Tuesday, July 29, 2008

2007 Holiday Series: Day 1

Okay, let's start with confessions. I have nothing new to show you. I've been flat on my back with a fever for 5 days now. What began as extreme fatigue last Thursday, turned into a run of the mill intestinal flu, not pleasant, but not life threatening either. It gave me a chance to catch up on popular culture (ie. daytime tv) so now I know how to diet, put on make-up to make me look 10 years younger, and renovate my house. I'm better now, so no need for sympathy cards (ps. immodium and its generic equivalent really does help) although I'm woefully tired of gatorade, dry toast, chicken soup, and crackers. Unfortunately, the pop-tarts didn't go down well, but cherry popsicles are always yummy.
Last year, I packed up a small 5x7 sketchbook and some crayola markers to bring along on holiday. The markers where meant for my letterboxing activities, but I couldn't resist using them on the sketchpad. Day 1 consists of driving. 9 hours of driving, bum in car seat, butt cramps, leg cramps, with the occasional relief at a variety of bathroom stops. One of the last bathroom stops is a gas station just north of Sault Ste Marie on Highway 17. While I was dressed in my camping dingies, it really was Saturday night for the locals. Still, a rather plump (and who isn't these days?) girl walking along the highway caught my eye. She was dressed to the nines in cherry red 4" heels, a skin tight mini-skirt and gold clutch purse. She walked with a lush swagger against a backdrop of an endless forest. I'm not sure if it was the juxtaposition of town and country, or the primeval display of vitality, both human and herbaceous that riveted me. Whichever the reason, it made it into my sketchbook that evening.

PS. I hope everyone reads Jennifer Rose's comments on North Tract, where she gives a really great description of living with nature in another wild region of Ontario. Read it Here: just scroll down to the comments.

Image: crayola marker, pencil, digital colours, on 5"x7" sketch paper

Monday, July 21, 2008

The North Tract

The North Tract; its practical descriptive name somehow manages to be evocative of its landscape at the same time. I rarely go there. It is both vast and barren. In summer the heat can be brutal, in winter the landscape bleak. The North Tract is both the largest and the northernmost of a cluster of regional forests near to my home and heart. Like the others, it too is a site of both ecological disaster and subsequent recovery. In 1924 the North Tract was denuded by generations of settlers and farmers, the exposed topsoil eroded by rains, or blown off by winds, leaving a landscape of shifting sands. Reforestation began as a 'make-work' program to employ and engage victims of the Great Depression. Hikers, cyclists, horse-back riders, countless off-lead dogs and a huge variety of wildlife now reap the benefits of what was essentially a pine plantation. Years have gone by, and in other sections the forests have regrown to some semblance of what they once were, but the North Tract still bares its scars. In many sections the trees grow thin and stunted, and a fungal outbreak called 'red-pine decline' doesn't help. The middle trail is deep sand underfoot with fields of mullein and raspberry flanking either side. A few thin red pines struggle skyward amidst wild-flowers and long grasses (not to mention the knee high poison ivy).
I don't travel the North Tract much. Its big, but its boring, lacking the lush growth, twining streams and rolling hills of the other tracts, but yesterday was grey and raining and I was thinking those open meadows might be a good place to collect raspberries. I was right about the raspberries, but they went down with a large chaser of rain, and I stepped into a bee nest (see me run!), and I only got a few handfuls of berries for all that trouble. But in the end, it was worth it, because the sandy middle stretch looked striking and lonely and majestic under the rain swollen sky with all the human visitors long since driven away.

Image: 7"x9" 130lb cold-pressed watercolour paper, watercolour and coloured pencil

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Food or Pleasure? Fading Scarlet Waxy Cap

Introducing the Fading Scarlet Waxy Cap Hygrophorus Miniatus, a petite translucent beauty of damp summer woodlands of North America. While listed as "edible" I would much rather feast on this one with my eyes, although one does wonder at the entrepreneurial spirit of the first tasters. Personally, I find them far too pretty to use for gastronomical experiments--I don't eat flowers either, although some are definitely edible.
The fading scarlet waxy cap grows to a maximum of 4 cm or 1 5/8th inches, so if you want to truly appreciate their beauty, you'll be down on your hands and knees, tilting your head like a confused collie. They are definitely worth the contortions required for proper viewing. This little cluster was seen in Killarney Provincial Park, on the Cranberry Bog Trail, June 22. In this case, I had a friend snap a reference photo as I'd forgotten my camera. Lucky me, her camera has many more megapixels than mine and allowed for an extreme close-up of the tiny fungus. And yes, I do experience extreme 'camera-envy' whenever she whips her camera out.

As usual, with any mushroom, if you are tempted to taste-test, do acquire a reputable field-guide and educate yourself thoroughly on the subject first.

Image: Coloured pencil on cream Canson paper, 7"x7".

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Art Sport -- My Secret is Out

Sometimes a great secret lies just beneath your feet, just around the corner, behind a tree or in plain view. Just when you think you've seen all and heard everything you stumble into something new and you can believe in magic again. Such a day came to me last August, at the dog pond I visit weekly. There I found I jar in a stump. I pulled it out for inspection with a mix of curiosity and trepidation. What could it be? An abandoned collection of captured and now decomposing frogs? Just as that disgusting thought crossed my mind I noticed an ornately lettered label. This jar declared itself to be a letterbox and welcomed me inside; to sign in, stamp in, and please return to its hiding spot when I was finished. I felt like Alice finding Wonderland. There was a hand-carved stamp inside and a logbook full of notes by other passers by. Every entry had a stamp, some hand-carved, others purchased but all unique. I'd been accidentally introduced to what for me is the perfect hobby (one that combines art and the outdoors); the art/sport of letterboxing where stamps are hidden in the woods (or other places) and finders find them and leave behind stamped impressions and notes of their own.
I was so excited that my first stamp was carved out of an old petrified eraser by that evening. I had no tools so I used a kitchen knife to scrape it out. I planted my first woodland box the very next day and haven't stopped letterboxing since.

Intrigued? What to join in the fun? Its free and open to all, without restrictions, a fully participatory collective art without pretension.

See www.letterboxing.org and/or www.atlasquest.com for full explanations.

The image shown is my first crude stamp (now permanently retired--this display is its last outing). It was created as my signature stamp, which is the stamp I carry with me and use to "sign in" to someone else's letterbox. I also use it "sign" my own letterboxes. Two days later I bought a proper carving set (speedball) and re-carved my signature stamp in a brand new vinyl eraser. As secrecy is a huge part of the fun of letterboxing, I won't be showing you my current signature stamp or any of my letterbox stamps. If you want to see them you'll have to find my boxes and peak inside and maybe leave a nice note and stamped impression of your own. You'll find me at atlasquest or letterboxing under the trail name Ondine.

Now remember, its a secret, so shhhhhhh....

Image: Eraser Stamp carved with kitchen knife, inked with crayola markers, additional colours with coloured pencil on 3"x5" sketch paper.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Storm Watching

There are many forms of thrill seeking. Some flock to the movie theatre to immerse themselves in spectacular CGI, others glue themselves to on-line games. Me, I won't even ride a roller coaster, but call me outside when a storm is coming, and I'll be there. I am awestruck by a power that can lay the works of man low, break dams, blow power lines, turn a pine plantation into match-sticks. Fear and fascination merges into something akin to worship in the face of a thunderstorm. I love the smell of rain(*), moist and wet. I love the sound of thunder, deep and sonorous. I love the flash of lightning, blue and brilliant. I love watching black billowing clouds rolling in dragging sweeping tails of rain in their wake.
I've never seen a tornado in the literal sense, but one dark and stormy night (sorry, couldn't resist that line) I saw the sky glow with brilliant emerald green light and stay that way for minutes. The next day, in the Eldred King Woodlands, I found a long strip of forest had been turned into a twisted mass of broken trees. My guess is that the green glow was caused by continuous lightning glowing through the heart of a tornado (this was July 2006). Green skies, it turns out, of any kind (except at sunset) spells trouble, as it indicates huge quantities of water held suspended in the air by high winds.
On June 15th of this year, my husband and I might have seen a mesocyclone as we both noticed a weird isolated cloud that looked smooth and circular and burnished like a kettle, somewhat like an upside down thunderhead. Since we didn't know it at the time, we didn't take cover and honestly, if we had known what we were looking at, we probably would have 'oooohed' and 'ahhhhed' all the more.

Lest you think we are crazy: if we hear serious official storm warnings (ie. tornadoes imminent), we do take precautions (like locking the pets in the basement and then racing upstairs to watch the show), but on June 15th we missed the warnings and watched in complete naive innocence. It was a beauty, until buckets of rain drove us indoors. Then, from the window, we watched the trees lashing back and forth like grass in a breeze.

And, for the record, I am afraid of thunderstorms, but they're just so gosh darned exciting that I can't help myself when I get a chance to watch them.

(*) Does anyone really know what ozone smells like? In novels I've read "the smell of ozone in the air" a kazillion times to describe an electric storm, but I still haven't a clue. Storms smell like rain to me.

Image: Coloured pencil on 11" x 14" Bristol. Originally conceived on June 15th beneath spectacular skies, at long last finally finished. I did not include the possible mesocyclone because, as described, it looked smooth and round and rather boring compared to the twisty storm clouds.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Canada Day Quickies

I would never have called myself a patriot before today. I don't own a Canadian flag, and I only know the first line of our anthem. While I do know how to steer a canoe and devour a donut, I neither drink beer nor understand hockey. Canada Day comes and goes yearly with little fanfare on my part. Most years, I'll be found sweating in a southbound car crammed full of camping gear. This year the holiday itself has an ungainly midweek time slot, and we had to celebrate close to home.
Today we made the best of local delights, beginning with a view from our porch, eating a breakfast of pancakes and maple syrop, watching spandex clad cyclists, dogs & owners strolling, birds dining at our feeders and squirrels racing through the trees (okay, the dog did the that).
For the afternoon, we went to Fairy Lake, Newmarket, a park as pretty as its name, with its willow shaded pathways flanking a broad swath of the Holland River. We were not alone in our plans and soon found ourselves negotiating a shifting fleshy maze of people. With a small blue blanket, we marked a small patch of shade as our own and sat for awhile. Our personal space was restricted to two feet on either side of us, as there was a slow moving river of people to our right and a family of ten dining on KFC to our left. I was brave enough to begin sketching a few of them until A) my feet got tingly from sitting with my legs crossed and B) I was afraid they'd object to my staring at them.
Thereafter, we wandered off to less populated regions and directly into the midst of an 1853 militia encampment, fully equipped with canvas tents, iron cookpots, rifles on racks, and handsome men dressed in red serge uniforms. We were treated to a full demonstration of marching manoeveres and musket practice. What better way to fire up patriotic pride then to watch manly men do completely anachronistic manly things?

Images: 3"x5" sketch paper, pencil, coloured pencil & watercolour pencil.

Ps. please pardon horrible errors, as now I want to check out the fireworks, got to run, edit later.


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