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.

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.

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