The sea giveth and taketh away

Sometimes you set out to paint one thing, only to realize it’s something else that’s caught your interest.
Landslide, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

Had you asked me on Wednesday what I planned to paint, I’d have looked at you squiggle-eyed. I was too tired to see beauty in anything. I drove out a long dirt road to Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE). There is a lovely view off its back deck (and a restroom) but it didn’t move me. I returned to Partridge Island and hiked up to its observation deck. There’s a flowerpot rock on the beach below, but it seemed like too much work to drag my kit back up.

I tried instead to tackle the running tide for a third time. None of them, in my opinion, captures the powerful delicacy of the tides here.
Tides manifest as horizontal as they run back and forth along the slanting sea bed. Here the shore is flat and sandy and the tides high. The streaming water runs for hundreds of feet in a six-hour cycle. It moves shockingly fast. Still, it’s gentle. There’s no white crashing surf.
Harbor Mouth, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
On the surface, the Minas Basin is placid. However, it contains vast, uncontrolled kinetic energy. For example, the Dory Rips, off Cape d’Or, are a collision of three opposed tidal currents that slam into an underwater reef, forcing the water up into house-high standing waves. You can’t capture that on canvas when you’re looking down from cliffs ranging up to 600 feet in height.
I walked the beach at Partridge Island early in the morning, as it neared high tide. There was roiling on the otherwise-placid surface. That was a rip current. Hours later, children would play and search for fossils in the same spot, oblivious to the powerful forces that had just departed.
Partridge Island is connected to the mainland by a sandbar. It was created during the infamous Saxby Gale of 1869. This October hurricane overlapped an unusually high tide to create the perfect storm along the Maine coast and Bay of Fundy. Low-lying farms were inundated, harbors were wrecked, and breakwaters washed away. It cost at least 37 lives, and created the highest tide ever recorded, 70.9 ft, at Burntcoat Head.
Salt water meadows (East Bay from Partridge Island), oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
Exactly 150 years later, there are structures on the Partridge Island isthmus, including a herring weir and some cottages. It’s a popular picnic and camping spot. But that’s a blink of the eye in geological time, and it’s wise to remember that the sea giveth and taketh away.
In the afternoon, I painted in Diligent River. My instructions were to turn onto a private drive that snakes three kilometers down to the sea, running first through blueberries, then meadows, and then a spruce forest. There’s a freshwater pond of about 15 acres. It’s high because of our endless rain this spring. The dock is several feet offshore. Half of it has loosed its moorings and sailed away.
Parrsboro had a parade this week, and I could have been in it had I answered my phone. This float commemorates the forced landing of a Handley Page V/1500 named Atlantic here, on July 5, 1919. 
It was lovely, but the coastline compelled me. A break has been created in the trees by a spring mudslide. I’d intended to paint Cape Split, but the glorious tumult of rocks and upended tree trunks caught my imagination. Through it, ferns slid to a new destination unharmed. Spruce saplings grew on, unheeding.
The cliffs here are an unstable amalgam of sediment and basalt. They’re always in motion, slipping down to be milled into new sand beaches. Since these are some of the most important paleontological areas in Nova Scotia, new fossils are always being exposed. Inevitably, that interested me more than the view, and I found myself painting something I’d not intended.
I was invigorated. Three large paintings in two days when I thought there was no gas left in the tank.

How I plan to spend my summer (if it ever gets here)

Teenagers and artists choose interesting paths.

Teressa studying painting in Rochester, many moons ago.
Yesterday, I got two registrations in the mail for my Rochester workshop. Kamillah started painting with me when she was a junior in high school, working at a local diner so she could afford art lessons. Now she’s a graduate architect, studying for her boards. Her sister Teressa is in nursing school. It’s a joy to see these kids embrace adulthood with such grace.
Kamillah once painted with me on a late spring weekend in the Adirondacks. We were at an inn that hadn’t opened yet for the season. It was blowing and snowing, as the higher elevations tend to do this time of year. Kamillah is tiny, and I was concerned she’d be blown off the mountain and right into half-thawed Piseco Lake. Summer eventually showed up that year, as it will this year—at some point.
I get to teach in some mighty gorgeous places!
After I got their registrations, I opened my Little Book of Workshops. As of today, I have: 

(I don’t know about Exploring Rye through Paint (May 11-12, Rye, NY); contact the Rye Arts Center for information about that.)
That puts me about exactly where I am every year at this time. Suddenly, when it warms up enough for people to think about painting, those slots fill up.

Will I have a chance to paint in the surf this season? Who knows? Photo by Ed Buonvecchio.

Meanwhile, I—like every other plein air painter—anxiously await jurying results. Most are not in yet, but what I have promises an interesting summer ahead. On the 27th, I fly to Santa Fe, NM for Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta.
William Rogersfrom Nova Scotia is in that event too. That means I’ll see him twice this summer, since he’s the Honorary Chairman of Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival in early June. The roster at that event is like old home week, including many artists I’ve painted with for ages. That includes, of course, Poppy Balser.
Nova Scotia is one of the world’s great beauty spots. It’s a privilege to paint there.
I’ll be at Ocean Park’s Art in the Park in July. That’s really six old friends doing an ensemble act together, as we’ve done for several years. At Cape Elizabeth I’ll run into Janet Sutherland for the second time this summer. She’s a crackerjack painter and a regular at Castine, but we seldom get time to say more than a few words to each other. If only I could slow the tape down!
In August I’ll be back in New York for the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. And other than that, the jury’s still—literally—out.
Barnyard lilacs, by Carol L. Douglas
Except for one other thing, which is perhaps the biggest thing of all: in September I’ll be an artist-in-residence at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center. I was raised on a farm, and I’ve got a deep affection for agriculture. This will be the first time in several years where I’ve isolated myself to paint reflectively, rather than tearing around in a car painting fast. I’m terrifically chuffed.

The mystery of the missing boats

There is no shortage of painting subject matter in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.

Levitating Lobster Boats of Alma, NB, by Carol L. Douglas
Where other rural places have spare cars, here in coastal Maine you’re likely to find spare boats on jackstands. Boats are so ubiquitous that they blend into the landscape. Last winter Howard Gallagher found one wrecked along the roadside. I think he bought it.
Nova Scotia has a storied boat-building history. Parrsboro was once a port and shipbuilding region; old photos show a waterfront littered with boats. The famous ghost ship Mary Celeste was built near here, at Spencer’s Island. Bluenose was built on the Atlantic side, in the boatbuilding yards at Lunenberg.
Parrsboro harbour seems to be silted in.
I’m painting at the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival next month. It was almost on our way home from Digby, if by “almost” you mean doubling your mileage.
In any new town, I usually start reconnoitering at the harbor. Parrsboro’s is silted in, with a sinuous rose-colored channel and mud flats, but no wharves or fishing fleet. This area is famous for its beaches, and I suppose Mother Nature gets wild when it starts flinging sand.
There are also dramatic headlands, lighthouses, and blueberry barrens. You could throw paint in any direction and create a masterpiece.
There’s no shortage of painting subjects.
The plein air painter’s second favorite task is searching out new places to paint. After stopping to meet Parrsboro Creative’s Executive Director, Robert More, we started the serious business of shunpiking. Maine painter Mary Sheehan Winn summers in Parrsboro. She texted us directions.
There were no boats until we reached Advocate Harbour. This tiny hamlet is so isolated that in the clear summer light it looks and feels like Newfoundland or the Scottish Hebrides. Its small fishing fleet is cross-tied to a seawall so that the boats are grounded on their keels in the mud as the water drops. They can only come or leave at the mercy of the tide. That must make for long work days.
Since Canada’s national parks are free for their national sesquicentennial, I suggested to Bobbi that we head home through Fundy National Park. She was interested in seeing Hopewell Rocks.
The last time I was here was at high tide. Mary and I had gotten lost looking for the Cape Enrage lighthouse during our Trans-Canada Painting Adventure. Here I was, once again, trying to find my way while the tide inexorably covered the things for which I was searching. Coming across a causeway, Bobbi and I both stopped short.
“Boats!” cried Bobbi.
“I’ve painted here before!” I shouted.
The beautiful fleet at Alma, NB.
We were in Alma, NB, where I painted my last painting in Canada last fall: a terrific, tired fail of levitating lobster boats. Alma is a wonderful working harbor, the home port of North America’s first female sea-captain, Molly Kool.

We even managed to make Hopewell Rocks before they were swamped.  Alas, it was evening, time to head south to the border and home. I leave again this evening, heading west to New York. It’s summer, and that’s how we roll.

Postscript: this morning we realized that Baby Wipes take dead bugs off windshields. I wish I’d realized that last night when I was rolling sightless through moose country.

Seafood, saltwater and a Fata Morgana mirage

We round the Bay of Fundy to Parrsboro, and paint at fantastic Point Prim.

Cobequid Bay Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
Alas, there were no Digby Chicks to be had at the fish market. We consoled ourselves with an omelet of Digby scallops and locally-sourced bacon, with Poppy Balser’s own fresh-baked bread.
Poppy—who’s also a licensed pharmacist—went in to the shop, and Bobbi and I walked down to the docks. The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world. They mean the dock ramp has steps, for it’s just too steep to climb at low tide. It’s treaded like a cheese grater and is four flights of stairs in height. Likewise, the marine railway seems to slope down forever.
You wouldn’t forget your keys very often if faced with that climb to go back to the car.
We met back up with Poppy at Point Prim lighthouse. Our intention was to paint with genuine Bay of Fundy salt water, but at low tide that meant a perilous scramble down the rocks. Poppy found a tidal pool halfway down the slope, and we settled in to watch our paints precipitate in the salt water.
The long, long marine railway at Digby.
When I was growing up, we would occasionally see a ghost image of Toronto dancing over the open water of Lake Ontario, seemingly just a few miles off shore. Fata Morgana miragesappear over open water just as in the desert. One rose above St. John’s as we painted. It only lasted a few minutes before it vanished in the haze of the horizon.
Mirage over the Bay of Fundy.
Bobbi is studying French. Our comfort stop in the woods, she told us, is called le Pipi Rustique. It’s a necessity of life and it’s frankly more difficult for women than men. “There’s an app for that,” Poppy said, and then dissolved in laughter. To me, the solution seems worse than the problem, since you then have to clean and carry it.
Point Prim, by Carol L. Douglas
We said au revoir to Poppy and headed north along the Evangeline Trail. This traverses some peculiar geology. The Annapolis Basin itself is separated from the Bay of Fundy by a volcanic ridge that trails off into the ocean as Digby Neck. The predominant rocks are basalt. Inland, there are bright red siltstones and soils, and gypsum outcroppings.
Point Prim, by Carol L. Douglas. I do everything I’m told, including value studies.
There’s even gold. Famous Canadian prospector Edmund Horne learned his trade here, in the now-ghost town of Renfrew, Nova Scotia.
When I painted here in mid-October, I’d noticed the peculiar pink of the water, but figured it was a seasonal disturbance. It is the same color now; a lovely rose pink from sediment.
Pink waters off Parrsboro, NS.
In my hometown of Buffalo, NY, Tim Hortons coffee shops are as thick on the ground as they are in Ontario. Bobbi hadn’t had the experience, so we stopped for dinner—a chocolate-glazed doughnut for her, an apple fritter for me.
Meanwhile, Bobbi was perusing her phone. “Our hotel is 100 miles behind us, in Grand-Pré,” she said. Evidently, our booking website couldn’t distinguish between 17 miles over land and the same distance over water. But we landed in clover. The Gillespie House Inn in Parrsboro had an unexpected vacancy. It’s far more genteel than my usual road haunts, and I enjoyed every tiny luxury, including the en suite clawfoot tub.