The Big Empty

To survive in an uninhabited land, you need community. The next crisis may be yours.

New Puppy, by Carol L. Douglas, 8×10, oil on canvas.

There’s a vixen that sits on the shoulder of a road here, glorying in the sun. When I first saw her, I thought about calling animal control, because that’s unusual behavior for a fox. I’ve since learned that she took a wire to the muzzle. It became infected and a Good Samaritan fed her antibiotic-laced meat to save her life. Now, she’s a local pet of sorts. A certain person (whose name I won’t mention) gives her dog biscuits. Others feed her Timbits. Still others despair that she’s running with a bad crowd, and her new friends will rob her of the ability to live a normal fox life.

It’s no surprise that people feed her. She’s cute.

I’ve lived in my small town in Maine for four years, and I don’t know this much about anything that happens there. And I’m, as they say, plugged in.

Rural Canadians can talk a hind leg off a donkey (I like that). They’re outgoing compared to their New England cousins. It’s not just Nova Scotians, either. On Monday an Edmonton, Alberta man chatted with me as I loaded my car. I now know more about him than I do about either of my neighbors back in Maine.
If I took up all the invitations I’ve received, I’d never get home. A man showed me photos of his spectacular view. He’d moved here from Hamilton, Ontario. “That’s a six-million-dollar view back home,” I said. He nodded enthusiastically. He really wants artists to come paint it.
Pink sand, by Carol L. Douglas, 8×10, oil on canvas.
Almost one in four Canadians live in the so-called Golden Horseshoe that wraps around Toronto (which includes Hamilton). Four of five Canadians live in cities. The rest of Canada is essentially empty. Rural Canadians can’t afford to be stand-offish. To survive in what is essentially a wilderness, you need to cultivate community. The next disaster or crisis may be yours.
Parrsboro, with a population of 1,205, is a regional hub in Cumberland County. It has a small co-op and a Pharmasave, along with a smattering of other businesses. The town is a third the size it was a century ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s going “gentle into that good night.”
I disturbed Krista Wells at her workspace in Artlab yesterday. She was reading a consultant’s report for a proposed civic project. Her partner, Michael Fuller, wasn’t around, but I’d seen him earlier at a meeting about another project. This community built the Ship’s Company Theatre and the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. For them, nothing is impossible.
The Black House, by Carol L. Douglas. This was my attempt at chiller-thriller, but my boy model was so busy pounding his friend I never asked him if he found the black house scary.
On Monday I drove to Lunenburg, which is south of Halifax on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. This is the home of the Smith & Rhuland Shipyard, where Bluenose was built. My father had a pleasure craft built in Nova Scotia to a Roué design, so it was a pilgrimage for me. It’s also the home port for Bluenose II and Picton Castle, although both boats were, perversely, in Buffalo at the time.
It’s a lovely little town, with opportunities for great painting, but it reminded me powerfully of Camden. In other words, there are too many tourists milling around. I’ll be back during the shoulder season, but for now I prefer the ranginess of Parrsboro.
I’m not alone. On Saturday, I met an artist from Halifax, in Parrsboro for a workshop. “I love it here,” she said wistfully. “I could live here.” Perhaps someday, she will.

The straw that broke the camel’s back

And the kindness that unbroke it.
Thunder Bay Freighter, Carol L. Douglas

I’ve driven more than a million miles in the last three decades. I’m a good, safe driver. That doesn’t mean I’m immune from problems created by others; nobody is.

On Sunday I was rear-ended in Massachusetts. (No, it was not my trusty Prius art-cart, but our family car.) The damage was minor. One can be graceful about such setbacks when one has good insurance.
On Monday I tried to write my blog and couldn’t remember the names of common paintbrushes. What typically takes me 90 minutes took, instead, four hours. Was I simply overtired? Probably, but I began to develop a throbbing headache. In the afternoon, I saw my PCP, just to be on the safe side. Either my brain was sloshed around a mite too hard, or I was in shock. In either case, the solution was rest.
Marshes along the Ottawa River, Carol L. Douglas
I didn’t have time for this; I never do. I teach plein air on Tuesdays; I was looking forward to speaking to the Bangor Art Society yesterday evening. I have four commissions to finish, a workshop ad to rewrite, paintings to collect, paintings to display. My sign needs its seasonal lights put up. The car, of course, must be fixed.
Add a problem with this blog that resolutely resists fixing. Thousands of Blogger users report that their readership has slumped, myself included. Either our usual sources of traffic have changed their algorithms or Google has changed its counters.
The answer is for people to subscribe, not grab the blog from Facebook. However, most people now read blogs on their phones. Blogger doesn’t support subscriptions on its phone version. To subscribe, readers must go to the desktop version and click the subscription box on the right. That’s a tricky thing to ask people to do.
Great Lake Storm, Carol L. Douglas
Suddenly, it all seemed like too much. I put my head under my blanket and went to sleep. And slept until my husband came home from the Post Office.
“You have a package from Rosseau, Ontario,” he said.
Rosseau is a small village about two hours north of Toronto, where southern Ontario leaks into the wilderness of northern Canada. This is Group of Seven territory, not terribly far from Algonquin Provincial Park.
Inside was a copy of Jane Urquhart’s The Underpainter, and a note.
Dear Carol,

This may seem odd, receiving a book in the mail from a stranger in another country, but I wanted to send you this particular book because I just finished reading it, and I think it may resonate with you for many reasons, not only because the main character is an artist, but also because of the settings such as Rochester and Thunder Bay—places that I know you are familiar with. This is my very small way of saying thank you for sharing wisdom and observations so generously and eloquently. I have learned and grown so much as an artist thanks to you.

Paula Banks
Rosseau, Ontario

Eastern Manitoba Forest, Carol L. Douglas

I’ve lived near the Canadian border all my life. The notion that Canadians are nice is a stereotype, but it’s also true. It’s particularly admirable when your next-door neighbor is a brash empire like we are.

Thank you, Paula Banks from Rosseau, Ontario, for setting me back on my feet. I hope we meet someday.

The world’s friendliest people

In anticipation of Canada Day, let me tell you a story about our kind-hearted, open-handed neighbors.

Wreck of the SS Ethie (Newfoundland), by Carol L. Douglas

Newfoundland was the greatest surprise of my Trans-Canada trip. It looks like the Scottish Highlands. That isn’t too surprising, since John Cabot reportedly sailed just 1800 miles west of Ireland to discover it. In geographical terms, that’s next-door-neighborly.

It’s a massive island, and it’s empty; fewer than a half-million people call it home. Other than St. John’s, there’s not a single municipality with more than 25,000 people. Most Newfoundlanders live in small fishing villages strung along the coastlines.
About 300 KM west of St. John’s is the small town of Gander. It’s mainly notable for having gas and a Tim Hortons right on the Trans-Canada. Considering the fantastic landscape all around it, it’s not a place a painter would tarry.
Fog flowing down the mountains near Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland
Gander exists because of the grandiosely-named Gander International Airport. This was built in 1936, when trans-Atlantic flight was first developing. It’s the easternmost flat point on the North American continent, so it became the fueling point for planes traveling to and from Europe. 
On January 11, 1938, Captain Douglas Fraser made the first recorded landing in a single-engine biplane, a de Havilland Fox Moth VO-ADE.
The town reached its peak during the Second World War, when about 10,000 Allied airmen were billeted there. It was a refueling post for the Royal Air Force’s Air Ferry, which brought American- and Canadian-built planes from North America to Britain. In 1940, it was the largest airport on the planet.
Airman and Infantrymen at RCAF Station, Gander, 1943, Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada 
Eventually jets got big enough to leave from New York or Toronto without refueling, and Gander became just another boom town gone bust.
Until September 11, 2001. Less than an hour after the planes hit the Twin Towers, North American airspace was closed. That left flights in limbo over the North Atlantic. 38 civilian and 4 military flights were ordered to land at Gander. They held more than 6,600 people—two thirds of the population of Gander—and they wouldn’t be going anywhere for a week.
There was only one Customs Officer assigned to Gander. All he knew was that planes had attacked New York and the Pentagon, and we might be at war. He had to vet all those people before letting them loose in Canada. He drafted a planeload of American soldiers to help.
Under a milky sky (Hare Bay, Newfoundland), by Carol L. Douglas
Some passengers were on their planes for 30 hours waiting to be processed. Their only source of news was cell phones. When they finally disembarked, they were not allowed to carry any personal luggage; they left with the clothes on their backs.
Gander has 500 hotel rooms. These were allotted to plane personnel, with the idea that they needed to be rested and ready. That still left more than 6,000 people with no place to go.
Newfoundland and Labrador is the poorest province in Canada, but Gander’s churches, schools, shelters and private homes took in people. The remainder were transported to surrounding towns. Local bus drivers had been on strike, but they put down their picket signs and drove passengers to their destinations.
Cape Spear Road (Newfoundland), by Carol L. Douglas
There wasn’t enough food, bedding, diapers, or formula available for purchase. Citizens opened their own pantries instead. They supplied meals, deodorant, soap, blankets, spare underwear, hot showers and washing machines. The phone company set up phone banks and temporary cable and internet. Citizens even provided entertainment, including whale-watching tours.
Six days later, when airspace was finally opened up, all 6,600 passengers were delivered to the airport on time. Not one person missed a flight.
Canada Day is July 1. This year they are celebrating their Sesquicentennial. We couldn’t ask for better neighbors.

POSTSCRIPT: Michael Fuller of Parrsboro Creative just told me there’s a Broadway musical about these events, called Come from Away. New York readers should check it out!

Nova Scotia is calling me

Heading to Nova Scotia to study watercolors with Poppy Balser, I found a good reference for choosing easels in my email.

Replacing a plank on the Stephen Taber, by Carol L. Douglas

I had time for a quick sketch of the Stephen Taber between returning from Northampton, MA and departing for Digby, Nova Scotia. At the shipyard, Captain John Foss suggested I look up a local specialty called a Digby Chick, which he said is a particularly potent kind of smoked herring. On the boat a Digby native told us there is no such thing. Who to believe? The Captain, of course.

We were queuing for the ferry, which crosses the Bay of Fundy to the Digby Gut and from there to the Annapolis Basin. I was driving Bobbi Heath’s new SUV, which has Massachusetts plates. That gave me carte blanche to drive very, very fast (or so I said). The open road, my paint kit, and new places along the hard, cold North Atlantic surf—this is an idyll.

The ferry dock at Digby, Nova Scotia

We’re in Digby to take a workshop from the superlative Canadian watercolorist Poppy Balser. From there, we’ll head north and around the Bay via Truro and Parrsboro. I haven’t been in this neck of the woods since my trans-Canada trip last October. It’s warmer now, and I’m rested. This area has the highest tides in the world, and I have the time and energy to paint them in each phase.

I am moderately competent at watercolor, but Poppy has a loose, lyrical style that I admire and want to understand. This is, of course, the end result of a highly accomplished technique. There are lots of things I want to learn from her, including how she paints her lively, moving water.

Angelique at the Dock, 2016, Poppy Balser. She did the sketch for this at Castine, on the day we shared a Scotch Egg on the landing. I left, and she bagged the boat. 

From the instructor side, I try to discourage buying stuff just for my class. I don’t like making people spend money. It’s been fun experiencing this from the student side, however. The impulse to have something new for the first day of school is strong.

So I invested in some beautiful, new, elegant Rosemary & Co. brushes. I justify this by telling myself that, unlike oil brushes, it’s hard to destroy watercolor brushes. Beyond that, my watercolor kit was pretty good, actually.
Everything I own for watercolor fits in a plastic laundry basket, in contrast to my oil painting supplies, which spill out of my studio into every corner of my house. At plein airevents, I envy the watercolorists their efficiency. When it comes time to frame, however, they get their comeuppance, as they have to fiddle with glass, mats and tape.
We had time to race around St. John’slovely old streets to seek out the commercial harbor. Our goal of finding a greasy takeout for the ferry, however, was foiled. “Opening maybe May 16,” the sign read.  Just like home.

As soon as Bobbi saw the commercial fleet at Digby she started wondering about property prices. It’s beautiful.

We’re carrying four easels with us. One is a predecessor of the Mabef M32, and one is a Guerrilla Painter Flex Easel mounted on a Slik tripod. These are for our watercolors, because they have heads that can be set horizontal. If space had been a problem, we could have used either of them for oils as well. It was easier to just toss our regular kits in the car. In Bobbi’s case, that is an Open Box M; in mine it’s a pochade box I made.

I was contacted by a reader of my blog, Olivier Jennes, founder of WonderStreet. He asked me to look at an article they’d just published about easels. They’re in no way connected with the brands involved; they’re just passionate about art and design.
I’ve read their review, and think it’s worth passing along. If you’re thinking about buying a new easel, you can find the link here.

Seasick in my studio

Athabasca Glacier, oil on linen, by Carol L. Douglas

We bought this house during a fierce February a few years ago. It hasn’t snowed like that since. Yesterday’s storm was the first blizzard I’ve worked through in this studio. It has glass on three sides. The rolling, boiling, rocketing snow was more than my stomach could take.

That’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been seasick. Tea and crackers sorted it out soon enough, though.
I visitedthe Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies at the end of September. It was approximately the same weather as yesterday in Maine—bitterly cold, with wind that roared like a freight train. This is why I painted it from a photo.
I freeze my palette between uses. It was a bit of work finding it in the middle of that storm.
There is no way to get a sense of scale from this vantage point, but that small footpath leading up to the toe of the glacier is about 6/10ths of a mile long and rises precipitously. It is marked with signs noting the farthest reach of the glacier at points over the last century. One seldom sees the effect of time on the landscape so graphically. Short of including a ghost glacier, however, I can’t include that information in this painting.
In a sense, this painting is a transcription, because it’s an accurate rendering of the only vantage point most tourists will ever see. The painting I started next is the opposite. It is based not on a real spot, but on a moment in time.
Underpainting of wildfire, by Carol L. Douglas
The northern Rockies are pockmarked by wildfires; they’re a natural part of that area’s life cycle. There’s something very ominous and beautiful about those still, dead forests. I painted a small portrait of one along the Alaska Highway. We passed through other, monumental ones, on the Top of the World Highway and in the Banff-Jasper park complex. These fire zones are often posted with the dates of the fires. Some forests regenerate achingly slowly. Others seem to sprout back almost overnight.
Mary and I found ourselves winding up a steep mountain grade within a very large burn area. The sky was milky in the angry way it is during a blizzard, or downwind of a forest fire. There was no sun, just a hazy light indicating where it might be.
My palette returns to the cold at the end of the day. That drift is close to my height.
What I’ve started here is based on that experience of winding and twisting in a dead forest. For the most part painting doesn’t concern itself with time or motion—we leave that to filmmakers and musicians. But both are, of course, part of the natural world. 

Levitating lobster boat, and an unsalvageable ghost ship

"Working boats, Bay of Fundy,",Carol L. Douglas.

“Working boats, Bay of Fundy,”Carol L. Douglas.
In the Canadian Maritimes, boats are sometimes left to rest on mudflats as the tide drops. Occasionally I’ll see that here in mid-coast Maine, but nowhere near as frequently. It’s something that interests me, and I’ve painted it before, in Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove.
On the last day of my Trans-Canada adventure, I painted two working boats resting in the Bay of Fundy. This painting was, I thought, unsalvageable—the only one I did on that trip that I couldn’t redeem.  I had spent considerable time drafting, only to realize after I finished that the boat in the back appeared to be levitating.
My lobster boat appears to levitate here, too.
My lobster boat appears to levitate here, too.
Yesterday I realized that the boat seems to be levitating in my reference photo, too. I spent considerable time repainting the foreground to anchor it, only to conclude that the lobster boat is still floating. I have concluded that levitation is just a Canadian reality.
Fundy Ghost is the name of the foreground trawler, and it’s an odd choice. This nickname is sometimes applied to the most famous ghost ship of all time, the Mary Celeste. She was launched as Amazon in 1861 from a shipyard on Spencer’s Island in Nova Scotia. On her maiden voyage, her captain fell ill and died. She suffered a collision in the narrows off Eastport and rammed and sank a brig in the English Channel. In 1867, she was wrecked off Cape Breton Island and sold as salvage to an American. He went broke in the process of restoring her.
The Mary Celeste painted as the Amazon, 1861, by an unknown artist.

The Mary Celeste painted as the Amazon, 1861, by an unknown artist.
After a major refit, the Mary Celeste headed from New York to Genoa, Italy, under the command of Captain Benjamin Briggs. Briggs was an experienced sailor, an abstemious Christian, and a married man. He brought his wife and infant daughter along on the trip, leaving his school-aged son with relatives. His crew were all experienced sailors of good character.
Eight days after Mary Celeste left harbor, a Nova Scotian boat named Dei Gratiafollowed her out along the same route. Midway between the Azores and Portugal, it came upon the Mary Celeste moving erratically under partially-set sails. The ship was deserted, the binnacle damaged and the lazar and fore hatches left open. The small yawl that served as the boat’s lifeboat was missing. Everything pointed to an orderly emergency departure, but the Briggs family and crew were never heard from again.
With great difficulty, Dei Gratia brought the Mary Celeste into Gibraltar. Salvage hearings found no evidence of piracy, fraud, or foul play.
Eventually, Mary Celeste returned to New York, where her bad reputation caught up with her. After rotting on the docks until 1874, she went into the West Indies trade.  She regularly lost money. In 1879, her captain, Edgar Tuthill, fell ill and died in Saint Helena.
"Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove," Carol L. Douglas

“Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove,” Carol L. Douglas
In 1884, a group of Boston shippers filled the Mary Celeste with junk and heavily insured her. Her captain, Gilman C. Parker, deliberately ran her aground in Haiti. Parker made the mistake of selling the salvage rights for $500 to the American consul, who promptly reported that the cargo was, in fact, worthless. The conspirators in Boston were arrested. Parker was additionally charged with the capital crime of barratry. He died three months later, the last victim of the cursed ghost ship of the Bay of Fundy.

How to paint something that makes no sense

"Coal Seam," by Carol L. Douglas

“Coal Seam,” by Carol L. Douglas
We’ve all had the experience of loving an abstracted landscape painting, only to finally visit the site on which it was painted and realize it was much more realistic than we’d thought. Visiting Ghost Ranch with Georgia O’Keeffe in mind is an excellent example. There are iconic views that make sense no matter who paints them, like Motif Number One in Rockport, MA. On the flip side, there are things that wouldn’t be believable even in the most realistic of styles.
This was the case with the coal seam I painted along the Red Deer River in Canada’s badlands. It’s small, it’s odd, and I like it, even though I’m still not sure I’m finished.
This is what my camera saw of the coal seam. It's an excellent argument for plein air painting.

This is what my camera saw of the coal seam. It’s an excellent argument for plein air painting.
I didn’t finish the painting on-site because the vibrations from the high winds were making my easel unusable. I was shocked to look at my reference painting and see how bleached the place looks in a photo. Those seams of rock were a beautiful cross-play of color in real life.
"Goosefare Reflection," by Carol L. Douglas

“Goosefare Reflection,” by Carol L. Douglas
This summer I painted Goosefare Creek in Ocean Park, ME, which ended up being a similar abstraction. The Goosefare’s mouth changes course with every nor’easter that blows through. That means you can take any artistic liberty you want. I was interested in the sand and its reflection in the wide arc of the stream.

"Sunset off Stonington," by Carol L. Douglas

“Sunset off Stonington,” by Carol L. Douglas
Sunrises and sunsets sometimes seem artificial to me. The one above was painted from the deck of the American Eagle off Stonington, ME. I threw it down in disgust after touching up the colors last week, complaining that I had ruined it.
“What do you do with the ones you don’t like?” a friend asked.
“Swear and get back to work on them,” I answered.
In fact, after a few days not looking at it, I think the light and color are really quite accurate.
"Rain squall on Lake Huron," by Carol L. Douglas

“Rain squall on Lake Huron,” by Carol L. Douglas
I had about fifteen minutes to limb out this storm on Lake Huron before the blowing rain emulsified my paint. Finishing it was just a matter of adding some final coverage. I wouldn’t do more with it, because even though it’s just a few brushstrokes, it tells the viewer everything he needs to know.
There’s something to be said for not jumping in too fast to ‘fix’ a plein air piece. You can easily destroy what’s quirky and wonderful about it because to your tired eyes it looks just wrong.

White knuckle travel

The wreck of the SS Ethie is strewn across the beach at Martin's Point.

The wreckage of the SS Ethie is strewn across the beach at Martin’s Point.
The steamer SS Ethie set sail from Cow Head, on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, on December 10, 1919. Although Captain Edward English knew that some kind of storm was building, it was the last trip of the season, and he was under pressure to get his passengers home for Christmas.
Within a few hours, the storm blew up into a blizzard. The Ethie was making no progress, burning almost all of her coal just staying off the rocky ledges and bars of the coastline. Captain English knew his ship was lost; his priority now was to get the 92 people on board to shore alive.
Number one thing I am thankful for tonight: I am not on that freighter.
Number one thing I am thankful for tonight: I am not on that freighter.
He beached the Ethie just north of Sally’s Cove, in one of the few inlets not barred by reefs or cliffs. His crew sent out a rope, which was picked up by a local Newfoundland dog. A breeches buoy was rigged up to carry the passengers and crew ashore, including a baby girl who rode to shore in a mail sack. There were no fatalities.
The dangers of the Great White North are based in the land itself, in its impossible cold and empty vastness. On the Atlantic Coast, the sea is the force that controls lives. The remains of the Ethie are still strewn along the beach and I wanted to paint it.
Stunted trees in the Gros Morne National Forest. This is the beginning of the Appalachian mountains.

Stunted trees in the Gros Morne National Forest. This is the beginning of the Appalachian mountains.
I hit the road from Botwood before dawn. The remnants of Hurricane Matthew had confounded expectations and run up the Atlantic Coast. Our ferry was canceled. We had an extra 24 hours to use as we pleased—as long as what we pleased was possible in a storm.
Studded snow tires are like an arms race. They work, but they also chew ruts into the road. The water runs into them, causing water to pool and freeze, creating more potholes and ice. The ruts have plagued me since Anchorage, as they make steering difficult.
They also fill with water in heavy rain. In the half light of a storm, they are difficult to track. After several hours, my hands were knotted around the wheel.
The shoreline ranges from ledges to cliffs.

The shoreline ranges from ledges to cliffs.
By the time we reached the Ethie, it was clear I was going to do no painting. Needles of sleet were driven by high winds. I took reference photos and debated my next move.
My friend Annette found me a haven with one of her many relatives. Mary wanted to push farther north to see the Viking encampment at L’Anse aux Meadows. What a dilemma: eat Thanksgiving pie with nice people in warmth and comfort, or push through another 350 km to see a desolate and windswept headland in a storm?
Need you even ask?
It got steadily worse as we went north. Sleet was followed by snow. We saw our first sanders of the season. The wind blew so hard that even the potholes had little waves on them. Crosswinds blew our car sideways. And I learned that hydroplaning and cruise control were a difficult combination.
Trawlers at a boatyard in Port Saunders, Newfoundland.

Trawlers at a boatyard in Port Saunders, Newfoundland.
We stopped in Port aux Choix for our Canadian Thanksgiving dinner: gas station hot dogs and coffee. The clerk, a very lovely woman, discouraged us from heading any farther north. “There’s a lovely B&B down the street,” she suggested.
We slid into St. Anthony behind a sander. Still, I had to put the SUV in 4WD to park it.

We slid into St. Anthony behind a sander. Still, I had to put the SUV in 4WD to park it.
We arrived in St. Anthony right behind a sander. We’re drinking bottled water because of the storm, but otherwise we’re warm and cozy. Tomorrow we will head to L’Anse aux Meadows. Mary is going to tromp around and consider the Vikings. If I’m lucky, the wind will slow down and I can paint.
But I’m absolutely certain we won’t be home by Wednesday.

The Night Ferry

"Cape Spear Road," oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.

“Cape Spear Road,” oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
My Canadian-born neighbor used to tell Newfie jokes. Until Friday, that was all I’d ever heard about Canada’s easternmost province. I’ve wandered around the other Maritime Provinces, but you have to make an effort to get to Newfoundland. It is an eight-hour ferry trip from Cape Breton Island.
Our timing was dictated by the availability of ferry space on this holiday weekend. There are only two trips a day, and today is Canadian Thanksgiving. We decided to drive through from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia to catch the night ferry. We would return on Monday night and pick up our last two provinces on the way home to Maine.
That gave us three days to traverse Newfoundland in both directions. The most sensible thing was to drive straight to St. John’s and work our way back west from there. That means our last three provinces will be done in reverse.
Fog flowing down the mountains near Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland.
Fog flowing down the mountains near Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland.
Newfoundland looks very much like the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides. That’s not surprising, since they’re two sides of the same sea. Wind-stunted trees and shrubs cling to granite ridges that drop suddenly to the water. On the other hand, it’s also profoundly familiar, being an extension of the Acadian coastline that runs from Maine through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
It’s moose season here. I haven’t seen this many men in camouflage since we left British Columbia. The ferry was full of them. As we waited to disembark, a moose call reverberated across the hold. Around us, men laughed and cheered.
My supply of some paints is almost depleted.

My supply of some paints is almost depleted.
On Sunday morning, Mary dropped me off near Cape Spear to paint while she ran an errand. Cape Spear is the easternmost point in North America excepting Danish-owned Greenland. It is also the site of the venerable (1836) Cape Spear light. World War II bunkers and gun barrels face the ocean.
I was startled to hear a moose bugle, since I wasn’t more than a few miles out of St. John’s. About thirty feet down the road, an animal track threaded back into the woods. When I finished painting, I decided to follow it. There was a remarkable quantity of old bear scat, but at least it didn’t appear to include the remains of plein air painters.
I reached a boggy spot and turned around. The track ended at the shoulder of the road; where did the wee beasties go after they crossed? I noted a disturbance in the gravel and dropped down off the shoulder, only to stop short at a pile of moose entrails and sawed-off legs. They were recent enough to not yet stink.
Encountering a moose or bear is one thing; encountering a hunter when I wasn’t wearing safety orange was another thing altogether. I scurried back to the road, just in time to meet Mary.
At St. John's harbor.

At St. John’s harbor.
St. John’s is the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador. Its commercial harbor is filled with trawlers, freighters, and other working boats. Its streets are every bit as pretty as San Francisco’s, but without all those annoying poseurs who plague California. I swear I saw Queen Elizabeth’s body double leaving church in an emerald green coat and matching hat.
Street after street of colorful row houses in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Colorful row houses in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
We headed east and north. At Hare Bay, a great rock promontory rises behind a modest village. This is everything I love to paint, and I set to it with a will, trying to capture as much as I could before we lost our light.
A local woman—born in this village and now sunk well into middle age without having ever left—stopped to chat. This is actually unusual in Canada, where people seem more reticent to interrupt strangers. In the waning light, I saw a mink swim toward shore. She and Mary tried to find it, but it was too fleet for them.
Hare Bay (unfinished), by Carol L. Douglas.

Hare Bay (unfinished), by Carol L. Douglas.
There seemed to be more cars than usual. “Everyone here goes to church on Sunday evening,” she told us. As we left town we noticed that each church was indeed lighted and full of people. Living here, they have much to be thankful for.

Île d’Orléans autumn day

“Île d'Orléans waterfront farm,” by Carol L. Douglas.

“Île d’Orléans waterfront farm,” by Carol L. Douglas.
Gabriel-from-Quebec tipped us off that Île d’Orléans, just a few minutes downriver from Quebec City, would be a great place to paint. Electronic media puts you in contact with people you would never have met otherwise. They’re frequently excellent sources of information.
The Île was settled in the 17th century and evidence of its feudal system is still visible. Small holdings stretch in narrow strips down to the water. This put tenants close to their neighbors and maximized access to the water.
Quebec City is also a city of waterfalls. Montmorency Falls is 272' tall, making it nearly a hundred feet taller than Niagara Falls. And it has the requisite suspension bridge, too.

Quebec City is also a city of waterfalls. Montmorency Falls is 272′ tall, making it nearly a hundred feet taller than Niagara Falls. And it has the requisite suspension bridge, too.
It’s hard to imagine that a feudal system was ever successful in the New World, let alone that it persisted for centuries, but that happened in French Canada. Seigneuries were not granted to nobles as in France, nor did the land grants confer nobility. They were generally given to military officers and churchmen for services rendered. Later, these seigneuries were purchased by canny English and Scottish investors who recognized a profit when they saw it.
The tenants cleared the land, built their own homes and barns, farmed, and paid rent to the seigneur. They were suckers to the Crown, since in New France, land was plentiful and labor was dear. Still, the system was not formally abolished until 1854, long after the demise of New France. The last rents were not settled until—seriously—1970.
Île d’Orléans is too varied to ever be captured in one painting. In some places it is Quebec agriculture, with strawberry fields and apple orchards marching neatly down to the St. Lawrence River. In others, it looks surprisingly like the Maine coast, with seasonal cottages set among woodland. Houses of mellow golden stone dot the landscape.
While I painted, Mary quizzed me on French animal names. Vaches and poulet I already knew; dauphin confused me. Wasn’t that the title for the heir apparent to the French crown? Souris amused me, because I’d just painted in a Manitoba town of that name last week, and it was, indeed, just a little bit mousy. It was a beautiful, warm, autumn day. Abeilles buzzed among the the clover.
"Bas-Saint-Laurent sunset," by Carol L. Douglas.

“Bas-Saint-Laurent sunset,” by Carol L. Douglas.
I hated to leave Quebec without another painting, even if our detour to Île d’Orléans had been time-consuming. At La Pocatière, I stopped to paint the sun setting over the St. Lawrence estuary. Even this far upriver, the St. Lawrence is vast enough that there are beluga whale nurseries. At the moment, there were also two men parasail-waterskiing in the stiff wind.
The paper mills at Edmunston, New Brunswick and Madawaska, Maine call to me even in the dark.

The paper mills at Edmunston, New Brunswick and Madawaska, Maine call to me even in the dark.
The Bas-Saint-Laurent is a beautiful area and so is the St. John River Valley, where we stopped for the night. This is home country. In fact, a right turn and we could be home for lunch. In many ways, that knowledge is the hardest thing we’ve encountered so far.