Georgian Bay Alvar in Bloom (oil on canvas 5 x 7)

15 June finds me sitting on a rock beside the track through the alvar on the Georgian Bay shore of the Bruce Penninsula that we used to call "Dyers Bay Campsite". Flooded in the spring, baked dry in late summer, this natural open area of shallow soil over limestone is now resplendent with Blue-eyed Grass, yellow Senecio, and fiery Indian Paintbrush. We have never seen Blue-eyed Grass so abundant in any other year, and at first we thought that it was invasive flax!

It is no more a campsite, as vehicle access isn't easy and the owners patrol it often. That is good, because some people who camped here before left litter strewn around and did not replace the rocks they turned in search of snakes. I have a photo of myself at 19 years of age, on elbows and knees, watching a snail crawl on one of the flat limestone rocks that seem to litter the ground but which are shelter for many creatures, including Massassauga Rattlesnakes. Fred was pleased to encounter one basking near where I am sitting this morning - the first one that we've seen here since 1985, a period which included a summer-long herpetological survey of the outer Bruce Penninsula in 1990.

Here I am, in the translucent shade of my umbrella, wearing a long-sleeved linen shirt to protect me from biting flies, even though it's a hot, nearly breezeless day.

I don't have photos of the very start of this painting, but I will try to describe how I got to this stage:
After sketching the composition out on the canvas, I underpainted all areas except the sky, that purplish blue of hazy distance. I painted the purplish blue all over the escarpment, the near forest including the lone tall trees, and the foreground. I figured that cool purple-blue would not only give good support for the distance, but also contrast nicely with the hot bright colours of the alvar. Then I painted the sky over the white gessoed surface that remained in the upper left corner, dabbing it in between the branches of the lone tall trees.  Next I painted the escarpment and the forest over the still wet underpainting - first the darks, and then the lights, between and over the darks. Lastly, the golden-olive Cedars at the edge of the alvar. The yellow flowers were daubed on with heavy, fresh paint. As the still wet underpainting tends to pick up and mix in, I wiped my brush clean and re-applied new colour every few daubs. Next the red, the Indian Paintbrush.  Then I laid the edge of the vehicle track across the foreground.

Filling in the lights and darks of the alvar, between the yellow and red wildflowers took some care and delicacy, deciding where my stronger darks should go, emphasizing the horizontal contrasts in tone, stroking the long, shiny, curved-bladed Carex in overtop with a the knive-edge of a dagger brush.

I then crisped the edge of the alvar in the foreground, scumbled in the golden mosses that stabilize the shallow soil there, and defined the stones, taking care to describe the shape of each one.

Since the muddy bottom of the puddle is rusty coloured, so must be the reflections of the tufts of Carex. Crisp white sparkles emphasized the water's contact with the mud right in front of me, giving an immediate surface that one could "step out on" - if one doesn't mind muddy feet!

I signed in the water. It's always an anxious moment, deciding where to sign. I could also have signed in dark red on the left hand bottom.

After about four hours of work, here's the painting, finished onsite!

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


  1. Dyers Bay Campsite, 1.8 km SSE Cabot Head. (25m waypoint), 45.22211N 81.28764W TIME: 1218. AIR TEMP: 23, sunny, Beaufort light breeze. HABITAT: alvar/barrens between slab beach & escarpment bluffs, near lakeshore scrub forest. OBSERVER: Frederick W. Schueler, Aleta Karstad Schueler. 2011/113/f, Sistrurus catenatus (Massasauga) (herp). 1 adult, seen, heard. under Juniper on slabpile, ca 65 cm, buzzed & then moved under Thuja. The first of this species we've seen here since 1985.

    (same location) TIME: 1218-1526. 2011/113/f-h, visit () (event). natural history, oil. WAYPT/137, AKS painting, brilliant blooming alvar below bluff. The field is blue & gold with Sisyrinchium and Senecio, with splashes for red from Castilleja. The water is as high as everywhere, and the track across the flat here is flooded. The site no longer seems to be used for parking or bottle-strewing, and there's no conspicuous garbage. The air is buzzing with moderate numbers of Tabanidae.

    (same location) 2011/113/ga, Cepaea nemoralis () (Mollusca). several shell, adult, specimen. snails as found on surface, mostly pretty weathered. 1 22 mm narrowly 5-banded yellow mature adult released. Turning-over of rocks continues here, but maybe this isn't done as systematically as in previous years.

    (same location) 2011/113/gb, Anguispira alternata () (Mollusca). few shell, specimen. shells as found on surface, mostly pretty weathered.

    (same location) TIME: 1230. AIR TEMP: 23.5, sunny, Beaufort light breeze. 2011/113/ha, Sisyrinchium angustifolium (Blue-eyed Grass) (Plant). 1/dominant herb, in bloom, specimen. synoptic collection of flowering plants, this species ca 60% of colour. In our experience this is an unprecedented spectacle - the flats look like a field of Linum (Flax) in full bloom.

    (same location) 2011/113/hb, Senecio cf pauperculus (Balsam Ragwort) (Plant). 1/abundant herb, in bloom, specimen. synoptic collection of flowering plants, this species ca 30% of colour.

    (same location) 2011/113/hc, Castilleja coccinea (Indian Paintbrush) (Plant). 1/common herb, in bloom, specimen. synoptic collection of flowering plants, this species ca 10% of colour.

    (same location) 2011/113/hd, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (Ox-eye Daisy) (Plant). 1/common herb, in bloom, specimen. synoptic collection of flowering plants, this species ca 1% of colour. Scattered single blooms and opening heads.

    (same location) TIME: 1414. AIR TEMP: 23.5, sunny, Beaufort light breeze. HABITAT: alvar/barrens between slab beach & escarpment bluffs, near lakeshore scrub forest. 2011/113/k, Lampropeltis triangulum (Milk Snake) (herp). 1 adult, seen. under flat rock on slabpile, ca 70 cm, went down among rocks.

    (same location) TIME: 1515. AIR TEMP: 23.5, sunny, Beaufort gentle breeze. 2011/114/aa, Cathartes aura (Turkey Vulture) (Bird). 3 adult, seen. circling in a kettle with 5 Larus. A Corvus corax (Raven) calling in the distance.

    (same location) 2011/114/ab, Thuja occidentalis (Eastern White Cedar) (Plant). abundant tree, seen. foliage all super-green here, unlike the ratty-grey colour this spring at home.

    (same location) OBSERVER: Frederick W. Schueler, Aleta Karstad Schueler. 2011/114/b, departure (departure) (event). drive. painting finished, & we leave, somewhat later than planned.

  2. I have not seen Blue eyed grass in such abundance at Bruce Alvar Nature Reserve. I am glad you captured these elegant plants. Thank you, Alete.


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