Grand Lake Meadows (oil on canvas 8 x 16 in.) Sold

19 July 2014 found me standing in the back of a pickup truck on the causeway through the Grand Lake Meadows near Gagetown, New Brunswick, snapping pictures of my favourite scene at my favourite time of day. I'd been craning my neck at this spot, every time we've driven the causeway - several times during last year's Bio-blitz, and even more this year, as this is the second and last year of the all-taxon survey of the Gagetown area.
I love the bright strip of shining water glinting through the line of Soft Maples, and the solid forested shape of the distant headland, across the variegated greens of the wet meadow, slightly streaked by its network of wandering creeks. 

Just like some animals that just won't stay still to be drawn or painted, this scene has frustrated me with its elusiveness. There is no place to park within several kilometres, so to do a plein air painting I'd have a long way to hike - with a ladder. From the meadow itself, or even the highway embankment, the distant water of Grand Lake would not be visible over the tall vegetation, nor would the glint of one of the winding channels that thread through the marsh. 

I fell in love with the scene from our moving vehicle, so I had to capture it, 'catch-as-catch-can' - and half a metre higher is better, from the box of a pickup truck. That stretch of Highway 2 offers no shoulder to pull off on, just the narrow east and west bound traffic lanes with guardrails. We slowed as we approached the spot, and as soon as we could see no traffic either way my driver stopped for me to quickly clamber up into the truck box to take my picture, back out, and into the cab. 

At the end of the 2013 Bio-blitz, on 24 June, Fred, Owen Clarkin, and Mira Chiasson found the first turtle of the Bio-blitz, a dead two-year-old juvenile Painted Turtle while driving the north side of Highway 2 past the Grand Lake Meadows. So this year Fred the superhighway biologist decided to make one of his contributions to the 2014 Bio-blitz, a walking survey of Highway 2 along the Grand Lake Meadows.

I let him off in mid-afternoon on the 16th of July on the north side,1 km west of Jemseg, to walk to the St John River bridge, surveying the roadside of the Grand Lake Meadows for drift, invasive & undocumented plants, frogs & snakes, and roadkill. He described the habitat as a “grassy/herbaceous shale-fragment superhighway roadside along marshy wetland.”  The shaley slope was a scramble of Linaria vulgaris (Butter-and-eggs), Medicago sativa (Alfalfa) Hop-clovers, parasol-like invasive Angelica, and little Grey Birch down the slope to the water. It was also popping with juvenile Leopard Frogs, and all along his way he saw an alternation of Leopards and Grasshoppers – this is a relationship he observed in collecting for his thesis, and in the song about "Leapers" he wrote for our daughter he noted how the frogs': ova grow, and thumbs start to show, with Grasshoppers disappearing.”

The Meadows, which appear more solid than they look, Fred found to be watery right up to the embankment, rank with wetland “graminoids”, Waterlilies, and a big round patch of flowering “somethingbush” out a ways. Fred's confidence in identifying plants at a distance is reduced away from home, and he's not able to call the 'graminoid' in the marsh/pond area north of the highway, which looked like it might be a fabulously large stand of Acorus Sweet Rush. We later found this plant dominating Long Creek.

He soon was collecting drift from a narrow twiggy windrow about four metres above the current water level – mostly flat coiled Planorbid snails, but since as we write this (24 Jan 2015) the samples are still in the pile of specimens to be sorted, and we can't report further on what species are represented.

As he went along he noted a single Honey Bee, a modest number of Mosquitos, a rapidly moving yearling Maritime Garter Snake, and also a shed skin of the same species. He paused at each ant hill to gather tiny land snails shells from their tops. Then he came to an area where there were lots of glassy amber Succineidae snail shells and live adults under a piece of rubber slab and nearby, some with sticky intensely orange slime when accidentally stepped on; the only slug was a single Arion, which also produced orange slime when collected.

The photo from which I painted was from between two waypoints Fred had made in delimiting stands of Tansy, 2.25 km west of Jemseg. Other invasive plants included lots of Coltsfoot, few Purple Loosestrife (showing ambiguous signs of perforation by biocontrol Galerucella Beetles), and a few mowed-down spreading plants of Rhamnus frangula (Shining Buckthorn) near guardrail posts – It's hard to tell this species from Alder in the wetland-edge brush along here, but a survey of this extent would be useful for management of the Meadows, lest they become overrrun with Buckthorn like the Jock River at home.

Blooming vines of the native Echinocystis lobata (Prickly Cucumber) frolicked with invasive enthusiasm over Spiraea and other bushes in swales along the highway, and there Fred collected a series of poorly understood plants -  Tick Trefoil in bloom, a doubtful Lobelia, a dwarfed yellow-bloom Composite under a guardrail, a single clump of Mallow and one of Clematis.

Fred found a scattering of roadkills during this marsh-edge survey, but no Turtles and no signs of turtle nesting: 2 Muskrat , one each of Flicker, Raccoon, Porcupine, and Meadowhawk Dragonfly, and a scattering of Leopard Frogs, of which 2 were complete enough to record.

West of my painting site he could see open water and duckweedy ponds through gaps in the trees of a swamp forest, with a floor covered by a blanket of Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern). On the embankment there was Apios Groundnuts in sparse bloom, Coltsfoot all around, and one sapling Manitoba Maple (a species which hasn't taken over the riversides here as it has around home).

Then he reached Exit 333, 5.10 km W Jemseg. and began to leave the road. In his field note notation along this road there's NO:Cepaea (Grove Snail), NO:Xerolenta obvia (Obvious Snail), NO:Testudinata (Turtle), NO:Phragmites (Reed). NO:Lycopodium (Clubmoss), NO:Equisetum (Horsetail) - this isn't an Ontario superhighway!

On the boulder slope embankment of the St John River bridge he saw a young Leopard Frog. Gregor Jongsma had said that turning rocks in this general area had turned up lots of juveniles of this species, so this may just be a tiny active subset of the thriving population of Leapers in this bouldery habitat. Among the boulders were wonderful clumps of ferns, moss, and lichen. 

At 19h01, he arrived at our planned rendezvous at the pulloff under the Saint John River Highway 2 bridge, 5.36 km W Jemseg where we'd camped in 2012. He called me to pick him up, and then made a little survey of that spot:

He saw one juv Rana pipiens (Leopard Frog) lots of fresh Elliptio complanata (Eastern Elliptio) and Lampsilis radiata (Eastern Lamp-Mussel) shells scattered about the bridge pier and then checked out the plants, glad to find an Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) because after I'd painted one on Thatch Island it had turned out that there was no specimen from the PNA – this one was in pod, and he realized that earlier he'd been looking for blooms.
His list of the plants he recognized by name are –
Arctium lappa (Great Burdock), green burrs past bloom on a few plants;
Pastinaca sativa (Parsnip), small plants with no Depressaria pastinacella webworms;
Rhamnus frangula (Shining Buckthorn), few shrubs along river in bloom;
Xanthium strumarium (Cocklebur), common in burrs;
Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed), common - in green pods;
Lythrum salicaria (Purple Loosestrife), scattered plants in bloom - variably perforate;
Coronilla varia (Crown-vetch), patches in bloom near Highway 105, tangled with Lotus (Birdsfoot Trefoil, also blooming);
Impatiens capensis (Spotted Jewelweed), scattered plants in bloom - the only Jewelweed;
Echinocystis lobata (Prickly Cucumber), scattered small plants in bloom;
Melilotus alba (White Sweet-clover), little plants in bloom & fruit all around;
Taraxacum officinale (Common Dandelion), scattered plants - a few in fluff;
Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (Ox-eye Daisy), a few in bloom;
Rumex (Dock), a long-leaved species in fruit;
Eupatorium maculatum (Spotted Joe Pye Weed), few low plants in bloom;
Trifolium pratense (Red Clover), common in bloom - might as well mention it.

After I picked Fred up we cruised back and forth across the bridge in the dusk to do a first round of photographs for the painting, but none of them appealed to me, so I got someone to drive me out three days later to capture my favorite scene in perfect evening light.

The original oil painting, "Grand Lake Meadows" has been purchased by the New Brunswick Museum as one of the 2014 Bio-blitz paintings from the Grand Lake PNA. 



  1. Very nice! I'm sure your students will love to see the completed painting!


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