Thursday, September 18, 2014

Muskrat Island (oil on canvas 7 x 9 in.) Sold

9 September 2014 finds me in the bow of Scott Haig's canoe, exploring the perimeter of a small island in the Mattawa River, east of North Bay, Ontario. Scott has brought us through the eastern tip of the deep, spring-fed Trout Lake, to the Trans Canada Pipeline crossing at "The Narrows" of the Mattawa, where it flows into Turtle Lake.  

The island is pictureque - a pyramid of rock and trees, backlit by the afternoon sun. Paddling over to visit it, we find Leatherleaf and Sweetgale, leaning out to their reflections from lichen patterned rocks. Golden green mosses flow down over the shoulders of the granite rocks at the feet of tall slim White Pines and Cedars. As we paddle along the shaded north east side of the island, I notice open mussel shells glimmering submerged among the rocks, some wedged between stones and some in deeper water.
A Muskrat appears at the south end of the island, just past the projecting snag which you can see in my painting. It hesitates a bit (in Scott's words, like a child does before it jumps into a pool) and then "splash" it is gone. Perhaps it has been hiding among the bushes waiting for us to paddle away, and finally decided to make a break for it.

Twice, a single Loon wails upriver, and a freshening breeze soughs in the tops of the pines as we paddle around the south end of "Muskrat's Island", as we've named it. We are searching for the stranded live mussel I'd noticed earlier, and it's no longer there.  It was probably brought out of the water by that Muskrat. It must have still been hanging about on the island, waiting for the mussel to gape for air, and returned to pry it open and make a meal of it - all this, while just a short distance away I was taking photos and notes while Scott held the canoe steady with his paddle wedged among the stones. I'm satisfied with this view of the southeastern tip of the island, where the Muskrat's narrow barefoot-smooth path comes down to the flat stones where it eats its mussels.

As we circle the island again, I spot on the bottom a pair of open mussel valves of a broader shape than the others we've been finding. Reaching over the gunwale and stretching down deep, my fingertips snatch up our only Lampsilis siliquoidea from here.

Fred has been surveying on foot southward along the shore, paralleling the grassy corridor of the Trans Canada Pipeline in its approach to the lake and finding Green and Bull Frogs, crayfish, Elliptio and Pyganodon mussels, and a few species of fresh water snails along the shore of a small bay. The curly lime green mossy-looking mats we've been, growing on the bottom at the outlet, he found to be the rooted aquatic Mustard, Sibularia aquatica (Water Awlwort). 

We find much of the shore of "The Narrows" where the pipeline was put through, enthusiastically being naturalized by grasses, herbs, Birches, and heavily browsed Cedars. The berm that the pipeline runs through to cross the outlet of the lake has a steep gravel bank, still naked on the tip that points toward the narrow outlet. I notice a few curled white scraps, the skins of turtle eggs, dug up this spring by a predator. Reaching out from the canoe to collect one for identification is a tricky task.

Paddling quietly into a curved backwater on the west side of the narrows, we find lichened rock down to the water below a forest of White Pine, Cedar, and Fir, its mossy floor springing with Polypody ferns like a wealth of little green fountains. Turning downstream we paddle through the deep quiet narrows itself, and there on a cairn of stones is a brass plaque commemorating the historic and famously difficult "Turtle Rapids" - which once was broader and dangerously shallow. It is interesting how things change. I find myself hoping that this natural gas pipeline will not be changed into the Energy East Pipeline to bring diluted bitumen from Alberta to New Brunswick.

Many thanks to Scott Haig for his assistance with our art and science in his 'neck of the woods' - and for purchasing this painting and sending us on our way west. 

Aleta and Fred

2 comments:

  1. That's a VERY pretty painting! I love the water -- some parts reflecting the sky and some parts beautifully clear down to the rocky bottom. And I love the lively shoreline plants indicated with a single confident brush stroke for each leaf.

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  2. Beautiful, Aleta. I've admired your work ever since I "discovered" you.
    —K

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