30 August 2015 finds me painting the portrait of a majestic old Burr Oak at the edge of a forested escarpment just east of Carp, Ontario. The sky and open spaces of the Ottawa Valley twinkle between the trunks and foliage of younger trees but here beneath the arch of its massive limbs the ancient Oak provides dark shade and preserves moisture, and to all my senses this is "forest interior". Deep leaf litter cushions the spaces between the rocks I've assigned for my temporary studio, and I lean back against a mossy fallen branch and breathe in the breath of the trees.
This is one of thirteen of the largest trees in the Carp Hills identified for a "big trees" contest, the winner to be announced on 13 September by our friend and tree expert Owen Clarkin.
Large, old trees may be considered to be “mother trees”. They beneficially affect thehealth of the forest around them, similar to the giant tree in the movie "Avatar". These large, old trees communicate through a network of underground fungal filaments that spread across the forest floor. Bright white and yellow fungal threads actually move carbon, water and nutrients between trees, depending upon their needs. To find out more, check out the research being done by Suzanne Simard at UBC.
“The big trees were subsidizing the young ones through the fungal networks. Without this helping hand, most of the seedlings wouldn’t make it."
Judy Makin led me through the Maple forest, introducing me to many of the oldest trees, and helped to select this one for a portrait. Its heavy curved branches seem to gesture like the Indian deity Shiva, and so we decide on the title of the painting. Judy is an active member of "Friends of Huntley Highlands", a citizen's group dedicated to protecting the forests and waters of the Carp Hills, and has privately commissioned this painting. She sits beside me quietly as I establish my burnt sienna underpainting and scratch in the lines of the massive trunk and sweeping lower branches. A Gray Treefrog chatters briefly, as well as a Red Squirrel, and a slight breeze shifts the fern fronds and nods the Trillium leaves.