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. 

The day my Superpower failed

"Confluence," oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas

“Confluence,” oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas
Every morning, I prod Mary until she pours herself into the car. She is still pretty low and would like nothing better than to sleep. I’m still wheezy myself, and it is hard to be the motive force in this campaign.
This morning, she realized she had left her wallet in Ft. Nelson after having her prescription filled. The clerk there couldn’t have been more agreeable, and will mail it along. However, Mary has no driver’s license. She’s been too sick to drive anyway, but I’d entertained fond hopes that she could take over before we hit Nova Scotia.
"Maligne Lake," oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas

“Maligne Lake,” oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas
On Friday night we drove to Miette Hot Springs, where I had a long dip while Mary rested. This is a beautifully situated spring, but its water is not particularly hot. Still, it was well worth the visit. It is at the northern end of the Jasper-Banff National Parks complex, making it the perfect jumping-off point for the weekend.
I painted in three locations on Saturday: along the Athabasca and Maligne Rivers, and at Maligne Lake. A lovely painting was around every corner, but three was my absolute limit.
"Maligne River," oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas

“Maligne River,” oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas
Jasper itself reminds me of Camden, albeit somewhat swollen. It has the same indecisive jaywalkers, but it is inauthentic, a hodgepodge of ersatz Alpine storefronts. I couldn’t tell if I was irritable at the crowds, at my own exhaustion, or at the crazy price inflation, but I was glad to leave.
We stopped at the Columbia Icefield. “This is the place,” I told Mary. The Athabasca Glacier tumbled off its mountain. Its glacial lake rested emerald green at its foot. We decided to walk to the toe of the glacier to reconnoiter.
We hiked to the toe of the glacier, but the wind was so strong my poor easel couldn't cope.

We hiked to the toe of the glacier, but the wind was so strong my poor easel couldn’t cope.
We were met by a ferocious, ripping wind. I was protected by several layers but nothing could stop my easel from spinning helplessly on its tripod, especially with no trees on which to tie it down. I tried parking the car as a windbreak; the wind swirled around it. Meanwhile, even in my airtight hood, my ears were ringing.
“It’s no good,” I told Mary. “I will have to paint it from a photo.”
We drove on.
There are certain beauty spots that I’m conflicted about, where the character of the place is obliterated by the masses of people. Yosemite is one of these; Lake Louise is another. I would have painted it, if only I could have approached it. Even now, at the end of September, both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are packed solid with cars and people. It was impossible to park within a mile of either.
Cars lined the roads to both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. There was no room for a poor itinerant painter.

Cars lined the roads to both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. There was no room for a poor itinerant painter.
In general, Canadians are polite and friendly people. It seemed a pity to want to mow them down with my car, so I retreated to our hotel.
This morning I will try to get up there before the crowds return; if not, my series will be done without one of these iconic landmarks. Today we leave the Rocky Mountains behind us. The road we are now following is the Trans-Canada Highway, and it will take us safely across the prairies toward home.