Yarrow With Junco Tracks

oil on canvas 6 x 6 in.   $275

18 February 2016 found me finally out to paint en plein air in the snow! It was sunny and -7C after fresh snow. I went out on snowshoes from our back door, balancing tippily in the old deep path through the back yard, and then breaking 10 cm with each step into new snow, 'till I'd passed our "young" Sugar Maple and into an open spot where the dry flowerheads of Yarrow poked above the snow. The tracks of a small bird patterned the snow among the stiff brown stems, stopping at those it could reach and scattering a few chaffy flower bits. The sun was still above the cedars when I spread my extra jacket on top of the snowshoes
and sat down, poking my brush handles into the snow, balancing the palette on my thigh, and holding the frame of the canvas with fingerless gloves..... and then I snapped a reference photo, to capture the way the blue shadows raked across the warm white of the snow. As I scrubbed my dark tawny underpainting into the raw linen, the snowscape became bluer, so I paused and took another photo.

By the time I had all the yarrow plants sketched in with the chisel edge of one of my small flat brushes, I'd lost that special lighting entirely - so I packed up and trudged back in my own tracks, with the snowshoes and the jacket under my arm, the painting in the other hand, and the palette in my backpack. The rest of the painting was done indoors - not very plein air, but there you have it. My consolation is that I know I couldn't have made it work from the photos alone - I had to at least start it out there.

I call the old fields grown about like a park with Cedars and Apple trees, "Out Back", but in Fred's name for it in the database is “2009 TENT SITE”  (Canada: Ontario: Grenville County: Oxford-on-Rideau: behind 4 & 6 St Lawrence St, Bishops Mills, 25m waypoint, 44.87130°N 75.70076°W, lawn patch among Acer negundo thickets between rural village & brushy oldfields) ... because starting on 29 June 2009 we slept in a tent there, so we could get auditory records of calling all through the night. 

Our first record was at 23h38, Coyotes, “few calling, long howl followed by yapping chorus, over in 1 minute.” Before the end of the listening season on 6 August we'd recorded Coyotes 15 times, Bull Frogs 16 times, Green Frogs 15 times, Mink Frogs 6 times, Peepers 7 times, Treefrogs 3 times, and Toads & Great Horned Owl once each. 

The big problem we have in our “backyard” auditory monitoring at home is that since we started to listen systematically in 1992 the constant growth of trees and shrubs in secondary succession increasingly shields us from the calls, and sleeping out here was supposed to counteract this. We also observed Leopard Frogs in the grass, and slugs and snails crawling up the nylon tent after rainy nights; on 30 July a Canada Goose flew by with a few dolorous honks.

A year before Fred had cut two Cathartic Buckthorn shrubs there and covered one with a carpet. The freely sprouting one was a metre tall while the carpet-covered one had a Shorttail Shrew and a few yellowish worm-like sprouts, but he uncovered them and now the two are of about equal 2 metre height.  

On 30 August, at 07h35-07h50, Goldfinches were incessantly twittering over the tent:
Two-note Goldfinches brightly tinkle
Like gold coins through the Canada Plums.
The raspy castanet of the Wren clears them all away,
And then the August Sun rises to flicker
Dappling gold coins of the tent fly.
A Mourning dove's low woodwind begins,
A soft slow pendulum for the day.

We stayed in the tent until 10 September, continuing to hear Coyotes and Peepers, and then Geese overhead. 

Since then there have been records of jewel-like Vitrina limpida snails under a mossy carpet  Isabelle Picard put down in 2000, Ruffed Grouse feeding and snow-roosting, Hares, a Turkey Vulture, the fates of Canada Plums in their struggles with the Plum-pocket Fungus, and Milkweed (which we forage for food, picking the first flower heads and hoping that the blossoms that replace them may provide later nectar for the Monarchs, when they arrive - though we never see any caterpillars here). 

We also have enjoyed Black Raspberry in fruit, foraged by both us and Robins & Catbirds, been harassed by Deer flies in moderate numbers, found a Turkey nest, foraged for Orange Day Lily sprouts & flowers, and noted a few nests of Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth caterpillars, Prickly Cucumber wilting from a drought, Wild Marjoram clumps -- supposedly invasive, but fluctuating in abundance here, and Frost Grapes & Choke Cherries, with various abundances of fruit in different years. 

Recently we have records of young grandson Sam's observations here: noticing Strawberry's first few flowers,  and asking,"Is that a Bumble Bee?" of the first worker seen in 2015, and noticing that sap from a cut he had made in the trunk of a Choke Cherry in the winter is an "awful gooey" mass. 

Our most recent observations are from 14 January 2016, while Fred was cutting invasive Lilac for fuel, a Raven, flew over, a Robin was calling from various trees & finally seen, several Blue Jays were the conspicuous Birds around, while a Blackcap Chickadee gave its after-solstice 'feebee' song.

Dear supporters and patrons of my art,

This 6 x 6 inch original oil painting, "Yarrow With Junco Tracks" is available for purchase at $275. If you would like to purchase it, please contact Aleta 



  1. Dear Aleta, I saw your ad on Goodworks so clicked your blog. I was surprised to see the yarrow in your painting as the heads never survive the winter in my Toronto garden. Were I younger I'd jump at the chance to summer with you and Fred and restore your laying hens and milking goats. Warmest regards,
    Cal Lorimer


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