Dumoine Aspen with Lichen

"Dumoine Aspen With Lichen" (9 x 12 in.)

2 August 2018 found me painting Lobaria pulmonaria, the Lung Lichen, growing on the trunk of a tall Aspen near Robinson Lake on the Dumoine River, Quebec.

A bird somewhere off in the dripping woods insistently cries “tree, tree, tree” or perhaps it’s a baby Robin begging “me, me, me”. The Lobaria caught my attention, being lime green in its wetness, and veiny, reticulated brown and White - a network of brown with white in the spaces. The Trembling Aspen is black-lumpy all the way up to its crown of little heart shaped leaves and the lower two- thirds of the trunk is striped with dark splits. Some of the lower lumps are velvety with fine mosses. The woods are solemn and still, savouring the rain and expecting more. 

This morning’s clouds have lifted from the crest of the forest across the lake, and the sun and light breeze are gently drying the wet foliage that I’ve been stepping over and pushing through to set up my woodsy studio. 

The other artists have all been given rides to La Grande Chute, and Varvara is reading a book and tending the campfire.  A Robin scolds insistently, "check, check, check" down by the lake, and up here, I’ve been answering a Raven, imitating its churring “cllllllk”. I think it may be curious about someone speaking nonsense in reply to its calls. I responded to its double calls, and now when I make only a single call, it said “gwack, gwack”, and flew off, saying “gwack” once more in the distance - like “why have I been wasting my time?” Once what I take to be an adult Raven sang out a few clear, woodwind-like hoots while flying over, which I didn’t try to imitate. 

My mosquito coils are hanging from the thin curving lower branches of young Firs behind and beside me, and all is still except for the occasional pattering of drops when a breeze stirs the foliage overhead. 

Suddenly I’m being investigated by a young Red Squirrel, who squeaks and twitches on the shattered trunk of a fallen Fir only a metre away. Just as I turn slowly to take its picture it scoots beneath the trunk and peers at me from there, stamping its forefeet boldly to make sure I know that I wasn’t invited. Then it takes an alternate route to skirt my temporary studio, from trunk to trunk, along the low squirrel road network of fallen Poplars, Firs, and Pines. There must have been a blowdown here this spring -I had noticed a lot of cut branches and dead leaves along this track as if the roadway has been cleared recently. But whatever has fallen has left skyspace for a couple of tall Aspens, one of which is my knobby-trunked painting subject, and I must turn from writing to painting now, as it’s nearly noon. The sky is bright but the day’s expected heat has been held at bay by thin clouds exposing a pale blue sky in places. 

15:20 bright hot sun and Cicada song. I’m back from my lunch and a bit of a rest with my feet up in the insect-free zone of my tent, and now I have to shift the position of the umbrella so the sun doesn’t glare on my palette. Blue Jays flying about behind me somewhere, having a noisy altercation. Charlotte had walked with me back to my painting spot to see the dark lumps on my Aspen which I'd thought may be the medicinal fungus Chaga (but that grows only on Birches. This is probably Phellinus tremulae, which grows on Aspen). We spent some time watching a pair of Flickers flitting about nearby, and foraging in a head-up position on the neighbouring Aspen.

19:30 and the Red Squirrel is insistent that I leave now. A volley of distinct chip chip chip chip m, and he’s not stopping until I’m gone. Anyway, it's time to join the other artists around the campfire for supper.

This is what I accomplished in 8 hours en plein air:
I brought it home and after several bouts of "finishing it", have now finally gotten the last of the vague areas defined. One thing I've learned over the years - there's always more to do on a lichen painting - there's no end to the detail, and one can always go deeper. It's so easy to get lost among the bodies or "thalli" of the Lobaria, and it takes a special kind of concentration - even a bit of kneaded eraser stuck to my iPad to try and keep my place in the photo. Infinite detail is unattainable, so one must strive for balance - and when that's achieved, the painting is done. 

I love this flamboyant, "leafy" lichen, Lobaria! I first noticed it in New Brunswick, lung-textured scraps fallen onto the hiking trails from the tops of trees after wind storms, and drew it in ink for my 1979 Canadian Nature Notebook. Wikipedia tells me that "it is sensitive to air pollution and is also negatively affected by habitat loss and changes in forestry practices. Its population has declined across Europe and L. pulmonaria is considered endangered in many lowland areas. The species has a history of use in herbal medicines, and recent research has corroborated some medicinal properties of lichen extracts." It has also been used to produce an orange dye for wool, in the tanning of leather, in the manufacture of perfumes and as an ingredient in brewing.

This painting was done for Canadian Parks and Wilderness, to be auctioned this fall in support of their campaign to protect the wilderness watersheds of the Pontiac region in Quebec, west of Ottawa. 


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