Pipers House Trees (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.)

26 December found me out on the road with my paint box and a blanket, taking photos of the ice and snow on the trees in front of our house and deciding which snow bank to sit on to begin my birthday painting. Then it began to snow. I have painted in rain with an umbrella on a number of occasions, and I've painted in snow with an umbrella, twice, with great difficulty. Snow flakes are so light that they fly up under the umbrella, settle on my palette, and stick to the paint on my brushes. I said to myself "been there, done that..." and took a good long look at the subtle colours of sky and snow which I knew would not show well in my reference photos, and decided to be satisfied with having conceived the painting on my birthday. This year I'm satisfied to have finished my birthday painting before the end of the year. Some times one finds it necessary to fly lower - but it's important to keep flying!

We have escaped the terrible ice storms that clobbered areas to the east and west and south of us. The twigs are bent down with a 5 mm
milky coating of ice pellets, stuck on by freezing drizzle. Most of the ice pellets fell in a heavy layer over 5 cm deep on the 30 cm of snow that was already on the ground.

I liked the "rooftop" aspect in this view, and since the painting is really about the trees, I've dispensed with the ground. I've experimented with using the roof line
as a visual anchor for the three main trunks of the 100 year old Sugar Maple, which we call the "Faucet Tree" because it gives so much sap when we tap our yard trees in early spring. You can see the orange fleck of the chimney on Weirs House, and above it the shadowy ice-hoary branches of the other Sugar Maple associated with Pipers House, "Thinks It's an Oak" which gives about as much sap as you'd expect from an Oak tree. It lost one of its twin trunks this autumn in a wind storm. The other shades the front of Pipers House from summer heat. Our Sugar Maples are members of a tremendous cohort that were planted as roadside trees about a hundred years ago. One by one they die or are cut down, and we are sad that no young Maples were ever planted to replace them. The big trees encompass the air in which we live - they shape the space for our houses. The familiar shapes of our great yard trees are as familiar and important to me as the aspect of my house. In this painting I recognize this old Sugar Maple as "home".

You can see another home at the bottom of the painting - the characteristic curved shell of a little old Boler trailer which is our home when we're on the road.  The snow-capped pale shape at the left of the tree trunk is a freezer full of specimens, and on the right side of the tree is one of our wood piles, also snow-capped.

We call our house Pipers House because it was rented to us by John Piper when we arrived in Bishops Mills in the autumn of 1978. It is a wood frame house built in the 1850's and clad with red "insulbrick" perhaps in the 1950's. It has electricity but no plumbing. Fred and I lived there for two and a half years and when our daughter Elsa was two we bought the white frame house next door from George and Esther Weir. In 1988 we bought Pipers House to use as an office and studio, and now we're living in it, as our daughter Jennifer, husband Rory, and son Samuel have come to live in Weirs House. For all the traveling we've done, back and forth across Canada, living on the Bruce Penninsula and on Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, our roots are still well established in Bishops Mills, a small village in the centre of eastern Ontario.


  1. We've planted Sugar Maples to replace both Thinks-it's-an-Oak and the Faucet tree


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