.)

October 14 found us again in the Frontenac Arch, making another traverse of Fishing Lake Road. We stopped at this granite outcrop with Juniper to look for Skinks. The sun was warm and the Juniper's shadow was long. The season is too late for Skinks, however and the weather is cool. Fishing Lake Road runs at first through forests of Maple, Oak, and pine, and then rises to follow the crest of ridges cleared for a huge hydro power line - grassland with outcrops of
granite, and scattered with Juniper bushes and patches of Sumac. Traveling Fishing Lake Road is a scenic treat. We have driven this road a few times in the course of surveying newly acquired tracts of Nature Conservancy land. Negotiating the narrow, hilly track is an adventure in itself. Both in the spring and in the fall, this particular Juniper bush on the granite ridge with distant forest behind, struck me as something I wanted to paint. Fred was occupied by a 20 metre patch of invasive Phragmites nearby, the only stand of invasive plant that we saw along the 8 kilometres of this road.

On 30 April we drove east-north-east along Fishing Lake Road. At first the one lane gravel road wound through mature deciduous forest, and then increasingly abrupt hills and turns as it led us through a woods of eerily dense second growth. It was after midnight when we left the forest behind and the landscape opened out into darkness on either side. Our van headlights picked out the features of a kind of moorland with touseled winter-dead grass with granite outcroppings and bushes. There were leafless Sumac bushes of all shapes and sizes, and even Sumac trees with clear trunks and rounded crowns, like huge pasture trees in miniature. Tall, tangled copses Sumacs pressed close to the road, gesturing with crooked branches and upcurved fingers tipped with the clots of last years cones. Small, stunted sumacs scrambled in crowds, writhing in the grass at the feet of boulders. In fact, as the road drew us on, more often with a grassy ridge between gravel ruts, but still passable, we had the erie impression that the landscape had been taken over by Sumacs, as if they were the minions of an alien force. Still the road drew us on, in search of the outlet of Loughborough Lake, through the interminable, ghostly Sumacs. 

At first we didn't make the connection with the immense towers of steel girders. We passed close by the first one where it straddled a field with four giant legs, the rest of it towering invisible into the dark sky. Then there was another, and we thought we'd crossed a hydro right of way. But as the moorland continued, for over an hour of rolling gravel hills with ribs of bedrock at their abrupt crests, and more Sumac in every size and shape imaginable, we came close by other towers, single-footed ones, guyed by cables to the rock. 

Then the moon rose, a hazy, sickly yellow half moon, bloated by its proximity to the horizon and streaked across by a band of black cloud. In its dark light the strange landscape was revealed to us - a wide swath of rolling grassland ghosted by leafless Sumacs and patched by rounded outcrops of rock and dark low Junipers. At a distance, on either side, this long, winding corridor of moorland was flanked by darker forests and the road wound through the middle, passing close by the single giant foot of each of the towers. The hazy moonlight now revealed them as monstrously tall skeletal frameworks, triangular, broad-shouldered, presiding.....  

At one point the gravel track, which was getting so high between its ruts that I had to steer one wheel onto the centre and the other on the verge, approached the forest, turned sharply, and headed steeply down. I applied the brakes at the brink of this curving descent, and Fred got out to explore ahead on foot. Peering into the bushes for the twinkle of his headlight coming back for what seemed like half an hour, I grew more and more anxious about what can have happened to him in this alien landscape. Perhaps his footing had slipped on loose gravel and he'd twisted his ankle. Maybe he'd found the outlet of Loughborough Lake and become mired or swept away... So I backed the van onto a level grassy verge where I could lock it and leave it, thinking I'd take the dog on leash down the hill to search for Fred, and then I saw his headlamp winking through the Sumac. He had walked about 350 metres ahead until he could hear some sort of running water, but not enough to be the Loughborough Creek. There he turned back, as the track began to climb steeply again. So we made camp.


In the morning I took a photo of the view, looking back the way we'd come, past the foot of one of the alien towers that march motionlessly in two parallel lines, occupying the altered landscape for the transmission of electricity, and wondered how much poison is required to kill back the prickly Raspberry that whiskers through the grass at knee-height, and thinking that the Sumac must be the most tolerant of all the woody plants to the conditions imposed by the invaders. At noon we turn and go back, as Fred has estimated from the GPS and the boundary maps, that we had overshot the NCC Loughborough Wilderness property by two and a half kilometres last night. 


Dear patrons and supporters,

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


Aleta Karstad

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