Peak Foliage

Peak Foliage
October on Preston Pond

Brief History of Preston Pond

Born from glaciers about 13,500 years ago, the original pond was only what is now the wider north end. Probably about 10,000 years ago, as the modern forest started to take root, beavers colonized the pond and expanded it (old dams are under the water surface).

With the arrival of Europeans in New York and coastal New England, a vigorous fur trade grew in the 17th Century. Beavers are particularly vulnerable to trapping since they are easy to find and they were wiped out by the 18th Century. With no beavers to maintain the dams, Preston Pond drained and appears on 18th and 19th Century maps as only the smaller original glacial north end.

Reintroduction in the 1920's and 1930's led to beavers recolonizing Preston Pond. By chance, they arrived the same year my grandfather bought the property in 1946. Ever since then, beavers have lived unmolested (by humans) on Preston Pond - until February 2016. They have never caused flooding problems or over-eaten the surrounding forest stand to the point that they abandoned the pond. Their population has doubtlessly had its ups and downs, but they have managed their affairs here for the last 70 years as beavers did for millions of years: on their own, despite some of their top predators having been exterminated by humans.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bolton Wildlife wins national award (small one)

"Neck Deep" West Bolton Beaver, Upper Pond Bolton Town Forest 15" x 24" acrylic - Mullen

This piece was submitted to Southwest Art Magazine's 2016 Artistic Excellence Competition just before I left for James Bay. I had less than two days to do it, so it wasn't completely finished (still some refining in foreground) and is not signed yet. It was an open international contest with no separate categories (which means wildlife has to go up against figurative, landscape, still lives etc) so I wasn't expecting much. And true enough I didn't make the cut for the big awards but was notified yesterday that it is in the "Top 100 Honorable Mentions" out of over 1,500 paintings. Minor award and small news in an art career but kind of fun that it is my first painting from Bolton that has won something on a national level.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

I'm BAAAACK! Been canoeing in the North.

Well, almost 3 months quiet. That ends now, though this one post will be a bit off topic. 
15 years ago, I guess I had a mid-life crisis (one of a few possibly). I was 45 and feeling drained by the stress of the national art show circuit. I was a wildlife artist but spent most of my time in the studio or driving thousands of miles across the country to shows at which we'd spend days on end standing and talking about the inspiration of our art (and hopefully selling some). The irony was that I had no time for one of the main inspirations of my art: wilderness: real wilderness, not touring Yellowstone and various National Wildlife Refuges by car. 

So I blew off my schedule and planned a 330-mile "Source to Salt" canoe journey on the Missinaibi River to James Bay: southernmost point of the Arctic Ocean. Almost made it too.
"Conjuring House Rock" Thunderhouse Gorge, Missinaibi River 16" x 28" acrylic - Mullen

18 days into the trip a four-day storm crescendoed with a full gale with blinding sheets of rain, screaming 40 mph + winds that shifted suddenly from northerly to WSW and temps in the low 40's. It hit around 5:00 am September 9 and nearly tore my camp apart (I had set up hurriedly in the bush with the north wind). Happily, I have always tied my knots "on the bight" and so was able to quickly reset the storm tarp that provided a windbreak for my light tent. In the afternoon, the wind had subsided enough to allow me to safely get on the water and I went downstream looking for a more secure campsite. I found a beauty under an enormous red spruce on an island. I set my tarps up and snugged my tent under them and managed to build a fire (no camp stove back then). As night rolled in, I thought I caught a glimmer of light above the trees to the west. The sun? I could only hope. 

The dawn was a glory. There is little that can compare with being alone on a wilderness river and having endured days of cold, wind, and rain and to then wake up to a stunning sunrise. It could only be better by running to the shore with your camera and nearly colliding with three Sandhill Cranes. It was a religious experience. I did a field sketch and resolved to do a large painting back in the studio. I paddled 30 exhilarating miles, including Deception Rapid, set camp on Portage Island, and painted the last of the Missinaibi while dinner cooked and I fed peanuts to the Gray Jays who sat on my hat. 
Field study from Portage Island: 6" x 12" acrylic.

The field painting was the basis of "River's End" 18" x 24" acrylic (done much later).
It was two days later that I found out what the dawn of September 11, 2001, was back home. I was at the Cree Indian village of Moose River Crossing where the Ontario Northland RR crossed after coming up along the Abitibi River to the SE and flagged down the next train. I was 40 miles from the Arctic Ocean. It took 18 months to start River's End and "First Light" 24" x 36" acrylic below. 
I ran 15 more wilderness expeditions after that; from Labrador to Alaska but never went back to the Missinaibi. Then a string of situations concurred this year to inspire a return. And we are back (I had a  crew of four this time) and we made it to the sea. The end of our canoe journey was a classic. In a scene that could have been 150 years earlier, we ground onto the beach just below the original Hudson Bay Staff House at Moose Factory; now run by the Moose Cree First Nation as a Historical Site. We stayed at the Staff House (reputedly complete with ghosts) and were treated to a traditional Bannock and Tea reception accompanied by the High Ridge Singers; a traditional Cree drumming and singing group - all young men. 

Now I'm home and have been wandering the pond and forest again. The pond has a sad quality to it, rather like visiting a sick friend. No beavers at all. There are some on the Upper Pond, but all that will have to wait.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Mesozoic Soundscape

It is fascinating to note the changing frog choruses through spring into summer. The Peepers are still at it, but not at the near deafening level they were in May. The bullfrogs are going loud and long now at various times, but their schedule is capricious (still need a confirmation recording or photos of them if anyone is that ambitious). However, an interesting shift in the higher forest ponds of late has been the change to Gray Tree Frogs. They've been an accent to the overwhelming Peeper chorus for many weeks now. However, when Bonnie and I were coming back from a walk through the abandoned beaver ponds in the saddle south of the Pinnacle (Bolton Cliffs to some), they became the only voices as we left the ponds behind and the pass narrowed, providing an eerie and evocative accompaniment as we headed home for dinner.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Looking for a Bear: Found Two Paintings (will look for the bear later)

As a wildlife artist, I tend to be a rather opportunistic hunter. Most often I just go out to see what I'll see, but even if I have deer in mind when I head out, if a flock of turkeys wanders by, I am happy to switch. After filming the Black Bear last week, I went out to see if he had a regular route or had just been wandering through (bears can be very habitual). I found his trail easily enough, but it is not heavily used. Even so, I decided to sit down for a while and see if anyone happened by.

I stayed still and quiet for over an hour. In that time I saw no large mammals, but the local bird life apparently decided I had become a part of the scenery. Hairy Woodpeckers had a nest in front of me and were busy feeding their noisy brood. 

There will be a painting out of this eventually. The nest tree has interesting color patterns and lichen and the birds have to exit the nest with a bit of a curve that could work with a composition, but they weren't first in line after all was said and done.

The hen Wood Duck zoomed past a couple times and a pair of Flickers were having a grand time. They kept at it just behind me, but being backlit I didn't bother trying to photograph them. Then, seeming to realize that if they wanted to be painted they would have to step up their game and give me some better light, they moved to a different tree more to my side. They were right: the light was good. Moreover, they struck and held various poses. They obviously wanted to be painted. I rarely snub such eager subjects. Not quite done yet, but "Forest Flickers" Bolton Town Forest 12" x 9" acrylic is below. Still some refinements to do, but on to other things for a while. I like to put paintings up for a bit when at this stage before finishing them off; gives me time to recognize at least some of the errors I've made.

Speaking of looking for bears, here are a couple shots from expeditions in Nunavik (far northern Quebec) and Labrador where we have found the bears to be very curious/tolerant of people - most likely because they have rarely if ever seen any.

Top photo by Gary McGuffin on our 2006 WREAF expedition on Mushua-shipu (George River) to Ungava Bay. I had some shots here, but Gary was our pro, so we gave him front row (we were all in canoes).

Bottom photo by Cole Johnson on our 2009 WREAF "Trans-Labrador Expedition" (I was holding the canoe steady).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

While walking around Preston Pond, we came across many Lady Slippers.  Rob managed to capture the elusive white Lady Slipper before it disappeared!  They are on the List of Rare and Uncommon Native Vascular Plants of Vermont.  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Revised art work and more coming

"Fire & Ice" Downy Woodpecker and Short-tailed Weasel. Libbys Lookout
9" x 12" acrylic

This painting was posted a couple months ago, but I didn't like the bird's wing position and some other naggy stuff so I repainted it. Two paintings starting this week from yesterday's foray and of course I'll be working on something with the bear. Hopefully some better reference on him soon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Looking for a Water Bottle : Found a Bear

videoI was helping guide a class of fourth graders from Jericho Elementary around Preston Pond and Libbys Lookout Monday. As we headed into the Town Forest I told them to keep their eyes peeled because a large bear had been seen in the area. No luck spotting it of course (21 people walking through the woods: not quiet). However, one of the students asked if afterwards I could look for his water bottle that he thought he'd dropped along the way. So yesterday afternoon I headed out with the dogs to backtrack the route. Got to our first stop where he thought he'd most likely dropped it. No water bottle, but scanning for the Wood Duck family I spotted this fellow - right where we'd been the day before. What a treat for the kids this would have been. Sending the class the video as a second-best: they were close.

Interestingly, the dogs never saw it (I have a height advantage) and the bear showed no sign of knowing we were there either. The water bottle turned out to be on the bus, but had he not mistakenly thought he'd dropped it, I wouldn't have run into the bear.