Home Back Forward July 6, 1998: Hiking Lesson and Art





Drawing: On Alert


From Maureen:

Hi James, That chicken dinner you described preparing made my mouth water. Until the fish fill the lake and the char move into our creek, our diet is pretty limited, especially in the fresh meat area. Canned "bully" beef at best and once a week some canned chicken. It has been foggy and windy for 4 days now and we are getting jumpy to get out and hike. I did manage a trip out with the bears while Charlie was practicing his typing and made an interesting discovery:

The cubs had wandered by our electric fence and in spite of the bad weather with pretty limited visibility due to the fog, I decided to join them for a walk. They were pretty excited and wanted to head North across the marsh but I felt like a stroll around the end of the lake to see if any sockeye salmon had made it up the Kambalnoe River from the Sea of Okhotsk into our lake. I persuaded the cubs to join me by looking intently into the water of the creek I had to cross. They immediately suspected I was onto something interesting and ran over to peer into the water too. They followed me across the creek and bounded ahead.

This put the wind in our faces. Charlie and I had noticed in the past, when all 5 of us were hanging out around together, that they hardly felt they needed to watch into the wind because they can smell every thing coming from that direction but they kept an eye alert down-wind. What we hadn't realized was that this is also important when traveling. When they line out along a bear trail they do so in an order which is always repeated: Chico in front; second Biscuit and last; Rosie. Until now I had always thought that she was at the end because she was slower and thereby ended up in this lesser position. Rosie kept glancing back down the trail. Chico kept her focus straight ahead. Upon walking up close behind Rosie I received an annoyed look. I decided to try walking between Biscuit and Rosie. They both looked relaxed. I enjoyed the feeling of safety here and started looking back down the trail myself, picking up on Rosie's behavior. I felt a bit silly at myself at first but decided that Rosie had a very important job at the end of the line, acting as rear guard, and until now I had ignorantly interrupted her post by noisily walking up on them from down the trail (which was down-wind in this case). They all seemed to enjoy the fact that I had figured this out. When we stopped they were up to their usual antics of romping and wrestling. Rosie, who has always been relatively stand-offish, for the first time grazed on sedge grass closer and closer to my feet, finally nibbling off the tufts in an 8" semi-circle around my boots and at the same time watching my reaction to her. Charlie told me later this was probably her way of inviting me to trust her.



Painting: Rosie walking last


I had been working on some charcoal drawings of the cubs trying to zero in on aspects of their emotions which I identify in the titles. The painting, a combination of abstraction and realism is about what I discovered about Rosie and her job at the end of the line. For those of you who don't look at much abstract art it can be a bit of a mystery. Just think about my abstractions as expressions of my feelings and in this case something also about the wind. I have a very big and luxurious studio North of Cochrane, Alberta, where I coat all my painting and drawing paper with protective layer of white gesso(a chalk-like liquid for sealing paper and canvas) before packing them into wooden cases for carrying onto the airplane. They need this pre-coating for archival purposes because of the oil paint I use . The lid of the case becomes my drawing board. The work in charcoal is 25"x36" and the painting slightly smaller. I use an eraser as a drawing tool to get the feel of the fur. Oil paint is layered on top of water based paint to create the rich textures . The color is that of the tundra - rich and vivid and another means as to how I express the excitement I felt as I adjusted where I walked when joining the cubs.

© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1998